§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Edward Heath)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am glad to introduce the Bill to the House. It is designed to facilitate the introduction of a pension scheme for dock workers. This is a scheme which has been discussed in the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry between the port employers and the trade unions and has been agreed between them. They have asked the Government to introduce the Bill in order to make it possible to proceed with the pension scheme.
I warmly welcome this scheme. It is a most important development in the process of improving the security and the status of the dock worker, a process which has been going on since before the last war. Over 70,000 dock workers will have an option of joining the scheme, not only the "men with a hook", but lightermen, cranedrivers and clerks. It is a point of interest that altogether there will be about 1,100 employers belonging to the scheme. These figures of about 70,000 dock workers and over 1,100 employers being involved in it gives some idea of the size of the scheme and also of the complexity of reaching agreement about it.
It is a far cry from this pension scheme to the strike of 1889, which won the "Docker's Tanner". The slogan then was, "Work or maintenance". In 1912, the first register of dock workers was set up in Liverpool, where I saw the Dock Labour Scheme in action in January. By the beginning of the Second World War there were registers on a voluntary basis in all the big ports. The year 1940 saw the statutory registration of dock workers and the introduction of a guaranteed wage.
These fundamental principles, as the House knows, are at the heart of the present Dock Labour Scheme, introduced in 1947, which finally marked the end of the casual system of hiring labour in the docks. The introduction of a pension scheme is a remarkable demonstration of the extent to which the work of the dock 496 worker has become regular and assured. The scheme itself is evidence of the employers' interest in their men and of the men's interest and standing in their own occupation.
The scheme and, much more, all that it implies, will surely make a most valuable contribution to the general improvement of relationships in the docks. I hope that this improvement will, in turn, reduce the number of small and sometimes unofficial disputes which still trouble the smooth working of this great industry. The pension scheme itself is a private one, and the decision to introduce it was taken by the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry, representing port employers and trade unions together. The Council has drawn up the scheme and it is the Council that will appoint trustees under it to run it and be responsible for it.
The scheme will be financed by contributions from employers and from workers. In general, these contributions will be collected by the National Dock Labour Board and I propose to empower the Board to do this by making a suitable amendment to the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Scheme, 1947.
I said "in general" because the contributions of weekly workers will be collected by the employers in whose service they are and I propose to make provision for this, also, in the Dock Labour Scheme. As I have said, the pension scheme is drawn up by the National Joint Council for the industry, but I am sure that the House will be interested to have some details even though we are not discussing or dealing with legislation about the scheme itself this evening, but only with an enabling Bill.
The workers' contributions will be 2s. 6d. a week and the employers will contribute a sum equal to the total workers' contribution plus whatever addition may be necessary to ensure that the scheme is viable. For a long time after the introduction of the scheme it is expected that the employers will pay about twice as much as the workers. Pensions at 65 or over will vary according to the length of service. At one end of the scale the pension will be 10s. a week, plus £100 lump sum, and at the other end 40s. These will be in addition to any benefits under State schemes. 497 including the proposed graduated retirement pensions. There will be also benefits under the scheme in the event of retirement on the ground of ill-health and also payments in the event of death.
The Board will collect the workers' contributions by deduction from their wages, and this will be the only way in which contributions can be paid. Those who have drawn up the scheme considered this to be the only feasible arrangement in a pension scheme of this kind which, as I have said, will extend to a whole industry and will cover a very large number of workers working for a large number of employers. As far as I know, the scheme is unique in that it will be covering a large industry and, at the same time, a large number of employers. There are other very large schemes, but in the hands of one employer, as is the case with the great nationalised industries.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
For the sake of a correct record, may I be allowed to point out that there are some federated schemes, particularly in the flour-milling industry, which cover a great number of employers who have come to an arrangement to make this sort of thing possible?
§ Mr. Heath
I am obliged to the hon. Member. His knowledge amplifies our own researches.
The fact that it is a compulsory deduction would, however, infringe the Truck Acts and for this reason I am introducing this short Bill at the request of the National Joint Council. The purpose of Clause 1 (1) is to put the pension scheme outside the scope of the Truck Acts. Similar legislative provision has been found necessary in the case of other industries—the railway industry, coal mining and the gas industry, and also in the case of the Port of London Authority.
It is the intention that all dock employers should belong to the pension scheme. All those already employed as dock workers will be given the option of joining, but those who elect to join will not be allowed to reverse their decision later. All workers in the industry at present are given the option to come in or to stay out, but once they elect to come in that remains as a permanent arrangement. All workers who join the 498 industry in future will be required to become members of the scheme. I propose to incorporate these obligations in the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Scheme.
It is possible that the imposition of these obligations on dock workers may offend against the Shops Clubs Act, 1902. It is an offence under that Act for an employer to make it a condition of employment that a worker should join a shop club or thrift fund unless it is registered under the Friendly Societies Act, 1896, and certified under the 1902 Act by the Registrar of Friendly Societies.
I think that it will be agreed that it is inappropriate that this scheme should be subject to this procedure, which was drafted with the abuses of a different age in mind, and I have, therefore, in the second subsection in Clause 1, provided for the pension scheme to be brought outside the scope of the 1902 Act. Again, there are precedents in the cases of the railways, coal mining and gas industries and in the case of the Port of London Authority for doing this.
Clause 2 restricts the operation of the Bill to Great Britain. This follows the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1946, the operation of which is similarly restricted. I have already mentioned that, arising from the introduction of the pension scheme, I intend to amend the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Scheme in certain respects. The procedure for doing this is by means of an Order which is subject to negative Resolution and can, therefore, be debated by hon. Members if the House wishes to consider it.
The House will have realised that the Bill is a short and simple enabling Measure. I very much hope—indeed, I am sure—that it is non-controversial. I have been asked to introduce it by both sides of the dock industry and have done so gladly in the expectation that the scheme will be a source of real and lasting benefit to industrial relations in this major industry, as well as to those who work in it individually. The Joint Council is very anxious to proceed with the introduction of the scheme and the Government have speedily responded in introducing this Bill. I am glad that we have been able to take it at comparatively short notice in the House.
499 I commend the Bill to the House without any hesitation, and I hope that it will command support from both sides.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
We on this side of the House certainly support the Bill. It is not our idea of the way in which the Truck Acts should be amended. We have argued—during the passage, for example, of the famous Payment of Wages Act—that legislation to change completely the Truck Acts ought to be before us as soon as possible, and thus obviate the necessity of having to bring in a Bill of this character from time to time to meet a principle which all of us accept.
The Minister said that he warmly welcomed the pension scheme. I am sure that we are all very happy at the idea that there is now to be a pension scheme for dock workers. In a way, this is a posthumous testimonial to Ernest Bevin's life work. He spent much of his life in the interests of the dock workers, and rightly earned the title of the "Dockers' K.C." He became Foreign Secretary, and it is interesting that we should now be taking a further step along the road along which he started the great movement of dock workers.
When the Minister said that he warmly welcomed this scheme I had my reservations, because it is impossible for us to make any comments upon a scheme if we have not the particulars before us. When he was good enough to give us some of the principles of the scheme, my heart sank a little. I did not hear him say that there was to be any substantial contribution to a sinking fund to take care of past service. All I gathered was that there would be no provision for past service and that those who had served the industry for a very long time would probably go out with 10s. a week—not very much in modern times; it is hardly worth anything—and £100 gratuity.
It was not my intention to go into detail about the scheme, which is private and agreed by the unions and the employers. It is not our business to argue the merits or demerits of a scheme of which we have not got the details, but, as the Minister said that some people 500 were to go out with 10s. and £100. I cannot share the warm welcome which he gave to the scheme. We are glad of it, and most of us will want to look at its provisions as a matter of interest, but I hope that as times goes on there will be rather better provision for those dockers who served the industry in its hard days.
These are not the men who will get the good pensions—it is the young men who will benefit by this. In most pension schemes—and I say this in deference to my hon. Friend the Member for West-hough ton (Mr. J. T. Price), who is an authority on these questions, but who has now left the Chamber—one cannot reward dockers or any other workers for back service unless there is a very substantial increase in contributions, or, as is normally done, a very substantial lump sum or annual contribution to the scheme.
I have no doubt that as time goes on the two parties concerned in this will consider the scheme's provisions and will, I hope, ameliorate the position of those who have given long service and who should be the first in our minds when dealing with schemes of this character.
The Minister has made it clear that dock workers who are at present employed are not to be forced into the scheme, but may elect to join it. No doubt the majority will do so, and I hope that that will be the case. He did not say what is to happen if registers are to be reduced. If they are reduced, what will happen to those men who have made some contribution? Perhaps their contributions will be returned with some interest and the employers' contribution will go back to the sinking fund, or perhaps the employers will recoup themselves for what they have paid in.
The Minister was not able to go into details. We cannot really discuss the scheme in any detail, and, therefore, I do not propose to say any more now. But I draw attention to things which would concern us if Parliament had anything to do with the scheme, which, I assume, it has not. In so far as the Bill provides necessary legislation for a dockers' scheme to be inaugurated, we welcome it and will co-operate in giving it a speedy passage.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rees (Swansea, West)
In rising to address the House for the first time I do so, as every Member knows, with a fair amount of anxiety and trepidation. I have been here for some time now and have tried to learn the ways and the procedure of the House. The more I have listened, the more worried I have become that my contribution will not be worth all the time which the House grants me. But tonight, in this very straightforward Measure, which, I am glad to see, in non-controversial, I shall try to be brief and shall continue to be non-controversial and, in humility, ask the House for indulgence.
I intervene because the constituency which I have the honour to represent is part of the major seaports of South Wales. Both employers and employees are residents in parts of my constituency and they welcome this Bill, and it is for that reason that I am joining in this debate.
Swansea itself has a great and ancient history. It goes back for many centuries and of recent years it has gained a substantial industrial tradition. At one stage it was known as the "Metals Metropolis" of the United Kingdom. Every commercial metal used in the country was being refined there, and the principal one was copper. Copper was brought in sailing ships from Cornwall, which tied up in the River Towy, and refined. The empty ships were sent out again with coal from local pits. This trade developed as the need for ore grew. It was imported in sailing ships from Chile and distant lands, and the coal trade was expanded.
As this process went on, so the Port of Swansea and the docking industry grew. The Economist at one stage foretold a very rosy future and a vast expansion for it. That was in 1888. Now the port has reached quite large and substantial proportions. It has 226½ acres of deep water docks, extensive quays and sheds, modern cranes and modern handling facilities. It is also blessed with substantial dry docking facilities. Only last year a brand-new dry dock, 670 feet long and called the Duke of Edinburgh Dry Dock, was opened.
With the industrial changes, we have changed the types of cargo shipped and imported. World demand has changed 502 for our coal supplies. Welsh coal is renowned throughout the world for its quality. The emphasis on copper has changed and now we are principally an oil importing centre. It is refined there and, in addition, we export the refined products.
The Port of Swansea also has a very good general cargo trade. It is interesting to note that between 1938 and 1958 the figure has increased from 5½ million tons to 7 million tons a year. At one stage it rose to almost 11 million tons, but there has been a fall-back in the trade, partly due to a change in the industrial circumstances of the South Wales area, and also due to a recession caused by the closing down of tinplate mills and the general downward trend in the shipping industry.
In South Wales the labour force is now working at about 75 per cent. capacity. It is an excellent labour force, with an excellent record of industrial peace. This is not entirely due to the fact that there have been no differences between employers and employees. It is also due to the fairness and speed with which the conciliatory machinery has worked. At the moment more and more industry is coming into South Wales, and we hope that that situation will continue. That industry will provide a greater need for our docks. Furthermore, we hope that the roads from the Midlands and London will provide us with more products for export. As a result of all this, I am sure that trade in the South Wales ports will increase. I strongly recommend Swansea and I hope that I will be forgiven for taking this chance of publicing it. I hope that people will look at it with more favour and will use it more often.
As has been mentioned, before the war the dockers were employed upon a casual basis. Then the fixed minimum wage was introduced, bringing with it a much better basis of employment. The Bill enables the third important step to be taken. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) will not expect me to follow him in his arguments about the details of the pension scheme, because we do not know them fully. Nevertheless, the fact that the dock worker will now have a pension will greatly improve his status. The Bill is designed to permit the pension scheme to come into operation.
503 The dock industry comprises many small employers and many employees, and whereas ordinary industrial undertakings can arrange contracts and agreements between the various parties fairly easily, it would be difficult to arrange such an agreement in the dock industry which would enable all the workers to be brought in. Unless they are brought in, however, the scheme will not be an actuarial possibility. It must, therefore, be helped by the Bill. If it proves a success I am sure that large numbers of dockers will join.
There is no doubt that when we want more labour in South Wales ports it will be necessary for the employers to be able to offer terms and conditions comparable with those of the major industries in the area. One of the most important factors enabling them to do that will be the pension. I am convinced that this pension scheme will enable employers to offer inducements, in wages and conditions, which will cause the ports to prosper.
We must not overlook the fact that Great Britain has built up its greatness on exports, trade and commerce. For many years we have looked to the dockers to enable us to maintain that position. We depend upon our exports to live, and if our exports are to arrive in good condition and in good time they must have careful and expert handling at the docks. I like the Bill, because it will add to the status of the dockers who have kept the wheels of industry turning.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
I have been a Member of this House for over seventeen years, but this is the first time that I have had the privilege of extending a welcome to an hon. Member who has made his maiden speech. I have much pleasure in following the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Rees) on the occasion of his maiden speech. I made my maiden speech in 1942, when the subject was Service pay and allowances. I was then still serving in the Royal Navy, and I knew a good deal about the subject.
The hon. Member has shown the House that he has paid a great deal of attention to the subject of the debate, and knows a lot about it. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will 504 join with me in congratulating him on his able speech, and in expressing the hope that we shall often hear from him in the future, on similar subjects and others of even wider scope.
I want to speak in the debate because I can claim to be one of the few Members who has been employed as a casual dock labourer; indeed, I may be the only one. When I came out of the Royal Navy in 1923 there was not much work to be found, even for those coming out of the Services. One of my first jobs was that of a casual dock labourer, and I was glad to get it. In those days I had to be on call at a quarter to eight in the morning in the hope of getting four hours' work. If I did not get a job, I had to sign on again. Then, at a quarter to one in the afternoon, I had to be on call in the hope of getting four hours' work again. If I was unsuccessful I had to sign on again. If, in any week of six days, I did two and a half days' work, I received no unemployment benefit. That situation continued until decasualisation in 1939.
This pension scheme has come not from the Ministry, but from the industry —from the unions—and I would like to tell the House a story which bears out what my right hon. Friend has said about Ernest Bevin. In 1935–36, when I was still a casual dock labourer, I happened to be a lay delegate to the London Short Sea Traders Joint Labour Board, composed of employers and dock labourers in the short sea trade industry. After a wage award Ernest Bevin was asked by the port employers to meet the board to try to answer the complaints of the employers concerning the failure of dockers to work late on Saturday nights and on Sundays.
I had the privilege of attending that meeting, and I remember that Ernest Bevin told the employers two things. First, he said, "Look here, friends— don't you complain about the dockers not giving you all the facilities; you do something about giving them decent conditions and incentives". He then said, "See that we get rid of the shocking casual labour situation, and provide these men with some kind of a pension at the end of their working lives". Decasualisation has come about, and there is now a guaranteed wage if no work is available, but it is not a high wage. We are still a long way from being able 505 to say that decasualisation has meant that the dockers receive a decent weekly wage. It is something between unemployment benefit and a weekly basic wage. At any rate, it is an improvement on the old days, when a man had to be unemployed for three days in a week before he could get unemployment benefit.
With what happened in the dock industry until the beginning of the war, and, in fact, until Ernie Bevin became Minister of Labour, one can see how important this is. Ernie Bevin's ambition was to see that the men who worked in the dock industry had something to look forward to instead of having to slave in the industry as they did in the 'twenties and 'thirties. This scheme will create a better atmosphere between workpeople and employers in the industry.
The hon. Member for Swansea, West referred to the importance of the dock industry. If the country is to survive and keep its standards, as we want them kept, we must have a well balanced dock industry. Moreover, the workers in the industry must be satisfied with their conditions and the terms of employment. No Minister of Labour can say that he has been let down by trade union leaders representing the dockers.
Since 1920 the leaders of the Dockers Section in the Transport and General Workers' Union have been great people like Ernest Bevin and Arthur Deakin, and today Frank Cousins. He as much as other leaders wants the country to become greater than it was twenty years ago. The Government and employers have had people with great experience of the industry to advise them on the best way to control the industry to help it to make a great contribution towards the economic future of the country. We have now reached a happy stage in dock relations and the House ought to congratulate the National Joint Council of Dock Labour for introducing a scheme whereby a Conservative Government could introduce a Bill which would enable the Labour Opposition to fall readily into line with the Government's proposals.
We welcome the Bill. It is a great advance forward, but let us not forget that the economic life of the country depends on sensible joint consultation between employers and the trade unions on important matters such as this. There 506 are millions of people who are outside the benefits of pension schemes. The dockers are lucky to have been able to step in before some of the other workers. I express my appreciation to the Minister, his colleagues, and to the Department for the valuable assistance that they have given in seeing that the pension scheme comes into operation at the earliest possible opportunity, thus enabling the industry to function better than it has in the past both from the employers' point of view and that of the employees.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) in welcoming the Bill. I do not wish to make a long speech. I will make only a short intervention in view of my interest in the House in pensions and because of the declaration which I have made so many times from these benches of my interest in pensions and insurance. I would not wish this occasion to pass without saying how pleased I am that circumstances have arisen in this industry whereby my right hon. Friend has been enabled to bring in a Bill so that a pension scheme for 70,000 dockers can be launched.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Rees). I think all of us after making a maiden speech have very little idea of what we have said. When we read the OFFICIAL REPORT the next day we are delighted and this will apply in the case of my hon. Friend, because he has done two things. He has been loyal to his City and Port of Swansea, and he has done Swansea a bit of good in choosing this subject for his maiden speech. More than that, he has helped the dock workers of Swansea, and when they read his speech I am sure that they will be pleased that he chose this topic today.
One other thing that happened to my hon. Friend that will not happen again during his career in this House is that he was able to make his maiden speech on a Bill of which he understood every word. In the five years that I have been here I have never seen a Bill in which two or three sentences were so clearly stated. It has not been necessary to see barristers, solicitors, the Cabinet, accountants, or any professional people, or to consult the Library. We have been able to understand the Bill. Indeed, it 507 is such an epic occasion that I wonder whether I ought to have the Bill autographed by Mr. Speaker and then frame it.
It is not often that both sides of the House are as united as we are this evening. It is a happy occasion and it is pleasing to note that one of the odd occasions on which we are united on pensions is the occasion on which we are proposing to do something for the benefit of that great army of workers, the dockers. What a tribute it is to Ernest Bevin that 70,000 dockers in 1,100 separate entities are welded together in one pension scheme!
When one reads the history of Ernest Bevin's life, it is a tribute to him that it has been possible to weld the dockers together in this Bill. I spent a large part of the Easter Recess reading the first part of the life of Ernest Bevin. When we think of the years between 1940 and 1945 we think of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), but when we think of the dockers throughout the history of this half century we shall think of the name of Ernest Bevin—a truly great man. Of course, the biography is written by a famous son of a famous city. I need hardly say that Alan Bullock is a Brad-fordian. He was educated at Bradford Grammar School, so I had a very great interest in reading the book.
One of the things that has come about in all the pension debates which have taken place in this House during the last two or three years is the wider interest in the country in pension schemes for the ordinary chap at the lathe and at the bench. That has been engendered by the debates that have taken place in this House and those schemes were given an incentive by the booklet published by the Opposition two or three years ago entitled "National Superannuation", and by the Government's new Bill on pensions which comes into operation next year. It will be a very good thing if the example which has been set in this widely dispersed industry can be followed in industries like farming, which is so widely spread and diverse, and the building industry.
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) will agree that when Ernest Bevin set out to establish 508 the first principle of a pension scheme for the dockers, almost a generation ago —and this is faithfully recorded in the biography by Alan Bullock—he did so with a view to curing the dreadful unemployment which was the scourge of the dockers and the whole country in those days. In other words, his thoughts were not on the benefits of a pension in retirement, but on a cure for unemployment in that the payment of £1 a week, which was what he wished to be paid, would allow older employees to leave the industry and so permit younger men to take their jobs.
What a happy thing it is—and I am sure that Ernest Bevin would be very glad about the change if he were hereto see the completely different reason for the introduction of the Bill. Not for a moment is it suggested that the Bill is introduced as a cure for unemployment. It is introduced for the very thing for which pensions were invented and which can be stated in three simple words-happy old age.
I do not wish to delay the House when it is so united, but I hope that the hon. Member for Stepney will allow me to say that, although he said that the scheme has been brought about by the unions, the greatest progress in pensions over the last forty years has come from employers themselves and almost all of the 40,000 schemes—
§ Mr. W. Edwards
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there has been no incentive whatsoever from the port employers for a pension scheme and that they have been more or less forced by the unions in the industry to have such a scheme.
§ Mr. Tiley
I accept that completely because the hon. Member has a much wider knowledge of this industry than I have, but perhaps he will allow me to say that in other industries great encouragement for these schemes has come from the employers.
I am glad that the principle of the payment of a lump sum on retirement has been established in the scheme. If there is one omission from the Socialist national superannuation scheme it is that a man who had contributed to the pension fund all his working life, from 25 to 65, will find at the end of the day that all his savings are tied up in pension 509 only. It is a very good thing for people on retirement to have at least a moderate lump sum.
I would like to ask my right hon. Friend one question. When the Government Actuary made his extensive review of pension schemes, he found about 40,000 in existence The majority are contributory and have therefore been introduced with deductions made from the weekly wage packet without the publication of a Bill to permit that deduction. It has been done merely by the employee signing a card containing, first, the statement, "I wish to join the scheme", and, secondly. "I agree to the deduction from my wage of the amount of the weekly contribution."
It would be a very good thing if it could be made perfectly clear that that is a legal method of dealing with the deduction from the wage packet.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
The hon. Member began by saying that this was the first Bill which he had understood word for word since first coming to the House five years ago. He welcomed the mention of a lump sum being given for the dockers. Where is that mentioned?
§ Mr. Tiley
Every hon. Member present knows where the £100 is coming from. It is not coming from Littlewoods, Vernons, or Premium Bonds. My right hon. Friend explained it at the beginning of the debate and if the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) reads HANSARD tomorrow he will find that that intervention was not necessary.
I am very glad that the scheme is being launched and that my right hon. Friend has been able to bring the Bill to the House quickly. I hope that we shall 510 give it a speedy passage and that the new scheme will soon be able to start.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
I begin at a slight disadvantage compared with my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards). All during my industrial life, when I have tried to adjudicate upon dockers' problems, the dockers have always reminded me that I was not a docker. I have always been at a disadvantage with dockers, and I have always had to start work half-an-hour before dockers. However, I have an advantage over my hon. Friend in that while he was in the Senior Service I served with the Royal Engineers and there had some experience of the great work which the dockers did.
I must tell the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) that we do not agree about the whole of this pensions scheme, and it would not take us very long to fall out with many people about its extent. What we completely agree with is the principle, for the first time in history, of giving dockers a pension.
I welcome the Bill, but I must not get into the habit of congratulating the right hon Gentleman too frequently. Nevertheless, I am very pleased with him this evening for being able to introduce the Bill, and I am not being in the slightest churlish when I say that it is long overdue.
If we are in the mood for being reminiscent, I can remember the first industrial composition which I wrote as a young scaler boy of 14 when I was taking a course in the Transport and General Workers' Union and wrote a thesis on the 1889 dockers' strike. I can remember doing a very great deal of research on that. What annoys me so much with the malcontents in the dock industry today is that many of them do not know the first thing about the history of the industry in which they are working. I suppose that few of them would believe that a great prelate of the Roman Catholic Church was a strike leader in 1889, Cardinal Manning, a contemporary of Cardinal Newman. He joined in the strike in 1889 for the famous "Docker's Tanner", along with great trade unionists like Tom Mann and Ben Tillett. That is all part of history, but it is an indication of how long someone has been most remiss in not bringing 511 dignity into the lives of those who work in this great industry.
From the beginning of my working life I have appreciated that the greatest word in industry is "dignity". This pension scheme, small as it may be, will bring additional dignity into the lives of many men who have been deprived of it in this sense before.
The Bill is to apply to pensions for dock workers, but "dock workers" is a rather ambiguous term. Anyone who knows a great port like Liverpool or London knows that the Bill will apply only to those people who are registered as National Dock Labour Board employees.
"Dock workers" could be a misnomer. There might be many people in the country who are dock workers and have spent all their working lives on the docks who may think they will be included in this Bill. Every one of us in our turn have met people in employment on the docks who have spent, say, twenty-five years at sea and twenty-five years on the docks in one capacity or another outside the registration of dockers. After fifty years at sea and on the docks, working in the port, they find they are not covered by any type of industrial pension.
It is not surprising to me, and never has been, as one born on the Liverpool dockside, that there has been great industrial trouble. What surprises me is that there has been so little. Once he gets a glimpse of what other people are getting in industry and in local government, it is no wonder that the dock labourer becomes annoyed and discontented. I am grateful to the Minister for giving an outline of this scheme. As has been pointed out, there is no mention of the scheme in the Bill. When we compare the figures in the scheme with pensions in local government and for the "lush" people in industry, we find that approximately 2s. 6d. is asked for from the dockers and 5s. from the employer so that an old man, who probably has spent all his life in the industry, gets a 10s. pension, whereas in industry a younger man will come out with 40s.
§ Mr. Mahon
Plus the lump sum. We should compare that with the police pension. Why should there be such a disparity between what the dock labourer gets in pension and what a policeman receives? Why should there be so much disparity between people in local government who come out with approximately two-thirds of their salary and a dock labourer, who has been doing arduous, difficult work and is doled out with a parsimonious pension? I am not blaming the Minister. He is clearing the way, and we are most grateful to him, but I hope this is the beginning of a new era and that the pension will be looked at and constantly increased.
In industry, I always felt deprived of a sense of belonging. From the very first day I went into industry I felt I was de-personalised and not part of the great scheme, albeit that my great grandfather helped to build the docks in Liverpool. Only the money and those who owned it survived; the labour applied to the docks and its results died. We have to do something so that people may become personalised in the industry and belong to the industry. A pension can do that by giving a man a sense of belonging.
Mention has been made of Ernest Bevin. Of all the men I have ever known he was the one I most revered. He was a friend of my father when de-casualisation came to Liverpool. That was a great landmark in our history, and things which helped, like holidays and sickness benefit facilities, were of course good, but in spite of that, we still have not achieved the good industrial relations which I want to see in the Port of Liverpool.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Rees) on the excellence of his maiden speech. He spoke of new industries coming to Swansea. There is a great change coming to Liverpool. We have been very fortunate in having six or seven new factories attracted to that industrial area. The acquisition of those factories came as a blessing to the whole port and will affect the whole society in Liverpool.
When those firms come with their better pensions schemes it will behove those concerned to improve the dockers' scheme in order to meet the challenge 513 of competition for employment. Therefore, I not only welcome the scheme, but also the acquisition of Ford's, Vauxhall's and other factories, which, as the Minister of Labour told us, will bring 20,000 new jobs to Merseyside. I hope I live to see the day when that happens and when we have the prosperity which those things should bring, but we must have better industrial relations.
There are people in Liverpool who have a vested interest in destroying good relationships. This cannot be said too often. They put political loyalty to the Communist Party above any loyalty they have for their fellow workers. This is one of the things I have spoken about for many a long day. It is no use bringing all these things into industry while we have these malcontents. One of the things I want to speak about is the need for a real attempt to bring into the Port of Liverpool the sort of relationship which can add to its greatness and which, when these new industries come, will mean that we shall have a higher degree of prosperity.
Let us look at the condition for the Liverpool docks from the point of view of unity. The Transport and General Workers Union has played a great part in bringing this scheme to fruition. It is the only bona fide union for the organisation of dock labour within the scheme. By virtue of the difficulties we have had, there are at the moment three groups on the docks, the Transport and General Workers Union people, the "blue" union people—on whom I pass no comment— and another great group of people who have become disillusioned and have dropped out of any sort of trade union organisation. If this legislation is to be a success, it has to be operated by agreement and by people who join the pensions scheme maintaining themselves in it. Unless we are very careful, even this scheme could become a bone of contention for those who have that sort of mind and want to exploit that sort of situation one against another.
I am sorry to bring a discordant note into these proceedings, but I have had a great deal of experience and have had my eyes opened to what these people will do. In Liverpool, we need unity of labour and getting back into the only organisation which is allowed to organise dock labour there. I want to give some words 514 of advice to the Transport and General Workers Union. Many things have happened. The "blue" union was born, maybe out of genuine discontent. There is always discontent and it can be exploited, but the discontent was genuine enough before the exploitation, which was wrong.
Now, after five or six years, there is the desire for the whole working population to become one again. I want the Transport and General Workers Union to listen to my voice tonight. There is no more knowledgeable person in Liverpool on the question of labour problems than myself. I say that throwing humility to the winds. I have two or three generations of this experience behind me. The great desire is to get back into that union and to take full advantage of legislation of this kind.
I want the Transport and General Workers' Union to declare an amnesty in respect of all the difficulties which have occurred and to throw the doors wide open again so that they will accept and admit those men who have been slightly recalcitrant in the past. That is the only way in which we can bring back unity to the docks, and, having brought back unity, can go further and further towards a greater dignity in this great industry.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I do not intend to delay the House unduly, but I wish to welcome, as others have welcomed, the introduction of the Bill. The words which my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) has just uttered are typical of a Member of the House whom we have come to respect and admire over the years. He always speaks with great knowledge and sincerity. I very much hope that the words which he used tonight will be read by all those to whom he addressed them, because any contribution which he can make towards solving the problems of the docks will be appreciated by all concerned.
Much of what I shall say may appear to be repetition, but this is a unique occasion, because, for the first time in the history of dockland, we have the introduction of the possibilities of a pension scheme. That is what the Bill does; it is an enabling Bill, which means that through it a pension scheme can 515 be introduced. Some details have been given of this scheme, but it would be wrong for me to go into detail. I think that we may take it for certain that this is the first and not the last pension scheme for dockers. I am sure that other schemes will follow in its wake— and they will be better schemes.
I know that I carry with me my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), who has a greater personal knowledge even than I have of this subject, when I pay tribute to some of those who have organised this pension scheme and battled against the most appalling difficulties. In particular, I pay tribute to Mr. O'Leary, the National Docks Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union. I know how hard he has worked and the months of time that he has given to the job.
One of the problems in the introduction of this scheme has not been the lack of good will on the part of many of the big employers, but the fact that in this industry there are many small employers. The Minister quoted a figure of 1,100 employers in the scheme, the vast majority of whom are very small. The trouble in dealing with this great body of men is that many of these employers, even if they had the good will, have not had the necessary cash. To launch a scheme of this kind without financial stability at the beginning of it was tremendously difficult, and that is why it has taken certain people many hours to get it under way. This is only a beginning.
Hon. Members have mentioned Ernest Bevin. I am young compared with them in their knowledge of the docks, but I, too, worshipped Ernest Bevin. He represented the best of the Labour and the trade union movements. When we lost Ernest Bevin we lost a great House of Commons man and a great Briton. He would certainly have been pleased to know that at long last we have this pension scheme, although I suspect that some of his remarks about certain aspects of it would have been a little caustic.
There is one other person I want to mention who was associated with the scheme and did a lot of work for it— George Isaacs. He introduced the de-casualisation proposals which had been 516 initiated earlier by Ernest Bevin. George Isaacs will be pleased to know that this scheme has come about. He was always a very great friend of the dock worker, although he himself was not a docker. No docker could have had a better friend than George Isaacs, and we in the Labour Party could not have had a better Member of Parliament than we had in him throughout the many years that he was in the House. He was a first-class Minister of Labour. He had a wonderful fund of humour. We can send a message to George Isaacs tonight that this Bill is a Bill which he would have been proud to introduce.
Comments have been made about the dockers of yesteryear. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle in what he said about the docker of today and about the fact that there is now a dignity with the job. It is no longer the custom to describe the docker in almost scathing terms. We have heard from hon. Members opposite tributes properly paid to the importance of the docker in the nation's economy. That importance needs to be stressed a little more often. Each and every person in the industry has his contribution to make.
I cannot go back to the times which my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney mentioned; I remember these things only as a youngster. As my hon. Friends have said, in the past they saw some very hard days. There were times when some sections of society regarded it as almost shameful to be a dock worker. Thank goodness, we have moved away from those days when the dockers were not expected to have dignity and were always expected to accept casual employment as part of their lot.
Recently, I had a discussion with a man who is regarded as a very progressive employer in dockland and he was complaining bitterly that a number of strikes which had taken place in his firm were not his responsibility. He said that they had been created in other firms and for other reasons, but the next thing he knew was that the men on his wharf were on strike, although it had nothing to do with him. He complained about this bitterly and he said, "One of the problems here is that these men do not seem to owe me any loyalty." I said to him, "What do you expect? You cannot expect men to be loyal to a firm 517 which one day wants 150 workers and the next day wants only 10. If you discharge 140 men the next day as being unimportant and unwanted, you cannot expect loyalty. You cannot treat human beings like that."
If we are talking about dignity and loyalty, we must think of this pension scheme and remember that this is one way in which there can be stability in the dock industry. The dockers must have the things about which Ernest Bevin dreamed in the early days. It must be an industry in which the man who starts on Monday morning knows that he has security of employment and decent treatment, in which there is stability and in which the man is not put aside at the end of the day. This is only the tail-end of the kind of conditions which Ernest Bevin tried so hard to achieve.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stepney was quite right to say that we talk of decasualisation as if it means that no longer have we any of the problems of yesteryear. There still are problems, because in spite of the great efforts of the trade unions the minimum wage of these men is still not high enough. It still leaves room for complaint in dockland. That is not the fault of the unions.
I will tell the House what I should like to see in dockland. I say this on my own responsibility, and neither the unions nor any other Member of the House is involved in what I say. What I should like to see for this great industry is a few employers and every man employed in the docks a permanent, regular man, with holidays with pay and with a first-class pension scheme. This can be done only when the employers are limited in number and they have the resources and power which are needed in the industry.
Hon. Members who go to Germany can see the wonderful docks at Hamburg. They were built by the State, but much of them was wiped out during the war. The conditions under which many of our men work today cannot be compared with those at Hamburg. That is not the fault of the dock workers and, in a way, it is not the fault of the employers because, to be frank, the employers have not had enough capital.
One day the Government will accept responsibility for the reorganisation and rationalisation of our own docks indus- 518 try. If we are to compete with the foreigners, we cannot go on in the way we have gone on during the last few decades, with a docks industry which, to a large extent, is out of date. This scheme is a beginning. Those concerned with bringing it forward deserve every credit. I should be the last to criticise any detail of the scheme, because I know how hard everyone concerned has worked to achieve it. However, I wish to ask one question.
The Minister said that a lump sum was to be payable. I understood that it was to be payable to the older man—the 10s. man—and that he would get £100. Then I understood the Minister to say, when he interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle, that the £100 would be paid in any case. What is the position about that?
§ Mr. Mellish
I am obliged. That is my understanding. It is right that that should go on record, otherwise the word will go out from the House that everyone contributing to the scheme is to get the lump sum, and we do not want to start the scheme with a misunderstanding like that. I am only too glad to join in with a warm welcome for the introduction of the Bill.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I also want to give a warm welcome to the Bill and congratulate the Minister on bringing it forward at this time. It is a very modest start. With the passage of time there is bound to be improvement of the scheme from this initial start. I am delighted whenever another body of workers is brought within the ambit of a pension scheme. Millions of workers are still retiring from their employment with no pension available to them.
These distinctions among workers are bad. It is iniquitous, because one is conniving at a situation in which many families, after the wage earner retires, have to undergo a reduced standard of living as compared with other workers who have managed, through the organisation of their trade union, to get a pension scheme started, even if on a modest scale.
519 I feel that the scheme will improve and that dock workers will think that this is a very big occasion indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) represent many more dock workers than I do, but there are several small ports and harbours in my constituency where registered dock labourers are employed. Consequently, I want to be associated with the welcome which has been expressed to the Bill.
I think that the Bill applies to Scotland. The name of one of the Joint Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland is appended to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman was sitting with us on the Government Front Bench until a minute or two ago. I do not know if he departed from the Chamber because I rose to speak, but I hope that he will return to answer my points, because I do not want to embarrass the Minister of Labour with small Scottish points. The right hon. Gentleman should not have to answer those points when the name of a Scottish Minister appears on the Bill.
There has been no great publicity of the inauguration of the pension scheme. Is there complete unanimity in Scotland among the employing agencies in the ports and docks? I do not know just how strong the employers' organisation is who control dock workers in Scotland. Some of the harbours are very small, but there are harbour boards and dockers are employed. May I have an assurance that, even though they are small in comparison with the other docks mentioned tonight, the men employed there are within the ambit of the Bill?
I understood the Minister to say that 70 years is the age when men retire with a lump sum of £100 and a pension of 10s. a week, but is there to be any measure of agreement about elasticity in regard to age according to local circumstances? When we talk about £2 a week, do we refer to a definite period of years, or is there a graduated scale, according to years of service, to apply to men retiring after the start of the scheme?
I believe that this is a voluntary scheme. Can the Minister tell us anything about the method of ascertaining the numbers who may want to join it? I suppose that the vast majority of the men 520 will want to come in, but I would like to be assured that some definite invitation will be circulated in the pay packets, so that every docker can understand the scheme and can sign an application form, which should also be enclosed.
Although we have no Scottish Member present at this moment, the right hon. Gentleman knows about these small Scottish harbours, ports and docks that are doing very good work. I want to endorse what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney; in promoting a scheme like this we are doing much to bolster and strengthen a section of industry that has a great and close connection with our export trade.
The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Rees) mentioned this in a maiden speech, on which I congratulate him. The better the facilities we can provide at our docks, harbours and ports the better will the goods be taken care of, and they will be delivered in better condition than they would be with a dissatisfied force. That is much better for this country and its trade. I hope that the entire scheme will apply to Scotland, England and Wales, no matter what the size of the port.
I believe that Northern Ireland is excluded. Is that because the people there already have a pensions scheme? If they have not got such a scheme, where are all the Northern Ireland Members tonight? Why are they not asking about it? In their constituencies they have vast docks and great numbers of dock workers, and they must have some interest in an occasion like this—
§ Mr. Manuel
I understand that in the dock areas of certain parts of Northern Ireland unemployment is running at the rate of 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. If there is not a pensions scheme there, and the reason is lack of co-operation by some bodies in Northern Ireland, I hope that the Minister will take what steps are possible—
§ Mr. Manuel
Where there is a will there is a way. Quite apart from this being an enabling Bill stemming from the 1946 Act, if we willed a scheme like 521 this for Northern Ireland dockers we would see that they got it in some way or other. If the Minister now says that he is concerned about the dock workers and the port authorities of Northern Ireland being brought into line with those at the Welsh, English and Scottish ports and will later introduce a Bill to that end, I congratulate him, and wish him every success.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
It would be ungenerous if I did not welcome this enabling Bill and express the thanks of the Southampton dockers to the Minister for it, especially as my colleague in Southampton, the hon. Member for the Test Division (Mr. J. Howard), is the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, and, by the etiquette of the House, is debarred from joining in welcoming the Bill.
This is, indeed, the beginning of something very worth while. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) compared the provisions which arise from this enabling Bill with those which obtain for the police and local government workers. The fundamental difference, it seems to me, is that this enables employer and employee to make contributions to a superannuation fund, whereas in the other kind of superannuation fund the Government make a contribution. I hope that the day will come when dock workers and. indeed, all workers will enjoy the kind of superannuation to look forward to in their old age that is enjoyed by millions of people in the professions.
It is worth while, on this occasion, reminding ourselves how much we owe to the dockers of Britain. In wartime, we could not have survived but for the work that was done by the men at the docks. In peacetime, we could not have built up our export trade but for the dock workers. Tomorrow, I shall be speaking outside the dock gates in Southampton, as I have done every year for the last thirty-five years on municipal election day, and as this Bill is before the House I am reminded of the very different kind of audiences that I have had outside Southampton dock gates during these thirty-five years. I am reminded, too, of how decasualisation has come and— much more important—how labour relations have improved. This Measure is 522 the produce of gool labour relationships between good employers, on the one hand, and responsible union leadership, on the other.
As I said, this is only a beginning. While it is true that there are officially and regularly engaged in the docks about 70,000 workers who will benefit from the Bill, outside Southampton Docks every day this week and, indeed, during the last two years, early in the mornings, men have been waiting to be taken on as casual labour—standing in all weathers without any kind of protection. I have raised this matter with the Minister on previous occasions, and I hope that the present Minister will do all he can to extend the principle of decasualisation until it applies to every worker who is associated with the docks. I regard this Bill as a step forward in the advance towards the conception of the dignity of human labour, and I hope that it will extend in a number of spheres as the years go by.
It is worth while, in a House of Commons which is paying tribute to that greatest of trade union leaders, that great servant of Britain and of the dock workers, Ernie Bevin, to recognise that we could not have achieved this modest beginning of superannuation for the dock workers if it had not been for the organisation that the dock workers have built up during the last fifty years in the trade union movement, and the great leaders which that movement has produced. I congratulate the Minister on introducing a really worth-while Bill.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)
This has been a debate consisting of a number of short speeches all of which have welcomed the Bill, and I, too, wish to be brief in welcoming it.
I should like, first of all, to add my congratulations to those that have been extended to the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Rees) on his maiden speech. I think he observed all the traditions connected with a maiden speech, including the tradition of being non-controversial. If he had been controversial he might have added another cause to the list of causes connected with the decline of trade in the South Wales ports. He might have added the policy of the Government to the list of causes But perhaps it would not be in 523 keeping with the spirit of the situation if I were to talk about that.
A number of my hon. Friends have spoken on the Bill—hon. Members with experience of the dock industry and representing dockland constituencies. I cannot help feeling that, to some extent, it has been a field day for members of the Transport and General Workers' Union in the House. As one of those, I am glad to score that point, although, of course, we have not had quite a closed shop and other hon. Members have joined in.
Several hon. Members have referred to Ernest Bevin. I am now reading Alan Bullock's life of the late Ernest Bevin, and I do not think that anyone reading that book could fail to be impressed by Bevin's very long struggle for the dock worker and by the tremendous gifts he brought to it. One is impressed, also, by the essential difficulties of his task in the dock industry because of the way in which its fortunes have been so sensitive to the general trade level and the tremendous human cost in dockland of every fall in our trade and what this has meant for the people concerned.
As one reads the story, one realises how long it took to have the principles of a dock register and a basic minimum wage accepted in the industry. Yet, while he was fighting for those things, Bevin brought in the idea of a pension for dock workers. I agree, therefore, with all those who have said that he would have been glad to know that a start at long last was being made.
I have two personal reasons for welcoming the Bill. As a member for some years of the staff of the Transport and General Workers' Union, I was concerned in arguing the cases of dockers, among others, who suffered industrial accidents. Of course, the House will not need to be reminded that the dock industry has a much higher accident rate than the average. In doing that work, one was always conscious of the fact that if, for various legal reasons, one failed to obtain proper compensation for an injured docker, he was in a particularly bad position because of the lack of any satisfactory pension scheme in the industry. In that sense, the docker was worse off than some other workers. My other personal reason for being glad 524 to make a brief contribution to this debate is that I represent a dockland constituency and several constituents have written to me since I was elected and emphasised the need for a pension scheme in the docks.
My own view of the pension scheme itself is that it is a modest one, and, from the ideal point of view, too modest. One would like to see the scheme going much further than it does. However, in saying that, I feel that we should give credit to the people who fought for it and negotiated it, and we must recognise the difficulties of an industry with more than 1,100 firms involved in the scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said that this should be a first pension scheme and we look forward to our sights being raised in the future, the union asking for more and the employing side granting more. We hope that we shall have a much more ambitious pension scheme for dock workers in the years to come. The very fact that this scheme has been brought in at all, I think, is a sign of the relatively good relations which exist in the dock industry today compared with relations at several times since the war. This is something which we all welcome.
The Bill provides that the Truck Acts shall not apply in respect of this scheme. My first comment on that echoes what my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said—it shows the extent to which the Truck Acts are out of date and it illustrates once more the need for overhaul of this legislation. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary can give us any more news about progress being made by the Karmel Committee and if, or when, we can expect any Government decision about new legislation to deal with the matter.
My second comment is this. The Minister told us that this was one of a series of Bills which would be necessary to amend the Truck Acts in order to bring in a pension scheme for manual workers. He referred to the Port of London Authority and certain of the nationalised industries which were involved. What really impresses me is that the list is still a very short one. In fact, the bulk of manual workers in this country are not yet covered by proper pension schemes.
525 The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) spoke about the spread of pension schemes. There has been a spread, but it has very largely been a spread among black-coated workers and manual workers in nationalised industries. The spread has not very much affected the manual worker in private industry. The very fact that the Truck Acts have not needed to be amended more on this point is an indication of that. Indeed, when there is a pension scheme for manual workers, and this applies to the one we are considering today, it is usually a much more modest scheme—too modest—compared with the pension schemes for black-coated workers.
We should remind ourselves that this scheme for dock workers will be in addition to the Government's own supplementary pensions to be introduced next year. I cannot resist saying that it is a comment on the inadequacy of the Government's supplementary pensions. Their supplementary pensions are to supplement the basic pension and this is to supplement that pension, but it still will not provide the dock worker with a total pension as large as he is entitled to have.
§ Mr. Mellish
There was a delay in the finality of the scheme because of the General Election. If the Labour Party had been returned as the Government of the day, this scheme would never have come before us because our national scheme would have been accepted.
§ Mr. Prentice
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for helping me to make my last point. We on this side of the House believe that everybody should have a decent superannuation scheme. We had in mind the introduction of a national superannuation scheme to cover all those who do not have a proper scheme at work. Unfortunately, we are delayed for a period of a year or two at least in putting that into operation. Meanwhile we must welcome any private scheme that begins to make some provision for workers hitherto left out. We regard this as a beginning, welcome it as such, and hope that in due course in the dock industry and other industries there will be really ambitious pension schemes for the manual workers.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Peter Thomas)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) said that it was not often that the House was so united on the subject of pensions. I should like to keep it as united as possible. I am sure that the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the fascinating matters he introduced at the end of his speech.
It is not my intention to speak at any length, but I should like to take the opportunity, at the end of this pleasant debate, to thank all hon. Members who have spoken for the very warm welcome they have given to this small but, I think every one will agree, important Bill. It has received the approval and commendation of every hon. Member who has spoken.
I join with those hon. Members who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Rees) on his maiden speech. It is a delight to me to do so, because I was in Swansea yesterday and I know the constituency he represents so well. I think it is the general feeling of the House that he did justice to his constituency in his first speech in this Chamber. It is very appropriate that he should have chosen this Bill; first, because it was non-controversial and, also, because it is a Bill which I am sure will commend itself to many of my hon. Friend's constituents. I think it can be said that although there may have been difficulties experienced in the ports of South Wales, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, North said, nevertheless there is a future for the port of Swansea. I am delighted that my hon. Friend was able to refer to this great port and area in his maiden speech.
There are one or two matters which perhaps I should mention on points put forward by hon. and right hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) paid tribute, as indeed did so many hon. Members, to the late Ernest Bevin. It is right that I should pay tribute as well, not only to that very great trade union leader and statesman, but also to the many people who over many years have co-operated in order to bring about the situation that obtains in the docks today.
527 The right hon. Member for Blyth posed one or two questions about the pensions scheme. As he rightly said, it would not be proper for us to go into the merits or demerits of the scheme, which is a scheme proposed by the industry itself. However, I have made certain enquiries into the points he raised. As the right hon. Gentleman suggested, it is not intended that there should be a sinking fund, but I am informed that any person who is regarded as a genuine docker and who has been in the industry for twelve months can join the scheme. After he has joined, if a dock worker who has been in the industry for 12 months reaches the age of 65, having made one or two payments, he would, if he retired, be immediately entitled to the 10s. a week pension plus the lump sum of £100.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the reduction of the register. I am told that, in the event of someone leaving the industry, provision is made for the contribution to be either transferred or paid back to him at 3½ per cent. compound interest.
The hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), in a speech which was most interesting, because he spoke from experience, referred to the difficulties of the past when people were engaged in casual work at the docks. I think he would be the first to agree that the provision of a pension is a tremendous advance. As I see it, a pension emphasises, possibly more than anything, the permanent character of the employment and also security of the employment.
§ Mr. W. Edwards
Surely the Parliamentary Secretary realises that I emphasised the importance of the pension, but at the same time I said that it has not come as a result of Government action but as a result of pressure on the part of the unions in the dock industry.
§ Mr. Thomas
I have not for a moment suggested that the pension has come as a result of Government action. It has come as a result of concerted action in the industry. The national joint council of the industry has prepared the scheme, and it has asked us whether we would introduce this Bill because it was somewhat concerned about the operation of the Truck Acts. I do not think that my 528 right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour attempted to take any credit for the pension scheme. I certainly do not do so.
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) said that he was somewhat concerned about the inadequacy of the pension scheme. I am sure that he will agree, however, that it would not be right for me to comment on that point. The hon. Member for East Ham, North was right when he spoke on this matter. The scheme will not be contracted out of the graduated part of the new National Insurance scheme, which will come into force in April next year. The benefits of the scheme will be additional to the full graduated retirement pensions. I also hope that the Bill will contribute in some measure to better industrial relations and to better harmony among the unions. I hope that in the great city of Liverpool it will have some effect of that sort.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) paid tribute to those who have brought about the scheme. He mentioned particularly Mr. O'Leary. I, too, pay tribute to Mr. O'Leary and others on both sides of the industry who have worked hard and have brought about a scheme which, I hope, will be of far reaching effect.
I do not know whether I can answer all the questions of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel). He asked whether the Scottish employers would be behind the scheme. I am informed that the majority of Scottish employers are members of the National Association of Port Employers, which certainly is 100 per cent. behind the scheme.
The hon. Member also asked about the retirement age. It is 65 and not 70, as the hon. Member thought. As the hon. Member said, it is a graduated scheme, but it is not voluntary. It is a compulsory scheme. It is voluntary inasmuch as people at present in the industry can join if they wish, but once they have joined they cannot contract out. New entrants to the register are compelled to join.
§ Mr. W. Edwards
The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the retirement age is 65. I do not want to go into the details of the scheme, and I do not consider it right and proper to do so until 529 they have been before the trade union delegate conference. Would the Parliamentary Secretary agree that to the public or to the dockers it might appear to be a mistake to say that the retirement age is 65, because, from what I understand, the £100 gratuity goes to those dockers now working who are aged 70 and over. I do not know whether that is correct.
§ Mr. Thomas
It may be. I can only give the House what I have been told. I am told that the benefits are, first, retirement pensions, at the age of 65 or over, varying between 10s. per week plus £100 lump sum at one end of the scale and 40s. a week at the other end; secondly, ill-health retirement benefits and pensions, and thirdly, death benefits. These are intended to be additional to what may be received under the State scheme, and there is provision for transfer to and from private schemes. That is all the information I have. Clearly, one cannot go in detail into a scheme of this sort, because it will have to be worked out in the industry. In opening the debate, however, my right hon. Friend referred to the scheme and a number of questions have been asked, and I can only give the House what little information I have.
§ Mr. Manuel
The point I was making was that it was voluntary for existing registered dockers. The fault is mine if I did not make myself clear.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire asked about Northern Ireland. As my right hon. Friend said when he intervened, the scheme operates by virtue of the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1946, 530 which does not apply to Northern Ireland. So far as any legislation of this sort is either desirable or necessary, it is a matter for the Northern Ireland Parliament and not for this Parliament.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) said that the scheme was a step forward in the conception of the dignity of human labour. We agree with that. The debate has shown a desire on the part of the House to facilitate the introduction of a pension scheme in the dock industry. As has been said, it will be a notable achievement to cover by a single scheme so many manual workers. It is true that existing dock workers will have the option of joining or staying out, but the option will extend to over 70,000 registered dock workers, as my right hon. Friend said. Whatever proportion chooses to join in the first instance—the whole House will hope that it will be a high proportion—it will certainly increase as the years go by as membership of the scheme is to be compulsory for new entrants to the industry.
The Bill is intended for a simple purpose, and we have endeavoured to draft it in a simple way. It is gratifying to know that it has the general approbation of all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate and I am sure that the House will be delighted to give it a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Brooman-White.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.