HC Deb 10 December 1958 vol 597 cc356-82

Order for Second Reading read.

4.2 p.m.

The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. kin Macleod)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

On 9th July, in answer to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), I said that, when Parliamentary time permitted, I hoped to introduce a Bill which would do three things. First, it would repeal the Catering Wages Act, 1943; secondly, it would abolish the Catering Wages Commission; and, thirdly, it would make certain amendments to the Wages Councils Acts. This is the Bill which I then forecast, and to which today I invite the House to give a Second Reading.

About 3½ million people in the country have their wages governed by statutory wages regulations, and the story goes back, of course, to the Trade Boards Act of 1909, introduced, when he was President of the Board of Trade, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), whom I am delighted to see in his place. In 1943, Mr. Ernest Bevin brought forward the Catering Wages Bill, and we should notice that the 1943 Act was brought forward before the Wages Councils Act of 1945. If it had not been in that order catering wages boards would have been wages councils from the beginning, and some of the difficulties that have led to the need for this Bill would never have arisen.

The idea of Mr. Bevin at the time was, first, to protect staffing standards in canteens in wartime; but, as he often did, he was looking a long way ahead, and he was anxious to protect the standards of 750,000 people who are engaged in this very important industry. That is an object from which I do not dissent in the least, but the course of events since 1943 shows that in one sector at least of this trade there is some difficulty in carrying out the intentions of the 1943 Act.

Five boards were recommended by the Catering Wages Commission, and all five of these were duly set up. Four of them are to continue intact, under their new name of wages councils, and they are put forward in Clause 1 (3) of the Bill. Even as far as these four are concerned, some of them, and one in particular—the Licensed Residential Establishment and Licensed Restaurant Wages Board— attracted some criticism from the begining, and these criticisms affected such matters as overtime, the spread-over of work and tipping. It is important to remember that alterations have been made since then—in 1948, in 1949, in July, 1951; one of the last acts of the right hon. Gentleman—and again in 1954.

We may hear echoes of these criticisms today in our debate, but I think that, since those changes have been made, the criticisms have diminished a good deal in force, and if one reads the trade journals today it would seem that it is not the wages regulations but the shortage of workers in the industry which is causing most concern at the time. I think that we may also say that if the conditions of work of these workers were less satisfactory, no doubt the shortage of workers would be all the more severe as a result.

The fifth board, the one that does not appear in Clause 1, is the board which has really led in large measure to the need for the Bill, and this ran into trouble from the start. This is, perhaps, not surprising, because it tried to lay down regulations for all establishments with more than four bedrooms, and, indeed, in many cases, comparatively small boarding houses. In February, 1949, the board produced its first proposals, and had 440 representations made against them, so it took them back, thought again, and produced new proposals in August, 1949. This time, it had 1,107 representations made against them.

At this point, it disagreed on what to put to the Minister, and eventually put nothing to the Minister, so, not surprisingly, when the appointments of its members lapsed in 1950, the Minister decided not to replace them, and that has been the position ever since. That is to say, this board has a legal existence at present, but has no members and therefore, has not met for eight years.

The Minister of Labour of the day, in 1950, then invited the Catering Wages Commission to reconsider the matter. A report, called the Forster Report, was produced, but this again was not wholly acceptable, and the Catering Wages Commission finally produced its own solution, which was that the two hotels boards should be scrapped, and, in their place, on a more geographical basis, there should be four other boards. Finally, when we had reached this point, legal advice was taken, and it was discovered that the original Act was so rigid that, whatever the original merits of that solution might be, it could not be put forward because the scope of none of the boards could be varied in any way. At that point, darkness descended on the scene and has remained unbroken ever since.

It is important to remember that this deadlock does not only affect the fifth board. It also meant that the scope of the other boards was fixed and permanent. In the example I quoted a moment ago the Catering Wages Commission thought that it would be a good idea to have one board for Scotland. I do not know whether that is right or not. Only an inquiry can tell us, but what I do know is that, whether it was or was not a good idea, it cannot be done at present, and that is an added argument for having this sort of legislation.

It can most conveniently be presented, as, indeed, it is presented, by bringing these boards within the purview of the Wages Councils Act. I regard this as more than just a change of name; I regard it as an attempt to bring more flexibility into the administration of an industry where flexibility is not only desirable, but, as the House will realise, essential.

With the disappearance of the Catering Wages Act, 1943, goes the Catering Wages Commission. Its functions have largely been taken over by other bodies, notably those in relation to the tourist trade. Here I would like to thank the members, and in particular the chairman, for the work done, especially in the early years, in following out the ideas of the 1943 Act.

There is one point I should clear up which was mentioned in another place, namely, that the Commission intends to produce a final report to cover the years 1957 to 1958. I understand that it is really out of courtesy to my proposals and to the House that this has been held back until it has been possible for the House to discuss the solution I am putting forward today.

In 1943, Mr. Ernest Bevin brought forward his Bill. The Parliamentary Secret try at that time is now my noble Friend Lord McCorquodale, and in another place he welcomed this Bill. I am sure that Mr. Bevin would have taken the same course. I am also sure that he would have looked more closely at the guarantees we are leaving behind than at anything else, and I will say a word on that point.

We intend to protect in every way the tour boards whose existence we are continuing, their present position and, indeed, to follow out exactly the spirit of the 1943 Act. That is done in the following ways. First, the inspectorate will continue. There is not a separate catering wages inspectorate, it is part of the ordinary wages inspectorate. Secondly, in the First Schedule to the Bill I take transitional powers to cover the time of change from wages boards to wages councils. Thirdly, the councils are given exactly the same cover—this is made clear in Clause 1 of the Bill—as the previous boards, both as regards workers and their employers.

Lastly, all the regulations, such as those for minimum wages, holiday pay and holiday wages, are to be continued. The protection, therefore, is to remain complete, but I shall now be able to set up an inquiry either into the position of those at present covered by the fifth board or into any other proposal to vary the scope of the existing boards.

Perhaps I should say here that the composition of wages councils is identical with that of wages boards that is to say, there are three independent members appointed by myself, with an equal number of representatives of workers and employers. As the House will see, because the number of members on the two sides are equal there is, in effect, built-in arbitration, because the ultimate decision will be taken by the independent members.

I do not propose to conduct the House through all the Clauses of the Bill, because some deal with transitional matters. I will only mention briefly two Clauses, 3 and 6. Clause 3 appears hideously complicated, I know, but that is in part because it clears the way for consolidation. I hope to produce a Measure which will consolidate all the Wages Councils Acts as soon as this Bill becomes law. Therefore, in its ultimate form it will probably be a good deal simpler than the way I have to present it now to the House.

Clause 3 is also rather complicated, because I am having to spell out, as it were, considerations which a commission of inquiry ought to take into account. However, it enables me now to get impartial advice from a commission of inquiry when there is any proposal, either to abolish or to vary the scope of a board. It was not possible to do this before except on a proposal for abolition, and then only if it was put to me by a joint industrial council or a similar body.

Clause 6 relates to home workers. These are important in the clothing trade, in the manufacture of toys, laces and some other similar trades. We always thought they were protected, and we do protect them administratively, but in 1953, in a case in the cutlery trade, where also a certain amount of homework is carried out, it appeared doubtful whether the law extended to these workers, and Clause 6 is intended to make sure that we bring them in. I am sure that the House will agree it is right that these people, even where they work away from the parent factory, should have the protection of this system.

I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), in our exchanges on 9th July, whether I would have full consultation. We consulted the National Joint Advisory Council and the Bill has the general approval of both sides of industry. In addition, we have consulted 37 other bodies, including in particular the National Joint Trade Union Council for the Catering Industry. I think we have taken all their comments and points into account, and although no doubt there will be minor matters we can thrash out in Committee, I do not know of any major difference of view in the Bill as it stands.

It is in the light of this general agreement that I want to say a word about something that is not in the Bill, but which, I hope, will be in it by the time it finally leaves the House. The House will remember that a few weeks ago, on 19th November, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth moved a Prayer to annul the Order I had laid before the House, which meant, in effect, the end of compulsory arbitration. I made my position clear then. I said that although I realised that this was a controversial matter, I did not think that normally, in peace time, compulsory arbitration for disputes had a full part to play. I also said that I was impressed by the importance attached to the question of issues, and that I was very ready to see whether further talks could produce something like an agreed solution.

I understand that those talks will take place shortly, and although the final form will be a matter for the Government and for the House, I hope very much that some general agreement on this matter can be reached. I am sure that the House will at least agree that if such an agreement is reached, and we can put forward proposals, we would like to see them become law as soon as possible. I can assure the House that it is pure chance, although it looks extremely cunning, that we have a Bill before the House at the moment into which these proposals would fit naturally because they, too, would be an amendment of the Wages Councils Acts. I hope, therefore, in Committee, to be able, with some general agreement, to move a Clause or Clauses into the Bill to cover those matters.

Perhaps I should say on the specific point of local government, to which so many hon. Members pay particular attention, that talks are taking place between those concerned in it on the question of voluntary arbitration in relation to disputes. For myself, I think that that is the right course to take and I wish those talks well. We will, naturally, take into account local government interest in issues which may arise on any Clauses I suggest to the House for introduction into the Bill. If necessary, we will consult with the authorities and with N.A.L.G.O. before I table any proposition.

That is the Bill I propose. It is a repeal of the 1943 Act, but it seems to me also to be a natural development from it. It is a small but important step in giving a change of direction to the administration of a very important industry; indeed, so important that it has now become out largest single dollar earner, and in 1957 earned no less than £44 million. It is an attempt to make flexible what formerly was rigid. To that extent it is much more than the mere change of name that Clause 1 indicates. I hope that on this basis, therefore, the Bill, to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading, will be acceptable to the industry and to the House.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

First, I would like to say how much we appreciate the manner in which the Minister of Labour has explained the Bill to the House. We welcome not only his explanation of details, which we can examine further in Committee, but the thinking which lay behind the production of the Bill. Secondly, we give general approval to the Bill for the same reasons that the Minister has already expressed.

Naturally, we are most interested in the statement by the Minister on the question of issues. One is glad that the time has come, rather more quickly than some of us thought, because of the fortuitous production of the Bill at this time, when the question of issues may well become agreed between the parties and, therefore, may perhaps be given legislative effect during the Committee stage of the Bill. Again, we welcome that. We may have discussion later on the precise wording of the new Clauses, but those are Committee matters.

I have read the Second Reading debates of the Catering Wages Act and the Wages Councils Act. The Minister has accurately described what was in the mind of the late Mr. Ernest Bevin. The fact that so many changes have been made in relation to this industry is no indication that the original legislation was wrong. It shows the remarkable degree to which, in our way of working things out, we have flexible minds and were prepared to look at the problems confronting the catering industry. Each Minister of Labour in turn, irrespective of party, has tried to do his utmost within the terms of the rigidity of the Act, which controlled his actions, to meet the situation.

I am very glad that the Minister drew the attention of the House to the fact that when we are discussing today what is, perhaps, a modest Measure, we are, nevertheless, dealing with one of our largest industries. It is, therefore, extremely important. Certainly, we want to protect wages and conditions and we want great flexibility in scope. We want the Minister to be able to extend the scope of particular wages councils and not to be confined, as he has been and still is, within the present legislation.

As we have always, in all parts of the House, subscribed to the theory that we prefer voluntary negotiation and agreement rather than legislation, I see the Bill as another step forward, as, apparently, the Minister does too, towards that end. Indeed, I would hope that we would take the advice, which has been given on successive occasions, and latterly in another place, by the Minister who is responsible for introducing the Bill, that there should be very good organisation on the part of the employers and on the part of the workers in the industry.

Unless there is good organisation on the side of the workers and of the employers the councils themselves cannot operate as efficiently as if there is good organisation. As this is also Government policy, as expressed by Lord Dundee, in another place, I would plead that efforts might be made by the employers in the industry to persuade those who are with them in their associations to provide the necessary facilities so that trade union organisations can be as complete as possible and thus make the wages councils operate fully.

I go even further and I am sure that the Minister will agree with me. If we could reach the stage that we have good organisation on both sides, it would be possible to move further forward outside the wages council machinery. The Minister would, I am sure, be more than pleased to receive an application for the wages council in a certain section of the industry to be abolished and for its place to be taken by a voluntary joint industrial council with, I would hope, built-in arbitration, so that the whole set-up is then part of our voluntary machinery. After all, the whole purpose of our legislation concerning wages and conditions, health, safety and welfare, is mainly to protect those who, for one reason or another, are not able to protect themselves.

I am glad, therefore, that the Minister drew our attention to the fact that the fifth Board—the non-licensed residential board—has never been able to operate because of the very large number of people in this section of the industry. I do not know whether these figures are authoritative, but I am told that there must be between 60,000 and 75,000 of these establishments with more than four bedrooms. I am also informed that about 100,000 workers are engaged. They are all very small employers. The difficulty of organisation, therefore, is apparent on both sides. If as a result of the Bill the Minister is able to provide the necessary legislative protection for this class of worker and for the good employer at the same time, I am certain that we will all welcome it.

While the tourist trade is one of our biggest industries, and the Minister has given important figures concerning dollar earnings, we have not by any means reached the end of that road. The capacity for dollar earning in this country is far greater than many of us perhaps realise. We cannot get tourist trade, however, unless we provide first-class accommodation for people who come over here.

When we talk of dollar earnings, we think in terms of the American visitor. The truth is that anyone who has spent any time at all in the United States—and the Minister, of course, comes fresh from that country—knows perfectly well that, by and large, hotel accommodation there, even for the man of modest means, is first-class, very much better—

Mr. John Eden(Bournemouth, West) indicated dissent.

Mr. Robens

I see that the hon. Member disagrees. I spent three months in the United States and stayed at the Statler and Hilton Hotels. I do not regard them as outstandingly expensive, certainly not when I was there. Their terms of five or six dollars for a bed was not excessive in the United States at that time, taking their increases in cost as compared with our own. Nevertheless, they provide fine accommodation with private bathrooms to all their bedrooms, and so on. Their value for money in terms of actual accommodation offered for the tourist is probably better than most countries are able at present to offer.

We could offer that and I am certain that most hoteliers and those engaged in accommodating tourists want to offer it. I know that other problems arise, however. I understand that Purchase Tax on goods for hotels is a sore point with hoteliers. It is not the subject of this debate, but I have no doubt that it can be discussed some time. I hope that we will not lose sight of the fact that while we want legislation and flexibility with the wages councils for dealing with wages, conditions and hours of employment, we must do all that we possibly can in other ways to help the hotelier to develop this thriving industry, which certainly can be considerably extended. It can be of considerable value to our country and as a dollar earner it gives us results that we do not get anywhere else in industry, because we are supplying service, an indigenous product, for our dollars and we do not have the problems of manufacture.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

I cannot let the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman go completely unchallenged. If he goes to any hotel in this country equivalent to the Statler hotels in America, he will find, first, that the accommodation is just as good and just as modern, and secondly, a standard of service which is incomparably better here than in America.

Mr. Robens

I would not want to detract at all from the best that we provide in this country, and I hope that none of my remarks will be so taken. I have no doubt that these things apply in the West End, but I must say to the hon. Gentleman—as he must travel round the country a good deal—that if he got into some of our provincial towns he would not make the same claim.

Those of us who have to spend some of our time in the provinces, and may have to live in hotels there at the weekend, do not find the kind of accommodation about which I was speaking, and which I found in almost every town that I visited in the United States. I passed through 24 of their States and, universally, the standard was excellent. In this country, outside London, one cannot say that, except for the high-priced hotels, the standard is anything like that to be found in the United States.

I do not disparage our own industry, but we, as Parliament—and the Government, particularly—must try to help hoteliers and others to put—I almost said their houses in order, but to put their hotels in order to attract the tourist trade. I seek to help, not to discourage the industry.

We welcome the Bill for what it is; for the elasticity and flexibility that we shall now have in relation to wages and conditions. I join with the Minister in his thanks to and appreciation of those who have been actively operating the present wages boards. They have done an extremely useful job. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman has found it so valuable that he has continued the same kind of organisation under the wages councils. Therefore, as I say, I join with him in expressing my thanks to those who have given their time to this work.

We are glad to realise that the question of issues is now likely to be a question of legislation fairly quickly, and that we can look forward to it as soon as the parties have decided on the kind of agreement they can come to. We shall examine the Bill, with the Minister, with some care in Committee, but it will certainly be in a constructive sense. We shall try to produce a Measure that will be of service to the industry and to all those who arc engaged in it.

4.32 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) welcome the Bill on behalf of his party. It had been suggested to me by someone who obviously did not know what he was talking about that the Opposition intended to object to it. Personally, I found it very difficult to conceive of any reason why they should, for surely the Bill's main purpose is to extend to about 100,000 workers in the industry the protection of the old Catering Wages Act, which was originally designed to cover all the workers in the industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) and I are the two Members representing a town that, for its size, has more hotels and boarding houses than any other in the country. On their behalf, I can tell the Minister that, in general, they welcome the Bill. The hotel keeper is a man of independent mind and, naturally, would prefer not to be troubled by any Government regulations at all, but he is wise enough to recognise that, in 1958—and especially in an industry where the trade union organisation is not very strong, there must be regulations laid down by the Government and boards to sustain them—that will protect the interests of the workers.

Relations within the industry have latterly, by and large, been very good. The Catering Wages Act certainly helped to establish those good relations. In the smaller hotels and boarding houses with which the new proposals really deal, those good relations have been just as satisfactory as in the larger places. For one thing, the smaller hotel or boarding house would not attract any labour at all unless it was prepared to pay wages of the same standard as those available to the workers in other parts of the industry for which wages boards already exist.

In addition, we are speaking of an industry that depends for its survival and progress upon good personal relationships, even intimate personal relationships between the employee and the employer. One finds that in a place such as Bournemouth, despite the great difficulty of keeping on staffs in the winter months, when there are very few guests, the hoteliers and boarding house keepers do their utmost to do so. They wish to give their workers some sort of security in their jobs; and to build up a feeling of confidence that they are wanted for their own sakes, even at personal loss to the employer, as much when the holiday season is at its lowest as well as when it is at its height.

It may seem rather paradoxical, when we are in the process of repealing the Act itself, to speak of extending the benefits of the Catering Wages Act to those 100,000 employees who have so far been excluded from it, but we could say that although we are now repealing the Act we are not destroying its effects. My right hon. Friend the Minister has already indicated how that is so.

My right hon. Friend has told us that the wage scales fixed by the recent boards are to be maintained. He has told us that the inspectorate is to continue; that the membership of the boards will be virtually identical with those of the new proposed councils. I understood him to say that, in effect, the councils will have precisely the same functions and powers as the old boards, but to make quite certain of that I would ask the Parlia- mentary Secretary whether there is, in fact, any difference at all, except in nomenclature, between a council and a board in respect of this industry.

A more significant change, perhaps, is that the Catering Wages Commission is abolished by the Bill. It had ceased to have any function. Hon. Members need only obtain from the Vote Office copies of recent Reports of the Commission to see how it had, virtually, lost heart in its own existence. In the last year for which it reported, it met only once, and in the last three years its Reports have been reduced to a single sheet of paper.

The Commission had nothing to do once it had set up the wages boards, and even the boards themselves did not report through it, but direct to the Minister. It could be said, however—and this is not meant as a disparagement of the Commission, or of its members—that it failed in one-fifth of its only allotted function; it could not agree upon a method of bringing within the scope of the Act the unlicensed residential establishments.

I come now to the form that the councils might take to deal with this particular category of hotels and boarding houses—and this is the part of my speech that takes an interrogative form. What sort of body has the Minister in mind to deal with the unlicensed establishments? I well realise, of course, that he may not be able to give me a direct answer, as the Bill only gives him the power to set up a commission of inquiry to advise him upon the form that these councils should take, but, perhaps, I could, without transgressing the rules of order, put before him some ideas on the subject.

I do not think now, as I did at first, that it would be a good idea to set up an entirely new council to deal with unlicensed establishments. On consideration, I do not think that it is a particularly good idea to make a rigid distinction between licensed and unlicensed hotels, with a separate council for each. Whether or not a hotel provides alcoholic drink makes very little difference to the way in which it is run or to the regulations which are required to govern it. What makes a difference is the size of the establishment.

I give one instance from the past. One of the recommendations of the Licensed Wages Board was that, in assessing the proper wage to be paid to a waiter, £1 a week should be allowed for tips. In the small hotels it frequently happens that the waiter does not receive as much as £1, whereas we all know that in the larger hotels, at the height of the season, a waiter can count upon as much as £20 a week in tips, or even more. Because the Board had to deal at the same time with the very small and the very large licensed hotel, and was not allowed to distinguish between the two in the regulations it laid down, it produced a tipping rule which made very little sense.

My suggestion is that both the licensed and unlicensed hotels should be put under two committees of the same board, and that they should be divided not according to whether or not they hold a licence, but according to their size. Where is the dividing line to come between the large and small hotel? It has been put to me that the line should be drawn not, as it has been hitherto, on the basis of the number of bedrooms, but on the basis of the number of man-hours worked in the year. The figure suggested to me is 16,000 man-hours per annum. This would mean that the division would come at about six employees per establishment. For hotels employing more there would be one committee, and for those employing less another. Both committees would be grouped under a single catering wages council.

I ask the Minister not to make the regulations too complicated for the smaller hotels. At the moment, the regulations evolved by the different wages boards in respect of licensed hotels amount to 25 pages of print. It is asking too much to suppose that the hotel manager of a little unlicensed boarding house in a seaside resort should digest and follow faithfully the instructions contained in 25 closely printed pages of regulations when, hitherto, owing to the anomaly of the workings of the Act, such an establishment has not been required to follow any regulations at all. Let us at least work them gradually into the bureaucratic system, and make the rules for them as simple as possible. I suggest that in the first instance the rules should cover no more than a minimum wage and a maximum number of hours of work. Those are the two important matters for the employees.

My right hon. Friend may not know—because it does not directly affect his Department—that it is a matter of considerable grievance among hotel keepers that at the height of the season private householders are apt to put up notice boards, or to insert advertisements in the local newspapers, asking members of the public who are on holiday to take bedrooms in their houses. The question immediately arises whether these people are pirating upon the legitimate trade of the boarding houses and hotels. The season is a very short one—sometimes no more than three or four months—and those whose business it is to provide regular boarding houses and hotels depend on the custom they can attract during those few months to make their annual income.

If many of their legitimate customers arc turned away from them in the manner described they are put at an undoubted disadvantage. It is much worse than that, because when the rating authorities are deciding at what figure a boarding house shall be assessed they do not consider whether it takes in people all the year round or only occasionally, and one finds that certain houses, which do not officially declare themselves to be boarding houses but take in visitors all through the summer months, are rated as if they were private houses. That is a natural source of grievance among those who are running boarding houses as a business.

The relevance of my remarks to the Bill lies in the fact that when the Minister decides whether to set up a wages board for unlicensed premises he will have to lay down a definition of a boarding house or hotel. He may adopt the system which I have suggested, based upon the number of man-hours worked during the year, or he may choose the old system, based upon the number of bedrooms available for letting for at least a fourmonths' period. Whichever system he chooses he will be making a definition which the valuation authorities will consider very closely, and I ask him not to exclude from any regulations he makes those so-called private houses which make a considerable annual income from taking in visitors.

I now want to raise a point which was put to me by representatives of the hotel industry at lunch-time today. They pointed out that the Bill makes no provision for the representation of the needs of the consumer upon any wages council. Section 2 (1, b) of the Catering Wages Act does that; it provides that the Commission shall take into account the needs of the consumer whom, in this case, we would more reasonably call the visitor to the restaurant or hotel.

In the opinion of the representatives whom I saw it is very important that some such Clause should be inserted in the Bill. Otherwise, it will not be possible to argue upon a wages council that the public are liable to suffer if a certain course of action is followed. This is a reasonable request, and I would follow it up with a practical suggestion to implement it. The Minister has the power to appoint three independent members to each of the councils. Could one of those three be a direct representative of the British Holidays and Travel Association, which, more than any other existing body, could be said to represent the interests of the visitor, both foreign and domestic, to our hotels?

In this industry, as in all industries, good relations depend largely upon human relations and not Acts of Parliament. As my right hon. Friend said at the end of his speech, our industry—if I may so call it, because it is the major industry in my constituency—is bound to make an increasing contribution to our economy. The industry is doing its utmost to raise its own standards. At the moment, about 10,000 students in different branches of the trade are attending courses under the auspices of the Hotel and Catering Institute. Our hotels and restaurants are performing an invaluable service to ourselves and to our visitors. They are determined to maintain those standards and one to which they hold most strongly is that their workpeople shall be satisfied with their conditions, wages, and hours of work. There is no doubt that the Bill will make a valuable contribution to that end.

4.51 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) welcomes the Bill. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was because of the scandalous conditions which existed in many sections of the hotel and catering industry before the war that the Catering Wages Act of 1943 was introduced? The then Coalition Government considered it necessary to control the wages and working conditions of those employed in the industry.

As the Minister rightly said, there are 3½ million people in the industry whose wages are governed by wages councils. The wages of many people in the distributive trade are covered by the Wages Councils Act of 1945–48. With other hon. Members, I can recall the time when action had to be taken because of the poor working conditions and rates of wages in the distributive trade. There was a strong case for altering the pre-war conditions which obtained both in the catering trade and in the distributive trade. In 1935, 1936 and 1937 conditions were so bad and wages so poor in the distributive trade that enlightened employers joined with trade unions in requesting the Government to take action in order to arrive at agreements which would improve the standards. So one can say with truth that the 1943 legislation has done something to regulate wages and conditions.

I hope that this Bill will benefit the industry. The Minister envisages councils comprising three independent representatives and an equal number of employer and employee representatives, which will result in the representation of all sections of the catering trade. I hope that effective arbitration machinery will be devised which will result in an improvement, not only in working conditions but in the efficiency of the industry.

One of the most important aspects of the hotel industry is the service which is provided, whether by a small boarding house in Bournemouth, Eastbourne or Blackpool, or in a large hotel in the West End of London. Good service is provided by a staff which enjoys good pay and working conditions. Therefore, it is in the interests of all good employers in the industry to see that proper wages are paid to their staffs and proper living conditions provided for them. I trust that this Measure will help in that direction.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) referred to the importance of the contribution to our tourist trade which can be made by our hotels. Foreign currency is important to this country and visitors from abroad often judge the standard of a country by the standard of the hotel accommodation which is provided. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch would agree when I say that before the war the working conditions for employees in the catering industry were far from good. It is my hope that this legislation will lead to more trade union organisation in the industry and the creation of proper conditions for those employed in it; and that it will contribute to increased efficiency in the industry.

4.56 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

The Minister suggested that had the 1945 Act appeared on the Statute Book earlier there would have been no need for the 1943 legislation; but, after the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), we can appreciate the basic reasons for the introduction of the 1943 Act. My hon. Friend spent many years attempting to organise the workers in the catering industry. Had he wished, I am sure that my hon. Friend could have quoted specific instances of the bad conditions which he encountered and told us not only about the poor wages which were paid but also about the long hours of work to which employees in this industry were subjected and against which they had no kind of protection. Because of that, the then Coalition Government decided it was necessary to introduce the 1943 Act.

We were glad to hear that the Minister has consulted both sides of the industry and has obtained the agreement of employers and trade unions for his decision to repeal the Catering Wages Act of 1943 and to create wages councils to replace the four wages boards which have operated since 1943. It seemed peculiar that during his Second Reading speech, even before he had concluded it, the Minister should tell us that he hoped the Bill would not reach the Statute Book in its present form. He was most anxious either to get the Opposition to put down an Amendment or to threaten that he would himself amend the Bill, despite anything that anybody could do to stop him. It must be a unique experience to introduce a Bill in that way.

We were pleased to hear the point to which he was making reference, which was the issues matter which we discussed three weeks ago today. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us whether the discussion to which the right hon. Gentleman referred has now reached an advanced stage. I am thinking of the timing of the Committee stage of the Bill. It would not be useful for us to go into Committee on the Bill until the right hon. Gentleman had something to enshrine in it, in the form of an Amendment which would do the thing which he obviously requires, so far as the issues matter is concerned.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson), in a very interesting speech, described conditions in Bournemouth. I do not know whether we can take Bournemouth as typical of seaside hotels throughout the country. I should have thought the pattern of holiday-making was changing rapidly. One has only to see the many thousands of caravans behind motor cars going into seaside areas and to discuss with some of the hoteliers in those areas the falling off in their trade to know that the pattern of holiday-making is changing. I will not mention the areas I have in mind, but some of those holiday resorts, because of the great change I have mentioned, might shortly be qualifying for the status of development areas—I know that Bournemouth is rather different. This position should be very much in our mind when we are thinking of altering catering wages legislation, as we now are.

Only three Acts confer statutory regulation of minimum wages in this country, which the Ministry of Labour now looks after. They are the Catering Wages Act of 1943, and the Wages Councils Acts, 1945 and 1948. It is sufficiently rare for us to have any sort of statutory minimum on wages for it to be worth our while to pause and consider when we are eliminating one of those Acts. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who said that we are enshrining the basic principle in another way and that we will be retaining it. I would like to look at one or two Sections of the Catering Wages Act.

In Sections 1 and 2 we established the Catering Wages Commission itself. The Act gives certain functions to the Commission: first, to consider existing machinery for regulation of wages and conditions of employment—I stress conditions of employment—for catering workers, and secondly, in Section 4, to consider the setting up of Catering Wages Boards, and to make inquiry into means for meeting the requirements of the public and for developing the tourist traffic. I am not sure in what we are now doing that we are effectively covering these points.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we are looking after the wages point, but we must remember that the legislation which we are now eliminating goes much further than wages, because it demands that we should meet the requirements of the public as well as develop the tourist traffic. I wonder whether the Government are certain that they are taking powers which will enable that type of thing still to be looked after. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will develop that point a little when he replies. On all sides of the House we are concerned about this, whether employees or employers, because we are discussing a great industry and we must ensure that the public welfare is considered at the same time.

I come to the requirements of the Commission to inquire into matters affecting remuneration, conditions of employment, health and welfare of the workers. Are we, under the new dispensation, sure that health and welfare are as effectively covered as they are under the Catering Wages Act, 1943? I am not certain that we are doing it effectively. The councils themselves, in my experience of them, have been very rightly far more concerned about wage alteration and regulation and so on than with health and welfare. I know that they have the power to look at conditions as distinct from wages. Probably the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that, in the main, they have looked rather at wage levels than at health and welfare under the Catering Wages Act, although these factors are as important as wages.

I would remind the House again that this legislation was brought to the House at least as much because of the bad conditions in the catering industry as because of bad wages. During the whole period that the legislation has been on the Statute Book there has been full employment. Therefore, it would be unfair to judge from results during that period. We agree, and we are very happy to know, that conditions have now improved in the catering industry. I hesitate to believe that they would have improved in this way despite this legislation had there not been full employment throughout the whole of the British economy. I again ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look at this point and give us some assurance, if he can, that the health, welfare, conditions, etc., of catering workers will be as well protected under the proposed dispensation as they were under the 1943 legislation. Because of the nature of the industry the conditions are very important.

We clearly specified within the 1943 legislation such matters as meal times and rest periods which, in ordinary industry, are negotiated between employers and trade unions. No such specific references appear in the 1945 or the 1948 legislation, and therefore the Government should keep their mind open as to the need for Amendments in Committee to cover that kind of point as well as the wages point. Again, in the 1943 Act, Section 9 (4), and in the 1945 Act, Section 12 (1), the employment of certain types of disabled people is dealt with and provision is made for them to be employed below the statutory rates in the industry.

Whilst we are altering legislation in this field, why do we consider it necessary to retain that type of provision? Surely, we have now reached the point where many infirm people have been, and can continue to be, retrained by the Ministry of Labour. We know from experience that the vast majority of disabled people of this type, after they have undergone retraining, are quite able to do the job at least as efficiently as people not so handicapped.

I should have thought, therefore, that the provision which we are retaining to permit the employment of certain infirm or incapacitated people at below the statutory rates is now quite unnecessary. Indeed, if people so incapacitated are unable to earn the established rate within an industry, I should have thought that a clear case for saying that they should be employed by Remploy or by one of the local authorities. If they do not come within the category of people to be so employed by Remploy or by one of the local authorities, then, I should have thought, there was a good case for saying that they should receive the statutory rate prevailing in the industry. Perhaps the Minister would look at that point before we come to the Committee stage.

I want to ask a question about Section 9 (3) of the Catering Wages Act, 1943, which gives power to a worker to recover sums due from an employer without in any way prejudicing his ability to institute civil proceedings to reclaim such moneys. Where a man can show that the employer has been paying him less than the statutory wage, he can appeal under the 1943 Act, and if he sustains his case he can recover such moneys. That is done without prejudice to his right to take the case to the civil court. I understand that under the proposed new legislation we are not giving him the right to do that. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can reassure me on this point. If we are not retaining that right in the Bill, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would consider the matter before we reach the Report stage.

Clause 7 of the Bill says: Provided that it shall be a defence for a person charged under this subsection with failing to comply with a requirement to prove that it was not reasonably practicable to comply therewith. What does that mean in practice? We know that the previous legislation enabled the worker who could show that he had been employed at rates less than the statutory rates to recover the difference. We also know that fines of £20, and so on, could be imposed in such cases. Are we altering the sense of the legislation by introducing these words into Clause 7 of the Bill? I hope that we are not. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would look at the point and either now or later tell us whether, indeed, we are in any way altering the existing provision.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said, we are not in any way opposed to the changes which the Government are now suggesting. We think that the 1943 legislation has done a pretty good job. The conditions in the catering industry now are better by far than they were prior to the legislation being placed on the Statute Book. I have suggested that other things besides the presence of this legislation have contributed to that end. I have referred to the fact that since the 1943 Act we have enjoyed full employment which has meant more rivalry for the services of people working in industry. It has also meant that the less generous type of employer has had to pay better wages and observe better conditions in order to get the services of people. Because of all that it is, perhaps, difficult to judge what progress would have been made had the economic conditions been less favourable.

We should certainly not have allowed the Government a free hand in the matter had they not agreed to substitute for the existing wages boards the wages councils, and so on. I stress again the need to ensure that those provisions of the 1943 Act which looked after the public interest as well as the interest of employers and employees should in some way be retained, and that we should not entirely abandon our direction of the tourist industry, which, again, is dealt with in the 1943 Act but not in the 1945 or 1948 legislation. I should like an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that we are not now abandoning all those facets of the matter which do not refer only to conditions of work within the industry. If the hon. Gentleman could give us an assurance about that we should be very grateful.

If as a result of anything we have said the Minister feels that there is reason to widen the legislation, he can be quite certain that I and my hon. Friends will be happy to assist in so widening the Bill by way of Amendments introduced on the Committee stage. With those reservations, we on this side of the House welcome the Bill, and we shall certainly not attempt to prevent it obtaining a Second Reading.

5.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Richard Wood)

We have had a short and brisk debate, and I shall do my best not unduly to prolong it. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) has raised a number of points which, perhaps, as he suggested, I and my right hon. Friend could study and which, no doubt, between us all we could examine further in Committee.

Most of the short debate has been occupied by the changes made in existing provisions and by the new provisions for the catering industry. I should like to begin what I have to say by giving wholeheartedly the assurance for which the hon. Member for Newton asked at the end of his speech that the proposed changes in no way mean an abandoning of the industry. We believe, and I think right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite believe, that the new provisions will be even more beneficial for the industry than those which we have at the present time.

My right hon. Friend devoted a large part of his opening speech to the main object of the Bill as contained in Clause 1, which is, he said, very broadly to introduce more flexible arrangements into an industry which, I am sure we all agree, is suffering very badly from inflexibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) asked whether there was any difference between the procedure of wages councils and that of catering wages boards. There is, in fact, only one substantial difference. It is that a catering wages board has to allow 21 days for written representations to be made against proposals whereas a wages council must allow not less than 14 days. But, as my hon. Friend probably knows, a wages council can fix a longer period, and very often does. Therefore, I think that even this difference is not, in fact, very real.

My hon. Friend also asked about a wages council for those workers in the catering industry who are at present unprotected. When replying to a Question put down by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) on 9th July last, my right hon. Friend said: Only after an Act has been passed would it be possible to appoint a Commission of Inquiry under the Wages Councils Acts to consider whether a wages council should be established for workers in unlicensed hotels and boarding houses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1958; Vol. 591, c. 377.] It would be the intention of my right hon. Friend when this Bill becomes law to consider having such an inquiry if there is a demand for it, but at this stage it is plainly impossible to say when it would begin and precisely what its terms of reference would be. My right hon. Friend and I will bear in mind the suggestions made by my hon. Friend about what form that council might take. His most interesting suggestions seemed to raise a great many issues which a commission of inquiry would have to examine. As many hon. Members know, particularly after the difficulties experienced with the unlicensed residential establishment wages board, to set up a wages council in this part of the industry would present extremely formidable problems.

Most hon. Members have made the importance of this industry very clear. The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) suggested, and we entirely agree, that we should give the hotelier every help we can to develop this immensely important industry. The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) thought that the Catering Wages Act had done something to regulate wages and conditions, and we all agree with that. In fact, the Act, which is now fifteen years old, has been generally accepted, with the reservations we all feel and which are the reason for this Bill.

The hon. Member for Newton raised the question of the health and welfare of catering workers. Since 1943. we have had the National Health Service introduced and the Clean Food Act, but I certainly would not say—and I am sure my right hon. Friend would not say— that we have gone as far as we might. We shall certainly consider possibilities of improvement in this field.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch suggested the possibility of consumer representation on the wages councils. Under Section 2 (1, b) of the 1943 Act, which he mentioned, the Catering Wages Commission was given the duty, among others, to consider the requirements of the public. It was the duty of the Commission and never the duty of one of the wages boards, because the wages boards, like the wages councils, were essentially wage-fixing bodies consisting of representatives of the employers and workers, with independent members.

In answer to my hon. Friend, and to the hon. Member for Newton, I think I can say that the consumers' interest is very much the care of the British Travel and Holidays Association, which has taken over from the Catering Wages Commission a great deal of its earlier responsibilities. One of the reasons which led my right hon. Friend to abolish the Commission was that this responsibility for tourism and for consumers generally has been taken over by the British Travel and Holidays Association.

I agree entirely with what the right hon. Member for Blyth said about the need not to take too static a view of wages councils. I think he recognised, as other hon. Members have, that Clause 3 provides powers for my right hon. Friend to develop the machinery of wage negotiation according to changing circumstances. I am sure that we should all welcome that, and I hope that as time goes on these powers will be used and the machinery of wage negotiation will become voluntary and more satisfactory than at present.

I wish to say a word about the possibilities of the issues procedure mentioned by my right hon. Friend, and which has been generally welcomed by the House. I am afraid I cannot be very specific, and I do not think it would be wise to try to answer the questions raised by the hon. Member for Newton. All I would say is that as fax as the issues question is concerned the probable time-table for this legislation seems likely to work out pretty well. If the hon. Member would not mind me saying no more than that, I think my right hon. Friend and I will take a fairly optimistic view of the convenience of the stage of this Bill when we can take action to meet our joint wishes.

I hope this development—if it comes off, as I sincerely hope it will—will largely meet the point which recently divided Her Majesty's Government and the Opposition and will also satisfy the strong representations made by a number of my hon. Friends and others on behalf of the National and Local Government Officers' Association and other associations.

Finally, I say to the hon. Member for Newton, who congratulated us—I think I may say that—on announcing our intention to amend the Bill even before it has had a Second Reading, that on this side of the House we are never complacent. We always believe we can improve on our work, and that, I think, we shall do by the time this Bill becomes law.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).