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Clause 35—(The Covent Garden Market Workers Committee)

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 9 May 1961

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I beg to move, in page 33, line 12, to leave out "not being more than five".

With your permission, Sir Godfrey, perhaps it would be convenient to discuss this Amendment with the following two Amendments—

In page 33, line 19, to leave out "appear to them to"

In line 26, to leave out from "matter" to the end of the line and to insert "which affects or is".

They are all probing Amendments, which I put down because we only wanted to ask a number of questions.

I am not quite clear why the Authority should decide that there shall not be more than five members of such a committee, nor am I quite clear why the Authority should be the body to say whether anything is in the best interests of those involved, and why they should be the people to decide questions affecting those representing those interests. I do not like the wording—

"Such bodies as appear to them"
It seems to give the Authority a little more power than it need necessarily have in this Bill. In subsection (3) we are dealing with matters likely to affect the workers engaged, and we have the words—
"appearing to the Authority to be likely"—
and so on. I have no doubt that this was done by the Parliamentary draftsmen with the very best intentions, and, unlike some of the criticisms that were made earlier of the Authority that is being set up, I do not start off with the impression that it will consist of a lot of bad people determined to harm the interests of those who work in Covent Garden. The Minister is entitled to give us some kind of explanation, and if it is satisfactory, I can give him the assurance now that I shall seek, with the permission of the Committee, to withdraw the Amendment.

Having said that, I hope it is in order on Clause 35 generally to put this to him. One of the complications is that in present circumstances we have pretty good worker-management relations in Covent Garden. I think that in many ways they are extremely good.

On the conciliation committee are represented the tenants and the trade unions. There is conciliation machinery that works. In this country, of course, the only reports we ever get in the newspapers are of disputes and rows. Those hit the headlines, and everyone remembers them. What is often forgotten are the hours of hard work put in by conciliation committees and the trade unions generally—and, for that matter, the employers—which lead to a settlement of so many of these disputes. I understand that the present conciliation machinery is welcomed by the workers and by the employers, so that this is one of the few occasions in my life on which I can say that I am speaking for both sides of industry—most unusual for me.

That being so, can the Minister say what will happen to the existing conciliation committee? We are already setting up enough committees. Someone once said to me, "Democracy is a committee-ridden structure," but I am all for it if it will avoid trouble, providing that at the end of the day we get some decisions. There is some concern felt about this, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give me the assurance I seek.

The ambit of this committee will be wide, and I gather that matters for consultation and negotiation will include those arising from the power of the Authority to provide vehicles, plant, machinery and the like. Clause 33 has been amended, and I am sure that it would be a good thing if the Minister would also consider amending this Clause in order to make certain that the conciliation machinery is maintained, as I believe that the workers' committee referred to in the Clause will be a body quite different from the existing conciliation committee. Perhaps the Minister will give me that assurance, and will also give us some idea of what exactly the Authority will do.

I want to refer to the Amendment in line 26. As I read the Clause, when the committee meets all the initiative rests with the Authority, but it seems advisable, if we are to have such a committee, that the workers should be able to raise matters without having first to get the consent of the Authority. I have served on one or two committees of this sort, mainly in the interests of the employees, and I have found that trouble can often be avoided if the workers' representatives can say to the authority concerned that, for instance, something has happened in the locality that makes some of the regulations legitimately made by an authority very inconvenient for the time being.

An alteration in a bus timetable can make it inconvenient for people to arrive and depart in accordance with regulations legitimately made by an authority when the bus left at a time that fitted in very well. I know that this is very elementary, but it can cause trouble. The men feel, "Nobody cares what happens to us. The regulation states 6.30, but the bus now leaves at 6.29, or arrives at 6.33, so we have to waste twenty minutes or half an hour because of something that could be easily adjusted if we were able to put it forward."

I am certain that if this committee is one in which all the initiative comes from the Authority it will not yield the maximum amount of good for the general working of the Authority when we get down to the ordinary working arrangements where, quite frequently, a short conversation can ease the sort of irritating frictions that lead to loss of temper and a feeling that nobody cares.

I am grateful both to the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for drawing attention to these points. With regard to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member, I may say that in December last we suggested to the T.U.C. an upper limit of five members for the workers' committee. As we received no comment, we took it that the T.U.C. accepted that limit, and put it in the Bill. I am not sure that there is not something in what the hon. Gentleman suggests, and that it may be too rigid, but I do not think that this Amendment goes the right way about it.

If the Amendment were accepted it could mean three members as well as not more than five. However, we will consider it. I thought that we might consult the T.U.C. and the T. & G.W.U., and if there was a general feeling that something on these lines would be an advantage—as, perhaps, it would—we could move an Amendment in another place making the number, say, between five and eight or five and ten members.

On the Amendment in line 19 I cannot be so forthcoming as I was on the first, or as I shall be on that in line 26, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Someone has to decide which are the interests, and the decision should rest with the Authority. Otherwise, it does not rest with anybody. If the reference is merely to the interests concerned, it is open to challenge in the courts at some time that someone's interests—those of a break-away union or someone else—have not been consulted whereas it is laid down that they should have been. The decision has to be left with the Authority as, indeed, it was left in the Acts passed between 1945 and 1950 which set up the Steel Board, the Coal Board and the like. I think that we must leave it as a duty on the Authority, but we would, of course, expect the Authority to consult the T.U.C.

I appreciate the argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman. In the Select Committee, a petition was put forward by the tenants of Covent Garden that in the Management Committee there should be the sort of two-way traffic of which I spoke on Clause 33, and the Amendment suggests that that should be carried into the workers' committee as well. The wording of the Amendment in line 26 is not quite right, and the T.U.C. has been in touch with us on the subject. I wrote to that body at the end of April in reply to a request that an Amendment to the effect suggested should be made. I said that we were in process of working out the most effective Amendment. Again, we will, in another place, table an Amendment to meet the point of two-way traffic, so that if the workers find something that may be annoying they can bring it to the Authority and will not have to wait for the Authority to bring it to them. That, I think, will meet the situation.

I wonder whether the Amendment in another place will establish the position of the conciliation committee now in being; whether anything now brought into the Bill will affect the conciliation machinery in it?

8.0 p.m.

All that the Amendment which I envisage would do is to provide that instead of there being one-way traffic from the Authority down to the workers' committee, a subject could be initiated at the instigation of the workers' committee as well as the instigation of the Authority, but that would not affect the conciliation committee.

So that the conciliation committee as such would remain in being to do the work which it has always done in the past.

It would be a rather wider Amendment than that which my hon. Friend has put down because there is a duty on the Authority to consult, but no power is now given to the workers to initiate discussions which they might wish to take place.

That is exactly right and that is why I did not think it right to accept the Amendment. That is exactly the sense of what I want to include in the Bill.

With all those assurances and thanking the Minister for going as far as he has, and in view of his assurance that the conciliation committee will be in being to deal with wages and conditions and the general heartaches which go with the market, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Does the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) desire to move either of the other two Amendments?

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 36 to 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.