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Clause 1—(Period To Which Obligation To Restore Trade Practices Relates)

Volume 480: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1950

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.45 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, at the end, to insert:

A draft of any Order in Council proposed to be made under this subsection shall be laid before Parliament, and the draft shall not be submitted to His Majesty except in pursuance of an address presented by each House of Parliament praying that the Order be made.
Our object is to ask whether we can have the affirmative procedure in the control by Parliament of any Order in Council in this important matter instead of the negative procedure as outlined in the Bill. I know that the affirmative procedure is usually not very popular with the leaders of either side of the House or with the Whips, but I believe that on this occasion I can persuade the Government Chief Whip that my case is overwhelming. I shall not argue either the Parliamentary or the legal history of the differences between affirmative and negative Resolutions or when they should normally be applied, though some of my hon. Friends may make reference to these matters. I just want to make one or two comments of a severely practical industrial nature.

The Minister outlined the present procedure in a statement which he made on. 10th November. He said:
"This Order will have to be laid before Parliament and will be subject to the negative Resolution procedure.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 1266.]
If we examine the industrial implications we shall find that this is almost unworkable. Since the Second Reading some of my hon. Friends and I have been giving the matter close attention and it has struck me very forcibly that, whatever the general merits of the affirmative or negative procedure are, it is important that on this occasion we should substitute the affirmative method.

If the proposal for negative procedure is adopted the situation might arise where the Minister, having consulted the National Joint Advisory Council in the way that he promises, will set in motion the procedure in the Bill. The Order will have to lie on the Table for 40 days during which time Members of Parliament may challenge it. However, industry will have to act immediately the Order in Council is made. It may mean that people are dismissed. It may well mean that dilutees have to be got rid of in order that permanent staff may be retained. Perhaps the relaxations in regard to female labour might have to be changed.

Suppose Parliament disapproves and presents a Prayer to His Majesty negativing the Order. We should have to go back, but from an industrial point of view it is impossible to go chopping and changing, or to dismiss men and then have them back the next day, or for firms to adopt a new procedure one day and then to be told that they can go back again on the day after. It means that the House of Commons would be forced to follow the Order in Council and that it would not be practicable to have a Prayer moved and accepted because that might upset the whole industrial order and perhaps bring about industrial disputes. I believe the Minister was quite frank when he said he wished Parliament to continue to have control. The only way in which Parliament can have control is by being allowed to express its views before a change-over is made in industry and the terms of employment of a great number of workers are altered.

I would therefore suggest, purely from this practical point of view, that the Minister might very seriously reconsider whether in this case a positive procedure is not advisable if the House is to maintain control. Those who were present at the debate on Friday will remember that there was remarkable unanimity on the questions dealt with in the Bill. All hon. Members who spoke emphasised the importance of these matters. That importance has not been lessened by the passage of time.

It was generally hoped on all sides that the Minister might never have to issue an order of this nature. In case that happens—and a definite pledge has been given to the trade unions on this matter and must be honoured by the House—if we are to keep control and if the matter is to be made industrially practicable, we must be given an opportunity to express our opinions before bringing about changes which will affect the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people. For those reasons I hope that the Minister will give the matter further attention. I believe that the Order in Council will be unique. It cannot be referred to any general orders or regulations. For that reason I hope that the Minister will give it rather special treatment.

I appreciate the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has moved the Amendment. We had a pleasant Friday morning and I was hoping that we were to have a pleasant Wednesday afternoon. It may yet be pleasant if the right hon. Gentleman will consider one or two fundamental points.

The Order will lie in draft for 40 days. Even when an order is made, if ever one is made—I say that in all seriousness—there will be no need for any firms to take steps to restore practices until two months have elapsed. A further point of some importance is that under the Act the House of Commons has no authority in the matter because the interpretation section, Section 11, lays it down that the Minister is to make the order. We felt, and I felt myself, in bringing this very important matter forward, that it would be better if the order came before the House so that there should be the widest public knowledge of what was contemplated. Questions could be raised on it, and there could be the widest notice. In the Bill we have given the House a control which it did not have before, but we feel that it would be better to have the negative procedure.

If any importance is attached to this matter and if we have another opportunity of looking at it, I shall give a promise straight away that I will examine it and let the House know on Report stage whether we shall do anything or not. I have no strong feelings one way or the other. At the moment, we have felt it wise to proceed by the negative Resolution way, but my mind is not made up either way and I shall be glad to consider whether we can meet the right hon. Gentleman.

I am glad of the last few sentences that the Minister added to what he said, because they relieve my mind of any doubt I might have had about his fairness of approach to this problem

I should like to add one argument to those brought forward by my right hon. Friend. There is very considerable psychological value in the proposal set out in the Amendment. Is it not wiser, where we would be approving of a serious step covering a very large number of individuals and firms, that it should go out from this House as a request that it should be done? The procedure suggested in the Bill makes almost an embarrassing approach to the problem. I know that there is nothing within the rigid framework of an Act of Parliament which can give true meaning to the feelings of men and women, but in so far as anything can be done to give a sense that this matter has been fairly considered and adopted and is the will of this House, I believe the only way is that suggested in the Amendment.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has not closed his mind on this point. I attach considerable importance to it for reasons slightly different from those given by my right hon. Friend. If the Order in Council ever is made it will be a matter of great national importance, with repercussions right through our economy. The Parliamentary control contemplated by the Bill, although it would permit the matter to be raised in the House if an hon. Member put down a Motion, would not necessarily secure the full-dress discussion at the right time of day which a matter of such importance demands.

Hon. Members opposite are probably only too well aware that Motions under the negative procedure come on at highly inconvenient hours of the night. That might be an appropriate time for small matters, but not for a matter of this gravity. It is the general practice that matters of first-class national importance are dealt with under the affirmative procedure, and as this matter is clearly of first-class importance I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider it in this light.

4.0 p.m.

If I understand this matter aright, what is proposed is not just that all the practices that were abandoned by agreement are to be restored at one fell swoop, as was contemplated under the original Act but I think that the Parliamentary Secretary nodded assent at another stage in the Bill when I suggested that it was different practices in different industries. If that is not so. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will correct me, but if it is a question of the interpretation of the words in the Act, then I certainly read the present Bill in that sense, that it would be possible to restore different practices at different times.

If that is so, as I indicated on a previous occasion what would happen is that in all probability, as a result of some dispute arising in an industry or industries, there would be a demand for the restoration of a practice which the employers would consider that it was not opportune to restore, but that the employees would think that is was opportune to restore it and would go to the Minister for a decision. It would be in circumstances such as that, surely, that the matter would arise. If that were so, and even if it is not so, the delay of 40 days before the proposed order became operative would be a serious deterrent in the resolution of the dispute.

Even if the illustration I have given is not correct, even if all the practices are to be restored at one time, the manner in which this kind of question would come up would be such that it would probably require a fairly urgent decision, and it would, therefore, be more advisable to bring the matter before the House, when the House would discuss it and would decide upon it without this delay of 40 days—bearing in mind that even after the 40 days, industry is given yet another two months to restore the practice. That represents a very long delay indeed, and if the practices are to be restored I suggest it would be much better that they should be restored quickly and not over a long period.

May I correct the hon. Member and, possibly, the Committee? Of course, the Bill does not restore anything at all—nothing whatever. All that it does is to give the right to claim a restoration. Therefore, it is quite impossible to go piecemeal through every one of the practices and give an opportunity to restore them. What would be said, on the application of both sides of industry, is, "Will you now take away this pro- tection and give us the right to ask for our pre-war practices back again." A lot of practices have gone for ever, because in the meantime agreements have been made between organisations and employers to let them go altogether.

Therefore, once an order is made, it would say, "From two months from this date, no employer can retain these wartime practices if it is claimed that he should give them up." He has to restore them for 18 months and then, of course, he is no longer compelled to give them up. All these matters will be settled by negotiation. The important point is that the order would have to be one which covered the whole of the purposes of the Bill.

We are grateful to the Minister for the sympathetic way in which he has met us and for having said that he will consider the matter before the Report stage. I promised at the outset of the Second Reading that we on this side were at one with him upon the terms of the Bill and would help to facilitate its passage. Before I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, however, I should like to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has said. The Minister has partially answered my point, I admit, but I think that, with the unique importance of the Order in Council which is contemplated, if it ever came to be made, something exceptional might well be found to be desirable. With those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 2, line 13, to leave out from "on," to the second "the," in line 14, and to insert:

"on or after the said third day of September, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine."
This Amendment is designed to deal with the matter to which the right hon. Gentleman expressly referred on Second Reading, when he stated quite frankly that the Bill in its present form removed post-war firms—that is, firms started since 3rd September, 1945—from the scope of the 1942 Act, as amended. The purpose of the Amendment is to seek from the right hon. Gentleman a somewhat fuller explanation of the reasons for this, on the face of it, somewhat anomalous step.

It is the fact—there may be reasons to justify it, and if there are the right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, give them—that as the Bill now stands, if the Order in Council contemplated by it were ever made, a very curious and anomalous situation would arise. Take the case of a post-war firm which was started in, say, 1946, in competition with older firms. If the Order in Council is made, that 1946 firm is under no obligation, as I understand it, to restore pre-war practices. Its competitors, who may be firms which started business either before or during the war, are, however, subject to such a responsibility. That seems on the face of it anomalous and to give an unfair competitive advantage to the post-war firm.

I appreciate that serious difficulty would be unlikely to arise in practice, because I do not imagine that any trade union which knew its business would allow the post-war firm to have this advantage. But it would certainly make the Bill clearer as an Act of Parliament, and would possibly make for somewhat smoother industrial relations, if all firms concerned were under the same liability. It is for that reason, because it seems that we are deliberately creating an anomaly, that I move the Amendment. I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept it, he will at least give a clear statement of the reason for the provisions in the Bill as it stands.

I should like to add some support to what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has said. One of the cardinal and guiding principles of good legislation must be, surely, that we do not put one section of the community at a disadvantage with another similar section. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, that may well happen as the Bill is at present written. I am perfectly prepared to believe, as my right hon. Friend said in the Second Reading debate—and, I think, the Minister assented to it—that in practice this sort of difficulty would probably be ironed out. But if that is so, no harm can be done by accepting the Amendment, because, by practice, post-war, wartime and pre-war firms will all have got on to what I may call the same level.

Therefore, to accept the Amendment would make no difference from the then existing situation. If, however, by some slip in use and wont, an anomaly did in fact raise its ugly head and the post-war concerns were left at an advantage as compared with their competitors who were set up during or before the war, then we should be offending against one of the cardinal virtues of good legislation. No possible harm can come about by accepting the Amendment. If the matter has put itself right already, the Amendment does no harm, but if not, then the Amendment is needed.

As the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has said, the Amendment is designed to put postwar firms in the same position as wartime firms in regard to responsibilities under the Act. If the Amendment is adopted, post-war firms, like wartime firms, would be under an obligation at the appointed day to adopt the pre-war trade practices of the most nearly analogous undertakings. I hope to show that although industry itself recognises that there is bound to be what on the face of it would appear to be an anomaly whenever the appropriate day was agreed upon, the Amendment is impossible of execution in a practical sense.

The Amendment pre-supposes that prior to the war period there was complete unanimity and sameness in the way in which each firm carried out its operations and processes. That never was the case. I could give to the House illustrations ad lib of arguments which we had with employers when we were suggesting that a certain process should be registered for relaxation purposes because semi-skilled men or women were going to work on a job previously done by skilled men. The argument was put forward on many occasions that there were firms where that same job had been done either by semiskilled labour or by women. There never was a time when there was a complete pattern in industry which one could say was the custom for the production of certain types of things.

On most things it was not so much the machine which determined the type of labour to be used as the job which was performed on the machine. Hon. Members will readily realise that with a milling machine, upon which very intricate and highly-skilled work was to be performed, an employer would not dream of trusting such work to a semi-skilled person or to a woman who was not sufficiently proficient in the job to be able to do it correctly. Therefore, the determining factor was in a large degree the type of work which was to be performed on a particular machine.

The upgrading of unskilled men to semi-skilled work was not something which came about merely because of the 1942 Act. The upgrading of unskilled people to semi-skilled jobs was quite common throughout industry. It is one of the processes which went on gradually and would have continued irrespective of the war. I agree at once that because of the war situation, because of the shortage of skilled labour and so on, the momentum with which semi-skilled or unskilled people were put upon certain skilled or semi-skilled processes increased remarkably. But it is not true to say that it was merely because of the 1942 Act that unskilled men were upgraded to semiskilled positions in industry. The Bill is confined specifically to events which took place during the war, and I should have thought that if we agreed to a principle of the kind which is proposed, we should probably need to recast the Bill entirely in order to make provision for post-war conditions.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary deal with a specific problem which I have in mind? I know of a mill now being erected in which the number of looms per operative will be very many more than was customary before the war. That mill has exact competitors. Does the hon. Gentleman think it is right that if—we hope it will not come about—an Order in Council is made, that new mill with, say—I take the figures at hazard—one operative for six looms, should be allowed to continue while its competitors were forced to return to having one operative looking after, say, one, two, three or four looms?

4.15 p.m.

If we could take out of our minds for a moment the fact that the war occurred, we could see that constantly within industry, day after day, new processes are arising in the ordinary evolution of productive methods. These things arise, and new agreements are signed between employers and trade unions in order to take care of the type of labour which will use these new methods appropriate to the scale, or skill, to be used on such occasions. These new methods and processes are perfected every day and the plant which was used on the former process has on many occasions to be scrapped. The plant becomes quite obsolete. This applies not only to postwar firms but to pre-war firms who, under this Measure, are bound to restore prewar practices.

I am trying to show that it is not feasible to believe that the post-war firm, the war-time firm, or the pre-war firm can put back the clock to the extent of being able to engage in those pre-war practices because many of the machines considered modern then have been uprooted. It would not be physically possible to go back to those days. We are discussing firms which came into existence after the 1942 Act and factories in which the machines or assembly sections existed during the war but which never existed pre-war. The purpose of the Amendment would be to force a firm which came into existence in 1946, or at any date since, which has set up productive lines on modern methods and operated those lines, to go to the junk heap for lathes and such things which were scrapped years ago.

If there is any force in the argument the hon. Gentleman is using, is it not equally applicable to the situation which would arise if the Order in Council were made in respect of a firm which started operation in 1944? Is not that provided by subsection (2) of the Clause?

This Amendment is asking that we should treat firms which have come into operation in the post-war period in the same way as pre-war firms and war-time firms. I say it is impossible to force a firm which came into operation since the end of the war to use practices common in industry in pre-war days. They have new types of production and the whole of their plans and labour force are based on new methods in industry which could not be assimilated by obsolete methods.

Yes, but the hon. Member asked us to legislate for post-war firms. What does that mean? It may mean a firm in existence at the moment, but what would the hon. Member do with a firm which came into existence two months after the agreed date? We cannot say that we are only asking firms which have come into existence since the end of the war, in the last five years, to observe prewar trade practices because it would be unfair to other firms if they do not and then to say that the firm which comes into existence two months after the agreed date shall not be inhibited in any way. It is not practical to believe that we can legislate for a firm merely because it happens to be in existence now, against the firm which will come into existence in x number of months after the agreed date.

I apologise for interrupting and I do not want to make a cause célèbre of this, but is the hon. Gentleman saying that it would be better to have an injustice, although a small one, defined by the end of the war period than that the same injustice should be defined in time by the Order in Council?

Many of our problems today, in a great industrial country like Britain, arise from the fact that we were in the industrial field long before the United States of America. No matter how one looks at this, whether on an international or a national basis, there comes a point in which the more modern firm will always have the advantage in competitive method against the older firm. Although on the face of it there is the anomaly, nevertheless there is no practical way out of the anomaly.

The effect of the Amendment would be to retard progress in British industry. It would make the more modern firm comply with pre-war practices which were in existence before its own plant lay out and modern equipment were brought into existence. The only way in which to pull it back, in order that it should be on a fair basis of competition with pre-war firms, would be to scrap the whole of its modern plant and put junk in its place.

Because of those considerations and the points I have mentioned, we cannot legislate for some post-war firms and not for others which are new firms not yet in operation but which will come into operation two months after the agreed date, without giving the same competitive advantage over the post-war firm now in existence against which hon. Members are complaining. I say it would be unfair to penalise the more progressive type of employer. Since the war many firms have done quite a lot in the way of capital replacement and so on and are not in a position physically to implement pre-war practices. Because it is impossible to do this, because of the post-war firm not yet in existence, and because the whole layout does not lend itself to adaptation to pre-war conditions, it would penalise very heavily the firm which was progressive in utilising its resources for the purchase of new plant against the firm which is more reactionary in that sense, and I ask hon. Members opposite not to press the Amendment.

I said on the Second Reading that this was not a very important point, because from a practical point of view I felt that the normal agreements with the trade unions would get over it. I also said that only a very pedantic person would seek to make a great deal out of it. I am now going to put myself in danger of being called a pedantic person, but I am not going to make a great deal out of this because I am at one with the Minister in hoping that the Order in Council will never have to be made. Secondly, if it is made, I am quite sure that normal methods of trade union and employer negotiation will get over these anomalies.

But I do not think it is a good thing to create anomalies by Act of Parliament, unless we are forced to do so. Even if they are not going to matter very much, I do not think it a good principle and I agree fully with the comments of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee. I have endeavoured to follow the Parliamentary Secretary, but it appeared to me that the arguments he adduced as to the difficulty of forcing the post-war firm to adopt the same restrictive practices which were in operation before the war applied to the whole of industry. I thought his argument actually pointed to the fact that the whole Bill would not work and that if he reads his remarks tomorrow he will find them an indictment of the Bill.

These matters are entirely a question of trade union and employer agreement. The relaxation of pre-war practices was, probably in nearly every case, the subject of a specific trade union agreement. We had one in the industry of which the right hon. Gentleman and I have some knowledge. If we are to go back to pre-war conditions, every firm in, say, 1953 or 1955 will be in the same position as we shall all have modernised our plants—at least I hope we will—and have adopted the latest practices. I hope we shall have learned considerably from productivity teams and shall endeavour to put our house in order.

Let it not be supposed that firms established 100 or more years ago do not try to keep themselves up-to-date as much as those established since 1945. I think the arguments the hon. Gentleman adduced, if they have weight, would apply to all firms which endeavour to modernise themselves. The Bill is either unworkable, or the hon. Gentleman's argument does not carry very much weight. I believe the latter is the case, because trade unions, being sensible people and employers, we hope, being sensible people, also will naturally take into account the present state of their industry when they make a new agreement, because a new agreement will have to be made. If there have been complete changes of technique which mean that the old state of affairs cannot be returned to easily, I should think that would take an important place in the new agreement.

I suggest a further reason why I believe that on consideration it is really best and fairest to all concerned and will not make for any more confusion of the present situation, but will satisfy all people if this alteration is made. In this matter we have been discussing the position of the firms. In reality we should be discussing the position of the employees in the firms, because it is to them that this Bill is important. The employees in these firms may well have been engaged since the war, even if a firm was in existence before the war.

I am interested in the argument of the right hon. Gentleman but, while dealing with this question, will he refer to my point about the firm which is not yet in existence? Will he tell the Committee, for instance, if he were opening a new factory, how he would consider the new machinery he is to introduce? Would he do it with an eye on this Bill? Instead of getting ultra modern methods, would he endeavour to swing over to pre-war trade practices at a given moment?

I would adopt the most modern methods I could if I were building a new factory, as indeed we are endeavouring to build up our present factories by the purchase of such machinery as the Ministry of Supply will allow us to get after export orders have been satisfied, but the hon. Gentleman must not lead me astray. The crucial date is the date when the new agreement is signed between the employers and work-people. After that, the thing has to be operated and firms then in existence should, in my judgment, follow the agreement then made between employers and trade unions.

4.30 p.m.

When the hon. Gentleman interrupted me I was referring to the position of the employees. As so many of the present employees in all the firms—A, B, and C as we called them in the Second Reading Debate, the pre-war, war-time and postwar firms—will have joined since the war, it may well be that a quarter or a half of the staff of a pre-war firm, especially the women, may now be post-war entrants into that industry, and confusion will be complete if, to a row of young men coming into industry in 1950 we say, "Because you have gone to firm X you have certain rights, but if you had gone to firm Y, which has been established since the war, you would not have those rights."

This is an agreed Measure between the representatives of the trade unions and the employers. Through the courtesy of the Minister I have endeavoured to make inquiries whether this specific point had been discussed between them. I understand that there is some doubt whether their minds were turned specifically to this relatively small point in an important Bill. Would the Minister be so good, between now and a later stage of the Bill, to ask informally the opinion of both sides, whether they think that the fairest practice is the one we have suggested—namely, all on the same terms, even though it creates some anomalies?

From the date when the Order in Council is made, or agreement is reached between the two trade unions concerned. From the Parliamentary point of view I think it will have to be the date of the Order in Council. Perhaps the Minister would consult with the two sides of industry to find out their views on this matter? They may say that it is a relatively minor point which can be settled at the time; on the other hand, they may say that it would be much better if they knew exactly where they were and where their competitors were. I have heard that latter view expressed by some industrialists since the Second Reading Debate. If the Minister would do that and give their view, I would be satisfied, knowing that it had been considered by those who individually agreed the Measure.

With regard to the final point mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, we have consulted both sides. We consulted our National Joint Advisory Council, but I cannot say that I have a specific intimation that they agree. However, I have no intimation that they do not agree. I am prepared to look into that.

May I bring the discussion down to a practical point? What is the practical position with which we are faced? First, let us assume that a firm has started up in one of those industries since the war. It has had to get the co-operation of the Ministry of Labour and of the trade unions to get its staff and agreements. Those agreements have been made since the end of the war and, with some considerable knowledge of trade union activity, I cannot imagine them coming forward and saying, "We have made this agreement but now this Bill has been passed you must scrap it all and we shall go back to the pre-war position." The hon. Member who used the word "pedantic" was quite right.

This Bill only makes it possible for an organisation—not a worker, but a trade union—to come forward and say, "We are legally entitled to have these things restored to us." But I cannot visualise that the unions will simply come forward and say, "The law says this, gives us back these practices at the end of two months." Why is two months there? For the purpose of enabling negotiations to continue. There will be general negotiations and agreements. I know that many pre-war practices have been cast aside and are not likely to come back. For instance, women are on omnibuses, women are in certain classes of industry where men have been hitherto, and there are dilutees. In fact, in the industry with which I was associated for a short while, the system of dilutees is just beginning to gain ground, so it does not look as if it will be thrown overboard.

Assuming there are these arguments and differences, that there is the impression that a certain post-war firm ought to go back to some practices which an analogous firm was operating before the war, it will not be a question of saying "Yes" or "No." There will be an argument. If they do not settle it by argument, they may report it to the Ministry, and the Ministry has the power and authority then to deal with the matter and to decide whether the employer has discharged any obligation or not. The Act makes it quite clear that the Minister shall
"take such other steps as appear to him to be expedient for settling it";
therefore, all the machinery is there for dealing with an occasional case without a lot of trouble.

In view of the fact that, so far as I am aware, there is no objection in industry to this Clause, although it is recognised that minor difficulties may arise, I hope the Amendment will not be pressed.

I rise with some disappointment, because I had hoped that the Minister would re-submit this matter for re-examination. I am not particularly concerned whether it was an affirmative resolution on the part of those who saw this proposal in the Bill, whether it was negative, or whether it was simply letting it go by without comment. But I am impressed by the value of the argument used by my two hon. Friends in connection with this Amendment.

Equally, I felt I must rise to defend the Bill itself, because the Parliamentary Secretary has done his best to wreck it. His action was so unkind to the rest of the Committee that I felt somebody ought to say that, on the whole, we think the Bill a good Bill. Suggestions might arise out of the words used by the Parliamentary Secretary. For instance, he argued that we were not really concerned with differences in machines but with differences in what machines produce; in fact, that these alternations in practices and restorations of practices depended not so much on what machine was employed but on what was produced from it.

That is true as far as the argument goes, but then the hon. Gentleman went on to talk about a change in the grading of labour and skill, and so on, trying to prove that it was impossible to insist upon the restoration of a pre-war trade practice in a certain grade on a certain type of machine. That is a fair interpretation of his argument.

I see that he agrees. But, of course, it is impossible, and because it is impossible, that makes this Amendment particularly necessary. Then it is important for all to be on a fair basis and not only for some to be on an unfair basis.

The Parliamentary Secretary seemed to visualise a state of affairs where it might be possible for an Order in Council to be laid before the House which really had no fair substance behind it. He produced so many points that, by the reductio ad absurdum type of argument, he reduced the powers of this Bill to an almost laughable degree. I was very sorry that he used those words, but I would remind him of this, because I think it is important. Throughout the whole of this country over the last 20 years the places where the greatest amount of skill is now used are quite different from the places where the greatest amount of skill was used 20 years ago. Taking the whole vast field of engineering, the skill of those employed in that great industry, in 99 per cent. of the cases, has moved away from the bench into the tool room. We can, therefore, never restore any practice based on something which happened 15 and 20 years ago. That is impossible, and when the Parliamentary Secretary produces these arguments and said, "You may do this," or "You may make this suggestion," or "This may be the purpose of the Order" what he implied was that the Order may include such impossible conditions which would effect exactly the picture I have just painted.

I am alarmed, and I want to be reassured. I did not want to be reassured half an hour ago, but I do want to be reassured now. Surely it would be impossible for the Minister to lay a Draft Order on the Table with which it would be impossible for either side to comply. Surely it would not be possible for the Minister to do something like that.

What the hon. Member is doing now is agreeing with many of the arguments which I used while criticising those same arguments. He is saying that the skill has moved and that methods of production at the time when these Acts were passed no longer obtain. And then he criticises me for saying precisely the same thing in other words.

I was criticising the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary would not recognise that he was still maintaining different principles at different levels under the same order. But I was impressed because many of the points which he put would, if contained in any suggested draft order, appear to be so absurd that they would undermine the prestige of his own Minister. I would like some reassurance from the Minister himself that he would never consider tabling a draft order of a sort with which it would be impossible for industry as a whole to comply. It is a very alarming suggestion that it could ever be possible for him to consider so doing and I should like the point cleared up.

The draft order will say one thing, that the order should come into effect on such a date. That is all. The only order, under the Bill, would be the draft order setting out the date on which the Bill comes into force.

If the Amendment were accepted by the Minister would the effect be to interfere with production? It seems to me that the Amendment would protect the less efficient firm. If a new firm came into being with methods which would improve the volume of productivity, would the Amendment, if carried, permit an older competitor to say, "You have to go back"? Would the restrictive practices in operation before the war or during the war have to be applied to the new firm whose new methods of production might be an asset to the country? Perhaps the Minister will tell me whether I am correct assuming that. If I am I do not think that the Amendment should be accepted.

4.45 p.m.

Up to a point I agree with what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) has said. It is quite obvious that the bringing back of a number of pre-war practices under an Order in Council in whatever sphere of industry it was applied would diminish efficiency. But the point raised by the Amendment is that whether or not that diminution of efficiency is to be accepted over the whole sphere of industry, or whether it is to be limited solely by the arbitrary date of when a particular firm started business. But what the hon. Member said, and what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary in a most eloquent speech, amounted to no more than that it would be a disaster if the Order in Council had to be made. I do not think any hon. Member would dispute that.

It is, however, not particularly relevant, for this reason. The 1942 Act, which we are amending today was, as no one recalls better than the Minister, part of a pledge given to the trade unions that if they relaxed certain restrictions during the war period they should be entitled to have those restrictions back when they wanted them. That was the subject of the pledge, and that pledge was inserted in the 1942 Act, regardless of the date of starting business of any of the firms concerned.

This Bill amends that Act, but confines the operation of that pledge to those firms who started before the 3rd September, 1945. As a matter of fact, the effect of the Bill in its present form is to diminish the spread of the pledge given to the unions in the 1942 Act, because it does deprive of any rights under that pledge all those people who work in firms which started business after 3rd September, 1945. To that substantial extent it takes away from the pledge given, as I understand by all parties, to the trade unions in 1942.

Not only that, but as the years pass it takes the rights then given away from an ever increasing proportion of workers employed in industry, because as the years pass the proportion of firms which started business after 3rd September, 1945, increases. I think we should be clear about what we are doing. It may well be that the Parliamentary Secretary is right and that it would be disastrous to honour this pledge. That does not alter the validity of the pledge—

I am not disagreeing with the hon. Member's argument, but would he take it a step further? He says that we are now confining the pledge to those workers engaged in factories which were in existence before 1945. Would he also say that every change of production which has taken place within those firms is also mitigating the influence of that pledge? In other words, does he agree that those factories in operation before 1945 cannot be put back to the use of obsolete machinery in order to carry out what was the pledge given to them, or would he say that to honour the pledge it would be right to scrap the modern machinery?

The Parliamentary Secretary is confusing two separate considerations—the amount of inconvenience which would be involved by honouring the pledge and the question of whether there was a pledge and whether that pledge is being diminished.

I am not disputing the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary that the more recent the firm and the more up to date it is, the more damaging to it would be the application of pre-war practices. That is basic and obvious. All I am saying is: Are we justified or not? We are diminishing the scope of the pledge given in 1942 and that I think is the point we are concerned with today. That is why I am particularly glad that my right hon. Friend specifically asked the Minister whether or not this particular item was an expressly agreed item in the discussions which he conducted with the two sides of the industry?

I must confess I was not very clear from what was said by the right hon. Gentleman as to whether or not that issue was specifically discussed. Nor was I clear as to whether or not he gave the undertaking for which my right hon. Friend asked; that he would at least informally discuss this matter again and see what was the point of view of both sides. It the right hon. Gentleman would give that undertaking it would I think facilitate not merely the speed of the debate—I do not think that is very important. because it is a very important matter and we should provide some time to discuss it—but it might facilitate the maintenance of that equable atmosphere which I hope we shall succeed in maintaining. However, I am not clear what was the decision of the right hon. Gentleman; I do not know whether he would think it convenient to intervene at this point to say whether or not he is prepared to discuss this matter with the two sides of industry and obtain their specific views on this express point.

I will certainly intervene, but there is another point with which I would like to deal later. What I intended to convey was that I have not got a definite answer. It was discussed at the National Joint Advisory Council, and subsequently put forward by correspondence which explained the situation. But whether their non-reply is to be taken as assent I would not like to say. I cannot say they have agreed because I have not an answer from them but I will take up that point with them.

The whole thing turns round the first word or two of Section 2 (1) of the Act:
"An agreement may be made in writing as respects any undertaking or branch thereof…"
All we are dealing with relates to agreements made in writing, and I would draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that I said that similar agreements may have been made since the war.

I am perfectly satisfied that the agreements made since the war will be as much honoured by the unions as any agreements they are now asking the employers to restore to them. It all depends on agreement and is not a question of anyone giving back any pre-war practices. When the Minister is asked to intervene he has to be satisfied about the evidence, the documents and what is the precise position. I am given to understand that there are thousands of them.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention and I would merely add that we are not only concerned here with agreements, but are concerned with the statutory background to them. We are concerned, if hon. Members like the term, with the legal rights given to the unions by the 1942 Act and that is an important matter, which is germane to the Amendment. But in view of what the right hon. Gentleman said, it would certainly be my intention, unless any other hon. Member desires to carry this matter further, to seek the permission of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment, so that the right hon. Gentleman can do what he has been good enough to undertake to do. He will, no doubt, give to the House the results of his discussions at a later stage.

We are not restoring pre-war privileges at all but are giving the power to industry, by negotiation, to approach the employer or the Government. In the early days of the war it became, in the opinion of the Government, necessary to do away with certain practices so that there should be greater output. They introduced a Bill and employers and workpeople sat together and decided that these various practices should go by the board for the duration of the war.

That period is now being terminated by this Bill and when it is passed industry will need to negotiate the kind of practice it is desirable to restore. It may be desirable to restore all the practices given up in 1939. It may be necessary, in the opinion of the industry, to restore half of them or to restore none of them. Negotiations will be taking place between employers and employees, and requests will go from one particular works or from an industry to the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry will then make an order. That is how I understand it.

Is the hon. Gentleman supposing that when an agreement is made and goes to the Ministry that the agreement will cover all firms, both postwar and pre-war?

I am coming to that point.

We have divided industry into three—the pre-war factories, the factories established during the war and the factories which have been established subsequent to the war. In my opinion, under this system of over-organisation I cannot see how a works established since the war can be left outside any agreement. If a factory which has been established since the war has got up-to-date machinery, and it is necessary to establish some new conditions in that factory, it can be done easily by negotiation. There are employers and employees working together to establish conditions in the new factories as in the old, and all they have to do is to approach the Minister to get an order put into operation.

For the reasons I have already given, 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."

I should like to get some information from the Minister on a matter which I put to him before and which, I think, represents a practical difficulty if ever an Order in Council comes to be made. Under subsection (1) of this Clause we are dealing solely with written agreements, and I see no difficulty in implementing them. Under subsection (2) we are to establish what the analogous conditions were in similar undertakings a long time ago. When the 1942 Act was passed it was envisaged putting into operation in the first place written agreements, about which there is no difficulty; and in the second place, restrictive practices currently applied in similar industries. The parties to that kind of agreement could point to restrictive practices going on next door, and there could be no doubt about what actually was to be applied.

Under this Bill, supposing the order comes into force in 1952, we shall be asking a firm, which was started during the war, to apply in 1952, practices which are nowhere laid down and which have never applied in that firm but which some body or union say were in operation in similar firms in 1942. I can see a very practical difficulty in determining under those circumstances what the conditions were in analogous factories 10 years ago. I know that this cannot be imposed through this House. It has to come from agreement on both sides of the industry, but the Parliamentary Secretary used the word "impossible" in a very similar case just now when talking of firms established after the war.

5.0 p.m.

Will the Minister examine this point and see if there is any chance of getting some written agreement now, while memories are fairly fresh, as to what were the conditions applied during the wartime period, so that when an Order in Council is made, if it is ever made, we shall then by referring to this written agreement know what are the conditions which operated. If we are only to rely on our memories—and they are very fickle things—it may well lead to endless trouble. If the Minister agrees that there should be some agreement now, I think it will be found that we will avoid trouble later.

I ask the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston) not to press this. If the suggestion is going to be made that our people should search through their activities for the last 10 years to find out what were the restrictive practices at that time, some of our friends who like to cause trouble would be in a lovely spot. I suggest that we leave it alone. If these practices have not been operated for 10 years we should let sleeping dogs lie.

I see no difficulty in the matter. The fact that six or seven years after the war not the slightest doubt has arisen nor has there been a claim that certain practices should be put back again, suggests that we should leave things as they are. The original Act provides that if any question arises in respect of an undertaking, where an obligation has been imposed by the employer by Section 1 of the Act and where the employer discharged any obligation so imposed, he can go to the Ministry and use the exhaustive machinery to search for it. Whilst I appreciate the point that we do not want a firm suddenly to be told that 10 years ago this was done or some other method was followed, I think it is better to risk that firm being told that than to require all our people to turn over the troubles of 10 years ago and see what can be found out.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported without Amendment; to be read the Third time Tomorrow.