HL Deb 03 July 1989 vol 509 cc966-94

2.58 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 5 [Compensation for former registered dock workers who become redundant]:

Lord McCarthy moved the following amendment: Page 3, line 28, after ("employer") insert ("for any period").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment arises out of a question which I asked the Minister at Report stage. After reading in the Official Report the reply which he gave me on that occasion, I felt that we on this side of the House had no alternative but to put down this amendment.

The amendment is concerned with the qualifications for the redundancy compensation which is put into the Bill as an alternative to and a substitute for the present level of compensation under the registered docks scheme. Under the scheme, for voluntary severance, compensation for 15 years' service of up to £25,000 is possible. That will no longer exist when the Bill comes into effect. In its place, the Government have proposed in Clause 5 a system of statutory compensation which at its maximum leads to £35,000 for 15 years' service but requires three qualifications.

Our amendment deals with the third of those qualifications. The first qualification comes under Clause 5(2)(b). It says that the person must be dismissed for reasons of redundancy. In other words, unless the person is dismissed for reasons of redundancy, quite obviously he is not entitled to compensation. The second qualification occurs in subsection (2)(a). It provides that if, immediately before the passing of the Act, the person was a registered dock worker, and if subsequent to the enactment of the legislation that person is dismissed for reasons of redundancy, he qualifies under the first two qualifications.

However, the problem arises—at least, we submit that it does—because of the third qualification. Subsection (2)(c) provides that, he"— that is to say, the would-be redundant claimant— has been in the employment of that employer since that date". In other words, at the moment when the redundancy occurs and when the compensation becomes payable, the individual must be in the employment of a registered dock employer. When we first saw the Bill the provision seemed sensible and straightforward enough. Obviously the individual concerned had to be employed in the industry and had to be employed by a registered employer. However, a problem arises with the word "since". The question is, does the clause as drafted cover the situation of a dock worker who has had an interruption in his employment contract which occurs after the date of enactment but before the compensation period runs out? Of course, the Government say that after three years there will be no more compensation in any event. We shall be stuck with redundancy compensation of the first sort.

Therefore we are asking whether there is a service break guarantee implied on the face of the Bill. The amendment proposes that we insert the words "for any period" in line 28, so that the clause would read: he has been in the employment of that employer for any period since that date". If we insert those words, obviously a service break guarantee exists.

Many Members of the House may argue as to whether this is really a problem. They may ask why there should be such a service break, and why should someone who is a dock worker, formerly employed as a registered dock worker, who left the service for reasons other than redundancy be able to come back into the service, be re-engaged and then subsequently qualify—or fail to qualify, unless the amendment is accepted—for redundancy payment.

There are many reasons for this. Because of the way that the industry works there are many reasons for which a dock worker may be placed in that position. I do not wish to burden the House, but I have five examples where such a situation could arise. First, there could be an accident. We have been told by the Government on many occasions that they accept that this is a dangerous industry. There could be a fall, there could be an accident with machinery, or dockers, as I am told by my dock-worker friends in dock-work phrases, can "do in their backs". Indeed, you can often damage your back working as a docker.

If the person concerned feels that he is unable to perform the task then of course he may be dismissed. He may leave the employ of his employer and may even go on to undertake some other work which is outside the area of registered dock work. But, subsequently, the person's back may improve. He may no longer suffer from an injured back. Therefore the person applies for a job, doing the ordinary tasks which he did before. He would have been able, under the old scheme, to go back to work as a registered docker—but that is no longer the case since the scheme is to be abolished. In any event, there has been a period of perhaps two or thee months when he was not employed as a registered dock worker. Does that fact take the person outside the scope of the scheme? Is that what is implied by the words as they appear at present in the Bill?

However, the incident may not be an accident. My second example concerns a medical problem; that is, something which is not accidental. Nowadays people often fall ill, sometimes very seriously ill. Doctors often tell them that they have no alternative but to retire and leave their job. But, suddenly the illness or affliction, however serious it may be, regresses. People often recover from such conditions. They return to work. They are taken on in their old employment. If that happens, they have been out of employment for a period of time. Are such people covered under the provisions of the Bill? A dock worker may have 20 years' service in his favour. He may have some medical incapacity which takes him out of work for six months. Is he to lose that 20 years' service under the provisions of the Bill?

Another example concerns voluntary severance. People sometimes choose to leave and undertake other jobs. They seek other employment in an endeavour to better themselves. However, they may well find that they do not like the new job that they have taken on and that they wish to return to dock work. A person may return to his old employer and, because he is a good worker, the employer is perfectly prepared to take him on again. In the old days the person would go back as a registered dock worker, but now it would be as a dock worker. That is the third example. I wish to know whether such people are covered by the provisions of the Bill.

The fourth example is this. There may be, and often is, a sudden act of alleged misconduct. I suppose that the most obvious example of this is when a supervisor, foreman or some other person in authority considers that there has been an act of peculation, some dishonesty, and the individual is dismissed. Of course that could not have happened under the old scheme because the procedure had to be gone through and the person concerned could always appeal to the local committees. However, that will not happen now.

Under the new scheme a person can be dismissed for an act of alleged misconduct. But, as sometimes happens in the industry, subsequent investigations prove that the person was innocent. In other words, the person who was dismissed should not have been dismissed and the employer, who is a reasonable man, re-engages the worker. The time when the person was not employed may only be a matter of weeks, but has he lost the right to redundancy pay? That is the question we are asking.

Finally, there is another matter I must raise. I apologise for raising it yet again, but although I referred to it on Report I think that the Minister, or those who gave him information for his reply, misunderstood what I was trying to say. There could be, for example, industrial action. When there is industrial action, as the Minister said on Report, there is a breach of contract. If there is a breach of contract the individual can be dismissed as there is now no protection. However, every employer who dismisses workers engaged in industrial action does not take the matter to the point where he never re-engages the persons concerned. That is part of the to and fro of industrial relations. The employer says, "Unless you are all back to work on Monday, you are all sacked". It is quite possible that all the workers are sacked, but ultimately there is a settlement. Perhaps the union is brought in, or ACAS is consulted. Part of the settlement is the re-engagement of all those workers who were dismissed in the course of the industrial action.

That situation frequently arises when there is strike action. The matter does not go to an industrial tribunal; the employer loses his temper, sacks the workers but ultimately takes them all back. Everything is then okay, all is forgiven and life goes on. But, have the dockers involved lost the right to redundancy pay?

I turn to the Minister's reply on Report on 28th June at col. 794 of Hansard. I thought I asked him what happens if a docker is dismissed for reasons other than redundancy. But, my understanding of what the Minister said at the time is that he thought I had asked whether a docker loses his right to redundancy pay if he has been lawfully dismissed for reasons of industrial action. Of course the Minister replied that such a worker would lose his right to redundancy pay. I agree with him. However, that was not my question. I am asking, what happens if the worker is subsequently re-engaged?

There is a further point I must stress. I am sorry if I overemphasise this, but I want the Government to give a straight answer on the matter. There are three conditions: one has to be a registered docker; one has to be in the employment of a registered employer; and one must be dismissed on grounds of redundancy. If the worker left for some reason other than redundancy, and he were subsequently re-engaged before there was any prospect of redundancy under the terms of the Bill, and subsequently there is not merely the prospect of redundancy but actual redundancy, is the individual covered in the Bill? Some may say: "Well, the man on the benefit counter will tell you. If you are dismissed on grounds of redundancy, when you go along to him subsequently and say, "I want my redundancy pay", he will decide". We do not believe that that is enough. We do not believe that that is satisfactory. We do not believe that at this point the man on the benefit counter, or whoever, should read Clause 5(2)(c) and decide what is meant by: in the employment of that employer since that date".

The point should be decided by the Government. It should be decided on the face of the Bill. Some may say, "If you do not like the answer, you can go to the tribunal; you can go to law". We do not believe that that is satisfactory. The point should be clear on the face of the Bill, and so we turn to the face of the Bill. We ask the Minister: what does the word "since" mean in that context? Does it mean ever since? Does it mean all the time? "We have been together now for 40 years and I have hated you ever since". Does it mean ever since or does it mean that there could have been breaks in the service? "I did not hate you all the time; only part of the time. Every now and again I stopped hating you when I remembered." It was an interrupted relationship. Is that covered on the face of the Bill? If the individual changes his job and goes back, it is arguable that he was not employed as a docker since the date of the passage of the Act, but for only part of the time since then.

Fortunately, we offer the Government a simple amendment to make the point clear. The provision should read, "He has been in the employment of that employer for any period since that date". That must be what the Government intend. Surely, the Government do not intend that unfortunate dockers who may be subject to injuries, accidents or movement to other jobs who are then voluntarily re-engaged by their employers should lose all the service they have had under the scheme. I hope that the Government accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, I hope that the Government will clarify the terms of the subsection. The Minister did not do so adequately on Report, although, as the noble Lord said, he may not have fully understood what the noble Lord was seeking. If the amendment were confined to cases which were not of a disciplinary kind, I should be wholly sympathetic to it. For instance, as the noble Lord has said, if someone were to fall sick during the relevant period and on that account were to be dismissed and subsequently re-engaged, it would seem inequitable that he should lose his entitlement to redundancy pay. However, in drafting the amendment so that it could apparently cover even cases where someone is dismissed because he has gone on strike, I am troubled lest dockers should be placed, by statute, in a position different from that of all other employees.

As we were reminded on Report, rightly or wrongly it has always been the case in this country that anyone who goes on strike can be dismissed for breach of contract, but he does not thereby lose entitlement to redundancy pay but risks losing it by giving his employer other possible grounds to dismiss him.

On the general question, there is a strong case for bringing the position in the United Kingdom into line with that in many other countries where, during a lawful strike, the employee's contract is suspended rather than terminated. I question whether that privilege should be accorded now to dockers alone, for as I understand it—and it may be that I do not understand it in view of what the noble Lord has said—that might be the effect of the amendment. However that may be, like the noble Lord, I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us precisely what the subsection means, especially in relation to people who, having been dismissed, are then re-engaged.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I must compliment the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and his noble friends on one thing. The more this Bill progresses, the fewer, the shorter and the simpler do their amendments become. The amendment has a disarming simplicity, but that is as far as my compliment can go. I have to say that we on this side of the House do not agree with the amendment. I doubt whether that will come as a surprise to the noble Lord. I shall explain exactly why we disagree and why we think the amendment should not be made.

As the noble Lord so clearly explained on Report, Clause 5(2) sets out three conditions which must be fulfilled if a person is to qualify for a redundancy compensation payment under the scheme to be made in regulations made under this clause. The third of those is that where a person—a former registered dock worker—is dismissed by reason of redundancy within the period during which the compensation scheme operates, he must have been in the employment of his former registered employer since the date on which the compensation scheme took effect. That date, as noble Lords who have been following this Bill are well aware, will in fact be the date on which the Bill receives the Royal Assent. The Bill therefore provides that the former registered dock worker must, when he is made redundant, have been employed continuously by his former employer between the enactment of the Bill and the date of his being made redundant.

The noble Lord wants the entitlement to redundancy compensation to remain if the period of employment is broken. He wants it to remain if a former registered dock worker has left the employment of his former registered employer, no matter what the circumstances, so that if he should be reinstated, or otherwise taken back into employment by that employer, but subsequently be made redundant within the three-year period in which our special compensation scheme will operate, he will still qualify for compensation under the scheme.

The proposed amendment would apply in any case where a former registered dock worker left his employment, but was subsequently taken on again by the same employer. It would apply, for example, where an employee left of his own accord because he preferred to accept some other job with some other employer, or to go into business on his own, which was one of the examples the noble Lord gave. I see no reason why someone who leaves employment under those circumstances should not lose his right to redundancy compensation.

Some noble Lords may feel that one of the other examples of the noble Lord, that of someone being dismissed for ill-health and subsequently being reinstated, is more deserving of sympathy. I have to say that it seems to me extremely unlikely that a former registered dock worker whose health has unfortunately become so bad that his employer can no longer find suitable work for him and has to dismiss him for that reason, is ever likely to be taken on again by his employer. However, if he is so dismissed, he will be entitled to an immediate sickness pension from the registered dock workers pension fund, regardless of his age at the time. He will also have the right to claim to an industrial tribunal that he has been dismissed unfairly. The noble Lord also referred to the position of a former registered dock worker who goes on strike. Here of course we come to the heart of the matter. The Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 specifically provides that for the purpose of qualifying for a redundancy payment under the Act, continuity of employment is not broken when an individual goes on strike. The Act states in Section 81 that to qualify for a redundancy payment a person must have been continuously employed by his employer for at least two years. It also states, in Schedule 13, paragraph 15, that: The continuity of an employee's period of employment is not broken by a week which does not count for calculating the length of the employee's service, if in that week, or any part of that week, the employee takes part in a strike". There is no equivalent provision in this Bill and there is no equivalent provision in the regulations detailing the compensation scheme, which we published some weeks ago in draft. So why are we apparently treating former registered dock workers more harshly than the generality of employees? Why have we apparently abandoned our principle of treating them the same as everyone else?

It is important, if I may say so, to keep one's eyes very closely on the ball. The first point to grasp is that the former registered dock worker who goes on strike does not forfeit his right to a compensation payment just by going on strike, any more than any other employee forfeits his right to a statutory redundancy payment just by going on strike. He does not break the continuity of his employment for the purpose of our special compensation scheme.

Secondly, he does not forfeit his right if, while he is on strike, his employer decides to make him redundant and dismisses him on the ground of redundancy. In that case, he will get the compensation payment to which he is entitled under this Bill and the compensation scheme to be made under it. Thirdly, he will however forfeit his right if, while he is on strike, his employer dismisses him for breach of contract, or indeed for some reason other than redundancy. But if he is so dismissed and is not subsequently reinstated or re-engaged by his employer, he is in exactly the same position as any other employee under the Employment Protection Act. Any employee dismissed for breach of contract, or for some reason other than redundancy, forfeits his right to a redundancy payment.

However, suppose the employer does re-engage an employee who was on strike and whom he dismissed while he was on strike. In the case of an employee other than one to whom this Bill will apply, the period for which he was on strike will not break the continuity of his employment. He will therefore still be eligible for a statutory redundancy payment, if he has completed two year's service with his employer or as soon as he has completed two years' service with him. The period during which he was on strike does not count towards the qualifying two years, or for the purpose of calculating his total length of service and thus his redundancy pay entitlement. But the fact of his having been dismissed for breach of contract while on strike, and then having been re-engaged, does not disqualify him from a statutory redundancy payment if he is later made redundant.

The position of a former registered dock worker under this Bill is however different. If he is dismissed for any reason except redundancy, that breaks the continuity of his employment. If he is later re-engaged by the same employer, he cannot regain his right to compensation. So if, having been re-engaged, he were then to be made redundant within three years of the passing of this Bill, he would not receive any compensation under our special scheme. He would, however, be eligible for the statutory redundancy payment under the Employment Protection Act. For that purpose, the whole of his time on the dock work register and his service up to the date of his going on strike would count, as well as his service since his re-engagement. So he would be in exactly the same position as any other employee.

The situation that I have just described is one which it seems is not likely to happen. It seems to me unlikely that if an employer dismisses his former registered dock workers for breach of contract while they are on strike, he will be prepared to re-engage them once the strike is over. It is even less likely he will do so if he thinks he is going to have to make them, or some of them, redundant in the foreseeable future.

The noble Lord may take a more cynical view. He may say that that is just what an unscrupulous employer will do, because that way he will get his old employees back but escape the obligation to pay them the £35,000 or £20,000, or whatever, under this Bill, if he does decide to make any of them redundant. Indeed he may say that an employer wanting to make registered dock workers redundant will deliberately wait to see whether they go on strike, in the hope that if they do he can get his redundancies on the cheap by dismissing the men at the outset for breach of contract so that they lose their right to redundancy compensation.

Let us suppose that the noble Lord is right about that. Is it unjust? Is it unfair? I submit that it is not. The statutory payments for redundancy that will be available under this Bill will be many times larger than those available to the generality of employees. The taxpayer will be paying half the cost of them. It would be letting the registered dock worker who goes on strike have his cake and eat it if he knows that if he is dismissed for breach of contract, he will suffer no penalty at all if he should be re-engaged. It would tip the balance too far towards the employee. Moreover, it would reduce the chance of the dock worker who has gone on strike and been dismissed being re-engaged. If the employer knows that if he then needed to make the employee redundant it would cost him up to £17,500, it would make him reluctant to re-engage him. If the strike had financially damaged the employer, there would be more risk of his becoming insolvent if he took the men back with that liability. So the taxpayer would have to step in to pay the full cost of redundancies.

I hope that I have given a very clear explanation of why we on the Government Benches believe this amendment to be wrong. In essence, it would be too wide and too generous. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it. If he does not, I must urge the House to reject it.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I wish to ask the noble Lord to think again about the two cases which he discussed at the beginning. There was the case of the man who was injured which I do not think the noble Lord mentioned but he would be in the same category as the man who was sick, who left for those reasons, but recovered and was re-employed. The noble Lord said that he thought that was very unlikely to happen. I think it is very likely to happen. It happens again and again in ordinary industry that people leave if they think they are seriously damaged and the doctors and everybody else think they are seriously damaged. It is quite common for an employer to keep them on the books for a while and then to say, "We cannot leave them on the books indefinitely, we shall take them off'. But the man gets better (as happens very frequently), he reapplies and comes back. All the noble Lord said to us was that he thought it would not happen. I should have thought that those cases were in a totally different category from the others which the noble Lord discussed.

One can argue both ways about the man who has been on strike; but the people who have left because they were sick and then return are surely in a much stronger position to be considered for redundancy than any of the other categories discussed.Will the noble Lord think again about that?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I think that the case of injured or sick people would be covered by the remarks I made about sickness. The same would apply to an injury. I said that it was unlikely that somebody would be taken back. However. I pointed out that they would have the right to claim unfair dismissal to an industrial tribunal which would hear the case. The trouble is that the amendment covers not only that situation but every other kind of dismissal which I have already mentioned. The position would be exactly the same in those circumstances for any other class of employee. We have tried not to make a special case for registered dock workers.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question arising out of what he said. He will know that Mr. Todd has tried to conform to the law as best he can, and that there is now a second ballot. It is understood that that ballot will not take place until the Bill is passed and the scheme has been abolished.

Let us assume—I am only assuming—that the ballot is in favour of the dispute, and that the dispute is about the removal of the scheme. I support anybody who voted for the dispute because I think that the removal of the scheme is absolutely outrageous. After all, in the early part of this year the Government had no intention of doing that. Nothing was said in the Queen's Speech. There was not a word about it. It was suddenly introduced because some employers said, "You've got to do it"; and so did certain Back-Benchers. That being so, the question I put to the Minister is this. Is he saying what some employers say now: that if the men go on strike within the period of time that I mention, their claim will be disallowed and they will not be entitled to any severance or redundancy pay?

3.30 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we are on the Third Reading of this Bill. We have already had the noble Lord's views as regards whether the scheme should be abandoned. In answer to the particular case he mentioned, as I said in my speech, going on strike would not necessarily prevent someone from being eligible for the redundancy scheme. On the other hand, if someone were dismissed for breach of contract, he would not be eligible for the scheme.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, we have had a very wide debate on Third Reading. I hope it will serve as a precedent of what we can do on Third Reading. I shall deal first with what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said. I am not saying, and I would not wish to say, that in this amendment we are providing, by a back door, a right to suspension in the case of industrial action. There is a very clear difference here. The employer concerned has to re-engage. We are not protecting a man who is dismissed in a strike. As regards his contract, that is the end of it. The employer concerned has to re-engage. But what we are asking is when an employer voluntarily re-engages a man, does his service stand to the benefit of that worker? The Minister says that service does stand to the benefit of the worker concerned in the case of the redundancy payments legislation. As regards that legislation, it is the case that service does not have to be continuous. If it is considered as uninterrupted as regards the redundancy payments legislation, why cannot the same apply in this case? That is my answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester.

I now turn to the Minister. I suppose it was meant as a compliment when the Minister said that the amendments were getting simpler and simpler. I have to say that he gets meaner and meaner. The Minister said that this provision is too wide and too large because the people involved are ordinary people and are not wealth creators. Such a provision could not be wide enough or large enough for wealth creators, but when it comes to ordinary dockers it is too wide and too large.

The Minister went through the various arguments that I used. He said, without any qualification, that the employment would have to be continuous employment for the provision to apply. There is no doubt whatever that the Government consider there is no chance of any cover unless the docker concerned has been continuously employed. If he is dismissed for six months because his leg falls off, he is considered to have lost all his service. The Government consider that to give such a person any benefit in those circumstances would be drawing the provision too wide and too large.

The Minister referred to ill-health. He and the noble Baroness said that they could not imagine that service would be considered to be discontinued for reasons of ill-health. I sometimes wonder where the Government live. Perhaps when Members of the Government are ill they do not get their pay stopped or get the sack. However, many other people do. In the case of redundancy payments, people suffering from ill-health would not normally lose their continuity of service. However, under this Bill they would lose continuity of service, because anything else would be considered to be drawn too wide and too large.

I am sorry that we moved to the subject of industrial action. The Government could have come forward this afternoon with something that might have taken the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, with them. The Minister could have said that he appreciated the case of ill-health and sickness. However, the problem is that Members of the Government on the other side of the House are obsessed with industrial action. They believe that the only thing to do with strikers is to grind them down. The Minister could have said that he wanted to exclude strike action from the provisions of the amendment. We would have accepted that. At this stage we would have accepted that. If the Government had said that they would make that exemption when the Bill returned to another place, so that this provision only covered ill-health and sickness but specifically exempted strike action, we would have accepted that. Any concession from this Government, however narrow and however small, is worth having.

The Minister does not satisfy me and he does not attempt to satisfy me. He talks about good employers and bad employers. However, I say to the Minister that one of the arguments I was going to use—however, I did not wish to burden the House with this—is that the Government are driving the good employer into illegality. I did not talk about bad employers. The Minister is quite correct to say that bad employers will manoeuvre in such a way that they escape their share of redundancy pay. However, the good employer will tell lies. He will fiddle, or at least he will be under pressure to do so. When the docker goes to the benefit office to find our whether he has benefit, the good employer will collude with that office to ensure that the man in the benefit office thinks the contract is continuous. The man in the benefit office will be furnished with the illegal words that will prevent him from saying that the docker cannot receive redundancy pay. That is what will happen.

The unions, too, will be forced into arguing that every dismissal should be classified as redundancy, because if it is not classified as redundancy the docker will not be able to get the money. That is a fine way to encourage the observance of the rule of law. All the bad employers can use it, and all the good employers are forced into forms of dishonesty in order to do the decent thing, all because this provision is too wide and too large. We think that the Bill is too dreadful, and we intend to divide the House.

3.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 117.

Addington, L. McCarthy, L.
Amherst, E. McNair, L.
Aylestone, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Birk, B. Mellish, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Mishcon, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Mulley, L.
Briginshaw, L. Nicol, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Northfieid, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Paget of Northampton, L
Perry of Walton, L.
Chester, Bp. Peston, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Phillips, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
David, B. Prys-Davies, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Rea, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Rochester, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Sainsbury, L.
Ennals, L. Seear, B.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Serota, B.
Ezra, L. Shackleton, L.
Falkland, V. Shepherd, L.
Gallacher, L. [Teller.] Soper, L.
Galpern, L. Stallard, L.
Gladwyn, L. Stedman, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Grimond, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hampton, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Tordoff, L.
Hayter, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hirshfield, L. Underhill, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
John-Mackie, L. Walston, L.
Kennet, L. White, B.
Leatherland, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Longford, E.
Allerton, L. Beloff, L.
Ampthill, L. Belstead, L.
Annaly, L. Blatch, B.
Arran, E. Blyth, L.
Auckland, L. Borthwick, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Bellwin, L. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Butterworth, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Caithness, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Caldecote, V. Margadale, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Marley, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L Merrivale, L.
Cayzer, L. Mersey, V.
Cockfield, L. Middleton, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L
Cottesloe, L. Munster, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Nelson, E.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Norfolk, D.
De Freyne, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Onslow, E.
Dilhorne, V. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Dundee, E. Orkney, E.
Eccles, V. Oxfuird, V.
Eden of Winton, L. Penrhyn, L.
Effingham, E. Platt of Writtle, B.
Elibank, L. Porritt, L.
Ellenborough, L. Quinton, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Rankeillour, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Reay, L.
Faithfull, B. Reigate, L.
Foley, L. Romney, E.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. St. John of Fawsley, L.
Gainford, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Glenarthur, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Grantchester, L. Seebohm, L.
Gridley, L. Sempill, Ly.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Shannon, E.
Shrewsbury, E.
Halsbury, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Slim, V.
Havers, L. Somers, L.
Henley, L. Strange, B.
Hesketh, L. Strathcarron, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Strathclyde, L.
Hood, V. Strathspey, L.
Hooper, B. Teviot, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Ilchester, E. Trafford, L.
Ironside, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Waldegrave, E.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Whitelaw, V.
Joseph, L. Windlesham, L.
Kimball, L. Wolfson, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Wynford, L.
Kinnaird, L. Young, B.
Lauderdale, E, Young of Graffham, L.
Long, V.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly,

3.43 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

There is no question that the Bill touches on matters of deep concern to a number of noble Lords on all sides of the House, for different reasons. Any Bill which brings to an end a statutory regime which has existed for 40 years is bound to do that. This is especially true when the purpose of those statutes was to improve the working conditions of a group of workers who, even by the standards of those days, suffered particular hardship because of the nature of the industry in which they worked. Poor working conditions in the docks were the product of a technology, and consequent organisation of work, which owed more to the 19th century than the 20th. No one listening to the bitter memories of the days before the dock labour scheme, invoked with a passion born of personal experience by the noble Lords, Lord Mellish and Lord Sefton, could fail to grasp the meaning of the scheme to them and their fears for the future.

However, progress is such that the well-intentioned reforms of one era can quickly become the obstacles of the next. That is the Government's view in this case, and I believe that it is shared by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and his colleagues. Employment rights and obligations of employees and employers generally have become more comprehensive. Dock work itself has finally been transformed by the same process of technological change which had already begun to provide the spur for better standards and conditions in other industries when the scheme was introduced. As a result, the docks of today require levels of capital investment and skills comparable to those of any modern industry. That came over very clearly in the contribution from my noble friend Lord Crickhowell which reflected his association with the industry.

In today's changed circumstances the controls of the scheme, and its labour monopoly, have served all too often to impede change which might have produced greater prosperity and genuine security for the workers whom the scheme sought to protect. I believe it was my noble friend Lord Trafford, who questioned whether some of our greatest ports, London and Liverpool in particular, would have declined as far and as fast if they had been able to respond more readily to the tougher competition which all ports face.

The Bill we have been considering brings an end to the dock labour scheme, provides for transitional arrangements under the guidance of the National Dock Labour Board, and the establishment of statutory redundancy arrangements for former registered dock workers. It is neither a long nor a complicated Bill by the standards to which we have become accustomed. The Government have seen no need to propose amendments of their own because they believe that the Bill expresses their intentions clearly and without technical flaws. Indeed, none of the amendments tabled by noble Lords have sought to correct deficiencies of wording. Even the apparently minor change proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, this afternoon sought a change in the meaning of the Bill, not its clarification.

The Government have resisted all other amendments to the Bill, either because they sought to overturn the central principle that the scheme should be wound up with the minimum of delay and without imposing a special statutory framework for its replacement, or because they sought to impose additional requirements for the transitional period. There were other amendments, for example on the terms of compensation for former registered dock workers, but I think that those two categories encompass the overwhelming majority.

Those noble Lords who supported amendments coming under the first heading will understand their incompatibility with the intentions of the Bill, even if they disagree profoundly with those intentions. In respect of the second category, the Government's resistance was often less a matter of principle than of their belief that they were unnecessary to achieve a rapid and smooth transition to a position where dock employers and employees in scheme ports were bound by the same statutory rights and obligations as employers and employees elsewhere in industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, subscribed to that aim on several occasions, and yet felt it important to seek an exceptional requirement that the Secretary of State should satisfy himself of the adequacy of training and welfare arrangements for dock workers before bringing the transitional period to an end. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government share his concern that adequate arrangements should exist. However, the statutory framework for welfare in our ports is already comprehensive and there is every indication that training provision will be developed by the industry to meet its own needs, with the assistance of the Bill's special provisions to allow the board to dispose of relevant facilities—notably its training and medical facilities—in the industry's interests.

Anyone who has followed the four sessions we have devoted to this Bill cannot doubt that the issues have been fully debated. We have found ourselves returning to the same points and arguments on several occasions. There have been many distinguished contributions, and if I mention some I mean no discourtesy to others of equal merit. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter spoke about the future opportunities for our docks without the scheme with a conviction matched only by the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, in defence of the scheme. My noble friends Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lord Peyton of Yeovil drew on their close association with the transport industries in different capacities.

I thank also the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Underhill, whose approach throughout has been typically thorough and unfailingly courteous. I hope that they will accept that, whatever divides us on the means to this end, we share their desire to see a prosperous ports industry capable of providing reasonable terms and conditions for all its workers and a genuine basis for stability of employment.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, we have now reached the final stage of the passage of the Bill through Parliament. We on this side of the House have never viewed it with favour. Not only do we not like the Bill; we strongly object to the manner in which it has been introduced. As my noble friend Lord Mellish has constantly reminded the House, it is, after all, not very long since we were told that the Government had no intention of doing away with the dock labour scheme. Then, quite suddenly, a Statement was made to both Houses, followed immediately by a White Paper and a Bill the very next day.

There has been no adequate explanation for that rush, nor have we been told what the emergency was. There was no consultation, either. Why the Government bothered to issue a White Paper, which is normally for consultative purposes in advance of a Bill, has never been explained. We have repeatedly complained about the lack of consultation with the union, only to be told that it was not necessary to consult because the Government knew the result in advance. Were the Government out to provoke a dock strike? Has the union been canny enough to refuse to be provoked? Did the Government want to find a scapegoat for the balance of trade crisis? Whatever happens, they have not succeeded in doing that.

Nevertheless, the Government have persisted with their aim of pushing through the legislation with almost unprecedented haste. Clearly, the word has gone out from on high that nothing must impede the Bill's rapid progress onto the statute book. As has been pointed out on several occasions from these Benches, the lawyers may complain, but they are doing rather better than the dockers. If the press stories are accurate, it now looks as though they have been able to pressurise the Government into having second thoughts. Unfortunately, we have been unable to persuade the Government to do the same for dockers.

Then there is the Bill itself—a short Bill designed, as the Minister said, to do away with a scheme that has been in operation on a statutory basis for over 40. years. As noble Lords have pointed out—not all of them from these Benches—there is no attempt to put anything in its place. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, spoke about the need for a national strategy, as we did from these Benches, but to no avail. Apparently, the Government are quite content to leave that important industry to the operation of market forces and to the employers.

We have repeatedly been told by the Government that the reason for the unprofitability of some scheme ports is the existence of the dock labour scheme. Again, when it has been pointed out that not all scheme ports are unprofitable, and when the Government have repeatedly been told that Rotterdam, for example, operates a scheme not unlike our own dock labour scheme, and that continental ports have registers of dock workers and oppose casualisation, there has been no response from the Government.

We have repeatedly stressed the dockers' legitimate fear of a return to casualisation. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Mellish, who has experience of the industry, just what conditions were like for dock workers before the scheme came into existence. My noble friend Lord Callaghan has also spoken of his experience when he was an MP for a dock constituency. All those who have spoken in debates on the Bill have asserted their opposition to a return to the bad old days.

However, this is an industry in which a return to casualisation would be only too easy. It is said that the employers are against casualisation now because they need a highly skilled, permanent workforce. But there is still a demand for less skilled work. The union fears that we shall see the emergence of a core of highly skilled workers with a pool of casual labour. That is not unlikely and the assurances that the employers have so far given fall far short of what is required, given the history of the industry.

We have sought through our amendments to maintain a role for the Government and, with it, some kind of assurance for the workforce that the bad old days will not return. The Government's refusal to meet those fears and their opposition to the ILO convention on casualisation has strengthened the view that the loss of the scheme will once more put dockers' livelihoods at risk.

Then there is the matter of health and safety, and training. At Report stage, we sought to salvage some protection for the workforce when we urged the Government to accept the amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. That would at least have ensured a continuing government commitment until the Secretary of State was satisfied that adequate provision was being made in those important areas once the scheme had gone. Again, we ran into total opposition from the Government. At no time during the passage of the Bill have they been prepared to give even a small amount of reassurance to satisfy our fears. The most modest of amendments, including that moved by my noble friend Lord McCarthy this afternoon, have met with total opposition.

To those of us on these Benches the most unacceptable argument of all which has been advanced by the Government and some of their supporters is that dockers in the scheme are somehow privileged. We are told that they have privileges that other workers do not have; yet, at the same time, we are told that workers in non-scheme ports are better off. But is it a privilege to have good health and safety provision and medical and training centres? If it is, then it is about time that that privilege was extended to other parts of industry. Is it a privilege to have some degree of security of employment with reasonable compensation for redundancy in the event of termination? Is it a privilege to have the right not to be unfairly dismissed?

After all, this is not the only industry to have an internal appeals machinery. I have repeatedly told the Government that in many industries there exist, particularly for non-manual staff, voluntary redundancy arrangements that are better than those for the dockers. In very many industries, the redundancy terms available under the Redundancy Payments Act are topped up by negotiated agreements. There is nothing very special about the arrangements for dockers except that theirs is a statutory scheme, but, as we have repeatedly said, there is a role for government in an industry like this. Nor can it be said that dock work is all that highly paid. A docker must work long hours to earn about £15,000 a year. We should compare that with some of the salaries around nowadays, particularly in the managerial field. To such people, a docker's annual wage would be so much small change.

We are not defending privileged workers here. However, through their union and through representation on the boards established under the scheme, dockers have some say in their industry and how it is run. Admittedly, that is a minority voice, but it is a voice nevertheless. Perhaps it is that aspect that the Government do not like. Europe's social dimension is anathema to the Government and workers' participation is something with which they apparently do not agree.

I cannot commend the Bill to the House. As the Minister has said, throughout its passage through the House we on this side have done our best to secure some continuing protection for the workers in the industry. We deeply regret that we have not been able to achieve our objectives. Before I sit down, I should like to thank the Minister for the courtesy with which he has dealt with our amendments, but I should also like to say that I am sorry that the Government have found that they could not accept any of them.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, on these Benches our feeling about the Bill as it leaves the House is very much as it was when it came here, so I shall be brief. We have made it plain throughout that in today's conditions the dock labour scheme has outlived its usefulness and should now be brought to an end. We continue to feel that, in keeping with normal practice, the Government should have given other interested parties an opportunity to express their views before determining the precise arrangements under which the scheme was to be abolished. But, on the Motion, that the Bill do now pass, we must consider the position as it now is and not as we would wish it to be.

At the outset of our discussions, I said that my noble friends and I were concerned about one point in particular; namely, the absence of any provision in the Bill to ensure that, after dissolution of the National Dock Labour Board, there were adequate arrangements for the training and welfare of people who continue to be employed as dock workers and for the retraining of those made redundant. As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, has already said, that was why I moved an amendment at Report stage proposing that the transitional period between the passing of the Act and the dissolution of the board should not end until the Secretary of State was satisfied that adequate alternative arrangements had been made for the training and welfare of dockers.

I shall not rehearse once more the arguments in favour of that suggestion, but I was disappointed that the Government resisted it. As I said at the time, in so doing they missed a good opportunity to demonstrate that they were not implacably resolved to have the Bill enacted in its present form, but were willing in that small way to take account of the genuine concern felt by dockers about their future welfare.

I cannot end without expressing the fervent hope that in the ballot that is now being conducted a majority of registered dock workers will vote against strike action. I should like to see negotiations begin as soon as possible between employers and union representatives at the various ports now covered by the dock labour scheme, so that there is early agreement on the employment conditions which should operate in future in those ports.

It remains only for me to join with the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for the courteous way in which he has piloted the Bill through the House. Also, if I may, I should like to compliment especially both the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, and the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, on their contributions to our discussions.

4 p.m.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, as the noble Lord has just said, the whole House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for the way in which they have conducted the debates on this Bill. I should like to put on record that all those associated with the dock industry will be grateful for their contributions, their extraordinary knowledge of the situation, their sympathy and their understanding. I want that clearly understood.

I suppose that it was only to be expected that a chap like me might stand up and defend those with whom he has worked for many years and who understand the docks perhaps even better than the Minister does, surprising as that may seem. The fact is that the original Act came only as a result of pressure from everyone concerned—good Conservatives and, as they were in those days, good Liberals. The Labour movement as a whole introduced the measure which brought in the original dock labour scheme as we know it. For reasons that I do not understand, this Government have decided to abolish the whole scheme. They have no mandate to do that. Their manifesto said nothing about it. No mention of it was made in the Queen's Speech. In a Question put earlier this year the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, asked about the national dock labour scheme, and the Government replied that it was not their intention to abolish it. They said that to him and not to me.

I was delighted with that Answer. But here we are, a few weeks later, confronted with this Bill. Incidentally, it went through the House of Commons after a guillotine Motion to make sure that protesters shut up and did what they were told. A guillotine was imposed on this Bill so that a great deal of it was never discussed or debated. It was brought into this House in the knowledge that a great number of noble Lords on the other side of the House who have no knowledge at all of the dock industry, and who know nothing about the scheme, could be dragooned into the Lobbies to vote for its abolition.

It has been said time and again—and I put this point in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, because he consistently opposed the scheme right from the beginning, but I put it also to the Minister—that the abolition of the scheme is based on the economic argument. Where are these economic arguments? The House has never been given any figures. It has been glibly said that the registered ports were not economic. I asked very simply (I am a simple-minded guy) if we could be given some figures. An article which I read on this subject, and perhaps I made a mistake and its facts were wrong, stated that the registered ports were making a 30 per cent. profit. Is that right? If it is not right, why does the Minister not rise and say so? Why does he not say that they are not making a profit but are losing money? On the other hand, if it is true, I ask him: What is the margin of profit required? Does it have to be 30 per cent., 40 per cent. or 50 per cent., and are we to be told about it?

Throughout the whole debate an argument has been put forward that dockers were in a privileged position and that the national dock labour scheme enabled them to function in a manner denied to every other industry. The phrase that was much used by the other side was that the scheme meant "jobs for life". Let us look at that argument—and flatten it.

Initially there were 61,000 dock workers covered by the scheme. Today, there are 9,000. That is a funny old job for life, is it not? The numbers have gone down by 51,000. All those dock workers are not dead; most of them have just left the industry—they have been made redundant, or changes in the industry have meant a complete reorganisation and change of work. Nobody has been more co-operative in that respect than the dock workers. They agreed willingly to changes. They went to Tilbury where there was operated the new method, of containerisation (a dreadful word), which replaced a lot of their work. For some years there was peace and tranquillity in dockland. Now the whole of the docks is in uproar again. I ask, why?

The Government have no mandate for this Bill. The Liberals have suddenly announced that they are in favour of the abolition of the dock labour scheme. That is strange; I have never before heard that from the Liberals. They did not say anything about it before, and did not put down a Question on the subject. Now suddenly they take this view. At least the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, wanted to get rid of the scheme many years ago, when his own party argued against it and said that it was doing all right.

As noble Lords, will know, I was in the other House for 37 years. During that time the Conservatives ruled for 14 years and the national dock labour scheme was in force throughout those years. Why was a measure to abolish it not brought in at that time, when they had the power and the authority to do it? The answer is that the Government were quite happy with the scheme as it then was and now is. This Government have bowed to pressure from a few employers and a small number of Back-Benchers. It is very sad, particularly so for the dock workers.

Let me say a final word on this subject. It has been argued throughout our discussions that a lot more could be done if there were local negotiations but that the unions are determined to have national negotiations. I say to the Minister that there has been a lot of nonsense talked about this matter. Local negotiations have taken place for years and years. Ever since I have known the dock industry there have been local conditions, local variations, local cargoes, local rates and indeed local everything. But the rate of pay was agreed nationally and applied to every dock worker, so that whether a man worked in Merseyside or London he received the same rate of pay. That was a national agreement.

This was not special to the dock industry. The other great industry of which I have some knowledge is the catering industry. One of the biggest firms in the country used to be Peak Freans, and I remember speaking to its management and asking how disputes were avoided. What, I asked, were the procedures? The management said that it was because people locally were given the chance to say what they wanted. Yet every one of the company's agreements was national. There were no arguments about rates of pay, conditions of work and so on. It was the same with the National Dock Labour Board. When that came into being its rules applied right across the country. Now that board has been wiped out.

Dockers were never privileged. They have to work very hard for what the receive. I do not deny that there will be bad men among them. I look around this Chamber and I daresay that there are one or two such here. We do not have to rush down to the docks to see such people. The vast majority of dockers try very hard to do what they are supposed to do. For no reason at all, this Government have decided to abolish the one thing that was created for them by the great Ernest Bevin, for he was the architect of the scheme. It is now to be wiped out.

The convention of this House is that we do not vote against the Third Reading of a Bill. If this side of the House were to do so on this occasion, our votes would be smashed to the ground. So what does it matter? I end by joining with the noble Baroness who has just spoken in thanking the Minister who has had charge of this Bill. I say in front of the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, that he may well be proud of him. He has been courteous and decent throughout. He has conducted himself in a way that is a credit to his party. That is all that I have to say about this rotten Bill.

4.9 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, whatever the views on the merits of this Bill, no one can fail to be affected, perhaps even moved, by the strong feeling which it has aroused among a number of noble Lords opposite, and most notably, the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, who spoke with real emotion, understanding and sincerity. Noble Lords will also recall at a previous stage the fine speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who came to the House specially for that purpose.

I recognise at once the sincerity of feeling which lies behind those views. This Bill has aroused emotions which one does not always detect in your Lordships' House in regard to other measures. I am bound to say that I have not found it quite so strong for a long time and I personally very much respect it.

However, the Bill is a perfectly definite Bill which aims to do one thing: it is a clear-cut measure designed to abolish the dock labour scheme.

Lord Mellish

Why, my Lords?

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, it is for the Minister to say why. However, if I may respond to the noble Lord's invitation, which I always do most willingly, I might add one or two reasons. As he said, I have for some years been convinced that the dock labour scheme—whatever its merits, or the justification for it originally—was out of date. It was a relic of a type of organisation, perhaps common in the 1940s, but quite unsuited to the needs of the 1980s and 1990s. If one wants an argument about it, one has only to compare what has happened in the scheme ports, to which the dock labour scheme applied, with that in the non-scheme ports.

The noble Baroness referred to one or two European ports by way of contrast. Surely a more relevant, more immediately striking contrast is with non-scheme ports in this country. Of course I now give way to the noble Lord.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, if non-scheme ports are so excellent in every way, can the noble Lord tell me what the Minister never tells me: why is their productivity 33 per cent. below that of the scheme ports?

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, it is for very good reasons. It is because of the type of cargoes and business that they deal with. It is quite impossible to measure productivity in the conventional way, one against another. However, what is striking—and the noble Lord must admit this—is the way in which they have grown, and the way in which traffic in them has grown compared with the decline in the scheme ports. That is indisputable. Given that, it would have been quite wrong for the Government to allow the dock labour scheme to go on. It had outlived its usefulness.

The use of the word "privilege" annoyed one or two noble Lords opposite. But it gave dockers certain advantages which were not open to their fellow workers in almost any other trade. One was the curious provision under which, if an employer packed up, another employer in that port was bound to take on—whether or not he wanted to do so—the dockers whom that employer had previously employed. It might well give him excessive manpower; it might well add to his costs; but he had to do so. Noble Lords also know perfectly well that a number of dock workers would be summoned not to do any work, but simply to stand by and then to be paid while others in limited numbers did the work. This kind of thing, although understandable no doubt in the context of the 1940s and of the deep feeling about casualisation, is unacceptable today when this country has to earn its living by efficiency, including the efficient use of labour.

Therefore, I very warmly welcome the courage and determination of the Government, knowing, as they did, that the Bill would be opposed as it has been.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, guillotined!

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, if the noble Lord talks of guillotines, I must recall to a former Labour Chief Whip in the House of Commons that the use of the guillotine has never been confined to governments of one particular colour. No doubt the noble Lord could speak on the guillotine with great expertise as he applied it often.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, I applied it on sensible measures and not on such rubbish as this.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, that is a matter of opinion.When I was in the Commons, I thought that practically all the measures to which the noble Lord applied the guillotine were absolute nonsense. Indeed, the noble Lord may recall that not only did I think that, but I said so on many of them. If the noble Lord looks back he will find that I was right. It is quite absurd to try to distort the argument on this by referring to the guillotine in particular when that point is sought to be made by someone who was a singularly skilful and vigorous exponent of the guillotine when he filled the relevant office.

This is a Bill to remove an organisation which has outlived whatever usefulness it may have had. I know that it still arouses sentimental feelings. I know that it arouses memories that I share of that great man, the late Ernest Bevin. However, if one makes a cool comparison on the scheme and non-scheme ports in this country, it becomes increasingly clear that a Government which allowed this scheme to continue would be failing in their duty; failing in their duty to the British economy; and, finally, failing in their duty to the dockers whose employment in the long run is dependent on the efficiency of the service that their ports provide.

I join with noble Lords opposite in saying how much I appreciate the way that my noble friend Lord Brabazon has handled this Bill. He kept the issues clearly before us. He did not—and rightly in the circumstances—accept amendments because none of them would have been helpful to the direct and main purpose of the Bill. But he rejected them with great courtesy. He must have a feeling of modest and well-earned satisfaction that we have now reached this stage. I am sure that noble Lords are very grateful to him for his skilful handling of the Bill.

I wish the Bill all success. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, that it would be foolish and silly if strikes were to occur, and that there is ample room for negotiations in particular on a local basis in the ports. Such negotiation would be to the benefit of all concerned: dockers, employers, and the British economy as a whole. In passing this Bill, we are contributing significantly to making our country the more efficient, more worthwhile economically, and a better and more competitive country than it was. That surely must be the objective of all of us.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I shall be brief because my noble friend on the Front Bench, and my noble friends Lord McCarthy and Lord Mellish, have put the case excellently. I am sorry that the Minister did not notice that I spoke at Second Reading, although he said that he mentioned only a few people.

I am very saddened by this Bill. I speak only because I have the greatest respect for the people who work in the docks, as I said earlier. I was interested to read in a Sunday newspaper yesterday—not a Socialist one, I hasten to say—that the Minister in another place was to be complimented for having skilfully manoeuvred the Bill through two Houses of Parliament in order to get on with the job. That may be of interest to the Minister in question—who I gather has been under some cloud with the Prime Minister—but it is not a reason for legislation. This Bill is a backwards step; let us have no dissembling about it. We are not moving into the 20th century, but back into the 1930s. If the dockers strike, I would say that it would be the least that we would expect them to do.

I hope that the Government at last will take this message. They are trying to override everyone: the teachers, the doctors, the lawyers (although I gather that they are now backing down) and the people who work in the communication industries. They cannot all be wrong.

The Government are trying to force through the Bill very rapidly. We talk about courtesy. Of course the Minister is very courteous. He has a lengthy brief and tries to destroy us by blinding us with science. He gave long answers where short ones would have been more sensible. It is a terrible, destructive Bill. Let us have no mistake about it. I am very sad to see this day.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, perhaps I may have a moment or two of your Lordships' time largely to assure the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, that some of us on these Benches have had business in and around the docks. My knowledge goes back to 1948 when I came out of the army and went to work in Southampton, leaving there in 1963–64. The effect in the latter years on Southampton Docks has been a lack of exploitation through the dock labour scheme. I was involved in transport, overseas trucking, cold storage, warehousing and so forth. There is no doubt that the scheme greatly prevented a number of commercial companies from coming into the docks where there is now virtually a wasteland. The abolition of the dock scheme will undoubtedly given commercial companies, in many different sectors, further opportunities to enhance their business and, indeed, the dock and port industries.

The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, has consistently reminded your Lordships of the reason for the scheme starting. Nobody has ever argued with him about that. What we have been arguing about consistently, since the Bill came to your Lordships' House, is the need for change. There is a need for change which I am afraid to say your Lordships on the other side of the House have refused to accept in a number of industries. When he talks about 51,000 going down the drain, that is absolute nonsense because many of those who worked in scheme ports are still in the port industry, in non-scheme ports. It is equally nonsense for those who say that the Government have refused to ensure that health and safety in the docks is continued, because we have not put anything in its place. I do not hear anything from non-scheme port employees or employers that there has been a rash of accidents or a diminution in health. The port industry is a dangerous industry, but no more dangerous than the construction industry with its specialist equipment: no more dangerous than road building with its very specialist equipment. Employers have been able to provide alongside the legislation which this Administration has put in place suitable health schemes and training schemes in all those industries.

My final word is to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said. I greatly hope that the 9,500 dockers being invited to ballot will be persuaded that their best interests lie in staying in work and, together with the employers, making the industry as successful as the non-scheme ports.

4.23 p.m.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, is quite right. One should begin by saying what one can say for the Government. One can say and one is pleased to say that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has conducted the case in a smooth, gracious and efficient way. But that is all one can say for the Government. Those of us on this side of the House are bound at this stage of the Bill to wonder what we have gained by our opposition to the Bill. I am afraid that we have not gained an inch of ground. Perhaps two clarifications fell from the lips of the noble Lord. At one stage, I think it was on Report, he told us that he would not insist on an arbitrary end to the transition period and subsequently he said that the way he reads the Bill covers voluntary severance as well as compulsory redundancy. Those are small matters and I do not believe that they amount to an inch of ground, but in every other way, as previous speakers have said, he has rejected all our attempts, even—I do not agree with his description—our last final attempt to change the drafting of the Bill.

We honestly believed that the noble Lord would not say that the amendment meant continuous. It is appalling if he says that that phrase means continuous. I thought he meant it to cover all circumstances and that we were merely making the Bill clearer. It was intended to be a drafting amendment. It was a tiny amendment of substance because the Government were taking the narrowest view of what the words meant.

If we cannot say we have gained an inch of ground, we cannot say that we have actually improved the arguments. We tried. The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, tried repeatedly to persuade the Government and their supporters to go beyond such words as "sensible" and "undoubtedly"—all these things which really mean "our opinion" in the first place—and persuade them to fill in some of the gaps in their arguments. Why do they persist in talking about a job for life when the great majority of dockers have been removed from the docks for quite modest severance pay? We never found an answer.

Why do the Government say that there is £1 billion in subsidies and severance pay when only about one-third of that money went to the dockers, who on average received 35 weeks' pay? Most important of all, why do they talk about restrictive practices, when the productivity levels in the registered docks are above the productivity levels in the unregistered docks?

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, tells us that it is all very complicated and difficult. One is asked to believe that if the figures went the other way, he would not use them. But if the productivity level in the registered docks was 33 per cent. below the productivity level in the unregistered docks he would feel too decent to bring that out. Of course we know that productivity is difficult to measure, but it is no more difficult to measure in the docks than anywhere else. The fact is that the Government do not have any explanation and on the basis of their argument with all the so-called restrictive practices in the docks, these figures are impossible to explain.

The Minister has given a number of pseudo-arguments. I make no apology for referring to them because he still refers to them. He says that productivity may be higher in the registered docks, but they had to lose the labour to get it. That is as much as saying that in the unregistered docks they retained the labour and that is why they do not have it. That is as much as saying that the level of manpower must be higher in the unregistered than in the registered docks. That is a fine defence—is it not?—for the unregistered docks. Alternatively, he says—and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is fond of saying this for he said it again today—that we must not keep talking about productivity, it is not nice; think of the way they have grown; think of the way they have taken 30 per cent. of the trade. If productivity is higher and if we are always being told that wages are reasonably more or less the same, it must be capital utilisation which is the reason and it must be something about the way in which the unregistered ports are run which has nothing to do with labour utilisation at all.

When we look for things which have nothing to do with labour utilisation, we have no difficulty in explaining the growth of the unregistered docks. It is due to where they are; it is their degree of specialisation. Sone people say it is because the registered docks have to operate as a kind of common carrier and have a diversity of trade, much of which has a low profit ratio. There are all kinds of reasons given, which have nothing whatever to do with labour costs, to explain the rate of growth in the two different dock sections of the industry.

The Minister is always referring—because I am always asking him to explain—to the Ministry of Transport's transhipment study. He used it again the other day. It is a study which shows that the handling costs at Felixstowe are 30 or 40 per cent. below Tilbury and Southampton. He knows as well as I do that these comparisons are not worth anything. It is one unregistered port against two registered ports. There are no figures for 38 scheme ports and no figures for 34 non-scheme ports. Why do we have these three ports in the scheme?—because they are the only ports that the Government have looked at.

There is no explanation in the transhipment study—they do not attempt any explanation—for why the handling costs are different. There is nothing about total costs and nothing about labour costs. We have said to the Government over and over again that if they wish to justify what they have said about the relative inefficiencies and restrictive practices in the two sectors of the docks industry, and if they wish to be taken seriously, they must put forward comparative labour costs across the two sections of the industry. But of course they never do.

We have not developed the argument and we have not plugged the gaps. It is not without significance to note that all we have done is to change the emphasis of the argument. We have heard it this afternoon. Had I more time I should quote the Minister because this afternoon he used what I call the "Dark Age defence"—the terrible expense of running the registered ports. When he was asked to explain the paradox of jobs for life, the absence of high redundancy pay, the absence of relative high wages, the amazing figures on productivity, he shifted, as did his noble friends. They all began to talk not about Dark Age defence but about Golden Age expansion and expectation. We were told, "It will be much better in the future if only we can get rid of the scheme. It is not that the scheme creates real privilege".

The Government cannot consider them to be real privileges because they are produced by trade unionism and one cannot have such benefits; they are illusory. But when the registered dockers are forced to be free and come out from under the dark umbrella of the registered dock labour scheme then, say the Ministers, everything will be better. The noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Harmar-Nicholls, told us that in Committee. This afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said the same. It is only the dock work regulation scheme which prevents the registered dockers from living on the fat of the land. They will receive higher wages, better training, freedom from union monopoly. Somehow the registered dockers cannot see that.

So the Government have shifted from Dark Age defence to Golden Age expansion. That is significant because they often ask us, "What would you do? What does the Labour Party propose to do? What will the Labour Party do when it faces the fact that we have passed this Act? Will it bring it back?" It all depends on whether the Government are right. If they are absolutely right and we have Golden Age expansion, and wages and employment rise, then there will be no reason for bringing back the dock labour scheme. If there is no casualisation and everything works out as the Government say it will, then there will be no reason to do anything, will there?

There is also the fact that the Labour Party proposes a widespread expansion of all kinds of other employee benefits. It proposes a new training scheme; an extension of the functions and powers of the Health and Safety Commission; and a charter of employment rights. Therefore, even if they are not entirely right in what they say, it may be that general legislation will solve the problem. It depends on whether the Government are right and we see this Golden Age, or whether, as we and the Transport and General Workers' Union fear—and we hope that the fear is misplaced—casualisation will begin to emerge. We fear that there will be the same depression of terms and conditions in the docks industry as there has been in every industry in which the Government have abolished wages councils. Wages councils kept up minimum standards and benefited those directly covered by trade unions and also other workers. The danger is that our fears will prove to be correct.

Meanwhile, we say farewell to this scruffy little measure. There was no consultation, no mandate, no amendment and no mercy in this scruffy little measure. We say farewell to it in order to make way for the seventh son of Frankenstein the week after next; yet another Employment Bill. Even before that Bill pops into this House they are talking about the eighth and ninth son of Frankenstein down the other end. I do not suggest that the Minister likes the measure. I hazard a guess that most noble Lords opposite—I do not say all—do not like it any more than we do. They know that they are on auto-pilot and that this scruffy Bill must go through.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not intend to repeat all the arguments which were made at Second Reading and during the other stages of the Bill. As noble Lords have said, this is a short Bill, with one purpose: to abolish the dock labour scheme. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, the scheme has outlived its usefulness. Therefore, it is not surprising that the arguments have been somewhat repetitive.

I should like to deal with a couple of points which were raised this afternoon. First, it was suggested that the Government acted provocatively in introducing the measure, in the hope of creating a national dock strike and possibly influencing the balance of payments figures. I assure noble Lords that we do not wish to see a national dock strike; that is the last thing we wish to see. And we do not believe that there is a need for one. As my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Lucas of Chilworth said, the best future for the docks—and they have a bright future—is the efficiency of the ports free of the scheme. That is the best guarantee that they can have of jobs for the future.

Comparisons were made with ports overseas but, as has been said on several occasions, we do not need to make such a comparison. We have the example of our own non-scheme ports to follow. They combine efficiency with decent employment conditions. Indeed, other countries are looking to improve the efficiency of their ports and some are relaxing the restrictions therein.

A number of noble Lords, notably the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, expressed fears that casualism may return to the docks. I understand those fears, but I believe that they are totally unfounded. No one—the Government and especially the port employers —wishes to see a return to the casualism of the 1930s and 1940s. But no one has explained to me why the abolition of the scheme will mean a return to those days. The fact is that today the ports industry involves modern cargo handling techniques, capital intensive equipment and other expensive and advanced equipment quite unsuited to casual labour. Employers need a properly, well-motivated, permanent workforce. In order to see that the fears of a return to casualism are misplaced one has only to look at the experience of the non-scheme ports which currently employ only 6 per cent. of their workforce on a casual basis. That figure is similar to that in other industries throughout the country. We also have assurances from employers in 93 per cent. of the industry that they have no wish to see a return to casualism.

The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, spoke eloquently on the issue. The noble Lord said that I did not understand the docks. Perhaps I did not understand the docks of 40 years ago when the scheme was introduced. However, over the past two or three years I have made it my business to visit as many ports as possible, both scheme and non-scheme ports. Therefore, I hope that I have an understanding of what happens in the ports in 1989. With his experience of the ports industry my noble friend Lord Lucas answered some of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish.

I have never said that the scheme ports were not profitable although I do not believe that they are making 30, 40, or 50 per cent.—whatever figure was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. However, I said that they could be more profitable after the abolition of the scheme. I also said that some of them are now profitable only because of the substantial sums of money which have been spent in their restructuring, and that has involved the scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, made an interesting point about local negotiations. We should like to see local negotiations take place in order to bring an end to the dispute. However, pay is one of the few issues which at present is not negotiated nationally. It is negotiated locally, even in the scheme ports. That has not been the case for long and probably was not so when the noble Lord was involved.

Lastly, I thank all noble Lords who said kind words about my conduct of the Bill. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.