HC Deb 23 October 1950 vol 478 cc2637-41

Section three of the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946 (which as amended by section four of the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947, extends certain emergency enactments relating to agriculture and land drainage), Section six of the said Act of 1946 (which extends the Sugar Industry Act, 1942), Section eight of the said Act of 1946 (which extends the war period for the purposes of the Restoration of Pre-War Trade Practices Act, 1942), Section nine of the said Act of 1946 (which extends certain emergency enactments relating to legal powers)."—[Mr. Ede.]

10.48 p.m.

Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)

I do not think we ought to allow this Motion to go by without sounding a note of warning about Section 8 of the Act of 1946, which extends the war period for the purposes of the restoration of the Pre-war Trade Practices Act, 1942. That Act, as the House will recollect, was passed in the middle of the war in order to facilitate the production of armaments. Very rightly, the trade union movement was asked to give up a number of privileges which at the time it valued highly and for which it had fought for a long time. At that time it was a great thing that they agreed to give up these practices.

If hon. Members will look at the wording of the Act, two or three points will be seen which it would be well worth while to study. Indeed, if we cannot now come to some better arrangement, it will be a bad case of lack of leadership on both sides of industry. For example, let me first take the case of a trade union which gave up a practice in an existing firm and may now claim for that practice to be restored after the expiration of the period of time in the Act.

That is a fairly reasonable case which we can all understand. But any firm which has started since the beginning of the war can, under Section 1 (2) be made to apply restrictive practices to that new industry which had never applied to it before, but which may have applied to an analogous industry before the war. That means that every new firm which has grown up since the war may one day be faced with having to cut back its production and increase its costs for the utterly arbitrary reason that some similar firm in a similar industry once claimed to have applied that kind of restrictive practice before the war.

The next point is that under Section 8, the Act applies specifically to the following undertakings carried on by local authorities—gas, water, electricity, transport, and so on. All these undertakings either have been or are scheduled for nationalisation. Therefore, all the much-vaunted increase in productivity which the Government claim has taken place, and which is the aim of nationalisation, is under this Act, which is prolonged by this Prayer, to be put into the melting pot again and possibly subjected to a long delaying process which, for the benefit of the House, I will describe briefly.

When the period of time for which this Prayer will operate expires, within two months practices operating in 1939 must be put into effect again and must be kept in effect for 18 months at least. Anyone with any experience of industry must know that after 11 years there will be endless argument about what was the practice in 1939. In the case of an industry which I know extremely well, I would hesitate to swear that such-and-such was done 11 years ago. By the time this Prayer expires, as it will be bound to do next year, the position will be even more difficult. Every year that this is kept in operation it will become more and more intolerable and more difficult to apply when the day comes.

I realise that it is not a regulation which could be allowed to lapse, and that the Act could be repealed without the fullest consideration by both sides of industry. I ask the Minister to use his powers to induce in both the employers and the trade union sides of industry an atmosphere which will get them away from the slump-mindedness which is behind this regulation. If we are to face all our economic difficulties successfully, we must get away from the 1939 mentality and adopt a 1950 one.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

I am afraid that the hon. Member has not got in his mind the real terms and purposes of this regulation and how it has been operated. Restrictive practices are not prolonged by this Act. What in fact happened was that when war broke out there was an agreement between the parties that certain practices which could be held to restrict production should be suspended. The hon. Member said that there may have been an endless number of such arrangements made, and that in his own industry he could not say with honesty which were effective and which were not; but the fact is that they were recorded, and only those which were recorded come into effect. Therefore, there will be no bother over industry finding out what were the restrictive practices.

The second point is that, although this regulation may come to an end, those restrictive practices which were registered and recorded would not automatically come into effect again. They can do so only if they are claimed by those who have given them up. From my knowledge of industry at the moment, and of the wonderfully good relationship existing, I have no fear about what is going to happen. At the present moment, both sides of an industry who have taken part in this arrangement are entitled at any time of the year to ask the Minister of Labour to bring before the House the necessary order taking them out of the regulation. They could have done that at any time. They have not done so and, as far as I can see, they have no intention of doing so. Therefore, we want this regulation continued so that these arrangements may continue between the parties in industry. We are in close touch with them, and meet them four times a year and these matters come up from time to time.

There is one other rather important point. There have been discussions on some possible amendment of the regulation to this effect, that the regulation applies to restrictive practices given up during the war period. But they have been giving up some of these so-called restrictive practices since the war ended, and these are not covered by the regulation, so it may be necessary to have this amendment. The main point, however, is that the industries could have asked for these to be removed; they have not done so, and it is their feeling that the regulation should be continued for the time being so that there shall be a fair balance between one section of the people and another.

Mr. J. Grimston

I realise very well that the restrictive practices were given up during the war; that was the sub stance of my argument; but the Minister tells us that restrictive practices given up after the war had ended do not count. I would point out to him that subsection (1) refers to any trade practices, and, further—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is making a second speech. He cannot do that, except by leave of the House.

Mr. Isaacs

It is on the second point to which the hon. Member referred on which the Amendment may be necessary. The point is that we do not want to cover post-war arrangements under war regulations.

Question put, and agreed to.

Address to be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.

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