HC Deb 05 March 1952 vol 497 cc577-613

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Notification of Vacancies Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 136), dated 29th January, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th January, be annulled. My purpose is to secure from the Government a clear explanation of the purpose of this Order, and their interpretation of its Articles. I have long been concerned about the liberty of the individual, and in 30 years as a trade unionist, and as one who has taken some share in joint consultation in industry, I believe that the most fundamental liberty of the worker is his right to choose his own job in his own way. That makes a willing and an efficient worker. I should like to know whether this Order, which is very wide and covers a large number of people, does infringe the liberty of the worker in the way it might do if it were interpreted in certain ways.

Why have we had an Order of this kind? When the late Government introduced similar Orders, we heard strong objections from the other side of the House, and I personally had great sympathy with the views then expressed. I should like to make two quotations from speeches by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite during those debates, and to ask how they square an Order of this kind with the speeches they then made. The present Home Secretary, when a Control of Engagement Order was discussed on 3rd November, 1947, made this statement: Here we are discussing an Order that was made while Parliament was taking an enforced holiday. This Parliament was also taking an enforced holiday while this Order was being prepared. The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on: This point alone is worthy of the consideration of a legislature such as ours, and that such a change ought not to be made until it has been justified generally, until every aspect of it has been discussed, clause by clause, and if necessary, line by line. It touches so nearly the liberties of the people that no legislation dealing with a subject like this should be made in some Ministerial backroom, or behind the back of Parliament and the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 1377.] In the same debate the present Financial Secretary made clear his objection to an Order of this kind. To some extent this covers the view I have generally held. He said: It raised the question of the right of the State, in time of peace, to control the places and employments in which its subjects work. That is a matter of major importance, and it is surely quite deplorable that wartime emergency powers should have been abused for this purpose. This is a matter which, if it were done at all, should have been done by the procedure of a Bill.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Yates

I am glad to hear hon. Members say "Hear, hear," because that was the view expressed by the party opposite when they were in Opposition. The present Financial Secretary went on to say: Surely major matters of this sort should not be dealt with by orders which come into effect before they can be discussed in the House, and have the further defect that cannot be amended.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

I think the hon. Gentleman said that this Order was made while the House was having an enforced holiday. The Order was made on 29th January, the day on which we resumed after Christmas.

Mr. Yates

That is so; it was laid on 29th January; but this Order was certainly prepared during that enforced holiday.

Sir J. Mellor

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the end of the Order, he will find it is dated 29th January, 1952. and signed by the Minister of Labour. That was the date on which the Order was not only laid but made.

Mr. Yates

I quite agree. What I am saying is that the Order was prepared, carefully considered and possibly negotiated in certain ways, and was then laid before Parliament on 29th January. I am not arguing that; but it seemed very similar.

The present Financial Secretary went on to say: It is a very damaging precedent. Hon. Members may have to look to the future, and it may be that this precedent will be followed by other Governments of different political complexions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 1405–6.] I do not understand why the present Government introduce an Order of this nature, not in the form of a Bill which can be amended but in the form of an Order of this sort, when they condemned the previous Government for having introduced just such an Order.

I now wish to refer to the Order itself, and to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to be good enough to explain to us exactly how it is to be interpreted.

Article 3 says: Subject to the provisions hereinafter contained in this Order … (b) no person shall engage any person for employment unless that person has been submitted to him for that employment by a local office or a scheduled employment agency. Does that mean that a worker may go to an employer and arrange beforehand that he can be employed; and do the employer and the worker go to the employment exchange in order to secure that? Does it mean they can work it in that way? Or does it mean that all those who are affected by this Order must submit themselves?

I should like also to ask why the number of people included in the Order has been increased over the previous Order. For example, the previous Order included men between the ages of 18 and 50 and women between the ages of 18 and 40, but this Order includes men up to the age of 65 and women up to the age of 60. It seems to me a little unfortunate that older people should be subject to this kind of system, which causes them to move about the country and creates a feeling of uneasiness, especially as they grow older. I want to know why the Order includes a much larger number of people. On previous occasions, during discussions in the House, it has been admitted that to include people up to the age of 50 was a serious innovation.

Speaking in the House on Monday, the Parliamentary Secretary said that a worker does not have to have a permit. This Order does not make that assurance clear to me, except in so far as it refers to the permit which may be given to a worker who is exempted from the Order. Does the worker included within the Order have to have a permit to obtain employment? In Birmingham, for example, it appears that a worker who comes under the Order cannot obtain a job unless he has a card of some kind. That seems to me to be a permit—it permits him to go to obtain employment.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

An introduction.

Mr. Yates

It may be an introduction. I want to quote from the "Birmingham Gazette" of 29th February, from a column headed "Job Cards, the New Shortage". It says: So great has been the rush of employers wanting men, that some Birmingham Employment Exchanges have run out of forms for the four-days-old Notification of Vacancies Order. The article goes on to say: The new Order has introduced five new cards and work has doubled and trebled in many exchanges. When we were in power hon. Members opposite expected us not to increase paper work and hordes of officials. It says in this article that a double card is given to a worker going to a new job, and adds: Half that card is returned to the exchange and the other half is retained by the employer to show that he has complied with the Order. But when Birmingham Exchange managers met to discuss problems in dealing with the new Order the shortage of forms and shortage of staff were reported to be the only difficulties they had found. It is clear that a worker cannot obtain a job unless he has the necessary card or permit.

What will be the effect of this Order of the system of labour inspectorates which the Minister of Labour announced on Monday? According to column 61 of the Official Report on Monday the Minister said: It will also be appreciated that the matter of the labour supply inspectorate was also the subject of considerable discussion and eventual agreement. What is intended is that inspectors who have some technical and other experience, many of them wartime experience, would go to factories from which requests for further men were made, and discuss with the management whether those persons ought to be supplied or whether, by a reorganisation of the workers already there or some upgradings, fewer or no new recruits would be required."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 61.] It seems to me that the work of the inspectorates might have a very serious effect upon the rights of the workers and their position in the works.

I think that it could, for unless we can be quite clear how these men are to work, there will be the most serious effect on industries such as those in Birmingham. One employer in the jewellery quarter in that city has said to me that he envisaged Ministry of Labour inspectors as now dominating industries as to what their labour position would be and I must say that, considering a city like Birmingham, with its thousand trades, and a very large number of small factories, one can see very serious difficulties to be faced. It might be very serious for our industries if, in fact, an employer is first of all to be prosecuted if he employs the labour which he believes is necessary but which the Ministry might consider unnecessary.

I am rather surprised that we have not had a clearer understanding of this Order as it would affect a large city like Birmingham. I can only say that in many industries there, as a result of war conditions, and for other reasons, employers have lost some of their most skilled men. Many, unfortuniately, have never returned and unless we are very careful how we deal with all these industries, the position may be very serious in the future.

I should like to ask whether the employment exchanges could, for example, refuse to pay unemployment benefit. I had a case quoted to me a few days ago of a man working in Coventry who, because of ill-health, felt it necessary to give up his job and not travel so far to work. He has always obtained his own work, for in his case the employment exchange never seemed to fit him in. Now, he has not been successful in obtaining another job which would suit him—and suit him in several ways because he has heart trouble—and, having given up his job in Coventry, he cannot get unemployment benefit because he is considered to have given up his job without just cause. Will an Order of this nature work in such a way that large numbers of men might gradually come to be considered as "not genuinely seeking work?" I ask because that is something which reminds us of years gone by, and with very bitter memories.

I should like now to refer to the exemptions from this Order. Large numbers appear to be exempt—agricultural workers, coalminers, dockers, merchant seamen, policemen, firemen, and those employed in a managerial, professional, administrative, or executive capacity. What does this mean? It includes general foremen and head foremen, but not foremen, chargemen, or pieceworkers, or anybody paid by the hour. Professional and administrative workers are exempt. So are accountants, architects, journalists, solicitors, doctors, dentists, and so on. It seems to me that all at the top are free and those at the bottom are to be subject to this Order. I do not see why there should be that discrimination.

I have belonged to my trade union, the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union, for 30 years, and, of course, I know that clerks will be subject to this Order. The Order covers clerks, shop assistants, engineers, railwaymen, textile workers and so on. It seems a little unfair that certain classes of people should have to suffer. Perhaps we shall be told something about that.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary in what spirit this Order is to be administered. He made a speech in Birmingham on 19th January and he was reported in the "Birmingham Post" under the heading "Immense Amount of Labour Needed; Change of Jobs Inevitable." That report said: There was a feeling of under-employment and people had been hanging on to labour, but that labour was wanted in other directions. It will mean people changing their jobs and they do not like that.' Sir Peter told the annual meeting of the Edgbaston Division Unionist Association at Empire House. 'It will mean less money sometimes, and they do not like that. It will mean leaving home sometimes' … I do not know whether the Minister had this Order in view, but I think it is a very serious matter for workers when they have to realise there is no alternative but to leave their homes. This House should consider very carefully how the Order is to be administered if that is to be its effect. Undoubtedly this is an immense undertaking for the Government and I am sure the House generally is anxious to see that every facility is given, provided we have the necessary safeguard.

I feel very strongly upon matters of this kind and I should like to think we can feel that this Order does safeguard the cherished liberties of the worker. I believe the most valuable liberty is that which permits the individual to work at the job he likes. That is the spirit in which this House should consider this Order and it is in that spirit that I have asked my questions and moved the Prayer.

11.39 p.m.

Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)

I beg to second the Motion so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates).

My hon. Friend has covered the ground so well that it makes my task very simple. I have had a fairly long connection with the Ministry of Labour as a member of a large local employment exchange committee. Having also served on courts of referees as an assessor and on various committees connected with the Ministry, I am fully aware of the problems which arise at the local level. These problems are immense and they vary from place to place on matters of interpretation.

I therefore feel great concern about the new Notification of Vacancies Order, in spite of assurances which have been given to the contrary. I should like to say that, whilst regretting that the Minister of Labour is not in his place, he or someone in his Department in December last gave a "hand-out" to the Press with reference to proposals which were to be included in the Control of Engagements Order. It was clearly indicated that this new Control of Engagements Order was to be submitted to the Cabinet in January whilst Parliament was enjoying its long sleep. I am sorry I cannot speak directly to the Minister of Labour on this matter, because I think it is most important.

I considered the proposals which were submitted by the Minister or which were handed to the Press, at a public meeting, and they received the full-blooded reaction which they richly deserved. I should like to ask the Minister of Labour what occurred in the meanwhile to cause him completely to drop the Control of Engagement Order and bring forward this sickly child from a vigorous parent in the form of a Notification of Vacancies Order. Under the original Order, people were going to be made to sit up. They were to be told where they would work. and a vast inspectorate was to be employed to inspect staffs and factories to prove the justification, or otherwise, of claims made for staffs.

Large staffs were to move under the direction of the inspectorate, and factories regarded as performing unessential work were to be closed down. I should appreciate a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary, in the absence of the Minister, on this particular matter, because it appears to me that something has been dropped and we have this Order substituted. I speak on this matter as one who has adjudicated at employment exchanges in hundreds of cases and as one who has appeared, on the other side, to defend the workpeople and those unemployed in order to try and secure their benefits.

My experience prompts me to reserve my decision on this Order, though not exactly to await events, but, if I can, to play some small part in shaping them. I therefore remain unconvinced that the Notification of Vacancies Order is to do exactly nothing apart from applying the delightful and sophisticated art of persuasion. We are all so very clever in the art of persuasion. A person persuaded against his will will make an unwilling agent in economic recovery, or for purposes for which we need labour. I shall be able to quote from speeches by those who sit on the Government Front Bench. It is only fair that I should refer to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

Would the hon. Gentleman read his speech just a little slower?

Mr. Craddock

It is only fair that I should quote right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who consistently and vociferously demanded, when in Opposition, the removal of all controls.

Mr. Fell


Mr. Craddock

The newspapers were full of speeches from hon. Members opposite—

Mr. Fell


Mr. Craddock

—declaiming against controls of any kind. The hon. Gentleman does not like this reminder, that is all. Hon. Gentlemen opposite posed before the public as pure lily-whites in the art of persuasion.

Mr. Fell


Mr. Craddock

We say that that is where the story ends, because now that they are vested with authority they have thrown overboard such niceties, and have, for other reasons, embraced the hideous figure that previously assailed their consciences. Previous progeny of this Government do not help me to adopt this new offspring, which, quite frankly, leaves me with the feeling that the whole story has not been told. The Parliamentary Secretary, in the manpower debate last Monday, explained nothing, and in a most unconvincing speech threw into the arena the new found—

Mr. Fell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member to read his speech all the time?

Mr. Speaker

The reading of speeches is not in order. The use of a copious note, as it has sometimes been described, is.

Mr. Craddock

When the hon Gentleman makes his speech I hope he will not have notes in his hands.

We have been told we shall get great benefits from the gentle art of persuasion.

Mr. Fell

We have had that bit.

Mr. Craddock

If the Order is to do nothing, why introduce it? The Parliamentary Secretary, for no reason at all, gave us a statement which, he said, was not in any way compelling. He said an employer could not force a person to accept a post; neither was the employee obliged to accept it. It does not seem to me, if there is no compulsion about this matter, that there is any need for the Order to be brought in. We are told that now we have at least 500,000 people who are unemployed, very largely due to the policy which has been carried out by the present Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Every Measure which this Government have introduced has very largely brought about the position with which the country is now faced today.

Mr. Robert Carr (Mitcham)

Would the hon. Gentleman say by whom and when it was said that unemployment was half a million?

Mr. Craddock

While it is only an estimate, I feel that the unemployment figure will be proved to be more than half a million when the figures are available. I do not know that I would accept the figure brought out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. A. Robens) the other day that by the end of the year it will be a million, but I am convinced today that it is more than half a million. I say to hon. Members opposite that the Government have contributed largely to the unemployment figures because of their policy. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have for long been accusing the workers of going slow and of absenteeism. It is a simple matter to secure the official figures of absenteeism.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must ask the hon. Member to relate his remarks to the contents of the Order we are discussing. It seems to me that, although I can see some faint link between what he is saying and the Order, he is going a little wide, and I must ask him to comply more strictly with the rules of order.

Mr. Craddock

I am sorry, Sir. I should like to quote the attitude and expressions of opinion when this subject was before the House on 3rd November, 1947. I will quote the words of the present Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) which are relevant to this matter.

He said: The order does three important things. First of all, it cuts definitely and clearly into the freedom of choice—

Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)

What Order is the hon. Gentleman talking about?

Mr. Craddock

It was on the Control of Engagement Order. If one takes Article 3 (b) in its entirety, it will be seen that it has been brought from the Control of Engagement Order into the present Order.

Mr. Yates

It is exactly the same.

Mr. Craddock

I think I am entitled to quote the right hon. and learned Gentleman, seeing that this was the original debate which brought about the Control of Engagement Order, so that it can be seen what was his attitude. He said: The Order does three important things. First of all, it cuts definitely and clearly into the freedom of choice both of the worker to work as he wants and of the employer to engage him. It is clearly, from the manner of expression of the right hon. Gentleman, only the herald of further steps towards the conscription of labour, and it is the thin end of a wedge which will determine not only our industrial but our spiritual future as a nation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on: I put it to the right hon. Gentleman"— that was the then Minister of Labour— no word of his has dissipated this doubt and trouble in our minds—that the army out of which he is seeking to recruit for the essential industries is the army of the unemployed. The people who will really be affected by this are those whom either economic pressure or some personal difficulty has put out of a job. Two results inevitably follow. In the first place, where we have non-essential industries we are paying a premium on those which are large and are able, by their financial resources, to carry their labour in the hope that they will reach a busier time. Secondly, we are causing people to stick to non-essential jobs because of the uncertainty with which they will be faced if they lose their jobs and go into unemployment;—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 3rd November, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 1372–3.] A speech made by the present Prime Minister on the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill, which was debated in the House on 8th August, 1947, runs as follows: They can take anyone from his or her home, and send them anywhere they please, put them to any toil they may choose, however unsuited they may be to that toil, or however much they may resent their compulsory addiction to it. Even that does not satisfy them. This power to choose or change occupation, hitherto considered to be the mark of the difference between democracy and serfdom in one form or another…"—OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th August, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 1802.] We feel very keenly about this matter. No doubt at a Ministerial level discussions have taken place with the T.U.C.; no doubt the matter has been very carefully examined. But we are much concerned and we are trying to secure clarification. Some of us on these benches are not satisfied. As a trade unionist, the whole of my life has been devoted to seeing that essential safeguards are retained, and I await a satisfactory statement from the Parliamentary Secretary.

11.59 p.m.

Captain M. Hewitson (Kingston-upon-Hull, Central)

I can quite understand the fears of my hon. Friends, because we know that throughout their public lifetime they have stood very firmly for the freedom of the individual. In moving the annulment of this Order, the House will give them credit for sincerity. But some of the fears expressed in debate so far are very wide of the mark. This is not an Order in the ordinary sense of Orders that we receive in this House. It is what I would call a negotiated Order; everything in it has been negotiated between the Minister and the T.U.C.

The T.U.C. will come under the definition of my hon. Friend, I suppose, of being pure lilywhites in the art of persuasion. My union happens to be an employment agency within the terms of the Order. We have just under one million members. To put forward criticism such as we have heard is not really fair. The hon. Gentlemen are assuming that the position of the country is very easy, that there is prosperity, and no worries of any description. But we have the re-armament programme and labour has to be found for it, whether we like it or not. I think the country as a whole recognises that we must have some form of re-armament programme, and would it be fair in the interests of the nation to allow people to make ice-cream when they could be doing something vital for the nation? Let us face facts. From the very beginning the T.U.C. were called in and over a period negotiations took place which resulted in the Order.

Mr. Yates

Is there to be no ice-cream making?

Captain Hewitson

I do not know, because I cannot say whether ice-cream making is in the national interest, although I did read in the newspapers that they are trying to experiment with alcohol in ice-cream north of the Border.

What we must realise is that we have a responsibility. Is it suggested by my hon. Friends that the T.U.C. did not seek the necessary safeguards in the interest of the great mass of workers we have heard about tonight? The T.U.C. do not take these things lightly, and although Parliament may be on holiday, and hon. Gentlemen may be sleeping or taking long periods of rest, the T.U.C. are working the whole of the time, and did consult with the right hon. Gentleman responsible for the Order.

I can say without hesitation that the T.U.C. wholly accept this Order in its entirety. I can also say that the majority of the large unions in the country are acting as agencies in the operation of the Order. We shall operate it, and give it the same sanctity that we give our national agreements. When we enter into an agreement we see it through, and we shall work this Order in the trade union movement until such time as the Minister breaks it, and in that case we can handle that end of it as well. Until such a thing as that happens, we shall give the Order the same sanctity as a trade union agreement. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, will give the safeguards that have been put forward and accepted, and when my hon. Friends hear the safeguards and the story of the negotiation to the agreement, I am sure they will withdraw their Motion.

12.5 a.m.

Mr. Robert Carr (Mitcham)

I am pleased to support what has just been said by the hon. Member for Hull, Central (Mr. Hewitson), and I am particularly glad that he emphasised the fact that the Order was only arrived at after the fullest consultation with the T.U.C. and the employers. In spite of that, however, I think it is right that we should question why it was necessary. One of the chief reasons seems to me to be in the interests of full employment. Hon. Members opposite have recently expressed much concern about the danger of unemployment. This Order, perhaps only in a small way, but none the less an important way, is designed to play its part in the policy of maintaining full employment.

In the short term, this Order, because it will help to ease and speed up the transfer of labour to essential industries of export and defence, will help to minimise the temporary dislocation of employment which does occur in a transfer of labour on the scale which we have to attempt. In the long term, by getting labour as quickly as possible into the essential export industries, it will help to overcome the economic crisis which is the chief threat to full employment.

The threat of heavy unemployment does not arise from lack of demand, even though there may be lack of demand in certain localised industries at the moment. The threat still rests mainly in the danger to our ability to import the raw materials we must have to keep all our people at work. To get these raw materials we have to export more. If this Order can help to get people into these export industries more quickly, it will be playing a big part in helping to avert any threat of mass unemployment.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Craddock), expressed particular fears about this, and I would say to him that the greater his fears the greater should be his reasons for supporting this Order, and not praying against it. I felt that the hon. Member's statement about half a million unemployed was not very helpful. It is not helpful, in this national crisis, to make alarmist statements, and it is a fact—and I challenge the hon. Member to deny it—that the unemployment figures for male workers have never been lower at this time of year than they are now.

I think this Order should be supported, but it remains to be asked why this purpose is to be achieved by an Order and not by legislation. I would have much preferred legislation. But hon. Members who are raising this point, as I admit in all sincerity, must remember the urgency of our situation. If the reasons I have given for the necessity of this action are valid, it is essential that the action should be taken quickly. Hon. Members should bear in mind that with the programme in front of Parliament at this time of year, any legislation on this subject would have to be delayed, and would take time.

If this Order has anything to do with helping to maintain full employment, as I believe it has, it is important to do it quickly, and not to allow any tendency to unemployment to get out of hand. The Government would be failing in their duty if they allowed even two or three months to elapse before bringing in this Order. Apart from that consideration, I agree with other hon. Members who feel that this should have been done by legislation.

12.10 a.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

If the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr) will consult the OFFICIAL REPORT Of previous debates on this subject he will find that he is sitting on the wrong side of the House. I have probably been associated with more debates on the control of employment than any other hon. Member, with one exception, and my task has always been to defend the steps for deploying and mobilising the labour power of the country. In that sense I came into conflict with my hon. Friends who have put down this Prayer. The only opportunity we have to discuss this matter is by putting down a Prayer.

This Order will affect potentially over 20 million people, and it is debate in this House only because the Opposition have put down a Prayer. On Monday, when it was to be discussed, we were devoting to the interests of 20 million workers the amount of time we should have devoted to one man. I think that is a shocking and scandalous state of things, and the Government ought to have behaved with much more courage.

I have three reasons for associating myself with this Prayer. The first reason is the manner in which this House has been treated, about which hon. Members on both sides ought to be concerned. If when we were in Office we had behaved in this way hon. Gentlemen opposite would have raised the roof—and rightly. Let us see what happened on this occasion. This Order was laid on 29th January. The debate on the economic situation was taking place, and two Ministers referred to the Order in the course of that debate. The Government Chief Whip and the Chancellor were on the Front Bench and a number of interjections were made on points of order asking where the Order was, but the Order was not produced until the following day.

Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Banbury)

The same day.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The Parliamentary Secretary came down to the House and heard the complaints; his right hon. Friend the Minister came down to the House, but did not know where the Order was. It was not until ten o'clock that the Order arrived in the Library; but copies were not available in the Vote Office until the next day.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

The same night.

Mr. Ness Edwards

If they were available the same night it was after the debate had concluded, after ten o'clock. When the Leader of the House was asked the next day whether he would provide special time to discuss this very important matter he said it could be debated in the course of the rest of the debate left for that day. I think that is a scandalous way to treat this House on such an important matter.

But what had happened? The previous night the Press had been given a hand-out; there had been made available in the Library and to the public copies of a "Quiz" explaining the Order; but the Order was not available to hon. Members. What has happened since? A Prayer has been put down: the Prayer has been taken off: the Prayer has been put down again; and tonight, for the first time since 1940, when we are discussing a matter affecting the employment of all the people in this country, the Minister of Labour is absent from this Chamber. That is the first time it has happened since 1940. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many Socialists are here?"] It is the Minister's responsibility to explain to the House what he is doing by this Order; it is not the responsibility of the Opposition.

That is one of the reasons why I associate myself with the Prayer. Let us consider what occurred on Monday when the Minister was making his speech. He referred cursorily to the Order. He was asked for certain proofs of a suggestion he was making, but apparently he had not even brought the Order with him and apparently he did not even have a note about it in his brief. He said he would leave it to the hon. Baronet to explain when he replied to the debate.

But what happened when the hon. Baronet replied to the debate? One has only to look at HANSARD to see what he said. Well, the notes were coming from the Box like confetti. I agree that we had a very good performance; I saw nothing better at the Palladium last week. But it gave us no indication at all of the nature of this Order and, as a House of Commons, we are still without any explanation of it from the Government of the day. In fact, the only people who have had explanations, the only people who have had guarantees, are the T.U.C. General Council and the British Employers' Federation.

Captain Hewitson

Why not?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I fully agree that they should be given. I am probably as much acquainted with the process as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson). I have been engaged in it much more than he has. But this House of Commons, which is asked to approve the agreement, has been denied the information. Must we accept responsibility for private agreements without any explanation at all?

Mr. T. O'Brien (Nottingham, North-West)

Would my right hon. Friend explain what he means by "private agreements"? Does he suggest that a body with the experience and prestige and responsibility of the British Trades Union Congress makes private agreements behind the back of this honourable House?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am not suggesting that. What I am suggesting is that the undertakings to which the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central, refers—and he is a colleague on the Council of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North-West (Mr. O'Brien)—have never been disclosed to the House.

Mr. Yates

We should know.

Mr. Ness Edwards

We ought to know what the safeguards are, but as far as the House is concerned, they are private.

That is another reason why I associate myself with the Prayer, in order to try to get some indication of what is meant by the Order. I ask hon. Members to remember what happened on Monday night, and I want to refer to HANSARD in this respect. I suggest that hon. Members should read column 100 of HANSARD of 3rd March to see a reply which the hon. Baronet gave to my interjection. He said the worker was free, but when he came to the latter part of his statement he seemed to read more correctly the minute which had been sent to him from the Box. He said: There is no sanction on the man in any shape or form. He added: He can be given a permit to find his own job."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 100.] Thus, to find his own job the worker must have a permit. There it is in HANSARD; there is that part of the Minute sent to the hon. Baronet from the Box which I think he quoted quite correctly. That is an indication of the general confusion which has been caused concerning this Order and the explanations of it which have been made to the public. Now let me come to the next reason. It is, and I ought to say this for the record, that I do not accept the doctrine—and I am speaking for myself—that agreements made outside this House and requiring political approval should not have political examination in this House.

It will be recalled that when I quoted T.U.C. approval for the Control of Engagement Order, hon. Members on the other side of the House pooh-poohed it and brushed me out of the way. But, tonight they embrace such action in a manner almost without precedent. If the doctrine that one must not examine in this House those things for which we give political authority, goodness knows what hon. Members opposite will do with the Steel House or Shell-Mex in the next few months, or a year or two.

This is a breach of pledge. In the introduction of this Order, there is a piece of bad faith with the electorate. Hon. Members opposite made certain promises, and one was that there should be no control; that labour should be free, and they went even farther. [Interruption.] The Parliamentary Private Secretary wants to assist his chief; I do not suggest that his chief may require any assistance, but in order that the Parliamentary Private Secretary may have some knowledge, I would quote from a declaration by the present Prime Minister: I make it absolutely clear that I will not support it as a part of our peace-time system, nor I believe will the great party I have the honour to lead—nor will the liberal-minded men and women—Conservative, Liberal, or Labour—accept this altogether un-British conception. Before such a departure from our British standards could be made in time of peace, not only Parliament, but the people must be consulted. Was not this the very kind of thing we fought against in the war, and thought we had beaten down for ever with our strong right of arm? Here is the present Prime Minister saying that before there can be a Control of Engagement Order in peace-time, the electorate should be consulted. [An HON. MEMBER: "When was that?"]—The date is 17 Aug. 1947, just after the Supplies and Services Act had been passed in this House. It was from a broadcast speech, and the extract is in the Conservative Election Campaign Guide.

It is part of my job—and I would say that I make no point of that—to tell the men who use industrial action for political purposes that they are doing something which is wholly wrong. I said it last week-end, and I shall say it again this, that I am absolutely against anarchy in the coal fields in an effort to try to blacken the Government of the day. But what remedy have these people? Rt. hon. and hon. Members opposite were returned on certain promises, and now they come here and swallow their promises. The men who tend to engage in subversive action are saying that the Conservatives are abusing democracy and destroying the faith which the people have in Parliament.

What I claim is that here is the Prime Minister of the day saying that before there should be a Control of Engagement Order, there ought to be an Election. This really is a serious matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour will have a very difficult task over the next couple of years and the first thing he must establish with the trade unionists and industrial workers of this country is good faith, and that what the Government promised before they came into power they will endeavour to carry out.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter) rose

Mr. Ness Edwards

No, I am trying to reason this thing out and be sensible. I do not want to exaggerate my arguments or to inflame the atmosphere.

Mr. McCorquodale

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he is making a false point. The whole of Conservative Party policy was against direction of labour and we are still against it. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour made that quite clear in a statement he made.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. He and I know this field fairly well.

The Prime Minister made this statement on the Supplies and Services (Extended Services) (Transitional Powers) Act. He was referring to the control of engagement. I will not quote the stronger occasion when we had a debate on a Prayer relating to the Control of Engagement Order and the present Prime Minister was much more specific. Therefore, I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) has made a false point.

Mr. McCorquodale

But the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Control of Engagement Order had in it direction of labour as a last resort.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am astonished at the right hon. Gentleman. Surely he knows quite differently, and if he does not know he has the hon. and learned Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade by his side who can tell him that that did not derive from the Control of Engagement Order. The power of direction arose directly from Defence Regulation 58A. I am astonished that he should have forgotten the point.

What I have to prove is that this is a Control of Engagement Order. Let us see what happens. The Minister of Labour had to face this problem. He said one does not have to go to the Order for the instructions. It is astonishing that the purposes of this Order are explained not in the Order but on the face of the "Quiz," a popular non-Parliamentary document. What does he conceive the problem to be? He says there: Britain is faced with its hardest post-war task. There are two big jobs to be done…We have not enough men and women on these jobs today. This means that work which is in the national interest must have priority over less essential work. That is why this Order had to be made. The effect of the Order will be that employers will only be able to engage the workers they need…by notifying their vacancies to an employment exchange. The result will be that the employment exchanges will be able to guide those seeking work into jobs which are not only suitable to them but also of importance to the nation. I understand there are 70,000 vacancies in the armament industry now. On Monday the Minister told us the mining industry would take all the men it could get. Agriculture would take thousands. The brick-works wanted as many as they could get. There was his problem. What was he to do? He had a very great difficulty? He had all these pledges staring him in the face. He had the conscience of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to worry about. All the thunder of Nuremberg was brought by the present Home Secretary against this employment control. The Assistant Postmaster-General might even resign. What would happen to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), if they brought in a Control of Engagement Order, no one knows. He might even resign from the Conservative Party.

What did the Minister do? He picked up the Control of Engagement Order and said, "I cannot bring that in again. We have prayed against it so often. We have had four all-night Sittings about it. That would be too brazen." He had a brilliant brain-wave. I think it is due to his lawyer's training. Alter the name on the brief and one persuaded oneself it was a different case. Alter the name of the Order and the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleagues in the Cabinet would not notice it.

Hon. Gentlemen who were so vehement about this Control of Engagement Order, and who prayed against it altogether six times, I think, should have compared the Notification of Vacancies Order with the Control of Engagement Order. And, word for word, the purpose of this latter Order is contained, with one exception, in the Notification of Vacancies Order. I imagine the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his legal training, must have come across the case of substituting horses on the race-course, "the ringer." These "ringers" were recently sent to jail, but the political "ringer" still has, as his punishment, industrial action in pursuit of political aims. That is all that has happened.

Mr. McCorquodale

indicated dissent.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He had training under the best Minister of Labour this country has ever seen, the late Ernie Bevin. If he will take the Order, he will see the substance of it is in Article 3. Article 3 (a) and (b) is reproduced, word for word, in the Notification of Vacancies Order. That is awkward for the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, is it not? He was venomous about this. It is awkward for the Prime Minister.

The other effective part is that dealing with "Excepted Persons." The effective part is in paragraph 6. If the right hon. Member for Epsom would look at this paragraph in the Notification of Vacancies Order, and compare it with the Control of Engagement Order, well, there one is. One merely changes the title and then tries to convince this House that this is a much more innocent thing than was ever introduced by the Labour Government.

Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman on rather a dangerous argument? He is saying this Order is, in fact, the same as the Control of Engagement Order. If that is so, why is he attacking it now, when he has spent six years defending it?

Mr. Ness Edwards

The hon. and learned Member should wait for it. The point I am making now is that the Notification of Vacancies Order is the Order against which the hon. and learned Gentleman prayed. What I have to establish, if I am to prove the breach of faith, is that this is in substance, with one exception, in wording, in form, in intention, the Control of Engagement Order, which hon. Members opposite prayed against.

Mr. Marlowe

Which the right hon. Gentleman always defended, and is now attacking.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I do not know how long the hon. and learned Gentleman has been in the House, but the point I am making is that the Conservative Party are bringing in a control of employment Order—because it is denied that this is a control of employment Order. If they are bringing in such an Order—it is no use the right hon. Member for Epsom shaking his head, because his successor has said something entirely different. If they are bringing in a control of employment Order, then they are breaking undertakings given by them when they sought the votes of the country.

Mr. Dudley Williams

The right hon. Gentleman is making great play about the Conservative Party having broken promises made at the last General Election. Would he like to specify the promises the Conservative Party have broken since they were returned to office?

Mr. Ness Edwards


Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

It would be out of order and would take too long.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman cannot answer.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Promises about lowering the cost of living, and that sort of thing. Fundamentally, this is a breach of the political attitude of the Conservative Party. I have quoted what the Prime Minister said in his broadcast about this very thing. The passage of time does not decrease the value of a pledge. Because they made a pledge a long time ago do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite think people ought to forget it and allow them to break it?

I am astonished at the political morality of the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Labour. I have pointed out that Article 3 of the Control of Engagement Order and Article 3 of the Notification of Vacancies Order are the same, with one exception. In each case Article 6 is the same. The purposes of the Control of Engagement Order are almost precisely the same as the purposes of this Notification of Vacancies Order.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite gave the game away. It was alleged by the Secretary of State that this did not affect the workers. Let us see how it works. For this purpose one can quote either the Control of Engagement Order or the Notification of Vacancies Order. I quote Article 3 (a): no person shall seek to engage any person for employment otherwise than by notifying to a local office or a scheduled employment agency particulars of the vacancy to be filled. Every job that is going has to be notified to the exchange: (b) no person shall engage any person for employment unless that person has been submitted to him for that employment by a local office or a scheduled employment agency. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were very much concerned about this.

An unemployed man goes to the exchange. There is a list, of vacancies there. He can be given a, card to go to any of those vacancies which have been approved by the Ministry of Labour. Suppose the man says, "I can get a job with employer B. I shall not go to the job of employer A."

What happens? The argument is that it does not affect the worker, but the worker must get a permit to go to job (b). Hon. Gentlemen opposite either are not reading the Order or they are not convinced of the sin they are committing. We must get this right. It is highly important if this is to be a success that there should not be any misapprehensions about the purpose. We must be careful because there are plenty of people who are only too anxious to take advanatge of any slip in the operation of this Order.

Let us see exactly what it says: No person shall engage any person for employment unless that person has been submitted to him by an employment exchange. What is the position of a man who does not want to go to job (a) but who wants to go to job (b) which the Ministry of Labour will not ratify?

Mr. McCorquodale


Mr. Ness Edwards

I do not want it from the ex-Parliamentary Secretary because he has ceased to have authority, but from the present Parliamentary Secretary who has authority for the time being.

Mr. McCorquodale

If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to the Minister of Labour two nights ago he would have found that he answered the exact question. He said that if a man refused to be persuaded, he would be entitled to go to a job to which we were not encouraging him to go: That is the essence of it. If it were otherwise it would be direction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 61.]

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am delighted to hear it, but will the right hon. Gentleman compare the answer which the Minister of Labour gave, to the, minute read out by the Parliamentary Secretary from the box?

He said: He can be given a permit to find his own job."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 100.] He can be given a permit. Suppose the placing officer refuses to give him a permit?

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

Then the placing officer gets the sack.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I should have thought there would have been a place for that in this Order, or in the quiz, or Press hand-out, but there is no provision here that he will get the sack. He must carry out the duties imposed on him by this order. There is no safeguard and if the unemployed man cannot get a permit from the vacancy officer there is no appeal to any tribunal.

The placing officer has complete authority in this matter. He is the man who will decide what jobs are to be offered. He will decide whether or not a permit is to be issued. If the right hon. Gentleman who raised this point will look at paragraph 6 (f) he will see that there is provision for the issue of these permits but no provision at all for an unemployed man, or an employer, to appeal against the decision of the vacancy officer not to give either an exemption certificate or a permit to an unemployed man.

I want to know why, for the first time since 1940, the right of a worker to appeal against a decision of the Minister has been denied him.

Mr. Doughty

There is no decision. One cannot appeal against something that is not a decision. That is elementary common sense.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I do not know how much experience the hon. and learned Gentleman has, but when we had the Control of Engagement Order—

Mr. Doughty

For years I have been considering decisions and appeals from decisions. I know what a decision is and what an appeal is, and one cannot appeal from a decision which is not a decision.

Mr. Ness Edwards

We are in this position: that the unemployed man who cannot get a permit to go to a job that he wants has no remedy at all. Now the hon. and learned Gentleman has disclosed his identity, or his past at any rate, I would refer him to the fact that under the Control of Engagement Order decisions were subject to the overriding Order 651 of 1943. On the hon. and learned Gentleman's interpretation, the unemployed man is going to be left without the right of going to any job.

In view of the accusations of the other side about the time taken in discussing this Order, I want to say that less time has been spent upon it than on any other Control of Employment Order since 1945. I am astonished hon. Gentlemen are so short-tempered about the small amount of time taken on it.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Is that why there are only eight Members on the other side?

Mr. Ness Edwards

The hon. Gentleman's return at a very late stage in the debate shows he has at least a trifle of interest in the subject.

I want the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the position under this Order. Under the old Order, the workman had the right to appeal and he had the offer of four jobs. It is true he had the possibility of direction and of a summons and a fine of £1 or so. Under the new Order he may have the offer of one job; he has no right of appeal; his employer would be summoned but the workman's suspension of benefit for refusing the offer of suitable employment would very much outweigh any fine that might have been imposed upon him under the old Order.

I warn my hon. Friends that this is the machine for the formal direction of labour.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

Nothing of the sort.

Mr. Ness Edwards

If one compares the Control of Engagement Order with this Order, one can see how different it is. We ought to get undertakings here tonight about this Order. There are a lot of misapprehensions that can be created about it, but they can be created only if there is no authoritative declaration from the Parliamentary Secretary of what it means.

Mr. Carr

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why a man will have the choice of only one job?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I said he might only have the choice of one job. We want an assurance that he is not to be restricted to the strict terms of the Order. We ought to have an indication that this Order will be applied as generously in the offer and selection of jobs as was the old Control of Engagement Order. After all, in the quiz on the back of the Order the reply of the Minister to the question whether a man is under any obligation to take a job he does not want is: "No, not so far as this Order is concerned." That answer may be regarded as having some significance.

The Minister's remedy is obvious. We ought to have an undertaking and we are entitled to assurances on the Order. It would have been quite easy for the Minister himself to have given us these assurances. He knows the history and controversy connected with this Prayer. Members on both sides know we shall be held responsible for what takes place, and we ought to know exactly the intentions of the Minister in respect of the operation of the Order which at the moment provides no public safeguards, and which ought to be treated with the critical attitude I have adopted tonight.

12.51 a.m.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

I want to confine myself to the Order and not to make a speech on assumptions, fears, or repetition of what used to happen in the bad old days when the Control of Engagement Order was in operation. I happen to have been the first non-legal chairman appointed by the late Ernest Bevin to the Essential Work Tribunal in Manchester, and I claim some little knowledge of how these Orders operate.

I should like to congratulate the mover and seconder of the Motion on giving the House an opportunity of getting to know much more about the Order than it otherwise would, but although I recognise the sincerity of their speeches, based on long experience as trade unionists, their assumptions are ill-founded. I agree with the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) that there is a lot to be said about the way the House has been treated in this matter. The Parliamentary Secretary, who usually is extremely fair and practical, will, I think, admit that the House has been treated badly on the time we have had for the Order.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite must forgive us for being suspicious about Orders of this kind, but we remember the misery and unhappiness of the past caused by the manner in which these Orders were implemented. It is a good thing this Order is a negotiated one. The mover and seconder of the Motion would not, I know, seek to condemn or to belittle the ability of those worthies of the T.U.C. who dealt with the Order and agreed to every line of it. It would be foolish if they moved and seconded a Prayer against an Order that had been approved by the very trade unions officials to whom they owe allegiance, and from whom they have great respect.

This Order seeks to do one thing. This afternoon we had a rather hectic debate about some particular party not having as yet carried out its obligations in regard to re-armament. I want to be completely fair on things which affect the national interest. If this country is to deploy its two main assets, raw materials and manpower, there must be some form of Order which will allow the people in authority—in this case, unfortunately, the Conservative Party—not to direct labour, but to suggest where the work should be done.

I belong to a very tine trade union. It gives the Ministry of Labour the least trouble of any. It gets round the table with the employers and tells them what it thinks, and gives them the opportunity to do the same. They have, in the last fortnight, negotiated a reduction in hours from 48 to 44. That means some extra work has to be found somewhere.

I live close to one of the largest and most efficient steel works in the world. I also live within 12 miles of an area which is suffering more from unemployment than any other in the country—Bolton. Instead of textile workers running round the country into Manchester, Trafford Park, and Irlam, and knocking at the doors of factories almost begging for a job, it will be far easier for them to go to the accredited representatives of the State, the employment exchange—or if they do not like the look of the exchange, to their own trade union headquarters—and let it be known that they are honourably seeking work, and, in turn, be notified of every job available in that area or any other. There is nothing wrong in that.

The question of the permit has been raised. I cannot follow the logic of this permit business. Bill Smith goes to the local employment exchange. He is looking for a job. The manager notifies him of all the vacancies in that area. None of them suits Bill Smith. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Ferny-hough) can put his point later. There is plenty of time. We can go on the six to two shift and talk quite a long time on this. I hope that the Closure will not be applied tonight.

This is an important matter, not only directly and objectively but psychologically as well. The tenor and standard of the debates on these Orders now that the former Government is in Opposition are much higher than the fractious things we used to have when we were in power. I hope that hon. Members will learn from the experience of those who have gone through the mill. Not that I suggest that hon. Members opposite do not know anything about this. Let us assume Bill Smith then gets a permit. How can he take a permit to an employer who has a job who, if this Order is operated properly, will not already have been notified? He can only go with a permit to a job which has not been notified if that potential employer has broken the law.

I try to base my speeches on common sense and practical application of what is before us, and I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) that, rather than that the workers of his constituency should go round Birmingham, as used to be the practice, looking for jobs and finding only notices stuck on the gates, "No hands wanted"—that is what men were described as then, "hands"—it would be far better if they went to their accredited trade union representatives who, in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour, have formulated this, or to the employment exchange. I see nothing wrong with that.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Surely an unemployed worker goes to the employment exchange precisely because if he did not he would not get his benefit. He goes there without this Order.

Mr. Jones

But with this Order he goes to the employment exchange and gets two things: he gets his unemployment benefit and notification of where there is something better than unemployment benefit—a job with wages.

The Order lays it down in Article 3 (b) that every employer shall notify the employment exchange of any vacancies they may have, and when Bill Smith draws his unemployment benefit he is told what vacancies there are by the official—and most employment exchange officials have been brought up the hard way, the same as us, and are men of working experience; they are the same people who were there when we were in power. Bill Smith goes to the employment exchange for his current unemployment benefit and is notified that 12 miles away there is a vacancy in the steel industry.

There is nothing wrong in suggesting to that man that there is a job in one of the major basic industries, upon which our re-armament programme finally depends. That is not directing a man to a job: it is telling a man where there is a job to go to. If this Order laid it down "You shall willy-nilly go to job so-and-so whether you can do it or not", that would be foolish, because a man who cannot do the job he is engaged by the employer to do becomes a menace, not only to the employer but to many of his fellow workers in the factory, and production begins to suffer.

There is nothing worse than having a man pitchforked into an industry he does not understand the first thing about. I have heard it suggested that "spivs" should be directed to work. The first thing they would do would be either to "make a book" or sell nylons. That would be to the detriment of those already engaged in industry. I do not speak from theoretical political knowledge. I speak from experience on the workshop floor where these things actually take place.

We ought not, for once in a while, to assume the worst about the present Government. I should like to give them credit tonight for having learned from their past experience, although there are some who think they never will learn. However, I warn the Governent of this. Much as I dislike many of the things they did in the past, nothing could be worse for this country than to try to badger people about in regard to where they should work. That would have a very serious psychological effect. But if this Order is carried out to the letter, humanely and fairly, it will not be a bad thing in the present emergency.

Hon. Members talk about directing labour. One does not do that in a scientific age; one directs raw materials and the labour automatically follows. That is the way it is worked. If the raw materials are directed, the labour goes where the work is to be found. Some hon. Members opposite have, on occasion, made remarks about the British worker, but he is still the finest under the sun. There a few wicked, odd ones, to whom reference was made this afternoon, but, basically, the British worker is the finest man under the sun and generally wants to keep his wife and his children and his home as a decent Christian person.

We have great respect for the Parliamentary Secretary; he has vast and long experience in this matter; and I ask him to see that the Order does not lend itself to criticism and abuse through a repetition of what happened in the past. I ask him to see that it does what it sets out to do—that it notifies the man seeking work of a job he can get, or gives him a permit to seek his own job, and that it makes employers notify the employment exchanges of the jobs which are vacant.

I have seen this idea of laissez faire at work; I have seen the result of men who were unprotected against the unscrupulous employer and who had to work at a price arranged with that employer. I much prefer an accredited method to be set up, where the employee knows he can get guarantees and knows there is a guarantee that he will be employed under proper trade union agreements. I have practical knowledge of how the system should work and some knowledge of the other Orders which were operated in the interests of our people. This debate has been of great value, and I hope and trust that before it closes we shall get from the Parliamentary Secretary the assurances we seek.

I conclude by commending the T.U.C. I suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood and his able seconder, who is a good personal friend of mine, should see the document which has been passed on to our party. This hand-out has been at our headquarters for the last 14 or 15 days. It is there to be read by those who seek to find out, and I have read every word of it.

Mr. Yates

I have not seen it.

Mr. Jones

That is not my fault. I say, with great respect, that if I were seeking to annul an Order I should be very careful to find out everything there was to know about it before I did so.

Finally, I want to appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary on this point. Like my right hon. Friend, I regret that the Minister of Labour is not in his place. The Order is of vital importance to the country and it should be applied as it is intended to be applied. Any suggestion of reverting to the control of engagements or the direction of labour will have very grave consequences, and I hope we shall not seek to do so. If properly carried out, this Order can be of great advantage to the country.

Mr. Yates

Will my hon. Friend tell me what is the document to which he referred? This is an important point. He spoke of a "hand-out" from the Trades Union Congress. When I asked for information from the Trades Union Congress I could get no information. I should like to know whether there has been a public "hand-out" in any way, because we have raised the subject in the House so that we could have it thrashed out and obtain the safeguards.

Mr. Jones

It is a public document. It is a "hand-out" on the Notification of Vacancies Order, 1952, and it goes on to, say what the Order does, and all about it. It was to help party headquarters and T.U.C. headquarters, and it was available to anyone who asked for it; and if it will assist my hon. Friend I will let him look at it.

Mr. Nabarro

Give it to the hon. Member.

1.19 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Sir Peter Bennett)

We have discussed this Order at some length and I think I should now take the opportunity to answer some of the questions asked. What is the need for this Order? The Minister made it perfectly clear on Monday. There is the defence programme in hand, and there are the needs of the export drive, and other demands which have to be met.

Next, there is a point that there has been some discourtesy on the part of my right hon. and learned Friend in his not being here. Might I just say that the Minister was here on Monday and explained full particulars; and his predecessor, the Minister of Labour in the last Government, said that we must have the Order, and agreed with it and, therefore, we feel that the official position has been met.

We feel that the Order has been made quite clear, and I am rather surprised to find that, in the exact seat in which there usually sits the former Minister of Labour, there is the former Postmaster-General taking a quite different line. The Minister did not intend any discourtesy. I have been in this House for many years and I have got used to Parliamentary Secretaries dealing with Prayers late at night; there is no lack of courtesy intended.

The hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates), who raised this question, spoke about timing. The Minister stated on Monday that it was timed to start about the period when redundancies were expected because of steel allocations affecting employment, and to discourage workers who become redundant from passing into less important work. It is because of that that the Order was timed as it is. The fact that it appeared while the House was in Recess seems to me to be a perfectly normal procedure.

It was prepared for the time when it would be wanted, and several hon. Members opposite have agreed that the procedure of the National Joint Advisory Council was thoroughly carried out and that, by the time we returned, the Order was ready and was laid. It was no fault of the Ministry that there was this hitch. The Ministry did its part, and the difficulty was with the machinery of this House and the Stationery Office. We are completely exonerated from blame.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock), has spoken about a Press conference. The only Press conference which has taken place was that on the day that the Order was laid, and the Press was given some facts. Another hon. Member made a great fuss about the fact that there is a great similarity between this Order and the Control of Engagement Order. Nobody would deny that. There is no attempt to disguise the fact, for it is to achieve a similar object, and it is because experience has shown that both employers and trade unions have agreed that the procedure worked smoothly in the past, that we have adopted something broadly similar again. But what I do emphasise is that there is no direction whatever, actual or implied.

I made the following definite statement on Monday: There is one thing I must make clear. There is no alteration whatever to unemployment benefit made possible by this Notification of Vacancies Order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 99.] I want the House to be quite clear that unemployment benefit is not affected in any way by this new Order. Great play has been made in this debate about permits and cards. But may I try to say in simple language what the Order does? The main object of the Order is to bring workers who are looking for employment to the employment exchange so that they may be told what are the most important vacancies available and suitable to them. We have been assured by employers and workers that it would be most valuable to let the worker know where he is most needed.

When the worker goes to the employment exchange, the placing officer will see that he is given full information about the employment in which he can make the best contribution to the national effort. If the worker has special skill and there are vacancies where that skill is needed, we think that normally it will not be difficult to persuade him to take one of the available jobs. If there are no vacancies where his skill can be best used, the placing officer will explain the position to him and will offer him other employment of national importance suitable to his experience.

The placing officer can only persuade. No undue pressure will be or can be used, and in no circumstances will the worker be instructed to take a certain employment. He will be told what is available and suggestions will be made as to where he should go, but if he is unwilling to be submitted to that employment and wants to go to some other employer, the placing officer will give him a card of introduction. That was what was called a "green card" and I believe is now called a "buff card." It can be used by trade unions who are the accredited agencies.

The right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) referred repeatedly to the need for a permit. There is no need at all for a permit. The worker has the card of introduction to take with him to the place where there is a vacancy. A permit, which is a totally different thing, is only issued where the employment exchange has not and cannot see itself having any prospect of a suitable vacancy for the applicant. In that case he will be given a permit which will enable any employer to engage him without further reference to a local office. To quote an extreme example, if a clerical officer were looking for a vacancy where his knowledge of Chinese and Hindustani would be useful, it would not be likely that the employment exchange would have that opportunity open to him. They would give him the permit because they had no vacancy and were not likely to have one.

As my right hon. and learned Friend said in the debate on Monday, if a man refuses to be persuaded, he will be entitled to go to a job which the Ministry will not encourage him to take and will not like him to take; otherwise there will be the essence of direction. We have given an undertaking that there will be no direction. If a man says, "I do not like the job offered, but I know where there is a job" he can go there if an employer notifies a vacancy.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The Parliamentary Secretary is making a speech which is very reassuring. In the case of the employment which is excepted and where the employer holds an exemption certificate, the vacancies will not be notified to the exchange. Will a man equally be allowed to go to that type of employment?

Sir P. Bennett

The only place where exemption is given is in those special cases, such as public institutions, which are looking for servants. They will be given a permit and an exemption certificate to look out for their own labour and fill the vacancies. That does not clash with what I have been saying.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Does it mean that the unemployed man, who has a permit, will be able to go to a place of excepted employment without any hindrance at all?

Sir P. Bennett

The man, who has a permit, which is not the green card, can go anywhere and get any job he wants.

The second point I want to make to reassure hon. Members is that there will be no delay in dealing with these problems. If an applicant firmly refuses to take the employment which is suggested by the exchange, but is willing to take another job of his own choice, there is no question of refusing him. Neither directly nor indirectly will the worker be subject to any direction whatever. It was asked how the Order would be administered. The clearest instructions have been given to all the local officers. Placing officers will administer this Order faithfully, honestly, and sympathetically, as was the case—and I have made inquiries from the trade unions' side and the employers' side—on the previous occasions when such cases have been handled.

This matter has been discussed by both sides of industry. It has been approved by the Joint Advisory Council. They have knowledge of the way this has been administered in the past. They have confidence in the future, and I hope that the hon. Member for Ladywood will be satisfied and will withdraw the Motion, so that we can carry out the Order in the spirit in which I explained it is to be administered.

1.23 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. P. G. T. Buchan-Hepburn) rose in his place, and claimed to move. "That the Question be now put."

Question put.

Mr. Fernyhough

On a point of order. This Order affects 20 million British citizens. If the Government Chief Whip is not interested in their welfare, some of us are, and feel we have a right to discuss this further. This is the second night running that the Closure has been applied.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. O'Brien

May I appeal to the Government Chief Whip to allow me three minutes of the time of the House to make a statement about the very serious reference made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), which involves the T.U.C. and the National Joint Advisory Council?

Mr. Speaker

It is not a point of order, and the Question has been put.

Mr. Fernyhough

Are you compelled, Mr. Speaker, to accept the Motion which has been moved, or is it in your discretion to accept it?

Mr. Speaker

It is in my discretion. That is a very well-established practice. Unless I think it is an abuse of the rules of the House or an infringement of the rights of the minority, I can accept the Motion.

Question agreed to.

Mr. Yates


Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is too late.

Mr. Yates

On a point of order. I understand, Sir, that the position is that the Question on the Motion is now to be put and that I am entitled to ask permission to withdraw my Motion. Having heard the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, which is very extraordinary and most important, I should be justified, I feel, in asking leave to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Speaker

That is very pleasant, but I cannot accept a request for the withdrawal of the Motion at this stage. The Motion must be negatived.

Question, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Notification of Vacancies Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 136), dated 29th January, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th January, be annulled,

put accordingly, and negatived.

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