HC Deb 06 April 1943 vol 388 cc563-74

The Commission is exercising their powers under this Act and every wages board in making any recommendations and framing and submitting any wages regulation proposals under this Act shall have due regard to the general public interest and to the importance of ensuring that the persons for whom accommodation or refreshment is provided by the catering industry (including visitors from overseas) are adequately served.—[Mr. Craik Henderson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Craik Henderson

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

I suggest that this really is an important Clause. So far we have been dealing with various Clauses regulating wages and so on, but, as the Minister said, "We cannot live by the Beveridge Report alone." Equally, we cannot live, or the catering industry cannot prosper, merely by the appointment of Committees. The catering trade must be in a position to attract new business after the war, and it is going to be a very serious handicap both for the catering industry and, what is more important in my view, for the general public, if these various Commissions, wages boards and sub-committees are to have the power of putting forward recommendations which might have the effect of killing the industry itself which lays the golden egg, and also might have the effect of introducing provisions which might be very detrimental to the general public. To take just one example, suppose a recommendation were put forward that no hot meals were to be supplied after eight o'clock and the Minister were to adopt it. It might seem, both to employers and employees equally, that it was quite a useful provision, but the effect would be very bad on the general public and bad in its effect of driving tourists away from this country. One would like to have some assurance that in the framing of these regulations, and in the Minister giving effect to them, the interests of the general public will be kept well in view.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. McCorquodale)

My hon. Friend, in moving this proposed new Clause, raised a point which I think has the general sympathy of all of us. No one would wish-that anything done under this Bill should in any way handicap the general public interest or the interest of the trade, and indeed I cannot imagine a wages board, which would be composed of experienced people in the trade, endeavouring to handicap the source of their own livelihood. The hon. Member mentioned what I thought was a rather odd case. He suggested that the wages board might recommend that no hot meal should be served after eight o'clock and that the Minister might adopt it. The Minister has no power to adopt any such suggestion, or to make such a regulation. He would have to come to Parliament and move a new Bill to be able to do so. I do not think the hon. Member need be worried by points of the kind he raised. The Clause as drafted simply requires that due regard is to be had to the matters mentioned; it would have no legal effect and, therefore, can have no effective place in the legislation. I think we must assume that the Minister, this impartial Commission, and the wages board, made up of experienced people in that section of the industry with which they deal, will all recognise the responsibilities entrusted to them by Parliament in this Bill, and act accordingly in the public interest. I hope the hon. Member will not press this Clause, as we do not want anything in the Bill which clearly would have no effect at all.

Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)

I do not quite follow the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in his statement that the Minister of Labour could not make any Order to the effect of the example given by the Mover of this proposed new Clause. Surely if the wages board were to lay down certain restrictions on the hours of labour in this industry, the effect might be that meals could not be sold at certain times. I find myself in general principle somewhat in sympathy with the objects of this new Clause, because, although I have not visited Australia, I believe that without any such provision as we are now envisaging, it is difficult to get a meal after six p.m. With legislation of this kind something of that might arise, which I think would be a setback to Western civilisation. But I do not think it is desirable to incorporate these matters in this Clause. It seems to me that Clause 6, with its safeguards for the improvement and efficiency of the industry, is sufficient. No one who has any regard for the efficiency and improvement of the industry could possibly say that to take such a step as has been instanced would be furthering the efficiency or improvement of the industry. I do not think this new Clause is needed, though I sympathise with its object.

Sir Granville Gibson (Pudsey and Otley)

I had intended raising the point which has just been asked. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said that the Minister has no power to stipulate the hours when meals can be served. But the Commission has power, I suppose, to recommend that hours should be limited, and the Minister would have the power to put them into effect.

Mr. McCorquodale

The Commission would have no power at all in the matter, and the wages boards have not the power to recommend hours. The wages boards have power to make proposals for fixing the remuneration to be paid generally or for any particular work, for fixing intervals for meals or rests, or requiring any workers to be allowed holidays, and it is on these matters that Orders may be made by my right hon. Friend. He therefore could not make an Order that no meals should be served after 8 p.m.

Sir G. Gibson

Apparently hours may be stipulated or recommendation made by the Commission as to hours.

Mr. McCorquodale

No, only the hours of rest, not hours of work. They can made recommendations for fixing the intervals for meals or rest to be allowed to all or any such worker…. That is in the Bill, Clause 7 (1). That is the only power the wages board has at all to recommend hours.

Sir G. Gibson

Is there any danger that an experience I had in New Zealand might happen here, whereby breakfast was served from eight to nine, and at 9.15 you could not get a meal?

Mr. McCorquodale

Not under this Bill.

Mr. Levy

The Minister would surely agree that if you are going to regulate hours, and the Commission, as I understand it, under this Bill have the right to recommend regulations for intervals of rest, they can say that the interval for rest shall start, shall we say, at 8.30 p.m., which means that after eight o'clock the interval starts, and no meals can be served because it would interfere with the interval. After all, it seems quite obvious that in regulations that the Commission desire to make which they think are for the benefit of the workers, whether it is so or not, they may think it is desirable that restaurants shall close, shall we say, at 10 p.m. What is to prevent them from making a regulation to do that? They can argue that the interval for rest shall start at 2 p.m., which would automatically mean no lunches after two. What provision is there here to prevent anything of that kind taking place? It may sound a little absurd as I am saying it—[Interruption]—but a number of these absurdities unfortunately, owing to these regulations, are translated into facts, because so many of these Regulations to-day which are translated into actual facts become absurd in actual working, and there is a good deal of anxiety in the country.

Miss Ward (Wallsend)

Could the hon. Member give an illustration of that absurdity?

Mr. Levy

With pleasure. To-day manufacturers who have in their possession quite a large amount of brilliantine are prohibited under a Regulation from supplying it and it is therefore absurd to think that manufacturers with brilliantine required by the community are committing a penal offence if they distribute it.

Captain Studholme (Tavistock)

The hon. Lady asked for an example of the absurdity in practice. The last time I was in New Zealand, a country with which I have many family connections and for which I have a great affection, I arrived, after a very tiresome, rough crossing, at the hotel at about 7 o'clock in the evening. I asked for a meal, and I was told, "We are very sorry, but we are not allowed to serve a meal at this hour." I consider this a very good example. The whole thing is quite barbarous.

Sir W. Smithers

In considering the hours of rest, will any provision be made to see that they are fixed daily, or will they be spread out over three months or six months? [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] The hon. Member says "Oh!" but it is very important because seaside and holiday places have rash seasons, and people at such places would be prepared to work longer hours at rush times if they could get a proper rest at other times.

Mr. McCorquodale

On this Clause we have had an interesting Debate, ranging from New Zealand to brilliantine; but we are endeavouring to consider what is actually in the Clause, and neither New Zealand nor brilliantine is included. My hon. Friend assumes that a wages board, composed of employers and employed persons in that section of the industry, are deliberately going to make recommendations on rest times and on wages which will hamstring their own trade. I cannot believe that that is likely. The object of setting up a wages board which is representative of the trade is to prevent that sort of thing. We must leave it to the good sense of the board to safeguard their own trading interests.

Sir William Davison (Kensington, South)

It seems to me that this matter is left very much in the air. The Minister cannot say that a thing is likely or is not likely to take place. We know what has happened in certain of the Dominions and other places. The board might possibly make up its mind that it was in the interests of the employees that they should have an interval for rest from, say, 7.30 to 8.30, but that might not be to the public convenience. I think the wording of the Clause might be improved, but there should be some direction to the board that in making an order regard should be had to the interests of the general public. I see no legal objection to that. We cannot accept the idea that people concerned in the trade will not do anything absurd. We are a legislative assembly, and we have to provide in advance, by Act of Parliament, and not by what a Minister considers likely, that such things shall not happen. I hope a direction will be given that any interval of rest which is fixed shall have regard to the convenience of the general public.

Mr. Colegate

I have great sympathy with this proposed- Clause, although I agree that the wording may not be quite suitable for its purpose. We should be quite clear about what we are doing, and how far we accept the sort of argument which is put forward against the Clause. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that we could trust to a wages board not to do anything to hamstring the industry. That is not the point. We are concerned with the consumer. We all know that employers and employed may easily get together to soak the consumer. One of the functions of this House, now and for many years to come, will be to give adequate protection to the consumer against what we might call conspiracies between the employer and the employed. That applies particularly to the catering industry. [Interruption.] Would the hon. Member mind making his own speech when I am not talking? Particularly does this apply to the catering industry, on which all members of the public depend for their comfort and convenience when they go about the country. We may be told that something is not likely to happen, or that commonsense or the Minister is going to prevent it. Over and over again we have been told that we must leave things to somebody else's commonsense. But I really think that the Minister, from whom we had very little concession, should try before the Report stage to get some form of words which will meet this point, which I am sure appeals to a large section of the House.

Major Petherick

I do not think there is anything particularly objectionable even in the form of words used in the Clause. The whole emphasis of the Bill is on the protection of the persons engaged in the trade. There is not one word which makes it plain that the whole of the trade, employers and employed, depend on whether the people of the country are willing to consume the goods they supply. It seems to me that a caveat should be inserted to tell the wages board that they must, in any recommendations they make, consider the consumer. It is no good either of them making such recommendations as are going to drive the consumers away from the restaurants, the hotels, the cafes, the sweet shops and so on.

Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)

Where will they go?

Major Petherick

If I go to an hotel and try to get a meal, and cannot get one, I go home. If I do not get good food, I do not go to that place again. The case of New Zealand has been, quite properly, raised. It is an apposite instance to bring up. The Parliamentary Secretary and other members of the Government during the whole Committee stage have constantly suggested that everything will be all right because the Commission is going to consist of Tritons, and the wages board of Angel Gabriels. But nobody knows that that will be so. Can we guarantee that that will be so in 1953? Of course we cannot. We must go back to what the Bill in fact states. If the Bill in no way draws the attention of the Commission and the wages boards to the fact that their trade relies entirely for its success or failure upon the consumers, it may be that one or other of those bodies will make recommendations which will drive prospective consumers away from the industry. It does no harm to accept these six very modest lines in the new Clause. It may do a lot of good in drawing the attention of these people to the fact that they rely on the general public.

Mr. Levy

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary endeavoured to make a couple of points with regard to New Zealand and brilliantine which were quite irrelevant to the point I asked him to explain. I do not think that——

The Deputy-Chairman

I was not in the Chair then, but now that the hon. Gentleman has called my attention to the fact, I think he had better leave it alone.

Mr. Levy

I had better not continue on that subject; but my hon. Friend instead of replying to the proper points which I made, if I may say so, with all deference and due humility, gave us a rigmarole which had nothing to do with them. I asked him to explain if it were not possible in the form of a regulation to limit the service of meals after 9 o'clock. Either it is possible for the Commissioners under regulations, or it is not. If it is possible, something should be put into the Bill to prevent that sort of thing happening, so as to meet the convenience of people who are travelling about the country, and for whom it is necessary that meals should be obtainable over good and reasonable hours.

Miss Ward

Will you allow me to say how sorry I am that the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) has not been able to get his brilliantine? Obviously, it is a very sore point. I do not want to pursue that subject. I have listened to the supporters of this Clause with very great in- terest. None of them realises that at this moment the railway companies, without this Bill, have ceased to serve meals. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend obviously has not travelled lately on the London and North Eastern Railway.

Sir G. Gibson

I travelled from Leeds to London last night on the London and North Eastern Railway, and I had dinner on the train.

The Deputy-Chairman

Both hon. Members are completely out of Order.

Miss Ward

At present under the law of the land, as I understand it, railway hotels and restaurants can all say at what time they will open and close their establishments. [HON. MEMBERS: "No,"] Members all say "No," but I have a fairly wide experience of restaurants. I have no desire to pursue this very complicated question, but I want to say, in general opposition to the proposed Clause, that, as far as I understand it, the wages board machinery in the past has worked very effectively, with very great success, and I very much regret that my hon. Friends here should have taken up so much time on this matter.

Captain P. Macdonald

This is a very important Clause. I think it would be a very bad thing if this Bill were to go on the Statute Book without some reference to the obligation which this industry is under to the general public. Reference has been made to different countries, and the conditions prevailing in them with regard to catering for the general public. I will deal with one example, not in our own Empire, but nearer home where trade union regulations were imposed and completely spoilt catering for the general public in recent years. I remember arriving by car somewhere in Czechoslovakia, a Socialist State, at 7.30 in the evening and being told that because of trade union regulations and so forth imposed upon hotel keepers no meals could be served after that hour. If one had to go on a train journey of a considerable length, the same reasons were given for not providing a meal. There is no reason why this Bill, if improperly interpreted or misinterpreted, or even interpreted in its proper form, could not impose upon the industry regulations that would make it impossible for it to cater for the general public. There is a very great danger of this happening unless the trade boards have some clause or regulation such as this to insist that the comfort of the general public must be considered, otherwise we are handing over to this body under this Bill powers from which the general public will dissent very much indeed if they find that it is going to hamper their convenience and comfort in this way. We have only to impose one regulation and say that in small hotels or small lodging houses there must be one job for one man. To impose such an obligation upon a small establishment might mean that immediately they might have to close down because they could not afford to run two shifts. Is the general public to be left in this position without any obligation being upon the Government to see that the convenience of the public is catered for?

I do not think that the illustration of the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) has relevance at all. The railway companies to-day are hamstrung by war-time regulations. It is not their fault that they cannot serve meals. They are very anxious to serve them, but they are not allowed in many cases because the Minister of War Transport does not allow them a restaurant car. To say that it is their fault that meals are not served in all cases to-day is to quote a very bad example indeed. I urge the Minister, before rejecting this Clause, to reassure the general public that in passing this Bill giving so much power to the Minister, the Government are not doing this without safeguarding in some way the obligations that they have to the general public. If the words of the proposed Clause are not convenient, I am convinced that some suitable words could be found to ensure that the convenience of the general public is safeguarded.

Sir H. Webbe

I am sure that no one doubts the intentions either of the Minister or his officers or indeed of those he is to appoint to the wages board, but we have had a little too much of intentions. I submit to the Minister that without even loss of faith—and I realise that he wants the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill—he could afford to accept either this Clause or at least the principle. I will quote two sentences from this interesting product of the party truce. The Minister, in introducing this Bill, said: Let me say, too, that I do not regard this catering service as purely commercial. A large part of it must inevitably be a social service as well."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1943; col. 1200, Vol. 386.] That is what those who have spoken in support of the Amendment have been trying to say. I ask the Minister, by accepting the Clause or by agreeing to put something definite into the Bill, to restore the expression of opinion he gave on Second Reading on this matter and with which I am certain that the whole House was heartily in agreement.

Mr. Bevin

I regret that so much time has been taken up on this Clause, because it might be assumed that there was no joint machinery existing in this country at all. We have the longest history of any country in the world of joint relationship, and from the days of the trade boards until now, I defy any hon. Members to point to me one industry that was not improved in efficiency as a result of coming under joint machinery of this character. There is all this talk about ruining and wrecking the industry. Read your Debates of 1909. Everything has been falsified. When the two parties have come together under a board they have contributed to the efficiency of the industry and have never done a single thing that can be shown to be against the public interest at all. The public interest and the interest of those employed in the industry are synonymous terms, but that does not mean that women have to work until 12 o'clock at night and have to get breakfast ready in the morning. I deliberately refrained from putting the regulation of hours into this Bill. That is why I ask that this Clause should be defeated. The "Front Populaire" has been quoted. What was the trouble with the "Front Populaire" [An HON. MEMBER: "It was not popular."] I am not so sure about that. I am not going to digress, but I have my own view that if the "Front Populaire" had had more support from this House, France might never have fallen—[Interruption.] Hon. Members provoke me, so they must let me put my spoke in. I am not going to accept that gibe without a protest, especially against a country that we are going to bring back at a later date. This business of throwing mud at other countries is not a wise thing to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] The "Front Populaire"——

The Deputy-Chairman

I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to leave the "Front Populaire," otherwise I would have to allow other Members to answer him.

Mr. Bevin

I apologise, Mr. Williams. I was a little provoked. I only wanted to reply to the hon. Member. The trouble in New Zealand, in Australia and in France was an attempt to legislate hours in a Bill and not to leave it to joint machinery to settle. That is where the whole thing went wrong. When I had to approach this industry I determined to try and find a means which would give flexibility and which would allow the wages board with common sense and with the facts before them to adjust one set of rest periods for one section of the trade. It is obvious that if you are dealing with the public-house section of the trade you have to regulate your periods of rest largely by the hours of opening. In the luxury hotels you may have shift work, and you can regulate it in another way. And in boarding houses and in seaside resorts you may have to arrange the rest periods in yet another way. In that sense I have allowed the public interest to be brought within the scope of the various wages boards. The Committee will do well to trust these boards to lay down the conditions of rest and comfort for the staff, but I want to make it clear that I cannot be a party to the atrociously long hours—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—listen to what I am going to say—which the public in many cases, in my opinion, have unreasonably demanded. In many cases the public have demanded from the staff in hotels service at hours which the proprietor has regretted he has been unable to control. No one in this House has spent more years, in hotels than I have. I have been travelling now for 35 years as a trade union official and living in hotels. I have been ashamed sometimes at the demands of some of my own friends upon the proprietors and staffs—unreasonable demands. The period of rest is a very vital thing indeed which I want the wages board to decide.

Lastly, can these good people employed in this trade be excluded from the general development that is going on in regard to industrial health? Industrial health is not limited to the factories as far as I am concerned. I believe that with the free and independent chairman, and the wages board looking at the thing objectively, both sides having regard to their industry and their industrial needs will arrive at a common-sense arrangement. If something was proposed which was outrageous, can anyone deny that if it was advertised, and advertised it must be—I would remind the Committee that when the wages board puts up a proposal it has to advertise it—and if we were going to ruin any part of the industry, there would not be a yell of protest immediately and the Minister would have to refer it back to the board to consider? Therefore I regard all the protection introduced into this Bill as done deliberately with the intention of avoiding rigidity in the development of this industry. I ask the Committee to reject the proposal in the Clause which has no legal effect at all, to accept the Clause originally proposed and to have confidence in the machinery.

Mr. Craik Henderson

I regret very much the speech which the Minister has just delivered, which is quite irrelevant to the Clause which we were discussing. Our proposal is that the Commission, in exercising their power, should have due regard to the general public interest. There was no need to bring in any sentimental nonsense about people being called upon to work long hours. There was no such suggestion; we were merely asking that such regulations as were brought in should have due regard to the public interest. It is quite possible that employers and employees may see a question from the point of view of the interest of the particular trade, but there is also another interest to be considered—the public interest. Why the Minister should have thought it advisable to indulge in the remarks he made I cannot imagine.

Mr. Leslie (Sedgfield)

Because of the speeches of the hon. Gentleman's friends.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.