HC Deb 25 March 1943 vol 387 cc1863-71
Mr. Craik Henderson

I beg to move, in page 1, line 25, to leave out from "fit" to "into," in line 26.

Paragraph (a) empowers the Commission to make such enquiries as they think fit or as they may be directed by the Minister to make into the existing methods of regulating the remuneration and conditions of employment and so on. The Amendment is designed to allow the Commission alone to make such inquiries and to withdraw from the Minister the right to call upon the Commission to make such inquiries as he thinks fit. I do not know the reason for including these words. This Commission is an independent body set up by the Minister and its composition and duties are laid down in the Bill. Why should it not be allowed to carry out quite impartially any inquiries it has to carry out? I expect that the Minister will reply that there are certain questions which the Commission might not go into and that he wants to have the power where necessary to ask it to look into things which otherwise it might not look into. That seems an extraordinary reason because one would have thought that, the Commission having been appointed by the Minister, the mere suggestion that it should look into something would be sufficient without requiring to lay it down in an Act.

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)

I ought to remind the Committee that this Amendment covers a very narrow point, and we cannot discuss the whole question of the Commission now.

Mr. Henderson

I accept your Ruling, but I was under the impression that I was keeping narrowly to the words which should be left out. The Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and all the speakers have referred to this Commission as an impartial, independent body set up by the Minister and appointed by him to carry out that inquiry. Cannot the Minister trust the Commission to carry out that inquiry? It would be an advantage if the Minister indicated why he thinks it necessary to have such a power.

Sir A. Maitland

It seems to me that my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment has not established a case at all for his suggestion that the words which he seeks to delete in any sense affect the question of whether or not the Commission is impartial. Let me, by way of example, put this case. Is the Minister of Labour to be denied the opportunity of indicating to the Commission some matter upon which Parliament may desire to have inquiries made? I should have thought it was wise to say that it is competent for the Minister to direct the Commission to make certain inquiries. It will be stultifying the usefulness of Parliament if hon. Members are not able to indicate to the Minister certain points which they would like the Commission to deal with; and it may well be that the Minister, on information conveyed to him by Members of Parliament, should be able to institute inquiries which otherwise would not be undertaken. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend will see that there is nothing in these words which suggests any impairment of the impartiality of the Commission. I think the words are reasonable and that the Committee would be unwise to deprive the Minister of the powers which are here sought. I hope the Amendment will not be accepted.

Major Petherick

I think it is no reflection upon the impartiality of the Commission that the Minister should be able to direct them to make certain inquiries. It is more a reflection on their independence. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has to-day, and on several other occasions, laid considerable weight upon the independence of the Commission. It seems to me that to retain in the Clause the words or as they may be directed by the Minister tends to detract from the independence of the Commission. Surely the Commission should be allowed to make their own inquiries and their own recommendations. The moment we get the Minister empowered to say to the Commission "You must make inquiries about this or that," the Commission cease, to a certain degree, to be independent. That may sound a little casuistic, but it is not. It is one more example of the growing taste, or fashion as I should prefer to call it, for authoritarianism in this country. I am not going to stray from the actual words, and so I hope you will not feel alarmed, Mr. Williams, but I should like to say that there is a danger if we leave these words in that an authoritarian Minister—I am not saying this one, but someone in the future—may very well take the line that he intends to direct the Commission to interfere in every possible way and make recommendations on every sort of subject within the terms of the Clause. For that reason we ought to take care what words we accept in this Bill, or in any other Bill, giving a Minister such powers.

Mr. Holmes (Harwich)

There was clearly a tendency on the part of those who opposed the Bill on the Second Reading, to call attention to the fact that the Bill would, in their opinion, give the Minister too much power. It would appear that the Amendment is one of the ways in which they are endeavouring to take a little power from him. I venture to think that the hon. and learned Member for North-East Leeds (Mr. Craik Henderson) is really robbing the House of Commons of power. Let us assume that the Bill goes through and that a Commission is set up. Hon. Members will ask questions on various matters concerning the catering trade. They will ask for an inquiry and the Minister of Labour will say that he will call upon the Commission, as the Bill now stands, to make an inquiry into the subject raised by the particular hon. Member. If we accepted the Amendment, the Minister would lose that power and an hon. Member would also lose his opportunity of asking for an inquiry.

Mr. Watt

I have pleasure in supporting the Amendment. The Minister, as far as I can see, seeks considerable power in every direction. I understand that, owing to the difficulties which already exist, a good deal of responsibility will be thrown upon the Commission. We are told that it will be a very good Commission. It certainly seems that we shall need a good Commission. The duties of the Commission will be to inquire into the conditions of labour and whether there exists proper organisation. In the end, the matter will rest with the Commissioners. If we get the Commission that we require, it does not seem to me that we need any interference from the Minister of Labour with the working of the Commission. As, ultimately, the matter will rest with the Commission, it will be more satisfactory to have an absence of bureaucratic control and get a Commission of people who know something about the catering industry, and not a Government Department which knows nothing about it and which, in my humble submission, should not have anything to do with this Measure.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

I cannot quite follow the arguments of the supporters of the Amendment. The Sub-section states that the Commission shall make such inquiries as it thinks fit. That is one aspect. The Commission is perfectly at liberty to make any series of inquiries that it thinks fit. The Sub-section then adds that it shall also make inquiries as directed by the Minister. That is another aspect. These are two separate matters and there is no priority of one over the other. It does not imply that while the Commission is making certain inquiries, the Minister can come along and order them to abandon those inquiries and to take up others. It merely reserves to him the right to bring forward further subjects for their consideration. The Commission may be pursuing inquiries with regard, say, to boarding houses. As a result of some change in the war situation, the Minister might want them to consider questions relating to demobilisation and the employment of men returning from the Forces to various parts of the industry. Surely he should have the right to say to the Commission: "Here is an important question to which I should like you to give attention." There is nothing in the Sub-section to suggest that he is enabled thereby to order them to abandon any inquiry. I hope that, upon reflection, the proposer of the Amendment will see fit to withdraw it.

Major Gluckstein

I desire to support the Amendment for the following reasons: On the Second Reading of the Bill the Minister went out of his way to tell us that the Government took the view, as a fixed policy, that it was their duty to encourage self-government in every way they could, wherever they could. I submit, it is not in the interests of the proper carrying out of the Commission that the Minister should be entitled to direct the Commission to make inquiries as he thinks right.

We shall come later on to the composition of the Commission, but if a Commission is to be set up which is supposed to have the confidence of this industry, I cannot understand why it should be necessary for the Minister to give directions to it to inquire into the "existing methods," etc., as the Clause sets out. I am perturbed. I would not mind so much if the Minister had powers only to give directions in connection with what follows in Clause I (a), but I am bound to remind the Committee that when this Bill was being discussed on Second Reading the Minister—perhaps he will forgive me for saying so—in a rather flowery passage said: I think we ought to have a better return in the health of the people. Then he said these words: I propose concurrently with wages development to ask the Commission to study several other problems. I believe it can help in the rehabilitation of the industry quickly at the end of the war. I believe it can help by collecting information and knowledge as to lines of development. I believe it can help in the question of priority"— Heaven help it— and I further believe it can help in a very vexed problem which has baffled us all up to now and on which we must get put right, and that is the staggering of holidays. We cannot get this catering service right, particularly in seaside and holiday centres, unless we solve the problem of the staggering of holidays."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1943; col. 1208, Vol. 386.] And so on and so on. But this Commission is supposed to be looking after the catering trade, and it is mostly considering "the existing methods of regulating the remuneration" and so on. I am very anxious about whether under this Clause this excellent Commission, this impartial and admirable Commission, may be diverted from its proper task of looking after remuneration and so on, and may find itself directed by the Minister to a baffling problem which would take an infinity of time and might result in failure to agree and the presentation of majority and minority reports. I think it would be better if the Commission were allowed to do its work for the industry in its own way, at any rate for the beginning. If, afterwards, it is thought necessary that the Minister should burden it with some sort of direction, if Parliament should decide that some important problem should be put to the Commission, very different considerations may apply and other steps may have to be taken by another House of Commons. At the moment this is a war Measure. We are dealing with something which is necessary, according to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, for the prosecution of the war. I should have thought that the Commission had quite sufficient work to do to deal with its duties under (a) and (b) without having to take directions from the Minister on what he thinks they should inquire into. For those reasons, I hope the Minister will find it possible to say that he will not overburden its members with any views of his own but will leave them to get on with their work.

Mr. Bevin

I am very glad to have heard the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for East Nottingham (Major Gluckstein), because as the day goes on I find a growing admiration for my Commission, a growing affection for it, and a desire to protect it from being overburdened. It may be that I will be the Minister, or that somebody else will be the Minister—because, although I have always been against casual labour, I have always been conscious that being a Minister is the most casual job in the world. You might be here to-day and gone tomorrow. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is no security of tenure."] No, not even a half-day's minimum. I remember once being on a deputation to a Minister, who kept on talking about himself, and I said, "Really I was not talking about you, but about your successor." And in a week he was gone; so I was right. I have never been under any delusions about the permanency of the Minister of Labour, or of anybody else. But anybody in my position must have the power to ask—the word "direct" is a legal word—the Commission to make inquiries as he thinks fit.

Let me give on illustration. My hon. and gallant Friend said that I made a flowery speech. Well it is Spring-time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Send it by rail."] Seriously, the great task we have to face in this matter is the rehabilitation of this industry. London is not bad, but many parts of the country are in very great difficulty. I used to say to my colleagues in the trade union movement, "What is the good of having all these things on paper, if you do not get them?" I have to try to make arrangements not only for the remuneration, but for the service which is to earn the remuneration. It has been overthrown by war. I regard it as vital that the Minister shall be able to direct inquiry into these matters, all of which affect the livelihood and remuneration of the people. Even where inquiries are made, Members of Parliament are continually making representation to Ministers that, in their view, inquiries should be made about this, that or the other body. No one has had more of that than I have had. As Minister of Labour, I am responsible in one field for the Unemployment Assistance Board, I am responsible in another field for the Statutory Commission for insurance, and I am constantly getting representations——

The Deputy-Chairman

I am very reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman but if these illustrations, going into all these other forms of work, are allowed, it seems to me that I must allow other people to follow on those lines. The right hon. Gentleman must keep to this limited Amendment.

Mr. Bevin

I am sorry, Mr. Williams. I will not go back to that illustration, but I would point out that in all legislation on industrial matters of this kind, the Minister, in order to protect Parliament and to protect the right of Members of Parliament to make representations, has been given discretion to cause inquiries to be made by these Commissions. In the drafting of this Clause, I have simply tried to devise a safety-valve against the possibility of handing over to the Commission every prerogative of the House of Commons and of the Minister. If, eventually, difficulties arise the Minister, whoever he may be, can say to the Commission, "I have received representations on this, that or the other matter; there is a feeling that you have not taken this, that or the other into proper account and I direct you therefore to re-examine or make inquiries in this, that or the other direction." It is really protection for the public interest and for Parliament that these words should be put in the Bill.

Sir H. Williams

I wish to ask a question on interpretation, and I am not being awkward.

Mr. Bevin

I know—the hon. Gentleman never is.

Sir H. Williams

I think that on balance the Minister ought to have this power. If the words "the Commission shall be entitled to make such inquiries as they think fit," were left out, it would apply to the items specified. If the words are left in, the Commission may make such inquiries as they think fit and give a wider field, whereas the Minister may desire the narrower field.

Mr. Bevin

It is not intended.

Sir H. Williams

Courts do not take any account of what Ministers intend but of what the House of Commons has written. Perhaps the Solicitor-General can say whether, as the Clause stands, the powers of the Commission may cover a field wider than that into which the Minister can direct them to inquire.

The Solicitor-General

I take the view that equal weight must be given to the words "as they think fit" and the words "as they may be directed by the Minister to make." I cannot imagine any narrowing rule or construction which my hon. Friend has in mind which could cause the court to take any other view.

Mr. Craik Henderson

I cannot say that the Minister has entirely satisfied me, because he has not entirely covered the point why it was necessary to have this at all, but as one who is very anxious not to delay the Bill in any way, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put and agreed to.—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.