HC Deb 29 May 1934 vol 290 cc74-84

5.48 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 34, to leave out from "persons," to "will," in line 35, and to insert "who."

I wish to draw attention to the fact that this Amendment goes with the next Amendment upon the Order Paper—in line 43, to leave out "classes of." It turns on the meaning of the word "class." It is the intention of the Bill, I take it, that the word "class" should be understood in the way in which it is used in Clause 1, and that it should refer to the whole of the weavers and not to applications by a particular group of particular weavers. As an example, the Jacquard weavers in a particular district might wish to make application for an order, but it would be highly undesirable that "class "should be taken as having that meaning. The Amendment is, therefore, intended to ensure that it has the meaning which it has in Clause 1, and is applied to the whole of the weavers of the industry. The whole of the weavers in that class of weavers throughout the industry should apply before the application be granted.


The Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Gentleman appears to remove some ambiguities in regard to the meaning of the word "class," and we propose to accept it.

5.50 p.m.


One of the difficulties about this matter is undue rigidity. I can see certain cases arising where new methods of production have been introduced and are operating in certain mills, and where it may be very desirable, in dealing with workpeople pro- ducing a certain kind of article by different methods, that entirely differing piece rates should be fixed. I am not quite certain, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can tell me, whether, if we leave out the words "class or classes," which definitely imply that there may be varying wage rates to meet different systems of working, we may not rule that out, and in that case what we are doing, instead of clarifying the situation, may be quite reactionary. I am not quite clear as to the meaning, and I hope that the proposer of the Amendment and his numerous supporters will explain a little more clearly what kind of effect is intended.

5.51 p.m.


Perhaps I can explain. In Clause 1 the word "class" is used to apply to weavers as a whole, but in Clause 2 it is used to apply only to a section of weavers. By removing the words in question, the ambiguity is removed from the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 43, leave out "classes of."—[Mr. Entwistle.]


I beg to move, in page 3, line 3, at the end, to add: (3) Any Order made under this Section shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as may be after it is made. (4) Any such Order as aforesaid shall cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of twenty-eight days from the date on which it is made, unless at some time before the expiration of that period it has been approved by a resolution passed by each House of Parliament. (5) In reckoning' any such period of twenty-eight days a* aforesaid no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, or during which either House is adjourned for more than four days. This Amendment is in slightly different form from that which appears on the Order Paper— (3) Any Order made under this Section shall cease to have effect unless at some time before the end of that period it has been approved by resolutions passed by both Houses of Parliament. The phrasing of the Amendment I am moving is taken from the Import Duties Act, and the drafting is all right. It has been amended only to the extent neces- sary for this Bill, which represents a big change, as was frankly recognised by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies). If we are to make a big change, and if we are to confer upon the Minister the power which has been so frequently conferred upon Ministers, and which is judicial in a sense, we ought to confirm the various recommendations which have been made from time to time in regard to the discretion of the Minister, when he is acting in a way which is half judicial and half legislative. This House or Parliament as a whole should retain control over the legislative duties. We have provided in the Import Duties Act that there shall be an affirmative Resolution of the Commons House of Parliament because it deals solely with finance. In this Amendment I propose that there should be a Resolution of both Houses, because it is not a matter dealing with finance in the ordinary sense.

These Orders will be of very great importance, but, in a constitutionally governed country the last word should be with Parliament, whatever the importance of the Orders may be. I have not the slightest doubt that any Order made will be a sensible Order, and it is much more likely to be a sensible one if all concerned know that the last word lies here or in another place. Appropriate words should be placed in the Bill to provide for Parliament retaining the ultimate authority. I have worded the Amendment so that an Order can be annulled if the Resolution is not passed. The nearest analogy that we have on the Statute Book to what we have in this Bill is in the Trade Boards Act, 1918, which continues as an amendment to the original Act passed in 1909. Under Section 2 (4) of the 1909 Act, we find: Every special Order shall be laid before each House of Parliament forthwith, and if an address is presented to His Majesty by either House within the next subsequent 40 days on which that House has sat after the Order has been so laid, praying that the Order may be annulled, His Majesty may annul the Order, and it shall thenceforth be void, but without prejudice-to the validity of anything previously done thereunder or to the power of making a fresh Order. Those are the two ways in which Parliament may retain control over a Minister. The method of affirmative Resolution gives to both Houses definitely more power than the form adopted in the Trade Boards Act, in which one has to make a prayer, which is taken at 11 o'clock at night, when it is very difficult to keep a House, although the matter may raise big issues of debate. It takes place late and does not get the publicity which is accorded to the Debates which take place in the earlier hours of the Sitting. The Amendment places the obligation on the Minister to put a Motion on the Paper and to move that Motion, and the Motion has to be carried. That is a very much stronger form of control.

I have not concealed the fact that I do not like this Bill, but I do not think that any of the supporters of it could reasonably argue against the proposal which I am making. None of us know what form the first Order will take. The industry is passing through such difficult times and some of the circumstances are changing with such rapidity that Orders may have to be made frequently. When an Order is made, it may not last a long time, because it may very well be the case that a short time after the Order is made an amending Order will be necessary with great rapidity, and it will not be right to shackle the industry. I do not know whether I shall get more support for this proposal than I have obtained so far, but I believe in Parliamentary institutions. I am not in sympathy with the dictatorship which in one form or another is flourishing so much to-day, and which gets rather more support from the Liberal party than I should have expected. I hope that I may have support from them. That party always professes its democracy, but it does not always live up to it. When we delegate certain legislative powers to a Minister, he should only legislate under the ultimate control of this House.

6 p.m.


I should like briefly to support this Amendment. I believe that what we have here to decide is not something that is merely concerned with this Bill, but the whole principle. I can imagine some people saying that there are so many safeguards that the Amendment is not necessary for the present Bill, but I desire to deal with the matter on broader lines. In my opinion one of the dangers with which we are faced in this country is the extension of powers given to Ministers, and, seeing that we are here making a statutory provision in a somewhat new fashion, I think that the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) is a perfectly good one. I hope he will be satisfied that, in supporting the Amendment, his friends on the Liberal benches are upholding what we have always said ought to be done.

6.1 p.m.


I sincerely trust that the Minister will not accept this Amendment. One of the virtues of the Bill is that it merely gives statutory sanction for the industry to control itself, and, if there is one thing of which I should have thought members of the party to which I belong would be in favour, it is the minimum of interference with an industry consistent with the industry's own welfare. It is obvious that, when these wage agreements which have been entered into between organisations of employers and employés are broken, it is bad for the industry as a whole, and, as in many other matters, it is necessary to put sanctions and compulsion on recalcitrant minorities who are acting against the interests of the industry as a whole. Surely it would be very undesirable if, before any of these wage agreements—which, after all, are very detailed in character—could come into force——


May I just correct my hon. and learned Friend? My Amendment does not stop the agreements coming into force; they can come into force forthwith. The only thing is that they would not continue in force unless within 28 Parliamentary days an affirmative Resolution were passed.


If they come into effect but do not continue beyond 28 days unless there is an affirmative Resolution, they will be subject to all the exigencies of Parliamentary time, and to all the political influences which, as we know, operate in the House of Commons. In any event, we do not want Parliamentary control over the internal affairs of the industry. The whole purpose of the Bill is that sanction will only be given if a large majority of those in the industry are in favour of these agreements as being in their interest. I think that the less Parliamentary interference there is the better.

6.4 p.m.


I confess I was surprised that this Amendment was moved at all. In any case I have no hesitation in saying that no Amendment which has been moved this afternoon is more repugnant to the object and purpose of the Bill than this one. One of the main objects of the Bill is to enable those in the industry to come to their own agreements by themselves, and to make such bargains between themselves as they think are most satisfactory in the circumstances. To bring Parliament into a discussion as to whether the agreements are good agreements or bad agreements, or whether they should be altered or criticised, is utterly repugnant to the whole purpose of the Bill.


The object of the Bill is not to enforce agreements as between the parties who made them, but to enforce agreements on people who are not parties to them. The courts of law are open to those who have signed agreements, but I am dealing with the case of people who were not parties to the agreement.


We have already had a discussion on the protection of minorities. I am now pointing out that, where the industry itself comes to certain agreements with regard to rates of wages, that, in our view, is a matter for the industry itself, and not a matter for Parliament. The main object of the Bill is to relieve Ministers and to relieve Parliament of the responsibility of reviewing the details of these agreements in the cotton manufacturing industry, and, as far as I am concerned, I shall be no party to giving any sort of sanction to the idea that these are suitable matters to be brought before the House of Commons for discussion or rejection or approval. That idea is so utterly repugnant to the whole object and purpose of the Bill that I cannot for one moment accept the Amendment.

6.7 p.m.


I am very pleased indeed that the Minister has once again put a Member of his party in the place to which he belongs, and I was a little astonished that the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) should have been caught in the meshes of the proposal of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams). The hon. Member for South Croydon always wants to compare this Bill with a trade board, and he has quoted the Trade Boards Act in support of his Amendment. We know, of course, that he is moving all these Amendments to-day with the deliberate intention of killing the Bill, and the Minister knows it also. He claims that the Bill is the beginning of a new conception of industrial relationships in this country and of the intervention of Parliament in' those relationships. It must not be forgotten, however, that trade boards were established in this country to deal with sweated industries. The textile industry of Lancashire is not yet a sweated industry, and that is a fundamental difference——


I understand the hon. Member to say that he does not regard the Trade Boards Act as in any sense an analogy to this Bill?


No. I do not see the connection between this Bill and trade boards. The operations of the textile industry differ fundamentally from those in, say, the laundry industry. Trade boards were established in this country, in the main, because there was no trade union organisation in the industries concerned. That cannot be said of the cotton industry of Lancashire, because trade unionism is very strong there. The hon. Member wants to bring before Parliament all these agreements relating to wages governed by an Order. I am not conversant with all the details of the Lancashire cotton industry, but I understand that some wage agreements affect the wages of the employés to such an extent that they are calculated to recurring decimals, and I am not so sure that every Member of Parliament is conversant with recurring decimals. What, therefore, is the use of bringing these wage agreements before hon. Gentlemen like the hon. Member for South Croydon? I agree with the Minister that this method of giving legal sanction to wage agreements does not warrant all the paraphernalia mentioned by the hon. Member in his Amendment.

6.11 p.m.


To-day we have seen the astonishing phenomenon of a National Government, composed of a largely Tory majority, demanding the right to legislate without Parliament—a thing which I do not think any of us expected. When I heard the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) make his contribution to the Debate, I was extremely pleased, because it seemed to me that one brand had been snatched from the burning; but the bonfire has now been augmented by two tons of coal and a couple of gallons of petrol, and I expect at any moment to see the rods and the axe brought in to escort the Minister out of the Chamber when he has disposed of the Bill. I suggest to the Committee that there can be no objection to these Orders being submitted to the verdict of the House of Commons; and, in spite of the opinion of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) with regard to our mathematics, surely there are some at least among our 615 Members who, with the aid of a table of logarithms, could work out the figures of wage agreements as between one set of employés and another. The hon. Member, I think, is prone to attach too much of his own difficulties to the rest of the House. I am sure that at any moment my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) would be prepared to give him a lesson in arithmetic, without charge, in the Smoking Boom.

All that this Amendment seeks to do is to prevent arbitrary legislation from going through without the consent of the House of Commons. It may be that the present Minister, whose duty it would be to make these Orders, is a person who can be trusted with the art of single-handed legislation in this country, and I think that most of us would be prepared so to trust him; but it should not escape the Committee that the power may be transferred some day from his moderate and capable hands into hands which are less moderate and less capable, and the House may deeply regret before very long its abdication of these powers to such an extent as was not done even in the case of the Import Duties Act. In spite of what the hon. Member for Westhoughton says about the flood of Orders which would be brought before the House, I think the Committee will agree that he overstated the case. There will not in fact be very many such Orders. The procedure, before an Order can appear on the Table of the House at all, is sufficiently exact; and, when those Orders are going to have the force of law, and we hear a Member of His Majesty's Government arguing that the House of Commons should have no say in the making of such Orders, it is difficult for the Committee to understand whether they are sitting in this Chamber at the present moment or in Olympia in about a fortnight's time—[HON. MEMBEBS: "Where?"]—at the mass meeting of the Blackshirts.

Some of us—including the hon. Member for South Bradford now, although he did not earlier in the afternoon—still believe in Parliamentary Government, and, therefore, we would ask the Government if they cannot reconsider their rather violent rejection of this Amendment. After all, it asks for very little. It asks for the preservation of some of the privileges of the House of Commons, the maintenance of which has before now been the motive for civil war. Their continued arbitrary dismissal may result in a determined effort to regain Parliamentary Government once more, because not all the battalions are on the side of those who are now attacking our Parliamentary institutions, and I think that even the fact that the "Daily Mail" approves of the right hon. Gentleman's action at the moment will not be sufficient to preserve the House from the general contempt which it will earn if it abrogates its proper functions.

6.15 p.m.


The arguments of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) can be disposed of by a simple examination of the purpose of the Bill. The Bill is concerned with the making of an Order with respect to any agreement, made between the organisations concerned, as to rates of wages, and rates of wages only. The fixing of wages in the cotton trade is a difficult and technical business. The Amendment invites the House of Commons to interfere and it is, in my view, an invitation which should be rejected.

6.16 p.m.


I think that the arguments against my Amendment have no weight whatever either from the Minister or from the last speaker. I am not suggesting that Parliament is to attempt to fix wages. All I am suggesting is that the proposal embodied in the Order should be laid on the Table, that we should know of it and should have our attention drawn to it and if there is something in it that is going to be prejudicial, before it is brought permanently into effect the House will be in a position, not to amend it, but to say Yes or No. It is to me incredible that this power should be conferred upon the Ministry or upon the majority in the industry. The Minister says he does not want Parliament to interfere with these agreements. We are not talking about the agreements but about people who are disagreeing with the agreements, and that is the vital thing underlying the whole principle. If the organised bodies make an agreement, they have only to attach to it certain penalty clauses and they can enforce it one against the other, but these agreements by Statute are to apply to people who did not sign them. What is the use of saying that Parliament is going to interfere with agreements? Where Parliament is going to interfere is among people who were never parties to the agreement.

The Minister's argument has no relation whatever to the point that I was putting. I regret that he did not address himself to the other point. I proposed the strongest form of Parliamentary control, but I also indicated the possibility of the less strong form, which enables us to pray against the confirmation of the Order, and that is the form which is in operation in respect of all these wage-fixing agreements. They are made as the result of an inquiry by a board set up by the Ministry. They are full of recurring decimals. I do not know why the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) thinks that there is any particular difficulty about recurring decimals, but, as I once took a degree in mathematics, I am prepared to give him instruction. Here is a real challenge to Parliamentary institutions. There is no getting away from the fact. You do not solve the problem by saying we are merely confirming agreements. If you are confirming agreements which are binding on all those concerned, the argument is valid. A Bill was brought in to confirm an agreement between the White Star and the Cunard, but there were no people outside that agreement whom we were coercing. Here we are dealing with an agreement made between the majority of employers and the majority of workpeople which is to he enforced against a minority of employers and a minority of workpeople, and I say that Parliament ought to have a final say. We are not interfering between agreements in the industry. We are interfering, where necessary, between a minority of persons who were never in the negotiations and never signed the agreement in order to give them, if necessary, protection against the consequences of the agreement made by the majority. We ought to have much more valid arguments before the House of Commons declares that it is going to enforce compulsory action against people without reference to them at all in a way that is entirely novel, as far as I am aware, in our legislation.

6.20 p.m.


I think that my hon. Friend is not quite accurate in his assumption that Orders made by my right hon. Friend dealing with rates of wages under the Trade Boards Act have to be laid before the House. They are issued in his discretion, and come into force forthwith.


I read the Section out and it definitely says that they have to be laid.


Section 2 does not apply to Orders dealing with rates of wages. They may be brought into effect without confirmation.


A little lower down it says a special Order may be prayed against and, if it is successfully prayed against, it is delayed for 40 days.

Amendment negatived.