§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to promote the adoption of Co-partnership by statutory and other companies."
The Bill which I desire to bring in is one of a very modest and tentative kind and, with one partial exception, is entirely permissive in character. It sets out what I may call in the technical sense a model scheme of co-partnership, and by one of its Clauses it allows registered and statutory companies to adopt this scheme without applying to any Court for an alteration in their Memorandum of Association, or, in the case of statutory companies, without applying to Parliament. It further allows them to adopt the scheme with modifications if they obtain the permission of the Board of Trade. It goes on one point rather further in the case of statutory companies. In the case of new statutory companies when applying to Parliament for special powers, it has always been the custom of Parliament to impose its own conditions on them. A number of such conditions have been consolidated into one by a measure known as the Companies Clauses Act. The case of those companies is very different from the case of ordinary companies, and it is suggested in this Bill that the scheme of co-partnership set forth in the Schedule shall be an Amendment to the Companies Clauses Act; that is to say, it shall normally be adopted as a condition of the company's getting their Bill through Parliament, though it will, of 871 course, be perfectly proper for them to argue that the scheme is not applicable to the special case of their trade or business. These are really the two operative Clauses, one dealing with new statutory companies, and involving an Amendment of the Companies Clauses Act, and the other, which is purely permissive, dealing with existing companies whether statutory or otherwise.
I would say just one or two words about the scheme itself which is set forth in the Schedule. The root idea of the scheme is this: that there should be at once a standard return for both partners in industrial enterprise; a standard return for labour in the shape of wages, and a standard return for capital. There is no attempt whatever to endeavour to set forth an arbitrary return in the shape of wages for labour. That, I think, must be left to the process of collective bargaining which already exists. I lay stress upon this point, because I think that when I make that clear some of the hostility to co-partnership schemes that has existed among the Labour party and elsewhere may, I hope, disappear. Therefore that is left as it stands. But we do propose to say in this Bill that the standard return on capital shall be 5 per cent., and, once that is secured, all profits of the enterprise shall be divided rateably between the company and its employés. What I mean by divided rateably is this: supposing a company pays a dividend of more than 5 per cent., for every 1 per cent. more that it pays an extra one-twentieth shall be added to the wages of its employés. That is to say, if you take a company with a paid-up capital of £100,000 and a normal wage bill of £20,000, if it pays 6 per cent. it would have to give the employés an extra £1,000, or £21,000 in all, and if it pays 10 per cent. it would be £25,000. Similarly, a workman with an ordinary wage of 30s., will get 31s. 6d. with a dividend of 6 per cent., and 37s. 6d. if the dividend is 10 per cent. But there are two qualifications which I think it is necessary to dwell upon. In the first place, there are some companies which could not pay this large extra sum, those companies in which wages form a very large proportion of the outgoings. Therefore to meet those cases there is a provision that, with the consent of the Board of Trade, the scheme may be modified to suit their circumstances. Also, where there are large dividends paid, I think it is undesir- 872 able that a very large bonus should be paid in cash to the workpeople, and in such cases, following the precedent of the South Metropolitan and other gas companies, it is proposed that some part, at any rate, of the bonus that would be paid should go into the hands of trustees, and should be invested either in trustee investments, or, with the consent of the workpeople, in the stock of the company itself. There are further provisions for the issue of new stock to the employés with their consent, and for the adjudication of differences in the County Court.
This is put forward in an extremely modest spirit as a tentative proposal. I should be very sorry to attempt to dogmatise upon this subject. This Bill is really put forward largely with a view of inviting criticism and suggestions, and of drawing out all the difficulties there may be, but I do feel, and many feel with me, that it is necessary that the real community of interest between capital and labour shall be made, if possible, plain, material, and automatic; that is to say, that all engaged in industrial enterprise shall feel they are working for one another, and for the common interest which they all share. I therefore ask leave to bring in this Bill in order to make a contribution, however small it may be, to mitigate the industrial trouble and unrest under which the country now suffers.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. James Hope, Mr. Amery, Mr. Cave, Lord Robert Cecil, Mr. Worthington-Evans, Mr. Peto, and Viscount Wolmer. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Tuesday next, and to be printed. [Bill 238.]