HC Deb 18 April 1940 vol 359 cc1108-10
44. Sir George Broadbridge

asked the Home Secretary whether he has completed his examination of the position consequent on the recent decision of the House of Lords regarding the operation of the Truck Acts; and whether he is now in a position to make a statement?

Sir J. Anderson

I am advised that the effect of the decision of the House of Lords in the recent case of Pratt v. Cook, is that in certain classes of case an employer may not contract to remunerate a workman, for example, with £3 a week, plus meals valued at say 10s., even where he could legally have contracted to pay £3 10s. less 10s. for meals supplied, and that where a contract has been in the form now declared to be illegal, claims can be made for the recovery of the remuneration not paid in cash over a period of 20 years past. The result is that a number of workpeople, in various employments, who have been supplied with food or other things as part of their remuneration, in some cases with specific trade union agreement, can, if the contract happens to have been cast in the form now declared to be illegal, claim to be remunerated twice over. Some claims of this kind have already been launched, and there is reason to believe that others are contemplated.

In future, any contracts must be in a form which complies with the provisions of the Truck Acts, as now interpreted by the House of Lords, and it is not proposed to amend those provisions; but it appears to the Government to be necessary and proper to legislate for the purpose of preventing claims as regards the past which have no merits and would, if pursued, tend to disturb good relations between employers and employed. They accordingly propose to introduce at once a Bill to bar claims, under Section 4 of the Truck Act of 1831,for the payment in cash of remuneration which was, in fact, provided in the form of food or some other thing, in those cases in which it would have been legal to contract to pay a higher nominal money wage but to make deductions from that wage in respect of the food or other thing provided. The Bill will provide for the discharge of proceedings which have already been started, subject to such Order as to costs as the Court may think proper. Judgments given or settlements reached before to-day will not be interfered with.

Sir G. Broadbridge

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, might I ask what would be the position as regards any judgments that might be obtained after to-day and before the proposed Bill becomes law?

Sir J. Anderson

I am considering this point with my legal advisers. It is not free from technical difficulties, but I should like to make it clear at once that a litigant or prospective litigant would have no legitimate grievance if, when the proposed Bill became law, he found that Parliament had decided to nullify the effect of the present law.

Mr. Rhys Davies

In view of the importance of this declaration, might I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has been in contact with the Trades Union Congress on the matter?

Sir J. Anderson

Certain discussions have taken place, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the whole matter will be left to the decision of the House when the Bill is introduced, which I hope will be at an early date.

Mr. Garro Jones

Would it not be fair, in legislating on such a delicate matter, to provide that litigants who have already commenced proceedings, with the law as it stands, should be allowed their full costs?

Sir J. Anderson

The hon. Member will find that that point is covered by my answer.

Mr. Garro Jones

The right hon. Gentleman said that it would be for the courts to decide as to costs. I am asking that it should be decided by this House.

Sir J. Anderson

That is a matter for consideration when the Bill comes before the House.

Mr. Leslie

Would it not be wiser to strengthen the present Act, so that all workers should be paid entirely in current coin of the realm, instead of being paid partly in kind?

Mr. McGovern

Has there been consultation between the various parties on this question? Does not this affect national unity? [Interruption.] I understood that there was a system of consultation between the various parties, and I should like to know whether there is unity on this.

Sir J. Anderson

I merely indicated that it was proposed to introduce a Bill. It will be discussed at the appropriate time.

Mr. Sorensen

Will the Bill which is to be introduced have the effect, in fact, of nullifying the verdict in the successful action that was brought in the House of Lords recently?

Sir J. Anderson

Certainly not.