- (1) A Court of Inquiry may, if it thinks fit, make Interim Reports.
- (2) Any Report of a Court of Inquiry, and any Minority Report, shall be laid as soon as may be before both Houses of Parliament.
- (3) The Minister may, whether before or after any such Report has been laid before Parliament, publish or cause to be published from time to time, in such manner as he thinks fit, any information obtained or conclusions arrived at by the Court as the result or in the course of their inquiry:
§ Provided that there shall not be included in any Report or publication made or authorised by the Court or the Minister any information obtained by the Court in the course of their inquiry as to any individual business (whether carried on by a person, firm, or company) which is not available otherwise than through evidence given at the inquiry, except with the consent of the person, firm, or company in question, nor shall any individual member of the Court or any person concerned in the inquiry, without such consent, disclose any such information.
§ Mr. R. YOUNG
I beg to move, in Subsection (3), to leave out the words "whether before or after," and to insert instead thereof the words "after or if Parliament is not in Session before."
§ Sir R. HORNE
I do not think this Amendment really raises a matter of very serious importance. Of course, while Parliament was sitting a Report would be presented to Parliament with the greatest possible speed, but there might be cases in which it would be essential that the Report should be in the hands of the public before it had time to go through the ordinary process and be laid on the Table. Therefore, while in practically every case while Parliament was sitting the Report would reach Parliament first, I do not think we should rule out those cases in which it might be necessary to have the Report in the hands of the public even before Parliament got it. I hope therefore che hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), to leave out the wordsProvided that there shall not be included in any report or publication made or authorised by the Court or the Minister any information obtained by the Court in the course of their inquiry as to any individual business (whether carried on by a person, firm, or company) which is not available otherwise than through evidence given at the inquiry, except with the consent of the person, firm, or company in question, nor 202 shall any individual member of the Court or any person concerned in the inquiry, without such consent, disclose any such information.It seems to me that if these words remain as in the Bill they would prevent, or might prevent, the publication of just that information that was material in the case. I cannot quite see why the power is taken to exclude from any Report authorised by the Court any information obtained by the Court in the course of their inquiry as to any individual business. Surely if we are going to have an inquiry at all, it might be of essential importance that we should ascertain something that might be of very great importance from the business point of view, but might be really indispensable to a correct judgment of the situation for which the inquiry had been instituted. I may say that this Clause has created a great amount of suspicion, because, to say the least of it, it is one-sided. If it were important that such a Subsection should have been in the Bill, surely the Government should have gone as far as to make it apply equally to the employers and to the trade unions.
There is no Amendment on the Paper. We must ask that it shall be made to apply equally to both sides.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am sorry that I cannot accept the Amendment, and, if the right hon. Gentleman reflects for a moment and recalls what he has just succeeded in doing in the earlier Sections of the Bill, I think that he will realise that if we are to got documents at all we shall have to create some confidence in the minds of those going to produce them. Hon. Members opposite have just succeeded in inducing us to withdraw all penalties against people who fail to obey the Orders of the Court and give the particulars required. If you have no objection, and if you are going to ask people to produce confidential documents which are going to have no protection whatsoever from the prying eyes of competitors, you will never get documents at all. Therefore, if you want to make your Act of any use, you will require to tell people whom you wish to produce confidential documents that if they do they are not 203 going to be made the subject of the scrutiny of all their competitors in business. Accordingly, you will render the previous Sections of this part of the Bill nugatory if you fail to pass the proviso in this Sub-section. I therefore regret to say that I cannot accept the Amendment. I ought to say, what I have already said across the Table, that I propose to make the provision equally applicable to trade unions as to firms and employers.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Might I point out that an Amendment was proposed by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) that a Court might decide whether it, would sit publicly or privately? That being the case, if business secrets came up, the Court undoubtedly would sit privately. Therefore, the whole weight of my hon. Friend's objection falls to the ground.
§ Sir R. HORNE
If my hon. and gallant Friend will follow the proviso, he will see that it is the Report that is referred to, and not the evidence as recorded.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Exactly; it will not be the evidence, and it will not give the actual figures upon which the Report is based. For example, if there be a wage dispute and the employers say the business will not stand it, and if the balance-sheets, and so on, are produced and it is found that it can or cannot afford it, the actual figures need not go into the Report, it must be within the competence of the Court to decide, and the Court, having looked into the facts, the demand for increased wages can be decided. There is a great deal in what the proposer of this Amendment has said. We have argued this point on previous Amendments, but there surely must be the intention in the Bill as it leaves this House that the financial standing of firms can be looked into. I see no objection to these words being taken out, because they seem to me to weaken the Bill very much.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Amendments made: In Sub-section (3), after the word "inquiry" ["in the course of their inquiry as to any individual business"], insert the words "as to any trade union or;" after the word "the" 204 ["consent of the person"], insert the words "secretary of the trade union or of the."
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
We have now disposed of Part I. and Part II., and we are about to enter upon what to those of us on this side and to the members of the Trade Union Conference that sat last week is possibly one of the most important parts of this Bill. In the Schedule we shall have to raise the whole question as to the right of the employer to come in the award that was given a few days ago to seek for any reduction of wages before next September, or for the employés to come and ask for an advance. That opens up a big discussion. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that we ought not to proceed with this serious part of the Bill at this late hour, and that he will try to give us a little more breathing time. We have had very little time to go into this Bill, and I think we have melt the right hon. Gentleman very fairly throughout this sitting. There has been no obstruction. We are all anxious to get on with the Bill, but I think this is a very fitting Motion to move at this juncture, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept it. I am fully aware of the urgency of the Bill and the necessity for getting it through all its different stages, but if we could take the remainder of the Committee stage during part of another sitting we could then come fresh to it with a desire to do the best we can for the great conference on Friday which is going to decide their official attitude towards this Bill, and I think one or two of the Amendments carried to-night will go a long way in the direction of commending the Bill to them. If the right hon. Gentleman would meet us on this point and give us the chance to approach the Bill to-morrow, hon. Members on this side of the House will be glad.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I should have been very glad to respond to that request, but I regret the circumstances are such as to make it quite impossible for the Government to do so. My right hon. Friend has put it down as absolutely necessary that we should get this Bill passed by 21st November. I have been able to arrange for the Third Reading on a day later in 205 order that the discussion that the right hon. Gentleman anticipates should take place by the trade union representatives before the Third Reading. What time is available to us? To-morrow many hon. Members have arranged—and the day has been shortened here to meet that—to advocate the cause of the League of Nations. There is Wednesday for the Report stage. Thursday is taken up with other business. Accordingly, there is no possible way of ensuring that the Wages (Temporary Regulation) Act shall be placed on the Statute Book in time unless we finish the Committee stage of this Bill to-night. I take no blame for the fact that we are hurrying now. I am sorry that I cannot make the response that has been asked for—there is no alternatve.
You cannot, I understand, get the Third Reading of the Bill before Monday because of the Friday meeting of trade unionists. It is very hard on hon. Members—not myself personally—who live a long way from the House and who have to get home in the early hours of the morning, if we sit on. There is no business put down for Friday. Why not finish the Committee stage, and the Report stage on Friday? The Third Reading could be taken as arranged on Monday. That would meet all the objections of ray right hon. Friend.
§ Major HILLS
Is it possible by agreement to take the remainder of the Committee stage and the Report stage on Wednesday? The Report stage will not, I think, take long.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My right hon. Friend has every desire to meet the wishes of the House. The suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend is quite impracticable, because we have put off the Third Reading until Monday to oblige the members of the Labour party, who are so interested in the Bill. We would, however, have really no objection to taking the remainder of the Committee stage and the Report stage on Wednesday, if that is agreeable to hon. Members, and the Third Reading on Monday. The practice has been for the Committee stage and the Report stage to be taken on separate days. I think it is a very undesirable practice. I believe it would be more convenient for the House to go straight on and finish. I am quite willing, on behalf of the Government, to agree to the Motion if we have 206 an honourable understanding that there will be no objection raised to taking the Committee stage and the Report stage on the same day.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Is that the opinion of the House? [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed."] Very well, then we are ready to accept it.
I will give instructions for the Bill to be reprinted, with Amendments, as far as it has gone.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again. To-morrow (Tuesday).
§ Bill, as far as amended, to be printed, [Bill 204.]