HL Deb 28 July 1948 vol 157 cc1302-16

Clause 58, page 73, line 2, after "under-taking" insert "or to take part in any machinery for promoting industrial co-operation between employers and employed,"

The Commons disagreed, to the above Amendment for the following Reason—

Because the Bill already provides appropriate machinery for securing co-operation between employers and employed.


My Lords., in order to provide the basis for a discussion, I formally move that this House do not insist on the said Amendment.

Moved, That this House do not insist on the said Amendment.—(The Lord, Chancellor.)


My Lords, I very much hope that even at the last moment the Government will relent about this matter. There does not appear to me a shadow of a case for the attitude they have taken up. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, in discussing a previous Amendment, said that nobody in the House of Commons had defended the conclusions to which your Lordships had arrived on that Amendment. If he will allow me to say so, I think he exaggerated the fact a little. In this case nobody defended the action of the Government except Mr. Robens, who is the subordinate Minister of Fuel. Not a single member rose to defend the proposal of the Government to strike out these words. Mr. Robens was good enough to say at the beginning of his speech that the words ought to be struck out for several reasons; but, so far as I was able to observe, he omitted to give any reasons save one—namely, that the words were unnecessary because their object was already provided for by the provisions of the Bill. I have looked as carefully as I can into the provisions and I cannot sec that it is provided for at all.

May I remind your Lordships of the scheme of the Bill so far as this matter is concerned? By Clause 56 it is provided that the Gas Council, in one case, and the Area Boards, in other cases, shall enter into negotiations with any organisation which they shall approve to deal with various things that may require to be dealt with. Nothing is said there about any special matter, except—let me be perfectly accurate—that it is said that they shall be for the promotion and encouragement of measures affecting the safety, health and welfare of persons employed by the Board or Council and the discussion of other matters of mutual interest to the Board or Council and such persons, including efficiency in the operation of the services of the Board or Council. What the last phrase means, I do not know, but it does not really matter. There is under that provision, no doubt, ample power to enter into negotiations for an agreement on practically any matter of general interest.

There is this difficulty however: that there exist in many of the companies certain agreements and machinery for dealing with profits and with matters of industrial co-operation. With regard to profits, it is said that there should be a power to prolong the operation of any agreement until an opportunity is afforded for a definite and final agreement. But I can find no provision there for dealing with anything except the sharing of profits. There is no provision for dealing with the important machinery and admirable agreements for promoting discussion on matters between employers and employed that exist, as I know, in a good many of the companies—not only the company that I have so often referred to before in this House, but in other companies.

The only effect of the Amendment which your Lordships passed would be to say that those agreements, if they exist, shall be prolonged in the same way as agreements about profit sharing, until there is an opportunity for dealing with them by a definite agreement between the parties concerned. Even that is only to be by regulation of the Minister, who is expressly authorised to make in those agreements any modification which he thinks necessary or desirable, in view of the changed aspect of affairs in the gas industry. I can conceive of no harm that could arise from that. I believe the sole reason—not mentioned by Mr. Robens—is simply the silly, pernicious hostility of certain trade union leaders, operating on an old trade union tradition against anything that was connected with co-partnership. To my mind, there is absolutely nothing else in it at all. I think it is a very great misfortune that these words—which, if they do nothing I else, call the attention of the public to the desirability of agreement for facilitating industrial co-osperation—should be struck out of the Bill. I cannot but hope that, even at the last minute, your Lordships will feel it necessary to insist on this I Amendment, which cannot possibly do any harm, and may be of considerable value on future occasions, both actually and as a matter of declaration of principle.

I would add two further observations. First, I say that the effect of nationalisation so far has not been to get rid of these difficulties. That is now admitted on all sides. The difficulties persist in the coal industry, and they persist in other industries. It may be hoped that ultimately they will disappear; but so far they are going on. And they will continue in the gas industry. Surely, it is common sense to keep alive any agreements which deal with these particular difficulties until they can be dealt with in a more satisfactory manner. The second thing I would say is not something which directly affects your Lordships, although it affects this question generally. There has recently been a county council by-election in the district of Greenwich. In that district live a great many of the gas workers who are affected by the co-partnership agreements. I am assured by those who took part in that contest that the question of co-partnership played a not inconsiderable part in the discussions. The result was that, whereas in the General Election the majority for the Labour Party was upwards of 10,000, in this by-election it had shrunk to a little over 200. I think that is a matter which ought to be considered by your Lordships, and certainly by the other House. I venture to hope that your Lordships will not assent to this proposal, and that in this case you will insist on the insertion of the words "industrial co-operation."

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, I would venture to echo and reinforce the appeal which has been made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. This proposal raises none of the contentious or difficult issues of the Amendment we disposed of earlier. There may be views about syndicalism, whether we should have workmen on the Board, how they should be appointed to the Board or how the team should be best constituted to work. I do not want to go back over that; I gave all my views on that matter before. I regret that the compromise (I should not call it a compromise, because I think it is the highest common factor) did not find favour in the other place, although it was readily accepted here. But this is quite different. To my mind, this Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, raises the whole principle and spirit of co-partnership. Co-partnership is not at all confined to profit sharing; indeed, I would say that the least part of co-partnership was the profit sharing. That lesser part, the profit sharing, is in fact preserved under this clause.

If your Lordships look at page 72 of the Bill you will see that it says: Where any scheme in force immediately before the vesting date provides for enabling persons employed by any undertaker"— I leave out words which do not apply— to participate in the profits of the undertaking, provision shall be made by regulations for continuing the scheme for such period as may appear to the Minister to be suitable; and subject, I think, to certain adaptations and modifications. Therefore, that part of it, at least, is to be preserved temporarily. When we insert words to say that is to be preserved then, unless we also insert words to say that the machinery which is in existence for promoting industrial co-operation is to be preserved, the natural implication (and, I believe, the legal implication) is that we are to preserve the much less important material side of this matter but not the much more important side, the spirit of partnership and co-operation through the whole of the undertaking, a spirit which is evidenced by the machinery for conciliation that now exists. To say that the words are unnecessary is a matter of argument. I would not argue with lawyers about that. I am not concerned to say that the right place for these words, if at all, is in Clause 56 and not in Clause 58. If the right place was in Clause 56 and not in Clause 58, then the Government ought to have put them in Clause 56. In fact, if they have put the other part of the co-partnership arrangement into Clause 58, it cannot be wrong to put this provision in here.

What troubles me greatly is the intention behind this attitude. We have had great tributes paid by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and by the First Lord of the Admiralty;—who has an even longer knowledge of industrial relations—to the admirable relations which have existed in this industry. They have been largely due to this co-partnership spirit, coming after trouble many years ago in some of these companies. From the eulogy pronounced by the First Lord upon the way in which this industry had been conducted, I certainly understood, that all that was best in it was to be carried on, and was to be brought into and developed in the new endeavour. We all applauded that. But that is not the position now, as I understand it, and before we part with this Bill we ought to be told by the Government what are their intentions.

It may be that this matter will come back to us in regulations. At any rate, we ought to know what is the spirit and the intention in which these regulations are to be made. I ask the Government to be frank about it and tell us now. If they disbelieve in co-partnership, and if they disbelieve in the spirit behind it, well, let them say so, and then we shall know where we are. We shall know that, at a time when they are calling for the best in industry, they are casting aside something which has succeeded very well. Let us know if that is the intention. If that is not the intention, then I cannot see why these words are not accepted. Let us be told whether, by directions or by regulations, the Government will, so far as physically possible, include all that co-partnership stands for to-day.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, may I add a few words on this particular clause, coming to it, I confess, rather new, as I was not able to attend the earlier stages of this Bill? I am struck by the inclusion of one particular aspect of the relations between employers and employed, and the exclusion of the other. Here is a clause which admits the principle of participation in profit-sharing as an element of the relations between employers and employed. The Government have been asked by this House to insert a parallel for the recognition of co-partnership arrangements between employers and employed. One is preserved, and the other is rejected. It may be that it is merely for brevity of expression, but it is a little notable that whereas the words in the clause are: …to take part in any machinery for promoting industrial co-operation between employers and employed…", the reason set out on this Paper for disagreeing with the Amendment is: because the Bill already provides appropriate machinery for securing co-operation between employers and employed. That might well mean the arrangement of such things as a Whitley Council, and have no reference in the world to the specific problem which is now being considered, which is really whether the principle of industrial co-operation between employers and employed in this particular industry has the Government's blessing, or whether it has not.

The question has been raised as to I whether this provision is appropriate in I this clause or in another clause, but I do not think it is necessary to discuss that point at great length. If it be the actual legal view that what is desired is already covered in one clause, it does no harm to include the specific words in another clause. It does not override or I repeal the first; it merely makes clear the I Government's intention to acknowledge that it is one of two courses open for the improvement of relations between employers and employed.


My Lords, I do not know whether the Government feel in a position to indicate their view any further. They have been strongly pressed this afternoon, and I think the case which has been made out by my noble relative, my noble friend Lord Swinton and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, is a strong one. After all, so far as I understand it, the Government have indicated that it would be possible for them to continue, in exactly similar circumstances, schemes of profit-sharing; that is to say, those schemes would be continued by regulations, with necessary amendments and modifications, even though the original concerns were in fact amalgamated in a larger unit, such as Regional Boards, and so on.

Then there was the question of welfare, which came up on the Committee stage. I think the noble and learned Viscount said that with regard to welfare it would be possible to continue the schemes with such modifications as were necessary. Now we come to schemes for the industrial co-operation of the employers and employed, and quite a different view is taken. There is no question of modifications; it is said that it is just impossible to do it. I cannot see the rhyme or reason in that, and I am driven to the same conclusion as my noble relative—that it is a question of principle. The Government do not like co-partnership, and therefore they will not agree to it in any circumstances. They do not like it, I am sure, not because they have any dislike of schemes for co-operation between employers and employed, but because they have come to an agreement with the trade unions, who do not want it. That has not been denied and, whether it is true in that crude form or not, it seems extremely probable.

In the debate in another place on the Amendment which we sent clown from this House, a quotation was made from the speech of Mr. Tom Williamson—mentioned by name in Hansard—in which he said: I suggest that in many instances these co-partnership schemes have militated against the trade union organisation. No doubt that is the view held, not by all trade unions—some have been very co-operative—but by particular organisations who are dependent for their existence upon the division between employer and employed. You have an organisation with employers on one side, and you have an organisation with the employed on the other. There is an alternative if you want to get them all working together, and that is to return to the old type of trade union. Unless we get better reasons, I cannot help believing that it is something of that kind which is in the mind of the Government.

If that is so, beg the Government to reconsider the matter a little further, even at this late hour. It is a dreadful outlook if we are to go forward into the far future on the basis of an inevitable difference of opinion between one side of industry and the other. That can apply equally when the employer is the State, or when the employer is a private person. That is a very melancholy outlook. I do not think industrial co-operation would be satisfactory to a type of man like the Minister of Health, the breath of whose being is antagonism. It is not a sound antagonism; it is not a safe antagonism in the times in which we live. We are asking here only that these schemes should go on for just so long as the Minister should give regulations and so far and with such modification as is then practicable. I beg the Government to give that very moderate proposal further consideration.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I must confess that I think the arguments against accepting these words are overwhelming. I do not start with any preconceived idea against co-partnership at all. I can well conceive that co-partnership, like any other good idea, may be abused; and, of course, if it is abused there will be antagonism towards the idea. Equally, I know from my own knowledge that there are many instances of co-partnership having done a great deal of good—and I know the noble Viscount would not support co-partnership with the ardour he does unless he also were satisfied that there are many such instances. Therefore I do not base any reason whatever for the rejection of this Amendment on a general dislike of co-partnership; and when the noble Marquess says that the objection was based on an objection to co-partnership I think he attempts to prove too much. When I speak of a co-partnership scheme, I mean a scheme involving a share of profits.


You can have a sharing of profits without any sharing of control, or any representation of the workers in the control of the industry. Often the two go together, and they are apt to be confused one with another. They are, in fact, entirely different things.


I entirely agree that they are quite different, but at the same time I define co-partnership, as understand it, as a scheme for the sharing of profits. There are grate many schemes to promote industrial co-operation which I should have thought could not by the wildest stretch of imagination be called co-partnership schemes. There is hardly a well-conducted business in the country that has not its own arrangements for promoting industrial co-operation. I do not know any responsible and respectable business that has not such a scheme, and it is an excellent thing that there should be such schemes. But are we to commit ourselves to the proposition that all these schemes are co-partnership schemes? If so, it is an abuse of language. Where exactly co-partnership ends and incentive payments begin, for instance, is a difficult point to define. I should have thought it was obvious that the mere fact that there is in and incentive a scheme for industrial. Co-operation does not make that industry a co-partnership industry.

What is this clause going to do? It provides that we are t a take these undertakings over from the existing undertakers and they are to be merged in one much larger undertaking; and the Area Board are to incorporate a great number of separate undertakings. There are two clauses concerned; there is the clause which was Clause 56 and is now, in the new copy of the Bill, Clause 57; and Clause 58 which in the new copy of the Bill is 59. Clause 56 (now 57) starts with these words: Except so far as they are satisfied that adequate machinery exists for achieving the purposes of this section.… If the Gas Council are satisfied that there is adequate machinery for achieving the purposes of this clause, they need not operate under this clause. If, on the other hand, they are not satisfied that there is such machinery, what have they to do? They have to consult with the various organisations which seem to be appropriate, to hammer out machinery for dealing with all industrial questions. They are the new employers.

Then, in Clause 58, now Clause 59——


It is Clause 58 in the copy of the Bill which was handed to us as we came into the House.


What used to be Clause 58 has now become Clause 59; they both mean the same thing. Consider the position, my Lords. If there is a scheme for co-partnership in what I may call the strict sense, the only sense in which I understand the term—the sharing of profits—the scheme is always, so far as I know, set out on paper. It is more or less formed; it is elaborate. Frequently there are added to it many other provisions, about industrial co-operation, about welfare and so forth. The noble Marquess will say that those things are additional to a co-partnership scheme. Where I am dealing with a genuine co-partnership scheme, I have not the least objection to using such words as will take in all the matters with which that scheme deals. What I object to is the application of the formula to something which is much less definite than a co-partnership scheme, something which often is not on paper at all, and may be arrived at from mere usage.

Take the example of a gas works where you have no co-partnership scheme, in the sense in which I use the word, but where you have an arrangement whereby the foremen meet the management once a week, say on Friday morning, to discuss various questions which have arisen in connection with the work. That is a scheme, I should apprehend, in force immediately before the vesting date, and it constitutes machinery for promoting industrial co-operation. I do not know whether or not it would come within the words of the Amendment: or to take part in any machinery for promoting industrial co-operation between employers and employed. To my mind the words are very vague; and you are trying to provide here that these schemes must be temporarily continued. I believe that to be absolutely impracticable.

Or take the case where there is a simple weekly meeting between representatives of the proprietors and representatives of the workers, for the purpose of dealing with difficulties. Is such a scheme to be continued? Is it a scheme? If it is a scheme, and one which has to be continued, has it to be continued in spite of the fact that the new owners have nothing to do with the old owner? Do your Lordships really think you will promote harmony in the functions of the Area Board and the works if you have wholly unrelated schemes, whereby the workers in Works A get a concession, the workers in Works B do not, and the workers in Works C get something more? What sort of hope have you? Surely the right thing to do is to provide, as we do in the earlier of the two clauses, that the Gas Council shall get busy and try to work out new machinery and a new scheme which will apply throughout the whole area. By all means continue something until that is done, but let that something be at least definite and clear.

If there is to be a co-partnership scheme, by all means let us continue everything that is therein included. That is why I moved an Amendment to insert the words: including any provisions of the scheme relating to welfare or amenities or the management of the scheme. By all means let us take the scheme as a whole. If you are out of the realm of co-partnership and are saying that a scheme for promoting industrial co-operation is to be continued, I have not the least idea what I am continuing; and, if I continue these schemes altogether apart from co-partnership, in the proper sense of the word, I shall be differentiating between one works and another. It is not that we object to co-partnership as such. I do not. Indeed, I am willing to continue co-partnership schemes absolutely with everything attached to them, but what I am not willing to continue is schemes just in the abstract, which are not co-partnership schemes but which are schemes for promoting industrial co-operation at a time when the entity of the employer is altering. That seems to me to presuppose arrangements being made not covering the whole area but covering sectional works.

I have gone into the matter; I have taken instructions and I have considered it most carefully, because I confess I should have liked very much to accept the noble Viscount's Amendment. In the various Amendments which I have moved, I have tried to go some way along the road towards doing that, but I feel that we cannot accept this. I think that we should be letting our hearts control our heads to an undue extent if we said that we were willing to continue schemes which are not co-partnership schemes but are any schemes for industrial co-operation, notwithstanding the fact that the entity of the old employer is now being merged into the Area Board. I regret that the most I can do is to continue co-partnership schemes with all their associations. I am quite satisfied that the sensible course for us to adopt is to remind ourselves of the provisions of the earlier clause. I attach not the slightest importance to whether these words are in one clause or another. We should remind ourselves of the provisions of the earlier clause. Where these schemes are not sufficient to-day, we must expect the Gas Council to get into touch immediately with all the organisations and to hammer out suitable machinery which will extend and apply over the whole area of the Area Board.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has just used a device which is very unusual. He has not stated fairly the position under the Bill. The Bill is quite clear. As he has just said, it contemplates an agreement being made, first by the Gas Council and then by the Area Boards, for continuing all these schemes or for making fresh arrangements. Then we have this special clause which amounts simply and solely to this: that a period must intervene between the taking over of these undertakings and the beginning of these schemes. So far as that deals with profit sharing, there is a power given by regulation to continue a scheme of profit sharing. All we are asking is that there should be a similar power to continue industrial co-operation schemes, leaving it frankly and entirely in the hands of the Minister to decide what he will do. There is nothing about co-partnership in any part of the clause or in the Bill. The Government would not venture to soil their mouths by using such a word as "co-partnership;" but they do recognise profit sharing and they do recognise other consultations with a view to dealing with various questions in the industry as they arise.

It is surely perfectly obvious that there ought to be such provision as may already exist, dealing with industrial co-operation. It seems to me astonishing that you should say that, whatever happens, schemes for industrial co-operation are coming to an end. No power is to be allowed to continue them until agreement is reached but, if that takes a long time, there will be nothing left for industrial co-operation.


If I may interrupt, may I point out one mistake that the noble Viscount is making? He seems to think that the first subsection of this clause confers powers upon the Minister. It is mandatory. The Minister "must."


He "may."


No; he "must."


He "may" by regulation.


Clause 58 (1) says: Where any scheme in force immediately before the vesting date provides for enabling persons employed by my undertaker… other than an undertaker to whom section eighteen of this Act applies… provision shall be made by regulations for continuing the scheme…"—


Yes; but regulations may make——


Order, order!


It expressly says: with such adaptations and modifications as appear to the Minister to be necessary… So he may make any alterations.


My Lords, I know that I may speak again only with the permission of this House, but I would like to say a few words upon this point. I think it is necessary perhaps for the guidance of the House that I should say something. I think there are a great many noble Lords who have not been convinced by what has been said by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who spoke of a very new device. It was an ingenious speech. In effect, what he really says is this—I have no doubt that this will appear in the columns of Hansard, and it will be a great convenience to the Government that it should be so—that they are in favour of the principle of co-partnership and are including support of that in this Bill. The noble and learned Viscount was able to do that by giving to the word "co-partnership" a meaning which it does not possess. He said that the only form of co-partnership which he recognised was profit-sharing. That is not what co-partnership means.

I would refer the noble and learned Viscount to the remarks of Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland, when he said that he made words mean anything he wished them to mean and, if he wished them to mean something extra, he made them double. That is what the Government are doing here. If the noble and learned Viscount will allow me to finish my remarks, there is no doubt that you would have to read in a special meaning of the word "co-partnership," because it does not mean profit sharing. Mr. Aneurin Williams wrote a book on the subject, the title of which is Co-partnership and Profit-Sharing. I suggest that if "co-partnership" and "profit-sharing" were the same thing, that would not have been the title of the book. If we say that "co-partnership" does not mean what it is supposed to mean but means "profit-sharing," and that, as the Government have put "profit-sharing" into the Bill, they are therefore in favour of that, then no doubt the noble and learned Viscount is right. But, if that is not what the word means—


I accept a great deal from the noble Marquess, but I do not accept that the noble Marquess is a greater authority on the English language than I am or than anyone else in this House is. I do not accept that. I should be interested to know whether the noble Marquess can give me a definition of what he thinks "co-partnership" means.


I have always taken co-partnership to mean that there is a definite partnership between employer and employed in the firm; it does not necessarily mean a share in the profits of the industry. I do not want to go into a long and elaborate argument, but, as everybody knows, there is at all times a share in the takings of the industry. When the miner receives his weekly wages, they are, in fact, coming out of the gross takings. In any of the great basic industries of this country, at least 80 per cent. of the gross takings goes in wages, and what comes afterwards is divided between the shareholders.


Some wages are paid out of losses.


They get a priority in the takings of the industry. Broadly speaking, it is true that co-partnership means a worker's share in the control of a firm or industry. Profit-sharing is entirely confined to a share in the profits, and you may have a profit-sharing scheme without any co-partnership at all. Such things do, in fact, exist. I do not want to go into a long and elaborate argument on this point, and I certainly do not set myself up as a greater authority on the English language than the noble and learned Viscount, who has a wide experience and a command of the language which I do not pretend to possess. I am stating only what is the recognised view in textbooks on the subject which are written by experts far greater than myself. Having said that, I say that from the point of view of the House, I do not think we should carry this matter any further. We have done our best, and I do not think it is possible for us now to continue in our difference with the other place. Therefore, I am afraid, we must leave things as they are. But I regret what has happened and I only hope that the Government at an early date may see their way to modify their decision.

On Question, Motion agreed to.