HC Deb 11 May 1988 vol 133 cc321-6 3.32 pm
Mr. David Davis (Boothferry)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to limit the provision of rights of registered dockers under the Dock Labour Employment Scheme to the lifetime of those in current employment; to remove from the local and national dock labour boards their responsibilities for recruitment and discipline of registered dock workers, and to provide that, in the absence of a negotiated agreement between the Transport and General Workers Union and the port employers on other matters covered by the Dock Labour Scheme, the Dock Labour Scheme and all other related enactments shall cease with effect from 31st December 1992.

The proposed Bill has three aims. First, it is to stop any further entries in the dock labour register as members who are on the register retire or resign. Secondly, it is to strike out of the current dock legislation those items which cause the worst abuses, particularly on control of discipline and recruitment. Finally and most important, the Bill aims to create a timetable for both sides of the port industry to negotiate an end to the current practices which cripple the industry, and to give us a new industry by the critical date of 1992. In the event of a failure to achieve that, the Bill would lead to the abolition of the dock labour scheme.

The scheme deliberately puts a sword of Damocles over both sides. I shall explain later how there is already a sword of Damocles over dock employers. In that respect the Bill will encourage the development of some measures which Opposition Members have already asked for. On this part of the Bill I am indebted to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) for his ideas.

I can best deal with the problem of discipline by example. In a port on Humberside three years ago a docker was imprisoned, having been convicted of smuggling. When he came out of prison, he was reinstated. It was impossible to dismiss him despite the fact that he had been imprisoned for a criminal offence and that that offence was directly related to his work. That problem is replicated around the country, for example, in cases of theft and other offences. As a result, it is impossible to maintain discipline in the docks, as every docker knows, and, more important, as every customer knows, who then takes his trade elsewhere. The Bill will eliminate that problem.

There are a number of other sad practices that add to the costs of the docks. One of them is known as "bobbing" or, in my constituency port of Goole, as "welting". It is caused by the labour board instructing the docks as to how many people they can employ to do a certain job. The board always instructs too many so that, for example, a Swedish liner service out of Goole has 27 people allocated to it. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House should give the hon. Gentleman a fair hearing and then we can proceed with the next debate, which is an important one.

Mr. Davis

Those 27 people are never all present. At most, there will be 18, so the customer pays for 30 per cent. of his work force who do not work. That practice must end as soon as possible.

"Ghosting" is the technique whereby dock workers are required to mark people who do not work in the docks.

That applies even to non-existent jobs. For example, there is a new cement loading unit at Goole. When a cement ship comes in, the crew attaches a pipe and the ship is emptied automatically. Two dockers are required to "ghost" that process. The customer has to pay for two dockers to do nothing and who may not even be there.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

What about safety?

Mr. Davis

The only safety aspect is whether either one of the dockers falls into the dock.

The scheme increases the cost of the industry in competition with Europe. In Rotterdam and Amsterdam, the cost of loading and unloading ships is between £2.50 and £3.50 a tonne. In Britain, it is between £7.50 and £15 a tonne, three to five times as much. It is ludicrous to expect that that will not affect the pattern of trade. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Not in a ten-minute Bill. I have not heard anything so far that is out of order.

Mr. Madden


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not our convention to raise points of order during the moving of a ten-minute Bill, unless it is a matter of order that requires my urgent attention. I have not heard anything out of order.

Mr. Madden


Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman knows our conventions. Ten-minute Bills are not interrupted unless a matter of order requires the attention of the Chair. I have not heard anything that requires my attention as a matter of order and, therefore, I cannot deal with it.

Mr. Madden

It is a matter of order.

Mr. Speaker

I asked the hon. Gentleman on a former occasion whether it was a matter of order for me and it turned out not to be. I shall not take it too well if that happens this time.

Mr. Madden

You, Mr. Speaker, will recall that during the moving of a ten-minute Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) I rose on a point of order and you accepted my point of order. On this occasion, the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) is, according to the Register of Members' Interests, a director of Tate and Lyle. I should have thought that, as that company has a direct interest in the docks and in shipping, it would have been appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to have made known his interest.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is riot necessary to mention an interest during a debate if it is in the Register of Members' Interests. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has a direct interest in the matter.

Mr. Davis

I am not aware of having any interest to declare in this matter. I shall shorten what I had intended to say to save time. The net effect of the scheme is the destruction of jobs in Britain. More important, it destroys jobs in the poorest and most difficult areas of Britain. Opposition Members claim that they represent such areas.

In 1992, the Single European Act will be implemented. Yesterday the European Commission published the Cecchini report, which said that between 1.75 million and 5 million new jobs would stem from that Act. Most of those jobs, which will be in Britain, should go to the north-east, the east coast ports, Yorkshire and Humberside and the east of Scotland. Hon. Members who represent those areas should concern themselves with that.

If our ports are competitive, the jobs will go to the areas I have mentioned, but if they are not one of three things will happen. First—and worse—jobs will not be created at all. Secondly, they may go to non-scheme ports such as Felixstowe. Thirdly, trade may be diverted through the Channel tunnel. None of those is in the interests of the north or the north-east.

I should like to quote what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) said during a Consolidated Fund debate on the dock labour scheme: Nothing in the world is sacrosanct. Of course there must be changes and developments, but surely we all want them to be reached on a proper, sensible and agreed basis … All the aspects can be negotiated."—[Official Report, 10 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 596.] I agree with those wise words. My Bill would allow scope for such negotiation. It would allow time for the industry to find its own solution. That time is limited, however, on both sides.

In April 1990, the European Commission's permission to our Government to subsidise compensation schemes runs out. There is no guarantee that that permission will be renewed. That means that dock employers will have, if they have their own interests at heart, to try to get a scheme sorted out by April 1990. There is pressure on them and on the dock unions.

The Bill would create a sword of Damocles and the right conditions for the negotiated outcome which some Opposition Members said that they wanted when we last debated this issue. If Opposition Members really believe that they stand for the interests of the unemployed, and not for vested interests and narrow factions, they will come into the Aye Lobby with us and will not follow the narrow factions into the No Lobby.

3.42 pm
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)


Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to oppose the Bill?

Mr. Loyden

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

This is another back-door attempt by Conservative Members to wreck the national dock labour scheme. This issue was last debated only on 10 March when the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) accused me of treating the House to a highly emotional history lesson. There will be a repeat performance today because my perception of the history is not the same as that of Conservative Members.

When I went to elementary school, I listened to a teacher who was showing us a map of the world and said, "All that pink is ours." A nine-year-old said, "If that is so, why is my dad unemployed and why am I in my bare feet?" All the glories of the empire and 1066 and the rest are meaningless. I learned my history from my experience and as a working-class person who worked in the transport industry and as a seaman. The hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) lacks such credentials. I declare my interest as a member of the Transport and General Workers Union. I declare that interest readily. I act in the interests of those whom I represent.

Today, Mr. Speaker, you unveiled a bust of the late Ernie Bevin, who was once Foreign Secretary. I disagreed with him on a number of things. As the leader of the Transport and General Workers Union and the architect of the national dock labour scheme, however, I know that he is held in the greatest respect in the minds of dockers and working-class people. [Interruption.]

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Shut your mouth!

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we have a very important debate after this business in which many right hon. and hon. Members hope to take part. Perhaps the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) will get on with his speech.

The Conservative party intends to end the security and order that exists in the dock industry. Its consistent opposition to the National Dock Labour Board arises out of its opposition to any protection for workers, and it is part of the Government's continuing attack on the trade union movement and organised labour.

Conservative Members want to see a return to casual labour on the docks. They want us to go back to the pre-1940s when men assembled at the docks to find work but half of whom were sent home without it and without pay. Men worked at the docks into their 70s and 80s because there was no pension; therefore, they had to continue working to live. The misery and deprivation of dockers and their families is fully chronicled. It is disgraceful that Conservative Members should be trying to revert to the days of exploitation of dock workers. They want to end the system that was introduced by Ernie Bevin, which was endorsed by several reports, including that of the Shaw inquiry and the Devlin report in 1964. Devlin recognised that the order that had been established in the ports was beneficial to the industry.

Members of my union who work in non-scheme ports should see through the intentions of Conservative Members. They enjoy their standards and conditions of work because of the national dock labour scheme. Conservative Members, who from time to time praise the non-scheme ports, should speak the truth. They will attack dockers at Felixstowe and at the non-scheme ports if this safeguard is removed, which is the benchmark of the standards that are prevalent throughout the industry.

Hon. Members who want to honour Ernie Bevin—I doubt whether many Conservative Members will want to do so—should recognise what he did in the 1940s in transforming a cruel and inhumane industry into one that gave men dignity and decent standards of life. They should not vote for the Bill but enter the Lobby and vote against the treachery of the Conservative party.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19.

(Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 120, Noes 167.

Division No. 297] [3.50 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Atkinson, David
Alexander, Richard Bevan, David Gilroy
Blackburn, Dr John G. Kilfedder, James
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Kirkhope, Timothy
Boswell, Tim Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Latham, Michael
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Lawrence, Ivan
Bowis, John Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Mans, Keith
Brazier, Julian Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Mates, Michael
Buck, Sir Antony Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Butler, Chris Meyer, Sir Anthony
Butterfill, John Miller, Hal
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Mills, Iain
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Mudd, David
Carrington, Matthew Nelson, Anthony
Cash, William Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Chapman, Sydney Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Oppenheim, Phillip
Conway, Derek Paice, James
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Patnick, Irvine
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cran, James Porter, David (Waveney)
Curry, David Price, Sir David
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Raffan, Keith
Davis, David (Boothferry) Redwood, John
Day, Stephen Riddick, Graham
Dicks, Terry Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Dover, Den Rossi, Sir Hugh
Fallon, Michael Rost, Peter
Farr, Sir John Shaw, David (Dover)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Forth, Eric Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Fox, Sir Marcus Shersby, Michael
Franks, Cecil Sims, Roger
Fry, Peter Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Gardiner, George Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Gill, Christopher Stanbrook, Ivor
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Stevens, Lewis
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Stokes, John
Gorst, John Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Gow, Ian Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Gower, Sir Raymond Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Temple-Morris, Peter
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Thorne, Neil
Haselhurst, Alan Townend, John (Bridlington)
Hayes, Jerry Waller, Gary
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Ward, John
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Warren, Kenneth
Hill, James Watts, John
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Whitney, Ray
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Irvine, Michael Woodcock, Mike
Irving, Charles Young, Sir George (Acton)
Janman, Tim
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Tellers for the Ayes:
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Mr. Nicholas Bennett and
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Mr. Jacques Arnold.
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Bray, Dr Jeremy
Allen, Graham Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Alton, David Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Anderson, Donald Buchan, Norman
Ashton, Joe Buckley, George J.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Caborn, Richard
Barron, Kevin Callaghan, Jim
Battle, John Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Beckett, Margaret Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Bell, Stuart Canavan, Dennis
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n &R'dish) Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bidwell, Sydney Clay, Bob
Blair, Tony Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Boyes, Roland Cohen, Harry
Bradley, Keith Coleman, Donald
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Marek, Dr John
Corbyn, Jeremy Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Cousins, Jim Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Crowther, Stan Martlew, Eric
Cryer, Bob Maxton, John
Cummings, John Meacher, Michael
Cunliffe, Lawrence Meale, Alan
Darling, Alistair Michael, Alun
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dixon, Don Moonie, Dr Lewis
Dobson, Frank Morgan, Rhodri
Doran, Frank Morley, Elliott
Dunnachie, Jimmy Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Eadie, Alexander Mullin, Chris
Eastham, Ken Murphy, Paul
Evans, John (St Helens N) Nellist, Dave
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) O'Brien, William
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fatchett, Derek Parry, Robert
Flynn, Paul Patchett, Terry
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Pendry, Tom
Foster, Derek Pike, Peter L.
Foulkes, George Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Fyfe, Maria Prescott, John
Galloway, George Primarolo, Dawn
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Quin, Ms Joyce
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Radice, Giles
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Redmond, Martin
Golding, Mrs Llin Reid, Dr John
Gould, Bryan Richardson, Jo
Graham, Thomas Robertson, George
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Robinson, Geoffrey
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Rogers, Allan
Grocott, Bruce Rooker, Jeff
Hardy, Peter Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Harman, Ms Harriet Rowlands, Ted
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Ruddock, Joan
Haynes, Frank Salmond, Alex
Heffer, Eric S. Sheerman, Barry
Hinchliffe, David Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Home Robertson, John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Skinner, Dennis
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Hoyle, Doug Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Snape, Peter
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Stott, Roger
Illsley, Eric Strang, Gavin
Ingram, Adam Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Turner, Dennis
Lamond, James Walley, Joan
Leighton, Ron Wareing, Robert N.
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Lewis, Terry Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Litherland, Robert Wigley, Dafydd
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Loyden, Eddie Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
McAllion, John Winnick, David
McAvoy, Thomas Wise, Mrs Audrey
McFall, John Young, David (Bolton SE)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
McKelvey, William Tellers for the Noes:
McLeish, Henry Mr. Tony Banks and
McNamara, Kevin Mr. Max Madden.
McWilliam, John

Question accordingly negatived.