I beg to move in page 1, line 7, to leave out: "immediately before that period," and to insert
at the first day of August, nineteen hundred and thirty-eight.
The reason for this Amendment is, I think, plain. It is designed to ensure that the spirit of the Bill, the restoration of pre-war practices, is not in any substantial measure negated by the letter of the
law so far as it refers to the actual deed, when a practice may be considered prewar. There is in the Bill as it stands, the phrase
any trade practice obtaining immediately before that period in any undertaking.
As a matter of fact many trade practices, particularly in the engineering and shipbuilding industries, were put into cold storage for the duration of the war some months before this country actually became a belligerent. I am not quite clear exactly what date should be chosen. For example, I note that early in the spring of 1939, after a series of stoppages, coppersmiths and plumbers waived their demarcation agreement so that work on a battleship could be proceeded with expeditiously. I might take a larger example which is easily verified. The Amalgamated Engineering Union embracing, perhaps, 200,000 men signed and delivered their agreement about dilution and methods of training on 28th August, 1939. Here, plainly, is fruitful ground for argument. Is 28th August "immediately before that period"?
I appreciate the Minister's difficulty in naming a date. Quite properly, he does not wish to include within the ambit of the Bill all those industrial practices which change with the normal development of industry—for instance, price fixing and piece rates. But I suggest most emphatically that in the fixing of the date we shall do well to err generously because we must consider the position of men who quickly, and without quibble, gave up hours, conditions and concessions which they had taken years to obtain. It will be much better in my opinion if, in deciding upon the date which will mark prewar practices, we include within the Act 10 men who have no title to its benefit rather than we should exclude 100 men who have title to its benefit because they behaved generously and spontaneously when the pre-war armament drive insisted on their giving up conditions they had won. I therefore suggest that the Amendment must substantially be accepted and incorporated in the Bill.
In supporting the Amendment I would like to point out that while it may not be possible to say that this date in 1939 is the correct date I hope the Minister, in fixing the date, will make it so that it will include all the agreements which have been made. In the case of the large unions it may be possible to discover clearly when the first written agreement was made but it may not be possible to do this in the case of smaller unions and organisations. Whatever date is decided upon I hope there will be no question of the sacrifices which have been made to facilitate the war effort.
I would ask the Minister to be exceedingly careful before he definitely confines himself to one particular date because, as he knows, there were many trade unions who would have liked to have been able to respond to the urge for increased production at a much earlier date than the date mentioned in this particular Amendment but were prevented from doing so by lack of organisation within their own industry and on the employers' side. In many instances concessions were gained later because there was a recognition by both sides that better organisation must be set up and a better standard of conditions established. If the Minister confines himself to a particular date he may, perhaps, inflict unconsciously or unwittingly upon the many unions whose one desire was to increase production, who had recognised the dangers to the nation at a much earlier date, but only because of the seriousness of the position at a later date were able to gain that organisation that gave them those better concessions and ambitions. I hope those Members of the community will be kept in mind and that the Minister will exercise an elastic conscience with regard to the pre-war practices that were established by the unions and employers who, in the first instance, wanted to increase production in this country.
As the mover and supporter of the Amendment clearly indicated in their speeches the Minister could not accept the Amendment in its present form, largely for the reasons they outlined. Trade practice is constantly changing and to take a period of 12 months and say that any changes that take place within that period should be restored means that you would prevent any normal development that has taken place during that time from being maintained.
However, it became clear from speeches in the Second Reading Debate that some alteration would be necessary in regard to the phrase "immediately before that period." The difficulty of fixing a date at any time is that in so doing one draws a line of demarcation and one wonders what comes before and what comes after. A good many inquiries have been made of all the people who ought to know when the changes took place. The earliest agreement that was entered into, in the knowledge of the Ministry—and I cannot imagine an agreement having been entered into, either written or otherwise, without its having come to the notice of the Ministry, in view of the widespread operation of the Ministry's various Departments in connection with industrial organisations—was that referred to by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment; that is to say, the agreement between the West of England Engineering and Employers' Association and the National Society of Coppersmiths, Braziers and Metalworkers, which was dated May, 1939. Therefore, although we cannot accept the Amendment in its present wording, we propose at a later stage to move an Amendment that will give effect to the hon. Member's intention, and in view of this, I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment.
I wish to thank the Minister for the consideration he has given to this matter. Although the Coopersmiths' Union is only a small one, it represents some highly skilled men. I know from my own experience of the great contribution which this small number of highly skilled men has made to the national effort, and I know that the consideration which has been given to this matter since the Second Reading Debate will give great satisfaction to these men in particular, and to the men employed in the engineering industry in general. Moreover, I think the step is one which is in the right direction. In the Second Reading Debate, we were able to indicate a number of matters of this sort, and since the Second Reading Debate the Minister and the Ministry have been giving consideration to these matters. I only wish that there had been more of this sort of thing in pre-war days; I am convinced that if there had been the present position would have been much better than it is.
I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, after "undertaking," to insert,
(including in the case of a local authority the performance of its functions by that authority).
I think the Committee realise that the Ministry are in some difficulty in defining exactly what is meant by the word "undertaking." The Amendment seeks to include within the term "undertaking" workers who, if they are left out, may suffer an injustice. I know that in Clause 8 of the Bill it is stated that undertakings shall be gas, water, electricity, and transport undertakings, and so on, but it appears that because of that description, there is the possibility of people who are doing identical work receiving different treatment. For instance, if a local authority has an electrical undertaking, according to the terms of the Bill the men in that undertaking, who have surrendered their rights in regard to hours, holidays and other privileges, will be entitled to have those things restored, but unless the Bill is altered, it will mean that, although that will be the position with regard to a wireman working in that undertaking, it will not be the position in the case of a wireman employed on maintenance in the town hall. Only those undertakings which are specified, plus some in respect of which there may be a direction by the Minister, will come under the Bill. What I want to avoid is having the Minister faced later on for requests for directions.
With regard to definitions, is a hospital an undertaking? I am connected with a hospital, the first hospital in the country to give nurses a 48-hour week. Because of the war, the nurses have agreed to work from 52 to 56 hours a week. Are they to be protected under the Bill? The same difficulties will arise in the case of such people as relieving officers, who are now doing work which they did not contract to do, members of the clerical staffs of local authorities, and so on. It is easy to give such instances. On reading the Bill, I know that the Minister's intention is to restore the rights of the workers; the very fact of the Bill having been introduced is an earnest of the Minister's desire that what the workers have surrendered because of the war will be restored to them after the war. It would be a great pity if a good piece of work such as this Bill were to be marred in any way by the omission of some workers who, equally, are entitled to have the restoration of their trade practices. Unless something is done, there will be the danger of people suffering injustices. I know it may be argued that the staffs of local authorities are already protected by virtue of the fact that they are working for local authorities, but I am not sure that that argument is entirely true. There will be progressive local authorities which will be prepared at the end of the war to restore the conditions of service that applied before the war, but possibly some local authorities will undergo a change—for instance, the local authority of which I am a member may perhaps be the worse for my not being there. However that may be, if it is right for us to establish the right of workers in ordinary industry to have restored to them after the war what they have surrendered because of the war, it must be equally right in the case of those engaged in other walks of life.
I am afraid we cannot accept the Amendment, however desirable it may be. The Committee will understand that this Bill was primarily intended and primarily drafted to deal with industrial undertakings. My hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) referred to the different treatment that might be meted out to two men working for the same authority. I want to remind my hon. Friend that undertakings of local authorities which are similar to those run by outside interests are being brought in for the purpose of preventing the very thing which he is afraid would happen. For instance, all tramway undertakings and all gas undertakings are not publicly owned. Therefore, it was essential that both classes of undertakings should of necessity come in. If we attempt to bring in one section of the professional classes, this Bill would need to be broadened to include everybody, which was never the intention. Local authorities are democratically elected, and I cannot think that a local authority would refuse to restore trade practices—if they could be called trade practices—which have been departed from during the war. As I have said, local authorities run tramway undertakings as well as private enterprise. Local authorities also collect rates, but I do not know of any private enterprise collecting rates.
Yes, Sir, they collect rents, but, in the sense that they are industrial undertakings, the employees of the local authorities are covered, and I think that that is as far as it will be possible to go.
I imagine, from the wording of the Bill as it now stands, that maintenance staffs of local authorities are covered because they would be members of an organisation which had entered into agreement with the employers prior to the war. Take the question of town clerks. I do not want to treat this matter humorously, but, if it had been a trade practice for a town clerk to have a cup of tea at 11 o'clock in the morning, I do not think that there would be any objection to that practice continuing, although I do not think that it should be provided for in this Bill. There are many practices which cannot be covered by this Bill, and for that reason I ask local authorities to note the intentions of the Government to meet the requirements of these people. It should be a common policy and a common duty of local authorities to restore these practices. The matter can be looked upon by local authorities—and I am perfectly certain it would be looked upon in this way by the local authority of which I happen to be a member—that, being left outside the Bill, they are put on their honour to go at any rate as far as this Measure.
I think that my hon. Friend overlooked the fact that this matter is specifically dealt with in the Bill. Surely Clause 8 makes it perfectly clear that the Bill does apply to certain specified undertakings carried on by a local authority. In addition it applies in the case of a local authority to
(b) undertakings of such other classes as the Minister may by order direct.
It seems to me that the question is answered by this Clause in the Bill.
I must express surprise that a member of the legal profession should not have seen the reason for this Amendment. I do not suggest that he has not read this Clause, but, if he reads it again, he will see that the Minister is going to direct such undertakings. This Amendment seeks to define an undertaking. In view of the fact that the Minister has expressed the Government's desire that all local authorities should act in the spirit of this Bill, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, at the end, to add:
(3) Where, with a view to accelerating the production of munitions of war, any trade practice obtaining in an undertaking on the thirtieth day of April, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, was departed from after that date and before the beginning of the war period in pursuance or in consequence of a written agreement between an organisation of employers and a trade union, Sub-section (1) of this Section shall apply as if the trade practice had obtained in the undertaking immediately before the war period and had been departed from in the undertaking during that period.
For the purpose of this Sub-section the expression 'munitions of war' includes the whole or any part of any ship, submarine, aircraft, tank or similar engine, arms and ammunition, torpedo, or mine, intended or adapted for use in war, and any other article, material or device intended for such use.
This Amendment seeks to impose the same obligation to restore trade practices which were departed from between 30th April and 3rd September, 1939, for the purpose of accelerating war production, as will apply to departures made during the war period. The Amendment is specifically intended to carry out the intentions of the Amendment put down to the Bill which we discussed a little earlier. It deals with trade practices departed from with a view to accelerating the production of munitions of war. It is necessary to exclude from this Amendment any trade practices which changed in the ordinary course of industrial evolution, and a definition of munitions of war is given. As I stated before, the earliest non-dilution agreement was between the West of England Engineering Employers' Association and the National Society of Coppersmiths. It is not therefore necessary to
provide for the restoration of practices departed from before 30th April, 1939.
May I ask the Minister to explain the limitations of this definition of munitions of war? I am not quite clear whether this would exclude, for instance, a man engaged in the production of switch gear for an electrical station which would not come within the definition: upon such gear might depend the whole production of a coalmine. Would these people be excluded, because, if so, it would seem that this provision needs broadening.
It is my recollection and my fairly confirmed opinion that transport, which seems to be excluded by this definition, also surrendered certain rights. Does it mean by this definition that they are to be excluded and denied the benefit of these rights?
The Minister of Labour, in commending the Bill to the House on Second Reading, gave us two arguments which carried great weight, first that the Bill was introduced in fulfilment of a pledge, and secondly that its terms had been agreed between organisations representing employers and workers. I think the Amendment clearly goes beyond the pledge. That is no reason against it if it carries out better the spirit of the pledge, but I should like to know whether the assurance we were given that the Bill had been agreed to by both parties in industry will still apply if the Bill is amended as now proposed.
There is a danger that if certain things are specified others may be presumed to be left out. Has the Minister gone into the matter whether it is necessary to have specification in these terms? Would it not be better to have more general terms so as to avoid the danger of excluding something which we think ought to be included?
This definition is the definition of munitions of war taken from the Official Secrets Act, 1920. The two questions that my hon. Friend has raised are covered, and no difficulty will be raised in consequence of the Amendment. I can assure the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) that the substance of the Amendment has been agreed between the Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress.
I should Like the Parliamentary Secretary to indicate that he fully understands the implications of what hon. Members have said with regard to different industries. Since the Official Secrets Act was passed great progress has been made, in the mind of Members as well as of the country, with regard to what is actually a war industry, and it is generally agreed that one can go to very great limits in the industrial field and find that there is an association between almost every industry in the production of the munitions mentioned in the Sub-section. I should have thought the Mover would have left well alone, because previously I thought we had already covered it by pre-war trade practices. The tightness in the specialisation of these industries arouses misapprehension in many minds. I should like an assurance that coal and steel and transport workers and workers in many industries in their association with the production of ships, torpedoes, submarines and tanks will be fully taken into consideration and that the narrowness of the paragraph will receive the very careful consideration of my hon. Friend's Department.
With a view to meeting points which have been raised by several Members, I suggest that it should be made clear by putting in after "accelerating" the words "directly or indirectly," because it might be assumed from this wording that the only thing we were concerned with was accelerating in the actual industries themselves the production of these munitions of war. These words will give a clear indication that anything that contributed towards the production of munitions of war would be included in the scope of the Bill.
With regard to my hon. Friend's assurance to the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Woodburn) as to his doubts about what comes within the category of the production of munitions, as far as industry is concerned there is no doubt about it. As far as industry is concerned anything that contributes to production in heavy industry comes within the Bill. The switchgear that he instanced is part of a power plant, and a large number of factories are employed upon power-plants in order to enable production to be accelerated. It is necessary to have more power-plants and therefore there has been a great relaxation of pre-war practices in factories manufacturing power-plants. It should be put on record that the Bill covers practices and customs of the kind mentioned by my hon. Friend.
We gained advantages, including shorter hours, during the last war. To-day we can be worked as many as 70 hours a week so long as the shop-workers are over 18. But we have also gained a few advantages, and we do not want to lose them. We know that they are not mentioned, neither have they a right to be mentioned any more than any other particular class of worker, but there are many shop workers who feel that, in handing away many of the rights that they have won, a large number of small businesses and shop keepers and multiple firms will take advantage of something that we have given in a spirit of goodwill to help in the war effort, and we should have some kind of guarantee to protect them. I suggest that the Minister should carefully examine the position of the distributive trades, and particularly the retail trades. Will the Minister give an assurance that our hours will not be lengthened after the war just because there is a lack of organisation on the part of the employers, and probably a slight deficiency of organisation on the part of the workers?
I hope that care will be taken not to give any impression outside that we can, by stating our understanding of any words used in the Amendment, in the least affect the way in which this law will be interpreted. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will be very careful as to what undertakings he gives about what will be covered. We tend to overlook what a great step is being taken by moving this Amendment at all. I support it, but I should hesitate to support it if the concession were extended beyond what appears on the Order Paper. In the Bill without the Amendment any trade practice is covered if it was altered subsequently to the outbreak of war, that is to say, on or after 3rd September, 1939. If the concession is to be extended to alterations made at an earlier period it is essential to define it carefully, and the proposal to limit it to munitions of war is a correct one.
The hon. Gentleman will find that many big industrial undertakings who have claimed exemption for their legal advisers on the ground of national security will take great exception to his remarks.
I do not quite follow the hon. Member's point. If we did not have this Bill at all there would, of course, be free bargaining by the trade unions with all their powers and rights in order to get a restoration or development of whatever practice they wished. The novelty of the Bill is that it makes it compulsory to return to pre-war trade practices and makes it a criminal offence not to do so. Now there is proposed a great and important further step which I support but which ought to be clearly defined. The clearest date to take is the date of the beginning of the war, and that was the date prescribed originally in the Bill. If an earlier date is fixed for any trade practice the departure from such practice must somehow be connected with war purposes. Therefore, I strongly support the Government's Amendment, which limits the provision to munitions of war. It would be dangerous to indicate to the House that this, that or the other would be covered by the Amendment unless it were clearly within the words. To that extent I am in agreement with hon. Members opposite who raise the question. They themselves see the importance of these words, but while they plead for a modification of the words to cover a greatly increased number of processes of production, I think the words are right as they stand and that it would be dangerous to extend them or to give any undertaking as to what is included in them.
Do I take it from what the hon. Member says that he agrees with my interpretation that a court might say that this Amendment is limited to the people who are actually producing munitions of war and not to anybody who is producing things which contribute to the production of munitions?
I would not have risen but for the comments of the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss). I would like him to understand that those of us who are connected with the distributive trades have always had a feeling that because they are not as well organised as the mining, cotton and engineering industries they do not get the same treatment from the Government and not because of their rightful claims. The distributive trades have given up more practices in this war than any other industry.
If that has happened during the war the distributive trades are fully covered without the Amendment. The Amendment applies to practices that were changed after 30th April, 1939, but before the outbreak of war. Unless the hon. Member is saying that the practices of the distributive trades were changed before the war with a view to the war and increasing the output of munitions, he is not concerned with the Amendment.
Wherever a trade practice has been varied from April, 1939, in view of the prospect of war I would not be surprised if it was because shopkeepers started employing females instead of males. Practices would have been changed consequent on that. Those of us who are connected with the distributive trades are not able to speak with the great authority of those who speak for the miners, engineers and textile operatives because they are organised very much better. The Government have done well in bringing this Amendment forward, because it would be a great pity if certain industries changed their trade practices in view of what they were certain was coming upon us and then the employers took advantage of the fact that the date was as in the Bill originally. Let me say a word which may seem strange to some Members. We have always argued on this Bill that the restoration of trade practices would benefit the workpeople in the main. As my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) has suggested, shop assistants gained enormous advantages during the last war because of the war. I should not be surprised if they gained some advantages in the reduction of hours because of this war. If employers were working their shop assistants 60 hours a week before the war and the war has compelled them to come down to 48 hours, we shall not want restoration of trade practices in that sense.
I assume that under the Amendment the alterations that have taken place in trade practices are limited to the period between 30th April, 1939, and the outbreak of war, and they are confined also to written agreements. If that is the correct interpretation it must refer to things which have already been done. It cannot refer to some things which are to be done in future, but to something already accomplished, namely, the making of agreements in writing for a departure from trade practices. The Minister must be able to give the House the number of such agreements. That must be known to him or it would be unbelievable that he would introduce this new Sub-section. I should be grateful to him if he would say how many such written agreements have been made to justify the introduction of this new Sub-section. I may have the whole thing wrong, but as the Minister has indicated his assent to my premise I assume that I must be right.
I remember that at the conclusion of the last war we had a similar Act of Parliament to restore trade practices which had been surrendered between 1914 and 1918, but something had happened in the engineering trade during the intervening years. I can speak best of the engineering trade because I have been in that trade myself and it is the one of which I have an intimate knowledge. Before the present war ends, much will have happened in the engineering trade which will make it difficult to determine, with the best will in the world, what the trade practices are. During the last war there was an evolution of the engineering trade. Apart from general broad definitions, such as turners, fitters, grinders and milling machine operatives, there were others, because new machinery had been introduced, bringing new methods. Women were doing work which hitherto had been done by men, or even work which had never been part of the output of the particular factory. It was most complex and difficult to determine what the trade practices were, or would have been in the normal evolution of the industry.
That is why I say that trade practices and customs require much more detailed examination and clearer interpretation, if the Bill is to be of benefit to the workmen employed in industry. Many trades in the past were making motor cars and dynamos, but they will have been switched over to tanks and aeroplane engines. They will be doing work which is unfamiliar in those factories and there will be the greatest difficulty in defining trade customs and trade practices. That will create a general difficulty of interpretation. I understand that this Clause will have none of the ambiguity which the general sections of the Bill will have. It is limited to what has already been accomplished, namely, written agreements covering a very short period in 1939. I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend can give the information for which I have asked.
That may have been the hon. Member's intention, but I could almost repeat some of his words which seemed to have another intention. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take notice of the fact that the hon. Member for Norwich argued that the Bill was a good thing because, if it were not before the House, the trade unions would have to use their normal power to recapture the conditions which were operating before the war. He went on to argue that the Bill was a concession towards the trade unions. It would be most unfortunate if the House or the country were allowed to get the impression that the Bill is a concession. As the Minister said very clearly, it is a restitution. The unions surrendered their powers, as did other sections of the community, because war needs have made it imperative to do so.
I want to speak about the mining industry. Different conditions obtain at different pits, and conditions may have been given up at one pit which may not have been given up at another. I am wondering whether the Minister has in mind that this matter must be discussed by the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. Can it be discussed by the branch itself which has either given the concession or, in the meantime, has a reconstructed price list which is disadvantageous to the workers, and wants the previous conditions restored? Can the individual pit get the restoration without having to go to the Miners' Federation? I would like that point to be cleared up. I may be a bit dull, having travelled rather a long time to-day, and be a bit sleepy.
May I call attention to the fact that this Amendment was put down to deal with what has been pointed out as an anomaly? Unless we made restitution for organisations which have made agreements, immediately, or what could be described as immediately, before the war, those people who will have been most patriotic and forthcoming might possibly suffer injustice by not being recognised under the Bill. I want us to get the Bill in perspective. It is definitely laid down here, because it is intended to meet a specific need, that it applies only to the period between May, and 3rd September, 1939. All the things about which the discussion has taken place fall into their proper order after 3rd September, 1939.
In the interests of the country I wish that all the things we have been talking about had happened before that date. It would show that we were a good deal further on the road than we have proved to be, but because there were only few and very specific agreements entered into, it is felt that this provision would meet them. It particularises and defines, with regard to these particular dates. From those dates, every section of workers which has been referred to is included in the Bill.
There is a point which I have made already in discussing a previous Amendment. There were organisations, there were trade unions in this country, who were prevented from obtaining, or from entering into, any such agreement during the period between April and September, 1939, because of the inefficient state of their industry, not through any fault of the trade union movement. I only wish to draw my hon. Friend's attention to that particular fact when he refers to those who so gallantly came forward in the earlier part of the period.