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Clause 1—(Power To Establish Development Councils, And Purposes Thereof)

Volume 440: debated on Friday 25 July 1947

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Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 22, at end insert:

"A Development Council order shall not be made unless the Board or Minister concerned is satisfied that the establishment of a Development Council for the industry is desired by a substantial number of the persons engaged in the industry."

2.33 p.m.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment emanated in another place from Members of the Opposition, and its effect is to prevent Ministers from making development council Orders unless they are satisfied that a substantial number of persons engaged in the industry concerned, whether employers or workers, are in favour of establishment of such a council. The Bill as it stands requires Ministers to consult representative organisations in the industry concerned before making an Order. Originally, it did not put Ministers under an obligation to obtain the agreement of the industry, or any part of it, before doing so. During the various stages of the Bill's passage it has been made obvious that hon. and right hon. Members opposite were anxious about this point, and they addressed Amendments which would have the effect of limiting the powers of Ministers to impose councils on unwilling industries. Those Amendments were resisted mainly on the ground that it was in the national interest for Ministers to retain in their own hands power to override the wishes of people in the industry in extreme cases where the establishment of a council was essential for the future wellbeing of the industry, and its development in the national interest.

This Amendment concedes the principle that there should be some restriction of the Minister's power to set up a council against the wishes of the industry, but it leaves the Minister a wide descretion. He is now required to get support not from the whole industry or both sides, but merely from a substantial number of persons engaged in the industry, and they may be made up of employers, or workers, or both. As I have pointed out on two or three occasions, safeguards are inserted in the Bill against the imposition in the national interest of councils against the wishes of the industry and if the industry or a greater part of it, is not prepared to work with the development council there is no power to make them do so. That safeguard has been there all the time, and now there is the additional safeguard that a substantial number of persons engaged in the industry must agree.

We on this side of the House welcome the Amendment, which is similar to the provision for which we pressed on earlier stages. Although it has not gone very far, we must be thankful for small mercies. We have had a great many assurances that the Board of Trade would not, except in extreme instances, impose a development council on an industry. But I was surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary said it still left the President of the Board of Trade with very wide powers. He has very wide powers elsewhere, but the effect of this Amendment is not to make use of those powers possible, but to provide that a substantial number of persons should be in favour of him using this power. I say that for the purpose of accuracy, because what he said was not strictly accurate. He said that because it left the decision to the President of the Board of Trade, therefore, it gave an almost unlimited range over the field, but it is only after he has satisfied himself that a substantial number of persons engaged in the industry agree, that he can impose a council. Otherwise, I find myself in the unusual role of thanking the Government for having at long last followed some of the various contentions which we advanced at other stages of the Bill. This partial conversion, however flickering the light may be, is very welcome and unusual to us on this side of the House.

I am rather surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) giving praise to this particular Amendment. It surprised me because it is the first time, within my knowledge, that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to give to the trade union section, or the workers' section of an industry, the right to determine whether this Clause shall apply. To take a particular industry, as an example, supposing there are 80, 000 operatives engaged in it, and 500 manufacturers, then if the workers' side of the industry agree that a development council is needed, the numbers they represent is obviously a substantial proportion of that industry. I feel that there was no need to make this particular Amendment. The original Clause contained all that was required to give the Minister the power, and the Amendment is merely a sop to the conscience of the Opposition by saying, "Here is an Amendment which will do something." If the Amendment means what I think it means, one sick of the industry will be able to determine whether there shall be a development council, which is, obviously, as it should be.

I was rather surprised, as I have no doubt were my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, to hear the interpretation placed upon this Clause by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Attewell). The hon. Member lives in a world of some 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, from which he cannot escape, and in which there was always a cleavage of opinion between the views held by employers, on the one hand, and by employees, on the other. That is not a situation which exists today, and it would be futile to imagine that in any particular industry—

As the hon. Member has challenged me, I would point out that I am a member of the Boot and Shoe Operatives' Union, which represents up to 90,000 operatives, and which has declared for a development council, the employers have declared against it.

That does not in any way disprove what I was about to say. It is true that there may be, in a particular industry, a majority of employers who are against the establishment of a development council, but that does not mean that within that industry there are not employers who are in favour of it. I have no doubt that in the boot and shoe industry there is quite a substantial minority of employers who want a development council. Therefore, the condition no longer obtains of all the employers being on one side and all the employees on another. What this Amendment does, which is why we approve of it, is that it gives the President of the Board of Trade the discretion where such a condition exists—where there is probably a small minority on one side or the other for or against a development council—to decide whether such a council should be imposed.

We feel that in the setting forth of this condition that a substantial number of the persons in the industry shall be in favour, we have a safeguard, though it is a small one. Most industries which are doubtful about development councils are afraid that the President of the Board of Trade will use these powers harshly. We approve of this Amendment because it gives a certain amount of satisfaction to those who may think along those lines. During the time this Bill has been discussed, we have said that no conceivable benefit, either to the national interest or to the more narrow interest of the Government of the day, can result from forcing upon an industry a development council. Such a council will only succeed if it is successful in building up an area of good will, in which all sides of the industry are prepared to contribute something for its general well being. If these conditions do not obtain, these development councils, even if they are imposed, will merely become a piece of derelict machinery. Therefore, we are glad of the small assurance and the small safeguard which this Amendment affords

Question put, and agreed to.