HL Deb 25 February 1988 vol 493 cc1287-8
Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they intend to abolish the Dock Labour Board.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the views of many Members of your Lordships' House about the drawbacks of the dock labour scheme. However, as has been made clear in another place, there are no plans at present to change the operation of the scheme.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend, as I must, for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware of the damage that the scheme has caused to a number of ports including the Port of London, formerly the greatest port in the world? Are the Government happy to see the scheme continue, even though its power of mischief is somewhat reduced by the fact that it has already eliminated so much?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for following the convention of thanking me for my Answer. We are aware of the many drawbacks of the dock labour scheme and some of the harm that it has caused to ports in the past. However, there are no plans at present to change the operation of the scheme.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, can the Minister give more detail about the alleged irregularity of the unions with regard to the implementation of the scheme? Is it not a fact that unions have not made trouble for employers and developers? If that is so, why do we not leave well alone?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, it is true that there has been comparatively little industrial action in the ports, but I believe that that has much more to do with the economics of running the ports themselves than the actions of the unions. However, that is a matter on which those who run the ports are far better qualified to speak than I.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as a director of the company which employs the largest number of registered dock workers. Will the Government not prepare legislation to bring an end to this scheme? It distorts trade, blights the ports involved, causes serious injustice between workers inside and outside the scheme who are working alongside each other in a port, prevents the recruitment of young workers and is totally in opposition to all the principles for which this Government stand. The average age of workers in the scheme nationally is about 47; but this week I visited a port where the average age is 52. The scheme will not wither on the vine. Will the Government do something about it?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I am aware of the many defects of the scheme. There are no plans for legislation at the present time. But, of course, I cannot speculate on what view might be taken in the future.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I am glad to learn that there are no plans at the present time to change the scheme. May I seek an assurance that if at some time in the future there are plans to make changes these will only be embarked upon after full consultation with both sides of the industry?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I think that we shall have to wait to see what happens should the Government develop plans to deal with the scheme at some time in the future.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, as it was not an unreasonable request, I should like to reinforce the question which the noble Baroness put to the Minister. Surely, both sides of the industry ought to be consulted. Will the Minister give that assurance?

Lord Young of Graffham

No, my Lords.

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