§ MR. RITCHIE
, in moving the Second Heading of this Bill, said he was glad to think that so far as the principle of the Bill was concerned there was little or no controversy. The principle of the Bill was to endeavour to establish a system of settling disputes between employers and employed by conciliation. It was not necessary for him to dwell at any length on that proposal, because the question had been before the House more than once, both the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffieild and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen having introduced Bills on the subject on previous occasions. His hon. Friend the Member for Islington had already obtained a Second Reading for a Bill on this subject without a Division, and with the unanimous approval of the House, and that Bill was now awaiting consideration before the Grand Committee. He now proposed to ask the House to give a Second Heading to the Government Bill—which differed in some respects to that of his hon. Friend—in order that both Bills might be considered together by the Grand Committee, in the hope that something of a satisfactory nature might be the outcome of the two Bills. His hon. Friend the Member for Oldham had upon the Paper a Motion for the rejection of the Bill, but he did not think his hon. Friend was opposed to the principle of conciliation. He knew that in Oldham there was already a very satisfactory mode of dealing with disputes between employers and their workmen; but he hoped that his hon. Friend did not 420 imagine that if this Bill was carried it would in the slightest degree interfere with the working of that system—indeed, there was nothing to prevent his hon. Friend from endeavouring to persuade the Committee that the Oldham system was the best system, and should be adopted. This Bill dealt with the matter from two points of view, conciliation and arbitration. So far as conciliation was concerned, there was no desire to interfere in any way with existing Boards of Conciliation, but the Bill gave them the opportunity of establishing themselves on rather a better basis by means of registration at the Board of Trade. The Bill proposed that where Boards did not at present exist, the Board of Trade might take steps to create them. There was another provision in Bill to which the Government attached considerable importance, and that was, that the Board of Trade was empowered to intervene on their own initiative with a view of bringing the parties together under a chairman mutually agreed upon, or failing that, appointed by the Board of Trade. It might be said that an Act of Parliament was not necessary to enable the Board of Trade to intervene, but it was considered that the Board of Trade would be in a better position if they obtained a recognition of those powers by Act of Parliament. It was also provided that the Board of Trade might intervene on the application of either party to a dispute, and might appoint a conciliator ad hoc, or make use of the existing Boards of Arbitration. With regard to the portion of the Bill which dealt with arbitration, arbitration was, of course, made quite voluntary. There was no attempt to force either party to resort to arbitration. There must be an agreement in writing between the parties, and in that case the Board of Trade could appoint an arbitrator. It had been objected that almost every-thing that the Bill gave power to do could be done by the Board of Trade under the existing law, and that, therefore there was no necessity for this legislation. The Board of Trade, however, would stand in a very different position in relation to this question if this Bill were passed, because its footing would be much firmer if the proposed powers were conferred upon it with the consequence that these disputes would be 421 brought to a more speedy end. If the House would show their approval of the principle of the Bill by reading it a Second time there would be a full opportunity of considering all objections to its details when it came before the Grand Committee to which he hoped the House would be willing to refer it. He begged to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE () Gloucester, Forest of Dean
said that the right hon. Gentleman began his speech by remarking that everybody in that House was in favour of the principle of conciliation. That might be true with regard to every hon. Member except himself; but out side of that House there were numbers of people who objected to the principle of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had praised the strong points of the Bill, but he had forgotten to explain that they had been taken bodily out of the Bill of last year. What did the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies and the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, say with regard to the Measure of 1895? The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, in referring to the former Bill, had said that the Measure did nothing more than confer upon the Board of Trade powers which they were already possessed of, and that he preferred that the powers should be exercised by the Home Office, which was already in touch with the working classes, rather than by the Board of Trade, which was alleged by some persons to be the most unpopular Department of the State, an assertion in which he certainly did not concur. The fact was that this Bill was one of those Party Measures which most people thought would do no harm—in fact, it was a good sort of shop front Bill, which would enable hon. Members on both sides of the House to assert that they had carried out the pledges which they had given to the working classes. He did not propose to divide the House upon the question whether or not the Bill should be read a Second time, but he asked hon. Members to reflect before they held out by its means false hopes to the working classes. It had been said with considerable truth that such a Measure as this might not only be useless, but might be absolutely dangerous to the working classes. He 422 had in some degree come to that conclusion himself, because he thought that such a Bill as this was unnecessary where there were powerful Trade Unions who were in a position to negotiate for themselves, and would only be made use of in the case of weak Unions. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *MR. R. ASCROFT () Oldham
said that he had no desire to criticise the Bill in a hostile spirit. Notwithstanding what the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean said, the disease still existed, and the sooner they found a solution by which a remedy could be applied to strikes and lock-outs the better it would be for the working classes and the capitalists of the country. He believed that this was an honest attempt on the part of the Government to deal with the subject; but, in his judgment, the present Bill, as well as all the previous schemes, had failed in this respect—that they did not go straight to the true cause; they attempted to deal with conciliation and arbitration, but not one had attempted to begin at the beginning—namely, prevention. They had a perfect right to say to the working classes and the employers:—You shall not subsidise members of your respective associations until you have met together and discussed the question with a view to formulate some scheme of settlement.The right hon. Gentleman should consult the permanent officials of the Board of Trade to see whether in the Grand Committee some clause could not be produced providing that the funds of trade organisations should not be used either by workpeople or masters until after a meeting between the officials of both organisations. He was afraid that there was too much of the Board of Trade about this Bill. Unless they made it a popular Measure, it would not be taken advantage of. In his judgment they ought to deal with trade disputes at the very beginning, and steps should early be taken to prevent them, on arising, from developing into strikes and lock-outs. In Lancashire they had an agreement which affected thousands and thousands of operatives, and this agreement had been adopted in the last few weeks by the employers and workmen in connection 423 with the large building trades of the metropolis. That agreement had worked successfully. No strike or lock-out occurred until the two local secretaries first of all met and discussed the subject of dispute; then it went before the joint committee, and finally, to the committees of the federation. The workmen wanted an opportunity to meet the masters and discuss the question with them; they did not want the intervention of the Board of Trade if this could be got. He concluded by stating that he would not move the Amendment, of which he had given notice, to reject the Bill.
§ MR. A. J. MUNDELLA () Sheffield, Brightside
joined with the hon. Member in bearing testimony to the utility of the organisation in Lancashire for bringing workmen and employers together in the settlement of trade disputes. But, after all, this was nothing but conciliation. This method of adjustment should be carried further even in Lancashire so as to prevent disputes from arising. The representatives of the employers and the workmen should meet periodically to discuss all trade questions and to prevent any disputes which might arise from culminating in strikes. In the trade with which he had been connected, he had been President of the Board of Arbitration for 16 years; he drew up the first rules of the body, whose aim was to bring masters and men together once a month to consider all questions in dispute. During those 16 years no strike had occurred. But before that time anarchy almost reigned. He dissented from the views expressed by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, who, he was glad to think, recognised that he was alone in his opposition to this principle. He defied the right hon. Gentleman to cite a single instance where conciliation, ending sometimes in arbitration, had oppressed the working classes. The better the trades were organised the more likely they were to agree. Nothing conduced so much to peaceful settlements between capital and labour than that both masters and workmen should be well organised, and that they should be willing to meet each other. When employers and workmen could sit down together and argue their business round a table, they would find out how much 424 good there was in each other, and how much of their animosity was due to prejudice. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean was very adroit in reading the speeches of the Colonial Secretary and the Vice President of the Council last year. But the right hon. Gentleman knew that Government Measures were sometimes opposed, lest the Government should obtain some sort of popularity by passing them. But this was too grave and too serious a question to be treated in that way. The Bill might not accomplish all they hoped for, but if they could narrow the area of strife even to a very moderate extent, they would do great service to the community. The trade of this country had to encounter great and increasing competition, and the more employers and workmen recognised the necessity for coming to an agreement with each other the better it would be for trade. The Colonial Secretary had opposed the former Bill because it had no compulsion in it. He did not believe in compulsory conciliation, or compulsory arbitration; and he was sure it would be resented by the representatives of the working classes. The only way in which they could bring about a good understanding between master and workman was by establishing healthy mutual relations. This Bill even went too far in his judgment. He objected to anything like a court in connection with arbitration, and he believed in letting the parties formulate their own methods. He believed the Board of Trade was the best authority to deal with this matter. In the Labour Department they had many of the ablest men in the country, men like Mr. Llewellyn Smith, Mr. Burnett, and their assistants, some of whom had been among the most intelligent of the Trade Union leaders. Every one of these men, he was sure, would repudiate the idea of a compulsory court, either for conciliation or for arbitration. What they could do was to formulate a scheme under which the Board of Trade might take the initiative, not in settling disputes after they had arisen, but in preventing them by bringing the parties together immediately any tendency was shown to make unreasonable demands. Without some such authority as the Bill gave, the Board of Trade could not intervene without the danger of being snubbed. During 425 the time he was at the Board of Trade, some very important disputes were settled through the intervention of the officials. But they had no authority, and had to proceed in a very delicate way. This Bill would enable them to say to the parties: "The legislature thinks it is our duty to place the matter fairly before you." The publication of the Annual Report, showing the methods employed and how far they had succeeded, would tend to bring about a good result. He mentioned that in 1894 the right hon. Member for Aberdeen, when President of the Board of Trade, appointed him arbitrator in a dispute in the Potteries. He met the parties and found that they approached so near to each other that he urged them to come to terms without his aid. They did come to an agreement, and he was heartily thanked by them for his good offices in the matter. What they wanted to do was to impress upon employers and workmen, the labour question should be settled without the ultimate resort to a strike. He was sorry that the Second Reading of the Bill had been so long deferred and was afraid that its chances of passing this Session were meagre. Everything he could do to facilitate its progress he would be delighted to do, and he hoped the House would not grudge time or labour in carrying it into law.
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT () Islington, S.
said he was glad that the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, to whom they listened with great respect on social matters, did not rely so much upon his own criticisms of the Bill as upon the quotations he made from the speeches of other Members. The first of these quotations was from a speech of the Vice President of the Council, who said that everything that the Bill authorised could be done without it. He shared the view that it was a most difficult and delicate matter for the Board of Trade to intervene—although they had intervened in some cases with very great advantage—without being armed with the authority of an Act of Parliament. The dispute might be aggravated rather than prevented or ended by their doing so. But the Bill would give advantages to the Board of Trade in the way of settling disputes which were not hitherto at their disposal. Then the right hon. Gentleman 426 quoted the Secretary for the Colonies in favour of compulsion. But the impossibility of the principle of compulsion was recognised by Lord Cross's Act of 1875. Masters could not be compelled to give work, nor could employés be compelled to work under certain specific terms. The Act of 1875 recognised that fact, and it was to the recognition of that fact that the benefits which the Measure had conferred on the working classes were largely due. The preceding Conciliation Act of 1867 had been ineffective chiefly because it was based upon the principle of compulsion. Disputes were to be compulsorily settled, and the Justices of the Peace had powers to enforce their awards by distress, by the sale of goods, and even by imprisonment. That Act of 1867 had been founded on an Act of 1824. It contained provisions similar to the provisions of the Act of 1824, the drastic compulsory powers of which also rendered it inoperative, and if those compulsory powers were introduced into the present Bill they would be certain to destroy any efficiency it might possess. He quite shared the views of his right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean in regard to the value of Trades Union organisations. But he did not agree with his right hon. Friend that the existence of those organisations dispensed with the necessity of conciliation. On the contrary, he thought it was a very great recommendation of conciliation. His experience on the London Conciliation Board was that conciliation was most effective when it had behind it an organisation that would insure the carrying out of its awards; and it was possible to take, in the case of organised trades, with recognised leaders, conciliatory steps which were impossible in the case of unorganised labour of which there were no responsible leaders. His right hon. Friend referred to the fact that Mr. Mawdesley, the well-known Trades Union leader, was against the Bill. But his right hon. Friend would admit that there was a large amount of Trades Union opinion on the other side: for instance, on the Bill Mr. Fenwick, M.P.; and at the London Conciliation Board, Mr. Harford (of the Railway Workers' Society), Mr. G. Howell (the Amalgamated Society of Engineers), and many 427 other great Trades Unions. [Sir C. DILKE: "Hear, hear!"] When the Conciliation Bill, which he had introduced, had passed the House unanimously—and it now awaited the present Bill in the Standing Committee—the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress was strongly opposed to it. The promoters of the Bill felt that it was opposed perhaps for reasons that were not conclusive, so they asked the Parliamentary Committee to meet them, to talk the matter over, and the result of the interview was that they formally withdrew their opposition to the Bill. Therefore, the feeling in Trades Union circles seemed to be in favour of trying this form of conciliation. He had had a letter from a leading Trades Unionist in Hull expressing a hope that the Bill might pass, and stating a most significant fact, which showed what might be the value of the Measure: "There cent London building trades strike," he wrote, "cost for four weeks, upwards of £150,000." He hoped the Bill would pass its Second Reading, so that it might be referred, with the Bill which he had introduced, to the Grand Committee, and that they might have, as a result of the deliberations of the Committee, one good effective Act of Parliament for industrial conciliation and arbitration purposes. There were some minor points of the Bill with which he might not agree; for instance, the appointment of a single arbitrator instead of a representative board of employers and employed equally; the reference to the Arbitration Act 1889, which was a mercantile Measure; and great as was the value and pressure of public opinion, he questioned the results of ex parte conciliation and reports. But the great value of the Bill would be that it would establish an open and accessible mediatory tribunal to which parties in a trade dispute might appeal for assistance to arrange matters, and thus prevent strikes, which were so injurious to, and which dislocated and often diverted, the trade of the country, and which were the cause of such extreme hardship to the working classes.
§ MR. JAMES BRYCE () Aberdeen, S.
said he was glad that the hon. Member for Oldham did not intend to divide the House against the Bill, because it was desirable that the unanimous authority 428 of the House should go with the Bill to the Grand Committee, in order to enable them, so far as they could, to work out a practical scheme of conciliation. He shared the feeling expressed by several Members that too much must not be expected from legislation of this kind. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill was only an experiment, but it was an experiment that was well worth trying. ["Hear, hear!"] The balance of opinion of weight on the subject was that the existing law did not go far enough, and that it was well to try the further experiment of extending it. During the time he filled the office of President of the Board of Trade, he had an experience of the helplessness of the Board of Trade to bring about settlements of disputes under the present law. A coal strike occurred in the West of Scotland, and the men appealed to the Board of Trade to try to settle the dispute. He then endeavoured several times to approach the employers in a tentative way, feeling, as there was no statutory authority behind him, that he could only do so in a semi-official sort of way. He endeavoured to bring the employers and the men together, but the most powerful section of the employers rejected the overtures, and the Board of Trade came to the conclusion that there would not be much use in going further. He felt sure that if the Board of trade had been able to say that it was by the authority of Parliament that this action was taken by them, the employers would have accepted their advances, the strike would have been considerably abridged, and the great hardships whch the working people endured would have been avoided to a large extent. There was, therefore, some justification for the demand that some Government Department should have the power of intervention on those disputes, and he agreed that the Board of Trade, with its Labour Department, which kept it informed of what was going on in the labour world year after year, was in a position of being able to act with greater advantage in such cases than the Home Office. ["Hear, hear!"] He agreed with the President of the Board of Trade that the merit of the Bill before the House lay in its conciliation clauses. Indeed, he thought the arbitration clauses might well be left out altogether. Strikes were due in most cases 429 to misconceptions between the parties; and what was wanted was not that the parties should call in an arbitrator, but that they should allow themselves to be approached by an impartial person, who would bring them together and act as chairman for them at their meetings, and who, in the last resort might be allowed by them to settle points on which they could not come to an agreement themselves. ["Hear, hear!"] That was the way by which Lord Rosebery settled the coal strike, and by which Sir Courtenay Boyle, acting on behalf of the Board of Trade, settled the boot and shoe strike. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought it was a pity the Bill did not contain a provision for an ex parte report being made. There were cases in which it was desirable that the weight of public opinion should be thrown on the side in the dispute which was willing to conciliate, and against the side which absolutely refused to listen to reason. Of course, there could be nothing in the way of forcing terms. But as soon as the Report was published, public opinion would be so strong against the recalcitrant side that they would be compelled to reconsider their position. He hoped the Bill would come out of the Grand Committee embodying the feelings of employers and working men leaders, who knew more of the matter than Members of the House, and that, therefore care would be taken to have their views laid before the Committee.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ MR. J. WILSON () Falkirk Burghs
rose to express as briefly as possible his most hearty welcome to this attempt to settle disputes between employer and employed in an amicable manner. Speaking as a large employer of labour, he could assure the House that if an honest attempt was not made to pass this Bill it would cause great disappointment. They would remember the severe fight which they had in England, where they had highly organised Trades Unions, and surely if highly organised Trades Unions could settle these disputes they would have been settled before now. They did not expect the millenium, but they did expect that they should be provided with the machinery for bringing employer and employed together, and great would be the responsibility of those who did 430 not use all their endeavours to avoid strikes. He believed that the Bill would be instrumental in bringing about a settlement of these disputes, and therefore he hoped the hon. Member for Oldham would give them his assistance when the Bill came before the Grand Committee. He had no doubt they would be able to feel their way out of the difficulty. The need of these Conciliation Boards was far greater than in former times, as the managing partners of great companies did not come in such close contact with their employés as was the case in times past.
§ MR. HENRY BROADHURST () Leicester
said the principle of conciliation had been associated with workmen's organisations for 30 or 40 years, and he should advise the right hon. Gentleman not to be goaded into any attempt to go too fast. He should advise him not to bind himself too closely to the provisions of a Conciliation Bill this Session. It was a Measure which should not be passed without great consideration. He suggested that if they had half an hour at the Board of Trade with some of the leading Trade Unionists from the northern and midland counties, they would be able practically to agree on the details of their scheme before it was submitted to the House of Commons. That would save a lot of time, and would enable them to speak armed with an authority which Ministers seldom had in introducing Measures of this kind. He would direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman in a friendly spririt to Sub-section 3 of Clause 2, and would suggest to him that if he went to excited parties to a trade dispute with this power of impounding certain sums of money and retaining them as a fine, as it were, it would not be attractive to the workpeople of this country. He believed his right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield drew attention to Subsection 3, which referred to the Arbitration Act of 1889, which was passed for commercial purposes, a different class of disputes altogether to what this Bill dealt with. He wished there was no reference whatever in this Bill to that Act or any other Acts, because the people on reading it would be suspicious and would not understand it. He would advise the right hon. Gentleman not to be in a hurry with this Bill. The right hon. 431 Gentleman had used a rather unfortunate phrase when he said that if they passed a Bill like this the Board of Trade would enter a conference room or a Conciliation. Court with a greater status. He did not care a farthing about their status as long as they had common sense, honesty, and a desire to assist the people.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said he thought perhaps "status" was an unfortunate word, and was not what he meant so far' as position was concerned. What he meant was that they would go with some justification, and some authority, if the clauses of this Bill were enacted. They had always been open to the remark, "What business have you got here?" but if the Bill were passed they would be able to say, "We are charged by Parliament with the duty of endeavouring to assist you."
§ MR. BROADHURST
said his right hon. Friend was in a dangerous state of mind. He was not in any way opposed to the great principle of the Bill, but he would say this, that if the Board of Trade had 500 Acts of Parliament with regard to the matter they would not be a bit more respected than they were today. Nothing could increase the regard and confidence which the Board of Trade had won for itself, and he attributed some of that regard to their absolutely voluntary action. He was not going to advocate the delay of this Bill, but he urged the right hon. Gentleman not to send it to a Committee of exhausted legislators—for they did become exhausted in July. Let them approach the consideration of this Bill in an invigorated state of mind and body, and let the Bill go forth as a well-considered and well-threshed-out Measure, calculated to do great good to the industrial communities of this country, whether workmen or employers. He was sure his right hon. Friend would recognise that his criticism was offered in the interests of the Bill, to the principle of which he was devoted. He had always had a great regard for his right hon. Friend, and it was a very old friendship. [Mr. RITCHIE: "Hear, hear!"] His desire was to help him, to the best of his ability, to produce a Measure worthy of himself and his Department, which was so nobly associated with peaceful proceedings, which would redound to the credit of that House, and which would 432 be in the interests of peace and prosperity.
§ COLONEL BLUNDELL () Lancashire, Ince
believed this was a good Bill, which, however, might be made better. He entirely agreed that arbitration was not good unless it proceeded from conciliation. If a Conciliation Board met and could not come to terms, but were very near it, it was better for them to refer the matter to arbitration. They wanted the public of this country, whether employers or employed, to understand that before ever there was a strike or lock-out, there should be an attempt to settle matters by conciliation if possible. This Bill would do much to diminish the animus of strikes. If the first fort-night of a dispute could be got over without a collision taking place between the parties the animus largely diminished, and if an actual collision did take place the public ought to know what the issue between the parties was. Ill-feeling was often generated by exaggeration of their cases on both sides. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman upon the Bill, and he was convinced that there was a strong opinion in its favour held among the working classes of the country. When the Measure got into Committee they could turn it into a most excellent Bill which would have the desirable effect of diminishing and mitigating strikes.
§ MR. B. PICKARD () York, W.R., Normanton
said that in his opinion the Bill would do no good at all, and that, like all Bills interfering with the wages of workmen, it was doomed to failure. In his opinion, the time that would be spent upon this Measure would be wasted. He opposed this Bill because his constituents objected to it on the ground that it would unduly interfere with the wages of working men. He should not oppose the Bill if it followed the example of the Belgian Parliament and fixed a minimum rate of wages. It was said that the main object of the Measure was to prevent strikes, but how could it accomplish that object unless it was compulsory? How would this Bill affect trade competition? Was it intended that it should stop all business until the millenium had arrived? He opposed the Bill also on the ground that its operation would be in favour of the employers and against the working men, 433 and because it would interfere with the standard rate of wages. No legislation could ever compel employers to keep their pits open if they did not choose to do so. It was, in his view, better that there should be mutual concessions between employers and their men. When the parties were brought together they very soon settled their disputes, which they would not do by force, or any Act of Parliament that could be passed. In 1894 both employers and their workmen agreed that they could settle their disputes without the intervention of any third parties sitting as umpires between them. They then entered into an agreement that was to last two years, and which would expire in July next, but it was now settled that that agreement was to last for two or three years longer. Such a Bill as this would have no effect whatever unless it was made compulsory; and he did not think any Government dare go the length of making it compulsory on workmen, if they did not agree to the decision of the umpire, to pay the cost of the arbitration out of their wages. He could only hope the Government would withdraw the Bill and would let the matter rest until they found out what the feeling of the workmen was. They would then see the futility of introducing any Measure affecting the wages of the workmen.
§ *MR. J. G. BUTCHER () York
expressed satisfaction that the Government had found time for the Second Reading of this Bill, which had been looked forward to by many of the working classes. If, as had been suggested by the hon. Member who had just sat down, the Bill introduced any interference by the Government with wages, it would have been opposed by Members sitting on both sides of the House. But it would have no such effect. The point of the Bill was that it could not be put into operation except by mutual agreement between the parties to disputes. It had been said that previous legislation of the kind had failed, but he did not see that that was any reason why a Bill should not be brought which would avoid the mistakes of former Bills. There was one important difference between this Bill and that of the late Government. There was nothing 434 in the Bill of 1895 to prevent the compulsory enforcement by the Court of the award of an arbitrator. That Bill embodied the provisions of the Arbitration, Act of 1889, which contained a provision by which the award of an arbitrator could be enforced by an order of the Court, and that was a fatal blot. This Bill provided that whatever award was made, it should not be subject to enforcement by a Court of law. Another difference between this Bill and the Bill of 1895 was that the latter contained an unworkable provision by which the County Councils were empowered to create Boards of Conciliation. He believed the County Councils did not want that power, and he was glad to see that that provision was omitted from the present Bill. The provisions in reference to conciliation included a clause under which, where Boards of Conciliation already existed, the Bill recognised those Boards and gave them a new status and a new authority. Where there were no Boards of Conciliation in existence, the Bill proposed two things. First of all, it gave the Board of Trade power to intervene; and secondly, it gave the Board power to promote the creation of new Boards. He wished the Government could have gone a little further and created machinery by which Boards of Conciliation could be set up all over the country—permanent tribunals to which employers and employed might bring their differences when they arose. He looked upon the Bill as a start at any rate. He believed it would do some good in checking industrial warfare, but it would be for this or some other Government in the future to follow up this legislation and insure that there should be Boards of Conciliation in all districts. He believed the Bill, so far as it went, was a thoroughly sound and good Bill.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES () Durham, N. W.
said that notwithstanding the many benevolent platitudes that had been uttered with reference to this Bill, he doubted very much whether, had it not been for the force of circumstances over which the President of the Board of Trade had no control, the House would have been discussing the Bill at all. The House had not heard one solitary argument in support of the Bill. The 435 whole Bill was nothing more nor less than a recital of the powers which may be exercised by any body of workmen or employers in the country at the present moment. There was not a single additional power given to Boards of Conciliation beyond the powers which already were at their disposal under the common law of the land. Could the President of the Board of Trade point to a single case in which an existing Conciliation Board had asked for the powers which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to confer? The Bill was positively mischievous. He could conceive no more invidious or odious task to impose upon. Government officials than would be imposed upon them by this Bill. By Members of the present Ministry and of the late Ministry the power of intervention in trade disputes had been exercised with the greatest success, but the secret of that success lay in the fact that the intervention was voluntary. Unsolicited interference by the Board of Trade would be highly unpopular. There was no more delicate task than that of intervening in disputes between employers and employed, and the essential condition of successful intervention was that the intervener should be acceptable to both parties. It would be a lamentable thing if this Bill were to pass into law, because it would engender a disinclination among the working classes for conciliatory methods. Under this Bill the attention of employers and workmen would be directed to the power that was given them to enforce an award. They would be invited practically to use that power. But did not the President of the Board of Trade know that it would be hopeless to attempt to enforce an award against workmen? It would be impossible to compel them to abide by an award. He hoped his hon. Friend would go to a Division, and that the result would be to prevent this pernicious and pretentious Measure from being added to the Statute-book.
§ *SIR FRANCIS POWELL () Wigan
did not agree with hon. Members who recommended the Government to take things easy. He held that as regarded the class of Bills now before the House, they had taken things easy a great deal 436 too long; he trusted, therefore, that the Session would not pass without some step being taken in support of the policy of conciliation. He had been surprised to hear the observations made on the other side of the House as to the intervention of Lord Rosebery in the Midland coal strike. He knew all the misery and evil caused by that strike, as it was his painful duty as representing Wigan to be often in that town and neighbourhood during the dispute. Remembering that experience, he did feel that Parliament had delayed too long before passing legislation to put an end to such melancholy scenes. It was true that Lord Rosebery intervened in this strike, but he intervened too late, for the wretchedness and misery that were caused had already lasted too long when he interfered. Parliament had been remiss because it had not passed, long before this, a Bill which would render such a state of things as then existed improbable—he feared he could not say impossible. The history of their efforts in legislation as regarded conciliation had, no doubt, not been encouraging, but experience taught them that they ought never to give up in despair their endeavours to amend the law. He agreed with preceding speakers that compulsion in these matters was impossible. No one who knew the characters of the miners in Lancashire and of the operatives engaged in the textile industries of Lancashire and Yorkshire, would say that they could be coerced. It was the same with the employers of labour in these districts. If, however, coercion was not practicable, conciliation was. From his experience he knew that public opinion exercised a potent influence upon those who were parties to these trade antagonisms. He believed that public opinion was prompt to pronounce on one side or the other in these trade disputes, and that the side on which public opinion pronounced must succeed. Though the Bill might not accomplish all the desires of its benevolent promoters, he was sure that it was a step in the right direction, and that it would bring in its train abundant blessings to those in whose interest the Measure had been produced.
§ *SIR JOHN BRUNNER () Cheshire, Northwich
welcomed the Bill, and was 437 convinced that it would have a wholesome effect on workmen and employers. There were districts in the country where the feeling between the two classes was still of the old-fashioned kind. In these districts employers still refused to meet the representatives of the workmen, with the result that the employers had a somewhat uneasy conscience, and the employed and their representatives a feeling of irritation in all matters of dispute between them and the employers. He had spoken several times on the necessity of framing Bills which were to be handled by workmen, and which were to influence their lives hereafter in an intelligible fashion. Bills should be drawn in such a way as to be easily understood by workmen. Legislation by reference should be avoided. In the first clause of this Bill he found that the provisions of the Arbitration Act of 1889 set forth in the Schedule should apply, and accordingly the Schedule of the Act of 1889 was printed in full as the Schedule to this Bill. Everyone who wanted to understand the Bill had to read first of all the Schedule, and then turn back to the first clause and find out the qualifications. Why not embody the whole of the Schedule of the Act of 1889, altered as the right hon. Gentleman wished it to be? Then the Bill would be complete, and the workmen would understand it.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 155; Noes, 5.—(Division List, No. 304.)
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, etc.