HC Deb 11 May 1927 vol 206 cc399-405

Order for Committee read.


Before I leave the Chair, I have to deal with certain Motions which stand on the Order Paper. The first, in the name of the hon. Member for Penrith (Mr. Dixey) and other hon. Members, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they have power to ensure that in any legislation affecting the rights of organised workers care be taken to ensure that such legislation equally applies to organised employers, is out of order because it is not necessary, since, if desired, an Amendment can be entertained without an Instruction. The second Motion, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. T. Kennedy) and other hon. Members, That the proceedings on the Bill be exempted from the provisions of the Standing Order (Selection of Amendment), is out of order because it proposes to suspend a Standing Order of the House at a time when only an Instruction can be moved. That cannot be done.


With regard to my Motion, may I be allowed to say that I am not quite clear at the moment with regard to your ruling? As I understand it, your ruling implies that it is not competent for a private Member to move the suspension of a Standing Order, as is suggested in my Motion. The Standing Order referred to in this case is the Standing Order which empowers the Chairman to select Motions and Amendments on the Paper. I dare say you will not allow me to raise the general ground upon which this Motion is brought forward, and to discuss the extraordinary character of the Bill to be committed, but there are two points which I think I should be allowed to state to you before you finally dispose of my Motion. The first point is that this Motion, in our judgment, was made necessary by the fact that the House is now living under a modern Standing Order— a new Standing Order brought into being in 1919. The point that I wish to bring to your notice in that regard is that the Bill which is now to be committed is not comparable with any other Bill which has been before this House since the Standing Order in question came into existence, and I would like to have your ruling on the distinction which is drawn. I understand it is competent to-day for the House to give an Instruction to a Committee with regard to a Bill on matters concerning the scope or substance of the Bill, and I understand that the House may direct a Committee to discuss and deal with matters outside the scope or Title of a Bill. If that be competent in regard to the form or substance of a Bill, may I respectfully ask why the same privilege cannot be exercised by the House with regard to matters of procedure in the Committee? My Motion relates specifically to procedure. The other point that I wish to bring to your notice is, that one of your predecessors had to create a precedent with regard to allowing Instructions to be submitted to a Committee, and I humbly suggest that on this exceptional occasion there is an urgent need that the House, if necessary, should create a new precedent and give the Committee an opportunity to have the full and unrestricted Debate that this Bill requires.


In one particular the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. I did not say that it was only competent for the Government to propose the suspension of a Standing Order. Any Member can do that at the proper time, if he can find the time for it, but the Government, of course, have an advantage in control over the time of the House. A proposal, however, to suspend a Standing Order is not in the nature of an Instruction, and certainly cannot be entertained here.


On that point of Order. Understanding that at some later stage a Member may be able to move such a Motion as that which is under discussion, would it be proper to ask the Government now to state what their intentions may be?


No; we can only at this stage deal with what is on the Paper.


Further on the point of Order, may I ask you, Sir, whether, as this Motion has been put upon the Paper, it would not be possible to ask the Prime Minister if an opportunity will be given for the moving of this Motion on some subsequent occasion?


Not on this occasion.


Further on the point of Order, I think I am expressing the opinion of most Members of the House when I say that we are not quite clear as to why this instruction cannot be moved, and we should welcome from you, Sir, an explanation as to why an ordinary Member cannot at this stage of a Bill move that an Instruction be inserted. Perhaps you will give us that explanation.


A proposal to suspend a Standing Order can only be presented in due form, as is provided by the rules of the House. It is not in the nature of an Instruction at all.

With regard to the next Motion, which stands in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson), That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert provisions regulating the establishment, application, and public audit of funds used for political purposes by any association or body of employers, this is a matter which is entirely outside the scope of the Bill.


I in no sense desire to challenge your ruling, but might I ask you to notice the words of the Instruction, and also to look at Subsection (5) of Clause 4 of the Bill? The Instruction ends with the words: regulating the establishment, application. and public audit of funds used for political purposes by any association or body of employers. Then, if we turn to the Sub-section to which I have referred, it reads as follows: Section sixteen of the Trade Union Act, 1871, which provides for the transmission to the registrar of annual returns of registered trade unions, shall apply"— and these are new words— to every unregistered trade union so far as respects the receipts, funds, effects, expenditure, assets and liabilities of the political fund thereof. I am sure I need not remind you, Sir, that employers' associations are trade unions. It is very clearly laid down in the old Trade Union Acts that employers' associations are trade unions, and, that being so, it cannot be questioned at this time of day that employers' associations are using their funds for political purposes. During the years that I have been here I have heard this debated over and over again, and circulars have been read in this House that were issued on Bills with which Parliament was dealing of a political and industrial character. It was clearly demonstrated that these associations, which were trade unions but were not subjected to this part of the law of 1871, were using their funds in the way that I have suggested. I hope may be permitted to say that, as this provision has been applicable for years to registered unions, we think it is only equitable that employers' associations taking an active part in politics should have the same law applied to them.


Everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said, in so far as the Instruction deals with what he has now argued, is quite unnecessary, because an Amendment can be tendered, without an Instruction, in Committee for that purpose. It is only where it goes beyond what the right hon. Gentleman said that it is out of order. An Amendment could be moved in Committee in the sense he has just suggested.


Then I understand Amendments dealing with the point I have raised would be, in your opinion, if called by the Chair, really in order for discussion?


I certainly think so. With regard to the next Instruction standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), that also is out of order because it is not necessary. It seems to me it would be competent for the Committee to entertain the suggestion he makes without an Instruction. It might require a slight consequential alteration in the Title of the Bill. The last one on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Hillsborough Division (Mr. A. V. Alexander) is outside the scope of the Bill, and for that reason out of order.


If the matter raised in the Instruction of my right hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) is partly in order, I think there is a very strong case to be submitted for the Instruction in the name of myself and my hon. Friends also to be regarded as being in order. I want to lay the same stress on the point that the operations he seeks to deal with in Amendments to the Bill are carried out by employers' associations, which are, in fact, trade unions. May I cite one particular case? Three months ago there was a joint meeting of the Pharmaceutical Society and a trade union of business men called the Proprietory Articles Traders' Association. That Association exists for the purpose of withholding from large sections of the community no fewer than 8,000 commodities unless they charge only a minimum price, which will be maintained, but also consent to give no commission or dividend or discount. At that meeting those two associations agreed jointly that for the promotion of their trade union purpose it was essential that they should have a political fund and direct representations in Parliament. They are proceeding to form a political fund and to use their Association for that purpose. As they are going to use not only their present organisation but subsequent political action for the purpose of coercing the community in exactly the same way as hon. Members opposite suggest the community are coerced, we submit that we have a strong case for dealing with it in the Bill.


That would be a matter for the Chairman. I am quite clear that the Instruction is out of order, but the hon. Member may frame an Amendment.


This Bill presumes to deal with anything that is alleged to be against the interests of the community. During the Second Reading of the Debate I drew attention to a case in which supplies of flour were withheld from a firm because they refused to charge a halfpenny more per loaf than their competitors. I submit to you that this Bill is wide enough in a broad sense, as dealing with the interests of the community, to impose legislation in such a case as that. My hon. Friend's object is to give consideration to such a case in Committee.


That is such a large proposition that I would not give an opinion on it. It is altogether too vague. But if an Amendment were framed, the Chairman of the Committee would give it consideration.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

May I draw your attention, Sir, to the wording of the Motion of the hon. Member for Penrith (Mr. Dixey) which you ruled to be unnecessary because the Bill could be made to apply to employers in the same way as to workmen. This instruction deals with the coercion of employers, and I suggest that you should reconsider your ruling in the light of what you have decided.


I do not think I can go further than what I have said. All I have to do in this case is to give my ruling on the particular issue. The Instruction cannot be accepted.


Is not the wording of the Bill itself sufficiently clear to include the object in my hon. Friend's mind? It says, calculated to coerce the Government or to intimate the community or any substantial portion of the community. and the wording of the Instruction is: To prevent the coercion of the community by the withholding of supplies from traders or consumers' organisations. Is not the withholding of supplies from the community by a traders' organisation as much to be considered a conspiracy against the community and the Government as the withholding of labour from a particular industry is to be considered in certain cases as coercion of the Government or of the community?


That may or may not be so, but the hon. Member will be drawing me into a debate on the merits of the proposal, and that is not part of my duty.


I am afraid, Sir, you are missing my point. I am not inviting you to enter into the merits of the question or to give a ruling as to the soundness of arguments which may be advanced one way or the other, but considering the Instruction in the light of what the Government have placed in this Bill, do you not consider that your ruling might be revised to enable us to include my hon. Friend's Instruction.


No, I do not think so. I must leave that matter to the Chair.

Bill considered in Committee.

[Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]

  1. CLAUSE I.— (Illegal Strikes.) 31,208 words, 2 divisions