HC Deb 06 April 1943 vol 388 cc543-50

(1) Where a wages board has been established in respect of any workers, the Minister, after consulting the Commission and the wages board, may make regulations requiring all or any of the employers of any such workers to register for the purposes of this Act in the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner, giving such particulars as may be prescribed.

(2) If an employer fails to comply with any such regulations he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds.—[Mr. Bevin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Bevin

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This new Clause gives effect to an undertaking I gave earlier that, instead of the Minister preparing a list in this case, he would prepare a register. The purpose of the new Clause is to safeguard against any possibility of abuse. I want to be quite frank and to tell the Committee that the new Clause does not take away the right of inspection; if some persons who ought to go on to the register do not go on it may be necessary to see that they do go on the register so as to make it effective. The Clause gives power to establish a register of establishments to which the Bill, as an Act, will apply, and it has no other purpose. It does not, as the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Major Petherick) implies, preclude any person from entering the catering trade. It is the best thing I can devise to protect people from the fears that were expressed earlier in the Debate. I think that those in the seaside resorts and other places rather welcome this provision, because since I announced that I would be prepared to make it, I have had a good deal of support. I believe that if the provision is worked with the aid of the Commission and in the light of the advice which I propose to obtain, and which I shall announce later, it can be made a really useful thing and something that will remove all the fears that were expressed earlier.

Mr. Levy (Elland)

Am I to understand that this register will be permanent? I ask the question for this reason. At the present time there are many people living in small houses who are housing their friends, or alternatively, billeting people who have been directed to them, and, as I understand it, these people come within the ambit of the Bill. They have no wish to become catering establishments and they will not desire to continue to be catering establishments. Am I to understand that because they are now billeting people who have been directed to them they will be registered and will remain within the ambit of the Bill as catering establishments, or will the register be only temporary as far as they are concerned, so that when they cease to have people billeted on them, they will be able to leave the register? Or will they be permanently on the register and so be subjected to inspection as to whether any people are lodging with them?

Mr. Bevin

Obviously, the register will be bound to change as circumstances change. A person may have a small establishment to-day and a big one in two or three years' time. People may go out of business, and so on. The occupancy of the house may change. Therefore, the register will change. I would call attention to the wording of the new Clause: Where a wages board has been established in respect of any workers, the Minister, after consulting the Commission and the wages board, may make regulations requiring all or any of the employers of any such workers to register for the purposes of this Act. The form of the register may be different according to the character of the people with whom one is dealing. There may be one type of hotel where the Commission will say that a certain type of register is quite satisfactory. The regulations may be altered to provide for other safeguards where, so to speak, one gets nearer to the bone as between private houses and other establishments. The Clause will allow the Commission to advise me on the form the regulations should take in order that the register may be adapted to meet the requirements of different sections of these services. I think the Clause is a useful one and one that will give the Commission a chance of advising me in such a way as to make groundless the fears that were expressed about inspectors roaming all over the place to find out what is going on.

Mr. Levy

My right hon. Friend has been dealing with hotels; I was dealing with small private houses. What I was asking was whether, in the case of private houses, when the billeted people leave, the people in these houses will automatically come off the register and thus be outside the ambit of the inspectors who, in my submission, will take away from the privacy of the Englishman's home, which is supposed to be his castle.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

Surely, the assumption of the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) is entirely absurd. If the provision were to cover houses where people are compulsorily billeted or staying with friends, then practically every household in a mining village, where a son says, "I am not a part of the household in the ordinary sense of the term, but I am actually boarding with my mother," would be covered. Is it not absurd to suggest, in discussing this new Clause, that every little household in every hamlet, village, town and city where such a practice obtains is covered or is intended to be covered by the Bill? Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the Committee that neither in the wording of the Bill nor in the implication of this Clause is there included such a ridiculous suggestion as has been made by the hon. Member or the equally absurd one to which I have referred?

Mr. Levy

If I get an assurance from the Minister on the lines of that asked for by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden), I shall be perfectly happy, but my interpretation of the Bill is that it is all-embracing and all-inclusive.

Mr. Bevin

That assurance has been given by my right hon. and learned Friend, and I have given it, and I am sorry my power of penetration is not stronger.

Major Petherick

On the question of interpretation, I think there is much that will have to be cleared up between now and the Report stage, but on the question of registration——

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)

We have not yet come to the hon. and gallant Member's Amendment to this new Clause, and if he discusses it, he may preclude himself from discussing it later.

Major Petherick

I shall be careful not to do that Mr. Williams, in case you are good enough to call my Amendment. I wish to discuss the Clause as its stands. I think the addition of this new Clause will be a considerable improvement to the Bill. In the first place, as regards the question of recognition. Some of us were very alarmed, when we first saw the Bill, with regard to Clause 12, which deals with the right of entry of inspectors, and we raised the question of how they would know whether a lodging house was or was not in fact a lodging house. Therefore, it seemed to me that it was important to have a register in order that inspectors should not claim the right to inspect private houses on the grounds that probably they were lodging houses. The register would obviate that possibility. Secondly, I hope that one of the intentions of the new Clause may be to let out some of the very small type of lodging houses where the people really cannot have the organisation to keep a lot of elaborate records which they will not understand. I hope that is one of the objects of the new Clause.

Mr. Colegate

May I ask a question? Presumably the regulations will provide that where an establishment has been registered and then the person concerned gives up the business, there will be no difficulty in making application to be struck off the register?

Mr. Bevin

I really want the Commission to go into this very carefully, but we cannot put it in the Bill. The Regulations will provide for entry on and for removal from the register.

Sir A. Maitland

We have an old tradition in the House which I think is a good one, and I should not like to see it departed from. When a Minister gives an undertaking it is usual for someone to express appreciation. As I remember the Debate, the suggestion in the first instance came from the Minister himself, and I thank him for having honoured his undertaking.

Major Petherick

It is extremely kind of my hon. Friend, but actually the suggestion of this registration came from one of my hon. Friends, some of us having discussed the feasibility of it among ourselves.

Question, "That the Clause be read a second time"; put, and agreed to.

Major Petherick

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed new Clause, in line 5, at the end, to insert: Provided that no such register shall preclude any person from entering the Catering Trade. I think the Amendment is an important one. The Minister has said that it is not intended to prevent any person entering the catering trade or starting as a lodging-house or hotel keeper. We have heard rather too often that it is not intended to do this or that. The only thing that matters is what the Bill states. Intentions do not matter very much. It is for the courts to interpret the Act as it stands. I think it is possible that some busybody may try to use the register in order to plan the location of the hotel industry. When the right hon. Gentleman leaves his job, his place may be taken by a somewhat Fascistically inclined or possibly even a strong Socialistic Minister, and, if the Commission followed his views, they might use the register to plan the location, for instance, of inns and, if someone wished to start an inn in a certain part of the country, and got a licence, the Commission might say, "We will not allow you to come on the register," or they might use their influence to prevent a landlady starting a lodging house on the ground that there were enough lodging houses in the locality. I believe that is a possible danger. It is no use saying it is not intended. The right hon. Gentle- man cannot tie down his successors or the Commission 10 years from now. I am satisfied with his own intentions, but I am not satisfied with the amorphous intentions of an unknown successor, and I feel very strongly that the Committee ought to press the Minister to accept the Amendment, which will not do any harm to the structure of the Bill. It merely adds a mandatory provision that they may not do a certain thing.

Mr. Bevin

I was very careful about this Clause, and I put in the words "for the purposes of this Act," and there is really no need for additional words. I think such words as these might lead people to assume that we really have some ulterior motive in inserting the Clause. It is quite clear that the only thing you can register for is for the purposes of this Act. No Minister can make a Regulation restricting applicants for boarding houses, because in no Clause of the Bill is there any power to restrict anyone setting up as a boarding-house keeper—[Interruption.] Certainly not. It would be ultra vires.

Sir A. Maitland

Would not this Amendment, if adopted, rather suggest that this was the only matter that was precluded, and would not that have a restrictive effect? It might be desired to preclude some other matter, but the insertion of these words might prevent that.

The Solicitor-General

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that it would appear to suggest that that was the only limitation provided. This is a case where I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Major Petherick) that there is no question of relying on intentions or on the future good conduct of other occupants of this bench. We rely on the words to which my right hon. Friend has drawn attention, "to register for the purposes of this Act," and we say that those words absolutely exclude any question of registration in order to preclude any person from entering the industry. We take our stand on the actual words and say that they are sufficient to deal with the situation.

Mr. Levy

Am I to understand that it is obligatory on the part of the Commission, if so requested, to place upon the register any newcomer who may desire to enter the catering business without any qualifications whatever?

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Levy

I am asking the question, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give me an answer.

Mr. Griffiths

I asked what was wrong with it because the hon. Member's tone seemed to suggest that there was something very wrong with it.

Mr. Levy

If I happen to be rather dull and something is not quite clear to me, it is part of our procedure to ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain it, so that I may be quite clear what I am asked to vote upon if a Division is taken. I understand that anyone who so desires is free to enter the trade. That means that he would have to be put upon the register and that it is obligatory upon the Commission to accept an application from a newcomer to be placed upon the register.

Mr. Bevin

The register has nothing to do with latecomers or newcomers. All it has to do with is to indicate where the inspector shall inspect and, when a person is put on the register, whether a newcomer or an old inhabitant, the inspector is directed for the purpose of the Act to the people who are on the register. That is all it means. It has nothing to do with who shall come into the business and who shall not.

Mr. E. Walkden

I want to understand the suggestion of the hon. Member who keeps arguing with the Minister on something which I believe is contrary to his own point of view. Does he wish us to accept the idea that anyone shall be refused the right to set up in business in any shape or form except in war-time? In war-time it is impossible to allow people to set up in business because of the Regulations, but does he wish to interpolate a provision that persons shall be refused the right because there are enough caterers in the area already?

Major Petherick

I was impressed with what the Solicitor-General said that we need not rely on intentions but that we can rely on what the Bill says, but I am not absolutely happy about it. There might be a slump in the lodging-house industry at some future date, and the Com- mission might want to set up a wages board, which would make it very difficult for landladies and landlords to carry on without putting a lot of people out of employment. It is conceivable that they might say to themselves, "We will have a register, and in order to carry out our purpose we will make it watertight and will allow only those people whom we think fit to add their names to the register and to enter the trade." My hon. and learned Friend shakes his head, but it is worth examining again, and on the understanding that it will not be lost sight of, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment to the proposed new Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause added to the Bill.