HC Deb 11 July 1939 vol 349 cc2189-97

Lords Amendment: In page 8, line 38, leave out from "arbitrators" to the end of line 40 and insert "appointed as here-after provided."

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Burgin

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

With the consent of the House I think it will be convenient that the whole of the remaining Lords Amendments, which deal with the one point of arbitration, should be discussed together. I am in the hands of the House, but those Amendments carry out the undertaking which I gave to this House during the passage of the Bill through Committee, and it would be convenient to take them together. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed."] In Committee the question arose of how the panel of arbitrators should be selected, and I gave an undertaking that the chairman and the deputy-chairman should both be persons of legal experience, that the panel should be selected by me, and that the actual arbitrator or arbitrators in a particular dispute should be selected by the chairman or deputy-chairman. The Amendments made in another place carry out that undertaking.

There is one point to which I would call attention. If there are two arbitrators and they disagree, an umpire is appointed. We had not in our discussions contemplated an umpire, and that might have meant choosing an umpire from outside the panel; and so I have ventured in these Amendments, carrying out what I believed was the spirit of this House, to say that the arbitrators shall number either one or three so that all the members of the tribunal come from within the panel. We provide, similarly, that where there are three arbitrators the award of two shall carry. I think the House will find that these Amendments, which have been carefully drawn, do carry out to the full the undertaking which I gave to the House.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Dalton

On the last Amendment we were endeavouring to defend the Minister against the Federation of British Industries. On this group of Amendments we were endeavouring, at an earlier stage of the Bill, to defend him against a rebellion behind him, in which though it was finally quashed it became necessary at one stage, in order to support the toppling majority of the Government, for His Majesty's Opposition to enter the Lobby in support of the Minister against the rebels. Bearing that in mind I am in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman that these Amendments do carry out: the final conclusion of the discussion on the Report stage of the Bill, and from our point of view they have the virtue, which would have been denied to this part of the Bill if the rebellion behind him had succeeded, that they do retain in the Minister's hands, at one remove, the power to choose, by way of the chairman's or deputy-chairman's decision, which persons out of the panel of arbitrators appointed by the Minister shall arbitrate in a particular case. It is provided also that there should be either one or three persons acting as arbitrators, so as to avoid the taking of an umpire from outside the panel appointed by the Minister. Therefore, we offer no objection to these Amendments.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. E. Smith

I am opposed to this Amendment. In the first place I would remind the House that the Third Reading of the Bill was taken on a Friday morning, when all who were present desired to restrict themselves to within as narrow limits as possible in order that it should be made convenient for hon. Members to be present at a function that was taking place. I acquiesced in that because I thought it was very reasonable. The spirit of the House was such that very little was said upon that Friday. I sat here and I would have liked to speak upon one or two matters, but I did not, owing to the plea that had been made to the House. I say that, in order to show why I am speaking against this proposal now and did not do so on that Friday.

The Lords Amendment states that 'the Minister shall appoint a panel of arbitrators and shall appoint one member of the panel to be chairman thereof and another to be deputy-chairman thereof. My interpretation of that is that at least two members of the panel of arbitrators, and probably more than two, will be members of the legal profession. I have a number of hon. Friends who are members of the legal profession, and although I have a great respect for them I think that the position of that profession, and the responsibilities which are being put upon it in varying capacities by this House, are being carried too far. I would call the attention of the House to Subsection (2) which says: No person shall be qualified to be chairman or deputy chairman of the said panel unless he is or has been a barrister, member of the Faculty of Advocates or solicitor, of not less than ten years' standing. I take a fundamental objection to those words being placed in the Bill. I know many men acting in many capacities who are as competent to deal with problems of that character as is any member of the legal profession. Some of us have had experience of courts of referees and of having to sit under chairmen who were members of the legal profession. We know many people more qualified to sit as chairmen of those courts of referees than were those members of the legal profession.

This is becoming more and more a vested interest. There are already too many members of the legal profession in this House. This is a House of Commons and is supposed to represent the common people. Generally speaking, people acting in a professional capacity have not come from the common people. I do not want to carry this point too far because it would be out of order to do so and I do not want to be misunderstood, but I believe that lawyers have a part to play in society, in many cases a noble part. I am pointing out that their profession has already sufficient influence and is filling sufficient positions in the country. We are carrying this kind of thing too far and I am opposed to the Lords Amendment.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Tinker

I agree with my hon. Friend in objecting to the Lords Amendment. I understood from the right hon. Gentleman that he had to make some Amendment and to have it made in another place but, whatever the reasons were, I take objection to the wording of it. It casts a reflection on the ordinary man. It means that certain men who have been trained in the legal profession are given certain privileges. That is a reflection on us. We are sent here, with the ordinary training we get under the ordinary conditions of life, and when we get here we are able to hold our own with the better part of the Members of the House of Commons, even though they may be legal gentlemen. In fact, I am amazed that they occupy the standing that they claim to have, in view of the way in which they go on. They seem to be distinguished by the length of their speeches, carrying out what they do in the courts of justice. The longer they talk, the more impression they seem to think they make. That does not carry much weight with me. I believe that the short direct speech is far better. It appears to be thought that, because of their special training, they should have special privileges over and above those enjoyed by ordinary people. I take objection to that, and I imagine that, in a House like this, there will be general agreement with what my hon. Friend has said.

It is amazing how many members of the legal profession reach this House, and, therefore, one can understand that every move forward is a kind of bolstering up of these gentlemen, who are looking out for the soft spots to make their way ahead. It is time we took a stand for the sake of our dignity. We feel that the fact that in certain circumstances certain people have managed to get that training should not give them privileges to which, as I think, they are not entitled. The Bill says that we are fit to be on the panel, but not to be the chairman or the deputy-chairman; some other man must be made greater than us, because we have not had the training that he has had. I am rather sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), for whose lead I have a great respect, has, without consulting us, agreed to say that we shall not oppose this Amendment. I do not like going against my Front Bench, and it has put me in rather a difficult position, but I am going to put my objection in words. I do not agree that this proposal is a right one, and I am only too sorry that it has been put forward. I voice my objection to it in the hope that my hon. Friend may retract his promise and let us have a Division upon it.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. Silverman

I hardly think anyone can have thought that, in the position I have occupied during the last 10 minutes, I have had a soft spot. I do not want to break a lance with either of my hon. Friends about the legal profession. This is not the place to do that. But I think that both my hon. Friends would recognise that the working class has thrown up its own lawyers from time to time, and has never had any reason to be ashamed of them. The right hon. Gentleman has largely himself to thank for the Debate that is now proceeding. I would remind him of the way in which this matter arose. He was asked in Committee, from his own back benches, to do what I thought was a perfectly reasonable thing, but he obstinately refused to agree. Then he offered, as a concession, that he would appoint the arbitrators' panel and allow them to appoint their own chairman and deputy-chairman, and allow the chairman and deputy-chairman to select the arbitrators in any particular case.

I wish the right hon. Gentleman had stood by that proposal. My hon. Friends would have been perfectly satisfied and hon. Members on his own side would have been perfectly satisfied, and this discussion would not have arisen. He did not stand by his proposal because he thought he saw an opportunity of getting out of it; and the opportunity that he thought had presented itself, although it seemed open then, has closed since. Now he has to put his proposal in this form, not because he believes in it but because he cannot, without loss of face, as they say in the Far East, go back to the original proposal he made. At that time he made a speech which both of my hon. Friends would have heartily applauded. He said that one did not want arbitration by lawyers in matters of that kind; that business men would do it much better, or, at any rate, as well. I think there is a good deal of substance in what has been said. There is no reason why he should keep the appointment of the chairman and deputy-chairman in his own hands, or limit it to a particular profession for arbitrations of this kind.

I suggest that the only reason why he does not stand by his original proposal, which was far better than this and would have aroused no controversy, is that, having once withdrawn from it, he feels it impossible to go back to it—which is not a very good principle on which to recommend legislation to this House. I am not going to oppose this Amendment: I think it is a very small point; but it is a great pity that a proposal should be jockeyed about in this way: that appointments of one kind or another should be made, not on their merits but because of the chance by-play of support or lack of it on the Minister's own benches.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. E. J. Williams

I do not think the Minister can deny that when the matter was being discussed before, he promised that the panel which would be prepared by him should itself appoint the chairman. That is how I understood it. We were talking about what happened in other spheres, and we had a long discussion on the matter. I have nothing against the legal profession as such, but there is no reason why these offices, if they are being created by the House, should be the preserve of the legal profession. It is assumed that people engaged in industry, whether on the workmen's side or the employers' side, are not competent to understand the laws of evidence, that they fail to grasp the details presented to them and to give in plain English a verdict that can be understood by all the parties concerned. It is assumed that in all these things such as were mentioned by my hon. Friend here, in courts of referees and such like bodies, men cannot be found to understand these problems and to present, after the facts have been presented to them, a verdict or decision in conformity with the facts.

I am sorry that the Minister has agreed in this connection to accept the proposition that the offices of chairman and of deputy-chairman should be filled by members of the legal profession. It would have been far better if he had selected the panel, and then allowed them to select their own chairman and vice-chairman. That is what we understood was to happen. However, this is a small point, but Members of this House ought at some time or other to indicate that they are not satisfied that in matters of this kind vested interests should be created for one profession only. Whatever is done, we ought to endeavour to avoid as far as possible creating a privileged profession, and it is for this reason that I enter my caveat against this proposal.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I do not want to detain the House, but I feel that the Minister in this matter has behaved so fairly and with such a desire to please all sections of the House that he requires some praise from this side of the House. I spoke somewhat harshly in the Debate on an earlier occasion, but in this respect he has put forward a very fair proposition in asking the House to accept the Lords Amendment. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith) said that there are many men far better qualified than lawyers to decide some of these problems. As a lawyer I thoroughly agree with him, but he seems to have omitted to notice that it does not follow from this Amendment that the lawyer is going to judge the particular dispute. The only thing that the lawyer can pretend to do is to select the arbitrator, and the reason why, I understand, the Minister suggested that a lawyer should do that, is that a lawyer would have no interest in the particular dispute. He would not be concerned in the particular business and would not be a representative of the Minister, so that he could be trusted to select an impatrial arbitrator.

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams) complained that the original effort put forward by the Minister was that the panel should a point its own chairman. If I recollect the Debate that followed, the Opposition Front Bench pressed the Minister to appoint the chairman and the deputy-chairman. It is in his desire to meet the Opposition Front Bench in their wishes in this matter that he has changed to the present proposal. In these circumstances the Minister really has set himself out to please all sides and arrive at a fair agreement, and he deserves support in this matter.

10.44 p.m.

Sir Arnold Gridley

I desire to say only a few words at the conclusion of this Debate. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) referred to a revolution which took place on this side of the House a few days ago. I am sure that the whole House has enjoyed the kind of revolution which has taken place on his side of the House during the course of this Debate. What is uppermost, certainly in my own mind and probably in the mind of others, is this: The Minister has not got all he wanted, hon. Members opposite have not got all that they wanted, and we on these benches have not got what we wanted. What has happened has been an example of the spirit of compromise which is particularly British. Therefore I think we should all be satisfied.

10.46 p.m.

Sir J. Nall

I do not in the least dispute or dissent from the motives which have influenced my right hon. Friend to accept this. Amendment, but if hon. Members will refer to the Bill they will see that the Clause to which this Amendment relates is wholly concerned with the storage of goods. The storage of goods is a matter for the transport industry, and if there is an industry in this country which is riddled with every kind of licence in every aspect of its work it is the transport industry. In trying to meet the objections which were raised in Committee I think it is most unfortunate that my right hon. Friend should have resorted to a procedure which perpetuates the very bad kink in the policy of the Ministry which he has just left—namely, to bring in the legal profession on matters where a lawyer is neither essential nor has the qualifications in connection with the relevant matters which may be dealt with.

In this particular matter, although it was desirable, as my right hon. Friend admitted, to make some change in the Bill, it seems particularly unfortunate that he should have adopted this particular proposal. This is not a matter of evidence or observing the rules of evidence, or of weighing evidence in a judicial sense. It is a matter of a common sense decision about the storage of goods, with which a man of commerce or of business is far more qualified to deal than a man with a legal training. While I do not in the least dispute that the right hon. Gentleman should have made some change, I think it is unfortunate that he has adopted the practice of the Ministry of Transport, of bringing in lawyers at every conceivable point in the transport industry, and to perpetuate it in this Bill. I think that ought to be said. I do not say that in any carping spirit. I am not a lawyer, and I have great respect for the legal profession. They are most necessary on occasions, but this is one of the occasions where they are not required and ought not to have been brought in.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.