HL Deb 16 November 1954 vol 189 cc1550-70

5.43 p.m.

LORD AMMON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the experience of the ten years' working of the National Dock Labour Scheme, they will appoint a Commission to inquire whether the Scheme needs revision; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is not my intention to rake over the embers of recent discussions with regard to trouble at the docks. I am concerned only to show some reasons why, in my view, the time has come for an inquiry of a kind wider and more definite than has hitherto been held. There must be something fundamentally wrong when a scheme of this kind the largest social and industrial experiment in any part of the world, appears to have become bedeviled, as frequently it has, by the intransigence of those for whom it was brought into effect.

The scheme came into operation, preceded by the National Labour Corporation, the setting up of which was a wartime expedient introduced by Mr. Bevin, then Minister of Labour, in order that the men could be brought under some control and ordered from place to place where their work was needed. The first inquiry was held in 1945, and it is important to notice how subsequent events have followed the same line. I was appointed chairman of that inquiry, which was to investigate the London dock dispute, and at which both the employers' side and the unions were represented. On that Committee were Mr. Deakin and the leader of the docks section of the Corporation, as well as a member of the stevedores' society. After sitting for some time and hearing all the evidence the Committee brought in a unanimous decision: The Committee of Inquiry unanimously consider that the strike was wholly unwarranted particularly as there is established machinery capable of dealing with any matter in dispute. The finding in that Report has been repeated again and again by various committees of inquiry set up in the intervening years. From 1947 to 1949 there were no, fewer than four major strikes, and inquiries were set up with regard to each of them. All brought in findings almost identical to that which I have given noble Lords. Following the trouble in 1949, a Committee of Inquiry was appointed under the chairmanship of Sir Frederick Leggett, a distinguished civil servant with unrivalled experience on industrial questions and at one time Chief Industrial Commissioner of the Ministry of Labour. Sir Frederick was also called out to Canada and other countries to help in similar matters. He said that, given good will and mutual trust, there was ample joint machinery for settling all differences without interruption of work. That comment has been constantly repeated by others. It was repeated even in the Report of the Evershed Committee, which had very limited terms of inquiry.

The scheme was introduced to do away with casual labour at the docks. Conditions at the docks then were a disgrace to any country, with men having to fight like wolves to get jobs and often being sent away without any work or satisfaction. This scheme was introduced to put work at the docks on a similar footing to work in other industries, after discussions on both sides of the industry, with Government participation, and after the whole scheme had been sifted and ventilated. The scheme had its origin in the brain of the late Ernest Bevin. I recall that as far back as 1915, when he and I went to a Labour convention in America as delegates of the Trade Union movement here, he was then dreaming of forming a transport and general workers federation (which had not then come into being) and a scheme in which dockers would be placed on terms of equality with other people.

That scheme came into operation and, to quote Sir Frederick Leggett, who pointed out, with his unrivalled experience, what the scheme is: In no other industry is there the combination of a guaranteed weekly wage with the practical limitation of the work to registered men which is now found in the London docks. The pre-war casual conditions created suspicion and distrust between employers and workers, and it was not to be expected that these feelings would cease to exist automatically with the swift transition in conditions of employment from one extreme to the other. As we were told, more than once, 'Dockers have long memories.' Not only have the dockers benefits not enjoyed by any other industry, but they also have a welfare system which, with the possible exception of that of the miners, is unequalled in any other industry. They are not only assured against the difficulties of unemployment, but when they are unemployed they are paid. The principle is, "work, or pay." That is roughly the conception of conditions of employment as they obtain in the docks to-day. Yet we have this trouble again and again.

What is the cause of it? Right through, without exception, on every occasion, the same little knot of troublemakers have appeared. Time after time they have created disturbances that have upset the country to a tremendous extent. The natural question arises from this: How then is it that they manage to get away with it as they do? Surely there must be a large number of men working in the docks who appreciate how much better conditions are than they used to be. It is true that there are a large number of men who do know that, but the extraordinary thing is that we used to have men coming to us at the Dock Labour Board and asking why they were striking. We have to face the facts as they are, and something has to be done to deal with them. Sir Frederick Leggett, with his unrivalled experience, saw, as did some of us also, where to a great extent the trouble lay. I am going to risk reading at some length what is said in the Report of his Committee of Inquiry in support of the suggestion that members of an unofficial group have played an important part in the trouble.

The strike of April, 1950, as your Lordships will remember, was a strike led by Communists who had been imported over here. They came here for that purpose, and they fled directly they had accomplished their aim. But the unofficial group in this country played their part, and with regard to them the Report of the Committee said this: We have met most of these men in the course of our inquiry and we have received a good deal of first-hand evidence about their activities. We find their contention utterly unconvincing. It is our belief that those who direct the activities of the unofficial group have no interest whatever in strengthening and reforming the organisation of their respective unions. Indeed, many of them do not appear to have taken the trouble to inform themselves about the constitutional working of the unions, In our view they are more concerned to disrupt the working of the port as often and as seriously as possible than they are to improve dock workers' conditions. Naturally, when one reads that one wonders how it is that these comparatively few people can cause trouble such as that which we have had quite recently. Here is the reason, in the words of the Report: It may be relevant here to describe the technique used by the unofficial leaders in staging a strike. The first step is usually the summoning of a mass meeting 'on the fields' just before either the morning or the midday call. The more level-headed men stay away from these meetings, and those who attend seldom represent anything like a majority of the workers in the area. After some inflammatory speeches, a resolution to stop work is carried, this process being helped on occasion by prolonging the meeting until it is too late for those present to attend the call … We can see something of that kind even in your Lordships' House to-night. I continue with the quotation: or until only a few supporters remain. Although it may be that only a small proportion of the workers concerned may have voted for a stoppage this has usually been a sufficient nucleus to start the trouble. Indeed, false statements are often made that a stoppage has already commenced. Once a stoppage has reached substantial proportions, the tendency is for many of the men, particularly those living at a distance from their work, to stay at home and wait for news of a resumption from the Press or the wireless. That extract gives us some idea of the position that is created by these people. What are we going to do to stop it? A Board has been set up, and that organisation and its work have met with approval. One thing is certain and that is that the men do not want to lose the scheme. They want to retain the conditions that obtained of casual labour plus those that have come under the organised scheme. In fact the last strike but one was a strike against discipline. That is one of the things that has to be faced. It is no good simply appointing committees, as we have appointed committees again and again. They have brought in some report condemning the people who are to blame, yet nothing is said or done afterwards: the strikers go back, holding the initiative, and on their own terms that there should be no victimisation. That has happened every time. And it is not with the good will or even the desire of all the persons concerned.

One of the things that I think should be considered is this. My experience has shown that the Board must be masters in their own house. Interference by the Government in the last strike injured the prestige and tended to ruin the authority of the Board. If that had not happened, we should not have been faced with this recent trouble, for it was the first time that a definite lead had been given. The men would have welcomed that lead, but interference by the Government threw over the authority of the Board and brought about the trouble. Surely it is only right that if a Board is appointed to carry on a big industry like this, that Board should be trusted and treated like any other Board or any other authority in any other industry. That, I suggest, is one of the points that must be reviewed.

Then there is the question of discipline which I have already couched upon. That matter will have to be taken into consideration and given attention. I think one of the reasons why so many of the dockers appear to have been so blind to the advantages of the scheme is the prevalence of work for all. That has dimmed their vision. They tend to forget what the old conditions were like, and they do not properly appreciate the advantages of the present scheme. It is hard to bring home those advantages to the younger men; it is hard to make them understand what the conditions were like at one time. The older men, unfortunately, are not going to bother about it: they want to keep the scheme, but when trouble arises they withdraw. There is also the question of redundancy. That, too, must be gone into. Undoubtedly, in many docks in this country large numbers of people are carried on the books who are no longer competent and able to do a proper day's work, and who cannot carry out ordinary duties. Attention will have to be given to them, either in the way of pensions or some other way, so that they may fall into line.

My Lords, those are some of the problems as I see them. This country cannot afford this constant strain on its resources. It cannot continue to tolerate its social life being so frequently affected by this continual repetition of trouble in the docks. Our most recent experience is not the last which we shall have. As soon as matters settle down and the troublemakers feel that the time is ripe, then trouble will start again. The situation calls for the exercise of authority, courage and direction. Those who are in charge of the industry have got to be trusted and equipped with the proper power and authority. I, for one, am prepared to say that this is no criticism of the administration, because I know something of it myself and I know they are confined, hampered and hindered in taking steps; there is always the danger of being let down and of finding themselves in a difficult position.

This scheme has run for ten years. At the end of that time, is it at all unreasonable to say that there may be some reason to examine the machinery of a scheme which has brought about a violent revolution in our social and industrial life, to overhaul it and see whether or not something can be done to bring it up to date and make it work smoothly and efficiently? That is all I am asking at the present time, and it is difficult for me to see how there can be any objection to it. Again and again we have had the experience of appointing committees of able and experienced people. They have brought out reports, which have been forgotten so soon as the trouble was passed. The last trouble cost the country £200 million. Over and above that, we must remember that ships are leaving this country to call at ports abroad. All these are matters which I think your Lordships can consider in the objective manner which is possible in the atmosphere of your Lordships' House. Perhaps we can give a lead to the country which would be to the economic, the spiritual and the moral advantage of the country as a whole. I beg to move for Papers.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to offer your Lordships a few observations on the important matters which the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, has brought before the House in presenting the Motion which stands in his name. As we all know, the noble Lord has had a great, one might even say unique, experience of these matters. No one, I am sure, would wish to question his genuine interest in the welfare of the ports and, more particularly, of the workers who are employed there. He has spoken with studied moderation. Without necessarily agreeing with everything he has said, I hope Her Majesty's Government will give careful consideration to the request which he has made.

The Dock Labour Scheme, as it stands to-day, was not introduced as an agreed Scheme. The employers had embodied their views and a series of proposals in a full and carefully considered memorandum. Their proposals were not accepted. The Scheme was imposed by the Government on the basis of the experience that had been gained under three schemes which operated during the war: a scheme for the Mersey, a scheme for the Clyde and the scheme to which the noble Lord more particularly referred, under the control of the Dock Labour Corporation, which covered London and the other ports. I say it was imposed; but it was accepted by everyone concerned with great good will. As the noble Lord has said, it represented a daring experiment of a quite novel character, and I join with him in saying that it is surely not surprising that the experience of the past seven and a half years, or whatever period it may be, should have brought defects to light. So it has proved.

I would venture to mention two features in particular. In the first place, under the Scheme the normal employer-worker relationship is completely blurred. Apart from the permanent men, who are a small proportion, I do not believe a man really knows who is his employer. I certainly do not. He knows for whom he is working at a given moment, but he does not know who really is his employer, and expressions like "legal employer" and "operational employer," which you will see in the literature on this subject, do not really help. Then, and this is the second point (I am not going to deal with the matter exhaustively), under the Scheme the representatives of labour are called upon to share with the employers a managerial responsibility, having themselves no primary managerial function. That feature I believe—and I am not alone in this belief—has done a great deal to weaken the authority of the union representatives as custodians of the workers' interests. That I regard as a very important point. The solution may be found perhaps—I do not know—without any more radical change in the Scheme, by a very much greater delegation of executive authority to the officials working under the Dock Labour Board.

It might have been thought that this Scheme, really revolutionary in its character, would have had a profound psychological effect upon the workers. Apparently that does not prove to have been the case, as the noble Lord said. The old casual labour mentality has continued into this new period of security and of continuous employment, arid the tradition of unquestioning class loyalty, which has always been characteristic of dock labour and which was undoubtedly good and necessary in the beginning, has now in practice been found only too often to be wholly perverse. The cry—one hears it constantly—"One out, all out," the old cry, still meets with a response from people who, as the noble Lord says, do not in the least know why one is out. They follow out like sheep. I do not want to be controversial.

I have one other point: but let me first say that it will be many months before the normal rhythm of the movement of ships and goods is restored in the ports, and notably in the Port of London, affected by the recent strike. Would your Lordships just picture for a moment the position where six or seven large liners belonging to a single Line are held up for weeks, their cargoes frozen in the holds or on the quays and hundreds or thousands of passengers, their passages already booked, left kicking their heels indefinitely. Consider the sort of upset that state of affairs entails. It will take even longer, perhaps much longer, to re-establish in the minds of our friends overseas complete confidence in the ability of our ports to handle ships and goods with efficiency and despatch. Incidentally, may I say that this is not only affecting great corporations or great interests? I believe it to be the case that there are a number of quite small undertakings that are almost driven out of business by the sort of situation that has recently developed in our ports. There have been far too many of these stoppages, and it is all very deplorable. The Scheme has conferred untold benefits on the workers, and no one here would wish to see a return in any degree to the old evil conditions that previously obtained. But something must be done. It is most disturbing to me, at any rate, and I should think to many more, to see large numbers of men flocking eagerly to the banner of the union, which, as has now been established on the highest authority, brought these men out on the hollowest pretext, in flagrant breach of obligations that the men had entered into, and thereby inflicted grave injury on our national economy.

The noble Lord said something about welfare, which is a matter apart from the actual conditions of service—pay, continuity of work and so on. I do not know whether your Lordships realise how much has been done, although a great deal undoubtedly still remains to be done. The Port of London Authority alone have spent over the last eighteen months £150,000 on new lavatory blocks; the Dock Labour Board have established welfare and first-aid centres; and I myself, if I may venture to say so, while I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, made available to the new Corporation a sum of no less than £500,000, which had been accumulated during the war as a result of the operations of the Dock Labour Corporation, to be used entirely in the provision of amenities in the docks. Those are important considerations. I think that a strong case can be made out for an impartial re-examination of the whole position. It would have to be dispassionate, carried out in a calm atmosphere, without any sort of recrimination, whatever the temptation might be, and with, I should hope, good will on both sides. This perhaps is not the precise moment at which one would choose to set such an inquiry on foot—feelings are still raw. But I hope that Her Majesty's Government will accept this Motion in principle, and will not wait too long before setting on foot an impartial inquiry into the whole situation.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene in this debate to support my noble friend Lord Amnion and also the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. For a good number of years I represented in the other place the dockside labour in my constituency of Kingston-upon-Hull, and I was able to enter into their lives to try to understand them when it was difficult to do so. As a result of this deplorable strike I think the Government must take some action to set up, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, has put it, an impartial and dispassionate Committee, and I hope something will be done on those lines. The ordinary man in the street, especially in the industrial North, could not understand why these men had come out on strike. When I looked round the industrial North, which is dependent upon constant supplies and cargoes of wool from overseas, I wondered whether the people who had brought the men out on strike realised that if the strike had gone on for a further short period of time there would have been great unemployment, at any rate in the worsted trade, as well as in the other parts of the textile industry.

There is a great need for clarity in explaining to the dock men that they have a duty to the community, especially when that community has done so much for them in giving them security. I remember in the long ago that great trinity of workers, Cardinal Manning, Tom Mann and Ben Tillett, when they tried to stir up public interest in London for these casual workers, who were usually on the verge of starvation. I remember, too, as will many of your Lordships, a man in the prime of his life who came and gave evidence and also acted as the dockers' K.C., in order to try and win sixpence an hour for the dockers, and who went on to bring in a Scheme which both my noble friend Lord Ammon and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, have emphasised as being unique. That Scheme gave to these casual workers security and the knowledge that there would be something coming into the house to-morrow and the day after.

My noble friend emphasised the words "given good will." Well, for the life of me, I could not see that there was any good will in this strike. I came to the opinion, as a man in the street, that there was a handful of men who were, in effect, saboteurs. A gentleman from Russia who happened to hear of something like this lack of discipline and responsibility in this country when he was here during the war told me himself that he said to these men: "Do you know what would happen to you if you were in Moscow? You would be put up against a wall and shot." It is a cliché that gratitude is a sense of favours yet to come—we politicians have learned that. I would appeal to the women in dockland, not only in London, but in Liverpool and elsewhere, to try and hammer a little common sense into these men whom the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, describes as acting somewhat like sheep. They are blind sheep, and sometimes I think the leaders are simply purblind bell-wethers, but I suppose in genetics you would call them "tups." These men collectively are very strong. Only a few weeks ago they brought the economic standard of this country into jeopardy, as they have done previously. Collectively they are strong. So was Samson. He was blind and he destroyed a Temple—a heathen Temple, it is true. I wish these men, these blind, strong Samsons as one might call them, would realise that if they act upon the advice of these blind leaders of the blind, they are sufficiently strong to bring our economic Commonwealth into jeopardy by pulling down the pillars of the State. Therefore I trust that Her Majesty's Government will take some action, if it is only to make these men realise the wonderful benefits which have been given to them as a consequence of the work of that great statesman who is no longer with us, Ernest Bevin.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but having lived for most of my working life in dockland, knowing many of the dockers and their lives and having witnessed their struggle over a number of years, I feel that I must correct my noble friend Lord Calverley in this—that the full round orb of the 6d. per hour was won by John Burns and others. It was Ernest Bevin who won the title of "the dockers' K.C." and obtained the Shaw award which fixed the rate of pay at 16s. a day. On that occasion he produced for the information of the Court of Inquiry the plate of meat and vegetables of the calorific value described by Professor Bowley, of the London School of Economics, as sufficient for a docker's dinner, and asked Professor Bowley and others whether he could sustain himself on that number of calories.

This debate brings back to my mind the 1911 dock strike, as a result of an incident in which, but for a fortunate accident, I should not have been here. I was knocked down and nearly killed in a charge of the mounted police in Poplar during that strike. Whether it would have been good for others if I had been killed remains to be seen. I join with my noble friend Lord Ammon in hoping that there may be some inquiry into the whole set-up. I think we must be extremely careful in what we say to-day not to add any words which would further embitter feelings on both sides. I hope the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, will pardon my saying this. I wish the suggested inquiry could inquire whether the Port of London Authority, as it exists to-day, is really an appropriate machine to handle these problems in the later part of the 20th Century. Your Lordships will remember that the Port of London Authority was a typical piece of what I may (I hope without offence) describe, as "Lloyd-Georgeism"—"neither fish, flesh, fowl nor good red herring"—and I think it might be appropriately described as employers' syndicalism.

It would not be a bad thing if, in examining the whole structure of to-day, we also took into consideration whether a new authority to handle these problems might not be one of the solutions. 1 want to make it perfectly clear that I am speaking only for myself on this matter, but out of some experience. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in his characteristic manner of clear, calm, lucid statement, said that the present scheme of the Dock Labour Board blurs the whole employer-employed relationship. I think that is an apt way of referring to the labour problem in the docks to-day. But let me try and translate the problem, as I understand it, into more homely terms. The men are employed, and the employers are the Dock Labour Board—that is fundamental. The men are parcelled out as required, I think it is, among 680-odd employers in the docks. If they are not required by firm A, they have to report and can go to firm B if the Dock Labour Board find that there is a shortage of labour with that particular firm. I think that is what the noble Viscount refers to as "blurring" the ordinary employer-employed relationship. So acute is the problem in the docks that some employers will keep their men on and pay them when there is no work, rather than put them at the disposal of the Dock Labour Board, because that is breaking up that unity of the labour force which all employers to-day know is a valuable factor in day-to-day work. I can say these things, which perhaps the noble Viscount would find it difficult to say.

There are all sorts of little troubles arising in dockland. If a man has been working all day and at four o'clock in the afternoon is told that he has to work late that evening, that is all right. Tides do not wait for the convenience of either the workers or the employers; and the ship has to be got out. However, perhaps the man concerned has arranged either for a darts match or to take his lady out, so that working late may be a less desirable occupation that evening. Sometimes he may resent being told at four o'clock that he has to work overtime. Of course, in the old days one had to do it, as my noble friend, Lord Ammon said. If a man was told at six o'clock that he had to work all night, it was just too bad. If he did not do it, there were half a dozen men waiting to take his job. All that has gone under the new scheme. We have to take into account not only, shall I say, inter-union rivalry, which has played a great part in this business, but also the psychology both of the men and of the employers.

Therefore, if we have an inquiry—and undoubtedly there is a good case for san inquiry—my own view is that it should be a far-ranging inquiry. I would even be heretic enough to suggest that the set-up of the Dock Labour Board to-day, and the Port of London Authority, as the body controlling the Port, might be brought within the scope of the inquiry. I know that these are views which may be unpalatable in certain quarters, and they must not be taken here as the views of those who sit on these Benches. But they are views of one who has spent forty-odd years in dockland, who has met, conversed with and lived amongst these people and who knows something of their problems.

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, before the Minister replies, I should like to raise one brief point. But first may I say that I support whole-heartedly the proposition put forward to-night by my noble friend Lord Ammon and by other noble Lords who have spoken. I, too, have some experience of dockers and dockland, but there is one aspect of these recent disputes, and particularly of this last one, that is most serious. I beg the Government, if they decide to adopt the proposition of an inquiry into the Dock Labour Scheme, to try to deal with this question of intimidation. It is intimidation in dockland to-day that is the cause of a good deal of the trouble. The great bulk of the dockers in this last dispute did not want to stop work at all: they were compelled to stop, however, by reason of the great amount of intimidation, which prevailed on a scale which we have never before seen. It was a question not just of frowns and hard words, but of threats of physical violence. Surely some method can be found to protect the dockers of the Port of London, and of other ports too, against this intimidation which is so prevalent to-day. I should like to make that point. I hope that, if this inquiry is held, that point will be taken into consideration.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that any noble Lord, in whatever part of the House he sits, would wish to quarrel with the observations which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, in introducing his Motion. We know the noble Lord to be a man of moderate and sound ideas, and also a man who is intensely interested in the National Dock Labour Board, over which he presided for some years—I think directly after its foundation. I feel sure that your Lordships will also have been impressed with the observations made by my noble friend Lord Waverley who, as being chairman of the Port of London Authority, has great experience in the working of this Dock Labour Scheme.

Before I come to deal with and answer the general observations which were made by the noble Lord in presenting this Motion, I want to answer two questions which he raised. I do not intend in my remarks this evening to go into any detail about the inquiry over which he presided and which reported in April, 1945. That, in fact, was a report published before the introduction of the present scheme. Therefore, with the noble Lord's permission, on this occasion I will overlook it. On the second point I should like to correct the noble Lord. I think he made a slight error in the speech he delivered when he said that during the recent strike the Government interfered with the Board.


I am sorry; I was referring to 1949 when I said that.


I am glad to hear that; I thought that that was what the noble Lord meant. Before coming to answer these individual points, I want to tell your Lordships that I have received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Crook, who has written to me to say that some noble Lords had expressed a hope that he, as Chairman of the Dock Labour Board, would take part and speak in this debate. The noble Lord has rightly replied that, in accordance with precedent, he is not permitted to speak, as it is the prerogative of the Minister of Labour, to whom the Board reports, to account to Parliament for the affairs of the Board. For that reason, the noble Lord, Lord Crook, asks me to say that he will not be speaking in this debate and that, further, he has decided not to be present during these discussions. I think your Lordships will readily appreciate the decision which the noble Lord has reached, in view of the important position he holds in the National Dock Labour Board.

I feel that it may be of some assistance to the House if I remind your Lordships of the background of the Dock Labour Scheme which is operating at the present time, and also try to trace certain developments which have occurred since its inception in 1947 and the passing of the Act in the previous year. The Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act was passed in 1946. Its object was to enable permanent schemes to be made for ensuring a greater regularity of employment for all dock workers. It provided that both sides of the industry could formulate schemes to replace the temporary war-time measures for the decasualisation of dock labour, and that, furthermore, the Minister himself could, if necessary, vary the scheme on his own initiative, although, of course, it would clearly be his object to secure agreement from both sides of the industry before he did so. Unfortunately, after the passing of that Act, which was so great a social and economic innovation, and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, rightly said, one which brought untold benefits to the dock workers, representatives of the industry failed to reach agreement. The scheme which is now in operation was prepared after a public inquiry at which all the views of representatives of both sides of the industry were care fully examined. It was then introduced by the Minister of Labour in the late Government, and was ultimately approved by Parliament in 1947. The existing scheme, therefore, as the noble Lord who moved the Motion will observe, has been in operation for seven and a half years, and not for a period of ten years, as he has stated in his Motion.

I have tried to explain briefly to the House the purport and intention of the principal Act, and the steps that have been taken to put it into practical effect. It is true to say that the scheme has worked reasonably well during its short lifetime. I do not think it is necessarily the fault of the scheme itself that a number of disputes have unhappily occurred during its operation. The House may remember—certainly the noble Lord and the noble Viscount will remember—that, after the unofficial strike in 1951, a Committee of Inquiry was set up under the chairmanship, as your Lordships have been told to-day, of Sir Frederick Leggett. Their Report drew attention to two main matters. First, it recommended the provision of better amenities, now considerably improved, as indeed the noble Viscount pointed out; secondly, it recommended modifications in the disciplinary provisions of the scheme, but no action has been taken as it has not been possible for both sides of the industry to reach agreement. However, following a decision of the Court of Appeal in March last year, which made it clear that the disciplinary powers of the local Dock Labour Boards had to be exercised by the boards themselves, discussions have taken place between my right honourable friend and both sides of the industry, but, as yet, no formal proposals have been received from the industry. Your Lordships will well remember the recent report of the Court of Inquiry which was set up by my right honourable friend and presided over by the Master of the Rolls. In its final report that Court of Inquiry made it clear that, in their opinion, for practical purposes the issue at stake could be satisfactorily resolved by agreement between the employers and the workers in the industry about the arrangements for overtime working. The report itself did not suggest, in any way whatever, substantial amendments to the scheme which is now operating.


May I ask my noble friend whether, in his view, it would have been within the province of that Commission of Inquiry to make any such recommendation?


I should have thought that the Committee, if they had thought that the scheme was operating badly and that neither side were satisfied, certainly would have been prepared to say something in their report to that effect.


Without taking any evidence?


There I must leave it to the noble Viscount; but I certainly should have thought that, had the Master of the Rolls thought that there was considerable feeling within the industry by one side or by both on the existing scheme, undoubtedly he would have said so.

I have tried to point out already that the Act enables the industry to make proposals for changes in the scheme, and I have also reminded the House of the main recommendations of the two bodies which have been set up in recent years to conduct inquiries. I repeat that neither of those two bodies recommended any fundamental alteration in the main framework of the scheme. I think it is obvious that no amendment, whatever it might be, could be effective without the good will of both sides of the industry. It is true that the Minister of Labour has the right to initiate amendments, but he would not think it right, I feel certain, to consider the matter until the industry had had time to survey recent events in their proper perspective. I should have thought that noble Lords would readily agree that it is too early to-day for the industry to have reached any decision upon the changes which they may wish to suggest. However, in due course it is the intention of my right honourable friend to discuss with the industry the operation of the current scheme; but I believe it would be premature to consider an outside Commission of Inquiry before those conversations have in fact taken place.

I know that your Lordships will fully appreciate that the report of any impartial body which may examine the scheme could not really be of great value unless it commanded a substantial degree of support from both sides of the industry, such as would justify my right honourable friend in ultimately embodying the recommendations that they might make in an order to be laid before Parliament. I therefore suggest to your Lordships that it would be wise now to allow time for discussions between my right honourable friend and both sides of the industry before any decision is reached about the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry. I hope that the noble Lord who moved this Motion will see fit to withdraw it in view of the remarks that I have made. He will, I know, readily appreciate that there are no Papers which I can lay, and therefore I trust that he will see his way to withdraw the Motion.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his reply. He would not expect me to feel at all satisfied, but I give him right of way on the question of ten years, if that is worth while. In effect, the scheme has been in existence, so far as the principle is concerned, since 1947. There have been additions and amendments which grew up after the experiences of the war years. Whatever value there is in that, I concede. With regard to the Evershed Court, the very terms of reference were so limited that the Court could not possibly bring forward any suggestions covering the whole scheme. The terms of reference turned on the question of what is overtime, and little more than that. Even then we had support, when the Master of the Rolls said that the dispute was capable of solution if there was good will.

I think the noble Earl has missed the whole point of the Motion. As he has said, no fundamental alteration has been made. Of course there has not; that is why I have moved the Motion. It is because all these inquiries have left us where we were and have given us nothing at all that I have brought this matter to higher authority—to Parliament itself. That is the whole gravamen of the case that we have put before your Lordships to-day. We have had these inquiries; we have had good will; we have had the Minister and able and competent people to go into the matter. They have brought in reports which have carried no weight, and nothing has happened. Now one is asking that there may be a superior body, more embracingly adequate. I suggest that it would have good support from the leading and sensible people on both sides of the industry. There would be no difficulty whatever about that.

Perhaps the noble Earl will permit me to refer to an amusing point of which he reminded me when he dealt with the question of amenities. Until this scheme came into operation the dockers had to stand out in all sorts of weather, putting up with everything that was possible in the way of indescribable conditions. Then, at great expense, we began to put up shelters; but they would not go into them. They said they would not go into them because, somehow, the fact of going into them interfered with their freedom. That is what happened. One could go round and see men standing out in wretched weather when there was a comfortable room with every accommodation built for them at some expense near by. That sort of conduct was inspired by the same clique which has been operating right through in all these matters. On that occasion, these difficulties were put forward. One has to consider human nature and the vagaries of human nature.

I want to thank the noble Earl for bringing up one point that I had meant to bring up myself, although I was reluctant to do so. I think that the position of joint working has still to be reviewed. There is no industry in this country where there is so much joint working as there is in this industry; yet we see the disastrous results which are achieved in the favourable conditions under which the dockers are working. I think that point should be inquired into.

Of course, there is no point in pressing this Motion to a Division. It is rather regrettable that the noble Earl has not been able to give us something more definite, but has merely asked us to wait and see what happens after there has been an inquiry. I can see the result of the inquiry, and I can see that we shall have the next strike within a very few years. I hope that we are going to do something to avoid that. That was one of the reasons why I put down this Motion, in order that, after the experience we have had, we should see here an opportunity to examine and review the scheme in the light of events, to find out its weaknesses and to discover whether the machine wants tuning up again. I believe it is an excellent scheme but, like some new things, it probably wants a little retuning. I ask leave to withdrawn my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at ten minutes before seven o'clock.