HC Deb 17 February 1944 vol 397 cc459-64
Major Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 6, line 32, to leave out "Minister" and to insert "Lord Chancellor."

I would like to say at once that I hope the object of my hon. Friends in putting down this Amendment will not be misunderstood or misinterpreted in any quarter. We have to look forward, I suppose, sometimes with some degree of optimism and sometimes with some degree of pessimism. Looking forward with some degree of pessimism we must realise that Ministers of Labour come and go. I hope the present Minister will not regard this Amendment as implying any reflection upon him. The whole object is to secure that the Reinstatement Committees and the umpires appointed under this Bill should not only be impartial but should be free from all possible criticism. It seems to me that if we leave the power of appointment of all the members of the Committee to the Minister, the personnel of those Committees appointed by the Minister, whether he belongs to one party or another party, will be open to some criticism from certain people who appear before the Committees. People are appointed to the pensions appeal tribunals by the Lord Chancellor, and I suggest that is an example that might be followed with advantage. If it is followed and these people are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, it seems to me that the Committees will stand beyond reproach and there will be no possibility of any unfair criticism being directed against them or against the Minister at the time of the appointment, whoever that Minister may be, and no matter to what party he may belong.

The Attorney-General

May I point out that Lord Chancellors, like Ministers, come and go, so one cannot regard that as a completely convincing argument in favour of the Amendment. On the whole we would not advise the Committee to accept this Amendment. In the case of health insurance committees, unemployment insurance committees, and hardship committees under the National Service Act, appointments are made by the Minister. It is to be noted that there are panels of chairmen, panels of people to represent employers, panels to represent employed persons. The Minister not only appoints those panels but selects persons from them for these different committees. I cannot think that the Lord Chancellor would regard it as appropriate that he should be asked to undertake that work.

Reference was made by my hon. and gallant Friend to the pensions appeal tribunals, and he said, quite rightly, that the Lord Chancellor appointed not only the Chairman but also the medical representative. That was surely a rather different case. In that case, the decisions appealed from were those of the Minister of Pensions, and it was thought right that he should not have anything to do with the appointment of the appeal tribunals. It followed the precedent of the last war. Though I do not say that one could lay down hard-and-fast principles in these matters, that was the reason why that procedure was adopted in the pensions appeal tribunals. In this case, the dispute will be between an employer of labour and an employed person, and the tribunal is a composite body, containing representatives of both parties. We shall advise the Committee to follow the precedent in the Act to which I have referred.

Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)

The speech of the Attorney-General was very interesting, but I would like to hear about the merits of the proposal as it stands. We know that the Minister of Labour can act only through the medium of local representatives of the Department, and they are put in a very invidious position, because they have other work to do which brings them into contact, on another matter, with the same lot of people they are dealing with. If you could get away from the Department in the manner suggested in the Amendment I should have thought it made it easier for the administration and not more difficult. I do not see what the purpose is of keeping it all inside departmental control.

Mr. Bevin

It has been found to work very practically. A separate Department of State deals with all these panels and with these semi-judicial functions that are operated in the Department. It has been going on since 1909 and there has been no complaint. It has done its work well, and I really think there is no reason to change it now.

Amendment negatived.

Dr. Peters

I beg to move, in page 6, line 35, after "Committees", to insert: and such chairman shall be of counsel or a solicitor of not less than seven years' standing. Having regard to the very wide jurisdiction conferred on Reinstatement Committees, the Council of the Law Society have suggested that the chairman of every committee should be a barrister or solicitor of some standing. There is ample precedent for this, and I would refer hon. Members to the body of referees set up under the Approved Societies Regulations, 1938, and the Contributory Pensions (References) Regulations, 1937, and also to the practice of appointing legal chairmen of the Court of Referees set up under the Unemployment Insurance Acts.

Mr. Ellis Smith

We are opposed to this Amendment, and the speech in favour of it has increased our opposition. When anyone in this House uses phrases about people of "standing" it makes us sit up and take notice.

Dr. Peters

The hon. Member will forgive me. All that I meant to say by "not less than seven years' standing" in the Amendment was experience, not standing in the sense of any class distinction, but I cut my remarks short because of the time.

Mr. Smith

I am sorry if as a result of the lack of time and my hon. Friend cutting his remarks as short as possible he has been left open to misunderstanding. I was dealing with what he said, not with what he intended to say, but the observation I shall make still applies. We do not agree that because people have had legal training they have any more standing than other people who have held public positions. Our experience of this kind of administration teaches us that in many cases people with great experience in the industrial world, with standing in the industrial world, who have obtained the confidence of the people within the locality where they have been serving in a public representative capacity, have often more standing, and people have more confidence that they will do the right thing, than in the case of people in the legal profession.

In addition to that my hon. Friends take second place to no one in public life, and this includes the legal profession, with regard to their capacity to conduct meetings. I know no better school for conducting meetings of this kind than the trade union and Labour movement. People who have come through the very hard school of managing the meetings in the industrial centres of this country, become as competent as anyone else to preside at meetings of this kind. In addition to that, under the Unemployment Insurance Acts the Minister of Labour, not necessarily the present Minister of Labour but his predecessors, have constantly invited people out of the trade union movement, and men who have had experience in chambers of commerce and employers' associations, to preside at meetings. Therefore we hope that the Minister will not give way on this. We look on it as dangerous. We want to keep this Bill out of the hands of the legal profession as much as possible. We hope the Minister will resist this Amendment.

Sir A. Southby

My experience of the legal profession has not been as unfortunate as the bitter speech of my hon. Friend would lead us to suppose that his has been. I think we are all sometimes rather frightened of the legal profession and sometimes we are glad that they exist. I oppose the Amendment because I think it would be better to have a wider choice, not one limited to the legal profession. I could not help thinking, however, that the hon. Member's speech was rather wounding to many members of the legal profession. It appears that he does not object to standing when it is the sort of standing he likes, but when it is the sort of standing somebody else likes it is all wrong. He paid a well deserved tribute to the great trades union movement, but I imagine he would differentiate between some members of the trade union movement who, like the Minister, are widely respected through the country, because they are trade union leaders of great standing, and others. When my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Dr. Peters) moved this Amendment I think he was trying to say, and I thought he said it very plainly, that he wanted members of the legal profession who had standing, men of standing similar to that, though not so great perhaps as that, of the Minister himself. The hon. Member himself is a member of standing in the party to which he belongs or he would not be sitting where he is. I suggest that he really need not be quite so bitter about things like standing.

Mr. Arthur Jenkins (Pontypool)

I think it would be a great blunder if the Amendment were pressed. If it is pressed, I hope the Minister will resist it. The hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) has referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) as having some standing in his party. That is true. There are many solicitors who have standing in their profession but who would be quite incapable of doing this job. The main quality that will be required is industrial experience, and it is difficult to find a solicitor who has great industrial experience. It could well be argued that solicitors as a class are not the most suitable people for this job. It would be a proper thing to leave the selection in the hands of the Minister of Labour. His Department, as specialists in this kind of thing, have great experience, and they will be able to find people who have both standing and experience in their occupations or professions.

Mr. Bevin

I trust that this Amendment will be withdrawn. In obtaining these chairmen we want the widest possible field of selection. We must select those who can give the time and who have judicial ability and—a most important quality—a sense of conciliation, because on bodies like this more is often done through settlement than by giving decisions. We want to have the widest possible selection, without regard to professions.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Mander

In setting up this tribunal, we are establishing an outside representative body which is, very properly, going to interfere with the uncontrolled despotism of the employer. It is going to decide whether he is carrying out his duty as an employer, reasonably and practicably. That is a very valuable precedent. I should like to see organisations set up in all factories to ensure that justice is done, that there is no victimisation, and that there is a feeling of good will and satisfaction with the administration. I realise that this is not the occasion for dilating on a social reform of this kind, but I am very glad that the precedent is set to-day.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.