Orders of the Day — Wages Councils Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16 January 1945.

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Order for Second Reading read.

12.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The first purpose of the Bill is to bring the Trade Boards Acts up to date and to rename the trade boards "wages councils." Many people might ask what is in a name, but as the purpose of the Bill is unfolded it will be seen that the change in the name not only widens trade boards legislation, but is a declaration by Parliament that the conception of what was known as sweated industry is past. The Bill also proposes to provide additional powers for establishing the Councils where voluntary machinery is inadequate or is likely to become inadequate, and reasonable standards of remuneration are not being, or are not likely to be, maintained. A third proposal in the Bill is to continue the provisions of Part III of Order 1305 for a limited period to tide over the transition from war to peace. I would ask hon. Members to refer to the Third Schedule to the Bill in order that they may see quite clearly what Part III of Order 1305 does.

Part I of the Bill, which is the first proposal, brings trade boards into line with later legislation. In this connection I considered whether I should proceed with legislation by reference. The intention could have been accomplished by proposing certain Amendments; but, after reviewing the situation, I thought it better to make a clean Bill, in order that the whole purposes in view might be clear to the House and to the country. Legislation by reference would have involved a series of complicated amendments to the two Acts of Parliament of 1909 and 1918. I thought the House would probably prefer a new Bill in which it could see all the proposals brought together. In saying that, I ought to add that the underlying principles of the Trade Boards Acts remain and that many of the provisions are not substantially changed. I will deal in outline in my statement and in referring to the Clauses, with such changes as are involved.

The great change is in Part II of the Bill which introduces a new principle in legislation of this kind. I felt that this was imperative if we were to prepare for the transition from war to peace and to provide stability afterwards. I would emphasise the word "stability." Those of us who had to handle industrial problems from 1918 to 1926 will value the introduction of any Measure which will give stability in this field during the very grave difficulty of transition. The rapid inflation which operated and, what was worse, the terrible deflation, made it almost impossible in those days for any negotiators in any branch of industry to adjust their conditions to meet the violent changes which were entirely out of their control. Therefore, if we prevent—and I would also emphasise this point—the temptation to imagine that we can get quick, unmeasured and violent changes in the wage system, we shall provide a great brake, and will force economic considerations upon those who handle finances and industry at that very critical moment.

The third proposal is directed to the immediate post-war period and is intended to prevent strikes breaking out where non-federated firms, thinking they are free from moral obligations that others have entered into—

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

All voluntary industrial agreements that are entered into are moral obligations.

Photo of Mr George Griffiths Mr George Griffiths , Hemsworth

Would my right hon. Friend say that again?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

All voluntary industrial agreements that parties enter into are moral obligations, and they rest entirely on honour to be put into effect. Perhaps somebody may think he can gain an advantage over his opposite number in industry by taking advantage of the labour market to get a competitive advantage. Let him compete by all means on a basis of efficiency, quality and production, but not on the basic standard of wages agreed to between parties as being that on which the industry shall run. At the end of the last war we tried to cover the point with a Wages Regulation Act, which broke down. We came to the conclusion that this House, by its declaration, and by the very simple procedure which I will explain later, could succeed in holding the position and helping to maintain the most priceless thing in this country, something which has carried us through the war without loss of our liberties, the great voluntary system of negotiation in the industries of this country.

Perhaps I may deal for a moment with the history of the trade boards system. It was introduced in 1909 by the present Prime Minister. Of all the things he has done I know of none better for the downtrodden masses of the country than the basic legislation then introduced. That Act was the sequel to a prolonged agitation and the reports of several Committees of both Houses of Parliament. It was designed to combat the evil of sweated wages. It was accompanied, in the speeches of opposition at that time, with gloomy prophecies of disaster to the industries concerned, but in the process of time it has been shown that all the industries brought under the trade boards have been far more prosperous afterwards, in consequence of the very organisations that ensued on both sides, than they were under the old laissez faire conditions that preceded the legislation.

The principle involved in this trade boards legislation was very important. Automonous boards were introduced, representative of both sides of the industries concerned. The plan has proved completely workable and avoided State—or perhaps I should say Parliamentary—regulation of wages. I cannot believe, and I do not think that many hon. Members in this House believe, that Parliament could ever satisfactorily adjust the actual wages to be paid to the people in respective industries, in view of the change in conditions that continually takes place in those industries. Therefore the legislation took a middle course. It adopted the principle of legal enforcement, together with the creation of autonomous boards to say what the wages which were to be enforced should be. It is interesting to quote what the present Prime Minister said in his speech in introducing the Bill: The House will not only be dealing with a grave social evil but will also take another step upon that path of social organisation on which we have belatedly entered and along which the Parliaments of this generation, of whatever complexion, willingly or unwillingly, will have to march. In the first instance it had a very limited application. Tailoring, paper-box making, lace finishing, and chain-making were the first trades dealt with. It was the first step taken to answer Thomas Hood in his "Song of the Shirt." Provisions were, however, made for other trades to be added by the Board of Trade, which was then responsible for this Act. Before 1913, prior to the last war, three more trades were added. The original boards had power only to fix general minimum rates of wages for time work and piece work; they could not fix overtime rates, nor could they fix remuneration. Looking back, it is interesting to note their first proceedings. In the main the rate fixed was 6d. an hour for men and 2¾d. to 3¼d. an hour for women. Happily we have proceeded some distance since then. After a long period of prosperity in the 19th century, with all the wealth then accumulated, to find that 2¾d. was the legal minimum wage for a women makes one wonder what conceptions of life people really had.

During the last war trade boards were largely superseded. There was introduced the Wages Order of the then Ministry of Munitions, which covered such a wide range of production that it cut right across trade board machinery. The Reconstruction Committee of that time had to consider what should follow, and recommended that the trade boards machinery should be used mainly to protect the wages of women workers after the war. But coincident with that, or just following it, came the Whitley Committee, which gave a rather wider and deeper consideration to the problem and recommended that the trade boards legislation should be applied to all trades not sufficiently organised to enable joint industrial councils to operate effectively. A second recommendation they made was very valuable. It was that trade boards should be given extended powers to enable them to deal with matters other than wages which were commonly dealt with by collective bargaining and to provide for any voluntary industrial agreements.

In 1918 the Trade Boards Act was amended with the intention of giving effect to the recommendations of the Whitley Committee. The power of trade boards to fix rates of wages was widened in certain respects, but the Act did not give the wide extensions recommended by the Whitley Committee. It did, however, provide for powers to fix overtime rates, special basic time rates for piece workers and guaranteed time rates for piece workers.

There was a great development immediately following the War. In 1919 and 1920 30 new trade boards were set up. Then came the great depression, but notwithstanding this and notwithstanding the slowing up in the work, and a violent controversy in this House about the slowness of the trade boards in reducing wages, the trade boards weathered the storm and, if I may say so with all respect to the economists of the time, did a great service to the nation in holding the foundation and stopping a worse débâcle than actually occurred. The advantage of the trade boards has been that they have settled matters in the light of the special circumstances and conditions of particular trades, and within their limited scope have used their powers successfully.

The next extension of the powers of trade boards came in the Holidays with Pay Act, 1938. That extension gave them power to fix a week's holiday with pay—six working days. They have done their job well within the powers which Parliament gave them. Out of 52 trade boards 48 have exercised these powers. Of the four boards which have not done so, two are largely in home working trades, which made it very difficult to fix arrangements, and the other two—and this is important—have built up voluntary agreements and have not thought it necessary to have statutory provisions. Following the Act of 1918 special Acts were introduced based on the principle of the regulation of wages by law. In 1924 the Agricultural Wages Act was passed, in 1938 the Road Haulage Wages Act, and in 1943 the Catering Wages Act, of happy memory. There is another very important power in the use of which I want to encourage trade boards, and I am instructing the department concerned in my Ministry with a view to stimulating them and making them more efficient. They can and do consider matters referred to them by the Government or by Government Departments, and give advice on questions of training, the resettlement of disabled persons, and the recruitment of young people. Further, an interesting experiment is going on with the cutlery trade board. They are inquiring into working conditions and methods in the cutlery industry, in conjunction with the factory department. I hope they will do their work so thoroughly that they will be able to tender advice which will help to put that important industry on a proper footing and make it of more value to the country. These functions, however, have not been exercised to the extent which I should have liked and which was intended and felt to be necessary when the present Prime Minister introduced the original Act in 1909. He said at that time: The trade boards set up under this Bill will exercise other functions besides their particular statutory functions of fixing a minimum rate of wages. They will be a centre of information and I hope they will become the foci of organisation. As centres of information they may, as time goes on, be charged with some other aspects of the administration of the work of the trades, with the question of the training of the workers, and they will also be able to offer information upon the subject of unemployment. They will generally be not merely boards for the purpose of fixing the minimum rate of wages, for that is their primary purpose, but boards designed to nourish as far as possible the interests of the workers, the health and the state of each particular trade in which they operate. That really depends upon the administration behind the trade boards, and I am determined to put this Department on such a footing that that part of the work will become effective as soon as I can get the staff. It is vital that these boards should not only deal with the question of fixing wages but should be encouraged to advise on all the problems associated with their industries. That will become more vital as time goes on. I should mention that under a decision of the Government dealing with the man-power budget they will in future be the collectors of information affecting their industries, in order to afford the Government a review of the prospects. I intend as far as I can to make that side of their work far more effective than it has been hitherto.

Let me now turn to a further point in connection with the purposes of Part I of the Bill, which is to bring the legislation up to date and in line with modern requirements. We have renamed the boards Wages Councils, and they will be given a general power to fix remuneration, and remuneration includes the fixing of a guaranteed weekly wage. I am sure that no one will now object to their having that power. The restriction hitherto placed upon them as to the number of holidays they can give will be removed; they will be able to deal with that question on its merits. The change of name will, I think, remove the stigma of being associated with sweated trades, so that by the passing of this Bill we can turn our backs upon that bit of our industrial history.

The situation will differ considerably from that at the end of the last war. Then the slogan was "Business as usual." Now, concentration has played a big part in all the domestic industries. Then, controls either of labour or of raw materials were not extensive. To-day, we are dealing with a nation completely mobilised to fight a totalitarian war. Then, it was a case of release from the Forces as quickly as possible. To-day, another war has to be finished after the one in Europe. Then, the war industries had been largely carried on in their home districts. Now, families have been divided; people have been compelled to leave their homes; evacuation, housing and all kinds of problems exist, all of which will affect industrial stability fundamentally. Where such great changes in order to get back to peacetime conditions are involved, regulation of wages and conditions will be of primary importance.

Photo of Mr George Griffiths Mr George Griffiths , Hemsworth

The Minister said there will be a guaranteed weekly wage. Will that be the case if men work only four days, instead of six, because they cannot have full employment?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

What the Bill provides is power to fix a guaranteed wage. The boards will have power to do that whereas at present they can only fix a minimum hourly rate.

Photo of Mr Edward Williams Mr Edward Williams , Ogmore

Will the boards have power to fix the conditions as well?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

Yes, they can fix the conditions too. Stability is also needed for the men returning from the Forces, and must be of such a character as will give them confidence in getting a fair deal when they enter civilian employment. As I have said in this House before, our great trouble at the end of the last war was not so much with the people who had been home working in the factories, but with the men who came back from the war and were completely disillusioned with what they found when they got home. The turmoil that arose out of that and the inability to settle were responsible for the enormous upheavals at that time.

It is vital to the country, however, that the fabric of voluntary agreement and joint organisation, which have been of inestimable value during the war, should be maintained. On the unions' side they will have to face a period of reorganisation of industry. On the employers' side many adaptations will have to be introduced, and the State might not be able to carry through these matters without the assistance of the joint industrial relations machinery. Therefore, we cannot afford to let anarchy creep in and weaken these joint arrangements.

The House may be interested to know the difference between the number of wages arbitration awards during the last war and during this war, which, I think, is the best indication of the enormous growth between the two wars of this joint industrial relations machinery. In 1914–1918 there were nearly 8,000 wages awards made by the Committee on Production, independent arbitrators and ad hoc courts of arbitration. During this war the number of awards given by the National Arbitration Tribunal has been less than 700. In the last war the majority of awards were not incorporated in the industrial agreements. In this war they have been dealt with in relation to the agreements which makes the changeover much easier. Therefore, the Bill provides for a period of five years during which employers will be under an obligation to observe no less favourable terms of employment than those settled by agreements between organisations and trade unions. In other words, for five years there will be, under this Bill, a complete national fair wages clause in order to maintain stability. That is really what it amounts to.

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Northampton

If the Minister will allow me, I would like to ask one question in relation to the point he has just made. I should like him to say why he has made a period of five years for Part III of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

The reason is that I have tried to estimate what would be a reasonable period. After the last war the time of resettlement and the great industrial upheavals ranged from 1918 to 1926, and I cannot imagine that we shall be through our difficulties after this war under five years. In fact, if I may say so, I think the creation of the psychology of five years' stability is very important to the country, and I have selected that period because I think it is vital that any Government—I do not care who is elected by the country—must have five years' reasonable stability after the war if they are to settle the job decently. That is my opinion, and I hope the House will support me in it because, as I have said, it is of absolute importance. There is a wider implication—

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I cannot legislate for ever. Perhaps my hon. Friend with his great knowledge and prophetic outlook could, but I cannot. I think if this House settles the matter for five years it must be left to the Parliaments of the day to say whether a change should be made. That is only reasonable.

Clauses 1 to 3 set out the circumstances in which wages councils may be established. In Clause 1 the Minister retains the power granted to him under the trade boards legislation to set up statutory wages machinery where he is of opinion that no adequate voluntary negotiating machinery exists and where, having regard to the standard of remuneration, it is expedient that such machinery should be set up. That is the basis of the existing power that the Minister has.

I have already explained that the reference to remuneration is wider than that to rates of wages because it has a different legal meaning and gives wider powers to the board. In Clauses 2 and 3 there is a very important principle which I hope the House will accept unanimously. Hitherto, the State has not intervened to prevent joint voluntary machinery from breaking up, even though it was clear that the results would be that wage standards would become unduly depressed and that intervention would eventually be necessary. The State has had to stand aside and allow organisation to break up and conditions to deteriorate to a low level before action could be taken. I want to emphasise the very important point that no one industry can break up and its conditions be depressed without inevitably dragging others with it, and I regard this as the most important preventive part of the Bill. Therefore, it gives the Minister power, where he sees that happening, to intervene and to set up a wages council, but only after there has been an independent commission of inquiry. The commission can recommend a wages council only if it reaches the opinion, after full inquiry, that voluntary machinery is inadequate, or will become inadequate, and that a reasonable standard of remuneration is not being, or will not be, maintained.

Photo of Sir Lewis Jones Sir Lewis Jones , Swansea West

If I may interrupt the right hon. Gentleman I would point out that Clause 3 gives him the power to refer the matter to a commission of inquiry, and Clause 2 lays down the condition for a joint application by employers and employees representatives on a joint board, or council, for the setting up of a wages council. Would the Minister say why it is proposed to use Clause 3, when the same power exists in Clause 2?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

They may not make joint application. That arrangement may have broken down. They may disagree. It may be that the position has reached such a state that decent employers will throw up their hands hopelessly. I have seen that happen over and over again, and what I want to do—I will make this point quite clear—is to make the industrial relations machinery work in such a way that the good employer can lead the industry and not be held up by the slowest and bad employer. I think that is absolutely right. If the Minister sees any cracking or breaking up, and no one will make a joint application, can he afford to let, not only that particular industry go down, but others to be dragged with it? Under this provision he can intervene and cause an inquiry to be made.

Photo of Mr William Brown Mr William Brown , Rugby

Before the Minister leaves the five-year standstill provision, I would like to ask him how that will affect Government servants.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I will come back to that. At the moment I am reviewing the Clauses, and that point comes up again. During this war over 40 industrial councils have been established. They have been made effective largely because the industries have been under control. The State has virtually been in control of the distributive trade, and trades like that, but I do not know whether control will go on or not. That is not in my hands. It may be that control will go, and when the crisis comes shall those councils be allowed to break up? I have provided two alternatives. They can make application jointly or, alternatively, if the Minister sees it breaking up he can intervene. I think it would be a tragedy if what happened at the end of the last war occurred at the end of this. At the end of the last war all this great work was broken up almost in an hour. And remember that in many of these industries there are thousands of women. One of the great difficulties in maintaining joint industrial machinery with women is, as everybody who organises women knows, that marriage, which involves leaving the industry, makes it necessary virtually to reorganise every three or four years. They have no permanent occupation in industry, and though you may build up these conditions there is the danger of them breaking up and falling away to the detriment of the good employer. I have had many strong representations from these councils on these lines with the object of giving their industries a foundation upon which to operate after the war. The Essential Work Order has assisted them during the war, but that is entirely inappropriate for peace-time conditions.

I have already explained that in all these cases a commission of inquiry would have to be set up, and I propose that it should be constituted by three independent members, two persons representing employers and two persons representing workers. These commissions will be ad hoc commissions and, in this respect the provisions differ from the Catering Wages Act which relates to one industry, and therefore dealt with a permanent body. I propose in this Measure to establish ad hoc commissions as and when they are required. Commissions of inquiry will not deal with wage rates. All they will deal with is the point I have mentioned where the machinery is inadequate. They will deal with the matter when there is danger of existing machinery breaking up, or where the Minister ought to be advised to establish a wages council, and where, if existing machinery is allowed to break up, the standard of remuneration would be endangered.

One other power is important; that is, I propose that the Commission may recommend the setting up of a central co-ordinating committee where co-ordination of the work of two or more wages councils seem to be desirable. This was impressed on me in the distributive trades particularly, where there are particular conditions that must be worked out in various forms of remuneration. I thought it was necessary, when there were nearly 2,000,000 people involved, and where such things as wages and hours and so on operate over the whole field, that I should take power to set up a co-ordinating committee over a general range of industries to deal with the common things which were applicable all through, apart from the actual grades of wages and so on that may be effected. Then there is the usual procedure. They will have to publish notice of matters referred to them, consider written objections within a prescribed period and so on, all of which is in keeping with the present machinery. The laying of orders before the House for 40 days is exactly the same as now applies in the trade boards legislation. I have also provided that where an industry develops to such a point that it feels that it does not want any legal protection it can apply for the abolition of the wages council and proceed on a voluntary basis, if it so desires. There is one other important point in Clause 7. All the powers will be related to the workers instead of to a particular trade. That is intended to be more embracing, to be wider than dealing with a particular trade. In this I have followed the Road Haulage Wages Act and the Catering Wages Act which the House has already adopted.

I have been asked by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) about Government servants. The policy of the Government is that they will follow, in practice, what is laid down, as they do now. But the Bill does not apply to Crown servants, and in that respect they will be in the same category as those under the Catering Wages Act and the Road Haulage Act.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Walkden Mr Evelyn Walkden , Doncaster

What about local government servants? Could my right hon. Friend make that point clear?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

Most local government servants are covered by voluntary machinery now. Under Part III where they are operating with other trades then they accept Part III and the district or whatever are the trade rates of wages are applied.

Photo of Mr William Brown Mr William Brown , Rugby

I understand the position of the Crown servant under Clause 19 but I am rather concerned about his position under Clause 2. That is to say, if he is not covered by it may we take it that the Government, as a matter of policy, will apply the five years stabilisation period to the Crown servant which the Bill imposes?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

Yes, the Government accept that. They will follow that, they have guaranteed it. The powers set out for the Wages Regulations Orders are the powers which have been usually followed in regard to the publication of notices, objections, the time period and the rest. I have provided in this Bill for a wages council to be able to determine a cash value for such matters as board and lodging provided by the employer, which are referred to in the Bill as specific benefits or advantages. This provision is new to trade boards. It follows the Catering Wages Act, 1943, where the value of those benefits or advantages is authorised to be taken into account by the council when assessing remuneration to be paid to the worker. The procedure for making proposals however is on the same lines as the Trade Boards Acts and the Catering Wages Act. I have put this in this Bill deliberately. If the Minister is to make wages councils universal I cannot limit my conception purely to certain factors. There is a wide range in which these special conditions have to be met and I do not want any of my successors to have to come back to Parliament for an amending Act, or on the other hand for them to be hamstrung in the application of a wages council because this provision had not been made.

The temporary conditions I have already referred to. I saw in some papers that I was pegging wages for five years. I can only imagine that the journalist who wrote that had a substantial war bonus and was hoping that I was seeing that it was fixed for five years. What we are really doing is allowing the voluntary machinery to operate unhindered either up or down during that five years. I am absolutely opposed to any attempt to lay down a fixity of wages. The value of money changes, circumstances change, and there must be a free operation of the voluntary machinery under part III. But then, when the agreement is honourably made, no employer is allowed to break it or destroy it during the five years. That is the whole principle. I repeat what I said earlier, that it is really a national fair wages clause for five years. Under part III there will be no State inspection or legal penalties. That is not intended. The trade unions must do their job. I do not want to take their job on. They must look after their members and the employers' federations must also co-operate to see that these agreements are honourably kept. Therefore there are two steps to be taken. One is to establish that the agreement is bona fide. That means going to the Industrial Court. The Minister cannot take on the job of saying that a particular agreement is bona fide. If the court says it is an agreement that ought to be honoured then it becomes a part of the contract of service, and the money can be sued for in the ordinary court, as can be done now under a contract of service.

Photo of Mr John Hynd Mr John Hynd , Sheffield, Attercliffe

Has my right hon Friend considered whether this might not lead to considerable and costly litigation in deciding the interpretation of an agreement before it can be decided whether or not it has been broken?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

There is no costly litigation before the industrial court; it is the simplest process. One goes to the industrial court to establish an agreement. That is a perfectly simple process. Then, when the agreement is established and a firm does not pay, that is where the litigation comes in. Therefore one sues for the money, but the actual determination of the agreement is done by the court. I have referred this to the Industrial Court instead of the National Arbitration Tribunal because the tribunal is a war-time institution and the Industrial Court is covered by the Industrial Court Act, 1919, and is a permanent institution.

There is one other point I would like to make, regarding the numbers affected. In 1939 there were settled by joint collective agreements wages and conditions covering about 10,000,000 workers. They did not all pay their contributions, I am sorry to say, but the actual agreements covered about that number. These figures include the national and local government ser- vants. I have already said that there have been 40 joint industrial councils set up during the war, including seven industrial councils for the distributive trade. I assume that in peace time there would be about 2,000,000 to 2,500,000 workers covered by those councils. Then there are the numbers covered by the present legal machinery, which brings the total to just over 15,000,000. I felt that if industrial wage machinery was provided, either by the Minister because the conditions warranted his action, or by the joint application of the parties, or by the Minister if he saw that voluntary machinery was breaking down, we could reasonably say we had made provision for the protection of the overwhelming majority of our people. Therefore I commend this step to the House. Beginning as it did as far back as 1909, I think this is a natural development that ought to flow from the end of this war, and create that feeling of confidence and stability for the re-creation of our industries following the terrible trial through which they have gone.

12.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his Bill, which I think is an inevitable development of a long process in this country, of State regulation on the one hand and the co-operation of voluntary associations on the other. We have a history of which, in some respects, we can be proud, but I am bound to say that our industrial history is one of which we should indeed be ashamed. We were the first to face the enormous changes of the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th century. We bore the brunt of it all. We really made ourselves the martyrs for mankind, and the conditions which were imposed by grasping, greedy and ambitious industrialists of that time were too appalling for words. The developments since—I wish to give everybody their due—have taken place largely because of the attitude of good employers, who have felt, on both purely humanitarian grounds and on grounds of economic efficiency, that decent conditions should be given to workpeople.

Secondly, we have had enormous help in the last century from humanitarians who were entirely outside industry. I think of the Earl of Shaftesbury, I think of Samuel Plimsoll—one could give a number of names of people who on purely humanitarian grounds, without regard to economic considerations, have given a good deal of thought to the improvement of the conditions of life of people in employment. But, thirdly, I must say that the big brunt of the fight has fallen on the trade union movement in this country. Bitterly opposed as it was in its early days, it had to fight for its life for over half a century, but it has doggedly maintained as one of its functions looking after the conditions of work of employed people. It has also given thought to the honour and dignity of their position in industry, to which I attach very considerable importance. We have, in the curious British fashion, developed a system of industrial regulation which I think compares very favourably with that of most other countries; but it has been haphazard and unequal. Some industries have been under the care and supervision of the State far longer than others, and some have been hardly under the care and supervision of the State at all up to the present, the catering trades being one outstanding example. I hope that the House will support my right hon. Friend in this Bill, because this is in line with the march of events.

It is over 140 years since we had our first piece of industrial legislation—and that really was not industrial legislation: it was for the protection of Poor Law apprentices. Our system of industrial legislation began by growing out of the Poor Law—and a bad Poor Law system it was at that time. We have widened the range of what was called State interference very considerably, to cover more people, and, as the trade union movement has grown stronger and the employers' organisations have grown stronger, we have been able to build up a system of vountary negotiation which has been a powerful assistance in improving both the efficiency of industry and the standard of life of the people employed in industry. The trade boards were called for precisely because there was neither effective organisation of employers or effective organisation of the workers. I remember those discussions when I was a relatively young man. I remember how certain trade unions were doubtful about the wisdom of trade boards; in fact, some were certain that the establishment of trade boards would interfere with the development of the organisation both of employers and of workers. Experience has proved that they were entirely wrong. I should think now that in some of the old trade boards you have the most effective system of voluntary negotiation between the employers' organisations and trade unions.

We are now at a stage of preparation for the period immediately after the war. During this war there have been enormous developments in industrial relationships, enormous developments in the influence of employers' organisations and of trade unions in the councils of the State as regards industrial policy. Out of that experience we should have learned something. It would, in my view, be disastrous if, having built up this structure on a basis of good will, we marched backwards after the war instead of marching forward. One wants to see some assurance of stability for some period after the war. That, I think, this Bill provides. I would like to see wages eliminated altogether as a competitive factor in industry. One of our great difficulties in connection with out export trade is that we have to face the competition of ill-paid labour abroad. Ill-paid labour, broadly speaking, is inefficient, but if it is very ill-paid and there is some degree of efficiency, it is always a menace to the people who desire and deserve higher standards of life.

I do not think that success in the sphere of business ought to depend on a man being able to get orders because he can beat down wages. The emphasis ought not to be on wages as the conditioning factor of trade: it ought to be on superior economic efficiency and efficiency of management. I believe that this Measure will perform a very great service in putting final responsibility for industrial prosperity on the shoulders where it rightly ought to rest. I have no objection to the legal enforcement on all of voluntary agreements properly arrived at. I wanted this, as my right hon. Friend said, 25 years, ago. I was met in many trade union quarters with opposition. I still think it is right that protection for the good employer does really, in the long run, safeguard employees.

We shall need this kind of machinery after the war. We shall be faced with enormous difficulties after the war. I do not believe that we are going to have a smooth and easy transition from fighting to peace. It is important to realise that where we stand in the scale of prosperity after the war depends upon the level of efficiency in our industry, depends very largely on the good will of the people who are employed in industry, depends upon their prosperity, and depends upon the co-operation of man with man, and not upon the dominion of master over man. This may well prove to be a beacon for many other countries. This may set a good example abroad. I hope that it will be studied by the International Labour Organisation. I do not believe—and I have said this on many occasions—that we, as an industrial nation, can profit out of the poverty of other nations. A higher standard of life for people abroad gives a better chance for a higher standard of life and greater prosperity for people here. I welcome this Bill not only for its importance to the people in this country, but because, as I said, I regard it as a beacon which should shine all over the world, which might help us to increase not only prosperity at home, but international co-operation for world prosperity.

1.11 p.m.

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Northampton

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), I welcome this Bill. It falls into three parts, but it would seem more appropriate, for purposes of discussion, to divide it into two parts: that which affects trades where there is no collective negotiation, and that which affects trades where there is collective negotiation. I use that phrase "collective negotiation" because it is to my mind much better fitted to the circumstances than the traditional phrase "collective bargaining." I hope that when the two sides of industry sit down to review their problems of wages and conditions, it will not be regarded merely as a bargaining matter. Some better phrase, therefore, would seem to be appropriate. I subscribe to the sentiment voiced by the Minister, that we shall need legislative help to preserve stability in the transition from war to peace production. There can be no doubt that earnings will fall. There will be some piece rates that will no longer be applicable; there will be shorter hours, in the sense that overtime will be less widely worked. Apart from that, there will be a reduction in family incomes, because many women, under peace conditions, will not desire to continue to work as they have done during the war. Prices may rise, and there may be an element of unemployment. There will certainly be many difficulties associated with the transition period, so that we may look forward to extremely difficult conditions. If to these facts which I have mentioned, there is added the fear that advantage may be taken of the increased labour market to reduce wages, we may have a state of tension which might reach breaking point and vital upheavals in industry would then follow. On those grounds, I support this attempt to cater, as well as we can, for the conditions which may follow after the war.

With regard to the parts of the Bill relating to cases where there is no practice of collective negotiation, there are, to my mind, at least five points to which I hope the Minister who replies will refer. Whether they will need changes on the Committee stage or merely explanation, we shall see when the Minister replies. The first point concerns the Minister's discretionary powers. I take no exception to the Minister's desire to have the means to initiate a wages council where he finds that the machinery is inadequate or is in danger of breaking up. But the Bill, as drafted, does not support the comment, which I welcomed from him this morning, that if he does take the initiative he is obliged to put his proposal to a commission of inquiry. I understood him to say that such an obligation was imposed on the Minister, but I would draw attention to one or two points in the Bill which at any rate suggest a contrary view. If the wording which I shall refer to has a different meaning from that which I shall attribute to it, I hope that that will be made clear in the winding-up speech. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, dealing with Clause 7, says: Before making an Order, whether the Order is made on his own initiative under paragraph 2 (a) or in pursuance of a recommendation by a commission of inquiry. … That suggests that if it is on his initiative, there is no commission of inquiry. Again, Clause 5 says: Before making a wages council Order, whether in pursuance of a wages council recommendation or not, This would suggest that a wages council Order can be made without a wages council recommendation, and the only opportunity for that would appear to be the Minister's initiative. In Sub-section (5) it is stated: Where the Minister makes a wages council Order, he shall publish it in the prescribed manner, together with the report of any commission or inquiry relating to the Order. Evidently there may be a commission of inquiry relating to it or not. I ask that the meaning of the quotations I have made should be explained, because one naturally accepts the unequivocal statement which the Minister made this morning that he does require, if he takes the initiative, to put the matters before a commission of inquiry.

The other features where the Minister's discretionary powers require elucidation are, first, where he has power to modify the recommendations of the wages council if, in his opinion, the modification is unimportant. That would appear to give great latitude for doubt whether, in fact, a modification is important or otherwise. Is a penny an hour an important or unimportant modification in a recommendation? If we might have some elucidation of that point it might save time at a later date. Again, the Minister has power to ignore an objection to a recommendation if, in his view, the objector is unaffected.

The second point which I would ask the Minister to deal with relates to Clause 16 and the special defence open to employers. I read Sub-sections (1) and (2) half a dozen times, and, each time I read them, I came to different conclusions on what they mean. It is to be hoped that we can have a clear explanation, so that we may judge whether, in fact, they are desirable or otherwise. Then there is the question of the powers of interrogation of officers appointed under this Bill. This point was debated at some length on the Catering Wages Act, and, so far as I can see, there is still the undesirable possibility of potential victims being interrogated alone, without any family or professional help, by an investigator who has power, under this Bill, subsequently to become the prosecutor. In that connection, the Catering Wages Act did go some way to relieve the fears then expressed by introducing a proviso that, in the interrogation, nothing need be said which would be incriminating, and I ask the Minister why, if the provision which he made in that Measure was deemed desirable, it should not be introduced in this Bill in the same context.

Then there is the question of the powers of officers to prosecute—that is, officers who are themselves investigating the cases. It is difficult to follow the reasoning of the Catering Wages Act on this point, but there was an assurance given by the Solicitor-General in the Debate on 1st April last, when an Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Dr. Peters), and it was very clearly stated by the Solicitor-General that subsequent proceedings would, in fact, be taken by the legal department of the Ministry of Labour rather than by the non-legal officers who had done the investigating. If one had read that assurance correctly, one might ask that a similar assurance should be given in this Bill.

Lastly, on this part of the Bill there is the question of publicity given to the wages councils, which is of the greatest possible importance, particularly as so many, hitherto unaffected by trade boards, are now to be affected by wages councils, and the fullest possible publicity should be made available, presumably, through laying the proposals on the Table of this House.

With regard to the other important part of the Bill—Part III, which deals with these trades where collective negotiation is practised—I asked the Minister, in the course of his speech, what prompted him to pick a period of five years for the period during which legal enforcement of voluntary agreements should be set up, and he gave his reasons, but the right hon. Gentleman did not allude to the fact that the terms of this Bill do not become operative, as I understand it, until the current national arbitration Order expires. One rather inferred from the Minister's comments that the five years was a period after the cessation of fighting with Germany, during which it was proper to have legal methods of enforcing stability; but I would suggest that it may well be a considerable time after the end of fighting with Germany that the national arbitration Order will still be in being, and that it may well be eight years from now before the conditions brought about by this Bill come to an end. If account is taken of the period from the expiry of the national arbitration Order, it may very well be a greater number of years from now than is envisaged by the mention of five years in the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me said he was quite prepared to see—I imagine, as a permanency—the legal enforcement of voluntary arrange- ments arrived at by people properly constituted to do so. I would not go so far as that, but would point out that there is a discrepancy in legal enforcement under this Bill as between the two sides. It is open to the Minister to prosecute an employer who does not observe the proper rates and conditions come to in the district. Judging from the Minister's gestures it would be more accurate to say that it is open to anyone adversely affected by an employer not following the local conditions to take action arising out of that fact. Therefore, there is a deterrent, and a very proper deterrent, on an employer who declines to follow the local conditions properly arrived at, but, on the other side, the responsibility for the trade union to see that their part of the bargain is honourably observed has no deterrent behind that obligation beyond the general well-being of their organisation. Apart from the general principle of compelling people to observe an agreement to which they are not parties, there does seem to me to be a great responsibility resting upon the trade unions, their officials and the members of trade unions, to see that, in fact, the arrangements come to by their representatives, jointly with the employers, are honoured once the thing is signed.

We have had too many instances, even under war conditions, of the representatives of labour not being supported by their constituents in proper arrangements that they have made. Before, under peace conditions, one is asked to support the principle of legal enforcement of voluntary arrangements, I suggest that we need some experience of the ability of the responsible leaders of labour to see that their followers adhere to arrangements that have been made. Under war conditions, there is a great patriotic urge to give no trouble but follow their leaders and so forth, but, in peace, it is more difficult, particularly in the troublesome peace conditions which the early years may bring about, when it will be more difficult than now for responsible leaders of labour to see that the arrangements they make with employers are accepted loyally by their adherents. I should prefer to see more experience of their ability to do that before one is asked to assent to the principle of legal enforcement as a permanency. For that reason, and because one cannot foresee what conditions will be like four, five or six years hence, I would ask that the underlying idea of Part III of this Bill should not be imposed on the Statute Book for a longer period than is thought appropriate for the immediate purposes which the Government have in mind.

I have referred to the period from now until the expiry of the National Arbitration Order, which precedes the five years under this Bill. I would suggest, as at present advised, that three years would be a more appropriate period—a period four or five years from now—and that this would be quite sufficient for this purpose, and I suggest that the Minister should not bind the House to accept rules and Regulations for a period whose conditions it is extremely difficult for us to foresee.

With these requests for information and explanation, I join with other hon. Members who have given a general assent to the motives underlying this Bill. The Minister has many things to his credit in the handling of labour affairs during this war. When the war is over and this Bill is, as I believe it will be, on the Statute Book, there will be many, I am sure, who will give him additional credit for his attempt to foresee difficult conditions and to do what lies in his power to make Regulations to deal with them.

1.27 p.m.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

I should like to add my strong support for the Measure now before the House, which is of far-reaching importance. It is going to affect for the better the lives of millions of people, men and women, all over the country, and I believe it is going to be extremely helpful in effecting that peaceful transfer from war to peace in industry that we all desire to see. So far as the Liberal Party is concerned, we are, naturally, delighted to see this Measure brought forward because the original proposal was made by a Liberal Minister—the present Prime Minister—and we have been, for a long time, strongly in support of the principle of a national minimum wage. It is a matter of personal satisfaction to me, because, as a back-bencher, I have for many years introduced Bills containing principles which are now inserted in this Measure, and I am, therefore, delighted to see the Bill brought forward.

The Minister said that the Bill would cover, in all, something like 15,000,000 workers, but there is a point about that which I would like to put to him. I have pressed the Minister for some time to bring forward proposals for a national minimum wage, and this Bill pretty well covers that ground. It is his reply, and I think it is a very good one, but it does seem to me that there may be a gap in cases where the wages councils have not been in operation sufficiently long to fix a wage. There may be cases where wages can be paid at a lower rate than is desired. I would venture to suggest, therefore, that it would be desirable to incorporate a Clause in this Bill to the effect that it should be illegal to pay any person in this country a rate lower than the lowest rate fixed by any wage council. If that were done, it would make it impossible for any person to receive the very small wages that were sometimes paid in the past. There have been cases in the old days of small employers, with two or three people, who have been somewhat elderly workers, and they have paid them far below what is a reasonable wage. We want to cover everybody, and I earnestly ask the Minister to consider whether an Amendment on these lines could not properly be incorporated.

My right hon. Friend went into certain history of these questions in the past and I would venture to go back still further. The principle of a minimum statutory wage is not a new one in English history. There were Elizabethan Statutes passed which were operated by Justices of the Peace authorising the fixation of minimum wages. The Measures were disused in later times, and in 1812 when the Luddites were pressing their views, one of the things they wanted in particular was that these old Elizabethan Statutes should be made operative for the purpose of fixing wages. In dealing with this question we ought to pay a word of tribute to Robert Owen, that far-sighted industrial statesman who, more than a century ago, put forward many of these ideas which have now been accepted as sensible by all good employers and which the State is now making the law of the land. I would like to ask my hon. Friend who is to reply whether it is possible under this Measure to set up a wages council for such a body of persons as domestic servants? Obviously people of that kind find it very diffi- cult to organise. They cannot get together and take joint action. It seems to me to be eminently a case where action on these lines might prove to be desirable and I would ask my hon. Friend whether it is possible, at any rate, even if action is not taken. I imagine that the answer must be in the affirmative.

Reference has been made to the under-cutting that sometimes takes place by bad employers. One knows of examples of joint industrial councils which have met together and have agreed on conditions and then, to the annoyance and disgust of both sides, certain black-legging employers have deliberately paid lower rates and under-cut the whole standard and in that way have been able to get business which perhaps the good employer could not get. That is a monstrous state of affairs and I am very glad that this Measure is going to protect the good employer and maintain a decent standard of wages for all persons in industry. I feel sure in this connection that such a joint industrial council as the lock, latch and key industry in my constituency, which has raised the point in the past, will be delighted with the proposals that have been brought forward.

In regard to Part III and the fact that it is to go on for five years, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers) was a bit cautious and thought that the period should be rather limited. Personally, I want Part III to go on as long as possible. These principles are sound and will improve the industrial life of this country if they are made a permanent part of industrial legislation. I notice that in Clause 7 reference is made to "any matter that may be brought forward." Would my hon. Friend throw a little more light upon what is meant by "any matter"? There are certain things that I would like to see included. Does it, for instance, permit discussions to take place and agreements to be reached with regard to welfare matters and canteen arrangements? Would it be possible to discuss the length of notice of engagements? There are many cases where it has been the custom in the past to have an hour's notice or a day's notice, and would it be possible for agreements to be reached by which a week's notice must always be given? That would seem to be desirable.

I would like to see, if possible, wages councils permitted to discuss the setting up of joint machinery in the industry for dealing with appeals against dismissals. I mean an advisory body, because the decision must rest in the end with the management. There is always the fear and feeling about victimisation and that because a man's politics are not liked, because he is thought to be an agitator and because he is not sufficiently submissive, he may be got rid of for non-industrial reasons. If you have a tribunal, even of an advisory nature, which is representative—a sort of jury—of employers and employed it would be a very strong deterrent to any employer or manager who wished to act on victimisation lines. He would have to come before this jury and present a case and if the legislation that I have in mind is passed and agreements are reached, he will take very great care that his case is based on strong industrial grounds and on no other grounds whatsoever. That is a wise measure for any employer to take voluntarily whether the Government adopt it or not, because it gives a status and position to the worker in the industry which he does not always feel that he possesses.

In commending this Bill wholeheartedly to the House, I would like to mention that some years before the war my right hon. Friend and I were associated as pioneers in a certain part of the industrial field and I am very glad on this occasion to be able to pay this small tribute to him for the magnificent Measure which he has brought forward to-day. It will, I believe, be a permanent memorial of the splendid efforts that he has made in the industrial field for the working people of this country.

1.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Leslie Mr John Leslie , Sedgefield

The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers) appeared to be somewhat dubious about getting trade union members loyally to abide by a decision of the Whitley Council. Judging by the decisions of the joint industrial councils, the workers seldom kick over the traces, but we have many cases of firms withdrawing from the joint industrial councils in order to escape their obligations. Where workers have kicked over the traces you usually find that they are not organised bodies with any capable leaders, and that has been the case, generally speaking, throughout the war. The Minister of Labour has certainly given us an excellent exposition of the various State efforts at stated periods to deal with the all important subject of wage conditions. The Minister's vast experience of industrial negotiations has certainly stood him in good stead in his present position; every Measure emanating from his office has been to the advantage of the country and I sincerely hope that this latest Bill will soon be placed upon the Statute Book.

I have had some experience of trade boards. In one case a trade board was very successful, because the employers on that board were determined that they should set up a proper standard of condition in their particular occupation, and thereby eliminate those who conducted sweated operations. In another trade board, unfortunately, the employers carried out a policy, which was declared as "masterly inactivity," which held up rates for a considerable time until the appointed persons had to urge all sides to come to an agreement. The appointed persons on trade boards invariably hesitate to take any action whatever. Their business is to endeavour to conciliate and get the two sides to arrive at agreement.

This Measure is one which should be welcomed by all who do not wish to see a return to what happened after the last war, when wage cuts were the order of the day. The purchasing power of the people was diminished, and unemployment, poverty and misery followed as the only consequence. This Bill seeks to do what trade boards and joint industrial councils have failed to accomplish. Both bodies have certainly done useful work in the past to some extent, but they failed in certain respects. Trade boards, as the Minister explained, only fixed minimum rates of wages; they did not fix a guaranteed week. Joint industrial councils failed when certain firms and associations withdrew to escape their obligations to pay the rates that were agreed. The rates were not enforceable by law and decent firms, feeling in honour bound to pay the rates, were handicapped by their competitors. I have several cases before me at the present time. One particular joint industrial council is in a very difficult position because members feel that their decisions are not being enforced. An important association recently withdrew from the council on the instructions of its annual conference until such time as agreement is made compulsory upon all engaged in the retail trades forming this particular group. Another association also withdrew, and the reason given was that the wage scale applied only to a certain section of the trade, while traders outside the organisation were not compelled to observe the rates.

These cases demonstrate the present need for this Bill, and it is good to know that joint industrial councils, generally speaking, are strongly in favour of such amendment, for the very reason that it makes possible whatever rates are fixed to be legally enforceable. And the fact that such bodies representative of both employers and workers welcome the action of the Ministry of Labour should convince the House as to the importance and necessity of this Bill.

1.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

My hon. Friends of the Tory Reform Committee and I most heartily welcome this Bill. We feel that the three features of it are like different shaped joists, which, together, are going to reinforce a building in danger of collapse when the present war-time state of affairs comes to an end. In the first place, there is the bringing up to date of the existing trade board legislation. I suppose that there have been very few new ventures on the part of Parliament in endeavouring to regulate industrial conditions in the country which have proved such a remarkable success as the trade board legislation, originally introduced by the present Prime Minister. It has not brought about the collapse of the industries which at that time depended upon cheap and indeed sweated labour. For the reason given by Mr. Balfour in that Debate, in many cases the industries have, in fact, benefited by the improvement in the wage conditions which have resulted from the legislation. Mr. Balfour, whose speech I was looking up this morning, said: The result of raising wages was not in many cases to increase the price. The whole machinery of production might be improved. … This has, in fact, turned out to be the case. Those industries which existed upon cheap and inefficient labour have been obliged to reorganise themselves and, with an improved remuneration of the workers, those industries have become more efficient and more prosperous.

Now, however, after the passage of 35 years, our whole idea of labour legislation, with ideas of a guaranteed minimum week's earnings and longer periods of holidays with pay, necessitates the old legislation being brought up to date. I congratulate the Minister upon having not just amended the old legislation, with all the evils that result from legislation by reference, but on having introduced a new Bill and given a new name to this method of wage regulation, so that in this single Bill it will be possible to see exactly what this structural wage machinery is, which will ensure a certain minimum rate of remuneration to people engaged in an industry.

In the second place there is the logical extension of the old principle in cases where a joint industrial council now exists. There have been during the war many cases where industries have set up joint industrial councils. In the majority of cases that was made necessary under the Essential Work Order, but it is quite obvious that when the war comes to an end and the conditions—like the Essential Work Order—which have made those joint industrial councils necessary, also come to an end, there is great danger of this existing machinery being ended in the general chaos which may exist. Therefore, I feel that the Government have been wise to look ahead and to make certain that this voluntary consultative machinery should be under-pinned by legislative enactment. It is now, I think, common ground everywhere that we desire to see, in as many industries as possible, collective bargains arrived at voluntarily by negotiation on the part of representative bodies on both sides. In the past, it has only been when that kind of machinery did not exist, or when it has completely broken down and disappeared, that the Minister of Labour has been empowered to set up a trade board. How much better, where you have these agreements at present in existence, to enable the Minister of Labour to intervene earlier, in order to prevent the break-down from taking place. We can now all agree that the existence of a certain legal minimum wage is a most satisfactory basis upon which higher agreed wages can be built by joint negotiating machinery. If it is possible, by means of this legislation, to ensure a certain minimum remuneration within a certain industry, it does make it much easier for the two parties to come together and to arrive at a general collective bargain regarding, not only remuneration but other conditions of employment in the industry.

In the third place, I particularly welcome the provision of this Bill which will continue for five years Part III of Statutory Order, 1305. This matter has a long history. I was looking up yesterday a Debate which took place in the last Parliament when a Private Member's Bill was introduced to give effect to the principle. It was the hon. and gallant Member for North Bristol (Captain Bernays) who introduced the Industrial Councils Bill, and it was my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr) who seconded the Second Reading of that Bill, the purpose of which was virtually the same as the purpose of these particular provisions in the Bill now before the House. It provided that where any particular rate of remuneration and conditions had been agreed to by a substantial representative number of employers, on the one hand, and of trade unions on the other hand in an industry, those conditions should be enforcible throughout that industry; that the "blacklegs" on the employers' or employed side, should not be allowed to work under more unfavourable conditions than had been agreed to in the collective bargain arrived at by representative bodies on both sides. That Bill was supported by a large number of my hon. and gallant Friend's fellow Liberals, and also by a considerable number of progressive and enlightened Conservatives, such as the present Minister of Food, the present Minister of State, and the present Under-Secretary for the Dominions. Unfortunately, however, there was a coalition between the rigid bureaucracy, representing the trade unions, and the right wing of the Conservative Party which defeated the Bill. But now, after there have been some years of war, and experience has been gained under the very able administration of the Ministry of Labour by my right hon. Friend, and I am glad to find that both his colleagues among the trade union officials, and my own colleagues in the Conservative Party have moved forward, and come into line with those of us who, in February, 1934, divided in favour of a Measure of this kind. The effect can, surely, only be beneficial to everyone, that when an agreement has been reached by represen- tative bodies, there shall be no undercutting of those wage rates. It is not a fixing of wages, but it goes a long way to stabilise and preserve the principle of collective bargaining.

When we look ahead to the post-war period, when we shall be confronted first with the immense difficulties of transition from war to peace and then the intense competition of the countries which at present are not in a position to produce, it is absolutely vital that we in this country should have industrial peace. That, I believe, is more dependent on the preservation of the principles of collective bargaining than upon anything else. I believe, therefore, that this Bill will be a really effective Measure to promote a smooth transition and one which is likely to result in the preservation of peace in industry.

1.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Cove Mr William Cove , Aberavon

We are to-day dealing with a Measure of immense social, economic, and even political importance. It is quite clear and is now generally agreed, I believe, that one of the basic facts of all the trouble of unemployment is a low purchasing power by the working classes of this country. If we are to maintain a prosperous Britain, then it is quite definite, I think, that we must try to ensure that the purchasing power of the workers is raised to, and maintained at, ever higher levels. There is, indeed, no health or prosperity for the export trade, unless there are health and prosperity inside our own country. We must be customers as well as sellers, and one of the reasons—there are other reasons I know—why our export trade has been adversely affected has been the lower purchasing power, the meagre customer power—if I might put it that way—of our own country. Therefore it seems to me that any Bill which deals with the wages of the 14 or 15 million workers of this country is a Bill of major importance and of major consideration.

We have been living, economically, during the war period in an unreal world. I should characterise our prosperity, economically, as being largely fictitious. Economically speaking, war, by and large, is waste and while there is the appearance of prosperity in this country, if we delve a little deeper I think we shall find that all is not as it seems. For in- stance, there is a general impression that the wage rates of the workers in this country during the war have been greatly raised. That is not so. The wage rate in this country, taking the workers as a whole, has not by any means kept pace with the increase in the cost of living. The Treasury figure given in the White Paper on the Budget was, I think, 141. If we add indirect taxation to that, the cost of living in this country has gone up to 154, far beyond, as a matter of fact, the rise in the rates of wages. I will put it this way, the wage rate has lagged far behind the cost of living. But, all the same, total earnings have increased over the general body of workers.

In some industries total earnings have not increased, but over the whole field, by and large, they have increased. I think it is germane to the issue to find out why they have increased. They have not increased because of increases in wage rates; they have increased for several other reasons. They have increased because there has been a shift from the lower paid rates of peace-time industries to war industries. The metallurgical and engineering industries generally pay higher rates of wages than a number of other peace-time industries, and there has been a shift of workers into those industries. Then, a larger number of people have been employed; there is virtually no unemployment now so that family income, as a whole, has increased.

The biggest factor of all is that more and more during the war people's earnings have come to depend upon overtime. This has become one, of the biggest factors in keeping up the level of income of our people. Very reliable estimates are given that the present income from overtime amounts to £450,000,000 to £500,000,000 a year. I mention these points in order to show that when the war is over many of these conditions will disappear. I should imagine that many women will go out of industry, either compulsorily or voluntarily. Overtime will largely cease and with it, of course, the money that comes from that source. There will be a shift again from the relatively higher paid war industries to the relatively lower paid peace industries, and there will be a combination of factors which will tend to depress the total earnings of the working classes.

With the end of the war, with the accumulation of these things passing out, as it were, there will be a substantial reduction in the total purchasing power of our people. That is the situation we have to face up to, and which this Bill makes some attempt to meet. I commend it because it does that, but I would not be true to myself if I did not say that I cannot believe that under the existing system of private ownership of the basic industries there can be any solution of the real problem connected with purchasing power in Britain. These councils will work for individual industries. I believe that it is essential that we should have what I would call a collective approach, a collective economy. Even with all the councils and the good will you can create I do not believe that in the competitive post-war world we shall be able, on the basis of private ownership, to maintain and raise the standard of living of our people. I am certain that the same essential problem will remain embedded deeply in our present economic system, namely, the problem of effective demand. No council, no wages board; will solve that problem: it can only be solved when we have a collective economy, running for collective purposes. The great problem of the age is to put into the hands of the masses of our people what, technically, we can produce.

I notice that the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Production have told us that production, with millions of men away, has increased by 40 per cent. We have added tremendous power to our productive capacity. But the problem is not a technical one of production, it is not one of distribution within the capitalist system; it is a great social problem. Capitalism has not yet solved the problem of unemployment, and I do not believe it can. Before the war 4,00,000 families in this country had incomes of less than £2 a week. The fact that the wage rate has not gone up means that that problem remains. Side by side with this what has happened on the profit side? Profits take more out of the national income to-day than they did before the war. Not only that but capital itself has become more and more concentrated. These are the problems we shall have to face, and while I welcome every effort to stabilise purchasing power and wage councils I would be untrue to myself if I did not say that the capitalist sytem has been erected on sand and that the only rock on Which to stand is a complete change in our social and economic system.

2.9 p.m.

Photo of Sir Lewis Jones Sir Lewis Jones , Swansea West

I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) in all he has said to-day, but I would ask him to examine the wage system in the iron, steel and coal industries, in particular during the last few years. There he will find how the basic earnings in those industries have been improved, which belies his statement about the failure of industry to increase wage rates for our working people. I approach this Bill as one who has had many years' experience as an official of a joint industrial council which has negotiated wages and conditions of employment in the iron and steel industry in this country. I approach this Bill as one who is a very firm believer in powerful trade unions. I remember some years ago an American economist, who was investigating labour conditions in this country, expressing amazement when I told him that I believed in 100 per cent. organisation from trade unions in every industry. I told him my reason was that as secretary of an employers' organisation I knew that when representatives of organised workers put their signatures to an agreement the trade unions were powerful enough to see that the agreement was carried out. I mention that to give my credentials, as it were, in approaching this Bill.

I am as keen an advocate of voluntary organisation as the Minister of Labour said he was to-day. I think it is essential that we should encourage voluntary organisation in industry among work-people and employers. Therefore, with these credentials and my tremendous belief in trade unions I must confess that I view this Bill with a certain amount of concern. To-day, the Minister gave us a history of the Trade Boards Acts. I realise that the objects of the trade boards were to provide what might be termed a social background to industry, to provide a social safeguard in certain sweated industries. Now the Minister proposes to extend the power of these trade boards to include and deal with industrial matters. I do not know whether the time in which these changes will have been brought about will be ripe and whether, later, we shall find that these proposals to set up statutory wage councils will fit into the industrial machine generally. But assuming that this Bill is going through—and I will vote for it whatever my doubts may be—I would like to call attention to a few matters which have not been touched upon by the Minister. Under the Trade Boards Acts there sit with representatives of the employers and employees what are termed "appointed members," who are appointed by the Minister of Labour. I am satisfied that these members have justified their appointment with these boards, because they have performed a very important function. Very often they have enabled a board to come to a decision on important social questions when employers and employees have failed to agree.

Now, however, the proposals the Minister is putting forward extend the power of these boards to include industrial problems as distinct from problems of a social character. At the same time, the Minister is allowing appointed members to exercise their present power over this new and wider field. I suggest that this means the introduction of compulsory arbitration into the realm of industrial matters. I look on it as a departure from the fundamental conception of the purposes of the boards themselves, and there is a danger throughout a large section of British industry of the substitution of the principle of compulsory arbitration for that of free negotiation on purely industrial questions. If it is morally and ethically right to have appointed members on these wages councils, or extended trade boards, why not take it further and have appointed members in the mining industry, for instance, in numerical strength in relation to the employers' and employees' representatives? You might also have consumers' representatives to enter into discussions.

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

I do not quite follow the hon. Member's argument. In what way is this different from the principle of trade boards?

Photo of Sir Lewis Jones Sir Lewis Jones , Swansea West

What I suggest is that the trade boards deal with the social aspect of an industry. If there is any change at all, it is an extension of the powers of the old trade boards. The Minister is asking the trade boards to deal with wider and more important industrial matters. I say that, just as we do not have appointed members in our normal negotiating machinery in other well-established industries, we do not want appointed members in these extended trade boards. I believe that voluntary organisation is a principle which the trade unions are wedded to, just as are employers' associations, and if you are going to superimpose on the wage councils the influence and the votes of appointed members you are limiting or reducing the freedom of voluntary organisation. I believe that the power the right hon. Gentleman is taking to set up these new councils is unnecessary. He has already got it under the Trade Boards Act.

I feel that he has overstepped the mark. He is seeking powers which are already in his hands. Even when he forms these councils he still retains these appointed members, and the same argument that I used against their continuation in dealing with industrial matters applies in this case. The change proposed is fundamental. It is proposed to transfer to appointed members, for the first time in the history of labour legislation, the responsibility of determining contractual relations between employers and employed, a responsibility which under trade board machinery has been confined to cases where it can be shown that statutory intervention is necessary having regard not only to the organisation but also to the wages and conditions prevailing in the industry. The new councils will permit such statutory intervention in industries even where there has been no suggestion of bad conditions or low wages and I fancy that this is organisation just for organisation's sake.

The superimposition of appointed members savours of totalitarian rather than democratic methods. By interfering with voluntary organisation you are going to weaken the development of trade unions and employers' associations, as has happened in Germany. I am confident that free voluntary organisation, even trade unionism, will not grow or develop under statutory wage councils. The Minister was careful to say that in time it might be possible for the parties to a wage council to make application to go back to the formation of their own joint boards or negotiating machinery. I suggest that, in so far as under the Bill trade boards are to be extended to deal with industrial matters, appointed representatives should be excluded entirely and that in the discussion of industrial matters the only people who should be negotiating across the table should be the employers on one side and the trade unions on the other. We do not want the interference of third parties. What would they think in the mining or engineering industries if it was suggested that appointed members should be nominated by the Minister of Labour to sit on negotiating boards? The employers would sooner trust the trade unions and the trade unions would sooner trust the employers. The Minister said that it was a provision of the Trade Boards Act that the total number of appointed persons must be less than half the combined numbers of employers' and employees' representatives, an arrange-men which ensures that the parties mainly responsible for the industrial matters that came up for discussion were likely to have a preponderent influence. But in the First Schedule I find no indication that the combined representatives of employers and employees, whether on the wages councils or on the central co-ordinating committee, may not be exceeded by the number of appointed members. [Interruption.] The three only refers to the commissions of inquiry. There is no suggestion as to the numbers of appointed members on the other bodies.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

In the First Schedule (a) not more than three persons chosen by the Minister as being independent persons.

Photo of Sir Lewis Jones Sir Lewis Jones , Swansea West

But the Minister does not state definitely what the numbers are to be.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I should like to help the hon. Member. In most trade boards the minimum is roughly about 20. In the case of these wage councils there will be not more than three, who are independent.

Photo of Sir Lewis Jones Sir Lewis Jones , Swansea West

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. May I now refer to the constitution of the commissions of inquiry? It is proposed that there should be three independent persons, two employers' representatives and two employees' representatives. I think again that with the appointment of independent members the trade representatives on the commissions will be overweighted. It will be possible for three independent persons with one employer or one employee to give decisions against the majority of the industrial representatives.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

These commissions are not negotiating bodies.

Photo of Sir Lewis Jones Sir Lewis Jones , Swansea West

I take it that the Minister would appoint employers or trade union leaders from a panel. Obviously he would not appoint representatives of the particular industry but, as is generally the practice, he would have a majority of those who understand industry whether from the employers' or the trade union side. If the Minister is not prepared to consider giving the majority votes to the industrial representatives, I hope that he will so vary the Schedule, as far as the Commission is concerned, that the trade unions and the employers' organisations have an equal representation with the appointed members.

With regard to the continuation for five years after the war of the section of the Conditions of Employment Order dealing with agreements, I understand that one speaker to-day criticised that continuation. Anybody who has followed that Order and its operation will know what a tremendous thing the Minister did for industry when he brought it in. When I mention British industry, I use the term in an all-inclusive manner as meaning employers and employed alike. The continuation of this section of the Order for five years has been criticised, but I would welcome its continuation not for five years but for 10 years, because, if it is wrong for inferior employers to impose low wages and bad conditions to-day, to-morrow and for the first or second year after the war it must always be bad. I have made slight criticisms of some small matters in the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will be prepared to meet some of them. Apart from them, I give my blessing to the Bill and hope that it will become law.

2.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Griffiths Mr George Griffiths , Hemsworth

I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir L. Jones). He got up to bless this Bill. He welcomed it, and then for 30 minutes he did nothing but pull it to pieces. If that is his welcome to the Bill, God alone knows how many Amendments he will put down to it when we get into Committee. If his suggested Amendments are carried, there will be no Bill left. I want whole- heartedly to support the Bill. I read an article by Hamilton Fyfe in the "Daily Herald" a few days ago about the conditions of the miners in 1884 in Northumberland and Durham. The conditions that prevailed, according to this article, showed the slavery that my people had to undergo 100 years ago and have had to undergo since. The conditions to-day show what a tremendous advance there has been. I support this Bill because I like the idea that where trade unions and employers agree on certain conditions, those conditions have to be applied by everybody in the industry. The hon. Member for West Swansea missed this point. It is the great point in the Bill, because there are a tremendous number of employers, as the hon. Member knows, who are always trying to get out of agreements that are made by employers and employees. We have had any amount of that kind of thing in the mining industry. The hon. Member has been negotiating for 25 years, and I have taken a little part in negotiations in the mining industry. Sometimes the ink has hardly dried on an agreement arrived at between employers and employees before some lawyer has tried to tell the employers, "You can get out of this by so-and-so." We have had to spend thousands of pounds because employers have tried to get out of agreements.

To me the best thing in the Bill is that all employers in the future will have to pay up and not try to get out of agreements as some of them have done. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture here. A case arose the other day in connection with the wages of agricultural workers. In my constituency they had to take a farmer to court because he had been keeping a lad and paying him less than the agreed wages. The wages should have been 65s. and the lad got 25s. The result was that the farmer had to pay the lad £80 in back wages because a wages agreement had been made.

With regard to local authorities, I sit as a representative of the urban district councils on the National N.A.L.G.O. and we discussed this question with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. The local authorities have agreed that this Bill is a good thing because there are some local authorities still that are not good employers. There are some which make attempts to get out of agreements. They will be included in this Bill and will not be able to do that. The local authorities have decided unanimously to support this Measure. I thank the Minister of Labour for bringing it in, and the trade unions in all the industries welcome the fact that no employer will be able to blackleg in future, but that they will all have to pay up like the best employers do. I will support the Bill through and through and keep an eye on the hon. Member for West Swansea when he brings his Amendments in.

2.38 p.m.

Photo of Sir George Schuster Sir George Schuster , Walsall

I am grateful for the opportunity of saying a few words because I want to express a somewhat different view from that which was expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Sir L. Jones). I want, in fact, to express unqualified congratulations to my right hon. Friend on this Measure. While I am congratulating him, may I add a word of appreciation of those who prepared that most excellent little handbook on Industrial Relations? I have found this of the greatest possible value, and of interest too as showing us how the Minister has been following out a completely consistent policy. In this Measure, as I see it, he is just cleaning up a remaining corner that is left untidy. I am speaking as one who carries responsibilities in connection with distributive trades. Therefore, I am speaking from an experience different from that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea, who has been concerned with the much better integrated iron and steel industry. Speaking from my experience in distributive trades, I consider this Measure not only to be a good Measure, but to be absolutely indispensable. It has received strong support from the Retail Distributive Trades Conference. The conference recently passed a resolution saying: We pledge our support of the Bill to the Minister of Labour. We trust the Government will regard the Measure as one of primary urgency in order that it should be placed on the Statute Book before the close of the present Parliament. The resolution also calls attention to the fact that the Measure is in accordance with earlier recommendations made by the Retail Distributive Trades Conference itself which were recorded in a White Paper on wages, hours and conditions of employment published in June, 1939. Therefore, I welcome the Measure as one which is really indispensible.

I would like to say a word too in reference to what my hon. Friend said about "appointed" members on the wages councils. I understand that it is the official view, which is confirmed by my own friends who have had great experience of dealing with trade boards, that in fact the two sides of the trade boards, in the main, decide what is done. That is borne out by the official figures, and it might be worth while to give them. I understand the official figures show that decisions by the 52 trade boards were reached as follows: 37 by agreement, five by votes of employers and appointed members, nine by votes of workers and appointed members, and one in which the workers abstained from voting and the decision was taken on the vote of the employers. If 37 out of 52 decisions are reached by agreement, that is pretty good evidence of how this machinery works.

There are certain details in the Measure which I hope will be accorded further consideration. One point has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers). I am a little alarmed by the procedure laid down in Clause 17, which gives the official, who may be the prosecutor, the opportunity to force individuals to incriminate themselves in declarations beforehand. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is familiar with the point, as it has already been discussed in the Debates on the Catering Wages Bill, and I am wondering whether the Government are satisfied that they are not introducing a dangerous principle.

I am content however to leave these and other points to the Committee stage, and I repeat that I welcome this Measure and shall give it my unqualified support.

2.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Malcolm McCorquodale Mr Malcolm McCorquodale , Sowerby

I cannot help remembering the time some two years ago when I had to wind up a Debate on the Catering Wages Bill. The House will probably remember that the wrath of a great number of my hon. Friends descended upon me for what they told me was a provocative speech. Now we have what I might term a placid and agreeable atmosphere of benign approval from all round the House for the Bill. I would like to thank hon. Members sincerely for the way in which they have welcomed the Bill and for the very kind words they have spoken about my Minister. The Bill is one of a number which we have presented, relating to plans and arrangements we have made for dealing with the difficult period of resettlement.

I would define it very shortly as a Bill falling into three classes of service. The first is that it proposes to bring trade board legislation up to date, which we have wanted to do for a long time, and to rename the trade boards wages councils. That will bring in the idea of a joint body working together. I might suggest that that is a curative service. Secondly, we want to provide additional powers for establishing councils, where voluntary machinery is inadequate or is becoming inadequate or where reasonable standards are not being or are not likely to be maintained. One might call that a preventive service, and there has been a little criticism of it to-day. Thirdly, the Bill will continue the provision of Part III of Order 1305, whch has worked so well throughout the war. I would call that a temporary stabilising service.

I would like to thank all those who have given, out of their experience, support of the Bill. We have had a very valuable contribution from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) and also from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie), who has had great experience, having been a member both of trade boards and of joint industrial councils. We have had support from the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), who spoke on behalf of his colleagues in the Tory Group to which he belongs. He rather inferred that the Bill which he supported in 1934 was the same Bill as that which we are discussing to-day, but I am afraid that he is not strictly accurate in that respect. None the less we welcome his enthusiastic support. We had support from the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove). It is something to have gained support from him. He does not like to give support indiscriminately in this House. I do not think he will expect me to follow him now into the question of the real figures of the cost of living or into a debate on private enterprise versus nationalisation, which he en- deavoured to start in the course of his remarks. I understand from one of my colleagues who speaks occasionally at the week-end that that is likely to be a topic at the next general election. We had a very valuable speech from the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), speaking from the angle of the distributive trade. I was very glad to hear his welcome of the help which the appointed members are likely to give on the wages councils. We had enthusiastic support also from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton who came in to represent the Liberal Party on this occasion but who has now left us again. He claimed that the Bill really was entirely his. We do not want to rob him of that source of gratification but, of course, it is not the same Bill as the Industrial Councils Bill which he was interested in some time ago.

We had modified support from the hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir L. Jones)—enthusiastic support for Part III and some concern with regard to the appointed members. I hope that the concern which he showed will not be justified and I am certain that he hopes that it will not either. I would say to him that I agree entirely that voluntary organisation is best. Where possible we mean to encourage it. It is only where voluntary organisation is breaking down or is likely to break down that it will need underpinning by means of wages councils. I agree with him also that we must show the very greatest care as to whom we choose as the appointed members on these wages councils. They will have the greatest influence. I believe, and confidently expect that their influence will be for good and that they will bring to many small trades a wider atmosphere than those connected with the trade closely might otherwise have. The hon. Member for Walsall quoted figures to show in how many cases the agreements are reached between the two sides of the trade boards—which will now be wages councils—without the intervention of the appointed members. That is the case and we hope that it may be extended. It is interesting to note when one sums up the number of decisions that have been taken by means of the appointed members, to see how often they have supported employers and have supported the workers, we find that, over the last 20 years, those times are approximately equal.

We then had an important speech, one which I very much welcomed, from my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers). I would thank him for his support of my Minister and for his wise words. He raised some important points with which I would like to deal. With regard to whether Part III should last for five years, three years or some other period, he was answered very categorically by my hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea. I think my hon. Friend was not in the House at the time that answer was given so I hope he will read the words in HANSARD which my hon. Friend used on that occasion. I suggest that this is really a matter for discussion on the Committee Stage and if my hon. Friend feels deeply on the matter no doubt he will put down Amendments and we can discuss them there. With regard to the powers of interrogation which he raised, I certainly agree to look at this question of incrimination, in the light of what was done in the Catering Wages Act, with a view to introducing some safeguards, if necessary. I thank him for drawing my attention to the matter. With regard to powers of prosecution, which was another point which he raised, he is quite right in saying that our general practice is for the legal department of the Ministry of Labour to conduct proceedings and not for the inspectors to do so. It is our intention to continue this practice under this scheme.

He then raised the question as to whether it was true, as appeared on reading the Bill, that inquiry had to be made before one of these wages councils, was set up. I would like to make that position clear. Under the Trade Boards Acts under which we live at present, the Minister can set up a board if he is of the opinion that the machinery is not adequate and wages are unduly low. There is no obligation to have an independent inquiry, though one is usually held of course if the matter is challenged. This position is maintained in the first part of the Bill, where it is just a matter of bringing trade board legislation up to date. It is in the section dealing with the new principle which the Bill introduces, and which I described as a preventive measure, namely the question of setting up a council where the machinery is, or is likely to become inadequate and the rates of remuneration are likely to fall too low, that we have introduced as a safeguard into the Bill the idea that the power cannot be exercised by the Minister to appoint wages councils direct. The Minister must refer the matter to a commission of inquiry for report and he can set up a council only if the commission recommends it. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend on that account.

With regard to another question he raised, as to the variations which the Minister may make, I would point out that those variations are only of a very minor character and not such as might mean any adjustment of wages. I would say one or two words before I sit down on the subject of Part III of the Bill.

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Northampton

Would the Minister like to refer to the question I raised in regard to Clause 16 in order to give us an interpretation of Sub-sections (1) and (2) which some of us might find difficult to understand?

Photo of Mr Malcolm McCorquodale Mr Malcolm McCorquodale , Sowerby

I really would ask my hon. Friend not to press me on that point. This is highly legal and technical language. On the Committee stage we will give a very full description of the powers under that Clause. They are all taken from existing legislation and there is nothing new about them. I have a long brief in front of me, provided by my legal Department, but I must confess that it is not easy for me to understand it. If I read it out perhaps the House would not understand it at all! Perhaps my hon. Friend will wait until the Committee stage.

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Northampton

My hon. Friend can take it that we are satisfied with that promise, and that I shall welcome any observations he may make on that occasion.

Photo of Mr Malcolm McCorquodale Mr Malcolm McCorquodale , Sowerby

I should like to say a word about Part III of the Bill. It has been suggested in some quarters outside, though not inside the House, that this part of the Bill pegs wages. It does nothing of the sort. It places no restriction whatever on the variation or modification of any agreement or decision which has established recognised terms and conditions, or upon the freedom of the parties concerned to proceed to abitration if they wish to do so. If they desire, parties can proceed to vary an agreement or a decision by negotiation in the ordinary way or they can agree to go to arbitration on any matter affecting terms and con- ditions of employment and thus establish new conditions and new recognised terms and arrangements. Arrangements for modification or adjustment of agreements are not affected in any way by the Bill. It is important to understand that fact. If an agreement ceases to have an effect for any reason, and nothing replaces it, there will be no recognised conditions, and, in consequence, throughout that time there will be no obligation upon an employer under the Bill. Nothing that the Bill does will prevent proper negotiations for the raising or the lowering of wages when the parties think fit.

Photo of Mr Malcolm McCorquodale Mr Malcolm McCorquodale , Sowerby

When the parties think fit. The other point is how Part III of the Bill can be put into operation. It should be clearly understood that the worker, or a trade union acting on his behalf, cannot take an employer to court with a claim for a payment alleged to be due, unless the question of compliance with the obligation has first been reported to the Minister and then has been the subject of an award by the industrial court. A question cannot be reported to the Minister by an individual worker but only by his trade union or by an employers' organisation. We cannot have a whole mass of irresponsible cases brought up, flooding the whole machinery. Then the question may be settled satisfactorily by the normal methods from the Ministry. If, however, it is not so settled, it will then be referred to the industrial court and the decision of the industrial court will be binding and will be part of the terms of the contract. Therefore, it is only when an award of the industrial court has been given that it becomes open to a worker—any worker or trade union acting on his behalf—to take a claim to the county court for recovery of payment due.

I do not know whether there are any other points to which hon. Members would like me to refer. We have had so much praise and so little criticism that there does not appear to be any difficulty. I would like, however, to make one or two remarks of a general nature. I am convinced that as regards industrial relations and, indeed, all our industrial affairs, the transition period, which may well last for five years or more, will be of the most vital importance to our very existence. Our men and women will be coming back from the Forces, and from other war service, into industry, and their settling down to the humdrum life in the factory or workshop will not be easy for them in any way. They are bound to feel strange at first, maybe awkward, out of place, and impatient sometimes, and they will need much care and sympathy, and intelligent handling by the managements if all these difficulties are to be smoothed away and they are to settle down into normal life.

I believe that one step we have taken during the war is going to mitigate this difficulty very much. I refer to the introduction of personnel managers and welfare departments into industry and the development of the whole technique of labour management. They are going to be put to the test in the transition period, and I very much hope they will be found to be a main factor in the settling of industrial problems. These problems will not only affect managements; they will also affect, in a similar manner, trade union executives and officials of all kinds. I am sure that everyone throughout industry, whatever his position, is determined to do his utmost to give to these men and women returning from the Forces the very greatest consideration and help in settling down into their peacetime associations. But not only will there be these individual problems of a novel and, maybe, acute nature during the resettlement period. There will obviously be big and difficult problems affecting the negotiations and agreements between the two sides in the different industries. I would suggest that it is equally of vital importance that these problems and these difficulties should be settled smoothly and peaceably, and that our reconstruction period should not be marred by industrial strife, either in the form of major clashes between the two sides, or by the almost equally damaging form of guerrilla warfare and sniping by one side or the other.

It may well be that we may have, at the end of the war with Germany, to give up the political comradeship and co-operation which has carried us so far in this war and I, for one, regret this very much. In my belief, it would be disastrous if we also forfeited our industrial co-operation at the same time. I claim—and I do not think this can be challenged—that co-operation, mutual confidence and general unity of purpose are more widespread to-day than ever before in our industrial life. It is to support and to aid this admirable state of affairs in the difficult period of transition that this Bill has been brought in at the present time. I am confident that if we can get through this transition stage, so far as our industrial relations are concerned, with good heart and good comradeship between the two-sides then, however poor we may find ourselves at the end of the war and however many difficulties we may have to overcome, we shall come out all right. If we wish to maintain our standard of living, our way of life, and our export trade, we literally will not be able to afford strikes and lock-outs, and industrial trouble and dispute of that kind. It is because I hope, and confidently believe, that this Bill will contribute towards peace and stability in industry during the transition period that I ask this House to give it a Second Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Cary.]

Committee To-morrow.