HC Deb 17 April 1989 vol 151 cc43-115

Order for Second Reading read.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before we debate a highly controversial Bill, may I seek your advice on an issue that raises serious public concern? You will be aware of recent reports about hon. Members having interests outside the House and receiving rather large sums in remuneration for them. Is it acceptable for hon. Members who represent business interests in the docks and who are remunerated for representing those interests to debate the Bill or to vote upon it? Will you give me a clear ruling on that?

Mr. Speaker

That question was asked of me last week. I do not know whether the hon. Lady was present. I confirm that it has always been in order for hon. Members both to speak and to cast their votes on matters of public policy.

Given the late start of the Bill, I propose to limit Back-Bench speeches to 10 minutes between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. I ask those on the Front Benches and those who may be called before 7 o'clock to bear in mind that constraint.

5.9 pm

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler)

I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.

Before I begin my remarks, on the Bill, I associate myself with the words of sympathy from both sides of the House on the preceding statement.

There are a number of ways of stating the case for this Bill. It is possible to set out the glaring but inevitable anomalies in a dock labour scheme which dates back to legislation passed just after the end of the second world war and which was designed to meet the needs of the ports industry in the 1930s and 1940s. It is possible to establish the cost of the scheme which has led to a bill of almost £1 billion for the taxpayer and the ports industry put together, plus the extra costs which the customers of the scheme ports have had to bear. It is possible to describe some of the restrictive practices which have grown up and which have made the ports covered by the dock labour scheme less competitive than they should be.

Those are all strong arguments, and the House should consider them all. They all add to the overwhelming case for the abolition of the scheme, but I believe there is one factor which precedes all that. It is that the abolition of the scheme will ensure a better future for the ports industry in this country and will provide a better future for those working in the industry. What is more, abolition will provide a better future for the areas—often inner-city areas—around the ports themselves.

The fact is that, for all its restrictions, the scheme has provided no security in the docks. Jobs have gone; companies have gone bankrupt; new recruitment of young men has been limited and sometimes non-existent; and long lines of workers have volunteered to leave the industry altogether.

Clearly some of that change—some of that contraction—has been inevitable. Modern technology has meant that fewer dockers have been required. Nevertheless, scheme ports have lost both jobs and trade. Twenty years ago, there were 45,000 registered dock workers. Today there are 9,400. Twenty years ago, scheme ports handled over 90 per cent. of our nation's trade. Today they handle something like 70 per cent.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

In view of the information that the Secretary of State has just given to the House, is it not misleading for Government supporters to go round the country talking about "jobs for life"?

Mr. Fowler

The point about the so-called "jobs for life" is that in no other industry are workers guaranteed a job irrespective of whether there is work to do.

The scheme has created surpluses, and those surpluses have threatened the viability of the ports. The only way to reduce those surpluses has been through voluntary redundancy, which has been massively financed by the taxpayer because the industry could not afford it. That is the essential case and it is a strong and unanswerable case.

It is instructive to compare what has happened in the non-scheme ports. In the main, the reason why those ports are not in the scheme at all is that they were of no consequence for cargo handling in 1947 when the scheme was drawn up. Felixstowe, for example, was, just a wharf. Yet the ports outside the scheme now account for 30 per cent. of our trade in volume and half our trade in value. In addition, their employment of dock workers, has risen to nearly 4,000: nearly one in three of all dockers; and Felixstowe is today one of our leading ports.

Non-scheme ports have gained trade year by year—and with the trade has come investment. In his response to my statement, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made much of the investment at four scheme ports—Tilbury, Bristol, Hull and Newport. Put together it is less than the £54 million committed to investment for 1989 at Felixstowe for the expansion of its container facilities.

Over the past six years, Felixstowe has invested £92 million and Dover has invested almost £85 million. No scheme ports have come near that figure. It is that kind of investment that best ensures competitive ports and preserves jobs.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Even if one accepts what the Secretary of State has said, will he explain why the Bill came as a bolt out of the blue and without any prior knowledge, making it, under this leaky Government, the only piece of legislation that has been kept totally secret until it was sprung across the House of Commons? Would it not have been much better if the Government had proceeded to try to get discussions and agreement between the port employers and the unions? Why has the Secretary of State precipitately decided to bring the Bill forward in this way, instead of taking the path of conciliation and discussion?

Mr. Fowler

I do not think that "precipitately" is exactly the right description for what the Government have done. There has been an evolving consensus about the need to abolish the scheme and to bring forward the legislation. There is no question—there has been no secret—about the review of the barriers to employment that the Government have carried out. I shall come to those points later.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)


Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Mr. Fowler

No, I shall not give way.

However, nor has the advance of the ports outside the scheme been achieved either by low pay or by casualism. Dockers are well paid and the enormous changes in the way ships are unloaded—with new technology and with containerization—has transformed the nature of dock work and virtually eliminated the scope of casual work.

Dock work is now highly skilled specialist work that often requires the use often of sophisticated machinery. It requires a permanent and well trained work force. The days when large numbers of unskilled labourers assembled waiting to see if there was work for them have gone for good—and everyone is glad of that. To underline that point, the employers in the present scheme ports have given an assurance that after abolition there will be no return to casual employment.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)


Mr. Fowler

No, I shall not give way.

That assurance is both in my view, important and unprecedented. The reason we have a dock labour scheme is to prevent casualism. Port companies employing 93 per cent. of registered dock workers have now given an undertaking that there will he no return to the casual system of working and the practice in non-scheme ports already demonstrates that this is a bogus fear.

Those who seek to argue that the scheme should be preserved to prevent casualism should have no public credibility. They are using the argument to cloak other reasons for resisting change.

Mr. Parry


Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)


Mr. Fowler

I give way first to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry).

Mr. Parry: Will the Secretary of State give us a categorical assurance that there will not be any casualisation—not even of one job?

Mr. Fowler

I think that I have just repeated the assurance that the employers have given, which is that port companies employing 93 per cent. of registered dock workers have already, in the week after my announcement, given the kind of assurance that the hon. Gentleman is seeking.

That brings me to a fundamental point. The reason why ports covered by the scheme want to see those restrictions go is because they want to be able to compete better with ports outside the scheme and to compete with continental ports that have taken too much of our trade, and to compete in the new position created by 1992 and the single market, and with the railway competition of the Channel tunnel.

Dr. Godman

Will the Secretary of State give way on the point about casualisation?

Mr. Fowler

No, I shall not give way at the moment. Let us be clear. Unless those ports succeed in competing, no conceivable dock labour scheme will prevent the relative decline of scheme ports and of employment prospects. As far as I know, there is unanimity among the wide range of port companies covered by the regulations that the dock labour scheme has long since outlived its usefulness and should be ended.

The men urging abolition are often those who have spent their lives in the ports industry, who are committed to the future of that industry, and who want to see a future for those who are now registered dock workers as well as for the other two thirds of the workers who are not in the scheme. It is their judgment that the scheme should go, but it is not just their judgment.

Organisations such as the National Association of Warehouse Keepers have supported the change. It comments: Over the last 30 years or more there has been a steady withdrawal of industry from the dock areas because of the restrictions imposed upon it by the Scheme and for a long time no warehouse keeper would willingly have built a warehouse in or near a dock area. All this will now he changed, and the Association regards this as good news. Respected transport organisations such as the Freight Transport Organisation take the same view. It says of the scheme: It has acted as a barrier against investment and progress within the ports industry; undermined the competitiveness of British ports; and added to industry's costs. Rid of this massive millstone, importers and exporters confidently expect the British port industry to provide the efficient and competitive services long enjoyed by their Continental competitors With the exception of the Morning Star, precious few newspapers—national or regional—believe that the scheme should stay. The Scotsman comments: Old cargo no longer needed. The Glasgow Herald states: "Decisive action overdue".

The Grimsby Evening Telegraph comments, "Death of a dinosaur", and the Hull Daily Mail states, "Handicap withdrawn". The Manchester Evening News comments: The time for a change is long overdue. A whole range of national and regional newspapers have all come out in favour of the scheme being changed.

Most significant of all, very few people outside the Transport and General Workers Union's docks section have been prepared to defend the detail of the scheme. All kinds of arguments have been used, but I have heard very few people on radio or television defending the scheme itself. The Leader of the Opposition most certainly has not done so, and nor has the hon. Member for Oldham, West.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

I refer to the Secretary of State's comments concerning lack of investment, of warehouse building and of new industries entering scheme ports. Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister visited Liverpool free port, which is one of the few successful free ports that the Government have announced. The scheme operates there, and there has been massive inward investment. A very successful free port has been established at Liverpool because of the way in which the scheme operates there.

Mr. Fowler

That success is not because of the scheme. The hon. Gentleman is inaccurate in stating that that is the reason why there has been investment at Liverpool or at other scheme ports. While there has been investment at those ports, the industry says with a totally unanimous voice that if the scheme's restrictions go, investment will increase. One has only to examine the situation at non-scheme ports to see that that has happened.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the container terminal in the city of Hull, which is represented by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), is closed? There has been massive investment at that terminal, which has three gantry cranes. At Grimsby, those cranes are operated by 12 men, but at Hull the unions want 23 men, even when there are no ships. What is worse, they not only want to be paid ordinary time but overtime for tea breaks, lunch breaks and even until 6.30 pm when they are not working.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)


Mr. Fowler

Perhaps my hon. Friend and other hon. Members representing Hull constituencies would like to conduct their own debate.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townsend) does not represent any part of Hull. When he fought me, the electors threw him out.

Mr. Fowler

I apologise for making that important mistake.

Mr. Townend

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Unlike the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), I was born in Hull.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Fowler

All that leads to my initial conclusion that the debate about Hull should be left to other hon. Members.

The attitude of people in not defending details of the scheme is not surprising, because the scheme suffers from fundamental flaws. First, it creates a statutory monopoly for dock work in 40 of our main ports. That monopoly is enforced by criminal penalties, which is a wholly inappropriate use of the law to limit employment opportunities. Only employers and dockers registered with one of the local dock boards can undertake dock work in ports covered by the scheme. It is a criminal offence punishable by up to three months' imprisonment for anyone to employ without permission anyone who is not a registered dock worker to perform work covered by the scheme. No other industry in this country suffers from those penalties.

Mr. Skinner

There is. Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fowler

No, I shall not.

The effect of that statutory monopoly is to deprive employers in scheme ports of the ability to manage their own work force. It also fosters a belief that the scheme, not the performance of the port, protects jobs.

Secondly, the scheme has bred restrictive practices. If unloading a cargo requires specialist skills that registered dock workers cannot supply, the employer is obliged both to pay specialist staff to undertake the unloading and to pay registered dock workers to stand and watch the work being done. Those practices remain widespread.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Secretary of State give way now?

Mr. Fowler

No, I shall not give way again.

Those practices are sustained by the scheme's monopoly, which allows unions to insist on such payments on pain of blocking the loading or unloading of cargo.

Thirdly, as a consequence of attempting to define in statute who should do a particular job, the scheme inevitably suffers from anomalies and bureaucracy. Each scheme port has a complex set of rules about what is, and is not, dock work—which are in effect demarcation lines frozen by statute. The definitions of dock work applied under the scheme date back to the second world war and beyond and take no account of the enormous changes in dock work since then.

The distinction between ports inside and outside the scheme is now quite arbitrary. Southampton is in the scheme, but Portsmouth is not. Liverpool and London are in the scheme but Dover and Folkstone are not. The inexplicable differences in the treatment of the fishing ports of Aberdeen, Peterhead, Grimsby and Hull and their consequences for business and jobs—reveal the scheme's inadequacies. In Aberdeen, only registered dock workers can handle white fish, while herring and mackerel can be landed by the fishermen themselves.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Fowler

No, I shall not allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene on that point.

Nearby Peterhead is outside the scheme and has captured a substantial part of Aberdeen's business. At Grimsby, only registered dock workers can unload fish from boats of more than 60 ft, while in nearby Hull all fish landings are excluded from the scheme—so Hull's fishing port has attracted business away from Grimsby.

The common factor in all those cases is that business and jobs in operations covered by the scheme have been lost to ports free of its restrictions. Those restrictions are at the heart of the stresses and strains that we have seen in recent weeks in Aberdeen and Grimsby.

Mr. Skinner

The Secretary of State refers to the scheme's division of labour and to its restrictive practices, but the same could be said of the legal profession, as to the division of labour between solicitors and barristers. Why is that, when judges took the decision to go on strike today, because of the proposed reforms to the legal system, the Government decided to call off the dogs? If the Secretary of State is so concerned at people having jobs for life, why do the Government not use that argument to abolish the House of Lords?

Mr. Fowler

I started this section of my speech by saying that every conceivable argument has been used except any defence of the dock labour scheme, and the hon. Gentleman has just underlined that point.

The fourth characteristic of the scheme is that it adds to costs. The price of the inefficiencies that it has created has been paid by consumers through the higher costs of goods in the shops; by industry through the price of raw materials and exports; and by the taxpayer through the financial support that successive Governments have given to the port industry, and through Government contributions to voluntary redundancies.

What has the scheme achieved? It has certainly not achieved a secure career for registered dock workers; nor has it achieved good industrial relations, although I have no doubt that the authors of the scheme thought that by creating a statutory monopoly for dock work and ending the abuses of casual working they would bring about a significant improvement in industrial relations.

There have been major strikes in every decade since the scheme began in 1947. The number of days lost as a result of strikes by registered dock workers in the scheme ports, according to the National Dock Labour Board, is still three times the national average. Between 1985 and 1987, the scheme ports lost 528 man days for every 1,000 employees, compared with a total of 183 in the rest of industry. In the 20 years between 1967 and 1987, there were 3,569 strikes involving registered dock workers, resulting in over 4 million working days being lost in scheme ports. That is a rate of more than three disputes per week.

In his response to my statement the hon. Member for Oldham, West suggested that this was a relatively small scheme covering "only 9,500 workers". Let us be clear what we are talking about: we are talking about the future of the ports now within the scheme, which at present handle 70 per cent. of our national trade. Those who have argued that the scheme should be left to wither simply do not understand the facts. As long as the scheme continues to operate, our great ports such as Liverpool, London and Southampton will remain subject to all its restrictions. There are only two ways for them to escape from the scheme: either Parliament abolishes it or they close down completely. Abolition will ensure that all dock workers, wherever they are employed, will have the same employment rights and obligations as the rest of the working population.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Does the Secretary of State accept that employers now have a responsibility to negotiate with their employees? If they come up with agreed and more generous redundancy terms, will they be included in the legislation? If that is so, a substantial number of people will accept the case that the right hon. Gentleman has made for abolition.

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support. I do not believe that anyone can negotiate on the scheme itself; that, I think, is a matter for Parliament. Nor do I believe that Ministers wish to prejudice the outcome of any talks taking place tomorrow: that would not be sensible.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, since February 1984, the port employers have made six attempts to discuss the scheme with their employees in the TGWU, and that every such offer has been refused by the union, in defence of the indefensible?

Mr. Fowler

I shall come to that point. If the House will forgive me, I will not give way again; otherwise, my speech will go on far too long for the confines of the debate.

Ending the scheme will not affect either the pay or the pensions of those who are now registered dock workers. Neither is covered by the scheme or comes within the responsibilities of the National Dock Labour Board. Nor should anyone suppose that dock work, whether inside or outside the scheme, is low-paid.

Over the past 40 years—I now come to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed)—there have been countless opportunities for negotiation to reduce the damaging controls imposed by the scheme.

Mr. Robert Hughes


Mr. Fowler

I am very sorry; I have given way a number of times, and I will not do so again.

Throughout those 40 years the TGWU has shown no sign of willingness even to consider the changes needed to meet the competitive pressures on scheme ports. In 1986 my right hon. Friend the then Transport Secretary, now Secretary of State for the Environment, invited unions and employers to discuss voluntary arrangements to replace the scheme. The national secretary of the TGWU docks group, Mr. Connolly, replied—and he replied very quickly: having in mind our position that the Dock Labour Scheme is to remain, I see no point in joint discussions to provide for arrangements which might follow its removal. In 1987 he was reported by Lloyd's List as saying: The policy of the Docks and Waterways Group has not changed. There will be opposition to the amendment or revision of the Scheme, and that opposition will take the form of a national dock strike. The fact is that the TGWU has constantly sought the tightening and extension of the scheme's controls, not their relaxation. It has done so not by negotiation, but by using the power that the scheme's statutory monopoly of dock work gives it to bring scheme ports to a halt with strike action. The Bill aims to bring the scheme to an end quickly but in an orderly fashion, and with continued special provision for dock workers' severance.

Clause 1 repeals the legislation that underpins the scheme, and preserves the board's powers to make provision for the training and welfare of dock workers until its dissolution. Clause 2 requires the board to wind up its affairs quickly but in an orderly manner. It makes provision for the disposal of its assets at less than market vaule, with my permission. The purpose is to provide an incentive for those in the industry who have already paid for the board's activities through levies on their business to take over any training and medical facilities that the industry needs.

Clause 3 allows the board to be replaced if it fails to comply with its duties. Clause 4 writes off all the board's outstanding liabilities for loans that it has received from Government, and provides for its running costs. Clause 5 provides for any registered dock worker who becomes redundant within three years of the ending of the scheme to receive redundancy payments on a considerably more generous scale than those which are open to most other employees.

After only 15 years' service, dock workers will be eligible for redundancy payments of £35,000 if they lose their jobs in the 18 months after the scheme is abolished—that is, until early 1991—and payment of £20,000 if they lose their jobs in the subsequent 18 months. The cost of the payments will be shared equally between the Government and the individual employer concerned. The detailed arrangements will be set out in draft regulations to be tabled shortly, and will be available to the Standing Committee.

Clause 6 extends provisions of the Employment Protection Act 1978 to those who were registered dock workers immediately before Royal Assent. That means that registered dockers will acquire individual rights not to be unfairly dismissed, for example, and to receive written particulars of their terms of employment, which the scheme denied to them.

This is a statutory scheme. It was brought into existence by Parliament, and Parliament is the proper place for decisions about its future; there should be no attempt to usurp that role. I do not believe that there will be any public support for strike action that is directed towards retaining the provisions of the scheme.

Furthermore, I believe that the House will want to hear that clearly and unequivocally stated by the hon. Member for Oldham, West. His latest statements suggest that he now has doubts about industrial action, but I have to point out that, when the hon. Gentleman spoke to a meeting of the national ports shop stewards committee in London at the end of January, he had an entirely different message. According to International Freighting Weekly of 7 February 1989 and a similar report in the Morning Star of 30 January 1989, he gave the same message. I shall quote from International Freighting Weekly. The hon. Gentleman said: An all-out strike by Britain's dockers in defence of their dock labour scheme would have the full backing of the Labour Party.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

If the right hon. Gentleman had bothered to check with me as to whether such press reports were accurate, I could have told him—I have here a copy of the speech that I made on that day—that I made no such statement, or anything like it.

Hon. Members


Mr. Fowler

The same statement was reported also in the Morning Star: the hon. Gentleman pledged his party's full support in any fight to defend the scheme. I imagine that that statement is also withdrawn. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. We have now made substantial progress. If I am wrong, I shall gladly withdraw what I have said.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fowler

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow my to continue.

I hope that the hon. Member for Oldham, West will listen to what I have to say. The House will expect him to make clear his views on industrial action. I take it, from what the hon. Gentleman has just said, that he is opposed to industrial action to seek to preserve the dock labour scheme.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fowler

No, I shall not give way—not even to my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), and certainly not to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts).

The hon. Member for Oldham, West made a statement about what was reported to be his attitude. He now refuses to make any statement about his view on future industrial action. If he intends to make that clear in his speech, the House will listen to it with interest. He will also have to say whether it is Labour party policy to restore the national dock labour scheme. Few people would understand industrial action, and even less the hon. Gentleman's backing of strike action for a scheme that the Labour party would not restore, even if it were to form a future Government. Those fundamental questions must be addressed in the debate.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the labour party's attitude, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has just said that he made no such statement about a strike. I have the transcript of "BBC Lancashire News— of 10 April 1989. After being asked about whether there would be a strike, the hon. Member for Oldham, West said: then frankly we have no alternative but to support, if there were a strike.

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Member for Oldham, West has a great deal of explaining to do. The hon. Gentleman characteristically says to audiences what they want to hear from him. We shall want to hear tonight what precisely is his attitude, and that of his party, towards a strike.

The first dock labour scheme was approved by this House in 1947—over 40 years ago. At that time the ports covered by the scheme accounted for virtually all our trade and employed 80,000 dock workers. The work they did was labour-intensive and at best semi-skilled.

The position today is radically different. Dock work has been transformed. It is now capital-intensive and it requires a permanent labour force with the skills to operate sophisticated equipment. There are now 140 employers providing jobs in dock work in the scheme ports, compared with over 1,500 in the 1950s. Fewer than 14,000 dock workers are now employed in all our ports, of whom 9,000 are in scheme ports. It is only improved output, taking advantage of new technology, which will guarantee continuing good pay and conditions for all port workers. The dock labour scheme can provide no such guarantee. On the contrary, the scheme ports have increasingly lost ground to the ports outside the scheme.

The Government are now asking Parliament to bring the dock labour scheme to an end in 1989. It has manifestly become irrelevant to the needs of a modern port industry and it is manifestly damaging the efficiency of the scheme ports. In 1947, Parliament created the statutory monopoly in our scheme ports. Only Parliament can end the statutory monopoly of dock work and abolish the dock labour scheme.

The Bill is vital to the future of our ports industry. More than that, it will remove a major barrier to the expansion of business and employment in this country. I believe that this measure is in the best interests of the ports now covered by the scheme, that it is in the best interests of port areas where development is now being constricted and, above all, that it is in the best interests of all the people working in the ports industry.

5.46 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

Despite the long diatribe to which we have just been treated by the Secretary of State on the dock labour scheme, the Bill has a great deal more to do with political diversion for the Government than with what is happening in the docks. There has been no unrest in the docks for several years. Productivity in scheme ports has been bounding ahead, as it has in non-scheme ports. There was no mention of abolition of the scheme in the Tory party's 1987 election manifesto.

The Government are slipping fast in the polls. All their main policies—for the National Health Service, for the poll tax and for water privatisation—are deeply unpopular and they are in desperate need of a scapegoat to provide an alibi for the continuing series of unprecedented trade deficits and the likely run on the pound that the Chancellor's bungling is expected soon to bring about.

Mr. Sayeed

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, not for the moment.

That is not just my view. It was confirmed by Tory Members of Parliament on 12 October 1988—more than six months ago. The Channel 4 programme "Dispatches" broadcast a documentary entitled "Trouble on the Waterfront", which discussed the dock labour scheme at length. During the programme the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold)—one of the leaders of the Tory Back-Bench campaign for abolition—said: I think we could well have a sudden announcement rather than a preview in the Queen's Speech. The programme presenter then immediately spelt out what was meant.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I shall give way in a moment. The hon. Gentleman need not be so anxious.

The programme presenter then made perfectly clear what was meant by those words. He said: Saving it"— that is, abolition— for a politically rainy day is the third option. Tory MPs and industry sources have suggested to Dispatches that should the Government get into serious difficulties, e.g. over the balance of payments, then they would use the repeal of the Scheme to rally their supporters and public opinion against the unions.

Mr. Arnold

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that I was right on both counts? The proposal was previewed in the Queen's Speech in the words, "Other measures will be laid before you". It has now been well presented, and bang on time.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman has let the cat out of the bag. He was exactly right. He is one of those who were in the know about it. He knew about the long-term contingency planning taking place in the past 18 months. A Channel 4 programme six months ago blew the Government's cover on the introduction of this Bill as revealingly as the Ridley plan did for the miners' strike. Both documents exposed the Government's long-term plan to use industrial provocation for political ends.

Mr. Sayeed

The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the Government have introduced the Bill to improve their electoral chances. That must mean that the proposals are popular with the electorate. If people like the Bill, why does the Labour party act against their wishes?

Mr. Meacher

If the matter is so politically popular, why did not the Government include it in their manifesto in 1987? I use the words "gratuitous industrial provocation" because it is instructive to compare the ways in which the Government seek to bring about radical changes in three different areas. In the case of the legal profession, we had three Green Papers and a gentlemanly debate in the other place. [HON. MEMBERS: "Gentlemanly?"] It may not have been so gentlemanly, but at least it was a debate. The Lord Chancellor has been taking notes and listening attentively to all his critics and we now read in the press that the Government are having second thoughts about such matters as the licensing of advocates and possibly on contingency fees. When 100 High Court judges are so incensed by the Government's proposals that they threaten to take industrial action to disrupt the courts, they are given a ticking-off behind the scenes but publicly they are politely offered a four-month extension to the consultation period.

What a contrast we have with the dockers. In their case, there is no consultation whatever. They are abruptly handed down a White Paper and—this is without precedent in my experience—a Bill is introduced the very next day. No doubt the proceedings on this Bill will be more telescoped than the proceedings on any major Bill this Session. Under the present Government, there is one law for the professions and another for working people. For the lawyers, we have change by consent—for the dockers, change by compulsion.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Does the hon. Gentleman think that a dock strike should be called, and if one is called, will the Labour party support it? Would a future Labour Government bring in legislation to reintroduce the scheme? Would they activate the scheme as it would have been activated under the Dock Work Regulation Act 1976?

Mr. Meacher

The only people who want a dock strike are the Government. I do not believe that the employers want a dock strike and we know that the dock workers do not want a dock strike. If there is a strike, it will have been caused wholly by the Government's gratuitous provocation. I unreservedly condemn that provocation which places responsibility for whatever transpires squarely on the shoulders of the Government.

Mr. Fowler

Does the hon. Gentleman propose to return to the point about industrial action, or is that all that he has to say about it? That is an important point for the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Does the Minister want a dock strike?"] The whole House will want to hear the hon. Member for Oldham, West condemn industrial action. I condemn industrial action. Does he?

Mr. Meacher

For one who made no attempt whatever to discuss the matter with those directly involved, the Secretary of State is suddenly becoming remarkably interested in consultation. He should have consulted the right people at the right time—that is to say, earlier.

Let us consider the Government's current struggle with the doctors about the National Health Service proposals. A week ago at Question Time we heard the Prime Minister say of the proposals: They are not meant to be a specific blueprint and we will, of course, consider representations."—[Official Report, 11 April 1989; Vol. 150, c. 737.] How different that is from her treatment of the dockers.

I noted that the Secretary of State said that the role of this House should not be disrupted and that this was a matter for Parliament. He said that he did not want to prejudice the talks which are to take place tomorrow. If the dockers and their leaders make representations to the Government on enforceable guarantees to prevent a return to casualisation and on other matters, will the Government consider those representations?

Mr. Fowler

The whole of the dock labour scheme should be debated. The proposition is before the House, and the decision is for both Houses of Parliament. There will be a Committee stage, during which we can go through the Bill in detail. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham, West asked me a question. Precisely the same parliamentary procedure has been adopted as was adopted when the scheme was first implemented. The House still wants to know whether the hon. Gentleman backs industrial action.

Mr. Meacher

Can the right hon. Gentleman give one other instance in which the Government have brought forward legislation affecting an entire industry and not consulted the people in that industry or their representatives?

Mr. Fowler

Can the hon. Gentleman give one instance when the Transport and General Workers Union has not made it absolutely clear that it is not prepared to negotiate in any way, shape or form? That has been its attitude.

Mr. Meacher

If the right hon. Gentleman believes that, he is quite wrong. I am sure that the leaders of the TGWU would be perfectly prepared to enter discussions with him about the future of the industry and the dock labour scheme. Am I to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's previous answer that he is agreeing to that?

Mr. Fowler

I am most certainly not agreeing to that. The provisions have been on the statute book for 40 years. There has been one opportunity after another for the TGWU to seek reform and change, but on every occasion it has refused.

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman has made crystal clear his unwillingness to enter into discussions because the Government are hell bent on a strike. The right hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to prevent a strike by entering into negotiations with leaders of the dock workers and the TGWU. I am convinced that the strike could then be avoided and we could have a negotiated settlement on the future of the industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman do that?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman keeps accusing me of being hell bent on a strike. That is totally untrue. The hon. Gentleman continues to wriggle and refuses to denounce industrial action. The time has come for him to stand up and denounce industrial action.

Mr. Meacher

I have said that we certainly do not want a strike. We want a negotiated settlement. The right hon. Gentleman can deliver a negotiated settlement. All that he has to do is to say at the Dispatch Box today that he is prepared to enter into negotiations. The fact that he is not prepared to make that statement will make it absolutely clear to everyone in Britain that if there is a strike, he and his Government will be the cause of it. [Interruption.]

I am well aware of the Government's claim, which the Secretary of State repeated, that there has been ample negotiations by the employers about the scheme. I realise how the Government reached that conclusion, because the Government's view of negotiations is, "I talk to you about an issue, and you agree with the decision that I have already made." That is their view, but the relevant national joint council minutes stretching back over the past seven years do not bear out the claims made by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister.

The NJC minutes of March 1982 spell out the agreed proposal to set up a joint seminar on the future of the industry. Crucially, the minutes state: it was noted the the Working Party did not intend that the Dock Labour Scheme should dominate the discussions". In other words, the joint discussion between the two sides over the next three years was not, and was not intended to be, primarily about the dock labour scheme.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I will finish this point and then give way.

It is also perfectly clear from the minutes that the trade union side repeatedly stressed that it was ready to enter joint discussions on the future of the industry. It made that clear in March 1982, August 1982, December 1983, February 1984 and March 1986. I will give the House just one example. The minutes of December 1983 state: the workpeople indicated that they were prepared to enter into a joint discussion on the future of the industry within the NJC Executive Committee". They continue: they also considered that at the same time as any joint industry discussions, there should be contact with Government Departments to establish the Government's view of the ports Industry's future as part of a total transport policy.

Mr. Prescott

The scheme is part of ports policy.

Mr. Meacher

It is all part of the same thing.

In March 1986, after the conclusion of the seminar on the future of the industry, the minutes state that "Mr. Connolly", the joint secretary on the trade union side, recalled that when the Workpeople's Side had wanted to start a dialogue on the future of the industry with a view to a joint approach to the Government, the Employers' Side had declined to do so". It is perfectly clear that the trade union side has at no stage been unwilling to enter into discussions, and the employers' side has blocked a joint submission to the Government. As it is a matter of critical importance for the next few days, in view of what I have read out, I repeat my question to the Secretary of State. Will he consider representations made to him by the trade union side which in the past it has been prevented from making jointly? Will he consider those representations?

Mr. Fowler

I should like to know why Mr. Connolly said on 24 February 1987, as reported in Lloyd's List: The policy of the Docks and Waterways group has not changed. There will be opposition to the amendment or revision of the scheme, and that opposition will take the form of a national dock strike". That is what Mr. Connolly said. He has never denied that he said it and he set out the position most clearly.

Mr. Meacher

There is a very simple way of resolving the dispute. Mr. Connolly and the docks section of the TGWU are ready to discuss the matter with the Government, but the Secretary of State will not do so. The simple way to resolve the matter is to ask Mr. Connolly. Will the Secretary of State ask Mr. Connolly to negotiate?

Mr. Fowler

I shall not. There is now legislation before the House. I remind the hon. Gentleman that in 1986 the Secretary of State for Transport asked Mr. Connolly to negotiate but he totally refused.

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman is making terribly heavy weather of this. Instead of relying on Lloyd's List for a telegraphic service, why does he not have the guts to invite Mr. Connolly to meet him face to face and to ask him?

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

The hon. Gentleman just read out the minutes of the NJC of 19 March 1986 and quoted what Mr. Connolly said. He stopped at the words, the Employers' side had declined to do so.". Why did the hon. Gentleman not read out the rest of what Mr. Connolly said? The minutes continued: He doubted however whether the employers wanted that kind of discussion, and suggested that they wished instead to talk about abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme. He said that the trade union were not prepared to discuss abolition of the Scheme.

Mr. Meacher

Absolutely. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) might like to listen to my answer instead of laughing like a hyena. It has always been the union's position that it would not discuss abolition independently of a discussion about the future of an integral ports policy. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should understand that there are two genuinely different views between the employers and—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman merely giggles aimlessly because he does not have the slightest interest in the argument.

The employers simply want to bring about the end of the dock labour scheme. The union's position has always been that it will discuss changes, modifications and improvements in the scheme within the context of a total ports policy. There is nothing remarkable about what Mr. Connolly said. One might have expected that a Secretary of State in a constructive Government not hellbent on confrontation—[Interruption.]

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend. We are talking about the future of families throughout the country, but the conduct of Conservative Members is worse than anything I have ever seen in the House. If only out of respect for those who will be affected by the legislation, can you make them show some decency towards those families throughout the country?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I regret that there is an excessive amount of sedentary noise from both sides of the House. I hope that we can continue our business in a more orderly fashion.

Mr. Meacher

One might have expected that a Government faced with genuinely incompatible views between employers and trade unions with regard to the future of an industry would set up a committee of inquiry or some similar body in order to assess objectively the submissions from both sides and to make recommendations. It is deeply deplorable that the Government have done the exact opposite and sought to establish a fait accompli in the most partisan possible manner.

I can understand why the Secretary of State is so reluctant to set up an objective committee of inquiry. The last time he did so, it backfired in his face. Spurred on by the Prime Minister's denunciation of the film and television industry as the last bastion of restrictive practices, he set up an inquiry which reported last week. The right hon. Gentleman must be desperately embarrassed about this, or he ought to be if he is not completely brass-necked. The Government's committee concluded that the labour practices in the industry were not against the public interest. Indeed, it went further and defended the closed shop on the grounds that it helped to regulate a casual labour market and provided a badge of skills competence.

The docks industry is not a closed shop, but both those arguments apply strongly to it, so it is no surprise that the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues are unwilling to set up an independent public inquiry into the future regulation of the docks industry. They are afraid of what the conclusions might be.

I should make it clear that Parliament ought not to pass the Bill unless and until five central issues concerning the operation of the dock labour scheme are satisfactorily resolved. The Secretary of State in his speech today was so busy knocking the scheme that he scarcely bothered to acknowledge these issues, let alone resolve them. I beg him to believe that there is genuine and deep anxiety that the abolition of the scheme will lead to the return of casualisation in the industry. Naturally, the employers have put out a press release to say that that will not be so, but lest anyone is taken in by that press release—clearly the Secretary of State has swallowed it hook, line and sinker—I remind the House that that was exactly what the employers said in 1970 at the time of Devlin II. They stated that they had no intention of returning to casual labour and that every man would be allocated permanent employment, but within 18 months, following the collapse of two companies—Southern Stevedores and Thames 65—they tried to reintroduce the casual system by returning the men to the temporary unattached register. The Secretary of State may screw up his face, but that is what happened.

The employers' assurances on previous occasions were clearly groundless and there is no reason to doubt that history is about to repeat itself. Anyone who doubts that need only consider the words of one major port employer—Mr. Peter de Savary—who has just announced plans to bring back casual labour on his new terminal on the Isle of Grain.

On a Channel 4 programme—I quote from the transcript—he said: There will be a combination of permanent dockworkers and casual dockworkers. That's a necessity of the industry. There can be no clearer signal that the employers expect and intend, in an industry where traffic constantly fluctuates, to reduce to a core labour force and employ the remainder on a casual basis. In Liverpool and south Wales, there have been recent attempts to do exactly that.

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)

I had hoped to speak later and to remind the hon. Gentleman that he referred to this matter in a speech after my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that we intended to abolish the scheme. The managing director of Highland Participants, the company which will run Mr. de Savary's project, said that it would not be possible to run a container port of the type it has in mind using casual labour. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is trying to frighten dockers.

Mr. Meacher

I can see the problem facing Conservative Members. However, the person in control of the project is the employer, Mr. Peter de Savary. I am afraid that I accept his view of what is likely to happen rather than that of a manager.

Mr. Fowler

Geoffrey Parker, the managing director to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) referred, has given a clear assurance that that is not the case. As the hon. Member for Oldham, West understands, Mr. Geoffrey Parker is an experienced ports figure and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept his assurance.

Mr. Meacher

If that is so, why did Mr. de Savary make those remarks and why has he not withdrawn them on the advice of his manager? If I can be told the reasons for that, I may give a little more credence to the hope and a prayer being offered by the Secretary of State.

Dr. Godman

Casual dock work has already returned to the lower Clyde. I received a communication from the chairman of the docks branch in Greenock which said, among other things, that a shipping company which has recently moved to Port Glasgow has hired a third party to take on dock labourers on what ranges from a casual to a buckshee basis. By the words "buckshee basis" Mr. Cannie, the chairman of the docks committee, means that the so-called shipping company is paying backhanders to men on the dole who are desperate for work of any sort. Therefore, we on the lower Clyde have experienced the return of casual dock work.

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend has made a relevant reference. We know that there is already in the non-scheme ports casualisation at a level of about 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. The key point is that it will gradually seep in because of the fluctuations and oscillations in docks traffic. That is precisely the problem. Because of the forces of competition, on which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are always so keen, we shall be told by other employers, "We would like to provide full work but it is not possible because we are being undercut by other employers." That is precisely what we expect to happen. The press releases issued by 93 per cent. of the employers in the National Association of Port Employers are worthless compared with those economic forces.

I want to say something about the genuine disputes over hiring and firing. The employers complain that it is a "jobs for life" scheme. We have heard that so many times. That can hardly be the case when there has been a cut of 47,000 in the number of registered dock workers in the past 15 years—a reduction of 80 per cent. Dockers can be sacked and are sacked for justifiable reasons such as misconduct. Registered dockers have a right not to be dismissed without cause and when most of them have worked in the industry for 15 years or more, they have a right not to be made redundant without entitlement to severance payment.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I have given way enough and I must make progress, because time is moving on.

Bearing in mind—the Secretary of State referred to this—the oscillations and the peaks and troughs in traffic, there is a small measure of surplus labour which in 1987 was 9.5 per cent. However, the point to be remembered is that, under the system of casualisation before the scheme there was an average labour surplus per year of 31 per cent. That shows the improvement that has been made under the scheme.

Employers have made the surplus bigger than it should be. In the past few weeks, Associated British Ports sought to employ 50 casual, non-registered dock workers at the port of Barry, while it reported a surplus of 40 in Cardiff, which is only six miles away and has a facility for daily transfers. If employers behave in such a way, of course there will be a surplus of labour.

There has been a huge propaganda barrage against the scheme and allegations of restrictive practices. We do not condone cases which have no industrial logic and which are often the result of slack management. That is why we stated in our transport policy document in early 1987, before the last election, We shall review the operation of the Dock Labour Scheme.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Labour party's election manifesto. Let us suppose that the Labour party forms the next Government. Would a Labour Government review this legislation?

Mr. Meacher

We shall do what the Government are so reluctant to do—get port employers and the union around a table and regulate the industry as is necessary in the circumstances.

The truth is that many of the restrictive practices that were criticised in the White Paper result from the long-term and acute skill shortages that have been caused by employers' reluctance to train registered dock workers. Standby arrangements—so-called "ghosting"—have rightly been widely condemned, but employers preferred those arrangements to training dock workers. Those same employers are using the arrangements to blame the union for costly restrictive practices.

The Government and employers have cited—the Secretary of State mentioned this when he announced the White Paper—welting or bobbing, which means being paid when one is not at work. The incidence of this is relatively rare, but where it occurs it can and should be dealt with under the dock labour scheme disciplinary procedures. [Laughter.] Conservative Members may laugh, but perhaps the problem is the weak and feeble management of ports. There is no need to get rid of the dock labour scheme to get rid of such practices.

Objection is made to dockers' guaranteed minimum daily pay, but many people receive such pay. Doctors do not lose their pay if patients do not turn up. Duty solicitors who are on standby over the weekend are paid even if their services are not needed. High Court judges are paid for the 10 or 12 weeks outside term when they are not trying cases. If dockers do not have the same right, we shall return to casualisation, which perhaps is what many objectors want.

Despite all the talk about restrictive practices, productivity in scheme ports has been exceptionally high.

Mr. John Townend

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I will not give way.

There has been a 730 per cent. increase in productivity in terms of added volume per worker in 20 years. Few industries can match that record.

A further complaint made by employers against the scheme—the Secretary of State made special reference to this—is that it has driven port investment and jobs elsewhere. Major investments have been announced for scheme ports such as Immingham, Southampton, Bristol and London. I note from the annual report of Associated British Ports that there is major current or planned investment at King's Lynn, Goole, Hull, Ayr and Swansea. Investment is being made at Newport and Tilbury in new berths and terminals to the value of £8 million to £10 million. Of course there has been rapid growth in the non-scheme east coast ports, but that primarily reflects major changes in cargo handling techniques and the shift in trade to Europe. For exactly those reasons, other schemes on the east coast, such as Ipswich, have grown fast.

Mr. Townend


Mr. Meacher

I will not give way.

The White Paper—the most propagandist and partisan that I have read for many a year—claims that 50,000 jobs could he created if the scheme were abolished. That is simply repeating the conclusion of a paper prepared for port employers by an organisation called WEFA. The quality of work in the paper is laughable. The estimate of 4,200 new jobs for dockers is based on nothing more than an assertion by employers. Not surprisingly, the report has been described as an exposition of the prejudices of the port employers with a bit of maths thrown in to give it scientific validity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who by?"] It is an excellent description, is it not? [HON. MEMBERS: "Who by?"] I describe it like that, and I am happy to do so because that is exactly what it is. It is not my description, but that of another body. [Interruption.] It may be Lloyd's List. It is disreputable for a tendentious and virtually worthless report to have its conclusions reproduced without qualification in a White Paper.

Another charge made against the scheme is that it increases costs, but employers do not say that its administrative costs are negligible. Of the £7 to £15 per tonne charged in scheme ports for cargo handling, precisely 1.5p can be attributed to the scheme's administration. The levy pays for the medical and welfare amenities that most decent employers should provide. The biggest cost is voluntary severance arrangements, which are recouped later in higher productivity, and the Government meet half the redundancy costs.

More important, employers do not say—because of their obsession with vilifying the scheme—that a much bigger part of the extra costs that they have to bear compared with their European counterparts arises from charges levied by the Government, including lighthouse dues, pilotage and Customs charges. Employers recently estimated that lighthouse dues alone could amount to £20,000 per call for a large vessel and well over £1 million per year for a single line. The Department of Transport estimated that they accounted for one seventh of the adverse cost differential between British and continental ports. As if that were not bad enough, in 1987 the Government announced a 14 per cent. increase in light dues and sought to raise a further £1 million a year by levying light dues on fishing vessels of a certain size.

Those Government-imposed charges, which employers have described as a "real and dominant deterrent" to ship-owners, have caused the substantial loss of trade in British ports. If the Government are genuinely concerned about freeing our ports for 1992 and the Channel tunnel ILIA, why do they not remove that major cause of excessive handling costs? In European ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, such services are provided free.

The central point is not that other European countries do not have a dock labour scheme and we do, but that they have a national plan for the development of their port industry and we do not. Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have a dock labour scheme which provides for the direct involvement of a trade union and dock workers in recruitment, training, welfare, medical services and redundancy.

The difference arises in two vital respects. First, competitor countries value their ports as part of their basic national infrastructure and therefore give them heavy Government support. Every coastal EC state on the continent—with the single exception of Denmark—provides either 100 per cent. or near—100 per cent. subsidies for port investment in and maintenance of maritime access channels, lights, buoys, navigational aids, sea locks, exterior breakwaters, docks, quays and reclaimed land. Britain is the only country which provides none of those aids. A spokesman for Associated British Ports recently confirmed that that, and not the labour scheme, is the reason for the considerable cost disadvantage faced by British ports.

Secondly, unlike Governments in countries across the North sea and the Channel, the British Government have no national plan for port development. For example, on the Humber there are dozens of small ports. The area can already handle 20 per cent. more trade than it has ever had, yet new ports are being built and there are plans to build many more. A similar story of duplication, confusion and petty proliferation exists in other parts of the country. By comparison, the European ports, which the Government cite in the White Paper as being efficient, are massive because their Governments have a deliberate policy of concentrating on major ports to gain the maximum benefits from economies of scale. For that reason, Rotterdam handles nearly 40 million tones—50 per cent. more than London and three times more than our next three largest ports, including Felixstowe.

The Government's view was set out by Lord Brabazon, the Minister for shipping, on a Channel 4 programme. His remarks are worth quoting verbatim. He said: We have a free market policy. Market forces prevail. We believe the market is best to decide where new investment should go and which ports should be used by the ship-owners. He then added the immortal words: The policy is, as such, there is no policy. That just about sums up the Government policy. That is why, in the run-up to 1992, we have been overtaken by so many European ports.

The Bill involves just one proposal—the abolition of the scheme—but abolition is no panacea. Far more fundamental problems, on which the Government: are completely empty-handed, need to be resolved, including the lack of a national ports policy, planned investment or positive industrial relations. The Bill is the product of confrontation ideology and political opportunism. That is why it offers no answers for the future of the clocks industry.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has already said that speeches delivered between 7 and 9 o'clock will be limited by the 10-minute rule. I hope that those who speak between now and 7 o'clock will bear in mind the constraints upon their colleagues.

6.32 pm
Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) seeks to defend the indefensible. He has not done a very good job of it today. It is intriguing that he has backtracked on the statement which he made only one week ago, that the Labour party would support a national dock strike, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) pointed out—and the hon. Member for Oldham, West was unable to deny. On BBC Radio Lancashire news, a week ago this evening, the interviewer, Mike West, said: The Labour party have made it clear it would support dockers if they decided to take strike action over the Government's decision. Shadow Employment spokesman Michael Meacher says the Government were taking a reckless gamble, and the Labour party would have to stand by the dockers. The right hon. Member for Oldham, West replied: frankly we have no alternative but to support, if there were a strike. Clearly, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West has attempted to backtrack on that statement. So, too, has his leader.

On the same evening of 10 April, the Leader of the Opposition, interviewed by David Walter on BBC television's "Newsnight" programme, said: If it is necessary…for us to declare our solidarity for dock workers in their efforts to sustain operations and to maintain the continuity of dock working, then the Labour party won't be found wanting. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the Labour party will be found wanting yes or no? Will the Labour party back such a strike, as the right hon. Gentleman said just a week ago? [Interruption.] I give way to him—[Interruption.] My apologies—I meant the shadow Secretary of State. I see that he does not wish to intervene —instead I give way to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway).

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Does not the hon. Gentleman understand the simple point that, if there is a dock strike, the Opposition will feel it necessary to support the workers? However, we do not want a strike. Given his famous name, would not the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) accept that it would be better to get round a table and have some jaw-jaw, rather than war-war with the dockers?

Mr. Churchill

I see no reason why there should be any war-war. I am delighted that the Shadow Secretary of State has thought better of his earlier intemperate and reckless commitment.

Mr. Alan Roberts


Mr. Churchill

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute.

Significantly, the hon. Member for Oldham, West refused to give a straight reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), who asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would pledge the Labour party—if it were ever again elected to government —to reintroduce the dock labour scheme. The fact that the hon. Gentleman has failed to answer that question is significant because it meant that the dock labour scheme —even in the Labour party's eyes—is now a dead duck.

Mr. Leigh

Does my hon. Friend also recall that the Shadow Secretary of State refused to answer my four questions—including one in particular? I asked whether, if there were a Labour Government, they would activate the dock labour scheme, as Lord Callaghan's Government wanted to do. Such an activation would bring many other industries into the scheme—including those miles from the coast—and result in many industries not wishing to set up in scheme areas. The effect of the scheme on employment is worrying and it is that upon which we should focus our debate.

Mr. Churchill

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am conscious of your request for brief speeches, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I wish to confine my remarks principally to the port of Manchester.

Mr. Allan Roberts

There is not a port of Manchester.

Mr. Churchill

The hon. Gentleman says that there is no port of Manchester. A significant part of the reason for that is the dock labour scheme. In its heyday, the port of Manchester employed nearly 10,000 people—including 3,500 registered dockers. In 1965, the port of Manchester moved 16 million tonnes, which represented 5 per cent. of the nation's imports and exports. By 1987, that figure had slipped to below 10 million tonnes, less than 2 per cent.

The demise of the port of Manchester was, above all, due to two factors. The first was technological evolution —specifically, containerisation and the move to larger vessels. But secondly, there is no question but that restrictive practices and endless unofficial strikes and the dock labour scheme—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) thinks it funny to destroy jobs by endless unofficial strikes and restrictive practices. Those factors played a key part in the demise of the port of Manchester.

Operations at the port of Manchester, which was a scheme port, were plagued by inter-union squabbles between the Transport and General Workers Union, known as the white union, and the stevedores' union, known as the blue union.

The TGWU would not allow employers to negotiate with the blues and neither union could control its members. The Opposition Chief Whip is well aware of the problem—he has similar difficulty controlling his hon. Friends.

It took just one militant on a bicycle to go around Manchester docks with a bull horn yelling, "Everybody out," for everyone to down tools. Disputes and unofficial strikes were endless, and ultimately customers and operators went elsewhere—to Felixstowe and the continental ports. This was one of the principal reasons why, in 1982, Manchester Liners, a key part of the operations into the port of Manchester, abandoned its home port and went elsewhere.

After 80 years of operation between 1898 and 1979, the port of Manchester virtually ceased to handle general cargoes. The dock labour scheme acted as a barrier between employers and employees. Its aim, laudable in its time, was to provide regular employment, but it has long since outlived its necessity. Today it is an anachronism. The Secretary of State has today assured the House that there will be no return to casual labour in the docks—an important assurance.

The dock labour board proved utterly incapable of resolving the many disputes that arose in the port of Manchester and other scheme ports throughout the country. This inability was inherent in the board's make-up: The chairman might be a Socialist and his deputy a Conservative. Unions and employers took turn and turn about to occupy different positions on the board. Its constitution almost guaranteed that there was no means of resolving any impasse that might crop up.

Today, the only cargoes going into Manchester by sea and ship canal are oil and chemicals, apart from grain to Cerestar in Trafford Park and a little scrap metal and lumber. There are no general cargoes any more, and there is no question but that the dock labour scheme played a significant part in the demise of the port.

The port of Manchester is now coming alive, but not as a port. It is coming alive with the transformation of the Salford docks into upmarket housing and of Trafford wharf into a series of significant high-tech industrial developments. As long as the scheme existed, the port had no future.

It is no coincidence that the non-scheme ports have thrived, while the scheme ports have declined in relative or even absolute terms. The Opposition have accused the Government of bringing forward this measure precipitately. This is nonsense. If anything, the Government have been too dilatory about scrapping the outdated dock labour scheme. Its abolition is long overdue. I warmly welcome this measure and the generous severance terms for any dockers who will lose their jobs within 18 months. This is a fair and necessary measure, and I wish it well.

6.44 pm
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

One does not have to search far to discover the real reason why the Government have introduced this Bill, callously and cynically, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said. They have made no effort to debate the subject in the House and given the unions no opportunity to discuss it with the employers. They are rushing through the Bill as quickly as possible.

Everyone who knows the industry is aware of the Government's reasons for abolishing the scheme. When discussing why the scheme existed, Minsiters have in the past accused me of being out of date and living in the 18th or 19th centuries. When the national dock labour scheme was introduced in 1947 it had to be forced on the employers, who were unwilling to change the industry from what it then was—an industry of hyper-exploitation and low pay which imposed misery on those who worked in it and ignored the conditions in which they worked. The Government tell us, by implication, that employers do not act like that today, but I am afraid that I do not trust them. I do not trust any employer who wants to remove the rights—not the privileges—that have been achieved by dock workers over generations to enable them to stand against and remove the excesses of ruthless employers.

It is not only the dock workers who are affected. Many books have been written about the poverty of the dock areas, which affected the women and children in dock workers' families, too. Anyone who has read these books will understand why intervention of the sort enacted in 1947 was needed. It was possible, right up to the 1950s and beyond, for employers to come into the port industry by putting a wooden hut on the quay and bringing with them three or four wire strops—and they had a business. They were responsible and accountable to no one. If the Secretary of State would listen to me he might learn something. He has clearly shown today that he knows nothing about the docks industry, except what he has heard in the Goebbels-like propaganda that keeps being repeated about bobbing and ghosting and restrictive practices. In many cases these practices are to do with rights that have been negotiated with employers, who are being allowed to hide behind the Government's skirts.

The employers and those who represent the Conservative party never wanted the scheme in the first place. It gave workers rights that they wanted to deny them. One of the aspects of the scheme that really hurt the Conservative party and the employers was that for the first time in the history of industrial relations in this country a degree—only a degree—of democracy was introduced to the business of hiring and firing. The Conservative party and its backers outside will not tolerate giving workers a say in determining whether their employers have been justified in sacking them. This has nothing to do with casualisation or decasualisation. It is part of the Government's continued and relentless attack since 1979 upon the trade union movement. That attack was designed to weaken the movement so that it could not respond to the ruthless nature of some employers.

All the signs are that the employers are taking great advantage of the Government's policies on industrial relations. That is the central issue. It has been argued that the dockers have been resistant to change. I am long enough in the tooth to have gone to the docks in 1946 after spending eight years at sea, including the war. At that time the docker's only equipment was a hook in his belt and he picked up a hand bogey when he went into the dock. The dockers did not decide on that method of work.

At that time labour was cheap and there was plenty of it. Sometimes men went to the docks for work and were sent home for three days or a week. No wonder that was an attractive proposition to employers and it made them resist change in the docks industry. Labour was a cheap commodity available at any time and often without pay, and employers exploited that to the full. That is why there was no capital investment in the ports which would have changed methods of work and the lives of dock workers.

What have we seen since that time? Instead of the hook and the hand bogey there is now capital equipment each piece of which is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, perhaps £250,000, and that equipment is operated by dock workers who were trained in the industry. There are side loaders, tug masters and other high-tech equipment. The industry is being transformed and the number of dockers is down from 80,000 to just over 9,000. In the pre-war era and in the immediate post-war era Liverpool employed up to 20,000 dockers and had a shipbuilding industry employing the same number. That has all gone and there has been no compensation and no replacement with new industry.

In the general election campaign the Prime Minister paraded around the country talking about her fears and saying that she wanted to do much for the inner cities. Liverpool is still a port-dependent city and by what they are doing the Government will make the situation there and in other ports in the north a damn sight worse than it is at present. We should lay bare the deception of the Government in putting forward this pernicious legislation.

There is no doubt that the campaign against the scheme has been carried out with the support of the employers to the accompaniment of howling and baying by Conservative Back Benchers. The scheme is seen as the last bastion of trade union power and has to be removed because, ideologically, the Conservative party and the employers do not like the phrase "workers' rights". Those rights were forced upon employers. Now the Government say that they want to remove that and give the employers a free hand. To do what? It will enable employers to return to casualisation and to sack the shop steward who is a bit of a lad, a bit of a nuisance who may cause problems for employers. The joint boards can decide who shall be sacked and the Government see that as ending his complete control over hiring and firing.

The Secretary of State appears to be chosen for the most outrageous tasks in the House, and that was illustrated by his performance on the review of social security that has left families all over Britain impoverished. People such as old-age pensioners are pleading for something to be done about what the Secretary of State did when he held another office. He has brought that philosophy and attitude to this industry.

It is clear that the Conservative party and the employers have waged a carefully orchestrated campaign and they see this as the most convenient and appropriate time to bring it to fruition in a most cynical and ruthless way. I am surethat in the long term the Government and employers will have to pay a price that they would not be prepared to pay if they knew the outcome of their policies. I do not have a crystal ball and do not know what sort of case will be presented by the employers and the trade unions.

The Government argue that they are a Government of non-intervention. However, their intervention is always in areas that affect workers and their rights and where they affect the benefits conferred on workers by the first post-war Labour Government, such as the Health Service and the welfare state. They do not like local authorities. They intervene everywhere except where it affects capital, the power of capital and the City. They have seen a shift of power and they want power handed back to the port employers. The dockers are quite right to use every method that they can to stop the Government's reckless actions. I shall give my support to dock workers for whatever action they take. They deserve it and they are right. For generations they have assisted other workers in dispute and in struggle. At the end of the day victory will be theirs.

6.56 pm
Mr. David Davis (Boothferry)

I shall start by declaring an interest as a director of Tate and Lyle.

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman is a part-timer.

Mr. Davis

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East calls me a part-timer. After he made that allegation last year, I looked at our relative voting records. I was in the top 100 because I voted 338 times. The hon. Gentleman voted in just over half the Divisions, on 248 occasions—90 times fewer than me.

I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) on one matter. It is that, when the legislation that created the dock labour scheme came into being, it dealt with a real evil, the evil of the casual system as it stood then. The hon. Gentleman also explained why it is no longer a real evil. Time and technology have transformed the ports. He talked about expensive equipment, and that there may be cranes costing £500,000 or £1 million. People are not called off the street for half a day to operate a £1 million crane. A manager with a high capital investment in a port is interested in maintaining a continuous, maximum throughput. He has the same interest as the well-trained man who wants a permanent, highly skilled job. That is what has done away with the casual system.

Dr. Godman

It is possible to bring highly skilled, professional men from the streets to work for a short time —if they are unemployed. That is precisely what happens in my constituency with shipyard workers.

Mr. Davis

There are not too many unemployed heavy train drivers or container operators.

The second point is that, in a company with a very high capital investment, there is pressure on the management to keep the throughput up, to keep sales up—precisely the same interest as that of men who want to have permanent jobs. There is no interest in having an "up and down" shipping pattern.

I want to pursue some of the issues that were raised by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). He referred briefly to a number of malpractices that we have heard talked about. He said that ghosting was a result of unwillingness to train. In my port of Goole, there is a cement operation which unloads from self-discharging cement ships. When the ships come into port they are linked in one movement by sailors. There is no other work to be done, yet the customer has to pay for two dockers to ghost. I do not know how that would be dealt with by training; it is a simple additional useless cost.

Let us go on to bobbing and welting. In my port of Goole there are Swedish liner services. When the lines come in, 27 men are allocated to them. They need 18, so nine men go home—they "bob off" or welt. That does not arise from weak management; it arises because the manning levels are set by the joint board for the whole port. There is nothing that the management can do about it. There is no way in which it can negotiate its way out of that option.

Let us consider discipline. In Hull and Goole, which for this purpose are one area, 12 people were dismissed between 1980 and 1986. All 12 were reinstated. Among them was one man who had been convicted of smuggling and had gone to gaol for seven months. Despite the fact that he had committed a criminal offence, and the fact that that offence related directly to his work, he was reinstated when he came out of gaol. That sort of thing, plus similar gaolings for theft and other offences related directly to the work of the ports, is what drives customers away from those ports.

On the Humber, there are a number of scheme ports. They are all on deep water, are all served by motorways and railways, and all have good facilities, yet customers go to little ports at the end of country roads—ports with no railways, or shallow water in fast-running rivers—precisely because they cannot bear the costs, the malpractice and the unpredictability of the scheme ports.

Mr. Prescott

The National Ports Council called for a report on the small wharves in 1972. It found that the capital costs in schemes were three times higher.

Mr. Davis

Precisely—17 years ago.[Interruption.] I will correct the hon. Member if he will pay attention. I was talking about the period 1980–86, when the proportion of the Humber throughput that was dealt with by private wharves increased from 15 per cent. to 21 per cent., entirely because of the terrible practices in these ports. The hon. Gentleman has attempted on many occasions to rubbish my arguments. He says that I do not know what I am talking about. Before coming to this House, I started work at the bottom of a transport company. I worked my way up to the position of managing director, and had to deal with problems of this sort. Hon. Members can decide for themselves which they consider to be the more useful experience: that, or serving gin and tonic on a Cunard liner. [Laughter.]

Mr. Prescott

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; it would have been easy not to do so, and the laugh would have been sustained.

People can make their judgments about the character and ability of hon. Members. I gave the hon. Gentleman the evidence of the National Ports Council, which is still relevant. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman must address.

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman should learn to use the evidence of his own eyes. He should go and look at some of these ports. What is the advantage in going down a tiny country road to a port on a fast-flowing river that can be used only at marginal times by small ships? The hon. Gentleman's argument is ridiculous, and there is no point in pursuing it.

Mr. Prescott

The Government accepted it.

Mr. Davis

Seventeen years ago the Government accepted some other things, including this scheme.

This practice drives trade to other ports, and, as we have seen in the White Paper, it drives trade abroad. In 10 years, the share of intercontinental trade going through European ports has increased from 4 per cent. to 11 per cent. In other words, it has more than doubled in that period.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West referred to the WEFA report. He said that he did not like it. I, too, read the WEFA report very carefully, and was rather sceptical about it because, after all, it was sponsored by the port employers. But I was surprised by something different. The report completely ignored the concentration of trade going through the ports after 1992. We must expect, particularly on the H umber and in the north-east, a massive expansion of trade through ports—if the ports are viable. I am thinking of firms like Toyota, Nissan and Fujitsu. I understand that when Toyota went to Derby, the first thing it asked was, "Which is the way to Felixstowe?"—from Derby, for heaven's sake. My judgment is that the WEFA report under-estimated the employment that would be created by the abolition of the scheme. It will not be 50,000 but 100,000 jobs by 1993.

This Bill gives registered dock workers the same rights as are enjoyed by the dock workers in Felixstowe, where there was a 21 per cent. increase in cargoes last year and therefore, an increase in recruitment, and where up to £700 a week was paid to dockers. In conjunction with Dover, that part has had more investment than the rest of the scheme ports put together. [AN HON. MEMBER: "And not a penny from the public purse."] Exactly—not one penny from the public purse, but no casualisation, yet massive investment and growth.

I must draw to a close quickly, as the 10-minutes rule is in operation. I tried to look charitably at the perspective of the Labour party and the trade unions. I looked very carefully, and, like the Secretary of State, I found it very difficult to tie them together.

Mr. Prescott

Did the hon. Gentleman talk to them?

Mr. Davis

Yes, I talked to them as well. In a minute I shall come to the question of talking to the unions. It is an interesting point.

Let me summarise Labour's position. It seems to be to support a strike that cannot be won, to sustain a scheme that it knows is wrong, against a reform that it will not reverse. That is not particularly logical. Opposition Members cannot fault our laws, but they fear their own paymasters. They accuse us of provocation.

Mrs. Mahon

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier, I raised with Mr. Speaker a point of order about declaring interests. Mr. Speaker told me that he had replied in full to it last week. When the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) started his speech, somebody said, "part-timer". The register of interests says that he is a director of Tate and Lyle plc. May I have your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker? In view of the concern outside this Chamber about the amounts of money that Members of this House are earning on a part-time basis, would it be in order for the hon. Gentleman to declare how much he gets from Tate and Lyle, exactly what he has to do to earn it, and whether what he is now promoting constitutes an interest?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for me. At the start of his remarks the hon. Gentleman did declare that he was a director of Tate and Lyle. Whether the rules for the Register of Members' Interests require him to go beyond that is a matter of doubt.

Mr. Davis

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let us get back to the subject. Opposition Members did not like my reference to their paymasters, which is where their real interest lies. What do they really believe? In the past five years, there have been five attempts by the employers to negotiate with the unions—five attempts, five rebuttals, and any number of strike threats. However, I too was sceptical, so in January of this year, at a conference on the dock labour scheme, at which John Connolly was present, I raised the issue of negotiation. Mr. Connolly said no. He said that he was not interested in it.

The Labour party is not the same as the trade unions, so last year I introduced a ten-minute Bill proposing, a negotiated settlement to the scheme.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he is also now working within a 10-minute rule.

Mr. Davis

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am coming ton my last point. When I introduced my Bill, I said: 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 crucial date of 1992."—[Official Report, 11 May 1988; Vol. 133, c. 321.] That offered four years of negotiation, but the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East and for Oldham, West voted against it. Where is their interest in negotiation now? Where is their interest in representing anybody except the 9,000 dockers? This Government and this party represent the 100,000; that is why we should not negotiate.

7.10 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

As the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) said, the historical reasons for introducing the dock labour scheme in 1946 were valid then. As the Minister of Labour at that time said, the labour market was such that only the fittest survived. However, in the first part of his speech, the hon. Member for Boothferry also gave us examples of how that system has become anachronistic and outlived its usefulness.

If there is any merit in consistency, I can point out that, in an amendment to the Loyal Address on 25 November 1975, the Liberal party tabled an amendment in which we said that we regret that the Gracious Speech contains proposals for the docks which, if carried out by an extension of the areas covered by the National Dock Labour Scheme, will lead to further unemployment in those areas, further strangulation of Great Britain's successful ports and higher costs and inefficiency."—[Official Report, 25 November 1975; Vol. 901, c. 681.] History has shown those remarks to be relevant.

In a sedentary intervention earlier a member of the Front Bench referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who has made his position clear. I remind the Minister that, as recently as 10 March 1988, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment said: I cannot believe that the mere abolition of the scheme would have all the desirable effects that they seem to believe." —[Official Report, 10 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 600.] If he has changed his mind in a year, I have some time to persuade my hon. Friend to change his.

The 1975 amendment referred to "higher costs and inefficiency." We have heard already today of practices such as ghosting and bobbing. Inevitably, the costs of these practices have been passed on to the consumer. In competition with both non-scheme ports and continental ports, many of the registered scheme ports have undoubtedly lost out. The "jobs for life" provision is not part of the statutory scheme. Rather, it is a result of the Jones-Aldington agreement. It has meant that dockers have been retained on at least basic pay. This has led to overmanning and levels of employment have been reduced only through voluntary redundancy which, since 1972, has cost the taxpayer some £420 million. As a consequence, the labour force has aged. For example, in the port of Tees and Hartlepool, there is a shortage of labour but there is also a reluctance to recruit new labour, and no one working at that port is under 35.

The amendment warned also of the strangulation of Great Britain's successful ports". Some have suggested that the scheme should be allowed to wither on the vine. I disagree with that suggestion because, as the White Paper says, the scheme operates in ports that have been in existence since 1945, and are our best ports, because of strategic and geographical positions and water depths. Earlier this year, the great historic port of Aberdeen, with a history of 800 years as a fishing port, came within an ace of losing that fishing trade as a result of the scheme. As Aberdeen's fishing interests have declined, there has been an increase in the use of Peterhead as a fishing port.

The amendment also warned that the scheme would lead to "further unemployment". Much of the unemployment has resulted not from the scheme but from the changes in technology and the move from the west to the east. The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) referred to the difficulties at the port of Manchester, many of which are due to the fact that the Manchester ship canal is not capable of taking the larger ships on which so much trade is now carried.

The dock labour scheme can hardly be said to be a guarantee of employment. Since 1972, only the ports of Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Poole have shown any increase in employment. I suspect that this increase, certainly in the cases of the first two and possibly in the case of the last, is related to oil and gas developments in the southern basin of the North sea and the English channel. The figures speak for themselves. Let us compare the figures in 1972 and 1988. In London they are 11,702 and 1,703; in Hull 2,064 and 665; in Liverpool and Birkenhead, 8,401 and 1,395. Clearly the scheme is not a guarantee of employment.

Replying to an intervention from the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts), the Secretary of State dismissed lightly some of the achievements made by the dock labour force in places such as Liverpool. In spite of the decrease in employment, there has been a considerable increase in productivity, and other advances. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) would want it to be recorded that, since 1982, Liverpool has been a profitable port. Last year, it made a pre-tax profit of £5,885,000, some 56 per cent. up on 1987. The port's industrial record has been transformed and tonnage has steadily gone up, with a 10.2 per cent. increase in 1987, to 19.5 million tonnes.

Although Liverpool has shown great adaptation to circumstances and the capacity to develop as a port, we cannot overlook the fact that, according to figures that I have seen today, there is no registered docker in Liverpool under the age of 35, and the average age is 47.8. That is a matter for concern.

Mr. Loyden

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wallace

I should like to give way, but I have only 10 minutes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand. If these ports are to develop and take the opportunities, new blood must be introduced and the present scheme does not encourage the port employers to do that.

So far, much of the debate has concentrated on consultation. Introducing a White Paper one day and publishing a Bill the next is provocative, to put it mildly. I hope that Ministers will agree to consultation and that the unions will have a meaningful dialogue with the port employers. If the unions insist on changing a statutory scheme to a voluntary one, discussions will never get off the ground.

I can understand, from my examination of the history, the anxieties about the wide-scale reintroduction of casual labour. Why should there not be discussions between unions and port employers to try to get some contractual, negotiated guarantees that there will not be the reintroduction of casual labour, as the port employers have suggested? The general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union said that he found that as convincing as the statement that the National Health Service is safe in the hands of the Prime Minister. Perhaps with some negotiation he can get some firmer guarantees.

There must also be negotiations about training after the interim period changes. My understanding is that, on 1 January, regulations that would give non-scheme ports a requirement to do with training functions came into being. What will happen after the transitional period to the provision on training in the scheme ports? The training of new recruits for those ports is needed above all else. If we are passing legislation to end that scheme, we cannot leave training hanging in the air without any sign from the Government about what they see as the provision of training for new recruits once the scheme is abolished and all ports become non-registered.

I and many others believe that the abolition of the scheme will lead to an increase in jobs and employment opportunities in many ports, but it is expected that initially there will be a fall-off in employment. A reduction of 10 per cent. has been mentioned by some. That will be a matter of concern for those who are most directly affected. However, the redundancy terms are generous and many, especially those aged 50—about 40 per cent. of those who work in registered dock scheme ports are of that age—may be tempted to get out and to take the terms that are on offer. If they do, it is important that provision should be made to assist them in retraining for other forms of employment in addition to giving them money. I believe that getting out and taking the terms will be an initial response to the Bill.

There will be opportunities in the long term, not least as a result of the competition that will come as we march towards 1992. We can look towards more jobs being created in many of our ports. As the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) fairly said, there is a need for a strategy for the ports, and that will not be introduced automatically through the operation of the free market. Many of the ports on the west coast, not least on Merseyside and the Clyde, can be entrances to the European Community for trade coming from north America. The Government have been silent on how they would like to see the ports develop the opportunities that are available to them, especially those on the west coast, in 1992. My parliamentary colleagues will support the Bill but we want to hear more ideas from the Government on a general port strategy.

7.22 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

I am glad to have been called to contribute to the debate. The Southampton docks, which constitute one of the largest scheme ports, have been one of my most prominent political problems since I entered the House. We have heard this evening about the rights of workers but we have not heard much about workers who were made unemployed as a result of numerous strikes. We have not heard much of the ancillary workers who suddenly find that the port is not working, which means that their employers give them the sack and perhaps re-engage them later.

I suppose that the Southampton docks have suffered more than most docks. The port was derelict for over 12 months from 1981 onwards. We had a succession of strikes and as a result the entire city began to suffer. No passenger ships came in and the channel ports operation ceased. The roll-on/roll-off activity moved to Portsmouth. That trade was lost. The atmosphere of the city was blighted by the atmosphere of the port. During this period there was a more militant approach to employment than one could even hazard a guess at merely by being in a place such as the House of Commons.

There was an extremely fierce chief shop steward. Fortunately, that man took his redundancy pay about four or five years ago. I believe that he is now managing a public house in Southampton. He led a militant bunch of shop stewards who were only too anxious at any time to impose new obligations on employers.

The Conservative party cannot be exonerated completely from blame for the legislation that was built up to form protectionism. It was during the time that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister that we agreed to the Jones-Aldington arrangements. That was perhaps the greatest and most powerful lever that we gave to registered dock workers. There were two significant features of the arrangements. The first was that port employers would have to pay a basic rate—I believe that today it is near £150 a week—to any registered dock worker, even if there was no work to do. Secondly, and most serious of all, he survivors of the then strike had to take up their percentage of the dock workers who no longer had an employer. The costs of port employers escalated and at the end of the day there were very few employers. Townsend Thoresen became so fed up with the system that it decided to move to Portsmouth. That was one of its main reasons for the move.

The passengers of the Cunard shipping company had to manhandle their baggage when the dockers claimed that that was part of their dock work. The QE2 had to go to Cherbourg on one of its trips to off load and load passengers. They were flown out from the United Kingdom and flown back. The baggage had to be handled by French dock workers. The problem was that registered dock workers were beginning to get a jugular-vein grip on the scheme ports.

I do not blame the dockers. The Labour Government presented a scheme and a Conservative Government added to it the two conditions to which I have referred. If I were presented with Christmas every day, I would not refuse it. I would say, "No, I do not really want all these guarantees. I do not want to have a job when all those around me are losing theirs." My response would be, "This is obviously a good trade union agreement and we must stick to it as a matter of life and death." Unfortunately, it was the life of the registered dock workers and the death of many port employers. I imagine that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) was a dock worker for many years. He said that the rights of the workers were such that they had to be protected. He appeared to have a wrong-end-of-the-telescope view of the problem. Not all dock workers are registered dockers. Indeed, in almost every port the registered dockers comprise only about one third of the labour force.

It has emerged clearly this evening that those on the Opposition Front Bench are running pretty scared. They know that there has been disagreement. I have a cutting from my local newspaper in which it is stated that the dock union chief in Southampton "slates leader Todd". The article reads: TGWU docks officer Dennis Harryman said the union's executive should have plumped for an immediate ballot for strike action rather than Mr. Todd's policy of deferring the ballot". The article continues: 'Ron Todd has fragmented things by giving those ports who don't want to come out a legitimate way out of strike action' When there is such discontent near the top of a large trade union, we must suspect that there will be trouble for the Trades Union Congress and for the Labour party. The Labour party has realised this and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has obviously been given instructions to play down what he has been saying and what has been read out on so many occasions today.

As a constituency man, I can go only from what I read in my local newspaper. It has printed a good but short letter by someone who obviously knows a great deal about the ports. He writes: 'The furore caused by the Opposition and the trades unions over the abolition of the docks labour scheme strikes me as being hypocritical. Here we have organisations who are supposedly opposed to privilege and class distinction upholding working practices which, if applied to the workforce of the whole country, would be unworkable, resulting in bankruptcy and mass unemployment."' I do not know whether I go along with that fully, but there is certainly a reason for abolishing the scheme. I am surprised it has lasted so long—and I am surprised that the Labour Government did not kill it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it destroys jobs. It is as plain as that.

In the future, when the scheme has been abolished, there will be further work in the port of Southampton. The Bill does not mean the end of those 700 dockers' jobs—it is a beginning. We have heard that the more aged dockers can now receive a redundancy payment of £35,000, practically unheard of in any other industry—and, in any case, we need to bring fresh people into the dock work force.

The main thing that I like about the provisions is that in future workers in the port will be able to identify with an employer rather than be moved about at the whim of the dock labour board. There is a lot to be said for the Bill. I hope that it will have an easy passage through Committee and that it will be on the statute book by July.

7.30 pm
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

Two versions of events have been given in the debate. One version has been given by Conservative Members, who generated the baying, howling and screeching that accompanied the initial announcement of the Bill. They have made deliberate attempts to attack the arguments of my hon. Friends, who are those most likely to have had experience of working in, rather than managing, the docks. Therein lies the difference in attitude.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) has considerable hands-on experience not only as a member of the Transport and General Workers Union, but of working in the docks. When we read the report of the debate in Hansard tomorrow, that difference in attitude will come across clearly. I shall not go over the ground so adequately covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston, save to associate myself with all his comments. Instead, I wish to knock some of the suggestions that have been put forward about why the Bill is required at this time.

The city of Dundee lies on the River Tay. For many years it has required the port to bring in the main sustenance for Dundee's manufacturing base—jute. Although Dundee has a long history as a port—dealing not only, but mainly, in jute—its history has not been recognised in the comments of the Secretary of State or his hon. Friends. In Dundee, which is a scheme port, approximately £1 million will have been invested by the Dundee port authority in the period 1986 to 1992. That investment has been made because the authority is confident of a return on it. Not only will that investment be made until 1992, but even now it is predicted that it will rise to £2 million after 1992. Dundee port authority can make that commitment because of its confidence in the adaptability and flexibility of its partner, the Dundee Stevedore Company, and in its dock-worker employees, all of whom are committed to the long-term prosperity not only of the port but of all the people who live in Dundee.

The Dundee dock workers created the stability which led to the ending of the scandal of 250,000 tonnes of Scottish grain going south in lorries to lie in stores before being exported from ports in the south. In 1979, the port of Dundee handled 800 tonnes of grain. With a change of management in the 1980s and a new determination to work with the Dundee Stevedore Company and the dockers, four new sheds were built, and a new grain elevator and mechanised handling equipment were installed. As a result, the figure rose in 1988 to 128,000 tonnes of Scottish grain being exported from a Scottish port.

That investment by the Dundee port authority has been possible because of the good working relationship in the scheme port of Dundee where there are no shareholders to pay off. There have been record profits because prices have been held steady for two years due to the flexibility and adaptability of the work force and, indeed, are likely to rise this year and next year by no more than the rate of inflation. As I have said, there are no shareholders to pay off, and because of the money that the port has managed to gain from the EEC there has been massive investment and development in Dundee itself. The authority's investment in Dundee's future started long before the Secretary of State's announcement in the House. Dundee is a scheme port and working together has meant that it has been able to provide for its long-term future since long before the announcement.

The Secretary of State is no longer in his place, but in his absence perhaps I can address this point to the Minister who is present—the Minister for Public Transport, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo)—and ask him whether, having started the precedent of using selected quotations from selected newspapers in support of the abolition of the scheme, the Secretary of State will accept quotations from the same Scottish newspapers about the abolition or otherwise of the poll tax in Scotland? I suspect that, if we asked the Secretary of State whether he accepted the views of those newspapers on the poll tax as it applies to Scotland, we should get a quite different response.

As the Secretary of State has referred to the efforts made by the port employers to discuss the scheme, may we have on record the dates when the port employers officially wrote, offered or asked for negotiations or when such requests were made formally, across the table, during negotiations? Let us have on record the dates of the five occasions when that occurred.

The Dundee port authority is convinced that it does not need these provisions to ensure a profitable port in Dundee. Speaking the day after the Secretary of State's announcement in the House, the chief executive of the port authority, Captain John Watson, said that he had been taken by surprise, as he was sure had a number of people in the industry, by the speed with which the Government intended to proceed. He added: The battle cry of late seems to have been get rid of the scheme with little done by anyone to assure registered dock workers that there is life after the scheme. Like other employers, the Dundee Stevedore Company has now responded to that statement. I remind the House that prior to the scheme, there were 68 companies in Dundee which hired men, mainly on a day-to-day basis, in much the same conditions as those outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston, which were not only archaic but an insult to the workers and to any form of employer-worker relationship.

The Dundee Stevedore Company has made it quite clear that, because of the amount of work and because of its duty to those who use the port for jute, paper and BP oil, there should not be any reduction in the number of dockers employed in the port. The chairman, Mr. Ronnie Caldwell, has confirmed that to me today. More importantly, he confirmed it to the dockers in a letter last Friday in which he gave a guarantee that there would be no return to the system of casual labour and said that he looked forward to working with a skilled, competitive and motivated labour force. He emphasised the need for management and employees to work together to take advantage of the competitive opportunities which exist. I emphasise that that was said against the backdrop of a good working relationship.

When I have asked dockers how they respond to those comments, naturally they have said that they are happy to hear that initial statement from their employer, but they have made the point that there is a thing called agency labour and that it is already used by several ports. It is also used in other industries in which there is a core work force, but where there is no continuity of employment. Continuity of employment should be a vital component of any new agreement. The dockers would not be asking or expecting too much to expect that the negotiations should start now so that conditions similar to those that they now have can be discussed and perhaps agreed with their present employers.

The port employers say that they want to talk to the workers and the workers say that they want to talk to their employers, but they want to ensure that those discussions are not held in an atmosphere in which pressure is being put solely on the workers to give up something for which they have fought and struggled for many years. The Government could help that process by making clear in Committee exactly what they would like to see replace the dock labour scheme, and what guarantees they intend to provide to the industry's workers.

A characteristic of those who work in the ports is fear and uncertainty about an industry whose history is one of regulation being required to ensure decent, hurnane working conditions for those working in it. I do not want a return to the days when dock workers had to go round the various pubs in Dundee—whether it was Black Jock's, the Market Bar or Brady's—and bribe the gaffer with drink, and the next morning have to remind him or scrabble about on the ground for the few pegs that were left because the gaffer had forgotten that he had been paid the price of work the night before.

We want the industry to be regulated. That regulation can only come through discussion, and the workers want that discussion. We shall not support the Bill because of the deliberate attempts by the Government to take away rights hard fought for by workers in an industry which requires regulation.

7.41 pm
Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West)

I intervene briefly, because there are no docks in my constituency. However, the towns of Andover and of nearby Basingstoke are major customers of ports, and in this debate I speak for the customer. Much of industry's competitive ability is affected by the cost of transport and of handling commodities through our docks. Cargo handling is more expensive in United Kingdom ports than it is in continental ports, to the disadvantage of our country's manufacturers, jobs and prosperity.

The first question that arises from the debate is whether there is now a case for treating the 9,400 scheme port dockers differently from the remaining 3,600 port workers. Listening to the debate, it is clear why dock workers used to need different employment arrangements. I may be an unlikely ally for the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)—who has not yet caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—but on many occasions during the 20 or more years since I entered the House, I have heard the hon. Gentleman speak out against the evils of the old system of casual labour.

I agree with the hon. Members for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), that the system of hiring casual labour was abhorrent and that employers behaved unacceptably. I join Opposition Members in looking back with anger at what used to happen. However, that was many years ago. Today, we must consider instead the current situation, by examining the non-scheme ports.

Today's dockers in non-scheme ports are well paid. Many of them are better paid than those working in scheme ports. They are represented by the same trade union, and casual labour accounts for only 6 per cent. of their work force. That figure is comparable with the percentage of casual workers in catering and in many other industries, including no doubt many of the services with which right hon. and hon. Members are provided through the facilities of the House.

The dock labour scheme may have been the right answer in its day, but times have changed. The House should look at the downside of that scheme. First, there is the downward spiral to consider. A port or firm may suffer contraction, perhaps because it deals in a certain commodity, or because, as in Liverpool, of our trade with the European Community and the expansion of cargo handling through east coast ports. The contraction may be due to a commodity such as leather being replaced by plastic, or to some other change of pattern in trade.

Whatever the reason, some firms within a particular port will suffer a decline and go out of business. When that happens, their dock workers are allocated to other employers who neither need nor want them. The consequence is a serious additional cost for those other firms, making their operations uneconomical and forcing them out of business. The downward spiral is exacerbated as their unwanted labour is in turn dumped on to other firms, who find themselves severely overmanned and bearing all the higher operating costs and disadvantages that follow from that situation.

That downward spiral has two further effects. First, the profits of the remaining firms will fall, so that they are unable to finance the costs of modernisation and of installing new equipment on the scale that they should. Secondly, as modern equipment usually requires fewer people to operate it, the overmanned firms have no case for investing in it. One of the major downside effects of the dock labour scheme is the extent to which it inhibits and damages investment in the scheme ports on the scale that would allow them to compete effectively.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) referred to investment in certain scheme ports, but it is way below the level required to achieve competitive, cost-effective handling of cargo through those ports.

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman is right, and he should give examples.

Sir David Mitchell

One can clearly illustrate the downward spiral by examining the way in which scheme ports have lost trade to non-scheme ports. Earlier, one of my hon. Friends spoke of the way in which manufacturers avoid sending their goods through scheme ports because of all the damage that comes from doing that. Felixstowe's trade has increased 14 times over the past 20 years, but at the same time we have seen a decline in the volume of trade at scheme ports.

Investment is the key to cost-effective movement of goods through our docks and ports. The abolition of the dock labour scheme will help to make more investment possible. I hope that the House will support the Bill, which will result in better-paid dockers and—speaking as the voice of the dock's customers—a better, more cost-effective service to manufacturers.

7.47 pm
Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

I am glad that I have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that I am able to pledge my full support for dock workers in Liverpool and throughout the United Kingdom. I speak on their behalf because I probably have more relatives employed on the docks than any other right hon. and hon. Member. More than 80 years ago my great-grandfather worked on the Liverpool docks, as did my two grandfathers and my father's brothers. Recently, my own brothers worked under the inhuman and disgraceful casual labour system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) spoke of the way that workers were hired in Dundee. The same was true of Liverpool dockers. They were treated like cattle, and were employed only if they bought the foreman or the ganger a pint of beer, or even because they were of the same religion. We never want to see such things happen again in the docks.

The Secretary of State says that abolition of the scheme will not mean a return to casual labour. However, I believe that employers will jump at the opportunity to make bigger profits at the expense of dock workers. In business questions last week, I suggested to the Leader of the House that right hon. and hon. Members who serve as consultants to port employers should not be allowed to participate in debates on the Bill or to vote on it. I was not satisfied with the reply from the Leader of the House, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) raised the same point with Mr. Speaker, he received a similar answer.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) said earlier, some employers are inclined to bring back casual labour. This is nothing but a deliberate ploy by the Government to provoke a dock strike. Thatcher dogmatism is showing its hand. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) put his finger neatly on the button last week when he said that the Government would find a strike very convenient in cutting imports. He also referred to the Government's failure to refer the scheme to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

There has been no consultation between the port employers and the TGWU. The Government have been influenced by Conservative backwoodsmen—many of whom have never seen a dock in their lives—especially those in paid posts who will gain if the scheme is abolished. There is also an unholy rush to get the Bill on to the statute book, when more important Bills such as the Children Bill are awaiting consideration. The port of Liverpool employed 25,000 workers 30 or 40 years ago. Now it employs fewer than 2,000. That does not say much for the argument that jobs are for life, which the House should recognise as a myth.

This Bill has been born out of party political considerations and expediency: action is being taken against dock workers in support of Tory dogma. I understand that Ron Todd, general secretary of the TGWU, is trying to open discussions with the port employers, but I shall support the Liverpool dockers whether or not they receive official backing for a strike. They believe and trust in us, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) has already spelt out what they have gone through over the years. Like him I pledge my support to the dockers, not only in Liverpool, but throughout the United Kingdom. We will not agree to any system that would bring back casualisation and use dock workers as chattels in the hands of unscrupulous employers.

I shall conclude my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker—as I know that more than 40 hon. Members are trying to catch your eye—by saying that Opposition Members will give full support to the dock workers, and will oppose the Tory Government's deliberate attempt to provoke a strike that no one else wants and to put the clock back many years.

7.53 pm
Mr. Mike Woodcock (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

It was the economist Milton Friedman who said that there is no such thing as a free lunch. He meant that in any industry, whatever the cost, someone somewhere must pay for waste, inefficiency, restrictive practices and a failure to come to terms with economic reality. Until a few years ago there were quite a few free-lunchers in my constituency: managements that refused to come to terms with market forces and trade unions that clung to restrictive practices.

The history of my constituency is intertwined with ports. Neston, on the Dee, was originally Nelson's dockyard; it later became the main port for Irish trade. Ellesmere Port, on the Manchester ship canal, was a great transit port between the canal boats of the Shropshire union canal and the ocean-going vessels on the ship canal. Now, however, the largest employers in my constituency are not the ports but Vauxhall Motors and Shell, which have important lessons for the docks industry and which also rely on that industry.

The Vauxhall site in my constituency was purchased by General Motors as a future expansion site for Europe. It could have been one of the largest vehicle manufacturing plants in Europe; instead restrictive practices, militant trade unions and repeated strikes ensured that almost all the investment went to Germany. As late as 1983 the Vauxhall plant in my constituency lost 60 man days per employee through industrial action; in 1987 it lost only two. Those figures illustrate graphically the change in attitudes over the past few years. Vauxhall has come back from the brink; there is new investment and a sense of reality, although the empty acres remain as a lasting monument to the missed opportunities of the 1970s.

Similarly, the Shell plant in my constituency was once the largest refinery in Europe. In the early 1980s, however, an independent survey showed that it was one of the most inefficient in terms of labour utilisation and working practices. It was overstaffed and full of restrictive practices; it was an unpleasant place to work; attitudes were counter-productive, and employees were not involved in decision-making. Many thought that the company owed them a living. Profit was a dirty word, and people felt that they had a right to a job without any commitment. It was yesterday's operation with yesterday's ideas and practices. Without a fundamental change in attitudes and values, the plant would have closed.

I am pleased to say that that plant now has a secure future. The company has invested massively; jobs are secure, and pay has increased. Why has that happened? It has happened simply because people recognised that there was only one forward and that a massive change in attitudes was required. As a result, the refinery at Stanlow is now a monument to the success of the second industrial revolution.

Stories like those of Vauxhall and Shell are commonplace, not only in my constituency but throughout the United Kingdom. But what about the docks industry? Today it is nowhere near as important to the local economy in my constituency. The silting of the River Dee has meant the closure of the port of Neston. The major part of the Ellesmere Port docks is now the national waterways museum: although a major tourist attraction, it is not a working port. Some docks remain: in particular, we have an efficient, modern container terminal and a regular roll-on/roll-off ferry service to the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the port would be much more efficient without the dock labour scheme.

Many registered ports in this country are overstaffed and full of restrictive practices. They abound in counter-productive attitudes. They are unpleasant places to work, where some people think that they have a right to a job without commitment or that others owe them a living. Those are fundamentally the same problems and attitudes that characterised Shell and Vauxhall, and the national dock labour scheme has perpetuated them. It has stifled initiative, development and enterprise.

Is it not ironic that the once great port of Liverpool, when it was registered in 1947, had a work force of 22,000? It now has a workforce of only 1,200, and no dock worker has been hired there for 16 years. There are dockers surplus to requirements and a shortage of work, and industrial disputes continue. By contrast, Felixstowe has seen prosperity. Wages are high: some workers are earning as much as £700 a week. Overtime is plentiful, and 2,000 people are employed. In the past two years the labour force has increased by 200. Last year the port handled 21 per cent. more cargo, and not a single day has been 'lost through industrial relations disputes since 1974. They are the sharp contrasts that highlight the capacity of the national dock labour scheme to stop progress and drive jobs away from registered scheme ports. Those attitudes and practices have not helped the nation, local economies or registered dock workers.

When trade unions abuse the privileges that the law has granted to them, ultimately it is rank and file union members who suffer. To mix metaphors, all those free lunches eventually come home to roost. As John Harvey-Jones, the ex-chairman of ICI remarked: the reality of the future is that the interests of trade unions, union members and management lie together. It is sad that entrenched attitudes have made the Bill necessary, but necessary it is. It is time for trade unions to realise the wisdom of John Harvey-Jones's words and it is time for Opposition Members to stop defending the indefensible. They do themselves no good whatsoever. They only show, yet again, that they are yesterday'smen with yesterday's ideas, yesterday's policies and yesterday's attitudes. The interests of dock managers and dock workers lie together. They lie in the abolition of this dreadful scheme.

8 pm

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

As one of yesterday's men, I am not delighted to follow one of tomorrow's casualties at the next general election.

Mr. Woodcock

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ewing


I am sure that John Harvey-Jones will not be pleased about having been quoted by a Conservative Member of Parliament in a debate of this nature. I know of no other industrialist in this country who has such a progressive outlook towards the trade union movement as John Harvey-Jones, whose reputation has not been enhanced by what was said about him by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock). I am sure that he would want me to defend him.

Earlier I raised a point of order and expressed my anger about the way in which Conservative Members were behaving. We were talking about people's jobs and the future of their families. In the few minutes that are available to me, I want to emphasise that point of order.

I do not apologise for my personal characteristics. I do not find it possible to mourn for the dead of Liverpool from 3.30 to 5 o'clock and then from 5 o'clock to 10 o'clock to bay at the dockers of Liverpool. What happened this afternoon was absolutely disgusting. I have never witnessed such reprehensible behaviour as that of Conservative Back Benchers when the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was speaking. They knew that he was dealing with the future of working people.

I put that on record for a deliberate reason. Like most other hon. Members, I make available to local newspapers the comments that I make in the House. I want everybody —Conservative, Labour, nationalists, Democrats and those of no politics—in the Falkirk, East constituency to understand the contempt with which my dockers were treated by Conservative Members during the early part of the debate.

The Secretary of State gave the game away. Part of the speech that he read and that he did not have time to change was written for him in the belief that today we should be at the start of a strike in the scheme ports.

Mr. Fowler

indicated dissent.

Mr. Ewing

The Secretary of State can make faces, but the fact is that the Secretary of State wanted, and still wants, a strike by the dockers.

Mr. Fowler

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ewing


The Secretary of State wants a strike. When he spoke at a dinner last Friday evening, the Chancellor of the Exchequer challenged the dockers to go on strike. That is why I am absolutely delighted that Ron Todd and John Connolly have managed, by their wise counsel, to persuade the dockers not to strike. If working people go on strike, they must do so on the grounds they choose, not on grounds chosen for them by the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Employment. They must go on strike at a time that they choose, not at a time chosen for them by the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Employment. Furthermore, they must go on strike when they have a reasonable chance of success, not when working people and their families will be trampled on, as they were effectively trampled on by the conduct of Conservative Back Benchers during the early part of the debate.

There are three elements to be considered in the ports industry, one of which has not yet been mentioned. The three elements are the port employers, the dockers and the shipowners. The shipowner plays an important part.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ewing

The hon. Gentleman has made a number of interventions. He should show some respect for dockers, if not for me, and be quiet for a minute.

The shipowner plays an important part in the development of the docks industry. Reference has already been made to the Scottish ports. Scottish shipowners are deliberately choosing not to bring their vessels to any Scottish port, be it a scheme port or a non-scheme port. They are paying the road haulage costs for goods to go from wherever they are manufactured in Scotland to Felixstowe, usually, because, from a shipowner's point of view, it is cheaper to steam his vessel into Felixstowe—it has nothing to do with the dockers who work at Felixstowe or at Grangemouth but everything to do with steaming costs—than to steam his vessel into Grangemouth. It is cheaper for him to pay the road haulage costs to take the goods to the vessel rather than to bring the vessel to the goods.

The effect that that has had on the Scottish economy ought not to be under-estimated. Until about eight years ago, 75 per cent. of all the goods manufactured in Scotland for export went out through Scottish ports. Nothing has changed, except that only 23 per cent. of the goods manufactured in Scotland for export now go through Scottish ports. The rest go down to Felixstowe because of the grid system, or the cross-subsidisation that is employed by shipowners. The Government will do nothing about it. The shipowners will eventually close the Scottish ports. The national dock labour scheme will not close them. That is why the Bill is such nonsense. It does not even begin to tackle the root of the problem.

After the shipowners have closed the Scottish ports, the cross-subsidisation will be withdrawn and the cost of taking goods from Scotland for export will be enormously increased. That is why one of our main industries, the Scotch whisky industry, is already taking steps to ensure that it does not fall into the trap that is being set for it by the shipowners. The industry is making arrangements—all credit to it—to construct a terminal so that it can export Scotch whisky from Scottish ports. As soon as Scottish shipowners succeed in closing the Scottish ports, the grid system will come to an end and cross-subsidisation will be withdrawn. There will then be an enormous increase in the cost of our exports.

The Minister tells us that the Bill is crucial. It is so crucial that it did not form part of the Gracious Speech or of the Conservative party's 1987 election manifesto, only two years ago. It did not need to be introduced at this time without discussion. The Minister does not want discussions. He does not want the port employers and the union to get together, let alone to speak to the unions. The Bill is about confrontation. That is what the Government have wanted since the middle of last week when the announcement was made.

The Bill has nothing to do with 1992 and the free market. If that is what it is supposed to be, it shows a complete failure to understand the nature of that free market. The Minister talks about the need to make our ports competitive for 1992. Why, then, did the Minister for Roads and Traffic come to the Dispatch Box some months ago and boast that this country has not taken a penny piece from the EEC regional development fund for transport to prepare our transport system for 1992? The French Government have taken 48 per cent. of all their rail network investment from the EEC regional fund to construct a brand new rail network to get their goods to their ports in 1992.

The Bill has nothing to do with 1992 and everything to do with destroying the rights of the workers. I shall not go into the Lobby this evening happily, but with great regret that it is necessary to oppose a measure designed to take dockers and the industry in which they work back to the Victorian age.

8.10 pm
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

I am glad to have the opportunity to correct the record so eloquently distorted by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing). I remind the House that the Labour party, which is supposed to care so passionately about the Bill, is represented in the Chamber by only about a dozen supporters. A few more were present earlier, but only a handful. That exposes the myth that the Labour party is doing its utmost to support the dockers outside. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East is distorting history and doing himself a disservice by suggesting that the bad behaviour has been on the Conservative Benches given that earlier there was a tremendous amount of raucous noise from the Opposition, who sought to howl down my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Mr. Speaker himself suggested that the noise was coming from both sides of the House.

I certainly have no interest—I am not trying to be pious —in embarrassing the Labour party; it is sufficiently embarrassed already on this issue. We have no interest in trying to make Labour Front Bench spokesmen look even more uncertain about their position. We have no interest, either, in embarrassing the leadership of the TGWU. We certainly have no interest in a strike. That is the first and significant point that I shall make.

We have heard a great deal of nonsense from the Opposition. Let us be sensible for a moment. A strike will do a lot of damage to the docks. It will do a great deal of damage to the industry that we seek to support, to the customers, and the companies and to employees throughout the dock industry. It would certainly damage the union. It will do much damage to the Opposition, who will be in a difficult position, and to the Government. Strikes damage the country, Governments and everyone else. We have no interest in a strike and there is no need or justification for a strike.

I share the views expressed by many Opposition Members and endorsed by Conservative Members that nobody in his right mind wants a return to the sort of casual labour system that, as we all recognise even if we did not personally experience it, was an utterly intolerable feature of the immediate post-war period. The scheme was introduced as a means of disposing of casual labour. Opposition and Conservative Members alike understand that the world has changed dramatically. It is a totally different world—highly capital-intensive with totally new techniques—and employers need a highly skilled professional labour force. There is no way that one could run the business on a casual basis. A representative of the National Association of Port Employers said: Over the coming weeks and months, I have no doubt that employers in each of the ports will he sitting down with their employees to discuss working arrangements which will enable them to realise the full potential of their port following removal of the Scheme and the extra competitiveness it will give the industry. The same press release says: We will not be returning to systems of casual employment, nor any variant of it. When the scheme goes, and before any legislation is passed, there should be negotiations between different employers and their work forces on new contracts of employment. That is the constructive way forward. The House has to make a decision about the abolition of the dock labour scheme. That is our decision. It has been made absolutely clear that the new contracts of employment will mean a guarantee that there will be no return to casual employment, and it is up to the employers and employees to negotiate that position.

Opposition Members ask why we are abolishing the scheme in this way. One might say that it has been done rapidly but, equally, many Conservative Members would say that it is 10 years too late. From the debate so far, it has been painfully clear that we are faced with a simple proposition. The unions have made it clear that they are not prepared to negotiate about the abolition of the scheme. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has made it clear that the unions are not prepared to negotiate about the abolition of the scheme independently of discussions about the future of the port industry. Let us not be naive about it: Opposition Members know, and we know, that the simple issue is the abolition of the scheme itself. There is little room to negotiate on that. There may be plenty of room for negotiations between employers and employees about different contracts of employment; so be it. We have a very simple proposition with very little scope for negotiating about the scheme itself, given the attitude of the trade unions.

Is it better to make an announcement and take six months of negotiation about something that is clearly understood by hon. Members and have six months of dispute, with threats hanging over the industry? Is it not better to deal with the matter quickly and cleanly and thus get both sides facing the key issue? The position that the Government have adoped is helpful to the industry, to the unions and to everybody. It means that a clear-cut decision will be taken rapidly. Is it not easier for Opposition Members to make up their minds about their position on a short time scale, rather than in a long drawn-out process of torture over many months ahead?

The hon. Member for Falkirk, East referred to the dock workers of Liverpool. Those of us in the south of England watched the port of London being destroyed by the dock labour scheme. The same was also largely true of Liverpool. The dock labour scheme has done more to destroy jobs in Liverpool, London and other ports than almost any other single factor. Those of us who are concerned about having a thriving port industry, preserving jobs, encouraging new investment and recapturing some of the trade lost to Europe say that we should end the scheme. We are the ones who are concerned about protecting jobs.

The Government's method of handling the Bill rapidly is for the good of the industry and is not provocative. We have no interest whatever in a dock strike, and I hope passionately that it will be avoided. The abolition of the scheme will generate a great deal more in investment and will be good for dockers' jobs in the futúre.

Finally, I have a story that might please the Opposition and might seem to make the Government's position more difficult. I represent a constituency which contains an immensely successful scheme port that has grown from virtually nothing 25 years ago to become Britain's sixth largest port in non-oil tonnage. It is a success story and I pay tribute to the management and to the registered dock workers who have helped achieve it. It was virtually a green field site and it is now the Medway port authority, operating from the port of Sheerness. But its growth could have been greater and will be dramatically greater when the restrictions are removed. The port is in the south-east of England, it has superb deep water, it is strategically located for the continent and has many investment attractions.

When the restrictions are removed, there will be increased incentives for new employers to take on much of the work that has not yet moved to the dockside, including much value-added work that could be done there instead of further inland. That has been deterred by the scheme and I have no hesitation whatsoever in forecasting that, in two or three years' time, the Labour party will have forgotten all about the scheme. The dockers concerned will be more confident, more highly paid and more optimistic about the future. The ending of the dock labour scheme is long overdue and its removal will add greatly to the prospect of extra industrial investment on the waterfront.

The Labour party proclaims that it is fighting for 9,400 registered dock workers, although it is not fighting very strongly. It is trying to retain privileges that are not enjoyed by other people working in the docks. There must be about 100,000 people directly and indirectly empoloyed in the docks in this country. Why is the Labour party fighting for the privileges of the few and neglecting the injustices that are thereby done to the many?

8.21 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I am not a natural friend of monopolies of any kind, but I believe that the Government are absolutely wrong to abolish in such a fashion a scheme that has served the industry well. First, it has allowed a managed rundown of the labour force in the docks and an essential transition to change in which the workers have co-operated because they have had confidence given by the scheme. Secondly, the scheme has provided good industrial relations in the docks. The days lost in strike per employee in the docks in 1987 were half the average for workers in transport generally. The third and most important effect of the scheme has been to put working people on a more equal basis with capital. That is why the Government do not like it. It has given the workers a say in their jobs and in the way in which the industry is run, and has placed emphasis on training, which is vital in the docks and which the management wish to cut back because they do not want to spend money. For all those reasons, it has been a good scheme and it is particularly wrong to abolish it in such a fashion, without consultation and at great speed.

The arguments adduced against the scheme are largely irrelevant. The scheme is not the major problem in the docks. There are two major problems affecting docks in Britain. First, the Government do not have a policy for docks but have allowed and encouraged a proliferation of small cowboy ports around the country, many of them on the Humber. That is in total contrast to what has happened on the continent, where there has been a concentration on big, well-invested and highly capitalised ports, with a skilled and secure labour force often in shemes like this, which has led to a concentration of industry in ports such as Rotterdam, Le Havre, and Hamburg. We cannot equal that because we are developing a small, cut-price, cowboy industry, scattered in smaller ports around the country.

Secondly, the Government have not provided the support and backing to finance the ports and allow them to compete effectively. It is all very well to talk about abolishing the dock labour scheme and to make it the bogeyman, but the Government do not support the ports by financing the light dues, the pilotage, the Customs and the subsidies which are provided on the continent and which are particularly important to the fishing industry. I have visited continental ports and observed their fishing industry. Our fishing industry, particularly in Grimsby, has to pay quite heavy charges to ABP. On the continent, the ports are provided, almost in the way the roads are provided, as a form of municipal service or Government finance for the industry. Continental ports receive hidden financial support, so our fishing industry cannot compete with them, whatever the costs of landing the fish.

The arguments for abolishing the scheme do not add up. They have been totally distorted to focus everything on one hate object—the dock labour scheme. That is sanctioning an entirely unacceptable approach. The arguments in the White Paper are intellectually shoddy. It is monstrous that the White Paper uses arguments from a piece of research financed by the employers in the docks, claiming that abolition would create 50,000 jobs. That paper was specifically prepared for the employers and suits their interests, but it was presented almost as scientific evidence in the White Paper. That is a measure of the intellectual shoddiness of the Government's argument.

More important is the Government's total failure to consult. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) to argue that the TGWU said that it would not consult on the abolition of the scheme, but in negotiations one cannot expect one side to give away its case before entering the negotiations. The union will negotiate only on the ports and docks in general, and the Government themselves have refused to have any consultation on the wider issues. It is ridiculous for the Government then to say that Parliament must take precedence over negotiations. The Government are using Parliament as a legislative rubber stamp and the baying Conservative Back Benchers will troop through the Lobby in favour of an argument that they do not understand and vote for the Bill and then claim that it is not a matter for consultation. That is elective dictatorship in action—an elective dictatorship based on 42 per cent. of the vote.

There is a total contrast between the way, in which the Government are operating with regard to the dock labour scheme and what they are doing about the national barrister labour scheme, which will provide riches for life for a small bunch of financially motivated men and woman —5,000 all told. As soon as a posse of geriatric militants in a fit of senile dementia threaten to throw themselves under the wheels of the stagecoach as it drives to the jubilee next month, the Government immediately announce that they will extend the consultation period and trail the fact that there will be a softening of Government proposals.

The only logical explanation for that contrast is that the Government want a dock strike to conceal the disastrous mess that has already been made in the trade figures and the further rise in interest rates that is yet to come. It is like a repeat of "Beyond the Fringe"—"At this stage in the class war, we need a futile gesture—let us provoke a strike and make the dockers the bogeyman." The Government want a hate object.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mitchell

No, I shall not give way.

The Government are in such a mess that they would like the trade figures obscured by a dock strike, but I hope that there will not be one. The dockers' leaders have acted very wisely in taking a proper legal approach on consultation and negotiation with the employers. I hope that the employers will negotiate seriously. They have a responsibility to negotiate on terms and conditions, the nature of the employment, the numbers and the manning levels when the scheme has ended. That is why the Government should delay the Bill until those consultations are concluded.

Finally, I wish to deal briefly with fish landings. There has been a particular problem in Grimsby, where there has been a decline in the fishing industry, not due to the lumpers being obliged to be dock workers, but to the shift of the fishing industry to Scotland and the decline in catches. There are 44 Jumpers who are registered dock workers landing fish in Grimsby. There are not sufficient workers for the peaks of landings. There are too few for continuity and for the troughs of landings. That has been made worse by the Grimsby Fishing Vessel Owners, who have detoured landings elsewhere to other ports and taken legal action against the dock labour scheme to give themselves more latitude.

Those factors are understandable in some respects, but they have hardened the resistance of the Jumpers in maintaining their conditions and not moving to productivity pay. They want a regular guaranteed income because the owners are detouring landings elsewhere and cutting the amount of fish that is handled by the lumpers. It is an inevitable human reaction. The Jumpers have now voted, as the Government have cited, to get out of the scheme because they want to earn more by being outside the scheme. What the Government do not tell us—this presupposes the bankruptcy of the landing company—is that they want severance pay. It is thus possible as a tactical manoeuvre for the landing company, which is trading at a loss, to go bankrupt after the scheme has been abolished and the lumpers will not be reallocated to the register but will qualify for redundancy pay under the legislation.

That raises the question how they will be replaced. This is where the employers' argument that there will be no casual labour falls down. The Grimsby Fishing Vessel Owners have long wanted casual labour on a daily basis, and the dockers have allowed supplementary labour on a weekly basis. In Grimsby we really need a hard core of professional landers, who are highly paid and hard working, with some casual supplement. The owners seem to want an entirely casual landing force. I should like a guarantee that there will be no casual labour—the Government have echoed this today—to be extended to fish landing. Does it or does it not cover fish landing? That is what we want to know in Grimsby.

This situation could arise only in a class-divided country such as this where each side sees the other as its main problem. The employers want to cut expenditure on training and wages and cut down the labour force in the docks. That is no triumph for the industry—because the employers are seeking to triumph over their own workers. As a result—and the same will now happen in the docks —the 1980s have been the decade when management, employers and owners have triumphed over their own workers and lost out to the Germans and the Japanese.

8.31 pm
Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich)

The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) spent much of his speech bemoaning the fact that goods are being taken to the south of England and shipped out to the continent through Felixstowe. I can tell the hon. Gentleman quite a bit about Felixstowe. It is a massive port just down the river from my constituency. Indeed a quarter of its work force lives in Ipswich. Its growth has been spectacular by any standards. A mere 30 years ago it was a totally insignificant port. By 1970, it was handling 2.25 million tonnes of cargo a year, by 1985 it was handling more than 10 million tonnes, and last year it handled 15,420,000 tonnes.

Geography and its proximity to Europe has played a part in its success, but it is not just that. I should like the hon. Member for Falkirk, East to consider why, when goods are taken south from Scotland, they go not to Tilbury, Southampton or other ports which have equal geographical advantages, but to Felixstowe. The key to the port's success has been that it has not been encumbered by the burden of restrictions, higher costs and poor industrial relations of the ports operating the national dock labour scheme.

I have a particular constituency interest in the Bill because not merely does a quarter of the work force of Felixstowe—the major non-scheme port—live in my constituency, but at the heart of my constituency is the port of Ipswich, which is a major container port in its own right and a scheme port. Ipswich provides a very interesting comparison. It too has expanded and prospered, although not to the same extent as Felixstowe.

It is not just geography that has helped Ipswich but the proximity of Felixstowe itself. The Ipswich dockers know that if the speed with which they turn round their ships compares too unfavourably with the dockers at Felixstowe, they will lose trade to Felixstowe. That has spurred Ipswich, under the able leadership of its chief executive John Evelyn, to become one of the most efficient and successful of the scheme ports.

The point—it is similar to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate)—is that, although Ipswich has been relatively successful, it has prospered despite the dock labour scheme. Absurdities such as ghosting and bobbing, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis), have held it back and prevented it from being more successful still. Other scheme ports with less favourable geographical positions and industrial relations, and without the competitive stimulus of the proximity of a highly successful non-scheme port, have suffered disastrous declines.

The damage done by the dock labour scheme has been not merely to the scheme ports and their work forces but to the areas around them. It has held back the growth of ancillary services and industries which would have been drawn to a successful and expanding port. All too often the scheme has produced an industrial wasteland around ports and compounded the economic difficulties of the towns and cities in which scheme ports are situated.

The damage goes deeper still because, through its inefficiencies and extra costs, the scheme imposes a levy on the consumer. It forces up the price of everything that comes through scheme ports, from food to cars.

Perhaps still more important is the damaging effect the scheme has upon our export trade. British exporters are hit twice. When they import raw materials, components or other intermediate goods through the scheme ports, they have to pay extra. When they import capital equipment through the scheme ports to improve their productivity, that pushes up costs too. They are hit yet again when they export through scheme ports. The scheme acts as a levy upon our consumers and a double levy upon our exporting firms.

The termination of the dock labour scheme will bring benefits all round. It will reduce costs, help our exporters and regenerate decayed and depressed areas around many of our scheme ports. Above all, it will enable managers to manage effectively.

The non-scheme ports have, in many respects, the best record of security of employment for their employees. For example, I give the employment record of the port of Felixstowe. In 1959 it employed just over 200 workers; by 1970 it employed 686; by 1980 it employed 1,340 and this year it is employing 2,030. That does not take full account of the extra employment and prosperity which the success of that port has generated around it.

The abolition of the dock labour scheme will bring benefits to consumers, exporters and the country as a whole and, in the long run, to the people who work in the ports.

8.38 pm
Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)

I listened with fascination to the Secretary of State. He told us the scheme was an abominable practice and something that everyone concerned with efficiency and the good of the country abhorred. If that is what he thinks—it is not what I think—why have the Government waited 10 years to act and why are they acting now? Why are we getting precipitate action now?

Two or three weeks ago, it was evident that, if the Government took precipitate action, there would be a fairly strong reaction from the dockers, given their history and their anxiety about casualisation. There was bound to be a risk of someone in the Transport and General Workers Union saying, "We shall have to strike against this measure." In those circumstances, it would have been sensible to include these propositions in a Green Paper to forewarn people of the Government's thinking and to engage in negotiations.

The argument advanced by the Secretary of State that he cannot negotiate with the union because it has taken a hard line until now is nonsense. Anyone who has been a Minister in the Department of Employment, given its knowledge and history, knows that it is perfectly reasonable to take a hard line before negotiating. The Government could have said that they intended to abolish the scheme and then entered into negotiations.

Dock workers in my constituency are extremely bitter about what is happening to them and their colleagues throughout the United Kingdom. They feel that they are being set up by the Government. They are extremely bitter about the accusations of inefficiency and of being a Luddite group who must be removed to advance the greater good of the community. Ministers and Tory Back Benchers run around the country preaching the success of the British economy. According to the White Paper, 60 per cent. of national income is accounted for by trade and 40 of the 75 ports that deal with that trade are scheme ports. It does not appear that the scheme has been a major impediment to the Government's successful economic policy.

Dockers in my constituency believe that the problem is that the flow of trade has been much too effficient. In their view, which I share, the true reason for precipitate action is that the Government are running into deep economic trouble. The fundamentals of the economy in 1989 are not terribly different from 1979. The inflation problem cannot be tackled adequately; the balance of payments deficit is running at historically high levels; the level of the pound and its management remain beyond the ability of the Chancellor and the Treasury; and unemployment remains a serious factor. Employers and economists from brokers in the City of London are saying that unemployment must rise to maintain balanced management of the economy.

It was noticeable this afternoon, when the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) suggested negotiations, that the Secretary of State took refuge in the fiction that the Bill is before Parliament. The hard fact of life is that the House is controlled by the Tory Government. There would be no problem if they wanted to withdraw or suspend the Bill and negotiate with the Transport and General Workers Union.

Like other hon. Members, I believe that the reason for the precipitate action is that the Government want a strike. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) said that the Secretary of State does not want a strike. That may be true, but the lady in Downing street wants a strike. Last Tuesday, I listened carefully when the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) asked her about negotiations. In a dull Question Time, that was the moment when she came to light and became agitated and excited. She made it plain that negotiations were not on. She was for abolition and provocative action. It was evident from her body language and vibes that she wants a strike.

On 14 March 1989, the Government were saying, in a reply given by an Under-Secretary of State, that there was no intention of abolishing the scheme. On 20 March, a Green Paper was produced, "Removing barriers to Employment" concerned with "Barriers to Economic Efficiency", which dealt with 2.6 million people who are in the closed shop. If 2.6 million people in the closed shop are a substantial barrier to efficiency and industry, and the Government thought it sensible to act, but also to have a Green Paper and consultation, why are they jumping in with this Bill, which affects 9,000 dockers? There is no comparison between 9,000 and 2.6 million people, given that the Government argue that they are concerned mainly with economic efficiency. The Government are engineering what they hoped would be a strike and are playing political football with the lives of ordinary working men and their families for the sake of trying to wrong-foot the trade union movement and the Labour party.

The tragedy of the Government may seem manifest to many people today. There is substantial poverty and deprivation and a widening gap between rich and poor. Their final legacy will bring a much more sorrowful harvest, especially for business interests that have supported the Government in their advocacy and promotion of the ideology that market forces are all that matter. Currently, there is no doubt that casualisation is widespread. Part-time work is widespread, and scandalously low wages are being paid to young people, who are being abused. If there is a plentiful supply of labour and human beings are treated like any other commodity, under the market forces philosophy they can be exploited and abused.

That is no way to approach the problems of the 21st century. Western Europe is moving away from the metal-bashing era and entering one in which we shall have to use our minds and intellects to produce the services and products that will earn our living in the world. How we treat human beings—as living flesh and blood with ideas and concepts of fairness and justice—and whether we are prepared to enter a period of co-operation between people who employ and those who work will be determining factors in whether any part of the United Kingdom succeeds in the 21st century.

The Government are laying down the economic law of Milton Friedman and Professor Hayek; market forces alone matter. The Government must beware of the demographic factors of the next 20 or 30 years. If the Government's lesson to the working people is that they shall live by market forces, I am sorry, but so be it. As demographic factors change, the boot will move from the employers' foot to the workers' foot. There will be a shortage of young and skilled workers and the Government will beg middle-aged workers whom they have thrown on the scrap heap to return to work. If the Government treat us the way that they have for the past 10 years, and the way in which they want to for the next 10 years, and today they get their Bill, and they will insist on having their way in the market place at our expense. This is their day, but our day is coming.

8.48 pm
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

This is a sad occasion. Conservative Members have had to listen to much pious claptrap and humbug from Labour Members and "Socialist national" party Members.

My constituency has the largest port in the United Kingdom—Tilbury—which has 1,054 registered dockers, probably the largest number of registered dockers in a single constituency. At the moment, those thousand men and their families are reflecting on the watershed which their industry is about to reach. They are reflecting on whether they may be asked to strike and, I hope, on whether they will take strike action which will undermine their long-term job security, or whether they will ignore the rantings of their Marxist shop stewards and the nonsensical advice given by Opposition Members, and go to work.

Those men may be confused. Certainly those who vote to strike will he confused about whether the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and his party will support them. If a substantial number of dockers in Tilbury vote against strike action, wish to carry on working, and come to me as their local Member of Parliament, they will have my support. If need be, I shall lead them across the picket line at Tilbury to ensure their right to work and to protect their jobs and the viability of Tilbury in the long term.

It has been mentioned in the debate that there has been investment in the docks, irrespective of the scheme. Yes, £8 million has been invested in the port of London but that is nowhere near enough and nowhere near as much as would have been invested if so much money had not been wasted on the overmanning in the ports, causing them to become uncompetitive. Tilbury suffers greatly from that—and it has totally undermined its position and its ability to compete against ports such as Rotterdam. That is why many customers have left and gone to Rotterdam.

The dock labour scheme hangs like a black cloud over Tilbury, where unemployment is double that of the rest of my constituency. The scheme completely prevents the port from becoming a viable job creation area.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) mentioned earlier, process work has been driven away. Instead of timber, which comes through the port of Tilbury, being turned into window frames and chairs at the dock, it is transported across the country to be turned into those products elsewhere because manufacturers do not want registered dock workers doing the work.

There was a recent specific example of a company that wished to locate a fresh fruit cold store at the port of Tilbury. The company wanted its own vessels to come in, the product to be unloaded and put in a cold store in Tilbury docks. However, the unions said there was no way that this would be allowed, unless the registered dock workers could then load the fresh fruit on to lorries to transport it to the company's customers in the United Kingdom. That job creation opportunity in Tilbury was lost and there are scores of other examples of that happening in the past.

Tonight we have also heard about jobs being lost in locations adjacent to the port. That is happening in the development area of Thurrock park, immediately adjacent to the docks. In a letter to me of 16 February, Graham Hall, property director of Port of London Properties, said under a sub-heading "Industrial Development": One of the major difficulties that we have encountered is a resistance from many industrialists due to the continued presecence of the Dock Labour Scheme. There is an undoubted reluctance to establish premises close to the Port of Tilbury due to fears that work might be claimed by `registered' dock workers. This factor can inhibit the range of uses that can be accommodated at Thurrock Park and also affect resale value of premises once built. At Tilbury, ghosting and bobbing has been formalised. The management have to send home as many as 100 men a day because there is no work for them in the port. It is absolutely ridiculous for Opposition Members to suppose that any business can function or be efficient and profitable in such an environment. Not only are as many as 100 men sent home every day by the management, but many others spend the day carrying out activities, merely because they are present at the premises. Instead of the many sheds in the traditional cargo areas being swept once a week, they are swept endlessly every day. One can imagine how debilitating and demoralising that must be for the workers in that port.

Why do supporters of the trade union movement and the Socialist party, and members of the Socialist party support a mechanism and scheme which is completely elitist? No other working man or woman in the country has a job for life. Nor would they want such a scheme if they understood the ramifications of it and the effect that it has had on employment levels in the dock industry.

The Labour party will support strike action against the employers if there is a strike in the docks, but there is no professional party hack labour scheme being run at Labour party headquarters. Redundancy notices are not unknown at Walworth road. There are no jobs for life in the Labour party's headquarters, yet the party expects employers in the dock industry to run a jobs-for-life scheme. It is typical for the Labour party to be hypocritical and expect employers to employ under a scheme which they would never wish to prevail over themselves at Walworth road.

Labour party Members are hypocritical in presenting one face to the general public—saying that they would not restore the scheme if they formed another Government —while, to their paymasters in the trade union movement, they say that they will support strike action to retain the very scheme that they will not restore. The Labour party wants strike action, and wants to undermine the competitiveness of British ports and, therefore, the performance of the British economy. If a strike becomes a likely possibility, the Labour party and not the Conservative party will have fuelled the dispute.

The slogan of the new revisionist Labour party is "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change". The challenge here is whether, after repeated attempts to negotiate it away, the Government should end this absurd, outdated scheme and create positive change in the ports. The obvious answer is yes. However, as ever, the Opposition, in their normal cretinous and spineless way, shy away from supporting what is right.

The scheme is bad for Tilbury and, therefore, for Thurrock. It is bad for British ports and, therefore, for the British economy. It is bad for Great Britain and its abolition cannot come soon enough. Therefore, I shall vote with the Government tonight on behalf of my 1,000-plus registered dock workers.

8.58 pm
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

I cannot think of a worse way to conduct industrial relations than this Bill, which is a textbook example of how not to act if the Government want harmony and industrial peace. However, do they? My only explanation for their action is that they are thirsting for, and intent on provoking, a strike, in order that the union's funds will be sequestrated by the courts.

On any other matter there would have been extensive consultations and a Green Paper. However, we were faced with a brutal announcement and a simultaneous White Paper, with the First Reading of the Bill the next day and an immediate Second Reading. Why has there been such indecent haste and why such a stampede? What is the emergency? After all, we are dealing with men's livelihoods and a vital industry. The men are not enemy aliens but our own people, and citizens who have given a lifetime of service to their industry. What a difference between the way they have been treated and the way in which the lawyers and judges have been treated.

Do the Government really want to celebrate the centenery of the great dock strike of 1889 by provoking another? I should have thought that Conservatives would have a sense of history. In that year, the dockers, without a union, worked and lived in pitiable conditions which almost defy description. They struck for 6d an hour—what John Burns called the full round orb of the docker's tanner and for 8d an hour overtime, and for a minimum of four hours a call, to give them 2s with which to feed, clothe and house their families. The strike lasted from 14 August to 18 September, and, with great public support, the dockers won their demands and formed their union.

This was four generations ago. Before Conservative Members snigger, they should remember that these memories remain strong in the docks communities. Until modern times, dock workers still had to endure and suffer the casual system under which men were hired and fired by the day by corrupt gangmasters who picked and chose the men. The men were treated without dignity in degrading circumstances, and fought each other like animals for work. All this is vividly remembered in the dock communities.

With the second world war came some enlightenment. The men were needed and their leader was Ernest Bevin, then known as the dockers' KC. He was brought into the war Cabinet by Winston Churchill as Minister of Labour and National Service. After the war, in the new Britain that our people had fought for, things were to be different. In 1946 and 1966, by Acts of statesmanship, progress and civilisation, the dock labour scheme was brought in to deal with the evil of casualisation and to introduce basic human rights at work. Since then, it has served us well.

Forty years after the introduction of the legislation, there is no reason why it should not be examined again, but it should be reviewed by negotiation, not diktat. Negotiations were offered tonight, but the offer was durned down.

I want to discuss some of the myths and stories that are being put about—first, the story that the dock labour scheme is bringing the ports to their knees. The largest employer is Associated British Ports. It made profits of £38 million in 1987, an increase of 46 per cent. on the previous year. In the first half of 1988 its profits increased by a further 59 per cent. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company's profits increased by 80 per cent. in 1987 over those of 1986. I see no great disaster there.

We have already heard about the cost burdens borne by British, compared with continental, ports. Other European countries have similar schemes, not a free-for-all. They also have job security arrangements, so this cannot be the reason for the disparity. Continental ports enjoy advantages because they are directly linked to the continent's transport infrastructure and they receive large subsidies from national and regional Governments. As we have heard, British shippers have to pay for lighthouse dues, pilotage and customer services, which are all onerous burdens. On the continent, these services are entirely free. We also have to pay for the costs of dredging and so on, unlike on the continent.

Another story put around is that there is a great surplus of labour. In 1987, of the 10,274 registered dock workers, an average of 8,717 were available for work on any day, and 8,009 were required on average. So the surplus runs in hundreds for the entire country, and the number has been reduced with every passing year.

The facts show that this is a pretended problem. There is no such thing as lifetime employment—40,000 jobs have been lost. When the Select Committee visited Japan, we wanted to discover why the workers there were so co-operative when the employers introduced new technology. I was told that the secret was that Japanese companies offered lifetime employment. I said that I did not think that that idea would go down very well in the United Kingdom, but the diplomat who was with me told me that many people at home had lifetime employment—he had it, the civil service had it, the military had it and the judges had it. But the dock labour scheme does not give lifetime employment.

Industrial relations are important in this debate. In 1987, 0.64 days per person were lost through industrial disputes—just over half a day per person per year, which is better than many other industries. That means that the scheme has proved its worth; it is a price worth paying for good industrial relations.

The scheme has also facilitated a huge increase in productivity. The tonnage handled per person trebled between 1973 and 1987, and increased by 50 per cent. between 1983 and 1987 alone. Job security enlists the co-operation of the work force and leads to a huge increase in productivity.

We hear stories of excessive wages. In 1987, the average rate of pay for registered dock workers was £6.88 an hour, including overtime, bonuses and shift pay. The average hourly rate of pay for full-time males in Britain is £5.33, which is not an awful lot different. The scheme has brought job stability which, in turn, has brought industrial peace and huge increases in productivity. How much better all this is than what preceded it in the awful days when men were hired and fired by the day.

The Government should take this squalid Bill away and end their paranoid hatred of the trade unions. It is distasteful to see the juvenile ideologues on the Conservative Benches with their hatred of British trade unions. Like every other western European country, we should work in partnership with the trade unions and stop provoking industrial strife and confrontation. We should sit down now and negotiate a review of the dock labour scheme. A strike would be a deliberately engineered self-inflicted wound. If it happens, the fault will lie entirely with the Government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Mr. Arnold.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

We very much support—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Sorry, I call the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).

9.8 pm

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) has done enough damage.

This debate has reflected the serious division of opinion between the two sides of the House. I declare an interest as a seaman of 10 years experience—albeit serving gin and tonic as one or two hon. Members have pointed out. In the course of that experience, I visited almost all the major scheme and non-scheme ports, which gave me some understanding of the difficulties in the 1960s and 1970s and of the seeds of the problems in the industry, which go back a very long way. Suspicion lies at the heart of the difficulties—the problem of whether employers or the Government can be believed.

There are some areas of agreement. We agree that this is an important industry—the White Paper spells that out. Scheme and non-scheme ports make a major contribution to our balance of trade, balance of payments, exports and imports. All that is highlighted in the White Paper. It also highlights the trade switch that has taken place in the economy. Hon. Members who talked about Manchester and other ports did not take into account the major change away from the west coast in favour of the east coast. Technology has played its part and has contributed to the loss of trade in Manchester. The canal was not wide enough to take the new ships, and there was a move away from trade with Canada and America to trade with Europe.

We also recognise that our private and public ports are major public utilities. One of the first debates that I heard in the House was in 1971 on the Mersey docks and harbour board about which some of my hon. Friends spoke today and which was allowed to go bankrupt. The Government reconsidered their position and realised that the country needs major ports, scheme and non-scheme. I will deal with the subject of the Mersey docks and harbour board later because it set the scene for the whole approach and shows the difference in attitudes.

There has been a major problem in equating the capacity of our ports to the decline in trade. We have twice the capacity that is needed. How do we adjust the capacity to fit the trade? We all agree that it is out of balance and the argument is about cost differences. We have to go back some time to find the more contentious issues. It is said that everyone is against decasualisation, and that may be the case—if anything has died in the debate, it is the argument that somehow the scheme offered jobs for life. There have been many reductions in the labour force, which is now down to about 9,000.

Decasualisation came about because of inquiries and regulations and a desire for more efficient utilisation of labour. The Secretary of State for Transport should look at all the inquiries. Dozens of them were set up by Tory Governments to look at the nature and operation of the port industry and of the scheme. There were six inquiries in the 1950s. There was the major Rochdale report and the Devlin report in the 1960s. There was the Jones-Aldington report and the report by the National Ports Council which reported in the 1970s. They all agreed that decasualisation should be ended within the maintenance of a national dock labour scheme. They said that everything should be within the framework of a ports strategy and that we should have a national ports authority.

The analysis has been clear from the 1950s and it has been said that the scheme should be retained. There has been a great deal of criticism of the scheme in the House. I looked at the record of the Secretary of State because we joined in debate about earlier transport legislation. I looked at the pamphlet which gave him the job. It was called "The Right Track" and described as A paper on Conservative Transport Policy by Norman Fowler. It is dated 1977, and in it he said: We agree with those in the ports industry who say that the immediate priority is one of stability. That is correct. It goes on to say: As Philip Chappell, the retiring Chairman of the National Ports Council, has said: 'The real problem for the United Kingdom ports today is not what more to build, but to get real value and throughput out of what we have'. For a number of reasons, a later expansion took part in our ports. First, the Minister's predecessor—the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)—did away with capital controls in the name of greater competition. That led to a massive expansion, but also to problems because we had excessive capacity in some of our major traditional ports. At the same time, it increased the problems in the scheme ports. There was also expansion in the non-scheme ports. I shall return to that as it is a major economic issue.

When the Secretary of State first took office he wrote an article in The Port in which he said: Fowler's message—Do it Yourself". At the annual luncheon of the National Association of Port Employers he is reported to have said: What the Government does not want to do is interfere in the way you are running your businesses. The Bill certainly does not mean that the Government will stay out of the affairs of the industry. The Bill means active intervention.

Shortly after that, the Minister said that there would be no assistance and that matters would be left to the market. He then brought in the Port of London (Financial Assistance) Bill about which he said: Consequently, there has been a dramatic reduction in demand for labour in the ports. In London, for example, the number of registered dock workers has declined by over 70 per cent. since 1966—a fall from 25,000 to 6,500 in that period. I acknowledge the social and human impact that such a reduction involves, and I pay tribute to the co-operation that was necessary to secure it."—[Official Report, 16 April 1980; Vol. 982, c. 1305.] At that time the Secretary of State was spending a great deal of money to maintain the Port of London authority, which was on the verge of bankruptcy because it did not have enough resources. He wanted to assist the national dock labour scheme in the process of reducing labour and brought the Bill to the House. That was intervention. It may have been a financial port policy—it meant running around spending money.

As the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said in that debate, the Government were simply throwing money at the problem. One of the consequences for our ports authorities is that they have had to secure major amounts of money by means of levies that have been a burden on the industry. We must bear that in mind when we take account of costs in the industry. Industry has its labour costs and the costs of capital.

We told the Secretary of State when he presented the Port of London (Financial Assistance) Bill that he could not simply throw money at the problem. The Secretary of State said that it was a one-off job and would apply only to London. We said that soon enough it would have to apply to Merseyside, and within 12 months he was along with another bag of money to deal with the problems on Merseyside. We told him in the House and in Committee that he would have to give money to the other ports. What he was doing was bidding up the amounts of redundancy. That was his programme. The employers told him that if he continued his policy he would place on them a financial burden that would cause grave problems in future, and that is precisely what began to happen.

The Secretary of State's successor, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, presented a Bill to cover every port. That Bill allowed for £450 million-plus grants of £750 million. That burden was placed on the industry and the taxpayer because the Government had no ports policy and preferred to throw money at the problem —they did nothing to solve the problem, but they put people out of work. A ports policy could have been formulated for far less than the £750 million that the Government threw at the problem.

There is a feeling that the Government do not have a policy for the ports and that there is some sort of conspiracy between the employers and Government. The Minister said that national shippers support the Government's policy. Like most hon. Members, I received a statement today from the British Shippers Council. The statement made it clear that the shippers were against the dock labour board because they felt that the scheme was costly. I telegraphed the shippers this afternoon and asked, "Are you not concerned about the conference system that fixes the price for ships going from British ports? You face a penalty if you do not observe the conference line system." The spokesman for the shippers said, "We are against that." I asked "Are the costs not even greater?" and I was told, "Yes, they are." I asked, "Why are you not telling the Government to do something about the monopoly business of the shipping conference line system? The Secretary of State could do something about that if he was really interested in costs in the ports industry." But there was not a word from the shippers on that question. That, again, shows the identity of the employers with the owners.

The dockers do not believe the Government; they do not trust them. All sorts of inquiries have recommended the retention of the national dock labour scheme, but the Government are not even prepared to set up an inquiry or to enter any kind of discussion. They just want to exercise their own prejudice because they think that the scheme is wrong. As one of my hon. Friends said about the television technicians, the Government feel it must be wrong because we can all see it, but when there is an analysis of the matter by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission the Government find their views rejected. That is why they did not dare to go to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission as they did with the television technicians. If it was a good idea to have an investigation into the television technicians, why is it not a good idea to have one for the dockers?

The evidence shows that the Secretary of State spends much time reading Lloyd's List. Perhaps it is his civil servants who do it and then give him quotes to read. The Morning Star also seems to be on his reading list. Why does he not pick up the telephone and talk to people, even if he does not like their views? He does not do that because the "Yes Ma'am" syndrome is at work. She told him to go out and do the job. She has told him that it does not matter what he said before. He should go out and do the job because she wants the dockers taken on because she is getting into an embarrassing economic situation. The economy is turning sour and the Prime Minister has said, "Is there a trade union body that we can begin to blame?" What other explanation can there be for the absence of discussions? The Government are taking away the rights of workers without any kind of discussion. They have never done that before—their intention has always either been placed in the manifesto or discussed with the workers concerned.

Let the Minister give one other example of where this has occurred. He was asked earlier for one, but no other example has been given. All Governments of all political persuasions—until the present one—intended to do something about discussion and consultation, but that never occurred to the present Government. When Conservative Members worry about this being a conspiracy, perhaps they remember reading the pamphlet by the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury in 1978, when he said that what we have to do is use the power of the state to take on the miners, the dockers, and so on.

That is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman spelled out in 1978—the same Secretary of State who at a ports lunch in 1984 made it absolutely clear that he agreed with the employers' claim made at that lunch. Actually, I attended the lunch—free or not. The employers said then they wanted to get rid of the scheme, and subsequently he confirmed that view. That is what made the dockers extremely suspicious about what was going on. Shortly after that, the national dock strike took place. Why was that? In my area of Immingham there was a breach of the law—[Interruption.] I remember the hon. Member for Immingham when he was the Member for Scunthorpe—he ran away from the constituency to find safer ground rather than fight the election. [Interruption.] Let me deal with this point.

I remember what the hon. Gentleman did when it was declared that there was to be a national strike because in Immingham there was a breach of the scheme—he said very clearly that there had been no breach of the scheme, and so did the Secretary of State, but the inquiry and the court found within a week that there had been a breach of the scheme. It was a deliberate breach, as we have seen around the country in this conspiracy.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

As the hon. Member for Immingham, I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a comment by Peter Broomhead, the union representative for Immingham: Dockers will be unlikely to join a national strike to save the scheme and expect to find themselves on picket lines. We are union men, but I am sure that most men here will carry on working.

Mr. Prescott

That gentleman was giving his views, and no doubt he believed what he was saying, but I am sure that he agrees that the agreement was discussed with the employers first. He will also see what the employers' promises that there will be no difference and no decasualisation actually mean. If they mean nothing and he is to he replaced by part-time labour, he may well change his view. Part-time labour is an issue even on Humberside. The Secretary of State talks about Hull and Grimsby, and says that in fishing Hull has been more efficient than in Grimsby—Hull being non-scheme for its bobbers—but the reason for its being less costly is that it has part-time, casual labour. That is the point that we are trying to make. Part-time workers have no employment rights and there are no national insurance or tax payments. That means that a system can be run more cheaply, but it is a casual labour system, putting people on and off the dole. There is no justification for that.

What we have seen in this campaign is what I call the dirty dozen—the dozen or so Members on the Government side who have been running this campaign in parliamentary questions, debates, pamphlets and private Bills—all of them seeking to get the Government to bring in the very legislation that they have introduced today. This is a Government who deny any kind of review and provide no consultation—unlike their attitude to the judges, as has been pointed out today—a Government who provide no inquiry to justify restrictive practices. Legislation is being rushed through as a matter of national urgency, and it affects 9,000 employees. This is a coincidence of mounting economic problems. It is the good old Thatcherite tactic—when in trouble pick a fight with a trade union. That is what we are beginning to see. The Government narrow the debate to expressions of extreme prejudice—"jobs for life", it is said, but the number has fallen from 80,000 to 9,000. Certainly no jobs are guaranteed for life. The facts show that that is not the case.

It is argued that the dockers support the scheme because it guarantees jobs for their sons. I had a considerable disagreement with my dockers in Hull because I thought it quite wrong that jobs should be guaranteed to sons in those circumstances. I think that jobs should be open. [Interruption.] Well, we had a public debate, and I told people in my area that I thought that the principle was wrong. It is a privilege that we see all too often among Conservative Members, and I am against it in those circumstances, too. The Secretary of State for Transport, who is to wind up for the Government, has the "Guinness" seat—I do not know what the official title is—and actually left university halfway through to take over the seat from his father, so I will take no lectures from the Secretary of State for Transport about sons taking fathers' jobs.

In this debate there has been a lot of talk about bobbing, welting and ghosting. In the House of Commons it is called "pairing". If hon Members look at the record, they will see that I do not pair with any Tory. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman) has just come in. The Government have a common pool system. Members record their votes but when the Government do not need so many workers—in this case, Members of Parliament—they are given the day off. It is called a bisque here. On the docks they call it ghosting and there is very little of it. Here, Members get their full pay—they can even go out and earn money from a second job. A docker cannot do that. When people in this House talk about bobbing, welting and ghosting, dockers regard that as having double standards.

It has been said in this debate that the system is an anachronism. Is it anachronistic to have a system which gives training far better than any other industry, welfare and an occupational medical health scheme far better than in any other industry, safety conditions and safety training far better than in any other industry, medical welfare, with doctors and nurses? Surely those and the conditions that we want all industries to have. Do not Conservative Members believe in levelling up rather than levelling down? I have heard those arguments from them for so many years, so why do we not level up to the safe standards, good medical provision and training that I have described? We cannot get that from the private sector, and one does not get it from the non-scheme sector either. Yet those are the conditions that the Government repaid as anachronistic.

What is the real difficulty? What is the dispute between us? What hon. Members opposite do not like is having working people participate in decision-making about their jobs, about redundancies, about the future of the industry. That is what sticks in the craw. These rights are embodied in law. That sticks in the throat, too. When an employer want to exercise his right to get rid of people, he can be accused of not obeying the law. The Government do not like that either, so, as in the case of trade union legislation, they change the law and get the judges to carry out their philosophy.

Will dismissal be the same under the employment protection legislation that has been talked about? We know that of the many thousands of workers—the number is growing all the time—found to have been dismissed unfairly, only 4 per cent. are ever returned to their jobs. Will the right be the same in this case? In this case workers cannot be sacked easily. They cannot be dismissed without justification being given. Apparently, that is a point of complaint. There will be no rights under the unfair dismissal legislation.

I wish to deal with another matter at the heart of this scheme. In the past few years many employers have been getting rid of trade union activists. They are quite prepared to be accused of unfair dismissal and to pay the pittance of compensation that is offered under the unfair dismissal legislation. That does not happen under the dock labour scheme. Is not the scheme about justice and the right to be treated fairly?

The real issue is cost. The Government say that the scheme costs £770 million. Most of those costs resulted from the Government's policy. They lent the money to pay for the redundancies and the necessary loans. In 1971, the Government intervened in the policy of the bankrupt Mersey docks and harbour board. The Secretary of State at the time said that the inefficiencies of that board were a result of the fact that the ship owners and the users of the port dominated the board, with two thirds control, and refused to increase prices. That led to a major problem and the collapse of the board.

A private Member's Bill was introduced to help to return the savings of widows who had invested in what they thought was a good bet on a trusted port, but two hon. Members intervened to prevent such help—those two are now Secretaries of State for Employment and for Transport. They intervened to help the shareholders, but they would not intervene to help the interests of the employees. That is a matter of record and contrast.

The port of Hull has been mentioned today. I looked at the problems there in the 1970s when there were major strikes, and millions of tonnes of traffic were diverted from the Hull port down the river. That was because Hull used to deal with cargo from Rotterdam which was then transhipped in barges down the river. When the new container system came about, with major changes in technology and trade, the trade concentrated in Rotterdam and small ships picked up the cargo in Rotterdam and took it down the wharves. The Government now say that it is cheaper to go down the wharves. That is true, but the reasons should be examined. Hon. Members need not accept my word for it—they can look at the reports of the inquiry set up by the Government into the National Ports Council, which show that the capital costs of a major port having to provide for containerisation and major cargoes on big ships, and the whole range of facilities that are required in a modern port that a small wharf does not need, requires the big port to spend three times as much capital as the small wharf against the earning assets. Therefore, they have a financial penalty and cannot charge the same prices.

In Hull, the British Transport docks board at that time adopted inflation accounting, which meant that it charged extra in a way that no private sector or non-scheme port could. It then decided to cut down the size of some of the ports and close some of the wharves in Hull. That is the reason for the heavy financial burden. Those are the reasons. Anybody making a choice between a traditional port and a wharf faced such problems.

The Touche Ross report looking into European ports, to which the Secretary of State referred, had an analysis showing that in European ports,. the police, the rates and the infrastructure are carried. A later study by the National Westminster bank showed exactly the same. If we had the same way of financing, our charges would be 40 to 50 per cent. lower. That makes the labour cost pale into insignificance. The levy imposed on the industry to pay for medical assistance, training and running the system is approximately £4 million or 2.5 per cent. of the wage bill. The charge for maintaining and servicing the redundancy and financial package that the Government forced on the industry was £12 million or 7 per cent. of the wage bill—a burden three times as heavy as that of the labour scheme and not imposed on non-scheme ports.

Once again, in this Bill, the Government are to give more money—the same Government who constantly accuse us of wishing to throw money at problems. Here they are putting a financial straitjacket on the scheme ports and then asking us to compare their charges with those of the non-scheme ports and see how one is increasing at the expense of the other.

All these problems show that the dock labour scheme cannot be dealt with unless we look at the ports policy. Throwing money at the problem, as the Government have done, is not the way to deal with it. They have done nobody any favours—dockers or taxpayers. The Government have not looked at the problems of the ports or understood the differentials between small and large ports, whether they be capital or labour costs. They have not looked at the problem of how much port capacity we need. Those matters were spelled out five, 10 or 20 years ago in various reports on the industry. That is why we believe that the labour scheme has to be seen within a ports policy. The Government have been creating major financial problems for the industry, and have rejected a national ports authority.

When he came to his job, the Secretary of State proudly introduced a Bill to get rid of the National Ports Council, which had no teeth. He had already received a report from it saying that a national ports authority—one body to deal with capital development in the industry—was necessary, but he rejected that advice. That is why our election manifesto made it clear—it was spelt out further in the "Fresh Directions" written by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)—that we believe that a port and labour policy should be developed in an overall strategy for our ports to deal with excess capacity, greater safety and the differential in cost between Europe and ourselves. We also promised to review the operation of the Dock Labour Scheme. We fought the general election on that policy because we believe that it is right.

The Government are using the power of the state to get rid of workers' rights. They are not just attacking the dockers. They introduced a Bill to abolish the wages councils, which affected millions of people in low-paid work. They reduced, and then got rid of, trade union rights at GCHQ. They vetoed the participation in decision-making that every other European country has under the Vredeling proposal. They want no rights for workers, and they have embarked upon a programme to reduce and then to eliminate those rights. They are using trade union legislation to achieve that.

The Bill has nothing to do with a ports policy or the national interest, and nothing to do with employment rights or justice for workers, but everything to do with the Government's economic record, which is not being exposed. It has everything to do with the political spite and prejudice of a Government determined to secure a strike. There has been no consultation. The Labour party will do all that it can to resist such an injustice. We believe that the Bill will be damaging to the ports industry and will bring a return to casual working. We shall resist the Bill, and we shall begin that resistance by voting against its Second Reading today.

9.35 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon)

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) began his speech by outlining the areas of agreement that exist between us, few though they may have turned out to be. I shall do the same before turning to the areas of disagreement that lie between us. I wish to say at the beginning of my remarks, however, that it is a pity that more hon. Members have not been able to contribute to the debate. The Front Bench replies could have started a little later. I am sorry that my hon. Friends the Members for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) and for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) tried to participate in the debate and did not have the chance to do so.— [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, "Keep them out." That is perfectly clear. That is what he said—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I recognise that you have just assumed the Chair and that you are rightly calling for order during the Secretary of State's speech. Those of us who entered the Chamber shortly after 9 o'clock heard the mass of interruptions that were created from a sedentary position by Conservative Members. We are waiting for fair play and nice manners.

Mr. Speaker

Let us have order now.

Mr. Channon

I shall turn to the areas of agreement in the futile attempt, perhaps, to try to lower the temperature in the House at least for a few moments.

I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East that the ports constitute a crucial and important industry. I welcome his support for the excellent pamphlet which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment produced in 1977, which was entitled, "The Right Track". I do not think that my right hon. Friend expected it to be commended so strongly by the hon. Gentleman. One of the most extraordinary assertions that I have heard from an Opposition spokesman for some time was when the hon. Gentleman accused my right hon. Friend of committing the cardinal sin of throwing money at the ports industry. That is a curious charge for a Labour spokesman to make against one of my right hon. Friends.

The other curious accusation to be made against the Government is that the Bill has been rushed through. It is said that it has been rushed through after 10 years of Conservative Government. Many of my hon. Friends wish that it had been introduced far sooner. To say, after 10 years of Conservative government, that the Bill has been rushed through is to indulge in fantasy.

Mr. Leighton

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Channon

I shall press on for a while and then I shall give way. I have not reached any of the main issues yet. I shall, of course, give way to the hon. Gentleman.

We have had a lively debate and I suspect that it will continue being lively. It has brought out many of the misconceptions of Opposition Members about the future of the ports industry once the scheme has been abolished. If, as has been argued, the retention of the scheme is vital for the future of the scheme ports and the dockers working in them, why is it that the non-scheme ports have all been doing so well? Why is it that the non-scheme ports have all enjoyed a significant expansion of trade while the scheme ports have seen their share of United Kingdom trade steadily declining?

If the scheme is so important to the employment conditions of dockers, why is it that non-scheme ports have had no difficulty in recruiting an increasing number of dock workers, while the number of dockers in scheme ports continues to fall? I hope that I can make it clear during my speech, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment did in his speech, in company with many of my hon. Friends during the course of the debate, that if we are to consider seriously the future prosperity of our ports industry and of all the employees involved in it, it is essential that the scheme be abolished.

We have heard repeated claims from Opposition Members that abolition of the scheme will lead to a return to casualism. No hon. Member want to see a return to the 1930s or to the early post-war years when dockers were treated in the way that has been described. No hon. Member has argued for that, either tonight or earlier. We understand what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and other hon. Members have said this evening, but they have failed to explain why the abolition of the scheme would mean a return to those days. The truth is that it will not. On 6 April Sir Keith Stuart, the chairman of Associated British Ports, said: ABP does not intend to introduce a casual labour system". On 11 May Mr. Furlong, the managing director of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company—another big employer of registered dock workers—stated: Whatever challenges and tests may face the Port of Liverpool after abolition, there will be no return to the casual employment from which the scheme originally sprang".

Mr. Leighton

Will the Secretary of State please tell the House why, after 10 years, there is the present stampede? Why was there a ministerial statement and a White Paper on the same day, with the First Reading on the following day and this immediate Second Reading? Can the Secretary of State see a difference between the treatment of the dockers and that given to that other closed shop of lawyers, for the reform of which there was a Green Paper, a long period of consultation in which they may take industrial action and another four months of consultation? Why has there been no consultation on this Bill?

Mr. Channon

Now that the Government have come to this conclusion, which I hope will be supported by the House, it is in everybody's interests, whatever their job in the ports, be they registered dock workers or anything else, that the period of uncertainty should be ended as quickly as possible. It is only right that this Bill should have been brought forward and that it should proceed in the normal way following the appropriate interval and the announcement some time ago by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. It is only right that the Bill should proceed in an orderly way through the House. I am sure that that is in the interests of all concerned.

To continue the point on casualism, on 13 April employers in ports representing over 90 per cent. of registered dock workers said that there would be no return to casual employment.

Mr. Sillars


Mr. Channon

If I have time I shall give way a little later, but I have a lot to say.

My hon. Friends the Members for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock) have shown how, over the past 20 years, scheme ports have seen a dramatic fall in their share of traffic. Non-oil traffic fell from 90 per cent. to 70 per cent. London used to handle 21 per cent. of non-oil traffic in 1970, but by 1987 that proportion had fallen to 13 per cent. Liverpool's share has been sliced from 11 per cent. to 3 per cent. whereas in contrast Felixstowe now handles seven times as much traffic as it did 20 years ago. It now handles—

Mr. Loyden

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Channon

I shall give way later on, but I must get on.

Felixstowe now handles 6 per cent. of the United Kingdom's traffic, compared with 1 per cent. in 1970. Felixstowe is by no means the only success story among the non-scheme ports. The private wharves of the Hull, Humber, Trent and Ouse have doubled their traffic in the past 10 years, despite the close proximity of the better situated, deep-sea ports of Hull, Grimsby and Immingham.

The small port of Neath which, unlike the rest of the ports in south Wales is outside the scheme, has seen a threefold increase in its non-oil traffic since 1975, whereas the other ports in the area, Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Port Talbot all lost traffic in that period.

The whole House knows about the dramatic changes that have taken place at Dover, our No. 1 ferry port and a non-scheme port. It now handles 5 per cent. of the United Kingdom's non-oil traffic, by tonnage—a fivefold increase on 197–0. Of course, that is related to the success of the ro-ro ferries, but that level of growth in traffic would never have happened if Dover had been in the scheme.

Further up the Kent coast, non-scheme Ramsgate has also benefited. It handled 1£6 million tonnes in 1987 whereas 20 years ago it handled only 50,000 tonnes. Again, that is evidence of the growth that can be achieved outside the dock labour scheme.

Mr. Loyden

Does the Secretary of State accept that the reason why non-scheme, deep-water ports are doing so well is that they are better located to serve the existing pattern of trade than are scheme ports? Does he not agree that ports such as Liverpool that were dependent on the American trade are now disadvantaged because of changing trade patterns that have nothing to do with scheme or non-scheme ports?

Mr. Channon

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right to draw attention to the shift of trade from the west coast to the east coast. However, there are non-scheme ports both on the west and the east coasts. If one takes them as a whole—and I cited a south Wales port a moment ago—the growth of trade at the non-scheme ports as against scheme ports can clearly be seen. That is not a coincidence. I am sure that the House and people outside recognise that the dock labour scheme has been a major force in holding back the development of the scheme ports.

Mr. Harry Ewing

I am sorry to interrupt the flow of the right hon. Gentleman's speech but I must ask him a simple question. Both he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment placed great emphasis on the word of the port employers that they will not return to using casual labour. Will the Secretary of State give a guarantee at the Dispatch Box that, if their word is broken, the Government will introduce legislation to take care of the situation?

Mr. Channon

I will not give that guarantee at the Dispatch Box, and nor would any right hon. or hon. Member expect me to do so. The House will have to form a judgment on the value of that particular assurance, which I personally believe to be extremely valid. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. After all, we can see how little casual work there is in the ports at present. The idea that this is some wicked plot to get rid of the dock labour scheme and to reintroduce casualisation by the back door is not borne out by the fact that there is so little casual work in dock labour scheme ports at present.

Mr. Prescott

That is because the scheme stops it.

Mr. Channon

I was describing what is happening in non-scheme ports, as the hon. Gentleman would know if he did me the courtesy of listening.

Mr. Prescott

No, the right hon. Gentleman was talking about scheme ports.

Mr. Channon

I want to address the crucial issue of what will happen to our ports—a point that was raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East in his speech. It is essential to carry on the policy in the ports industry, as in other fields of transport, of deregulation and of liberalisation, so that the ports may be in a position to operate as fully commercial enterprises in a competitive world. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) spoke about marine pilotage and about light dues. We have undertaken a major reform of marine pilotage, sweeping away the old statutory regime and replacing it with a streamlined, cost-effective one. We pressed for greater cost-effectiveness in lights and navigational aids.

This year, I announced the first major reform this century in the structure of light dues, including the ending of dues on deck cargoes and the reduction of light dues. They were implemented from the beginning of this month as the latest step in a cumulative reduction in light dues over the past eight years amounting to over 40 per cent. in real terms.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

But now they have been imposed on fishing vessels.

Mr. Prescott

A number of my hon. Friends made the point that those charges, together with many others such as those for rates, police and infrastructure, are not carried by European ports, and that makes a difference of 50 per cent. between the costs of United Kingdom ports and those of Europe. All the Secretary of State has done is to impose those costs instead on shipowners or on the ports themselves.

Mr. Channon

If I have time, I shall deal with the whole question of costs.

The Bill is in accord with our approach to transport in general.

Mr. Prescott

Yes, it is a disaster.

Mr. Channon

It is a vital piece of reform. The dock labour scheme has inhibited the release of the potential of far too many of our great ports. The scheme applies in the most part to the country's traditional main ports, many of which have a long history. It was no accident that they were sited where they are. They were built and developed to serve our main centres of industry and population, where the deepest or most sheltered waters were to be found, and major industries grew up alongside them. Many of them enjoy, through rail or road links, first-class communications with other parts of the country.

Hull, Immingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Ipswich are among many scheme ports whose prospects have been enhanced by improvements to the road network. If we cannot release the energy of those scheme ports so that they can expand and develop their full potential we are misusing, indeed wasting, a great national resource. We must give our scheme ports the same unrestricted freedom to compete, develop and expand as is enjoyed by those outside the scheme.

My hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) described the handicaps that existed in the past, and are still in existence in the scheme ports. Last week the Leader of the Opposition claimed that scheme ports had had exactly the same increase in traffic as non-scheme ports, and a faster rate of growth. If the position is viewed over a short time span that may be possible, but what matters is the pattern over a longish period.

Since 1970 the tonnage of non-oil cargo handled in scheme ports has increased by 10 per cent., while the growth in non-scheme ports has been 334 per cent. Of course it is a much lower base line in non-scheme ports, but over the same period, if the actual rather than the percentage increase in tonnage handled is taken into consideration, scheme ports have increased their non-oil cargo by about 10 million tonnes, while in non-scheme ports the figure is no less than 40 million tonnes. However, we look at it, the plain fact is that for the past 20 years or more scheme ports have been losing market share—yet among them are some of the best-sited and best-linked ports in the country.

It is not only the non-scheme ports with which our scheme ports must compete; we must look forwards as well as backwards. My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) talked about the challenge of 1992. Key competition will come from two quarters. The creation of a single European market will stimulate trade between the Community and other countries as well as between countries within the Community, and we can expect trade with distant continents to be handled in big ships that call at one port, or at most two, in north-west Europe. Their cargoes will be brought to or taken from the port on feeder services, whether by ship, rail or road.

If our ports are to compete for that deep-sea trade with Rotterdam, Antwerp, Zeebrugge and the other big continental ports, they must improve their efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Felixstowe is already competing, but we must put Southampton, Tilbury, Hull and Liverpool into the market as well. They must be freed from the cost restrictions—and, indeed, the reputation—with which they have been burdened through being in the dock labour scheme.

It is a sobering thought that 20 per cent. of our exports to, and imports from, continents other than Europe is shipped through Antwerp and Rotterdam, and we must try to change that. I want a large slice of that 9.5 million tonnes or so of cargo to come from British ports, but there will be no chance of it—indeed, I believe that matters will get worse—if the scheme stays in place. The big continental ports are among the most efficient in the world: they are doing well, and we must give our ports every chance to compete.

I believe that the Channel tunnel, a completely novel kind of competitor, will generate more trade between Britain and continental Europe, but it will also compete for some of the traffic that at present goes by sea through our ports. It is crucial for the future prosperity of those ports that they do not have to compete with one hand chained behind their back to the dock labour scheme.

What is crucial for the ports is also important for the country as a whole. The more efficient and cost-effective are our transport links with our continental partners—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask hon. Members to listen to the Secretary of State and to stop these private conversations.

Mr. Channon

It is clear from today's debate that the case for the removal of the dock labour scheme is unchallengeable. It has scarcely been challenged, either inside or outside the House. I note that neither the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East nor the hon. Member for Oldham, West said whether they would restore the scheme; it is very curious that we have not been told that.

The Government believe that in the circumstances in which we find ourselves it is appropriate to provide fair and generous compensation arrangements for former registered dock workers. Without it, if made redundant, they would be entitled to no more than the normal statutory redundancy pay. Hitherto, dockers who volunteered for redundancy received much larger sums. Under the new compensation scheme, up to £35,000 will be available to any registered dock workers who are made redundant within the first 18 months after Royal Assent, subject to age and length of service, and up to £20,000 for the second 18 months. No hon. Member can fairly argue that those are not reasonable terms for us to offer to registered dock workers.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is the Secretary of State able to say why it is necessary to introduce the Bill now with such speed? If he says that there is to be a tremendous expansion of jobs in the docks industry, why is he laying aside £13 million to pay for redundancies?

Mr. Channon

I have already explained to the House, and I think that the majority of hon. Members agree with me, that, if anything, reform is long overdue rather than being too soon.

The inefficiencies that have been so amply displayed and that are set out in the Government's White Paper show only too clearly the handicap that so many of our ports suffer because of the dock labour scheme. I ask the House again to note an extraordinary feature of the debate. Neither the hon. Member for Oldham, West nor the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has answered the simple question that has been put to them time and again: will the Labour party reintroduce the scheme, should it regain office? Will it, or will it not? I ask the House and the country to note that—

Mr. Prescott

We have made it absolutely clear, as we did in our election manifesto, that we want the right to participate in action against unfair dismissal to be given to the workers. We believe in levelling up. Therefore, when we next come to power, the dock labour scheme will be considered within the context of a transport policy and a ports policy that gives employment rights to workers.

Mr. Channon

The House will draw its own conclusions from that elaborate reply. I think that what the hon. Gentleman means is no, but I do not think he will say that. Why did the hon. Member for Oldham, West say on radio that Labour would support the dockers if they came out on strike? Is that still the Labour party's position? It is extremely unclear. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now get up and say whether he intends to support the dockers if they come out on strike. I shall give way to him, too. Will he answer that question? No, he does not intend to answer it. The Opposition are frightened to tell the country the truth.

Finally, do the Opposition still stand by their 1976 attempt not only to strengthen the dock labour scheme but to extend it still further? Some hon. Members would vote that down. They look very unhappy; they know that the Labour party supports an unacceptable scheme. The Opposition spokesman will not answer my questions.

What does the Labour party have to hide? Why will it not tell the electorate? I thought that the Labour party was in favour of open opposition as well as open government. It is clear that we are not to be given an answer.

At the time when the Labour party is telling the electorate that it has been born again, it is ironic that it should choose to back yet another loser. What we object to is when it tries to take the country with it. The hon. Member for Oldham, West condemned the abolition of the scheme because it could lead to industrial action that would damage the economy, yet he supports just such a strike. Nothing could show more clearly what the Labour leadership thinks about the economy of the country and its priorities.

There has been a catalogue of disasters in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. A company proposed a new steel terminal in Hull. Thanks to the dock labour scheme, it pulled out and 250,000 tonnes of cargo a year disappeared from Hull. The Hull container terminal was closed after Geest pulled out after eight years, because of continual industrial action. As the United Kingdom director of Geest said, The people of Hull will have a right to ask, why are we again allowing stupidity to rule? That is what the hon. Member for Oldham, West supports.

The Labour party continues to support this ridiculous dock scheme. Everyone knows that it should be abolished and I ask my hon. Friends to join me in voting for the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time: —

The House divided: Ayes 298, Noes 195.

Division No. 158] [10 pm
Adley, Robert Dorrell, Stephen
Aitken, Jonathan Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Alexander, Richard Durant, Tony
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Eggar, Tim
Allason, Rupert Emery, Sir Peter
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Amess, David Evennett, David
Amos, Alan Fallon, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Favell, Tony
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Fearn, Ronald
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Ashby, David Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Aspinwall, Jack Fishburn, John Dudley
Atkins, Robert Fookes, Dame Janet
Atkinson, David Forman, Nigel
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Forth, Eric
Baldry, Tony Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fox, Sir Marcus
Batiste, Spencer Franks, Cecil
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Freeman, Roger
Bellingham, Henry French, Douglas
Bendall, Vivian Fry, Peter
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Gale, Roger
Benyon, W. Gardiner, George
Bevan, David Gilroy Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bitten, Rt Hon John Gill, Christopher
Blackburn, Dr John G. Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Glyn, Dr Alan
Body, Sir Richard Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Boswell, Tim Gow, Ian
Bottomley, Peter Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gregory, Conal
Bowis, John Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Grist, Ian
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Ground, Patrick
Brazier, Julian Grylls, Michael
Bright, Graham Hague, William
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Budgen, Nicholas Hampson, Dr Keith
Burns, Simon Hanley, Jeremy
Burt, Alistair Hannam, John
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Harris, David
Cash, William Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hayward, Robert
Chapman, Sydney Heddle, John
Churchill, Mr Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Colvin, Michael Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hill, James
Cope, Rt Hon John Hind, Kenneth
Cormack, Patrick Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'tn)
Couchman, James Hordern, Sir Peter
Critchley, Julian Howard, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Howells, Geraint Oppenheim, Phillip
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Page, Richard
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Paice, James
Hunter, Andrew Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Patnick, Irvine
Irvine, Michael Patten, Chris (Bath)
Irving, Charles Patten, John (Oxford W)
Jack, Michael Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Jackson, Robert Pawsey, James
Janman, Tim Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jessel, Toby Porter, David (Waveney)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Portillo, Michael
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Powell, William (Corby)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Price, Sir David
Key, Robert Raffan, Keith
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Kirkhope, Timothy Redwood, John
Knapman, Roger Riddick, Graham
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Knowles, Michael Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knox, David Roe, Mrs Marion
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rossi, Sir Hugh
Latham, Michael Rost, Peter
Lawrence, Ivan Rowe, Andrew
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shaw, David (Dover)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lightbown, David Shelton, Sir William
Lilley, Peter Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shersby, Michael
Lord, Michael Sims, Roger
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McCrindle, Robert Soames, Hon Nicholas
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Speller, Tony
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Maclean, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McLoughlin, Patrick Squire, Robin
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Malins, Humfrey Steel, Rt Hon David
Mans, Keith Steen, Anthony
Maples, John Stern, Michael
Marland, Paul Stevens, Lewis
Marlow, Tony Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sumberg, David
Mates, Michael Summerson, Hugo
Maude, Hon Francis Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Mellor, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Miller, Sir Hal Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mills, Iain Thorne, Neil
Miscampbell, Norman Thornton, Malcolm
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thurnham, Peter
Mitchell, Sir David Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moate, Roger Tracey, Richard
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Tredinnick, David
Moore, Rt Hon John Trippier, David
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Twinn, Dr Ian
Morrison, Sir Charles Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Moss, Malcolm Waddington, Rt Hon David
Moynihan, Hon Colin Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Mudd, David Walden, George
Neale, Gerrard Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Needham, Richard Wallace, James
Neubert, Michael Waller, Gary
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Ward, John
Nicholls, Patrick Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Warren, Kenneth
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Watts, John
Norris, Steve Wheeler, John
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Whitney, Ray
Widdecombe, Ann Yeo, Tim
Wiggin, Jerry Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wilkinson, John Younger, Rt Hon George
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann Tellers for the Ayes:
Winterton, Nicholas Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory
Wood, Timothy and
Woodcock, Mike Mr. Tom Sackville.
Abbott, Ms Diane Galloway, George
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Allen, Graham Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Anderson, Donald George, Bruce
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Godman, Dr Norman A.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Gordon, Mildred
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Graham, Thomas
Barron, Kevin Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Battle, John Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Beckett, Margaret Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bell, Stuart Grocott, Bruce
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hardy, Peter
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Harman, Ms Harriet
Bermingham, Gerald Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bidwell, Sydney Haynes, Frank
Blunkett, David Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Boateng, Paul Heffer, Eric S.
Boyes, Roland Henderson, Doug
Bradley, Keith Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Holland, Stuart
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Home Robertson, John
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hood, Jimmy
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Buckley, George J. Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Caborn, Richard Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Callaghan, Jim Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Illsley, Eric
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Ingram, Adam
Clay, Bob Janner, Greville
Clelland, David Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Lamond, James
Cohen, Harry Leadbitter, Ted
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Leighton, Ron
Corbyn, Jeremy Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Cousins, Jim Lewis, Terry
Cox, Tom Litherland, Robert
Crowther, Stan Livingstone, Ken
Cryer, Bob Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cummings, John Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cunliffe, Lawrence Loyden, Eddie
Cunningham, Dr John McAllion. John
Dalyell, Tam McAvoy, Thomas
Darling, Alistair Macdonald, Calum A.
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) McFall, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dixon, Don McKelvey, William
Dobson, Frank McLeish, Henry
Doran, Frank McNamara, Kevin
Douglas, Dick McWilliam, John
Duffy, A. E. P. Madden, Max
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Mahon, Mrs Alice
Eadie, Alexander Marek, Dr John
Eastham, Ken Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Martlew, Eric
Fatchett, Derek Meacher, Michael
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Meale, Alan
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fisher, Mark Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Flannery, Martin Moonie, Dr Lewis
Flynn, Paul Morgan, Rhodri
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Morley, Elliott
Foster, Derek Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wshawe)
Foulkes, George Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fraser, John Mullin, Chris
Fyfe, Maria Murphy, Paul
Nellist, Dave Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
O'Brien, William Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
O'Neill, Martin Snape, Peter
Parry, Robert Soley, Clive
Patchett, Terry Spearing, Nigel
Pendry, Tom Steinberg, Gerry
Pike, Peter L. Stott, Roger
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Strang, Gavin
Prescott, John Straw, Jack
Quin, Ms Joyce Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Radice, Giles Turner, Dennis
Randall, Stuart Vaz, Keith
Redmond, Martin Wall, Pat
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Walley, Joan
Reid, Dr John Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Richardson, Jo Wareing, Robert N.
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Robinson, Geoffrey Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Rogers, Allan Wilson, Brian
Rooker, Jeff Winnick, David
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ruddock, Joan Worthington, Tony
Salmond, Alex Wray, Jimmy
Sedgemore, Brian Young, David (Bolton SE)
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Tellers for the Noes:
Short, Clare Mr. Martyn Jones and
Sillars, Jim Mrs. Llin Golding.
Skinner, Dennis

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).