§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
During the First Reading, when I fully explained the objects, scope and machinery of this Bill, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) asked the Government that consultation with the trade unions should be made statutory, it became clear that further consultations with the workers' and employers' organisations was desirable before Second Reading, in order that the suggestion, and any other points, might be fully discussed. I am glad to inform the House that these discussions have taken place, that they have been full, friendly, and co-operative, and that as a result certain agreed Amendments will be placed on the Order Paper to secure the fullest consultation at the beginning of and throughout the whole procedure under this Bill. These Amendments will also provide certain other agreed safeguards. I will explain their contents, not, of course, the details—those are for to-morrow—as briefly and as simply as I can. I think that that procedure will best serve the purposes of the House, and I am sure that if the House agrees on the Committee stage to insert those Amendments, they will quiet many fears and they will allay many suspicions which are natural to those whose experience of the last War, as the last Debate showed, is vivid.
The Amendments are designed and drafted in three main groups. The first group will provide that before making an order under the Act the Minister must refer it in draft to a committee appointed by him, consisting of a chairman and equal numbers of members representing respectively organisations of workers and organisations of employers which appear to him to be concerned, and that any report of the committee must be laid before the House with the order when made. Members will see that at the first stage the industrial organisations concerned will thus have full knowledge as to what is proposed and a statutory right 756 to make their contribution to shaping the order and that the House will have the advantage of the knowledge contained in their report. We shall get the fullest publicity in this way and so avoid, what was so constant in the last War, unrest as the result of misunderstanding.
§ Mr. Brown
Yes. The second group will safeguard the worker by providing, first, that consent to engagement or re-engagement must not be refused unless the Minister can notify to the worker concerned at the same time suitable alternative employment, and, secondly, that an employé can appeal to the court of referees if he says that suitable alternative employment was not offered to him. If the court of referees uphold him, consent is automatically given. These Amendments will also provide that if the court uphold the worker, they shall award him compensation according to regulations to be discussed with the Trades Union Congress and employers' organisations before they are made and laid before Parliament.
§ Mr. Brown
Certainly. The next group of Amendments will give statutory form to an undertaking which I gave on First Reading, and they will enable joint machinery of the trade unions and employers, whether existing now or set up hereafter, to be used for effecting engagements if duly approved and subject to approved conditions. I think the House will see at once that these Amendments will secure that no consent is required where this machinery is used and approved. I think we have a series of Amendments here which, when they are discussed in detail to-morrow, will show to the House that the main safeguards will be provided and that cooperation of those who are affected will be secured from the beginning and throughout the whole of the procedure. I think the long discussions between the First and Second Readings prove how sincere the Government are in seeking to avoid all misunderstandings and to make the arrangements clear.
Arising out of the First Reading Debate, I want to say two things. The 757 first is that there is no question of the dilution of labour under this Bill, and the second is that neither is there any question of the leaving certificate which was adopted and abandoned in the last War. I want to say one other word to allay unnecessary fears in one direction. Fears have been expressed to me that the ordinary work of the registry offices concerned with supplying domestic staffs, clerks, and artistes in the entertainment industry will be affected. On this, I would say two things. First, the Act does not require that engagement should take place through any particular channel or agency. It does say that when engagements covered by an order are made they require the Minister's consent.
The second thing that I wish to say on that point is this: While the House will not expect me to forecast the precise working out and the scope of the orders before we consider the particular sections to which they apply. I want to make it clear that at first there is no intention of going beyond limited groups of highly skilled and vital workers. I think I am right in saying that the groups of domestic staffs, clerks and artists which I have mentioned are most unlikely to be the subject of orders. We want this Bill because we want an orderly and fully understood procedure to secure the guidance of labour to the vital national tasks. Let me make it clear again that the Bill will affect only a small number of highly skilled workers, and I am sure that it will with the Amendments I have outlined, prevent much of the suspicion and misunderstanding which arose in the last War. Workmen in the country should understand from the start that this Measure is not an automatic general measure of control. It provides for machinery for the making of particular orders, with consultations, to meet special needs. The workmen who are not the subject of a special order will remain unaffected.
I would ask the country to take a wide view not only of its tasks, but of the place which this Measure takes in carrying them out. By our attitude in these first days we have shown that we are anxious that British workmen and employers should have full confidence in the Government in industrial matters. The Government have full confidence in them and in their representative organisa- 758 tions. We are sure that the industrial knowledge, ability and experience and the patriotism of our people will be a vital element in the struggle for victory. The Bill has reached this stage as the result of much detailed discussion and helpful constructive co-operation by the Trades Union Congress and the Employers' Federation, for which I—and I am speaking for the Government—am profoundly grateful. The discussions illustrate the spirit in which the Government intend to proceed on all matters connected wih the operaion of this Bill, and, I may add, in relation to all other questions affecting our industrial relations in the strenuous time that lies ahead of us in our determination to make a victorious effort to bring Nazism low.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the explanation of what was said in the last Debate to the effect that the Trades Union Congress had been consulted about this matter?
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
All those who were present in the Debate last week will be glad that we decided on that occasion to postpone the Second Reading of this Bill. This House is entitled to be jealous of its service to the nation in this emergency, and if it permitted itself undue haste or precipitancy, or did work which would not bear examination, it would be very bad. We are starting upon a long career of struggle in which legislation and the use of legislation will play an important part. This Bill is not an ordinary piece of legislation, and the House sensed that last week when it made its appearance in circumstances which laid it open to doubt and suspicion in all parts of the House. The Title of the Bill itself is unfortunate. However, a Bill must have a title of some kind, and it is difficult to suggest an appropriate alternative. It is the principle of the Bill with which we are concerned. In the previous Debate it was truly reported that organised labour and 759 those who represent the organised worker had been consulted, and it was stated in clear terms that they agreed with the principle of the Bill. That has been confirmed at the beginning of to-day' Debate.
There can be no doubt in the minds of those who have examined this legislation that the concessions announced by the Minister to-day are very important concessions indeed, and must bring much satisfaction to the minds of those who sit on this side of the House, and who are more directly responsible for their actions in Parliament than Members who may not have as intimate a contact with labour and its problems. I remember the difficulties of the last War when, through the four and a half years, I was in daily negotiation regarding wages, conditions of employment, transfer and housing accommodation. I gave evidence in the part of the country where I belong to the Industrial Unrest Commission, which was presided over by the late lamented member of my party who often stood at this Box. I refer to Mr. Vernon Hartshorn. He was chairman of the commission to inquire into the industrial unrest which had appeared in all parts of the country. I say without hesitation that one of the most painful sources of irritation at that time was the restrictions placed upon the movement and freedom of the labouring classes. I hope we have learned some of the lessons of the four-and-a-half years from 1914–18
I am sure the Minister is wise in giving attention without delay to this problem, not to the control of employment or to the regulation and regimentation of labour, but to seeing the need for a better organisation in this struggle in which we are involved. To-day we are making a departure in the interests of better organisation, but this organisation to be effective must be obtained by general consent. It is no use trying to pass a Bill through this House by a majority. The consent which has to be obtained in the larger field outside must first of all be obtained in the smaller circle of our Parliamentary life. There must be a plan. We cannot go on organising for the great task of the production of munitions, food and services of all kinds without a definite plan, a plan with many intricacies and complications, but a plan which will indicate to all the people of this country the general 760 lines upon which we should proceed to maintain the country's daily existence and to provide against the horrible and wasteful expenditure of materials which war entails.
All that must be done according to a well-understood plan. There will be many elements of this plan. This Bill is one of the elements. We are now testing the efficiency of a nation freely organised against the more rigid system of the totalitarian States. We must win by superior efficiency. It is no use burking it. We do not win by mere weight of numbers; we must win by superior efficiency. This House is concerned with that, and no one is more concerned than the bulk of the people whom we claim to represent. They are the essence of industrial power. All our heavy industries must be fully manned and fully productive. The engineering and tool and instrument-making trades are vital to success, absolutely vital, and I hope the Minister of Labour will not lose sight of the essential need of finding suitable men and suitable conditions for the production of the essential materials. Agriculture cannot spare any of its workers. The food problem is a problem by itself, and agriculture will play an important part in our national activities in the next two or three years.
Transport and textile production will also be important, and the Minister of Labour, if he is to play a full part in this new work, must know how many men and women he will require for each of the various branches of our national life. He must get the right kind of workers and, let me warn the House, he must see that they are properly treated. That is vital. We cannot let the lot of the worker be subject to spasmodic bargaining, to a struggle and scramble between employers and workpeople. That cannot be tolerated. That would defeat in time any organisation which we set up. The Government must make up their mind in the very beginning of this new plan of organisation that the workpeople have the first claim, that they must be properly treated in every respect, and their comfort and their welfare must not be lost sight of for a minute. The lessons of 1914–1918 should be kept closely in mind by all of us.
The question of wages is not included in this Bill, but it is a vital question. 761 We cannot have peace in industry, we shall never be able to retain men in industry, unless they are assured of the highest possible wages. Already one notices signs of increasing prices, and of the stabilisation of prices at higher levels, and we must see to it that wages correspond to those rises in price, so that the purchasing power of the people may be maintained. The Minister has a responsibility in that matter. His mind must be responsive and alert to all these things. He must keep in touch with the trade unions, who have a far greater knowledge—a massed knowledge, a cumulative knowledge—of conditions of employment than any other body. They are the only ones in this country who can speak authoritatively and effectively on behalf of the working class. The various trades all have their special problems, and for each of them special knowledge is required in order that we may be able to make the fullest use of them.
The Minister must have the control and the direction of labour to some extent, but I am glad to hear him say that it is not proposed that we shall embark upon a wholesale attempt to control employment. It is not necessary, and it would be folly if we tried it. No Government can achieve all that, but when there is a breakdown in the supply of labour and men have to be found for jobs, then assistance must be given. The Government cannot do all these things unaided, and there is no better way of proceeding than along the lines of the plan laid down, under which there will be consultation before anything is done. Before the Minister asks for an Order, before there is any suggestion of regulations, before anything is done to deal with the difficulty, the Minister will meet the representatives of organised labour, of the employers and of all people concerned and interested. They will go into consultation and will come to their decisions after a consideration of all the details involved. Then the Order will come before the House, with a report from the committee, so that the House will be just as well informed as the committee. Every Member will know the reasons upon which the Order is based and the scope of the Order.
I am glad that the Minister has improved upon the Amendments which he so readily undertook to accept on the last occasion when we raised this matter. I 762 hope the House will find it possible to give the Bill a Second Reading to-day, and then we can go on to the Committee stage to-morrow when there will be nothing to prevent the fullest examination of all the Amendments which the Minister has enumerated. Those Amendments provide for some quite novel and far-reaching concessions. I regard the proposal to consult the organised workers and to report to this House, to educate the House and the public in general regarding the conditions of employment before any change is made, as of tremendous value to the workers and to all those who have assumed responsibility for the conduct of industrial affairs over the next two or three years. I shall not deal with the Amendments. I listened to the Minister and I have a note of the Amendments, and I am sure that when they are fitted into the Bill they will make it a much better Bill than it was when it was presented to us last week. I am sure that nobody regrets the delay in the consideration of the Bill, and indeed, that the Minister must be glad of it, and glad of the suggestions made to him, and his readiness to meet us and accept Amendments satisfies me.
I want to make this final remark. I would say this to Members of the House —I am not speaking now to the Minister —Do not let anybody assume that it is safe to play tricks with labour now. It is only the workers of this country who can bring the country through. It is no use talking in terms of man-power, of sending men abroad to the various battlefields, of military strategy and all that kind of thing. The backbone of this struggle is the production of munitions. As has been exemplified in the battles which have taken place in the last few days, it is machines that win battles. It is by machines that the battles of the next year or two will be won. It is in the workshops of this country that England's prospect of victory lies and I would warn every Member of the House to regard it as his own special personal obligation to do everything he can to maintain a contented and a happy working class in this country in the next year or two. Already certain complaints have been reaching me. People have written to me, because of the part I played in last week's Debate. I have had reports from workpeople and from others in various parts of the country telling me that already 763 employers are seeking to take advantage of war conditions in order to jeopardise considerably conditions of work. I have heard of employers putting up notices in the shops requiring men to work seven days a week, 12 hours a day.
Let me say to the House—and also to the Minister, who knows this as well as I do—that we cannot work our people at that pace. If we are asking for a breakdown, that is the way to get it. Men cannot maintain that pace. It will be very difficult indeed to maintain constant work under the strain of war conditions, with the black-out and everything else. I should like the Minister to declare, and every individual Member to carry with him the conviction, that things cannot be done in the way in which certain employers have already intimated that they would like them to be done. We must let our workpeople carry on under the best possible conditions. We must give them the chance of maintaining their homes under the best conditions. There should be no attempt to lower the purchasing power of the workers in any way. There must be no attempt to establish Hitlerism in the works and factories. I appeal to the Minister when he winds up the Debate to speak from the platform of this House to those who employ people, and to warn them that the Government will not tolerate the abuses which have already crept in some industries, but are determined that this time the workers shall have a square deal.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham White
May I say at once that I hope that any lurking suspicion or fear that may be in the mind of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) that any section of the community at this time is prepared and willing to play tricks with any other section may prove to be without foundation? If, on the other hand, there are people who are so misguided as to think that they can take advantage of that kind at a time of the nation's extremity I hope that it will be made clear to them—
§ Mr. White
—that there must be no transactions of that kind. Let me pass from that to say that my hon. Friends, and I think the whole House, have heard with profound satisfaction from the Minister to-day that the series of Amendments which the Minister has expressed his willingness to accept, will result in this Bill passing through the House as an agreed Measure. It goes without saying that a Bill of this type, even with this limited purpose, must arouse very great apprehension and concern over the whole country. In my personal experience it did create a vast amount of misunderstanding. There were fears at first sight that it was a Bill for lowering wages in the production of armaments. There was a misapprehension, with regard to the engagement of labour, that many of the well-tried agencies which have been useful in the past in various industries were to be interfered with and, in fact, stopped. One is glad to know what I hope will emerge from this Debate that, on these grounds, there is no reason for suspicion. It is the duty of the House of Commons to be particularly vigilant about a Bill of this kind, and not merely to see that suspicions are allayed and apprehensions put to rest, but to show that there are no foundations in this Bill upon which practices of an unsatisfactory character can be built up.
It is well known to everybody in this country that industrial conscription, whether partial or general, is impossible and could not be introduced. On the other hand, I think there is general agreement that it is the duty of the Government in these days not merely to direct but to lead the efforts of every one of us, so that we can make, in our particular spheres, the maximum effort to win the right of living our lives in peace and of making our contribution to the welfare and progress of the community in which we live. I am glad that, as a result of the negotiations which have taken place, this is a Bill which may be regarded not as an infringement of our rights but as enabling us to co-operate in the common purpose which is in view.
I would like at this stage, because I do not see any other opportunity for doing so, to refer to two sentences which the Minister used upon the subject of aliens in the course of his speech when 765 introducing the Bill. I should like a little more information as to the procedure for placing aliens. This is a matter of very great urgency indeed, and it is becoming all the more urgent because there is in the country a very considerable volume of highly-skilled refugee people of various types who are most anxious to make some contribution. That is the human aspect of the matter. Here are these people, who have been driven from Germany and elsewhere, and find their lives frustrated. They are in this country and are absolutely helpless and unable to do anything. I can conceive of no more pathetic sight in these days than a parade of Czech refugees voluntarily walking about the streets in military formation to show their anxiety to do something in these times.
The specific question that I should like to have answered—I do not know whether it will be possible for the Minister to do so—relates to the procedure to be followed. When these friendly aliens have been before the Lord Chancellor's tribunal, will they be entitled to go to the Employment Exchanges, or whatever agency may be appointed, in order that they may be put into the way of obtaining employment? I know the matter is difficult, yet I also know that people have been kept by trade union subscriptions at this time although they are standing idle. This is a matter which ought to be cleared up. There is another matter in this connection which makes it urgent, and it is that a large number, perhaps the majority, of these prospective workers are being kept by voluntary sources whose funds are becoming exhausted. The situation, therefore, is difficult, and it would be helpful if the Minister could give the House some indication of the procedure to be followed so that these people may be drawn as soon as possible into whatever occupations are best for them to devote their efforts on behalf of the country at this time, subject to the principle that their work shall be an addition to the common effort already being made.
I am puzzled by some of the things which I see in the Bill, and among them is the interpretation Clause. I see that advertisements may include,any notice, circular or other document."I presume that there will be very careful collaboration with the Fighting Services—
§ Mr. E. Brown
The intention of that is quite clear. It will be very difficult to draw the line between ordinary communications and publications of the kind which we are trying to stop and which are blatant attempts at poaching. Hon. Members will see that people have already begun to do this. The problem is treated in this way so that we shall not get people taken away from their normal work—
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he regards it as poaching for an employer to offer increased wages to workpeople to go and work for him in the same branch of the industry? He would not be taking workmen away from that branch of the industry into some other kind of work, but it would be a movement in the same industry on the part of workmen in order to obtain higher wages.
§ Mr. Bevan
This is a very important point, regarded from the angle at which we look at the matter. We regard the whole thing with suspicion. Is it a fact that if an employer, desiring to fulfil a larger bulk of orders and to divert labour from another employer in the same industry, offers inducements of improved conditions, higher wages, a bonus or anything of that sort, such action will make him liable under the Bill? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer that question?
§ Mr. White
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his elucidation of this matter. This question of poaching is quite a sufficient reason for the Bill. It would be monstrous if a large number of comparatively small contractors whose work, though in small volume, laid the foundations of very much larger operations of essential work, were having their workers poached, pinched, or whatever the expression is.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is it the hon. Member's view that if a man works for a small employer, and receives a comparatively low wage, another employer should not have the opportunity of taking him away by offering a higher wage?
§ Mr. White
The whole purpose of this is to see that the energies of anybody who is employed shall not be misdirected. In the coming months, and it may be in the coming years, there will be a great deal of arduous, grim work to be done in the factories and munition works of this country. It is clear that that can be done only on the basis of the freest consultation and co-operation. It would not be tolerable if people were under constraint in regard to hours and wages and not, in the common phrase, getting a fair crack of the whip. If there were any feeling, as there was in the last War, that there was injustice, privilege or abuse, that would result in the disintegration of all our efforts. I believe that the Amendments that the right hon. Gentleman has incorporated in the Bill will justify us in passing it through this House as a Measure which will enable us to co-operate in making the best use of all labour.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Hicks
I do not propose to enter into any imaginative flights as to the consequences of the application of this Bill. I have listened in this House many times to such prophecies about what a Bill could do in certain cases, and in only one 768 or two instances have those contingencies which were imagined actually operated. I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). I think the Minister will have to reply to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and I think the answer will have to be that the object of the Bill is to prevent poaching, that the object of the Bill is to prevent the general movement of labour, and that the object of the Bill is to prevent enticement by higher wages. If not, what is it for? Eventually, when you get down to it, that is the general purpose of the Bill.
I welcome the statement of the Minister that he has consulted with the organised employers and the organised operatives, through their national councils. It will be necessary for consultation of that sort to take place in regard to the application of the Measure. I do not know what some hon. Members may think, but trade unions and employers' organisations are not unimportant in their industries. We have such organisations in our industry, and 90 per cent. of what happens in the industry is carried out on lines which are mutually agreed. We get a number of people who slip through at times, and a number who are anxious to avoid responsibility. In the present situation we have people in various parts of the country who, as soon as they are dressed in a little brief authority, immediately assume that everybody else is under their control. That is a danger that will have to be taken into account. I would ask also that the Departments might have some consideration for those engaged in industry, and that they should not suddenly decide on a thing. I would appeal to Ministers now not to be stampeded by political pressure in this House or outside. The Departments ought not to put in requests that the industry concerned is not able to meet. When we hear of men being asked to work 80 to 90 hours a week, we should remember that it is a physical impossibility for men to continue working those hours, and if they cannot earn enough money without doing so they should be paid at higher rates.
We shall not withhold giving all the help we can. We are not in this war to lose it; we want to win the war; we do not want the system that we are opposing now to be triumphant, and whatever con- 769 tribution we can make in the building industry will be made. But consideration should be given to our problems. There are many relatively wild parts of the country—I am not speaking about some of the nations which are represented here; I am speaking about parts of the country which are relatively uninhabited —and the recruitment of labour there will be very small indeed. Men will have to be taken far away from their homes in order to carry out works in those areas. It is not unreasonable to ask that if a man has to travel a long way to his work he shall be properly compensated. You should not object to providing him with decent sleeping accommodation. When he has to travel for miles standing up, and sometimes to walk for miles, when he has to get lodgings where usually he is not welcome, it is not unreasonable that a man should receive special rates of pay. Then, suppose a local employer or the Minister of Labour wants the man to continue working there and he has an opportunity to get work at home, there should be free opportunity for the man to move about unfettered. I cannot see why, provided that these problems are approached with understanding by the organisations responsible and by the Government, all these difficulties should not be overcome. All that we ask is that respectful attention should be paid to the opinions which are advanced on behalf of the workmen. If we are asking everybody else to play their parts, we should play our part also.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Sir Jonah Walker-Smith
The impression left upon my mind, after having listened very carefully to the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), is that he appreciates that this particular method cannot be considered entirely as an entity without consideration for other matters with which he is closely associated. I understand his views in regard to the industry that he so ably represents, and which he does so much to help to administer, but it will generally be agreed that the objects of this Bill, as they are stated by the Minister, are quite unexceptionable. Nobody in this House or elsewhere could have the slightest objection to the general principles that he lays down as being the genesis of this Measure, that is, the necessity for seeing 770 that the very fullest use is made of the available labour to secure the production which is required in this national emergency. That clearly expresses the genesis of this Measure. I am a little afraid that the genesis of this Measure savours very much of the principle of compulsion, I will not say conscription, but there are certainly some strong inducements for men to go in certain directions that it is very much akin to compulsion. I am very much afraid that the genesis of that is to be found in the desire of the very large contractors and manufacturers who are in contract with the Government for the supply of their essential needs.
It is necessary to consider for one moment the circumstances in which these contracts are placed. It is the old custom of the Service Departments that they will not take the trouble to relate their requirements and their demands to the resources of production. In lieu of doing that they content themselves with the selection of a cetrain number of large contractors and manufacturers, and when these large contractors and manufacturers have placed their contracts they leave them to solve the problem, which is really a Government problem, of considering the means of production. Having done that, and having unloaded their own responsibility on to the manufacturers and other contracting bodies they then enter into contracts with them which do not leave any particular incentive with the manufacturer or the contractor either to economise in cost or in the use of labour. They are left free to offer all sorts of inducements to attempt to attract labour from far and wide. They offer travelling allowances, subsistence allowances, lodging allowances and unlimited overtime, and, by various devices of that kind, they attract the labour to their huge works. It is very soon found that that is no solution of their difficulty at all. They are unable to deliver the goods or complete the work within the prescribed time, and then they claim that the remedy for them is not to look to the better efficiency of their works and not to refrain from taking on further additional work in excess of their resources and contracts, but that it is to be found in obtaining more labour. More labour comes to them, and then you get into this vicious circle, that their jobs get over and the manufacturers get overcrowded, the costs pile up, contracts, 771 instead of being speeded up, are delayed, labour unrest is caused. We very soon find ourselves in that vicious circle.
That is the genesis of this demand. It is the demand of the large manufacturers and contractors to have some very strong measure of inducement, amounting almost to compulsion, to get additional labour on to jobs for which they have contracted under these conditions. In the meantime all the smaller manufacturers and contractors are being practically starved out of existence. As they have no further use for their labour, gradually it drifts to these very large works and factories where these high inducements are offered. Let it not be thought for one moment that these large inducements and these large pay packets are to the advantage of the worker. I know that it is not so. A very large amount of that money goes in personal expenses, subsistence allowances and the maintenance of two organisations, and they are fleeced unmercifully in regard to their lodging and maintenance in the places to which they have been attracted. It can by no means be assumed that because the pay is high, or comparatively high, their economic position is improved.
It is most undesirable that this sort of thing should continue. I can understand the desire of the Service Departments to hand over this very troublesome problem of production to these manufacturers, but it is an extremely undesirable thing to do. To these particular difficulties and inducements in the conditions that already exist we now propose to add another. We propose now to put into the hands of someone, either the officials of the Government Departments or the military authorities this particular instrument which may be used to the very serious disadvantage of industry. This is the way it will work. Many of the smaller contractors and manufacturers will be gradually pushed out of existence. All of this labour will gradually dribble in thousands of little streamlets into this very large reservoir or pool, and the valves from that reservoir will be controlled by somebody, and the stream will be directed to huge servitude works or contracts.
That will be the position for some considerable time. The question of economy will be thrown to the four winds of heaven. Production will be delayed. Labour difficulties will arise and unrest 772 will be created, and in the end, what is to happen? Suddenly these works will come to an end. Either the manufacturer will complete the supplies required, or where there are engineering or other works, these large constructional works will suddenly come to an end. What is to happen then? The men who have been attracted to these places by these inducements, and this poaching method to which the Minister referred, will wish to come back. To what are they to come back? The smaller factories and contractors have been starved out of existence, and there will be nothing whatever to which to come back. They will be derelict and thrown upon industry like so much scrap metal. I saw the disastrous result of this as a consequence of the last War in regard to the building industry, with the result that when we wanted the resources of the building industry for urgent housing schemes they had disappeared and were not available. Every organisation had been dried up and starved to death. I was at a particular place where, in a population of 80,000 people, one engineering firm alone —and I know the condition of the engineering industry well—reduced employment from 30,000 to 5,000 in the twinkling of an eye.
What is to become of the labour attracted to these large works by these inducements as is being done at the present time? It is thoroughly wrong and unsound to load, overload and servitude these large contractors with more and more orders and contracts under these most unsatisfactory conditions. Instead of a policy of that kind we should attempt to spread the work as far as it is possible—and it is possible to spread it very widely indeed—geographically and proportionately between manufacturer and contractor. In that particular way we should maintain the whole industrial organisation in such a state that, at the end of this period, industry could go on without the serious dislocation that had previously been experienced, and in the meantime production would be increased and labour unrest would cease if only the Treasury would appreciate the dire effects of these conditions of contract. If all these Service Departments would realise how they are standing in their own light in overloading a few contractors and manufacturers with orders far in excess of their means of production; if 773 all concerned, under the aegis of the Minister of Labour, for whose activities in these matters I have no words of praise too high, would only secure the fullest co-operation with the trade unions for the purpose of getting the labour properly distributed, then, I think, we could do very much to avoid what, I fear, will be the tragedy of this Measure.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I am sorry that the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) is not present, because I wanted to say a word or two about certain of his remarks. He said that in this House we hear a good deal that is conjecture and that often we are not right. I hold that the average Member of this House must be guided by his experience in the past. What has happened in the past? I would say to the Minister of Labour that as one who has some connection with a trade union I welcome consultation with the trade union movement, but I ask him to remember the experience of the last War and to look a stage ahead. The experience of the last War was that there were other people besides the trade union movement. The right hon. Gentleman has to watch and the trade union movement has to watch that they do not take steps that the men do not desire them to take. In my own city we set up a movement which at times swept the trade union movement out of the road. I do not think that that was good for the trade union movement; but the fact of the matter was that conditions forced such action. Trade union leaders, this House, and even the Trades Union Congress must never be allowed to take away the functions of Parliament. I say that deliberately. I feared that the consultations would result in a Bill being flung at us, and that we should be told that there had been an agreement entered into and that we mattered little. A Member of Parliament who sees and lives amongst his constituents has as valuable a contribution to make to this problem as any other section of the community. I say that about the unofficial movement, as we call it, but in reality, in strength, and in power in certain parts of the country, there is a real movement of that particular type.
Let me say something about this poaching of labour. There is no man whom I follow more closely than the hon. Member 774 for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) on many matters. The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith) I also follow closely because he, from an employer's point of view, has had great experience in the past in negotiations. But, boiled down, what does the argument of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness mean? He has given us a lecture about what happened in the past to workmen who went to big employers. It is not for the hon. Member to decide whether a workman should go or should not. The workman knows as well as the hon. Member or I that these things happened, and if a workman is prepared to go to a particular job what right have we to step in and stop him? Stripped of all camouflage, the hon. Member's argument was that we had a right to stop workmen from doing what they wished to do.
§ Mr. Buchanan:
It is an arrogani assumption that the hon. Member knows better than the workman. The workman has as much brains as the hon. Member or myself. A man has a trade and knows what he is undertaking. Who is the hon. Member or who am I to tell such a man that he has not brains enough to understand the thing himself. The hon. Member says, "Don't let the man use his brains; I have superior knowledge and will prevent him from doing it." With all respect, I do not agree with the hon. Member. If there is anything wrong it is neither the workman nor the employer who is to blame. Who is to blame? The Government. Who is setting up these big amalgamations? Recall what is happening in Glasgow. The Rolls Royce Company have come there for the first time. I did not like to see the competition that was going on between one town and another to get that company. I thought there was going to be almost a war between the various rival towns and I refused to be a party to the competition. But the Rolls Royce Company have come to the outskirts of Glasgow. There they are building a factory with Government money and Government aid, to employ, I am told, a maximum of 15,000 and a minimum of 8,000 people. It will be a huge factory. Who is doing it? The Government. That factory has to be manned. Then comes the labour. But 775 the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness comes along and says to workmen, "You are not to go there, although the Government have got the place." It is nonsense. The theory of this Bill is to stop a workman from leaving one place and going to another in order that his earnings may be increased.
Do not let it be thought that poaching goes on only in regard to wages. A man works now, say, in Dumbarton. He goes there from Glasgow, 15 miles away. Travelling is long and expensive. He went there first when Dumbarton was busy and Glasgow was slack. Then things become busy in Glasgow. Under this Bill the man is not to get leave to go to work near his home. If he does it may be called poaching by one firm from another. I worked under the last Munitions Act in the heart of the munitions industry. What happened? The Government tried a certain scheme which collapsed entirely. Now they are trying to modify that scheme. I see that the Minister of Labour shakes his head. As I see it, the Government are now trying to say that this poaching from the bigger firm should be stopped. That is a modification of the old Act. In the big cities I do not think the Bill will matter a jot. If the scheme proves to be irksome it will be swept away in 10 minutes, because when trade is booming either the trade union has to function or the men will create their own organisation. But the right hon. Gentleman is making a great mistake in rushing this Bill. However, if he wants it let him have it. I would have allowed things to go on.
The statements made about taking men from one place to another are a gross exaggeration to anyone who knows the engineering industry intimately. I would have allowed things to go as they are. The Bill is a method of interfering with a workman who wishes to move to some employment that will add not only directly to his wages, but indirectly, through the cost of less travel. In my experience I have found that the reason why a workman has left a job has been nine times out of 10 not on account of wages, but on account of the foreman or some other association with the job. I have worked at a place where the wages 776 were high and I have left it to go to a place where the wages were lower, because the conditions of the new job were much better and where the tone of the shop was better. This is a Bill to stop poaching of workmen, if it can be proved to be poaching. It seems to me, however, that it is a trivial Measure and hardly worth while. In so far as certain conditions arise, the workmen will create their own machinery for dealing with it. As far as I am concerned, the Measure can go. The trade union movement has learned its lesson from the past, and I do not think that things will happen as in the past. I do, however, protest against what underlies the attitude of the Minister, the hon. Member for East Birkenhead and the hon. Member who spoke last. They want some kind of machinery to prevent the ordinary workman from having the right of ordinary movement, to which he is entitled.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn:
The House will agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has said, but I see no justification for assuming that there is anything in the Bill that will restrict the freedom of the worker, if he can put up a good case. On the other hand, there has been recently a great deal of inconvenience and misery caused to workers who have moved without sufficient knowledge of the conditions; in the place to which they were going. I am sure we all feel that at this time there must be the utmost co-operation between the employers and the representatives of organised labour, which can only function sufficiently well if there is complete confidence between the two sides. We know that many of the labour leaders are fighting a rearguard action with the extreme element, who are doing all they can to undermine them.
There is one point to which I would draw attention, and that is in regard to the selection of inspectors. I do not think that anybody in this country particularly likes inspectors, but as it is essential to have them, a great deal of the smooth working of the Act will be due to the type of persons chosen. The inspectors will have great power, and it is right that they should have, but if they exercise those powers in a thoughtless way they will produce a great deal of trouble.
777 Another matter to which I should like to refer, and to which, I think, the Minister will be able to give a satisfactory reply, is that when circumstances exist which make it necessary for the regional commissioners to function in any area, I should like an assurance that they will not misuse their powers under the Act. It would be disastrous if any individual in a particular area tried to usurp the powers of the Act, which is using the normal machinery between the employers and the workmen. It is essential that in these times, when lighting restrictions and one thing or another make for ineffieciency in working, there should be a great deal of give and take and the closest possible collaboration. I feel sure that hon. Members opposite appreciate the fact that certain employers are trying to carry out their work efficiently, that they welcome this Bill and that they want to work in conjunction with the trades unions. It is only by such co-operation for meeting the difficulties inherent in the present situation that we shall be able to get through our troubles.
There is one further matter which is extremely pressing at the moment, and that is the standing down of large numbers of men from now on for the next three months while factories are being converted from peace-time to war-time use. This is a most serious problem, and one that is exercising the minds of a good many of us who have such workers living in our constituencies. I am faced with something between 3,000 and 4,000 workmen who will be stood down from their normal work while the factories where they are normally employed are transferred from peace to war purposes. It would be a disaster if these skilled men, who know how to handle the plant, are not available when the plant is ready for war purposes. The great problem is how they are to get through the next three months, what can be done to help them and to give them confidence that they are to have good and proper conditions, and how far such work as does offer may be spread out among the men who are temporarily standing down. In looking into these matters one realises that they can only be got over by the utmost good will between employers and workers.
We may see in this Bill the foundation of something which, I hope, will endure, not turning the House of Commons into a mere reflection of the Trades Union 778 Congress, but making it possible to recognise in this House more fully than before the rights of the workers and the difficulties of the employers, so that we get on successfully by our combined efforts. If we can carry that feeling forward into the difficult days that are ahead of us we shall owe a great debt to the Minister of Labour and those who have collaborated with him in amending this Bill and making it a much better piece of legislation.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Bevan
I shall not occupy the time of the House for many minutes, because a great deal of what I intended to say has already been said by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I should like to ask the Minister to be as frank with the House as the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) was. The hon. Member for East Woolwich has, I regret, left the Chamber. I wish he would drop the habit of coming here to deliver Olympian addresses, and then leaving us. We are entitled to fuller collaboration than that with which he furnishes us. He said that the purpose of the Bill is to prevent inflated wages being paid. If that be so, it would be far better to call it a control of wages Bill than a control of labour Bill. Why are workers diverted from one works to another? It is usually because the works to which the workers transfer are more attractive. Why are they more attractive? Generally, because the conditions are better, or because the works are nearer to the homes of the men, or because the wages offered are higher, or because the employer is more agreeable. This mobility of labour which is being complained about is very largely the only effective leverage which the worker has not only in order to improve his wages, but to influence the kind of employer for whom he works.
The punishment for an employer who does not treat his workers properly is for him to be deprived of his workers, and the only way in which a body of workers can exercise any control at all over the conditions of their employment is by their being able to punish the employer with the possibility of being stripped of his labour. Therefore, immediately you render labour immobile by legislation of this kind you are making the employer more effective, giving him greater control 779 over his workers and preventing the workers from improving their conditions. I was smiling rather cynically during the speech of the Minister. I remember what happened on a former occasion, when it was not a case of labour being too mobile but of labour being too rigid. We had a discussion about the rigidity of labour. The Employers' Federation issued a leaflet in which they attacked the whole insurance system of the country because it created such favourable conditions for labour that a workman could prefer to remain unemployed in some areas rather than go to other parts of the country where work was available. They said that the insurance conditions must be made less favourable in order to bring about the rigidity of labour. Now that labour is not rigid but unintelligibly mobile, it does not know where its best interests lie, and so we have a Bill to make labour more rigid. It helps the employer for labour to be as mobile as possible. Capital can be as mobile as it likes, but it is indiscreet for labour to be mobile in the same way. There is a lot of humbug and cant behind the whole of it. During the last 15 to 20 years the labour market has favoured the employer as against the worker, with the result that wages have been depressed all over the country and Great Britain has now fallen in the scale in regard to the standard of wages. Lots of countries are much better than we are at the present time.
I remember an answer given from the Government Bench some time ago, but we have slipped back since then, because men in the mining areas and skilled engineers have been taking far less in wages than some unskilled labour, because the labour market has favoured the employer as against the worker. But there was no legislation to render the employer less mobile. No hon. Member opposite said that the time had arrived to introduce legislation in order to create more favourable conditions for the worker. No, his immobility at that moment was regarded as a national asset. Now, when we are faced with the fact that the labour market is likely to favour the worker, we get a Bill in order that the worker may not exploit these circumstances to his advantage. It really is humbug to bring this Bill forward. Far better that the Bill was called exactly what it does.
780 I was very young when the last War started but I reached years of discretion very quickly. I remember that during the last War—the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) will confirm this—the Miners' Federation made an offer to the employers—Mr. Robert Smillie made the offer—that if the coalowners would guarantee that they would not raise the price of coal, they would not exploit the war emergency: the miners would not demand an increase of wages. That offer was turned down by the coalowners with the result that coal prices soared and the miners spent many anxious and unavailing struggles in trying to catch up with the increase in price. We had just about caught up with it when the War came to an end. We know from a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that at the present time the national emergency is being exploited by the employers. We have been told from the Government Bench that excessive profits have been made in Government contracts in industries everywhere as a result of the fact that the demand for capital is greater than the supply, and the employers have taken advantage of the circumstances. But when labour tries to do the same thing we have a Bill brought in to stop it. That is all labour is trying to do.
We should look upon the Bill a little more favourably if there were effective restrictions upon profiteering. I do not want to add strictures upon my own colleagues, but I would say to the trade unions that before they co-operated with this Bill they should have made that a condition of their co-operation, otherwise their co-operation with the Government will not receive the endorsement of their members. It will be impossible to honour the provisions of this Bill if excessive profits are being made by employers and the workers are at the same time being clamped down from having any increase in wages. It is not enough to receive the endorsement of the trade union machine if that endorsement is not spiritually endorsed by the members of the trade unions. I remember very vividly a circumstance in the year 1915. There was a stoppage in South Wales and we got a 171 ½ per cent. increase in wages. It was an unofficial stoppage. There had been some kind of gentleman's understanding, but it was broken in a year because conditions became so intolerable that shop steward movements were 781 started, and from the bottom arose a movement which blew up the thin crust of agreement at the top.
We are not entitled, in my opinion, to give the Government these powers until there has been effective control over profiteering. It is not conducive to national unity, and does not create the wholesome atmosphere in the country. It brings us under suspicion if we agree to legislation of this sort which prevents labour from taking advantage of circumstances favourable to itself and, at the same time, permits employers all over the country to exploit the national emergency and make such huge profits that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to put special measures or taxation upon them in his Budget. I think that the wisest thing the Minister can do is to withdraw the Bill because the effect of it is going to be very bad. Always in the history of this country when circumstances have favoured the under-dog, legislation has been brought forward to prevent him from taking advantage of it. The last occasion was just after the plague. I believe there is an incident about this in "Lorna Doone," where Jan Ridd is fined £10 for paying his labourer more money than the magistrates permit.
Now we are having the same kind of legislation again. In this Bill, the employers are told beforehand that if they pay higher wages than those agreed upon between the unions and the employers, it will be regarded as an inducement and will be a punishable offence. In this Bill, the Government are trying to put a ceiling to wages, but they are putting no ceiling to profits. Such unfair legislation will do more damage to the national morale than anything else that could be done. The Minister of Labour ought to withdraw the Bill until he is able to say that, if we are to make a great national effort, no one, be he employer or workman, will take advantage of the circumstances. This kind of unequal legislation, which leaves the employer free and ties the hands of the workman, is bound to create a very unpleasant atmosphere in the country.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant:
One hon. Member opposite took exception to the statement made by an hon. Member on this side that some employers are already taking an undue 782 advantage of the workers and somewhat reducing their standards of living. Only yesterday, I received from a constituent a letter informing me that the whole of the public employés of a council in the neighbourhood of London had been told that they were to do their eight and a-half hours ordinary work and then three and a-half hours extra work on air-raid precautions, with no extra pay. I mention this in order that the hon. Member opposite may appreciate some of the reasons why apprehension is already arising in the minds of the workers. When the Bill was introduced in the House, I felt that a large number of hon. Members opposite were unable to understand the reason we were offering opposition to the Bill. I agree that to an ordinary person reading the Bill, there does not appear to be a great deal in it, but those of us who had some experience of the last War know the dangers that arise.
During part of the last War, it happened to be my misfortune to sit repeatedly as assessor on the Munitions Tribunal at Caxton Hall. I think I can safely say that the majority of the complaints that were brought before that tribunal were of the following nature. Men and women refused to go to the factories at the stated time to start work and absented themselves for days on end because they were tied to an employer and subjected to the rule of a foreman or forewoman who was imposing tyrannical conditions on them. This had an adverse effect on the productive industry of the country. Again, it was not an uncommon thing to find that men and women refused to go to the factories to work because they were not satisfied with the wage they were receiving and were compelled to travel unduly long distances, but under the Munitions Act, they were forbidden to leave their employer and seek another one. In this Bill, enlightened trade unionists see those potentialities. We appreciate, and I want the House to appreciate, that if we are to win through, we can do so only by the good will of all concerned, and if there is any attempt, even by the leaders of the trade unions, to accept conditions that are irksome to the workers, the workers will do precisely as they did in 1915, 1916 and 1917—that is, form their own shop stewards movement and defy the conditions laid down by the trade unions.
783 Let us be careful. Let us not make a mistake. We find repeatedly that, in order to appease certain non-federated factories, concessions have to be made, and at this moment I would hazard a guess that the proposals for this Bill emanated from the federated employers. I have no doubt about that. I know quite well that when trade is busy the federated employers are always cursing the non-federated employers because of the advertisements they see in the newspapers offering a halfpenny or one penny more than the federated employers are prepared to give. The federated employers, and the Ministry of Labour, have to appreciate that the trade unions fix a minimum wage, but that that minimum wage is accepted by the federated employers as a maximum wage, and no matter what exceptional ability an employé has, he gets the same wage as others. The non-federated employer invariably says to a man with exceptional ability, "I will give you 2d. or 3d. an hour more." The man gets it, and is entitled to it.
Some of us feel that we want to persuade the Minister of the evils of the Bill and appeal to him to try to avoid the pitfalls, and at the same time we feel that we want to vote against the Bill. The Minister has already suggested that certain Amendments are to be offered. As the Bill stands at present, I shall vote solidly against it, even if I did so alone, because of the knowledge I have of the evils arising from such circumstances in the last War. But I am hoping that if the Minister is given the Bill, with the Amendments that have been mentioned, he will administer it, and see that his Department administers it, in a reasonable and tolerant spirit in order that we shall not have anything in the nature of a revolution inside the trade union movement. I will give the House an illustration of what has been happening. This is a Bill to control employment, but it could easily be termed a Bill to control wages. For that purpose, the Bill need not have been introduced, for the Minister could have resurrected the Statute of Labourers, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) referred. Precisely the same principles are embodied in this Bill, minus the Amendments. The Minister of Labour has already been controlling labour considerably during the last 784 12 months. What has been happening? I hope we are not to have this kind of control in the future. Men needed for the erection of huts at Newton Abbot have been sent from the north-east coast, while men who were unemployed in Devon have been sent to Cheshire and men have been sent from London to Cheshire, no regard whatever being given to the distance from their homes or the expenses incurred. If the Minister is going to control labour along those lines, we shall need to have a new Minister of Labour.
§ Mr. Viant
The right hon. Gentleman's Department sent the men. I give this as a standing illustration of the ineptitude of the Ministry of Labour in spite of the advice of the London district office of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers. I hope it will not be repeated. [Interruption.] You have the power because you paid the men's railway fares and they went there under your direction. You had power to send them to Cheshire rather than to Devon. I stand by the statements that I have made. I have no reason to withdraw them. There is a feeling of apprehension in the minds of trade unionists throughout the country in respect of the Bill. We shall await the Amendments and we hope that, having been accepted by the representatives of the Trades Union Congress, they will be acceptable to the House, and will give a guarantee to trade unionists that nothing in the shape or form of conscription of labour is to be embodied in the Bill.
§ 4.43 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
The views that I hold on this Measure have been admirably expressed by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). As originally introduced, it was, in my judgment, and in that of the workers on the North-East Coast and in County Durham whom I have consulted upon it, undiluted industrial conscription. No one was more astonished than I was to learn that the Trades Union Congress had in principle agreed to it, but the word "principle," like the phrase "public interest," when used by the Government, requires some other definition than that which appears in the Oxford Dictionary or 785 in common parlance. It is a singular comment upon the Minister's statement of this marvellous degree of agreement that he should have found it necessary to introduce new Amendments which will so whittle down the realities of the Measure. There are employers in Durham who have already taken advantage of the current belief in certain employing circles that they have control of labour already. A constituent of mine interviewed me at the week-end and told me that he had advised his employers, who were paying him £2 a week, that he was offered £3 to work in Civil Defence, and he was informed that he would be under penalties if he left his employment, as mining was a scheduled occupation. That sort of thing ought to be brought to a full stop, and it certainly indicates that protection is required.
I fail to see the necessity for the Measure. A magnificent illustration was given by the Amalgamated Engineering Union, the aristocrats of the trade union world, with a membership of 380,000, who have agreed to dilution. There are certain undertakings, but they were given prior to the last War when they assented to dilution. I believe the spirit of the industrial workers is so unanimous as to the necessity of defeating Nazism that the trade union movement would have given all the labour that the Minister requires without anything in the nature of compulsion. I am satisfied that if fair wages and proper conditions were established and there was an undertaking by the House that wages would rise in harmony with the cost of living, there would not be the slightest difficulty in obtaining skilled or unskilled labour in any direction and in any quantity that might be required.
We have heard a good deal about poaching. After all, there is only a limited amount of labour required in any particular area or in any particular industry. The fear that there is going to be some great exodus of labour from one area to another because of dazzling prizes held out by unscrupulous employers is, in my judgment, unjustifiable. I cannot recollect, except in very isolated cases, any such industrial difficulty during the last campaign. We are entitled to ask this question, which has been put to me by my constituents. Everyone knows that there will be an improvement in the 786 return to capital. Certain shares are rising rapidly on the Stock Exchange. Is it unjust to ask that labour shall have some slight advantage if it gives its concentrated attention to the tasks the nation has delegated to it? It seems to me reasonable that that should be so. There is another question that we are entitled to ask. What of the mass of lowly-paid labour whose wages are on the poverty line? At this time of great expenditure and of necessity for improving the quality of labour, what is the Ministry of Labour going to do about that class? That is a query which I hope the Minister will answer.
With regard to courts of referees, there have been numerous cases of discontent in the County of Durham because there has not been a representative on a court of the trade to which the applicant before the court belonged. The Act states that the persons constituting these courts are to be called up from the panel and that members of a court need not necessarily belong to the trade which is under review. When a recent Measure was being considered in which this question arose, I endeavoured to secure the passage of a Clause stipulating that where possible a person belonging to a trade similar to that of the applicant should be on the court of referees. The Minister then resisted that proposal. Will he now with the great powers which he has stretch a point to deal with this grievance? Will he see that in the case of a mining district, for example, at least one member of the court of referees shall be a miner and that the same thing shall apply to engineering and other great trades? That is a reasonable request. If the Minister would assent to that proposition I can say that, as far as the County of Durham is concerned, he will remove an important cause of discontent among those who have to go before these courts.
We are advised that under this Measure trade union organisations and employers' organisations will be consulted. May I ask whether their advice will be taken by the Minister, and, if it is not taken, is there any remedy? I also desire to ask whether if consent to engagement or re-engagement is refused, the worker will be offered employment at his own trade? That is a reasonable request. There is a fear that alternative employment might 787 be offered in some industry other than that to which the man is accustomed. I hope the Minister will make a mental note of these questions and deal with them, because they are very important, at all events in my constituency, and I am sure elsewhere. In reference particularly to mining, I have been asked to bring this point before the House. As the House may know, this form of labour, if it is to be stereotyped in the mines, is largely unskilled. It is a melancholy fact that a great deal of the labour to which a young man may have to serve a period of five or six years, from the age of 14 or 15 up to 20 or 21, is only unskilled labour at the end of the period. Will some effort be made by the Ministry to obviate that state of things by introducing some system of apprenticeship?
At present it is, I assure the Minister, a very great grievance that a young man who has done all that is humanly possible to learn pit practice and the application of safety first principles, and who attends night classes and endeavours to improve himself, may at the end of his so-called apprenticeship, at the age of 20 or 21, be dismissed from the mine without any remedy, without any compensation and without the promise of any alternative employment. Will that cease and will the Minister seriously consider creating a system of apprenticeship in mining just as there is in engineering and other trades? Road-making has recently been made a craft. Asphalting is a craft and apprentices to it work under stipulated conditions and have rights and privileges which are denied to young men in the mining industry, except in cases where the conditions are remarkably good.
May I repeat that, as far as my experience goes, industrial labour is burning with enthusiasm to see the end of Nazism on the Continent of Europe? The workers are willing to put forth their maximum effort in this struggle physically, mentally, and, if I may say so, spiritually. At the same time, they ask that the treatment which the Government are meting out to other sections of the community, which we may refer to broadly as the capitalist class, shall equally be meted out to labour. If this is done, I have not the slightest doubt as to the result of the great issue in which we are engaged.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
I thank the Minister for giving me an opportunity of stating the views of my colleagues and myself on this Measure. A great deal of emergency legislation is being passed and with a lot of it we are in fundamental conflict. We are conscious that many of the problems which are inherent in the present situation are being absolutely neglected in this legislation. As regards this Bill we are fundamentally opposed to it, but the fact that there had been negotiations upon it between the Minister and the organised industrial movement, put us into this position, that if other Members of the House were willing to let it go, we did not feel inclined to challenge that decision. But during this Debate it has become apparent that Members above the Gangway are profoundly disturbed by this Measure. Indeed one hon. Member said he had not the slightest doubt that it was really industrial conscription. It may not be industrial conscription, but in our view it certainly prepares the way for industrial conscription, and the situation in which it will place the workpeople of this country is, to our minds, absolutely unfair and unjustified.
This is evidently a Bill promoted by the powerful organised employers of the country in view of the present situation. It will limit the rights and opportunities of workpeople in a very cruel way. During periods of slump the workpeople have always had to accept reductions of wages, but when the national situation puts them into a more powerful position, legislation of this kind is introduced to take from them the possibilities which would otherwise be presented to them under the operation of the law of supply and demand. When it is a case of slump hon. Members opposite and the Government say to the workers, "You must not interefere with an economic law." But in this Bill there is interference with what is regarded as an economic law, not to be interfered with in normal times. It may be said that things now are abnormal, but that is no reason why the workpeople should be put into an impossible position.
The Minister has stated that the Bill has not got any of those features of which we are so suspicious, but that it is largely a Bill to deal with poaching and will apply only to a very limited number of people, such as technical workers. We get so many assurances in connection 789 with legislation in this House, but when we come to the experience afterwards, we find that it generally works out quite differently. Indeed, in the Unemployment Insurance Acts you have provision for the employ who leaves his employment without just cause, and the Court of Referees having to see that in that respect he is not unfairly treated, but everyone knows how that has operated and how employés working for employers who have made their conditions miserable are put into the position that they have practically got to go out of a job and then suffer the penalty of six weeks' disqualification. I am not in the least bit satisfied by the fact that the workman will have an appeal to the Court of Referees with regard to his position. Remember that there is a whole lot of people just now working in the country away from their homes, who were compelled to go long distances from their homes during the period of slump, and now, when there may be opportunities for them to get back home again with the prospect of more permanent employment than they have in the district to which they have gone, they will be debarred by the operation of this Measure from taking the chance of getting back to their wives and families. Those people have also been working during this period under very great economic difficulties, because they have had to pay for their lodgings in the district to which they have gone, and they have simply carried on because they were practically compelled to do so.
There is one thing that I notice in regard to this Bill. A man is not to be allowed to leave his employment. I do not want to put it too strongly, but, generally speaking, the mobility of labour is to be stopped, and the individual is to be tied to his employment. He may be with a bad employer, but he is tied up to that employer, and he is refused the opportunity of taking advantage of the situation and getting work in circumstances that would be much more comfortable to him.
§ Mr. Stephen
The Minister shakes his head, but I am confident that this Bill will be passed, and that when it comes into operation I shall be proved to be very largely right in what I am saying in that respect. A man is not guaranteed employment with the employer; he is not guaran- 790 teed his job. He works with an employer, and he may have the opportunity of going elsewhere where there is a prospect of longer employment, but he will be debarred by this Bill from taking advantage of the possibility of that other employment. We refuse to give him any guarantee of permanent employment. Unless the Minister is prepared to give us an assurance of permanent employment for the workpeople of the country, I myself and my colleagues are prepared to divide the House on this Bill. The fact that so many hon. Members above the Gangway have said that they would like to divide against the Bill has given us the encouragement to divide the House ourselves on this Measure, which is an attempt upon the liberties of the working people of the country, an attempt which may have the most far-reaching consequences.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I think the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), would much prefer to be in this country than in some of the lands where employment may be guaranteed. When the hon. Member thinks over the implications of what he has just said, I believe he will think more kindly of this Measure and of those who, having surveyed the field of experience in 1914-18, have agreed that some method of orderly arrangement in order to get the maximum effort in this crisis is absolutely vital. The hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) and other hon. Members have said that this Bill is brought in at the desire of the federated employers. Let any hon. Member who is now full of suspicion of this Measure do a very simple thing in the next week or two, in his leisure time, if he has any. Let him go into the Library of this House, take down from the shelves the reports of the Barnes Commission on the Forces of Industrial Unrest in War-time, issued in 1917, and read, not only the reports, but the evidence, and he will understand why the Government, having surveyed the difficulties of that time, have sought to proceed along this modest, but, I believe, effective way.
The hon. Member for West Willesden put his finger on another point and talked about non-federated employers who pay higher wages. I could not help reflecting over my experience during the last four years at the Ministry of Labour and about the number of non-federated employers, 791 of whom I have heard, who pay less wages than the federated employers. I could not help thinking that the hon. Member was not doing a good service to those whom he serves by putting in too big a plea for the non-federated employer, for what is the reason for non-federation except unwillingness to bind the non-federated employer to the conditions agreed between the unions on the one hand and the federated employers on the other? Indeed, in the case of one new industry, that of road transport, I was able to persuade this House only just over a year ago to take action to compel those who did not observe the conditions to observe them. I think that, when the hon. Member reflects on that passage in his speech, he will see that that argument could be pressed very much to the detriment of organised labour.
The fact is that the case against this Bill is largely unreal. We are proposing a Measure to make, by consultation, orders applicable to certain employers and certain workmen, and it will probably be the fact, since the workers will be highly skilled, that their wages will be high, and, therefore, the argument put forward by the hon. Member about low wages does not arise. The fact is that any reflection on those very interesting reports from every one of the nine districts engaged in munition work in the last War shows that it is not to the permanent interest of labour to have feverish, spasmodic, particular advances by particular employers for their own purposes. The real interest both of the employers and of the country, and most of all of labour, is that the machinery between the unions and the employers should grow and strengthen, so that steady gains may be achieved, gains that will last.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member knows that the Prime Minister has made a statement about that and that there is a Ministry of Food which has great powers. I will ask to be excused from being diverted into a discussion on that issue now, for the Prime Minister has made plain that this matter is being dealt with.
§ Mr. Viant
The right hon. Gentleman has replied to me with regard to non-federated employers. My point was in 792 respect to wages and not a defence of non-federated employers. I was referring to the manner in which the federated employers appeal to the Ministry in order that they might maintain a minimum wage which is accepted as a maximum.
§ Mr. E. Brown
The hon. Member must not say that. We have done all we can in recent years to make fair protective agreements between employers and employed, and I have taken the view that in the last resort the State may have to step in. The hon. Member knows that it is easy to put up a particular case, but not so easy to find a full solution for the whole field of industry. There have been industries where we have taken action and that experience will stand us in good stead. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) rightly pointed out the lessons of the last War, and I was impressed by the point put by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). Anyone rereading the evidence given at that time will know that one of the causes of the strength of the unofficial movement was the lack of some machinery of the kind provided in this Bill. "Orders which people did not understand were issued without consultation. It is because I realise the depth of the feeling that existed then and the fear of non-co-operation, that we have proceeded in this Bill along the lines proposed. Every Member will agree that the trade unions in 1939 have a greater weight in the collective machinery of industry than they have ever had. That is my answer to the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams). I share with the hon. Member for Gower the view that advantage ought not to be taken of the present conditions to depress wages or conditions. Indeed, the machinery of consultation between the organised responsible bodies concerned is the best way to see that, in the discussions between the two sides of the industry, 793 safeguards of that kind are maintained and fair results achieved.
One or two of the points put in the Debate have seemed to me a little unreal. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith) put the case of the large factory and the small, and the hon. Member for Gorbals put it in another way. There are two sides to this problem of production. For some kinds of production the large-scale unit is essential, while in other kinds of production it is not essential. If a small unit is suitable for the production of a particular thing it should be used, and it has been my policy for the last four years in this case to take the job to the man rather than the man to the job. I can assure my hon. Friend that he has my whole-hearted support, because that is the policy I have preached as Minister of Labour to my colleagues in the Service Departments from the beginning. He must know, however, representing as he does Barrow, that there are certain productions for war purposes that need large-scale production units. I assure him that we will not overlook the point that in this period of readjustment, when small units are losing their normal channels of production, they should get their chance to swing over to meet the necessities of the Ministry of Supply and the Air Ministry and that they are not shut out of the total view of the national needs for production. I found my hon. Friend's speech refreshing and powerful, and I did not find any contradiction between it and the point of view put by the hon. Member for Gorbals.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. White) put a point about aliens. Leaving out the aliens who failed to pass the scrutiny of the Home Office, aliens fall broadly into two groups. The first consists of those who have been here for a number of years and are free to take any employment they can get. The second group consists of refugees who are subject to the provision that they do not enter employment. With regard to the litter group, it is proposed that they should now be allowed to take employment subject to the Minister's consent. That can be done apart from this Bill, but the Bill will aid me.
§ Mr. Brown
They will make application to the nearest exchange in the usual way. The question whether restrictions will be imposed in future with regard to their taking employment is under consideration, but it may turn out to be the case that for the time being no such restrictions are necessary. We shall have to weigh the evidence when we have analysed the large number of cases and do our best to get a solution that is fair to them and advantageous to the national effort.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I hope the Minister will not allow these aliens to take jobs when there are thousands of capable men over 45 years of age able to take them. I have same chaps in my division who have no work, and I do not want aliens to get jobs before them.
§ Mr. Brown
If the hon. Member will read my Second Reading speech he will see that I share his view. I laid down clearly that no action would be taken about aliens which would give them an advantage over the British worker. The British worker must, of course, come first in the national effort. I have answered the point about wages, and I would add a word about the mobility of labour. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was making, in his usual attractive way, what was really a debating point, because it is not the intention to make labour rigid at all.
§ Mr. Brown
I have made no such charge, but I would point out that there are debating points which are mere debating points and debating points which have a relation to the real problem we are discussing. The hon. Member asked for it. He laid down that it was the object of the Bill to make labour rigid. Nothing of the kind. One of the main purposes of the Bill will be to get mobility, to get the right labour for the right jobs, and so I have truly described that part of his speech as a debating point
. I think the House may be assured, after the discussions we have had, and with the machinery that is being set up, that this Bill cannot be, as the hon. Member for Camlachie described it, a Bill for industrial conscription. It has no relation whatever to industrial conscription.
795 If it had I should not be here moving the second Reading— [Interruption] —I would not—and certainly those who are co-operating in the drafting of the Orders and who ask to have their share in the statutory power would do no such thing. As we work the machinery I am confident that we shall avoid the troubles which caused so much industrial unrest in the last War. From the beginning we shall have the advantage that those who are really responsible, whether as employers or employés, or their organisations, will
§ know what is proposed in draft and will make their own contributions in the course of consultations which will take place. Then a report will come to the House and the House will know, if the Minister differs from that report, the reasons why he differs. I think the House can be reassured about the Bill, and I ask hon. Members now to give it a Second Reading.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 223; Noes, 1.797
|Division No. 298.]||AYES.||[5.24 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir R. T. D.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Loftus, P. C.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Evans, Colonel A. (Cardiff, S.)||Lucas, Major Sir J. M.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)|
|Adamson, Jennie L (Dartford)||Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||MaeAndrew, Colonel Sir C. Q.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Everard, Sir William Lindsay||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Fildes, Sir H.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Foot, D. M.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (lsle of Wight)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Fyte, D. P. M.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.|
|Assheton, R.||Gardner, B. W.||MeKie, J. H.|
|Astor, viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Magnay, T.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Gibson, R. (Greenook)||Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Mander, G. le M.|
|Beamish Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Beauohamp, Sir B. C.||Goldie, N. B.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Grant-Ferris, Flight-Lieutenant R.||Medlioott, F.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Greene, W. P. C. (Woreester)||Milner, Major J.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Grenfell, D. R.||Montague, F.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Han. J.||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Donoaster)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)|
|Brabner, R. A.||Grimston, R. V.||Morrison, G. A. (Seottish Unlv's.)|
|Bran, Sir W.||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Nall, Sir J.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir o. H.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Hannah, l. C.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Harris, Sir P. A.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Owen, Major G.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Bull, B. B.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan.||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L.||Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)||Peake, O.|
|Burke, W. A.||Hicks, E. G.||Peters, Dr. S. J.|
|Buteher. H. W.||Higgs, W. F.||Pethick-Lawrenee, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Cape, T.||Hogg, Hon. Q. MeG.||Piekthorn, K. W. M.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Holdsworth, H.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Cassells, T.||Holmes, J. S.||Pym, L. R.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hopkin, D.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Christie, J. A.||Horabin, T. L.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Colfox, Major Sir W. P.||Hunter, T.||Rethbene, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Isaacs, G. A.||Remer, J. R.|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Jackson, W. F.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Croft. Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Ridley, G.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Cross, R. H.||Kerr, Colonel C. l. (Montrose)||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Kerr, Sir John Graham (Sco'sh Univs.)||Rosbotham, Sir T.|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Kirby, B. V.||Russell. Sir Alexander|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovll)||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Russell. R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Salt, E. W.|
|Dugdale, Captain D. L.||Lathan, G.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Leaeh, W.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Lee, F.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Leech, Sir J. W.||Schuster, Sir G. E.|
|Ede, J. C.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Scott, Lord William|
|Edge, Sir W.||Lewis, O.||Shinwell, E.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Liddall, W. S.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Lindsay, K. M.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Lloyd, G. W.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Snadden, W. MoN.||Thorne, W.||Waterhouse Captain C.|
|Somervoll, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Thornton-Kemley, C. N.||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)||Thurtle, E.||White, H. Graham|
|Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||Tinker, J. J.||Wiekham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)||Touohe, G. C.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Stewart, J. Henderson (Fit, E.)||Train, Sir J.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitehin|
|Storey, S.||Tree, A. R. L. F.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)||Walker, J.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.||Young, A. S. L. (Partiek)|
|Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull|
|Tate, Mavis C.||Ward, Irem M. B. (Walltind)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.|
|Thomas, J. P. L.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.||Major Sir James Edmondson and Mr. Munro.|
|Maxton, J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Mr. McGovern and Mr.Campbell Stephen.|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committe of the Whole House for To-morrow— [Captain Waterhouse.]