Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
The speed with which the whole Bill has been rushed through Committee and is now being rushed through the House itself is indeed notorious, and that is at least one very unfortunate side effect of the Bill having been prepared in an enormous hurry because of the failure of the Government to foresee at all the economic situation which has now developed, despite the fact that they were warned from this side of the House time and time again in the debates which took place on the Budget.
The result is that there are in the Bill many Clauses which have still not received the scrutiny which it is right and proper they should receive. There has not been sufficient time for a number of the interests which are affected and for a number of people who have expert knowledge of the various provisions of the Bill to make representations to the Government and to the Opposition.
None the less, in Committee, despite the speed and the urgency with which the Government found it necessary to push the Bill through, night after night, we on this side did everything we could to ensure that no real absurdities were incorporated in the Bill. In Committee we were particularly worried about Clause 5(5). This says:
In framing any report the Board should have regard to the need for excluding, so far as that is practicable, matter which relates to the private affairs of any person and the publication of which would or might in the opinion of the Board prejudicially affect the interests of that person".
In Committee we put down an Amendment very similar in nature to the Amendment we are now considering. It was designed to ensure that publication of the facts which the Board obtained could not take place unless covering particular facts and figures which would anyway have been made available and might have been published.
We did that because on this side we have very great concern that under this Bill companies or trade unions or, indeed, private individuals may be required to divulge to the Board information which they would not be required to divulge under any other legislation. As the Clause now stands it is possible for the Board then to proceed to publish this information, and this might have adverse effects on the interests of the particular company, trade union or individual. Therefore, we now propose an Amendment also designed to say that the Board shall not publish the facts or figures which it has obtained in private unless the people giving them have agreed to their being published.
It may well be, of course, that on some future occasion—in the Government's projected Companies Bill—there may be a very great move towards increased information being obtained from companies, with companies being required to publish it themselves. We on this side would certainly support a very much greater extension of information which companies are required to publish than the Government provided for in their last Bill in the last Parliament, because we believe this kind of information is likely to be in the public interest. But it is a quite different matter from saying that the information which companies must publish shall be covered by a Bill specifically designed for that purpose, with all the safeguards which that Bill would then incorporate. That is quite different from bringing this matter in by the back door in a Bill which is concerned primarily with prices and incomes but which may none the less have the effect of making the private affairs of companies, trades unions and individuals public, leading to the detriment of the people giving the information.
When we pressed the matter in Committee, the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour gave what seemed at first sight to be an excellent reply. Our reaction was to accept what she said. She said that the position was covered completely in Schedule 1 of the Bill and that there was no need to worry about it because there were safeguards in paragraph 14 of the Schedule and even wider safeguards in paragraph 14 of the Schedule and even wider safeguards in paragraph 16. That sounded very convincing. But, as I say, in many of its aspects the Bill has not been subject to the consideration which it would normally receive. When we began to press the hon. Lady as to whether the safeguards were as comprehensive as she suggested, it became more and more apparent that they had very little effect, and, despite the various paragraphs of Schedule 1, it was quite possible still that information might be given by a private individual to the Prices and Incomes Board and then the Board, simply because it considered that it might not be practicable to exclude it, might publish it.
The same might be true of any individual who appeared before the Board. His salary, his private affairs and the various cost data of a company that he was operating might be disclosed, and we feel that that could be very dangerous. If it was embodied in a separate Act and properly debated, there might be a real case for extending the information which is published, but we do not think it right that the Board should be able to obtain information far in excess of that which might normally be published, and then to publish it.
It is for that reason that, on this side of the House, because we were not convinced on examination of the superficially attractive arguments which the hon. Lady put forward, we feel it necessary to put down this Amendment. We hope that the Government will find it possible to accept it, because they can quite easily cover the point in subsequent legislation. But we think, and I hope that they will agree, that it is wrong to do it in present legislation without adequate safeguards of the kind which I have suggested and which are covered by the Amendment.