A year ago, in the atmosphere of a Motion of censure, we held a debate on the London bus dispute and I reacted sharply then to what I thought was the unhappy timing of that discussion. The debate that we are having today is, I hope, in a very different mood. This is an extremely complex problem, and I should like to make what perhaps I can describe as more an extended statement than a speech.
I am very grateful for the forbearance of the whole of the House throughout the stages of this dispute. There are two things which I should like to say first. There has been a flood of accusations and counter-accusations, of statement and counter-statement until I think that the whole country is dizzy with them. I merely say that I am sure that this dispute would be easier to resolve if we could have a truce to the battle of words and recriminations, and that perhaps the House of Commons today can set that example. I have even torn up that part of my speech which was to refer—I will even leave out the adjectives—to the speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) thought it helpful to make over the weekend. Forbearance can go no further than that.
There is one more matter that I should like to recall. Year in and year out, at home and abroad, often under fierce criticisms, I have held, as I do now, to my firm belief that in spite of all its illogicalities and its occasional idiocies the system of industrial negotiation that we have in this country is as good as any in the world. I should like to put in HANSARD figures from a table recently produced by the International Labour Office, which gives the figures for the days lost in disputes over the 11 years from 1947 to 1957, on the basis—which is the only possible comparison there is—of days lost per 1,000 workers covering mining, manufacturing, construction and transport.
They are as follow: Western Germany, 102; United Kingdom, 206; Japan, 698; Canada, 732; Australia, 775; Italy, 807; Belgium, 888—in that bloc of major industrial countries the figure, therefore is between three and a quarter and four and a half times as high as ours—France, 1,013; India, 1,111—five times as high as ours—the United States, 1,381, or nearly seven times as high as ours.
Therefore, so far as we are concerned, the loss in the year, owing to industrial disputes, comes on average to about one hour or two hours per worker per annum. Although it is quite right that in a major dispute like this we should discuss it in the House of Commons, it would be quite wrong if from this debate, people got the idea that we have a worse record than the other great industrial countries in industrial disputes. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. I believe that there are many millions of people inside and outside the trade union movement who regard the settlement of disputes by lockout or by strike as an absurdly old-fashioned weapon.
Before I come to deal with the dispute affecting the general printing and newspaper industries. I should like to restate what, I think, is the general principle which lies at the base of industrial relations in this country. The settlement of terms and conditions of employment in industry are fundamentally matters for negotiation and agreement between the two sides of industry without any form of interference from outside. Intervention by any third party—and in that expression I include myself—should take place only when it is abundantly clear that the parties have completely exhausted every possibility of reaching a settlement by their own efforts.
A Minister of Labour has no power to force a settlement, and although occasionally Ministers of Labour might wish that they had, I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who has experience of the office I hold, would agree with me that if there were such power vested in the Minister it would sooner or later be the death of the free collective bargaining system as we know it in this country. Although it is true in the great majority of industries these matters are settled without external assistance, it also is true that the printing industry has not a very enviable record, anyway in recent years, in this respect.
On the last two occasions, in 1950 and 1955, when the agreements in the industry fell due for review, serious disputes arose. Although they were not so widespread as the present one, nevertheless, they caused serious dislocation in the industry. I do not want to go into great detail into the history of the present dispute, but as the Committee will be aware the principal agreement on wages, which had run for a period of three years, terminated last April. I should like to record the story factually and without comment on the merits of either claim or offer.
In seeking a renewal of these agreements, the union submitted claims the principal features of which were, broadly, that wage rates should be increased by 10 per cent. or more for men and larger amounts for women, and that the working week should be reduced to 40 hours from the present general 43½ hours. At the outset the employers completely rejected these claims, but offered arbitration and, later, after negotiations, made an offer of a 2½ per cent. increase in wage rates with a reduction of the weekly hours to 42½, that is to say, by an hour, coupled with a large number of proposals which they considered would improve the efficient working of the industry. No doubt the key one of those proposals is the question of apprentice ratio.
This offer was not acceptable to the unions, who also were not prepared to take the dispute to arbitration. From this a series of events has culminated in the present position where by far the greater part of the general printing and provincial newspaper industry has ceased production. The printing industry has its Joint Industrial Council. It is one of the oldest councils and its powers, particularly in relation to negotiations, were brought up to date—so it was hoped—in 1957.
This time the J.I.C. has not been fully used and I think that it is sad that the printing industry's own council should have failed the first test of its new powers. I hope very much that when this dispute is over both sides will get together to examine the machinery of negotiation within the industry to decide whether the coverage is correct, or whether it should be more flexible for different parts of what, after all, is a very complicated industry. It would be very wrong if they waited for three years to find themselves again in this position.
As the Committee knows—this is one of the factors that makes negotiation difficult—parallel with this dispute has been one between the Society of British Printing Ink Manufacturers and the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants, which has led to serious difficulties for the national newspapers. In this case the union put in a claim on similar lines to that submitted to the printing employers. Settlements in printing ink disputes usually follow the settlements in the main field, although there is no absolute rule that this should be so.
I was concerned at this extension of the dispute to the national Press, because it involved a risk to the employment of many thousands of people not themselves parties to the original dispute. Accordingly, I called the two sides together to discuss the situation. My idea was to see whether we could arrange an armistice, pending the settlement of the larger dispute. In the mood in which the parties were then, the talks failed, but as the Committee will know, there have been further talks this morning—they were adjourned for lunch and resumed again early this afternoon—on the basis of a document submitted by the employers.
If I may, I will ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who hopes to speak for a few minutes at the end of this short debate, to give a full account of what has happened today so as to bring the Committee up to date; that is assuming that we then know the final position.
At this stage there is one matter which I should like to make clear to the Committee. When I wrote to the parties concerned with the printing ink dispute, expressing my grave concern at this extension of the dispute, some people took my words to mean that I was in some way less concerned with the major dispute which had already stopped general printing among provincial newspapers. Frankly I do not see how my words could have led to that mistake, but I understand that that view is held by some people. I have just explained why I wish to isolate this part of the dispute.
In any event, let me make clear—and I am sure that the Committee will agree with me in this—that the local and provincial newspapers are no less important than the national ones. Their richness and variety is no less precious to us. But we must also beware of treating this dispute as though it were a dispute with the newspapers alone. It is much more than that. Nor even does it concern the printing houses and publishers alone. It spreads beyond that to the paper mills, to business, to financial houses, to commerce—even to sport. Many people, including writers and artists, with nothing whatever to do with this argument, find their livelihood affected, and I am sure that the Committee has an equal concern for them all.
What are the courses open to me, as Minister of Labour, to assist in bringing this situation to an end? There are three, and I should like to examine them with the Committee. Naturally, each course has a number of varients. The first is called conciliation, in which either I or my officers endeavour to bring the parties together to see whether we can help them to reach a negotiated agreement. I said a few moments ago that the best solution is that the two sides should get together themselves and reach a settlement. But for some time now the prospects of their doing that have been been remote, and, therefore, I must consider—as I have considered many time—every day—whether any direct intervention by way of conciliation would help.
Of course, such conciliation action can be effective only when it is undertaken with the good will of both sides; where there is a disposition on the part of both sides to reach agreement and some indication that ultimately—it does not matter how long it may take—agreement is possible. I think that any intervention without these conditions being satisfied is foredoomed to failure. Not only that but, unfortunately, such a failure has the effect of hardening the position. So an intervention that fails may be far worse than no intervention at all, because it is bound to make more difficult a later try for success. And, of course, it will be clear to the Committee that the timing of conciliation action is of the utmost importance.
It is very rare indeed that such an opportunity occurs in the first few days of a major dispute. The parties are then firmly entrenched and, although I have the details before me, I do not intend to weary the Committee by reciting what has been said about their challenging attitudes to each other. I think that I can best sum up my attitude towards conciliation in words I used casually a year ago in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth. He will remember that I used them in response to a supplementary question which he put to me. I said that I would intervene when I saw "a chink of light".
This purely accidental phrase has since become almost proverbial. I am quite prepared to "explore every avenue" and to "turn all the stones", but I believe that a feverish hunt for a compromise that satisfies nobody does not lead to a lasting settlement. This is in no way a new doctrine enunciated by myself. It seems to me a fundamental principle of the handling of industrial relations.
The second course, when both parties are agreeable, is to make available some form of arbitration to hear the parties and to give an award. There is, of course, a great deal to be said for the conception that when two people, or two associations, after prolonged and, no doubt, sincere effort to reach agreement have failed to do so, they should call in—whatever the precise machinery may be—someone from outside, assisted, if necessary, by technical experts, which might well be necessary in a case like this, who could be relied on to hear the case patiently and to judge it fairly. In this case I would add that if, ultimately, such a course becomes acceptable to both sides, then, naturally, we should be ready to set up any kind of body whose composition and methods of working would give mutual satisfaction to both parties.
Here, I should like to say something about what has been called the idea of a referee. I suggested this idea myself in the early stages of the dispute; in fact, actually before the dispute started. It is an idea which, in certain circumstances—I say frankly that I am not certain whether or not this is one of them—has a considerable attraction. The Committee will remember my invitation to Lord Evershed, two years ago—he was then Master of the Rolls—to act as arbitrator on the occasion of the big shipbuilding and engineering dispute. That idea was greeted with a good deal of applause for about a day and with a good deal of scorn afterwards. In the end, it proved unwelcome, but it may well be that had it been accepted, one of the most damaging strikes in recent years might have been avoided.
When the Trades Union Congress, whose interest in this matter I very much welcome, brought this idea—or rather a variant of it—to me, I was very ready to see whether the two parties could make anything of it, together with my officials. One fundamental difference exists, and it is: does the referee recommend, or does he decide? This question is at the heart of the conception of the referee. In real life, of course, a referee decides. He awards a penalty kick, and that is the end of the matter. In more seasonable mood the Committee would probably recall the story of the Yorkshire umpire who gave someone out l.b.w. This player said, as he passed the umpire, "That was never out"; to which the umpire replied, "Buy thysen an evening paper, lad, and tha'llt see".
In those cases, the referee and the umpire decide. They have to decide. We cannot go on appealing from what they have said. The position in this dispute is that the unions are not prepared to accept a referee who would, in the last resort, have the powers of an arbitrator, however eminent the referee might be. I regret that, just as I regret the lack of agreement to go to arbitration, but I do not propose, in the temper of this debate, to push my reasons home.
Before I leave the question of arbitration I should like to make a passing reference to the Industrial Disputes Order, recently terminated. It may be thought that had this Order still been in existence it would have been possible to enforce arbitration on the unions, despite their reluctance. Nobody who really understands industrial relations believes that. It seems to me a complete fallacy. In 1950, when the Socialist Government were in power, a printing dispute was referred to the National Arbitration Tribunal, but the union concerned ignored the award, and a court of inquiry was set up which proved very little more effective.
Anyone who has any doubt on this point should read the debate on arbitration in the Trades Union Congress of 1950. He would read the speech by Mr. Willis, calling for an end to compulsory arbitration, and would be convinced. I am sure that the argument that arbitration is suspect has nothing to do with this case. It was not advanced until a few days ago and it would have no relevance to the appointment of an arbitrator agreed between the parties or to the appointment of a single referee acceptable to both sides.
The third course open to me is to establish some form of inquiry into the dispute. As I said earlier, this course has been followed twice during the last decade when the printing agreements came up for review and trouble followed in both cases. Those who are familiar with what happened in 1950 and 1956 will realise that the courts of inquiry did not have much success in either case. It would be extremely unsatisfactory for any industry if, on each occasion its agreements needed revision, it should become a matter of routine for the Minister to set up a court of inquiry. I am sure the industry itself would, on reflection, like to avoid that situation, and to create an atmosphere in which such steps are no longer either automatic or necessary.
Quits apart from that general objection, I have given very careful consideration indeed to all the arguments for and against the appointment of a court of inquiry into this particular dispute. It is quite clear to me that to do so, at the present stage, at any rate, would not help significantly towards a settlement. I am sure that hon. Members have seen the statements made by some of the leaders about the possibility of such a court of inquiry. I do not rule it out for the future, as I do not rule out any solution; but my belief at the moment, after very careful consideration, is that it would neither be welcomed by the parties nor be effective at this time.
Yet, in the end, as we know perfectly well, the dispute will be settled by one or other of those three methods, or conceivably by a combination of two or even more of them, and, as necessary, we must be prepared to try them all and to try the various permutations that may arise for combining them. I have been examining the three ways in which an industrial dispute can come to an end. There are, of course, two other ways as well. This dispute could be settled this afternoon if either the employers accepted the claim in full or if the unions accepted the offer that has been made to them. In industrial relations, just as in foreign affairs, peace itself can easily be bought; but just as in foreign affairs it is not merely peace but an honourable peace that must be sought, so, in industrial relations, it is not merely a settlement but a lasting and workable settlement to which all parties must look.
My position is this. I am ready, with my officials, at all times to help towards such a conclusion, and the series of meetings that have been held and that we are holding will, I hope, clearly show that willingness. I am grateful to hop. Members who have given me advice in these matters, some of them with very great experience of this kind of problem, and to people outside this Chamber, both those who criticise and those who praise—usually the first, of course,—in the light of their experience.
This situation changes from day to day and even from hour to hour and the way we must deal with it must take into account what is at the moment an extremely difficult and fluid situation. I am sure that the Committee understands that because these responsibilities are placed upon the Minister of Labour, the timing of his intervention and the methods by which he tries to seek a settlement can only and must only be judged by the Minister himself.
There is a good deal of common ground between the Minister and this side of the Committee, particularly when he stresses that the purpose of this debate is not to exacerbate relationships and so create greater difficulties in this dispute, but to consider the matter here so that, perhaps, out of what is said by both sides, some ideas and suggestions might permeate in the direction of the contestants in the dispute, with a view to bringing it to an end.
I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman paid a small tribute to those of us, particularly on this side of the Committee, who have so far not brought this dispute on to the Floor of this Chamber. He well knows that the timing of a debate of this character is as carefully considered by us as it is by himself. We recognise full well that premature debate can do tremendous harm. Equally, there is responsibility to the public at large, which Parliament cannot overlook in any circumstances. Therefore, there must be a time, when there is an industrial dispute which affects the general public personally, when Parliament must say something and make what contribution it can to a general settlement.
There are two ways by which we, on our side, can deal with this matter. The first is by Question and Answer. We considered this matter very carefully and came to the conclusion that on this occasion this method would not be satisfactory. The second way by which we can deal with a matter of this importance is on the lines that the Minister has indicated, as an extended statement. Very often in the heat of supplementary questions things are said which, on reflection, might have been put in a rather different way.
For that reason we decided that we would not approach this matter by way of Question and Answer, but that, because we happened to have a Supply Day available, we should give this time to it in the best interests of all concerned. I should like the Committee also to notice that in giving this time we invited the Minister to open the debate. We felt it very much better that he should make his statement—his expanded statement, as he has described it—in the rather cool way in which he has made it, keeping tempers down in a genuine endeavour to put the full facts before the Committee, so that we can all be apprised of what is at stake and perhaps, in our contributions, follow the same moderate, cool, calm manner of the Minister.
One of the factors which determined the timing of this debate was the fact that it had extended beyond the general printing dispute to the ink makers, and therefore, it would bring the national Press to a complete stop. Indeed, until we know what transpires today it might well be that by the middle of this week there will not be any national newspapers. The dissemination of news is so important that is should not be left solely to sound radio and television. The Press plays an important part in the dissemination of news to the people. We are an intelligent citizenship and read more newspapers per head of the population than any other country in the world. We like to find the facts and very often we ascertain the facts by reading more than one newspaper and more than one opinion.
It seems to us that the cessation of national newspapers would be a very bad thing for the country as a whole. Economically, it might be more important to settle a shipbuilding dispute in an organisation like Cammell Lairds. There might be more at stake from an economic point of view in relation to exports, but that does not impinge in the same way on the public as this dispute does. The timing and nature of disputes brought on the Floor of the House of Commons for discussion must be judged by criteria such as that.
I was very glad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman was not offended by the fact that we asked him to bring this matter before the Committee today but rather welcomed the opportunity of making a statement. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to explain to the Committee that there were three ways in which this dispute could be dealt with by the Ministry of Labour. In my view, there is a fourth way, which ought to be tried before there is any possibility of success of any of the three suggestions which have been made for the Minister and of their being acceptable to the parties concerned.
One of the factors about this wage dispute is very important. It is that wages and conditions of the people in this industry were settled in 1956 on the basis of a three-year contract. Speaking for myself, I am very much in favour of long-term wage agreements. I very much prefer—I think it is sound common sense—to have wage agreements which cover a period of two or even three years, with that slight fluctuation to deal with any real changes in cost of living, so that both employers and employed know precisely where they stand in relation to earning capacity and the on-costs which take place in any manufacturing or productive industry.
Therefore, I state my position very clearly. I believe in long-term wage agreements. I believe they enable stability and that it is a good thing to get rid of constant wage applications. Sometimes in a single industry since the war we have had three wages negotiations in a period of fifteen months. I do not believe that we can get on to other talks by trade unions and employers—about efficient production—if they never leave the table because they have to be talking about nothing but wages and conditions. Therefore, I think it a good thing to try to get long-term wage agreements.
To the extent, therefore, that one side is proposing, as I understand the unions are proposing in this case to negotiate for a further three years, there is going to be much harder bargaining than if it were a question of getting a settlement today and making a further application in six months' time. I appreciate that at first there would be much harder bargaining which would take a considerably longer time for a three-year agreement, which I regard as a very sensible objective to reach.
The last negotiation covered wages and hours. In that wage negotiation and settlement there was an arrangement by which for every rise in the cost of living 1s. would be added to the weekly wage packet. If we were to take the basis of £11 a week, one of the basic rates and the most common which is used—it is not the lowest and not the highest—it would be seen that as a result of cost of living increases since that last agreement about 13s. a week has been added to wages from three years ago, but if we took the cost of living as a percentage then the amount which would have been got as a percentage would not have been 13s. a week, but 19s. 8d., a difference of 6s. 8d.
The employers' offer of 2½ per cent. on an £11 basic rate would have been 5s. 6d., so if the unions had accepted 2½ per cent. they would have been accepting something much less than the normal rise on the cost of living basis would have provided. I do not want to argue the merits or demerits of the case. I mention that only to show that a great deal more talk is needed between the two sides about that particular point than has been the case.
I must say that I resent very much the idea which many people seem to have that all one must now do in wage negotiations is for the workers to put forward a claim, the employers to put a counter offer and then automatically to say, "This now goes to arbitration". In that case what becomes of negotiation? This is an absurdity and a very bad habit into which we have slipped in postwar years. It has been far too easy, and, in my view, it is also very bad discipline on both sides. The case for wages and conditions should be argued out within the industry by the people who know what they are talking about, particularly with all the intricacies in this industry and the technical difficulties which are known intimately only to the people in it. Negotiations are what ought to be taking place not just in this dispute but in many others which break up and lead to one side or the other saying, "This is our claim. This is our counter offer. Let us go to arbitration." Arbitration has its place in wage negotiations and wages settlements, but it is not a substitute for negotiations in which workers and employers sit round a table carefully arguing out the pros and cons of both the claim and the counter offer.
I have tried to study all the details of this dispute. The employers have printed the whole case which was put by them and the reply of the unions, which I have read with great care, but I shall not enter into the merits of that. I have tried to understand this dispute, but the one thing that sticks out a mile is that the process of actual negotiation has hardly been started. It has certainly not yet reached that stage, in my view—and I speak as a trade union officer. If I left this House tomorrow I would go back to my old job as a trade union official.
I must say that, having studied the documents issued by the employers' association and by the trade unions, I do not believe that negotiations have yet really begun. Taking into account all the material, it is quite clear that there is a host of matters that ought to be discussed between the two sides, and there is some case, some merit, in the workers' saying, "Well, we are not ready for arbitration at this stage. We are not ruling it out at some point, but we certainly have not had sufficient negotiation to narrow the differences to a point where we can say that an independent person should make the final decision."
I believe that there is a real necessity for getting negotiations going again between the two sides. That is why I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is a fourth way in which he could use his good offices, as Minister, to get them going again, and I should like to deal with that aspect now. I might add that I had fully intended—as, no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman had intended to enlarge upon what my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said over the weekend—to say something about what the trade unions think of arbitration, in view of what has taken place over the last two years. I shall not do so, because I am following precisely the line followed by the Minister, and leaving that out of my remarks. It would raise arguments and, perhaps, bitter controversy, so let us leave it at that and move to a more constructive line.
Here we have a situation in which a claim has been made and a counter offer has been made; in which one side says "arbitration", and the other side says, "Not yet—let us discuss these matters". What we might consider at the moment is whether there is any justice in saying that there should be further negotiations before anybody is pressed to arbitration.
There is the hours offer and there is a wages offer, and those are coupled with 22 points dealing with what the employers call restrictive practices and what the workers call protective practices. There is all the difference in the two adjectives, although we are talking about the same thing. The restrictive practices are apparent from the employer's point of view because, perhaps, they restrict his capacity to produce more efficiently. On the other hand, protective practices have grown up—particularly among the craft unions—from the days of the old guilds to protect the employment of the individual members of the craft or guild.
Through the years, we have seen a whole host of these restrictive or protective practices swept away in the onward march of new technical devices. The printing trade is the repository of quite a lot of these practices, but it is still true to say that within that trade a large number of what are known as restrictive practices have been swept away by the introduction of new machinery, new techniques, and the like. I have no doubt that were negotiations to take place, and a real examination be made of the three points—the hours of work, the wages and the restrictive practices—the workers could be met to the point at which it might well be that arbitration would not be necessary at all.
I have looked at these 22 restrictive practices. Some of them are neither here nor there and will obviously not bother either side very much, but some of them struck me as being quite fundamental, and as having a deep root in the craft methods of those employed in the industry. There is nothing more difficult than for a non-craftsman to try to persuade the craftsman that his craft is not really as intricate and difficult as he may think. Nevertheless, let us recognise that there is a psychology about this, and recognise that men who have built up a craft, as they have, are not likely to say automatically, "We will get rid of the 22 restrictive practices of which there is complaint"—all in an afternoon's consultation.
My own view is that we ought to have a sort of joint working party of the two sides to go into all these restrictive practices. The work might take four, five or even six months, but provided that there was good will, and that something reasonable was done about some long-term wage-and-conditions agreement, I do not believe that it would be impossible to deal with the 22 points.
I know full well the employers' argument. It is a perfectly simple one. They say, "If we give you better hours and better wages on the promise that you will deal with the restrictive practices, you will take the better hours and the better wages but will not deal with the restrictive practices." That is the simple point of the employers.
I think that the T.U.C. suggestion might now be followed. I believe it to be the fourth weapon in the Minister's armoury. It is not laid down in any Statute, but he would be the last man, I am sure, to suggest that he did not have a tremendous personal influence by reason of his Ministerial position. As I say, it is not in any Statute, but just as we, in Parliament, talk behind Mr. Speaker's chair, so he, with his advisers—who are extremely expert in these matters—could, by "talking behind Mr. Speaker's chair", so to speak, do a great deal of persuading that would enable this dispute to come to an end. I would not want him to do anything that he thought, in principle, he should not do, but I do not think that such action would be against any principles at all.
First, therefore, I think that the T.U.C. suggestion, which the Minister agreed was something akin to his own, ought to be pursued. I suppose that the reason why the unions could not accept the idea of an individual being the referee is that we are all accustomed to the referee making decisions. This is not something that they—or I myself, on looking at the case—feel that they could be expected to accept. I still believe that negotiations are more important at this stage than trying to press arbitration on a party that is unwilling, and where it is perfectly clear from an examination of the facts that what is of the greatest importance is to get agreement on more negotiations.
As I understand, neither side agrees to the suggestion of arbitration within the Joint Industrial Council. That is clearly ruled out. I shall not go into the reasons, but one of the past chairmen on the employers' side has said that if, in a major dispute between the B.F.M.P. and the unions, the J.I.C. machinery were resorted to, the matter would probably be doomed to failure. Therefore, I make no case, nor do I think that the right hon. Gentleman himself would want to make a case, of the fact that the J.I.C. machinery has not been used.
On the other hand, both sides have agreed that they would accept the advice of a friend—someone experienced in industrial relations. I shall not mention any names, but there are some very obvious ones. They are people who have not merely experience of sitting as chairman, but have the experience that many of us have had on a negotiating body, where the chairman has taken an interest in the whole of the proceedings, has guided, advised, suggested and, indeed, has conducted the conversations to enable negotiation to take place easily and smoothly across the table, intervening at the point when it might seem that something was about to be raised that would throw a spanner in the works. That is the sort of idea which lay behind the T.U.C.'s suggestion, namely, that there should be an eminent person sitting there, holding the reins, helping and guiding.
From my own experience in this field I have reason to believe that one can go a long way in resolving differences. When one is working with the kind of man I have just described, when one gets down to differences which cannot be bridged, it has been my personal experience more than once that, while the chairman has not arbitrated, he has very often given his view about what remained unsettled. What the chairman has given as his view has very often behind closed doors been accepted without loss of face to anyone.
That is what I am now suggesting to the right hon. Gentleman. It is obviously in the public interest that this dispute should cease. The right hon. Gentleman has made it perfectly clear that, if the dispute is protracted, it will bring in its train a good deal of hardship to many people who are not in dispute at all and who appear to be very remotely connected with the industry. It moves a long way back when one thinks in terms of all that takes place around the production of a newspaper. Therefore, it is in the public interest that this dispute should be brought to an end as quickly as possible.
Equally, it is no part of our task to produce ideas or suggestions which, at any stage, look as though one side is losing face. Therefore, in a dispute involving hours, wages, and restrictive or protective practices, with the possibility of a long-term agreement—this is all very important—and where all these matters must be discussed at great length, there is the possibility of settlement provided that there is the right kind of chairman acceptable to both sides, whose advice, in the last analysis, might easily be taken, even on unsettled matters. That is a field which the right hon. Gentleman might examine with his experts. Indeed, in the way which I have suggested, he might discuss it informally with both sides separately to begin with.
I believe that today's debate in this Committee, as it has been opened by the right hon. Gentleman, can do much good. I hope that the debate will continue on the same lines, keeping on an even keel. I hope that we shall not make allegations from one side or the other. These are the most delicate days of the whole dispute. What we say in this Committee will have a tremendous effect. My suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman is that if he tries to pursue his original idea, the idea then worked on by the T.U.C., of a man to take charge of negotiations, he will meet with much greater success than possibly he thinks at present.
I hope that I shall respond to the spirit of the invitation contained in the concluding sentences of the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). Certainly, I agree with him that the dispute may go very far and wide. One of my small criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman's speech is that if the dispute is not solved soon it may have as damaging an effect upon our export industry, as well as our internal industry, as any of the more obviously industrial disputes that he mentioned.
After all, our society runs on print and the printed word. The visual aid, which, we are told, will take the place of the printed word in centuries to come, has not yet had that effect. That being so, and since print and the printed word go into everything that we do, I regard the dispute as being so serious that I hope that no word of mine, or, indeed, of any hon. Member who follows me, will do anything to prolong by one hour what is a very serious situation.
I do not dissent from or quarrel in any way with the right hon. Gentleman's plea in defence of the unions for refusing to arbitrate. That must be consistent with my right hon. Friend's action earlier in this Parliament in doing away with the remains of compulsory arbitration. My right hon. Friend's action then seems to have been entirely justified by what has happened now. Further, if there is in the constitution of the J.I.C., as amended in 1957, any implied obligation to arbitrate, which for some reason which I do not understand is a dead letter, it is time that the constitution was revised, because it is bad for everyone that there should be on the books an obligation and a pledge to arbitrate in which no one really believes.
It is bad for the law, it is bad for the parties and it is bad for the health of industrial relations. If this obligation or undertaking, or whatever it may be, to arbitrate is in the constitution of the J.I.C. when this trouble is over I hope that it will be amended, because we do not like these obligations to be there and yet to be flouted and ignored.
Although the parties are at present very wide apart, to a fairly detached observer it looks as if there is scope for settlement, because it is not a depressed industry. Wages are high and, on the whole, profits have been good. This is the sort of industry in which, although the parties are wide apart, they can be brought together. The right hon. Gentleman put his finger on the problem when he referred to what he called and what I am happy to call "protective practices". It may be only a hunch but I do not believe that the parties are all that far apart on hours and wages. I believe that restrictive or protective practices constitute the nub of the problem.
An industry's attitude towards apprenticeships is always a good test as to whether it has restrictive practices. In a great speech made in April of this year,
the right hon. Gentleman put his finger on this matter as regards the printing industry. I will quote to the Committee a paragraph from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, because it is very apropos of this dispute. Speaking of the need to widen apprenticeships, the right hon. Gentleman said:
It has been said that we cannot provide more places for skilled apprenticeships because the trade unions have a ban upon more than a certain number of apprentices being accepted, and they want a certain ratio. I have investigated this as objectively as it is possible to do, and I have found that in the printing trade, certainly, and in the shipbuilding industry, with particular reference to welding, that is so. The number of apprenticeships is strictly limited. Everywhere else—and this represents the bulk—there is not a great amount of feeling. There is a good deal of flexibility."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1959; Vol. 604, c. 1481.]
If I am right in thinking that the attitude towards new intake and apprenticeship is the outward sign of the degree to which a trade union operates restrictive practices, the printing unions, out of the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman, who, I am sure, looked at this matter as objectively as he said he did, have been to a certain extent indicted. I know very well that it is no good telling craftsmen, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that their secret methods and the arcana of their trade take too long to learn. In my own profession we are sometimes rather sensitive when laymen say that to us, but we know very well that when they are exposed very often there is no justification for these practices.
As some of us in the House of Commons remember, three or four years ago a certain body of gentlemen—I hope I am not treading on delicate ground—the Association of Suez Canal Pilots, explained carefully to the world that it was quite impossible for anybody except a Suez Canal pilot to pilot a ship through the Suez Canal. Some of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, and certainly I myself, had doubts about that at the time. Those doubts have been justified. I believe that in many cases these claims of secret knowledge, of extreme expertise and of the difficulty of training anyone in a period of less than seven years to understand even the rudiments of the craft, are greatly exaggerated.
I am sorry that one of the first actions taken by the printing unions—I hope that I am not casting an apple of discord into the love feast which there has been so far, but I am obliged to say this—was to put an immediate ban on the intake of any new apprentices. What on earth had that to do with the present dispute? How could it in the least affect present productivity? It seemed to me—and this is the strongest adjective I shall use—a somewhat mean way of taking out of the next generation the disputes concerning the present generation. I hope that so far from putting any ban on new apprenticeships, out of the dispute that is now raging will come an increase in the number of apprenticeships and, if possible, a shortening of their length.
We all know, and in the debate of 30th April we all recognised, that we must do all that we can to see that the boys and girls who are now crying out for apprenticeships, and who have the skill and ability to take advantage of them, are not denied the chance by the sort of dispute that is now taking place and in which they are the sufferers. I will not go into the other restrictive practices—I do not know about them—but I hope that the Committee will agree with me that an extremely good test of whether an industry has restrictive practices is the degree to which it restricts entry.
I turn briefly to another aspect of the dispute which troubles us all. There are in the printing industry large firms that make a lot of money and small firms that make very little money. There are, perhaps, large firms that do not make much and small firms that make a lot. One of the troubles that we are increasingly encountering as the present century moves forward is the difficulty of large-scale negotiations by which the profitable firm gets away too cheaply and the firm which is not so successful, perhaps through no fault of its own, gets put out of business by the uniform increase for all workers of the same wage and the same rate.
I do not believe that the printing industry is the worst example of that. Obviously, the engineering industry, which speaks for its 3 million or more workers, is the most unwieldy and most unruly—at least, the most unwieldy—in that respect. Even in the printing industry, however, it is obvious that a lot of firms, including small firms, will go out of business if the sort of increase that a large firm can well afford is granted.
Will the hon. and learned Member therefore explain why, when employers have very largely agreed to the union terms and are continuing their businesses, they are mainly the small printing firms?
That may well be, but there are also large firms which have done that. I am reminded of Waterlow's, which is a large firm which has agreed.
One cannot deduce anything from the fact of the present agreement between the firms, because they may have formed the view that if they do agree, they will go out even more quickly than if they do not agree. Many of these firms simply cannot afford a dispute for two or three days, whereas a lot of the more powerful firms with reserves feel that they can. The hon. Member for Bristol. South (Mr. Wilkins), who is, I believe, a trade union negotiator, knows well from his own experience that a small and impoverished trade union would give in long before a large and rich trade union, because it would not have the funds available with which to pay.
No I am not suggesting that national negotiations should be abolished. I am saying that in many respects the set-up has become too large and unwieldy. I suggest that it is not possible to do anything about this concerning the present dispute now, although there are lessons to be learned from the dispute about the size of negotiations in the modern world particularly when this trouble does not apply to the same extent to our competitors.
I am all in favour of the increase of efficiency in the industry to which the right hon. Member for Blyth referred. That would lead to shorter hours and higher wages. I do not, however, see how either of those things can come about so long as the printing industry is losing its business, as, we are told, in many cases it is, to our competitors, and particularly our European competitors.
It is one of the tragedies, perhaps, of the temporary failure of the European Free Trade Area that we do not have a greater uniformity, as we would have to have if there were a European Free Trade Area, of terms and conditions of labour in such matters as the printing industry. To my mind, there is no doubt whatever that unless the productivity of this industry can be maintained in spite of shorter hours or higher wages, the industry undoubtedly will lose to its competitors in Holland, Germany and other countries whose productivity is greater.
I hope, therefore, that in the talks that the right hon. Member for Blyth suggested, or in whatever other method by which the dispute is settled, the greater productivity resulting from the withdrawal of protective practices and the general streamlining of the industry will go hand in hand, simultaneously at least with the greater financial concessions for which the unions are asking.
The right hon. Member drew some interesting figures about the cost of living alterations since three years ago and made an impressive case. If, however, he hitches his wagon too closely to the standard of the cost-of-living index—because it is clear that under the present Government the cost of living is now stabilised—will he not sooner or later come up against the argument that, the cost of living having been stabilised, there should be no more wage increases?
The right hon. Gentleman knows the argument perfectly well, but I suggest that if too much emphasis is placed upon the cost-of-living argument, it will be difficult to grant the right increases in wages that should take place even though the cost of living is stable.
I was not arguing the merits or demerits. I was merely showing that in the case of the 2½ per cent. which had been offered by the employers, people on the basic rate of £11 a week would be much worse off in comparison with the purchasing power of the £. In other words, their cost of living bonuses at 1s. per point were worth 13s., whereas on a cost of living percentage basis, the figure would have been 19s. 8d. The 2½ per cent., however, would mean only an additional 5s. 6d. and, therefore, they would be 1s. 2d. a week worse off than the agreement of three years ago.
If we consider, also, what the Lord Privy Seal has told the trade union movement about the standard at which it should aim—that is, of doubling the standard of living in the next twenty-five years—this means a minimum increase of 3 per cent. per annum. This in itself shows that there is room for negotiations. That was the only point I was making.
I follow what the right hon. Gentleman says, and there is a lot in what he says. All I am seeking to show is that, in a situation in which the cost of living has been stable for twelve months or more, to calculate a fair increase in wages that should be granted in such a circumstance is somewhat of a novel problem to us all. What it cannot be on the one side, provided the industry is productive and its productivity is increasing, is nothing; and what it should not be on the other side is a complete swallowing up of the fruits of that productivity.
If it is the latter—and, clearly, the right hon. Gentleman agrees that it should not be the former—it means that we shall be back again inevitably in a raging inflation, because if productive industry takes out in wages for its own workers all the results of the productivity there can be nothing for those who work in the services or the other ancillary industries which are not amenable to the productivity test and which, therefore, on the basis of parity of payment, in which we all believe, would have to be rewarded in only one way, by the extension of credit and by the printing of money.
In this new situation which we find in large-scale labour negotiations in a stable cost of living situation, I think that we are going through somewhat uncharted seas. I suggest that the right answer is something between the productivity of the industry concerned and a complete negative, on the ground that the cost of living has not moved or has gone down.
I said at the beginning of this speech, which I said would be short, that this dispute, although apparently bitter and although the parties are very far apart, seems to the detached observer, if anyone can feel detached, as if there were a good deal of opportunity for a settlement. It all hinges on this question of productivity, and productivity all hinges on the question of restrictive practices. That being so, surely now both sides of the industry—and they must know this—can see: that the rest of the public depend upon their services so much, and will ensure that the public is not deprived of those services if they can between them hammer out this question of productivity, because if it is hammered out wages and hours will fall into line rapidly.
We sit here under the shadow of a much more serious July than we have yet realised. It is not a question merely of not having the morning or evening or weekly papers. It is a question of all the things that we have come to take for granted in our lives, even down to the cricket score cards and things like that, suddenly stopping. Our trade will be affected. All our lives will be affected. Indeed, there is no knowing, when parties get inflamed to that extent, and where they have friends all around them, how far it may not spread. If anything that either speakers on the Front Benches, in both of their very constructive and wary speeches, have said today will make the disputants come together, I for one, shall be the first to praise them.
The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) has described himself as a detached observer of this dispute. I am a detached observer, but I must declare that I was for a decade or more a member of the Council of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association. On many occasions I was on its Labour Relations Committee, discussing labour problems with my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), and what I have to contribute to this debate comes from the experience that I got as one who represented the employers in Fleet Street, those engaged not only in the production of the national dailies, but in the provincial offices, too. Therefore, although I am now detached from the industry, I cannot feel as completely detached as the hon. and learned Gentleman.
Reference has been made to the cumbersomeness of the negotiating machinery which exists in the printing industry, and I propose to deal with that later. I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman when he says that the nub of the problem lies in restrictive practices. What are now called restrictive practices in the newspaper and printing industry have been enshrined for years in agreements. It is all very well now to talk about these as restrictive practices, but they have been accepted by the employers, and over the long period when I worked in Fleet Street and sat on these negotiating bodies there was no question of proceeding on the basis of complaining about restrictive practices. What one argued was the practice of the trade, the condition and custom of the house. These are things which are now being described as restrictive practices.
During periods of unemployment, when men saw that they were going to lose their jobs, they fought like tigers to find some way of holding those jobs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark was ingenious, if I put it no further than that, in finding ways in which they retained their jobs. But even those were enshrined in agreements. Therefore, it is not as easy as being told, say, "Let us deal with restrictive practices and then we shall be able to solve the whole problem in this industry", without trying to find out what lies behind the reason for these so-called restrictive practices.
No, but often what is termed a restrictive practice—and I do not want to use this phrase; I borrowed it from the hon. and learned Gentleman—is something which is convenient both to the employer and to the employee. It is now in a period when it is presumably no longer convenient to the employer, that it is described as a restrictive practice, and I am saying that one should be very careful in the use of this terminology.
As for apprentices and the length of time spent in apprenticeship, I should like to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman how long it takes to master his craft—ten years at a public school, five years at a university, so long eating dinners, and so on. I do not think that we should make these comparisons from outside the industry of what goes on inside it.
For thiry years there was peace in the newspaper industry, by and large. From 1926 to 1956 there was practically no dispute of any serious kind. How is it, then, that the newspaper and printing industry has got itself into a position where, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour made clear in his speech, we have got pretty bad relations? I suggest that it is because there is now a duality of membership of the employers' association on the employers' part, which is making it extremely difficult—and here I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Darwen—to obtain a basis for negotiation.
Look at the position today. The provincial morning, evening and weekly papers are in membership of the Newspaper Society. They are also in membership of the British Federation of Master Printers. Incidentally, I suggest that, psychologically, it would be a good thing it the word "master" were dropped by the employers. It has an old-fashioned connotation which could well be one of the matters which were negotiated out of the trade. The periodicals—and I am a director of a periodical published in London—which are members of the Weekly Periodical Trade Publishers' Association are also printed by members of the Federation of Master Printers.
In the old days a small weekly newspaper started very largely because the family were general printers. They printed the cricket fixture cards, the football club fixtures, dance tickets, and so on. They were general printers, but in the great development of printing in the nineteenth century they ultimately became newspaper proprietors. They now want to keep, as it were, a foot in both doors. But one cannot negotiate with the employees of a newspaper on the same basis as the employees of a general printing firm. The same conditions do not apply.
Consider the situation today. The master printers say, "We will not give a 40-hour week. We will not give increases in pay". But their members who are also members of the Newspaper Society are giving their employees the 40-hour week and better wages. Here there is a duality which is ridiculous. A negotiator cannot put on a bowler hat as a member of the Newspaper Society and another as a member of the British Federation of Master Printers. There is no sense in it, no more sense than in the situation with which the national newspapers are now faced, namely, the possibility of a shut-down because of a dispute over ink among firms which they themselves own.
Two of the British printing ink companies are owned by two of the great newspaper groups. These national newspapers say, presumably, "We support the ink manufacturers who, in turn, say that they cannot have a settlement until we know what the terms of agreement are between the unions and the British Federation of Master Printers". What the national newspapers have got to do with the British Federation of Master Printers I do not know.
Surely it is the job of the two national newspaper groups to say, as they have said on previous occasions, "We shall not have our newspapers shut down because of disputes which do not concern us and which do not arise from our direct employment". The order could have gone out to the two firms, "Settle your differences. We shall not shut down our papers".
It is because of this duality of membership that the whole negotiating machinery is, in my view, getting completely out of control. We must also consider the position of the magazines. I see that Lord Beaverbrook has been "having a crack" at Odham's and the Daily Mirror complaining that these people are so rigid and bitter that they brought the dispute on themselves. I would not know whether this was true. What is clearly true is this. If a whole group of magazines are taken over which are printed within a stone's throw of one office and a man who works in that office in Fetter Lane, Long Acre, or Fleet Street is told, "You do this work and we will give you a 40 or 38-hour week, or, in some cases, a 35-hour week", the man will co-operate, but if one prints in Farringdon Street, where there is a 42 or 43-hour week, the men across the road will not play.
The men say, "You have brought us into one big family. Give us the same conditions all round." It is no good simply saying, "I am a member of the N.P.A., the Newspaper Society, the Federation of Master Printers, or the British Printing Ink Manufacturers' Association". There is a duality of these organisations which makes sensible talking, I think, almost impossible.
The provincial newspapers are now suffering grievously from this strike. I support hon. Members who take the view that the provincial newspapers make a rich contribution towards our social and cultural life. I should like to see them come out of the British Federation of Master Printers, but stay in the Newspaper Society and use the Newspaper Society for negotiating machinery. I think that this would be acceptable to the trade unions. Many of the provincial newspapers are in competition with the provincial editions of the national newspapers. For instance, Manchester provicial papers are in competition in matters of labour, fixing wages and hours with the provincial editions of newspapers emanating from Fleet Street. They need the Newspaper Society to represent them, not the Master Printers.
Hon. Members have referred to the harm being done to the newspapers by this strike, but it is not comparable yet with the harm done to many provincial newspapers and periodicals by commercial television, which has killed newspapers and periodicals, and, if it continues in the present way, will go on killing a lot more. I wish that hon. Members opposite would pay as much attention to this awful danger to the freedom of the Press and to freedom of expression of opinion by this new medium as they do to the position in which the newspapers find themselves through this strike. The Daily Express said on Saturday:
So far as the national newspapers are concerned, they should never have been dragged into this alien and damaging dispute.
I would add that neither should the provincial newspapers have been drawn into it.
Only if the provincial newspapers, and the periodicals and magazines, recognise that their interests lie in obtaining proper and regular negotiation with the trade unions on the ground that they are publishers, and not on the ground that they are general printers, will we avoid stoppages of the kind now taking place and return to the good relations which once flourished in this important industry.
Like the hon. Members for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) and Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), who I hope will catch your eye, Mr. Hynd, I have an indirect relationship with the printing industry. I am a publisher primarily, but I am also a printer.
It is often difficult for us on this side of the House, particularly if we happen to be printers, to listen to the attacks of hon. Members opposite on the question of productivity per man. It is alleged that our productivity per man is so much lower than it is in other countries, particularly America, because we do not make sufficient use of machines and of horse-power. At the back of my mind always is the thought of the poor master printer faced with incurring sometimes immense expenditure on something which will not be used to the full for those labour-saving purposes for which it is designed because of the necessity to negotiate with a dominant union the new manning agreements for that machine. The protective practices, or restrictive practices, lie at the root of the relationship with the unions. May I take an extreme case?
Very recently a new and highly productive machine was produced, which required to work it only half of the men—and there were quite a few in question. Incidentally, I would here join issue with the hon. Member for Deptford when he implied that these and the agreements of the past are willingly agreed. They are most reluctantly agreed and under duress, and I will say why in a moment. In this particular case, it was agreed that as many people should be employed, notwithstanding the labour-saving capacity, as had been employed before. When the machine came to be built it was found that there was not room to accommodate the unwanted bodies around the machine and, believe it or not, a rest room had to be built separately so that the men who were supposed to be working on the machine could play cards and earn their money for doing nothing elsewhere.
Again, take the case—
It concerns one of the big rotary presses. If I may, I will send full particulars to the right hon. Gentleman.
Then, too, there is the extreme case of the setting of type for advertisements. In many cases, although a stereo or complete block is sent to the printer, the type has to be set afresh, and then, after all that work has been done, it has to be melted and the work done from the block which was originally supplied. Provided one pays the man for that unnecessarily reduplicated work, it is sometimes relaxed and one need not also pay for the refining of the metal which has been lost. The point is that the man gets paid for doing no work in that case, too.
These manning agreements produce sinecure posts. It is common knowledge in the printing industry in Fleet Street at the moment that people who are out of work are being brought up to London to stand in on these jobs on which they do nothing so that they can get money in place of their strike pay, or in supplementation of it. They work one night, say, on the Daily Mail and another on the Daily Express and in those two nights they get within £1 of what they would have got at their ordinary job if they had been at work.
I think the case I have heard about is coming up from Croydon or that district. On the issue of craftsmanship which the right hon. Member raised, I can assure hon. Members that there is no craft in it. These persons have never worked the big rotary machines in their lives. They are no more capable of doing it than I am.
The hon. Gentleman says that it is something that he has heard about. Is he telling the House of something that he has heard about and has not satisfied himself as to the truth of the accusation that he is making?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am more than happy about the accuracy of everything that I am saying. It is not a question of documenting the accuracy here in the Committee. A plea was made that we should not spread this matter too far. I will give the right hon. Gentleman written particulars of my sources and everything else.
Why is it again I would say—in the field of demarcation—that it is supposed that the London printer is so much less intelligent and adaptable than the provincial one and is capable of a less wide use of his skill? The answer is that he is in reality no less skilled than the provincial printer, but the London printer is in a position to enforce standards of demarcation even more vigorous than those imposed in the provinces.
Then there is the question of the shutting down on the intake of all apprentices mentioned by my hon. Friend. The accusation was thereupon made against the Bar that it has a long period of apprenticeship. But we must recognise that the Bar does not in any way limit any number of persons seeking to become members of the Bar and if they are good enough at the examination they will be admitted—all of them to any quantity. That is just not true in the case of the printing trade; those who are really competent at their trade, and are known and provable to be competent, are not even allowed to be admitted.
The fact is that the attitude of all these unions to restrictive practices is the attitude of the closed shop, and the very tightly closed shop. Hon. Members ought to recognise that the newspaper is the most perishable of all commodities in the world. I do not mind whether fish or over-ripe strawberries are suggested; there is nothing as perishable as a newspaper. At about 5 a.m. in Fleet Street it is already a back number. It has to catch the train, and even ten minutes' delay at the crucial moment can cause frantic damage and costs to the man running the paper. Therefore, a tightly closed shop by the unions in respect of a part of the industry is a throttle which can stop the blood flow to the human brain in a matter of seconds and almost no price is too high to pay for survival.
I think it has to be recognised that the only reason why the national daily newspapers have been brought into this dispute is that known fact and the belief—which in the event has not proved to be justified—by Natsopa that if pressure was brought to bear on the daily newspapers, such was their vulnerability that they, with all their big forces, would pass that pressure on and bring it about that the whole of the dispute would be settled in the way Natsopa wanted it. In my opinion, the newspapers were brought into this affair because of their known vulnerability and because of the success of blackmail upon them in the past.
I submit that the issue of profits is not really relevant. Some newspapers and some printers make a profit, and others do not. However, I think all in the Committee would say that a man is entitled to a good day's pay for a good day's work, and if he does the same work in place A for an employer B who makes a profit and in the same locality A for an employer C who does not make a profit, since he has supplied the work and it is the employer who has provided the inefficiency or efficiency, no discrimination should take place by reason of the profit of the one and the loss of the other employer.
I know there are marginal printers. I am certain that even they do not worry at all about the 6s. 8d. which the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) mentioned. I should like to correct him on one point. When one has added the value of the time to the value of the pay increase the total is better than the 6s. 8d.—a good deal better than that and in favour of the worker. Do not let us be unreal. If one gets a time award of that kind one either gets payment in money because one is already working less time than that anyhow or one gets the certainty of extra overtime; instead of being called "working time" it is called "overtime", but one's earnings are increased. Anyhow, even if it were a quarrel about 6s. 8d. as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, I am certain that the 6s. 8d. is a niggardly sum and will give us no trouble if productivity is increased.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) that this improvement in pay in return for better productivity can be negotiated and can be brought back into discussion, because it is such a small amount and there is such great willingness to pay extra money for extra output in shorter time.
After all, both sides know very well that there is a great potential. The printing industry is an industry which uses standard machines. One can find the same machines in Sweden, Switzerland, America, Brazil, Chile—one could go through the whole alphabet. I know a printing engineer who tells me that he has only to be put blindfolded into the machine room of an ordinary general printing office in this country to know that he is in Britain, because all these machines which are designed to run at a standard high speed are being run at a slower speed under protection from the union. There is in that field and in the field of demarcation an enormous potential. The worker and the customer can be served enormously if the protected practices, even additional to the protection of no work, can be examined.
The question of the 22 points has been brought up. In issue they boil down to four headings. The first is the point of labour supply, which has already been mentioned on this side of the House, and I think it is agreed by hon. Gentlemen opposite; the second is that of demarcation; the third is the question of productivity, that is to say, speed, manning and so on; and the fourth is the introduction of new methods and processes.
In all this field one has to consider matters in terms of earnings rather than wages. We have to face the fact that—here I am talking primarily of Fleet Street, but there are cases outside—the earnings are in and over the £1,000 a year class.
Precisely. That is what we want. Anybody who is being paid £1,000 a year—which is usually made up of the basic rate, plus a merit money payment, plus an incentive on output, plus overtime—is jolly well worth it. I would far rather employ a man at that figure who was giving the stuff than somebody on the basic rate who was protecting his job and not giving value for money. Indeed, I do not think there is a single person in our employment who is on the basic rate.
It is agreed, is it not, that in terms of earnings this is one of the most highly remunerated industries in the country? As I have said, the employers are willing to pay more even to the highest earners. I agree with the hon. Member for Deptford that we like paying those high wages and would pay the high wages to people getting more than £1,000 a year with no less joy than to the others if they produced the output for it. However, let us not forget that there are such things as leapfrogging. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Dept-ford to talk about people in bowler hats, but the bowler hat does not seem to stop leapfrogging. The result is that unless restrictive practices are reduced significantly one gets the higher people paid even more and all the people paid more all the way up the line without any of the necessary justification of greater output.
Hon. Members opposite might quite reasonably say, "Why have the employers so changed? Why is it that they are now adopting such a progressive attitude towards pay in return for diminution of restrictive practices?" I think the answer is that they have now realised the immense effect which an increase of wage costs has on the consumers or customers—the members of the general public. The printing industry has been operating in very favourable conditions up to now. It has had a lot of good breaks, but now at last the customer is digging in his toes. I invite hon. Members opposite to ask any other publisher they like for his experience, and they will find that it is generally accepted in the printing trade now that customers are now most sensitive to increases in cost. In consequence employers are extremely reluctant to put anything on the cost of printing, so that for once they are prepared to put up with enormous losses—because a strike is a most ghastly loss-making affair—on this issue so that all increases in remuneration shall be at least matched by taking advantage of the immense potentialities for increased output which are in the industry for the taking.
Then, I think, we have a second reason for their change in attitude; and it is very interesting and it concerns their attitude to their competitors. Hitherto, the printing industry has been so competitive that it was virtually impossible to get a number of printers to agree even that twice two are four. Yet here, we have now a situation in which some, whose loss would be particularly great, because it is very quick, joining with others whose loss occurs at a slower rate and to a slower degree in collective action. There seems to be something very strongly right in their belief in the fairness of the viewpoint of the customer on prices to justify them sticking together in this new way.
Finally, there is the third reason for their change, and that is the strength which comes to them from their willingness to arbitrate. It has been made clear from the very beginning that they were prepared to go to arbitration, that they were prepared to abide by arbitration, and that they were prepared and anxious to pay better wages if costs did not increase.
This question of arbitration and the very use of the word is a trifle difficult since the Industrial Disputes Order was repealed. I was approached by the Bath Trades Council on the occasion of the repeal and had an interview with the delegates which was very interesting, and I think the House would like to know what their attitude was on that subject.
I made the point that with the likelihood of the price of the £ being more stable in the future, and certainly not going up as rapidly and often as it had gone up in the past, with the cost of living bonuses given in so many of these industries, it was probable that any dispute for arbitration would now be most difficult, because there would not be the same favourable case for beneficial and highly beneficial awards. If there was an award, it might be a relatively small one.
I said, "Remember that whatever the industrial wage average or earnings average may be, there are a lot of people above that average and a lot of people below it, and that the people who are in a position to force arbitration on this matter are those very people who, like the printers, have got their industries absolutely where they want them and are best able to do again that which they have already succeeded in doing. Do you really want this Act to continue to provide compulsory arbitration so that these people now highly paid and above the average can be paid more?" They said, "Oh, no; that is not what we want. What we want is that the lower ranges who can bring no such pressures should go up and get more nearly what is paid to the others."
I did not agree with them that there should not be any increase in the top levels. But it seems to me to be perfectly clear that the average trade unionist in this country does not think that highly-paid workers, particularly those drawing £1,000 a year and more, should get improved earnings without improved output at this time, but that there are other people who should get it.
Anyhow, I do not really know what is the objection to arbitration—
… a rose,
By any other name, would smell as sweet".
Arbitration is not really a dirty word, but there is something which has come about which seems to suppose that it is. Let us not think that arbitration is a dirty word, because we have already seen that arbitration is voluntary, whereas a referee is somebody who gives a decision—
That is precisely the point. Arbitration is voluntary because, like arbitrating between a husband and wife, we cannot without agreement get the arbitration carried out, whereas, compulsory arbitration by a referee as my right hon. Friend said, is final and effective. As he said if you read in the papers that you have been given out then you are out, and there is no doubt whatever about it that the referee had the last word. That is far more compulsory than arbitration.
Anyhow, I know, that the people in the trade unions in this industry are really good people, and I cannot understand why the trade union leadership will not carry out a poll on this question of arbitration, or call it anything else, because that arbitration could, indeed take place, as the right hon. Member for Blyth mentioned as his fourth point, on the parallel working out of agreement concerning these restrictive practices or "protective" practices. Negotiation on such lines seems to me to be a very fruitful field, and one which should be investigated, because it seems to me that we must find a solution.
Indeed, we must find a solution. We may ask ourselves why is print so valuable compared with television or sound broadcasting. The point is that the latter two are conducted in time which vanishes and one cannot control it, whereas print is in space, which is man's far more accommodating medium for control. One has only to listen on a railway station platform to an announcement about a train specifying the particular platform and time of departure to get into a muddle, as one almost invariably does, and then consult the printed time-table which is set down in space for one to see, offering convenience and precise and important information.
I think it is right that the House of Commons should discuss this issue, and I think that as representatives of the people we can say five things to this industry. We can say, firstly, that we are against the closed shop, certainly the tightly closed shop. Secondly, I think we can say that we are against restrictive practices. Thirdly, I think we can say that we are for higher pay, and for higher pay particularly when it is based on lower costs.
I do not think the hon. Member can complain of the employers objecting to more pay if it does not add to the cost. What I suggested was that this Committee are for higher pay based on lower costs, and I think that is something of which this House should say it is in favour completely. Fourthly, I think we should say that we are for negotiations and arbitration, particularly if those negotiations and arbitrations are in conditions, as they are at the present moment, where the higher pay is there to be obtained for the negotiation of fresh agreements on restrictive practices.
Finally, I think we can say that we agree with the right hon. Member for Blyth in our fifth point, and also agree with the Minister, that we want a new joint industrial conciliation constitution or machinery, one which can organise a three-year agreement which will enable the printing industry to go forward, pay good salaries, but without any increase in cost to the consumer—the British public—and contain in it the means of avoiding such tragic failure being repeated.
As I have been sitting here this afternoon listening to the speeches, particularly to the last two speeches, I have found it difficult to believe my ears, and I am not in the least surprised that this dispute has not already been settled if the attitude of the master printers is reflected in the speeches which we have just heard. I can plainly understand why there is difficulty in reaching agreement around the negotiating table.
I am sorry that the Minister of Labour is not here, because I wanted to remind him who had introduced the controversial matters into the debate which we have had so far. I do not think that the Government can very well complain if some of us now try to put on record what we believe to be, indeed what some of us know to be, the facts in this dispute. I propose to do so, because if the national daily newspapers are suspended after Wednesday or Thursday, the general public will be denied information, and I think that it is vital in the interests of both the industry and the country that the general public should know precisely where this dispute starts. They need the historical record of how this dispute has been brought about.
In saying that, I have given an indication that I could occupy the remainder of the time until seven o'clock telling the Committee what is the position, but I want first to dispose of one or two things which have been said by hon. Members opposite and even by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). I will refer, first of all, to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman), who is engaged in the industry and has a personal interest in it. May I declare my own interest? I have the proud record of having belonged to the Typographical Association for forty years. I regard it as one of the finest trade unions in the country, if not the finest, with a record which no other union can show, and I will illustrate in a moment what has been the character over the years of the unions involved in this dispute. I will show their willingness as all times to settle their disputes as they ought to be settled, around the negotiating table.
The hon. Member for Bath referred to the question of demarcation and linked with it several references to restrictive practices which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) rightly pointed out, were not in fact restrictive practices but had been in the industry for fifty or sixty years as protective measures, had always been accepted and were only now being drawn across the face of the dispute as a red herring to distract the attention of people from the causes of the dispute.
As we go further with automation and mechanisation there will be changes. What industry has suffered more than printing from mechanisation? It is true that it has recovered after the initial unemployment which mechanisation caused, but what industry has suffered more from the advent of machinery than has the printing industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Perhaps "suffer" is the wrong word to use. I do not object to automation, for I believe that automation and mechanisation can bring immense benefits. We have had it demonstrated to us this afternoon, however, that the only benefits which are wanted initially are benefits to the employers. Apparently nothing is to go to the workers out of these improvements.
I will give way in a moment. In reply to a question from my right hon. Friend we were told that they have had to build additional rooms in order that the employees can play cards because there is no accommodation for them on the machine. I should very much like to know where that is happening. With the advent of machinery, by all means let us have greater productive effort. I welcome automation and I do not believe that in the end it will result in more unemployment. It will result in greater productivity, and I have no objection to it myself, but the arguments advanced this afternoon have been clearly intended to imply that these changes should not be the cause of protective measures taken by the workers on their own behalf, and I certainly would not agree with that.
The hon. Member very kindly said that he would give way to me. On the first point which he made, I claim, and my hon. Friends will claim, that the printing industry has rightly benefited by marvellous new developments. Otherwise, how could people be earning over £1,000 a year? Secondly, I want to make it clear that I said that it was highly desirable that such wages should be paid. It is not true to say that these benefits are intended only for the employers. There is no suggestion that they should go only to the employers. It is suggested that they should go to the workpeople and the consumers.
That applies to those who are still engaged in the industry and are working the machines, but not to those who are made redundant and are pushed out of the industry.
The hon. Member for Bath referred to what he called the closed shop. It was at that point that I wrote in my notes "I hope that the Minister noted who began introducing controversial subjects". Surely the hon. Member is not ignorant of the fact that, particularly in the Typographical Association, certainly over all the years that I can remember, there has been a policy of what we call the open house, although ultimately trying to obtain 100 per cent. trade union membership in the office. What other union has ever agreed to that? For those forty years, and probably very much longer, where there has been conscientious objection among the staff to becoming members of our association, we have agreed that they should remain non-members but could continue at their work until they retired. The only condition imposed was that when new men were taken on they should be trade union members.
That is what we have called the open house, and the hon. Member cannot possibly be ignorant of that fact. I state these matters to show that in this dispute we are dealing not only with the Typographical Association, the union to which I belong, but also with a body of men in (he federated unions who have always been reasonable in their attitude and approach. I hope to show that it is the employers who have always been aggressive in the printing industry.
That is a very difficult question. The hon. Member's firm always insisted on a seven-year apprenticeship. Does he mean that anyone should be permitted to join who has picked up some knowledge of the business, perhaps over two or three years, when the firm in which he is a partner insists on a seven-year apprenticeship? I will say something about the seven-year apprenticeship in a moment.
The Minister of Labour opened the debate in a very careful manner, and I understand from some of my hon. Friends that from their point of view he opened it in a very wise manner. He thanked the Committee for its forbearance during the various phases of the dispute, and he said that it was time we ceased throwing wordy and provocative statements around. I am inclined to agree with that, because I think that we have almost reached the point in the history of this dispute where we might be approaching what could be called an industrial Cyprus. Over Cyprus we had the statement, "Never, never", but we know what happened. In the printing dispute we have "No negotiations" and "No, no", and in the end somebody must eat very many words before we can bring peace back to the industry.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth thanked the Minister for putting the facts before the Committee. The facts put before the Committee, however, were very incomplete facts. Perhaps in the Minister's opinion it was wise that the facts which he gave should be incomplete. He suggested that a referee should be appointed who should be only a referee and not an arbitrator. I am able to say that that would meet the full approval of the trade unions who are involved in this dispute. I understand that they have no objection to it.
On the question of arbitration I shall say something a little later, because I believe there are very good reasons why we object to arbitration, at least in these early stages.
I agree that we must all regret strike action at any time, and certainly we regret the necessity for it. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate features is that in the main it is the general public who suffer from inconvenience as the result. They are usually kept completely uninformed of the underlying causes of a dispute. I would not suggest that our national dailies have shown any serious misrepresentation of the situation up to the moment. They are not at all anxious to handle this news They regard this news as dynamite. They do not want to be concerned with it if they can possibly help it. Therefore, such things as they have reported have been comparatively temperate in their content.
However, we here this afternoon in this Committee should be quite clear on the origin of the dispute. Not only that but it is also time that the true facts were put on record. I ask hon. Members to listen while I tell them about the kind of trade union they are dealing with in this matter, and what applies to the Typographical Association applies equally to the other nine trade unions associated with it.
I have in my hand a history of the Typographical Association. It is a history written by Professor Musson, of Manchester University, who was commissioned on behalf of our Association to write this history on the occasion of our centenary. I believe that we are the oldest trade union in the country. Certainly we are one of the oldest trade unions. If our origins go back to the time of the guilds we can make that claim. This history was written only on the condition that if its author undertook to write it he would be free and unfettered to say whatever he liked as a result of his researches about the trade union itself and that no one would censure his writing. This is an absolutely free, uncensored history of our Association.
This is what the author says in his preface:
My aim has been to tell 'a plain, unvarnished tale' of the development of trade unionism in the provincial letterpress printing industry from the earliest 'chapels' and trade societies down to the national Association of the present day. The book is not a laudatory account of the kind which usually appears at a centenary: in it will be found criticism as well as praise. The Association has given me open access to all its records and an entirely free hand to write the history as I found it. The views expressed herein are entirely my own, without any influence or censorship by the Association.
I quote that because I think it will add point to other quotations I want' to make, and add point and certainty to the things which I have to say, when the Committee fully understands that the author is somebody
completely independent and free from any of the unions engaged in the dispute.
The first reference I make is to what happened eight years before our Association was formed when in 1841 the Manchester secretary spoke of
'the feeling of respect and good-will shown towards us by our employers', due to the fact that 'in every dispute we have had with them, it has ever been our study to adopt a course of quiet, respectful, but determined conduct. Reason and justice have prevailed, where threatening and intimidation would have failed'. In the event of failure to settle a dispute by deputation and argument, the men were merely withdrawn after a fortnight's notice … These strikes were petty affairs, rarely involving more than one office.
I turn to page 290 of this book referring to the Association in the 1922 dispute:
They always adopted a conciliatory policy and frequently averted strikes by cautious diplomacy.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bath is listening to this. Perhaps he does not wish to do so. It says:
They always adopted a conciliatory policy and frequently averted strikes by cautious diplomacy.
I ask the Committee to recall that in the 110 years of its history the Association—and it applies to others as well—has had one official strike: one official strike in 110 years. Does this denote reckless irresponsibility in trade union leadership? Is there any hon. Member on the other side of the Committee who accuses the unionists in the printing industry of reckless and irresponsible leadership? If so, let him get up now and say so. There is no record of it, and the reason why there is no record is that the unions were either compelled, or had through arbitration, to which I shall refer in a moment, to give way to conditions with which they were not in agreement.
As I say, I shall turn to the question of arbitration in a moment, but the first thing to note in connection with this dispute is that the existing hours and wages agreement in the industry expired on 20th April last. The historical facts which led up to this are very interesting. Last September, eight months before the expiry of the agreement, the nine unions which then comprised the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation held their first meeting to decide what should be their course of action on the expiry of the agreement.
The master printers were, of course, not ignorant of the fact that our unions were meeting. In October—I am not quite sure of the date, but I believe it was 14th October—they made the declaration which they now claim was their original offer, the declaration to the effect that they would not be prepared to consider anything further in the way of improved conditions or wages but that they were willing to continue for a further twelve months the agreement which expired on 20th April. That is exactly what they did. They knew the unions were conferring on the action they would take when the agreement expired.
Five months before 20th April, on 1st December last year, the nine trade unions notified the employers of their claim. I had better not weary the Committee with the whole of the details of this claim but I have to make some mention of it because it is necessary to correct the entirely erroneous impression created in the country as a result of figures given in reply to a Question, and printed in HANSARD, the figures being supplied by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. We are not saying that those figures are inaccurate. What we do say is that they are completely misleading. As the hon. Member for Bath knows, the incidence of incentive schemes in our industry, merit money, things of that kind, can make the basic wage look very foolish when it is averaged out over the earnings in the industry.
The figures which the Parliamentary Secretary gave were certainly in conflict with the facts. I am not saying that they were inaccurate. They were probably accurate as average earnings, but they must be compared with the basic wage rates of the great majority of our members which, for example in general printing are £10 3s. plus 13s. cost-of-living bonus, or £10 5s. 6d. plus 13s. bonus. When one talks in terms of average earnings in cases where incentive schemes have driven wages to a very high figure indeed one is talking about figures which are completely phoney when they are compared with the basic wage operating in the industry.
I will spare the Committee quotations from all the figures involved and content myself with saying that the unions, in submitting their claims and having them rejected, answered the employer's objections to meeting the claims, which I gather the employers described as fantastic, by saying "If you think our claims are unreasonable tell us what you would consider reasonable." There was no response to that invitation. These are the historical facts. In a further effort to try to help to bring about a peaceful solution, the unions indicated that they would not stick rigidly to their original claims but would be prepared to reach a negotiated settlement. Again there was no response from the employers.
The only response from the employers came when they saw that the ballot, which had comprised six items and which finally gave authority to the union executives to call a strike if necessary, was carried by a majority of more than four to one. The response was an offer of a 2½ per cent. increase, ½ per cent. less than the usual arbitration award, and no decrease in hours. On the question of a decrease in hours, I would remind the Committee that in the printing industry we were asking for a 40-hour week in 1931, and that the offer of a decrease of one hour is technically of no account because most of the firms in the industry already permit it. The second hour, which one would have expected to be conceded, was promised thirteen years ago, if and when the manpower requirements of the industry could be supplied.
We say that that position has been reached and that it is possible for the industry to absorb the one hour within its present arrangements, without any increase in staff and in all probability, as we believe, without having to work overtime. The employers in their statement claim that if the unions' proposals were accepted they would increase costs by 25 per cent. We dispute that figure. We say that it is grossly exaggerated and in any case takes no account of the stage-by-stage implementation of a 40-hour week.
Why do we dispute it? In September, 1946, the "Report of a Court of Inquiry into the nature and circumstances of a Dispute between the British Federation of Master Printers and the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation" was issued as Cmd. Paper 6992. The Court of Inquiry, I believe, was appointed by my
right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) who was then Minister of Labour. Paragraph 55 of that Report, which is generally known as the Gorman Report, says:
We are of opinion that some shortening of hours of work would be beneficial to the productive capacity of the individual worker …
I am not in the least surprised, because this industry is so highly mechanised and so much of the work requires a great deal of concentration. I know from experience because I have done a great deal of machine work in the industry.
The work requires a tremendous amount of concentration and very often calls for the spelling of words which the authors of books cannot spell for themselves. I am sure that the Committee would be absolutely appalled if they saw some of the copy which a printer has to handle and which is supposed to have been writen by intellectual, intelligent people with a university education, who can neither spell nor punctuate.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bath will confirm what I am saying. It is absolutely true and undeniable. The printers often have to put right the grammatical and punctuation mistakes—
—of people who have far better pay. In addition, printers have to do the mechanical production.
Let us take the word of an employer on whether or not shorter hours would be beneficial. Before the Court of Inquiry, the manager of a printing firm employing 60 or 70 workers in general printing and trade journals gave evidence to the effect that
… a year ago there was a reduction in the hours worked in this house from 44 to 40 (a five-day week being worked in both cases'). It was stated that there was no dislocation of business and there was, in fact, an increase in production to the amount of about 4 per cent. without any increase of staff or extra overtime.
Do I understand from what the hon. Member says that union members engaged in the industry are desperately anxious to work only a 40-hour week and are prepared to allow any number of apprentices or others to come into the industry so that they need not work any additional overtime in future?
It is no part of my business today to conduct trade union negotiations. They should be conducted round the table. I am simply trying to put on record, quite deliberately, the origins and causes of the dispute in order not only that this Committee may know them but that the general public outside should be fully apprised of what the dispute is about, because once the national Press ceases to appear and the public are not informed of the position we know that the usual reaction when a strike causes great inconvenience is to blame the workers without knowing the facts.
Does the hon. Member think that the Committee is really capable of dealing with the minute details of the dispute? Would it not be in the interests of the Committee and the industry if he did not pursue the details any further?
Overtime is overtime in whatever department it is required. If an employer wants his machines to be running overnight or during some period of the night he can put people on overtime. According to my experience, overtime would be worked according to what happened to be the production at the moment, whether on composition or on running a set book.
The hon. Member referred to the concentration required. Surely he cannot say that it requires as much concentration to do a long run on a machine as it does to set up the matter before it is run off?
There are two other considerations which have to be examined. The first is a rather important point, and I hope that we will get some sort of answer to it. Who or what organisation is responsible for the adamant and obdurate attitude of the employers? Despite all that I have said about the master printers, I know sufficient about them to believe that they would not be as adamant as they have been in this dispute unless there were some other force leading them or driving them.
My colleagues in the industry—and I am now speaking not of the union executive, but of the men on strike, the men to whom I talked over the weekend—believe that the niggers in the woodpile are the British Employers' Confederation. One has only to read the Confederation's bulletins to draw that conclusion. It is all very well for Confederation members to boycott printers who have signed agreements—the Confederation has taken its printing from Water-low's because Waterlow's have been prepared to pay. There is a strong feeling that the Confederation is the basic cause of the resistance now being offered to the negotiations sought by the industry. I shall be most interested to hear what sort of information the Parliamentary Secretary has about this.
On 10th June the Confederation issued a bulletin, which spoke of
what is admittedly a high-paying industry".
We do not consider that it is a highly paid industry. The members of the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation paid a very high price for their patriotism during the war. Where all other industries were getting wage increases at a time when the country could not very well avoid meeting them, the printers restrained their demands to such an extent that, whereas during the war and in subsequent years the general rise in wages was 33 per cent., in the printing industry wages rose only 15 per cent., less than half the general rise. The printers paid the price for restraint at the behest of the Government.
That is altogether misrepresenting the situation. I was not arguing in those terms. I was arguing in terms of the restraint which the union showed during the war when many people were getting substantial wage increases.
In my time in the industry, the printing craft unions were second in wages paid to craft unions. I am not sure of the present position, but I think that they are now ninth. There is a great deal of leeway to be made up if we are to restore ourselves to our pre-war position.
The British Employers' Confederation bulletin of 10th June said:
If what is admittedly a high-paying industry operating to some extent in a sheltered market is forced to make further concessions, employers in other industries which are facing fierce competition in overseas markets will find pressure from their own unions increased.
Here is the employers' fear clearly revealed, as we all suspected. The bulletin went on:
… self-interest alone demands that the printing employers' policy should receive the maximum support from all other employers who are customers of the industry though this may involve them in some inconvenience.
That gives the whole show away. The printing employers are being told to dig in their toes, because if a concession is made to the printing industry, employers will have to give way to workers in other industries.
I say with some pride that I doubt whether there is another industry in the country with a comparable record of tranquil and conciliatory trade union administration as that of the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation. The workers in this industry are by instinct and tradition reasonable and conciliatory, Where there has been excessive aggression, it has come from the employers in their unreasonable rejection of negotiations five months ago and their famous or infamous 22 points—and we do not disagree with them all, but some could not possibly be accepted, as the employers must know from their own knowledge of the industry. Nor is their present intransigent attitude acceptable.
I conclude by asking whether there is any hope. Of course there is hope. There is always hope if reasonable men will sit together and make a determined effort to resolve their differences. Despite all that I have said, after the successful building up of the Joint Industrial Council in our industry, I cannot understand what I would call the defiant stupidity of the employers in this dispute. For a long time I was associated with the local Joint Industrial Council of our industry. It was highly successful. Why are we not able nationally to conduct our negotiations as successfully as we conducted them locally?
It may be that there is a hidden factor; I do not know. If there is, I can think only of the attitude of the British Employers' Confederation. I believe that it is possible for the dispute to be resolved. I pay tribute to Mr. Trevor Evans—although I am not inclined to pay a tribute to his newspaper, the Daily Express—for what he said in a television broadcast, "Press Conference", on Friday. Mr. Evans, who is industrial correspondent of his newspaper, laid down a firm basis upon which negotiations could take place. It seemed to me that his atttitude towards this problem was essentially practical and one to which no one could take great exception other than in the most minute detail.
I have a brief comment to make on arbitration. Hon. Members opposite who are connected with the industry know that on the only two occasions when disputes in the industry have been referred to arbitration, arbitration has had disastrous results for the workers. It is small wonder that they are apprehensive at the very suggestion that there should be resort to arbitration. Not only have they their own record of arbitration, but they have the thought that one can write an award into an arbitration agreement before the arbitration tribunal sits. One writes in 3 per cent. and one knows what the tribunal will do. It looks like a formula that has been provided by someone.
The strong suspicion is that the formula is provided by the Government. The Chancellor has said on a number of occasions that either we could not afford an increase, or there had to be a limit of 3 per cent. This is said side by side with all the talk we hear about the great prosperity of the country. It is said that we are wonderfully prosperous and that we have never had it so good, but that the workers must not get an increase of wages because that will be inflationary. It looks as though these things are conditioned by an attitude of mind that says, "So far and no farther".
I said earlier that I could keep the debate going until 7 o'clock. However, as hon. Members on the other side may wish to speak I will put down my notes, because I do not want to steal all the time available. I do not often trouble the House with speeches—
The hon. Gentleman ought not to be so sure. I shall make speeches in the next Parliament, which is probably more than the hon. Gentleman will do.
I do not often trouble the House. This is not a laughing matter to the members of my industry. They are members of a trade union who would dream of striking only in the last resort. Their record shows that and it is there for anyone to see. It is a record unequalled by any trade union in the country. If the Master Printers' record was as good we would not be in the trouble that we are in now.
I hope that because of what I have said at least the general public, whose sympathy it is essential we should have, will know where the blame for this dispute lies and why we are unable to resolve it.
Like hon. Members who have preceded me, I must declare an interest in this matter. I am a past president of the Newspaper Society and the chairman of a company which publishes both evening and weekly papers. My real interest in this dispute is to see that the good will which has always existed between my company and the overwhelming majority of our staff is restored and to see the men back at work. I therefore welcome the tone in which the debate was opened by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens).
The Minister has explained the complex nature of this dispute, and of the many organisations, unions and employers concerned, but there is one basic factor which concerns all those organisations and unions and that is the basic wage. I feel that the basic wage is the first thing that should be settled and that it should be settled on a common front. It was, therefore, with some concern that I saw the Minister seeking to isolate the ink manufacturers from the master printers and the Newspaper Society in an endeavour to negotiate a settlement which would keep the national newspapers in production.
I appreciate what the Minister said about the provincial Press, but if the front is to be broken in favour of the national papers there is a danger that the provincial papers may seek a separate settlement. That would not be in the interests of the general printing industry as a whole. The provincial dailies are not interested in the 40-hour week which they have worked for some years. They are not much interested in the conditions which the master printers are endeavouring to secure. Their main interest is in the basic wage.
One hon. Gentleman opposite asked why the provincial newspapers were tied up with the master printers. The explanation is simple. The Newspaper Society represents both the daily and weekly newspapers. Many of the dailies are associated with weekly newspapers and it is, therefore, convenient to have one society which represents both daily and weekly newspapers. On the other hand, the number of weeklies is far greater than that of the dailies and many of the weeklies have general printing interests. Because of this the special position of the dailies tends to be overlooked in the negotiations, and master printers' interests to receive more attention.
In such circumstances there is always the danger that the daily papers may seek to enter into separate negotiations with the unions which, as I have said, would not be in the general interest of the printing industry as a whole. That danger might become more real if in any resumed negotiations full attention were not paid to the special position of the daily morning and evening papers.
One of my regrets in this dispute is the tragic consequence which the strike will have on the relations existing between the unions the staffs and the employers. By their tactics the unions are sacrificing the good will which, in the provincial newspaper offices at any rate, it has always been our endeavour to build up. That good will is no small factor in the newspaper industry. Indeed, without it it would be very difficult to get over many of the difficulties of producing evening and morning newspapers.
Good will between the employers and the employees need not affect an employee's loyalty to his union. I can understand loyalty to the union coming first. What I cannot understand is that while the men are still drawing their wages the unions should order them to follow various forms of non-co-operation and put a ban on overtime. Nor can I understand that when so many men in the provincial newspaper offices reciprocate the good will that we have tried to build up they do not insist on the unions allowing them to ballot on whether the dispute should go to arbitration.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) mentioned the ballot which was conducted and which had overwhelming support, but it is remarkable that in that ballot paper the men were not given an opportunity to say whether, if the dispute could not be settled by negotiation, it should go to arbitration.
We did not have a ballot, but we had special meetings of all sections of the industry, both separate and together. Representatives of all the newspapers attended, and they were overwhelmingly in favour of the action taken. There was no need for a ballot. Every member of the society can attend such meetings, but every member of a trade union cannot attend the meetings of his executive and express his view. It was a great mistake that the men were not given the opportunity to ballot on this question.
When this dispute is over, as we hope it will be very soon, we should pay close attention to what the Minister said about conciliation machinery. The last two disputes in the newspaper industry have been marred by the tactics of the unions, who imposed restrictions on production while the men were still at work such action will always do harm. I hope that we shall make every effort to bring into force conciliation machinery to enable us to settle disputes and prevent such action in future.
What is needed now is the resumption of negotiations or arbitration. I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said about the need for further negotiations, and I support his argument, but I suggest that we might have a compromise. The two parties could meet and try to negotiate the basic wage—which is a fundamental thing affecting all parties—and, perhaps, the special payment which the newspapers have always made over and above the basic wage. If we can settle those questions round a table I do not see why we cannot get back to work and send the conditions to arbitration. I should like to see that course taken. If it were we might very well see an early resumption of work throughout the industry.
The Committee seems once again to have been put into an embarrassing situation when a strike is in the offing. I am at a loss to understand why the Labour Party has asked for a debate. The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) made it clear that he did not want to introduce any controversy and did not expect others to do so, but I do not see how we can have a debate on an extremely important public matter with some controversy. The House of Commons should decide how it is to deal with this kind of subject in future.
The right hon. Gentleman said that we had our responsibility to the public at large, and that was why there was a need for a debate, but the Minister of Labour was invited to open it, to make a statement, and to follow an extremely non-controversial line. As the debate has gone on, however, it has been apparent that several back bench Members have had some quite pertinent things to say.
There are two main problems. First, we much decide how the House of Commons deals with such an important subject at this when it is "hot", and secondly, how to arrange a general debate—not when a specific matter is "hot" in the public mind—on the general question of employers' federations, trade unions, wages and conditions, and how these bodies ought to conduct their affairs in an era of full employment and, possibly, of no inflation. There has been a year of comparative stability in the price index, although there may be some argument whether certain prices have risen or have fallen.
This is a new factor, and it is no use the Committee closing its eyes to the matter and saying, "If new machines are put in and new processes are instituted the workers must get an increase in wages." Out of what does that increase come? Two years ago, in a textile firm in which I had an interest, the question of an increase in wages came before the directors. At that time the firm was making no money at all, as many textile firms have failed to do since 1951. I asked how the increase was to be paid and I was told, "The Government will see to that." Because they were continuing with their policy of inflation, every firm knew that if it increased its wages to keep in line with other people, the value of money would fall and nobody would gain anything, but if a firm said, "We cannot pay, because we have no money, it would put our costs up," that did not matter.
It seems as if that situation has changed, and I hope that it has changed for a long time ahead. This situation brings a completely new factor into the problem of wage negotiations. At a later date the House will have to examine the way in which wage negotiations should be conducted under these conditions. This is a matter upon which the House should have a view, so as to be able to give a lead to the country, and not a matter which it should hand over to trade unions, employers' federations—
—and the Law Society.
This House should be concerned with matters which are of vital interest to our people. This is one of the great problems which must be tackled in the next ten years.
There has been talk about restrictive practices—or protective practices, as they have been called this afternoon—but I would point out that they are by no means all operated by trade unions. I can think of some fairly good protective practices which are carired out by the great national newspapers. One of the reasons for the great excitement last week was that the great newspapers have an agreement that if one stops they all stop. What is that if it is not a protective practice on the part of the employers? We all know that these arrangements exist. They should be examined with the other matters.
The Manchester Guardian has found some way round this problem.
I want to underline a point which was made by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), which should be discussed closely in a wider debate. He said that if the increase in wages and reduction of hours demanded by the trade unions was granted it would have a damaging effect on some firms, both large and small. Some small firms might be able to pay the increase, but others might not. There is a logic which must be followed through here.
I have some sympathy with the remark made on other occasions by the Minister of Labour, that we should not look upon strikes in too tragic a manner because they are part of a healthy industrial system and they are settled in the end. There is a little loss of wealth, but we must not mind that because it all comes out in the wash. The right hon. Gentleman's figures today may support that view, but I do not think that he would say that strikes are a good thing, which should be encouraged. We should con-side how best we can avoid them.
Let us take the question of mass negotiations over the country as a whole. What is one of the problems which the House of Commons is often concerned with, and I think no one more than members of the Labour Party? It is unemployment in the remote areas. I remember hearing at a famous by-election in Devon of a small glove factory which, literally, could not afford to pay the increase in wages which had recently been negotiated with that industry on a national scale. It was quite a small firm, employing 30 or 40 people.
The employer said to the local trade union representative, "If I have to pay this—something quite substantial, 10 per cent.—I shall have to close down. Will you explain that to my workpeople?" At the time I was there, as the result of talks within the firm, the workpeople had asked the employer to postpone closing down for six months and said that they would not take a wage increase while talks were held to see whether there was any other way out of the difficulty.
I do not think that it is any use burking this issue. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) interrupted the hon. and learned Member for Darwen and said, "Are you suggesting that there should be different rates of pay in different parts of the country for the same job?" Frankly, I am. I do not think that it is any use talking about the problems of the Highlands, or of the South-West or, indeed, inaccessible parts of Lancashire.
If the mines close down there are also no wages. We cannot have it both ways. If people like to live in a remote part of the country and are not concerned about whether they get exactly the same amount as someone who works in London, why should not they be allowed to do that job at a wage which is somewhat less than they would get in London, or in Barrow for that matter?
These are some of the problems which have to be faced. If there is to be an end to inflation for the time being and if some printing firms cannot pay a large increase and others can, then what is to happen? Those who can pay, do—that is obviously what will happen in the end—and those who cannot will have to go out of business. Is that what the members of the unions want? This will not happen the day after a strike is finished. Employees will go back for a while and the employer will struggle for his trade and endeavour to make both ends meet, but in the end some employers will cut down their staff, and little by little these people will go out of business.
This particularly applies to the printing industry, which is spread out all over the country in small towns and villages where local printing is done. These are the people most likely to be hit by a large wage award which cannot be afforded other than by the most successful and modern firms. Is it, in fact, desired that these people should be put out of business? Would not that worsen the problem of work in the remote areas?
I feel that there are two problems of which the Committee should take notice. One is how the Committee should take note of disputes of this kind when they come up. I think that we should debate them freely. I rather deplore this "peace" between the two Front Benches in which nothing controversial should be said. I think that every one should say exactly what he thinks about these matters, which are of great public importance. Secondly, I hope that at an early date we shall have a wide range of discussions on our industrial relations and industrial arrangements in the context of a period, which we hope will continue, of full employment with little or no inflation.
I wish to detain the Committee for only a few minutes and to mention one aspect of printing, which has not been covered—by that, I mean books. As a publisher of books, I have to declare an interest in this subject.
Although most hon. Members realise that publishers have handled print for a long time, it is only in a very few cases that they print books themselves. The majority of publishers commission books to be printed and bound, and they are, so to speak, the customers in this dispute.
Although we are apt to think in terms of printing in relation to periodicals, papers and books, book printers represent only about 10 per cent. of the printing trade. I do not think that hon. Members would disagree that books as a means of communication are a vital medium for the spreading of knowledge and learning, as some hon. Members have already mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has, indeed, recommended a Government grant of £500,000 to make books cheaper overseas. At present, 37 per cent. of the printed book trade turnover in books goes overseas, amounting in all to about £23 million. Any appreciable rise in printing costs is bound to affect the book trade, and make books more expensive.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) when he said that we want a gradual increase in wages rather than jumps. There is nothing more irritating to a publisher than to find his costs going up every three or four years by as much as 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. instead of their being spread over a gradual period of time. Book prices, if they were to face an increase in printing costs of 20 per cent. or 25 per cent., would not, of course, go up by that amount. Printing affects about half the cost of book production. That would mean that the price of a book would go up by about 10 per cent. I would say that book prices have not risen as steeply as printing costs since before the war; nor have printing costs risen as steeply as wages. If we take 1939 as 100, we find that today printing prices are 285. The wages of a skilled worker are 306 and of an unskilled worker 326. By comparison, book prices have not trebled, they have only, roughly, doubled.
If the 2½ per cent., suggested by the Federation as a possible increase in wages, together with a reduction of one hour in the working week, were accepted, it would mean an increase of 5 per cent. in printing costs; that is, provided agreement is reached on an improvement in productivity methods. But I think it true to say that as customers we have been rather concerned at the length of the list of what are by some people termed "protective" practices, and by others "restrictive" practices which were mentioned this afternoon—22 points which have come to light only as a result of this dispute. I refer particularly—this has been mentioned by many hon. Members—to the apprenticeship scheme which to many of us seems designed to avoid expansion in the trade.
The printing industry is an industry of craftsmen. Not only that, it is a bespoke industry. Unlike many other manufacturers, the industry does not produce or provide commodities to be sold. It produces work which has been commissioned by other people, like publishers. It performs a vital service to the community. It is a vital means of communication, and under these circumstances it is all the more regrettable that the negotiating machinery within the trade itself has broken down. It is to that negotiating machinery that we should return.
I suppose that, like everyone else, I should declare my interest—but I "ain't got none." I am no longer an official of the trade; I no longer work in the trade. But I have a great interest in what is happening in the trade and that is the interest which I want to declare.
I have been a little surprised at the manner in which hon. Members opposite have spoken. They have put in a special plea for their point of view in connection with their interest in the industry. Several referred to the failure of the Joint Industrial Council. I had hoped to follow completely the line and the spirit in which this debate was opened by the Minister of Labour. But the right hon. Gentleman also referred to this matter. He did not think that the machinery was fully used. I wonder how many hon. Members opposite know what that machinery is.
There is a conciliation committee to which every dispute inside the industry has to be taken. It consists of four people in the trade, four employers and four trade unionists with their own chairman. The committee discusses and settles 99 per cent. of the disputes which arise in the industry. It never gives a decision, it only expresses an opinion, but that opinion is always accepted. How is it possible to get four trade unionists and four employers to sit down together and settle this matter, which affects the whole of the industry? I say to hon. Members, "Please understand what you are talking about when you talk about this conciliation machinery which has never been used in this case."
Even the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) knows that it has been used hundred of times with complete and absolute success. I hope that he will take to this conciliation machinery that wonderful story of the big rotary press which took up so much room that it was not possible to get all the workmen round it, so that they had to put up a small smoking room where the men could smoke and play cards because they were not wanted on the machine. I should like to meet those fellows.
Among the unions in the trade there is one known as "Natsopa". That is me—I coined that name fifty years ago to name a union which had a long string of initials that could not always be used.
Reference has been made to apprenticeships and not taking enough apprentices. Let me tell the Committee about what I know happened up to ten years ago, when I was still a union official. I do not know what has happened since, but I can say that in the London printing machine minders' trade society the quota of apprentices accepted by the employers was such that as young apprentice machine minders came out of their time, the practice was to sack them and tell them to find a job somewhere else. But there were no other jobs, and up to ten years ago 200 young skilled apprentices who could not get jobs as machine minders joined my union as printers' assistants.
Is it suggested that the whole thing should be thrown open so that we can apprentice as many as we like, keep the best and throw the rest on the scrapheap? That was what went on and we are not going to put up with it any longer—I say "we", but, of course, I am no longer in the trade.
We heard the story of the provincial printer coming to London to do a night's work and going back again. I wonder where he went to. We heard another story—I cannot remember which hon. Gentleman opposite told it, because I was so amazed that I forgot to make a note of his name. Printing machines are standard all over the world and they are running at top speed all over the world; except here in England, where they are running at a restricted rate. Why? Who runs the shop? Do hon. Members mean to tell me that there are not enough overseers and managers in the printing trade to see that the machines are run at the right speed?
We shall not find better printing anywhere else in the world than in England. Our master printers and our working printers do the best job in the world. What is the proof? We hear talk about foreign trade stealing business away. We are told that £5 million worth of imported printing comes into this country from the Continent. The same broadsheet issued by the employers did not mention the £20 million worth of British printing going abroad.
Hearing some of these stories I am reminded of the old saying, "Willing to wound, but afraid to strike."
I want from the hon. Member for Bath the names and details, and the places, people and unions concerned in the accusations which he has made. The hon. Gentleman has promised to give that information to me and I await it.
I will confirm that promise. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to realise that this export printing is largely a question of content and not of quality. I am not running down the quality. Every publisher in London is selling more than 33⅓ per cent. of his books outside the country.
Well, after all, that is exporting it. I think that it was the hon. Gentleman who used the expression
By any other name, would smell as sweet.
Exports by any other name bring in the same amount of money.
The hon. Member for Bath said that he went to the Bath Trades Council and explained something about—I forget what it was that he explained—but I wonder whether he explained fully his wonderful opinion about the closed shop. We have heard a lot about the closed shop and the non-trade unionist who has a conscience, and all the rest of it.
I remember a man coming to work for a newspaper for which I worked many years ago and he said he had a conscientious objection to being a member of a trade union. My old dad, who was the "father" of the chapel—the common phrase now is "shop steward" but that is the good old-fashioned phrase—said to the boss, "We have conscientious objections to working with a conscientious objector"—and that settled it. Ever since I was eighteen years old I have held a trade union card. I have never worked with a non-trade unionist and I never would. I lost many a job because of that. But non-trade unionists are always prepared to take advantage of what we gain for them.
Is there any industry which is more efficient than the printing industry, or which has more readily accepted the introduction of fast-running machinery and improved presses? Did the compositors in this country indulge in any "Luddite" practices when the linotype machine came into operation? They accepted it and worked it and look what that brought. The hon. Member for Bath will know what I am talking about when I ask how many runs can you get out of a Platen? Can you today get only 500 or 600 runs with a Platen? And what about a Wharfedale? I remember feeding a Wharfedale with a 4-crown sheet on it and I was a clever boy if I could turn out 700 an hour. What happens today? With a modern machine a jobbing printer can print an 8-crown—not a 4-crown—sheet at the rate of 2,500 an hour without a feeder at all.
Who said that we were standing in the way of true efficiency in the printing industry? It is true that we have asked for terms and for agreements. Who is talking about restrictive practices and the cost of living? Are we to be always paid on the fodder basis? Are we to see new machinery coming in, with enormous improvements, and allow ourselves to work at all sorts of cock-eyed hours in the printing room so that all the benefit shall be passed over to the shareholders? Are we to say, "We will be content with these conditions", or are we to meet the employers around the table to get new agreements for the future?
In the few moments remaining at my disposal I want to refer to the ink dispute. It is astonishing to me to read the statements that have been made about it. The first part of one of the issued statements is completely true. The ink makers have had a long history of harmonious relationships with their employees, but they have always followed the Master Printers. The ink workers' union was created in 1918 by the people in the trade, while many of the workers were at the war. It came into being because there were three generous and broad-minded employers who said, "When these boys come back they ought not to come back to the rotten wages and conditions that they have been getting, but we cannot pay more unless other employers also pay more. "I said, "All right. Let us form a union and when the boys come back let them have an agreement setting out what wages are to be paid."
That was more or less what happened. The wages were set out in the agreement, but the men did not get the wages until they joined the union so they joined the union and got them. I say now to the employers in the ink industry, "Do not continue to be tin cans tied on the tail of the dog, the master printers. Enter into negotiation with the employees, on the understanding that they are prepared to make a settlement, so that we can get a complete settlement in the industry."
Many of the references we read in the newspapers are to Mr. Briginshaw, Mr. Willis, Mr. Eastwood and Mr. "Somebody Else." I would point out to the Committee that Briginshaw can only do what his union executive tells him. I know, because I was in the job that he is in. The general secretary of a trade union is not just cock of the walk and king of the dunghill. He has to do what he is told and what his trade union executive tells him to do. I say in all seriousness that a man in Briginshaw's position will do his very best to secure peace in his industry.
I have promised to sit down at a quarter to seven to let the Parliamentary Secretary get in his reply, and I will try to keep my promise, but I must refer to something which was said about the compositor having to correct the spelling and read the writing of authors and others who send in manuscripts. That remark takes my mind back sixty years, to the day when I first worked in the printing trade. I was a reader's boy and I worked on the Methodist Times. We used to print sermons from people like the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes. Talk about bad spelling and bad writing; there was more bad language over Hugh Price Hughes' sermons than over anything else!
The Minister of Labour said that there were, after all, only the methods of arbitration, conciliation, the referee and the court of inquiry for settling the dispute. Again, I must declare an interest, because I know something about the job that the right hon. Gentleman is doing. I did it myself during the last war. I know how gingerly one has to tread in these matters. I say to the Minister of Labour, "Call the parties together and see whether you can start the ball rolling." Many years ago, when I was chairman of the Joint Industrial Council's conciliation machinery, there was a dispute between a large firm and a big section of one of our great trade unions. I believe that I can see an official of that trade union sitting in the Gallery now.
I called the parties together and I got the conciliation committee to take this line, "We will sit here and we will not go away until a settlement is reached. If either of you wishes to break away then you are responsible for continuing the dispute." I kept them there from six in the afternoon until five o'clock the next morning. I do not know whether we wore them out, but we did get a settlement.
I therefore ask the Minister to call the parties together. I also say to the employers and the workers, "You are in the ring now, and you have got the gloves on. How many bruised heads, black eyes, broken noses and cauliflower ears do you want? You know that you have eventually to sit down and talk." The Minister of Labour has said that the parties will have to come together. We do not want the parties to get involved once again in the details of the dispute, but to find out how to settle it.
I hope that the Minister of Labour will issue that invitation to the parties. After my long association with these wonderful workpeople, all friends of mine, I say to them, "Get out of the ring. Get round a table and tell the Federation of the employers' organisations where they get off."
Those of us who have just heard the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) will regret that we do not hear him more often. I am foremost in my regrets that none of us will hear him in the next Parliament.
I will begin my speech by recalling an undertaking which I understand was given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on Friday when a deputation was taken to see him about a matter which has been mentioned a number of times in the last few days but has not been mentioned in the debate tonight, the question of picketing. I would like to make it clear on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the 1906 Trades Disputes Act permits peaceful picketing for two purposes: for peacefully obtaining or communicating information or peacefully persuading someone to work or not to work. Under the 1875 Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act picketing remains a criminal offence if it goes beyond these peaceful purposes.
I understand that the law on this subject is perfectly clear. The duty of the police is equally clear. It is to enforce the law. My right hon. Friend has asked me to say that the police will not interfere with peaceful picketing but that they must quite clearly take action to prevent obstruction, disorder or damage to property, and to protect the citizens of this country from intimidation.
Both the right hon. Member for Southwark and the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) have drawn attention to the need for more talking. I think one of the main points in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was that there had not been enough talking and that there was a need for more talking in the future. I do not think it necessary to draw his attention or that of the Committee to the meeting which was held on Saturday between the British Federation of Master Printers and the unions having as its objective the removal of any misconception which might have existed and to try to see if procedure could be devised which would make it possible to reopen negotiations. Secondly, I do not think it necessary to remind him of the conversations which have been taking place today between the ink makers on the one side and Natsopa on the other. I will try to give the Committee the latest information in my possession about these talks.
I wish to say one thing to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey), who referred earlier to discussions which had taken place before these discussions I have mentioned and suggested that it was the intention of my right hon. Friend to negotiate a separate settlement for the national newspapers. I should make clear what my right hon. Friend's objective was in calling in the parties to the dispute. His objective, as he said this afternoon, was to try to achieve an armistice in the printing ink dispute until the other main dispute could be settled in order to allow the national newspapers to continue. This, as he also said this afternoon, was because a great many thousands of men and women would be out of jobs if the dispute was not settled, workers who were in no way parties to the dispute, quite apart from the large number of men and women who in time will be thrown out of work indirectly as a result of this main dispute.
I come to the question which has been discussed a certain amount this afternoon and which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Blyth, the question of a referee. My right hon. Friend, when speaking earlier in the debate, said that the idea of a referee had been mentioned in the past by himself and the right hon. Member for Blyth suggested that what in fact was necessary at present was a referee in the sense of a distinguished chairman conducting negotiations between the two sides. I think the same idea was in the mind of the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins). As my right hon. Friend said, the question whether the referee should be a chairman of the discussions making suggestions from time to time, or should be a referee in the ordinary sense—that is a giver of decisions—goes to the heart of the matter. This was the basis of a certain amount of difference of opinion, I understand, in the negotiations recently.
I think the right hon. Member will agree, and the right hon. Member for Southwark will also be with me, that if in fact the referee is to act in the way suggested by the right hon. Member the Chief Industrial Commissioner can probably do that job extremely well himself. He has been doing it for a long time. I am quite sure that anyone with experience of such negotiations in the Ministry of Labour would seem to be the obvious man to conduct this kind of discussion. What he cannot do, and what I think none of us would think he should do, would be to act as a person who gives a decision.
Therefore, the choice comes down—as it has come down in these discussions in the past—to this, that on the one side it is desired that the referee should be a sort of amateur chief industrial commissioner conducting the negotiations and making helpful suggestions, and on the other side, that the referee should have the power to come to a decision which both sides would accept. I say that because I should not like the Committee to feel that the idea put forward by the right hon. Member, which certainly was closely considered by my right hon. Friend, had not been explored. It has teen explored. It was suggested and discussions took place on the part that a referee could play. Indeed, my right hon. Friend feels very strongly that it may be possible in future to return to the idea which has been discussed today.
My right hon. Friend promised earlier that I would try to give the Committee the news of the important talks which have been taking place today between Natsopa on the one side and the printing ink manufacturers on the other. Natsopa felt, as we all feel, that a settlement would be highly desirable, a settlement which would permit ink supplies to flow and therefore keep the national newspapers publishing. We all feel it would be desirable if this ink dispute could be removed from the scene and some armistice could be reached in order to allow the national newspapers to continue.
The employers at the discussions today made an offer which, basically, was similar to the offer which the printing employers have made in the past, that there should be an increase of 5s. for the men and an hour off the working week. They also suggested some six points which could be discussed in the interests of productivity, which the right hon. Member mentioned earlier today. They also mentioned that they were prepared to go to arbitration.
On the other side—I am giving the Committee these facts because I think it necessary that we should know exactly where we stand—the unions made a counter proposal that there should be a minimum increase of 10 per cent., and that there should be a minimum reduction of the working week to 40 hours. At the same time they expressed their willingness to co-operate on productivity questions directly the settlement was reached.
It was felt that on the basis of the employers' offer and the unions' counter offer there was at present no basis for a further discussion of this issue. At present, that is the situation which exists between the ink manufacturers and Natsopa.
My right hon. Friend said earlier in the debate that there were basically three ways to end this dispute. He mentioned the possibility of a court of inquiry and gave reasons, which I believe the Committee thought convincing, why such a possibility was not likely to be particularly helpful in this case. He then mentioned the possibility of arbitration, and the Committee knows the very different reasons why arbitration at the moment seems not to be a possible answer to the problem. My right hon. Friend also mentioned the method of conciliation. On his behalf I should like to repeat what he said earlier, that the services of our Department continue to be available. The Committee will be aware of several occasions, both in the last few days and earlier, when the parties have come together in the Ministry of Labour to conduct negotiations and discussions and to see whether a common ground existed for discussions to be continued in the future.
I repeat what my right hon. Friend said earlier about the danger of a mistimed intervention, with which again I think the Committee this afternoon was in agreement. I see that the President of the Inkmakers' Society said after the discussions which took place today:
I do not see any point at which discussion can begin at this moment".
He then added:
We shall do what we can to think one up.
I can only say to the Committee that if either side believes that it can think up a basis on which discussions can be resumed, either in this dispute or in the main dispute about which discussions took place on Saturday, my right hon. Friend is certainly ready—if he can see the prospect of progress which I think the Committee agrees is important—to act again and try to do his best to bring this matter to a successful conclusion.
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether there has been any discussion about the added difficulty which has been created by certain local newspapers, like the Liverpool Post, in sacking their reporters and so complicating the whole question of any type of negotiation? Has any discussion or reference been made to that?
The Committee will be well aware that as a result of this main dispute there has been this important and subsidiary dispute between the printing ink manufacturers and Natsopa and there have also been a number of other complications, one of which the hon. Lady has mentioned, and others which are in the minds of the Committee. Clearly the basis of a settlement of all these subsidiary disputes lies in the resolution of the main dispute, which is what concerns the Committee at the moment.