I beg to move, in page 3, line 22, to leave out "in writing."The Minister of Labour has said that he is anxious to avoid having any unnecessary words in the Bill. At best, these words are unnecessary, and at the worst they may cause a considerable amount of trouble. If there is any purpose in their inclusion, as far as I can see it is merely to exclude oral representations to the Commission. It may well be that in the first instance they would prefer to have representations in writing, and they would give notice accordingly, but I cannot see why they should be restricted to receiving written representations. I think it is clear from the latter part of the Sub-section that in their further inquiries they would be entitled to receive oral evidence. I cannot really understand why these words should be included, placing this limitation on the discretion of the Commission.
This is the usual form. Surely the hon. Member would not have people coming up to the Commission asking to be heard. The objections are to be in writing, and the subsequent procedure is absolutely in the hands of the Commission. I have served on any number of Royal Commissions and I have never known any other procedure. It is a pure matter of form.
Surely the Commission can specify the form in the notice that they issue, and it is unnecessary to have these words.
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman's answer is not quite enough. The Minister has given an answer on the specific point but he has clearly not answered the case put by my hon. Friend. I understand that there is no intention on his part to accept a later Amendment which provides that the Commission, before they make a recommendation, may, at their discretion, hold a formal inquiry. In those circumstances the only suggestion made to the Commission is that they shall receive written representations. There is no suggestion that they shall do more than read the letter or memorandum submitted to them and form a judgment on it. That is not adequate consideration and the Bill ought to make it clear that more than that is intended. We are leaving much to what the Minister has called the common sense of the people who are to operate this novel machinery, and it is about time we began laying down clearly the lines on which we expect the machine to operate. It is not our business to pass an Act of Parliament setting up a new piece of machinery and leave it to form its own procedure with no guidance whatever.
I had hoped my hon. Friends were trying to improve the Bill and not to put up Amendments of this kind. The suggestion in the Bill, which is a perfectly ordinary procedure adopted in every form of Commission and in every court of law, is that something should be put down on paper first, to enable those concerned to see what it is all about. That is all that is in the Bill. To suggest that people can ring up the Commission, with no record of what is said, and that that is the proper way of approaching the Commission is fantastic, and I hope that the proposal will be rejected.
I had no intention of intervening but for what my hon. and gallant Friend has said. There is a point of some substance here, odd as it may seem to him. Obviously, before you hear oral evidence, you have to see whether Mr. Snooks, who has sent in a letter, is mad or sane. That is common sense.
The Clause says:
"The Commission shall consider any written representations made by them within the said period and shall make such further inquiries as they consider necessary."
I do not see that that meets the case. It surely does not say they can take oral evidence. Surely the word "written" governs the inquiry. There is no suggestion that they may take oral evidence at all.
I do not share my hon. and gallant Friend's indignation at the intervention of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft). My hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken has complained that there is nothing in the Clause as it stands to insist that oral representations should be heard by the Commission. Nor is there anything in the Amendment. The only effect of the Amendment is that the Commission should not be compelled to insist that the representations that are made in the first place, should be made formally and in writing. It does not impose on the Commission any additional duty, and in those circumstances I fail to understand the force of the somewhat heated intervention of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Major Petherick).
On a point of Order. Your predecessor in the Chair, Major Milner, was asked whether he would allow a Motion to report Progress to be moved. I speak as a strong supporter of the Bill, and may I suggest, with respect to you and the Government, that it is usual when the Committee sits over its ordinary time for the Government to make some announcement as to how long they propose to sit or how many Clauses they intend to get. I do not know whether in those circumstances you would allow a formal Motion to report Progress to give the Minister an opportunity of making a statement. That would be in accord with the traditions of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. We have heard lots of rumours about how long we are going to sit, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what is his intention. It would be as much for the benefit of the opposition as of the supporters of the Bill.
Does the Noble Lord move to report Progress?
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."I hope that there will not be a long discussion on it.
In order to get the Bill through in two days, I had mapped out for to-day that we should reach Clause 12. A good deal of time was taken up earlier in to-day's sitting, but I should like to get four more Clauses to-day.
So far as I know, there has been no opposition to this Bill which was in any sense unparliamentary. The Debate has taken a very fair course. I would point out to the Government that when we desired on Second Reading to suspend Standing Orders in order that there should be a full Debate, the Government resisted. We did not resist them to-day when they moved the suspension. We are still prepared to go on if necessary, but it would add to the convenience of the Committee if we were not kept unduly late. I do not know whether it will be possible to say now what further time is to be given for the Committee stage, but I would suggest to the Chief Patronage Secretary that if another day were given, there would not be much difficulty in getting the Bill through. Speaking for those who have taken most interest in the Bill, I can say that we would be prepared to carry on for a fourth day, if necessary, and to sit any time of the night in order to finish the Bill on that day.
Speaking for those who are anxious to get the Bill on the Statute Book, I say that we are anxious to help the Government and to use the time to the best possible advantage. We know that it is no use making appeals to certain people who seem to have all kinds of peculiar objections. [Interruption.] I say deliberately that we cannot understand their objections. We try to follow them, but we know that they are obstructive.
On a point of Order. Is it Parliamentary to accuse other Members of obstruction?
Since my attention has been drawn to it, I must point out that it is not a Parliamentary expression, and I must ask the hon. Member to withdraw.
If it is objected to by you, Major Milner, I would like to take the opportunity to withdraw it. We are anxious to help the Government in every way possible and to get this Bill carried. We say that two days are quite sufficient allocation of Government time to debate this Bill.
Does the Minister seek to get Clauses 6 and 7?
Clauses 4, 5, 6 and 7.
I should like to associate myself with what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking). I cannot agree that the Committee stage has gone unduly slowly. I hope that hon. Members will give us the credit for holding our views about this Bill with a sincerity equal to that with which they hold their views. We do not like it, and in our opposition we are only carrying out a perfectly ordinary Parliamentary procedure. It is a long time since we had a controversial Measure of this sort before us, and we must bear in mind that in normal circumstances this Bill would have gone to a Committee upstairs and might have taken six to seven weeks, when every Amendment would have been considered and voted on on its merits. We have not sought to divide the Committee unduly, and the discussions have not been carried on at great length by us. If hon. Members will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT, they will find that a high proportion of contributions have been made by supporters of the Bill. I cannot admit that the opposition to the Bill is in any way unreasonable and I feel with my right hon. Friend that if we were given an extra day, although there are several very controversial portions of the Bill to come, with good will we should get through quite well. I commend that solution to the Government.
I do not like the term "opposition to the Bill." I do not like the Bill, and I voted against it. The opposition were out-voted, and the Bill has come to Committee. Is it unreasonable that those who do not like the Bill should endeavour to improve it so that it will be workable? That is the duty of Members of Parliament, and there ought not to be impatience if they carry it out. This is a very controversial Measure. Otherwise 112 Members would not have voted against it. Another day ought to be given to this Bill in order that it can be examined properly, as legislation ought to be examined, and we ought not to sit unduly late because some hon. Members opposite consider that we who are trying to improve the Bill are obstructive.
Of course, this is a controversial Bill.
No, the Government say it is not.
My hon. Friend said that it was controversial.
I say it is.
To me it is not controversial, because I agree with it. My hon. Friend's view that substantial progress has been made with this Bill after two days of debate is not a view that I share. I am not saying the opposition to the Bill is obstructive; I am too long in the tooth for that; I have done it myself on many occasions in peace-time. I have not opposed Bills, but I have made it rather awkward for the Government of the day within my limited powers. I put it to the Minister of Labour that it is a matter for consideration whether he should put a limit to the progress of the Bill to-day and let the Government state their intentions on the next Sitting Day. I am not putting any demand or making any firm request about giving some little additional time. I myself should deplore it. Those who have points of view to put about the Bill have been putting them for many hours—and they may wish to continue to do so—but if we could put some reasonable limit on the discussion to-day and then let the Government make a statement on the next Sitting Day as to when they think it reasonable to finish the Committee stage, I think that might meet the situation.
If I had a firm undertaking—or in whatever form it was done—that if the Government gave an extra day that would be final, I would consult my colleagues about it. I will not criticise our progress, but it does seem to me to be a little bit slow, with small points and with constant repetition, which I do not criticise, because it is not my business to do so. I can understand long Debates on principles, on big things. If it is the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking) that if the Government give one day in the next series of Sittings for this Bill the Bill will be completed that day, with, if necessary, an extension of time, I will consult my hon. Friends about it. Beyond that, I would be content with getting Clause 5 to-day.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is a little greedy in expecting to get Clause 5 in any reasonable time. I am only expressing my own view. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has asked me whether I would give an undertaking. So far as it is possible for me to give an undertaking—and if I may say so with all due modesty, I think I can carry some weight with my colleagues—I believe that a fourth day in Committee would see this Bill through; but I go further, and I say that if by any chance it is felt that a fourth day would be insufficient, then if the Government suspend Standing Orders we will accept that and see, as far as it is possible to give a guarantee, that the Bill is got through on the fourth day. I think that on that undertaking it really does not matter very much whether we get Clause 5 to-day or adjourn at this moment. That is the pledge I give so far as it is possible for me to give a pledge, and I believe that with a fourth day this Bill would get through the Committee stage without our sitting late.
I am going to ask leave to withdraw this Motion. I hope it will not embarrass him, but I should like to associate myself with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). From the House of Commons point of view he has put the case very well. I hope neither right hon. Gentleman will be annoyed with me when I say with deepest respect to the Minister and to the right hon. Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking) that it is obvious that if they would get together behind the Chair in the ordinary way they could come to an arrangement which would meet the situation. One feels, whether one is an opponent or a supporter of the Bill, that it would be unfortunate if on a Measure of this sort, we had anything like an all-night sitting. There would be a good deal of comment outside.
Motion, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 37, to leave out from "recommendation," to the end of the Sub-section.In moving this Amendment, I wish to have the opportunity of considering also the next Amendment—in page 3, line 38, to leave out "in his opinion." The two Amendments hang together. The words of the Clause state:
I am proposing to leave out the words from the word "recommendation," because they are words which give a very wide discretion to the Minister. We are passing a Measure which I understand is to continue after the war. I am not exactly heartened to support the view that a Minister should be allowed to exercise his discretion if "in his opinion" certain variations do not effect important alterations in the character of the recommendation by a case which is reported to-day in the newspapers. There it is recorded that the Minister of Mines used his discretion to take over a mine—lock, stock, and barrel. It was an exercise of discretion which the learned judge who tried the case said he was powerless to interfere with. That may be all right in war-time. There may be in war-time all sorts of occasions when a Minister's opinion of whether matters are important or unimportant ought to be taken, but I should not be at all happy if that power were to continue indefinitely after the war. The Minister is to judge whether a variation effects an important alteration in the character of a recommendation, and I do not like leaving in the word "important." I should have preferred to leave it in the hands of the Commission and let them decide. There are methods by which their decision could be made known to the Minister before it was signed, sealed and delivered, and the Minister could consider it as it were behind the Chair. It is too much to ask—the Commission having made a decision to set up a wages board—that the Minister should be left to decide whether certain things should be taken out or put in. I do not like that form of legislation, and I ask the Solicitor-General whether there is any precedent for it. If there is, perhaps he will direct my attention to it."The workers and the employers described in any such order shall be workers to whom this Act applies and their employers and shall be the workers and employers covered by the recommendation, with such variations, if any, as the Minister thinks fit, being variations which in his opinion do not effect important alterations in the character of the recommendation."
I appreciate the view put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend that the Committee ought to be chary to delegate, but I ask him to maintain a sense of due proportion as to where the objection to delegation begins. What are we considering in this part of the Clause? The Sub-section begins by saying:
that is the wages board Order that the Minister may make,"The workers and the employers described in any such order"—
There is no question here of going outside the Act in any way. That is laid down to begin with. Then it says that those workers and their employers"shall be workers to whom this Act applies and their employers."
Then we have the second part:"shall be the workers and employers covered by the recommendation."
It is clear that there may be a case—again I do not want to go into imaginary cases. My hon. and gallant Friend probably has in his mind the case which I have in mind in which this House had to adjourn, the proceedings upon a whole set of Regulations had to be stopped and the matter had to go back again for reconsideration, because the word "than" appeared printed as "that." Surely for alterations of that sort it is absurd in 1943 to suggest that a Minister of the Crown, subject to the control of the House of Commons, is not to be allowed to make the alteration. My hon. and gallant Friend will say, "But my hon. and learned Friend has taken the best end of the line for himself." I will meet him on that point, and I would ask him to say what is the best method of seeing that the Minister will not go too far along the line. The best method is to lay it down, and that is what we have done in the Clause. We have said:"with such variations, if any, as the Minister thinks fit."
Is not that the sensible way? I come to the last point, which is that that is governed by the words: "in the opinion of the Minister." Let us face the point. If the Minister honestly applies his mind to the question whether the variations do or do not effect important alterations in the character of the recommendation, there is no difficulty in it. My hon. and gallant Friend asked me for precedents, but I say frankly that the sort of precedents that are in my mind are the things with which I am very familiar at the moment, war-time legislation. My hon. and gallant Friend will understand the difficulty. In my position that is what I have to deal with every day; but I may tell him this, and he will probably remember it, that the leading case on the construction of the words "in his opinion" in a Statute is that of the Bishop of London. It was a case upon an ecclesiastical Act, if my memory is correct, where those words came in, and they were construed by the Judicial Committee on appeal from the Court of Arches, Their opinion was left to the authority designated by the Statute and became a leading case in the words. That case was in 1895, and the words have been used quite often since in Acts of the administrative kind. We have to face the position that a certain amount of delegation must be given. Otherwise it will be impossible to get through the post-war legislation when we have to face it. We have to make up our minds what we can and what we cannot entrust to a Minister. That is the position, and that is what this Committee has to face. When it comes to the question of making an alteration which the Minister thinks does not effect important alterations in classes of workers who are within the Act and have been laid down by the recommendation of the Commission, any reasonable person would, I think, say that that was a fair matter to leave to a Minister and that it was certainly no undue pressing of the rights of the Executive to claim to make as small an alteration as that."with such variations, if any, as the Minister thinks fit, being variations which in his opinion do not effect important alterations in the character of the recommendation."
I do not want to take the time of the Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—particularly after all the things that have been said, and I consider said quite unjustly, about a group of hon. Members who have taken an interest in the Bill and who have so far not occupied a major part of the time in the Debate. There is a point to which the Solicitor-General has not addressed himself. In introducing the Bill, the Minister laid very great stress on the importance of the new type of machinery which he was setting up and on the vital position which this novel Commission was to occupy in the administration of the Measure. He stressed repeatedly that this was to be a capable, entirely impartial body, who were to have the power and the opportunity to obtain every possible skilled technical advice so that, when they made recommendations, they might be reasonably sure that the recommendations were sound from the technical and from the practical, common sense and business points of view.In those circumstances, there should be no occasion for modification of their recommendations on such matters as are contemplated in the Clause, except, as the Solicitor-General has suggested, in quite small things, where obviously Ministers must exercise their discretion; but there is no provision in the Clause or elsewhere by which anyone, either this House or the Commission itself or the courts, will have to judge of the alterations the Minister may have made and of deciding their objection or not.
Surely it is just the point that under Clause 15, the Orders made under this clause have to be laid before both Houses of Parliament and that that really is the complete safeguard.
I am afraid that does not disprove the point at all. The Order will be laid before the House but the House will not have the opportunity of seeing what the recommendation of the Commission was. A matter which does seem to be of importance is that the Minister is to have the power to alter a recommendation, provided that, in his opinion, those alterations are not material. I submit that the least that can be done is to provide that where the Minister proposes to make an Order, at variance with a recommendation of the Commission, even in detail, the alteration should be referred to the Commission, so that they could agree with the Minister's view that the alterations were immaterial. I cannot see any objection to that. If the Minister intends to place reliance in the Commission, I am sure he will feel—if only as a matter of courtesy, and certainly as a matter of tidy procedure—that if he desires to modify a recommendation by the Commission, the least he can do is to ask the Commission whether they concur in his view that the modification is a minor one, which does not affect the recommendation materially.
I am glad the hon. Member for the Abbey Division (Sir H. Webbe) has suddenly acquired a complete and absolute confidence in the impartiality and detachment of the Commission. I had a little doubt in my mind as to whether he had that confidence. I feel that in the valuable and impartial work this Commission will do——[An HON. MEMBER: "We do not know what it is going to be."] Exactly, and in spite of that fact the hon. Member has that confidence in the Minister of Labour.
I have accepted the Minister's estimate of what the Commission is going to be at its best.
Yes—a very safe thing to do, if I may say so. I hope the Committee will not take any longer over this point. I cannot feel that it is a matter of very great importance. We can have reasonable confidence that no Minister of Labour would make any substantial change in any proposal put forward by the Commission. In any case, I would remind the hon. Member for the Abbey Division that under an Amendment, which is to be moved later, the Commission will present an annual report, and anything of this kind would certainly be referred to, if the Commission were not satisfied with amendments which the Minister had made.
I appreciated the clear exposition of the Solicitor-General, but I do feel that the words "in his opinion" are very objectionable and can only be designed to oust the jurisdiction of the courts. He said that in a case of this sort we must be prepared to leave something to the decision of the Minister. Without those words, the wording of this Sub-section would run:
If that decision is left with the Minister, I cannot see why "in his opinion" should be added unless it is for the very definite purpose of ousting the jurisdiction of the Court. If those words are omitted and it is considered that the Minister has acted unreasonably or without due and proper cause, his action could be challenged in the courts. I cannot see why that safeguard cannot be preserved."…as the Minister thinks fit, being variations which do not affect important alterations in the character of the recommendation."
I am not at all happy about the statement by the Solicitor-General. I may be the last person who is going to take a stand against bureaucratic government and the ousting of the jurisdiction of the courts, but I say without hesitation that what we are prepared to put up with in war time from Ministers, ought not to be carried over to the time of peace, if our liberties are to be restored as a result of victory. If we start to allow Ministers to do this—because this will serve as a precedent—in due course, Government draftsmen will put these things into Bills and if they get away with it, it will be a precedent for the next time, for some other Measure. This will act as a precedent for legislation in the planned paradise which we are to get. It will depend on Ministers and the courts will have no jurisdiction. If the Committee want this provision in this form they will have it. I have uttered my warning and I hope I shall not have to come here at some later date and say, "You were told about this. Now the courts can do nothing, and no one can do anything."
May I put this point to the Solicitor-General? If the words "in his opinion" are left in, is there legally any limit to the variations which the Minister can produce?
If the words "in his opinion" are in, then the only interference possible on the part of the courts would be on the question of good faith or bad faith. I have not thought out whether a right of prohibition would lie, or what the proper remedy would be, but he can take it that the court could only interfere on the question of good or bad faith.
Where would the onus be for proof of that?
It is very difficult to say, but if my hon. Friend will tell me what proceedings he has in mind——
Supposing there was a writ of certiorari, where would the onus lie?
The hon. Member is aware of the meaning of good and bad faith in matters like, on the one hand, the non-exercise of power and, on the other hand, the exercise of power. He understands all the connotations of good faith and bad faith as well as I do. That is the first point, the limit of the court. Apart from that, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, there is of course the Parliamentary function, and I suggest that this Committee is not so weak that it cannot exercise Parliamentary sanction against the wrongful use of an administrative act. I want to issue my protest against the suggestions that have been put about that the Parliamentary sanction is not effective. I suggest it is effective and that it is adequate to deal with this matter.
Will the Solicitor-General tell me how Parliament can possibly exercise any judgment on an alteration when they have only seen an altered document and not the original copy?
Question, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the word 'in,' in line 38, stand part of the Clause," put, and agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 48, at the end to add:
Under the power given by this Subsection, there is a power in the Minister to go on re-submitting a matter to the Commission, presumably until he gets such answer as he wishes. That I do not agree to. The Clause says:"except that the recommendation shall not again be referred back by the Minister to the Commission."
This Amendment seeks to allow that process to happen once, and once only. If the Minister and the Commission cannot get it right after one re-submission, they will not be doing their duty properly. I cannot understand why the power to continue re-submitting should be wanted by the Minister unless he felt that by that process he could bring a recalcitrant Commission to heel, by wearing them out, so that they might in the end give way against their better judgment."Where the Minister receives a wages board recommendation, he may, if he thinks fit, refer it back to the Commission and the Commission shall thereupon reconsider it having regard to any observations made by the Minister and may, if they think fit, re-submit it to the Minister either without amendments or with such amendments as they think fit having regard to those observations; and where a recommendation is so re-submitted, the like proceedings may be had thereon as in the case of an original recommendation."
The Committee has accepted the principle that it is a good thing, in the event of a recommendation being made and the Minister finding that it needs some slight alteration, that he should be able to go back to the Commission and have it amended. The suggestion here is that it is possible that that can happen twice. I suggest that if it is a good thing for it to happen, it is just as well to be prepared for it to happen twice. The suggestion is that a recalcitrant Commission might be brought to heel by a Minister constantly referring back to them a proposal which he did not like. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is an unworthy suggestion."] It is an unworthy suggestion in the first instance, but it is adequately covered by the fact that an annual report of the Commission's proceedings is to be submitted. I cannot imagine any Minister following the practice which has been suggested, when such conduct would be subject to a discussion in this House. I do not think that in such circumstances a Minister could remain in office ten minutes after the report had come out.
I hear a voice saying "Again?" but I would point out that I am not selecting the Amendments to be called.I beg to move, in page 3, line 48, at the end, to add:
The purpose of this Amendment is to make quite sure that when an Order is made, the date shall be certificated in this manner, so that there shall be no doubt whatever of the actual date on which the Order has come into force. I believe that there have been cases where, in the absence of such certification, doubt has arisen as to the date on which the Order has come into force. It is to avoid that possibility that this Amendment is moved."Every copy of any order of the Minister made under this section printed by the King's Printer or under the superintendence or authority of His Majesty's Stationery Office shall have printed upon it a statement of the date on which the order comes into force."
I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend's fears are of any substance as the procedure stands at the moment. As he knows, an Order comes into force on the day that it is made unless the Order itself provides otherwise. The scheme laid down in Clause 15 is that the Order is made and then laid before Parliament, and Parliament is given the opportunity of expressing its view upon it within 40 days.
When does the 40 days' period begin?
On the day the Order is laid. It does not begin to run until then, so that is all to the advantage of those who want to question it. I do not think, in those circumstances, it is necessary to have an express provision such as is suggested. We have the date on which the Order is made. It will come into force on that day, unless otherwise provided in the Order, and then the ordinary Parliamentary procedure applies.
On that statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
Before we pass from this Clause, which I consider to be a very important one, I think it right that someone on this side should offer a few observations. This, to my mind, is the main operative Clause. It sets up, in effect, the wages board. The whole principle for dealing with wages, conditions of employment and other matters is dependent on this Clause. That principle is the wage-board system. In the Second Reading Debate I said that there was no real demand for this system. Since then, what I said has been reinforced by those who claim to represent the workers in this industry. I am quite satisfied, from what I have read, that the trade-union leaders themselves are only half-hearted in their support for the wage board system. Hon. Members above the Gangway probably know Mr. Beardsworth. He is, I understand, the assistant organising secretary of the National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers. On 6th March Mr. Beardsworth made a speech, from which I have some extracts. He said that many trade unions had in the past made efforts to organise workers in the catering industry, but without success. He could not remember any trade union ever waging a successful dispute in the catering industry. He went on:
Then he said:"We have never been able successfully to organise hotel and catering workers, or to secure any agreement on their behalf. We usually say that it cannot be done because of the tipping system. There is a good deal of truth in that."
This is the point I want to emphasise—"Will the Bevin Bill help us in the direction we want to go? The Commission which Mr. Bevin proposes to set up will really take the place of what, under the Trade Board Act, will be done by public inquiry. Trade Unions such as my own have considered the matter, and they have decided to support Mr. Bevin's Bill, but it would be wrong—"
That, apparently, is the highest testimony that can be given by a very prominent member of the trade union organisation to this system of the wages board."if I were not to indicate that in the trade union movement there is considerable difference of opinion regarding the value of statutory regulation of wages. We believe that, on balance, the trade board system is better than no regulation at all."
Will the right hon. Gentleman also recognise that in the speech to which he has referred there is also a gross accusation against the catering trade employers?
I am dealing with a specific point. We are dealing now with the setting-up of wages boards.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman also recognise that in the statement of this trade union organiser, with reference to the very great difficulty in organising the catering trade workers, he has read out an accusation against the employers who have barred trade unionism in the catering industry all their lives?
I am personally rather in favour of a trade union organisation and that type of bargaining power, I would much prefer it myself to wages boards. I am surprised that the hon. Member says that the reason why trade unions have not been able to get any foot- hold is because of the action of the employers. I honestly do not believe that, but that it is because the workers in this industry are not anxious to join the trade union. This is a free country, and, as far as I know, there is nothing to compel a worker in any industry to remain outside a trade union. He can join a trade union if he cares to do so. I am a little surprised that even prominent trade unionists in this Committee would support a wage board system of this kind, because under the existing law a trade union leader can go to a worker and say to him, "Will you join my union? If you do, I can promise to get for you better wages and shorter hours." But when this wage board system comes into operation, what does the trade union leader say to the workers in this industry? He says, "Will you join my union? I cannot promise you better conditions, shorter hours and better wages. That has all been taken out of my hands."
He never says anything of the kind.
I am not quoting what anybody else has said. These happen to be my own words, and an opinion that I was expressing. I hope that I am entitled to express my opinion in this House as well as anybody else. I say frankly that I am not opposed to, and, in fact, I would favour a trade union organisation and collective bargaining of that kind to this system. I do not like this system, but let me complete the quotation. He continues:
That is the testimony that one gets from a very prominent trade union leader, and that is the blessing which is given to the system which is being perpetrated in this Clause. I cannot understand the trade union movement or representatives in this Committee being in favour of this particular Measure, and especially the Clause which we are discussing. The Minister of Labour is a very far-seeing man. I am not, I hope, paying him a compliment in saying that he is a far-seeing man." Given anything like a measure of organisation we would infinitely prefer the J.I.C. method, but if such organisation does not exist, the trade board or wages board system is desirable because we think it is better than no regulation at all."
And long-suffering, probably brought upon his own shoulders very largely. I do not think it is all hon. Members on this side of the Committee. He may be long-suffering and may live to regret it, because long-suffering sometimes means long sitting, but I hope it will not mean that. I think that at the back of the mind of the Minister of Labour is the wish to drive workers into a trade union organisation because in fact he himself prefers that of his two systems. The only thing to which I object is compulsion being placed upon the free citizens of this country to do things which they do not desire to do. I will conclude by quoting from a letter which I received only this morning from a trade unionist, whose name I cannot disclose, because when we are talking about victimisation by employers, I fear that, if I disclose the name of this individual, there could be victimisation from other people than employers. [Interruption.] When it is said that there might be victimisation by employers, I do not see any reason why I should not say that there might be victimisation of another kind. Here is a letter from a trade union worker. He talks a good deal about blackmailing, and I do not want to go into that matter. He says that he has been a member of a trade union all his life and that this Bill will enable trade union officials to lurk around hotels and persuade and coerce employees to join. This is the important part of his letter:
I submit that, if this Clause has the effect of driving people into compulsory membership of a trade union, then it is wrong. I repeat that personally I would prefer collective organisation to something being done and forced upon the industry, but it would be parlous for me to attempt to divide the Committee on the Clause. I know that the Committee will accept the Clause, and consequently I do not intend to press it to a Division, but I must say that I resent very much the indirect pressure that is being brought upon workers in the catering industry to compel them to join a trade union."I have been a member of a trade union for more years than I care to remember, but I object to compulsory membership."
I am rather disquieted that the machinery that is laid down in the Trade Board Act, and which purports to be followed in this Clause, has not been followed as closely as it might be. I will tell the Minister exactly what I mean. Where there are objections, and representations are made under the trade board procedure, the Minister is bound to hold an inquiry. It is laid down in the Act. He is not bound to do it for a frivolous objection, but if there is a substantial representation made against the trade board, he has to hold an inquiry, and it has to be a public inquiry. My complaint is that there is no protection in this Clause, and I emphasise the point, because a vast deal of mud has been thrown into Parliamentary affairs before this Bill came on and a great deal while the Bill has been before the House. A great number of accusations have been made against a number of people in the industry. I should have thought that the least that could have been done, and the fairest thing, would have been to have insisted in this Clause that if there was to be an inquiry, it must be a public inquiry. We wanted a public inquiry and to have the matter thoroughly thrashed out before the Bill was introduced, and to have no hole-and-corner business, but that was denied us. I say that under this Clause there is no power to compel a public inquiry, and I think that power should be there. At any rate for the time being I think it just as well that there should be words making it compulsory to have a public inquiry so that this thing can be thrashed out. Do not let us have any more of these allegations that people who pay their employees in a different manner are behaving improperly. There is no such right in this Bill; there is only discretion, and it ought to be made more clear.
I would like to make only two observations. Reference has been made to mud throwing in connection with this Bill. Well, so far as my colleagues and I are concerned, the whole agitation and statements that have produced this mud throwing have come from the opponents of the Bill. We have not issued a public statement on the Bill, except for what we said in this House. The charges made when the Bill was designed, and when I met the trade——
The right hon. Gentleman is not in order in going into detail about that.
Then I will only say that this Clause gives adequate protection whether for a private or a public inquiry, and the Commission can determine which it will have. All I know is that there are many sections of the trade coming forward now asking to be dealt with at the earliest possible moment.
I want to make only one comment. Reference has been made to certain remarks made by the members of the alternative Government who sit behind me, namely, that it will be compulsory to join a trade union. Surely the point is that workers will get compulsorily the benefits which a trade union would give if it were possible. It is because that is not possible that this Measure has had to be brought in.
Clause 4 definitely states that if the Commission find it necessary they can establish a wages board. It seems to me that some people have employed other people to take action for them. It appears as though they are afraid of this matter coming to light.
On a point of Order. Evidently there is in the hon. Member's mind some idea of making definite charges about some people having vested interests. Would the hon. Member mind saying who those Members are?
I do not think the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) ought to continue his speech on that line.
Then I will only say that unless this Clause stands part of the Bill it is no good. These people are desirous that this Clause shall not stand part of the Bill.
Who are "these people?"
The people who have been talking about it. They are interested in it. Under the Chairman's Ruling I cannot mention them, but I have only to turn round to see who they are, without mentioning any names. It is time some of us said something about it. I hope the Minister will stand by Clause 4 as it is. If he does, we shall back him to the hilt.
I want to make a brief protest before this Clause is passed, as it will be, unless we act contrary to the will of the House as expressed on the Second Reading. I wish to protest against this Clause, which allows for the establish- ment of wages boards when conditions of labour and pay are entirely satisfactory. The absurdity and illogicality of that are seen when we come to the next Clause, which provides that if a wages board is unnecessary, it can be abolished. I suggest that it is utterly illogical to set up a wages board if it is not necessary to do so.
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Ordered, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas.]
Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.
The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
It being after the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.