HC Deb 16 August 1911 vol 29 cc2041-5

Considered in Committee.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."


Some little explanation is necessary as to this Bill owing to its form. Clause I refers to certain regulations contained in a separate report dated January, 1911, of a Committee appointed in November, 1907, and apparently it gives absolute power to the Home Secretary to make any regulations provided, I presume, that they conform to that particular report. The Bill may be an extremely good one, but in its present form it is quite incomprehensible, and I would like to have some more or less lucid expla- nation as to what is going to take place. I presume the "Secretary of State" is the Secretary of State for the Home Department, but it does not say so. I should like to know why the Government have not put some sort of limit to the powers conferred upon the Secretary of State. I suppose it is due to the great ability of the right hon. Gentleman, who at present fills the position of Home Secretary. I confess that I do not feel such immense confidence in him that I am prepared to give him a free hand, and we ought to have some control over his Department. These recommendations are so vague—that is to say, no indication is given as to what they are. It is entirely a question of legislation by reference. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will not deny that when he was sitting below the Gangway he over and over again strongly objected to legislation by reference.


I was not aware that any point was going to be raised in connection with the Bill, and in the unavoidable absence of the Home Secretary I propose to postpone the Bill until to-morrow evening.


I have no objection to the Bill. I only want some explanation.


A Departmental Committee inquired into this matter, and this Bill simply incorporates the recommendations of that Committee. The whole of the employers, as well as the cotton operatives, are agreed on the Bill, which makes certain alterations which will come into full working operation next year. There is no opposition to the measure, and I hope the Committee will allow it to pass.


I suppose the Bill will go on now. The Under-Secretary for the Home Office is here, and he will be able to clear up these points. As the hon. Member said, this is an agreed Bill, and it is desirable that it should be passed at the earliest possible moment. We have had a hot summer, and if we have another summer like it next year, then the sooner the Bill is passed into law the better, because there would then be ample time to make these regulations, which could be properly published for the information of the parties concerned. But as the Home Office representative is here he must allow me to comment on the drafting of this Bill, because it really is very carelessly drafted. We are all agreed that the textile manufacturers are in accord as to the desirability of this Bill, but it is a very serious thing to have a Bill drafted in such a manner as to leave matters open to misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The first Clause entitles the Home Office to make regulations. Naturally, one asks one's self what the procedure is to be for making these regulations. If we turn to the Memorandum you find it says that the procedure follows the procedure of the Cotton Cloth Act of 1897. That is true in one sense, but it is not very clear in another, because the Act of 1897 has been repealed. Moreover, this does not follow the real procedure of the repealed Act of 1897. That Act is now incorporated in the Act of 1901, and it has not the procedure adopted in this Bill. That Cotton Cloth Act puts upon the Home Secretary the responsibility of proceeding by Order in these matters. Here it simply says to make regulations to give effect to whatever recommendations he likes in this particular matter. Under the Cotton Cloth Act the Order had to be published and to be submitted to Parliament, and by that formality interested people were officially made aware of what those regulations were to be. There is no obligation in this Bill to take those steps, and he is left absolutely unfettered. He has not to tell employers, or operatives or the House of Commons, and for my part I would much rather those rules and regulations were made in such a manner that, either Parliament as such, or the two great branches of life which are concerned in these things should have proper opportunity of bringing the matter before the public. I think this Bill is badly drafted. I do not think it is a very wise thing to take away from Parliament the right to express its opinion about these orders and regulations. I am quite certain if the old procedure had been followed it would have been much more convenient for all parties that there should be proper statutory publication, the posting of the notices, and so forth. Mind, I do not take any objection to the Bill, but only to the form in which it is drafted, and which I think is open to objection, and as to which I think the Home Office ought rather to give more attention to the proceedings dealing with those matters than they appear to have done.


I notice that the Memorandum says that the Departmental Committee, composed of employers and employed, were unanimous, except on one point, but there appears to be nothing in the Bill or in the Memorandum to guide us as to what that particular point was. All we are told is that it was agreed to leave that to the determination of the Secretary of State. Apparently, as my Noble Friend has just said, a great deal more is left to the Secretary of State, by whom all the regulations may be made. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will be able to inform us upon what particular point the Departmental Committee differed.


We ought to have some answer to the points that have been raised. There are pages of recommendations of the Committee dealing with a great number of subjects, and instead of dealing with those in detail in the Bill, the Secretary of State is to make any regulations he pleases to give effect to the Report. It is an extraordinary way of legislating. I do not know whether it is intended to deal with the Report of the Poor Law Commission on the same lines, but if so we shall be saved a great deal of trouble. I do think something ought to be said as to the very pertinent observations which have been made by the Noble Lord.


I agree that something might and ought to be said, and I throw myself for a moment on the indulgence of the Committee. I have been absent from the House for some considerable time under medical orders, and, therefore, I am not fully acquainted with the details of this Bill. I understand that the Bill was entirely agreed between masters and men, and that the point on which they disagreed was left to the Home Office to settle. If hon. Members press the matter I am perfectly prepared to move to report Progress until a more satisfactory answer can be given.


I must protest against that course being taken. I was quite within my rights in criticising the drafting of the Bill, but I expressly said that I hoped the Government would take it to-night, because we believe that the Home Office will do exactly what both sides in the matter desire. Apart from one's interest in this particular branch of the textile trade, one is at liberty to comment upon the extraordinary way in which the Bill is drafted.


The Bill is a great improvement on the present position, and it was arranged that the point not agreed upon should be left entirely to the Home Office.


I do not want to delay the Bill, but I protest against the way in which it is drafted.

Clause agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment, read the third time, and passed.