§ Order for the Third Reading read. [King's Consent signified.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWS0N
I apologise to the House for interfering with the regular course of business, but I assure hon. Members that the matter to which I want to call attention will not take long. I and my hon. Friends who are responsible for raising the question are in entire agreement with the general objects of the Bill, but in the composition of the Commission provided for in the Bill, no provision is made whatever for the representation of the workers. I wish that we had been able to put this matter before the Committee which dealt with the Bill. The miners' organisation in Durham drew my attention to this matter some months ago, and I made inquiries as to when the Bill was likely to be introduced. I discovered that it was likely to be introduced in another place, and I took what steps I could to keep in contact with its progress, but, unfortunately, owing to the general trend of business, I was not able to raise this matter before the Bill had gone through the Report stage in this House. My hon. Friends and I who are taking an active interest in the matter are usually able to keep in step with the business of the House, but we have been connected with Committees generally and have not had an opportunity of directing attention to this Bill.
One of the main objects of the Bill is to make arrangements for the proportion of interests to be represented on the commission and also for the method of their election. The councils of Newcastle, Gateshead, Tynemouth, South Shields, Jarrow and Wallsend are to have among them 16 representatives upon the Commission, and of the 15 representatives of other interests, five are to be elected by shipowners, five by coalowners, and five by traders, making 31 representatives in all. There are to be two co-opted commissioners.
It seems to us at this time of day that, in dealing with matters concerning a great river upon which the products of 1347 the industries round about are shipped, the workers in those industries should have some representation upon the commission, to say nothing about workers generally. If we take the Port of London as a model, it will be found that there are usually two workers' representatives on their elected bodies. I do not know whether the Minister of Transport is to given an answer on this matter, but we believe that we are making such a reasonable claim, particularly when there are to be five representatives of the coal owners, of the shipowners and of the traders, that some undertaking ought to be given. Out of all that vast industrial area the particular people who are not to be represented at all are those who are as much interested in the trade of the North as any of the other people who are to sit upon the commission. I should have thought that at this time of day the commissioners themselves, or those who are at present responsible for the craft on the River, for the carriage of commodities and for the general success of trade would have taken the initiative in recommending the appointment of workers' representatives on the commission. This has not been done, and we have to adopt the unusual procedure to-night of stating our case on the Motion for the Third Reading of the Bill, which has been introduced for the better government, and generally for the improvement of conditions on the river.
I do not know whether the Minister of Transport or the Chairman of Ways and Means has responsibility in this matter, but I would ask whether it is not possible to recommit the do not think it would take long to come to an understanding—with the object of arrangements being made to secure the representation of miners on the commission. Alternatively, would it not be possible to make arrangements to enable a representative of the miners to be co-opted on the commission? Is it not in keeping with modern times that, on a commission set, up in this way to deal with public interests, the interests of employe should be represented? It is indefensible that the workers in this great industrial area should be totally un-recognised. It may be said that this matter was not raised in the proper way and that it is too late. I trust that someone will give an answer before we 1348 are asked to come to a decision on the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
I have been wondering who is to reply on behalf of the promoters of the Bill. There ought to be somebody to speak for them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because it would be in keeping with custom in these debates. Many Private Bills have been challenged at 7.30 in the evening as this Bill is being challenged, and there has always been someone prepared to speak on behalf of the promoters of those Bills. I wish to support the statements which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). We are at a disadvantage in having to debate this question on the Third Reading, but we are to be more pitied than blamed or condemned. Last Friday morning I was present in the House, but I did not happen to pick up my Order Paper soon enough. When I did so, I was surprised to find that this Bill had been placed upon the Order Paper for that day. I think that notice should be given when Private Bills are to be put upon the Order Paper, so that those who are interested in them may be here in order, if necessary, to take exception to them. I confess that we missed the opportunity last Friday, and, although we are raising the matter now, we do not really want to delay the Third Reading of the Bill, nor do we desire to force a Division. I do not know whether it is possible to recommit the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street has suggested, but, if not, there is still the other course open which he pointed out. The House should remember that this is a Bill to alter the constitution of the Tyne Improvement Commission. We consider that when an alteration of such an important commission is to take place provision should be made for the workers to be represented upon the commission. The Bill makes no provision for representation by workers. The Tyne Improvement Commission employ, and are responsible for, a good many working men, and there ought to be at least one representative of the workers upon the commission.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
By workers' representatives, does the hon. Gentleman mean the people who work on the Tyneside, or the people who work in the pits, the coal from which is shipped from the Tyne?
§ Mr. PEARS0N
Is it not possible for workers representatives on municipal corporations along the river to secure representation on the commission?
The town council of which the hon. Member was formerly a member has now a Labour man as one of its representatives on the Tyne Commission.
§ Mr. BATEY
I would ask the Government to remember that they are seeking to alter the representation on this Tyne Commission. That is the meaning of the Bill. The shipowners, coalowners and traders have representatives, and why should not the workers have one or two representatives? I know we are raising this on the Third Reading because we had not the privilege, of moving an Amendment on the Report stage, but we are simply proposing that the easiest course would be that the two members whom the commission has power to co-opt should be workers. That would satisfy us for the moment. The promoters of the Bill sent out a statement in which they stated in the last paragraph that all persons desiring any alteration in the constitution of the commission had had several opportunities of submitting their proposals to Parliament in accordance with the recognised procedure under the Standing Order dealing with private legislation by lodging a petition proposing the necessary Amendments in the Committee stage or opposing applications for permission. They submitted that a proposal for an alteration should not be allowed at the last stage of the Bill in the Second House. That gave me the impression that it was rather a reflection on my colleagues and myself who are raising this question. It may be perfectly true that petitions should have been lodged, but that does 1350 not deprive any Member of this House of his rights. Any Member has a right at any stage, even the Third Reading, to criticise a Bill and, if necessary, to divide the House. We do not want to take that course to-night, but I want to repeat what my colleague has already urged, that the River Tyne Commission should take the opportunity, as they have the power of electing or appointing two co-opted members, of appointing two workers.
Before the hon. Member sits down, will he say why it should be miners instead of sailors or seamen?
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
On a point of Order. Are we to be answered officially on this matter? I understood that somebody was going to speak from below. If the Chairman of Ways and Means is going to answer officially, it is all right. I take it that there is someone responsible to the House who can answer the case which has been put forward for workers' representation on the board.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not know if the hon. Member is asking me that. I cannot be responsible for saying who is to reply for the Bill.
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I think, perhaps, I ought to say a word or two. It is not for me to express an opinion as to what the representation should be on the Commission, but I do think it is my duty to point out to the House what would be the effect of any attempt such as the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) suggested in the way of recommitting the Bill for further Amendment. When the Bill was first introduced—I am speaking from recollection, but I know I am substantially right—it was not proposed to alter the constitution of the Commission, but, as a result I think of some adjustment of boundaries or something of that kind, it was desired to alter the constitution, and as that was not one of the objects of the Bill, additional provisions had to be asked for and was allowed, and that alteration desired was dealt with. If any steps were to be taken now to make any further 1351 [The Chairman of Ways and Means.] alteration of that kind, the same procedure would have to be gone through, and such action on the part of this House in recommitting the Bill in respect of this Clause or any part of it at this stage would have the effect of killing the Bill, because it would have to go through the machinery I have already referred to of a petition for additional provision, and it would have to be dealt with in another place as well as in this House. Therefore, while I aim not in any way authorised to express any opinion whatever on behalf of the promoters as to the merits of the case concerning the constitution of the Commission, I think it my duty to point out the result of any such interference with the Bill at its present stage. In saying that, I must not [...] understood to object to or to criticise in any way the right of hon. Members to express their views. That is not a question that arises. All I have to deal with is the result of any attempt to make any such alteration of the Bill at the present moment and that would be, as I say, to kill it. I do not think that is the wish of hon. Members who have spoken or of the House generally.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Sir GEOFFREY ELLIS
I should like to point out that those of us who sat on the Committee can naturally deal only with questions that were brought before the Committee. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said quite frankly that he missed his opportunity. I would remind him that his party took part in a discussion with the promoters on a question connected with the position of certain boatmen who work on the Tyne and that was a labour problem of very great interest to them. It is a little curious that he should not then have put forward the claims of the Miners' Federation to representation. At that time the question was settled without dispute, and the Bill passed to the Unopposed Bills Committee. It is not so easy as he suggests. Recommittal has been dealt with by the Chairman, but to ask for special representation of one particular Union without any reference back to the Commissioners who already exist can hardly be called fair. If you ask for a different sort of representation on the Tyne Commission or any similar body, the Commissioners should be in a position to examine it. There is at present a very 1352 nice balance on the Commission. There are 16 representatives of the town council, and 16 representatives, not of definite trades so much as of dues payers on the river itself. The dues payers, in regard to coal, take as much interest as the men in the amount to be paid per ton, and, if you wish to make and change at all in the Commission, it would not be right to try to make a bargain with he Minister of Transport across the table at the last moment without giving the other people a chance of saying whether what is proposed to be done is fair. Hon. Members have had an opportunity in two Houses of putting their case before the Committee, and they have not done so. The Committee have taken the evidence and we have arrived at this stage, and it is not the time for an ex parte claim.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Are we to have no reply to the point put? Is it not possible to give the workers' interest some consideration in reference to this matter? I think we really ought to have an answer, and it is no answer to say that this is raised on the Third Reading, because, after all, the Third Reading is a material part of the proceedings as well as any other.
§ Sir G. ELLIS
You have town councillors popularly elected on one side, and the interests on the other have an equal share, including the two co-opted members. No doubt the Miners' Federation may claim to be considered just as the boatmen, but it is not right to attempt to force into the Bill or to suggest to the Minister of Transport that he should take in one particular interest at this last moment. If the whole matter is to be raised de novo to consider a new interest, all the others should be considered.
§ 7.58 p.m.
If the proposal put forward by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) be adopted, why should not the Northumberland miners ask for a similar representation? They have missed the boat, if I may say so. If they had brought forward this proposal at the proper time, it is likely that the Tyne Commission would have accepted it, because, of the two co-opted members on the Commission at present, one is 'a representative of the workers. One of the representatives of the corporation of South Shields is a Labour man, and two other corporations between them supply three members of the Labour party on 1353 the Tyne Commission. This Commission, framed as it has been framed for the last 80 years, has transformed a stream into a wonderful river. It has done magnificient work, and there has never been any suggestion that the workers' interest has not been given proper attention. I hope that this Bill will not be re-committed, because it contains provisions which are very necessary to the Commission, particularly in helping forward the improvement of the river so that some of the troubles from which the North-East coast are suffering may be lifted.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. THORNE
I am sorry that I was not in the House when the Debate started. I understand that my hon. Friend has been appealing to the Minister of Transport to elect a representative of the miners. It appears to me that the Minister of Transport, who has power to elect two members for life, can help us. If he wants to get over the difficulty suggested by the hon. Member for Winchester (Sir G. Ellis), he might, before he elects these two members, put himself into communication with the organised workers concerned. It does not follow that because the municipalities have the right to elect 16 representatives any of them will be representatives of organised labour. It all depends on the composition of the local authorities. The Minister of Transport could get us out of this difficulty if he would kindly call together the representatives of the organised workers, that is to say, of the colliery workers and the dockers, and of a union like mine, because my organisation has a large number of men working on the quay-side. If the Minister would be good enough to consult the organised workers, it will simplify the matter without very much trouble.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
This is a private Bill, and I am completely in the hands of Parliament. It has passed through all its stages, and it emerges in a form which leaves me the discretion to appoint two Members to this Commission as and when the present life members either die or resign. Of the two Members whom the Minister of Transport can appoint, one is already a representative of the workers. I shall not bind myself, and I cannot 'bind my successors, to exercise my dis- 1354 cretion in any particular manner, but I respond most readily to the appeal which has been made to me, and I shall take note, if it should fall to my lot to appoint another commissioner, of the case which has been presented this evening. I do not think the House can expect me to go further than that. In other cases where I have power to appoint to a harbour or river commission it has been the custom of my predecessors, I understand, to consult with the Minister of Labour as to a suitable representative of the workers in proper cases, and I shall follow that procedure. I trust that that will satisfy hon. Members.