HL Deb 06 April 1989 vol 505 cc1197-209

3.33 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, I should like to make a Statement about the future of the dock labour scheme.

"The scheme was first introduced just after the end of the Second World War under the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act of 1946. An amended scheme was brought into being in 1967 and remains in operation today. It now covers 40 main British ports responsible for handling some 70 per cent. of our national trade. A further 35 ports are outside the scheme because they were not significant for cargo handling in the immediate post-war years.

"The scheme is administered by the National Dock Labour Board and its 20 local boards which are made up of equal numbers of trade union and employer members. The boards have very wide powers to control employment in scheme ports, including the numbers employed and ultimate decisions on discipline.

"Only those who are on the registers of the boards are permitted to do dock work in scheme ports. An employer who, without approval of the board, uses non-registered dock workers commits a criminal offence. The nature of dock work itself and the exact areas where the scheme applies are subject to statutory definitions which have remained unchanged since the war.

"The original purpose of the scheme was to ensure greater regularity of employment for dock workers. Since then, however, there have been radical changes in cargo-handling technology, and dock work today, by its very nature, requires a permanent and skilled workforce. In ports where none of the scheme's restrictions apply, casual working, which was such a feature of dock work before the war, is very small. In big non-scheme ports like Felixstowe and Dover, it is effectively non-existent.

"Over the last 10 years, the number of dockers employed in non-scheme ports has risen by a third to around 4,000. During the same period, the number of registered dock workers has dropped by nearly two-thirds from 27,000 to 9,400 today.

"As the House will know, it is a major objective of the Government to remove barriers to employment, and in the last year we have published two White Papers in this area. As part of that continuing process, the Government have now reviewed the dock labour scheme and I am publishing today a White Paper which sets out our conclusions. In summary, we believe that the scheme suffers from a range of fundamental defects and that the time has now come to put the position right.

"The scheme provides a statutory monopoly in dock work. No one other than employers and workers registered by the dock labour boards can engage in dock work. Given the changes in the nature of dock work, this is not only unnecessary but also totally at variance with the practice in any other industry. It has created two classes of employees in the ports—registered dock workers and the majority of other workers. And it has certainly not secured good industrial relations in scheme ports.

"Management is unable to manage its own workforce effectively, and restrictive practices add to the costs of the ports. The public have to pay for the costs of the scheme, both as customers for goods that come through the ports and also as taxpayers. Since the early 1970s, the taxpayer has contributed over £420 million in today's prices in payments for voluntary severance, the only means of reducing any surpluses of registered dock workers. A further £350 million of public money has gone to help certain scheme ports survive.

"Just as important is the effect that the existence of the scheme has on prospective in vestment in scheme port areas. Companies are deterred from investing for fear that they will be caught by the scheme. The Government believe that, without this constraint, there would be more investment and more jobs in our ports and their surrounding areas.

"In short, the dock labour scheme today is a total anachronism. We rely on our ports for the bulk of our trade. We must ensure that they can prepare for the intensified competition that free movement of goods in the European Community after 1992 will bring.

"The scheme will not simply wither away of its own accord. For that to happen, our great historic ports as well as smaller ports all around the country would have to close permanently. That would involve abandoning major facilities with all their natural advantages of location and tidal waters, fixed assets and infrastructure, much of it provided at public expense over many years. Local business activity in port areas would suffer equivalent damage.

"The Government have concluded therefore that positive action is needed to free the scheme ports from their present artificial constraints. Our intention is to bring all port employers and dock workers into exactly the same position as other employers and workers.

"The only way in which this can be effectively achieved is through the abolition of the dock labour scheme. Its amendment or restriction would not remedy present defects and would merely create new problems. The Government therefore propose to introduce a Bill to repeal all the existing legislation connected with the scheme.

"The Bill will provide for the National Dock Labour Board to remain in being temporarily to transfer medical and training facilities as the industry requires, and then to wind up its affairs. The Government will assist financially, for example, by meeting redundancy payments due to board staff.

"The legislation will also make special provision for registered dock workers. The Government are introducing a new statutory compensation scheme for anyone made redundant during a transitional period after the scheme is abolished. This will provide for individual payments of up to £35,000 until early 1991 and up to £20,000 in the following 18 months. The costs of these payments will be shared equally between the Government and the individual employer concerned. In addition, as soon as the Bill is enacted, dock workers will acquire all the normal employment protection rights which are available to other workers, but from which they are currently excluded by virtue of the scheme.

"Mr. Speaker, the necessary Bill will be presented to the House tomorrow. As long as the scheme continues to operate, it will remain the biggest obstacle to a modern and efficient ports industry in this country. That is why the Government have decided that the time has now come to abolish the scheme."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.40 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will not be surprised to learn that we on this side of the House do not welcome the Statement; on the contrary. The Statement is very much in line with the Government's philosophy of deregulating everything and blaming union agreements and union involvement for what they describe as barriers to business.

As the Minister said, the dock labour scheme was introduced in 1947. It was intended to put an end to the appalling exploitation of dock workers that then existed and to break up the existing degrading system with its indignity of scrambling for a day's work at the dock gates, the selection of individuals on a blue-eyed boy basis and the complete absence and disregard of health and safety regulations. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that if there is no dock labour scheme the employers will not seize the opportunity to revert to casualisation. It is blatantly clear that workers in this kind of employment need protection. Indeed, until this Government took office, successive governments had always acknowledged that to be the case.

In the Statement the Minister says that the dock labour force has substantially diminished. That is quite true. He also says that there has not been a good record of labour relations in this industry, and that is not true. In fact the reduction of over 47,000 jobs in the registered labour force has taken place as a result of union involvement and participation. Despite the trauma that it caused, those redundancies were effected without industrial disruption. That was very largely due to the existence of the dock labour scheme and the participation of unions in it.

It is true that a permanent skilled workforce is required but the dock labour scheme of itself does not inhibit its existence. Indeed I understand that the industry itself already provides 3,500 training places. One must ask why the Government should want to act in this way with regard to an industry in which such training places are provided and in a situation in which it is essential—and this issue was raised in our debate yesterdayto— do everything possible to provide opportunities for the evolution of a skilled labour force.

Certainly the unions have been more than willing, so the Transport and General Workers' Union assures me, to participate in improving training and training opportunities. They have constantly pressed employers to do just that. The existence of the dock labour scheme has in no way inhibited training. If training has not taken place the blame lies squarely with the employers and certainly not with the unions.

Nor is there any evidence to show that if the dock labour scheme disappears there will be any greater investment. In the Statement reference is made to Felixstowe and Dover, but there is no evidence that the comparative success of Felixstowe, for example, is due to the absence of the dock labour scheme. It may very well have a great deal more to do with the geographical location of the port.

As regards the year 1992, most European countries already have some form of dock labour structure. In many cases it is a great deal more costly than the operation of the system in this country. Certainly the social policies of the European Community lay emphasis on a social dimenson and the need to involve unions. This of course is clearly what the Government do not want to do in this country.

In my view the continuation of the dock labour scheme is essential for the efficient control of manpower in the industry and the maintenance of good standards of training, medical services, welfare and amenities. It has provided an avenue whereby problems associated with manpower could be resolved and it has made it possible to avoid industrial strife. As I said before, the proof lies in the severe reduction in the number of jobs which took place. It was a traumatic period but nevertheless those changes were brought about with the participation of the workforce and without industrial strife.

It seems that we are now to proceed along the path outlined by the Government and have new legislation introduced with incredible speed—in fact tomorrow; indeed, I cannot understand why it should be felt necessary to introduce a Bill on this matter tomorrow when Parliament already has such a heavy legislative programme. We should call this measure the Casual Labour Bill because in fact that is what we shall be debating. I rest my comments there.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, from these Benches I should like to join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for having repeated the Statement, which hardly comes as a surprise. We take a rather different view of this matter than do the Labour Opposition. As the Statement indicates, the dock labour scheme was designed to remedy the ill effects of old-style casual working and the chaotic conditions of employment that existed in the docks 40 years ago. However, in today's conditions it seems to us that the scheme has outlived its usefulness, as recent events in Grimsby and Aberdeen have clearly demonstrated.

In our view it is a monopolistic and restrictive practice and the minority who enjoy its privileges in regard to discipline, or the absence of it, and employment protection do so at the expense of others and to the detriment of the country's trade. Indeed, the chief beneficiaries of the scheme seem to be not so much our own non-scheme ports as places such as Rotterdam, Antwerp and other major continental ports.

Having said that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, I am surprised that the Bill is to be introduced in another place so soon as tomorrow. Is it not the case that White Papers usually provide for a period in which interested parties can submit their views before final arrangements are made? However predictable the outcome of consultation may seem to be, should not such an opportunity have been given in this case? Indeed, is it not just possible that, faced with the Government's firm intention radically to alter working arrangements in ports covered by the scheme, the Transport and General Workers Union itself might have come up with proposals which would have had the effect of making certain modifications in the Government's detailed plans, thus enabling the transition to take place on a rather more generally acceptable basis and without undue disruption.

Subject to those reservations, I am prepared on behalf of my noble friends to give this Statement a cautious welcome.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful for the reception that has been given to the Statement today. I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, on attempting to defend what, in the view of many noble Lords on this side of the House, must appear indefensible. I quite agree that when the scheme came into effect in 1947 there was good reason to have it and there was casualism in those days. But that was over 40 years ago and the industry has changed considerably. New technology has been introduced and there are many more expensive facilities operated by many fewer dockers at our ports.

Certainly the scheme has not preserved jobs. At its height there were 82,000 registered dock workers. That number is now down to 9,400. I submit that there is no reason to believe that casualism will return to the industry. There is no evidence of significant casual working in the non-scheme ports. I believe that the figure is approximately 6 per cent. in non-scheme ports, and that is in fact very similar to the figure for a number of other industries.

The noble Baroness referred to the good record of labour relations. I am afraid that that is just not true. There have certainly not been good industrial relations. Since 1967 over 4 million working days have been lost because of disputes in scheme ports. There have been 3,569 separate disputes in the scheme ports. Even today, the number of days lost in the scheme ports is three times the average for industry as a whole.

On training and other work which the National Dock Labour Board undertakes, one has to ask how Felixstowe, Dover and other non-scheme ports have been so successful at the expense of the scheme ports if they have done no training—which of course they have. However, the costs of the scheme far exceed the running costs of the board. The scheme maintains overmanning and work practices which involve paying workers with out-of-date skills for doing nothing. These damaging consequences may add as much as 20 per cent. to labour costs, according to the employers. Our proposals will maintain the NDLB in being until it has made alternative arrange for any of its training, medical and welfare services which meet the industry's needs. There is no reason now why port employers and others should not make adequate provision.

On investment in the scheme ports, companies are undoubtedly deterred from investing in the area or in the ports themselves for fear that they will be covered by the scheme. There are many examples that can be given. The scheme has brought development blight. The only way of escaping the scheme is to invest in work in no way related to dock work—for instance, housing instead of warehousing.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, for his general support for our measures. He asked in particular why we had not consulted on these proposals. The scheme was created by statute. The proper place to put proposals is before Parliament; and Parliament should decide after debate.

I am afraid that the views of the Transport and General Workers Union are so clear-cut as to make consultation unnecessary. I can quote from Mr. John Connolly, the national secretary of the docks, waterways and fishing group of the Transport and General Workers Union, on a number of occasions. As recently as 24th February 1987, he said that the policy of the docks and waterways group has not changed, and that there will be opposition to the amendment or revision of the scheme and that opposition will take the form of a national dock strike. On Saturday 1st April he was quoted as saying in The Times that any move to abolish the scheme which effectively prevents the dismissal of registered dock workers would be met with a national strike. I am therefore afraid that there is no reason to consult on this issue. The views of all concerned are well known and it is therefore time that the Government acted.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, my noble friend will not be surprised to know that those of us who have been pressing for this change for some years are delighted to hear the Statement this afternoon and to know that the Government are acting, and acting with characteristic promptness, in introducing a Bill forthwith.

Is my noble friend also aware that the gloomy prognostications of the noble Baroness opposite are completely answered by the fact that none of the dreadful things that she predicts as a result of ending the dock labour scheme exist in the non-dock labour scheme ports which have been non-dock labour scheme ports for many years? It is therefore quite clear that the suggestion that she makes of disastrous consequences following are simply not borne out by the known facts at the other ports.

Is my noble friend also aware of the fact that there are only two causes for regret at this otherwise happy moment? One is that nothing can now be done to restore those ports—notably the Port of London—which were ruined by the dock labour scheme.

Noble Lords


Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, secondly, it is enormously depressing to hear from the noble Baroness that Labour Party thinking on industrial matters has not moved for 40 years.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his support for the measure that we have announced this afternoon, which comes as no surprise. In the last 10 years the non-scheme ports' share of business has risen from 10 per cent. to 30 per cent. of trade. However, I would argue with my noble friend. The Port of London is now doing very much better and I hope it will continue to do better still as a result of the measures that we have announced this afternoon.

The objective of this exercise is to put the ports within the scheme into the same competitive position as the non-scheme ports and hope that they can catch up from where they have lost out over the years.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, we shall not be surprised when we listen to the cheers and happy comments on the other side of the House. We shall not be surprised when we hear about the champagne suppers that the port employers will be having in every port in this country tonight.

What surprises me is the way that the Minister talked about the possibility of a national strike in docks. If there is a national strike in docks—and I can tell the Minister that we on this side of the House heartily hope that there will be nothing of the kind; nothing could be worse—then the Minister must take some of the responsibility. We are told that the Government have been thinking about this for years. We certainly know that noble Lords on the other side have been talking about it for years. In answer to a question a short while ago, the Prime Minister said that the Government had no immediate plans for the denationalisation, the deregulation, of the dock industry. Yet the national officer of the Transport and General Workers Union—who is out of the country at the moment—was told nothing about this. The Transport and General Workers Union had one and a half hours' notice that this Statement was being made. If that is not provocative, I do not know what is.

The Government now tell us that they are publishing a White Paper. They have not released the White Paper. I have attempted to obtain the White Paper from the Vote Office and I am told that it is embargoed. Why is it a White Paper? Why is it not a Green Paper? Why did the Government not investigate? I shall tell noble Lords why the Government did not investigate. It is because the last attack on the monopoly power of trade unions was investigated. The Government sent a request to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission that it investigate the monopolistic practices of the unions in the film and television industry. The verdict was not guilty. That is why they have not published that report. That is why there has been no investigation into this report. That is why the Government act as they do.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, if I may, I shall quickly respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. I covered the point about why we had no Green Paper, and why we had no consultation, when I answered the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester.

If there is to be a strike, so be it. We see no reason for strikes but we are prepared for them if that is the course that the dockers concerned decide lawfully to pursue. We believe individual dockers will come to understand that our proposals provide the basis for real security for most of them and substantial compensation for any who may lose their jobs following repeal.

They should also understand that the Government are now committed to repeal by the summer, through democratic parliamentary action, the laws that give the scheme force. The scheme's damaging restrictions, including their monopoly of dock work, would then cease immediately. I hope that dockers will recognise that strong productive ports, not the scheme, are the key to maintaining good employment conditions.

On the noble Lord's point about champagne suppers in the ports tonight, I have not heard of any and I have not yet been invited to any.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, as I have a past in this matter, is my noble friend aware that, perhaps rather surprisingly, I am wholly in agreement with the line that he has announced of action to be taken by the Government? As one who had the privilege of trying to make the old scheme work—at a time when the old scheme was necessary, and had the support of the then leader of the Transport and General Workers Union—I can testify to the difficulties and disadvantages, and to the effects from time to time on the Port of London and many other ports. As soon as conditions had become right, I was sure the time would come for the abandonment of this awkward and difficult scheme.

Is my noble friend aware—perhaps noble Lords forget these things—that the circumstances of 1972-73 when we were in difficulties with industrial relations were such that we had, by industrial agreement, to alter the very basis of the way in which that scheme was then working? It was possible to do so with the full agreement of the Transport and General Workers Union, even though some of the dock workers' section found it difficult to accept.

Will my noble friend perhaps think again about condemning the whole of the Transport and General Workers Union for obstinacy over this matter? Will he take it that in my experience the wider leadership of the Transport and General Workers Union—with members in Felixstowe and other non-scheme ports who were happy to be out of the scheme—would willingly listen to proposals by myself and by then government Ministers? In short, will my noble friend accept that I am delighted that a scheme based on entirely different conditions, not there today, which involved damaging casual labour, not there today, as my noble friend has said, will now be ended and all the ports will be put on level pegging?

4 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks of my noble friend whose great experience goes back, of course, to the famous Aldington-Jones Agreement of 1972. I should emphasise that in referring to the Transport and General Workers Union I was quoting the national secretary of the docks, waterways and fishing group of the TGWU—the person who speaks for the scheme as such. Whether those views are held by all other members of the TGWU I do not know; I hope they are not.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I apologise for having jumped the gun in making one or two false starts. I have interested myself in this problem on more than one occasion in your Lordships' House. Will my noble friend accept that this Statement is very much welcomed by some of us on this side of the House, never mind what is said by Members from the Benches opposite who interest themselves in industrial relations? The Statement is a relief from the hangover of the days of Jack Dash when restrictive labour practices crippled the docks.

Will my noble friend agree that although the object of the scheme—the decasualisation of dock labour, as my noble friend has said—was necessary at the time, it is now totally otiose, totally irrelevant and insupportable? There is no question of provocation, as the noble Lord suggested from the Benches opposite. It is wholly insupportable. There is no need for consultation for something that has become manifestly out of date and irrelevant to its original purpose.

Will my noble friend agree that the attitude of the unions also compounds the situation? The Government are right to get on with it and to abolish a scheme that is rife with restrictive practices. The Benches opposite accept the Donovan Report as an objective assessment. Within the Donovan definition these restrictive labour practices, to which my noble friend has referred, unduly inhibit the efficient use of manpower. That is the Donovan definition. If that is right, it is time that the scheme went. Does my noble friend agree—I am sure he will—that the Government are much to be congratulated?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, once more I am grateful to my noble friend who, I know, has taken an interest in this matter for very many years. He is right that the time has now come for it to be dealt with. It is no good pretending that there are no problems with the scheme at the moment. Every week we find another problem, be it fishing in Aberdeen, Grimsby or on the Clyde. There is never a time when there is not one issue or another boiling up.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, everybody knows that I have been an opponent of the clock labour Acts for a very long time. I was not always so. I strongly agree with the noble Baroness that these Acts were necessary at the time they were produced. The trouble is that times have changed. What is particularly noticeable is the difference in costs between a scheme port and a non-scheme port. I have many friends in the coastal and short transit trades. I have asked them again and again what is the cost difference between taking a ship into one or the other type of port. The figures that I have been given have varied. They have ranged on the lowest side from 7:3—in other words, double the price and more to take it into a scheme port—up to 10:1, which is totally prohibitive. Given such figures it becomes impossible for the scheme ports to continue. The only way they could go is down. Therefore I very much welcome the step that is being taken.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his reception of our proposals. I believe that when I repeated the Statement I said that employers estimate costs in scheme ports some 20 per cent. higher than they need be. I hope that when the scheme goes it will give the scheme ports the chance to get back on to a fair and competitive basis with the non-scheme ports.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many Members on this side are concerned about the dock labour scheme? It may have defects; indeed some of us believe that the Government may be right. But we object to the lack of consultation with all the parties concerned. It is simply not good enough for the employers, the Government and perhaps others to say that the scheme is not working arid then bring forward legislation based simply on those statements. What we need surely—will the Minister say why this is not happening?—is a proper in-depth investigation of the scheme as it is presently operating to see whether there is a future for it or not. That is what is needed. I hope that the Government might, even at this stage, reconsider their position.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord started with perhaps guarded support, as I thought, for the abolition of the scheme. When he has the opportunity of reading the White Paper that we have published he will see that there is every reason for the scheme to be abolished. As I have already said, the positions of those involved in the industry are clear and irreconcilable. The unions have stated repeatedly their attachment to the fundamentals of the scheme. They have regularly threatened national strikes in the event of any attempt to reduce the scheme's damaging restrictions. It is time, and it is the Government's duty, to take the necessary action through Parliament to abolish promptly the scheme and its statutes so that the disruption that any strikes may cause can be minimised.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their decision. The scheme is an anachronism and an incubus on those ports that have had to operate with it, putting them at a disadvantage in competition both at home and abroad. Will the Bill be introduced in time to resolve the worrying situation in Aberdeen where the fish and fish processing industries may have to move away or close down because of the combination of industrial action by the fish porters and the fact that Aberdeen is a scheme port and therefore the fishermen cannot land their own fish? This is an important dispute which involves the whole future of Aberdeen, and it is occurring at this moment.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. We are well aware of the problem in Aberdeen. We have seen such problems in different ports throughout the country from time to time. It is notable that Aberdeen lost 20 per cent. of its business between 1977 and 1987 while Peterhead, outside the scheme, increased its business by 84 per cent. to twice the size of that of Aberdeen. I hope that the proposals we have announced today will enable Aberdeen once more to flourish in its rightful place as a fishing port.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, in view of what the Minister has said about the Transport and General Workers Union, does he mean that when in future the Government are contemplating changes of any kind only those whose views are not known will be consulted?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, no, one must take each case on its merits. In my view the merits for action in this case are absolutely clear cut.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that among those of us who have responsibility for the ports—I am a director of Associated British Ports—there will be a warm welcome for the announcement that he has made and firm support for the proposed measures. That is for the abolition of a scheme which is undoubtedly deterring investment in the ports, which is distorting competition not only between British ports but other ports and Continental ports and which is causing unjustified inequalities of treatment between different groups of people working in the same ports. May I express the hope that those who work in the non-scheme ports will take full account of the considerably enhanced opportunities that will now arise in those ports as a result of the Government's measures before they take any rash decisions about strike action?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend's advice will be heeded. He is right in saying that we wish to put our ports in a competitive position to deal with competition not only between non-scheme ports in this country but also with the near Continental ports. I hope that the measures that we have put forward today will allow our traditional scheme properly to compete once again.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, with the condemnation of the scheme which has been expressed time after time from the Benches opposite, is it not appropriate that we should remember —and those of us who put the Bill through the House of Commons 40 years ago will remember—that it ended a system of corruption, nepotism, harsh brutality and arbitrary behaviour by port employers and introduced one which gave back self-respect to many docks families who I had the honour to represent for many years?

I agree with the noble Lord that the scheme may need changing as a result of changing circumstances. However, should not the Minister and those now responsible recall that the docker is probably the most independent-minded, lively and bloody-minded man you can get? Are the Government being wise and sensible in taking the word of the National Docks Officer that they do not want this scheme to end—and that is a natural and inevitable response—and saying, "For that reason we shall not consult. We shall not see what changes can be made"? Would it not be the path of wisdom for the Government to neglect what has been said by the National Docks Officer, who is not the only official in the Transport and General Workers' Union, and to consult the union as a whole?

One of the difficulties that the TGWU has always had is that on occasions dockers are bloody-minded, and rightly so. Considering their history, I have no quarrel with them over that. However, the union tries to ensure that it obtains a policy which is in the best interests of the dockers. I suggest to the Government in all sincerity that they would be wise to go back on the belief that they now know the answer and have no need to consult.

Has not the Minister pinned his belief on the fact that there will be little or no casual employment in the docks? The test will be whether that statement is true. Whether or not it is true, he should now consult the Transport and General Workers Union and at least put himself on the moral high ground if there is a strike. I fervently trust that the dockers will not strike and urge them not to do so; but if they do so at least he will have an excuse if he has tried to consult their views on the matter.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord has said about the scheme as it existed 40 years ago, but times have changed. We do not see a return to casualism. There is little casualism in the non-scheme ports, which carry out 30 per cent. of our business. I gather that it is 6 per cent., which is roughly the same as in many other industries.

There is no tinkering which can be done to the scheme. It has been tinkered with over the years since 1946 but none of those tinkerings have resulted in anything better. The time has now come when registered dock workers in scheme ports should be put on the same basis under the same employment laws and have the same privileges as ordinar employees both in the non-scheme ports and in industry as a whole.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I suggest that the House has had a good go around the course and that we should now return to the Companies Bill.