§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Order read.—For resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [4th March], "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make Better Provision for the Settlement of Trade Disputes."—(Mr. Bryce.)
§ SIR J. E. GORST (Cambridge University)
said, he had no desire to interfere between the House and the Introduction of this Bill, but they might not have another opportunity of discussing it this Session. The Government might, indeed, make some efforts to bring it to the Second Reading, and then relegate it to the massacre of the innocents. This was one of the two great social questions which they had heard so much of inside the House and so little outside. The question of the distress caused by want of employment had been referred to a Select Committee; but the second of the great, pressing, important social questions was the stopping of trade disputes; and it was with the view of putting an end to trade disputes which the President of the Board of Trade had described as being most injurious not only to the welfare of the country, but to the welfare of all the workers in the country that this Bill had been introduced. This was not the first Bill of the kind which the present Government had brought in. There was a Bill in the Session of 1893, and another Bill in the Session of 1894. Those Bills, the right hon. Gentleman would admit, were absolute shams. They were introduced, not with the object of dealing with an important question, but in order that the Government might be able to say in the country that, they had brought in a 394 Bill to deal with the question. The outside of the Bill contained a very important and significant title; it was described as "A Bill to deal with Conciliation and the Arbitration of Trade Disputes," but the interior of the Bill was an absolute blank. It contained nothing but powers which were elaborately given by Parliament, to the Beard of Trade to do something which the Board of Trade was perfectly capable of doing without any Parliamentary powers at all. What were those Bills brought in for? In order that the Government might be able to say that they had introduced Bills to establish tribunals of arbitration and conciliation to deal with trade disputes, and to enable the Government to tell the people out of doors that those Bills would have become law if it had not been for the obstruction of the Opposition. Even the Prime Minister was not ashamed at Glasgow to say that his Party had introduced a Bill in the House of Commons which, if it had become law, would have stopped the coal strike, and that Bill had not become law because it was obstructed by the Tory Party. But this Bill was one to which the Government had never thought it right to allocate a single, hour of Parliamentary time for discussion. It stood on the Notice Paper during the whole Session, but not an hour was given in order to have the Bill read a second time. He admitted that the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman introduced the previous evening was a little better in character, and went a little further, than the Bills of the two preceding Sessions. It was, however, a Bill which, he confessed, was wholly inadequate to deal with this great and very important question. What was that question? The question had always been debated as if in these trade disputes there were two parties only concerned—capital on the one side, and labour on the other. If people were willing to conciliate and to arbitrate, they did not need the interference either of the Board of Trade or of Parliament. There was no difficulty in finding a person to act where both sides were willing to arbitrate, and to come to an agreement. There were voluntary tribunals which had been in existence in this country for a long time, and which were perfectly competent and ready to undertake that duty. The more highly 395 organised Trade Societies, both of employers and employed, had established ii many parts of the country permanent standing tribunals, to which, by mutual agreement all their disputes could be referred. In all these disputes, however there was a third party whose interest were very little considered; that was the public at large. The public suffered by these strikes very much; and it was in the interest of this third party that the Government and Parliament had a right and a duty to intervene. This right t intervene on behalf of the public was now occupying the attention of the people of America; and the general temper prevailing there was that the were not going to stand that state of things much longer. A private war between capital and labour was well enough so long as these two element were the only sufferers; but in our highly organized industries, where it was impossible for any trade to strike with out involving the whole community in suffering and even ruin, it was high time that the public, and the authority of the nation, should be called in to put a stop to these internecine quarrels where the parties were ready to arbitrate or to be consulted. The Government should organise some expression of public authority which might, at least, be entitled to say to persons carrying on a labour war: "You must come before us and tell us what you are fighting about; you must explain to us the position which each of you take; and let us know what are the contentions, on each side, which you say you cannot settle without one of those barbarous labour wars." If a public authority could invoke compulsion of this kind, very often the mistakes on both sides would be rectified if they were brought to conciliation. In the State of Massachusetts there had been for years a State Board of Conciliation and Arbitration, which had succeeded in settling a very great number of cases of dispute during the last three or four years That being what the people were crying for, what a stone the Government were offering to them in this Bill—! It was regarded as of so little importance that the Government thought it sufficient to give 10 minutes at the end of a Sitting for the explanatory speech, though it was a Bill which touched the whole industries of the country. But the 396 tribunals established by the Bill had no power whatever; they were mere dumb dogs scattered over the country, though the Board of Trade was to be intrusted by Parliament with the perfectly novel power of galvanising any one of the bodies mentioned to deal with a particular case. For one particular case and on one particular occasion the Local Government Board was to have the power of galvanising the Conciliation Board into life. It would live to settle that one dispute, calling witnesses and documents, and then it would relapse into the state of suspended animation from which it had been aroused. He did not think that that scheme ought to go to a Grand Committee without being discussed by Parliament. He had no desire to obstruct Bills to promote the conciliation of labour disputes. (Ministerial cries of "Oh.") Of course, Gentlemen opposite, with their strong partisan feeling, assumed that he could not be honest in desiring to forward such legislation. To such liberality from hon. Gentlemen opposite he was accustomed. But he believed that it would assist the passing of a measure which might do some good if, before it went to the Grand Commitee, an opportunity were given to discuss in the House itself the great principles involved. He hoped that the Government would spare at least one day for a matter of this transcendent importance. The first great principle was this: Ought such powers as were proposed to be in trusted to the Board of Trade or to the Home Office? He had a strong opinion that the proper Labour Department of the country was the Home Office, which was not only in touch, but in friendly touch, both with the employers and the employed through the Inspectors of factories and workshops and mines. The Inspectors of the Home Office enjoyed a very great deal of confidence and official friendship among both the employers and the employed; and he knew of no official of the Board of Trade who enjoyed a like position in the country. Again, the Board of Trade was notoriously one of the most unpopular departments in the United Kingdom. He did not know that it was the fault of the Board of Trade that its Inspectors had to interfere sometimes in a very arbitrary manner; but in giving powers 397 to deal with such a question as conciliation and arbitration, it would be far better that the powers should be entrusted to the Home Office rather than to the Board of Trade. In the second place he did not believe that it was possible to induce the local authorities to become participators in a sham. If these tribunals of conciliation and arbitration were to have no power, and to be a mere name, the local authorities would never take the trouble to create them. He was sure that many of the great municipalities in the United Kingdom, which had distinguished themselves by their readiness to embark in experimental legislation, would, under a well-considered scheme, be very likely to establish these boards, and would, at any rate, consider the question. But if these boards were not to act unless they were put into motion by the Board of Trade, he should think that the local authorities would refuse to appoint them. Supposing that Manchester established a Board of Arbitration, and a dispute arose in the cotton trade; and supposing that the Board thought it could intervene successfully, and by calling parties and witnesses and documents could arrive at some plan which would conciliate conflicting opinions on both sides, why on earth should such a Board, which knew all about the, circumstances, was on the spot and understood the feeling both of employer and employed, have to go to London to ask the leave of a permanent official who knew nothing about Lancashire before it might embark on this most proper experiment? He believed that he was one of the very few people in the House who was really in favour of local self-government. The Departments of the State did not like it. They created local authorities, but they did not trust them. Why would not the Government trust the Local Authorities in this matter? They would not proceed rashly, or upset commerce and industry for the sake of trying rash experiments. If the Local Authority of a great city like Manchester chose to establish a Conciliation and Arbitration Board, in the name of common sense let that Board be given some power, discretion, and authority, instead of being kept in the tutelage of some ignorant person at the Board of Trade. Although this ought not to be made a Party question, it was a question of great importance. The 398 history of the Bills for establishing methods of conciliation and arbitration ought to be a lesson. They had all been a dead letter, and not one had succeeded in stopping a single trade dispute. A day should be given by the Government, and the principles on which the Bill should proceed ought to be determined by debate in the House. Then, if the details were sent to the Grand Committee, a measure might be framed of real practical utility. He knew that there was a strong temptation to make political capital out of the question; but if the right hon. Gentleman would trust the House he would find that there was every disposition and desire to assist the Government to pass a Bill which was not a sham, and which would help in putting an end to labour disputes.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
said, that the Bill had not yet been circulated, and that it could be better discussed on the Second Reading, when its provisions had been examined. The difficulties of trade conciliation were very great, but there was a unanimous feeling in the country that something should be done. The great difficulty was to know what powers were to be put into the hands of any council, whether local or Imperial. It was not possible to dictate to any workman what wages he should receive, or to any employer what wages he should pay. What was wanted was some tribunal, quick in action, with the power of examining witnesses and making a report. There was nothing which terminated a strike so quickly as public opinion. If evidence could be at once taken as to the rights and wrongs and general bearing of strikes by a tribunal which would influence public opinion, then probably strikes would be brought to a much earlier close. The impossibility was to make a man receive wages he was un-willing to receive, and another man to pay wages at a rate he could not afford Still there was usually a meeting point for the parties where a settlement could be hoped for, and trade would get into working order again. His right hon. Friend (Sir John Gorst) had suggested that the Government tribunal should be the Home Office, but there was nothing to prevent his moving an amendment in Committee for the substitution of the words "Home Office" for "Board of 399 Trade." In such matters it was very much a question of porsonnel, and that Department became most popular which had an able and popular Head. He was most anxious to see the Bill before suggesting any alterations. He did not suppose his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bryce) looked on the Bill as perfect, and dealing with such difficult and delicate subjects all proposals of the kind must be tentative in character. He could not agree that such Bills were shams, and if thoroughly discussed in Committee the Bill might become of great value, dealing as it did with social questions which were the life and soul of the trade of the country. He hoped that without a long discussion the Bill would be introduced, and would be shaped into a workable measure for the interests of both capital and labour, and of the many thousands who, whilst not immediately responsible for trade disputes, were great sufferers from them.
§ MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N.E.)
said, that in a great part of the country this would be considered the most important Bill of the Session, and he trusted it would prove acceptable to those interested. There was no reason to depreciate this short preliminary discussion; but when the Second Reading stage was reached, he hoped and trusted, with some confidence, the Bill would be approached in a less controversial spirit than had been displayed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir John Gorst). It was easy to describe previous attempts at Legislation in this direction as shams to catch votes, but such was not the spirit in which a social question that required the co-operation of either side should be approached. It was a subject of extreme difficulty, and if it was approached by all Parties in the House, as he believed it would be, with a desire to assist the Government to cope with these difficulties, then those difficulties would be overcome. Both in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and in that of the hon. Baronet, there was criticism with which he was rather disposed to concur. There are at present a large number of so-called Boards of Conciliation in existence, and they fulfil most useful functions. They might be described as representing capital and labour, masters and men coming together generally in equal numbers, and usually with a neutral 400 chairman, their object being to come to agreement on a disputed matter. But that was not a Board which could give an authoritative decision. If the Members of the Board could agree, well and good, but if they could not agree, there was no decision in the matter. He would like to see in the Bill a more distinct recognition of some tribunal that would be in a position to give a decision which would carry with it more or less weight, according to the composition of the tribunal and the reasons publicly given for the decision. In this respect the right hon. Gentleman opposite had scarcely done justice to the Bill. As he understood, it was intended that the Board of Trade should step in with authority, but more than that was required. If the existing Boards of Conciliation were such as he had described, and if some body was to have the power of authoritative decision, then the principles of appeal and review should be clearly recognised in the Bill, and should be one of its leading features. Such appeal might lie to such Boards as the President of the Board of Trade referred to, and upon which he said a good deal. The power of summoning witnesses, of taking evidence, and getting all the information required, should be with the appellate authority without application to the Board of Trade. Would the Boards have any legal powers? Examples had been cited, and in New Zealand lately an Act was passed which established a supreme tribunal for the decision of these cases, with very large powers. He agreed that to go that length would be attended with extreme difficulty, but it would be possible to give some powers. In most of the Bills which had dealt with this question there had been a studied reservation made of the question of future wages, and without a formal recommendation submitted to the arbitrators this could not be entered upon. But in nine cases out of ten future wages was the sole question in dispute. Possibly some other labour questions entered into it, but nearly always the question, of future wages was concerned, and surely Boards should not be discouraged from entering upon that subject; for any arrangement would cover that ground. These were the only points to which he now desired to call the attention of the House—namely, the necessity of a distinction between 401 a mere meeting of the parties for the purpose of coming to an agreement if they could, and the establishment of public boards with more or less authority who would be able to take into consideration the public interests in the matter, and this was one of the points that made an efficient measure of this kind absolutely necessary.
§ MR. G. W. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
said, no class would be affected more by this Bill than employers of labour like himself. His firm had had to face a good many strikes, accompanied with heavy losses to employers and workmen, and therefore he felt an interest in the subject. If he had any faith that such a Bill would put an end to strikes, if it would materially diminish their number or shorten their duration, then the Bill would have his earnest support. It was difficult to speak of a Bill not yet introduced, and he would rather have waited until he had the Bill in his hands before speaking if he were not almost certain the House would never have that opportunity. He remembered the Second Reading of the Pensions Bill being brought on after Twelve o'clock; and when the Bill went to Grand Committee it would be removed from the discussion of many members deeply interested. The Bill he thought, was not likely to come before the House for another discussion. Was there such an intention?
§ MR. WOLFF
said, there might be the intention, but would opportunity be given for full discussion? He remarked with surprise the absence of many Members who were supposed specially to represent the interests of the working classes. Returning to the Bill, he certainly thought from this explanation that it was an improvement upon the Bill previously introduced, but he doubted if it would effect anything like the result intended. It was proposed to give power to local authorities to elect councils: Who would propose these; and would they represent every trade in a town? No doubt Boards of Arbitration, elected by the workmen and their employers, 402 themselves, had done a great deal of good; but he did not think that any confidence would be felt in Boards appointed by the local authorities. The only thing such a body could do would be to take evidence, and by publishing it affect public opinion in that way. Beyond that he did not think they could go. Beside that, a number of strifes went on between different classes of workmen, and he did not see how a Conciliation Board could deal with those disputes. They would not have the knowledge or the competence to do so. He could only urge most strongly on the right hon. Gentleman, that, if he wished his Bill to have a real effect, he would give the House an opportunity of fully discussing it, inasmuch as there were so many Members who did not belong to the Grand Committee.
§ MR. A. J. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
regretted very much the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He would not in the slightest degree follow him in those Party recriminations in which he had indulged. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Bills of last Session and of the Session before as absolute shams, and said that they were simply introduced for the purpose of making political capital. The Government, over and over again, urged the House to send those Bills to the Grand Committee to be dealt with there, and no Committee did its work better than the Grand Committee on Trade in connection with industrial questions. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in one thing, namely, that the House ought to have an opportunity of discussing this Bill, and his right hon. Friend was willing and anxious to give that opportunity. But again and again last Session the time that should have been spent in discussing the Bill was wasted in talking it out. [An hon. MEMBER: "After Twelve o'clock at night."] No, not only after Twelve o'clock at night. This matter was too serious to be made the subject of contention between the two sides of the House. He had watched during the whole of his life the working of the trade of the country, and he never knew a time when the condition of trade was more serious or more worthy the consideration of the House than the present. The late coal strike undoubtedly had a very serious 403 effect in the coal trade, and that effect would be increasingly felt in future years. There was abundance of evidence that it diverted a good deal of export trade into other channels, and it was not easy to get diverted trade back again into its old channels when it had once left. At the present moment there were three or four serious strikes pending in the country, notably one in the shoe trade which would affect 200,000 persons. It was said that nothing could be done by a Bill of this kind to effect conciliation between the respective parties. Twenty years before he came into the House he devoted a great deal of time to this question, and he presided for 11 years as President of a Board of Arbitration. The Bills the right hon. Gentleman opposite had denounced as worthless had been submitted to gentlemen best qualified to judge of them, including Mr. David Dale and Dr. Spence Watson. The latter had made 43 awards in trade disputes, and Mr. Dale had done admirable work in the same direction in the north of England. These gentlemen were all of opinion that it would not be safe to go any further than the Bills produced last year and the year before. It was not an easy thing to give compulsory powers to everybody to say that employers should pay a certain rate of wages or that workmen should work at a certain rate. When an arbitrator had made an award workmen could not be compelled to work on the terms of the award. It was not by such means that conciliation was to be brought about. It could only be brought about by setting up these Conciliation Boards with which the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, the Board of Trade was anxious to interfere with. That was just exactly what the Board of Trade did not wish to do. The Bill did not authorise the Board to interfere where there was a Board of Arbitaation in existence, but where there was none; and then the object of the Bill was that somebody acquainted with the matter should make a Report and bring the parties together and endeavour to get them to form a board. Conciliation could only be brought about by employers and employed meeting together in friendly conference. He was going himself to Staffordshire that week to arbitrate in a trade dispute, and in 404 that case the parties had applied to the Board of Trade to appoint an arbitrator; and that might be done all over the country. It was not expected that this Bill or any other machinery that could be devised would put an end to trade disputes, but it was to be hoped, if the House put aside all Party feeling in the matter, that they would be minimised. This was a question which affected the prosperity of the country. It was almost a question of humanity, when the women and children who suffered were considered; and if both sides of the House would only consent to make their best efforts to devise such machinery as would enable a competent authority to deal with these disputes, he was quite satisfied that we might in this country enjoy more immunity from them than any other country in the world. No compulsory powers had been given to Boards of Arbitration in America or any other country. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that there had been lately two Royal Commissions sitting, and both had recommended the adoption of the substance of this measure. He thought it was really wasting the time of the House to discuss the principles of the Bill on its introduction. They ought to be discussed when the Bill was before the House, and then they ought to try to make the Bill a useful and effective measure.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, after a speech lasting for 20 minutes, stated that it was absurd, I suppose he meant in us, to engage in any discussion upon this Bill at this stage. I hope the House will, at all events, allow those who differ from the right hon. Gentleman the liberty he has taken himself. The Bill has been spoken of, no doubt, with a certain amount of contempt by my right hon. Friend opposite; but, after all, if that language is thought to be too strong, hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on this Bill in the country have only themselves to blame. If they had only put forward the Bill as an experiment from which they expected only very small results, or from which, at all events, they only hoped to get some further information and experience on a difficult and important subject, I do not think that any of us would have refused to 405 meet them and work on the same lines. But if they assert that they have brought in a Bill that is going to put an end to strikes, that is going to prevent the misery and suffering caused by strikes to working men, their wives, and families, they are estimating their achievement a great deal too highly. I have no hesitation in saying that the Bill may be not only a sham, but a pernicious sham. Hon. Members on this side of the House seem to agree that this subject is as important as any that could engage the attention of the House, and the hon. Member for Lanarkshire has said that this Bill is, in fact, the most important measure of the Session. Now, do the Government believe that? If they do, why do they not give the Bill a better place? If they really believe that Bills of this kind, dealing with social questions, are of the utmost importance, why do they not put them in the front of their Programme instead of giving precedence to all their controversial and contentious business? In the absence of positive assurance that this Bill will be put down for Second Reading as the First Order of the Day, we are almost bound to treat this occasion as if it were a Debate on the Second Reading. Now, what is the object of this Bill? It is, I suppose, to enable something more to be done than can be done at present. For many years I settled the wages in the coal trade of the Midlands, and the wages for the iron trade, and, therefore, I may claim to know something about the subject. As long as arbitrations were accepted by both sides, and the decisions arrived at were observed, they were most valuable and useful. It is admitted, however, that now they are not universally accepted, and I am afraid that they are less popular than when first introduced. Therefore, if this Bill does not enable more to be done than can be done at present, it will be a farce and a sham. In the shoe strike, which, we are told, is imminent, it will, of course, be open to the parties to establish a tribunal which shall consist of employers and employed, of the chosen representatives of both. But the Bill will not assist matters. Supposing a body were appointed under this Bill by the Leicester Town Council, and called a Board of Arbitration, it would not be in a better position to effect a settlement than a voluntary board. 406 But if you are prepared to give to a Board of Arbitration power to compel attendance and to enforce its decisions, you are going to take a great step. Doubts have been expressed as to the possibility of conferring such powers. I do not say that it is possible, but I may point out that in New South Wales they have an Act of Parliament containing provisions to enable Boards of Arbitration to enforce their decrees. I do not say that there is an absolute power of enforcement, but there is a power of recovering damages, which, in many cases, would be equivalent to a power of enforcement. I am not certain, then, that you might not have Legislation giving this power to Boards of Arbitration in this country, but I am doubtful whether the employers or the working classes are yet prepared for such a stringent arrangement as that, and, therefore, I do not make it a complaint against the Government that they have not introduced a system of that kind. But, then, what remains for them to do? I think they might, at least, establish a Board of Arbitration, so influential, so authoritative, so dignified, that no body of employers or workmen would dare to refuse to submit their case to it. Unless they are prepared to take some steps towards compulsion, that is, in my opinion, the only thing that the Government can do. As yet, however, they have, done nothing of the sort. They have given permission to create tribunals which would be less authoritative than those which are already in existence. Their scheme is to create a body ad hoc for each dispute, and this body is to be elected by persons whose impartiality may not be beyond dispute. I doubt very much whether the work of establishing judicial tribunals ought to be intrusted to Local Authorities. Let me take the case of Birmingham. There, upon the Town Council, there are about five Unionists to one Home Ruler. Do you suppose that those people in Birmingham who belong to the Home Rule Party would not at times feel a certain amount of doubt as to the absolute judicial impartiality of a tribunal which had been entirely appointed by their opponents? If people suspect the impartiality of those tribunals, they will not take advantage of them. If the Government were not prepared to go further than 407 they have gone, they ought to have left the subject alone. The unfortunate Board of Trade is to have power to invite persons who are engaged in a trade dispute to go to arbitration; but, supposing that they do not want to go to arbitration, can anybody believe that the invitation of the Board of Trade will have much effect? If one party wishes to go to arbitration and the other does not, and says so, is the Board of Trade, on the application of the former, to inform the latter that it has the honour to invite them to accept an arbitration which they have already practically refused? That would put the Board of Trade in a ridiculous position. It must be assumed that the Department, in every case in which application is made by either party, is thereupon to send an official to make an elaborate inquiry into the whole circumstances of the strike and dispute. You will want a perfect army of officials to conduct these preliminary inquiries, and the interference of a Government political Department in questions of this kind is not likely to be very useful. I give the Government credit for having tried in difficult circumstances to do something, but it would have been more frank on their part to have said, "We find we cannot do anything," because no official of the Board of Trade can have advised the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bryce) that any practical result would follow such a proposal as this. But the Government have not had the courage to say that they are powerless, and they have not proposed compulsion or the formation of a tribunal of a sufficiently judicial character. It would be most improper to smuggle this Bill through the House without full discussion. Unless it is very much altered in Committee, I entertain no hope of its having any practical result.
§ MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)
observed that he had had a great deal to do with strikes, and he thought he understood pretty well the sentiments of the working men in this country. There was now a general opinion in favour of conciliation. At this moment, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in Newcastle were promoting the formation of a Conciliation Board. In all the arbitration cases that had come under his notice he had found that the men were distrustful of the Arbitrator, and, as a rule, they 408 considered that his decision was one-sided. Therefore, they preferred Conciliation Boards. The Government were making a huge mistake with this Bill of theirs. The time had come when every trade dispute ought to be settled as a civil case, and when the Government ought to appoint Trade Judges—men whose characters were beyond reproach and whom the men would trust in. These judges ought to go down to the district and hear both sides, namely, the delegates of the men, and those of the employers. They should have power to examine the books of the employers, so as to satisfy themselves whether the profits could stand a rise of wages or a reduction of hours. That was the crux of the matter as regarded distrust on the part of the men. The men said: "Show us your books, and we will tell you whether our demand is right or not." He had never yet seen the men satisfied that they had got a fair rise in their wages, even after a long strike. He would advise the Government not to have a big Bill at all. To bring in men who knew nothing about the trade was to satisfy neither workmen nor employer. He spoke of the unemployed, the men who should settle trade disputes should be two judges who should have power to inquire into the exact conditions of trade profit or otherwise, and then give their decision either for the employer or employed. That was a simple method of settling the whole bother.
§ MR. G. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
said, he had had to do with conciliation in trade disputes for over 30 years. He was concerned in the framing of the measure known as Lord St. Leonards' Act in 1867, and even before that time he was connected with an Association to promote conciliation. He had done his best to disseminate the principle among workmen on all occasions. No doubt there had been a great number of inquiries upon this subject; but at the same time things had changed so considerably that the reference of the Bill to a small Select Committee might be a good idea. He did not see that much good was going to come out of sending Board of Trade Representatives perambulating the country. There were men at the Board of Trade in whom he would have confidence—one, for example, 409 was the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade (Mr. Burt), the other was Mr. Burnet of the Labour Department; but they could not expect always to have such men available, and if a great number of disputes were to arise, there were no other men at the Board of Trade to send out. He failed to see that the Board of Trade had not at this moment power to do all that was proposed in the Bill; of course with the single exception of payment for services. There was already in existing Acts the power, to a certain extent, to enforce awards, to call witnesses and documents, and examine books, provided there was a voluntary disposition on the part of the bodies to submit these books to inspection. But something more was needed to give vitality to Boards of Conciliation and Arbitration. Hon. Members seemed to be alarmed at the idea of enforcing an award. But what, after all, did it come to? It simply meant the fulfilment of a contract, and nothing more. Power to enforce awards would have a salutary effect upon the malcontents that existed in almost every trades union, and would greatly strengthen the hands of the board of management or executive council of the society. He asked hon. Members on both sides, whether representing the Labour Party or employers, to endeavour to approach the subject with a sincere desire to smooth the way, in order that conciliation should be more widely employed. The only fear he had was, that by this Legislation they might possibly injure voluntary efforts that were now being made; but his desire was to get rid of Party notions in dealing with this matter, and that the House should endeavour to settle the problem on a basis which would be for the benefit of employers and employed, and the public generally.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. T. BURT,) Morpeth
remarked, that if he might say so without disrespect, a good many of the criticisms which had been expressed would not have been uttered if hon. Members had known the contents of the Bill, and as to the remainder they pretty effectually answered each other. He knew the deep and long-continued interest which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University had taken in social questions affecting 410 workmen, and with a good many of the sentiments he uttered he entirely agreed; but he thought the right hon. Gentleman, whether consciously or unconsciously, introduced a partisan tone into the Debate and said things which it would have been better to have left unsaid. He concurred with what had been said as to the success which had attended the efforts of the Joint Committees in the north of England. They had settled hundreds of disputes in an amicable way, many of which, but for their intervention, would have ultimately resulted in strikes. But these Committees dealt entirely with local or sectional questions and had no power whatever as to district or general difficulties. He did not concur with his right hon. Friend when he said that when once the parties to a dispute had agreed to go to arbitration they could very easily decide upon an arbitrator or umpire. Undoubtedly the preliminary difficulty was to induce the two sides to go to arbitration; but it would be of enormous advantage to have some power outside to whom they could appeal for assistance in suggesting, or helping the parties to find, an arbitrator. He fully acknowledged that there were other parties than employers and workmen concerned; in fact not unfrequently the chief sufferers were those who had nothing at all to do with originating the dispute and who had no power whatever to bring about a settlement. It had been said that the Bill was not a strong Bill. He did not think it was, but he believed it was as strong as the weight of opinion—especially the opinion of the masters and workmen—would justify. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for West Birmingham, expressed a doubt as to whether the opinion of the employers and employed would go in the direction of a more drastic measure than the Bill which was outlined so well by the President of the Board of Trade the previous night, and he entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman on that point. He fully recognised that the hon. Member for Gateshead had had large experience, and was very competent to give an opinion upon subjects such as this; but still, with every respect for the hon. Member, he was quite sure that as far as the workmen were concerned they were not prepared to go the length the hon. Member had indicated, and he doubted 411 very much whether the employers were. All he would say, was that the Bill was a tentative measure and the Government were prepared to take the opinion of the House of Commons upon it. He quite agreed that there should be an opportunity of discussing the Bill on the Second Reading, though the fact that they had had so many second reading speeches on; this stage of the Bill rather diminished the argument in favour of much time being given on the Second Reading. After the Second Reading stage, however, the President of the Board of Trade intended and desired that there should be the fullest discussion in Committee, that Members should bring their opinions and experience to the question, with a full recognition of the enormous importance of the subject and the great interests at stake, and that then the general sense of the Standing Committee should be taken and the subject thoroughly thrashed out. The Government had certainly no desire from any preconceived notions of their own to adhere rigidly to any of the provisions of the Bill that would not bear the fullest discussion. He hoped the House would now consent to the First Reading.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
believed there was no more fair-minded man in the House than the hon. Member for Morpeth, and he congratulated him upon the reasonable statement he had just made. The hon. Member had complained that the right hon. Member for the Cambridge University had in his speech shown, perhaps, too much partisan feeling. He did not think his right hon. Friend had shown any partisan feeling, and he could have wished that other Members of the Government had been as moderate in their statements concerning the Bill of last year, which was practically the same as the present Bill. He did not desire to discuss the merits or the principles of the Bill at this stage, but he should like to make one remark. The hon. Member for Morpeth had suggested that after the discussion that had taken place to-day it would not be necessary to have anything like an extended discussion on the Second Reading. Against that view he desired to protest. He had remained silent up to the present time because he did not wish to state his view on the First Reading of the Bill, but he should 412 be sorry if in consequence of the discussion that had taken place he and other Members who wished to state their views should be debarred from doing so. If the President of the Board of Trade would undertake that the Second Reading of the Bill should be put down as the First Order of the Day on some future date, he thought it would be perfectly reasonable that the discussion should come to an end. He hoped before the discussion closed they should get a pledge from his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that full and adequate time for discussion would be given on the Second Reading of the Bill. He did not think, however, that that could be secured unless the right hon. Gentleman undertook to put the Bill down as the first Order of the Day.
§ SIR M. E. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
had not the slightest wish to debate the Bill on the present occasion, because he considered that any observations he desired to offer to the House would come more appropriately on the Second Reading stage, but he wished to second the appeal just made by his hon. Friend. Some Members of the House had taken a great interest in this question, as he had, both as a President of the Board of Trade and as a Member of the Labour Commission, and he, perhaps, might be more inclined to sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in his views on the matter than his right hon. Friend (Sir J. Gorst) sitting near him. For that very reason he was anxious to express his opinions to the House. The Bill of last Session was brought on half-an-hour before midnight, a few speeches were made upon it, and it never came on again. He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman for this, because he supposed he could not find an opportunity for bringing the measure before them again, but if this was an important Bill, if it was worthy all that had been said of it, surely it ought to be discussed on the Second Reading. And yet they (the Opposition) were blamed in the country by more than one Member of the Government—he thought he might name the Home Secretary as one—for having blocked Legislation on this subject, and prevented a reform which, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Ministers, would really have almost put an 413 end to strikes altogether. He thought that was an extremely exaggerated estimate of the possible effects of any Bill of this kind; but if it was worth bringing in at all, it was worth discussion in that House, and he trusted that, before the Debate closed—which he hoped it would do very soon—they might have some statement from the right hon. Gentleman that he would meet what he believed were the general wishes on both sides on this matter, and give them an opportunity of amply debating the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helens)
asked the Government for a pledge that time would be given for the discussion of the Bill on Second Reading, not only by the two Front Benches, but by all the Members representing the various interests concerned. He thought hon. Members on his side of the House might be pardoned if they expressed some incredulity as to the real intentions of the Government on this Bill. He did not desire in a matter of this kind to introduce any Party views; but they knew perfectly well that Bills dealing with the industrial and social interests of Great Britain had, during the past three years, received absolutely no attention at all. This Bill was brought in in an unpretentious way; but when the President of the Board of Trade was asked to give a definite pledge that there should be adequate opportunity for its discussion, he merely said, interrupting the hon. Member for Gateshead, that the Government intended to give some opportunity, but he never said that they were ever going to put it down as the first Order of the Day. This was eminently a Bill for which there should be facilities for adequate discussion; and why could they not have an assurance from the Leader of the House that they should have, not one day—for that was not sufficient—but if necessary two or three days for the discussion of the proposed measure? If he thought that was the only time Members would have for the consideration of the Bill, he certainly would speak at considerable length. But he hoped the Government would pay some attention to the representations made to them, and give a definite pledge that not only one, but, two or three days, if necessary, should be given for the discussion of the 414 Bill. He did not believe that in the whole Government programme there was a Bill of such importance, or one which might be so beneficial to the country as the Bill before the House.
§ SIR A. K. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, that while he did not join in the large demand made by the last speaker for time, he shared in the hope that the Government would give adequate opportunity for the discussion of the measure. He believed that so great was the need for a Bill which would do something, no matter how little it might be, that he would heartily support the present measure. The great practical danger in dealing with the subject was not a Bill that would do too little, but a Bill that possibly might do too much. Such was the lesson from the failure of the Acts from 1867 to 1872, with their complex provisions and cumbersome machinery; and he, therefore, hoped that this Bill, which promised to give facilities for the formation of Conciliation Boards, and other powers which the experience of the London Conciliation Board, and himself personally as an Arbitrator, had shown him to be urgently wanted, would receive favourable consideration from all parts of the House.
§ MR. G. J. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, it would greatly assist the business of the Government if a reply were given to the appeal made to them from both sides of the House in regard to the time which would be allowed for the discussion of the Bill on the Second Reading. He was certain the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would remain no longer silent on the subject; but that he would assure the House, if necessary, after a communication with the Leader of the House, that the opportunity for further discussion, which had been so respectfully asked for, would be given.
§ MR. J. BRYCE
wished the remarks the House had just beard had been made at the beginning, rather than at the end of the discussion. A great deal of valuable time had been spent not very profitably, because many arguments advanced were made in misapprehension or in ignorance of the actual provisions of the Bill. A great many of the observations made would be instructive and useful to him, but still the obvious disadvantage of a First Reading Debate was that a great 415 deal of what was said was really said without any knowledge of the actual provisions of the Bill, and was therefore of no practical value. In reply to the appeal which had been made to him, he could only say that it was impossible for him to give anything in the nature of a positive undertaking, in regard to times and seasons, which seemed to be expected; but he was much impressed by the desire shown that the matter should be fully debated, and it would be no fault of his if the House would not have the opportunity of so doing. It was not possible for him to say more at that stage without consulting with those with whom he acted.
§ Leave given to introduce the Bill.
§ Bill brought in by Mr. Bryce and read 1°.