HC Deb 01 July 1915 vol 72 cc2117-25

(1) Any departure during the War from the practice ruling in the workshops, shipyards, and other industries prior to the War, shall only be for the period of the War.

(2) No change in practice made during the War shall be allowed to prejudice the position of the workmen in the owners' employment, or of their trade unions in regard to the resumption and maintenance after the War of any rules or customs existing prior to the War.

(3) In any readjustment of staff which may have to be effected after the War, priority of employment will be given to workmen in the owners' employment at the beginning of the War who have been serving with the colours or who were in the owners' employment when the establishment became a controlled establishment.

(4) Where the custom of a shop is changed during the War by the introduction of semi-skilled men to perform work hitherto performed by a class of workmen of higher skill, the rates paid shall be the usual rates of the district for that class of work.

(5) The relaxation of existing demarcation restrictions or admission of semiskilled or female labour shall not affect adversely the rates customarily paid for the job. In cases where men who ordinarily do the work are adversely affected thereby, the necessary readjustments shall be made so that they can maintain their previous earnings.

(6) A record of the nature of the departure from the conditions prevailing when the establishment became a controlled establishment shall be kept, and shall be open for inspection by the authorised representative of the Government.

(7) Due notice shall be given to the workmen concerned wherever practicable of any changes of working conditions which it is desired to introduce as the result of the establishment becoming a controlled establishment, and opportunity for local consultation with workmen or their representatives shall be given if desired.

(8) All differences with workmen engaged on Government work arising out of changes so introduced, or with regard to wages or conditions of employment arising out of the War, shall be settled in accordance with this Act without stoppage of work.

(9) Nothing in this Schedule (except as provided by the fourth paragraph thereof) shall prejudice the position of employers or persons employed after the War.


I beg to move in Subsection (2), after the word "War" ["prior to the War"], to insert the words "and any dispute as to whether the former rules and practices have been re-established shall be referred to the arbitration tribunal, who shall restore the former rules and practices by an award which shall be binding on the employer, who shall be liable to a penalty of one hundred pounds for each day during which he refuses to recognise this award."

The reason for this Amendment is that there appears to be no security whatever that the rules and practices which are sought to be safeguarded in the Bill shall be re-established, and this Amendment briefly—I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee—is for the purpose of getting some kind of security that these rules and practices shall be maintained.


I think the hon. Member was present when an Amendment was accepted by the Minister of Munitions. Keeping the machinery in Part I. of the Bill alive for twelve months after the termination of the War in order to use that machinery for restoring any of the rights or restrictions or customs that the Bill had necessitated the temporary abandonment of, and I think the hon. Member's point is fully covered by that Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (4), to leave out the word "men" ["semi-skilled men"], and to insert instead thereof the word "persons." It follows that women will be affected by this Bill and I think the word "persons" should be put in in place of the word "men."


I think the Schedule must be taken as a whole. Sub-sections (4) and (5) were purposely constructed at the three days' conference at the Treasury. Section 4 was constructed to deal with the question of semiskilled men doing the work of skilled men, and Section 5 was constructed to enable women to be brought in, and wherever women were brought in they had to have the same piece rate as men, so that if they did the same amount of work they would obtain the same amount of earning, and I think it would be a mistake to alter the Schedule, having regard to the careful way in which the Clause was constructed.


I hope the explanation that has just been given will be accepted. I think it is highly important, in view of the fact that women are coming in, that there should be a safeguard of this kind, and I think it ought to be carried out honourably, that women doing the same piece-work as men should be entitled to the same wage for piece-work, and I hope that side by side with that, you will take into account the time wage for women. There is no question of equality here, and I hope there will not be sweated wages for time work, but that something like a decent minimum should be given them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in Subsection (4), after the word "the" ["the rates paid"], to insert the words "time and piece."


We accept that.

Words "time and piece" inserted.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (6) after "be" ["shall be kept"], to leave out the word "kept" and insert instead thereof the words "made by the Minister of Munitions or a person appointed by him in consultation with the representatives of the trade unions and the employers." I think there should be some security for an association of the trades unions with the Minister of Munitions, in order to see that these particulars are kept, or otherwise, if it is left to the employers, the particulars probably will not be kept and the provisions will not be put into force.


The Government feel that they cannot accept this addition to the Schedule. We have to keep in mind that this Schedule has been operating since the 19th of March, and has been made a condition of Government contracts that have been given out since that date, and therefore the trade unionists when they met the Minister of Munitions a few days ago in conference, requested that the Schedule should be put in exactly as it was fixed up on the 19th of March, and there is only one slight alteration made. It is a question of interpretation rather than an alteration of principle, and that is the insertion of the word "piece" that we have just accepted. I therefore hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported, with Amendments.

As amended, considered.


I beg to move an Amendment to make good what is, I believe, recognised as an important I omission in Clause 1—that is, to add at the end of Sub-section (1) the words "and the decision of the Board of Trade as to whether a difference has been so I reported shall be conclusive for all purposes." It seems absolutely necessary that you should be able to fix that a difference has been reported, because by the next Clause a lock-out or strike becomes legal after the lapse of three weeks after the time that the dispute has been reported.


We accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: At the end of Sub-section (2) leave out the words, "in contravention of this provision," and insert instead thereof the words, "without submitting the proposal for the change to the Minister of Munitions, or when the consent of the Minister has been withheld."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]

Clause 5, Sub-section (3), after the word "profits" ["net profits"], insert the words "or losses."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]

In same Sub-section, after the word "comparison" insert the words "or affords no standard of comparison."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]

In same Sub-section, after the word "profits" ["allow those net profits"] insert the words "or losses."

Clause 14, Sub-section (3), leave out the words "under this provision."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]

In same Sub-section, leave out the words "jurisdiction in respect of."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]

In same Sub-section, after the word "Acts," insert the words, "or any provisions applicable to the Court of Summary Jurisdiction."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]

In same Sub-section, leave out the words, "and any provisions relating to the Sheriff sitting summarily for the Summary Jurisdiction Acts."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I attempted to make a few remarks on the Bill at an earlier stage, but unfortunately I have not had the opportunity by being called. I have an advantage in making my remarks now that the Bill is complete and has reached its final stage. This is a Bill on which very high hopes are set. It is well known that something has gone very wrong with regard to the munitions of war. I feel that I myself am precluded from discussing the matter very closely, owing to the fact that I have been in military training, have had considerable periods at the Front and in the trenches, and have had considerable means of obtaining information at first hand as to how matters stand. I will not go into these matters, for this reason:—it is not usual for an officer on service to make use outside, or in debates in this House, of special knowledge he obtains in the course of his service. But as it is a matter of common knowledge, and it has been admitted, that munitions have not been dealt with adequately hitherto, we reach the conclusion that there are persons and officials at the War Office who ought to be displaced, or, if they are not responsible, then that the whole of the late Government is responsible, and the right hon. Gentleman is also responsible, as a very prominent member of that Government. And the whole of this Bill is putting everything into the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. All our hopes are set on him. We put all our eggs in this respect in one basket, and I think many Members of this House are not satisfied that this experiment is going to be a success. We may very well be jumping from the frying-pan into the fire, and it will be the fire with a vengeance at this stage of the War. The right hon. Gentleman has made many appointments to his Ministry, but those appointed have not been persons specially cognisant of the special requirements of this War, or with the manufacture and production of the requirements of this War. They are men in various branches of business. There is only one Member of the Ministry so far specially associated with these munitions of war of which the omission is so flagrant and urgent. I do not want to disparage these gentlemen. We admit they are men of eminence and attainments in other ways. The right hon. Gentleman has kept clear of the taint of expert advice except in the one case. We all devoutly hope that his experiments may succeed, but we have serious misgivings.

I want to say one word on the economic side of the question—the powers he is taking in his Bill to withdraw workmen in all directions from employment in which they are now engaged. I am not talking of men who are eligible to fight and have not enlisted in the Army. I am talking of workpeople who are not eligible and who will have to be employed in other directions. He is able to withdraw them from many employments, and has a vast and autocratic power over industry in this country. He may exercise it in such a way as to destroy our financial power. Our financial power in paying for this War depends on what we can earn. If industries cannot be kept going we are not able to keep up our foreign trade, and he will destroy our power of earning money to pay for the taxation in this War. I do not think that side of the question has been very carefully or closely considered. We have been living in an atmosphere of hand to mouth. First one excitement and crisis, then another excitement and crisis. We have not realised the position. The Minister of Munitions has spoken of silver bullets. Money has been poured out like water, silver bullets have been poured out like rain. Our resources are not inexhaustible, and they can only be kept up if trade is kept up. These withdrawals for munitions work should not be made in a panic way, but so that industries may be maintained and the ability to get money to pay for taxation may not be destroyed. At this late hour I shall not prolong the Debate further. This Bill is a panic Bill. We all most devoutly hope it may succeed, but its whole failure or success will not depend on this Bill, but on the way in which the work of the provision of munitions is done by the right hon. Gentleman and his assistants, or the War Office, or Admiralty, or by those whose work it is, and the ability put into that task, and not by anything this House has done, or can do, or any provision it may put into the Bill.


I wish to say I am glad the right hon. Gentleman did not allow himself to be drawn during the progress of this Bill into the controversy to which he was invited from the Front Opposition Bench. I think it is another example of how the Front Opposition Bench has not always been very serviceable to the House. The right hon. Gentleman has undertaken a very difficult task. He is entitled to ask for the sympathy of the House, and not to be asked to create difficulties for himself by plunging into controversies. That is not the wish of the nation, or of this House. The nation wishes that, as far as he is concerned, he shall devote himself to these new duties. The past is concerned only in so far as it throws light on the manufacture of these munitions for the future. From the point of view of a parliamentary controversy and a State trial of any persons, it is utterly useless. I hope he will succeed in his task, and I am sure the country will not forgive him if he uses this weapon too gingerly. We want him to be bold and resolute. We want no ornamental machine, but something which he will use every day of his life until we have beaten the Kaiser, and I hope we shall not embroil him in controversies.


I do not wish to take up time, but the Debate on the Second Reading was cut short. Many of us who wished to speak were not allowed to do so, and if more time had been given it would have saved a good deal during the Committee stage of the Bill. We all wish the Minister of Munitions well, and we hope this measure and his exertions will prove a great success, and that as a result all labour difficulties will be smoothed over and we shall get a greater output of munitions of war. I have a feeling, however, that the Government have been on the wrong tack, and are still, to some extent, on the wrong tack. On the outbreak of war the Government ought to have told every able-bodied man in the country that the country was in danger and required every able-bodied man to do useful work for the country. If a man was not engaged in necessary useful civil work then it should have been made compulsory for him to join the Army. If that course had been taken I am perfectly sure it would have been to the greatest possible advantage, and that the present difficulties would not have arisen. I think the Secretary of State for War has done wonders, and deserves the greatest possible credit for the Army he has built up. He has not been able to pick his men. He has had under the voluntary system, to take what men were offered. He has had to take married men where, under a compulsory system, single men would have gone.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean)

That has nothing to do with it.


As the Minister of Munitions has had to bear much criticism I want to thank him for the way in which he met those of us who saw him before the Amendments were put down, and for the concessions which avoided speeches to-day. I want further to say that I hope this Bill will be largely inoperative, because the more successful will be the response from the country. I do not believe the Minister of Munitions thinks he will have to put many of the powers given him into force to get the work out of the men which he wants. I think he will get it without the necessity of enforcing the Bill, but I think it is wise that he should have the power in the background. I hope he, and those who work with him, will continue the campaign so as to awaken and stimulate the spirit of the men to do everything necessary without putting anything in the Clauses of this Bill which would work at all hardly against them into operation.


I hope this Bill will be passed, and that it will enable the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions to overcome the difficulties which he may yet find in front of him in the present very grave emergency. On the other hand, I suppose that greater powers are given to the right hon. Gentleman than have been given to any Minister in the House of Commons since the days of Cromwell. I may take for example the enormous power which he has got under the Clauses of the Bill with regard to the determination, rearrangement, and regulation of what are profits and what are not in the case of the different manufacturing concerns with which he is to be associated. On the other hand, I do feel that not enough powers are given to him in other directions. I am not going now to dilate on the new Clause that was moved by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir Henry Dalziel), although, naturally, I am sorry that it was not embodied. I wish, however, to take this opportunity of saying to the House that I have apologised privately to the Chairman of the Committee for the little episode earlier in the evening, which I much regret. But I did feel justified in what I said, because after the strong remarks I made, and my conviction with regard to that Clause, I did not like to see the Clause withdrawn without my being given an opportunity of retracting my position.

Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may think my sole object is to help him in every possible way, and I realised after his appeal to the House that that was the only answer we could give. I gladly gave it for this reason, that I am convinced that, if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions and his colleagues only go the right way to do this, nothing can stop them in achieving the object which we all have in view. What I submit is that the right hon. Gentleman cannot mistake the right way with regard to certain permanent officials. He has learnt the unmistakable feelings of Members of the House of Commons on that matter, and I think that is quite enough. We do not want to debate the subject for some time to come. Indeed, I do not know that we should be able to do so, because before we can do so we want to have before us the necessary facts upon which to found the debate. In my opinion we do not at present want debate, but we want action, and I join with other hon. Members in wishing the Minister of Munitions God-speed in the work he is undertaking. It is a great work, and I for one believe that he is going to achieve the success which is necessary in the interests of the country, if only he is given a little time to start.

Question, "That the Bill be read the third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.