HC Deb 17 November 1976 vol 919 cc1524-6

Lords amendment: No. 2, in page 2, line 37, after "description)" insert which do not discriminate between persons by reference to politics or religion".

Mr. David Watkins

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

This amendment seeks to meet a difficult point which had proved rather baffling to those involved in the Bill during the earlier stages. It has resulted from extensive consultation in both Houses and also with the Industrial Common Ownership movement. I record my thanks to ICOM for its invaluable help and advice given at all stages of the Bill, right from the initial drafting. I thank particularly the Chairman of ICOM, Mr. Roger Sawtell, and the organiser, Ms Manuela Sykes.

A feeling was shared by all hon. Members that common ownership enterprises should be given the widest freedom in deciding their own rules of membership within the lines laid down in the legal definition, which is one of the fundamental principles of the Bill. For this reason in page 2, line 37, the phrase other factors of any description was included. The difficulty of including that phrase and not restricting them in any way was that we found that the position was open to abuse, and it made it possible for common ownership enterprises to apply restrictive qualifications on membership.

The amendment makes illegal discrimination on political or religious grounds. There is no reference to racial or sexual discrimination, because that was unnecessary, as that position is already covered in existing legislation. This is an agreed amendment resulting from widespread consultation. Its purpose is to preserve freedom without licence. Accordingly, I recommend it to the House.

1 a.m.

Mr. Tebbit

It would be idle to pretend that I personally care for this aspect of the Bill. I care very little more for it now than I did when it left this House originally. My concern, expressed then and now, was not about the power given in this part of the Bill being abused by those who would use the measure. I think that is most unlikely. My worry throughout was that as this place is obsessed—rightly perhaps—with precedent, we should think very carefully before we legislate in any circumstances.

To include the power to exclude persons by factors of any description seems to me to be very bad legislation. Some time in the future some Parliamentary Secretary pushing through another piece of legislation about a quite different matter could find these words used in his legislation and could quote the precedent of this Bill, passed with the approval of both Houses. So we were extremely unhappy about the matter. I am still unhappy about the compromise amendment. I accept that it has been extremely difficult to find a suitable turn of phrase. I would have preferred the expression or other factors of any description to be removed from the Bill.

I do not want to stop the Bill becoming law at this stage by attempting to insist that what I regard as an unsatisfactory wording should be removed.

To stop the Bill now would be to rob the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) of the well-justified triumph of seeing the Bill reach the statute book. It has not had an easy passage and at times I think that the hon. Member almost despaired of it. There have been moments when some of us thought that perhaps it was being assisted by the Government—not unfairly, but certainly in a way which could have been extended to other Bills of similar merit.

For all that, the Bill looks as though it will reach the statute book. I believe that it will do good by encouraging the concept of men and women owning and controlling their own commercial enterprises, and that must be good for the economy and for society. I congratulate the hon. Member and I wish the Bill and the common ownership movement well.

Mr. Cryer

I should like the House to support the amendment. I can assure the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) that it is very difficult to legislate and to produce a form of words which allows a degree of flexibility while excluding the possibility of that flexibility being used in an undesirable way. This may not be the perfect formulation of words, but at least an attempt has been made to retain a degree of flexibility while providing adequate safeguards to prevent abuse. Hopefully we think that the amendment will work. It represents an improvement in the Bill and we are looking forward to seeing the Bill on the statute book.

I shall take this last opportunity to offer the congratulations of the Government to my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins). I hope that the Bill will go a little way towards achieving an objective in which we in the Labour Party have always believed. Working people have a great deal more to contribute to the ownership, means, distribution and exchange of production than has been the case in our society in many respects.

We believe that there is a well of talent and good will among working people that can in large part be met by a different form of organisation from that which governs our society now. We hope that industrial common ownership and co-operative enterprises will draw on this well of creative ability and good will in working people and that the Bill will be a small step towards an ever-fast developing movement.

Question put and agreed to.

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