HL Deb 24 May 1960 vol 223 cc1207-12

2.58 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is an enabling Bill, to remove any legal obstacles which may be found either in the Truck Acts or in the Shop Clubs Act, 1902, to the introduction of the proposed Dock Workers Pensions scheme. The scheme is a private scheme which has been put forward by the National Joint Council of the Port Transport Industry, after complete agreement had been reached on its provisions between the workers and the employers.

The National Joint Council will appoint trustees to run the scheme. The contributions will be collected by the National Dock Labour Board, and my right honourable friend proposes to empower the Dock Labour Board, by amendment of the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Scheme, 1947, to do this. As this is a private scheme, and as all that we are asked to do is to remove certain legal obstacles which may stand in the way of its introduction, it would not be appropriate for us to enter into a lengthy discussion of the details, but probably your Lordships would like to have a brief outline of what it is about.

It is a modest scheme. The proposed contribution is 2s. 6d. a week from the worker, while the employer will pay an amount equal to that paid by the worker, plus any additional sum which may be necessary to make the scheme a viable one. It is expected that for some time to come the employers' contribution will be about double that of the workers. The benefits are graduated in accordance with length of service. Those who are already in the industry will be credited with their service to a maximum of twelve years, which is the minimum period which entitles the worker to receive benefits. Up to thirteen years' service the benefit is 10s. a week, plus a lump sum of £100. As the length of service increases the lump sum payment is gradually reduced, until it disappears after seventeen years, while the weekly benefits are gradually increased, although their period of increase is longer than that, going up to forty years. After forty years' service the insured worker is entitled to a pension of 40s. a week. There are also payments in respect of ill-health and death. That, of course, is in addition to the State retirement pensions scheme. It is not contemplated that the dock workers shall contract out of the graduated part of the State scheme because of this private one.

It is expected that the private scheme will embrace about 70,000 dock workers, including the lightermen, crane-drivers and clerks; it is also expected to include about 1,100 of the employers. Those who are already employed in the industry will have the option as to whether to come into the scheme or not, but for those who are employed in future it is proposed that participation in the scheme should be a condition of their employment. As I have already mentioned to your Lordships, the method of collection by the National Dock Labour Board will be by deduction from wages.

The first of these conditions—that is, the element of compulsion—may infringe the Shop Clubs Act, 1902; and the condition concerning deductions from wages may infringe the Truck Acts. What this Bill does is to exempt this scheme from the provisions of the Truck Acts and the Shop Clubs Act. There are precedents for this in respect of pensions schemes in the coal-mining industry, for the railwaymen, in the gas industry and also of the Port of London Authority. I think it is a matter of satisfaction that there should have been complete agreement about this proposed scheme by both sides of the industry, who have jointly asked us to enable it to be proceeded with; and I think it is agreed by all Parties that Parliament ought to give the necessary legal facilities to enable this scheme to go on. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will all share my regret that my noble friend Lord Crook, who is the Chairman of the National Dock Labour Board, is unable to be present to-day to add his welcome to this Bill on behalf of the Opposition. Unfortunately, my noble friend is on the business of the Dock Labour Board in Holland and, very much to his regret, he cannot be here. We, of course, support the Bill, which, as the noble Earl has explained, is necessary only because the proposed private contributory dock workers' pensions scheme must be put outside the scope of the Truck Acts and of the Shops Clubs Act, 1902. Indeed, our only part in the matter is the removal of these two legal barriers. Perhaps I may be allowed to express the hope that before long Her Majesty's Government will introduce a Bill to repeal entirely these obsolete sections of the Truck Acts and so avoid the necessity of bringing, in small Bills of this type to meet a principle which every one of us so fully approves; and maybe that hope will be justified at least in this Parliament.

Whilst I am not a lawyer, I wonder whether this Bill was, in fact, necessary. After all, there are so many private pensions schemes in the country in which the contributions are deducted from wages merely on the signing by the employee of a declaration that he wishes to join the scheme and agrees to the deduction from his weekly wages of the proposed contribution. What is certain is that neither this Bill nor the dockers' pensions scheme would have seen the light of day if my Party had won the last Election, because our national superannuation scheme would have provided the dockers, and, indeed, all other workers not already provided for, with a decent pension. Perhaps the fact that we are to-day considering this Bill is also confirmation of the fact that the Government's superannuation scheme is considered inadequate.

In default, therefore, of something very much better, which we hope in three or four years' time to have the power to introduce, we are glad that the millions of under-privileged, pensionless workers are to be reduced to the extent of 70,000 dockers, who now, like the miners, gas workers and others in nationalised industries, are to have the chance of a slightly more comfortable old age. Having said that, I should like to join with the noble Earl in congratulating the docks industry, employers and workers, on agreeing to this solution of their problem, because it is such a good augury for better future relations in the industry. It is, clearly, the product of joint consultation and effort. I hope that this is only the forerunner of a much better and more generous scheme.

The present scheme—and I am grateful to the noble Earl for having given us details of it—does not do much for the older men. They have to go thirteen years from now, and will receive a pension of 10s. a week, plus a £100 lump-sum payment. I like the idea of their getting a £100 lump sum payment, but we have to remember that the older men, who will get the smaller pension, are the very ones who have had such little chance to save. If the docker is now 60, it is quite certain that for at least half of his forty years' period at the docks he has been a casual labourer. This has meant that he had to be on call at a quarter to eight in the morning on the chance of getting four hours' work, and again at quarter to one, with the chance of another—or perhaps his first—four hours' work. If he did not get that, he had to sign on again. That situation lasted right up to the beginning of the last war, and it meant that many of these men went home at the end of the week with just a few shillings. In fact, if they worked for two-and-a-half days in a week they were precluded from claiming unemployment pay.

The unfortunate thing about this scheme—although I agree it is inevitable when there is no endowment fund—is that the elder men in greatest need will get the least. Even now that the industry is decasualised, the dockers are by no means sure of a decent weekly wage. The guaranteed minimum is, in fact, half way between unemployment pay and a fair wage—a sort of half-way house. The position is that an elderly docker can look back on a hard and often anxious life, with little financial reward to show for it. I am glad he is to get this extra 10s. a week now and the £100, but I heartily wish it were more. It is the younger men, particularly those who have opted into the scheme, and the new entrants, who are going eventually to enjoy the full 40s. a week pension and the ill-health retirement benefits. Nevertheless, despite what I regard as defects which are in- evitable in a scheme started without an endowment fund, it is a further welcome improvement in the docks industry.

It has been a long, hard struggle since the days of 1889 and the fight for the dockers "tanner", through the years of casual labour and poverty to a guaranteed minimum wage. It has been a fight with many great names—Cardinal Manning, Ben Tillett, Ernest Bevin and many others. Now we have this latest advance, which is a further tribute to the steadfast, patient work of the men's union and the corporations of employers. I hope we can now look forward to the final steps which will ensure that every man is employed in the docks as a permanent employee in receipt of a regular wage and holidays with pay. When that day comes it not only will mean ordinary justice for these hardworking men, but will enable us to bring our docks up to a standard of efficiency equal to the best in the world. I have very much pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.