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Superannuation (President Of Industrial Court) Bill

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 29 April 1954

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Order for Second Reading read.

10.54 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The purpose of the Bill is to make provision for the payment of a pension and certain other benefits in respect of service as President of the Industrial Court. The Industrial Court, as, I am sure right hon. and hon. Members know well, is an essential feature in the national machinery for preventing and for settling industrial disputes. Those differences ought, wherever possible, to be settled by negotiation between the parties. If that fails there is, over a large section of industry, voluntary joint machinery which the two sides have set up themselves.

But sometimes differences cannot be composed even by that machinery; there are cases where there is no such machinery available, and it is to meet these needs that the Industrial Courts Act of 1919 set up the Industrial Court which has ever since been available if, and only if, both parties consent to use it. There were, before the Industrial Court, other means of getting an arbitration, but that Court was the first standing body established for arbitration in industrial disputes. It owed its origin to the recommendation of the Whitley Committee, which said that there ought to be standing arbitration council to which
"differences of general principles and differences affecting whole industries, or large sections of industries may be referred in cases where the parties have failed to come to an agreement through their ordinary procedure, and wish to refer the differences to arbitration."
In accordance with that, differences—a great number of them—have gone, ever since, to that Court, with the consent of both parties concerned. It is not only the first standing body for that purpose, but it is the only permanent body constituted by statute for the purpose of arbitration in industrial disputes. It is entirely independent of Governmental or Departmental control or influence.

Under the statute which set up the body, the members of the Industrial Court are appointed by the Minister of Labour for such terms of service as he may fix. Some have to be independent persons; some are persons representing employers; some represent workmen, and there must be one or more women serving there. One of the independent members—the one with whom we are concerned tonight—is appointed by the Minister to be President of the Court. That is a full-time salaried appointment, and the President also undertakes other arbitration activities additional to those which he performs in the Court, and does that without any extra remuneration.

I now wish to say something about the work which the Court has done in the 35 years of its existence. It has played no less than a vital part in the development of good industrial relations on a voluntary basis. In addition, there are many industrial agreements which provide for the reference of outstanding differences to the Court as a matter of agreement within their own machinery, and for the acceptance by those parties of the Court's findings. That that should be so in these days is some tribute to the way in which the Court has functioned over the past 35 years.

Apart from what I have said about its work so far, when there are questions about the fair wages resolution and whether that has been properly carried out, the Minister of Labour, whoever he may be, normally refers that to the Industrial Court. In total, up to the end of last year the Court had made awards in no fewer than 2,491 cases. These are awards that, in many cases, have dealt with actual or threatened disputes in large and important industries.

To be the President of that Court is to hold a very important post. It is quite clear we want for it someone of the highest calibre, and the number of persons from whom we could find such a person is limited. He has to have knowledge and experience of industry and of industrial arbitration. He has to have the necessary intellectual capacity and the personal qualities which will commend him to both sides in industry as a skilled and absolutely impartial arbitrator. There is no wide field in which we can choose.

The President of the Court need not be—some of us would, perhaps, not be as keen about this as others—a lawyer, but it is perfectly clear that legal training and experience are, and have proved to be, of great assistance to the person who performs this task. I see that an hon. Member who has served much in this sort of work agrees with me. Up to now the three distinguished men who have held the post were lawyers—Sir William Mackenzie, Sir Harold Morris and Sir John Forster, three distinguished and highly reputable lawyers. In practice, I think most of us would agree, the candidate for the office will have to be chosen not only from among experienced lawyers with the qualities I have described, but be of the calibre of men who are appointed judges in the High Court of Justice.

At a time like this, in that limited field, when for all of us, I hope, the span of life is lengthening, when personal savings for old age are hard to accumulate, when pensions are becoming, as we have seen already tonight, a more important condition of employment, when judges are getting pensions not only for themselves but for their widows—that is a time when, I think, it is unreasonable to expect that a man, or that a man ought to be asked, to give up a successful practice at the Bar for the post of the President of the Industrial Court, unless it also is a pensionable appointment. If we are to find the right man from time to time for that post, I think we must be able to give him reasonable security for himself and his dependants in later years.

I want to say only a word about the present incumbent. He has served as President of the Court from December, 1945, until now. His present term of office will carry him to 1958. My predecessor in office, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) knows of his work, as I have known it over the last 2½ years. I do not think that anyone who has seen his work will doubt the great service he has rendered to industrial relations by the distinguished way in which he has carried out his task. That is the man, and that is the post in respect of which this Bill makes these provisions.

I do not want to trouble the House with the provisions of the Bill beyond saying what, I think, the House will want to know that they are, broadly, similar to those provided for judicial and quasi-judicial officers generally, such as are given to county court judges, the National Insurance Commissioners, and so forth. They are broadly comparable with those, and as such I commend them to the House.

I think the Bill can be fairly described as no more than a tidying up Measure. It proposes to give the holder of the office of the President of the Industrial Court superannuation benefits corresponding to those enjoyed by those who hold similar judicial and quasi-judicial posts, but it has real and practical importance because on it depends for those who come after me whether they will be able to secure on proper terms a person with the great qualities needed for this highly important task in the industrial future of this country.

The salary attaching to the post is £4,000 a year in the ordinary way. At present, the holder of the office has £4,500 a year, but if this Bill goes forward the pension will be related to a salary of £4,000.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman, now laying down that, regardless of the other necessary qualifications, the persons who hold this post shall be possessed of legal qualifications first and foremost, and that persons not having legal qualifications will be debarred from holding it?

No, Sir. That is not the intention, nor did I intend to say that it was, if I appeared to do so. I merely meant to say that in the past it had been found convenient that a lawyer should be appointed, but there is no intention to confining appointment to lawyers, or to persons holding any particular professional qualifications.

11.6 p.m.

We are indebted to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his clear exposition of the Bill, and appreciate the history he gave us of the Industrial Court and what he told us of the work of the present holder of the office, and of his predecessors. I was able to see the work of the present holder of the office when I was Minister of Labour, and I have been privileged more than once to sit under his chairmanship when I was a trade union official dealing with industrial disputes. It is true, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman, has said, that this office must be filled not only by distinguished men of repute, but by men in whom both sides of industry can have the utmost confidence.

There is not the slightest doubt that the present holder of the office enjoys that confidence, but we are not dealing with the Bill for the present holder. We are concerned with the principle of whether the President of the Industrial Court should have a pension. I believe that he should. I believe that this is a good Bill which will enable the Minister, or those who may succeed him, to widen the field in which they can seek the kind of man who must fill the office. The Industrial Court is an important part of industrial relations. I do not know what the organised workers would do if suddenly the Court were swept away. It has become part and parcel of the constitutional way of dealing with problems which arise when disputes occur in industry.

Therefore, it is important that people who would like to do the work should not be prevented by financial reasons. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, made clear that no Minister of Labour is tied to selecting persons from the legal profession; but it will be the case that from time to time people in that profession will be considered for appointment. Men who may desire to do the work, and who have great experience, cannot be expected to make sacrifices which it is really impossible for them to make so as to do this valuable work in industrial relations. I therefore welcome the Bill. We can make detailed examination of it in Committee. The principle is right, and I hope the House will approve the Second Reading.

11.10 p.m.

I, also, have the greatest respect for the President of the Industrial Court. I know from my own first-hand experience of his fairness, his impartiality and, above all, his great sense of humour which gets him out of many a difficult situation. I am glad that he is to get this pension and I hope that he will live to a ripe old age to enjoy fishing in the North of Scotland.

But why is the Bill restricted to the President? Why are the other members of the Industrial Court left out in the cold? They sit together as a Court, they have equal responsibilities and equal burdens. When they reach a decision they give it on behalf of the whole Court. It seems to me only fair that they should be treated equally—yet one is to receive a pension and the others are not. I ask the Minister to consider that point and to enlarge the scope of the Bill in Committee.

11.12 p.m.

I should like to re-echo the sentiments expressed by the Minister and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) in recommending the Bill to the House. It is 30 years since I first appeared before the first permanent president of the Industrial Court, Sir William Mackenzie, who was followed by Sir Harold Morris, before whom I appeared on more occasions than I care to remember, mostly to my advantage and occasionally to my disadvantage. When it was to my disadvantage, they were very bad days; but on reflection, in the quiet hours of the evening of the day of the arbitration, I was compelled to agree that the arbitrator's decision was right, even though it went against me.

I have had experience, of course, of the present President, Sir John Forster. I think the Minister will agree with me when I say that Sir William Mackenzie and, in particular, Sir Harold Morris, did great and important work in establishing the confidence of the workers in this country in the machinery of arbitration. That was the great contribution which these two outstanding arbitrators made. They paved the way for the establishment of the National Arbitration Tribunal; they created the foundation on which it was so successfully established.

It came to me as a great surprise to discover, on the retirement of Sir Harold Morris from the presidency of the Industrial Court after 25 years' service, that the retirement carried no pension and also to discover, about the same time, on the retirement of one of the permanent assessors, the late Mr. F. S. Button, whom I knew personally for many years, that his retirement carried no pension, either. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) mention that the Bill was concerned solely with the provision of a pension for the President. That is so; it provides justice which should have been provided years ago and is a piece of tidying up legislation, as the Minister said. I do not expect the Minister to reply to all these points tonight, but I want to reinforce what the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury said.

I wholeheartedly support the Minister's view that it is essential that those who are appointed to the chair should be men of eminent legal ability. That, I think, is essential. Secondly, it is essential, too, that assessors should be men drawn from industry where they have had direct experience of the works side of industry and an intimate knowledge of collective bargaining and all it entails. I hope that the Minister and those who follow him in the selection of assessors will see that they are men of outstanding and proved ability and that they will be permanent appointments and not merely selected from a pool according to need.

With those few observations, I am delighted to support the Second Reading of the Bill.

11.16 p.m.

My right hon. and learned Friend has said this is a tidying up Bill, but what I should like to know is where the tidying up begins and where it ends. This is a departure from the principles we have followed and it is a costly one. It is apparent to me that it will not by any means be the end of the transaction. Already, my hon. Friend, the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) has made it clear there are others who require pensions. There are a large number of people outside this House who have no expectation of a pension and have to make their own provision for it.

I made up my mind to take every opportunity I had of opposing further public expenditure when I heard my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer make his Budget Speech and refer to £1,000 million more to be spent. It may be right that the Minister should bring this before the House, but I am bound to say that the country cannot afford a continual rise in public expenditure and this is such an increase.

11.18 p.m.

I, too, wish to oppose the Bill. I believe it is right and proper that public service should be rewarded in accordance with the service rendered, but there are other things that have to be considered besides rewarding one who has been a person of considerable merit. I am glad the Minister made it clear that the first essential for selection as President of the Court shall not be legal qualification. I have some experience of tribunals, but no experience of this particular Court. I come from an industry that never needs to use it. My industry settles problems by using horse sense among commonsense employers and employees. I am concerned that even our own Front Bench should suggest that people of eminent legal qualifications should do this job.

During the war, the late Mr. Ernest Bevin had considerable trouble with tribunals because of persons possessed of knowledge of the law but no knowledge at all of workshop practice. I had personal experience of being brought in as the first non-legal person in the North of England to take over the Manchester Tribunal. I learned a great deal about both sides of the picture, including the law.

Is this Bill to be confined to the existing potentially retiring President? What about retrospective provisions? What about the pioneers who have made the job as successful as it is? Is it to be completely retrospective to those still living but not in the job? The President's job can only be made successful by the thought, care and attention of those who sit with him. It is impossible for the President to come to a decision without the co-operation, thought and knowledge of people with a vast amount of industrial knowledge. Those people ought to be considered.

I could go further back still. One could go on until one came to the last boy who goes into industry, and who has a grouse which might eventually find its way to the arbitration court. That is rather an extreme point of view, but there it is.

I want to be very certain that this Bill will not create the precedent that a person shall, first and foremost, have legal knowledge. Take the case of the younger men who have sat as members of this Court for 10 or 15 years. They are extremely able people who have been able to help the President by the knowledge and experience which they have gained on the industrial side. They would make very fine potential Presidents, but, not being possessed of legal knowledge, they would be debarred from that appointment.

I would not object to this money being paid. A short time ago we had a closed shop debate on pensions for judges' clerks. At the beginning of Questions today we had an argument about how soon we can do something to give Members of Parliament a pension. It is part of the activities of some people to see that hard-pressed Members of Parliament should be given consideration in this respect. I am all for these people being given an adequate sum of money, plus a reasonable pension.

I agree with the Minister practically up to 99 per cent, on most things. He is one of the Ministers—and I say this to him puiblicly—for whom we in industry have a very great respect. It is a good job that we have a man with his type of mind in his office at the present time. But I do not agree with him when he says that this President not only does this and that job, but also an enormous number of other jobs for which he gets no remuneration.

Surely, when the original remuneration for the post was being considered, all these other jobs were taken into consideration in arriving at the appropriate amount. Surely the fact that he does an individual arbitration case was token into consideration when the £4,000 was fixed, for not only have we got to face superannuation, but also the cost of increased salary.

11.23 p.m.

I wish to cross swords with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), who seemed to disapprove of the pension scheme as provided for by this Bill. In these days, it is almost impossible to make provision for old age out of quite large salaries. I think that the State ought to be a model employer and provide pensions for all its servants, and I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill. I also agree to the assessors being added.

This House has spent many hours in dealing with questions of pensions, and it should realise that the days have gone when a public servant was able to save for his old age. It is time that this or some other Government should consider whether we could not save the very valuable time of the House by the introduction of a general powers Bill in respect of pensions for civil and public servants which would allow the Government, by Order in Council—against which we could pray if need be—to give pensions in proper cases to those in Government service.

It seems to me that the principle of pensions having been agreed by the House twice tonight, we shall now have Bill after Bill after Bill for various civil servants and other public servants introduced here and discussed at great length. I suggest to the Government that some general powers might be taken by the Government to deal with pensions for the Civil Service without the necessity of having to bring in a Bill on every occasion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Major Conant.]

Committee upon Monday next.