HC Deb 06 April 1943 vol 388 cc574-86
The Deputy-Chairman

We now come to the First Schedule, and——

Sir R. Clarry

On a point of Order. Is it your intention, Mr. Williams, not to call the new Clause in my name which comes next on the Order Paper—"Saving as to Licensing Acts and Common Law"?

The Deputy-Chairman

It has not been selected. The first Amendment to the First Schedule which I propose to call is that standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking). From what I can gather, it would seem to be in the interests of the Committee to have a fairly wide and general discussion on that Amendment. Does that meet with the consent of the Committee?

Hon. Members


Captain P. Macdonald

I beg to move, in page 13, line 4, after "of," to insert "eleven."

The object of this Amendment is to ensure that the industry is represented on the Commission. As laid down in the Bill the composition of the Commission is to consist of seven members, and so far as I can make out it is the intention of the Minister that these seven members should be independent members. Whatever may be the merits of having independent Commissions in some industries, a complicated industry like the catering industry, in which there are so many different sections, should be represented, if not by every individual section, at least by some of them. The Amendment recommends that instead of the Commission being composed of seven independent members the number should be 11—four representatives of the employers, four of the employees, with the remaining three independent. It may be argued that even four representatives of the employers or four representatives of the employees would not represent any material section of this industry. It was urged very strongly by the industry itself that the representation should be greater. Examples have been given of the Road Haulage Act and other Acts, where the composition of the Commission has a much greater representation of the industry than the representation for which we are asking. But those who are associated with the Amendment felt it would be unwise to have too unwieldy a Commission, and we have asked for what we consider to be a reasonable number in order that the Commission should be kept advised on the intricacies, implications and complexities of this trade. I think the Minister would be well advised to accept this Amendment. I do not intend to make a long story of it, because we have already thrashed it out with him, and we have heard his views. I urge him to reconsider his decision. I cannot think that the Minister is anxious that this particular industry, which has so many ramifications and different branches, should have no representation at all on the advisory committee.

Major Petherick

The object of the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) is, as he says, to have a mixed Commission in place of an independent, or semi-independent, Commission as provided for by the words in the Bill. I did not put my name to this Amendment because, frankly, I am not happy with it as it stands, for various reasons. I think it is right, broadly speaking, to have an independent body or to get as close to that as you can. I should prefer it to be more independent than that which is now provided for by the present words in the Bill. One of the difficulties of a mixed Commission is that it would be too unwieldly if it was to represent all the different sections of this industry, and I think such a Commission would be extremely difficult to work. On the other hand, if it was not too big and you tried to get the different sections represented, it would be difficult to get each section fairly represented. In addition, I think there are two other difficulties. For wages boards you want the best men you can get, but unfortunately it so happens in nearly every trade that the best men in that industry are already engaged in carrying on their own job. They may be in trade unions, or they may be directors, managing directors or managers. The result is that it is very difficult on all these boards and Commissions to get good value. Secondly, there is the difficulty of representing all sections by exactly all the men you want.

So far as I can make out, the catering trade as a whole are rather heavily inclined to a mixed Commission, but mineral water manufacturers, when an association was set up to rationalise their trade a short time ago, were perturbed because it was not an independent body, and they clamoured that it should be independent. So I think we can claim that there is no settled policy as to whether a body of this nature should be independent. We have to take every case on its merits. I entirely agree that the trade ought to make its views heard and that it ought to be able to give its considered technical views to the Commission. I think we should have a new Clause brought in to provide for setting up an advisory committee of persons solely connected with the trade, representing both employers and employed. You would have to have a fairly large advisory committee, but there are precedents in other Acts of Parliament, not exact analogies, but fairly close to that suggestion.

Mr. Bevin

During the course of the discussions on this Bill I have realised that this is one of the questions, quite apart from support or opposition, which would require review. I am very anxious that the Commission shall remain independent, as stated in the Bill, and the reason I advance for that is that as compared with the Trade Boards Act this Bill provides that the Minister virtually delegates his powers to the Commission. Therefore, if the Commission is to be outside the scope and setting-up of the wages boards and other matters, it is important that it should hold the balance—as it will have to do—between one section and another. It must not be assumed that when you come to deal with the individual interests of these sections there will be the same unanimity as there is in opposition to me. At that stage you will get a division of interests and the clamour for special treatment.

Since I met hon. Members at the now famous, or infamous, meeting at St. James's Square I have been considering in what way I could effectively deal with this problem. If I tried to deal with it by adding to the Commission, it would satisfy nobody, because inevitably somebody would be left out. As can be seen by the formidable list of Amendments on this point, some Members want special representation for one section and others want it for other sections. Therefore, I should be prepared on the Report stage to move a Clause somewhat on the following lines. I do not want to be tied to the actual words. [Interruption.] It is not repentance at all. It shows that at least some hon. Members have an educational value. I do not say which ones. I shall, on the Report stage, move a Clause somewhat on these lines: The Minister may appoint such number of persons as he thinks fit to act as technical assessors to the Commission in connection with any investigation or inquiry that the Commission may undertake (being persons who, in the Minister's opinion, have special knowledge of any of the matters which fall within the jurisdiction of the Commission). A technical assessor shall not vote or otherwise be a party to any report or recommendation of the Commission. The idea is to allow flexibility. If boarding houses are under consideration, there can be technical assessors from that branch, and so with public houses or luxury hotels.

Captain P. Macdonald

By assessors the right hon. Gentleman means advisers?

Mr. Bevin

I think that assessor is a much better term. I want to limit this to the technical side. If I used the word "adviser," I should be immediately called upon to get equal numbers from the various sides, and that is what I want to avoid. I have used the word "assessor" deliberately because I want to bring in people to advise the Commission by giving them technical assistance, from wherever they may come. There is, for instance, a body, a very important one in this respect, called the Seaside Resorts Association. They study very carefully the interests of the local authorities. They may not be boarding-house keepers, but in their corporate capacity they are interested in the wellbeing of their community. They have a point of view to put forward. The words I have suggested would allow other types of people to be called in on the health and welfare side. The purpose is to get a body of technical opinion from wherever I may draw it; it may be councillors, boarding-house keepers or hotel keepers, and so on. Further, I think my proposal would really give the trade a chance to sort itself out and enable the Commission to have before them a helpful body of technical assistance. There is one Amendment on the Order Paper which is extremely important from my point of view, although I am afraid some hon. Members do not credit me with being as serious as I am about the matter. The Amendment proposes that I should put on the Commission somebody who would deal specifically with the tourist traffic. The proposal I have made would allow me to have technical assessors to deal with that particular branch which, from the point of view of employment and exchange problems—I speak not only as Minister of Labour but as a Member of the War Cabinet—is a very vital matter and one which I do not take lightly. The proposal would allow me to bring in the right class of people to advise the Commission. Therefore, without elaborating the matter any further, I will between now and the Report stage find a wording for the new Clause so as to get the draft right, and I hope it will meet with unanimous agreement, and that the proposal I have made may make it unnecessary for the Amendments on the Order Paper to be moved.

Mr. Colegate

Does the Minister's proposal mean that the Commission will consist of seven entirely independent persons, or does he propose that, in spite of the technical assessors, there shall be two persons representing the employers and two persons representing the employees?

Mr. Bevin

I would stick to the original draft on that point.

Sir W. Smithers

Has my right hon. Friend any idea as to the number of technical assessors there would be? I could not make any suggestion as to the number, because I do not know how many branches of the trade there are, but I take it the Minister would not refuse membership of the board of assessors to any branch of the trade?

Mr. Bevin

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it would be perfectly elastic and would depend upon the subject. The proposal will enable the Commission to have advice from persons familiar with any section of the trade.

Sir H. Williams

I think the Minister has made a most important announcement that will excite very lively satisfaction among the various interests concerned. I hope the Committee will accept the right hon. Gentleman's proposal and not go on with the other Amendments to this Schedule on the Order Paper. That is the advice I would wish to tender to those of my hon. Friends with whom I have been associated. However, this is no reason why we should not discuss the Minister's suggestion in order that he may be helped with regard to the draft he is to make between now and the Report stage. I think the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers) has been well answered by the Minister. The assessors are not to be a permanent body always sitting. There will be the Commission. If the Commission are discussing lodging-house keepers, there will be present the assessors properly representing that interest; I do not mean only the owners of lodging houses, but somebody representing also those employed in the lodging houses. If the Commission are considering the circumstances of what are known as luxury hotels at seaside resorts, there will be somebody present representing their interests and the interests of their employes. The difference between assessors and advisers is this, that the assessors will always be present when the Commission are considering these matters, whereas an advisory committee is a body which sometimes meets and sometimes does not, and very often it falls into desuetude and becomes completely useless. One has only to consider some of the advisory committees attached to various Government Departments to know how useless some of them are. I would like to congratulate the Minister on having chosen the word "assessor." He is quite right.

However, I wonder whether he is right, in view of the very important change he has suggested, in desiring to continue the Commission in its existing form. The idea is to have a Commission of three independent people, with two representing the interests of the employers and two representing the interests of the workers. In view of this change, I think the Minister would be well advised to consider recasting the Commission and making it a purely independent body. Three members would be too few, but probably five independent members would be an adequate number, and they would always have with them the assessors when discussing a particular problem. I am trying to be helpful. I think there is an overwhelming case for making the Commission a completely independent body. There is an example, which is not a very good one, in the body which elects the London Passenger Transport Board—the Appointing Trustees—but they have no continuing responsibility. If the Minister is going to set up a Commission, let it be composed of people who have no interest in their function except the general public interest, and then associate with them the assessors who will come before the Commission openly with their respective axes to grind. The Minister has made a most important announcement and concession which will relieve a great many anxieties, but I ask him to consider recasting the Commission so that it will consist entirely of independent members.

Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)

In common with many other hon. Members, I have felt some anxiety about the composition of the Commission, which is to have very important and varied tasks. I do not know whether even the Minister himself is sufficiently well informed to know exactly the nature of all the tasks that the Commission will have to carry out. I was a little anxious about this matter. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to adapt the words of the Road Haulage Act and put them into an Amendment to the Schedule, to the effect that the Minister, in making the appointments, should consult with persons who appear to him to have knowledge of the catering trade and also persons on the employees' side. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman considered that idea and it did not seem to him to be a good one. I am bound to say that I think he has devised machinery which should enable the Commission to transact their multifarious business in a most effective way. The industry is an ill-defined and widespread one, and the proposal concerning assessors should meet the wishes and soothe the anxieties of a great many people.

Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)

Some of my hon. Friends and I have on the Order Paper an Amendment to this Schedule which is specially directed towards including on the Commission on what is known as the employers' side somebody with a knowledge of the tourist traffic. In view of what my right hon. Friend has said and his very frank recognition of the importance of that side of the traffic, I do not propose to press that Amendment, and rest entirely satisfied with his assurance that it will be in his mind when appointing assessors under the Clause which he proposes to move. I am a little doubtful whether the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) would meet the situation; I am a little doubtful whether the ideal Commission would be one consisting of three totally independent members, or whether it is not a better Commission as is proposed in the Schedule, by means of which there is secured the continuous presence of the employing interests and the employed interests. There is a considerable difference between an assessor and an adviser. In my experience, advisory boards are usually complete humbugs. They are simply used to cover up under a plethora of advice the final decisions of the executive authority. There is a great deal to be said for preserving the composition of the Commission as laid down in the Schedule rather than attempting to reduce it to three totally independent members, remitting all questions of technical advice to the assessors.

As I understood the Minister, the purpose of having the assessors is to be able at any time to bring in to help the Commission people having special knowledge of one part or other of this very special and diverse industry. There may be 25 or 30 branches of it and the Commission would have specialist advice before them when a special point was under discussion. I attach considerable importance to the fact that, in regard to the decisions of the Commission, there will be at all times representatives of the employers and of the employed rather than merely the detached opinion of assessors, as would be the case if the Commission were reduced to three independent members.

I particularly welcome what was said by my right hon. Friend about his intention to give special importance to the tourist traffic. There are two main facts that ought to be realized. One is the very great value of the tourist traffic, and the other is the scandalous way in which it is neglected. To my mind, the position of the tourist in this country deserves lamentation and tears. I am not thinking of the man who goes to the four or five star hotel, I am looking at the man who goes to the three star hotel or the inn, or even the hostel—and I attach importance to the hostel. If you go up and down the country and try to secure decent accommodation at a three star hotel or an inn, you are absolutely at the mercy of chance. The English inn could be made the best in the world. It may be said there are organisations that are supposed to undertake this work, but their incompetence is so abysmal that no one has ever been able to ascertain its depths.

This will be an important part of the work of the Commission, and I think it will be agreed that this is the ideal time for doing it. Perhaps before the war is over, millions of Americans will have travelled who have never travelled before. Hundreds of thousands of them are coming to this country. If we are to assist them, we shall have to do a great deal more for them than we have done up to now, as well as for the tourist, who should be a welcome visitor and the backbone of a great industry. The right hon. Gentleman may remember the American who said, "You have something to sell in this country which you are not selling, and that is your beauty." You will not sell your beauty unless you can provide a moderate standard of comfort with certainty at a reasonable price. In the circumstances I do not propose to move my Amendment. I am entirely satisfied with the promised new Clause.

Lieut.-Colonel Heneage (Louth)

There is one question I should like to ask about the assessors. In some cases assessors are only civil servants appointed by a Ministry for special purposes. I should very much like to know the right hon. Gentleman's view on the question of civil servants being appointed as representatives of a trade.

Mr. Bevin

The hon. and gallant Gentleman may be assured that the assessors will not be civil servants.

Commander Bower (Cleveland)

We who oppose the Bill have always attached the greatest importance to the composition of the Commission, and it is rather pleasant for us, after wandering for days through the arid desert, confronted by all sorts of mirages which fade away before our eyes, to find this oasis subject to a revision of opinion between now and Report, I think this is a valuable concession which will go a long way to allay a good many anxieties. It has always appeared to me one of the dangers of a Commission of this sort, dealing with such a highly varied industry, that the interests of one part of it might entirely knock out of action some other portion which had not been thought of. The proposal to have assessors who will be called in more or less ad hoc when any particular question arises will be a valuable safeguard against that sort of thing happening. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), and I hope the Minister will give his remarks a little further consideration before Report. I think the concession is a valuable one, and, if we give it a little thought between now and Report, we may be able to make it even better than the proposal the Minister has put forward.

Sir Douglas Hacking (Chorley)

I see that my name appears at the head of the list of those moving the Amendment. I gave a pledge a few days ago that I would not move any further Amendments, but I hope the Committee will pardon me if I take part in this discussion. So many bouquets have been thrown at the Minister that I hate to be left out. He has made a very important concession, and I believe it will go a long way towards making this a more workable Measure. I shall be glad if he will allow me to express my gratitude for the consideration that he has given to the matter. I take it that he is anxious to keep the same constitution for the Commission as is laid down in the First Schedule. I think he is wise to do that. The Commission will be very largely independent, and there will be no one directly representing even employers or employees, which I think is a good thing, because, if you have direct representation of either, you will get very little satisfaction for the trade as a whole with a small number of representatives, and if you had a large number, the Commission would become unwieldy. I take it that the assessors would be purely ad hoc and would be put in for the consideration of the particular section of the trade under discussion at any one time. On that understanding I again express my thanks to the Minister.

Captain P. Macdonald

As the mover of the Amendment in the absence of my right hon. Friend, I should like to congratulate the Minister on meeting his opponents for the first time in any large measure. We attach very great importance indeed to this part of the Bill. We spent most of the afternoon in discussing this very matter with him in his sanctum in St. James's Square. He was adamant then, and, though he made a small gesture, he did not by any means meet our demands. To-day, out of the blue, he has announced a compromise which we think is a great improvement even on what we suggested, as long as you have assessors who understand the industry and who are brought in ad hoc to advise on its problems. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be well advised in the matter of seaside resorts. I think that could be better dealt with by assessors than by having representatives of sections of the industry, who could not be representative of the industry as a whole. I congratulate and thank the right hon. Gentleman for meeting us on a vital point, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Major Petherick

This shows the value of a Committee stage. We could not tell whether the right hon. Gentleman was going to make concessions or not, but I think this a very valuable one. It differs from the suggestion that I put forward, but I think it is probably the best way of dealing with the matter. I should like to join my appeal for a reconsideration of the number of independent members of the Commission. I do not believe even now that there should be more than three, but five at the outside.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.

Second Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered upon the next Sitting Day, and to be printed [Bill 23].

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.