§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Lord JACQUES
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The present arrangements for the joint regulation of employment of dock workers are embodied in a scheme made under the Dock 'Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act 1946. This Act is now out of date. The revision is needed not only to meet present and future needs, but to enable the United Kingdom to ratify a recent ILO convention, Convention No. 137.
The Devlin inquiries of the mid-1950s confirmed the need for joint regulation of employment of dock workers. The Devlin inquiries of the mid-1960s recommended the allocation of all registered dock workers to permanent employers. This was done in a new and revised scheme in 1967, and it is only from then that we have had virtually the end of casual labour in the docks concerned. During the past decade, there have however been fundamental changes which are of two kinds. First, there have been technical changes such as containerisation and rolling on and rolling off, and these changes have reduced the dock labour force to one half of what it was a decade ago. But there has been a second kind of change; a change in the pattern of trade. Our trade with Europe has increased and our trade with more distant parts of the old Commonwealth has declined. Consequently, some ports have increased their tonnage, other ports have decreased their tonnage. This has not been a shift from ports which had a dock labour scheme to ports which had not a dock labour scheme. For example, 28 ports with a dock labour scheme 581 increased their tonnage since 1969. Likewise, 23 ports which were not covered by the scheme also increased their tonnage. On the other side of the picture, 20 scheme ports and 15 non-scheme ports lost traffic. You will see that the movement was not one from scheme ports to non-scheme ports, it was a movement entirely due to the changes in the pattern of trade.
In 1970 an independent committee, the Bristow Committee, made recommendations on the need for a workable and acceptable definition of dock labour. It recommended that action be taken. Unfortunately, no action was taken. In 1972 the National Ports Council reported there was heavy reliance upon casual labour in the non scheme ports. It also reported that this labour was often substandard in its conditions of employment, and it recommended action. But again no action has been taken. The Aldington-Jones Committee which, obviously by the name was a committee of employers and employees, recommended action without delay. But still no action was taken. Up to 1970, with the exception of the General Strike of 1926, there had never been a comprehensive strike of dockers. That I think was quite a good record. But largely because no action was taken arising out of the changes that had taken place in the past decade, the dockers took action, and in 1970 and 1972 we had for the first time comprehensive strikes of dockers. In 1975 we had an unofficial strike of dockers. The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service set up an independent inquiry panel to investigate the causes of the strike and make recommendations. That independent inquiry panel recommended that the present Government's proposals be acted upon without delay.
Seldom has there been any Bill which was based upon so many recommendations of independent bodies and joint committees of employers and employees. This Bill at least has that merit.
I now deal with the Bill. Clause 1 reconstitutes the National Dock Labour Board as a statutory corporation. It will have a chairman, vice chairman and 12 members. The chairman, vice-chairman and four of the members will be appointed in consultation with the CBI and the TUC. The remaining eight members will 582 be nominated by the National Joint Council for the dock industry, and there will be four representatives representing employers and four representing workers. Schedule 1 Part I lays down the constitution of the Board, and Part II deals with the transfer of functions and property from the old Board to the new Board.
Clause 2 lays down the general duties of the new Board. In particular, it will have to keep under review developments affecting dock work. This has been framed to comply with the ILO Convention No. 137. Clause 3 deals with the finances. It lays down the borrowing powers and conditions under which grants can be made. The borrowing powers are fixed at £10 million but can be increased to £30 million by order. The borrowing is largely to finance redundancy payments because these workers are outside the general redundancy scheme and the money is refunded by dock employers by a levy upon wages. The levy at the present time, depending upon the port concerned, is between 4 and 5 per cent. of wages. So far as grants are concerned, grants can be made as contributions towards expenses and reports on classification made under Clauses 6–10 of the Bill. This is expenditure which at the present time falls upon Central Government, and in any case all payments, whether grants or loans, have to have Treasury sanction.
I come now to Clause 4. Clause 4 provides for the preparation of a new dock labour scheme to be brought into force area by area. A draft will be published and the opportunity will be given for representations. The final draft will be submitted to both Houses for approval. In this new dock scheme the cargo-handling zone will be defined in layman's language as within 5 miles of the sea—that is, the mean high-water mark—or within 5 miles of a major waterway open to the sea. That latter provision embraces the Manchester Ship Canal, where the dock labour scheme is already in force in most of the ports. Why 5 miles? Because that is the limit recommended by the independent Bristow Committee, and has been voluntarily accepted by some of the employers concerned who have become registered and licensed to employ registered dock workers.
587 discussing day by day. It is well nigh unbelievable that, as the events of the week unfold, Parliament, and in particular this House, should be left to discuss measures, of which this Bill is an example, which can have no conceivable beneficial effect upon our ability to play our part on the world stage; nor, by ameliorating our woeful economic plight, restore to us as a nation a measure of prosperity and self-respect.
Earlier in the week, the possibility of a settlement of the Rhodesian problem, which would bring us immense political and economic gains throughout Africa and, indeed, throughout the Third World, passed the House by almost without comment. We now have a crisis over the exchange rate of the pound—and I appreciate that the word "crisis" is one of the most over-used words in our language—of such severity that if the newspapers are right, or if one of them is, one large bookmaker has opened a book on whether the Government can survive this weekend. The effect of the muddle which the Government have got themselves into is that there is no time for Parliament, for this House, to debate our present predicament, and no opportunity for Members of this House, who have immense experience in many fields, to offer advice and counsel and, may I even suggest it, comfort to the Government and by so doing help to allay the anxieties felt throughout the country. Contrary to what the Government sometimes claim, there is no lack of patriotism on these Benches, but there is growing disaffection that the Government have so lost control of the Parliamentary situation that there is no opportunity to express such patriotism. It is therefore with a sense of some distaste that we turn our attention to this Bill, and discuss what are the motives behind it and what it seeks to achieve.
§ Lord POPPLEWELL
My Lords, is that the end of the Central Office brief, so far as the general picture is concerned?
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, if the noble Lord contains himself he still has time to put down his name to speak; none of his colleagues has. So far as the motives are concerned, without doubt one can describe them as murky. Nevertheless, I do not regard it as being 588 altogether profitable to speculate whether this Bill is the price for the continued support of Mr. Jack Jones and his undoubtedly effective advocacy of Government policy among his colleagues. What this Bill undoubtedly does is to extend the monopoly, which registered workers presently enjoy in the scheme ports, to the non-scheme ports and, indeed, to any other area in the country, and to bring within the dockers' monopoly a variety of activities which at present. certainly it would be agreed, do not fall into the category of dock works and which in many cases cannot conveniently do so.
I must make it plain that our objections to the Bill in no way stem from a lack of sympathy for the dockers. They have suffered very hard times in the past. They are having to endure the inevitable contraction of their industry. No one, I am sure, blames them for trying to alleviate their lot, although sometimes one may question the wisdom of some of their tactics. But the effect of this Bill is to create a privileged class of citizens who in effect are being told, "For better or for worse, for richer"—but not for poorer, my Lords—"in sickness and in health, till death or severance payment do us part, you are guaranteed gainful employment". This Government, dedicated as they frequently claim, to the abolition of inequality and privilege, have adopted the almost Orwellian theory that while all workers are equal some, apparently, are to be more equal than others.
One may look at the matter from the economic point of view and quote from a source which, at least on this occasion, I regard as impeccable:The cosy world which we were told would go on for ever, where full employment would be guaranteed by the stroke of the Chancellor's pen, cutting taxes and deficit spending, is gone".The Prime Minister, for it was he, went on:When we reject unemployment as an economic instrument then we must ask ourselves unflinchingly, What is the cause of unemployment? Quite simply and unequivocally it is caused by paying ourselves more than the value of what we produce".By importing a system of work traditionally, one has to say, under-efficient and overmanned throughout the length and breadth of our cargo handling industry, the Government are ensuring that those working in the industry are doing precisely 589 what the Prime Minister complained about: securing a level of remuneration higher than the value of their productivity. One asks, how can the Government in one breath ask for an increase in efficiency in industry and in the next produce a measure which will raise costs and must, to some extent, reduce efficiency.
One looks around for those who seek to justify the introduction of this Bill. One has to look pretty hard at the list of speakers to see any noble Lord upon it from the Benches opposite who wishes to speak in support of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, is one and no doubt all of us will look forward to hearing his contribution. However, I doubt whether he will be so controversial as no doubt he will be in the future. Therefore one is left with the undoubted fact that there is no Back-Bench supporter of this Bill on the Government Benches. One is left with the uncomfortable feeling that either noble Lords opposite are treating the House with contempt or alternatively that they are unable to find anything good to say about the Bill. I do not believe the first alternative that I have postulated. I have far too much respect and, indeed, affection for many noble Lords opposite. However, taking this Bill together with the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, we are in a sorry state when such important and far-reaching measures as these are debated, in effect, by only one side of the House, and of course one must not forget the Cross-Benchers.
If I may turn away from that side of the matter, this Bill is not only inequitable in its concept, as I submit it is, but it will be unfair in its application. I have no doubt that many other noble Lords will draw attention to the various shortcomings and unsatisfactory aspects of the Bill. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Lyell in particular will fill in some of the details. We shall not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, although in this instance that is a course which we take reluctantly. Nevertheless, we shall seek to amend the Bill drastically and we will be concerned particularly to examine those parts of the Bill upon which the guillotine fell in the other place so that large parts of the Bill were never adequately discussed or, indeed, discussed at all on Report. We shall call the Government to account over the matter of many undertakings which were 590 given in Committee by Ministers either to consider or, on some occasions, to reconsider suggestions and points which were made.
To us, one of the most distasteful effects of the Bill is that which in effect provides what might be called blanket extension of dockland work on a geographical basis. By that I mean the proposed cargo handling zone. As noble Lords will know, the "cargo handling zone" means any place within five miles of the mean high water mark, or of a major waterway navigable for 20 miles from the sea by ships of a gross tonnage of 6,000 tons or over. One must not forget that the Secretary of State has power by order to extend the zone, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, pointed out, this power is subject to Parliamentary approval. The zone is totally unrelated to existing port or cargo-handling facilities; it is unrelated to existing arrangements as between management and employees; it is unrelated to the availability of dock labour; it is unrelated to the realities of the industrial operations that are being performed in any locality. It is bound, in my judgment, where there is blanket coverage like this, to have a deleterious effect on industrial relations. It has been said, and said more than once, that the introduction of dock practices, if I may so describe them, in this way into entirely new fields will not disrupt industrial relations but I believe that it is bound to do so.
Once dockers who are on the register are provided with what will be a pool of new jobs they are bound to wish to fill them with their own people. Indeed, it would be unnatural if they did not and they have already said that this is what they intend to do. There is, is there not, my Lords, every likelihood that there will be unpleasant repercussions, with all that that entails? Therefore we shall table Amendments which will in no sense of the word be wrecking Amendments because they will, what I might call, observe the ambition or the philosophy which is apparent behind the Bill. Nevertheless, the Amendments will remove the geographical element from the cargo handling zone and replace it by what I might call a test of function. We believe that that will achieve what the Bill sets out to achieve and achieve it in possibly a more 595 unfortunately it has failed to do in recent years. The Government's answer in this extraordinary Bill is, first, to seek to preserve the status quo so far as registered dock workers are concerned, which we believe is wrong; and, secondly, to do it by means which the Government know perfectly well are quite futile. We believe that this is politically dishonest.
May I venture to make clear what I mean? First of all, in all the 36 days of Committee in the other place, it has never once been suggested by a single Government spokesman that this Bill will create any more jobs, except for the few extra on the National Dock Labour Board, and perhaps that does not really count for this purpose. No more jobs will be created. It follows quite simply that if more jobs under the Bill are to be made available to registered dockers, they can be made available only at the expense of people who are not registered dockers. The Government then proceed to say that the way to achieve this, the way to ensure more jobs will be available for registered dockers is to create this five-mile corridor, five miles or more at the discretion of the Secretary of State.
§ Lord WIGODER
My Lords, five miles, or more, or less at the discretion Of the Secretary of State. I shall be agreeably surprised on the day when the Secretary of State uses his discretion in the way indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. Of course these proposals have given satisfaction, inevitably, to the existing registered dock force, and it is quite understandable that they should. It is quite understandable that they have greeted the Bill as an indication that there will be more jobs available for them once the corridor is extended in this way. But when one looks at the Bill, nothing could be further from the truth. It simply is not correct.
If one looks at the Bill, one finds, first of all, that all existing holders of jobs in the area which the dock workers think they will expand into are to be completely and totally safeguarded. Clause 10 of the Bill makes it quite clear that the Board must provide safeguards for the existing workforce, and that there have to be special reasons before anybody in the 596 existing workforce is not made what amounts to being an honorary docker. In other words, the proposals are, on the one hand, to say to the registered dockers, "Yes, you can have all these extra jobs", but on the other hand, to satisfy those already working in existing jobs you say, "Of course, you can all keep your jobs; you will become registered dockers on the extension register and on the permanent register on a par with the other registered dockers".
And not only that. As the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, mentioned without stressing it—and, if I may say so, I can understand why lie did not stress it—on page 28 of the Bill, in paragraph 8 of Schedule 4 there is this simple proviso:If, at any time when the Board have under consideration proposals for a recommendation under section 8"—that is about classifying workers' dock work—…the Board shall not proceed further in relation to that work unless the objection is withdrawn.That is if an objection is made by a qualified independent trade union—admittedly an objection that has been accepted under the terms of an agreement before 1967.
My Lords, I have sometimes heard idle and malicious rumours to the effect that the trade unions are running the country, but this is the first time I have ever seen it written into a Statute in terms. But that is precisely what it says. It says that whatever the National Dock Labour Board, whatever the Government or whatever the Secretary of State may think about the merits of extending dock work into a particular area, the trade union concerned may have an absolute veto, and that is the end of the matter.
In those circumstances, where all existing work is to be protected and where the unions are to have a veto, how many jobs will be made available under this scheme to registered dock workers that are not available at the moment? Not unnaturally, the Government have been a little reluctant to give a figure, but it has been made perfectly clear that the only jobs to be made available to registered dockers that they will not have at the moment are those which will in due course arise as a result of natural wastage in the area of the corridor, where jobs are classified as registered dock 597 work. How many that is I find difficult to estimate. The Government perhaps have some figures. It may be of some value to indicate that of the 54,000 who were registered dock workers in 1969, the natural wastage there over seven years has been precisely 670. Is it seriously suggested that anything more than a handful of jobs will be made available by the whole of the machinery of this elaborate Bill? If not, really, what is the point of it?
My Lords, it might perhaps be thought by noble Lords who are coming afresh to this Bill that what I am saying is entirely fanciful and based on a total misconception of the Bill. They may say to themselves that nothing could conceivably he so ridiculous as this set of proposals. Therefore, may I simply recite four very short quotations, one from Mr. Foot, who said at the Committee stage:I hope that the honourable gentleman will accept our repeated assurances that existing employees will not be turned out of their employment to make way for existing registered dock workers."—[Official Repot, Commons; Standing Committee G: 1/4/76; col. 707]Then, at column 1793 of the Committee stage, Mr. Booth said:I hope that these amendments now make clear that everybody will be covered by recommendations to protect their jobs and that the Board will be able to choose only the means by which the protection is recommended, whether it be by the process of placing them on the extensions register or by the alternatives which the amendments offer". [Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee G: 20/5/76; col. 1793.]I have an extract from what the Chairman of the Port of London Authority said in his report for the year ending December 1975. He said:It is my belief that even if the Bill works as originally it was intended to work, it will not add in any significant way to job opportunities for registered dock workers.There is one final quotation from column 1775 of the Committee stage, where Mr. Booth said:I would not wish to cross swords with him"—the right honourable gentleman—on the proposition that the extra work so created will be sufficient to solve the problem of surplus. I would tend to agree with the proposition, particularly in so far as it applies to London. The extra jobs created may well be nothing like sufficient to remove the problem of surplus in London."—[Official Report; Commons; Standing Committee G; 20/5/76; Col. 1775.]598 That is a problem of some 2,000 people. In effect in this Bill the registered dockers, who have every right to worry about their position, are being made the subject of an elaborate confidence trick by the Government. They believe that more job opportunities will be available to them, but if one looks at the Bill in detail it is apparent that nothing could be further from the truth.
My Lords, in those circumstances, the position appears to be that hardly any new jobs will be created for registered dock workers. Such few as are created will only be at the expense of others already doing that work. It has been said that the author of the Bill in some way is Mr. Jack Jones. If I may say so, I suspect it is much more likely to be Mr. Lewis Carroll. If the Bill serves no useful purpose in that way, may we look for one moment at the catastrophic side effects it will have. It will inevitably raise costs to the consumer. If new employers coming into the scheme have to pay a Dock Labour Board levy which they are not now paying it is quite inevitable that the cost of that will be passed on to the consumer and will result in an increase in the cost of living. It is going to have an effect on our trade, particularly our export trade, for example to the Far East, where there are very narrow margins of profit involved.
It is going to make great difficulties in the smaller ports. The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, talked about the terrible problem of casual labour in the smaller ports. What is it? Altogether, in all the small ports in the United Kingdom, there are 350 people employed as casual labourers, and doing that work because they enjoy doing it and because it fits in with other part-time occupations they have. It is bound to react to the detriment of the local communities who depend on those small ports. If I may, I will leave my noble friend Lord Simon, who knows a great deal about the problems thus involved, to elaborate on that. Inevitably it will cause difficulties in industrial relations. Registered dockers will find themselves working side by side, miles from the sea, with non-registered dockers, in circumstances in which there are bound to arise different forms of labour problems, different demarcation disputes. Again, if I may, I will leave my noble friend Lady Seear to deal with that matter.
603 book which came out in 1970 on dockers. He says:Tilbury Docks, which from its opening in 1886 was the white elephant of the Board, and saved only from a premature closing three years later by the revenue earned by the London Docks Company, has now become the hub of a modern port.And there have been other shipping predictions that have gone awry more recently—predictions that bigger is best; the prospect, which now seems to have faded, of successive generations of ever growing tankers. We have an instance of what has happened in the report on the financial pages of The Times on Tuesday. Use by large tankers was to have been a justification for the seaport part of the Foulness or Maplin project. Mercifully the nation has been saved from that economic and environmental disaster. Nor, if I may mention it in passing, would that project ever have met the employment needs of East Enders, as some have suggested. It is no good offering East Enders jobs on the East coast.
My Lords, it is not for a newcomer even to approach pontificating about the role of your Lordships' House, but it has always seemed that one of its special attributes is its ability to stand back and take a longer, overall look at a problem. It is not perhaps subject in the same way as another place needs to be, understandably, to the day-to-day demands and pressures from outside. Your Lordships do perhaps have a better opportunity sometimes to gauge the effect of legislation on a longer-term basis. And quite apart from any benefit from dealing now with the current work problems in the docks, partly through this Bill, action now could have longer-term benefits not sufficiently explored, it seems, so far.
Let me put it this way. If we fail to take action, if we allow the decline to continue, if we lose the labour force which is geared to dock work, if we allow our inner urban docks to run down more, we shall have lost a priceless asset—one hesitates to use an extreme term like that, but certainly an immensely valuable asset which future generations will find it too costly to resurrect. I have for some time been harbouring a suspicion (if "harbouring" is the right sort of word to use in today's context) about these inner docks areas, particularly in London. 604 If they are closed down altogether, in days to come someone, I venture to suspect, in a blinding flash of inspired revelation is going to say, "What a good idea it would be if we had a port right here in the middle of London. We could bring the goods right to the centre. We could save costs. We could save on transport, on heavier lorries, on environmental damage." But they would not be able to reclaim those docks built 176 years ago, and a bit before and a bit after, because the cost would be monumentally prohibitive. So we should have lost an asset for all time.
How much better, is it not, my Lords, to take action now and so keep open the prospect of expansion in the future? Bringing stability to the workforce is one step, I venture to suggest, towards that. I hope that the Government, and all concerned, will also seize the earliest opportunity to press ahead with the other developments that are needed to make these areas the flourishing enterprise that they could surely be.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, asked me to swap places with him. This gives me the great privilege of being the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, on his most felicitous speech. If I might say so, not only was it interesting, and indeed in parts humorous, and indeed relevant to the subject, but also it was non-controversial, which in the framework of this Bill seems quite impossible. I should like to congratulate him very much on a splendid speech, and I hope we shall hear him many times in the future.
We are now confronted with a very real present-day dilemma on how democracy should be interpreted in a modern State. One of the misfortunes of the Bill is that it is the culmination of a long period of controversy and cannot easily be viewed objectively by all of us who will be affected by its outcome. It can be seen in various ways by different groups of people, and I propose to examine briefly the effects that it may be thought to have on some of those groups. First, there are the dockers themselves who may feel that in its present form the Bill is too restrictive to their interests rather than meeting all their aspiration.
605 Then there are the employers of labour involved in the import and export of goods who have hitherto been spared close involvement in earlier controversies over dock labour schemes and who now fear that they will have dockers included in their workforce by Statute, with implications of increased costs and possibly inter-union strife. We also need to consider the interests and fears of many ordinary workers, especially those in small ports who have hitherto worked in harmony with their employers without the need to consider precisely whether the work that they do falls into a statutory category or whether they have from time to time to support a cause the relevance of which to their own interests may appear obscure.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, we can consider the interests of the country as a whole under the Government of the day of whatever Party whose duty it is to protect us all from the encroachment on our freedom of powerful minority groups. Before examining briefly the possible effects of the Bill on each of these interests, I should declare two interests. First, I come from the Isle of Wight and am particularly concerned with the effects of the Bill on small ports. Secondly, I am a director of a trade association, the Cake and Biscuit Alliance, and am therefore especially interested in the effects of the Bill on the food industry.
Regarding the interests of the dockers, one is at once confronted with a fundamental issue. As I see it, from having studied the matter as deeply as I can—I have read Mr. Wilson's book to which the noble Lord, Lord Boston, referred as well as taking other action—past experiences have convinced the dockers that their working contribution within the country is vital to its wellbeing and that this entitles them to a certain degree of privilege over and above other types of people whose contribution is not so obviously essential. The purpose of the Bill, it seems to me, is to ensure that such privilege as has been fought for in the past shall not be eroded and indeed shall be extended in the future in what they would feel was a reasonable manner to ensure that it is safeguarded for all time.
While one must recognise that an attitude of that sort exists and cannot be ignored, I suggest that it is a dangerous 606 one which has within it the seeds of great strife, for the fact is that in the modern world, especially in a small highly industrialised country such as ours, we are all dependent on one another and no one group of people is more important in the long run than another, even if some groups—and dockers are not the only ones—can, by withdrawing their labour, have more immediately detrimental effects on the wellbeing of the whole.
What I have just said may appear somewhat surprising to some noble Lords but in a small country we will find I think that over a period of time the groups of people we have, whether they be shopkeepers or noble Lords, dockers or miners, seamen or bus drivers, they are all here on a continuing basis only because somehow they have been found to be necessary in the past, and the community as a whole cannot exist by assuming that any one of these component parts is more important and useful than another. In the event that such a component part proves to be not wholly useful, then in due course it disappears and is replaced by some other group of people, so to my mind it is very important that in this country today we should seek to ensure that all of us appreciate that all these groups are important to us all and that there is no particular justification for any one group to consider itself entitled to more than what one might call a reasonable amount of privilege, and that is what we are arguing about in this Bill.
I feel, therefore, that we should say to the dockers, "Yes, we understand your past problems and your expectations but we ask you to consider whether you have not already got as much privilege as you can reasonably expect and whether getting more will not bring you into conflict with your fellow workers". That, after all, is what the TUC has recently splendidly said to the National Union of Seamen with such good effect.
I come to the question of employers who fear the introduction of dockers into their ranks as a result of the extension of the statutory cargo handling zone. Their concern is basically, as with all employers, to run their businesses as efficiently as possible and if noble Lords do not think that that is what employers' main concern is, they really had better learn what business is all about. These employers 609 of your Lordships' House to take some step to make sure that the interests of such people are protected in this Bill.
Finally, how about the interests of the country and the implications for the powers of Government? Of course, one immediate consequence of the Bill, even if it has been exaggerated, will be increased costs to importers and exporters. This will tend to increased prices and a loss of business to overseas competitors—a situation which the country cannot accept with equanimity. I am endeavouring to be as low key as I can in putting these views across but, in view of what we heard in the Government Statement yesterday, it seems that what I have just said could have been given a great deal more emphasis than perhaps it could when I first thought of it.
More importantly, however, there is the increased power which the Bill will bring to the dockers in enabling them to threaten an embargo on trade and especially to disrupt food supplies. The full implementation of all the powers granted to the Secretary of State by the Bill could place in the hands of a few citizens an ability to starve the bulk of the remainder in under a week. This may be excessively alarmist, but the implications are there. We heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, when this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, that the cargo handling zone might be less than five miles. Unfortunately, the noble Lord is not in his place, but I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Oram, could expand on that feature of what the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, said in answer to the question. As I read the Bill, there is no provision for the zone to be less than five miles deep at any point though it may be considerably extended.
Of course, the necessary order would be subject to parliamentary approval but, in the event of any sort of Government majority, one imagines that we would not be protected from a Secretary of State who was carried away by his enthusiasm to look after the interests of this section of the community. Surely, if something in a Bill is dangerous to the community as a whole, it is better that it should not be in the Bill at all. If in the future it were necessary to extend the area described as dockland, perhaps that could 610 be the subject of further legislation in due course. If noble Lords say that it is difficult to get legislation through, so be it. We are not in a hurry to work these changes. One of our troubles, particuarly with this Government, is that they legislate so violently and continuously that we are having our way of life upset at a rate which the common citizen cannot keep up with. Not good English, my Lords, but I hope you understand the point.
For centuries, we in this country have sought to achieve a balance of power so that no one group of us can ride roughshod over the interests of the remainder. We have cut off a king's head, we have formed trade unions, we have emasculated your Lordship's power. Above all, we have endeavoured to centralise power in our assemblies elected by universal—and I stress that—suffrage. Today, we see other power centres arising to challenge this principle. Who can be surprised that, in the aggregate, our people their liberties challenged? I assure your Lordships that they do and that those who feel so do not come only from among the sort of people who support those of us on these Benches. They are to be found among people who support the Party of the noble Lords on the Benches opposite. This Bill positively encourages the extension of the narrowly based power centre and it must be modified to ensure that the interests of the country as a whole, not to mention the bulk of its workforce, are properly safeguarded.
In conclusion, this is a bad Bill, introduced at a time when the country can least afford it—and I echo the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in making that remark. If we must have it, let us do our duty and ensure that it does not excessively extend the privileges of the few at the expense of the many.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord AMPTHILL
My Lords, this deplorable Bill has so few friends that it provokes feelings verging on embarrassment to join the chorus of opposition to it. Its genuine supporters, apart from the dockers themselves, seem restricted to the wild gentlemen of the far Left who yearn for the corporate State and those who have failed to observe that we live in a changing world. I would not of course include in either of those categories the 611 noble Lord, Lord Jacques, or the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, to whom we are indebted for a brilliant and moving speech. We look forward to hearing from him again with great joy.
A reading of the more than one million words spoken and written in another place leaves the clear impression that only those whose job it was to support the measure spoke with any enthusiasm for it. Even their utterances had a defensive tone, indicating a lack of certainty that the chosen course was the right one. It will not have gone unnoticed by your Lordships that in another place the Government were able to secure only one vote from a Member who does not take their Party's Whip, throughout the lengthy, but truncated, debates upon the Bill.
Ten years have elapsed since the Docks and Harbours Act, and I believe that legislation to deal with the altered situation may be required. The laudable intentions of the Government are to protect the livelihoods of 32,000 dockers, to improve industrial relations in the docks, and to define what is dock work—the latter a difficult task which they ducked in 1966. I doubt whether any of your Lordships would not support the Government in those objectives, but it is much less certain that some of us can accept the solutions they propose.
Most important is the livelihood and welfare of the 32,000 men. It is not difficult to understand the feelings of a group whose numbers have halved in ten years and who have seen the occupation contract from a long ago peak of a quarter of a million men. They may not be entitled to feel bitter, but they do. If this industry accepts technological progress at anything approaching the rate our competitors willingly do, then the conventional dock workforce must shrink further. There is thus no doubt that an imaginative and compassionate solution must be provided for those who for generations have done this arduous work.
The two other objectives, the improvement of industrial relations and a definition of dock work, are patently interlocked. To say that the Government have muffed it is carrying understatement to inordinate 612 lengths, but so many derogatory expressions have been used about the Bill throughout the land that your Lordships may favour more moderate language. Furthermore, while others have questioned even the morality of the Bill—that it is the purchase price of political support, or appeasement of a power bloc—I would prefer to concentrate upon its folly.
Those outside the industry would probably not quarrel with the functions classified under Part I of Schedule 3 as "general port work", as being work to be properly done only by dockers. But does the Minister not agree that rational people will be stirred to protest if an activity which could fall within the definition is performed in the heartland of England, whose nearest expanse of water is a duckpond?
In my view the starkest error in a misconceived measure is the attempt to impose on the function a far-ranging geographical designation in which such functions can become classified as dock work. Bristow sired the five mile radius concept under the dire pressure of settling the November 1969 London dock strike, intending it to have a purely local application. It must be madness for Government to determine that an ad hoc expedient should be enshrined in such far-reaching legislation as this.
When the Government propose to go beyond the irrationality of the five-mile corridor and provide the Secretary of State with the enabling powers he is given under Clause 4 (6), to extend the area to any place he chooses, the Minister is being placed in a position where intolerable pressure will be brought upon him by the job-seeking dockers. Employment Secretaries have for many years been prone to describe their job as a bed of nails. Are we to provide the bed with a mattress of barbed wire?
One of the least attractive features of the Bill is its deceptiveness. At the same time that it reassures other workers that their jobs are safe, it encourages the belief in the minds of dockers that there will be extra work for them. What, or, more accurately, whose jobs? Even the Bill's most ardent fan does not pretend that the Bill will of itself create any new jobs—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. Most of us would predict that, 613 by extending the sphere in which the restrictive and privileged practices of the dockers operate, there will inevitably be a loss of opportunities for work, by whomsoever it is done.
It is deeply regrettable that expectations should be raised in one group and fears generated in another. And let no one be deluded that it is not the declared aim of the dockers to put registered men into warehouses and cold stores, and to phase out the men currently employed there. They have said so on many occasions, in particular in the magazine Port in the issue of 4th June.
Can it be other than retrogressive to set up the vast bureaucracy that will be required to devise and to operate the scheme? Hundreds of people will sit round tables for thousands of hours delving into the appalling maze of traditional practices and local customs, always under the pressure that, if they do not give the dockers what they want, they will have a strike on their hands. The increased costs which will be generated can only push up prices. The demarcation disputes with which they will have to contend are horrifying.
I am left with the impression that this Bill was concocted not in the Department of Employment, but in a gymnasium. The agile Ministers swung around on the high bars like Olga Korbut—an ageing lady, one understands—while the well-muscled groups went through their powerful rituals beneath. Obviously British Rail, the National Freight Corporation, and other nationalised industries had done their physical jerks, because they got themselves totally excluded from the provisions of the Bill, leaving only the private sector, in whose fitness this Government show insufficient interest, to get stuck with its penalties.
I do not accept that the private sector deserves to be hamstrung in this way. They have shown great enterprise in developing the non-scheme ports to provide a more efficient and flexible service, and one that is much cheaper. There is no evidence to support the contention that labour relations are worse in non-scheme ports than in scheme ones. The majority of men in the non-scheme ports are not pining to become registered; they know too 614 well that, by so doing, they put their jobs at risk.
What is to be done? I do not subscribe to the view, mooted by the Opposition in another place, that a further inquiry is needed. I agree with the Secretary of State's opinion on Second Reading there that that would get a horse laugh throughout the land. There is ample information available and, although there has not been a full blown inquiry since Devlin, there has nevertheless been a plethora of less formal investigations, discussions, reports, books and all the rest of the paraphernalia.
The Department is reputed to have disliked the Bill from the start. Let the Government put them to work with all speed to produce a measure which does what is needed to be fair and generous to the dockers but which will not have the catastrophic effects of this Bill which must increase prices, which must increase unemployment, and must increase industrial strife. I profoundly hope that your Lordships will prevail upon the Government to take the Bill away and come back with one which makes sense.
§ 5.18 p.m.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, on his excellent speech. I remember him in another place. He may also be interested to know that the first General Election I ever fought was in Poplar, which included the Isle of Dogs. My opponent at that time was called Mr. Guy, and the dockers and others got the children to go around singing, "Vote, vote, vote for Mr. Guy, and swipe Joan Vickers in the eye." I got a very good swipe, and it took me another ten years before I was able to get into Parliament. I am now very pleased to see another colleague from the other House in this House.
With regard to the Bill, it was first brought to my attention by the Road Haulage Association of Devon and Cornwall. The Association wrote to me and I invited them to come and see me, because the Association said that it would go anywhere, at any time, to any place if only it could put its views forward. I was very impressed by is arguments and I decided to study the subject. It was a 615 shock to the association to find the extent to which the cargo handling zone could be extended by the Secretary of State to incorporate specific areas and premises outside the corridor into the zone.
As I understand it, under the Bill no haulier would be safe from the effects of the Bill as drivers and other staff would not work alongside dockers at vastly inferior terms. Inevitably the pressure would mount for parity, and so increase the labour costs throughout the industry. There are a great many small firms, and also individuals, who are road hauliers, and many of them, particularly the individuals, have their own warehouses. The flexibility and excellent labour relations in the South-West are in danger when it is noted, as noble Lords who have studied the maps will see, that 80 per cent, of Cornwall is covered by this Bill and that practically all of Devon will now be able to be operated by dock labour. At present there are very few South-West ports and warehouses manned by registered dock labour, so the efficient handling of import and exports is through several small ports and warehouses by the local people—and this is a great feature of the economy in the South-West.
I have already said that I fought Poplar in a General Election, and I quite understand the difficulties and anxieties of dockers. Of course, it was even more so in 1945; and their conditions have been greatly improved. But I think one must also realise the difficulties of other people, like the road hauliers. For example, the worry is that the taking over of vehicles at dock gates is not only extremely wasteful of labour but also means that such vehicles are being driven by unqualified and uninsured drivers, whose attitude towards the care of vehicles may not be the same as that of the road hauliers. I further understand that Schedule 3, Part I, seeks to classify certain repairs as dock-work. That means that mechanical repairs and tyre changes may become of interest to dockers. This is also, I think, a very dangerous innovation, and I hope that when we come to discuss the Bill the Government will clear up what is really meant in that Schedule.
There is, of course, an appeals procedure, which is of interest to all employers, but there are two relatively small matters 616 applicable to the road haulage industry on which we feel the Government should be able to accept Amendments. The first concerns the driving of vehicles, which I mentioned just now, but, also, the driving of vehicles on public roach is exempted from classification, and I think that if we are not careful the dockers will interpret this as meaning that driving on private port roads is their province. This is what we want to clear up when we come to discuss the Bill. Of course, there are a great many of the road haulage workers who are members of the Transport and General Workers' Union. I questioned them as to why their interests are not being protected by their union, and they replied that it was because they are a lesser number and not so strong as the dock labour force.
I should like to mention small ports and give one example, the example of Teignmouth. Estimates have been made of the operating costs if Teignmouth were made a scheme port. It is a non-scheme port at the present time. To take an example, in November 1975 42 cargoes, of which 32 were export cargoes of clay, were handled during the month. The manpower requirements varied between nil and 24 men on any one day. The average number of dockers employed per day was 11. Assuming that the port had been manned by 11 dockers, then on three days there would have been correct manning. On six days the port would have been understaffed, which would have resulted in vessels being delayed because of the tidal nature of this port. It is probably well known to many noble Lords that this is a very tidal port indeed, and ships can only get up at certain times, particularly on high tide. Very often, too, vessels have to leave with a light load, or they may have to wait, if they do not get out on the tide, at least ten days for the next spring tides.
Either of these occurrences would lead to vastly increased costs, which is a situation which is avoided at the present time, and could continue to be, by flexible manning. On 13 days the port would have been overstaffed, and hence costly and inefficient. Therefore, assuming that the port was incorporated in the scheme, and assuming that other National Dock Labour Board dockers were available from other ports when required, there would be additional costs in respect of manning and of transport costs of men on daily transfer from other ports. These extra 617 costs are estimated at about 62 per cent. on present wage costs. To install such a system, I think noble Lords would agree, will increase the working costs too greatly. The operating costs would then be 62 per cent, up, with no increased benefit, either to the ship or the shipper; and I think your Lordships will agree with me that that is not a very satisfactory way to run a business.
Also, as I understand it, there is being laid down for the first time, at the instigation of the National Dock Labour Board, what work is to be classified as dock work. The right of appeal to have all existing rights to dock work proposals determined by an industrial tribunal, I gather, are now to be revoked. With regard also to this Bill, annulment orders suffice in almost every instance. For example, I think it is very odd—perhaps it is because I am not used to this type of Bill—to establish a new scheme as set out in Clause 4, where it says that the Secretary of State "shall as soon as may be" prepare a new scheme, after which we shall be asked to pass the proposed new scheme, when I think it may be difficult to prevent it if we do not like it. The arrangements for classifying dock work, which are set out in Clause 6, also, I think, could have been done before bringing in a Bill.
Unfortunately, in this Bill, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, there seems to be no mention of the public interest. The Bill seems to me to be entirely in favour of the dock workers. I should like to mention another point which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, touched upon, and that is the effects on the supply of raw materials and feedstuffs. It is interesting to see, when one looks at the record, that on every day of the year half a day's food for the population passes through our ports and is distributed to the various warehouses and cold stores. About six months' supply is normally held; and when the registered dock workers' monopoly in the scheme ports has caused a shutdown, as has happened in the past, the population has been fed by distribution from what are known as buffer stocks. That has meant that up to date the general population has not been short of food. However, it could be if everything comes under the dock labour force, because it is 618 now proposed to extend the monopoly to non-scheme ports and any other area of the country. So if there was a strike, the bulk of our reserve supply of food could be unavailable, leaving only those supplies in the shops and in the manufacturers' hands, and these would last only a very few days.
This could also affect animal food, and it might mean an extensive slaughter of our animals, so affecting farm products and hitting the consumer, the farm community and also our balance of payments. Foodstuffs in warehouses and cold stores need experts to understand how to switch them from one warehouse to another or when to switch on the heat or the cold, if necessary, to keep them fresh. It could also affect the raw materials; for example, the supply of newsprint, which could force a newspaper to close down. So it seems to me very unwise to place the imports of food and raw materials in the exclusive power of a small section of the nation's labour force. What is more, my Lords, as other noble Lords have mentioned, it is not going to help employment. In fact, from what I have said I think noble Lords will realise that it is going to cause further unemployment.
So, my Lords, my noble friend on the Front Bench has expressed the opinion that changes should be made in this Bill, and I very much hope that we shall be able to do so. But what I think is a very worrying factor is that Her Majesty's Government have always said that they want to consult the people. There was a very interesting document produced by Arthur Skeffington, an ex-Minister who is regrettably now dead. He produced this document, which I thought set out what were going to be the guidelines for the Government in the future. I suggest, my Lords, that in Bill after Bill, when they become Acts, we are getting further away from consulting the people. Therefore we are going to lose touch with the people in the future and we cannot blame the people for not giving their support. I should like to know why this Bill is being brought in at the present time. It is not going to be helpful to anyone and it is not going to help any of our present economic difficulties. I suggest that the best thing to do would be to postpone this Bill until national circumstances are better.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I share with my noble friend Lord Mansfield a certain amount of disappointment, it may even be shame, that we should be spending our time this week, and particularly this afternoon, on a measure that is puerile and piffling in the extreme when there are so many other vastly more important issues to which the energy of your Lordships' House and its undoubted skills could be applied. However, that we have got this Bill to talk about is not going to restrict me in my comments; although the managers of this afternoon's list of speakers have put me alongside another staunch supporter of the Road Haulage Association's case against the Bill.
That those workers under the dock labour scheme have a degree of protection and have enjoyed that protection for a number of years seems to me to be no good reason for any extension. Any extension of the scheme seems to me to do two things: first, it mitigates against the dock workers themselves because if, in the fullness of time, other work is deemed to be dock work and other workers are put on the extension register they must ultimately come on to the main register. I cannot see—if the Port of London is an example, and if the port of Southampton is an example—any dock labour board wanting to find additional work which will necessarily mean putting more men on an extension register who must, at some time, come on to the main register thereby increasing the number of unemployed main register workers who are guaranteed pay week after week. In fact, I can see a shying away if the dock labour boards do their job properly.
The second reason why I think this works against the interests of the dock workers is that a restrictive practice has grown up, a practice which has prevented the use of more modern methods of handling and distributing cargoes. Obviously, new methods have been employed; but they have taken an inordinate time to come into use. That, in its turn, has forced certain cargo practices to have been moved away from the dock area and into other means of moving. For example, there is an enormous amount of cargo now air-lifted out of the United Kingdom to 620 Brussels and shipped on from Brussels. That is as a direct consequence of this kind of protection. So in any kind of Bill of this nature I should have looked to have seen some ways in which a greater flexibility of the resources within the docks could be used. It certainly is not here.
We in the Haulage Association have been worried about the cargo handling zones. I think it should be remembered that with the reduction in dock work many buildings and vast tracts of land have become available and other activities have been encouraged into use. These can be, and in some instances are, businesses that have a shipping or exporting connection. They would not have come into that area if they thought that at some time the movement of their goods, or, indeed, conditions on the people whom they would have to employ, were going to be imposed artificially. I believe that a number of businesses so threatened and a number of people so threatened may very well move away outside the five-mile corridor. Indeed, there is some mystique about this five miles—it could be five miles or more; or anywhere at all.
I believe that at the appropriate stage of the Bill this cargo zone should be quite firmly designated; it should be firmly set down. I do not believe that the Secretary of State should have any powers at any time to alter that zone; because we have discussed for many years the problems of road transport, and heavy goods vehicles trundling through the country. So many times we have said there should be designated routes at the end of which there should be a trans-shipment depot. We on our side who have been arguing for the use of heavy goods vehicles have said that it is easier for us to take these goods from door to door; that it is quicker for us to take a mixed container load from the Midlands to the dockhead as this land becomes available. In many dock areas there is railway land derelict which should be, and could be, used as trans-shipment depots. But what haulier is going to bring his lorry into a trans-shipment depot where its contents cannot be handled by his own men? He would sooner go somewhere else. He does not want dock labour.
Some of this land is private land. My noble friend Lady Vickers referred to the private roads within dock areas. Today's 621 big lorry is worth £30,000 or £40,000 and no driver worth his salt who has been trained and who is a professional hands that over to somebody else. I can tell you that there are disputes now at Southampton docks where the rule is that articulated vehicles are split—the trailer part taken on board a roll-on, roll-off vehicle with a tug master and the tractor is driven on by the driver. You will not find a French, Italian or German driver allowing anybody whatsoever, irrespective of any agreement, to handle his wagon. Why should we impose that upon his English counterpart? I ask the Minister, quite specifically, notwithstanding what appears to be an exclusion in the Bill: are we within our commitment to the EEC with respect to the international movement of goods in having this requirement in the Bill?
I have only one other point which I shall make and that is a generalisation. The drivers and hauliers, the people who start off handling the goods, from the factories, belong to the Transport and General Workers' Union. So also do those who might at some time usurp their positions. I commend to noble Lords opposite that they read the fears expressed by one section of that union, the drivers section, in two articles of the August issue of their magazine called Headlamp.
I am not going to quote from it this evening because there are another 10 speakers on this Bill and the hour goes on and there is much more business to be done tonight. If there is a body of men—the drivers and hauliers—who feel that they are being unfairly treated, trouble will ensue one day. It is no good Ministers, particularly the Ministers and spokesmen in the other place, giving assurances. Assurances in matters of this kind, where men's jobs are at stake, are about as valuable as the one line of print they make in Hansard. If those assurances are met, then embody them in the Bill so that ordinary men and women, deriving their livelihood from matters contained in this Bill, know they are safe in their employment, or as safe as the economic conditions allow. That is not to say that they do not cast some fairly jealous glances at that minority group employed in the transhipment of goods who are in the enviable position of being protected.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of INCHCAPE
My Lords, this Bill will inevitably affect port performance, the shipping industry and international trade—all matters of vital concern to the nation, but also affecting interests which I personally represent and which I now declare. I am chairman of a merchant house which exports to most parts of the world; I am president of the General Council of British Shipping; and I am chairman of a leading shipping company which also has road haulage interests.
I recognise that the Government wish to improve industrial relations in the ports. That is a worthy intention. In the view of the shipping industry, the approach adopted in this Bill is both muddled and misguided. We believe that the Bill, far from achieving its objective, will disrupt operations which are presently working very smoothly without the help or hindrance of the scheme. By damaging, quite unnecessarily, a key link in the transport chain, it will make exporting and importing more difficult and more expensive.
The Bill proposes to extend the scheme to ports which have flourished without it. The reason seems to be plain jealousy by the dockers in such large scheme ports as London and Hull, who appear to think that ports which are outside the scheme have an unfair competitive advantage. If that was indeed the case, would not the sensible course be to abandon the idea of extending the scheme, and instead to modify it so that the scheme ports could also flourish? If extension there must be, let there at least be exceptions for smaller ports, and for the seasonal ports, which do not need and cannot use a permanent workforce.
The other leg of the Bill is the extension of the scheme at existing scheme ports to cover employees in certain other industries within a cargo-handling zone. Initially, as we have heard this afternoon, this covers five miles from the coast, but potentially it goes further inland and now we have heard that it may be reduced. In this way the Government hope to provide more work for dockers, for the underlying problem, which we all accept is that over the years—and particularly in recent years—there has been a decline in jobs in the docks. This has led dockers 623 to believe that they have been unfairly deprived of work which is traditionally theirs.
Previous little evidence has been produced in support of this view. Extensive inquiries undertaken on behalf of the Joint Special Committee on the Ports Industry in 1972 established that much of the cargo handling performed near the ports is warehousing or export packing, which is carried out at premises where it has always been done. The other type of work which the Bill would touch is container groupage—the trade name for the equally technical phrase for container cargo work, the stuffing and unstuffing of containers. Many container depots are inland. Where groupage is performed near the ports, the conditions under which it is done, and the recruiting policy, are usually settled by agreement with the relevant trades unions.
The 1972 inquiry established that only 2 per cent. of the total container movement was groupage work carried out by non-union labour. In the whole of the United Kingdom the number of additional jobs that could be made available to union labour, including registered dock workers, was of the order of 125. The decline in job opportunities at the docks is due, not to job poaching, but to technological change, as Lord Jacques and other noble Lords have said. Containerisation and bulk handling both mean that fewer dockers are needed. Between 1967 and 1973 the proportion of imported cargo handled in bulk or specialised from across London's docks quays rose from 37 per cent, to 85 per cent. In the same period, the proportion of exports similarly handled rose from 6 per cent, to 55 per cent.
Technological change has produced similar problems in the railways, the steel industry and the motor car industry. Yet it is only in the docks industry that the Government are trying to deal with the situation by giving those affected a privileged position, in respect of work becoming available in other industries. What is more, this is not being done by helping individuals, but by the fiction that work in those other industries—warehousing, cold storage work, et cetera—is dock work, which patently it is not.
624 Compared with the reduction in other industries, the decline in our requirements for registered dock workers is comparatively small. In all, there are only 30,000 registered dockers, and the great majority of those will certainly still be needed. Indeed much of the necessary adjustment has already been accomplished by control of recruitment and by voluntary severance schemes. This is a solution which certainly costs money, but it does not involve legislation. The Bill's method of dealing with the decline in jobs is simply to extend the National Dock Labour Scheme, which was devised in a different era to meet different circumstances, and to extend it, apparently, without any fundamental alteration.
I appreciate that the Bill has some safeguards and that those safeguards have been strengthened as a result of various Amendments which have been made since the Bill was first introduced. For example, I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, indicated in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, the veto given in the Bill to workers in other industries being limited to those premises established before 18th September 1967 has been extended to include other premises established since that date; for there are other premises which have been established since that date, and very important ones—notably, the major container bases—which operate perfectly satisfactorily under agreements freely entered into between the employers and the trade unions, including Transport and General Workers' Union.
There has been strong and reasoned opposition to this Bill, not only from the shipping industry but also from port operators, trade and industry warehousing and cold storage interests, and transport undertakings. Yet the Government have shown no willingness to reconsider this Bill in principle. I can only hope that if this Bill proceeds your Lordships will so amend it that our worst fears are not realised. For example, I hope that particular attention will be given to the introduction of a significant independent element in the National Dock Labour Board and the local dock labour boards. I also hope, for the reasons I have given, that there will be stronger safeguards for existing workplaces which operate perfectly efficiently, economically 625 and on a trouble-free basis under agreements made between the employers and trade unions concerned.
Another aim of amendment should be to avoid divided manpower forces, with all that that implies in the way of inefficiency, high cost and potential friction amongst the workers themselves. Only last week, the Secretary of State himself said that:…it could be most undesirable to split an integrated labourforce with the same terms and conditions by bringing some of them within the dock labour scheme while others remained outside.Those are wise words, and I hope there will be Amendments made to eliminate any risk of such damaging division.
There are other aspects of this Bill which I feel your Lordships should scrutinise carefully. For example, the process for obtaining the exclusion from classification is cumbersome and time consuming. Could not groups of specialised workers, such as riggers, be excluded at the outset and spared the doubt and uncertainty which this Bill would inflict? If the Dock Labour Scheme is to be extended, it should be amended so as to reflect the major changes made since it was introduced. For example, it should recognise that, despite the best possible manpower planning, controlled recuitment and voluntary severance schemes, redundancy will sometimes be the only sensible course. If the National Dock Labour Board sees that the labour force is indeed surplus to the foreseeable needs of a port as a whole, it should not reallocate them to other employers. It is not in the interest of anyone to postpone the evil day, and pretend that there is a job where there actually is not. In these, hopefully rare, cases we must remember the human problem. If a docker loses his job as the result of redundancy, he should receive (as he does now) a generous lump sum grant and also help in retraining for a job in another industry where he is needed. We believe that, with encouragement from the Government, an arrangement along these lines should have been hammered out within the industry. The docks industry should solve its own difficulties without thrusting them on to other industries such as warehousing and cold storage.
626 Legislation, particularly controversial legislation, is likely to create more problems than it cures. Instead, we should like to see a period of stability, so that employers and dock workers can forget about Acts of Parliament for a few years and concentrate on the real problem of improving turn-round and attracting future business. This Bill takes a sledge-hammer to crack a nut and, what is worse, the hammer is misdirected. Let us see what we can do to reduce the damage it is likely to cause, which is something that, in the dire economic circumstances of the country, we simply cannot afford.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to add my congratulations on his very elegant and constructive maiden speech to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, who has temporarily left us. We hope that we shall hear from him very often in the future.
I shall be brief today. A great many things have already been said about this Bill, and many speakers have said the same things. That is not surprising, because the errors in the Bill have attracted the attention of a great many members of your Lordships' House. Indeed, the general feeling is, as with the shipbuilding Bill earlier this week, the Government are rivalling the Emperor Nero: indeed, I think they are out-Neroing Nero. I have never heard it suggested that Nero's fiddling did anything to make the fires burn more furiously, but this Bill is going to make our present extremely serious economic situation even worse. It does nothing whatever to help it, but in fact provides a further handicap to a country and an economy already far too handicapped.
I should like to concentrate on two of the major criticisms which are made by friendly as well as hostile critics of our economy, and to point out how this Bill illustrates and deepens these defects. It is said again and again that two major handicaps from which we suffer are the over-manning of our industry, bad utilisation of our labour strength in this country—our potentially very valuable and useful labour strength—and poor industrial relations. It is my contention, 627 as it has been the contention of many other speakers, that this Bill contributes to the under-utilisation of labour and to poor labour relations.
As regards the under-utilisation of labour, it has been said in defence of this Bill that the intention is to give security to dockers and a secure future to the dock labourforce; but if the work is not there, work cannot be guaranteed which does not exist and will not exist if technical progress goes forward as, in the economic interests of all of us, it needs to go forward. Indeed, it will be argued that the dockers must be given security in their jobs because of the level of unemployment and because what all workers want at the present time is that no steps should be taken which would seem to be increasing the chance of further unemployment.
But, my Lords, this Bill does the very opposite of seeing that there is no increase in unemployment. By trying to guarantee people jobs which cannot continue, by putting the price of those jobs too high, in the immediate present the Government will be creating unemployment elsewhere. They will be merely safeguarding the dockers temporarily at the expense of other workers—because anything that puts up costs is bound to do that. In the long run it will do nothing to secure the employment of those dockers, because unless the prosperity of the docks rises in the long run there is no hope of continuing the employment of the dockers, unless they are to be totally subsidised by the community as a whole.
As other noble Lords have said, what is needed at the present time is not this phony guarantee of security but a recognition, which indeed should have been given long ago, that we should welcome technical change and that the way we can give security to people affected by technical change, not only in this industry but in other industries—and we should be well on the road to recovery if the Government would recognise this—is to say to people whose industries are bound to decline because of advances in technology: "There is no future for you in these industries but we will do everything in our power to see that there is a good future for you elsewhere"
I would remind the Government that, at any rate in the London area, there are 628 still shortages of labour even at the present time. There are many jobs in London and elsewhere and there are many demands for skills which are we unable to meet. The Manpower Services Commission has itself recognised this. It has published lists of unfilled jobs; and again and again I have asked the Government what is being done, and with what results, to fill the jobs in short supply. Instead of putting forward this futile Bill, why have not the Government put the money and effort into seeing that the men who will not be required in the docks are being trained—if you like, at double the cost of guaranteeing their jobs in the docks, because it would be well worth it—for jobs for which there is a future and not for jobs for which, in the long run, there cannot be a future. So it does nothing to contribute to the better utilisation of our labour forces, which we so seriously need.
What does it do on the other major question which underlies so many of the economic difficulties in this country—the improvement of labour relations? I think that the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, was a little less than frank when he claimed that the record of industrial relations in the docks is good, because there are very few instances of national stoppages. Surely no one would deny that, although it is true that national stoppages have been rare, stoppages in individual docks have been very frequent indeed. Surely no one would pretend that the industrial relations record in the docks is a good one. It is not. But what is there in this Bill that will improve that record?
It is generally agreed that to get good industrial relations you need to have a labour force which will work co-operatively, one group of workers with another; you need to have clearly defined responsibilities, and you need to be able to deal quickly with problems as they arise. The prospect laid out in this Bill goes against all those essential criteria of good industrial relations. Built into the Bill is conflict between different groups of workers. It cannot possibly be denied that if, working together or needing to collaborate closely together, there are workers who have a different status in relation to their claims under the Dock Labour Board, this can be anything but disruptive in relationships between different groups of workers.
629 There is a need to have clearly defined responsibilities and to deal quickly with problems as they arise. But it has been the curse of dockland for years that responsibility for control of dock work has been so split that hardly anybody knows who is responsible for what. The role of the employer has been divided between the employer, as customarily understood, and the Dock Labour Board with disastrous consequences. This Bill perpetuates that division of responsibility, inevitably making for inefficiency and had industrial relations. Delay is built into the new proposals, for there are so many different people responsible for decisions. Decisions will be put up, they will go from the employer to the Dock Labour Board, the Secretary of State is there and able to come in, people have rights to make representations—of course they must, if you have a scheme of this kind—and what does all this mean? It means on the one hand bureaucracy, and on the other hand delay, and delay is always the enemy of good industrial relations.
I say this to the Government. In this Bill which you are putting forward today, on this day of all days as we go beggars, cap in hand, for yet more money, you are sacrificing the opportunity to improve economic conditions to your doctrinaire determination to put through your old-fashioned ideas.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Baroness HORNSBY-SMITH
My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, with whom I sat in another place as a Member, on a most polished maiden speech. I join so many noble Lords in this House in opposing this Bill. As the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has pointed out, this very contentious Bill contradicts all the plain speaking and the economic guidelines of the Prime Minister in his speech at the Labour Party Conference this week. It will not reduce costs. It will encourage overmanning and, undoubtedly, cause inter-union friction. Indeed, I share the concern of many noble Lords that under this Bill the dockers will be able to take over the jobs of those in other unions, many of whom are highly skilled and trained in their own speciality. Whatever case there may be for a monopoly of union 630 labour in the immense complexes of the major ports, I believe that the draconian measures in this Bill are totally irrelevant to the requirements of the small ports around the coastline of this country, in which I have a particular interest.
When one considers the effect of the five-mile corridor, as my noble friend Lady Vickers pointed out, it could spell absolute ruin for many of those small ports which in many cases are the whole nub of the community in the West Country, in Scotland and in other parts of the United Kingdom. The one-time activities in the old smugglers' creek in the West Country will only pale into insignificance beside the power to poach jobs and operations, which is being given to the dockers under this Bill, in this five-mile corridor right through that area. As other noble Lords have pointed out, it will cut right across the established agreements between employer and employee, and it will engulf whole towns and communities and bring them completely under the overriding powers of the dockers' monopoly. It is all very fine for the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, with his tolerant manner, to tell us that there will be consultation, to tell us that when a decision is made there can be representations. But for months now some of the most valuable and important trade associations and trade unions have been making representations against this Bill, yet the Government appear to have taken no notice at all of them.
Let me take, for example, the coastal shipping which brings coal to the small ports of the South-West. It is unloaded by dockers, reloaded by dockers on to coal merchants' lorries and is then distributed around the areas by Transport and General Workers' Union drivers, who know their customers. Many of these small ports and coastal towns are only two or three miles across and are completely within the five-mile zone. So, in fact—and it is the uncertainty that is worrying so many of the hauliers, the small merchants and, indeed, the lorry drivers—under this scheme, with the five-mile corridor, the dockers could claim to handle coal, food and every landed item throughout and beyond the towns, to the detriment of the present operatives doing their traditional jobs. As a recipe for inter-union friction, it makes every other 631 demarcation dispute look like a game of patball.
I wonder whether the Government have considered the terrible uncertainty and chaos that it will create for manufacturing companies, wholesalers, retail distributors, and firms which export a proportion of their goods, leaving the rest for the domestic market. If they are within the five-mile zone, are they to have two sets of drivers, one of whom will go to the docks and one of whom may go North?—and if a load goes to Glasgow it will again come into the five-mile zone. Is it any wonder that there is uncertainty, annoyance and indignation among companies and whole federations, who see the friction and the uncertainty which this Bill will create?
For several years, under both Governments, there has been generous compensation in pursuing a policy of reducing overmanning at the docks, at a cost to industry and the taxpayer of some £60 million. The Government now propose to turn this very policy, which they hitherto supported, on its head by deliberately inflicting a dock labour force which will be paid whether it works or not. In these small ports they may have regular but not daily quotas of cargoes, as my noble friend Lady Vickers pointed out. There are some docks where there is a hustle and bustle for three months of the year, while a local commodity which is in season is exported. If it comes under the monopoly of dock labour, is a dock that is busy for three months and ticks over for nine going to have to employ its full complement of staff for 12 months? That is the quickest way to bankruptcy that I know.
Many of the small ports have highly seasonal trade. These regulations place an open-ended liability on port employers, many of whom have fought their way back to profitability by their local knowledge, flexibility, desire and willingness to give the client what he wants when he wants it, as well as their competitiveness. No good employer could, or would, tear up agreements which had been reached with recognised unions, yet that would be inevitable as the Bill gives carte blanche to the dockers to ride roughshod over agreements that have been honourably entered into between employers and other unions. It makes nonsense of the employer/ 632 employee negotiations by interposing The Dock Board and the Secretary of State between employers and employees. Therefore it makes direct negotiations by employers with their own workforce practically intolerable.
I share the view of many that it is quite outrageous that there should be no real right of appeal to an independent authority. Those who use the ports and pay for them should have the right of appeal against the tremendous powers which are granted in the Bill. Overall, the Bill negates all the sweet talk of trade union leaders about improving employee participation in company affairs because it takes out of the direct negotiations of an employer with his own workforce many of the activities which they, and he, consider theirs by right. It makes no provision for public inquiry where the interest of the consumer is concerned, particularly in relation to the distribution of food which I consider is of vital importance.
The Bill empowers the Board and the Minister to extend the so-called dockland well into the countryside. It gives to the Board the right, almost at will, to amend the definition of "dock work". The handling of food supplies is a highly skilled operation which demands the most efficient handling. It demands rigid timetables, particularly in relation to perishable goods. Wide powers are given to the dockers in the great warehouses and cold storage complexes which are not in the exclusive ownership of the "big boys".
The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, pointed out that the vast company chains using exclusively their own centres are protected by the Bill, but there are thousands of distributors in this country who, in the case of commodities like foodstuffs, have to get thousands of items from many sources. They do not possess their own warehouses and they will be bedevilled by being unable to use, as they normally would, their own handlers, their own lorry drivers. Equally, I believe that action by the dockers could withhold feeding stuffs for our farming community or even raw materials for our manufacturers. I believe that it is dangerous to put into the hands of a small minority of workers the inherent power in the Bill to hold up, as they could do by strike action, vital supplies either to the public or to industry.
Another noble Lord mentioned that nowhere in the Bill is mentioned the public 633 interest, a phrase about which we hear a great deal in other ways. However, it is fair that "public interest" should not be included in a Bill which is solely to the advantage of one exclusive union, to the detriment of other workers, the ports and the consumer public.
May I add a word to the comments which were made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, regarding lorry drivers. Lorry drivers want something more than promises, and I think that they are entitled to see written into the Bill proper safeguards for their own skilled occupation. It is not enough to say that they will have the highway on public roads because, as the noble Lord knows, there are thousands of miles of roads on trading and industrial estates which will come within this five-mile limit.
Is a regular lorry driver to cover a long distance haul and then, in a port or trading estate miles away from the docks, to hand over his precious cargo to whichever docker is on duty? The professional lorry driver knows the commodity he is handling, and he is used to the vehicle that he drives, which has probably been purpose-built at enormous cost. He knows to a fraction of an inch its height, breadth and depth and, even more important, he knows the foibles of its manoeuvrability.
If dockers are to be empowered to handle an enormous variety of vehicles in this vastly extended cargo zone, are they all to qualify for heavy goods vehicle licences? And is the employer to be at the mercy of a docker who drives his own specialised vehicle, which is perhaps very cumbersome? Nobody has told us what is to happen in relation to the employer who has insured against the mistakes of his own driver whom he is responsible for seeing is qualified to drive that vehicle. What kind of trouble will he encounter if an unknown, inexperienced driver, with neither knowledge of the load nor experience of that vehicle, crashes it?
At a time when the Prime Minister is exhorting us to produce wealth in order to pay our way, this Government have introduced a Bill which encourages overmanning and extends payment for work not available and not done over and above the requirements of the small ports, 634 many of which will go out of business. Therefore it reduces job potential in these small, vital and active communities. The Government are obsessed with bigness. I wish that they would listen to the pleas of the smaller units, the smaller confederations and undertakings. With their practical experience, in many cases they have built up new industries and exports in the smaller communities. They are proud of their competitiveness and of the flexibility which has enabled them to deal with new imports and exports of their own commodities, whether it be china clay, Devon cider, small boats, machine tools or fish fertiliser.
This Bill has been justly criticised by manufacturers, chambers of commerce, the food industry and the retail consortia who are all endeavouring to fight inflation by trying to hold down the costs which the Bill can only inflate. I should like this Bill to be taken out on a Devon trawler and buried at sea, with a guard of honour of lorry drivers and the Prime Minister adding positive action to his brave Blackpool words by conducting the service.
§ Lord JACQUES
My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness a question before she sits down? I understood her to say that if a company produced goods for the home market but also had some exports, it could be frustrated by the monopoly the dockers would gain by the Bill. If a company is handling its own goods, there is no third party handling. That is entirely outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Baroness HORNSBY-SMITH
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. I am well aware of that. But there are many exporters who do not run their own transport. If an export and home market producing factory is within the five-mile zone—let us say on the borders of Plymouth—then possibly all its goods will have to be handled under the dock scheme; or, according to the decision ultimately made, part of its goods may have to be handled under that scheme: those which finally go for export down to the docks or to the North. It is this uncertainty which is important, because as the wording stands now if that factory is on the edge of Plymouth it could come into the scheme.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of KINTORE
My Lords, my first pleasurable duty is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, on a very fine maiden speech and to congratulate him intensely on managing not to be controversial. If I am ever in really dire straits, having committed some frightful crime, I hope he will come and defend me, because he is the only kind of person who might get me off! I am afraid that is the only complimentary thing I can say about the whole Bill.
As it is getting late and we have had a long and interesting debate, the points which I shall raise will be confined to the effects of the Bill on the region where I live and where I am a regional councillor, and concerning our small ports for which we have responsibility. I will endeavour not to repeat many things which have been said because I agree with almost everything.
I object to this Bill. Is it necessary, considering the doubt, confusion and delay it will give rise to? Is it in the public interest? I am sure it is not. Will it produce more jobs? I do not think it will. Will it reduce the cost of living? I am sure it will not. Will it produce a better service to the public? No. Will it produce confidence overseas, considering our begging-bowl economy, on the part of anybody who is putting more cash into that begging-bowl? I am quite sure it will not.
What is the justification for increasing spending at this time? We are told on every hand, screamed at by the newspapers and the other media and by the Prime Minister that we are in an economic mess. If there is any money to spare, why not use it for local government spending, which has been ruthlessly slashed: on education, housing, the social services and the infrastructure that goes with them? In my opinion, if there is any spare money those are the things on which it should be used—not on a folly of this sort. Scotland with its islands and remote areas, often with no rail services, is, I would suggest, in a somewhat different position from a great deal of England—not all, but a great deal.
If we are talking about devolution, surely this is the sort of thing that the Scots should decide upon for themselves. As the Bill stands, it appears to me to be a retrograde step. In particular, some 636 of the confusion arises in Part II of Schedule 3, and in particular in paragraph 11. Under that paragraph one can supervise unloading but one cannot do the unloading. If one is producing a load of barley for a small ship in one of our small ports (which is done quite constantly up there at the right time of the year) it appears to me that as the Bill is drafted at the moment the situation could arise whereby it would be a dock labourer's job to operate part of the combine, loading the lorry, because it is within the five-mile zone, and it would then be again a docker's job to tip the lorry at the side of the ship. This appears to be the case, and it is the doubts, confusion and delay which are doing such great damage.
Again in paragraph 15 of Part II of Schedule 3, I should like to know whether an oil or a gas-production platform is a site? What is it? If it is a site then is it included in this provision? And what is the position as to drilling mud—is that a chemical or not? These things are not defined and there is an enormous amount of confusion. It refers in the Bill to a boat, but not a sea-going boat. A supply ship for a drilling platform is a sea-going boat, so where does that leave us? I just do not know and I do not think that anyone else does.
There is one other point. Within the five mile limit we have a fairly large slaughterhouse at Port Lethen. That slaughterhouse sometimes exports loads. Clearly I should have thought that as the Bill stands, this would come under the Bill, but most of the loads are for home consumption or for consumption in the South of England. However, some are not, and we never know quite when the loads will occur; it depends on the normal run of business. This is confusion added to confusion, doubt and delay and can do nothing at all to help the country. Ports like Buckie, Burghead and Macduff besides the fishing industry handle a few small coasters. Barley is the export from there, some going overseas and some not. There is the import of cement, coal and possibly fertilizers. These are the sort of things that worry one.
With permission, I will read a part of a report which we had done by a consultant on these small ports to ascertain the possible effect of the Bill. It says: 637 "There are two types of activity carried out at the small ports under Grampian Regional control; namely, fishing and cargo handling.
Under Schedule 3, Part II, paragraph 13, certain exclusions are stated for the loading and unloading of fishing boats. The details are considered unnecessarily complicated and it would be better to exclude all fishing boats but it would appear that it is the Government's intention to bring the larger fishing boats into the dock labour scheme. It should be stressed that even for smaller boats the exclusion refers to unloading fish on to the quay—the movement of fish on to lorries, et cetera could still be controlled by the unions under the transport section, therefore the exclusions written into the Bill could turn out to be 'hollow' concessions. To suit the reality of work at our small harbours, the expression 'unloading of fishing vessels' should be extended to include loading of fish on to transport on or abutting the quay.
As the amount of cargo handling at the regional harbours is small and variable throughout the year, there is no need for full-time dockers and indeed most of the work is carried out by casual labour employed by the local stevedore company. These harbours are just viable at the moment and any increased labour costs due to the Dock Work Regulation Bill would undoubtedly create a loss at each of our commercial harbours of Burghead, Buckle and Macduff. Each of these harbours handle from 60 to 80 small cargo ships per year, and as the turn round extends over one or two days it is obvious there would be a lot of idle time which would have to be paid for if full-time labour had to be employed.
The great fear is that although each small harbour may not have sufficient full-time work, there could well be an attempt to slump two or three small harbours together and create a 'flying' labour force to move between the small ports, thus bringing the small ports into the Bill. From a practical viewpoint this is unsatisfactory, because a ship could be in each harbour at the same time; consequently one and two ships may have to wait in the harbour—a most unsatisfactory state of affairs."—
—That is because the labour force has to go from one to the other. The report goes on: "This is not a fanciful situation, since much of the business through our ports is concerned with the export/import of barley and this occurs over a short period in any one year. It would have been more satisfactory if the Bill had contained definite exclusions relating to cargo boats, for example harbours which could not accept boats over 2,500 tons g.r.t. or 300 feet in length or dealt with less than 200 boats per year should be automatically excluded.
There is a provision for representations to be made against the inclusion of any port, but it is difficult to see many objections being upheld if the Secretary of State for Employment and the National Dock Labour Board have recommended the extension of the scheme to a particular port or group of ports.
If the small harbours were to come within the Dock Bill either individually or in combination, then their future must be regarded as being very black. As stated, there is no great financial 638 gain derived from these harbours but they do play an important part in the life of the community and provide considerable employment. Any resulting closure would result in far greater loss of jobs than would be gained by the handful of full-time dockers which would be needed."
That is part of the report we have made on the small ports that come under our control and for which we have responsibility. I will not venture to speak on some of the other ports as I have been talking for quite a long time. But I think that there are some statesmen in this Government, and I appeal to them to withdraw this Bill and to throw it as a lifebelt to the sinking pound.
§ 6.33 p.m.
My Lords, I have listened to every speech made on this Bill this afternoon and I am afraid my worst fears about the Bill have been underlined by every speaker many times. I wholeheartedly agree with the condemnation that has come from one speaker after another. Undoubtedly this is a very controversial measure. It has been a controversial measure right from the word "go" in another place; it is controversial not merely on partisan, but also on other lines. If ever there was an industry that needed to be left at peace to get on with its work, surely it is the port transport industry.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, referred to the fact that this industry has had more committees of inquiry than probably any other, and I am afraid I must plead guilty to that myself. The fact is, we do not want any more committees of inquiry, and we certainly do not want radical legislation; we want that the industry should be allowed to get on with its work. Committees of inquiry are very disturbing to an industry. The Bill in front of us certainly does not help, and in my view is just one more piece of folly on the part of the present Government, which will help to remove what little confidence our overseas friends still have in this country.
My Lords, I hope I am not misinterpreting what the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, said in his speech, but I got the sense that he was reiterating what was inherent in some of the remarks made in the debates in the other place when he tended to throw out at the Conservatives 639 that when they were in power they had not done enough for the port industry. I do not think that would be fair criticism, because if we look back to 1964 and the Harbours Act, the Conservative Government then leant over backwards to make that measure a non-partisan measure, and they very nearly succeeded in so doing. Regrettably, after the Labour Party came to power, within two years the whole industry was put into a turmoil by the threat of nationalisation.
Then again in 1970, Mr. Peyton, when Minister of Transport, initiated a number of Acts which were helpful to the industry. All this is past history and I need not dwell on it, but I raise it for one particular purpose. There are rumours in the industry today that the concept of nationalisation is being reconsidered by Her Majesty's Government. If there is substance in those rumours, then I very much hope the Minister will say so. If there is no substance in them, I hope that when he comes to reply the Minister will categorically deny them. But if there is some substance in them, then I ask the noble Lord the Minister why this Bill is here before us at all, because organisation and dock work regulation cannot really be separated and considered under separate files. They should be considered as a whole. So I hope very much that the Minister will come out quite clearly with what are the intentions of the Government in this matter.
My Lords, today we are addressing ourselves to this Bill, and how the industry can be most efficiently worked. To do that sensibly, we must take into account, as other noble Lords have mentioned, the considerable changes in circumstances that have taken place over recent years, changes in cargo handling methods, changes in the pattern of world trade and, in consequence, movement away from established port areas, notably London and Liverpool. Changes of this kind will always continue. There will never be a static period where changes do not go on. Whatever else we want in the form of legislation, we must have legislation which leaves us in as flexible a position as possible so that we can adjust ourselves to these changes as they come about, as they certainly will.
My Lords, the dock labour scheme was originally conceived as a means of 640 dealing with the great problem of the day, persistent and difficult cyclical unemployment and casual work. Undoubtedly, whatever the detailed faults of the scheme—and they have been amended from time to time—it was an important and imaginative step forward, so much so that it has come to be known in dockland as the dockers' bible. I have no doubt that it still is. The present situation with which we are confronted, because of the changed circumstances to which I have just hinted, is largely a question not of cyclical unemployment but of structural unemployment. To expect the medicine for the first to be the correct prescription for the second seems to be quite misjudged.
If we look at the figures of the drop in overall totals of registered dock workers which have been quoted today, in 1966 in round figures the figure was 62,000; in 1976 it was 32,000. If we remember that the huge majority of those remianing in the industry today are no longer casual workers but on full-time engagements, it might seem perfectly logical to pose the question as to whether the time has not come, or is on the horizon, for dismantling the whole present dock labour scheme. That has not been mentioned today, and I am not suggesting it for one moment; I merely mention it in this context.
What is neat and logical, and such a course might be regarded as neat and logical, is not always easy or practical. I think it would be a great disservice if anyone came to the conclusion that rather than extend the dock labour scheme, as the present Bill does, we should try to wind up the present one. That would be entirely wrong. Improvements can be made in the scheme, undoubtedly, and they should be sought as early as possible.
The extension of the scheme as we now have it in front of us, of course, includes all the smaller ports about which so much has already been said. But I would mention this: if there are any ports which, owing to good management, good cooperation from the dock workers, other reasons, have increased in size since the original scheme was conceived, and have now grown to a really significant size, handling, shall we say, over 1 million tons a year over the quay, then it is only reasonable, I think, that such a port should be brought into the scheme, even though 641 it is today outside. Of course, in referring to increase in tonnage I refer strictly to ship loading tonnage and ship discharge tonnage and not to other forms of tonnage which do go through. There is one port, of course, which immediately will jump to the minds of all your Lordships here this afternoon, and that is Felixstowe. Whatever one may think about it, it would be only reasonable for Felixstowe to be brought into the scheme.
But if a port is brought into the scheme there are one or two important conditions. It must be allowed to have its own local dock labour board. It must not be made subordinate to existing neghbouring dock labour boards, because some other local dock labour board may be dominated by members from other ports. It must have its own; this is terribly important. On the question of local dock labour boards, I would like to see something else. I should like to see a strong independent element on those boards, which does not exist today. I mention that because this concept of an independent element has been introduced into this Bill, and I welcome the fact that in the Dock Labour Board itself there is a strong independent element there. That, I think, is good, and I hope that the Board itself will have sufficient power to direct the local hoards, particularly in regard to how surpluses in dock labour are to be dealt with. This is very important.
As regards the smaller ports, extension of the scheme to these, as other noble Lords have said, may, regrettably, have the effect of killing them, owing to costs and other obligations. These ports are often an essential part of the local community. Casual employment has largely been eliminted, and owing to the way they operate they are very often in a unique position to be able to give very special service to customers, service that the customers want and service it is right they should be given, seeing that often those customers give local employment of other kinds in that area.
That brings me to another point. At first your Lordships may think we are not discussing it today, but it is, to my mind, very relevant to what we are discussing. I want to say a word about participation. We hear a great deal about involvement and participation. It is a concept which I have considerable sympathy for, and which I have, where I have been in the 642 position to do so, done as much as I can to encourage and promote, so long as it is not by any fixed formula established by statute. The point I want to make is that in so far as the dock labour scheme tends to separate the control and size of the labour force from the employing companies, whether they be port authorities, registered employers or otherwise, this must tend to accentuate the we/they attitudes on both sides and so prejudice the success of any real, effective participation. The result of this can only be to make the solution of a major problem in the ports, overmanning, more difficult, and certainly not to encourage improved productivity. I, therefore, believe it is good commonsense to retain the present dock labour scheme in being in genuine dockland as a means of alleviating distress where it may still exist, and I know it does, though diminishing.
But to adopt the same scheme over very greatly extended areas, where work has moved not for cyclical but for technical and permanent reasons, and widen the definition and content of dock work, is to my mind to perpetuate and widen indefinitely the problem, instead of attempting to get down to the root of it and cutting it out altogether. The five mile proposals in Clause 4, therefore—and I would say even more the possibility of extending the five mile limit—seem to me to be quite misplaced. They seem to me very short-sighted, opportunist—I am sure they are opportunist—and merely laying up potentially dangerous trouble for the future. It is not the dock work areas which should be changed but the method of working and operating within old areas.
I have already mentioned the major problem of overmanning. Other industries have had to meet this and have done so successfully. Indeed I would pay tribute to the port transport industry, both sides of it, for the degree of success they have themselves achieved, which is indicated by the overall employment figures which I mentioned a moment ago. There is still a long way to go, particularly in London, as the noble Lord, Lord Boston, said—and I am sorry I did not add my congratulations to him on his maiden speech—particularly in London and in Liverpool. I know we have got a voluntary severance scheme at the moment. 643 I think the Government should bring forward a further concerted severance scheme, which must, of course, be associated with retraining and redeployment. But the important thing about what I am suggesting is that it should not be for general application everywhere; it must be locally and selectively capable of application, so that where there is a genuine labour surplus that labour surplus can be effectively and correctly dealt with.
This will, of course, cost some money, but it should lead in not too long a time to a situation comparable to that in every other industry where for technological and other reasons demand has fallen away never to return. Other industries have managed to do this and they have realised that there is nothing like a job for life. In the interests of themelves and their successors, the sooner dock workers and their leaders accept, and are seen to accept, this concept, no job for life, the sooner will it be easier for new and more flexible and more satisfying arrangements to be developed, so that the myths, often very unfortunate myths, about dock work can be buried forever. In the past, some years back, I had some responsibility in the port transport industry when I was the first chairman of the National Ports Council, and though then I was not directly concerned with employment matters there is no industry where employment and organisation can be kept apart and in watertight compartments with impunity. They must be regarded as a whole, and considered as a whole. I therefore have some very strong feelings for the wellbeing of all who work in the industry in the docks today, including the many who are not registered dock workers. I must frankly admit that I do not believe that this Bill will help them. I agree with all my noble friends in the hope that when it leaves your Lordships' House it will at least be very considerably amended and improved.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Lord TREFGARNE
My Lords, I am only going to speak briefly about one particular aspect of this Bill, but I must start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Boston, upon his maiden speech. I was sorry that I was not in my seat when he was speaking; I had an unavoidable meeting elsewhere. But I am told that 644 his speech was interesting and exciting, and I look forward to hearing him in the near future.
I am not sure that the Government fully understand the extent of all the associated industries which are going to be affected and covered by the provisions of the Bill. Among them are warehousing, cold storage, road haulage, packing, and agency work of all kinds. I am particularly concerned with two of these; namely, warehousing and forwarding. I have to declare an interest in that I am associated with a company involved in these two areas, and I have also been fully briefed by the National Association of Warehouse Keepers, to which my company belongs. I shall be concerned at the Committee stage to secure the exclusion of these two activities—namely, warehousing and forwarding—from the provisions of Clause 5 and Schedule 3.
I indeed would question the constitutional propriety of providing work for one set of workers at the expense of another set of workers, and that is exactly what is going to happen. In the warehousing industry, for example, those who are presently working in the warehouses within the areas covered by the Bill will, if the Bill becomes law as it is presently conceived, be displaced by another set of workers coming from the docks. I cannot really think that this is what the Government intend, but it is certainly the effect of the legislation not only in the industries that I am specially concerned about but in many other as well. That is all I really have to say, except that, like my noble friend, Lord Mansfield, I am deeply concerned about many other aspects of the Bill and I shall be supporting him fully in the Amendments that he will move.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ The Earl of CROMARTIE
My Lords, first I should like to apologise to noble Lords. I was not here at the beginning of the debate because I was at Lord Grenfell's funeral. To get on to a happier note, I should also like to add my congratulations to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boston.
Any Bill which gives a minority the power to paralyse the food supply of an entire nation is a bad Bill, and I think many noble Lords will agree that this Bill 645 comes within that category. As usual I will be brief, as so much of the ground has already been covered, and I shall confine my remarks to Scotland, especially the North and the Western Isles. In my view if we exclude the Firth of Forth, the Clyde ports, and Aberdeen, every other port on both the eastern and western seaboards should be excluded from this Bill, and this includes Lerwick in Shetland.
May I remind your Lordships that the further North one goes, especially when the Grampians are passed, the more expensive every commodity becomes, and the forcing of the smaller ports into this scheme will push up prices to the consumer even more. Let us take, for example, the port of Stornoway in the Island of Lewis. As in all the other Hebridian Islands every article in bulk, be it food for human consumption, cattle food, fertilisers, et cetera, has to come from the mainland by sea. As a result prices are even higher than on the mainland. If ports such as Stornoway are forced into this scheme not only will the prices escalate yet further, but the Government, or rather the taxpayers, will find themselves paying more in unemployment benefit. At present most of the handling of cargoes is done by those who at different times of the year are doing useful jobs, such as fishing of various sorts, depending upon the season, and salmon net fishermen. This, to a greater or lesser degree, applies to all of the smaller Scottish ports. And there are other considerations. It should be spelled our clearly in the Bill that all factories and cold stores processing agricultural, horticultural and piscaternal—I had to find out that word; I was not quite sure that it was the right one—produce should be excluded from the Bill.
Since London discovered that Northern Scotland was not part of Finland we are now almost wholly associated with oil and oil related industry, and for many reasons much more emphasis should be placed on alternative industries than is the case at present. This to some extent has been met by the cold storage industry. Here I declare an interest, being a non-salaried local director of one such plant in Ross and Cromarty. But we, like every other area, have unemployment, and these places not only employ local labour but provide a most valuable service to fishermen, the salmon netting industry, fruit growers, and more besides. Do 646 the Government want to make these projects less viable, and put up prices to all consumers still further? I can hardly believe that is their wish, but this is what this Bill will in fact do. This Bill has to a great extent been engineered by a very powerful and sometimes militant union based in London, and I fail to see why we, in Scotland, should be subject to some of its most damaging clauses.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord BURTON
My Lords, may I also hasten to add my congratulations to the excellent maiden speech which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham. One of the points which particularly concerns me is that the Bill provides for 12 people with unspecified remuneration to fall to the patronage of the Secretary of State. It is my belief—and I think I am not alone in this—that there is already too much Government patronage. There is also another small point, which I think was nearly touched on earlier this evening, in that I believe a lorry driver is responsible for the safety of his load. If dockers are going to load his lorry, I wonder how this could possibly be the case? It seems to me that the driver will not be able to order the dockers how to put the load on his lorry.
Had these proposals been tolerable in other respects, it would have been intolerable in that other people will suffer a reduction of their standards of living to give doubtful benefits to the dockers. I will not enter further into the general implications of the Bill, but I have come South from the North of Scotland at considerable personal inconvenience because I am convinced that the Government, with their urban orientation, have not appreciated the difficulties and hardships which the Bill will bring to those who live in the remoter areas, and in particular the islanders. I therefore reinforce what my noble friends Lord Cromartie and Lord Kintore have said. It is estimated that the Bill in its present form will cost Stornoway Harbour at least £25,000 per annum. That estimate was given some time ago and it could be higher if McBraynes withdraw their steamer and the harbour becomes even more unviable. There are in this area of very high unemployment 20 to 25 people employed in the harbour itself. It is felt that the Bill could enforce such uneconomic working 647 that those men would have to be paid off. If the harbour continues to operate, who is to pay for this inefficiency? I think there is little doubt that the cost will fall on the islanders themselves, and they already have substantially higher costs of living than elsewhere.
Consider, for example, the cost of a pint of milk. For a householder I visited in a remote island area on Tuesday the cost was 20p. What would a London docker's wife say if she had to pay 20p for a pint of milk or if her food bill was nearly doubled? Now, however, the Government plan to throw additional and unnecessary burdens on people already facing high living costs. Is it surprising that Scottish Nationalism is increasing? Apparently the Chairman of the Highland and Islands Development Board has made representations to the Government on this matter, but it appears that any action taken by him has had no effect. There is little doubt that neither the Orcadians nor the Shetlanders, let alone the Western Islanders, have yet awoken to the devastating effect that the Bill will have on them. Indeed, it seems that everybody carrying a parcel, other than their own personal baggage, on to any ferry boat which crosses the sea will have to become a registered docker; the pier boys at Kyle of Lochalsh or at Kessock ferry will have to become registered dockers. What will happen at Castlebury in Barra, Lochboisdale in South Uist, Lochmaddy in North Uist and at the many little ports serving the Islands elsewhere?
It was with great relief that I heard my noble friend Lord Mansfield say that it was the intention of the Opposition to try to alter the Bill so as to remove the blanket coverage which is at present proposed. I hope that the Government Front Bench in this House will try to prevail on their friends in another place to facilitate this essential alteration. Having looked from these Benches for most of the debate across at the Benches opposite, I have wondered where the Government speakers are on the Bill; we have not heard from them today. By their sparse attendance they have shown that they do not even seem to want to know about the Bill and I suggest that the Bill is an embarrassment to many of them.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I wish, first, to add my congratulations to those which have been offered already to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, who spoke with humanity and sincerity of the sad face of London's inner dockland and of the problems of the people who live there and want to work there. His tributes touched me because I, too, lived on the edge of that area for about 13 years and got to know much of it well and to know the desperate problems that were arising through the necessary closure of the upper docks. It is tragic that so little has been done to rehabilitate the area and help the people living there, and if he wants noble Lords on these Benches to help him to rouse the Greater London Council and the East End London boroughs to do something about it, he will have our very warm support. I am afraid that I have to tell him that the possibility of repoening the upper docks for seaborne trade is very remote indeed, but perhaps I can discuss that with him on another occasion.
At this stage of the debate it is difficult to know what to say. It has been noticeable, as the noble Lord, Lord Burton, said, that all the speeches have come against the Bill. Practically everything has been said and we have not even had any arguments from noble Lords opposite that we could seek to rebut, so noble Lords will forgive me if I am very brief; perhaps that will please them. They will also forgive me if I do not repeat all the arguments that have already been adduced.
The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, reminded us at the outset that the existing dock labour scheme is now out of date, and that under the Bill the Secretary of State would be producing a new scheme, "as soon as possible" were I think his words. But as this problem has been under consideration for so long it seems incredible that the new scheme was not produced, in draft at least, before the Bill was presented. We could have had it as a Schedule to the Bill, we could have known what was proposed and we could, incidentally, have saved a lot of time; and in this I agree very much with the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, who knows so much about these matters. It would have been a splendid opportunity, before the Bill was presented, to have considered what modifications 649 were required to the scheme to make it both more effective than it has been in the past and better suited to deal with the wider range which the Government propose it should cover. We on this side do not believe that it should cover a wider range, but if that is what the Government are forcing on us, then at least we might have had the opportunity of studying the scheme.
When the noble Lord, Lord Oram, replies perhaps he will make something clear. Lord Jacques, in an intervention earlier, said something about the decision as to whether warehouses should be brought within the scheme would or might depend or would have a bearing on the proportion of overseas and local cargo with which they dealt; and when the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, was painting a picture of the situation of a warehouse on the outskirts of Plymouth, I think I observed the noble Lord shaking his head. Perhaps Lord Oram will be able to clear that up. I cannot find anywhere any proposition which says that there is any proportionate arrangement. Indeed, I do not understand how that would work, unless a given proportion was taken as covering the position; that is to say, that only if a warehouse was handling less than 50 per cent. as local traffic would it be brought into the scheme.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord will find that point covered in Clause 8(5)(c). That is where the point about proportion is defined. I intervene now simply because it is a separate point from the general sequence of argument.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that information, which is most helpful. I confess that I had not appreciated that that was what that rather complicated paragraph meant, but we can look at it further in Committee. Meantime, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for helping me.
The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, in a very forceful speech, called attention to the really ridiculous character of the five-mile cargo handling zone extending for five miles all round the coast and following every little indentation. This seems to me to be quite absurd. Consider some of the outlying areas. The one I had in mind was Central Wales, but I imagine that the same problem would arise in 650 many parts of Scotland. The road system tends to run along the coastline because of the mountainous areas inland. If somebody wanted to build a warehouse for the distribution of cargo arriving in this mid-Wales area from Liverpool, Cardiff or Bristol, he might well find that the best place to do it would be somewhere near Aberystwyth or Dolgellau. These are easily within five miles of the coast but they are not within 50 miles of any port. It seems to me absolutely absurd that it could be argued that a warehouse handling overseas cargo in that area could be required to employ registered dockers, none of whom would at present be living anywhere near it.
I should now like to say a few words about small ports because my noble friend Lord Wigoder put it upon me to do so, though we have heard excellent speeches on small ports from the noble Baronesses, Lady Vickers and Lady Hornsby-Smith, and from our friends from North of the Border. It seems to me that this Bill and the thoughts behind it have been derived from people who have been accustomed to working in the great ports of this country so that they feel it almost an article of faith that everybody should be permanently employed in a job. In these outlying places it is, as several noble Lords have mentioned, perfectly convenient and right and useful that dockers should be temporarily employed when there is a ship in port and the rest of the time should engage in fishing, or they might even have a bit of land of their own to cultivate. The idea that because they are not permanently employed they are underprivileged people is, I believe, completely wrong. I certainly hope that in Committee we can deal firmly with this problem of small ports.
I know that in another place the Secretary of State said that the scheme would not automatically be extended to all small ports and thus very small ports where satisfactory arrangements could not be devised to sustain a permanent labour force, however small, would not be brought within the scheme. That kind of Ministerial announcement—and those noble Lords who were here in the Committee on the Race Relations Bill last night will remember the argument between our legal experts as to how necessary it was for Ministerial statements of that kind to be written into Bills—ought somehow to be written into the Bill. There remains the 651 difficulty of defining the line of demarcation, and that we shall have to face up to in Committee. Various suggestions have been made, but there is no point in going through them now because we shall have to discuss them at some length in Committee.
There is one other matter to which I want to call special attention and which has not been mentioned at all. Hidden away in paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 we find that among the matters for the new Dock Labour Board are the following matters relating to dock workers and their work: remuneration, hours of work (including weekly periods of rest and holidays with pay), welfare and training. It is on remuneration and hours of work that I want to say something. We have a Dock Labour Board which is representative of both employers and trade unions but on which I hope the representatives will not consider themselves as delegates. I hope that these will be men or women who will sit around the table trying to find a meeting of minds in order to run this scheme.
They are like a board of directors, trying to work together and, I hope, succeeding in working together. But, when they are engaged in negotiating rates of pay and remuneration they are performing a completely different function. They are sitting on opposite sides of the table and, quite properly, are bargaining hard one against the other. I feel that if we impose on the Dock Labour Board the function of dealing with both these matters, one or two things will inevitably arise. Either the antagonisms that arise during negotiations—and one knows that they can be quite rough and that tempers can be lost—will be carried into the boardroom and, instead of having a unified board trying to run this scheme, we shall have the two sides bickering with each other, or another possibility may arise, though it might sound a little far fetched to noble Lords. This other possibility on which I feel that I can say something of interest to your Lordships is that if the board works as well as we hope it will and all is sweetness and light at the negotiating table, the men outside on the docks will cease to have confidence in their negotiators.
I said that I could tell your Lordships something about this, and it is interesting 652 that the Port of London Authority, which was established, as I like to remind the House, by a Liberal Government in 1909, had from the start two representatives of the trade unions on its board. I am sure that it was the earliest public body in the world on which that was done. I was chairman of the Authority for 13 years, and all the time I had the greatest help from and friendship with the representatives of the trade unions. However, it never escaped my feeling that some of the appalling troubles we had in the docks with unofficial action against the advice of the trade unions could be related in part to the fact that the men could be persuaded that the trade union officials were part of the boss—which indeed they were.
I feel that it is a matter of real importance that these two functions should be separated so that the people who are engaged as a board in trying to make the scheme run should not be the people who are engaged in negotiating terms and conditions. I mention this now although it is clearly a Committee point because I feel that it is so important that I should like noble Lords on the other side—and I wish there were more noble Lords present with experience in trade union negotiations because I would very much like to know their views on this—to give this matter some thought so that when we bring the matter up in Committee we can have a really intelligent discussion.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord. I really have no more to say. The case against the Bill has been expressed forcefully and very effectively by my noble friend Lord Wigoder as well as by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, and no speaker has had a good word to say for it.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, first I should like to add my congratulations to all the more eloquent congratulations and tributes which have been paid to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, on what I felt was an excellent and very able maiden speech. It was notable for the fact that he so far has been the sole 653 representative of the Government backbenchers concerned in one of the major Bills to come before the House during this Session. But his contribution was thus all the more valued and all of us will hope to hear more from him in the near future.
The Bill that we have been discussing today is one of the most extraordinary to come before your Lordships for many a year. Its intentions are those of a repentant sinner clothed in sackloth, because this Bill is indeed meant to ensure stable and orderly employment within the docks industry. Yet anyone who has had even the remotest contact with those connected with the industry, or who has read the proceedings of the Standing Committee in another place, could not fail to notice the concern, the confusion and the apprehension felt by almost everyone in the freight handling industry.
If the intention of the Government is to regularise the employment position of all those who work in the dock industry, then I am afraid that we must tell the Government that the Bill does not in its present form do any such thing. Indeed the Bill goes much further, and it has caused alarm and fear among thousands of others whose work could not in any sense be construed as falling within the category of dock work.
The Bill is clumsy since it is very broad in its outline and much of the content matter simply cannot ever have been intended to have been taken seriously—at least we cannot see that. The question of the infamous five mile dockers' corridor has aroused enormous publicity, and I believe that the blame belongs entirely to the Government for this misapprehension. We know that the Government have had difficulty in drafting the Bill satisfactorily so as to meet the demands of one small but vociferous section of a very large trade union, while not putting at risk the thousands of jobs of others, many of whom belong to the same trade union.
We know that throughout its passage in another place the Government have spent hours in vain attempts to calm the fears of those who will lose their jobs if the Bill becomes an Act in its present form. Yet still the doubts, the fears and the complaints arrive in a deluge to Members of your Lordships' House. These are 654 not hysterical or scaremongering propagandists; they are merely representatives of all those who wish to see our cargo-handling industry prosper and compete with our rivals overseas.
My Lords, the Government tell us that the Bill is intended to bring increased efficiency to the docks industry, and we have no quarrel with this intention. But the Bill is riddled with inconsistencies and defects. The pressure of Parliamentary time in another place has meant that many of these defects have not been discussed. Regrettably, when many of these errors have been discussed or pointed out at all, the Government have been unable to give any adequate reassurance to those who will be affected.
In our opinion the first major defect is in the composition of the National Dock Labour Board and the local boards. Under the proposals of the Bill a host of new interests and industries is concerned, yet these interests are unable as of right to obtain any representation on these boards. Consultation seems to be very limited, and nowhere is there a mention of a public inquiry into any matters which have a bearing on work done in or around or through any particular port.
Where cargo handling becomes more and more technical and highly organised, many more industries will grow up to meet the needs of cargo handlers, stevedores and wharfingers. Furthermore, the National Dock Labour Board will tend to become a large and, I believe, almost monolithic organisation with hardly any freedom to act. Also the Board has the power to intervene between port employers and their employees. I believe that this flies contrary to everything that we have learnt about industrial relations in the past few years, and indeed in this century.
The next defect in the Bill appears to us to concern the local dock labour boards. Why can they not have far greater autonomy as to what should be done to increase port efficiency in their particular area? Under paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 these boards will have only such powers granted to them by the National Dock Labour Board. Yet it is in these areas that most of these fears arise which are expressed daily to your Lordships and to Members of another place.
655 Noble Lords opposite will agree with us when we insist that the best and only form for settling the small local problems over classification of dock work and over the treatment of new techniques is at local area, preferably the port itself. We have grave misgivings about the centralising effect of the National Dock Labour Board provisions in the Bill and we shall be giving the closest scrutiny to this matter when the Bill is discussed at the next stage in Committee.
I now come to one of the most publicised and I believe one of the most foolish aspects of the Bill. It is of course the five mile corridor in which only registered dock workers may carry out what has yet to be defined and agreed as dock work. Those of your Lordships who have perused the proceedings of Standing Committee G might have noted the difficulties found by the Government when they tried to explain how the corridor was defined and how it would work out in practice. Much confusion arose when, after long and repeated demands, a map was eventually produced and it showed that most of Cornwall is covered by the corridor, as indeed are the towns of Doncaster, Tadcaster and Tewkesbury.
There are countless other anomalies and uncertainties. All of these are completely unnecessary and they are caused entirely through the fear of the Government that some crafty or even devious employers will remove their operations from the waterfront to some inland site. It is this fear that puts the Government into the ludicrous position in which they are today. Countless spokesmen here and in other places have reassured critics, both in and out of Parliament, that the points that I have raised and the fears aroused by people working in a wide variety of industries within this corridor are without foundation.
Cannot the Government understand that when they come to this House with measures such as this Bill, all of us here are attempting to see that the law means what it is intended to mean? This particular concept is not meant to imply that such effects as I described earlier are intended. The position seems to me to be even worse than this. The Government are afraid to make the law intelligible in this case entirely because the Docks Section of the Transport and General 656 Workers' Union wishes to indulge in what is militarily known as over-kill. Once again where dockers are worried—and we believe that they have reason to be worried—by the steady erosion of their employment and their prospects, the casual attitude of the Bill to the establishment of local boards is again shown. Again, this must be at the local level, with due representation of all interests.
The third major defect in the Bill concerns the definition of a cargo handling zone, and we shall have much more to say about this in Committee. These cargo handling zones appear to be where classified dock work, as laid down by the National Dock Labour Board—not the local boards—will be carried out only by registered dockers. Apart from the five mile corridor, we find other major criteria, defining the sea, and the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, earlier mentioned, I think, inland waterways. I do not think he read the whole definition, but he covered creeks, bays and all kinds of other things. These waterways have to be navigable for 20 miles by ships of 6,000 tons or more. But even with all this criteria, the three inland towns (as I regard them), which were mentioned earlier—Tewkesbury, Tadcaster and Doncaster—still fall within the aegis of these cargo handling zones.
Further, there is the provision for the Scretary of State to extend—or, apparently, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, says, reduce—the cargo handling zone. I must say that on a fairly perfunctory examination of the Bill at the Front Bench this afternoon I did not find powers for the Secretary of State to reduce the cargo handling zone. But possibly we can go into this later. The Secretary of State will be able to carry out these powers by order, and this has made many thousands of people concerned in, for example, the food industry and among cold storage interests.
There is nothing that the Government have said at any stage, in or out of Parliament, that has removed the legitimate apprehension felt by so many and also, I believe, by the public. Many of us consider that the public interest in preserving our food supplies is paramount, and despite the protests by Government spokesmen no concessions have been made to ensure that the food and cold 657 storage industries can continue to use the most modern methods of importing and exporting their materials.
This industry, above all others, has spent large sums to modernise cold stores, processing plants and transport depots. All of this requires the most intense use and flexibility of the labour force. Fears continue to exist that should any or much of such work be classified as dock work under the proposed scheme, the dockers will have to move to inland depots, will have to be trained in new skills, and of course will have to adapt to new methods and places of work. Many dockers have already left the docks voluntarily and have started a new career in cold storage or in container depots, in such operations as, I understand, stuffing and stripping where they used to be engaged in normal stevedoring work.
My Lords, if the Government really wish to have us believe that they say what they mean, the whole concept of cargo-handling and classification could he left to local dock boards or even to the individual employers at small ports and, indeed, the representatives of the employees. The Government have already declared that where airports lie within the proposed cargo-handling zones such airports will be exempt from inclusion in the scheme; but many more exemptions and much further thought than are evident in this Bill are needed for it to have any chance of widespread acceptance. Existing agreements between employers and employees are not covered by the provisions of the Bill, and noble Lords will recognise that this aspect of possible inter-union strife in what are now peaceful and productive depots is one of the most disagreeable points in the Bill.
Why can the Government not give rightful assurances to workers' representatives that their agreements with their employers will be honoured and that the National Dock Labour Board will not be allowed to interfere or to install dockers into depots or ports where at present industrial relations are good? Can the Government give us one or two good reasons for risking the good points of their own Employment Protection Act? We shall await the noble Lord's reply, but even he will not be able to tell us, should the provisions of the scheme apply in the manner set down in the Bill, that 658 there will be industrial peace, efficiency or prosperity in those areas which the Bill covers at present. But once again, my Lords, I hope that good sense and reasonableness must prevail in the end.
Overseas trade, mainly to and from continental Europe, but of course increasingly between the United Kingdom and Asia Minor and the Middle East, is already affected by the scheme, and of course the provisions of the Bill could do great harm to developments in shipping and in containerisation. Roll-on/roll-off methods of shipping are growing, and, in spite of the provisions in the Bill dealing with inland depots, some United Kingdom ports, especially London, are unable to provide the type of swift service which many of our importers and exporters seem to require. These new types of transport have not arisen or been developed by the port industry without considerable effort and investment, both in equipment and in employee-training. The public interest and the requirements of meeting export delivery dates mean that containerisation and roll-on/roll-off freight transport will increase even further, and so rapid has been the progress to date that existing agreements between cold store operators and employee representatives are not covered by the 1967 scheme. This seems to add weight to our concern, which we mentioned just now, about allowing agreements currently in operation to continue, as well as to the necessity to allow local boards to have local representation.
My Lords, much greater flexibility in all forms of dock work is going to be needed, but the Bill has done nothing to ensure that this process is encouraged. Instead, the Bill confuses, it stirs up fears, and it obscures what we want to know. Under the scheme in the Bill, workers in the cargo-handling zone will fall into any one of four categories. There will be the dock workers on the main register, those on the extension register, those who are exempt from classification and those who I must regrettably call the victims, as they surely would be should this Bill reach the Statute Book in its present form. These workers are members of other unions than the Transport and General Workers' Union. They are often members of the Transport Branch of the Transport and General Workers' Union, 659 some are members of a small union, and there are those who belong to other, smaller, recognised unions. Yet they still have a binding agreement between their employers and themselves.
The fears expressed in another place and in the Press have been largely focused on these particular workers. These fears are felt equally by all employees in any industries which are not exempted in the Bill. But how can any large employer in cargo-handling or in transport to and from docks or ports, or even in food manufacturing or processing, take any logical and clear view of whether or how to invest in new equipment or in employee-training? The Government have not yet admitted—nor, I believe, will they do so—that this incredible proposal to classify dock workers into one of these four categories, together with the whole concept of cargo-handling zones, stems from the need for the dockers to have the right to seek the jobs in cold stores and other areas that have nothing to do with work that has been done by dockers. We believe that this classification of workers is at the heart of all the problems which have been found in the Bill. We have already heard this evening from my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, when he pointed out the problems that are already arising at Southampton in the roll-on/roll-off container terminal over the tractor part of the container lorries which are taken on or taken off roll-on/ roll-off boats. He said quite enough on that, and I think the problem will only get worse.
My Lords, the remaining defects in the Bill which concern us are covered by the discussions and exemptions available to the small ports. A great deal has been said, more eloquently than I could put it, on small ports, but we know that these are scattered around the coastline of the United Kingdom, from the Shetlands and the Hebrides right down, let us not forget, to the Scillies in the South-West. The inhabitants of these islands, and indeed of the remote parts of the mainland, depend to a very large extent for their livelihood and for their essential supplies on these ports. Of all the representations received here and in another place, the most persistent and worrying have been those from people concerned, either in their work or in their daily life. Of 660 course, at these small ports the cargoes vary and the amount of labour required will vary, but the essence of all these ports is one of flexibility. Often the customers are much nearer the small port, and the transfer of loading or unloading to a larger, scheme port will cause extra expense, together with a risk of unemployment.
It has often been pointed out to Members of another place that if the smaller ports are not exempted from the scheme, many small businesses in no way in competition with dockers or port workers at present will cease to exist. For my own part, my Lords, the port of Montrose is fairly near my home, and noble Lords may be aware that this port permanently employs over 60 people. I paid a short visit in the Summer Recess, and found labour relations there were absolutely excellent and of a very high standard. Estimates that I have been given from there, and which, indeed, have been given in another place, show that the loss in finance to the communities served by Montrose, together with the extra costs incurred of approximately £75,000 to the port of Montrose itself, should Montrose be declared a scheme port under the Bill, is of the region of half a million pounds per annum. That is a very substantial amount for what is not a very large part of the hinterland of Scotland, and yet this is going to bear very heavily on all the rural industries and the smaller industries in that part of the world, where the current unemployment rate is pushing 10 per cent. at the moment.
Should Montrose be brought into the scheme, extra time may have to be spent in dockers on the main register travelling, and the loss may be as high as 65 to 70 jobs. That is not just the dock workers, but other, ancillary workers in and around the port of Montrose, where of course the unemployment is not alleviated to any great extent yet by oil employment. Indeed, the oil service base users are also concerned that, should the scheme apply to Montrose, their service and their flexibility will be adversely affected. Furthermore, the entire work force at Montrose Harbour unanimously sent up a petition to the honourable Member for North Angus and Mearns in February of this year urging that Montrose be allowed to continue working as it does now, with flexibility and efficiency. So far as small 661 ports go, my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith mentioned all the small ports in the West Country and in Cornwall, where, indeed, they have a great bearing on the livelihood of the local community.
I think that in general the whole of the Bill puts at risk good relations between employer and employee, in that a third force is to have powers over the type, the length and (if I may call it such) the style of the employment. All this can be far more easily agreed locally. Many of us are bewildered when we read Clause 5(2) of the Bill, dealing with the objects of the new scheme, where it says that the scheme shall be framed by the Secretary of State with a view to securing the employment of dockers together with the requirement that such work shall be carried out only by registered dock workers. Later, in the same clause, we can read that the Secretary of State shall have powers to amend dock work classification or the cargo-handling zone by order. Nothing could do more to affect the efficiency of the cargo-handling industry, not to mention the other industries which are not exempted. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply could attempt to assuage some of our fears; but they are very great fears.
This afternoon, my Lords, we have been discussing a Bill which, more than any other in this Session, has created problems for more people for a longer time, and I believe for no good or justifiable reason. The Bill has set one section of a trade union against another section; it has set one group of employees against another; it has caused hundreds of people to lobby Members of this House and of another place; and it has made thousands fear for their jobs.
What merit is there in such a Bill?—despite the vast amount of advice which was available to the Government, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. Is there an indication of the feelings of the Government's supporters in that alone, apart from the noble Lords, Lord Jacques and Lord Oram, we have heard the maiden voice of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham? Noble Lords will recognise that for the second major Bill before us in this overspill Sesssion, the Government's proposals on very major legislation have aroused such scant support, in numbers at least, that we have had one, and only one, noble Lord 662 speaking from the Government Back-Benches on each debate. Can the Government find merely a lone voice to support them—albeit of the calibres of the noble Lords, Lord Shinwell and Lord Boston of Faversham?
This Bill is really riddled with defects. It sets out, so it says, to regularise dock employment; it has done nothing to do this. It causes fear and alarm among thousands of people. It promises much, yet provides grounds for needless complaints, arguments and strife. We on these Benches can assure the House that we want to improve this Bill so that freight handling can be improved further, so that people will know that their jobs are not to be taken over by others more powerfully organised than themselves. We believe that this so-called attempt to ameloriate conditions in the docks is clumsy, it is ill thought out, far too wide ranging and, worst of all, it is engendered as part of a political deal between one section of a powerful trades union and the Government. Never can such a measure, which affects more of us than any other, have caused such fear. We cannot commend this Bill to the House; we merely accept it—for onward processing.
§ 7.42 p.m.
My Lords, I begin with a point on which we are unanimous because it is clear that there are many points on which we are not. The unanimous point is that we all very much welcome the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Boston of Faversham. It is a personal pleasure to me and not merely a formal duty to congratulate him on having entered our debates so soon after joining us and for doing so effectively and well. It is perhaps appropriate that he and I should take part in a debate on this particular Bill because he and I have for many years represented in another place constituencies on opposite sides of the Thames Estuary. Your Lordships do not need to be reminded that so much of the history of dock labour problems has evolved along that estuary. Indeed, my own interest in this debate and in this Bill is enhanced by my having represented a dockland constituency in another place for some 20 years. With my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, I shared Parliamentary responsibility for the 663 area which contains the Royal Group of docks.
It is on the basis of that experience and in the light of the dockers' vexed history and their bitter struggles that, in my judgment, it is fully understandable that they cherish the scheme which ended the worst features of that evil system of casual labour, it is fully understandable that they wish to see it extended and I believe it is right that this Government should respond to their hopes in this matter and to bring up to date—and this is what this Bill does—the working of the dock labour scheme to meet the changes that have taken place within the industry for the reasons which my noble friend Lord Jacques outlined.
I shall attempt to reply to many of the points raised in the debate not, since they were so many and intricate, by taking them seriatim, but by trying to group them under three or four of the main arguments that have been brought forward against the Bill. Regrettably, many points will not be covered. I apologise in advance for that; although I am sure, as many noble Lords have indicated, we shall take the opportunity of returning to them in Committee and in other ways.
In answering the main arguments as I see them, I should like to do so against the background of what my noble friend Lord Jacques said in his concluding words about the series of safeguards which the Bill contains against any hasty or improper classification of work as dock work; because I believe it is that aspect of the Bill, the many safeguards spread around various clauses and Schedules of the Bill and the flexible and painstaking procedure it provides for, that have not been fully understood. I believe that it is that lack of appreciation of the safeguards within the Bill that has led to a certain character of the debate during the course of the day when at various times I thought that noble Lords were entering into some kind of competition as to the extravagant phrases they could find to describe the Bill. "Piffling", "footling" and "outrageous" were three that I noted; and there were many more.
The first main argument that many noble Lords have brought forward is that they see the Bill as being wrong because it opens up the possibility of a steady extension of the classification of 664 dock work to cover, for instance, operations beyond the five-mile limit under the provision where the Secretary of State can make an extension: the point that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, made about his fear that warehouses and cold stores not previously covered by the scheme will be included; the fears of those who have the interests of small ports at heart and their fears that these small ports will be squeezed out by higher costs and so on.
This, of course, arises from what the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, called the "infamous five-mile dockers' corridor"—one of the phrases for which I would give him one of the prizes in trying for extravagant language. Others used other language. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, referred to a "blanket extension" of dockwork; the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, told us of the high proportion of Cornwall which, because of its configuration, would be covered, if one draws (as has been drawn) the corridor around the intricate inlets of that county; and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, went into a similar geographical exercise in relation to Wales—all with the implication that there is to be an automatic extension of dock work within this corridor.
That is very far from being the case. The five-mile test is but the first of many tests. That sets the first consideration when those concerned will come to consider the wisdom or otherwise of classifying particular jobs in particular areas as dock work. There is nothing sinister, as noble Lords have tried to suggest, in the five-mile corridor. It is simply the first test and there are many others.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? This is an important point which I do not think anybody has raised: to go back to my warehouse in Aberystwyth, supposing somebody is considering building a warehouse in Aberystwyth, can he apply for declassification before he has built it and started to employ people there?
My Lords, the decision will be about jobs actually existing and after consideration of a great variety of matters. No doubt someone wanting to build the kind of warehouse that the noble Viscount has in mind would have regard 665 to various other decisions that might have taken place, and by the time the scheme had been operative, the exaggerated fears would have been proved to have been groundless. I am sure that in the light of experience, people will not face the difficulty that the noble Viscount suggests.
§ Lord WIGODER
My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that in the five-mile corridor there will not be an automatic inclusion but an automatic uncertainty?
My Lords, I return to my point that it is simply the first test. Of course, experience will have to be developed of the operation of this scheme. When any new legislation comes along people have to find by experience the implications of it. Certainly the fears and uncertainties will be nothing like those described throughout the country and in this debate today.
In particular, before we come to the Committee stage, I would urge noble Lords to study—and I hope they have already studied—Schedule 3, Schedule 4 and the various other safeguards throughout the Bill. They are so important in providing the subsequent tests after the five-mile limit test that much more publicity should be given to their provisions. Indeed, I thought it might be helpful if I wrote a summary of them into my present speech. Someone, with great skill, has summarised them but the summary is still much longer than would be welcome to your Lordships, therefore I will not read it. Nevertheless I urge you to believe that, if you look at all the tests, then the fears that have been expressed in this respect and in other respects are greatly exaggerated.
The next main argument which has been brought up from many sides is that the Bill will be extending the opportunities of what have been called a privileged class. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, referred to a monopoly by a privileged class of worker. There have been references to Mr. Jack Jones. There have been references to the Transport and General Workers' Union. The implication has been that this union and trade union leader are at variance with other unfortunate, less powerful trade unions involved either in the ports or on the peripheries of the ports. There is nothing 666 in this. It is true that when the Bill was first published some trade unions were anxious about their position. Naturally, all Bills of this kind are examined by responsible bodies and they expressed anxieties in their initial reactions. But Amendments were adopted in another place to allay the fears, which in most cases were groundless, but the Amendments were included to make it absolutely clear that their position was not threatened as had been alleged. To make it clear, the Trades Union Congress' Transport Industries Committee subsequently issued a document signed by 12 unions involved in this business expressing unanimous support for the Bill. Those who have been the advocates of the small unions need have no fears because their unions are satisfied with their situation under this Bill.
In this connection, there have been expressions of fears of people losing their jobs, being squeezed out of their jobs by the Transport and General Workers' Union people. These fears are groundless and they have been allayed by Amendments introduced in another place. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was rather arguing the opposite way when he said that the Bill would act against the interests of the dockers organised within the Transport and General Workers' Union because the Extension Register would tend to weaken their position. I think both arguments—those who think this is a powerful trade union acting as a juggernaut against its fraternal union, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who thinks the Bill is going to act against the interests of the Transport and General Workers' Union—are wrong. The Bill will act in the interests of all workers, the dockworkers in the extension of the Dock Labour Scheme, and the other workers whose interests are fully safeguarded by many detailed provisions within the Bill.
§ Lord BURTON
Could I ask the noble Lord this: he says the interests of the dockers will be fully safeguarded. Would he totally disagree with what I said; that is, that there is a grave danger of risk to 20 or 25 men in the docks at Stornoway?
My Lords, I am afraid I do not have the details of the employment situation in every one of the docks around 667 our coasts. I have no doubt that if the noble Lord has specific issues, he will find an opportunity to raise them at Committee stage, when I can reply more adequately than at this moment. I now want to turn to the arguments about the jobs which were different from the arguments I have just dealt with. Those were raised most forcefully from the Liberal Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. They may be surprised to know that I found myself agreeing with a good deal of the forceful and eloquent arguments they were bringing forward. The point I suggest they missed is that this Bill does not pretend to do what they were accusing it of not doing. The object of this Bill is not to get rid of the present surplus of registered dock workers by making additional jobs available for them at the stroke of a pen; it is to ensure the area of work covered by the dock labour scheme is appropriate in the light of changing patterns of trade and developing technology. That is its purpose. It is not to create new jobs to absorb surplus dockers. It is true that in the short run few new job opportunities for registered dock workers will be created, which is why I was agreeing with some of the points being made. But in the longer run the new and more flexible arrangements provided for in the Bill should ease the industrial relations problem caused by the irrationalities of the present arrangements and, by enabling a more rational deployment of labour on dock-work it will benefit both those who are at present registered dock workers and those who will be brought into the scheme as a result of this Bill. If I may refer to a point made by the noble Baroness, the Government are not in any way altering their policy of assisting the industry to solve its excess labour problems through the national voluntary severance scheme. Indeed, it has provided a loan to the National Dock Labour Board for this purpose; the Bill provides for the continuation of that kind of assistance.
The next main argument that has been raised a number of times is that the effect of this Bill will be to raise costs and prices. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said it would have the effect of raising prices in the shops. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, 668 said that he had been in touch with trade union leaders who had tried to disabuse him of the possibilities that perhaps much of what has been said on this score has been exaggerated. I would agree entirely both with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and the trade union leaders with whom he wisely discussed the matter, because the Bill does not impose wage rates or earnings level—nothing of that kind. These are determined through the normal processes of wage bargaining by local agreement and through a national joint industrial council.
I hope that none of those who raised that point were hoping it would be possible to keep down costs through the exploitation of unorganised labour. No one said that, and I hope there was no such implication behind what was said; but I would urge them to realise, if they have what the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, described as the national interest at heart, or the consumer interest—the essential need to keep prices down rather than raise them—I would urge them to realise that one of the chief ways of doing this is to maintain good industrial relations in the docks, because nothing is more calculated to raise prices than bad industrial relations in the docks. It is my contention, although I know that many noble Lords will not agree, that the purpose and ultimate effect of this Bill is to improve industrial relations.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith—incidentally I apologise to the noble Baroness for having missed most of her speech—both raised questions concerning road haulage. I should point out that the Bill provides, in paragraph 10 of Schedule 3, that the driving of vehicles normally used on public roads is classifiable when the vehicle is driven on private roads within the cargo-handling zones; that is, in practice, in the docks. The dockers have no right to drive vehicles in these circumstances unless a classification order has been made by the Secretary of State. Clearly, such an order would not be made if it would result in the contravention of existing regulations or legislation or if it was not sensible in all the circumstances.
One other argument was not very explicitly made, and I may be wrong in 669 suggesting that was even in the minds of noble Lords as they spoke, but there were a number of speeches which made me wonder whether they were expressing dissatisfaction not only with this Bill but also with the Dock Labour Scheme and its principles, as it exists today. I shall not mention names because it was only a "hunch" or impression in my mind. I certainly hope that I was wrong because, as I said at the outset, the Dock Labour Scheme is now very much part of our industrial relations framework within the dock industry.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord was thinking of something that I said. I said I thought the Dock Labour Scheme as it exists at present is due for renewal, and that is what the Bill says; so I do not think we are in disagreement.
No, my Lords, I did not have the noble Viscount in mind, but I am glad that he agrees with us on this point. This question of the principles of the present scheme is at the heart of industrial relations, and I hope that no one is going to suggest that it be discontinued.
I should now like to summarise the case for the Bill. The chief aims were admirably summarised by my noble friend Lord Jacques, but I should like to leave in your Lordships' minds this quick summary of the reasons why we are bringing forward this Bill and why we intend to see it on the Statute Book. The present arrangements date from 1946 and they met the needs of that time and prevented a return to the worst pre-war features of the casual labour scheme, although of course the dock labour force remained essentially a casual one until 1967. But—and this is where the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, comes in—parts of the 1946 Act are now out of date. Modification is needed to meet many of the changes that have taken place in the industry, to provide for the future so far as we can see it and to make possible the ratification of the ILO Convention No. 137 concerning dock work.
Among the changes which have resulted from changes in the pattern of trade and the revolution in techniques has been this 670 movement of dock work from the waterside to the surrounding area. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said this did not represent any action taken by malevolent employers but was done for purely technical reasons. I accept his point in the main, but there have been some employers who have moved in order to avoid employing registered dock workers, and there have even been one or two capable of creating suspicion in the minds of many. Even if there are only a few, I believe it is necessary to legislate in order to meet that situation.
As my noble friend Lord Jacques reminded your Lordships, the problems arising out of these technical changes were the subject of an inquiry by the Bristow Committee in 1970. That Committee made recommendations to meet the problem of employers moving to avoid employing registered dock workers. Later, in 1970, the National Ports Council reported that in a significant number of non-scheme ports there is heavy reliance on casual labour, and that often substandard terms and conditions of employment prevail there. The Jones-Aldington Committee reported that these problems still existed in 1974. As I have known from my own personal experience, these problems have been a potential source of industrial unrest which can be avoided only by bringing the legislation up to date.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but is the noble Lord saying that there has been a lot of industrial unrest in the small non-scheme ports?
No, my Lords; I was saying that the movement away from the ports is—partly through suspicion, partly through actual fact—a potential cause of industrial unrest. That was my point. That was emphasised by the inquiry of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service into the unofficial strike in London last year. Therefore, since 1970 in particular—there were many inquiries before that, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, mentioned, regretting that he had not been chairman of any of them—there has been recommendation after recommendation that action should be taken. The Conservative Government failed to act. We are acting. We are maintaining 671 the central principle of joint administration of the dock labour scheme, because it is now so much a part of the structure of the industry that any attempt to end it would be wholly detrimental to industrial relations. But on the basis of that central principle, we are providing for an appropriate extension of the scheme.
I finish on the note which I do not think can be over-emphasised. The Bill provides a flexible procedure for that extension, and also provides the fullest safeguards for the protection of all the legitimate interests against any danger of abuse. For these reasons, my Lords, I urge you to give the Bill its Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.