§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) (Amendment) Order 1967 (S.I., 1967, No. 1252), dated 18th August, 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd August, in the last session of Parliament, be annulled.This Order amends the Dock Labour Scheme to give effect to the 1965 Devlin Report and, in particular, to decasualise the system of dock labour and give permanent employment to dock workers.
First, I want to make it clear that we on this side have no intention of dividing the House on the Order. We do not oppose it, and we think that decasualisation marks an important step forward in the labour situation in our docks. Nevertheless, we feel that there are several points on a very complex Order which need airing, and we have several questions to put to the Parliamentary Secretary. Moreover, we believe that, depending on the answers which he gives, there 555 may need to be some Amendment to the Order in the very near future.
One recognises that the Order, which embodies a scheme for the complete reorganisation of the Dock Labour Scheme, is the result of compromise and negotiation between the unions and the port employers. By definition, therefore, it cannot be ideal. However, I am delighted that it is at least to be given a fair try and will not be strangled at birth by the activities of unofficial agitators in the docks.
I want for a moment to refer to the events of the last eight weeks, because they are very much concerned with the context of the Order. The most important lesson which can be drawn from our experience is that, while the Minister of Labour has been resisting suggestions in the House that he should take emergency powers to deal with unofficial action in the docks, and while the country has been fuming at the lack of action and anxious to see the dispute resolved, there is a need for some path open to the Minister of Labour between inaction or cajolery and emergency powers and putting in troops.
If the Minister had the power to order a cooling-off period, it would be a useful weapon to help in bringing the parties together. It would save great economic damage to the country and achieve some sort of solution much sooner than otherwise would be the case.
I am disappointed that the Order makes no special provision to deal with unofficial strikes. The Devlin Report, which gave birth to the scheme, said of the Transport and General Workers Union in paragraph 283:To start with, the T. & G. must re-establish its power and authority in the three major ports…It must fight the dissidents on their own ground. This will entail a great campaign in which the Union concentrates all its available resources in the docks.One of the most disappointing features of the unofficial dispute over recent weeks has been the fact that the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union has been conspicuous by his absence. He has been extremely equivocal in his attitude and has refused absolutely to fight the dissidents on their own ground or wage any great campaign to break their authority and assert the authority of his Union.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman says is true. The General Secretary of the union has spoken up during the dispute. This has been a huge reorganisation in an industry where relations have been notably bad. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his remarks about the General Secretary.
§ Mr. Scott
The House must make its judgment. It is precisely because it is such a major reorganisation that the General Secretary of the union should have played a more prominent part in persuading his members to accept the scheme than he has done. My reading of his attitude is that he has been extremely equivocal and damaging to the case of his union.
I welcome the scheme to build up a better system of communications in the docks, and in particular a system of shop stewards, but I wonder whether, if agreements had been enforceable, as we on this side of the House have suggested, the general secretary of a union whose funds were at risk would have been quite so careless with his authority, and quite so indifferent to the breakdown in communications between the union and its members as we have seen during this dispute.
I think that there is a case for the special treatment of unofficial strikes in this Order, not only because of the weakness of the union leadership—although we look for an improvement in that regard—not only because there is provision for a "fire brigade" committee to go in immediately when any dispute is threatened, and to settle it—although we believe that the establishment of this group will make unofficial strikes even less excusable in the future than they have been in the past—not only because there is no provision within the Dock Labour Scheme for workers who are made idle as a result of the action of other unofficial strikers to be laid off, but surely because, when a new deal like this has been negotiated, there is a case for giving special treatment to the matter of unofficial strikes, and to those who are trying to wreck the scheme.
I want to refer to the Order, and particularly to the disciplinary procedure relating to dock workers. At the moment, if a worker is guilty of misconduct such 557 as to justify his summary dismissal, the employer may terminate his contract of employment without notice. He thereupon becomes a temporary unattached worker in the employment of the National Board, and then the Board has to take certain action. It can dismiss him summarily, or it can take various other actions.
I think that when a worker has been involved in an unofficial strike, we ought to shift the emphasis. Power ought to be given to the employer to dismiss him summarily, and the onus should then be on the union to ask the Board to negotiate the re-entry of the worker into the scheme. This would strengthen the union's hand considerably, because it could say to those who were taking a leading rôle in unofficial action that, while it would be prepared to negotiate re-entry to the scheme, it would require undertakings about future observations of the contracts and procedures which have been agreed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) knows that he cannot amend the Order.
§ Mr. Scott
I am trying to show that there are certain shortcomings in the Order, and I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will be able to allay some of our doubts about these, and possibly even say something about future action, subject, of course, Mr. Speaker, to your ruling on that.
I think that there is a case for a shift in emphasis to give power summarily to dismiss workers, and then putting the onus on the union to apply for their re-entry into the scheme. This would strengthen the union's hand, and give it some of the power and authority which it lacks, and has been shown to lack in recent weeks.
This Order was due to come into force in conjunction with a national agreement to abolish certain restrictive practices, but whether it is coincidence or not—and perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us—once the Minister at the Press Conference on 22nd August announced a firm date for the introduction of the 558 scheme, the prospects of getting a signature from the union side to that agreement seemed significantly to recede.
I understand that there have been local agreements and that considerable progress has been made in getting rid of the restrictive practices which resulted from the casual employment of labour. On the other hand, one hears that in Leith output is running at only 60 per cent. of the output achieved before decasualisation. We would like an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that both the letter and the spirit of the agreement to abolish restrictive practices consequent upon the casual system of labour have been removed following decasualisation.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
I am sure that the hon. Member wants to be eminently fair. Will he point out that since the strike in the great port of Liverpool there has been considerable progress both in productivity and in the abolition of restrictive practices?
§ Mr. Scott
I am delighted to see that perhaps the most damaging restrictive practice—welting in Liverpool or spelling in Scotland, which are the same—has disappeared. But I should like to hear from the Minister about the general progress made and to have his assurance that both the spirit and the letter of the agreement are being observed generally.
The security which the dockers will enjoy under the scheme is greater than that which is enjoyed by any other industrial worker. I do not complain about that, but a question arises from it. At the moment the Order gives the Board power, after a worker has been suspended, to reinstate him with his former employer. This does not seem to be conducive to good industrial relations. It would be very much better to have power to award damages, through the appeals tribunal, or—if the Government were wise enough to adopt our suggestion of a system of industrial court—to allow damages to be given and for the worker to be reinstated with another employer. The scheme outlined in the Order does not seem conducive to good industrial relations if a worker can be reinstated with the employer who dismissed him.
I now turn to the question of the level of manpower in the docks and questions of productivity raised by the Order. 559 Paragraph 3 of the scheme aims at ensuringthe full and proper utilisation of dock labourand therefore not only to give the docker security of employment but also to give the nation an efficient dock labour system. The Press release of the Minister's on 22nd August—
§ Mr. Scott
It is page 18—paragraph 3(1,a). The Minister's Press release said thatthe improvements in efficiency and industrial relations which the decasualised system will bring, will enable substantial improvements in the productivity of dock labour to be achieved. Because of the 'no redundancy' pledge accepted by all the parties as the basis for the introduction of decasualisation, the resulting manpower savings will need to be realised through normal wastage or agreed or voluntary severance schemes. The independent members indicated that the cost of the settlement could be offset by those means within two years. The Minister of Labour has asked the two sides to report to him by mid-October on their plans to achieve this, and in particular on the future recruitment and retirement policies of the industry.These are central to the Order and its efficient working, and we would like a progress report from the Minister about the talks announced in the Press release.
The present labour force of the ports within the scheme covered by the Order is about 60,000 and it is estimated that the requirement for the early 1970s will be about 40,000. The Order makes certain provisions and mentions schemes for voluntary retirement and severance pay. Naturally, wastage will make some reduction in these numbers, but it certainly cannot bridge the gap between 40,000 and 60,000.
One lack in the Order is that the retirement age for dockers is not reduced from 68 to 65. It is ludicrous that a retirement age three years above the normal should apply in an industry involving heavy manual work. It is clear that a voluntary severance pay scheme will be needed, and we would like to hear that the Government will be prepared to give help for its establishment. Otherwise, I do not see how we can effect the necessary reduction in manpower to enable the 560 Order to contribute to the efficient working of the docks and an increase in productivity.
Turning to the individual employer rather than the general scheme, we see that Clause 17 of the Scheme lays down the procedure when an employer wants to vary his work force. The Order lacks a firm procedure with an in-built time-scale to get a quick decision from the Board on an appeal by an employer. If an employer loses half his business for an indefinite period, he may be required to go on employing the same number of dockers. This can lead only to the bankruptcy court and to the need to re-employ his old force with other employers.
Surely some time-scale should be: built in or a new Order introduced so that a decision in 14 or 21 days can be achieved. Otherwise, particularly in a port whose business was declining, a vicious circle could build up, with redundant dockers being shifted from one employer to another and employer after employer being driven into bankruptcy.
We give a general welcome to the Order, although we have some reservations on which we look forward to hearing the Parliamentary Secretary's comments. All in all, we believe that decasualisation will mark a great step forward in the docks. We only hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can also say that the Government have abandoned their plans for nationalisation, which would be another great step forward.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
The Opposition are praying against an Order which is consequential on certain Acts like the Docks and Harbour Act which made it possible to put the decasualisation into effect. The speech of the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) was reasonably general and. as the Order covers many aspects, I intend to deal with Articles 6, 9 and 17, which cover issues of discipline and manning in individual firms.
The hon. Gentleman, in criticising this Order, seemed to feel that some of the disciplinary provisions do not go far enough. That is a completely wrong attitude to adopt. We are dealing with men who over the years have had to fight to improve their conditions. In my 561 port at Bristol men were recruited into what were called the pens because they gathered there like cattle waiting to be picked out. When hon. Members talk of strikes in the docks, be they official or unofficial, they miss the fundamental point that no man voluntarily goes out of work unless he has been brought up in an iron school of injustice.
I would have thought that hon. Members in all parts of the House would welcome the action that the Government have taken in having produced this Order, because unless we are careful we shall get back to the old cry of "Bring in more discipline", which is what led to these hostile relationships in the industry when men were embittered.
Let us deal with the conditions which make men react in this way. We ought to have learned our lesson from the situation in the docks in the past. I pay tribute to the Minister for the understanding that he has shown and for his resistance to the suggestion that he should show the iron fist—although perhaps he has not done so in the railway dispute. I do not agree with his attitude there. However, he is adopting the right attitude to the dockers.
Article 9 of the Order is designed to improve the lot of the individual docker. As we read through the various provisions we find that this Order is designed to give the docker the thing which he has never had before, security of employment. He knows that he has a job and that he will receive proper financial reward. When we are told that these men have conditions which are operative nowhere else in industry, I ask hon. Member, to remember that dockers need security of employment because over the years they have had to go for long periods without work.
The hon. Member spoke of there being too many men in the industry. The employers bear a great share of the blame here, because it has suited them to have a great pool of men from whom they can choose, thus depressing conditions. Now the birds have come home to roost. I am satisfied that we shall get out of these difficulties as time goes on.
I have been in consultation with the Transport and General Workers Union on the proposal to reduce the retirement 562 age from 68 to 65. This is a heavy industry; it is a hard industry, and the thought of employing men till they are 68 is an abomination to my hon. Friends, as it should be to hon. Members on the other side of the House.
I am empowered to say that the unions are willing to talk on this issue. They will be only too pleased to discuss the retirement of men at the age of 65 or even at 60. In the joint negotiations that will go on about this with my right hon. Friend—and, of course, the employers will also be represented—all these matters will be thrashed out. However, the unions insist that the conditions and pensions that the men receive must be adequate for their needs.
As things stand at present, the system appears to be that after a great many years' service, a pension of £5 a week will be paid, plus £100 severance pay. However, that is after a lifetime's service in the docks. I also understand that although a man may have spent a considerable length of time in the docks, his pension may be as low as 25s. a week. The men's representatives are extremely concerned about this problem. They require proof that something will be done to overcome these difficulties and cure the poor conditions affecting men leaving the industry after a number of years.
Reference has been made to overmanning and I have explained how this can come about. However, this and other problems can be solved when carrying through the sort of major social revolution in this industry that the Government are undertaking. When such a revolution is taking place, there is bound to be considerable upheaval, but, by sensible recruitment policies, I am sure that these difficulties can be overcome.
We pledged that all the men on the registers would be allocated, and that pledge has been kept. The various firms have taken up these men. Nevertheless—and I speak from experience in the Port of Bristol—I would like to see figures to prove how this allocation of men has been carried out.
It is understandable that when someone must opt for 20 men or 200 men to do a certain amount of work, it will be natural for him to opt for the lowest number he can use. Perhaps he needs 200 men but will ask for only 180. This 563 presents a problem which must be carefully examined. Otherwise, in a week when there is not continuity of work, the person opting for the men may take 180 men instead of 200, thereby saving the wages of 20 men. And 20 times £15 results in a saving of £300 a week. At the end of the first trial period we will be looking at this problem to see exactly how transferability has been working.
We will be interested to know how many men were allocated in ports where the stevedoring firms were sharing as the sole general employers. In Bristol, on the other hand, we are in the unusual position of having the dock municipally owned. There, one of the employers is the Port of Bristol, so that besides the stevedoring firms taking up labour, also competing in the general pool for labour and taking up its share of men was the Port of Bristol Authority, which is owned by the local council.
I will, therefore, be interested to see the final figures that are resolved. The problem in Bristol was an easier one because a great many men could be employed by the local authority. The figures will be interesting because the rules that apply in Bristol are the same as those that apply in other ports. However, in ports which are not municipally owned the people employing labour must take up their share of the general availability of labour, and I am not sure that that has happened in Bristol.
I suggest that there may have been a tendency to keep down the number of men permanently on the stevedoring firms' books and put them on to the Port of Bristol Authority's books. One reason for my suspicion in this matter is that the Port of Bristol Authority is wholly controlled by the local council and the Docks Committee, but on the Docks Committee, which is controlled by the Conservative Party, sit some stevedoring employers, one of whom is the chairman of the Committee and is associated with the employers. It can be seen why I have some fears. I shall look at the figures very carefully.
We shall need to keep a careful watch to see that the Port of Bristol Authority does not once more provide services and facilities for another section that uses the 564 docks to take the profit, that the municipally-owned body is not doing all the donkey work for the stevedoring employers to take all the profits, as has happened in the past.
It was a mistake for hon. Members opposite to pray against the Order. I think that both sides of the House concede that the conditions of the dockers over the years have been as bad as those of any section of workers. The dockers' militancy today has been formed over long years of oppression, of being at the employers' beck and call, with the numbers kept in so that the employers could try any one of any number. For the first time decasualisation, for which we have worked in the industry and which the Order is all about, has been achieved. For the first time, thousands of men know what it is to have security in their job and to know that they will receive recompense at the end of the week. It is because of the way the bargaining has been carried out that we have had troubles in the past.
§ Mr. Ellis
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has said so, but it was apparent to me from some of his opening remarks that he was complaining that the Order was not strong enough on the disciplinary side to deal with various actions that might occur in the docks. The hon. Gentleman seeks to tack his remarks on to something that is not particularly relevant to what the Order tries to do.
The Order tries to give men oppressed in the past the security of job tenure that they have never known before. Those men have a memory; that oppression was not generations ago but only months ago. To attempt to resort to a kind of mass discipline in the Order would be a totally wrong way to solve the problem. It was because we involved ourselves with that kind of philosophy that we have the trouble in the docks today. It was largely because of the forebears of the present generation of right hon. and hon. Members opposite that we find ourselves 565 in this position. The Order is a courageous attempt to put the matter right. I wish it God-speed, because I believe that we are seeing a social revolution in the docks.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)
It is surprising that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) should have chosen to accuse the Opposition of making a mistake in moving the Prayer. For any hon. Member on the Government side to use, other than in bated breath, the word "mistake" at this stage of our nation's affairs implies the most staggering temerity.
I take up the point that the hon. Member made, the serious economic point that many of the conditions in the docks are due entirely in a sense to the whim of employers who desire to have large number of men available. Certainly there is an element of this in the situation.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that one of the fundamental economic factors that we cannot escape in dealing with the random arrival of ships in ports is the need for a fluctuating supply of the resources available to discharge them. There are many ways in which it can be organised and many solutions and techniques which can be used, but the problem is fundamental. It remains. It is a human one as well as technical.
§ Mr. Lloyd
By no means am I suggesting that. I am simply suggesting that if we are seeking to attribute blame in situations of this type which have long historical trends we should attribute it fairly as between human beings with all their frailties and the realities of economic life, which are sometimes beyond human beings.
I turn to the main case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, 566 South (Mr. Scott). He has been absolutely right to emphasise some of the serious technical weaknesses of the Order. All his criticisms are justified, though they did not in any way weaken the general support for the aims of decasualisation which the Opposition support. But I detect in the timing of the Order, which is perhaps of more crucial importance than we might consider, a certain whiff of one of Parkinson's Laws. Parkinson once said that the great establishments and buildings appeared at the time when the organisations they represented began to decline in power. In this case it seems that arrangements, however desirable, are beginning to appear to offer permanence of employment to dock workers when in a sense permanence for the industry as a whole is certainly, for a given or static number of dockworkers, in its present form a pious hope.
The whole of the marine and port industry is now aware of what the modern conception of unit loads, particularly containers, means for the industry. But containers are the means developed by technology to reduce drastically the whole of the old-fashioned operation of heaving and shoving cargoes out of the ships in much the same way as the Phoenicians did 2,000 years ago. It is wrong to suggest that even with the most rapid rate of introduction of containers dock work will disappear, but permanence of employment in dock work is now understood as something which the State, employers, trade unions, the Government or Mr. Jack Dash cannot possibly in any circumstances guarantee. It is certain that over the next 20 years the face of the port industry will change dramatically, much more dramatically than most people realise.
To illustrate briefly with a most descriptive example, the other day there was published a photograph of a ship lying six miles offshore in Vietnam. It was a modern tanker ship being discharged by a large Sikorski crane helicopter, which obviously took the containers several miles inland. No port was used. This is a very small cloud on the horizon and not, I suggest, in any way an economic likelihood in the near future, but it suggests the shape of things to come, and we must watch it very closely.
567 The Order is intended to facilitate a peaceful and economic redeployment of resources. We are entitled to ask—this is all we are doing—whether it is likely to achieve its purpose. Communication is surely the basis of any measure intended to secure the co-operation of large numbers of men. Good communication is the essence of the success of this Order and of any Order intended to achieve the same result.
May I refer to a summary of the communications problem, in the context of which the Order is perhaps an example, which has given rise to the present series of unofficial strikes. In a recent copy of the Liverpool Journal of Commerce, a paper which deals particularly with this problem, a special correspondent wrote as follows:London dockers, through their union branch meetings and divisional committees and joint committees with members of the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers Union, had a major say in moulding the decasualisation agreement.Every clause was referred down the line to branch level. The controversial continuity of work rule that finally crippled the Royal group of docks was almost the last clause to be agreed. It was debated at branch level when Mr. Jack Dash, leader of the London Portworkers Unofficial Liaison Committee, queried various aspects of it, but was finally in favour of it being included in ' the little grey book '—the agreement drawn up between the unions and the enclosed docks employers.Any branch had power to refuse the rule, have it amended or referred for further consideration. Nobody did. This is why the strikers got very little sympathy from the union leaders, one of whom commented: ' If Mr. Jack Dash and his committee cannot find a fight on one point they will soon find another'.It is obvious from what I have read out that this was a very serious effort at communication. If it failed as seriously as it did, the House is entitled to ask why. One obvious reason is the sheer complexity, the intricacy, and the detail of these provisions and arrangements. No wonder it took two years to explain them. What the Treasury, in another context has described as algorithm procedures, procedures for simplifying public documents and procedures for simplifying a public explanation of what is required by public measures, are most drastically needed in this industry. If they are needed in telephone booths, they are certainly needed in the docks.
568 Is there not a more important conclusion? If the Order is a typical example of the over-regulation, over-prescription, over-definition, which is strangling the country, should we not look at this type of thing very much more closely? Must every contingency be foreseen and covered by legislation or Orders in Council? How many people will really know what this Order contains? How many people will understand its provisions? How many people will apply it correctly? How many Members of the House have read it? How many dockers are likely to read it? How many directors of port employer companies are likely to read it in full from cover to cover? Perhaps the crucial question is—how many will begin to understand it?
I come to the question of morale. I ask these questions because the Order will be worth nothing at all, unless it has a significant impact on morale, the morale of both employers and employees in the dock industry, and unless it stimulates enterprise, which the whole House will agree is necessary, and co-operation, which again the whole House will agree is necessary.
There are three types of failure which will completely nullify the purpose and aim of the Order. The first failure is if the employers are unwilling to make the enormous communication effort which it requires. The second type of failure will be if there is, in consequence of the Order, little impact on official or unofficial strikes. I most earnestly emphasise both these, because I am sure the Government are fully aware that we must find solutions in both fields. The third condition for the success of the Order is that the technical adaptation of the ports to the requirements of the second half of the 20th century is not impeded.
An hon. Member said that productivity was rising in the Port of Liverpool. It was only this morning in Lloyds List that Mr. Kentish Barnes, Chairman of the Waterfront Committee in that port, said that master porterage charges in Liverpool had gone up from 157½ per cent. to 196 per cent. to pay for this measure, but there had been no increase in productivity in Liverpool whatever. I cannot dispute the authority of Mr. Kentish Barnes and doubtless others will 569 have other views, but this is an authoritative view of the situation and it is one which frightens me desperately, because, unless the measures which are to cost the country a great deal are paid for by higher productivity in the ports, we may as well wash them all out.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the fact that Liverpool is an employer-dominated port is a very good reason for the dock industry generally being taken into public ownership in order that the improvements which h e suggests can be made?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) must resist the temptation to answer that.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I must resist the temptation to answer that, Mr. Speaker.
Communication is the essential basis, the communication which the Order implies, needs and requires, for communication is the essential basis of such rationality as human beings can achieve. The facts, the arguments, the real patterns of self-interest must be honestly and effectively displayed and communicated. This must be done often against the hostility of those whose power rests on a basic denial of reality, for good communication breeds security and confidence and those are indispensable lubricants of industrial change. Uncertainty and ignorance are the natural weapons of reaction.
What chance is there of achieving these conditions? When the maximum cooperation is called for from them, requiring investment on a significant scale, the employers are threatened with creeping nationalisation, a sort of multiple sclerosis of the nerve ends of the economy. I refer to a statement made within the last week by the President of the Chamber of Shipping. I am sure that the Government and all hon. Members opposite will realise that ship owners throughout the country are one of the key groups who have to support the implementation of and who will have to help to make this measure successful. This is what was said:…what incentive is there for port employers to go ahead with their plans to develop personnel and welfare arrangements, which are so essential to the well-being of the docks, when the Government is standing over them and threatening to run them out of business by nationalisation? How can you expect em- 570 ployers to give of their best when such a situation exists?He concluded his speech as follows, and I hope that the Government will heed this request:I therefore make this direct and immediate appeal to the Government—call off your nationalisation proposals for the docks industry of this country.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I return to the second condition of success; that was one, but we must let it be. If we are to achieve something, it must clearly have a direct impact on official strikes. A tremendous effort must be made via all media of communication to make sure that this thing is understood—the Press, TV, radio, direct means of communication, pamphlets, lectures and talks. All must be employed to simplify the presentation of the Order to those affected by it.
Secondly, if unofficial strikes are to be avoided, and this is perhaps the key to the question, there must be powerful disincentives built into this—and it does not exist at the moment—and all similar and subsequent legislation, because the nation is fed up to the back teeth with organised mass stupidity.
As I understand it, there are only two answers: first, the inoculation of the affected population with good information, with reasoned arguments, and with positive incentives; secondly, stringent measures against the microbes of industrial anarchy. The Order provides neither of those.
I conclude my observations with one remark by the chairman of a company which is closely involved in the introduction of containerisation, which, in a sense, will have to take place within the context of the Order over the next 20 years.
Sir Basil Smallpeice, Chairman of Associated Containers, said this morning that there were two groups to beware of in achieving this technological revolution for Britain. I will refer to only one. He said:First there are the Governments—and I mean any Government—and particularly their transportation planners, who believe that they can foretell the future with precision and establish rigid patterns for controlling it.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
Having been involved in the Liverpool dock strike 571 for the whole of the six weeks, I would not wish to participate in any debate on the docks at this time—I have had a surfeit of interest over the last couple of months. The Opposition have decided to pray against this Order. It is not the only way that they could have raised these very important matters—there are other avenues, open to them, as they very well know. Nevertheless, they say that they want to ventilate the position and I am going to take as much advantage of that as anyone.
To me this Order, and all that it means, is quite historic. I started on the Liverpool dockside as a boy of 14, 40 years ago next May. I can well remember what I thought then. People are talking about Communists and Trotskyists on the dockside. I was always told to appreciate something that I said in this House when I was a new Member. I said that men were not ciphers, they were not units of production, but were entitled to dignity, a dignity that I feel this Order brings to them.
I said, in my presumption at that time, that the men were entitled to this sort of dignity because they were not just pieces of material, they were spiritual beings. They were entitled to dignity, not because of the Labour Party or the Labour Government, not because of the Conservative Government which was in office at that time, and not because of the Liberals, but by virtue of their very makeup. Men are entitled to the dignity that Almight God intended them to have.
There are thousands of men on the Liverpool dockside who think as I do. They have felt all their lives that the conditions that this Order now offsets were a complete affront to their dignity. That is why we have had so much upset in the docks. All my life I have worked for the dockers, and I am in the happy position tonight to be able to pay testimony to two other hon. Members who have done likewise, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Alldritt), who was chairman of the Liverpool Trades Council at one time, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer).
This was not the first strike in which I have participated and I am a fairly reasonable man. We were responsible 572 for the settlement of the unofficial seamen's strike in 1950. Above all we want dignity and peace and security in our industry. That is all that we have asked for and I would not be any sort of politician at all, and I would certainly not be any sort of Liverpudlian, if I did not take up the remarks made by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Lang-stone (Mr. Ian Lloyd). The Conservative Party had a lifetime of opportunity to do something for us.
I can remember my first day at the docks on a ship called the "Somerset". I looked through a shed, as a boy of 14 years of age—a massive empty Liverpool dock shed. I saw 500 or 600 men in the teeming rain waiting to be picked on. I said to my father, who was my own boss at that time, "Why do not the men stand inside the shed out of the rain?"—because they have to work all day. They were left out in the rain when there was an empty shed. That was where we had to start from. These men had to work diligently all day. What happened then if the bosses at that time did not pick what they thought were the best gangs? They broke them at 12 noon, and had what was called a "fresh pick". This is where we started and this is where we have got to. I want to pay testimony to the excellent work that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has done. He is following—and he will take no exception to this—in the tradition set by the finest Minister of Labour and probably the best Foreign Secretary this country has ever had who is buried at Westminster Abbey under the proud title of "Trade Unionist and Foreign Secretary"—the late Ernest Bevin. He dreamt of decasualisation for dockers. When he appeared at the Dockers' Inquiry, which resulted in the Shaw Award, he earned for himself in 1924, the wonderful title of "The Dockers' K.C.".
When hon. Members opposite talk about the interests of management, why do they not say a word about the people who have done so much in trying to bring a rational and reasonable approach into this jungle of dockland? We have had many disappointments in the past. Sometimes we thought that we had obtained the pearl of great price in dockland. It turned out to be not quite that. I want decasualisation to be a success. The men employed in dockland have suffered the 573 vicissitudes of bad industrial conditions and have had to contend with bad industrial relations. The travesty and tragedy was that they were also the men in the great ports like Liverpool who had the worst possible social conditions to put up with.
I say to the members at present on the Opposition Front Bench—and they are reasonable men—that when these men go to work they are more conditioned, not by the conditions of work, but by the bad social environment in which many of them have to live. I say as a man who has fought Communism all his life that they are a nuisance and that they take advantage of things, but the conditions had to be there for them to take advantage of. Do not let anyone, even the Prime Minister or the Minister of Labour, point the finger particularly to the men in Liverpool and attribute the recent strike to Trotsky or Communist elements. That is not true. If it were true, I should be the first to say so.
I can be light-hearted about this. When I stood among the Liverpool men at the end of the strike, to my amazement I found among my ex-Army colleagues from the Irish Guards and other regiments and members of the Royal Navy that five of us went to the same Catholic school. We took an active part in the settlement of that strike. I find it a bit trying when I hear only the famous establishments, such as Eton and Harrow, mentioned in the House. It will do no harm to mention St. James's Elementary School, Marsh Lane, Bootle, as having produced some men who have not fallen for the blandishments of Communism but have applied their Christian faith and Christian standards in the docks against some tough opposition.
I hope that all this is in the past. By virtue of this Order, the men in Liverpool have the chance of participating in the high-wage industry for which they have been looking for a long time. If my observations are correct, the men appear to be happier because of this Order and its implications, in spite of a bad start, than they have ever been in their lives.
This is absolutely essential because we are now, in one port alone, spending £15 million on new docks. Modernisation has been accepted. It was never resisted by the Liverpool men, but it has to be accepted with more alacrity. We have 574 to have new approaches if we are to take advantage of containerisation and palletisation which can bring prosperity to our great ports. This could have been achieved far more easily if there had been one employer. I shall not be churlish about this for we have made tremendous progress.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone mentioned a gentleman called Kentish Barnes. I hope that no one will take Kentish Barnes as the voice of Liverpool. I doubt whether even his own colleagues and management would support him in some of the outlandish views he expresses from time to time. In the spirit of sweet reasonableness I appear to be showing, may I say that the chairman of the Liverpool employers made a catastrophic error two weeks after the strike had finished. We had worked hard to finish it, but he made that error in the words he used in front of the Prime Minister and Mr. Frank Cousins. He said enough to drive any reasonable man out on strike again but for the attitude of the men advised by people like me to take no notice and to understand they had become part and parcel of the scheme.
The men look on this situation, not as something to give them a high wage but as something which must be understood. Dockers are getting new houses and we are raising their whole social vista. Their children go to university. They will not put up with the old nonsense of years ago. They have no intention of doing that. If anyone tries to work the oracle and bring back the anachronisms of other days, he will find that the men will not have it. They have achieved standards by virtue of their action, their children have better opportunities and they are living in better homes.
People are demanding these new standards and it is impossible to go back. I appeal to those on both sides of the industry. Trade unions have been remiss in many ways. I do not want to say much about that; I appeal to both sides to go forward together. This has been a difficult industry for the trade unions and for the employers, but these are new days. The employers did not try hard enough in the past, but there is a great opportunity for them and for the unions now. In Liverpool I want to see one union now that this chance has come.
575 For the men to be split in their endeavours is bad for the industry and bad for the men. I know that the men are thinking on these lines and, given the conditions provided by this Order, I am sure that this will come about.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd
We are not so far apart as the hon. Member suggests, but I should like to have his reaction to one point. He suggested that the men are demanding this higher standard of living. Would it not be right to send forth a message from this House that it is something which we must all achieve, not demand? Demanding by itself is no good; achieving is what is required.
§ Mr. Mahon
Any person who has worked in the docks knows that he never got anything for nothing and that he must achieve it by his own efforts. To get rid of the welting system in Liverpool was a fantastic achievement. The welt, to my mind, was justified in many, many cases—justified when men had to work in horrible conditions, when men had to work on frozen cargoes, justified in refrigerated ships, justified in working with carbon black, and with many other of those obnoxious cargoes. I remember coming to this House on one occasion to complain about an Egyptian cargo which was most objectionable, an affront not only to the dockers but to the dockers' wives, a cargo of poisoned rags from Egypt and other places, and being imported in the port of Liverpool. The men, quite rightly, refused to do that objectionable job.
That, again, was an affront to their dignity. If ever there has been a set of men conscious of their dignity, then it is the Liverpool dockers—and it is impossible for anyone to succeed who tries to pool them into a mass, for they are the most individualistic men I have ever met in a not inconsiderable industrial experience.
On an occasion like this there is just a chance that one can pay compliments, and there are two men who have contributed much of great value to the port of Liverpool. Mr. Jack Scamp did a remarkable job when he was sent there by the Minister of Labour and I would thank the Minister of Labour for sending him. He, and Mr. Jack Jones of the Transport and General Workers' Union, 576 could not have tried harder or with more success to bring a satisfactory end to the dispute. The whole of the men on Merseyside would like me as a dockside representative to say to the Government and anyone else concerned, that we are appreciative of their efforts. People very often do valuable work but are never appreciated, but we are highly appreciative of the attitude taken by those two gentlemen when they came to Liverpool.
One other thing. A strike occurs and we have difficulty, but I would like to pay testimony to the Minister of Social Security for all that she did to try to bring the strike to a quick and successful conclusion. She did her job according to Act of Parliament, and she did it in the best possible manner, in a just way, in an adequate way, and she helped those men to an attitude of reason. Some people say that men should never be assisted when they are in industrial conflict. I could enlarge on this by saying it is a most astounding thing that the Russian people could never understand why we help our people when they are in industrial conflict, but I should be out of order if I were to proceed with that any further. However, I am glad to pay that testimony.
I think I have said almost all that I really wished to say. I had no speech prepared when I came into the Chamber. There are just one or two other things. Age is important in this industry, and there are many old men in it. The hon. Gentleman was perfectly right. The "no redundancy" undertaking given by the Ministry of Labour helped tremendously to bring the strike to an end in Liverpool. That is the undertaking he gave that there would be no redundancy. It helped, because we all know that in an industry like this the first men to go out are often the sick men, the older men. I support my hon. Friends who say that 60 is the age limit. It is hard for a man of that age to have to go up and down a 40 ft. ladder every morning and every afternoon, whether he has been sick, whether he has had operations, whether he has been wounded in the war. We have seen all these things happen throughout our lifetime in peace and in war.
What we want is understanding, an understanding that men cannot afford to go out of the industry unless they are 577 offered an adequate reward. I have often thought, having been in local government so long, that people in local government jobs have much easier jobs in many ways, certainly physically. They can go at 60. Policemen work hard, but they can go after 25 years' service, and after 30 years' service are quite handsomely rewarded in some ways. Dockers have never been adequately rewarded, and, to my mind, are still not going to be adequately rewarded. So I hope that everyone, in the Opposition, trade unionists, and industrialists, will do all that they possibly can to see that the men are given proper pensions—at least, at this stage, at 65 and not 68, and I would hope that the age could be got down to 60.
I hope that there will be no pressurised wastage in the industry. Certainly there should be normal redundancy and a severance scheme, if necessary, but there should be no artificial reduction in numbers. The men know that there must eventually be a reduction because of the introduction of modern appliances, but they want an undertaking that social justice will prevail at all times no matter whether they go out of the industry by virtue of a severance scheme or because of sickness or old age. Let us have no pressurised wastage.
Employers can lay themselves out to get rid of men without applying severance or normal redundancy. However, 578 if the job opportunity in a place like Liverpool is reduced, there must be a continuation of diversification of industry to replace the lost jobs. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will remember that in the days of a Conservative Government, when there were difficulties, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Opposition Chief Whip and another Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Board of Trade sent officers into my constituency. That trend has been continued, and I am grateful for it. Now we have the Giro, with 5,000 jobs to be created in my constituency—
§ Mr. Mahon
Mr. Speaker, I apologise. I know that I am straying far from the point. I wanted to indicate briefly that, if one gets rid of one set of jobs in the docks, the continuation of diversification of industry is very important in order to provide other employment.
I am grateful for being able to say a few words in support of the Order. No one appreciates what has been done more than the dock workers of Liverpool, and I hope that we shall go on to a more prosperous society and get rid of the anachronism of strikes, both unofficial and official.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)
Were I to endeavour to make a speech on this subject, I should probably follow many of the points made by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon). However, I have no wish to weary the House with a long repetitive contribution. I intervene merely to indicate the general support of my Party to the whole scheme of decasualisation. Everyone is hastening to support the arrangement, and I am delighted about it, because my party has been in favour of decasualisation for a very long time.
Since we have been given an opportunity to ventilate points and ask questions, to which we may even get replies in the course of time, it occurs to me that I might put forward one matter about which I have some concern. Obviously there are others, but there are important negotiations proceeding at the moment, and we are all waiting with interest to see how they turn out. We hope that they turn out the right way, and perhaps it would not be altogether helpful to explore all the various doubts which we have in our minds.
The one point to which I would like an answer is this. I have had many talks with dockers in both Liverpool and Manchester. From what they said it appeared that trade union relationships had broken down. Every one to whom I spoke expressed the view that he had grievances, which he explained sometimes more clearly than others, but fundamentally his fear was that his grievances were not understood even by his own union leaders. The point was made over and over again. It was my view that an immense amount of frustration seemed to have arisen merely because the dockers of Liverpool felt that their own union leaders who were conducting negotiations on their behalf were not fully aware of their various points, and they themselves had not had an adequate opportunity to make their position clear.
I do not need to remind hon. Members that the position is different in the various docks, as was pointed out to me by many of the dock workers. In the smaller ports, where work tends to be seasonal, and therefore rather spasmodic, the workers would necessarily take a different view of the whole question of decasualisation and of basic pay 580 from that which would be taken in a port like Liverpool, where the question of full-back pay has not really arisen in recent years, since there has been virtual continuity of employment. It was also true that Liverpool people could not clearly understand, and neither could I, why their sick pay should be £4 a week less than that of their colleagues in London, Hull, and elsewhere.
I do not want to labour these points, but their existence, and the fact that they have led to a tragedy which has had a serious effect on us all, and indeed on the dockers themselves, must underline the importance of establishing a structure in which there is effective local representation of the worker's point of view. The need is for effective local negotiation and consultation, and for direct representation of dock workers on the bodies making the decisions which will affect them. It seems to me that once we have experience of a proper industrial relationship based on decasualisation, the need for the dock labour boards at present envisaged will disappear.
I am concerned about the constitution of the dock labour boards. It appears that their constitution, centrally and locally, is to be 50 per cent. employer representation, and 50 per cent. trade union representation. If the need is for local representation in order effectively to ventilate local grievances—and all hon. Members here tonight must be clear that the grievances are local, and vary very much from one dock to another—we have to provide for this in the new scheme.
I welcome what was said by the hon. Gentleman about the kind of industrial relationship which he envisages in these areas, but how does he envisage overcoming the immense difficulties which exist, such as a docker in Liverpool being represented by a trade union which is not concerned merely with dockers? Not only is it not concerned merely with dockers; it is not concerned merely with Liverpool dockers. I therefore feel that we need some further explanation about those parts of the Order which relate to the appointment of workers' representatives on the dock boards.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the proviso for a new shop steward system in the docks will permit more industrial democracy in the industry?
§ Dr. Winstanley
I have asked the Minister to explain more clearly precisely how this will work. I am endeavouring to make the point that this is fundamental to the working of the whole scheme. We all hope that the scheme will be a success, as I am sure the dockers hope it will be, but it will stand or fall on this kind of representation. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to give us some further explanation of this matter, which I regard as crucial to the whale business.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
The Order is an amendment of a series of Orders which have been coming into existence since 1947. This is very important, because 1947 was the milestone in the docks industry. At that time the National Dock Labour Board was established, and we found that this was the first towards the decasualisation scheme that we are discussing tonight.
Over the years we have seen how, step by step, dock workers have made some small progress. It is interesting to note that the 1947 Order was introduced by a Labour Government, and this is not unnoticed by the dockers in Liverpool, London and other ports in the country. Before 1947, the conditions of the dockers were simply chaotic. The only time when there was any sort of order at all was during the war, when order was introduced into the ports precisely because we were engaged in a great war and there had to be some sort of order and decent conditions. But even they were only a small step forward.
Now we have what my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) calls an historic document. I think this is an historic document. I am not ungrateful to those hon. Members opposite who have moved this Motion and have given us an opportunity to discuss the question and to declare our full support for the Government on this Order. It gives us the chance fully to explore and probe the Order, the difficulties which will undoubtedly arise and the solutions to those difficulties.
When we discuss this Order we ought not to allow our minds to be clouded by the fact that unfortunately two disputes arose, in Liverpool and in London, when 582 the Order was introduced. I am not an authority on the London dispute, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle has clearly outlined the basic factors concerning the Liverpool dispute. However, I believe that when the Order was introduced certain mistakes were made, particularly in connection with communications. One of the problems which the Liverpool dockers brought home to us very clearly was the fact that they did not see the rule book until they had been in dispute for about 10 days. In a sense, therefore, they were being asked to buy a pig in a poke, and nobody does that. It was most unfortunate that the rule book was not brought out some time before the operation of the scheme so that the dockers could have discussed it in detail and made their recommendations before the dispute took place.
The dispute in Liverpool was not led by a group of Communists or Trotskyists, or any other "ists". There are not 9,500 dockers, in Liverpool, all members of the Communist Party or Trotskyist group. I can assure the House of that, without any doubt. Of course, there were one or two Communists and Trotskyists involved around the fringes, as there are in any industrial dispute.
Jack Scamp's report, in my opinion, vindicated the dockers of Liverpool, because it brought out very clearly that they had genuine grievances which ought to have been settled before the actual vesting day, as it were, when the new Order came into operation. This was the great scandal and problem in Liverpool. I do not want to go too deeply into the dispute. We are not discussing that particular dispute now, but we know that those dockers had legitimate grievances, which are now partially settled, although there is still room for negotiation over certain outstanding problems.
One of the great problems was that the average wages in Liverpool were £3 or £4 a week lower than the rest of the industry, and the dockers had to work far more overtime to earn them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle mentioned the social and housing conditions in Liverpool and the lack of amenities and welfare provision. The Order is a step forward to eliminate these bad conditions: it is not the end but the beginning.
583 I agree with my hon. Friend that one union along the line of docks in Liverpool would be better than two, but I am not sure, because they are in the Transport and General Workers' Union, with a trade section covering their industry, and there is nothing wrong with that, provided that the workers have their own body for their particular problems. We should not split hairs.
What will the new agreement do? More than anything else, I welcome the fact that a system of shop stewards is being instituted. The shop steward can sometimes be the nightmare of the union official or the employer, but, if they are honest, most employers, and certainly all union officials, will agree that the organising basis of any union is the shop steward system, because he is the transmission belt from the worker to the official and from the official right up to managerial level, and that he helps to solve problems.
We hear many stories about wicked shop stewards leading workers out on strike, but the actual number of strikes led by shop stewards is very small. What about the hundreds of thousands of shop stewards who every day solve difficulties before they reach dispute stage? It is one of the most important developments for years that we shall now have an organised shop steward system as in any other section of workers, like, for instance, the building industry.
Permanency is vital. The Liverpool workers did not strike because they opposed the introduction of permanent work. One of my hon. Friends who wrote in the Mirror that this was the issue did not have a clue about it. They had grievances which they wanted settled and were not arguing about permanent work. They have always wanted that.
The dignity of the workers is important. I ask hon. Members to imagine themselves being lined up in a "pen". That word in itself suggests a cattle or sheep pen. The boss examines the workers, decides that one is not a bad sort of fellow and that he will have him, but not another who is too old or almost dying, and so passes to the next man. What a humiliating experience for any human being. The Order will eliminate that once and for all, and this is wel- 584 comed by the dockers, by their wives and families and by anyone else with anything to do with the industry.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
My hon. Friend alluded to a Press report in one of the national dailies. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt), who had something derogatory to say about the dock labour force. I said earlier that no one would take what Mr. Kentish Barnes said as coming with authority from the employers. Equally, no one in the Labour Party will take those remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth seriously.
§ Mr. Heffer
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. He understands the industrial scene and certainly knows the position in the Liverpool docks.
I was saying that the dock workers do not argue with the idea of permanency of employment. They want to get rid of the indignity which I have seen but which I have not experienced as a docker. However, I did experience it as a ship repair worker when I first went to Liverpool. I had to queue in the "stand"—itself a humiliating experience—while the boss came along and decided, according to his whim, whether or not to employ me and others. The Government's new scheme represents a new era for dock workers, and this is to be welcomed.
I agree that the relationship between the needs of human beings and the needs of the industry must be balanced. In the past, the human being has been sacrificed in the interest of the industry. He has been discarded, and this must never happen again. Neither do we want to see the employers in Liverpool and elsewhere going bankrupt, although I hope that eventually there will be only one employer; but that is another story. Under the new arrangements, we have a reduced number of employers, and this, in itself, presents a real problem.
We should not think that the problems we are experiencing have not been faced elsewhere. In San Francisco, the employers were prepared, so to speak, to buy the entire rule book, and at enormous price they did so, with the result that when workers were retired they found themselves handsomely rewarded. I agree that our workers should retire 585 earlier, but I hope that their pensions and other payments will be better than at present suggested.
A lump sum of £100 with a pension of perhaps 25s. a week—with a bit of luck, after a lifetime's service, it might be £5 a week—is not good enough. We want better pensions and a better severance pay agreement. It is not just a question of employers not going bankrupt. I do not want the workers to become bankrupt when they retire after years of hard service in a rotten industry.
An immense revolution is going on in the docks, with modernisation, mechanisation and the introduction of the container system and so on. It is of immense importance to the country, to the people living in the ports and to the dockers themselves. As in any industrial revolution, we must take care. We do not want to repeat what happened in the last industrial revolution, when the worker got the bad end of the stick and the employers made enormous profits.
The workers must share to the full in this technological revolution and that is why, with the introduction of this new scheme, we must have better conditions, better wages, increased productivity, with the dockers having not only greater dignity but greater material benefits. In a sense, this is quite a historic debate.
I wish to end by making one or two comments on the idea of disciplining workers. When people raise the question, I sometimes wonder whether they really understand the life and conditions of the workers and what causes a man to go on strike. Does anybody seriously believe that either in Liverpool or London one or two men can keep thousands out on strike unless there are justified grievances over which they are prepared to stay out? Would the hon. Gentleman opposite who raised the question of discipline, with its industrial court basis, suggest that we put 9,500 Liverpool dockers in prison? If that happened, we would not have a labour force. Perhaps it is suggested that we might pick out one or two of the leaders and put them in gaol. That was unfortunately done under a Labour Government, and all it did was to keep the dockers out for much longer than they should have been out.
586 We must be careful when we talk about discipline of the workers. The important point is that in order to get rid of unofficial or official disputes we must understand the workers' grievances and make certain that there is machinery, both through the trade unions and the Ministry of Labour, to deal with them quickly, so that they do not fester and ultimately lead to strikes.
§ Mr. Robert Carr (Mitcham)
The only suggestion in this debate from this side of the House about discipline was to give the union—not the employer—more power over its members who flagrantly break agreements which the union has made on behalf of its members.
§ Mr. Heffer
I understand that there is a sophisticated argument on the Front Bench opposite and an unsophisticated argument on the back benches. I heard an hon. Gentleman who has left the Chamber talk about organised mass stupidity and the need for discipline to deal with organised mass stupid people. I can only think that he really wanted to put them in gaol. I admit that this is not the argument used by the Front Bench opposite.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The hon. Gentleman would not want to be unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd). What my hon. Friend was saying about organised mass stupidity, or whatever it was, was that the provisions of the Order and the nature of the scheme had to be explained to those whom it was intended to benefit, so that it would not be possible to organise mass stupidity. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is not right to laugh. That is true. My hon. Friend is not here to defend himself, and it is not right that he should be misrepresented.
§ Mr. Heffer
There is a contradiction in that. It would be very difficult to communicate and get people to understand things if they were stupid in the mass. I agree about the importance of communications. I have made the point before that it is absolutely right that there should be better communication between the dockers at ship level right through to the top. That is acceptable, and the 587 shop stewards' movement will help to improve that communication.
I want to take up the point about the discipline of the unions over the workers. It is a very interesting concept that we ought to dwell on for a moment. What constitutes a trade union? The general secretary of a trade union is an equal member with the member on the shop floor. A union is made up of its entire membership. What is wrong is that, unfortunately, sometimes decisions are made by the executives without actual reference to the bottom level, and sometimes this leads to a revolt from the lower ranks against the national executives, and there one gets a break in communications. This sometimes happens; I am not denying it for a moment.
That is why I think it is important that at all times before an agreement is finally reached it should be discussed at mass meetings right down to the bottom level, and there must be a right for the workers to revise the agreement before it is finally accepted. That is what is important. This is how it used to be. Unfortunately, there has been in certain cases a tendency to move away from this. But that is not a fundamental mistake. It is a weakness in some organisations which is being corrected at present by the workers themselves.
So when we talk about discipline it should be remembered that the answer is not to give more power to the executives over the rank and file. It is a question of getting the rank and file actually to participate in decision making in the organisation. If that is done, then that problem is solved and there is no contradiction between the executives, the district officials and the rank and file.
I have digressed somewhat, but I thought it very important to deal with the question of discipline. It would be fundamentally wrong if we had a position where it was suggested that the executives should have increased power at the expense of workers at the bottom level.
The Order is a historic document. It opens a new era. It means that we have the greatest opportunity that we have ever had in the docks industry. It is an opportunity that we should all grasp with both hands. It will not solve all the problems in the industry, but it is one further step 588 on the long road along which the dockers have been fighting since the days of James Sexton, in Liverpool, who formed the dockers' union. It is a long, hard road that has been travelled, and this is a very important milestone on it, though it is not the end of it.
I am very glad, on a very rare occasion, at this hour of the night to be able to support an Order which the Government have introduced rather than, as I have done in the past, criticise one.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
Until he lost his way just at the end, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) had made an excellent speech, with most of which I agreed. I also felt that the speech by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) was most moving and most important. It is a tragedy that this historic Order should be debated in the aftermath of two strikes.
The hon. Member for Walton examined the Liverpool strike. I turn to examine the London strike. We must examine it and see where the blame for it lies and what lessons we can learn from it. First, we must place the blame fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Minister, who allowed himself to be bounced by the tally clerks into announcing the operation of the Order far too quickly. The hon. Member for Walton called the speed with which it was introduced a scandal. He was absolutely right. There were so many loose ends at the time of introduction—
§ Mr. Page
No. I listened for a long time. I cannot give way now.
We must face the fact that the Minister suddenly made the decision to introduce it on 18th September though initially he announced that it would start on Friday, 15th September. So he appears to have taken a little advice on this.
Then, in the exercise of allocating the blame and learning the lessons, we must look at the London Joint Negotiating Committee because of the new minimum wage scale which it introduced to come into force at the time of the Order. Before decasualisation the tally clerks, the 589 lightermen and the dockers and stevedores all had the same minimum wage. Suddenly one day the dockers woke up and discovered that the tally clerks had a minimum wage of £21, the lightermen a minimum wage of £18, and the dockers and stevedores a minimum wage of £16. That was produced without real discussion and real understanding.
It leads me to the third party to blame—the London port employers, because it was not until the eleventh and three-quarter hour of the negotiations that the trade union negotiators realised that the minimum wage for dockers would be £16 and not £17. All along the discussions had been on the basis of £17. The union representatives signed the agreement on the understanding that it would be a minimum of £17. Suddenly the London port employers, under pressure from the national port employers, fully supportad by the Minister on this, said, "Sorry, boys. It is not £17, after all. It is £16, otherwise we will get out of step with the dockers in the rest of the country". I believe that in Liverpool they are negotiating for £17 a week. What will happen in London if it is a mere plusage of £1, which will take the London dockers up to £18? No wonder they were bewildered. Because they were bewildered there was this strike.
Though there was little time, I believe that the leadership displayed by the docks officers of the Transport and General Workers' Union was abysmal. They appeared to be right out of touch with the dockers. It has been said that better communications were needed, that much stronger leadership should have been exerted, and that it appeared to people close to the dispute that the officials of the Transport and General Workers' Union were sitting back in their offices waiting for the initiative to be taken by Mr. Dash.
I also think that the leaders of that union—Mr. Cousins, Mr. Jones and others—can be indicted for not going to the docks themselves, for not arranging meetings at which they themselves, with their authority, with their drive and with their power, could have addressed their own members and explained to them why they thought that the members were being misled by Mr. Dash. It should have been done.
590 Mr. Dash used the continuity rule to bring the dockers out on strike. It was an absurd reason. The continuity rule is a sensible rule, and most dockers agree that it is a sensible rule. In fact, there was the threat of a strike in another part of the London docks when the dockers heard that the continuity rule might be excluded from the grey book. There was not sufficient understanding of this rule or sufficient understanding of the meaning of the whole decasualisation scheme.
Mr. Dash played on the fears and the resentment of the dockers because they felt that they were being sold a pup. They felt that their wages would be reduced. They did not understand the way in which decasualisation would operate. I believe that there is still a festering wound in the minds of the dockers in London about the minimum wage and about the way that decasualisation has been introduced. There are fears because of redundancy, fears because the Government's redundancy scheme is less advantageous than that which has already been instituted by the port employers and by the Port of London Authority.
I beg the port employers, the Minister of Labour, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the other unions to use the few days they have left until January, by issuing pamphlets, by speeches, by advertisements in newspapers, by persuading newspapers to carry editorials, to explain to the dockers what a vital, dignified and worthwhile Order this is, one which can bring security and a better standard of living to all of them.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Roy Hattersley)
The hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) began by dealing with some general matters affecting unofficial strikes and industrial discipline; general in that they related to workers covered by the Order and workers extra to the Order. I am sure he knows very well that my right hon. Friend dealt with matters pertaining to this in a characteristically forthright speech at Wakefield on Saturday, and that he will know that the conclusion of that characteristically forthright speech was that these general matters should 591 await the findings of the Royal Commission. Certainly that is as far as the Government can or should go in dealing with matters as general as that. I believe that the organisation and setting up of a Royal Commission places some obligation on the Government to listen to its conclusions. The hon. Member and the House will have to await the good tidings of the spring, as my right hon. Friend described them, and see what the Government's reactions to the proposals are.
I turn now to the more specific matters affecting the Order and the workers covered by it. Of course, I accept entirely that, in moving the Prayer against the Order, the hon. Gentleman and his party were not seeking to set the clock back. It is clearly not their intention to destroy the scheme, or to "recasualise" the docks. I am perfectly prepared to judge their views on the docks by what they have said today, but I must make it absolutely clear and will reiterate that, despite their enthusiasm for the general principle of decasualisation, some of the proposals which they have put forward this evening, which, I am sure, they believed to be improvements, would certainly erode the principles on which the scheme is based, would certainly undermine the confidence on which the scheme depends and would certainly dissipate the good will which the scheme already enjoys.
I will explain why I believe that by setting out the principles on which the Order is based. Clearly, the Order has two objects. One is social. It is simply the desire to create a better deal for the docker. I wish that the hon. Member for Paddington, South had spent a little more time dealing with that fundamental aspect of the Order, for many of my hon. Friends will agree with me that perhaps the primary intent of the Order was to bring about dignity of employment for the docker and the social requirements which dockers have demanded and deserved and wanted for half a century.
The second object is economic. It is to bring about more efficient docks, to run in double harness with the Docks and Harbours Act, and to bring about a more efficient ports system. Efficiency must be created as a result of better 592 relationships between official trade unions and the men they represent, by the extension of the shop steward system and by men accepting that their best interests are to be served by following the leadership of their elected trade union officials; the leadership of the people who best represent their views.
But if the hon. Member for Paddington, South believes that, as I think he does, I must ask him whether he thinks that course is likely to be served by a campaign of denigration of the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union. It is difficult for the hon. Member to say to the men that they must rely on their trade unions more and to be embarrassingly supported by his hon. Friends crying out that that general secretary is not doing his job.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I will deal with the matter of local interest, a subject raised by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley).
I accept that there are differences in the needs and demands of dockers in different ports. One of the reasons why the scheme builds in special local arrangements is because the Ministry and the Government accept that the local boards must be composed, in part, of local nominees, men nominated locally by the local trade union. These are men representing local views, and there is the absolute necessity to convince members of the union that their interests and views are being represented.
I reiterate that the creation of a lively shop steward system, with permanent employment as opposed to casual employment, is bound to facilitate a much more rewarding, genuine and practical relationship between the official trade union and the men it seeks to represent.
The two objectives of the scheme, social and economic, are dependent on one fundamental point which appears time after time in the Order. That is the security which the Order provides. The social objectives are facilitated by the readiness to accept change that 593 security brings. What I take exception to, in the most objective sort of way, are those parts of the hon. Gentleman's speech which are likely to undermine the main idea of the security offered by the scheme.
That does not mean that the Government have automatically closed their mind to the possibility of changing details of the Order. We understand that a scheme as revolutionary as this, which at one stroke makes a fundamental change in the nature of employment in the docks and, yet, must do it by a series of detailed amendments, is unlikely to be ideal at the very beginning. Despite the very long process of consultation and negotiation which took place, there is clearly a possibility that the Government might want to make some marginal alterations in the scheme.
Some of the specific suggestions made this evening do not commend themselves to the Government, because they have the fundamental weakness of undermining the self-confidence which we hope the scheme has already created. I turn specifically to what the hon. Gentleman for Paddington, South said about summary dismissal. His right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr) interrupted one of my hon. Friends to say that no suggestion had been made from that side of the House which would give any power over the unofficial striker other than the enhanced power that should go to the unions and was appropriate to them. That is not, as I understand it, the suggestion of the hon. Member for Paddington, South. He went in great detail and with great accuracy, into the provisions of Clause 14A(2) and 14A(3). Those provisions enable the individual port employer to take disciplinary procedures against one of his employees. He reminded the House of the new provision under Clause 14 whereby a man was suspended but, finally, arbitration was in the hands of the Dock Labour Board. As I understand it, he was suggesting that the power of dismissal under those conditions would be more appropriately vested in the individual employer. That seems to be a very substantial extension of the disciplinary powers as advocated by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have the greatest doubts about the practicability and propriety of that suggestion, about the prac- 594 ticability and propriety of allowing a unilateral system of dismissal.
The Ministry and the National Joint Advisory Committee of my Ministry regards the disciplinary and dismissal procedures of this industry in many ways as a model. They embody the essential feature of dual control. They enable the man to feel that if he has been disciplined, if action is to be taken against him, it will be taken after proper consideration, and by people who will look upon his misdemeanour objectively and decide what is the best course for him and the industry.
§ Mr. Scott
What I sought to put forward was that there should be a difference in emphasis in procedure relating to unofficial strikes and constitutional action. I quite accept the provisions for all the aspects other than unofficial strikes. This is a new scheme and dispute procedures are agreed and built in. They should be followed. If one goes outside the scheme, there is a case for shifting the emphasis and putting it on the union for reapplying for entry.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The scheme, in Clause 14, is essentially laid down for individual acts of indiscipline appropriate for individual misdemeanour but is totally inappropriate for mass acts of indiscipline. While the clauses operate satisfactorily in terms of industrial misdemeanours, it would be wrong to extend them in such a way as to give an individual employer the right to remove a man from the register and black list him in the industry because he had taken part in a dispute. The difference between us is that in our view, this is not the way to deal with the problem. In our view this would encourage and stimulate industrial unrest.
I will now deal with some of the other points raised this evening, particularly the suggestion by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) that my right hon. Friend had not made the Order at the right time and that if it had been made at a different time and in a different way many of these troubles might have been avoided. I remind the hon. Member of the process of consultation which preceded the Order. The first Devlin Report was published in August 1965. As a result of two recommendations of that Report—that there 595 should be a revised national directive and a small negotiating committee to consider the implementation of that directive—the National Modernisation Committee was set up. The National Joint Council then had two years consultation and negotiation with both sides of the industry. Both sides were represented on it and lay members not representative of the industry gave their objective opinions.
As a result of two years' consultation, a draft Order was produced subject to normal statutory procedure. A public inquiry was held and objections heard. After that process, the National Joint Council Modernisation Committee considered other alternatives and improvements. Only at the end of that time was my right hon. Friend of the opinion that he was ready to make an Order and knew what it would contain. If the hon. Member suggests that the timing was wrong, I hope that he does not suggest that there was inadequate consultation because that kind of representation was made.
He might have suggested it on the basis that although the consultation was right the docks were not ready for the outcome of that consultation, no matter how accurate it had been and how appropriate it was. By the time the Order came into operation only 300 men—about 0.5 per cent. of the whole industry of 60,000—were not allocated to one employer or another. By the time the Order came into operation there were certainly some outstanding problems, but it is the view of my right hon. Friend, and I hope the view of the House, that by the simple act of making an Order in some ways those problems were either solved, or the parties were encouraged to solve them. Within a few days of the Order coming into operation the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers had agreed to the establishment of a common register. At some point my right hon. Friend had to make the Order as a stimulus to getting the outstanding difficulties dealt with and the problems solved. That is what happened.
§ Dr. Winstanley
Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman has just said, he would agree, I am sure, that the Devlin 596 Report laid down as a precondition of the introduction of decasualisation that the unions should inform their members, yet we have heard the observation of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that the members in Liverpool were not in possession of the book until after the date when the business should have started. Surely, this is the precipitancy about which one is concerned?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am conscious of the point the hon. Gentleman has made, and I hope in a moment to deal with the publicity, if that is the word, we tried to bring to the scheme. But let me turn, before coming to that, as I certainly will in the ten minutes left to me, to deal with another point of great substance which was raised on both sides of the House, the point about the number of men in the industry and whether, therefore, the Order is doomed to failure because of the structural imbalance between the demand for men and the number of men available for and determined to work in the docks.
Clearly, the compulsory retirement age is a matter which remains subject to negotiation. Clearly, hon. Gentlemen would not want me to say anything which might prejudice those negotiations by simply thinking aloud what the age ought to be, either in terms of the efficiency of the industry or in terms of the individual welfare of the men. But I think some things must be said now.
One is, of course, that the pension scheme, which is an essential part of this Order, and which for all its inadequacy—I accept some of the reservations about the pension scheme expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Walton—provides a better scheme than the industry had before, and therefore is likely to encourage a man to give up the job when his health and age should prompt him to give it up. A great deal of progress has been made in reducing the age at which a man working in the docks should be able to go. In 1961 an agreement that the retirement age should be reduced to 65 was accepted. Since then it has gone down from 70 to 68. During the month after 18th September, a month after the Order was instituted, the offer that the National Joint Council made to men between 65 and 68 to leave 597 the industry voluntarily with some financial inducement, some financial assistance, was taken up—in no small degree; 1,700 men out of a possible 1,900 took advantage of that scheme.
Therefore, whilst the promise of no redundancy is essential to the smooth working of the scheme and the smooth operation of this Order, the Government know very well that there are some problems which arise in terms of manning and they know perfectly well they have an obligation to solve them in a humane but at the same time an efficient way. The National Board, of course, has some very specific functions in terms of manning the industry. Clause 3 (1,b and d)—I was going to say enable—indeed charge the Board to regulate recruitment and discharge from the industry. It charges the Board to keep a register under review. We should be applauding that, because of the Order before the House tonight, there is a national authority charged with the obligation of trying to get the labour position right.
I reiterate that there are difficulties. I reiterate that those difficulties can only be solved within the terms of the Government's promise of no redundancy and within the terms or our insistence that it must be organised in a compassionate as well as an efficient way. But the Government are seized of the problem and are negotiating about it at this very moment. [Interruption.] I cannot give way now as I have only four minutes left and some very detailed and complicated questions to answer, and I should like to do the House the courtesy of trying to answer them.
I was asked a particularly detailed question about the productivity assurances. I have to tell the House that of the Leith position, about which I was asked a precise question, I have no information, but I will certainly let the hon. Gentleman know what the position is. I may add, wryly, that my suspicion is that if things were bad we would have heard about it. It is the invariable rule in the Ministry of Labour that if we do not know, then it is all right. I will try to confirm that optimistic assumption, and I will let the hon. Gentleman know.
About Liverpool, I do know, and I know there is a great programme of re- 598 vision of the incentive scheme designed to overcome the incentive scheme difficulties which have characterised working in Liverpool for a very long time. The scheme envisaged would do away with excessive overtime worked at that port. The scheme should bring about more productivity, which is absolutely essential for the working of the scheme.
I was asked about the complication of the Order. I would be the last to deny that it is a complicated Order to understand, and it is even more complicated to debate. We are tied by a number of factors. The first is that it must be an amending Order, which must be related to its predecessors. For the benefit of the House and others, we have tried to make it more clear to the lay mind by publishing the Second Schedule. But, clearly, that will not help many men in the docks.
To try to remedy that deficiency the National Modernisation Committee prepared a Docks Bulletin, which went to every man in the docks, explaining what the scheme had to offer him, what the advantages were, and what benefits the Government proposed to offer the dock industry as a result of this Order. It is almost certainly an unprecedented step in terms of industrial public relations, and one which the House should applaud. I hope that it will be conveyed to the people who thought of it—people outside my Ministry, incidentally—that the House regards it as an admirable example of what should be done.
Finally, I return to the principles on which the Order is based. It is intended to be a Measure by which both social justice and economic efficiency will improve in the docks. It is intended to be a Measure by which, simultaneously, the social aspirations and needs of the dock workers are married to the nation's wish that the docks should be organised more efficiently.
I reiterate that, if those two aims are to be achieved, the Ministry and the Government must have the confidence of the men in the docks. Arrangements which make it more easy for them to be dismissed in an arbitrary fashion, and criticisms, not of their unofficial leaders, but of their official leaders who for some weeks have done their best to reassert their authority over dock working members, are not conducive to that process.
599 The Order which I ask the House to approve is almost unique in the Government's experience in that, at one blow, we are able to advance something which is both morally right and economically expedient. Those two go together all too infrequently. It is a fortunate Government who have the opportunity to advance on both fronts simultaneously, and an unwise Opposition who choose to pray against it.
§ Mr. Iremonger
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, will he offer a word of advice or assurance to employers who are suffering great anxiety in this respect? There are many small lighterage companies making, say, £30,000 a year which are obliged to carry on their books and pay men whom they cannot employ and who are costing them just exactly that sum.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I was waiting for that point to be raised throughout the debate. The Order is specific, in that it offers special assistance to those companies, particularly small ones, which have a temporary structural surplus of labour. The levy under Clause 21 of Schedule 2, which can be as much as 10 per cent. of the wage bill of the entire permanent work force, can be used under Clause 3(2,f) to help meet the immediate running costs of those small firms who have men surplus to requirements. By helping firms financially in this way with their immediate surpluses, we are meeting both the points which I tried to raise. We are helping them stave off bankruptcy and to remain an efficient part of the industry. We are preserving the continuity of employment and the security of the men who might otherwise be laid off casually because of a temporary shortage of work. The point raised under the levy and surplus wage payment issue exemplifies perfectly the dual rôle I have mentioned.
§ Question put and negatived.