– in the House of Commons on 6th November 1919.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The Bill I am about to ask the House to grant a Second Reading sets out to do three things—to set up a permanent Industrial Court in this country, and to set up a Court of Inquiry; and also to make it illegal to pay wages at a less rate than are being paid at the present time and until 30th September, 1920, under the decisions of the Interim Court of Arbitration. The causes which have given rise to this measure lie in the history of the last twelve months. I hope the House will forgive me if I very briefly retrace ground which. I am certain, is very familiar to many. One of the results of the War was that considerable increases of wages were given to practically every industry in the country. When the Armistice arrived it was quite clearly recognised that to allow the wages question to become the immediate subject of controversy, and of possible dispute between the employer and his workman, would plunge industry into a state of chaos which would definitely retard the progress of the country. Accordingly, a Bill was rapidly passed through this House, and became law on 21st November of last year. The main feature of that Act was to make it illegal to pay wages at a less rate than were in vogue on 11th November. It was also further recognised that conditions might change from time to time. Accordingly, since the Bill was to operate for six months, provisions were inserted in the measure which allowed an application to be made, on the part of the workmen, of getting an increase upon their rates, if it was justified, and upon the part of the employer for a reduction on the rates, if that was justified. Nobody quite knew the course the cost of living would follow, although most people expected that it would rapidly decrease. Provision was made for either event. If the cost of living rose, application could be made for an increase in the rate of wages, and if it fell it was possible for the employer to make an application for a reduction.
The Interim Court was constituted of representatives of employers and workmen alike, with a panel of independent chairmen who were to preside at any meeting of the Court or at any meeting of any division of the Court. That Act carried on till 21st May, 1919. In the interval the Industrial Conference and the Joint Committee, composed both of employers and workmen, urged unanimously upon the Government that the Act should be continued for a further six months, namely, till 21st November. The reason for their request was that the condition of things was still unsettled, that the state of industry had not by any means become normal, and it was better that both employers and workmen should know how they stood for the following six months, An Act accordingly was passed continuing the operation of the original Statute. That second Act comes to an end in a fortnight's time. The question with which the country is concerned at the present time is what is to be done in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. You can contend either way. On the one hand, it is perfectly reasonable to say that the persistent interference on the part of the State with the wages question would ultimately bring disaster to the industries of the country; and I am sure that if the interference of the State became perpetual that some such result would necessarily follow. On the other hand, we arc not arrived at anything like a normal condition of the trade in this country. The world is still in a state of ferment. It is impossible for anybody to gauge what the course of industry will be in the immediate future. Nothing affects trade and industry so adversely as uncertainty.
Accordingly, it may be a great advantage for employers of the country to know, more or less, what their position is going to be during the next year, in order that they may be able to make those arrangements, and to take up those contracts which are necessary if trade and industry in this country are to recover. Only recently a large deputation of trade unionists requested a meeting with the Minister of Labour. They represented a very large body of workmen in this country, and all the different types of unions. At the second meeting, after considerable discussion, they urged upon the Government that we should continue the operation of the Wages (Temporary) Regulation Act for a further twelve months. In response to that suggestion I told them it would be necessary for me to see representatives of the employers. They quite readily recognised that it would be quite improper to act upon the representations of one side alone. Accordingly, I had a meeting with representatives of the large federations of employers of labour. As I expected, they raised the question of the continuance of Government interference in wages. They, at the same time, recognised the strength of the arguments which I have stated to the House, and that it was very important that, so far as possible, the circumstances and conditions of trade should in the meantime be rendered stable. I do not necessarily tie them down to what I am doing, or to any action that they might think it improper to take. So far as I could gather, they thought that the interests of the country in attaining stability outweighed the disadvantages of fixing wages. I think I properly represent their attitude. But they went on to say that they were distinctly opposed to the continuation of the Wages Regulation in the form in which it stood. It contained this anomaly, that whereas it was competent for the workman to force the employer to go to the Interim Board of Arbitration and have, wage questions decided, whereas it was incumbent upon the employer under the Act to observe the decision given, there was no legal compulsion on the workman. He was neither obliged to come to the Arbitration Court when the employer put in his application, nor was he legally bound by the decision at which the Arbitration Court might arrive. They accordingly strongly represented that, if the Act was to continue at all, these features should be removed.
Did the representatives who attended on behalf of the workmen and employers represent one particular industry, or were they representative of all the industries and trades?
I think I shall not be inaccurate if I say that the representatives of the workmen who came to see me represented all the principal unions of the country with the exception of miners, railwaymen, and dock labourers.
I am not perfectly certain about that, but certainly the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and all their kindred unions were represented, and it was indeed a very representative body. I am not perfectly certain about the identity of each of the elements, but I am sure that those who were there will agree with me that it was a highly representative body. Similarly, with regard to employers, those who came were representative of the new confederation of employers which had been brought into being, and which I think may be regarded as representing nearly all the employers in the large trades of the country.
As I was saying, I venture to agree with the view that it was impossible to perpetuate a one-sided Wages Act. Both parties must now be put in the same position, and accordingly you have to-day, in the measure which is now before the House, a Bill which makes it illegal, down to the 30th September, 1920, to pay less than the present rates as they have been fixed by the Interim Arbitration Board, which puts no legal compulsion on either party, and allows either party to come to the Court to have a rate substituted for the rate which has been previously fixed by the Interim Arbitration Board. I observe, in the Press this morning, that sonic doubt is expressed on the part of one writer as to whether it would be possible under this Bill still to make application for an increase in the rate. It undoubtedly will be. That writer, I am sure, had been misled by a part of the Schedule which omits certain words in Section 2 (2) of the old Act; but those words were only put there in order to make it compulsory, as that was designed, upon the employer to attend at the Arbitration Court upon the application of the workman. On the other hand, Section 2 (2) of the present measure provides that, where a trade dispute exists or is apprehended, the Minister may, if he thinks fit and if both parties consent, refer the matter for settlement to the Industrial Court; so that all matters are competent for reference to the Industrial Court—that is to say, both applications for increases and applications for reductions. Of course, however, it is entirely a voluntary arbitration, as I have already explained.
I have no doubt that some people will be inclined to argue that this system of voluntary arbitration, being purely voluntary, will not be worth much. I do not agree with that, and I will explain in a moment. I should like to refer in passing to a matter which was canvassed to some extent in the Press with regard to cer-, tain Clauses which were inserted in the original draft Bill which I submitted to representatives both of the workmen and of the employers. Representations were made to me, both by individual unions and by certain joint industrial councils, that the decisions of the Arbitration Court should be extended to other branches of industry than those whose representatives had appeared before the Court. Many of the unions regard that as important, because in certain instances non-federated employers, who never appeared before the Court, might refuse to pay the wages which the Court had decreed. Accordingly they desired that such employers as these should be brought. under the same rule as those who had appeared before the Arbitration Court. That is a perfectly sound principle in general, but let us observe what is involved in it. If a decision is made binding upon the people who are not before the Court, obviously you must make it binding on those who came before the Court. As soon as you come to that conclusion, you are of course at a stage where you must put in a Clause to make it compulsory that the awards of the Court shall be observed. I put into the draft Bill a Clause designed to meet the desired object, and it was accordingly necessary to follow it by a Clause which made the results of these arbitrations compulsory, although I am sure it will be recognised that I made the compulsion as moderate as possible, because the other terms of the Clause made the decisions binding only for four months if either side chose to denounce the result. Merely as a compulsory Clause, therefore, it certainly was not very stringent. But of course compulsion—to say a thing is binding—is of very little use unless you supply the measures by which it can be made binding. You require sanction behind the decisions, and from that point of view it became necessary to put in provisions which made it obligatory upon trade unions to observe the decision, that is to say, made it illegal for them to pay strike pay to those on strike against the decision, and made those responsible for any such act amenable to the law. When the representatives of the workmen read the draft, they took the most strenuous objection to the compulsory Clause to which I have referred. They took the view that it was an infringement of the rights which they had obtained under the Trades Disputes Act, and it certainly had rendered inoperative some parts of the Trades Disputes Act, because, as the House will remember, that Act put the trade union, in such circumstances as these, beyond the law.
I had to decide what I should do under these circumstances. One thing was perfectly plain to me, namely, that if I wee to insist upon going on with the Clause which was desired for making these decisions binding upon the people who were not before the Court, the other Clause of compulsion was necessary. On the other hand, if the Clause of compulsion was to remain in the Bill, the whole fabric of arbitration in industrial disputes in this country was going to fall, because the first result would be that the trades unions would refuse to come before the Courts at all. Therefore, a decision had to be taken, and the Government decided that the only thing to do under these circumstances was to drop both Clauses. There is one thing, however, that I wish to make very plain and clear. It was not any desire on the part of the trade unions to evade the decisions of the Court that led to their action. The Trades Disputes Act has a sanctity in trade union minds which to the ordinary spectator it does not entirely merit, but you have to reckon with that, and a choice had to be made between obtaining a practical result and obtaining no result at all. At the meeting at which the whole matter was discussed repeated assurances were given by those who were there that, so far as they were concerned, the decisions of the Arbitration Court would be observed, and I am perfectly certain that those who spoke in that sense spoke in the utmost good faith. I believe that in the absence of compulsion these decisions will be observed. I believe in the good faith of the unions in connection with this matter, and I shall not sacrifice that belief until I have been entirely disabused of it. But we have had enough experience in the past to give us some confidence. During the last eleven months the Interim Arbitration Court has decided 853 cases. In only three cases has there been any strike against the award, and, with the exception of the case of the iron moulders, the strikes have been entirely local. I think that is a very remarkable record. At any rate, it is enough for us to go upon.
There is another point. Compulsory arbitration has not been such a complete success in other countries as to justify us, at the present moment at least, in forcing it, even supposing that we believed in it. In Australia, where it has been in vogue now for a considerable time, I do not think it is a great exaggeration to say that it has proved a failure. Even in Canada, where a less stringent measure has been in force, it has had no conspicuous success. The House will remember that in 1907 an Act was passed in order to deal with disputes in public utility services in. Canada. That Act provides that, before any strike should take place an investigation should be held, and it provided that during the period of investigation any strike should be illegal. Over eight years' operation of that Act—I have not the figures for the most recent years—I find that in these public utility services there were 222 strikes, of which 204 were illegal and were strikes against the Act. That certainly does not lead one at the moment to believe that compulsory arbitration necessarily affords a panacea for the difficulties that are involved in the adjustment of disputes. That, in my view, is not because compulsory arbitration is a bad thing in itself. The reason why I think that kind of measure has failed in Australia and in Canada is because the people were not ready for it. You cannot pass ultimately effective legislation which is in advance of the spirit of your people. What we really have to do now, in my opinion, is to foster the arbitration spirit, to encourage every means by which people will voluntarily agree to settle their disputes by reference to all Arbitration Court rather than by violence or by strikes. As I have told the House, we have had 853 arbitrations during the last eleven months in this country, and at a time-when arbitration has not been compulsory upon the men at all, and when they have not been compelled to obey its decisions. If we have had that number during the last eleven months, let us hope that the same spirit which has been in existence during that time will not only remain with us in the future, but will grow so that gradually we shall be able to get all our disputes settled by this method. It is with that view that the Government propose in this Bill to set up a permanent Industrial Court. I think, if we were to allow this Interim Arbitration Court to go out of existence and put nothing in its place, we should be failing to do our duty by the country. It is proposed that the composition of the Court should run upon the following lines: It will have upon it representatives of employers and employed, and it will have an independent chairman. It. will also have assessors upon occasions when these are required. If a dispute is reported to the Minister—
Is the right hon. Gentleman able to state at this stage whether, in dealing with cases which concern women workers, there will be at least one representative of women upon the Court?
Certainly, I shall be prepared to consider the question of the representation of women upon this Court. Already there have been attached to the Arbitration Court under the interim system certain ladies who have from time to time taken part in the decisions.
There was one in connection with the Committee of Production, but I think I have described what has been the practice under the more recent Court. If a dispute is reported to the Minister, he will consider what means of settlement he is to take. For example, if the industry were one in which there was a Whitley Council, it would necessarily be his duty to refer the matter to the Whitley Council, if that had not been already done, before he dealt with the matter himself. Again, if, as in the engineering trade, systems of conferences are in existence, by which a matter is referred first to a district conference and afterwards to a national conference, then naturally he would see that the question had been exhausted so far as these conferences were capable of exhausting it before he dealt with it. If he found that it could not be settled by these means, then he would refer it to the Industrial Court, and it would be in the province of the Court to appoint a single arbitrator, if that seemed the easiest method of getting a quick solution, or to have the case heard by one of its own divisions. In the event of disagreement in the Court, the chairman would act as an umpire. By that system we hope that we shall not only be able to have many disputes settled in an amicable fashion, but we also hope that a great deal will be done to systematise wages in this country. If you have a Court which has in view from time to time all the different industries in the country, it will be in a position to correlate the various wages systems so as to bring about in the end a result which will cause the least confusion.
In particular, so far as Government Departments are concerned, wherever a Government contract raises the question of wages it will be the duty of this Court to settle it. The other day Sir Lynden Macassey, in an interesting and instructive letter to the Press, suggested that a Court of this kind—of course, he did not know what we were proposing—might be able to do something more. He was impressed by the fact that increases of wages in one particular trade create a very disquieting effect in another trade in which the conditions arc not the same, and he recommended that means should be taken whereby all such wages agreements should be brought before the Minister of Labour, who might refer the question to the Industrial Court before the agreement was allowed to be put into operation. Frankly, I do not think at the present stage that is possible. Sir Lynden Macassey in the same letter said that he did not believe in compulsory arbitration, but this would he the most extreme form of compulsory arbitration, and it would certainly be an interference with private contracts on the part of the State such as has never happened to the same extent in any country that I know. Accordingly, I do not think it is feasible, but I do look for the most beneficent results from the action of the Industrial Court, both on the lines that I have been describing and in what, after all, will be the best effect, if we achieve it, namely, the elimination of violence from our industrial disputes.
There is only one more part of the Bill to which I need refer. It is that part dealing with the establishment of a Court of Inquiry. Everybody has felt the need, in cases where grave disputes have arisen, of some method by which an inquiry could be taken up which would enlighten the whole of the public upon the issues at stake. Everybody, I think, has come to recognise that the public is the final arbiter in these industrial disputes, and everybody likewise recognises that in these matters the public is eminently fair and just. Accordingly, we propose to set up a Court of Inquiry which will investigate cases of dispute and from which we shall obtain reports which will be laid before Parliament. Somebody may say: What is the difference between this method and the Conciliation Act of 1896? The Conciliation Act never put the Board of Trade in the position of offering a conciliator to the parties who were engaged in a trade dispute. This Bill proposes that the Minister of Labour shall be entitled to set up a Court which shall have the power of compelling people to attend to give an account of their contentions in the dispute and of compelling people to produce documents which the Court thinks are necessary for the elucidation of the question at issue. That is a very great advance upon anything that we have previously had. Incidentally, it really contains the whole of that which has proved to be meritorious in the Canadian plan. As I have explained. the compulsory part of the Canadian plan has really broken down in the most recent instances, but that part which has dealt with inquiry and the enlightenment of the public mind has certainly gone a long way towards preventing many disputes from taking a violent course. Accordingly we look with great hope to the results which we may obtain from such a Court of Inquiry as the Bill proposes to set up. The labour problems which confront the country, and indeed, confront the world, at the present time are of infinite complexity and difficulty. The questions which are raised are embedded in the very fabric of the world, and their roots go deep down to the very beginning of human society. No one would be foolish enough to suppose that by a single measure or by any series of measures you could find a solution for the difficulties which confront us. But, apart altogether from the immediate effect for which we hope, I believe that this Bill will bring a better atmosphere and a happier spirit into our industrial relations, and it is in that view that I venture to commend it to the House.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me to express to him the sense of indebtedness which we feel for his having explained so lucidly and in so short a time the provisions of this Bill, and also for the terms and spirit in which he has addressed the House. I am asked by the Conference to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred to offer certain observations upon this Bill, and to explain our present attitude in relation to it. The House will at once observe how very different in their relations to each other are the three separate sections of this proposal. The Bill proposes to con- tinue the existing Act, it proposes to establish a new system of arbitration, and it proposes to institute a novel method in this country for inquiry into the causes either of disputes which exist or which are threatened. We regard this as an unnecessary mixing up of very big public questions, and we consider that it would have been far better for the Government to have dealt separately with the immediate question, namely, the continuance of the guarantee of the existing rates of ages which war conditions have compelled employers to pay. I press that view upon my right hon. Friend, because, whatever may be the opinion of the fact, it is the fact that trade union machinery necessarily moves very slowly. It acts for millions of men and for hundreds of different organisations. I saw a copy of this Bill for the first time only a few days ago, and it is impossible by any process of speeding up to act authoritatively and properly for these large masses of men without referring back to them to some extent, through their executives and through the machinery of their associations, these very far-reaching and very important proposals. Some hon. Gentlemen may think that in this House we should act independently as representing our constituents, but I am sure on reflection that hon. Members will agree that if we are expected, and we are expected, to express in this House the views of these great organisations outside, we should have opportunity and facility of consulting them and properly receiving their authority for what we say and do here. I am not complaining that there has been any attempt to rush this Bill. I know how busy the right hon. Gentleman has been, and also the other Departments of Government in relation to industrial and economic questions, but my point is that there is now no urgent necessity for two of the three sections of this Bill, and that he can well deal singly with what is pressing and leave to a time of greater leisure and larger opportunity the other two parts with which we are now asked to deal. I do not think that, on the whole, the time is well chosen. Apart from this consideration of not having adequate time, I do not think that the occasion is quite the most suitable, in view of the disturbed state or mind industrially and in other respects, which the right hon. Gentleman has him- self admitted to be the feature, not only of the conditions in this country, but really of the industrial world.
One cannot help stating that a first cause of this Bill being introduced can be traced to the general condition of the, country in respect of unemployment. The relation of unemployment and the payment for the moment of State out-of-work pay to the provisions of the Bill is so close that I cannot avoid just one or two observations on that subject. The Bill really asks us to accept the new and improved features in our industrial system, which shall be permanent, in exchange for extending an existing law which is regarded as only temporary. The existing law was forced upon the country and the House, because of the pressure of outside industrial and economic circumstances, but we do not think that, whatever be the conditions relating to unemployment pay or the continued guarantee of existing minimum rates of wages, that these two new and novel far-reaching provisions should be established as permanent features of our economic and industrial order in exchange for the continuance for only a few months of the temporary provision to which I have referred. Our complaint with regard to unemployment can be expressed in the phrase that the Government have done nothing to solve the difficulty. They have waited for an improvement in industrial and economic conditions in the hope that it would solve the difficulty for them and meantime they have continued to pay out very considerable sums of money which have often been a subject of reference in. this House.
Our view upon this matter I would like to repeat in this phrase. Men and women are still being paid considerable sums to remain idle. It has been alleged, and, indeed, I think it has been proved, that there are persons, however few they may he, who have shown less inclination either to secure a job or keep it because they have been content with pay which they have been able to receive week by week through Government sources. Whatever be the consequences, I do not fear to repeat that that is not a good thing either for the workmen or the country. I repeat that, as a matter of business, and as a matter of treating this question upon its merits, it would be far better to pay a man as a workman, say. £3 a week, even if he could only earn for you £2 10s. in exchange, than to pay him only 30s. for doing nothing at all. The loss would be less, and there would be an important moral and material gain to the workman, and there would not be that deterioration either in character or capacity which is inseparable from continued subsidised unemployment.
We press, therefore, upon the Government again the necessity, so lung as work cannot be found in the private market of the ordinary employer, this duty of making provision, and not to be content with paying out other people's money to persons who remain idle. The Government should so organise our industrial system as to find employment, even at some slight loss, to the large number of men and women who still remain unemployed. I do not think it is too much to say that a large number of people in this country regard the manner in which this unemployment payment was begun, and in which for some time it was continued, as a payment arising Irma political considerations as well as economic and industrial considerations. Certainly it has not yet been proved to the House or the country that this payment was ever made on the advice of the experienced and established advisers of the Government on industrial and economic matters.
A very important feature of this Bill is that part of it which provides to legally guarantee the present rates of wages which employers are compelled to pay. In our conferences I have found a good deal of wonderment or suspicion as to whether that means that those higher rates of pay, which, either by awards or other conditions, employés may secure, are not to be guaranteed to them by this Bill if it becomes law. I would like the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever may reply in the later stage of this Debate, to express sonic view on that point as to whether, should the Bill become law, they will continue and guarantee in law only those rates which now exist, or will they make legal the payment of those rates which might be secured as the result of further awards or further arrangements between employers and employed.
I may say at once the latter proposition of my right hon. Friend is right.
I am glad to have that answered, because it will dispel some misapprehensions which have arisen on that point. The right hon. Gentleman referred to what I regard as certain inequalities in the present treatment as between employers and employed, or employers associations and workmen's associations. There is another side to the case winch I would like to put. There is no one rule which can be applied to these very different organisations on the assumption that that rule will apply equitably and can apply fairly to both, for the reason that these organisations are very different in their plan of working, in their composition, and in their purpose. I think it may be fairly said that a trade union depends for its operations, its strength, and authority upon the contributions individually paid by large numbers of men week by week, and that is not true of employers' associations. They do not depend for their operations for their authority or strength upon support derived in any similar manner to that of the case of a trade union. A trade union works in the open through great mass meetings and public assembles. It could not operate in secret if it would, and perhaps it is true to say that it would not operate in secret if it could.
On the other hand, employers' meetings are rarely open. The business of these great associations of employers is settled not by reference to a huge mass of shareholders, or decided at great public meetings. Their principal movements operate just within the narrow walls of some private board room, and a few men decide very big issues. In one instance you have private movements resting not upon the contributions of large numbers of men, and in the other you have open and public action dependent upon whatever accumulated funds can be raised from the contribution of a large number of payers. Supposing a point were reached where either party violated the law and ignored an award, assuming an Act were passel to that end. It has been suggested, I do not say it is now suggested, but it was part of the original draft submitted to, us, that if a body of men violate any award that it shall be possible to come down upon their funds and even upon the individual official who might be responsible for any such wrongdoing.
If, on the other hand, an employers association similarly violated an award how could the Government come down on their funds? They really have no funds. They do not need any, and if you are going to treat them with equality, and if it be seriously proposed to pass legislation of that kind, then provision ought to be made whereby both organisations can be treated alike. I do not think it is any sufficient answer to say that in the one ease you could claim the funds of a trade union as an association, and in the other case claim the funds of separate firms or of individual employers of labour, who would be acting not as firms or individuals, but acting as an association. Therefore, I think it is impossible, in view of the dissimilarity of these two sets of organisations, to propose to treat them alike in the manner originally suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure that all of us on this side of the House share his desire for greater and more continued peace in our industrial affairs, and perhaps we may claim that on the whole we have tried to establish a state of peace where otherwise there might have been an extension of trouble.
I know we do not always get credit for that effort. For instance, let us take the recent railway strike. There you have the extraordinary spectacle, which is certainty novel, of some dozen or more of us being appointed by a large and rather angry conference, because of the railway dispute, and many deemed our duty to be that of immediately extending the business to suddenly bring it to an end and achieve a great working-class victory. Many of us regarded that as a rather dangerous and extreme view, and we concluded that the working classes might better be served, and certainly the interests of the nation and the State, not by extending the dispute, but by intervening and mediating, and seeing if we could bring it to a close. For many days we laboured, not without sonic success, in assisting to terminate that struggle, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that if sometimes our point of view is different, if our methods differ, our spirit and our desire is not unlike his own in regard to seeking a continuance of the national welfare and the advancement of the interests of the people as a whole I submit, in relation to this Bill, that if it had been launched when the railway strike took place it. would not necessarily have prevented that strike, which occurred not because there was a want of negotiation, but rather because there had been too much negotiation, negotiation long drawn, until the tension finally was so great and serious that both sides, more or less, had a feeling of despair, and accepted the strike as something inevitable. Therefore, you have no guarantee that by extending your machinery for mediation you necessarily lessen the number of disputes or diminish their intensity.
One clement in this Bill to which strong objection is taken by those who have acted in these controversies is the element of compulsion to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I know it is only compulsion in regard to compelling people to bring their books and documents to the Court when once an inquiry has been instituted, but so strong is the objection of organised Labour to any compulsion in regard to such interference, that I can assure my right hon. Friend we shall have to press very strongly indeed for a substantial amendment of this part of the Bill. The law of this country, perhaps more than any other, is strong because of the respect in which we hold it. The strength of the law increases in the degree our respect for it grows, and, indeed, the law is strong not because it puts into. people a sense of fear. That may be one factor, perhaps, but we have found in regard to the law that it has never succeeded, no matter how severe it was as an instrument of repression—it has never ultimately succeeded in keeping permanently under any natural aspirations entertained and cultivated by the masses of working classes. The law will succeed just in the degree that it can retain respect for it amongst the masses of the wage earners, and not because it possesses certain terrors for wrongdoers or threatens certain penalties or terms of imprisonment. Let me quote a phrase which we have heard within the last few days in regard to Acts passed in the early stages of the War preventing strikes, making them illegal, and threatening all sorts of penalties. In. spite of that, thousands of men went on strike. Strikes were threatened in Manchester in connection with a very big industry, and we had a succession of serious trouble in other parts of the country. Just as there is a psychology of the crowd, as apart of that of the individual, so the difficulty with which the law is faced when asked to deal with a crowd is very different from that which faces it when it is dealing with the individual; and unless you accommodate yourselves to that, men will only laugh at your law, and will defy your Acts of Parliament, if they think that they are fundamentally an attack on the principles they have long held to be their own and which the law has long recognised. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend not to rely so much for success in the steps he is taking upon any idea of compelling masters and men to do this, that, or the other. I think he will find them amenable to reason and argument, and equally strong in resistance, whenever they feel he is merely trying to compel, them by force of law to do something which they think unfair and unreasonable in the circumstances.
Let me deal briefly with three or four rather important points of detail. Clause3 refers to the powers which the Minister will exercise or which are to be conferred on the industrial Courts to be set up under his authority. The words of the Clause are to the effect that the Arbitration Act of 1888, with or without any necessary modification, shall be applied by the authority of the Minister for Labour. As I understand awards under that Act have the effect of decisions in a Court of law, and I would like to know, during the course of this Debate, whether we are right in that conclusion. If so, what is the position of those who are affected or might be affected in the event that any award or decision of the Industrial Court should apply the Act of 1889 to any particular industry. There is a phrase in another Clause upon which I would like a little elucidation. It is the Clause 4, which refers to any person giving false or misleading particulars. Knowing very little of the law, I think it would be advisable we should have some explanation of what is the difference between that which is false and that which misleads. We know that the sense in which we -commonly use the terms "false information." But a man may innocently, at any rate without any criminal intent, make a. -statement which is in fact misleading to the Court or to the person presiding over it. Usually, I believe, the law contents itself with reference to things which arc false. But, so far as I understand this proposal, it is proposed for the first time to make illegal what might be a perfectly controversial statement having the effect of misleading some other person who may be concerned.
The third point of detail also is not without importance to working men and their leaders. It is in reference to compelling persons to bring before the Courts their documents, papers, and books. For my part—I do not know that I speak for all my hon. Friends under this heading—but I do not at all fear a trade union being called upon to reveal its decisions and bring forward its resolutions, proposals, and intentions. Indeed, there is very little in these days which a trade union does not make public. It publishes in its quarterly, annual, and monthly records practically the whole of its business; indeed, individual members insist on being kept well informed of all that is going on. May I ask whether, in the event of this Court of Inquiry being set up, the Court would, under the terms of this Clause, proceed to require an employer of labour, or a great company or firm, to come forward at the request, it may be, of a trade union representative or a labour representative in that Court and reveal, it may be, secret documents and records relating to profits, salaries, wages, the apportionment of trading gains, and so on? Can trade unionists be assured that, under this heading, these very serious steps are to be taken? If so, I rather think the objection would come more strongly from the employers' side than from the trade union side. Certainly it has been common ground in trade unions for a long time that employers do not always reveal their real financial position, and, in spite of pronouncements of impending bankruptcy, they are always able to keep a long way from the workhouse and to provide themselves with some of the best things that are going.
I have one other point of detail which is extremely important, and it is with regard to the composition of these Courts if they are to be established. I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree that the personnel of these Courts is all important. It is essential, if we are to establish them, that their personnel should command absolute confidence and respect. The persons who are to constitute these Courts should be persons of experience, of known impartiality, judicially minded, and capable of estimating evidence and reaching a reasonable decision according to the revealed facts of the case. The right hon. Gentleman has given us no idea—perhaps he could not very well do it in the terms of this Bill—but at any rate he has not done it in the course of his speech—as to the character or personnel of these Courts upon which so much is to depend. I have heard it said in some quarters that the Labour representatives, or the representatives of working men, to be included in these Courts should be appointed by workmen's organisations. I do not know how far they would command general approval even in organised Labour, because I can well fore- see many practical difficulties in that procedure. Indeed, it might lead us to secure the appointment, not of men who come under such a description as I have offered, but rather of partisan men who would be less desirable for sitting upon Courts of this character. Under this head we are afraid—I personally am afraid—that if Labour officials by the usual processes of choice or selection were to appoint representatives, it would to a great extent appear to be committing Labour to going readily to these Courts to seek decisions in its favour from the persons whom it had itself appointed. On the whole, I do not think that that is a desirable procedure. Before leaving this point may I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the practice which has so far been followed in his Department is not regarded as being uniformly successful or satisfactory? I have the honour of the personal acquaintance of a number of gentlemen who serve under my right hon. Friend in various Departments of his Ministry. I know them to be men of honour, of experience in trade union work and in labour circles, but I think that an improvement might be made even under this heading, and that, good as they are, that good could be made better. I do not mean you would necessarily get more competent or more experienced men, but it would be better for the Ministry, and for the greater ease of mind of the people, if the men who serve the Ministry of Labour could be a little more detached from his authority, could be placed in a more independant position, could be in a sense men of greater freedom, not directly answerable to him or to whoever aright for the time being be head of his Department. I can well conceive a body of competent State servants, paid by the State but still not directly answerable and under the authority of the Minister, and it is, I believe, highly advisable that in the general work of the Labour Ministry there should be men who will be less subject to the authority of the head of that Department than it is understood they have been up till now. I was very glad, and I am sure the House was, to hear that cases were rare indeed where workmen had failed to accept the awards of Courts in so far as awards have been given, and out of 800 odd cases it was cheering news to hear that in only three instances had there been strikes against awards and men had failed to recognise the decision. I should like particularly to urge the view that once arbitration is accepted, once the two parties go into the Court it is essential that both should go out of it willing to accept whatever award for the time being is given. In short, the word of the trade union leader, the signature of the accredited official, should be a bond which the mass of the men for whom they are acting agree to recognise and will, in fact, recognise as an obligation of honour. It is impossible to have work done by these Courts under any other conditions.
Finally, let me assure the House that we are not opposed to the spirit of this legislation provided full opportunity is given for discussing these important details and provided that the suggestion I have made, to detach one pact from the other and give the House a more mature opportunity to consider these matters, is recognised by the right hon. Gentleman. The urgent matter is making provision for what is to terminate, I think, on 21st November. There is no need to press the House at this moment to complete all this work by Wednesday or Thursday next, and I should like the Leader of the House to be informed that I doubt very much whether we can get through the Committee stage during a portion of our sitting on Monday next. These are matters which we must refer to the larger constituencies outside as represented by the great trade unions, and it would be a good thing that the high purpose and the worthy object which my right hon. Friend has in view in bringing forward this measure should in no way be destroyed by any appearance of haste, and that a full opportunity should be given for reflection and consultation on the part of those-who have to act in this House for the great organisations.
I should like to join in expressing cur indebtedness to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir B. Horne) for the lucidity with which he has explained the provisions of the Bill and the spirit with which he has dealt with them. I should like to say how very much I appreciate the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) has dealt with these problems. I feel a good deal of real disappointment about this measure. As far as I can see, apart from the question of extending the provisions of the Wages Act of last November, it makes no real difference in the existing law of conciliation and arbitration, except that it clothes the Ministry of Labour with power to enforce the production of evidence before a Court of Inquiry. We on this side of the House came into this Parliament on the pledge of the leaders of the Coalition that great things were going to be done in the way of reconstruction, and of making this country a fit place for heroes to live in. I have been a very close student of the question of industrial problems, of the problems of conciliation and arbitration, and I probably have done as much as any unofficial Member in the realm of conciliation and arbitration in industrial disputes. Considering how the character of trade union organisation, both on the side of labour and on the side of the employers, has extended during the last twenty-three years, remembering what a total change has come over the complexion of public opinion with regard to trade union action, what is being done in the way of arbitration and conciliation, what is being done by the extension of the activity of the Ministry of Labour, what is being done—and this is probably even more profound in its aftermath of results than anything else—by the creation of the Whitley Councils everywhere, it seems to me a tragedy that the House should be called upon to face the great problems of industrial arbitration and conciliation as a mere incidental afterthought to what resulted from the negotiations in the railway strike. That is to say, that had it not been for the decision of the Government in the railway trouble, under which there was a concession made extending the guaranteed minimum for a certain period it would not have been thought, necessary to extend the guaranteed minimum to general labour under the Act of November last year.
I do riot quarrel with that proposal; I am in entire sympathy with it, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) that it would have been infinitely better that that particular problem should be treated as a self-contained problem, and, if necessary, let us pass a short amending measure extending the operation of that Act until September of next year. And then you have come not with an introduction one day. a Second Reading two or three days afterwards, a Committee Stage a few hours afterwards, and a Report stage a week-end afterwards. On this, to my mind, the most vital proposition from the point of view of the future industrial development of this country that has emanated from the Government during this Session, here we are asked to pass this measure merely as-a thing contingent upon the amendment of the Wages Act of November of last year. In all sincerity I appeal to the Government to see if they cannot pass a short amending Bill and then let this Douse and the country and those millions of constituents the right hon. Gentleman refers to in the trade unions have an opportunity of discussing this and of answering the appeal of tin Minister for Labour to get a more-comprehensive scheme of conciliation. I gather it was the right hon. Gentleman's idea that there should be something more in the nature of a binding arbitration. I was not quite sure when he talked about compulsory arbitration whether he was, using the term "compulsion" as applied to compelling the authorities to go into arbitration or whether he was applying it, having gone into arbitration voluntarily, to the power to enforce awards.
They are very different problems. Anyhow the original draft of the Bill proposes to make arbitration more-definite and compulsory. What happens is that he consults a reputed leader of Labour and they say, "No, we cannot stand this." My advice to him at that moment would have been to say, "I profoundly respect the sincerity of your views but I am going to consult the great mass of the workmen in this country as to, whether they are not favourable to it." What is the position? There has been a good deal of variation in opinion on the very difficult question of compulsory arbitration in this country. There have been votes at trade congresses totalling each year many hundreds of thousands in favour of this proposition, but at a time before you had got the new industrial position. Strikes have been spoken of and trade disputes are dealt with in this little measure just as though they were of a similar character. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about what is regarded as the sacred right of the trade union man to strike. Both these points of view are to be regardless of what may be the subject matter of dispute. I would preserve against every power in the land any attempt to deprive the trade union man of his right to strike against an act of injustice or victimisation? I would not permit, without an overwhelming vote of the trade union, a strike, before conciliation and arbitration had been attempted, to secure an advance in wages, and I should be prepared to limit in the same way the power of the union, that before they could declare a strike for a reduction of hours or for any fundamental alteration in the conditions of employment until they had expressed themselves democratically by an overwhelming vote of the members. Most of the unions have provisions in their rules requiring a certain majority for a strike.
During the last few years you have had strike after strike declared, without reference to the opinion of the men, by their executive. Twice when I was Member for East Glamorgan I have gone out to lead the rank and file of the men against the decisions of their own executive and the decisions of their own delegates. It was not a matter of domestic industrial concern, but a matter of prime public importance in connection with the question of the supply of Admiralty coal on one occasion and in regard to the question of recruiting on another occasion. I would not in these days, when we are rendering lip service to democracy, permit any caucus in any trade union, whether it be composed of employers or of employés, to do as was done in the case of the great engineering lock-out of 1907, and to call a general lock-out in the way it was done on that occasion. No caucus of workmen in a trade union should have the power to call a strike and to dislocate industry, which affects the whole of the public interest, without first consulting specifically for that purpose the great rank and file and getting the necessary measure of support for it. I was sincerely hoping that when this new measure of conciliation and arbitration came before the House these problems would have been definitely contemplated and provided for. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) sought to draw a distinction between the legal position of an employers' trade union on the one side and the workmen's trade union on the other. They occupy precisely the same position before the law. Their status is identical. He went on to assume that there was some great fundamental difference between the status of the two kinds of organisation and said that if you have compulsory arbitration and you are going to enforce it against the men by coming upon their funds, how are you going to do it with an employers' association, who Lave no large collected funds.
There is another way of doing it, and it may be of interest to the right hon. Gentleman and the other Members on that side who are leaders of trade unions, and for this purpose I link up a remark of the right hon. Gentleman with which I absolutely agree, that employers are profoundly interested in getting stability. The employers are so interested in getting stability that it is worth their while to do everything they possibly can to secure it, so that they may take a long view with regard to their contracts. It was once put to me by the greatest employer of labour in Gloucester, that if he could get security that his men would not strike for three years he would increase their wages by 25 per cent., which was a very big percentage three years before the War. I said, "I believe I have some little influence with the men and with their leaders, and I will see if it cannot be managed." What happened was that a bond was entered into by the leaders of the men. I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean is not present, because he was one of those concerned in the negotiations, and he could have given more definite information than I can. A bond was entered into by the leaders of the trade union to secure the observance of the contract, and it was accompanied by an agreement on the part of the employer that only trade unionists would be employed. The agreement ran without a break for three years and at the end of the time the employers found things had paid so well that they gave the men a huge bonus. That agreement has been projected from that time for a further period, subject to the bonds of the leaders of the trade union. You could get your bond from the employers' association entered into by and on behalf of the members just as you can get it from the trade unions. I am very anxious that in dealing with complicated problems such as these we should avoid anything like a cut and dried theory as to dealing with them.
I am convinced that with a guaranteed minimum wage, which is a principle which has been admitted by this country and acted upon during the War, you have deprived the workmen of a very great deal of their suspicion with regard to binding contracts. I am not at all certain that the right policy is not, as the right hen Gentleman says, that it is worth the while of the employers to pay a great deal to secure stability. Even if they were only sure of not having to nay their insurance premiums against strikes, not merely in regard to dislocation of labour, but, in some trades, huge premiums against the destruction of the particular tiling they are manufacturing. I am certain that a great bulk of the employers, with the new spirit that has been brought about by the War, would be prepared to go all the way that the Minister of Labour wants them to go in entering into an agreement with regard to conciliation and arbitration. I am certain of it, and I am equally certain that if the Government would give time for a new scheme on these lines to be explained to the great rank and file of the workmen that you would remove suspicion in such a way that you would be able to get the great bulk of organised workmen in the country in favour of a national scheme under which, as a condition of their not striking, they would have a guarantee of their wages for a period and a guarantee as to their condition of employment and their safety and their hours of labour, and so on, leaving open to them their right to strike in case of injustice or of gross insult, as in the great Penrhyn quarry dispute, involving the religious sentiments of the workmen—leaving it open so that if any of these things are committed against the workmen they shall have the free and unshackled right to down tools and strike. I am perfectly certain, from my knowledge of the workmen of this country, that the Government could go Miles beyond this measure if they would only take time to deal with the problem. Let it be explained to the workmen of the country, and let them be taken into consultation. I seriously commend to the Government the suggestion that they should pass a short necessary amending Act to the Act of November last, and that they then should come out with a really comprehensive scheme and should arrange conferences between employers and workmen all over the country to discuss things and to bring forward a measure in that way, which would really be worth the creation of the new Ministry of Labour and really worth the professions of the Government in the direction of reconstruction when this Parliament was elected. That suggestion may not be adopted, but I hope it will be adopted in the interests of the future industrial development of this country.
I am not perfectly clear as to one or two things in regard to this measure. I understand that where Courts of Inquiry are set up to inquire into conditions ap- pertaining to trade disputes there are compulsory powers to enforce the production of evidence, whether verbal or documentary, but where there are Industrial Courts set up in the nature of Arbitration Courts there is no power given for the compulsory production of evidence. There is probably constructive power taken by the Minister, under the terms of Clause 3, to provide the compulsory powers, but it seems to me to be rather an anomaly, if not an absurdity, that you should have an inquiry by an outside body and that they should be able to compel the production of essential evidence, but in the Industrial Courts there is to be no such expressed positive power taken. It certainly seems to be an anomaly that an outside body investigating should compel the production of evidence, but that the body which is charged with the definite responsibility to arbitrate is not positively clothed with the power of compelling the production of evidence. If you are going to make the thing positively expressed in the one case it ought to be more so in the case of the Arbitration Court.
In the case of a Court of Inquiry the provision of the Bill is that they should be able to summon witnesses and demand production of documents. On the other hand, the Industrial Court is treated like an ordinary Court by rules which enable the Court, if people are willing to come to arbitration, to ask them to produce documents and to examine them.
I suppose the Ministry intends to apply all the powers under the Arbitration Act?
The intention is not to apply all the powers of the Arbitration Act. The Arbitration Act does not apply except in so far as we adopt their rules. There is no intention 4.o put the decisions of the Industrial Court in the position of decisions of the High Court.
The position is not quite clear. As there is free and unfettered discretion left to the Minister of Labour to adopt any of the provisions of the Arbitration Act of 1889, would it not be competent, therefore, for the right hon. Gentleman's successors to adopt the whole of the provisions of that Act, and thereby make the awards of the Arbitration Court enforceable as though they were a judgment in a Court of Law? I do not quarrel with him in that, but I think that if there are to be limitations they ought to be made quite clear and definite. This is rather a Committee point, but I hope that the Government may see their way clearly to get into consultation with all those who can help in making this a really great measure of reconciliation and arbitration that will be in consonance with the new spirit, and fully utilise the splendid machinery now being set up in so many industries through the Whitley Councils.
Like the two last speakers, I do not altogether apprehend the connection between the first and second parts of the Bill and the third part, but I do not understand the right hon. Member for the Platting Division, who described Part III. as something offered to him and his friends in exchange for the acceptance of Parts I. and II. I do not think that the Minister of Labour regards it in that light, but that he regards each part as capable of standing on its own merits, and does not suggest that Part III. is the sugar which would induce the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) to swallow the pill of the first two parts. I gathered that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to take the sugar, but desired, if he could, to postpone taking the pill. I hope that the Minister of Labour will pay no attention to suggestions of that kind, because it is of urgent importance that there should be set up a permanent Court of Arbitration to which disputes can be referred, so that they may not be abandoned, as has been too often the case during the last twelve months, to persons who have no expert knowledge of the subject and no apprehension of the relations between different industries. In present-day conditions the whole fabric of industry is so interwoven that you cannot touch it on any one point without the effect being felt throughout the whole structure.
A man who is discontented with his conditions of work is not merely concerned with what he can do for his standard of comfort. He may be perfectly satisfied with his pay and hours of labour so far as he is concerned himself, but he measures them against what other people are receiving, and if he finds that someone whom he has hitherto regarded as upon his own level has secured better conditions and he thinks that his high standard in the ranks of labour has been in any way affected to his disadvantage, he at once becomes discontented and begins to agitate for an improvement in his own conditions. The pay of policemen may not seem to have very much connection with the pay of labourers, but it is a fact that the recent advances given to policemen have created very widespread dissatisfaction among other men in different occupations, who have compared their hard manual labour with what they consider the comparatively idle life of a policeman, who they think has nothing to do but order other people about. I am not supporting this idea in any way. Very often it is quite unreasonable, but you cannot deny its existence. That seems to me to be a powerful argument for setting up a Court such as is proposed under this Bill, which will take account of the conditions of labour, and will continue to accumulate knowledge and experience of various influences which affect labour.
There is another consideration. We have had more than one dispute lately in which the Government has been a party. A body which is itself a party to a dispute cannot be an arbitrator. Its views are no longer accepted as impartial; its judgments are considered to be biassed. That is a bad thing, both for the Government and the country. It means that the very seat of authority is weakened in its prestige. The spectacle of the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet who ought to have their time taken up with matters of high policy being worried by having to go into highly technical questions of trade disputes is one that cannot be contemplated without a deep sense of incongruity. Ministers are taken off the work which they have been put to do, which they are competent, or should be competent, to do, and which has got to be done, in order to deal with other work in which they can only be amateurs. The result is too often disastrous. We have been told that one of the reasons why the Prime Minister cannot attend to the business of this House is because his time is taken up with discussions with strike leaders or strike mediators in Downing Street., those who are interested publicly canvassing the question as to whether they will get more or less satisfaction from the Prime Minister according as he is accompanied or unaccompanied by other Ministers.
That is not an edifying situation for a Government to be in. These disputes should not be decided by Ministers themselves, but there should be an entirely. independent Court to which they could be referred. There has been and probably will again be criticism this afternoon because of the omission of certain Clauses by my right hon. Friend. Personally I regret that those Clauses had to be omitted. I have known gases where employers and leaders of trade unions have come together and made an agreement over a dispute, and that agreement has been upset by other employers who were not federated or because the men did not acknowledge the authority of the trade unionists and would not agree. I wish that compulsion could have been extended to other parties than parties to the dispute, but I recognise with my right hon. Friend that you cannot bind those who are not parties to the dispute if you are not going to bind those who are; and if trade unionists are not willing to accept even the limited amount of compulsion which was proposed by my right hon. Friend lie cannot press it as they can refuse to come to the Courts at all. Therefore it seems to me that my right hon. Friend had no other course open to him than the one he has pursued, that is dropping the Clauses which carried with them compulsion.
I do not agree that without these Clauses the Bill is going to be useless. On the contrary I think it is going to have a very valuable effect. In that connection I attach great importance to the Courts of Inquiry which my right hon. Friend proposes to set up. The right hon. Member for the Platting Division said if this Bill had been law it could not have prevented the railway strike. It certainly would not provide a guarantee that there would not be a strike, but I cannot agree with him that it could not have prevented it. I think that if a Court of Inquiry had been set up at an early stage of the negotiations, and the public had been fully informed as to the matters in dispute, the strike would never have occurred. I am quite certain that in my own district a large majority of the workmen came out because they were ordered to come out and without knowing what were the terms in dispute between the Government and the railway leaders. No people are more sensitive to public opinion than workmen. If public opinion which is generally sound while it has access to full information is definitely against a strike, then I do not believe that workmen will be prepared to come out or would be able to be successful if they do. Therefore if these Courts of Inquiry are set up, if the matters in dispute are made public so that the people of the country as well as those concerned have a full opportunity of understanding what the dispute is about, then I have no fear that the awards by the Courts of Arbitration, even though there be no compulsion, will be disregarded either by employers or working men.
The speech of the right hon. Member for Platting I think will be received as an indication that this simple straightforward measure is likely to have some effect, and I think that the Minister of Labour will realise that it is likely to do no little good for the settlement of industrial disputes. Speaking as one who has taken some active part in the trade union movement if not as a leader, I was pleased to hear that the Labour Minister had taken two guiding rules for this measure. First, that he hoped by setting up Courts, which would compel the production of books and papers, to obtain much greater information which would help to allay the suspicions Chat I know are in no small degree responsible for much of the labour unrest, and that by the greater information available we shall certainly be taking one step towards securing greater industrial peace; and the second principle taken by the right hon. Gentleman as a basis of the Bill was to hasten slowly. One observation which lie made will appeal to the House as particularly sane—that the causes of industrial unrest went to the very roots of society. Anything like violent legislation, anything like too comprehensive legislation seeking to disturb these causes at their very roots would be likely to do far more harm than good, and therefore it is a wise precaution to act on the principle of hastening slowly.
The right hon. Member for Platting rather took the Government to task for riot having devoted a little more attention to the solution of our unemployment difficulties. He deplores, as every Member of the House deplores, the necessity for out-of-work donation, and suggested that out-of-work donation should be avoided by the Government undertaking work. I think it would be agreed that to seek to cure unemployment by giving to the Government a mandate that when unemployment is rampant in the country the Government should proceed, more or less with a free hand, to engage in large operations in the way of creation of work I —I am not so sure. but that the attempted cure would prove very much worse than the disease. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman for his consideration that the best solution of our unemployment difficulty is to maintain peace in our industrial affairs, and that, therefore, the Ministry of Labour in setting up simple machinery which all can understand, in setting up a system which trusts not only the employer but also the employed, is contributing very largely to the solution of the problem. With the cordial co-operation of the great trade unions, and in recognising the spirit of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I, for one, have every faith in the future of this simple, straightforward Bill, and I believe that the Labour Minister—this is, I understand, his initial offspring—will in future be entitled to take very great pride in it.
Mr. J. JONES:
If the spirit already displayed in this Debate continues, it is quite probable that we may be able to come to some understanding in connection with the Bill. I would like to suggest that it is advisable for some Members, before they start condemning workmen, to make themselves acquainted with recent industrial history. Very often in this House I have heard the railway strike referred to as if some kind of precipitate action was taken, and as if the workmen had not given sufficient attention to national necessity before they struck. Might I be allowed to remind the House that if there is any fault to be found because the people were not made aware of the circumstances connected with the railway dispute, those who were largely responsible are those who were the executive authority in the nation? For seven months negotiations were going on, and by a sort of secret understanding between the parties concerned the community were kept perfectly in the dark as to what was going on during the negotiations. The railwaymen believed that, having gained the concession that those men of the higher ranks of the service should have their wages stabilised and that the conditions prevailing at the time when they entered into negotiations would become the standard for future negotiations, it would be quite an easy matter to get the same principle allowed in connection with the lower grades, and the whole dispute occurred because those in authority said they could not allow the same principle to operate. The fat was at once in the fire. Almost before we knew where we were those who were trade unionists and those who were not found themselves face to face with one of the greatest disputes this country has ever known. I would suggest that if we are going to apportion blame we must not blame merely the railwaymen and their organisation, but also those in authority and in positions of high responsibility, who kept Parliament and the public in the dark.
If this Bill is able to secure the possibility rant the community shall not be plunged into darkness in the midst of light, I suggest that it may serve some useful purpose, provided, of course, that we get the necessary Amendments. I can quite understand the attitude of the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) in sympathising with the loss of Clauses 3 and 5 of the original Bill. If he could only have got those two Clauses, everything in the garden would have been lovely, and so far as labour was concerned we would have been handed over, bound and gagged, to what might be called compulsory Arbitration Courts. Those of us who are ordinary workers, who have not had the advantage of legal training, cannot enter into the subtleties of the law quite as well as hon. Members on the other side of the House; but our experience of compulsory arbitration in other countries has taught us that although our methods may not be quite so legal, and although we may not be quite so clever, at least we have been a little wiser and we have solved a great deal of our industrial troubles more satisfactorily than in those countries where compulsory arbitration is in force. We have no faith in a system which says that the essential difference between the free man and the slave shall no longer be recognised legally. That is what it means. The right to strike is the sheet anchor of trade unionism. It is the right which separates the free workman from the slave. Whether we are skilled or unskilled workmen we shall, as far as we can, protect that right, because in the final resort it is the only thing that differentiates us from the chattel.
I want the House to recognise that our experience of compulsory arbitration has taught us that the Court is held in hell, and the devil is the presiding officer. So far as this particular Bill is concerned we are anxious to have the right of voluntary arbitration established. The Bill will have to be amended in some of its most important Clauses before it will meet with the approbation of organised workers. I belong to one of the organisatins which contains within its ranks some of the lower paid workers, men and women. I want to say that the Temporary Regulation of Wages Act has conferred considerable advantage upon the lower class of workers, both men and women. In all our discussions inside our own conferences, on the negotiations that took place between ourselves and the Minister of Labour, all the unions which represented what might be called the lesser skilled and lower paid workers, have been unanimous in their desire for the continuation of the principle of that Act, and to that extent we wish to thank the Minister of Labour for the consideration lie has given us. Of course you cannot get gifts unless you also get pricks. As this Bill stands there is no definite machinery provided for the constitution of Arbitration Courts. Some of us have suggested the provision by both sides of a panel of those who would constitute the Courts. One panel would be nominated by the recognised organisations connected with the industrial side, and the other panel would be created by the employers. If there is any suggestion that these Courts will be biassed in the sense that individuals may be appointed to them without any relationship to the various sections that go to make up the great industrial movement, there will be considerable opposition to the Bill.
In the Amendments to be moved we want to secure the principle of equal representation, if we have to accept the principle of an independent chairmanship. In the matter of Courts of Inquiry there is nothing in the Bill as printed which places the employers in the same position as the workmen's organisations. In Clause 5 it says in effect that no private information connected with any particular firm can be divulged. Are we going to get a similar guarantee for the trade unions? Are the trade unions to be compelled to produce resolutions, minutes of executives, instructions from head offices or from district committees? Are they to be compelled to produce such information to the Courts, and on failure to do so are they to be liable to fines and their officers liable to a fine or imprisonment, while the employers are particularly safeguarded by the wording of the Clause? If that is the intention of the Bill, there will be determined opposition from the trade unions. We are anxious to accept voluntary arbi tration and to enter into voluntary relations with the employers. As a matter of fact, every trade union official, almost without exception, is continually advocating that disputes should be referred to-arbitration. But, whilst we advocate voluntary arbitration, we are very much afraid that if this Bill is carried as drafted it may give a fillip to those who oppose any kind of negotiation or concilation, and will give them a bigger weapon to use in the future than they have been able to use in the past. If those who represent the unskilled workers thought that any of their rights as trade unionists were going to be sacrificed, they would sooner sacrifice the Temporary Regulation of Wages Act and go back to the position as it was in 1914. Whilst we say that, we wish to suggest that the Labour party, acting in conjunction with the trade unions, is anxious to amend this Bill, first, in the matter of arbitration, and we want to know whether under this Bill all the provisions of the Conciliation Act of 1889 are going to be no longer operative. We should also like to know what the Minister has in his mind in the matter of the constitution of the new Courts of Arbitration, and what is meant by some independent persons being appointed on the Courts. We heard lately that there are three parties to a dispute—workmen, employers, and the public. The public is rather a peculiar term, because the public are only studied when they can be used against somebody else. In the late railway strike the public were used, and in the coal strike. So far as industrial disputes are concerned we cannot allow or agree to allow any parties except those who are. responsible for the disputes to have anything to say in trying the points at issue. The State has a right to intervene On behalf of the community, and employees and workmen have the right, but to allow a broad Clause to be established in this Bill to bring in parties who may or may not have anything to do with the dispute either in its beginning or its effects is a thing that we cannot agree to, and we desire an Amendment on that point so as to safeguard the interests of the workmen. I heard a Gentleman on the other side suggest that no strikes should take place until an overwhelming majority of the people affected by the dispute had been consulted. I only wish hon. Members, who represent the public here would consider that before they give their votes- How often are the public consulted on matters of vital importance by the Members who are sent here as representatives of the people? You take the responsibility of voting according to what you feel to be the opinions of the people you represent and the general sense of public feeling and you do not hold a ballot for that purpose. In the railway dispute the programme upon which the railway men approched the executive authority was adopted twelve months before the strike started. The programme was itemised, and a ballot of the men took place, and a special congress of railwaymen endorsed that programme after the ballot, and the officials of the Railwaymen's Union were instructed to approach those in power with a view to carrying that programme into effect. Could you have anything more democratic than that; or how ninny more votes did you want? I am quite prepared to agree to the principle of a referendum, but it shall not simply be on the question of whether workmen shall strike, but on the question of whether we shall go to war, and on this, that; and the other subjects; and if that is adopted I could then appreciate the democratic feelings of some hon. Members opposite. We have heard also of a Clause which provides that in certain eventualities a trade union may be fined or its officers dealt with in a Court of law. That is so if they refuse to give information and appear before the Court, but there is absolutely nothing in the Bill by which you can get at the individual employer in the same way as you get at the trade union.
There is nothing to compel an employer to continue to employ, and an employer can, if he cares, close his factory because he finds it is impossible to pay the wages which arc fixed by any Court of Arbitration. We have asked this question of the Minister in charge, and he has admitted it is right. As you have no legal guarantee against an employer, what right have you to insist on legal guarantees against workmen and trade unions? We are not in the same position; our contributions come in week by week; our responsibility is fixed under the Bill. The contributions of our members can be garnished in consequence of legal penalties. The same position does not operate so far as individual employers are concerned where their financial position prevents them carrying on. Therefore we want, so far as those penalties and pains are concerned to have the Bill so amended as to make the arbitration purely voluntary. I will undertake to say if we get this stabilisation of wages, and a guarantee of the standard which has been established during the War period through circumstances arising out of the War, with the better organisation that has resulted, that you will have greater support for voluntary arbitration than anything that any idea of compulsion is going to bring about. I speak as a representative on the Committee that has been negotiating this matter of the unskilled workers—that is, the bottom dogs of our industrial system. Before the War the average wage of the labourer in Great Britain ranged from 18s. to 25s. per week, and it cost you more to keep your dogs. We want to see the conditions we fought for and obtained stabilized, and we ask the House to so amend this Bill as to enable us to have a dog's chance, which we have not had before. On behalf of the so-called unskilled worker we ask that the Bill should be amended on the lines suggested by the right hon. Member for the Platting Division, so that we may have a Bill that will be satisfactory not merely to the workers, but also to the general body of the people of the country.
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."
My main reason for doing so is that this is only a patchwork attempt at the solution of a very grave problem. It was admitted by the Minister of Labour that it was not of a permanent nature, and I think everyone in the House will agree that the attempt made in this Bill is no attempt at all to find industrial peace. I will go so far as to say that it is in reality going, as a matter of fact, to foster industrial war. It is the same with two or three other Bills which have been introduced by the Ministry during the present Parliament, and I am quite certain if you analyse the provisions of this Bill you will find that they are utterly ridiculous. The right hon. Member for the Platting Division (Mr. Clynes) in his reply to the Minister stated that it was a necessity to treat both sides alike and that there was a difficulty in making employers responsible if they did not keep their bargain. I do not believe there is any difficulty, and I think it would be quite easy to make a man liable for a heavy fine if lie did not comply. The Minister of Labour is a very eminent lawyer. I am absolutely not conversant in any way with law, but I would ask him or any legal Member what would happen in a Court of law if either litigant could decline to abide by the result of the law suit. I am sure that they would say that the result would inevitably be more litigation. It would encourage a spirit in this country of "heads I win, tails you lose." I know, from practical experience in business, that there is no use whatever even in business matters having any arbitration unless the award is binding on both parties, and I am quite sure there is no use in labour matters having arbitration unless there is some power to carry the decision into effect. The Minister of Labour made a statement that there were only three strikes out of 853 arbitrations. I think those figures are quite illusive. The usual thing is that there is a demand for a 10 per cent. increase in wages and the Ministry of Labour give half of what is asked. The result of this policy, which I am sure is a bad policy, is that no sooner has one demand been given than another is tabulated, so that the employer is faced with a sense of in security and cannot give long quotations for contracts.
The figures as to arbitration give ail absolutely false impression. I know of a recent arbitration in connection with the sawmill industry, in which I am personally interested. That arbitration was a dispute from the Industrial Council which was referred to the Ministry of Labour for arbitration. The employers' offer was accepted and issued by the Ministry of Labour as the award. In big towns like Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, the men were receiving the wages of the award before the arbitration took place and there was considerable dissatisfaction and a strike was threatened. As a result, the parties had to come together and eventually it was agreed that 1s 8d. should be changed to 1s. 10d. The fact that no strike took place after arbitration was because there was re-negotiation between employers and workmen. Even after the altered arbitration had been given there was nothing binding on the employers. There was a case recently before a Munitions Tribunal in Exeter in which the employer was ordered by the tribunal to pay the amount of the award, but the employer declined to do so, and I am informed on high legal authority that there is no power to make it binding on the employer. I put it to the responsible trade union leaders that in big towns like Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham, trade unions are so strong and so powerful that they can enforce the decision, but in a country town where perhaps there is only one workman and the union not strong it is most important from their side that there should be some enforcement of the decision. I do not wish it to be thought that I am guilty of mere destructive criticism. I feel sure that there should be some constructive attempt to get industrial peace, and I am absolutely satisfied that we shall not get it in this country until we have human soul and sympathy introduced into the workshop. In days gone by the employer of labour knew all his workmen almost by name, but nowadays, in the case of a great many of the factories in Lancashire, the employer lives many miles away from his works, and therefore he and his workmen are entirely unknown to each other, and have not that cooperation and sympathetic consideration that they had in days gone by. In too many cases I think the men are regarded as mere machines, and I feel sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that that great Council with which your name is associated should be given much larger power. I am quite sure that it is only on those lines that we can have real industrial peace.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Platting Division (Mr. Clynes) told us that it was necessary to fix wages or something of that kind. I remember reading a letter in the "Times" newspaper a month or six weeks ago from the hon. Member for Altrincham (Major Hamilton) with which I was very much impressed. He quoted the case of Italy, where they have decided to work one hour extra for nothing. I could imagine sometime a wave of patriotism coining over the workshops of England and the men voluntarily deciding through the Whitley Councils that rather than that the workshops should be closed or driven out of existence, there should be lower wages or longer hours. Such a position might arise, and if it were to arise and you put it in the Bill you could not under any circumstances alter it. I am quite sure that not only should the Whitley Councils be encouraged and extended and made compulsory in every trade and their decisions given legal effect to, but it should be compulsory that in every works there should be a small council where the employer could meet his workmen, discuss things over with them, and thus prevent molehills growing into mountains. It is only by such a policy that that human soul and that sympathy which used to exist between employers and employed can be brought back. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour referred to a letter which he said had been written by Sir Lyndon Macassey. I do not know to which letter he was referring, but if he was referring to the article which appeared in the "Evening Standard" on 29th October I am sure that that article exactly expresses the views which so many of us hold who feel that this industrial peace is not being adequately treated by the Ministry of Labour and that the Ministry are not going the right way to produce increased production and industrial peace. I feel that I, like other Members, am an optimist about the future of our industry, but I am quite sure that if we are going to have that great future to which we all look forward there must be no interference from labour disputes; we must have industrial peace. Only by that means, only by the means of the Industrial Councils, only by giving them legal effect, can we have that dawn of prosperity and get that increased production which we all want, and only by that means can we have a happy and contented working class.
I beg to second the Amendment. I am very glad to be able to say that I am almost in complete agreement with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Platting Division (Mr. Clynes). I de not mean by that to intimate that I am going to apply for admission to the Labour party, but I do say that the policy which he announced in his speech appeals to me to a very considerable extent. The right hon. Gentleman, as I understood him, said he was opposed to two-thirds of the Bill. With that I thoroughly agree. The only point on which I disagree is that I am opposed also to the remaining one-third, and if he could alter his conclusion and oppose the three-thirds of the Bill we should be in complete agreement. I am also more or less in agreement with the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. S. Jones). He spoke against compulsion. I always have been against compulsion. I have always thought
that this was a free country, and that beyond committing murder or a theft you were entitled to do what you liked with your own, whether your own money or your own labour, and therefore I am in favour of freedom from compulsion.. But where I disagree with this Bill is that as there is only a partial compulsion in it, it is not going to do any good at all. Although there is a very capable representative of the Government on the Front Bench, I am sorry he has the distinguished position of being there all by himself, because I wanted to ask a question of one or two other members of the Government who, as far as my recollection goes, only a short thaw ago announced that the Government were not going to interfere in industry any more, that during the War it was necessary, taut that they had come to the conclusion that with the conclusion of peace it would be wise for the Government not to interfere any more in industrial matters. With that I thoroughly agree. I do not think the interference of the Government in industrial matters has been at all successful, and I had hoped that the statement made by one or two responsible members of the Government was going to be carried out. However, to return to the Bill, it is supposed to be voluntary, but it is not really voluntary. If you look at Clause 4 you will see that
Where any trade dispute exists Or is apprehended, the Minister may, whether or not the dispute is reported to him under Part I. of this Act, inquire into the causes and circumstances of the dispute, and, if he thinks fit, refer any matters appearing to him to be connected with or relevant to the dispute to a Court of Inquiry appointed by him for the purpose of such reference, and the Court shall inquire into the matters referred to them and report thereon to the Minister.
There is no option in the matter; it is not voluntary. The trade union represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Platting Division may have a dispute, and neither the union nor the employers with whom the dispute is may choose to refer the matter to the Ministry, but the Ministry may come in of its own accord in contravention of the desire of both parties, and not only so, but it may make an order requiring the production of any books, papers, and other documents relating to the subject matter of the inquiry, and also require any person who appears to the Court to have any knowledge of it to come before the Court and give evidence on oath. There is nothing voluntary about that, and it is a very great power to give to any Minister. I
have said this before, and I have heard other hon. Members say it, but we do not know who is going to be Minister of Labour in the future, and it is a very great power to give to an unknown man, who may abuse it. Further, this Bill, as I read it—I am sorry there is no Law Officer of the Crown here to put me right if I am wrong—sets up two Courts. It not only gives compulsory powers to a Minister, but it sets up two Courts of Inquiry—two Courts which are going to cost money, just at a moment when we have had a most important Debate upon economy, and when we were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that though he hoped that next year and the years afterwards he might make both ends meet, it must be on the understanding that there would be no further expenditure by the Government, and the reply of the Government in a few days is to bring forward a Bill which sets up two Courts of Inquiry, and which provides for the cost being paid for out of moneys provided by Parliament. Subsection (1) of Clause 2 says:
Any trade dispute as defined by this Act, whether existing or apprehended, may be reported to the Minister by or on behalf of either of the parties to the dispute, and the Minister shall thereupon take the matter into his consideration and take such steps as seem to him expedient for promoting a settlement thereof.
That seems to me the same as Clause 4. I do not quite understand the difference.
Clause 4 says whether the dispute is reported or not.
Oh, yes. Clause 4 contradicts Clause 2. In the latter it is only operative where both parties consent.
That is quite clear, that where both parties consent the Minister may refer the matter for arbitration to an Industrial Court. We then have Clause 4, which says that whether the parties consent or not, or whether both parties refuse to have the matter dealt with by the Government, the Minister then may go into all the details and direct them to go before a Court, not an Industrial Court, but a Court of Inquiry which shall be set up by the Minister. Therefore, I think I am correct in saying that Part II. contradicts a considerable section of Part I., though I am not sure that it altogether contradicts the first Sub-section of Clause 2. I say this is a very complicated measure. I do not know whether the Government understood it when they introduced it in this form, but it is so complicated that I think the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Platting Division is a sound one, namely, that the Bill should be withdrawn and time taken to consider whether or not the Government should interfere in the future in these matters.
But if they do interfere, it would be well to bring in a short, clear Bill which does not contradict itself in different parts. I come to Clause 7. I listened with very great attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and, being of a rather economical mind, and being under the impression that that which concerns the country at the moment is economy, I thought we should at least have some indication of what this measure is going to cost. But not a word. Clause 7 was not even alluded to, and it was treated as if the expenditure of money did not matter, there was so much money to throw away, and we could set up any number of Courts of Inquiry with any number of fresh officials. Will the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wardle) tell me what the meaning of this is? The marginal note to Clause 7 says, "Remuneration and expenses." If the English language means anything, that means remuneration to officials and expenses of the office. But the Clause says nothing about remuneration. It says:
Any expenses incurred by the Minister in carrying this Act into operation, including the expenses of the Industrial Court and of any Court of Inquiry, shall be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament.
Therefore, while the marginal note deals with remuneration, the Clause itself only deals with expenses. Does it mean that there is going to be an attempt to provide remuneration for a large number of officials, and when it is challenged you are going to say it was not in the Clause, but it was in the marginal note? Or after the marginal note had been put in, was it decided not to put it-in the Clause? The hon. Member (Mr. Wardle) does not know.
He would prefer not to answer until he has had the opportunity of consulting with certain other members of the Government. That is the only conclusion I can draw. Are the members of the Court going to be paid?
I want to know, and I venture to say we do not know at the present moment, what we are passing and what we are not. The right hon. Member for Manchester objected to doles being given to unemployed, with which I thoroughly agree, and I believe the greater portion of the country and a very large portion of this House agree, and the right hon. Gentleman himself agrees with it, and he went on to suggest that a much better way would be to provide employment and to pay a man £3 to produce work only worth £2 10s. What occurred in Paris in 1848 when that principle was put into operation? As everybody was desirous of earning when only producing work of £2 10s. or £2, people flocked into the municipal workshops, and I think something like 5,000 or 6,000 were shot down in the streets of Paris. Therefore, I do not agree with that way out.
But human nature is just the same. Human nature cannot be changed by Act of Parliament even by such a wizard as the present Prime Minister, and the only way we can judge of the future is by looking at the past. The views of the Labour party have great weight with the Government, and the Labour party are very half-hearted about this Bill. It seems that it is going to do no good at all. It absolutely asserts that a man must go to an inquiry, and when that inquiry has been held and a decision has been arrived at, neither party is obliged to adhere to the decision. May I say here the ironmoulders had an award, and they refused to abide with it? [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not so ‡"] Well, it is very nearly so; it is almost a distinction without a difference. [HON. MEMBERS: "No‡"] It is no use attempting to set up a Court of Inquiry and have people before it against their will if, when you have done that, you have no power of enforcing the decision at which it has arrived. Therefore, I have great pleasure in seconding the Amendment.
After a fairly long experience in the House, and pretty close observation of its ways, I have come to this general conclusion, certainly on industrial matters, that whenever you find the hierarchy of the employers joining with the high priests of trade unionism, either in active opposition or rather tepid disapproval of a measure, it is safe to infer there is something in it for the general public, and I advise members of the Government who are responsible for this measure not to be too discouraged by the rather tepid approval with which the Bill at present has been met. I entirely agree with what has been said with regard to the abandonment of the question of compulsory arbitration. There has been a maxim for many years that you cannot imprison a trade union; the whole thing breaks down if you want to enforce compulsorily a decision against a mass. But on the voluntary side there is a very great deal to be said, and I hope the House, in the consideration of this measure, will see if there is not something which it can extract for the benefit of the general public, no matter what—I will not say interested—but highly-specialised parties may say in regard to it.
On those lines, the point I should like to make is based on what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour said in introducing the measure. What he said was that the public, after all, is the final arbiter, and the real trouble has been this: In nearly all our industrial troubles in the very dangerous times through which we have recently passed, and will certainly have to go through again, the real trouble has been that the public has not known the facts until too late to stop the damage being done. I do not say anything about Part I. setting up the Industrial Courts, but I will confine my remarks to a very emphatic general approval of Part II., which relates to Courts of Inquiry. Whatever may be said of the actual working of industrial disputes, there is not the slightest doubt that the immediate setting up by the Government of a Court of Inquiry, which, on the whole, commands general respect, would be the most useful development of the intervention of the State by those means in a great industrial dispute. After all, take a concrete case, which is always most useful—the recent railway strike. I cannot think that there ever was a great industrial dispute in this country, where not only the general public but the mass of the men engaged were at the greatest loss about the merits of the dispute. I spoke to railwaymen in two or three parts of the country, and I found the most astonishing ignorance of what really they were striking for. Not only the railwaymen, but outsiders—the whole public—was completely mystified. We were only stunned by the impact of a most inconvenient fact that the transport of the country was paralysed. Suppose some such measure as this had been in operation. At least three weeks—I am generalising, because. I do not know anything worthy to be dignified by the name of knowledge of what was taking place between the parties in dispute—but I say at least three weeks before such a strike as this a committee of inquiry would have been set up—and I would suggest that that committee of inquiry should sit in public—and during that inquiry, and the public hearing what had been said for and against, it would have slowly made up its mind on which side the merits lay. I am quite sure if that had happened that strike would not have come on at all.
In Sub-section (5) of Clause 4 there is a mandatory power given to ask for documents. I understand the reluctance which a trade union might have, but, according to what my right hon. Friend (Mr. Clynes) said, that was not a matter which they were prepared to stress very much, and, so far as trade unions are concerned, they have not much to conceal. But I do not quite like the reluctance of the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury). I say when these great convulsions happen the public have a most tremendous interest far outweighing the immediate consequences, and I am all for making these gentlemen let the public know what the dispute is about. Whatever may happen to any other part of the Bill, I most sincerely hope the Committee in charge of this Bill will adhere to that. May I ask whether it is to be a Committee of theWhole House? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes ‡ "] I am delighted to hear it, for it is quite time we had more Committees of this House dealing with matters of this kind. I trust that the whole House will take very great care with regard to that Clause. I regard it as being by far the most valuable part of the measure now before us. I shall most certainly vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
What really concerns the House and the country is whether this Bill will tend to restrict industrial disputes and to make the general industrial atmosphere better. I think it will. Therefore I hope the Government will be successful in carrying it through. I was sorry to hear a good many of the arguments this afternoon in favour of dropping the Bill, or Parts I. and II. of it. If you drop Parts I. and II. you will be in exactly the same position as now. Every one of us who happens to have to deal with industrial matters knows that this is a time of intense anxiety. The country is in danger of losing its unexampled position. If Capital and Labour can agree today, and we all put our best into it to get rid of industrial disputes, such as this Bill tends to do, we shall be able very quickly, I contend, to recover from the effects of the War. If we do not so agree we shall throw that chance away. The whole of Europe to-day is needing reconstruction. We have vast opportunities. We shall miss these unless we are able to create a better atmosphere than there is to-day. We have not done badly already. I think the Prime Minister was right when he said, in January of this year, that we had saved Europe by our example and by the common sense of the workmen engaged in British industry. I believe this Bill will further help in that direction, and give this country a better chance of increased stability, and I venture to hope that the advice given to the Government to drop Parts I. and H. may not be persisted in.
The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill pointed out that the great industrial interest was certainty. This Bill tends to promote certainty. I should like to ask both Labour and the employers, as to Part III., to treat this matter with a little- more restraint. All through last year, in almost every industry, there were appeals every three or four months for either a reduction or an increase of wages. If the House can only provide the country with stability in wages for twelve months it would be an enormous advantage. I know neither side are likely to agree to this, but I feel very strongly it would be worth sacrifice on both sides, because we are all anxious that the country shall succeed in the opportunity that is really presented. It might be worth while for the Minister to consider whether it would not be possible to take away, to suspend, for a certain time, say, twelve months, the appeal on either one side or the other in industry. The need to-day is stability of wages for twelve months. I am sure that is of the greatest importance. In introducing the Bill you, Sir, pointed out that out of 853 arbitrations only three had been successful.
I want the House to realise how much it will mean and how successful any Minister will be who introduces the possibility of certainty and harmony. I want to point out what has happened. An iron-moulders' strike has been going on for six weeks. The big industries of the country are impeded in their work because of its existence. I hope that something which happened yesterday may effect some improvement in connection with this enormous industry. It was only a small strike, but the effect of it was brought home to me to-day very strongly in an interview I had with one of the largest engineers in the country. His business, that of making motor lorries, is greatly hindered because he wanted cast-steel wheels. He went to Belgium and made inquiries. He has been able to purchase the cast-steel wheels he requires from Belgium 35 per cent. cheaper than was offered in this country. That ought to make both sides think when these industrial disputes are being persisted in. Any Bill that has a tendency to help to reduce that kind of possibility is worth the attention of the House and the country. I feel so strongly that this matter is one of the large questions of the day that I have some hopes that in this lightning excursion into the country, this promised crusade on the part of Ministers, that hon. and right lion. Gentlemen will take the opportunity to deal with industrial questions. I trust they will talk about the stability of wages, the success of manufactures, and so on. It is no good talking simply about production. I have the greatest confidence in working class opinion. I have the greatest belief in the commonsense of the British workman, but he needs to be properly informed, and he does not always get information. In the ordinary political speech to talk of production usually now incites a laugh. "Production" has come into the category of blessed words—like Mesopotamia. Yet after all production is what does matter ‡ If this Bill helps to create a better atmosphere so much the better. I submit to the Government that they will help this Bill, and help the atmosphere that this Bill tends to create, if they go on their mission very much upon. these economic and industrial questions, and if they point out to the country the unexampled opportunity before us, and. the danger that that opportunity may be jeopardised or lost if on both sides—employers and workmen—common sense is not displayed.
Everyone of us will sympathise with the Minister of Labour in any and every attempt that is made to tide us over the present very dangerous period in our relation to industrial affairs. I regard the measure before us as one that is of advantage to the community. I was. therefore, somewhat surprised when I heard the hon. Member opposite move that it should be read this day three months. I was still more surprised when I heard the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London second that Amendment. I suppose I must assume the Mover of the Amendment agrees with the right hon. Baronet in saying that that part of the Bill which relates to wages arbitration should go by the board. If it does I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has not taken into consideration what will be likely to occur in our country in the very near future—possibly within a month—if there was any uncertainty as to what was going to be done in relation to the wages of the workers of the country.
I am glad to have the disclaimer. At all events the right hon. Baronet did say that he was opposed to the whole of the Bill, and the hon. Member opposite has moved that this Bill be read this day three months. Under these circumstances he is creating a very dangerous condition of things which will give food for reflection in the country and probably lead to industrial unrest. I believe in the Labour movement, and I am not going to say that I have any great faith in strikes or lockouts. I prefer to compromise before I am in the street rather than be on the street and then forced to compromise after a considerable period of time has elapsed. At the same time, I do hold that. it is right for the workmen to be in a position to strike if he feels that the injustice is co great that certain drastic steps must be taken. There are those of us who do believe it is necessary that something should be done now in the direction of creating industrial harmony between employer and employed. I was, therefore, surprised at the criticism on Clauses 2 and 4 of the Bill. Clause 2 lays it down that there shall be voluntary arbitration agreed to by both parties if they are approached by the Minister. If 1 understand the Clause aright, it is that one or other of the parties may report the dispute to the Minister, and the Minister, in his turn, will probably give notice to the other party, and if he gets the consent of both he will proceed to refer the matter to the Industrial Court. I can understand such a course being pursued. I can understand that the Minister might be in a great difficulty, for, on the one hand, the matter may not be reported to him, and, on the other hand, it may be; or it may have gone through certain stages, and those stages may have turned out to be futile in securing what was desired. Therefore the Minister, in the interests of the community as a whole, may fall back upon Clause 4 and say what shall be done towards settling the dispute. That is what I take the Courts of Inquiry to be set up to mean. Therefore I do not see that one Clause in any way conflicts with what is contained in the other.
While the Labour party would prefer to give a Second Reading to this Bill, we are not quite satisfied that it is drawn in a way which will give the most satisfaction to the large body of organised labour in this country. Reference has already been made by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench to certain things that lie thought necessary in relation to this Act. I want to say here that I oppose strikes and lockouts, yet, though anxious to see the workers realising that arbitration is far better than striking or being locked out, I feel at the present moment it would be far better for the Government to have brought in a short Bill to continue the Wages Act, and so give us time to have had this matter thoroughly discussed in relation to what kind of administration should be set up for settling disputes. The other two parts of the Bill in relation to the question of arbitration seem to 'have been rather rushed upon us. The hon. Gentleman opposite asked that something should be done to give confidence to employers and labour in the matter of wages. When I was speaking to a member of another trade union he told me that he was in the habit of settling a year before what were to be the wages for the following year. By so doing both sides took risks. That is very good in a normal period, but the period now is abnormal. We do not know what is going to happen within even a short period of time.
For instance, I was glad to know from the right hon. Gentleman opposite that it was a misapprehension that existed in the mind of some of us that the rate of wages was going to be stabilised for the year, and was to remain for the following year without any addition from any application that might be made for an advance of wages. In such a case imagine the condition of the country. We have heard of the withdrawal of subsidies towards this and that. You may stabilise wages for a year say. In six months you may withdraw a certain subsidy, and the result of that withdrawal would mean that the real wages of many of the workers would be reduced by 3s., 4s. and 5s. per week. tnder the present abnormal circumstances it would be quite wrong to make any provision for stabilised wages for more than six months at a time. But although we are claiming that there should be no stabilisation, as given out in the Press, for the next year, the fact is th a: during the past year, if I remember correctly, the same rate of wages has existed in the engineering trade. It is a year since the last advance was given, if I remember correctly.
Although I have personally no doubt that by discussion the workers of the country will begin to realise the advantages of arbitration, yet we can understand their hesitancy in approaching a question which seems to them to imply that there is going to be a certain amount of compulsion. They have had in the past some sort of experience in relation to compulsion, and they have been justifiel in the conclusion that they have drawn Nevertheless, 1 was hoping, as I have said, that by the continuation of the Wages Act for a year, and by the active discussion 0f this question of arbitration, public opinion among the workers themselves might be aroused to the necessity of devising some method which would satisfy both parties, I agree that what is the matter with till workers on many questions is not that they are devoid of intelligence in relation to these matters, but that we have not had sufficient opportunities of placing before them a knowledge of these matters.
There are certain things in this Bill which we desire to see discussed in Committee, and, if possible, amended. References have been made to personnel and to the Arbitration Act of 1889. We are rather anxious that that should come out of the Bill, and that it should be clear of any references of that kind. With regard to that part of the Bill which deals with misleading particulars, namely, Clause 4, that surely is a very dangerous precedent to place in a Bill of this kind. Persons may give information to the best of their ability, and from that point of view it may be perfectly correct. They may not know other circumstances which would invalidate the information they have given, and that might be taken to be "misleading particulars," which would have serious consequences to the individual concerned. It is, therefore, necessary that that should he approached in a spirit which will indicate that the Government is anxious to keep any Clause like that confined entirely to false information one way or the other. With regard to the private information referred to, I understand that that is only information which comes out at the Inquiry, and that any other information in relation to the employer or to the trade union, which cannot be got in any way but at this Inquiry, will not be made use of. We are anxious to make sure that it will not be merely information regarding the trade union that will be utilised, and that information which can be given. against an employer, and which may be the strongest argument of the trade union, will not be, kept down for the purpose, as it were, of misleading the public. I read this to mean that the evidence produced at the inquiry will not be used unless it is possible for the public to get it from other sources, and that that will apply equally to the trade unions and to the employers of labour. There is another point that I should like to refer to, again in relation to the question of penalties. Penalties, as I understand the Bill, are not to be penalties on the trade union leader or the workmen for not carrying out the decis;11 or the award, as the case may be, bur are to be penalties attaching to those wile, refuse to supply the books, documents, etc., which may be necessary at the Court of Inquiry. I should like sonic assurance from the Minister that that is so. and that it is not a penalty attaching to the workmen who probably does not feel inclined to carry out the award that has been given. It is necessary, in my view, that that should be made perfectly clear.
We of the Labour party are not to be taken as being against conciliation or against arbitration. We arc in favour of arbitration. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out the success of the arbitrations that have already taken place during the past few months. We are in favour of arbitration, but we must have confidence in the Courts set up, and we must feel that those who are there for the purpose of coming to a decision are fair-minded, impartial men, and that they are desirous, not of satisfying the one side or the other, but of doing their best to come to a decision that will be in the interests of the community as a whole. The War has taught us many things. At least it has taught me that every man who renders useful service to an employer of labour, is really rendering useful service to the country, and, as he renders it to the country, the country should see to it that the right thing is done by those who are engaged in industry in any direction. We know that there have been misunderstandings in the past. We know that people have refused to carry out the awards of Arbitration Courts. I believe that those who go willingly to an Arbitration Court should go with the desire to carry out the award, whatever it may be. I believe that the workmen would be serving their own interests if, in all those cases where they go into voluntary arbitration, their executives did know that, whatever the decision, the workmen would loyally co-operate in carrying it out. Although there have been one or two instances where that has not been done, that is no reason for saying that the workers as a whole are opposed to arbitration. I have often thought that if the Minister could get—probably after much public discussion and after the workers had considered the matter fully—if he could get even compulsion in relation to going to confer, if he got no further than that, it would be a great thing in the interests of our country, even if it did not carry with it compulsion to carry out the decision arrived at. I am perfectly convinced that in ninety nine cases out of a hundred where men and employers are got together to discuss matters and to place their cards fully on the table, when they come to understand one 1 another, by mere conference alone and by mere understanding of each other's position a settlement will be arrived at which will be satisfactory to both parties. Therefore 1 say that we must take this matter step by step. Some would like to rush us into compulsory arbitration; others think we can learn from the experiences of the past. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we cannot legislate in front of the opinion of those to whom the legislation is meant to apply. If you could create in the minds of the workers, and of the country as a whole, the feeling that it was in the interests of the country that conferences should take place, `that they should even be compelled to discuss before they struck or were locked out, that alone would be a great step towards securing the industrial harmony which to my mind is absolutely necessary for the welfare of the country under the circumstances which are now operating. Let it be clearly understood that, in giving a Second Reading to this Bill, we are not committing ourselves to all the details included in the Clauses which the Bill contains.
The hon. Member who has just spoken expressed, I am sure, the general sense of the House when he said that this is a business upon which we must proceed step by step. I hope that the House will not think that the Government have been over-hasty in introducing this Bill, which sets up some Court of Arbitration of universal application. A great deal of advice has been tendered to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour suggesting that he should abandon the two parts of the Bill which set up Courts of Arbitration or Inquiry, and that an opportunity should be given to labour as well as to the country to ventilate this subject against the time when the temporary regulation of wages may come to an end next September. I venture to think that it would be a misapprehension if that House were to be under the impression that this question has not been ventilated sufficiently to justify the Government in introducing this proposal at the present time. We sometimes think that the Whitley Report introduced for the first time the principle of Works Committees and Industrial Councils. I think I am right in saying that the novelty and value of the Whitley Report was not in advising the setting up of Works Committees and Industrial Councils, which, indeed, have been in existence in a great many works and businesses for a number of years. It was in the suggestion that those Works Committees and Industrial Councils should be welded into one system of general application. I think the Whitley Report said in so many words that adequate organisation is an essential condition of the success of the policy which it suggested to the country, arid it was not in that Report, I think, that those who are interested in the Labour movement had their attention directed for the first time to the value of these Courts or conciliatory councils. There are lion Members who sit on the benches opposite who are very familiar with a series of conferences at which this question was discussed, and at which the assent of our prominent Labour leaders was given to the principle of Courts of Arbitration at which questions of industrial dispute might be settled instead of by strikes. We have tried the system of strikes, surely, long enough. I am not surprised that hon. Members opposite are not prepared to abandon the right to strike. The right. to strike, as embodied in the Trades Disputes Act., and as practised before that Act, is the method by which they have secured a great many of the privileges which they now possess, and if this Bill had included the Clause which has been cut out of it, depriving them of that right to strike in certain cases, I should have expected them to ask for the excision of that Clause, because I think that Labour should be allowed to claim the right to strike as long as Labour thinks. it is necessary for its existence. But I think I am also right in saying that the. best opinion in Labour agrees with a great many other people in thinking that the strike is, or ought to be, an obsolete method of settling industrial disputes. In a week a strike will cause more devastation than will 'occur in weeks on a modern battlefield. It is cruel in its effect; it is a blot upon our civilisation. But the fact that Labour realises this ought, I think, to, enable us to hold the opinion that Labour is not anxious to continue the use of the strike a day longer than is necessary for the accomplishment of its objects. Labour and a great many other people have long ago come to the conclusion that a Court of Arbitration would provide in due time a much better system of settling industrial disputes than is provided for by the method of the strike.
This is the appropriate time for introducing this Bill. If it is not introduced in this Session, it must inevitably go over to the next Session, and the consideration of this subject will be postponed to a later date than is convenient. The existing Courts of Arbitration and Industrial Councils are working with admirable smoothness in most cases, but some of those who are familiar with these Courts will bear me out when I say that there are signs of friction and disturbance because it is not possible to give effect in some disputes to the decisions of the Courts. More than one case has occurred lately in the West of England. In one industry an award made by the Arbitration Court as between two parties who were unable to agree by means of the Industrial Council has been rendered non-effective, because non-associated businesses in that industry have not been affected by the award. The award has broken down, I will not say because there was no power, because, there was a Statutory power, but because there was no readiness on the part of the Minister of Labour to extend it to other businesses in the same industry. The result was that the parties to the immediate award, riot unnaturally, said that if they were to be bound by it, others should be hound by it, and friction was introduced. I could give other illustrations of the same tendency which has begun to be observed by those who watch these Courts carefully, and what I press for is not that there should be any compulsion—I respectfully agree with the Minister of Labour in the decision to which he has come as well as with hon. Gentlemen opposite that compulsion is an impossible word to use in this connection—but that the substance of Clause 5, which no longer appears in the Bill, should be reintroduced, as it might be with advantage. Some of us have long thought that the most desirable thing in these disputes is to secure a general application of a particular decision to the whole of an industry. Clause 5, which has been struck out of the Bill, did provide what I think is reasonable, namely, that where the Minister of Labour considers that a substantial number of workmen are affected by a particular award in a particular industry he shall have the power to extend that decision to other businesses and other workmen in the same industry so as to place them all on equal terms.
I do not press for the introduction of a compulsion Clause. It would be an offence against the dignity of trade unions to try and brow-beat them into an acceptance of these awards by threatening them with pains and penalties if they do not agree. The Minister of Labour is right in relying on the goodwill of labour and employers when they enter into arbitration to accept the award, but I do press that a Clause be introduced which will enable the Minister, upon being satisfied of certain facts, to extend the efficacy of an award to other workmen in the industry, because we have to build up a fabric by which the possibility of a strike shall be eliminated. We are only building one storey if this Bill passes, and we must look forward to the time when some central council shall exist which shall have the power to co-ordinate all these decisions as applied not only to one industry but to every industry. Until you can govern an industry in itself, however, you have not advanced sufficiently far to enable you to relate the different decisions as to wages and conditions of labour as is absolutely essential if you wish to avoid industrial trouble. The hon. Member for one of the divisions of Birmingham and other Members have referred to the effect which a decision in one industry as to wages has upon the workmen and employers in another industry. He illustrated that argument by reference to police pay. Another illustration which he might have given was in the large use which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) in the railway strike of the very large wages which unskilled omnibus conductors obtain. It is that which causes a great deal of unrest to-day—the comparative wages which workmen in other trades secure. It naturally causes unrest in industries where the workmen think that they are entitled to as good wages because they are at least as skilled and very often more skilled than those with whom the comparison is made.
We must look forward to the time when there shall be some central council which shall be able to take into consideration all these questions not by compulsion but by the agreement of all the industries, and I hope, if this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. that labour and employers will be prepared to work it with all the goodwill that they can give to it. I do not share the view that because there is no compulsion in this Bill it will be ineffective. Workmen and employers know quite enough to realise the advantages of arbitration. They have thought of it and discussed it quite long enough to know that the time is ripe for a Court of Arbitration, as I think it is also ripe for a Court of Inquiry, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will perist in the Bill as it stands, subject., of course, to such minor amendments as have been indicated as being desirable, and with some of which I agree. If this Bill becomes law, then, amid all the clash of different interests, the clamour of markets, and the differences of opinion which people rightly have as to the share to which they are entitled of the large profits which I believe employers will soon make when our country becomes organised, and if the policy represented in it is developed, we may begin to look forward, perhaps for the first time, to the coming of peace in the industrial world.
Mr. J. W. WILSON:
I rise briefly to express my strong approval of this Bill as it now stands, and my hope that the Government will be able to carry it through into effective working. I agree very much with the speech of the hon. Member behind me (Mr. R. Young), and we all agree that anything that can be done should be done at the present time to increase that measure. of confidence which is the first necessity in trade. As in the question of exchanges in international affairs confidence enters so largely, so it also does in the question of trading one with the other. During the earlier part of this year trade was hampered by a confidence in one direction. Everybody thought after the Armistice that wages and prices were going to fall, and traders were reluctant to place contracts. It is now operating in the opposite direction. Producers have discovered that with constant fluctuations, usually upwards, both in wages and raw materials, they are unable to quote and unable to undertake contracts. The great proportion of the trade of this country, both at home and abroad, rests upon the system of contracts ahead to deliver. Naturally, everyone has hesitated, for the causes that I have mentioned, and if the Government can do anything to increase confidence by taking such precautions as are laid down in this Bill, whereby the possibility of constant fluctuations up or down in the matter of wages and other items entering into the details of cost can be lessened, and whereby those periods can be made longer apart, compatible with justice and compatible with covering the needs, the better it will be for the trade of this country.
I speak at the moment of the internal trade of the country, but it is infinitely more important when you come to the export trade of the country, which it is so necessary for us to take the present opportunity to recover and reinvigorate, because without it we shall never improve our exchange and never recover our lost foreign trade or gain other foreign trade. I have been very much impressed by the growing system in contracts whereby no producer will undertake to contract without all sorts of clauses, time and line, or even absolute percentage on cost, the most objectionable form of contract from an economic and business point of view. A business firm, or a company or a corporation placing an order in this country may have confidence in the particular producer or manufacturer that the conditions of the contract will be respected and the order faithfully executed, but, when you come to world-wide trade, how can you expect other countries on the other side of the world to undertake and accept such conditions? They have not the same confidence or the same knowledge, and they are not willing to place a contract under those conditions. Therefore, it is my belief that this country is running a great risk of losing contracts to America, or to Japan, or even to Belgium and other places where they are able to place or to offer a firm contract. Anything that can be done to stimulate confidence, to stabilise conditions, and to minimise the risk of frequent variations, is one of the greatest objects that the Government ought to have in re-establishing the trade of the country.
I have not been able, owing to circumstances beyond my control, to take as active an interest in this Parliament as in the past, but I cannot allow this Bill to pass without saying a few words. All of us must admit the reasonableness of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and the sympathetic manner in which he dealt with the different questions. He knows as well as any Member of the House that all along I have been carrying out in my own craft what he now advocates sometimes at very great personal risk. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the deputation which met him did not ask for this Bill, ' for many reasons. We all want some method or machinery which will be better than strikes or lock-outs. 1 have been fighting for that all my career. We did point out to the right hon. Gentleman that unless he has the confidence of both sides the Bill is useless. There appears to be an entire misunderstanding of the motive of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to this measure, and therefore we want time to consider the various provisions which are controversial. We all want to devise equitable machinery to deal with these questions, and we want an -opportunity of consulting those we represent in regard to these proposals. In the North there is a strong feeling about -compulsory legislation on these matters from London. We ask the Government to do in this case what they have already done in two or three industries, and give us time to consult our various organisations. The railwaymen were condemned for not taking a ballot of their members, and why should the Government not now give us the opportunity of taking a ballot of the members of the unions we represent?
What is the good of a measure of this kind unless the men and the employers are agreed? I hope the Government will remember the promises they have made. In my opinion, this is not the psychological moment to introduce the first two Clauses of this Bill because there is too much unrest and ill-feeling throughout the country, not only with the workmen but with the middle and upper classes with whom I come into contact, and they are all against the powers that be for the moment. I say that the men who have to act under those regulations ought to have an opportunity to vote by ballot upon them. I have always been one of those in favour of submitting our difficulties to reason rather than to force, and I think we should get both sides to agree to the machinery that is to be set up. Unless the Government get the confidence of the men in regard to these questions, the whole thing will be of no avail. Each industry must seek to maintain their own. I do not care who the employers are, if the workmen will maintain their own industry they can become their own employers, and, therefore, the matter is in their own hands. At the present moment our industries are going elsewhere, and when we tell the men that then they say get rid of this cursed system of working for profit, and then we are wining to go on. that is what our people have to consider.
We hear a good deal about the cry fur naltonansation. We have been trying to nationalise the land for ages, and it has not yet come about. The nationalisation of industries is a much greater thing, and it has got to be carefully considered. If the workers only get the chance it is just as easy for them to work for the nation as a whole as for private employers, and they will work for the nation just as they do for the great companies at the present time. The only thing is that we have got to agitate on these matters, and we should not have square plugs put into round holes. We have men put into positions who are not capable of carrying out those duties. I am one who is strongly in favour of consultation and conciliation, and I am opposed to compulsion. Our boys in France, who won the War, were against compulsion, but when you convinced them that the country was at stake they fought like heroes. We are constantly being told that the country is in danger through unrest. What we have to do is to stabilise wages and let us leave Clause 6 of the present Bill, which has already been applied by the Government for more than one industry, and how can they refuse it to the other industries who are asking for it? I want that Clause extended to all industries, and you should put the other two Clauses back and give us an opportunity of consulting our various members by ballot. You might then bring in a Bill which is accepted by workers and employers alike, and that would be for the benefit of the nation as a whole.
The complaint of the last speaker and of a great many other speakers was rather against the Clauses for compulsion which the Bill does not contain than against the Bill itself, and I agree entirely with that. Arbitration is very much suspected by the working elasses. and compulsory arbitration is detested and rejected, and anybody who talks about it sets out upon a journey which he will find is a very long and difficult one. But the present Bill is a purely voluntary one. I wish to refer to the very eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Young), who told us if you have a Court set up and can bring the parties before it you can trust public opinion to do the rest. The views I want to put before the House are very short. I believe that any sort of compulsion is not only quite impossible politically, but it is very wrong. I do not believe that is the line oil which this country ought to develop.
I do not agree with those friends of mine who regard this Bill as the first step to build up a system of compulsory arbitration. I take it rather as a first step towards a voluntary system of a much higher and far more effective kind of measure than compulsion would be. I want to examine the objections which are felt by workers to a compulsory system. You cannot enforce a compulsory system on the man himself, because you cannot put 100,000 people in prison. Therefore, you have to proceed against trade union funds, a procedure which is utterly opposed to opinion in the trade union world. If you think you can force an award by the detachment of trade union funds you arc opposed by the simple reason that those funds are not strike funds, but include the benefits on which the members and their families largely depend.
There is a further point which is often missed and should be made because it is one which causes a good deal of misunderstanding. When workmen strike against an award it is always thought to be a very dishonourable and an indefensible proceeding. I think critics forget that an award is not quite what they think it is. Suppose an award is made for three years, an employer knows that he can get his labour at that price for three years and the man can get the wages fixed by that award if he gets work. But the man does not know that he can get work for three years. I think the guarantee for a fixed wage carries with it a guarantee of certainty of employment. Until you have that you will not have awards that will be accepted with confidence, and the sooner that is recognised the better. The last objection is that compulsion has been tried under conditions not dissimilar to ours, and it has failed in Australia. It was tried in Canada, and all you had was compulsion to come to the Government, and there was to be a delay of twenty-one days before you struck work. That failed, and even that simple and moderate compulsion was too much, and the large majority of the strikes that have taken place have been strikes in spite of that delaying clause. For reasons of policy and principle compulsion stands condemned.
When you conic to the second part of the Bill, that dealing with inquiries, then we find ourselves on very different ground. Incidentally I should like to say that, in spite of having got compulsion, the Government by setting up Courts to which nobody need go and in which they can get a decision which nobody need observe or which they can observe if they please, are doing the best service for industrial peace, because the inquiry will be public, and when you get the public coming into contact with the heated partisan it is to the advantage of all parties, for in the presence of a cool head the heated partisan begins to look at his own case from a different standpoint, and that in itself is a very big advantage from a public point of view. In the late railway strike the Government were just as partisan in their pronouncements as the railway unions, and they had to be, because they were in the position of employers. What you want is an opportunity of stating your case before the public. It can then be stated fairly and strongly, and you can leave it to public opinion to do the rest. You will do far more by that than by any sort of compulsion. No law has any chance if it be in conflict with public opinion. The Germans tried hard to rule Belgium, but the public opinion of Belgium defeated the law every time; and something not very unlike that is now happening in Ireland. It is not that public opinion is a weaker thing than the operation of the law. As a matter of fact,. it is something which is much stronger than the law and without which your laws, are really waste paper. The course the Government have taken is the same course as the Allies took in forming the League of Nations. The League of Nations has also been criticised because it is weak on the compelling side. It is weak on that side, and I hope it will remain so. But it is strong in this, that the two disputing parties are brought together before the Court of civilised opinion; they have to state their case and their conduct is judged and approved or condemned accordingly. That, I believe profoundly, presents the only hope of real progress in this world. We talk a great deal about industrial peace. I want industrial peace, but I want industrial justice more. You will not get peace unless it is founded on justice, and you will not get justice unless the case is carefully stated, carefully examined, and brought before the bar of public opinion. I believe that in the industrial world the only chance is to state the ease fairly and impartially and to allow the opinion of this couutry to do the rest.
I hope that the Government will not listen to the appeals made to them to divide the Bill. I trust, on the contrary, they will pass it into law as speedily as possible. The Bill is by no means what we had a right to expect from the Ministry of Labour, with all its experience and activity during the War and since. 1 am convinced, and 1 believe everyone in any way interested in the great industrial problems of this country will recognise, that one of the evils of the past from which we have suffered has been a lack of dependable knowledge which this Bill will enable to be provided. Hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate have. referred to the railway strike and. to the Iron founders' dispute. But there is another and a different matter from those two where dependable information is going to play a very potent part in the action which either employers or employed may contemplate in the near future. It is illustrated by the award given only to-day in favour of a further 5s. increase Per week for the men engaged in the shipbuilding industry. The Court of Arbitration found that award on knowledge which they say they possess to show that the cost of living is bound to considerably increase during the next three or four winter months, and a well-known trade, union leader has estimated that it will be at least a 3½ per cent. increase. The point is that this award is based upon information which I have no doubt the Court of Inquiry was perfectly justified in recognising, but I say it is important for all classes and all interests in this country to be as well acquainted beforehand with these movements that are coining along, not only that we may the better meet the demands when they do come, but also in order that justice may be meted out without the threat of a strike on the part of men in any particular industry. I am quite sure that this publicity in this second part of the Bill is going to do a great deal to improve the position that we have experienced up to the present time, and if it were for that reason only I would most strongly desire to see the Bill carried into law at the earliest possible moment.
I said a few minutes ago that I was disappointed with the efforts of the Ministry of Labour because it seemed to me that with all the unity, loyalty and patriotism called forth by five years of war, in labour at least as much as in any other section of the community, and with all the experience, knowledge and activity of the thousands of officials in the Department, surely the position should have been such that a wise Government and a wise far-seeing Minister could have taken some steps to bring about a new labour charter, or rather a new industrial charter that would deal with employers and labour in this country. We know quite well that such a charter can never eventnate from any forced action from ally Government. It has to be a spontaneous move, and in that I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr Wilkie) and with the hon. Member for the Newton Division of Lancashire (Mr. Young) who have voiced the spirit of the vast body of trade unionists. I am on the whole in fairly good contact with employers of labour in this country and I know for a fact that there is a progressive spirit in the minds of a very considerable section of them. The trouble they are in is this that until the time comes when all the employers can be brought together, and until they can get the same charter as labour, a charter which is going to do justice between employer and employer as well as between labour and employer, there is no employer in this country who until that time comes, and there is no labour man who, if he were in the position of an employer, would not automatically resist the pressure constantly put upon them. If we are to get these better conditions, and I believe circumstances have been ripe to produce them, I cannot help thinking that the Minister of Labour has lost an opportunity of bringing about what we have to recognise, although undoubtedly it is not popular with many Members of this House —that industrial peace must be intimately bound up with the principles of trade unionism. We recognise not only the great power of trade unions, but we recognise, in the conditions under which we live and have lived in past years, the right on the part of workmen to have ho power of combination for their own common ends.
To-day the position is not so difficult for the Government and for the employers by reason of the fact that Labour has made-great progress in organising in different trade unions, while, on the other hand. there has also been some progress made by
the employers in organising. I venture to express this view, that we are not going to get that better condition of affairs or that new charter unless we have a wholesale organisation of employers on the one hand and a wholesale organisation of Labour on the other. Experience in strikes that have taken place has shown bow the efforts of organised Labour have been weakened by blacklegs. But that is also one of the great difficulties which employers are up against. Blacklegging employers are one of the curses of the present situation, although they do not exist and operate in exactly the same way as blacklegs in Labour. But the whole trend of industrial force in this country convinces me that, whether we like it or not, it is inevitable, if we want to make real progress and a stable peace, that it can only be done in proportion as the whole body of employers and the whole body of Labour, each in their respective spheres, are organised together on a democratic basis, so that each trade, or when necessary by their head body in their federations, they can come together and arrangements can be made satisfactory to themselves and to the public, arrangements which, when once made, will remove all possibility of distrust between one employer and another, because these things will have to be binding on the whole body of people in that particular organisation. The hon. Member for Durham (Major Hills) and the hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. Jones) have made reference to the subject of unemployment as being the basis of industrial unrest. From my knowledge, I am convinced that that is really one of the root evils we have to remove before we are going to get workmen either to believe in employers or in the Government or in the country. The original cause of strikes, as I conceive it, was most aptly contained in a leaflet which came to me a few days ago, and which expresses my own opinion—
Strikes occur not because the British working man is unloyal, unpatriotic, or unduly selfish. lie strikes not from a desire to inflict hardship on his fellow men, or to injure the nation of which he is a member, but because he has a grievance, real or imaginary, and because he knows he cannot trust his rulers and masters to do justice for justice sake, but only reluctantly to grant concessions when held to ransom.
I believe that is particularly true of the great mass of disputes with which we have been faced, and if it is, that is the evil that
we have to remove if we are going to get this goodwill and a real spontaneous, honest belief of the one party in the other: and without that belief one in the other, which I am sure can and ought to be. brought about after all the experiences we have been through, I cannot help feeling that this country is going to lose a most wonderful opportunity that is waiting for us now if we would only seize it to make good, to get more than the overseas trade we possessed before the War, and with out very much difficulty to carry the great. financial burden which the War has inflicted upon us. If only we can get over this gulf which is separating us and if we can only get together under a new industrial charter there is nothing for anyone to fear. There will be no reason for anyone to fear high wages and short hours: That is not the problem. I know too much about the subject to have the slightest fear about the rate of wages or the hours a man works. What really matters is the efficiency of labour, just as labour depends equally on the efficiency of employers, which in many industries to my knowledge is below that of Germany, the United States or Japan. There has got to be a great improvement in the efficiency of employers if wear going to get the best out of our factories, and if we are going to enable the workmen to get the very best returns which industry can Provide. Equally it is hopeless for us to think we are going to get rid of this industrial trouble and that we are going to build this new world for our people until Labour, as I hope it will, gets that full and fair measure of justice and confidence which it wants, and full returns for its labour. Then I think we shall be able to look to the future with complacency, and I am convinced that if only the Minister for Labour will look into the subject from these deeper points of view there is art opportunity waiting for him to get far ahead of the Bill now before us, which, however, so far as it goes. I hope to see carried through very speedily.
I am very disappointed at the opposition to this Bill from employers. That is one of the things that causes suspicion in the minds of the workers. The very fact of the Bill having the unanimous support of the House would go a long way to settle the minds of the workers. I believe an honest attempt is being made to bring about a better method of settling disputes other than by strikes. My right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) referred to the ignorance of the workers on many occasions. Very often they are on the streets before they really realise what they are on the streets for. That reminds me of a true story. A. workman came home at an unusual hour, and his wife asked him why he had come home. He said, "We are on strike." She said, "What are you on strike for? He said," I do not know, but we are not going back until we get it." That is exactly what the Bill is going to do. It is going to bring their representatives together at a round table conference, whereby the workers will get to know, and time will be taken to put the whole matter before both the workers and the employers. Is it not time that state of affairs should exist? I have never advocated strikes. I am a member of the trade union, of which my hon. Friend (Mr. Wilkie) is the head, and on r preamble says we are to maintain that higher effort of productive co-operation between Capital and Labour. Is not that what the Bill is out for? Certainly I am delighted to see that it applies to Ireland. I believe every measure that passes through this House should apply to Ireland. If that was clone Ireland would not be in the unhappy and unsettled position she is in today. if this Government would pluck up courage and apply to Ireland every measure that is for the benefit of England, Scotland and Wales, we should be a happy and prosperous country, and it would go a long way to support our united Empire as we ought to be doing. There are some Clauses in the Bill to which I should not agree, but I am quite satisfied that they will be amended. I believe a certain amount of compulsion should be exercised. Many a time, although the best motives are put out by our leaders, the workers take the reins in their own hands, and in spite of all the efforts of their leaders they go out on strike. But they find they have to come to their leaders, and ask them to come in and help them. I only wish we had more Labour representatives of the type of the hon. Member (Mr. Wilkie) to lead Labour to-day, instead of men who are not helping the Labour cause but exploiting their own narrow views of things. That is not the way to help the Labour movement. I believe greater co-operation with employers should exist. I would never give way to an employer who would pay sweated wages. I have always stood out that it is right of workmen to have decent wages. I believe this Bill will go a long way to help in the Labour movement.
I wish to say a few words in support of the Bill as being to a large extent a representative of the employers' interest. Though I have no definite authority to say so to-day, I think the general feeling will be that the Bill is a great step in the right direction, and will be very generally accepted as a wise measure. It must be a great gratification to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Home) to find the general acceptance in all quarters of the House which the Bill has had. Something of the sort was wanted and, in particular, had we had machinery of this kind in full operation before the railway strike, I do not mean to say it would have stopped the strike, but I think it would have given the country an opportunity of understanding the real position. Again, in regard to the moulders' strike, there are very few people who really understand what it is about. I doubt whether there are many Members of the House who understand what are the issues involved in it. It has thrown a huge number of workpeople out of employment, and it is encouraging the imports of foreign produce into the country, and it will have a very damaging effect in undermining trade. All that might have been stopped if the Bill had been in operation.
There are two points which I think require a little more consideration. The first is that there should be either a provision in the Bill or some general understanding that when the Government sets up an Industrial Court to inquire into a, dispute there should be a truce between the parties concerned. Until the Court has given a decision there should be nothing in the nature of a lock-out or a strike. I should like to see a provision in the Bill that there should be no interruption, either by the employers or by the workpeople, until some definite period after the decision has been arrived at. I think it is quite wise that it should be purely a voluntary Bill, and that there should be no compulsion about it at all, but there should be a little delay to give people time to look round and make arrangements. If that had been applied to the moulders' dispute my opinion is that the present disastrous strike would never have occurred. If a month's notice had been given of the intention to strike it would at once have found its echo in all the engineering works, and a corresponding month's notice would have been given to other employers who were de, pendent upon castings for their work. That is the only criticism which I have to offer. I do think it would help if some provision is introduced so that, pending the trial of a dispute, for a reasonable period no action in the nature of a strike or lockout is to be taken by either party. The general tone of the House to-day has been most encouraging. Over and over again we have heard speeches in this House from which one would think that the workpeople and their employers led a cat-and-dog life and were always ready at the shortest notice to fly at one another's throats. I can only say, and I speak with considerable knowledge, and with sonic little authority, that there is nothing which an employer desires more than to be on the best possible terms with his workpeople. The tone of the speeches to-day, and particularly those speeches delivered from this side of the House, showed a hopeful desire and a true spirit, which, with the help of this Bill and the good offices and good work of the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary in the cause of industrial peace, give a prospect and a possibility of a better time for us and for our country, and that we shall be able to settle down to work and to repair the ravages of the War from which we have all suffered.
I am not of the same opinion as one hon. Member that this Bill should be passed hastily through the House and through Committee. I have my suspicions of the Bill, because I am afraid that we are going to have too much of Government interference in the industry of the country, just as we found the Government interfering during the War period. I am not in favour of strikes, and I am not against arbitration, but I do want the trade unionists to keep the weapon of the strike in their own hands. Strikes to me —and I have had twenty years' experience in trade union movements—mean loss of wages, waste of material, and dislocation of capital. They are no good to the workman and no good to the employers, and they are injurious to the community at large. So far as this Bill is concerned, I am afraid that the machinery that has been in existence for twenty, thirty, and forty years in the trade union movement is going to be scrapped. I want the Minister of Labour, who so very lucidly explained the Bill, to give some explanation as to what is going to become of the Conciliation Boards and the Whitley Industrial Councils which have been established in different industries, if this Act is to be put into operation.
I have my suspicions from another point of view. Have the Miners' Federation, the Transport Workers' Federation, the Railway Men's Union, the great industry that I represent, the iron and steel industry in Scotland, England, and Wales, or the cotton spinners, approached the Ministry of Labour with a view to the introduction of a Bill of this kind? I ask this because we have our machinery already. We have our Conciliation Boards. For twenty years I have been a trade union leader in the tinplate and steel trade in South Wales. The society I represent is organised from Scotland right into Wales. We have had sectional stoppages, but we have never had a single strike during the twenty years I have been an official of the society. What was the machinery? It was this: that if a dispute took place in a particular works the works' representative would meet the employer. If lie failed to settle the dispute he would send for the trade union official. If the trade union official failed to settle the dispute it was sent to the Conciliation Board, and if the Conciliation Board failed to settle the dispute it was referred to arbitration under the Arbitration Act of 1889. Under that Act and under the panel system that was established recently you had employers of labour and trade union leaders that you could select. You could select any trade union leader you liked from the panel and the employer could select their representative from the panel and then the Board. of Trade would select a chairman between the employer of labour and the representative selected by the men. Sometimes the two parties representing the employer and representing the men would be able to come to a decision without asking interference from or the opinion of the chairman. If they failed to agree then the chairman would give his decision, and that decision having been given it was adhered to. I can give my guarantee that every decision that has been given in connection with my society has been honourably carried out. I want to know if that machinery is to be kept in operation or to be destroyed. I want the Minister of Labour to let me know, because if that machinery is to be destroyed and you are going to establish a Court something similar to the Committee on Production, the trade unionists of the country are going to turn it down. I have no confidence whatever in a stereotyped court because you simply go before the Committee on Production—I have been before them several times—you state your case, the employer states his case, and then they come to a decision simply on the case which has been placed before them. But under our system of conciliation and arbitration you can take witnesses to corroborate your evidence that you place before the Court, either a single arbitrator or before the panel with its chairman.
I want to know are these things going to be substituted by this? If so all the large trade unions that I have just mentioned are going to turn this Bill down. I want if possible, and I think that it is the desire of every thinking trade union leader in the country, to have as much peace in the industries of the country as possible. I do not want strikes. We have had sufficient experience of them. Only recently in Monmouthshire about 200 men were able to throw about 12,000 people out of employment, which cost my society thousands of pounds, when we had no quarrel with the employer at all. More than that, when the workmen and the employers were quarrelling the people who were suffering were the community who had no voice whatever in the dispute. I want some machinery established by which we can get over these matters. After the experience we had of the conciliation and arbitration idea now we have moved a step further to the establishment of Industrial Councils, where we not only deal with the question of wages, conditions and hours of employment, but we can deal with technical instruction, houses for the working classes, and other matters in so far as the trade is concerned. I am suspicious that all these things are going to be destroyed, and T hope that, to give satisfaction to the very large industry which I represent and the other big industries which I have mentioned, the Minister of Labour will give us a full explanation. We are beginning to feel alarmed and employers are beginning to feel alarmed. If the Goverment are going to introduce new legislation to interfere with industry as they did during the War, it is going to retard progress instead of giving assistance to the industries of the country. I hope that the Minister of Labour will in- troduce legislation to give more stability to trade, under which employers will be able to make their contracts knowing that no disputes are going to take place and that the contracts will be carried out, and where the men will get more security of employment. We will welcome any legislation passed in order to bring that state of things about.
As an old trade unionist who has done his best during the past thirty years to build up the trade union movement I welcome this Bill. The public owe a debt of gratitude to men like the Parliamentary Secretary and the Ministry of Labour and the hon. Member for Dundee, for the good work they have done in preparing the way for this Bill. and for the propaganda they have put in. I disagree with the last speaker with regard to the Government interfering with this matter. I take it that the Government under this Bill will form the Courts of Conciliation in such a way that each industry will be able to have the Court best suited to itself. I think that the Government will be sufficiently broad-minded for that. My reason for saying that the Government are doing right in introducing this Bill is this. We are going to have set up in all the industries in this country these Boards of Conciliation. In other words, we are going to have between Capital and Labour co-operation, instead of strife. It is just possible you can have an understanding between Capital and Labour at the expense of the consumer. That is one of the things that the public will have to keep an eye upon and they are keeping an eye upon.
We have got over fifty of these Whitley Councils set up. The tendency for employers is to close up their ranks and eliminate the wasteful competition amongst themselves. That is drifting in the direction of monopoly. I do not fear monopoly. Competition invariably ends in monopoly, because the weakest goes to the wall. But it is evident that the Government must step in and protect the consumer when you get two powerful organisations in each industry agreeing to co-operate with each other instead of fighting each other as they have done in the past. Therefore, I not only want to see the Government initiating this sort of thing, but I also wish to see the Government having a share in the industry as well. I want to see co-operation between the Government and Capital and Labour. I want to see a trinity of that kind formed, and then I think the w hole of this industrial problem will be solved There is nothing novel in the suggestion, because for many years the Government have held shares in the Suez Canal Company, which is a commercial undertaking, and quite recently the Government invested millions of the taxpayers' money in such things as synthetic dyes, and the Anglo-Persian Oilfield, and I dare say that they will invest other moneys in other concerns in the interests of the nation as a whole, and I believe that that is a very wise and proper thing to do. I do not see any reason why, when we get all the Whitley Councils established, the Government should not assist these industries to increase production also, and in doing so, if we can get the three working together, I see no reason why the Government should not become partners in that industry and take their share in the extra work that will be produced by the co-operation of the three.
There is another reason why I welcome this Bill as a step in the right, direction. We all agree that we have got to increase production to pay our way and get out of our financial difficulties. As I understand it, that means you have not only got to increase production, but increase consumption. The only way you can increase consumption is by paying the worker sufficient wages to enable him to buy back the produce of his own labour. If you do not do that, it seems to me that you are going to drift back again to the condition which we had before the War, when we had conflicts between Capital and Labour carried on in such a way that the employers were all competing with one another to produce the cheapest goods for the cheapest market, and so reduced the wages of the working classes at every possible opportunity that the workers finally did not receive sufficient wages to enable them to buy back the produce of their own labour, and, therefore, we had glut, disorganisation, and unemployment which was inevitable from such a competitive system as that. But this proposal reverses that policy altogether. You are going to substitute co-operation for the competition of pre-war days. From that point of view I have watched very carefully and sympathetically the propaganda which has been going on in the country by such organisations as the Industrial League and Coun- cil for building up these Industrial Councils and paving the way for the better times which are to come.
I am hoping that the time is coming when, having got all these Whitley Councils established in this country, we shall link them up with similar organisations throughout the Empire. Before Senator Pearce went back to Australia, I was talking to him on this matter, and he said that he hoped that some day we should join hands with the Industrial Councils they were going to form in Australia, in the organisation of hick both he and Mr. Hughes were very much interested. And he went further, and said he hoped we should join not only with the organisations in Australia but with those throughout the Empire. It seems to me that if we can get a great industrial understanding of that kind the Empire will become what we all hope to see it.
In reply to the hon. Member (Mr. Griffiths), who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench, I should like to say that his fears with regard to this Bill are absolutely unfounded, and that this Bill does nothing whatsoever to interfere with any of the machinery at present in operation between trade unions and employers or between employers and employés, nor indeed with any of the machinery of Whitley Councils or trade boards. Some of the comment on the Bill has been in the nature of criticism, as if the Bill represented the whole policy of the Government in regard to industrial matters. As a matter of fact it is but a small part of the policy which the Government have been actively pursuing during the whole of the present year and previously. The Government desire that voluntary arrangements in every industry should be made between all the parties concerned, and that they should seek by such means to get the agreement which we believe is the best solution of all industrial difficulties. The machinery of the Whitley Councils and of the conciliation boards is not interfered with in any way by this Bill. When it is suggested that this Bill interferes or is likely to interfere with these arrangements, I would remind the House that the Government have been actively pursuing a policy of establishing Industrial Councils during the present year with the sole object that those Councils should be the means of communication between employers and employed. Already fifty of these Councils have been set up, covering, with the Interim Reconstruction Councils already in existence, no fewer than 3,500,000 workers, and the Government say with regard to the Councils, "Go on, do your work, agree together; we do not care if we never hear of you, so far as your industry is concerned, provided you will settle the difficulties which you have amongst yourselves." That is the ideal solution. But unfortunately, during the past few years industry has not been proceeding on those lines.
This Bill is a legacy of the War. It really had its birth in the Munition Acts, on the passing of which compulsory arbitration was, practically speaking, brought into operation. After the compulsory arbitration of the War the Temporary Wages Regulation Act came down a stage, but the compulsion of that Act was applied only to the employer. That is one of the difficulties which caused the present machinery to be suggested. As has been pointed out, this Bill does three things only. The right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) suggested that the Government are mixing up things by bringing these three matters into one Bill. As a matter of fact, they are all parts of the same problem, and it is both convenient and right that they should be dealt with together. Therefore I do not propose to say more on that particular subject at the moment. It is not possible, as has been urged, to leave out Part I. and Part II., and to deal with that part of the Bill which provides for the extension of the Temporary Wages Regulation Act, because there must be some machinery for arbitration if that Act is to continue. I suggest, therefore, that we are doing the right and proper thing in bringing in as part and parcel of the Act which stabilises wages until 30th September next year the means of creating voluntary arbitration courts whereby differences can be settled. I rose mainly to deal with one or two points that have been raised about the Bill. They are all perfectly legitimate points. First of all there is the question of the personnel of the Courts. It is a matter of great importance who shall sit upon those Courts. They must be trusted men. It is agreed that the plan which has been in operation during the past year of interim Arbitration Courts has worked very satisfactorily. I think something must be said for the Court when of 850 awards only three, I think, are disputed. It seems to me that as the Ministry, has been successful in getting the proper kind of per sons to deal with matters hitherto, they may be trusted to see that the right men are being selected for this particular Arbitration Court. The very plan which has been adopted for Arbitration Courts is, in the main, the plan which it is proposed to adopt in this Bill. There would be an independent person as chairman, as is the case at present. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Platting Division has now returned; and may I point out that I was referring to the personnel of the Court, and that it would be on similar lines to that of the Arbitration Courts which have been in existence. The representatives would not be appointed by the organisations as such, and I think he is quite right in suggesting that for the organisation to appoint directly one of the members of the Court would be to destroy confidence in the Court eventually, and certainly in my experienceit would destroy the individual before very long. My right hon. Friend and the Labour party may be quite satisfied with regard to the personnel that every attention will be paid and every assurance that can be given will be given that the personnel will be. of the right kind and will be selected with a view to that end. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Griffiths) raised a point with regard to the insertion in this Bill of a reference to the Arbitration Act of 1889. It has been raised by more than one speaker, and it is a point of some importance. The hon. Member said that his society, after all other courses had failed, went to arbitration under the Arbitration Act of 1889, and they therefore accepted, when they did so, the award as legally binding.
I am afraid my hon. Friend must go further than that—as legally binding upon both parties to it. The objection, as I understand, which is put forward is that in Clause 3 of this Bill the reference which is made to the Arbitration Act of 1889 would have the effect of making this particular arbitration also a legal arbitration with a legal and binding effect. The intention of that Clause is nothing of the kind, but is simply to apply the rules of procedure and to take from that Act such rules as are necessary for the setting up of this Court. In the main the provisions of that Act of 1889 which we propose to use here are Section 7 (a), which is a power to administer oaths to witnesses; Section 7 (c), which is a power to correct clerical mistakes in awards; Sections 8 and 18, power to compel the attendance of witnesses; and Section 22, imposing penalties for perjury. Those are the powers with regard to witnesses and attendance which are to be put into operation in this Court of inquiry.
I think it would be better, although I am not quite sure as to the procedure, that the rules to be put into operation should be laid on the Table of the House under the Rules Publication Act, and that would give opportunity for any criticism to be made or any suggestion of alteration or any objection to any parts that might be felt as going too far. I am quite sure there is no intention whatsoever on the part of the Ministry by any legal side-wind in this way to get a legal binding award. These rules are not intended to have anything to do with the award in any shape or form and only with the rules of procedure of the Court. That, I think, covers most of the points as to which my right hon. Friend desired an explanation of the Bill. There was another point in regard to the courts of Inquiry. It has been suggested that in some form or another there is difference in the procedure of what will happen in regard to these Courts of Inquiry as between workmen's organisations and employers' organisations. There is no such difference. The same rules will apply in one case as in the other. If information is sought to be obtained in the Court of Inquiry which, in the view of the employer, would prejudice his position as a business, it is only the relevant information which the Court will be able to make public, and only the relevant information in the case of the trade union, and it will have no right to make a roving search either in the books of the employer or with the mere object of finding out things about the trade union in order to make them public property. It is only those things actually relevant to the dispute and to the inquiry which it would be entitled to make public. I think if my right hon. Friend will look carefully into the Clause lie will find that it goes no further, 'and that it applies as much to the one case as to the other. I can assure all those who have put the various points that it is the endeavour and the intention of the Government to play fair in regard to this matter. We do not think there is anything in this Bill to which reasonable objection can be taken, and it is of very great importance that it should be passed quickly into law. The arbitration parts of it arc in no way compulsory, and therefore there is no harm that can be done, whereas much good may be done. With regard to. the Court of Inquiry, I am quite sure it is the genuine and honest feeling of the House, and of my hon. Friends opposite also, that no possible harm can be done by seeking to get all the' information which it is possible to obtain in order to prevent some of the disastrous strikes which have taken place in the past. This Bill is intended as one of the steps, and one of the steps only, in the path of industrial peace. We believe that the larger and the wider questions must be settled by agreement, by councils, through the trade boards, arid if that policy is actively pursued there would be a very small area to he covered by arbitration at the end.
I regret the necessity for a continuation of the Wages Act for another year. It is now a year since the. Armistice was signed, and it would have been well if we had got to the position whereby employers and workmen had been able to make their own adjustments, but it is obvious that that cannot be done under present conditions, and that the necessity has been forced upon the Government for the continuation of the Wages Act for another twelve months. I welcome the setting up of the Industrial Courts under this Bill. I think that is a step in the right direction, and any system would be better than leaving the Government to interfere in labour disputes. Nothing but harm must come of that. During the course of the War it was unavoidable that the Government should intervene, but I am quite satisfied that much that the Government has done in connection with labour adjustments has been most hurtful. I would refer to the famous 12½ per cent. bonus which was given and which employers all over the country still treasure a very great hatred for, a hatred which is shared largely by responsible workmen's representatives. It caused an infinite amount of harm and disturbance. Again, it is not desirable in the interests of the country and of good government that Downing Street should have intervened in every labour dispute, whether it was coal, policemen, engineering, ship-building, or any other industry, and therefore I welcome the setting up of this Industrial Court, if for no other reason than that it will take from the hands of the politicians and members of the Government the interference in labour disputes, which does not properly belong to them, and if we get an impartial, properly constituted Industrial Court set up, it will be all the better for the trade and industry of this country. We do not know what the composition of the Industrial Court will be, but I submit to the Minister in charge of the Bill, or to his representative on the Front Bench, that he has a good example in the Munitions Tribunal which was set up by the Prime Minister when he was at the Ministry of Munitions. I think there you have an excellent type of what an Industrial Court should be, and I pray fervently that the Government will copy the standard they themselves have set up—a neutral chairman, a representative of the employers, and a representative of the workmen. That, to my mind, is an ideal Court. I hope sincerely the Government will not go into any wild adventures in the composition of an Industrial Court, but will follow and copy the precedent established by themselves.
I quite agree that compulsion is quite out of the question. At one time I thought it desirable, in view of the harm that strikes inflicted on the country, and no less upon the industrial workers themselves, because if any part of the community suffered from a strike it was the working classes. Cast back your minds to any great trade convulsion in this country. It was not the wealthy people or the employers who suffered. Any loss they could easily bear, but the people who suffered were the women and children and our poor working people, and after a great labour convulsion it took years before they had overcome the sufferings and loss and hardship caused by a strike. From that point of view it would not be a bad thing if we had had compulsion, if it had been possible to have a Court established, that neither workmen on the one hand nor employers on the other should be permitted to cause a dislocation of industry, and that whatever the dispute, it should be brought before a tribunal whose award should have compulsory powers behind it. But we must recognise, and I think this Debate has disclosed it to-day, and all our past experience has amply shown it, that any tribunal set up entrusted with compulsory powers would be brought to naught because those compulsory powers could not be enforced. You cannot imprison a great trade union or a great body of workmen, and it would be a difficult thing to impose penalties upon employers. The whole thing would have been rendered of no effect for lack of sufficient power to enforce any compulsory powers, and therefore we have to give up the idea of compulsion and to resort to conciliation. I have listened to-day all through this Debate to many speeches that Slave been made, and particularly to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, when he commended the Courts of Inquiry. I am utterly opposed to the Court of Inquiry in this Bill. I think it is absolutely unnecessary and unduly provocative. I would pin my faith upon the Industrial Court. Just reflect what this Court of Inquiry is ‡ It gives no indication in the Bill as to the personnel of the Court or whether workmen, or employers will be represented on it. Nay, possibly it may be a single man set up, belonging to the lawyer class, to conduct the inquiry, and there is no power given to issue any award or to bring anything to a determination. You may have a great dispute in one of our leading industries, or there may be a possibility of a dispute coming on, and the Labour Minister may set up a Court of Inquiry to examine and report, but all that is done under that Court of Inquiry is to send in a report to Parliament. If the Court of Inquiry were an appeal tribunal, if from the Industrial Court you had to appeal to the Court of Inquiry and that Court had any power to cause any award to be made, there might be some justification for it, but no such thing is provided for in the Bill, and, as I have said, I think it is unduly provocative and quite unnecessary.
What I would do if I had anything to do with it at all would be to combine the Industrial Court with the Court of Inquiry, and I would give such powers to the Industrial Court as I think they would have, if parties consented to come before them, to call for books and papers, and to hold an Industrial Court of Inquiry, so that the public might ascertain how the Court was acting, what was the nature of the evidence brought before the Court, when and where both parties to a dispute cared to put their case before the Court. That, I think, would examine more effectively than this Court of Inquiry could do the whole case, and let the public be fully informed of the whole proceedings. I submit that if the Industrial Court is set up— and I think it is the one living feature of the Bill—and if you can induce both parties to submit their case to the Court, it will be quite sufficient to ascertain all the facts and all the circumstances round about the dispute, without referring to this Court of Inquiry. The present need of the time is for a speedy and ready means of 'settling trade disputes. I think the Government have gone on the right tines by setting up an Industrial Court which presents an opportunity to both sides to put their case before the Court, and what we need, after all the terrible sacrifices we have gone through during the last five years, is for industry to get settled down, both workers and employers, and do the best to get back to normal conditions, so that, in the interests of workers, employers, and the State, industry may run along more settled lines. If by means of this Industrial Court a greater spirit of conciliation and cooperation can be engendered, nothing but good can result from that spirit and that influence. But 1 pray sincerely the Government will seriously reconsider the 'establishment of the Court of Inquiry, as I am sure that is a fatal defect of the Bill.
I want to offer a few observations upon this Bill, which, after all, is very important and far-reaching both to workmen, and employers. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman clear our minds of one important element in the Bill, and that was, as I thought it would be, but we have the assurance now that confirms one's conviction, that whatever machinery is set up under the Bill it will not destroy or interfere with any existing machinery that has worked for many years very satisfactorily. Of course, one quite appreciates the difficulty that presents itself in the minds of people who have been associated with certain methods, and really lave worked very hard in years gone by to establish conciliation boards, and methods of settlement in the way in which they have been done, and when one realises the success that has beer attached to them, one is very jealous that nothing should interfere with its continuance. The right hon. Gentleman has set our minds at rest upon that issue. Consequently, as with my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. T. Griffiths)—we are associated very much pm the same class of work —it has put one's mind very much at rest. I have had experience enough to know something of the good effect that has been produced. I am old enough to remember when it was the most unpopular thing in the world in Labour circles to talk about arbitration. I am old enough to remember the hostility displayed not only by workmen but by employers. I am old enough to remember the impossibility of attempting to deal with labour matters in a conciliatory spirit, and the only remedy you had, whether it was right or wrong, was a strike. Well, things have moved since then, and matters have improved very considerably, and I want to pay my tribute of respect and appreciation for the work that has been accomplished by the Arbitration Courts set up during the period of the War. That, with other methods adopted, has been turning men's minds into a hew current, and we begin to get familiarised with, and to understand, the value of conciliation and arbitration as against the brutal arbitrament of a strike or a lockout; but you have got to bring men and women to an understanding of the position.
For many years—I do not deny the fact, but I have committed no sins, so I have no penances to make—I was a very strong advocate of compulsory arbitration. I raised my views many a time in our Trade Union Congress and various other congresses, and for many years we had a resolution upon the agenda, but every time I found myself very much in the same position as I find myself in this, House on a Division, in a very hopeless minority. But we felt the time had not arrived for compulsory arbitration. There was too much fear as to the possibilities of it and that if you had attempted to force it upon our trade unions it would have brought about disaster. Consequently, for years that has been dropped, though it might revive again sometime later on. But coming back to the Courts of Arbitration established in Old Palace Yard we have only been told something of the result of the last few months of the interim arbitration Court set up, but during the last five years there have been thousands of cases heard and dealt with, and the only difficulty I have found in handling the jobs on my side has been that we could not get through fast enough. I found very little hostility at the later stages among the men, and I am here to say that scores of serious strikes or lockouts have been prevented by the willingness and the readiness with which it has been agreed to refer matters to arbitration, and we have come away, having had a sympathetic hearing and sympathetic consideration, and I do not know at the moment of a single case which has been decided against us where the men or the women have refused to accept the award. We have not had an easy task. We have had to take our corner. We have had to meet the hostile crowd, to reason with them, and to point out to them that the function of the Arbitration court is to hear and to decide upon the merits of the case. The Britisher always takes his defeat, as well as his gains, perhaps, with a grunt and a grumble, but there is a certain satisfaction to those concerned. So to-day I am satisfied that the Ministry of Labour have done the right thing in bringing in this Bill, because it contains three important principles. First of all, there is the setting up of the Court of Arbitration on which we have all agreed. The compulsory element is removed. If that was in it would spoil the whole business. I have a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman on the opposite side said—the last speaker. I think the second part has a somewhat unfortunate title. A Court of Inquiry‡ That seems to convey somewhat of a wrong impression as to what that body is intended to accomplish. I would rather have seen it called a Court of Conciliation. Such a title would have a softer tone. After all, a Court of Inquiry is really an attempt at conciliation. It is to remedy wrongs, to inquire into cases of dispute, and to try to put the whole thing right. Perhaps if the title had been altered and we had conciliation followed by arbitration the matter would have been in its proper order, and perhaps removed a cause of stumbling later.
I am very pleased indeed—as a last point—that the Ministry of Labour has been bold enough to face the issue of fixing wages for the next twelve months. I was present at the conferences to which reference has been made, and took part, in the discussion. I must say there could not have been very much hostility, otherwise this matter would not have been included in the Bill. I am pleased at the inclusion, because it would be the weakest, poorest, and lowest paid labour to-day that would have had to suffer if this provision were not included in the Bill. The powerful trade unions could have defended themselves, and would be strong enough. I believe, to have successfully defeated any suggestion for a reduction of 10 per cent., 15 per cent., or 25 per cent. But one has to remember that this section covers the whole community. There are workpeople to-day who are not sufficiently organised to resist. There are some unions in existence not sufficiently powerful to resist. So that in this, as in every other case, if an attack was made, it is the weakest that would suffer. By stabilising wages for another twelve months it is going to help us to get over the transitional stage through which we are passing, and will give us the opportunity of consolidating things, arid developing on the proper lines.
We have heard speeches from these benches extolling and explaining the virtue and value of other people's methods and other people's work. In that connection we have one of the most pitiable instances that can possibly be read or heard of in America at the present time; and all for the want of a little bit of conciliation. All for the want of the recognition of each other's rights, of a Court of the kind projected, where each side could sit around the table and explain the difficulties that exist. All for the want of a little bit of method that would prevent this terrible disaster. Even to-day we have heard here certain hon. Members condemn this Bill. We are face to face with an Amendment that means getting rid of it, if it means anything at all. If this Bill were to be put upon the shelf, and resulted next week in an industrial strike, those who have moved the Amendment, deplored the weakness of the Government in giving way to the clamour of the trade unions, and surrendering all rights and privileges—these very Gentlemen would be deploring the want of tact and courage on the part of the Government in not going on with their measure, and they would be denouncing the trade unions because they allowed the strike to proceed.
I certainly think that the Ministry of Labour has done right in bringing forward this bill. There are many things in it that we may desire to modify, to alter, to strengthen, but we give it a sympathetic welcome; we say that it contains the possibility of great things. I hope the House will give it a Second Reading, and let us take our chance then of building up our trade and settling our industrial troubles in a sane and proper way. I am not foolish enough to say that any Act of Parliament or scheme devised by the greatest, cleverest, wisest people in the world is going to solve and settle all possible industrial disputes. There are bound to be difficulties and trouble. There is no family on earth that has not got its own little internal squabbles in some way or another. No matter what Act of Parliament you pass, or what scheme you adopt, we shall have our troubles and our difficulties. But the conclusion of the whole matter is this: to adopt sane methods of settling matters in dispute and preventing strikes, and consequent sorrow and suffering. We may grumble at each other in all these things, but let us keep the wheels of the machinery working and production in-creasing, and all be the better for it.
The discussion this evening has been conducted chiefly by employers of labour on the one hand and the direct representatives of Labour on the other. I should like to say just a word or two from the point of view of the man in the street, or, rather, in my place, the man in the country lane. I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour upon the success which has attended his Bill and upon the reception it has received in this House. I am not at all surprised at that. If I may say so, I was one of those who were not surprised when my right hon. Friend was selected as the Minister of Labour. I learned in days gone by of his splendid parts if he will allow me to say so, and I look with a sort of supplemental pleasure on the success with which he has conducted his work as Minister of Labour and on the great amount of confidence which he seems to have received from the members of the Labour party. When I knew him first he was an unbending Tory. Those who feel as if the world is going against them when they are preaching principles that are unpopular can take comfort from the fact that, when we were trying to inoculate him with Liberal principles, some thirty years ago, it seemed hopeless, but now it is bearing fruit.
The right hon. Gentleman has just escaped the fate of those of whom all men speak well. There has been a little criticism this evening, but I think that in the main the speeches have been of a most friendly and hopeful character. I was especially glad to observe the spirit on the speeches delivered from these benches by LAG 141einhers 01 the Labour party. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) criticised the Bill for many reasons, one of which was that it was of no use because it, did not provide for compulsory arbitration. Some criticisms used to be made against the Hague Tribunal when it was established by the late Czar, but although some people may look upon the Hague Tribunal as to some extent a failure because it had not compulsory powers, I believe that really it has been a grand in centive and a great power in formulating the opinion that is so prevalent in these days in favour of the League of Nations. Perhaps there is no harm in saying that I believe the late Czar will not be remembered as the man who went down in the Russian Revolution, but as the first ruler who had the moral courage to propose the settlement of the claims of nations by arbitration rather than by the sword. Perhaps in a similar way, if my right hon. Friend goes down in the industrial revolution, which I hope will never come to pass, this Bill will be a monument to his moral courage in proposing industrial arbitration. I believe that, although it does not give compulsory power, it would do a great deal of good, not only in bringing economic peace but economic justice, and in that sense I welcome it, and I hope it will have a fair voyage through. this House.
Reference was made by the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that it was going to cost money, and he expressed doubt as to whether it was provided for in the normal Budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman should have remembered that when he cheerfully jazzed into the Lobby with the great majority of the House last Thursday night in approval of the Chancellor's "normal" Budget. I believe the Bill will-be productive of much good in the industrial life of the country.
I should like to say, first of all, that anything that will help to bring about a better state of affairs between employers and employed always has my sympathy. This Bill is of great importance, and I believe that if it is passed it will circumvent a great many of the difficulties which now exist. I was delighted to hear it said that the Government had no intention of interfering in industrial disputes, but that the whole matter was to be one of voluntary work. I should like to ask one question. In the first part of the Bill it is proposed to have an Industrial Court. It seems to me that, according to the Bill, only one such Court will be set up, and I think that is an objection. If a dispute should occur, for instance, in the coal trade, it is no use putting men upon that Court who know nothing about the coal trade; and, in the same way, if something should happen in the cotton trade, it would be no use having men who know nothing about the cotton trade. In view of that, I think it will be necessary to have more than one Industrial Court; I think there should be one for each separate industry. With reference to the second part of the Bill, I think it might be as well if the Government could see their way to drop that portion. I am entirely opposed to Government interference in any matter that can be better settled between employers and employed. In connection with a dispute in the coal trade during the War I was appointed aribtrator, and after that had been done it was discovered by the miners' leaders that they had made a mistake, and that if they went to arbitration they would lose and the men would suffer. So they said they would have no arbitration. We wanted them to go on, but the Government stepped in and said there should be no arbitration. That resulted in a great deal of harm, and there was, in fact, a loss to the men. The men expected that they would simply have to ask for what they wanted and they would get it. I am therefore opposed to setting up a Court of Inquiry, because I think that matters could be settled better by the parties interested, who know the work better than any Government official can. It is a great pity that the third part of the Bill is required, whereby wages are to be kept up until the 30th September next, but I suppose it cannot very well be done away with.
I am afraid that this Bill will not settle small disputes. Small disputes take place where no Court of Arbitration can be got to step in, and in such cases the country often suffers. I think it would be a good thing if some Clause could be brought in whereby something might be done, even in small disputes, to settle matters before they come to a strike. As it is, this Bill will only settle big disputes which are going to upset the whole of an industry. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon his Bill. If it gets fair play and the Courts of Arbitration are composed of proper men, it will do a great deal of good. What we are out for is to get things settled down in such a way that our industries will go on and the country will be as prosperous as it was in pre-war days.
I should like to add my blessing to this new-born child in the industrial world. I trust that it will become healthy and develop. I feel sure that it contains principles that will mean a great deal to our people in industry. I trust also that the Amendment suggested will be a stillborn child. I subscribe to all the principles underlying this Bill without committing myself to details. The principle of the Bill, more or les, has operated in the North for well nigh forty years. In the north country in connection with the miners we have had what is called a joint committee, composed of owners and workmen, and wherever there is a dispute in a local colliery, if it is not settled by the local people, it is sent on to the joint committee, and, if possible, it is settled there, If it is a case that is going to take too long, or is too delicate or too intricate, it is referred to arbitration. Cases have in this way been settled, and the decisions accepted loyally by the workmen. My active experience in industrial matters goes back for forty-five years, and I feel sure that strikes are not all the right thing. Strikes, like wars, breed mischief and create misery, and I trust that this Bill in its principle will be accepted, for out of it will surely come a rich harvest of peace and blessings for future generations.
Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Wardle.]