HL Deb 30 November 1948 vol 159 cc659-63

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Special Order, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday last, be approved. This Order is presented for your Lordships' approval, in accordance with the Industrial and Organisation Development Act, 1947. Its purpose is to provide for a Development Council for the Domestic Furniture Industry and such establishment will carry into effect the recommendation of the Furniture Industry Working Party which requested my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade to set up such a Council. I do not think that I need weary your Lordships by going into any of the details of the Order. They are clearly set out in it. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Special Order, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday last, be approved.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


My Lords, those of us who have read this Order—and I am sure that includes all your Lordships—will agree with the concise statement which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has just made, but I think that as this is the first Order of this kind which has come before this House, one ought to say a word or two about it. As regards the Order itself, certainly we on this side of the House will not oppose it. On the contrary, we wish it well. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the Order, which gives effect to the proposal for a Council, comes to us with the overwhelming support, I will not say of both sides in the industry but of both partners in the industry—that is, employers and management on the one hand, and workers on the other. They are all agreed that this is a desirable step to take.

I know that there has been some criticism of the Order, because the distributors of furniture have a smaller representation upon the Council than that which they originally sought. Quite frankly, I am not in a position (for I have no knowledge of this trade), to say whether or not that is a reasonable claim. But I feel two things about it. In the first place, this is an organisation which, primarily, will deal with production—after all, these industrial councils are councils intended to bring together all those engaged in production for a common purpose and in a common effort. If one is to enlarge them so as to have regard to all the distributors, all the consumers, and so on, it might mean a very large representation indeed. It is not that the distributors are not important, or that the consumers are not important. Of course they are both important. But the first interest of a development council or an industrial council, or any organisation of that kind, is to make the industry with which they are concerned more efficient, to secure cheaper and better production, to give everyone what is wanted at a low price as possible, and to ensure that quality is kept as high as possible.

So far as distributors are concerned, they often know an industry very well, and it may be desirable to bring them in on fair terms. But I do feel, as Lord Lucas said when the Industrial Development Act was going through this House, that it is very important, if councils under this Act are to succeed, to have a great measure of agreement. He said, and said truly—indeed, some words were put into the Act to make it plain—that there must be a large measure of agreement between employers and employed in the industry before a council could be established. Indeed, if a council were established without that, it would not succeed, because for success it must have a basis of common desire and common good will. At that time we did not consider (indeed, I do not think that it was in any of our minds) that we would bring in distributors, who were not part of the production side of the industry. But if we were to bring them in against the wishes of the employers and employed in the industry, it seems to me that we should run a great risk of not having this Council working as a team to secure the best results. To start with, at any rate, it might become a kind of forum where disputes between producers and distributors were canvassed and settled. I do not think that that would be giving the organisation the best chance. I believe the wise course to follow is for the House to approve this Order in the form which the partners in the industry have agreed. At the same time, I express the hope, which I am sure will be fulfilled, that the Council will make full contact with distributors and retailers when it gets down to business.

Whilst I welcome this Order, I would echo what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said when the Bill first came to your Lordships' House. Industrial councils can be very useful in some industries where they come into existence with a preponderance of favourable opinion of both partners in the industry, but I am sure we should make a great mistake if we said that, because this is a good thing in the furniture industry, it is a good thing in every industry. After all, we do not want utility furniture supplied to every industry in the country. We in this country are sometimes criticised for what foreigners call a want of logic. That is a great misapprehension. It is not a want of logic, but a sensible common-sense capacity to adapt ourselves to the different and varied conditions; and the last thing that is wanted here is a sealed pattern.

My view is that these councils will be most valuable where there has been little organisation in the industry in the past. I can well imagine that in some of the old-established industries, where there has been for years the closest contact between employers and workers, where well-tried organisations already exist for common consultation, for research, for the pooling of knowledge and for the collection of statistics, it may be a great disservice to try and foist a sealed pattern form upon them; and I am sure the Government would not attempt to do it. They would be either superseding what has worked extremely well in practice (and that is what really matters), or they would be adding something which is superfluous, a kind of fifth wheel to the coach. After the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on the Second Reading, I am sure that he would not come here to make any such proposal. This Order has been almost unanimously approved in the industry, although there may be some small minority on one side or the other. This plan seems to have been worked out with great good will and thoroughness and, that being so, I Feel sure your Lordships will want to approve it and wish the Council all success.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, for his helpful and encouraging remarks. What he says is true, that at the stage when the President of the Board of Trade consulted with the organisations outside those represented on the working party, the National Association of Retail Furnishers wished to have distributors represented on this Council. My right honourable friend again consulted the employers' organisations and trade unions, which were the component parts of the working party, and they agreed that one representative of the distributive trades should be a member of the Council. One member is therefore provided for in the Council's constitution, and I think the noble Viscount will agree that that goes some way to meet the demands of the distributive trades. As the noble Viscount said, it was no good attempting to foist (if I may use that expression) on the employers and trade unions something with which they did not wholeheartedly agree, because that would have made the scheme abortive from the very commencement, and one representative of the distributive trades was the measure of agreement arrived at. With the noble Viscount, I hope that the Council will work harmoniously, and will be of great benefit to the industry.

On Question, Motion agreed to.