HC Deb 19 February 1896 vol 37 cc644-71

*SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.) moved the Second Reading of this Bill, the object of which, he said, was to confer additional powers on Boards of Conciliation and Arbitration. It had the support of both political Parties in the House, of employers, as represented by several large employers of labour in the metropolis, and by employés, who could not be better represented than by the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division of Cambridge, whose name was on the back of the Bill. The Conciliation Boards had already done good work. The London Board, in the composition of which perfectly fair and equal representation of employers and employed was secured, with an able and independent chairman, had been eminently successful in settling disputes, and preventing strikes and lock-outs. A Blue-book had just been issued by the Board of Trade showing the terrible evils arising from strikes and lock-outs. The figures to which he was about to refer had been compiled by the Labour representative of the Board. He found that in 1895 there were no fewer than 772 trade disputes of which cognisance was taken, affecting 243,000 workmen, and of those disputes, in 1894 the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards, the number of which was 64, had dealt with 1,142 cases, in all, affecting 312,000 and more employés. This Report of the Board of Trade stated, moreover, that the value of Boards of Conciliation was not only in the settlement of disputes, but in dealing with cases of difference between employers and employed, thus preventing actual strikes and lock-outs. It was unnecessary to enlarge on the evil consequences of strikes and lock-outs, directly and indirectly. The suffering imposed on large numbers of the working classes, the cost to employers in both income and capital, the disorganisation of business, and the diversion of trade, were facts familiar to all of them. The diversion of trade, not from a particular locality merely, but possibly from the country, was, perhaps, the most serious aspect and result of the evil in these days of ever increasing temptation. Speaking from experience in his own town, Hull, where a couple of years ago there were two strikes—one a coal strike and the other a dock strike—the people of that place were not likely soon to forget the lesson impressed upon them, that a peaceable settlement of those differences is infinitely to be preferred to a forcible one. The cost, again, to the Trades Unions for subsistence of workmen was, upon an average, between £40,000 and £50,000 a year. Moreover, the area and effects of strikes and lock-outs had been largely extended lately by the force of sympathy between workmen in different parts of the country, and thus the evil consequences were increased. The following were most significant figures: The number of working days lost by those strikes was enormous. Last year the average duration of the trade disputes was 24 days, and they resulted in the loss, in the aggregate, of 9,322,096 working days, giving an average loss per individual workman of 29.5 days. In the previous year the loss was more than 31,000,000 working days, giving an average loss per individual of 49.7 days. An attempt had been made to form some estimate of the money value of the lost days in wages alone in 1894, and it had been computed at £2,000,000. In 1893—a year of great strikes—the sum was said to be less than £6,500,000. The estimated value of the total loss last year in capital rendered unproductive, and property and plant laid idle, and so forth, was not less than £9,250,000. It was impossible, however, to form an adequate idea pecuniarily of the full consequences of strikes and lock-outs to the nation, directly and indirectly. It had been estimated on good grounds that the great Midland coal strike cost the country no less than £30,000,000. But he repeated that no figures or statistics could bring home to the public mind the full extent of the injury inflicted on the country by strikes and lock-outs, because the consequences of the diversion of trade from the country could not be estimated, especially at a time when the pressure of competition was itself a great difficulty. ["Hear, hear !"] Such losses were incalculable. The resort to strikes was nothing less than industrial war, with the weapons and methods, and the results of warfare. One of the most terrible of those results were ruin and starvation to thousands, and while some strikes and lock-outs were perfectly justifiable, and others no less than crimes, each of them brought these dire consequences, not only to those who might be guiltily responsible, but very often to large numbers of households perfectly innocent of having taken any part in causing the trouble. The object of the Bill was to promote industrial peace and to prevent industrial war, to bring home to all concerned the force of reason and moderation in the settlement of trade disputes, and to insure, if possible, sound, impartial, and effective tribunals where justice might be done between the conflicting interests of employer and employed. His object was to substitute for the right of force the force of right. [''Hear, hear !"] It was therefore proposed to give more powers to these Boards of Conciliation. He acknowledged with gratitude that Ministers from both sides of the House had given to the settlement of strikes most able service and valuable time; but there were many strikes to which such services were not applicable. In the first place, they could only be given late in the day, and were not preventive; and in the second place the strike must be of no ordinary character to justify such intervention. What was desired, was to stop strikes in the earlier stages, to deal with small disputes before they became large, and to enlist good feeling and reason before ill-feeling had manifested itself, and the parties had placed themselves at arm's length. Experience showed that it was most desirable for these ends to have, not a tribunal created ad hoc and limited in its powers, but a permanent tribunal, accessible at all times, composed of men in whom both parties had confidence, and possessed of machinery which could rapidly be brought into service. The Blue-book was full of instances in which, in the Midlands and North of England, Conciliation Boards had been doing extremely useful and able work. It was essential that there should be a body which, by eliciting the facts, would inform public opinion accurately, and so bring to bear upon the settlement of a dispute a force which none could ultimately resist. The best examples of preventive action must be sought abroad in the Conseils des Prudhommes of France and Belgium. These bodies considered, in France alone, 60,000 cases of dispute every year. But, in this country, Boards of Conciliation were in want of additional powers. It was also very desirable that greater public recognition should be given to them by their registration at the Board of Trade, so that their existence and the means of access to them might be known, and the Board of Trade, when trying to settle disputes, might also know where there was a local Board and of whom it was composed. Encouragement should therefore be given to the formation of these Boards upon the principles approved by experience—namely, that all action should be voluntary. That was the basis of the present Bill. Whether considered economically or practically, compulsion either of the employers to give work, or to give it on certain terms, or of the employed to accept certain wages and submit to certain conditions, had been found to be impossible. If either party did not wish to do it, no power could compel them. Dealing with whole classes of people, as in these cases, was different from dealing with individuals on whom the force of the law could be brought to bear. In Lord Cross's Employers' and Workmen's Act of 1875 the attempt to compel specific performance of work was advisedly abandoned and a remedy in damages was therefore substituted. Compulsion in some measure had also been tried in 1824 and 1875, and both those measures had become dead letters. It was proposed in the present Bill that the Boards to be created should be equally representative and elective. The employers knew their own interests best, and could most fittingly elect their representatives on the Boards; and exactly the same principle was applied to the employed. It was obviously desirable that the Chairmen should be absolutely impartial. Sometimes in these connections too great a fear was expressed of the action of Trade Unions. From his experience on the London Conciliation Board, he must recognise that the Trade Unions and their leaders had been favourable to conciliation and had been the means of helping to carry out the Board's awards, just as the Amalgamated Engineers had finally closed the Clyde dispute. In these disputes the greater difficulty was experienced in dealing with disorganised or unorganised labour without responsible leaders. In some cases the awards, which the Trade Unions had helped to fulfil—and which, he was bound to add, had generally been loyally carried out by both sides—had provided for notice before any alteration was demanded, so that the employers might be able to modify their contracts in time, and regulate their future engagements. As to the Bill which he proposed for carrying out all these objects, he asked the House to give it a Second Reading, and modify its clauses as might seem best in Committee. The first clause provided that Conciliation Boards might be registered at the Board of Trade. This provision would exclude no Board, but would only give the advantages offered by the Bill to those Boards which were registered, and which must equally represent employers and employed. Then the Boards were to furnish returns to the Board of Trade, and thus the influence and action of Parliament would be brought to bear periodically on this most important subject. The rules by which arbitrations were to be guided were set out in a schedule. An exception was taken to the Bill of the late Government on the ground that it referred to and incorporated the Arbitration Act of 1889. The principle of drafting by reference had been condemned as a general rule, and a Bill for the guidance of workmen especially should be a code in itself. ["Hear, hear !"] Therefore, the whole of the rules were incorporated in the Bill. Moreover, the Act of 1889 was a commercial Act, and not wholly applicable to trade disputes. The first provision of the Code—which was made as plain, simple, and easy of application as possible—was that, where the parties to a dispute were agreed that it should be submitted to conciliation, the Board would arrange for them to meet, either alone or with members of the Board, if the parties wished, and the Board would thus first endeavour to effect its purpose by mediation. If that proved impracticable, then the Board would attempt to settle the matter by arbitration. If arbitration were agreed upon—and in writing, so that there should be no mistake, and this was the difference between arbitration and conciliation—then, if the agreement itself under which the dispute had taken place was enforceable at law, the award of the arbitrators should be binding upon the parties. The result of this provision was simply to substitute arbitration for law. With a view to settling the dispute by arbitration the Conciliation Board could be arbitrators themselves or could appoint arbitrators from an expert trade panel. Having taken evidence upon the subject, the arbitrators would be able to make an award, and, if the original agreement was enforceable at law, that award would be binding. In the event of a Board composed of an equal number of the representatives from both sides disagreeing, the Conciliation Board might, if the parties consented, appoint an umpire, but, if they differed, then the Board of Trade was authorised to appoint an umpire who would be able to hear the case in the presence and with the assistance of the arbitrators who had previously heard it. The arbitrators might, if they thought proper, as a safeguard of the truth, require witnesses to take an oath or make an affirmation, but the requirement on this point was much less stringent than that contained in any previous Conciliation Act. Another provision was that witnesses might be summoned and also called upon to produce documents, if legally admissible in evidence, but no books of an employer were to be examined. There was to be no prying into trade profits or losses and secrets on the one hand, and, on the other, the books and constitutions of Trade Unions were equally not to be placed before an open Court. The only other point was with reference to a new mode of enforcing the award. Hitherto one of the difficulties of arbitration had been that, after the award had been made, it might be broken with impunity, no legal sanction being attached to it, except only in New South Wales, and there not successfully. To get over this difficulty in Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, Acts had been passed which provided that, when the parties had voluntarily agreed in writing to submit their dispute to arbitration, and had also agreed to deposit a sum of money as security for the performance of the award, that pecuniary security might be used as a means of insuring that the award should be put into operation, and the Board could determine the destination of it. That provision had been found to work beneficially in the States he had mentioned, and there was a precedent for it in the Masters and Workmen Act of 1875, and in the great Boot and Shoe Trade Dispute. In no other case, however, under the Bill was there to be any attempt to fix future, wages, or the price of labour, or determine the cost of workmanship, or compel any employer to give work on certain terms. ["Hear, hear !"] But here the parties themselves provided the legal sanction in the deposited fund. There was a section in the Bill repealing the Acts of 1824 and 1867, which had been dead letters and which were so drastic in their character that any attempt to apply them to labour disputes of to-day would, he ventured to say, end in social revolution. They contained clauses enabling a Justice of the Peace to determine disputes without even hearing both sides, and to enforce his award by distress, fine and imprisonment, and they were best off the Statute Book. He trusted the Bill might be regarded as some attempt to limit the unfortunate consequences of trade and labour disputes and keep for their own people in their own country that work which was so necessary and desirable under the present stress of competition.["Hear, hear !"] There was nothing of Party in it, and he hoped the House would at least allow it to go into Committee in anticipation, for the moment, of the Bill of the Government, which, of course, would take its own position beside it, and, out of the two one good Measure might be made, substituting for force reason as a remedy in industrial disputes. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill. ["Hear, hear !"]

SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)

seconded the Motion.

MR. ROBERT PURVIS (Peterborough)

observed that the subject dealt with by the Bill was one of great importance to those who like himself represented constituencies containing large numbers of working men connected with Trade Union organisations. He thought the country would be grateful to the hon. Member for Islington for bringing forward the Bill, and still more grateful to Parliament if it passed into law. The workmen of England were weary of settling their disputes by strikes, and as far as the employers were concerned the days were gone by when the capitalist class, as they were called, viewed with disfavour Trades Union organisations. The had, indeed, become Trades Unionists themselves; they had their own organisations, and it seemed to him that this Bill, whatever might be its defects, might contain a fulcrum on which the organisations on both sides would be a leverage with which to clear away obstacles to peace-making in the relations between employer and employed.


should not have ventured to address the House had it not been that he himself had had some little experience in this question of trade disputes. He did not desire to speak discouragingly of the Bill, the Second Reading of which had been moved by the hon. and learned Member for Islington, but he should like to throw out a suggestion which he felt satisfied would have a very material effect in attaining the object every Member of the House desired. It was no use locking the stable door after the horse was gone. Prevention in every case was better than cure, and the weak point in the Bill was that it did not attempt to prevent disputes arising, but simply dealt with them after they had arisen. In Lancashire, in 1892, they had a terrible cotton dispute, which lasted 20 weeks. Previous to that they had weekly, monthly, and sometimes daily differences between the organisation run by the employers and that run by the operatives. He had known cases where the workpeople had rushed straight from the mill and insisted, without any inquiry being made, on steps being taken by which that mill could be stopped. Those days had gone, for when that dispute was settled, he was enabled to introduce a clause by which in future, the employer's organisation on the one side and that of the operatives on the other, bound themselves that they would not justify or support either of their members in any dispute which arose until that dispute had first of all been gone into and dealt with by two respective secretaries; or failing their agreeing until it had been dealt with by the local committees, or in the further event of the local committees not agreeing until it had gone to a final court of appeal—the Council of the two federated bodies. The result had been that although they had had many differences since that time, those differences had been dealt with, by those who understood them, in a reasonable manner, and they had never yet had one which had resulted in either a strike or a lock-out. If they could adopt similar principles in the case of all the trades in this country, it would be a great blessing for all who were engaged in them, and there was no doubt that it would be a terrible thing for them in the future if these trade disputes were to be continued. If they could, therefore, formulate a scheme by which the differences could be prevented they should save what they had been losing for ma ay years, and that was their foreign markets and foreign customers. He would suggest to the hon. Member in charge of the Bill that he should endeavour to draw up a clause by which no strike or dispute could arise until each side had thoroughly given notice to the others of what they wanted and until the one to whom notice had been given had declined the proposal, or at any rate until some communication in respect of the matter had been entered upon. In nine out of ten cases, neither side clearly understood the grounds on which the dispute arose. Therefore, he would suggest that in all cases in future, where large bodies of men were employed, the complaint in the first instance should be made in writing and a certain time should be allowed to elapse for the employer to have an opportunity of answering it in writing. He thought that by that means moderation would be secured in both parties and at the very commencement they would be rapidly nearing the end and in a much better position than they were at present. He was not afraid of Trades Unions, because he knew that if they were not governed with right and proper principles their money would go like the winds, and public opinion would kill them. If after notice was given, as he had suggested, no arrangement was come to, then some official in the district should have the right or power to compel representatives of both sides to sit day by day together in a room with a view to bringing the dispute to a close as soon as possible. The disputes between capital and labour were not only local. When a number of men had a dispute with their employer, they not only exhausted the funds of their own union, but they got the assistance of other unions and private individuals, and he desired that every means should be taken to compel them to be moderate in the first instance. The same principle would apply to employers. At the present time they backed one another up in resisting their workmen. He would like to see all these things changed. He believed the Bill was a good Bill. Any measure which would have the effect of bringing the common sense of employers and employed to bear on these questions, would be one of the greatest measures it would be possible to pass.

MR. H. BROADHURST (Leicester)

said, he would not stand in the way of the Second Reading of the Bill, but he thought it was right to inform the hon. Gentleman who introduced it that he by no means agreed with all his contentions. A more serious matter than that upon which it was now proposed to legislate could scarcely be conceived. He had always been an advocate for conciliation and had taken part in many proceedings of the sort, and he had always viewed with the greatest favour a system of peace-making which sought to bring the two contending parties together by voluntary means. He did not, however, believe it was possible for the House to devise statutory regulations to re-establish friendly relations between two parties if they were determined not to be friendly, and all he wished to see embodied in legislation, for the present at any rate, would be machinery for inducing them to approach each other when there was a receptive condition of mind on both sides. From a hasty glance at the Bill he had noticed three clauses—Clauses 6, 7, and 10—which would require very careful consideration indeed in Committee; and if the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill would not take it as an impertinence on his part, he would suggest that he should commence the reconsideration of these clauses at once, with a view to their modification, it not to their abolition. He did not think it was desirable for the House to go so far as to bring the criminal law to bear on parties who could not agree amongst themselves. He thought it well that some hon. Member who had been connected with labour matters for a long time should warn the authors of the Measure to be prepared for severe criticism of the parts of the Bill to which he had referred. He was altogether in favour of any effort made in good faith to lessen the possibility of conflict between capital and labour.


said, he welcomed the Bill which the hon. Member had brought forward. He did not now intend to discuss the clauses. He should vote for the Second Reading and trust that very important alterations would be made in Committee.

MR. J. L. WHARTON (York, W.R., Ripon)

said, there appeared to be a unanimous feeling that this Bill should pass the Second Reading that afternoon. That was very satisfactory. But there also appeared to be a feeling that the Bill required careful consideration, and, no doubt, it would be sent to a Select Committee. The question of the chairmanship he had always regarded as the most important point in the institution of Boards of Conciliation. He had come to the conclusion, and in this he was supported by the hon. Member for Gates-head, that the best chairman that could be appointed would be one of the Judges of the High Court, who would be above the suspicion of partisanship, and whose decisions might be expected to rank as precedents. This was a matter for the consideration of the Committee. He agreed that a happy termination to trade disputes was more likely to be brought about by the action of Trade Unions than by the efforts of any other organisation. But if a form of tribunal could be devised which should command the confidence alike of masters and men, it would be well to establish it. What the House wanted was some plan by the operation of which the great employments of this country might be saved from the horrible result of strikes, which were so harmful to trade and commerce. No practicable means, he regretted to see, were provided in the Bill to enforce the decisions of the proposed tribunals. Compulsion, he recognised, was out of the question, and it had been said that the only way to do anything in the direction of enforcing an arbitration would be through the agency of an arbitration fund contributed to by both parties. But he feared that means of that kind could only be adopted in the case of the more important labour organisations. This also was a matter for consideration in Committee. He trusted that the Bill would be submitted to a Select Committee, and would be proceeded with rapidly.

MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid)

did not think that the Bill was likely to effect much in the way of promoting conciliation. Any proposal to give compulsory power to a Board of Arbitrators to enforce its decisions would not meet with much approval among the working classes. He did not think, however, that any hon. Member need attach much importance to the insertion in the Bill of compulsory words, because there had in the past been very few awards which the men concerned had not accepted voluntarily. He had been interested in hundreds of arbitrations, both local and general, and he did not remember a single case in which the result of the arbitration had been repudiated by the workmen. After fighting to the best of their ability to get the best results they could, they had accepted the verdict even when unfavourable. He feared that the Bill would effect no purpose whatever beyond drawing attention to the principle o? conciliation. It had been said by an hon. Member that means should be adopted to prevent trade disputes, as the trade of the country was endangered by labour wars. He could assure the hon. Member that any labour leader who had a due regard for the affairs of the union with which he was connected would always be very reluctant to do anything to induce the men to strike. A strike was a deplorable thing, and a Bill providing a possible alternative would certainly have the support of the labour leaders. He wished to say a few words on the question of the election of chairman. Twelve months ago he was one of a body of workmen who formed a Board of Conciliation, and one of the most delicate parts of the machinery devised related to the election of the chairman. Any Bill containing a proposal for stereotyped chairmen was doomed to failure. The selection of the chairman should be a voluntary selection by the representatives of the employers and the men. In Durham no inclination had been shown to repudiate the decisions of the chairman of the Conciliation Board, even when those decisions resulted in a reduction of wages. The reason was that the chairman was chosen voluntarily. He recognised that the efforts of the hon. Member who had introduced the Bill were praiseworthy, but his measure must undergo serious alteration in Committee. For example, the provision relating to the fixing of future wages needed revision. With the reservations which he had indicated he was glad this Bill had been introduced, because efforts of this kind were likely to direct the thoughts of working men towards conciliatory methods of settling their disputes with employers. He had, however, more faith in voluntary conciliation than in any statute which that House could pass.

COLONEL JOHN JAMES MELLOR (Lancashire, Radcliffe),

as one of the oldest employers of labour in the textile trade of Lancashire, bore testimony to the enormous amount of distress and misery caused by trade disputes. He believed that those disputes could often be settled, and even avoided, by a conciliatory attitude towards the employés. It had always been his principle, as an employer of labour for 44 years, whenever he was made aware of the least friction between employer and employed, to at once call both sides together to talk the matter over in a conciliatory spirit; and the result had been that he had never been involved during 44 years in a strike dispute with his workmen. He remembered the great coal dispute in the Midlands, which entailed so much loss and suffering in Lancashire. During the progress of that dispute he was told of a very painful case, where a coal miner—a teacher in a Sunday school—was seen one Sunday to be in a state of great physical distress and prostration. The Superintendent asked the man the cause; and the miner informed the Superintendent that when he left home that Sunday morning there was just half a loaf of bread in the house for the children, and that neither he nor his wife had tasted food that day. A collection was immediately made, and £2 were given to the poor fellow, who burst into tears. This was only one illustration of thousands of cases which occurred in Lancashire during that time. In the cotton strike, of 20 weeks' duration, the suffering was equally great, though he was not involved in the strike himself. For these reasons he welcomed any machinery or any attempt to prevent the occurrence of strikes and locks-out. Though this Bill might not be all that was required, and though it contained defects which had already been pointed out, yet, as an attempt to solve a great difficulty, he welcomed it. In Committee hon. Members would be able to model it in such a way as to insure its receiving the confidence of both employer and employed, thereby removing from this country the great reproach of these recurring trade disputes. Whether any of those trade struggles were won by the one side or other, the effect on the country was to cause it to lose much trade, to inflict an enormous amount of suffering, and to leave neither party one whit the better for them. He welcomed, therefore, any remedy designed to mitigate an evil which was fast eating into the vitals of English commerce.

MR. A. J. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

congratulated the hon. Member on his good fortune in having introduced this Bill, and the House on the tone of the Debate. He should have been glad if a Conciliation measure had been made law three years ago; but now he welcomed by so early an opportunity the chance of discussing this question. He hoped that speedy progress would be made towards a settlement of it. He would not now criticise the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member knew his objections to some of them—as, for example, the compulsory clauses, the clause which gave form to the Court, the administration of the oath, and the punishment for perjury. In his judgment all these provisions would militate against conciliation. ["Hear, hear !"] His own experience of 40 years had taught him that it was only by conciliation—voluntary conciliation—and arbitration that trade disputes could be settled. The hon. Member for Oldham had surprised him by his criticism of the Bill. The hon. Member said that this Measure did not attempt to prevent disputes, and that prevention was better than cure. He thought that the hon. Member was mistaken. The establishment of a permanent Board of Conciliation was the only method by which they could prevent trade disputes. The gathering of employers and employed around a table to discuss disputed questions in a reasonable and temperate manner was more likely than any other expedient to prevent disputes arising. He regretted to say that this method of settlement was not common enough in this country, but, wherever the attempt had been made, the result had been most valuable to the trades concerned. As an illustration, he referred to the manufactured iron trade, which had not had a dispute for 25 years, because they had possessed a Board of Conciliation. This Board met periodically for discussion, whether anything had to be discussed or not. All questions that loomed ahead or were likely to lead to a dispute were discussed at the Board. A proposal to reduce or to advance wages was referred to the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration, and he had never yet known either side to refuse to obey the award. On one occasion he remembered that there were certain works in connection with the manufactured iron trades that did not obey the award of the Arbitrator. In this case, the Trade Union said to the workmen— You men will have no advance from the Union, so long as you remain out, and whatever the employers may lose, we are hound to pay out of the funds of the Union unless you go back to work. The Union paid the losses of those firms in consequence of the men refusing to obey the award. He had known several cases quite as honourable as that. He had himself presided for 13 years over an industry which had been in a state of chronic antagonism for 20 or 30 years. During those 13 years there was not a single strike; and he was satisfied that nothing but advantage could result from the arrangement of bringing the two parties together round a table to discuss all questions that might arise in the trade. He hoped that the House would in this Session pass a good Measure of Conciliation and Arbitration, and that no Party feeling would be allowed to prevent it coming into operation. He appealed to the President of the Board of Trade to accept the Second Reading of the Bill, asking at the same time for guidance from the Government in the matter. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would allow this Bill to be read a second time, on condition that it was referred, with the Government Measure on the same subject, to the Grand Committee on Trade. No country in Europe suffered so much as our own from the many evils caused by strikes. The loss entailed thereby during the last four or five years had, he believed, adversely affected our trade. Loss to trade generally had resulted, and it was not easy to bring that lost trade back again to our shores, because it had been driven into new channels. It was still more difficult to make up the leeway which had been lost. He had nothing to complain of as to the scant measure of justice meted out to the Bill he himself introduced; and he should be only too glad to help this or any other Measure calculated to avoid the disaster which so often followed in the train of labour disputes.


said, the course which the Government proposed in regard to this Bill was the one indicated by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down—namely, to advise the House of Commons to read the Bill a second time and then refer it to the Grand Committee on Trade. The suggestion to refer it to a Select Committee did not commend itself to him. The Bill was not of a complicated nature, and therefore did not require the searching inquiry which usually took place before a Select Committee, and which almost invariably resulted in great delay and oftentimes in the loss of the measure. On the other hand, there was great advantage in referring a Bill of this kind to the Grand Committee, and amongst others there was this special advantage—that he hoped the Grand Committee would have before it, not only the views embodied in this Bill, but also those contained in the Bill of the Government. And he might say at once that the Government Bill was quite ready to be introduced. It had been prepared with an anxious desire to make it as good a Bill as possible, but the Government felt that in a matter of this kind they ought not to press their views upon the House or the Grand Committee unduly, but should take the advice of those having practical experience and endeavour to produce, either from their own Bill or an amalgamation of the two Bills, a measure which should commend itself to both parties. It was quite clear that if the Bill was to be of any service at all, if it was to put an end to those unhappy disputes, it must be a measure which should be satisfactory both to employers and employed. [Cheers.]Such was the spirit in which he trusted the House would embark upon legislation of this kind. He had listened with care and pleasure to the discussion, and could add nothing to what had been already so forcibly expressed as to the evils of labour disputes. They were an evil all round, both to employers and to employed. One often heard in this House and the country of the impediments placed in the way of the development of our export trade by the action of foreign Governments; in his opinion none of the barriers forged by foreign Governments equalled the impediments which we placed on our own trade by such unhappy disputes as hon. Members had been witnesses of. With regard to one or two points which had come prominently forward in the discussion, he thought it essential to keep distinctly in mind the two purposes in this Bill—the purpose, namely, of conciliation, and that of arbitration. The two things were distinct and required separate treatment. The fault, if he might say so, in his hon. Friend's Bill was that it did not keep the two things separate. And, without desiring to cast any reflection on the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman who preceded him in the Presidency of the Board of Trade, he thought that was the fault of his Bill. It set up machinery very well adapted for arbitration, but illadapted for conciliation. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down condemned the clauses in the present Bill which dealt with the summoning of witnesses on oath, and the penalties attaching to any perjured statement. That was what the Bill of the late Government provided.


Not my Bill; not the first Bill.


explained that when he spoke of the right hon. Gentleman who preceded him he meant the Minister who immediately preceded him, and he was referring to the last Bill of the late Government. Such clauses and such powers were, in his opinion, a totally wrong mode of proceeding with regard to conciliation. The very essence of conciliation was that the two parties should meet in a friendly manner and with an endeavour to bring about a settlement of a dispute by friendly conciliation. To introduce the machinery of the law, with summoning of witnesses, oaths, and penalties, would be, in his opinion, to defeat the very end they had all in view. [Cheers.] The Bill of the Government provided no machinery of that kind, but treated the matter as if the two parties were meeting together round a table in a spirit of conciliation. And he might say, in connection with an observation which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, that he did not believe there was the slightest objection on the part of employers to meet those whom they employed round a table and sit, as far as the dispute was concerned, on perfect equality with them, to discuss matters in an amicable manner. ["Hear, hear !"] He himself, placed much more value on the conciliation clauses than on the arbitration clauses. At the same time a Bill of this kind would not be complete unless it provided for arbitration. It might very well be that a dispute was one which would be proper subject matter for arbitration, and if there was arbitration they could not do without the powers contained in this Bill with regard to the summoning of witnesses and so forth, because an Arbitration Board became more or less a legal tribunal, and a pronouncement of an Arbitration Board in these circumstances could be enforced in a Court of law. He wished it to be distinctly understood that the Government did not propose to confer the powers referred to in connection with conciliation, although they thought them necessary with regard to arbitration. There was another fault in his hon. Friend's Bill. It stereotyped the Arbitration Board, and said that if it was not formed in a particular manner it should not be registered. It laid down that the Board must be composed exactly one-half of employers and the other half of employed. That probably would be the way in which the Board would be arranged, but surely those who were parties to the dispute best knew the manner in which they desired to have the Arbitration Board formed? [Cheers.] Therefore, so far as the Government were concerned, they proposed to leave the composition of the Conciliation or Arbitration Board in the hands of those immediately concerned. [Cheers.] So with regard to the chairman. He himself, thought it would be a mistake to set up any official chairman at all. ["Hear, hear !"] These Boards would be formed not for the sole purpose of arranging great disputes. There were lots of small disputes which would come before them, and which, if not settled, might become large ones, and were they going to call in the machinery of Courts of Justice to settle some small difference? He did not think that the plan of a stereotyped chairman would work. As far as possible, this Bill must be of a voluntary character if it was to be of any service [Cheers], and that was the view the Government had in framing their own Bill. He need only add that, so far as the Board of Trade and the Government were concerned, they should be glad to render every assistance to the Grand Committee, and to cooperate with all Members in order to produce such a Bill as would be satisfactory to all concerned, and would put an end, so far as human effort could, to those disputes which were so disastrous to the industrial well-being of the country.

MR. JAMES BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

said, he thought the course the Government proposed to take was a satisfactory one, and one that was best to follow in this matter. The subject was one of great difficulty, and it was desirable that every possible suggestion, from whatever quarter it came, should be brought to bear upon the question. In the last Parliament there was a third competing scheme, in which it was proposed that local authorities should appoint these Boards. That was a suggestion which ought to be carefully considered. He thought that one way or another it would be found that the whole subject was one of great complexity, and required the full expression of opinion of those who had practical experience as workmen or employers. He hoped the Government would go into the Committee in the right spirit, and that they would not determine to adhere too strictly to the lines of the Bill they proposed to introduce, but would be prepared to welcome suggestions from any source. That was certainly the spirit in which the late Government endeavoured to deal with the subject last year, and he was glad to gather from what had fallen from the President of the Board of Trade that that was the spirit in which he proposed to deal with it now. He must correct one statement made by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the Government Bill of last year. It was not a Bill that proposed, as the present Bill did, to invest Boards of Conciliation generally with powers of administering oaths and summoning witnesses. He deprecated very strongly the investing of ordinary Boards with any such powers, and the Bill of the late Government went only this distance, that it empowered the Board of Trade, in a special case, where it was satisfied that more information was needed than could otherwise be obtained, to invest the Board of Conciliation with special powers. The Bill of the late Government was, therefore, by no means open to the objection taken by the President of the Board of Trade. He entirely agreed with what had been said as to the undesirability of giving these serious powers to ordinary Boards of Conciliation. The great difficulty in these cases was not to enforce the decision arrived at, but to induce the parties to come together to conciliate. It was very undesirable, therefore, to surround the process of conciliation with any legal or judicial terrors. He should, on that account, deprecate as strongly as the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member for Durham the giving to the Boards the powers contained in the sixth, seventh, eighth, and tenth clauses of the Bill now before the House. He thought the hon. Member for Islington would be well advised if he did not press those clauses. ["Hear, hear !"] The more elastic and the more friendly they made the means of conciliation, and the less formal and judicial the machinery they introduced into the Bill, the better would be its prospects of utility. The chief objection he had to the Bill was with reference to the clauses he had mentioned, and in agreeing to the Second Reading they must be distinctly understood as not accepting those clauses, except as a contribution to the solution desired to be arrived at. He thought that on examination the hon. Member for Islington would find that many of the provisions contained in the schedule were unnecessary. All the provisions contained in the schedule were either provisions which were a matter of common sense, such as any Board would adopt, or else they were provisions which were conferred already by the existing law. Some hon. Members had suggested that it would be better that they should not adopt the machinery of the Arbitration Act, but the House should bear in mind that it was a very great convenience to follow the provisions of an Act which had been in operation for some time, which was well understood, whose interpretation had been cleared by legal decision, and whose applicability had been proved by long practice. He thought, therefore, that, even if the provisions of the Arbitration Act had to be restated in this Bill, it would he better to restate them literally and not introduce any verbal differences, which would only be a cause of greater cost and trouble. There was one suggestion which perhaps the Government would think it worth while to consider. That was the adoption of a provision which would enable a conciliator or a Board of Conciliation in certain cases to act ex parte. Of course, it was a provision which would require to be applied very carefully, but the experience of the Board of Trade had shown that there were a certain number of cases where one party was not willing to face a Board of Conciliation while the other party was willing, and where the only means of putting pressure on the recalcitrant party was to endeavour to appeal to public opinion. He thought that in such a case there would be very considerable advantage if the Board of Conciliation or the conciliator were able to hear the case of the one party and investigate the matter so far as the one party could lay it before him. His opinion would not, of course, have the same value as if both parties had been before him, but, in the circumstances, it was the only and the best opinion that could be arrived at, and it would be some guide to public opinion. He hoped that, whether the Bill of the Government contained a provision of that kind or not, the suggestion would be considered by the Committee when the measure reached that stage. All that had been said in the Debate was not in the least in excess of the truth as regarded the magnitude of the question they had to deal with, and he earnestly hoped the Government would consider this Bill one of the most important measures of the Session. The late Government received at the hands of those now occupying the Treasury Bench scant help in their endeavour to pass their Bill on the same subject; still, he could assure them that he and his hon. and right hon. Friends recognised the great importance of this question, and they would do their best to advance the Bill and to pass it into law this Session. ["Hear, hear !"]

MR. G. W. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)

said, he had been so mixed up with these labour disputes, he had gone through so many strikes, and he had suffered so much, perhaps almost more than anyone else, that any Bill which would provide an effectual and satisfactory scheme of conciliation and arbitration would have his most cordial support. He had not the slightest intention of objecting to the Bill which had been brought in by his hon. Friend, the Member for Islington. He had seen a great many similar Bills brought in and come to nothing, but he expressed a sincere hope that this Bill would meet with a more fortunate fate than its predecessors. The great difficulty was that if they made these Bills compulsory, they would meet with great opposition from both employers and employed, while if they were made voluntary there was very little in them that could not be done now by voluntary conciliation between the parties to the dispute. The trade in which he was so largely interested had just gone through a very severe strike. There were a certain number of delegates appointed by the men and a certain number of delegates appointed by the employers. They held three meetings before they came to any final decision, and he ventured to think that if that Conciliation Board, as it was in effect, though not in theory, had been constituted as was provided in this Bill, namely, of an equal number of representatives of employers and of employed, they might have been disputing now. They only thing that enabled that Board to come to a decision, and the only thing that finally put an end to the strike, was the fact that the chairman was altogether outside the trade in which the dispute occurred, and that neither one party nor the other could suspect him of leaning to one side or the other. If this Bill was to be of any use that portion, at all events, in his opposition would have to be eliminated. He thought that in every case—he did not know whether it should be provided for in the Bill—the chairman should be entirely out of the trade in which the dispute occurred. A suggestion had boon made that the chairman should be one of Her Majesty's Judges. That was perhaps going further than he would go, but at all events if such a man was to be appointed, he should be appointed, if possible, by agreement, as was done in the engineering dispute to which lie had referred. If that could not he done, possibly the Board of Trade might undertake the task, but, at all events, he would put no hard and fast line in the Bill that a certain number should form the Board of Conciliation without the power of proposing a chairman outside their own number. The late President of the Board of Trade [Mr. Bryce] had suggested that the conciliator should have the power of hearing one side of the dispute if the other side would not or did not come before him. He most emphatically objected to such a procedure, and he hoped no such clause would he introduced into the Bill of the present Government. Many disputes arose In which, for some reason, one side or the other would decline to have the subject arbitrated upon, and it seemed to him a very unfair thing that the conciliator or the Board of Conciliation should be empowered to hear ex parte statements as suggested, and that they should go forth to the public as the real statements of the matter in dispute. If the Government Bill did contain such a clause—and he hoped it did not—he trusted the Committee would throw it out. Whether the Bill, if passed, would really do anything to avoid these strikes would depend entirely on the temper of the employers on the one side and of the Trade Unionists on the other. The Bill would at all events provide machinery which could be utilised to step in at once and possibly prevent a strike taking place. It was a great thing to step in at once and avert a strike and get the parties to conciliate and arbitrate before angry passions had been aroused.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said, the great feature of the Debate had been the conciliatory attitude of Members on both sides of the House, and the emphatic testimony of both employers and labour representatives to the necessity of doing something to bring both masters and men together in the early stages of an industrial dispute. There was one feature of the Debate which was even better than the Bill itself. That had been the disposition shown by former opponents of workmen's organisations to recognise that Trades Unionism as an institution had to be met, had to be considered, and must receive just as much respect as Chambers of Commerce and masters' organisations. It was worth while having this Debate to prove to the world that Trades Unionism had got past the stage when its history could be misrepresented, its objects reviled, and its leaders denounced, and he was prepared to say, as one who had been involved in some of the largest labour disputes of the last 10 years, that the greatest act of conciliation that one could do towards the settlement of a labour dispute was for masters generally to avoid the potentialities of a strike and the possibility of bad passions by recognising the leaders of the men. If they did that with the same consideration and courtesy that they would extend to the Mayor of their own town, eight out of ten of the lamentable strikes that took place would be stopped in their inception. This Bill had several defects, but they were trivial and remediable, and, for the purposes of giving the Bill a Second Reading, it was not essential that they should cavil as to whether a Board should consist of an equal number of representatives or not. If a man voluntarily became a witness and gave evidence, before either a voluntary tribunal or a Court of law, and if he gave his word as to the time he spent on certain work, he must take the punishment which followed the telling of a lie. Therefore he did not trouble about a man who perjured himself having to pay a heavy fine, or, what would do him more good, going to prison for a month. ["Hear, hear !"] The chief advantage of the Bill was that it appealed to the voluntary element in both masters and men. It was necessarily an experimental measure, and he believed it would be found to be transitional in its operations and its results. Its title was the best thing about it; it was a good, round, well-sounding description—conciliation and arbitration; with this it had captured the sentiment of the House; and they were all anxious to vote for a Bill which had conciliation for its preliminary object, and arbitration for its final result. But neither this Bill nor half a dozen Bills of this character would bring about a commercial and industrial millennium. The chief feature for which he commended it was that it made for a permanent centre of conciliation, a nucleus of reason, as against that centre of passion which too frequently existed when masters and men refused to discuss their differences. The Bill would do good, not so much in conciliating parties when disputes had arisen, as in setting up a permanent agency by means of which masters and men would be able to prevent disputes arising by the friendly discussion of trade and industrial questions. This would be beneficial to employers and workmen, and perhaps advantageous to the community as a whole. Better than that, it would eliminate the political arbitrator, not always the wisest selection. It would provide a chairman with a status and trade qualification, and that was for the very essence of good conciliation or arbitration; and above all, it would keep out the impertinent and incompetent outsider who frequently interfered in trade disputes, who sometimes settled them on terms advantageous to both sides, but very often opened himself out as a Parliamentary candidate for the district. He objected to the tone of some of the speakers in this Debate, not as to the merits of the Bill, but as to the causes which rendered it necessary. One hon. Member spoke of it as a Bill to prevent England losing trade in foreign markets. Was the Caucasian played out? To admit that we were unable to hold our own was to give away our position in those markets to our competitors. Time after time it had been said that the great dockers' strike diverted a large part of the trade of London; but the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and the Secretary of the Joint Dock Committee said that since the dock strike there had been a disproportionate increase in the volume of the trade. He did not believe that the trade of England was going to the dogs. An hon. Member who represented one of the largest and best shipbuilding firms in the world, and than whom no one had better experience of industrial pursuits, had that afternoon stated that strikes had largely prevailed m the district pre-eminent for its good ship-building; and, notwithstanding the recent disputes in Belfast and Glasgow, Belfast had been able to exceed in 1895 the tonnage built in 1894 and in 1893. When he heard these political Jeremiads, when it was said that we were in danger of being cut out by the labour of India and Japan, he replied: "It is all my eye and Betty Martin." It was not the yellow man or the Hindoo in the factory or workshop that we had to fear; but what we had to fear was their competitive employment with the white man's money. If there were less desire to invest money in cotton machinery and mills in India and China, with the object of lowering the wages of Lancashire operatives, foreign competition would not be so much talked about as it is. It was not true trade had been ruined or diverted by industrial disputes. The fact was that a strike was the last resource of workmen, as a Naval Defence was that of the country being the means by which it would resist aggression; and without resort to a strike workmen would not be able to fight their employers. It had been abundantly indicated by the speeches of hon. Members that in ships, coals, engines, machinery, and cotton goods, so far as the volume of trade was concerned, we had no reason yet to stand in fear of foreign competition; but we had much to fear from disputes in which there was no justification for a strike. Believing that this Bill would remove causes of friction and irritation he would vote for it; but it would not stop strikes; they would go on as long as masters wanted to reduce the standard of comfort of their workers down to that of Chinamen or Japanese living on 3d. a day. If it was a question of submitting lo this low standard of comfort or of striking until they had hardly strength to stand on their legs, he knew what Englishmen would do, for they were a fighting nation, and the working classes were like others who on provocation began to talk of our Navy and Army. Still as a people we did not like war, military and naval or industrial. The Government had better follow up their announced intention and bring in their own Bill in the hope that some fair solution might be arrived at. By all means let there be a permanent Court of Conciliation, so that industrial disputes might be avoided; but the raising of the standard of the comfort and happiness of the industrial peoples of the world would operate ten times more quickly than these Bills would do in promoting a good understanding between employers and employed.


then moved that the Bill be referred to the Grand Committee on Trade. He promised that the various suggestions thrown out in the course of the Debate for the improvement of the Bill would have the fullest consideration.


asked whether the Conciliation Bill of the Government would go to the Grand Committee at the same time?


I will do my best to have the Bill ready. I understand that this Bill will not be proceeded with before the Grand Committee on Trade until the Government Bill is ready. ["Hear, hear !"]