HC Deb 27 February 1891 vol 350 cc1890-900
(7.46.) MR. MORTON (Peter borough)

I am aware that I cannot take a Division upon the Motion of which I have given notice, and which is in the following terms: That it is desirable to appoint Boards of Arbitration for the settlement of trade disputes throughout the United Kingdom, which for that purpose shall be divided into such districts as Parliament may determine; the Arbitration Boards to be composed equally of the representatives of capital and labour, and to be presided over by a Chairman who shall be appointed by the Crown, and shall have no vote except a casting vote; the reference to such Arbitration to be with the consent of both the disputing parties; and the award to be final and binding on both parties. Under the circumstances, it may be thought just as well that I should not move this. We shall be told, of course, that there is to be a Royal Commission to consider among other things the question which I have made the subject of my Resolution; and, therefore, it may be thought by some hon. Members that it is not necessary or right to discuss the matter now; but, so far as I can see and understand the position, that affords an additional reason why we should discuss the question at the present time. I do not say that the Government or the Tory party wish to shelve this question until after the next General Election; but certainly the effect of their proposal of a Royal Commission will, to a large extent, lead to the shelving of a question which, in my opinion, ought to be considered by the House of Commons at the present time. For my part, I do not see much use in an Inquiry by Royal Commission; for practically all the questions we wish to have considered are, with one exception, ripe for discussion in the House now. The one exception is the question of an eight hours day for all trades throughout the country. That question is not in a position to be settled now. In regard to the mining industry the miners have quite made up their minds, and I do not see that the question at all need be entrusted to a Royal Commission. Then in regard to the settlement of labour disputes generally, surely matters are quite ripe for legislation on this question if they are ever going to be. As to this Royal Commission, of course I cannot say how it is going to be constituted, but I do not think it will be of any use at all unless at least half of its members are working men or the representatives of working men. If the Government do as they did the other day in the appointment of the Committee on the railway hours and nominate only one working-men's representative in proportion to 23 others then the Commission will not be much good so far as the assent of the working-men to its proposals is concerned, and without such assent I do not see that the proposals can with advantage be carried into legislative effect. To attempt to force a settlement upon the working classes against their wish is bound to be unsuccessful now that they are able to exercise a powerful influence by their votes at elections. My Resolution is intended particularly to deal with strikes, the most important of the matters in relation to labour questions with which we have to deal. Nearly every strike is caused by the insufficiency of the wages paid, and the refusal of employers to consider the dispute with the representatives of the workmen. A most important strike occurred among the dock labourers in the Metropolis in 1889, and I will endeavour to show what the effect of that strike has been, and if I can show that the effect has been bad on the general interest of the country, I shall have gone a long way to prove my case.

(7.49.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


I was proceede about to consider the cost in connection with the dock labourers strike in London. We are told in that very excellent Board of Trade Report on the strikes and lockouts of 1889, that the cost was two millions of money directly, and probably there was a loss of another million indirectly. Then a little later we had the dispute between the South Metropolitan Gas Company and their men which cost the Gas Company £75,000 and, of course, it also cost the working classes a very large sum. Then, we are told in this Report, that during 1889 there were 1,145 strikes, more than half of which were caused by disputes as to wages. Then in 1890 we come to the matter which especially induced me to put my notice down—the strike of the rail way men in Scotland at the close of last year. Trade was so much disturbed by this strike that it is almost impossible to calculate what the loss was. I think we might mention millions, but certainly to the companies and to the men the loss wasvery large indeed. Then there is another strike now going on, and which we hope may be satisfactorily settled, but still it means great loss to the parties concerned. There can be no question that the loss to trade and to workmen by these strikes is very great indeed. The noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), speaking last Saturday, said "a strike may be more disastrous than a civil war," and he went on to observe that there was no endeavour on the part of employers to settle these disputes without a strike. He said:— We observe that a certain section of the Tory Press, representing, I fear, a certain section of the Tory Party, thinks it necessary whenever a strike occurs to take the side of the employer to imme diately denounce the labourers for resorting to extreme measures; to egg on the employers to resort to extreme measures against the men. Well, I suppose the noble Lord sitting on the other side of the House probably knows the opinion among the Tory Party. But the question is, how can these labour disputes, when they arise, be settled without having recourse to strikes? I am aware that my proposal is not a new one, that it has been considered by many before I put the Motion down, and there has been a certain amount of success attending it. My proposal is to appoint Boards of Arbitration for the settlement of these disputes, composed equally of representatives of capital and labour. Now, the first difficulty we meet with is that, although a great many workmen are in favour of settling these disputes before they come to strikes, still there is a difficulty in some people's minds about Parliament having anything to do with these matters. I find in the Report of the Trades Congress held at Dundee in 1889 that the members of the Congress were in favour of— Joint Boards of employers and workmen as being well calculated to result in a better understanding between them, and to effect the settlement of important questions affecting the interests of both. And the Resolution went on to urge Trade Councils and other representatives of workmen to put this matter before the Chambers of Commerce and other bodies of employers with a view to the formation of such Boards, and they indicate the advantage of such boards by reference to the result of the dockers' strike. Now, I gather from the Report of the proceedings that, while the Congress were in favour of questions being submitted to Joint Boards composed equally of employers and workmen, the difficulty that occurred to them and the objection they felt to Parliamentary action was that they thought that re-reference to arbitration might be made compulsory. My Resolution does not carry compulsion, and, in fact, at the end the Resolution reads— The reference to such arbitration to be with the consent of both the disputing parties. So there would be no compulsion to submit the matter to arbitration. Why I urge Parliamentary action is not so much on account of the workmen, for I believe they are quite prepared to do something of this kind, but because, having the Scotch railway dispute in my mind, I think employers do not seem willing, if they can possibly avoid it, to adopt any sort of arbitration whatever. It, therefore, may be necessary before we can get anything done in the matter that there should be Parliamentary action, not for the purpose of compelling either party to go before these Boards, but there being Boards of this sort composed fairly of the representatives of each party there would be immense responsibility attaching te either party refusing to accept this means of arriving; at a fair settlement of the dispute. The noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill), in that speech to which I have already referred, made a suggestion which somewhat resembles mine, that there should be— State Boards of Arbitration, to which both parties can refer their differences, and which, even if they have no other sanction behind them, will, if properly composed, have behind them the powerful sanction of public opinion. Well, although under my proposal the parties to the Scotch Railway dispute would not have been compelled to submit to arbitration, the party refusing such reference would be made responsible by public opinion for what might follow.

(8.0.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


If you wish to get these things settled it can only be done by dealing fairly with both parties. If you could have Boards of Conciliation or other Boards before whom disputants would be willing to go, so much the better. But, as a matter of fact, it appears that disputants do not go before the Courts of Arbitration or Conciliation provided for under existing legislation. No doubt there are a great many disputes which ought to be settled without having recourse to strikes. This Return on Strikes and Lock-outs shows that more than 50 per cent. of the strikes have been settled in favour of the working men, especially in those cases where an increase of wages has been asked for, thus showing that the men have not been wrong in asking an increase. Something has been done in this direction, but, to my mind, not enough. In connection with the 1,145 strikes which occurred in the year 1889, 714 were settled by arbitration, or a good deal more than half. Another important reason, to my mind, why there should be some attempt made by the Government and the Unions and Parliament to settle this question is that so many men are concerned. We are told that the number of men concerned in the strikes in 1889 was 334,484, and it is obvious that such an enormous number of men being thrown out of work must have caused a terrible amount of misery; therefore, there is good reason for asking Parliament not to wait for two or three years, but to endeavour to do something at once. I am not all alone in my idea that the question of wages should be considered by these Boards. I find that only the other day the Under Secretary of State for India (Sir John Gorst), speaking at Chatham, said the workmen were entitled to Shorter hours, better wages, and more leisure to cultivate their souls and their intellects. We, therefore, have another opinion from the other side of the House, that there is some reason why working men should ask for an increase of wages, a reduction of hours, and various other ameliorations. Of course, in connection with this question, I am aware that some employers think that they can put down combinations and unions altogether, or that they can put such restrictions upon them as to render it impossible for them to exist. Well, I think these people are wrong. Such efforts certainly have not been attended with very much success in the past. I do not think it is possible to put down combinations, nor do I think it would be wise for us to attempt to do so. I find that the Under Secretary for India on the occasion I have referred to said "any attempt to place restrictions on combination would be swept away." He is quite right. He took care on that occasion to say he was not speaking for the Government, and, therefore, I do not put him forward as speaking for the Government, but his, at any rate, is a Tory or Conservative opinion. He went on to say— A great improvement had been effected in the condition of the working classes during the last 50 years by the Trade Unions, who had been instrumental beyond any other institutions in preventing strikes. I mention that because, as I have said before, I believe the difficulty we have to deal with is not with the working men nor with the combinations, but with the employers, backed up by the Government and Parliament, and other influences for putting down the workmen and keeping them down. So strongly did the Under Secretary for India feel on this subject that He urged the creation of a Ministry or Industry and some Government Department to look after the interests of the working classes.' It may be necessary, or it may not be necessary, to have such a Ministry; but this shows there is a strong feeling amongst some hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House that the time has arrived for doing something in this matter. Even the Corporation of the City of London has been attempting to do something, though not specially in connection with disputes between masters and workmen. I am glad to think that the Corporation of the City are trying to do something. Whatever opinion some people may entertain of the Corporation there is no doubt that in the great dockers' strike the Lord Mayor—Sir James Whitehead—did noble work, together with Cardinal Manning and other gentlemen, in trying to bring about a settlement. Finally, a settlement was arrived at. For hundreds of years there have been attempts—and successful attempts—to settle commercial disputes and disputes between masters and men by Courts of Arbitration or Conciliation. In France, according to statistics prepared by the French Government in 1841, there were 62 Courts, and in 1880 132 for the settlement of disputes between masters and men. These Courts settled 39,429 disputes which occurred during the year 1880, and I find that 59 per cent. of these disputes related to wages. When we find that so many of such cases are settled satisfactorily to both parties by Courts of Arbitration which, I believe, are composed partly of workmen and of employers, it is a proof that we might anticipate success if we had similar Courts in this country. I am told, though I have no actual data, that in at least one of the States of the United States they have compulsory Courts of Arbitration. I have already said I do not think we are far enough, advanced in this country at present to have compulsory Courts, but, of course, the time may come when we may get as far as that. In the meantime, the greatest difficulty is that the men themselves are against compulsion in any way whatever. In the words of a learned Recorder— The only remedy for these strikes would be the appointment of some tribunal, say, on the lines of the Railway Commission, to arbitrate as to hours between master and man. These, again, would seem to require the assistance of some representative body or Committee, as well of employers as of employed. I will not take up further time by endeavouring to show that it is possible to have Courts of Arbitration that might be of some use. Strikes are bad for everybody, and it is our duty as far as we can to get rid of them and put an end to them in a manner that shall be satisfactory to both parties. I suggest in my Resolution that we should have Arbitration Boards composed equally of representatives of labour and capital. There would be some difficulty in defining the limits of the districts, and in deciding upon the constituency which should appoint the Boards both for the men and employers; but if we got so far as to decide on having these Boards, I have no doubt that the men, through their unions and combinations, would easily be able to appoint representatives. There would be no difficulty in appointing people to represent them, or in getting together a Board of Arbitration, who would fairly and honestly represent both parties in the dispute. There is another difficulty. I have suggested that the Chairman of this body should be appointed by the Crown. There would be difficulties raised as to who should be Chairman to preside over the sittings, and as, after all, someone would have to be appointed, I do not know that my suggestion is not as good as any other. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would make a very good Chairman for a Board of this sort. I have no doubt both masters and men could depend on his acting honestly and fairly in their interests, and hearing everything that was to be said on both sides. I know he could not always do the work, and that, therefore, other gentlemen would have to be found. I have no doubt that if we made up our minds that something of this sort was to be done there would be no difficulty in finding gentlemen of independent means who would be trusted by both parties to act as Chairmen of these Boards. I do not propose that the Chairman should have a vote, except a casting vote; but I am satisfied, from my experience amongst working men, that the occasions on which he would have to use such a vote would be very rare indeed. If a dozen representatives, six on each side, sat down to consider a dispute previous to a strike, and before there was much bad feeling among the parties, they would, as a rule, come to some agreement without calling on the Chairman to exercise his casting vote. You could not very well compel men to go into an arbitration unless they were consenting parties. If you did your Court would not last very long, and, instead of settling labour disputes, you would go very near to bringing about a revolution. The award, however, when given, should be binding on both parties. Appeals are allowed in some places; but it would not be easy to say to whom an appeal should be allowed. I have no doubt it would be considered by some people a harsh thing to make the award of arbitrators binding; but I do not think much weight should be attached to that view. We have Courts of Arbitration now, and there is not much difficulty in carrying out their decisions, because, after all, the parties know that somebody has to give way in the end. If either party, however, objected to the award being final, there might be found a Court which would consider, if not all the points of the reference to the arbitrators, at all events certain practical questions. I am sorry I have detained the House so long, but I do think this is a most important matter, and I do not think the Government have acted wisely in sending the question to a Royal Commission. Unfortunately, as far as I can gather, it generally takes two or three years before a Royal Commission reports, and then you frequently have a Majority Report and a Minority Report, so that, except for the information you have gathered, you are very much where you began. Therefore, I should have been better satisfied if the Government had attempted to deal with this question of strikes at once. The railway hours question has been referred to a Committee; but if that question is ripe for consideration by a Committee, and is likely to be dealt with during the present Session, it appears to me that the question of strikes is still more ripe. It may be said that, as a Royal Commission is going to be appointed, it is unnecessary or unwise of me to say anything on the subject at present. That is not my view of the matter at all. I think the question ought to be considered by this House, even only for the sake of discussing it and giving the Royal Commissioners more information regarding it than they have at present. In conclusion, I may say I shall be very glad indeed, as far as I am personally concerned, if in my humble way I can do anything at all to settle these disputes amongst workmen and masters. I shall be only too pleased to do all I can. I am personally aware, on account of my profession, of the difficulties which arise on the question; but I can say that, as far as the men are concerned, there is, as a rule, very little difficulty in getting them to settle matters, the difficulty being more generally with the masters. I should like the Government to appoint on the Royal Commission a large number of what are called working men's representatives—not necessarily Members of this House—and I would press very strongly upon Her Majesty's Ministers the necessity of considering this part of the question.


I fully admit the importance of the question to which the hon. Member's remarks have been directed, and no one can more strongly desire than I do an increase in any way of the means for a peaceful solution of questions between employers and employed. But I am surprised that an hon. Member who has occupied something like three-quarters of an hour in explaining his opinions on the subject and asking for legislation should be entirely ignorant of the fact that Parliament has passed several Statutes to carry out the object he has in view. I think it would be better if the hon. Member would attempt to inform himself on the question before he makes any further attempt to inform others. I am surprised also that the hon. Member has not felt, in view of the almost empty state of the House, that he was wrong in bringing this subject forward now. When my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury announced the other day that the Government would appoint a Royal Commission the hon. Member for Whit by (Mr. E. W. Beckett), who had a Motion on the Paper similar to that of the hon. Member, saw at once that it was not desirable to press it. It is perfectly obvious that the House of Commons does not desire to discuss this question now, but is content to leave it to be dealt with by the Royal Commission.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House was adjourned at half after Eight o'clock till Monday next.