I beg to move,
That, in the opinion of this House, the Conventions adopted at the International Labour Conference under the League of Nations should be submitted to Parliament as the competent authority.
In moving this Motion I desire to call the attention of the House to the failure of the Government to give effect to the Labour Chapter of the Paris Peace Treaty. The non-compliance of which I complain is in respect of certain Conventions arising out of the International Conference held at Washington in the back end of 1919. That Conference was held under all the conditions imposed at Paris a few months before and one of those conditions was that any Government had a right to put a complaint forward in regard to any item which might be found upon the agenda for that Conference. The agenda had been circulated for months before, therefore the Government could have put in an objection to any item, and if that objection had been put in the organising committee would have been brought under obligation to circularise all the Governments, so that if any objection had been taken to an item on the agenda there is little doubt that that item would have been eliminated. The Government failed to avail themselves of that provision and the agenda went forward as it had been drawn up and it was before the Government. The Conventions were adopted by the necessary two-thirds majority, therefore the Government came under obligation to act in respect of the Conventions in the manner prescribed by the Peace Treaty. Perhaps I had better read the Clause in question—19 of the Labour Chapter and 405 of the document the Minister of Labour has in his mind. I will omit the words which are not relevant because it will only confuse the issue. The operative words are as follow:
Each of the high contracting parties"—
that is to say, each of the Governments—
undertakes that it will bring the draft Convention before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter
lies for the enactment of legislative or other action.
That is the sole obligation resting upon the Government in respect of these Conventions unless the competent authority decides to legislate, and, of course, in that case the Government would be called upon to give effect to the Convention, but in the first place, and unless that is followed by legislation, the sole obligation resting upon the Government is to submit the Convention to the competent authority.
What is the first thing that emerges from the wording of the Clause I have just read? It is that the Government has come under an obligation to submit the Convention or Conventions to some authority or authorities outside and apart from themselves. To bring the draft Convention before the authority or authorities, means some authority other than the Government. I should like the House to keep that in mind, because it is very important, when we come to consider the answers which have been given to me by Ministers. In the second place, they are called upon to bring that Convention before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies for the enactment of legislation. Who is the authority or authorities in this country for the enactment of legislation? I know of only one and that is Parliament. Therefore, so far as the Government have not brought the Conventions before Parliament, I submit that the Government is in default. The last three words are perfectly clear. There were some Conventions agreed to at Washington which did not involve legislation. It may be that in some countries existing conditions are in advance of the Conventions adopted, and therefore the matter does not involve legislation. The Government already have power to carry them out by administration, if they have not already done so. There were one or two Conventions of that kind in connection with the prevention of poisoning processes in industry, in connection with anthrax and so on, which did not involve legislation, but involved other action. The sense of these words I have quoted from the treaty is in accordance with the democratic ideas surging through the minds of most people at the time immediately following the War, but which have so soon evaporated from the minds of Ministers. At all events, the Conventions were to be brought before the popular Assembly so that the popular Assembly might have cognisance of what was being done and the Conventions should have the light of publicity thrown upon them. I submit that on the wording of the document alone the Government is in default in not having submitted these Conventions to Parliament.
Let us take the intention of those who were in Paris. That is no less clear. Everyone of the members on the Labour Commission, and I think there were 36 of us, had in his mind that these conventions were to be brought before Parliament. It may be said, "Why did you not say so in set terms?" The answer is perfectly simple. We were dealing with a condition of things that did not admit of precise language. We were drawing up a document that had to fit in with the conditions of about forty countries. Some of them have not got Parliaments. I do not think there is a Parliament in Siam. There was a doubt as to whether legislation in the United States should initiate with the House of Representatives or with the separate State Assemblies. There were difficulties, for instance, with our own colonies, and in regard to India. Who was to put it into operation there? But even if every one of them had legislative authorities it would not have got us out of our difficulty in using wide language. I suppose the only precise way of getting it through a document of this sort covering all countries would have been to say, "in the case of Great Britain the Houses of Parliament, in the case of France the Chamber of Deputies, in the case of Washington the House of Representatives," and so on. We might have got a list as long as my arm and then probably we should have found we had made mistakes somewhere, and therefore we had to employ this more or less wide language, "the competent authority or authorities," so as to get over the difficulty of fitting all countries. But in the mind of every single one of us there was no doubt as to our own country, or any other country where freedom had broadened down to representative institutions, that the conventions were to be submitted to those representative authorities. When we get away from the necessity of using that wide language we find that it is expressly set out in other documents. I have here a document which has the British Cabinet's stamp
upon it. It bears the British War Cabinet stamp, and is marked "P.117." It was drawn up on the 14th March, 1919, that is, before the Labour Chapter was submitted to the Peace Conference, nearly a month before, so that everyone had it. It was submitted to the British delegates at Paris. Therefore, the British delegates outside those forming the Labour Commission would have precise knowledge not only of what was done but what was in our minds as to the interpretation of what was done. On page 17 of that document, speaking of the Conference of Labour organisations, I find these words:
The Conference was not simply an assembly for the purpose of passing resolutions, but would draw up draft conventions which the States would have to present to their legislative authorities.
When I turn to page 9 of the same document, I find that Mr. Vandervelde, of Belgium, who followed me, and who backed me up, used specific language. I have used the wide language that I have already quoted, but Mr. Vandervelde, in delivering a speech which was afterwards made a subject of commendatory comment by the Prime Minister in Paris, and also from the Treasury Bench, referred several times to democratic countries having to submit these Conventions to their legislatures. That will be found on page 9. Further down he says:
Another objection has been made to the Draft Resolutions of the Commission, for the Italian delegates considered that the powers given to the future Labour Legislation Conferences were insufficient. In point of fact these Conferences will be, in spite of everything, Conferences of Plenipotentiaries; they will not be able to vote for anything except recommendations or Conventions, which must necessarily be submitted for ratification to the different Legislatures.
In making that speech he was referring to the document under discussion with the provisions therein contained in contradistinction to any other proposals that had been made for a super-Parliament which would have power to make laws for all the different countries. He regarded ours as a moderate proposal, and that moderate proposal was commented upon favourably by our Prime Minister, not only in Paris, but later on, when he came back, from the Front Bench in this House. Therefore, I submit that first of all, in accordance with the wording of the Labour chapter of the Peace Treaty, and, secondly, in regard to the intention of everybody concerned and subsequently
endorsed by the Prime Minister, the Government is in default in not having already submitted these Conventions to Parliament. I think I have said enough as to the wording of the Conventions and the intention. What is the attitude of the Goverment? That remains to be seen, because it has not yet been revealed in answer to questions. A great deal depends upon it, because, as hon. Members on both sides are aware, this Labour chapter was hailed with delight by many in this House and elsewhere as an effort whereby through co-operation and goodwill we could deal with these labour problems throughout the world. If the Government make it a dead letter, and if they show by their action or inaction that they are concerned only with labour problems when there is a dispute, they will play right into the hands of those who do not want co-operation or goodwill, but who do want anarchy.
There are three Government Departments directly concerned in giving effect to these conventions, the Home Office, the Labour Ministry and the Ministry of Health. None of them has given effect to the provisions of the Labour chapter; none of them has shown the slightest appreciation of what the terms were. The terms were to submit the conventions to an authority outside of themselves which, I submit, is Parliament. The Home Office have, however, made some show of compliance. In fact they have done a good deal, but so far as the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health are concerned they have shown the utmost contempt for the whole business. I had a letter from the Home Office in reply to an inquiry as to what they had done. They said:
The Home Office has done all that it had to do in connection with the draft Convention and Recommendations adopted by the Washington Conference. We have given effect to three of the Conventions (night work of women, night work of young persons, age of admission of children to industrial employment) by the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act, and the formal ratification of these will be going very shortly, I believe, to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations. We have also given effect to the Recommendation about lead poisoning by the Women and Young Persons (Employment in Lead Processes) Act, 1920. The other three Recommendations with which we were concerned (anthrax, Government health service, and the prohibition of white phosphorus matches) we were already carrying out. The
position as regards anthrax is that the Home Office trial disinfecting station at Liverpool is almost completed, and will be ready to start in a few weeks.
That is a fairly good show, but it does not comply with the conditions, because not a single one of these Conventions was ever submitted to Parliament. Still, the Home Office did take action, and did legislate upon some of the matters in question. There are two Conventions outstanding which have to be dealt with or let alone by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour, namely, the eight hours Convention and the Convention in regard to maternity. I put a question to the two Ministers concerned in regard to their intentions about these two Conventions, but with very little result. The last question I put was on the 17th February last. In answer to my question the Minister of Labour said:
Negotiations with representative employers and trade unions are still in progress with a view to securing agreement with regard to the terms of a proposed Bill for regulating hours of labour, and I hope to make a statement on the matter at an early date.
I had been getting that answer in more or less the same terms for about six months, so I gave it up and have put no more questions to that particular Ministry. I do not know whether hope deferred has made his heart sick. At any rate, I have heard of no settlement being made, and I do not know of any Bill. I should be glad to know if there is a Bill. On the same day I put a question to the Minister of Health, and received a very curt reply. He said:
His Majesty's Government, after full consideration, have decided not to ratify the Washington Maternity Convention.
I did not ask any such question. What I asked was whether he would tell me the intentions of the Government in regard to its commitments about the Washington Conventions. He absolutely ignored the obligation under which the Government rests and curtly and, I think, insolently said His Majesty's Government do not intend to ratify the Convention. That is to say, the Government assume to be a law unto themselves and absolutely ignore the provision I have mentioned, and which, as I submit, brought them under an obligation to submit it to Parliament.
I beg pardon, I should have said the late Minister of Health. After that, I gave up hope of the Ministry, and began to ask questions of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House. In consequence of that we are now, after three months' delay, and close on 17 months after the holding of the Convention, at last allowed to discuss the matters in question on the floor of the House which we ought to have done a year ago. Parliament has a right under the terms of the document which has been subscribed to by the Ministers on behalf of the Government—Ministers including myself as I occupied that position at the time—to have these documents submitted to it for examination. If the Government fail to do that to that extent they are slighting Parliament. It has been said by a Minister that the Government is not obliged and cannot be brought under any obligation to submit anything to any outside authority. In regard to that there are three things to say. First, the Government ought to have thought of that before they signed the document. Second, the language in question is the language of insularity in contradistinction to the publicity and democracy of which we have all been thinking for the last year or two it breeds the spirit which made one war and which might make another. Third, no one suggests that the Government should be brought under any outside authority at all unless Parliament can be so described.
Another statement made to me the other day by a Minister was that if that interpretation was given to the document in question, the Government and Parliament might be brought under the direction of the Director of the Labour Office. To my mind that is arrant nonsense, because the Government are not asked to do anything of the kind. The Director of the Labour Office has no more right to ask the Government to do anything contrary to or outside the decision of the Conference than has the man in the street. The Government are only asked to allow Parliament to examine the Conventions passed by an authority whose agenda they have a right to limit, and passed by that authority only by a two-thirds majority of delegates, half of whom represent Governments. There are two outstanding Conventions. One, to which the Government refers by the Amendment to put down to-day, is the eight-hours Convention and the other is the Maternity Convention. There is a difference on the obligation resting on the Government with regard to these two Conventions. Perhaps I am treading on thin ice if I say that the obligation is more in connection with the Industrial Convention than with the other. I did not vote for the Maternity Convention, therefore the Government is not under a moral obligation there.
I did not vote for it because I have urged that these conferences should not be merely made the medium by which to blow off idealistic or propaganda resolutions. The conferences are arranged under the Labour Organisation to be held every year, and I have always urged that they ought to be moderate and adopt conventions such as would have a reasonable chance of passing before the next conference. If that is not done the conference obviously will lose in moral weight. They will simply continue the conferences with which we have all been more or less familiar for the last 40 years. The first was in Berlin, I believe, in 1880, and we have had conferences I suppose nearly every year since, but these conferences have resulted in nothing—I will not say that. That would not be fair to all those who have been, like my hon. Friend behind (Major Hills) and Sir David Shackleton and others, putting in a great deal of work in connection with recommendations for international legislation, and have done a great deal in opening up the ground and forming public opinion, and I would not like to hurt their feelings. But apart from that there has been very little arising from these conferences. Therefore the conference which we had started under the Labour Organisation set up in Paris was intended, the ground having been opened and public opinion formed, here and now to set up the necessary machinery to give effect to a great many of the resolutions that have been adopted at previous conferences. Before I leave the Maternity Convention I do not want by anything I have said to indicate to anybody that in my mind the obligation of the Government to bring it forward is less in regard to that than in regard to any other convention. It was adopted by the necessary two-thirds majority, and therefore the Government were under obligation not to ratify—we have never claimed that—but to allow Parliament to have a look at it. That they have failed to do. To that extent they are in fault.
In regard to the Eight-hours Convention, they are under a double obligation. I went to Washington as one of the Government delegates with my colleague, Sir Malcolm Delevingne. We knew that there had been some sort of an arrangement between the Government and the Industrial Council about the Eight-hours Bill. We were extremely anxious that anything we should do should not clash with anything that had been arranged, and therefore we kept ourselves in telegraphic communication while in Washington with the Government, so that we should not in any way interfere with whatever arrangement the Government had made. The Government at the time were committed to eight-hours legislation, and we actually voted for this Convention in strict conformity with the instructions which had been given us before we left and while we were there. Therefore, it seems to me that the Government are plainly under an obligation, not only to submit that particular convention to Parliament, but to carry it through.
I have dealt with the letter of the law. I conclude with a few words on the needs of the present situation. If the attitude of the Government is fairly and correctly voiced by the late Minister of Health, obviously it means knocking the bottom out of the whole Labour Organisation. It will become a mere cypher in the hands of Government—in the hands of capitalist Governments, some of my friends will be disposed to say. It was not intended to be this. It was intended to be a great deal more than that; it was intended to be an agency by which employers' organisations and workmen's organisations were to be brought in to co-operate with Governments in getting results. We got the support of Labour organisations and of employers' organisations throughout the world on that understanding, but we are not likely to keep that support if the attitude of the Government is to be sustained to-day. Why should those organisations spend money and time in more futile talk? There has been too much talk already. Why should the Government spend the nation's money in sending delegates to international conferences if they intend to ignore the votes of their delegates? The
success of the International Labour Organisation depends, on the whole, upon results. If there is no result the organisation will fail, and that failure will delight the hearts of the Bolshevists throughout this country and other countries. I saw in a newspaper recently an article by the chairman of a conference of London trade unionists. The conference was held for the purpose of popularising the Third International, otherwise Bolshevism. It was held on 7th May. The chairman said:
This Conference discussed and agreed as to the desirability and necessity of the trade unions of this country refusing to be identified with what is known as the Amsterdam International"—
That is the International covering all the trade unions which up to now have co-operated with us—
and strongly urged the necessity for the unions to affiliate to the Red International which is to be held at Moscow. … At the Conference on the 7th instant there were present 354 delegates, 217 London branches sending them, and 127 delegates were from the A.E.U.
If the Government's attitude to this Labour organisation, as voiced by the Minister of Health, is to be sustained, the number of delegates to the next conference will be very much larger. It is to that that the Government policy is leading. It is an unwise policy. I say, further, that it will lead to trouble. It is not only an unwise policy, it is an unfair policy. It is unfair to many of us who have helped to build up this Labour organisation and who had hoped that in the organisation we were to contribute to peace and goodwill amongst people, to lessen the waste due to stoppage of work, and to raise the condition of the people in the poorer countries instead of our being dragged down to their level. But if we are to be opposed by the Government we are helpless. I am sorry to say that some of my friends have joined the Bolshevists. I shall not do that because I know that the Bolshevist philosophy is false, and that its followers are fed and deluded with phrases. I shall not join the Bolshevists. The only alternative, it seems to me, is to stand by and "wait and see," or, to adopt the later motto of the Prime Minister, "watch and pray." I hope and pray that the Fates may be kinder to us than we deserve. The Government have another month, because
the utmost time remaining is to the end of June.
If it be July, so much the better. At all events the Government have a month or two to show whether they intend the labour organisation to be a sham, a mere scrap of paper, or whether they intend to honour their signature. I hope we shall be told something to-day in favour of the latter course.
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words
it is not expedient in existing circumstances to proceed with legislation to give effect to the Washington Convention on Hours of Labour.
No man has greater claims than my right hon. Friend to bring forward the matters now raised. We know and appreciate the high purpose to which he devoted himself. That purpose is, step by step, to raise the standard of comfort, amenity, and the well-being of the working people the world over, and certainly they have no more sincere or disinterested friend and advocate than my right hon. Friend. If necessity compel me to move an Amendment to his Motion, I am happy in the knowledge that we do not seriously part company in fact on the substance of things. My right hon. Friend warned us against leaving labour difficulties alone until troubles arise.
Otherwise I would not have moved the Amendment. I desire that the whole case should be treated on its merits. The right hon. Gentleman warned us, as I said, and I most cordially agree that we should not leave labour difficulties until troubles arise. My Department has spent half its time and more in meeting troubles half-way in order that it may not go the rest of the journey, and it has spent the time with a very great deal of success. My right hon. Friend knows that as well as any man in this House. Much has been done by means of arbitration and by other action which is unknown to this House. It is only when there is a strike that the newspaper headlines get busy with black type and the House knows that there is trouble. We spend every day, and often all day, and with considerable success, in dealing with troubles half-way. Lip-service is done to the proverb, "Prevention is better than cure." The man who prevents does not get the bouquets thrown at him; the man who cures, does.
The Motion raises the question of what is the competent authority to determine action, that is, ratification or otherwise of the several draft Conventions of the Washington Conference. The answer to that question is to be found in the text of the Treaty. I shall not discuss the Treaty now, because the learned Attorney-General is the proper person to deal with the constitutional question of procedure here raised. He will do so at a later stage. Let me say at once that, although the Attorney-General may hold, on the text of the Treaty, that ratification or otherwise is a matter for the Executive on behalf of the Crown, I am not resting my Amendment on that circumstance. I am resting my Amendment on the substantial merits of the case, and I wish that to be generally understood. It may be that the text is such as to leave the matter to the Executive on behalf of the Crown, but I waive that entirely and I rely on the merits. Now, though my Amendment asks the House to say that it is not expedient in existing circumstances to proceed with legislation to give effect to the Washington Convention on hours of labour, I must at once disavow in regard to all these Conventions any obscurantist attitude on our part. My right hon. Friend seems to think that we desire to ignore these findings. We have no desire to ignore them at all, and, if it were true that we took up such an attitude, it would in fact belie the past record of this country in matters affecting the social conditions of the people. The fact is, as regards most of these Conventions, as I shall presently show, this country has already a first-class record and, I may say, a record in advance of any other country in the world. My duty here is to prove that, and I propose to do so.
Let me take the several Conventions dealing with questions of hours of labour and other matters, and, in the words of my right hon. Friend, "Let us have a look at them." There is a Convention on the subject of machinery for dealing with unemployment. We passed legislation in 1909 which covers the aim of the Convention on this matter, the principal point being the establishment of a system of free public employment agencies or exchanges. We are in a position to ratify this Convention, and shall do so. Secondly, there is a Convention dealing with the employment of women before and after child-birth, to which my right hon. Friend properly paid considerable attention. On the 22nd of March last the then Minister of Health stated very fully the position with regard to this Convention, and the reasons which have led the Government to decide not to ratify it. Let me read, if I may, a few relevant extracts from the statement made on that occasion by the Minister of Health, and if they are somewhat lengthy I apologise to the House. He said:
What were the proposals of the Washington Convention? That we should provide for the six weeks preceding and the six weeks following confinement.… These were the recommendations relating to employed women. We have in this country a system which is doubly capable of dealing with these questions. We have an Insurance Act which provides a maternity benefit for women who are themselves workers or for the wives of employed contributors. We have, parallel with that and administered by local authorities, a system for giving assistance, advice, and so forth in connection with maternity and child-welfare generally. These recommendations cut right across the whole of that system, which has been gradually built up in this country far in advance of any other country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1921; col. 2466, Vol. 139.]
Later, he said:
Our system provides that not only the women employed, but the women who are the wives of employed contributors, although they themselves are not employed, shall also benefit.… These recommendations apply to about one-ninth of the married women of a particular class in this country, and to one-ninth only. But we have done something for the remaining eight-ninths."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1921; col. 2467, Vol. 139.]
He also said:
There is now established a great system of maternity and child welfare centres throughout the country. … It is a system which has developed on lines quite different from those recommended by the Washington Convention. The results are brilliant; no other word is adequate to describe them. During the past two or three years there has been a conspicuous absence of a bad epidemic. People have been better fed than before, and since the War there has been a greatly awakened conscience on these matters. Let me give the House the child death rate for London. In 1913 it was 106, in 1917 it was 104, in 1918 it was 108. I do not want to exaggerate what can be attributed to the services I have described, but they have had a vast influence. In 1919 the rate fell to 85, and in 1920 to 75. The child death rate for the greatest city in the world has been brought down in that remarkable way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1921; col. 2468, Vol. 139.]
May I interrupt my right hon. Friend, and say that to my mind this is right off the line? I said not a single word about the merits of these schemes. Further, I may say that the Minister of Health on that occasion was taking part in a discussion—I believe I am right in saying—on an Adjournment Motion, and that there was no opportunity for anybody to say anything after him.
As I understand it, the suggestion is that we have taken no notice of these Conventions and their recommendations. I am entitled to show what this country has done in these respects. The other three Conventions are on the employment of women during the night; on the maximum age of employment of children in industry and on night work of young persons employed in industry. These three Conventions have all been covered by the Women, Young Persons and Children's Employment Act, 1920, and will be ratified. I return now to the first of the Conventions, that dealing with the application of the principle of the Eight Hour Day and the 48-hour week. That is the matter which is mainly the issue, apart from the question of maternity. The House will remember that we introduced an Hour of Employment Bill in August, 1919, to give effect to the recommendations of the Provisional Joint Committee to which my Friend has referred, set up by the National Industrial Conference in that year. There was no time to proceed with the Bill and in any event certain matters had still to be discussed with the Joint Committee with a view to securing an agreed Bill. In the autumn of that year the Washington International Labour Conference adopted what has come to be known as the Eight Hours Convention and in subsequent negotiations with the Provisional Joint Committee we naturally took this Convention into account. My predecessor and I have had many interviews with the representatives of the Joint Committee, one of whom is opposite me at this moment, and with their interests concerned, still with the hope that we might be able to reach agreement, but so far this has not been practicable.
In the meantime—and this cannot be overlooked—our examination of the detailed provisions of the Washington Hours Convention disclosed the fact that there are difficulties in applying some of those provisions to the industrial circumstances of this country. The most serious of these difficulties is created by the position of the railwaymen, who, of course, are included in the Convention. The railway trade unions and the railway companies in this country are agreed that the limitations proposed by the Convention are not applicable to the British railway system, and the Minister of Transport agrees also. I am here dealing with a very important detail of this general proposition. At present the railwaymen are governed by agreements under which they have a guaranteed day and a guaranteed 48 hours' week, apart from Sunday, with regular Sunday duty occurring every second or third Sunday. Sunday duty is paid for at a special rate, and is not regarded as coming within the guaranteed week of 48 hours that is to say, the railways Have, by agreement, a system which regularises a week of more than 48 hours as a normal thing, exclusive of the ordinary overtime. That being the position, the adoption of the Convention would make it necessary to interfere with those agreements by legislation, and frankly we do not think that is expedient. Then there is the question of the hours of work of seamen, which was left over from Washington to be dealt with at Genoa. It was not then settled, and it is still outstanding, though negotiations are proceeding. That is a further practical difficulty in framing an Hours of Employment Bill.
Apart from that—and I hope I have made it perfectly clear about the railway men—the difficulties in regard to the provisions of the Convention with regard to overtime are not to be disregarded. The Provisional Joint Committee, as my right hon. Friend knows, agreed that overtime should be limited by agreement between employers' and workpeople's organisations, but the meaning which both sides attached to that limitation was never very clear, though it is certain that, as far as the Provisional Joint Committee were concerned, they always contemplated considerable elasticity in permitting overtime to meet the varying circumstances of trade. The Convention does not give any recognition to overtime as a regular feature of industrial work at all. Frankly, it would be difficult in this country for any Government Department to frame regulations which would at one and the same time be sufficiently elastic to meet the needs of industry in this country and sufficiently stringent to comply with the detailed terms of the Convention. I hope I have stated that clearly, fully, and frankly. There is in this country a strong tendency to reduce overtime throughout all industries, but the limitation of overtime can be more easily carried out by industrial agreements applicable to the various trades and to the fluctuating circumstances of industry at different periods than by the necessarily somewhat inelastic method of departmental regulation. I can assure my right hon. Friend, though I am sure he does not need the assurance, that I have every sympathy—we all have—with the desire of workpeople for reasonable leisure, and as far as I am concerned I have been a supporter of the efforts which have been made—I am glad to say successfully—in recent years to reduce the hours of labour, but, as the House knows, in no other country in the world are workpeople so well organised in trade unions as they are in this country, and nowhere else is there such a complete system of collective bargaining as in this country. As a result of agreements between employers' associations and trade unions, an overwhelmingly large proportion of the workpeople of this country are at present covered by agreements which establish a normal week of 48 hours or less. I have endeavoured to explain to the House what are the circumstances which, in the view of the Government, render it necessary to amend the Motion which my right hon. Friend has moved.
Or to reject, by way of an Amendment, the Motion of my right hon. Friend. Our position is this: We do not feel, for reasons I have given, that we are able to give effect to the Convention signed at Washington. After careful consideration, we have come to the conclusion that in certain respects the detailed provisions of that Convention would not be appropriate to conditions in this country. However, having regard to the fact that in most industries in this country there is already, by agreement between employers and employed, a week of 48 hours or less, the Government would be prepared, when the opportunities of framing industrial legislation are improved by a return to normal conditions, to co-operate with the other nations who are parties to the International Labour Organisation, in preparing another Convention on the same subject. So much for the Conventions. I have stated our view as regards each. I can assure the Noble Lord that is so. I grouped three: On the employment of women during the night: on the maximum age of employment of children in industry: and on night-work of young persons employed in industry, as covered by the Women, Young Persons and Children's Employment Act, 1920.
Certainly. Now let me come to the recommendations. There are six of these. The first deals with unemployment and has four main provisions, of which we are prepared to accept the latter two, which are by far the more important of the four. The two which we are not prepared to accept are those dealing with the abolition of fee-charging agencies and with the proposal that recruiting of bodies of workers from one country for employment in another shall be permitted only by mutual agreement. Our representatives at Washington stated that they were not prepared to accept these recommendations, and the Government have confirmed the view which was then taken. So far, however, as concerns the recommendations dealing with the provision of an adequate system of unemployment insurance, and the co-ordinating of the execution of all work undertaken under public authority, we are fully prepared to accept them. Indeed, with regard to the main recommendation—that referring to unemployment insurance—as the House knows, we have gone beyond any other country in this matter. The Unemployment Insurance Act of last year extended compulsory insurance against unemployment to over 12,000,000 of workpeople. Successive Amendments have been designed to keep it as adequately as possible in close touch with the changing industrial situation. In the middle of this month there were 1,838,500 men and women registered with us as wholly unemployed, and there were 1,024,000 men and women registered as working short time: that is, a total of 2,862,500. As a result of the Unemployment Insurance Act, all those 2,862,500, save 80,000, were receiving weekly some assistance—a provision which, no one will deny, is far more general, far more comprehensive than has been achieved in any country in the world.
The next recommendation deals with the reciprocity of treatment to foreign workers. That is a proposal for equal rights for workers of all countries in all others, and it depends for its execution upon agreements between the various countries, and is at present under the consideration of His Majesty's Government. The special emigration aspect of the question is being considered by the International Commission, of which Lord Cave was Chairman, and which is now presided over by the late Speaker, Mr. Lowther. The third recommendation of the Washington Conference deals with the prevention of anthrax. The Secretary-General of the League of Nations has been informed that the Anthrax Prevention Act, 1919, covers the ground. The fourth recommendation deals with the protection of women and children against lead poisoning. The Secretary-General of the League has been informed that this is covered by the Women and Young Persons (Employment in Lead Processes) Act, 1920. The fifth recommendation deals with the establishment of Government Health Services. Here, again, the recommendation is covered by the existing British practice, and the Secretary-General of the League has been so informed. The sixth and final recommendation deals with the use of white phosphorus in the manufacture of matches. The Secretary-General of the League has been informed that this recommendation was met by the White Phosphorus Matches Prohibition Act of 1908. Taking the six Conventions and the six recommendations of the Washington Conference together, therefore, the position is that the great majority of the proposals had already, or have now, been translated into definite action, and are in effective operation throughout the country to-day. The main exception is the case of the Convention dealing with hours of labour. I have endeavoured to explain the position with regard to that matter, and the future course we are prepared to pursue, and, for the reasons stated, I ask the House to accept my Amendment.
I do not intend to trouble the House very long. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division of Glasgow (Mr. G. Barnes) has fairly well covered the ground. I happen to be one of those who attended the Washington Conference, and I have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour make a very interesting speech to-day about the work of his own Department and other Government Departments as coming within the provisions of the Convention set up at Washington. I want to say quite respectfully that, although it is very good to know of these things, and the right hon. Gentleman made a most interesting speech, but, like "the flowers that bloom in the spring," it had "nothing to do with the case." The complaint of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes) is that the Report and the decisions of the Washington Conference have never been brought before the House. That was the main point of his complaint. We were practically appointed by this House as representing the Government in Washington, and we sat there for a month and went into these questions extensively. We came to an agreement with every nation represented there, and the Government representatives in Washington were party to that agreement. Surely, therefore, it is not too much for the right hon. Member for Glasgow, who was mainly responsible for the Conference, to ask that the decision of the Conference should be brought before this House. That is the whole case.
I want to examine some of the points raised by the Minister of Labour, I will not say in apology, but as a justification for not bringing the decision before the House. He spoke of arrangements being made between trade unions and employers. Again, I say, that is not the point. The decision of the Conference was a legal eight-hour day or 48-hour week. It was not a question of arrangement between trade unions and employers, but of a legal enactment. That point has been entirely evaded. The other point raised was a very strong point—the question of maternity benefit. He pointed out very rightly and forcibly that we have gone far beyond any other country with reference to insurance for maternity benefit. I do not dispute that for a moment, but, again, the point is evaded—not deliberately, I. believe, but it is evaded. The question decided at the Washington Conference was not how much you should pay a woman, but when she should go to work before and after maternity. That point was emphasised strongly. I may say that, although the contribution for the woman to-day is very generous, in some cases it is totally in adequate. I hope before long it will be made legally penal for any employer to employ a woman either before or after maternity on the lines laid down by the Washington Conference.
Another point the right hon. Gentleman raised was the question of the protection of women and young persons, and he quoted the Act already in existence in that respect. The Home Secretary is here, and he will contradict me if I am wrong, but my impression is that that Act has deprived the women and children of some of the benefits of the previous Factory Acts which existed, particularly with respect to the employment of women and young children after hours. That is my impression. I think there is something in my contention. Just let me refer to another point which was raised by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes). It is a strong point. The conference held lately by the trade unions in favour of the Third Internationale is a striking development of events, and if anything would strengthen that spirit of revolt—and God forbid that it should be strengthened—it would be the continued broken pledges and promises of this House and the Government in respect to questions affecting women. I only want to say shortly that I endorse every word my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow has uttered on this question, and to point out again to the Minister of Labour that, while all he has said may be true, the main point is that no legal enactment has been given to the main questions—the employment of women before and after child-birth and the enactment of a legal eight-hours day.
I should like to join, if I may, very sincerely in the tribute which has been paid to my right hon. Friend who is responsible for this Motion. Anyone who knows the great services he has rendered in connection with matters of the kind to which this Motion refers cannot fail to regard those services with the greatest admiration and respect. At the same time I am not quite sure that the Motion which he has put upon the Paper does not involve a certain misapprehension of the Article in the Covenant of the League of Nations—I mean, of the Treaty of Peace—with which it has to do. May I refer to the words of the Motion? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour described in detail a short time ago the work which this Parliament and this Government have already done in the matters dealt with, not only by the Conventions, but also by the recommendations of the Washington Conference. The Motion on the Paper restricts the question to the Conventions adopted by that Conference. The complaint is that the Government have not yet submitted to Parliament certain Conventions adopted there. That is the complaint, and the whole complaint. The Article which controls the matter, as the House is well aware, is Article 405 of the Treaty of Peace, and if I am not trespassing too much upon the patience of the House I should like to read one or two paragraphs from that Article. It says that when the Conference—that is to say the General Conference—
has decided on the adoption of proposals with regard to an item in the agenda, it will rest with the Conference to determine whether these proposals shall take the form (a) of a recommendation to be submitted to the Members for consideration with a view to effect being given to it by national legislation or otherwise, or (b) of a draft international convention for ratification by the Members.
Now, in dealing with Conventions, what is it that has to be done? It is this: the draft Conventions are to be brought before
the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies.
Something has been said about the meaning of those words. It may not be unimportant to look at the negotiations which went on before those words were selected. I understand that there was a moment in the development of this matter when the phrase which was employed was "legislative bodies." But on further consideration the more general and comprehensive phrase was deliberately substituted—
the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies.
the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies, for the enactment of legislation or other action.
It is recognised that in some cases the matter may be one for legislation and in other cases one for other action. The Article draws the distinction between recommendations and draft international conventions and that distinction is preserved throughout the Article. But we are dealing to-day only with Conventions. The words contained in this Motion, at any rate, have regard only to Conventions, and the authority for the ratification of Conventions in this country is the Crown.
Where the Convention is of a certain kind—if, for example, it cannot be given effect to without the expenditure of money or the passing of a Bill—then the ratification does not take place until Parliamentary sanction has first been asked, and obtained. But Parliamentary sanction is not that which ratifies the Convention. What ratifies the Convention is the authority of the Crown. It is said, and strongly said, that these Conventions have not yet been submitted to Parliament. I suggest that that is not quite accurate, because I have in my hand a document, Command Paper No. 627, of 1920—last year—which sets out every one of these draft Conventions as well as the recommendations of the Conference at Washington. They were all presented to Parliament. Let me carry the matter a little further. I want to know what is suggested. Where the competent authority which ultimately has to ratify a Convention, if it is to be ratified, has decided, for good reasons, that the particular Convention is not one which should be ratified, is that authority nevertheless to go through what I can only describe in those circumstances as the farce of submitting to Parliament legislative proposals which could be of utility only if it were intended to ratify the Convention? That, I submit, is a preposterous position. The House recalls what has been said by the Minister for Labour. He has pointed out that in certain very important respects that which has been done by the Government or by Parliament—sometimes by administrative Order, sometimes by legislation—goes not merely over the same ground, but sometimes over the whole of the ground, and sometimes even beyond the ground covered by some of these recommendations and Conventions. Is it really suggested that in such a case Article 405 requires, nevertheless, that, otiosely and superfluously, there should be submitted to this House of Parliament proposals for legislation which, if it were carried, would cover only a part of the ground already covered by the existing law? That, of course, would be a ridiculous result.
We must, I respectfully submit, give a reasonable construction to this Article. The Article draws the clearest possible distinction between recommendations for legislation on the one hand and Conventions on the other hand. Where it deals with Conventions it expressly recognises that consent from the competent authority may not be forthcoming. If one looks at paragraph 7 of Article 405 one finds this:
In the case of a draft Convention, the Member will, if it obtains the consent of the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies, communicate the formal ratification of the Convention to the Secretary-General.
That paragraph clearly contemplates that the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies may refuse consent. Now, as I have already said, the authority which in this country is to ratify or not is the Crown, the
Crown, of course, being advised by the Ministers of the Crown. What could be a more ridiculous waste of the time of this House than that a particular Convention or a particular part of a Convention should be brought before Parliament by way of legislative proposals when for good reasons the Ministers of the Crown had decided that it was not such as could be ratified—for example, upon the ground that our existing law already went further than the Convention and was better than it? What could be more idle than that in those circumstances Ministers should take the step of putting forward legislative proposals which could have no utility at all except as something ancillary to and leading up to ratification? If you are not going to ratify, what is the purpose of taking steps which have no meaning except as leading up to ratification?
I am not at all sure that it is necessary, for a literal compliance with Article 405, to lay the Conventions in every case before the House. But here all the Conventions have been laid before Parliament. They were presented to Parliament by command of His Majesty last year. If I caught correctly a remark made by my Noble and learned Friend (Lord E. Cecil) just now, he actually commits himself to the proposition that, although a Convention may be of such a nature as that, for reasons which appear sufficient to the Government, the Government are not prepared to found legislative proposals upon it, because they are not prepared to ratify it, nevertheless the Government must found legislative proposals upon it in order that it may perchance be defeated upon them. I am told that that is not what was meant. At any rate, that seemed to be what was said.
I come back to the point from which I started. This Motion deals with Conventions, and Conventions alone. It complains that they have not been submitted to this House. My answer is, first, that they have in fact been submitted. They have been submitted in a White Paper. If it be said, "Yes, but legislative proposals have not been founded upon them," then my answer is, secondly, that legislative proposals in relation to most of them were unnecessary, because in this country, at any rate, we have gone further already, and, in relation to what remains, it would have been idle to submit legislative proposals to the House as leading up to ratification when it was not intended to ratify. For these reasons, I suggest that this Motion fails. With regard to the Amendment moved a moment ago, the House will observe that it does not say that the Government have not submitted and are not required to submit to Parliament the Conventions. Looking, however, at the facts of the case and at the course of legislation, the Amendment says that it is not expedient, in existing circumstances, to proceed with legislation upon these matters. I am not going to reiterate what was said by the Minister of Labour upon the facts and merits of the case. The House will judge. He appeared to me, if I may say so, to give a convincing and comprehensive reply upon all the matters which are included in these Conventions or recommendations. However that may be, the reasons have been put before the House why, as matters now stand, it is not expedient to proceed with legislation upon certain matters not already covered by legislation or upon matters already covered, and covered in a way more advantageous than is suggested by these recommendations, by measures which have been passed into law.
I should like to say a few words in answer to what has just fallen from the Attorney-General. This is a very remarkable way of dealing with the Motion before the House. The Motion, as the House is aware, is that it is expedient that these Conventions adopted at the International Labour Conference should be submitted to Parliament as the competent authority. There are six of these Conventions, and, as to four of them, as I understand it, the legislation is already complete, and, as to the other two, the Government do not propose to submit them to Parliament. Instead of dealing with the Motion on its merits, the Government has put down an Amendment which has nothing whatever to do with it. The Amendment is that they do not propose to ratify one of the six Coventions. They do not deal in any way with any of the other Conventions mentioned in the Motion. They deal only with the one Convention. They do not deal with the question whether it ought to be submitted to Parliament or not. They merely say that it ought not to be ratified. I see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education (Mr. Fisher) is here. No doubt he remembers a very old Oxford story of an undergraduate who was going to be examined in Divinity and who had prepared himself by learning a list of the Kings of Israel. That was all that he knew on the subject. Unfortunately the examiners asked him to give a list of the major and minor prophets, which he was wholly unable to do. He got out of the difficulty by saying that, being unwilling to draw any distinction between these holy men he would give a list of the Kings of Israel. That is very much what the Government have done with reference to this Motion. They are unable to say "aye" or "no" to it, and they proceed to lay down a proposition which has nothing to do with the Motion.
I regret that action, because it is of a piece with a great deal of the treatment which the Government have meted out in relation to international questions. The Government are continually professing their respect and admiration for the League of Nations and the International Labour Conference, and their desire to do everything to support and maintain them, but when it comes to action, almost always they fail to do anything effective. It really is not a question of the technicalities of the matter at all. I know it would be absurd for me to put my knowledge against that of the Attorney-General on a technical matter of this kind, but that is not the main point. The question is what ought you to do as a matter of policy in dealing with these Conventions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Barnes) was right through these negotiations. He was the principal British representative dealing with these matters. He tells the House that it is perfectly well understood that these Conventions were to be submitted to the Legislative Assemblies, and that it was desired, whatever the ultimate consequences might be, that the popular assemblies in each country should have an opportunity of expressing an opinion as to whether they wished or did not wish to adopt those Conventions.
It may be that the drafting was not absolutely perfect for the purpose, but everybody knows that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals asserts that a thing is so then it is so, and the Government should have backed up their negotiator, and they ought to have carried out the policy which he was instructed to put forward on their behalf. Of course I am not competent to go into the technical details of these Conventions, but I will take this question of the Hours Convention. There are great practical difficulties in ratifying that Convention I know, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals told the House—and the Minister of Labour never dealt with it—that when he was at Washington he was not only generally empowered to assent to this Convention, but that he consulted the Government specially as to whether he should agree to it, and the Government instructed him and his colleagues to agree to it and the British Empire unanimously voted in favour of it. It is not really treating these things seriously to instruct your representative at a great International Conference to assent to a thing and then come down here and say that it is impossible to carry out what he has assented to. That is characteristic of the way the Government deal with these matters.
I will say just a word on the technical matter. It all depends on two lines of the agreement in which each country undertakes to bring the recommendations of the draft Convention before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies for the enactment of legislation or for other action. It is conceded that where a Convention requires legislation to make it effective, it is the constitutional practice to submit it to the House of Commons before the question of ratification is decided. Therefore these are Conventions which do require legislation, or at any rate some of them, and it would have been in accordance with constitutional practice to bring the matter before Parliament before ratification was decided upon.
The Attorney-General asks what is the use of doing that if the Government have already decided that they will not ratify it. That is also characteristic of the Government. They do not care a straw what the House of Commons wishes or does not wish if they have decided already that it will be a great waste of time to allow the House of Commons to have a say in the matter. On this point the Attorney-General entirely misapprehended what I said. I did not suggest it was necessary to bring in a Bill before they ratified the Conventions. It would have been sufficient to submit a Resolution, and, if the Government were against it, they could have said so. They might have asked somebody in favour of the Resolution to move it, and then the Government could have explained why they cannot assent to it and why they think the Convention should not be ratified. It would then have been for the House of Commons to judge whether it approves of the action of its representatives at the International Conference or whether they agreed with the views the Government have taken with regard to this matter.
I feel very strongly that the Government are making a mistake in treating this matter in this way. I think they would have made a grave mistake if they had met my right hon. Friend's proposition with a direct negative, but it is a graver mistake to put forward an alternative proposition which has nothing to do with the subject. I hope that even now the Government will assent to my right hon. Friend's Motion, and, if they like, they can add as a rider that they are unable to ratify the two Conventions dealing with the hours and maternity, and they can then say why those particular Conventions ought not to be ratified. That would put the issue quite clearly before Parliament and enable us to decide what is the right thing to do.
I felt very strongly the importance of the warning which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals delivered at the end of his speech. I think that the Government and a great many of my hon. Friends opposite who are opposed to the new international movement, are making the most profound mistake. I believe very strongly that all over Europe and in this country there are grave misgivings as to the wisdom of those who were the governing classes before 1914. I believe the predominant feeling amongst vast masses of the population is that 1914 was a great disaster and a great warning. We attribute that disaster not to this Government or that Government, but to a general breakdown and failure of the existing system. Now the various Governments have come forward and in solemn Conference have proposed a new system of international equality. Labour conferences and the League of Nations are all part of a new system based on the theory that the rivalries of nations are less important than their friendship and that their interests are greater than their antagonism. I believe that, inarticulately and unconsciously, vast masses of the people are waiting to see whether that is a genuine offer or whether it is merely an intention to change the conduct of international affairs, or whether it is merely a new piece of camouflage or deception, or merely a last effort in what they regard as an effete and dying system. I am sure that the Government are making a most profound mistake in not treating these matters with greater seriousness. They ought to go beyond that. They ought to present, everything to Parliament. They ought to treat all these things with the utmost respect, and, even when they are unable to agree, they ought to do their utmost to stretch every point to make the new system work, and work successfully. I cannot think that an Amendment of this kind is the right way of dealing with a situation of this nature, and for that reason, if my right hon. Friend goes to a Division, I shall have no hesitation in supporting him.
I want to say a few words on the maternity benefit which the Minister of Labour spoke about. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the awakened conscience of the country. I think the conscience in the country when it comes to dealing with the maternity benefit is really more awake than the Government; it is more awake than many Members of the House of Commons. But the Government, unfortunately, listens too much to Members of the House, and does not listen to the awakening conscience of the country. The right hon. Gentleman told us how far this country had gone ahead as compared with other countries. That is quite true, but it is no reason for stopping. It has gone much further than other countries with regard to the maternity benefit, no doubt, but we want it to be an example to the backward countries, and that is why we are very sorry the Government should have turned the Convention down without even discussing it. The late Minister of Health said that our insurance system was adequate to meet the problem of the maternity benefit.
Here it is in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I will not say a word against the late Minister of Health. I think his conscience was, far ahead of that of the Cabinet when he was dealing with infant welfare and maternity. I take it that if he had had his way the maternity benefit would have been far better than it is now, but I do not think he is right in saying that our insurance system is adequate to dealing with the question.
The right hon. Gentleman said:
What were the proposals of the Washington Convention? That we should provide for the six weeks preceding and the six weeks following confinement. That during the first six weeks the woman should be compelled to remain absent from work—note that—and that during the six weeks following confinement and whilst she was absent she should be paid out of public funds, or by a system of insurance benefits, sufficient to provide for full maintenance, free attendance, and for a doctor or a certified midwife. These were the recommendations relating to employed women. We have in this country a system which is doubly capable of dealing with these questions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1921; col. 2466, Vol. 139.]
It is quite true that a working woman and her husband, if both insured, can draw £4 at the time of the confinement, but the woman draws nothing after confinement unless after four weeks she is ill and then she gets 12s. per week. The whole point of the Washington Convention was to protect women who, through the illness of their husbands, or through the husband not getting a sufficient wage to keep the family, were forced into industry and had to work up to the very last hour and to get back, perhaps, in a week's time. The men and women attending the Washington Conference thought that was bad not only for the women, but for the State and for society as a whole. I see in the Government paper they said it would mean that if they passed this many women would go into industry before childbirth so as to get the benefit. That may be true. There are always people who are trying to get what they should
not get, but women who are going to have children will not go into industry if they can help it. That is the last place to which a woman carrying a child would go, so that is not really quite fair, and I hate that argument brought forward by men when they come to deal with women who have to have children. I hope that the Government will look into the matter from that point of view. I think they were quite wrong in turning it down altogether. I am certain that if there is any proper way of protecting these women who are forced into industry and at the same time have to have children—if there is any possible way of protecting these people before and after child-birth the House *of Commons will want to do it. I know the difficulties of all legislation, but I do urge whoever may be Minister of Labour, or whoever may have to deal with the question, it may be the Minister of Health, I do urge him to consult a committee representative of women's societies. After all, when it comes to dealing with things like this, we should make a point of consulting representatives of women's societies: we should ask them to see what they can suggest out of the Washington Convention and attach it to our present insurance policy. I think they could find a way to do that. It would also look as though we were not flouting the League of Nations. It would help the women of all countries, it would show we are desperately in earnest about it, and we would be doing a thing which is most necessary if we want this country to go forward with the lead in legislation. I do not desire to dwell too much on the terrible hardship suffered by these women. It is dreadful, as the House can very well imagine. It is no argument to say we have to turn it down because it costs the country too much. The Government cannot accept the whole of the Washington recommendations, and when the late Minister of Health says he turned it down on account of the cost there is something in that, but when he says we have turned it down because our Insurance Act covers this—
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but I was pointing out in the speech to which she has referred that we have a double system in this country for dealing with this matter by the Insurance Act and by the operations of various local authorities in regard to child-birth. I suggested that because we have that double system of insurance, that in itself is sufficient. I did not say that I regarded the Insurance Act in itself as adequate. I was referring to the double insurance.
That is quite true, but the right hon. Gentleman did not make any proposal to adopt the Washington Convention, and that is why I am up against him. I think the late Minister of Health is far ahead of the Cabinet and of the Government and of the House of Commons in regard to infant welfare and maternity benefit, but he knows as well as I do it is not quite right we should have nothing to give women either before or after child-birth, and that is the time we want them protected. I do not think the House can realise what it costs the country to have these women forced into industry. It is a tremendous loss, not only to the welfare of the child, but to that of the mother. I do beg the Minister of Labour to appoint a Committee before turning this down entirely, so that we may look at it from that point of view—not from the point of view of the mothers only, but from the point of view of the welfare of the country. Let us give a real backing to everything that was touched upon at the Washington Conference in regard to dealing with women and children, because England does lead the way, certainly throughout Europe, in regard to dealing with women and children and the hope of the League of Nations is that we, who are more advanced than any other country, will set up an ideal for the women of all Europe. They need help, and are looking to England for a lead; and that is why I am so anxious that everything in regard to dealing with women and children that took place at the Labour Conference should at least be discussed in the House of Commons and brought forward in the country. The late Minister of Health knows how great this need is, and I hope very much that he will urge the Cabinet not to turn it down simply on the question of money, because it is really an insurance policy for the country. Mothers have sons, and if they can stay at home and look after those sons, it will be all the better for the country.
With regard to the League of Nations, I agree with the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil). It may be that the Government are a little too busy. They have not as much time as the Opposition have to give encouragement to the League of Nations, but I do wish they could make it a little plainer, not only in the country but in this House, that they are backing up the League of Nations. I think it would do them good, and it certainly would help the world in general. I am perfectly certain that the women of America are somehow going to get America into some sort of League of Nations sooner or later. It may take a little time, but I feel perfectly certain that throughout the whole world women are grasping this as a hope. It may be a faint hope, but it is something for them to hold on to. Every thinking person knows that it is the spirit behind the League of Nations, but, as the Noble Lord has said, there is a real spirit throughout the country of wanting to have a better feeling in dealing with nations. Also there is that terrible spirit of mistrust to which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barnes) referred. Others are looking at us. If we do not have this International Labour Conference through the League of Nations we are going to get it through what they call the Internationals. Most right-thinking working men and women, certainly in England, would rather we got our legislation through the Labour Conference of the League of Nations than through what they call the Third International, and so once more I would ask the Minister of Labour not to turn down these proposals for maternity benefit entirely. Let us see what we can get out of them, and attach them to our Insurance Act. If they are brought before the House in that way I believe the whole House will want to do all that it can to protect women who are forced through circumstances to work before and after child-birth.
I agree with the Noble Lord (Lord B. Cecil) that the Government are acting very unwisely in not allowing the House to discuss the merits of these Conventions. The Government all through have treated the Washington Conference with contempt, and even now, when my right hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes) has started a discussion on the very important question as to who are the authorities to ratify or reject the Conventions, the Minister of Labour comes down and puts an Amendment on the Paper which draws a red herring across the path and diverts the discussion on to the merits of one particular Convention. I want to bring it back to the general question. I think the House has an equal complaint against the action of the Attorney-General. It really is monstrous that, seventeen months after the Washington Conference, when the normal time for ratification has gone by by five months and when we are within one month of the abnormal extended time, for the first time we know the view that the Government take on Article 405. Why could they not tell us before? The whole civilised world have believed that these Conventions had to be submitted to Parliament. That may have been wrong; I do not want to dispute with the Attorney-General; but surely we ought to have been told before. Now that the time for ratification has gone by, down comes the Attorney-General and says that the Crown is the authority. Then I have a further complaint against him. He put up a most elaborate ninepin, and then proceeded to knock it down. No one suggested that the Government should bring in a Bill and pass legislation for a principle of which they disapprove, and involving expenditure which they could not justify. What we do suggest, and we suggest it with all the emphasis at our command, is that these Conventions ought to have been submitted to Parliament. The Attorney-General actually had the courage to come down here and say that the printing and laying on the Table of this House of these Conventions was their submission to Parliament. There never was a more indefensible argument. Surely submission to Parliament means giving Parliament a chance of discussing the Conventions. If it merely means printing them, you might as well print them in the "Times" or any other newspaper. The mere printing of them and laying them on the Table of the House cannot be sufficient. The whole world is looking to this Parliament and to this country for its action on the Washington Conventions. The same question has recently arisen in France, and the French Government at first took the view of the Attorney-General. They took the view that this matter was in the competence of the Government alone, and they refused to submit the Conventions to the Chamber. In face of a protest from the Director of the International Labour Office, I understand that they have changed their views, and that the Conventions have been or will be brought before the Chamber.
I do not put it so high as that. The same thing, I understand, has happened in Switzerland. We have done a great deal of harm already, and it is an act of gross negligence on the part of the Attorney-General. These Conventions have been treated as a matter of so little importance that the whole of the normal time allowed for ratification has been allowed to go by, and also five of the extra six months, and even then they are not submitted to this House. The merits of the Eight Hours Convention has never been argued until this day, when it has been put down as a means of evading discussion on the main principle of my right hon. Friend's Motion. The effect of the establishment of the International Labour Office has been largely to destroy the voluntary organisations which existed before and extended all over the world. Naturally, if you have an official organisation, support is withdrawn from the less powerful voluntary organisation. There is a double danger for they will have severely injured the International Labour Office and circumstances at the same time will have caused the dying away of the unofficial body, for now, as at all time, it is of the utmost importance that we should encourage international discussion. I do not in the least suggest that we should force on any country laws for which that country is not prepared. I am certain we cannot do anything that way, and so I entirely accept the proposition of the Attorney-General that the Government are not compelled to introduce laws of which they disapprove. But you must give this House of Commons a chance of discussing the question.
Take these two Conventions. We had last March, on the Easter adjournment, a very short time for discussing the Maternity Convention. The discussion was a mixed one, for some speakers spoke on the technical point as to who were the authority, and some spoke on the merits of the Convention, and the discussion was switched off on to something else. We had a most inconclusive speech from the Minister without Portfolio, a speech in laudation of his own efforts, but with very little light as to future policy. We have never really tackled the alternative scheme laid down in the Washington Convention to our scheme of maternity benefit and child welfare. I should have thought the Government would have welcomed a discussion. No one wants to force their hand, and no one wants them to pass laws of which they do not approve, but surely they can put down a Motion which would allow the merits to be raised. If you have the Government just claiming the right to say what they will submit to Parliament and what they will not, or claiming that submission to Parliament is fulfilled as soon as a document is printed and circulated, what is the good of delegates going to Washington? You must get the subject ventilated. I am connected with the International Association of Labour Legislation—the old voluntary body. I do not think the Minister realises the harm he is doing to this country. We shall lose our leadership in the question of international action. I quite appreciate the danger of allowing the International Labour Office to become a sort of overriding governmental authority which could send its Bills here without the intervention of the Government, but that is amply guarded against. It never could happen in our Constitution. I am very much alarmed at the action of the Government, for experience has shown that the only way to pass labour legislation is by international action, and experience has also shown that if Governments do not move, if they are too slow, outside bodies move in spite of them, and often in the wrong direction. I hope even now we shall be given first of all a chance of discussing on its merits the Maternity Convention and the Eight Hours Convention in a far more effective way than we can do in the short limits of a Friday afternoon.
I can quite understand that my intervention in this Debate may be looked upon as presumption by some of the older Members of the House, but I have studied this question up to a point and I have got so far in it that I begin to realise that with all my study I still know nothing at all about it. That is all the more reason why, for me, more day-light should be let in on this subject. I am not going to enter into the merits or demerits of this Convention of the Washington Labour Conference, but I am rather interested in the methods of the Government in keeping it in the background. If, having spent a certain time in looking into the question, I am still in the dark, how much more are the workers of the country in the dark? I am not a whole hogger as far as the League of Nations is concerned, but to me the one solid plank for the workers of the world was the plank of the Washington Labour Conference, and now after 17 months we have just got a glimmering of light on their deliberations. What we want is more daylight and more sunshine, because I am one of the old-fashioned people who believe that daylight and sunshine are an antidote to all diseases, and I bring under that class the disease of Bolshevism. I represent a very large industrial constituency. It has often been said that very few Debates take place in this House free from class legislation and personal interest. I am very much surprised to find this Debate filled with the milk of human kindness, because were I allowed to say what I should like to say, I am afraid I should transgress the bounds of Parliamentary language. The workers in my Division—and I am doing my best to represent those who voted against me—have been looking forward for many a long day for some result of the first International Labour Conference. If we cannot get labour reforms on constitutional national lines we are going to get them on revolutionary international lines, and that is where I am interested.
I am wondering what is at the back of the Government in keeping this in the background so long. If I could get some daylight thrown on to that point I might be satisfied, but until that daylight is forthcoming I am certainly going to vote against the Government, because I believe the greatest curse we have in the industrial world to-day is the want of confidence and the want of trust between employers and employés. We are now in the midst of an industrial crisis, and still we have the Government themselves, as it appears to me, throwing out halfhearted measures for this Washington Labour Conference. There may be a reason for what is done, but if so, let us have it, because as the matter now stands the workers of the country will not only begin to breed suspicion against the Government, but they will say, "There you are. We have had this Conference, and again the Government have turned the workers of the country down." They study books and literature of a far different kind than they did years ago, and the workers of this country will know exactly what is taking place in this House to-day, and when they read what I hope I may be within the bounds of Parliamentary language in describing as a dishonest attempt to reject this Motion—I think it is dishonest on the part of the Government to move an Amendment which is merely camouflage of the word "rejection"—they will be suspicious. That kind of thing breeds suspicion. If we could get more daylight as to what is being done, it would help us.
The most extraordinary thing that I have heard during this Debate has been the fact that the Government sent delegates to America to take part in the Conference. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. G. Barnes) and others went there as the delegates of the British Government, and received instructions, which they carried out, and when these Conventions were sent in they were accepted by the Government. A secret document with instructions was issued to the delegates, and a White Paper has been issued to this House, and yet on the top of that the Government practically repudiate the deliberations of their own delegates. It is one more case of the word of the Government becoming a mere scrap of paper. That is not the way to gain what is needed more than everything else to-day, and that is the confidence of the workers of this country.
It is pure camouflage to say that the Government are complying with the terms of the Motion, when we are told that the terms of the Convention have been put before this Assembly in the shape of a White Paper. I have been too short a time a Member of this House to know the whole routine, but I have still to learn that the giving of information in the White Paper comes within the meaning of the words "submitting that Convention to this House." Therefore, unless we can get a little more daylight and information on this point, I shall certainly vote against the Government. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) said a short time ago that what was wanted was publicity, publicity, publicity. If he were speaking to-day on this question on its merits, he would say, "Ratify, ratify, ratify." There is nothing in the Motion about ratification. It is simply a red herring drawn across the path. These antics and tactics on the part of the Government befog Members of this House and befog the workers of this country far more. Instead of the Government assisting to dispel the awful spirit of mistrust that is abroad in the industrial world to-day, they are assisting it, and the workers will be more distrustful. That is the way to get revolution and Bolshevism and not industrial peace.
The presence of the Attorney-General in this House on a Friday afternoon is clear evidence of a danger signal so far as the House of Commons is concerned. The main argument he advanced against the Resolution on the Order Paper was that a Convention, according to custom in bygone days, must be ratified by the Crown and need not come before the House of Commons. I think that argument is permeated with the pre-War spirit. It does not agree with the spirit of the League of Nations. Because it has been the custom in the past that a Convention should be ratified over the heads of the House of Commons, that does not say that it should apply to-day, and it is certainly contrary to the true Parliamentary spirit which is finding outlet not only in this country, but in every country in the world. The Motion is a direct charge against the Government on two broad principles, that the Government have slighted the League of Nations and that they have slighted the Conference that took place at Washington 17 months ago. When the House of Commons to-day is asked to judge between the Resolution of my right hon. Friend (Mr. G. Barnes) and the Amendment moved by the Minister of Labour they are entitled to ask themselves whether the whole policy of the Government is in keeping with the spirit of the League of Nations. If I may give two illustrations to show that the Government policy to-day is directly contrary to the true spirit underlying the League of Nations, I think the House should have no hesitation in voting for the Motion of my right hon. Friend. I ask the House, by way of illustration, to look at the Government's policy in Ireland, a policy which condones murder and reprisal—
My point is to show, by way of illustration, that the Government policy which animates their actions is contrary to the spirit of the League of Nations, but as you have ruled that that illustration is out of order, I naturally will not follow that line of argument. My second point is that the Government, and it was emphasised by the right hon. Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), are slighting the House of Commons in not submitting these Conventions to the House of Commons. That is in keeping also with the present tendency of the Government. They have on several occasions within recent months slighted this House. They burked discussion—again, I speak by way of illustration which shows that the Government brush on one side and do not hold this House with that respect which the House demands—in stopping the House of Commons from debating the question of the general strike. For several weeks before that strike was to take place they refused a Debate in this House. A Debate took place in another place which settled that delicate matter.
I was endeavouring to show that the action of the Government on several matters was not in keeping with Parliamentary traditions. In this case there is no doubt that the Convention which was signed 17 months ago should have been submitted to the House for their consideration, and if my right hon. Friend goes to a Division, I will undoubtedly support him in the Division Lobby.
The Government have been extraordinarily short-sighted in the manner in which they have dealt with this question. That is the gravamen of the charge against them. It is not so much the fact that for financial reasons they have been unable to agree to the proposals of the Washington Maternity Convention, or, for reasons stated by the Minister of Labour, have not been able to ratify the Convention as to hours. The gravamen of the charge is that whereas the Treaty—not the Covenant of the League of Nations but the Peace Treaty—lays down clearly that when the Conventions receive the necessary majority at the Conference they shall be brought before the competent authority or authorities. That is the whole point. Are we not one of the competent authorities? Are the Government, the paid Executive of the day, going to say that the House of Commons is not one of the authorities? Nobody doubts that final ratification rests with the Crown on the advice of the Ministers, but surely the wording of the Treaty, the spirit of the Treaty, the intention of the people who drew up the Treaty—we have had clear evidence on that point—leave no doubt on our mind that Parliament and the Legislatures were regarded as being among the competent authorities, and therefore instead of the late Minister of Health dismissing the Washington Maternity Convention and saying in answer to a question, "We will not have anything further to do with it," the right thing for the Government was to come down to the House, explain the Convention and give the House an opportunity of voting on the Convention, the Government if they like saying, "We cannot support this." There is no doubt that they would have a majority, but at any rate before the ratification, before a secret decision was taken by the Cabinet, the House of Commons would have been associated with the decision.
That is the vital point. This Government will not live for ever. I look at it from the point of view of one who may find himself in opposition to a Labour Government. If a Labour Government were in power, and this precedent were to be followed, we should have all these labour questions decided by the Executive meeting in Downing Street, decided possibly in a hole and corner manner by trade unionists, and we should not be consulted at all. And the precedent having been set by this Coalition Government, we shall have no answer to a Labour Government, who carry on all sorts of international arrangements without coming before Parliament, when they quote the example set to-day and the speech of the Attorney-General. You cannot get away from that. The constitutional point is, so far from the Government endeavouring more and more to associate both Houses of Parliament with international matters, they are if anything more reactionary than the Governments before the War. I do not know whether it is owing to the fact that we have at present as Foreign Secretary a Noble Lord who really lives entirely in the dark ages, but it is an extraordinary thing that the House of Commons may be trusted to deal with all kinds of internal questions, but directly there is any foreign matter or any international matter, say, if we ask a question about Yap, we are told to shut up, or that the matter is too delicate, and the House of Commons is to be ruled out for ever. We are to be treated as children, or as dangerous people who are not to be associated in any way with the Government in this matter.
The programmes which are to come before the Imperial Cabinet are discussed in the Australian and Canadian Houses of Commons. We are not allowed to discuss them in this House of Commons. This is part and parcel of the same policy. This is one of the most notable instances which we have had. On the actual merits of the Maternity Convention I quite see that we have begun to deal with the maternity question on lines of insurance, and probably it would be better for us to continue to develop the provision in connection with maternity by means of insurance and extend and build on our existing system rather than as it were reverse our existing process and adopt the procedure which was agreed to, not by our delegates, but by the other delegates at Washington. But does not the Government admit that there is need for legislation, for doing something in this matter? Is it not generally agreed by all the inspectors and advisers and people who have investigated this problem that in many of our factories to-day women do go back to work in the factories too soon after child-birth in the interests of the children and the women themselves? I believe that that is the general consensus of opinion. If that is admitted, the Convention at Washington was designed to draw the attention of the Parliaments and Governments of the world to that fact and that problem. I am sure that the International Labour Office and those who dealt with this question at Washington would not mind whether we adopted their exact procedure. What they wanted was that every nation associated with the International Labour Office would take up the question and deal with it somehow, not in a particular way, but somehow and this Government having got a very small legislative programme this year should have dealt with it somehow.
If they say they are not satisfied on the evidence before us they ought, immediately Washington drew the attention of the world to this problem, to have started an inquiry as to what were the exact conditions in factories in this country. The Minister of Labour and the Home Office ought to have taken the earliest opportunity of presenting their Estimates to Parliament once an important Convention of that kind has drawn public attention to the matter. That is what one complains of, not that they have not ratified this particular Convention in the particular form in which it is made, but that they have not paid sufficient attention to the problem raised by the Convention and have not associated both Houses of Parliament as competent authorities with them in the discussion of these problems. The disaster, to my mind, is that the action of the Government is bound to have a damping effect upon future Conferences. We cannot get away from it. The action of the British Government and the speeches to-day will be reported all over the world. Our example will be quoted and it is most unfortunate that because the Attorney-General and Ministers of the Crown have stuck to this technical point of ratification, which is only a very small part of the problem, they make that the excuse for not stretching every point they can to make this new constitutional machinery a success, because I agree entirely with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Woolwich (Captain Gee) that there is no doubt that unless the International Labour Office succeeds in delivering the goods you will have unconstitutional agitation, unparliamentary action, and trouble and other most unconstitutional methods adopted to secure a progressive advance in various countries.
Surely the International Labour Office presents a unique opportunity for the Government, for employers and for work men to prove that the so-called class antagonisms and all that kind of thing are not quite as bad as some of the Bolshevists say, and to show that men of good will can co-operate and that progress can be made. Surely the first and most important thing is to use every opportunity and to make every effort to bring that prominently into the light of day. I profoundly regret what has happened—17 months' delay culminating in this Debate, and culminating above all, not in a courageous negative to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barnes), who was the British Government delegate at Paris and at Washington and was mainly responsible for the drawing up of the whole scheme, but this really scandalous bit of trickery—I can call it by no other word—which really ought to be shown up at the earliest possible moment. The clear issue before us is, is the House of Commons to abrogate its right as one of the three competent authorities? In all future Conventions of this kind is it to be the plan that there shall be deliberations in secret and that Downing Street shall decide whether it will ratify or not and then come to the House with a fait accompli, or are we first to have a discussion, an explanation in this House, and then a vote as to whether ratification shall take place or not? We want to get away from the old secrecy and the old pre-War way of settling everything by administrative action. We want to get away from bureaucracy and to restore the privileges of this House.
I wish to join with Members of all parties in protesting against the attitude of the Government with regard to the work of the Washington Conference. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes) is deserving of the sympathy of all who desire to see the work of the Paris Conference and of the Washington Conference carried to full fruition. I was one of those who was associated with my right hon. Friend in the early days in drafting what was the basis of the Labour Charter upon which the Washington Conference was founded, and I remember the anxiety that was professed by the Government of the day, an anxiety to see that the work committed to my right hon. Friend secured the support of organised labour in this; country, that that work was put on a proper basis, and that the first Conference might be made a thorough success. I do not know whether it is that there is no sound principle guiding the policy of the Government with regard to some of these great questions, but, as I will show, we have had at one time the greatest possible enthusiasm shown for a course which, if followed, would have led to the greatest possible success, and yet somehow or other that enthusiasm has been allowed to evaporate, and an attitude has been adopted that cannot be described as other than thoroughly reactionary. When we assembled in Paris and laid the foundations of this work there was the greatest anxiety to do the work well, because one of the difficulties that a country like our own was placed in was that it suffered from unfair competition with what we call the backward countries, and it was essential to have an instrument that would be successful in levelling up, to say nothing of making progress. I know the time and devotion that my right hon. Friend gave to the work.
When the Paris Conference finished that side of its work that is set out in the Labour Article of the Treaty, we believed there had been accomplished one of the finest pieces of work that could be accomplished. How is it, then, that 17 months are allowed to pass without any of the Conventions being properly submitted to this House? I have to-day listened to two of the most remarkable speeches I have ever heard delivered from the Front Bench. First, we had the unusual procedure of a Minister moving an Amendment to a Motion submitted by one of the Government's supporters. We had the Minister moving that Amendment without saying a single word on the Motion. Then we had a second speaker from the Government Bench, who occupied his time in trying to explain the technical side of the Motion and did not say a single word about the Amendment. Even the oldest Member of this House has not witnessed such an amusing position. While it may be amusing there is a very serious side to the business. The consequences which may follow from the attitude of the Government, consequences of an international character, consequences of a political character, and consequences of an industrial character, are very serious indeed. There is a growing feeling that this country is not so loyally behind the League of Nations and all that the League stands for, as it was at the time of the Paris Conference. There is a feeling that much in the nature of lip service has been paid to the League of Nations and to the newer ideals in connection with the international situation mentioned by my right hon. Friend. Can we imagine the effect that will be created if Great Britain, after giving a lead in the formation of the charter upon which the Labour Office at Geneva is expected to work, becomes cold towards the whole idea? The consequence of the growth of such a feeling in different countries will be nothing short of disastrous. Remember that we started out, as I have said, with the noble idea of levelling up the backward countries. There is no need for me to dilate upon the disgraceful conditions which obtained in working-class life in other countries and their disastrous effects upon health. We were out to improve those conditions, and now we are, as it were, pouring cold water on the idea for which we formerly stood. Not only will the effect be serious as far as the international aspect is concerned, but I agree with what has been said as to the possible political consequences. There never was a time when it was more necessary to give the workmen of our own country the feeling that we are going to be loyal to the expectations we have, through our Government, aroused, than it is to-day. I am not going to the same length as my right hon. Friend in saying that failure to do so may turn a number of our people towards Bolshevism, but I will say that one of the most serious effects it may have is that of shattering the confidence of the moderate workers upon whom this country so much relies. It may shatter their confidence in the Government, and if the impression gets abroad that not only are we prepared to play fast and loose with these great questions, but that no matter what the Washington Conference decides, Parliament is not going to have any right to say whether Washington did right or wrong—and that is the position to which we are reduced by the speech of the Attorney-General—then it may also have the effect of weakening their confidence in the Parliamentary institutions of this country, and that would be very serious indeed. Further, there are the industrial consequences. The position of our industries from the employers' standpoint has been frequently before this House of late. The Government has asked the House to proceed with legislation of a protective character, very largely because of the inability of the great trading concerns to compete with the conditions that obtain in other countries. One of the primary objects of establishing the International Labour Office was to try to meet that situation by making the conditions in other countries as good as those in our own country, so that it might be no longer possible to say that conditions could be no further improved in this country until they had been levelled up in some of the countries which were our strongest competitors. Again I point out that, as soon as we have got the machine by which this is to be accomplished, the whole question is treated with indifference by our own Government.
An Amendment has been moved to the Motion of the right hon. Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes) by the Minister of Labour. The Minister of Labour was good enough to refer to the fact that I was a member of the Joint Committee of the National Industrial Conference. It would take me too long to go through the whole history of the initiation of that Conference, its composition and the work it did. Though it consisted of some 400 employers and 600 workmen's representatives, its recommendations were unanimously adopted. What is the connection between the work of that Conference and this Amendment? The Amendment says, "It is not expedient in existing circumstances to proceed with legislation to give effect to the Washington Convention on hours of labour." I am glad to see the Leader of the House in his place while I am dealing with this point. Can we be told what time-limit the Government applies to this phrase, "In existing circumstances"? Does it mean that legislation on the hours of work of adult persons is going to be abandoned, or is not going to be attempted during the remainder of this Parliament? We are not told what the "existing circumstances" are.
The hon. Member could not have followed what I said, that 400 employers agreed to these recommendations in April, 1919—not so very long ago. The 400 employers knew what the position was then, and they unanimously recommended the present Government to pass a law establishing a 48-hour week. I am not quoting the 600 workmen's representatives. I am content to quote the fact that 400 employers agreed to make that recommendation. Now I am asking the Government whether we can be told what is the meaning of this phrase, "In existing circumstances," and I would like the attention of the Leader of the House on the point. I am very much concerned, because I happen to have the responsibility of acting as chairman for one side of that industrial conference and its committees. The Minister of Labour said that a great many conferences had been held and a vast amount of negotiations had taken place, and that is true. The reason is that my committee have been endeavouring, all this time since 1919, to get the Government to put into effect the promise they gave at the time of the second industrial conference. The one was called to initiate the conference, and the second was called to receive the report of the joint committee, with all the recommendations, and the Government undertook to give legislative effect to those recommendations. The recommendations were adopted in April, 1919, and no Hours Bill has yet been proceeded with. We were reminded that it was introduced; it was postponed until the Autumn Session, and it was withdrawn, and this year no attempt has been made to introduce the Bill again, and we are now asked to carry an Amendment which would be the justification for the Government not proceeding during the remainder of this Parliament, "in existing circumstances," with that Bill.
Assuming that our own legislation on these matters is of a higher standard than that of foreign countries, are there any countries in this Convention which have brought up their legislation to anything like ours?
That has no connection with my point, and if the hon. and gallant Member had been present during the Debate, he would have heard from more than one speaker, and especially from the introducer of the Motion, that the object of the whole of the work of the Washington Conference was to try to make uniform the conditions on the different labour questions dealt with by the Convention.
At the end of that particular article it says:
Each member which ratifies this Convention agrees to bring its provisions into operation not later than the 1st July, 1921.
Have any other countries done so?
Several countries have already done so, and if the hon. and gallant Member will make application to the International Office, he will be supplied with a report of what every one of the countries that was represented at Washington has done under the different Conventions. Some have put them into operation, and I believe with the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) that a number of countries are waiting to see what Great Britain does. I return now to the point arising out of the work of the industrial conference, and I again want to ask whether there is any intention on the part of the Government so to interpret these words that there will be no attempt to proceed with this Hours legislation during the remainder of the present Parliament. I want to disclaim any responsibility so far as my committee are concerned in fact, I can go further and say that so far as the joint committee, representative of employers and employed, are concerned, we did come to an agreement in 1920, and so far as our recommendations are concerned, the Bill could have been proceeded with last year, and it could have been proceeded with this year. What were the points of difficulty? First of all, there was the question of agricultural labour. We had some difficulty, but eventually we found a way of settling that difficulty. So far as agricultural labour is concerned, that had to be dealt with under the elastic provisions of the Bill, or, at any rate, of our recommendations. The second point of difficulty was with regard to seamen. We recommended that a conference should be called between those representing seamen and that an agreement whereby they could apply for a provisional order to be adapted to the sea-faring industry should be made under the provisions that we recommended. My right hon. Friend to-day put forward as his main reason the position of the railwaymen. That was never an issue between the employers and ourselves. The railwaymen were not present at the second conference. They were at the first conference, but they were not represented on the Committee, and I will venture to say that had the Government proceeded with the Bill the railway difficulty could have been satisfactorily adjusted under the elastic provisions which the employers and ourselves agreed upon, that we presented to the second conference.
The right hon. Gentleman has just returned to the House. I have been on my feet probably too long as it is, but I had been dealing with a good many points before he arrived, and I was on my last point, but it is a point arising out of his Amendment, and I will repeat myself in order that the right hon. Gentleman can see exactly why it is that I am dealing with the industrial conference. The Amendment says that it is not expedient "in existing circumstances," and I put the question, in the right hon. Gentleman's absence, to the Leader of the House as to whether any limit could be placed on these words "in existing circumstances." I asked whether they could be interpreted that if the House accepted this Amendment to-day, there would be no intention to proceed with legislation on the Hours question during the remainder of the present Parliament. May I say, without desiring to use any threat, that in view of the fact that we have been in negotiation since April, 1919, if we have now to be told, without a satisfactory answer, that the House in accepting this Amendment relieves the Government from proceeding with the Hours question during the present Parliament, I can promise him that within a very few days no Committee and no Joint Industrial Conference will be in existence. We have done our best by negotiations. The negotiations, so far as both the employers and myself are concerned, are pretty well at an end, because we can get no "forrarder," and now, if we have to be told that the acceptance of these words will have the effect I place on the Amendment, it seems to me that the work will be entirely brought to an end. I end where I began, by saying that this is a most peculiar attitude for the Government to take up. It is not consistent with their position when we began the international labour work at Paris. It is not consistent with their position at the two Conferences held in the early part of 1919, and if, in both these instances, the Government is not going to make a serious attempt to give effect both to Washington and to their own industrial conferences, it seems to me that a vast body of working opinion in this country will not be able to trust the Government further in these matters.
Sir J. D. REES:
It cannot be said that Friday afternoons are not maintaining their character for giving opportunity to attempts to increase the apparently insufficient cost of administration, and when I hear the views advanced by social reformers on these occasions, as I have for years, I cannot help thinking—and I say it with all respect—that they do incline to oblivion of the fact that it is righteousness, and not self-righteousness, that exalteth a nation. My right hon. Friend who has just addressed the House said that he was engaged with his friends in levelling other nations upwards, and that the conditions of labour in other nations were not only backward, but he used the word "disgraceful." I speak with profound respect for him when I say that that attitude of mind marks him down as disqualified to deal with any international question. If there be a man in this House, or in any other House, who thinks it has been given him to decide, not only what is humane and proper in his own country, but in all the other countries in the world, and to devise a code of labour legislation, equally suitable from the icebergs of Archangel to the burning jungles of Malabar, I confess I think a man of that temperament is, ipso facto, disqualified to deal with a question of this kind. My right hon. Friend said that if this international Convention were not adopted in Parliament, and the labour hours suggested by the Convention were not discussed and ratified, serious consequences would result to the industries of this country. I agree with him entirely, but I think the serious consequences would arise from the imposition, on the people of these islands, of conditions laid down by the fortuitous concurrence or conference of supermen at Geneva.
Sir J. D. REES:
Then I withdraw. I really thought he made a claim of that character. However, I leave him now, and I hope that he will take to heart, in the friendly spirit in which they are offered, the few observations I have made. May I refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore)? He said, incidentally, that this Government will not live for ever, and it was quite clear he was not going to put himself to any particular pains to prolong its life. He spoke of one Member of the Government, Lord Curzon, as belonging to the dark ages. I believe I shall be in order in pointing out that, probably the reason why Lord Curzon does not fulfil the requirements of my hon. Friend's definitions, is that he is a man of considerable experience, not only in this country, but he has had such experience of foreign countries as well as his own as to enable him to take a comparative view of the all-important matters comprised in these Conventions. I cannot myself understand how it is that, at a time like this, when industry is struggling to live against taxes, it is possible that anybody can seriously put forward these Conventions, and upbraid the Government with having excluded from any notice some, at any rate, of them.
I should like to refer to the maternity question. All men, who are really closely interested in this question, would wish to see women who bear children treated in the most tender manner possible, but I should like to point out, incidentally, that in introducing the kind of legislation here required, serious disability, loss, and perhaps ruin would be imposed upon women of less civilised, less cultivated countries, with whom child-bearing is really taken almost in their stride—
Sir J. D. REES:
—and not in that painful manner which is characteristic of the civilisation to which we belong ourselves. To throw them out of work for three months is to prevent them from getting employment. It was not my fault, but my misfortune, that I was not here when the speeches on behalf of the Government were made, or when rulings were given as to the extent to which a speaker may refer to the contents of this Paper, but I presume I am in order in referring, in passing, to the salient features of the Conventions which hon. Gentlemen wish to impose on this country, while they are occupied in putting the world to school and governing continents by rule. It is said, of course, that provisions of this character are to a certain extent permissive, and not forced upon other countries. It is also said that when they are under preparation and consideration at Geneva, representatives of the other countries concerned—the backward nations, for instance—are present, and that that is a protection, and that, therefore, there is no fear that this kind of legislation will be imposed in ignorance, in arrogance, upon nations who do not want it. I wish to say that that protection is altogether fallacious. When you have, for instance—let me take a country with which I am very intimately acquainted—when you have representatives of India sitting at Geneva—
Sir J. D. REES:
Yes, Washington. I am very much obliged to the Noble Lord for his interjection, because he points to that quarter from which the most profound repudiation of the whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel, comes. I was saying that the protection which is presumed to be given by having representatives of Oriental and backward countries present is entirely fallacious. Wherever you get the representative social reformer from any foreign country sitting with other social reformers, then so far from representing his country honestly, and saying that they are not educated up to this, do not like it, and will not have it, he goes one better than the most representative, advanced, progressive, and civilised reformers among whom he sits. That is inevitable. That is how you see princes steeped in tradition, and descended from the sun and the moon, come here from India and agree in the most democratic way with all that has been going on. Thus you see the sacred Brahmin going one better than the miner in the matter of social reform. It is right and appropriate here, at any rate, to point out that there is no real representation when an agreement is arrived at in Washington. There is no chance there of obtaining anything like fair representation of all these nations. Suppose the Government, instead of taking the wise course they have taken, had accepted the whole of these Conventions and taken action in the spirit in which the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) spoke, that is, that anything proceeding from Geneva or Washington connected with the League of Nations should be accepted—
This has nothing to do with the Covenant of the League of Nations. This is something quite different which is in the Treaty of Versailles and quite outside the League of Nations. It is a Convention which the British Government, as represented by my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Barnes), a Member of the Government then, affixed his signature to on behalf of the Government.
Sir J. D. REES:
Then will my right hon. Friend just explain why his Motion refers to the League of Nations? I do not pretend, and cannot, to anything like an intimate acquaintance with this White Paper, but at any rate I have read the first line of the first page, which runs "League of Nations." Now if I am in order, and I am not going on—[HON. MEMBERS: "GO on!']—if I cannot accomplish my purpose. I wish to point out how desperately dangerous it is for this House to acept the kind of thing which you find in these documents, when you find the most careful provisions made that children of a certain age are not allowed to go into a mine.
Sir J. D. REES:
—that you cannot in these oriental countries separate the family. They have not got a maid-of-all-work with whom to leave the children at home. The children have to go with them. They stay with their parents, and perhaps do some paltry little bit of work, such as carrying a basket with a handful of earth, and are given some trifle, more or less out of the kindness of heart of their employer, for it.
I firmly resent, on behalf of the majority of mankind, that attitude of superiority of humanity which breathes in every word of my Noble Friend opposite. I repudiate it with all my heart, on behalf of myself and all others who are not superior to the rest of humanity, and the House, I hope, will understand that it is not very easy for a man who has travelled in a good many of the countries referred to—it is not, I say, very easy for him to get up here and make any speech which implies either indirectly or directly that those who have made the other speeches are not very well acquainted with the subjects on which they have spoken. It is not an easy thing for a Member to do unless he himself feels, as I hope I do not, that he is a superior person. My case is simply that it so happens that my life and experience have brought me into contact with many of these countries named and with the industries concerned. Therefore, I cannot but rejoice that the Government have had the courage to take the action they have taken to-day, to exhibit a statesmanlike breadth of mind, and not to accept a ready-made code dealing in one breath with the whole of the terrestrial sphere, and with the waters below. What surprises me is that this paper, which I hold in my hand, does not also deal with the nether regions.
It should be pointed out that this really is an exceedingly serious question. I do not know that it is necessary to speak with a desperate assumption of superiority or seriousness in order to speak the truth, but I hope that the fact is duly borne in mind that if any nation accepts the Conventions of this Conference that it implies that it is bound to introduce them into all its colonies and possessions unless otherwise impossible. What does that mean? It may be a very easy thing for nations like Nauru, Monaco, and Costa Rica, but it would be madness for Great Britain, which has great possessions in all quarters of the earth, presenting no points of resemblance to each other, but rather of contrast. How is it possible to bring a nation, an empire of that character, under the same rules of laws and regulations as the paltry little republics and places of merely nominal importance who, under this kind of convention, hope to gain something at the expense of the greater nations which they would all combine to oppose—as they always do, for instance, in respect of the rights of sea-power?
I understand I have been permitted—and I am grateful for it—slightly to exceed the ruling given a while ago. I had not the good fortune to hear the speeches for the Government, but I have heard certain speeches including that of the hon. Member for Plymouth, a speech with which I am fully and entirely in agreement. What she said concerning the women of America might be perfectly admirable and suited to them, but it might also be exceedingly inappropriate to the Pacific Islands, or to India, with whose conditions she perhaps is less acquainted with than with those obtaining in this country, whose women she so admirably represents. It is astounding when one reflects that this Imperial Parliament, which has to deal with a great Empire comprising every kind of nation, climate, colour, people, and creed, should suppose that at one moment it should ever be possible to bring into effectual force any of these sentimental efforts which, already under our very eyes, are being discredited, and when probably there is not a Member of this House who does not know that the League of Nations which inspires all this effort is itself doomed because of its sentimentalism, and will never fulfil that rôle which I hope some practical League of Nations is destined to fulfil.
I desire to say a word in support of the Motion which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals. The House and the country alike are indebted to him for bringing to our attention a matter of such vital importance. I congratulate him upon the fact that in the whole course of this Debate, up to the speech to which we have just listened, there has been entire agreement on the part of every speaker, other than the spokesmen from the Government Bench, in support of his policy, and in condemnation of the policy adopted by the Government. Whether the Government will feel themselves at all helped by the speech to which we have just listened I leave entirely to the Government to decide. The point I want to emphasise is one which has been urged upon the House in practically every speech but the last one, and it is that, in the opinion of this House, the Conventions adopted at the International Labour Conference under the League of Nations should be submitted to Parliament as the competent authority.
For about half-an-hour we have listened to a speech which, so far as I could follow it, had nothing whatever to do with the subject. Doubtless this was due to the fact that the hon. Member who made that speech had not heard the course of the Debate. The proposal of my right hon. Friend is one of the most important that could be submitted to this House. It has regard on the one hand to the claims of the League of Nations and on the other to the rights of the House of Commons. That is so important that I think it ought to have received very different attention on the part of the Government from that which they have given it. To-day the Government gave my right hon. Friend an opportunity of bringing this matter before the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman held a very important position as a representative of the Government with regard to the Conference at Washington, and what he says, therefore, ought to be received with very great consideration and respect.
The right hon. Gentleman has submitted a definite proposal to the House. The Government have given him an opportunity of doing so, and what I submit is that under those conditions the House has a right to come to a definite decision on the terms of the Motion. I should have thought that under those circumstances the Government would be prepared to say "aye" or "no" to his proposal, but instead of doing that they submit an alternative proposal. What the House ought to decide is whether, in the words of my right hon. Friend, these Conventions should be submitted to Parliament as a competent authority. The House of Commons claims that it is the only competent authority and that these Conventions ought to be submitted to it, and for these reasons if there is a Division on this Motion I shall support my right hon. Friend.
We are all agreed that we have had a very interesting and a very important discussion, and I should like to say a word or two about the issues that have been raised. It will be impossible for me to deal with all of them, because we have had a great many points raised, varying geographically and otherwise very considerably. I should like to deal with three or four of the principal points and then I wish to say a word or two on the general question as to the attitude of the Government with regard to these international Conventions. Perhaps the most important points were those raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes (Mr. Henderson), who dealt as forcibly as one would expect from him with the question of the position of the Hours Bill. He asked, What are the existing circumstances, how long are they going to endure and what do they mean? He also asked if the Hours Bill is going to be dropped altogether.
To that question I may give the answer that it is not the intention of the Government to drop the Hours Bill altogether. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking with all the authority he possesses, says if that is the intention then the committee over which he presides will be dissolved at once. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place, otherwise I should have been very glad on behalf of the Government to give him that assurance, and to express the hope that his committee will continue in session. As to the existing circumstances, what are they? I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes did full justice to the point which has been put to the House by my right hon. Friend in explaining those words. The real difficulty with regard to the Washington Convention in relation to the Hours Bill is that the two conflict. It is no good burking that difficulty. They conflict in several particulars, but they conflict vitally. They conflict so far as the question of the railway agreements go. I put it to my hon. Friends opposite that they really must apply their minds to that point, because this is not a case of the hard-faced man or the bloated capitalist, but it is a case where the representatives of organised labour are opposed to the provisions laid down in the Convention at Washington.
I have no intention of disparaging what my hon. Friend said, but I wish to emphasise the argument that the Government ought to have flattened him out on the floor of this House.
If we had adopted the flattening-out policy which my right hon. Friend is now suggesting, we should get to results which I should be very sorry to see. Do not let us, however, get away from what is the real root difficulty about the Hours Bill. It is very easy to say, Why does not the Government do this and that? But here you are faced with this definite conflict between the Washington Convention and the arrangements accepted by unions of organised labour, and also by the representatives of the railway directors as well.
There is a second point where there is a conflict in the proposals put forward, and that is with regard to overtime. I did not have the honour of representing the Government at the Washington Conference, but I have had that honour at conferences since. At Washington the Government were represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals. Personally I regret that this Convention was drawn up so tightly. If it had been drawn up with more elasticity, showing a willingness to meet the case of those who desired to restrict the hours of labour in the interests of humanity, it would have been better. Had there been more elasticity in the Convention, it would have been very much more easy to apply its provision, but there are hard and fast rules as to overtime, and we have arrangements in this country with the agreement of both sides that would not square with the Washington Convention. There is a third point which was raised in a somewhat humourous way in a little wordy spar between the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) and the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes dealt with the same point. What do the words, "Under existing circumstances" mean? I suggest that they mean a good deal, so far as the industrial side of the Washington Convention and hours of labour are concerned. They also mean something on the international side. I do not want to stress this too far, but this great labour charter was passed and embodied in the Treaty when it was in contemplation that two or possibly three of the great industrial nations, which are now, I hope temporarily, out of the picture, would have been able to take part in the application and working of the machinery of Part 13 of the Treaty. I mean the United States, Germany and Russia. That does make a difference, and you must bear in mind that the circumstances are not quite the circumstances that were in contemplation at the time that this labour charter was drafted.
Might I say that Germany, although not a member of the League of Nations, is a member of the Labour Organisation, and has, I believe, given effect to this very Convention.
I agree, of course, that Germany is now a member of the Labour Organisation. I was present at the Conference when Germany was admitted. Their position, however, is different as they are not members of the League itself: and certainly the other two countries are not sharing the burden or the privilege of this piece of industrial machinery. My right hon. Friend the Member for Widnes said, "Would you not contemplate some revised Convention with regard to hours on the lines of the Convention of Washington?" If the Convention at Washington were too strictly drawn, as in my view it was from the point of view of an advanced industrial country like ours, could not steps be taken to secure a new and more reasonably drawn Convention? The Cabinet recently has set up a strong Inter-Departmental Committee with a view of getting all these international labour matters dealt with expeditiously and for co-ordinating their work, and of that Committee I have the honour to be Chairman. If anything can be done in the way of re-starting a Convention on hours on rather wider and more elastic lines, we will gladly take it into consideration, but it must be borne in mind, the Washington Convention, having gone through on definite lines, that it may be rather difficult to initiate an entirely new Convention. The question of the Maternity Convention was referred to by the hon. Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), the hon. Member for Stafford, and the hon. Member for Durham (Major Hills). Clearly, the last word has not been said on the question of dealing with the burdens of women in industry. I do not wish for a moment to give anything in the way of a pledge, but clearly the last word has not been said, and I think the appeal of the hon. Member for Plymouth should be taken into consideration with a view to seeing whether, while the benefits secured to women engaged in industry in this country are wider under our existing law than they would be under the working of the Convention, we could not screw up our practice to the level of the Washington Convention where it gives greater benefits to a certain number of women. That matter is open for consideration, and certainly the last word has not been said on the subject. Speaking on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself, I can say that the matter shall be considered.
It has been implied, and in some quarters rather more than implied, that there is in the Government, if not hostility, a want of friendliness towards the International Labour Organisation. I want to say emphatically and at once, on behalf of the Government, that is not the case. I do not propose to go through the history of the drafting of Part 13, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division took so distinguished and honourable a part, nor do I propose to say anything about the action which the Government took, and rightly took, in sending delegates to the Washington Conference and to the Genoa Conference, but quite recently the Government have set up this Inter-Departmental Committee to deal with international labour matters: and they have also secured the assent of the Right Hon. J. W. Lowther, late Speaker of the House, as chairman of a very important Committee on emigration set up by the International Labour Office. I have no hesitation in saying that it is the desire of the Government and of the Labour Ministry, as being connected with this branch of international affairs, to work in the most cordial co-operation with the International Labour Office. I have recently had the privilege of visiting the chairman of that International Labour Office at Geneva, and our relations are of the most cordial and helpful character. It is sometimes said that the International Labour Organisation tries to do too much. It is the same with labour organisations as with individuals. If at some time in their lives they do not try to do too much, they generally end by doing precious little. There is in the present state of the world's affairs a real work to be done by the International Labour Organisation and the International Labour Office at Geneva. If that organisation demands too much at any time, it is for the highly organised and developed countries like this to see that its activities are guided along proper lines. That is the attitude of the Government in this matter. I am sure that they will give, as they are giving now, all help possible to see that the activities of the Labour Conferences and Conventions are helpful to labour and to the community at large.
I should not have intervened in this Debate but for the speech to which we have just listened. It is a speech which is typical of the attitude the Government always takes up in relation to questions of International Treaties and Conventions. A speech has been made by the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees). I am not by nature a merciless man any more than is the hon. Member, but I could not help regarding the pitiful expression on the face of hon. Members of the Government when he got up to support them. Had the hon. Gentleman seen their faces when he brought the Warren Hastings atmosphere into the discussion, with his eighteenth century attitude towards the world in general, he would agree with me in sympathising with the Government. I am sure he will not think I am discourteous when I say that whatever the merits or demerits of his political career may have been, a demand on his part to raise the general standard of humanity has not been one of them. I should like to say in reply to what has been stated by the representatives of the Government that I do not think he has dealt with the main object which my right hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Barnes) had in view in putting down this Resolution. My right hon. Friend tabled this Resolution in order that we might have a discussion, and nothing else, upon the merits or demerits of the Washington Convention. The hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Government has, to a great extent, endeavoured to anticipate that discussion, which I still hope will take place, by going into the merits of one particular point. We ask that the remainder of the Convention should be fully discussed by this House, and that the policy of the Government in regard thereto should be made known. The Amendment which the Government have put down to the Resolution is a most extraordinary one. The hon. Gentleman, in what I say was a very irrelevant speech, suggested that the proposals of the Washington Convention were in conflict with their own legislation. But it should be for the House to give its opinion on the subject, and if it is in favour of withdrawing the Government Bill, then the Minister should produce another Bill. I do not for one moment say I can agree with all that fell from the hon. Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) as to the maternity benefit, or from the Noble Lord on the Front Opposition Bench (Lord R. Cecil). But that is not the point at issue. What we ask is that there should be a discussion on this Convention. I do not consider it is treating either the Labour Convention or the whole idea of the League of Nations properly not to give an opportunity for discussion.
I do not wish to travel outside the terms of the Resolution or of the Amendment, or to be called to order, but I must make this observation on the general attitude of the Government towards International Treaties and Conventions. It is that they show an extraordinary energy, rather foreign to their nature, in preventing this House having full, open, and frank discussion on our International Treaties and Conventions of all kinds. It does not matter what it is, whether it be a Mandate of the League of Nations or a Treaty with Turkey or with Hungary, we are always met by the objections that it is not opportune for the House to discuss the subject. I earnestly suggest that no greater blow is struck at the position of this House or at its prestige than by the adoption of this course. There never has been a period when it was more necessary we should uphold ordinary constitutional government. But the impression is gaining ground that either with the connivance of the House or without it the Government are keeping the House from the discussion of vital questions affecting our future international relation and our home legislation in regard thereto. In the comparatively short time I have been a Member of this House no Government would have dreamt, when matters of this international importance were brought up, of allowing the Debate to take place in the absence of the Prime Minister or of the Leader of the House. But to-day when these international matters are discussed we get grudging speeches literally dragged by force from Under-Secretaries explanatory of the policy of the Government.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour has told us that an Inter-Departmental Committee is being appointed to deal with this particular question. The fact is that the Government invariably set up Inter-Departmental Committees when questions like these are brought forward, and we are never to know their policy until the Inter-Departmental Committee has reported—it may be many months and even years later. I do not think that the creation of these Inter-Departmental Committees is desirable. Their object we are told is to bring the legislation of this country on labour questions into accord with the decisions of the Labour Convention. But surely we ought, in the first instance, to get the opinion of the House on the Convention itself, and then the Government should formulate their own policy. They ought not to refuse to discuss the Convention and to give as an excuse for their refusal that they are appointing an Inter-Departmental Committee to deal with the whole matter. One cannot get over the fact that the present Government does not seem to desire free, frank and open discussion of these questions on the Floor of the House. I do not know why it should be so. There has never been a period in the history of Parliament when the House of Commons has been more reasonable in recognising the difficulties of the Government or of the Leader of the House when those difficulties have been properly explained to them, and when there has been danger under such circumstances of a hostile Vote the Government have been well supported. We do not suggest that the whole of these recommendations should be adopted, but we do ask that they should be discussed and then if the House rejects them further proposals shall be made in lieu of them. To suggest that there is a conflict between the Washington Convention and the Government's own proposals in their Eight Hours Bill is altogether beside the mark. What we want is a discussion on the Floor of this House. I am glad to see that the Patronage Secretary is here, because I should like to say that many Coalition Unionist Members who believe in the principle of the League of Nations are getting seriously alarmed at the attitude of the Government towards these questions, and at its apparent disinclination—I will not put it further than that—to act up to the letter and the spirit of the promises and pledges given by the head of the Government and the Leader of the House at the time of the last Election on the subject of the League of Nations and of the international labour legislation which was expected to follow from the creation of that League.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD:
There is another aspect of this question which, so far, has not been dealt with, or at least has not been forcibly put before the House, and that is that the Amendment proposed by the Government, whether intentionally or otherwise—and after the peculiar speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour I am very much afraid it is intentionally—amounts practically to an abrogation of Part XIII of the original Treaty. When Labour joined in the War with such unanimity, and when, eventually, the battles were won and the Armistice was signed, one of the great demands on the
part of Labour in this country was that this Treaty should really be a Treaty dealing, not merely with ordinary trade and commercial questions, but dealing with Labour. That was really the justification of all the leaders of the Labour Movement in joining so enthusiastically in the War. The Government, without question and without dispute, do everything they can to maintain the territorial and mandatory portions of the Treaty. They insist at that box day after day that they do not intend to allow a single line of those portions of the Treaty to be interfered with in the slightest degree. Is not it strange that they, of all Governments in the world, should fasten upon that part of the Treaty dealing with Labour to practically abrogate and rescind it? It will be a positive disaster to the Government if the working people of this country come to the conclusion that the only part of the Treaty that is not going to be enforced and guarded is that which gives rights to the Labour community of the world. Therefore, every one of us who support the Government ought to go into the Lobby in favour of this Motion, to save them from disgrace. That is the attitude that I am adopting.
|Division No. 121.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hall, Rr-Adml Sir W. (Liv'p'l, W. D'by)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hallas, Eldred||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Hayday, Arthur||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Bennett, Sir Thomas Jewell||Hinds, John||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Hirst, G. H.||Robertson, John|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Hogge, James Myles||Rose, Frank H.|
|Cape, Thomas||Hurd, Percy A.||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Irving, Dan||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)||Jesson, C.||Smithers, Sir Alfred W.|
|Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Spender||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Spencer, George A.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Spoor, B. G.|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Kiley, James Daniel||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Lawson, John James||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.|
|Davies, Major D. (Montgomery)||M'Donald, Dr. Bouverie F. P.||Wignall, James|
|Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Mills, John Edmund||Winterton, Earl|
|Forrest, Walter||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Gee, Captain Robert||Myers, Thomas|
|Gillis, William||Newbould, Alfred Ernest||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Glanville, Harold James||O'Grady, James||Mr. G. Barnes and Viscountess Astor.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Barnston, Major Harry||Bowles, Colonel H. F.|
|Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Bird, Sir William B. M. (Chichester)||Breese, Major Charles E.|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Borwick, Major G. O.||Bruton, Sir James|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith-||Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Rankin, Captain James Stuart|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm. W.)||Hopkins, John W. W.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Howard, Major S. G.||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Shaw, Capt. William T. (Forfar)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Craig, Capt. C. C. (Antrim, South)||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Sugden, W. H.|
|Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Henry Page||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Surtees, Brigadier-General H. C.|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Lindsay, William Arthur||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Dean, Commander P. T.||Lorden, John William||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Denniss, Edmund R. B. (Oldham)||Lort-Williams, J.||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|Dockrell, Sir Maurice||Lowther, Sir Cecil (Penrith)||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Edgar, Clifford B.||M'Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W.||Warren, Sir Alfred H.|
|Elliott, Lt.-Col. Sir G. (Islington, W.)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Williams, C. (Tavistock)|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Morris, Richard||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Frece, Sir Walter de||Neal, Arthur||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, West)|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Wise, Frederick|
|Gilbert, James Daniel||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John||Norris Colonel Sir Henry G.||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Grant, James Augustus||O'Neill, Major Hon. Robert W. H.||Wood, Major Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Greig, Colonel James William||Pearce, Sir William||Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. Frederick E.||Percy, Charles (Tynemouth)||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Philipps, Sir Owen C. (Chester, City)|
|Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Purchase, H. G.||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.|
|Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Raeburn, Sir William H.||Dudley Ward.|
Question, "That the words, 'it is not expedient in existing circumstances to proceed with legislation to give effect to the Washington Convention on Hours of Labour,' be there added," put, and agreed to.
After the speech of the Noble Lord (Earl Winterton) with which I entirely agree, we ought to give some slight consideration to the Government Motion itself. It is entirely different from that of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barnes) which dealt with the question of discussing the Washington Conventions and now asks us to assent, without very much time for discussion, to the proposition that these Conventions are not to be carried out. I am not prepared to give them that mandate without inviting my fellow-Members to make some protest and we can now look into the actual merits of the Washington Conventions and discuss the rights or not of the Government in the matter. On this matter of the employment of women I hold the very strongest feelings and I wish to draw attention to pages 18 and 19 of the Report of the International Labour Conference, and particularly to the prohibition of the employment of women before and after child-birth.
That will not now be open. The question before the House is the Convention on the Hours of Labour. At the earlier stages, that was open to discussion when the Motion dealt with the whole of the Conventions. The question now before the House relates only to the hours of labour.
I shall not pursue that at all. I thought we should have been able to discuss the whole of the Conventions arrived at. However, owing to the short time at our disposal I am glad that we are restricted to discussing only one of the findings. I hope that there will be other opportunities of discussing the very grave matters raised in the Conventions. With regard to the hours of labour, I speak a good deal in the country, and I admit that I occasionally attack the Government. I praise some of their acts and I attack others, and one of my charges which is apparently received with approval, is that the Government promised certain things at the General Election, and amongst them they promised us a uniform eight-hours day. That was repeated in terms of tremendous eloquence by the Prime Minister and other Members of the Government up and down the country, but, unfortunately, like so many other pledges made in the General Election of 1918—in which I unsuccessfully fought a constituency, and was defeated, I suppose particularly because of these promises—this promise has not materialised.
The Government excuse to-day is that they are not able to get agreement between the parties. We are entitled to know which parties they cannot get into agreement on the question of hours of employment. Is it the agriculturists, or is it the shipowners? If it is the farmers, I do not wish to pursue the matter further. I should prefer to leave that to hon. Members who can speak with more authority on agriculture, because I do not pretend to have any knowledge of agriculture. If it is a case of the shipowners refusing to meet the seamen in limiting the hours of labour on board ship, I should like to know from the Minister of Labour, and I should like to have a discussion with him either now, or privately elsewhere. We ought to be told where the hitch is. We ought to be told who is responsible for hanging up the promised legislation. Further, we ought to have an explanation from the Government as to why they have given way, having found the influences so powerful that they are forced to break a definite pledge given to the country at the time of the General Election and placarded all over the country to the delusion of the electors on this matter of the eight-hours day.
Things are very different now. The prevailing topic of conversation amongst the wage-earners to-day is how to get work of any sort. Their trouble is not that they are working too long, but that they are not working at all. Two years ago the great question under discussion amongst the working classes was the desirability of reducing the hours of labour in order to give greater time for leisure, recreation and study in many ways. The Minister of Labour knows quite well that one of the dearest hopes of those days after the Armistice, when we all looked at the world through rose-coloured spectacles, before we realised how terrible was the injury that the victory had inflicted upon us was that the days of long grinding toil which gave no more time for adequate leisure for the wage-earners had passed. The miners got a reduction in hours and other industries were looking for a similar boon. The steel smelters were openly hoping that they would have better conditions in their industry which would enable them to have some reduction of the terribly long hours they had to work. As the right hon. Gentleman says, a Bill was actually introduced and printed in the early part of 1919. After that Bill was brought in, as the result I suppose of an election promise, we had this Washington Convention and one of the findings of this historical body was the principle of the eight-hour day in industry. Now the excuse given by the Government for not honouring their election pledge, and what is more important, not supporting their own delegates in Washington, is that they cannot get agreement among the parties concerned. In matters of industrial dispute and troubles we have a lack of frankness and too much secret diplomacy, and the first thing that we know is that we are plunged into the most terrible industrial catastrophe. Who were the parties who are hanging up this Bill? Are they employers or a section of trade unionists and what are the particular industries affected? Questions have been asked again and again in this House as to when this Bill is to be introduced and have always had evasive answers. We have an opportunity now before giving the Government a vote on this matter of being able to extract some information. The right hon. Gentleman must be familiar with all the negotiations and able to explain what is the trouble and why it is not expedient in existing circumstances to proceed with legislation to give effect to the Convention on hours of labour.
I rise to give the Government still a chance of retrieving the position as far as their own interests go. I do not desire any score against them. If I did I should leave the matter where it is because I do not know anything that would give a worse impression outside than the vote given to-day of 109 in favour of doing nothing as against 69. The Government still have an opportunity of putting themselves in a better position outside. Let them withdraw this miserable Amendment which has no relevance and frankly put themselves in the confidence of the House and say even now at the twelfth hour, that they will bring forward this Convention and not take up any official view about it themselves, but allow the House to examine it and pass judgment upon it. If they did that they would prevent a great deal of the ill that would otherwise be done by the vote cast to-day, because I want people in this and other countries still to have regard to constitutional authorities and the vote given to-day will go a long way in the direction not of constitutional authority but of anarchy. If possible, I hope that the Minister of Labour will swallow his pride, withdraw the Amendment which he has put down and still afford the House of Commons itself the opportunity of saying whether or not there are circumstances that at the present moment should prevent legislation taking place on this and other matters.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD:
I could understand the attitude of the Government on this subject if they gave any reason why it is inexpedient to proceed. I see a terrible failure in putting this Motion on the Paper, because if this House records that it is inexpedient to proceed with the matter one would expect that it would require another Motion on the subject practically rescinding this Motion before it would be deemed expedient to proceed with the Convention.
I am most anxious to give an opportunity to the Government to take into consideration the fact that on a Friday afternoon, with the Whips at the door pressing Members to support the Government because it is a critical Division, 69 Members, or more than 70 if we count the Tellers, and most of them supporters of the Government, decided that they could not allow an Amendment of this description to go forth as the considered judgment of the House. There may be reasons why the Government do not wish to proceed with legislation on the matter at the moment, but no reason has been stated and we know nothing about it. There may be reasons such as the labour conditions and hours of work in our Crown Colonies. It may be that the Government, after considering the subject with the Colonial Office and other Departments, have come to the conclusion that it would be sheer hypocrisy to proceed with an international law for regulating the hours of labour. I am speaking, not of the Dominions that have self-government, but of Crown Colonies, where this House is directly responsible for the conditions of labour. There are, for instance, Hong Kong and Singapore and many other places to which I could refer and of which I have personal knowledge. It may be that because of the conditions in those places the Government feel that it would only be common honesty to put our own house in order before we proceed to form an international code. It may be that the Foreign Office or the Colonial Office have suggested that.
I am speaking of Crown Colonies where the hours of labour inflicted on the native people are too terrible to contemplate. I daresay the Minister of Labour has heard of a recent discussion at a Church Council at Hong Kong on the subject of the terrible conditions under which little children are employed there. Some of these children are only 5 or 6 years of age, and seem scarcely able to carry themselves. They are employed in carrying loads up the Peak and work at the dockside. In some cases the weights have been taken from them by disgusted citizens. There are cases where little girls, not more than 6 or 7 years of age, have had their loads weighted at 85 lbs. It seems almost impossible that children could carry such loads, yet official documents relating to the subject show that they carry these loads for hours. It is true they come down the Peak without any load at all, but for 12 or 13 or 14 hours these poor little mites and these women work under conditions which are a positive disgrace to everybody concerned. I have questioned the Government, times without number, about it, and the failure of the Government to do anything to mitigate the conditions there has aroused the British church community in Hong Kong. They have held a sort of council on the subject and have sent a gentleman—who is just on the point of arriving in this country—to appeal to the Government to take action. The governor and council admit that there is not a single regulation by which they can interfere either to prevent children being employed at any age or to prevent them being loaded worse than donkeys or cattle. No suggestion has ever been made by the home Government that there should be any such regulation. Therefore the Foreign Office or the Colonial Office might reasonably say, "For Heaven's sake do not put this Hours of Labour Convention into operation; especially, do not legislate even in an indirect way concerning the hours of labour in other countries until we have a chance of wiping this stain from our name." I could understand that. If the right hon. Gentleman declared that things were so disgraceful in some of our own Crown Colonies that it was inexpedient to proceed with the legislation suggested by the Washington Convention, that would be a reason. If he said it was inexpedient for us to proceed until we had put our own house into decent order and given the native races under our direct control better regulations as to hours and employment and that it would be wrong to impose on other peoples conditions we were not carrying out ourselves, that would be something tangible in support of this Amendment. I would agree with him that it is disgraceful that little children should work these hours of labour under our rule while we, the Imperial Parliament, proceed to deal with the hours of labour of other people over whom we have no control and for whom we have no real responsibility. That would be a reason for delay, but we have not had that reason put forward so far as the Government is concerned.
One is bound to come to the conclusion that the only reason for the Amendment is to fritter away time in regard to the various parts of these recommendations. First as regards hours, it is obvious there never will be unanimity of opinion among the various peoples as to the hours which should be worked in different climes. It is morally certain you will always find excuses for delay if you propose to wait for unanimity upon that subject. It is an excuse to fritter away, first the Hours Convention, then probably something else, and on and on. I am not concerned now with the opponents of the Government, because it may be only their game, but as a supporter of the Government I am positively ashamed of this afternoon's work. To think that a Government that has carried us through this War, that has got Clause 13 inserted into the main Treaty, that has stood at that box and insisted upon maintaining the parts of the Treaty relating to man- dates and Imperial and territorial questions, should then come to the same box and begin to repudiate the only part of the Treaty that deals with labour questions—I say it is one of the most disgraceful afternoon's work we have ever had in this House.
I protest most vigorously, being a supporter of the Government, that they are making it impossible for men like myself, who are friendly to labour, who are labour themselves, who really belong to the working class, to give them continued support if the first attack upon the Treaty after the War is an attack upon the labour part of the Treaty. It is an outrageous proposition to think the workmen of the country would support the Government if they knew that was really their policy. They say they have appointed a Departmental Committee to consider the subject, but one always knows that when a Government wants to shirk a plain issue the best way of doing it is to appoint a Departmental Committee. The old Liberal Government used to do it and be denounced by the Tories, and now the Tories come in and do it and are denounced by their opponents. Everybody knows it is a miserable trick to get out of performing what at the moment appears not to be quite a satisfactory part of the Government's duty, and I appeal to the Government to give their supporters a chance of continuing their support, so far at least as the labour section of their supporters are concerned.
I should be wrong and wanting in my duty if I allowed the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend to go unanswered, because he seemed to think that there is some mysterious reason why a particular Convention, namely, the Eight Hours Convention, should not be ratified which has not been stated, and he made several suggestions which I am sure he will be glad to hear from me are entirely unfounded. I stated at the outset of this Debate, in full detail, the character of the six Conventions, the character of the six Resolutions, and I stated in full detail what we proposed to do with each, and why. It is my misfortune that my hon. and gallant Friend, and also my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), were not here to hear the reasons I gave for not being able to proceed at the moment with the eight hours.
There are six Conventions, and, if my hon. and gallant Friend will read the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow morning, he will find what I said in regard to them all set out there. Four of them deal with matters in which this country is already at least up to the level of what is suggested, and therefore we propose to ratify them. There are two Conventions which remain. The first of the two that are not to be ratified is the maternity Convention. The reason for non-ratification there was given before Easter by the late Minister of Health. That we have done a very great deal in that matter has been admitted by the House itself, but in the provision for women before and after childbirth we have moved along lines different from those of the Convention, and therefore the Convention cuts right across our methods, and we do not think it right to ratify that. I do not say we are doing all we ought, but if anyone supposes there is any other country in the world which is doing more for women in childbirth, I should like to know what that country is. With regard to hours, Washington says, "You shall have 48 hours a week and eight hours a day, and, in effect, you shall not have any overtime." Of no other country is it true to the extent that it is of this country, that agreements have been arrived at with large bodies of trade unionists and representative bodies fixing hours by agreement. As regards overtime, a combination of workpeople and employers is in favour of elasticity from time to time as trade demands a certain amount of overtime. The railwaymen have got 48 hours, but they work from time to time on Sunday, which is not included in their 48-hour week. Therefore the agreement between the railway companies and the men cuts clean across the Washington Convention. It is a question whether I should flatten it out, as the mover of the Motion calls it.
The right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with my point at all in either of his two speeches, which is that the Convention, whatever its limitations and faults and failings, should be submitted to this House.
I am trying to answer my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stoke. Let us be clear about this. The Washington Convention runs right across an agreement which is in operation with the railway employés and companies, under which they can work from time to time on Sundays over and above 48 hours. There are two courses. I was quite frank with the House earlier. You can either say you have no concern with the agreement, and tear it up, or you can flatten it out. I am not on the flattening out line. That is all I can say. I tell the House quite frankly it is not expedient, in view of the importance attaching to the agreements in this country—and there is no country in the world where the workers through their unions have an opportunity of making such agreements—at this juncture to cut right across that agreement by proposing 48 hours, and no more under any circumstances. These are the difficulties; there is no other reason: these are the two, maternity and the hours of labour, that we do not propose to ratify. My right hon. Friend for Gorbals says: "Withdraw your Amendment, do not have any pride." It is not a matter of pride. I cannot withdraw the Amendment because we do not propose to ratify these Conventions, for the reasons I have tried to give. It is impracticable. What I am prepared to do is this. Hon. Members say: "We should like to have a look at these things, to examine the reasons for refusing to ratify these Conventions. We have not had the opportunity." The right hon. Gentleman says: "I have stood at this box far too long, and though I have tried to let him have a look at the reasons I do not seem to have succeeded." The report of my speech will show. There are two out of six Conventions and two minor points of the resolutions, as I have explained, that we do not propose to ratify for reasons I have evidently very imperfectly given. Although I have not the authority personally of the Leader of the House, I think I can get it, and I am sure he will be prepared to give the House the opportunity to examine the reasons. We have it is true, not had much time to go into these reasons this afternoon. I think the request is a reasonable one. The House is entitled to examine closely and, if I may say so with great respect, in detail in the course of the sitting, why we have not and cannot ratify the two Conventions to which I have referred. Therefore I must stand by this Amendment.
Yes, certainly, a pledge. I have not had time to consult the Leader of the House, but I am responsible here this afternoon, and I am quite sure that when I tell my right hon. Friend that hon. Members desire to have time to discuss the Conventions it will be all right.
The pledge is that an opportunity should be given, perhaps not at the early date desired by various hon. Members—for my right hon. Friend the Leader of this House is very fully preoccupied—but that an opportunity shall be given for the House to hear and discuss the reasons which have led us not to ratify the Maternity Convention and the Hours of Labour Convention.
This is most important. Does it mean, in point of fact, that there will be a further Motion submitted that will enable the House to say "aye" or "no" whether they agree in the refusal to ratify these Conventions?
That is a point, of course, which I must closely examine—the 18 months lasts till July. I think it is only fair that it should be within that period. Of course, I cannot say the precise form it will take off-hand, but my undertaking is that an opportunity shall be given to the House for examining the reasons why the Government refuse to ratify the Conventions dealing with hours and maternity.
It is evident that that will not give the House an opportunity of giving a decision on these questions, because we shall be precluded from that by the Rules of the House. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would accept a Motion, "That the House do now adjourn."
The right hon. Gentleman is quite familiar with the Motion for the Adjournment. A whole day might be taken up with the reasons why we are not prepared to ratify the Convention.
That is absurd. It is ridiculous to suggest that the House should refuse to adjourn for the summer holidays, because they disagree with the policy of the Government in regard to the ratification of the Washington Conventions. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should come to this House, and, with the kind of people who sit behind him—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw, withdraw!"]—I shall certainly not withdraw, because my observation is perfectly in order—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw, withdraw!"]—
I trust that any intimation that comes from the Chair, whether it be strictly on a matter of order, or on a matter of seemliness, will always receive the utmost respect from myself. I should long ago have explained to hon. Members opposite, had they had given me the opportunity, that, however clumsily I may have expressed myself, I had no intention of saying anything insulting to them. All I meant was that, with a party so permeated with party loyalty as that which sits behind them, the Government might have been well assured of the support of that party without descending to—[Interruption.]
I think that the incident shows the undesirability of imputing motives to other hon. Members, even generally. It is not out of order—and I am afraid that it is done rather frequently—but it is sure to lead to an undesirable interruption of Debate.
I am extremely sorry. I am conscious that I disagree with my hon. Friends opposite on a good many points, but I have no desire whatever to import any personal feeling into the matter, and I agree, now that my hon. Friend opposite draws my attention to it, that it was an unfortunate phrase to use, and I regret that I used it. I venture to say in my defence, however, that I did not meant in the sense in which hon. Members attributed it to me. The Government ask the House to express their dissent from this particular Convention dealing with hours. The offer which my right hon. Friend has made does not meet the case at all. If the House once passes this Motion, there really cannot be any opportunity for it to consider the matter again. It might technically be in order—I am not quite so certain of that—but the discussion of it on a Motion for the Adjournment cannot be said really to give the House any chance of expressing its opinion or of having any useful debate on the subject. I see the Leader of the House (Mr. Chamberlain) is present, and I suggest to him, if the Government really do adhere to the policy of my right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, that, having heard the reasons put forward by the Government, the House should have some opportunity of expressing its opinion, that the proper course is to withdraw the Motion, or to allow the Debate on it to be adjourned, so that the House may be perfectly free to express its opinions without this Motion being on the Records, making it practically impossible for the House to do anything of the kind. Unless I am assured that is going to be done, I must ask the House to allow me to say a few words on the merits of the Motion. I venture to put it to the House how serious it will be if they accept, without further consideration, the definite statement that it will not accept the decision of the Convention with regard to the eight-hour day. It was agreed to absolutely by the Government at Washington it was agreed to, not only by their representatives there, but it was agreed to on reference to the Central Government in London. It was formally agreed to after consideration. Everybody remembers that following on that we had a promise from the Government for the introduction of legislation to give effect to the Convention as far back as the autumn of 1919, and certainly the autumn of 1920 we were constantly being told that an Eight Hours Bill was about to be produced, and very long negotiations took place, as I well remember, in reference to agriculture in connection with the matter. Ultimately we were told that difficulties had arisen with regard to labour on the railways, and now my right hon. Friend says he cannot agree to the Convention being supported at all. I feel that that is a situation which may well cause grave misunderstanding, and I cannot see why the Government should not agree to the adjournment of this Debate, in view of all that has occurred. It seems to me a perfectly reasonable course to pursue.
As far as I am concerned, I am genuine in not desiring to snatch any advantage against the Government. That is much too serious a matter. But I am anxious to keep this alive and in being as much as I can. We have had a speech from the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees). He told us it would be a very serious matter to ratify this Convention, because it would enforce the eight-hour day in all sorts of Oriental countries. But there were exceptions and modifications made in respect of every Oriental country. Again he asked, could we enforce it in the case of our Colonies? But under the Treaty itself provision is made by which the Convention would only be enforced in the Colonies so far as it can reasonably be enforced. I venture to make this practical suggestion to the Government. Even supposing the Convention cannot be ratified in its present form, why should they not ratify it subject to reservations? It is quite true that that is not ratification at all, but it has this great advantage. You will come to the next Labour Conference with the Convention ratified subject to reservations, and if the members of that Conference can be induced to agree to the reservations then the ratification comes into force, and the Convention also comes into force immediately. Surely that is a perfectly reasonable course. These are matters worth serious consideration. I respectfully suggest to the Government that this is not a case where they need fear we are trying to snatch a party advantage from them. Whatever they may think of me, the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward) is a perfectly loyal supporter of the Government, and if the Leader of the House had heard his speech he would have done something to meet us. I think he would have agreed that a Division should not be taken now on this question, as it might really preclude any fair consideration of it in the future. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to allow this Motion to stand over till a future time.