I beg to move,
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This is a Bill to extend for another six months the Wages (Temporary Regulation) Act which was passed on the 21st November of last year. The object of that Act was to stabilise wages for a period of six months. It was recognised, the Armistice having arrived, that to leave the question of wages to the play of the ordinary forces of economic life at that period would create very great difficulty in the industrial world. The Government resolved, as a temporary measure to tide over the period of transition, that wages should be stabilised until the 21st May of this year. The Act contains certain other clauses, all of which I think have been found to be of advantage to the community during this period of transition. For instance, it contains Sections providing, in connection with women's wages, that the wage of the majority of women in particular trades in a district should be taken as the prescribed fate which should remain stabilised for the period of the Act. It also provided that in certain instances, where women's trades were ill-organised, a rate might be fixed through the agency of the Ministry of Labour by a reference to an Interim Court of Arbitration, which was set up by the Act. I should like to say a word about that Interim Court of Arbitration. It was provided by the Act that, where it was desired to vary a rate of wages in any particular trade, application might be made to the Interim Court of Arbitration
to have such a variation carried out. When applications of this kind were made it was the duty of the Interim Court of Arbitration to hear all the parties concerned and to arrive at a decision. I wish to say that this provision of the Statute has proved of great use and efficacy. Most of the large trades of the country have come before the Interim Court of Arbitration during the last five months for the purpose of having wage rates fixed. I think I am not exaggerating when I say that, in all, something like 600 arbitrations have been carried through during that short period. Decisions have been pronounced is these cases by the Interim Court, and matters have been most amicably settled which otherwise might have been the cause of dispute.
What we propose is that this Act should remain in force until the 21st of November of this year. The reason why we propose that now is that whereas the original anticipation of the Government in introducing the original Bill was that the transition period would have been to some extent tided over and that matters would have resumed a normal situation, we find ourselves still without having attained peace and with our industrial life still far from settled. Under these conditions the Government thinks it is of the first necessity that wages should be stabilised for this further period. It is significant that the industrial conference which met very recently, composed of representatives of employers and of workmen, suggested to the Government that this should be done, and therefore in making our present proposal we are carrying out a suggestion which has been recognised by the leading bodies of employers and employed as one which would be of eminent usefulness. It is quite certain that in dealing with ordinary industrial matters nothing so dislocates industry as the feeling of not knowing what is going to happen. It is of the utmost moment at present that the great industries of the country should understand where they are, and I believe it would be of very great use that the industries should understand, instead of waiting for the fall in wages which some of them anticipate, that they must carry out the contracts which they are proposing to make on the basis that wages are going to stand where they are until the end of the year.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the decision of the Government to extend the operation of the Act for another six months. It is perfectly obvious that it is necessary that both employers and employed should know under what conditions they are going to work for some little time ahead. As one of those on Sir John Simon's Committee I may say we appreciate very much the sympathetic way in which he has referred to the necessity of this being done, and the Bill brought in to extend the Act. Working men at present are in the position of feeling that any attempt to reduce their weekly wages would create for many of them a very serious state of affairs. I welcome the extension not only because it is going to stabilise wages for the next six months, but because it will assure to us at least six months' peace in relation to wage matters, and that is a very essential thing in so far as the restoration period is concerned, that we may be able to get over some of the difficulties without bringing into any of our contentious matter in relation to industry the question of wages. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the sympathetic way in which he has approached the question.