HC Deb 18 November 1919 vol 121 cc431-40

Provision shall be made by Rules under this Act with respect to the cases in which persons may appear by counsel or solicitors on proceedings under this Act before the Industrial Court, before an arbitrator or before a Court of Inquiry, and except as provided by those Rules no person shall be entitled to appear on any such proceedings by counsel or solicitor.


I beg to move, to leave out the words Provision shall be made by Rules under this Act with respect to the cases in which persons may appear by counsel or solicitors on proceedings under this Act before the Industrial Court, before an arbitrator or before a Court of Inquiry, and except as provided by those Rules. There are a series of Amendments down to this Clause which clearly show that our anxiety is to remove the lawyers from the conduct of these disputes. I notice with interest that three hon. and learned Gentlemen have put down an Amendment to delete the entire Clause. They evidently agree with us that there are more important and more remunerative duties with which to occupy their time than these disputes.

Colonel GREIG

On a point of Order. I have handed in a manuscript Amendment which I hope will not be made out of order by a discussion of the series of Amendments in the name of the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends. My Amendment accepts the first part of the Clause, which he is now moving to omit, and deletes the last part of the Clause.


The Amendment before the Committee is not to leave out the whole Clause.


I was merely referring to the full effect of the series of Amendments we Lave put down. No words are required, and we think that the more the cases are conducted by the employers, who have their practical experience, or by their officials, who after very long service, say, as secretaries of an employers' association or federation, also have the necessary experience on the one side, and by the representative leaders of the trade unions on the other side, the better it is for all concerned. I should like to hear how far the Government are prepared to agree with us on this point.


I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for moving the first of these Amendments, in order that we may appreciate exactly what the Clause does and how far it is intended to go. I hope he will not think me Mr. Facing-both-ways if I say that I really agree with all the Amendments put down. I agree very cordially with the observations he has made, that in the vast number of cases to place this sort of case in the hands of barristers or solicitors would probably be to defeat part of the machinery which is set up. Persons who can perfectly well state their case want to state it in their own way and want to make it as little as possible a legal question, but, as the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill pointed out the other night, you come at times to serious and big questions over a matter of legal interpretation or legal rights based upon a sequence of Acts, rights belonging to either or both of the parties, and on those legal questions you save time very much by having legal assistance. I think those persons who have ever had to sit and hear legal questions argued would say that they had derived considerable benefit from them, and that time had been saved by a careful and succinct exposition of a legal point by persons who, by their training, are well qualified to put it. All that the Clause says is that provisions shall be made by rules with respect to cases in which persons may appear by counsel or solicitors on proceedings under the Act before the Industrial Courts, an arbitrator, or a Court of Inquiry; and the latter portion of it is to the effect that, except as provided by those rules, no person shall be entitled to appear on any such proceedings by counsel or solicitor. In one sense I agree that those words are unnecessary, but they are put in to indicate that in a great number of cases no legal assistance should be given, and that legal assistance should be available only in proper cases so decided by the Court. The intention is that under the rules there should be sufficient opportunity for the Court itself to determine whether there is a legal point to be argued on which legal assistance would be useful, and that, if so, that legal assistance could be used. The other cases would fall under the latter part of the Clause. I think that represents a fair compromise, and I hope my right hon. Friend opposite will be satisfied with it.


What about our proposal lower down to insert the words "save with the consent of the parties to the dispute"


I think it is the Court which would be the best judge, and that you could leave that matter to the discretion of what is an independent tribunal far more safely than you could to that of the parties. I can conceive of cases in which both parties would be quite rightly under the belief that it would be useful to have either counsel or solicitors, or I can conceive that they might refuse to have them because they might not appreciate that a legal point had to be determined and argued, and I think the best course is to leave that discretion where we have to leave so many other points of discretion, namely, in the hands of the Court.


I have had some experience of these arbitrations, and I have also heard accounts from a good many other people. The fact is that it is the business of the trade union officials always to be considering these cases, and so they can put their case with very great force and ability, but the employers concerned very often have neither the time nor the inclination to devote the same amount of attention to the cases, and I am sure the Government want to take some safeguards that in cases of real importance it should be possible to have legal assistance. As a rule, I am against legal assistance, but from the employers' point of view, it not being a whole-time job, as it is for the trade union officials, they should not be debarred in certain cases from having legal assistance.


I too have had considerable experience of these matters. I know of a case where one side had lawyers and the other had not, and it caused more trouble afterwards than before. I think their introduction is really unnecessary, because these difficulties should be discussed by those who are really concerned, and the moment you bring in the professional gentlemen, our experience has been that it has been of no benefit and only causes greater irritation and more difficulty than if they had not been there. Therefore, I have pleasure in supporting the Amendment to delete these words.


I hope the Solicitor-General will accept the Amendment. We have had some experience in dealing with questions of this kind. In order to give an illustration, I entered into an arrangement with the tinplate employers in South Wales some time ago in reference to the forty-seven hours week. I said to the chairman of the employers, "Are you accepting the arrangement made with reference to the forty-seven hour week at the Tinplate Board?" He happened to be acting chairman of the Board and he said, "Yes, we followed the arrangement made at the Tinplate Board." The employers saw that their chairman had made a mistake, with the result that this matter was referred to a committee of two employers and two workmen. They failed to settle, and the matter went to the Committee on Production. The question there was really the interpretation of the promise made by the chairman of the Board. Would you under this Clause permit counsel to be employed in order to interpret the words of the chairman? If so, there would be this position. There are small societies in connection with the tinplate trade in South Wales. I know of one society of 2,000 in number and of another society of 1,500 in number. If employers are permitted to employ counsel, they might employ the most learned man in the land and pay him £100 or £200 for a brief, whereas these smaller societies would be unable, on account of finance, to employ any counsel at all. You will put these small societies in great difficulty if you are going to allow counsel to be employed in cases of that kind. I should like to know from the learned Solicitor-General whether in such a case as that which I have cited it would be permissible for any employers to employ counsel.


I certainly cannot understand the Labour party moving this Amendment. It is an Amendment in favour of blacklegging. They say no lawyer shall do a lawyer's work, but anybody else may do it for him. Transpose that, and see how it fits in with their usual methods of procedure. No joiner may do anything if it is supposed to belong to a plumber, and no bricklayer may do anything belonging to a stonemason. But when it becomes a question of how best to put before these most important Courts and tribunals arguments in favour of the workmen's case or against the workmen's case, questions involving industrial stability and security in this land, then the only persons who are to be debarred from appearing there are to be the persons who, by training, by education, and by profession, are the proper persons to appear there. How this is reconcilable at all with trade union principles I do not understand. But I am not rising in defence of my own profession. Many attempts have been made in Bills that have come before Parliament to strike out the right of the subject—and it is the right of the subject to choose his own adviser and representative—but, so far as I know, they have almost always failed, and I think they always will fail, and for this reason, that it is obviously sound policy to permit a person or an organisation whose interests are at stake to be represented in the way that that particular person or organisation thinks best, and I cannot understand why there should be any limitation upon that right.

Just consider for a moment the kind of question which may come before the various kinds of tribunals under this Bill. Just consider how far-reaching and important they are. It is quite true that in many of the cases the workmen could have no better advocate than their trade union representative. I have known gentlemen who are ordinary representatives of the trade unions put their case with skill, moderation, and great ability, and always with great persuasion. There is nothing whatever to hinder a trade union from continuing to employ its own representative. I differ entirely from the hon. Gentleman in thinking that he would be at any disadvantage against any counsel in the land. The fact is that such a person has a distinct advantage, and the tribunal permits him latitude which it forbids to the skilled advocate, and the cause of the trade union in many cases is in perfectly sound hands, but not in all. This is a matter which calls in some cases for expert advocacy of a different kind. It is not connected with the technique of our industry, but with broad and great principles. Why should my hon. Friends who represent Labour wish to take the right away?

If you turn to the other side, the employers are very often a limited company. There is none of their staff who would consider himself capable of taking part in a controversy of this kind, and employers go before an Arbitration Court very badly handicapped, If you want a recent experience of how desperately unfortunate it is to limit the right of skilled advocacy, you have an instance in the Coal Commission, where there was no freedom of advocacy. Even a learned counsel, an hon. Member of this House, who, by your leave, was permitted to appear before that Commission, was absolutely reduced to a position that was altogether derogatory to himself and the profession to which he belonged, and ultimately he was told to put his speech in writing, and it would be considered. It is not necessary that I should speak in the interests of the profession to which I have the honour to belong. If their claims are not sufficient to commend themselves to those persons who are interested, they will not be approved, and there is an end to the matter, but if the persons who are interested think it is necessary for them to be represented in the best way they know how, then surely they have a right that that shall be done. I do hope the Government will not only resist this Amendment, the character of which I cannot understand as coming from trade unionists, but I hope the Government will listen with an attentive and a friendly ear to an Amendment on the Paper which asks that this Clause shall be struck out altogether


I would like to draw the attention of the hon. Member who has just sat down to the title of the Bill, the Industrial Courts Bill, and I venture to suggest to the Committee that those of us who represent the trade unions are not asking for any new disability to be placed upon the members of the legal profession.

We are simply asking that the method of procedure that has been adopted up to the present in the matter of arbitration and industrial disputes shall continue to prevail. In matters of law I am quite prepared to admit I am a child. Perhaps my infantility in that direction will be recognised. But I want to point out that, so far as the average member of a trade union is concerned, we have a great suspicion of lawyers when they are out of their proper places. We have been told by the representative of the employers, the hon. Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearse), that employers do not know how to conduct themselves before these Courts as compared with the ordinary trade union official. I suggest that an employer who pretends to be interested in his employés would not merely himself take a keen interest in the conditions under which his employés work, but if he had not the time or the opportunity he would see to it that some member of his staff was particularly appointed to deal with the matters which are likely to come before these Courts. The Courts deal with wages, hours of labour, and conditions of employment. There is no question of interpretation of law so far as these Courts are concerned. Trade unionists are not averse to employing the best kind of legal advice they can possibly get when they find themselves in legal difficulties, but we say, sufficient for the day are the lawyers thereof.

In so far as we are concerned, we want to keep as clear as we can from legal entanglements when dealing with matters of industrial disputes between ourselves and employers. Nearly every employers' association employs as secretaries of their associations gentlemen learned in the law It is becoming more and more the policy with them, and we do not object. They have a perfect right to employ whom they like as secretaries of their various associations. We never employ these gentlemen unless we can help ourselves, as we know it is going to be a great expense and also create difficulty, because very seldom do you get two of them to agree on a particular point when it is placed before them, perhaps because the profession might be injured if they happened to agree. What we want in these Courts is that the ordinary employers and those whom they choose to represent them in the industry shall meet the representatives of the trade union, who are men engaged in the industries and know the interests of the industry. If we are to be compelled to have lawyers foisted upon us merely at the whim of the employers, then the trade unions are going strongly to object to this expense and difficulty. We want the Courts to remain as they have been up to the present, places where the employers can represent themselves. I have appeared before the Courts with some Members of this House.


Very good, too.


Having done so, I do not give my opponents credit for less intelligence than myself. If they have not the same interest in the matter, there is nothing to prevent them from having on their staff those with the requisite knowledge of the matters affecting their employés. It would give the employers good employment. Limited liability companies have been described as organisations which have "neither bodies to be kicked nor souls to be damned." Large numbers of employers when they get their position in certain trades and industries well-fixed unfortunately take no particular interest in the men or women employed by them. If you keep these legal gentlemen out of the Courts it might be an incentive to these employers to take a keener interest in the conditions under which their employés are employed, and so be better able to meet the case we may put up against him. We will not have lawyers if we can help it. They are all right in their proper place. They have helped us in time of trouble, and they may help as again in any particular case where we need them.


In reply lo the last speaker may I just say a. word or two as to how this Clause stands? I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Henderson) that the intention of the Clause is to leave this mutter of rules to the discretion of the Court, and not as my hon. Friend who last spoke seemed to think—but I do not know that he heard me. I will repeat the assurance which I gave to my right hon. Friend that the intention was that in most of these cases, where no legal point arose, they should be discussed as hitherto without legal assistance. On the other hand, as the hon. Member for Stepney said; if the ruling is against having any legal assistance employers might feel a little shy; and I do not quite like offering him any at this moment. He pointed out cases where it was necessary that some legal assistance should be available. What I feel in answer to the hon. Gentleman is that you may really trust the Court to see, in the cases where there is no necessity for any legal assistance or guidance, those concerned will do what they have done in the past. Those persons most nearly and closely interested will put their points with the utmost freedom, and the greatest knowledge of the facts. If they can do so, well and good. But as the hon. Member opposite said, sometimes there comes a time of trouble, and there is a necessity for a little legal assistance. If the matter involves a point of law which has to be discussed and upon which the Court would desire to have legal assistance, then as a rule legal assistance would be available. Under these circumstances I propose to leave the Clause as it is, because I think these last two lines, "except as provided by those rules no person shall be entitled to appear on any such proceedings by counsel or solicitor"—that these put plainly in the Bill what the intention is. So that cases will be argued as in the past. Then again, the other words of the Clause will enable those particular eases where legal points are raised to be discussed with legal assistance. In the other cases the present ordinary practice will prevail. I apologise for repeating myself, and I hope, under these circumstances, having made the explanation I have that our desire is to make the Clause a fair one, the Committee will be able to proceed.

Amendment negatived.

Colonel GREIG

I beg to move, to leave out the words and except as provided by those Rules no person shall be entitled to appear on any such proceedings by counsel or solicitor. In an earlier part of the Debate, the Solicitor-General suggested that the words were, in fact, otiose and unnecessary. I agree to a certain extent with that. I quite agree, too, with the principle that provision shall be made by rule, and that in these rules shall be stated the occasions on which solicitors or counsel may be engaged. Intricate cases might involve the interest of a third party. The Court in that case would not be prepared to exercise its discretion as to whether or not that person should be allowed to be heard by counsel, because such a one is prevented from pleading by Statute. I suggest that the Solicitor-General, in order to make real the discretion of the Court, should accept this Amendment, and so provide that in cases for which the rules may not have provided, the Court shall have a discretion to permit counsel or a solicitor to appear.


I am very much obliged to my hon, and gallant Friend for having put his point quite clearly, but I am sorry I cannot accept the Amendment. I think that the rules properly safeguard the position. Again, after having made the statement I made a moment ago that I was of the opinion that the Clause should be kept intact, and so safeguard the rights of both sides, it would clearly be quite a breach of faith on my part if I was prepared to delete any of the Clause at the present time. Therefore, as I hope the rules and the discretion of the Court will be quite sufficient to prevent any injustice arising, I am afraid I cannot accept these words.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, at the end, to insert the words "save with the consent of the parties to the dispute."

The point I wish to put is that it is suggested that the Court should decide when legal assistance may be called in. It occurred to me that this may mean delay. The intention rather was this: We have now to come before the Court and ask them to allow legal aid, and so put us in a position to have legal assistance, if the Court desires. But we do not want to engage a solicitor first and then come to Court and the Court refuse to hear him. That is the point we desire to put forward.


I am obliged to my hon. Friend for making his explanation. It makes plain the point, that the rules ought to provide as to the time when the application for legal assistance should be made. We have a procedure in the ordinary Courts which enables these sort of applications to be made before the actual hearing. I am obliged to him for raising that point. We must see to it that the rules give an opportunity for the settlement of this point before the actual hearing.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10 (Application of Act to the Crown) ordered to stand part of the Bill.