HC Deb 29 March 1894 vol 22 cc913-9

I ask leave Sir, to introduce a Bill to make better provision for the settlement of labour disputes. I think if may be regarded almost as a non-contentions measure by all sections of the House. [Mr. J. LOWTHER: What is it about?] My right hon. Friend says he does not know what it is. If he will allow me I will supplement what I have to say by a few preliminary remarks. This Bill, in substance, was before the House last Session, but I shall he very happy to state to the House shortly the provisions of the measure, and when I have done that I hope we shall allow the Bill to proceed as rapidly as we possibly can with a view to its speedily becoming law. The Bill of last year gave no powers of initiative to the Board of Trade, but the present Bill does, and to that extent it differs from the previous Bill. It states that— Where a difference exists or is apprehended between an employer or any class of employers, or between different classes of workmen, the Board of Trade may, if they think tit, exercise all or any of the following powers:—First, to inquire into and report the cause of the difference. Their, it may go further: it may invite the parties to meet together fry themselves, or through their representatives, under the presidency of a chairman mutually agreed upon or nominated by the Board of Trade, with a view to an amicable settlement of the difference. That is precisely following the lines that were taken with regard to the coal dispute last year. So far, that is an addition to the Bill of last year. The Board of Trade may also take the initiative, and where there seems to be a deadlock may intervene and endeavour to bring the parties together and constitute a Board with a view to an amicable settlement. The next clause is simply to take power to appoint a conciliator or Board of Conciliation in the case of any difference. As in the foregoing section, the Board of Trade, on the application of any employer or workmen interested, and after taking into consideration the circumstances, may, if it thinks fit, set up a Board of Conciliation in that distract in order to deal with the special dispute. That can only be done, as in the Bill of last year, on application to the Board of Trade either by the employer or employed There is a sub-section which says— If it is agreed or arranged. —this goes beyond conciliation— to refer any such difference to a person appointed by the Board of Trade, or to two or more persons, one of whom is to be appointed by the Board of Trade, the Board of Trade may, if it think fit make an appointment accordingly; that is to say, the Board of Trade may appoint an arbitrator: and it is proposed that it shall keep a list of persons who are willing to act in that capacity. There are many men at this moment in England who for the last 20 year's have been doing admirable service as arbitrators or umpires. It is impossible to over-estimate the value of those services. Mr. David Dale, for example, has been engaged in this work for more than a quarter of a century, and has done the noblest service to the industries of the country. So has Dr. Spence Watson, and in the last Report he presented he stated he had just issued his 50th award, and that never in a single instance had any award been disputed, and others I might mention—Sir Rupert Kettle and Members of this House—who have done excellent service in this way, and who, I am sure, will allow their names to be placed on a roll, or a list of honour, as men who are willing to give their impartial services for the promotion of conciliation. I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) sitting in his place. We all know what he has done in the shoe trade during the last few years, his admirable services, and the success with which he has intervened in disputes in Lancashire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire; and how he has prevented again and again the most serious outbreaks of industrial war, so to speak, in that great trade. Clause 3 gives power to aid in the establishment of Boards of Conciliation. In any districts where disputes are frequent, and adequate means do not exist to deal with them, the Board of Trade may appoint a person or persons to inquire into the conditions of the mischief and to confer with the employers and employed, with a view to aiding and assisting the bringing into existence of a Board of Conciliation. Practically, the object of this Bill may be summed up as a Bill to call, as far as possible, Boards of Conciliation into existence, to assist their organisation with such information, and such Rules, Regulations, and methods as have proved successful in the past, and to record and publish their decisions. It is part of their business to do all this to give proof of their usefulness and to enlist intelligent public opinion on their side. The fourth clause simply provides that there shall be a register of Conciliation and Arbitration Boards kept by the Board of Trade. The fifth clause requires that there shall be an annual Report made to Parliament of the work of these institutions. When we consider the vast mischief accruing to the industries of this country from labour disputes, I think we shall all agree that anything that can be done by this House to give sanction, aid, and assistance to institutions of this kind will be of (he greatest possible benefit. The number of disputes recorded by the Labour Department during 1893 was 638, involving more than 600,000 persons. Of these, 525 ended during the year, of which the result is known, and the workmen were successful in 229 cases, involving 400,000 persons; they were partly successful in 110 cases, involving 140,000 persons; and they were wholly unsuccessful in 186 cases, involving about 70,000 persons. It is impossible to consider the mischief that was caused to the industries of this country by the coal dispute of last year without our doing whatever lies in our power to minimise such evils. The mischiefs which accrued from that dispute did not terminate when the dispute was ended. We know that our supremacy in industries is no longer in dispute. We have fierce foreign competition. We cannot afford these industrial wars. The effect of them is that our competitors find new customers, and trade once diverted into a new channel does not easily revert to the old one. At least we lose some of it, and our people in consequence suffer miseries, starvation, and a load of debt, which are always the consequence of long-continued strikes. My right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London (Sir J. Lubbock) has a Bill before the House on behalf of the Chambers of Commerce, and I know he desires larger compulsory powers, to take evidence on oath, and to compel the production of books, &c. When we come to the Second Reading I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing the desirability of extending the Bill, or otherwise; but I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman's object is the same as that of the Government—to facilitate, as far as possible, the introduction of pacific measures rather than industrial war, and to minimise the mischief which at present results from strife between capital and labour.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Leave be given to bring in a Bill to make better provision for the settlement of Labour Disputes."—(Mr. Mundella.)

MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

said, he was very glad the right hon. Gentleman had enlarged the scope of his Bill as compared with what it was when introduced last year, and he should he very glad to co-operate with the right hon. Gentleman in making it as effective as possible. He had had some experience in this matter. He hoped, however, that facilities would be given for discussing the broader question put forward in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Lubbock), because, after all, the Bill of the Government was only a tentative measure. They wanted to go a little further. They wanted to put into motion two Acts of Parliament already on the Statute Book, neither of which, for some reason or other, had ever been applied to labour disputes. But anything that could be done to induce both employers and employed to settle their differences by a system of conciliation—and, if that failed, by arbitration— would certainly receive his support.


said, he would like to say a few words in answer to what the right hon. Gentleman had said as to the Bill of last year being treated as contentious.


I beg pardon; I made no statement about the Bill of last year being' treated as contentious.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had stated that he hoped this Bill would not be considered contentious. [Mr. MUNDELLA: Hear, hear!] He thought that observation meant that the Bill of last year was treated as contentious. He, for one, pleaded guilty to having used the ordinary Forms of the House to prevent that Bill being taken at an unseemly hour because he and his friends thought it only touched the fringe of a great question, and he thought that this Bill now was of very much the same nature. He himself believed that the same good work that had been done by gentlemen in the past, to whom allusion had been made, could he done in the future without Act of Parliament at all. He complained that the Government, in dealing with this question, had omitted all power of making the decision of the Board of Conciliation binding upon either party. Yet without such a power the Bill would be absolutely useless. The question had been very carefully considered, and had been gone into very fully by the Labour Commission, and it appeared to him that it would be far better for both parties if the Government would wait until the Report of that Commission had been issued before proceeding far with the present Bill.


said, he regretted as much as the noble Lord who had just spoken that there was no power contained in the Bill which would make the award of the Conciliation Board binding. He fully saw how difficult it would be to carry this out in all cases, but he be- lieved that many disputes would occur in which both sides would be willing to agree to such a provision. He suggested that the Second Reading of the Bill should be taken at an early date. It was essentially a non-contentious measure, and, therefore, no great time need be occupied over it. His other objection to the provisions of the Bill as they now stood was that they did not go far enough. When the proper time came be believed they would be able to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman that there was a strong desire on the part of both employer and employed throughout the country to have stronger powers than those suggested in the Bill. The Bill as now brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman would not effect very much, and, all things considered, he thought it would be desirable to have a Committee appointed on the subject to take a certain amount of evidence. He urged the Government to take the Second Reading of the Bill at an early date and to refer the measure to a. Select Committee, in order that the whole question might be thoroughly gone into.


asked whether the President of the Board of Trade would be willing to refer the Bill, backed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir J. Lubbock), himself and others, and promoted by the London Conciliation Board, to the same Committee, so that the suggestions contained in it might have full consideration? He was quite prepared to admit that some of the present proposals were improvements, but he suggested for the consideration of the President of the Board of Trade how the appointment of an arbitrator was to be of practical value unless there was some means of carrying out and enforcing his awards. If the parties agreed that an arbitrator should be appointed, surely it might be assumed that they would not object to his award being made the final determination of the matter. The power to administer an oath to witnesses, in order to secure the truth, and to summons witnesses, were also subjects for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman suggested by the experience of the London Conciliation Board.

MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

asked whether it was desirable to deal with this subject by Bill at all? He doubted whether the right hon. Gentleman could show that the Bill enabled him to do anything which he could not do already. He would probably say, as he said last year, that for what he proposed to do he wanted to have some kind of Parliamentary sanction. But in order to get that sanction it was not necessary to subject this grave and important question to the delays and difficulties incident to legislation. A Vote in the Estimates 1o meet the necessary expenses of conducting the inquiries and making the appointments would have secured all the Parliamentary sanction desired. That course had been adopted in regard to the appointment of Labour Correspondents, and he did not, see why it should not have been taken last year in connection with this subject.

Motion agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mundella, Mr. Secretary Asquith, and Mr. Burt.

Bill presented, and read first time. [Bill 125.]