New Clause B. — (Power of local authority to make by-laws with respect to employment of juvenile persons.)

Part of Children and Young Persons Bill – in the House of Commons on 30th June 1932.

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I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 33, to leave out from the word "ship" to the end of the paragraph, and to insert instead thereof the words: or boat registered in the United Kingdom as a British ship or in any British fishing boat entered in the Fishing Boat Register. Both in Committee and on Report this subject received a great deal of discussion and consideration. The Government took the attitude that, although at the moment it was impossible to carry out proposals of this kind, yet they were fully in sympathy with them and pro- posed, as soon as the industrial situation improved, to implement their promise and the Committee, and the House subsequently, had sufficient faith in the genuineness of the Government's promise to accept the rejection of a similar Clause although many of those who went into the Lobby in favour of its rejection were in favour of the principle of it and wished to see it carried out at the earliest possible moment consonant with the national welfare. It is no good disguising the fact that I have been put in an extremely difficult position by the action of the Noble Lord who moved this new Clause and by its acceptance in the other House. I regret, of course, that they were not prepared to accept the pledge which was given in this House and which was repeated in the other and have seen fit not only to move this new Clause but to make the position even more difficult by adding the rider to it. This new Clause is wholly bad. It has no redeeming merits whatever. To start with, when we were discussing the matter on Report, in many quarters of the House which were favourable to the proposal itself doubts were expressed as to whether the local authority was the right body to carry out these duties, and from other quarters it was said very strongly that we had already gone too far in the direction of placing obligations of this kind upon local authorities and that the time would come when, if we were going to do things of this kind, the central Government which ordered it must take the responsibility of carrying it out.

I promised at the time that the interval that would have to elapse before the industrial situation improved and the Government was able to implement its pledge would be used by me in examining alternative methods to see if we could not carry out the pledge, when the time came,, in a way that would be acceptable to the whole House. I was in the course of making arrangements for what I believe is the only way to get these proposals on a proper footing, and that is to meet personally the trades chiefly concerned with these various unregulated employments, and I hoped, by means of personal consultation with them, to devise some method which would enable me to present to the House something that was agreed to by the employers, which was not objectionable to Members of the House and which all parties could join in sup- porting. My position has been made infinitely more difficult by the passage of this Clause. I have not doubt Members are already getting communication from various trading organisations which feel that in some way or other faith has been broken with them. They refer to a statement which I made, and to which I adhere, that I want this thing to be done, when it is done, with the consent and not in the teeth of the employers concerned. I shall have some hesitation in approaching them and probably some difficulty in dealing with them when they feel that the case has been judged over their heads and that there is not much good in discussing something that is already on the Statute Book. For that reason I feel that the Clause is actually a hindrance in the way of ever getting the thing that the Clause expresses done.

But there is an even more serious objection. The Clause sets out the machinery for dealing with unregulated employments. It goes on to say that this machinery can be brought into operation by a simple Resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament. The similar Clause was defeated in this House and was never inserted in the Bill. Therefore at no stage has there been any opportunity for Amendment or criticism. It would mean that the whole of this machinery could be brought into operation by a simple Resolution without those in this House who happen to disagree with it ever having had a single opportunity of putting down one Amendment to one of its provisions. Whether hon. Members support these proposals or not, they will all agree that it is not fair to the opponents of a Measure of such importance as this that they should be deprived of legitimate opportunities for Parliamentary discussion. As far as the merits of the Clause are concerned I should be asking the House not to amend it but to reject it, because I feel that it is of no assistance. In fact, to the supporters of the proposal, if anything, it is going rather to hamper them in their work, whereas it may seem to those who are opposed to it that the proposal is in some way a breach of faith and a deprivation of their natural Parliamentary rights.

On the other hand, I have to consider the very difficult position in which it would put many supporters of the Government, who want to see this thing done as soon as they can who have loyally, under great difficulty, accepted the assurance that I gave, if we have a quarrel with the House of Lords over a thing of this kind. The outside public does not follow the little niceties of politics. Even organised bodies, such as Chambers of Trade, which have been circularising Members of Parliament do not realise the significance of the rider that is tied to the end of the Clause. It will be represented in the country as a struggle between the House of Lords, which wants to be progressive and to help these poor people, and the House of Commons, which is so reactionary that it will not assist them. That seems to me a position in which it is very hard to put a great number of supporters of the Government who have been very loyal

It is necessary, before I ask the House to pass the two Amendments which I am going to propose and then to agree with the new Clause, that I should make a perfectly clear statement of the intention of the Government. Of course, the fact that our pledge should be disregarded, that over our heads this Clause has been passed, would, if we were standing upon points of punctilio, have relieved us of the pledge we had given. We should be under no necessity now as a matter of honour to carry out the pledge we gave to the House that we would, as soon as the industrial situation improved, carry out the proposal. After all, when we are dealing with these young persons and with matters of great moment to them, no Government is going to stand on punctilio. It would go on with equal sincerity to try to bring it to the appropriate stage at the appropriate time. I must warn the House that the presence of this Clause upon the Statute Book does not commit us for one moment to the acceptance of this particular machinery to deal with the problem when the time comes. There was a strong feeling in the House against this local by-law method. I am at liberty, even if the Clause is passed, to pursue my inquiries and, if necessary and advisable, to ask the House, when the time comes, to adopt some quite new machinery. In no circumstances, even if this goes on to the Statute Book with a rider attached to it, amended by an Amendment which makes it necessary that the Resolution which brings the Clause into force shall be moved by the Government, for that is, in fact, what it means, should it be open to any back bench Member at any hour of the night and on any day of the Session suddenly to get up and move its amendment.

I would make it clear that even if it goes on to the Statute Book this Government have no intention of moving the method provided by this Clause, which is to say, by passing this Clause into law by a simple Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. We feel that it would be most unfair. It would be depriving those who were in opposition or who had a desire for friendly criticism or amendment of the Clause, of their ordinary Parliamentary rights. So that when the time comes and we are ready to introduce legislation to deal with this problem, even if the legislation we finally decide upon takes the exact form found in this Clause, it is the intention of the Government to introduce that legislation in the ordinary way and allow it to pass through all the ordinary stages of Parliamentary procedure, and give to friends and foes alike the ordinary opportunity for Parliamentary criticism and debate. The position in which we find ourselves is inevitable. On the whole I think that the solution which I am proposing to the House is the best. I believe that it will reassure those who feel that they are being deprived of their rights. It will, at any rate, make some gesture. Though it does not in any way strengthen the declaration we have already made, it will avoid what I think would be very unfortunate, a dispute with the noble Lords on this question, which would only be misunderstood by people outside.