HC Deb 10 July 1946 vol 425 cc421-3

Lords Amendment: In page 1o, line 35, leave out from "be" to the end of line 37.

Mr. Shinwell

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

Strange as it may seem to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), this Amendment and a later Amendment related to the same point have been inserted to deal with a matter raised by him. I have the greatest difficulty in pleasing the right hon. Gentleman. If I am alleged to be arrogant, and be it noted I say "alleged," the right hon. Gentleman dislikes it intensely, but, on the other hand, if I am reasonable, he has some doubt in his mind whether it is the right thing for me to do. However, I am going to give the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues all the credit, so long as I get the Bill, Originally, if the Board were of the opinion that an unreasonable contract should not be transferred to them, they could, by notice, repudiate it. That was explicitly stated in the Bill—subject, of course, to arbitration in the case of any differences arising. On the other hand, if the matter was submitted to arbitrators, it would not be known between the date of arbitration notice and arbitration award whether the contract was to continue in existence. There would be doubt during these dates, and that was the issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The position as to the extent to which each contract is to be transferred is set out in the Second Schedule. The Amendments clarify the position, and if there is repudiation and no reference to arbitration, the Schedule shall be treated as never having applied to the contract. On the other hand, if there is arbitration and the award of the arbitrators is contrary to the notice of repudiation, the Second Schedule shall be treated as having applied continuously, notwithstanding the serving of the notice. We have tried to meet the point which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman. There was a good deal of legal verbiage in the offing at the time, although I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else for this. As I say, there was a good deal of legalistic dialectic associated with this matter, and there was some doubt in my mind as to the exact meaning. However, I think that the point has been clarified, that this improves the Bill—it certainly improves the wording—and that we now know where we stand.

4.45 P.m.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I must respond in that delightful tone with which the right hon. Gentleman has moved to agree with this Amendment. If I did not know from what he has said that the very thought of apology is contrary to his background, I would offer an apology for having mentioned the word "arrogant." I recognise that this was a very complicated and legal point, and my hon. Friends and I feel that this Amendment has put the matter much more clearly, and that it is of benefit to the Bill.

Major P. Roberts

I should like point out, that when these arguments were put over in Committee and on Third Reading, showing the injustice of a man proved to be innocent being detrimentally treated, the first words of the Attorney-General were that "the Amendment is misconceived." It was this type of difficulty against which we were struggling all the time. I wish to stress again that when rights of individuals are being attacked and taken away by Act of Parliament, it is unfortunate that we on this side have to press for these rights through the House of Commons into another place, and that only at the last stage are the Government prepared to give way. Once again I would point out that a great deal of time could have been saved if the Attorney-General and others had acceded to this at an earlier stage.

Mr. Bowles

I feel that I must intervene, in view of the sotto voce remarks which have been passed, and the monotonous repetition of the argument that Amendments could have been made before the Bill reached another place, and that much time could have been saved. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said that, in all his experience, he had not come across a Bill so much amended in another place. He drew attention to the 15 pages of Amendments. I have in mind a Bill, also a Coal Bill, for which the right hon. gallant Gentleman was responsible.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I am afraid that that argument is not relevant to the present Amendment.

Mr. Bowles

I was trying to point out that when the hon. and gallant Member for Ecclesall (Major P. Roberts) said how much time had been wasted by refusing to accept Amendments until the Bill reached another place—and that has been the basis of argument for the last one and a half hours—that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had 25 pages of Amendments to his own Bill in another place.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Some of us have been accused of legalistic verbiage. I am not certain why it is necessary to omit these particular words, in conjunction with the subsequent Amendment, in order to bring about a purpose which is common to both sides of the House. The words to be omitted are: except as regards performance thereof due under the contract before the date of service of the notice. As I understand the matter, these words were designed originally to give effect to the transfer of a contract during a period between the time of the notice and the time of the decision, and it seems to me that, even if we accept the subsequent Amendment, there would be some period during which a contract will, in fact, be "in the air." There will be a period during which it is not quite certain who is obliged to fulfil the contract—whether the colliery concerned or the Board. I would like to have some explanation from the Government as to why it is necessary to take out these words.

Mr. Shinwell

If I may reply, by leave of the House, I am advised that the words proposed to be omitted are not consistent with the second Amendment, and that is why it has been done.