HC Deb 01 July 1915 vol 72 cc1963-78

(1) An employer shall not declare, cause or take part in a lock-out, and a person employed shall not take part in a strike, in connection with any difference to which this Part of this Act applies, unless the difference has been reported to the Board of Trade, and one month has elapsed since the date of the report, and the difference has not during that month been referred by the Board of Trade for settlement in accordance with this Act.

(2) If any person acts in contravention of this Section, he shall be guilty of an offence under this Act.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "strike," to insert the words "and no person shall advocate or propose any lock-out or strike or attempt to induce any person (whether any particular person or generally) to take part in any lock-out or strike."

This Amendment is directed against outside agitation. The ordinary laws with regard to accessories would extend to persons counselling an illegal strike or lock-out which actually took place, but it would not cover the case of a person coming from outside, or possibly distributing leaflets or writing to the newspapers, even though he did so unsuccessfully, in order to bring about an illegal lock-out or strike. The words that are proposed to be inserted are intended to cover this question. Even though it might be argued that owing to some interpretation of certain Clauses of the Summary Jurisdiction Act these words are not necessary, yet in order to make the case really quite clear, I hope that the Amendment will be accepted.


The hon. Member made a suggestion which we thought would be useful in the first Clause. I hope that he will understand that, if we resist this proposal, it is really because we think that it would not improve the Bill. We are quite willing that the Bill should be changed at the suggestion of hon. Members in such particulars as would improve it, but there are two objections to the suggestion which he makes. One is that the words are, on the one hand, necessarily very vague words, and, on the other hand, rather alarming words. It is a very serious thing to add as some new offence, if it were a new offence, a thing which must necessarily be described in language so vague as this. It is difficult to use language more precise, and I am not criticising the hon. Gentleman's drafting. I think that it is very good. I am only suggesting that if you are going to carry this measure through, and work it in the friendly and co-operative spirit which is essential for its success, it is hghly desirable that you should not multiply minatory provisions of this sort. In the second place, it is desirable that it should be plainly understood by work- men and everybody else that if you do that which is an incitement to something which our Statute prohibits, that is a matter which can be dealt with under common law. Of course, it is only in a really serious case, but in such a case the law already provides the protection which I think is needed and which the hon. Gentleman seeks to provide. For those reasons I hope that he will see his way to withdraw his proposals, because we are quite satisfied that they would not improve the Bill.


I do not accept the arguments of the Home Secretary. But the right hon. Gentleman has put forward his views in such an admirable manner that I will withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words, "one month has," and to insert instead thereof the words, "three days have."

As I understand this Clause, at present it allows the Board of Trade a month before they are compelled to refer a difference which may be submitted to them to one of the tribunals set up under this Bill. All who have had experience of arbitration under the existing Act know that the cause which has been responsible more than any other for the comparative failure of this legislation, has been the delay. It is most important, therefore, that there should be as little delay as possible. It is reasonable to assume that there has been a considerable amount of irritation between the workmen and the employers before the matter is, in the first place, reported to the Board of Trade, and I think it most undesirable, in the interests of the smooth working of this Act that there should be the possibility of a further month's delay before the Board of Trade refer the matter to some tribunal for settlement. Therefore, I propose that the Board of Trade should be given only three days in which to decide the tribunal to which the dispute should be submitted. Then, by a later Amendment, I propose to give the tribunal a week in which to make its award, and I am quite sure that unless there is to be a very considerable reduction in the time from a period of a month there would be a great deal of unnecessary irritation in the working of this Act. For these reasons I beg to move the Amendment.


I entirely support the hon. Member. I think that in normal times of peace there might be a great deal to be said for the delay of a month, but in the circumstances of this particular Bill, and the circumstances of this War, and in view of the necessity which exists for the manufacture of the munitions of war, if a dispute were to arise of such a nature as to threaten a strike, or something of that kind, I think that it would be extremely detrimental to the interests of this country that the powers that be should have as wide a margin as one month in which to think over what action they are going to take. During such time it is quite certain that you would have an increased feeling on the part of the men and of the employers, which might make the position infinitely more difficult for any tribunal to deal with than if they had a shorter time, and dealt with it promptly, as I think they ought to do in the interests of the country.


We have been seeking to get the Minister of Munitions to alter his Bill, so that where a dispute arises the proceedings would be expedited, and the reasons which we urged upon the right hon. Gentleman were that where a dispute arose there was naturally friction, and friction does not conduce either to speedy or to efficient work. As to whether the periods should be three days and seven days, I am not so sure. There may be a difference of opinion as to that, but I would suggest at any rate that the period ought not to be more than twenty-one days, which would give every opportunity to both sides to prepare, as well as for the Board of Trade to find the Court. We hope that the Government will at any rate see that the desire behind the Amendment is to assist the Government and prevent friction.


I cannot support the Amendment. I think that the time might be briefer, perhaps about a fortnight, but three days will hardly leave adequate time. If a fortnight were given there would be time to get the matter into order, and also for the other side to see what they can do.


May I point out that the purpose of my Amendment is not to limit to three days the time for settlement of a dispute, but simply to limit to three days the time in which the Board of Trade is to decide the tribunal to which the matter should be referred.


Is it not desirable that the matter should be settled without reference to this Act during the War, and is it not the object of having a month that negotiations should be carried on in that period to complete an arrangement between the parties?


Everybody will agree with the desire which is expressed, that in any case of difference or dispute a settlement should be arrived at as quickly as possible, but it does not follow always, even in matters of this sort, that the more haste you make the more speed you secure. The only reason for allowing as long time as one month is not in order to make certain that nothing shall ever be settled before the month has elapsed, but in order to ensure that the very serious position of the time limit having run out and no settlement having been reached shall be avoided. I feel certain that if this Bill is worked as I believe it will be, nothing like a month will elapse in all save very few cases before a settlement is arrived at, but you must think of the extreme cases. In legislation it is no good imagining the easy cases. You must imagine the difficult cases, and if you imagine the difficult cases, the view taken by those who will have the responsibility of working this Act, and who have the greatest possible interest in seeing that it works quickly and smoothly, is that the month which we have suggested is not too long.


The Bill as it stands is not a settlement within a month, but simply provides that if the parties have not agreed by the end of a month, then the matter must be referred by the Board of Trade for settlement, and then the other proceedings have got to take place which might take another month. That delay is bad for all concerned.


There seems to be a misunderstanding. The provision of the Bill is not that employers and employés have got to have a difference lasting for a month before it is reported. The difference may be reported not necessarily by both parties, but by one of them as soon as ever he thinks it wise so to report it, and the month runs from that moment. Of course, if we said that employers and workpeople must dispute for a month and then at the end of a month have the matter reported, and that then another month must elapse before a settlement, there would be great force in what has been said, but that is not the point. Either may, without the consent of the other side, report to the Board of Trade a dispute even before it has arisen.


We have to apply our experience in this matter, and it is that whatever the nature of a dispute may be at the commencement, the longer it exists the wider it becomes, a hundred and one things being added to the difficulties to be dealt with by the Board of Trade. Surely it is not too much to say that the Board of Trade, having the power to submit the dispute to one of the three tribunals—and that is my hon. Friend's Amendment—should have three days to decide to which tribunal the dispute should be referred. We are not dealing at all with the nature of the complaint, whether it is fair or just; all we say is, that the Board of Trade ought to be able to say in three days what tribunal should consider the matter. Surely when this proposal comes from the workers who are giving up their rights, it is a matter which should be considered, and it is one about which we are anxious.


I rather gather from the Home Secretary that he took the view that the proposal was for only three days, or some other period, in which the Board of Trade had to deal with the dispute. That is not the proposal at all. The point is, how long a time shall be allowed between reporting to the Board of Trade and the time at which the Board selects the tribunal to which it refers the dispute? I am quite sure that three days is too short, and if the Government say that a month is not too long, I shall willingly take their word for it, and support them in opposing the Amendment. But I want to be sure that they do take that view. Unless they are quite satisfied about it I should have thought that the proposal of the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge), who knows very much about these things, to reduce to three weeks the period of a month, would be a wise one. Whether a fortnight or three weeks is the best time I really cannot say, but I think the point might be considered whether the reduction of the period of a month might not be accepted. I understand that the time probably would not be wasted, and that during the interval there might be negotiations to settle the matter without a reference at all. I suggest that the Home Secretary might consider whether some reduction of the period might not be allowed.


I speak with twenty-seven years' experience of arbitration and conciliation boards, many of whose rules are that disputes must be settled within a given period; fourteen days is a common period. May I suggest that the desire of my colleagues, as well as myself, is to speed things up, and probably the wisest plan would be for the right hon. Gentleman to consider the proposals that we have made, so that an arrangement might be come to satisfactory to everyone concerned on the Report stage.


May I point out to the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) that he need not assume that the Board of Trade would take the full month? If the Board of Trade saw that the area of the dispute was increasing, they would at once refer it to arbitration. The danger is that if this space of time is cut down the Board of Trade might have to refer the matter to arbitration at a time when they were very near arriving at a settlement. I think it would be suicidal to force the Board of Trade, when coming very near to settlement, to refer the dispute to an Arbitration Court and take it out of the Department's hands. The danger, both in New Zealand and other countries, where compulsory arbitration has been tried, is that it tends to kill conciliation boards altogether. In New Zealand the result of the Arbitration Clause has been that in 99 cases out of 100 the conciliation boards have been virtually killed. I hope that in this instance the existing machinery of conciliation will be tried to the fullest extent, and that my hon. Friend will rely upon the discretion of the Board of Trade, who, if they think that evils are likely to arise before a settlement is reached, would not allow a month to elapse.


The speech of my hon. Friend shows that he is still labouring under the misapprehension which the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cave) just now quite removed, and it is one which I think the Attorney-General, if I may respectfully say so, seems to be labouring under also. My point is simply how long shall we give the Board of Trade to decide to which tribunal the dispute shall be referred? This Amendment has nothing at all to do with the time that shall elapse during which a settlement must be arrived at. No report will be made to the Board of Trade until a deadlock has been reached between the parties. There is always considerable irritation attending a dispute when it has reached the stage at which it is most important that immediate action should be taken. I am not tied down to three days, four days, or five days. Whichever might be considered by the Committee to be more reasonable, I shall be perfectly willing to accept. But I submit that it is perfectly ridiculous to say that the Board of Trade should take a month in which to decide which tribunal should have the settlement of the dispute. If I do not get any more satisfactory reply from the Government I shall have to press my Amendment.


If the Government were to accept this Amendment it is said that it would probably hinder negotiations that otherwise might be possible in regard to the dispute concerned. As one who has had some little experience of industrial disputes, I submit that the very converse is true. I put it to my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Roch) that, when a dispute has arisen in any given area, or in any given trade, and that there is a month, as the Bill now stands, before the Board of Trade need necessarily decide to which tribunal it is to be referred, the effect of that would be on the part of the workmen and on the part of the employers to delay the settlement until the last possible moment. I respectfully suggest to the Committee that the direct result and effect of limiting the time to which the Board of Trade will be confined to refer the matter to a particular tribunal will facilitate and help, rather than hinder the settlement of disputes.


It surely is a mistake to infer that every dispute which may be reported by anybody must necessarily go to one or other of those tribunals, and it may well be that if the time which the Board of Trade has to decide whether they will, in the meantime, use the period, if they can, to settle the dispute, were cut down to three days, it would mean that the moment a representation was made by anybody on behalf of one of the parties automatically the Board of Trade must refer it to one of those three tribunals. I am not at all sure that that is the right view to take. Some time ought to be given to the Board of Trade, first of all, to try the other method in regard to any difference reported, and as the Bill provides to "take any steps which may seem to them expedient to promote a settlement of the difference." If that failed, then they might decide upon one or other of the three tribunals. Surely it would be a mistake to limit the time in which they could negotiate to three days.


I am very anxious that we should arrive at a common agreement on this, as on other important matters. I hope the Committee will agree with what has been said by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. The Clause points out what the steps are, and they are really these. First of all, there is a difference either existing, or at any rate apprehended in some industry between employers and workmen. No doubt, as reasonable people, the workmen and employers try to settle that difference without reference to anybody else at all, and if they do not succeed, either one side or the other reports to the Board of Trade. The duty of the Board of Trade is not limited to taking the report and sending it at the week-end to one or other of the three tribunals; and the employers and workpeople of this country know the value of the work done by Sir George Askwith and his colleagues in many industrial disputes. The Department have to do their best by the very terms of the Bill, and if the Committee will look at Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 they will see what is the duty of the Board of Trade once this report is made to them: The Board of Trade shall consider any difference so reported, and take any steps which seem to them expedient to promote a settlement of the difference. It is said that a month is too long, even as a maximum, to allow the Board of Trade for this purpose. That is not the view held by those who are responsible for the working of the Act; but we can only get on in these matters by arriving, as far as may be, at an agreement which is reasonable. If it will meet the views of those who are versed in these matters to substitute twenty-one days for a month, that is a thing I would do; although I agree that even so you are limiting the useful activities of the Board of Trade in taking steps which seem to them expedient to promote a settlement of the difference. If it should become clear to the Board of Trade that nothing but compulsory arbitration will do, then reference to one of these tribunals could be effected in twenty-four hours. You should only have compulsory arbitration after an attempt at adjustment and settlement by the Board of Trade, the result of whose experience and the machinery they employ has so often pro- duced satisfactory agreements. The Board of Trade would not occupy twenty-one days unless they satisfied themselves that it would be a useful thing to do. They have no desire to do it, and there would be no advantage, because the very day they found that they could not effect a settlement the matter would be referred to one of the three tribunals.


If I am correct in my view of this Clause there are two important provisions in it. The first is the period, to which the hon. Member has referred, within which the Board of Trade has to fix upon the tribunal. That is the point on which I am anxious to support the hon. Member for Blackburn.


The period is not for the Board of Trade to fix the tribunal. Anybody could take it to a tribunal in five minutes if you gave them the choice of two or three tribunals. The period is for the Board of Trade to consider the differences and to take steps to promote a settlement.


Surely the meaning of this Clause is that it is the intention of the Government to provide voluntary conciliation with compulsory arbitration. That is the problem, and what we want to do here is to expedite the settlement so that there shall be no strike if possible. Unfortunately we have little experience of how to work that. The work of the Board of Trade has been by voluntary conciliation, and we must go abroad to find out how these things work out. The experience in every country, without exception, that has tried to provide voluntary conciliation with compulsory arbitration is that when compulsory arbitration is behind voluntary conciliation, voluntary conciliation is of very little use. That is the experience in Australia and New Zealand. At the same time I think my right hon. Friend is quite right in preserving to the Board of Trade the power to use its good offices for voluntary conciliation. I think, however, he should not allow that to go on too long. This is an emergency measure, and we want to make strikes absolutely impossible. I would suggest if he takes a week off his compromise and make it a fortnight I believe voluntary conciliation will work its maximum of good, and then, if we find it has broken down in the way it has in Australia and New Zealand, go ahead with compulsory arbitration and settle the whole business with no strike or lock-out.


We have had an extremely interesting discussion. I believe we all have the same object in view, and that is to prevent strikes, which are a very great danger to the country. The Government, I must say, have met the hon. Member very fairly. They have agreed to take a period of twenty-one days, and that offer has been made by the Home Secretary, and it is supported by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Cave). I think, under those circumstances, we should accept the proposal.


May I make the suggestion, if the period is cut down to twenty-one days or fourteen days, that you could allow an extension to the full period of a month if both parties in the difference agreed to it?


It is a very ingenious suggestion which, I dare say, might sometimes be useful, but simplicity is a very good thing in a Bill of this sort. As to what was said by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. E. MacDonald), with every desire to get general agreement I really cannot go below my limit of twenty-one days, a period about which expert opinion is very doubtful. I shall take the opportunity of considering other suggestions if I can be convinced that the period is unnecessarily long. My own opinion is very strongly the other way.


As chairman of probably the largest conciliation area in the Kingdom, may I point out that twenty-one days is the exact period after which, if we fail to agree, an independent chairman must provide an agreement? The term should not be too short, to enable decent negotiation between the two sides. On the other hand, it should not be too long, to render ineffective the negotiations taking place. Three weeks, as suggested by the Home Secretary, has been found to be the finest period to bring these negotiations to a success, and I will support that suggestion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In Sub-section (1), leave out the words "one month has," and insert instead thereof the words "twenty-one days have."—[Sir J. Simon.]


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words, "and the difference has not during that month been referred by the Board of Trade for settlement in accordance with this Act."

At present there is no limit, and under my Amendment the whole business would have to be done in three weeks. I move in order to find out from the Government if they are putting any limitation of time within which a dispute is to be dealt with by the tribunal before a settlement is arrived at.


My hon. Friend, I feel sure, is only moving this in order to put a question. If we really adopted his proposal we should completely destroy the effect and value of the Clause. The Amendment would have this result, that as soon as the three weeks had elapsed a strike or lock-out would be authorised, even though at the very moment the tribunal was endeavouring to settle the dispute. I am sure that is not a proposal which my hon. Friend wishes to make. He asks what is the limit of time within which the tribunal would decide? The answer to that is a practical answer. It is not a legal or chronological answer. The answer is that the tribunal has the greatest possible interest in deciding the thing as rapidly as ever they can. There is no question of trying to get both sides to come to an agreement, as it is compulsory arbitration. I cannot believe they would delay their decision an unnecessary moment, since the whole point of the Bill is that we should make prompt provision to settle disputes.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further Amendment made: In Sub-section (1), leave out the word "month" ["during that month"], and insert instead thereof the word "time."—[Mr. Snowden.]


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to insert the words "and unless one week has elapsed since the difference was referred to the selected tribunal."

Before the dispute is referred to the Board of Trade it is reasonable to assume that negotiations shall have been going on between the trade union and the employers. The matter is then referred to the Board of Trade, and for twenty-one days they endeavour to bring the parties into agreement. They fail to do so, and then the dispute is to be referred to one of the three tribunals mentioned. It is, I think, important that a limit should be set to the further time. The tribunal might hang up the matter for weeks or months, and, so far as there is any provision in the Bill, for years. I want to set a limit to the time for the tribunal and I propose a week which I think is quite long enough, considering that the Board of Trade have had three weeks to endeavour to decide the matter.


I admit a case might be made out for putting on a limit, but I am sure a week is much too short. I hope my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment.


I hope the Committee will not pass the Amendment. Not only is there the question of the Board of Trade referring the matter to the tribunal and preparing the case, but there is also the question of the employers preparing their side of the case, and, what is more important from our point of view, there is the question of the trade union preparing its side of the case. A week in which everything has to be settled, the case tried, and the award given, is much too short, I quite agree that the period should not be prolonged indefinitely, but as no strike or lock-out is to take place in the interval, I do not see the use of fixing a week.


Really the argument put forward by my hon. Friend (Mr. Wardle) is the most extraordinary I ever heard. He says that we are giving too short a time for the employers and the workmen to prepare their cases. As I pointed out before, the matter has gone to the Board of Trade, the employers and the workmen have each been presenting their prepared cases to the Board of Trade for three weeks, and yet my hon. Friend says that they will not have time to prepare their cases—cases which have been prepared for at least a month before the matter could be referred to the tribunal.


made a statement which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.


I cannot support the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I am not in favour of compulsory arbitration, and by limiting the time for dealing with the cases which arise you are forcing the date on which they must go to compulsory arbitration nearer than it would otherwise be. I would rather leave the Clause as it is.


The point I made on a previous Amendment, and which I repeat, was that some limitation should be put to the time. It may be that a week is too short, but I think the Government should agree to some limitation. The Home Secretary indicated two arguments against such limitation, but in my opinion those arguments are not strong enough.


I think that this Amendment would carry us a great deal further than its Mover and supporters intend. The effect would be to render the whole Clause nugatory a week after the date of reference to the tribunal, whatever the tribunal might be. The hon. Member for Blackburn must be aware of the fact that, if this Amendment is carried, as soon as a week had elapsed the whole of the arbitration proceedings would fail. That is not what the Government or the Committee intend. I hope therefore the Amendment will not be accepted.


I should like to associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle). The hon. Member for Blackburn, having received his obligatory twenty-one days, ought to be contented. I have boon associated with arbitration cases where it has been necessary for the Court to travel from Swansea to Newcastle, and from Newcastle to Glasgow, in order to find out what was the practice in those districts, before they could give an award that was fair to both parties. In complicated cases of that character it would be perfectly impossible—or at any rate very difficult—to give an award within seven days. I believe that the intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn in trying to expedite the matter are sincere, but we must not make difficulties. I speak from a long trade union experience and from much experience in arbitration cases. I hope my hon. Friend will not press his Amendment. When once the Court gets to work, I do not think there will be any delay.


On one occasion one of the hon. Members on the bench below me and I spent thirty days in trying to settle a dispute which had not arisen. [Laughter]. I mean, we were at that stage where a dispute was apprehended, and we spent thirty days in trying to settle the matter. If Amendments of this kind are accepted, we shall make the Bill absolutely impossible.


As the Bill stands, there is no limit at all to the time. I understood the hon. Member for Hoxton (Dr. Addison) to say that it was desirable there should be some time-limit. If the Government consider that a week is too short, let them say what time they think is reasonable. My hon. Friend, who has such wide experience in these matters, suggests fourteen days. I am ready to accept fourteen days. I shall press the Amendment unless I can get the concession of some period from the Government.


I have had a little experience in dealing with these matters. There is already in existence in the engineering trade a powerful federation with which the engineers' unions and other similar organisations negotiate. They have a plan which has been in operation since, I think, 1897, and if the Minister of Munitions wants a plan upon which to run this business, there is that one already in existence. The time they allow is a month. I do not know that any of the unions which negotiate with the Engineering Employers' Federation have any quarrel with that period, so long as they know that whatever decision is arrived at dates back to the time of the inquiry. That is the only point they are concerned about. That plan has been in operation for donkeys' years, and that anybody should seek to quarrel with it or to speed it up is a matter of surprise to me. It would be all right if there was going to be only one dispute, but we may have to deal with an exceedingly large number of men—a larger number than has ever been dealt with by any of the employers' associations or trade unions. It is easily conceivable that for a certain period of time the whole horizon may be peaceful, while in another period yon may have a rush of cases, and even in a month the authority might not be able to deal with the whole of them. There has to be give and take in these things. As far as the workmen's organisations are concerned, they will be quite prepared to accept give and take so long as they know that there will be no unnecessary delay in dealing with the matter.


The Committee should bear in mind that this is, after all, an emergency Bill. We are not setting up permanent machinery for dealing with disputes between employers and employed. We are in a time of war, and this is an emergency Bill. A Bill of this kind, dealing with so many complicated matters, must open up all sorts of difficulties, not only with regard to time, but in many other directions. I hope my hon. Friends below the Gangway will keep in mind that this is an emergency measure pure and simple, which will come to an end with the office of Minister of Munitions, and that in the working of such a measure we want as much elasticity as possible. The only way in which a Bill of this kind can be made to work is by the goodwill of all concerned. It is the goodwill of everybody in the working of this measure that will make it successful. When you are relying more upon goodwill than upon the legislation you are passing, I urge most strongly that you should give as much elasticity as possible. Do not let us argue as if we were settling for all time what kind of legislation we should have for dealing with strikes and lock-outs. I hope there will be no alteration of the kind suggested.

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


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words, "(3) No proceeding in respect of an offence under this or the last foregoing Section, which relates to the settlement of labour differences, shall be instituted except by, or with the leave of, the Board of Trade."

I move this Amendment in order to ascertain what is thought of it on the Treasury Bench.


I hope that my hon. Friend, having already had some success, will sea his way to withdraw his Amendment. There are one or two more Amendments of his which I am ready to accept, and I want to reach them as soon as possible.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.