HL Deb 28 July 1948 vol 157 cc1284-90

Clause 5, page 5, line 24, at end insert "not less than one member shall be a worker, who has been employed in the gas industry, in the area covered by the undertakings taken over by the Area Board, and who by skill and experience has shown himself qualified for the post and".

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason— Because the Amendment might fetter the Minister's power to make the most suitable appointments to Area Boards from among persons possessing the necessary general qualifications.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist on this Amendment.

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


My Lords, I regret that another place has not been able to accept this Amendment. I regret it all the more because I gather that it would have been more acceptable in another place as I moved it originally than in the form which was ultimately adopted by your Lordships. It shows how foolish it is to make any concession on any subject. I have read, so far as I was able, the full debate in another place, and I confess to a good deal of surprise at the attitude taken up on this matter. On this particular Amendment the main argument appears to have been that it would fetter the Minister in the appointment of these Area Boards to add conditions which it was not desirable to add. I confess that I do not follow that at all. The only conditions are that one or more members of the chosen workers in the district of the Area Board should be appointed. I should not have thought that that would present any difficulty to the Minister.

The second argument was that they should be persons who are well qualified. It was suggested that the courts might question the appointment on the ground that, in their opinion, these people were not well qualified. It is a long time since I had any personal experience in the ways of courts, but I should be very surprised if that were to happen. That was the main argument. The Minister then went on to say (and this is the part of his observations which seems difficult to understand) that this Amendment had a syndicalist odour about it—I forget the exact phrase used. He also said that the Communists would have been very glad of it, which to me is astonishing. I hope we are not coming to a stage when any proposition that is put forward is immediately to be called syndicalist or Communist. That is a form of abuse which, if I may say so, is quite unworthy of a Cabinet Minister. There is nothing at all syndicalist about this. I admit that I am a little vague as to what syndicalism means; I understand that it is derived from a French word, and it appears to have developed in a strange way, under the guidance of Continental intellectuals.

The Amendment deals only with the Area Boards, who do not own the undertaking and who are merely managers of the undertaking. The only purpose of the Amendment which I had the honour to move was to do something to make the workers in these great undertakings more conscious of the value of their work, and more conscious of the fact that they were doing a great public duty in carrying on that work. The real purpose of all these proposals is to give workers an interest in the work in which they are engaged. I believe that is an immensely important thing to do. Nationalisation may be right or wrong, but nationalisation will substitute for small machines of industry one big machine. How that is going to add to the interest of the workman in doing his work, I do not in the least understand. His influence on the management of such undertakings must inevitably be quite infinitesimal.

Anything that will increase the human interest of the worker in his work is a matter of the greatest importance. There is, I admit, little to be done by legislation, but one of the things that can be done is to get the workers in closer personal communication with those who direct their work, and to bring together employers and employees. I do not say-that that will achieve the whole object, but it will increase their interest in the work and will eliminate one of the greatest causes of waste that exists—namely, the failure of those engaged in an industry to give to it their whole energy and interest because they do not think they have anything to do with it except draw their wages. That seems to me the main purpose of this particular Amendment, and I must admit to being greatly mystified as to why the Amendment was opposed.

One observation made in another place was that your Lordships do not understand industrial democracy. What is industrial democracy? It is just a part of democracy as a whole; and democracy, I have always understood, means "government of the people, by the people, for the people" That is the ordinary definition of democracy. Surely, it is a great thing to give the people who are carrying out these tasks an interest in what they are doing. Looking carefully at the whole question, I came to the conclusion that what was in the minds of those who decided to reject our Amendment was that they regarded trade unions as existing merely as political organisations for putting forward political ideas. That was what democracy meant to them. One speaker said that what the Government really wanted to do was to put an end to every rag of co-partnership—or some phrase of that sort. The phrase was greeted with loud cheers from the ministerial Benches. That is the real purpose behind the rejection of this Amendment; it was rejected not because it was bad for the workers—no one could possibly say that—not because it is likely to increase the power of the employers—that is obviously not true—but simply and solely because it may diminish the political power of the trade union machine; that is really at the bottom of the rejection of this Amendment and one other for which I was responsible.

This is an issue which, though perhaps raised in a small way now, is vitally important to the future of this country. Unless we can find some way of getting rid of the absurd and disgusting prejudices between the various sections of those who are engaged in industry, I do not see how I we can hope for any real revival of our prosperity. For that reason alone, I must utter my feeble but earnestly felt protest against what has been done by the Government in this matter, and my conviction that not only the Government but the trade unions also will ultimately suffer from a policy of this kind.

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think it will be possible for your Lordships to take this matter any further, but at the same time I should like to say, with the noble Viscount who I has just spoken, how profoundly I regret the decision of the Government, and also how shocked I was to hear the reason they have given for that decision. I feel that the speech of the Minister in another place showed either a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of the Amendment—in which case he ought not to occupy the position he does—or that he was fundamentally dishonest. After referring to the terms of the Amendment, he said that my noble relative was prevailed upon by a number of his noble friends, including his noble kinsman the Leader of the Opposition in the other place, to omit the words 'elected by the' so that the Amendment then read 'not less than two members shall be workers'. He said a little later: The case for the election of workers' representatives is one thing; the case for this Amendment is another.… A member of the Government had made a powerful speech against the election of workers' representatives, and for that reason I, myself, had agreed to a modification in my noble relative's proposal, and asked him to accept such a modification. And now, for the Minister to get up and suggest that the Government might have been in favour of the election of workers' representatives, but that this Amendment is a different pair of shoes, seems to me a strange thing to say in Parliament, and I shall take the first opportunity of returning to the point.

As to the remarks to which my noble relative has referred concerning syndicalism, the Minister in another place said: The proposal is, I think, faintly syndicalist in character, and possibly also attractive to members of the Communist Party. I do not know what that means exactly, but I should have thought it was a strange thing for a Labour Minister to lend himself to suggesting that a proposal that representatives of the workers in an industry should be put upon the Area Board should be handed over to the Communist Party, implying that they are the only people who would be in favour of such a proposal. It is astonishing and ridiculous, and I cannot help feeling that the Minister has shown himself to have no conception whatever of the relation between employer and employed. I do not know much about the Minister. From what I have seen of him, he seems an extremely pleasant man, but he really has had nothing whatever to do with the working class himself. He is, I believe, a Wykehamist, and he is of a donnish turn of mind (not that there is anything against that) and apparently does not know much at first-hand about the working class. I regard myself as quite as competent to represent the point of view of the working class as the Minister is.

I think the Government have made a great mistake over this Amendment. They had a great opportunity to show that they believed in bringing working men into contact with those who control industry. It would have been an advantage not only to the working men, but to the industry as a whole. It would have given the workers a chance to understand the real difficulties encountered by those who have to manage a concern of this kind. We gave the Government this opportunity, and I think that that was an example of the detached attitude which your Lordships' House takes. We looked at these matters not from any Party point of view, but with a real anxiety to find a way out of these difficulties. The Government have had the opportunity to accept it, but they have rejected it. We cannot make them, take that opportunity. We regret their action. We cannot believe that it will be to their advantage or to the advantage of the country.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Viscount will not draw the inference that all compromise is to be avoided. You must be a little selective in your compromises. I am bound to say that the actual phraseology of this clause was gravely defective. I am not going to accuse the noble Viscount of being either a Communist or a Syndicalist; he does not look in the least like either of them! But I must point out to the noble Viscount that the suggestion that this Amendment was syndicalist in character came, in the first place, from the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Brendan Bracken. We regret that Mr. Brendan Bracken was not able to be present at the recent debates when these Amendments were considered. The discussions were in consequence a good deal duller and less fiery than they otherwise would have been. They were also a good deal shorter. Mr. Brendan Bracken said first that this was a syndicalist matter. I would remind your Lordships that there was no Division in another place upon this question. Nobody supported this Amendment by a Division at all. I am certainly keen to have workers on the boards of industry, but that can be secured under Clause 5 of this Bill, which gives the Minister power to appoint to his board people of that kind. Take, for instance, the late Lord Dukeston. If he had still been alive, can you imagine anybody who would have been more fitted than he to do a job like this? And yet I do not suppose that he would technically have come within the description of the words "in the gas industry." He had given his life to the trade union organisation of this industry, and he would have been a fine representative.


May I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount? The fact is that he might not have been one of the "two" or "more than one," but he could very well have been on the Board.


He could have been one of the others but, under Clause 5 of this Bill, power is conferred to appoint to the Board persons who have: had experience of, and shown capacity in, gas supply, local government, industrial, commercial or financial matters, applied science, administration, or the organisation of worker. That was the method by which we sough, to get together a Board which would be a happy and contented Board and one I which would pull together. That is why the Government were unable to accept this Amendment. I think it was such a consideration as that which led to no one in another place dividing in favour of this provision.

On Question, Motion agreed to.