HC Deb 27 July 1896 vol 43 cc726-33

(1.) Where a difference exists or is apprehended between an employer, or any class of employers, and workmen, or betweeen different classes of workmen, the Board of Trade may, if they think tit, exercise all or any of the following powers, namely:—

  1. (a) Inquire into the causes and circumstances of the difference;
  2. (b) take steps as to the Board may seem expedient for the purpose of enabling the parties to the difference to meet together, by themselves or representatives, under the presidency of a chairman mutually agreed upon or nominated by the Board of Trade or by some other person or body, with a view to the amicable settlement of the difference;
  3. (c) on the application of employers or workmen interested, and after taking into consideration the existence and adequacy of means available for conciliation in the district or trade and the circumstances of the case, appoint a person or persons to act as conciliator or as a board of conciliation;
  4. (d) on the application of both parties to the difference, appoint an arbitrator.
(2.) If any person is so appointed to act as conciliator, he shall inquire into the causes and circumstances of the difference by communication with the parties, and otherwise shall endeavour to brine; about a settlement of the difference, and shall report his proceedings to the Board of Trade. (3.) If a settlement of the difference is effected either by conciliation or by arbitration, a memorandum of the terms thereof shall be drawn up and signed by the parties or their representatives, and a copy thereof shall be delivered to and kept by the Board of Trade.

MR. ASCROFT moved in Sub-section (1), after the words "different classes of workmen," to insert the words "or between different classes of employers." He said that the omission of the words of the Amendment would be fatal to the success of the Bill. It must be popular and command the sympathy and goodwill of the working classes to be a success, and that condition would not be fulfilled if there were any suspicion in the minds of the workpeople that they were treated one way in their disputes, while their employers were to be treated in a different way.


wished that the hon. Member had given a single case in which he thought the Amendment could be of any service. If any dispute between different classes of employers threatened a lock-out or strike, then they would come under the Bill, without the Amendment; and if the disputes did not affect the workpeople, there would be no ground for interference. How could the Board of Trade intervene in a dispute between employers as to the price of any particular goods sold by them? The Amendment was quite unnecessary, and would create false impressions as to the operation of the Bill.


submitted that there were only two courses open to the President of the Board of Trade—either to accept the Amendment or to withdraw the words applying the Bill to disputes between" different classes of workmen," and so place both employers and workmen on a common level. If this Bill was to be useful at all, it would be in its attracting the minds of the working classes to it, and, therefore, it was important to have regard to the sentiment of the working classes in the matter.


did not see any necessity for the Amendment. It was said that if the working classes got it into their heads that a different measure was meted out to them than to the employers, some terrible results would ensue, but from his experience of the working classes he did not believe any such unwise notion was likely to take possession of them. He did not know and had never known a case of any difference between different classes of employers which would be covered by the proposed words.


listened with great respect to anything which fell from his hon. Friend the Member for Durham, but they were entirely in the dark as to the kind of case which was contemplated; and it would be rather rash if they were to extend the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade to a class of cases of which they had no knowledge, and as to which they had no reason to think the action of the Board of Trade would be beneficial.

MR. CHARLES FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)

could not see why, if the President of the Board of Trade was not prepared to accept the Amendment, he should insist upon retaining the words "or between different classes of workmen." Now, employers sometimes had differences between themselves with regard to work which might, and sometimes did lead to the stoppage of a certain part of work in process of execution. That was not a strike, neither was it a lock-out, and yet, inasmuch as it involved loss of time to the workman, the hardship to him was the same. As the object of the promoters was to prevent, as far as possible, disputes which would lead ultimately either to the injury of the workman on the one hand or the employer on the other, he did not see why they should draw any distinction between them in the Bill.

MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

said he wanted to see a clause inserted by which men should not go on strike while disputes were being discussed. In the early part of 1894 there was a strike in the South Wales coal trade, and when he went down there he found the men had not the smallest notion why they had gone out on strike.


said he did not see the relation of the hon. Member's ob servations to the Amendment, which proposed that the Board of Trade should have power to interfere in cases of dispute between different classes of employers.

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

could not conceive of any disputes which could arise between different employers which could in any way be settled by such an Amendment. There might be disputes between different employers as to whether they should have a lock-out or not, but these could not come to a head without affecting the workmen, and then the Board of Trade could step in.

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

said that if a dispute between employers were to arise, and as the result of that dispute the workmen ceased to be employed, it would at once be a trade dispute, and the Board of Trade would have power to interfere. He appealed to his hon. Friend not to press the Amendment.

SIR JOHN LUBBOCK, (London University)

from his experience on the Conciliation Board of the London Chamber of Commerce, said they had had several cases of disputes between traders, but he had never heard of a case between employers which would be affected by the Amendment. Practically the words would be inoperative.

MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)

hoped the hon. Member would press the Amendment to a division, because the words could do no harm, and they would show the public outside that in legislating the House of Commons was willing to listen to the voice of the working men in the House.


said he disliked the Bill so much that he had not intended to take any part in the controversy at all, but the Debate showed the weakness of the Bill. He believed the Bill gave no power to the Board of Trade to interfere in the circumstances mentioned by the right hon. Member for the Bright-side Division.

MR. J. COLVILLE (Lanark, N.E.)

supported the Amendment. He believed that there were cases of disputes which very seriously affected the interests of employers and their workpeople which would be dealt with by the Amendment.


pointed out that there was a class of workmen who employed subordinate workmen, like the platers in a shipyard. There was no Definition Clause in the Bill, and it might easily happen that a difficulty would arise as to who was the employer and who was the workman. There was a class of persons engaged who were workmen in large factories and who at the same time employed workmen to work under them. If this Amendment was inserted it would cover such cases. He recalled a case in which workmen who employed other workmen had a dispute with another class as to the manner of employing the labourers. If he read the Bill correctly it would fail to reach such cases and to distinguish between the disputes of that character, because there was no Definition Clause to bring such persons under the name of employers. If, however, the Amendment were accepted, there would then be no doubt as to their position. He had listened to the discussion and he had not heard a reason given why the Amendment, if accepted, would cause harm. [Cheers.] If it had the effect claimed for it of causing workmen to undertake methods of conciliation instead of a strike, surely it would be worth inserting in the Bill. [" Hear, hear!"]


said that if he thought the particular class of workmen referred to did not come within the scope of the Bill then some ground might exist for a Definition Clause, or at least for the insertion of words to make the clause plain; but his impression was that there was no doubt about the subject. When the discussion took place in the Grand Committee he was impressed with the objections taken to the insertion of these words, and if the words were necessary to deal, for example, with the case of a sub-contractor and his workmen, he should agree to them, but he thought that the case was already covered by the Bill. The insertion of the Amendment would open the door to cases of disputes as to wages, to disputes about competition rates, and arrangements as to particular markets having to be inquired into by the Board of Trade. He thought that the words proposed were too wide, and he trusted that the House would not widen the scope of the section by inserting words which would introduce a class of disputes never intended to be dealt with by the Bill.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The House divided:—Ayes, 123; Noes, 203.—(Division List, No. 349.)

*SIR ALBERT ROLLIT moved, after Sub-section (3) to insert the following Sub-section:— (4.) The Arbitration Act 1889, shall not apply to the settlement by arbitration of any difference or dispute to which this Act applies, but any such arbitration proceedings shall be conducted in accordance with such of the provisions of the said Act, or such of the regulations of any conciliation board, or under such other rules or regulations, as may be mutually agreed upon by the parties to the difference or dispute. He said that he was one of those who regretted that the Government felt it right to abandon Clause 2 in the Standing Committee, and the provisions with regard to arbitration in the Schedules. They had at first intended to ask the Government to restore the clause and to deal in the Bill with arbitration as well as with conciliation. At the same time they recognised that conciliation was the primary and prior object of the Bill, and that they would not be well advised in pressing Amendments to which exception might be taken, though voluntary and not compulsory arbitration was the corollary of conciliation, and if conciliation failed to effect an amicable settlement the parties might well have facilities for arbitration by mutual agreement and the Bill thus be jeopardised. But he thought that the abandonment of Clause 2 had occasioned a difficulty not contemplated by the Board of Trade. That clause modified the provisions of the Arbitration Act of 1889, as made applicable to this Bill, and the Debates that had taken place had seemed to show that it was generally thought undesirable that so mercantile and unsuitable an Act as that passed in connection with arbitration in 1889 should be applied to labour disputes. If the Bill before them were passed without his Amendment, the Act of 1889 would apply to all arbitrations. A submission to arbitration, an agreement to refer, would be come irrevocable, and when an award was made it might be enforced by order of a Judge, and finally by imprisonment. It would become possible to administer oaths, penalties for perjury might be incurred, and subpœnas might be issued. It would also be possible to insist on the disclosure of employers' books showing their profits, and of the private documents of Trade Unions. The application of these provisions in the cases contemplated by the Bill was generally felt not to be desirable. The first object of his Amendment then, was to exclude the operation of the Act of 1889, and the second object was to suggest to the parties how they might proceed in cases of arbitration. It permitted them to make their own code by selection from the Act, to adopt the rules of any Conciliation Board, or to make regulations for themselves. The purpose was to encourage arbitration, and to suggest the best modes of procedure, so as to prevent strikes and lock-outs, and facilitate their amicable settlement by voluntary agreements to arbitrate. It had been suggested that the parties might themselves by their agreement, exclude the operation of the Act of 1889. That was, of course, true, but he thought that the parties, from one cause or another, would be unlikely to do so, and that it was best to exclude, the Act, unless expressly adopted, as being unsuitable to such proceedings. The President of the Board of Trade had met his proposal in a very conciliatory spirit, and he hoped that his Amendment would now have the right hon. Gentleman's support, as it had that of the London Conciliation Board.


said that the Government, like his hon. Friend, considered that some of the provisions of the Act of 1889 were inapplicable to disputes such as those with which this Bill purported to deal. The conclusion he had come to was that by far the best course to adopt would be not to lay down any code at all by which the parties to arbitration should be bound, but to leave the matter, as other matters were left in the Bill, to the parties to arrange themselves. The Government had, therefore, thought it wise to exclude Clause 2 of the original Bill from the consideration of the Committee, but, recognising that in many cases conciliation led to arbitration, they thought it desirable to make some provision for the appointment of an arbitrator who would only be appointed on the application of both parties. If an arbitrator were appointed, in any case the Act of 1889 would apply with all its pains and penalties in the absence of an Amendment like that proposed by his hon. Friend. That would discourage arbitration under this Bill, and therefore he thought it desirable to exclude the operation of the Act of 1889, which was never intended to be applied to disputes of the kind which they were now dealing with, and to leave the parties to an arbitration free to draw up their own code.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3,—