HC Deb 30 April 1895 vol 33 cc208-16

formally moved the Second Reading of this Bill.

SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)

said that the right hon. Gentleman, in moving the First Reading of this Bill, very justly said that it dealt with a question of first-rate importance. Whatever differences of opinion existed referred to minor points, and there was a general consensus of opinion, not only that a Bill was desirable, but also as to the principal provisions. The Government brought in a Bill last year, and it was largely their own fault that no Bill was carried. They introduced one, but never put it down at a time when it could be discussed, and so it dropped. There was also a Bill which had been prepared by the London Conciliation Board. It was approved both by the London Trades Unions and by the Chamber of Commerce—not by the London Chamber only, but by the Associated Chambers of the whole country. Notwithstanding this, however, he found that the Bill was blocked by the Government, who would neither go on with their own Bill nor let him make progress with his. The Government said, indeed, that they would let his Bill go through as soon as theirs had passed the Second Reading stage; but, as the Government did not put their Bill down, this was an illusory promise. He regretted that the Government did not put the Bill down when it could be discussed; and he must also point out that if they had allowed his Bill to go on, the Government could have introduced all their own clauses into it. When they found the Session slipping away, the London Con- ciliation Board applied to Lord Onslow, who introduced the Bill into the House of Lords and carried it through safely. They had heard a good deal of late about useful measures which had passed in this House, and had been lost elsewhere. But there were cases of the reverse, and here was one of a useful Bill passed by the Lords and lost in the Commons. The Government had done the Board the honour of adopting most of the provisions of their Bill. In fact, the present Government Bill might be divided into three parts—(1) that which was in the Government Bill of last year; (2) that which had been taken from the Conciliation Board Bill of last year; and (3) that which was new. In his judgment, what was in last year's Bill was useless, what was new in this year's Bill was open to grave objection, and the best part was that which had been adopted from the Board Bill of last year. As regards the part continued from last year's Bill, he need express no opinion of his own; it would be sufficient to quote from the Report of the Royal Commission on Labour, where they said:— There seems to be no legal reason why the Board of Trade should not, even without legislation, take steps of the kind indicated. Several of the most important provisions were adopted from the Board Bill of last year—for instance, the power to cite witnesses, the power to administer an oath, to arrange future rates of wages in certain cases, to take security for payment of penalties, &c.; and of course he was glad that the Government had adopted them. On the other hand, Clause 4 as it stood was open to very grave objections. There was no mention of any provision as to qualification in the appointment of the Conciliator or Board of Conciliation, nor any provision for giving the employers or employed any voice in their election, nor was there any mention, either in this clause or in any part of the Bill, of the principle of equality of representation of Labour and Capital. Having in view the extreme differences of opinion on Labour questions which sometimes prevailed on county and borough councils, it might at any time happen that by a vote on strictly Party lines a Conciliation Board might be appointed which would altogether fail to possess the confidence of the disputants on both or either side. The practical incorporation in Mr. Bryce's Bill of the Arbitration Act of 1889 conferred many of the powers sought for in the Bill of the London Board of Conciliation. Yet it was pretty clear that the Act of 1889 was not adapted to the settlement of disputes as to future rates or conditions of labour without further modifications in its enactments over and above those stipulated in this present Bill. For instance, Clause 12 of the Act of 1889 enacted that an award on submission might be enforced by leave of a Court or Judge. But there was no machinery in existence or proposed which could enforce an award, and he thought his right hon. Friend would find it necessary, or at least desirable, to consider this point. Again, Clause 1 of the Act of 1889 enacted that a submission to arbitration, unless a contrary intention was expressed therein, should be irrevocable, "except by leave of the Court or a Judge." This provision obviously required modification if applied to future rates of wages, which must require re-adjustment from time to time. It would probably be desirable that conditions of any award as to future rates or conditions of labour should be subject to termination by either of the parties giving 12 calendar months' notice to the other party and to the arbitrators respectively, or by giving such shorter term of notice as may be mentioned in the award. Again, the Act of 1889 in the first schedule, Section 1, enacted that costs as between solicitor and client might be awarded. If Clause 6 of the Bill be adopted, it seems a question whether there ought not to be a stipulation added that neither barrister nor solicitor should be allowed to appear professionally before conciliators or arbitrators in labour disputes. In the Bill of the London Board of Conciliation the draftsman had selected such of the provisions of the Act of 1889 as appeared to be specially applicable to labour conciliation purposes, so that their Bill is complete in itself without the necessity of referring to any other Act. Surely this was a great advantage. This Bill, as it stood, afforded no encouragement to the voluntary formation of the Conciliation Boards elected by the joint efforts of employers and employed, nor to the important principle of equality of representation of Labour and Capital upon such Boards, that principle not being even alluded to in the Bill. Indirectly it discouraged the formation of such voluntarily elected Boards by favouring the "appointment" of Conciliators or Boards of Conciliation with payment of the expenses of such "appointed" Conciliators. As such "appointed" Boards might be constituted without any reference to their election by employers and employed and without any provision for equality of representation of Capital and Labour, it was not improbable that they might fail to obtain the confidence of the parties interested in Labour Disputes, without whose sanction the provisions of the Bill would become inoperative. As regarded the appointment of Boards of Conciliation by official authority, all previous legislation on that basis had been a failure. The previous Labour Conciliation Acts of this century, notably those of 1824, 1867, and 1872, had effected comparatively little. On the other hand, a large and increasing amount of valuable work had been done by Conciliation Boards voluntarily constituted, and of which the members had been chosen by employers and employed. It was, therefore, the opinion of the Chambers of Commerce and Trades Unions concerned, that it was in the direction of encouraging voluntary Boards of Conciliation, and of extending their prestige, influence, and usefulness, that further legislation was most especially desirable. Such voluntary Boards were the outcome of the practical experience of the parties most immediately concerned in labour questions, and the rules and constitutions of such Boards varied with the varying conditions and requirements of different trades and districts. He was entirely in sympathy with the object of this Bill, and had made these remarks not only in no hostile, but in no critical spirit, and he earnestly commended them to the attention of the Government, because he feared—and he spoke from practical experience—that unless some modifications were made the Bill would not effect all the good which all wished to secure.

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

said, he could not endorse the remarks of the last speaker, for he thought that portions of the Bill were of the most dangerous character possible. On the First Reading, he stated, they earnestly desired that something should be done in this matter, and therefore he would encourage the Government to proceed with the Bill. During 1893 and 1894, some of them had been accused of wishing to press the Government into a position of compulsion as regarded arbitration. Of all the monstrous proposals that had ever been made, with regard to compulsion as applied to arbitration, the most monstrous were contained in this Bill. Reference had just been made to the Act of 1889, which was to be incorporated in the Bill, and comparisons had been made between this Bill and that and other Acts. They would all desire that the terms of submission should be definitely stated in writing; that seemed to be a necessary preliminary. But by the Act of 1889, the submission was to be irrevocable, and it was to have the effect of an Order of Court. The next clause gave power to set aside or enforce the award. He asked the representatives of Labour in the House to take note of this. Then the Act of 1889 gave unlimited power to make orders as to costs; it also gave unlimited power to compel the attendance of witnesses, beyond the power given by the Bill itself. Again, it gave a power to deal with perjury; and then generally it gave power to deal as a court of law with all cases coming before it. He asked himself whether those who had drafted the Bill were absolutely unable to understand the very initials of the elements with regard to labour arbitration and conciliation, and the irreconcilable differences between dealing with labour and dealing with commercial matters. He regarded the Act of 1889 as one of the most admirable of its kind, but the terms of reference were altogether different in the case of a commercial transaction to any matter regarding labour. The Act of 1889 dealt entirely with trade and commercial disputes. Those matters had relation absolutely and entirely to the past—things done or things omitted to be done—and the damages assessed were present damages by reason of the past transaction. Labour disputes were entirely on a different basis; they had nothing to do with the past—the past was gone beyond recall. The case began with the present, and, dealing with the present only and settling the terms with regard to the present, the whole force of the arbitration lay with things to be done in the future. He asked hon. Members to remember this. He held that the Act of 1889 was altogether out of court with regard to labour disputes and labour arbitration. He spoke thus strongly because he had had to do with all the Bills brought into the House ever since 1867. They had been accused of trying to use compulsion, but of all compulsory provisions ever talked about the present Bill contained all the most compulsory provisions that could be incorporated into a measure. Above all else Clause 5 ought to be left out, and Clause 6 ought not to be dealt with at all, because it would bring upon them all the difficulties of professional arbitrations. He did not think that there was a trade union in the country that would leave its case in the hands of a lawyer to deal with. They would be great fools if they did, though in saying this he did not wish to speak disrespectfully of the lawyers. Before a Board of Conciliation the right men to plead were those who understood their own case, and difficulty was experienced where the men called in, in voluntary arbitrations, had not been technically acquainted with the circumstances of the trade. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he was prepared to lose the Bill by adhering to it as it stood, especially in regard to the Act of 1889?


was understood to say that the Bill did not apply the Act of 1889 to trade disputes.


said, he was afraid the right hon. Gentleman had not carefully read his own Bill. If he referred to the 6th Section he would find that it said— Where there is a written agreement to submit to an arbitrator present or future differences between employer, or different classes of employers, and a workman, or different classes of workmen, the Arbitration Act of 1889 shall apply subject to the following modification. Now the modifications did not touch the principle; it simply referred to the question of the production of books. Every one of the clauses in the Act of 1889 was transferred bodily to the Bill. Ad- mirably adapted as the Act of 1889 was to the purposes for which it was intended, it was altogether unfitted to deal with labour disputes, and, therefore, although he would not take upon himself the responsibility of moving the rejection of the Bill, he should feel it to be his duty to offer strenuous opposition in the Committee Stage to the incorporation of any portion of the Act of 1889, beyond such words of that Act as might be incorporated bodily in the Bill.

*SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

at Ten minutes to Twelve, moved the adjournment of the Debate.


hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press the Motion. They could go on for a short time yet.


said that, as remarked on the Introduction of the Bill, the measure seemed to him to be one to which general support might be accorded, but he thought at the same time that it was open to criticism. For his own part he supported the Bill, not because it contained all that was desired, but because of the necessity of doing something in the direction of establishing courts of conciliation. So great had been the depression and the consequent suffering through trade disputes, that one was only too glad to welcome some step which tended to conciliation. But so delicate and difficult was the question, that the danger, perhaps, was not that they would do too little, but that they might unwittingly do too much. He thought the remarks of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green against the bodily adoption of the Act of 1889 were well founded. For that Act the London Chamber of Commerce might claim some credit, because it originated with them, and it had proved of the greatest value. But was it an Act really adapted to the termination of trade disputes? The provision in the Act which declared "that the enforcement of an award might be effected by the leave of a Court" had been inserted in the Bill, but no machinery was provided to carry it out. The execution of an award in questions of work and wages, especially when there was no deposit, was a difficult matter. Lord Cross, in 1875, himself felt the difficulty, in framing the Employers and Workmen's Act, of dealing with specific performances in connection with work and wages. It was a difficulty which had been recognised in all the legislation that had taken place on the subject, not only in the law of this country, but in the law Massachusetts in America, in Nova Scotian law, and in the law of France; and it was a difficulty which was really elementary in connection with the sanctions of legislative Acts. Neither an employer nor a workman could be compelled to undertake duties which he was unwilling to perform. In connection with the recent dispute in the boot and shoe trade, it had been shown that in settling a dispute a deposit, which should be forfeited if the award was not fulfilled, was thought necessary by the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, who intervened; and this seemed as if the problem of otherwise enforcing the award seemed insoluble to the right hon. Gentleman himself. There were in the Bill no provisions whatever for enforcing the carrying out of the award, and the only way probably of doing so was by requiring a deposit. The criticism had been made that the Act of 1889 made a submission irrevocable; it was obvious that an award based on a submission of that character would be so unreasonable as to make it absolutely impracticable, and at least there ought to be provisions in the Bill to enable either an employer or an employee to terminate that which was done under an award, in the event of its being felt that the terms of the award were not capable of being fulfilled with advantage. There were some points in the Bill which struck him as strong recommendations; there was the actual repeal of such drastic Statutes as those of 1824 and 1867. If hon. Members would refer to the Act of 1824 they would see that a Justice of the Peace could make an award without hearing either side, and enforce that award by penal provisions. It was quite possible that this power might still be used and might produce a condition of things almost amounting to a social revolution. He thought a statute which had become a dead letter was one which ought to be taken from the Statute Book. Experience had shown the necessity for some provision enabling witnesses to be summoned to give evidence. He quite agreed that no questions ought to be asked of such witnesses as to the profits of the trade, or from the books of a Trade Union, both of which were private property. With reference to the action of Town and County Councils in forming Conciliation Boards, he thought those bodies might very properly undertake work of that character. They had the organisation for the purpose, but he also hoped the non-county boroughs would not have the expense of paying twice over, first directly, and afterwards as a contribution to the County Council. But although the aid of the Town and County Councils might be well invoked, there should be some provisions of a much more detailed character for their guidance than existed in this Bill; they were not told how such Boards should be formed. There was no indication that Boards should be based on representative and equal principles, in fact the matter was left wholly in blank to the county or town municipality. He thought some intimation should be given of the principles upon which such Boards should be formed, especially in these days when Party politics were often introduced into matters of this character. One of the great defects in the Bill was some want of encouragement to the formation of voluntary Conciliation Boards, which had been a very great success in many parts of the country.

Debate adjourned.