§ Any Order in Council made under the provisions of this Act shall be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as may be after it is made; and if an Address is presented to His Majesty by either House of Parliament within the next subsequent twenty days on which that House has sat next after the Order is laid before it praying that the Order may be annulled, it shall thenceforth be void, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder or to the making of a new Order. If the Session of Parliament ends before such twenty days as aforesaid have expired the Order shall be laid before each House of Parliament at the commencement of the next Session as if it had not "previously been paid.—[Mr. A. V. Alexander.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
There is no desire to be specially controversial in regard to this Bill, but we think the proposed New Clause is a reasonable one which the President of the Board of Trade might accept. The Bill will confer very wide powers. It will enable the President of the Board of Trade to exercise discretionary powers with regard to the issue of Orders in Council, varying—perhaps in some cases very considerably—the provisions of the existing Merchant Shipping Acts. This House has always been jealous in regard to giving powers of that kind. All we ask is that the provisions of the Orders in Council to be made under the Bill should be laid before each House of Parliament for 20 days in order that Parliament should have an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon changes which may be of vital importance made at the discretion of the Minister, and may have the opportunity, if necessary, of making alterations. The Amendment expressly provides that in the event of such a course being adopted it is not to interfere with the validity of any action taken by the Minister prior to the action of Parliament. There is always the fear in the minds of the workers in the various branches of a great employment like the Mercantile Marine that, if powers of such 890 a wide character are invested in the Minister, they, as organised workers, may suffer. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that there is in regard to this Bill a substantial feeling among one group of workers that their conditions may be prejudiced ultimately by the operation of these powers.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I myself, when I was at the Board of Trade last year, received a deputation from one group of workers and I believe he has since received a deputation from the same group. I am not here to argue whether or not their fears are well-grounded, but I am here to argue that in view of the tendency—the justifiable tendency, perhaps—of workers who are organised in this way to be apprehensive as to the results of vesting such powers in the Minister, the right hon. Gentleman would be well-advised to meet the situation by accepting the Clause. He will probably say that it is contrary to the practice which has been adopted previously in regard to the Merchant Shipping Acts and ordinances relating to merchant shipping, but never before in the history of the Merchant Shipping Acts have such wide discretionary powers been conferred in a Bill of this character. For these reasons I trust he will see his way to accept the new Clause.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I think the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in whose names this New Clause stands on the Paper are under a misapprehension as to the exact position. The Mover said the Bill was giving the Board of Trade very wide powers such as they had never possessed before, but that is not really the case. As a matter of fact, this Bill is only necessary as a matter of precaution, because we were advised that it was uncertain whether we had powers to make certain arrangements with regard to wireless telegraphy on ships. There was no doubt that we had those powers in respect of every other Regulation which is made over the whole field of merchant shipping. We have the powers laid down in terms with regard to all these other matters, and with regard to what are the most vital and important 891 matters, such as the load-line, life-saving appliances and so forth. All we do by this Bill is to give the same powers with regard to wireless telegraphy. The hon. Member said we could make changes of vital importance. He will forgive me if I say that he has misconceived the purpose of the Bill. It gives me no power to vary in any way regulations which are made under the Merchant Shipping Acts for the control of British ships. The power to make such regulations is governed entirely by our domestic legislation—by the Merchant Shipping Acts and the Wireless Telegraphy Act—and if I wanted to alter the regulations with regard to wireless telegraphy or anything else laid down, under either the Merchant Shipping Acts or the Wireless Telegraphy Act, I should have to come to the House for express power to do so. This Bill gives me no power to make regulations for our own ships. It gives me with regard to wireless telegraphy a power which exists already with regard to everything else, namely, that where there are equivalent provisions in force in regard to ships of a foreign country under their own law, then I can enter into an arrangement, and I think I explained on a previous occasion the importance of being able to make such arrangement.
The hon. Member suggests that we ought to alter the procedure. On the question of principle I think it would be unwise in respect of one particular thing to alter the general practice laid down by the Merchant Shipping Acts as regards the making of Regulations and Orders. If we are to consider such a thing, it should be considered in relation to the whole of the Merchant Shipping Acts. I do not think the hon. Member wanted to change the practice when he was at the Board of Trade, and I think he was right, because the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts give to the public and the interests affected the fullest possible opportunity, in the most direct way, of considering these matters. By the combination of the Merchant Shipping Acts and the Rules Publication Act, the fullest notice has to be given of a draft Order. If an Order is made it has to be published in the "Gazette," and it has to be laid for 40 days during which time any body which is interested may take exception to it, and, of course, 892 that exception has to be taken into consideration. In practice, of course, one would not make an Order without full consideration, and if objections were made, of course these would be gone into, and in the ordinary course, if negotiations are still going on, the Order has always been suspended. But, in fact, Parliament has a right. Supposing—which is a very remote supposition—that under either this provision or the general provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts, the President of the Board of Trade for the time being were seeking to go ahead with an Order to which objection had been taken, and which was subject to negotiation, then my hon. Friend opposite could raise it as a matter of urgency on a Motion for the Adjournment. That right exists in the recognised procedure to-day. I think it is the proper course to carry out, with regard to these particular Orders in Council—which are merely an amplification of necessary powers—the same procedure as has always been carried out with regard to all Orders under the Merchant Shipping Acts.
§ Mr. WEBB
I think the right hon. Gentleman has put this matter very largely in its proper proportions. The proposed new Clause is not really of first-class importance, and I do not think the question of the right of Parliament to deal with a President of the Board of Trade for the time being, in the circumstances indicated, need be discussed upon it, because that is a constitutional matter. I quite agree that, with regard to rules made under the Merchant Shipping Acts, the procedure under the Rules Publication Act is quite sufficient for all practical purposes, but there are two points on which I was not quite satisfied with the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. This Bill is not confined in its operations to wireless telegraphy, as might be inferred from the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It gives the Board of Trade power, by Order in Council, to exempt foreign ships within British waters from every kind of provision under the Merchant Shipping Act, provided that there are equivalent provisions under the law of the country to which the ship belongs. It seems to me possible that this power might in future be used in substitution for some of the powers that already exist and are exercised by the rules under the Merchant Shipping Acts. I want to know 893 whether there is anything in that point. These powers already exist in regard to nearly everything else except wireless telegraphy, and they are exercised by rule. This Bill would authorise powers of exemption to be exercised by Order in Council. I should like to know whether every Order in Council which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to make under this Measure, if it is enacted, has to be published under the Rules Publication Act?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
As my right hon. Friend will see from Clause 3, we would make these Orders subject to the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 to 1923, and the Act of 1894 embodies the provisions of the Rules Publication Act and, therefore, I have, in respect of this, to carry out all the provisions of the Rules Publication Act.
§ Mr. J. JONES
There are others besides those who think they know all about this subject who have something to say upon it. What guarantee have we that the conditions of labour on foreign ships in British waters are going to be equivalent to the conditions which we impose on our own ships? We all know you can legislate and you can legalise sweating. Foreign ships coming into this country's waters employ men under worse conditions than we allow. What about the wireless telegraph service? Some of us know that some of the young men who have been trained in London in wireless schools have been working all the hours that God sends, and then go for an hour or two to bed, and come back again with earphones round their heads. What protection have they got? It is all very well to 894 say you have met the interests involved. I suppose that means the sailors, and the firemen, and the men who do the stoking in the hold of the ship, but what about the young men who think they have a career in front of them? What protection have they got? Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to say that he is giving them any protection whatever?
If a foreign ship comes into this country's waters, a ship on which they work all the hours they like, are our people going to be put on the same footing, and are our British ships going to be allowed to become sweating dens? Some of us who work and live in constituencies close to the waterside know the kind of conditions that are being imposed on some of these young men, some of them very educated young men, in order to give them a start in life and an opportunity to find themselves working long hours for little pay. They are always called upon whenever there is trouble or danger at sea. They have to be there at their job then, and I would like to know what protection they will get under this scheme.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
On a point of Order. I think it is entirely out of order, and beyond the very limited scope of this Bill, to embark on a discussion as to general labour conditions, either in this country or on foreign ships. This is limited to giving the Board of Trade power to accept as equivalent, by Order in Council, certain safety regulations and so on made by foreign countries if there is reciprocity.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have examined the Bill, and I cannot see where in the Bill, and much less on this Amendment, the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) can make this appeal. This is an Amendment dealing solely with the laying of rules before the House, and the hon. Member must wait for another occasion.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.