§ 2. Mr. Nicholas Bennett
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether he has received representations seeking the reintroduction of the national dock labour scheme.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)
I have received no such representations.
§ Mr. Bennett
Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall the words of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who said that the scheme provided what Labour wanted all industries to have, and the words of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who said that to abolish the scheme was a wilful act of sabotage against the country's economic interest? Will my right hon. and learned Friend say what has happened to productivity and to industrial relations in the docks since the dock labour scheme was abolished?
§ Mr. Howard
Productivity has increased. We have lost only two days since the collapse of the strike against abolition, compared with an average of three disputes a week when the scheme was in operation. The national dock labour scheme provides an object lesson in what life would be like if we were ever to have another Labour Government.
§ Dr. Godman
Whatever the merits of the national dock labour scheme, it provided our maritime communities with highly skilled workers. It is essential that the training facilities for those workers are maintained. In terms of industrial relations and productivity, the few Greenock dock workers who are still at work are among the best. 282 They may take a few minutes off their work tomorrow to welcome the QE2 as she berths at the container terminal in Greenock.
§ Mr. Howard
I am delighted that the abolition of the scheme has given new opportunities to port workers at Greenock, as elsewhere. However, the hon. Gentleman is entirely incorrect if he suggests that there has been any deterioration in training since the abolition of the scheme. All surveys show that training has improved, that more of it is available and that it has been of a better quality since the scheme was abolished.
§ Mr. Rowe
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that it comes as no surprise to the people of Medway that he has received no representations about the scheme, as both the Medway ports authority and the new container port on the Isle of Grain could be there, thriving and increasing the number of people in employment, only once the scheme had been removed?
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend is right. Only a week or so ago, I opened a new facility at Sheerness for fruit storage, which cost £3.5 million. It was conceived, designed and executed after the abolition of the scheme and it certainly would not have been there if the scheme had still been in existence.