§ (1) The provisions in the Schedule to this Act shall apply to any trade dispute in any essential service as defined by this Act, and to any dispute in any other industry, trade, or service which may be declared by Order in Council by reason of any real or apprehended national emergency to be subject to the provisions of the Schedule.
§ (2) Essential service shall mean any industries, trades, or services essential to the life of the community, namely, coal-mining, transportation, supply of light, power or water, and any public health service.
§ (3) So long as the provisions of Part IV of the Railways Act, 1921, or any Act amending the same continue in operation, transportation by railways shall not be an essential service to which the provisions of the Schedule shall be applicable.—[Sir Leslie Scott.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Sir LESLIE SCOTT
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
This new Clause raises a question directly germane to the Bill and is an attempt to add something constructive to the scheme of our industrial arrangements in this country for settling disputes. The Bill, as the Attorney-General has informed the Committee more than once, and as we on this side of the House agree, leaves industrial strikes proper unaffected by the provisions of Clause 1, which are directed against what we have, for convenience, called the general strike. That is a view which is not entirely shared on the Opposition benches, but it is the basis and intention of the Bill. The intention is to leave industrial strikes unaffected, even though they may be sympathetic in character; that is to say, not affecting directly those engaged in the industry which strikes, and even although that industry may be an essential service—a service which is essential to the life of the community. None the 840 less, much harm may be done, and this is common ground, to everybody by a strike of a purely industrial kind, whether it be in an essential service or not, and, particularly in essential services, much harm may be done to those concerned in the industries, employers and employed, to other industries, and to the community in general. Last year's experience has illustrated the possibility of harm which lies in strikes or lock-outs—I am not using the word "strike "as meaning a strike caused by labour-to everybody. I observed in last month's "Ministry of Labour Gazette" an account of the total number of working days lost by stoppages, whether strikes or lock-outs, over a long period of years. Last year it was 162,000,000 working days, and in the seven preceding years ending 1925 there was a total number of working days lost of 104,000,000. These figures are portentous.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
Can the right hon. and learned Member divide the figures as between strikes and lock-outs?
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I am not dividing them for my purpose, because my point is the loss to the community caused by stoppages, whichever side is to blame. My criticism is addressed to employers just as much as to employed.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
Would it not be fairer to the employés if you gave the number of days lost by stoppages and the number lost by strikes?
§ Sir L. SCOTT
If it were a question of assigning blame to any one party, it would be the fairer thing to do, but I am not assigning the blame. What I say, and I hope the hon. Member will agree with me, is that a state of affairs in the industrial organisation of this country in which this number of working days is lost, with its consequential loss to the community at large, is inconsistent with real civilisation. That is the fundamental proposition, and I feel certain that there is no division of opinion on that question. If the damage done by strikes and lock-outs be as serious as we know it to be, then I think it follows, necessarily, that the community is entitled to intervene by legislation to prevent it, if it be possible to do so with success. The right to intervene cannot be challenged, nor can the duty of this House to intervene, if it can do so with 841 success. The question is, can it be done successfully? Is it possible to prevent stoppages of work, and at the same time to do justice to both sides, the attainment of which is the object of any stoppage whether it be a lock-out or a strike? Is it possible to take one step further than we have yet gone in legislation, is the assumption which underlies the new Clause to which the hon. and learned Member for Swindon (Mr. Mitchell Banks), the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul), the hon. Member for Stockton (Captain Macmillan), and the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) and myself have put our names.
We all recognise the value of the voluntary principle in industrial affairs. We recognise that whatever can be done by agreement will be much better done than by intervention and compulsion. Industrial bargaining of any character is none the less based on agreement, and, so far as you can achieve the ends by agreement, obviously nothing should be done to prevent that process. But it is the fact that in the many voluntary schemes for conciliation that exist in industry today, provision is often made that no stoppage of work shall take place pending a reference of the dispute to the Conciliation Board which is arranged between the parties, an obviously wise arrangement, and one that I believe has been honoured consistently, or practically so. During the War, when conditions were exceptional, compulsory arbitration was introduced by the Munitions of War Act, and strikes and lock-outs in certain circumstances were prohibited. The conditions then were abnormal, and I am not suggesting that today this country is ready to accept compulsory arbitration as a method of legislation. I believe there is general agreement against compulsory arbitration at present. Whether things will develop sufficiently to make it possible in the future is not germane to the present discussion. In the Industrial Courts Act of 1919, which superseded the Conciliation Act of 1896, although there is a provision for settlement by arbitration, and the Minister may refer a dispute for settlement either to the Court or to an arbitration tribunal, yet he can only do so if both parties consent. Consent is a condition precedent to successful industrial arbitration.
In Part 2 of the Industrial Courts Act, 1919, there is a provision for the Minister 842 referring any matter connected with a trade dispute for inquiry, and he may do that on the request of one party or without the request of either party, on his own initiative, but that power has been very sparingly used. Last year I do not think it, was used at all, and the total number of times on which it has been used are 15. It is a spasmodic power, exercised occasionally, and solely on the discretion of the Minister. But that Act contains no provision that, while a reference for inquiry is proceeding a stoppage of work shall not take place. A stoppage can go on, a lock-out or strike can go on, in spite of the fact that the Minister has referred the matter for inquiry.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
The right hon. and learned Member suggests that no occasion occurred last year when that Court was formed, but does he remember that the year before a Court was set up and was totally ineffective.?
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I said, particularly, that there was no occasion last year. There were two inquiries, one in 1924 and one in 1925, and it is a matter for consideration as to the reasons why those two inquiries were not more fruitful than they were. That is a most important aspect of investigation. I wanted merely to recall the legislative position up-to-date, for the purpose of considering the mise en scène, the circumstances, in which this new Clause is suggested. The net result is that there is no legislative prohibition of a stoppage of work during conciliation proceedings. In Canada, however, there has been for 20 years past such a provision under an Act known as the Lemieux Act, which was passed in 1907. That Act is the basis of the new Clause and of the Schedule which we propose to add to the Bill. I may say for the information of the Committee that we have taken the Lemieux Act itself, without any alteration of the language, as the basis of the proposed Schedule. We do so in order to present something to which practical experience has extended rather than to put before the Committee a new and untried scheme.
It may be that the provision, as a whole, is unsuitable to this country, or it may be, as we think, in general principle suitable to this country. It may be that in details it can be altered with ad 843 vantage, but we think it convenient to put something actual and practical before the Committee for their consideration. That being so, it is worth while considering the history of the Lemieux Act. In 1912, the present Lord Askwith went to Canada at the instance of the Ministry of Labour to make an investigation of the working of the Lemieux Act. He reported favourably, though expressing doubt as to whether the aspect of compulsion in that Act was then suitable to this country. In 1924, Lord Askwith himself introduced in the House of Lords a Bill to amend our Industrial Courts Act of 1919 by adding certain Sections taken from the Lemieux Act. The largest addition which he proposed was that it should be illegal for a period of 30 days after the reference of a dispute to a conciliation tribunal under our Act of 1919, for any strike or lock-out to take place. The Bill did not go further, and there the matter now rests. In 1925, the Canadian Act was declared by the Privy Council, as the ultimate legal tribunal, to be void on the ground that it was a Federal Act which purported to deal with provincial matters, that those matters were not within the jurisdiction of the Federal Legislature and ought to have been dealt with by the provincial legislatures. The Act fell to the ground as a result of the judgment of the Privy Council that it was ultra vires.
What happened in Canada then is very instructive. There was a strong demand at once for the re-enactment of the same provisions in several of the Provincial Legislatures. I have the authority of a leading Canadian stateman, who was in this country recently and who had much to do with that Act, for the statement that the demand for its re-enactment came equally from the labour side and the employers' side. The result was that in several Provinces it was re-enacted and it was re-enacted in the Federal Legislature, so far as industrial questions fall within Federal legislation—in regard to railways and so on. So that we have this position—that in Canada they tried the Act for 18 years. It then by accident, so to speak, fell to the ground, but they were so satisfied with its good working that they asked for its re-enactment. I am not suggesting that Canadian experience is directly 844 applicable in all particulars to Great Britain. Neither employers nor employed are organised in Canada to the extent to which they are in this country—and we rejoice to know that they are so well organised in this country. The machinery for collective bargaining is nothing like as effective in Canada as it is here, with the existing trade union organisation that we possess.
Therefore, in applying the Canadian precedent to this country I concede at once that questions may arise as to whether, in this or that particular, it is suitable to English and Scottish conditions. But, surely, this proposition can be accepted—that there should be a delay of a month, or some short period, whilst conciliation is going on and whilst a real investigation into the facts on which the merits of the case depend is going on, in services which are essential to the life of the community and in those only. Such a provision is not an extravagantly wide departure from the principle of voluntary conciliation to which we are so much attached in this country. It is not a long step away from it. It is a step which, if accepted by the trade union movement of this country, would in no way interfere with the real voluntary attributes of our procedure, and it would protect the community from strikes which, once begun, tend to become bitterer as they proceed.
That is the fundamental purpose of the Clause. These essential services are already in this country treated exceptionally. Under the Act of 1875, in regard to gas services, it is a criminal offence for a workman, in breach of his contract, to leave his post of duty, and there is a similar provision in the Act of 1919 in regard to electricity. The principle is accepted that essential services stand on a footing different from others and that the community is entitled to make special regulations in regard thereto. I, therefore, submit that a principle, which has been accepted for many years in the legislation of this country, is the principle underlying the new Clause. Let me explain shortly what that principle is. It is contained in the Schedule which appears on a subsequent page of the Order Paper: The first paragraph of the proposed Schedule, following the precedent of the Lemieux Act, provides that where a dis 845 pute exists between employers and employed, either party may ask the Minister of Labour for the appointment of a board of conciliation and investigation.
The next three paragraphs provide for the appointment of such a board consisting of three persons, one named by the employers, one by the employed and a third by the two jointly or by the Minister. But the important provisions in the Schedule are those contained in paragraphs 5 to 9. Paragraph 5 provides that it shall be the duty of the board expeditiously and carefully to inquire into the merits of the dispute and the right settlement thereof and to make all such suggestions and do all such things as it deems right and proper for inducing the parties to arrive at a fair and amicable settlement. Paragraph 6 provides that if a settlement of the dispute be arrived at by the parties, a memorandum shall be drawn up and if the parties choose they may make it a binding agreement. Paragraph 7 provides that if a settlement be not arrived at—and I ask the particular attention of the Committee to this—the board shall make a full report setting forth the various proceedings and the steps taken and all the facts and circumstances and its findings therefrom, including the cause of the dispute and the board's recommendations for the settlement of the dispute, according to the merits and substantial justice of the case. Paragraph (8) says:The board's recommendation shall deal with each item of the dispute and shall state in plain terms, and avoiding as far as possible all technicalities, what in the board's opinion ought or ought not to be done by the respective parties concerned;and they may make suggestions as to the length of time during which the settlement shall remain in force.
Paragraph (9) is of vital importance. It provides for publicity.For the information of Parliament and the public the report and recommendation of the board and any minority report shall, without delay, be published.When a dispute takes place in this country, there is a great deal of publicity in one sense, because the newspapers make it their business to publish a great deal about it, but the Committee will probably agree that the facts published in one set of newspares are not always 846 identical with the facts published in another set of newspapers. Two views of the facts are put before the public, and the public find it difficult to make up their minds as to where the true merits of the dispute lie. If we can have an investigation of an impartial character by a competent tribunal and a dispassionate statement of the facts, it will enable public opinion to form much more rapidly and to decide what are the true merits of the case. I recognise that I am talking in ideal terms, and that we never get perfection, but, if we can go some way in that direction, it will be of great assistance to the formation of a sound and forcible public opinion. In the case of most industrial disputes, once the real facts are known there is not much doubt as to which side is right and which side is wrong, although it may be that one side is not right on every point. If the public once make up their mind about a thing, a settlement very quickly arrives.
Paragraph (10) says it shall be unlawful for an employer to lock-out or for men to go on strike. Paragraph (11) provides for 30 days' notice of an intended change. Paragraphs (12), (13) and (14) provide penalties. Here, again, I express no opinion as to whether this is precisely the best way of enforcing an Act of this kind. It is a matter for consideration. Finally, paragraph (15) provides that the parties may, if they choose, give to the conciliation tribunal the powers of an arbitral body, so that the result arrived at by the tribunal shall operate as a binding award.
In the Clause standing in my own name which incorporates the Schedule we have given a list of essential services, and included coal-mining as being essential to the industries of this country to such an extent as to make it really an essential service. In Sub-section (3) we have excepted railways. Whether that be right or not is for the Committee to consider. It was done because on the railways the machinery of conciliation which is incorporated in the Railways Act, 1921, is working so well that we felt that it was probably best, in the first instance, to leave things alone. In most essential services there is already an extremely good voluntary conciliation machinery at work, and it may well be that, subject to some certificate from the Ministry, the official conciliation 847 tribunal erected by an industry voluntarily should be treated as the conciliation tribunal under this Bill. That, again, is a matter for consideration.
I have explained the new Clause as shortly as I could. Let me add two observations for the particular attention of His Majesty's Opposition. They have expressed the fear that Clause 1 would stop strikes of an industrial character, although it might not be intended to stop them. I do not agree with their view, but I will assume for the moment that they are right, and would point out to them that this machinery for securing an impartial investigation and a public report on the merits of the case will to a very considerable extent meet their difficulty by providing an alternative remedy. Secondly, in a general strike there are a great many of the rank and file who do not strike in order to coerce the Government, who do not think anything about the Government, but who strike because they think they can improve their own lot or out of sympathy with people in another industry. To that section of the rank and file the procedure and the remedy offered by our new Clause and Schedule should be of real advantage. I ask the earnest consideration of the Committee for this proposal. I am not tying myself down to all the details of it, and am ready to consider any better alternative; but I do most earnestly ask the Committee now, at this stage of our post-War experience, after the losses of industry through the stoppages of the last eight years to see whether we cannot take one small step forward beyond the Industrial Courts Act, 1919, in order to protect the community from the grave injury which is caused by stoppages, whilst ensuring justice both to employers and employed.
§ Mr. CLYNES
It may be said of the Mover of this new Clause that he has addressed himself to the subject in the spirit which he has shown in regard to the general question of industrial relations before they were further embittered by this Bill. While we on this side recognise that as a loyal party man he has given some general support to the Bill we appreciate the spirit and the motives which have prompted him to put down 848 this Clause. I do not regard this very late stage of our proceedings as the appropriate time for raising the subject with which the Clause deals. If the Government had had a desire to extend industrial peace, they would have approached the question somewhat in the terms of this Clause, and would have asked the country to turn from the mood in which we found ourselves following the industrial troubles of last year, in order to search for some way out of those troubles and to prevent a recurrence of them. Instead of taking that course and asking us to devote our energies to providing helpful measures and better machinery for producing industrial harmony, hon. Members opposite, by the force of party demands and by what I fear has been a deepening class antagonism among a considerable number of Government supporters, have been driven, mainly by these propelling forces, to the introduction of the Bill which we have been considering so long.
The excuse for the Bill is that we must not have another general strike. If that were the only consideration in the mind of the Government, the Bill would have been limited to that subject, and would not have covered the innumerable other questions, industrial and political, to be found in it. It would not have sought the vindictive forms of punishment, financial and physical, which are threatened in the different parts of the Bill. Therefore, I say that, if a subject such as this new Clause raises had been submitted as a separate issue for independent consideration and discussion, we on this side of the House would have been quite ready to debate the issues raised, and we should have been eager to support even better conciliation machinery than is now afforded for the prevention and termination of stoppages in the affairs of industrial England.
Without any offence, I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) that the terms and spirit of this new Clause have no relation whatever to the Bill. Of course, the Clause is regarded as being in order, but we cannot regard it as being in its proper place in relation to this particular Bill. At the same time, we welcome the opportunity which it gives of debating both the provisions in other countries, and those in 849 our own, relating to industrial trouble. This Bill has gone very far to crush in a large measure that spirit for conciliation which was being developed before it was introduced, and it clearly will make it more difficult for a long time to come for us to pursue the efforts which we were previously anxious to pursue in order to prevent a recurrence of industrial disputes. But that must not be taken as meaning in any degree that we shall ever be prepared to forfeit the right of work-men to strike if they believe that they cannot secure just and reasonable terms in any other way. The strike weapon has been most serviceable in the past, and, if that weapon had not been so much a part of the armoury of the organised workers of this country, their appeals for justice would rarely have been granted.
Before the War and before the weapon of a general strike had been developed, the prosperity of this country was evident all round. The official figures and returns relating to revenue and income showed that the better-to-do classes, in spite of their conditions of living and in many cases in spite of their extravagance, continued to add, to their store year by year. Take those years when British trade was bringing gains to those on the employers' side in their businesses. In those years there was scarcely ever an occasion when the employers of labour in any industry voluntarily offered to their workers some little addition to their wages, or showed any anxiety to concede to their employés anything at all without the threat of a strike. During those years employers did not give any share of their increasing gains in British industry and business to their workpeople. Therefore, I say that, however much we may try to do in the way of providing conciliatory machinery, that machinery, when provided, will afford a very small contribution towards industrial peace, unless we deal with what is the fundamental of this question, namely, a more equitable and fair distribution of the yields of labour and of the general gains which industry brings. If one side is being literally robbed of its right and at the same time the other side enjoys undue gains through British industry, no amount of conciliatory machinery will be able to maintain a state of industrial peace.
850 At the same time, the facts of the situation show that our industrial troubles are often grossly exaggerated and used for unworthy purposes. The normal state of British industry is one of peace. It has always been true that the good work which these trade, unions are doing never finds mention in a newspaper. The good deed is not covered by a line of print; but let there be a little trouble with a trade union, no matter in what form—let a trade union, for instance, seem to spend its money upon salaries, and not in paying benefits—and that is made the theme of speeches in this House, and efforts are made to mislead the public mind as to what is the real position of trade unions.
If the whole of the trade union income were spent upon official salaries, management expenses, and maintenance, that money would be well spent if, in exchange for that service, the members of the union enjoyed the advantage of advances in wages secured by the labours of the trade union officials, or enjoyed the advantage resulting from reductions prevented by them. In short, a trade union contribution is paid for services, and not necessarily for the handing back of benefits in the form of strike pay or lock-out pay, which are only secondary purposes for which trade union contributions may be. paid.
My right hon. and learned Friend gave to the Committee figures representing the number of days lost in relation to industrial disputes, and I accept them, on my own part, at any rate, as being given not to apportion blame among either employers or employed. But I would ask his attention to the fact that it is not in that way that those figures are commonly used. On public platforms and in the Press, when the country is reminded of the number of days lost through disputes, that reminder is usually accompanied by the information that the workers are to blame, that it is organised labour which is the cause of this kind of disaster falling upon the country. Indeed, we have had Ministers holding very high offices in the State, in their public speeches roundly condemning the working classes for the loss of those days. If I stop for a moment, and in a spell of silence ask for an answer to a question I will put, I doubt whether 851 there is a Member here listening to me who can give an answer. Setting aside the national strike of last year, I say that since the Armistice there has not been in this country any strike of considerable dimensions inflicting real loss on the country or community, a strike, that is to say, in the sense of a stoppage due to workmen trying to force some new claims or demands on employers. The Minister of Labour is here, and I understand will take, part in the Debate later on. I ask him to name, apart from that strike of last year, any stoppage that would really threaten the life of the community, or even inflict extensive inconvenience upon the people, anything national or extensive in the way of a stoppage due to the initiative of the workmen or of their leaders?
There have been hundreds of stoppages, of course, though even that number on public platforms, again, has been exaggerated. There have been hundreds of stoppages' since the Armistice which, collectively, have undoubtedly caused very great financial and industrial suffering, but I assert—and I think the Minister of Labour cannot disprove it—that with few exceptions these innumerable stoppages, or, at any rate, stoppages running into many hundreds, over a period of years, have all been due to the initiative of the employers, who have proposed worse conditions, or sought to inflict reductions in wages. So that, in short, these stoppages have been, in the main, due to a necessary resistance, on the part of the workers, to the endeavour of employers to make their conditions worse. We might allow some blame to the working class for its resistance, if it were not that, again, the facts show that the only class in these years of trial and industrial trouble which has made a real sacrifice in the interest of British trade, which has endured personal sufferings in the form of sacrifices, has been the wage earning class. All the facts, with the exception, perhaps, of the Chancellor's Budget of the present year, from the Armistice onwards, prove that while the workers' wages were coming down every year, the incomes of the better-to-do classes were going up and up. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) shakes his head which, I know, as a rule, is full of facts. 852 I ask him to cite the facts against my statement, and I say he cannot get away from the figures that, while there has been, as I say, a, decline— almost an uninterrupted decline—in the wages of the wage-earning class, there has been an uninterrupted ascension, an uninterrupted increase in the incomes of the Income Tax paying class and the Super-tax paying class of this country.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
If the right hon. Gentleman takes some of the largest industries in this country, he will find that not only have dividends been going down, hut, in certain large industries, they have disappeared altogether.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Of course, I quite agree there are instances of big industries, indeed, where the dividends have gone down.
§ Mr. CLYNES
We must take these things, if I may say so, in the lump. Take the working classes in the lump, and take the Ministry of Labour figures in the lump, and they show us how much the workers' wages have gone down. We must also take in the lump the incomes of other classes, and not seek to prove a general argument or a general fact by citing isolated or single instances.
§ Mr. CLYNES
That still does not materially affect my argument—certainly it does not disturb it. I am not arguing for trouble; I am not arguing against conciliation. I am in favour of peace, but not peace at any price. I am in favour of peace with justice and righteousness.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Peace under conditions of industrial slavery or submission we shall not endure, and that is why I say the retention of the strike weapon, which has been, indeed, the only effective shield against the employers' recurring attacks, is a weapon which the organised workers must retain. If they are deprived of that weapon, the tendency will be for them to drift again into a state of serfdom. The retention of that weapon is a sign of the industrial worker's real freedom, and to the degree in which he is deprived of the use of that weapon, 853 when he thinks it proper and right to use it, so is he driven again nearer to the condition of slavery from which his ancestors emerged. While we have, as we all admit, these instances of industrial trouble, I think it will be true to say there is no industrial country in the world better provided with conciliation machinery than this country, and I would claim a great deal of the credit for that extensive provision for those who sit on this side of the House. If we go back to the last effective reminder which can be found in this matter, that is, to the Debates which took place in this House during the discussion on the Industrial Courts Bill, it will be found that the attitude of those of us who then constituted some part of the Opposition, was an attitude of helpfulness, of constructive endeavour on our part to make that Bill serve its purpose. Since then it has been from this side of the House that appeals have often had to be addressed to the Government to use that machinery. On several occasions the right hon. Gentleman, who has had power of a kind to use that machinery, has, for such reasons as he thought proper, refused to use it. So that appeals for conciliation have been addressed from this side of the House, while all our leaders have for long endeavoured to make that machinery as useful and serviceable as possible.
During the long coal stoppage of last year, let us not forget that while that struggle was deepening in its bitterness, and while the workers who were suffering because of it had their sufferings intensified, even then, while feeling ran so high, the miners' leaders twice suggested, virtually, arbitration as a settlement for the troubles existing between the mine-owners and themselves. To a great extent, proposals of this kind in principle and in the main amount, as far as we are concerned, to the forcing of an open door. As I have said, if we had been called upon to discuss this matter altogether apart from the Bill to which the Clause relates, our attitude would have been a frank avowal of the wisdom and of the great advantages that lie behind the machinery of conciliation. I understand the right hon. and learned Member to be against anything in the nature of compulsory arbitration. Even if Labour were in favour of compulsory arbitration, which, 854 of course, it is not, employers of labour are against it, and I daresay for every instance where it can be shown that the workers refuse to go to arbitration, that instance could be matched by an instance cited from the employers' side. This is not a country where either party will listen to compulsory arbitration, and, therefore, naturally it is a country in which no Government could commit the folly of proposing it. But all of us may make some little effort towards what I may call the cultivation of a predisposition on the part of both employers and employed to a thorough use of the voluntary conditions of arbitration, which, for the advantage of both, they might more fully employ. But to do that we should have to drop a Bill like this, for this Bill creates a feeling and a mood of distrust and suspicion.
How can the right hon. Gentleman opposite expect trade unions, if this Bill becomes law, any longer to believe these empty platform professions of a desire to have industrial peace in this country? I repeat that the underlying and unmistakeable cause of industrial conflict is to be found in the inequitable and unjust way in which the profits of industry and the rewards of service are distributed, and, until we face these questions more from the standpoint of a fair deal as between employers and employed, it will be futile to force through any further provisions for conciliation machinery. Therefore, if the Government are to display a sympathetic attitude towards this Clause we are now discussing, let it not be a hypocritical attitude, but let it be a genuine and an honest frame of mind, tending towards the bringing about of peace in industry by fairness and equity. If we can trust the workers to work for us, to produce our necessities, we ought to be able to trust them to use their organisations fairly, to allow those organisations to work upon the same principle, the same rule which governs every other institution in the country, namely, the rule of the majority. Why do the Government single out the trade unions as being alone those organisations which must not have the right to work upon the basis of majority rule in relation both to their industrial and political activities? I do not see how a Clause of this kind can be discussed for very long with any great advantage 855 unless we have a complete reversal in the mind and policy of the Government in relation to organised Labour.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should like to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) in regard to the very sympathetic way in which the Mover of this proposed new Clause placed the case before the Committee. He always approaches this question in a very broad-minded spirit, and he has certainly done so on this occasion. I also agree that it is very unfortunate that we should have to discuss the question of machinery for conciliation in connection with so provocative a Bill as the present one. It makes it very difficult to give the subject fair and calm consideration. Indeed, I would go beyond that, and say that, even if it be incorporated in the Bill, the mere fact that it is part and parcel of an Act of Parliament which is undoubtedly regarded by millions of organised workpeople as an attack upon their organisations will make it of less value as a means of promoting conciliation in labour disputes. All the same, I am very glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) has raised this issue, as probably this is the only opportunity which he would get, and it is the only opportunity, I fear, that the House of Commons has had of discussing it; and in the House Commons my experience teaches me that you must take the opportunities when they come. This is the only opportunity which I fear we shall have in this Parliament of discussing a matter of vital importance to the trade and industry of this country, namely, whether there is no means of setting up some machinery which will put an end to these very disastrous conflicts.
Take the conflict of last year. The conflict that was really damaging to industry was not the 10 days' general strike, but the bona fide struggle between employers and workmen over a question of wages and the hours of labour—something which by common consent was perfectly legal. All the same, it provoked a struggle which lasted for seven months, which has cost the people of this country scores, if not hundreds, of millions, and from the effect of which we have not yet recovered. I agree with 856 my right hon. Friend that it would be quite impossible to prohibit strikes altogether, that the weapon of the strike must be held in reserve. That is true, but my right hon. and learned Friend does not propose to prohibit strikes; his proposal is to promote conciliation, to make those strikes as difficult as possible, and to force a recourse to every means where reason can prevail before the mere conflict of two organised forces is resorted to. It is the same principle as that of the League of Nations. The League of Nations does not propose altogether to prohibit war; it is a means of making war as difficult as possible. As a matter of fact, the knowledge that war is in reserve, and that a nation can resort to it, is, in itself, a source of strength to the League; and the knowledge that in the end, if means of conciliation fail, the workmen can fall back upon strikes and the employers can fall back upon lock-outs will be in itself an argument which would be ever present to the minds of those who are attempting to achieve settlement by reason.
Therefore, nobody proposes that all strikes should be made penal; in fact, if that were proposed, it would be bound, in my judgment, to break down. It is one of the questions which every Minister has had to consider. I considered it when I was President of the Board of Trade; it was considered when the question of the Canadian Bill came before us which I think was originally the Mackenzie King Bill, when the present Prime Minister of Canada was good enough to come over and assist us. There they did not pass the prohibition of strikes, and that is a proposal which I think no one would contemplate, because I think it would simply end in a penalisation which would be quite impossible. We found it very difficult to work that prohibition even during the War, under the Munitions Act; indeed, we found it in one or two cases quite impossible to do so. I do not believe it can really be accomplished. What is wanted is some machinery that will force the parties to come together—a machinery in which there is confidence.
If I may say so to my right hon. Friend, it is not enough to say, although it is perfectly true, that the conflicts of the last three or four years have been due to a resistance on the part of Labour to pro- 857 posals for reducing their wages or making their conditions worse. The stoppage of last year was attributable to that, and I believe the great struggle of 1921 in the mines was also attributable to that. But that was inevitable. You were dealing with a falling market. Prices were falling, and the only issue, therefore, that came into being was an issue with regard to the reduction of wages. That, however, does not mean that there is no possibility of exactly the same conflict if there is an improvement in the market. At present we are still dealing with a falling market, but that, I hope, will in good time change, and in the course of, it may be a few months, it may be, perhaps, a year or two—I do not know how long—you may have a change, and you may have a rising market. Then you will have demands for an increase in wages. That is inevitable. You may have a demand for a rise in wages which employers say is beyond their capacity to meet, and then you will have a conflict upon these issues. Is it not desirable that we should be prepared for the changes of the future by means of some sort of machinery that will promote conciliation and prevent these disastrous conflicts?
Anybody who has been studying the figures of the conflicts of the last 21 years will see how they are becoming more damaging each decade. There was that remarkable speech delivered by my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Transport, which I had the pleasure of hearing, in which he pointed out how these conflicts were on a very much larger scale than they used to be, because both Labour and employers are organised for conflict on a very much more considerable scale than they used to be. In the old days the trade unions were comparatively small, and the employers' organisations were comparatively small; but now the federations of the employers include a very large number of industries which used to be organised separately, and the associations of the workmen have had to meet that condition of things by federating amongst themselves. Therefore, when you have a conflict now, it is a conflict on a very much wider front than it used to be; and that is bound to go on. The employers are undoubtedly widening their front, and Labour is doing the same—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Government cannot possibly avoid it. Whatever one may say about Government interference, it is folly to imagine that the Government can keep out of these conflicts; but I will say that it is very much better that these things should be settled by some kind of machinery which is acceptable to both parties than that the Government should come in. There is no doubt at all about that. Take the two or three industries which have had machinery which has on the whole been successful. There is, first of all, the boot and shoe trade, where there has not been any very serious conflict for about 50 years. There you have an organisation which commands the confidence of both sides, and, when they come to a pass at which one of the parties demands a reduction or the other demands an increase, there is complete confidence on both sides; the accounts are presented on both sides in such a way that for 50 years there has been confidence on the part of the workmen that nothing has been kept back. That tribunal has established confidence in the hearts of both employers and work-people. Of course, there is constant bargaining between labour and employers, just as there is constant bargaining between anybody who sells a commodity and the purchaser who purchases that commodity, and there may be disputes and difficulties on both sides; but when you have confidence in the body that, I will not say adjudicates, but the body that determines—the body that examines, the body that reports, and the body that recommends to both parties—you settle.
That is in the boot and shoe trade. The same thing applies to the iron and steel trade. There a body was established, and it included two very remarkable men. There was Mr. John Hodge, one of the most remarkable of trade union leaders, who fought a very fine battle for his men; and there was Sir David Dale, who was one of the most remarkable employers of his day, and who, I believe, was one of the chairmen. That body commanded the confidence of both sides, and there were no difficulties there. In the case of the railways, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Home), Sir Eric Geddes and 859 myself, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) on behalf of the workmen, managed to set up a tribunal which has commanded general confidence. There is no doubt that there has been a reduction there, but it has been a reduction upon a principle accepted as a perfectly fair one, and, when there is a reduction there, the facts are presented and there is a long discussion between the parties; but there has been no strike upon an industrial question. The railwaymen were involved last year in the general strike, but that was something which was outside a mere industrial dispute.
There you have three of the greatest industries in this country, and I am not sure that it does not apply to the textile industry in Lancashire as well to a very large extent. Is it not possible that something of that kind could be done with regard to great industries like the mining industry, which is a basic industry. I regret that my right hon. Friend has turned this down, though upon a ground which I can thoroughly understand and appreciate. I can see how he must abominate this Bill, and there are millions of workmen in the country who do the same thing. It is a very great mistake to imagine that workmen are not concerned about it. I could see that for myself when I went down to the Bosworth Division; there was absolutely no doubt of that. There was not the same excitement that you sometimes get, in the shape of great agitations and shouting, but an employer of labour came to me after I landed there, and said to me that one of the difficulties—from the Liberal point of view—was that a considerable number of Conservative trade unionists were going to vote Labour for the first time, because they disliked the Trade Unions Bill. It is a very great mistake to imagine that workmen are not very indignant about this Bill because there has not been any great excitement. I can, therefore, well understand the feeling of my right hon. Friend and those associated with him about having anything incorporated in this Bill at all. But will he not take into account the fact that this may be the only opportunity? There is a lull at the present moment. Workmen and employers are very tired and very exhausted with the terrible con 860 flicts of last year and of preceding years; but, if there is any change in trade, either for the worse or for the better—and we all hope it will be for the better—we shall be confronted by the same kind of dispute again.
Would it not be desirable that we should have some machinery of this kind? I am not committing myself to the exact proposal of my right hon. and learned Friend; he is only moving the Second Reading of a Clause, which means that we are simply accepting the principle of some machinery being set up. Once you get a Second Reading, you can examine the Measure itself in detail. My right hon. Friend himself did not condemn the principle of this Clause. On the contrary, as I understood him, he was on the whole favourable to something of this kind being done so long as it was not associated with this Bill. I therefore take it that it would be desirable if the Government were to incorporate some means of conciliation. The Bill, as it stands, is purely an attack. It is a very great misfortune when they had to deal with the situation of last year that the Government did not take a survey of the whole situation, and that they did not take account of all the difficulties and see what was the best thing they could do to prevent conflict of this kind without raising suspicions in the minds of the working population of this country. This Clause, if carried, would have been worth tons of Bills of this kind. A Bill of this kind is purely mischievous. If conciliation had been introduced into the Bill as a whole by the Government, no one could have regarded that as an attack upon organised labour. There would have been a general feeling that the Government, instead of throwing away the good will growing in the country, were trying to foster it and promote it. It is not too late for them to do something of that kind now, and, if instead of pressing forward these provocative proposals they were to bring in a Measure to promote conciliation. it would be really a good end to a bad Bill.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
As one of those who has put his name to this new Clause, I think we have no reason to complain of the way in which it has been received by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs 861 (Mr. Lloyd George). On the whole, we can only say that they have treated our proposals with understanding and sympathy. The right hon. Member for Platting, in an extremely interesting speech, opened up a wide field of a very tempting kind, but I will restrain myself from following him into the whole question of our industrial position. There are just one or two points which I should like to make. The right hon. Gentleman emphatically stated that, in his view, a Clause of this kind was entirely inconsistent with the nature of the Bill. I respectfully beg to differ from him. I am not going into a discussion of the Bill itself. But I will say that, whatever view you take of the Bill or its objects, it certainly does not leave the position, either of the employers or the employés, as they were before. They are both placed in a different position, and it is really the question as to what extent the position should be changed that has been the subject of most of the controversy. It is, therefore, reasonable to go a step further, and in the same Measure, which is intended to avoid the evil of a general strike, we should also deal with the avoidance of strikes occurring in essential services.
The proposals we make are confined—and, to my mind, perhaps too limited—to such essential services. What we are trying to do is to avoid such strikes taking place by adopting the machinery, the result of well-tried legislation for 20 years, in one of our Dominions. The results were well ascertained by investigators in this country and other investigators, and have been proved to be successful in averting strikes in numbers of cases. It is one of the best pieces of legislation ever brought into operation. Although we have known and recognised frankly the feeling of hon. Members opposite on the whole subject of the Bill, our proposal is not inconsistent with the Bill. When feeling has died down a little and hon. Members opposite realise that this Bill is not such an undesirable thing, I think they will regret that Measures of this nature, upon which we seem on principle to be agreed, should not have formed a complement to the Bill.
Surely, there is no one sitting in any corner of this House to whom our 862 method of dealing with a strike or a lock-out does not commend itself as being archaic and entirely out of date and as brutally inflicting suffering, and, still more, inflicting suffering on the great mass of the community. The millions of people in this country are really the people to say what is to happen in this country. It does not lie with employers of labour or labour leaders to say what they will or will not have. Labour leaders should not imagine that the public outside is going to allow them to obstruct the traffic by disputes any more than obstruction of traffic would be allowed by brawling in the middle of the road. That being so, surely we ought to advance. I do not abandon my hope that some day we will accept compulsory arbitration, such as has been accepted in Australia, but I am not going to push my own views on this occasion. Our proposal provides for delay, consideration, attempt at conciliation, and publicity. [An HON. MEMBER: "And penalties!"] This country is the most law-abiding country in the world, and its citizens are the most law-abiding. The great mass of the population of this country carry out legal decisions, and penalties are a last resource. Let us deal, therefore, with the intermediate position—the work of conciliation.
I would like to give the Committee just a few figures to show the working of the Act in Canada between 1907 and 1926. The number of applications to Boards arising in the industries was 642, and the number of strikes was 77. That is a very remarkable result, and I would like to point out that 71 of these disputes took place in that stormy petrel of industry, the coal industry. Those who have investigated the machinery state that it has worked well and that it has been beneficial to the State. I would like to deal with one point which has been made to me personally by an employer to whose opinions I attach some weight. His view was that any provisions of this kind might disturb or destroy existing conciliation, and that, instead of trying to settle a dispute, both sides might hang back. Personally, I cannot see the logic of that argument. It is extremely curious logic. As a matter of fact, it has been found in Canada that, far from producing that result, the opposite has happened. A great many more strikes have 863 been averted and settled outside the Conciliation Boards than inside. Therefore, that fear on the part of many men may be dismissed. What stands in the way, if that fear is an unfounded one? I can think of no reason. After all, public opinion must be the final arbiter in modern civilised society in all classes. In the complicated matter of trade disputes, it is always difficult for the public to formulate any kind of view of the justice or injustice of the case as put forward by the contending parties. The disastrous coal strike of last year was an illustration of that. The average man or woman really understood very little as to what the dispute was about, much less the rights or the wrongs of it. I am not speaking of those who were in the dispute, but of public opinion formed outside it, which is a different thing. Here you have machinery which would provide an enormous safeguard for justice being done. We are essentially a fair and just nation, and public opinion would never sanction what it considered a gross injustice to any class of the population.
I cannot see any conceivable reason why this Clause should not go into the Bill. What has the public gained by delay? Why should we always stand hesitating on the brink? The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs pointed out, and those of us who have been here many years know, how few Parliamentary opportunities there are and how many Measures are delayed from time to time. The occasion is here and now. Let hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite forget for a moment their dislike of the Bill, and let them think what will happen when the Bill, as I hope, becomes law. I am one of those most anxious to promote in every sense the spirit of industrial peace in this country. Unless you get a loyal population anxious to avoid every possibility of labour disputes and industrial dislocation, I say deliberately that this country will not be able to maintain its economic position in the world struggle to-day. This new Clause has been put down with the desire to lay, even at this moment, the foundation of an edifice—a temple for a league of industrial peace which is unfortunately more important to the future welfare of this country than the League of Nations is to the world.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I am very pleased that at any rate at one stage in this discussion we are getting on to the policy of conciliation as opposed to the policy of hostility. I have always held that there are two possible policies for establishing relationships between the employers and the working classes of this country. One is described sometimes as conciliation, and the other is the policy of hostility. I am one of those who believe that one of these policies should be adopted in its entirety and entirely free from any contact with the other. I have always advocated the policy of conciliation, a policy which would carry us along the way towards establishing a friendly relationship and a spirit of cooperation between the employer and the workman in the best possible interests of industry. But there is another policy, and a number of people in this country, both employers and workmen, believe in that policy. On our side, there are men who say that the right relationship to exist between employers and workmen is one of open, determined, unflinching and uncompromising hostility. There are men on the employers' side who believe the same thing. This Committee ought to make up its mind which of these two policies it is going to run. It cannot run both—at any rate I cannot run both. If we were faced to-day with a discussion, apart from this Bill, by which the Committee was seeking to set up machinery to create a real spirit of conciliation, and for dealing with the problems which confront us to-day in that spirit, then as far, as I am concerned, I should go all the way in lending any assistance I could in hammering out an effective policy for that purpose.
It is nothing short of sheer imbecility to say that we are pursuing a policy of conciliation when, as a matter of fact, all the provisions of this Bill are associated with the policy of hostility. This Bill from beginning to end is calculated to create class war, class hostility, class bitterness, to a greater extent than anything that has been done in my lifetime, and at this stage to be mixing up these two policies is not common-sense or a realisation of the real situation in this country, but is a mere trifling with the very serious situation with which this country is at present confronted. If the Government are disposed to accept this 865 new Clause—and I quite agree that it has been proposed in a spirit of conciliation—none of us can find fault with them, but if the Government are disposed to follow on the lines along which this new Clause proceeds, then they ought to scrap this Bill from beginning to end, and say to the Opposition, "Let us see if we cannot find a better way of dealing with the troubles that confront us than that in which we have dealt with the troubles of the past."
I am not one of those who want to see more strikes or lock-outs. We had a bitter struggle in the mining industry last year, and it is as certain as death and taxes that we shall have another struggle in the mining industry in the immediate future, or, if we do not get a struggle, at any rate, we shall get a disaster the magnitude of which no man can tell. Last year's struggle did not settle anything in the mining industry. We shall be up against the whole thing again in the future, and we have to determine whether we are going to approach the problems that will confront us in the future in the spirit of co-operation and friendly relationship, and to work co-operatively for the overcoming of these difficulties, or whether it will be another attempt on the part of those in power to impose hostile conditions on the workers—to run a policy of hostility and expect the workers on their side to follow a policy of conciliation. I have a deep-rooted conviction that the right policy for the workers of this country, from the standpoint of national interests, is a policy of conciliation, but I should not succeed if I went among the workers to advocate their adopting such a policy in the face of this Bill and the hostile feelings engendered by the Government. I would say to the Government, in all seriousness, that I have realised all along that this Bill was going through; I realise, also, what will be the developments resulting from it, when it does get through, and I think there can be no doubt about it, that the relations between employers and employés resulting from it will not be such as will further the national interests.
I do not know whether the Government at this stage are prepared to reconsider the whole question of policy. We have to determine whether it is to be a policy of conciliation or one of 866 hostility. I am prepared, and those associated with me are prepared, to hammer out a scheme based upon the principle of a policy of conciliation; but, if it is to be a policy of hostility, let that policy be given a free rein, and let both sides act upon it, and then the best interests of this country will go by the board. If we hammer out the scheme based on the conciliation policy, we will say to the Government, "Are you prepared to accept that or not?" The right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) declared that if the proposal contained in the new Clause had been put forward apart from this Bill the party, which he has the honour to lead, would have been prepared to give it their consideration in an, entirely different attitude from that which we are adopting towards the Bill itself. I think that any attempt to mix up conciliation or the idea of conciliation with a Bill, the fundamentals of which are associated with a policy of hostility, is to ask the Members of this Committee to do a most illogical and irrational thing. If we are to have one policy, we should abandon the other. I cannot understand how any man can stand up in this House and seek to embody two policies in the same Bill. For that reason, I hope the Government will stand by their policy of hostility pure and simple, and have nothing to do with the policy of conciliation, or that they will abandon the policy of hostility entirely and adopt the principles of conciliation, in dealing with our industrial problems. If they take the latter course, they will have the good will and the best efforts of which we on this side are capable. If they do not adopt the policy of this new Clause, the policy of hostility must prevail on our side as well as on their's.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I hope the Government will stand firm on this matter. We only require to consider what may happen under the conditions which would prevail if the new Clause were passed in order to see how perfectly futile the system would be which it is proposed to set up. On one point, I think, most of us will agree in relation to the Industrial Courts Act of 1919. It was passed with the best intentions and with good will on all sides of the House, but it has not, on the whole, been successful in the last few years. It 867 is quite useless to bring forward the example of the railways, because experience has shown that in the railways we have an admirable system of conciliation, but the net result has been that the people concerned—I am speaking of those who are shareholders in the railways and those employed by them—have been able to combine together to be perfectly conciliatory one to the other, and thoroughly to disregard everybody else's interests.
In the same way, wherever there is the possibility of monopoly in industry and you can get a conciliatory attitude between capital and labour in that industry, it is invariably the wretched consumer who has to pay. I do protest against any policy on the part of the Government which will facilitate that syndicalisation of industry which is the greatest danger to the country at the present time. We had one example during the lifetime of the Socialist Government. In that case, a huge monopolistic combine was finding its monopoly trenched upon by certain independent persons, and, apparently in complete collusion with the trade unions concerned, who also objected strongly to these independent persons because they were not members of the trade unions, they induced the Government of that day to pass an Act of Parliament which levied upon the greatest city of the world the burden of a great monopolistic combine as regards its traffic. That is the danger we have to fight against in industry. The instigator of this new Clause is one who personally I regard, and many others regard in this country, as one of the greatest dangers in industry at the present time, simply because his policy, both now and in the past, has been towards the formation of monopolies of one kind or another.
This particular new Clause is intended to apply to the essential industries. Let us take into consideration what would have been the case in the dispute in the coal industry supposing this new Clause had been enforced. It appears that, as a preliminary to the setting up of the courts, the employers concerned appoint a representative to be a member of the court and the workmen concerned appoint another representative, and if these two representatives can agree upon 868 the chairman, their decision appoints the chairman; but if they cannot agree, the Ministry of Labour is to impose a chairman upon the two dissenting parties. In the case of the late dispute in the coal industry, what would have happened? Who would have been appointed as the representative on that court by the Mining Association except their president, Mr. Evan Williams, and who would have been appointed as the representative of the Miners' Federation but Mr. A. J. Cook, their general secretary? It is perfectly clear that a court of that composition, with those two men confronted with the task of appointing a joint chairman, would have failed to agree, and the Government, through the Ministry of Labour, would have had to impose an outside chairman, and exactly the same process would have been gone through as occurred in the appointment of the Royal Commission. They unsuccessfully asked everybody they could think of to be Chairman, and, as a last resort, they appointed a Radical politician to that position. Therefore, if this new Clause had been the law of the land before the trouble in the coal dispute last year, we should have had a conciliation court with Sir Herbert Samuel as Chairman and consisting, for the other part, of Mr. Evan Williams and Mr. A. J. Cook. I ask the Committee to imagine if any more preposterous suggestion could ever be made than that a satisfactory issue could be reached by such a court.
But the real sting of this new Clause lies in the last part of it where it details the method of procedure. First of all, at least 30 days' notice of an intended change affecting conditions of employment has to be given, and then, if one of these courts is set up, there must be no change in the conditions of employment until the court has given its decision. What does that mean? Let us take a case that would come under this Bill, the case of the Welsh anthracite coal industry, where, unhappily, considerable disputes have taken place and are likely to take place in the future. Suppose there is a strike or a lock-out being drifted into in that industry; 30 days' notice is given by the owners of the collieries, and that notice will certainly not he given by them, if it is a case of demanding a decrease of wages, unless the colliery owners themselves feel that they cannot 869 go on much longer paying the rate of wages that exists, otherwise they would not take the first step in what might be a very bitter and prolonged struggle. They give 30 days' notice when it is quite evident that they cannot go on paying the minimum wage much longer. That means that every week the smaller concerns in the anthracite district will be getting nearer to the end of their tether. Their difficulties would get worse and worse before the 30 days have elapsed, 30 days during which those in charge of the weaker concerns have been spending most of their time with the managers of their respective banks trying to raise the wind to enable them to carry on a little longer. At the expiration of these 30 days the court is set up, and still these concerns have got to go on employing all their men at the existing rates of wages, with all the loss that is entailed, until a decision has been come to. If there is any considerable delay, what is to be the position of the smaller and weaker concerns? If, in a district where there are one or two very large concerns with enormous capital behind them and enormous resources, and there are a few financially rather weak concerns, what earthly chance would these independent concerns have against a combine or a trust that is intending to set up a complete monopoly in the district and which would first ruin and then absorb them, thus completing the corner. That is really the sting of the new Clause, and I think it shows its real danger.
I am not so enamoured of this new Clause as some hon. Members appear to be. It seems to me that it has some quite dangerous aspects from the point of view of the Labour movement. I would like, before I make one or two general observations, to call attention to these aspects of it. The Board of Conciliation to be set up under the Clause may be set up on the application of any one party to the dispute. It may, therefore, be set up on the application of the employers in any dispute, and then both the employers and the working people have to appoint their representatives; but it is provided that, if the working people do not appoint a representative, then after a certain amount of delay, the Minister of Labour may appoint a representative in their place. The workpeople may not be in agreement for the appointment 870 of the Board, but the Minister exercises his power under the Clause, and the Board is appointed and proceeds to investigate the matter in dispute. The Clause provides that while the investigation is going on, it shall be illegal for a strike or a lock-out to take place. You may therefore get this situation. The Conciliation Board is appointed; the workers refuse to have anything to do with it; and, while the investigation is going on, although they have not acquiesced in it in any shape or form, it is to be illegal for the workers to engage in a strike. That is why I drew the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) to the part of the Clause which deals with penalties. There are provisions which show that, in a case like that, if any strike be carried out while investigation is taking place, you may have penalties imposed upon workpeople of not less than £2 and not more than £10 a day for each day or part of a day that such employés are on strike. You may get the extraordinary situation that the workers, having refused to have anything to do with the Conciliation Board and proceeding to strike, may have enormous sums imposed upon them by fines. The Labour movement must look carefully at such proposals before they support them.
I gathered from the mover of this Clause that the main object of it was to avoid national waste or national loss due to strikes and lock-outs. He dwelt at great length upon the number of days' labour which had been lost during a given period of time, but I would like to point out that, in considering the question of idleness, hon. Members opposite never take a fully comprehensive view of the situation. When they think of national loss due to idleness, their minds turn automatically to the workers, but, if idleness be a crime and an offence against the national well-being, we ought to look all round the question and to consider other persons who practice idleness very often during the whole course of their lives. If, instead of being in this rather gloomy chamber, I had been at Ascot this afternoon, I would have seen a very considerable number of people who are in idleness for the greater part of their lives. Why should we confine our attention to the idleness of the workers who are striving by means of their idleness 871 to get better conditions? I want to deal with a few remarks which were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen. I gather that his object is to have the workers happy and contented, willing to work year after year and generation after generation. I am sure he regards it as the ideal of British industry that we should have, on the one hand, a body of employers, a body of directors, and, on the other hand, a great mass of contented workers who are willing to go on generation after generation earning huge salaries and huge dividends for these directors.
§ Sir A. MOND
I would like to tell the hon. Member that that is not my ideal of industry at all. My ideal of industry is that the workers should be provided with work under good conditions for generation after generation which would enable them to achieve higher positions for themselves.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I am glad at least to have drawn that statement from the right hon. Gentleman. He cited the boot and shoe industry and gave results of conciliation in that industry which had maintained peace for 50 years. Peace is all very well, but we want peace with honour and peace with fair play. I, for my part, and I think I speak here the real mind of the Labour party, do not envisage the industrial future as a situation in which you have got that clear division between employers on the one hand and employed on the other hand. I cannot imagine industry going on for generation after generation and finding the workers willing to accept a definite position of inferiority, in which they have to go on working for wages and seeing a great part of what they produce being reaped by a comparatively small section of the community. The right hon. Gentleman said that the methods of settling disputes in this country are bad. I am prepared to agree with him. It is archaic that we have to have the kind of struggle we had last year in the mining industry in order to settle a dispute of that kind. But from the point of view of the conception of the workman of the twentieth century, the whole method of industry at present is archaic. The workers who are engaged in industry, before they are going to give the permanent peace the 872 right hon. Gentleman wants, want to see the issue faced much more squarely than he is prepared to face it. He says he is prepared to see the workers come and take their position even on the board of directors, and take their part in determining the policy of a given industry. That is a good concession. That is something to be welcomed.
There is something much more than that. The real issue between the workers and their employers is as to the proportion in which the results of their labour are going to be divided. If the right hon. Gentleman will go further than that and say, "I am prepared also, as a representative captain of industry, to say that we ought to accept a limitation of dividends, that we ought to accept in a non-speculative industry, 6 per cent., 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. as our maximum dividend, and be content with that, and see that all the rest of the profit accruing in that industry is shared among the workers," he will be putting up a much more reasonable proposition. I would go further and say there is no reason at all why that 6 per cent., 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. should not be guaranteed. There is no reason why the workers should not be prepared to have an equalisation of dividend fund which would enable the industry to put aside a certain amount during fat years in order to provide for the lean years. But let it be accepted as a definite principle, that, after the capital in an industry has received a certain amount, the workers employed in the industry and sharing in the management of it shall get all the rest. If the right hon. Gentleman would really face up to that—and that is the kernel of the situation—he would stand a reasonable chance of getting peace in industry, but until he is prepared to do that he is crying for the moon in expecting that the, workers are going to sit down contentedly for generation after generation while he and other employers are reaping great profits out of their labour.
Peace in industry depends, after all, upon the contentment of the workers, and the contentment of the workers depends upon their spirit and the standard of life they demand. It is my business, and I hope that of the rest of the Labour party, to persuade the workers that they have not yet achieved anything like a 873 proper standard of life. We do not want them to accept the state of life in which they find themselves as being ideal and satisfactory. We want to induce them to think that they have a right to a much better standard of life than they are getting at present, and, if we can inculcate that spirit into them, as we believe we can, if' is quite evident that you are not going to have a. frame of mind in which you can get peace in industry based upon the conditions the right hon. Gentleman opposite wants. I entirely endorse what has been said by our Front Bench and other speakers as to the utter inconsistency and incongruity of the right hon. Gentleman opposite introducing a Clause of this character into a Bill of this nature, because it is the very antithesis of the spirit of the Bill as a whole. I hope we on this side are not going to have anything to do with it. I do not imagine for a moment that the Government will accept the Clause, and I hope, while they are prepared to assist in this very tyrannical and iniquitous Bill as a whole, we are not prepared to accept even this Clause added to it.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
I have listened with very considerable attention to all the speeches that have been made, except that of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) when I was called from the Chamber. I can understand, and I sympathise with, the motive of the right hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) who proposed the Clause. If there be one thing that has been brought home to all of us, it is that we are sick of industrial disputes. We want a settlement, and we want a settlement without strikes. It is a mere platitude to say the more disputes we have the poorer the country is as a whole, and of course the greater the misery inflicted on certain classes in it. I quite agree that that is a mere platitude, but the greater the platitude, the greater the truth. Of course, there is this to be said from the point of view which the right, hon. and learned Member who introduced the Clause has urged, that it may quite well be that the whole existence of the community may be threatened equally if there should be an industrial struggle in an essential industry, just as much as 874 it might be by a general strike. That is true, and consequently, under such circumstances, it is only natural that those who would like to see industrial life and production go on wish to find any method that is reasonable and practicable and likely to have the desired result of preventing disputes in essential industries from coming to a head. So far I am with him entirely, and I am with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond).
But I have two difficulties which would prevent me, on behalf of the Government, from definitely accepting the Clause. The first is that I agree, though for reasons quite different from those stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), that it is not in place in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) and others who have spoken have said that it is not in place because the Bill is an attack, a measure of war and class hatred (and he used other expressions of the same kind), and therefore, in his view, a proposal for conciliation is an entirely contradictory line of policy, and the two cannot be put together in the same Bill. I do not in the least degree concur in any such argument. This is the last controversial word I hope to say to-day. Hon. Members opposite have always assumed that in this Bill the Government, so to speak, are the attackers, whereas precisely the contrary is the case. I have to be controversial, because I cannot let these repeated statements pass un-challenged. It is impossible to pretend that we can behave as though no general strike whatsoever had existed, and as though no Government had to deal with the situation that had arisen from it. Therefore, it is perfectly right and perfectly compatible, on the one hand, to deal quite definitely with such a situation as was created by the general strike, and on the other to do everything possible to develop any means of conciliation in the future. They are perfectly compatible policies, and they can both be pursued at the same time and in the same spirit—the spirit that wishes to preserve peaceful industrial life.
My reason why I would hesitate to accept the Clause is different. It is that which was stated yesterday by the 875 Attorney-General and in which I heartily concur. As a Government we felt quite distinctly that we had to deal with the question of the general strike, but, just because we felt that we had to deal with it, we did not wish to go further in preventing the right to strike than was necessary in order to preclude the possibility of a further general strike. I should like to quote the words my right hon. and learned Friend used yesterday in a different connection:Whereas we regard the use of the strike weapon as a means of bringing pressure on the employer as a perfectly legitimate although regrettable necessity, we regard the use of the strike weapon as a means of bringing pressure upon the State as illegitimate. We only refrain from dealing with it in this Bill in the cases in which it is plain that its use is primarily for the purpose of furthering a trade dispute, and in that case, although, it may be, pressure inevitably results on the community, we have not thought right to forbid its use."—[OFFICIAL Report, 13th June, 1927; col. 802, Vol. 207.]It is for precisely that reason that I would not wish to complicate this Measure by creating, with the best intentions in the world, a further category of possible offences. We felt that we had to deal as an offence with the general strike, and we did not wish to go further, either before or now, with creating another category of offences relating to disputes which might be confined to the single industry in which the people striking were participating. For that reason, we do not think it is right in its place in the present Bill.
That is one of the two difficulties I have in accepting the Clause. The other is that when I come to the Clause itself, as distinct from a general sympathy with the spread and development of conciliation, I have more than grave doubts as to the actual applicability of the Canadian procedure transplanted without change into this country. Nearly every speaker to whom I have listened to-day, apart from the mover and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carmarthen, has dealt in general principle with the question of conciliation. But, of course, before this Clause can be added to the Bill, what we really have to consider is whether the precise procedure embodied in it is applicable to trade disputes and trade negotiations in this country, 876 and here, I fancy, those who have had most experience of negotiations in industrial matters, whether on the workers' or the employers' side, will have grave doubts as to whether this Clause itself, and the machinery contemplated under it, would really be a benefit to the country instead of prejudicing the practicability and usefulness of the existing machinery. The difference, as my right hon. and learned Friend who introduced the new Clause has already pointed out, between the conditions in Canada and the conditions in this country, industrially, are enormous. There are comparatively few trades there organised to the same degree as nearly all the big trades of this country are organised. There are distances there, as well, far greater than there are in this country, so that people have to make several days' journey in order to meet, whereas here the principal parties on either side in any great industry can meet within 12 hours' journey in order to negotiate any matter in dispute. Therefore, the Canadian machinery is not necessarily applicable. Another point I would urge on the attention of the Committee is that the Canadian Act is largely worked upon a voluntary basis. They have not applied the obligatory power which they possess. They have used it where it has been successful in a way which is comparable to the actual machinery at present existing in this country. Thus, in so far as it has been successful, we have the actual machinery at our own disposal.
Let me, however, come to the main difficulties which I feel. Here, in each of the big trades, we have, to start with, highly developed negotiating machinery. Again, in reserve, we have the power to appoint a court of inquiry in order to elucidate facts if it be necessary. Under this Clause, the appointment of a court of inquiry might be made obligatory. Either side could claim to have it appointed. I would ask the Committee to consider how that would actually affect negotiations. I am quite sure that any responsible negotiator on either side of industry will agree with me in this. If we take the normal course of negotiations, neither side, as a rule, generally wants to have trouble. If we are on the rising tide of industrial prosperity the one side may want to get a rise of wages. If we 877 are on a falling market, the other side may want to get a reduction of wages. But on the whole in 99 cases out of 100 neither side really wants to have trouble. They want to get what they are entitled to, but they want to get it, if they can, by settlement. From that point of view, when you come to actual negotiations, what happens? The representatives of the two sides who are authorised to meet make tentative proposals one to the other—and I am sure officers of trade unions on that side will agree absolutely with what I am saying—without prejudice. And so they go on. They go on, because they hope that they may themselves arrive at an agreement, and they are impelled to go on because, not wanting industrial trouble, they do not know whether they may not be landed into it. At the present moment I have a discretionary power of intervention by setting up a court of inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting says that sometimes I have not used it, and I have carefully refrained from using it. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) says that I might have done. In their heart of hearts many Members on that side of the Committee, as on this side, know quite well that, while it is often difficult to refrain from assenting, it is often much better to refrain than to give way and say "Yes" when one is asked to set up a court of inquiry.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the claims for the setting up of these courts which emanated from labour have been turned down and whether those emanating from the employers have been granted?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I cannot give figures at this moment, but I can give a type of dispute. I hardly like to prejudice any future negotiations, and, therefore, I ask Members to have some patience with me if I do not give names. It is all a matter of practical experience. If either of the two sides, or both of them, think that a Court of Inquiry is inevitable, there is a great probability that at that moment they will stop genuine negotiation and will manœuvre for position against the time when the Court of Inquiry is set up. The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Bromley) smiles, but he knows it is perfectly true. The hon. Member for 878 Rochdale knows that it is perfectly true, and so do others. I had a trouble which, fortunately, came to nothing. I was asked by both sides to set up a Court of Inquiry. I knew that both sides had got fully developed industrial machinery and were in touch with each other. There were no facts in dispute. The facts were clear and known. What was the need for a Court of Inquiry? I said "No" and, as the possible time of trouble drew near, the friends of both employers and workmen came to me and asked me to set up a Court of Inquiry, and again I said "No." The time for the running out of notices came, and, when they found that a Court of Inquiry was not going to be set up, they came together and settled by midnight. I give that as a case out of my own experience. In cases of a similar kind in Canada, where you do get a developed industry, it has been found that to have too many Courts of Inquiry does not promote industrial peace but hampers the possibility of it. Let me give an extract from Sir Andrew Duncan's Report of the Provincial Royal Commission set up in Canada to go into the coal-mining industry in Nova Scotia. Sir Andrew Duncan, as everybody knows, is a very experienced negotiator in industrial matters. I quote from his Report:It seems to us on the evidence we have heard that it is not an accident that the history of this coalfield for so many years back has been a record of Conciliation Boards and Commissions. It was most unfortunate that such outside help was so accessible to the industry, for what happened constituted, in our view, an abuse of conciliation machinery. Reliance upon outside persons and influence was developed to such an extent that both sides ranged themselves as two separate forces, and abandoned any attempt to see what was reasonable in the contention of the other. Worse still, a policy of this kind within the industry was bound to lead to a game of tactics, and we have evidence from witnesses on both sides as to the practice of tactics, which could only result in a graver misunderstanding of each other. It is not necessary for us to enumerate all the directions in which this misunderstanding developed and strengthened.From these and similar cases, I contend that it is quite clear that the moment you get an obligatory power to demand a court of inquiry, when you have got negotiating machinery, you may stultify the working of it. That is one reason which would make me hesitate in apply 879 ing the Canadian method without change in this country.
I wholly and entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting when he says it is because these disputes get into the papers that the attention of the public and the attention of those in the political world are directed to them. What the public does not generally realise is the vast number of troubles which are settled without ever attracting public notice or coming to their knowledge at all. Ninety per cent. of the possible troubles in the industrial world are never mentioned in the daily Press. These disputes are settled peaceably by negotiation, and because they are settled peaceably by negotiation, no one knows about them. They are the cases in which the ordinary normal voluntary machinery has acted successfully, and, again, I would submit to the Committee that disputes like the coal dispute of last year are absolutely abnormal cases. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill"?] I do not wish to be diverted except to make this reply. I am talking about the industrial strike and not the general strike. What I would ask the Committee to be careful about is not to prejudice the success of machinery, which without question, operates successfully in 90 per cent. or more than 90 per cent. of the cases.
There is one further fact that appeals to me. I am not certain whether Members opposite will agree with me but I think so. I am a novice as compared with them in the question of trade union management, but it has always seemed to me, trying from the outside to understand some of these questions, that what is really necessary on the workers' side in this country is to try to maintain discipline within a trade union by the trade union officials. It must, from time to time, be an extraordinarily difficult thing for the trade union officers to do so. I think the reason is obvious. When you get a person who has risen in the trade union world and occupies a very responsible position, the strain upon him is often very much greater than it is on many other people in other positions. Many of us would find it hard to say "No" if it meant losing a position to which we attached 880 value. But I should think it would be much more difficult in many cases for the trade union official to say "No" when it might mean that he would not only lose his position to which he attached value but would lose his livelihood as well.
I say this from both points of view, but more from the trade unionist point of view than from that of the employers. Suppose you get a demand—I take the trade union side but it applies to the other side also—for a rise in wages, or a demand of some other kind put forward by some branch of the trade union. It might quite well be, as is often the case, that the demand might not be justified or advisable. Normally speaking, in some cases, when an unauthorised strike has occurred, the trade union official would recognise perfectly well that he ought to tell the men that, in his opinion, because he has knowledge of circumstances which they do not possess, they ought to go back to work, or accept some settlement which he knows is either a right settlement or the only settlement that there can be. But it is not always easy to give that advice. In these circumstances, I put it to any thinking person that it is not a good thing to be able to point to an obligatory court of inquiry as an easy way out of the difficulty. It is an easy way of shouldering the responsibility on to someone else. I put it to any thinking person, irrespective of politics, that it would be a wrong thing to prevent responsibility from being shouldered by those by whom it ought to be shouldered, even though the stress of it may be great.
I have put forward some of the difficulties which I think would apply to the Canadian system in this country as compared with other countries. I think that the possible advantage of publicity has been greatly overstated. We have been given as an argument in favour of introducing the Canadian system into this country the publicity that might have been given to the facts in the coal dispute. Gracious Heaven! I should have thought that if there was ever one dispute in all the world in which there has been publicity enough, it was in the coal dispute.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The publicity in connection with the coal dispute, complicated as that industry is, has been more than has been given in any other industry in the whole history of this or any other country. The accounts are audited by auditors of both sides, who gave the figures. There was a court of inquiry in 1924, a court of inquiry in 1925, and there was the Coal Commission set up in order to go into the matter.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am not for a moment asserting that the accountants had that power. What I am saying it that there was much more information in regard to the coal industry than there was in regard to any other industry under Heaven. There have been courts of inquiry one after another, there was the Coal Commission, and no possible new system in this country could ever have deluged the public with more information than has been given about that particular industry. That leads me to the conclusion that it is not so much the lack in this country of adequate conciliation machinery—I do not pretend for a moment that it is perfect—but what I think is needed more, in the employers' federation or in the trade union as the case may be, is a development of the machinery actually down in the factories and workshops. I am inclined to think that a good deal is needed down there.
We sent a Commission to the United States, and they came back, after having had a most useful investigation there. Nearly all the experiments tried in the United States have a counterpart in this country in some industry or another; but that we can generalise good practices more if industries would learn from one another I have no doubt whatever. That is one of the ways in which advancement could be made. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) spoke of the iron and steel industry. That points along another line. In that industry, as he said quite truly, there has been no 882 dispute for 50 years. It is so in the boot and shoe trade, and to a very large measure in the cotton trade, and we have other trades with similar records. In what respect do those trades differ from the trades in which there have been disputes? They have similar difficulties, but it has been much more a question of the spirit which has been in those trades than the machinery by which the differences have been handled on either side.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
On both sides. We have a highly-developed negotiating machinery, although I do not say that it is perfect by any manner of means. We wish, if possible, to find some way of avoiding a repetition of the national disgrace of last year. I am not now apportioning the blame, but that the country as a whole was disgraced is beyond question. If it be possible to devise any other form of machinery, well and good, let us try it! I would say to the hon. and learned Member who moved the new Clause, and to those who have supported it, that I will do anything in my power to see whether, as far as machinery is concerned, there are any improvements in our conciliation machinery that we can explore. I would say to the hon. Member who interrupted me, and to the right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), that this Bill may be a matter of controversy—it is a controversy between us as to who was responsible and what was responsible—but leaving aside the question of this Bill, let us have conciliation. I would gladly see that a really good investigation by a Committee or some body of a similar kind should be instituted in order to try to see what improvements in connection with industrial disputes can be suggested. I am loth to accept the Canadian form, without amendment, for the reasons which. I have stated, and I am equally loth to believe that no improvement in machinery is possible, although I do say, in the long run, and of this I am convinced, that machinery by itself will not accomplish the ends we have in view; there must also be the will to work it.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
No, Sir, they are not, and the employers are not, and one reason why they are not is that there is no certainty of a court of inquiry being set up. My argument is that if it were possible for either side to have a court of inquiry set up on demand, it would very likely short-circuit or stultify the negotiations that might otherwise take place.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)
I very much deprecate the habit of asking questions immediately a Minister has finished his speech.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
On a point of Order. May I explain the position? The right hon. Gentleman said that he would gladly explore the position, and appoint a Committee. I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if he could give us an opportunity of a little further talk as to the kind of Committee he would appoint. Obviously, the attitude of the Mover of the Amendment depends upon that.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. and learned Member can rise again on that point, but I do deprecate the habit of speakers on both sides putting questions to a Minister immediately he has sat down.
§ Mr. MORRIS
The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is in favour of a spirit of conciliation in industry and will further it as far as he possibly can; but in other parts of his speech I feel that he was not really expressing his own point of view. In the reason he gave for rejecting this new Clause, he said that to transplant the Canadian Act and put it into force in this country would not prove a success. That may very well be. To transplant the Canadian Act in its entirety and try to work it in this country and expect it to work perfectly at the very beginning would be a mistake. The hon. and learned Member who moved the 884 new Clause does not expect that the Clause would work perfectly from the beginning nor that it will prevent disputes such as the dispute in the coal trade last year.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the great information that has been circulated in regard to the coal trade and said that there had been inquiry after inquiry, committee after committee, and that despite all these committees and inquiries, and despite the multiplicity of information that was available, these activities failed to prevent the dispute and disaster of last year. That may very well be true, and it might very well be true that even the inquiry the conciliation inquiry set up under this new Clause would fail, but we have to remember what has occurred in the history and growth of the common law and the commercial law of this country. One finds in that something of the nature of what is being attempted in this new Clause. The common law of this country has grown up by inducing the people to take their disputes to Court, and the same applies to the commercial law, to be adjudicated upon. In regard to the commercial law, the Judges have interpreted the commercial customs and they have gradually brought the commercial people of this country into the habit of bringing their disputes to be adjudicated upon in a Court of law. That process has been gradually built up in regard to the common law and the commercial law, and the consequence is that people have recourse to the Courts for the settlement of their disputes.
This new Clause may be a small beginning, but it is a beginning in the right direction. It is no answer for the right hon. Gentleman to say that 90 per cent. of the disputes are settled without recourse to any tribunal. It is fortunate for the prosperity of the country that 90 per cent, of the disputes are so settled, and they would he settled in the same way whether this Clause were accepted or not. This Clause is designed to deal with the circumstances which arise in the remaining 10 per cent. of cases. The right hon. Gentleman said that the remaining 10 per cent. might he even more serious than the 90 per cent. which were settled without difficulty, and that they might be in the major industries of the country, as we witnessed last year. Any step taken 885 in the direction suggested by this new Clause is a step that could not but be welcomed by all those people in this country, and there are many, the vast majority, who are hoping for some machinery of conciliation to bring about settlements in industry, without the strikes and lock-outs that we have seen in far too great a number during the last few years.
The right hon. Gentleman, in the first part of his speech, said that this new Clause would be out of place in the Bill. I confess that I have some sympathy with that reason. It may be out of place in this Bill, but it is not out of place for the reason which the right hon. Gentleman gave. He says that the Bill is limited to dealing with the situation arising from the general strike of last year. The Bill is not limited to that, it goes much beyond it. It cannot be said that the Clause dealing with the political levy has anything to do with the general strike of last year, and if it goes beyond the situation of last year on one particular point, why cannot it go a step further and do something of real value to industry by accepting this new Clause, which is the most valuable attempt to bring about peace in industry that has been made during the whole of the Debates and discussions on the Bill. I congratulate the hon. and learned Member and those associated with him in bringing before the Committee this new Clause. It is. at any rate, a solid attempt to bring about a discussion on industrial peace. I listened with amazement to the speech of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr Hopkinson) and his interpretation of the new Clause. I wondered whether he had even read it. He instanced the anthracite area of West Wales, and said that some of the smaller concerns, finding themselves unable to pay the wages, would give 30 days' notice, and at the end of the notice would find themselves in the position of being compelled to go on paying wages and losing largo sums of money week after week pending a decision of the court of inquiry.
This new Clause does not deal with strikes but with disputes. Why should the owners in the anthracite area wait until notices have been given? There is nothing which compels them to wait until then. Before the notices are 886 handed in there is, presumably, a dispute in regard to wages in the industry, and immediately that dispute arises, assuming them to be men of vision, the first thing they will do is to apply to the Minister of Labour for a tribunal to be set up for conciliation negotiations. That could be done before the notices are given. The second provision is that the Minister of Labour, after he has received this application, must within 15 days set up the tribunal, and if it is a matter of urgency, the tribunal can hear the evidence, and make their findings before the notices have expired. There would be no hardship inflicted by this proposal, and, therefore, the whole opposition of the hon. Member for Mossley goes by the board.
I welcome this attempt. No one can hope too much from it, but it is a beginning in the right direction. It is a beginning from which we may build up in the future, as we have built up in the commercial world, the industrial law of this country to which the partners will become accustomed to bring their disputes in exactly the same way as the commercial people bring their disputes to the Courts at the present time. It may be unfortunate that the proposal is connected with this Bill, but it may do good, and it may even go a long way to negate the spirit of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) said that the remaining part of the Bill is couched in an hostile spirit, that this is the spirit of the conciliation, and the two do not go together. I agree with that interpretation. This proposal deals with disputes, whereas the Bill deals with strikes, which may or may not be criminally illegal. This has no effect at all on strikes, but the merits of a strike can be thrashed out before a tribunal, and it may indeed save people from becoming engaged in a criminal and illegal strike afterwards. The fact that matters have been thrashed out before a tribunal may act as a sufficient warning to people who might otherwise find themselves engaged in a criminal and illegal strike. From that point of view, this new Clause, although it is not consistent with the spirit of the Bill, may go a long way to negate the effects of the Bill itself, and I am sorry the Government has not thought fit to accept it.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
The reception given to this proposal in every part of the Committee is certainly encouraging, but I must frankly confess that the reception given to it by the Minister of Labour was not quite as helpful as some of us had hoped. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), although he devoted the major portion of his speech to matters which are not germane to this proposal, did go so far as to bestow a kind of mild blessing on the idea contained in the new Clause. Although he thought it right to make it clear that, in his opinion, the iniquities of the employers are the main causes of all our industrial distresses, it did not appear to strike him that all his arguments were really arguments in favour of the working of some such machinery as is proposed working this new Clause. The question as to whether the men are wrong, or whether the employers are wrong, is quite outside the question as to whether this proposal is or is not likely to be a useful part of our industrial machinery.
There has been general accord given to the principle of an extension and strengthening of our method of conciliation, and we must frankly admit that in proposing the inclusion of a new Clause, introducing a very large and important principle, we do not expect the Government of the day to accept it as it stands at once. The Parliamentary opportunity of bringing forward for the first time during the whole of these discussions, which have ranged around the question of trade union organisation and industrial organisation the question of industrial peace was an opportunity which we thought it would be wise to use and we hope that some useful purpose may have been served by bringing it into the discussions. The arguments which the Minister of Labour has used against the particular character of this new Clause did not seem to me to be in conformity with its wording. He referred to the number of disputes which are settled by the ordinary means of agreements within the industry, but he did not refer to the fact that the Clause itself is limited to certain industries. The 90 per cent. of disputes which he has told us are settled by agreement would be disputes which are not included within the terms of this new Clause, and the whole part of his argument on this point was not I suggest 888 relevant to the new Clause, but was more relevant to the general question of compulsory arbitration. He referred also to the question of publicity. In the coal dispute he told us that we had almost too much publicity, too much inquiry.
The important principle contained in this new Clause is the principle of recommendation. We have had quite enough publicity and discussion, but we have never had any real unambiguous recommendations. The whole trouble of the Courts of Inquiry, including the Royal Commission, was that their recommendations were of such an ambiguous character that they led to quarrels as to what they really meant, and no one knows what their decisions really mean to-day. They did not make any really definite recommendations as to what should be done in the particular circumstances of the case. This is provided for in the new Clause Apart from these considerations, I urge the Government seriously to consider what is to be the next step in the development of our industrial structure. They say that it is not possible to accept this particular Clause now. I readily admit that the whole question is of such a grave and fundamental character that it may not be proper for the new Clause to be accepted at the last minute and inserted in a Bill of this character. But I press the Government as to what is really their policy on the question of out industrial reorganisation.
We have dealt, and I think properly, in this Bill with the necessary restrictive action in order to prevent the misuse of trade union activities and a repetition of the outrage which was inflicted upon the nation last year. But is the Government going to give its mind now to the development of a policy to provide for the legitimate use of trade union activities, to give a scope to the peace side of the necessary functions of trade unions? Having dealt with certain sides of our industrial organisation, which it has become necessary to deal with by way of negative legislation, is the Government going to proceed to bring forward any positive suggestion for the improvement of our working system. Many people hold that the less the Government interferes in industry the better. I agree that the interference of a Government which is spasmodic in its character, which is always ad hoc, which is always late, which is always ineffective, the kind of 889 interference into which every Government is forced, is very much to be deprecated; but to create and set up a workable system, an organisation by means of which we may hope to prevent disputes and arrange settlements in those industries in which it has been difficult to reach agreement in the past, is a very different form of interference. In fact, whenever there is a dispute in any large trade the Government is forced in the long run to take some action. We have learned, or we should have learned, the bitter lesson that the hand which it takes can never be of any use because it is a form of interference which always comes at a point in the dispute when it has become almost hopeless to find a settlement.
The Minister of Labour has told us that he cannot accept this proposal, but that he is prepared and anxious to do anything for the development of some conciliation machinery in order to improve industrial relations in the future. He has said that he is prepared to set up a Committee. I think we are entitled to ask him what kind of Committee he contemplates. A Committee is a very vague thing. It may be a convenient means by which a subject is discussed and reported on, and then forgotten, or it may be the beginning of a real useful form of positive constructive ideas. I hope that before the end of these Debates the Minister of Labour will be able to tell us a little more of his ideas and what steps the Government propose to take. I hope he will give us some encouragement to believe that the Government, having done their duty to protect the interests of the community, and the true interests of the trade union organisations, by the operative Clauses of this Bill, are not content with this negative aspect of their policy, but that they will proceed to a constructive and positive attempt to bring about some new features in our industrial organisation which may lead to more peace in industry in the future than we have experienced in the recent past.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
The suggestion in the proposed new Clause and Schedule deserves at least some consideration from the Committee, although I agree with the Minister of Labour that it is most inappropriate in connection with this particular Measure. This Bill is a desperate 890 attempt by a Government representing the governing classes and industrialists of this country, not only to interfere with the functioning of trade unionism, but to smash it for all effective purposes. The Bill, in my opinion, is a very horrible instrument, intensely suggestive of class hatred and prejudice, arid a proposal of this kind which has at least the appearance of containing within it a germ of conciliation should find no place in such a Bill. The proposal, with which I shall deal later, would be entirely out of place in this Bill. Everyone on this side of the Committee was interested on seeing this proposed new Schedule on the Order Paper. When I saw that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) was to move it, I had smite hope, but when I saw also attached to it the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) I smelt fish immediately. One is bound to have some suspicion of proposals brought forward by such mixed company.
The hon. and gallant Member who spoke last deprecated the interference to any great extent of the Government in industrial questions, but at the same time he is desirous, by the very nature of the proposition he makes, of interfering to some extent. The inconsistency of that position is obvious to those of us who sit on this side of the Committee, and with all respect to the hon. and gallant Member, it seems to us to mean "Interfere by all means, where you are crushing the strength of organised labour, but, for Heaven's sake, do not interfere where it is a question of inquiring into the ramifications of capitalism." I think this proposal aims in the wrong direction. Paragraph (3) suggests that a board of three members should be appointed by the Minister. Any proposal of the kind, to be considered calmly and with a desire to avoid industrial disputes, should aim, first, at setting up machinery within the industries themselves instead of having it forced upon the disputing parties by the Minister or the Government. The Minister of Labour spoke correctly and truthfully when he said that those of us who have the responsibility of serving or leading—you can accept whichever term you like—the trade union movement, do not desire strikes. We certainly do not. They are very regrettable occurrences and 891 anything which can be brought to the consideration of Parliament, of industry or of the nation generally, with a view to avoiding them is certainly worthy of close attention. But to force a proposal of this kind from the top, when a dispute has been nearly brought to a head, is in my opinion the wrong way to do business.
If I may say a few words with regard to the railway conciliation machinery, I would point out that it was set up not to deal with a specific dispute, but was set up under the Act of 1921 with the object of avoiding future disputes and it has been beneficial to all concerned. I think it has served an extremely useful purpose and has saved the nation from many railway disputes. I want the Committee to recognise that there may be somewhere beneath the words of this very lengthy proposed Schedule a germ of something which it may be to the advantage of the nation to consider. But the railway machinery goes much further than anything suggested in this proposed Schedule. As the Minister of Labour said, it extends right down to the stations and the depots where committees of the men, elected by ballot vote, meet the local representatives of the railway companies dealing with those stations or depots. Many little sores are salved and, many little grievances rectified in this way before they reach the point of causing an explosion such as they often did in the past.
That system is followed up by further negotiations between the elected representatives of the men and the appointed officers of the employing company, dealing with the general conditions of service. The system is beneficial in one or two respects and one very important respect is that it brings the workman, as apart from the permanent officer of the trade union, into close touch with the difficulties which confront him as well as the managerial and employing representatives. Then there is the national machinery which, while not always operated as fully and justly as we think it might have been, has prevented disputes and has, in some cases, given a measure of justice to the employé not previously conceded. I suggest to the proposers of this new Schedule that they do not go far enough and that they begin 892 in the wrong direction. If they aimed at fostering and supporting the idea of getting the industries themselves to set up some understandable and generally agreed upon machinery for the avoidance of disputes, it would be all to the good. As I say, to force it from the top especially in a Measure of this kind would be disastrous and would only cause greater suspicion and doubt.
What I suggest to the Committee is this. Any suggestion of this kind which emerges from any committee of inquiry set up by the Minister of Labour ought to be frank, open and above-board. It ought to be straightforward. Members of the House of Commons at all events ought not to talk about these problems with their tongues in their cheeks and my regrettable experience, after a good many years of trade union membership, and 17 years as a trade union officer or servant, is that we have only been able to get justice when we have been sufficiently powerful to enforce it. We have never, unfortunately, got it on the strength of argument or from the spirit of fair play, except in isolated cases. Lest I may have been too general in my statement, and lest I may have given an impression which I do not desire to give, I shall quote one small instance where there was a measure of fair play such as inspires faith and understanding and has very good effects. It represents a spirit which ought to be more widely spread in our industrial relations. Prior to the grouping of the railways in their present form, a certain small railway company was in great difficulties. I arranged a meeting with the officers of that company who went into the matter with me and produced facts and figures. Our union having had the facts proved to us at once gave a considerable amount back to the employing company. When the disastrous period passed over, the railway company found that they were not in the regrettable position which they had anticipated and they frankly told us so and paid the money that had been given up by the men.
That is one instance which illuminates the possibilities if we frankly tackled questions of this sort, but it is only an exception which proves the regrettable rule I have already mentioned. Any inquiry by any board of conciliation or arbitration, such as is suggested here, should be full, exhaustive and frank. If 893 the intention is only to curb the activity of trade unionism and render nugatory its organised strength, the promoters of this proposal had better leave it alone. If it is intended that there shall be a square deal and that the inquiry shall be exhaustive, then it is not sufficient for the employers' representatives at such an inquiry merely to say that they have not got the money. Their facts ought to be proved because we must remember that to-day the rank and file in trade unionism are better educated in economic matters than they were a few years ago. The rank and file keep records of the welfare of the various great capitalist firms. They know the bonuses that are paid; they know the water that is in the stock; they know that a five per cent. dividend paid to-day may represent on the original invested capital, 25 or 30 or 40 per cent. These men know that when the lean time comes along the employer wants the rank and file to share his losses, but that the gains are never shared fairly with them. Any inquiry of the kind suggested should go right down to the roots. If it does not do so it will be simply a farce, and as I have said it will represent the attitude, "Interfere most certainly to crush, to keep down, to intimidate trade unionism, but do not interfere if it is a case of inquiring where the money goes to on the capitalist side." That leads us nowhere, and when the rank-and-file of trade unionists know where the wealth goes, know that the surplus value of their labour goes abroad in exchange for all manner of luxuries which are enjoyed by the few only, they feel they have not had a square deal. My own organisation, suffering financially as a result of the dispute of last year, has been preparing for the next battle by conserving its funds. It went to the officials first, to the people who get something more than the ordinary rank-and-file, and those people have given a contribution of about 40 per cent. of their income towards rebuilding the funds, while the rank-and-file, the workers themselves, are asked for about 15 per cent, increased contributions. If there were fair-play in industry and a square deal for the workers, the first thing done when an industry was said to be uneconomic would he to make the biggest cut from those who had had the "plums" in the past, those who had got away with the dividends on the 894 watered stock, who had enjoyed the profits in the good times and were still getting profits, although the full extent of them was hidden by the amount of water in the stock; and then afterwards to come to the rank-and-file of the trade unionists, and I am confident that they, knowing they were getting a square deal, would do exactly as the members of my own organisation have agreed to do.
If we really want to have peace in industry and to avoid strikes, any machinery that is set up to ascertain whether the workmen are getting a square deal must interfere with the captains of industry and with the position of the shareholders. It is all very well to bring in this Measure. It will go through, not by reason of its justice, but by the weight of numbers behind it. It is all very well to try to draw the teeth of organised labour in this way, but the rebound from this repression will only be the greater. If there is to be any honest endeavour to try to avoid strikes by giving a square deal all round any inquiry will have to go deep. A short time ago I read in the newspapers of a provincial mayor, I think, who came to London with his wife. While they were coming from a theatre his wife was robbed of a pearl necklace valued at £6,000. The miner Members on these benches know the wages of the miners—
§ The CHAIRMAN
Surely the hon. Member is going rather wide of the question of the machinery to be set up.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
I am sorry if I was straying, but I was trying to illustrate the need for "no tongue-in-the-cheek machinery" to secure a fair deal, and I was saying that the workpeople when they are considering any inquiry such as has been suggested will be asking, "How many miners would have to work how many years to get enough coal to exchange for that £6,000 necklace?"
I would say to the supporters of this proposal that there is the germ of what is wanted in their suggestion. Everyone on this side of the Committee will be prepared to respond if we can have a square deal. In place of the barbarity of industrial warfare, which we hate just as we hate militarist warfare, we may get to the stage where there will be a response, gesture for gesture; but we want to know that it is going to be an 895 honest inquiry, going right down to the root of things, and that no employer shall be able to cloak and hide facts, and refuse to discuss certain things. If that is the position there may be some hope for this particular suggestion—certainly not in this Bill, though. I have always found the Minister of Labour willing to listen, and, if possible, to do what he can in the right direction—I frankly pay him that tribute, and I have pleasure in saying it—and I would urge him, when he sets up the Committee, to see that they have power to go right down to bed-rock, because otherwise they will be wasting their time and his in pursuing a chimera.
§ Sir EVELYN CECIL
I would like to say a few words following on what has been said. One reason is that I have been in one or two of the overseas Dominions when strikes were going on, and the other is that I would like to make some comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Bromley). I think he had before him a double issue. He spoke at one moment of setting up a Committee or Commission to inquire as to what is the best possible machinery for improving the means of securing conciliation in industry, and in the next breath he spoke of a Committee which was going to probe to the very bottom of a particular trade controversy or set of circumstances, which, after all, is a different point. We are urging to-day that an inquiry should be set up to ascertain what is the best possible machinery to avoid industrial disputes. I would like to see an absolutely square deal. I do not want one side or the other to get any advantage from the machinery. If the machinery is made to work as smoothly as possible, is as thoroughly oiled as possible, I think, as an outcome of the Debate this afternoon, it is very likely we should be able to take a satisfactory step forward. But good will on all sides is essential all the time.
I can see many of the difficulties which have been mentioned by the Minister of Labour. I was in Canada three years ago when there was a rather serious coal strike going on in the Fernie district just south of Calgary, in Alberta. It was said there were some 3,000 miners out. One of the Dominion 896 Ministers had come to Calgary expressly to see what could be done. He came back from the coalfield, one may say, empty-handed, not having been able to do anything. I saw him just afterwards in Calgary, and said, with a desire that we should get some better machinery in the old country, "Do you find this machinery of compulsory arbitration is very effective?" He said, "Yes, sometimes it certainly is." I rejoined, "Is the fact that there is on the Statute Book a law that arbitration shall be compulsory of assistance in securing industrial peace or the reverse?" He said, again, that sometimes it was of assistance, but he admitted that if a large body of miners declined to come into any arrangement, though compulsory arbitration might exist as a law on the Statute Book it was disobeyed in particular instances. That did not convince me that compulsory arbitration bras likely to be wholly successful. I had begun my inquiry in the hope that I might be able to propose here Bone machinery on the same lines, but the net result of my inquiries over there was that I came back feeling it was very difficult to set up general machinery, at any rate to judge by the particular developments in Canada at that time.
The Empire Parliamentary Delegation to Australia, of which I was a member, came across various industrial difficulties during its recent visit there. They have compulsory arbitration, but I should be inclined to speak with hesitation about it. As far as I could learn from legal quarters, I think it does not work wholly successfully. I do not want to be in any sense a critic, but, if a decision or award was not approved by the stronger party, there was a disposition there—I do not think we find it by any means so marked in this country—to start an agitation for a change in the law. These are merely comments on such personal experiences as I have been able to get. From the general tone of the Debate to-day, and from a convinced optimism that we might improve our methods for industrial peace, I think some advantage would be obtained by setting up a commission or committee to inquire into the machinery. I am not certain how far it would result in success, but from the speeches made I think there is a 897 hope for it, and certainly no one could be more anxious than myself and other hon. Members to see a step forward in that direction.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The right hon. Member for Aston (Sir E. Cecil) told us that he learned in Canada that only sometimes did compulsory arbitration prevent disputes. I would like to point out to him that only sometimes do the police prevent crime and burglaries, and only sometimes, perhaps, will the League of Nations prevent war. I have not troubled the Committee very much during these Debates, but I think to-day has been about the most useful day we have had in this Committee, and I think many hon. Members will come to agree with that view. The declaration made by the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Bromley) ought to be noted throughout the country, particularly where he referred to Labour officials—he has the advantage over me as a trade union official; I have nothing to do with trade unions—hating in dustrial disputes as much as they hate international war. That declaration ought to be thoroughly well known throughout the country; it ought to be known in some of the London clubs and drawing-rooms, and in some of the London newspaper offices. We on these benches must recognise, if we are working towards a co-operative Socialist State, that some such system as has been tried in Canada or Australia must be attempted here. If there is to be State control of industries, there must be some such machinery as is proposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division (Sir L. Scott). It does not prevent the ultimate resort to a strike, but it does insist on some investigation. I think we have to face that position.
A good deal has been heard in this Debate about Canada, and I have been wondering whether the Minister of Labour has been watching what is being done in Italy under the Fascist Government. Incidentally, I may say that the Italian newspaper which supports the Fascist regime welcomes this Bill as going much further than anything the Fascist Government have attempted to do, and they congratulate this country upon following the lead of the Fascists. In Italy strikes are forbidden, and in 898 that way they go further than the Attorney-General's proposals in this Bill. Certain machinery is set up in Italy providing for arbitration, and the system takes away altogether the right of the men to strike. I do not know if the Attorney-General has time to study what has been going on in Italy, but. I would commend to him a cursory glance at the proposed complicated Charter of Labour which has just been introduced in Italy, because then he will learn, that whereas the Fascist Government of Italy propose to prevent strikes and provide for compulsory arbitration by appointing an independent authority, they say, at the same time, that in Italy they cannot afford strikes because they have to reconstruct their country. Nevertheless, the Fascist Government do guarantee the workers a minimum standard of life, and a minimum number of holidays on full pay. In Italy they do see that the workers are not overworked, and, if they are dismissed through no fault of their own, they receive compensation. These are the things which are provided for under the Italian Charter of Labour. Let me point out that although by this Bill the Government weaken the right of the workman to withdraw his labour no attempt whatever is made to guarantee the wages of the workmen and their hours of labour.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will recognise that the arguments he is using are rather wide of the machinery of conciliation.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I was only referring to what the Minister of Labour said in describing the events of last year as an outrage, and I was simply suggesting that in this matter the Government were accessories before the fact. Now the Government have refused the only constructive suggestion which has been made from the other side of the House. Nevertheless, the Government have rejected this one constructive proposal with one hand and they offer nothing with the other hand to the wage-earners of the country. The wage-earners of this country have been weakened by five successive years of bad trade and unemployment, and during that time thousands of small house owners have had to sell their property and pledge the family furniture. They have had to use up their savings and 899 now they need our help. Therefore I say that the Government by such proposals as those which are contained in this Bill are treating the people of this country far worse than the Fascist Government treat their people.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That argument seems to be even less relevant than the hon. and gallant Gentleman's former argument.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am afraid, Mr. Hope, that you did not catch my earlier remarks that, after all, in Italy they have this machinery for conciliation which goes farther than the Clause proposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool. I have already said that I think this proposal is probably the most useful we have had in all the discussions on this Bill. I have many acquaintances in the country, and I am privileged to know people in all walks of life, including employers, landowners, workpeople and trade union officials, and I find that outside the comparatively narrow minority of people who take an active day-to-day interest in politics, the real question that interests the ordinary man or woman is how the business of the country can best be carried on to improve the lot of the people without falling back upon the strike weapon. This is a feeling which prevails to-day amongst the people of all ranks of society, and I welcome what the Government have said with regard to the proposed committee. I think there ought to be a discussion on this subject at once between the leaders of all parties and the Government as to the form of the committee to be set up. I do not want the proposal of the right hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division to pass without some result coming from it.
We have been told again and again that it is only in certain cases that conciliatory machinery will be effective. In his speech the Minister of Labour seemed to me to go back upon some of his previous statements in that direction. Nevertheless, as long as there is some chance of avoiding industrial disputes, I hope we shall continue our efforts in that direction, and in doing that I hope we shall not weaken in any way the ulti 900 mate bargaining power in the hands of the workers, who know that in the last resort they can withdraw their labour when this course is forced upon them by short-sighted employers. I think anything that can be done by this House to prevent such disputes should be done. We meet here in this Committee and talk month after month, Session after Session, and year after year, and yet the country continues to suffer from the results of bad trade and continued pressure on the wages of the workers, and every now and then this state of things results in an industrial explosion. Then hon. Members opposite come here and talk about this being an outrage on the nation, and they introduce a Bill of the kind we are now discussing. That is the sort of thing the Committee should tackle. I welcome the proposal which has been made, which is similar to one I made, to have a conference of all parties in order to see whether we can find some practical suggestion for improving the lot of the people of this country who are now suffering their sixth year of industrial depression.
This is the first time I have spoken during the Debates on this Bill, but I feel it my duty, representing as I do an industrial constituency of no small proportions, to support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) on this occasion. I am rather tired of hearing people say that we cannot do this or that. We can do things in this country which they cannot do either in Fascist Italy or in Communist Russia, because the people of this country are, as a rule, practical people, and approach all things from the point of view of, "Does it work?" or "Will it work?" or "Can we make it work?" I feel quite convinced that if half-a-dozen knowledgeable people selected from the benches opposite and from the Government benches were to go into this matter in a spirit of good will, and with a desire to find a means of preventing industrial disputes, they could devise industrial machinery which would be better than any machinery of the kind which has yet been set up.
People say that you cannot avoid strikes and lock-outs, but I do not believe them any more than I believe those people who used to say that you 901 could not avoid duels. As a matter of fact, in this country we, have avoided duels and we have abolished them, and now we regard them as an entirely barbarous practice. I do hope that, if not in my time, at any rate in my son's time, the people of this country will look back upon strikes and lock-outs as they now look back upon duelling, and regard them as a barbarous relic of olden times. I, therefore, support the proposal of my right hon. and learned Friend as a practical one in the direction of practical good will. On the economic side I know that millions of days have been lost through somebody's fault or foolishness, and on this point I agree with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) that we want the workers to feel that they are having a square deal and are being treated fairly. It is no use telling the worker that if an employer wishes him to take less wages or to work longer hours during times of adversity in the industry he should do so, and telling him at the same time that he is not entitled to better conditions and wages when industry is flourishing. I want to see some sort of machinery set up which will stop all the misery inflicted upon the women and children of our industrial classes when the men go on strike, or when the employers lock them out. No one who went through the colliery areas as I did could do so without feeling the utmost distress at the conditions which prevailed in those districts during the recent strike. Much as the Poor Law officers and the charitable agencies did to relieve distress, distress did exist, and I am convinced that if some machinery of this kind is set up we shall do away very largely with those distressing periods which we have gone through from time to time, particularly in the industrial Midlands and Northern counties.
The Minister of Labour says that he will appoint a Committee, and I want to press upon him that he shall appoint the Committee now and at once, and, as soon as ever he can, take into his confidence hon. Members from other parties in the House. I want to say that we who are in favour of the Clause—and I am sure I am speaking for my right hon. and learned Friend the Mem 902 ber for the Exchange Division—will accept the Committee, provided it is appointed at once, and that it gets to work at once, and that the Government will pledge itself, at any rate, to try to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee within the life of this Parliament. I do not know, and none of us knows, how long our Parliamentary life may last—not even the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) is sure of it—but it would be something for all of us who sit in this Parliament to remember and look hack upon with pride if we coud say that during this Parliament a Committee was set up, and an Act of Parliament was passed which did away, or largely did away, with the industrial upheavals which caused so much wretchedness, misery and loss to the country. I am entirely in agreement with the proposals of my right hon. and learned Friend, and I trust the Government will give us a pledge to appoint the Committee as speedily as possible, and see that it gets to work at once, and that the proper and appropriate legislation shall be introduced without further delay.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I think everyone in the Committee is in favour of the principle of the Clause, if it stands alone, and, indeed, I myself in the Second Reading speech I made, took objection that while all this time and energy was given to creating industrial discord, no thought at all had been given to bringing the two disputants amicably together. Of course, the suggestion in the Clause is not compulsory arbitration. That would never do. It has been found unworkable everywhere. I saw it was unworkable in Australia, and it has proved unworkable in Canada. The suggestion is a very much better one, if it stands alone. It is to set up machinery whereby the disputants can come together, put their cards on the table, thrash out their differences, and do it before a body of impartial men who understand the situation, and who will make suggestions. In that way it would be likely that they would leave the conciliation chamber having understood one another's point, of view, and there would be no further quarrel. That is how it works. In Australia, where they have conciliation and arbitration boards, it is very rarely, 903 indeed, that the disputes go to arbitration, and when they do, arbitration is futile, because you cannot enforce it. Most of them never go beyond the conciliation chamber. That is so much for the Clause, if it stood alone, but to bring this Clause in—though this is not the intention of the right hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division, who is a very broad and fair-minded man—at the end of a Bill of this character, is not only to neutralise its effect, but to change its whole quality and, really, is an insult to the workers. Why do I say that? If you have two disputants, both free men, you can say to them, "Well, now, gentlemen, before you have recourse to fisticuffs do come together before me, and let us see if we cannot settle the thing amicably." That is fair, and it is the meaning of conciliation, where you both are free parties; but here you first bind one of them hand and foot, and then leave the other free, and having done that, say, "Now, having bound you, Mr. Man, and having left you free, Mr. Master, come together and try and settle your differences."
That is what this Clause does at the end of this Bill. Why do I say that? If this Bill were not passed, the position would be this. You would have the men able to say to the employers, "Well, now, if you do not come to our terms, we can stop away from your works, and you will lose money," and the employers can say to the men, "If you do not come to our terms, we can close the door, and you will lose your wages." There you have a bargaining instrument of equal weight on both sides, and in those circumstances conciliation machinery is perfectly fair and just. What is the effect of the Bill? It is true that in terms the restrictive Clauses are made equally applicable both to lockouts and strikes, but, in fact, it is and will be, most unequal in its operation. You say to the men, "In 60 or 70 per cent. of the cases where you now can legitimately strike, you no longer can do so."
§ The CHAIRMAN
It seems to me that the hon. and learned Member is attempting to re-discuss Clause 1.
§ Mr. HARNEY
No; I beg your pardon. I am directly on the point that this Clause, brought in at the end of this Bill, is objectionable, and I am showing that though, if the Clause stood alone, it would be excellent in principle, dovetailed into the Bill it is mischievous. That is what I am trying to show. By Clause 1 of the Bill, in 70 per cent. of the cases where the men have now the bargaining instrument of the strike, you are taking it away from them. Do you take the power of the lock-out away at all from the employers? I submit you do not.
§ The CHAIRMAN
An argument that the Bill contains highly controversial Clauses which will create great resentment, and that therefore people will not accept this other Clause in the proper spirit, would be in order, but were the hon. Member to argue as to whether the provisions regarding strikes are more stringent or less stringent than those as to the lock-out, he would simply be rediscussing Clause 1.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I assure you I am only developing this point. The point I was making was that though these conciliation provisions, standing alone are excellent, yet tacked on as they are to this Bill, they are bad. They are bad for this reason, that they are tacked on to a Bill which says, "When you proceed to conciliation under the provisions of the Clause, the men are approaching conciliation with only half the power which the employers are approaching it on their side."
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is exactly what the Attorney-General would no doubt dispute. I do not think he would be in order in disputing it, and therefore I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman can go further than to say, "In view of the highly controversial provisions of the earlier Clauses, I think this Clause is out of place." That is as far as he can go, but he is now going into the very controversial ground covered by Clasue 1.
§ Mr. HARNEY
Again, I beg pardon, I am not, I think. The Attorney-General puts forward this Bill and has argued that he has balanced things and put associations of employers in regard to the lock-out in identically the same position as men on strike. If that were so, 905 there would be a great deal to be said for the Clause, but I am showing that is not so. That is the point. I am showing that notwithstanding the argument of the Attorney-General, employers are not prevented under the Bill and the rights they now enjoy have not in any way been cut out, whereas the employés under the Bill have the rights they now enjoy cut down by 70 per cent.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is exactly what has been argued over and over again, not on one Clause but only yesterday on the Definition Clause. It would be perfectly in order on this Clause to reargue it on Report, but really it is not in order to bring in features of this sort, which will, if argued at all, be rebutted by others. We must stick to the question of conciliation machinery.
§ Mr. HARNEY
With all respect, you have not got the point I was making. Nothing in my submission can be more relevant to the point. Surely I am entitled to make this point, that the Clause is a bad Clause, because it is put into a Bill that does not give equal rights to the two parties who are parties to the conciliation. That is all I argued.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Yes, the hon. and learned Gentleman may urge that in one sentence, and the Attorney-General may entirely deny it in another, but if he proceeds to expand it, and show how these conditions are more favourable to one side or the other, then some other hon. and learned Member will proceed to argue that they are not, and we should get a considerable distance away from the point at issue.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I am only referring to it. I am asserting that the effect of this Bill is to allow employers to lock out as much after the Bill as they did before, and to prevent men from striking to anything like the extent after the Bill as they did before.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have very definitely said that It is not in order on this particular Clause, and I must ask the hon. and learned Member to conform to that.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I had accepted your ruling. I have now confined myself to assertion without attempting to prove my assertion. I had accepted your ruling, 906 and, therefore, I say that the Clause, excellent though it is in itself, ought not to be accepted by those who are opposed to the Bill, except on the promise of the whole of the rest of the Bill being withdrawn. If that be done, I am perfectly prepared to vote for the Clause, but if it be not done, I think the Clause is of a character entirely different from what it would be if it stood alone, and, therefore, must be measured in conjunction with the other Clauses in the Bill.
§ Mr. DUFF COOPER
I am afraid I labour under the same difficulty which you, Mr. Hope, have experienced in getting at the point of the hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney). His argument was that this Clause was bad because Clause 1 was bad, and he proceeded to point out the reason in what I consider to be an unwarrantable statement with regard to the effect of the Clause. You, naturally, would not allow me to follow him in that, or to controvert the utterly misleading statements that he made, but I think it would be in order to say that Clause 1 deals particularly—I think entirely—with strikes inside any particular industry, and not with disputes between employers and employés over hours of labour, conditions of labour or wages. Therefore, as the strike would not be affected at all by this conciliation Clause—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think this is just an example of that of which I have been speaking. If I allowed it, some other hon. Member would proceed immediately to argue that Clause 1 has no such effect, and we should get right away from this Clause. The hon. Member has denied what has been said, and I think we must leave it at that.
§ Mr. COOPER
I will content myself by saying that in one respect, at any rate, I am in agreement with the hon. and learned Member, and that is when he says that this Clause standing alone is a good Clause. I am sure the Government must be impressed by the fact that that is the view of every Member who has spoken this afternoon, with the solitary exception of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson). The hon. Member for Mossley is accustomed to being a solitary exception, and 907 I am sure he has no objection to that position. He takes the view that used to inspire the Liberal party, that any interference with industry by the State is not to be tolerated. He is a die-hard Liberal. He ought to be sitting on the Liberal Benches, and probably he is the only Member of the House who ought to be sitting on the Liberal Benches.
With that exception, those who have spoken this afternoon have been unanimous in favour of this principle, and I must say that I thought the two grounds that were given by the Minister of Labour for refusing to accept this Clause were not wholly adequate to the importance of the Clause and the principle contained in it. The Minister said, for instance, that, while this principle may have worked in Canada, that is no reason why it should work here, because distances in Canada are very much greater than they are here, and it is much more difficult for people to meet one another. That seems to me to be an insufficient reason for turning down this Clause. I should have thought that the fact that conditions are more difficult in Canada would afford less reason why this principle should work there, and that it would be more likely to work in this country. Perhaps the Minister would reply that that was not the line of his argument, but that he was rather arguing that in this country it was easier to get people together and bring them to terms, and that therefore it was unnecessary in this country to introduce any new machinery, such as had been found necessary in Canada, to deal with strikes and lock-outs. We know, however, that there are too many of these, and that they are ruining industry, and we cannot afford to do without useful machinery which has proved to be of real service in other parts of the world.
The Minister further argued that the proposal put forward was fallacious because it would lead people who were contemplating a dispute, once they knew that a conciliation board was sure to be set up, to give up attempting to come to terms, and they would waste, upon manœuvring for position, the time which they might profitably spend in coming to an understanding with each other. That is a perfectly sound argument so far as it goes, but it would 908 apply to every form of conciliation in the world. It would apply equally to the League of Nations. It might just as well be said that it is a great mistake, if a dispute arises, to resort to the League of Nations, because, instead of countries settling their problems in the old way through the medium of diplomatic representatives, they will now give up all attempt to negotiate, and simply manœuvre for position while their case is sub judice, before it comes before the League. It may be a great waste of time to manœuvre for position, but it is much better that nations should be manœuvring for position than that they should be preparing their armaments; and it is much better that employers and workmen should be manœuvring for position than that they should be preparing for the lock-out or the strike.
The hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Bromley), in his speech, misrepresented so entirely what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockton (Captain Macmillan) had said earlier in the Debate—I am sure his misrepresentation was unintentional—that I should like, if I may, to give my impression of what my hon. and gallant Friend's argument was. He said that interference with industry by the State might not always be a good thing, but that in certain cases it was absolutely necessary. When dealing with the essential industries of a great industrial country, the State, sooner or later, has to take a hand, and it is much better that it should not wait, as it always does now, until the question before it has assumed the most difficult position, until other means of conciliation have been exhausted, until the employers on the one hand, and the men on the other, are in a state of exasperation, and it is almost impossible to be of any use. Rather, in these essential industries, should it be clear from the first how far the State can intervene, how far the State should have control over both sides of these disputes, in order that, when difficulties come, its influence may be exercised in the most helpful and useful manner possible.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) that this has been, perhaps, the most interesting of the many days that we have spent in debating the 909 Clauses of this Bill, and I believe and hope it may prove to be the most pregnant of future development and of real reform. I am sure that we who believe in the efficacy of this Clause will accept most gratefully the promise made by the Minister of Labour this afternoon to set up a Commission. We shall hope that that Commission will be a practical one, will be one that will neither be too large nor have too wide terms of reference, and will not waste too much time, but will produce in the near future a Report which may serve as the basis of real practical legislation, which will be of more good in the future to the industry of this country than anything that has hitherto been proposed in any other quarter of the Committee. If that should he the result of this Debate, then I think we may say with certainty that this day will be one of the most memorable in the life of the present Parliament, and one of the most useful to the future industry of this country.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I am sorry that we have to discuss this question in the atmosphere in which we find ourselves. I am one of those who hold that this Clause is like trying to cover the gall with honey. I cannot imagine a Clause of this kind being put into a Bill of the description of that which we have been discussing, and in no circumstances would I vote for adding it to what I consider to be an attack on the trade unions. But when one comes to consider the principle of the Clause itself, I agree with the last speaker that it is most vitally important that we should clearly understand what we mean by conciliation, and how far we are prepared to go. I think that 90 per cent. at least of the people of this country are of the opinion that the strike or lockout is, and must remain, the most barbarous weapon in our armament, and that any method that can be found which will tend to decrease strikes or lock-outs is a method which is bound to bring incalculable benefit to the community. The only question that arises is, are the means of conciliation to be equal and fair to all —are they to be such as will lead to a contented working people living a contented and full life in a happy country? If they are, then, of course, nobody on this side of the Committee could oppose the idea of conciliation for a moment.
910 I am very keenly in favour of conciliation, because my experience has taught me that very rarely do strikes break out or are lock-outs declared on the merits of a case. Strikes and lock-outs nearly always occur because, the two sides having made extreme statements, a false amour propre enters into the case, and neither side will withdraw, the question of the merits of the case is considered by neither side, and a strike or a lock-out takes place. That has been my experience after a lifetime spent in the trade union movement. There are two things which will avoid this false amour propre plunging our country into wasteful and dangerous disputes. The public is always a sufferer in a big dispute, whether it be a strike or a lockout—and, incidentally, nearly all the big disputes within the last few years have been lock-outs and not strikes, a fact that is very often forgotten when we are discussing this matter. The public has a right to know, in case a very big dispute is threatened, what the facts of the case are, and the Ministry of Labour now has the power to take such steps as will lead to the public getting the facts of the case in the event of a threatened big dispute. Immediately a big dispute is threatened, the Ministry of Labour might use all its powers in the direction of bringing the facts to the surface, so that the public may judge. If the public know the facts of the case, then the false amour propre of either side cannot play the part that it does when the knowledge of the facts is confined merely to the two belligerents, and the outside public who suffer get no knowledge at all of what is going on.
There are, however, many things to be considered. Compulsory conciliation is spoken of, but there is plenty of voluntary conciliation now. Everyone who has been connected with an employers' association or a trade union knows that, of the cases of grievance that are dealt with in the course of the year, not one in a thousand ever comes to an open rupture. The best work of the Ministry of Labour is done where no one can see it—the conciliation work which stops disputes that no one ever knows anything about, for which the Minister gets no credit, but of which the country reaps the benefit in being spared the awful waste of a great stoppage. I think it would be a fine thing if the Ministry 911 of Labour had to publish annually in big letters a statement of the conciliation work that it does, and see that it got a wide circulation such as I am afraid it does not now get. A tremendous amount of work is done now in conciliation that ought to be known to the public of this country.
Having said that, as far as I am personally concerned, I am whole-heartedly in favour of any methods of conciliation that will reduce strikes and lock-outs, and while I am not speaking at all against the general principle of this Clause, I have to say that the Clause as it stands is absolutely unacceptable. This question is not a simple question, and the method that is adopted for dealing with it must be carefully considered. We cannot swallow holus-bolus a Clause like this. Let me give one concrete illustration to show the difficulty of adopting a method of national conciliation which will avoid disputes and will be just to both sides. Perhaps 90 per cent. of the grievances in the cotton trade of Lancashire are connected with what is known as bad material. This bad material may last a week, or a fortnight, or a month, and, obviously, unless it can be dealt with quickly, the worker has worked off this bad material, suffered all his losses, and come out on the other side, before he has any chance of redress. If this Clause were taken as it appears, it is fairly safe to say that in nearly all cases regarding bad material the machinery would not work until the worker had lost his wages through the bad material, or the bad material was cleared off, and, consequently, he would be likely to get nothing at all for the extra work he had done and the loss of wages involved.
I merely mention that not to stretch out a long argument, but to show that when conciliation of a national kind is put forward it must be discussed in an atmosphere of calm by people, some at any rate who have had experience of the negotiations that go on in conciliation negotiations cases. It must be discussed in an absolutely non-party spirit. It is impossible ever to have a system of national conciliation which is based on party. It can only be based on the general good understanding of all parties in the House and on common sense and fair play. I hope the result of this discussion will be that conciliation in trade disputes will 912 be furthered and that the object desired by the right hon. and learned Member can be attained. I could not vote for the Clause because of some of its passages, but, for my own part, whenever an opportunity is given to vote for an increase in the machinery of conciliation to make it more effective, and give the public a knowledge of what is going on, I hope I shall be found voting for these methods.
§ Mr. R. HUDSON
Those in favour of this new Clause sympathise to some extent with the position in which hon. Members opposite find themselves. They do not like the Bill, and they like the Clause, and they have difficulty in reconciling these two. At the same time, when the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) argues that all the disputes and stoppages since the Armistice were due to actions taken by the employers, some reply is required. That argument was completely met by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). If we had had this conciliation Clause, or something of the sort, in existence since the Armistice it would have been of enormous benefit to those persons on whose behalf the right hon. Member for Platting is speaking. The hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Bromley) made the point that it was useless to have conciliation machinery unless the men were assured of a square deal. He said it was useless to have an inquiry unless there was going to be access to all documents, and that it was necessary that neither the men nor the employers could conceal material facts. If the hon. Member had read the Clause he would have seen that precise regulations existed to that very effect and met the needs of the case of hon. Members opposite. Employers in this country, if they object to full disclosure of facts, prejudice the case against themselves. There is a on the part of the men very often that full facts have not been disclosed. I am perfectly certain that if we get some Act on the Statute Book to eliminate that suspicion, it will enable an inquiry to be held at which men will be convinced that they are getting a square deal. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour will appoint a Committee as soon as he possibly can, and that we shall have some sort of assurance from him that when the Committee reports, its Reports will be translated into action, 913 and not merely be pigeon-holed for some future generation of people, as so often happens.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I think those who refuse to give support to this new Clause are more consistent than its supporter, the right hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott), because I can see little or nothing in the new Clause which is consistent with the Bill. When I peruse the Clause and look back over the Bill and find Sub-section (2) in Clause 8, I see no connection between the Bill itself and the new Clause proposed. This Sub-section reads:In this Act the expression 'strike' means the cessation of work by a body of persons employed acting in combination, or a concerted refusal, or a refusal under a common understanding of any number of persons who are, or have been employed, to continue to work or to accept employment.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I was not going to deal with the Clause, but I was referring to the inconsistency between the new Clause and the Bill itself. In Clause 14 it is actually proposed to fine the workman anything from £10 up to £200. That is the only connection between the new Clause and the old Bill. A great deal has been said this afternoon about arbitration, compulsory and otherwise. I have had something to do with arbitration in my 30 years' experience of industry both as an advocate of the men and as an arbitrator appointed by the Government in three disputes in this country, and I want to put to the Committee what the reluctance of workmen is to arbitration, compulsory or any other kind. Like the rest of my colleagues who have spoken from these benches, and many hon. Members who have spoken from the opposite side, I deplore strikes and lock-outs. My 30 years have been employed in settling disputes. I know the harm it has done to industry, and particularly to employés in industry. I must draw the attention of the Committee, however, to the reluctance of the employés' side to arbitration. I was speaking to a very large employer of labour within the last few days and he asked my reason why our people were so reluctant to enter into a period of—to use a paradox-—compulsory, voluntary 914 arbitration, that is, to enter voluntarily into a period of compulsory arbitration. I pointed out to him that the great disadvantage from our side was that the employers had all the facts concerned, and that placed them at a very great advantage in arguing a case before an arbitration tribunal.
I want to tell the Committee what happened in 1919, a year to which reference has been made. The War machinery was carried over into the two subsequent years. During the year 1919 the arbitration hearings begun during the War were kept up. Forty-seven trades, including my own trade and the trade represented by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) appeared three times in that year. We argued all the technicalities, and brought the cost of food before the Court which sat within a few yards of where we are now sitting, but the result was that we did not get a farthing advance until December of that year. Had we known the relevant facts in the industry at the time, we could have put in an irrefutable case for an advance, and got it. The facts were that in the first eleven months of 1919 shipbuilding tonnage prices advanced by no less than 116 per cent. Yet we did not get any advance. Can you be surprised that not only the workmen but men like ourselves who have represented them all these years, have lost faith either in compulsory or any other kind of arbitration? We know that the real merits of the case are never dealt with at these arbitration cases. An ex parte statement is put up by both sides. The relevant facts are avoided by both sides. You will hear both sides going away from the tribunal at the luncheon hour congratulating themselves on being able to deceive the Court. I remember being appointed by the Government as one of three to sit in an arbitration court which concerned 20,000 men and £200,000 of money, and I remember hearing the case from 11 in the morning till 20 minutes past four in the afternoon, and I knew both sides were trying to mislead the Court. We came to a decision which subsequent events proved to be a right decision but not on the evidence before us.
If this Clause had really been in the Bill, and if the proposals of the Government arising out of last year's unhappy events could have been discussed in a constructive way it would have been far 915 better as far as the Government were concerned. I consider that the Minister of Labour and the Board of Trade could be a very great help to industry if they would gather together relevant facts and give access which employés have not at present. That would be very relevant, and very often bring about a settlement that otherwise would not be arrived at.
The iron trade was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) this afternoon as an industry in which there has been no dispute for 50 years. I think that was what he said. Well, there has been no dispute of any magnitude in that industry. There have been small disputes in some localities, but nothing in the way of a crisis has occurred in the iron trade for the last 60 years. The same is true of the boot trade, and why? Because these two trades are governed by a sliding scale. I am not one of those who are misled to the extent of believing that this system cannot be got round, but I do think the relevant facts concerning the industry are revealed to the employés. I have sat on the other side of the table in these conciliation tribunals. I was head of the men in a large shipbuilding yard before the War, and I sat on both sides of the table, and I know that what I am saying is true, that when an arbitration is held both sides are engaged in giving an ex parte case. The merits of the eases are not dealt with. Had we been dealing with this Clause as a constructive Measure by itself, I believe we could have hammered it into something, but it is not in conformity with the Bill and its principles are entirely out of place. This discussion has been very helpful, although it will lead to nothing constructive, but I believe, if the Attorney-General redrafted his Bill to-morrow, that we would have a different Bill from that which we have been discussing for the last few weeks.
§ Mr. RENTOUL
As one of those responsible for putting down this new Clause on the Order Paper, I naturally feel a very great deal of gratification at the almost unanimous chorus of approval with which the broad principle of it has been received on all sides of the Committee. In fact, that unanimity has been so great and so universal that 916 it tends to make one a little suspicious as to whether any practical result might come out, and that is why I venture to intervene for a minute or two in order to make an appeal to the Minister of Labour as to whether he could not be a little more definite with regard to the nature of the inquiry he is proposing to set on foot. That is a matter to which those who have the principles of this Clause at heart attach the utmost importance. The personnel of that inquiry, the scope and the terms of reference, the question as to whether they are to get to work almost immediately or to be delayed until some future date, should finally be decided, and, most important of all, some indication should be given as to whether, after that inquiry has reported, something practical might be done to give effect and force to its recommendations. I do hope that the Minister of Labour or the Parliamentary Secretary may be in a position a little later on to give further definite assurances on these points.
What this new Clause attempts to do is to fill in the gap which appears to exist to-day in our general conciliation machine, for some further machinery for conciliation is urgently required. Everyone must admit that such machinery is required not only in the interests of the workmen and of the employers, but, above all, in the interests of the community as a whole, and I cannot help feeling that the interests of the community are lost sight of when these matters are discussed. The question of a strike and a lock-out is not merely one for the combatants immediately concerned. It is far more one for the community at large if it be a widespread and essential industry that is concerned: and some of us believe, in spite of the objections put forward, that this Bill does present a favourable opportunity for bringing forward suggestions of this kind and raising a matter which undoubtedly, as everyone will agree, is of vital importance.
The new Clause is a comparatively small extension of the Industrial Courts Act of 1919. That Act, in substance, lays it down that a trade dispute may be referred to an industrial court, if the parties consent, or, in certain circumstances, that the Minister of Labour may set an inquiry on foot. This new Clause proposes 917 to go further than that, to see that in the case of essential services—and what are or are not essential services must be carefully considered and clearly defined —in the case of essential services which affect the whole life of the community, no strike or lock-out shall be permitted until the issues are placed before the tribunal and all matters thrashed out. A period of delay must in that way give an opportunity for the issues at stake to receive careful consideration, and give public opinion the opportunity of exercising its influence in all these industrial disputes. That is what this Clause proposes to do. The objections raised to it are that it would weaken the present voluntary system of conciliation, but I must confess there is very little evidence in support of that objection forthcoming. The object of any conciliatory machinery is to get a settlement of the dispute, whether strike or lock-out, and to get that settlement as soon as possible, and the mere fact that a tribunal is in existence in the background to which the disputes can he submitted, if necessary, in nine cases out of ten prevents any dispute arising. The important point that I desire to press upon the Minister at this juncture is with regard to the nature of the inquiry. If we can get an effective inquiry immediately set on foot with fairly ride Terms of Reference, then I think the object of those who put this new Clause down on the Paper will be very largely achieved. It will at any rate, have some practical results. I do hope before this particular discussion comes to an end that some further attention will be given to this matter and that the nature and scope of this inquiry will be more definitely stated.
§ Mr. VIANT
I desire to say a few words on this question of conciliation. I personally have had some experience of the working of conciliation machinery, having been Vice-Chairman of the National Conciliation Board for the building industry, an industry in which the principle of conciliation has obtained for somewhere about 30 years, and in which the machinery has been so devised that there is local and regional machinery and a National Board. If I know anything of the members of the industry at the present moment, I think if they were to be asked to give a vote upon the principle of conciliation at the moment, they 918 would endorse that principle, but, before accepting the machinery as such, they would desire to have something like a thorough understanding on fundamental principles. My experience has convinced me that while your machinery may be good you are not going to have unanimous confidence in the working of that machinery unless you start forth with a clear understanding as to what your objective is going to be, and, furthermore, give operatives the assurance that all the cards are going to be put on the table.
My experience of the working of conciliation has convinced me that, while the operatives may bring their complaints to the Conciliation Board, the employers on the other side are not prepared to bring forward the whole of the data in connection with the industry before that Board. The result has been that it has been exceedingly difficult to give decisions, and, when decisions have been given, the parties invariably have discovered, in the course of a month or two, that the evidence submitted by the employers was absolutely misleading, and that the concession of an increase of wages or readjustment of hours was not made owing to the fact that important data was left out. I believe the Committee is almost unanimous to-day in its desire to devise ways and means of effecting conciliation, but, if the principle is to be accepted, there must, first of all, be a clear understanding on fundamental principles, or, otherwise, you are not going to avert disputes of the type we have had recently. The building industry, generally speaking, has been fairly fortunate in averting disputes. We have had them here and there, but, none the less, the conciliation machinery has been valuable and helpful in averting them, and on many occasions in bringing about conciliation when the dispute has arisen. I wish to emphasise this point—that the fundamental principles that are to be accepted must be such as to give to the parties concerned the spirit of confidence before the machinery is set up.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
Many Members of the Committee must be in a difficulty; some because they are faced with the dilemma of placing a Clause of this sort in a Bill of this kind, and others because they, like myself, feel that the 919 overmastering need of our industrial life is a constructive policy that makes for peace. We are in a difficulty. We appreciate to the full the earnestness of the right hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) in his efforts for industrial peace, but we are not quite sure as to the attitude of the Government and as to what is in the mind of the Government in regard to the tenour of the Clause now under discussion. I noticed, listening very closely to the speech of the Minister of Labour when he made that very vague promise of a very vague committee to be set up at a very vague time, that somehow or other he used the word "I."
What some hon. Members who think with me want to know is whether the promise of a committee is given on behalf of himself or in the name of the Government and whether this committee is to be a committee merely to shelve the issue of what may be a very awkward matter for the Government. There is no question whatever that the feeling of the country, apart from party politics, from federations of employers and from labour organisations, was expressed in the reasoned Amendment of the party on these benches that the Bill, as a whole, was to be deprecated because of its effects upon industry. We should like to know whether the promise of an inquiry speaks the mind of the Government as a whole and what kind of inquiry it is to be; whether it is to be a committee or a commission; what its terms of reference are to be and, most of all, when it is to be set up. We should like to hear from the Minister of Labour what he has to say about these points and, of course, our action with regard to taking a Division on the Clause would be governed by the definite reply given by the Minister to these questions. We all agree that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division has rendered the country a great service in giving us the best Debate which we have had on the Committee stage of this Bill. There is no question whatever that the overmastering need of the nation is to have peace in industry. I hope the Minister of Labour will be able to give us some 920 definite answer to these questions before the Debate ends.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
On behalf of those who moved this new Clause, I desire to thank the Committee for the reception that has been given to it so generously from all sides and to express our deep appreciation of the views stated. I should like to ask the Minister of Labour, in regard to the announcement that he has been good enough to make to the effect that the Government would be willing to appoint a Committee immediately to investigate the subject, whether the Terms of Reference to the Committee would be somewhat on these lines:To consider the existing conciliation machinery in industry in this country, and its possible development for the purpose of avoiding lock-outs and strikes and promoting industrial harmony, and whether any, and what, legislative or other action is possible.If the Minister of Labour is able to give us an assurance that a really strong Committee will be appointed with those Terms of Reference, or Terms of Reference to that effect, then I should ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw my Motion.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will ask leave to withdraw his new Clause after he has heard the Minister's reply?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
So far as I am concerned, I naturally cannot be absolutely precise in regard to the members of the Committee of which I was thinking. I should have to consult those who would naturally be interested in this —the members of the party opposite and the representatives of industry, including those representitig employers or employers' associations, so as to make quite sure that the different views were fairly represented and considered. The next point so far as the Terms of Reference which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has read—
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Certainly not; all parties, no doubt, and all shades of opinion, will be represented, but what 921 I venture to submit, without the exclusion of other persons, is that what is needed in a Committee of this kind is that we should have some opinions from those who have an intimate industrial knowledge of the different sides of the question, so as to make quite sure that the conclusions at which the Committee may jointly arrive would be practical conclusions suited to the practical needs of industry. For that reason, as I am sure the Committee will agree, I should have to consult with people of different shades of opinion and position before I could make a definite pronouncement. So far as the scope of the Committee's inquiry is concerned, I had put down certain words about the existing conciliation machinery in British industry, and the scope of the inquiry would follow, as far as I can see, speaking more or less hastily, much along the lines of the suggested Terms of Reference which the right hon. anal learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division has read to the Committee. The crisis of last year and the troubles which we have passed through have naturally made us anxious to try and see whether there is any further machinery which may prevent such troubles for the future. Obviously, no one in the Committee would he willing to pass by without inquiry all the different forms of existing machinery, so that what I imagine would fall within the scope of the Committee of Inquiry would be to consider the existing forms of conciliation, that is to say, the Conciliation Boards, the Whitley Councils, the different kinds of conciliation machinery that have peen developed by long experience—in the cotton industry, for example, and in other industries—and what has been done by conciliation and Industrial Courts. Then the scheme that was in my mind was that the Committee should consider how far those systems had succeeded in their aim, how far they had failed, how far they are adequate, what development of them would be of benefit, and whether some new kind of machinery would be of benefit. That is the type of inquiry that I had in my mind. I think it follows on and falls within the words that have been suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend. I am sure hon. Members would not wish me to commit myself off-hand to any particular words, and I naturally 922 cannot consent to-day to give them, but I have detailed, as specifically as I think is reasonable on the spur of the moment, the nature of the Committee of Inquiry and the scope of the inquiry. I say this, on behalf of the Government, that I hope to go forward with this Committee with as little delay as possible.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Before the, Minister sits down, may I ask him whether the composition of the Committee will be announced before this Bill leaves the House?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I do not think I can promise that, because it is not easy to get a good impartial chairman and to get the members of a Committee of this kind together so quickly as that. I am sure that there will need to be a good deal of consultation. I can only give an assurance, which think the right hon. Gentleman will accept, that in any case I shall go ahead with the matter without any delay, but I should very much dislike to prejudice the possible constitution of the Committee in order to try and set it up a few hours or a day or two earlier than would otherwise have been the case. I do not think it will affect the ultimate result.
§ Mr. CLYNES
On this side of the, Committee, I think there will be no objection to the withdrawal of the new Clause, but perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not withdraw it until there has been some further speech on this side, as I understand that one hon. Member desires to speak
§ Mr. CLYNES
But we must not be taken on this side of the Committee as approving of any arrangement which might be entered into in respect of a Committee, or as accepting in any satisfactory manner the announcement made by the Minister for Labour. I would go further and say that no speech. however long, during the whole of these Debates has been so powerful a speech 923 in favour of the withdrawal of this Bill as the little speech we have just heard from the Minister. He has reminded us of the necessity for an inquiry into some better way for perfecting the machinery of conciliation because of the experience of last year, and, really, to ask us now to accept the arrangement for a Committee supplementary to this Bill, and not in substitution of it, is to strain human nature beyond the point of endurance. The proper course would be, if there is to be an inquiry and if any representative body is to go into the whole question of how to avoid the recurrence of what happened last year, for the Government first of all to withdraw this Bill and then to set up the Committee.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am not rising to carry on the discussion at all, but rather just to put one point to the Minister of Labour in regard to the time when the composition of the Committee is to be announced. I do not know what the time table of the Government is, nor when this Bill is going to leave this House. There is still the Report stage and the Third Reading to get through, and I should think it will be a fortnight before the Bill leaves the House. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury knows these things better than I do. What I had in my mind was this. The composition of the Committee is very important, because it ought to be a Committee to command general confidence, and one that is likely to achieve some real result. Therefore, I should be very glad if the Government would tell us whether there will be any opportunity of knowing when the Committee will be set up. I realise the necessity of appointing a good chairman and of getting a good Committee. But, if the Government find that they cannot give us the names of the Committee before the Bill leaves this House, can they afford us some opportunity for discussing the composition of the Committee if there is any challenge? The Committee, I understand, is not to be a Select Committee. I assume it is not to be a Select Committee. If it is a Select Committee, will be discussed by the House of Commons, but if it is a Departmental Committee there will be no opportunity that I know of for discussing it, unless it falls 924 on the Vote of the Minister of Labour. I am not sure whether he has not already got the Vote for his salary through the House.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLANDindicated dissent.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am very glad to hear it. The appointment of the Committee will be the act of the Minister himself, I take it. I hope there will be some opportunity for discussing the composition of the Committee, because a good deal will depend upon it. It is very remarkable that this provocative Bill should be brought in without a Commitee, but you must get a Committee to consider a Bill for finding some machinery for settling disputes, because the Government have not even thought of the problem.
Before the Minister answers the question, I want to reinforce my right hon. Friend's statement. It is not a bit of good the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) talking about the Committee being representative, and speaking with knowledge and authority, because you may take it for certain that no responsible trade union would allow any official to sit on the Committee with this Bill hanging over their heads. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to be deceived. The Minister of Labour knows the situation better than anyone. His absence in the earlier part of the Debate was significant, because he knows the mind of the trade unions as expressed to him and he might have said many of the things we have said. Before the matter is pressed further, I should like an answer to the specific point raised by my right hon. Friend. If there is a Committee, as the Minister has said, it must be a representative Committee. It can only be a Committee with knowledge and experience of the existing machinery, examining the faults of the existing machinery and, if possible, improving on it, all of which I shall welcome. But I come back to the point that it is not a question of the Report stage or of the House debating the personnel of the Committee, because there will he no personnel at all so far as the people who can speak with authority are concerned. Would it not be far better to seize the opportunity of this Debate and realise that there is a 925 desire in all sections of the House to improve conciliation? My view is that conciliation has not had a chance. We have been talking too much of strikes on the one side and arbitration on the other, and between them conciliation has been missed all through. Here is an opportunity not to miss it, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman whether the time has not arrived when he might consult the Cabinet, and instead of talking about the Committee or Report stage, frankly recognise the facts, and say, "Here is an opportunity of doing something practical; let us withdraw or suspend the Bill," and then you will at least have the opportunity of an investigation, which you have not got now. 'Unless that is done, I am certain, so far as the movement is concerned, they not only would not do it, but they would not be allowed to do it because of the unfairness of it.
§ Sir ELLIS HUME-WILLIAMS
The Clause contemplates only conciliation when a dispute has reached the point of an impending strike. Would it be within the terms of reference of the Committee to consider the appointment of a Board of some kind to deal with disputes the moment they arise, before they reach the point of a contemplated strike? Further, is it within the competence of the Committee to consider, for instance, partnership schemes designed to put an end to disputes arising, because the parties, being partners in an industry, naturally would not quarrel among themselves?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The Committee cannot expect me completely to develop the idea to the last detail. Broadly speaking, I should imagine the scope of the Committee would not be confined simply to consideration of conciliation machinery after the possibility of a dispute had arisen, but it might consider, shall we say, some question like the working of actual Whitley Councils, where they have succeeded, and, if in other cases they have not succeeded, why they have failed. I give that as an indication of what I have in mind. As regards what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has said, I am sure a full opportunity to discuss the question will be given on my salary when it comes before the Committee. May I put this to the 926 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas)? There has been controversy in the House, but controversy or not, when we come to look at the question afterwards, I hope he will not commit either himself or his friends against an attempt to set up a Committee.
I am sure you would not expect anyone speaking from this side to make a promise unless it could be fulfilled, and it is far better for you to know exactly what could happen. I have no hesitation in saying, speaking for my own union, in spite of all my influence and all my position, they would no more think of allowing either me or anyone else to take any part whilst this is on.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.