HC Deb 24 January 1958 vol 580 cc1469-87

Order for Second Reading read.

2.58 p.m.

Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

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

I am sorry that so important a Measure cannot receive more time for discussion, but I suppose that for a third Bill on a Friday I must be grateful or thankful that I at least have an opportunity to move the Second Reading.

In moving the Second Reading, I speak with considerable feeling, because the only work to which I have been accustomed since I left school at the age of fourteen and until I came to the House is work in an office. I worked as a boy of fourteen under very unsatisfactory conditions, working in an office from seven in the morning until six at night for 6s. a week. I moved thankfully to better circumstances, and before I reached this House I had been working in ideal conditions with Messrs. Cadbury Bros. Ltd. of Bournville, Birmingham. I have always felt that this great section to which I have always belonged has not had a fair deal throughout the years.

This subject has been before the House on a number of occasions, but the last occasion on which an Offices Regulation Bill was before the House was nearly 22 years ago, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones), whom I am very glad to see in his place this afternoon, had the opportunity of presenting a Private Member's Bill. For a few moments, I should like to refer to some of the points which he put to the House at that time, because they all apply today.

Between 1923 and 1936, eleven Bills had been presented to the House, but the last was that introduced by my right hon. Friend and supported by all the clerical and non-manual workers' unions in the country. When he moved the Second Reading, my right hon. Friend made three points which I want to emphasis today. First, he said, There is practically no systematic or routine inspection of offices today…any old place may be used as an office without let or hindrance…there are no regulations governing the inspection of offices. Secondly, there is a marked tendency among clerical workers towards tuberculosis, digestive and nervous disorders. Thirdly, the death rate among clerks in commercial offices is almost double what it is in agriculture. I mention those points, brought to the House 22 years ago, because today the situation is worse. We have suffered a world war which has added enormously to the difficulties which clerical workers have to endure. It is interesting to recall that on that occasion the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is the present Minister of Education, made a statement which I ask the hon. and learned Member the present Under-Secretary of State to consider. I do not quote the speech in any carping manner, because I am certain that when he made it the present Minister of Education believed that legislation would be forthcoming to put the position right for the black-coated workers. As reported in column 2560 on 13th March, 1936, the right hon. Gentleman said: …the Committee have produced a draft Bill, a copy of which I have here. It covers the whole of these questions and many others, and fully meets the representations which the Home Office made with regard to those doubts. It defines a work-place as any place in which persons are employed otherwise than in domestic service, and I think hon. Members will agree that that covers offices. In Clause 280, it makes a clear and definite provision in relation to powers of entry and inspection which cannot fail to remove all possible doubt as to the power of local authorities inspectors to engage in systematic inspection of offices, and not be dependent upon casual complaints."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1936; Vol. 309, c. 2495–2560.]

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

On what occasion was my right hon. Friend speaking?

Mr. Yates

He was speaking on 13th March in reply to the debate on the Offices Regulation Bill, the Second Reading of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield moved. That was in column 2560. He went on to say that if the Bill were passed the whole question of offices would come under the observation of inspectors, and added that there would gradually be accumulated a body of knowledge in regard to the real conditions in offices.

I refer to that only because it was ten years later that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) set up a Committee of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers, which was able to show beyond doubt that what had been thought to be the case in 1936 was certainly not the case in 1946. The Gowers Committee investigated the facts and reported in 1949. Paragraph 16 of its Report reads: The interpretation of 'workplace' is uncertain. There are no specific requirements as to lighting, temperature, or facilities for washing or for taking meals, all of which have a direct bearing on health. The general character of the acts, moreover, is negative rather than positive: that is to say, an impression is created (rightly or wrongly that all the owner, occupier or employer has to do is to see that conditions are not so bad as to be a nuisance or actively prejudicial to health, and that local authorities have no power to intervene unless they are. In paragraph 17, the Committee goes on to say: These arguments are reinforced in the case of London by the fact that it is doubtful whether under the Public Health (London) Act routine inspections of offices (as distinct from inspections based on specific complaints) can legally be carried out. The Committee went on to make recommendations, based on the model of the Factories Act, 1937, which, it said, was …a model in its own field of what protective legislation can accomplish. Those recommendations were made in 1949, and the Minister will see that they are all recommendations that have been considered by the Home Office, the Trades Union Congress and other interested bodies. Those main recommendations are embodied in this Bill.

The matter has been the subject of no less than six deputations from the Trades Union Congress. Two deputations saw Lord Kilmuir, then the Home Secretary, two saw Lord Tenby, who then held that office, one deputation went to see Sir Anthony Eden, and a deputation has seen the present Prime Minister. It will be seen that nine years have passed without those recommendations being carried out.

As a private Member, I have not been able to put into the Bill any Clause which would cost the taxpayer money. That is the difficulty. It means that the Bill may not have the teeth which a sympathetic Government can give to such a Measure. Clause 1 says: The Secretary of State shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, make regulations specifying the standards as to structure, arrangement and operation to be applied in every office for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of persons employed on the basis of the minimum requirements described in the First Schedule to this Act. In Part II, I am making special provision regarding the fencing of dangerous machinery which is now being introduced into offices, the prevention of injury from electrical equipment, protection against the lifting of excessive weights, and the Prohibition of the employment of women before and after childbirth", which closely follows the recommendation of the Gowers Committee's Report.

I realise that the minimum standards laid down can be the subject of discussion if the matter goes to Committee. In regard to the enforcement of the regulations, Clause 14 of the Bill provides as follows: Any provision of this Act or any regulation made by the Secretary of State under this Act shall be enforced by such authority and administered in such manner as the Secretary of State may prescribe. I will say no more about the Bill, because I know hon. Friends of mine also desire to speak.

Why is this subject even more vitally necessary today than when it was last raised in the House? There was another Bill a few years ago which covered agricultural workers, shop workers and office workers. My Bill relates only to offices. The Bill is more vital today because unfortunately conditions are worse. The Second World War did so much damage to London that one-third of the floor space for offices and commercial warehousing was completely destroyed by bombs. That means that 84 million square feet of floor space was reduced to 57 million square feet in London alone. I am assured that all the plans for the rebuilding of London, when carried out in two years' time, will replace only half of the buildings destroyed.

I was invited by the City Press to inspect some of London's offices. I had no idea that there were such shocking conditions today in London. In fact, the Press office itself was, I thought, a terrible disgrace to any firm. Frankly, if those conditions existed in a factory the employer or the owner would be prosecuted under the Factories Acts. In the Stock Exchange area alone, hundreds of mirrors hang outside the dingy buildings to reflect the light into the dismal buildings. I was so intrigued by this that I went into an accountant's office next to the Mansion House. This accountant's office was in a building which had been occupied by the Lord Mayor of London in 1757. I asked the accountant if he could explain to me how these mirrors could be of value, and he demonstrated how, if they were taken away, the light which was the greatest craving would be taken away from the office. The Gowers Committee said: Good lighting is an investment which pays handsome dividends to employers, and does not benefit their staffs alone. In London alone my Bill would be justified, but in Glasgow, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester—in fact, all the great cities—there are frightening conditions not only in the offices of private employers but even in municipal offices. For instance, the City Council of Birmingham would do well to examine the conditions under which their clerks are working in the basement office of the council house.

If we looked further we would find that in other cities similar conditions obtain. I am told, for instance, that the Manchester fire authority is extremely afraid of the danger of fire in some of the old buildings. Perhaps more office blocks have been built in Liverpool—I do not know—but these evil conditions exist in every city.

I should like to quote one or two examples of the sort of conditions which exist. I have before me the result of an examination of the conditions under which the clerks are working in the Finance Department and the Supplies Department of the National Coal Board in Abercarn in Wales. There the clerks have been housed in a hut. They have been asking for improvements for nine years, and I was informed on 18th December: The buildings were originally infested with vermin and after a couple of years of the use of rat poison, the vermin is still present. Further to all these points, and in spite of them, the Board, instead of erecting the long-promised new offices of brick construction, are erecting more huts to accommodate staff. There is as yet no sign of any toilet facilities for these huts. This is a public undertaking. I am only mentioning these facts to show that not only private but public and municipal undertakings are affected.

Let me quote as a further example a case which came to my knowledge only yesterday concerning a Midland town. I was informed: The building in which I work was once a row of cottages now converted into offices. The main offices are on the top floor and consist of the general office approximately 5 yards by 4 yards, accommodating two wages clerks, one counter cashier, an accounts clerk, one Comptometer operator, one shorthand typist and one junior. The costs office containing two people is 2½ yards by 3 yards. Only cold water is available here. There are no waste bins, and toilet rolls are only supplied on request, whoever would have thought that such conditions could exist? It is not difficult to appreciate that such conditions must adversely affect the health of clerical workers. According to the census of 1951, there are 2,341,319 clerks and typists, and, of course, if those who work in shops and the offices of shops are included, the figure would be well over 4 million. Moreover, those figures do not include bank managers, stockbrokers, civil servants, local government officials or even railway workers.

According to the Registrar-General's Report for England and Wales of 1951, which was published by the Stationery Office in 1954, the incidence of respiratory tuberculosis amongst clerks is 38 per cent. higher than the average for the country. The incidence among agricultural workers is 42 per cent. below the average. Furthermore, the incidence of anaemia, according to the figures, is twice as heavy among clerical workers as it is among agricultural workers. The average mortality rate from rheumatic heart disease, coronary heart disease, pneumonia, ulcers, diseases of the liver and nephritis, is higher among clerical workers than the average for the country, according to the Registrar-General's figures.

The incidence of sickness is equally bad. The number of spells of incapacity due to sickness among males employed in agriculture is, I am told, nine per 10,000; for all workers it is 33 per 10,000, and for clerical workers it is 47 per 10,000.

Those are facts which justify my decision to use my opportunity through the Ballot to bring this Bill before the House. The white-collared workers have become the "Cinderellas" of the Welfare State. They are a section of mankind to some extent in captivity. I congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary upon his appointment, and I hope that he will be able to give some help to these workers, many of whom are caged up, unable to enjoy the fresh air which God intended all creatures to enjoy as far as possible in their work.

I know that the Government are, in principle, sympathetic to the claims which have been made by all the trade unions. How long are we to wait for some action? There was an interesting article published in The Times on 2nd December, which said: It has still to be asked whether their status"— that is to say, the non-manual staffs— should be allowed to decline to an extent which results in widespread cynicism and dissatisfaction. Are they to be tempted to try to improve their position by a militant trade unionism? Is industrial action necessary to compel the Government to legislate on office conditions? My answer to The Times is, "Surely not". This is the way in which we must meet the demands on this considerable section of the community. I trust that in principle this Bill will be accepted and that those who have been at the back of the queue for protection against unfair unhealthy conditions will at least have some hope from this debate.

Alexander Pope said: Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always to be blest: I hope the House will be united in doing justice to the black-coated workers of the country by giving a Second Reading to this Bill, and so giving them places which will enable them to live happier, better and healthier lives.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, would he refer to Clause 17, which he has not mentioned? This excludes Government Departments, but, after all, nowadays an enormous number of workers in the classes he mentioned are employed in Government Departments. [An hon. Member: "That is a Committee point."] No, it is a Clause in the Bill which excludes from the benefits the hon. Gentle- man is seeking to make all those employed in Government Departments except by special order of the Secretary of State. Will the hon. Gentleman give the reason for inserting that Clause?

Mr. Yates

I should have the greatest possible pleasure to accept an Amendment in Committee. I am not permitted to put anything into the Bill which would cause the Government any expenditure. Unfortunately a private Member must be in that position and, as I said at the beginning, one can only hope. Of course the Government can do that, and I would not think such a provision would exclude the matter from being considered in Committee.

Mr. E. C. Redhead (Walthamstow, West)

May I ask my hon. Friend whether it is not also a fact that the Government have virtually agreed with the Civil Service trade unions on standard conditions, through the normal machinery of negotiation, which are approximately of the character incorporated in this Bill.

3.28 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am sure that it is the wish of the House that I should congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham. Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) not only on his good fortune in the Ballot, but also on the admirable way in which he has presented the case for the Bill. My union, the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union, has been seeking legislation of this kind for nearly fifty years and it would be appropriate if we got the Bill now as a result of the initiative of one of our members. I regret that my hon. Friend's good fortune did not go a little further and give us more time to debate this Bill, but, after all, it is not a contentious one. Today, we are only concerned with the principle, which was endorsed by the unanimous vote of this House in 1955, and both in public and private Her Majesty's Government have expressed themselves in favour of this legislation.

I hope, therefore, that the Joint Under-Secretary will immediately get up at the Box when I sit down and tell us that the Government are prepared to endorse the principle and, if need be, to consult with my hon. Friend on any necessary Amendments in Committee. If the Government will not do that today, then I must advise office workers generally that the Government are not interested in their conditions, and that the pledges they have given publicly and privately over the years are not to be accepted at their face value.

What we are asking for is very small and very reasonable. It is that non-manual workers shall have a charter equivalent to the Factories Acts for our industrial brethren, and that there shall be inspectors and a procedure of complaint similar to that which they have now enjoyed for over a hundred years.

In view of the time, I will not enlarge upon the excellent case that has been put before us. I wish just to make one point. It is not only in respect of old buildings that we need this legislation. Many new buildings do not conform to reasonable standards. The mot scandalous example of bad office building is provided by the Government. The Queen's Building of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, at London Airport, has office conditions which led to the following comment by Miss Godwin, the General Secretary of my union: It appears that a number of our members are being housed in boxes devoid of light and air, both of which are subsequently introduced at considerable expense. The building was erected without proper consultation and without proper conditions. Some of the office block is still not used because the employees will not work in it, and it has been agreed that £40,000 of public money shall be spent to make it reasonable for the office workers. That is a building erected by the Government in 1955. Consequently, it is clear that this legislation is required not only to improve standards in old buildings, but to set a reasonable standard as a guide to the Government in their new building.

I hope that the House will endorse the principle of the Bill today with an unopposed Second Reading and that we may get down in Committee to the real work of making it the kind of Measure that we all desire.

3.32 p.m.

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

This is obviously a non-party Bill; politics are not involved in the decision which we shall shortly make. In moving the Second Reading, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) greatly impressed us, and, indeed, moved many of us, by his obvious sincerity and the knowledge that he has of this subject. I hope that anything that I may say will not be taken as a criticism of the way he introduced the Bill or the arguments he used. It will merely be a criticism of the Bill as it is now drafted.

The intention behind the Bill is admirable, as we all appreciate, but some of us must complain about the phraseology which is used. Although this may not be intended, it gives the impression that British employers huddle their workers into underground workrooms and deny them adequate heat, suitable light and proper sanitation. It gives the impression that employers force their workers into conditions which no self-respecting worker would tolerate for a minute in these days of full employment.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

If some employers do so, why should it not be rectified?

Sir T. Moore

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to develop my own argument. If there is time, he may be able to intervene later.

The Gowers Committee reported in 1949, and there were thus two years in which an important Measure of this kind could have been introduced before the Labour Party left office. If the Labour Party thought it was of such importance to all of us, as it obviously is, why did they not avail themselves of the opportunity then afforded to them? This should be a Government Bill—it should not be left to a private Member on a Friday afternoon to introduce it—and it should be drafted by Government draftsmen so that it contains phraseology which will convey to employers exactly what their obligations should be.

There is another point in that connection. The miners and quarrymen demanded attention for the treatment which they obviously merited, but it was left to the Tory Government to bring in the Mines and Quarries Act. Why have we had to wait again for a Tory Government to do what the Labour Government of the time should obviously have done themselves? These points have no bearing on the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I agree, but, at the same time, they raise doubts in the minds of those who study the Bill.

The Explanatory Memorandum says that the Bill is intended to implement the recommendations of the Gowers Committee of 1946 …with certain modifications reached after discussion between interested parties. The hon. Member for Ladywood mentioned only the Trades Union Congress. I am an interested party and I was not consulted. Was the Federation of British Industries consulted? Was the British Employers' Confederation consulted? As far as I can find out, they were not consulted. They are all interested parties, because they are the employers who will be forced to find the money to undertake the renovations and constructions which the hon. Member for Ladywood said were necessary.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

If my hon. Friend looks at page 107 of the Gowers Report he will see that the British Employers' Confederation gave evidence to the Gowers Committee.

Sir T. Moore

I know, but we are talking about the Bill and not about the Gowers Committee.

The Gowers Committee recommended protective devices for dangerous machines according to the standards of the Factories Acts. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that the provisions of the Factories Acts have been adopted. There is the matter of the conditions under which women should be employed for lifting heavy weights. We are all in agreement with the need to do something about that, but the recommendations of the Gowers Committee and what is in the Bill do not coincide.

The weakness of the Bill is bad drafts-manship. We all agree with its intention and with the hon. Member's purpose. My advice is that in the interests of what he seeks to do, he should withdraw the Bill and ask the Government, after consultation with the numerous authorities concerned—

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

The hon. Member should ask them, he knows them better.

Sir T. Moore

—to find out whether a new Bill could be drafted to give reasonable effect to what the hon. Member desires and, at the same time, not to put impossible obligations upon those who will have to undertake them. That is the one suggestion I make. It is wise advice and I hope that the hon. Member will adopt it.

3.39 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

I hope that hon. Members will think it appropriate for me to intervene at this stage to state the Government's point of view. Speaking on behalf of my right hon. Friend, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) on his initiative in introducing the Bill; to thank him for the work he has done in its preparation, and to assure him that we respect the motives which have inspired him in introducing it, and what he has said today. We are all familiar with this problem; I suppose that at some time or another nearly all of us have had to work in offices, good or bad.

In view of what has been said by my right hon. Friend, especially in the debate last June, it goes without saying that the Government support the objects of the Bill. We are, indeed, in general favour—as has been said so clearly—with the recommendations of the Gowers Committee. Our sincerity in this matter has been proved by our fine record of legislative and administrative reforms designed to improve working conditions. I shall not weary the House by listing them all; perhaps the most important was the Factories Act of 1937. The most recent improvement was the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act of 1956—and in my last appointment I had to play my humble part in administering the Mines and Quarries Act of 1954.

All Measures of that kind involve a major administrative and legislative exercise. I agree with the hon. Member for Ladywood that the Bill is an important one. It is a very important Bill—as any Bill which sets out to do what this attempts to do is bound to be. A Bill to organise conditions in all offices, especially offices as widely defined as those in the Bill, is bound to be a major exercise.

A major exercise of that kind involves various things. First and foremost, it Involves consultations between Government Departments, local and other public authorities, and representatives of trades unions and employers' organisations. That consultation is a necessary first step to the making of even the first draft of any such Bill, and that consultation needs to take place both upon matters of principle, in the light of what was said in the Gowers Report, and, to some extent, on matters of detail.

Secondly, before legislation of this kind is introduced decisions need to be taken by the Government at the highest level about such matters as the method of enforcement—whether it shall be by a certain Government Department and, if so, which one—and as to administration and cost.

The Government's own position, in their own numerous and varied offices to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) referred, has to be very fully considered. If I may use a colloquial expression, I would say that that position has been "ducked" entirely by Clause 17. I should have thought that a well-considered Bill, drafted by Government draftsmen—it is bound to be a major Bill—would need to be put before the House by the Government, supported by a Financial Resolution, considered fully in the way that Government Bills always are, and scrutinised by the House.

It therefore follows that it is very doubtful whether a private Members' Bill could ever be suitable for such a major exercise. I agree that private Members' Bills have sometimes been successfully taken over by the Government assisting the private Member, and drafted and amended with the help of Parliamentary draftsmen, and that they have sometimes become Government Bills by the addition of Financial Resolutions. That has been successfully done on occasion, but I feel bound to advise the House that such a procedure would not be suitable for the purposes of this Bill. Even if, having accepted its objects, we tried to adopt that course on this occasion, I am obliged to advise the House that for reasons which I shall enumerate we should not be likely to succeed.

The first reason is that there have not been the necessary full consultations which I mentioned. The second reason is that too many important questions are left unresolved. As I say, Clause 17 leaves unresolved the question of the application of the Bill to the Crown. It would be a very unfortunate thing if the Government were to legislate for higher standards in all offices other than their own, so that is an important question left unresolved.

Then there is the question—Clause 18 of the Bill refers to it—of there being no decision as to the expense of enforcement. Again, there is the third question of any decision as to who shall enforce. Bearing in mind that it would be necessary to dovetail the decisions and the legislation with existing legislation, in which the local authorities as well as the factory inspectors play an important part, we feel that it would be premature for the House to rush in and attempt to amend the Bill.

There is another reason why we feel difficulty about the Bill. If I may put it broadly, without entering into too much detail, we say that the general method of carrying the hon. Gentleman's intention into effect is, with great respect to him, a rather awkward one. I will say more about that, if I may refer to some of the details of the Bill.

If we refer to Clause 10 (1) we find the definition of "office," and that it includes any room, suite of rooms or premises used wholly or partly for clerical work, including book-keeping, filing, typing, typing… It may well be that this is a point which could be amended in Committee, but what I have to say about the detail of the Bill has to be considered as part of the general scheme which the hon. Member for Ladywood is putting forward. There we find the word "premises", which is about as broad a term as one can possibly use to define real property. We should find, therefore, that if clerical work were being done on a dockside, such as the checking of goods going into or being taken out of a ship, the provisions of the Bill would have to be applied to the person doing that clerical work. That sort of point would arise at once.

However, a much more serious matter of detail is that in Clause 11. The responsibility for seeing that the Bill is enforced is to rest upon the occupier of premises. Again, "occupier" is a very wide term in one sense and too narrow in another. I can best illustrate that by citing the case, which is very familiar these days, of a large block of offices which is let off to a considerable number of tenants and which contains services, such as sanitary facilities, shared by all the tenants.

Clearly, it is not by a broad sweep of the brush that we can provide for circumstances of that kind. Very detailed and complicated provisions would be needed to ensure that responsibility lay upon the shoulders of the people in whose hands it lay to rectify the inadequate standard of facilities. I cite that case as just another example of the plan put forward by the hon. Member for Ladywood.

There is also the difficulty, to which I must refer in slightly greater detail, of imposing minimum standards of working conditions. As I see it, the intention of the Bill is that the Home Secretary should be compelled to make regulations, either in the terms of the First Schedule or in some other way more favourable to the office worker. The Home Secretary is given power subsequently to amend those regulations, but only for the purpose of making improvements, presumably from the point of view of the office worker and perhaps quite rightly so.

This limitation on the power to amend regulations is a necessary result of the provision which prevents the Home Secretary from making regulations which do not come up to the minimum standards of the First Schedule. This seems awkward. The regulations are bound to repeat substantially, if not wholly, the precise terms of the First Schedule, especially as the requirements of the Schedule are more onerous than has hitherto been contemplated and are, so far as we know, put forward without prior consultation with those concerned.

I do not want to labour the point too much. It is because of the general unsuitability of the Bill for handling as a Private Member's Bill that I feel obliged to advise the House that the Bill should not be accepted, rather than because of any intrinsic detail. I wish to leave the House in no doubt whatever that the Government accept the need and the principle which the hon. Gentleman has put forward, and secondly, that we feel bound to advise the House that that need is not adequately or satisfactorily met by the Bill. With the best will in the world we do not see how the Bill can even be drastically amended so as to make it workable.

Mr. Weitzman

In June, 1955, the Minister of Health made, in debate, a promise that recommendations of the Gowers Report would be implemented and a Bill brought forward. What do the Government intend to do?

Mr. Redhead

Is the Minister aware that in an interview with trade union representatives in July, 1955, the then Prime Minister held out a very definite expectation that legislation along these lines would be introduced by the Government in the Session 1956–57? It is now stated that the Bill is to be held up because consultations have not been completed. Perhaps the Minister would explain why the then Prime Minister was able to offer that promise and today the Minister has given us a negative answer.

Mr. David Jones

May I, also, remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, on 1st April, 1955, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), when he asked my hon. Friend to withdraw his Bill, said: The Government have already made it clear that it is their intention to introduce legislation of, broadly, the same scope."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 756.] We are three years from that date, and we have seen nothing.

Mr. Renton

I am aware that the former Prime Minister, in July, 1955, saw a deputation from the Trades Union Congress and did say that legislation on these lines might be introduced in a future Session. [HON. MEMBERS: "Would be."] I am not aware of any specific undertaking being given—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—that the legislation would be introduced in any specific Session. We have already announced to Parliament, through the Gracious Speech, a very heavy programme of legislation for this Session. Nothing would be more unwise than to rush into legislation without adequate preparation and consultation. We are, as I say, proud of the record which we have in this matter, and while thanking the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) once more for his initiative, I regret that I cannot advise the House to accept the Bill.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I should like to congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) on coming to the high office that he has now attained. I can only regret the first use he has made of his opportunity.

What is the position in regard to this matter in his Department? Does the Department contemplate ever legislating on this issue? The closing sentences of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech would make one understand that the Department cannot do that. How far have negotiations gone? I initiated negotiations on this matter in 1949. The matter came before the House again in 1955, just before the General Election, when my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) introduced a fairly comprehensive Bill dealing with all the issues raised in the Gowers Report.

We actually had one sitting in Committee before the General Election when, in the frame of mind which overtakes even Tory Ministers just before a General Election, the enthusiasm of the Government for this matter was expressed by the Minister who was in charge of the proceedings on the Bill in Committee. He is now Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the Department in which he was previously, he carried out the undertaking he gave. The hon. and learned Gentleman reports, with a pride in the record of other people's achievement which does not in any way reflect on his own Mate modesty, that the Government were proud that they had done that.

When will the other Departments concerned in this matter get on with their job, particularly for those people who, over the years, have seen increasing legislative protection for the working conditions of nearly all other kinds of salary and wage earners but others of whom have been left in the condition mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) in his speech today? It is a shameful thing that the Joint Under-Secretary cannot say this afternoon that the Government contemplate, within the lifetime of this Parliament—I do not ask anything more—bringing legislation before this House to redeem the pledge they gave in 1955 just before the General Election.

I can only hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will have better luck when next he receives a brief from the office. I can at least thank him for not doing what one of his predecessors did. He gave a promise to us that we would have legislation to deal with the Report by the Royal Commission which considered betting and which has been repudiated since by his Departmental chief and, we understand, is now to be regarded as one of the pledges given to the House only to be broken. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will have better luck in a Department which deserves a better Joint Under-Secretary than he has proved himself to be this afternoon.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

In the very short time remaining, I want to pose this question to the Minister. I support the principle of the Bill and agree with a great deal that has been said. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Lady-wood (Mr. V. Yates). Could not this Bill be sent to a Select Committee in the same way as the Obscene Publications Bill was sent? I quite appreciate that the drafting of the Bill is hopeless, but the hon. Member for Ladywood is not a Parliamentary draftsman—not many of us are.

I support the Bill and think it right that its principles should be carried out, but I would rather that it was sent to a Select Committee. It is almost impossible to amend the Bill and draft it satisfactorily in Standing Committee. If I am in order, Mr. Speaker, I commend that suggestion to the House.

Mr. V. Yates rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)

I am in general sympathy with this Bill—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Then sit down".]—but, for reasons which time will not allow me to give—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 7th February.

Forward to