HC Deb 06 May 1914 vol 62 cc291-2

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to enable local authorities to share with their employés profits made by such local authorities."

I have to apologise to the House for using this method of procedure, but I do so because I could not help hoping that, in view of the nature of the Bill, everybody will agree it is a Bill which ought to be brought in. It is a measure of a very small character indeed. The object of it is to enable local authorities to distribute a share of the profits that they make in any commercial undertaking among their employés who are engaged in the undertaking. I have long been an advocate of the principle of co-partnership, but I do not propose to argue that at the present moment. I personally think it is the only way, or, at all events, a hopeful way, out of our industrial difficulties. The difficulty of it from the political point of view is that it is not open to very much legislative assistance. In this particular case there is really something which the House can do to help if they are prepared to do it. At the present moment it appears to be illegal—the decision, I am bound to say, is one which is surprising to me—for a local authority to distribute a share of the profits it makes in a commercial undertaking among its employés. The case arose in this way: There is no doubt that the tramway undertaking at Belfast is carried on by the municipality, and the manager was very anxious to try the experiment of distributing 10 per cent. of the expected profits among those employed on the tramway. The plan was a great success, as I understand, and it was very much appreciated by the men employed. But the Government auditor has decided that that is an illegal way of disposing of the profits of the undertaking. I have no doubt that that is a perfectly right decision, and, while I do not question it, I say it is surprising. Perhaps the House will allow me to road a few sentences from a letter, dated 23rd February, 1914, from the general manager of the Belfast tramways, showing how the grievance was felt by the employés:— It is with great regret that I have to inform you that the Local Government Board auditor disallowed the payment of the profit bonus to the tramways staff, and surcharged the three members of the council who signed the cheque over £900 apiece. The staff took the matter up vigorously, and obtained the opinion of very eminent counsel in the Irish Bar, who held that the payment was perfectly legitimate. They even went so far as to offer to take upon their own shoulders the surcharge made upon the three members of the council Their earnestness, and the value they attached to it, greatly impressed the Vice-President of the Local Government Board in Ireland, and there is reason to believe that he did his very best to arrange for the continuance of the bonus. The Government legal luminaries, however, were too strong for him and for my people, and 'grief' is the only word which can be properly used to express their feelings at the final smashing up of my scheme for their welfare, and which they were good enough to consider did them honour. I do not hesitate to say in conclusion that there are not a dozen men among them who did not regret the losing of what made them feel in honourable association and partnership with the municipality in their work, rather than the pounds, shillings and pence it represented. I may go further and say that I believe it would be difficult to get 100 citizens out of the 400,000 in Belfast to say that they were not sorry that the tram men lost their bonus. That is really the case. I came across it merely as a co-partnership matter, and I ventured to put a question to the Chief Secretary, who gave a sympathetic answer, and, indeed, he went so far as to suggest that I should assist him to propose legislation on the subject. It seemed to me that the best way was to produce this Bill, which, I think, is a very simple one, merely to provide that, notwithstanding anything in a public or private Act, this kind of procedure shall be lawful if municipalities choose to undertake it. It is hardly necessary to mention that the employés were so much interested in it that they voluntarily wrote to me and thanked me for bringing the matter to the attention of the House. I have not asked any Member from Ireland on either side to put his name on the back of the Bill. I wish to present it to the House, although it arose out of the Belfast difficulty, as a general proposition which should be carried into effect by all municipalities alike. It is in no sense a party measure, and hon. Members on the other side of the House have been good enough to assist me by putting their names on the back of the Bill. I hope that this is a Bill which will succeed in reaching the Statute Book.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord Robert Cecil, Mr. James Hope, Mr. Peto, Mr. Theodore Taylor, and Mr. Aneurin Williams. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Thursday, 14th May, and to be printed. [Bill No. 228.]