Before I call on the Minister of Labour, to move the Motion which stands on the Order Paper in his name, I think it would be well, seeing that we have not had many Motions of this kind in this Parliament, to remind hon. Members that we are very limited by the terms of the Motion. This Motion deals with the Fair Wages Clause in Government contracts, and therefore anything outside a Government contract is out of Order in this Debate. That, I am afraid, removes the first Amendment which has been put down on the Order Paper, because it goes into the question of work other than work under Government contracts. I propose to call the Minister of Labour so that the House will have a general Debate, and will then proceed to call the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss).
I beg to move,
That, in the opinion of this House, the Fair Wages Clauses in Government Contracts should be so amended as to provide as follows:—
1.—(a) The contractor shall pay rates of wages and observe hours and conditions of labour not less favourable than those established for the trade or industry in the district where the work is carried out by machinery of negotiation or arbitration to which the parties are organisations of employers and trade unions representative respectively of substantial proportions of the employers and workers engaged in the trade or industry in the district.
(b) In the absence of any rates of wages, hours or conditions of labour so established the contractor shall pay rates of wages and observe hours and conditions of labour which are not less favourable than the general level of wages, hours and conditions observed by other employers whose general circumstances in the trade or industry in which the contractor is engaged are similar.
2. The contractor shall in respect of all persons employed by him (whether in execution of the contract or otherwise) in every factory, workshop or place occupied or used by him for the execution of the contract comply with the general conditions required by this Resolution. Before a contractor is placed upon a department's list of firms to be invited to tender, the department shall obtain from him an assurance that to the best of his knowledge and belief he has complied with the general conditions required by this Resolution for at least the previous three months.
3. In the event of any question arising as to whether the requirements of this Resolution
are being observed, the question shall, if not otherwise disposed of, be referred by the Minister of Labour and National Service to an independent tribunal for decision.
4. The contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of trade unions.
5. The contractor shall at all times during the continuance of a contract display, for the information of his workpeople, in every factory, workshop or place occupied or used by him for the execution of the contract a copy of this Resolution.
6. The contractor shall be responsible for the observance of this Resolution by subcontractors employed in the execution of the contract, and shall if required notify the department of the names and addresses of all such sub-contractors.
The Fair Wages Resolution has been in operation in one form or another for over 50 years. The first Resolution was introduced in 1891 by the then Mr. Sydney Buxton. I should like to draw the attention of the House to one or two things which he said on that occasion and which are equally true today. He stated:
The Government is far the greatest 'letter-out' of contracts in the country, and Government contracts are the most popular for three reasons. In the first place, the contractor makes no bad debts; secondly, he makes quick returns, and, thirdly, a Government contract forms a good advertisement. The consequence is that there is great competition, and tenders are cut down very much at the expense of the labour market Such a state of things is unfair to the good employers, hard on the good workman, and injurious to the community. The fair employer is placed at a very great disadvantage as compared with the unfair.
That was said in 1891, and it could be said today, but certainly not to anything like the same degree. I would now like to quote the words of the First Commissioner of Works of that period who is reported to have said:
We must not interfere with the full play of the labour market. It will not do for the State in any way to fix the rate of wages.
That holds true today, as it held true 55 years ago. Wages are open to negotiations between employers and workers, and it has proved quite satisfactory. It must be remembered that Mr. Buxton was an Opposition Member and that the Government of the day was a Conservative Government. The then First Commissioner of Works secured the unanimous adoption by the House at that time of the following Resolution:
It is the duty of the Government in all Government contracts to make provision against the evils recently disclosed before the Sweating Committee, to insert such conditions
as may prevent the abuse arising from subletting and to make every effort to secure the payment of such wages as are generally accepted as current in each trade for competent workmen.
Unfortunately, that Resolution related to wages and said nothing about hours and working conditions. Under these contracts, so long as the employer showed he had paid wages generally acceptable in the trade, he could work a great number of hours and avoid the regulating conditions. This Resolution proved inadequate, and did not meet the situation. The Government had to give further consideration to it in view of the numerous complaints. In 1907, the Treasury set up a commission to consider the position. They did not recommend any amendment of the wording of the Resolution in so far as it affected fair wages, but made a number of recommendations, the effect of which was to give greater publicity to the requirements under the Resolution. There was again agitation and discontent, and it is interesting to note that the discontent came not only from the workers, but also from the employers. Later I may have an opportunity to give the House some of my experiences in my industry of the results of failure to observe the Fair Wages Clause.
The Clause which exists today was introduced in 1909. It is interesting to note that it was introduced by Mr. Sydney Buxton, then a Member of the Government, and that in putting the Resolution forward he used the same words as those used in 1891. He said:
I do not wish to put the claim too high, but I would say that it has benefited the workmen without injuring the employers; it has encouraged the good employers and opened Government work to the best class of workmen.
He emphasised, a little later, that
no one proposed that the Government should fix the rate of wages. All that is asked is that the Government should accept as fair wages those rates which prevail in any particular trade: the rate which has been fixed by negotiation by employers and workmen.
So we get away from the idea of paying wages generally accepted as fair, and move forward to the stage where they are fixed by negotiation. That recommendation has proved of the greatest value to our country. The fact that it encouraged the fixing of wages by negotiation has helped to bring about, in Britain, industrial relations between organisations of employers and organisations of their
workers which have put us in the forefront of any country in the world in the matter of industrial relationship. I admit that they might be even better, but, taking them by and large, there is no country which is able to adjust these important matters with the same facility, good spirit and the same decision to adhere to the agreements which have been made.
Following the passing of the 1909 Resolution, the Treasury appointed an Advisory Committee on the Fair Wages Clauses of Government contracts, and officers of the Contracting Departments were members of that Committee. They subsequently recommended that common form of Clause should be put in all Government contracts which embodied the Fair Wages Clause. They also recommended that in a case of contracts not entered into by a Government Department, but, nevertheless, involving the expenditure of public money, or some other consideration granted by a Government Department, the Department concerned should require the insertion in such contracts of Fair Wages Clauses, as recommended, with such modification as might be necessary. This was an indication that Parliament was anxious that the Government, and, therefore the country should not be charged with imposing or permitting conditions to be imposed that were anything like old conditions. Some of us who remember the conditions under which Government contracts were carried out in early days, were happy to think that this assisted in removing those conditions, and bringing about a better standard of Government work.
The Fair Wages Resolution, as Mr. Speaker has just pointed out to the House, is concerned only with Government contracts but in course of time its principle has become applied much more widely. Local authorities generally have adopted the principle; in fact, they have sometimes much improved on the principle. It has also been embodied in many Acts of Parliament which provide assistance to industries or public authorities by way of grants, loans or subsidies. Examples are Acts dealing with sugar, road traffic, London passenger transport, and air navigation. In spite of its improvement, however, and the wider application of publicity given to it, between 1909 and 1939 complaints were still prevalent about the unfair practices of Government contractors. There was a time, within my own recollection in the printing industry, when the fact that a firm was a Government contractor meant that they were paying unfair wages. It was not true of all, but many paying fair wages lost contracts to firms not paying fair wages, with the result that the good firms often cut down their own wages to get their contracts back. So, the reputation of the employer and the standard of life of the worker was injured.
In 1937, following representations as to the need for amendment of the 1909 Resolution in the light of changed circumstances the then Government, a Conservative Government, decided to appoint a Committee to investigate the matter. I would like to point out that the efforts made to secure recognition of the Fair Wages Clause has had the help of all the great Parties of the State, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party and, today, it will have the help of another great Party—the Labour Party. This has never been a party question. Speaking from my own experience of just a few years as a trade union officer, I recognise the great value of the Fair Wages Clause. It has had its defects, but it has helped to raise the standard of industry in general. The Committee which was set up in 1937 had not completed their work when the war broke out. The Government then had something else on their hands, a fight with somebody else. The nation won that fight, and I am hoping that we shall win the fight today, if there is to be a fight, on this question. But enough had been done in that inquiry to enable the Coalition Government to reach agreement with the British Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress on the draft of a new Resolution. There was a tripartite form of industrial negotiation; the three parties got together, and reached agreement on the terms of the Resolution, and following that understanding, I am asking the House to endorse the Resolution today. The terms of the Resolution are set out in the White Paper of 1942, which opens by saying:
It has long been recognised that the existing Fair Wages Resolution of the House of Commons, which was passed in 1909, is not entirely appropriate in the changed circumstances of the present day, and the question of a new Resolution has been under consideration for some time. As a result of discussions between the British Employers' Confederation, Trades Union Congress and the Government, agreement has been reached on the draft of a new Resolution for submission in due
course to the House of Commons for its approval.
I do not want to argue that simply because agreement was reached, this House is bound to accept it, because the House is supreme and has the right to amend it if, by a majority, the House thinks fit to do so. On the other hand, it is an agreement which was reached and which the Coalition Government agreed with the two great industrial organisations, should be recommended to the House for approval. I do not think that the need for the new Resolution will be questioned. Between 1909 and 1942 the principle of collective bargaining and industrial agreement has grown to such an extent that they are now common practice in this country.
I wish briefly to refer to some of the changes that are suggested by the Command Paper. The House will notice that paragraph 1 (a) of the new Resolution provides as follows:
The contractor shall pay rates of wages and observe hours and conditions of labour not less favourable than those established for the trade or industry…by machinery of negotiation or arbitration.
Let us compare that with the old Clause:
The contractor shall pay rates of wages and observe hours of labour not less favourable than those commonly recognised by employers and trade societies.
The new paragraph asks for the recognition of wages established by the machinery of negotiation or arbitration, and not those commonly recognised. There were many loopholes under the latter system. I have seen many an employer dodge through one of those loopholes, and unfortunately he has not been hindered by the officers of the contracting departments, who, at that time, were the persons to whom complaints had to be made.
I have known cases where an employer would argue that, although he was paying 1s. or 2s. less per week to the person performing the work, he was providing that person with a cup of tea in the afternoon, paying him when he was away sick for more than three days, etc., and, by adding all these things up, he argued that, in the main, he was paying not less than the wages commonly recognised in the industry. There was another way in which there was evasion of the Clause, which was not at all uncommon when a firm wanted to obtain a Government contract. I am speaking from my own experience; I would not wish to name the firm, but it is a firm which, from that time onwards and previously, was in very high repute in the printing industry. The employer sent for me, and told me that he could not continue to pay to all the full wages paid to those employed on Government contracts because of the cut in the price of Government contracts, and, therefore, he had to cut the wages of those in the machine room, although he continued to pay the trade union rates to the people feeding the machines. He was told very quickly, in a friendly way, to put the matter right. That is the kind of case which, as my trade union colleagues could tell the House, was not uncommon. The contractor would get the job, pay the rates of wages to those working on the contract, and push them down to lower wages afterwards. The new Fair Wages Clause, I hope, will help to prevent that from being done.
Paragraph 2 makes a very important, new provision in this respect because it says:
the contractor shall in respect of all persons employed by him (whether in execution of the contract or otherwise) in every factory, workshop, or place occupied or used by him for the execution of the contract comply with the general conditions required by this Resolution.
and that he shall give an assurance that
to the best of his knowledge and belief he has complied with the general conditions required by this Resolution for at least the previous three months.
That means that the firm must satisfy the contracting department of the Government that they had in fact paid proper rates of wages before they got the contract; whereas in the past many of them would get the contract, pay the proper rates of wages while the contract was running, and cut down wages after the work was finished. These are very important changes. They are important from the point of view of another part of the Clause to which I shall refer.
Many firms proclaimed themselves to be anti-unionists, and would not permit unionists to work in their shops. They dismissed men and women because they happened to be members of a trade union They were desirous of doing that not only because they wanted to avoid paying the proper rates of wages, but because they knew that trade unionists in a shop were quick to report back to their union and to the Government if the conditions of the contract were not observed; and the employment of non-unionists prevented them from being brought to book in this way.
Paragraph 3 of the Motion provides for the settlement of any question arising out of non-compliance with the terms of the agreement by reference by the Minister of Labour to an independent tribunal for decision. Previously, any question that arose, for example, in the printing industry, would be taken up through the Stationery Office, usually with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, or in any other industry, by the Government Department handling the contract. It is now proposed that this should be dealt with by the Minister of Labour, whose aim is to get agreement, and failing that, refer the matter to some form of arbitration, such as those already existing, to ascertain the facts and ensure that the matter shall be put right.
Paragraph 4 provides that the contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of trade unions. Trade union recognition is one way of ensuring that the terms of the contract are observed, and of bringing complaints if they are not observed. I shall indicate that trade union recognition has been of advantage to this country. It has not injured our industry. It has been of great assistance to the workers concerned, and it is the basis of future prosperity by improvement in production and enabling our country to hold its own in the markets of the world. It is based upon frank and full recognition of the rights of the trade unions to be partners in industrial matters.
Paragraph 5 is a new provision, and it follows the practice observed under the Factory Acts. A copy of the Fair Wages Resolution must be posted up in every factory. I can remember the time when one could only find the Factory Acts posted up in a factory by looking behind a back door in the dirtiest part of the building. The firms who played the game, placed these notices where they could readily be seen by everyone. This is a proposal that the Fair Wages Resolution shall be posted in prominent places in factories carrying out Government contracts.
Paragraph 6 is merely a repetition of what is in fact today an existing principle. The new Resolution is welcomed by all good employers. The British Employers Confederation is a very powerful body which represents practically the whole of our industry. It is a body with whom, together with the T.U.C., it is possible to negotiate under the best terms of good relationship. They welcome this new Resolution. They realise that unless they can secure protection of wages, working hours, and, what is even more important, working conditions, which they have established by agreement with the trade unions, those conditions will be damaged, and their own desire and intention to maintain them will be injured if Government contractors can get away with practices which, in some cases, they are still getting away with.
During the war, by means of a joint consultative committee, the British Employers Confederation, on the one hand, and the T.U.C., on the other, played a most important part, both in advising the Government on major questions of importance on matters of common interest to employers and workers, and also on building up and maintaining the whole system of collective bargaining on which the industrial relations of this country are based. I have seen for myself, in the last few weeks, the industrial relationship in another great country. I do not wish to comment on what is happening there, but I can say without any reflection or criticism of their set-up, that I am satisfied—and I say this with some little experience of industrial activity—that in no other great industrial country is there the same good will between employers' and workers' organisations, industrial organisations jointly—employers and workers—and the Government as exists in this country, where there is real help by the Government to assist these bodies to come to an understanding, without any attempt to impose upon them anything which they cannot accept, or to restrict them in any way.
I am proud, as a Member of this House, of the relationship between industry and the Government, employers and workers, as compared with what I have seen, not for the first time, but in many visits, to that country, and with an intimate knowledge of their set-up and their system and methods of organisation. The joint
association in this country of those two bodies, the British Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress has been, and will continue to be, of incalculable value to industry and to the nation, particularly in the transitional period of reconversion. Collective bargaining depends upon a recognition by each side of the responsibilities which it carries and of the authority of the other. It is based on a mutual confidence and respect, a confidence in the ability of the other to secure the due observance of agreements, and respect for the views which it represents. In introducing this Motion, the Government are fulfilling a pledge given by the Coalition Government, submitted to Parliament in 1942, and backed by both sides of industry. That pledge is set out in the White Paper in these terms:
The Government however accept the view of the Trades Union Congress General Council and the British Employers' Confederation that a statement should be made now of the intention to submit to Parliament at the end of the war a new Resolution which will be in the form set out in the Appendix unless any Amendments are mutually agreed in the meantime.
That was in 1942. It is now 1946. Four years have gone by, and in those four years both sides knew that when the opportune time came the House would be asked to endorse the agreement reached between the Government and industry. There have been no suggestions for amendments. Perhaps it is not quite correct to say that. No definite proposals have been put forward by either party for an amendment. There have been discussions and some suggestions that some words might be altered or some phrases put in a different way. The Joint Consultative Committee is a body of seven workers and seven employers, which was the main Consultative Committee to the Ministry of Labour all through the war. They rendered services the value of which can never really be estimated by the country. The story of that Consultative Committee ought to be told some day. Those 14 men, representing both sides of industry, helped the Government to put over things that would otherwise have been unpopular; they helped industry to do things which otherwise would not have been accepted; and they took responsibilities which many of us would have hesitated to take except in the dire needs of the country. That Consultative Committee have had a chance fairly recently
again to examine these proposals. There were one or two things said about the interpretation of some word or other, consideration as to whether some word could be changed, but in the end it was decided to stand by the bargain made between both sides of industry and with the Government and to ask the House to accept this Motion as submitted, without Amendment. In that spirit I ask the House to accept the Motion. I have tried not to be controversial, but to be as factual as I could in submitting the matter to the House, but the fact is, as was stated by Mr. Sydney Buxton in the early days:
A Government contract is a valuable thing for any firm. It does give them quick returns. There are no bad debts if anybody is owed money by the Government, and the Government contract does form a good advertisement
Any hon. Member who has watched these things will have noticed that any firm which has Government work advertises on its notehead or its workshops, "Contractors to His Majesty's Government." It is a good advertisement. [An HON. MEMBER: "Was."] It still is. It could not have been so good in the old days, otherwise all these Resolutions would not have been passed; and it could not have been quite so good in 1937, otherwise the Conservative Government would not have suggested a court of inquiry to investigate it. This Motion is a piece of collective bargaining, such as we are told is the right thing to do in the Trade Union movement. An agreement has been reached between the parties. When in the Trade Union movement we enter into negotiations with employers and secure terms which we take back to our members, it is quite frequently easier to secure terms from the employers than it is to get the members of the Trade Unions to accept those terms when they are taken back to them. It is the duty of those who go back to say, "We have undertaken to recommend this to you for your acceptance; and unless you can show really good cause why it should not be accepted, we ask you to carry out the undertaking we have given on your behalf."
This is something that emerged from the Coalition Government. I was not a Member of the Government at that time, but I was a Member of the House during that period, and among the many good things that came out of the Coalition Government, I think this is one of the good things. I hope the House will adopt this Motion, in the spirit of the pledge that was given in the White Paper, without Amendment, because the parties have not desired any amendment. We shall then be able to start off again with a new Fair Wages Clause which certainly is not perfect, but which is better than those we have had before, and it may last a few years before we need to bring it up again.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is to be congratulated on the manner and spirit in which he has presented this Motion to the House. I think that, broadly, the Motion is in conformity with the general wish of the House, and represents the last stage of a very long tradition of plans and Clauses of this kind.
I think that perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, will allow me for a moment to digress and to make some kind of formal welcome to the right hon. Gentleman on his return to the House and the country after his long absence We who live in the first period of the Socialist Utopia, and find it necessary to stay in this country, cannot help sometimes being rather amused at the extraordinary anxiety of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to get out of it on every possible occasion. Whether on private business or amusement, whether at private or public expense, whether on the business of their own Departments or of some other Department they seem to flit away from these Islands with the most extraordinary pertinacity. [Interruption.] I did it in the nature of my own office. If I may be allowed to continue, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman because, although his absence was prolonged, it was on the service, in a kind of detached way, of his own Department. What was amazing was the number he took away with him. This movement was almost on a patriarchal scale. We felt alarmed lest it might not be a matter of consultation but almost of colonisation. However, we are happy to see him back. During his absence, one or two things have happened—some of them regarding the trade of which he spoke to us today, of which he has so long a knowledge, and of which he is so justly proud. We had a difficulty which he was able—I think the expression is—to avoid, if not evade, in dealing with that problem. The period during which the printing trade was working at halfcock did not have any serious effect, except upon the Government themselves, because now that about 95 per cent. of the printing trade, other than newspapers, is engaged on printing forms, when it refuses to work overtime it does not cause any grave anxiety to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House or indeed anywhere.
We welcome this Motion. [Interruption.] There is no harm in a little chaffing in the House before we get down to real business. As the right hon. Gentleman has reminded us, this Motion has a very old and respectable origin. He went back to Mr. Sydney Buxton's words in 1891 when that gentleman moved a similar Motion, and he referred also to the period when, I think, the Resolution was first voted and carried by a Government in the Debate of 1909 in the time of Mr. Asquith's Government. That is a long time ago and that is its very respectable origin. At that time my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was, I believe, President of the Board of Trade.
I think most of the hon. Gentlemen opposite were Liberals then, except those who are now peers. Speaking in that Debate—although perhaps it might be more relevant to the later stages of the present discussion—Mr. Buxton, whose speech I have also looked up, made some very interesting and admirable observations. One of them was as follows:
When the late Liberal Government was in power I myself, on their behalf, gave the undertaking that an employer should not make it a condition of employment that he will only employ non-unionists. That is not a fair position for any Government contractor to take up. I am prepared to repeat for the present Government the pledge I gave to the late Liberal Government in advance.
So, even then there was some controversy about the terms of the Resolution but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have made very good progress. There are some points to which we shall come at a later stage in the Debate but under the broad principle of the Fair Wages Clause, in one form or another, it has
been for nearly 40 years now the established law of the land that the Government, in placing their contracts, should conform to the best established traditions of private industry. The Government can never be the best employers; they are always bad employers, and I will tell the House why. Because in industry one has always to be able to do something that is outside the regulations, and the Government can never do that. Hon. Members know how much of our time we spend, whatever Government is in power, in trying to deal with the cases of those of our constituents who either just come into, or are just ruled out of, getting some benefit or other, because of Government regulations. A Government, of whatever category, in the national interest and as part of its duties, has to enforce precisely and correctly the regulations of an Act of Parliament under which it functions, but of course private industry can always do that little bit extra. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that the best private firms in this country—in fact I would say the vast majority—make concessions and do many things for the workmen in their employ which could not possibly be done in a highly organised system like the Government service which is ruled by precise and accurate regulations. That is only common sense. Therefore, I say the Government can never be the best employers. But in placing their buying power—and this is the story behind this Resolution—they should see that they do so only with the best employers and that they do not use their contracting power to do down the better employer and to get better prices from the bad employer.
The story behind this Clause is interesting and, today, almost incredible, because there was a time when the Treasury forced so stringent an economy upon Departments that it was the Departments which were seeking always to find the little undercutting employer as a contractor. It was not the fault of the great contractors, or of the mass of industry, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree. It was the Treasury Bench, the people inside the Treasury, who were always scraping to see whether they could obtain some small advantage by placing their contracts at some slightly lower price with second or third rate contractors. Therefore this Clause was the protector, certainly of the standard of living of the workers, but also of the standards of competence and honour of industry as a whole. Now, of course, it seems incredible to us since, as always happens during war and the aftermath of war, that battle no longer rages. As I understand it, the object of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in other Departments is to place their contracts not at the lowest possible prices but at the highest possible prices, and to sec that subsidies and prices rise to such a vast extent that nothing will ever keep them down. For the moment, therefore, this Clause is not very important, but the time may come when the bubble is broken, when we shall have some new economy drive—originating, no doubt, from the Bench on which the right hon. Gentleman sits since that is the usual tradition—with the Treasury trying to cut down the expenditure of Departments by forcing them to take contracts brought down somehow or another to the lowest possible figure. When that happens this Motion which the right hon. Gentleman has moved today will no doubt be, as it was intended to be by those who framed it 40 years ago, once again the great protection of the standard of life of the mass of the wage earning classes and of the long built up traditions of cooperation between industry, both from the employing and from the working side, to which the right hon. Gentleman has paid such a generous tribute.
There are, as I say, certain points which will arise at a later stage. The right hon. Gentleman reminded us, with the generosity which we are accustomed to expect from him, that this particular new form of the Clause comes from the Government White Paper of 1942. Like many other good things which have come to fruition in this Parliament, it dates from the great Coalition Government, like the Beveridge Scheme, family allowances, the Industrial Accidents Act, and the great education advance. It is interesting to think of that. In 1942 there were other matters upon our minds and upon the minds of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. Not all of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues; some were only concerned to subvert and bring down the Government and do everything they could to damage the interests of this country. But most of us were thinking how we could, somehow or other, by the greatest possible exertion of our joint united effort, survive the war and take the defensive to push back the enemy and see before us, after perhaps three, four, five, six or even more years, final victory. Yet in that very year, under I think Sir Kingsley Wood, who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the co-ordinating Department responsible for these affairs, this White Paper was drawn up. General agreement was reached within that Government and, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us, within the various interested parties, and I think it is a great tribute to this nation that at such a time, and under such conditions, thought could have been given to prepare for this day, four years later when, the right hon. Gentleman—and I envy him while at the same time I admire him and offer him all good will—has the opportunity of introducing this Measure today.
In recommending it to the House he has paid a most excellent tribute to the industrial life that we have hammered out, somehow or another, in our traditional British way. He told us, in phrases which will certainly be remembered, how far ahead we stand, and I think we are right in claiming that we are ahead of other countries in the world in the agreeable methods we have adopted and adapted for the working of our industrial relations. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that we are far ahead in this country of any other country in the world, because we have reached this system of partnership in industry. After their long struggle, the trade unions are recognised as partners in industry. I would like to insist upon the right hon. Gentleman's word "partner," not "servant" and not "master." In well-chosen, indeed moving, phrases the right hon. Gentleman, who has been for long associated with the industry with which I have some slight connection, spoke of those happy relationships, of this great body of tradition, of case law and practice, which have been built up on the two sides of industry. I could not help contrasting what he said with some of the phrases which have put the right hon. Gentleman and his friends where they are now. That is not the kind of thing they say on the street corners and at violent election meetings. I observed when he used those well-balanced and sensible phrases that there was very little support from hon. Members behind him.
I welcome in broad terms this charter. True, it is 40 years old and it does not go very much further. I would like to add more things to it. Still, for what it is, and in its new form, although it does not move us very much further, it carries on a tradition. It puts it forward in new language, agreed language, which had its origin in the very worst period of the war. For my part, I and my Friends welcome—
The difference is that we perform our promises, and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not. I was saying that I and my Friends welcome both the Motion and the courteous and inspired terms in which the right hon. Gentleman moved it.
First, let me say how surprised I am to be called on to speak immediately after the spokesman of the Opposition. I should like to make some comments on the speech of the Minister. It was right that the right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Motion, should indicate that it was initiated in 1942 in the days of the Coalition Government. It is also right that those who oppose the Government should understand that the Coalition Government came about, not by their desire but by the desire of the common people at that period. The Labour Party took its place in the Government in 1940, and the Coalition Government of 1942, which took the initial steps in this matter, was not there by any desire of the Conservative Party, which backed Mr. Chamberlain to the very end. It was there by the desire of members of this side of the House.
Secondly, when the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) spoke of partnership in industry, he did not use that expression in the same sense as did the Minister of Labour. I did not underestimate the expression used by the Minister of Labour. For many years, as the Minister pointed out, it has been a paying proposition for contractors to work for Government Departments, because they have had a guarantee of constant work, very often lasting for a long time. That was very important from the point of view of production. An instance which occurred to my mind, was connected with the report we had a few months ago relating to a firm on the Great West Road, London. That firm was enabled to make enormous profits as a result of having Government contracts. They were able to turn out goods of consistently high quality and to increase productivity. Therefore, the existence of that partnership is valuable to a contracting firm in those circumstances.
What partnership exists, however, between the hotel proprietors, say, at the Savoy and the Carlton, and their employees? There is no partnership there, because, in the opinion of the hotel proprietors, it would not pay them. The owners of industry, whether of hotels or engineering concerns, are prepared to accept partnership with the workers when they think it pays them. Let us understand that fact. I do not wish to follow the right hon. Gentleman opposite in a number of digressions which he made, for instance, about the touring of Ministers all over the world, but I would like to hear what improvements he would like to make in the Motion. Hon. Members on this side of the House have put down Amendments aimed at improving the Motion. I gave very careful attention to what the Minister said. I recognise that agreement has been reached between employers' and workers' organisations. Nevertheless, we are the ultimate employers, and we have the right to improve the Fair Wages Clause if we see fit to do so. To this end I would like to make one or two suggestions.
In line 16 of the Motion, and subsequently, there are expressions with regard to the execution of the contracts. I suggest that those expressions are anomalous and contradictory. They are anomalous in this sense. If a Government Department places an order, say, with an engineering or shipbuilding firm, how is it possible for it to be sure that the particular part of the work executed by that firm for the Government shall be under these rules? Some other work, perhaps being done on the same floor, or at the next bench, or even the next lathe, may not be subject to those rules. I believe that anomaly must be obvious to everyone. Perhaps the Minister—or whoever is to answer for the Department—will be good enough to tell us why the trade union side have not pointed out this position, and asked for the expression to be removed.
The Motion is contradictory in another sense. Part of paragraph 2 reads as follows:
Before a contractor is placed upon a department's list of firms to be invited to tender, the department shall obtain from him an assurance that to the best of his knowledge and belief he has complied with the general conditions required by this Resolution for at least the previous three months.
How would this work out in practice? Suppose a firm employing 2,000 workers wish to comply with these conditions. They have to do so for three months before they are put upon the Government's list. That means that they have to comply constantly with the conditions, and that the whole of the firm have to comply. They are not to know which section of the firm will work on the Government contract when that contract is allotted. Therefore, the last part of the paragraph is contradictory and I ask the Minister to withdraw the phrases to which I have referred, or to give an adequate explanation for maintaining them.
The other suggestion I have for improving the Motion is in connection with paragraph 4. I believe this is not adequately treated. It reads:
The contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of Trade Unions.
I do not claim to have had the experience other hon. Members, notably the Minister of Labour himself, have had, in the trade union field, but I have had some experience and I can quote more than one firm which recognises a trade union, that is to say, raises no objection to workmen becoming members of a union, but still will not negotiate with the union officials, and certainly not with the union's factory committee. The right of organisation in a trade union as such, cannot be adequate unless with it goes the right of the workers to be represented in negotiation with the employer, and the Fair Wages Clause should include that duty on the part of the employers. In this I should have the support of every trade union member in this House and likewise the leading trade union officials outside. I wonder why the trade unions have not pressed this point. It may be said that they were, perhaps, compromising in another matter pressed by the other side, in which case it would be
unfair if this House were not informed of how the compromise was reached. In the absence of such information, I must ask the Minister to give attention to this point, and I and others would be very pleased indeed if he could see his way to include it. If he feels he would like to consider the matter further that can be agreed to, with the good will of the House.
This Motion could have gone much further. The terms of the Motion put down by the Minister relate only in a general aspect to pay and conditions comparable with those in the industry. The Minister himself said that many a local authority has gone much beyond this, and has insisted on trade unionism in its employers. We have not insisted on that. It would have been a wiser and more adequate step at this first stage of Socialism—I do not use that phrase in the same manner as the right hon. Member for Bromley—had the Minister gone as far as that. As he has not seen fit to do so, I hope he will include the proposition I have made.
I beg to move, in line 26, to leave out "Trade Unions," and to insert "any Trade Union."
Like the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, whose vigorous speech I enjoyed, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), I naturally treat with the greatest respect the agreement reached by all parties in 1942 which was embodied in the White Paper, and, needless to say, I generally welcome the Amendments to the Fair Wages Clauses which the right hon. Gentleman proposes. Nevertheless, I ventured to put this Amendment on the Order Paper.
Had this Amendment been brought to the notice of the negotiating parties in 1942, it would, I think, have been treated by them as a drafting Amendment and would, I believe, have been accepted. I do not believe that at that date it would have occurred to anybody that by that Amendment I was doing anything except making the matter clear in a way that all the parties would have desired that it should be made clear. The assertion of trade union rights that was then contemplated was not, I am perfectly certain, the right of any employer to dictate to a worker to what trade union that worker should belong, but events that have occurred subsequently make it very desirable that we should place the matter beyond any doubt. The new factors that have occurred are the passage into law of the repeal of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act of 1927 and the subsequent action, made possible but not made certain by the Repeal, which was taken by the London Passenger Transport Board, and has given rise to the fear of similar action in a great number of other cases.
What we have to consider in this Motion, as Mr. Speaker pointed out, is the Government contract. As the Minister of Labour so wisely said, and everybody has agreed with him, the placing of Government contracts itself gives the Government power to cause employers who hope to get these contracts to adopt high standards of work and wages and conditions of employment. It is admittedly one of the great chances that this House has of encouraging good practice and discouraging bad practice. If, therefore, the practice of the closed shop—and I promise the right hon. Gentleman I shall not be lacking in definition of what I mean—is a bad practice, it is important that this House should discourage it by the terms of the Fair Wages Clauses. I say first, therefore, that my Amendment is a clarifying Amendment. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman's advisers will tell him that it does or does not alter the meaning of the Motion—[Interruption]. The hon. Member, who can never wait for the next sentence, will have the opportunity to speak later, but at the moment I have the attention of the Members of the House, other than himself, and I am making my speech in my own way. If the words of my Amendment are adopted in the Clauses, at least this is clear, that any contractor who does what the London Passenger Transport Board has recently done cannot hope for a Government contract—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]. That is the effect of my Amendment. That may be good or bad, but that is true. What I wonder is whether those who speak from the Front Bench on the other side will say that that is or is not the effect of their Motion as it stands. If it is the effect, they will not mind accepting a clarifying Amendment. If it is not, then this party will know exactly what it is dividing on when it goes to a Division.
I understand—I can only speak by way of anticipation of the Government's reply—from their inspired newspapers, of which there are a very great number, that the Government are going to adopt an attitude of complete neutrality in this matter. I do not know whether that is true or not. At any rate, it is a change because when a recent Bill, now an Act, was before the House, the right hon. Gentleman was anything but neutral on this matter. These are his words:
If a local authority gets the power of saying they desire their workers to belong to a trade union, it is only sense that they should be able to say which unions they should join."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1946; Vol. 419. c. 300.]
To him it seems perfectly natural that the employers should dictate to the men what trade union they should join. We think this is an outrage on liberty. On the further occasion when this matter is debated, if not today, the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) will make his contribution. On that particular matter—and I only bring in the action of this particular body because it shows what we shall meet generally, no doubt, unless the House uses this opportunity to cause different practices to prevail—the Government also showed what they thought of the merits of the dispute in London Transport by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour referring to the men who belonged to the smaller trade union as members of a "scab union." Whether the Government will try to be neutral today or not, they were not neutral then, and it is quite clear that they cannot be neutral; that there are some matters of such importance to all the workers in this country that the Government must make clear where they stand.
Let me make perfectly clear what the practice is that I condemn, and against which my Amendment is directed. It is not a question of whether all men employed shall belong to a trade union; whatever the merits of that particular question, they are not raised by my Amendment. If my Amendment is adopted, there is nothing to stop any employer insisting that all his men shall belong to a trade union. That is the first point I ask hon. Members to consider who wish to do justice to this important subject—and I believe whatever view is taken, those who are connected with trade union matters, at any rate, realise it is an important subject. The second point I want to make clear is that I am not laying down any condition whatsoever about what trade union shall be recognised in negotiations, or with whom agreements shall be made. It is perfectly possible, though two trade unions or more may have members in the same grade of an industry, that the employers only recognise one for the purpose of negotiations. Where that is so, there is nothing in my Amendment to interfere with that practice.
I now come to the third point, against which my Amendment is directed. It is that the employer shall not be entitled to say, if he wishes to get a Government contract, "I shall decide that all my men shall belong to one union which I name and to that union alone. Any man who does not belong to that union cannot get his living in my shop at any rate, and, if my business happens to be a monopoly, he cannot get it in the industry at all." That is the thing against which my Amendment is directed. Let me remind hon. and right hon. Members opposite just how great a threat to human liberty that particular evil can be. Hon. Members, if they are humane, and I give them credit for that, may well say that in certain industries you have a trade union which is so obviously the trade union in that shop that the other which calls itself a trade union is not really a bona fide trade union at all, and that therefore there is a strong case for requiring the men to join the big trade union which is recognised in negotiations with the employers. When this argument is put forward to the public in speeches and articles, it is always suggested that any man who wishes to join that trade union is able to do so. However, that does not follow in the least. The big trade union retains an absolute right to refuse a man on any grounds, and without giving any reason. If, for instance, they do not like his politics, there is nothing to stop them refusing that man, nothing whatever. In the case of the London Passenger Transport Board, to give it as an illustration, the statement published by the employers referred to the understanding—
that an opportunity will be given to all non-members of the Transport and General Workers' Union to join that Union,
but, at the delegate meeting about two days afterwards, this resolution was passed by the delegates of that great trade union:
Membership of the Transport and General Workers' Union shall remain open to non-members at the discretion of the area passenger group Committee of the Union.
[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] I am delighted to hear cheers from hon. Members opposite; it shows that they are under no misapprehension as to what is involved. What is involved is that the employers can say to their men, "Either you join the union or you cease to earn your living in the industry—if it is a monopoly—or in the shop, if it is not a monopoly—but you have no right whatsoever to enter that union if the union does not like you." If you happen to be a well-known Conservative and they do not like your politics, then they can convert you into an industrial outlaw by saying, "As far as we are concerned, you can starve." I do not know how many hon. Members opposite, proud trade unionists, are proud of such a claim, but what I do know is that the party to which I belong will resist it, and so will everybody who calls himself a Liberal and has any liberalism in him whatsoever; and those parties between them, even at the time of the General Election, commanded the majority of the electors.
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman one question? Can he cast his mind back to 1944 when the Coalition Government introduced Regulation IAA? And does he remember what that entailed and did he not support it? Was it not five years' penal servitude for three or more workers to suggest not working except at a properly convened trade union meeting, and did he not support it? Was not that the "closed shop"? [Interruption.]
I thought the hon. Gentleman wanted to ask me a question; I did not realise that he did not wish me to reply. As he does not wish me to reply, of course I will not. If he changes his mind and would like me to reply, I would say that while a discussion on Regulation IAA would be out of Order, I cannot remember, without looking up the circumstances, what they were. I certainly will look it up, but my recollection is that IAA was only a temporary Regulation and not part of our permanent law. As part of our permanent law, certainly I should have been right to object to it.
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I understand that Mr. Speaker has already ruled earlier today that this is a very narrow Debate. I have been looking at the terms of the Motion and at the Amendment, and I understand that the Amendment proposes to leave out the words "Trade Unions"—you will notice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that is in the plural—and to substitute the words "any Trade Union." The hon. and learned Gentleman has already suggested that it is really a drafting Amendment and if that is so, can it possibly be in Order to raise all these highly interesting but very controversial questions with which the hon. and learned Gentleman is now dealing?
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have never yet succeeded in making a speech without an attempt being made from that quarter to suppress me, but I still go on optimistically, and the rest of the House is generally good enough to listen. It is not in the least necessary, in the practice against which I am directing this Amendment, that the union objected to by what I may call the big or predominant union should be what is known as a "splinter" union. It may be a union, as in a recent case we know of, which has been recognised as the union in the grades concerned for many years, and not in any sense a "splinter" union. I am well aware that both from the point of view of the employed, and the employer, it may often be very convenient that one union should represent all the men. That is quite obvious. Many em- ployers, and many trade unionists, say so. The question is not whether the thing would be convenient if it came about voluntarily, but whether it is tolerable in a civilised society that we should bring that result about by compulsion, by saying to a man, "Either you join a union which you may detest, of the management, principles, and methods of which you may disapprove, or you clear out." How far that is justifiable is the question that really ought to be considered.
There are good reasons why a man might object to joining a particular trade union. He may even take a different view on questions of output which in his view border on morals. To him the union's limitation of output may seem contrary to the national interest. He may not wish to belong to a trade union which insists on such a limitation. There may be many reasons, reasons which may be good or bad, but they are his reasons. If we deprive him of the ability to follow his reasons we are exercising tyranny, and doing something outrageous to a free man. A matter which strikes me as a little extraordinary is the pure humbug of the argument that is being put forward—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—by hon. Members opposite. I do not know why they have now ceased to cheer.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) may become coherent at almost any moment, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will give way to him. The argument that is humbug is the suggestion that the closed shop, in the sense in which I have described it, is justified because it would avoid unofficial strikes. That argument is pure, unadulterated humbug. So far from it being true that unofficial strikes are discouraged by one big union and by the closed shop, it is precisely among the unions seeking a closed shop that the unofficial strikes are most frequent.
No, Sir, except to this extent, that by the words of the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Motion, and of subsequent speakers, the object of the Fair Wages Clauses is to see that people who have Government contracts adopt the best practices. The question is whether a closed shop is a good practice. I do not think there is anything between us, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I certainly do not mean to enter into any of the details, but I wish to say why I think this is a bad practice—
On a point of Order. The hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) is moving a very narrow Amendment and is making a long speech upon no point at all. I want to point out to you, Sir, that there is no difference whatever between the words "trade unions" as they stand in the Motion and "trade union" as proposed in the Amendment.
I can assure the hon. and learned Member that I have no desire to suppress him. I think he is on an interesting point. But I think the House may fairly claim to be entitled to know from you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether discussion of the closed shop is in Order, or not, on this Amendment. I feel sure it will not be in Order for the hon. and learned Member to discuss it, if other hon. Members are not to discuss it. I have already submitted to you, Sir—and I am afraid I did not quite follow what your Ruling was—that these questions of the closed shop and liberty of trade unions, and all that kind of thing, cannot possibly arise on this Amendment.
Whatever may be arguable about what is in Order on this Amendment, I should have thought that in the interests of the Government there should not be an unofficial strike in a shop engaged on a Government contract. The one question I am raising is whether my Amendment would guard against unofficial strikes. That surely must be in Order.
These matters relate only to Government contracts. I understand that that is Mr. Speaker's Ruling. Secondly, we cannot have a general discussion on the closed shop. That may arise incidentally, and in passing, on this Amendment, but no more than that and similarly with unofficial strikes. I would also point out to the hon. and learned Member that all the Motion says is that the contractor should recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of a trade union. There is nothing I see there about compulsion.
I quite agree, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but my Amendment substitutes the words "any trade union." My Amendment makes it absolutely clear that compulsion cannot be exercised by the employer—[Interruption.] I am making my own speech. I am making it quite clear that if my Amendment is accepted, it will be quite impossible for any Government contractor to do what the London Passenger Transport Board has done. If my Amendment is not accepted, it remains dubious. Whoever is to reply to the Debate should make it clear whether my Amendment does make a difference. If it does not make a difference, no doubt they will accept it, because it clarifies the position. If it does make a difference, they should say so. But I will say to that part of the House which has generously listened to me that I should long since have finished my speech but for the points of Order. On this point of unofficial strikes, is it not quite obvious that if a great trade union finds difficulty in having its leadership obeyed by those who have joined it voluntarily, it will have much more difficulty when its ranks are increased by those who have been forced to join it by compulsion? I rejoice greatly that the Trades Union Congress has not yet committed itself on this subject. I trust that it will reflect on this Debate and study the Division list if this matter has to go to a Division.
Let us see where we shall be led if the practice against which my Amendment is directed should be made general. It will be possible for a man to change his name, it will be possible for a man to change his address; for some time still he will be able to change his doctor. He can change his religion; at rare intervals he may change his grocer; in extreme cases he may change his wife, but never in any circumstances may he change his trade union. Do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have studied the history of trade unionism really desire, or think that the history of trade unionism—
What a pity the hon. Member rose to ask that question. Had he only kept quiet, every one present would have thought that he understood what was taking place in this Chamber. This is not merely a trivial matter. Unless we discourage the practice, as we can discourage it by passing this Amendment, and insisting that in Government contracts at any rate we give a good example, it will become possible in this country for a man to become an industrial outlaw.
I ask the House to consider my Amendment from three aspects. Let them consider it from the point of view of the individual, the liberty of the citizen, which I have already discussed as much as I propose to do, and which I believe they will see is deeply involved in this Amendment. I ask them to think of the reputation of trade unionism. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is himself one who has given devoted service to trade unionism, and he knows as well as anybody here that bullying or coercion can do great injury to trade unionism, which has grown up and grown strong by its power to attract free men, not by its power to coerce the unwilling. Lastly, let me say—and this is very relevant to the state of affairs we have today, when the number of Government contracts is greatly increasing, and when the number of Government monopolies is increasing—that if the tendency is always to be one union and one union only, and always a diminishing number of unions, is there not some danger that we will get to the state of one great union or a labour front? Those who are far sighted already see the danger that the T.U.C. itself may become either a power overriding this House or, what to trade unionists is just as bad, a power in alliance with and subservient to the Government that is employing them.
Those are the alternatives with which we may be faced. The objection to the small union is very often not that it is a splinter union but that it is not affiliated to the T.U.C. To object to a man belonging to a union on that ground is tyrannical, because the T.U.C, by its constitution, is committed to political purposes and political aims which do not command universal assent but only the support of one party. Let me, in conclusion, express the view I have expressed elsewhere. I say that the objections to the tyranny against which my Amendment is directed are both moral and practical. Not only is tyranny wrong but it will not produce the results which its advocates claim The trade union that waxes large, not by its ability to attract free men to its ranks, but by its ability to make membership the condition on which they may be allowed to earn their livelihood, will find that it has lost in influence more than it has gained in numbers. What is more, it will find that having destroyed the freedom of others it will not long be free. Neither a free society nor a Socialist State could leave such monopolies uncontrolled.
I beg to second the Amendment.
The great experience which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has as a trade union negotiator, as well as the responsibilities of his present most important office, will, I am sure, lead him to welcome the opportunity for clarification which has been given by the moving of this Amendment. It is manifest from some of the interjections from hon. Members opposite, that there is a perfectly genuine cleavage of opinion as to the precise meaning of paragraph 4 of the Resolution which the right hon. Gentleman has moved. It is perfectly obvious that some hon. Members are of the opinion that paragraph 4, as it stands, has the same effect as the words of the Amendment. It is equally obvious that some other hon. Members, equally sincerely, are of the other opinion.
It will surely be accepted, even by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), that it is highly desirable that there should be no ambiguity on this subject. It would obviously lead to the gravest consequences in the industrial sphere, if any doubt whatever were left in the minds of any of the people concerned as to the precise meaning of a Fair Wages Resolution passed by this House. I am certain that hon. Members will accept that proposition, and it is surely necessary for the right hon. Gentleman, or the Parliamentary Secretary, at the earliest possible stage of the Debate on this Amendment, to tell the House whether, in the opinion of the Minister's advisers, this Amendment makes any difference or not. If the right hon. Gentleman tells the House that it makes no difference, then, in view of the admitted ambiguity, he will presumably accept the Amendment. If his view is that it does make a difference, it is surely incumbent upon him to tell the House whether it is the intention of the Government to make the closed shop possible in the works of contractors engaged on Government contracts. Those contractors and the trade unions themselves are entitled to an answer. I hope that the House will not be treated to the evasions on this issue of which the right hon. Gentleman was guilty last Thursday. I hope that in the interval he has had the opportunity to study the precise meaning of the phrase which last Thursday he dismissed as an American term introduced into this country to embarrass the Government. One would have thought that, of all Ministers, the right hon. Gentleman would at the moment be in the best possible position fully to understand the meanings of American terms. At any rate, I hope we shall not be treated this afternoon to those evasions.
I am in this difficulty. I do not know any more than my hon. and learned Friend which attitude the Government intend to adopt. As, if they adopt the one, they will accept the Amendment, I can only take the line of arguing on the basis that they will take the view that they propose to permit the closed shop in the works of contractors working on Government contracts. It is very important that the House, if that is right, should appreciate the consequences. I appreciate that I should not be in Order were I to discuss, or attempt to discuss, the general merits of the closed shop. On the other hand, it is perfectly clear—[Interruption]—I have no doubt, Sir, you will be able to conduct this Debate without the intermittent assistance of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. It is important that the House should discuss this matter on its merits and without prejudice. The perfectly clear issue is not whether it is desirable for all members of the staff of any particular contractor to be members of one union or not. I am more than willing to concede to hon. Members opposite that, in many cases, that is highly desirable and makes for smooth working. The issue is far more important than that. It is whether it is legitimate to use compulsion, to use a kind of conscription to compel that state of affairs, and to face men working at their trade with the alternative of joining a union which they do not like, or the sack.
That is the issue, and it is one which it is incumbent upon the right hon. Gentleman to face squarely and honestly. If he intends to tell the House that he welcomes and will encourage that attitude on the part of Government contractors, who, as he has rightly said, should set an example in the industrial field, then it is right that the House should know that. With all the sincerity of which I am capable, I press the right hon. Gentleman to tell us one way or the other. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen behind him have fully appreciated the nature of compulsion which the imposition of the closed shop involves. Many hon. Members opposite, I am sure with the greatest sincerity, have protested with great vigour against the imposition of military conscription even at the time of the gravest national emergency. I ask those hon. Members to search their consciences and to reflect whether that compulsion which they deprecated in those circumstances, is justifiable merely for the sake of possible smoothness in the running of factories and works.
It was with pleasant surprise that I observed in the last few days a statement, by no less a person than the chairman of the Independent Labour Party that he regarded the imposition of this closed shop as a tyranny. That leads me to hope that hon. Members opposite will approach the problem with the same fairness and judgment—
On a point of Order. You have ruled, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the discussion of the general principle of the closed shop is out of Order. The reference made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) to the statement by the chairman of the Independent Labour Party was definitely a reference to the closed shop in general, and not merely related to Government contracts. I suggest that the submission made by the hon. Member is out of Order.
If the statement to which the hon. Member referred was a general statement not restricted to Government contracts it was, of course, not relevant and was out of Order.
Lacking as I do the capacity for clairvoyance which the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Haworth) no doubt possesses, I do not know whether Mr. Edwards, in making the statement to which I have referred, intended to refer directly to Government contracts or to the closed shop in general. In any event, I did not intend to pursue that matter further. I introduced it solely in the hope of suggesting to hon. Members opposite that they might also adopt a similar sense of fairness and justice in approaching this problem. I hope the hon. Member who appears to pay so much attention to the observations of Mr. Edwards will follow his excellent example in this Debate.
I have far too great a respect for your firmness in the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to attempt the task. I know better than the hon. Member opposite that it would be a task impossible to achieve. Hon. Members opposite are faced, so far as Government contracts are concerned, with the square issue of compulsion. Are they prepared, so far as Government contracts are concerned, for the use of compulsion to compel men to join unions which they do not wish to join? That is the issue raised upon this Amendment. It is one upon which I welcome a conflict. The Conservative Party have no reason to be ashamed of their attitude towards trade unions and trade unionism. It was the Conservative Party who freed the unions of the risk of legal action preventing strike action. It is with the knowledge that the Conservative Party have always stood for the liberty of the ordinary trade unionist to do what is right, no matter what certain union bosses may desire, that I have very great pleasure in seconding the Amendment.
Far from intending to call it in question, I was, on the contrary, in a humble way intending to offer my gratitude and to express the great pleasure I had in being present on that occasion with those two hon. Gentlemen who are members of the most closed shop which ever existed. I never saw a more closed shop in all my life. So far from the compulsion of employers being involved, the whole compulsion of the State is involved not merely in an industry but in two separate departments of the industry; so that if the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved this Amendment were to attempt to carry out the functions of my profession, actually the criminal law would be invoked. These are the hon. and learned Gentlemen who presume to invite the House to comment on the tyranny of compelling people in an industry to belong to one trade union. How many trade unions are there in the profession to which the hon. Gentleman belongs? There are four Inns of Court, but only one Bar Council. You can choose the Inn to which you may belong, but you cannot choose which union, and that is all. I hope I shall not be misunderstood if I say that for people who make their living in an industry fully and completely protected, from any competition, by the sanction of the criminal law, to make the plea that has been made in this House today is complete, sheer, insincere humbug, designed only to make political capital, and with the same ineffectiveness which characterises every attempt that comes from hon. Members opposite. In so far as the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke first from the Opposition Benches is concerned, I hope he will not think it impertinent of me if I advise him to remember in future, when talking about these matters, that it is extremely ineffective to adopt a fighting attitude when one does not intend to fight.
I do not know that anybody ever complained of my unwillingness to fight. I am bound to say that, were it not for the efforts of half-a-dozen of us on this side of the House, there would be no Opposition at all. How does this question come to arise on this Amendment at all? I have heard both the hon. Gentlemen say repeatedly that the question of the closed shop, at any rate in factories working on Government contracts, is raised by this Amendment. I cannot see it. The hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment, as well as the hon. Gentleman who seconded it, never made up their own minds whether they were moving some Amendment of principle, or a drafting Amendment. They continually challenged the Government to say whether they thought that acceptance of the Amendment would make any difference to the Motion. I would invite them to say so, and I am perfectly prepared to sit down and allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to interrupt me, on condition that he answers my question clearly. Will he tell the House exactly what he invites the House to believe would be the difference in the operation of this Motion, if the Amendment were carried?
If I were allowed to do so, I could certainly do so. If our Amendment is carried, it becomes quite obvious, in my submission, that any employer who did what the London Passenger Transport Board has recently done—[Interruption.] Well, does the hon. Gentleman want an answer or not? My submission is that, if my Amendment were adopted, it would become clearly impossible for any employer who did what the London Passenger Transport Board recently did to hope for any Government contracts. If my Amendment is not adopted, it will remain wholly obscure whether that is the case or not, and it may be a matter of a great deal of dispute, which might be useful to the hon. Gentleman's profession and to mine, but will not be in the public interest.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to assure him that I heard him say that the first time? I have since heard him say it for the 19th and 27th times during his speech. Now I have heard him say it twice more. But the hon. and learned Gentleman has never yet attempted to show me how this Amendment, if adopted, will alter a single word. I doubt whether the hon. and learned Gentleman has read his own Amendment. The Motion, in Clause 4, says:
The contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of Trade Unions.
What is ambiguous about that? There is nothing about tyranny or compulsion there. It is the safeguard of his freedom to join, not a particular trade union, but trade unions, as it is in the plural and not the singular. That is to say, a contractor, with regard to his employees in pursuance of a Government contract, shall recognise their freedom to belong to any trade union—to trade unions, one or more. I could quite understand the point of the hon. and learned Gentleman if the "s" were omitted. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that those who negotiated in 1942, were not alive to the point that has now arisen? Is it a new thing? Is it that we have been waiting until the hon. and learned Member was in Opposition before it became necessary? How is it that we heard nothing of this between 1942 and 1946? How was it that his right hon. Friends who lead the Opposition on this occasion, have not signed his Amendment? How is it that they do not support his Amendment?
If it really means that the Conservative Party in this House now proposes to accede to the injunctions given at Blackpool to be more effective in Opposition by some hon. Members voting in the opposite Lobby and some not voting at all, I think they will be in for a hot time at the next Conservative Conference. It is quite possible that all those great industrial leaders who negotiated this proposal in 1942 were blind to their own interests. It is quite possible that they did not know anything like as much about the working of factories and industries as the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment. Of course, it is possible, but I shall take a lot of convincing that it was so.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is not-nearly as innocent as he pretends. He knew perfectly well, and they knew perfectly well in 1942, that the Trades Unions Act of 1927 was in issue. We have made that perfectly clear ever since 1927. It must not be thought that, when we did what we have always undertaken to do, it really took anybody by surprise. This Party has a reputation for keeping its pledges—[Interruption.] Of course, if the hon. and learned Gentleman has really been conducting his political career on the basis that the Labour Party, firstly, would never come to power, and, secondly, if it did, would not carry out its programme, I am not surprised that the Conservative Party is now in a position of ineffective Opposition, where it is likely to remain for several generations.
I was dealing precisely and in set terms with the argument of the hon. and learned Member. I invited him to say why this point only arises now in 1946, and whether that was because the great leaders of industry who negotiated this agreement had overlooked the point. He gave me a reason which I endeavoured to rebut, and, with that, I leave the point and go back to the Motion. I again invite anybody who supports this Amendment to say how this question of tyranny, compulsion and the closed shop, either in a Government factory or any factory, can possibly arise out of paragraph 4 of this Motion as it stands. It certainly does not arise, and nobody has attempted to show what possible difference would be made by substituting the words "any trade union" for "trade unions" in the plural.
I accept the sincerity of the argument which the hon. Gentleman puts forward, but I would remind him that he made precisely the same mistake in law when we were considering the repeal of Section 6 of the 1927-Act. He thought that the repeal of that Section would not have the effect of giving a public corporation the power to prescribe a particular trade union. He is equally wrong now on exactly the same point.
Unlike the hon. and learned Member, I have made no claim to be infallible. I have only asked him to enlighten my ignorance out of the profundity of his own knowledge. Of course, it is perfectly possible that I am entirely wrong in thinking that all these burning questions do not arise on paragraph 4 as it stands. But I have an open mind, and if anyone ever attempts to convince me that they do arise I shall listen with an open mind. All I am complaining of is that in speeches which have lasted for nearly one and a half hours, neither the mover nor the seconder of the Amendment has yet begun to apply his mind to that endeavour. One does not prove a point merely by repeating a statement. Let me remind hon. Members opposite that the onus of proving an Amendment lies upon those who move it. It is not for me to show that the thing as it stands is all right, although I think it is. If anyone thinks it is not, then the onus is upon him to explain why it is not when the evil may be remedied. What I am complaining about is that nobody has yet attempted to do that. Hon. Members opposite are simply using this occasion in order to be able to go back to the "Evening Standard," the "Daily Express," and the next meetings of the Central Office and the Conservative Party's annual conference and say, "We did not get very far, but we made the attempt, and if we had nothing very intelligent to say, at least we made a lot of noise about it." It may be that some other hon. Member, learned or otherwise, will say what there is in paragraph 4 as it stands upon the Order Paper, which raises any of these questions. When that is done, it will be time enough for this House to deal with it.
It may be embarrassing to many of us to find this newly developed interest of the Conservative Party in personal liberty. On the other hand, that does not make their case wrong, and, quite frankly, I have been appalled today at the attitude displayed en masse on the benches opposite. I hope that this Debate will not be regarded by the Government or the House as taking the place of a Debate of much larger scope on these important issues of the closed shop. This is a matter which affects the life and personal liberty of every working man and woman in the country, and it is a grave constitutional issue which must be faced in the near future. I make a solemn plea for a day on which to debate the Motion which already stands upon the Order Paper, so that we may have the opportunity to examine this question of the closed shop and the unions.
[That this House, being of the opinion that all workers should be free to decide which Trade Union they will join and that pressure exercised on individual workers by their employers to induce them to join a particular Union is a gross invasion of the liberty of the subject, calls upon His Majesty's Government immediately to set up a Royal Commission to inquire into the operation of the closed shop and closed union system, especially in industry and services under public control.]
I do not think that anybody will deny that the Parliamentary Liberal Party were right when we debated the repeal of the Trade Disputes Act, 1927, in demanding the production of an up to date charter for the trade union movement.
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker; I accept your rebuke and will confine myself to the Amendment. I am speaking today because I believe that paragraph 4 of the Motion is far too vague for this House to pass in its present form, and that it must be closely defined. We are giving orders to Government contractors that they shall do certain things. These things are not in the least specific. I do not say that the Amendment on the Order Paper is the right answer, but I do say that as paragraph 4 stands, it is far too vague, and that this Amendment will make it much better. Therefore, on those grounds, I call upon the Government to accept this Amendment in order to clarify the situation.
If we are to pass this Motion, the Government must show in it exactly what their intention is with regard to the closed shop and Government contractors. We are setting a precedent, and it is important that the Government should take up a definite attitude on this matter. I do not believe that they can stand aside on such an important issue. I believe that they have been trying to evade the issue, but I sincerely hope that we have got past that stage and that they will make up their mind and incorporate their decision in the Motion. As it stands, a Government contractor is told to do something in the vaguest possible terms. If it is left as it stands, and judging by the attitude of many hon. Members opposite, the impression will be given that the Government are tacitly agreeing to the closed shop arrangement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I suggest that that is true. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] If it is not, then let us have a declaration from the party opposite. I am prompted to suggest that it is the duty of the Government to define their attitude in this Motion.
Many aspects of this case concerning Government contracts have been brought to my attention. What is the position of a non-unionist who wants to join a union and of a non-unionist who is working for a Government contractor who wants to join and cannot? I have had a lot of letters on the subject today, and it is an interesting thing that they are now coming to the Liberal Party. I have a letter from a man who says that he has already tried his Labour M.P. There are many hundreds of firms employed by the Government as contractors. This is the case of a man who is not, in fact, employed in a Government contractor's firm, but who might well have been. It is exactly the same analogy. He says that he is a victim of this closed shop policy. He wauled to join the electrical trade union. He was ordered to—
I have always understood that in this House one is allowed to draw an analogy. In this case I am saying that I have had a letter from a man who, in fact, was working for a public authority, but it might just as well have been a Government contractor, and I am asking the Government—because this is a precedent—to define their attitude in this Motion. I am producing this letter as evidence that they should do so.
I suggest that the Government are under a serious obligation to define their attitude in this Fair Wages Motion which, apparently, is to be posted up in every factory in England. What is to be the attitude of the contractor? What is he to do in order to guarantee or recognise the freedom of his workpeople? What does that mean? I cannot believe that this House is going to pass a vague phrase like that and say, "That is the law." What is the Government contractor to do when faced with the demand from his workpeople for the establishment of a monopoly union?
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. In other words, the Government contractor must recognise the freedom of all his workpeople to join any union they like. [Interruption.] I do feel that this is not a laughing matter. Are those the Members who were talking at the last Election about the freedom of the working man? I should be ashamed of myself.
We shall see. I suggest that the position of Government contractors on this question of the monopoly union ought to be defined. We have had a suggestion from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and I am obliged to him, because we have never had a suggestion from the Front Bench opposite. I would like to know whether the Government disagree with the establishment of a monopoly union, or whether they agree that a contractor who is approached by a large trade union should refuse to establish a monopoly union within his works.
All I am suggesting is that when there is a paragraph in a Motion which calls upon the employer to recognise a worker's freedom to join trade unions, that cannot be so interpreted as to raise a question of whether one is for or against the "closed shop."
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman, but I want to know this. If a contractor wants a Government contract, what has he to do in order to get it? If he supports a demand to a union to establish a monopoly, does that enable him to be a Government contractor, or do the Government say, "No, we do not agree with a monopoly union. You have violated the sacred rights of man and, therefore, we shall not give you a contract"? That is the point on which we want a decision. What will the Government do to an employer who says "This is fine. One thing I have always wanted is a monopoly union. I have only one set of people to deal with now. I can buy off the leaders." Hon. Members should realise that that has happened in America. This House is the place where these things should be foreseen. If we are not to foresee these things, what is this House for? The Government have a duty to make up their minds. The threat of a monopoly union can cause in Government contractors and in public authorities the establishment of a new tyranny—the tyranny of the official over the member and the non-member, the tyranny of one man over another.
We must have a decision from the Government; they must express their attitude. In this case, I can produce evidence that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, when speaking in the Debate on Regulation IAA in April, 1944, referred to the protection of the unions. I cannot go into that because I would be out of Order, but I would recommend hon. Members to read that Debate. I could not attend the Debate because I was otherwise engaged, but there we have the complete defence of the freedom of the individual and the complete attack on the monopoly union. He was supported by, among others, the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), who put up a magnificent fight on that occasion for the individual. This is a matter which the Government must face, and they must give us time for a full and proper discussion on it. I hope I have said enough to make Members realise that this is a grave constitutional issue.
Certain issues have been raised here, and I would ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to believe that in what I have to say I shall be talking about the people employed in firms which have, or are likely to have, Government contracts. I would like to begin in general terms. Everyone who has spoken so far on the other side of the House, be he Tory or Liberal, has dealt with this question as though it were a very simple issue. The whole idea of the mover of the Amendment was to show that the issue was simple. The hon. Member for Northern Dorset (Mr. Byers) insisted that it is quite a simple matter of sacred human rights.
That may be so, but there is no denying the fact that the hon. Member did appeal to what he called sacred human rights. He talked about the rights
of individual human liberty. I want to put quite a contrary point of view. In my view, civilisation is beginning to reach maturity, when the members of any community are intelligent enough to order their affairs and to compel the recalcitrant man, the ignorant man or the wicked man to submit to compulsory rules for the common good of all men. I put it quite like that. I would remind the hon. Member that one of the apostles of liberty, John Stuart Mill, went as far as to say:
The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited, that he must not make himself a nuisance
Having stated that, let us turn our attention to the Motion. As I understand the Motion which we have in front of us, it would make possible either a closed shop in the sense that the employer could say he would only take men from a union or a number of unions, or it would permit a union shop, in the sense that it would be possible to make arrangements so that when men entered employment in a particular undertaking they were obliged to join a union, or it might be in certain cases one of several unions. It does not, as I understand it, make either obligatory, but it makes them possible. As far as I know, the trade union movement—and I have some right to speak on this matter—would be content to leave it there. We do not mind particularly whether the Government declare themselves on this point, although we would mind if they declared themselves against any arrangements made which did permit, either the closed shop or the union shop in the sense that I have defined them. We trade unionists are quite prepared to rely on our own strength. We know it is nonsense in any contractor's undertaking, to talk of having a closed shop unless we have the majority of people in that shop already organised. We are content to use our own industrial strength and not to ask Parliament, or anybody else, for any particular authority to do what we have been doing, and intend to go on doing.
Let us be clear, too, that if we talk of compulsion we are not talking of something that is inherently bad. I imagine most hon. Members opposite would agree that the whole business of collective bargaining involves compulsion. We do not allow people to work as long as they like; we do not allow them to work for as little as they like. There is an element of compulsion which is inherent in any advanced stage of economic or social life. The hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) does, I admit, know a lot about the law relating to trade unions. However, I venture to doubt whether he knows the first thing about the life of a trade union. Let me tell him a few things that would be true, I am quite sure, of the men in the undertakings to which Government contracts have been given. They will belong to their union; that union will have its own life, its own group life, its own system of discipline and its own internal rules and regulations. It will have a spirit which makes it quite unavoidable that the men in the union will regard the nonunion man, the disruptionist and the secessionist, as anathema—as quite outside the pale. This is not a matter merely of trade union experience. It is a matter of human nature, and we would be silly if we did not take it into account. The men in these workshops will belong to unions that have made their collective bargains; they will belong to unions that have accepted obligations—for remember, trade unions do not just go and get things from employers without accepting obligations. Also, they have to face their members from time to time, and to say to their members in the interests of good business, "If we make an agreement we have got to stick to it."
I say that anything which cuts at the authority of the unions in our present circumstances is a bad thing. I believe the effect of what hon. Members opposite are trying to do is to cut at the authority of the unions. You must take it from me that those of us who organise the unions know that our authority is never really complete until we have 100 per cent. membership. It is only then that we are in a position to carry to the full the responsibilities which are placed upon us. These firms and these unions will be taking part in what I hope is our greatest production drive. There will be responsibilities on the firms dealing with the contracts, and there will be responsibilities on unions catering for the men who work in those firms. We shall not get the kind of support that is quite indispensable unless we have a general atmosphere in which the unions in proportion to their strength and the responsibility borne by them are given real authority.
Finally, to those who talk in terms of a "Labour front" and a "Fatherland front," I want to draw a distinction between compulsion which is exercised by minorities and compulsion which is exercised by majorities. We have never suggested for one minute that compulsion—be it in the individual workshop or as between various unions—should ever rest on any other principle than the principle which we shall be accepting when we go into the Lobbies to vote on this Motion tonight, an inherent principle in our political democracy, and a principle which is quite essential to any proper functioning of an industrial democracy.
In conclusion, I quote some words used in this House on 6th March, 1925, by Lord Baldwin, who was then Prime Minister. Lord Baldwin began by saying that the House had to move with the times and went on:
I should like to try to clear our minds of cant on this subject,"—
the subject being the whole organisation of trade associations and trade unions. What did he then go on to say?
… we cannot lose sight of the fact that in that organisation"—
that is the employers' organisation—
Just as much as in the men's organisation, the mere fact of organising involves a certain amount of sacrifice of personal liberty. That cannot be helped. Everybody knows that perfectly well, both employers and employees.
And then, more significantly still—and I beg hon. and right hon. Members opposite to take note of this—the then Conservative Prime Minister went on to say:
The workmen's organisation is formed to see that under the conditions a workman cannot get his living in a particular trade unless he belongs to that union. An employers' organisation is formed in that particular trade for the protection of the trade, and it has the result of effectively preventing any new man starting in that trade.'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1925; Vol. 181, c. 837–8.]
The then Prime Minister was much more realistic and, if I may say so, far in advance, in 1925, of the hon. Members who sit opposite today.
I am sure the House is deeply indebted to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. J. Edwards) for, at any rate, there is no longer any
possibility of doubt. No one can have any excuse for not understanding what this Amendment is about. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) had been admirably patient in explaining the point to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and I wondered that he was not tempted to vie with Dr. Johnson in saying:
Sir, I have found you an argument, but I cannot find you an understanding.
But, at any rate, the hon. Member for Blackburn seems to have followed the point a great deal more closely and clearly than the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne.
I entirely understand—I do not say I agree with it—the point of view which the hon. Member for Blackburn puts forward, that in certain circumstances the high rights of the majority may compel the minority. But, surely, there is a corollary to add—that if a trade union is to be allowed to take upon itself this high Hegelian function to speak as the true self of the worker against the worker's own passing wishes, it must necessarily follow that anyone who indulges in an unofficial strike ought to be ostracised, barred out from his union, and, therefore, presumably, prevented from any further employment. That is the logical corollary. Hon. Members opposite are not willing to accept that corollary in its logical conclusion. And rightly so; and therefore to my mind, the whole argument must necessarily fall to the ground.
I entirely appreciate the general argument of people performing Government contracts, that they dislike unionists working with the non-unionist, and the general, common argument that the non-unionist gets for himself all the benefits that union has won, without paying union dues. I appreciate that argument in general, but it has little bearing on the present state of affairs between the rival unions, which is all we are discussing at the moment. The claim of the busmen or of the dockers against the Transport and General Workers Union is not that they should be allowed to enjoy the benefits won by the Transport and General Workers Union without paying its dues. Their complaint is exactly the opposite. Their complaint, and that of the small unions, is that the large, Uncle Tom Cobleigh union is doing nothing for them whatsoever, and that a small union is necessary to deal with their particular problems, and in order to win the particular rights of those workers. Whether that argument be a just argument or an unjust argument, we are not concerned at the moment to discuss. Anyone would be very foolish who would say dogmatically and in the abstract that big unions were better than small unions or that small unions were better than big unions. We are not concerned to discuss that.
We are concerned to say, simply, that there are two perfectly genuine points of view, and that, therefore, if this is to go on being a free society at all, it is only right that the worker should be allowed to choose between those two genuine points of view. It is no good the hon. Member for Blackburn saying that the minority, because they are the minority, are ignorant and wicked and recalcitrant.
I naturally withdraw if I am misrepresenting the hon. Member. All I was going to say was that there is a difference between him and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. I remember that when we were discussing the decasualisation of dock labour, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said—inconsistently with his argument today—how he admired the men who would not come into line. I was saying that minorities are not necessarily always wrong or recalcitrant or wicked. I think the way of freedom is to allow the majority and minority to work it out between one another. It is quite clear that what we are moving to in this country today is the managerial State. We are not moving at all towards the classless State of Socialist idealism; but towards the managerial State. The Minister of Fuel and Power said the other day there was being created a new industrial aristocracy On that there are but two comments to be made. First, one could not imagine anything truer, and, secondly, one could not imagine anything in more flat contradiction with everything Keir Hardie had in mind when he founded the Labour Party 50 years ago.
There are two serious questions to be answered—To what extent is the coming of the managerial State inevitable, and how can we safeguard ourselves against the abuse of power by this new governing class, to see that it does not abuse power as the wielders of power have always abused it throughout history? The answer to the second of the problems is obviously that we must encourage all organisations in society that are independent of this managerial power, and there are few organisations more important to encourage than free and independent trade unions. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Blackburn on that. My contention against him is precisely that he is not encouraging them, but is killing trade unions. A free and independent trade union is a trade union a man can choose for himself whether he belongs to it. It is not free and independent if the State chooses it for him, and dictates to him what union he shall belong to. My whole argument is, that no greater mistake could possibly be made by trade union leaders or by the Government if, for some short-term advantage, they transform the whole nature of the trade union movement, if they make it cease being something which a man chooses to join because he thinks it to his interest to do so, and transform it into something which he is compelled to join, and where his dues are collected in exactly the same way as his taxes are collected. My whole argument against the hon. Member for Blackburn, whose sincerity I deeply respect, is that, if he does this, and gets the Government to do this, he will not be strengthening the moral influence of the State, but, on the contrary, will be weakening the moral influence of the trade unions.
It is with some diffidence I venture to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I agree with the mover of the Motion in feeling that there is a difference between the Motion and the Amendment before the House. But I am against the Amendment because I feel its effects to be injurious, and because the Opposition have not fully thought out its effects were it carried. I have had a number of letters, as most hon. Members have had, from an organisation calling itself the Aeronautical Engineers Association. If this Amendment were carried, as I read it, an employer of labour would be expected, if he received a Government contract, to give the freedom to any member of his staff to join any trade union. That is the effect of it. That would mean that an employer would be compelled to allow one of his staff to be a member of the Amalgamated Engineers Association if he wanted to be, as against being a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, as, in my contention, he ought to be. Let us develop it. What has happened with regard to this union? I have had a number of letters from them and tried to understand what they were asking us to do as Members of Parliament.
This organisation was a dilutees' organisation, which was formed during the war when the restrictions were removed because of the war by the Amalgamated Engineering Union. They said, "Because of the war, we will waive our ordinary rights, in order to get aeroplanes completed and to get the war won." If an employer is compelled to recognise a union of that kind he will, I say, be taking advantage of the public spirit of the Amalgamated Engineering Union in allowing this other union to function for dilutees during the war. I have been against the recognition of the Aeronautical Engineering Union on those grounds. That is one instance only of the difficulty that could be created by the acceptance of the Amendment. I do not know what answer hon. Members have to the taunts that were made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and his analogy about lawyers. I think there is a great deal in it. If you are a doctor, or a lawyer, or a member of the professional classes, you are compelled to be a member of your union. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes—you cannot practise unless you are.
Is not the hon. Gentleman really aware that none of us professional men who have to pass a qualifying test to get admitted to a profession are in fact members of any union, except that in the case of lawyers we are members of one of four Inns of Court any one or more of which we are free to join?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken. There is a professional qualification, which is judged by examination on admission, but it does not involve membership of a professional society. That is the whole point, and that is true both of barristers and solicitors.
It does not matter a great deal; it is only an analogy; but I do know something about the medical side of this question. I know that when I have been acting as chairman of a health committee, and we have offered a certain salary in an advertisement, we have been told by the Society of Medical Officers, for instance, "You have a population of so much, and you jolly well do not get a man unless you pay so much salary." They are very closely organised. I am not quarrelling with that, but what I want hon. Members opposite to try to appreciate is this. If they believe that this professional organisation is a good thing—I think it is a necessary thing—to ensure that you have the correct qualifications to carry out these jobs, it is a good thing in the trade unions. It is essential, for instance, in medicine. You cannot have people coming along who are not properly qualified, and it is a good thing to have these licences and certificates to ensure that they are.
Will hon. Members try to appreciate that, in the case of many trade unions, where you have to be apprenticed and serve for perhaps seven years before you are qualified, they have professional qualifications which they want to protect just as much? If I could draw an analogy, suppose a number of people said, "We will form another Inn of Court, and instead of 24 dinners we will have 12, and instead of four years' practising we will have two years, and we will try to get permission to work in the law." (Laughter.) I know it is a ridiculous analogy, but try to follow it out. There would be opposition from existing lawyers, and they would try to work the closed shop to prevent anybody else coming in. That is exactly what is essential on the trade union side, where people are qualified and their only certificate of qualification is their membership of a trade union. They are entitled to try and protect their interests, the investment of their life's training, which is their capital. They can only do it by having an agreement between themselves and the employers that any man performing those duties shall be a member of that trade union. I suggest that it is nothing unusual.
I have left them a long way behind, but I am told that that is not true. There is another instance which comes very much home to me because I represent a Liverpool constituency. At Liverpool docks there is an arrangement under which nobody is allowed to work there without being a member of the dockers' union, the Transport and General Workers' Union—and some of them do carry out Government contracts. They are regarded by many as unskilled labour, although, and I know something about it, I say it is a very skilled occupation. What happened there? During the depression everybody who was out of a job, a joiner, or an engineer, or a tradesman, drifted along to Liverpool docks in order to get a job, and the fellows who had spent their lives in the industry were thrown out of jobs very often for the benefit of people who had drifted there. For their own protection they decided that nobody should be allowed to work on the Liverpool docks unless he had a tally, and he was not to have a tally unless he was a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union, Liverpool Docks Section. You may quarrel with that, but it is defending their own life's interest, and if this Amendment is carried employers will be prevented from making such arrangements between themselves and the union.
There are many difficulties about this. It is not as simple as the mover and seconder of the Amendment seem to think, I hold views about the closed shop; it is not in Order to discuss the closed shop in general terms, but my own organisation is between the top and the bottom, and might suffer from the strictly logical carrying out of the closed shop principle. Therefore we view it with a good deal of doubt and misgiving, though it would be out of Order to pursue that. I do ask hon. Members, however, to try to realise that there is another point of view, that there is a case for an agreement, as the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. J. Edwards) said, an agreement not dictated by the Government—we do not want that in any circumstances whatsoever—between the trade union and the employer as to whom shall belong to which union for carrying out any particular job. That is all I wanted to say and I hope that hon. Members will feel that there is another side to it.
May I first answer the point made by the hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. Haworth) about the legal profession? It can be answered quite quickly. If the contention is true that the legal profession is really a closed shop in the ordinary understanding of the word, then the boss of my trade union is the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General. It absolutely appals me at the moment to think any such thing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not regulate, by agreement or in any way, my wages; he does not look after my conditions of work, and I can assure those hon. Members, who make speeches pointing out to us that we do not know anything about life in a trade union, that if they came into our trade union they would be appalled at its ineffectiveness.
I should like to take up some points which have been made in the course of the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister made certain observations which go to the root of this problem. He particularly drew attention to the fact that no alterations have been suggested in the wording of the Fair Wages Motion, and he argued that if the parties to the agreement had really been disturbed about anything of importance, they would have suggested alterations. He points out that the parties do not desire any amendment. The truthful answer is that this was agreed to in the year 1942—so long ago that the exact wording comes into the Industrial Relations handbook published by the Stationery Office in 1944. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) asks "Is it a new point?" It is not quite a new point, but it is almost a new point—the point of bigger and better unions. Now it has become a sore point, and that is the difficulty in which the right hon. Gentleman finds himself. I feel from experience that the point will never be answered, and that we shall have a sliding over and evasion such as we had the other day.
May I answer the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. J. Edwards), who is so anxious to establish discipline in industry, and who speaks of elements of compulsion being necessary? I would tell him that whereas tonight we shall accept the majority ruling, that does not mean that we have to join the Socialist Party-I will answer the hon. Member on another point. He said that the Opposition, by this Amendment, were trying to cut at the authority of the unions. It is not possible to find exactly what everyone thinks, but it was not the desire to cut at the authority of the unions, which made me put my name to the Amendment. I did it for two reasons. First, I believe that, as the wording stands, it will be used without any doubt whatsoever to curtail the freedom of the workers to choose to which union they wish to belong. Secondly, and I believe this is even more important, the whole movement which the hon. Member for Blackburn has been developing tends to inefficiency.
Am I to understand that the hon. and learned Member thinks it would be a good thing in an industry to have two trade unions competing and fighting? If that is not cutting at the authority of the unions, what is?
The hon. Member may find it healthy within his own party to have a little competition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am answering the question. It should not tend to inefficiency if there are two unions competing. Can anyone imagine anything more disastrous than what in fact will happen? The few big unions—already the hon. Member shakes his head before he hears the argument—
What, in fact, you will have is dissatisfied people within the big unions working up organs within the unions to disrupt them, because there will be a negation of freedom. The hon. Member for Blackburn was anxious to establish discipline within industry. He said there must be this element of compulsion, but the small union men will say that the Tories were right, and that it was the thin edge of the wedge which was agreed to on this October night. [Laughter.] It may not be so amusing. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said that this was a sort of new point. I look back to 1945, when Mr. Ebby Edwards took the chair at the Trades Union Congress on 10th September. That is just over a year ago. It was not possible for the Minister to take the chair on that occasion, because he had come into the Government. Mr. Edwards said something which was profoundly true, in referring to the arrangements made in the cotton industry by the President of the Board of Trade. In praising these arrangements, he said:
It was necessary for the unions on their side to overhaul and modernise their organisation, and abandon restrictive practices which impede maximum production and full efficiency.
Recently, I received a pamphlet, which no doubt all hon. Members have received, from the President of the Board of Trade, according to which we find that everything will be heaven if everyone will work a little harder. I am waiting to see what restrictive practices, both in regard to employers and workers, will be tackled. Some of us believed it would be done, but it has not been done. If Government contracts are so attractive, as the right
hon. Gentleman says, because they are good advertisements, this is one of the ways of making oneself attractive to the Government. If they take that view it will be an extremely evil day, and responsibility will lie upon the Government. It is no good leaving it to back benchers to throw the ball to each other. The question is: Do the Government intend to say that in Government contracts there is an open shop, and that the employer, on no account whatever, is to be allowed to say, "You must belong only to one particular union"? If the Government do that, they might just as well roll up all the Statutes and start again. We shall see in a few minutes' time whether we shall ever have an answer. Personally, I doubt it.
I rise to take part in this Debate as a member of the big union referred to by the speaker for the Opposition. I have been a member for over 40 years, and have been an official of that union for 25 years, and so I understand something about trade unionists and trade unionism. I have listened very attentively to this Debate, particularly to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss). There was so much verbiage in his speech, he covered so many subjects, that he failed to touch on the main points in the Motion. Indeed, I felt that many times he went outside the terms of the Motion. The hon. and learned Member first dealt with the closed shop, as if closed shops were a creation of yesterday. Closed shops have been against trade unionists for a century. Many of our people have been struggling and sacrificing for years to open closed shops, so that they could organise their fellow workers. The hon. and learned Member raised the question of the London Passenger Transport Board and what they did recently in deciding to employ only members of one organisation. This Board, like many other employers, has negotiating machinery on which sit representatives of the workers' union. It is accepted that a man who is employed in that industry should be a member of the union which is part of the negotiating machinery. To allow men to stand outside the negotiating machinery, to be a law unto themselves, and claim privileges and benefits obtained by that machinery, is an unfair policy.
Can the hon. Member say what would happen if a number of men were dissatisfied with the bargaining powers and general conduct of that union, and wanted to form a rival union, in protest?
All who desire to attend their open branch meetings may lay down policy, and when that policy has been settled it becomes a policy of the trade union of which they are members. So we say that members must accept majority rule in the trade union movement, as is done elsewhere. Let us draw another analogy. Suppose 3 per cent. of the employees of an industry chose, because they were disgruntled, to break away and form a small union on their own. Members opposite ask that that 3 per cent. should be recognised as a trade union to take part in negotiating machinery, and get all the privileges. We say that that 3 per cent. are disloyal, that they are breaking up the unity of their organisation. The Opposition want units; we on this side want unity and will not be satisfied until we get 100 per cent. unity. We shall use every means we can, political or industrial, to see that 100 per cent. unity is achieved.
The mover of the Amendment made an attack on the big trade unions. Clearly, that is an indication that Members opposite are afraid of the big unions. To hear them talk, anyone would think that from the inception of the trade union movement they had given all the assistance possible to the building up of organisations among the workers. Instead of that, they have discouraged the workers, put difficulties in their way, have sacked them, imprisoned them, and even hanged them, because they fought for organisations of their own workpeople. Members opposite talk about the big trade unions. Why? Because the organised power of the working classes is becoming so great that they are afraid of it, just as they are afraid of the political side of this great organisation of ours.
The hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities spoke of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act. If it had not been for that Act I believe that the men of the London Passenger Transport Board would have taken action in 1937 10 prevent what happened then. But because of that Act they were hamstrung, and were unable to take the necessary action to remove an injustice Now that Act has been repealed. They are asking that that great injustice should be removed. Right through his speech the mover of the Amendment gave approval to what he called "splinter unions." He encouraged the formation of non-bona fide trade unions. Members opposite have failed to prevent unity in the trade unions, and now they want to create, within that unity, certain small units, so that when trouble arises the great units will carry the responsibility and the small units will take all the benefit. The hon. and learned Member said that workers are compelled to be members of a trade union. We say that if a man is not in his organisation he is, in practice, prejudicing it Last week, when we were discussing the case of a certain local authority, it was said that a contractor could not be acknowledged as a contractor because he was not a member of his federation. The same thing applies in the medical profession, in which a man is prejudiced because he is not a member of his professional organisation. We are asking only for the same right.
The Amendment should not be carried because when a union becomes a part of a negotiating machine, if that union is recognised as the negotiating machine, and employees join that organisation, it strengthens the hand of the employer and helps industry. I am confident that the Motion moved by my right hon. Friend meets the situation on behalf of trade unionists, employers and the Ministry of Labour. My right hon. Friend referred in his speech to what Mr. Sydney Buxton said in 1891, to the Act of 1909, to the Committee set up in 1937, and to the White Paper of 1942. The progress of working people since 1891 to date has not been easy; theirs has been a hard, laborious, task. Now, because we have achieved this unity, hon. Members opposite want to destroy it by creating within the united organisations small units, so that they cannot operate and carry the responsibility as they should do.
There have been times when I have risen in this House to speak on what I regarded, in my simplicity, as a point of law, and found opinion on the subject challenged by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I could not help thinking, as I listened to the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery), that his view about those who speak on trade unionism was almost as undesirable as that which I sometimes have been tempted to follow in those cases. He seemed to think that no one should talk about trade unionism unless he had been for 40 years a trade union official.
I think that one of the things which we learn in this House, and one of the most important parts of Parliamentary liberty, is the right of the layman, on any subject demanding special knowledge, to exercise his opinion and judgment. If there is one thing more certain than another, it is that the closely organised bodies of people who claim some special qualification always end by abusing their powers, and the one safeguard of liberty in this country is the right of the ordinary man to challenge their prerogative to speak on their own subject. I hope to be, as I always try to be, very conciliatory and relatively brief. But this Debate seems to me to have brought out one point with absolutely startling clearness, and that is the fundamentally divergent points of view of various hon. Members opposite on this Amendment. They all agree, of course, in opposing it, and the reasons they give are all very plausible. But those reasons cannot all be true, because they are fundamentally inconsistent with one another. If this Debate has brought out nothing else, I should have thought that it has brought out the point that a clarifying statement by the Government, as to the real attitude of the Government and their supporters on this matter, is certainly overdue.
This Debate arises out of one of the paragraphs in the Motion proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It does not, as some of the earlier speakers pointed out, raise the whole question of
the closed shop. On the contrary, it arises out of the phrase in the Clause that
The contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of trade unions.
My hon. and learned Friends have moved an Amendment to substitute the words "any trade union." The attitude of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) was admirable, I thought, in its liberal sentiment. His view was that the Amendment was totally unnecessary. He said that the words of the contract already protected the small union. It is perfectly plain, he said, that the word "freedom" means what it says, if the Motion is passed without any alteration. That was his argument. The contractor would be bound to recognise the freedom of his workpeople who belonged to the small union. If that were so, it would follow as a corollary that if he failed to recognise the freedom of his workpeople who belong to the small unions, he would lose his Government contract, because he would have broken the Fair Wages Clause. I think that we are entitled to know what is the Government's view on the Clause as drafted, without the Amendment. Do they think that it means that the employer will lose his Government contract if he fails to recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of any trade union? That is what, according to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, the Motion means without the Amendment. If so, I have no doubt that my hon. Friends will withdraw their Amendment as totally unnecessary.
But that was not the view put forward by other speakers opposite. There were two other mutually inconsistent views put forward by those who thought that the Amendment was not so much unnecessary as vicious. One was that put forward by the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Haworth) and the other was that put forward by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. J. Edwards). The hon. Member for Walton thought that the Amendment was vicious because it was aimed at upsetting the professional qualifications which the big unions sometimes insist upon in order that they may have a proper standard within their profession. I am extremely partial to all organised bodies which insist upon a high standard of professional qualification and conduct, whether or not they are unions in the sense which hon. Gentle- men opposite understand them. Of course, that issue is not involved either in the Amendment or in the Motion. Everyone knows, for example, that the thing which differentiated the Transport and General Workers Union and the small union of tramdrivers in the recent dispute had nothing whatever to do with professional qualifications, because those who happened to belong to the small union were, by universal consent, as well qualified as those who belonged to the large union. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken in thinking that this Motion, as drafted by the Government, or the Amendment, as drafted by the Opposition, will either afford any protection, or threaten any attack, upon the principle of professional qualification.
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that, in the case of an agreement between an employer and a trade union on professional qualifications, if that agreement were carried out and adhered to strictly, he would lose his Government contract because he was preventing a man from being a member of an outside union?
That is one of the things which I am asking the Government. It is certainly contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. All that I am concerned with, in the brief argument which I am addressing to the House, are the broad merits of the case. For that reason it is quite sufficient for me to point out that the real issue between the two sides, in this case, has nothing to do with professional qualifications.
The speech of the hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Blackburn was supported on much the same lines by the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery). His view was inconsistent with the other two. He did not agree with the view of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that the Amendment was superfluous. On the contrary he thought that it was vicious, and supported the closed shop principle on its merits. On the other hand, he did not agree with the hon. Member for Walton in seeking to defend the closed shop principle on the basis of professional qualification. On the contrary, he did so because he thought—and he was quite frank about it—that it was a mark of maturity in society that it compels those of its members, if they are a minority, who are ignorant, wicked or recalcitrant to obey certain rulings. I agree that it is a fundamentally divergent position from that of hon. Members who sit on these Benches. I think that we are entitled to know from the Government which view they take. Do they adopt that of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, that of the hon. Member for Walton, or that of the hon. Member for Blackburn? Is their view based on professional qualification, or majority rule, or that the principle is vicious altogether, or that the Amendment is unnecessary because its principle is abrogated by the Motion drafted by the Government?
I return now to the speech of the senior Member for Blackburn. The hon. Member seemed to think it was enough to say that one union was smaller than another—that is to say, a minority—to enable it to be abolished out of existence by the competing union, and he sought to put his argument in two ways. In the first place, I think logically, in an intervention he asked us whether we thought it was a good thing that there should be competing unions within an industry. I think the answer is a simple one. It must depend upon how the unions are doing their work. If a union is in any given set of circumstances doing its work so well that there is no need for any competing body, we think it would be a bad thing, but we think it is for the workers in that industry to decide. If, on the other hand, a union is not to be above criticism, and if it sometimes happens that a union is becoming incompetent, overswollen or run by small cliques, then we think it is an excellent thing that a small competing union should grow up, and in each case we think the workers in the industry should decide which it is to be.
We are not impressed by the argument that one union is smaller than another. These things must have their beginning. How can employers or the Government determine whether a small breakaway union is, in fact, an evil thing designed to cut out lawfully constituted authority, or whether it is a good thing brought about by incompetence and bureaucracy at the top? Either may be true We say it is for the workers to decide. Hon. Members opposite claim that it is for the union bosses and the employers to decide. We differ on that point. That leads me to my last point. The hon. Member for Blackburn seemed to me to state quite clearly and in a compendious form the fundamental distinction between the approach to matters of this kind made by hon. Members opposite and ourselves. He seemed to think that the mere fact that a particular party in an industry constitutes a majority entitled it more or less to do what it likes.
If the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and his party hold the view he is now expressing, how do they reconcile it with, for example, the legislation in the cotton industry? Does the hon. Member take the view that on the employers' side people must always be allowed to contract out? He does not.
May I help the hon. Member? Let us suppose that the undertakings we are talking about were undertakings on Government contracts. Let us suppose there was a law which had imposed a levy intended for research. Does the hon. Member now say that kind of legislation is wrong?
I do not think that an argument which was originally irrelevant is made more relevant by supposing a lot of hypothetical facts. Perhaps the hon. Member will permit me to conclude my argument, which I hope will be relevant to this topic. The hon. Member based his whole position upon the rights of the majority. Nobody denies to the majority legitimate rights in a constitutional country, but those who sit on this side of the House believe solemnly, and their belief, I think, should be accompanied perhaps with a warning, that there are limits to the rights of majorities in a free country. We see democracy as meaning not merely majority tyranny or rule. We see it as involving the definite rights of minorities, and we do not believe it will be preserved unless the rights of minorities are safeguarded and preserved by legislation. That is our view of the matter.
In any constitutional country we all of us find ourselves in opposition from time to time, and hon. Members opposite who now happen to be members of a great majority would do well to remember that time was when they themselves were a minority, and the time may come when they will be a minority again. The important factor to remember is that, whoever may be the sovereign in a country, be it a man, be it a class, be it a corporation of men, be it a vast majority of anonymous men, they disregard the natural rights of man at their peril, and notwithstanding that they may for the time being enjoy the suffrages of the populace, they will in due course learn to repent of their folly if, in the hour of their triumph, they fail to recognise those rights which, in the hour of their disaster, they may want to exercise themselves.
It has been very significant throughout this Debate that we have had six speeches from the Opposition Benches from hon. Members who are themselves participating in a closed shop. In addition, we have heard speeches from one hon. Member and one right hon. Member who for many years have been using an industry which has had a closed shop.
I take it I am quite in Order in referring to the speeches that were made earlier, including those that have taken place since the moving of the Amendment. As the right hon. Member said in his opening remarks, there is room in the House for a little chaff. I thought that in his speech the right hon. Gentleman showed the effects, not so much of the Empress Ball Room, but rather of the South Shore. He referred, I thought rather unkindly, to my right hon. Friend's trip to America. The patriarchal entourage to which he referred was rather smaller than the tribal entourage that used to accompany his right hon. Friends when they went abroad. On the other hand, I am sure we appreciate the general welcome which the right hon. Gentleman gave to this Motion. I noticed that when the White Paper was presented to the House, it was presented by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank); it was accepted and put forward by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member, and no criticism was indulged in then. It was not regarded as inadequate. It was not regarded then as not defending the rights of the citizen. It was accepted generally. Today, however, we find a new situation in which those who were responsible for the White Paper are now anxious to alter it in order to meet, I presume they would say, some other situation.
I thought the right hon. Gentleman was a little unfair when he referred to the generosity of private employers. He said that Government Departments could never go beyond the regulations, but that private employers, because they were masters of their own house, could give money away in excess of the agreement. I have had some experience of the mining industry, in which one could never get anything out of the employers unless it was provided for by a literal interpretation of the agreement. At one time we had many fights over that situation. Now I come to the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment; I thought he was in danger of becoming the Mari Llwyd of the Tory Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is that?"] That is a little bit of Welsh. The Mari Llwyd of the Tory Party; he always appears to be put up by the Opposition benches for the purpose of frightening hon. Members on this side of the House. At least that is the impression I have. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that he is very much concerned about the freedom of the individual workman and that the employer should not say to which union a man shall be attached, and I tried to get the sense of the position he had taken up. I rather thought it was this. He was not objecting to a man being a member of a trade union; what he was concerned about was that the man should himself choose which trade union. The hon. and learned Gentleman is therefore with us to the extent that there is no objection to the employer compelling a man to be a member of a trade union, and to that degree the freedom of the individual is not in question as far as he is concerned. The limitation to which he objects is that the employer should decide which trade union.
I was rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Liberal Party should allege that the Tories have taken their clothes again. After all, it was only half the liberty they were concerned about, whereas the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment was concerned with the whole liberty of the man to do as he liked. Thus it is brought down to that narrow position so far as concerns the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment. He went on to say that in his view objection to "splinter," unions is based on political grounds. I wrote it down as the hon. Gentleman spoke, and he said that objection to "splinter unions," in his view, is based, he suspects, on political grounds.
The hon. Gentleman misunderstood me if he gained that impression. I said that the objection to some of these smaller unions was not to a "splinter" union at all but to unions which were not affiliated to the T.U.C.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will consult HANSARD I think he will find that, although he may have intended to say that, I am correct in my impression that he did say that political grounds was a consideration in the objection of the big unions to the "splinter" unions.
I thought I was quoting the actual words of the hon. and learned Gentleman. In any case, it is astonishing that we have the position that "splinter" unions are receiving support from one side of the House only, and I am wondering whether that is on political grounds or not.
Before the hon. Gentleman proceeds, I am sure that he will do the courtesy to me and to the House of saying whether he thinks my Amendment does make a difference or not, because the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) thought it made no difference at all, whereas the hon. Member behind him thought it made an enormous differance. I suppose the Front Bench has some view on the matter?
I have been speaking for only three minutes and I will come back to that central point later. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that I have no intention of dodging the issue, but as he was rather incommoded during his own speech I hope he will not inflict upon me what was for himself a bad experience. We have had a number of speeches, and I had hoped that the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) was going to make a contribution. He will recollect that both he and the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) were very keen that employers under the Dock Labour Corporation should not have any liberty at all, and that they should all go into the Dock Labour Scheme. This question of the Tory Party defending the rights of individuals did not arise when we had the example of the Miners' Welfare Fund, where all the employers had to make a contribution and there was no contracting out at all; whether that fund was spent properly or improperly the restriction on their liberty was imposed. Let me take one or two other points.
It seems to me that the House has not taken into consideration the variety of conditions that apply in the various industries in this country with regard to labour relations. Great objection was taken to what is called the closed shop in relation to Government contracts. Do I take it that the objection applies to those shops, factories, or collieries in which membership of a trade union has been made a condition for the sack? Is that the type of closed shop hon. Members have in mind? There has been not a word of condemnation of employers who refuse to allow their employees to become members of trade unions.
That is a second thought. Then again there is that type of employment which is conditioned by the workers being members only of a benefit society run by the employers and where they must not belong to trade unions. There has been no condemnation of that. Hon. Members opposite have remained absolutely silent in that connection.
I do not think so. I do not think it improves the position. What I am concerned about is that, to my surprise, this great concern has been shown on the part of hon. Members opposite for the freedom of the workers and for their rights. Of course hon. Members have forgotten their own past. They have forgotten the experiences for which they were responsible, the employments in which the employer set up his own union, made all his employees pay towards it, and shut out any bona fide trade unions. We have referred to these unions as "scab" unions. We cannot forget Taff, Merthyr, and Harworth. That was entirely a German method; its political organ was "The Patriot" which, I think, is well known to certain hon. Members on the other side of the House for its association with the Imperial Policy Group. I believe that the hon. Members for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) and Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) were the patron saints of that movement and Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini its gods. We have not forgotten these experiences and hon. Members on the other side of the House who were defending the introduction of these "scab" unions into the mining industry. I appreciate that that was at the time when the Tory Party was a closed shop as far as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was concerned and when even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley was out of benefit because of something he had done.
We ought to get this matter clear. The type of closed shop to which we refer is illustrated in the printing industry, where, for many years, it has been a condition of employment that workers shall be members of a trade union. That system has operated for at least 20 years to my knowledge, and there has never been any allegation that there has been tyranny or that the system has not worked properly. Each man has been a member of a union. It has been a condition of employment that he should be a member of a union.
Yes, of a union, one recognised in the general set up, and not any other union. The worker was not entitled to become a member of a union outside the printing trade. He was limited to unions inside the printing trade. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman opposite will agree that hardly any industry in this country has so good a record in industrial relations as has the printing industry.
There has been no break away. Take the South Wales mining industry. In that industry, membership of a union was a condition of employment for many years. It has never been suggested that the state of things there was unhealthy from the point of view of industrial relations. The situation with which the Amendment deals is that in which a rival union has been formed from dissident elements.
Yes. Some of the supporters of the Amendment took that view. I agree that they supported the Amendment in a very lefthanded way. I am trying to deal with them at this stage. Let us take the situation which exists in practice and not in theory. Employers' and workers' unions arrive at an agreement, and by a majority vote the workers accept the agreement. Some of them may not, and some of this minority of workers may, with political assistance, set up a rival organisation. The rival organisation works under the agreement negotiated by the parent body and gets all the advantages of the agreement, yet it claims the right to be recognised equally with the parent body. Suppose that, acting upon that precedent, a dissident body inside the dissident body, exercises the same right and that splinter is itself splintered. A condition arises in the industry which makes organised relations impossible and the position of the employees completely unenviable. It is a condition on the industrial field such as we see upon the political field within the Liberal Party. I would like to remind hon. Members of the Liberal Party that their cries for Liberal unity sound very much like a demand for a Liberal closed shop. The Liberal contribution to the Debate has been to ask for every man the right to refuse to do his duty and to get the same reward as though he had done it.
On the subject of "splinter" unions, may I put a perfectly specific point to the Minister? I would refer to the Smithfield Guild of Clerks and Salesmen, who have for years represented their members in negotiations with employers. They have represented the workers in certain grades of employment, yet there was a movement against them, and in favour of a closed shop, without any suggestion that they were in any sense a "splinter" union. Why does not the hon. Gentleman deal with that situation?
I merely wish to call attention, at the request of the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities, to a statement made by the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union as to the nature of that dispute. I hope it will be reassuring to hon. Members who are concerned about this issue. It says:
Mr. Arthur Deakin said that for many years the Trades Union Congress had consistently rejected resolutions asking for the adoption of the closed shop. Our own union conferences had also rejected it many times, the last being the occasion of the Biennial Delegate Conference held at Blackpool last year.
From the information I have I would say that the dispute at Smithfield has nothing to do with the closed shop. That is my information. I have been reminded that the matter is now the subject of an inquiry. I do not think I ought to be pressed to say anything further on that matter.
I want to discuss the two points raised in the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member. During the war, by means of a joint consultative committee, the British Employers' Confederation, on the one hand, and the Trades Union Congress of workers, on the other, played a most important part in advising the Government on major questions and matters of common interest to employers and workers. They assisted in building up and maintaining an important system of collective bargaining upon which industrial relations depend. This joint association has continued to be of incalculable value to the industry and the nation, particularly in the period of reconversion. Steady growth of collective bargaining depends upon recognition by each side of the responsibilities which it carries and of the authority of the other. It is based on a mutual confidence and respect; upon confidence in the ability of the other to secure the due observance of agreements and respect for the views which it represents.
It is vital to the maintenance to the system of collective bargaining that nothing should be done to weaken the authority of the organisations of employers and workers who are parties to the machinery of negotiation; nor should any encouragement be given to any movement detrimental to the internal discipline of each organisation, or indeed to anything that may lead to a possible breakdown of the existing system. A dissident section who might wish to create dissensions within the organisation must be subject to the will and authority of the majority. Only where there is clear and ample evidence that the exercise of such a right is of disadvantage to the nation or the wellbeing of industry could any restriction be contemplated. In other words, this is a matter to be left to both sides of industry. In other words, it is the workers who shall decide on this position.
Let me reinforce that with these few words. Many of the differences between employers and workers are referred to the industrial courts or to arbitration. This system was of great help during the war, and also has assisted in the reconversion of our industry. Strikes and lockouts were the only alternative to this method of final settlement but this can only operate in a situation when all the employers and all the workers are prepared to accept the results of these arbitration tribunals. If it is known beforehand—and this seems to me to be the point—that groups of workers or indeed groups of employers will get political encouragement and legal sanctions to refuse to accept the findings and to organise new bodies to undo or nullify the findings, the whole of the arbitration system will break down and our economy becomes a jungle. Hon. Members of this House are under a special obligation in regard to this situation. We cannot lightly cast aside this industrial relations structure in order to confer on dissident elements rights that are not given to dissident elements in this House.
This Motion was produced in the time of the Coalition Government when the present Foreign Secretary was Minister of Labour. Full consultations have taken place with the British Employers Confederation and the Trades Union Congress, and this point was not raised at all on either side. In this Motion we are giving political sanction to industrial relations which have been agreed. It gives to both sides of industry the freedom to work out their own relationships. The Trades Union Congress, in our view, is quite competent to look after the workers' interests in this field just as the British Employers Confederation is competent to represent the employers.
The Government will watch the development of what is alleged to be a new tendency, but which in fact has been in operation over a wide field for very many years. There must be ordered relations between employers and workers. Minorities must accept the will of the majority and must not be encouraged to wreck the whole of our industrial relations. We must take the view that decisions between employers and workmen once taken must be honoured wholeheartedly by both sides. There ought not to be encouragement given to a set of people who do not like a decision to form dissident unions and then for this House to say that this Government or this Motion should confer upon those who are going to undo what has been done by arbitration methods this special legal right and legal privilege. In that sense, the Government are satisfied that this Motion—leaving this position open to the workers and industry to decide—is the right decision, and it asks this House to accept this fair wages Motion as fully meeting the present situation as we now find it in industry.
The Debate we have today upon this Amendment is the first opportunity which the House of Commons has had since its reassembly to discuss a question which, during recent weeks and months, has become one of increasing importance and gravity. It was right and proper that the opportunity should be taken. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway had already placed on the Order Paper a request for a day for a full Debate upon all the aspects of this matter but since the Government have, I understand, refused that suggestion, my hon. Friends and I thought it proper that without any attempt to score apoint or take a position over them, we should take the first opportunity in the House of Commons to raise this issue.
The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Frank Byers) gave a very good account of the feelings which he and his friends hold on this subject. I do not wish to press minor points of controversy between us. He began with a jibe and I shall not take it up. I only say that we shall try to cooperate to ensure that there shall be every opportunity in this House for full discussions on grave questions of public policy in which full cooperation can take place between those who feel deeply on those questions. My hon. Friends below the Gangway need be in no way disturbed because of the discussion we have had today. The replies which the Government have made have been so jejune, have covered so small a part of the field and have given such little satisfaction to the House that it is quite clear that we shall require to have, whether the Government wish it or not, in this part of the Session, or the next Session, a full Debate upon the whole basis and implications of this broad question.
The Minister is a very elusive man; he himself does not speak on this great issue. He puts up the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us about the printing trade. I was surprised. I thought that if anybody was going to lecture me on the printing trade, it would at least be the head of Natsopa. The right hon. Gentleman was very shy. He was also very shy at Question time—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is very clever."] He is pretty cute, I will say that. He has learned a lot in America. He knew quite a lot about being a boss before. He did not have to learn that in America. He has learned what a closed shop means. He says it is an American expression imported into this country to embarrass the Government. All I can say is that we will draw him sooner or later. He will have to come out into the open and tell us what he thinks and means.
The Parliamentary Secretary has not yet told us whether he thinks this Amendment alters the meaning of the Motion and, therefore, should be resisted, or whether it amplifies, elaborates and clarifies the meaning of the Motion and, therefore, should be supported. He leaves us—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) interrupts a good deal, speaks a good deal and listens very little. I will come to him in a moment. I have never heard a Government spokesman winding up in a Debate on a great issue such as we have had today make a more feeble contribution than the Parliamentary Secretary. Talk about chaff—his speech was all chaff and no wheat. He has covered none of the great issues. He has escaped and eluded all the main points. Finally, he read out one of those great typed documents which are so excellently provided by the public servants of the State, and in it he solemnly tells us the Government will watch the development of this situation which is alleged to be a new tendency. They will take it into consideration. They might even take it into their serious consideration. Under Providence they might even take it into their active consideration. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"—
They will never become fully alive; they were born dead. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) made, as he always does, a very good speech because he has got a knack of taking good points. I think he would not consider it unfair of me to say that he first raised the comparison between the professional qualifications of certain professions and the trade union qualifications of certain trade unions. He raised the point that this issue was somewhat paradoxically raised by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen behind me who belonged to what he called the most closed union in the world. I think myself the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) answered that point very well—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am only giving my opinion.
Let us try to consider this historically. Surely one of the great problems in this admittedly confused situation in the trade union world is just this very issue between the craft unions and the industrial unions, between a trade union which means that a man has served his time, done his apprenticeship, done what many of us sitting on these benches have done and what our fathers and grandfathers have done before us—taken very small pay for an apprenticeship of many years when better wages could have been obtained on an easy job, and then becoming journeymen with long knowledge and experience behind them. That is one form, the oldest form, of the trade union of the craft type. That is quite different from moving battalions or regiments of men, semiskilled or even unskilled, from one union to another, who have no training of any sort or kind similar to that of the apprentice or journeyman. They are really the unhappy bodies around which rotate and vibrate the jealousies of the great trade union bosses who are trying to get bodies of men in or out of their organisations. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is the real problem today.
I will refer to the Smithfield case. The Smithfield Union has been going on for years perfectly happily and no one has interfered. It went on through the war carrying on its work, functioning under the Ministry of Food, under different Ministers. Nobody interfered with it for about 15 years, when, suddenly, there comes down a demand that they should all become members of this great new combination, this great monopoly, the Transport and General Workers Union. I am not discussing the rights or wrongs of that for it is under discussion, but I thought the way the Ministry of Labour dealt with it was a little disingenuous. They appointed Sir John Forster to hold an inquiry into the causes of unrest in Smithfield Market. I could have told him the causes of unrest. Everybody knows them. The causes of unrest were that the Foreign Secretary's union—for he has been really the Pierpont Morgan of trade unionism; it is he who has made the great combinations, sweeping all the smaller unions aside—the causes of unrest, I say, were that his boys were after the Smithfield boys.—[Laughter.]
I have heard more than one speaker tonight mention the Smithfield Guild of Clerks and Salesmen as a trade union. It might interest the House to know that I was approached at the outbreak of war to join this guild, and one of the questions put down was: Are you a member of a trade union, because if you are a member of a trade union, you are not qualified to be a member of the Smithfield Guild?
All I can say is that my information is different, but of course I must accept the hon. Gentleman's story, which is very moving. All I am interested in is what is called a trade union and recognised as such under Act of Parliament. In the course of this Debate there has been another example of what we are getting accustomed to in this House, and which gives us what is very gratifying, the illusion of power. I am referring to the extraordinary sensitiveness of the Government. One would think they were a small minority being beaten down day by day by strong, powerful people. They get up and say, "Don't be rude to us, it is not fair." The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and some other hon. Members who interrupt so well and so helpfully, all have this extraordinary inferiority complex. They do not seem to realise that after this long struggle—and it has been a splendid struggle, a very moving one—they have a great responsibility. Do they accept the Attorney-General's assertion, "We are the masters now"? Or will they be partners? That means neither masters nor servants. Will they recognise their strength and not misuse it? On the answer to that question turns a great deal of the future history of this country. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, in the course of his very witty and clever speech, gave us a few good quotations. He always does that. He told us that the Government always did what they undertook to do, that there was no question of any breach of their pledges.
Oh, yes. And he said that because this particular form of words was agreed in 1942 by the Coalition Government, we ought not now to suggest—and I think the Parliamentary Secretary took the same point—even the smallest verbal alteration of that form. Quite a lot has happened in recent weeks. We are not bound absolutely by the form of words on every single detail. I think the right hon. Gentleman will realise that to the Motion we gave a broad and complete welcome and, indeed, tried to seize from him at least half the share of the credit, as we are entitled to do. Now we are debating these Amendments and we are quite entitled to discuss them. There will be other opportunities on the whole issue of what is called the closed shop and the rather complicated question of the different meanings that may be given to it either in America or even occasionally in St. James's Square.
My hon. and learned Friend who moved the Amendment made it quite clear that it was not intended to raise the point whether a shop should be unionised or not; it was not intended to prevent in any way the demand that everybody employed in a particular shop should be a member of a trade union; it was not even intended to raise the question as to whether the employers should deal in their ordinary negotiations with any except the majority union, or the union that had the broad control over the mass of the men. All it asked was that men should have the right to join those particular unions within the great gamut and field of unions, many in a single workshop, which they prefer. I think it raises in that way the subsidiary point whether the power of forcing men to belong to trade unions which happen to be affiliated to the Trades Union Congress and through that the Labour Party become the great supporting basis of the Labour Party—[Interruption]. Whatever the niceties through which it is sought to avoid that issue, they have been improperly taken over in order to support one political party in this country. The Government have tried to stifle discussion on this issue. At Question time two or three days ago the right hon. Gentleman made the most deplorable exhibition I have ever seen a Minister make in this House. The Government tried to refuse, through the power the Lord President of the Council has, to allow hon. Members below the Gangway to discuss this, although there is time before the end of the Session. They have tried to muzzle debate. But the time will come. We have taken this opportunity, and will take others. The right hon. Gentleman tells me that the term "closed shop" is just an American term which he does not understand. If it were in Order, I would give him a good old English word which he would understand.
The speech made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. J. Edwards) I think alarmed not only his opponents, but his supporters. I do not want to overstate or make unfair use of what he said, but there was a tone of mind in it, an attitude towards life, which really frightened me. Perhaps I am too old to under- stand modern life and thought, but it really frightened me. I thought we had fought two wars about that. He tells us that the intractable and recalcitrant minority must always submit to majority vote. The minority must not make a nuisance of itself, and, he says, it has no right to exist. What about Belgium, or Holland? What about Palestine? How near to National Socialism, Socialism is becoming in England? Before they go too far, let them pause a little. Of course there must be give and take, there must be, as there always has been in the functions of this country, a reasonable amount of play—
In moving words, the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the conception of the functions of industry on both sides. Of course there are difficulties in the best organisations to attune it as the Parliamentary Secretary told us it has to be attuned. Through our long English tradition—and we do not forget this against any taunts that may be made—for certainly 100 years, since the Reform Bill, my party has been the minority in the House. For the last 100 years we have been the minority party. We have always been the minority party supporting the rights of the mass of the people against tyrannical power. In turn different forms of authority have seized and held power in this country, the King, the Church, the barons, the great industrial owners and magnates, the middle classes and now, maybe, the trade unions. In each period there has been a movement of revulsion against those who have taken power and used it too harshly, whether it was Cromwell on the one hand—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen know quite well in their own hearts that this needs not to be forced to its extreme but needs good judgment—if they like, good temper—the old traditional give and take and a great deal of commonsense on both sides. The great trade unions should not use their powers too strongly against the little unions, and the great organisations of employers should not use theirs too strongly against the smaller parties.
If this issue is pressed to the full, I fear we shall be either in this immediate period, or in years to come, up against one of those violent commotions which will undo much of the good work which the right hon. Gentleman and I have fought for and worked for in the last six years. I beg the Government not to turn this aside by the kind of speech we have been given by the Parliamentary secretary. Let us recognise the gravity of the position, and rise to the occasion and consider, before this next comes to the House, whether the Government will not take the opportunity to give us a true lead in a policy of commonsense in the solution of a deep problem. Failing that, I hope we shall all vote in favour of this Amendment tonight.
I thought this was a very narrow issue and that the only question was whether the words of the Motion provided sufficient freedom or whether the words suggested in the Amendment improve it. I thought we would be confined to that one question, as to which were the better words. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the Debate has taken a very much wider turn. But it still raises a major issue of vital importance, not only to the people of this country, but, seeing that this country has been the pioneer in regard to trade unions and a pioneer in regard to democracy, this is a vital question which will affect the position in the whole world. It cannot be dismissed or discussed as a side issue. I am rising at this moment to make that perfectly clear. This matter has been raised now for some months and it has been debated in the public Press. Unfortunately, the House of Commons has to wait for some considerable time before it can debate a matter of vital importance which has been discussed outside, instead of this House providing the lead on such an important matter. My friends and I put-down a general Motion to raise this issue. I even suggested it when my friends and I supported the Government on the Second Reading of the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Act, 1946, because this is becoming a matter which is really important. I had thought in view of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that this Motion being confined to Government contracts, and confined to this very narrow issue of paragraph 4, we would not have been able to raise this vital and constitutional issue. I do not think we can, because whenever any suggestion has been made that we were raising it there have been protests from the other side of the House that it was not being raised by what was before us today. Unfortunately the Parliamentary Secretary has used words which seem to show that he at any rate is in favour of bringing in compulsion as against the liberty of the subject in this country.
He has called a breakaway union a "scab" union. He used illustrations just now in which apparently he was disapproving of a minority and what they might do. I hope that I am doing him an injustice. At any rate, let us clear this up.
Might I suggest to the Government and to all the Members on the other side of the House that when they discuss what the Parliamentary Secretary has been saying, they might again consult the Minister of Health on his views on the matter, which are far wider than those of many on the other side of the House, and to which he has given eloquent expression. I ask again that the Government should realise that this is a question which must be raised as a main issue in this House. I see no reason why it should not be done in this Session. It is not one which ought to be raised in the Debate on the Address. I should have preferred to hear the Minister's views. He opened the Debate, as he always does, in a most temperate manner, dealing only with what was in the Motion, quite rightly. Nothing has been said by him on these other questions which have now been debated across the Floor of the House. I wish to mention one. The Minister made a great point—I do not blame him for the fact—that this Motion was the result—
With respect, Mr. Speaker, my point arises on that, because of the wording of the Amendment. I respectfully suggest that one of the reasons used against the Amendment is that this Motion has been agreed to by people who have done a considerable amount of work. They are the representatives of labour and of employers. But let us also remember that we owe a greater duty to the public than does any outside body, and it is for this House always to consider, before any regulation is made, the appropriateness of the words. We are the elected representatives of the people; we must take the responsibility, and it must not be put upon any outside body, however great and important.
It would be a great pity for the Labour Party if this discussion were to end without one member of the party expressing his agreement with what the Leader of the Liberal Party has just said. I am a Socialist. I have as good a record in this movement as anybody on these benches. I am a Scotsman, and the Scots have been taught all through Scottish history to cherish liberty—in the words taught to William Wallace by his grandfather:
My son, I tell thee, soothfastlie, nae gift is like too liberty, then never live in slavery.
I was appalled that the Parliamentary Secretary, when replying tonight, did not reply to a simple question nor indicate that he and the Government realised that this was an important constitutional issue. I am not entering on the rights and wrongs of the question. I have not made up my mind on the question that is at issue—but there is a great issue at stake. I appeal to the Government to give this House an opportunity to discuss it in a proper manner, not merely as a side-issue on an Amendment to a Motion—to give us an opportunity to discuss it, because this House is Parliament, and because Parliament is greater than the Trades Union Congress and the Federation of British Industries combined.
I think it is right, following the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) that I should say a word or two on the points which he has brought forward. I am not passing over what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has said, but the Debate has ranged very wide indeed, and I wish to confine myself to the words in the Motion as it is put before the House. I would like to deal with those points, and also with two or three of the phrases which the right hon. Gentleman used, especially his closing phrases. I have been twitted and have enjoyed it, with the fact that I asked the other day, "Tell me what you mean by the 'closed shop'?" We are now in no doubt what is meant by the "closed shop," but in my early days whenever I heard reference to the "closed shop" in my industry it was a shop that was closed to the trade unions, a shop where they were not allowed to enter. Therefore, my observation was not facetious. I genuinely wanted to know, though I might have guessed what was in the mind of the hon. Member who first raised this question. It is a question which has been discussed from many angles on the Amendment which is now before us.
May I draw the attention of the House to the wording of paragraph 4, which, as the Minister in charge of the Motion, I think is as clear as is necessary? It says:
The contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of trade unions.
There is no definition, no restriction about it. It means, in my opinion, that if a man joins a union the firm has no right to say to him, "You must not be in a union." Later, there will come a question, as it is coming into the picture now, when an employer says, "I cannot recognise, for negotiating purposes, this big—or little—union because I have my relationship with other unions." This and other questions may arise. They are hypothetical at the moment. I hope the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) will not mind my referring to "hypothetical facts." I do not know whether facts can be hypothetical. But we are discussing a hypothetical question at the moment. There is no qualification there, no restriction. Workpeople are entitled to be members of a trade union. There is no drawing the line at all, and no question arises, as it might arise, as to whether there is something in the relationship of a particular firm with a particular union as against other unions which involves the question whether there is a breach of this Fair Wages Clause. Now, if the matter is not settled by the parties, it is to be referred to arbitration. That takes it right out of the sphere of the Minister of Labour himself. It takes it to arbitration proceedings, and in the main we have every confidence in the kind of arbitration proceedings which go on in this country.
Could the Minister clarify the issue by saying what is the position of a Government contractor who recognises and agrees to the demand of a union which wants a monopoly? Is that contractor to have a clean slate or a black slate with the Government? Is he right or wrong in recognising that monopoly union?
I do not know of a union demanding a monopoly in relation to a Government contractor. As we see it, the form of words in the Motion is one which the parties who knew most about this—the Coalition Government and the two contracting parties—thought to be the best words. They thought they were sufficient and we think so. I am not complaining that the Amendment to put in the words suggested has been moved as it has provided an opportunity for some of these fears and doubts to be expressed and will help to throw light upon the subject. We believe that the words in the Clause as it stands are the best, taken in conjunction with paragraph 3, which provides for an independent tribunal to settle the point. I think that for the House to act at this moment on the very meagre evidence and distorted information—not distorted as given by hon. Members opposite, but as it has come to them—would do a great disservice to the efforts that are being made in the trade union movement to keep things on the right lines. If we started giving expression to our views as to what ought or ought not to be the form of organisation, between one form and another—
I think we ought to be clear what, in the Government's view, paragraph 4 means as it stands. In order that the Minister shall answer that I will put a perfectly specific question to him. In the view of the Government, is the London Passenger Transport Board at this moment recognising the freedom of its workpeople to be members of trade unions within the meaning of paragraph 4?
First of all, that is not the issue, and, secondly—[Interruption.] That question has not been put specifically in connection with this Clause. If it is put, it will be put to the Ministry of Labour and not direct to the Government. When it is put, it will be dealt with by the regulations and proceedings that we have. I am asked what these words mean. I think those hon. Gentlemen who have had a far better opportunity for studying words than I have, could see what they mean. We say they mean what they say and, at any rate, we are going to adhere to them. The right hon. Member for Bromley gave us a very entertaining little wind up. He said there was a good deal of chaff and not much wheat in what my hon. Friend said. In any case, the right hon. Gentleman gave us a little more chaff. We do not mind. It is much easier to listen to him than it is to tune in and listen to "Itma." It was most enjoyable. He said that there is admittedly a confused situation in the trade union world of craft versus trade unions. There is some confusion. It is no good blinking at that fact; but it is not on the basis upon which hon. Gentlemen seem to think. It is a question not of whether there should be an industrial organisation or a craft organisation, but a continual question as to where with modern processes a machine does the work of a highly skilled craftsman and the management want to use a semi-skilled man for the job. That sort of thing has been going on for years.
I want to say with the greatest possible assurance that there is no finer tribunal in the world for settling these issues than the trade union movement itself. There is established under the Trades Union Congress a disputes committee. I was myself a member for many years, and I served as chairman for eight years. Before this committee questions of the differences between the unions are brought, and in the main they are settled. There have been one or two cases where there has been an attempt to disagree with the decisions. There are differences, and these differences are better adjusted and settled inside that great industrial movement than by trying to argue them on some interpretation of a Motion of this kind or fighting them out on the employers' premises.
It was six months, and the matter was never taken to that body until the Ministry of Labour discovered that this dispute had been drifting on and the parties were not near to a settlement. The three parties were approached and they agreed to take it to that body. That dispute which had hung on for all that time was settled to the complete satisfaction of all three parties within a short time of it being taken there.
It seems to me that no matter how much good we are able to do, it will not be recognised. I have admitted there is some confused relationship in the trade union world between craft and non-craft unions. I have stated there is machinery existing to do that job, and I could mention hundreds of cases where it has been successful. I will admit that in some cases the proceeding is a bit slow and things do not move as fast as they might; but I would remind hon. Gentlemen that we have had to say that in the past even about Tory Governments. The right hon. Gentleman referred to another point when he spoke of the jealousy existing between trade union leaders. I know them all. I was not one of the great ones, I was one who was on the outside, on the periphery, I think it is called. There is no jealousy there. Believe me, there is a very great and sincere desire to weld the trade union movement into an organisation of service to the community. If hon. Members look at what they did during the war and the lead which they are now giving, they will see my point.
I want to correct another of the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. He said the unions had become affiliated to the Trades Union Congress and thereby to the Labour Party. I assure the House that the Trades Union Congress has no authority, no way of inducing, persuading, or interfering with any trade union on the question of whether or not they wish to belong to the Labour Party. An examination of the list of members of both organisations will show that there are far more trade unions affiliated to the Trades Union Congress than there are to the Labour Party. The strange thing is that some which are affiliated to the Trades union Congress and not to the Labour Party are the most vociferous in saying what the Government should do.
I now refer to the final sentence of the right hon. Gentleman. I may not quote his words correctly but I have got the meaning. He said he hoped the Government will not force this issue to its extreme. That is exactly the point to which I wish to respond. It is not the intention of the Government to force this issue at all. It is the intention of the Government to secure this Motion and to see that it operates. I assure the House that if any of these questions arise as to the recognition of one union or another, they will not be dealt with by the Government or the Ministry of Labour. Certainly while it is my privilege to be at the Ministry of Labour, they will be referred to the properly constituted organisation for the
settlement of such questions. We do not want to force this to an issue. We want to see peace and good understanding even in those organisations where some men have broken away and formed another union. We know that some of these breakaway unions are formed because of deep convictions. We know also that some are formed merely out of pure cussedness. It is on the definite expression that this matter will not be forced to its extremes, that I hope the House will now reject the Amendment in the spirit of the closing words of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.
|Division No. 285.]||AYES||[8.10 p.m.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Comyns, Dr. L.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.||Haworth, J.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Corlett, Dr. J.||Hewitson, Capt. M.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Cove, W. G.||Hicks, G.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Crawley, A.||Hobson, C. R.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Holman, P.|
|Austin, H. L.||Daggar, G.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Daines, P.||Hoy, J.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)|
|Baird, J.||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Balfour, A.||Deer, G.||Hughes, H. D. (Wolverhampton, W.)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)|
|Barstow, P. G.||Diamond, J.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)|
|Barton, C.||Dodds, N. N.||Hynd, J. D. (Attercliffe)|
|Battley, J. R.||Driberg, T. E. N.||Irving, W. J.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Durbin, E. F. M.||Jay, D. P. T.|
|Benson, G.||Dye, S.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)|
|Berry, H.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)|
|Beswick, F.||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Keenan, W.|
|Binns, J.||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Kenyon, C.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Fairhurst, F.||Kinley, J.|
|Boardman, H.||Farthing, W. J.||Lang, G.|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Lee, F. (Hulme)|
|Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Foot, M. M.||Leonard, W.|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Leslie, J. R.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Gaitskell, H. T. N.||Lewis, J. (Bolton)|
|Bramall, Major E. A.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Gibbins, J.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Gibson, C. W.||Longden, F.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Gilzean, A.||Lyne, A. W.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||McAdam, W.|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Gooch, E. G.||McAllister, G.|
|Buchanan, G.||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||McGhee, H. G.|
|Burden, T. W.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Burke, W. A.||Granfell, D. R.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Grey, C. F.||McLeavy, F.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Grierson, E.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Chater, D.||Gunter, Capt. R. J.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)|
|Chetwynd, Capt. G. R.||Guy, W. H.||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Clitherow, Dr. R.||Haire, Flt.-Lieut. J. (Wycombe)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hale, Leslie||Marquand, H. A.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Marshall, F. (Brightside)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Collick, P.||Hardy, E. A.||Medland, H. M.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Harrison, J.||Messer, F|
|Middleton, Mrs. L.||Richards, R.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Mikardo, Ian||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Tolley, L.|
|Mitchison, Maj. G. R.||Royle, C.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Monslow, W.||Sargood, R.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Scollan, T.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Shackleton, Wing-Cdr. E. A. A.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Sharp, Lt.-Col. G. M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Walkden, E.|
|Moyle, A.||Shurmer, P.||Walker, G. H.|
|Murray, J. D.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Nally, W.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Naylor, T. E.||Simmons, C. J.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Neal, H. (Claycross)||Skeffington, A. M.||Weitzman, D.|
|Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Skinnard, F. W.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Noel-Buxton, Lady.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||West, D. G.|
|Oldfield W. H.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)||Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Oliver, G. H.||Snow, Capt. J. W.||White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Paget, R. T.||Solley, L. J.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Sorensen, R. W.||Wigg, Col. G. E.|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Soskice, Maj. Sir F.||Wilkes, L.|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Sparks, J. A.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Parkin, B. T.||Stamford, W.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Steele, T.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Paton, J (Norwich)||Stephen, C.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Pearson, A.||Stewart, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Peart, Capt. T. F.||Stross, Dr. B.||Williams, W R. (Heston)|
|Perrins, W.||Stubbs, A. E.||Williamson, T.|
|Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)||Swingler, S.||Wills, E.|
|Popplewell, E.||Symonds, A. L.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Porter, E. (Warrington)||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Wyatt, W.|
|Porter, G. (Leeds)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Yates, V. F.|
|Pritt, D. N.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Proctor, W. T.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Randall, H. E.||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)|
|Ranger, J.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rees-Williams, D. R.||Thurtle, E.||Mr. Collindridge and|
|Reid, T. (Swindon)||Tiffany, S.||Mr. Coldrick.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Armagh)||Haughton, S. G.||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Head, Brig. A. H.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Hollis, M. C.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Barlow Sir J.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Hope, Lord J.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Beamish Maj. T. V. H.||Howard, Hon. A.||Prescott, Stanley|
|Beechman, N. A.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.|
|Birch Nigel||Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Cdr. Hon. L. W.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Boothby, R.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bowen, R.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Bower, N.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Buchan Hepburn, P. G. T.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Byers, Frank||Linstead, H. N.||Robinson, Wing-Comdr Roland|
|Carson E.||Lipson, D. L.||Ross, Sir R.|
|Challen, C.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Channon, H.||Low, Brig, A. R. W.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Clifton-Brown Lt-Col. G.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Stanley Rt. Hon. O.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Macdonald, Sir P. (Isle of Wight)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Davies, Clement (Montgomery)||Maclean, Brig. F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Teeling, William|
|Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Macpherson Maj. N. (Dumfries)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Drewe, C.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Duthie, W. S.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Turton, R. H.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Marples, A. E.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Marsden, Capt. A.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J.|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||White, Sir D. Fareham|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Maude, J. C.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Medlicott, F.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G.||Mellor, Sir J.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Grimston, R. V.||Molson, A. H. E.||York, C.|
|Gruffyd, Prof. W. J.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harris, H. Wilson||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Cmdr. Agnew and|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Nicholson, G.||Major Conant.|
Resolution agreed to.
I beg to move, in line 26, at the end, to insert:
and he shall not do anything that may interfere either directly or indirectly with the exercise of that right.
One of the purposes of this Amendment is to stake a claim in defence of the liberty of the subject. We can, perhaps, judge how dear the liberty of the subject really is to the Conservative and Liberal Parties by gazing upon the population of their benches at this moment. Here is an issue in which the liberty of the subject is involved, but no political capital is to be made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and since there is no political capital to be made all the attractions of the liberty of the subject do not seem to predispose them in the direction of taking an interest in this matter.
The purpose of this addition to the Motion, which may at first glance be thought to do no more than paraphrase the wording already existing, is to make the meaning and purpose of paragraph 4 clearer than it is, and to ensure a greater effectiveness in operation of paragraph 4. In fact, this Amendment seeks to reinforce the due observance of the fourth paragraph of the Motion and to prevent evasion of it by some employers who seek by indirect methods to obstruct, if not to prevent, the trade union membership of their supervisory, administrative, technical and similar employees. The operative words in the Amendment are "or indirectly," because while the firms to which I refer claim to recognise the trade union rights of their workers, they operate, as a sly and indirect method, an arrangement whereby they place the staff superannuation arrangements with a society which lays it down as a condition of membership that a member may not be a member of a trade union. In other words, they face their workers with a choice between belonging to a trade union, in which case they are denied the benefits of superannuation, or, if they want the benefits of superannuation, leaving their trade union under compulsion without any right to exercise the liberty of the subject in this matter. I would have thought that this fact would have been well known to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I would have thought that the Liberal Party would have received many letters about it—
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask him a question? In view of his appeal for help from this side, may I ask him in the event of my being able to secure, let us say 150 Tories to vote with him on this Amendment, could he produce 100 Labour men so that we can beat the Government?
I would remind the hon. Gentleman of the words of George Eliot who said that prophecy is the most gratuitous form of error. I will not guess how many Labour Members will vote for the Amendment, and the hon. Gentleman should not guess how many Conservatives will vote. We shall see who can claim the most support in this direction. We shall see to what extent hon. Gentlemen opposite are speaking for employers and employers' organisations. Employees in organisations where the employers subsidise the Foremen's and Staffs' Mutual Benefit Society are unable to get superannuation rights which their firms offer unless they leave their trade unions. It seems difficult to imagine that in 1946 it is still possible for an organisation to exist which debars trade unionists and nobody but trade unionists from membership, and it is also difficult to imagine that such an organisation can receive active support and subsidisation—financial and other support, in other words—from employers without a single protest from the benches opposite about the infringement of the liberty of the subject.
This condition I have just described, which has been the subject of a great amount of grievance on the part of the people concerned, applies very widely in establishments in which Government contracts are held. Indeed, almost the whole of my experience in this matter has been gained in such establishments. I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for not having made that point clear before. In the light of this prohibition it is a very encouraging thing that many tens of thousands of men have, in the last few years, gladly given up superannuation rights worth very many pounds in order to exercise their freedom to join a trade union. It is not without significance that the highest proportion of growth in trade union membership has been amongst the members of non-manual workers' unions, of staff unions, of the unions of supervisors, technicians, draughtsmen and scientists—the very unions that the Foremen's and Staffs' Mutual Benefit Society, subsidised by employers, exists to counteract.
The problem does not end with the man giving up his superannuation rights in order to exercise his right to be a member of a union. The problem goes deeper than that. There are many firms in this country—and I hope the defenders of liberty opposite will listen very carefully to this—in which the chance of getting a supervisory post, or the chance of being promoted when one has got a supervisory post, is made dependent upon membership of this fake benefit society, and hence is made dependent upon one leaving one's trade union. There are many firms in this country which are, in fact, closed shops, not to a trade union but to this spurious benefit society which debars trade unionists from its membership. What is more, this society is actively encouraging employers to recruit their supervisory staffs only from people who have shown their anti-trade union bias by being members of this benefit society.
Letters of application for supervisory and technical posts by applicants to prospective employers often have stuck in the top left-hand corner an appropriately coloured yellow ticket which says:
We, the Foremen's and Staffs' Mutual Benefit Society, certify that this applicant is one of our members.
The Prudential Assurance Company does not give a ticket to certify that a man has an insurance policy with them as a recommendation for employment. In fact, what this appropriately coloured yellow ticket says is: "We recommend this man to you. You can safely employ him. He is not a trade unionist." In other words, this organisation is using its money to subsidise the closed shop, the shop which is closed to supervisory and technical workers who are members of trade unions. I know of one case where 10 members of a local branch of my own union were approached by the management and told that if they left the union and joined the benefit society promotion would follow almost immediately. I
know of another company, whose name is a household word, in which the branch secretary of a trade union was sent for by the superintendent who handed him an application form for membership of the benefit society, saying to him, "If you join the benefit society—which, of course, means giving up your post in your union—you will get an immediate rise. If you do not do so you can be quite clear that there is no expectation of promotion for you in this organisation." Finally, I want to quote a case—although I could quote very many more—of a very great factory not far from here in which no worker is promoted from the bench to the job of foreman unless he is a contributor to the Foremen's and Staffs' Mutual Benefit Society; that is to say, unless he has given up his trade union membership.
What this amounts to is simply that the attack on trade unionism, the resistance to the ever growing tide of trade unionism which employers, with the help of Members of the party opposite, carried on right through the 19th century and in the first years of this century, and in which they were defeated by the growing power of the great trade unionists—this attack has now been concentrated on trade unionism amongst the supervisory and technical staff workers; and they are behaving towards trade unionism amongst such people as foremen and draughtsmen in exactly the same way as, a century ago, they behaved towards trade unionism amongst their operative workers. I should have thought that employers, like everyone else, would have welcomed the increasing tendency of supervisory and technical staffs to join their fellow workers on the bench and on the machine in trades union organisation. We are all talking of greater incentives for greater output, about integrating everybody in industry, so that all may have the sense of a common purpose, and so on; and what better way is there for doing this than ensuring that all workers, whether they happen to work with a collar on or without whether they happen to work at a bench or at a desk, coming together in the same trades union organisation? Yet, in spite of this, employers, who cannot see that this development would be most definitely in their own interests, use this back handed, indirect method of obstructing, at the very least, the growth of trade unionism amongst their foremen and their other supervisory staffs.
I was very sorry to hear my right hon. Friend say, when he opened the Debate earlier today, that he hoped the House would pass his Motion with no Amendment. I was sorry, in fact, to hear him make a suggestion which, in effect, damned this Amendment, without his having heard the arguments in favour of it, though I am sure he is as familiar with them, because of his wealth of trade union experience, as anyone else in this House. I hope he will not say that it does not matter; that, in fact, the wording, as it is in his Motion, will fulfil what we set out to do. The simple answer is that the existing Fair Wages Resolution has not prevented the operation of the Foremen's and Staffs' Mutual Benefit Society; and that the many unions that have considered this matter, the many unions affiliated to the National Federation of Professional Workers, the many unions that make up the non-manual workers' advisory council of the Trades Union Congress, who recently passed a resolution unanimously on this subject—these many unions have formed the opinion that, under the wording of my right hon. Friend's Motion, the Foremen's and Staffs' Mutual Benefit Society can continue to operate, but that, with the additional wording proposed in this Amendment, there is at least, a chance that we shall be able to fight this stooge, this sly, deceitful organisation, in open country and do something about it.
I hope my right hon. Friend will not advance the argument that this is an agreed document and that, therefore, we have got to accept it as it is. The fact is, as was pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), that it is the responsibility of this House to give the final verdict upon this Fair Wages Motion. That it may be an agreed document, I beg the Minister not to depart from his sympathies for the trade union movement—for which sympathies we all honour him—and to realise what is the attitude of the movement with regard to this matter. Every individual trade union which is affected by the existence of the Foremen's and Staffs' Mutual Benefit Society has gone on record against it. The National Federation of Professional Workers, which embraces all the non-manual trade unions in the country, has gone on record against it. The Non-Manual Workers' Advisory Council of Trades Union Congress has unanimously gone on record against it, and I think I may add, without a breach of confidence, that I have evidence in the clearest terms that the General Council of Trades Union Congress—and I am going to use a deliberate under-statement—will not object to the addition to the Clause of the words which I am at present moving. This seems to me to be a case in which the Minister, who is big enough to do this, could go back on what he said earlier today, and consider this quite innocuous addition, which merely clarifies the wording of the Clause as he has moved it. It does no more than make it clear, and make it more difficult for people to use back-handed means to get out of doing what the Fair Wages Clause entitles them to do.
I feel extremely strongly about this, and I hope my feeling is shared by every trade unionist on these Benches. I do not expect any help from the Benches opposite, but I hope my feeling is shared by every trade unionist on these Benches who realises, whether his own organisation is directly affected by this matter or not, that an attack on any sector of trade unionism is an attack on the whole, and by every trade unionist who realises that this is the last fight—that the managerial, executive and technical trade unions are now trying to fight the fight which the bigger organisations fought so well and won so convincingly in their day. Everybody who really values the liberty of the subject, instead of paying lip-service to it for the sake of a newspaper headline, should lend his support. I sincerely hope that the Minister will say that he can accept this and that we can all agree about it, but if need be, if I were the only man in this House to do it, I would go into the. Lobby to show how strong is my feeling on this matter.
The case that has been made by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) set out particulars of incidents which have been well known to me for a number of years, and upon which, I agree, there is strong feeling amongst those affected. But we have to apply our minds here to the actual words
of the paragraph and to the situation as it presents itself, and not be swayed too much by our own personal feelings. The hon. Member referred to the Federation of Professional Workers. My own trade union has been associated with that for a number of years, and through that medium I have known a good deal about this matter, but it is not restricted to Government contracts. No doubt it might be prayed in aid against a firm getting a Government contract, but I am not quite sure how it could be done. In the first instance I do not think the form of words the hon. Member proposes would help the case he is putting forward. It says that the contractor—
shall not do anything that may interfere either directly or indirectly with the exercise of that right.
I do not know, but it seems to me that it would be a lovely little point for the lawyers to argue, whether a contractor who has established a superannuation fund of this sort, and has made these conditions and said, "I leave it open to this man, he can have this job if he likes to join in with the society," has done anything that might interfere either directly or indirectly with the exercise of that right. In my opinion the Federation will be in just as strong a position or maybe stronger without those words, without being tied down to the definition, by relying upon the terms of paragraph 3. It says:
In the event of any question arising as to whether the requirements of this Resolution are being observed,"—
I would point out that it says "requirements," and not "terms"—
the question shall, if not otherwise disposed of, be referred by the Minister of Labour and National Service to an independent tribunal for decision.
What is to be observed?
The contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of Trade Unions.
Whether in fact he imposes on them a condition when they take a job that means giving up trade union membership, would be a question to be judged on the facts of each particular case. I had to draw attention on the last Amendment to the fact that we were relying upon paragraph 4 without any definition or restriction. We say that the words mean exactly what they say, that there is nothing to
be added, and that we do not wish anything to be added. It puts the House in an awkward position, having asked the House to reject the last Amendment on these grounds, if I now accept this Amendment. I am sorry that I cannot accept the Amendment, but as soon as this Fair Wages Clause comes into operation, if the organisations, individually or jointly, can raise any question with regard to the operation in relation to the point referred to, I promise it will have immediate consideration, and that it will be referred to the tribunal mentioned so that a decision can be taken at once. I hope that in the light of this, the fact that we are most sympathetic—we know they have a real grievance—and are prepared to take this line, the hon. Member will not press his Amendment to a Division.
Does the Minister really mean that it is right for the House to be vague in its directions? Should not the House be as precise as possible, whether it be legislation, or instructions such as are contained in the terms of this Motion? It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman desires to leave the matter with a considerable degree of vagueness, so that when some difficulty arises he can refer the matter to a tribunal, leaving it to them to interpret the intentions of Parliament. In my submission it is our duty to narrow, as far as we can, any possible scope for misunderstanding of our intentions. It is our duty as far as we possibly can to anticipate doubts which may arise, and to secure that what goes out in text from this House, whether it is in legislation or in Motions is clear.
It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman is taking the opposite course. He is deliberately trying to leave the field of uncertainty as wide as possible, relying upon his tribunal to resolve the doubts. In my submission that is not the duty of the tribunal. It is the duty of Parliament to decide exactly what it wants. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman does not quite know his own mind, and he therefore wants to leave it to the tribunal to make it up for him. Surely that is quite wrong and contrary to all constitutional principle. It is our duty to make up our minds on what we want, and it is for the right hon. Gentleman to assist us by telling us what the Government want. When we know what we want, it is our duty to put it in precise language so that the possibility of litigation and references to tribunals is as limited as possible.
No one wants to involve parties to disputes in a mass of litigation. If Parliament can be precise much of that will be avoided. Tonight, the Minister seemed to take the opposite course, and I am very much surprised at that, because I should have thought that it was fundamental that we should do all we can to avoid unnecessary reference to the tribunal or litigation, or whatever we may like to call it. If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to assist the House by saying exactly what he wants, it will then perhaps be possible for us to get, on paper, quite clearly cut the decision of this House. Then, the scope for misunderstanding will be limited, and the possibility of protracted arbitration before tribunals may well be avoided.
That, in the opinion of this House, the Fair Wages Clauses in Government Contracts should be so amended as to provide as follows:
1.—(a) The contractor shall pay rates of wages and observe hours and conditions of labour not less favourable than those established for the trade or industry in the district where the work is carried out by machinery of negotiation or arbitration to which the parties are organisations of employers and trade unions representative respectively of substantial proportions of the employers and workers engaged in the trade or industry in the district.
(b) In the absence of any rates of wages, hours or conditions of labour so established the contractor shall pay rates of wages and observe hours and conditions of labour which are not less favourable than the general level of wages, hours and conditions observed by other employers whose general circumstances in the trade or industry in which the contractor is engaged are similar.
2. The contractor shall in respect of all persons employed by him (whether in execution of the contract or otherwise) in every factory, workshop or place occupied or used by him for the execution of the contract comply with the general conditions required by this Resolution. Before a contractor is placed upon a Department's list of firms to be invited to tender, the Department shall obtain from him an assurance that to the best of his knowledge and belief he has complied with the general conditions re-
quired by this Resolution for at least the previous three months.
3. In the event of any question arising as to whether the requirements of this Resolution are being observed, the question shall, if not otherwise disposed of, be referred by the Minister of Labour and National Service to an independent tribunal for decision.
4. The contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of Trade Unions.
5. The contractor shall at all times during the continuance of a contract display, for the information of his workpeople, in every factory, workshop or place occupied or used by him for the execution of the contract a copy of this Resolution.
6. The contractor shall be responsible for the observance of this Resolution by sub-contractors employed in the execution of the contract, and shall if required notify the Department of the names and addresses of all such subcontractors.