§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Report received.
§ Clause 1 [Abolition of Dock Labour Scheme]:
§ [Amendment No. 1 not moved.]
§ Lord Rochester moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 1, line 17, at end insert—
("( ) The transitional period shall not end until the Secretary of State is satisfied that adequate alternative arrangements have been made for the training and welfare of dock workers.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, has decided not to move her amendment as it leaves the way clear for me to move mine. In doing so, I hope that I shall have her support.
§ My noble friends and I have backed the Government with our votes on the main provision of the Bill that the dock labour scheme should come to an end as soon as possible—that is, the date when the Act is passed. However, at Second Reading, I drew attention to the fact that no provision had been made for the training and welfare of dockers after 739 expiry of the transitional period between the date of the passing of the Act and the date when the dock labour board is to be dissolved in accordance with Clause 2.
Subsection (3) of Clause 1 makes it clear that although the functions of the board relating to training and welfare under the 1967 scheme will no longer apply,
the Board shall continue during the transitional period to have power to make provision for the training and welfare of dock workers (within the meaning of the Scheme), including provision for port medical services".
But no provision is made for those matters after the board's dissolution. At Second Reading I said that there appeared to be a strong case for amending the Bill to ensure that adequate arrangements were made for the training of people who continued to be employed as dock workers and for the retraining of those who were made redundant. In reply the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, told me how much more was already being spent per employee on training in non-scheme ports than in ports administered by the dock labour board. He also said that the Government believed that existing provision for the training of redundant dockers was adequate but that they were conscious of the need to adapt provisions to local needs and would consider how best that could be achieved.
§ When I spoke in Committee to an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, I asked the Minister if he could add to the assurances he had given me earlier. Among other things he then confirmed that for some time many ports had been discussing with the training agency the creation of a lead body to set standards for the industry as a whole. I am grateful for that information but I hope that by accepting this amendment the noble Lord will now go further.
§ The Government are clearly of the opinion that it is up to employers to make arrangements for training. My amendment does not dispute that view. It contains no suggestion that the training and welfare arrangements which will operate after dissolution of the board should depend on the outcome of discussions between representatives of the port employers and the Transport and General Workers' Union. All it proposes is that one of the matters on which the Secretary of State should be satisfied before determining the date on which the board is to be dissolved is that adequate provision has been made for the future training and welfare of dockers.
§ The word "welfare" is included in the amendment as a general term in line with subsection (3) of Clause 1 to cover matters such as the continuing provision of facilities like dockers' clubs and medical centres. There will be an opportunity to discuss that matter in more detail under Amendment No. 8; so I shall say no more about it now. I hope it will not be said that there is no need for words of the modest kind that comprise this amendment to appear on the face of the Bill. At a time when feelings are running high, particularly in some large scheme ports through which so much of our trade still passes, and dockers are even now considering whether or not to vote 740 for strike action, I suggest that acceptance of this amendment by the Government would be a signal that they are not implacably resolved to have the Bill enacted in precisely its present form but are willing in this small way to take account of the genuine concern that dockers feel about their future welfare. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I support the amendment. My noble friends and I decided not to move our amendment in favour of the noble Lord's amendment. It is a modest amendment. So far as we know the Government have not said what they envisage will follow after the board and the scheme have disappeared. There are still substantial hazards in the industry. Health and safety are therefore very important. As I said in Committee, in London docks last year there were seven reported fatalities. I understand that industrial injuries are still quite common. Health, safety and welfare are therefore important matters.
The same is true of training. The Government have themselves emphasised the need for a highly trained workforce. The union agrees that training provision should be improved. Indeed it is critical of the employers for not putting enough effort into training. Nevertheless, there are some provisions currently in existence. The National Dock Labour Board provided medical services in 1987 through the operation of 20 medical centres. A full-time medical officer was employed at Tilbury and 12 part-time officers were employed at other ports. Further, 19 full-time and six part-time nurses were also employed. In that year, the last year for which I have data, 19,447 people were treated. The board also trained first aiders through six regional first-aid schools. One hundred and seventeen dock workers received financial help while rehabilitating after serious injury or illness and 103 of them were later able to return to work. That is a good medical record.
As I have said, this is a dangerous industry. Some industrial environments are bound to be dangerous no matter what is done about them. But the services in existence have been responsible for minimising serious injuries and illnesses. However, I am told that the service is fairly expensive. For example, £686,422 was the cost in 1987. Where is the assurance that local employers will provide such it service? If the statutory service disappears—as it will under the provisions of the Bill—then there is surely some public obligation to ensure that such facilities are continued.
When it comes to training, my information is that the National Dock Labour Board provides a training service for the industry through six training sections in London, Liverpool, Hull, Southampton, Bristol and Grangemouth. In 1987 the board employed five chief inspectors, two senior instructors and 20 instructors. Moreover, 3,336 registered dock workers were trained and 92 per cent. of the time was spent on specialist training which included training in light and heavy mobile equipment, lifting and bulk handling and hatch and crane signalling. Therefore all that training is currently undertaken by the board.
The board's premises, equipment, courses and staff are of such high quality that they have been 741 used, I am told, by the Army and by Rotterdam Port and Transport College. The college is attached to Rotterdam port, which has been held up to us as a model of profitability and efficiency. Again, all that must be paid for. In 1987 the cost was £529,795. It was money well spent, one would think. However, what guarantee is there that what I have described will survive the abolition of the scheme and of the board? So far employers have given no firm undertakings. Training and welfare facilities acount for £12 million of the board's expenditure or 27 per cent. of the board's management levy income.
These are important issues. It seems to us, in supporting the amendment, that there is an obligation to ensure that adequate alternative arrangements will be made when the board ceases to exist and when the scheme is no more. The amendment makes it quite clear that that obligation will lie with the Secretary of State who, of course, will be responsible publicly to Parliament. We believe that the amendment is a good and modest one. Therefore I have much pleasure in supporting it.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the effect of the amendment would be to prolong to some degree the transitional period after the Bill has become enacted. Surely, there must be in your Lordship's minds some doubt as to whether that is a good thing. Certainly, the sooner the industry gets through the change and settles down on a long-term basis—that is, the sooner it gets through the transitional period—the better for all concerned, for the prosperity of the industry and for the opportunities of those who work in it. Therefore I look with a certain degree of apprehension at an amendment which, however well-intentioned its purposes—obviously, they are very well-intentioned—will delay the full implementation of the Bill when it becomes enacted and which will further prolong the transitional period which may in any event take a little time.
I fully understand the concern which the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, expressed for the people covered by the present scheme. However, your Lordships should have in mind that the people concerned are simply the registered dock workers and not by any means all those who work in the docks; indeed, not at all those who work in the non-scheme ports. It is at least questionable whether there is any justification today for putting former registered dock workers in a privileged position in comparison with other workers either in the same industry or in other industries.
It is not as if we have today neglected these important issues of training, health and safety. Indeed, employees as a whole are covered and protected by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which applies generally across the industrial sphere. No argument has yet been adduced for suggesting that the provisions of that measure produced by a Labour Government are inadequate for the dockers or anyone else. I wonder therefore whether it is necessary to postpone the changes which are taking place while a special scheme, specially designed to favour a limited number—indeed, there are now 742 only 9,400 registered dock workers—is created and put into effect.
As regards training, I should like to ask my noble friend a question. Training is covered by the amendment. And, of course, training provisions for registered dock workers exist under the present scheme. But there has been a substantial levy imposed upon employers, and therefore upon the customers of the docks, to finance training. I should be interested to know, if my noble friend happens to have the figure, what percentage of the money raised by the levy was actually spent on training as opposed to administration. My impression is that the training scheme involved very heavy expenditure on administration. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to give the figure.
Therefore, although one can fully understand the considerations which caused the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, to put forward the amendment I wonder, when one looks at the picture as a whole, whether there is any case now that we are winding up the dock labour scheme for putting a small minority of workers—a comparatively small minority now, even as regards those who work in the docks—in a special position, to be covered by special privileges and special provisions, as compared with everyone else.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, is it not a fact that there are industries which are regarded as more hazardous than normal in respect of which there are special provisions over and above those contained in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, certainly. But in the case of the docks it does not apply to all those who work in them; it applies only to the registered dock worker section of those who work in the docks. Therefore, the noble Baroness's argument, with the greatest respect to her, does not take her very far. Indeed, I shall continue my argument, having been stimulated by her intervention. She said that dock work is dangerous. Of course, it has dangers. But many other industries are dangerous; for example, building, mining and aviation to name but a few. If this proposal is put forward on the grounds of danger, I suggest to the noble Baroness that there is no case whatever for singling out a minority of dock workers and giving them special additional provision which is not given to their fellow citizens.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, where we have a scheme such as the dock work scheme, it has the effect of setting a standard for the industry.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, it may have the effect of setting a standard for the industry. The standard was no doubt much appreciated by those who had the advantage of it. But, with great respect, that is no argument for continuing to set a special standard for an industry which itself contains only a small minority of workers. What justification does the noble Baroness see for creating, or continuing in this case, those special privileges?
I know that registered dock workers have enjoyed considerable privileges and that everyone's 743 experience is that, when special privileges are brought to an end, there is naturally a feeling of unhappiness in those who are losing them. Now that the matter is before Parliament, there is no reason why we should go on enacting special additional benefits and privileges for that relatively small section of workers.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I did not have the least desire to make such a meal of the amendment. We do not believe that it would take a long time for the requirements to be brought into force. We do not wish the wind-up of the scheme to be delayed. We want the transitional period to be as short as it can be. I cannot see, since these—what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for reasons of his own calls privileges—conditions are already in being, that it will take long for the Government to say that they are to continue under the new scheme. I should have thought that that could have been done between Monday night and Tuesday morning if they decided to do it.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, used the term "privileges". We are asking for the maintenance of a good standard of health, welfare and training. This country is not famous for its good training, as the noble Lord knows well and has said on many occasions. Where there is a reasonable standard of training, it surely is not asking too much that in the transition to a non-statutory scheme, the existing standards should at least be maintained. It cannot take long to do that. We hope that those standards will spread to the whole of the non-statutory dock industry and not just apply—I refuse to use the word "privilege"—to one particular group.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and his colleagues, have set a good example with their general reaction to the Bill. We should not like to injure the general relationship, on this matter at any rate, that exists. As part of Parliament we have a duty on all occasions to try to introduce legislation which is clear, understandable and precise and from which everyone knows where they stand.
Under the Bill as it now stands the transitional period is clearly defined. It says:the transitional period means that the period beginning with the date of the passing of this Act and ending on the date on which the Board is dissolved in accordance with section 2".That definition is clear. Everyone knows where they stand in relation to the services that flow from the industry at this time. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, would remove that position. We would not know what the transitional period was likely to be. Anyone who wanted to make alternative arrangements for dealing with the important training and welfare facilities that might be needed would not have the precision that is provided in the Bill. The precision of Clause 1(4) should be left as it is. Those of us who wish to see welfare and training taken in hand should ensure that the normal training schemes which exist throughout the industry should be made efficient enough to deal with the problem.
744 The amendment as it stands would not give the precision and clear indication that are necessary to ensure that future steps are as effective as they need to be.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, Clause 2(5) says:The Board shall be dissolved on such date as the Secretary of State may specify by order made by statutory instrument".The amendment does not change that. It provides that the Secretary of State shall take certain things into consideration before he produces the statutory instrument. It does not reduce the precision of timing to which the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, referred. It is not precise. It is in the hands of the Secretary of State, and so it shall remain, even after the amendment.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I think that there is some misunderstanding. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, did say, "Before the noble Lords sits down", which I take it enables my noble friend to answer the question.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, the amendment states:The transitional period shall not end until the Secretary of State is satisfied that adequate alternative arrangements have been made for the training and welfare of dock workers".That is not as precise as Clause 1(4), which clearly states when the transitional period shall end. For the future of the industry, that should remain as clear as the Bill leaves it and should not include even the marginal imposition which the amendment adds. That is the best way to legislate in this part of the Bill.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he would direct his attention to Clause 2(5).
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, I can bring some consolation to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. There will be a great deal of retraining in the former scheme ports, because they will clearly be entering a golden age. On Second Reading I spoke on this subject. I pointed out that the former scheme ports have enormous advantages over the non-scheme ports in that all their inland transport is much better organised and much shorter. Their rail services are better and shorter and so are their inland waterway services for that matter. They not only have that advantage; they have all sorts of ancient port works which at the moment are grossly under-used and which they will now be able to put to their proper purposes.
745 There are also large areas of land behind those ports which have been devastated as a result of the present old Acts which will now be free for redevelopment. A number of property dealers are now diving for them, knowing that they will shortly be put to excellent development purposes.
In view of all that, to add anything to the Bill in the way of a need for retraining is unnecessary, to say the least. In addition, it is not right to add to the Bill something which relates to a few people only and not even the totality of those employed in the old scheme ports. If we start adding something like that to a Bill such as this, we shall be damaging its purposes considerably.
What has been wrong all through the years is that the costs of the scheme ports have been put up much higher than those of the non-scheme ports. Anything we put on the statute book will to some extent have that effect. How far it will affect it, I do not know, but it will have that effect in people's minds. It will not be for the good of the dockers to write something into a Bill which will happen naturally on its own. What is suggested will add to the costs of the former scheme ports without producing any great advantage.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
My Lords, I have a limited but lengthy recollection of some of the dock ports of the country, especially the one which I have represented for over 40 years. I must say to the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, that clearly his recollection is at fault or that he never knew the situation which existed before there were welfare facilities, particularly medical facilities, in the scheme ports. I feel that it is an abuse of language to talk about removing "a privilege", as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, did. I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy us that the port medical facilities which were brought in under the scheme will continue, or some satisfactory alternative arrangements will be made.
I shall want to hear, and I wait to hear, whether those port facilities are to be introduced. I remember the days before they existed. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who represented a very salubrious area in the upper reaches of the Thames, I do not believe—
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
The lower reaches. I do not believe that there were many docks in existence there or that the noble Lord came across many dockers among his constituents. I did; I saw what happened when people were injured, especially early in the morning. I do not know why injuries seemed to take place in the docks early in the mornings; perhaps people were not properly awake at that time. The use of the docker's hook and the various other implements that were employed resulted in the men suffering relatively minor injuries, but injuries that would put them off work for the rest of the day.
How well I remember the stevedores and the stevedore employers in the docks when these port 746 facilities were introduced. They were so enthusiastic about them because they would keep the men at work. Instead of being sent home, they went off to the port medical centre, received whatever treatment was necessary and went back to work again.
I do not put it on that cynical, or perhaps realistic, basis. I put it on the basis that I saw the introduction of the port medical facilities and the improvements that took place in the men themselves when they knew that they could go to a clean and sparkling medical centre, with a nurse in attendance. They could have some minor treatment and they felt very much better, and off they went back again. It was such an improvement on the situation in the past.
I wish to appeal to noble Lords opposite, I do not believe that they are all as hard-hearted as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. To be absolutely frank, he is not hard-hearted; he just does not know what happened in the docks at those times. Therefore I excuse him completely for what he had to say.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
I always allow the noble Lord to do so because the more he says, the more he will reveal that he has a warm heart and a realistic mind but a total incapacity to understand the situation in the docks.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the characteristically courteous manner in which he has given way. Perhaps I may ask him whether he realises that, while all that he has been most eloquently saying may have an application to registered dock workers, he is at the same time seeking to justify a discrimination against that majority of people now working in the docks who are not registered dock workers. How does he justify that?
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
Very easily, my Lords. I was coming to that point because I thought it was one of the weaker points of both the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. I justify it on the simple ground that it is not a privilege; it is an essential. I said that my knowledge of docks was limited, I do not know what facilities exist in the non-scheme ports. I hope that the Minister can tell us what those facilities are. Unless he can give us a satisfactory answer, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, will pursue the amendment into the Division Lobby.
I feel that it is not a privilege but something that should be an essential part of the work. I wish to see the amendment carried for precisely the opposite reasons to those given by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, who opposed it. That is to say, I wish to see it used by the Secretary of State to bring pressure upon the employers, whether in scheme ports or non-scheme ports, to ensure that adequate medical facilities in an occupation—which is admittedly not the only dangerous occupation but is dangerous—should be brought up to the same level and that everyone should have the same facilities.
I shall vote for the amendment. I hope that the Minister can give us a satisfactory reply and can tell 747 us that satisfactory discussions have taken place with the employers in the scheme ports in order to ensure that the medical facilities which were brought in under the scheme and which are one of the good things which resulted from it in 1946—they were brought in in 1948, to my recollection—will be continued and not removed. I hope that the amendment, if it is passed, will be used to bring pressure to ensure that adequate facilities are maintained and brought in where they do not exist.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I very much dislike the idea of opposing and finding myself in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. Apart from anything else, he is my very near neighbour and I wish to remain on peaceful terms with him. However, every time in this country that we contemplate changing a situation which in many respects is very unsatisfactory, all kinds of champions leap to the defence of the indifferent. Reasons are found for perpetuating the status quo.
I spent a few years in the Ministry of Transport and cannot believe that anyone who did so could not have felt the frustration at not being able to do anything effective when it came to grappling with the problems of the ports. I understand absolutely that, when the national dock labour scheme was first introduced, it replaced an unsatisfactory and very harsh situation. That history and the memories of the past have never been wholly erased.
On the other hand, the wording of the amendment suggests that arrangements under the scheme have in the past been satisfactory and adequate. I very much doubt that they have. They might at one time have been an improvement. What I always regretted was that the scheme was so rigid that there was no possibility of change or improvement. For that reason, I support the Bill.
However, I ask those who see nothing but virtue in the scheme to compare the lot of those who work in the scheme ports and those who do not. I ask them also to face the fact that, inside a generation, the port of London was virtually emptied and traffic diverted to Rotterdam. I do not believe for one moment that the claim can be soundly sustained that the training provided under the scheme for our dockers in this country has the merits which those proposing the amendment now claim.
Therefore I hope that my noble friend will advise your Lordships to reject the amendment, not because I lack all sympathy for the dockers; I understand them. I do not think that anybody who has worked in that department could fail to understand the scars left by the past. That is perfectly right. But for us always to permit the future to be influenced so profoundly, as it tends to be, by what happened long ago is not helpful.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, is to be congratulated on a minor but important amendment. I shall certainly support him. If I may say so, it is a change for the Liberal Party to show some concern. Up to now they have just been in favour of the Bill and of abolishing the dock labour scheme and not giving a tuppenny damn 748 about anything else. But I accept the argument that at least they have shown that they have some regard.
I wish to deal with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Ever since I have known him he has opposed any improvement for the dockers at all. He regards them as trash anyway and any scheme that is advanced is opposed. He is consistently reactionary. As for the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, his only qualification in this connection is that he has a boat which he sometimes sails on the river. However, his knowledge of docks is very limited.
What are we talking about? We are talking about the abolition of the national dock labour scheme. This is a complication which the Government created. The abolition of the scheme will take place, but nothing will be created in its place. It will be wiped right out. The argument put forward to support that action is that the scheme was first introduced for very good reasons—the noble Lord who has just spoken admitted that—but it has now outlived its usefulness. However, it is admitted that when the scheme was set up certain provisions were made for dockers. If the noble Lord had listened to all the previous debates he would have heard that the main grievance against the scheme was that it provided jobs for life. However, that is a funny old argument—jobs for life. When the scheme first started, 60,000 dockers were involved, but today there are only 9,000. What happened to the other 51,000?
§ Lord Mellish
They cannot all be dead. They just left, or they were made redundant and got paid off the same as in any other industry. So we are now talking about 9,000 dockers. However, then the argument twists. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, now turns it on its head. He asks why we should award privileges to a small number of people. But what privileges are we talking about? Is it a privilege to be given decent medical attention? The noble Lord does not say that the men in the scheme ports are entitled to that medical attention; therefore all those employed in the non-scheme ports should receive it as well.
I appeal to all the Conservatives today who are listening to this debate and who I hope are unbiased about this matter. I say to them that the one benefit that came out of the national dock labour scheme above any other was that facilities were brought in under the National Dock Labour Board which dock workers had never known hitherto: dockers were treated for accidents at work. It is admitted that it is a dangerous industry. Because injured dockers were treated at work by qualified people they were able to return to work, as my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff said. Many of the employers welcomed that. Now we are told that such facilities are a special privilege awarded to a tiny minority. The last time we discussed this issue we were told that there was no reason why 60,000 people should be awarded special privileges. Now we are told that only a tiny number of people is involved. I appeal to the House to put the record straight. The 749 Government have brought this problem upon themselves by not introducing legislation to replace the national dock labour scheme. They have not proposed an alternative. They merely wish to abolish the scheme wholesale.
The Government further state that they do not want to hear about the past and that the whole thing is nonsense anyway as only 9,000 people are involved. They say they are not concerned about yesteryear. As there is no alternative to the national dock labour scheme, this amendment proposes —those of us on the Labour Benches support it—that during the transitional period the facilities of the national dock labour scheme as regards medical care, training and other matters will be continued. I know that it is a waste of time appealing to this Minister. The Government are so thick-headed and they have made up their mind on this matter. Only a few weeks ago the Government said on the Floor of this House that the scheme would not be abolished. A few weeks later they changed their mind and announced that they would abolish it. What kind of a government is that?
I ask the Government at least to let some good come out of this. I appeal to them to accept at least in principle the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, if not its exact wording. If the Minister brings forward the argument that employers have given assurances on this matter, I would say to him that some of us do not trust the employers. I wish to put that on record now. Any assurances need to be put in writing and agreed nationally. That is why there is an argument as regards national as opposed to local agreements. I ask the Minister to have another think about this matter and consider whether the words of the amendment can be accepted in principle.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Trafford
My Lords, I would not dream of attempting to rival the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, in his knowledge of the docks. However, perhaps I may remind him of a fact of which I think he is aware, which is that I was one of the backstops of the medical services which were offered in part of the London docks for many years. Therefore, I was familiar with the docks. I first worked in the docks shortly after the introduction of the national dock labour scheme. That was of course also shortly after the introduction of the National Health Service. Both those schemes made a considerable practical difference as regards the development of medical services. The National Health Service made a general difference which applied to all sectors of the community. However, the facilities provided under the national dock labour scheme undoubtedly improved the medical facilities in the docks. There was no question about that.
However, the point that I wish to make to the noble Lord is that times and circumstances change. If the facilities that were now available in non-scheme ports were not as good as those in the scheme ports, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, would have a strong point. But the facilities in the non-scheme ports are as good as those in the scheme ports because they both come under the same set of 750 statutory regulations. It is not a question, as the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, said, of not trusting the employers to provide medical facilities. I accept that he does not trust the employers to do that. However, he does not have to trust the employers. The medical facilities come under specific regulations which cover those services now provided in the docks.
Two other factors have changed since the times to which the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, referred. I do not think many people would disagree with what I am about to say. The first matter concerns the Health and Safety at Work Act, which has been referred to. It contains requirements which do not apply simply to the docks but to many other places of work. All those who work and have worked in the health field have recognised that considerable advances have been made as a result of that Act. The medical profession has imposed a great many provisions upon employers that they would not at one time have wished to implement. However, those provisions have improved health and safety at work. I am all in favour of provisions which improve health and safety at work. Like the noble Lord, I would not be happy if I did not already know that the same medical services applied to scheme and non-scheme ports and were subject to the same 1988 dock regulations. I hope to have that confirmed and perhaps further detail provided by my noble friend.
Secondly, there is the matter of training. I do not think that there is any doubt on this side of the House about the value of training and of the necessity for it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, we need not just a continuation but an improvement of training. Lack of training is one of the major weaknesses that has affected many industries in this country, not just the docks. But the amount of expenditure on training by the non-scheme ports has been much higher than in the scheme ports. I know we keep referring to Felixstowe, but I think I am right in saying that the expenditure on training in Felixstowe is greater than that in all the scheme ports put together. That seems to say something for the non-scheme ports.
Anyone in charge of a dock who had bought a couple of 90-tonne cranes—I understand they cost more than half a million pounds each—would need his head examined if he did not put trained men in charge of them. Lord knows what might happen if it were not the case. One thing that could happen would be that the employer could lose all the money that he had invested in the cranes. For many good or bad reasons, an employer in those circumstances would be careful that proper training was given. I am not talking just about 90-tonne cranes. Since containerisation and palletisation, much expensive equipment has been introduced. I am informed that forklift trucks, for example, cost something like £130,000 plus, depending on the model. So there are endless commercial reasons why the successor companies that will run the scheme ports should, like the companies who run the non-scheme ports, operate adequate, or at least good, training.
Had the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said that he was not very happy with the overall standard of training in this industry, rather than concentrating on the transitional period as regards the national 751 scheme, I believe one would have probably shared his view.
§ Lord Trafford
My noble friend is a bit quick to say, "Hear hear", as I am just about to disagree with him totally in his interpretation of this amendment. I agree that Clause 2(5) seems to suggest that the transitional period is to be decided by the Secretary of State. Whatever one may think of any particular Secretary of State or of any particular government, one must assume that if they set out on a particular course they do not at the same time put mine fields all the way up the road ahead of them to blow themselves up.
One of the best ways in which they could blow themselves up in this particular instance would be to leave the successor ports without adequate training, medical or welfare facilities. That would be plain daft. I very much doubt whether they would ever consider completing a transitional period and putting before Parliament an order to that effect until such time as they had seen that those matters were operated to at least the standards at which they now operate.
I repeat the point that had the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said that he was not very happy about the overall standards, one might have agreed that one wished to see them raised. However, on this particular point the aims of the amendment, laudable though they are, are mostly met. They are met, first, under dock regulations; secondly, under the Health and Safety at Work Act; thirdly, under the ordinary practices of any sensible commercial enterprise which would wish to have trained people operating its equipment; and, finally, because I do not believe that any sensible Secretary of State, whatever his political affiliation, would end the transitional period until he was satisfied about those very important aspects.
I hope that my noble friend will also be able to assure me and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that the medical facilities—which I have seen in the Port of London—are equalled, maintained and even improved. I believe that there is a case in this particularly dangerous industry, which has a higher incidence of accidents and injuries than many, for seeing that that is the case. I trust that it will be.
Although I support the laudable aims of the amendment, for those four reasons it appears to me to be redundant. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, is reassured and my points are confirmed, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate on the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, explained, the amendment concerns the function of the transitional period in respect of training and welfare provision for scheme ports. It requires the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that alternative arrangements have been made for training and welfare of dock workers, before dissolving the National Dock Labour Board.
752 The purpose of the Bill is to bring to an end quickly the restrictions of the dock labour scheme so that scheme ports can compete on equal terms with ports outside the scheme. The purpose of the transitional period is to allow the board to dispose of its assets, where necessary—for example, in the fields of training, welfare and medical provision—in such a way as to allow provision which meets the needs of scheme ports to continue to be made. However, at the end of that period we believe that provision in these respects should be a matter for the port employers concerned and their employees, within the framework of the legal requirements which apply generally—for example, to health, safety and welfare (including medical) provision under the Health and Safety at Work Act. In the field of training, scheme ports should train according to their assessment of needs and should co-operate voluntarily to do so, as they judge necessary, in the same way as in any other industry.
This amendment imposes requirements on the Secretary of State which I believe are either unnecessary in order to achieve those objectives or would prove not to be compatible with them. I appreciate the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and other noble Lords who have spoken, to ensure adequate provisions for these important matters. But surely the responsibility should rest with the industry itself and not with the Secretary of State.
In so far as welfare is concerned, each employer in scheme or non-scheme ports must meet the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the comprehensive and up-to-date docks regulations issued only last year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said that there was a good case for having additional regulations for an industry such as the docks. Indeed, these are an example of just such comprehensive regulations drawn up specifically for the dock industry. That is why I believe that no further provision is necessary.
Employers must also meet the obligations of the first aid regulations of 1982 to provide facilities on site consistent with the risks of the industry. I repeat that those regulations apply to all ports, scheme or non-scheme, as my noble friend Lord Trafford pointed out.
As I have explained on other occasions, the obligations of employers under the Health and Safety at Work Act to make adequate provision for welfare in the workplace do not change with the abolition of the scheme. In addition to the general requirement to provide for and maintain welfare amenities which are in the circumstances adequate and suitable, the regulations define what is meant by a welfare amenity in particularly comprehensive terms. The list includes everything from sanitary conveniences, baths, washing facilities, drinking water, protective clothing, accommodation and facilities for changing into clothing, canteens or accommodation and facilities (including facilities for heating food and boiling water) for workers employed at dock premises, and shelters for use during inclement weather. Those requirements are comparable to those of welfare arrangements run by employers 753 but supervised by the board under the Docks and Harbours Act 1966.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
My Lords, will the Minister allow me to intervene? That is a very lengthy and comprehensive list. However, in the docks there are a number of port medical centres. I did not hear those mentioned. Has the Minister any information, and if he has not will he find out, whether under the health and safety regulations it would be the intention of the employers to maintain the kind of port medical centre that exists in certain ports now—whether in all the non-port schemes I do not know—which were set up under the scheme and have been of immense benefit to all the employers as well as to the employees? Will the dissolution of the scheme mean the dissolution of those port medical centres?
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I shall deal with the point now, as it relates to this part of the amendment. As I said, the industry is under the obligations of the first aid regulations. Under Clause 2 of the Bill, the board will have the power to dispose of its 20 medical centres in such a way as to encourage continued provision to meet the needs of the industry and its workers. To achieve this it will have the flexibility to transfer those assets at less than the market price, with the permission of the Secretary of State and the Treasury. The industry will have the opportunity to buy back provisions, for which it has already paid through levies, at a reasonable price. It will therefore have every incentive to support centres where they are needed.
I remind the noble Lord that the scheme's medical provision pre-dates the National Health Service. There will be an opportunity now to ensure that local medical provision effectively meets local needs, and to open provisions, formerly reserved largely for registered dock workers, for the benefit of all port workers and the local community.
I have covered some of the items in the regulations. In all aspects they are as comprehensive as the existing Act. In respect of protective clothing, however, the regulations are far more demanding of employers than the earlier provisions. So the position following the abolition of the scheme is that employers will face welfare requirements in practice no less stringent than those they face already.
The Bill gives employers' and employees' representatives on the board ample scope to influence the disposal of the board's own welfare assets so that continued provision can be made by employers to meet their statutory obligations. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, has himself spoken eloquently in favour of allowing scheme ports to compete within the same statutory framework as other industries. Giving the Secretary of State the power to judge the adequacy of welfare arrangements 754 in scheme ports, as required by the amendment, notwithstanding the substantial statutory obligations placed on employers, would be entirety inconsistent with that principle.
The same surely applies to the amendment's requirement that the Secretary of State should satisfy himself of the adequacy of training arrangements. According to its 1988 annual report, the Board's assets in this respect amount to 17 instructors, operating from two bases in London and Liverpool, but with no training centres. I think that the figures which the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, quoted were for the previous year, 1987, which confirms that the National Dock Labour Board has run down its training facilities over that period. Total expenditure on training, excluding redundancy costs, is about £450,000. I am afraid that I cannot give my noble friend Lord Boyd—Carpenter the percentage of the levy that is involved in training as opposed to administration, but, if I am able to find that out, I shall write to him.
Those instructors use port employers' capital equipment to provide training on site in scheme ports. Although I have no reason to doubt the quality of that training, its scale is modest. It amounts to an average of just over £50 per registered dock worker, and in 1988 fewer than 13 per cent of registered dock workers received training through the board, with an average course length of less than a week. The board therefore provides rather less training than the average provision for workers within British industry. According to the training agency's funding study of training in Britain during 1986–1987, just under 50 per cent. of all employees across all sectors received some training, and in transport and commercial sectors about 40 per cent. received training lasting on average 10 days per trainee.
One reason for the limited provision by the board is that scheme port employers have already begun more training on their own account; for example, Associated British Ports is already considering a 50 per cent. expansion of its existing training budget of £370,000 when the scheme ends. The scheme port employers are under no statutory obligation to provide training in addition to that of the board. They do so because they need a skilled workforce to compete, and find increasingly that the training which suits their specialised requirements best is the training which they themselves supply.
Scheme ports are doing no better than to follow the model of ports outside the scheme, which have not needed statutory requirements to convince them of the returns in productivity and efficiency from adequate investment in training. The port of Felixstowe, which my noble friend Lord Trafford mentioned, alone spends £750,000 a year-70 per cent. more than the National Dock Labour Board's expenditure on all scheme ports put together—in meeting its own training needs. That means an expenditure of over £650 per employee—13 times that of the National Dock Labour Board. Non-scheme Sealink ports have full-time training officers, and training facilities. Together, non-scheme ports have been talking to the training 755 agency about the establishment of a lead industry body to evolve common training standards, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, referred.
All that has been achieved without a board or statutory requirements. There is no reason why the same should not happen in scheme ports. Indeed, as I have indicated, that process has already begun, notwithstanding the board's own provision. Training will receive a boost when the scheme is abolished and, with it, restrictive job definitions and practices which have undermined the incentive to train for modern skills and an adaptable labour force. Ridding scheme ports of those restrictions on the deployment of dock workers will increase the return on training, and the incentive to provide it.
We must let the industry decide how best to meet its own training needs, and there is every indication from the performance of non-scheme ports that scheme ports will have to make a substantial investment in skills if they want to compete. That pressure, combined with the scope that the board has to dispose of its assets with needs rather than price in mind, is a far better way of ensuring good training provision than the judgment of the Secretary of State about the adequacy of scheme ports' training provision.
At the Committee stage of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, stated that in his view the Opposition amendments to the Bill suffered from the defect that they soughtto extend the period during which, alone among industrial workers, exceptional treatment is sought for registered dock workers."—[Official Report, 20/6/89; col. 149.]The noble Lord felt that that privileged position should end as soon as possible.
What could be more exceptional than for a Secretary of State to take personal responsibility for judging the adequacy of the training and welfare of workers in a particular industry? Not only is this a situation without parallel in other industries; it is unprecedented even in scheme ports. The Secretary of State has no responsibility for those matters under the scheme. Far from ending exceptional treatment of dock workers, the amendment, therefore, extends it.
The Government believe that the statutory framework for welfare provision in all our ports provides the best basis for judgments by individual employers about the provision that they should make following the abolition of the dock labour scheme and the end of the transitional period. Those employers are best placed to assess their own training needs and make provision individually or collectively, as they see fit, in the same way as non-scheme ports have successfully done. The Bill gives the board a practical means of influencing future provision through the disposal of its assets. Those are the factors which should influence scheme ports and not the exceptional requirement imposed on the Secretary of State by the amendment.
I hope that, in the light of what I have said about the prospects for training, and the statutory protections for welfare which will continue after the scheme's abolition, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, 756 will think again about the amendment that he has tabled. But, if he chooses to press it to a Division, I must urge the House to reject the amendment.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, this has certainly led to a longer debate than I had anticipated. I am grateful to everyone who has taken part, particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, for her support, and to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, with all his experience of the docks in Cardiff. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, although I am bound to say that his earlier remarks about the Liberal Party—as he put it—were not perhaps best calculated to win friends and influence people on these Benches.
I must endeavour to answer some of the criticisms that have been made of the amendment. First, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said that it might prolong the transitional period. To some extent, I think that my noble friend Lady Seear answered that point in saying that there was no reason, as we saw it, why the transitional period should necessarily be extended. But, for my part, I do not see very much point in having a clause such as Clause 1(3) which states that,the Board shall continue during the transitional period to have power to make provision for the training and welfare of dock workersif it is not intended that, at the end of that period, training facilities should be adequate.
The noble Lord also said—in this he was supported by one or two other noble Lords—that my amendment sought to maintain a privileged position for registered dock workers. That theme, which ran throughout the debate, was supported by noble Lords opposite. But that is not so. My amendment was specifically worded not to cover only scheme ports or only those registered dock workers working within those ports. The amendment specifically refers to,adequate alternative arrangements [being made] for the training and welfare of dock workers".So, when the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, says, as he did, that he would have been rather more impressed had I been concerned with the need for overall good standards for dock workers, he has it in this amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said that I was seeking to alter the date of the transitional period. I think that that point was answered adequately enough by my noble friend Lord Tordoff and confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Trafford. However, just for the record, I should perhaps restate that it is for the Secretary of State, in accordance with Clause 2(5), to determine that date. All that the amendment asks is that, in determining that date, he should have regard to the need to ensure that adequate arrangements for the training and welfare of all dock workers in all ports are made.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, went even further. As I understood it, he claimed that I was seeking to perpetuate the status quo. I wrote the words down. With respect to the noble Lord, he did me and my noble friends supporting me on the amendment an injustice when the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, had earlier complimented me on 757 that point; namely, that I have made it absolutely plain throughout that we on these Benches are anxious—we have supported the Government with our votes—to see the dock labour scheme ended as soon as possible, on the date of the passing of the Act. I shall give way to the noble Lord in a moment. If there is any doubt on that point, I re-stated the position this afternoon.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I certainly did not seek to suggest that the noble Lord wanted by his amendment to perpetuate the present arrangements. What I said was by way of a far more general comment to the effect that whenever changes are proposed to arrangements that have worked out their usefulness, many champions immediately appear—I was not referring in particular to the noble Lord—to defend those things, which, as I said, have outlived their usefulness.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's concluding words. Certainly, he led me to believe that he thought that I and my noble friends were in favour of perpetuating the scheme whereas we are not. We are anxious that the scheme should be ended as soon as possible. However, as we see it, there is something to be said for acting in a way that makes it a little more acceptable to the dockers. At a difficult time, when they are taking a ballot on possible strike action, it might be made a little more acceptable.
I was disappointed by the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon; it did not give me much satisfaction. Like the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, I understood the Minister to say that it was not reasonable for the Secretary of State not to bring the transitional period to an end if he were not satisfied as to these training arrangements. That seems to me to be the best possible reason for accepting the amendment. If there is nothing to be lost by accepting the amendment, let us have it in the Bill. In those circumstances I feel I should press the amendment to a Division.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 79; Not-Contents, 130.759
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Addington, L.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||David, B.|
|Blackstone, B.||Davies of Penrhys, L.|
|Blease, L.||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Ewart-Biggs, B.|
|Bottomley, L.||Ezra, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Falkender, B.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Fitt, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Foot, L.|
|Callaghan of Cardiff, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Rea, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Seear, B.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Stedman, B.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Longford, E.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Tordoff, L. [Teller.]|
|McCarthy, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|McNair, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Mason of Barnsley, L.||Walston, L.|
|Mellish, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Mishcon, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Molloy, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Peston, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Phillips, B.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Abinger, L.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Gibson-Watt, L.|
|Alport, L.||Gisborough, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Haddington, E.|
|Arran, E.||Haig, E.|
|Auckland, E.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Beloff, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Havers, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Henley, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Hesketh, L.|
|Blake, L.||Hives, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Hood, V.|
|Borthwick, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hunter of Newington, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Ironside, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Joseph, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Kaberry of Adel, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Caldecote, V.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Layton, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Long, V.|
|Carnock, L.||Lovat, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||McFadzean, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Marley, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Mersey, V.|
|De L'Isle, V.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mountevans, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Digby, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Moyne, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Munster, E.|
|Eccles, V.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Effingham, E.||Newall, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Pender, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Perth, E.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Porritt, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Reay, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Renton, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Renwick, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Rochdale, V.||Trafford, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, E.||Tranmire, L.|
|St. Davids, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Saint Oswald, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.||Windlesham, L.|
|Sanderson of Bowden, L.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Seebohm, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Skelmersdale, L.||Young, B.|
|Strange, B.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.21 p.m.
Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 1, line 18, leave out from ("means") to end of line 20 and insert— ("a period not less than 12 months after the date of the passing of this Act.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the objective of this amendment, on which I hope that we might take with us some noble Lords from the other side in the light of what they have been saying this afternoon, is to specify the length of the transitional period so that there will be a firm date. We suggest:
a period not less than 12 months after the date of the passing of this Act".
§ The House will know that contrary to what has been suggested there is in fact nothing on the face of the Bill which gives any idea of how long the transitional period will be. Indeed, the argument of the Government so far has been that it is not possible—certainly it is not advisable—that they should specify any date. Noble Lords will remember that at Committee stage in another place the Minister said that "as expeditiously as possible" meant a certain speed in delivery. He appeared not to appreciate precisely what "expeditiously" meant according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which states "with haste and speed". At col. 435 on 11th May he agreed that it was impossible to say how many weeks or months the phrase meant. All we have at the moment are two quite imprecise statements on the face of the Bill—"as expeditiously as possible" and "the Secretary of State may determine". We have the Minister in another place telling us that it is impossible to state how many weeks or months. Subsequently he said that it meant more or less immediately.
When I asked the Minister in this House at Committee stage whether the phrase meant less than 12 months we did not have any precise statement. The noble Lord said:
It is not realistic to set a timescale on the transitional period … I am afraid that I cannot be more specific that that".—[Official Report, 20/6/89; col. 181.]
That is the present position. The objective of this very modest amendment is to say that that is not good enough and that there should be a minimum 12-month period. After 12 months the Minister can close the transitional period down at any time he wishes. But the transitional period should last a minimum of 12 months.
§ I shall not go over the arguments rehearsed already this afternoon about the various matters that we believe the Government should expect the board to carry out during the transitional period. We have tried to show why we feel that there is a great deal to be done. We feel that on the Government's own assumptions—even if the idea is to leave the board with no permanent role and to hand the whole shooting box back to the parties—this is a quite expensive, well-organised and well provided set of institutions and there should be some minimum period of time which the board knows it has at its disposal to carry out its functions. We believe that a 12-month peiod is a reasonable minimum. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, I support the amendment. The Bill states that the transitional period,means the period beginning with the date of the passing of this Act and ending on the date on which the Board is dissolved in accordance with section 2".My noble friend Lord McCarthy is asking that we should provide for a minimum period of 12 months in order to ensure that the medical facilities in particular will be implemented in place of those that are now in operation.
That is not a lot to ask for. We have heard one or two speeches from noble Lords on the other side that have indicated that they think it is an outrage that decent medical facilities should be applied to a small section of the community. That is an extraordinary argument if one thinks about it. The whole issue is turned on its head. The other day the argument was that this was a job for life scheme. The number then was 60,000. It is now 9,000. Therefore it has been reduced by 51,000. This job for life argument has now faded away.
We are saying that one of the good results of the introduction of the National Dock Labour Board was that for the first time men were able to be treated for accidents at work. That is not a lot to ask for. My noble friend asks that the period should be a minimum of 12 months. That is all that the amendment is about. It is not revolutionary. It is practical, decent and honest. I do not suppose that the Government will agree with it.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, has completely misunderstood the earlier speeches. To my knowledge—I have attended the whole of the discussion—no one said that it was a scandal that good medical attention should be available for a particular section. I said—and the noble Lord did not question it—that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which I suppose he supported because it was a Labour Government's Act, had, since the introduction of the dock labour scheme, altered the situation by providing a basic provision in this respect covering industry as a whole and that this was a far more satisfactory provision than seeking to preserve the remains of an older scheme limited to a certain number of people. That seems to make a good deal of sense. I hope that it does so now to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish.
The amendment is very simple. It is designed to defer for 12 months the end of the transition period. 761 I do not know—and I do not know whether the Minister will tell us—whether it will be feasible to wind up the board within the 12-month period. I very much hope so. I think that from everyone's point of view, and in particular from that of the dockers who are affected, the more quickly the change can be made, and the more quickly the scheme docks can be given the freedom which the non-scheme docks already have to be ready to compete for, and develop, the additional trade which is there for the taking, the better. It would be a great mistake to provide for a minimum period before the wind-up can take place because that would obviously tend to discourage those who are trying to get on with the job. I hope therefore that your Lordships will reject the amendment.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? He said—and I quote this against him—that the idea that medical facilities should be allowed to a small section of these people was wrong, unfair, improper, and that in fact these were privileges that they had no right to retain. That is what the noble Lord, said. If he doubts that, let him read his speech.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give himself the boredom of reading my speech tomorrow in Hansard, as I shall give myself the pleasure of reading his, he will see that I said nothing of the sort. I am sure that he genuinely completely misapprehended the point that I was making about the Health and Safety at Work Act with its universal application, and therefore that it was quite unnecessary to preserve what may have been, in its day, a perfectly good system confined to a limited number of people, and in particular—and he will find this in my speech—one to which non-scheme dockers were denied access.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, by establishing a minimum duration of 12 months this amendment places the length of the transitional period above the need to wind up the board's activities in the rapid, but orderly, manner provided for by the Bill. It suggests that noble Lords who have tabled this amendment are more interested in delaying matters than having an objective timetable based on the board's own assessment of the time it will need to wind up its activities and dispose of its assets sensibly—where necessary in such a way as to meet the industry's continuing needs. That is what the Bill provides for.
Clause 2(1) provides the board with a clear duty to wind itself up promptly, but allows it to exercise continued powers over training, welfare and medical provision which it judges necessary during the transitional period. The Government have set no arbitrary time limit for these tasks because they believe that the employers' and employees' representatives on the board are best placed to establish what needs to be done. Once the board has made its plans the Government look forward to discussing them with the board in due course. The Government have no arbitrary target for the transitional period and will respond to the board's 762 indications of what needs to be done. Statements made by Ministers in Standing Committee in another place are consistent with that—if the board furnishes adequate grounds, the Government would accept a transitional period lasting 12 months. We have no reason to believe that the Secretary of State will need to exercise his powers under Clause 2(3) to direct the board about the wind-up arrangements.
My Lords, surely the board must be left to develop its own plans without the arbitrary imposition of minimum or maximum periods. If matters can be arranged within 12 months, then the demands on the taxpayer to carry the burden of funding the costs of the transitional period will be lower. May I remind noble Lords that we expect the net liabilities of the board to amount to £6 million. I am sure that noble Lords would agree with me that that sum should be kept to a minimum.
There is no danger that the board will be pressed into disposing of its assets at less than a reasonable price. Its ability to dispose of its assets sensibly will be one of the factors it will wish to take into account in deciding how much time it needs. But the board should have a clear indication that it should act to expedite the wind-up of its affairs, and the Bill does just that. I hope therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, will not wish to press this amendment.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, I am not entirely displeased with what the Minister has said—not entirely pleased, but not entirely displeased. Let me turn first to what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said. I thought I might have got some support from him because on 20th June at col. 177 he asked the Minister, in response to a debate that we initiated on a similar amendment, for "some indication of the Government's" thinking. We did not get any indication of the Government's thinking on that occasion, but we had a tiny bit of indication this afternoon that I hope I have got right. I shall come to it in a moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, also went on to rehearse an argument that I am afraid we are going to have quite a lot of again this afternoon. He said that the amendment was not required because we do not want to have a minimum twelve-month transitional period as the whole idea of perpetuating the dock labour scheme in any form is perpetuating a privilege.
Noble Lords opposite are fond of saying that the dock labour scheme in any form is a privilege. The problem with them is that every now and again they also say that it is a privilege not worth having. They say that this privilege is already much better provided for—the Minister said this in answer to the last amendment—by what goes on outside the scheme. If it is better outside the scheme, how can it be a privilege to have the scheme or to have a perpetuation of the relationships within the scheme?
They say alternatively—and the noble lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, seemed to be saying this in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish—that if it is not a privilege and if it is not better outside, there are already alternative arrangements (for example, in respect of health and safety) which, whet her they are 763 a privilege or not, guarantee the registered dockers all these things.
Part of the aim of all our amendments is to reassure the registered dockers of the bona fides of the Government and of the port employers. The more that noble Lords opposite are led away from arguing that this is a privilege and there are jobs for life under the scheme, and the more they are driven to saying that these privileges are very small because things in the non-registered dock area are at least as good as things in the registered dock area, the more they strengthen our case for saying that these reassurances should be put on the face of the Bill.
Although we do not often see it with this Government, politics is partly driven by a desire for reassurance. Many things are put into Bills—or used to be—in order to reassure people who are worried. A large number of our amendments, including this one, are there to reassure people who believe that the moment the Bill is enacted the Government will come along, as they can on the face of the Bill, and issue a directive to the board to wind itself up expeditiously. That is why we want this amendment.
It is in that context that I turn to what I take to be the mildly encouraging things that the Minister said. I want to get absolutely clear what he said because people are listening. I thought he said that the Government had no arbitrary target for the period of the transition. That is a contrast. It is a contrast to previous statements of Ministers who have said that they wanted to abolish the thing more or less immediately. It is a contrast to those who say (as Mr. Nicholls said in another place) that it is impossible to say, and then mention how many weeks or months. When they are asked whether the months could be as many as 12, Ministers will not say one way or another.
What I take the noble Lord to be saying is that the Government will let the board decide. I should like that to be made absolutely clear by the Government. I hesitate to put words into the noble Lord's mouth in case I go too far, but it seems to me that the Government are almost saying that the board can take as long as it feels necessary, and that the Government will not suddenly intervene with their own, as the noble Lord put it, arbitrary target. It will be up to the board. If that is what the Government are saying—and I should be happy if the noble Lord would tell me—I would be prepared to withdraw this amendment.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat what I said in my speech, which is down on the record for the noble Lord to read tomorrow. The particular sentence for which he was looking was that the Government have no arbitrary target for the transitional period and will respond to the board's indications of what needs to be done. I hope that that is helpful.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.764
Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 1, line 20, at end insert—
(" ( ) Prior to its dissolution in accordance with section 2, the Board shall prepare a report for submission to the Secretary of State, making recommendations for the development of a national strategy for the industry, including policies designed to ensure increasing efficiency and profitability of the ports, the development of industrial relations policies and other related matters.").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I should like to take Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 together. They have been grouped in that way for quite obvious reasons. I am moving Amendment No. 4 but would also like to cover Amendment 5. Both amendments have in mind the development of a national strategy for the docks industry. They offer alternative ways of achieving the same result. The first amendment says:
the Board shall prepare a report for submission to the Secretary of State, making recommendations for the development of a national strategy … designed to ensure increasing efficiency and profitability",
and a good system of industrial relations.
§ The second amendment presupposes that the board has already disappeared and gives that task to the Secretary of State, who then has the obligation to make a report to Parliament. In either case it does not appear to us on these Benches that, following the passage of the Bill, the Government can simply stand back and take no further part in the proceedings.
§ All noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have agreed that this is an industry of substantial national significance. We are an island and a trading nation. We on this side of the House have said repeatedly that none of us wants a strike, although we understand the frustration of dock workers who can see no way of making employers listen to their demands. If there is a strike, we shall all be told that this is an important national industry and it will be the fault of the workers who are participating in it and their union.
§ When there has been a statutory scheme run by a statutory board, with government involvement, surely it is not unreasonable that once it has disappeared something should follow on. The major ports on the Continent—for example, Rotterdam —have substantial public subsidies as well as schemes not dissimilar from the one which the Government have set about dismantling. In our view, there is an obligation to evolve a national strategy intent upon improving efficiency and profitability. It would be absurd for such a strategy not to include some reference to a system of industrial relations. Good procedures, proper procedure agreements and so forth can obviate conflict. Surely we all wish to see that.
§ I repeat that there is a public obligation. For those reasons I hope that, if the Government do not accept the wording of the amendments, they will at least see fit to accept the principle and the good intentions behind them and come back at Third Reading with a form of wording of their own. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, in earlier debates on this matter it was argued quite fairly that one of the 765 reasons why the Government wanted to get rid of the national dock labour scheme was that it was out of date, outmoded and unprofitable. In making a comparison between non-scheme ports and registered ports it is obvious that one type is making a profit and doing well while the other is not doing well and is restricted. That was the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who will interrupt if I am wrong.
The amendment gives me the opportunity to ask the Government for the third or fourth time to give the House some idea of the profits and losses. That is not a lot to ask for, is it? We have heard that the registered ports are losing money. If so, how much, and is there a loss of profits and efficiency? Can we be given details, or is it just garbage and mere words which are being used?
For example, I understand that the registered ports are making a profit. I am not certain how much. I was told by one reputable authority that they are making a 30 per cent. profit. Maybe that is not enough, and, if so, let the Government say that it should be 40, 50, 60 per cent. or more. But for goodness sake, let us have an idea of whether the ports are making a profit or a loss.
The noble Baroness is asking that the board shall submit a report to the Secretary of State:for the development of a national strategy for industry, including policies designed to ensure increasing efficiency and profitability of the ports, the development of industrial relations policies and other related matters".I have lived in the dock industry all my life and I know about industrial relations. I know how bad they have been, and prior to the introduction of the scheme they were absolutely appalling. But dock work is so peculiar and so different. Cargoes are different, as is the handling of them. They are unlike many other commodities which are dealt with industrially.
I remember that the late Ernest Bevin introduced a scheme at a local level—and this will interest the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It was that representatives at each local level should decide whether the cargo which arrived in a particular ship was in a bad condition and whether a rate above the normal national rate should be paid. He arranged for review committees suddenly to appear on the scene and decide whether the cargo was unsuitable and should be given an extra rate. I am arguing that the amendment gives us a chance to have a strategy and to learn of the figures that the Government and the industry have in mind.
As regards industrial relations, if ever there was an industry which needed good will it is this one. For the past two or three years I have believed that we had tranquility at long last. The figures had been reduced, with only 9,000 people involved in the scheme. We have had no disputes, but now the industry is in turmoil again. The registered ports are up in arms and they are having a ballot. I do not know what the result will be, but I say at once that the last thing I want the dockers to do is to go on strike. I am terrified of what may happen to them and their families, but I know that some people could not give a damn; they could go to the wall and 766 be smashed. I care, and I believe that it would be sad to see that happen.
Mr. Todd, who is no personal friend of mine, has tried desperately hard to keep the argument legal and decent. If in answer to my noble friend the Government would say that they are prepared to consider whether there should be a strategy for the development of industrial relations and so forth, that would be something. I can only hope and pray that we receive a better reply than we are used to receiving.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, in Committee I said that we need a national strategy for our ports that takes account of the impact on them of the Channel Tunnel. I added that such a strategy would not emerge spontaneously from the operation of market forces but had to be initiated by the Government. On the other hand, Amendment No. 4 sees that development as a function in the first instance of the Dock Labour Board. On that score alone I am afraid that I cannot support it.
Of course such a strategy must include:policies designed to ensure increasing efficiency and profitability of the ports".However, keen though I am that in future there should be better industrial relations in what are now scheme ports than sometimes there have been in the past, I believe that the responsibility for developing and improving such relations should lie not with the Government, as suggested in Amendment No. 5, but with management, as is the case everywhere else in industry. For those reasons, I am afraid that I cannot support the amendments.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, surely it must be realised that, had it not been for the dock unions, we should still have had some shipping coming up the Thames. Surely it must also be realised that, had the dock unions taken the containers as something that they must face, we should not have lost so much business to other ports.
Once again, where there is a need for change we have the same old story and the same old opposition. Is it not a fact that if one looks back the dockers have been lemmings? They have lost so much, yet they do not seem to realise that and change their ways.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Turner in the principle of the amendments. I hope that there will be no argument that it should be the scheme or not the scheme, particularly if one agrees with Amendment No. 5. That has no effect at all. We are dealing with what should happen in the event of the Bill passing and there being only one type of port. I can see no reason why the Government should not accept this. I say that for a number of reasons. First, I looked at the speech of the Minister in col. 168, where he made a scathing criticism of the position inside the scheme ports. If that criticism is justified, there must, when 767 the scheme goes, be consideration of a national strategy. It would be impossible to accept his criticism of what exists in the scheme ports unless the Government embarked on a national strategy.
Secondly, if one looks at Appendix 1 to the Government's White Paper and sees the considerable variation in the tonnage handled in both scheme and non-scheme ports, again, that is justification for a national strategy. If, as the Opposition spokesman responsible for transport, I was dealing with a general policy for the national transport of this country, I should want to include a strategy for the ports. If the Government reject the actual wording of this amendment, I cannot understand why they should object to the principle.
The Government have said time and time again that they want this Bill to pass in order to improve efficiency and profitability. That is the aim of both the amendments. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids—and I am sorry that he is not in his place—said that with the abolition of the scheme, we were approaching the golden age of the ports. As the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said, that will not happen by accident. There will be the single market in 1992 and the effect of the Channel Tunnel in 1993 to consider. Policy consideration will need to be given by the Government. That is why a strategy for our ports is needed.
If the Minister rejects this principle, then he must tell us why, of all the transport modes, he considers a national strategy for the ports to be unnecessary. I hope that the House will support my noble friend's amendment.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords,without wishing to argue the point made by noble Lords, I do not see the need for this matter to be included in the Bill. That is not the purpose of this Bill. It is intended to end something which has proved to be not helpful nor workable. Of course I expect the industry to have a strategy. In future, the Secretary of State, when he sees how matters are working out, may wish to intervene; I do not know. However, I believe that to write that into the Bill is carrying to a ridiculous point the fetish for wishing to put everything on the face of Bills.
I do not object to the argument in terms of Parliament, and we are arguing as Members of Parliament. In the future we can give thousands of indications as to how we should like the industry to be run and I hope that that will be done by people who are expert in the field. However, I do not see any point in writing those words into this Bill. That would be against the principle of this Bill, which is intended to end something which we are satisfied has been wrong. Therefore, while at this stage I am not disputing the points put forward by noble Lords, I do not see the need for this provision to be written into the Bill. I believe that should be resisted, or perhaps, having made her point, the noble Baroness will see that there is no need for it to be written into the Bill.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, Amendment No. 4 proposes that, before its dissolution, the 768 National Dock Labour Board should make recommendations to the Secretary of State for the development of a national strategy for the whole ports industry.
I do not think it is disrespectful to the board to say that this is not a role which it is well qualified to fulfil. It is a body which has been concerned exclusively with the employment and industrial relations aspects of a section of our ports industry. May I remind noble Lords that the dock labour scheme for which the board is responsible now applies to fewer than a quarter of all workers in our ports, and scheme ports themselves account for less than half our trade by value. Of course the issues which the board deals with are important, and because of the dock labour scheme they have tended to loom larger than they need have.
But what about the wider aspects of such a national strategy? What expertise does the board have to offer for that? What about market research, development planning, investment, pricing and financial policies? What is the board's expertise in these areas? How can it expect to put forward proposals that would command authority? How could it expect to speak for ports outside the dock labour scheme as well as those to which the scheme has applied? I do not think I am being unfair to the board or to its individual members in casting such doubts upon its ability to do what this amendment requires of it. The fact is that the membership of the board reflects the interests of employers and employees in the dock labour scheme, not the far wider interests touched on by this amendment.
However, the amendment raises a more fundamental question, which also arises on the first of two new clauses which noble Lords opposite have proposed to insert after Clause 1 of the Bill. That new clause (Amendment No. 5) puts an obligation on the Secretary of State after the National Dock Labour Board has been dissolved to make a report to Parliament on a national strategy for the development of the industry.
Both Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 presuppose, as did the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that there should be a national strategy for the ports industry. That has long been the belief of the Labour Party, though they have been singularly coy about what it might entail in practice. In a Standing Committee in another place, Opposition spokesmen indicated that special controls on employment would be extended to all ports as part of such a strategy. But we in this Government have made it clear time and again that we do not believe that a centralised national plan or strategy is what is needed now to promote development of our ports.
That approach has been tried before and found wanting. That was why we scrapped the National Ports Council in 1981. I do not think there are many who have mourned its disappearance. That is why we have extended the commercial freedom of our ports. I am not aware of ports or their customers clamouring for us to reintroduce controls or set some kind of an operational framework for them.
769 No, we believe that the way to, in the words of the amendments,ensure increasing efficiency and profitability of the ports",is by the policies we have espoused and have implemented. Let development and expansion be decided by those who actually run port and shipping businesses. Let them be responsible for the financial consequences of their decisions. Let the capital market be the judge of the worth of their investment proposals. As the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said, let those who run the businesses decide, with their employees, their industrial relations policies, just as they do in every other industry in this country, as they do in the ports that are not subject to the dock labour scheme, and as they do in the scheme ports for all those people other than registered dock workers.
The Government's part in promoting this free market policy has been to remove unnecessary restriction and regulations, and to put our ports as best we can on a par with each other. Genuine competition on equal terms, within the framework of laws which apply throughout British industry, provides the basis for the efficient allocation of resources to ports with the greatest potential. Those conditions will be created by the abolition of the restrictions of the dock labour scheme. That is the best contribution that the Government can make to secure a ports industry able to serve the needs of its customers and to attract the business needed to provide good employment conditions and jobs both in dock work and in areas nearby.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, perhaps the Minister will give way. He makes the point that the present scheme is restrictive and that it stops economic good sense by the employers. I asked him and I shall ask him again whether he can give us some figures to back that up. Is it a fact that the registered ports are losing money? If so, how much?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I never said that the registered ports are losing money. Some have lost a great deal of money over the years but I am glad to say that at present most are reasonably profitable, although there is room for improvement. What I said before and shall say again to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, is that, if one compares costs between the scheme ports and the non-scheme ports, one finds that scheme ports are more expensive in handling.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, the noble Lord has said that over and over again and over and over again we have asked him to come to the Dispatch Box and give us some figures for labour costs comparing scheme and non-scheme ports. He points me to books which do not contain those facts and never gives me any figures.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, on the last occasion I gave the noble Lord a figure for the comparative costs of handling a container at Southampton and Felixstowe.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I am giving way and repeating what I have already said in Committee, which can be read.
Both these amendments, in particular the new clause, refer to the development of strategies to improve industrial relations in ports. I can think of no other industry over the past 40 years which has been the subject of more reports and inquiries on its industrial relations than the ports industry, especially scheme ports. Some of those inquiries have had a major bearing on industrial relations arrangements in the industry; yet scheme ports remain remarkably strike prone despite the fact that registered dock workers have job guarantees and a degree of control over employment arrangements, discipline and dismissal, all underpinned by statute, which are unrivalled in any other industry. In fact those very guarantees have become the source of disputes. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, finds this difficult to swallow because I believe he has long held the view that, once decasualisation had removed the insecurity of earlier employment arrangements, scheme ports would cease to be conflict-ridden, as he acknowledges they were before. But it is a fact that since 1973, when the job guarantees of the Aldington-Jones arrangements were acquired, days lost through strikes by dock workers in scheme ports have remained consistently at many times the national average and many times the average for the transport industry. Any improvement has not gone far enough.
By comparison a number of ports have grown rapidly since the mid-1960s outside the dock labour scheme. They now employ nearly one in three dock workers. They determine their terms and conditions locally, resolve disputes locally and have not given rise to a major national dispute. That is the approach which must now be tried in scheme ports.
Experience suggests that reports from the National Dock Labour Board, which would inevitably reflect the preoccupations of the past 40 years of the dock labour scheme, would not provide a forward-looking industrial relations framework for the whole of the ports industry. The Secretary of State for employment has already set out his approach in the Government's White Paper Employment in the Ports: The Dock Labour Scheme. That approach is to abolish the dock labour scheme and to allow scheme ports to formulate their own industrial relations arrangements in the same way as their successful non-scheme competitors, according to the framework of general laws which apply in this country. For all those reasons, I hope that the House will not accept these amendments.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I find that response from the Minister extremely disappointing. There are alternative amendments if it is felt that the board is not the appropriate body I o make the recommendations suggested in the amendment. We tabled an alternative amendment suggesting that the Secretary of State, who has a public responsibility 771 in this area, should evolve a national strategy for the development of the industry and report to Parliament.
As I said in my opening remarks, we are dealing with a major national industry. Nobody disputes the importance of the industry. Nobody who has spoken in the debate has disputed that we are talking about a nationally important industry. Therefore, it seems to me, as it does to my noble friend Lord Underhill, that it is absurd for the Government to say that they do not need to develop any kind of strategy for this important industry.
As for industrial relations, as I said earlier, these are an important part of any industry, particularly a major one. I do not think that it is at all correct to say that industrial relations in scheme ports have been worse in recent years. The information that I have is that there have been fewer stoppages in the scheme ports in recent years than there used to be, for the good reason that internal arrangements have prevented disputes arising and they have been effectively utilised by both unions and employers.
The problem about the present Bill—this has been said from all sides of the House—is that the scheme is to disappear and nothing at all is to take its place. That is one of the concerns of the people working in the industry. We have often referred to casualisation. There is a fear that casualisation will come back again. It is a very real fear and it is one of the reasons why dock workers currently are concerned and why there is a state of incipient dispute in that industry. The employers have not been willing to negotiate and give appropriate assurances.
For the Government to wash their hands of the situation entirely and to say that they are prepared to leave efficiency, national strategy and so on, including maintenance and improvement of good relations, to local port employers is entirely irresponsible, if I may say so. Nor is it a fact that our Continental competitors in this area have no national strategy themselves. Countries in the Community have strategies for their port industries, as I have repeatedly said in this House. Rotterdam is often quoted as a successful Continental port. There is a strategy in that country for the running of the industry; indeed, there is a dock work scheme not dissimilar from the one that the Government propose to dispense with in this country.
However, we are not speaking now about a continuation of the dock work scheme. The amendments are based on the assumption that the dock work scheme and the board are disappearing and the intention is simply to try to impose upon the Secretary of State some obligation for making a report to Parliament. I had hoped that the Government would at least have been prepared to accept in principle the merit of what we are seeking to do from these Benches and to say that they would be prepared to consider it and perhaps produce some form of wording themselves, bearing in mind the widespread concern that exists within that part of the industry covered by the scheme.
772 I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division at this stage, but I must express disappointment. I shall consider the position when we discuss the Bill again at the next stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 5 not moved.]
Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 6:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ During the transitional period, there shall be consultation with representatives of employers and employees as to steps to be taken following dissolution of the Board to maintain health and safety, training and welfare provision for dock workers formerly covered by the Scheme.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are back with minimalist amendments. As my noble friend Lord Underhill rightly said, we are no longer concerned with the scheme. We take it that it is to be abolished. We are concerned in this amendment with the future, but not with the general future. We are not trying to urge a strategy upon the Government. We know that they have no strategy. That is evident all round us when we look at what is happening to the RPI and the rate of interest. The Minister says that they have a market-oriented policy, and evidently that is not a strategy.
§ We are not talking about strategies but about health and welfare. We are saying in these two amendments—I am also speaking to Amendment No. 10—that (in Amendment No. 6) during the transitional period there shall be consultation with the representatives of the parties to the dock work labour scheme to discuss what steps might be taken to maintain health and safety, training and welfare provisions for dockers covered by the scheme. Amendment No. 10 requires that at the end of that transitional period the board will report to the Secretary of State on the result of such consultations and at the same time assess the likely adequacy of any future arrangements which might be agreed.
§ The amendment takes this form as a result of taking a point made effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in Committee. At col. 177, on 20th June, he objected to an amendment that we had tabled which was seeking to do something similar but which specified that alternative arrangements ought to be agreed. The noble Lord asked what would happen if there was no agreement on alternative arrangements, and I said at the time that I took his point. He was concerned that the transitional period would go on for ever. He asked whether we were trying to find some mysterious and devious way to continue the whole transitional period. This time we are making it clear. We are talking only about consultation. There does not have to be agreement. There is merely consultation on what comes after. If there is no agreement, the employers can go away and do what they like.
§ The Secretary of State can abolish the board when he likes—now he can do it at any time. We believe that there has to be consultation on what should replace the present health and welfare provisions. We say that if there is agreement, and even if there is not agreement, it might be a good idea if the board 773 were allowed to say something about the success or failure of its attempts to get consultation on these matters and about what is likely to result as a consequence.
§ Whether one subscribes to what might be called the dark age theory of privileges, which seems to be going a little out of fashion, or whether one subscribes to the golden age theory of privileges, which seems to be coming into fashion, one could subscribe to this amendment. If one believes that there is a dark age of privileges where workers have jobs for life, restrictive practices and all these extremely expensive and very good health clinics—privileges which it is suggested ought not to continue—one could subscribe to this amendment because it will demonstrate in evidence whether anything similar is likely to carry on. The Government might look to see whether the health and welfare privileges in the non-registered ports are better or worse than the arrangements in the registered ports.
§ On the other hand, if one subscribes to what I call the golden age theory of privileges—a theory becoming increasingly fashionable on the other side of the House—which says that once one gets rid of these privileges everything will be go-go and the workers who are taken away from this system and put into the private enterprise system will have welfare facilities better than they have ever had before—they will have gold taps—one ought to support this amendment because the board will report that things will be so much better when we get rid of this wicked scheme. Whether one is a dark age privilege man or a golden age privilege man one ought to support this amendment.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, in view of the fact that the noble Lord attributed part of the parentage of his amendment to me, I hope that he will not think me ungrateful if I say that as a matter of drafting the amendment reads very oddly. It says:During the transitional period, there shall be consultation with representatives of employers and employees".It does not say who shall undertake that consultation. It just says:there shall be consultation".Whatever may be one's views on the merits of the amendment, it does not make sense to put those words into statute. Something is plainly missing.
On the merits, I can see little advantage either in this amendment or in Amendment No. 10. The Secretary of State, if he wishes to involve himself, is perfectly capable of doing so without being put under a statutory obligation. To put into statute words that demand various consultations which may or may not be thought desirable by those responsible seems to be a waste of time. I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, the trouble with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is that he has such a suspicious mind. He believes that everything associated with the dock labour scheme is bad, wicked and evil. He believes that the scheme should 774 be abolished. He has a touching faith in what he regards as the integrity of the employers.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, that is what the noble Lord meant though. He and I fundamentally disagree on this point. I have had experience of dock employers. I do not deny that as individuals the vast majority of them are courteous, kind and decent. However, it is a roughneck industry. It is a bad industry in the sense that, when employers themselves try to act as good employers, the industry, the trade and the barometers make it difficult for them.
My noble friend Lord McCarthy has been very conciliatory. He is taking it for granted that the Act will go. That suits the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, fine. We have wiped out the scheme and it has gone. All we are talking about now is a short period of time when,the Board shall report publicly to the Secretary of State on his responsibility under the terms of this section, including an assessment of the likely adequacy of future training, welfare and medical services".That should appeal very much to the noble Lord. There is nothing criminal about it. We are asking for something to be said.
Perhaps our words are not adequate. It is typical of the noble Lord to say that the amendment is not even written correctly. I have been in the House for many years and I know all about this. It is rubbish and you can ignore it. If the Government believe that the wording as such is not accurate, all they have to say is that they accept it in principle and will see to it that at the appropriate stage it is re-worded and put right. It is the job of the Opposition to attempt to put down words. All the Government have to say is that they accept the principle and the meaning. That is the big question mark. Do they accept the principle and the meaning? I have a shrewd idea that they do not. I think that they will tell us to take a flying leap. They do not care anything for the dockers, today, tomorrow or in the future.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I wonder why the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, continues the same old argument. I do not believe for a moment that the modern dock industry, highly technical as it now is, is vastly different from a number of other industries, notably the construction industry and perhaps the mining industry. He suggests that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and the Opposition have accepted that the scheme is to be abandoned. They do not; and nor does the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. Every single amendment seeks to put in place something else. Every amendment attempts to build a platform from which something can be salvaged from the old scheme. That is what all this is about—and nothing else. It does not advance the new era of the dock industry.
We know that there are opportunities. They are to be seen in Dover and in Felixstowe. There are opportunities for capturing a significantly larger share of the cross-Channel trade. The opportunites 775 have to be grasped. It is evident from non-scheme ports that good managers with good industrial relations are capturing an increasing share of that business. That is what we want to get on with. We should not be trying to build platforms on which to erect the remnants of a scheme which the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, accepts has been given up. That is what this is about. I hope that my noble friend will advise the House to resist the amendment.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, in connection with the new clause, I fear that I must repeat that health and safety and welfare provision for dock workers, both now and after the abolition of the dock labour scheme, is covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its associated Docks Regulations 1988 which apply to all dock work in and outside dock labour scheme ports. All these statutory requirements place the obligation for meeting the necessary standards on individual employers, not the board and its provisions through the dock labour scheme. The Docks Regulations 1988 also impose training requirements for staff in charge of machines such as cranes and transporters, as well as standards for testing and the use of equipment in the workplace.
These exceptionally extensive health, safety and welfare provisions are untouched by the ending of the scheme. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also provides recognised unions which represent employees with rights of consultation with employers either directly or through safety committees. There is therefore ample scope for continuing consultation through these channels and no need to impose additional requirements.
The board will itself remain in place during the transitional period to provide an additional forum for consultation on these matters and on training between the employers' and employees' representatives, of whom it is composed. Employers' and employees' representatives on the board will also be responsible for agreeing proposals to put to the Secretary of State about the disposal of the board's assets, especially those relevant to training and welfare provision, at less than market value to promote continued provision.
It is not the Government's intention to impose a special consultative structure on scheme ports any more than is the case in any other industry or indeed in ports not covered by the scheme. The new clause proposed is unnecessary either because existing channels underpinned by statute provide for consultations where necessary or because it imposes a special statutory requirement to consult about matters relating to scheme ports which exists for no other industry. For those reasons I will be asking noble Lords to reject the new clause.
The other amendment would require the board to report on its responsibilities under Clause 2 and the likely adequacy of future training, welfare and medical services. I believe that any board which is engaged in the wind-up of a scheme which has provided the basis for its existence for 40 years will be in a poor position to judge the nature of training, welfare and medical provision which port employers 776 will need to develop, individually and collectively, in the different circumstances prevailing after the board's dissolution. The provision which employers will then have to make will be shaped by the same statutory framework that applies to industry in general. As I have said, welfare and first aid services are a matter of statutory obligation for employers, and they will have to make provision under the supervision of the Health and Safety Executive. I have also explained why scheme ports will be under pressure to provide training in line with the substantial and specialised needs of a docks industry which relies on skills for competitiveness. The most effective way for the board to influence the industry's provisions is to dispose of its relevant assets wisely in accordance with the industry's needs, as the Bill allows.
There is ample scope for consultation on matters of health, safety, welfare and training without amendment to the Bill. The Board also has the opportunity to influence future training, welfare and medical provision through powers it has under the Bill to dispose of its relevant assets constructively. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, the Minister does not give me any encouragement this time. However, perhaps I may turn first to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. He at least has found another reason for rejecting our amendments. He had three reasons in the past: they were vicious, they were unnecessary and they were on the face of the Bill. Now, however, he says that they are illiterate. As the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, said, he can always rewrite them for us. Indeed, we would be most happy to accept his drafting of our amendments if only he would agree with them. But of course he does not agree with them because he thinks that they are vicious, unnecessary and on the face of the Bill.
The noble Lord also said that the Minister could do what the amendments suggest that he should do. That was, however, an unfortunate thing to say because in his reply the Minister made it absolutely clear that he had not intention of doing anything of the kind. If the Minister had come along and said that, because our amendments were not very well drafted and because he did not want to redraft them he would take such functions upon himself and investigate the adequacy of consequential arrangements, we should have been happy to withdraw them. We are seeking reassurance, but he does not give me any reassurance, and nor does he give any reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that we are still trying to salvage something from the scheme. Yes, I plead guilty to that. We are indeed trying to salvage something. It was a pity of course that he talked about Dover in the context of salvage. I say that because some very bad salvage operations took place there recently. We want something better than that. We are in the salvage business, but all we are seeking to salvage by way of this amendment are the present health and welfare provisons provided by the board for registered dockers. That is all we are seeking to 777 salvage. As I said before, if you take the golden age theory of privilege you ought to encourage it, because the investigation will demonstrate that things get better and better and prove that, "We are wrong and you are right".
The Minister said—and this is rather more serious—that there are in place measures such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which will ensure that everything carried out in the docks under the present system will continue to be done. I am afraid that we do not have the same commitment and belief now in the work of the Health and Safety Inspectorate that we once had. It is an unfortunate fact that the Health and Safety Executive is overworked and understaffed and that the Government have bled its inspectorate almost to vanishing point so that it makes inspections about once every 10 years. You cannot simply leave an industry like the docks in the hands of the Health and Safety Inspectorate in its present state and say that that will be the equivalent of the provision which it has at present.
The Minister also said—indeed, noble Lords on the other side of the House say this frequently—that the employers have no interest whatever in neglecting training if the present system goes because of the pressure to train skilled labour. If that were so, and if it were generally so, we should not have a skill shortage in this country. Were it not for the fact that, despite their self-evident interest in training because of skill shortages, British employers do not train and persistently poach from one another, we should not need to have any government intervention in training. We cannot accept either that the present health and safety provisions are adequate or that the incentives to individual employees to train are adequate. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 [Dissolution of National Dock Labour Board]:
§ [Amendment No. 7 not moved.]
§ Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 2, line 8, at end insert—
("Provided such consent shall only be exercised in regard to assets to be made available within the industry to trustees acting on behalf of groups of employees, or for other purposes of direct concern within the industry.").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to attempt to write onto the face of the Bill the assurances which were given in another place by the Minister of State, Mr. John Cope. He was replying to an amendment moved by, the Opposition in that place because they, like ourselves, were concerned about the content of Clause 4, which appears to give the ability to dispose of assets at below the market rate or even to give them away. In response he said:
I do not wish to second guess or prejudge the board's decisions".
The board, half of which consists of union members and half of management members, will make decisions.
The dockers' clubs, medical centres and so on are the assets that are likely to be transferred at less than the market value".
He concluded, after much else in a similar vein by saying that again he did not wish to prejudge the matter but that,
the physical assets—the buildings—should be kept for the use of the industry. That purpose lies behind the subsection. The assets that have a continuing value should not be taken out of the industry. We wish to be in a position of continuing the use of those assets".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee A, 11/5/89; col. 458.]
I think that they were very helpful comments. They were certainly supported by Members on the Opposition Benches. However, what we want to do is to ensure that those assurances are written on to the face of the Bill. The reason for that is fairly clear. As has been said by many noble Lords this afternoon, the attitude of the Government in introducing the Dock Work Bill and in doing away with the scheme has been viewed with extreme apprehension by many who work in the industry.
§ Leaving aside the arguments that we have already had about casualisation and so on, there is the large question as to what will happen about medical provision, which we have discussed this afternoon, medical centres and dockers' clubs. If wording of the kind that I suggest could be written on to the face of the Bill, that would be in line with assurances that have already been given by the Minister in another place. They would have a reassuring effect.
§ As we have said in connection with our amendments in the past, if the wording is not satisfactory, but the Government accept the principle, there is no reason why they cannot say, "We accept the principle of what you say, which is fair and reasonable, and we will return with our own wording at the next stage of the Bill". I beg to move.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the amendment. I supported the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in Committee, in her contention that, for the avoidance of doubt, the substance of what the Minister in another place said in Standing Committee about the disposal of assets should appear on the face of the Bill.
On that occasion, I sought an assurance from the Minister that the sole purpose of subsection (4) was to permit assets, such as dockers' clubs and medical centres, that would continue to be of value to the ports, to be transferred on a favourable basis from the board to other bodies within the industry. I also asked him to confirm that all other assets, such as offices and similar builldings, which were sold to people outside the industry would be disposed of at market value. The Minister said, I thought somewhat enigmatically: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".—[Official Report, 20/6/89; col. 195.]That is not good enough. The amendment seeks to ensure that only those assets that will continue to be of use within the industry should be disposed of at less than their market value.
The amendment may be criticised on the grounds that such assets could reasonably be transferred to 779 bodies other than trusts; for example, social clubs. The significance of the words, "for other purposes" in the amendment was not immediately plain to me. However, as the noble Baroness said, those are drafting points that can easily be put right on Third Reading. The principle underlying the amendment is clear enough and I support it.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, in debate here and in another place the Government have taken great pains to explain the purpose of Clause 2(4) which allows the National Dock Labour Board, with the consent of the Treasury and Secretary of State, to dispose of its assets at less than market value or for nothing.
In Committee, I said that dockers' clubs could be disposed of at less than market value or for nothing so that the continued provision of those facilities could be arranged to suit local needs. Each case must be judged on its merits. I can certainly give noble Lords the Government's assurance that the intention of this provision is to allow the board the flexibility to propose to the Secretary of State the disposal of its assets at less than market value or for nothing, only when, in its judgment, continued provision of certain services—whether training, medical, or welfare services including dockers' clubs—is in the interests of the industry and those who work in it. The Secretary of State and the Treasury will exercise their power of consent with those considerations in mind.
There is no reason why the board should wish to sell its assets for less than the going price for reasons other than those I have given. I hope that answers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. The Government have set no arbitrary time limit on the duration of the transitional period. The board is under no unreasonable pressure, therefore, to dispose of assets for less than a reasonable price solely to wind up its affairs. In the light of the assurances that I have given about the purposes of these provisions of the Bill and the powers of the Board—composed as now of employers' and employees' representatives—to set the length of the transitional period to reflect the time it needs to dispose of its assets sensibly, I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing the amendment. It is not necessary to ensure that assets are disposed of at less than market value to secure their continued provision and would only render the board's task in that respect far more difficult than it need be.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I welcome those assurances from the Minister. In view of that statement, he might have accepted the amendment, because that is what it amounts to. He said that he virtually accepted more or less everything that I and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, had said. That being the case, it might have been reasonable for him to have accepted the amendment and to have written in something on Third Reading. However, I do not intend to press the amendment at this stage. I shall read with care in Hansard tomorrow what the Minister said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.780
§ Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 2, line 16, at end insert—
("( ) During the transitional period the Board shall initiate discussions between representatives of appropriate employers and trade unions with a view to reaching agreement on measures to maintain employment stability in ports covered by the Dock Workers Employment Scheme 1967.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we take the amendment seriously. It is, in a way, our final thrust to try to persuade the Government to introduce some measure of reassurance for registered dockers. The amendment states:
During the transitional period the Board shall initiate discussions between representatives of appropriate employers and trade unions with a view to reaching agreement on measures to maintain employment stability in ports covered by the Dock Workers Employment Scheme".
§ Our narrow concern in the amendment is the central question of employment stability—the central issue of avoiding the old evils of casual labour. We are trying to bring together the parties to see whether it is possible, even at this stage in the passage of the Bill, for the Government to agree to some industry-wide initiative to solve the problem of decasualisation, which was the problem that, in the end, the scheme was developed to solve. Problems of security and stability always lay at the heart of the justification for the scheme.
I know what the Minister will say, because he gave me an answer to a similar amendment, which made the provision rather more of a statutory obligation on the board. He said: "The scheme", or even I suppose, initiatives to try to find other forms of employment stability
is unnecessary because the industry has been transformed since its introduction in 1947".
In answering a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, the Minister said:
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 attraction for 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".
The Minister continued:
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"—[Official Report, 20/6/89; col. 157.],
who says that he will let me have the letters if I want them.
§ I said to the Minister at the time, and I repeat it, we do not believe that such letters are a substitute for the scheme. We do not believe that they are a substitute for a Government initiative to try to provide some form of employment security at an industry-wide level. We do not believe, when the employers write to the Transport and General Workers' Union, that that reassures the union. Those letters are not legally enforceable by the union. They are letters from individual employers. I understand that employers representing some 7 per cent. of the workers in the scheme have not yet been contacted by the employers' association. We do not know what their attitude would be. We say that some initiative should be taken on the central issue of security.781
§ Some noble Lords may have received recently, as I did, a circular from a Mr. Nicholas Finney, the director of the National Association of Port Employers, entitled The Future We are Working for. He underscores the case put by the Government. He says once again that the employers have no desire and no intention of returning to decasualisation. We say that if that is the case then surely they could welcome such an initiative. Surely they could welcome some kind of national agreement or national conference ending in a national agreement, brought forward at the initiative of the Government, which would aim at reassuring the dockers.
§ So far as there are any answers to this, and so far as the Government put forward any serious reasons for it and in that it does not relate to their argument—which is not acceptable to the dockers and their union—that all this can be done at local level, they argue that it cannot be afforded.
The Minister made the point again in the debate this afternoon—and I have to return to his assertion to me at the end of the Second Reading speech—that any kind of guarantee given to the dock workers about employment security could not be afforded because of the relative difference in costs between the registered scheme and the unregistered dockers. I am quoting now from the Minister's remarks at column 1108 of Hansard on 9th June 1989, at Second Reading. He quoted the results of what he called a transhipment study published by the British Ports Federation and the Department of Transport. He said that it,
showed that Tilbury and Southampton were 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. more expensive respectively than the non-scheme Felixstowe, as regards the handling of containers.
§ I have to say to him, as I said at Committee stage, that I have examined the report of the British Ports Federation and the Department of Transport. I find nothing of the kind in the report. All I find is a series of recommendations that the Government should spend more money investing in the docks. I cannot find any reference to precise labour costs and comparisons between one port and another from the viewpoint of labour costs. It is not that kind of study. It deals only with the 20 per cent. of dock cargo which is transhipped and not directly shipped. It does not make the kind of comparisons between registered ports and non-registered ports, upon which the Minister seems to place emphasis.
§ So we have constantly to reject the evidence which the Government put forward for saying that there cannot be any guarantee of security of employment, given at national level by the employers. We do not believe that the case has been proved. We ask the Government at this late stage either to support the amendment or to give some undertaking that they are prepared to take an initiative of this kind. I beg to move.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, this is a rather odd proposition. It is that the board, ex hypothesi, in the transitional period leading to its winding up, should initiate discussions between employers and unions with a view apparently to creating something rather similar to itself, to continue after its departure.
782 Even if it were a good idea to initiate such discussions, it seems an odd proposition that a board in the process of dissolution should be expected to do that. If it were taken at all seriously, it would be a measure which would delay the winding up of the board. But I think, even more important than that, it still harks back to the idea of a national agreement. We had considerable discussion in Committee as to why these matters could not be settled locally, as the port employers have suggested again and again. It is because, and only because, the trade union has forbidden its local branches to enter into these local discussions that they are not already taking place. They could already take place, they would bring great reassurance to the dockers concerned and to everybody connected with the ports.
It is because the amendment still flies in the face of the plain and simple proposition that these are matters which can be dealt with locally, both by the present scheme and non-scheme ports, that I hope that my noble friend, with his habitual courtesy, will reject the amendment.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, once again I find myself following the noble Lord, Lord Boyd—Carpenter. Once again I profoundly disagree with everything he said—of course I do. From the very moment when the scheme was introduced way back in 1945, under the original Act, the noble Lord has never hidden—I give him full credit for it—his animosity towards the scheme and the people who work in it. He thinks that it is a privileged section; it has no right to be privileged. He is not concerned with the past; it is all rubbish anyway. It is all in the distance; he does not wish to know. Now he objects to any idea that we on this side of the House have, that some assurances should be given in writing, valid in law, about what was casual labour.
I am not going into the past. I promise that I have made all the speeches I shall ever make on that. I lived with it with my father, right until the day when I last saw him. It may interest the House to know that when he died he left a total of £9.50. He had no trouble with the Inland Revenue. There was no inheritance tax payable on that, I gather. It was his total wealth, all he could hope to leave. However, he did not leave any debts, and that is to his lasting credit.
Therefore it is with some passion that I now speak of a scheme which is to be abolished but which gave so much to people in the way of dignity and hope for the future. All we ask is that some assurances should be given—it is not a lot to ask—that the principle of casual labour shall be put on the statute book; that during the interim period the board will initiate discussions.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, says that this is rubbish, nonsense. The Minister will say—and I have no doubt that he believes it sincerely—that the employers have given us assurances. However, with great respect, we are back to the same argument about the assurances. Some employers will mean them and will try very hard, but others will not. That is the problem with the argument about national and local agreements. I am not here to defend Mr. Todd 783 or his union; they are nothing to me. I am too long in the tooth to be bothered about their relationship with me or mine with them.
My knowledge of it all is that national agreements prevent the split at local level, with various people trying to do different things. Those of us who have any knowledge of the dock industry at all know that it is crying out for a national agreement, for something to be applied nationally to all the ports. There was an attempt by employers at that time to split and divide. That is why, I suppose, there is antipathy towards local agreements.
I think that Ernie Bevin was one of the greatest trade union leaders ever. He became a great Minister of Labour and was considered one of the great Foreign Secretaries of his day and age. He was typical of dock workers, very patriotic. That man always believed in national agreements, but he was never daft enough not to recognise that certain things could only be settled locally. I tried to explain that right across the whole industry there are national understandings with regard to various cargoes and different methods, different negotiations, different styles. London should not be compared with Merseyside, and so on. But there are relevant and proper national agreements.
We ask, decently and honestly, for the Minister to accept, if not these words then the principle, that in the dock industry there can never be a return to what we called the bad old days. With great respect to employers, for some of them this must be written in as law. Others need nothing written in; they will do it automatically. I have experience of the employers and I say to the Minister seriously that I hope he will take this last plea and recognise that, when the Bill goes through, we on this side of the House do not have the strength to oppose whatever the Government wish to do. Fair enough. All I say to the Minister is, "Don't push your luck too far". I ask the Minister to try and show by some conciliatory measure that he means what he says.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said, one of the amendments that was moved and negatived in Committee sought to impose on the board a duty, during the transitional period, to ensure regularity of employment for dock workers. I opposed the amendment on the grounds that under modern working conditions fears of a return to old style casual work were exaggerated. There were other reasons why I opposed the amendment. I shall not repeat them now, as there is no need.
This amendment, as I see it, goes a step further by requiring the board to initiate discussions aimed at maintaining for registered dock workers what is now called employment stability after the transitional period has ended. It thus seeks to preserve the situation in which, alone among industrial workers, exceptional treatment is sought for this particular group of people. With all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish—I respect his fears of a return to casual work—I do not really think that that should happen. Rather, it should be accepted that from now on all British ports should compete 784 on an equal footing and people working in them should be treated like everyone else in British industry.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I do not have the great background or expertise of my noble friend Lord Mellish in relation to dock workers. However, all my life I have been a trade unionist and I have negotiated at every level. One thing that trade union leaders and trade unionists do not like is simply to be brushed aside and ignored. The thing they expect, not only from government but also from employers, is respect and consultation. On this Bill—I am making my first contribution—that is just what the trade unions have not received.
The unions were faced, first of all, with a fait accompli from the Government who decided they would abolish the national dock labour scheme without any consultation and virtually at the drop of a hat. We were confronted with a Statement and, shortly afterwards, with a Bill. That is not the way to conduct industrial relations. It is not the way to treat trade unions and ordinary trade unionists. There may very well be things wrong with the dock labour scheme. It may very well be out of date and in need of amending. But the people working within that scheme have enjoyed certain conditions for well over 40 years. They are entitled to be considered before the dock labour scheme is ended at the drop of a hat. That is why I have taken offence at the Bill, and why I support this amendment.
At present a number of disputes are taking place. The Government are urging the trade unions involved to enter into discussions with employers. Yet, at the same time as the Government are asking trade union officials and trade unionists to be reasonable and to hold discussions, they are pushing a Bill through this House which states that no discussions will take place on the matter. The Government are saying that this measure is what they want and this is what the industry is going to have. That is not the kind of behaviour one would expect in a democratic society. We understood it when the Polish communist government did that kind of thing to the Solidarity trade union. Indeed, it was to the credit of the Prime Minister and many noble Lords on all sides of the House that they put pressure on the Polish Government to give better recognition to the trade union movement in Poland. However, at the same time, we seem in this country to want to keep the trade unions and government at arm's length. We seem to be saying to trade unionists that rights which they have enjoyed for decades must no longer be enjoyed.
When trade unionists demand the right, as they must have in a free society, to express themselves and take action to protect their livelihoods and conditions, they are told they are behaving in an anti-British way, and that more laws are needed to deal with them. We shall reach a situation where trade unionists, far from being able to take action, will be afraid to open their mouths. That simply is not good enough. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will consider this amendment very seriously indeed. The opportunity has been given to him by my noble friend to assure the House and the trade 785 union movement, and indeed every other free society in this country, that the Government recognise that people have freedom of expression and freedom of action and are entitled to be treated in a reasonable manner and to be consulted when their wages, conditions and livelihoods are at stake. I hope the noble Lord will give a good reply and accept the amendment.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, the noble Lord said that somewhere in the Bill it is stated that there will be no discussion and that there can be no discussion between trade unions and employers. Will he tell the House where that provision is stated in the Bill? I have not seen any such provision.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, the Bill seeks to abolish the dock labour scheme. Once that is abolished, that is the end of the matter. The Bill will become an Act of Parliament. There has been no discussion with the trade unions as regards how the Bill is formulated, as regards any timetable in relation to the Bill or what will happen when the Bill becomes law. The noble Lord shakes his head. However, if he can tell me that what I say is in any sense wrong, I shall give way to him again.
§ Lord Trafford
My Lords, I do not wish to pursue the tremendously general comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I feel that they were exaggerated in the sense that the actions of trade unionists here, and their treatment here, are not truly comparable with the treatment of Solidarity a few years ago. I am sure the noble Lord knows that.
My real objection to the amendment is something quite different. Broadly speaking, it is a restatement of the position which appeared in a number of amendments in Committee, and which has been discussed again at this stage. The amendment is a further attempt to put another dock labour scheme of one kind or another in place of the present dock labour scheme. One can call that anything one likes; but that is, in effect, what the amendment seeks to achieve. After so many discussions on the principle of the Bill at Second Reading, on a number of amendments in Committee, and also at this stage—we have touched on the subject more than once today—we should surely by now have reached the point where we accept the previous decision of the House that we do not wish simply to get rid of the existing dock labour scheme and put something in its place which, if not the same in name, is the same in nature.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I intend to restrict my remarks to the substance of the amendment, which would require the National Dock Labour Board, itself composed of employer and employee representatives, to initiate discussions during the transitional period between those same representatives about measures to maintain employment stability in ports covered by the scheme.
The purpose of The Bill is to bring to an end the restrictions of the dock labour scheme so that former 786 scheme ports can formulate suitable employment arrangements which meet the needs of competitive ports in the same way as ports outside the scheme and as in industry as a whole.
While I am on the subject of competition, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, challenged me for the figures on comparative costs, which I shall repeat. I referred to the recently published report, and in particular table 5.2 on page 59. The table shows, among other things, the cost of unloading and loading 1,000 standard-sized containers on a particular ship at eight ports in North West Europe. It has nothing to do with transhipment, it concerns the comparative costs of handling an identical amount of cargo from an identical ship at those eight ports.
The figures show that the cost is highest at the three British ports of Felixstowe, Tilbury and Southampton. However, whereas the cost at Felixstowe is reasonably close to that at the main Contential competitors, the cost at the other two ports is considerably higher: Tilbury is about 30 per cent. and Southampton 40 per cent. more expensive than Felixstowe. I stress that those are the costs only of loading and unloading containers; they do not include any other port costs. The report does not say why Tilbury and Southampton are by some margin the most expensive ports for handling this particular standard cargo; it was not concerned with that. It was concerned with establishing the comparative costs and why, for certain traffic, goods are transhipped. It is nevertheless a fact that both Tilbury and Southampton are in the dock labour scheme and Felixtowe, which is considerably cheaper, is not. That is the point that I sought to make.
Returning to the amendment, I do not believe that negotiations initiated by the board between its own members are the key to modernising the employment arrangements of ports. The board's function has been to administer the statutory dock labour scheme. It is not a negotiating forum.
The way forward is to consider employment arrangements for each port in the light of its needs and potential. That is already accepted by the Transport and General Workers' Union, which represents most of the nearly one in three dock workers in ports outside the scheme whose terms and conditions are set locally. That is already the case for two thirds of employees of scheme ports themselves. In accordance with the bargaining arrangements which already apply to over 75 per cent. of workers in our ports, employers have offered local talks on employment arrangements for former registered dock workers and in addition written guarantees that there will be no return to a system of casual work.
Those talks could lead to arrangements which provide the viable basis for reasonable employment stability which the amendment seeks. Those talks are on offer now and, indeed, it appears that in some ports workers and their representatives are ready to agree to new arrangements. Only the opposition of the Transport and General Workers' Union stands in the way. I believe that, were the union's veto to be lifted, many more scheme ports would conclude 787 deals which reconcile the interests of workers with those of the businesses on which their jobs depend. That, rather than the further involvement of the National Dock Labour Board sought by the amendment, is the best way to achieve a sustainable degree of employment stability in the industry. That is why I hope that your Lordships will not accept the amendment.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving me some figures. He asked me to look at table 5.2 on page 59. I shall do that and come back to him at Third Reading, although it did not seem to me that he said much about labour costs.
The remarks of other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate can be dismissed very quickly. I shall come back to the points made by the Minister in a moment. The noble Lord, Lord Trafford, said that we want to go back to the statutory scheme. Of course there is nothing in the amendment about a statutory scheme. We do not want to go back to a statutory scheme; we have long since passed that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said that the trouble with the amendment is that we want to go back to a national agreement and a national system of joint regulation. We plead guilty to that. That is what we want to do, and that is what the Minister has against what we want to do.
The Minister at least said that talks are on offer from the employers at port level and that if only the union would agree to go into those talks the thing would be solved. I do not wish to deny that the Transport and General Workers' Union is opposed to talks at port or local level on the scheme at present. There is no point in seeking to deny that. That is the policy of the union, which was reinforced at a special delegate conference of dock representatives, and which was embodied in the ballot which the union held in favour of a national strike to defend the scheme. That is the existing policy of the union, democratically arrived at under the terms laid down in this Government's endless statutes about trade union democracy.
Nor do I wish to deny that if the union were to change that policy the situation would change. We know that some agreements are already on offer at some ports, but by no means at all ports. The employers' association is very reluctant to give details of the number of ports which have offered agreements to dockers at local level; but I understand from a conversation which I had with the employers' association this afternoon that there is one agreement, at Sheerness. I do not know whether it covers decasualisation. I have no doubt that if the Transport and General Workers' Union were to change its policy, there would be more agreements.
Our question is: would they be standard? Would there be a two-tier system or a multi-tier system? In 40 ports with 200 employers what are the chances of agreeing a comprehensive, common, decasualised process? We do not think that that is possible. The Transport and General Workers' Union and the 788 dockers do not think it is possible. They think that it would be all right in some ports but not so good in others. They believe that if they are to obtain a minimum undertaking on hours of work, sickness pay and holiday pay in this industry, it has to be negotiated at industry-wide level. They have a very plausible argument.
The Transport and General Workers' Union is not totally committed to the notion of industry-wide regulation. It is not a highly centralised union. As the employers themselves have said to me, in other industries the union has pioneered the move away from industry-wide regulation. That is true. Indeed, it agreed and to some extent pioneered a considerable decentralisation of the bargaining machinery in the docks industry. It has never wished to see complete regulation of everything at industry-wide level. However, it believes that in an industry with a large number of employers, with very different conditions, with very unstable product demand and unstable labour demand, and with the history of this industry, there is a need for industry-wide regulation, especially covering security of employment.
The union believes that the existence of that scheme in the registered sector of the docks industry has an effect on what happens in the unregistered sector. It may be wrong, and we shall see. If the Bill goes through, I hope that it is wrong. I do not want to see a progressive deregulation or de-unionisation of the docks industry.
In this amendment, we ask that the Government take an initiative in order to ensure that some of the concerns of the union and its members are met. At any time the Minister could have said to us, "I do not like your amendment. I do not like the wording. It is not within the spirit of our Bill; but I shall give you an undertaking that we shall initiate a joint conference, not to deal with everything but to deal with the issue of casualisation".
I must say that there are good reasons in industrial relations terms why the Government should move. There is a sense in which the Government owe the dockers something. They owe them something in that context. On 6th April, the Government changed their established policy. The Secretary of State stood up in another place and in effect announced the abolition of the scheme. The dockers' union held a ballot on the strike which it won. It then ran into a series of legal constrictions at very considerable cost to the union. It had to go to the court of first instance before Mr. Justice Millett. It had to go to the Court of Appeal. It had to go to the House of Lords. It was not until we in the House were listening to debates at the Committee stage on 20th June that somewhere upstairs in the building the union finally found itself free. It finally found that the strike that it wanted to conduct was perfectly lawful under the Government's legislation.
However, too much time had gone by. The union needed a new ballot. We told the Government when they passed the original Bill that four weeks was not long enough and that people would become involved in legal process. They told us that it was not their intention to force people to have a series of ballots, 789 but that is the position that they, their legislation and the law have put the union in.
The difference that I am talking about is not just idle or silly. It makes a real difference to the dockers. It means that, if they go on strike and the union says that it cannot have a legally safe ballot before 7th July, the Bill will be law. If the Bill is law, the dockers will lose the protection that they have as members of the register. That is what the Government have done, although I do not say that they have done it intentionally. They have forced the union into a position in which, because of its own accelerated timetable, it cannot yet again have a lawful strike which protects its members. The Government —even this Government—therefore owe the union something. An undertaking of some sort to initiate some kind of industry-wide discussions over the issue of decasualisation is the very least that they can provide.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 9) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 102.790
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Ardwick, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||McCarthy, L.|
|Blease, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mellish, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Phillips, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|David, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Gallacher, L. [Teller.]||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Gregson, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Coleraine, L.|
|Addington, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Constantine of Stanmore, L.|
|Arran, E.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Balfour, E.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Davidson, V. [Teller.]|
|Belstead, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Blake, L.||Derwent, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Dilhorne, V.|
|Blyth, L.||Dundee, E.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Eccles, V.|
|Borthwick, L.||Eden of Winton, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Brookes, L.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Butterworth, L.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Gisborough, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Hailsham of Saint|
|Carnock, L.||Marylebone, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Reay, L.|
|Havers, L.||Renton, L.|
|Henley, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Hives, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Hooper, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Joseph, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Kimball, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Layton, L.||Slim, V.|
|Leathers, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Long, V.||Sudeley, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Teynham, L.|
|McFadzean, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|McNair, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Marley, L.||Trafford, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Mountevans, L.||Vinson, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Munster, E.||Whaddon, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Newall, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Orkney, E.||Young, B.|
|Pender, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 10 not moved.]
§ Clause 5 [Compensation for former registered dock workers who become redundant]:
§ Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 3, line 28, at end insert—
("(2A) Compensation under this section shall also be available to persons who, within a time limit to be set by regulation, volunteer to be made redundant.").
§ The noble Lord said: This is the last amendment that we shall move, and I should like to speak also at this point to Amendment No. 12. These two amendments arise from our last attempt at Committee stage to do something about the payments under the Bill which we regard as less favourable than the voluntary severance scheme that exists under the dock work regulation scheme. We argue that voluntary severance is not as good as compulsory redundancy in the first place—indeed, there is no voluntary severance scheme under the Bill; one simply gets the sack and one is not allowed to decide when one wants to go.
§ Secondly, although when one is sacked the top payment is £35,000, which is significantly above the £25,000 paid under the scheme for voluntary severance, that does not last; it tails away. In two years the figure goes down to £20,000, and after three years it stops altogether and one is stuck on the ordinary redundancy provisions.
In Committee we tried to ensure that the Government put into the Bill something which made clear that its provisions were not any less satisfactory than the arrangements that existed under the scheme.
We could not get the Government to agree. Indeed, there seemed to be a point at which the Government appeared, to me at least, to be unable to see the difference between voluntary severance and compulsory dismissal. Our Amendment No. 12 puts into the Bill a definition to the effect that:
'redundancy' includes voluntary severance".
If a worker is fortunate enough to be able to negotiate voluntary severance rather than suffer compulsory dismissal, he is thus not outside the provisions of the scheme.
Amendment No. 11 ensures that:
Compensation under this section shall also be available to persons who, within a time limit to be set by regulation, volunteer to be made redundant".
I have no doubt that some noble Lords, including perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, will say that this amendment is gibberish, is not properly written or something of that kind. Nonetheless, that is the aim and direction of this amendment. I am sure that the noble Lord understands what we are trying to do, even though I am sure he heard me say that it might be gibberish. So that is the aim of the Bill, and let nobody tell us about its drafting weaknesses.
Speaking during the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said that he could go a long way to reassuring the Committee that the scheme was already as good as the existing voluntary scheme. But the only reason he gave was that payment started at £35,000 (Official Report, 20/6/89; col. 206). He then went on to make three points which I should now like to answer at somewhat greater length than I could do at the time. He said:
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"—
the Government are fond of the word "sensible"—
and right for the transitional arrangements to be staged. Precisely because they are transitional, they should be progressively bridging the gap between existing practice and expectation on the one hand and the general statutory provision on the other". —[Official Report, 20/6/89; cols. 206–207.]
The answer to that is what they call "transitional"; we call it "the staged destruction of the registered dock workers' rights".
§ There is no reason why the arrangement should be transitional in the sense that the scheme erodes constantly so that three years later it disappears. That is not particularly sensible and we do not think that it is right. One cannot make it sensible and right simply by saying, "I call it transitional and so it follows".
The Minister continued:
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".
One might say that that is the Minister's second defence. The answer to it is that it is true and that for three years the registered docker has something better than the 1978 Act. But that is merely a statement of the case; why should it erode in that way unless one believes that the 1978 Act is all that anybody can reasonably expect? To some extent that is what the Government believe.
The third point made by the Minister is that:
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".
Again, the answer to that is that it is only fair and generous if one believes that any redundancy compensation is fair and generous; in other words, in the opinion of this Government anything above the payments of the 1978 Act is fair and generous. No matter how far the conditions are worsened, if someone is worse off than you are, then you must consider yourself lucky. No doubt that principle is at the heart of the Government's policy towards this Bill. If one is not rich, or is a registered docker, or not a wealth creator, one can push off, because there is nothing for one but the 1978 Act and its limited payments. However, that still does not answer the question of why nothing is done to replace the right to voluntary severance pay.
§ What is advanced is largely an argument about the level of pay. But why should all rights derive from the restrictions of a compulsory redundancy scheme? Why cannot the Government give for voluntary severance whatever they give for compulsory redundancy? They will accept half of our point if they would adapt one of our amendments and say that the Bill will remain as it is, but that its provisions will apply to voluntary severance as well as to compulsory redundancy. I see no earthly reason why the Government should not agree to that even if they are not prepared to agree to our other amendment.
§ I should like to make one final point on this confusing Bill. First, I should apologise to the Minister if this should come as a surprise to him; it came also as a surprise to me. Clause 5 of the Bill deals with compensation schemes and employment protection, and subsection (2) of that clause deals with how the statutory requirements to obtain compensation are satisfied in the Bill. As the Minister knows very well there are three conditions and, as I understand it—he will correct me if I am wrong—all three conditions have to be satisfied; namely, conditions (a), (b) and (c). Condition (a) is quite simple—one has to be a registered docker. Condition (b) is also simple—one has to have been dismissed on grounds of redundancy. If one is a registered docker, and dismissed on those grounds, the conditions are fulfilled if one also qualifies under (c).
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to condition (c), and again I apologise because the
matter involved has only just come to my notice. The third condition says that the section applies if,
that is the registered docker—
is so dismissed at any time after that date, he has been in the employment of that employer since that date".
In other words, the Bill seems to be saying that when the registered docker is dismissed on grounds of redundancy, he must have been in the employment of a registered employer either at that date or at some time since that date. Such provision gives rise to the need for what I call a "short break guarantee".
§ What happens if a man is sick and, as a result of sickness, he is dismissed and is then re-engaged? Is his service to be regarded as "continuous" although interrupted? If he is re-engaged, is he still entitled to redundancy pay under the terms of the Bill? Or has there been a break in his service? And does that break in his service sever his rights under the Bill? In other words, is there, or is there not, a short break guarantee?
§ Noble Lords may say that very few people will be in such a situation. However, the argument is not as academic as all that. I stress that I do not allege that the Government have made such provision deliberately. I believe that it may be a drafting error. Let us suppose that the worker goes on strike. Let us suppose that during the period of the dispute the employer dismisses him. Is there to be a short break guarantee? Has he lost his rights under the Bill? It would be extremely unfair bearing in mind all the other things that the Government have done to the docker if, because he is on strike and is dismissed—contrary to ILO conventions—when he comes back he has lost all his redundancy pay.
§ But is that what the Bill means? Of course, the Government can make the position quite clear. At Third Reading they can accept an amendment which ensures that where a worker is so dismissed he is assumed to be in the employment of his employer for a sufficient period since that date. Moreover, if he were to insert the words "for any period" between "employer" and "since" it would be clear beyond peradventure. We should know that any man who was temporarily dismissed, for whatever reason, would not lose his redundancy payments. Also, any man who went on strike, and was dismissed because of that, would not forfeit his redundancy payments. However, if the Government tell me that that is not what they mean, that they know all about the "short break", and that they do not intend to guarantee the redundancy payments during the period of the short break, then I am afraid that we shall be very cross with them. We shall move that it be amended on Third Reading. I beg to move.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, as the noble Lord has explained these amendments are designed to achieve something very simple; namely, to ensure that compensation payments are available under our proposed scheme to former registered dock workers who volunteer for redundancy.
For once I hope that I can offer the noble Lord some comfort. There is nothing in the Bill, and there will be nothing in the regulations to be made under 794 Clause 5, that will prevent men who have volunteered to be made redundant, when an employer needs to make redundancies, from receiving the compensation payable under the regulations.
If an employer decides after Royal Assent that he needs to reduce the size of his workforce—because, for example, his business has diminished—the selection of men for redundancy will depend in the first instance on the terms of any redundancy agreement that the employer may have entered into with his workforce. But let us suppose that no such agreement has been made. It will be up to the employer how he sets about selecting men for redundancy. It will be open to him to seek volunteers from the whole of his workforce or from some part or parts of it. I have little doubt that an employer would want to proceed that way if possible.
The amendments proposed by the noble Lord are therefore not necessary. Clause 5 of the Bill and the regulations—a draft of which we have circulated —already provide that where a former RDW is made redundant he will be entitled to compensation. The point is whether an employee is made redundant. Whether he has volunteered or whether he has had to be made redundant although he wanted to continue working is immaterial.
The noble Lord asked in respect of subsection (2) of the clause about whether a striking docker would be entitled to the redundancy compensation. The answer is that any registered docker who is made redundant will be entitled to benefit under the compensation scheme. If he is dismissed for some other reason, he loses that entitlement. It has always been the case that any worker who goes on strike can be dismissed for breach of contract. Any docker who goes on strike does not automatically lose his entitlement to redundancy pay but he risks losing it by giving his employer other possible grounds for dismissing him. There are constraints on the employer: individuals dismissed by him can bring a claim to an industrial tribunal on the grounds that they have been unfairly selected for redundancy. During a strike such claims can be avoided by an employer who dismisses all who are on strike at a particular time and does not selectively re-engage any of them for three months. I believe that that is the answer to the point raised by the noble Lord.
I am sure that the noble Lord will not be satisfied with my last remarks. But the point is not strictly relevant to the amendment. I hope that with the explanation I have given he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord understood everything that he said. I do not think that I did. I am sure that he will allow me to read what he said. If we do not like it we reserve our position at Third Reading. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 12 not moved.]