HC Deb 21 April 1959 vol 604 cc282-301
Mr. Pargiter

I beg to move, in page 6, line 44. after "Minister", to insert: provided that (in relation to terms or conditions applicable to a worker employed by a local authority) the date so determined may be a date prior to that on which the employer was first informed of the said claim but so that such date shall not be earlier than that from which the recognised terms or conditions became effective". This Amendment deals with a most important matter, to which the Minister should give attention. As the Bill is worded, it gives a premium to the recalcitrant employer. It means that the employer who does not recognise an award until he is driven to do so by representations which are made to him gains considerably over his fellow-employers who honourably observe a negotiated award from its initial date. That is what the position really is, because the Bill says that until the claim is made, and the Court has to decide when it is made, the award can only be dated back to that date. This seems to me to give a premium to employers who want to say, "We will not recognise this award. We will ignore it until such time as a claim is made to, and awarded by, the Industrial Disputes Tribunal."

6.45 p.m.

The only thing open to a trade union will be, on the very day of the award, to notify every employer of its members that the award is then payable, so ensuring that those members did not lose any pay. It must be remembered that this is something negotiated between the two sides. It is not an enforced settlement, but an award on wages or conditions payable or applicable on a certain date.

The Amendment is limited to local authorities, as I understand that the Minister would be in some difficulty were it made applicable to industry as a whole. That is the only reason for the words in parenthesis. The brackets make it applicable only to local authorities, but if the Minister wishes to take them out I shall be only too happy to agree to that course being taken.

It has been said that these words are very similar to those in the Industrial Disputes Order, 1951, but there is a material difference. The Order stated that the date should be not earlier than the date on which the dispute arose, and the Industrial Court almost invariably said that the dispute arose virtually when the award became payable. In that way, the Court could so date an award, or enforce one already made, as to give it the same date as for general application. It was usually done in that way.

The Industrial Court will now be expressly prohibited from doing that. It must ascertain at what stage the trade union represented to the employer that he was not observing the award, and claiming observance. That means that there will probably be disputes about the date of the letter, how the representations were made, whether they were sent in a registered envelope for safe delivery—all sorts of things can be put forward which will make it quite difficult for the union to establish its case. That will operate only to the advantage of the employer who wants to avoid implementing an award.

It might be argued that all employers will not know of awards when they are made so that it will be rather difficult to backdate enforcement. That argument is very thin. It is the duty of every good employer to know the terms and conditions of employment in his given area and industry, and he could claim ignorance only by admitting that he was not a very good employer.

As I say, the position is materially different from that under the Industrial Disputes Order, and I ask the Minister to consider the matter as a whole. Under that Order, the Court could make an award operative from the date that it was made generally applicable, and it relieved the unions of the tremendous amount of administrative work involved in making sure that each individual employer applied the terms of the award.

In local authority affairs the time taken to negotiate is important—and it is notoriously long. Very often, the negotiating employers are sufficiently democratically inclined to want to report back to their constituent bodies before a decision is reached. In those circumstances, any award made should be operative from a certain date, and a retrospective date is very often deliberately put in. It is not that we like a retrospective date, but it is necessary for organisational reasons.

As the Bill is drafted, trade unions would not be able to claim retrospective implementation of an award, and would be able to register a dispute only from the time the employers refused to recognise the award. That might be two or three months later and would be a very material factor.

I ask the Minister to regard this as a point of very serious substance. Neither side wishes to bestow a premium on bad employers. It is essential for peace in industry that negotiated conditions should be recognised, and the few who do not recognise them ought not to be allowed to get away with it. The Minister says that he cannot accept the Amendment in its present form, because if he made it applicable to local authorities it would put him in an invidious position with other employers. If that is so, the answer would be to take out the bracketed words and make the Amendment applicable to all employers.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I should like to support the Amendment and, in doing so, to thank my hon. Friend for all the trouble that he has taken over negotiations with the local authorities. I am only sorry that we have not been able to reach some agreement before now, but the tendency of the Ministry has been to underestimate the problem. There is very real proof of the danger of recalcitrant local authorities playing for time and not immediately implementing an award. In their case, it would certainly help if the principle of retrospection was formally written into the Bill.

The trouble is that local authority employees do not strike or withdraw their labour, but acceptance of the retrospective principle would do much to ensure happier relations. We do not want to destroy the whole of the agreement reached by my right hon. Friend the Minister, and by my hon. Friend with the other people involved. We only wish to safeguard the position of local authority employees, and I hope that we can have some assurance on that score.

Mr. Reader Harris

I very strongly support this Amendment, as it concerns a matter of very great importance to local authority employees. I suspect that it is not of quite so much importance in industry generally, because the big industrial trade unions have tremendous power. If a small employer, who is, perhaps, what is known as a "non-federated" employer, fails to observe a national award, the big powerful trade unions can deal with him in their own way by withdrawing labour, calling a strike, etc.

That does not apply in the local authority world, where the trade unions, or the associations that organise local authority employees, cannot so easily call out their members on strike. That sort of thing does not happen in that sphere. I should, therefore, like to know what the Minister intends to do about the local authority that fails to apply a national award. Further, I will give him an instance, and ask for a specific answer as to what he would do in the case.

The example is drawn from the fire services—and before my hon. Friend says that they are not covered by the Bill let me say that it is only a matter of time before they are. The Home Office has notified both the employers' and employees' associations that the 1947 Act is to be amended by repealing Section 17. In a few months or so, therefore, the fire services will come within the scope of the Bill.

In the middle of 1957, negotiations began for an increase in the pay of local authority chief fire officers and assistant chief fire officers. The negotiations continued until about March, 1958, when an agreement for an increase in pay was reached, backdated to 1st January, 1958. As soon as possible after that agreement had been reached in March, 1958, the appropriate recommendation was referred for formal approval to the Home Secretary. He sat on it for the best part of nine or ten months, because it was all part of Government policy for curbing inflation. It was bound up with the credit squeeze.

The Home Secretary gave it his approval in December, 1958, and formal notification of that approval went to local authorities on 31st December, 1958. About February of this year the Scottish South-Western Fire Area Joint Committee announced that it did not intend to honour the award. It still has not done so, nor can the employers' side of the Joint National Council get it to honour the agreement.

Let us suppose that under Clause 8 (4) the matter was referred to the Court. The Court would be bound to find in favour of the employees, but the only retrospection that could be given would be to February, 1959. That would mean that the fire master and the assistant fire master—as they are called in Scotland—in the South-Western Fire Area Joint Committee would receive their increases in pay only from February, 1959, whereas every other officer of equivalent rank in Great Britain would get theirs from 1st January, 1958. That would be a gross injustice to those two men, but exactly the same thing could happen to the chief officers of other local authority departments everywhere.

As I see it, an injustice would be done, and I ask the Minister how he would deal with it. The best way would be to accept something in the nature of this Amendment, so ably proposed and seconded respectively by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball). I should be very grateful for an answer, as this matter is being followed closely in the local authority world.

Retrospection can be dynamite. We saw what happened when the police did not get retrospection a year or two ago. In that case, of course, the whole of the police force was involved, but when it was found that the police were not getting the retrospection to which they were entitled the whole of the House rose in anger, and the Minister had to do something, even though it meant legislation. What is good for the many is good for the few. I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is very wise, sensible and humane, will want to do something about it.

Mr. Wood

As the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) has said, the Amendment would affect only claims concerning local authorities. Unless he removed his brackets, it would not be available to other employers, and I seemed to detect in his mind a certain difficulty in justifying this distinction. It would be possible to justify it, of course, if the circumstances of local authority claims were in some way different in kind from all the other claims that this Amendment at present excludes. But, in fact, they are not. Similar agreements or awards might be retrospectively applied in industry as well as in local government. I think that the hon. Gentleman and the House as a whole agree with that. It shows some of the difficulties of trying to act in the way that the hon. Member suggests and merely limits this availability to local authorities.

Mr. Pargiter

I am happy that it should not be limited. I understood that the Minister would be in difficulties if it were not limited. If the Minister says that he does not want it limited and will accept it on the wider basis, I should be most happy to withdraw the words in brackets.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Wood

I will come to that point. All that I have done so far is to show that the distinction which the hon. Gentleman is drawing is unreal, and I think that he agrees with that.

The second thing which the hon. Gentleman suggested was that there is in the wording of the Bill a rather more restrictive attitude than there was in the original wording. My right hon. Friend and I have examined this matter carefully, and I cannot see that in practice the apparently greater laxity of the wording of the old Industrial Disputes Order led to a greater degree of retrospection. I have been into one or two important cases in this matter about which local authorities feel very strongly.

One aspect which was stressed in Committee by the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) was the need for discipline so that claims are made at the earliest possible moment. I think that the hon. Member for Southall will agree with that. If it is not laid down that a claim should be put in at the earliest possible moment, claims will drag on for a long time. In such cases it would obviously be important to expect retrospection.

To come to the general point made by the hon. Member for Southall, I admit that he has made a convincing case for retrospection in certain instances. My hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. Reader Harris) suggested certain matters in which, without retrospection, it is possible that great injustice would be done. However, I am faced with a very practical argument. It is the argument to which the hon. Member for Southall drew my attention. I am convinced, for reasons which I have already given, that it would be wrong to have a special procedure for local authorities alone because their claims are not of a different kind from claims concerning the rest of industry for which the procedure would not be available.

The matter to be considered, therefore, is the one which the hon. Gentleman wanted me to consider, namely, whether it is possible to remove the brackets and accept the principle of the Amendment as it would then stand. Here I am in a practical difficulty with which I am sure the House will sympathise. On Second Reading, just before Christmas, my right hon. Friend announced his intention of having discussions with various sections of industry and with the local authority interests about the introduction into the Bill later of a Clause dealing with issues. As the hon. Gentleman knows, those discussions took place and resulted in the new Clause 8 which the hon. Gentleman is now seeking to amend.

As I think the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) made clear in Committee, Clause 8 has the general agreement of industry. That general agreement was expressed in those discussions. If it is now suggested that the procedure and conditions should be changed, then I am convinced that the Clause would not continue to have the general agreement of industry. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that this is the compelling practical ground which makes it impossible at this stage to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

This is the second time within a week in which we have had the distressing spectacle of having to watch the working of a Parliamentary Secretary's mind when he is struggling with this sort of issue. I expressed on a former occasion my complete trust in the sincerity of the Parliamentary Secretary, which I know is the general feeling of the House. I am bound to say, however, that I am disappointed that, when good and evil are struggling in his mind, somehow or other he always seems in the end to come down on the wrong side. I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is most unfair to jump on the casual statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) that he would not mind if the brackets were taken out of the Amendment and say, "I cannot do that. That would upset other people who are kept out of the arrangement by the insertion of the brackets", and then to say, "After all, we have considered it and although these people will not be affected by the Amendment, I cannot accept it if the bracket; remain in".

The position of local authorities is quite different from that of industry. All the employers' associations on the local authority side are in favour of the Amendment, and they do not want an arrangement which suits them to be imposed on people who say that they cannot work it. The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. Reader Harris) mentioned the fire master and the assistant fire master in the Scottish fire service who are being denied an advance in salary which is enjoyed by every other officer of similar rank in Great Britain because other authorities agreed to the award as soon as it was made and agreed to the date which was inserted in the award. This does not happen only to people in gaudy uniforms, like fire masters and assistant masters. It can happen to the ordinary lengthman employed on the highways by an urban council in a remote part of the country.

Local authorities have been striving in recent years to negotiate wages on a national basis. When I was a young member of the National Union of Teachers, we had to negotiate with 319 separate local education authorities for elementary education with no national negotiating body at all. The policy on both the employers' and employees' side has been to have a body that will make decisions on behalf of the nation to submit to the Minister of Education. The same thing has happened with regard to all grades in local authority services.

It is notorious that recently authorities—this is not confined to authorities of one political complexion—have objected to what they regard as an unsuitable salary for a certain grade of officer. They have not objected that their officers are inferior to any other local authority officers—they would be the first to deny that they had an inferior engineer or town clerk to that of any other authority—but that they did not think that a certain salary was the right salary, although it was nationally negotiated and agreed.

We are entitled to draw attention to the fact that generally local authority employees do not go on strike. They accept the award. Sometimes they accept it with grumbling, or they reject it, as they are entitled to. As was proved in the teaching profession last year, it is not always that the nationally agreed scale is accepted by the employers or employees when it goes back for consideration, but generally they are debarred by the nature of their occupation from striking. I do not think the public at large would desire that people in that position should have awards denied to them in practice which, if they were in a position to strike, would probably be agreed when the recalcitrant employer was faced with the position that the authority concerned would lose the labour it would like to employ.

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that there is a sufficient case for differentiating between local authority negotiations and those conducted in the ordinary way between employers and employed. Speaking as the President of the County Councils Association, I should not be prepared to support this Amendment, which has been put with the consent of the other local authorities associations, if it had tried to impose what suited its limited range of employment on the whole range of employment throughout the country when other employers said they could not work it. All we say is that this is the way which local government has taught us is the best way to secure the acceptance and observance of nationally negotiated agreements in the particular kind of employment we carry on. We put it no higher than that.

Although the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth chose a particular case, I have known of other cases in varying grades from town clerks down to lengthmen on the roads and men in charge of the scavenging wagon going round the streets, where an isolated authority or a few authorities have denied their employees the awards that a nationally negotiated agreement said were acceptable to them.

The last thing that will help local government employment in this country is getting some authorities which are paying less or more than an agreed national award. I can go back to the time when one county council wanted to get the county engineer of another county council. It asked the man it wanted to get how much would tempt him and then advertised the post at that salary. He was tempted and fell. That is the kind of thing that, down to within the last twenty years, made local administration exceedingly difficult. There is now so wide an agreement between local authorities that the individual arrangements between them and their employees do not make for the efficient working of the services and the widest possible range has been given to national negotiations and national agreements.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to recognise that this is a particular phase of employment which ought to be able, where it finds it important to have special arrangements made for it, to receive sympathetic attention from his Minister.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Lee

I ask the House to look at the context in which we are discussing this matter. This Bill changes its name every time I look at it. It started in a very different form from that we now see. The Minister of Labour said he would take what had been the issues question in the Industrial Disputes Order and move it in the form of an Amendment into this Bill. That was promised, and here it is.

It was pointed out from both sides that the need for bringing back the issues question of the Order was that in many industries non-federated employers were not honouring agreements arrived at between federated employers and trade unions. Therefore, they were getting an unfair advantage. The right hon. Gentleman recognised that and brought this question back. That is the background against which we are discussing this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) pointed out that the wording was not the wording of the Industrial Disputes Order. The wording of the Order was very different from that which appears in the Amendment. The wording of the Order appeared to give a greater degree of liberty to the Industrial Court to back-date an award.

That was the argument my hon. Friend adduced. The wording in the Order referred to an award not being earlier than the date on which the dispute or issue to which the award relates first arose. whereas the Clause says in subsection (4): not earlier than the date on which,… the employer was first informed of the claim giving rise to the award… In trying to introduce the issues principle, we are trying to ensure that no set of employers has an advantage over other employers in that they are not honouring an award agreed to in the industry. It also follows that before any question of this type goes before a tribunal or before the Industrial Court under the new dispensation the employer in question will be doing precisely what the Minister has tried to avoid by bringing back the issues machinery into this Bill. In other words, he will be seeking an advantage by not paying the recognised terms and conditions agreed to within the industry. If that is so, the Minister is not succeeding in carrying out the intentions he previously had. The wording is deficient; it is not as broad in its instructions to the Industrial Court as was the wording of the Industrial Disputes Order. To that extent the case which has been made is a good one.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary is restricted by the discussions his right hon. Friend has had with various associations which have now agreed upon this form of words, but I put it to him that it is quite probable that those associations of employers, especially those who have always honoured their obligations as federated employers, and so on, have not understood the full significance of the difference in the wording of the Order and of the Bill. I am certain from the fact that it was they who instigated the whole procedure which resulted in the Minister scrapping the Industrial Disputes Order that they are determined to have justice between the federated and the non-federated employers.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) takes the view that the County Councils Association, which may have inspired the Amendment, would not wish to intervene in trying to judge conditions of employment outside local government service. I am seized of that point, but I do not see why a matter which is relevant to a local authority is any less relevant to industry itself.

There are many occasions upon which an employer throws the ball about for a month or two on a question raised with him by an employee. The employee may think that the employer is procrastinating somewhat but is looking in good faith at his application. It is possible that the employee himself would not refer the matter to his trade union for some considerable time after he had first raised the question with the employer. Therefore, I think that there is a point in the argument which has been adduced on both sides of the House, and I feel that had that argument been in the knowledge of the various associations with whom the Minister has been negotiating they would have taken a rather different view of it.

I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary has been impressed by what he has heard. I know that he is probably not at this moment able to accept the wording of the Amendment and, for my part, I would prefer the Amendment, without the brackets, in its wider implications. I would, however, ask the hon. Gentleman to agree, before the Bill leaves us for another place—

Mr. Ede

It comes from another place. This is the last opportunity.

Mr. Lee

The point escaped me for the moment that this is a Lords Bill and that we are now faced with the fact that there is no further stage at which the Government could introduce this type of Amendment—I do not say the actual wording of this Amendment—because, as I have said, I prefer the words without the brackets. Therefore, I cannot ask the Minister, as I was about to do, whether he could agree to the insertion of some form of words in another place to meet the point under discussion.

Mr. Ede

If the Government were willing to accept the idea but were not quite sure of the exact formula to be adopted, they could then arrange to have the Commons Amendment amended in another place and sent back to us from there.

Mr. Lee

That is the answer. If the Minister is seized of the importance of the principle—I am sure neither the mover nor the seconder of the Amendment is tied to the words as they are printed—he could agree to have a further look at this matter. If I am right in saying that the people with whom the negotiations have taken place were not seized of the importance of this point, he could ask his right hon. Friend if he would follow the procedure so nimbly laid down by my right hon. Friend.

If such an Amendment could be introduced before the Bill becomes an Act, I am sure that this would satisfy both those who have supported the Amendment today and, I believe, the people with whom the Minister of Labour has been in negotiation. Would the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he would reconsider that point, and use the machinery outlined by my right hon. Friend to introduce the principle, if he cannot accept the wording of the Amendment?

Mr. Wood

I, too, am grateful for the nimbleness of the procedure which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has suggested to us. I feel sure that from what he has said and what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) has endorsed that there may be other opportunities of putting this matter, in his opinion, right. I regret that the right hon. Member for South Shields and I have recently found ourselves on opposite sides. He claims to be on the right side and to see the good and gives me the other side.

I should like very much to help the House. My right hon. Friend has, as I said when I first spoke, considered this matter extremely carefully. He has met, as hon. Members know, a deputation of local authority interests which came to see him and pressed its case. But I am still left with the dilemma which I have already put to the House. I think that it would be generally agreed that there would be very considerable difficulties at this moment, in view of what has gone before, in giving this procedure to industry as a whole. Therefore, it is a question of whether or not, as the right hon. Gentleman put it, some valid and fair distinction can be made between the claims on the local authority side and claims from the rest of industry.

This, I think, is an arguable matter. My own view is that it would be difficult and unfair to make such a distinction and I cannot see that I could possibly justify the discrimination for which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newton asked. Therefore, I must regretfully say that, even though these future constitutional possibilities exist, I cannot agree that, after the very careful consideration he has given to this, my right hon. Friend can change his mind about the difficulty of applying this generally to industry. If he is not going to do that, I cannot see sufficient reason for making the discrimination for which many hon. Members have cogently argued in favour of the local authorities. That is why I regret that I cannot accept the Amendment or give an undertaking to accept the principle later.

Mr. S. P. Viant (Willesden, West)

I regret, as an old trade unionist, hearing the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary. We are here seeking to set up machinery whereby differences can be easily smoothed out. On both sides of the House it has been admitted that wrongs arise from the present procedure. Evidence has been submitted of the manner in which local authorities from time to time do injustice to their employees. I know the difficulty of the Parliamentary Secretary, but I submit that it would be wrong for the House to give consent to this legislation when it knows quite well that wrongs will arise from it.

If we are to make the position easier by the Bill we must ensure that we remove the possibilities of wrongs arising. From my experience of local authorities one often gets a section of a local authority which is not in agreement with a national agreement which has been arrived at. Unfortunately, from time to time they are in the majority and in a position to hold up the award. This machinery should ensure that that position cannot arise again.

If the Parliamentary Secretary is not in a position to give to the House this evening what it considers to be essential but is prepared to accept the principle, we will stay our hand, but to pass legislation, well knowing the difficulties that are likely to arise from it and not to take a course to ensure that those difficulties are avoided, is quite unforgivable.

Those who are engaged in ordinary industry are in a position to apply sanctions, but those who are engaged in local authority work are not in that position. Even if they were, this would be most undesirable. I agree that if the Amendment were accepted we should be discriminating, but we would be discriminating in a worth-while manner. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to take the opportunity offered to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). Those with whom the Minister of Labour consulted probably did not visualise the possibility of this difficulty arising. They had not seen each side of the case, as the House has seen it this evening.

In these circumstances, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be prepared to accept the suggestions made, take the matter back to the Minister and see whether something cannot be done at a later stage, otherwise these difficulties will arise and injustices will be imposed upon the employees of local authorities.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Pargiter

I regret the course which the Parliamentary Secretary has adopted. His case is based upon the fact that there have been consultations with industry, that the proposals in the Clause have been agreed to, and that we want to get on with the matter as quickly as possible. If he accepts the Amendment he will be recognising a principle as operating with the local authorities which he feels in his heart ought to operate also in respect of other organisations. Therefore, it creates an invidious distinction, and that, he says, is why he cannot accept the Amendment.

Two courses are easily open to the Minister. If the Government want negotiations in a hurry, either with the T.U.C. or the British Employers' Federation, they can get them. They would not take long. I am quite satisfied that even if they said there were difficulties they would have no objections to the Clause being amended protectively for the benefit of local authority associations who are unanimous in requiring what is embodied in the Amendment. I am quite satisfied that there would be quick agreement on the wide issues. The possibility of rapid negotiations could be looked at, and any possible embarrassment could be avoided if an Amendment were made after consultation. It is possible to do this. All that is required is the will, and if there is the will on the Front Bench opposite it can be done.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Amendment implied possible lack of discipline. It does nothing of the sort. The Industrial Court can determine the date. All we ask is that the Court should have a less fettered discretion about determining it, and I am sure that the employers and certainly the T.U.C. would not object to the Court having that discretion. We want a provision for a date not earlier than that to which the award actually applies. The Industrial Court will properly punish a union if the union is dilatory in its application by not making the award applicable to its initial date. It will be a perfectly simple issue for the Court.

I hope that the House will divide on the Amendment unless the Parliamentary Secretary is willing to give a little more assurance. If the attempt were made to make the provision embodied in the Amendment and it then proved in the end impossible to make it, we should accept that in good faith, but I do not think that we should leave the position as it is at present.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. Lee

As I suggested a few minutes ago, the Bill has changed both its name and its Clauses on a great number of occasions. The essential Clause which has caused most of our discussions, both in Committee and on Report, has been on Clause 8, the Clause which has brought back into our legislation the issues procedure of the Industrial Disputes Order. The Minister has described the bringing back of the Clause and this principle as half a loaf, but we have pointed out that we do not consider in any way that this is something which is being granted to the trade union side of industry.

We know, or think we know, that the Minister acted somewhat precipitately in dispensing with the Industrial Disputes Order. We believe that he misread the minds of employers as a whole, in that he listened to those of the non-federated employers who wanted to get rid of the Order because very many of them were not honouring the agreement arrived at by both sides of the industry—that is, between the federated employers and the trade unions.

In many instances, after prolonged periods in which non-federated employers had not been paying their employees the agreed rates, the federated employers themselves objected. The Minister discovered that his action in wiping out completely the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Order was not a popular one with the federated employers. Therefore, he had the job of appeasing two sections of employers and to do that he brought back what is now Clause 8. I am restricted by the rules of order from going much wider than that, but I think that I am entitled to say that we on this side of the House regret and deplore that the provisions of that Order, a part of which is now enshrined in Clause 8, have not been brought in as widely as possible in order to include the disputes section about which so many of us have expressed ourselves during the passage of the Bill.

We feel that a great gap is left in our industrial negotiating arrangements and that Clause 8 is not by any means adequate to deal with important disputes which will arise from time to time in industry, because, although power is given to the Industrial Court to deal with matters previously technically known as issues under the Industrial Disputes Order, that of itself is not sufficiently wide to deal with disputes which may well now lead to strikes or lock-outs and which, had the Minister listened to our counsel on this matter, could have been covered in Clause 8.

Although we welcome Clause 8 for what it is worth—and we know that the trade unions have managed to use this kind of machinery to good advantage, and under the Clause retain that right—we feel that the Clause does not go far enough to guarantee the great deal of industrial harmony and peace on which the nation rightly congratulates itself. Ours is one of the great industrial nations which loses very little time in industry as a result of disputes. We want to maintain that very advantageous position. We feel that because the Minister has not gone as far in the Clause as we should have liked he is jeopardising that situation. Indeed, Clause 8 is a very poor thing in comparison with the wishes expressed by my right hon. Friends and myself during the passage of the Bill.

For the rest, we have agreed that the other Clauses in the Bill are desirable, and indeed that the Schedules as well meet that new position as far as we are concerned. There is this one vital difference between us, to which in this Third Reading debate I wish to direct the attention of the House. I would not like it to be thought, from the fact that we do not propose to divide against the Bill on Third Reading, that that fact of itself expresses our complete satisfaction with it. It expresses only our partial satisfaction that the issues procedure has been brought back into our legislation, but, from the fact that it ignores the disputes procedure, about which we feel so strongly and on which the trade unions of this country also feel strongly. to that extent we are thoroughly dissatisfied with this Bill.

However, as I have said, it is not our intention to divide the House, because we have no wish to try to eliminate from this legislation that part of Clause 8 of which we approve.

7.44 p.m.

Mr. Wood

I should like for a moment to comment on the metamorphosis which the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) and others see in this Bill, not only in its contents but in its title. Having listened to the discussion on Report stage and Third Reading so far for about two hours, I must say that I have hardly heard mention of the original purpose of the Wages Councils (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced in another place and which had its Second Reading in this House in the middle of December.

I do not think that there is anything that I need add to the exposition of the Bill, as it then was, given by my right hon. Friend, and, indeed, its whole significance has been altered by the Amendments which have been the main topic of our debate tonight.

I should like to apologise on this occasion for the Government's failure to give complete satisfaction on two counts. First, in the matter of the Amendment we have just discussed, when I should very much have liked to have met the point raised, but, for the reasons I gave, found that impossible. Secondly, on the point just raised by the hon. Member for Newton on the absence from this Bill—although it includes a procedure for dealing with claims, formerly called issues— of any procedure to deal with disputes. I do not think that this is the time or place to go over the ground, which has been fairly well travelled, not only on the Second Reading of this Bill, but also in the Committee stage and on other occasions in this House.

My right hon. Friend pointed out on several occasions that he was faced with the dilemma whether, without agreement, he could proceed to impose a form of industrial arbitration on industry. He came to the conclusion that he could only proceed as far as he could gain agreement, and the talks which he had, following the Second Reading of the Bill in December, fortunately led to a fairly general and welcome measure of agreement on the claims procedure.

I should like to express here my gratitude, and I am sure that of my right hon. Friend, to the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and his hon. Friends for the helpful way in which they received this proposal on claims, although they made it clear at the time that it was only half the loaf which they would have liked, and for the expeditious way in which they dealt with the Bill in Committee.

Therefore, I think the House would like to welcome this Bill, which I think is a very much improved Bill on the form in which it started. I am quite certain that, despite anything which the hon. Gentleman may have said to the contrary, he and his hon. Friends will at least give a very sincere and hearty welcome to the introduction in this Bill, at a rather late stage, of what I think is going to be a most important Clause, which will certainly be made use of in the future, and I think will be substantially welcomed throughout industry in this country.

7.48 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

We too welcome the Bill as it now stands. We did not raise many matters in relation to the original Bill because we were in complete agreement with the decision to convert the wages boards under the Catering Wages Act, 1943, into wages councils. I am sure that that is a desirable and sensible thing to do, and we were glad to accede to the various Clauses of the Bill without wishing to put Amendments or make very much comment.

The Parliamentary Secretary was perfectly correct in saying that we regard this Clause, which we welcome very much indeed, as important in relation to claims, but we regret very much that he was not able to give us the Clause that we would have liked on disputes. Nevertheless, it represents an addition to the present machinery for the settlement of disputes as between employers and workers and it is a Bill well worth having. While we may not be satisfied because it does not give us the whole loaf, we are glad to have it for what it is.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.