HL Deb 13 December 1928 vol 72 cc607-13

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Russell.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Amendment of 9 and 10 Geo. 5. c. 100, s. 16.

1. Section sixteen of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, shall have effect as if the words "before the said eighth day of May" wherever they occur in that section were omitted.

LORD GAINFORD, who had given notice to move, after "if," to insert "for," and to leave out "were omitted" and insert "there were substituted the words 'before the fifteenth day of December, nineteen hundred and twenty-six,'" said: I am sorry to have to intervene with an Amendment to this Bill, but the Bill raises a point of very great substance and involves a principle of a very far-reaching character. The principle which is raised of compensating workmen in connection with the loss of their positions after the passing of an Act of Parliament is vital to industry, and the course suggested by the Bill is unprecedented, I believe, in connection with our legislation. If the Amendments which I have placed on the Paper are accepted they will secure compensation for disturbance to all workmen in connection with their work up to the time of the passing of the last Electricity (Supply) Act in 1926. At the present moment they can only secure compensation up to 1919. If this Bill passes without my Amendments any workman will be able to secure compensation for all time if it can be alleged that he has in any way suffered alteration in his work or occupation owing to the passing of the Electricity (Supply) Act.

Compensation was afforded first of all to workmen after the passage of the Bill of 1919. Sir Edward Shortt, who was then Home Secretary and in charge of the Bill, made it clear that a great principle was involved between compensating individuals before the passage of the Bill and compensation to workmen after the passage of the Bill. At once the Amendment to perpetuate compensation was withdrawn. A Socialist in the House of Commons, on the Committee stage of the Bill of 1926, again raised the point and endeavoured to secure its acceptance. He was defeated in Committee by a majority of 24 to 9, and Colonel Ashley, who was then responsible for the Bill, pointed out in these words the effect of such an Amendment as this Bill now introduces in perpetuity. He said:— The people before May, 1919, were probably put in a worse position, and it is right that they should be compensated, but those who came in with their eyes open, under new conditions, when the Act of Parliament was in operation knew exactly what was going to happen, and it would be putting an unfair burden upon the industry to do this. These people are really not entitled to it. And he went on to say:— The Committee has no right to give compensation in circumstances which do not justify it. If those words were true then, they are equally true now, and if that was the opinion of the Government then, I do not understand how it is that the Government acquiesced in the passage of this Bill through all its stages in the other House late in November.

This Bill has passed the House of Commons without a single word being said upon it at any stage. When I commented upon that fact in your Lordships' House last week my noble friend Lord Russell, who is in charge of the Bill, with that charm of manner which always distinguishes him, said in effect: "Well, members of the House of Commons knew the contents of the Bill. It had been previously discussed in July of last year." I have looked through the Parliamentary records of the other House and I find that this Bill was not introduced last year and there is no record of any debate in the House of Commons last year upon it. It passed through all its stages there at a late hour on two successive evenings last month and was passed presumably with the acquiescence of the Minister in charge of legislation in that House. As my noble friend Lord Banbury knows well enough, it is very necessary to have a watch dog in the other place to avoid pernicious legislation passing through at a late hour without any consideration, and if your Lordships are going to fulfil the proper functions of this House, I suggest that this is an occasion when my Amendments should be accepted and the Bill with its pernicious proposals should not be allowed to pass into law in its present form. I have already explained that I propose in my Amendments to extend the period of compensation which at present exists by eight years. I believe that will fully deal with any hard case of a man who has lost his work owing to the operation of the electricity schemes under the 1919 and 1926 Acts of Parliament.

There has been in the newspapers recently criticisms of directors receiving very considerable compensation when the amalgamation of companies has taken place. If workmen are to he compensated for loss of their positions in the electrical industry after the passage of an Act, equally directors will expect to receive similar compensation in respect of any disturbance of their directorships. This proposal will perpetuate permanently a principle of compensation for workmen and directors in all in- dustries, and place upon industry for the first time a burden hitherto never borne by any industry. Moreover, it is a novel principle which I think your Lordships ought to condemn. Compensation obviously should be restricted to those who entered the service without knowledge of prospective legislation, but as soon as the legislation is passed those who come into a service ought to be subject to the ordinary laws which provide for due notice being given without payment of compensation. The electricity companies were never consulted about this matter and they have only at this moment asked me to bring forward my Amendments in order to prevent a burden being placed upon their industry.

I think my noble friend who is representing the Government Department interested in this Bill, the Marquess of Londonderry, said that he was prepared to consider an Amendment on Committee stage if I would put one down. I have done so. I have made a concession to the proposals contained in the Bill and I hope he will say that be accepts my Amendments. The principle is a very wide one. May I give your Lordships one illustration? I do not want to occupy your time Any longer. If a Socialist Government came into power and passed an Act of Parliament reducing the hours of work from eight to seven in the collieries of this country, and the collieries of the noble Marquess and those with which I am connected, or any others, found that their cost of production went up as a result of that Act of Parliament it would mean very likely the closing down of some of those collieries. If, this principle having been accepted, a colliery were closed down in those circumstances, and if that colliery were employing, say, 2,000 workmen receiving 10s. a shift for their work on an average—that is £150 a year—and they got the same kind of compensation as is now being given to those who get compensation under the Electricity (Supply) Acts, that would mean that each man would receive £750, which is equivalent to £1,500,000 being placed as a burden upon the firm owning that particular colliery.

I have only to make a statement of that kind to show you how far this principle is involved in the event of a Socialist Government coming into power and taking advantage of such a principle in connection with the electrical industry. Should this Bill pass into law, naturally every one will assume that he has security of tenure in his position. Therefore any extension in connection with schemes concerning bulk supply and cheaper electricity for the community will be subject to the necessity of paying compensation to all those who in any way change their status or lose their positions. I have done my best by bringing this matter forward to open the eyes of your Lordships to the proposals in this Bill and I hope that my Amendments will be carried. The two Amendments on the Paper deal exactly with the same point. They are consequential one on the other and I hope your Lordships will agree with me that they ought to be accepted.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 7, after ("if") insert ("for").—(Lord Gainford.)


The point here is really a very small one and the Bill itself is a very small one, and I do not propose to follow the noble Lord into the rather extensive dissertation which he has given your Lordships dealing with a great many alien subjects. The principle of compensation was admitted in 1919 in the Electricity (Supply) Bill when a Conservative Government was in office, and I told your Lordships quite frankly on Second Reading that that was admitted to be an unusual principle, but it had been admitted. As to the propriety of extending it to subsequent entrants, the second point of the noble Lord, that was again admitted in 1926 in the Electricity (Supply) Bill of that year. The object of the present Bill is merely to remove a practical difficulty, because it was found that the clauses of the Bill of 1926 did not meet the difficulty it was supposed to meet. The object of this Bill is merely to put that right. The Bill before your Lordships is in the form in which it was approved on behalf of the Government in another place. It did not pass entirely without speech, as the noble Lord said, because the member in charge of the Bill made a speech in connection with it, and I have been looking at the Report of that speech. I am afraid I cannot accept the Amendment and I must ask your Lordships to reject it.


I hope the Government will accept the Amendment, which seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable one. As I understand it the only point before your Lordships' House at the present moment is whether certain men who take office under a certain company, well knowing that by Act of Parliament that office may be taken away from them at any time, are or are not to receive compensation. My own idea is that anybody who takes office, whether as a messenger or as a clerk or as a director in a company of this kind, and who finds that by Act of Parliament his position is taken from him ought to receive compensation, but when he takes office with a company well knowing that an Act of Parliament has been passed which may take from him that office, he takes it with his eyes open, and I think that in those circumstances he ought not to receive compensation. I understand that what the noble Lord opposite wishes to do is to say that anyone who takes office after 1926 when the last Electricity (Supply) Bill was passed in this House is not entitled to compensation. It seems to me that here is an opportunity for this Chamber to act as a revising Chamber. Apparently the Bill passed through three of its stages, as I gather from the noble Lord, after eleven o'clock in another place without anyone saying anything about it except the member who moved it. My experience of the House of Commons is that in such circumstances 99 out of 100 members present do not know in the least what is in a Bill or what it is about. In those circumstances I hope the Government will accept the Amendment.


The noble Earl in charge of the Bill has not over-stated the case at all. The 1919 Act admitted the principle of compensation and the 1926 Act went further than that and also admitted the policy of compensation. Therefore the Government recognises that Parliament did directly adopt the principle of not requiring a qualifying date in the case of the 1926 Act as it was finally passed into law. Experience has shown that operations under the 1919 Act still continue. Any fears that an alteration in respect of the title to compensation in the 1919 Act might hamper development of the industries appear, I am bound to say, to be exaggerated and indeed unfounded. While the Government themselves have not thought it necessary to introduce amending legislation, the Government see no ground whatsoever for objecting to

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.