§ 3.11 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The BARONESS SEROTA in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Abolition of Dock Labour Scheme]:
Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 8, leave out from ("effect") to end of line and insert ("in respect of a registered employer on the date on which he satisfies the conditions of subsection(5) below").
§ The noble Lord said: We should like to take this amendment with Amendment No. 12 because the two amendments together link the abolition of the scheme to a set of agreements negotiated by employers and unions to safeguard the position of dock workers. The two amendments go together.
§ In opening this discussion this afternoon we should like to congratulate the Government on putting down no last-minute amendments. This is another example of the remarkable nature of this Bill. We have had hundreds of last-minute amendments on the Water Bill, the Social Security Bill and the Electricity Bill, but none on this Bill. We hope that that situation will prevail when we come to the next employment Bill.133
We have put down these amendments today to meet the points raised in the Second Reading debate. Various noble Lords, among them the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, said that there was no alternative in the Bill provided by the Government to the proposed total abolition of the scheme. That is quite right. The objective of this amendment and of most of our subsequent amendments is indeed to provide some alternative to the total abolition of the scheme—perhaps some period of time or in respect of certain aspects of the scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said at col. 1092 of the Official Report at Second Reading on 9th June, that the Opposition had failed to propose,
one single amendment and did not have one single … proposal".
We are therefore coming to the Committee this afternoon with a series of proposals. I hope that those who want some proposals will vote for at least some of them.
§ Broadly speaking, it is true, although not entirely so, that the heart and thrust of the Bill is in Clause 1. Therefore most of our amendments deal with Clause 1. It is true that we are seeking to amend this Bill in two different ways. Amendments Nos. 1 and 12 focus on the first. The first way forward is to facilitate the development of a collective bargaining alternative, jointly regulated, system to the statutory system of dock work regulations. This amendment does that. Other amendments, in particular Amendment No. 3 which I shall subsequently be moving, provide an alternative way, building on the Bill and trying to spread out the number of issues for which the board can be responsible during the transitional period. There are two ways of doing so. One can either amend the Bill through collective bargaining, encouraging and facilitating collective bargaining; or one can amend the Bill through some more modest form of statutory regulation that exists in the present scheme. If people say that one cannot do either of those things, then they must be committed to the total abolition of the scheme and to putting nothing in its place.
§ This set of amendments works in this way. Amendment No. 1 abolishes the scheme, and all the provisions of the scheme, for any employer who can show that he has met the terms of Amendment No. 12. Amendment No. 12 spells out what one needs to do in order to receive the benefits of Amendment No. 1. It spells out the three things that one has to do to qualify for abolition. First, one has to belong to, and abide by the agreements of, an employer's association which satisfies the rest of the amendment. Secondly, one has to be a party to agreements—either through an employer's association or in some other way—which cover terms and conditions, training, welfare, and accident provisions and arrangemments for engagement, termination and discipline of workers. On the face of our amendment, those agreements have to be not less favourable than those introduced at the time of the passing of the Act. Thirdly, and finally, one has to agree to certain procedures for resolving disputes that arise over those agreements. Again, we are going back to the fact that the existing set of industry-wide agreements has provision for agreed procedures. 134 Therefore if a set of agreements is to be not less favourable than those that exist at the passing of the Act, we have to put that provision into the Bill.
§ There are several factors that we should like to suggest in support of these amendments. Much has been said about the special conditions of the dock work regulation scheme. It is said that it gives a job for life. We have argued that that is not so. It is said that it provides a monopoly of dock work. We have argued that that is not so. Clause 10(3) of the 1967 Act allows for certain urgent work to be done outside the terms applying to the registered dock worker. Much is made of the fact that disciplinary provisions are undoubtedly significantly better—we make no apology for this—than the disciplinary provisions and protection provided by existing legislation. It is said that dock workers can obtain reinstatement whereas workers outside cannot; that when dock workers apply for reinstatement they win rather more times and proportionately rather more frequently than ordinary workers under the terms of the 1978 Act. We make no apology for that. In so far as the existing dock work scheme and the set of collective agreements that derive from the dock work scheme provide improved terms and conditions for the workers concerned we see no reason to apologise for that.
§ For example, there is no mystery about the fact that the dock workers wish to retain their present system of discipline. If, as the Government suggest, they went over to the existing system with no special provisions, then the burden of proof would be in favour of the employers as it is under the statutory scheme. The criteria of fair dismissal would be managerial as it is under the statutory scheme. There would be no effective right of reinstatement. Any case which was regarded as not absolutely conclusive would have to be the subject of a down payment; and anybody with less than two years' service—and that might apply to many people in the dock work industry—would have no statutory rights. Indeed, if they worked for small employers they would have no statutory rights.
§ Before the scheme is abolished we want the dock workers to have a set of terms and conditions not less favourable than those that exist at the time of the passing of the Act. We accept that such provision would give them terms and conditions with regard to discipline and, in some measure, job security which would be significantly better than those of many other workers in this country. We see nothing wrong in that. It would also give them a system of industry-wide job regulation and bargaining.
§ Much was made on Second Reading of the fact that if the employers wish to break up the present system, to go down to port-wide bargaining or even individual worker-employer bargaining, nothing should be done by this Committee or another place to stop them doing so. We do not accept that. We would argue, as would the union and until a few years ago most employers in the industry, that effective joint regulation of the industry requires collective bargaining above the level of the individual employer. Although in the industry there is a great deal of decentralisation in the collective bargaining process, there is also a framework of 135 national agreements which, under our amendment, must re-emerge under the general supervision of the national joint council. It deals with a range of issues which we believe can be effectively regulated and protected in such an industry only with the kind of existing industry-wide agreements on hours of work, overtime, holidays, sick pay and pensions that require local and national disputes machinery and so forth.
§ It is said that outside the regulated dock area the system of joint regulation is not a national system. We argue that it is safe for that system to exist while the national system exists within the National Dock Labour Scheme. However, in the circumstances in which the union now finds itself, where the employers will not allow any regulation for the industry above the level of the individual employer—and there are 200 employers in the docks industry which makes an average of 40 dockers per employer—we say that there is a need for something better.
§ When Mr. Todd, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, attempted in negotiation to achieve the substance of our two amendments he asked the employers the following questions. "How, through collective bargaining, will you secure job security for dock workers? How will you ensure that all or any employers will operate mechanisms for registration of dock workers? Will you define dock work or leave it entirely to the individual employer? How will your members be expected to minimise excess labour shortages? What arrangements will be made for medical and welfare facilities? What will be the procedures for dealing with discipline? What will be the arrangements at local level for a measure of joint determination?" In reply Mr. Nicholas Finnery said to the general secretary, "Employers"—not even local port commmittees—"will be separately entering into discussions with all their employees, including registered dock workers, over the coming weeks and months to formulate suitable working arrangements to apply following the repeal of the dock labour scheme. This process is one which will be carried out at local level. The need for national discussions comes to an end with the demise of the dock labour scheme".
§ In other words, there could be individual wage bargaining among the small employers who dominate some ports. There could be plant bargaining among some employers. In some cases there might be port-wide bargaining. But there could be no system of national regulation; no system of minimum rates; no system of minimum hours; no system of minimum overtime premium.
§ We say that the whole history of the docks shows the need for a system of regulation above that of the individual employer. We say that essentially this is an industry which divides itself into a core of labour and a periphery of casual labour. We say that because that is the method of the industry—the intrinsic tendency of the industry not only in the United Kingdom but in many other countries—systems of decasualisation statutorily or jointly negotiated dominate in the industry. We say that in the past the country and successive 136 governments—not only Labour but also Conservative governments—have found that the endemic tendency in the industry to produce casualisation when unregulated by such a scheme is the root cause of the inefficiencies and restrictive practices about which the Government complain. We say that each step towards decasualisation—for example, those in the 1970s—was taken to remove restrictive practices. We say that the dock workers' record and that of the registered ports, which we have debated in this House since the time of effective decasualisation in the 1970s, shows that this is the way forward.
§ Finally, it will be said that the employers do not need this amendment and that the Committee does not need to pass it because the employers do not intend to worsen conditions. The Committee can have it one of two ways. If the employers do not intend to introduce casualisation or to reduce wages and terms of conditions, they cannot honestly and logically object to a process which stipulates that they can release themselves from the restrictions as they see them of the National Dock Labour Scheme if they first sign such agreements which guarantee that position. If on the other hand they intend to do so—and that would be the upshot—the case is made for passing these amendments. I beg to move.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
The amendment vividly illuminates the difference of view between one side of the Committee and another. The purpose of the Bill is to abolish the National Dock Labour Scheme on the grounds that if it ever had much justification that has long since been eroded. On the other hand, the amendment proposes that an alternative and obviously highly complex scheme should be negotiated. It will involve individual employers in considerable commitments with a view to setting up an alternative to the scheme.
The philosophy behind the proposal is that, because over the past 30 or 40 years the dockers have enjoyed a privileged position on the labour market—if they be such they have had advantages of a statutory closed shop and a special position not provided for the rest of their fellow workers in this country—something of the same kind should be continued. It is the open purpose of the noble Lord—I pay tribute to the noble Lord that he does not conceal it—that this is an attempt to continue the scheme in a somewhat different form.
For that reason I hope that my noble friend will not support it. I hope that he will feel, as do I, that it will frustrate the whole working of the Bill. It would delay the transition to a more normal arrangement which the enactment of the Bill in its present form will produce.
The noble Lord repeatedly spoke of collective bargaining and negotiation. Of course we wish to see those in this industry. But again and again it has been made clear—for example, on Second Reading and earlier—that the sensible form of negotiation is on a local basis. The port employers have made perfectly clear their willingness to negotiate with union branches all over the country. They will negotiate proper and sensible arrangements to deal 137 with the changed situation flowing from the departure of the scheme. That appears to be the sensible line. Apparently, because Mr. Todd and his colleagues are vainly trying to preserve the existing scheme, he has wrongly, I believe, put a prohibition on his own people to negotiate locally.
There is every commonsense argument for negotiating locally. The difference in the size, scale and problems of the ports is enormous. What will be common sense at Tilbury or Liverpool is very unlikely to make sense at Weymouth or Felixstowe. Those who wish to see this industry settle down, without continuous disputes and the minimum damage done not only to the national economy but particularly to those who work in the industry want to see sensible local negotiations put in train. If the secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union persists in his veto on local negotiations, he is taking on a very serious responsibility and doing so, it seems to me, for a very wrong reason.
Certainly the Committee would not wish to give that attitude any encouragement by adopting amendments of this sort. It should be clear—and the sooner the better—that the old dock labour scheme is coming to an end and that sensible people are now concerned to put new and adequate machinery in its place. That machinery, undoubtedly in the first place and perhaps permanently, will be on a local basis. It is because this amendment flies in the face of all that and is still harking back to the past and the idea that dockers should have a privileged position in the labour market that I hope that after due discussion Members of the Committee will reject it.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mellish
Perhaps I may intervene to point out that so much of what the noble Lord has just said is not true. The idea that there is no local understanding or negotiations is rubbish. "National" is what is required by all the registered ports. However, they argue differently at a local level. It is quite correct to say that one cannot compare Tilbury with Merseyside and so on. Certain rates of pay for certain cargoes are dealt with locally and agreed by local officials. It really is nonsense to convey the impression that nothing is allowed to be discussed at a local level and that all is done nationally. That is just not right.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
The noble Lord appears not to be aware that the secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union has explicitly forbidden his members to enter into local negotiations which have been offered by the port employers. The noble Lord cannot talk himself out of that.
§ Lord Rochester
It may save the time of the Committee if I outline my general attitude to this amendment and indeed to a number of other amendments relating to Clause 1 of the Bill. Essentially it is that in keeping with subsection (1), the dock labour scheme should be brought to an end as soon as possible, and that means at the time that 138 the Bill is enacted. Amendments Nos. 1 and 12 propose that the scheme should end for a registered employer only when he has entered into a collective agreement which accords with registered dock workers' conditions of employment and that those conditions should be no less favourable than those that they presently enjoy. On that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has been quite open, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said.
However, some of those conditions involve monopolistic and restrictive practices, practices which I criticised strongly at Second Reading of the Bill as being harmful to the interests of others and damaging to this country's trade. I shall not weary the Committee by again rehearsing those arguments in detail.
Other conditions concern pay, pensions, hours of work, overtime, holidays and so on. One might think from this amendment that after abolition of the scheme those will all disappear. However, they will continue to be protected by contractual rights and will not be affected at all. I suggest that in the case of these amendments the basic question to which the Committee should address itself is whether in future certain outdated statutory regulations especially concerning employment protection and discipline should apply to registered dockworkers over and above the normal legal protection which is given to employees in other ports and indeed in other industries.
I do not believe that they should. Rather, it should be accepted that from now on all British ports should compete on an equal footing and people working there should be treated like everybody else in British industry. For those reasons I cannot accept this amendment and, indeed, if it is pressed to a Division, I shall feel obliged to vote against it.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
As the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, explained, these amendments would allow employers of registered dock workers to escape the control of the scheme only when they had collective agreements and practices which guaranteed terms and conditions of employment, training and welfare arrangements, and arrangements for engagement, termination of employment and discipline no less favourable than under the scheme. The central arbitration committee, on a reference from either the employers or employees representatives, would have the last word on any disputed matters.
Members of the Committee who have tabled these amendments persist in wishing to impose upon employers of registered dock workers a unique statutory obligation which no other employers face. There is no justification for this. Any employer is required to respect contractual obligations to his employees to meet established terms and conditions of employment for employees until new terms and conditions are in existence, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. Employers of registered dock workers are bound by that requirement whether or not the dock labour scheme exists and may be sued if they break any contractual obligation. There is no need to freeze existing terms and conditions in a collective agreement to achieve that.
139 We shall have the opportunity to debate health, safety and welfare provision separately so I shall not dwell on it now. But the central point is that proper health, safety and welfare provision is an obligation of employers in scheme ports, as elsewhere in industry, under the terms of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The docks regulations 1988 under that Act provide a comprehensive framework for all ports. As for training, employers in scheme ports will have greater incentive to equip their workforce with the skills needed to make them competitive and highly productive without the scheme's restrictions on the deployment of workers. The impressive training provision of non-scheme ports shows that those incentives provide effective stimulus for good training provision. There is no reason to take the provision as it has evolved under the scheme as a yardstick of what is "favourable" training for employers or employees.
Why should the scheme's procedures for engagement, termination of employment and discipline become enshrined in collective agreements following its abolition? Those procedures are at the heart of what is wrong with the scheme. Procedures for engagement have given employers no incentive to seek new recruits. That is one reason why the average age of workers in the industry is creeping up towards 50 years. The recruitment practices sustained by the scheme are themselves discriminatory.
Procedures for discipline and dismissal have helped to sustain the indiscipline and poor working practices to which scheme ports are prone. There are recorded cases of indiscipline, even criminal activity, which might well have led to disciplinary sanctions or dismissal were they subject to review by the independent industrial tribunals which apply to the rest of industry. Employers' and workers' actions should be judged by the same standards and through the same procedures as apply elsewhere. The noble Lord suggested that those disciplinary provisions within the scheme were good. However, as I pointed out, they have been abused and there have been decisions by the board to reinstate employees which no independent tribunal would have agreed to.
Procedures for terminating employment have contributed to the maintaining of labour surpluses by maintaining unrealistic guarantees of employment. For example, where a firm closes, other employers locally are obliged under the terms of the Aldington-Jones agreement to take on any workers who might otherwise be made redundant. Scheme ports, faced with the need for major reductions in the size of their workforce to take advantage of the new technology of cargo handling have simply been unable to achieve those reductions through voluntary severance, according to the requirements of the scheme, without huge support from the taxpayer.
These procedures, and the system of joint control through the national and local dock labour boards which underpins them, are precisely those which must change once the scheme is abolished if scheme ports are to be in a position to compete effectively 140 for business and investment. These amendments would not allow that to happen, even if the parties were to agree that this was in the interests of the industry and its workers. In that case, they would almost certainly be acting illegally by agreeing arrangements less favourable than those which existed under the scheme. That is an indication of the straitjacket on negotiations to which this amendment would give rise.
We believe, like my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that scheme ports deserve to be allowed to evolve terms and conditions of employment, health and safety procedures, training arrangements, and procedures for recruitment, discipline and termination of employment within exactly the same legal framework as applies throughout industry. This is what the Bill, unamended would allow. Tying scheme ports, as these amendments do, to arrangements as they have evolved under the scheme for registered dock workers, whether or not those arrangements respect the real needs of the industry and its workforce as a whole, reflects the preoccupation of those who have tabled them with preserving the past at any cost, rather than allowing the industry to develop relevant responses to the challenges it now faces.
On the point argued about national negotiations, 30,000 employees in our ports have their terms and conditions determined locally. Registered dock workers are the exception, not the rule. The Transport and General Workers' Union accepts that local arrangements are satisfactory for the 75 per cent. of workers in the industry whose terms are negotiated locally, and it represents most of them. There is no reason why similar principles should not apply to former registered dock workers, too. In fact, minimum rates of pay are already negotiated port by port within the scheme ports.
For all those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment; but, if he does, I must urge the Committee to reject it.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Mellish
I hope that my noble friend will press the amendment and I shall tell the Committee why. On Second Reading, one of the arguments —which was never denied by the Government—was that the tragedy of the whole matter is that there is no alternative; that the Government are scrapping the Bill with nothing to put in its place and that everything in the past has to be ignored. That is what made me feel vehement about the matter. It is a bad government that abolishes a Bill with no alternative whatever to put in its place. In other words, the Government are saying that they are not interested in the past, that they are not concerned if conditions go back to the past and that they are not going to allow anything now to improve the situation. That is why I am so genuinely upset about these Government proposals.
I do not want to make another Second Reading speech but again and again Government Front Bench spokesmen have said that there are no plans to abolish the National Dock Labour Scheme. That was said only a few weeks ago. That is not what I said but 141 what the Government Front Bench said. However, now, a few weeks later, the Government bring forward plans to abolish the scheme entirely. That is one aspect, but I want to deal with what appears to be the main thrust of the argument.
First there is the national argument. The scheme is national. It applies to registered ports. I remember the debates and the arguments when the scheme was introduced. Incidentally, how the Liberals have changed! No wonder that party has done so badly recently. In those days the Liberal Party was in the forefront of radical reform and change. The great Clement Davies very much supported the scheme, but today the Liberal Party could not give a twopenny damn about the past, and it is paying for that view.
I should like to say this. The scheme was decided nationally and supported nationally. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was a Member of the House of Commons when the Bill was passed. There was no opposition. I am not going over the past. I am not talking about what went on yesteryear, with casualisation and men being picked up like cattle. The scheme stopped all that and brought in what is known as decasualisation. For the first time men were given a sense of dignity, which they had never had before. Every decent Tory agreed that the time had come when that state of affairs should cease and the scheme was brought in.
The present Government have now decided to abolish the scheme. They give as a reason, first, that it gives dockers too many privileges—jobs for life is one. Well, it is the funniest "jobs for life" that I have ever seen. When the scheme was introduced nearly 60,000 workers were involved but today that figure is down to 9,000. What happened to the other 51,000? What happened to their jobs for life? Are they all dead? Of course many are but the truth is that most, like other workers, have finished with the industry and taken redundancy pay, as has happened in industry throughout the country. The claim that they had jobs for life is therefore a lot of nonsense.
The workforce is now down to 9,000 and for no reason at all the Government have decided that it is now opportune to allow the port employers to make even greater profits. When the scheme was introduced the arguments were based on economy. There was no humanity and no compassion. I said at the time that one of the weaknesses of the Government was that they had no time for people, that they had time only for theories: they are now paying a very heavy price for that. We should examine that in detail. I ask: What profits will be made as a result of the abolition of the scheme? It is a fair question. Are the registered ports losing money? Will the Minister get to his feet and say that they are? Of course he will not. He dare not. He knows that it is not true. Every one of the registered ports is making a profit. The question is, how much? I ask the Liberals, how much more profit do they want the registered ports to make? If the ports have been so badly restricted and are now to have this freedom one assumes they will make more profits. How much more profit is to be made? The Liberals cannot answer that because they do not know. The 142 truth is that there is only spite against what I believe is a universally accepted scheme.
I am delighted that my noble friend Lord McCarthy has decided to put down this amendment to provide an alternative scheme. I support the amendment in principle and if there is a Division—and I hope there will be—I shall certainly vote for it.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
It is amazing how people who are at the same event have recollections which are entirely different. The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, said that no opposition was expressed from any side when this scheme was introduced to give exemption for life from the normal hazards of living and working. In fact, there was a considerable amount of opposition. There were some of us who felt at the time that for any government to pass legislation that gave exemption in perpetuity for advantages not allocated to everyone else was a mistake and that it could not and should not last. I do not think it right, in approaching these amendments, that we should look at the matter from the point of view that the Bill represents a drastic move away from a scheme that was universally accepted.
The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, is better informed than I because he lives among, and at one time represented, the dockers in a very intimate and effective way. He knows that this exemption for life was supposed to extend to the dockers' children. It was a hereditary principle. Not only were the workers given safeguards for their own lives but it was interpreted that everyone who happened to be in that profession at the time would, by convention, have this protection.
The only point of my intervention is to point out that the noble Lord was not giving the facts when he said that there was no opposition to the scheme. One or two of us foresaw the problems that would flow from it and we have now reached the stage where it should not be allowed to continue, now that we can see the real effect it is having on the rest of the industrial community.
§ Lord Scanlon
We do not have to go back to the days before the present legislation affecting the dockers was brought in. We need only go back to when this Chamber debated the Government's paper on law reform. Then we saw noble Lords opposite showing visible signs of apoplexy when it was suggested that their two professional organisations were trade unions. There are some of us who view those two organisations with a mixture of envy and admiration, tinged only with regret that we were never half as successful as they were. Where else can you get payment whether you do a good or a bad job? Where else can you get payment if you do not even turn up for your job? Where else can there be a situation where, if there is a complaint, you are judge and jury of that complaint? Yet faced with the situation where a group of workers are being denied the essentials that they have had for over 40 years, these noble Lords rise up as one and condemn as wrong the workers' simple attempts to preserve what they have got.
It may be that if we are talking about "coming straight" the Government should say what they 143 mean. They mean to seriously undermine the conditions that at present exist. If they do not mean that then why do they not permit national negotiations to see what may be forthcoming? Can there possibly be agreement between the two sides? In my view that is the test. I hope that my noble friend will press this amendment to a vote.
§ Lord McCarthy
I must try to answer some of the interventions made from the other side of the Committee though they cover virtually all the ground covered by the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, comes to the centre of the issue when he says that we are seeking to protect a privileged position. That is his phraseology and not mine. He finds it characteristically difficult to accept that any position based on trade union influence can really be privileged because he then asks whether there are advantages. There are advantages. We do not deny that. We say they are modest ones.
There is a modest degree of protection against dismissal and in terms of job security. It cannot be absolute, and it certainly cannot extend in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls suggested; namely, to the sons of dockers and to the sons of sons of dockers. The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, said that the privilege has not extended to 90 per cent. of the dockers themselves because they lost their jobs. Nevertheless, it has been a modest degree of protection which has slowed down the rate of decline in the industry, and it has allowed the dockers to get modest degrees of compensation. We say that that modest degree of protection should continue.
In this respect the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, seems to agree with the Minister because, as I understand him, the Minister said that what cannot be accepted under any circumstances is a unique statutory obligation on employers. That is what is wrong. What is wrong under the scheme is that dock workers get certain limited protection at the expense of employers. That is what is wrong. Limited protection and special restrictions are perfectly all right for workers. As far as the Government are concerned, it is perfectly all right to take away the right of the workers at GCHQ to belong to a trade union. They are workers and that restriction is perfectly all right. It is perfectly all right to discriminate.
I do not say it is wrong that the police cannot strike though they can in certain other countries. It is perfectly all right for the Government to exclude anyone with less than two years service from protection against unfair dismissal. It is perfectly all right to say that workers who are unfortunate enough to work in small firms do not have protection. But you must not discriminate against employers. Bad employers drive out the good and that is the Government's principle. You have to reduce worker protection to the level given by the worst employers. That is the policy. It is wrong for an employer to be forced to give anything better than the worst employer, especially if he is forced to give it to trade unions and by a system of joint regulation backed by statute. The Minister says that that is quite impossible and the Government could not possibly agree with it.
144 The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said how sensible it was not to follow our amendment and to have what he called local negotiations. As I have repeatedly said in this Committee, we do not know what the employers mean by local negotiations. They will not tell us. All they say is that they will not negotiate anything nationally. They say it is sensible to totally refuse to negotiate anything nationally and not to say why. It is not sensible to ask them what they want to negotiate locally and whether it will be done individually, on a port basis or with individual employers. If it is sensible they cannot answer.
So we have a fragmented system. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is saying that it is perfectly sensible for there to be 40 different schemes in 40 different ports with 200 or so employers and each one having a separate set of negotiations. Some of the very small ports employ few workers. Falmouth employs 118 and there are 351 in Workington. Is it seriously suggested that we can have minimum hours of work, minimum overtime premiums and minimum holidays regulated on this basis? If you have a nationally-regulated centre and heart of the industry, as there is under the dock workers' scheme, that will affect the general level of regulations. If it is all taken away the only defence is that it must be sensible, as the noble Lord says, because the employers say that it is sensible.
The next point I wish to raise has emerged before and no doubt it will occur again. The point needs to be answered once more. The Minister has referred many times to the tales of abuse under the scheme and particularly in the area of discipline. I wish that he would send out from the Despatch Box—he has got time—and ask for some concrete examples. I am fed up with generalisations about abuse. For example, he tells us that people who have criminal records or criminal charges brought against them cannot get the sack. I accept this. But here we have a very real contrast with the position under the national unfair dismissal provisions. Under these present provisions you can be dismissed for stealing. You can go before the magistrates and be declared innocent. But you cannot get your job back. There is no other country in Western Europe where that happens. Under our unfair dismissal provisions you can be declared innocent by the magistrates but you cannot get your job back. If the employer acted reasonably, even if he is wrong, that is all right. I admit that in that respect there is an abuse. That could not happen in the docks. That kind of abuse about which the Minister speaks I do not call abuse. I call it fair play. If there is an element of fair play in the present system we do not see why it should not continue. We intend to press this amendment to a Division.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 47; Not-Contents, 148146
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Ardwick, L.||Bottomley, L.|
|Birk, B.||Briginshaw, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Brooks of Tremorfa, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Mellish, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Northfield, L.|
|David, B.||Peston, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L. [Teller.]||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Scanlon, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Serota, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Soper, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Listowel, E.||Underhill, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|McCarthy, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Addington, L.||Gridley, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Halsbury, E.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Alport, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Amherst, E.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Arran, E.||Harvington, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Hastings, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Havers, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Hereford, Bp.|
|Beloff, L.||Hesketh, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Hives, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Hood, V.|
|Blyth, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hunt, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Hunter of Newington, L.|
|Brocket, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Joseph, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Kaberry of Adel, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Kenilworth, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Cayzer, L.||Kimberley, E.|
|Cockfield, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Layton, L.|
|Cornwallis, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Long, V.|
|Cross, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Luke, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Lyell, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Donoughmore, E.||Manchester, D.|
|Dundee, E.||Marley, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Elles, B.||Merrivale, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Morris, L.|
|Erne, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Munster, E.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Nelson, E.|
|Fortescue, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Gainford, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Gisborough, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Grey, E.||Porritt, L.|
|Quinton, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Raglan, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Reigate, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Renton, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Renwick, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Rochester, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Rodney, L.||Trafford, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|St. Davids, V.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.||Vernon, L.|
|Savile, L.||Walston, L.|
|Seear, B.||Whaddon, L.|
|Shannon, E.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Shaughnessy, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Skelmersdale, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Somers, L.||Young, B.|
|Strange, B.||Young of Graffham, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 1, line 17, at end insert ("and may during the transitional period administer any arrangements in accordance with any national or local agreements for the time being in force for the making of payments to registered dock workers (within the meaning of the Scheme) in respect of absence from work because of sickness or injury.").
§ The noble Lord said: The Committee will be pleased to know that this amendment clears away a good many other amendments as I should like to take with it Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. They embody the alternative principle to the one I was suggesting to the Committee in the previous amendment. We have rejected the collective bargaining approach. There remains an extension of the approach advanced in the Bill to cover training and welfare.
§ For reasons upon which the Government have not elaborated, if indeed they have explained—we would be willing and pleased even at this moment to listen to an explanation—the Bill allows a transitional period during which the board is to continue in existence to deal with training and welfare. At the end of that transitional period it is assumed that training and welfare issues will be in some way privatised and handled in some other way to the way in which they are considered under the scheme. Clause 2 says that on such a date as the Secretary of State may specify, and as expeditiously as possible when the training and welfare provisions have been allowed for, the board will disappear and the scheme will disappear with it.
§ What we suggest is that the central idea of a transitional period during which the board will have certain residual responsibilities to see that the basic objectives of the scheme continue should be allowed to operate for areas other than training and welfare. Most of the amendments allow the board to administer for a transitional period the existing provisions in order as expeditiously as possible to set up alternatives. Thus in Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 we allow the board to administer and carry out the terms of collective agreements or absence payments, voluntary severance payments and 147 payments to employers for taking on surplus workers. Those are all powers which exist under the present scheme.
Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8, would give back to the board certain other responsibilities for the transitional period which they had under the existing scheme; they are similar to those for training and welfare. For example, they ensure regularity of employment and regularity of recruitment and they cover discipline and dismissal. Amendment No. 7 ensures,
the full and proper utilisation of dock labour for the purpose of facilitating the rapid and economic turnround of vessels and the speedy transit of vessels through the port".
As I say, for the most part, these are provisions which exist under the present scheme.
§ Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11 give the board a range of duties and provisions, part of which already exists in the present scheme and part of which arises out of the abolition of the scheme. For example, in Amendment No. 11, we suggest that for the transitional period alone there should be a general guarantee that no rates and conditions should be agreed, either between individual employers and individual workers or collectively, which are below the existing negotiated rate. That is an element of worker protection over terms and conditions.
§ If you take all those factors together—and they are open to the same objection which was raised as regards the previous amendment—you largely re-enact the powers of the board; but the difference is that you do so for the transitional period only. The rights of the Secretary of State under the present Bill to cancel such arrangements when he thinks that the time has arrived are left in place.
§ Presumably, whatever kind of consideration is given—we do not know much about this—the Secretary of State will take such matters into account when he decides that the board has in fact dealt with training and welfare. Such considerations will be used to decide whether there are provisions for no casualisation, no general deterioration in conditions, and so on. As I said, these are all matters which the employers have told us they want to see and matters which they say will take place. Their central argument is that, once the dock workers are released from the restrictions of this scheme, they will in fact be a lot better off than they are at present.
§ The second reason for this series of amendments is that the Government can if they wish give some indication—I hope that they will—in their answer to the first amendment, as to whether they feel mildly in favour of one or other of the amendments. Indeed, they may accept them, or perhaps come forward with an alternative at Report stage. Therefore they can, so to speak, shop around among these amendments. We are not saying that they must accept them all at once. That is why we have not put all the proposals in one amendment.
§ For example, if the Government rather like the look of Amendment No. 6, they could say, in relation to the idea of a general obligation upon the board at national level to attempt during the transitional period to guarantee some regularity of employment for dockers, that they will think about the proposal. 148 Alternatively, they would say they feel that Amendment No. 11, which seeks to protect the employer in the small port which may be threatened by de-unionisation and by a general lowering of standards, is worth further consideration. They could say that for the period of the transition, however short or long that may be, they would think about the matter. Therefore, there is an ability on the part of the Government—if they wish to pick it up—to discriminate between one amendment and another. That is why we have not put all the proposals together in one amendment.
§ The third reason for moving these amendments in this form, and the reason why, if you look at them closely, you will see that they take a similar form to another set of amendments which was moved in another place, is that we hope the Government will—as they have prior knowledge of the amendments; indeed, they have seen them before—make a rather better reply than the one Mr. Cope made in another place. His arguments seemed to be that there was no need for special protection, despite the many different types of amendment. But, in some way, he also seemed to be saying that in the case of training and welfare there was a need for a transitional period. We hope that the Government will take this opportunity to elaborate their case under the heading. I beg to move.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
The theme running through all these amendments is that provision should be made for arrangements now applicable to registered dock workers under national or local agreements to continue during the transitional period between the date of the passing of the Act and the date when the National Dock Labour Board is dissolved.
I recognise that Amendment No. 6 gives expression to a fear which I suppose only noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, can fully appreciate, because they have experienced it; namely, the fear of casual employment. Perhaps I may say in passing to the noble Lord that I enjoyed his swashbuckling speech, but I must assure him that the only reason why I am in favour of the dock labour scheme coming to an end as soon as possible is not, as he suggested, to put enormous profits into the coffers of employers; in my view, it is by ending certain quite unjustified restrictive practices that we shall improve this country's international competitiveness.
The industry has changed greatly since 1946. It is now capital intensive and requires people who are both skilled and employed on a regular basis. It is not therefore, as I see it, in the interests of the port employers to return to the system of old-style casual work. That is no doubt why for dockers working under normal employment legislation in ports outside the scheme there is now little or no casual work and why so many employers have already given assurances that there will be none in the future.
My understanding is that much of the small amount of irregular work which is done in non-scheme ports is not so much casual as part-time work which is welcomed by the people concerned. For the rest, I have no doubt that some of the work 149 is contracted out. However, that is something which applies in industry generally and I see no reason for a special exception to be made as regards dock work. I am sorry if that statement does not appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, but that is how I feel about the matter as a Member of this Committee.
In my view all these amendments suffer from the defect that they seek to extend the period during which, alone among industrial workers, exceptional treatment is sought for registered dock workers. I think that that privileged position should end as soon as possible.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
The effect of Amendment No. 2, and of those amendments related to it, would of course be to prolong the agony of the dissolution of the scheme for a very considerable period. I very much doubt whether that is in the interests of any of those who work in the docks, or of the British economy.
The noble Lord, Lord Mellish—as has already been mentioned by the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches—seems to think that the sole concern of those of us who want to abolish the scheme, and abolish it as quickly as possible, is to increase the profits; but I am not quite sure of whom. Surely the matter goes much deeper than that.
Noble Lords opposite must face the fact that the scheme ports have been declining substantially at a time when the non-scheme ports have been expanding and developing. It is not just chance or coincidence; the restrictive practices, of all kinds, imposed by the scheme have been damaging to the competitive position of the scheme ports and have undoubtedly driven away traffic.
A classically tragic case is that of the Port of London. This place having taken a decision on Second Reading, and on the previous amendment, that the scheme should go, there would seem little useful purpose in prolonging its departure for years. It rather reminds me of the medieval roué who once said by way of prayer:Lord, make me good, but not yet".
§ Lord Mellish
I have to intervene because I have been referred to on a number of occasions. I want to get the point on record. The idea that somehow dock workers are restrictive and not prepared to change or co-operate with different methods, and so on, is rubbish and nonsense. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, referred to the PLA. The story of London docks is a straightforward one. In the last war the Germans heavily bombed the docks, but they did a poor job. They hardly hit the docks; they bombed the surrounding areas. Hundreds of my constituents were killed. Many of them never worked in the docks. When the war was over the difference between our docks and those of the Germans was incredible. When Bomber Harris went across to Germany towards the end of the war, he took the docks as his first objective and wiped them right out. I went there and I never saw a crane, a quay or anything. London never stopped. The moment the war was over London carried on as of nothing had happened.
150 Tooley Street, a part of the world in which I lived at that time, was a great wharfing area. It was built in the early days of Victoria. It was built for a horse and a cart only. From 1945 we were dealing with juggernauts. Lorries had to wait for an hour and a half. They had to park a long way off, they were called to come and collect their cargoes when they were ready. The decline had nothing to do with the dockers as such. I am talking about the London docks. I know nothing of Merseyside.
I put on record that I do not deny that some dockers were their own worst enemy. I remember the battles royal that I had with what was called the Blue Union, because it tried to keep that which was not relevant. It was impossible, for example, to say to the employers in the PLA, "We are not going to work after 5 o'clock. We will not work on Saturdays and Sundays", and so on. That was nonsense. I had a great interest in the PLA. It was fighting a losing battle. To argue that the docker is restrictive and that his practices somehow destroyed the London docks is nonsense. The whole of the London dock set up had to go. That is why Tilbury was built.
The PLA invested millions of pounds in building Tilbury because containerisation had been introduced in a big way. Every Member of the Committee will know what I mean by that. Cargoes loaded in big containers arrive by ship. They are dumped on the quay. London was not equipped to deal with them. The PLA therefore spent millions of pounds and built the new dock at Tilbury. I could see that coming.
First, St. Katherine's Dock fell. One should try to imagine ships getting through the estuaries and the small canals which were all part of the London makeup. It was not possible to sustain trade. The London docks fell because of their geography and nature. That had nothing to do with restrictive practices. That is the point that I wish to emphasise. I beg everyone to understand that point. It was not because the dockers were bad, bad men and refused to do certain things. It was the geography of the docks after the war which made it impossible for them to be used.
There was a complete contrast in Germany. From 1945 until 1950 the Germans had nothing. Then came Marshall Aid. What did the Germans do? I went back to see their docks. What a different story it was! They started from scratch. They built docks. They put in quays. Alongside the quays were railway lines. Alongside them were the cold stores. Alongside the cold stores were the motorways. The result was an efficient flow through of the sort that none of our docks was equipped to deal with. We could not compete. It was inevitable that the whole of the London dock industry would collapse until we could achieve ports something like those in Germany. That is the background.
The scheme was introduced. I will not go over the Second Reading speeches, I agree with what has been said. I beg everyone to understand that the scheme was introduced because the dock industry was in such an appalling condition. Its people were treated badly. It has been argued that that cannot happen today and that the employers will not return to yesteryear. I therefore ask this simple question which 151 my noble friend Lord McCarthy also asked: if that is so, why do not the employers put it in writing? Why do they not have a national agreement which says that they will never go back to how things were? "We recognise that those days were terrible. We recognise why the scheme was introduced. We will therefore put that in writing". Why do they not do that?
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said that the agreement should be reached locally. When we talk about the big things—pensions, the way of working and general standards—they are national matters. They cannot be left to one employer, who may be doing rather well this year, to sign a local agreement with a local set up while another employer who is not doing so well signs a different agreement. That cannot be right. I have always believed that national agreements should apply to the industry as a whole. I agree with local agreements where there are local rates and so on. There should be national agreements for pensions, and similar things. Although the amendments are an extension of what we said earlier, I support them in principle. I am bewildered as to why the Liberals have changed suddenly when they were such a progressive party.
§ Lord Underhill
I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, spoke in the way that he did. I am one of the Members of the Committee who sat throughout the whole of the Second Reading debate. We have had another Second Reading speech from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. He talked about the necessity to retain our competitive position. Will he outline the position of the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France, all of which have some form of dock scheme and would be appalled at the idea of adopting what is suggested in the Bill.
Is it not also a fact that 70 per cent. (in weight) of our sea trade is carried by the scheme ports? Will the Minister tell us what the productivity position has been in the scheme ports over the past six, seven or eight years? Those matters have been overlooked while we have had Second Reading speeches against what has been called the dockers' privileged position.
It is a pity that each amendment cannot be taken separately. The import of the speech made by my noble friend Lord McCarthy was that the amendments provide alternatives which the Government and the Dock Labour Board could take up if they wished. It is a pity that we must take all the amendments in one group and vote on the lot.
If Members of the Committee are going to repeat Second Reading speeches I hope that they will deal with the facts of the situation. Moreover, if we are talking about the competitive position, I challenge the Minister now: will he tell me how the passing of the Bill would change the competitive position of the scheme ports as they now exist?—because their position over the past few years shows that their productivity has been highly satisfactory.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
What an ingenious advocate the noble Lord, Lord Mellish is, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill! The technique 152 is as old as the hills. It consists of finding an argument upon which there can be very little disagreement and attaching to it something on which there is ground for a great deal of disagreement. Everyone agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, that the way things turn out it seems that, industrially, it pays to lose a war. It looks as though it is a good thing not to win but to lose and to be bombed level so that you can start up afresh. He produced that as the reason for the grave discrepancies in the efficiency of our ports, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I wanted to make the noble Lord happy. I wanted to reassure him that there is no question either in this Committee or anywhere in the country of attacking individual dockers. There is nothing wrong with the dockers as individuals, or as a group under a union, taking advantage of a privileged position given them by legislation. That is what they have done; everybody does it. That is what is happening even with certain suggestions made from the Woolsack. The lawyers are reacting against their privileges being changed. My word, they react as though they are entitled to go on as they are for ever. The doctors are doing the same in regard to the health proposals. They were given certain privileges which have been the convention for years and they do not like to see that situation altered.
This privilege was given to the dockers openly and legitimately. Although the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said that he did not agree with what my noble friend on the Front Bench said about the position under the last amendment, did he disagree with what his noble friend Lord Scanlon said? Who is in a better position than the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, as the trade union leader who really knew the inside of all these things, to describe the position of their being judges in their own court and having all the privileges to which he referred. I do not blame the dockers any more than I blame the lawyers or the doctors for wanting to fight hard to retain a position of privilege if they have it.
The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has decided that these amendments are going to be taken together. It was the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who seemed to be criticising that approach, not my noble friend on this side of the Committee. The noble Lord said that he had all these ideas which he wanted to put to the Government and they could take their pick. His argument would have had much more force had he been able to say that the transitional period which would be beneficial and fair was this or that rather than throwing out a whole load of suggestions and leaving somebody else to make a decision. It does not show much confidence in what the noble Lord has in mind.
I hope that my noble friend resists these amendments. That would be displaying much greater consistency and much greater faith. As the Government have said on Second Reading and since, the time has come to end this privileged position which has done harm to the docks and their future. 153 That is shown by all the evidence in front of us. Rather than drag it out over five years or any other transitional period we should end it now so that the docks and the dockers can get back to working a system which is genuinely competitive. That will be better at the end of the day for the wage packets of the dockers, for the certainty of their jobs and for our success as a trading nation.
§ Lord Underhill
I hoped very much that the noble Lord would give way at an earlier stage. The last thing I would wish to do is to criticise my noble friend Lord McCarthy on this matter. I think he is better informed than anyone else in this Chamber on these matters, particularly as concerns industrial law. I was not criticising my noble friend. I said it was a pity that we had to take all these 10 or 11 amendments together. It would have been good if we could have had a decision on each one, but that might have been abusing the time and the privilege of the Committee. The Government and the dock labour board are still free to pick up any suggestions that they wish if we agree to pass the first amendment.
§ Lord Mellish
I should just like to put on record that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, is famous for distorting and twisting arguments. What he has said is absolute rubbish, but of course he is known for that. This is part of his world. I do not think that any one on the Committee could believe that I was saying that there is an advantage to losing a war. Only he could think of that. Does the noble Lord not realise that for six years of my life I was actually fighting to win the war? I am now told my argument is that I was keen to see us lose it. I was trying to make the obvious point—he is so thick-headed that he does not understand—that when a country like Germany has completely and utterly lost everything that she had it rebounds back on our own dock industry which was by and large (it shows the incompetence of the Germans) virtually untouched. Then, of course, with the advance of technology and the know-how of unloading ships faster these docks became useless. I wanted to get that on the record because I have never heard such a lot of rubbish. As for this other rubbish about the dockers being in a privileged position, I would ask: for what? To go to work? So far as I know, that is the only privilege they have. For the first time in their life they actually have the privilege that when they show up at 7.30 in the morning and again at half-past 12, if there is no work for them at least they are credited with having made themselves available. If they do not apply for work they do not get a penny. They have to get up very early in the morning so as to be there at half-past seven and say, "I'm here, guv'nor do you want me?" The employer will say, "No, I don't want you today, boy, but you are registered and you will get your retainer". That is a special privilege? You would think that we were throwing money at these layabouts in bed and paying them not to get up, not to work or do anything. That is the sort of rubbish we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. I would ask your Lordships to ignore it.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
No; it was not I who said that. It was the noble Lord's noble friend Lord Scanlon. He described vividly the privileges, not me. Of course, if the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, wants to disagree with him, that is another matter.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
Will the noble Lord give way? Would he not agree that the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, was talking about the legal profession rather than the dockers?
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I wonder whether we can get back to the point at issue. I think that my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, has quite enjoyed himself, perhaps at the expense of other noble Lords and perhaps at his own expense. I do not want to discuss why the dock labour scheme came into being: we have all recognised that. What I want to suggest is that with the kind of changes the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, has described, it has become necessary to change working practice. If I might take Southampton as an example, it has been frustrated in its full development. Employers, whether engaged in cold storage in other motor-orientated activities, have found that even in a free port things have not worked properly because they have not had the opportunity to bring in their own labour and their own work practices. All that this whole series of amendments seems to do is to tack on a little bits and pieces to delay the abolition of the dock labour scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said that he sought in the early amendments, as, I believe, he still seeks in these later ones, to provide that there shall be a national bargaining authority, a national pension regulatory authority and a national this or that. He did not deny that. He said that these were advantages which he sought for the industry. But he has not demonstrated in any way either in his earlier arguments or in relation to this present series of amendments why work people in this industry should have advantages over workpeople in other industries where adequate arrangements are made between employers and the workforce as regards pensions, redundancy and other matters. This is only a device to prolong in writhing agony the dock labour scheme. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will explain why we are not prepared to accept these delaying tactics, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has said, and why we want to move swiftly on to a free enterprise system in the dock industry.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
I do not believe that the intention of the amendment is to delay anything. It is merely an attempt to seek another way to resolve what has become an extremely difficult problem. I did not speak on Second Reading, and I did not attend the Second Reading debate. We did not decide on Second Reading to do anything with this Bill. We merely conformed with practice. The Second Reading debate was allowed to go through without a Division. Therefore, it is stupid to talk about this Chamber deciding the fate of the Bill. 155 What decided the fate of the Bill, as a Bill, was parliamentary custom. Do not let us hear this nonsensical, childhood theme that somehow or other in this majestic Chamber we decided the fate of the Bill. I wish to make a comment on the story that Bob Mellish told us about London—
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
I apologise. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, knows the extent to which I am sincere in that apology. The story in Liverpool at the moment is exactly the same as the story in London. Seven miles of dockland were built in Liverpool by employers who were concerned only with their own interest. The employers constructed narrow roads and terrible housing. That extended right up to the docks. Now we have literally had to—when I say "we", I mean the people of Liverpool—shift four of those seven miles of docks out of the town of Liverpool. The docks are no longer in Liverpool. To all intents and purposes, they are now in Bootle, which is part of Sefton. We did that with the co-operation of the dockers and the employers.
As regards productivity, the productivity at Seaforth over the years has been second to none in Europe. That productivity was achieved because the dock force in Liverpool, which has now been reduced to an abysmally low figure compared with that of previous years, co-operated with the National Dock Labour Board. Therefore, no one can talk to me about non-productivity in Liverpool. If the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, talks about non-productivity in Liverpool, he does not know what he is talking about.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
The Liverpool docks have achieved high productivity. People ask why dockers have privileges. The answer to that is that, historically, dockers have endured filthy conditions and bad treatment by the employing classes. That is why dockers have privileges. The nation realised that, without the introduction of some decency into labour relations in Britain's docklands, we should never have sustained our effort in the war, let alone have won it.
However, I am not asking the Chamber to take the advice of Bill Sefton, who was one of a family of seven and whose brothers, uncles and father all worked in the docks. I am not asking the Chamber to take my advice as regards handling this terrible problem. I am not asking the Chamber to take the advice of the trade unions, or even the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon. I advise the Chamber to take the advice of the employing classes in Merseyside and in Liverpool. What do the employers say about these amendments which seek a better way to introduce some changes into the National Dock Labour Board? Members of the Committee on the other side of the Chamber should know what they say. The Merseyside Chamber of Commerce has come out very firmly against any legislation which would remove the dock labour scheme. That body 156 has put it on record that the only decent thing to do, in recognition of the past history of the docks, is to resolve this matter not by compulsory legislation but by national negotiation.
§ Lord Mellish
The noble Lord, whoever he was, made a very interesting observation on the dock labour scheme. He said that he understood why the scheme exists, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. However, the noble Lord continued by saying that now we are in a different time and a different age and therefore the scheme is no longer relevant. He said that the unions, in particular, should co-operate and understand the position.
I rise to put on record the fact that, as I understand the matter—I am no longer officially attached to the unions—the unions are willing and prepared, and always have been, to discuss these matters with employers nationally in order to amend the scheme and to bring it up to date and make it applicable to modern methods. However, the employers have refused to meet them. The employers are saying, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, wants them to say, that they are only prepared to discuss the matter at a local level, and not nationally. However, the unions say this is a national scheme, and they want to discuss it nationally. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for attributing an incorrect title to him.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
We have had an interesting, if sometimes slightly historical debate, on this amendment. However, as the Committee will know, the Government believe that the dock labour scheme damages the business prospects of the ports to which it applies. It damages our national economic interests, which rely so heavily on the performance of our ports. The Government are supported in that view not only by employers in scheme ports but by the Confederation of British Industry, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and associations representing shipbrokers, warehouse operators and road haulage. All these organisations have an interest in successful ports able to create the wealth needed, in an increasingly competitive industry, to provide reasonable pay and conditions for its workers.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked what was wrong with the scheme ports' performance. As the noble Lord pointed out in his own speech, they have lost 30 per cent. of Britain's seaborne trade to ports outside the scheme.
§ Lord Underhill
Surely the noble Lord is not going to use that as an argument? The speech on Second Reading explained why some of the non-scheme ports developed their trade. That is partly because they are close to the Continent, and also because of the introduction of containerisation. The fact that should be a cause for boasting is that the scheme ports, despite all the criticism, still have 70 per cent. of our sea trade.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
One can hardly use that argument to explain why in the fishing industry, for example, Aberdeen has lost trade to Peterhead. Tilbury is a container port but it has lost trade to Felixstowe. Those ports are not very far away from each other, and both are on the east coast. The fact is that the constraints of the scheme have definitely shifted trade away from scheme ports to the non-scheme ports. Higher productivity in the scheme ports has been paid for with fewer jobs, not more business leading to more jobs. That is why dockers' jobs in the scheme ports have been lost at a rate of 8 per cent. a year over the past 20 years. That rate is almost the same as the improvement in productivity.
The scheme is also unnecessary because the industry has been transformed since its introduction in 1947. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, particularly, that things have changed since 1947. The industry is now capital intensive and needs skilled, permanently employed people. A return to casual work holds no attractions for the employers. That is demonstrated by the assurances port employers have given, and the terms and conditions of nearly one in three dock workers who are employed under normal employment laws in ports outside the scheme where there is little casual work.
§ Lord Mellish
Will the Minister be good enough to explain to me why it was that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham—I hope I have his title correct; I now know I should have referred to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, earlier—made it abundantly clear that he had no intention of abolishing the scheme as he thought there was nothing wrong with it? How is it that the noble Lord, Lord Young, said that a couple of months ago, but is now saying something different?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I am not certain that he said that he had no intention of abolishing the scheme. I expect that he said that he had no plans to do so at that time. I also doubt that he said that he found no fault with the scheme. I believe that the question may well have been asked by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter.
I return now to the assurances which have been given by the port employers. I understand that the employers have put in writing that they will not return to casualism. Those letters have been sent to Mr. Morris, the Deputy General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, so I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, would be able to see the letters if he wished to do so.
For all these reasons the scheme should be brought to an end quickly, and the Bill's provisions seek just that. That is why the board is given the duty of winding up its activities promptly while continuing to make provision only for training and welfare in the interim.
The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asked me why there was a transitional period for those two items and not for the rest. The Government's White Paper makes clear just how damaging are the main provisions of the scheme. The board has assets in the field of training and welfare which need to be disposed of sensibly. That is why the Bill provides 158 for the board to continue to provide those services until the relevant assets have been disposed of in a way which meets the needs of the industry.
The first nine amendments would postpone the abolition of the dock labour scheme until the board was dissolved at a date no earlier than five years from Royal Assent. During that period the scheme would function virtually as now.
§ Lord McCarthy
That is not quite right. They say that unless the Minister put it to the House it would last for five years. He could end it before then.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I shall come to some of the other points in the amendment shortly. As I said, the scheme would function virtually as now. The board and local boards would remain in being. Through them the unions would retain, for example, their powers to block decisions about the size of firms' labour forces and recruitment to and discharge from scheme ports. Local boards would retain their powers over disciplinary matters. In short, employers of registered dock workers would be no closer in practice to the goal of working within the same framework of employment law as other employers.
All of the amendments are therefore inconsistent with the purpose of the Bill, which is to remove as soon as practicable an unnecessary burden of restrictions and costs imposed by the scheme on the ports it covers. They are unnecessary to provide for the orderly wind-up of the board's activities and to provide the basis for reasonable terms and conditions of employment for dock workers, and they give rise to the new and unwelcome prospect of the extension of the scheme's damaging restrictions.
It is significant that while the wording of most of the amendments is taken directly from the 1967 scheme, the amendment relating to regularity of employment omits a telling phrase which was in the original scheme. The phrase is "efficient performance" of dock work. I understand that that phrase was omitted in a similar amendment at Committee stage in another place. We were assured then that this was an oversight. If so, there has been time to put it right; or is it that the Opposition fear a commitment to efficiency in scheme ports? Whatever the case, the amendments will undoubtedly lead to continued inefficiency in scheme ports.
A further extension of the scheme's restrictions is brought about by Amendment No. 11 which seeks to freeze national and local agreements as they stand at the passing of the Bill. At the moment local and national agreements encompass rates of remuneration, pensions, holiday, sick pay and overtime arrangements, manning levels, bonus arrangements and, most notably the guaranteed reallocation of redundant workers to other employers under the terms of the Aldington-Jones arrangements which date from 1972. Some of those agreements have sustained the chronic surpluses from which the industry has suffered, or unrealistic manning levels. Change is overdue.
The terms and conditions of individual dock workers will be protected on the passing of the Act 159 by the normal laws which govern contracts between employers and their employees. If those contracts are broken compensation can be sought. There is no case for giving existing collective agreements which cover registered dock workers statutory force in the way proposed by the amendment. Such provisions do not exist for other workers and, if I recall correctly, legally binding collective agreements which bind both parties have always been resisted by the Opposition. It would be most unwise to freeze the provisions of collective agreements as they have evolved under the scheme's restrictions at a time when employers and workers know full well that many of those provisions will have to change if scheme ports are to become more competitive.
What I find particularly depressing about this group of amendments is that all the evidence indicates that while the scheme exists unions representing dock workers have no incentive whatsoever to consider an alternative framework to statutory controls. In Committee in another place some Members of the Opposition admitted as much in attempting to explain the union's total intransigence over the years. The amendments, promising the extension of the scheme for an indefinite period, would reinforce that intransigence. These amendments, taken together, constitute an attempt to retain indefinitely the scheme and all its accompanying agreements. That is against every aim of the Bill. I therefore hope that the Committee will reject them.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
Before the Minister sits down, will he make clear that his reference to the Association of Chambers of Commerce did not include the Merseyside Chamber of Commerce, which registered its opposition to the legislation?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I do not have the facts with me to confirm or deny the statement of the noble Lord. I am sure that, if he says that that is the case, it is true.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
With the greatest respect, I am not sure that my brief could be expected to encompass what the Merseyside Chamber of Commerce, one of hundreds of chambers of commerce, might have said about the Bill.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
The Merseyside Chamber of Commerce is a damn sight nearer Liverpool than the one in the association in London.
§ Lord McCarthy
I am afraid that I cannot deal with all the points that have been raised but I shall try to deal with some of them before dealing with the unfortunate and sad reply by the Minister.
I thought for one moment that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, was going to support us, at least a bit. He thought that he might like Amendment No. 8 on regularity, but he ended up by saying that he did not like it. As I understood his argument, he did not like it because he is in favour of part-time work 160 in the docks. We are not against part-time work. We are not dealing with part-time or full-time employment; we are dealing with casual work or regular work. There is nothing in the scheme which prevents regular part-time work in the docks. Nevertheless, the noble Lord does not like the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, began by arguing about Amendment No. 2. As I thought I had explained to the Committee, I did not move Amendment No. 2 because I thought that it was rather too general and too ambitious. As the noble Lord seemed to think my amendments in general to suggest, Amendment No. 2 suggests an indefinite extension of the Bill. The set of amendments which we are now discussing does not recommend an indefinite extension of any of the provisions of the scheme because the Minister could bring it to an end whenever he thought fit.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
Will the noble Lord permit me to respond? He has studied the Bill. Is it not perfectly clear that if Amendment No. 2 is not proposed all the others fall because there is nothing to make them effective?
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord McCarthy
I do not think so. The Government have not said that. All the other amendments extend the functions of the board—which is to be kept in existence by the Government—for an indefinite period. That is what we are seeking. We accept that when the transition period comes to an end everything comes to an end. Perhaps if we had moved Amendment No. 2 that would not have been the case. However, we say now that if Amendments Nos. 3 to 11 were to find favour with the Committee, instead of the board simply looking after training and welfare during the transition period it could look after certain other things. That at least is the intention of the amendments.
Secondly, the noble Lord said that he could not agree with the set of amendments because the registered docks represented a declining part of dock work. That point has probably been answered by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. That is an allegation which Ministers and Members of the Committee opposite make continually. They say that all the so-called deficiencies of the registered dock ports are due to the restrictive practices of the registered dockers. We believe that most people who looked at it objectively would say that there is a whole range of reasons for different levels of development in different docks. It is partly a question of geography and partly of specialisation; it is partly the fact that the registered docks act as a sort of common carrier; and it is partly a question of facilities. It is a question of all the things that my noble friend Lord Mellish mentioned.
We asked again and again whether the Government would undertake a study before they produced the Bill in order to establish whether we are right or they are right. I suggested in this Chamber that they might make a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The Government say that they know the answers to those 161 questions. They follow inevitably from the fact that this is a statutory scheme. We say that that is dogma. We say, "Give us some evidence". The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said that the amendments reminded him of St. Augustine—I always like quotations—who said, "Make me good, but not yet".
I think that the noble Lord and Members opposite misunderstand our attitude. It is much more like that of Desdemona, who said to Othello:Kill me tomorrow: let me live tonight!".We know that the Government will kill the regular scheme. We know that they will pick on the dockers, but we say, "Let's have a transitional period. Let it last for a little bit longer to see whether something can be sorted out. Kill them all tomorrow; let them live tonight".
Perhaps I may now turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. I wish that he would read Hansard. I hope that, when he comes into the Chamber on a subsequent occasion during our proceedings on the Bill, he will admit that Hansard shows that, in his attacks, my noble friend Lord Scanlon—who has now arrived—was talking about lawyers. He was not talking about trade unionists at all. If that it the case, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that he has got us all wrong.
The noble Lord also raised another point with which I must deal. He got my noble friend Lord Underhill to his feet on the point. He asked why I did not put all the amendments in one great amendment and move them all together. I was trying to save the Committee's time. It seemed to me that the shortest way round would be if the Government were to indicate how they felt about the various items raised. We could either move the amendments or take them away and bring them back on Report, but, if that is not what the noble Lord wants, I shall bring them all back and move them separately on Report. I hope that he likes that.
I must now turn to the Minister's comments. I have several points to make. Let me turn first to what he said about the offers made by the employers. I hope that we can perhaps understand the matter between us. Frankly, we do not think that the letters that the employers write to the dockers are worth the paper that they are written on. We do not believe that, when they write to the Transport and General Workers' Union, that is any good either. The letters that they write to the TGWU are not legally enforceable. When they say to the T&G, "We do not intend to return to casual employment", it is not worth the paper that it is written on. We believe that the guarantees of anti-casual employment, regularity and minimum standards cannot be enforced without either legal regulation or collective bargaining at the industry-wide level. So it is no answer to claim that the employers say what they do because they will not do the minimum that the unions and the workers in the industry think is necessary.
The Minister talked about Amendment No. 10. He has not read it very carefully. The amendment states:The transitional period shall not end within five years of the date of the passing of this Act, other than by Order of the Secretary of State"—162 in other words, he can end it; the period can be less than five years—a draft of which has been laid before and approved by each House of Parliament. The Secretary of State shall not lay before Parliament the draft of such an Order unless he has consulted the Board about the contents of the draft".We do not say that the period must last for five years. On the contrary, the sole thrust of the amendments is that we shall continue the transitional period no further than the Bill states that it shall be continued at the moment. We are merely saying that, during the transitional period, the board should be allowed to do things of the sort that it now does, other than those connected with welfare.
I wish to make one final point. The Minister tells me over and over again that he cannot accept these amendments—and no doubt other amendments —because of the low level of productivity and the high level of labour costs. At Second Reading he pointed me—I thank him for that; it was something that I had not read before—to the Transhipment Survey by Browne, Doganis and Bergstrand of the Central London Polytechnic. The Minister told me that the study showed that the cargo handling costs at Tilbury and Southampton were 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. respectively more expensive than those of the non-dock scheme at Felixstowe.
I must tell the Minister that I have found the survey in the Library and read it but cannot find those references to Tilbury and Southampton. No doubt he can point them out to me. We are told that the report, which has been placed before us in all seriousness by a responsible Minister, contains the proof of the inefficiency and low productivity of the registered dock workers, but it has virtually nothing to do with the great bulk of cargo handling. It does not deal with 80 per cent. of the cargo. It deals only with transshipment. It does not make separate references to registered ports and non-registered ports. The policy implications that those writers draw from the report do not relate to the high cost of labour in the registered ports. They say nothing about that. They say mainly that the Government should spend more money on investment in both the registered and unregistered ports. That is the piece of evidence which, when challenged at Second Reading, the Government put before us to show why we cannot have modest amendments of this kind. We do not think that that is acceptable.
On Question, amendment negatived.
§ [Amendments Nos. 4 to 12 not moved.]
§ Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 13.
Page 1, line 20, at end insert—
("( ) The Secretary of State shall, as soon as may be possible after consultation with registered employers and their association and with registered dock workers and the appropriate trade union or unions, and before the dissolution of the National Dock Labour Board under section 2 of this Act, prepare in draft a new Scheme for the regulation of employment in the docks, which shall ensure the maintenance of secure and stable employment, high standards of training, welfare and safety and the efficient and profitable operation of ports. The draft shall provide for such matters to be determined jointly between the relevant employers and the appropriate union or unions. The draft shall be laid before Parliament and brought into force subject to approval by a resolution of each House.").
§ The noble Baroness said: The purpose of the amendment is to endeavour to set out what will follow as a result of the disappearance of the dock labour scheme. We have again heard this afternoon—we heard it during the Second Reading debate—that one of the most unacceptable features of the Bill and the Government's attitude is that they appear to be quite content for the scheme to disappear almost overnight and certainly very quickly. The Bill has proceeded with incredible speed, given the way in which Bills are usually dealt with in both Chambers. There has been no consultation, at least not with the employees through their unions. Apparently everything is to be left to the vagaries of local negotiations with local employers and to the good will, where it exists, of such employers.
§ I am surprised to hear the Government say that they are apparently so much in favour of local negotiations. The employers are in favour of local negotiations and no national forum. I can remember a time when employers in many industries were keen to have some kind of national agreement because they believed that it avoided leapfrogging in the industry. Certainly, if I were still a trade union official working in the docks, and the dock labour scheme disappeared and there was no national forum, I should be looking towards a possible campaign in the future of leapfrogging between the various ports. In that way one could ensure that terms and conditions were kept up to scratch. The better employers could then expect that there would be some action to bring the terms and conditions of the less good employers up to the level of the better employers.
§ However we on these Benches believe that such a scenario could be disastrous for the industry and those who work in it. The amendment provides for discussions with employers and unions with a view to arrangements being introduced to take the place of the scheme. As the Committee will know and has again heard this afternoon, these Benches do not accept many of the criticisms that have been made of the scheme. However, if the Government feel that the arrangements, which have been in operation for a very long time under the scheme, ought to be modernised and updated and the scheme generally reconsidered, this amendment will give them that opportunity. It is an opportunity to be exercised in consultation with the employers and the representatives of those who work in the industry.
§ The wording of the amendment envisages steps being taken in order to try to maintain secure and stable employment. This Chamber has repeatedly heard from those with a deep knowledge of the industry, and notably the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, how widespread is the concern that if the scheme disappears there will be a return to casualisation in the industry. The employers have said that such is not their intention. The Government have said that they do not believe that the dockers need have any fears on that score. But the fact remains that they do have fears.
§ That is why the wording in the amendment is so important. In no way does it envisage jobs for life, 164 which is how the Government view the scheme. No more is intended than that the kind of job security enjoyed by many workers, including those engaged in the non-manual field, should apply to the workers formerly covered by the dock work scheme. Surely the employees in such an important industry—and we know how important it is to us as an island and a trading nation—are entitled to some kind of job security.
§ I recently received a letter from a docker working in the industry in Grimsby. He says that he is a local representative and is writing on behalf of others as well as himself. It is quite clear from his letter that he is very worried indeed about the possible return to the docks of casualisation and nothing that the employers or the Government have said so far has reassured him; nor, I may say, has it reassured Members on these Benches.
The amendment mentions:
high standards of training, welfare and safety".
On that score I hope that we can perhaps look for some support at least from the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and those on his Benches. I feel sure that everyone in this Chamber will agree about the need for training. Certainly the union involved in this industry is in favour of improved training. Part of the Transport and General Workers' Union's complaint against some employers is that they have not done enough in the training field. That is why younger workers have left the industry; they have better opportunities for training elsewhere.
§ There is also the matter of health and safety. This is still a hazardous industry despite improvements made over the years. Some working environments are inherently hazardous, no matter what is done about them. I believe that the dock industry is just such an industry. For example, I was told by the national official responsible for the dock industry in the Transport and General Workers' Union that there were seven fatalities last year in the London docks and there is still a lot of industrial injury. Clearly health and safety must be constantly monitored, and that is referred to in the amendment.
§ Finally, the thinking behind the amendment is unashamedly tripartite. The Government may not like it but they cannot ignore the fact that this industry is quite heavily unionised. Workers join unions so that their interests can be adequately protected and represented. Over the years the Transport and General Workers' Union has shown itself to be more than capable of representing employees' interests in this industry. However, it is itself committed to the idea of a profitable and efficient industry. As the Committee will recall, it has produced some remarkable leaders, among them Ernest Bevin and Jack Jones.
The union has a right to be consulted about its members' interests and, as the amendment says:
for … matters to be determined jointly between the relevant employers and the … unions".
The Government need to play a role because this has been a statutory scheme. This is an industry whose proper functioning is vital to our well-being. I beg to move.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
On an earlier amendment the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite complained that speeches from this side of the House were Second Reading speeches. This type of amendment makes that quite inevitable. This is simply a proposal to reconstruct the dock labour scheme and put it in place of the one that the Bill abolishes. If one is to discuss it, it must be discussed in very much the same terms as was the original scheme.
This proposal has all the defects of the existing scheme. It would be utterly pointless to go through the procedure of abolishing the existing scheme and then put something of this kind in its place. With very great respect to the noble Baroness, there is not very much point in debating yet again this matter in this Chamber. There is a very real difference of view between the two sides. This amendment is simply one more attempt from the Opposition Front Bench to put the dock labour scheme under another name back on the rails. I hope that the Committee will reject it.
§ Lord Mellish
With geat respect to the noble Lord, that is not so. I have nothing but praise for the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. First of all she described what would happen if the intentions of the Government were fulfilled and that scheme were to be wiped right out. Nothing will be left other than some verbal assurances about safety, welfare and the regulations generally. It is for that reason that the noble Baroness wanted to put something in its place on the statute book. She wanted to try to safeguard at least the best part of that which had earlier been obtained under the national dock labour scheme. I saw her point.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has now given the game away. He admits that so far as he is concerned the whole of the scheme has to be wiped out and nothing should be put in its place. He says that assurances from individual employers will be enough. With great respect to him, it is not enough. I happen to know pretty well the dock employers and certainly I know dockers very well. Believe it or not I married a docker's daughter and, in the words of Winston Churchill, lived happily ever after. I must say that with all their faults the dockers' loyalty to each other is quite incredible and I believe that their loyalty to their country is far greater than that of those who live over in Chelsea—I speak of the dockers' instincts and immediate reactions. It is the kind of thing that I support. The dockers say, "It took us years to get this dock labour scheme"—this infamous scheme, as the Conservative Party now calls it, saying that it is unworkable—"and if you destroy that scheme, at least give us some assurances about some of the benefits that came from it and in particular with regard to training, welfare, safety and the efficient and profitable operation of ports".
I cannot resist saying again to the Liberals—after all we had a lot of old rubbish aired at Second Reading from the Liberal Party which was opposed to this Bill on principle but said that they wanted safety, efficiency and welfare—that here is their chance again. It would be interesting to hear what 166 the Liberals have to say about this amendment and, if there is a vote, how they vote. People are judged by what they do rather than what they say—at least that has been my attitude all through life. People are judged by what they do, and that is why this Government are in such trouble. They have lost the good will of the vast majority of the people because they do not trust them and do not explain their policies. They have not explained this measure except to say that the employers think that the scheme ought to go.
All my life I have worked alongside these people and know what they are like. I should like to put on record an experience which I have never forgotten and which has eaten into me. Hay's Wharf was doing very well and made pretty good profits of around 12 to 14 per cent. I did not know, indeed I had no idea, that Sir David Burnett, the chairman, had a private valuation carried out on how much his property would be worth if it were sold for development for offices and so on. He learnt that it was far better for him to sell that land. He would make on average about 10 to 15 years' profit in one fell swoop. He therefore sold the land and sacked 1,700 men—just like that. These were men who had done nothing except give from their hearts and work their guts out. He sacked 1,700 men—just like that—because he had a valuation of his property and it was worth a great deal.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, may say, "You cannot blame him for that." I do. My instincts are immediately to say, "That man, that firm, owed something to those people who worked there." If one employs anyone—a docker—one is responsible for the general welfare of his wife and family. They matter too. That is the attitude that people ought to have. The Tories say that it is nonsense. They do not want to listen to that. It is not relevant.
Let us see whether there has been any progress by the Liberal Party since the last debate. Are they prepared to support an amendment which gives some guarantee with regard to training, welfare, safety and so on? I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for the way she moved the amendment. It was very well done. I cannot wait to hear the noble Lord who speaks on behalf of the Liberal Party.
§ Lord Rochester
I shall endeavour not to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, too much. On the face of it, I accept that it is an amendment that merits sympathy.
§ Lord Rochester
But wait my Lords. It is clearly an attempt to meet the criticism expressed by a number of noble Lords, of whom I was one, at Second Reading that it is one thing to do away with the dock labour scheme and another to put nothing in its place.
I said on Second Reading that we need a national strategy for our ports that takes account among other things of the impact of the Channel Tunnel in particular. Such a national strategy will not in some mysterious way emerge spontaneously from the operation of market forces. It needs to be initiated 167 by the Government. My difficulty today is that this amendment goes further. It requires the Secretary of State to prepare a new draft scheme for the regulation of employment conditions to be determined jointly by the relevant employers and the appropriate trade union or unions. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, was correct to say that those conditions include training. It is certainly true to say—I adhere to what I said in this respect at Second Reading—that my noble friends and I are very keen that in the docks industry, as elsewhere, there should be adequate training arrangements.
I shall have more to say about training when we come to an amendment that deals specifically and exclusively with it. It is Amendment No. 15. Whether at that point the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, will be satisfied, remains to be seen.
There is a dilemma with this amendment. In the draft scheme that the Secretary of State is to prepare, such matters as training, welfare and safety are to be determined jointly between the relevant employers and the appropriate union or unions. However, the basic difficulty is that the port employers consider that negotiations between themselves and the Transport and General Workers' Union should take place at local level whereas the union wishes the negotiations to be conducted on a national basis to bring about uniform employment conditions in the docks.
The amendment appears to beg the question. However, I do not think that as legislators we should. Without agreement between the parties as to the basis on which negotiations should proceed, I do not see how employment conditions can be determined jointly. Therefore, this amendment is not a practicable proposition.
§ Lord Underhill
I am greatly encouraged by what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, has said. I only hope that he will go a little further. Having listened to many speeches of the noble Lord on the importance of industrial relations, I am certain that if he looks carefully at this amendment he could persuade his noble friends to support it.
We are told that the reason why the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, cannot advise his noble friends to support the amendment is because the National Association of Port Employers has said that it wants national negotiations. How can the national association instruct on what will happen at local negotiations? Each local negotiation will be separate. We want some stability in this industry after the scheme has been abolished. That can be determined only before the scheme is abolished.
I hope that the noble Lord will consider carefully the wording of this amendment. As my noble friend Lady Turner emphasised, it makes quite clear that it proposes a tripartite scheme. I am concerned that in the last paragraph in the White Paper the Government have stated that there is now opportunity for the unions, the port workers and the employers to get together. The Government want to absolve themselves of all responsibility. The amendment insists that there shall be a tripartite 168 scheme. The Secretary of State shall be called in; and there shall be discussions between the unions and the employers.
On the vital necessity for national negotiations to replace a national scheme, nothing is laid down as to the type of national scheme. If the Secretary of State wants advice he could go the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium or France and find out exactly what their port schemes are. There is no suggestion that they will abandon their schemes. No particular type of scheme is laid down. The measure merely suggests the issues that ought to be discussed and settled on a national basis.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
The intention of Amendment No. 13 is to delay the abolition of the scheme, indefinitely if necessary, pending its replacement with a new scheme which need be no less restrictive than the present one and might well be more extensive.
I can think of no better illustration of the difference between the approach of those who proposed this amendment and our own than the wording of the amendment. It contains the telling passage that the new schemeshall ensure the maintenance of secure and stable employment, high standards of training, welfare and safety and the efficient and profitable operation of ports.Noble Lords clearly have great faith in the scheme and have not learned from the lessons of the present one. That has certainly failed to ensure the maintenance of secure and stable employment, for all its pretensions.
The 80,000 registered dock workers of the 1950s are but 9,000 today, while employment in non-scheme ports has increased. Scheme ports are also manifestly less efficient than ports outside the scheme, to which they are continuing to lose business and jobs. Over time they have also been less profitable and what profitability there is has been subsidised by the taxpayer through £770 million of support for severance and for the ports of London and Liverpool.
The imposition of a system of joint determination over all these matters also fails to take account of the realities of experience under the scheme. The experience in scheme ports shows the damaging effect of joint determination. It has prevented scheme ports from adjusting to new technology as rapidly as non scheme ports; it has sustained costly labour surpluses; it has produced poor industrial relations; it has protected damaging restrictive practices; it has sustained discriminatory recruitment practices and disciplinary procedures which are out of step with those elsewhere in industry. Above all joint control has led dock workers to believe that their interests are served not by the success of the company in which they work but in the militancy of their union; and it sustains, through its registers, the artificial division between dock work and other work, which gives rise to the monopoly we are seeking to abolish.
Far from absorbing the lessons of the past the amendment goes further in the direction of regulation and bureaucratic control. It seeks to bring 169 profitability within the sphere of joint determination. And it appears to allow for the extension of the new scheme to employment of any type in ports, wherever they are and whether or not they are in the scheme at present.
In Committee in another place the Opposition's deputy spokesman confirmed that it would be logical to include all large ports at least in any new scheme. That seems to me an admission that such a scheme would inevitably impose a significant constraint on the ability of ports to compete on equal terms with ports outside its scope. Yet we have the evidence from ports outside the scheme that not only can they outstrip the scheme port competitors in terms of performance but also provide reasonable terms and conditions for their employees without recourse to widespread casual work. They have no need of schemes yet this amendment would provide the means to impose one on them and jeopardise their continuing success.
Good terms and conditions and stable employment are not the product of schemes. They are the product, instead, of competitive, successful businesses where managers can manage resources to serve business needs and employees have every incentive to perform more productively in the interests of the business which sustains their jobs. The rights and obligations of employees and their employers under general employment laws established by successive governments provide a sensible framework for successful employment arrangements. The Government will continue within that framework to encourage a variety of productive forms of voluntary participation between employers and their employees which are responsive to the individual needs of firms. The trend towards greater participation is well established.
But the dock labour scheme and further statutory schemes along the lines of that proposed in the amendment would enhance conflict and would do nothing to enable our ports to perform to their full potential. The lessons of the scheme are there for all to see.
Those ports covered by the dock labour scheme now need to be freed from burdens and controls which apply to no other productive industry in this country, and allowed to operate within the framework of laws which apply generally. I do not believe that the case for the retention of the scheme's controls for a capital intensive and skilled industry which now resembles most others has been made. Still less do I believe that successful ports should be brought within the scope of special statutory controls of employment which exist for no other industry.
Once more I urge the Committee to reject the amendments.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
I should like to draw on practical experience. Years ago I worked with a trans-shipping company which used to bring in grain from the River Plate. I then used to go down to the docks where the grain was unloaded by using giant hoovers. A man in the granary turned the wheel. Eight pipes were operated, with one and sometimes two dockers at each pipe. The docker at each pipe had nothing to do except spit into the 170 grain. Of course that employed the docker, but it was a false form of emloyment, because he had nothing to do.
I am all for full employment and training, but it would be unwise to have in an amendment the provision that a docker is guaranteeed employment for life no matter what he does in the docks. I remember instances in other companies which were importing meat. It always happened that 5 or 8 per cent. of the carcases did not appear. Apparently they went illegally to some dockers' benefit. I believe that the amendment goes too far.
§ Lord Mellish
I should like to put on record the fact that, having listened carefully to the Minister, I am now even more convinced that I was right to oppose the Government's Bill to abolish the present scheme. I am now sure of the reason why the Government did what they did. We return to the argument about Second Reading speeches. I said then, and repeat now, that one of the reasons why the Government are in trouble today is because they have forgotten people and are concerned only with principles. They are concerned only with economics and do not give a damn about ordinary people. If the Minister had wanted to accept the amendment he could have said, "It is too long and too wordy. However, I understand what is behind it so I shall look at it and at Report bring something back to put in its place".
§ Lord Mellish
There need have been none of that rubbish about the Committee stage and the amendment being unworkable. The truth is that the Minister is determined to reject anything and everything said by the Opposition. I think that it is rather pathetic.
Only a few weeks ago the noble Lord, Lord Young, made it abundantly clear that the Government had no intention of abolishing the scheme. That is what he said. In an Answer to a Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, he said that the alleged troubles due to the scheme were non-existent in respect of the Question. He said that the Government had no intention of abolishing the scheme. I remember saying afterwards to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, "At any rate that clears the issue and we know where we stand". Here we are, a few weeks later, and the Government are making remarkable speeches about the evils of the scheme, that they were not going to bother with. It only goes to show what phonies they are.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
I have listened with interest to the remarks made by those on the Committee opposing the amendment. I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that this is not an attempt to reconstitute the scheme. On the contrary, it gives the Government an opportunity to introduce something different. If it is felt that the present scheme has all kinds of difficulties, needs modernising and does not enable the industry to be profitable enough, here is the opportunity to produce something in consultation with both sides of the industry. In the final analysis the draft can be laid 171 before both Houses of Parliament so that it also has an input. It is an opportunity to clear the decks and produce something different and better.
I am amazed that in replying to my submissions the Minister simply trotted out all the old arguments which we heard on Second Reading and at every other stage of the Bill. They concerned the present scheme, all its alleged inefficiencies, the need to abolish it, the need to do something about restrictive practices and so forth. All those points are irrelevant to my amendment, as has already been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Underhill.
I was sorry to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, is unhappy about the amendment because I remember that he was keen on a national strategy. He said so on Second Reading and again this afternoon. We on these Benches are also in favour of a national strategy and believe it sensible for such an important industry. Moreover, as I said when I introduced the amendment, if you do away with any form of national forum for the industry you simply leave the way open for leap-frogging claims at the various ports at some time in the future. The employers will not like that after it has been in operation for some time.
In the amendment we are giving an opportunity to the Government and those on both sides of the industry to look at the whole situation afresh. Okay, the scheme has gone and we now have the opportunity to introduce something different which I hope will provide stable and secure employment. Perhaps I may say to the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, that that does not mean guaranteed employment. Stable employment is not a system of guaranteed employment and no one suggests that any employees should have guaranteed employment. This amendment is not about jobs for life. For those reasons I commend it to the Committee, and I am afraid that it is my intention to test the feeling of the Committee.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 49; Not-Contents, 117.172
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Alport, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Gregson, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Jay, L.|
|Carter, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|David, B.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Longford, E.|
|Ennals, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Mellish, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Soper, L.|
|Northfield, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Peston, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]||Underhill, L.|
|Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Rea, L.||White, B.|
|Shackleton, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Abercorn, D.||Holderness, L.|
|Addington, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Hunter of Newington, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Arran, E.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Joseph, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Layton, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Long, V. [Teller.]|
|Belstead, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||McNair, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Marley, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Butterfield, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Butterworth, L.||Monson, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Morris, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Colwyn, L.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Quinton, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Renton, L.|
|Croham, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Rochester, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Rodney, L.|
|Denham, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Savile, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Shannon, E.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Slim, V.|
|Feversham, L.||Somers, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Terrington, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Trafford, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Grey, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Gridley, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Young of Graffham, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden moved No. 14:
Page 1, line 20, at end insert—
("(5) On the date of the passing of this Act, every agreement, whether written or not, including any agreement for the
performance of personal services, to which the Board were a part immediately before the appointed day, shall have effect on and after that day as if each employer formerly registered under the Scheme had been a Party to it jointly and severally, and for any reference to the old Board there were substituted as respect anything falling to be done or occurring on or after that day, a reference to those employers.").
§ The noble Baroness said: To some extent this amendment follows on from the discussions we had on the previous amendment. I have already emphasised, as have a number of my noble friends, the feeling of insecurity which exists among dock workers generally as a result of the decision to do away with the dock labour scheme.
§ For years, if they were registered dock workers, they had some sense of job security. Now all that is to disappear and no one knows, apparently least of all the Government, what will happen next. However, of course, the individuals are covered by their existing contracts of employment
§ The Government say that negotiations in future will be local, despite the case that we have repeatedly made for some kind of national forum in this important industry which would involve the union as well as employers, possibly with an independent presence too. However, that apparently is not to be, judging by the Divisions we have had so far in Committee. Therefore, we are back with local negotiations because our previous amendments have not found favour with the Committee.
§ It seems therefore that some steps should be taken to give the people who work in the industry a sense of security. For that reason the amendment proposes that local employers should honour existing agreements. This in no way involves jobs for life or anything like that. Agreements can of course be renegotiated. This is a fairly minor amendment and it is possible that the Government may say that there is no need for it. However, there is a need to reassure people who work in the industry on their future prospects. They need to feel that they have some sort of security, even though, as indicated, it is still open to employers locally to renegotiate whatever agreements exist. I beg to move.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
This amendment, as I understand it, would require employers formerly registered under the scheme to take over from the date of Royal Assent responsibility for agreements entered into by the board before that date. It would also substitute the employers for the board thereafter. The amendment would make the employers liable for funding the board's running costs and wind-up costs during the transitional period as well as any residual liabilities on dissolution. The financial memorandum estimates that those liabilities, after the sale of assets, might amount to £6 million.
I find the purpose of the amendment difficult to fathom. The agreements to which the amendment refers are agreements that the board has with its own staff for pay and conditions of service; commercial agreements concerning its assets, chiefly property holdings; and agreements with contractors for services (for example, its auditors). The board is not a party to agreements concerning dock work 174 employers and employees. Its own medical welfare and training services are not performed on the basis of agreements because they are requirements of the statutory scheme.
The effect of the amendment, therefore, would be to make all board staff employees of former registered dock work employers during the transitional period and to make those employers liable for any contractual obligations of the board before and after its dissolution. That sits very oddly with the degree of detachment required by staff who are servants of a board which will continue to be composed of equal numbers of employers' and employees' representatives during the transitional period.
The employers would be liable for the wind-up costs of the board during the transitional period because the Secretary of State's powers under Clause 4 of the Bill allow him to fund only expenses incurred by the board; and under the terms of the amendment the board would cease to be a party to any agreement concerning running costs. That would make the employers responsible for salaries of board staff and redundancy payments and running costs which we estimate at about £6 million after the sale of assets. Having abolished the scheme on Royal Assent the Government believe that it would be unfair to expect employers to shoulder the whole burden of funding the wind-up of a scheme for which they have already paid heavily. They will already be contributing through the sale of assets brought with levies which the scheme imposed on employers. It is right that the Government should contribute to ending this statutory scheme. The amendemnt would prevent that.
The amendment would also mean that employers would retain liability for the matters covered by those agreements after the dissolution of the board because they could not be transferred to the Secretary of State under the provisions of Clause 2(6) on its dissolution. Under those provisions only property, rights and liabilities of the board immediately before dissolution can be transferred; and under the provisions of the amendment any matter of agreement to which the board was a party would already be in the hands of the employers. Our objective in the Bill is to ensure that after the dissolution of the board, scheme port employers should have no residual liabilities arising from the scheme so that they are in the same position as other employers and bear no additional burdens. The amendment would frustrate that, to no good purpose.
The amendment is also difficult to reconcile with the duty given to the board—still composed of employers' and employees' representatives—during the transitional period. These include the disposal of its assets, at less than market value if need be, to ensure continued provision of services which meet the industry's needs. The amendment would have the curious, and potentially undesirable, effect of allowing assets already held collectively by employers to be transferred to individual employers on favourable terms.
175 I cannot conceive of a case for complicating the Bill's straightforward procedures for the wind-up of the board's activities in this way. Therefore, I urge the Committee to reject the amendment.
§ Lord Mellish
I rise to support my noble friend on this amendment. It comes about—does it not?—because the Government have decided to abolish the scheme entirely and put nothing at all in its place. Either the first scheme was a bad scheme and should never have been introduced or there should be an alternative to safeguard the position.
My understanding of my noble friend's argument, which is absolutely right, is that there is to be a transitional period. That is what the dock workers are worried sick about and why there is so much anxiety in the industry. What is to happen once the scheme is abolished? The Minister said that it would cost £6 million to introduce a new scheme. Of course we would not have had this problem if an alternative scheme were to be brought in which we could examine in detail and amend if necessary. However, there is nothing to replace the original scheme. We are left in the position that once the scheme is abolished the dock workers will be absolutely in the hands of individual employers; and whether or not they go back to the bad old days is irrelevant and not worth discussing. The Liberals could not care less anyway.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. It is not my intention to press this amendment. We shall later be discussing the disposal of assets and we shall be moving a number of amendments when we have some points to be made about the disposal of assets at market rates or not at market rates.
In the meantime, I agree with my noble friend Lord Mellish that it would not be necessary to table amendments of this kind if there were any indication before us of what should take the place of the scheme when it has been abolished. It is necessary to reassure a number of people in the industry—not just employees—as to the intentions on agreements for services. However, in view of what the Minister said, I shall reserve much of what I was going to say on assets to when we discuss the series of amendments under Clause 2. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 1, line 20, at end insert—
("(5) The transitional period shall continue until satisfactory alternative arrangements to ensure adequate health and safety training and welfare provision in the Scheme ports shall have been concluded between the employers and the union or unions concerned.").
The noble Lord said: I apologise to the Committee as I intend to read out this amendment. It is not long. I suggests that we insert into Clause 1 the following subsection:
The transitional period shall continue until satisfactory alternative arrangements to ensure adequate health and safety training and welfare provision in the Scheme ports shall have been concluded between the employers and the union or unions concerned".
I have quoted the amendment in order to get the Committee to move away from this persistent belief that we are still seeking to replace the scheme with another scheme that is more or less the same. We have abandoned that attempt. We are now trying to improve the face of the Bill as it stands. We accept that the Committee is not prepared to take an alternative scheme and we are trying to improve the Bill.
§ This provision to improve the Bill is extremely modest. We are suggesting that, if the Government say that they want to look after in particular training and welfare matters, they should have some way of keeping the powers of the board in existence until there is an alternative system for training and welfare which we can look at and which we can say is a reasonable alternative simply in the areas covered by the Bill.
§ I suppose the only possible objection that might be made to this modest amendment is that it in some way qualifies what is meant by a transitional period. If the transitional period is to have some specific obligation placed in it, that period might last rather longer than it would otherwise do. If that is the Government's problem then their action is quite simple. I ask the Minister to consider this very seriously. They could tell us what kind of period they envisage that the transitional period should cover and how they see themselves, without an amendment of this kind, ensuring that during the transition period adequate health and safety training and welfare provisions exist.
The Government in another place have been extremely reluctant to tell us what they mean by a transition period. The Committee will know that on the face of the Bill the only part of it that tells us how long the transition period might be is contained in Clause 2(1) which states,
it shall be the duty of the Board to wind up its affairs as expeditiously as possible".
In another place on 11th May in Committee, Mr. Nicholls said at col. 435, that he had not looked up "expeditiously" in the Oxford English Dictionary but he thought that it meant,
with all due but not unnecessary haste".
I did look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary. It does not say that. "Expeditiously" means "performed with expedition". If one then looks up "expedition", that means,
with haste, speed; a sending out or setting forth for some definite purpose, especially a warlike enterprise".
So the problem is what purpose and who is at war with whom? Why "haste" and "speed"? What is the speed that the Government envisage might be appropriate for winding up the board and looking after health, safety training and welfare? There is another point raised by the Minister at col. 435. Asked directly how long the transition period would be he said:
It is impossible to say how many weeks or months".
He never mentioned 12 months. Do "expeditiously" and "more or less immediately" mean less than 12 months? Are the Government telling us that they are going to take action—and, if so, what—to ensure that training and welfare will be carried out
effectively in the area where it is now regulated by legislation, in less than 12 months or perhaps less than one month? The Minister suggests a few weeks.
Would it not be better for the Government to accept this modest amendment that does not set out to provide an absolute date, but simply says,
The transitional period shall continue until satisfactory alternative arrangements
can be found. Another objection that the Government might make is that our amendment speaks about health and safety and not training and welfare. I do not believe that even this Government will tell us that they do not want to ensure that health and safety provisions are made at least reasonable before the scheme is wound up. I beg to move.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
Like the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, I am interested in the likely duration of the transitional period. I shall be very grateful if my noble friend on the Front Bench can give some indication of the Government's attitude. Where I differ from the noble Lord is that I hope the transitional period will be short. There is need to clear up all the uncertainty that has overhung this industry in recent months as speedily as possible and as expeditiously as possible, to use the words of the noble Lord. It is important and necessary to get the industry settled down on a new basis as soon as possible.
The only other comment I wish to make is that this is a very oddly drafted amendment. It provides, in the absence of agreement between the unions and the employers, that the transitional period shall just continue. That might be thought to give to the unions a particularly powerful bargaining position. They could hold out for some quite excessive demand knowing that by so doing they will prolong the transition period. It would be very unfortunate to take away from the Government the right to determine the end of the transition period and to leave it dependent on an agreement which might or might not take place. Perhaps that is the intention of the amendment.
§ Lord Rochester
The first thing I should say is that I appear to have misread the amendment for which I apologise. I shall read it out in the way that I thought it was written:The transitional period shall continue until satisfactory alternative arrangements to ensure adequate health and safetycomma—training and welfare provision".I realise that there is no comma and therefore it is my fault that I did not appreciate the full significance of the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, indicated in his last words, he feels that it might have been worded differently. That is for him to say. For my part I indicated earlier that I would have more to say about training as regards this amendment, believing that it related to training.
It would be a pity for me not to say what I wish to say about training in view of the number of times that I have been reminded by Members of the Committee of what I had to say on the subject at 178 Second Reading. At that stage I drew attention to the fact that no provision had been made in the Bill for the training and welfare of dockers after the expiry of the transitional period. I added that there seemed to be a strong case for amending the Bill to ensure that after that period adequate arrangements were made for training people who continued to be employed as dock workers and for retraining those who were made redundant.
However, this amendment does not seek to provide for the time after the expiry of the transitional period as the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has made plain. Rather, it envisages postponement of the date on which the National Dock Labour Board is to be dissolved to ensure what the union regard as satisfactory alternative arrangements for training are made. I am wrong in all that because, as I have already indicated, the amendment does not refer to training. As drafted, concerning health and safety training, what I have just said is true.
Therefore, I am reluctant to acquiesce to the proposition that the absence of statutory measures providing for arrangements of the kind described in this amendment that I had thought included training is a sufficient reason for postponing the date on which the transitional period should end. I hope I have made that plain in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, on the Government Front Bench. Had this amendment been concerned with training as such, I was going to say that it would help me to make up my mind about the subject if the Minister could add somewhat to the assurances that he gave me at Second Reading on this subject.
Despite the fact that this amendment relates to health and safety training rather than to training generally, I hope that he will be kind enough specifically to confirm that I am correct in understanding that the training agency has already initiated talks with port employers about establishing an industry-led body to develop training after the board has been dissolved. If the noble Lord could give further information, not only to me but to other Members of the Committee, which might help us at a subsequent stage of the Bill that would be better still.
§ Lord Mellish
It is not surprising that the Liberal Party finds difficulties with the amendment as it appears on the Marshalled List. We live in a free country. There is nothing to stop the Liberal Party putting down its own amendment. It could have put one down with all the dots and commas it wanted. It could have done so in such a way that the Liberal Party in moving its amendment could have made it clear why it is as concerned as I am and as we are on this side of the Committee about the abolition of the scheme and about the fact that nothing is being put in its place.
We have heard a good deal about the evil things that have come about with the scheme. I am glad to have the opportunity to say that there are also one or two good things about the scheme. The health and safety training and welfare provisions brought about by the National Dock Labour Board have all been taken for granted. Now it is to be abolished. 179 We shall no doubt hear from the Minister that it will be the desire of many progressive employers to see that these measures are carried on. I suppose that that will suit the Liberals. It does not suit me. I should like to see it in writing. I should like to see it written in an Act of Parliament.
I understand the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. He is opposed to the scheme as such and to everything associated with it. He wants every port to be free. He wants no restrictions. He has been honest about that. That is his argument. At least that is logical. I do not agree with him. I think it is rubbish, but at least he is logical. However, the attitude of the Liberals is typical. They want bits of this and bits of that, but they do not put down their own amendment. If the Minister were to get up and say that he accepts the principle of the amendment and that at Report stage he would put it in his own words—I am sure he will not; talking to him is like punching a balloon—I would accept that. Go on, get up and say it!
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I fear that the noble Lord will once more be disappointed. The purpose of the Bill under consideration is to bring employment arrangements in scheme ports within the general legal framework which has evolved under successive governments since the scheme's inception. Those developments include a Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974 which placed specific obligations on employers to make adequate provision for health, safety and welfare. The Act also provides for proper participation by trade unions, at national and local level, in ensuring adequate arrangements. There are now also a range of training structures which industries may choose to participate in according to their own assessment of needs.
We take the view that, within this framework, it is for employers and employees in the industry to decide what suits them best, as is the case in any other industry. The amendment would impose on former scheme ports a special national structure covering welfare, training and medical facilities for which no case has been made and which does not exist in any other industry. That structure is unnecessary and would inhibit port employers' acceptance of full responsibility for their own training, health and welfare provision. It would also extend the transitional period, during which the board is under a duty to wind up its affairs, quite unnecessarily, and the cost of that extention would be borne by the taxpayer.
The abolition of the scheme will not change the basis of health and safety provision which applies to all ports, scheme or non-scheme. The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act places an obligation to make proper health, safety and welfare provision on individual employers generally; not on the board and certainly not on any other body established to take its place. The 1988 Docks Regulations under that Act provide a comprehensive, up-to-date and detailed provision specifically for dock work: such a detailed provision is unusual for a specific industry. The regulations were proposed by the Health and 180 Safety Commission, which, I may remind noble Lords, includes trade union representatives, and agreed to by the Government. They cover welfare provision—for example, sanitary facilities and protective clothing—which the board currently supervises under the Docks and Harbours Act 1966 and in some respects, notably in connection with protective clothing, are more comprehensive than those provisions.
The board's medical provision predates that of the National Health Service and makes special arrangements for registered dock workers which may now duplicate existing services. The present provision consists of 20 small medical centres serving 18 ports. They provide treatment both related and unrelated to the needs of the workplace. Since 1982 all employers have been under an obligation to make adequate provision for first aid, consistent with the risks and needs of the industry in which they operate, in accordance with first aid regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Clause 2 of the Bill gives the board the opportunity to dispose of its assets including its medical centres in such a way as to encourage continued provision to meet the future needs of the industry and its legal requirements. The Bill therefore provides the opportunity for matching local needs to local medical provision for all dock workers.
Perhaps I may now turn to the wider subject of training, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, referred. I have to admit that I was under the impression that that subject was also a part of the amendment. Evidently it is not, but I am happy to respond to that point at the moment. We believe that training must respond to the needs of individual firms and that it is up to employers to make arrangements for training, individually or collectively. Modern, capital intensive port work requires a highly skilled workforce, so employers have every incentive to make proper training arrangements. The abolition of the scheme's restrictions on the deployment of dock workers means that investment in training will produce an even greater return.
Non-scheme ports manage, without the imposition of a national body, to train to meet their skill needs. Last year, Felixstowe, which has its own training school, spent about £775,000 on training, rather more than the National Dock Labour Board did on behalf of all scheme ports. Many other non-scheme ports, notably those run by Sealink, have full-time training officers. The board's training activities now amount to a mobile force of about 20 training instructors, without any training centres. The provision made in Clause 2 of the Bill for the disposal of the board's assets provides every opportunity for the industry to take over useful provision. There is no reason to believe, judging by the performance of non-scheme ports, that former scheme ports will not now take training very seriously indeed. For some time many ports have been discussing with the training agency the creation of a lead industry body to set standards for the industry as a whole. I hope that that will encourage the noble Lord, Lord Rochester.
181 This amendment gives no indication of where the funding of a replacement body for the board is to come from. Is the money to come from a levy on the industry, once again placing a burden on employers but giving them no control over the necessary allocation of resources? Are the financial arrangements of the transitional period to continue, so that the new body is funded by sums voted by Parliament and paid for by the taxpayer? This is unnecessary and unreasonable.
To sum up, the Bill provides for the board to wind itself up in a way which gives port employers and authorities every incentive to take over useful training and welfare facilities. The statutory requirements for health, safety and welfare, which apply to all ports, are comprehensive, but if there is need for development it should be within the framework of general health and safety provision. After abolition of the scheme, scheme ports will have every incentive to make proper provision for their skill needs. There is no reason to assume that a national body would help the industry to meet its needs more effectively.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asked whether I could give a timescale for the winding up of the board. It is not realistic to set a timescale on the length of the transitional period and to the date of the dissolution of the board. The board has been given powers to arrange the transfer of necessary training, medical and welfare services because of its expertise and understanding of the needs of the industry. The board is equipped to protect and promote the interests of the industry in these respects during the transitional period.
At the same time the interests of the industry would not be best served if the board was not wound up so that the industry could make its own provision. The board has therefore been given a clear directive under Clause 2(1) to wind up its remaining functions as quickly as possible. I am afraid that I cannot be more specific than that. I hope that, with the explanation I have given that many of the points in the amendment are covered in different legislation, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord McCarthy
We now see the Government turn to a familiar ploy: as our amendments become more modest, so they move further and further away from us. Indeed, instead of coming towards us as our demands become fewer and fewer, the Government become more and more obdurate. The Minister actually disappeared over the sky line in that speech. He has even taken away the very vague statement made by the Minister in another place which suggested that at least the transitional period might last a year. Now the noble Lord tells us that he cannot give us a time-scale. I think he is really saying that he cannot tell us what it is for.
I began by reading our amendment. However, I am afraid that I had to read what was said on the face of the Bill. I say that because on the face of the Bill in Clause 1(3) it says:Notwithstanding that Clause 3(1)(g) of the 1967 Scheme … is, by virtue of subsection (1), no longer to apply to the Board, the Board shall continue during the transitional period to have 182 power to make provision for the training and welfare of dock workers (within the meaning of the Scheme), including provision for port medical services".I repeat:to have power to make provision for the training and welfare of dock workers".I ask the Minister, for what purpose and for what period does this apply? Further, of all the functions of the scheme and of the board, why should we take training and welfare, give it transitionally to the National Dock Labour Board for less than a year—or, less than a month—and then say that there is some purpose in what is being done? We have been told this evening that nothing will follow. According to the Government it is not the object of this clause—as I thought it was—that the National Dock Labour Board may have some responsibility, concern and interest in what sort of welfare services or training provisions exist after the transitional period.
The Minister has made it very clear: the government are not in the least bothered about what happens after the transitional period. Further, since the transitional period lasts only a few weeks, what does it matter what are the provisions during that period? What is it there for? Why take this small part out of the scheme and keep it for an undisclosed period when there is no intention to do anything with it in any event?
By way of this amendment we are asking for something very modest; we are saying that the transitional period should continue until "satisfactory alternative arrangements" are made. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that I take his point. There is no doubt that the amendment could have been drafted more satisfactorily. However, I should have thought that the question as to whether there are satisfactory alternative arrangements on the face of the Bill would be decided by the Minister. If the Minister thinks that the arrangements are satisfactory then he can dissolve the board and end the transitional period. It is a matter for the Minister.
If the noble Lord will follow us, if we come back to the matter on Report—and I must say that I admit his point—and make it absolutely clear that it is the responsibility of the Minister, and if he will also make it absolutely clear that if there is no collective agreement between the employers and the unions at that time the Minister is quite free, if he thinks that unions have been at fault in the matter, to adopt the employers' scheme, then perhaps the issue can be resolved on Report. I accept what the noble Lord said. However, having read what is on the face of the Bill, I should have thought that that is what the legislation is saying.
Whether that is true or not, the Government are saying for reasons that they do not make clear, that they are taking out of the scheme—a scheme which they will eventually destroy—one tiny aspect. That aspect will be kept in existence like some relic for an undisclosed period, and at the end of that time they do not give a damn what goes on in the industry. I find that fact quite shocking.
I turn now to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. If I follow him correctly, he is 183 quite right; indeed, there should be a comma in the wording. Moreover, if we bring the matter back at the next stage of the proceedings on the Bill there will be a comma in it. There are indeed drafting errors in the amendment, and I accept that fact.
However, I only wish that the Government could have found their way—as the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, suggested—to say, "The amendment is disastrously drafted; but the lads and lasses have got a point. They should go away and think about it again; or, better still, we will take the matter away and think about it again." While the Government have not said anything like that, nevertheless, I shall go away and rethink the matter. I shall withdraw the amendment at this stage but return to the matter on Report with a better one. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 1, line 20, at end insert—
("(5) On the date of the passing of this Act, Her Majesty's Government shall become a signatory to Convention 137 of the International Labour Organisation and shall be bound by the terms of this treaty obligation as though the terms of the treaty were United Kingdom law.").
§ The noble Baroness said: With this amendment we return once again to the persistent question of casualisation. It is surely clear to everyone by now that this is one of the gravest fears of the rank and file docker; it is why there have been unofficial stoppages, although most of the members obeyed the call of their union and went back to work.
§ As we know, the union has been most anxious throughout the affair to stay within the law, even though I would say that the law is blatantly unfair to unions. Incidentally, I understand that this afternoon the Transport and General Workers' Union won its appeal.
§ Britain's dock industry is not unique. Other countries over the years have faced similar problems. Other workforces have objected to, and fought against, casualisation and the system that once obtained fairly widely. It is the kind of industry which lends itself to casual labour. It was because of this that it was felt appropriate back in 1973 to introduce the International Labour Office Convention No. 137. I have a copy of the document with me. It lays down objectives which must be met in the organisation of work in the docks.
It is interesting to note that those who drafted Convention No. 137 were familiar with, and foresaw, the changes that were then taking place in dock work. The convention says:
Considering that important changes have taken place and are taking place in cargo-handling methods in docks—such as the adoption of unit loads, the introduction of roll-on roll-off techniques and the increase of mechanisation and automation—and in the pattern of movement of freight and that such changes are expected to become more widespread in the future, … and Considering that such changes also involve considerable repercussions on the level of employment in ports and on the conditions of work and life of dockworkers, and that measures should be adopted to prevent or reduce the problems consequent thereon"—
It then says in Article 2:
It shall be national policy to encourage all concerned to provide permanent or regular employment for dockworkers in so far as [is] practicable".
I emphasise the words, "in so far as [is] practicable", because it shows that it is a fairly flexible provision. There are also other provisions which deal with health and safety, collective agreements, arbitration and so on.
§ It may well be that back in 1973 or 1974 it was not felt necessary in the United Kingdom to ratify this convention because we already had the dock labour scheme. That provided the safeguards referred to in the convention. Indeed, it may well have been thought there was no need to do anything about the ILO convention. After all, we had had for some years a kind of scheme which would satisfy the terms of the convention. However, the situation will now be much changed when there no longer is a dock labour scheme. People who work in the docks will look towards the Government to at least provide some level of protection against the evils of the past.
§ The convention has been signed by many European countries. Indeed, the total number of countries which have signed the convention currently stands at 21. However, in Europe France signed in 1977, Italy signed in 1981, the Netherlands signed in 1976, Spain signed as far back as 1975 and Portugal signed in 1981. Of course, the very successful port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands has signed the convention and the workers there are protected against casualisation. Nevertheless, despite that fact, as we have seen and heard, Rotterdam is one of the world's most successful ports.
§ If the Government are really concerned to reassure dockers about their and the employers' future intentions as regards casualisation, then they should ratify the covention. That would demonstrate to the workforce that the Government are not just doing the bidding of some very powerful employers and that they are not unconcerned about the future of dockers; that they want to ensure that we have an industry that is not only profitable but in which there is some degree of security for the people who work in it. With those remarks, I beg to move.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
As the noble Baroness has explained, the amendment would require the United Kingdom to ratify Convention 137 of the International Labour Office (ILO) on Royal Assent of the Bill. The convention was adopted by the general conference of the ILO in 1973 and came into effect in 1975. It sets out a number of requirements for those countries which ratify it concerning the employment of dock workers.
Chief among the convention's requirements is that there shall be a register of all dock workers. For that reason, successive British governments have been unable to ratify the convention. There has never been a register for non-scheme ports, nor is there one in Northern Ireland. The abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme will abolish the register for scheme ports so, as is the case now, there can be no question of the Government ratifying the convention.
185 Indeed of 158 ILO member states, the United Kingdom is one among 137 members states which have not ratified the convention. The majority of our community partners, including West Germany, Belgium and Denmark, have not done so; nor have the United States, Canada and Japan.
National registration schemes for dock workers are increasingly out of step with the efforts of many countries to produce a more efficient ports industry. Many countries already have arrangements which vary from port to port. New Zealand's labour Government have announced the abandonment of all special controls for dock work. Australia is seeking changes. Those countries, like ourselves, are islands and rely entirely on their ports for trade; but Community countries, which are generally less reliant on their ports, are also seeking greater flexibility. Italy is already taking steps to reduce statutory controls, and there is pressure for change in France.
In that context it is understandable that the majority of countries should be reluctant to sign up to a convention drawn up nearly 17 years ago when the ports industry had still to complete its transformation into the capital intensive, skilled industry we see today. Our non-scheme ports which employ nearly a third of all dock workers show that its objectives of reasonable terms and conditions for dock workers can be met without its controls. That is not to say that we could not accept some of the convention's requirements: the Docks Regulations 1988 under the Health and Safety at Work Act are designed to do just that; but while there is a requirement for an obligatory system of registration, the United Kingdom cannot ratify the convention. I therefore cannot accept the amendment.
§ Lord Underhill
Will the Minister answer the points made by my noble friend about the Community countries which have ratified the convention, in particular, the Netherlands which has the successful and thriving port of Rotterdam? Has he an answer for those points?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
As I said, the majority of Community countries have not ratified the convention; that is to say, Germany, Denmark, the Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Greece and ourselves. France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands have, and I think that is all. Rotterdam is a successful port. It has some form of registration. We do not have registration in our most successful ports and so it is not possible for us to ratify.
§ Lord Mellish
It is inevitable, I suppose, with the abolition of these schemes that the Government would also finds reasons for not being associated with Convention 137. For years now the dock industry has been quiet, well behaved, efficient and productive. The noble Baroness said that legal decisions have been made today which will give the unions the right to make more difficulties in the docks over the abolition of the scheme. Is that what the Government want?
I am sick at the thought that the dock industry is once more going to be in turmoil. The Government 186 do not care. They are not interested. They are not bothered. They will just say some pious words about the men having to accept the decision of Parliament and that the scheme must go. Do they not understand that some dockers feel passionately about the scheme? I have one warning. Members on the other side can take comfort from the fact that the dockers have not been as united in the past few weeks as they normally are. However, the moment legal permission is given and they receive an instruction from their union, there will be unity. Unity among dockers is something one must understand and appreciate. It is almost indescribable.
I can remember instances of people going down the stairs at London Bridge at 7.30 in the morning and being told, "Do not attempt to look for work. There is a strike at Wilson's or Cotton's or Mark Brown's". Instead of saying, as one normally would, "What is the strike about?", they just turned around and got on the train and went home. That was enough. The brotherhood was there. The loyalty was there. One can sneer and jeer at it but one cannot take it away. That is why I say that if the union receives legal permission, which I gather from the noble Baroness is possible, and it writes to say that there is to be an official strike, the Government are asking for trouble. After last Thursday, things are going from bad to worse. When they have the chance, they do not even say that they will consider ratifying Convention 137. They say that it is a lot of rubbish and they do not want to know about it. They are not interested in the fact that the Netherlands, which has one of the biggest ports in the world, has signed it. The Government will not sign. Let the dockers do what they like! They are rubbish. Let them go. That is what this is all about.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
The Minister's response was disappointing. As my noble friend Lord Mellish said, even if the Government did not accept the amendment it would have been possible for them to say that they would consider seriously what had been said with a view to introducing an amendment on Report which would help deal with the fears of the workforce about the re-emergence of casualisation. That is why I tabled the amendment about Convention 137. Many of the Minister's comments do not stand up because when Convention 137 was introduced those who drafted it were well aware of the changes taking place in the industry.
It was because of those changes that it was felt necessary to have some overall protection. That was the main reason for the introduction of the convention. As has already been said, the Netherlands, which has one of the most successful ports in the world, has ratified the convention. No doubt the reason some other countries have not ratified is that they already have in place systems which prevent casualisation and provide protection for dock workers. That is true, for example, in Hamburg, which is also a successful port. Where such protections already exist, ratification is not so necessary.
I do not intend to press the amendment. I should have thought that the Government could respond to 187 the genuine and sincere feelings of the workforce about the possibility of a return to casualisation, and would have taken the opportunity, although not accepting the amendment, to say that they intended seriously to consider the submissions that had been made with a view to introducing their own amendment at a later stage. I should still like the Government to think about doing that. I shall withdraw the amendment, but again I ask that further consideration should be given to this important question.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 1, line 20, at end insert—
("( ) The Secretary of State shall, at the date of the dissolution of the Board under section 2 of this Act, make a report to Parliament on how the following matters specified in this subsection shall fall to be determined in ports formerly within the scope of the Scheme—
§ The noble Baroness said: We come once again to what happens once the scheme has ceased. Less modest amendments have been voted down this afternoon by the Committee. We must now consider what next we might reasonably do to give some further protection and reassurance to the people who work in the industry.
§ This, again, is really an extremely modest amendment, because what it says is that the Secretary of State shall make a report to Parliament on how certain specified matters have been dealt with or are going to be dealt with once the scheme ceases to exist. It refers of course to the establishment of dock workers' and dock employers' registers. We have heard from the Minister that the Government are against the introduction of registers. The amendment refers also to the obligations and rights of registered dock workers and of those who, although not registered, do work which is classified. It refers to the rights and obligations of dock employers in relation to dock workers and dock work 188 and to the consequences attending any breach of such an obligation or, as the case may be, of any denial of such rights.
§ The amendment deals with disciplinary matters, terminations and suspension, recruitment and regulation, together with the termination of employment and the rights and liabilities in respect of it, remuneration and various other things connected with employment. All this amendment does really is to ask that when there is no longer a dock labour scheme the Secretary of State should come to Parliament and report on what is being done to cover all those apsects which were formerly covered by the dock labour scheme but are no longer covered because that scheme will have ceased to exist. As we have repeatedly said from these Benches, we are talking about a national scheme, a statutory scheme. Therefore there is a public interest in what happens after the statutory scheme ceases to exist.
§ For these reasons we think it right and proper that Parliament should receive a report from the Secretary of State on those very important items which were once covered by the National Dock Labour Scheme. I beg to move.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
Before I reply to this amendment may I ask the noble Baroness whether she was also talking to Amendment No. 18 as well?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Amendment No. 17 to Clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on how employment arrangements in the docks are to be determined following the dissolution of the board. The list of items includes a number of inheritances from the existing dock labour scheme, including registers of dock workers which the Bill abolishes. Amendment No. 18, which concerns the Secretary of State's powers to direct the board under Clause 2, would render those powers subject to the board's duties under Section 1 of the Act.
The connection between these amendments is at best a tenuous one. Amendment No. 18 presumably envisaged that the board would have duties under Clause 1 of the Bill in addition to the single duty it has under Clause 2(1) of the Bill to wind itself up as quickly as possible. Your Lordships' Committee, however, has already decided against giving the board additional duties under Clause 1, so that the amendment adds nothing.
I will say only that the powers of the Secretary of State to direct the Board under Clause 2(3) are consistent with what is necessary in a transitional period when the board is under a duty to wind up its affairs promptly and retains residual powers to provide for training and welfare. The Secretary of State needs to be able to ensure that the board's duty and its power are exercised in a manner consistent with the objectives of the Bill. This power may not need to be exercised, but there is always the possibility that the board—composed as now of representatives of employers and employees—will 189 be unable to agree its plans and in those circumstances direction from the Secretary of State may be timely to move matters forward. The Secretary of State will naturally be accountable to Parliament for the manner in which he exercises his powers.
Amendment No. 17 betrays much of the thinking underlying the scheme. Once the dock labour scheme is abolished, the arrangements for determining the terms and conditions for about 9,000 former registered dock workers will be a matter for employers and employees, as is the case now for the 30,000 other workers in our ports industry. Their terms and conditions of employment are determined locally by a variety of arrangements. That is the position accepted by the Transport and General Workers' Union which negotiates on their behalf, as it does on behalf of registered dock workers. I fail to see why the Secretary of State should be required to report to Parliament on the variety of means adopted by former registered dock workers and their employers to determine terms and conditions of employment.
§ Lord Mellish
I should like to get this clear in my mind. Once this scheme is abolished will those who were registered dockers no longer be registered? Even in the bad old days they had a tally, and that enabled them to be recognised. That person would be among the men from whom the employer chose to do his work. Do I understand now that the registration card is to be abolished as well? Is the whole lot of it to go, to be swept away?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
The noble Lord is right. The register will no longer exist and employment in that industry will be just as it is in any other industry, and indeed as it is in the non-scheme ports, where there are 3,900 unregistered dock workers who now deal with 30 per cent. of this nation's trade and, if I may say so, do so very successfully.
However, to return to Amendment No. 17, this embodies the sort of thinking we must move away from if scheme ports are to develop forward-looking arrangements for employment. That is why I urge the committee to reject the amendment, which adds nothing to the Bill.
§ Lord Mellish
I should like to put it on record that the Government have made their attitude perfectly clear so that we all know where they stand. The Government are the Government and they have all the power. It seems that not only will the National Dock Labour Scheme be completely wiped out but also the idea of any registered dockers. That will happen overnight. At one time there was a tally disc, which enabled a docker, such as my father, to get preference in being selected for work. It enabled him to go behind certain gates and barriers and he would be picked because he was a tally-holder. Afterwards, of course, things progressed and a registration scheme was introduced. A man could not apply for dock work unless he was a registered docker and, if I may say so, no man would want to apply for dock 190 work unless he was a registered docker in those days. The vast majority of them were still out of work before this scheme came in.
The noble Baroness has put down a modest proposal. What is going to happen? What is to take its place? As I understand it, the Government's attitude is again based on economics. They are saying, "We are not concerned about what happens to these people, we are not concerned with any regulation in the industry: it is up to employers." I am not saying, and never have said, that employers are all bad men—some of them are quite decent—but once they have the freedom to do as they like I am not so sure. But that is exactly what this Bill enables them to do.
It will be for my noble friend to decide whether or not this is worth voting on. With the majority the Government have got, I suppose we are all wasting our time. The Government are determined that this whole scheme will be wiped out. But I would say to the Government that this is not the last word. If the union have decided to adopt legal measures in order to see that what they do is correct—and here may I say I admire Ron Todd, although he is not a personal friend, for the path he has trodden because I think that through a minefield of legal arguments he has trodden the right path—and if at the end of the day he has the authority and the power, he will take these men out and, if they come out, there will be created a hell of a struggle for the Government; and they deserve it.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
I am very sorry that we have had such a disappointing response from the Government. As I said earlier, we are not really wedded to the wording in our amendments, and if the Government would only indicate that they understood the concern felt on these Benches about what happens when the dock labour scheme no longer exists we would feel a little happier than we do this afternoon. As it is, I shall not press this amendment today. We will think further about the situation. We may be in a very different situation by the time we reach Report stage.
I would be very unhappy, as I am sure we all would be, if there were to be a major industrial dispute—although, as we have heard, the unions have cleared their legal obligations and their legal lines in that regard. Nevertheless, there is deep concern about what will happen when there is no longer a scheme, and if only the Government had given some indication that they understood that concern and that they cared about the people in the industry to the extent that they were at least prepared to consider what we were saying and perhaps produce their own amendments at Report stage, the matter would be a very different one.
I shall not press this very comprehensive amendment. In view of what has already happened this afternoon, I can quite understand that the Government are not prepared to accept this wording. However, we shall reconsider the matter and decide what we may put down on Report. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.191
§ Clause 2 [Dissolution of National Dock Labour Board]:
§ [Amendment No. 18 not moved.]
§ Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 2, line 5, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
("(4) In the disposal of the Board of any of its assets in the performance of its duty under subsection (1) of this section, the Board shall have regard to the market value of the assets in question.").
The noble Baroness said: I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 20, 21 and 22 with which Amendment No. 19 is grouped. With this amendment we enter the area of discussion as regards the disposal of assets. Somewhat surprisingly, Clause 2(4) of the Bill, as unamended, allows for the disposal of the assets of the board for a consideration:
which is less than the market value of the assets in question, or for no consideration".
In other words, it will be all right, if the Secretary of State and the Treasury give permission, for assets of the board to be given away. These assets have been built up over the years as a result of levies within the industry, and also as a result of the labour of generations of workers in the industry. We on these Benches are concerned—this concern was also expressed in the Standing Committee in another place—that such assets could be disposed of not for what they would fetch on the market but for knockdown prices. This Government have a record of disposing of public assets at a price which is lower than they would normally fetch in order to encourage the development of their privatisation philosophy in practice. Therefore, it is not surprising that we should be suspicious when this kind of provision, which deals with the disposal of assets, appears in the Bill.
§ As I understand it, the assets of the board consist of welfare facilities and clubs for dockers, as well as other amenities, office properties and other such things. I believe that the net book value of all tangible fixed assets is £1.25 million. However, that is, of course, a book value. The market value may well be quite different, and no doubt would be very much greater.
§ It may be argued that the wording of subsection (4), as it now stands, will enable such assets as dock workers' clubs, canteens and other such facilities and amenities to be transferred, perhaps to trustees elected from within the workforce, at very much less than the market value. That would, of course, be to the advantage of present and future dock workers. Some indication to that effect was given by the Minister when dealing with a similar group of amendments in Standing Committee in another place when he stated at col. 458 that the dockers' clubs, medical centres and so on are assets that are likely to be transferred at less than market value. Earlier, the Minister had mentioned the possibility of their being transferred to trustees. However, nothing of this is stated on the face of the Bill.
In the absence of such provision, the people working in the industry are bound to be a little
concerned lest the assets built up over so many years are disposed of at knockdown prices to outsiders. If that is not the intention, this group of amendments gives the Government the opportunity to put the situation quite clearly. Amendment. No. 20 states that:
the Board shall make a report to the Secretary of State detailing any assets disposed of in the period since the passing of the Act".
Amendment No. 21 states that the Secretary of State shall:
lay before Parliament a report detailing and accounting for the property".
Finally, Amendment No. 22 states that:
The property and rights of the Board and any income derived therefrom shall be applied solely towards furthering the profitability and efficiency of those ports in the scope of the Scheme at the date of the passing of this Act, and the well-being of workers employed therein".
§ It seems to me that that is a very reasonable outcome, if assets are disposed of. However, I come back to my main point. If it is the intention of Clause 2(4) that it should be possible for assets like workers' canteens, clubs and other things to be disposed of at less than their market value to elected groups of trustees from within the workforce, that would certainly be acceptable to this side of the Chamber. However, that needs to be written onto the face of the Bill, and not be simply left as a statement made in another place in Standing Committee. I beg to move.
§ Lord Rochester
At first sight this amendment seems to me eminently reasonable, for it is not immediately apparent why under subsection (4) the board may dispose of any of its assets for a consideration less than the market value. It also appears reasonable, as proposed in Amendment No. 22, that the property of the board and any income derived from it should be applied to purposes which benefit the scheme ports and the people employed in them.
I, too, shall listen carefully to what the Minister has to say on this subject. It appears from Clause 2(7) that ultimately there will be liabilities rather than profits. Indeed, the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill states that the net liabilities and the running costs of the board during the transitional period are expected to be £6 million in 1989 to 1990, and that these liabilities are to be met from the vote of the Department of Employment. So far, so good.
Like the noble Baroness, I noted what the Minister had to say in another place. I, too, have wondered why the gist of his statement does not appear on the face of the Bill. However that may be, as regards the board's tangible assets, can the Minister assure us that the sole purpose of subsection (4) is to permit assets like dockers' clubs and medical centres that will continue to be of value to the ports, to be transferred from the board to other bodies within the industry on a favourable basis?
Will the Minister further confirm that all other physical assets, like offices and other buildings of that kind which are no longer required within the industry, will be sold to people outside it at their market value? Such a statement would certainly help 193 to reassure me, and perhaps other Members of the Committee that, far from threatening the interests of registered dockers, subsection (4) should positively benefit the ports and the people now working within them.
§ Lord Monson
Although, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, I support this Bill, on the face of it at any rate this series of amendments to Clause 2 seems very reasonable. On the basis that it creates sweetness and light to give way to one's opponents from time to time on matters of lesser importance, I hope the Government will give serious consideration to this series of amendments.
§ Lord Underhill
I wish to make one comment in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, referred to something the Minister had said in another place. At col. 466 of the Standing Committee in another place the Minister stated that because of the way in which the assets were acquired, the board may wish to hand them over for less than the market value, or even for nothing. He further stated that it may be perfectly sensible to do so, and that the Government will provide for that, if the board wishes. How does the Minister equate that statement with his own statement earlier this afternoon, which I think I have taken down correctly, that the board will continue until the assets are disposed of in the interests of the industry? Surely it cannot be in the interests of the industry to have the possibility of disposing of assets—even of only £1.25 million—for nothing, as the Minister in another place said at col. 466.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I believe that these amendments would place severe constraints on the board's ability to dispose of its assets, in the case of Amendment No. 19 by restricting its scope to dispose of assets at less than market value with the agreement of the Secretary of State and, in the case of Amendment No. 22 by dictating the terms under which the board can dispose of those assets. By requiring the board and the Secretary of State to submit detailed reports and estimates, Amendment No. 20 places an extra burden on the board during the transitional period—a burden which will interfere with its duty to wind itself up. Amendment No. 21 would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament about assets and liabilities transferred to him on the dissolution of the board, even though he was accountable to Parliament for the exercise of his powers in this respect.
The Bill's provisions under Clause 2 allow the board to dispose of its assets at less than market value or for nothing to give the board—and the employers and unions represented on it—the scope to take decisions in the best interests of the industry and not simply to obtain the best price for its assets. The board will have the flexibility to dispose of its assets to bodies which are able and willing to continue to provide training, medical and welfare services which meet the industry's needs. Those 194 bodies may include charities concerned with the welfare of dock workers, but also employers who have already paid for the board's assets through levy and other organisations which in the board's judgment are capable of maintaining the provision.
Mention was made of dockers' clubs. The provision in Clause 2(4) would allow the board to propose to the Secretary of State the disposal of its assets at less than market value or for nothing, so the continued provision of those facilities could be arranged to suit local needs. They would then be open to all employees, not just registered dock workers.
I believe that those decisions are best left to the board with the 50/50 membership of union and employer representation and subject to agreement by the Secretary of State. I hope that that explanation will clarify the situation with respect to disposal of assets at less than market value to the satisfaction of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester.
An important task of the board in the transitional period is to use its expertise and knowledge of the industry to ensure an orderly transfer of services to the industry. The requirements of Amendment No. 19 to have regard for the market value of assets when the board disposes of them would fetter the board's ability to dispose of assets at less than market price when the board believed that there was a case for doing so and provided the Secretary of State and the Treasury agreed.
If the noble Baroness is truly concerned about giving the board some scope to influence the future training and welfare provision of the industry during the transitional period, I hope that she will think again and withdraw the amendment.
It is right, however, during the wind-up of the board, that it should also strike a balance between its power to make these provisions for the industry and to contribute to its own running costs through income derived from its property. The Committee should remember that during the transitional period the board will no longer be able to levy employers to cover those costs. If the sale of its assets cannot be used for that purpose the whole burden will fall upon the taxpayer, who has already paid £770 million in subsidies for scheme ports since 1972 and who will continue to contribute to severance payments after the scheme's abolition under the Government's proposals. If amendment No. 22 were accepted, income from property and rights of the board could not be used to contribute to the board's running costs during the transitional period. The taxpayer would foot the bill entirely.
I believe that that would be wrong because the well-being of dock workers in scheme ports during the transitional period will already be served by the powers of Clause 1(3) of the Bill which allow the board to continue with its training, welfare and medical services. Abolition of the scheme itself will benefit the profitability and efficiency of scheme ports by lifting restrictions which have long constrained their performance. I submit that the Opposition would do better to support that in the 195 interests of efficiency and profitability than offer the poor substitute of subsidies from the sale of the board's assets.
Once the board has wound itself up and is dissolved in accordance with Clause 2(5) we do not expect many properties or rights to remain to be transferred to the Secretary of State. As the financial memorandum to the Bill indicates, the income of the board from all sources, including the sale of its properties and assets, will not be sufficient to cover its running costs and liabilities during (and after) the transitional period. We expect the board's net liabilities to be in the region of £6 million. That will be met from public expenditure. But that is a small price to pay to bring to an end a scheme which has cost over £45 million per year since 1972. In those circumstances, the imposition of the constraints of Amendment No. 22 on the Secretary of State's custody of the board's property and rights is unjustifiable.
Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 impose exceptional checks on the activities of first the board and then the Secretary of State with regard to the assets, rights and liabilities of the board. Those checks are cumbersome and unnecessary. The Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament for any directives he gives to the board during the transitional period under Clause 2(3) and for his decision to allow the disposal of assets at less than market value. Once the board dissolved he will be accountable for his custody of any assets, rights and liabilities that he takes over from the board. Normal procedures of parliamentary accountability are sufficient.
Information about the activities of the board has always been available to this Chamber through Parliamentary Questions and will continue to be available in the transitional period. There is no question of the assets of the board being disposed of in an arbitrary fashion. The whole purpose of the procedures in Clause 2(4) is to ensure that the agreement of the Secretary of State and the Treasury are secured when the board acts to dispose of its assets on anything other than commercial terms.
As I mentioned, the sole purpose of the provision in subsection (4) is to permit assets to be transferred to other bodies in the industry at less than the market value. The substance of the assurances sought by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, are consistent with the Government's intentions in relation to any proposals from the board.
I hope that, with that rather detailed explanation, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
I am grateful for the Minister's very detailed explanation but still a little disappointed by it. As I said when I moved the amendment originally—and in that respect I was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester—assurances had been given in the other place by the Minister of State regarding dockers' clubs, medical centres, etc. and, that being so, it would be a very good thing to write it on to the face of the Bill so that those who were concerned about what would happen to the property would have the reassurance 196 that it was written into statute. As the position stands at the moment, even with all the assurances that we have been given, the clause is still very open-ended. It simply says that the assets can be disposed of at less than market value, without any consideration in respect of dockers' clubs, medical centres and the needs of people inside the industry.
In the absence of a commitment by the Government at least to take the matter away and produce their own amendment at Report to deal with the considerations that have been advanced this evening, I intend to press the amendment.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 19) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 37; Not-Contents, 79.197
|DIVISION NO. 3|
|Airedale, L.||Monson, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Nicol, B.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Rochester, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Falkender, B.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Hooson, L.||Underhill, L. [Teller.]|
|Jay, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E|
|McCarthy, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Mason of Barnsley, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Abercorn, D.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gisborough, L.|
|Arran, E.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Gormanston, V.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Bessborough, E.||Harris of High Cross, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Henley, L. [Teller.]|
|Blyth, L.||Hesketh, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hives, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Holderness, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Hooper, B.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Carnock, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Long, V.|
|Coleraine, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Mancroft, L.|
|Denham, L.||Marley, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Elton, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Erroll, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Nelson, E.|
|Fortescue, E.||Norfolk, D.|
|Onslow, E.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Oppenheim-Barnes, B.||Trafford, L.|
|Orkney, E.||Tranmire, L.|
|Renton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|St. John of Bletso, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Sharples, B.||Vinson, L.|
|Skelmersdale, L.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Strathclyde, L.||Young of Graffham, L|
|Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 20 to 22 not moved.]
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Appointment by Secretary of State of person to act in place of members of Board]:
Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 2, line 20, leave out ("by notice in writing given to each of the members of the Board") and insert ("by Order, a draft of which has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I must say that we have decided not to move Amendment No. 24 with which it is grouped.
Under this clause the Secretary of State is given power to dismiss members of the board who have failed to comply with any directions that he may give to them. Under the terms of the Bill:
If it appears to the Secretary of State that the Board has failed to comply with any directions given by him under section 2(3), the Secretary of State may—
Under the terms of the amendment, instead of doing that simply by giving notice in writing to each member of the Board, the Secretary of State should do so by order, a draft of which must be laid before and approved by each House of Parliament.
§ The Committee will recollect where we are in the life of the board. We are talking about the transitional period, whether it be a week, a month or a year. The board is expeditiously winding itself up. Its only power is to make provision for training and welfare. It does not matter what it does because nothing follows. It will wind itself up and sell off its assets. It may not sell them at market value. It can sell them as it wishes so long as it does not sell or dispose of them in ways that the Secretary of State does not like. If he does not like what it does, he can in effect sack the board.
§ As I understood it from what the Minister recently said, whereas the directions that the Secretary of State gives to the board are subject to parliamentary oversight and supervision—at least, that is what he said—the sacking of the members of the board and their replacement, individually or severally, all together or one at a time, is entirely at his disposal. He replaces them suitably with "one of us"—because, of course, they are not "one of us". They were appointed before that time. Four of them 198 are represented by dock employers and four by dock workers, who are in fact the nominees of the Transport and General Workers' Union. They have been appointed after consultation with various people but their replacement is undertaken simply by the Secretary of State who writes them a letter and that is the end of it.
§ We suggest that that is rather monstrous and quite unnecessary. Therefore, in a modest amendment, we suggest that the same kind of provision should apply in this situation as would apply, as it were, when the Secretary of State makes other orders or gives other directions to the board; namely, that the dismissal of the members, like the instructons he gives them, shall be the subject of an order, a draft of which shall be laid before and approved by each House of Parliament. I beg to move.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
The proposal that the removal of a member of the board should be by statutory instrument and moreover by statutory instrument subject to the affirmative procedure appears to make very heavy weather indeed of the issue. It might also be thought possibly embarrassing for a member of the board. If he is to be removed, it is one thing for it to be done in what no doubt is a politely framed letter from the Minister; but it seems a most extraordinary proposition that it should be done in the full blaze of publicity of an affirmative order which may be argued about. In the course of that argument the board member's personal characteristics and suitability might well be dragged in.
Of course, I understand what the noble Lord is trying to do. He is trying to ensure that if a Minister acts unreasonably in removing a board member (which he has the power to do under the Bill as it stands) the Minister should be held responsible. Should such a thing happen it is perfectly easy for any member of this Chamber or another place to challenge the Minister and ask for his reasons. If that is done with any degree of publicity or if the board member is aggrieved and seeks the advice of his friends about it, the Minister could be called upon to answer either by way of parliamentary Question or other parliamentary action.
However, to put the removal of an individual member in what is the top bracket of secondary legislation—namely, an affirmative resolution —seems to me, if I may put it rather inelegantly, to be over-egging the pudding.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
The duties and limitations of the board in the transitional period have been carefully delineated under Clauses 1(3) and 2 of the Bill. Clause 3 provides for measures to be taken by the Secretary of State if the board is unable or unwilling to fulfil those duties. That might occur because of conflicting interests on the board or deliberate attempts to block decisions causing a stalemate. The board could not fulfil its duties in those conditions and would be replaced by a single appointee with the same powers.
These are contingency powers and we hope that they will not have to be used. But they are necessary to ensure that if the board is not functioning as it 199 should the Secretary of State has the necessary powers to appoint someone in its place so that the board's residual duties and powers are exercised properly.
Incidentally, I think that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has a slight misunderstanding of the provisions of the Bill in so far as in Clause 3(1) paragraphs (a) and (b) should be read together. They are linked by the word "and". That requires the Secretary of State to terminate the appointments of the whole board in the circumstances that I have described. He cannot pick and choose between individual members of it.
Returning to the amendment, this requires the Secretary of State to terminate the appointments of the board by means of an order approved by Parliament. It is not unusual for Secretaries of State to be given the powers to appoint and dismiss members of statutory boards without requiring the approval of Parliament; for example under the Dock Work Regulation Act 1976, and I see no reason to make an exception in this case. It is particularly important for the Secretary of State to act with speed in the circumstances envisaged by Clause 3 because the board is under a duty, in accordance with Clause 2, to wind up its affairs expeditiously. Seeking the approval of Parliament to terminate the appointments of board members would be inconsistent with that.
Beside that, I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. The Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament for the exercise of his powers under the Bill: so Parliament would have every opportunity to question him should Members wish to do so. For those reasons I hope that the noble Lord will agree that the Bill should remain as it stands.
§ Lord McCarthy
I readily agree and of course appreciate that the Bill ensures that he cannot pick and choose. I do not know why I said that. Probably it was because I became mixed up by the fact that we do not intend to move the next amendment, which would have given him such power. However, I quite agree. The Bill makes it absolutely clear that he sacks them all together and appoints someone to replace them. That is absolutely right.
It is also part of the answer to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, because this is a rather odd procedure. With repect, it is not the case that the Minister has become dissatisfied with an individual member of the board. I quite agree that if he thought that one or another member of the board had behaved injudiciously, wrongly or was in some way unsatisfactory, it would not be desirable to bring the whole matter before Parliament. Indeed, if we did not have a transition period which lasted at the most three or four months—and we have not even been told how long it is to be—we would not need to talk about dismissing individuals because the time would come when their periods of operation would run out and they would not be reappointed. That is how one gets rid of people with whom one is not satisfied.
This is quite different. The Minister is quite right. It is very strange. If it appears to the Secretary 200 of State that the board, the whole board—all of it—whether by a vote of one or two or by a qualified majority is unsatisfactory and if it does not satisfy the Minister's directions in every particular, then he sacks the lot. In the board's place he does not reappoint another board in which case he might have reappointed those who had been good boys and girls and let go those who had been bad boys and girls. He does not do that. If he did, I might agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and we should not need to bring in Parliament. But this is very strange. He sacks everybody, good boys and bad boys, and does not appoint any of the boys or girls, good or bad, in their place but brings in someone else—"one of us". I should have thought that he might have been appointed in the first place; but there you are.
We believe that such an extraordinary procedure ought to be explained or defended in some way. I must say that these Benches are never tied necessarily to the words of their amendments and no doubt they are sometimes badly drafted. Sometimes the amendments put foward by the other side of the Chamber are also badly drafted. For the most part when they are badly drafted by the other side they are usually replaced—endlessly replaced—up to the last minute. But on this unprecedented Bill nothing is replaced. Everything runs. In this Bill, every single word is pure minted and perfect. Nothing is to be changed. Therefore it cannot be amended in any way, can it?
The Minister cannot say to me, "Well, you have the wrong words here, my dear fellow. Let us have some different words" or "I shall suggest a way whereby this strange, bizarre procedure can be subjected to some justification, some supervision or scrutiny, whether by Parliament or someone else". No, no! The fact is that there is nothing in the Bill to change; it is quite unique; it must remain as it is.
We are not convinced. However, we do not wish to press the amendment to a Division because there is another coming up for discussion which is rather similar but directed to a somewhat different purpose. Maybe we shall be more successful with that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 24 not moved.]
§ Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 2, line 24, at end insert—
("( ) The Secretary of State shall not make such an appointment except after consultation with the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry, and shall have regard to the practical experience of the docks industry of any person he is considering appointing.").
The noble Lord said: Perhaps we can try with this amendment. The amendment does not provide that a report be made to anybody about the bizarre ways in which the board will be dismissed but tries to suggest that if we reach this position at least the Minister should consult. The amendment provides that:
The Secretary of State shall not make such an appointment
the appointment of a good boy or girl, one of us, to get rid of the bad boys and girls—
except after consultation with the Trades Union Congress"—
I apologise for mentioning that terrible phrase in this Chamber with this Government—
to balance the good boys with the bad boys—
the Confederation of British Industry" —
and this is the sensational bit—
shall have regard to the practical experience of the docks industry of any person he is considering appointing".
I know that that will stick in the gullet. It refers to "a practical experience of the docks industry". Nevertheless it is reasonable when one considers the constitution of the National Dock Labour Board. It is a jointly appointed board. It is what one might call minority Bullock. It is not 2x ² y. Four members are appointed to represent the dock employers. Four members are appointed to represent the dock workers. All of them are appointed by the Minister. They are responsible to the Minister. Other members are appointed to the board. It means that the representatives of the union are in the minority. Therefore all that we have heard about the union having a block vote is nonsense. It is a minority.
§ Nevertheless, there is consultation. The existing legislation provides that after consultation with the National Joint Council these people are appointed. We are going to destroy the National Joint Council so we cannot consult with it. But on the face of the Bill it suggests no representative role and no consultation process. Someone will be appointed and—we know the phrase that will be used—it will be somebody who is acceptable in his personal capacity. It will be just like the doctor on the policy board of the NHS; or the nurse who is not there. It will be an appointment in a personal capacity—one of us. There will be no consultation. There will not necessarily be any regard to the practical experience within the docks. It could be anyone. It could be the chairman of Rovers who is on the policy board of the NHS with his great experience and knowledge of quality in British industry. He certainly knows nothing whatever about the docks industry.
§ We are saying that there ought to be consultation. It is provided for in the docks legislation now. Why should it not be provided for if one of us has to be appointed? I beg to move.
§ Lord Mellish
The amendment states that the Secretary of State,shall have regard to the practical experience of the docks industry of any person he is considering appointing".If a person who has any knowledge of the docks industry is appointed by the Secretary of State to take the place of any member of the board who has been sacked, we have a very strong name for that in the docklands, funnily enough. He is called a blackleg. Frankly, it only goes to show the depth to which the Government have finally gone. They talk about replacing those who are on the board at the moment who do not comply exactly with what they are saying. They will put in "yes" men who will comply. I have nothing but contempt for "yes" men anyway.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I have been enjoying the interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. However, I have not been able to agree with many of them.
202 As the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, explained, this amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult the TUC and CBI about an individual to replace the National Dock Labour Board should that prove necessary under the contingency powers given to the Secretary of State by Clause 3. It would also require him to have regard to that person's practical experience of the docks industry in making his choice.
These amendments would not improve the provisions of the Bill as they stand. It must be remembered that the Secretary of State would exercise his powers in the unlikely event that the board had failed to fulfil its duty to wind up its affairs expeditiously and had failed to exercise its powers over training and welfare provision properly. In those circumstances the rapid appointment of an individual to replace the board would be a priority and consultation would delay that.
There must also be some doubt about the purpose that consultation would serve in those circumstances. If the unions and employers on the board had failed to agree on the action necessary to meet the requirements of their duty and powers, they would be unlikely through the TUC and CBI to agree on the appointment of a successor. In any event one or other party might find it in their interests to frustrate such an appointment. That would not be in the interests of the fulfilment of the Bill's objectives of an early wind up of the board's activities.
On the matter of the experience of the appointee, I am sure that the Secretary of State would wish to take account of all relevant experience to the tasks of winding up the board's activities, disposing of its assets and running its welfare and training facilities in the interim. Experience of the ports industry might not be the predominant requirement to do that job successfully, though I am sure the Secretary of State would regard it as an important factor to be weighed against others. His choice should not be constrained by statutory requirement, such as proposed by this amendment. Therefore, I am afraid that I cannot accept it.
§ Lord McCarthy
Perhaps because it is getting near the dinner hour the arguments from the other side are becoming thinner. The Minister has the cheek to tell me that the parties involved might frustrate the choice of "one of us". How could they possibly frustrate that? Persons are only being consulted. It is not joint determination. The Government are not serious. They can do better than that. I know that it is late at night.
Of course such parties cannot frustrate the choice. The Minister says that such persons may wish to take note of experience in the industry; they may wish not do so so. He worries us because he has suggested that they will not do so. Reading what the Minister has said, if the existing members did not wind up the scheme fast enough it is more likely that a property developer would be sent for. That is what he seems to be thinking about. It is not the 203 appointment of someone who knows about the docks industry but someone who can sell the assets off as quickly as possible at the highest possible fee.
Finally on this clause the Minister has the cheek to ask me what purpose the amendment would serve. I suppose that is because the Government have been in power for 10 years. I am referring to the representative purpose. That is the purpose of the amendment. We are supposed to be a representative democracy. When one takes decisions that affect people one consults their representatives. One does not take decisions unilaterally off one's own bat, even if one thinks that these people may frustrate one's purpose—which they could not do because they are representative of interests, having a knowledge of the subject. One asks them what they think.
The Government cannot see that such consultation has any purpose. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 [Compensation for former registered dock workers who become redundant]:
§ Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 26:
"Page 3, line 17, at end insert—
("(c) such payments shall not be less favourable than those available under the Scheme.").
§ The noble Lord said: Members of the Committee will be pleased to know that this is the last amendment we shall move this evening. The amendment is the modest result of a refusal to accept more ambitious amendments in another place. Members in another place moved a series of rather more ambitious amendments in an attempt to improve the level of compensation payments made to dock workers who are subject to this Bill. For example, it was moved in another place that the maximum figure on 15 years should be doubled from £35,000—which is the present proposed maximum—to £75,000. Naturally enough, the Government would have none of it. It was proposed that the minimum payment should be put up to £35,000. Naturally enough, the Government would have none of it.
§ These refusals on the part of the Government were all justified, if I have understood the argument, on the grounds that they have improved the position already. They took a certain amount of credit from the fact that, because their compensation scheme had a top figure of £35,000 after 15 years, it was better than the existing voluntary severance scheme which has a maximum of £25,000.
§ The object of the amendment is to suggest that that is not the case. On any reasonable interpretation of what is being put before the Committee, it is less favourable than the payments available under the scheme. In another place the Government have said that they accept that it should be at least as favourable—indeed, they argue that it is already more favourable. Therefore they should be prepared 204 to accept this modest amendment which provides that payments shall not be less favourable than those available under the scheme.
§ I must argue and show how it is that the present compensation proposals under Clause 5 of the Bill are worse from the point of view of the registered docker than what is currently available. First, this is a compulsory redundancy scheme. As Members opposite have said endlessly, the dockers are protected against compulsory redundancy, like many other people. They are protected because they must be given voluntary severance; that is the effect of the Jones-Aldington agreement. To say that you get £35,000 for being given the sack is not necessarily better than saying that you get £25,000 for going when you want to go. It is £35,000 for 15 years' service and the sack, £25,000 for 10 years' service and the sack and £15,000 for five years' service and the sack.
§ In the scheme which existed before the Bill, you got 70 per cent. of those rates for going when you wanted to go. I do not see how that can be said to be at least as good. You get nothing for volunteering. The Government do not propose to put in place a voluntary severance scheme. There is to be no voluntary severance scheme; everybody gets the sack. If they do not get the sack, they receive no money or fall back on to the redundancy payment scheme.
§ We are saying that, because it is a compulsory redundancy scheme and the Government have completely abolished the voluntary severance scheme, it is not as favourable as previously.
§ That is only the first heading, because we now turn to what happens when compulsory redundancy comes a little late. The payments of £35,000 for 15 years, £25,000 for 10 years and £15,000 for five years last for only 18 months. I have read with care the debates which took place in another place and I have never seen that explained. Eighteen months after Royal Assent—that is, December 1990—we sink to a maximum of £20,000. It is not £35,000 and not even £25,000. Where do those figures come from?
§ The poor old dockers who go after 18 months receive £20,000 for 15 years, £15,000 for 10 years and £10,000 for five years. Of course they receive nothing for voluntary severance; they are all sacked. In other words, the figures are 80 per cent. of the present scheme, which is voluntary. So now you get less for the sack than you previously received for voluntary severance. Why is that?
§ Even that is not all, because after three years you receive nothing at all as the scheme comes to an end. By August 1992, the registered docker receives nothing but the statutory redundancy scheme if he is declared redundant. There is nothing for voluntary severance and, because of the fixed limits for the maximum of 15 years, he receives less than £4,000; in other words, he receives 16 per cent. of the present scheme for a forced dismissal. One of the reasons for tabling the amendent is to try to persuade the Government to justify and explain why they picked those figures out of the air—that is, £35,000 for sacking and nothing for voluntary severance, and for 205 God's sake why?—and then they cut them away after 18 months. Why should there be that tapering of the scheme?
§ I puzzled about the reason. I may be wrong and I hope that the Minister will tell me if I am, but I came up with a number of reasons. It could be that the Government are saying that in 18 months' time there will be no more registered dockers because they will have sacked them all. Therefore nobody will receive the lower level. That is one possibility—by 1992 there will be no more dockers. The fact is that these people came into the industry on the understanding that they were entitled to expect that voluntary severance scheme. Many of them joined under this scheme.
§ During the Second Reading debate we showed that it did not lead to the spending of vast sums of money, that the average payment is about two-thirds of the maximum and that it amounts to a little more than a year's average earnings. We have shown that no one in the industry is receiving vast sums of money. Certainly the sums to not compare with some of the golden handshakes which are given in industry generally. Nevertheless, it has always been our argument, and we accept the fact, that there are benefits not received by the mass of workers, particularly those who are not well organised. Even now we ask the Government why they always wish to level the workers down. When they find a group of workers who have a scheme, perhaps by legislation, that gives them a little more than the generality, why do they always believe that that in itself is a justification for taking it away? Everyone must be levelled down to the lowest possible denominator; while there are people with no rights, nobody can have rights. We suggest that that is monstrous.
§ In another place the Government said that they believed they were operating a scheme no less favourable than the present scheme. We believe that, because we can demonstrate that this is a lot less favourable, they should accept our amendment. I beg to move.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
I shall not detain the Committee. The amendment appears to be reasonable and I have sympathy with it. I hope that the noble Lord will look upon it in the same way.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
It may be helpful if I clarify one important point. The dock labour scheme itself does not, as this amendment suggests, provide any entitlement to compensation for RDWs made redundant. The severance arrangements that have existed until now have been established on a voluntary non-statutory basis and are the result of a voluntary agreement (the national voluntary severance scheme and, subsequently, the national employers release arrangement) between the employers and the unions. The only statutory element has been the Government's ability to make loans and since 1985 grants for the severance payments. The amounts of individual payments have not been expressed in statute. This Bill, 206 however, will make the compensation payments a statutory requirement for the first time.
Having said that, I fully understand that the objective of the amendment is to ensure that the compensation payments to be made in accordance with the provisions of the Bill should be no less favourable than the voluntary severance payments previously available. I think that I can go a long way to reassuring the Committee on this.
During the first 18 months of the compensation scheme the maximum payments available will be £35,000. This is £10,000 higher than the maximum of £25,000 generally available under the previous voluntary scheme, although payments of £35,000 have previously been made for London, Liverpool and Greenock. But even in those cases our scheme is no less favourable. The voluntary severance scheme provided for lump sum of £3,400, plus £1,440 for each full year of service up to £25,000 maximum. Our scheme in the first 18 months provides a larger lump sum of £5,000 and an additional £2,000 for each full year of service. Under both schemes the maximum entitlement is reached after only 15 years' service. So, for any former registered dock worker after any length of service, the new compensation scheme is still more favourable.
It is true that our scheme provides for a gradual reduction in the amount of compensation for those RDWs nearing retirement age. For every three months by which an RDW's age exceeds 62½ years, the amount of compensation to which he is entitled will be reduced by 10 per cent. of the sum that would otherwise be payable. Without this tapering, a former registered dock worker could pick up a payment of £35,000 if he were made redundant only a few months, weeks or even days before he would have to retire on age grounds anyway. A similar principle applied under the national early release arrangement. But it would still remain the case, whatever a man's age or length of service, that for men made redundant in the first 18 months after Royal Assent our scheme under the Bill will provide as good, and in most cases considerably better, compensation, under the previous voluntary severance arrangements.
However, it is the case that in the second 18-month period of the compensation scheme, when the maximum payments drop to £20,000, the amounts of compensation will often be less than those previously available under the voluntary severance arrangements.
There are two points to make about this. First, we see this special compensation scheme as a short-term transitional arrangement between the severance terms that have applied hitherto to registered dock workers who have left the industry voluntarily and the general statutory entitlement that all other employees have to redundancy compensation under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. We think that there should be special arrangements for former registered dock workers in a period when the industry will be bound to be undergoing extensive adjustments. But we think it is only sensible and right for the transitional arrangements to be staged. Precisely because they are transitional, they should be progressively 207 bridging the gap between existing practice and expectations on the one hand and the general statutory provision on the other.
Secondly the payments to which former registered dock workers will be entitled in the second 18-month period will still be far superior to those to which they would be entitled under the Employment Protection Act 1978. Under our scheme, the maximum payment, for which I should expect most men to qualify, will be £20,000. That compares with a present maximum under the Employment Protection Act, to which comparatively few would be entitled, of £5,160.
So although during the second 18 months of our scheme under this Bill former registered dock workers who are made redundant are likely to receive rather less than they have done under recent voluntary severance arrangements, they will still be getting a fair and reasonably generous deal.
There is another important factor. As I mentioned on Second Reading, nothing in this Bill alters the pension entitlements of registered dock workers under their separate and non-statutory pension scheme. Those pension arrangements will continue. They mean that any redundant former registered docker will receive a pension from the age of 50 onwards. From age 50 to 54 there is an actuarial reduction but from the age of 55 the full pension is payable. A former registered docker on average earnings of £350 per week with 35 years' service will receive a pension of around £4,300 per year, and that is on top of the lump sum payment provided for under the Bill.
I hope that I have been able to convince Members of the Committee that these are favourable severance payment terms and I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord McCarthy
It seems to me that the only thing to do is to table much simpler amendments. I do not say that we shall get any further but at least we may receive better answers. I thought that I had made it clear that there is no scheme for voluntary severance. I asked the Minister: how can the present scheme be better than the scheme already in existence if there is no payment for voluntary severance? At the moment, £25,000 can be paid—and it hardly ever is—for voluntary severance. Now, you receive nothing unless you are sacked. How can you compare what you receive when you are forcibly dismissed with what you receive when you choose to leave voluntarily?
I admit that previously there was no such statutory scheme for being dismissed and sacked in the docks. That was not needed because there was something better; namely, voluntary severance. The Government are now going to take that away. When they take away a voluntary severance scheme, they cannot say that a scheme which gives you money when you are sacked is better. It is worse, and much worse, and the Government do not deny that.
We must have simpler amendments and use simpler arguments. The Minister has still not explained to me why the payment goes down after 208 18 months. He uses the general phrases so much beloved by this Government such as, "It is only sensible and right". That is not an argument but an assertion. That is another way of saying, "It seems to me", or, "Shut up, I have told you". Why is this sensible and right? There is no reason except the implicit reason which the Minister gets close to late at night; namely, that the dock workers did not deserve that anyway and we are taking them down to a point when they do not receive any more than the ordinary worker receives under ordinary payment; give us long enough and we will do away with that as well. That is not an argument which is sensible and right. It is mean and bigoted.
Finally, the Minister says, "Well, they will receive pensions anyway. Why do they need anything else?" The workers have paid into those pension schemes and should receive the benefits. It is good that they have done that, because they will not receive much from this Government. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 27 not moved.]
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 28 not moved.]
§ Remaining clauses and schedules agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.