HL Deb 15 November 1976 vol 377 cc980-6

3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons Reasons and the Commons Amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons Reasons and the Commons Amendments be now considered.—(Lord Jacques.)

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I wish to intervene at this stage. We are considering the Message from the Commons on the Amendments decided in this House on this Bill. Your Lordships also have before you further Amendments which the Government will commend to you. Before our detailed consideration begins, I should like to make a brief intervention. The new Government Amendments would substitute throughout the Bill the concept of a definable dock area as decided by your Lordships for that of a cargo handling zone. They would ensure that a new Dock Labour Scheme would be applied to all work to which the 1967 Scheme is now applied, whether or not located in a definable dock area. They would provide that objections to a proposal to extend any particular definable dock area would be subject to public inquiry and that any subsequent order for such an extension would be laid in draft before Parliament and would need to be approved by a Resolution of each House. If these Amendments are acceptable to your Lordships and your Lordships do not insist on other Amendments, on behalf of the Government I assure the House that we would not seek to reintroduce the Bill as it was approved by the Commons on Third Reading, with a view to enacting it under the Parliament Act.


My Lords, I think the House will be grateful to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for that statement, but before I say anything about it I think there are one or two prior considerations arising from the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques; namely, as to whether or not we should in the circumstances consider these Messages at all, and the context in which we are considering them. Perhaps I may just start by reminding your Lordships of what has occurred since we were last dealing with this Bill at Third Reading last Monday. Following our consideration here, which was far too hurried, we sent back to another place 58 Amendments. The other place tackled those Amendments last Wednesday; they agreed to 11 of them (for which we are grateful); the Government were defeated on two; they tied on three; they discussed a few others—about half a dozen—leaving 36 of our 58 Amendments not discussed at all because they were guillotined. So one consideration we have to apply is just how those Reasons which are attributed to the Commons can be so attributed because they have not been discussed by the Commons at all.

The second consideration is whether in all the circumstances we are really ready for this consideration. The Commons Reasons for disagreeing to the Lords Amendments were published and became available on Friday afternoon, so that they were only in the hands of those of your Lordships who happened to be here, dealing with the quite different subject of Southern Rhodesia. On top of that the very Amendments to which the noble Lord the Lord privy Seal has referred in his important statement were not published and available until 10.15 this morning, so I doubt whether there are many of your Lordships who have even seen the paper, let alone had time to study it. It is quite certain that the interests which we are attempting to defend, and have been defending all along, will certainly barely be aware of its existence.

Those are the circumstances in which at the end of this most discreditable procedure we are being asked to reach our final conclusions. Turning to the statement of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal I have to say that if the Government now accept, as a result of the opinion of the Commons, the concept of the limited half mile definable dock area, then the further Amendments which they are putting before us are, in my view, a satisfactory way of making the Bill operate satisfactorily. It is not really for me to speak on behalf of the whole House as to whether this is the right thing for us to be doing or whether the Lord Privy Seal's assurances are satisfactory, but they seem to me to be so. I think it is now a matter for other Members of your Lordships' House to express an opinion.


My Lords, we on these Benches would also like to thank the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for making that statement. We are particularly grateful for the indication that the Government are proposing graciously to accept the fundamental alteration to this Bill from the five mile zone to the half mile limit, which was the Amendment most strenuously pressed in your Lordships' House. Indeed, if I may say so, the statement is itself a vindication of a great deal of the work which has been done over the past few weeks on this Bill in your Lordships' House.

I should like to ask the Lord Privy Seal three questions that arise out of his statement. First, it appears that if we are to accept the proposals in the statement there will no longer be the statutory protection for the small ports which was originally inserted in the Bill by way of Amendment in your Lordships' House. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether the Government still stand by the statement, made by the Secretary of State before the Division in the other place at column 519 of Hansard on 10th November. He said: I recognise that there are a number of small ports, which, by their geographical location, irregular nature of cargoes and a number of other factors, will not be suited for the Dock Work Regulation Scheme". If the noble Lord is able to indicate that that still remains the attitude of the Government, it will be of very great assistance to many of us on this side of the House.


My Lords, I am advised that the answer is, Yes.


I am much obliged, my Lords. Secondly, if we are to adopt the proposals in the statement and in the Commons Message and the Amendments to the Commons Message proposed in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, there is to be reinserted into the Bill the powers of the Secretary of State to exercise certain discretion to extend what will now be the half mile zone subject to public inquiry and subject to Affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. I have no doubt that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal accepts that any attempt by the Secretary of State to extend the zone beyond the half mile limit will be rigorously scrutinised by your Lordships' House should such proposal be made.

Thirdly, may I ask the noble Lord whether his final observations when he assured the House that he would not seek to reintroduce the Bill with a view to re-enacting it under the Parliament Act as it was approved by the Commons on Third Reading is an indication by the Government that they are not contempla- ting in the near future attempting to substitute a five mile area for the half mile limit which has now apparently been agreed in both Houses? When this Bill first came to us it was a Bill that did no good and potentially a great deal of harm. If we accept these proposals, it is now a Bill that still does no good but may do comparatively little harm. During the Second Reading debate I described it as being a Bill that would be a blot on the Statute Book: if we now proceed along the lines indicated in the noble Lord's statement it will not be a blot, it will be equivalent to inserting a number of blank pages into the Statute Book and that is a course which we on these Benches will find infinitely preferable.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has stated clearly his point of view and I am grateful that he has accepted my statement in such a spirit. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, to deal with two points as he has been dealing with them throughout the course of the debates on the Bill.


My Lords, the reasons for the rejection by the Commons of various Amendments by this House were agreed by a Committee appointed by the other place, a Committee which, presumably, represented the views of the other place in devising the Reasons. I am glad the noble Lord thought that the Amendments now submitted were satisfactory. The first and most important part of the Amendments is to tidy up the Bill in accordance with the decision by the other place to confirm the half-mile limit. Therefore, the Amendments submitted are very largely tidying-up Amendments.

My Lords, we have always understood that no one wanted to declassify work already being done by registered dock workers. That is another purpose of the Amendments. One further purpose of the Amendments is simply to make it more difficult for the Secretary of State to amend the half-mile limit. In addition to the Affirmative Resolution procedure, the Secretary of State will now have to proceed with a public inquiry. We believe that at the end of the day the Amendments we are submitting will make the Bill a fair compromise, and will be a recognition by the Government as the letter and spirit of what took place in the other place last Wednesday.

So far as questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, are concerned, I believe that when speaking of the small ports the Secretary of State made a serious statement which he intended to be taken as some kind of factor that would be given by the Government in considering the small ports. I believe the fact remains that the Government will have to have special regard to the difficulties of isolated ports. It is quite impossible to have the same arrangements in every port. Labour arrangements in small ports are necessarily different from those in large ports, and I think that the noble Lord meant that that would be taken into account by the Secretary of State.

As to the extension of the half-mile limit, I think I have said enough to show that we are suggesting Amendments to the Bill which will make it more difficult to extend the half-mile limit. However, we believe there could be occasions when we feel we should extend it and therefore it remains in the Bill. So far as concerns the last point on the Parliament Act, we are saying that if the House agrees to the Amendments which the Government have now submitted on the lines which I have indicated and there are no other changes, the Government will not use the Parliament Act for an immediate introduction of the Bill—that is to say, its introduction 12 months from the Second Reading in the House of Commons. On the question of whether the Government will try to amend the Bill in the course of next Session, I have no authority to say, "Yes" or, "No". It would be wrong for me to try to anticipate what will be in Her Majesty's speech, but I would be very surprised if it were included—but I have been surprised on more than one occasion.


My Lords, I am wondering whether it is in order for a Back-Bencher to intervene, as we are having a general discussion, because in this general atmosphere of amiability there is something I should like to say. I have greatly welcomed the statement of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, and what I think is the generous attitude of Government in the way this has been phrased. I have abstained on this Bill from the beginning because, as I made it plain to my noble friends, it was something I could not support. The only time I voted was when I had to accept the irrefutable logic of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he said he felt that as this House had spent so much time on the Bill and produced some 60 Amendments, not to send them back to another place for consideration would seem to be lacking in common sense, so I voted on that.

My Lords, I want to say that I felt I could not support the Bill, not because I necessarily did not agree with it, but because I thought it was wrong. I thought it sought to advantage one section of one union against other workers. I think it is obvious that many of my noble friends agreed that the Bill was not a desirable one, as is evident from the Division Lists. I think it is equally obvious that many members of my Party in another place also were not in favour of the Bill. Lastly, those members of the general public who were interested in the Bill thought it was unfair.

It seems to me that perhaps all this trouble started when another place sent us six major Bills to examine within six weeks. Apart from whether or not the Opposition were awkward, or quite apart from whether other Members like myself were awkward, had these six Bills been entirely uncontentious I do not think they could have been dealt with within a period of six weeks; it was impossible. I hope in this new spirit of amiability that the stream of abuse which has been directed to all Members of this House—it is not only to the Opposition but to all of us—will cease, because I, for one, in my humble way, have had enough.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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