§ Order read, for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [30th April]: "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. BUTCHER (York)
said, that undoubtedly the Bill was an improvement on the Bill of last year. The Bill of last year was a skeleton Bill. That description could not be given to the present measure, but still it was devoid of many of those properties which would enable it to become a vital, active, and 834 living measure. The Bill might be roughly divided into two parts. One dealt with conciliation, and the other with arbitration. With regard to conciliation he thought the Bill ineffective and inadequate to a large degree; and as to arbitration it was either useless or dangerous, so far as it tended to effect that object. Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill gave to the Board of Trade power to do certain things which it had already got ample power to do. The Board got power to endeavour to bring parties in a dispute together, and to endeavour to effect a reconciliation between them if possible. That was to be done either by the action of the Board of Trade itself, or by the action of persons whom they were to nominate for the particular dispute under consideration. If the Board of Trade thought their action was likely to be more authoritative or productive of better results if they had this statutory power to do that which they had already got the inherent power to do, he was sure there could be no objection to granting it; but don't let hon. Members imagine that the granting of such statutory power would be productive of any very great or beneficial results. There was in the two clauses one provision which, if it was ever acted upon, might be of a very valuable character, and that was the provision which enabled the Board of Trade, or their nominees, to make a report upon the dispute in question. But what was to be the character of the report? Was it to be merely a report upon the causes and circumstances of the difference, an historical resumé of the situation, or was it to be a report upon the merits of the dispute with a suggestion or recommendation as to what should be done in order to bring the dispute to an end. If it was to be of the former character, it would be to a large extent useless; if of the latter character, it might be very valuable. Neither side to a great industrial dispute could carry on the conflict long if the force of public opinion was against them; but there was the difficulty of forming an intelligent and well instructed public opinion. If there could be an authoritative body—a body whom the public could trust—to make a report as to what ought to be done in the future, much would be done to bring a conflict to a termination. He would 835 he told, truly, it would be for any Government or any Governmental Department to make a report which would even have the suspicion of having a partisan character; that it would be dangerous for a Government to decide, as it were, upon the merits of the opposing parties in the case of a great industrial conflict. Granted, and therefore he said the intervention for this purpose of the Board of Trade or their nominees was far less likely to be valuable than the intervention of an outside tribunal, some Board of a more permanent and independent character than the Board of Trade or their nominees could possibly possess. If Clauses 1 and 2 were useless, Clause 3 was even more useless, because it gave power to the Board of Trade to make inquiries, and to talk over the expediency of forming a Board of Conciliation or Arbitration in a particular district. He should have thought there was no necessity to give statutory powers to the Board of Trade, or, indeed, to any other public body to talk. Clause 4 he regarded as the most important clause of the Bill. It gave power to County and Borough Councils to appoint Boards of Conciliation for their county or their borough and to bear certain expenses connected with or incidental to the work of the boards, but he should have expected to find in the clause or in some other clause, something bearing upon the constitution of the Board. He should also have expected to find something laid down for the guidance of the county councils as to the duration of office which the members of the Board should hold. He should have expected to find something relating to the duties which the Boards would have to perform. One would naturally like to know how were these Boards to be brought into active work. Was it to be upon the joint requisition of the employers and the employed, or would they be bound to take action upon the requisition of either the employers or the employed. Or was it in certain cases to be left to their own initiative to take action. Of all that there was not a word in the Bill. Again, he would like to know what these Boards were to do when they were appointed. Were they to be merely Conciliation Boards, that was Boards for the purpose of bringing the parties together, and, if possible, 836 effecting a reconciliation, or were they to be something more. Boards of the nature of Arbitration Boards which should, in case conciliation failed, be able to inquire into the matter and make an award, which, as he had already pointed out, would be of the highest value. He now passed to the arbitration provisions. It would be generally admitted there must necessarily be a considerable number of cases where methods of conciliation would fail. He found that in Clause 5 there were powers given to the Boards to require the attendance of persons, and to take evidence if necessary. There was not the necessary result that the Boards should be empowered to produce some result of their labours by making an award or something equivalent to it. Of course he did not suggest that the award should have compulsory or binding force. He did not suppose anyone in the House would suggest such a thing, but without any provision of that sort at all there would be a strong force in the shape of public opinion which could be brought to bear for the purpose of enforcing the award. How was the matter of arbitration dealt with? Clause 6 provided that where there was a written agreement to submit to arbitration a present or future difference, all the provisions, with the exception of two, of the Arbitration Act 1889 should apply. The provisions of the Arbitration Act which would apply included the power of enforcing by legal process any award that was made by the arbitrating body, and they included the power of enforcing the payment of costs by the unsuccessful party. He did not think he exaggerated when he said the incorporation of any such powers in the Bill would be received with the utmost resentment and indignation by the whole of the working classes of the country. But that was how the matter stood according to the Bill as drawn. What was the meaning of the words "written agreement"? What might be intended was an agreement signed by every one of the employers and workmen whose interests were concerned. If that was meant the clause would be absolutely useless because, was it conceivable that in a great strike involving the interests of hundreds and thousands of workmen they could get every workman to sign an agreement consenting to refer the 837 matter to arbitration? In a comparatively small dispute every workman might be got to sign the agreement, but even in that case the award would be enforced by legal process which would be objectionable and impossible in the last degree. They could not make a man work for a certain wage; and, therefore, to apply the provisions of the Arbitration Act of 1889 to the case of trade disputes was not only unreasonable but absurd and impossible. It might be that there was another meaning attached to the words—that not every single workman was a party to the dispute was to sign the agreement, but only representatives of the employers on the one hand and of the workmen on the other hand. If that were the meaning, it was, again, open to the gravest objection. It was to force men to accept the decision of a tribunal which they had never practically agreed to, and to enforce such an award would be impossible. As far as the Bill dealt with arbitration, it appeared to him to be useless or dangerous, and if this clause were to remain in the Bill, it would have to be largely remodelled in Committee. He had suggested—not in an unfriendly way, he hoped—what he thought were the defects of the Bill. But he desired to express, on behalf of himself and many hon. Gentleman on the Opposition side of the House who were interested in this question, gratitude to the Government for having brought in this Bill. Many of the defects could be remedied in Committee; and he hoped that it would be converted, if not into a perfect measure, into one which would be satisfactory for the purpose of promoting those great results desired by all, and of putting an end to those disastrous industrial disputes which had done so much to ruin our trade and bring misery on the working population.
§ * MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said, that this was a Bill which was usually debated in the dinner-hour and in odd fragments of time when the continuous discussion which was necessary was truncated by the rules of the House. But without animadverting too much on this evidence of the regard in which the Government held their own production, he would point out that it was no longer contended that the previous Bills on this subject effected any 838 real or substantial change in the law, or gave any powers which were not already possessed. The present Bill did confer some new powers. It gave to the local authorities powers, which, without enactment, might be held to be ultra vires, to appoint organisations foreign to their original purposes. It conferred on the arbitrators powers to compel attendance and the ancillary power to administer oaths and order the production of books and documents. That was a serious and substantive addition to the law. Further, it was proposed that, where a written agreement existed, the provisions of the Arbitration Act in the modified form should apply. He could understand that in the case of the Bills previous to this, which gave no new powers, and merely expressed the pious opinion of the House and its academic desires, it might have been contended that something like a Parliamentary sanction was necessary to give a satisfactory locus standi to any Courts of Inquiry or Boards of Arbitration. It might be so, but in previous Debates he had pointed out that the same result would be perfectly well attained by a mere Vote in Supply to provide for the necessary expenses of sending down an officer to any district where his services were required. And he doubted whether more recent experience tended to confirm the view that Parliamentary sanction was necessary. It was not found necessary in the case of the London cab dispute, in the case of the boot-trade dispute, and—most conspicuous of all—in the case of the great coal strike. In the latter case he was interested himself, because he represented a constituency in which coal formed a larger portion of the material necessary for production than it did in any other town in the United Kingdom. In that case the result was attained by the purely voluntary, and—if the assumption of the previous Bills was correct—illegal intervention of a Department. Another remarkable instance where Parliamentary sanction was not thought necessary was the establishment of the Labour Department of the Board of Trade. That was a more remarkable departure than the active intervention of the Board of Trade in labour disputes. In the case of that new Department there were Inquiries and Reports which were none the less so because they were 839 periodic and rendered according to a carefully—elaborated system. No doubt, that Department had been established with good results; but in one respect it required more Parliamentary sanction than the present proposal, because it was completely subversive of all the present principles of our Civil Service. Appointments were made which were in their method completely repugnant to the spirit on which our Civil Service was organised. If statutory powers were not found necessary in this instance, it was strange that they should have been thought necessary in the case of the Bills of 1893 and 1894. He congratulated the Government upon having at last nerved themselves to the task of putting something into their Bill which could really be called an enactment—which would add to, and possibly improve the law. If there was a standpoint from which statutory powers might be regarded as desirable, there was another standpoint from which it must be regarded as extremely undesirable. This Bill would make it almost inevitable that the Board of Trade, and that Department alone, would be appealed to. To begin with, the Board of Trade was not the true Labour Department. The Home Office was in much more direct and constant communication with labour. But even if the Board of Trade were what it pretended to be, he was not sure that it was desirable that the Board of Trade should be the only Department to which the parties to a dispute should be able to appeal. He had in mind the coal strike of 1893. The right hon. Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield was at that time President of the Board of Trade, and no one could have been more fitted to intervene in such a dispute. But the hon. Member for Normanton at that time went round from platform to platform saying that the one thing he would not consent to was the intervention of the right hon. Member for the Brightside Division. Ultimately the intervention came from a totally different Department, and the one perhaps most remote from questions of this kind. Now the proposals of the Bill would tend to fix procedure, and to limit the choice of mediators. No one could doubt that this Bill would receive a Second Reading; and he was glad of it; for it was an inoffensive little 840 measure which might be the germ of something in the future productive of good results. He was glad too that the Government had at last seen the real necessities of the situation, and that to do any real good the law must be changed.
§ MR. DONALD CRAWFORD (Lanarkshire, N.E.)
said, that before the hon. Member for the Hallam Division spoke, he thought he had some criticisms to make on the Bill, though he approved of its purpose; but he found himself disarmed by the criticism of the hon. Member, which he thought to be in the main far from reasonable. He entirely dissented from the view that the previous Bills on this subject were entirely unnecessary. He had reason to know from the circumstances in his own constituency that it would have been highly advantageous if the Board of Trade or any Department had had a statutory locus standi in the case of the Scotch coal strike. The examples which the hon. Member had cited were entirely beside the point. In the coal strike, the boot strike, and the English coal strike, the parties appealed to the Government to come to their assistance. But in the case of the Scotch coal strike he knew that, so far from the Government being appealed to, overtures from the Government were received with great coldness; and he was certain that if the Government had publicly tendered their good offices, or had endeavoured to force them upon the parties, they would have received a snub from the coal masters to which no Government could be expected to subject themselves to. It was of great importance that the Government should have a statutory locus standi to interfere. He had some doubt whether the machinery of the Bill was as perfect as it ought to be; and in his judgment it was a somewhat difficult Bill to interpret and to master, because the plan was not so simple as it ought to be; This was a somewhat serious objection and one which might perhaps be capable of alteration in Committee. Altogether, he did not think that the Bill was definite enough. He did not ask for a large degree of compulsion, but he wished to see something like an attempt to establish a system of conciliation everywhere where there was the probability of a trade 841 dispute arising. He was afraid that a Bill like this, as was the case with former attempts in the same direction, would remain a dead letter if a little further definiteness was not given and encouragement held out to the establishment of such Boards. The proposal for County Conciliation Boards might be made more definite in its terms than it was. In his opinion the Bill should contemplate more clearly than it did two stages and not one stage in these disputes. The Bill provided for a process of conciliation, and then it contemplated the possibility of the question being further referred to arbitration, which was a different thing. In his opinion it would be better to regard these two stages as the normal process which disputes of this kind passed through. There should be a system of conciliation so general in the Bill as to be almost universal. If the parties who met for the purpose of conciliation agreed, then there was an end to the matter; but if they did not agree to submit the point to arbitration, then he thought that there should be a second stage; there ought to be a power residing in either party to appeal to a Standing Board to obtain their opinion. The force of public opinion in these cases was one of the most important elements in the question. There ought, therefore, to be a Standing Board of Arbitration in the counties, and also a Governmental or central body to which the parties might appeal if they distrusted the local body.
§ SIR JAMES JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)
said, there had been an immense loss during the last few years, caused by strikes, not only to the employers and employed, but to the trades of the country in which large exports were made. During those periods trade had very often been taken by foreign competitors, which we had never been able to recover. It was a great advantage to any competitor to have the hands of his opponents tied for two or three months. It was only by constant industry, low prices, and low cost of production that our opponents were able to defeat us in the markets abroad, where we exported our goods under ordinary circumstances. Public opinion was a most important matter in connection with these disputes, for unless a 842 large strike had the support of public opinion it could not last very long; if, therefore, they could introduce any method by which they could inform public opinion in regard to these matters it would be a great advantage. The public entered upon one side or the other of these disputes in perfect ignorance of the real cause of the disputes, and he welcomed any endeavour on the part of Her Majesty's Government to try and enlighten the public on these matters. Strikes often went on for weeks and months before an appeal was made to any outside authority. In the counties of Durham and Northumberland they considered that they were ahead of other parts of the country. Conciliation had been no new thing with them for the last 14 or 15 years. In Durham and Northumberland they had joint committees, consisting of six representatives of the masters and six representatives of the men, presided over by the County Court Judge as an independent authority. For this purpose the county of Durham was divided into three districts. Splendid work had been done by those joint committees, and they had settled a large number of disputes. He admitted that there had been cases where a decision had been given by a joint committee when difficulty had arisen for a short time afterwards, but when once the decision was given by that committee a dispute rarely lasted for more than a week afterwards, even when it was not at first accepted What he desired was to see the same system adopted in our counties as they had in their three districts of Durham. During the last few years they had had some serious strikes in Durham, one lasted 13 weeks, and the Bishop of Durham was called in as an arbitrator to settle what was practically a slight difference between employers and employed. If they had had an authority in the county to deal with a county matter, as they had to deal with local matters, they would not have found it necessary to apply to an outside arbitrator. If they could adopt the same system in our counties it would be of very great advantage to the whole of the industries of the country. He was thoroughly opposed to any compulsory powers being taken in regard to this matter, because he could not see how 843 they were to be enforced. How could the Board of Trade enforce a decision if the workers were dissatisfied and said they would not accept it? Was the House in a position to compel the workmen to go down in the pits and hew the coal on the terms decided by the Board of Trade? It was utterly impossible. Similarly, if the employers were dissatisfied, could the House compel them to work their mines at a loss? The only way would be to pay that loss, and he questioned if any Parliament would grant power to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide for the losses of an industry in that way? It was proposed that the Board of Trade should take considerable powers, but the county he had the honour to represent did not like too much Government interference; they thought they could manage these things very much better than the Board of Trade. There were none who knew better the value that should be put upon the working of a seam of coal than the men who had to work it; and there were none who knew better than they did the value of the coal when it was worked. The Board of Trade should have very little power in such a matter. The only reason he supported the Bill was that he believed in the principles of it, and he was anxious to see in existence some authority which should be able to obtain and to give such information as would enable the public to form a just opinion on the merits of a dispute. While supporting the Second Reading, he reserved to himself the fullest liberty to move Amendments in Committee.
§ * MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, it would be generally admitted that the last speech was a very useful contribution to the discussion upon the Bill. All were agreed as to the desirability of attempting to do something in the direction of establishing a better system of conciliation in trade disputes and it would be admitted that the Bill introduced by the Government the year before last was a very feeble effort; but 844 when they looked at the intricacies and difficulties of the subject as illustrated by this Bill, it might be conceded that it would be the exercise of a wise discretion not to attempt to go too far in the first instance. In the construction of the Bill there appeared to have been two minds at work, and the results of their labours were hardly amalgamated. Whatever happened he hoped the Government would accept the advice that compulsory arbitration should form no part of the Bill; indeed, compulsion and arbitration seemed to be a contradiction in terms. He could understand two persons who agreed as to the question to be submitted to arbitration concurring in the further agreement that the result of the arbitration should be binding upon them, and should be capable of being enforced by one upon the other; but, when you had to determine such questions as rates of wages, to say that, an arbitration once held, you were to be able to bring the parties before some unknown Court of Law to make them conform to an agreement, seemed to him to be an impossible and absurd conclusion to arrive at. As bad been urged by the hon. Member for York, the only force that could be relied upon was the force of public opinion; and arbitration would be most successful if it could be arranged that that force should be an important element in the settlement of disputes. With respect to Clauses 4 and 5, he could not help feeling some hesitation as to whether county councils and borough councils were the proper parties to appoint conciliators. There was a difference between conciliators under Clause 2 of the Bill and those to be appointed under Clauses 4 and 5. If a conciliator under the former clauses were paid at all, he was to be paid out of public funds; but a conciliator, or a Board of Conciliation, appointed by a county or a borough council were to be paid out of local funds, and the whole county was to be liable for the payment. The conciliators might be appointed for a trade, 845 or for all conciliation purposes generally. They were to have absolute authority to act for the whole county, or for any part of it. He wished to rail attention to what appeared to him to be a difference of idea on the part of the Board of Trade with regard to conciliation under this Bill and conciliation as had been hitherto accepted by them. In the Railway Traffic Act of 1888 there was a conciliation clause under which the Board of Trade was empowered to intervene and arbitrate between traders and railway companies; but it had always been contended that it had no power to go beyond the giving of advice, and that if the advice when tendered to the railway companies was rejected, the Board could go no further. In its inquiries the Board of Trade had no power to enforce the disclosure of documents or anything of the kind; all it could do was to invite statements to be made, orally or in writing. Now it was proposed by this Bill to form a Board of Conciliation, with extensive powers indeed. We were becoming familiar with the formation of anomalous judicial bodies. The Board of Trade, the Home Office, and other Departments introduced into Bills bodies that conducted inquiries of a judicial character without taking any means to provide that the persons who exercised these judicial powers should have any kind of judicial experience. He objected that the Bill proposed to devolve the nicest judicial functions with regard to the administration of an oath and the production of evidence upon a body which would not be of a judicial character. The Committee before whom the Bill would go should carefully consider whether the powers proposed were proper powers to be given to persons who were described as conciliators; whether it was not desirable that all the process before the conciliators should be of a voluntary character; and whether it was desirable that persons who exercised these powers should be nominated by public bodies popularly elected, and, therefore, subject to popular feeling.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. J. BRYCE, Aberdeen, S.)
said, he was happily relieved from one task that devolved upon anyone on the First Reading of commending to the House the general aim and objects which the Bill sought to attain, because every Member, whatever criticisms he had passed on the particular provisions of the Bill, had expressed agreement with its general principles, and compatibly with that had expressed the desire that it should be read a second time, and receive further discussion in Committee. That would be the best place in which to discuss it, because anyone who had followed the Debate for three nights would have noticed that all the criticisms that had been offered had turned on the details of the clauses; but the general principles of the Bill had been accepted unanimously, and the observations which hon. Members had made-many of them with great experience and knowledge, great minuteness and acuteness-had gone to an examination of particular points in the Bill, and suggesting Amendments to particular clauses. He-observed, further, that a great many of the criticisms made had been made from exactly opposite points of view. One half of those who had spoken seemed to think the Bill went too far, and others that it did not go far enough. He must leave these opposite censors to reply to one another. Several Members had said they disapproved of giving compulsory powers of obtaining evidence or calling for the production of documents; others thought compulsory power was one of the best points in the Bill. The hon. Member for York thought the proposal for the creation of Boards of Conciliation by local authorities was a valuable one, but several other Members thought it dangerous. Under these circumstances he thought the House would agree in thinking it was right they should fight out those opposing views—between which the Bill endeavoured to sail—in Committee. All he would do now was to explain shortly the general scope of 847 the scheme of the Government. There were two modes by which the great object of preventing trade disputes might be promoted. One was called Conciliation, and the other Arbitration. He distinguished conciliation as that which attempted to effect its object by bringing the parties together and persuading them to agree to a settlement of the dispute. In that case the settlement of the dispute was an active feature, and the element of compulsion was evidently altogether absent. The matter was entirely left to the will of the parties, and it was the object of the Conciliator, President, or Chairman to endeavour to bring the parties fairly together, to leave to the Chairman questions of order, and to help them to arrive at a determination. Arbitration, on the other hand, as they understood it, was where the parties, conceiving themselves unable to settle a dispute by their own consideration, agreed to leave it to a third person to settle. They might do that by meeting on the board and constituting an independent umpire who was to be the deciding voice, or they might constitute a board on which they were not represented, but which was to act as a tribunal of arbitration. Whichever method was adopted, it was plain that his decision was not their decision, but that of the Arbitrator they called in, and the effect and force of his decision sprung from the fact that they had agreed to refer the matter to the Arbitrator. He became their agent to determine the matter, and they bound themselves to accept his decision. Sometimes there would be conciliation, sometimes arbitration. For himself, he believed much more in the former than in the latter. In many cases those who could not settle their differences for themselves were willing to have them settled for them. He had been asked several times in the course of the Debate whether, in the opinion of the Government, there should be any difference in the constitution of the two boards. In the 848 view of the Government, the same board that would be best for arbitration would be the best for conciliation, because each board would possess the two elements of knowledge and of impartiality. He could imagine cases in which, from conciliation, the parties would be willing to go on and turn what was a board of conciliation into a board of arbitration by giving it further scope. It was clear, therefore, that in the cases of boards of conciliation the element of compulsion must be entirely absent, even in the matter of obtaining evidence, because directly coercion in any shape were adopted, the manly attitude that ought to be maintained by the parties to a dispute would be destroyed. Therefore, he should deprecate any amendment which should have for its object the conferring of compulsory powers upon, at all events, boards of conciliation. On the other hand, when they came to consider the case of boards of arbitration, the parties would know that the boards were to enjoy the power of calling witnesses, and, therefore, there was clearly not the same objection to conferring compulsory powers upon boards of arbitration as there was in that of the boards of conciliation. When the Bill got into Committee it would be desirable to confer upon the boards of arbitration some powers which were conferred upon boards of conciliation. It had been suggested, in the course of the Debate, that the Bill ought to specify the exact composition of the boards of conciliation and of arbitration. The Government, on the contrary, thought that it would be far better to leave the question of the composition of these boards an open one. After all, they were only making an experiment in this direction, and they had not as yet sufficient experience to enable them to determine what would be the best composition of such boards. The right, hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London had suggested that the boards should consist of an equal number of employers and of 849 working men; but, in the view of the Government, such an arrangement would be undesirable. It was not absolutely necessary that the boards should consist of employers and working men only, and, indeed, it had been suggested that the boards should consist of five members only, one of whom should be an employer and one a working man, and the remaining three independent, The Government, therefore, thought that, on the whole, it would be better not to specify the composition of the boards, and should leave it to the Government Department to choose the best tribunal that could be obtained. It had also been asked whether it would be best to allow the boards to be chosen by the local authority; but, as had been already pointed out in the case of the great coal dispute and of the great boot trade dispute, many counties were involved, and therefore it would be impossible to fix upon any particular local authority who could have chosen the boards in such cases. He did not exclude the idea of a board with a very large scope of authority, and that was the reason that the Bill had been drawn in somewhat elastic and vague terms. It would, of course, be impossible to enforce the decisions of the boards unless the parties agreed that they should be enforced, and therefore it was proposed that a stake should be deposited. That was tried and suggested in the recent boot-and-shoe strike, and formed part of the agreement arrived at then. It was found to be a very useful experiment. It was suggested by the employers and accepted by the workmen. It was as yet too soon to say whether it would turn out well in practice, and of course it was to be hoped that there would be no necessity to have recourse to it. As to the question of giving powers to take evidence upon oath and to call for the production of documents, the Government had felt that there was difficulty in investing Boards of Conciliation with any such powers. A strong desire had, however, been expressed by 850 the London Chamber of Commerce that such powers should be given in certain exceptional cases where evidence of great value would be obtainable which could not be obtained now. A provision had, therefore, been introduced into the Bill to enable the Board of Trade in extreme cases, and where it was shown and proved to be desirable, to clothe the Boards of Conciliation with such powers pro hac vice tanto. He thought that this proposal would deserve the careful consideration of the Committee, and he would be glad to receive the views of hon. Members to see whether it would be wise or not to go as far as was proposed in the Bill. This was a tentative scheme, and it was a matter for argument to see whether men of experience in such matters desired to see a power of this kind conferred or not. Several speakers had referred to the value possessed by a Report of a Board of Conciliation. One advantage would be, he conceived, the invoking of public opinion in cases where the parties did not arrive at a decision or did not leave their disputes to the decision of an umpire. There might be cases in which one party refused to come before the Board or broke away before the process of conciliation was complete. In those cases it ought to be in the power of the Conciliation Board to go on ex parte, and if they saw their way to produce a Report which they considered a fair and proper Report, they ought to be empowered to make it on the statement of one side alone. This, of course, was a power which ought to be used carefully. He could, however, imagine cases in which one party might be so obstinate or so inflamed by passion that it might be desirable for an impartial body to go on and arrive at a determination on the subject, and throw on the recalcitrant party the onus of refusing to submit to it. Such a case very nearly arose in the Scotch strike of last year. He thought and hoped he had now given a fair statement of the general plan 851 which had inspired the Government with their endeavour to make the Bill as large and drastic as they could. He ought to add, in deference to the criticisms of the hon. Member for Sheffield, that the Government had no desire to constitute the Board of Trade as arbitrator in these matters. The Board of Trade did not desire to be arbitrators themselves, and they thought that they would be far more useful in taking steps to promote Boards of Arbitration. The difficulty which the hon. Member raised could not, therefore, arise, and it would be possible for any one to be proposed as arbitrator in these disputes. Neither, he would add, was it the fact that the Labour correspondents of the Board of Trade held any political office. It was not desirable that they should. They were neither political persons nor permanent officials. They were persons employed from time to time to save the Board of Trade the expense of sending down their own officials. They were, in fact, nothing more than local correspondents of the Board of Trade. He ought, perhaps, to make some reply to the criticisms of his hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green. Both his hon. Friend and the Member for Leeds seemed alarmed at the incorporation in this Bill of the Arbitration Act of 1889; but that Act applied already, whether it were formally incorporated or not. He was advised that trade disputes would come within the terms of that Act, and it was, therefore, thought better formally to incorporate it in the present Bill. It was, however, left open to the parties to exclude its operation in any particular case. Still, however, it was a point on which he had an entirely open mind. The Government thought that to begin to introduce new provisions would be a much more difficult process, because it would tend to throw doubt on the law. The provisions of the existing Acts had been the subject of judicial construction, 852 and the law upon the construction of their words would be a great deal more certain than it would be upon the (Construction of new words. The view of the draftsmen of this measure was that the Arbitration Act covered these disputes; and, therefore, as he had already stated, it was thought better to include the Act pf 1889 rather than, to exclude it, and to leave the parties to apply any part of it they thought fit. If, however, it should appear in Committee that the wish of those who had the best, right to speak was that the Act of 1889 should be left on one side he had no strong feeling on the matter, and he Was perfectly open to reconsider the question. His hon. Friend the Member for Durham had said just now that he was Opposed to any Compulsory powers. He would have liked to remind his hon. Friend, if he had been present, that the Board of Trade had quite lately been invoked in the county of Durham. There had been formed in that county a large conciliation board, and only three months ago that board had asked him to appoint an arbitrator to preside over their deliberations. There was one more criticism which he must refer to, and that was the criticism of those who said that this Bill was not needed because the Board of Trade could do all this already. That was not really so. There had been a number of cases in which the Board of Trade would have acted if they had had the authority of Parliament to do so. They would often venture even to go and risk a refusal. With regard to the boot-and-shoe trade dispute, although the Board of Trade did succeed in bringing the parties to an agreement in that case without the existence of any statutory powers, there were moments in the course of the negotiations when they almost despaired owing to the want of statutory power; and it was probably chiefly owing to the tact and ability displayed by the gentleman who was responsible for the conduct of the proceedings that they Were brought to a successful issue. He would 853 like to add that when this Bill had received a Second Reading he should be prepared to assent to the Second Beading of the other two Bills before the House, and to move that all three Bills should go together to the Standing Committee on Trade, where they could all be properly discussed. He hoped that the Committee would enter upon its work in the same spirit of fairness which had been shown by almost every one who had spoken in this Debate, and he trusted he might appeal with confidence to the House to do its best to pass into law a measure the need for which had been so frequently displayed. He hoped, too, that if the Bill succeeded it might be the means of making arbitration more frequent, of giving greater authority to the decisions of arbitrators, and of opening the way to meet one of the greatest evils that afflicted the industrial interests of the country.
§ MR. W. L. JACKSON (Leeds, N.)
said, he felt it was necessary for him to say a word now in order to reserve to himself full liberty of action hereafter. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the criticisms on the Bill as only criticisms of detail. With regard to the powers proposed to be given to county and borough councils, that he considered a question of principle at all events. His own impression was that the right hon. Gentleman had failed to appreciate the fact that a great many of the county and borough councils were elected strictly on Party lines. He contended that the county councils were absolutely unfit bodies to be entrusted with those compulsory powers, and he hoped that they would be struck out when the Bill got into Committee. Se agreed with the right hon. Gentleman as to the undesirability of bringing in those compulsory powers, and yet without them the Bill would be confined practically to Clauses 1 and 2. The right hon. Gentleman had told them in the latter part of his speech that if the Board of Trade had been able to do so 854 in certain recent cases they would have Brought those powers into operation.
§ MR. JACKSON
said, the right hon. Gentleman distinctly stated that the Board regretted they had not the power.
§ MR. JACKSON
Surely, if there was regret at the absence of the powers, it was because of a desire to bring them into operation.
§ MR. JACKSON
When the board of conciliation is formed, the Board of Trade, to act at all, must invest the conciliator.
§ MR. JACKSON
said, the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the use of the compulsory powers in extreme cases only, but every case that came before the Board would be regarded as an extreme case. If the Board of Trade thought fit in any of those particular cases, they might appoint a conciliator with all the compulsory powers to summon witnesses, to inflict penalties on witnesses for nonattendance, and, in the event of an employer refusing to come before the Board, to summon the foremen of departments to give evidence. If the compulsory powers were not to be brought to bear the Board of Trade need not act at all, because their action would be entirely ineffective.
§ MR. BRYCE
Not at all. The Board of Trade would not use the compulsory powers themselves, but only have power to enable the Board of Conciliation to use them where necessary in extreme cases. If a board, for instance, came to them and said they wanted a particular piece of evidence and could not get it without the use of the compulsory powers, then the Board of Trade would consider the application, and require strong and clear proof that the powers were absolutely required before they permitted them to be exercised.
§ MR. JACKSON
said, he thought they must all look upon this Bill as if the compulsory powers were to be given to the Board of Trade. They knew perfectly well that pressure would be brought to bear on the Board of Trade to exercise those powers, and therefore the House might as well look the fact in the face that if those powers were given to the Board of Trade they would be urged to exercise them. And the Board of Trade would have no right to complain if they were called upon to exercise the powers which Parliament had given them, because it would be very properly argued that, Parliament having entrusted the powers to the Board, Parliament intended the Board to use them. Those were the points to which he wished to direct the attention of the House, because he thought the compulsory powers were extremely dangerous powers, and so far from thinking that the Bill as it stood would tend to settle disputes, he ventured to say, after the greatest consideration, that in his humble opinion it would have the effect of multiplying strikes enormously. For on the face of it the parties who were in dispute would always have the chance of getting something. The compulsory powers were not consistent with the title of the Bill. He gathered from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that he himself did not think that these compulsory powers should be brought into operation except in the most extreme cases, and 856 he hoped, this being so, that the powers would not be given, for he was confident that they never could be limited to the extreme cases which the right hon. Gentleman contemplated.
§ MR. BURNS
said that, speaking generally, he looked upon the Bill as an optional, a tentative, and an experimental measure. The Bill sought to crystallise past experience, and he did not share the opinion that it would be likely to multiply strikes indefinitely. In nine cases out of ten strikes were unduly prolonged because both parties made fools of themselves, lost their tempers, and indulged in unbecoming personalities. What was wanted was that a third party should come in and seek the bed-rock of economic fact underlying the dispute. The county council in trade matters was just as representative of industrial feeling as the House of Commons, and was more likely to be in touch with the actual facts involved in a local dispute. It was proposed to give to the county council the power to nominate a Board of Conciliation with the approval of both parties. If the plan should be unacceptable to either party, it would not apply. How that could lead to a multiplicity of strikes he could not imagine. Another objection that had been raised was that under the proposed arrangement pressure would be brought to bear upon the Board of Trade by powerful organised trades. He recognised that the Board of Trade was sometimes the better for a little intelligent pressure, but he failed to see how it could be intimidated. In his opinion, Prime Ministers and Presidents of the Board of Trade were more fitly occupied in looking after their own Departments than in acting as conciliators. If the pressure brought to bear by organisations was simply directed to the object of inducing local bodies to nominate conciliators, it would be pressure which he should not fear. The Board of Trade was to be given the power to inquire. Shakespeare said that there was no dark- 857 ness but ignorance. Surely a power to inquire must he harmless. Very often neither masters nor men knew fully the facts involved in the dispute in which they were engaged. The Board of Trade might well he encouraged to send a competent reporter to the locality of a dispute. Hitherto the Department's reporters had been fairly impartial and judicial, and he had never known their view of the essential facts of a case to be traversed by either of the parties to a dispute. Inquiry did not involve any tyrannical pressure on either masters or men, and was desirable both in their interests and for the information of the public. The Bill only attempted to do what was done already with the best results in Northumberland and Durham. Other districts had not the industrial experience which had prompted those counties to take the initiative themselves and to establish Boards of Conciliation, but why should not other places be encouraged to follow the good example set by the two northern counties? This Bill had, in his opinion, the minimum of compulsion for either party, and for that reason he defended it. But he dissented very strongly from the alarmist remarks of the hon. Baronet the Member for Durham, who talked of this Bill being vitally necessary to prevent the dislocation of trade and the collapse of manufactures too frequently brought about by strikes. He had heard that kind of story before. It was always thrown upon the poor striker and on the strike leader; but had not the hon. Baronet heard of lock-outs—in this country often, and in America more fre-frequently—being deliberately undertaken by the masters to work off excessive production? He did not believe in those alarmist views, whether put forward as against strikes or lock-outs. In spite of strikes and lock-outs we had this broad fact staring us in the face—that there were more men and boys employed in the mines of Great Britain than ever before, and 22,000 more men than last year. We had sent out to the world 36,000,000 tons more of coal than we wanted for trade purposes at home, and there never was such a large amount of coal output as at the present moment. This girding at strikes, this goading at strike leaders for bringing about the demoralisation of trade, he had heard ad 858 nauseam. It was "all my eye and Betty Martin.' He trusted that, after the testimony in its favour, the Bill would be allowed to go to the Grand Committee and be there amended or improved, and that it would be passed into law before this Session was concluded.
§ MR. G. W. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down and himself naturally looked at trade disputes from different points of view. Any Bill, however, which could diminish the animosities engendered by such disputes or diminish the number of them would have his best support. But he could not take the roseate view of the present Bill that the hon. Member for Battersea did. If it was ever to be of any use it must be very considerably licked into shape in Committee. The point which struck him as most objectionable was an Arbitration Board appointed by town and county councils. These bodies were, in his opinion, the least suitable people to appoint such boards. The Northumberland and Durham Board was composed half of workmen and half of employers, all of them thoroughly conversant with the nature of the dispute and of the employment. They could not expect that those who would be appointed by the county councils would have anything like the same knowledge or interest in the matter, and he was afraid in many cases Party politics would be at the bottom of the appointments. Supposing this Bill had been law 12 months ago, and the London County Council had appointed a conciliation board, if he had been an employer of labour in London, and a dispute had arisen between him and his workmen, he should have been very sorry indeed to have allowed such dispute to go to the arbitration of a board so constituted. He thought town and county councils should have nothing to do with such appointments. The hon. Member for Battersea had said that if the parties concerned did not care for a board so appointed they need not appear before it; but they had no option, as the board had power to summon them and fine them for non-attendance. The power of appointment would be taken out of the hands of the Board of Trade and would rest entirely in the hands of the county council. This was a most vital portion of the Bill, and he hoped 859 it would receive the best attention of the Committee.
§ Bill read 2°.
§ MR. BRYCE moved, "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, etc."
§ * MR. TOMLINSON
asked the right hon. Gentleman if he expected the Standing Committee on Trade would be able to deal with the Bill in time for it to be passed this Session. There was now before the Committee a a Bill of great complexity and requiring careful consideration, whilst there was at least one other Bill waiting to go before it. The right hon. Gentleman had suggested that the two other conciliations Bills should be read a second time and considered by the Committee on Trade along with this Bill, so that one suitable Bill could be moulded out of the three. He questioned whether the machinery of the Standing Committee, which resembled very much that of a Committee of the whole House, was adapted to such a process, which could be better performed by a Select Committee, to which he urged the three Bills should be referred.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
pointed out that the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors (Ireland) Bill had been referred to the Standing Committee on Trade—why he did not know. This Bill appeared to him to be of much greater practical importance, and one with which the Standing Committee were much better qualified to deal than with a liquor Bill. Were they to understand the Government would take measures to secure that the Conciliation Bill should be considered in the first place after the Factories and Workshops Bill, so that, at any rate, there might be some chance of its becoming law in the present Session? He was anxious that the Bill should become law.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
This is rather an important matter. What I want to know is this—are the Government Bills to have precedence before the Standing Committees as against private Bills? They were certainly intended to have when the Standing Committees were constituted, and I hope they will be allowed to have in future.
§ MR. BRYCE
would, of course, be very pleased if the Bill could go at once before the Standing Committee on Trade, but he did not think he ought to give an answer on behalf of the Government without consulting the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the Leader of the House, with whom he would communicate on the point.
§ Question put and agreed to: "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Trade.'