§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. G. Roberts)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
This Bill is one to amend the Trade Boards Act of 1909. That Act provides for the establishment of trade boards in all trades set out in the Schedule to the Act, those trades being ready-made tailoring, cardboard box making, lace finishing, and chain making. Other trades have been covered subsequently by means of Provisional Orders. The principal function of a Trade Board is to fix minimum rates of wages. The Act came into operation on 1st January, 1910, and it applied, in the first instance, to the four trades set out in the Schedule. Roughly speaking, there are 200,000 persons normally engaged in these four trades, in the proportion of 86,700 men and 143,500 females. After three years' experience, the Board of Trade was 62 so satisfied with the results achieved that it made a further extension by means of the Trade Boards Provisional Order Confirmation Bill of 1913. This extension brought in sugar confectionery and food preserving, shirt making, hollow-ware making, and linen and cotton embroidery. It is estimated that 190,000 additional workpeople were affected by this extension, in the proportion of 23,000 males and 167,000 females. Thus there are now, approximately, 390,000 workers under the Act, of whom about 80,000, or, roughly, 20 per cent., are males, and about 310,000 females. The number of firms affected is about 17,000. At the time the Act was passed it was admittedly an experiment. It was based very largely upon certain Australian experience. Wages boards were initiated in the State of Victoria, Australia. In that State, after various experiments to improve factory inspection and to remedy the sweating system, proposals were incorporated in the Factories and Shops Act of 1896, which were intended to regulate wages. As in this country, after three years' experience, the wages boards in Victoria were found sufficiently successful to warrant the Victorian Parliament in extending them to other trades. It is significant to remember that these extensions were made consequent upon the representations of both employers and workpeople. I believe I may make the same claim in respect of the amending Bill, the Second Reading of which I am moving this afternoon. In Victoria, in 1903, an amending Bill was passed increasing the powers of the boards. In 1913 there were 134 boards in existence, covering 150,000 workers. The example of Victoria was subsequently copied by other Australian States. South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania have all copied the Victorian model. Victoria has had twenty years' experience of the operation of wages boards. Sweated industries have been largely diminished, unskilled workers have been protected from other competitive employment, employers have been placed on an equal footing as regards the price of labour, and I believe that the general opinion of Australia is that the system has been amply justified. I know of no movement to change it. I believe it may also be claimed in this country that with almost universal consent the Trades Boards Act of 1909 has brought a great deal of good, not only on behalf 63 of the workers engaged in the trades, but also in the best interests of the trades themselves.
The present Bill aims at simplifying the procedure required for setting up boards and for fixing minimum rates of wages, and also at giving increased powers to boards in certain directions. Undoubtedly great dislocation of industry will follow the War, and that renders it particularly necessary that rapidly adjustable machinery should be available for setting up boards in certain industries. I think this applies with particular force to the case of women. Many groups of women during the War have been able to elevate wage conditions to a more reasonable standard then heretofore, and it would be extremely undesirable, and undoubtedly would have a large number of undesirable social aspects, if they were to lapse back into the conditions which prevailed before the War. Moreover, there are other groups who have not, despite war conditions, been able to raise their status to anything which may be regarded as satisfactory. Therefore it seems to make it more desirable that we should provide machinery to adjust wages to a reasonable basis, and in more accord with the spirit of our times. The principle features of the Bill may be briefly summarised. First, it gives power to the Ministry of Labour to set up boards by Special Orders, after giving proper opportunity for inquiry and objections, instead of proceeding by means of a Provisional Order Bill. I believe this proposal is likely to meet with some little criticism. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Possibly we shall have to meet it, but I hope I shall be able to convince the House that it is a right and proper course, and when we get into Committee all the criticisms will have to be considered. At any rate, I express the hope that the Bill will ultimately emerge with this provision in it.
This makes the machinery for extending the Act to new boards simpler and more expeditious. Undoubtedly the existing machinery is most cumbersome, necessitating the introduction of a Provisional Order Bill whenever it is desired to bring a new trade under the Act. Moreover, if a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill is opposed, it is necessary for an inquiry by a Select Committee of this House to take place, involving great 64 expense and considerable delay. This procedure, with its delays and safeguards, was probably justifiable when trades boards were in their experimental stage, but now that they are proved to be a valuable part of our industrial organisations, it appears desirable and reasonable that speedier methods to set up the boards are required and can be justified. Again, I think that the congested state of Parliament affords an additional reason why this new method should be adopted. After the War, undoubtedly Imperial and domestic questions will emerge with great rapidity, and it does seem desirable that where it is possible to delegate to responsible bodies matters which would otherwise occupy Parliamentary time, that is very wise and expedient. I am aware, owing to representations that have been made to me, that some criticisms will be proferred on this point, but I do venture to ask for dispassionate consideration of the matter, and that hon. Members should have regard to the experience already acquired. I think, with the safeguards that are in existence now, and which can, of course, be made perfectly clear in the Bill, it will be granted that it is not an unreasonable departure.
Sub-section 4 of Clause 2 enables either House of Parliament to annul any special Order within forty days of its being made. The substitution of procedure by special Order for that by Provisional Order does not withdraw the control of Parliament over the application of the Act to new trades. It seems to me and to those with whom I act that this is an ample safeguard, and that, therefore, the proposal is not open to the dangerous conjecture suggested in some of the criticisms that have been made. Moreover, there is precedent. The proposed special Orders follow generally the precedent of the Factory Act. By Section 79 of the Factory and Workshops Act, 1901, the Home Secretary is empowered to make regulations in respect of dangerous trades. The procedure for making special Orders set forth in the first Schedule of this Bill is based on that provided in Sections 80 and 81 of the Factory Act. While not necessitating the promotion of a Bill in Parliament, the proposed procedure does make ample provision for the consideration of objections and for inquiry. While Clauses 1 and 2. deal mainly with procedure, Clause 1 also effects substantial Amendments 65 of Section 1 of the Principal Act inasmuch as it empowers the Minister of Labour to apply this Act to any new trade to which he considers it expedient to apply it, having regard to the wages prevailing in that trade or in any branch of the trade, whereas, in the superseded provision of the Principal Act it can only be applied on the ground that the rate of wages prevailing is exceptionally low compared with that in other employment. It is deemed desirable that this power should be conferred and exercised, because simply to set up a board in respect of a trade which can be proved to be paying comparatively low wages is not a satisfactory procedure. I believe that everybody desires now that the wages in every trade shall assure to those engaged in that trade a satisfactory standard of living, and, having regard to the independent and expert character of a trade board, I think it may safely be urged that this power is not too great a one to confer upon it.
There is a considerable Amendment in this respect. We propose to confer upon a trade board discretion to fix a guaranteed minimum time rate. This simply accords with the experience of many trades. Trade unions invariably urge, and have been able to establish this principle as expressed in the Bill. This is a rate to secure to piece-workers a minimum rate of remuneration on a time-work basis. Where workers are employed on piece-work their earnings vary considerably, of course. In the case of many trades it is customary to establish a time-work basis of remuneration below which no piece-worker's earnings are allowed to fall. This policy has been adopted by the Ministry of Munitions in its Orders governing wages in controlled establishments. I am not urging that you should confer power upon the Ministry of Labour simply because the Ministry of Munitions have exercised it, but it is in accord with general trade practice, and the Ministry of Munitions, acting in accord with that practice, have found it work well, and the fact that we have that experience forms, I think, an additional reason why that power may be exercised. But I wish to point out that it is not obligatory on a trade board to fix such a rate. It has been urged upon us that we ought to make it compulsory on a trade board to do so, but we recognise that it might not be applicable to every trade, having regard to the varying conditions of trade, and, 66 therefore, we simply confer upon a trade board the power to fix this minimum time rate, and do not propose to make it obligatory upon it to do so.
We also desire that a trade board should have the power to fix differential rates for overtime. Assuredly this was an omission in the original Act, for in every trade now I believe that it is customary to fix a higher rate for hours worked in excess of a normal week, and particularly on a Sunday; but a trade board under the present Act has no such power, and we are simply seeking to confer upon trade boards the power to determine the normal weekly hours of work and then to fix varying rates in respect of work in excess of those normal weekly hours. Last year Parliament did enact the same principle in the Corn Production Act, and I think that we shall have further experience to warrant us in asking that the trade boards working in respect of a larger number of trades should have the same power conferred upon them. We also desire to establish machinery for accelerating the fixing of these minimum rates of wages. Under the existing Act nine months will elapse from the time when notice is given of the intention to fix a rate and the coming of that rate into full operation. Experience proves that that is altogether too long and we desire to place a shorter limit upon it. Therefore we are seeking to take power to allow a trade board, with the Minister's sanction to bring a new rate into full operation within three months, instead of nine months as at present. The rates are not at present obligatory until at least six months after they are fixed by the trade board. During the intervening period they are obligatory only on Government and municipal contractors. Now nine months elapsed from the date on which a trade board gives notice of its intention to fix the rate, and we are asking that that period should be reduced to three months.
In Clause 5 it will be observed that some change is made in taking proceedings against employers for violating the Act. Where an offence for which an employer is liable is committed by some other person we propose that that other person may be proceeded against and punished in the same manner as if he were the employer. The proposals empower the Ministry to allow any trade board to proceed against any guilty agent either 67 alone or together with the employer. Again we are acting on precedent, for a like power exists under Section 140 of the Factory Act, but where an employer proves that the offence committed by his agent was committed without his knowledge, consent or connivance, he will be exempt from fine in respect of the offence. Where the worker employés another worker on the premises of the employer the occupier of the premises is proposed to be held jointly liable with the immediate employer of the worker. These Amendments are proved to be necessary by the experience procured in the operation of the Act so far. We propose to impose on the employer the definite duty of keeping accounts. I think that if we confer on a trade board the power to fix statutory rates of wages it is but right also that we should compel the employer to keep accurate accounts, in order to have available the opportunity of testing any cases that may arise. Moreover, I think in these days that it is not too much to expect that anybody who is in business ought to keep proper accounts, and I feel sure that Parliament will admit that we are not asking too much in seeking this power.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
It should include farmers, I agree—all persons in business. Under the principal Act it is necessary to issue a separate summons in respect of every occasion on which an employer has paid less than the rate. If wages were paid at less than the rate for six months twenty-six separate summonses would have to be taken out. This is obviously a most inconvenient procedure. Therefore, in Clause 9, we propose to empower an officer to take out one summons for any one occasion on which an offence has been committed and to give notice of intention to prove failure to pay rates on other occasions during the two years immediately preceding the laying of information. The officer will have to prove the commission of the actual offence and the other cases during the previous two years. The Court may then convict in respect of the offence charged, and may also order that the worker be paid the amount of deductions which constitute the case. Clause 10 provides that the trade board make recommendation to a Government Department with reference to the industrial conditions of the trade, and that that Department shall forthwith take 68 the recommendations into consideration. Under Section 3 of the principal Act the trade board must consider any matter submitted to it by a Government Department, and must make a report to that Government Department, but the trade board has no power to take the initiative in making any such recommendations. We feel that a trade board is capable of expressing the opinion of the trade in any matter affecting the welfare of the trade.
Wages are often a subject on which cleavage is relatively sharp, but there are many other matters in which a real community of interest exists between the two parties in the trade. I think that that is very largely the spirit, and will subsequently be the practical result of the joint industrial councils proposed to be set up according to the scheme of the Committee over which my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means presided. If we can get the parties in a trade to consider not only matters of wages and labour conditions, but persuade them to have a full regard to all the affairs of that trade, that must surely contribute to bringing the two parties into closer relationship, and with that close relationship you will get a wider sense of responsibility which, I believe, will contribute splendidly to the real prosperity of the State and of both the parties in the trade. I think that these are, briefly, the outstanding points of the Bill. We propose that the Bill shall go to a Grand Committee upstairs. This will give opportunity for the fullest possible investigation of its provisions, and I think that we may then have the assurance that all criticism will be properly attended to, and if it be such as will contribute to the strengthening of the measure, or if concessions can be made in order to meet real criticism, then I can only say that we will be very glad to consider any proposals which are submitted to us.
But before leaving the Bill I would like to make a few observations on a point which we have been pressed to include in the Bill. It has been strongly represented to us that Parliament should fix a national minimum wage. This principle was the subject of a good deal of discussion when the Corn Production Bill was before the House. Whatever may be said in respect of any one industry, surely it must be seen that it is difficult for Parliament to agree upon any one figure which may be adaptable to every one of our industries or all the 69 industries which are likely to come within the purview of the trade boards. I have been immensely attracted by the idea, which accords with a sense of justice, but on closer examination grave difficulties present themselves. It raises highly controversial questions as to the relationship of men's and women's wages, and it also raises, in an intense form, the question of the principle on which a national minimum wage should be based. The demand for fixing a minimum national wage arises from the feeling that every worker should be assured of a reasonable living wage. That, I believe, is how the demand originated, and I believe that everybody in this House and outside the House will agree that every worker is entitled to a reasonable minimum wage.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am glad my right hon. Friend joins in thinking that this will stimulate workers to render a fair share of work for the wages they receive. The question arises whether the wage shall be sufficient to maintain the individual or a family, a large or a small family, or a family of average size. Such diverse views are advanced on the whole subject that there is no chance of agreement in the community such as to justify Parliament to sanction, at this stage, one view or the other. Therefore we aim at the gradual improvement of the conditions in our industries, recognising that we cannot accomplish all this by a mere stroke of the pen. The best method appears to be to bring the representative employers and workpeople together, and to set them the task of improving their own conditions. Parliament has not the information regarding the conditions of all industries. Statutory figures are in the highest degree inelastic, and can only be changed by further legislation; meanwhile, irreparable damage might be done. The trade board system is flexible, and allows ready adaptability to changing conditions and the prompt correction of errors. Therefore we feel, however strong the sentiment may be in favour of the fixation of a national minimum wage, that it is far better and more expeditious to leave the fixing of the wages to trade boards for the various industries. The trade boards will have power given to them to so fix rates that they would rise gradually, and allow the trades time to adapt themselves to the 70 new conditions. That is the principle on which we have worked in our trade union experience—recognising that firms may have contracts that they have made upon the existing wage standards, and that to impose great advances upon them would be most unjust to them; at the same time, we have generally been able to compromise and make an arrangement whereby the advances, mutually agreed upon, were brought into operation by degrees.
In conclusion, I want to urge that experience warrants the extension of the trade board system under the Bill by more expeditious means. Our experience shows a wide improvement in the wage standards, while no legitimate interests have been prejudiced. Organisation has been improved, efficiency has stimulated, and, above all, industrial relationships have been markedly bettered. I feel that everybody who has come into contact with the representative employers and workpeople who constitute the membership of these boards will agree with the last statement. I have heard many employers, even before I had anything to do, as Minister of Labour, with the trade boards, advance that as one of the main justifications for the schemes established in 1909. The wage board is a committee of experts who fix the minimum rates of wages in consultation with the representative employers and workpeople. A rate of wages is settled which corresponds fairly accurately to the circumstances of the particular industry, because the arrangement is made by persons who understand the conditions, being in the industry themselves. I desire to sec the whole of our industries covered by joint industrial councils or wages boards. I would like to regard the wages boards as a temporary expedient facilitating organisation within the industry, so that, in the course of time, the workers or the employers will not have need of the statutory regulations, but that their organisation will have then developed into a joint industrial council, whereby the affairs of the industry will be controlled and managed by the people concerned in the industry themselves, without any recourse to any legislative expedient. It has been alleged that the proposals of this Bill conflict with the scheme of joint industrial councils which has been advocated throughout the country.
71 The joint industrial council presupposes a good state of organisation among the employers and the workpeople in a given industry, and I myself am for upholding the voluntary principle of negotiation, and the chief point is that employers and workers should continue to manage their own affairs. I want to see the whole of our industries covered by joint industrial councils or wages boards. Either of those bodies would consist of the most expert persons, employers and employed, in the trade or industry. They are removed from Parliamentary or political influence, and I feel that both of them are essential to the maintenance of harmony in industry and the development and expansion that we all desire for the trade of our country. I believe that would both well work for harmony and for greater and better productivity, bringing us much nearer to the time when the country will have assurance that every willing worker has sufficiency and security, while uplifting the working classes, and better developing the trade of our country and putting it on a sounder foundation. The stability of markets will be ensured, for, after all, the best markets we can possibly have is the home market. If the wealth of the country is more equitably distributed, it will increase the consuming power of the whole of our people, and, in my view, will develop the most stable and desirable market, namely, that which is within our own shores. Therefore, given these wage boards for fixing wages on a reasonable basis, I think that we bring larger content into the homes of our people, not only advantaging those who are brought immediately under the operation of the Act, but contributing to the betterment and well-being of the country as a whole. For these reasons, therefore, I commend the Bill to the favourable consideration of the House.
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Mr. Whitley)
I hope the House will approve the step I am taking in intervening with one or two observations this afternoon. I have been led to ask this indulgence from the House by the fact that a circular has been issued to Members relating to this Bill, and referring also to one of the Reports of the Committee, over which I have recently presided. I should not like the House to proceed with the consideration of this measure on the basis of a misconception, 72 and it appears to me that a very few words from me at this early stage of the Debate might, therefore, facilitate further discussion of the measure now before the House. The circular to which I refer has been issued by the Employers' Parliamentary Council. With the earlier part of that circular I have nothing to do, though it deals with an argument which no doubt will be considered by the House. The last sentence in the circular proceeds:The Council submit that such a Bill should not be promoted in anticipation of the proceedings of the joint standing industrial councils to be established in the several industries.I am afraid that this paragraph has been written by a gentleman who read the first Report issued by the Committee over which I presided, and never read the second Report. The first Report issued by that Committee dealt only with the well-organised industries; the second Report dealt with the intermediate class of industries which are fairly well-organised, and with the third class, which are only very partially or spasmodically organised. The view of my Committee in regard to the third group is, I think, stated very clearly in the Committee's Report. In the tenth paragraph of the second Report the Committee says:The level of organisation in industries in Group C is such as to make the scheme we have proposed for national or district industrial councils inapplicable. To these industries the machinery of the Trade Boards Act might well be applied, pending the development of such degree of organisation as would render feasible the establishment of a national council or district councils.I think that entirely affirms what the Minister has just said to the House, that throughout the whole of the Report issued by my Committee we have looked upon the trade boards, as, in certain cases, necessary and desirable, as a steping-stone to higher things, namely, responsible self-government within the industries themselves. Any hon. Members who will look at the Report will see that in the nineteenth paragraph we use somewhat similar words:Where these circumstances obtain, we anticipate that the trade board would be a stepping-stone to the full industrial council status.Therefore we have in our second Report recommended two things with regard to trade boards, both of which I understand from the Minister's explanation are within the intention of the present Bill. The first is that the purview of a trade 73 board should be extended beyond mere questions of wages and that where it exists it should be empowered and encouraged to act, as it were, as a temporary council speaking for the interest of that industry. But we have most strongly recommended that in all cases trade boards should be looked upon as a stepping-stone to a system of self-government in the industry, which would make any Government interference unnecessary. I think, perhaps, it might be fair to say this without entering, as I certainly ought not to do, on any controversial ground, that the way for industry to minimise the need for trade boards is to get ahead as quickly as possible with the organisation of joint industrial councils and through these councils to remove any conditions in their industry which might be a justification for the establishment of such a trade board. I might remind the House that when we were last year discussing the Corn Production Act and dealing with the wages of agricultural labourers, we were conscious as that Bill went through the Committee of this House of the difference in conditions in certain areas. Hon. Members will recollect that after we had applied the trade board system to the English agricultural labourer we discovered that the case in Scotland was different, and that there was already amongst farm labourers in Scotland a level of organisation which justified a system being applied to their case different from that which had been applied in the general part of the Bill to the farm labourer in England, because there was already a union organisation amongst those workers. So I think it may well be that in industries where it is necessary to begin with the establishment of a trade board it ought to be the ambition of those industries, both of the employers and of the workmen, as speedily as possible to qualify themselves for the full status of an industrial council by the completion of their organisation; and certainly it is not I think quite fair to put forward an argument against this Bill based on the first Report issued by the Committee over which I presided without having read and carefully digested what is said in the second Report of this Committee.
§ Mr. J. MASON
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months." 74 I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill will acquit me of any discourtesy in my apparent attempt to forestall him when the Speaker put the Question from the Chair. I remembered the famous case a few years ago when the Finance Bill of the year went through without a single word being said, and I could not allow that to be repeated on the present occasion. In moving the rejection of this Bill, I have absolutely no quarrel whatsoever with the general principle of wages boards, nor do I object at all to legitimate attempts to raise the standard of wages in trades, because I feel sure that the one weak point, which is the question of international competition, will eventually be met by balancing protection against high wages, because otherwise, of course, international competition would be impossible, but I have no objection whatever if that course is taken. The right hon. Gentleman said it was necessary to adjust the wages to the requirements of the present day, and I wonder whether it is necessary to introduce a Bill of this kind, which enormously increases the bureaucratic power, which is already growing pretty rapidly, in order to adjust wages in such a way. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to say that the pressure of Imperial affairs on this House would be so great after the War that Parliament would not be able to give time to matters of this kind. There is a great deal of truth in that, and that argument will be of very great use in favour of devolution, and, perhaps, if we later on have Debates on the question of a federal system of Parliament in this country, but I hardly think it can be admitted as really a very sound argument for the purposes of this Bill, because obviously if this House is incapable of the work which it is here to do some alteration will have to be made in its composition, or in the constitution of Parliament altogether, to enable us to deal with the work which must be done.
The Bill of 1909 was of course set up primarily to deal with certain sweated industries about which everyone pretty well agrees, and it was made to work through the machinery of Provisional Orders, which gave an opportunity to anyone who objected to the proposals to be heard, and an opportunity for this House to keep control over the matter, because those Provisional Orders had to be confirmed by Parliament. Has a case been made out for abandoning those safe-guards? 75 The present Bill puts great powers in the hands of the Minister of Labour. Regarding the present Minister personally, I have no doubt whatever he would use those powers with discretion and wisdom, but we have to look forward to considerable changes in the personnel of Governments, and I feel that for this House to part with those powers unnecessarily is a serious proposition. It places in the hands of the Minister the power practically to bring this system of trade boards into force and to make Regulations for a trade off his own bat at any time. It allows him also not only to alter provisions which have been effected by the previous Act, but to keep on altering and varying and revoking Orders, and that is a power which if it were unwisely administered would apparently lead to a very chaotic state of things in any industry which was affected. It is contended that the Bill which we are now considering retains certain safeguards for the control of Parliament, but what are they? There is no opportunity for the parties affected to be heard unless the Minister so pleases. He need not set up an inquiry at all. Furthermore, the special Orders which he issues are to be laid on the Table of this House and of the other House for forty days, but we all know pretty well what that means in the way of a safeguard, and there is absolutely nothing to prevent the Minister from laying those Papers on the Table of the House the day before the Summer Recess, and the whole forty days would be passed before the House met again to consider them. There is no provision saying forty working days, but only that they shall lay on the Table of the House for forty days.
§ Mr. MASON
It does not say that. The Bill allows the acts of the Minister to be valid, whatever acts he may commit during those forty days, and, therefore, he may issue these special Orders to a considerable extent, placing the Papers on the Table of the House, and by the time Parliament has had time to object the acts are in force, and their validity is beyond dispute. The question is whether there is any justification for giving this great increase of bureaucratic power and whether there is any reason whatever—none has been adduced—for removing the 76 safeguards which exist in the old Act by proceeding by way of Provisional Order. I cannot see that there is any justification for the repeal of the first Clause of the last Act in this wholesale way and for doing away with the only safe method by which Parliament can proceed in these matters. Then as regards the probable working of the Bill, the Act of 1909 is worked through the Board of Trade. This Act is to be worked by the Minister of Labour. Both Acts are concurrent, and I do not feel very sure whether it is so, but I have a sort of idea—
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Bridgeman)
The old Act is worked by the Ministry of Labour now.
§ Mr. MASON
Then I will not pursue that point; I thought it was still worked by the Board of Trade. There is a small detail upon which I should like to ask for an explanation, and that is with regard to Clause 5, Sub-section (3), which deals with contractors and sub-contractors working on the same premises. I gather from that Sub-section that if a man is employing somebody else on his premises who employs a gang of men, the chief employer is equally responsible with the other man for the wages that are paid. Does that apply to the principal in the case of a contract? If a contract is made for work to be carried out on any given premises, does the principal who makes the original contract share that responsibility, because, if so, it seems to me to be a provision which will require some considerable clearing up?
I should like to say a word about the question of the joint industrial councils. As far as I understand now, it is looked upon that the trade boards are a sort of preliminary stage before you get to the joint industrial councils. They are for the more immature and less developed industries, but there is nothing in the Bill which defines that and states that the two will not be co-existent in the same trade and that when the joint industrial councils are set up the trade boards will not at the same time be in existence and in conflict with them. If so, it seems to me that it would be unjustifiably stultifying the powers and status of those councils if they had other bodies doing what is obviously one of their essential duties, namely, dealing with questions of wages and the like. But in any case, unless that is made clear, it looks as if the 77 absence of any provision in the Bill to define their position would lead to a very considerable amount of confusion between the two bodies. As regards the necessity for this Bill, I will only say that I do not quite see any particular necessity for it at this moment, and I am not very clear as to whether it is looked upon as a post-war measure or an immediate measure, but if it is looked upon as an immediate measure, then, of course, there is very little argument in its favour, because I suppose no one would say that wages are extraordinarily low. They have never been so high in most industries, and there has never been so little suspicion of sweating or difficulty about employment. Therefore, as regards the necessities of the moment, I cannot see that the Bill is particularly needed.
But the principal objection that I see is that the power of objectors to be heard is to be abolished, and the control of Parliament is to be removed by the abolition of the Provisional Order system. I do not regard the laying of papers on the Table as a sufficient equivalent—in fact, as any safeguard at all; and I cannot see that a case has been made out, either for a change in the principle of the working of the original Act, or for the constant variation in the Orders which are likely to ensue by the passing of this Bill. It seems to me that no necessity has been proved for making a short cut in this matter, that the previous method of Provisional Order was not a long method, and I cannot see that any sufficient excuse or any sufficient reason has been given for making a short cut, which, incidentally, puts very large powers into the hands of an individual Minister, and increases what, to my mind, is likely to be a very serious danger after the War, and that is that we shall never escape this bureaucratic octopus which is likely to cling to us after the War. For these reasons, I move the rejection of this Bill, and I appeal to the Government to consider whether, at any rate, it is necessary for them to proceed with it under the present conditions.
§ Mr. HOLT
I beg to second the Amendment.
I should like, in the first place, to acknowledge the very conciliatory tone in which the right hon. Gentleman proposed the Bill to the House. Though I do not approve of what he did, I have 78 no fault whatever to find with the manner in which it was done. I want also to join my hon. Friend in his protest against the introduction of this Bill at all at this time. Everybody must have noticed that this is only one of several Bills of a similar character which have been brought before the House. We have been told over and over again that this is a war Parliament and a war Government to get on with the War, and I do think under those circumstances we are entitled to make a protest against the time of the House and of members being taken up with measures which certainly have nothing whatever to do with the War, whatever else they may have to do with. Many of us have a great deal to do with things concerned directly with the War, and if our time is taken up here and in Grand Committee upstairs considering contentious measures not relating to the War, I think it is not treating the House quite fairly. The right hon. Gentleman told us quite openly that this is really a measure dealing with the time after the War. I do not think there is any possibility of misapprehending what his own meaning was, that it was with regard to conditions after the War for which he was introducing this Bill. What on earth does he know, or anyone of us in this House know, as to what the position with regard to wages is likely to be after the War? It is a most exceedingly speculative proposition. We do not know what the position with regard to inflation will be after the War, or what the cost of living is likely to be.
The right hon. Gentleman himself referred to the position of women labour after the War. I should have thought, if there is one thing move probable than another as regards women labour after the War, it is that there are a great many women employed in industry in one way or another who ought not to be employed in industry, but ought, by some peaceable means, to be induced to go out of industry and devote their energies to the performance of domestic duties. So it does not appear to me, looking to the probable conditions after the War, that there is any urgency in a measure which can only be intended to keep up wages. On the contrary, when we see all that has happened, it seems to me we are much more likely to want some machinery for keeping wages down, in a quite amicable manner, than for bringing 79 them up. We have also to remember that the administration of the original Act, which it is proposed to amend, is not now in the hands of the Board of Trade, which we all looked upon as an impartial body, but the administration of that Act has been turned over to a new Department of the Government, almost ostentatiously organised for the purpose of being biassed in the interests of the wage-earners as against the persons who pay their wages. In the settlement of disputes between wage-earners and employers, no one will look upon the Ministry of Labour as an impartial body in the same sense as the Board of Trade, because it was put there, admittedly, at the time this new Government was formed, for the purpose of dealing with these matters in a manner more congenial to the ideas of the Labour party, whose support at that time it was desired to acquire.
Let us look for a moment at the provisions in the Act of 1909, which it is proposed to tear up. Take, first of all, the provision that the extension of the Act could only be carried through by the procedure of a Provisional Order. That is a matter which was very carefully considered in Grand Committee. In fact, this Bill proposes to reverse the decision of the House in 1909, and to restore the provisions of the Bill which were deleted in 1909. That is really the effect of this Bill. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what evidence he can produce to the House that the provisions of the Act of 1909 in this respect were not satisfactory. He has told us that in the one extension by Provisional Order in 1913 the number of persons for whom the Act applied was very nearly doubled. Does he tell the House—because he did not in his speech—that there was any undue delay or any difficulty in getting that Provisional Order through? My own impression is that that was an uncontested and undisputed Bill. Perhaps he can tell us whether that was so or not, but I think he got an extension doubling the Act under existing procedure with no more trouble than would be necessary under the new procedure. If I am right in that, it does seem most extraordinary to propose to repeal a provision deliberately put in an Act of Parliament by advancing this fact, that it was once put into operation and on that occasion worked with success. When this matter came to the Report stage on the Bill of 80 1909, the right hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) proposed at that time to reinsert in the Bill the provision which it is now proposed to enact in this new Bill. On that occasion my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Tennant), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, defended the Amendment which had been made in Grand Committee on this particular subject, and, in the course of his speech, he said:I want hon. Gentlemen to realise what the Provisional Order procedure actually does. A Provisional Order has to have a confirming Bill, which goes through in most cases without opposition. I do not know whether we are entitled to assume that all eases of proposals for additional trades will necessarily be opposed. I sincerely hope not.As a matter of fact, he was right. The first case was not opposed. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:The Provisional Orders which have been made by the Board of Trade in the ten years from 1899 are as follows: There have been Orders applied for to the extent of 1,160, Orders made by the Board of Trade 1,032, Orders confirmed by Parliament 1,011, Orders opposed in Parliament 97; so that Provisional Order procedure need not be, and is not in the majority of cases, half so cumbersome or expensive as my hon. Friend thinks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1909, col. 2433, Vol. 7.]That is the case with regard to Provisional Order procedure, and it is procedure which gives persons affected by it a very considerable safeguard, but experience of this Act shows that that procedure does not in the least prevent the speedy passing of the law, which has at the back of it a general body of agreement. What is it that it is proposed to do under this new Bill? First of all, the Minister gives notice of his intention to make an Order. Then, after having had objections made to that Order in writing, the Minister may—I presume he must, unless he is of opinion that the objections are frivolous—cause an inquiry to be held. The Minister is to appoint a competent person to hold an inquiry; in other words, the Minister is to appoint a competent person to inquire whether the Order as made is a proper Order or not. In other words, the Minister, being a party to the action, is to appoint a judge to say whether the action is right or not. I think that is not at all satisfactory. Even so, there is no provision whatever that if the Commissioner decides against the Minister's Order, the Minister is bound by the decision. He may pay absolutely no attention to it 81 whatever, and then proceed to make this Order, which has to lie upon the Table of the House for forty days. I presume that means, although it is not clear, forty days during which the House is actually in Session.
I must say I do not understand why the provision that was put in the Act of 1909 should now be repealed, and I certainly submit that the Minister made absolutely no case for that repeal, because he gave no exampe to show that the provision in the Act of 1909 had not operated quite successfully. I also want to know—and I think we all ought to have been told—why it is proposed to repeal the very important provision of the 1909 Act, that the Act is only to apply to a trade in whichthe rate of wages prevailing in any branch of the trade is exceptionally low, as compared with that in other employments, and that the other circumstances of the trade are such as to render the application of this Act to the trade expedient.5.0 P.M.
Once that provision ceases to be law, there really is no good reason why this system of trade boards and compulsory minimum wages should not apply to every trade in the country. There is no logical reason left at all. My right hon. Friend (Mr. J. M. Robertson) observes that they cannot all be exceptionally low, but it is proposed to include in the purview of this Bill, whether they are exceptionally low or not, and where we are to have a minimum rate of wages, I gather, in every trade—at all events, apparently, it may be and is to be in every trade—I believe these joint industrial councils, as to which most people know very little, and as to which it is almost certain nothing can be done during the War, are set up. I do not myself understand in the least why anybody proposes that there should be minimum rates of wages in any trade unless something like an allegation of sweating can really be made out. No one can believe that the right of persons in the position of employer and employed to make their own arrangements as to wages ought to be lightly interfered with. The elementary right of buying and selling in the open market holds good, and before it is interfered with those who propose interference should be bound to make out some case of abuse. We all know some abuse is taking place, and hence it is proposed to strike out the provisions referring to trades in which the rates are exceptionally low. But I am entirely against Government interference in these matters. 82 I have always opposed it. I believe in the long run it does harm. It may in some cases do good, but there ought, before it is tried, to be overwhelming proof that the abuse which it is sought to remedy cannot be remedied by other methods before this machinery of the State is set to work. I am afraid the taste for Government Departments is growing, and, unless this House makes up its mind that it will not have Government interference in every direction in the way in which it is now being attempted, we shall find that soon this country will have ceased altogether to be free. There will be nothing in any walk of life we shall be at liberty to do, and the prices of everything will be regulated. It is for these reasons I am going to oppose this measure, because I think that even during the War this kind of interference has gone too far, and, after the War, it will become wellnigh intolerable.
§ Colonel Lord HENRY CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I rise to give my hearty support to the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced. I am not what may be called a whole-hearted supporter of the Prime Minister or of the Government, but I do feel that the social legislation of the Government is conceived in an entirely right spirit. I am sure everyone hopes that, after this War, we may weld together the conflicting interests of this nation into something of a community, and thus give an opportunity for a reasonably good life to everyone, however humble. It is quite obvious that if large sections of society are to be plunged into frantic struggles for existence, the hope of creating such a community must die away. The best reward we can offer to our soldiers, and those who have served us so nobly during this War, is to see that the idea of the commonwealth shall prevail against the principles which have been enunciated by the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in favour of the rejection of this measure. If we have any feeling of gratitude for the people who have worked for us in this War, we ought to see that the commonwealth idea prevails over the selfish interests of the red-tape philosophy of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt). We have already, I am glad to say, established the right to a living wage among agricultural labourers. We are now in process of passing an Education Bill which I hope will do something to break down that crust of ignorance which 83 has been enslaving and imprisoning the people; and this afternoon. I am thankful to say, we are in progress of removing from great blocks of our industry the reproach that it is of a parasitic nature, that it has in the past extracted more energy from the worker than the wages offered have enabled him to repair, and that, after a few years of labour, thousands of workers have had to be thrown exhausted on the scrap heap.
I had rather expected the right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, to remind the House that before the War there were half a million women workers, eighteen years of age and upwards, earning less than 13s. per week, that there were 400,000 earning 12s., and 310,000 earning less than 11s. weekly. The War has, perhaps, made us forget the conditions under which so many of our people were working before it broke out. I well remember that economic writers and thinkers before the War held the opinion that the result of keen international competition was to force British industry more in the direction of sweated trades. It is the object of this Bill to lift the nation from that state, and to regulate matters so that when the markets of the world are apportioned and international competition is regulated, a living wage will be afforded to all workers. There is no reason why that should not be done, and therefore I urge this House to go ahead and pass this Bill. The trade boards already instituted have shown that while they may not secure to the worker a real living wage, they do get 50 per cent. added to that wage, and in bringing about that result not only have they done no injury to the employer, but they have actually benefited him; they have forced him to set his house in order, they have made him adopt more efficient machinery, and they have given him a body of workers far more efficient than before—far more efficient because they get something like a living wage I hope the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill will not allow himself to be actuated by that backstairs influence which seems to have so much power nowadays—an influence which has already whittled down the Education Bill. There is great danger that behind the scenes it may have some effect on this Bill. I trust, further, that the right hon. Gentleman will not imitate the example of the President of the Board of Education and abandon 84 his first trench before his reserves have had an opportunity of coming to his assistance.
I note that the Employers' Parliamentary Council and hon. Members opposite have attempted to make our flesh creep by saying that this Bill is going to ruin large sections of British industry and that it will banish liberty from our midst. I should like to say this in defence of the changes which are proposed under this Bill, the measure, as far as I can see, follows exactly the recommendations of the Reconstruction Committee on Women's Work which was so ably presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, a Committee on which representatives of the employers had seats, and, as far as I can remember, no one single word of protest was raised by those gentlemen against the recommendations of that Committee which form the basis of this Bill. One of the reasons why the form of procedure has been altered from Provisional Order to Special Order is that the Provisional Order procedure was utilised by, for instance, the laundry trade, a trade which was crying out for inclusion in the Trades Boards Bill. The conditions in that trade were so bad that that procedure was utilised altogether to escape from the provisions of the Bill. There is another reason why we should let this Bill go through without opposition and that is that the Special Order of procedure has been embodied in our industrial practice since the year 1902. The Factories and Workshops Act of that year gave the Home Secretary the right, by Provisional Order, to bring in whatever Regulations he thought fit for dealing with dangerous trades, and I have yet to learn that that right has been attended with any dangers to the principles of individual liberty. The Trades Boards Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, is a flexible instrument; it has not been the means in the past of bringing in fancy rates of wages, it has not even produced a living wage for the worker—all it has done has been to bring the wage paid by the worst employer up to the level of that paid by the good employer. I see that in one of the last Clauses of the Bill is a provision that the trade boards shall have the right to make recommendations to the various departments for various changes in their trade. I think that is a very valuable Clause, and I for one shall be quite prepared to see trade boards not only regulating wages but also regulating hours. It is a great many years 85 —I think since 1847—since there has been a general reduction in the hours of labour. The present hours of labour are not only wasteful, but they are most injurious to the health of the workers, and I for one am very sceptical whether Parliament in its wisdom can really devise a suitable code of hours for the whole of our industry. I am, therefore, a convert to the idea that as regards hours of labour self-determination should be allowed to the various trades. There is no doubt that a perfect industrial code of hours could only be brought about by the study of the different effects on the worker of different processes—processes in regard to the strain put on the worker the atmosphere, and also the unhealthiness of the trade. I cannot help hoping that in Committee this House will in its wisdom see fit to introduce into this Bill a provision giving the trade boards the right of regulating not only the wages but the hours. I do hope that the Government will not lose a single moment in passing this Bill into law, because I am perfectly sure that one of the great dangers we shall have to face when peace comes will be that the wages of the women workers of this country may be forced down to a level inconsistent not only with the welfare of the trade and industry of the country, but most inimical to the welfare and future of the people of this country.
Those who have opposed this Bill so far have based their objection to it partly on the conditions that are to be found in the Bill itself, but also if I understood them aright, on a general objection to the operation of trade boards as between employer and employed. If that is their attitude, as I gather it is, I must dissociate myself from them entirely at once. I had the privilege of working at the Board of Trade during, it is true, a very busy time, when it was impossible for me to give adequate attention to the operation of the trade boards, but I saw enough during the experience I had there to feel that all the anticipations of those who introduced the original Act in 1909 had been fully justified. There was not a single trade to which the Trade Boards Act was applied where its influence had not been that of unmixed benefit, and unmixed benefit not only to those employed in the trade, but to the employers themselves. I know something by personal knowledge of one or two of these trades. In the part of the country which I represent in this House we have had some 86 experience of the work of the Trade Boards Act, and in these trades the employers as well as the employed would never think of going back to the old laissez faire conditions under which their relations were conducted in the past. One of the great difficulties that have always been felt by the boards and those who sit on the boards has been that their scope was too limited, and I heartily agree with the Noble Lord (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) that they could have done their work better if they could have exercised move influence over the conditions of employment outside wages, over the hours of employment, than if they had been limited as they were under the original Act in this respect.
With the general support of trade boards, I can only say that I think the experience of all those who have seen them and who have worked with them, whether in Government offices or outside, is heartily with the Minister of Labour. On the merits of the Bill and the conditions in the Bill there is, as he admitted, room for adjustment, and I cannot help expressing the wish that he had, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, given explicit reasons for departing from the old procedure. I listened carefully to him to hear whether any serious obstacle had ever been placed in the way of the Board of Trade or, since his Ministry came into being, the Ministry of Labour under the old procedure, and so far as I could gather he was not able to give any instance in which the House had impeded either of those different Government Departments. I remember the extension made in 1913 well, and I think everybody who was in the House at that time will realise that the extension was made with the goodwill of all parties and every section of the House. I do not believe that if the Minister were to come down now, even in war-time—when some people, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt), think we ought to be devoting ourselves entirely to affairs connected with the prosecution of the War—and ask for an extension to these trades, which I know are in the minds of those who have been connected with trade boards, he would meet with any opposition in this House except the general opposition I have described of those who oppose the trade boards in principle. There are a very small number of them, and I do not believe theirs is a view that meets with any general acceptance in the 87 House. I feel sure, having made that protest, they will bow to the general will, and will allow the right hon. Gentleman to get his Provisional Order Bill through with the greatest good will and facility. The right hon. Gentleman has not made out any case for procedure by Special Order as opposed to procedure by Provisional Order. If he is going to press this in Grand Committee I would urge that the Parliamentary Secretary, if he is going to reply in this Debate, should give the reasons the Department have in their mind for procedure by Special Order instead of by Provisional Order. I will withhold my judgment for the moment on that proposal, for I do not know what reasons have actuated the Ministry. If the reasons are good, if it is apparent that the trade boards system of dealing with these matters ought to be extended to many trades I have in mind, I will give away even that in order that the extension may be proceeded with as quickly as possible, but I think we ought to have cleared up before the Second Reading is passed one point the Minister has left obscure.
The right hon. Gentleman is removing, in Clause 1, the limitation of the operation of the original Act to trades where the rate of wages prevailing was exceptionally low. What is he substituting in place of that? As I listened to him I gathered that he had in his mind the industries which were not organised or which were badly organised, and that he did not intend to go further than that. He did not say so quite clearly, but I inferred that that must have been his object. If he does not intend to apply the system generally to all trades, would not it have been as well to have inserted in the Bill some limitation on the general power which is there inherent? It is not his intention, I gather, to apply it to any of the great organised trades, such as the iron, the coal, or the textile industries, or the scores of other great trades in which now bargaining between organisations of employers and employed is the ordinary procedure of everyday life. I suggest that before he attempts to carry the Bill through the Grand Committee he should himself put Amendments on the Paper making it quite clear how far he wishes this procedure to go, and I imagine that, if he would do that he would remove many of the apprehensions or misapprehensions that are held in some quarters that it is his intention to use this Bill for the 88 purpose of applying it to all the industries of the country, which, I feel, cannot possibly have been his intention.
With regard to the other provisions in the Bill, I see nothing in them but what is good. I believe that the recommendations of the trade boards ought to be listened to by Government Departments. Government Departments have not always set a good example as employers, and there are many private employers outside who have behaved better to their employés than some Government Departments that many of us have in mind. It does not follow that because the State has become a great employer it has become the best employer. The recommendations made by the trade boards will be all to the good. I believe that the additional powers with regard to the fixing of the rates of wages ought to be extended in many particulars, and that certain other things as well as rates of wages ought to come within the purview of the Board. I also heartily support the proposals that the recommendations and findings of the boards should come into operation within three months instead of prolonging it to nine months. In the matter of holding public inquiries, if I may make a further suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman it would be that he should be pliable in this matter. There is a suspicion in some minds that it is his intention to retain such powers as would enable him to hold an inquiry or not, as he pleases, and once the inquiry has been held to ignore or not to ignore the Report sent in by the Commission. I suggest that it would be well to clear up these small doubts, and if he does that—most of them are minor points—and can satisfy the House that the procedure by Special Order is the only easy and rapid means by which we can have the extension of the benefits of the trade boards to every industry he has in mind, his proposal will meet with more or less satisfaction.
§ Mr. PETO
In supporting the hon. Member who has moved this Amendment, may I thank you, Sir, and hon. Members for the courtesy they have accorded me in recent days in allowing me to speak from my seat? The right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman) has just told the House that it appeared to him, and that he wished to dissociate himself from it, that the action of some hon. Members in opposing this Bill was caused 89 by opposition to trade boards and the principle of trade boards generally. That, at any rate, is not my attitude, and, listening extremely carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. J. Mason), I did not gather that that formed any part of his argument in opposition to this measure. But the trade boards, which you indeed yourself pointed out, Sir, are intended for what you term the unorganised trades, and are not intended as a substitute but as a stepping-stone towards the higher organisation and to complete control inside each industry which it is hoped to arrive at by the operation of the joint industrial councils. My particular reason for opposing the Bill is that it appears to me a singularly inopportune time for this wide extension—if, indeed, it can be regarded as an extension at all—of that limited experiment which was passed into law in 1909, the Trade Boards Act. The Reports of the Committee over which you presided, Sir, hardly had time to circulate, and certainly had not had time to soak in and operate throughout the country, and it seems to me that it is not a good plan, if we want to promote the setting up of industrial councils, to set up wages boards, which are admitted to be what the right hon. Gentleman termed a temporary legislative expedient in practically every trade and industry in the country, before there has been time either to set up industrial councils or for them to operate.
My second objection to this Bill is—and it has been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury—that although we have heard in debate that it is intended to apply only to a limited class of industries in the country—as the right hon. Gentleman terms it, the unorganised industries—which are almost indistinguishable from the type of industries dealt with in the earlier Bill, now an Act, there is absolutely nothing in the Bill before the House to place any limit whatever on the scope or the power of bureaucratic action on the part of the Ministry of Labour. It would be perfectly competent under the powers proposed to be taken to bring about the practical abolition of private bargaining in every trade and of all agreements voluntarily come to between employers and employed. Under Clause 1, Sub-section (2) it is merely necessary that the Ministry of Labour should be "of opinion that, having regard to the rates of wages"—not 90 necessarily that they axe specially low—"prevailing in the trade, or any part of the trade, it is expedient that the principal Act should apply to that trade" to, then and there, as has been pointed out by hon. Members, by a special Order—not by a Provisional Order—proceed to apply the principal Act to that trade. If the powers are the same as the powers which have been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dews-bury as being all that it is really the intention of the Ministry of Labour to take, then the Bill is drafted in such a form as to take powers altogether in excess of anything which it would be wise for the House to give to any one Minister of his absolute personal and automatic volition, they are also in excess altogether of anything that the Minister really requires. From that point of view, therefore, I think the Bill is very undesirable.
It is quite clear, if there is no limitation, that if the Minister applies this Act to any trade where there is a joint industrial standing council, or where such a council may be set up, there obviously will be complete overlapping, and clashing, not of authority but of methods, of dealing with and settling these matters. I do not think that this is a desirable step. Certainly it is not a step in advance compared with the whole principle and spirit underlying the Reports of the Committee over which you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, presided, nor indeed of the very able and sympathetic covering letters addressed by the Ministry of Labour to all the great industries of the country. I say that really this Bill is a step back; it is not a step forward: it is like to be a hindrance and not a help in the cause of settling any future industrial difficulties which may occur. I want, very shortly, to point out something which has not yet been pointed out to the House. This Bill is an extension of the Trade Boards Act, yet it is so completely different in its whole framework and scope that it actually repeals or amends ten out of the twenty-two Clauses in the original Act. The Trades Boards Act, in the first instance, was a very limited experiment. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, it only applied to four small sweated industries in the country. This measure proceeds on what is practically a new line of legislation by constant reference to the only other Act which can possibly be referred to—that is its predecessor, the Trades Boards Act—and it either amends or repeals practically 91 half of the Sections of that Act. Would it not have been better to consider that the Trades Boards Act was under the Board of Trade and is now administered by the Ministry of Labour, and that this Bill, as drafted, is practically to cover every trade in the country, and is therefore wholly different in its scope—would it not, I say, have been simpler, instead of having this further specimen of legislation by reference, to repeal the Trades Boards Act, and pass this, or whatever part of this Act was considered necessary and approved by the House?
I would only further point out that there are some extraordinary provisions in this Bill. In Sub-section (4) of Clause 1,If the Minister is of opinion that it is desirable to alter or amend the description of any of the trades specified in the Schedule to the principle Act, he may make a special Order altering or amending the said Schedule accordingly.That is, in effect, going to override what has been passed through this House. Further, in the fifth Sub-section, it says:Any Act confirming a Provisional Order made in pursuance of Section 1 of the principal Act may be repealed or varied by a Special Order.I should like to call attention of hon. Members to this extraordinary proposition—that we should place such power in the hands of a single Minister so that he may repeal by Special Order any Act passed by this House giving effect to a Provisional Order. That is setting up a Ministry, and a very new Ministry, absolutely with authority over the authority of this House! I think that is an undesirable proposition, and certainly ought not be given way to. Incidentally it reverses the decision arrived at by the President of the Board of Trade in agreeing to Provisional Orders promoted by another Department. I should just like to refer to the fact that when the original Bill was debated in this House on Second Beading—and there was a very exhaustive Debate—I see it covers some seventy columns in the OFFICIAL REPORT—the point was raised by my right hon. Friend below me the Member for the City of London as to the extension of this power to other trades. On that occasion the right hon. Baronet said this:The meaning, of course, is that it is the thin end of the wedge, that they are starting this Bill by appealing to the sympathies of everybody, and then they will advance by degrees.92 The then President of the Board of Trade, who is now Minister of Munitions, intervened at this point, and said:I may assure the hon. Gentleman that I am strongly opposed to the extension of this Bill to the organised trades of the country.Sir P. Banbury: Then I really do not quite understand why this Clause is put in the Bill giving power to the President of the Board of Trade to extend its operations. I assume that if an Amendment is put down to omit the Clause the right hon. Gentleman will support it?Mr. Churchill: No; there is a considerable number of other trades. There are at least thirty other trades, and it is only to those trades in which sweating can be traced that the Bill could possibly be extended, and in each case the extension can only take place with the sanction of both Houses of Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th April, 1909, col. 405, Vol. 4.]There were, therefore, two principles affirmed by the Minister in charge of the Bill at that time. The sanction of both Houses of Parliament as to the conditions by which a Provisional Order was to be obtained; and, secondly, there was no proposal to approve the extension here suggested—that is, to set up wages boards in every trade not being a sweated industry. If the Bill goes to a Committee I hope it will be made perfectly clear what is practically meant by what the right hon. Gentleman calls an unorganised industry so as not to clash with the representations of the Whitley Committee and so as generally not to hinder the setting up of the far better method of a joint industrial council. I hope that the proposal of the procedure by special Order—which is certainly a departure—will not be placed without some adequate limitations in the Bill, so that power will not be given by this House to the Ministry of Labour either to override what has been done and settled by the House or to apply the wages board to any other industry of the country. The interference of Government Departments with wages during the War has not been so successful that we should be likely to welcome that method of settling these matters that ought to be settled in the industry itself. I could give specific instances, but I will only mention two which have recently come to my notice. In the building trade the recent 12½ per cent advance granted by the Ministry of Munitions has had this curious and almost amusing effect. As a typical instance of the way it works, let me tell the House that the workmen in a certain joiners' shop who were nailing together rough packing cases were entitled, under existing Government regulations, to 12½ 93 per cent. higher wages than their fellow-workmen on adjoining benches, who were doing hardwood joinery to reinstate air raid damage. That is not encouraging from the point of view of Government interference with wages. In the coal trade, too, it has been pointed out by a circular sent round recently, and which hon. Members have doubtless got, that the effect of the alterations in the wages that have been settled by Government Departments during the War has been, at a time when we want every ton of coal we can get, to reduce the average output per miner from 335 tons to 262 per year. In both these trades that I have mentioned the increase in the wages now, as compared with those just before the War—that is, in 1913—are vastly in excess of the increase in the cost of living. Therefore, I think, from the point of view of the necessity of this Bill at the present moment in industries where inadequate and sweated wages are paid that a case has certainly not been made out. At all events it is not apparent from any investigation of the wages of the trades at the present time. In view of the scope of the Bill as it is, we can only take what has been said on the face of it. I certainly support the Motion for the rejection of the Bill, because I think the Bill untimely, from both points of view that I have mentioned, and going vastly beyond the powers required, or, indeed, any powers wise for this House to place in the hands of a single Minister.
§ Major ASTOR
I rise to support the Bill which is before the House. It is the type of Bill which I believe this House ought to pass at this time in the sense that i tsets up administrative machinery for dealing with admitted problems rather than trying to tinker at these problems by reforming them during the period of the War. It is quite obvious that during the War this House has not the time to deal upon an adequate scale with social reform or reconstruction. It is very essential that this House should pass the necessary machinery, so that when the time and opportunity comes the machinery will be here to enable those concerned to deal with the various problems arising in a manner that is adequate. For three main reasons I support this Bill. The first is because of the result which has followed on the work and operations of the Trade Boards Act, seeing it has extended organisation in industries which previously were unorganised, or very 94 badly organised. I think there is a general feeling both amongst employers and employés that it is to the interests of an industry as a whole to have better trade organisation. Employers are recognising in a way they did not in the past recognise it that trade unions and organisations of labour are to their interests as well as that of labour; and, similarly, that it is to the interests of employers to organise themselves as far as possible into masters' federations. One of the first results following upon trade boards as a result of the previous Act has been that unorganised industries have tended to become organised. This Bill is based mainly upon the second Whitley Report, and it carries out to a large extent the proposals there recommended. Next I believe this measure will tend to improve the general standard of living and to set up a better standard of earnings amongst those sections of the community who most require it. There is no getting away from the fact that at the present time, in spite of high war wages in many industries, especially in the case of women, there are a large number of women, no matter what standard you adopt, who are not receiving a living wage. It is not in the interests of the State that that state of things should continue, and it is not in the interests of industry that there should be a large number of women not receiving anything like a living wage whatever standard is adopted.
We have also to prepare for the period of demobilisation. When the Army is demobilised a large number of women will probably be thrown out of employment, and we have to prevent those women coming into employment where men would otherwise be employed and reducing wages. We have to stabilise industry, and I believe the machinery set up by this Bill will tend to do that. I know that care must be exercised in dealing with special industries, having due regard to cost of living in special areas. It is most important that the needs of special industries, their ability to meet a rise in wages, and the low cost of living in different districts, must be taken into consideration. All that is provided for in the Bill.
Another reason why I support this proposal is because it enables wage boards when set up not merely to deal with 95 wages, but to carry out the suggestion which was made by the Committee over which you, Mr. Whitley, presided, that trade boards should make reports and recommendations on matters cognate to wages and hours, those boards to be composed of employers and employed. An entirely new conception of industry is coming into existence to a greater extent than ever before. It was always realised before by some, but to a greater extent now than ever before by people engaged in industry, that the conditions under which many industries were conducted in the past have to be entirely altered. Most interesting Reports have been published by the Committee on the Health and Welfare of Munition Workers. Although that Committee dealt with munition workers only, the conclusions which they have presented are applicable to industries as a whole, and it is for this country, and particularly every industry, to mark, learn, digest, and apply the conclusions and experience, and the recommendations which have been made by that Committee as a result of two years' investigation of the conditions best suited for industry. It is in the interests of employers as a whole to modernise the methods under which their business is conducted. It is to the interests of employers to have better trade organisations, better conditions of hours and labour, more efficient labour and machinery, and better organisation in industry. It is to the interests of employers to abolish and scrap antiquated machinery and to do away with old-fashioned ideas, when there are new ideas and suggestions available and applicable to avail themselves of the experience and watch experiments, and when they are good utilise and adopt and apply them. One of the proposals in the Bill which pleases me most is the fact that it contains the principle of self-government by the industry concerned. The whole tendency of this Bill and the whole object of the industrial councils recommended by the Whitley Committee is that industry should govern itself, and that it should not be interfered with or governed by any bureaucracy or by Parliament. It is because a proposal like this, which embodies the recommendations of the second Whitley Report, is intended to lead up to the formation of industrial councils which are mentioned and recommended in the first Whitley Eeport—it is because it contains the principle of self-government by the industry instead of allowing interference 96 by the Government or Parliament, that I am in favour of it. The bill and its intention are misunderstood when it is suggested that this Bill means more bureaucratic interference and more interference by Parliament. It is because it diminishes that tendency and gives to industry the responsibility of settling the conditions under which that industry has to be carried out that I support it. I regret that this Bill is being opposed by the Employers' Parliamentary Council, and I think it is being done under a misapprehension. I have read their circular very carefully, and I am perfectly certain that some of the objections put forward in that circular are entirely due to a misconception. I think it is very shortsighted that a proposal like this should be opposed, if it is opposed by employers as a whole. I am equally confident that there are a large number of employers in this country who not only do not oppose but actually welcome this Bill.
It has been my privilege during many months to attend a large number of conferences on industrial reconstruction, and to meet a large number of employers, men at the head of national industries, and local employers, and I can assure the House that there is a large and growing number of employers who are in favour of the principles contained in this Bill. To my mind, it is absolutely vital that at the end of this War we should increase and develop the production of this country. It is vital for the interests of the country that we should increase production, and I believe a measure like this, which will tend to allay industrial unrest and create better feelings and conditions in industry, is essential if we are to get the unanimous co-operation of all sections of industry. Industry cannot be carried on by one section alone, by capital or labour alone. Industry and its development require the co-operation of both those sections, and I believe that a proposal like this, which leads to co-operation and consultation and to the control of an industry by that industry will tend to facilitate the development of industry and the growth of production in this country, which we shall certainly need after the War to pay for the ravages of the War.
Trade boards are past the experimental stage. When the House passed the previous Bill the whole thing was experimental, the House was quite right to be careful and cautious. We are passed 97 that stage now. We are now legislating as the result of the experience of a considerable number of years. We are legislating, and we are basing our legislation, on the experience which we have derived from the application of the proposal of trade boards to industries. We know the result; we know that the result is admittedly good for the industry as a whole, and not merely for those who are employed. If we are agreed on the general principle, then we ought to set up the machinery which will enable those principles to be carried out as quickly as possible. We want to accelerate the machinery, and we do not want it to be cumbersome. What is the good of bothering Parliament when the War is over, and you are dealing with the great world problem, having to come to Parliament every time you want a Bill to suit a particular industry? Parliament should lay down the general principle and leave it to some other body to apply that principle.
§ Major ASTOR
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken when he says this Bill delegates the power to a Government Department. It sets up a board representing employers and employed. It takes the principle of self-government by that industry and it allows that particular industry to settle the conditions under which it shall be governed. It is contrary to interference by Parliament and Ministers, and Civil servants and a bureaucratic department. That is one of the main reasons why I am supporting it. I trust the House will pass this Bill because I believe it embodies the new spirit which I find outside this House, and that is the desire of employers and labour to co-operate for the benefit of industry, on which they both depend. It is the desire of all sections of industry to determine the conditions under which that industry is to be carried out. It is for these reasons that I hope this Bill will receive the support of this House.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I expected that the opposition encountered in regard to this Bill would have been of a much more serious character than has been the case. It seems to me that the case against the Bill is singularly weak and ineffective. What is this Bill trying to do? I understand it is really bringing up to date the Act of 1909 and rendering that Act more 98 effective. We have now had nine years' working of the Trade Board Acts, and we have had nine years' experience of their strong points and of their weaknesses and defects. I understand the whole point involved in this Bill is that those defects shall be remedied. I know for certain that all who are interested in the trade boards experiment, the principle of which has not been challenged in this House even by those who are opposing this Bill, desire an extension of it and are definitely behind the proposals of the Government. It may be that here and there are details that may require to be reconsidered, but that is really a matter for the Committee stage, and I am quite sure that its main provisions are both sound and necessary, and have been proved to be so as a result of nine years' experience. I do hope that there will be no watering down of the essentials of the Bill, so far as the Minister of Labour is concerned, and I would point out that one man who took a wise and statesmanlike view of labour questions, Sir Charles Dilke, whose name will always be associated with this great experiment, was in favour from the start of doing this thing in the way we are now proposing. He saw clearly that the way of provisional legislation would be tortuous and cumbrous. Indeed the Minister who introduced the Bill also proposed at the start that it should be done in this way. He was anxious to get on with it, and he was willing that it should be done in a certain way during the experimental stage. He, therefore, gave way to the pressure that was put upon him. We have got past the experimental stage now, and I say that the experience has completely justified the contentions that were made in regard to this legislation. Now that we are past the experimental stage, it is possible to find a way of speeding up the general work and administration by the machinery of this measure. It has been urged in certain quarters that it is wrong to introduce this or any kind of social legislation during the War. That argument might have some validity if some new principle were being introduced, but no new principle of legislation is involved. We have had the principle in active operation for nine years, and no attack has been made upon the trade boards, or upon their working, or upon their justice, or upon their fair dealing. Those who are so keenly opposed to any development of 99 the trade boards ought to have brought a case against them. They ought to have been able to prove that they have been unfair in their working, that they have injured trades, that they have acted unfairly to the employers, and that they have not benefited the workpeople. No argument of that kind has been advanced from any quarter to-day. I hope to show that war developments themselves have rendered this change urgent and necessary. I would say to those who take the line "Hands off all legislation!" to Members like the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), who very often takes that line in this House: There is a danger sometimes in damming up social legislation so much, especially in view of the prolongation of the War year after year. Unless you prepare for what may come afterwards, the difficulties will be very much aggravated by the fact that you have postponed and dammed up so much legislation during the past three or four years. It would be all to the credit of this Parliament that in the very midst of the cataclysm of this War it should pause for a moment in order to do this small measure of justice to the worst paid of our workpeople.
It is argued both inside this House and in the circulars issued by the Employers' Parliamentary Council that we are conferring autocratic powers on the Minister. What autocratic powers? The power to bring the two sides face to face to discuss these questions? That is the only power that the Minister has under this Bill. He has no power to force wage rates upon the various industries. All that he can do is to bring the two sides face to face and let them discuss and settle these questions themselves. My hon. Friend the Member for the Hexham Division (Mr. Holt) inveighs against Government bureaucracy. I am as much against Government bureaucracy as he, but let him not, on the other hand, come down on the side of mere capitalist bureaucracy, because I am opposed to that as well as to Government bureaucracy. I am against the spirit that would say, "The workers ought to have no voice in these questions. We will decide all these conditions and superimpose them on the other conditions without the workpeople having any voice in the matter at all." The special Order that will be forthcoming here will have to lay upon the Table for forty days, and 100 during that time exception may be taken to it. At the same time, if objections are urged outside a public inquiry can be held as to whether there is the need for the extension of the Act. Then when the board has been created there will be prolonged discussion in regard to the rates of wages and other matters, and those who may feel themselves aggrieved will have two months in which to formulate their objection to any decision that has been taken. At the present time things can be held up, postponed, and even defeated by a small group of employers. There was a desire to extend this Bill to the laundry industry. There has been a good deal of sweating in laundries, not merely in the physical sense but also in the monetary sense, and there was a desire to extend the provisions of the Bill to that industry. It had to be done by Provisional Order, and there were interests aroused and the proposal was defeated in that way.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
There my hon. Friend gets the answer to the question whether there is any objection to the old method. I venture to say that the best employers of labour in the laundry industry are anxious to have an extension of the trade boards to laundries. They have nothing to fear from the extension. They are face to face with unfair competition on the part of those who are paying the worst wages. All that they are asking is that the wages paid by the worst employers shall be brought up to the level of the wages paid by the best employers. That is entirely fair and desirable from every conceivable point of view, and that is all that the board would do in the first place. For nine years now groups of workpeople have had the protection of this legislation, and it is against the spirit of the British Constitution that you should grant protection to certain groups of workpeople who desire it and refuse that same protection to others who equally desire it. There are groups of workpeople who are most anxious to be included in this legal protection and who find it impossible to get the protection that they desire. I do not understand the arguments about abolishing the old safeguards. The only safeguard that we are not anxious to see included in the Bill is that which would give power to a, small group of employers to thwart the 101 legislation altogether. We have had nine years' experience of this Act. At the very start there were four boards set up—wholesale tailoring, paper box making, lace finishing, and certain chain making. Four years afterwards the Act was extended to shirt-making, sugar, confectionery, and food preserving, tin-box making, metal hollow work, linen and cotton embroidery. If there is to be formidable opposition to the Bill, there ought to be a case made out against the boards. Have they abused the principle in any way? I challenge hon. Members to show that anything of that kind has happened. Therefore I am very much in doubt what is really the need for this safeguard. The same thing is true with regard to the whole question of Parliamentary control. Parliament ought to be able to call a Minister to order when he violates the broad principles laid down by legislation, and Parliament will be able to do so. A general principle was laid down for the Home Office in regard to the inclusion of the dangerous trades. Each individual case does not come before this House, and the merits of each individual case are not considered by this House, except where a very strong case can be made out against it, and then during the forty days that the Order lies upon the Table there is the chance of raising objection.
The arguments with regard to the Whitley Council have been fully dealt with. If the Employers' Parliamentary Council are as anxious for the Whitley Industrial Councils as they pretend to be, the worst service that they can render to the Whitley Councils is to use them as an excuse for obstructing necessary labour laws. If they are going to shield themselves behind the Whitley Report, and say that because these councils are going to be set up no other labour legislation must be forthcoming, they will be doing a very great disservice to these joint industrial councils, and will certainly injure them in their standing so far as labour is concerned. This Bill proposes to cut down the length of time before the Act comes into full operation, and the benefits are received from nine months to three months. That prolonged period has been a great grievance, and has caused great discontent. The Bill is necessary on that ground alone. There was a strike among the women chain makers over this very question of the nine months. It was found that during those nine months the employers were 102 speeding up the output at the lower rate—in order, perhaps, to get rid of women when the higher rate came into operation. The women went on strike and had a prolonged battle, which they won. Nothing could cause more unrest and dissatisfaction than to have the possibility of an increase in their wages held over their heads and just out of their reach for nine months. Consequently it is a step in the right direction to have the matter brought down, so that the whole thing can be settled in about three months.
We are told that the old Act only applied to the sweated or super-sweated trades, and that that limitation is removed by the present Bill. I would point out that present money values are very much inflated owing to war conditions, and you cannot take the pre-war standard of a sweated industry. New standards will have to be affirmed, and wider powers will require to be given to the boards to decide which trades ought to have this protection and which trades ought not. Apart from these special arguments, there is a general ease in favour of this Bill. In pre-war times there was much grinding poverty and hopeless despair among large numbers of workpeople. These trade boards have rescued whole industries from abject squalor, and in quite a number of trades the worst forms of sweating have been abolished by agreement between the representatives of the employers and the workpeople. I could give instance after instance of what has actually been done. At Cradley Heath, where the majority of women were earning from 1d. to 2d. per hour, they have now secured, under the working of the Trade Boards Act, a minimum rate of 6½d. per hour, and that certainly represents a very big step forward. In industries like the jam, pickles, sauce, and food preserving industry the average wage of a woman in pre-war times was 9s. 11d. for fifty-four hours. The trade board rate is now 4½d., yielding £1 0s. 3d. for the same number of hours and there is a proposal to increase it to 5d. an hour, which will yield £1 2s. 6d. In many cases these rates are being agreed to equally by employers and workpeople. In the ready-made tailoring trade in London the rate for basters before the board was set up was 12s. 2d for fifty-one hours. The rate is now 5d. an hour, or £1 1s. 6½d. for the same number of hours. If we were to take not the average wages but the lowest wages, the improvement would be much 103 more striking, because, as a matter of fact, in the jam and food preserving industry 25 per cent. of the workers were earning 9s. in a full week, and in the London ready-made tailoring industry 25 per cent. of the workers were earning 7s. 6d. or less for a full week. In the London shirt and blouse making industry 25 per cent. of the handsewers, starchers, and ironers were earning 10s. or less per week.
It is at these conditions that the trade boards have struck a heavy blow, and they have been able to get rid of what was a disgrace to the civilisation of this country, and have been able to obtain much better conditions. I will point out to hon. Members who talk about a Government bureaucracy that the last decision reached, namely, the new rate of 5d. fixed by the Sugar Confectionery and Food Preserving Board was agreed to unanimously by the representatives of the employers and the workpeople upon that board. It was an absolutely unanimous decision that it was a good rate, a fair rate, and a rate that the industry could pay without difficulty. I am safe in saying that, quite apart from the workpeople altogether, there is not one employer who has had real experience of these boards who would wish to go back to the old chaos of industry. In place of having industrial disease we have now, at any rate, a measure of industrial health. That is good for the workpeople. It gives you a better type of workpeople, and it helps the industry. I would read to the House a passage from Mr. Tawney's "Minimum Bates in the Tailoring Trade," as to the precise effect of Trade Boards upon the industry. He says:The effect of the trade board has been seen in four main directions. It has been responsible for a closer supervision of earnings and of work. It has led to more careful attention being given to the training of workers. It has caused processes to be redivided and to be grouped differently. It has stimulated the introduction of new kinds of power and of better machinery…. One may say that the mere fact of setting up a standard reacts on the efficiency of the whole factory, which tends to be tuned up as it were, to a new key. The change is obviously to the advantage of the management, which, though it pays larger sums in wages each week, gets a larger output from its machines.That puts the whole case in a nut-shell. It will be seen that under this Bill the Minister of Labour takes power not only to create but to annul and repeal boards. 104 The boards can create the conditions which render such boards unnecessary; that is to say, the creation of these boards promotes hope, organisation, and self-respect in place of squalor and abject despair. Above everything else, the creation of these boards encourages a strong self-reliant trade unionism in the industries in which the boards are set up. I will give just one example of the conditions long before these boards were applied to the clothing trade. The Amalgamated Union of Clothing Operatives had in 1909 a membership of 3,000. It has now a membership of 60,000. There are now over 100,000 organised workers in the clothing industry, and arrangements are being made by which they are all to come together in one strong union. The employers in the tailoring industry, who never knew each other, and who had no means of getting into touch with each other, have now been organised from one end of the country to the other, so that you get on the one hand organised workpeople and on the other hand organised employers who are able to debate together what is best for the industry in which they are engaged. With organisation and with the application of other machinery you can settle these problems apart altogether from the trade boards. Trade boards have given you the foundation on which to work. During the War industry in part has been covered by these trade boards; in part it has been covered by efficient trade union organisations, in part it has been covered by Orders from the Ministry of Munitions, but another part has been left unprotected and is unprotected at this moment, and a great deal of hardship prevails there.
The extension of the trade boards is necessary from the standpoint of the industries covered by the Orders issued by the Ministry of Munitions as well as from the standpoint of the women who have no protection at all. Many of the Orders issued by the Ministry of Munitions have raised wages substantially. I know the case of one factory where in regard to powder work the rate, before any Order was made by the Ministry of Munitions was 2½d. an hour. In the same factory the present rate is 5½d. an hour, with an additional ½d. for danger money. I could quote improvements in regard to cartridge work, fuses, aeroplane canvas work, woodwork; shells, and so on. In the case of shells the women in one factory were paid 15s. a week, but they are now 105 paid a minimum of 30s. The Employers Council say that this Bill may be regarded as an attempt to give permanence to the privileges with respect to the high rates of wages which have accrued to workers under war conditions. I do not know whether we are to infer from that statement whether the employers intend to take the first chance of going back to the low pre-war wages from which we have escaped. There is, however, nothing in this Bill which suggests that it is going to give permanence to war wages. The hon. Member for Hexham said that what was really wanted was machinery by which we could lower wages peaceably. I suppose he is one of those who want to get back to the making of fuses at 2½d. an hour and women working at 12s. a week.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I am not taking the worst cases. If that is the dream which some hon. Members and some employers have of after-the-war England, then it is a dream from which I hope they are going to have a rude awakening when the War ends. It is clear that the position created by these Orders will have to be faced, for all these Orders giving wages at certain amounts are coming to an end. Are we going to have the bottom taken out of them without putting anything in their place, without any safeguard and without any real facing of the position? If that happens, I have no hesitation in saying that this country will be faced with industrial convulsion from one end to the other. You will have strikes, upheavals, and revolts. The only way to guard against them when the War is over is by getting the necessary machinery ready now and by getting the machinery to work now, so as to be ready for that time when it comes. One out of a number of alternatives is that we must have a minimum standard of life, legally enforceable where it is necessary to enforce it.
As to the women who have had no protection during the War with regard to wages, who have had neither the protection of Orders from the Ministry of Munitions, nor the protection of the trade boards, nor the protection of strongly organised unions, one hon. Member said that to-day everybody was getting high wages, and therefore there was no need to do anything with respect to the extension of the Trade Boards Act. If that hon. Member will go down to Bethnal 106 Green, which is probably a part of London he has never visited in his life, he will see there the makers of nursery shoes, hair-brushes, and women's garments, he would see the conditions under which the work is being done there, and he would learn the wages that are being paid for that work. He would then have his eyes opened to whether there is need for an amendment of the Act. He would find women making a dozen pairs of nursery shoes for 10d. to 1s. In a pinafore factory in Birmingham we have the following typical cases of a week's wage: One woman, 28 years of age, was earning 11s. 1½d.; a woman 24 years of age was earning 14s. 4½d.; a woman 20 years of age was earning 11s. 7½d.; another woman 20 years of age was earning 10s. 1d.; a woman 17 years of age was earning 8s. 10d.; and another woman of 17 years of age was earning 6s. 10½d. for a full week's work. If we take some of the minor industries there is no doubt at all there is real need for improvement. There is the case of a blacklead and polish firm where the average earnings now for an adult woman are from 10s. to 17s. a week. In the hosiery trade one case after another could be given where the same thing obtains. There is the case of shop assistants, of whom there is a large number in this country. I believe they total some 750,000 to 1,000,000. Among them you will find this sort of condition prevailing. In respect of a Welsh firm of drapers one woman aged 18, with three years' experience of the trade, was earning 11s. 3d. A woman twenty years of age with four years' experience was earning 12s. 6d., another woman twenty years of age with seven years' experience was earning 16s. 3d., and a woman twenty-one years of age with four years' experience was earning 13s. 9d. One could give instance after instance of this kind of thing. I am asked officially by the Shop Assistants' Union to say that they are most anxious to have this measure extend to the industry, because the figures that they get constantly from their own members show that in regard to the distributive trades there is a good deal of sweating in the various branches. These conditions are intolerable. The trade boards should be given power to function more quickly. If nothing is done, we shall have chaos in all these industries which are covered by wage orders. Many workers at this moment are unfortunately worse off than they were before the War, and they need 107 our help. We ought to get the foundations ready for the time when the War ends, unless you want then to have the danger of dismissals, considerable unemployment, labour troubles, and confusion. The first thing to be done is to make possible for all the conditions of a healthy human life, and it is because this Bill is a step in that direction that I give it my hearty support.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Hon. Members have stated that the Bill does not give power to bureaucrats or to members of the Government or to the Ministry of Labour, because the whole power will be in the hands of a board consisting partly of representatives of the employers and partly of representatives of employés. But hon. Members who advance that argument can hardly have considered the actual facts of the case because they are so clear in the Bill. First of all, the different trades do not appoint their representatives and neither do the workmen. Some are elected and some are not elected. It is done by Regulations made by the Minister, and then the chairman is appointed by the Minister. Therefore the control is in the hands of the chairman and the Minister can revoke the Board and alter its constitution if he so chooses. The Minister at the head of the Department may say it is brought to his notice, probably by a trade union, that a particular board has given a decision which is not satisfactory to the trade union. We all know what happens if a decision is not satisfactory to a trade union. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they will not abide by it. He goes to the Minister and says. "You have power to appoint another chairman. Appoint another chairman and have the case brought up again." I am not suggesting that the present occupant of the office will do that, but it is in the power of the Minister of Labour to do that, and we do not know who is going to be the Minister of Labour in the future. Under these circumstances to say that this Bill does not establish bureaucracy and does not put it in the power of the Government to do whatever it chooses in these matters is, I might almost say, endeavouring to mislead the House. My hon. Friend (Mr. Astor) said this House has not time to deal with social reform during the War, and having enunciated that very true statement he supported the Bill. I oppose it for that very reason, that we 108 are face to face with perhaps the most powerful enemy we have ever had to meet and that we should waste our time in discussing all these questions seems to me to be absolutely ludicrous. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the Bill are, there cannot be any doubt that it will have very important effects upon the interests to which it is to be applied. We never have an attendance of more than two hundred Members on both sides, and a few minutes ago only thirey-three Members were in the House. Is it right that a Bill of this sort should be brought in at a period when attendance in the House is so limited and when a very large number of Members really do not know that such a Bill is before the House, or at any rate do not know what it contains.
My Noble Friend (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) said he desired to see a better and happier world. So do I, and there is not a single Member in the House who is not animated by the same desire. That is all very well, but the question is, Is this Bill going to do it? And that is where we differ. After he had spoken those beautiful sentences with which we all agree evidently a little doubt crept into his mind, otherwise what he then said would have no sense, and I am quite certain it is impossible that he should make a remark which had not any sense in it. He said he would like to see a League of Nations which would fix wages for the world. Of course, if you are going to have a League of Nations—I do not see much chance of it at present—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
If I have made a mistake I will not pursue the argument, but if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Roberts) or my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hayes Fisher), who I am afraid has been a little contaminated by evil influences, can persuade the countries of the world to set up trade boards and have an economic rate of wages over the world, some of the evils which may result from this Bill will not occur, because there could then be no chance of our foreign competitors cutting us out in the markets of the world by the fact that their workmen not only have lower wages but work longer hours. That is a thing which is very possible if we have too much of this legislation. My strong objection is that this is the wrong time to bring in a Bill of this sort. The right hon. 109 Gentleman (Mr. Roberts) said Provisional Orders may have been necessary when trade boards were first established, but now that they worked so well Provisional Orders are no longer necessary. I cannot follow that argument. If he had said, "The provisions of the Bill would have worked well if it had not been for Provisional Orders, and because Provisional Orders have resulted in the old Act not working well I want to make an alteration," I could understand his argument though I do not know that I should agree with it; but I cannot understand his argument when he says that because the old Act worked well under Provisional Orders, which were necessary at that time, therefore we have to abolish Provisional Orders. A Provisional Order is a very simple thing. All that happens is that the right hon. Gentleman schedules a trade, which is put in the Provisional Order Bill. The hon. Member (Mr. Anderson) told us that no one had said anyone objected to these Orders. He went on to instance the laundry industry, which had objected.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I said no one had objected after experience of the Act. That is a different matter from objecting before they knew anything about it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
They must have known something about it in its application to other trades or they would not have objected. I am not connected with the laundry industry, and I did not know there had been any difficulty on their part, but I do not suppose they objected merely for the fun of objecting, or that they briefed counsel or took the necessary steps to enforce their objection merely for the pleasure of so doing. They must have had some reason for it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Very likely the reason was fear that their industry might be affected. That is not an unnatural fear, and it is shared both by employers and employed, and when it is shared by the employed the hon. Member (Mr. Anderson) is a strong supporter of that fear. If the system worked well, why alter it? I could not make out whether the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Runciman) was a fainthearted supporter of the Bill, looking for a weak spot through which to destroy it, or whether he was a whole-hearted supporter, but he certainly said that, unless strong arguments were brought forward 110 showing the necessity of abolishing the form of Provisional Order, he should object to it. The Minister of Labour is a very fluent speaker, and if he could have brought forward arguments showing that Provisional Orders ought to be done away with, no one could do it better than he could. But no such argument was brought forward. The Memorandum on the face of the Bill says:The necessity for a conforming Act of Parliament is thus removed while at the same time under Clause 2, Sub-section (4), Parliamentary control is retained over the action of the Minister.That is hardly correct. We all know what happens when an Order lies on the Table for forty days. It does not say forty days while the House is sitting, but that is probably what is meant, but in these days we must have everything in the Bill which we are going to get. We must not be put off by statements from any Minister that he will see to it, and that we need not have it in the Bill. Ministerial pledges, I am afraid, are invariably broken. What is the safeguard of the forty days? Hardly anyone knows that the Order has been made. The Debate cannot come on until after eleven o'clock. It is almost impossible to get a quorum, and when you do, especially in these days, as the number of Members present after eleven o'clock is rarely over 120, I do not think it is very often that the Government has enough Members to put the Closure on. It is perfectly evident that with eighty-eight Gentlemen who are committed to a policy, and can only oppose it by resignation, this safeguard is absolutely illusory. Therefore to destroy the only check which Parliament has over the actions of a Minister by doing away with the Provisional Order is a retrograde step, and we ought to hesitate very much before we give our adherence to it.
The right hon. Gentleman said the only alternative was that Parliament should fix a national wage. Then he went on to say that he did not think it necessary or wise to do it in the case of the large trade unions. I quite agree with him that it is very difficult for Parliament to fix a national wage. I think it is more than very difficult; I think it is impossible. Why should Parliament interfere in the matter at all? What business is it of Parliament? Where does justice come in? Surely two ordinary Englishmen are capable of regulating their own affairs without having my right hon. Friend 111 to come between them and tell them what they are to do! However much I may value the opinion of my right hon. Friend, I much prefer to manage my own affairs than to have him to manage them for me. Supposing a minimum wage is fixed. When these wage boards are set up it is assumed that there will be beautiful friendly relations between employers and employed and that everybody will fall upon each other's necks. Supposing they do not, and supposing the men say, "This wage is not enough and we are going to strike"! There is nothing in this Bill which compels the men to abide by the decisions of the trade boards. They could flout the decision at once. My opinion, and it is founded on long experience, is that the more you give in wages the more trouble you are likely to have. The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) referred to a very interesting statement which has been sent up by the colliery proprietors of South Wales. I have it in my pocket and no doubt other hon. Members have received it; therefore I will not trouble the House by reading it. A very interesting chart has been sent with the statement, and it deals with wages and production during the last twenty years. I commend this chart to the Noble Lord the Member for Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) and I hops he will study it very carefully. Whenever there has been a rise in wages there has been a fall in production. That is very marked at the present moment when wages have risen higher than they have ever been before in the history of the country, and when quick production is more necessary than it has ever been before. Therefore, all these beautiful results which are going to ensue when the trades board has fixed a higher rate of wages, are not borne out by experience.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
They are by the experience of the trades to which the Trades Boards Act has been applied.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It has been applied to sweated industries, which undoubtedly they were, but I think that is hardly a good illustration of what will happen if it is applied all over the country. I think the experience of most employers is that 112 the more wages are paid the less work is done. That is not against human nature. Unfortunately in England the instinct of thrift is not strongly developed, and there are many people in all ranks of life who, so long as they get a certain amount for their requirements, will not bother themselves to work hard. I am afraid that that applies in many cases at the present moment. There is a provision in the Bill which I view with a great deal of fear. If I understand it, there is to be a minimum time rate fixed for piecework. That is to say, I presume, that a man is to receive so much for making an article, and that whether he makes ten articles or twenty articles he will always receive a fixed minimum rate. Supposing the rate of wages is 30s. a week and the price of the article is 1s. If he makes twenty articles he will still get 30s., but if he makes forty articles he will get £2. That seems to do away with the advantage of piece-work, which I understand is to accelerate production while at the same time giving higher wages to the workman and encouraging efficient labour. This Bill seems to me in this respect to be introducing a very bad principle, and one very likely to encourage lazy people and to discourage the hard worker. There are many cases where people have been told by officials of the trade unions that they must not do so much. This is the sort of proposal that will encourage that sort of thing. If after the War we are going to encourage production, let us do it. The Noble Lord thinks this is going to encourage production, but I do not agree with him. That is not going to be done by this Bill. If you want to encourage production, you must encourage people to work hard, and not to work easily.
The only argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman in favour of this proposal was that it has been carried out by tie Ministry of Munitions. A more extravagant and badly managed Department or concern has never, I believe, existed than the Ministry of Munitions, and if they have carried out this there is all the more reason why, in Committee, we should put in something which will prevent their example being followed. I do not quite understand Sub-section (4), Clause 3, which says:Where a trade board fix a minimum rate so as to apply to any class of workers in the trade they may, if they think it expedient so to do, attach to the fixing of the minimum rate the following conditions.113 Are the trades boards going to start a trade union of their own and to say that nobody who has not got a certificate from them is to be allowed to work in a given industry? If that Sub-section does not convey that meaning I do not know what it means, and if it does convey that meaning I think it is the most dangerous thing that could possibly be done. I see also in the Bill that apparently the premium for apprenticeship is to be done away with I do not know whether that is wise or not. The danger of that is this—that trade unions have always been very much averse to the apprenticeship system, and if this is playing into the hands of the trade unions I think it is a very great mistake. That is what I am afraid it is going to lead to. A strong objection to the whole thing is that this is not the time to bring in these Socialistic measures, or any measure except a measure dealing with the War. Whenever peace comes—which, I hope, will be soon—we shall have a different House of Commons, and it will want to do something. If we pass every Socialistic measure which is approved by the Noble Lord (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) or the hon. and gallant Member for Durham or the hon. Member (Mr. Anderson), what is the new Parliament going to do? Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof, and this is a very big evil. Let us do what the Prime Minister is always telling us to do. Let us get on with the War and leave these things for another day.
§ Sir R. BARRAN
One striking feature of this Bill is that there has been no objection to it from anyone representing those who for nine years have been working under the trade boards. The industry with which I am connected has been working for nine years under the trade boards, and we are satisfied with them, and we should be glad to see an extension of them. They have been a very great advantage to the workpeople without being a corresponding disadvantage to the employers. They have done a great deal to level up the wages that have varied in different parts of the country. In that way they have been of assistance to the better class of employers against the less generous class of employers. In many trades it has been a great disadvantage to have a lower rate of wages paid in one part of the country than in another, and nothing has tended more to level up the rate of wages to a reasonable living wage than the bringing of the different employers and workpeople together under 114 the trade boards. I do not think any of the trades that have been working under the trade boards for nine years would wish to go back to the old system. I do not mean to say that there is not some criticism of the action of the boards. I do not think they will object to the speeding up of time which is proposed in this Bill. I think for them the advantage of getting matters settled within three months will be as welcome as it will be to the workpeople, and I think the opinion of the employers who have been working under this Act would be as favourable as the working people with regard to it. Generally speaking, I think the employers would be agreed in extending the old Act in the way that is proposed in this Bill.
After the speeches which have been made in its favour I do not think it is necessary to further eulogise the Act, but I want to draw the attention of the Minister to one point which has been mentioned by other Members, and that is the provision for extending it. I do not think this Bill should cut out the control of Parliament, and I do not think it should interfere with the selection of joint industrial councils. The hon. Member who spoke below the Gangway said that the worst thing we could say against this Bill was to play it off against the joint industrial councils. That is not in the least my intention, but I can quite conceive that joint industrial councils, as the Chairman of Committees put it, is the higher and in many ways the more desirable method of dealing with these questions. But these will not immediately come into force in every trade, or possibly the great majority of trades. Therefore, there is wide scope for another Trade Boards Act for those trades in which joint industrial councils cannot immediately come into force. But the question arises how are you going to bring these other trades under the Trade Boards Act, and exactly how many and which of these trades it is better to bring under the Act, and which under the joint industrial councils. In the former Act it was stated definitely that the Act was to apply to trades where there was, generally speaking, a low rate of wages. The Minister might very well, I think, have put into this Bill, what he pointed out in his speech, that this was to apply to badly organised trades. I think that there ought to be some indication, not only in the speech of the 115 Minister, but in the Bill itself in this point, and some definite understanding as to what trades are to be brought under this new Act.
That will be far better than leaving it as it was in the original Act, which referred to badly paid trades—which may be a question of opinion—or stating, as the Minister has said, that it was for badly organised trades. I would suggest that the best method for settling this is to leave it as it was before, to the decision of the House of Commons to settle which of these trades should be brought in. Though we have probably a unanimous opinion among those who have had experience of it, in favour of the Trade Boards Act, I think that you would get an almost equally unanimous opinion from them that it is not at all desirable that every trade should be brought under the Trade Boards Act. Well organised trades do not need it, and I do not believe that the employers or employés would desire to have it. If it is not desirable that every trade should have it, then it follows that it is not desirable that the Minister of Labour should have it entirely and absolutely in his power to say which trades should have it and which should not. There is a danger, if the Minister of Labour, under this power, can at any time schedule any trade in the country, from the biggest to the smallest, bring it under a trade board, get the two parties together, appoint an impartial chairman, and then fix the minimum rate for all the wages in that trade, that, in a time of industrial disturbance or crisis, the Minister may be called on to avoid a serious strike, and members who, at ordinary times, would not support this course, may change their minds and join in urging the Minister to establish a trade board in a particular industry merely with the view of Settling a particular industrial upheaval which had occurred at the moment. It is very necessary to guard against that. Various hon. Members have spoken of the danger of leaving it in the hands of one Minister to exercise this absolute control over a trade. I think that that is generally sound, and that there might be the difficulty which I have outlined is an additional reason why so great a power should not be left in the hands of the Minister.
If you revert to the system of Provisional Orders you can get whatever is 116 necessary. There has been in the past nine years no difficulty whatever in bringing other trades under the Trade Boards Act, where the Government has desired it. One solitary example has been given of a trade which was left out, but the Minister of the day never brought it to a Division in the House of Commons. You cannot show that the House of Commons has ever refused to put a trade under the Trade Boards Act. Therefore the onus of this failure does not lie on the House of Commons; it lies on the Minister of the day who failed to bring his Order to a Division in the House of Commons. Before we give this Bill a Second Reading we ought to have some understanding on this point. Many of us who are enthusiastic supporters of this Bill, who are glad to see the principle widened, glad to see more trades brought in, and who would wish to see every trade, where there is not a good standard rate of wages, brought under the Act, are anxious at the same time to make sure that the Act shall have that element of stability about it which will commend it to all classes of the community and will make trades anxious to be under it rather than anxious to avoid it, and will give it not only the goodwill of the operative class, but of the employing class also. Many people are apt to overlook that this is merely a question of establishing minimum rates of wages. It has been said that these minimum rates of wages are likely to be the maximum rates of wages. That is not the experience of trades that have been working under the Act. In practically every trade, not the better rate of wages, but the average rate of wages has been considerably above the trade board rate. In many cases the rate of wages is very much higher, and in some cases which were quoted the employers and their workpeople have jointly agreed to rates of wages which are considerably in excess of the rates established under the Trade Boards Act.
That is a proof of how well it has acted, and that is a state of feeling which ought to exist in the future. I do not think that these rates of wages which are fixed under the Trade Boards Act ought to be allowed to grow from a minimum to a maximum. I suppose that this Bill will go to a Grand Committee upstairs, and so this House will to some extent lose control over it until we reach the Report 117 stage. Therefore, I think that we ought to have some understanding from the Ministers in charge, before the Second Reading is carried, that they will very seriously consider this question of doing away with Provisional Orders, for which they have given no adequate reason, and will revert to Provisional Orders in the new Bill. There is ample security, and this House will be wise in deciding that if you are going to bring a large number of very important industries in this country, employing hundreds of thousands, possibly it may run into millions, of people, under the Trade Boards Act, it is better for the House of Commons to have the dealing with these trades in batches of one, two, or five or six, and considering whether they had better be worked under the Trade Boards Act or under the Joint Industrial Council. It is much wiser that great questions like that should be given the consideration of Parliament for one evening, say, after eight o'clock, or even after eleven o'clock, than that they should be left in the sole control of one Minister of the Crown. I urge this not with the view of diminishing the powers of the Bill, or in the least degree tending to narrow its scope, but because I believe that if you go back to the sound principle of Parliamentary control you will find that the result will be, with the good feeling of all concerned in the different trades, to get a larger number of trades and a larger number of operatives under the influence of the Trade Boards Act than you will do by adopting the opposite course.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
The arguments of my hon. Friend who has just sat down have had the curious effect of suggesting to me one consideration on this point which has not clearly suggested itself before. I agree with previous speakers who have contended that good reasons should be given for the departure from the method of Provisional Order. I do not know that my right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill made it as clear as we could have wished why he made that departure, but my hon. Friend, who argued for the maintenance of the method of the Provisional Order, put the view that such problems as these could be handled adequately by the House of Commons. If in a future period, which we look forward to as a period of reconstruction, we are to have perfunctory discussions after eight o'clock, then I begin to see there is a great deal to be said for the suggestion of my hon. Friend who introduced 118 the Bill, and for the course proposed by the Bill. The difficulties that will arise may be rather serious, but I am strongly convinced, from my own experience of the working of the Trade Boards Act in the past, that these difficulties can be better dealt with by an organised Department than by a discussion in this House after eight o'clock at night, as my hon. Friend has suggested. That would not be an adequate way of dealing with the questions that would arise. If the House of Commons seeks to keep control over such matters to the extent of carefully and quickly discussing any proposal that may come before it for the inclusion of a new trade under the Trade Boards Act, then, if the House is to do that work adequately, it ought to give days and nights to it—[An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, oh!"]—by reason of the complexity of these questions. The difficulties will be very complicated, and allusion has been made to the proposal to include laundries under the Trade Boards Act. Those difficult problems could not be adequately discussed after eight o'clock at night in this House after the War, when it will be continuously occupied with a multitude of important questions. It becomes more and more clear, therefore, that the matter had better be left to the action of a responsible Government Department.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The difficulty was brought before the notice of Members, and I just refer to it to illustrate the complexity of the problems that will arise in certain trades under the Trade Boards system. The complexities are very considerable, and if this House is to have an adequate control, intelligently exercised, and not merely expressed by an accidental majority, then it will have to give a great deal of time to the work, and I think it is very unlikely that the House will have the time to give, in view of what it will have to do after the War. An hon. Member suggests to me that we have already under our consideration devolution of our powers to new Home Rule Parliaments—a Parliament for each part of the Kingdom, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, each Parliament to deal with questions of this kind, and deal with them adequately. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury pointed 119 out that the opposition very largely came from hon. Members who objected to the whole system of trade boards. That is the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham took, I think, substantially the same line. He took up the position that the interference of Government in such matters is always bad in the long run, although sometimes it may be good in the short run. We have had the trade boards system in action for nine years, and I call that a fairly long run. We have evidence to show—and I was formerly very closely acquainted with this matter—that is entirely in favour of the system of trade boards. I entirely corroborate what has been said by a number of Members as to the beneficial operation of the Act. Employers have gained greatly by it, and by being allowed to associate together and compare notes. More backward employers, with inferior organisation, and with inferior knowledge of the possibilities of their trade, have been enabled to develop their organisations, to improve their methods of production, and to increase their profits.
Undoubtedly, the operation of the system has been wholly for good. I do not remember any case where the Act has once been applied in which any of the apprehended evils which were predicted were found to arise at all. The opposition in the case of the laundries was no doubt, to a large extent, due to a fear that the results would be bad. In no case where the Act has been tried has either the employer or the employed expressed any opinion, except one of approbation and satisfaction, unless it is that some of them thought that the Act might go still further. Testimony of that kind surely outweighs the mere fulmination of an abstract fear of Government interference. The hon. Member for Hexham said that all Government interference with trade is, in the long run, bad, but I am disposed to argue that the trades were in a worse position when there was no State interference or control. My hon. Friend ignores the difficulties which attended British industry in the days before this House adopted the view that it would be better for the trade of this country to improve the conditions of labour and to control them. During the period in which this control and the improvements in the conditions of labour 120 have taken place, the evils of industrial life which formerly existed have been greatly lessened, and the conditions of labour have always been going on improving. That being so, I should like hon. Members to support the Bill on its broad general principles. There are a number of points which may be subject to amendment in Committee, but I do not think this is exactly the time to refer to them. None of them are vital, save, perhaps, the point discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, and I confess that at this stage of the Debate I am rather less uneasy about the departure of the system of Provisional Orders than I was at the outset, but I believe there is reason to think that it will be found in the future to have been a practical, prudent, and expedient course to adopt.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I do not think the Minister of Labour can complain of the way in which this Bill has been received by the House. There have been certain criticisms, but they have been made in a very friendly manner, and most of them, I think, have been answered by supporters of the Bill in various parts of the House. On two or three points, round which criticism centred, I thing I ought to say a word or two. The greatest objection which has been raised is to the proposal to deal by special Order instead of by Provisional Order in these matters, and we have been asked to adduce the reasons why we take that course. When the original Trade Boards Bill was first brought in, it was then intended to proceed by special Order, but in the course of the Debate in this House it was pointed out that it was a novel experiment over which the House should retain some control, at any rate, in the earlier stages, and in deference to that view it was decided to proceed by Provisional Order instead of by special Order. Since that time the trade boards system has passed entirely out of the experimental stage, and I think we owe a tribute to those who have been engaged in the work of the trade boards since the Act came into force. I should like to say now how greatly the Ministry of Labour feel the loss of the gentleman (Mr. Aves), who for many years, at any rate, during the time the Act was in force, discharged the duties of chairman of the boards. The staff under him, I think, also contributed largely to this trade board system becoming a success, and to 121 its no longer being an experiment. The reason why we think it better to proceed by special Order is that it will save time. Under the Provisional Order procedure, as the Minister has already pointed out, it was possible for anyone who opposed any trade being brought in to insist on having a Select Committee to inquire into it, and it took up a considerable amount of time before the matter could be carried into effect. Therefore we think, in order to save time, that it is better to proceed in this way, and we are prepared to argue that point in Committee when we come to it. Many people have spoken as if this Bill would give to the Minister of Labour enormous bureaucratic powers over workers and trades, and that he would be able to achieve matters by a simple stroke of the pen. But I should like to point out to those who make that criticism that a good many pens would be worn out before any single trade would be brought under the trade board. I do not think that the hon. Members realise the procedure which is necessary. He talks about Parliamentary control being done away with, but does he not realise that there will be full and careful investigation, and that after the special Order is published forty days has then to elapse, during which objection can be taken by those interested in the particular trade affected? Those objections, unless they are frivolous, have to be heard, and, if necessary, an inquiry has to be held, and the Ministers may amend the draft Order; and, if so, that has got to be published and the same procedure gone through; but if he decides that the draft Order is right, he lays it on the Table of the House. There it has to lie for forty days.
Surely every hon. Member will realise that if it is proposed to set up a trade board in any trade where there is strong opposition and any good reason against it, they would very soon find that out during the period of at least three months which must elapse; and even after that, when it is proposed by any trade board—and it is the trade board which fixes the rates and not the Minister—to fix a rate, then again notice has to be given and two months elapse before it becomes operative. I think Members of Parliament are sufficiently alive to the suggestions of their constituents to be able to bring a great deal of Parliamentary influence to bear in order to prevent any trade being brought in which there are very good reasons for 122 keeping out, and so I think hon. Members have rather exaggerated the absence of Parliamentary control which they seem to see involved in this measure. Other hon. Members have said there was no necessity to do it. The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt), whom, I am bound to say, I did not expect to come out as a warm supporter of the measure, said this was not the time for a Bill of this sort, and that the proper thing to do was to get some machinery to get wages down. I should like to know what would be the right time for bringing in a Bill of this kind in the opinion of the hon. Member. He is not now in his place, and I think perhaps what he said was rather more than what he meant.
I think it is obvious to the House that the reason why it is so necessary to proceed with this Bill is that when the War comes to an end there will undoubtedly be a very large number of women who have been employed during the War and who will be unable to pursue their present employment. They will be seeking work elsewhere, and the effect of having so large a number in search of employment will tend to encourage sweating in certain trades, and it is in order to be prepared against that that it is necessary to be ready with this Bill. I think, perhaps, everybody does not realise that the whole thing applies very much more to women than to men, that in a very much larger proportion it concerns women than men. The problem of settling them in industry after the War is over is going to be one of the most difficult problems we shall have to face, and it is most necessary that after the War, in setting the industrial machinery of this country going, we should start with the best possible organisation we can have and also with the best spirit and the greatest contentment that can be produced in the trades. It is for that reason that the second Whitley Report advises that where industries are not sufficiently organised to be suitable for a joint industrial council they should be treated by an extension of the Trade Boards Act.
We have been asked by several hon. Members why it is that we have altered the provision which would only admit under the Trade Boards Act trades with exceptionally low wages. The intention of this Bill is to admit not only trades where the wages are exceptionally low, but also trades where they are badly or insufficiently organised at the present 123 time. The well-organised trades will be dealt with, we hope, by joint industrial councils, and the badly-organised trades will be dealt with in this way, and it is hoped that as they gain experience, as the employers get to know the needs of the workpeople and the workpeople the difficulties of their employers, and both of them the requirements of their trade, they will in time be sufficiently well organised to be converted into joint industrial councils. I think that explains the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman), and I think it answers the criticisms of a great many of those who have spoken when I say that it is intended not to supplant joint industrial councils but to prepare those industries which are not yet organised sufficiently in order to be capable of taking their places later on under joint industrial councils.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) raised one point which I should like to answer. He said I was contaminated by bad associations, and I do not know whether he will attach any importance, therefore, to my reply, but I should like to remind him that when the Trade Boards Bill of 1909 was before the House I ventured to support it on the ground that it was at any rate worth trying, and I got very much taken to task by the right hon. Gentleman himself for my action at that time. I only mention that in order that he may realise that my views have not been changed on the subject of trade boards since I have had the honour of working in the Ministry of Labour, but that they are merely a steady growth from the views which I held at the time when we were both sitting together on the benches opposite. The right hon. Gentleman asked a question about the certificates in Sub-section (4) of Clause 3. The object of these certificates is to allow workers who are either learners—young people—or older people who have not yet had sufficient experience of their trade to be very efficient workers, to come in at lower rates, but they will be protected by having a certificate which will prove that they are learners, or that for some reason or other they are unable to earn as much as an ordinary worker would be. That is the reason for that Sub-section. I hope now that we shall be able to get the Second Reading of this Bill. We are ready to argue all the points in Committee, 124 but I think, from the way in which the Debate has been conducted, and from the opinions which have been given, it is clear that the House as a whole is in favour of the extension of the trade boards system. There is not a single Member who has ventured to say that the trade boards which exist now have not done a great deal of good, and as this is to extend the same system in the same direction, and as the same discretion in setting them up is likely to be used, I think the House will wish to give this Bill a Second Reading; and if there is anything by way of amending it in Committee which will meet with still more general approval, I am sure my right hon. Friend will meet those who have Amendments to move in a most friendly and amicable spirit.
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS
I quite agree with the policy of the Bill, but might I protest against the right hon. Gentleman's new Department adopting the old slovenly methods of drafting which make our Statute Book a litter of Acts accumulated together. The right hon. Gentleman says he us going to simplify the procedure, but at the same time he is merely complicating the law, and he will have this Bill put side by side with the original Act; and the reason why I raise the point on this Bill is that he really had got a chance of adopting a very much better system of putting his Bill before the House. If he wants to see what I mean, let brim look at the British Nationality (Status of Aliens) Bill, which has adopted the method which I think everybody who has done any work, as I have done, in the consolidation of the law will see is a very great improvement. What the right hon. Gentleman is doing is this. He has got a clean, self-contained Act of twenty-two Clauses, and he is cutting out some of them, repealing parts of them, proposing some new Clauses and some Clauses which will have to be read with parts of the original Act. If he had only proposed his Bill in this form, namely, that a Subsection of the principal Act should be repealed and a new Sub-section put in its place; if, when he was proposing a new Clause, he had set out that it was to be inserted in the principal Act as a new Clause of that Act, and if he had set out the words of the principal Act that he wished to have excised or other words substituted for, I believe he could then 125 have put his new Act, when he gets it, as I hope he will, into the original Act, and then taken the power to reprint the two Acts together, so that he would have one clear Act. I am quite convinced that that should be done, and I understand the Home Office is adopting that method. The Statute Book is sometimes in such a litter that you cannot do it, and you have to go to a Consolidation Committee, but here you have got a clean and self-contained Act to start with, and I hope it is really not too late for a few drafting alterations to be made in the present Bill so as to put it in such a form that when his work of amending is done he will have one simple code. After all, this Bill may be amended in the future, and if that method is adopted from the very first I am convinced that you will save an immense amount of confusion and a great deal of work for the lawyers, and you will have what in the case of this Department is of real value—a law which can be understanded of the people and which can be read straight through.
§ Mr. G. TERRELL
I desire to say a very few words on the subject of this Bill. A reference has been made to an organisation called the Employers' Parliamentary Council. I wish to say that, so far as the organisations are concerned which I have represented on several occasions in this House, they have no connection whatever with the Employers' Parliamentary Council. I have endeavoured to ascertain what employers outside the House this council represents, but without success, and I am in some doubt as to whether there are any representatives of this council in the House. I state that because it is a little important, in view of the criticisms which have been passed in connection with a circular which was issued by this council that the organisations with which I have been associated should not be confused with it. In regard to these organisations I wish to say that there is no opposition to the Bill from either of them. They have not asked me to take any active part, although of course they may have something to say when we get to the Committee stage.
From my own personal point of view, I desire to support the Bill. I think it is a very necessary measure, as a complement to what are known as the Whitley Councils, and I am certain it will be productive of a great amount of use in the trades where there is no complete organisation 126 such as we should have under the joint industrial councils. But the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) spoke about some method of bringing wages down after the War in an amicable manner. I think it will be the greatest possible mistake if we attempt to bring wages down. I think it will be very much better to keep wages up, and I must say that as regards employers they have no objection at all to high wages. In fact, in most of the leading industries we welcome high wages, because we feel that with high wages you generally get greater efficiency and better work. But the reason I welcome this Bill is that it will keep wages up, and keeping wages up will be a nail in the old Free Trade coffin. You cannot have high wages and Free Trade. I do not think the two will work together, and I am perfectly certain that employers, so long as they have their home market protected against the products of cheap foreign labour, will have no objection to high wages being paid to their employés in this country. A right hon. Gentleman asks me if foreign labour is cheap? A great deal of foreign labour is extraordinarily cheap, and it has in the past been the great difficulty in being able to give our men what we should all like to give them.
§ Mr. TERRELL
Not necessarily, but it was labour which produced under totally different conditions from the labour which we have in this country, and the conditions were such as you have in Germany.
§ Mr. TERRELL
Yes, under Protection, because we have called cheap production "Protection," and this measure is a nail in the coffin of those who, in spite of the lesson of this War, still advocate the open door, and that this poor old country of ours should be in the future, as it has in the past, the dumping ground of all surplus foreign products. That is the main reason why I agree to and accept this Bill as being very necessary and desirable. There is just one point of detail I should like to mention which is really in the nature of a question, and I am sorry that I had not the opportunity of speaking before my hon. Friend opposite spoke. Under the law as it stands there is a period of nine months 127 between a claim and the date when, if that claim is acceded to, it becomes effective. I agree that nine months is a very long period to put men off, but the difficulty in my mind is that an employer has to contract ahead. He takes a contract which, perhaps, will occupy his men six months or a year, and there ought to be some bargaining power with the men so that where an employer has taken a contract at a certain rate of wage he should be in a position to make a bargain with his men, because it is extremely unfair on employers, and, in fact, it is oppressive on everyone, if there is a state of uncertainty in contracts which perhaps take six months or a year for their completion. I trust my right hon. Friend will see his way in some form to meet the point which I have raised. I think it is an important point which ought not to be lost sight of, and, if he can meet employers in that respect, I am sure he will gain their good will and remove all possible objection to the Bill.
I support this Bill on Second Beading because there are many things in it with which I greatly sympathise, but I must confess that when I first read it I had not the slightest idea of its scope and importance. It is a very big Bill indeed. I am quite sure that most hon. Members who read it did not understand the scope of it, otherwise we should have had a very different attendance from what we have to-day. We have had a most interesting discussion, and nobody present can fail to have understood the Bill. This Bill purports to be a Bill to amend the Trade Boards Act, 1909. It applies only to sweated industries, which are very few in number, only nine or ten industries having been brought under the scope of the Act in nine years. No one can say that this is an Amendment of the Sweated Industries Act. During the course of the Debate we have been told that it is a Bill to apply the Whitley scheme to all unorganised trades. The Bill could apply the scheme to all industries, organised or unorganised. The right hon. Gentleman says he does no intend to apply it to organised industries or compete with the Whitley scheme in that respect, and the Chairman of Committees has told us he is quite prepared that the unorganised industries should be left to the trade boards. I do not object to that, but I do object to this Bill being brought in under the title, "Bill to amend 128 the Trade Boards Acts," when it does nothing of the kind except in some incidental particulars. That leads up to the points I wish to make. The proper Department to administer the Act is the Board of Trade, but, all of a sudden, it is changed to the Ministry of Labour, which is to have control of unorganised industries. That is a one-sided tribunal and control not calculated to give confidence to employers. I think it is a great pity it was taken over from the Board of Trade, and I think in Committee I shall move that the Board of Trade be substituted for the Ministry of Labour. I know that for some time past the Board of Trade has delegated its powers to the Ministry of Labour, but a matter which concerns trade and questions between employers and employed ought not to be allocated to a one-sided tribunal like the Ministry of Labour.
This being an extremely important measure, it is very desirable that the House should have proper control over it. Under this Bill, if an Address is presented by either House within forty days of the Order being laid on the Table, His Majesty may annul the Order. That is said by the right hon. Gentleman, with the greatest possible confidence, to be controlled by Parliament. It is nothing of the kind, but is Ministerial camouflage. It can only be done after a very great struggle by individual Members lobbying and circularising other Members of Parliament, and then probably never getting a quorum to listen to them; whereas the advantage of a Provisional Order is, not that the House of Commons itself discusses the question, but the Bill is referred to a special Committee upstairs who can give any amount of time to a discussion of the details of the industry, and the persons interested, employers and workmen and their representatives, can be called before the Committee, who can then and there decide the merits of the case, and when reported to this House it is very seldom indeed that a Report of a Committee of that kind is set aside. The House is getting very tired of Departmental legislation, which is what this Bill amounts to. The other day you asked me to serve on the Emigration Committee upstairs, and the first thing that happened on Clause 1 was that the bottom was knocked out of the Bill, because there was no Parliamentary control over it. We have had great difficulties over the Bill, and I do not know whether it will be worth having 129 when it is finished. I say, therefore, that if some proper Parliamentary control is not inserted here the Bill will be sent upstairs, and possibly what promises to be a very excellent and useful Bill in many ways will be jeopardised. I shall give my support to the Bill, both now and in Committee upstairs. With regard to the idea that the Provisional Order takes too much time, I venture to suggest it takes little longer than the special Order.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
There is one point to which I wish to draw attention. Quite rightly, as I think, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has pointed out how he hopes by an enlargement of the functions of trade boards to be able to do for unorganised trades what he and others hope to do for organised trades by putting into operation the proposals of the Whitley Report. But the doubt I have is whether the Clause in the Bill dealing with this matter goes as far as the right hon. Gentleman went in his speech. It certainly does not go so far as the recommendations actually made in the second Whitley Report. Clause 10 reads—The trade board for any trade may, if they think it expedient so to do, make recommendations to any Government Department with reference to the industrial condition of that trade, and the Department to whom the recommendation is made shall forthwith take it into consideration.That Clause, as it stands, certainly would not carry out the suggestions the right hon. Gentleman made in his speech, and certainly it does not go so far as the very definite suggestions made in the second Whitley Report. Therefore, I hope that in Committee on the Bill my right hon. Friend will welcome the enlargement of that Clause and bring it much more closely into touch with what he said and with the recommendations of the Committee, because I am sure it is enormously important to try and get a higher state of organisation in these unorganised trades. I believe it is a very valuable thing indeed in these enlarged councils not merely to have the question of wages dealt with but also questions affecting status and other matters. It may be worth while suggesting to my right hon. Friend whether the continuation of the use of the term "trade board" is best. He said in his speech how the first Act was brought in to deal with sweated industries, and that idea really clings around the dealings of the trade 130 boards. Now it is desired to bring in other industries, it may be shop assistants and other industries, and you do not want in connection with them to associate that idea of sweated trades. I look upon this measure as a very important one; by means of its provisions much may be done for the wise organisation of industry, and for raising the wage scale and status of the workers in many unorganised industries. I hope it will have a successful passage through Committee, and I am sure my right hon. Friend need not be afraid of the criticisms regarding the expediency of bringing in the measure at this moment, because it is enormously important to make preparation now for the better organisation of trade, so that the machinery may be running smoothly when greater difficulties come upon us in regard to industry at the conclusion of the War.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.