§ Adjourned Debate on question (April 30)—"That the Bill be now read 2°"
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
in resuming his speech on the Debate said, that he regretted its want of continuity. To discuss this important subject in instalments was inconvenient from many points of view. He proposed to examine the principles and practice, commended by experience, for adoption in trade disputes, and to inquire how far they had been adopted in this Bill. Generally speaking, he 370 had approved the basis of the Bill though there were exceptions to that approval. The chief difference of opinion which existed with regard to the question of arbitration and conciliation was as to whether the plans proposed should be voluntary or compulsory. Some hon. Members thought that it would be possible to have machinery compelling the parties to arbitrate and to abide by the award The noble Lord, the Member for Brixton, for example, had said that any plan must be useless which did not provide for a final compulsory arrangement. Then the hon. Member for Gateshead had spoken of the desirability of appointing trade judges, with power to enforce their judgments, and Lord Dudley had said that there should be a central, and he (Sir A. Rollit) presumed, compulsory authority, and a judge whose decisions ought to be carried into effect even against the wish of the parties, if necessary. If these opinions were embodied in any new Act of Parliament, it would, practically, be as dead a letter, and as deterrent, as many of the measures were that had preceded the present proposal. They could not compel an employer to undertake work which he thought would not be profitable; they could not dictate to him the terms of his employment; nor could they, under any system of compulsion, require men to work for wages or at prices for their labour which they did not think sufficiently remunerative. There were limitations to the sphere of arbitration. Just as nations, while consenting to arbitrate about boundary questions, might reasonably decline to arbitrate on questions affecting their national existence, so in the region of industry there were questions affecting whole classes of the people, which so concerned their very existence, commercially and industrially, their very life and living, that they might decline to submit them to arbitration—at any rate, to arbitration of a compulsory kind. He would point out that there were compulsory enactments relating to this subject in 371 the Statute Book at this moment. There were plenty of powers, and yet they were ineffective. There was the drastic Act of 1824, which enabled a Justice of the Peace to nominate arbitrators, and, failing their award, to determine a dispute summarily, enforcing his decision by penalties. This Act was of course a dead letter, as was the more equitable Act of 1867, which, however, incorporated the drastic provisions of the Act of 1824. That incorporation had been fatal to its success. Even when parties consented to be bound by an award, there were practical difficulties in the way of its enforcement, which must be taken into account. In trade disputes they were not dealing with two litigants fighting about specific issues, but with whole classes of people who found it difficult sometimes to delegate their authority, and whom it was very difficult to represent authoritatively. Charges were frequently made of disloyalty to awards. His own experience pointed, however, to the general loyal acceptance of awards. But there might be a want of authority, misapprehension, and misconception, and it was almost incident to the conditions of these disputes, that one could not have those specific issues, and determinations, and complete enforcements of law which one could have in disputes between single individuals. This was recognised by our own and other codes of law. In the Act of 1872 there were no compulsory powers except upon consent. In 1875, when the Employers' and Workmen's Bill became law, Lord Cross advisedly abandoned the project of requiring specific performance in industrial disputes, in which large bodies of men were involved. In that Act, which had since been spoken of as one of the two labour charters of the working classes, this principle of enforcement was not embodied, and that it was advisable not to embody it, was proved by the experience of the civilised world. Experiments had been tried in Massachusetts, 372 and in the Colonies, which were political laboratories for Europe, but with the one possible exception of New South Wales, there had never been any attempt to enforce specific performance of an award. The Conseils des Prudhommes, in France and in Belgium, were perhaps the best examples of the application of limited compulsory powers; they were representative; they tried in France, some 60,000 cases a year; but even they had altogether abandoned the hope of the possibility of dealing with any future contracts with regard to wages or labour. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman why he was disposed to adhere to Clause 6, which incorporated the Act of 1889, and so might make a submission to arbitration irrevocable, and an award perpetually binding, instead of being terminable on notice. That Act applied to mercantile disputes, and had no application to industrial matters. He had himself found great difficulty in applying the Act to industrial disputes. Why should it be incorporated? He did not think it was necessary. Why should not the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London and himself be followed, which adopted these portions of the Act which were suitable and applicable, and left out all the rest? Three-fourths of the Act would be wholly inapplicable. The right hon. Gentleman could not have referred to the Act of 1872, which he did not propose to repeal. There was a code almost entirely ready to hand, and they had this condition of affairs before them—if the Act of 1889 were incorporated three-fourths of it would be inapplicable; part of it was incorporated in the Bill at this moment; and, lastly, most of its provisions were contained in the Industrial Arbitrations Act of 1872, which would continue in force. He appealed, therefore, to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether, after all, Clause 6 was necessary or desirable He had not so much to say against the newer device of securing, where there 373 was an agreement in writing, the deposit of a sum of money as security for the performance of the award. For there was a precedent for that in the statute of 1875, the experience of the London Conciliation Board was in its favour, and it had been resorted to in the Boot and Shoe Dispute. Still no one could tell what might happen if the thousand pounds were forfeited. All experience proved that what must be relied on in these disputes was conciliation and mediation; and in this light, by encouraging conciliation, the Bill did a great service to the community. But the country would not always be able to have the mediation of such high authorities as Lord Rosebery, the Home Secretary, and Sir Courtenay Boyle; and such intervention placed a vast responsibility and strain on a Government department. Hitherto such mediation had, happily, been successful: but if it should be offered and should fail or give dissatisfaction, or if it were imagined—and there were great prejudices and suspicions to be overcome—that there had been the slightest taint of political bias, the great work of conciliation might be impeded rather than advanced. Incalculable value would attach to an independent and representative board, ready and accessible in the earliest stages of a dispute to bring the parties together, and capable of formulating the real differences between parties, and of removing the misunderstandings which were often at the root of the lock-out and the strike. The greatest value of such boards was to form and focus public opinion; for the greatest difficulty of the public was to know the rights and wrongs of these industrial questions. No body of men—either of employers or of the employed—could long set at naught a well-founded public opinion. The public had every right to intervene in these disputes, because no trade could harass itself alone. A strike or lock-out meant commercial dislocation, the disorganisation of allied trades, and inconvenience to the whole community. One other 374 condition was very essential to these conciliation boards; and that was, that they should be capable of obtaining accurate knowledge of particular disputes. What was resented in industrial arbitration was anything in the shape of external amateur judgments, in view of the vast consequences of any award. Further, the formation of conciliation committees, as distinguished from conciliation boards, to deal with particular departments of trade, and to include experts who would know the real questions at issue, would be desirable. How far did the Bill adopt all these principles? Clause 1 provided for inquiry and report. It was said that the Board of Trade already possessed the power for inquiring and reporting: but there was one reason for the statutory expression of this duty—it gave a justification for intervention. He could sympathise with a President of the Board of Trade who even allowed a dispute to be prolonged rather than submit his department to a rebuff. Clause 2, he thought, was perhaps a little too strong at present. It put into great prominence the powers of the Board of Trade in appointing arbitrators and a chairman, and even a board, without any conditions. He preferred the terms of Clause 3, which gave the Board of Trade power to aid in the formation of a board. Clause 4 was important because, for the first time, it brought Local Authorities into contact with these proceedings, and he believed the Local Authorities would be willing to undertake the duties. There was this great advantage, which had been experienced in technical education, that the Town Councils and the County Councils were existing organisations, and that they had funds at their disposal; but the clause ought to contain some better statement of the principles on which they were to act—namely, representation equally of both employers and employed. It was a misfortune that municipalities were becoming more and more infected with Party politics; and it might be 375 thought by some that Party politicians would probably constitute the most effective if not the most impartial board. But that would be a result to be deprecated. The clause giving power to Local Authorities to aid in the formation of Boards had a precedent in the reprepresentation of the London County County Council on the London Conciliation Board. He ventured to take some exception to the details of the Bill, but he cordially supported its general principles, because he believed its basis to be good. The provision as to the production of documents was wisely qualified by the limitation that no trade profit should be ascertained by the production of trade books, and that no Trade Union books should be produced. At the Trade Union Congress of 1893, however, a resolution was passed declaring that no Bill would be of any use unless it provided for the ascertainment, definitely and clearly, what profits were being made, and how far a case was made for an increase or diminution of wages. He did not see why the Board of Trade should give powers to a Conciliation Board for a specific occasion, and why it should afterwards be, as it were, shorn of its locks. When a Board had been recognised and registered its powers ought to be general, so that it might act without delay. It was a useful provision, that a report should be made annually to Parliament, because it cast upon Parliament a responsibility and a duty, and might secure a periodical discussion which would assist in developing public opinion. If the Bill did not go so far as some would wish, it escaped the danger of attempting to do too much at the risk of doing too little. It was a tentative measure, and it could be expanded by experience, as confidence was gained among those who had to be conciliated, while they must not anticipate too much from any legislation. If they left themselves to these mediatory and peaceful proposals; if we were spared a thousand 376 industrial disputes a year; if a million and a half were thereby saved in wages; if we averted such dislocations as attended the Midland coal strike, the direct loss by which was estimated at some thirty millions, while it had diverted trade from towns like Hull and Huddersfield, and drawn some of it abroad; if peace could be substituted for war under the present conditions of competition, if Parliament could say to both parties to a dispute: "Strike, but hear," give them an opportunity of listening to reason, and facilitate the consideration of their respective views by an impartial tribunal—they would at least have done their duty in removing difficulties which were a serious disadvantage to commercial pursuits, and in promoting the prosperity of all classes of the community.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
shared the regrets which had been expressed by his hon. Friend at the fragmentary manner in which the Debate on this important Bill was being conducted. The President of the Board of Trade had admitted that this was a measure of very great importance, and yet, in spite of that, the discussion was really being carried on by scraps and samples. He would not take the responsibility of voting against the Bill, though he confessed that he was not entirely satisfied with it. Many of its clauses were identical, or nearly so, with those in the Bill of last year; and he could understand that the Government should be anxious to escape the obvious criticism levelled at that Bill, but in reality giving power to the Board of Trade to do things which at present there was no legal obstacle in the way of their doing. He agreed with his hon. Friend in seeing some advantages in declaring those powers in the Bill. He thought it gave to the Board of Trade a locus standi which it did not otherwise possess; and he also thought that it was likely to make the parties to a dispute more willing to submit the cause of their grievance to the Board of 377 Trade. So far he welcomed the Bill, but in the endeavour to make the Bill of this year more ambitious than the Bill of last year, he could not help thinking that the Government had in some respects gone too far. The new proposals were contained in Clauses 4, 5, and 6; and, in his judgment, the drafting of those clauses and their insertion in the Bill rather indicated that the right hon. Gentleman was not really thoroughly master of the difficult subject with which the Bill dealt. In arbitration and conciliation there were two important points to be borne in mind. First of all, there was the distinction between disputes which arose from the interpretation of existing arrangements, and disputes which arose in connection with future arrangements. The majority of really important disputes in this country invariably had reference to future arrangements, and the disputes in connection with existing arrangements were comparatively small. Another point was the distinction between disputes of individual employers and workmen and those which arose between associations of employers and workmen. In addition to that there was the question: "Who has the right to initiate intervention?" Was it to be on the application of one party or of both, or was it to take place without any action on the part of the disputants at all? It would appear that, whereas the conciliator or Board of Conciliation appointed by the Board of Trade could only act on the application of one of the parties, a similar conciliator or Board of Conciliation appointed by the county councils had first to intervene, and in certain cases to intervene with compulsory powers without any application from the parties. No directions were given by the Bill for the constitution of these Boards. If such Boards were to be set up, the Bill should indicate the general lines on which such powers should be given. Clause 4 was calculated to check the formation of voluntary boards. He 378 was aware that the Board of Trade had power to encourage the formation of such boards. But, if county councils had power, he was afraid the tendency would be to substitute official boards for the voluntary boards. On examining the portion of that Bill in connection with Clause 4, he was afraid that the President of the Board of Trade had confounded in his mind two things which should be kept distinct. The Labour Commission recommended that county councils should be empowered to make application for the formation of boards, with a view to trying questions arising no the interpretation of existing agreements as between individuals. In other words, on the application of County Councils, the Board of Trade should have power to appoint a body which should exercise the same functions as were exercised by the Conseils des Prudhommes in France. But the Labour Commission did not recommend the formation of such boards in connection with county councils for dealing with future arrangements. If the bodies appointed by the county councils or voluntary boards were to have the power of dealing with disputes relating to future arrangements, in his judgment it would be unwise to give them even the limited compulsory powers suggested in the Bill. On what occasion did the President of the Board of Trade think the Board of Trade would, as it were, galvanise these Boards of Conciliation into ecclesiastical courts. Would it be on great occasions or small; in connection with such questions as came up for discussion and settlement before the Conseils des Prudhommes in France, or larger questions which caused great and important strikes. Clearly the intention must be that they should have these powers where the case was very important; and that was exactly the case where they ought not to have these powers. He saw no harm in a Board of Conciliation—if it liked to call itself by that name—when investigating the interpretation of an existing agreement, 379 having powers to examine witnesses on oath, and even having powers to decide where the agreement had or had not been broken, and to enforce their decision with penalties. But he thought they were entering on a very dangerous course, if such powers were to be given to boards, on the occasion of their endeavouring to arrive at a settlement of those larger questions which caused strikes on almost a national scale. He was not surprised that Clause 6 had been attacked by Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Member had pointed out that the clause as it stood really introduced almost the whole of the Arbitration Act.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. BRYCE,) Aberdeen, S.
The Arbitration Act of 1889 is in force already. It applies in every case where there is an arbitration—that is to say, where the parties make a submission.
§ MR. BRYCE
The Arbitration Act will apply wherever there is an arbitration. Whether it be an arbitration or not will depend on the facts of the case. But where there is an arbitration the Act applies as part of the general law.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
There are arbitrations conducted at present in connection with industrial questions. Does the Arbitration Act of 1889 apply to these arbitrations?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I am very much astonished to hear it, and I think many other Members will be astonished to hear it. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that if an association of employers and an association of workmen agree first of all to a submission to arbitration, and afterwards to the terms of the arbitrator's award, that will come under the Arbitration Act?
§ MR. BRYCE
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Arbitration Act he will see that it is perfectly general.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Then such a provision as the right hon. Gentleman has introduced will either 380 be injurious or it will be perfectly inoperative.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I think it ought to be understood by the House that as a matter of fact the representatives of trade unions and of employers' associations have no power whatever to bind their unions.
§ MR. BRYCE
That does not depend upon the Arbitration Act. That depends upon the constitution of the bodies who go to arbitration, which is a totally different question.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
In these circumstances this particular provision seems to me to be very useless. I thought the endeavour of the Government was to endeavour to solve a real problem which is, how you are under any circumstances either to compel a body of men to submit to enforce an award when made.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said, in these circumstances he was willing to believe that this clause was not so injurious as he had thought it to be. But that was only on the supposition that the clause was practically useless for the purposes of industrial arbitration. He wished to know whether the second sub-section of the clause, which enabled a deposit to be made in certain cases, was also declaratory? These cases were those in which there was an arbitrator as to any question of the future rate of wages and the future price of labour. Why were these particular subjects selected as the subjects in connection with which this subsection became applicable? He would further ask whether it was not now competent for bodies of workmen and for employers to make these deposits? He could not see the use of introducing a clause like that; therefore, he really thought it would be far better to leave it out. He had only a very few minutes at his disposal, but he should like to make one or two remarks on the question of compulsion generally in connection with arbitration. He entirely agreed with what fell from the hon. Member who had preceded him, that it was idle to talk of making arbitration compulsory, if by that was meant the compelling of masters and men to submit their disputes to arbitration. He thought that 381 was impossible. But he opposed it on other grounds as well. It was utterly opposed to their ideas in this country that they should endeavour to prevent by law an employer from ceasing to employ certain workmen, or to prevent by law workmen ceasing to work for a certain employer. He must remind the right hon. Gentleman that that was what had been recommended by more than one speaker; but, of course, if the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to support that view he should leave that part of the subject. He felt strongly that any attempt at compulsion of that sort was absolutely impossible unless they completely changed their industrial system and made it on military lines. One other object had been made. They were told that it was useless to give compulsory powers for the summoning of witnesses and the production of documents; that more than this was required, and that it would be necessary for the arbitrator to inquire into the profits which were being made. He said emphatically that was an impracticable proposal. Take, for instance, the coal mine trade. They would have some employers making a profit and others a loss, and it was clear, if there was to be an average rate, there would have to be an average profit. That was to his mind a fatal objection to any such proposal. He would only add that, although he was obliged to make these criticisms, he did do his best in Committee to improve and amend the Bill on the lines suggested. He did not wish to see the Bill dropped, as it was dropped last year. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would preserve his mind open for any amendments that might be suggested; and lastly, he congratulated Members on not having accepted some of the more extreme suggestions which had been made.
THE MARQUESS OF CARMARTHEN (Lambeth, Brixton)
hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consent to the adjournment of the Debate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the discussion on the Bill had been unsatisfactory—three-quarters of an hour one day, and three-quarters of an hour another day.
§ MR. BRYCE
recognised that the Debate, being intermittent, was an injury to the Bill. Both on Tuesday and to-night it had been hoped that the Bill would be reached earlier. He hoped that a short time more would satisfy the right hon. Gentleman and his friends before they allowed the Bill to go to the Grand Committee. It would be put down as the first Order on the next occasion.
§ Debate adjourned.