§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mrs. Shirley Williams)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House, I am sure, will appreciate the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour cannot be here today.
The Bill falls into three parts. Part I deals with the licensing of port employers and with compensation for those who are refused licences. Part II deals with the provision of welfare amenities in ports, and Part III consists of a number of miscellaneous provisions relating to powers of harbour authorities and other matters connected with the efficient running of the ports.
I should like to deal, first, with the licensing of port employers. The broad effect of Part I of the Bill is that from an appointed day only employers who have been granted a licence, or, subject to certain conditions, port authorities designated as licensing authorities will be able to employ registered dock workers. The object of this is to ensure a major reduction in the present number of port employers.
As the House may recall, this goes back to the Report by Lord Devlin's Committee of Inquiry last year. That Report was generally recognised as a major landmark in the troubled history of labour relations in the docks. Its basic recommendation was that the time had come to put an end to the present casual system of employing dock workers. Of course, the dock labour scheme as we now have it was a considerable advance on the completely casual conditions which existed before the war.
The present scheme does not go far enough. The majority of dock workers are still engaged on a daily basis. They may be working for a different employer every day of the week and their earnings are likely to fluctuate substantially from week to week. As the Devlin Report showed, it is impossible in these conditions to build up stable labour relations or to secure progressive and efficient 48 management. It is to the credit of both sides of the industry that they immediately accepted the main recommendations of the Devlin Report.
The National Modernisation Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Brown, was set up to work out detailed plans for the ending of the casual system and for the introduction of a system of permanent employment The Committee has actively concerned itself with all aspects of this problem It has been particularly engaged in negotiating the terms and conditions of alterations to working practices which would need to accompany such a radical change Substantial progress has been made with this difficult task.
My right hon. Friend recently published proposals which were drafted in consultation with the Modernisation Committee, representing both sides of the industry, to adapt the dock labour scheme to conditions of permanent employment. There have been a number of objections to these proposals, which is not surprising in an exercise of this complexity, and they will shortly be the subject of a public inquiry. But there is—and I would stress this—basic agreement between the employers and the unions on the main issues involved.
Negotiations on revised terms and conditions and on changes in working practices have been pushed forward energetically, and much progress has been made. It has not, however, proved possible to reach agreement on all issues, and my right hon. Friend and I are very delighted that Lord Devlin has again agreed to head an independent committee to recommend how the outstanding differences should be resolved. That committee is already at work.
The licensing provisions of the Bill before the House are an integral part of this whole operation to introduce a new system of employment. If dock workers are to be employed regularly by the same employer, a drastic reduction in the present number of employers is essential. There were at the time of the Devlin Report no fewer that 1,400 registered employers in the docks. Many of these employers have only a tenuous connection with the industry and they only employ dock workers from time to time. We need to get down to a much 49 smaller number of substantial employers all of whom will be able to provide the quality of management needed in a modernised and efficient port service. The National Association of Port Employers is fully aware of the need for this, and I understand that a number of amalgamations of existing employers have already taken place.
To give one example, in the enclosed docks in London the number is being reduced from 35 to nine employers and this is approximately the sort of figure that the Devlin Committee found to be about right. However, we cannot afford to leave this entirely to voluntary action. We need a statutory licensing system as recommended by the Devlin Report to ensure that the reduction in numbers is carried far enough and to control the situation in the future.
Before I turn to the provisions of the Bill in more detail, I should like to say a word about the various moves to which I have referred in the introduction of full decasualisation and their relation to the Government's plans for the industry in the longer term. In our General Election manifesto we announced our intention to reorganise and modernise the ports on the basis of a strong national ports authority and publicly-owned regional port authorities, with each port authority ultimately its for all port operations in its area, including stevedoring and the extension of the joint participation which is already a feature of the docks industry. That is a pledge which we have every intention of carrying out.
But a major reconstruction of this kind will need careful preparation and will inevitably take some time to bring into effect. We cannot afford to allow the casual system to continue as it is at present until such time as we have completed all the work necessary to enable us to introduce wider reforms. I believe that we are now in a position to introduce a system of employment which will give the average dock worker a much fairer deal. We should not delay any longer in doing so. Nor can the country afford to put off changes which will have a direct bearing on the efficiency of our ports and on our performance in the export field. I am sure, for these reasons, that it is right to go ahead with the present legislation and the other action related to decasualisation of the docks.
50 I should now like to come to the licensing provisions of the Bill in rather more detail. These provisions apply to the ports listed in Schedule 1 which are the ports at present covered by the dock labour scheme. These are the ports where we intend to introduce full decasualisation and the need for licensing consequently arises. The licensing authorities for the various ports are set out in the First Schedule. They are in most cases the port authorities for the ports concerned, but in some cases we propose that a major port authority should act as the licensing authority not only for its own port but also for small neighbouring ports The choice of port authorities as licensing authorities is a matter that we have considered very carefully and discussed at length with both sides of the industry.
It can be argued, as it was in the Devlin Report, that since many port authorities are themselves employers of dock labour, it is wrong for them to act as licensing bodies because they would be licensing their own competitors. On the other hand, the port authority carries full responsibility for the efficiency and financial viability of its port. Licensing decisions which will determine the number and nature of employers in the port are, obviously, fundamental to the efficient operation of the port.
In our view, therefore, it would be wrong if in the major ports this basic function were to be exercised by some other body which did not have the direct responsibility for the port which the port authority itself has. We think that this must be the overriding consideration, and this has been accepted by the port employers, subject to there being rights of appeal from port authority decisions.
Clause 4 lays down certain criteria to which licensing authorities must have regard in coming to decisions on applications for licences. These follow closely the recommendations of the Devlin Report. They relate to the applicant's ability to provide efficient management and regular employment for a reasonable quota of the labour force in that port and to the need to keep the total number of employers within the limit which is compatible with the efficient running of the port, bearing particularly in mind the need for the efficient operation of specialist services.
51 The House may have noted that the criteria in Clause 4 make no reference to the willingness and ability of the employer to provide welfare amenities. The Devlin Report envisaged this as one of the considerations which should be taken into account. However, Part II of the Bill will ensure that employers who have received licences will have to provide amenities where this responsibility properly falls to them rather than to the port authorities. Because of this, it is not necessary to refer to amenities in the criteria set out in Clause 4. There is no point in assessing an employer's willingness to provide amenities which he will be required to provide anyhow if he is granted a licence.
Clause 5 provides that conditions may be attached to licences. These may relate to the number of workers to be employed at the introduction of licensing, the particular parts of the port in which the employer may operate and the kind of operations in which he may engage. The last type of condition, restricting the kind of operations an employer may undertake, might be necessary in the case of various specialist employers such as employers, for example, of tally clerks who are granted a licence to operate in their specialist field.
Licensing authorities will have power to issue licences for fixed terms of between three and seven years, but they will not have power to revoke them during their term unless there has been a failure to comply with a condition of licence or unless the licence has been granted on the basis of false information.
Clauses 7 to 9 deal with the right of appeal. The system will work as follows. All applications at the initial stage must be made before a prescribed date. The licensing authority, when it has reached decisions on all those applications, will notify all its decisions for the port to all the applicants in that port. If the licensing authority itself proposes to employ dock workers in the port or to continue to employ them, it must state its own proposal in the notice sent to all the applicants. All applicants will have a right of appeal to the Minister of Transport against the decisions or proposals of the licensing authority.
The notices of decisions and proposals sent to applicants for licences in the port 52 must be sent also to the National Ports Council, and the Council will have the right to lodge objections with the Minister or to make representations to the Minister about any appeals by employers against the licensing authority's decisions or proposals. The Council will thus have an important voice in deciding the future pattern of employment and will be able to make its views felt if it thinks that decisions proposed for a particular port are inconsistent with overall considerations of port efficiency. Before determining appeals or objections, the Minister of Transport may direct an inquiry to be held into them under Clause 48.
At the initial stage of licensing, the existing labour force in the port will be divided between those employers granted licences and the licensing authority itself where that licensing authority is an employer of dock labour. This means that the port will be looked at as a whole and, if one appeal or objection to the licensing authority's decision is made, then all the decisions and proposals for that port must be reconsidered at the inquiry.
Hon. Members will have noted that, under Clause 8, appeals are to be decided by the Minister of Transport after consultation with the Minister of Labour. We think that this is right. The overriding consideration must be the general efficiency of the port, which is the responsibility of the Minister of Transport, but the interests of my own. Department are, of course, closely involved.
Clauses 10 to 13 deal with compensation for employers who are refused a licence. Clearly, it is right that, if an employer is put out of business by refusal of a licence, he should be entitled to compensation. Compensation claims will be met by the licensing authorities, but they will be able to recover the cost from the surviving employers in the port. The surviving employers will normally benefit from the traffic previously handled by those employers who are put out of business, and it is reasonable that they should bear the cost of compensation.
Where the port authority itself is an employer, it will bear its due share of the cost. The licensing authority will be able to recover the cost from other employers by means of a levy related to the number of workers employed by each employer on the introduction of licensing, and the levy may be spread over a period 53 up to five years, to be settled by the licensing authority in consultation with those who are contributing.
Licensing will be introduced on a day to be appointed by the Minister of Transport, and different days may be appointed for different ports to suit particular circumstances and administrative needs. The process of sifting initial applications and dealing with appeals will necessarily take some months. It is our aim—and both sides of the industry are with us on this—to introduce full decasualisation under a revised Dock Labour Scheme as soon as practicable.
§ Sir Tatton Brinton (Kidderminster)
The hon. Lady skipped over Clause 10. Does she intend to return to it? There is a rather interesting point there which I should like clarified.
§ Mrs. Williams
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to conclude this part of my speech. I am dealing at present with Clauses 10 to 13, and it may be that, by the time I reach the end pf this section, I shall have answered his point.
It should be possible to introduce full decasualisation under the Dock Labour Scheme in advance of licensing becoming effective, but it will be important to ensure that the licensing operation is carried through with a minimum of delay following the introduction of the revised abour scheme. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to make his point now, when I shall be happy to deal with it.
§ Sir T. Brinton
Clause 10(2) provides that, on an application for renewal of a licence, all the normal initial conditions will apply save the one specifying the number of workers to be employed. Does this mean that, while an employer granted a licence for, say, five years and undertaking to employ, say, 100 men must employ those men for five years, at the end of that time, on renewal of his licence, he will have carte blanche to get rid of as many as he wishes? Is that the intention?
§ Mrs. Williams
No, it is not the intention. The intention is that, in the initial stage, the Bill will lay down a procedure under which the National Dock Labour Board will allocate employees to an employer on the basis of his proposition 54 when he is licensed. If, at a later stage, he wishes to increase or decrease the number of employees in his employment, it will then be for him to go to the Dock Labour Board, which will have a watching brief in the matter, to open discussions with it on that point. So there will be room for alteration in the scale of operations of any one port employer.
§ Sir T. Brinton
I am sorry to interrupt again, but I do not then quite understand the need or reason for subsection (2) of Clause 10.
§ Mrs. Williams
I think that it is, perhaps, a Committee point, Mr. Speaker. The purpose of the subsection, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, stems from the effort to rationalise the docks in the first instance. He will recognise that it would be impossible to impose a frozen pattern upon an industry which is moving as rapidly as this is.
I turn to the second part of the Bill, which deals with the welfare amenities for dock workers. It is a field in which, I think the House will agree, there has been lamentable delay and neglect over the years. We are determined to see that rapid progress is made. The House will be glad to know that action is already in hand. Following the Devlin Report, the Dock Labour Board, in consultation with my right hon. Friend's Department, and with the help of consultants, carried out a comprehensive survey of the amenities needed in each port. These surveys will form the basis for a major programme of amenities.
The purpose of Part II is to provide machinery for ensuring that this happens. But I hope very much that the industry will not wait for the enforcement machinery to come into action before going ahead with the provision of what is required. There is much good will on this subject on the part of the port employers and authorities, and we are confident that the work of implementing the surveys will be put in hand wherever possible without delay. Action has already started in some ports.
55 Clause 5 requires the Dock Labour Board to submit for my right hon. Friend's approval a welfare amenity scheme for each port. It will set out precisely what needs to be done and by whom it should be done. The bulk of the work will fall on the port authorities, which, in most cases, own the land on which the amenities are to be sited, but, where a private employer owns or leases the wharf or quay in question, the responsibility will fall to him.
When the Dock Labour Board has submitted to my right hon. Friend a draft scheme for a particular port, the draft will be made available to those concerned, who will have the right to lodge objections to it. After holding any inquiry which may be necessary, my right hon. Friend will have the power to amend the draft scheme in the light of the objections before he approves the scheme.
Clause 28 empowers port authorities to meet the cost of amenities either by direct charges on employers or workers who use them or from general dues. This will have to be arranged in the light of the particular circumstances in each port.
Clause 30 provides penalties for failure to comply with the requirements of a welfare scheme. It is intended that the Factory Inspectorate will be responsible for enforcement. But the Bill contains, in Clause 29, a further enforcement provision which would enable my right hon. Friend, in the event of serious or persistent default on the part of an employer or a port authority, to authorise the Dock Labour Board to provide the amenities itself and recover the cost from the defaulter. I think that my hon. Friends will appreciate that this will mean that welfare amenities are definitely brought in.
I suggest to the House that this part of the Bill provides machinery which will be well adapted to the needs in the docks in the immediate future. It will initially be largely a question of providing amenities which at present do not exist, and providing them quickly. For this purpose, the system of schemes for each port which is provided for in the Bill will, I believe, be more effective than the more orthodox approach of making welfare regulations under the Factories Acts. It may well be that at a later stage 56 it would be appropriate to move over to a system of regulations, and machinery for doing this is provided in Clause 25(6).
The Bill includes, in Part III, a number of proposals of particular concern to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. These proposals are designed to increase efficiency in the ports. Harbour authorities will be given wide general powers to run inland clearance depots. They will be empowered to acquire, by agreement, stevedoring businesses and other such businesses operating in harbours, or to acquire an interest in them, and will have general powers to carry out harbour operations. In these ways, the harbour authorities will be able to participate in new and more efficient cargo-handling arrangements, and play their part in the voluntary mergers of port employers now going on and, we hope, help to ease the introduction of employer licensing arrangements; and they will also have power to carry out a whole range of harbour activities in their own harbours.
There are also provisions which will greatly facilitate the carrying out of measures of port reorganisation in the main estuaries of the country. Clause 42 provides a limitation on the right to challenge any provisions in harbour orders and schemes, corresponding to the existing limitation of the right to challenge compulsory purchase provisions. Clauses 39 to 45 will, we hope, be of great assistance to the National Ports Council and port authorities in their work of preparing reorganisation schemes and port development plans.
The level of efficiency in our ports still leaves a great deal to be desired. This is especially true of the efficient use of labour. There has been evidence of a new spirit in the industry since the time of the Devlin Report, and my right hon. Friend and I believe that we could be on the edge of a breakthrough in industrial relations, working conditions and efficiency in the docks.
In conjunction with the other measures that I referred to earlier, the Bill, we believe, can make an important contribution to this end, and I therefore commend it to the House.
§ Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)
Before the hon. Lady sits down, would she be able to tell the House, in view 57 of her astonishing statement at the beginning of her speech, what sort of time scale the Government have in mind for legislating the pledge to which she has committed the Government, in the Labour Party manifesto, which seems completely to nullify the Bill whose Second Reading she is moving?
§ Mrs. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the proposal made in the Labour Party's manifesto, that there should ultimately be nationalisation of the ports, is one which will take a great deal of preparation, as I pointed out in my speech. My right hon. Friend and I see no reason for not going ahead with the immediate proposal for rationalising the docks. We do not believe this to be in any way incompatible with a later reorganisation of the docks on the lines laid down in the Labour Party's manifesto.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)
The hon. Lady, whose courteous substitution for her right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour we understand and appreciate, has quite dumbfounded me by her recommendation to the House at one and the same time of a Bill and the complete contradiction of the Bill. In answer to my intervention, she said that her right hon. Friend sees no reason why the intention of the Government to nationalise the docks industry should interfere in any way with the purpose of the Bill. I am staggered that the hon. Lady should permit herself such incomprehension.
The Bill requires the industry to recruit first-class managers, to go in for first-class training and, in conjunction with the harbour authorities, to go in for major investment. They are all suddenly to be told, in a Second Reading speech, in a casual intervention—indeed, in a casual insertion by the hon. Lady; and I believe that it was a late insertion in the speech which her right hon. Friend would have made—that there is no foreseeable number of years for which they can promise a career structure to new managers or an amortisation period for new investment.
I wish now to develop the arguments of the Opposition on the Bill as a whole, but I shall come back to the main point that emerges from the Bill itself, and particularly from the way in which the hon. Lady has chosen to present it this afternoon.
58 During my speech I shall have some comments to make upon the views of the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). I should like the House to know that I have warned him of this, and that he has very courteously sent me a card saying that he cannot be present.
I was somewhat surprised, particularly as one of the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Education was sitting on the Government Front Bench, that the hon. Lady chose to introduce the Bill on such a narrow front. The Bill, and its purpose, fits into a major strategy, and I had hoped that we should hear from her some of the Government's views on the strategy. After all, the Government must know that there are stirrings across the whole transport front, and this may well be a time for us as a country to leapfrog our competitors in cutting our transport costs by higher efficiency. The docks, by common consent, are in urgent need of transformation from a casual inefficient, high cost and sometimes low earning industry to a well managed, efficient, low cost, high earning industry.
But parallel to this need for transformation there are changes on the way in harbours investment. The National Ports Council's Interim Plan proposes a very big investment programme and the Government have already authorised certain components of that investment plan to be put into effect. The Government must realise that the effect of the Bill in improving labour output or getting better management and better labour relations may be reflected considerably in the scale and location of the investment to be made in our harbours.
The two to some extent go together. The investment must reflect the output of labour. But, while all these changes are in preparation, a new and possibly dramatically changed pattern of transport is emerging for general cargo. This country has nothing to be ashamed a' in its handling of bulk cargo, such as iron ore or grain or oil. There we are level in productivity with the best in the world. What we are anxious to improve is the handling of general cargo.
I understand that the arrival of the container industry may make an enormous difference to potential productivity in the handling of general cargo. All 59 these trends—in terms of management-labour relations, productivity, investment in harbours and new methods of vertically related transport handling associated with the container industry—need to be gathered and collated by the Government and an investment, management and manpower strategy evolved.
I agree with the comment made by the hon. Member for Poplar on 28th April, 1966, and reported in column 1069 of HANSARD of that day. He suggested that we should apply operational research to the combination of these different implications of change in the transport and dock industries. It could, indeed, make an enormous difference in cutting our costs and raising earnings if the full potential of these trends were realised.
But that full potential depends upon good management and good labour relations, and here we come back to the Bill. The Bill fulfils part of Devlin, but I think that the hon. Lady will agree that it is the easiest part of Devlin. The awkward bits of the Devlin Report have been hived off. We make no complaint about that, for they needed further examination. The issue of wages and earnings is being considered by Lord Devlin himself and amendments to the Dock Labour Board Scheme are being considered by Sir George Honeyman and his Committee. We hope that they will be able to report constructively and soon.
We have to see the Bill against the background of a wider transport transformation potential and against its human background. I noted with some shock—and perhaps other hon. Members are as ignorant of this aspect as I was—the cost in terms of human suffering that the docks industry still imposes. The latest report by the D.L.B. reveals that the number of accidents is very high. It still appears to be a dangerous industry. We hope that improved management-labour relations will reduce the propensity to accidents.
It is a dangerous industry and we know from history that there is a great deal of bitterness still in it. As a young man, before entering politics, I was excited by the decasualisation proposals of Ernest Bevin and in preparation for this debate I read again Alan Bullock's "The Life and Times of Ernest Bevin".
60 particularly the dramatic chapters from the history of dockland. Decasualisation appeared to be a great step forward. But, as far as we can see, it has bred its own ills, with the result that the post-war trouble in the docks, following decasualisation, has been, extraordinarily enough, even more than the trouble in the docks before the war. This fact was mentioned by the Devlin Committee.
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there was less dispute in the docks before the war because of the high level of unemployment? Hundreds of dockers were knocking on the gates for one job. With decasualisation and post-war full employment, the reverse has been the case. The situation is not that bitterness has increased, but that conditions have altered.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I think that the hon. Gentleman is largely right, but he will agree that Ernest Bevin would still have been very saddened by the results or effects, whatever they may have been caused by.
The Devlin Report stated that casual labour produced a casual attitude in both management and men. I shall not deny that the past reflects little credit on either side in the industry, but our job today is to consider the future in the light of the past and it seems to the Opposition that the Devlin Committee points the way to objectives which are clear and admirable and to methods which seem to us practicable and sensible.
The Devlin Committee's objectives seem to us to be to release to the public, the dockers and the employers, the benefits that could flow to all of them from good management and good industrial relations. What Devlin seeks to do is to give the employers a chance to manage and the dockers the benefits of good management, regular employment and less fluctuating earnings. But it is essential, in the Devlin Committee's view—which the Government have accepted—to eliminate the duality between holding employers and operational employers while still keeping the D.L.B. to see fair play.
One is almost brought to a halt by the Government's blandness on the issue. They accept all this, including dependence upon the employers to turn over a new 61 leaf, to seek new managers and offer them the necessary stable career structure and to embark upon major investment. Yet the Government expect it all to be done against the thoroughly uncertain background that the hon. Lady has created by her remark this afternoon. The employers have shown willing—I am not saying that the unions have not—but their confidence will be shaken by her speech.
As the hon. Lady herself has said, the employers have shown willing. Indeed, 35 employers in the enclosed docks in London have, through their own arrangements, reduced themselves to nine. That is the sort of thing Devlin recommended and that the Government hope for. Now this bombshell has fallen and uncertainty will prevail. We did not and still do not question the Minister's integrity, but we question his strength of mind. The hon. Lady could not see the episode, but it was revealing to note what happened when she spoke that crucial sentence.
After moving the Second Reading, the hon. Lady went on to quote the ambiguous "pledge" in the Labour Party manifesto and committed the Government to carrying it out. I agree that she said that this would take some time and that she did not know when it would happen. But what will this do to the confidence of those who are to recruit or offer themselves as managers?
One can imagine the sort of advertisement that would be appropriate, "Required—first-class managers of fine character and expert knowledge for a career, period unknown, under an employer, character unknown." The hon. Lady has, in effect, doomed the Bill by that one sentence and I hope that her right hon. Friend will come to the House and make a firm statement about the period of years for which the structure provided by the Bill will last before it is judged again.
The hon. Lady should have noted the little performance that went on behind her as she told the House that key sentence. The hon. Member for Poplar was sitting behind her and, as she quoted that ambiguous sentence—no, that committing sentence—he beamed all over his face and beamed at his hon. Friends, as he is entitled to beam because he has won a 62 great verbal triumph. He then walked out of the Chamber as though there was nothing more in today's proceedings for him.
I have had a courteous note from the hon. Member for Poplar to say that he cannot be present for the rest of the day. If the hon. Lady had seen his smile of triumph and his exit from the Chamber, she would have realised, if she had not already done so, and I am sure that she had, what a significant thing she, or her right hon. Friend, under pressure, had inserted into the speech.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
I find it very difficult to understand why the right hon. Gentleman is quite so amazed. He will know that there was a passage in the Labour Party manifesto at the last election stating that it was our intention ultimately to take the dock industry into public ownership. He seems to expect us to abandon pledges made in our manifesto in the course of six weeks.
§ Sir K. Joseph
That would not be surprising. If I were to go on past performance, that could be expected on every subject. The hon. Lady knows how many precedents there are.
But in this case there is a great difference. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister has led us to believe that he wants to legislate Devlin. Devlin depends on confidence among employers and unions alike, and the confidence of employers is to reflect itself in recruiting, good management, training and investment. But all this must be shattered by the uncertainty brought into their prospects by what the hon. Lady has now committed the Government to.
We were very concerned about the apparent conflict between her Minister advocating legislating Devlin, on the one hand, and the National Labour Party Executive, on the other. There were Press reports about the National Labour Party Executive meeting on 27th April, with the Prime Minister present, saying that a commitment to nationalise the docks was entered into and approved.
It was the very next day that the hon. Member for Poplar, who was chairman of the committee whose proposal had allegedly been accepted by the Labour Party Executive, spoke in the House at the end of the debate on the Address.
63 That speech had much truth in it, but it also had some misunderstanding and some exaggeration. As the course now seems to be set by the Government towards nationalisation in some way, I must ask the House to hear some of the reasons against the policy to which the hon. Lady has committed her Government this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Poplar equated the docks with the coal industry in the 'thirties. He said that bitterness in the docks was such as to make any reconciliation between the dockers and the employers impossible, as, so he said. had been the case in the coal industry.
I think that he is fundamentally wrong. I think that the structure of the coal mines was not as antagonistic to good management as the structure of dock employment has been. Nearly all of the ills of the docks, as Devlin says, can be traced to the casual structure of the industry. They are bad by-products of a good intention. In fact, we have a situation in which about one-third of the dockers are employed permanently by dock employers and, as far as I know, showing no great reluctance to continue in that permanent employment.
A large part of the trouble arising in the docks occurs because those who are followers or casuals resent the apparent good luck of those who have permanent employment with employers, some of whom are very good. I am not defending all employers, but many of them are perfectly good and are doing their best in difficult circumstances. I disagree with the basis of the view of the hon. Member for Poplar who related the dock industry to the coal industry of the 1930s.
But even supposing that we accept his view, what is he proposing instead and what is the hon. Lady proposing? Is this a straightforward nationalisation? Is it a nationalisation of labour only? Is it a nationalisation of harbours only with labour being held by a national dock labour board? Are employers to be eliminated altogether? We are left in considerable ambiguity and the people who will have to carry out the essence of the Bill will also be left in great uncertainty.
I hope that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), who is 64 to wind up the debate for the Government, will give more clarity to the picture. Are employers to recruit managers? Are they to set investment programmes in hand? We want to know what sort of time they have, because there is a sinister ingredient in this position which I must bring to the attention of the House.
Nationalisation is something which we on this side of the House oppose wholeheartedly, because we believe that it is impersonal and inefficient. We believe that large employers of a governmental nature, such as a nationalised body must be, are very unlikely to resist increases in earnings unrelated to increases in productivity. We believe that such nationalised bodies will be "soft" on Luddism. We believe that they will be "soft" on efficiency and that on the whole they will be bad employers and that the result of nationalisation is against the public interest. We say this not ideologically, but out of practical experience.
If what the Government are now doing under cover of one sentence in a Second Reading speech is to embark on yet another excursion into nationalisation, the country needs to be told so clearly and the reasons for it and how they are to do it. If, on the other hand, the hon. Lady has produced a sentence intended merely to quieten her hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and his hon. Friends on the back benches, for some of whom I have a personal regard although no political time at all, I think that she is sabotaging her own Bill. We very much deplore the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister is not himself to wind up the debate, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up will address himself to this problem.
Devlin himself spells out in no uncertain words the damage which nationalisation would do. He says that he regards the personal relationship between good employers and permanent labour forces as imperative to getting good production from the docks. Now the Government are throwing all this overboard, after having nominally accepted the Devlin Report, in favour of some cloudy alternative of which they give us no details.
The really sinister element is that in the docks—and the House is aware of this and the Prime Minister himself referred 65 to it, in passing—there are people whom Devlin described as wreckers, probably not many of them. I am not suggesting for a moment that there is any alliance between the hon. Member for Poplar and those who agree with him and these few wreckers. But as Devlin says, the wreckers regard any improvement in industrial relations as bad for wrecking and, therefore, they have sworn undying emnity to decasualisation. That is why they are against Devlin, because, as the Report shows, implementation of the Devlin proposals will damage their purposes, which are not purposes which anyone in the House would support.
It is quite possible that when the Bill is through the House, if the Government still continue with it after what they have said, some of these wreckers will try to upset the dockers. If that happens, will the Government, on the urging of the hon. Member for Poplar, produce that as evidence that Devlin will not work? Will we be told that because there is an upset caused by the wreckers, Devlin was a stage which had to be tried, but which had been seen as quickly as that to fail, and that the Government are, therefore, entitled to go on to the next stage, whatever that might be?
I ask the hon. Lady to realise that there are forces which may be at work which, although their motives are entirely different, may play into the hands of those hon. Members behind her who want to make the Bill nugatory and who want to pass straight over the Bill into some undisclosed form of nationalisation.
I am not being fanciful here. All this was predicted by Lord Devlin himself. If the Parliamentary Secretary will look at page 123 of the Report of the Devlin Committee—the very last sentences of the penultimate page—she will find an invitation to her Government and to the Minister:We therefore invite you to say in general terms that the Government, once it is satisfied that the joint machinery of the industry has produced a plan beneficial to the docks and acceptable to a substantial majority of dock workers, will not stand by and see it wrecked by a minority; it will use its powers under the Act, strengthened if necessary, to impose a new scheme".I was going to ask the Government to give the pledge that rather than see the Bill wrecked by a minority of ill-wishers, they would impose the scheme which is 66 embodied in the Bill, but now I have to ask an even more urgent question. I have asked it before and I ask it again. Will the Government make clear the period of time for which they are legislating and what they propose to do after this legislation, if they intend to fulfil the hon. Lady's words this afternoon?
§ Mr. Heffer
The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting and important point. Is it not true, when we consider imposing this on the industry, that when the former Labour Government and Mr. Isaacs imposed this at the time, it was against a section of the employers, who were bitterly opposed to the scheme being introduced, and the entire trade union movement in the docks industry demanded that the Government should carry this out? When we are talking in terms of imposition, therefore, it was an imposition against a minority of employers. Can the right hon. Gentleman define whether the Devlin Report is saying that it will be on the employers that this will have to be imposed, or on certain sections of the trade unions? There is some doubt about exactly what is meant.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The Bill embodies, if necessary, a compulsion on employers by introducing a licensing system, to which we have no objection in principle. The Devlin Report references are to the minority of wreckers, who, it states, have sworn enmity to decasualisation, the very policy that the Government have adopted, because they see it as improving industrial relations and, therefore, damaging to wrecking.
I turn now from the big strategy to few major questions on the Bill. While we support the idea of licensing to reduce the number of employers, and though we hope that this will be done everywhere voluntarily, as in the enclosed docks of London, we are concerned lest the Government inadvertently create what I believe is called oligopoly. We want to be assured that new employers will be able to come in. We do not want a situation where employers, however good their motives and management, now grow slack because there is no competition. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will tell us something about this when he replies.
Secondly, on the licensing system I was going to say to the Government that we 67 think that their period of licensing, for three to seven years, may not be enough in some cases to encourage the large investment that we think some employers will want to provide. It may be necessary to allow licences for 20, 30 or even more years to justify the major investment that some employers will want to make.
But this is very relevant to the uncertainty that the hon. Lady has thrown into the industry by what she said this afternoon. Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in winding up the debate, tell us his view about whether some licences should not be for much longer and, if so, how that marries with the commitment of the Government to change the structure of the industry again once the Bill is through?
I now turn to the First Schedule. We shall want to examine carefully in Committee the inclusions in the Schedule. We have particular reason to question the insertion of the port of Par. That, however, is a Committee point. I merely give the Government warning that we shall want to go into some detail on the composition of the Schedule.
Returning to the question of licensing, we note with some concern that as a condition for compensation an employer who is denied a licence and receives compensation will have to be an employer at a certain date, not yet specified, and will, in the previous months leading up to that date, have had to employ a certain minimum number of dockers. We suggest to the Government that this may encourage employers who are willing to leave the industry with compensation to hang on more than is necessary and retain a number of dockers in their employ, simply to be sure of their compensation. Perhaps the hon. Lady will consider, before the Committee stage, whether there is such a danger in the way that the Bill is drafted.
We realise that much of Part III of the Bill, connected with harbours, is to clear up a number of anomalies and defects that have emerged since the Harbours Act was passed, but we have one big query on this. We should like to know whether Clause 35 has been cleared by the Government with the Customs. I understand that the establishment of con- 68 tainer depots depends a great deal upon the agreement of the Customs authorities, and we see no reference to the Customs in the Clause. We shall want to examine this as an important matter.
The constructive tenor of the speech that I had intended to make this afternoon has, I fear, had to be altered in the light of the major bombshell that the hon. Lady has thrown into this debate. We are staggered that the Government can either submit to the pressures of the hon. Member for Poplar and throw him a verbal bone, on the one hand, or—and this would be just as bad, if not worse—sabotage the confidence on which the execution of their Bill depends by giving the employers notice that they will not be able honourably either to recruit or to invest on a scale that the intentions of the Bill would warrant.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
In rising to make my maiden speech in this House, I should like first to refer to the people of Bistol, North-West and to thank them for sending me here. Secondly, I should like to refer to the former Member, Mr. Martin McLaren, who sat on the benches opposite. He was well known and was, perhaps, better known to the Members of this House than to me personally. I met him on only a few occasions. His political beliefs and philosophy were not mine, but I formed the impression that he honestly and sincerely held those views and I do not think that one can say more of a man that that. I was also going to wish him a successful future, but I hear that he has been readopted as the prospective Conservative candidate in my constituency, and I think that the House will understand in the circumstances that I wish him a long and successfull retirement.
The Bill is very important for my constituency, because in Bristol, North-West we have the Avonmouth Docks. Because of the important developments that are taking place, we are likely to see an era of unprecedented growth in Bristol. The completion of the M4 from London, the M5 from Birmingham and the Severn Bridge, with roadway spurs down to the docks, will make this one of the boom areas of Great Britain. We shall see in the near future—and I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front 69 Bench that I hope we shall see it very soon—an announcement on the Portbury scheme. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that we should take action to bring the entire docks industry up to date.
The first point I want to make on the Bill concerns Clause 2(3,b) which states:add to that Schedule a port to which a labour scheme for the time being applies, specifying the body which is to be the licensing authority therefor".There is an important omission from the Bill. Although docks and harbours are covered in Schedule 1, it is limited to ports and harbours which operate the National Dock Labour Scheme. The provision of amenities and decent working conditions for the men is one of the highlights of the Bill, and these facilities, of course, must be paid for. We feel, therefore, that there is danger that even though these are the smaller ports and harbours, there will be a tendency towards unfair competition to the extent that it will not be mandatory for them to provide the amenities that we consider to be very necessary. Having examined the Bill, I do not see why we should not include all ports and harbours in this enactment. I hope that something can be done about this.
Having mentioned the smaller point, I now pass on to the larger point. Although I have been engaged in politics for quite a number of years, I had no actual experience of ports and harbours before standing for the constituency of Bristol, North-West. In looking at the situation, I found that there were many problems. Labour relations were bad, and so tight was the struggle that it was very difficult to move on. Over the years, there has been a tendency to examine and re-examine the industry's problems. We had Leggett in 1955, Devlin in 1956, Forster in 1961, Rochdale in 1961 and, now, Devlin again. Throughout all this, the main problems that emerged were the question of casual labour and the fact that there were so many employers in the docks. I thought, very naively, at first that we should deal with this situation.
I was rather surprised to find that in Bristol the point at which the dockers were selected for work every morning was called the pens, where men stand around and are picked out for the day's employment. I regarded that as a terrible 70 situation. Nobody, surely, could subscribe to that way of organising a major industry. I was therefore surprised to hear that some dockers supported that kind of hiring of labour. I have come to the conclusion that because feelings in the industry are so bitter, there is a tendency for some of the men, at least, to accept the devil they know rather than agree to change.
Although this is a limited Bill, it makes some advances. There are, however, certain dangers. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour made the statement that she did this afternoon about the future of the industry, because while the Bill represents a move forward and will reduce the number of employers, and will certainly do something about the amenities at the docks, it is no solution of itself. Therefore, when we take the Government's proposals to the workers and the employers in the industry, we must outline what the future of the whole industry is to be, otherwise we shall have trouble in getting the Bill accepted.
In Bristol there are 77 dock employers. This is one reason why it is important to set out the future policy. The number of employers is to be cut down; that is important, and it was recommended by the Devlin Committee. The employers will have to give the men whom they employ more permanent employment. The number of people who are hired casually will fall. The number of men that an employer will employ and the extent to which their employment will be permanent is to be one of the criteria for the issuing of licences to employers.
If it is decided to have, say, five employers in Bristol, the nature of the work which is offered by any one of them might be different from that offered by the other four. One employer might have work for which he can offer different piece rates for the different cargoes which he handles. Another employer might have a substantial need of overtime. If such a situation were to continue for any length of time, the workers in the industry would be able to say that one employer gave a better rate of pay than the others and, in consequence, even though there had been no trouble in the past, there might be a great deal of trouble in the future.
71 For these reasons, while the Bill will do great work in securing the provision of amenities and we recognise that a reduction in the number of employers is a good thing, it is only one step in the right direction. For that reason, I welcome the statement made this afternoon by my hon. Friend.
I do not wish to abuse my position on this occasion, and I will therefore bring my speech to an end. We have heard from the Opposition Front Bench what are the views of hon. Members opposite. If they do not object too violently, I should like to refresh their memories. In their Election Campaign Guide, they said that the recommendations of the Devlin Report, which in the main were well received by both employers and trade unions, were very much in line with Conservative thinking. In listing some of the proposals of the Devlin Committee, the Conservative Party listed the following as the first of the Committee's principal recommendations:The National Dock Labour Scheme should be retained, but all men on the register in every port should be employed on a regular weekly engagement, by individual employers"—and I stress this—or by a single employer for the port, either the port authority or an amalgamation of existing employers.In Bristol we have an excellent port authority. I am quite sure that in this industry we can argue the economic necessity for having ultimately one employer to serve one dock area. This, I think, will be the ultimate solution.
I welcome the Bill in so far as it represents a step towards the solution that we want. I think that it will do great work in securing provision of the amenities that are so sadly lacking in our ports. It is a step in the right direction, but it is only one step on the way.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I am glad to join hands across the countryside from Harwich to Bristol in congratulating the new Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) on the confidence and clarity with which he made his maiden speech. The hon. Member has succeeded Martin McLaren, a Member who worked hard and quietly not only for his constituency, but in the House of Commons as well.
72 I believe that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West formerly worked in meteorology. While the outlook for him this afternoon has been fine and sunny, and indeed calm, I can tell him that if, on future occasions he speaks as he did in the latter stage of his maiden speech, the outlook will not be quite as calm and sunny for him. We welcome, however, the manner in which he made his maiden speech.
I am glad to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour upon the first speech that I have heard her make from the Dispatch Box, particularly as she fought me twice in Harwich some time ago.
Generally, I welcome Parts I and II of the Bill because they seem to be very sensible. We shall have to pay particular attention to the powers taken in Part III. They are far more far-reaching than some people have yet realised. These powers are being slipped in, under the cover of welfare amenities and decasualisation of labour.
But any Measure whose objective is aimed at the introduction of regular, permanent employment, which helps towards a reduction of the number of employers, the abolition of restrictive practices; the reform of the wage structure and the provision of proper welfare facilities, must have the support of anyone who knows what a hindrance the delay in carrying out such reforms has been to the proper administration of our ports.
Some of the provisions of the Bill hardly apply to the East Coast ports, for our problems are entirely different to those of the larger ports, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows. We do not want to be held up as an example, but some of these smaller ports have succeeded in establishing labour relations far better than many of the bigger ports. A great deal of this success is achieved by good management, which, ahead of the Devlin Committee, has already been carrying out most of its recommendations.
This success has been due to the decentralisation policy of the 1962 Transport Act. Once some of these smaller ports were able to escape from the overcentralised control it was surprising how much progress was made. Whatever changes may be made as a result of this or succeeding Bills, I hope that we shall recognise the essential difference between the 73 small and large ports. We do not want over-centralised control to interfere with the good management, initiative, drive and competition which have been such a feature and a spur to progress since this policy of decentralisation for the smaller ports was introduced.
It is against this background that I see the control of the employment of dock workers and the amendments to the Harbours Act, 1964, relating to the powers of the National Ports Council and harbour authorities and to harbour reorganisation schemes. We want some help with limited facilities, but not at the expense of interfering with the excellent management which we have in the small ports. I do not want any attempt at over-centralised control in addition to, and over and above that already exercised by the National Ports Council and the Minister of Transport. According to their manifesto, the Labour Party will reorganise and modernise the nation's ports on the basis of a strong national ports authority, and make each port's authority ultimately responsible for that port's operations within the area, including stevedoring.
Yes. further centralisation is threatened in the Bill although it is under the guise of welfare and the control of dock workers and seems to be harmless. Where is the sting? Let me refer to the East Coast ports. It is, perhaps inevitable, that one authority is made of the whole Harwich, Ipswich, Felixstowe area. At the moment, the only port appearing in the First Schedule to the Bill is Ipswich. Is it the Government's intention to impose this Bill on the Stour and Orwell Estuary by the inclusion of Ipswich?
Under Clause 37 of the BillA harbour authority may for the purpose of any of its statutory powers or statutory duties acquire by agreement any land where-ever situated.This Clause seems to be very far-reaching because, if Ipswich was made the chosen instrument, by invoking this Clause the authorities could obtain all the undertakings in the area. The Clause says that the harbour authority… may … acquire by agreement …It does not specify who has to be in agreement. Could it be only the Minister who has to agree? The Bill does not say this.
74 What are the Minister's intentions? These are wide powers without the precise natures being stated. I regard this as very dangerous. The Bill is much wider than it seems. In Schedule 2(2,b) the Minister may, at his will, alter the port schedule as he thinks fit. As far as I can see, he is accountable to no one, for the Schedule says:… a harbour revision or empowerment order shall not, either before or after it is made, be questioned in any legal proceedings whatsoever …The Parliamentary Secretary said that this is the same as a compulsory purchase order. To my mind, this would be but a step to back-door nationalisation, and it is certainly a move to further centralisation. If we are to have these new controls on employers of dock workers, improved welfare facilities, and the reforms of Devlin, then, on the union side, we must have some reform, too. Has the Minister such an agreement? We cannot afford the interference with the speed of turn-round that roll-on and roll-off traffic can give. We must not allow restrictive practices to interfere with the liner trains and the proper upgrading of a more limited staff which will be needed in the modern container transport system.
We are going through a revolution in the use of our docks and the employment of dockers. It is no longer a matter of muscle and brawn, but of skill and brain-power, in the use of computers and semi-automatic cranes to fill the new container ships which must be constructed to conform to the International Standards Organisation specifications. This is why I welcome the new £8 million two-year programme to develop Parkeston Quay, in my own constituency. This provides a completely integrated, door-to-door service, between the United Kingdom and anywhere on the Continent. Part of this plan must be the formation of inland clearance depôts, having access either by rail or by road. Clause 35 of the Bill gives powers to harbour authorities to establish such depots. I am not so much concerned about what happens by rail as by what happens by road.
With all of this £8 million investment taking place and similar facilities being established on the Continent, what disturbs me is the comparison of our road facilities to the ports with the road 75 facilities serving the ports of the Continent. Is it really possible to bring in a Bill like this, aimed at improving our port facilities, and to make a £8 million investment in a first-class new scheme at Parkeston and then to do nothing to help over-road communications? The provision of inland clearance depots is an essential part of the scheme. Only a few weeks ago I pressed the Minister to look into this problem of road communications and the answer I received was that this is a matter for the county councils.
Is it right, when all this development is taking place, for the Minister to hive off such an important question as this, bearing in mind the introduction of the Bill, and taking into account the final investment which is taking place? Technically, I suppose, it could be said to be correct, but does the Minister realise the kind of increase in traffic which is already taking place, and the increase which is likely to take place soon? I am sure that it is unrealistic, unenterprising and completely unimaginative to talk about all these provisions and then do nothing about the roads. To divorce all these from road communication is very wrong. If the Continental ports have excellent roadways leading up to them, something must be done about our motorways, too.
Tomorrow, a new car ferry service opens between Harwich and Bremerhaven. From Bremerhaven to Basle there is a 500-mile motorway connecting the port to the heart of the continental industrial area. From Harwich to our industrial areas there is a road running to Colchester which can be best described—and the hon. Lady must know that this is correct—as one of the best antiques in the country. It is pre-war in its construction and winding and turning and completely out of date for our modern industrial age.
Is it any wonder that in Germany productivity and exports are far ahead of ours? Let the Minister stop being so lethargic and complacent. He should be concerned about the welfare facilities, but, as I have said, this matter must go hand in hand with a proper and imaginative road policy. Let him make Harwich to Colchester the first leg of a motorway stretching to the Midlands.—I was 76 extremely envious when I heard the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West talking about a motorway which went right up to the Port of Bristol. It made me think of some of the bad road services which we are getting in what must be a gateway to Europe.
If our exports are to arrive in good time there must be not only good communication, but careful and expert handling in the docks. I am glad to support those parts of the Bill which add to the status of the dock workers, but I warn the Minister about the problem of the roads. I have pressed it hard this afternoon, and it was my intention to do so, because it must go hand in hand with any progressive ports policy.
I regard the Third Schedule to the Bill as much more far-reaching in some of the controls which it will exert on the docks. What I am afraid of is that the heavy hand of centralisation may prevent the initiatives which have been taken by some of the smaller ports which have succeeded so well in the last few years. Therefore, while I shall not vote against the Bill, I shall certainly look very carefully in Committee at the intentions behind the Schedules to the Bill.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said that he was dumbfounded that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made it perfectly clear that the Labour Party's policy on which we fought the election was still our policy and that it would be carried out. I should have been dumbfounded if that statement had not been made and if we had not been told today that it was the Government's intention to bring the ports into public ownership.
However, the right hon. Gentleman made an extremely valid point. He said that it was necessary to have a firm statement as to the period of the operation of the Bill. I agree with him. I accept the argument that it is very important that there should not be any misunderstanding, either by the management or the men in the industry, about their future. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in winding up the debate, will tell us how long the Bill is likely to be in operation.
77 My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis), who made his maiden speech, said that he felt that the Bill was a first step. I see it rather is a halfway house. If one goes into the provisions of the Bill, it is not even a halfway house. But it is a slight movement in the right direction. Unfortunately, however, it shies away from the only solution if we are to solve the problems of the docks. I see it as a belated attempt to put into operation some of the proposals contained in the Rochdale Report of 1962. The Bill undoubtedly will have the effect of reducing the number of employers. In that sense, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a positive step forward; but it does not go far enough.
The Rochdale Report states, on page 35:In each port a proportion of the number of employers is, we understand, virtually inactive, but even allowing for this we are convinced that without a substantial reduction in the numbers in most ports it will not be possible either to attain economically the higher degree of decasualisation of labour which is so desirable … or to achieve the most efficient operating methods. As regards cargo handling, we recommend that this should be carried out by a smaller number of substantial employers of labour, all with some financial stake in the port, and that one of these should be the port authority itself.The Report emphasised that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board actually possessed the powers to be a master porter but did not use them.
It is clear from Clauses 5 and 6 that in future all the port authorities will be able to employ dock labour. It is not obligatory. This is a weakness in the Bill. I believe that it should be obligatory; it should not be merely a question of choice. This is why I say that the Bill is not even a halfway house. It would be if it made it obligatory on the port authorities to be employers of labour.
The Bill should be radically changed, not only to make it obligatory for the port authority to be an employer, but to go much further and to make provision for reducing the number of employers right down to one. It is unnecessary to have a whole number of employers. The employer of labour should be the port authority in each case. Under the Bill that can be done even without public ownership. It is possible to change the character of the Bill to ensure that there 78 is one employer, certainly in our major ports. We should contemplate doing that, even at this stage.
After the Rochdale Report was published, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board established a sub-committee to go into the question of the numbers of master porters in Liverpool. Liverpool Trades Council and Labour Party, of which then I was a very prominent member, decided to send people to the sub-committee and put our point of view. In fact, we were asked by the sub-committee what our views were on this question. I would quote from a letter, because I want to make this point to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, North-East, who tried to give the impression that the people who were demanding one employer for the industry and perhaps nationalisation, were wreckers.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Oh, no. With respect, I carefully differentiated between those like the hon. Member and his hon. Friends, who, without any ill will, want nationalisation, and the views of a few wreckers at the docks. I think that the House with remember that.
I accept the right hon. Member's view on this, and I am sorry if I imputed wrong motives, but what he said did not sound very happy to me.
The Liverpool Trades Council and Labour Party are very responsible bodies. In January, 1963, the letter which they sent to that sub-committee of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board said:Your letter of 27th December, inviting my Trades Council to make known their views on the above matter, was discussed at our last meeting, and we wish to suggest to the sub-committee who are considering this matter that the best interest of the port can be served more efficiently by there being only one employer, and that it should be a public body.That was in 1963, when the Trades Council and the Labour Party in Liverpool made their views known.
Now I come to—if you like—an even more responsible body. I say that because we have been charged in Liverpool that the Liverpool Trades Council can perhaps be regarded as being a little irresponsible. We conduct some pretty strong campaigns against the right hon. Member's party. But this is a very responsible body in the form of one man, the regional secretary of the Transport 79 and General Workers' Union, and a more respected citizen could never be found in Liverpool, I can assure the House. What did he say? He also wrote a letter to the sub-committee of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board on this very question, and put forward his regional committee's point of view. He said:We agree with the Rochdale Committee that there are far too many employers with licences operating on the docks, some of them spasmodically, some reasonably, and others fully engaged. They range from shipping firms loading and discharging their own ships to nominee firms employed by their sponsors, and also the master porter who waits like Micawber for something to turn up.… It is the view of the Union that provided it is practicable one authority should be the sole employer on the docks. This would have tremendous economic advantages, and could operate in conjunction with the present National Dock Labour Board system. It could co-ordinate plant, machinery and labour movements, as well as guaranteeing full employment and fringe benefits.This was the view of the Transport and General Workers' Union's regional committee in 1963. I am assuming, on the basis of present experience, that it is its view at the present time.
There is one further authority which has already been quoted here this afternoon. I should like to call upon the election manifesto of the Labour Party itself. My hon. Friend quoted from that manifesto. I merely want to underline the point about "including stevedore". Of course it can be argued that it did not say "immediately". Of course it did not say "immediately". I accept that it would not be possible overnight to bring the docks under public ownership, but with the Bill we are considering the question of the number of employers in our ports and the argument is that we must reduce the number of employers because certain employers, anyway, do not really employ anybody, and some of them are very inefficient; therefore, we should concentrate the number of employers to the larger employers. Then we are told, at the same time, that we hope that the employers will really bring in some decent amenities along the line of docks.
Well, let us look at the logic of that argument. In the first place, those who did not employ anybody naturally had no say in improving amenities along the line of docks. Therefore, the largest 80 number of employers, the bigger ones, will still be the same employers who have never provided the amenities along the line of docks. What we are suggesting in the Bill is that we should keep those same employers in existence and even make them bigger.
To me, the logic of that is that, to get the proper amenities, and to get efficiency, the answer is to bring about one employer. As I said earlier we can do that even before we bring the docks under public ownership, and we can do that by making each port authority the employer of the dockers. I see even this as only the first step. It can be only the first step because the real need is to bring the docks under public ownership.
I turn to Part II of the Bill, the question of amenities. I worked along the line of docks in Liverpool for many years. I was a senior shop steward in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and at one time was deputed by my committee to write a pamphlet on the question of welfare facilities.—It was not enjoyable, writing that pamphlet, but the more I went into it the sadder I became.
Let me quote some of the proposals in that pamphlet. These were long-term proposals. I shall come to the short-term ones in a minute. What did we say? We said:That there should be washhouses at places adjacent to the canteens, or in smaller units, which would include not only washing, shower and bathing facilities, but also individual lockers for each employee, so that he could change his clothing before commencing, and on leaving, work. This would enable men to come to work and go home in a clean and tidy condition and not cause embarrassment on public transport. It would raise the dignity of the industrial worker to his rightful place.The fact that I wrote that in November, 1962, as something which was needed as a long-term prospect for workers in the docks in Liverpool, is adequate proof— one could not find more adequate proof —of the lack of amenities. Indeed, there were no amenities at all for dock workers.
The second long-term proposal went further. It said:Rest rooms, with reading facilities and games facilities should also be provided for use during meal hours. Such facilities are increasingly provided in industry by the larger employers, and are widespread in the U.S.A., Sweden and Western Germany.81 Now I will come to the immediate needs. One item in a long list was:That drying-rooms be built, so that men can dry, clothing due to either getting wet on their way to work or when doing essential jobs during inclement weather.Drying rooms still do not exist. They were an immediate need in 1962, so that men who worked in the rain on ships, loading and discharging cargoes, should have somewhere to dry their clothes. What an indictment of the employers!
What does the Devlin Report say about that, because these are the employers who will still be there? On page 32, it has this to say about amenities:We cannot acquit the employers on the charge of dragging their feet. It may be that pressure from the trade union side was restrained by a feeling that what money could be got from the employers was better not diverted from increases in the pay packet. But the initiative clearly lay with the employers. It was their duty, individually or collectively, to attend to facilities of this sort and it is they who find the finance for the Board.There is a clear indictment of the employers. That is why I want to put it to the House again that, if it is right, under the Bill, to reduce the number of employers, it is right to reduce them down to one so that there will be not only the proper capital investment in our docks for modernisation, but investment in the workers along the line of docks, investment in decent conditions, in welfare facilities and in proper amenities. That is why I make the plea that, as an interim measure, we should bring the number of employers down further, to one.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I can assure you that I could have gone on at greater length to speak about the appalling conditions of dock workers in Liverpool and elsewhere, but I think that the case has been adequately made out.
Unfortunately, the Bill is the wrong Bill, and it is introduced at the wrong time. We should have had another Bill, perhaps a little later, which definitely carried out reasonably early the overall policy of the Labour Party for the public ownership of the docks. We have not got that Bill in front of us yet, but I urge that, in the meantime, we should amend the present Bill so that we have only one employer in each port, and that employer should be the port authority. At the same time, we should introduce into the Bill a 82 schedule of the sorts of amenities that we must see put into operation immediately.
My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that she hoped that the employers would not wait for the necessary legislation of enforcement. On the basis of past bitter experience, all that I can say is, what a hope! I wish that something positive would be done. It is true that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is doing something, but the actual employers of labour are doing nothing about it. That is why we must have one employer, the port authority, as the first stage. The second stage must be the full public ownership of the docks.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Sir Tatton Brinton (Kidderminster)
I was fascinated, as I have no doubt many hon. Members were, to hear the very strong and cogent reasons put forward by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) for the nationalisation of the docks. He based the case for that major step largely on the advice given by the Liverpool Trades Council and the regional committee of the Transport and General Workers' Union, both bodies which one would naturally expect to support the nationalisation of almost anything, including the docks.
We have heard the indication, which is clearly set out in the Labour Party's election manifesto as well, that it is proposed to nationalise the docks. But how that ties in with the Bill which we are asked to consider on Second Reading defeats me completely. If that is the intention, I agree with the hon. Member for Walton that we do not need the present Bill at all. Let us have a genuine attempt at a nationalisation Bill, tying into it the solutions which the Government may or may not be able to propose for all the problems faced by the docks. Let us have it honestly put in front of us.
We have before us, instead, a Bill which is couched in terms implying a substantial measure of security for, at any rate, some of the existing employers. If he has not got any security, what employer will undertake the investment for which the Government are pleading in the Bill itself, by implication, and in several eloquent speeches to which we have listened?
The Government have not laid on the line what they mean by the nationalisation of the docks, in any case. It seems 83 to be quietly set aside that the majority of the docks and practically all the larger ones are already in public ownership. I think that the Manchester docks are the only ones which are run by a body corporate that is not a public authority. Presumably, they are referring to that passage in the Labour Party manifesto in which they refer to… making each Port Authority ultimately responsible for all port operations within its own area.As an employer of labour and as an operator of machinery, it is presumably to carry out all functions.
In any case, I should like to know how it is to be operated. We are not dealing now with an industry such as coal mining or the railways, which are fairly homogenous. Docks are of an enormous variety. They carry out a great number of different functions in the importing, exporting and handling of various products. Is it to be suggested that each of those products and each of those operations, with their specialised techniques, will be handled adequately by one single authority? I would suggest that that is the straight recipe for the usual muddle and inefficiency that one gets with any organisation which is too large, including all the nationalised undertakings that we have already.
The intention to nationalise ultimately explains one of the anomalies in the Bill, which is that the port authorities themselves are to be the licensing authorities. That goes against the specific recommendations of the Devlin Committee. None the less, it is, from the Government's point of view, a useful step towards an ultimate nationalisation scheme for the whole of our docks if we talk about the elimination of all the independent employers.
By giving the immediate port authority a strong measure of authority over those employers who still remain when the Bill comes into operation, we shall hasten the day when possibly the port authorities can push out the competing employers within their port areas even without a nationalisation Bill. I suggest that this particular and rather peculiar quirk in the Bill is tied in with the intentions expressed by the hon. Lady.
I have mentioned the question of specialists, those who import specialised 84 goods such as meat and other things which require specialised handling and machinery, and I should like now to go on to say something about the effect on them and on a number of other employers of the compensation provisions of the Bill.
Forgetting for the moment the ultimate intention to kick everybody out, presumably the intention of the compensation scheme is to obtain some rough justice between those who are dispossessed and those who remain, on the basis that those who remain as employers in the docks must benefit by the absence of those who have gone. Obviously this will not be entirely true. Some employers will take over extra labour and increase the size of their operations at the expense of of those who disappear. Others will remain the same size. This applies particularly to wharfingers and specialised people of that kind who will carry on as they are doing now without necessarily acquiring any extra labour, and without necessarily requiring any extra labour.
In fact they will continue to do what they are doing now, and will not benefit in any way from the disappearance of a number of small stevedore companies, yet, because their labour is employed under the Dock Labour Scheme, such companies will be assessed to pay into the compensation pool. In spite of the fact that one company decasualised its labour many year ago and has a permanent staff now, it will have to pay into the compensation pool the same proportion in relation to the number of employees as any other employer who is expanding the scope of his activities. I should like the Minister to look into this to see whether the provision is fair, because it seems to me that if someone is gaining nothing he should not have to cough up large sums of compensation.
I do not know what the compensation will amount to, but let us consider the five largest ports in the country. According to the Devlin Report, there were at the time of the Report 371 employers in total in these five ports. Devlin suggested that they should be reduced to about 50, and we have heard that in the enclosed London docks they have gone one better than the figure suggested by the Devlin Report and have reduced voluntarily to nine when ten was recommended. There will, therefore, be a substantial number of employers going out.
85 The Financial Memorandum to the Bill, while being pretty cagey as to how much money will be required, suggests that it may be necessary to provide up to £5 million for some incidental expenses, but in the main for financing the initial compensation payment to the dispossessed employers. I realise that we have talked only about the five largest ports, and that about 80 ports are mentioned in the First Schedule. It may be that much of the expense will lie there, but one imagines that most of the money will come into the five largest ports. What sort of sums will the continuing employers have to find as a share of possibly £5 million which is to be paid in compensation to those who disappear?
It may be that the remaining employers will have to find large sums of money. If they do, such a sum will represent a capital investment for the future to the employer who finds the money. If, in three years' time, the Government come along and say, "We have had time to stand up and shake the water off ourselves and get something done, and we are going to nationalise the docks", a man who has paid £150,000, or perhaps £200,000, in compensation to a disappearing employer will be faced with the problem of wondering whether he will get his money back by way of compensation for being nationalised.
If I know anything of the views of many hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Gangway, the answer to that is, "Not if they can help it", so why should such employers stay in business now? That being so, what is the Bill about if we are not giving the existing employer hope for the future and hope that he will receive encouragement or see back the money which he is being asked to pay now for compensation?
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, has left the Chamber. A considerable part of his speech was devoted to the question of amenities. There is no doubt that amenities in the docks are shockingly bad. A great deal of blame for this—and the Devlin Report is quoted in support of the contention—is always laid at the door of the employer, but those who are listening to this debate —and we have had some very good speeches today—understand that an employer in the docks is very different 86 from an employer of factory labour in ordinary life.
An employer in the docks may have no local habitation or home. For instance, many of the lighter companies have no premises of their own. They operate in other people's premises up and down the river. How, therefore, can a lighter company provide facilities and amenities for its employees at the place where they are likely to be wanted? It obviously cannot. We are faced with many anomalies of this kind, and it seems to me that the simplest answer to this—and I shall be interested to hear the views of someone who has spent a long time in the docks—is for the owner of the dock facilities to provide the amenities where they are required.
The Devlin Report says that the Port of London Authority does not provide amenities because it is not an employer of labour, and there is no reason why it should provide amenities for the benefit of other people's employees, but, given the fact that in many cases employers are not working in their own buildings, and do not have their own buildings, what can be done to provide the necessary amenities?
We have been asked to provide drying rooms, lavatories, wash basins, showers, and so on. All these things must automatically go with the building on the dock side. Surely the owner of the building should provide them, and, whether the owner is the port authority or a person, he should recover his costs in the same way as the owner of any other building does when people use it, namely, by making a charge for the use of the building with its facilities.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
Can the hon. Gentleman suggest one instance in the last 80 years where an employer has made that suggestion to a port authority?
§ Sir T. Brinton
I am afraid that I cannot. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is capable of saying that they have not done so.
The real problem which faces us is that the Bill and I am forgetting the problem of nationalisation—is devoted to producing a situation in which the dock labour force will be more contented, will receive 87 a squarer deal, and will have better amenities. To this extent the Bill is to be welcomed, but, as was pointed out earlier in the debate, this is only a small part, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) pointed out, probably the easier part, of the whole problem. What is still to come in the settlement of the wage negotiations, of the whole pay structure, and of the methods of work in the industry will be infinitely more difficult, and it is to be hoped that at least the ground work laid down by this Bill will prepare the way for a co-operative attitude on the part of the trade unions when we come to negotiate all those matters.
The difficulty which I have in mind is one which I do not think is by any means peculiar to the docks. It is the difficulty of piece rates when they are applied to increasingly mechanised, and if I may use the word de-personalised, forms of working. When a man's earnings are closely and measurably related to the physical work that he puts in it is comparatively simple to operate piece rates, but the more mechanised the operation becomes, as in the case of the new meat handling sheds at B Berth in the Royal Docks—which will eliminate an enormous amount of physical work, replacing it by possibly quite skilled but not so measurable work on the part of port employees—piece rates become increasingly difficult to apply. We must find some method of rewarding productivity more indirectly than by piece rates.
We must also ensure that in the future the capital which the nation has tied up in the docks and harbours is fully used. This is some of the largest and heaviest capital equipment in the country, and it is ridiculous that it should be worked only on one shift. Apart from the under-usage of the already existing capital equipment and the future equipment which will be put in there is the under-usage of ships, because of the slow turn-round and the long time-lag during which the ship is doing nothing. That cannot be an efficient use of expensive capital equipment. This is one of the objectives which the Government and employers must have constantly in mind in negotiating, because it is one of the keys to productivity—and productivity is the key to everything else.
88 At present the docks are a bottleneck. If all that is hoped for comes to pass; if, in the end, all the labour difficulties are settled, the necessary amenities are provided, and there is co-operation on all sides, together with increased capital equipment, we may be able to free that bottleneck. But my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) made a valid point when he said that we are not providing behind the docks the sort of equipment that is needed. This is an integrated operation. The docks are merely one link in the whole transport organisation. It is no use solving the problem of the docks if we merely shift the bottleneck one step back. We have to strengthen the organisation of the railways, the roads, the mechanised warehouses and stores and the whole transport system behind the docks if we are going to take advantage of the improvements which we hope to see soon.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
I am moved to speak because of the stupefaction of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). I found it most amusing and thoroughly unconvincing. On several occasions he said that he was amazed, staggered and alarmed by the statement of my hon. Friend that the docks would ultimately be brought under public ownership. He described this as a bombshell. I am sorry that he is not in his place, but that is not my fault. He would have us believe that this was the last thing he expected to hear today, and yet nine-tenths of the copious notes from which he read dealt with this very point. He hardly dealt with the Bill at all.
He evidently spent the weekend preparing a case which had nothing to do with the Bill. There are about 50 Clauses in it, but he did not refer to one. This is odd behaviour for a right hon. Gentleman opening a debate for the Opposition. There is one other indication of the way his mind was working. He was able to describe my hon. Friend's statement as a late interpolation in her speech, written by somebody else. Where he obtained this detailed inside information about a Minister's speech I do not know, but it indicates that he knew what was coming, and he therefore had no right to express his astonishment.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
In the absence of my right hon. Friend, I must correct the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). My right hon. Friend was a little put out because the notes for his speech were directed entirely to the Bill. He found it difficult to argue a complete case on his notes when the Minister made a point of which he had no knowledge whatsoever. The hon. Member has got the wrong end of the stick. If he had watched my right hon. Friend he would have seen that he did not use his notes at all.
§ Mr. Delargy
I watched him like a hawk. He read his notes extremely carefully, and one by one, as he had finished the pages of his notes, he tore them up. Most of his speech concerned nationalisation.
My hon. Friend's statement was the most interesting thing in her speech. It was the one thing that we wanted to hear above everything else. Why hon. Members opposite should be astonished that the Labour Party is once again keeping its pledges I do not know. Hon. Members opposite should know from past experience not to be amazed. The right hon. Gentleman asked whoever was going to wind up when the state of uncertainly will be ended. I, can tell him that within certain limits it will be ended in this Parliament, because that is what we said in our election manifesto and we keep our promises.
Nevertheless, the Bill does not seem to have pleased anybody very much so far. As was indicated, it is an interim Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis), in his splendid maiden speech—and one would not have imagined it was a maiden speech—described it as a step forward. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) said that it was not even a halfway house. I am inclined to agree.
It could have two good results. It night introduce a little order into the confusion at the docks. This would be welcomed by the docker as much as anyone else, because he does not like to see his efforts wasted, as they so often are. Secondly, it might improve the amenities at the docks. The Minister said that 90 some employers, without waiting for legislation, are already improving these welfare amenities. I do not know who gave her that information. 1 do not know what inspection her informants had carried out, but they certainly had not visited Tilbury, where conditions are disgraceful. There has been no improvement, and there will not be until legislation is introduced. Perhaps the Bill will provide for that.
I also hope that from now on, since. provision is made for amenities, hon. Members representing dockside constituencies, as well as other hon. Members, will be able to raise, by way of Questions, the subject of welfare conditions in their constituencies, and will receive answers. from responsible Ministers.
This is a first necessary step to the decasualisation of labour. Most dockers no longer object to decasualisation, but they have some misgivings and suspicions. Many, also, are not happy about the Amendments to the Dock Labour Scheme which have recently been published and are now being re-examined. Individual dockers and their trade union branches have expressed their misgivings to me, and no doubt to other hon. Members. More than 1,000 Tilbury men have sent me postcards of protest, each with the sender's name, address and registered number.
It is no good saying that this is the work of unofficial committees. I have no doubt that they started it and organised it, but they cannot compel thousands of men to sign postcards and send them. It is clear that the men share their apprehensions. This will go on so long as dockers are not taken into consultation and until ultimately there is some form of workers' control in the docks.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Walton that in this Bill provision might have been made, could and should have been made, for the present docks to have been taken over by the bodies which will now become licensing authorities. The change-over to public ownership would have been very much easier than it is likely to be. We welcome the Bill somewhat tepidly chiefly because these long-awaited and much-needed amenities might be introduced and the dockers' comfort and dignity might be maintained.
An hon. Member opposite spoke about, dockers being embarrassed on public 91 transport. Only yesterday a man who was a docker some time ago told me that when he was working with fishmeal and went into a railway train all the other passengers would leave. He said, "You don't have any pride left." We must restore the dockers' pride. They expect us to do so and this Labour Government should do so. I hope that the Government will do so.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) has referred in most interesting terms to the important question of amenities. I am sure that it is the general view of hon. Members on both sides of the House that there is a very great and real need for improvement of amenities in the docks. I do not think anyone will dispute that.
I have seen a great deal of what at present exists in the docks. I have been able to compare it with the type of amenity provided, not only in docks in other parts of the world but in other industries in other parts of the world. I have compared the worst with the best. I take as the best something like the amenities in the Swedish shipyard of Arendal. Such amenities are provided on the Clyde, but there is the old saying about taking a horse to water. A shipowner on the Clyde who intended to follow this good example, found great difficulty in persuading his employees to take advantage of it.
It is significant that the Department of Economic Affairs in the latest but one brochure on "Changing Britain, Sinews of Prosperity," should have referred to industries which can do most to increase exports or to compete with imports. Although it did not specifically refer to the docks and ports, I am sure that the authors of the pamphlet had them in mind. What a sad day it is that this sinew should be in a nationally self-imposed vice.
The whole country is waiting for the vice to be removed so that circulation can be restored. We would be deluding ourselves if we thought that it could be restored through one limb, for its circulation must be throughout the body economic. If the settlement is unreasonable we would again be deluding our- 92 selves if we thought it was not a settlement achieved at the cost of the total export cost structure and the total import cost structure of the country. This is why we should be so much more concerned with the total global implication, but I must not stray from the Bill.
This is an interesting Bill, and it has obvious flaws. The flaws to which I wish to refer are concerned with the control by port authorities. In the Annual Report of the National Ports Council it is said that the Councilconsistently maintained that the right system would be for local port authorities to be the licensing authorities, with port employers having a right of appeal to the Council.This, of course, lines up closely with what Lord Rochdale himself concluded in his Report. The National Ports Council said that it did not regard the disagreement between itself and the Devlin Committee as particularly important.
Shipowners regard this as particularly important in one specific context. That is in the case of ports controlled by the British Transport Docks Board. Schedule I refers to 19 such ports controlled by the Board. All the rest are controlled by locally-based port authorities which automatically will fall within the provisions of the Bill. In those controlled by the Board there is already considerable centralised control. In practice this will involve decentralisation of decisions which would impose a very heavy weight of decision on local chief docks managers. Many shipowners would regard this as an unreasonable burden of decision for them to carry.
The National Ports Council has made very limited progress in the creation of new port authorities which were envisaged by the Rochdale Committee. Shipowners accept the need for new authorities. They have no quarrel with the Port of London Authority and other great authorities which administer our docks. They had some quarrel with the extension of the British Transport Docks Board authority, but they have been prepared to accept that provided there is a local executive board—not merely an advisory board—on which shipowners and other commercial interests can make their views known on what obviously will be very important and continuing developments, involving a great deal of public and private money.
93 This was confirmed only this morning by the Confederation of British Industry which, in its report on transport policy and services, concludes in a paragraph about the docks:Local port authority boards, though smaller in numbers, should be characterised as heretofore by local and user representation, so that every encouragement is given to interport competition, healthy rivalry, local enterprise and initiative.I am sure that the whole House will welcome any progress which can be made towards decasualisation. The whole concept of casual labour and of labour being in any sense a commodity available at the turn of a tap is outdated and outworn. The sooner we can get rid of it the happier everyone will be. What has surprised me is that in the Bill there is no attempt to relate decasualisation to productivity. This can be, and has been, done. I have referred before to the astonishingly interesting and successful agreement which employers on the West Coast of the United States concluded with dock labour an the West Coast. There the phrase used was that they "bought the book". The employers put in 27 million dollars and there was a complete withdrawal of restrictive practices involved in a general scheme of decasualisation.
If successfully applied, the Bill will achieve a very considerable measure of decasualisation, but who is to pay for it, and how will it be paid for? It certainly will not be automatically done by any arrangements and improvements in productivity and agreed measures to increase, output in the docks. It is important to relate our general complaint about the lack of amenity to the economic conditions which make amenity possible. All amenities cost money. The more productive the activity the more surpluses there are out of which amenities can be provided. This applies as much to the docks as to anything else.
I turn to the question of inland clearance depots. In Clause 35 the Bill extends port authorities to include inland clearance depots in any schemes which are devised. I am a little suspicious about this. Does it mean that dock labour must be employed in an inland container depot? I should like a very specific answer from the Minister about this. If the answer is "Yes", where does it stop? For example, if there is a large 94 container flow of completely knocked-down motor parts—and I understand that this is one of the most important flows from the British motor industry abroad—and if this justifies the flow of 30 to 40 containers a week from the wholesaler's warehouse or the manufacturer's warehouse where the parts are packed, this will become in every significant and economic sense of the word an inland clearance depôt.
Will this mean that the manufacturer's warehouse is also defined as an inland clearance depot and therefore subject to everything in the Bill? If so, we must be quite specific about the consequences. The consequences are that this labour will essentially be defined as dock labour and will be subject to all the rules, productivity restrictions and so on of dock labour.
Hon. Members may wonder why I am so interested in this point. The reason is that when I went around North America two or three times, looking at container depots, one of the points made to me over and over again by those dealing with the new system, which by common consent on both sides of the House is not only important but is certain to arise, was that they generally sought, if possible, to avoid placing their container depots within the dock area. It is a point which gave rise to some inquiry.
I inquired why it should be so, and the answer will interest the House. It was, that, generally speaking, the productivity of the labour employed outside the dock area, doing identical work, was two or two-and-a-half times that inside the dock area, and therefore employers went to very great lengths indeed to keep these container depots outside the dock area.
§ Mr. Lloyd
No. I had no discussion with the port authorites concerned. I had discussions with the operators of container depots. I should have thought that the explanation was quite simple—the general range of restrictive practices which existed up to that time on the West Coast and which applied specifically inside the dock area. Two entirely different trade unions were involved and one applied a completely different set of 95 practices from the other. This is an important point which we must not overlook.
May I deal with the question of licensing? In Clause 5 there is a most astonishing range of licensing provisions. When I read it I thought of the great exponent of the art of commercial licensing the Frenchman, Colbert. If he were to read this Clause he would regard himself as one of the arch-apostles of free enterprise. This is the most astonishing set of restrictive, bureaucratic definitions of what may and may not be done that has appeared in a Bill for a very long time.
It is clear that the Minister may not only specify the number of dock workers. He may restrictthe employment of dock workers to a specified berth",he may restrictthe operations in which the applicant may engage".first, tothe handling of cargoes of a specified descriptionand then with verbal dexterity tocargo handling operations of a specified descriptionand, finally, he may limit and definethe provision of ancillary services of a specified description.After that he may make regulations tovary any description of condition so specified or described".Is this not a classic example of delegated legislation of the most dangerous type? As I see it—I may be wrong—the Minister may do exactly what he pleases in this respect. Certainly it is subject to appeal, but one knows the way in which these things work. By the time the Minister has set up all the regulations and given licences and defined the conditions, a great deal has been done, and the whole process of appeal against is generally much less efficient than the process of imposing from above.
May I refer, briefly, to what is to some extent one of the objectives which the Bill seeks to achieve? It sets out to make the docks industry of this country more receptive to the whole container revolution to which the Minister referred and about which some of us know a great deal. It seems to me that this is utterly inconsistent with licensing. I 96 cannot help wondering whether the two great developers of this system, which I remind the House were two great free-enterprise companies, one on the West Coast and the other on the East Coast of the United States, Matson and Sealand Company, would have achieved what they have achieved—and it is an achievement of which we are taking increasing cognisance—had they had to go to some Ministry and to apply for a licence to start what they were setting out to do. I am convinced that they would not.
It seems to me that the response to a commercial challenge and the capacity for response to a commercial challenge is just as clearly needed in the docks system as anywhere else. It is just as clearly needed within the broad embrace of the set of public authorities as it is within the private enterprise system. How does this happen? How did containers start? In the first place, on the West Coast of the United States, there was a response to a specific definition: how shall we invest our capital more successsfully? A young and brilliant operational research scientist was given his head and was told to examine the whole of the company's operations and to advise them what to do. He produced a most interesting report. He decided that the area most critically requiring capital investment was that of cargo handling. He was given his head, and the scheme went ahead from that point onwards, and the container was introduced.
On the East Coast an entirely different set of stimuli operated. A large-scale lorry operator whose trade was mainly between New York and Puerto Rico found that his lorries were meeting with increasing congestion in the docks—doubtless a familiar problem today. He found that he could not beat the existing system; it could not be changed to meet his requirements. There was no possibility of moving conventional cargo faster in conventional ships. He therefore bought the fleet which was carrying his cargoes to Puerto Rico and, at great risk to himself—a most challenging thing to do—he converted five of them into container ships. Next to Matson, it was the first operation of its kind ever done. This commercial response to a commercial challenge is the origin of the 97 container movement which the Minister is now trying to adapt our ports to receive.
It gives me great pleasure that at Harwich it happened to be a nationalised industry which in the first instance showed a specific constructive response to this challenge. I have always argued that we need this response in the public is well as in the private sector, that we should not be too doctrinaire in defining how it should be done and that we should be very careful in the organisation of our affairs not to define such a response out of existence in the legislation which we set up to deal with the matter from the very beginning.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)
May I, first, welcome very sincerely the welfare aspects of the Bill? They are long overdue. As other hon. Members have said, they are the welfare aspects which should have been introduced into the House many years ago. We must give the docker a sense of dignity, and he cannot have this without he proper washing and other facilities being available. When he has to leave the docks and go home in public transport in the condition in which he has seen working, he cannot have a sense of dignity. We therefore welcome the amenity provisions of the Bill.
I could not help feeling a little cynicism at the apparent amazement of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Sir K. Joseph) when my hon. Friend commented on nationalisation. We all know that nationalisation of the docks has been part of the Labour Party programme. It was in the election manifesto. We all know that the only question has been how long it would take. The dockers want it. Perhaps I may quote from a letter which I received only this morning from Southampton dockers:We, the members of Southampton docks local decasualisation committee"—an official body, not one of the unofficial bodies—whose names are attached, fully support the Labour Party's policy of the nationalisation of the docks.There is a whole row of signatures of all the docker representatives on that committee in the Port of Southampton.
98 They go on—and I share their view—that express certain doubts about the Bill. The first question they ask is why certain ports are excluded from the Bill. It would seem to me that the opportunity should have been taken to include all ports in the Bill, whether or not they are members of the present Dock Labour Scheme. During the past few years there has been quite an increase in cargo going through these ports, and there has been an increase, also, in the number of unregistered dockers, with no facilities, no protection and no pension scheme.
The second point—one on which I should like a reply is that the dockers are very worried about the effect of the licensing procedure. Of course, it is a very good thing to reduce the number of employers in our ports. It is possible that in Southampton, the port which I represent, the number will be reduced to something like four, but we are worried about what will be the position of the Dock Labour Board in all this. At the moment, in Southampton we have a system by which the Dock Labour Board allocates labour to the various employers. By this means they are enabled to operate a work-sharing scheme.
One of the difficulties in the docks is that not all jobs are the same. For instance, some employers concentrate mostly on piece work; others concentrate mainly on day work, while others concentrate on day work with plenty of overtime. This is a problem, because unless the work is shared out equally among the dock workers there can be a very grave and serious difference in earnings between one group of dockers and another. At present, this works fairly well, because the work is shared out. A person may be employed on piece work on one occasion and then on another occasion will take his turn on normal day work.
However, what is the position under the new proposals? Let us assume that there are four employers in the port which I represent. This is the sort of figure that has been quoted. As I see the Bill, a firm would seek to take on some workers as permanent employees. But if that firm dealt mainly with day work, with no overtime or piece work, it would be very difficult to find dock workers to go to that employer. It may be that a scheme will be worked out by the committee which is considering the matter, so that 99 the Dock Labour Board can continue the sort of system that operates in many docks at the moment regarding work-sharing. We have got to deal with this point very quickly because it is making dockers in many ports very suspicious of the Bill. If we can get this point answered to their satisfaction, and if we can assure them that under the new licensing system that the Bill introduces there will be the same opportunities for work-sharing as exist at the moment, we shall have gone a long way to allay the suspicions of the dock workers.
Like some of my hon. Friends, I see the Bill as a transitional measure only. Eventually, we must make a much more drastic reorganisation of all our docks throughout the country. It may well be that we shall have to reduce the number of docks, drastic as that may sound. We may certainly have to reduce the number of authorities. I have never been convinced that the present plans for setting-up estuarial authorities to deal with administration in various estuaries is a good idea. A national body such as a national ports authority must come eventually, and I hope quickly, for the present scheme can only be transitional.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)
The position of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour can fairly be described as somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea. Hon. Members opposite have given the Bill a very cool reception whereas we on this side of the House have, on balance, welcomed it. The hon. Lady herself is, therefore, put in the rather unfortunate position of promoting the Second Reading of a Bill and then saying that the Government will very soon produce further measures which, if they are introduced by say, the end of the year, will clearly make it impossible for the Bill to work at all.
I welcome the Bill. Having spent some seven years in the shipping industry, I particularly welcome the improvement which it is proposed to make in amenities in the docks. I also welcome the move which it makes towards decasualisation. I think it important to point out that decasualisation could open up a whole new era for the docks inasmuch as it would encourage employers and employees to take a more responsible 100 attitude. It should do much to diminish the labour-management tensions which have resulted, as the Devlin Report points out, from the casual system of labour in the docks. But it can only do this if employers are encouraged to invest more and to introduce better facilities, and they will not do this if they believe that they will be nationalised in a very short time. A policy of "invest now and be nationalised tomorrow" cannot hope to create an improved situation in the docks which I believe we would all like to see.
My first point on the Bill is that it is, as it stands, very much employer-and-employee orientated, and is not orientated towards the customer of the dock industry—that is to say, the shipowners who are using our dock and harbour facilities. This is largely because the proposals in the Devlin Report which were concerned with decasualisation have been incorporated in the Bill, whereas the proposals relating to the removal of retrictive trade practices and so on have been deferred till later.
Indeed, if one looks further into this question of emphasis, the Bill very much reflects the view which I think Lord Brown stated in an article in the Sunday Times last December when he said:Our most serious task lies in the granting of permanent employment to the whole of the dock labour force.I think that the operative phrase here isthe whole of the dock labour force.There is implicit in the Bill the idea that somehow the dock labour force as it now stands and as it is likely to change in the future is in some sense optimum. This is a vitally important point which we need to consider. There has been a considerable reduction in the dock labour force, which now stands at 60,000, which is 23,000 less than in 1948. This trend is likely to continue There is no reason to suppose that the present figure is optimum.
The whole basis of the Bill is that there will not be any redundancy created in the docks because entry into the labour force is restricted and the amount of wastage is likely to be quite high in the future because the age of many of the dockers is above average for industry in general. However, I still think that we need to consider carefully what ought to be the optimum size of the dock labour force, because this has very important 101 implications for the whole pattern of industry. It would be agreed on both sides of the House, I think, that there has been a tendency, both among those formulating terms of reference for committees and commissions and indeed, in general, to divorce the question of the size of the labour force from the question of the pattern of investment, whereas the two must be answered together.
Lord Rochdale said that investment in the ports should show a proper rate of return to be justified and that this should be consistent with the national interest. However, under the Bill we are to have measures which, as I see them, will raise considerably the cost of employing labour, at least until such time as we can take further measures to increase productivity. This has important implications for the pattern of investment.
In parenthesis, I put a question to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary who, I understand, is to wind up the debate. It is not clear from the Bill as it stands how it is proposed to ensure that all the labour now in the docks will be employed on a permanent basis. Employers will be licensed and they will be asked how many men they will take on. Is it intended that any balance will be taken over by the licensing authority and employed by it in some way, or will people be granted licences only if they will take on a given number of men? Are applicants to take on as many as they like, or will the licensing authority try to persuade them, in one way or another, to absorb the whole labour force? The answer will determine an important elernent in employers' costs.
What is the total cost of decasualisation likely to be? Plainly, there will be an increase because, effectively, the fall-back pay of the dock labour force will be raised; all employees will become regular workers whereas at present some are employed only as casual workers. This will effectively become an overhead cost of the dock industry, and it will, therefore, increase the cost of importing and exporting goods through our ports. Moreover, those employers who remain will bear the cost of compensating other employers who leave the industry. The whole tendency under the Bill, therefore, while it may have very desirable results which hon. Members on both sides ap- 102 prove, will be, by and large, to increase the cost of labour unless—I repeat unless —we can take positive measures to remove restrictive trade practices.
It is relevant in this connection to consider the recommendations of the Devlin Report. On page 126, the Devlin Committee enunciates a fifth principle:The abolition of restrictive practices, including all practices inhibiting the mobility of labour",and it goes on to suggest that a distinction should be drawn betweenrestrictions which are essentially a feature of the casual method of employment, which we class in category A; and all other restrictions, which we class in category B.If we are considering something which is essentially a decasualisation measure, it is not too much to ask that, in return, there should be specific provisions in the Bill to ensure that restrictive trade practices which grew up because of the casual system of labour should be eliminated. But one searches the Bill in vain for any specific arrangements to attain that desirable objective.
The Devlin Report criticises specifically the working of the continuity rule in the docks, pointing out that this is in some way a protective device which grew up. perhaps, in the depression years before the war. It points out that the continuity rule inhibits the transfer of workers from one hatch to another, from ship to shore and from one ship to another within any given period of employment. It is not too much to ask, if we are to have decasualisation, that employers should be assured that it will be possible for them to overcome the kind of restriction imposed by the continuity rule. I take that as just one example, though a fairly specific one.
On page 30 of its Report the Devlin Committee emphasises the need to encourage shift working, saying that such working cannot readily be extended while the casual system of employment remains. But, as the Bill is designed to eliminate the casual system of employment, is it too much to ask that it should provide also for steps to encourage shift working? At least, will the Minister give an assurance that the committee which is now looking into the whole question of pay and related matters will take definite steps to ensure that in every port where casual labour is eliminated shift working will 103 be positively encouraged? This is one of the main reasons why our ports are very much worse than those in a number of other European countries in the speed of ship turn-round, which, in turn, inevitably affects our export performance and our balance of payments.
I am a little worried that there is a tendency to say, "If restrictive trade practices are abolished this will result in redundancy, which we cannot tolerate". This is another manifestation of the argument, "We want to encourage productivity, while maintaining employment, regardless of what the demand for the particular kind of labour is". There has been far too little serious analysis of what the pattern of demand for dock facilities in the various ports of the country is likely to be. We may well find that we ought to aim to work with a labour force smaller than that which is compatible with the principles which Lord Devlin, no doubt for political reasons in the sense of feeling that it would be unacceptable to reduce the labour force, put into his Report.
Now, a few observations about the National Plan. I find the whole of the National Plan quite inadequate. The part devoted to the ports, no more than 20 lines in a document about an inch thick, is a totally inadequate appraisal of the industry. It mentions investment in global terms without going into any analysis, and it makes no attempt whatever to analyse what the labour force ought to be in the docks. The whole problem of the ports is dismissed in 20 lines.
In a most interesting speech, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) put the case for nationalising the docks, or, at least, the case for a single employer in a particular port. He quoted a number of authorities in support of his case—I should not myself regard them as particularly good authorities—and talked of the vast economic advantages which could be obtained from having a single employer in a port.
But the hon. Gentleman did not go into any details on this, and I cannot help feeling that his arguments based on economies of scale and so on are somewhat doubtful. By and large, any particular wharf or dock is not particularly susceptible to economies of scale in the 104 sense that if a number of them are controlled by a single authority unit costs are likely to be reduced very substantially. In my view, the arguments which he advanced were based on somewhat doubtful statistical foundations.
It is relevant to ask the hon. Gentleman, also—he is not here at the moment, but I hope that this will be brought to his attention—where the capital is to come from if we have a single employer. Is it to come from the central Exchequer, in which case we run into all the usual problems of raising money by taxation or borrowing? Is it to come from the local municipal authority, or it is expected to come from private subscribers to the scheme?
In my view, there is a great case for having more competition between employers in the docks and for giving ship owners a choice between one employer and another. Otherwise, ship owners, of whatever nationality, will be faced by a monopolistic stevedore, and who is to determine the prices which should be charged in a situation in which there is only one employer in a port? Still more, who is to do it if all ports are nationalised?
Again on the question of nationalisation, I refer to the fascinating speech made in the debate on the Address by the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). He put forward a number of arguments in favour of nationalisation. In particular, he said that there has been very little investment in fixed equipment in the docks. But it depends what one means by "very little". There has been a substantial amount, for example, in the Port of Liverpool. But until the introduction of the Bill there has not been very much incentive for casual employers to invest who have been relying on a casual system of labour. This will be largely eliminated by the Bill.
The second point that the hon. Member made was that we must get away from the present system of employing labour in many of our docks, which he described as rather like an old slave market. He went into graphic details as to how the "free call" takes place in various ports. I have witnessed it in this country and in New Zealand and the United States. A point which needs to be made is that it is a very odd slave market where there are restrictions on entry to it, and there are 105 considerable restrictions on entry to the labour market in the docks.
If one looks at his other proposals on nationalisation, most of them turn on the use——
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
Is the hon. Gentleman supporting the conditions under which men who are in the sheds every morning are hired?
§ Mr. Higgins
No. I have on many occasions been in our docks on these occasions. I welcome the Bill as enthusiastically as hon. Gentlemen opposite because it will lead to the elimination of that practice.
My point is that this is not an argument, as the hon. Member for Poplar was trying to say, for nationalisation. The matter can be put right within the existng framework without nationalisation.
I believe that the alterations brought about by the Bill give real hope that we shall find a radical change in the situation in the docks. We should eliminate the kind of situation that we have just been talking about, we should eliminate most of the evils to which Lord Devlin referred in his Report, and we should also have a real chance to modernise the ports. However, we shall only have this opportunity provided that the employers can be assured that, if they invest in better equipment and better facilities for the docks, they will be able to continue in their occupation.
In his speech in the debate on the Address the Minister of Labour said that he hoped that they would continue, but the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary, in opening the debate, has cast an unfortunate doubt on the prospects for investment in the industry at the very moment when what we want to do is to encourage more investment by the employers and labour. I believe that the Bill holds out a real opportunity for that, but I should like to see incorporated in it other measures to eliminate the restrictive trades practices which grew up as a result of the casual system of employment and to deal with shift working.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
First, I must apologise for my non-attendance at the beginning of the debate. I apologise to both Front Bench speakers for 106 my absence, which was completely unavoidable. I intended to attend for the whole of the debate, but was unable to come here until after the two Front Bench speakers had finished. I regret is very much.
Considering the importance of the debate, I am amazed at the sparse attendance in the Chamber, particularly when things are as they are at present in the country. However, I have listened to words with which I would agree to some extent. Indeed, they are reminiscent of speeches that I have made.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton) talked about depersonalisation. Another hon. Member who was sitting just below the Gangway when I made my maiden speech some years ago spoke about a new word, which he suggested was "de-personalisation". I have in the past complained about becoming a depersonalised person. I was trying to speak from the point of view of a young man who was born in a dock area. I was trying to say then what I am saying now. The reason for most of our difficulties in labour is that we felt that we had become economic cyphers and units of production only.
§ Sir T. Brinton
I was using the word "de-personalisation" in an entirely different sense from that in which the hon. Member is using it. I was referring to the difference between very personal physical work and work done once removed by a machine.
§ Mr. Mahon
I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation.
I had just come from a school where I was taught over the years that I had a dignity which was spiritual, and I was put on the Liverpool dockside, not in the elevated position of a docker but as a scaler boy. I found nothing more incongruous than the idea that I had been taught that my soul and body were one, and going into this terrible situation where I was deprived of all the dignity that I had, or a large part of it.
If we make speeches today, as I shall, which are critical of the Government, it is because of what we know and feel. No one in this House could accuse me of being an out-and-out nationaliser. I give my support to nationalisation where I feel it to be in the best interests of the 107 country and where I feel it to be completely and utterly moral. Without a shadow of doubt, I would support full nationalisation of the dock system at the earliest possible moment. I make no bones about that. I speak with some authority from the Port of Liverpool. I would tell hon. Gentlemen opposite that I am not entirely regarded as a Luddite by the managerial classes. Indeed, on my way forward to this House I held managerial positions. The Dock Board has taken advantage of many schemes which have been outlined in this House as modern ones, and years ago I advocated them to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. The present manager of that Board, Mr. Dove, is a living witness to the fact that I am most progressive in my attitude towards the docks, dock employment and dock workers.
I welcome the Bill partially, because I know it is a positive step forward to get away from the conditions under which dockers have had to work. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and I have been in many an escapade in the Port of Liverpool. One of them is reminiscent of what is happening at the moment, and I would express with him the ardent desire that the present situation does not last as long as that one.
The term "dock worker" is used in the Bill. That means only one type of dock worker. But there are many types of dock worker. I would ask the Government Front Bench not to stop their examination of the docks and the dock system at the docker who is working among cargoes. They should look at the conditions of the ship scalers and ship repairers in due time. I recall that in 1924 my late father was giving witness to the Ministry of Labour of the employment of boy labour in the Port of Liverpool. There is still boy labour there and these boys are called dock workers. But there are many types of dock workers and I hope that there will be an examination of conditions, particularly of ship scalers, where there are the most horrible conditions to work in on the dockside. I want to see this because I myself belong to these people. My plea today for betterment of dockland conditions is the result of what I have myself seen.
108 As a boy of 14, I was told to go to a dock shed, outside of which, in the rain, were 1,000 men. I was told to wave my hand. As a boy of 14 I had to tell 1,000 men that they were not wanted by waving my hand. The impression of that moment is still with me. I take the opportunity now, on behalf of those men, whether they be dead or alive, to make a case for conditions in dockland which they would have wished. What horrible days they were.
My first industrial writing was a study of 1889 dockers' strike. The name of Cardinal Manning may sound incongruous in the context of a dock strike or an industrial dispute. But Cardinal Manning, Tom Mann and Ben Tillett led the first strike for the "docker's tanner" in 1889. With all the charity I possess, I say to those representing the employers that we are talking about what they should do—things that they should have done but have not done since 1889.
What has been stopping employers in all these long, interminable years from doing the things that right hon. and hon. Members opposite now advocate should be done? The conditions of today are almost reminiscent of those prevailing 80 years ago, when Tom Mann, Ben Tillett and Cardinal Manning and others were trying to get a decent deal for the dockers. Ernest Bevin made his name as the "Dockers' K.C." in 1924, with the Shaw Award, and made the same sort of plea for better conditions for dock workers. We have not been asleep. The trade unions have not been asleep. They have been constantly pleading with the employers and with society in general for better conditions for people in dockland.
I am not exaggerating the difficulties that the men have to contend with. Ladies are present in this building today and I do not want to shock them. But my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton knows that I have good reason for saying what I do. Recently, I had to go to a ship at Liverpool to stop trouble over surgical dressings of one kind and another from the Middle East, for the men in their dignity, and with their homes and their children were being asked to do something that was so undignified that they could not 109 possibly do it. The cargoes were returned because they were obscene. That sort of thing is happening today.
Had the men handled these cargoes, what facilities were there? These men's clothes would not have had to be washed but fumigated. If anyone wants to challenge what I say, the evidence is in the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour. There is no need for anyone to embellish the scene. The evidence is there for anyone who wants to see it. I merely mention it as part of the history of dockland conditions since 1889.
In 1929 when I went to the docks first, decasualisation was a pipe dream. Even to talk about it was a pipe dream, as was the possibility of a pension scheme. But, by 1945, due to the efforts of Ernest Bevin and of others whose names should be mentioned, the dream was reality. I have mentioned my father's name. He was one of the pioneers. Another name that certainly should be mentioned whenever decasualisation is spoken about is that of John Donovan, of the Transport and General Workers' Union. Their efforts have improved conditions to a great extent. There is an improved degree of dignity and some of the inequalities have been got rid of.
I have been told that the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said something about opportunities. I suppose he meant the lad with the hook in his belt becoming one of the managerial class. I had a fairly reasonable I.Q. when I went to the docks. There are thousands of men like myself who never got any opportunity of becoming any better than they were or of doing anything or of taking any part in management in a business with which hey were concerned.
Now we are getting the excuses. We are told that it will all be better tomorrow. But there has been plenty of time for employers and port authorities to provide proper opportunities for careers for people like myself, with some ability, and it is no use telling us now that tomorrow things will be different. I do not accept that. There was no chance even for the best men and today there is Mill no chance even for the best men on the Liverpool Docks or in any other dockside system.
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the practice in some ports whereby promotion opportunities are denied to a person if he is not classified as a No. I docker, although the only way to be so classified is not to pass examinations but to be the son of a docker?
§ Mr. Mahon
It is a rather poor intervention. From the point of view I have been developing, it is no excuse in any shape or form.
Another important point in discussing good relations in the docks concerns welfare amenities. There has been a striking improvement in the men themselves because housing has improved. In my constituency, facilities which might have been needed some years ago because of the slums in dockland are no longer needed because we have improved the social conditions of people in dockland itself. There has been a striking improvement also in the educational opportunities for dockers' children and in the cultural standards of the dockers. All these have to be matched, and quickly, by industrial advance. The improvement in the standard and bearing of the dockland family and in its educational and cultural standards makes it harder to find leaders in dockland because the opportunities outside it are better.
In the days to which I have been referring, I suppose that the unemployment rate was 7, 8, or 9 per cent. The Board of Trade has done a great deal to help Merseyside, which is a development area, where the unemployment rate is now down to 2.4 per cent. But that means that it becomes harder and harder to recruit the right kind of labour for the docks without a substantial and immediate improvement in conditions, hours and wages.
I do not want to detract at all from the efforts of those who have endeavoured over the years to make an improvement, but over and over again the Devlin Report refers to what it describes as wreckers. This is something which can be over-emphasised or under-emphasised. One of the tragedies of some people on the docks today is that they do not know 111 just how far we have come and how much people have suffered to achieve what we have. I can understand a degree of impatience, but it would be a bigger tragedy not to realise just how far it is possible to advance if we get proper co-operation among Government, Opposition, employers and employed.
Vast technical improvements are taking place on the docks and technical improvements are available to everyone, but what we want is an improvement in human relationships. I have never met anyone, a Minister of Labour, trade union official, or employer, who had a magic wand for the problems of the docks. These problems are intransigent.
However, to give some hope, I learned only recently from the Ministry responsible that my own dockside constituency after the war was written off as an entity, not only as a port, but as a town. Twenty-five years later the same Ministry described it as a social miracle. If we can make tremendous improvements such as we have made in the social, cultural, economic and education scenes, surely it is possible with the right sort of mind and the right sort of application to get decent conditions and decent standing for the men who work on Liverpool docks.
I say categorically that conditions are bad; they are horrible. Wages are too low and hours are too long. The conditions are the worst in the country. Why in these days should a man have to leave his home at 7 o'clock in the morning and for four days work until 8 o'clock at night and for one day until 5 o'clock and also to work weekends in order to get a reasonable wage? In these days when we are discussing a 40-hour week at sea, why should it not be possible for a man to earn his living on the docks in 40 hours instead of the astronomical number he is now asked to work?
People are not born dockers and they do not suddenly become dockers. In my hand I hold the history of maritime England, the history of the docker. It is the story of a man who for 50 years worked intermittently on the docks and at sea. I shall not reveal his name, of course. He was born in 1886, and after working for 50 years he finished up watching in a shed in Liverpool, working 12 hours a day and seven days a week for ls. 10d. an hour. For him there has been no pension 112 or reward from the employers whom hon. Members opposite have been defending. I can pile the seabooks of my own family three feet high, but not a paltry penny ever came in pension from an employer over all those years, not a paltry penny from a dock employer or from a shipowner in all those long years, and I am going back to 1886. Let hon. Members think of the penury of people who are today given £100 and a small weekly pension at the age of 76 or more, as some form of reward.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I do not controvert a word the hon. Gentleman is saying, but from a desire for information I ask why it is that last year 881 dockers' sons were recruited to the probationary register out of a total recruitment of 3,000. That sounds as though the career has its attractions.
§ Mr. Mahon
The career can have its attractions. I am saying what the position has been and what it now is. Is the right hon. Gentleman telling me that I am wrong when I say that today after 50 years' working at sea and on the docks, £100 plus 10s. a week pension is a paltry reward? What do we think men are? Do hon. Members opposite ask us to continue with a situation in which that is the sort of reward for a man who works all his life in an industry of that sort with conditions of that sort? Do they ask us to trust the people who created conditions of that sort on the docks? If I thought for a solitary moment that the employers were capable and would honestly implement what has been suggested today, I would not be advocating a change and there would be no need for me to do so. I would not ask for a change if the men were being treated with dignity and could retire in dignity. But that has never been the case and, in the name of the people among whom I was born and reared, I demand a change, and the Bill is not good enough.
It is not often that I adopt this attitude to my own Front Bench, but I hope that my remarks will be conveyed to those responsible. I shall not sell my own flesh and blood down the river by not saying what I ought to say. I have been waiting for a long time to say some of these things and many people have suffered in the meantime. For the sake of the many whose names appear on war memorials 113 all over the country, for their sons and for the future we must never miss an opportunity to express ourselves on these matters.
On page 80 the Devlin Report says:The negotiations for decasualisation in Liverpool were dominated by two factors. The first was the factor of inter-union dissension …We know that that is only too true. The Report added:The second was the personality of Mr. P. J. O'Hare, who was the district secretary of the T. — G. for twelve years until his death in September 1964. Mr. O'Hare was a dedicated trade unionist, a man of great force of character, upright and honourable in his ways, but rather autocratic in manner arid himself a focus of dissension. His failure to woo his constituents led to the belief that he was making himself a spokesman for authority rather than a representative of the workpeople.That paragraph should have ceased when it said that this man wasa dedicated trade unionist, a man of great force of character, upright and honourable in his waysand the rest should be scrubbed from the record. What it means in Liverpool dock language is that he was a boss's man. I knew Mr. O'Hare. It is all right talking about wreckers, Trotskyists, and Communist influence on the docks, but I have said in this House that I have never been behind the eight ball in my life when I have been fighting Communism, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that this is true. I have been in the van all the time against Communist intrigue and Trotskyite activities, and if that is true about me it s ten times more true about Mr. O'Hare, he man referred to in the Devlin Report. We are doing him less than justice when we allow that to go unnoticed.
It is all right talking about a man when one is out of the wood and out of difficulty, but he had to contend with all sorts of difficulties and he contended with them honourably and manfully. I am glad that I have had the opportunity of clearing what I think is a slur on the name of an excellent trade unionist.
There are now 14 employers in Liverpool. I remember when we had hundreds of employers in Liverpool and some of them had only a telephone. They never owned a truck, but they were in business. They had nothing except access to labour, and they used that. These are the people who are going out 114 of the scheme. If the number of employers can be reduced to 14 in the massive port of Liverpool, why should it be 14? It should be one employer at this stage in the port of Liverpool—an estuarial employer.
I have very great great support, because for the first time in its history that very fine body, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, which knows its business inside out and is one of the finest port authorities in the country, has come into the porter and stevedoring business. It can see the writing on the wall and it will become, first, the one employer and, in a few years, a nationalined industry. I know that one cannot wave a magic wand in this sort of matter, but it is an advance to get the number of employers down to 14. It will be a bigger advance to get it down to one, and it will be a greater advance when we nationalise this industry.
I support what the hon. Member for Kidderminster said about dock organisation. I have done a great deal in the Port of Liverpool to supply land and space for container services and to plan better the town in which I live, so that the Docks Board, the employers and the dockers have enough space in which to work. I also tried as hard as I could to co-operate in getting traffic on the move, which is the main thing, on inadequate roads. No one side in House has a vested interest; we are all interested in the quick turn-round of ships. I have been looking into the quick turn-round of ships for years, and have been working for it in the country's best interests, and in the interests of the dockers and everyone concerned. We all want to see it, and vast amounts of capital investment are being spent on dock quays and new dock systems. We cannot allow them to be unused and to have these massive ships staying there longer than they should be. We all want to see them moved round in the interests of the country and its economy as quickly as possible, but we shall not do it without discipline.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned in as many words, I believe, without using the actual phrase, restrictive practices. Of course there are restrictive practices, and of course they have to go. We cannot justify them now any more than we could some days ago or some years ago. I 115 should be an industrial coward if I did not mention one in Liverpool, called the "welt", which is a hang-over, as has been said, from the days of the depression.
But there are other reasons for the welt which this House should know. It is, under certain conditions, a legitimate practice. For instance, it is a legitimate practice when people are working the sort of cargo that I described before, the cargo from the Middle East. One could not expect them to work for more than about an hour. This is an important thing and when it goes out of this House it will be more important than it sounds at the moment. If a man is working in a refrigeration ship, he can work down below for only one hour and must then come up for an hour in the interests of his health.
People outside who talk about the welt must try to understand that it is not all malpractice, although some of it is. The dockers have brought some of these systems into operation, and quite rightly so, just as bosses have brought things into operation, for their own protection and for the protection of their wives and familities. The dockers do not go down to the docks because they like it. They go there to earn bread and butter for their wives and children, and they have been faced for a long time with wrong-doing by employers. They have had to take what might be called in the Army "evasive action".
I say categorically that if we get improved legislation like this and better legislation than this, there is no reason why these malpractices should not cease. We cannot as a nation afford to keep them. I hope that from the speeches in this House the relationships that can come through people explaining to one another what the position is, and what it should be, there will be a new deal in dockland. I hope that I am not just using a cliché, because a complete new deal is needed. The men need to be paid properly and their conditions and their dignity must be upheld.
We talk glibly about dignity and we sometimes talk glibly about social justice. Dockers have never had social justice throughout their history. I hope that one day in the history of this Government they will achieve it.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Brown (Bath)
Before I turn to the subject of the Bill, I should like to say to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) that on memorials, in books and in churches throughout the country there can be found the names of families from both sides of this House and, beyond this House, of the country as a whole. Therefore, I do not leave it to the dockers to be signally distinguished in this respect.
Strangely enough, I spent a great number of years—38 of them—in the trade union movement. Therefore, I cannot be said to be speaking for the employers on this side of the House. Indeed, most of my occupation has been particularly interested in this field of affairs. When the Bill was put before us today, I thought that it would be given a warm and great welcome, but the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour has damped any chances of the Bill being a success because she has used terms to suggest that the Government, through the Labour Party election manifesto, intend at some unspecified time to carry out nationalisation.
In that event, why have the Bill? If it passes through its stages in this House, what effect will it have? It will have the opposite effect from that which hon. Members, on both sides, have been speaking about today. It was hoped that the Bill would once more introduce good relationship in the ports between employers and employees. It will do nothing of this.
I am certain that if the hon. Lady were to stop to think about it for a moment she would conclude that I am quite right in saying that the effect of the Bill, together with her statement on nationalisation, will be stagnation once more in dockland, not only because the employers will not want to invest their money in re-equipping the industry, but because the dockers, quite naturally, following the hon. Lady's statement, will resist any activity for negotiation by the employers until such time as the Labour Party, through the Government, introduce the new nationalisation Bill. Therefore, all that we are doing in this House today is considering a Bill which will 117 foment once again the relationships in the docks.
I am puzzled about what the effect will be when the dockers seemingly get the gist of the Bill. I spent a weekend on it, and it was difficult to absorb. I wanted an interpretation. I had to read both the Devlin and Rochdale Reports to get an idea of conditions in the industry.
In spite of what the hon. Member for Bootle said about going back over the years and the relationships, both industrially and from the viewpoint of productivity—and we can be quite clear that we have advanced along those roads—if I were to give a copy of the Bill to a docker tonight, he would ask, "What does all that mean?" I hope that an explanatory jocument, in simple language, will be ssued to explain what the Bill means.
I refer once again to the hon. Lady's statement about compensation for takeover. Paragraph 37 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill states thatthe Minister of Transport may out of votes make loans to licensing authorities to enable them to make compensation payments to employers not granted licences and to meet incidental expenses.It is difficult to predict the amount of loans. The hon. Lady suggested that they could amount to £5 million. If this amount of money is to be raised, taken in conjunction with the hon. Lady's statement on nationalisation, nobody will want to opt into this dock affair. Surely, fewer and fewer people will take responsibility. We shall see laisser-faire in the docks, which will create bad conditions and, finally, what will threaten to overtake us will be a massive strike in the docks.
I came to the House this afternoon to welcome the Bill. Now, however, when the hon. Lady has made her statement that for reasons of doctrinaire policy the Labour Party will at a later stage nationalise the industry, I would much sooner, in the interests of the country, cast my vote against the Bill because of the effect that it will have in creating bad conditions within the industry until such time as her right hon. Friend introduces his nationalisation Bill. The most honourable thing would be for the Minister of Labour to tell us as soon as possible the date when the Government intend to nationalise the docks.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Bath (Sir E. Brown), who seems to typify the Opposition attitude that they delight in being so doctrinaire about being undoctrinaire. Here we have a Bill which, for all its defects, which have been pointed out by hon. Members on both sides, is a tremendous step forward, at least in the actual physical working conditions of the docker. I use the word "physical" in relation to amenities, baths and wash houses, canteens, and all the other things which can make for civilised employment, which the dockers do not have at present.
I was very impressed with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon). I spent my early years in his constituency. My parents lived there and I know of the respect, admiration and, indeed, the love with which my hon. Friend and his family, and, in particular, his father, are thought of in the town of Bootle. My hon. Friend was doing a service to his father, to past generations and to the new generation of dockers when he made his speech this evening.
I was extremely interested in the speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). The right hon. Gentleman made a tremendous point about the period of three years or seven years, and then my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said that eventually the Government would nationalise the docks. The right hon. Gentleman asked what hope there was for management and what employment or career structures there would be. But what has there ever been in the past for anyone in the dock industry unless his dad happened to be a master stevedore? People have never had any chance of promotion from the dock, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle has pointed out.
If one looks at the history of dockland —indeed, the history of my own port, which, until recently, has been bedevilled by alleged unofficial strikes—one sees that the root of these strikes is not the fault of the men, but of the management for being prepared to tolerate poor conditions, to tolerate inter-union disputes, to shelter behind the umbrella of the 119 Dock Labour Board and, in so doing, failing to face their problems.
In my own town, we have had unofficial strikes since the beginning of the year. Men took a day off. The union was forced to accept that the men had a case. They sent a special offer to negotiate. The piece rates that were being paid on cargoes and cargo rates were increased continuously all along the line. The management never objected. They dare not do so, because they have been on a good thing in the past but they had refused to face their responsibilities. Half of the difficulties that have existed in dockland would not have arisen if these people, who suddenly want a second chance and want to see new vistas spread before them, had taken the opportunity which they had to improve the conditions of the men.
In the long history that we have been given of the docks today, mention has been made of the great heroes in the struggle to improve the conditions of the docker, of Ernest Bevin and others. I think, however, that in the present Dock Labour Scheme we have one of the main causes of trouble in the docks. This is a regrettable thing to say, because when the scheme was introduced it was revolutionary. It was intended to give the docker the dignity and status that he wanted. The representatives of the employers and of the union were to have sat down under a neutral chairman to work out the problems of the dock, the size of the register, what the rate would be and disciplining the docker if he acted in an unruly way.
The way that it has worked out, however, has been that the discipline and authority of the trade union official has been undermined, because he sits on the Dock Labour Board, which also disciplines his own members. Therefore, he is regarded either as being the boss's man, in the pay of the employers, or as a man who has no authority at all.
On the other hand, there is the situation where the employers have hidden behind the Dock Labour Board, because that was the official employer of labour and have failed to carry out schemes to improve conditions. In many instances, the Dock Labour Board is held in complete contempt by dockers for failing to 120 carry out the spirit of the 1948 arrangement.
I hope that when we have just one employer, the harbour authority, we will get rid of many of these difficulties. I am fortunate in that in my city the docks are owned by the British Transport Commission. The appliances are owned by the Commission, but the men are engaged to work by private stevedores. It will be very difficult to sell the Bill to the men.
Let us consider the type of men we have working in the docks. I use my port as an example, for others will vary. First and foremost, there is the National Dock Labour Board, having among its registered labour shipping clerks, foremen, riggers, deckmen, tally men, labourers, forwarders, samplers, fork truck drivers, drivers, lightermen, warehousemen and the rest. Then there is British Transport Dock Board labour, which includes shore crane drivers, mobile crane drivers, wagon shunters, porters and maintenance men. Many of these are referred to in the Bill as "dock workers". However, many of them have particular skills and abilities needing to be differentiated from the general term of dock worker.
Looking at what these people do it will be found that the shipping clerk is in full charge of the loading and discharging of the ship, using the ship's manifest in conjunction with the ship's officers. The foreman is in charge of supervising the gang, delivering of the labour records, and carrying out necessary work under the direction of the foreman, and so on, down through the various jobs entailed in discharging the ship. All of this is done by people already employed by nationalised undertakings. The only person who is not so employed is the independent stevedore, who has contacted the Dock Labour Board and asked for so many men to unload a ship.
Let us consider an example from a recent publication put out by what might be termed wreckers. Take the ship as it enters a dock and is berthed by the port authority employees. The ship's agent has passed on the work of stevedoring to a firm of local stevedores who engage a foreman. One day he may be a labourer and another day a foreman. He engages men from the reserve pool of the Dock Labour Board. These men are directed 121 to work in a particular hold and after the work has started they continue without further supervision. The paper-work is being done by a shipping clerk, who is a registered dock worker and who is also responsible for all of the transport arrangements. Each gang has a registered tally man, who makes details of the discharge which he then passes to the shipping clerk at the end of the day.
The ship is unloaded and the cargo goes either by B.R.S. or British Railways. This is a scheme worked entirely by people employed by one employer, except for the independent stevedore who is nothing more than a labour contractor. People in the docks feel that they have art impossible system of working. They may be drawing big money one day and "dinting" the next. They may be in the unreserved pool and go home with their faces scratched through having to hold up their books to try to get employment. We can get rid of this, of the independent stevedore, and we can improve the management prospects and the career structure by a simple amendment to the Bill.
Having criticised the Bill I must say that it represents a tremendous step forward for dockers in their actual physical conditions of work and it is something upon which the Minister and the hon. Lady are to be congratulated. There is one point which does not concern the working of the docker, and that is the general part of the Bill dealing with harbour authorities and the Amendment made to the 1964 Harbour Act.
Estuarial authorities were established under the Act. These authorities were to have advisory committees. In one draft scheme, which I have seen, the membership of the committee consists of 14 people. There are two representatives of local authorities, two of work people, approved by the Minister and 10 of employers and users of the port. If one wants the correct degree of co-operation, albeit only on an advisory committee, then there must be more worker representation. In this particular authority, if one merely took the representation of the two main unions concerned in the dock one would not be dealing with half of the workmen or of their representatives.
In particular, it seems foolish that in so many of our estuaries which are difficult to navigate one does not have direct 122 pilot representation on estuarial authorities and upon the advisory boards. Instead, this has to come by some devious means through Trinity House or a conservancy board, or in some other way. Above all, these river pilots are the people who know the difficulty of getting ships in, and this is something which cannot be related by second-hand information, by a person who is not actively engaged in the job.
Therefore, while supporting the general tenor of the Bill, I would urge the Minister to think again about whether we could not do away with the whole system of licensing port employers and have only one employer. I would finally urge that when authorities are set up there is adequate direct representation of all people employed in the industry so that they are in a position to influence decisions.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
One of the most noteworthy speeches in this debate was that made by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) in which he gave us an historical background to the docks. For the sake of the record I will say that he objected to an interjection of mine when he was talking about the lack of promotion opportunities for dockers. I cited to him a case of a friend of mine living only five minutes away from me in Glasgow, who is a docker and whose employers are most anxious to promote him to a supervisory job. They are prevented from doing so simply because he is not a No. 1 docker and a man can become one only if his father was a docker before him. To this extent the question of promotion opportunities is not simply a matter of what the employer chooses to do.
The other point which the hon. Gentleman was making with some force was the need for better conditions and higher wages in the docks, particularly in Liverpool. He made a fleeting reference to the practice of welting mentioned in the Devlin Report, whereby one has an hour on and one hour off, this continuing into overtime as well as the normal hours. It will be generally accepted by everyone with experience of working or having to do with the docks that if we are to get rid of this practice of general welting, as opposed to the 123 specific cases of cargoes which are inconvenient or involve special difficulties, then in Liverpool, and elsewhere, the wages and conditions must be better. The one thing which has been noticeable during the debate has been that some people appear to be expecting far too much from this Bill. This is a very timid and anaemic Bill, which suggests very few things which ought to be done, and in no way gets to the fundamental problems facing the dockers.
Take the major recommendation, the question of licensing. It was suggested that this was something new which would involve a new structural framework in the docks in which a large number of employers would become a small number of tough, hard, efficient employers. What is the position? In Glasgow, from where I come, we have a licensing system which has been in operation for many years. It is operated by the port authority in exactly the same way that the Bill suggests. The only essential difference is that in Glasgow the licences are reviewed annually, whereas in the Bill it is proposed that they should be reviewed at intervals of not less than five years and not more than seven years. To this extent, this is not a major departure.
But even if this happens in other ports, will it be a major structural change? In Glasgow we have 14 firms. It is suggested that we should have five. But the five major firms in Glasgow already handle more than 85 per cent. of the cargo. Therefore, this will not be a major structural alteration, but will merely eliminate the number of small employers which exist. There is no reason for saying that the small firms, those which have only a few people working for them, are any more inefficient than the larger firms. In fact, sometimes the reverse is the case.
It is a little unfortunate that the Bill proposes that the port authority will be the licensing auhority, because this could involve difficulties in particular ports. It will not involve any major difficulty in Glasgow. But take the case of Grangemouth, another port in Scotland. There, the British Transport Holding Company has recently bought the largest firm of Stevedores. The port authority is already a small employer, and it will be 124 in the position of granting licences when it is one of the constituent firms and, indeed, a large employer of labour.
There is also the danger of this system of licensing preventing the introduction of new techniques. How difficult it will be for the Minister of Transport to grant an application which has been refused by the licensing authority when she finds that every person working in the docks has said that he does not want the person concerned to be granted a licence. If there is unanimity because the new firm will introduce new techniques and methods, how can we expect the Minister of Transport to overturn the decision and say, "This new firm must be given a licence"?
I am amazed by some of the conditions which the Minister and the port authority are meant to take into account when considering whether a licence should be granted. I would refer the Minister to Clause 4(3,a), which provides that in considering whether someone should be granted a licence the Minister should take into account whether the firmexercises or is likely to exercise proper supervision over the dock workers employed by it.Would the Minister consider that any firm in Liverpool or indeed in Glasgow had been operating proper supervision over the dock workers when there is in Liverpool a system of welting and in Glasgow a system of spelling? Is it proper supervision of workers in the docks if there is a system of welting or spelling, with one hour or two hours off and then one hour on, with half of the dock labour force working? It would be very difficult for any Minister or port authority to decide that a licence should be granted on the basis of that subsection or, indeed, on the basis of many other subsections.
Containerisation—this wonderful new development—is certainly not too new in Scotland. Are we to believe that if a new firm introduced new techniques of this sort the other employers would not object or that the port authority might say that it should not have a licence? This could a way in which new techniques could be held back.
The part of the Bill which interests me most is Part III which relates to modernisation. Clause 35 provides that port 125 authorities can provide depots for containers. As I have said, containerisation is nothing new in Glasgow. For some time, the Burns Laird and Coast Line vessels have been taking containers to Belfast, but we have not made a great deal of progress with ocean-going liners. The first ocean-going liner left Scotland with containers on 7th May. That was the s.s. "Fairland", an American Flag Line vessel, taking whisky to America from Grangemouth. Whisky is one of the major exports from Scotland. There is great potential in containerisation. I asked for details about the cargo-handling arrangements of this first ocean-going vessel using containers in Scotland. I was told that it discharged 35 containers and loaded seven containers in a period of four hours. This was equivalent to a cargo of 800 tons. With normal conventional methods, this would have taken more than two days. This gives some idea of the saving which can be effected if containers are used.
It is very regrettable that the Minister started the debate by saying that no matter how successful the Bill is—and the powers in it are by no means too great—the Government are going ahead with nationalisation proposals. What incentive is this for employers to try new methods and to invest in new plant and machinery? Indeed, what incentive is there for the unions to agree to the new working arrangements which could well salve many of the long-term problems? I believe that by bringing forward this Bill and at the same time saying that they are pressing ahead with nationalisation the Government have sabotaged any possibility of making the progress which we want to make through the Bill.
There is also the question of investment. The steel industry is finding it very difficult to attract the capital it needs to go ahead with new investment schemes. There is only one reason for this. It is not because it is not a viable industry or because it is not profitable, but simply because it is difficult to get long-term capital investment if the industry is subjected to the threat of imminent nationalisation. There will be exactly the same problem in the docks because of the threat of imminent nationalisation. It will be very difficult to get long-term capital, and this will upset many of the proposals in the Bill.
126 I should like to make one further Scottish point. It has been suggested by some of my hon. Friends that we do not have consistency in Government policy, that even though it was said in the Labour Party manifesto that the Government would nationalise the docks, we should not, on the basis of their record, believe that they would necessarily do so. My complaint is not on inconsistency but on co-ordination. Many of us were very alarmed to read in the Rochdale Report that the Committee saw no immediate need for major port developments on the Clyde, where there is one of Scotland's two major ports. The Rochdale Committee said that there was not great scope for new investment in Glasgow.
We have the Port of Leith where much new development is expected. It will be extremely difficult for Leith to get the money it requires for its new development because of this threat of nationalisation. But, more important, we should appreciate that this is the only area in the whole of Scotland which is not a development district under the new arrangements. The whole of Scotland, except Edinburgh and Leith, is now classified as a development district. Precisely how do the Government expect Leith to go ahead with its new plans, which are extremely relevant if we are thinking of going into the Common Market, or to accept that there is coordination in Government policy when a major new development which is desperately needed is sabotaged, on the one hand, by Government policy, and, on the other, by a Government Measure on investment allowances and development districts?
Another point worthy of mention is welfare facilities. There has been a great deal of complaint about action which employers should have taken but have not taken. Looking round the Scottish ports, the welfare facilities in Glasgow are not good. No one would believe that they were acceptable in modern times. On the other hand, they are very good indeed in Grangemouth. It is very strange, looking from one port to another, to see how they can vary a great deal.
But we must consider that one major employer in the docks is the National 127 Dock Labour Board, and it has certainly not taken any initiative in improving conditions generally. We certainly want better conditions and I am certain they will come, and one thing which the Minister might possibly consider, something I think most important, is the omission, when we are talking in terms of facilities and conditions, that even with the Dock Labour Scheme and even with this new Bill, there is no proposal at all that employers should have an occupational pension scheme for people who work in the docks. This is something which certainly ought to be given attention and I hope that, even if there is no provision in the Bill, it does not necessarily mean that the Minister will not say she hopes that under the new arrangements there will be an occupational pension scheme.
A final word on the question of labour relations. A great deal has been said about decasualisation and how this in itself might improve labour relations in the docks. I very much doubt this. Decasualisation in itself has not been warmly welcomed by every single person who works in the docks. I believe that recently in Grangemouth there was a majority of six to four against decasualisation, and certainly in Glasgow there is no question of unanimously welcoming this new feature. It is welcomed by some—particularly by the employers, I feel, because it will ensure a quicker turn-round of ships if work is more evenly spread—if we do not have a situation where these dockers are taking the best jobs and other more difficult jobs are handled by other workers.
One thing I should like to say about Glasgow, which I think is far more relevant to the question of good relations than the simple question of decasualisation, is the importance of union organisation. In the West of Scotland we have only one union, that is, the Scottish Transport and General Workers' Union. I would not certainly say that it is the answer to everyone's problems, but at least we have a proper union control in the docks of Glasgow, whereas in other places it is far otherwise and unions have lost control of their own members.
There may be several reasons for that. First of all, the Scottish Transport and General Workers' Union is a small union 128 with only about 2,000 Scottish dockers under its control, and, therefore, the relationship is essentially personal. In addition, there is one full-time official for every 350 dockers who actually work in the Glasgow port, whereas I believe that the Transport and General Workers' Union in some places has only one full-time official for more than 1,000 workers. In fact, our labour relations in Glasgow and the rest of Scotland have been particularly good. For example, in Grangemouth we have lost only 72 working hours since 1926 in strikes in that dock. It is a very good record that we have lost only 72 hours since 1926, which is less than two hours per year for the whole of the period in that port.
However, my fear is that, while we have these good labour relations in Glasgow and Grangemouth and elsewhere, there has been to some extent a conspiracy of silence on the part of unions and employers—both sides of industry—which have not brought forward to the Devlin Committee, have not, in fact, generally admitted, some of the difficulties and problems which exist. The questions of spelling and of welting have been mentioned in Liverpool and Glasgow. Yet, for example, on the question of spelling, where we certainly had the maximum use out of our labour, it was interesting to note that this point was not brought to the Devlin Committee's attention by Glasgow employers. I believe that it was brought to its attention by the trade union side. It would certainly appear to give the impression that there has been a conspiracy of silence about some of these practices, and there are many others I could mention—for instance, the question of promotional opportunities. This is not something which has suddenly happened in history, but something which is happening in Glasgow.
It is interesting to note that in this scheme there has been no request by the employers for new working arrangements, or is it that the scheme will go forward and working arrangements will be talked about later? To that extent I do not think that we should expect that decasualisation itself is going to give the answer to the fundamental labour relations problem in some of the docks. Nor should we assume that, if nothing is done, either the trade unions or the 129 employers themselves are going to do something about it. The ports themselves are in a certain monopoly position; there is nowhere else for ships to go except to the docks; and to that extent there is no real incentive to the employers or the unions to offset what can be done about practices basically inefficient and against the national interest and which can be paid for in costs.
To that extent I think we should not expect too much from the Bill. I feel that in some ways we are expecting too much from it. It will certainly be no substitute for real solutions to these real practical problems.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
I should like to give a qualified welcome to the Bill. I believe it contains some very workmanlike pieces of work which I believe can meet part of the problem till such time as the Government are able to bring forward their further proposals. I refer here mainly to the provisions for welfare and the reduction in the cumber of employers, which were the main recommendations of the Devlin Report.
I should like to ask for clarification from the Front Bench on the question of training. Welfare conditions, without being related to training and retraining, in my view, would be a serious mistake. It is my view, based on some evidence, that this aspect of a docker's work is unsatisfactorily neglected, and that unless proper standards of training and retraining for older dockers are implemented there will be no reduction in the high rates of industrial injury in this very arduous and dirty industry. As I say, I think the welfare provisions of the Bill go to the heart of the matter, and I should like some further clarification about the training aspects.
I should also like to know the future relationship of the National Dock Labour Board. I am aware that the Board itself varies its relationships with its dock workers from one port to another, and I think I can say this much about the Port of London, that there is a kind of love-hate relationship between the dock workers and the Dock Labour Board. It is trusted in a sort of very qualified way. If we are going to make very fundamental and serious alterations in the employer- 130 employee relationship I should very much like to know exactly how the National Dock Labour Board will fit in, because I believe the Board can still find a solution to the docks problem.
In its constitution it provides opportunity for trade unions to be represented on the highest councils of that body. As has been reiterated by my hon. Friends, it does, of course, lead to a situation where the trade union leader, by sitting on the Board, is isolated from the people he represents, but I still think that it is an experiment worth proceeding with, and I hope that this side of the Dock Labour Board scheme will be strengthened. Part of the problem is that the trade union leader sitting on the Board and carrying out essentially a managerial and disciplinary function naturally finds himself alienated from his fellow workers. Perhaps some other method could be evolved of rotation on the Board of dockers actually working on the job, as opposed to full-time trade union officials, who become virtually isolated from the men on the job.
The bitterness which is evident in the dock industry means that, if there is to be any solution, the answers themselves must be exceptional and almost superhuman. We have heard many eloquent testimonies from hon. Members on this side who have themselves worked in the docks. They have given their views and have indicated the extent of the bitterness which exists in our docks today. It will be very difficult to overcome that bitterness, and it will not necessarily be overcome simply by a change of ownership. If we reduce the number of employers to one, that act alone will not remove the deep-felt grievances. Something much more fundamental needs to be done, and we must look more to the future.
Quite rightly, today's debate has referred to the past, and I think that it will compare with the great debates in the inter-war period on the coal mining industry, such has been the wealth of experience and emotion that we have heard today. Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to look ahead now, and that is why I welcome the Bill. If a new start can be given, if the Government are tough and uncompromising and they are able to satisfy workers in the industry that by nationalising it a new opportunity 131 will be opened, a great deal will have been done. Before they do that, they must lay down conditions themselves, because one thing is certain, and it is that the workings of the docks cannot be allowed to continue as at present.
If we are to have changes, we must make sure that conditions about protective or restrictive practices are properly scrutinised and that some of them are given up as a result of changes introducted by the Government. Here again, a great opportunity exists for a hard bargain to be struck. That means taking on vested interest. Apart from the hon. Gentlemen opposite who will fight the Bill on the grounds of the reduction in the number of employers, there will be many other vested interests which will have to be faced. I refer to the unofficial elements that exist in London.
I have received many letters from dock workers, themselves active, militant trade unionists, who are deeply worried about the unofficial element that exists in London. It is one of the easiest things in dockland to emerge as an unofficial leader. It fulfils a particular kind of desire to a certain type of person. They are able to exercise power without responsibility and, very often, they exercise it with devastating effect on the dock industry.
If the Government make structural alterations in the public ownership of the docks, at the same time they must issue a warning to unofficial elements that their days are numbered and that their activities must cease forthwith. It would be disastrous if all these changes came about and we were left in the same position as we find ourselves in today.
Whilst welcoming many provisions in the Docks and Harbours Bill, I, too, believe that more fundamental changes must be made. If the Government are tough and resolute, I am sure that they will get the backing of the dock workers.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I hope that I shall be forgiven if I move from London to Scotland. For that reason, I am particularly surprised that, throughout the debate, which has the greatest implications for Scottish ports, we have not had a Scottish Minister here to listen 132 to what has been said. I daresay they are all away, hanging their heads in shame, for the treatment of the Port of Leith.
Leith is the only port in Scotland out-with a development area, and no port is more prepared and keen to improve its facilities than Leith. Numerous large industrial concerns wish to join in the projects in the port of Leith, but, because of its exclusion from the development area, they are not going ahead. I hope that the Minister will convey to his hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the concern of the House at Leith's shabby treatment.
I was interested to hear the clear and concise remarks of the hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary earlier, but, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), I was quite astonished at her statement about the nationalisation of the docks in the future. That will cause chronic worry among people interested in the development of the docks if they have no idea when nationalisation is likely to take place. The sooner that the Minister is able to assure the House about a proper time scale, the better. It is an even greater pity since the Devlin Report says so much which is good sound common sense, a great deal of which has been ruined by the hon. Lady's statement and the uncertainty which it will cause.
Part I of the Bill allows for the reduction in the number of employers and encourages that reduction and the licensing of employers. That is something which we all welcome. But there are certain dangers, and some of them have not been fully appreciated in all quarters. Monopolisation may well bring about restrictions and inflexibility which will hinder the development in Part III of the Bill that we feel is so important. The very serious omission of any form of charges that will be levied by the stevedores and their employers is a most important one.
I want to turn for a few moments to Scotland, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) said, in Leith, and particularly in Glasgow, there have been very important strides towards a reduction by voluntary effort, which, I am sure all hon. Members will agree, is the correct 133 way to do it. We disagree strongly that the licensing authority, in many cases, should also be the competing operating authority. I know that the hon. Lady argued that at some length under Schedule 1, but it is a fact that it is to be so in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Grangemouth and Leith, and Scottish opinion is against that unfair competition.
My own view and that of a number of my hon. Friend is not in accord with that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East. It should be an annual licence, looked at annually, and not one for a relatively long period, because that way may well weigh against the possibility of new firms coming in and tendering for these opportunities.
The most important part of the Bill is Part III, where the modernisation of harbour facilities is dealt with. Naturally, in Scotland, there is great interest and excitement at the moves towards containerisation which has taken place in recent weeks. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart said, this has been clone with coastal trade for some time, but only recently the first ocean-going containerised ship left the Port of Grangemouth with two cargoes of whisky which were loaded in four hours, whereas normally this takes about two days.
This is a significant step forward, and the same ship on its previous voyage loaded 1,100 tons at Rotterdam in five hours, compared with its normal loading period of three days. This is something of a break-through, and, in the Scottish whisky trade, in particular, will reduce costs very considerably in our export markets, but we must look seriously at the position of Customs and bring them into the Bill if possible.
Scotland has an exceptionally good record from the point of view of industrial disputes in her docks and harbours, and I think it well worth saying again that since 1926 Grangemouth has had only 72 hours of strikes. This is due to the good relations which have been engendered through the disputes committee, which is able to give decisions on the spot. I think that anyone who is versed in trade unionism realises that a quick decision is likely to nip a strike in the bud.
I hope that this move towards the modernisation of our great ports will 134 encourage the smaller harbours around our coastline to modernise, too. I am thinking now of many small harbours, some of them fishing harbours, round the coasts of Scotland. This may well stimulate them to bring their harbours up to the high standard at which we are aiming for our national and large ports. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will go out of his way to give our remarkable labour record and the facilities available in Scotland all the publicity that he can in the future, and thereby encourage as many cargo vessels as possible to come to Scotland to use the facilities which exist there.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
I intervene briefly in this debate because I think that this Bill is important for the country as a whole. I appreciate that it is not one on which there is great party controversy, but there are one or two points which I should like to probe and on which I hope that the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some guidance.
The operation of the docks and harbours of this country is of tremendous importance not only for the reason which hits everybody's eyes at once, which is the quick and efficient export of goods which we manufacture, and the way in which they behave like a bottleneck, nearly everything that we export has to go through the docks, and, therefore, they play a vital part in our export drive, but the fact, which is often overlooked, that the efficient handling of imports through our docks of the raw materials which are the basis of our industry, is vitally important, otherwise the costs of raw materials rise unnecessarily.
There seem to be three things which we should ask of the Bill, and I should like to look at them and to judge the Bill on these merits. First, the dock and harbour environment and facilities. Secondly, whether the Bill will help to bring about a change in employee attitude. Thirdly—and there is no reason for this being this way round—whether it will help to bring about a change of employer attitude in the docks.
I have three questions to put to the Government in this context. The first relates to the environment of, and the 135 facilities in, the docks. Here I am talking not so much about the dock employer's equipment but about the docks themselves—wharfing facilities, layout, and things of that sort. Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient is being done to bring about the modernisation of these things? I recognise that Part III of the Bill, particularly with its provisions for improvements in warehousing and things of this sort, is very important, but I am wondering about the provision of docks, the reshaping of docks, and the amalgamation of docks, because when one looks at many of our docks one gets an unfortunate impression of Victoriana. One gets the impression that the attitude is, "We were at the forefront of progress yesterday" rather than, "We are right at the forefront of progress today".
The question which comes to my mind is, what drives a dock authority forward today, whatever work it is involved in, to modernise its facilities? Is there anywhere a profit motive? Is there anywhere something which drives that authority forward to ensure that its dock is better, and more able to cope with the volume of traffic which comes through it than any other? In this context the need for change to cope with containerisation is of great importance, as is the development of "drive-on—drive-off" facilities.
I propose now to say a word or two on the subject of employee attitude. I have listened with great care and respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite who have close connections with the docks and dockers. I realise that it is very difficult for a Tory to talk on this subject without being liable to misrepresentation. Indeed, I know that the whole position in the docks represents a tender spot in the hearts of trade unionists, for the beginning of modern trade unionism among the unskilled, paradoxically perhaps, arose from the 1889 dock strike in London, the "tanner" an hour strike which Ben Tillett led with the Tea Operatives' Union which was itself so transformed during that period.
The whole theme and idea of the trade union movement has been to protect the weak against the strong and against employers, and building up after this there was the period of mass unemployment and the understandable search for ways 136 of making three men do the work that could be done by two. Having been a member of the T.G.W.U. for a number of years, I have a very real understanding of the reasons why men sought to spread work, and how, in the days of 1 million or 2 million unemployed, to save a man's job meant putting a man on the dole. Nothing rotted the hearts of men so much as weeks and months of enforced idleness, when, not for any lack of desire on their part but because there was no employment available, they remained unable to support their families and so to hold up their heads in society.
It is with an understanding of how those restrictive practices grew up that I ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that the Bill grasps a sufficient number of opportunities to break the restrictive practices which have been so glaringly outlined in the Devlin Report. I do not need to go over them; they are already familiar. The sum effect of them, however, is so important that they must be brought to the attention of the Minister, with the request that he should state clearly the way in which the Bill will affect them.
I shall not go over the pros and cons of the "continuity rule." There are things to be said on both sides. But, in the words of the Devlin Report, this practice leads to a waste of labour of between 5 and 6 per cent. Then there is "welting", or its Glasgow equivalent of "spelling", under which system 20 per cent. of the men's time is unproductive. This afternoon we have heard a defence of the practice of welting. It may be true that a man cannot work for more than about an hour in the refrigerated part of a ship, but this is no argument for extending that privilege—if I may so call it—over the whole operation of, say the Port of Liverpool. Then there is bad timekeeping. In London and Bristol this is said to cause a 10 per cent. loss in productivity.
Are the Government satisfied that the Bill is doing sufficient to seize the opportunities in front of them. How do they propose to take further steps to stamp out these practices which have Members on both sides of the House—and hon. Members opposite behind the Front Bench as well as on it—are anxious to have brought to an end?
137 When the Minister was introducing the Bill I noticed that she talked about a new Devlin Committee which has been set up, whose reports will deal with some of the difficulties concerning pricing, and the details of negotiations which are excessively difficult at present. Can the Minister give us any information whether a settlement is likely to fall within the scope of the Government's Prices and Incomes policy? Does he see any prospect of seizing the opportunites for reducing restrictive practices and increasing productivity, thereby making a real leap forward?
There is need for a modernising of the attitude of employers, especially in terms of modern equipment in the docks. I have two questions to ask on this point. First, do the Government consider that a three-year licence offers a sufficiently long period for any firm to be prepared to expend capital on modernising its equipment? Substantial sums of money are involved in laying out capital on modern equipment, and I wonder whether the prospect of a three-year licence, which is the minimum period laid down in the Bill, is sufficient to tempt an employer to spend very much money? I would have thought that a licence of that sort would tend to make an employer into a miner and cause him to try to drag out every penny from his concession, and not to plough it back, which should be the desire of the Government in this context.
Then there are the disastrous remarks made by the Minister in introducing Second Reading of the Bill, when she spoke of it as being virtually a temporary Measure until nationalisation could he brought in. Whether that was intended as feeding the hungry below the Gangway or a serious statement of Government policy, I do not know, but it filled me with alarm, not because of any dogma in respect of Conservative policy—not only because I, as a Conservative, dislike the idea of concentrating more power and wealth into the hands of the State—which is already becoming overpowerful—but because if, by this Measure, we ask employers to take these licences and to modernise the docks, we shall have no prospect of their success while we hold over them the threat that they will be nationalised in a year or 138 two. Who knows, may it not be those who take their first licence, and run it for about three years may then find that there is to be no renewal because the Government will then take them over by nationalising, piecemeal, the whole docks industry?
This seems to be a most serious weakness. It is serious for two reasons. The first is because it puts party dogma before the nation's needs. For reasons of party doctrine we shall find greater concentration in the hands of the State. But, secondly, and more especially, this at this time will frighten away the capital needed to modernise the docks industry and bring it right into the twentieth century.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
My first and very pleasant duty is to congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) on his maiden speech. I think that all of us who heard it will agree that it was a speech of considerable forcefulness, skill and intelligence. He spoke at some length about the problems of the Bristol area, and particularly about the new Port of Portbury, and I shall refer to that later. I hope that he will forgive me if I leave the detailed aspects of the Port of Bristol, about which he knows so much, and only say how much we all look forward to hearing him take part in debates in future and how high we know the standard of his performance will be.
There is no industry more bedevilled than the docks industry by the traditions of bad practice on both sides throughout the whole of its past. I do not think that either side can be excused for what has happened during the many years that our docks have been an important feature of our economy. There has certainly been no industry more inquired into. We have the Leggett Report in 1951, the Rochdale Report, the Devlin Report and many others before them. There is certainly no industry which is more complex. We have harbour authorities, the Dock Labour Board, the employers and their organisations, the shippers and their organisations, the two main unions, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the "blue" union and a host of other interwoven and complicated factors in this industry.
139 It has got into such a state that to find a solution now it is necessary for both sides of the House to sink our doctrinaire differences, at least for the time being, and to concentrate on implementing the Devlin Report. I pay tribute to the Report and to Lord Devlin for the good sense and compromise spirit which he brought to his task. He avoided both the extreme of this side of the House and the extreme of the other side. His reasoning is cogent and practical. I believe that it has been, and still is, entirely acceptable to both sides with, of course, the exception of some minor detailed points. If it is not irrelevant to say so, this piece of forceful writing and argument was very welcome and refreshing in a Government Report on which I personally congratulate him.
Now the Government have implemented, or threatened to implement, their election manifesto and to place the whole of the docks under public ownership in all aspects of their works. We all enjoyed the speech of the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary. Upon its performance I congratulate her, if not on its substance. She said, we shall "rationalise" in the first instance and "nationalise" in the second. At that the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) rose from his seat and left the Chamber in high glee. We on this side of the House have guessed at the existence in the party opposite of two warring factions on this question for quite some time.
We might call them the Montagues and the Capulets, if I may use an analogy. The Cabinet has been divided between the Montagues and the Capulets, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Poplar is Capulet himself. We suspect that the Minister of Labour, on the other hand, is a Montague. What the hon. Lady is, I do not know. She may well be Juliet. As Mercutio said:A plague o' both your houses.He went further—and this could have been applied to the hon. Member for Poplar, for he said:Thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat;Let us, for goodness' sake, stop this quarrelling and get on with solving the problem in the docks.
I should like the Government to consider the short-term effects of what they 140 have said this afternoon just on the interim period up to nationalisation, whenever it comes. I should like them to consider the damage they have caused in this already incredibly difficult and tricky situation. What about the time that has been wasted? The Devlin Committee has taken a year and more. It will probably take two or three years to put into effect all its recommendations. Four or five years will probably have gone by without any progress towards the ultimate solution, because it will all be plunged into the melting pot in a few years' time, whenever the Government bring in their nationalisation Bill.
As my right hon. Friend asked, what will be the effect on the career structure on the employers' side? Will management be able to offer a career, to recruit, to set up training and generally to provide the stable conditions in which people are likely to thrive? It is clear that this must have a tremendously inhibiting effect on management in the short-term.
Last, but by no means least, is the question of investment. What will induce employers to invest? We have not heard the time-scale. We very much look forward to hearing it from the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies. What is the time-scale when this act will be performed? It is clear that in this interval and until the Government's new scheme has been worked out and put into action, the incentives to investment by the employers, by the people who will be driven out of business, is practically nil.
Lord Devlin was no advocate of this course. Taking the short-term argument again, he said, in his report on page 93:Nationalisation would, of course, upset completely the employers' side of the industry. It would upset the other side as well, for it would mean radical alteration of the Dock Labour Scheme.Those were Lord Devlin's comments on what the Government propose.
§ Mr. Heffer
Will the hon. Member pursue this matter of investment a little further? Will he not agree with me that investment is on two levels? First, we have the investment which is required by the port authority, both for the expansion of the port and for the modernisation of the port installations, which, incidentally, is also part of the question of cargo handling. Secondly, we have the employers. Surely this leads to confusion.
141 Is is not better to have one authority concerned with the overall investment?
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Member is quite right in his analysis of the problem, but I draw a completely different conclusion from that dichotomy. It seems to me that a much greater proportion of the investment should have been placed in the hands of the employers. That is a point to which I shall come, if he will bear with me. I will develop it much further.
We on this side of the House have our own ideas of how this industry should go in future. We believe that the employers should be given a far greater stake and a far greater chance to invest, which must mean long leases of wharves and quays, which is the system adopted in Rotterdam and Antwerp and many of the other great European ports. Employers have leases long enough to enable them to make the necessary investment and they can make the investment to suit their own ideas, rather than having to take a ready-made quay, which may not he exactly what they want, from the port authority.
There was a very strong plea indeed in the Rochdale Report that this sort of thing should be encouraged. This would be a direction in which we on this side of the House would like to have moved. We also criticise to some extent the provisions in the Bill because we do not believe that it provides enough flexibility for employers to come in and to go out and for good employers to muscle out bad employers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) made this point with great clarity and force, and I believe that my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) and Dumfries (Mr. Monro) had the same idea. Neither is there the required flexibility over the number of employees and the whole vexed question of restrictive practices to which many of my hon. Friends have referred and to which I shall refer later. We would like to see progress on all these fronts.
However, we are prepared to shelve all of these opinions and directions in which we would like to see the industry move, in order to get unity behind Devlin at this time. What response have we had? We have had a bland statement from the 142 hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon that the Government are to nationalise this industry—she does not know when, she has not thought how or why—at a time when we should all unite to save what is, indeed, the parlous state in the docks and try to follow the lead which Devlin has given us to get out of the mess.
I do not for a moment dispute that the employers in many aspects have been at fault, though not all employers. I shall say more about that later. But there is not much advantage in going back over centuries of history, as the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) did in a very moving speech but one which, to my mind, went back and not forward. There are plenty of hurdles ahead without trying to make this operation more difficult. In June, we shall have Lord Devlin's Report on the pay structure and wage rates under the new scheme. In October, perhaps, we shall get the amended Dock Labour Order. Next January, the licensing of employers will largely be complete. All of these provide obstacles which it might well be difficult for the scheme to get over. I should have thought that there were enough difficulties in the way without throwing this new one in this afternoon. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that these may well have fouled the whole basis of co-operation, though on this side of the House we still wish fervently that that is not so.
In the long run, the Government will have to justify this strange proposal to nationalise which was added into the speech this afternoon. It seems to be a feature of the present Government, frightened as they are to take the bull by the horns and just say, "We will nationalise", that they seem to wish to create a condition of chaos, uncertainty and financial distress and an atmosphere where no business could possibly flourish, and then after a year or two they say, "This industry is failing the nation. Therefore, we will take it into public ownership."
This is what the Government have done on aircraft. They have cancelled the three main projects, virtually stopped all military orders and destroyed the research lead which we had, and then they say, "This industry is failing the nation. We must take it into public ownership." I would not be surprised if this were the 143 ultimate fate of the building societies. Now we have this proposal for the docks.
The proposals for decasualisation, the levy on employers for compensation and the levy for the provision of amenities will put at least 10 per cent., perhaps much more, on to the wage bill, so the employers have that to absorb in a very short time. There will doubtless be a substantial increase in pay. On top of that the Government have clapped the Selective Employment Tax. I know that they will get it back, but does the hon. Gentleman realise that it will cost the industry at least £2 million, and at this stage in the proceedings he is asking the dock employers to lend the Government, free of interest, between £2 million and £21 million on top of everything else? Now he claps on his other proposal as well. It is a strange philosophy that one must first strangle one's victim in order to make one's case, and then one can come along and have an excuse for nationalisation.
Decasualisation is the key to the whole situation, and we should all like to have seen it come in before. It is easy on this side of the House to blame the unions and on that side of the House to blame the employers for decasualisation having come at this late date. But we all know the difficulties. Perhaps the real reason why decasualisation has come so late to the docks is that it has been inhibited by the existence of the Dock Labour Scheme. No one criticises the scheme, but it has been the factor making this industry different from any other industry, making it harder for employers to identify themselves with employees and take responsibility for them, and for employees to identify themselves with employers and accord some loyalty to them.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer), in an admirably effective speech, laid great stress on the failure over the years to provide amenities, yet he will, surely, admit that it was the casual system which made the provision of amenities difficult. Employers in other industries, in steel, in manufacturing and many other well known industries, have not been slow in this respect. Why does the hon. Gentleman think that the docks have been so different? The dock employers are not hard-hearted men who refuse to consider the welfare of their 144 workers any more than other employers are. The fact is that people with one responsibility or another in the docks are almost legion, yet none is wholly and completely responsible. So each has shelved responsibility on to others. The Dock Labour Board could have forced the pace on providing amenities in the past. The employers could have provided amenities. The harbour authorities could have provided amenities. But they have shuffled the baby from one to the other, and it has not been done.
This is not a criticism only of the employers. It is a criticism also of the Dock Labour Board and of the port authorities. The root problem now emerges quite clearly as having been the fault of the casual labour system, which in its turn springs, as I have said, from the Dock Labour Scheme. If the Bill, as I believe it does, gives us a chance to get away from the casual labour system, this, surely, is the key to the solution of the problem rather than at this stage trying to nationalise the whole industry.
§ Mr. Heffer
I am sorry to interrupt again, but is it not a fact that, long before the Dock Labour Scheme came into operation, there was casual labour in the docks? In fact, there has never been anything else. The scheme tended to diminish casualness of labour, but it did not go far enough. The hon. Gentleman says that it springs from the scheme, but it is the nature of the industry which has given rise to the casualness of employment.
§ Mr. Ridley
Again, I do not greatly differ from the hon. Gentleman, but I believe that what happened was this. When the Dock Labour Scheme came into effect, it tended to ossify the structure of the industry and to slow down the progress which would have happened normally towards decasualisation. This is the reason why it has taken so long. I am sorry that I did not make myself clear in the first instance.
We on this side do not believe that nationalisation will solve the problem. The real problem is not a question of ownership, but of productivity in our docks and the modernisation and mechanisation of them to provide the efficient port transport system which we need. The examples of the railways, London Transport and other nationalised 145 industries do not lead us to believe that modernisation and increased productivity are very easily obtained by nationalisation. The Government must make out a case not on their doctrinaire beliefs about this, but on the actual likelihood of progress towards a more efficient industry as a result.
I want to say a brief word about capital investment, on the one hand, and labour practices, on the other, because so many of my hon. Friends have referred to this subject. We have a split between responsibility for labour and responsibility for investment ossified in the Government structure itself. Indeed, we have the two hon. Members opposite on the Government Front Bench, the hon. Gentleman being responsible for the investment side of the docks industry and the hon. Lady responsible for the labour side. Lower down, one finds that the harbour authorities are under one Ministry and the Dock Labour Board and the employers are under the other.
Throughout the history of the docks since the war there has been this division between the provision of capital and the provision of labour. This has led to the problem which the hon. Member for Walton suggested in his intervention, that the employers are not really in any way connected with the major investments which are to be made in the docks industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) made the point —I could not agree with him more strongly—that one cannot look at a problem without having completely at one's finger tips the relationship between the cost of the capital project and the cost of the labour which one might save, and that the same people ought to consider both decisions and ought to be responsible both for the capital side and for the labour side of any decision.
We on this side of the House believe that one can do this satisfactorily only by giving these decisions to a number of different people suited to the different purposes which they are fulfilling in the docks and that if one tries to take these decisions centrally, as in the case of the railways and other nationalised industries, one tends, on balance, to end up with more errors than if one had left it to the collective sense of large numbers of boards of managers or directors.
146 If we may look at the labour side of the industry, the Bill provides long overdue welfare facilities. It compulsorily reduces the number of employers, and for this, too, no quid pro quois expected from the labour side. Further, we hope and pray that decasualisation will be 100 per cent. by the end of this year. Again, no quid pro quo is asked for by the labour side. There will be by mid-summer perhaps a new pay structure and new rates of pay. We do not yet know what they will be and we do not yet know whether Lord Devlin will have some form of strings attached to this in terms of restrictive practices.
We on this side support this approach. In view of the history of this industry, we believe that this is the right way to take it, but I tell the Government that in the long run there must be an end to the restrictive practices in this industry. Many people believe that piece work should be brought to an end. Everybody knows that shift work should be widely extended. Other matters to be dealt with include flexible manning, gang sizes and ends to inter-union disputes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton) made some important and useful points on this subject, as did many other of my hon. Friends. Time after time in the history of our industrial life employers have been asked to concede pay rises, reduced hours or greater amenities on the promise that these would result in the abandonment in due course of certain restrictive practices. Some of us are beginning to wonder whether such bargains, which are not fulfilled, can go on much longer. But when it comes to the next round the same bargains are made and again no action taken.
The productivity figures of the country are getting so bad that there must be no doubt that the time for action is now. Lord Devlin recommended that those restrictive practices which arise out of the casual system in the docks should be dropped when the casual system brought to an end. My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing asked—and I repeat his question—for an undertaking that this will be done, because the time has come when "buying the book", as Lord Devlin calls it, must result in the book being delivered.
147 The real test of nationalisation, and of whether this is a good Bill as well, is, on the one hand, whether investment is made in the right places and in the right quantities, not only in terms of building new ports, of cargo handling, of the right sort of wharves and equipment and of storage facilities, and, on the other, whether labour relations will be improved and restrictive practices dropped. I do not believe that nationalisation will help.
Hon. Members opposite have rather given themselves away today. They have argued consistently and strongly in favour of nationalisation at this stage. They have then gone on to justify all the restrictive practices and the low productivity results in the docks. I believe that nationalisation will allow these practices a longer lease of life.
Indeed, on that score alone, one could not have a stronger argument for resisting the pressure for nationalisation. Before I leave the subject, with which I have dealt at some length because we have more time than usual—and because we were taken by surprise by the hon. Lady's grave and damaging announcement—I want to reinforce what my right hon. Friend said. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport should at least tell us when this is likely to happen and what effect it will have on the present system and on the period that employers should have to plan their investment and make their plans for improving the docks even in the meantime. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the hon. Lady's announcement was most unsettling.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also deal with my right hon. Friend's comment about the effects of Clause 13. This is a detailed point to which we can return in Committee. My right hon. Friend suggested that the effect will be to hold up voluntary amalgamations between employers at this time because one will be able to obtain compensation only if one has been refused a licence, and, therefore, employers will have to continue in existence as separate entities until such time as they can apply for licences. In these circumstances, employers cannot very well go out of the business or amalgamate before that time arrives. We shall move Amendments in Committee to clear up these points.
148 The only other detailed point I would make concerns the doubt as to whether a stevedoring firm should be asked to contribute to compensation which may go to a lightermen's firm going out of business. This is the kind of difficulty over compensation to which one or two of my hon. Friends have referred and which we can clear up in Committee. We give the Government notice that we shall return to these points.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), has sat on the Government Front Bench with great patience all day and practically no one has mentioned harbours. Nearly all of the speeches have been about dock labour, but I would now like to make a few remarks about the harbours' side of the Bill.
When the right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport opened the roll-off passenger car and cargo terminal at King George V Dock on 9th May, she confirmed the decision of the Labour Party to turn the National Ports Council into the National Ports Authority. She described this as a "revolution under way." We on this side of the House do not regard it as a revolution, because the Council is already in existence and the actual change from Council to Authority is merely a change in the form of public ownership and not at all a big step. However, what we find intolerable about the situation is that there does not seem to be any clear chain of command as to who is responsible for taking decisions and how this vital aspect of the industry is to work.
The question of Portbury now arises. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) discussed this, but a quotation from the Economist of 13th May will make the mystery apparent to him and to the rest of the House. It is:The council advised the Government long before the election to give the go-ahead to the scheme for developing a new port at Portbury near Bristol. But, after prolonged delay the Minister of Transport has now declared that she is reviewing alternative projects in South Wales and Southampton before reaching a decision. The N.P.C. has admitted that it has been shown none of the alternatives at present being considered by the Government. contrary to the Harbours Act. This means that Mrs. Barbara Castle has chosen to listen to lobbying instead of her own advisory body. It makes nonsense of the advisory council's position both now and in future.This is disturbing.
149 We are told by the Government that they wish to develop the Council into an Authority which, we take it, would have the same sort of power as a nationalised industry and, therefore, be free from Ministerial interference. If that is so, perhaps it would be better if we had it, because that would stop the right hon. Lady from listening to lobbying, as it is called, and interfering in the decisions of a highly qualified and greatly respected advisory body such as the National Ports Council.
Who is doing the lobbying? We are told about this lobbying, but can we be told who is doing it and what is the reason for it? What is the reason for the delay in giving the go-ahead to the very important new project at Portbury? The right hon. Lady said:We are going to put everything in the way ci resources and encouragement we can behind t le plan.What she has done so far is to delay it and stop it and apparently listen to some sort of lobbying. This is a situation which we want the Government to clear up. We want to be told what is going on at Port-bury, why there has been no decision, end why the Government are not accepting the advice of their own council in which, so far as we know, they have complete confidence and which has taken a great deal of trouble and care in arriving at its decision. Either we must have a nationalised industry, like the electricity industry, with the power to take its own cecision and with no interference, or we must have a loose federation such as we now have with the Council advising the Minister, in which case the Minister must take the advice of her own council and get on with it.
If there were any need, there is further evidence of the Government's desire to interfere in the affairs of the ports in Section 62 of the Annual Report of the National Ports Council, which has just been published. The Council asks the Government whether it could have powers itself to sanction any scheme costing up to £2,500,000 which a port might put forward. The present maximum is only £500,000. We see that a provision to this effect is not included in the Bill, which shows that the Government are not prepared to give their own National Ports Council the right to take decisions up to £2,500,000. I cannot understand why the Government have not given the Council 150 this go-ahead. It seems to me that they are determined to interfere in these decisions and that it would be far better if they stopped listening to lobbying and got on with the job of modernising our ports.
This is a good Bill—or, this was a good Bill, is, perhaps, how I should put it. We on this side of the House believe that the Devlin you know is better than the devil you do not. We have no intention of dividing against the Bill, but we are shocked and horrified that this good Bill, which all reasonable men support, should have been put in jeopardy by what the hon. Lady said this afternoon, perhaps risking four or five years of precious time, throwing the industry into the cockpit of party politics, and once more introducing a spirit of partisan, doctrinaire, one-sided interest when we had just about reached a spirit of unity and co-operation in the House.
On those grounds, we thoroughly condemn the Government, although we shall expedite the passage of the Bill through the House.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)
It is a pleasure for me to be able to congratulate a vigorous, well-informed and forthright maiden speaker. I was delighted to have the opportunity to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis). I expected well of him, and I was not a bit disappointed by his first-class advocacy of those principles which are dear to his heart. We look forward to hearing him again, when he will be able to plunge into the full vigour of the controversy of debate.
We have had a valuable and interesting debate although, in spite of some of the emotional excitement on the Opposition Front Bench, it has not evoked a tremendous pressure of attendance or competition to participate. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) managed to lather himself into a certain amount of vigour with his entirely synthetic astonishment at a part of the excellent speech with which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour opened the debate.
For the benefit of all hon. Members I want to repeat what my hon. Friend said, 151 so that we are quite clear what is the part of my hon. Friend's speech that caused such excitement in the breast of the right hon. Gentleman and has been a great part of the theme of the speech of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). Presenting the general provisions of the Bill and the background from which it stems, my hon. Friend said:In our election manifesto we announced our intention to reorganise and modernise the ports on the basis of a strong National Ports Authority and publicly-owned regional port authorities, with each port authority ultimately responsible for all port operations in its area, including stevedoring, and with an extension of the joint participation which is already a feature of the dock industry. That is a pledge we have every intention of carrying out. But a major reconstruction of this kind will need careful preparation and will inevitably take a considerable time to bring into effect.That is what my hon. Friend said. I am sure that she will confess that there was nothing novel or surprising about this important feature of her speech. In fact, in spite of the astonishment of right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, she was merely paraphrasing part of the Labour Party's election manifesto which, apparently, the right hon. Gentleman had overlooked.
The situation appears to be that if we in the Labour Party declare the principles of policies, we are said to be creating a very difficult situation and to be causing uncertainty if we propose to make changes. If, however, we do not declare the principles of policy, we are said to be creating a vacuum and to be deficient or even dishonest. If we declare the principles of policy but, as a result of the persuasions of hon. Members opposite we do not carry them out, we shall be accused of ratting and of running away from the situation.
How does one deal with these people? What on earth do they want?
§ Mr. Swingler
I see. This House is founded to debate the principles. I want to impress upon right hon. and hon. Members opposite that in spite of the long history of the Conservative Party, it is sometimes advisable and desirable to have principles and, if one has principles, 152 to declare them and then proceed to the hard and diligent work of applying them.
Indeed, in some parts of his speech, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East suggested that even he might be coaxed towards that position. The right hon. Gentleman made two interesting statements in the opening part of his speech. One was that the past history of the important industry with which we have been dealing today reflects, he said, little credit on either side. I take it that he meant that industrially it was satisfactory but that politically it reflected little credit on either side of this House.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that we need an overall strategy. He emphasised that we needed an overall strategy for transport because the industry with which we are dealing—the ports and the provision of ports, harbours and docks—is part of the great transport industry, for which, indeed, we need an overall strategy in providing co-ordination.
The Labour Party declared in its manifesto, on the basis of its examination of the facts and precisely because of the past history of the industry, the need for fundamental and far-reaching changes. During the debate many of my hon. Friends, from their wealth of experience, have demonstrated how right that is and that the situation is one which calls for fundamental and far-reaching changes.
We know, however, that the preparation of plans which involve fundamental and far-reaching changes may take a considerable time. Therefore, the Government decided that we should not delay but that in the context of the declaration of our principles we should proceed to apply those parts of the recommendations of the Devlin Report and of other Reports which have been mentioned in the debate which are necessary to meet urgent situations.
We on this side are not the only people who consider that far-reaching and fundamental changes are necessary in this industry. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury brought in the old hoary one about the doctrinaire approach and the Labour Party having suddenly cooked up the idea that we must nationalise something, so we had better mationalise the docks.
It is extraordinary to me that no right hon. or hon. Member opposite in the 153 debate, so far as I know—I have not managed to attend quite the whole of the debate—has mentioned the article which appeared last week in The Times, on 19th May, by a distinguished member of the Conservative Party who for several years held the position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport with special responsibility for shipping. Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett was a highly respected Member of this House and was recognised as a diligent junior Minister. He held the job as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport between 1961 and 1964 and in 1964 was the vice-chairman of the Shipping Advisory Panel.
Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett's article appeared in The Times on 19th May, and I would draw the attention of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to the conclusions he reached when they are criticising the Government for foreshadowing the need for fundamental and far-reaching changes in the industry. I can only quote short passages from the article, but I do not wish to misrepresent what the Admiral says. One of the important things which he says is:The problem we face is how to devise a national authority which can decide rather than recommend …".That was in regard to the development of our harbours and docks. Secondly he says:The form and constitution of port authorities is crucial. Most people agree that they should exercise comprehensive powers, including more responsibility for cargo handling.Here then is this highly distinguished pillar of the Conservative Party, who for three years had experience in the job that I now hold, saying towards the end of the article:I have reached the conclusion that the lesser evil"—to the alternative policies which he examined—would be to concede the principle that port authorities should themselves become the sole employer of dock labour".I quote this passage to show that it is not only in the Labour Party that these so-called doctrinaire conclusions exist. We need a policy for a strong national port authority, for independent regional port authorities, which as Admiral Hughes Hallett assumed in the article must he under public ownership, and for 154 port authorities which have comprehensive administrative and operational responsibilities.
I commend that article to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who appear, in some respects, to be slightly intellectually poverty-stricken in their contributions to the debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, North-East raised the question of new employers. He suggested that the provisions of the Bill might have the danger of creating oligopoly, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury mentioned the point, too.
We see no reason why the licensing system introduced in this Bill will create such a monopoly situation. Under the provisions of the Bill it is open to a potential new employer to apply for a licence and to appeal to the Minister of Transport if the licensing authority turns down the application. If a new employer is granted a licence it will stipulate the number of workers to be allocated and the date by which this is to be done. Thus, new employers are provided for.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of Customs clearance under Clause 35. I should like to draw his attention to the little piece which I think he overlooked at the bottom of page 27, in Clause 35(5) which says:Nothing in this Section shall effect the power of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise under the enactments relating to customs and excise to approve places for the loading, unloading …He will see that this matter has been dealt with.
I pass to the question of amenity provisions in non-scheme ports. This point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West, who made his maiden speech, and by a number of other hon. Members. There are three points about this matter. First, in the revision of the Dock Labour Scheme, ports which are at the moment outside the provision of the Bill because they are not in that Scheme may be brought in. Secondly,it is the aim of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to continue to press by negotiation for the provision of better amenities for dock workers in the non-scheme ports. Thirdly, under the Factories Acts, there are powers to make regulations which should apply to all 155 ports and harbours for the improvement of amenities and conditions. My right hon. Friend has every intention of applying himself to that point. Therefore, in these three ways we hope that, marching together with the provisions made in the Bill, we shall bring about improvements in the non-scheme ports.
I turn to an objection raised by several hon. Members opposite about the fact that under the Bill we have decided that the harbour authorities should be the licensing authorities. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton) and, I think, the hon. Members for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and Dumfries (Mr. Monro) quoted the fact that the Devlin Report had advised that the National Ports Council should be made the licensing authority and asked whether we did not think that our decision gave harbour authorities an unfair advantage. First, we believe that the port authorities which have responsibility for maintaining the efficiency of the ports should have the major responsibility of the licensing system because it is connected with getting a higher standard of efficiency in the operation of the ports. But, secondly, there is in the Bill the safeguard of the appeal to the Minister of Transport against any decision taken by the licensing authorities or on account of representations made by the National Port Council. Therefore, we think that the harbour authorities are the best bodies to carry out this task.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster also objected to the position of the British Transport Docks Board and questioned the capacity of its local managers to carry out their functions in the licensing system. It is not the intention of the British Transport Docks Board to delegate its functions to the local managers. It will carry out these functions centrally as a licensing authority. The Board should not be treated differently from any other authority in the docks system under this licensing scheme. It should carry out its functions in precisely the same way.
Several hon. Members have pressed the question of restrictive practices. They will know from what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said that this aspect of what is a combined operation to bring about greater productivity, a higher standard of 156 efficiency and improved relations in the docks is one to which Lord Brown's modernisation committee has been paying attention for some time. Local modernisation committees have been formed, and it is through these bodies that my right hon. Friend is endeavouring to get agreement among all those concerned about the abandonment of restrictive practices and the greatest standard of efficiency possible.
I return to the main purposes of the Bill with which I propose to deal very briefly because they have been widely debated and there is a wide consensus of opinion about them. The most important part of the Bill deals with the licensing of port employers. As my hon. Friend explained in her opening speech, this is only one aspect of a much wider operation to bring to an end the system of casual employment in the docks, and to introduce more stable working conditions.
Quite apart from the far-reaching effects of this on pay, working practices, and the operation of the dock labour scheme it is itself an inherently difficult operation. Day-to-day fluctuations of work can never be entirely avoided in dock operations, and the problem is to develop the necessary flexibility in deploying the labour force to meet those fluctuations while at the same time allowing management and men to work regularly together, so that better relations and a greater measure of understanding can be developed.
Clearly, the first prerequisite if we are to achieve this is a drastic reduction in the number of employers. I do not think that this has really been contested in this debate. It means the emergence of bigger employing units providing more efficient and progressive management, and I suggest that the licensing system proposed in the Bill will be an effective means of bringing this about and of doing it in a way fair to all concerned.
The second part of the Bill deals with proper provision of welfare amenities. Many hon. Members have put their finger on this as an appalling piece of neglect in the past, and I think there is widespread support for this part of the Bill. Legislation to ensure decent facilities for dock workers is long overdue. Indeed, this is a matter in which our ports have been far behind those in some other countries, 157 as many hon. Members have pointed out, and, indeed, behind the rest of industry in this country. We intend to see that this is rectified. The amenity provisions in this Bill will give to the Dock Labour Board power to play a leading role in this matter. It is right that the unions should be closely associated with the provision of welfare facilities and their membership of the Dock Labour Board will ensure this.
Thirdly, it is the purpose of the Bill to contribute to port efficiency, and foremost in this respect is the power in the Bill for harbour authorities to operate inland clearance depôts. These depots are of increasing importance in dealing with cargoes in containers. There are many new and exciting developments in this field and we want the port authorities to be fully equipped to play their part directly in improving the methods of transport. This is not only our view but Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett and many others who examined the problem agreed that this should be done. The depots will also help to relieve congestion in areas immediate to the ports, and we want to encourage them as much as possible.
There are also provisions in the Bill to enable port authorities which previously did not possess the powers to participate actively in the handling of cargo and other operations in the port. There is too much diffusion of control in ports. By giving port authorities power to carry out harbour operations we shall encourage them to set about making the everyday business of the port much less complicated, and so speed the flow of traffic through the ports. As part of this policy we propose giving the harbour authorities a general power to acquire businesses by agreement, so long as they are businesses wholly or mainly engaged in carrying out harbour operations. If harbour authorities decide to buy a business they will be able to do this under this Bill only by agreement, and it will be for the two parties to settle the terms between themselves.
Part III also contains important provisions to assist port reorganisation. I want to make clear that we are going ahead with the proposals for the reorganisation of the ports on the main estuaries. The National Ports Council has done 158 outstanding work in bringing measures of port reorganisation forward, and already useful results are emerging from the estuarial grouping on the Clyde which came into effect last January. My right hon. Friend will continue to encourage the National Ports Council and port authorities to promote strong, well-managed, efficient and forward-looking estuarial authorities.
We believe that these authorities will fit in well with a scheme of promoting publicly-owned regional port authorities. We regard all these as immediate and necessary steps towards the realisation of the Government's long-term intention of reorganising the ports on the basis of a strong national authority and publicly-owned regional authorities, with each body ultimately responsible for all the operations of its area.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury drew attention to the importance of the investment programme. We certainly regard the national investment programme in the ports and docks as something that must run side by side with the measures proposed in the Bill. We know that for many years there has been a failure to invest adequately in our ports, a failure to take advantage of new technology, and a failure to equip the ports to accept larger ships, particularly the bulk carriers which are coming into use increasingly.
Between 1952 and 1964, less than £18 million per annum on average was invested in the ports, and most of that was on making good war damage. Last year, we invested the sum of £30 million, and that is a sum which will grow year by year on the basis of the recommendations made by the National Ports Council. In the next four years, we expect that £112 million will be spent on these schemes, and in that same period an additional £123 million will be spent on other urgently needed developments. That will mean a total investment of some £235 million in four years—nearly £60 million a year, compared with the £18 million a year that was being invested between 1952 and 1964. By implementing the promise to help the ports which we made in the White Paper on Investment Incentives, we shall ensure that these programmes are carried out.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite—and, naturally, my hon. Friend the Member 159 for Bristol, North-West drew attention once again to the Portbury scheme. Let me say to them that they will not have to wait very long, but it is a matter of a recommendation to invest several tens of millions of £s. As alternative proposals were put forward after the recommendation had come to my right hon. Friend about the Portbury scheme, we considered that those proposals should be examined carefully. When the Government come to take a decision on a third major liner terminal which will cost tens of millions of £s, all the different alternatives ought to be assessed carefully, but it will not be very long before a decision is taken and announced.
§ Mr. Ridley
Should not these representations have been referred back to the National Ports Council? Is that not what it is for?
§ Mr. Swingler
No. It is precisely in order not to waste more time on the part of the National Ports Council that my right hon. Friend was right in deciding that the Ministry of Transport should, in conjunction with other Departments of Government, undertake the economic and technical assessments of the schemes with the port authorities themselves. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite must not think that the examination of these sorts of proposals stops at any particular point in time. As various bodies are considering new technical or economic developments in our ports, other proposals are being argued in other places, and it is right, when the Government are asked to take a decision that will cost a sum of money of the order of the proposed Portbury scheme, that all the alternatives that have been put forward by other port authorities should be assessed very carefully.
If that is quoted as if my right hon. Friend and the Government had been failing to take decisions about port investment, let me draw attention to the following in relation to the figures that I have just quoted. We have recently authorised to the Port of London Authority at Tilbury a new development to provide seven new berths at a cost of £10 million. Work on this has already started. At Hull we have authorised the British Transport Docks Board to construct seven new berths at King George Dock at a cost of £7 million. At Newport 160 we have authorised the Board to construct three new berths at a cost of £2½million. We have authorised the Railways Board to redevelop Parkeston Quay and to develop new container roll-on roll-off services at a cost of £2½ million. At Leith we have authorised developments which will cost £6 million, and at Grangemouth we have authorised the development of a new lock which will cost £7 million. We have authorised a new terminal at Port Talbot for the Steel Company of Wales, at a cost of £17 million.
§ Sir K. Joseph
In deciding on these big investments, will the Government take into account the improved productivity of labour which they hope will emerge from this Bill and from other activities?
§ Mr. Swingler
Certainly. As I said, this is a combined operation of the work of Lord Brown's Modernisation Committee, the attack on restrictive practices, the technological improvement of the ports and docks, and the evolvement of the Investment Plan. All these things go together. I merely give these illustrations because of criticisms, which sometimes receive disproportionate publicity, that there is a delay in a decision on this or that port or harbour scheme.
I believe that the figures which I have given of the enormous build-up in overall capital investment in our ports and harbours last year, and for the next few years, and the examples of decisions which the Government have recently taken in respect of various parts of the country, illustrate the importance as well as the cost of the enormous national investment programme on which we have embarked for the modernisation of our docks and ports.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
My hon. Friend has mentioned several vast new enterprises. He has omitted to mention the new improvements at Liverpool which have cost £36 million and which represent only the first part of the extension there.
§ Mr. Swingler
That shows how difficult it is to please everybody. If I omit only one place in the Kingdom, I fail to give a comprehensive picture. As my hon. Friend knows, there are a vast number of other schemes which have either been approved or are under urgent 161 consideration, and which will form part of this £60 million per annum of capital investment in our ports and harbours on which the Labour Government are embarking, compared with the £l8 million per annum which we had in the years between 1962 and 1964.
Together with our National Investment Plan, we believe that the Bill will make an essential contribution to the reform of employment conditions in the docks, to the provision of proper welfare facilities for dock workers, and to the development of important new powers which will help in the efficient operation of our ports and harbours. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell
What is to be the position of the National Dock Labour Board in a port like Southampton, where at the moment it is responsible for sharing out or allocating work to the various individual employers and so ensuring a fair sharing out of the work amongst various workmen?
§ Mr. Swingler
I think that that is a Committee point. It is a detailed and technical point, and therefore, especially as it principally concerns my right hon. Friend, I would prefer to go into it in Committee.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).