HL Deb 11 March 1952 vol 175 cc608-58

4.28 p.m.

LORD WINSTER rose to call attention to the situation in the docks in relation to cargo handling; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure the minds of most of us are occupied at this moment with the great events which are taking place in another place, and no doubt very soon we shall all be wiser but much sadder men. Nevertheless, I think that the Motion which I rise to move has a very intimate connection with the subjects now being discussed in connection with the Budget. It deals with matters which affect our economy, our industrial life, our trade, our commerce, our shipping, our industry, our Merchant Navy and, not least, our cost of living. Therefore I feel it is a matter well worthy of your Lordships' attention.

There is one matter which I should like to make clear at the outset, and that is that I have no intention in this Motion of making any general charge against the whole body of dockers. There are some 80,000 of them and I imagine that, like any other large section of the population, there are good, bad and indifferent men. My guess would be that probably the good men are in the majority. If I have any complaint to make this afternoon against what is happening in the docks at the present moment, it is an indictment of a small minority of these men who are letting down their mates and also their trade union leaders. I am perfectly sure that those trade union leaders give the right advice in this matter, and try to guide and lead the dockers on the right lines. The largest union concerned is the Transport and General Workers' Union. Anyone who has read the speeches which Mr. Arthur Deakin has made recently upon the undesirability of using industrial action to affect political events may be perfectly sure that he endeavours to guide his Union wisely and rightly. Again, I think it is to the discredit of this small minority of which I speak that they try to make so much trouble for him and to undo his work.

I think public opinion should be made aware of the trouble which this minority makes. The trouble, of course, is that it results in a slow turn-round of shipping in the docks. On that matter I should like briefly to give your Lordships the evidence which bears out the fact that this slow turn-round is a serious factor in our economic life. A speaker at the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association said: Delays in port continue to hamper the efficient conduct of the carrying trade. The waste of carrying space from these delays is disastrous and sets at naught the advantages which should flow from improvements in speed and carrying capacity. Again, a speaker in the Chamber of Shipping at the end of last month said: We have an increase in cost of freight, in the time taken in delivery from seller to buyer, a decrease in the amount of cargo a ship could transport in a year. This resulted in a general slowing down of industry. Factories had to face delays and uncertainty in receiving their raw materials. They, in turn, were unable to keep to their export programme. He asked how the shipping industry could give its maximum assistance in our economic crisis if it could not use its ships to maximum efficiency. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, is to reply to this debate. I understand that he has received in the past a letter from the Association of the British Chambers of Trade which said: Elimination of restrictive practices and malpractices would materially assist the nation to hold its own as competition in world markets becomes keener. Perpetuation of the present position can only serve to hasten the eclipse of British shipping and world trade. Any contribution to the national benefit through increased industrial productivity could be vitiated entirely by continuance of the present shipping situation. No other single factor so seriously prejudices the nation's position as a world trading power than the growing costs and deterioration in service in United Kingdom ports. I think those quotations sufficiently bear out my contention as to the importance of this matter to the economic life of the country, especially at this moment.

As regards these delays, there are, of course, many contributory causes: shortage of deep-water berths, shortage of dry docks and shortage of lighters. I believe that the Port of London is something like 1,000 down on lighters as compared with pre-war. Our export trade is very much greater, but mechanisation lags. Then there is a shortage of rolling stock, of wagons and of lorries for transporting goods to the warehouses. I understand that the Port of London Authority find great difficulty in keeping pace with the demands for berths. I have been told that, if the volume of exports passing through the Port of London prewar was 100, the figure to-day is 280. That is an illustration of the pressure brought to bear upon the Port of London Authority for finding berths.

I will not refer to the question of war damage for it is rather a lengthy subject, but I call your Lordships' attention to one feature of it. Ports abroad have been able to repair their war damage apparently far more quickly than we have been able to. It is a most interesting fact that the appliances now in use at Continental ports are of British manufacture. They are exports from this country. So our ports cannot have what apparently we sent abroad to enable Continental ports to compete with us. May I give one or two examples of delay to put this matter into perspective? I am told that to keep a 10,000 ton ship in port costs some £700 a day. At the same time, the ship itself, an investment of £500,000, is lying idle and not earning. A ship is very likely taking twenty days to turn round to-day, instead of seventeen, which was the average pre-war. Speed is an expensive factor to build into a ship. To give some examples of how the advantages of speed are negatived by this slow turn-round, the manager of the Prince Line read a paper before the Institution of Naval Architects; in which he said that in 1938–39 a ship did 197 days at sea and 168 in port. The corresponding figures for 1947–49 are 146 days at sea and 219 days in port. It now takes five ships to do the work once done by four ships, though, with the increased speed now available, four ships ought to be doing the work of five. Pre-war, a vessel trading with Australia used to do five round voyages in two years. Five voyages on that route that ended in 1950 took three years and ten days—which is one year and ten days over the pre-war average.

How does all this work out in costs of commodities? First, there is timber. Timber is very important for the enormous housing and building programme with which we are confronted at the present moment. Sir William Souttar, addressing the Gateshead and Newcastle Chamber of Shipping, said that three days delay to a timber ship raises the cost of building by £1 per standard. I have read of a timber ship which ought to have taken seventeen days to discharge but which took over a month because of the shortage of lighters. I have heard of fifty timber ships lying in the Surrey Commercial Dock, with no modern facilities for discharge. Ship's gear is used for discharge there. I am sure that other means than ship's gear are employed in Northern ports. As Sir William Reardon-Smith, speaking at the Chamber of Shipping, said, the average time of discharge of 6,000 tons of iron ore is five and a half days, and it ought to be possible to reduce this period to two days or to even less. No wonder costs go up to fantastic heights, in these circumstances. As for the cost involved, a particular ship discharged 5,000 tons in seventeen days, including two Sundays. It employed six gangs of ship-men and six of quay-men. The wages bill was £5,000—that is, £1 to discharge one ton of cargo.

Then there are the liners which sail from Tilbury. Those liners have to sail on schedule; they cannot be held up. Those liners have been leaving cargoes behind because of unofficial strikes or because of outbursts of "go slow" There has been trouble at Tilbury three times in three months. The consequence is that delivery dates "go haywire," of course affecting our competitive power. Consumers for such cargoes, by which our imports are paid for, resent nondelivery, and our markets are endangered. The New York Times is very progressive, in as much as it devotes a column in nearly every issue to shipping news. I wish our papers had the space to do something of the same sort, but of course they have not. On February 3 the New York Times said: Delivery dates on (British) exports fall so far behind that customers in the dollar area transfer substantial orders to Western Europe. These delays not only affect our trade in this way but they waste labour and material, because more ships are required to carry the same volume of cargo, so absorbing unnecessary steel and labour in shipbuilding and requiring more dockers and more seamen for crews. Time could be saved in this matter of loading and discharging. It would be the equivalent of adding ships to our merchant fleet without in any way adding to the expense of buying them.

My Lords, I have said that this is a matter which affects the economic life of this country. The shipping industry is a most valuable source of invisible exports. Its annual value is probably over £150,000,000, and possibly approaching £200,000,000. I dare say that the latter figure is the nearer of the two. Therefore in regard to these invisible exports, of which we are in such dire need, it is clear that the country cannot afford the delays which are imposed upon the shipping industry by the state of affairs in the docks. The figure of port and handling charges to a shipping firm has gone up phenomenally. Before the war these charges averaged about 38.5 per cent. of the total outlay of a shipping firm. To-day, they are probably somewhere between 51 and 70 per cent., while the ships are making fewer voyages. Our exporters are seriously troubled by the difficulties which they encounter in shipping to Australia, New Zealand and East Africa. They are urged to step up exports, only to find that they cannot ship them. They are urged to meet competition by reducing their prices. How can they reduce prices while goods invoiced at higher prices are still on the docksides, awaiting shipment? The cost of cargo transfer in British ports is a matter of first importance to the nation. One Report and one White Paper after another has established that the high freight charges involved by these delays contribute very seriously indeed to the high cost of living. If dock work went on smoothly and efficiently port charges would come down, followed by a fall in the prices of imports and exports.

What are the remedies for this state of affairs? Broadly speaking, they fall under two headings—namely, mechanisation and what I would call the human factor. Those are the two broad issues with which we have to deal. I will deal first with mechanisation. Reform and reorganisation are overdue. The time has come to organise the cargo-handling industry on a modern mechanised basis. We want investigations by practical men. We want to find out what can reasonably be done, in what time, and by what number of men. When we have those facts, amongst others, then we shall know not only how to speed up cargo handling but how to redeploy the labour force, and how to handle the problem of redundancy without involving hardship to any now at work in the docks. Some mechanisation has, of course, been introduced, but the Machinery has not always been allowed to run to full efficiency, and it has not been incorporated into a standardised cargo-handling unit or system. It is not that the appliances are not there: equipment is available, but we are not utilising it. Mechanisation is still a problem to be solved, although the Ministry of Transport appointed a Working Party on the subject which consulted the trade unions and the employers. The Report of that Working Party stated that Many operations in the docks are now performed by hand which could be partly or wholly mechanised. So far, so good.

But I have already quoted the Chamber of Shipping Annual Meeting at which a Mr. Mac Tier said: Greater use of mechanical aids should reduce handling costs and ultimately the price to the consumer. It seemed, therefore, unfortunate that so little had been achieved towards implementing the recommendations of the Working Party on Turn Round (1948) and on Mechanisation (1950). But what stands in the way? Clearly, employers will not risk the expense of installation unless they are assured that the machines will be used to proper efficiency. A Liverpool firm have had some curious experiences. They bought six fork lift trucks at a cost of £1,000 each, and the trucks lay idle for six months. I understand that there was a little trouble about a grain elevator in the Port of London—I believe that it had a name, and that it was called the "Sir John Anderson." The porters complained because it worked too fast, and I believe: that that elevator, which cost some £150,000—I am speaking from memory in regard to that figure—lay idle for a very long time. The managing director of a firm which manufactures industrial trucks has put this problem very clearly and fairly. He says that, if mechanisation is used to full advantage, it seems that the result may be that men are laid off. On the other hand, if it is not so used the result will be uneconomic. That is the short view. But in his view, the long view, mechanical handling would result in such a vastly greater volume of tonnage being handled that it would justify the cost of installation, and would also justify the retention, with some redeployment, of the existing labour force at existing wages.

The dockers most certainly will never accept any degree of mechanisation if it involves labour redundancy while benefiting the employers. But there is very strong evidence bearing out the point of view that in the long run the introduction of modern methods and modern machinery does increase employment and not cause unemployment. The Working Party to which I have referred made what I think was a wise suggestion—namely, that a propaganda campaign should be inaugurated to incalcate amongst the dockers the fact that, in the long run, machinery does not mean unemployment. I believe that, given adequate instruction and information, the young and coining generation of dockers will realise that machines show the way to avoid dirt, fatigue and accidents, while at the same time improving their social and industrial status without the chronic troubles which seem to be inherent in the present system. I have mentioned redundancy, and I admit at once that redundancy is the bugbear of the dockers. The docks carry a great number of old men—I believe something like double the number carried in other industries. The Working Party suggested retiring allowances, but the employers seem reluctant to do what is contrary to general industrial practice. Experts hold that modern cargo-handling methods would not involve large-scale redundancy but would, on the contrary, mean higher wage, less physical effort and better conditions. Sir John Hobhouse, who is chairman of the Employers' Association in the Port of Liverpool, has said—and I think this is an important point—that: Employers have gone so far as to give assurances to the trade unions that any displacement of men by the use of machines would not be met by dismissals but by redeployment or the natural process of wastage. If what those experts say is true, and mechanisation does not mean redundancy, then I think that fact cannot be too much preached to the dockers for it will do much to relieve them of one great anxiety which mechanisation causes in their minds.

Having frequently mentioned the dockers, may I, with your Lordships' permission, say one or two things about the characteristics of these men? Work in docks used to be casual labour, and I am told that when that was so the sight was not unknown of a foreman at the "call-on" throwing a bunch of tallies to the ground, the dockers then fighting for those tallies like dogs to whom a bone had been thrown. Men who had experiences like that, who have things like that at the backs of their minds, must be forgiven if they have some slightly warped views. They have not been well-handled and well-treated in the past. Their work was hard and dirty. There were frequent accidents. There was a lack of amenities which the noble Lords, Lord Ammon, first, and now Lord Crook have done so much to remedy—and there is a remarkable programme in this respect coming along. The Dock Labour Scheme of 1947, of course, ended the worst of these abuses, and the guaranteed weekly wage ended financial insecurity. Dockers, I think one may fairly say, are now high up in the industrial scale of pay and conditions. In fact, I should think that possibly they come second only to miners. But there is still amongst them traces of the old spirit of suspicion. The News Chronicle, I think, put it very well in an article which contained this passage: Dockers are almost a race apart. In their very separateness lay the fabulous solidarity which enabled them to fight against bad conditions. Now most of their battles are won, yet trouble remains.

I have heard it said, and it is true, that trouble can start for any or no reason. Oldish and older men remember the old conditions, casual labour and unemployment, and, in spite of the guaranteed week, the fear of unemployment still lingers. The Report of that Working Party which I mentioned earlier, speaking of the practice of "One out, all out" says: It appears incredibly easy to bring dock workers out on strike. Workers resolutely opposed to the activities of unofficial elements, told us frankly it was too much to expect the average dock worker should remain at work when his mates were out. I agree that, at first sight, there seems to be something rather fine about that attitude. But new conditions being what they are, and in view of the economic crisis through which we are passing, is that frame of mind really something to be proud of? Ought there not to be a new outlook now? And the employers, too, I feel, have also to take some new factors into account. Now that pay and conditions are good it is quite clear that they must give their attention to what I have spoken of as psychological factors, human factors. They must learn that what is causing trouble between employers and employees is no longer simply a question of pay and conditions: it relates to other things which are deep down. There are things of the spirit, as well as material things, and it is of that field, I feel, that the employer now has to think. Mutual good will would greatly improve turn-round, but with regard to the cultivation of that good will all I will say is that I cannot think that some speeches which I have heard and read—speeches delivered by men who have a part to play in the conduct of our ports—assist in promoting that spirit of good will. When all is said and done, what is wanted to-day is to forget the past, which is the agitator's stock in trade. We want to draw a red line under all that. Great numbers of the dockers are sick and tired of the trouble stirred up by bad elements. I have heard of most interesting movements, one at Immingham and the other in the Port of London itself, started among dockers who realise these things and are trying to do their share to produce better results and a better spirit in the industry.

This is such a vast subject that one has to leave out a great number of matters of importance, but I must say just a word on restrictive practices. It is not possible to deal with this subject without mentioning these restrictive practices, and I base what I have to say about it on a notice issued last year by the Liverpool Dock Labour Joint Committee. It was headed a "Notice to Dock Workers"; it called their attention to an increase of two shillings a day being granted to ensure smooth and efficient working, and it said that this smooth and efficient working was being impaired by: Late starts, early finishes, extension of recognised breaks beyond agreed time and unauthorised absences generally. The Committee declared that: Serious malpractices are prevalent in Liverpool and Birkenhead. Work is not being started promptly and is not being continued right up to the proper ceasing time. 'Welting' and other unauthorised absences can no longer be tolerated. All this means that the employer does not get the eight full hours of work to which he is entitled under the agreements, work is lost to the port and turn-round takes far longer than it should. That is the evidence upon which I, at any rate, base what I have to say about the restrictive practices.

I do not think it is denied that these restrictive practices and malpractices do occur, although, as I have already said, I think they are due to the work of a minority of the dockers and of agitators who foment them. But these restrictive practices are shocking. The noble Lord, Lord Ammon, speaking about "spelling"—that is the system whereby possibly four men out of eight in a gang, or some men out of a gang, are always absent—once described that system as "sheer dishonesty." And so, in fact, it is. I hear of delaying tactics to extend a job into overtime or into a Sunday job, with six hours at double pay; and the under-loading of slings, whereby lifting gear tested for ten or fifteen tons is used to lift three or four hundredweight. There are many of these practices which greatly increase the cost of handling cargoes in ports. These restrictive practices are completely indefensible in view of the national emergency at this moment. I again quote from the Report of the Leggett Committee which bears out what I have said, that the troubles are due to a minority of the dockers. This Report says: Many of the dockers themselves realise how short-sighted it is to persist in observing working rules which are completely out of date, and feel uncomfortable when they are obliged to do a job by time-wasting methods. I have heard of nothing which has been done to implement the findings of that Committee. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, will be able to enlighten my ignorance on that subject, but so far as I have tried to follow up this matter of cargo handling and slow turn-round in docks, I have not heard of anything being done.

My Lords, in conclusion, I come to the most vital question of all. I think your Lordships will agree that I have produced very authoritative evidence indeed to corroborate the statements that I have made. If I have fallen into any errors, I regret it, because my one wish is to stick strictly to the facts and to present this case perfectly clearly. So I hope that I have not erred. But when we come to remedies, amongst them, I think, are these. We want increased research into mechanisation, with a full exchange of information between all concerned. And this introduction of full mechanisation has got to be a nationwide, simultaneous affair. I think we want improved management-labour consultation and co-operation. I am not at all sure that that has yet reached the level which will produce good will in this industry. I think, too, that trade unions, employers and Ministries alike should all campaign to inculcate the advantages of mechanisation and the injury to the consumer (that is, to tile docker himself), and to the nation, of the restrictive practices of which I have spoken. This is a matter of public concern and the Government should put the public first in this matter.

The noble Viscount, Lord -Waverley, is here, and in view of his presence I have been speaking with considerable nervousness and diffidence. The noble Viscount has shown himself in public speeches to be aware of these difficulties and troubles, but he said: It is no use getting impatient about this matter. Be content to move slowly, so long as we move in the right direction. The changes we would all desire are bound to come. That may be so, but we are passing through a time of great crisis and great emergency and, with great respect to the noble Viscount, I am not sure that we can move in this lather slow manner. I should be sorry if I thought the Government entirely accepted that point of view and said, "We need not do anything; we just have to go along slowly and everything will come right." Perhaps I may call the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, to the fact that the present Foreign Secretary, Mr. Eden, when he was in Opposition, made an incursion into this matter of cargo handling in the docks and he asked for a full inquiry into the working of the docks, including the dock labour scheme, in view of the recurrent stoppages in the industry. I know that Opposition and Government are two very different things, but may I say that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, will not turn an entirely deaf ear to what the present Foreign Secretary said on that occasion, and that he may have in mind such inquiries and researches as will enable him to give your Lordships hope that this situation in the docks may be cleared up and remedied? I beg to move for Papers.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all sympathetic with the noble Lord, Lord Winster, in having to rearrange his date for this Motion, for he has now found himself debating this subject on what is a rather important day in another place. I am sure that there are at the moment more noble Lords in another place than there are in your Lordships' House, because this next half hour, I understand, is the crucial half hour there. I, myself, am anxious to hear what is happening there. I should have liked this Motion to be debated on a more propitious day; it was the intention of the noble Lord himself that it should be. Unfortunately, ill-health compelled him to change the date. He tried to avoid Budget Day and accordingly did not Table it for March 4; but then Budget Day was postponed until March 11, and consequently we find ourselves in this position.

I was a little concerned about this Motion when I first saw it. I know the noble Lord very well—indeed, he and I spent years together in another place—and I know his clarity of mind and his incisiveness, and I wondered what he was up to; what exactly was his reason for putting this Motion on the Order Paper. He disabused my mind very quickly. He told us straight away that he was not going to make an attack on the general body of dockers, but he singled out a minority. Now what we must remember is that minorities generally rule most organisations. Maybe we regret it, but I know the workers' side of the industrial world fairly well and I would say that the average percentage attendance at meetings which determine policy is very low. In the organisation to which I belonged I do not think that we ever exceeded some 2 or 3 per cent., and if we had 5 per cent. of our membership present at a meeting to determine policy we were doing well. That is a matter we are not able to deal with. We are obliged to leave that to the trade unions themselves, and if the Communist sections in the dock trade unions are more active and alive and attend the branch meetings and various other meetings more regularly than the non-Communist, we must expect Communist influence far out of proportion to the number of Communists employed in the docks.

I, like my noble friend, have been very concerned during the past three or four years at what has been happening in dockland, not only in this country but throughout the Commonwealth and in countries outside the Commonwealth. One felt that maybe the Communist Party had realised, "Here is a point where we can hit, and hit hard, the various countries, and help Communism along by that method." That may have been their conception of the best way to communise the world, and we have suffered from it. We then come to the problem of how best we can deal with this peril—and it is a peril. The noble Lord has made some good suggestions. I expected him to make some reference to the problem of mechanisation. It is all very well for those of us here who are not affected by the mechanisation of industry to tell those who are how they ought to react to it. It is all very well to tell them that it is the best thing for the country, and a grand thing for the general population. But the docker views mechanisation from the angle of how it will affect him; and the miner does likewise. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, remembers, during the war I was for some four years responsible for the regional control of Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales. During that time we had to introduce a certain element of mechanisation in the mines, and I found it most difficult. Not that the miner was not a patriot—there never was a greater patriot than the miner. But the miner viewed the matter from its effect on him and his family. The trouble was that the miner who was not going to be displaced by mechanisation was so sympathetic with the miner who was, that he stood by him. I had to find ways and means of introducing mechanisation in such a way that it would be accepted.

I agree with some of the suggestions made by my noble friend. I agree with propaganda among the general body of dockers to show what mechanisation will mean to,:he industry, with an assurance from the employers that, though the workers may have to change their jobs, they will not be unemployed. I am certain that if the dockers can be satisfied that they are not going back to the bad old days, their attitude towards mechanisation will not be antagonistic. But that has to be shown to them. We have to remember that the dockers, like the miners, Lave very long memories—and you do not need a very long memory to remember those bad old days. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, knows of the bad days in shipping perhaps better than any other noble Lord. They were the days when you would find a long queue of fine workmen, waiting, hoping, yearning, that they might be selected for a job at 6d. an hour; and accidents then were very frequent in the industry. I think my noble friend is right in saying that the dockers would be well advised not to live too much in the past. But do not blame them because they sometimes look backwards and say: "Shall we ever get there again?" Noble Lords will appreciate that a man or woman who has experienced dire poverty is haunted through life by the fear that it may come again. It warps a man's judgment, and his attitude is not perhaps what it ought to be; he remembers what he suffered in that period of dire poverty, and he is afraid of going through it again. Fear is never a good counsellor. I am sure the noble and gallant Lord the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations will agree that in war fear is not a good counsellor; nor is it a good counsellor in industry.

What are the dockers asking themselves about mechanisation? They are asking: "How will it affect me? How will it affect my next door neighbour?" We must find some way of familiarising those employee in the clocks with the possibility of mechanisation as a friend to the country, and, therefore, as a friend to themselves in the long run. But we must keep in mind the personal attitude of the individual docker to something which may result in his being unemployed for a period. The problem of human relations is a big one. One who has now passed on, who was in a high position in this country, once sad to me: "I never thought that a body of men could be so inefficient in industry as the coalowners." I would not insult the shipowners or those responsible for shipping by putting them in the same category. I knew the coalowners a little better they did not show the judgment they might have shown, and their attitude was not as wise as it might have been. The shipowners may be in a higher category. They will need to be if they are to carry through this mechanisation, which I agree is essential for the quick turn-round; and the quick turn-round is essential for a successful shipping industry.

The problem of human relations is a difficult one, not confined to dockland or to any one side engaged in shipping; it applies to both sides. My noble friend Lord Winster was a little disturbed about the counsel given by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, not to be too impatient, and thought we eight to be a little impatient and try to get on with this job quickly. We shall need to be very careful. This is a job which can go forward only slowly; in fact, the counsel given by the noble Lord himself is a counsel of going slowly and consulting everybody. He urges the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, to agree to an inquiry—that is not very quick as a rule—realising that we can get at the root of the trouble only by slow motion. I would counsel the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, to be careful how he handles this problem

I very much appreciate the reference made to my good friend Arthur Deakin. If there is one man who has consistently fought Communist influence in his trade union in this country it is Arthur Deakin. He has taken his official industrial life into his hands more than once. Do not forget that these officials are elected, and, therefore, they can be dismissed; and if the Communists campaign hard enough they may well be dismissed. Arthur Deakin did not waver but set himself against the Communist menace. The best way to deal with the Communist menace is welfare work, and the welfare work which is going on in dockland is remarkable. During the last few years when I have read the reports sent to me from time to time I have been very surprised at what has been done. However, my noble friend Lord Ammon can speak with much greater knowledge of that side of the matter. I do appreciate the temperate manner in which my noble friend approached this problem, and I would recommend that to the noble Lord, Lord Leathers.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, I feel impelled to intervene in this debate because I have had perhaps exceptional opportunities of studying the various elements in the problem under discussion this afternoon. It is important to realise that there are various elements, and to distinguish them clearly. As many noble Lords know, I have been for six years Chairman of the Port of London Authority and for five years President of the Association of Dock and Harbour Authorities. But my education in these matters began much earlier. It began in the 1914–18 war, when I became Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping, when it was founded at the end of 1916, and remained there until the middle of 1919. We in the Ministry of Shipping were then confronted with disastrous losses to British tonnage, amounting over a long period to an average of 200,000 tons gross a week and, in the months of April and June, 1917, to no less than 800,000 tons gross a week.

In those circumstances, special measures had to be taken to promote the flow of traffic through the ports. An organisation called the Port and Transit Executive Committee was set up, and men, organised in military formations—units called transport workers battalions—were put at the disposal of the Committee for the purpose of intervening at any point where there appeared to be a hold-up. Those members of the transport workers battalions, though organised in military formations, were paid at civilian rates. In the ports of France, the work was done by battalions of dockers who were paid at Army rates. Again in the last war special organisation had to be resorted to; special steps were taken in the principal ports on the Clyde, in Liverpool and in London, and great inland depôts were established throughout the country to relieve congestion at the docks. If there were one point on which I might be disposed to offer a general criticism of the speech delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, it would be that he appeared to concentrate his attention rather too much on what happens within the limits of the ports of this country. He spoke, and quite rightly, of the serious consequences of delay in shipping. He mentioned that in certain instances five ships were required to do the work of four. That is not entirely due to deficiencies in the ports of this country, but is due also to what happens at the other end—in Australia or New Zealand, or wherever it may be.

What happens elsewhere in this country than in the ports also has a profound bearing on the flow of traffic through the ports of this country. It is, as I have said, of very great importance that one should recognise the different factors that come into play in this matter. It is not merely a question of what happens in a particular port. One must take account of the factors governing the movement of goods at all stages, inward from the arrival of a ship in port to the ultimate destination of the goods or, as the case may be, outward from the point of origin of the goods to shipment coastwise or overseas. In other words, there must be co-ordination of the flow of traffic through the port with the movement of goods by road, rail or barge. On this co-ordination of the different agencies concerned—"integration" is the word used in the Transport Act, although I have never been quite sure what that meant or was intended to mean—the maintenance of a steady rhythm and the avoidance of bottlenecks depend. Success depends, therefore, on the effective co-operation of a number of authorities, some within and some outside the limits of any port.

Even within a port the position is far from simple. Conditions, indeed, differ from port to port, but nowhere could it be said that the solution of the problem we are discussing lies wholly, or even mainly, within the sphere of the port authorities. In general, port authorities are responsible for the maintenance of navigable channels, for the provision of facilities for the handling of ships and cargoes and for warehouse accommodation. There the similarity ends. Even that statement is subject to qualifications—for instance, where wharves are privately owned. In many ports, such as Liverpool, the port authority has no responsibility for the handling of cargoes. London differs. May I here offer just a word of explanation, although I do not wish to burden your Lordships with too much detail? We have in the Port of London five dock systems. In all those dock systems the Authority is responsible for the handling of outward cargoes, with the one exception of a few leased berths which are very much in the position of privately owned wharves. As regards inward cargoes, at the India Docks and St. Katharine Dock we—the Port Authority—discharge the ships; we are responsible for the actual stevedoring on the ships. Elsewhere that work is the responsibility of shipowners, who also handle the goods on the quay, though only as agents of the, Port Authority. Even with these responsibilities which I have briefly described, the Port of London Authority, while the largest single employer in the Port, employs on an average only 4,000 men out of a total of 32,000. It is necessary to mention those facts in order that the distribution of responsibility may be realised. London also differs from most of the other ports of the country in that a high proportion—more than half—of the cargoes are handled overside to or from barges.

I come now—and I intend to be very brief—to some of the causes, or alleged causes, of unsatisfactory out-turn—the noble Lord, Lord Winster, referred to some of them. I believe that there is no better worker than the British docker when he is at work, and it is fair to say that the out-turn per gang-hour to-day compares not unfavourably with the out-turn per gang-hour before the war. But, of course the hours worked are shorter, and it may be said with truth that the out-turn ought to be better, because the standard of health of the workers is probably better and because of the use of mechanical appliances, about which I shall have to say a word in a moment. Time is undoubtedly lost, and quite unnecessarily lost, through various restrictive practices and through excessive breaks. I do not think that we in this country have ever suffered from "spelling," as it is called, to the extent that the noble: Lord, Lord. Winster, implied. When I was in New Zealand more than a year ago I found that "spelling"—which meant that half the gang worked and half the gang sat in a shed and smoked or played cards—was a very serious evil. I have been happy to learn from the newspapers that that has been brought to an end. As I say, I do not think that the evil ever attained such dimensions in this country.

Then there is what is known as the "continuity" rule—that is, a rule under which, when a gang start work on one hatch of a ship, if something happens down in the hold which slows down work or stops it temporarily and another hatch is available, the men will not move to the other hatch. Then there is the practice under which, when gangs are made up, broken gangs are not completed by a process of redistribution from other gangs but they wait and will not start work until men have come from outside, perhaps quite a long distance, to make up the gangs to the recognised numbers. I mention these points because they should be in the minds of noble Lords when the problem as a whole is being reviewed.

Now a word as to the attitude of the men to the introduction and to the use—and "introduction" and "use" are two quite different things—of mechanical appliances, which in practically every case ought not only to result in a great saving of physical effort but should lead to greatly improved results from the same hours of work. This is rather a sad story. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, referred to a particular case of a grain elevator in the Port of London which has had some publicity during recent months. That elevator was one of two purchased by the Port of London Authority—the noble Lord was quite right—at a cost of £150,000. Its great fault, in the view of some, is that it is capable of handling up to 300 tons of grain an hour. The older appliances mostly handled about 100 tons an hour, and one or two up to 200 tons an hour. It was said: "This is going to take the bread out of our children's mouths"—a rather curious metaphor to apply to a thing which was going to handle grain at such a rapid rate. When that appliance was first available for us the men demanded rates of pay which would have made its use quite uneconomic. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, would agree with me, when I say that, generally speaking, when a mechanical appliance or technical device is introduced it is reasonable that the benefit should be distributed, some to the body responsible for introducing the appliance as a return for their enterprise and initiative and as an encouragement to go forward; some to labour, which is reasonably entitled to share in the prosperity of the industry with which it is connected; and some part, surely, to the public. After five weeks of idleness the rates were negotiated on a provisional basis for three months.

I must here give some figures; and I realise that in doing so I am open to the suspicion of attacking people. I am not attacking anybody, except perhaps on the score of lack of imagination. But the fact is that, at the rates agreed, no advantage whatever in saving accrues to the Authority. There is here no question of reducing the number of men employed: no reduction has been asked for. The whole benefit resulting from the introduction of this very efficient appliance is going to the men. One would not, perhaps, criticise that very strongly if the men could be said to have been underpaid. But that is very far from being the position. I have obtained from the Dock Labour Board figures which I am told are typical of pay to corn porters employed on grain elevators, though not on this particular machine, which is exceptionally efficient. Taking a typical gang of twelve men—a gang is really fourteen, but taking twelve men—six trimmers and six gangers, employed on the India Docks and the Royal Docks every day, the average wage over a period of forty-eight weeks was £15 a week. That figure speaks for itself. The only advantage the community gets is in the quicker turn-round of ships. The cost to the receiver of the corn cannot be reduced, as I have explained.

Now I come to a case which is different in some respects—the fork lift truck—and I bracket with it other devices, mechanical trolleys of various kinds, light travelling cranes, conveyors and so on. It would surely be a very curious coincidence if the form of organisation or the method of working found by long experience to be appropriate where the whole of the work is carried out manually proved to be equally the most efficient, the most effective and the most satisfactory when mechanical appliances are introduced. Actually, it is not so; it can be demonstrated that it is not so. The noble Lord. Lord Winster, quite rightly spoke of redeployment. When these mobile appliances are introduced, the mobility of the men constituting the gang should be increased; it should be made to correspond to the mobility of the appliance. When the gang is broken up and the units of it work separately from one another—where they are working, that is, under new conditions—those units should be regarded as one and the men should be interchangeable. There would, no doubt, as a result of such a reorganisation, be some reduction of man-power; it is in the reduction of man-power that the financial advantage which accrues to the community occurs. In the Port of London there is no question of profit. It is only in that reduction of man-power that the advantage mainly arises.

The problem, as I have tried to explain, is simply one of organisation, to which there is an obvious solution. Why, then, do the men cling to their outworn conceptions? Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor explained why, and I agree very largely with what he had to say. He pointed out that the workers have long memories. They also have, as Lord Winster said, strong loyalties—almost passionate loyalties. A man is not willing to work himself out of a job; still less will be work his mate out of a job. And remember, my Lords, the dockers are almost entirely dockers' sons; there is a tradition running in the family. The noble Lord quoted something I said in Glasgow about a year ago about the need to move slowly-I would rather say, the folly of trying to move too quickly. I am not content that we should not move at all. It is a matter of experience that appliances purchased at considerable expense as a matter of faith by the employers have been left idle. That is a situation which can be remedied only by a patient process of education. I agree profoundly that there is more to be done—and this also I said in my speech in Glasgow—in the sphere of human relations than by any process of physical reorganisation such as was relied upon by the authors of the Transport Act, although there is a case for physical reorganisation.

The noble Lord, Lord Winster, referred to the need for more deep water berths, more dry docks and more lighters. There is certainly some-thing in that point. I do not think that in the Port of London we suffer on the whole from any shortage of deep water berths. I see every morning charts showing the location of ships in each of the five dock systems in the Port of London; and it is rarely that there is not one or perhaps two or three or more berths vacant—vacated, perhaps, only twenty-four hours before, and awaiting the arrival of ships. As regards dry docks—and we have ten of these in the Port of London—one of the most difficult problems confronting the Port of London is that of keeping pace with changes of design and tonnage of ships. There are also difficulties of materials and of war damage to be made good. It is unfortunate if ships come into port which cannot be handled as effectively as we were able to handle their predecessors. Take one simple thing, the stabiliser, which is a device for presenting the rolling of ships. It depends on a system of fins or vanes. When a ship so equipped comes into dry dock, the owner naturally wants to manipulate the fins; but this means making deep slots or cuttings into the dry dock. This takes time. It is very sad indeed to find that ships often have to go from ports in this country to ports on the Continent to carry out running repairs. In that regard I must confess that the Port Authority are in a position of complete helplessness, because repair facilities, apart from the actual dry docks and cranes, are in no sense under the control of the Authority. That is a matter which merits close consideration.

Before I pass from that point, I should like to say something in regard to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, on the subject of barges. The tonnage of barge, available in the Port of London has not in fact suffered any reduction. There has been a reduction in numbers because, on the average, the barges are larger, arid perhaps by reason of the reduction in numbers the mobility is less. But, as I shall show in a moment, the real trouble lies elsewhere. As between the ports and the outside agencies to which I referred at the beginning, this problem arises. The lightermen work up to seven o'clock at night. The wharves work only until five o'clock. If you probe the problem, you find that the reason for the differnce is that the factories and the warehouses which receive the goods out- side the port limits are probably conditioned to a five-day, forty-hour week. So what is the good of working longer hours in one section? means that the barges or the railway wagons, of which there is, as the noble Lord said, sometimes a shortage, have to be used quite improperly and wastefully as warehouses to bridge the gap between the hours of work of the lighters and the hours of work in the outside agencies which form part of the same chain of processes by which the goods are carried out or carried in.

I have tried to survey, briefly, the various elements in the problem as they are seen from the point of view of a port authority. There is here a general problem of organisation which merits attention—I will not say on a higher level but, with respect to my noble friend, on a different level. I can assure my noble friend Lord Leathers that in any measures that he and his colleagues may think fit to propose for bringing the fullest possible influence to bear with a view to meeting the various difficulties and deficiences that are known to exist and securing a satisfactory solution, the dock authorities for their part will offer the fullest and most complete collaboration.


My Lords, I did not like to interrupt the noble Viscount during his interesting speech, but may I ask whether he would agree that there are two dry docks in London (I agree they are small) that are rapidly deteriorating at the present time owing to some dispute as to liability for war damage, and so on?


My Lords, I do not know whether it is a dispute as to war damage. There is one dry dock which will probably have to be diverted to some other use. May I, with your Lordships' indulgence, say a word on war damage for one moment? It is perfectly true that the repair of war damage has proceeded more rapidly in some Continental ports that it has in this country. One of the reasons for that lies in the nature of the damage. For example, in Rotterdam the damage done consisted mainly in the breaking down of dock walls. In London and in some of the other ports the damage consisted mainly in. the destruction of warehouses. The actual port equipment, apart from the storage facilities, has been very largely restored, but warehouses will take a long time to restore. For example, in the Surrey Commercial Dock which was completely destroyed by fire, there are many sheds and warehouses needing to be rebuilt.


And in the East India Dock too.


Yes. There is one other word I should like to say, now that I am on my feet again. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Winster, said that there are no modern appliances in the Surrey Dock. There may not have been at the date of the information upon which he based his remarks, but I can assure him that we are in the process of introducing the most effective cranes in the Surrey Docks. Generally speaking, we have a large programme of cranes, both electric and hydraulic, of which we are gradually taking delivery.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who introduced this Motion has certainly brought a very important matter before your Lordships' House. I think it has a considerable bearing on the financial position of the country at the present time. I intervene in this debate only because during the first year of the war I had a good deal to do with the Port of London. We have listened to a most interesting speech by the noble Viscount. Lord Waverley. There is no doubt that slow turn-round of ships in ports is due to various causes, such as insufficient berthing—which I think was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Winster—and insufficient warehouses and transit shed accommodation. In some cases this is due to unrepaired war damage. Then again, there is the failure in some ports to clear goods from the transit sheds quickly enough. There is also the need for more mechanisation and more modern port appliances. On top of all this, there are, of course, certain labour difficulties and so on which have been mentioned by the noble Lord who introduced this Motion.

I propose for a few moments to deal with another aspect of the problem—namely, the set-up of the National Dock Labour Board. I am sure it is true to say that the recent outbreaks of unrest in the docks, involving unofficial stoppages, were to a considerable extent due to the set-up of the present dock labour scheme, and not entirely due to Communism, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald. I have no doubt that the setup of this Board was well-intentioned in every way, but I would say that practical experience of its working over the last six years has shown up many of its faults and defects. In the first place, the organisation of the National Dock Labour Board has had the effect of introducing between the employers and the workers a third party, who are of course the legal employers of the men. I have little doubt that the Dock Labour Board are regarded by many of the men as a soulless and somewhat impersonal organisation. What is more, they are regarded, perhaps, by the employers as a barrier between themselves and the workers. I think this tends to produce a sense of frustration and a deterioration, I would say, of the human factor.

The old legal joint consultation machinery of the docks industry was far better because the actual employers and the workers met on equal terms. As your Lordships are aware, that machinery has now been practically superseded by the Dock Labour Board. A further complication arises by the fact that the Board includes amongst its members union representatives who are placed, I should say, in the invidious position of being judges of their own cause. What is the result? The union men are inclined to adopt an attitude which either undermines the authority of the Board or gives the impression of failing to look after the interests of the men. The men in the docks, I feel, cannot accept this dual position. There is no doubt that the authority of the union is often weakened thereby, and the men turn to the subversive elements which undoubtedly cause these unofficial stoppages.

It is not easy to suggest how to remedy the defects which I have mentioned. It is true that no one in his senses would favour a return to casual labour; on the other hand, I would say that it is essential that better discipline should in some way be secured. In fact, the solution may well be in the drastic remedy of eliminating the Board, at any rate as it is composed at present, and placing the responsibility for administering the scheme on the employers, with, of course, full use of the joint consultative machinery. I have little doubt that if that were done a new and better spirit would prevail throughout this industry. Of course there is another alternative, which might well be the setting up of a completely independent body to administer the scheme, the members of which would not be directly representative of the two sides of the industry as they are at present. I suggest that perhaps this organisation would be the best solution of all for the administration of dock labour.

It has been suggested in one or two quarters, although not in this House today, that the output of dock workers is considerably below what it was a few years ago. In some cases that is undoubtedly true, but I would say that a comparison with pre-war figures shows in some ports an improved rate of working per gang-hour. On the other hand, as was mentioned by Lord Waverley, due to shorter effective working hours the turn-round of the ships is no better, and sometimes it is worse. There is another factor which is liable to cause delays in clearance—I think the noble Viscount mentioned it. The normal working time for a ship is a five and a half day week, and often it is a six and a half day week, whereas, in most cases, the receivers of cargo are now working only a five-day week. This is bound to lead to a certain amount of congestion in the ports and to a slowing down in the turn-round of ships.

I have little doubt that conditions would greatly improve if the dockers could be educated to appreciate the use of improved mechanical methods, and I too think it is a pity that so little has been achieved towards implementing the recommendations of the Working Party on Turn Round, 1948. There was another Working Party set up in 1950, which dealt with mechanisation. I would also say that one of the most serious defects in some of our major British ports to-day (I think this does not apply to the Port of London) is the shortage of deep-water berths. The average length and draught of both liners and tramp steamers has increased very considerably in the last few years, and in consequence too many berths are to-day obsolete. Another cause of the slow turn round of our ships is the system of Government bulk buying, which has the effect of causing congestion in a few of our large ports at the expense of others. For instance, the Minister of Food's orders may have the effect of concentrating cargoes at a port serving the area whose turn it is to receive the distribution of a particular commodity, and then suddenly the cargoes are switched to another port.

The shipping industry could undoubtedly increase its contribution to invisible exports if turn round of ships could be speeded up. The contribution of the shipping industry to our invisible exports for last year was something in the nature of £150,000,000. This year it may well be up to something like £200,000,000. It is true that we are not the only country suffering from these port defects. As your Lordships are aware, the turn round of shipping in Australia is particularly bad, and it has been suggested there that shippers should be charged a fee if their goods were not removed from the port within a specified time limit. In fact, I understand that if the turn round in port of a liter in the Australian trade could be speeded up by 10 per cent., either on this side or the other, her earning capacity would be increased to the extent of something like £20,000. I hope Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to speed up the turn round of ships in our ports, which would considerably aid the country's financial position at the present time.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I began to think there would be nothing left for me to say after Lord Winster and Lord Waverley had spoken. I agree with both of them in the main. But at least I have something to say about what the noble Lord, Lord Teynharn, has said. However, I want first just to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" in regard to Lord Winster's opening statement about the length of voyages of ships at sea and their stay in port. So far as this country is concerned, with all its faults, the situation is as nothing compared to that in Australia, New Zealand and some other countries. The state of the docks in those countries has been very bad indeed. It is true that something has yet to be done with regard to our own country, but as I have said again and again we have got to remember the heritage that the dockers took over long ago. After all, in relation to the Stone of Scone, we have listened to-day to something dating back to the thirteenth century. If that rankles over all these centuries, why should we wonder at the feeling of the men who have emerged from a state of affairs in which they were the very flotsam and jetsam of society. All the weaklings and failures drifted to the docks, worked when they liked or when they could, and how they could, but with no high standard of life. The Dock Labour Board scheme has done something of immeasurable importance to this country, in that it has lifted these men out of that rut and given them a standard of decent livelihood and a status in society. It has removed the great blot on our economic system whereby these men fought like wolves at the dock gates in order that they might get work.

I have said again and again in public, both in voice and in print, that there is room for the Dock Labour Board scheme to be revised. One does not know the weakness of anything until it has been tried out. This scheme has been working for some time, and some of us know some of the weaknesses. But the delay is not all due to the dockers. There is an endeavour to get both systems working. You cannot have both a casual labour system and the security of the Dock Labour Board scheme. We have got to come to a decision on that point. It is true that there are some troublesome elements, but they have been very quiet of late, due no doubt to an inquiry which is going on as to their conduct and how they could be treated. An opportunity was lost by the former Government to deal with that matter about two years ago. The whole matter could have been properly settled on that occasion. The opportunity will never again present itself as it did on that occasion, when imported Communists sought to sow dissension. They did this, and they were allowed to get away with it.

What is the position to-day? There are now 78,000 people, all more or less under the direction of the Dock Labour Board. Their average earnings are £9 11s. 2d. a week, ranging from £8 4s. 8d. in Cornwall to £11 in London. That is a different standard of living altogether from anything they knew before, with conditions of labour, both in welfare and in other ways, that are almost unknown in any other industry. But somehow, as Lord Winster has shown, in his quotations from the Report of the Committee presided over by Sir Frederick Leggett, they have been the easiest people in the world to persuade to go on strike, because of their sense of misplaced loyalty—a sense which we hope will be overcome in due time.

So much ground has been covered in this debate that very little is left to me. I want for a short while, however, to deal with the question of restrictive practices. I wonder whether it is generally realised that for every day that a 10,000-ton ship is in dock it costs about £600. That has a substantial effect in increasing the cost of living. I admit that it is difficult to assess exactly what is involved, but it is certainly a tremendous lot. And both sides, to a large extent, bear responsibility in this matter. Owners have been only too willing to take advantage of the tremendous boom in trade and to agree to delays, knowing that they are going to recoup themselves on freight charges.

A good deal has been said about "spelling," refusal to work in short gangs, and redundancy. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, has endeavoured to give your Lordships some idea of what "spelling" means. It means, for example, that if there is a gang of, say, sixteen men working, four or five of them break away and have a rest and yet still draw their full money. Nothing is being done to meet that sort of thing. If more authority were vested in the National Dock Labour Board they would be able to deal with problems of that kind. It is true that these practices can be reported, but they have to be reported to the owners, and it is then for the owners to deal with those concerned. If the National Dock Labour Board should indicate a change of policy, the local boards have the power to turn it down if they wish and not go forward with it. It is a sort of comic opera situation. But it is implicit in the Act itself, and to a certain extent the National Dock Labour Board are powerless to deal with it. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Winster, has raised this point, and I hope that, in spite of their other preoccupations at the moment, the Government will look at it to see what steps can be taken.

Like Lord Winster, I feel that something has to be done, and done quickly, because matters are getting into a very serious state. There are no reliable statistics to set against the pre-war figures as to the time it takes to turn round ships, but it has been estimated that, taking the pre-war time of a turn-round at seventeen days, it would now occupy about twenty days. But, as I have indicated, that is only an estimate, and it is not based on reliable statistics. What can be taken for a fact, however, is that Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp, have become virtually new ports, owing to the conditions to which Lord Waverley has referred, and they are going all out to capture the deep-water trade if they can. Certainly they are doing everything possible to attract it, and there is a very great danger that we may lose much of our trade—and it will be irrecoverable if it is lost—unless something is done so that we may see more efficient handling of ships and cargoes in our ports. One thing that we need is priority for building, to enable us to make good wastage, caused by the war, in London and other ports. These are the things we are fighting about.

I have referred already to "spelling," and another cause of delay has been reported to me from Liverpool. The work of unloading a ship may go on all night, but the wharves are all locked up and the cargo is left on the quayside. As a consequence, gangs which go on in the morning may find that they cannot start on the work of unloading until the goods have been cleared from the quayside. Lord Waverley, I am sure, will agree that that is not an unfair statement of the position. Equally, I regret to say, the same sort of thing may apply owing to lighterage difficulties (this is a matter which Lord Waverley did not touch upon) particularly shortage of craft. Take the case of imported timber. A ship comes in laden with timber. More than one merchant is interested in the cargo. Merchant "A" may have the top hold while merchant "B" has the bottom hold. Merchant "B" may have his barges all ready, but he cannot get his timber until "A" has moved his; and "A," maybe, has not got his barges ready, or he is delayed. Therefore "B" is held up, and there is great loss of time. There is not enough accommodation, either in barges or sheds, to meet the difficulties which arise. Many of them could be met and overcome if we had the proper machinery at hand, and if those responsible were properly supported. What has been happening is simply the case of the Luddites all over again. The men are hostile to the use of certain machines because they fear that their use will result in unemployment. Yet there is no real need for any fear of that kind. That is one fear which the National Dock Labour scheme should have banished. Under that scheme it can be ensured that no one will be dismissed and no one will suffer. The problem of displacement can be dealt with merely by wastage, by a closing of the registers until such time as natural wastage has made good any deficiency.

It is true, as has been said, that it is easy to get dock workers to strike. That is a matter which is referred to in the Leggett Report. I believe that this tendency may be overcome, and will be overcome, with a little patience and a little education. There are plenty of able, intelligent and decent fellows amongst the dockers, but they are still a little apprehensive and are rather inclined to be led away by yarns and slogans. Exhortations to "soak the rich," or "get your own back," and slogans, such as, "There is plenty of money in the kitty" are apt to influence their minds. And I believe that to some extent this attitude on their part has been promoted by the conduct of the Government. Unless these troubles are quickly and resolutely dealt with, not only will one of the best social schemes ever launched be wrecked, but much of the trade and commerce entering British ports will be diverted to Continental ports and lost irrevocably. I believe that basically the docker is as good a Briton as can be found. What he needs is firm and confident leadership, not only from the trade unions but from Government level. The longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will be to find a solution.

The whole of this matter has been put before the House this afternoon in a way in which it has never been put before, and I think it has been made abundantly clear that unless the Government help with the co-operation of the trade unions, and an inquiry is held into many of the weaknesses which now exist, the situation will not improve. As I have stressed, the National Dock Labour Board should have more power under the scheme. They are not by any means in the position of employers. To a large extent they are merely agents. They have done a great deal of work and a great deal to better the conditions of the dockers. Many a man has said to me how great a difference he feels the scheme has made in his life, and I have plenty of letters to the same effect. Yet somehow, when the call comes to strike, some of these men seem to respond almost unthinkingly. In the case of one strike we actually had men who were "out" come to us to ask what the strike was about. They had simply responded to the call "All out" as it went from dock to dock. Firm action must be taken with those responsible for agitation in the docks. No one will be happier than the average docker himself, if someone will deal with the agitators in the manner in which they ought to be dealt with.

Power and authority must be given for dealing with those who cause disruption of business at the docks. The unions can handle this matter if they will, and if they are given proper support. Troubles of the kind to which I have referred will not be cured, I suggest, by any measures of appeasement. It is no use condoning slowing down tactics, for any relief gained will be but temporary, and disputes will soon break out again. This is not idle talk, and I hope that the Government will give serious heed to what has been said and will take suitable action. That, my Lords, is all I have to say, for I cannot improve on what has already been so well said by other speakers in this debate. I conclude by reiterating that I am confident that the National Dock Labour Board's scheme can be made to work, and difficulties which we have been discussing can be overcome if and when there is the will to overcome them.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, the greater part of the speeches which have been made in your Lordships' House this afternoon on this subject have been concerned with labour and with mechanisation, which is to some extent an aspect of the labour side of the problem. But I should like, speaking as a shipowner (and declaring my interest accordingly), to reinforce very strongly indeed what fell from the lips of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in making the point that what happens in the docks and, above all, what happens between the ship's hold and the quayside is only a small part of the whole problem, and labour is not by any means the whole of that part. Indeed I think it would almost be true to say that, supposing we solved the whole labour problem miraculously overnight, the result would be to create such an appalling congestion tomorrow morning that we should be almost worse off than we are this afternoon. For, after all, the causes of delay (many of which have been recited already this afternoon) are to a great extent not ones primarily affected by labour: awaiting a berth; congestion on the quay—yes, partly; awaiting cargo—certainly not dock labour, but maybe labour somewhere else; shortage of cranes; breakdown of cranes; shortage of lighters; and finally, one thing which has not been mentioned but which is quite important though it has not changed very much perhaps since before the war, the incidence of the weather. That has a very considerable effect upon the possibility of the regularity of work in docks, more particularly when those docks are, as ours are largely in this country to-day, not perhaps as fully equipped as we should like them to be.

Again from the shipowner's point of view, I should like to say a word more than Lord Waverley has already said about delays which are incidental, but extremely important, arising from such matters as the difficulty of getting a ship dry-docked quickly enough in order to present her at the right time and at the right place. Delays in the repairs of ships are a very considerable cause (indirect but considerable) of delays in the actual handling of cargo. They may, of course, be a direct cause, as, for instance, where repairs are being done to a ship in berth. Because they are not got out of the way quickly enough you may have one or more hatches unusable for a considerable period of the ship's loading time. While I sympathise with the difficulties of the dock authorities to which also Lord Waverley referred, I think it is fair to say that, in the long run (and, indeed, perhaps even in the short run) it is the dock which will have to conform to the ship, and not the ship to the dock. There are, after all, many more ships than docks and they visit them extremely frequently. One dock, if properly designed, can deal with a great many ships in the course of a year, and, as Lord Waverley rightly said, one cannot hold up and interfere with the technical development of ships, which is a slow but continuous process, for fear that somebody ashore will not match one's development with his own

The other point I should like to make—and this is perhaps merely an extension of what I have already said—is that the whole of this docks problem is only one piece of a continual process, which starts with the goods having the factory or with the raw material leaving the mine or the farm, or wherever it may be at the other end, and does not really finish until the goods have reached either the consumer, if they be finished goods, or the manufacturer, if they be raw materials; and it is no good trying to separate any part of that process from the rest of it. It is the old pipe-line problem: you push something in at one end of the pipe, and until it comes out of the other it is no use to anybody. It you try to hurry up its passage through the pipe at one stage you are apt to cause congestion at the next. The moral of that is that the problem is not to be solved by one grandiose gesture. You can get to the end of it only by realising that it is part of a continuous process and, moreover, that that process differs markedly with the port, even with the time of year, with the ship and with the berth. It is a fearful individual problem if you are really going to get the quickest turn-round of every kind of ship in every kind of port.

I do not think it is altogether fair to say that the shipowner sits back and does not particularly care about it because he can always add something to the freight. I think the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, made a suggestion which faintly indicated that, and it has, I think, been implicit in one or two other remarks which have fallen from noble Lords during the afternoon. I should like to make perfectly clear that no possible increase in freight can compensate the shipowner for the loss of the use of his ship for even a short space of time. Figures have been given which suggest that at the moment five ships are doing the work which ought to be done by four. It is a comparatively simple process of costing to work out what increase of freight would be necessary to compensate the shipowner for having to build an extra ship and having to work her. There is probably nobody so keen as the shipowner to get his ship turned round faster, because he knows very well that nothing else will do him—or, for that matter, the world at large—so much good. Reference has been made to the contribution of shipping to our invisible exports. I do not want to go over that again except to say that I think the figures which have been given may even now be on the low side.

The other suggestion which has been made about the shipowner is that the matter is to a great extent within his own control as an employer of dock labour (which, very often, incidentally, he is not, though often he would like to be more than he is) and that the problem can be solved by the shipowner and by the port authorities, alone or together. Nothing could be further from the truth, because, as I have said, the problem—I should not like to say how much of it, but a very great deal of it—lies outside the docks altogether. It was that which led the Chamber of Shipping and the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association the other day to call into consultation with them representatives of the Federation of British Industries, of the Federation of British Chambers of Commerce (whose letter was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, earlier this afternoon) and of the National Union of Manufacturers, to see whether, as users of port facilities and of transport facilities up to the water's edge, they could not, by putting their heads together, help to ease each other's problems and also ease the problems of the port authorities themselves by doing what they could to smooth the flow of goods, to try to avoid the more sudden rushes, to investigate delay quickly where it happens, and generally, and by no means least, to urge, wherever they thought it proper, upon the port authorities and even perhaps upon Her Majesty's Government such remedies as might appear to their joint examination to be desirable. For, after all, to a great extent this is necessarily a matter for them.

I do not know that noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships so far have attempted to estimate—and I should not be rash enough to do so, either—the amount of difficulty which arises from the shortage of equipment, whether it be immediate mechanical equipment or capital equipment in the form of more deep water berths and, above all, perhaps, more sheds and warehouses. I am inclined to think—but it can be no more than a guess—that that is much more a single cause of the problem than is the working of dock labour. It is a rash statement to make, and I make it with considerable hesitation, more from the point of view of emphasising the importance of the capital equipment side than with any desire to reduce the importance of the labour side. If those things are to be tackled, they must be tackled on the basis of as much knowledge as we can get. Any shipowner and, I imagine, any port authority, will be able to tell you how things strike him from day to day in his own ships or in his own port. It may well be in the end that that is the knowledge, and the only knowledge, which will really help. But we have been asked by the Government, and we are doing our best, to provide figures on a rather more general basis. I should like to say only one thing about that. I hope that any such figures, should they be made public, will be used with the utmost caution, because it is practically certain that they can easily become misleading and, however accurate they may be in themselves, may lead to wrong conclusions if they are taken in hand by persons without expert knowledge, and sometimes without even local knowledge of the ports to which they refer.

As the causes of delay are so various, so must the methods to remove them be. Let us therefore learn what we can about the problem, and then start, wherever and whenever we can.


Will the noble Viscount allow me to interupt for a moment? I mentioned that the owners could make good on increased rates. I give him as my authority a special commissioner of the Daily Telegraph, who in August, 1951, was told by one shipowner: The axiom of the shipowner is that he must keep his ships running at all costs. If this means that dockers want more money for the job, whether in the form of a special enhanced piece-rate or overtime earnings, the shipowner pays because he can cover the cost by his freight charges.


I thank the noble Lord, and I am sorry that I slightly misunderstood what he was saying. If I may retake the point, I would say that I should not entirely agree with my colleague, whoever he may be, if he said precisely that to the Daily Telegraph. What I would agree is that, so great is the importance of getting one's ship turned round rapidly at the present time, it is worth while to pay a great deal more money than one normally would in order to secure it. I do not think that the statement that one can pass on that extra charge forthwith to the merchant is justified by the facts. Indeed, I think it is true to say that there has been no case of an increase in freights by liner conferences in consequence of dock delays in this country. It has been tried in one or two places abroad, with the object, quite frankly, of drawing the attention of the local authorities to the fact that something was wrong. I think I am right in saying that in those cases, the surcharge in some instances has been dropped, the object having been achieved; and in others it proved impossible to work. I do not wish to enter into controversy with the noble Lord on this point. I think we are probably in agreement—at any rate, I hope so.

May I turn back for a moment to what the remedies are, and can be? We have heard that the education of labour must be a slow process. We know, and I fear may increasingly learn, that the provision of capital equipment will be a difficult process, though I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government may be able to give us some encouragement on that score. There is clearly something that can be done by the people concerned getting in touch with each other and seeing if they can improve their organisation. Improved organisation costs little and generally saves rather a lot. We have heard, for instance, that it might be possible for the Ministry of Food, in particular, so to arrange their buying programmes that they do not cause avoidable congestion of ships at particular ports or at particular times. I do not know how much can be done, but I think that that is something to which further attention can be given. There is something that I believe can be done towards reconciling the difference of hours to which reference has been made and which undoubtedly makes it more difficult to clear cargo from the quay, or sometimes to bring it to the quay. These are all matters which can be looked at but which in the main must be looked at locally, and sometimes even seasonally.

It is not much good comparing things with what they were before the war. It is no good saying that, bad as they are here, they are worse in Australia and New Zealand. What we have to do is to make them better here than they are now: better to-morrow than they are to-day, and better the day after to-morrow than they are to-morrow. The problem must be tackled, place by place, bit by bit and day by day. It is just as continuous a process as the flow of goods from the factory to the ships and across the seas to their destination. The 1948 Working Party to which reference has been made did a very good job of work. A great many of its recommendations deserve following up to-day. How far effect can be given to them all I do not know; some of them have been adopted, but a great many more have not. They form an admirable basis on which to work, for they are spread over the several ports of the country in which any attempt at improvement could start. It is true that each difficulty solved may well throw up another; but that, after all, is the way progress is achieved. IE we are going to achieve progress, it is no good waiting until we think we can solve all the problems it once. It is only by solving one difficulty and meeting the next that we shall ever know where the true solution lies.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join others of your Lordships who have spoken this evening in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Winster, on initiating this important debate. The noble Lord has gone "down to the sea in ships" all his life, and he well knows the subject. I know, too, of the considerable effort that Lord Winster has put into gathering the facts for the much-to-the-point remarks that he has made this evening. Your Lordships will agree that there is one way, and one way only, out of the immense economic difficulties that face us; and that is through hard work and sterling character. National solvency and a higher standard of living can be obtained only when each of us is producing more goods or rendering more service. This, surely, means that a unit of output, whether of goods or ser- vice, must be achieved with fewer man-hours. My noble friend's case for action is well illustrated by the fact that some fifteen years ago ships spent some 230 days at sea and 120 in port To-day, with all the mechanical devices ashore which have been referred to by previous speakers, cargo ships spend some 170 days at sea and 190 in port—and this despite the development of apparatus for loading and unloading ships that proceeded apace after being speeded up by the process of war. In other words, the time in port has increased by nearly 60 per cent.

As my noble friend Lord Winster asked: What are we doing about it? In the field of design, development and production of labour-saving equipment—about which the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, had a lot to say and of which I know something—much has been done. Unfortunately, however, a large amount of this equipment is only in occasional use in the docks, since we have failed to observe and tackle the problem of redundancy of labour. It would surely be better from the economical standpoint, if this is all that happens, not to instal labour-saving devices in the non-expanding industries and to use the material and effort thus saved in making equipment for the expanding industries where it is required and where it can be used with beneficial results. The immense advantage which would be gained by the ready acceptance of these new mechanisms and techniques may be gauged by taking a look at what has happened in the younger industries. For example, in the automobile industry, the time taken to produce an automobile has been reduced from 104 man-weeks in 1910 to six in 195L Therefore, productivity has increased 1,700 per cent. in forty-one years. Similar improvements may be noted in other industries. May I give your Lordships another example, by considering the handling of coal in a power station? Some fifteen years ago, it cost 6½d. to move a ton of coal from the railway wagon into the bunker of the powerhouse. To-day, with wages—very rightly so—many times higher than they were some fifteen years ago, the cost is around a farthing. That shows what has been done by the application of mechanisation. These two examples show that in the newer industries there has been no resistance to the introduction of these new ideas, with considerable advantage to all concerned.

I suggest that when shipowners, dock employers and dock workers agree to handle cargo with the maximum use of mechanisation and, therefore, the minimum of man-power, there can be no doubt that the turn-round of ships—about which the noble Lord, Lord Winster, had a lot to say—will be greatly improved, and immediately. The ships would carry more ton-miles of cargo per year and, as a consequence, cargo costs would be reduced. Secondly, the number of dockers required at the ports would be decreased more rapidly than the tonnage to be handled would be increased. We sometimes fail to remember that we live in an age of power production and that ever more operations are being carried out mechanically. This surely calls for a different approach to many problems, and if the inventive genius of British brains is worth anything—and it is worth a very great deal—those working in certain industries must work themselves out of a job. That is inescapable.

All too often it has been said, and at high level, that there is no fear of this; but this is entirely wrong, and if it were true it would mean that we engineers—particularly we production engineers—were not doing our job at all. Therefore, in non-expanding industries, such as docks, railways and mines, where efficient operation must mean a year by year reduction in man-power, there are two realistic alternatives, which I should like to submit to your Lordships. The first is to continue as at present, to instal a gradually decreasing amount of new equipment, thereby accepting a restriction of output, with an inevitable reduction in the standards of living, or, secondly, to encourage the introduction of new methods, as in the expanding industries, and to welcome the redundant labour into other industries, preferably nearby, where it can be usefully employed.

There can be no doubt at all which of these must be adopted—of course, the second. This calls for a new approach, and I feel sure that when these matters are properly explained to those in the industries concerned, there will be a full-blooded response. I was tremendously impressed with what the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said in stressing the fact that, valuable as all these techniques are, unless and until there is a full-blooded human approach to these problems very little good will result. The happiest years of my life were spent working at the bench, and I venture to talk to your Lordships about matters of which I have had a fairly extensive experience. I would say that there are two problems which face our nation to-day and which gravely affect our industry. These problems are psychological and technological. The former has been thought about by a number, but it has never been tackled in a fashion at once complete and compelling; and until this is done we have no chance at all of getting out of the wood. If it had been tackled in such a way there would have been no need for the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, to make his very clear and incisive speech on that aspect of the case.

The technological problem has been, and is being, faced up to daily, and therein there is no problem at all, beyond that of supply, since all can be done with machinery that the circumstances demand. The reason why these techniques and the equipment are not being applied, is because of this psychological bottleneck which stultifies our actions. I feel quite sure that what we wish to hear now is the reply of the noble Lord, the Minister, who is about to tell us what action he has in view. I also feel, referring again to the remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on the psychological point, that no one is better able to understand and to apply the human touch than the noble Lord who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government.

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, I was sorry that, because of illness, the noble Lord, Lord Winster, had to defer this Motion for several weeks. I am glad that he has been able to come here to-day to introduce the Motion, and I thank him very much for the way in which he has done so. I am also very pleased to feel that all the speeches which have been made to-day have been fully helpful and have given us all a greater understanding of this somewhat intricate question.

Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I preface my remarks by saying that the subject is one of personal interest to me, because for over fifty years I have been associated with shipping, particularly in the ports. When I say this, I want to add at once that not only is it a personal matter which interests me but it is of much more vital concern to the country as a whole, just as it was in the war, when we had to rely so much on securing a quicker turn-round of our merchant ships to sustain our war effort and, indeed, the country's life. At that time, as your Lordships know, I was Minister of War Transport, and the task was a big one. We had to wait quite a time before we could obtain that assistance from the United States of the ships which they were building at a great rate. But fortunately we were able to struggle through until that help came. I should like, therefore, to make it quite clear at the outset that Her Majesty's Government do recognise this problem as one of immense concern.

So that we do not attach blame unfairly to those whose responsibility it is to perform this work I must first draw attention to a number of factors which have radically altered the position from that which obtained before the war. In the first place, the whole pattern of the country's imports and exports has changed. Coal, which previously formed a large part of our exports, is now regrettably only a comparative trickle. Some of the ports which catered for those large coal exports are not suited for large exports of other goods, so that the vast increase in exports which we have to-day has to be shipped at a limited number of major ports. Secondly, it is general liner cargo and more difficult to handle. Thirdly, the average size of ship has increased and is more fully loaded. Thus, necessarily, more time is spent in port. These are significant facts, and they are not usually observed by the public or by the commentators.

Because of these facts a great increase in export cargo has to be handled at, say, London or Liverpool. Now it is only fair to point out that both these ports suffered very heavy enemy action damage; and while large sums have been expended in repairs and replacements—this has been done to the full permission granted—there is still a large amount of unrepaired damage, which means that congestion in storage arrangements persists. A great number of new ships have been built since the war, but corresponding measures to deal with them effectively have not been taken. For example, bigger ships are being built steadily, but corresponding measures to increase the number of deep-water alongside berths have not been taken. We are immensely hampered by steel shortage and other factors, but nevertheless, I want your Lordships to know that my honourable friend the Minister of Transport and I are paying great attention to see that the ports get that share of scarce materials which is theirs by right in the national interest.

Now a word about mechanical handling. It would be wrong to ignore the great deal that has been done. Individual, difficulties are apt to receive a prominence in the Press which distorts the picture as a whole; but there are many; items to be brought in on the credit side. For example, enormous ore-discharging plants have been planned and built since the war with transporter cranes grabbing up to 10 tons of ore at one time. At one port new grain suction plant resulting in three times quicker discharge has been installed. Mobile cranes, forklift trucks and straddle trucks are coming in increasingly. There are difficulties of short supply and there has been delay in the execution of orders. But above all, as we have heard from nearly every speaker to-day, there is a fear in the minds of the dockers that these new inventions will bring redundancy in their wake.

I must here make the most serious appeal. So long as labour-saving machines and fear of redundancy are linked together in the minds of so many dockers, we shall not get the benefit which we should, and must, get from mechanisation. These fears are exaggerated. History has always shown that the inventions of science, though they may temporarily displace labour, quickly lead to increased prosperity all round. I do appeal to our union leaders to redouble their efforts to get men to accept these so-called "new-fangled gadgets"—but in reality inventions of genius—which so ease the burden of manual work. Before leaving this subject, I must make this serious warning: that if we fail here our competitors in the near Continental ports will not fail to take advantage of us.

I now turn to one particular item which is often overlooked, but which it is quite essential to mention—namely, barges on the River Thames. More than half London's port traffic is handled overside, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, has said—hence the importance of these craft. I noted that one speaker said that we were about 1,000 barges short of what we had before the War. That, in fact, is not true, either as regards the number of barges or as regards the proper focus of the position. It takes no account of the larger size of barges that have been built to replace the old ones. We have in the Thames to-day craft fully equal in tonnage to that which existed before the War, and we can be sure that the barges of to-day are able to perform a much better service, because they are not out of repair for so long. Nearly 400 new barges, mainly of the larger size, have been brought into service for general work on the Thames in the last year. But the building of large numbers of additional barges is not the real answer to the problem. The trouble is that far too many are held for days, and even weeks, full of cargo, instead of being turned round promptly. It is another case of a pipe-line that is absolutely full.

Of course, the difficulties do not finish with the barges. The problem goes much wider, as the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, has pointed out. Many of the difficulties that arise are caused by hold-ups on the wharves and in the warehouses, where the working day is shorter than in the docks. If only we could get the working of the wharves in tune, so far as time is concerned, with the docks, a good deal of the difficulty could be removed. If the wharfingers find that they cannot keep the goods flowing there is congestion, and the whole of this complex of operations is held up. Therefore, I suggest that it is unrealistic to consider only the docks. One must look also at the river wharves and the warehouses—indeed, the problem goes much further still. This is a transport problem in the widest sense, and as soon as you start looking into the subject you find it a matter of immense complexity made up of a variety of items all along the line. I hope that noble Lords appreciate this point fully. The flow of transport is choked and the channel must be cleared. To give one example, cargo receivers could make a real contribution if they took in goods faster and with more regularity. All sides must co-operate to speed up the flow—receivers, transport organisations, port authorities, barge owners and wharfingers, as well as labour. A case recently came to my notice in which a cargo of copra came into the Port of London. It was of some 7,000 tons and it was consigned to one destination—to go to one wharf. It would take something like six weeks to clear the wharf. Then another cargo of copra arrived of 9,000 tons, consigned to the same wharf. Your Lordships can imagine what an accumulation of craft arises in such a case as that. I mention that point in order to show that there is need to regulate the import of cargo.

I turn now to another point—the question of labour relations. I must say that too hard words have been spoken. True, there have been in the past, and still are, irresponsible elements trading on the docker's sense of loyalty to his fellow. This loyalty is well known, but sometimes it outweighs the loyalty owing to the community. It would be wrong to infer from just a few instances, however, serious and damaging as they have been, that the dock labour force as a whole is falling down on its job. One fact which is not commonly realised I must place on record. The total number of dockers now on the roll of the National Dock Labour Board is just over 80,000. Before the war there were about 136,000 dockers—97,000 pretty well regularly employed and 39,000 only partially employed. It shows at any rate that the dockers are not working too badly with that smaller number, and that perhaps there has been benefit from the use of mechanisation. I think your Lordships will agree that these figures indicate a substantial economy in labour, and I hope I have already said enough to indicate that the difficulties which we are now experiencing cannot be traced to labour alone.

References have been made—I think by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham—to the National Dock Labour Board scheme. The main point of difficulty in the scheme is in the administration of discipline. The Leggett Committee directed their principal criticisms to this matter. In particular the Report criticised the dual position of trade union officials. In one capacity they have to act as advocates for their members, in another to sit in judgment on them. The cure suggested for this was that disciplinary cases should be remitted for decision to a joint committee of employers and trade union representatives. This proposal has been referred to both sides of the National Joint Council for the Port Industry, but it did not commend itself to either side. My right honourable friend the Minister of Labour is accordingly having discussions with each side to see whether a practical and acceptable alternative to the proposal made by the Leggett Committee can be found. I will say no more now because we must await the outcome of those talks together. The successful settlement of this point is vital to the smooth working of the Dock Labour scheme.

I hope that I have already said enough to convince your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government mean business. But one more thing I must announce. Having reviewed the Situation as we found it on taking office, we feel that this problem needs the close and expert attention of a small high-powered body to be entitled the Ports Efficiency Committee, which will act as a link between the Government and all the numerous other interests concerned. The terms of reference will be— To investigate the working of the ports of the United Kingdom, and in particular the ports of London and Liverpool, and to secure the co-operation of all the interests concerned including shipping and inland transport authorities in ensuring a quicker flow through the ports of inward and outward cargo; and to report from time to time. That phrase "to report from time to time" is to ensure that this Committee will get into action rapidly, rather than wait until they reach the end of what may be a longish journey before they later report. We want them to report ad hoc, so that, through the channels of the existing machinery round the docks, such as the Consultative Panels, we need lose no time in getting put into effect that which has been recommended by the Committee and not wait till the end of their journey.

The terms of reference are designed, as I say, to secure early results and I must emphasise that they do not stop at the ports. They go wider and cover inland transport, too—and that in my view is quite essential. I hope shortly to be able to announce the composition of the Committee. Port authorities, shipping and inland transport interests, as well as labour, will be represented, under an independent chairman. I have reason to believe that the membership will be such as to command widespread confidence and such that broad ranging views and the decisions which the situation cries out for will be taken. I am sure that when this Committee gets to work it will speedily receive that co-operation for which the terms of reference call. I have been very much encouraged this afternoon to hear from my noble friend Lord Waverley that we can rely upon the Dock and Harbour Authorities Association for their full support immediately we get to work.

Moreover, it is heartening to learn of the measures such as we have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, which the representative bodies of British industry, manufacturers and shipowners are themselves taking, on their own initiative, to tackle this black spot in our commercial arrangements. By all these steps, I trust that we shall soon establish the correct remedies and act upon them. In particular, I hope that all concerned will assist the Committee in providing the members with whatever information they want, so that they can get a true and full picture. The measurement of turn-round is a very difficult business for there are so many factors that can influence the time that a vessel spends in unloading and loading. But it is regrettable that no general statistics on cargo handling times are readily available. I hear that a serious attempt is now being undertaken by the representative associations of the port authorities and by the General Council of British Shipping to produce a form of statistical return which will reveal trends in cargo handling performances. I hope very much that the Committee will soon have the benefit of these inquiries. I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, that all the figures that they are able to provide on this line will be regarded with great care and will not be in any way misused.

I think I have said enough this evening to convince your Lordships of the concern with which Her Majesty's Government view the present position and their absolute determination to find successful solutions to the many and complicated problems arising out of the handling of cargo in our ports. I have tried to give a fair account of the situation as it is to-day I should be wrong to say that on the whole our ports are not working well, but with the full co-operation of all the interests more must be accomplished—and quickly. If that happens, then this debate will have served its purpose.


My Lords, before my noble friend replies, while thanking the noble Lord for his extremely interesting and informative speech, may I ask him one question? Will the terms of reference to the Committee which he has indicated this afternoon include a survey or an inquiry into the limitations imposed by the Customs and Excise people on the unloading of certain vessels at certain wharves on the River Thames?


I will certainly take note of that point and ensure that that is well looked into and the remedy made.


Thank you.

6.58 p.m.


My Lords, the speeches made in this debate have been of such a nature as to leave me very little to say at this juncture. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, spoke about these troubles in the docks being worldwide. The possibility of trouble and disorganisation in the docks and harbours of the world is obviously a very tempting prospect indeed for the Communist, and we may be quite sure that he makes it his business to foment trouble wherever trouble may appear in any of the docks of the world. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, spoke about causes elsewhere than in the docks which cause delay. I am aware of them. Perhaps I confined my remarks too strictly to the words of the Motion—cargo handling in the docks. But, on the whole, the work of the receiving and handling agencies ashore does not synchronise well with the work in the docks which is subject to the delays of the seasons and the weather and to the general hazards of the sea. I may perhaps be allowed to point out that that has always been so. Consequently, if we are comparing pre-war times with postwar times, that is a factor on both sides of the equation, and one which can perhaps be omitted.

Mention was made of deep-water berths. It may not be the case that there is a shortage in the Port of London but, taking the ports of the country generally, the improvements in the design of ships, their greater length and their greater draught certainly are, speaking broadly, causing a shortage of deep-water berths. As regards dry docks, the noble Viscount did not mention that these enormous tankers which are coming along will create quite a problem of their own in that respect. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, I thought, was a little hard on the Dock Labour Board. Their mandate is rather inadequate. In any case the Dock Labour Board are the buffer between the employers and the employed. Like buffers all the world over, they get all the jars and all the bumps. I think we are handicapped by the system of discipline which they have to impose. It is a system which depends upon forms and written explanations. A man of the rather full-blooded character of the docker does not like having to deal with these matters by forms and written explanations. But there is no way in which the smallest infraction of discipline can be dealt with on the spot; it has to go through this cumbrous written procedure.

I noticed that Lord Teynham brought in the bulk buying argument. Perhaps he will allow me to say that that argument appeared during the lifetime of the last Government. Now that the present Government have decided to continue the system of bulk buying, I should not be surprised if that argument goes on the shelf in these matters. My noble friend Lord Ammon said that the trouble in Australia has a reflex action here at home. But the same trouble is found in the short sea trade. I read of an examination of seventy-four voyages to Continental ports where the delay in the time spent in harbour on this side of the water was twice what it was in Continental ports. So the trouble exists in both the deep sea and short sea trade. To some extent, I can deal with Lord Runciman's remarks in the same way as those of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. I agree that dry docking, ship repairing and ship designing are vital factors in this matter; but of course, as I have already said, I was rather concentrating on the side of delay in the docks.

I think it is perhaps true to say that some of the early wage increases were rather easily granted because of the possibility of recouping the expenditure in freights. In my view, we have now reached the point where it may well be said that, to some extent, further wage increases ought to be related to output. In regard to output, may I just say that in getting together what I wanted to say to-day I found great difficulty in obtaining statistics in regard to gang output, and so on? I refrained from quoting any figures because I was not entirely satisfied about the certainty of the statistics. The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, was kind enough to say that I am someone who has gone "down to the sea in ships." I did not go "down to the sea in ships" in the last war. Their Lordships decided to give my head a rest and to give my feet a job. I spent many months tramping round London docks, and perhaps I may tell the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that it was then that I first began to have my eyes opened to some of these problems and to take an interest in them.

May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, for what he was kind enough to say about myself and about my introduction of this Motion? I agree that changes in the type of exports have led to a great centralisation of shipping at certain points, with consequent difficulties arising. As regards war damage, I know that that is a very serious matter, but there is one good side to it—namely, that it gives us a chance to modernise our ports when we are repairing our war damage. In the long run we may find, as did many Continental ports, that the enemy did a certain amount of good in knocking our docks about. I am perfectly certain that the appeal which the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, made to trade union leaders to co-operate in this matter will not fall upon deaf ears. Mr. Arthur Deakin, for one, has already given proof of how much he has that matter at heart.

My Lords, once or twice I was slightly rebuked for asking for speed. I was not seriously rebuked, but there seemed to be an idea that perhaps there is something to be said for going slowly, and that we shall get there in the end. However, I was immensely reassured by Lord Leathers' announcement of the setting up of this Port Efficiency Committee. I think I should have some feeling of satisfaction in having got what I wanted when I put down this Motion, because it was not really in my mind to have an entirely fresh inquiry. I had hoped that so much information was available already, in Reports and White Papers, that the noble Lord would review it and would then be able to announce some action—as, indeed, he has to-day. Therefore, while thanking all noble Lords for the part they have taken in this debate, I feel that my object has been so largely achieved that I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.