§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Do you intend to call the Question of which Private Notice has been given?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The Private Notice Question has not been allowed. It will be open to the right hon. Gentleman to raise the matter in the Debate on the Bill.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The purpose of this Bill is to make permanent some of the arrangements that have been in operation during the war. In the years before the last war there were very serious difficulties in the supply of labour to the docks. Some hon. Members can remember those days, when there were thousands of men lining up at the dock gates and it was really a question of the survival of the fittest. I remember that, on one occasion, when a young man, I had the temerity to go down to the docks to see whether I could get a job. When I got there, I remembered that "discretion was the better part of valour," and when I saw how men were literally fighting for a job, I decided I was not big enough, strong enough, or perhaps ugly enough, to join in the fight; so I went away. Those were the circumstances. Men were called in, if the overseer happened to like the look of them, for half a day at a time. They had to report for work day after day, often to get only two half days a week, and when it is remembered that at that time the wage was what was known as the "docker's tanner"—sixpence an hour—with no more than the guarantee of a half day's work, it will be recognised that conditions were very bad. Happily, things changed shortly afterwards. I think that not only the docker, but the country, owes a very great debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friend who is now Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, for the great work he did in those days to enable the dock workers to have more 1754 favourable consideration than they had been having. It was in that period that he justly earned the title of "the dockers' K.C." It was his advocacy that brought about the change, a change that has gradually been developed and improved upon; and it is only right to say that most of the enlightened employers in the dock industry were then, and certainly are now, anxious not to go back to the old conditions.
The first comprehensive effort to have any kind of regulation for dockworkers was the Liverpool Dock scheme which was madein 1912. At the same time, other schemes were brought into operation for the ports of Goole and Sunderland. Unsuccessful attempts were made in Cardiff, Glasgow, Hull and Southampton. Then began the period of inquiries. There was the Shaw Inquiry of 1920.There was the Maclean Committee of 1924. There was the Departmental Inquiry into Port Labour in 1930–31. There was then the Standing Advisory Committee for the Port Transport Industry which was set up in 1931. Those inquiries led to very satisfactory schemes being put into operation. By 1936, there were joint schemes on a voluntary basis existing in 35 ports. But there was a drawback to those schemes, a very bad omission. In no case was any provision made to ensure that dock workers should receive an assured minimum wage with regularity, when full work was not available for them. There certainly was regulation of employment and wages, but there was no kind of guarantee, and a man would turn up, day after day, without getting a call.
During the war, things stepped forward even much more satisfactorily. We have the Dock Labour (Compulsory Registration) Order, 1940, which sets out the compulsory basis of registration to be approved by the Minister of Labour. Under that regulation all employers and workers are covered by the provisions of the scheme. Those registration schemes require all port transport workers and their employers to be registered. In one part of the country, over the Border, there is an objection to a registration scheme in those terms, but provided that a scheme in operation, has the same purpose as registration, there is no objection to their having one which does not actually make use of those words. Under those schemes, the places of engagement 1755 of port labour have to be approved by the registration committee. That means that the place of engagement to which the man should go is the place where he got engaged, and that men should only be engaged in those places. That prevents a good deal of hole-and-corner work by men getting in by the side door, or the back door, and thus evading the regulations. It also provides that records of employment must be maintained, that the register should be revised from time to time—the purpose of the revision of the register is to meet the needs of the port. Obviously, it is no good having a scheme unless it is based on the actual need of the port.
We have got further with the details of these schemes during the war. In the Spring of 1940, schemes were brought about on the Merseyside and Clydeside and were entered into voluntarily, by the parties concerned, the workers and employers. In those ports those voluntary schemes are administered by the Minister of War Transport. In all the other ports—and when I mention all the other ports I do not mean very tiny ports of various kinds which exist round the country, almost personal ports—but in all the main ports there are compulsory schemes. These lave been approved by the Minister of Labour and National Service. They are administered by the National Dock Labour Corporation, Limited, under powers conferred by the Essential Work (Dock Labour) Orders made under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts.
On 2nd October, 1945, the number of dock workers under the schemes administered by the Minister of War Transport amounted to approximately 28,000 workers. The numbers covered by the schemes administered by the National Dock Labour Corporation, Ltd., was approximately 46,000. Unless further steps are taken the existing schemes administered by the Corporation will come to an end at the expiration of the Emergency Powers Acts, while those administered by the Minister of War Transport will come to an end whenever the parties to those schemes, or any of the parties so decide There will then be no law to prevent the port transport industry from reverting to the old system, or to the days when we had no knowledge of other systems. But if those systems fall to the 1756 ground and there is any danger of going back to the old system again, I submit I would be right in assuming that the effect would be positively disastrous—disastrous to the industry, to the men and the country.
That was a kind of free trade with a vengeance, when it was a case of the survival of the fittest. The man who could fight best, or the man who had the best pal in the calling of the job was the man who could have a sufficiency of work. We now have 74,000 men actually affected by these orders. It is interesting here to note that the 74,000 men covered by these schemes is a considerably smaller number than the number of those that were employed, mainly part time, under the old system, and those 74,000 men, today, are handling a far greater amount of goods than was handled by the far larger number under the old system. Therefore, the reduction has been to the benefit of all concerned.
The purpose of the present Bill is to enable these new arrangements to be made for employment in the port transport industry and the object of the arrangements is, in the first place to ensure regularity of employment for the dock workers. The dock worker, like any other worker, when he gives his life to that industry should have some sort of stability and some guarantee that when he turns out in the morning to go to work he will find a job. If he is not going to find a job there, and is not wanted at all, he should have some remuneration for the time he has given, and for the fact that he has to hold himself available to come back the next day once again, if wanted. We want this Bill to provide for regularity of employment. A second object is to ensure that there is an adequate number, but not more than an adequate number of dock workers. We do not want a scheme to be brought into operation—or to have an absence of schemes—which will result in a surplus of men not required—something like an old coat hanging behind the door, to be taken down whenever wanted, but to hang behind the door when not wanted. The scheme is to be provided by the industry, by workers and employers and brought to the Minister for approval, and will be brought into force by means of Orders which will be laid before Parliament.
May I now deal, for a few minutes, with some of the Clauses of the Bill? Clause 1757 I provides that the schemes shall be brought into operation by agreement so as to create an effective labour force in the industry. It also provides a prohibition respecting employment of dock workers to whom the scheme does not apply, and the employment of dock workers by employers to whom the scheme does not apply. In other words, under the registration scheme, the men to be employed and the employers will be those who are registered; no others will be allowed to come in. Registration will provide, of course, for conditions to be applied. It provides against an employer going outside a scheme, and engaging unregistered workers. If that were permitted, there would be very serious opportunities for disputes. As I said before, this proposal has now the approval of both sides of the industry, and we have no real fear of schemes of this kind not being made fully effective.
The Clause goes on to deal with regulating the recruitment and entry into the scheme of dock workers and the allocation to employers of the necessary staffs, and for dock workers who are available for work to be subject to the conditions of the scheme providing that they receive not less than such pay as may be thereby provided. This co-operation has been going on in the ports I have mentioned, where it has been found essential for men to be given some pay, if they turn up for work and are not wanted. But it has been found that work can be provided for a man, if otherwise he would have to be paid for doing nothing when he turns up. If he has to be paid, it has generally been the case that some work has been found for him to do. The pay for attendance without work is not the same thing as pay for attendance with work, but it is some consolation to a man who makes himself available, and finds he is not wanted. The Clause also deals with rates of remuneration and, for the provision of holidays, and pay in respect of holidays which must be related to and give due regard to any national agreement existing in the industry.
There is a very important reference in Subsection (2, d) which providesfor making satisfactory provision for the training…of dock workers.To some people that will come as a surprise. A lot of people run away with the idea that anybody can do the job of 1758 a dock worker, and that there is nothing in it. But we have both sides of the industry agreeing that provision should be made for training, and that will bring home to people without any special knowledge of docks, that a dock worker has a very highly skilled job, not only for the safety of the ship, but for the safety of himself and for the protection of the goods he is handling. The same Clause also provides for the welfare of the dock workers. Welfare made rapid development at the docks during the war and it is to the credit of the employers that they are anxious to see it maintained. Then there is the provision for the cost of operating the schemes, about which, if necessary, a word can be said later, on the Financial Resolution.
It has been necessary—and I suppose it always will be necessary—to make provision for dealing with those people who decline to fall into line, and obey the terms of the schemes. Therefore, the Clause provides a term of imprisonment for any breach of the provisions or a fine for failure to conform, but there is a provision that, in the case of any person, not being a body corporate, the fine shall not exceed £50. The Clause finally provides that the schemes may relate to any port or group of ports, as may be required by those producing the schemes, and under this provision it is hoped that there will be some uniformity of wages and conditions throughout the country.
Clause 2 provides that the schemes may be prepared jointly by bodiesrepresentative, respectively, of dock workers of the class or description and at the port or ports to which the scheme relates, and of their employers,or the scheme may be of a character that applies to certain workers and docks, or all classes of workers and all types of docks. This Clause sets out the time limit—31st December, 1946—within which schemes must be prepared, failing which the Minister may step in and make schemes. On that point I would like to say that as this Bill was intended to be brought in some months ago—we have lost a little time on it—and it may be necessary, should the industry make representations to extend that time for a further six months. We are prepared to consider such a proposition favourably if it is felt that such extra time is necessary.
1759 The Clause also provides that should any of these schemes now in existence come to an end—either the Ministry of War Transport scheme or the Dock Labour Corporation scheme—those schemes shall continue until a new scheme has been made, so that there shall be no period during which a port may be working without a scheme. It also makes provision for the variation of any scheme. Any scheme can be varied by a subsequent scheme submitted to the Minister by the persons concerned or by a subsequent scheme prepared by the Minister. This Clause also provides that every scheme must be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. It has the usual provision about 40 days, and a Resolution of the House which could annul those schemes so that every individual scheme will have the advantage—I do not know whether I ought to say the disadvantage—of coming before Parliament and being subject to discussion and criticism. [An HON. MEMBER: "And amended?"] Not by the House. Of course, Amendments may be suggested by the parties concerned, and could be brought up in discussion before the House, and they would then require consideration. So far, however, as the scheme is concerned, it is the general intention that the industry should manage things for themselves, and it is hoped that they will manage them in such a way that it will not be necessary to have the direction of the House of Commons to straighten matters out for them.
The financial Clauses provide for loans which are to be of a temporary character, to assist the schemes to come into operation, and for the expenses of the Minister—which it is anticipated will be very small indeed—and will cover consideration, approving and supervising the schemes and the cost of any inquiry. The final Clause deals with interpretation, and that is widely drawn. It has been widely drawn deliberately to give full scope to the industry and to cover every aspect of their work. I emphasise again that no scheme can be agreed by either side of the industry without the consideration, discussion, and approval pf both sides.
I conclude with a reference to the Schedule, which sets out the machinery by which these schemes will be brought into operation. If a scheme is submitted to the Minister with which he is not satisfied, he
1760 may refer it back to the persons by whom it it prepared, giving his criticisms. After considering the Minister's criticisms, they may submit the scheme to him again, amended, or otherwise, as they think fit. After 1st January, 1947—as I previously indicated, we are willing to make it 1st July, 1947—the Minister may have a scheme prepared, if one is not already approved, for any port or in respect of any class of work. The Minister, having approved the scheme submitted by the industry, or, alternatively, having prepared a scheme himself, is to prepare a draft of an Order, embodying it, and will give notice that he proposes to proceed with the making of the Order. This notice will be published in a manner best suited to bring it to the attention of those concerned, and will say where the draft Order can be inspected and copies obtained.
There will also be a period of not less than 40 days for the making of objections to the Order, and the Minister will say in what manner objections can be made. If no objections are made, or if they are made and not sustained, the Minister may proceed to make the Order as originally drafted, or modified in any way, which, in his opinion, does not effect important alterations in the published draft. If, however, objections are made and not withdrawn, the Minister must appoint an impartial person to inquire into them and to hear oral evidence if that person considers it necessary. After considering the report, the Minister may make the Order, either as originally drafted, or with such modifications as he thinks fit. I wish to emphasise that this procedure requires me to have an impartial inquiry made into every scheme to which any objection, which is not frivolous, has been raised and not withdrawn.
The only other provision of the Schedule to which I wish to draw attention relates to certain special powers given to the Minister in cases of urgency. The justification for these powers is that it might become very necessary for me to put a scheme into immediate effect to replace one of the voluntary schemes administered by the Minister of War Transport. If a scheme is terminated suddenly, and a permanent scheme has not been made, I may make a scheme without complying with the provisions of the Schedule, and such an Order would be immediately operative, but would not 1761 continue in force for more than six months, during which period I should be able to make a permanent scheme, subject to the prescribed opportunity for raising objection. I mentioned earlier that existing schemes containing some form, or most of the features contemplated for permanent schemes—
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
On a point of Order. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to read his speech a little more slowly? It is very difficult to follow it because he is reading so fast.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I apologise to the House. I am painfully aware that that is one of my weaknesses. I have tried hard to overcome it but I have not been successful.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
Further to the point of Order. Have we completely abolished the rule about the reading of speeches in the House?
§ Mr. Isaacs
Up to the point at which I began to deal in detail with the Schedule, I have tried not to read my speech, although I had full notes. I was anxious to read this reference to the Schedule—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of Order. Is there any necessity for my right hon. Friend to offer any apologies? Has not Mr. Speaker ruled, time after time, that, in the case of a Minister of the Crown making an important statement, the rule against reading speeches does not apply?
§ Mr. Isaacs
The only remaining provision of the Schedule to which I wish to draw attention relates to certain special powers, given to the Minister in cases of urgency. The justification for these powers is that it might become necessary for me to put into immediate effect, as a matter of urgency, a scheme to replace one of the voluntary schemes administered by the Minister of War Transport, if such a scheme should terminate suddenly and a permanent scheme were not yet made. In such an event, as I have said, I may make an Order without complying with the provisions of the Schedule, and such Order would become immediately operative, but would not continue in force for 1762 more than six months, during which period I should be able to make a permanent scheme, subject to the prescribed opportunity for raising objection.
I mentioned earlier the existing schemes contained in some form, most of the features, contemplated for permanent schemes. I wish to emphasise, however, that the method to be adopted, to give effect to any of these schemes, is left open under the Bill, and it is my express policy that the two sides of the industry, when they get together on this matter, should be perfectly free to work out their schemes in their own way. I have no doubt that the registration of employers and workers to be covered will be a normal feature of these schemes, but I understand that where there is an existing scheme, and the promoters of the scheme can devise same alternative method which will achieve substantially the same end, the Bill will leave it open to them to draft their scheme accordingly. One of the main recommendations of a scheme submitted to me will be the very fact that it has been agreed by both sides of the industry.
My right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary discussed the general proposals for this Bill with the representatives of the industry, and I, also, have discussed with them the proposals now embodied in it. I am glad to be assured that neither employers nor workers desire the industry to revert to the very casual conditions of employment which obtained before the war, and I have every confidence that the representatives of the industry will find it possible themselves to work out satisfactory schemes for the achievement of the very desirable end of securing more regular employment and payment for dock workers. I need hardly say, in conclusion, that I have the full support of my right hon. Friend, the Minister of War Transport, and I now ask the support of the House, to secure the passage of this Bill into law at an early date.
§ Mr. Solley (Thurrock)
Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain what function, if any, the National Dock Corporation will play in the implementation of this Measure in the future?
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
We, on this side of the House, would not disagree at all with the objects for which this Bill has been drafted, and I think we can sympathise with the Minister of Labour in his description of the need for some sort of decasualisation of work at the docks. Therefore, let us not quarrel about the object, although I shall, in the course of my remarks, have something to say in criticism of the method adopted by the Government. The story of labour at the docks is, indeed, one not creditable to this country, and the problem is one which should be dealt with at the earliest possible opportunity. It is in no sense a new problem. It is one which has interested many, including the right hon. Gentleman, the present Foreign Secretary, particularly, for a long time. This question was brought to my attention during the short period when I was at the Ministry of Labour myself. I realised then that something would have to be done, as I also did, when I had the honour to be Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Labour, in 1937—that was the time when such schemes for decasualisation were really coming to the front before the war.
I think the House should realise that this problem has been approached by both sides of the industry in the spirit of desiring a settlement. Both sides have put forward schemes and plans for settling it in the past. These schemes and plans have been based upon such inquiries as the Shaw inquiry, and that of the Maclean Committee, while, during the whole period of the enactment of the Unemployment Insurance Act, it is well known that the problem of dock labour, and how to deal with that particular problem of employment, came very much to the front. Perhaps it was during the war period when we had the most intimate experience of the problem at the docks, and I think that, if I remind the House of some of the major differences which arise between what I describe as the war transport docks—Merseyside and Clydeside—and the other docks where there are schemes in force, the House will see that this problem is a far from simple one. The House will see later, when I have something to say about the method employed by the Government, that there is need of this Bill, for collect- 1764 ing the maximum material by every possible means.
To take only one example, the differences between the war transport docks and the other docks are substantial in regard to conditions of employment. At war transport docks, the dock worker is legally in the employment of the Ministry, but, at what may be described as Corporation ports, a man, when allocated to an employer, enters the employment of that employer, and only when his work finishes, does he enter the employment of the Corporation, being then in the reserve pool. I have tried to understand these things, in grappling with the problem with which the right hon. Gentleman is now faced. There are many other difficulties between the war transport ports, and elsewhere, and these cover both the methods of dealing with the guaranteed wage, and the question of disciplinary action in case of need.
That is the first illustration which I want to give of the fact that this problem is not at all an easy or clear one, and I am not altogether satisfied, nor are we on this side of the House satisfied, with the method which the Government are adopting to try to reach some solution. The difficulty in the Bill, as presented to the House, as I see it, is that the Minister of Labour has resorted to legislation by reference in excels is, and it is only when the Orders eventually come before this House—and it has been pointed out in an interjection that they can only be annulled and not amended—that we really get an opportunity, in this House, of finding out what on earth the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, to deal with the problem of the decasualisation of dock labour. This arises—to borrow a phrase from the Secretary of State for India—from the "pathetic contentment" of the Minister with the method of negotiation between the two sides of the industry. I agree that, in principle, that is the proper constitutional method by which wages and conditions of labour should be agreed between the two sides of an industry. But I must remind hon. Gentlemen that the history of the case reveals that, while both sides in this industry are intent on producing that result—and nothing I could say would take away from their sincerity in the objective they have in mind—there has not been that absolutely simple field for 1765 those negotiators who desire to find a right and simple decasualisation plan, either for one port, or for the ports of the country as a whole.
Therefore, I think we, on this side of the House, are entitled to complain of a certain lack of guidance from the Minister on how this problem is going to be solved in future, and also of the "pathetic contentment" that all will come right on the day. I hope the Minister who replies will have something to say on that matter. If he can reassure us, or give us some indication of the type of scheme to come before the House in Orders, we shall be very much obliged. I know it to be the case that, at least one side of the industry, would have preferred this whole question of legislation to have been preceded by an inquiry into the situation. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech referred to the Schedule, by which, as he rightly says, an opportunity is given to the Minister to appoint an impartial person to hold an inquiry in the event of a scheme being unsatisfactory, even in only one particular. I welcome that provision, which I had observed myself. That is an approach towards the sort of thing we have in mind. But I think it would have been better if the House could have been armed, before this important Debate, with the results of a full inquiry into the subject, so that we have some idea of how to reconcile, for example, the difference existing between war transport schemes, and schemes of the National Dock Labour Corporation. If, between the two types of scheme, there are such great differences, I think we are entitled to be given a little more information on how both schemes are likely to work out.
Having discussed the method, I want to say a word or two on certain definite points, and, in particular, on one broad point. The main broad point of criticism to which I would refer, after dealing with the question of method and objective, concerns this question of what the Government have in mind to settle the problem of the overlapping between the quasi-statutory bodies, which they evidently intend to set up to deal with decasualisation, and the authorities already existing in the ports to deal with the question, not only of dock labour, but the administration of the port as a whole. It is true to say that all port and har- 1766 bour authorities, with some very small exceptions, have been exclusively entrusted by this House with the maintenance, improvement and management of the undertakings under their control. Naturally, a large part of their function is concerned with the regulation of operations within their docks and with the control of dock labour. It is also a fact that, if the Minister were to submit an Order to this House, and the Order became operative, that scheme, under the Order which the Minister would submit to us, could—unless we receive an explanation of how this is to be avoided—usurp a great part of a port authority's functions. I think it is also perfectly possible, unless the Minister can enlighten us further, or, perhaps, introduce some Amendment to the Bill on the Committee stage, that confusion would become worse confunded, however high the ideals of those who want to solve the problem of decasualisation.
All port authorities are, in varying degrees, direct employers of dock workers. Under the definition of a dock worker in Clause 6 of the Bill, many men now employed by port authorities would become dock workers. The right hon. Gentleman will see that the definition of dock worker in Clause 6 is very broad. For example, a crane driver permanently employed by the port authority, although not at present at some ports on port transport work in the ordinary sense, comes within the definition of Clause 6 of the Bill as submitted by the right hon. Gentleman. Subsection (2a) of Clause I would give the right to those responsible for a. scheme to license employers, with the result that a port authority would have to obtain a licence to employ their own present employees, and general dock workers, which it would be open to the administrators of the scheme to refuse. That is the type of anomaly which does not seem to be covered by the terms of the Bill as at present drafted. If it is covered, I should like enlightenment on the point from the hon. Gentleman who replies. But it would appear—I am taking only one example—that there is a likelihood of complications in administration of these schemes as between what I have described as the quasi-statutory bodies established under an Order to be laid by the Minister, and the existing port authority, whatever it may be. I trust, therefore, that, on that point, we may 1767 have some enlightenment from the hon. Gentleman who replies.
I have some other points which I think will be more suitable for discussion in detail on the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen already that we shall approach this Bill in a critical mood on the Committee Stage in order to render it a better instrument to carry out the task which the right hon. Gentleman destines for it. If the right hon. Gentleman will refer to Clause I (2, b) and will read after the words "and for securing," he will see that it is very difficult to understand the full meaning of that part of the Clause. I put this to him. Is it the intention of the Government that Clause I (2, b) shall cover the case of a dock worker who, under a scheme, has a guaranteed minimum apportionment for a lunar month at a rate of, say, £4 per week, and who earns £16 in the first three weeks and for the other week was not employed, although available for work? Would he be able to claim extra for that last week? This is a point which has been drawn to my attention, and which we must put to the Government for the purpose of obtaining a reply. The difficulty that is foreseen by certain employers in regard to this paragraph, is that it might be construed as implying an obligation on those responsible for a scheme to make a payment in respect of the last week which would amount to a form of unemployment benefit paid by them. [An Hon. Member: "Why not?"] I am, trying to find out. I can make observations on it later. I should like to find out what is the intention of the Government in this respect.
There is a legal point connected with Clause I (2). The Sub-section reads:for constituting or prescribing a body of persons to be responsible for the administration of the scheme;This is a legal point which I want to put. Where the port authority is made the responsible authority for the administration of the scheme, it might be held to be acting ultra vires unless specific powers are conferred by the Bill to exercise the requisite functions. It may be sufficient, I am informed, to derive such additional powers from an Order made under the intended Act, and I should like to know whether the Minister is contemplating putting down an Amendment to the Bill on 1768 this point at a later stage. An example of the sort of manner in which this is covered is Regulation 96 of the Defence Regulations, 1939, which I have studied as the kind of method by which this could be dealt with. I would like to know whether the Government will deal with this point by Amendment to the Bill?
There is another point which we shall have to pursue at a later stage on Clause 2 (2). It would appear, from the drafting of the Bill—unless I am wrong—that, except where arrangements exist as on Merseyside and Clydeside—in which cases only Subsection (3) applies—the Minister has until 31st December, 1946, for making a scheme apply to a port where, owing to irreconcilable differences, no agreed scheme has been reached between the two sides of the industry, but if there is to be undesirable delay I consider that this point should also be dealt with on the Committee stage, if necessary by way of an Amendment. In general, arising out of this point, I cannot help thinking that there is an atmosphere of delay, and that it would be better if the Government would indicate that it is their intention to deal with this mattter as quickly as possible. I did not accept the right hon. Gentleman's words that there had been a delay in the introduction of the Bill, and that therefore the date 1946 might have to be put back, as being a very helpful sign. I should prefer to say that this matter must be dealt with expeditiously and the schemes brought about as reasonably soon as is possible.
Those are the type of detailed points to which we shall attach importance in the latter stages of discussion on the Measure. I must conclude as I began, that while we are entirely in agreement as to the object of the Bill we are disappointed that the stage has not been more widely illuminated by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing it. We are still not clear how the great problems arising at the docks in the matter of decasualisation are to be dealt with in the change over to the new quasi-statutory body, and we are not satisfied that the conditions of working of the National Dock Labour Corporation in war-time are a sufficiently simple analogy on which to base the system for peacetime. We think the Minister and the Ministry tend to rely too much on the two sides getting together in settling some of the great 1769 problems that arise in the case, and we think that the Government ought to make it rather clearer that the House should have more information before the introduction of an Order which it can do very little about at a later stage.
It is a commonplace that we have had many troubles in the docks in the past few weeks and months. The right hon. Gentleman has, if I may say so, stood up to them manfully and in the right spirit. Nevertheless, the country cannot but feel intense disappointment with the whole event, and the results of that event upon the problems of transition from war to peace which affect every householder and every industry. I therefore trust that the new turn that events have taken will prevail, and one method of making things better is to assure dockers that their case for a permanent scheme of regular employment is before Parliament, will be dealt with expeditiously and will be dealt with in such a manner as not to lead to further confusion, further prejudices and further misunderstanding between both sides in the industry.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Hoy (Leith)
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for having caught your eye so early in the Debate, and thus having an opportunity of making my maiden speech in the House, and I would ask for the indulgence of hon. Members during the few minutes I intend to occupy. The reason why I rise on this occasion is that I represent a constituency which contains a very large number of dockers and I have a responsibility for their welfare and that of their wives and their families, and I do welcome this Bill as an effort to give the men security in employment. Thoughts of what happened in the past and the fear of what may happen in the future may have been one of the real reasons for the strike through which we have just passed. I would remind hon. Members that for a period between the two wars there were one in three of the insured population in my constituency unemployed, and the proportion was greater amongst those engaged in dock labour. This unemployment brought much poverty and misery to masses of people in that constituency, and the horrible housing conditions in which they are compelled to live is one of the results.
1770 There are one or two points in the Bill with which I want to deal and one concerns the present representation of the men on committees set up under the National Dock Labour Corporation. There are four representatives from our side on the national scheme, with the same number on the area boards. A local board, unfortunately, has only the power to make representations but all those members are selected members and not elected members, and the workers in the industry feel that they might have a direct say in the representation on these boards. I would ask whoever is to reply to make a note of this point and to give us some assurance that if boards are to be set up in the future, as I presume they are, the workers will have direct representation on them. There are one or two small points which one might deal with in Committee, but probably there will be different points of view from different areas, and I would like to point out that one of the main reasons why the men in my constituency asked for this point is that they are not altogether pleased with the tremendous responsibility placed in the hands of the dock manager in whatever area a dock is situated. They feel that many men are dismissed unjustifiably and they suggest to the Minister that these local committees might be consulted before men are so dismissed. These are points to which the Minister might care to reply at the end of this discussion.
I would say in conclusion that I do not think this is the last word in dock organisation, or schemes for dock workers. I think the problem is a more deep-seated one than can be tackled by anything in this Bill, but inasmuch as the Bill does offer some security, such as has never been offered before to the dock worker, the dock worker's wife and the dock worker's children, I welcome it on behalf of the people in my constituency.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I feel certain that I shall be expressing the common view of the House in offering our congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) on the speech which he has just made. It was delivered most competently and modestly and yet was pervaded by that atmosphere of realism, directness and lucidity that people who come direct from the observation of these problems 1771 to their discussion in this House always bring to our Debates. My hon. Friend need have no diffidence, on a future occasion, in offering his observations to the House, and I can assure him we shall all look forward to those interventions.
Nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to have been able to repeat those congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Minister. I am afraid I cannot. I recognise in his favour and in extenuation, that he, himself, said that this Bill was prepared a few months ago, and I imagine that by a few months he means more than four months, because I feel certain that the present Government, approaching this question afresh, would not have drawn this Bill in its present form. In viewing the activities of the Government in filling up the idle moments of Parliamentary time with legislation handed over from a previous Government, while their own really valuable legislation is being prepared, I am constrained to wonder whether those advising the Government and the Minister ever read the Bills they present to the House.
I am equally amazed at the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition. Ever since the Election there has been one point, and one point only, on which the Opposition seem to have made up their minds that they ought to oppose, and that is that they do not want too many controls. They do not like controls; they do not like State intervention, at any rate where property is concerned. Here we have a Bill which for the first time in the history of this country for hundreds of years makes the mere breach of a contract of employment a criminal offence, and does it by delegated legislation; and the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition had not a word to say about it. He likes delegated legislation when it is that kind of legislation. I think it is the one occasion on which delegated legislation ought to be avoided. I agree with the objection that was hinted at, but not pressed, that to allow agreements to take place outside, and then to treat this House as a rubber stamp giving legal effect is not a very desirable practice, but to use that kind of legislative machinery in order to create an entirely new criminal offence is a most amazing thing, and when I heard my right hon. Friend proposing it I felt real consternation.
1772 What does the Bill do? I was born in a dock area. I had a professional practice, and still have, in a dock area. I represented a dock area on the Liverpool city council for some years. Nobody knows better than I do the bitter tragedy of casual labour at the docks. I shall never forget going to my office one morning and interviewing the first client who came there. He was 65 years of age, he had worked in the docks for 50 years and he had suffered an injury to his foot. It was agreed that he would never work again and he wanted to know about his compensation. He was totally and permanently incapacitated and was receiving as compensation 3s. 9d. a week, and I had to advise him that that was what he was entitled to under the Act, and that there was nothing I could do for him, because he was a casual worker, because compensation was based upon average earnings, and because during the previous 12 months he had earned £13 in all. A sum of £13 in the year gives an average of 5s. a week, and if a man's earnings are 5s. a week he does not get 50 per cent.but 75 per cent. of them, and 75 per cent. of 5s. is 3s. 9d. The same morning, I had read that Lord Ellerman, who had just died, had left £40,000,000.
I am very much in favour of any scheme which will render dock labour not casual, and in so far as this Bill effects that purpose, we shall all, at any rate on this side of the House, support it with enthusiasm. However, I want my right hon. Friend to consider why it was necessary to put into this Bill—or if he did not put it in, why he thought it necessary to retain in it—the sanctions of the criminal law. He said that many of the provisions of the Bill merely reproduced features in the existing voluntary schemes. Well, there is a voluntary scheme on Merseyside which has operated throughout the war. The work done under that scheme has earned the admiration of the whole country, not merely for its industry but for its heroism. Men worked under it without any criminal sanctions. The Essential Work Order was never brought into operation on Merseyside because the voluntary scheme made it unnecessary. The Essential Work Order certainly involved a criminal sanction in the court, but we did not have the Essential Work Order in Liverpool; we had a voluntary scheme there without any 1773 criminal sanction at all. Why do we want a criminal sanction for Liverpool dockers in peacetime? Still more, if a criminal sanction is wanted, in order to make sure that dockers play their part in any agreed scheme, why except the employers from the criminal sanction if they do not play their part? Will my right hon. Friend look at Clause 1 (3) which provides:A scheme may declare, as respects any provision of the scheme other than a provision requiring the payment of money, that a contravention or failure to comply with that provision is an offence.What does that mean? I suppose any sanctions scheme will require certain hours of work. It will require a man, accepted under the scheme and guaranteed the minimum or standard wage, to be available for employment with any employer to whom he may be allocated. It may require him to do overtime in certain circumstances. It may require him to make certain journeys—it may even require him to go to different ports. If he fails to comply with any of them, then that may be a provision—because it is not a provision requiring the payment of money—to which the criminal law will apply if he breaks it. However, I suppose such a scheme will also provide for a minimum or standard wage. If it does, that will be a provision requiring the payment of money, and this Clause which brings the criminal law into the picture exempts that provision from that sanction. I cannot understand how my right hon. Friend came to present a Bill to this House with such a provision in it, except on the basis that all they are doing is bringing forward a lot of legislation without proper examination or study to fill up a little time which they do not know how to fill up otherwise.
Hon. Members have only to look at what the Clause provides. I understand that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) is to reply to this Debate. I am very glad of that, because I know he agrees with me, not because he has ever discussed it with me, but because he and I used to sit over there in the last Parliament, and there was a famous occasion when he and I were in rebellion, not only against the Coalition Government but against our colleagues in that Government. Can he remember what it was all about, I wonder? I will remind him, in case he may have forgotten. It was Regulation 1AA. What my hon. Friend 1774 will have to defend at the end of this Debate is the principle of Regulation 1AA being brought into a permanent scheme in peacetime. My right hon. Friend said, "Oh, but what about people who do not come into line?" Well, I have a great deal of sympathy with people who do not come into line; I think there is a lot to be said for them, and I think the political history of' our country would be very much poorer, if everybody had always come into line. Under this Rill a strike, even an official strike, could be illegal. Any strike that was a breach of a provision to work, contained in a scheme, would be a criminal act, and every striker could be sent to prison for three months. I understand that, as a matter of special mercy in his case, since a docker is not a body corporate, his fine cannot be more than £50.
I do not know what minimum wages the Government are contemplating for dockers, but I doubt whether they will be so high that £50 will be an inconsiderable sum. A strike under this Bill could be punished by the criminal law if it meant that the strikers, in pursuance of their strike, absented themselves from work where, under the Bill, they ought to be. Even the Essential Work Order did not do that; the Essential Work Order excepted from its criminal sanctions action in pursuance of a strike. There is no such saving Clause here at all, so even an official strike could be criminal under this Bill. What are we to say about unofficial strikes? I do not like unofficial strikes. I agree with everybody that the unofficial strike is wrong. I am not seeking to lay blame; I do not find it so easy to do that as some people. But I recognise that the unofficial strike which has taken place over this many weeks, has caused great loss to the community. I do not like it and I do not think the strikers like it or that anybody likes it. But would either of my right hon. and hon. Friends in charge of this Bill have been prepared at any time to make it a criminal offence? It will be a criminal offence under the Bill. I can understand that great and powerful unions do not like break-away bodies, but I should hate to think that anyone on the Front Bench imagined that the war was fought only to make the world safe for the Transport and General Workers Union.
1775 I hope my hon. Friend will consider this matter very carefully, for it would be a great pity if a Measure of this kind, designed to effect what I regard as a major social reform, were utterly ruined by introducing into it a spirit of the Statute of Labourers. That is what is being done. The employer is exempted, so that it is altogether a too favourable description of the case to say that it makes the breach of a contract of employment a criminal offence. It does that, but only on one side—only on the labour side—and we are then right back to the Statute of Labourers. I really do not understand how the Government came to commit themselves to that. It is a very great pity indeed that in a Measure of major social reform and social justice, capable of doing great good to what has always been the real Cinderella of industry in this country, the Government should have allowed themselves to be made responsible for introducing a provision of that kind.
I admit that I may very fairly be asked, "Ought there to be no sanction at all? Supposing there is a scheme giving people a guaranteed week, a guaranteed wage, and protecting them by all sorts of ways, ought there not to be any way of seeing to it that they do not idly or irresponsibly break the conditions which are an accompanying part, and a justifiable condition of those advantages which the State intervenes to secure for them?" But, of course, there is such a sanction; there was such a sanction on Merseyside during the war without the criminal law at all. This scheme confers great advantages on a casual dock labourer which no one who has been a casual dock labourer would be in any doubt about at all. He will do a great deal, and go a long way, before he voluntarily deprives himself of the advantages of that scheme and, under the scheme operating voluntarily, on Merseyside throughout the war, without this House, without Statute, without regulations and, above all, without the criminal law, the sanction was that if a man misbehaved himself, or was not available for work when he ought to have been, or committed any other offence of that kind, his book would be withdrawn from him and he would cease to be a registered or guaranteed dock labourer, and all the advantages of the scheme would be taken away from 1776 him. I would not say a word against that. If a man is not prepared to carry out his share of a bargain, then it is quite right that he ought not to expect any benefits under the bargain.
§ Mr. Silverman
Certainly, that would apply to an unofficial strike. The port labour officer would have the right to withdraw a man's book and remove him from the guaranteed scheme altogether, subject to the man having the right of appeal which he has now. He can argue it out before a committee, and, if it is really justifiable to take away his book, then the taking of that book is supported and confirmed. If not, then iris appeal is allowed. Or, it may be allowed subject to conditions or some other kind of penalty imposed, but it is all done, and was done throughout the war, without calling in the aid of the criminal law.
Finally, if this principle is really to be sanctioned in the case of dock labourers where is it to stop? I find that one of the objects of the scheme is to secure that "an adequate number of dock workers is available." I think the Minister of Fuel and Power made a speech in the country during the weekend, in which he said that it is necessary also to have sufficient coal miners, in which he said also that we could not do anything with the coalmining situation unless there were new entries into the industry, apprentices, and the recruitment of labour from outside. Are the Government going to leave the scheme like this? I do beg of the right hon. Gentleman to consider where it is we are going; and I hope that he will be able to tell us that this mischievous and dangerous provision will be removed from the Bill in the course of the Committee stage. Unless such an assurance can be given, I shall vote against the Second Reading of the Bill even if I do so alone.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
The hon. Gentleman opposite has just delivered a very important speech, which one would rather expect to hear from the Opposition benches. With the aims and objects of the Bill set out by the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think any Member of the House of whatever party would quarrel. But when we come to examine 1777 the Bill we ask ourselves: Does it carry out the aims and intentions expressed by the right hon. Gentleman? I think the warning that has been given to the House on this point clearly indicates that for the first time the right hon. Gentleman is introducing into a dispute of this kind the power of the criminal law. Great demands have been made for the repeal of the Trades Disputes Act. That Act was fought in this House, Clause by Clause. The party opposite were wholly in favour of it, but that Act does not go as far as this present Bill. This Bill goes a good deal further. The only explanation that can be offered for the introduction of this Bill in its present form, by the present Government, is that they are, apparently, not yet aware that the war is over and are carrying powers into peace time which were invoked only for times of war.
Let us look at Clause 1 which states:Provision may be made by scheme under this Act…for ensuring greater regularity of employment for dock workers and for securing that an adequate number of dock workers is available for the efficient performance of their work.That is not "Socialism in our time," but is slavery in our time. That is what it amounts to. But I would like hon. Members to look at Subsection (2, b):"for regulating the recruitment and entry into the scheme of dock workers and their allocation to employers.I would impress on the House that if the provisions of this Clause are broken, it means that the criminal law will be invoked. If this Bill had been introduced by a Conservative Party in this House, with a huge majority, it would have been denounced throughout the length and breadth of this land as "a slavery Bill" and it would have been rightly so called. I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and I too will go into the Lobby against this Bill, if it is necessary to do so.
I was a little astonished to hear some of the references which have been made to delegated legislation, but when one looks at these Orders, one finds they belong to two different classes. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's point when he says that these Orders will be made when there is agreement between the employers and the trade unions, and laid on the Table of the House and it will in those circumstances be undesir- 1778 able for them to be debated. That is understandable enough. But that is not the only kind of order that will be made under this Bill. Provision is here made for other kinds of Orders, which will be presented to the House in the absence of agreement. That is where the right hon. Gentleman has had to appoint an independent chairman to go into the dispute, and an Order has been made upon the findings of that independent chairman. Why should not the House discuss that kind of Order? Even if the workers or the employers or both have not agreed, I cannot understand why such an Order should not be discussed by the House. Since when has this House been precluded from protecting the liberty of the subjects of this country? Surely it cannot seriously be contended by any hon. Member, on whatever side of the House he sits, who believes in the liberty of the subject and in the keeping of contracts between employers and employed, that the breaking of an ordinary contract of this kind should be subject to the penalties of the criminal law. I hope that serious attention will be given to the points raised by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and that the Government will be persuaded to withdraw this Bill in its present form and introduce another Bill which will effectively give power to bring about those aims and intentions, to which the right hon. Gentleman outlined earlier.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Solley (Thurrock)
In about a fortnight's time it will be my duty to go to Tilbury and to report back on what has taken place today in this House, and I shall tell the Tilbury dockers of the solicitude for their future which was expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler). I shall tell them that he was disturbed by the atmosphere of delay, and no doubt, as is the unfortunate habit of dockers—unfortunate if one is on the other side of the fence—they will say to me, perhaps not in Parliamentary language, "Why did not the party to which the right hon. Gentleman belongs and which had effective Parliamentary control for the greater part of the period between the two wars, see to it that decasualisation was effectively dealt with, and steps taken to improve the lot of the dockers?"
There have been a number of criticisms made of this Bill. Some I think have substance, and I propose to deal with 1779 them in the course of my speech. But first things first. I think in order to see this Bill in its correct perspective, one must look at it from the historical point of view. I noticed that the Minister in his admirable speech referred to a number of committees, reports and the like but if I may say so with great respect to him he did not clothe the legal anatomy with the blood and flesh of reality. I think it would be a good thing especially for Members on the opposite side of the House if they were told a few home truths about the conditions of the dockers—of the Tilbury dockers in my constituency—and why they make their demands today.
It is not a long way back, in terms of time, to the great London dock strike of 1889. We were then experiencing a great boom in our trade. What about the dockers? They were starving. To use an expression which fell from the lips of that great leader of the dockers, Ben Tillett, "the dockers were regarded as a submerged people." Journalists who became amateur dockers for 24 hours never forgot their awful experiences, which they related in books, in pamphlets and some times in the columns of the "Pall Mall Gazette." Those were the days when the dockers had to fight for the chance of an hour or two's work. Yet those were the days when ships were entering and leaving the richest port in the world. The wages offered were 5d. or 4d. an hour and the dockers were lucky if they got two or three hours' consecutive work. I think I am justified in reminding some of our Conservative friends of the words of the first manifesto issued by the joint strike committee in those great revolutionary days of the trade union movement of this country, because I think an extract from it will be sufficient to enable hon. Members to realise the atmosphere of the time:
Fellow working men! The dock labourers of London, the poorest, most wretched and worst paid men in London, are on strike for an advance of a penny an hour day work, and two pence per hour overtime. The amount of work these men may obtain is only an average three or four hours a day; with this they have to suffer under a system of sub-contract which permits them to be driven like slaves, at the bidding of men who are selected from the most brutal of their class, who underpay, overdrive and restrict the numbers necessary to do a lair day's work.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
If this Bill had been law at that time the men who were on 1780 strike to get an extra penny an hour would have committed a criminal offence, and would have run the risk of going to gaol.
§ Mr. Solley
The conditions which obtained in 1889 are very different from those which obtain on 12th November, 1945, and I shall deal, in due course, with the implications of my hon. Friend's interruption. But may I be allowed to continue this very short description of the history of the dockers? The dock strike, as we know, was successful. It was followed by a series of strikes throughout the country in the years that followed. It is good that the Conservative Members of this House should be reminded that in Southampton, in 1890, troops made bayonet charges against dockers on strike. It is good that those of their class should be reminded that in 1893 the dockers of Fetherstone—
§ Mr. Solley
Yes, the dockers of Fetherstone were shot down by the orders of the Government of that day. It is a good thing that they should be reminded of "bloody Sunday" on 13th August, 1911, during the Liverpool dock strike, when a brutal attack was made by the police on a mass demonstration which was being addressed by Tom Mann. Members may be interested in what the "Manchester Guardian" said of that assault by the police:A display of violence to horrify all those who saw it.I now come to the days of 1914. [Interruption.] I know hon. Members opposite are anxious that I should get on, but I also know that they do not like to be reminded of these things.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter(Wood Green) rose—
§ Mr. Solley
If it hurts my hon. Friend opposite to be reminded of what happened during the last war, I will come directly to 1920. [Interruption.] I am now going to read from the Shaw Report, whether hon. Members opposite like it or not. The Shaw Report was made under the Industrial Courts Act of 1919 in connection with an inquiry concerning the conditions of employment in dock labour. I 1781 would refer to paragraph 17 of the report which gives the unanimous opinion of that Court on the question of casual labour. It will help one to look at this particular subject realistically. This is the short extract:The Court is of opinion that labour frequently or constantly under-employed is injurious to the interests of the workers, the ports, and the public, and that it is discreditable to society. It undermines all security, and is apt to undermine all self-respect upon the workers' part. It is only among those who have sunk very far, and whom the system itself may have demoralised, that it can be accepted as a working substitute for steady and assured employment. In one sense it is a convenience to authorities and employers, whose requirements are at the mercy of storms and titles and unforeseen casualties, to have a reservoir of unemployment which can be readily tapped as the need emerges for a labour supply. If men were merely the spare parts of an industrial machine, this callous reckoning might be appropriate; but society will not tolerate much longer the continuance of the employment of human beings on those lines.The Shaw award made certain recommendations, particularly in connection with decasualisation of dock labour, and recommendations as to registration and maintenance. Unfortunately, in spite of the urgency, which was as great in 1920 as in 1945, the full implications of that award, so far as decasualisation of labour was concerned, were not fully implemented; and it needed another world war before the dockers got a comparatively efficient scheme of decasualisation. It is of some interest to see how that scheme of decasualisation originated. The Dock Labour Essential Work Order, 1941, defines a dock labour scheme as being a scheme which has for its principal objects the rapid handling of goods and turn-round of ships. It is not a scheme which has as its principal object the decasualisation of human labour. To further the efficient carrying on of certain industrial processes in the interest of the war effort, dock labour schemes provide for a method of decasualisation of dock labour.
If we turn to the Bill before the House today, we find—and I am glad that it should be so—that the purpose of the scheme under the Bill is to ensure greater regularity of employment and an adequate number of dock workers. In other words, for the first time in our history, we have given statutory recognition to this great human problem. The Bill is not a means for more efficiently carrying 1782 on industrial processes, but a means for providing a reasonable standard of living for human beings, who ought to have that standard as a human right. May I refer to one or two of the criticisms which have been levied against the Bill. I would first make my own position plain. I welcome this Bill in spite of its many deficiencies. I welcome it, because I feel that after it has emerged from the Committee stage, and after the dockers through their democratic organisations have had their say, this Bill will probably become an Act of Parliament and will provide the minimum which today the dockers require of their employers. I think that this Bill makes a really big approach to that end. Clause 1 (2, c) provides that the scheme is to secure that the rates of remuneration and condition of service shall be in accordance with certain national agreements. The comment which I have to make upon that is the comment which I have to make upon the entire Bill. The success or failure of the Bill stands or falls on the terms of the scheme. It is perfectly true, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden that we have not got the scheme in front of us. But, nevertheless, we must look ahead and we must remember that the scheme, when it does ultimately reach this House, will be a scheme which has been arrived at as a result of the pressure of the dockers. I am content to leave it to the dockers to see that the scheme does not disappoint them.
On this paragraph, I would like to say this to the Government: It may well be that national agreements will not be able to provide for a fortnight's holiday with pay and for certain guarantees as to minimum hours of work. These are matters which may have to be considered on a national level by the Government, and I ask the Government to see that any national or local agreement provides for these matters, and that the Government put through legislation, in good time, to see that such agreements do in fact correspond with the Dockers'demands in that behalf. In regard to Clause 1 (2, d), which requires satisfactory provision for the training and welfare of dock workers, hon. Members know that the incidence of industrial disease and accidents among dockers is the highest in this country, except among miners, and it is essential that schemes shall have comprehensive 1783 provisions with respect to the welfare of dock workers. In that respect it is interesting to see what Lord Ammon, Chairman of the National Dock Labour Corporation, Ltd., had to say on 26th June, 1945, in his annual speech. He said:I cannot but note that in recent months the Corporation has been hindered in its welfare programme and that port medical schemes, prepared by our local Boards, lie dormant. These schemes were designed to afford what is very badly needed, immediate medical service to the men working in the docks. Not one of these schemes is being launched, although this industry carries one of the highest accident rates. These objections do not come from the majority of employers—but the fact remains that until these difficulties have been resolved, welfare schemes cannot be implemented and the efficiency of the industry is thereby impaired.I ask the Government to see that future provisions of any scheme under this Bill provide a criminal sanction against the "bosses" if they do that which Lord Ammon says they now do—namely, deliberately prevent the launching of health schemes which are intended to save the lives and the health of the dockers. With respect to Clause 1 (3) of the Bill, to which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne referred, I would like to answer him in this way: First, he is not quite right in saying that this is the first time in our history that a breach of an industrial agreement has been met by criminal sanctions.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
Would the hon. Member get it right? I did not refer to the breach of an industrial agreement. I said that it was the first time since the Statute of Labourers that a mere breach of a contract of employment had been treated as a criminal offence.
§ Mr. Solley
I know that this is a debating point, but it ought to be made, because of the strenuous way in which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne put his point. In fact today if, for example, a man is absent without good cause, he is in breach of his contract of employment, because such a contract implies that a worker shall not absent himself without reasonable cause. Such a breach can today be met by criminal proceedings under the provisions of the Essential Work Order and certain other provisions. Therefore it is incorrect to say—for what this debating point is worth—that for the first time in our history the 1784 Bill provides, or a statutory document provides, that a breach of contract of employment can, in certain cases, be met by criminal proceedings.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I think that the hon. Member will appreciate in time that debating points are not really worth very much. I was not referring to the Essential Work Order. The Essential Work Order was a defence regulation for the period of the war and the period of the emergency. We are dealing in this Bill with permanent legislation, and what I pointed out was that even the Essential Work Order, which did indeed contain a criminal sanction, was never applied to Merseyside or other docks during the war.
§ Me. Solley
While I am much obliged for that explanation, I still think that the point I made was a valid one. To proceed to a point of substance. The hon. Member suggests that the employers are not touched by the provisions of this paragraph. I say that is not so. Let me give an example to substantiate my argument. If it is a term of the scheme that an employer shall provide certain recreational facilities, or certain first-aid facilities, a breach of the employer's obligations in that behalf would be met by a criminal sanction in the terms of Clause 1 (3) and (4). The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is worried by this—that as far as employers are concerned the sanction does not go far enough. At all events that would be the implication from his argument. I think it is right that an employer should have a criminal sanction, in a case where he fails to pay the right wages, or any wages to a docker. So far as the docker is concerned, I agree completely with the point made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. I think it is wrong that a docker should be threatened with criminal proceedings should he commit any breach of any of the terms of the scheme.
There is one other point I would like to make and that is with reference to certain suggestions which were made in the admirable maiden speech of the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy). He referred particularly to the heavy responsibility which today rests on the shoulders of dock managers. Under the Port of London dock labour scheme and certain other dock labour schemes, the port managers' 1785 responsibility is imposed by that very scheme, and is connected with the jurisdiction of the National Dock Corporation. But we are facing a new position today. We are in the position of having had the experience of the operation of the decasualisation schemes since 1941, and of having been able to learn from their operation. I am confident that when it comes to agreeing the terms of the new schemes envisaged under the Bill, the Government will have learned from the past experience to which I have referred, and will see to it that all the grievances of the dockers which arise from past schemes will be met, and that no similar grievance arise in the future.
I would conclude on this note: It is impossible to consider this Bill, as it were, in vacuo. It must be considered in the light of the strength of the working class movement, in the light of the strength of the dockers themselves. Between now and the time when this Bill becomes law, and schemes are drawn up under it, it will be for the dockers to see that they strengthen themselves within their own trade union movement, to see that there is greater contact between the officials of the union and the men, so that the dockers can better put their point of view before the appropriate authority when the time comes. If that is done the dockers will speak with a unanimous voice. I am confident that they will overcome the difficulties inherent at the moment in this Bill, and that there will commence a new order of things based on the fundamental human principal that the docker ought not to be the victim of a system of casual labour but should have a guaranteed week and a standard of living at least equal to that of his fellow workers in this country.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Captain Hewitson (Hull, Central)
I have to ask the indulgence of the House for this, my first effort. I am sorry to do so, because in asking that indulgence one must recognise some of the proprieties of the House, and refrain from being as rude as one would like to be about some things that have been said earlier. I wish to bring the House back to the realm of realities. This Bill, which decasualises the dockers, will have the general support of dock workers throughout the country. This Bill has been studied by the dock workers' representatives throughout the country, and by the dock 1786 workers themselves in their trade union branches. As one of the dock workers' representatives—as I have the honour to be for my own trade union, the National Docks Officers—I can say without hesitation that the dock workers welcome the Bill and are only sorry that the Minister did not go a little further, and nationalise the industry instead of decasualising the dockers.
We should like to see nationalisation of the industry, because in the scheme which is operating in the dock industry to-day, or the three schemes, the Dock Labour Corporation scheme, the Liverpool scheme and the Glasgow scheme, is embodied the machinery that could take over and run the industry. Taking the three schemes together, the whole of the dock workers in their registration pools—this does not include Glasgow—are now operating through registration committees. How do they work, and how will they work in the future? In the main, these registration committees in the past have been committees between the workers' organisations and the employers. They assess what the pool of labour shall be at that particular port, and there are certain conditions attached to registration, such as, that a docker's son has the right to go on the register and be a docker. Why they did it in the old days we do not know, but we look forward to the time when the dock industry will be an honourable calling for dockers'sons.
One thing we are afraid of in the Bill is the registered pool of dock workers. We can decasualise the dockers, and have a registered pool of dock workers which may be so small that there will have to be around them a fringe of casuals. We want no fringe of casuals surounding the prepared schemes. We have in this country, and it is a good thing that we have, a system of carrying on our industries by voluntary agreements. The docker will not be regimented, make no mistake about that. He will stand by his voluntary agreements, and in spite of what we hear from time to time about these fellows who are we are told always kicking over the traces, and trying to hold the country to ransom, and endeavouring to stop our food supplies, the job of work the docker has done for this country should be remembered by the people who say those things. In fact, what we cannot produce to feed ourselves, must come 1787 through our ports. The only people to handle that produce are the dockers, and they have worked honourably and well. During the war the docker gave away more than the workers in any other industry in the country to maintain the vital services of the nation. The docker did that during the war years and now he is asking for something in return. He is entitled to that, and to get away from that system of the docker being regarded as an animal, to be pointed out because he was big and hefty, and got half a day's work. That has gone. We have got to the stage where the docker is recognised as an intelligent human being who can hold up his head and look any man in the eye, because he is an honourable man belonging to an honourable calling.
We can say to the Minister in all sincerity: Go ahead with this scheme. Even at this moment, while we are talking of the scheme in the House, the practical men of the industry are discussing, in another Government building, means of bringing peace to the industry by voluntary agreement, not by anything forced upon them, so that in these schemes both sides will get together in their areas and ports, and each area will develop and build a scheme according to the special circumstances of that area and port. When we getthose agreed schemes, we will come to the Minister and say, "There is our scheme, made by voluntary agreement. Will you give it sanction?" If he does so, that scheme will go into operation, with the good will of both sides, and it is only by the good willof those sides that any scheme will work. The Minister can go forward with the assurance that the union ised national industry on the trade union side give him full support for his Bill. We hope he will see it through in its entirety.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Hollis (Devizes)
I have great satisfaction in feeling, for the first time, almost as if I were an old Member, in having the pleasure of congratulating the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Captain Hewitson). It is the first time I have had the privilege of congratulating a Member on his maiden speech. It is always extraordinarily interesting to hear a sincere expression of opinion on a subject of which the hon. Member who speaks is himself a master, 1788 and I am sure that we shall all look forward to having the benefit of the hon. and gallant Member's opinion many times in the future. In the course of his very interesting speech, it would have been very interesting if he had given us his opinion on the point that has been raised by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Morris). He told us that there was a strong opinion among the dockers in favour of the decasualisation of casual labour. There has been no opposition to that on any side of the House. He held out the hope which we all hold, that agreements will always be reached in the future, and that therefore it will not be necessary to invoke these penal Clauses. But we have to face the ugly fact of the possibility, as the Bill envisages, that agreements will not always be reached, and the question of what is to happen when they are not reached.
We hope that very much more satisfactory assurances will be given by the right hon. Gentleman when he speaks later as to the meaning of Clause 1 (4), and the introduction of this new and ominous penal Clause. I did not wholly follow the argument of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne in which he maintained that penal compulsion would be applied only to the worker and not to the employer. The Minister of Labour did not admit that argument. But, whether they apply only to the worker or to worker and employer, the Clause gives cause for concern. The traditional English doctrine of a free man is that he is free to accept or refuse work as he wishes to do. It does appear that that free tradition is denied in this Bill. I hope we shall have a satisfactory explanation when the Minister replies.
There is one large consideration that we have to bear in mind about the docking world, that is, that its future is necessarily uncertain, in the sense that no one can possibly tell at present what will be the future of foreign trade for this country, or what will be the future demand for dock labour. If these plans and similar plans go through, then the dock labourer in this country will, in many cases gratifyingly, be in a privileged position compared to the dock labourers in other countries. That is a matter upon which we should congratulate ourselves and which we shall welcome. But it 1789 carries with it a corollary. As we are told that we can only live in the future by recapturing our export trade, and that we can only recapture that export trade if we can put goods on the market at cheaper rates than those of other countries, that means that if we are to pay higher wages to the dockers, we shall probably only be able to do so if we introduce a highly efficient mechanisation into the dock world, and therefore have a reduction of labour. Therefore, it may well be that we shall have prosperous foreign trade but we shall also have less dock labour in the future.
It might also be that, in spite of what the leaders of the parties are advocating, we may fail to recapture foreign trade and gain our prosperity in the future, through a surprisingly large development of domestic labour. In that case, again, there will be less dock labour because there will be less work at the docks. Nobody can foresee whether in the future there will be a temptation to try to retain foreign markets by cheapening costs of production and by reducing dock wages again. Therefore, although the Bill is to be welcomed on the grounds that its general purpose is to ensure greater regularity of employment for dock workers and to secure adequate numbers of dock workers available, yet I think it is important for the House to realise how very uncertain is the future of dock labour.
I remember that in the Debate on the Address the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), speculating on the future of atomic energy, held out the possibility that with atomic development we might within a measureable time reach a state of affairs in which coal would hardly be an industry at all, and by stabilising and guaranteeing miners' wages we might be imposing on our shoulders a permanent rentier class. I think most hon. Members were agreed that the hon. Member for Rugby was indulging rather in a flight of fancy in that speculation. But there is a similar possibility in the dock world if the machinery is made over-rigid. In the dock world the consequence of such a disaster would be that a permanent rentier class would suffer the penalty of reduced wages. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister not to make this scheme unnecessarily rigid. I can assure the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley) that there is no dispute on any side of the House as to the desire for prosperity in this im- 1790 portant industry. Our desire is to see that that prosperity should survive, and that freedom should survive. Differences of opinion between us, so far as there are differences, are nothing but honest differences of opinion as to which is the best method of bringing prosperity to the industry and the best guarantees of the survival in it of freedom.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
As a new Member, I have observed with a great deal of pleasure the tolerance, good humour and forbearance which exist in the House. This has helped the new Members to gain a certain amount of confidence and to adapt themselves to their new circumstances.
I rise to give this Bill my fullest support. I represent a city which for 100 years has owned and controlled its docks. I have been closely and intimately associated with the dock workers, particularly of the South Wales ports, and I know something not only of their industrial problems but of their social problems. One of the greatest social problems that has confronted the dockers during the last century has been the problem of casual work. I am glad to observe this afternoon that hon. Members are prepared to agree to the general principle of this Bill. The opposition that has been put forward by several Members, has not been against the general principle of the regularisation of dock labour. It has been against some of the details of the Bill, and I hope that if weaknesses are found in the Bill, they can be removed and the Bill strengthened.
A week or two ago there was a dispute; Questions were asked in this House and some of the dockers have been besmirched by innuendo and subtle suggestions. It is very difficult to command or impose discipline under the system of casual labour. Casual labour is not fertile soil for the tree of industrial peace and tranquillity. Such a tree must find its nourishment in soil of a higher quality than that of casual labour. I am pleased that the Opposition have agreed with the principle of this Bill to abolish casual labour, as far as our docks are concerned. This Bill, in general principle, deals effectively with a long-standing social evil in our dock life. It will abolish economic waste of manpower which none of us, whether employers or employees, can contemplate without uneasiness. After 1791 all, this industry is the lifeblood of this nation, and that lifeblood must be kept flowing freely. By introducing this Bill to decasualise that labour I believe it will flow much more freely than it has.
In the past, this House has interfered in many ways with employers, forcing them to improve the conditions of their workers and safeguarding the workers from conditions which would be detrimental to their health and character. In 1802 we had the first Factory Act. In 1842 we had the first Mines Regulations. They were followed by Merchant Shipping Acts, Truck Acts, Shop Acts, Workmen's Compensation Acts and trade boards. All these were designed with the same objective—either improving the conditions of the worker or preventing his position from becoming worsened. I desire to say a word about the docker from the point of view of his war effort. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Capt. Hewitson) mentioned what the docker has done. During the war, as we were informed a fortnight ago, these men handled 250,000,000 tons of cargo. That was excluding the bulk cargoes of coal, oil and grain. They did a remarkable job of work under very trying circumstances. I know from my experience in the ports that the sea transport officers, acting on behalf of the War Office, have sent letters of congratulation to these men for the magnificent work they did. I want to remind the House that they gave up many privileges that they have won through many strenuous struggles with difficult opponents. They did so in order to see the country through a great difficulty. During that period, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley) said, 10 per cent. of the dockers were injured. Out of 100,000 dockers in this country, 50,000 accidents occurred at our dock sides, and 500 of those accidents were fatal. They were engaged in work which called for great strength and human endurance. The loyalty of these men is second to none. "The convoys had to get through," and I would remind the House that it was the dockers who prepared the convoy for its perilous journey.
I desire to say a word or two on the question of casual labour, to which the hon. Member for Thurrock has referred. There have been more inquiries into the 1792 question of casual labour than into any other form of industrial employment. If we go back to 1834, when the Poor Law Commission sat, we find a scathing indictment and condemnation of the casual system of this country. The courts said it was a blot uponour civilisation and ought to be wiped out. That was 111 years ago. Tonight, this House is endeavouring to wipe out that blot which has existed right through the 19th century down to the present time. In 1905, another Poor Law Commission sat, and, in equally scathing language, condemned the system of casual labour. They said that it should be removed from our industrial system because it was a blot on our civilisation. I shall not weary the House with quotations from the Report of the Poor Law Commission of 1905. In 1908 when the Port of London Authority was set up, there was a definite instruction in Section 29 of the Act, that the Port of London Authority should endeavour to regularise the employment of their workpeople in the Port of London. But when the dock strike of 1912 took place, complaints were then made that nothing had been done by the Port of London Authority during the three years of its existence to regularise the conditions of the Port labour. That was the first instance, so far as I know, of a Government of this country giving any indication that they were in any way interested in the problem of casual labour in the dock industry. The hon. Member for Thurrock quoted the report of the Shaw inquiry. I am not going to repeat that, but Sir LyndenMacassey represented the employers at that inquiry, and the employers representative said that the employers were in favour of the principle of devising some scheme of decasualisation. He added:It is obvious that any person must be in favour of effecting a favourable reform of this sort. It is a proposition that commends itself to the employers, who occupy a public position in the industry of this country.That was the opinion of the employers' representative at the Shaw Inquiry in 1929.
The Lord Mayor of Liverpool decided to hold what was then the fourth inquiry into the principles of casual labour in the Port of Liverpool. Sir Charles Booth started it in 1893 and between then and 1929 there were two other inquiries.
1793 Mr. Hope, then Lord Mayor of Liverpool, with the assistance of the Earl of Derby and the Lord Bishop of Liverpool, held the inquiry. They said, regarding casual labour, casual labour brought dire poverty and physical and mental degradation, as well as insoluble difficulties of a social order. It was an impossible foundation for the best forms of citizenship, and its influence on the people was essentially bad and had no redeeming feature. The civil life of the nation justly demanded that the roots of this industrial system should grow in better soil. That was the opinion of a Lord Mayor of Liverpool who held an inquiry. We had another Committee to deal with this problem; after the Shaw Inquiry we had the Maclean Committee, in 1924. The right hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Sir Ben Smith) introduced a Bill in the House of Commons for the decasualisation of dock labour. At the same time there was a strike in London. An Industrial Court was set up, under Sir Donald Maclean, to examine the position, and to see whether some method could be found to regularise dock labour more in harmony with this 20th Century civilisation of ours. They decided to introduce a system of registration to prevent an influx of workers on to the docks, as a first step towards the decasualisation of dock labour.
Now we have come to the position, that this House must deal with the problem. The employers have failed. The employers have said that casual labour is the only system that can meet the exigencies and difficulties of dock work. They have failed deplorably to deal with the problem. It is left now for this House to introduce a scheme of its own. I am not going to say that no progress has been made in the dock industry. The diabolical scramble for work tallies, the mad rush from ship to ship and port to port, the picking of men in public houses in the evening, the system of patronage which destroyed the best that was in human nature—those things have been done away with. The system of engaging labour has become more regular and more systematic. Call places and call stands have been arranged. There has been a mighty improvement in the system of our dock industry during the past 20 years. There now remains but one thing to be done, to wipe out this blot. This relic of 19th Century civilisation must now be wiped out, and 1794 that can be done only by legislation. I am pleased to know that the Opposition will give us their support for these proposals.
I have had experience of the two systems that are now in operation in the ports. As an official of a union dealing for 25 years with dockers I know something about the Dockers'problems. When the war started, the importance of the dock industry was realised by everybody. The Government knew that it was necessary to reorganise the labour of the ports if we were to get the ships turned round, in order to carry on the war. On Merseyside and Tyneside, a scheme was introduced under the Ministry of War Transport. It abolished casual labour and gave to men a minimum wage of 84s. a week. In the other ports of the country they introduced another system, worked under the Dock Labour Corporation, by which, if the men were unemployed, they were paid for coming to the call. The Bill will make one unified scheme for the whole country. I hope that it will get the whole hearted support of this House. I am going to ask the House to support the Second Reading without a Division because the Bill will abolish one of our greatest social evils, which has destroyed large numbers of people in our dock communities; because it will indicate, as far as this House is concerned, some little appreciation of the work that the men have done during the war; and because passing it will be consistent with progressive ideals and the development of human thought and human society. I ask the House to pass the Bill, because it will mean great consideration being given in the future to the human element in the industry, the men who have had to wait along the dockside without work.
A fortnight ago a Question was asked in this House in these terms: "How many man-days have been lost because of the strike in our ports?" That is, "How many days were lost because the men would not come to the ships?" I can assure hon. Members that the number of days lost because the ships did not come to the men, is much greater than the days lost because the men did not come to the ships. It is a system of keeping men idle for a large part of the time. I am asking the House to support the Bill unanimously because, if we do not, irreparable damage and wrong will 1795 be done to our dock community. A continuance of the present system will be filled with a thousand evils and innumerable mischiefs. I ask the House to pass it and remove a long-standing injustice, because the system of casual labour is as obsolete in this twentieth century as are the sailing ships our fathers loaded and discharged years ago. The Bill will remove a festering sore produced by this harmful and vicious system, which should have been done away with long ago. I am glad to know that we shall not commit the stupidity of allowing grievances of this character to continue beyond the limits of the endurance of the men who suffer under them.
I shall not ask the House to think of the financial side. There is something greater than finance in these matters. I want hon. Members to think of giving to these men long-delayed justice and of redressing a grievous wrong. By passing the Bill we shall meet the desires of a large number of important men in this community. In this House we are not only concerned with human rights but are charged with great responsibilities. I feel that one of those great responsibilities today is the abolition of casual labour. I trust that the House will wholeheartedly support the Bill and I thank the House in conclusion for the courtesy and patience with which it has listened to me.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
It is my privilege and pleasure to have the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member who has just addressed the House, and who spoke with wide experience, deep knowledge and great feeling upon the subject which is so much in his mind, and has been in his mind as I know for the last 25 or 30 years. I would assure him, and other hon. Members who have recently joined us, that this House will always listen, as its predecessors have listened in the past, with respect and deep understanding to anyone who addresses it with knowledge and a real sense of feeling.
The Debate has been of an interesting character ever since the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) intervened. Since then we have had four representatives of dock areas, the Merseyside, the Thames, Hull, and now the 1796 Bristol Channel. I would point out to the hon. Members for those dock areas that on the point about which they are so interested there was no disagreement whatever between them and hon. Members on this side of the House, nor any disagreement from us, and certainly not from myself. I have never understood why it was that, among the important industries in this country, the two upon which our whole prosperity was dependent should be manned by casual labourers, the collier and the dock worker. The degradation of such a system, its hardship and cruelty, and the horrid anxiety of it from day to day, have been plain to us. It has always been a matter of great pride to me, which I shall carry with me to my last day, that I have enjoyed the friendship of those three great Dockers'leaders, Mr. John Burns, Mr. Jimmy Sexton, and Mr. Ben Tillett. The time will come when the workpeople of this country will do something besides speak words of tribute from time to time to those men, and will render their memories permanent, so that coming generations can see what those men looked like. They are men whom we admired because they did so much and fought so strenuously and courageously for their fellow men. Other hon. Members have already referred to the great efforts made by those men in the past. I remember only too well standing among the dockers on Tower Hill cheering Ben Tillett when he was leading them in prayer to condemn Lord Devonport.
All our sympathy is with them, and we want to put an end to casual labour; there is no doubt about that. But let us see what this Bill really does. The third paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says:The object of the present Bill is to enable permanent schemes to be made for ensuring greater regularity of employment for dock workers and securing that an adequate number of dock workers is available for the efficient performance of their work.With those two objects in view, schemes may be drawn up, either "…general or for particular ports or classes," and I will come back to that in a moment. The object then is to render permanent schemes which may have started voluntarily. May I say how heartily I agree with what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Captain Hewitson) when 1797 he said that dockers could not be regimented? Neither should any workers in this country be regimented, under any circumstances. Except in time of war, there has only been one Act of regimentation put upon the Statute Book; it was passed in the interests of employers in a time of stress, to stop the workmen of this country selling their labour freely; it was the Act referred to by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, the Statute of Labourers, which followed the Black Death. Since that fell into disuse, men have been free either to sell or withdraw their labour, until that period came when it was regarded as an offence if they made an agreement together to withdraw their labour. That led to the spectacle of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Do hon. Members of this House want to restore that situation? Do they want to say that the Tolpuddle Martyrs died in vain? Are they going to say that it shall not be the right of the workman to choose his employer, that he will be bound to go where he is ordered to go by some scheme? The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley) said just now that he was going back to Tilbury in about a fortnight to tell the dockers about this Debate. Will he tell them that? If so, I should recommend him to go down in one of our most strongly armoured tanks. I do not think he will get away scatheless.
Let us refer again to the Bill. Do not let us be carried away by the suggestion that it is "permissive." It says "provision may be made" under this Bill. Is it the intention of the Government to make schemes or not to make schemes? If it is not their intention to make schemes, why bother to bring in the Bill? Why mislead the representatives of the dockers if it is not intended to bring in schemes? Do not humbug them at any rate. Obviously the intention is to bring in schemes, and make them permanent. Then what are they? I am reading now from the Bill. They are:for ensuring greater regularity of employment for dock workers and securing that an adequate number of dock workers is available for the efficient performance of their work.Now I pass to Clause 1 (2, b) which provides:In particular, a scheme may provide…1798 Therefore the number to be allowed to come into the scheme will be laid down, as will their allocation to employers. Is the hon. Member in favour of that? Hitherto a workman has been able to say, "I will work for employer A but I will not work for employer B; I will help in the discharge of steamship X, but my health is not good enough for me to go and discharge steamship Y." But under this Bill he will be allocated to his work and to his employer. Employer B may be paying as good wages as A, but if the workman says, "In no circumstances will I work for B, I hate the sight of him," he is entitled to exercise his own free will.
- (b) for regulating the recruitment and entry into the scheme of dock workers and their allocation to employers…"
How far are they going to carry this? The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) is to wind up this Debate; will he tell us? Labour was sent compulsorily to the mines during the war; men were recalled from other industries where they were better paid and sent back to the mines. Then the Bevin scheme was invented and boys were allocated to their employers. But that was during the war; is it intended to make it permanent? The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it is here in the Bill. I am glad to see that he disapproves of such a scheme as that, which would do away with the right of a Britisher to choose where and for whom he will work. It is one of the most fundamental rights that we possess, one of our spiritual rights—the right to express your view freely, your right to worship your own God, your right to choose your associates and your right to withhold or sell your labour. I agree that those rights have not been enjoyed to the full in the past because they have not made for economic security, but economic security ought to be given to enable men everywhere to enjoy those spiritual rights to the full. It should not however be done by taking away one of those very spiritual rights.
Let me read again from the Bill. It describes the preparation of the scheme and goes on, in Clause 1 (3):A scheme may declare, as respects any provision of the scheme other than a provision requiring the payment of money, that a contravention or failure to comply with that provision is an offence.It is no good emphasising the word "may." If a scheme is made there will have to be some kind of sanction behind 1799 it, and the form of sanction contained in Clause 1 (4) is:Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any provision in relation to which such a declaration is in force shall be guilty of an offence under this section, and shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a fine, or to both such imprisonment and a fine.A scheme may be drawn up, perhaps voluntarily, and under it, with the sanction of this Bill behind it, provision will be made for the allocation of workers to a particular employer for the discharge of a particular ship. If the men refuse to go, would the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull say that it is right to drag them before a magistrate, who may sentence them to a £50 fine or to imprisonment for three months? Will he tell that to his dockers at Hull? That is the part we object to. We have no objection to, in fact we would welcome, a scheme which would put an end to casual labour, but let the Government take this back, it is not worthy of them. It is not even a Coalition Bill, it was prepared after the Coalition was broken up, and there is not even full support for it from that side. There will be the fullest support from us all for putting an end to casual labour, but let the Government think again before they do away with the greatest of all constitutional rights, the right of a man to choose for himself his associates and his employer, or to withhold his labour if he wants to, without being sent to prison. Let them think of a better scheme than that and I am sure they will receive support from all the representatives of the dockers. Let them put an end to a scandal that has too long persisted, but let them do it in the right way.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I hesitate to join in legal arguments this afternoon and I do not want to argue with those who have put forward a case against certain Clauses in the Bill. It does not appear to me that it is a very difficult matter to have them altered. From my point of view—and I take the point of view of everybody who has had any connection with the industrial world—it is too important, a Bill for us to allow the legal gentlemen to upset it. The hon. and 1800 learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) was rather worried about men at the docks having to do work which they might not like. I want to point out to the hon. and learned Member that the men have been doing that ever since they have been at the docks. I have spent 15 years in that category, some of the time as an official looking after the interests of the men. I was there during that period when a sensible man working at the docks dare not get married. There is no need to argue about that matter today; apparently, everybody is agreed about it. During the war it became necessary to give the dock workers regular employment. It took a war to get a regular or permanent wage for the dockers. It was in May, 1941, that they got that regular wage. What the dockers are afraid of is that unless something is done by the Government there will be a return to the previous conditions.
Does the House recognise what those conditions were? At every port in the country the men went down to the docks twice a day and the employer could take them on if he liked; if the employer did not like them—and there were many the employers did not like—they were sent away again, to come back the next day. When the men were employed they were "put through the hoops." If they did 'not work far harder than anyone was entitled to ask them to work, so that they became old men before their time, they were sacked the next half day. During that period quite a large number of Members representing shipping interests were in the House. I do not know how many of them there are today, but there are still quite a few who are interested.
I want to refer to the scheme that was in operation. Recently we have had trouble at the docks. One of the factors that caused the men to go on strike, and made them bitter, was the operation of the scheme and the way in which it was used, and the manner in which an important official under the scheme decided to treat a number of men. Against the advice of the officials responsible at Liverpool, he did not make alterations which he was requested to make, and the trouble developed. As to the scheme, the Merseyside and Clydeside scheme is certainly, from the point of view of remuneration, a better scheme than that of the National Docks Corporation, but only in that 1801 respect. In the National Docks Corporation scheme there is an equal number of representatives from the union and from the employers on the company responsible for the administration of the National Docks Corporation. It may be that they have not been too wise in their choice of port managers. I can truthfully say that on the Merseyside they were not too wise in their appointment of port inspectors. The Liverpool scheme, while giving a greater amount of remuneration, was of a voluntary nature; the men joined it or left the docks. The men were not in agreement about the scheme at the time it was imposed upon them, although later on they would have been, and the reason they were not in agreement was that they had always been suspicious, as they had every reason to be, of something of this kind. The position has changed. Today the men are demanding a scheme, but I am not satisfied that they will be content with the scheme which Liverpool, Clydeside, and other ports have. They are entitled to a good scheme.
The importance of dock work has never been realised in this country. Whether or not a ship is seaworthy depends upon who loads it, and the speed with which it is discharged is an important time element in getting the cargoes to their various destinations. I know the skill that is required in dock work. A great deal of skill in the hard school of life is necessary in order to be competent as a stevedore or any other form of dock worker. To be a competent deckhand, a man has to be a fairly good sailor. Hon. Members have already pointed out the importance of the dock worker in war time. I live in Bootle, and during the war I was on the emergency committee of Bootle Council. We can never repay the dockers of Merseyside—not only of Bootle, but of Liverpool and Birkenhead—for what they have done. Frequently they had to go many miles out of the town in order to-get sleep at night, if they were not on the job at night. During the difficult periods they had no homes. For several weeks the Council of which I was a member had to feed the dock workers on the docks out of Council funds, and the Ministry of Food had not yet agreed that we ought to have done it. We did it to keep the work going. I suppose the same conditions obtained at other ports. The men had lost their 1802 homes and had to go 10, 12 or even 20 miles away, to sleep. The canteens, such as they were, had gone. Up to that period the canteens had been a disgrace, but we have been able to do something better since. The fact is that we can never repay those men for what they did, and certainly it ought not to be contemplated repaying them by returning to that old system by which they went in for half a day and the boss could then dismiss them if he liked.
There is one thing that must concern us. Recently there has been a docks dispute. Why? The dockers on the Merseyside are fairly reasonable men until they get their backs up, and then they are not very reasonable. I have here a document printed by the Mersey Area Dock Strike Committee which sets out a copy of what the employers submitted to the union against the claim that was put forward for a wages advance in the docks scheme. As one who has spent 30 years in the industry, 16 of them as an official, I say that I would fight to the last ditch before I would allow this sort of thing to come back. The conditions which the employers suggest are very much on the lines of what emerged from the Maclean Committee. In the conversations that took place in 1937 the employers offered to the dock workers two schemes, one of which was on a par with what the employers have offered this time—four days a week for a certain number of the men and either three or three and a half days a week for the remainder. The employers never intended that the men should get a week's wages out of the industry. It is only dock workers who have gone into the work houses; I have never heard of any ship owners going into them. Enough money has been made out of shipping in this country in the past to give the dockers what they are entitled to get. I do not know what is the position as the result of this war, but after the last war nearly all the shipping firms increased their share capital by 100 per cent. without receiving a penny with which to do it.
As I have said, the employers have offered this limited scheme and they attach to it a condition that would mean that all that has been built up in the different ports of the country in regard to conditions of employment, which carry with them certain increased payments for 1803 difficult or dirty cargoes, should be wiped out, with the one exception of carbon black. They suggest a time and a quarter for turning out at five, six and seven o'clock in the morning. As far as I know, the men have always been paid, as they should be, double time for this, and the same applies to night work. The employers seek to remove all the conditions that have been built up over generations and to gain which the men have struggled through months of strikes. I am convinced that, as far as the employers are concerned, we shall get no scheme that is worth while. That is why the House should be prepared to see that the dockers get a scheme. I think the Ministry will have to be prepared to enforce a scheme, and when that happens I hope they will not be unmindful of what has been said here and of such evidence as we can get of the operation of the new schemes. Good and useful though the schemes may have been during the war period, I think the dockers are entitled to, and the industry can stand, a scheme of decasualisation. The House ought to spare no effort to see that something is done for the dock workers as a reward for their services and that conditions are built up for them which are worthy of this country. I believe that what we do in this Bill will determine what the dockers will get in the future, because I do not think the employers will ever agree to it.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) did not ask for the indulgence of the House on making his maiden speech, and, of course, he knew he did not need to ask for it. I am sure the House will agree with me that the hon. Member spoke with fluency and sincerity. If the Kirkdale Division had to make the basic blunder of no longer returning a Conservative, I am sure the House is glad they returned the hon. Member. I intend to speak only for a moment or two and it is my earnest desire at this stage to be completely non-controversial. It has not been an unimpressive day in the House. We saw the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) making an impassioned attack upon the Government. He must remember what happens to Members of the House who do that, and consider the fate of the right hon. Gentle- 1804 man the Minister of Health. He used to attack the leaders of his party in the last Parliament and he became Minister of Health. We the Conservatives are delighted to find the Leader of the Liberal Party and an hon. Member of the party speaking with such sincerity and logic in defence of human liberty. The Conservative Opposition hope that, although the Liberal Party the other day supported, to our grief and amazement, the five years' controls Bill, their interest in human liberty today makes us hope that we shall perhaps bridge the immense gulf of the Gangway between these two parties.
There is nothing more impressive in this great House than when men speak here who have first-hand information, who have been through the grim experience that they are describing, whether they come from the mines, or, as some of them have, come from the dockyards. This House will always listen with the greatest respect to men who speak with the sincerity of the speechs that we have heard today. There was only one speech which seemed to jar upon the natural unity of understanding of purpose in this House today and that was the speech of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley). He went back a very long way. He spent some days, I think, in the British Museum before he came here, but he went back to 1892 and 1882. We should all agree after a little thought that there are two ways of looking at the Victorian era. It was an era in which the poor were badly treated, in which there was child labour, and in which rich people isolated themselves far too much, and inexcusably, from any understanding of the sorrows of the poor. That is one way to look at it, and one could prove that case if one set out to do so. There is another way to look at it. It was the era when the cause of the poor was put forward not only by those who worked with the poor but by men of great education, culture and vision, and wealth itself. It was an age of blackness and an age of enlightenment as well. I sometimes look back upon the Victorian era and wonder whether perhaps, even in the years that lie ahead, there will always be such liberty of expression as there was then, and whether the cause of the minorities will be fought for as it was fought for in those days. I am saying nothing at all controversial on this subject, but I think that when some hon. 1805 Members have got beyond thinking in slogans, they will see there is something in it.
The Parliamentary Secretary, together with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, must study very carefully the phraseology of the Clauses mentioned today. I refuse to believe that the Government intend them for the punitive purposes that have been suggested today, but if there is that danger, I consider that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) put the case very thoroughly from the Liberal benches. There is much in these Clauses dealing with blackleg employers and blackleg labour, and that is what I imagine the Government have in mind, but there may not always be such a wise Labour Government in office as there is at the moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear those cheers.
§ Mr. Baxter
That is what I have in mind. I hope that Members for constituencies where there are great numbers of dockers will not resent what I have to say. No one who has any contact at all with labour will believe that men strike merely for money. There is nearly always a deep sense of grievance. It may be that they are satisfied themselves that there is some injustice to another man, and one of the finest things among the workers is their loyalty to each other. We know on this side of the House—and we admit it—that the story of the dockers between the two wars is a deplorable one in which nobody can have any pride, but in which everybody instead must have a sense of shame. Whatever happened in the booms and slumps, the first casualty was always the dockers. Their wages and conditions of labour were a barometer. If one studied them, one could tell the course of the whole commercial system, and the fact that we are a great exporting and importing nation is another reason why the dockers feel the first brunt.
This is what I want to say, and I hope that it will not be misunderstood. We have had great tributes paid to dockers today—and their bravery and endurance during the war was beyond praise—but I think that Members who speak for 1806 Dockers'constituencies would carry more weight if they were courageous enough not merely to praise the dockers, but, to admit that their strike was inexcusable. Today we have heard nothing but praise of the dockers—in which I join—but not one word of criticism. Since these things have been said, let us face the facts. The dockers held up home-coming troops, and supplies, which may well mean that in Germany, the country we have defeated, for part of which we are responsible, people may starve who would not otherwise have starved. I say to those Members opposite who want to see trade union discipline maintained, that the dock strikers, after the General Election, were not in a desperate situation as far as negotiation was concerned. They had trade union machinery; they had a Government, which, with more pride than logic, they call their own. They ought not to hold up the nation to ransom and keep men who had been more than four years abroad from coming home to their wives and children. That is all I have to say. It would have been completely wrong in this Debate today, with so much genuine praise being attributed to the dockers, if one voice had not been raised to condemn their attitude as wrong and inexcusable in attempting to hold up the nation to ransom at a critical moment.
§ Captain Hewitson
Is the hon. Member aware that while 30,000 dockers came out on strike, 90,000 stayed at work?
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson (Kennington)
I am sure the House will accord me consideration in my position of having to make a maiden speech just at a moment when I feel particularly inclined to argue violently with the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) after a speech which he said was to have been non-controversial. He did not make a very good effort towards that end, but I do not propose to spoil the harmony of this Debate by following him. There is an answer to him and it will be given in due course. I support the Bill because it enshrines a principle which is vitally important to the people of this country—the principle that men are entitled not only to work but to maintenance as well. The Bill lays it down that the docker willing to work shall be guaranteed wages while he is waiting for work. It is the community's, duty to see that the man does not die 1807 of starvation. I only hope that before this Parliament comes to an end the same principle will be applied to my own industry—the building industry—which is as casual in its employment of the men who work in it as the docks industry. I hope that the House will give the Bill its Second Reading and will be ready also to consider the difficulties which it has been suggested may be entailed in the wording of certain of the Clauses. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister will be willing to listen, even if not willing to agree.
Time after time, on the Benches opposite, there have been references, to liberty, and suggestions that certain Clauses of the Bill will take the dockers' liberty away from them. Some hon. Members on the Liberal Benches said that the Bill will take away the birthright of the Englishman. Most of us on these benches have suffered from this interpretation of liberty in relation to employment in this country. May I tell the House how it once affected me? I was a building trade operative, a skilled man, incidentally, but I was kept out of employment, although willing to work, for six months. My freedom to work just did not exist while the employers said they would not have me. I had become, in quite an uncalled for way, objectionable to certain of the employers who were members of their Federation, and I was blacklisted. I must confess that I did not feel very pleased during that six months, and my family got very near the bone before the end. It is no good talking to the docker about his freedom to select his employer, if the alternative to his exercising that freedom, and saying he does not like this or that employer, is that he is going to starve. You must either have planned employment, or leave it to the haphazard working of ordinary capitalist organisations. I prefer—and I hope the House will prefer—a planned organisation for employment. That means some sort of sanctions of a kind, but they need not be criminal sanctions, and I think that point will be dealt with later. I have listened to the Debate today, anxiously, I admit, not being sure whether I would get an opportunity to intervene. I thought of something I read in a book by Lord Snell, who described his feeling as a new Member making his maiden speech, and spoke of this House as a great fellowship of service 1808 to the people of this country. I feel that the House will do a good thing if it gives a unanimous Second Reading to this Bill.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Gandar Dower (Caithness and Sutherland)
It falls to me to congratulate the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) on his maiden speech. It is not so long ago that I made mine, and I feel sympathy with Government Members, who have been kept by their numbers so long on the rack of expectation and with the hon. Member who has waited so long to interest the House with a contribution. Waiting must have made the task more and more difficult, but I would like to inform the hon. Gentleman that there was no hesitancy, or diffidence, in his contribution, and to say that the simplicity and honesty of his appeal affected this side of the House. I think it pleasant, too, that it should fall to my lot to congratulate an hon. Member on the Government side from this side of the House. We have had a long and instructive Debate, and, when one comes to analyse it, there has not been much disagreement. I would like to assure the Government that we desire to support the decasualisation of labour. I have been particularly impressed by those earnest contributions from the hon. Gentlemen the Members who sit for the dock areas. Not only have I been impressed, but, I confess, I have been considerably educated.
I would like to dwell a moment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley) who, I regret, is not present. He went back a long way—to 1889—to condemn the employer class. Times and conditions change. It is not so long ago since a man was permitted to beat his wife with a stick no wider than his thumb. Today, that would be a brave thing to do even for a Member on the Government Front Bench—it would not be good for his health. That shows, en passant, how time brings change. I like the contribution from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Captain Hewitson) because he suggested that voluntary arrangements and not forced arrangements were desirable. I hold that, no matter how difficult it is to obtain, an arrangement come to willingly between two parties is far better than anything settled by Government interference. I was surprised when the hon.
1809 Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) pointed out that this Bill appeared to contain sanctions which meant that if a worker broke the conditions of his engagement, he would fall under criminal law. I cannot believe that the Government would be willing to take citizens of this country back to the time of the Statute of Labourers; nor do I believe they are sufficiently gullible to take over a Measure, produced by a Coalition Government, which would be capable of doing that. I ask that this point be carefully examined because I can scarcely credit such a possibility.
Finally, I would ask this House whether we cannot use this Dockers Bill as a Measure to convey to people who work with their hands that we recognise no inferiority of that labour. In the past, a person who did such work has been too little appreciated, and I beg that we who endeavour to labour with our brains should extend a recognition that there is no inferiority in the manual labourer, and I suggest the best antidote for mental fatigue is such work.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Cobb (Elland)
I will not detain the House for many minutes on the one point I wish to make in relation to the Bill. It is a large point, but, I think, it can be dealt with quite shortly. I would like to ask whether this Bill goes far enough. It may be that the permanent schemes mentioned in the Bill will take care of that, but the question I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with, when he comes to reply, is: Can the question of labour planning be dealt with if the question of plant and material is not taken into consideration at the same time? The plant, in this case, consists of the ships and the dock facilities; the material is the cargoes they have to handle. It seems to me that if you are going to plan the amount of labour in any area—and that is particularly what is going to be done under this Bill—it would be a bad thing if, that labour having been planned and allocated, it were not fully employed, or as nearly fully employed as possible.
If the number of ships entering any given area, and the cargoes they are carrying at any given time, are not carefully planned, then you will not fully employ the amount of labour allocated to a particular district. Of course, this 1810 may be done later on, and the hon. Gentleman may say that this is a matter which the Government intend to take care of later, and that they realise the validity of the argument. However, as I have said, if you do not plan the movement of your ships in the proper way into a given area, then, instead of having an average employment of the labour allocated for a given period, of, say, 80 or go per cent., you may only achieve 60 per cent. employment. Then, what are you going to do about the men that you have allocated to that district, and the members you are training for that industry? The number of men you train for an industry today decides the number of people you are going to have in. that industry for many years to come. Therefore, if this long-term planning of plant and material is not undertaken, it seems to me that we shall be in a difficulty in years to come. We have to remember that the amount of paid but unused labour available puts up costs. I hope the hon. Gentleman will assure us that, if this point is not taken care of in the permanent schemes mentioned in the Bill—and I do not see how it can be—it is going to be taken care of in the immediate future.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Captain Marsden (Chertsey)
In the Debate I have wondered about a great many of the speeches. About others, I have said, "Is that speech really necessary this afternoon?" I think I have understood them, and I think they have been necessary, for they have given the House, generally, a very fine picture of the conditions of the dockers, which this Bill will ameliorate. I have met many dockers and I have liked them all. I have had something to do with their work, and I know they have always responded to the call. That is what I like about the men. But I would drive home the position of the 33,000 men who just temporarily have stopped striking. What are the trade union officials on the benches opposite going to say to those men? Are they going to explain to them that if this Bill is passed, and casual labour is stopped, and they are taken on at a permanent wage, they are under an obligation to the community at large? And can they defy their leaders and go on strike when they feel like it? Are the trade union representatives going to tell their men that there are two sides to every 1811 bargain, and that if a bargain is made with the dockers, they must keep their side of it?
I think there is a lot in this Bill in words. We await these schemes. I do not know what these schemes are; I am not well up in the various formulas, but I can appreciate that we must wait for the different areas to bring forward their schemes. In the main, this Bill is going to do away with casual labour. I do not think that casual labour, in the past, was objected to so much as it is at the present time. Again, let the trade union officials drive home to their men that they will have to report and work and that there must be no laying off unless there is a very adequate reason. Years ago, when I was playing football, one of the greatest difficulties on a Saturday was to get leave. The dockers had no trouble; they could take a half day off and play. Let the dockers realise that, when this Bill becomes law, they will have to turn to and work where they are told.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does the hon. and gallant Member mean that if they do not turn up and work, they ought to be held guilty of a criminal offence?
§ Mr. Silverman
It is not a question of being a lawyer. As a business man, does the hon. and gallant Member think the enforcement of such a bargain ought to carry a penalty in the criminal court if it were broken?
§ Captain Marsden
I will let the hon. Member fight it out with his colleagues. I am saying that if the man turns up, he will have to work, and work where he is told. I do not get excited about working for this or that employer, because I belong to a Service where you have to go where you are told, and do what you are told. It is for the trade union officials to see that there is fair and reasonable work, and to look after the men, and I do not make any point of that. Time is getting on so I will say no more. I have listened with attention, and I have had the customary cup of tea, which I think even the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench allow themselves, and I conclude by saying that the Bill gets my support.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
In rising to say a few words from this side of the House, I would ask for the indulgence of the House for what is, practically, a maiden speech. I will not ask for that indulgence from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) because he can always interrupt me if he wishes to do so. I am somewhat more nervous on this occasion than usual because the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) called attention to certain speeches he had heard.
So far as this Bill is concerned, it is quite apparent that the Government are going to get the Second Reading of the Bill without a Division, subject, of course, to the possibility that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne might raise some point, but it may be that his doubts will have been resolved before the end of this Debate. With the object of the Bill there could be no possible disagreement. The desire to do away with casual labour in the dock industry is shared on all sides in this House. I agree with those who havespoken that the past history of this industry in this respect is calamitous. I do not think that, in any civilised society, one should hire men like cattle in the streets. It is not the way in which these things should be approached, and, so far as those aspects are concerned, I do not think there is any dispute at all. I would like to pay my tribute to the men who have worked in the docks in the past, to men like Ben Tillett and the present Foreign Secretary, and I would say also that, in our own time, though they are much criticised, the officials of the National Dock Labour Corporation have tried to do a very fine job during the war.
I take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. He claimed that, under this Bill, powers were being taken to put new penalties upon the workers who failed to undertake their obligations under the scheme. When the hon. Member talks about the law, everybody listens with considerable interest, but, when he is joined by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) speaking from the Liberal benches, and when, finally, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Beverley 1813 Baxter) lends the whole weight of the Tory Party, then quite obviously the point has to be considered very carefully. Having said that, I must add that I think, myself, that their anxiety is a little greater than the facts warrant. As I read this Clause, which is entirely permissive in character, it is designed simply to exclude blackleg employers or workers from starting up a bit of dock work on their own, and so torpedoing the whole scheme. With that desire, I do not think anybody in the House would quarrel. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to make it perfectly plain, when he replies, that the Clause is limited to that purpose, and will not extend to the scope suggested by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne—which would be highly dangerous.
The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy), in a very admirable maiden speech, said it was perfectly plain that this was not the last word on dock labour organisation, nor can it be. This is a Bill to set up machinery. Let us face the fact that no machinery, of itself, will cure all the troubles of any industry. No tribunals which may be set up, no inquiries which may be held, and no penalties which may be imposed are, of themselves, going to get the ports working as they should be working, and I feel that, in approaching this Bill, we should all bear in mind the seriousness of the situation which confronts us. I am not going to enter into the question of the dock strike for a moment. The fact is that we are a great trading nation, and if we are going to remain a great trading nation, our ports will have to function efficiently. If we have go-slow strikes, or the ports are stopped or delayed by either employers or workers, who are concentrating more on profits or wage packets than on getting our export trade restarted, then we are not going to be a great industrial Power. We have to look at things in the light of such considerations.
One has to ask whether this Bill does give the worker the sense of security and the sense of fair dealing which he demands, and whether it gives the employer the sense of confidence which he wants. I am inclined to say that the answer to that question is, "In the Bill itself, no." My criticism of the Bill is that it tends to pay too much attention to the individual port, or the employers' or the workers' organisations. I do not say that you have not got to get agreement, or 1814 that the workers should not get together with the employers. Of course they should, but I am bound to say that, if we are to get a satisfactory solution, the Government have a responsibility, too. I think the Government have to give a lead in this matter. I do not think it is sufficient to say that we are going to have a series of schemes. I think it is necessary for the Government to say what kind of a scheme, what is the scope of the scheme which is required. At present we have, broadly speaking, two special schemes—Merseyside and Clydeside, on the one hand, and the National Dock Labour Corporation on the other. Under this Bill, we may have two or 20 schemes. The Government should say which of these two types of scheme they want—the individual port scheme or the one with the ports grouped together. I do not know which it is, but I do not think the industry should be asked to solve that problem. These are matters of Government policy.
In the National Dock Labour scheme there was provision whereby some men were employed in a port, but a number of men, mostly unmarried, entered, and had somewhat better treatment under a mobile scheme. When you are going togroup the country into regions, that is probably a highly successful arrangement, but the lead on these matters ought always to be given by the Government, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us something about them. Are we to have infinite variety in the scheme? I should have thought that, on the whole, it was desirable to have similar arrangements for attendance and for the wage rate in different ports throughout the country. But, if there is to be some uniformity of pattern, it is important, I think, that the Government should give the lead.
One other point. In the port of London, the Port of London Authority itself employs a number of dock workers, and there are also private employers. The conditions of employment under the P.L.A. are, on the whole, more favourable than those under the private employers. What we would obviously all desire to see is a scheme which would level up those conditions of employment. That is a matter on which the Government could quite easily say something at an early stage. We have just finished a dock strike, and the merits of that strike could 1815 not usefully be entered into in this Debate. Nor do I intend to do so, but I feel confident that, unless a strong lead is given by the Government at this stage, and a clear declaration of the policy they are to pursue, and the way they want this Bill to work, we are going to be faced with many dock strikes and other disputes. The situation in the industry is not happy. Relations between the men and the union are not happy. There are all sorts of differences. This is, surely, the moment at which to lay down a national policy and secure a settlement on the broadest possible basis?
There are things which go on in the docks which are not very efficient. The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) said that the employers had asked the dockers to abandon some of the conditions built up over a course of years. The dockers are right to regard these things, which they have paid for in the past, as something which they will not lightly abandon, but I do ask them to look very carefully at some of the practices which go on in dock labour, so far as the efficient handling of goods at our ports is concerned. Surely it is not unreasonable, when we are setting out to build up a scheme for guaranteed and regular employment in the docks, to ask the dockers themselves to examine their own practices and the regulations of their unions to see whether they cannot abandon those practices which have nothing to do with safety, which were introduced at a time when unemployment was rife, and which no longer serve any useful purpose.
§ Mr. Keenan
The hon. Member has missed the point altogether. The dockers had already given away their conditions during the war period. We did it in Liverpool. What we are now being asked to do is to give up all the additional payments for overtime and different classes of cargoes which were settled two or three generations ago.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I think I understand the point very well. The dockers, in company with other trade unions, did give up some of their rights during the war. The return of those rights is due to them, and the pledge toreturn them must be kept. But it is surely not unreasonable to remind them that a general settlement, and an attempt to get decent working conditions 1816 for dockers, must, in the long run, be on the basis of having efficient ports. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to clear up one or two points which I have raised on this matter. I believe that this Bill goes some way to meet the need, but, if it is to meet that need in full, it requires a very clear declaration of Government policy on the lines I have suggested.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)
We have had today an extremely interesting Debate. Some of the speakers have gone back a long time and have exposed to public view one of the worst pages in the history of the British working classes. Indeed, we could almost wish that this solicitude for the dockers had been shown very many years ago. However, we welcome it today, as it is never too late to try to do a decent job of work. It seems to me, with all due deference to what has been said during the Debate, that the purpose of this Bill has not been too clearly understood by some speakers in the Debate. What is the purpose of the Bill? It is to tell the dock industry of this country that casual employment must come to an end. It must come to an end by voluntary means, but come to an end it must. That is the lead which my right hon. Friend is giving to the dock industry of this country. If it comes by voluntary means what will happen? Both sides of the industry will negotiate, nationally if they like, or port by port, or regionally. They will put up their scheme to the Minister, who then has the right to sanction it and give it the force of law and lay it before this House.
That is the purpose of this Bill. This Bill does nothing more than give legal backing to voluntary agreements, and where voluntary agreements cannot be arrived at the Minister can draft his own scheme, have his own inquiry and lay that scheme before the House. In doing that we are going a long way to giving a lead to the men and the employers in this very important industry. This point has to be recognised: this House has agreed that casual employment must come to an end in the interest of the dockers, and I am sure the House is also agreed that the future of industrial Britain rests upon an efficient dock industry. We cannot afford inefficiency in the docks, we cannot afford irregularity of work, we 1817 cannot afford a wasteful use of manpower in the dock industry. Manpower is going to be the bottleneck in this country in the future, and so we are anxious that this industry shall be put upon an efficient basis, and shall give regular, continuous and well paid employment to those engaged in it. That is the intention and purpose of this Bill.
During this Debate there have been five maiden speeches, and I should like particularly to congratulate those Members who spoke on behalf of the docks. Their forthright statements were founded upon a real knowledge of the hardships and ardousnature of dock work. We ought not to forget the tremendous contribution made by the dock workers during the war—the men who survived the nine days and nine nights of bombing in the Liverpool area, the men at Hull, at Leith, the men in the Southern ports and in London, who worked so that we might live and worked so that this country could continue to fight. Whatever backslidings there may have been pale into insignificance in comparison with the great contribution they made which enabled this country to pull through.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who opened the Debate for the Opposition, felt that we were leaving too much to both sides in the industry, and then, oddly enough, we were told from the same side of the House that we must not regiment people. They cannot have it both ways. It is the desire of the Government to get from both sides in the industry voluntary schemes that are workable and that they are pledged to work, and we shall never be satisfied that we shall get full co-operation unless those schemes are thrown up by the industry in preference to the Government settling industrial matters upon the floor of this House. The worst possible place to settle industrial disputes is the floor of the House of Commons. Therefore it is our view that we must give the industry a chance. It is now negotiating a settlement of wages and conditions. We know the trouble that has arisen about it and the difficulties that have been caused for the country. Let them settle this and let them sit down and hammer out these schemes and any assistance that my right hon. Friend can give them will be readily given. One-thing is certain, that these schemes must 1818 come forward. We say to both sides of the industry, "It is your job to do it. If you don't do it the Minister of Labour will have to draft his own scheme and submit it both to the industry and this House." That is the last thing we want to do.
The next question raised concerned the differing conditions under varying schemes. We hope that is a point to which both sides in the industry will have regard. If I were on the workers' side I should be seizing upon that. We are not unhopeful that there is going to be a levelling up, a standardisation more or less on a national basis, but there are difficulties in the way. All reports are not alike. I should imagine that the dockers handling coal would claim something better than the dockers handling packing cases. Men doing the dirty work would say they were entitled to slightly better conditions than the men not doing dirty work. So we must have regard to the types of commodity handled at the various ports, and that will, I presume, be reflected in the schemes put before us. Then the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of weakness on the part of the Minister. He mentioned it a number of times. What is it that the other side of the House want us to do? Do they want us to regiment everybody? Do they want us to be a strong arm enforcing our views upon all and sundry? We have done the reasonable and the right thing. We have asked the industry to do the job, and if they fail to do it this House will expect my right hon. Friend to do it for them and report to this House.
A further point was raised with regard to harbour and port authorities, and a possible conflict of rights under some of these schemes with the legal powers that those authorities may have. We shall certainly give consideration to that, but so far we have been advised that none of those schemes need conflict with the charter rights of those harbour and port authorities. Another detailed point raised concerned payment of the men in the pool. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the case of a docker who works three weeks and earns £16 but who is idle the fourth week, and wanted to know whether we were going to impose upon the employer the obligation to pay for the fourth week. We are not. That 1819 is a point for the industry to settle and bring to us, that is a thing to be freely negotiated. If my right hon. Friend is dissatisfied he will let the industry know, but the industry must negotiate, and if they can settle it it takes it altogether out of the sphere of conflict with which probably we shall be concerned.
A number of other small points were put forward to which I had better refer. There was the question of prescribing the body of persons who would have authority under these schemes. Again, the constitution of the governing authority under a scheme would be determined by negotiations inside the industry. If they come forward and say that the governing body shall consist of four from the workers' side and four from the employers' side I presume the Minister would accept that as an agreed principle inside the scheme, and it would not be a matter on which we should be expected to interfere unduly. My hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy), in his maiden speech, raised a matter of domestic policy. I should like to congratulate him upon a speech full of commonsense and obviously displaying a very close knowledge of the industry, a knowledge which I do not possess, as I am much more at home in a coalmine. He raised the point of the representative nature of the committee and asked why persons, instead of being selected, should not be elected by the men in the port area. I am afraid that is a domestic matter inside the union. Conflicts inside the union as to the form of representation had better not be fought on the floor of the House, in the interest of the union and the men. I suggest that is hardly a matter on which the Minister should be asked to interfere. His other point was one of substance, about which we can do something. It concerns the power of the dock manager. I think there is room for adequate consultation by representatives of both the employers and the workmen as to advising the dock manager upon what steps are to be taken, especially in an emergency where a crisis may blow up. In those circumstances the more consultation there is the better it will be for the more efficient working of the docks.
I come now to the real point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). If 1820 I may say so, it is just like him to seize upon a flaw in a Bill, to tear it to shreds before the House, and give the House an intellectual treat. He has done that today, and he has had the support of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies). Of course we had a typical B.B.C. outburst from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris). Now what is the substance of this? It is this. My hon. Friend contends that the Section of the Bill which he quoted transforms into a crime something to be tried by. criminal law, an ordinary breach of contract.
§ Mr. Edwards
Yes, it could do it. I want to say that, as we are advised, it cannot do that—as we are advised. However, I will go one step further, though I do not want to debate this at length: we will take further advice on this point, and I give this House an assurance that an ordinary breach of contract by a docker under these schemes shall not be regarded as, and shall not be deemed to be, a crime which will bring him before the criminal court. I think that is an ample guarantee to the House, and will take away that very large bone of contention which was obviously existing.
Having got that main point—which is really the only point of substance against the acceptance of this Bill—out of the way, I do not think there is much need for me to say anything more on all the other points that have been raised, except to deal with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery, when he talked about the right of the worker to go and work for any employer he likes, about the man who wanted to go to ship Y but would not go to ship X. Let us look at a port in which there are half a dozen employers. Is the workman who is party to a scheme into which he has voluntarily entered, to say, "I refuse to unload oil but I will unload oranges"; so that, under that scheme to which he is a party, some men have to unload all the oil and this fellow is to have all the clean jobs? Let us have a little equity about it. If a docker enters a scheme, undertakes in company with a number of other dockers that he will do the work of that port on certain conditions, surely the docker should take the rough with the smooth?
§ Mr. Silverman
Would my hon. Friend allow me? Of course, having entered into such a scheme, he ought to stand by it, having got the benefits, he ought to honour his obligation, but does what my hon. Friend is undertaking cover this point: that if he did not stand by his bargain, or perform his obligations under the scheme, it is not proposed to bring in the criminal law?
§ Mr. Edwards
I regret very much that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne should ask me to repeat what I have already said. It was most complete, most unambiguous, even for him. Let us come back to the point. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery talked about the free right of a Britisherto work for whom he likes. I suppose that it is equally the free right of a Britisher to refuse to work for whom he dislikes? Of course it has been in the past, and dockers have worked two days a week and starved for four days.
§ Mr. Davies
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? I have objected as much as he has to a man being compelled to work by the sanction of starvation. What I am objecting to now is that the sanction of law should be brought in to compel him to work for somebody for whom, perhaps, he does not want to work. It is a change from the compulsion of starvation to the compulsion of law.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am afraid the hon. and learned Gentleman is not quite up to his usual standard. I have just removed the legal sanction—
§ Mr. C. Davies indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Edwards
Of course I have. I have just removed the legal sanction. We are trying to remove the starvation sanction and, in order to do that, we say to a man, "You voluntarily go into this pool and take the work as it comes." That is all. We are guaranteeing him life, and without life he gets no liberty, except the liberty to starve. Therefore I think the hon. and learned Gentleman has been quite wrong to bring across this the old Liberal smattering of laissez faire, for that is what it amounted to—going back to the days of free enterprise and freedom to starve. To these men in the docks we propose to guarantee under these schemes that they shall have the right to live.
I think I have carried on quite long enough and dealt with the main points 1822 that have been raised. I commend this Bill to the House. I repeat the assurance which I have given to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. What we are asking from the dock industry is that, as soon as it is practically possible, they shall let us have the schemes to give security of employment in the dock industry and regularity of wages. Only on that basis can we hope to get a highly efficient dock industry, on which the prosperity of this country depends.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.