§ Sub-section (3) of Section three of the principal Act shall be construed as if "two weeks" were substituted for "two months," and as if the words "unless in the meantime the man has made an application for a renewal of his certificate" were substituted for the words "unless in the meantime the man has obtained a renewal of his certificate."
§ Sir J. SIMON
I beg to move the omission of the Clause. I must ask the House briefly to consider whether Clause 5 as it stands ought to remain in the Bill, because it is not one of the cardinal Clauses of the measure. Up to the present I have entirely failed to understand the explanation which has been offered as to the merits of this Clause. The matter stands in this way. In the original Bill there was a provision that a man who was given a temporary certificate would not come under the compulsory powers of the Act unless two months had elapsed from the end of that temporary period. I quite appreciate that there may at first have been some misunderstanding, and that consequently certain persons may have been given a longer temporary exemption than was intended, but I should like, first of all, to ask whether this Clause is not intended to apply to certificates which are granted in the future. I have so understood it hitherto, and, indeed, I so understood it as 1459 the result of inquiry I made, but if that is the case it is quite plain that no mistake which has been made in the past will be affected by it. A great many people who have applied for temporary certificates and have shown that they are entitled, for example, to three months, have not been given certificates for three months, but only for one month, the interval of two months having been taken into account in granting it. Every one of those will be unfairly treated if you now cut down the period. Finally, we were told in the Committee stage that in substance this would not make any difference, and that the only people who were going to be affected by it were the people who had got, as the right hon. Gentleman thought, an improperly long period of temporary exemption. Is not that right?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am sorry, but I understood we were told that the classes that were excluded in groups, such, for instance, as the miners, or the railway men, would not be, in the judgment of the Government, affected by this Clause, and that the only people who would be affected were a limited number of people whom it was suggested held temporary certificates to an extent which was not justified.
§ Mr. LONG
The language to which my right hon. and learned Friend has called attention was used in reference to an interruption; it was not used in the course of my speech or general remarks. It was in answer to an interruption, and when I come later on to reply I think I can explain it in full. I did not confine it to the narrow limits which the right hon and learned Gentleman suggests. This Clause in its original form was intended to prevent industrial compulsion, and not to deal with the narrower point. I was dealing then with the difference between the skilled employø and the ordinary employø who gets a certificate of exemption and uses this Clause in order to escape service.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I am speaking quite sincerely when I say that I have never understood this Clause. It has been pointed out that though you cut down the two months to two weeks you do not, on the other hand, bring a man in under compulsion if in the course of the two weeks he makes an application for exemption, 1460 and we are assured that it is as broad as it is long. If that is so, what is the good of the Clause? I cannot understand how the Clause has any virtue unless it cuts down the extent of the protection which the original Act gave. The Government have told us again and again that it is not their desire or intention inside the four corners of this Bill to approach the dangerous territory of industrial compulsion. I believe them entirely. I have never made any accusation against them to the contrary; but what is the object of striking out two months and writing two weeks if we are then to be assured that it does not make any difference, because instead of having to get an exemption you have only to apply before the period is up? It is no use my right hon. Friend saying that he has heard this argument before.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am sorry. It is no use my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, saying that he has heard this argument before, and that the point was put in the Committee stage, because, although that is quite true, it has never been answered, and I really want to know what is the object of the Clause. I cannot see that it has got any object, and I therefore propose to omit it.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I raised this matter in Committee, and I am bound to say that the reply which was made by the President of the Local Government Board left me more mystified than ever as to the reasons for this change. We were told, first of all, that it made no difference in point of time, because whilst in the one case there were two months in which the workmen could turn round in order to find other employment before being called upon to serve in the Army—and so to prevent a form of industrial compulsion—in the other case he was going to get two weeks in which to make his preliminary appeal to the tribunal. The whole machinery would then come into operation. There would be an appeal to the first tribunal, and then an appeal to the Appeal Tribunal, and in point of time there would be no difference between the first and the second arrangement. If that is so, what is the reason for the change proposed? I gathered the other argument to be this: There might be cases, not affecting skilled workmen but others, where the two 1461 months ought not to operate, and where the workmen ought to be passed more quickly into the Army. If that is true, there is not going to be any difference between the method of dealing with the skilled workmen and the method of dealing with the unskilled workmen. They are going to be subjected to precisely the same machinery, and precisely the same time will elapse. The unskilled workman will have a fortnight in which to make his preliminary appeal. Then he will be able to appeal to the first court, and afterwards to the second court, and exactly the same amount of time will elapse. There therefore seems to be no difference, so far as I can see, in the machinery dealing with the skilled workmen and the workmen who might not be supposed to be eligible to have this machinery at his disposal. You cannot have one set of machinery for one clas of workman and another set of machinery for another class of workman.
I suggest, since the proposal of the Government to delete the two months and to substitute two weeks under a new arrangement has caused a good deal of suspicion in the minds of many workpeople, and since it is going to effect no substantial change at all, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own declaration, that the President of the Local Government Board would be well advised to delete this Clause and to allow the matter to stand as it stood in the first Act. The two months put into that Act, after all, constituted a pledge given to Labour that it was no part of the intention of the Government to allow employers simply by dismissing men suddenly to pass them into the Army. It has been used since at Trade Union Congresses and Labour Party Conferences to show that there was this reasonable safeguard. I suggest, since so little is going to be saved, according to the argument of the President of the Local Government Board, that the Government are making a great mistake in bringing about this change, and I ask them to delete this Clause and to allow matters to revert back as they were in the original measure.
§ Mr. LONG
The position with regard to this Clause is really rather interesting. The Clause in the original Act was inserted in consequence of a promise made by the Prime Minister that if there was anything in the Bill which could lead to what is called "industrial compulsion," steps should be taken to render any such 1462 consequences impossible. There was a good deal of discussion in the preparation of the necessary Clause, and I confess it was extremely difficult to apprehend the precise danger and to provide the remedy for it. This Clause is intended to deal with industrial compulsion. Labour happens to be very strongly represented in this House, and Labour has taken a very prominent part, and a very honourable part, not only in connection with the prosecution of this War, but in all these discussions we have had in this House and on this and on the parent Bill. On this Clause, described by my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir J. Simon) as so ineffective and so dangerous, the only critics are my right hon. Friend, who does not, I presume, specially claim to represent Labour, and the hon. Member for Atter-cliffe (Mr. Anderson), who pursues a somewhat independent course in this House and has not got in agreement with that course anything but a minority of those with whom he usually works.
I am asked, what is the object of this Clause? The object is to try and find machinery which, while avoiding risk of industrial compulsion, will not provide facilities by which men who are not entitled to be covered by any certificate of exemption or badge can escape from military service. But that is not the object of the Labour party in this House. It is not the object of Labour in the country. What they ask, and what they are entitled to ask, is this, that supposing there is a difference of opinion between employers and employed, and supposing the employer finds reason to believe that a particular workman has been obnoxious to him, it ought not to be possible for that employer to use this compulsory Act in order to punish the workman and to drive him into the Army. With that I think everybody agrees. My right hon. and learned Friend was very critical about this Clause, but he never thought it worth while to tell us what success the original Section had which he desires to adhere to. nor did he think it worth while to point out that this Clause would do mischief. All he asked was, "What does it mean?" And he added, "It is going to do no good." The effect of it is this: We think that the two weeks plus the period of inquiry before the application to the tribunal is ample to protect any workman who is liable to persecution. I quite agree with what the hon. Member for Attercliffe said just now, that we get the same protection under this 1463 for those workmen who ought to be acquired. At all events, they make application for them, and if they are going to prosecute their case before the tribunal, they will remain where they are.
Two cases occurred recently to which I would like to draw attention. In one case fifty men were released from the occupation in which they were engaged. Those fifty men passed automatically and almost certainly without forty-eight hours delay into other employment. We do not want to interfere with them. If they had taken three weeks or a month it would have been the same thing. They were all men who ought to be re-employed. On the other hand you have got—you cannot help it, you were discussing it last night—the power of Government Departments to protect their workmen, and the House was very strong that that power ought to be limited. But the only way you can deal with that, for you cannot limit the power of Government Departments, is by extending what is called the combing system. We have got our Combing Committee, who find in certain works which have been protected as a precautionary measure, that there are a large number of men who, neither individually nor because of the employment in which they are engaged, are entitled to any form of protection. Nor are they men who are wanted in the national interest to work in any particular industry. But they get the same protection that you give here. What do they do? They go rapidly from place to place, because wherever they go they can get employment. They know they are liable to military srvice. They are not essential, neither in themselves nor in their industry, but they escape enlistment, and they are the very men who were pressed upon us last night as the men who were escaping enlistment because they were protected by the Government Reserved Occupations system.
On the other hand, this Clause as it stands in the Act, and for which my right hon. Friend is so enthusiastic, what has it done? Has it prevented men being enlisted in the Army who ought to be retained in industry at home? My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) brought before me the other day, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education (Mr. Henderson) has told me, of cases of the same kind. There have been hundreds of men who ought to have been left in industry 1464 here at home who have been taken into the Army. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is the fault of the War Office."] It is no good blaming the War Office for it. The fact remains that men have been taken into the Army and have had to be returned to industry here. What does that meant? It means a waste of trouble, of money, and of time. It means that the very thing we wanted to prevent has not been prevented by this Section. Have there been alleged cases of industrial compulsion? I do not know; I have not had them brought before me.
§ Mr. LONG
I am quite sure my hon. Friend will be as good as his word, and I will only say this, and I say it frankly, I think it would have been fairer to the Government and also more in the interests of labour if the cases had been given to me before, because I had been doing my very best to prevent it, and I have been prepared to take any steps which we could properly take to avoid anything of the kind. I have been seeking for evidence. If there have been cases of industrial compulsion, it proves still further that the Section in the original Act has not been effective. If a better scheme can be proposed I am willing to accept it on behalf of the Government. I believe there is only one way out of the difficulty. The Section, as it stands, has not prevented the enlistment of these fitters and engineers and other men who ought never to have been taken for the Army. It is not necessary I believe to prevent industrial compulsion. In my opinion the only remedy is to be found in a small Committee really representative of Labour—because this is a question which affects Labour itself—a small Committee of two, three, or four men, who can sit regularly and will be able to deal with the War Office, with the Admiralty, and with any other State Department at first hand. I believe the appointment of such a Committee, with for instance, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education, or anybody else whom you like, as president, sitting regularly, dealing with this question, because it is an administrative question, is the only way in which you can prevent these troubles arising. I certainly cannot accept my right hon. and learned Friend's suggestion that this Clause should be deleted. As it at present stands, it is the only alternative which has been proposed to the existing law which has 1465 turned out to be unsatisfactory. I do not think the Amendment will be effective in preventing the enlistment of the men to whom I have referred. I hope the House will support the Government in making this alteration. Of course, if any Amendment which does not cut into the principle is proposed, we shall be ready to consider it.
§ Mr. BARNES
I take note of the concluding sentences of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, in which he said quite frankly that the Government are not disposed to accept the Amendment put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon). I am disposed—I say this quite advisedly—to advise my friends whose names are down on the Paper—along with my own, by the by, with that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—to have regard to the concluding statement of the President of the Local Government Board and to accept the position. In accordance with the practice which has been followed by the bulk of my hon. Friends who sit here with me, and which I perfectly well know will be used to our detriment outside, I am going to suggest that they should put forward and strenuously support the alternative Amendment which follows that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waithamstow. I should like to say a word or two, if I may, to help to clarify the position somewhat. The two months were put in, as the right hon. Gentleman has stated, to carry out the promise of the Prime Minister, that no one should be put under any form of industrial conscription as a result of the Military Service (No. 2) Bill. The Munitions Act contained a provision penalising a man who had left an occupation without a certificate, and the penalty was six weeks, during which he could not be employed by another factory owner or munition works. It was pointed out that the six weeks corresponded to the six weeks that was at first put into the Military Service (No. 2) Bill, and that, therefore, a man might be conscripted at the end of the six weeks, or immediately after the end of the six weeks. Because of that an additional fortnight was inserted, in order to give the man a chance of getting into another job before he was taken away.
That had results which were quite unexpected, because it was found that, as soon as the tribunals got to work, they were dealing not only with workmen at the munition shops, not only with fitters and 1466 turners, and men of that sort mentioned by the President of the Local Government Board, but with all sorts of people altogether remote from munition works, people who were not workmen at all in the ordinary sense of the word, shopkeepers, butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers, and all sorts of people. When the tribunals began to deal with these people, as well as with munition workers, these men claimed and sustained their claim to two months, in addition to any period of postponement that might be given to them. That is the simple explanation of why it became necessary, I suppose, in the minds of those who framed this Bill—I do not know anything at all about it, but I assume that is the reason—to put in a provision that everybody should not have two months' exemption or postponement. In my judgment in making that provision they were altogether too drastic. They might have exempted the butcher, baker, and candlestick-maker from the two months, still leaving the munitions worker in the same position that he occupied. The Amendment I am going to put forward is to carry that out, and I hope the President of the Local Government Board will see fit to accept it. Let me briefly explain it to the House. If adopted, the Amendment would be inserted at the end of the first line of Clause 5. The Clause reads:Sub-section (3) of Section three of the principal Act shall be construed as if 'two weeks' were submitted for 'two months.'I propose that after the word "shall" the Clause shall readapply only in the case of a man who has been engaged in an occupation certified by a Government Department to be work of national importance, or whose conditions of employment have been subject to the provisions of the Munitions of War Acts, 1915, and in all other cases the Sub-section shall"—Then it will go on to read as printed in the Bill. The net result of that will be that all the men in munition factories and all the men in certified occupations—that would cover miners and a lot of people whose occupations are down here; there is a long list of about 300 or 400—will be covered. If the Amendment I now suggest were adopted, the two months would still apply to certified occupations—that is to say, that any man in any occupation connected in a direct way with the prosecution of the War would still have the two months 1467 within which to get a job before he could be pressed into the Army, and all the others would only have the two weeks within which to make their application. Let me deal with the argument of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the two weeks as applied to munition workers. He said that the munition workers—I took his words down—would not be worsened.He also said that the two weeks would be ample to protect the workmen. I venture to say it is not so. It is perfectly true that under the provisions of this Bill the workman, instead of having to get a certificate of exemption in the two months, has only to make an application within the two weeks.
§ Mr. BARNES
Therefore, if he is a man of common sense and knows the law, he would make an application. Having made an application, he could keep it alive for a number of weeks. According to the right hon. Gentleman, he could spin it out to two months. But, as has been pointed out, if he did not make the application within two weeks, he would be lugged into the Army. That is an important consideration. On the other hand, if he does make an application within the two weeks, it might be disposed of very soon after the two weeks. Therefore, the munition worker, under the Bill, would be in a far different and, as we say, a far worse position than he is now. We ask the right hon. Gentleman to have regard to that fact and to place the munition worker in the same position that he was in under the Military Service (No. 2) Act. He would be acting fairly in doing that, and he would prevent a great deal of misconception and misunderstanding outside. From the political point of view, from the point of view of maintaining something like the unity of the nation which has been spoken about so much and so often, with a view to making this Bill, I will not say sweet to the workmen outside, because it never will be that, but in order to give it a better chance than it otherwise would have, I appeal to the right hon. Gentle man, if he cannot accept the deletion of the Clause, at all events to accept this modification of it that I now propose.
I want him to make another declaration which, coming from him in his place, might have some effect in guiding the military authorities. The military authori- 1468 ties just now are taking men out of the ranks of industry and putting them in the ranks of the Army, and they are taking men whom in the national interest they ought to leave alone. A little while ago we were over in France getting men there, and we were trying to get men who had been most useful in the munitions works about the country—fitters and turners, and just that class of men mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman just now. There are some men in the engineering trade who are so scarce that I think, speaking from memory, after about a couple of months combing out of the armies in France, we did not get more than fifty to a hundred. I refer to men called tool setters—men who are accustomed to setting up tools for other people, for these regimental workmen and workwomen that you are now taking into the shops, who cannot work unless they have people to set their tools up for them. Would you believe there is a certified list of trades issued on 1st May, and I find that tool setters are exempt only if they are over the age of twenty-five. The local tribunals, having this before them, have no option. If application is made by the military authorities for a tool setter, and it is found that he is twenty-four years of age, they have to agree with the military authorities and allow the man to be taken away and put into the Army. I only use that as an illustration. There are tool-fitters in the same position, and mechanics who are engaged in the repair of employers' plant and so on. The same applies to them. There is a shop just across the river, not far from where I am speaking, which employs millwrights, whom they send out to keep munition tools in operation, and they are actually taking these men away now and have been during the last few weeks. The manager of that workshop having taken one case to the local tribunal, I think at the Wandsworth Town Hall, and having had to put his case before a lot of local people who knew nothing about engineering, and the man having been taken away, was so disgusted that he told the other three men, who are to be called up on the 18th of this month, that they could go away as far as he was concerned, because he was having no more of the local tribunals. I cannot blame the local tribunal. They could do nothing else. Here is a list issued by the Ministry of Munitions, drawn up, I suppose, by some academic young gentleman who 1469 knew nothing about industrial occupations. I take it upon myself to say that if this thing remains in operation for a matter of a few weeks, very likely as many men as we were able to comb out of the Army in France as the result of two months' operations and the spending of many thousands of pounds of public money will be swept out of industry and back into the Army. That is preposterous. It is idiotic. Talk about waging war on scientific, or even common-sense principles! It is no wonder the Germans get the best of us under these conditions. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to make some statement here to-night which will get to the local tribunals, and to amend this list as speedily as possible. No matter whether men of this sort are in munition works or not, wherever they may be, supposing they are in places where they could be dispensed with—and I believe there are a good many in railway shops and so on—surely the common-sense thing to do is to hold them up for a few days in the place where their services have been dispensed with and send them off to Gretna, or Glasgow, or Liverpool, or Newcastle, or somewhere else where all the employers are gaping for this very class of men. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider first of all the modified Amendment I have submitted. I think it would carry out, in the main at all events, what we are driving at. I believe the miners are content with it, though I have no right to speak for them. I believe it would fairly well serve the purpose of the engineers and other people of that sort, and that it would not apply to the people who were not intended to be covered by the No. 2 Act when passed three months ago. I hope he will also say something to put the local tribunals somehow or another upon the footing that they need fitters, turners, toolsetters, and toolsmiths where they are, because being left where they are they are doing far better national service than they could possibly do in the trenches.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I do not know who is responsible for my right hon. Friend's name being attached to this Amendment, but I presume it is the Labour party. Whatever may be the views of my right hon. Friend, he cannot deny that it is the Labour party as a party which is responsible for this Amendment for the deletion of the Clause. That incidentally answers the right hon. Gentleman as to the sup- 1470 port that Labour is giving to this particular proposition. But I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend as to the position of the toolmaker. Of course there are engineers to-day being taken into the Army who ought not to be there, but that is the result of the combing process under compulsion. Prior to the last Military Service Act, prior to the date when compulsion was introduced, which was going to be a scientific method of organisation, which was going to be the one scheme which would put everybody in place, which would be the one method of stopping square pegs in round holes, this was a starred trade, and therefore, instead of compulsion up to now doing everything that has been urged for it, it has had the very opposite effect, according to my right hon. Friend's statement. But the right hon. Gentleman has not attempted to explain why this Clause is introduced. It is true that the Prime Minister made a pledge to labour, but it had nothing to do with fixing two months. Let the House observe that this two months' period only came in as a fair period in which to allow a man to join. Why it came in was that the Munitions Act provided a penalty of six weeks for any man who disobeyed orders and was dismissed, or if he left his employment. When the trade unionists met the Prime Minister they pointed out to him that six weeks being the provision in the Military Service (No. 2) Act and six weeks being the provision in the Munitions Act, if a man was serving a penalty under one Act he automatically went into the Army, and that in our judgment was industrial compulsion. In order to get over that difficulty the two months' period was inserted. Now that two months' period is reduced to two weeks, and it means this: That a man who has left his employment voluntarily because, if you like, his employer has refused him an advance in wages, is penalised for six weeks under the Munitions Act, and under the provisions of this Clause in two weeks he is to be forced into the Army. It is no use bothering and pretending that this is not industrial compulsion. I agree that it is not intended. The Minister of Munitions openly believes that industrial compulsion is good. With that exception probably there is no Member of the Government but who genuinely feels that industrial compulsion ought not to be put into operation under this Bill. But that does not dispose of the fact that it is there. Let it be remembered that we 1471 are not dealing in this matter with the Government. We are dealing with employers, and what we have got to show is that Parliament should not and must not give the right to any employer to use the weapon of forcing a man into the Army in order to exact conditions from the working classes. The right hon. Gentleman asked, "Is there any illustration?" I do not know whether he has heard that within a month of the passing of the last Bill there was a strike at Dundee. I am not now arguing whether that strike was just or whether it was bad. On the contrary, I repeat, what I have often said, that I do not think there is any matter which ought not to be capable of adjustment in the present crisis round a table. However, the fact remains that there was a strike at Dundee, and within a month of the passing of the Act what did the employer there do? He did not use the ordinary methods of a dispute and fight it out. He did not ask for arbitration, but he immediately reported these men to the military authorities, and they were called up under the Act. To give any employer that power is not only a dangerous thing, but something which the working classes of this country have strongly fought for years.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are two classes of employers in this country who are independent of the tribunals. The Post Office is one, and the railway companies represent the other class. The railway companies are employing at this moment approximately 520,000 workmen. No military authority can say, "We will take this man," no matter what his age may be. They are not empowered to do it. Neither is a tribunal allowed to say that any of these men shall be taken into the Army. All that the railway company has got to do is to say, "We cannot spare these men." I put it to the House that that is a tremendous power. We as a trade union will strive to see that it is only used wisely and well, and I hope it will be so used, because if advantage is taken of it by a railway company in order to get rid of prominent men, the House will see immediately where the trouble will come in. The House will remember that not very many weeks ago I drew attention to the fact that the first two men who had been released at a certain station were our 1472 branch chairman and our branch secretary, with over fifteen years' service. It was all very well to go to these men and say, "You can be spared," but their answer was, "If we can be spared, how is it that younger men in the service are not spared? And how is it that we can be spared because we are prominent trade unionists?" It is not easy to skip over these things. If these things happen they are just the sort of thing that are bound to cause trouble. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) will be the first to admit that whatever his personal views are to-day they are not the views of the society which years ago he led so well, and for which service that society is indebted to him. He realises as well as I realise that the Society of Engineers are against this Clause. The very proposal that he makes is a proposal to give preferential treatment to the skilled worker as against the unskilled worker. Just imagine this House to-night accepting a proposal, by a member of the Labour party, that says to a skilled worker, "You are to have two months exemption," and to an unskilled labourer, "You shall have two weeks." Is that the sort of thing that is going to unite the country, to use his own phrase? Is that the kind of thing that the workers will tolerate? I submit that this Clause is unnecessary. The right hon. Gentleman said that there is no difference in this and the original Act. If there is no difference, why proceed with it? If there is a difference let us know what the difference is. It is because I want to remove any power of industrial compulsion, because I am satisfied that it is not the Government's intention, and because I am equally satisfied that this Clause does give power for unscrupulous employers to abuse and prostitute their authority, that I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to remember that this is a Motion in the name of the Labour party, that this proposal was made at the Bristol Conference, and at the London Conference, and that the Minister of Education (Mr. A. Henderson) emphasised it himself. For these reasons I do submit that there is strong ground for the withdrawal of the Clause.
§ Question put, "That the words of the Clause, down to the word 'on' ['Crown on the'], stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 189; Noes, 62.1475
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. BARNES
I beg to move, after the words last inserted, to add the words, "apply only in the case of a man who has been engaged in an occupation certified by a Government Department to be work of national importance, or whose conditions of employment have been subject to the provisions of the Munitions of War Acts, 1915, and in all other cases the Sub-section shall."
I more or less formally move this Amendment, but there is only one thing I would like to say about it. In his speech my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) charged me with differentiating between skilled workmen and unskilled workmen. Nobody who knows me would believe that I should subscribe to any Amendment having any such differentiation in view. I want to assure the House that it is the very last thing that I should have in my mind. Nor does this Amendment give rise to anything of the kind. It seeks to apply the old terms, what might be called liberal terms, to certain men doing work certified by the Government Department to be work of national importance. What is work of national importance? The most important work that I know of just now is that of the agricultural labourers, and whether skilled or said to be unskilled—and the agricultural labourer is, in my mind, skilled rather than unskilled—this Amendment would apply liberal terms to agricultural labourers, who, after all, are the most numerous class in the community. There are many other cases. Is the docker who goes to the dock gates for two or three hours looking for work a skilled worker, and does he rank as highly skilled? Not at all. Yet this Amendment gives him the liberal terms. The Amendment goes on "or whose conditions of employment have been subject to the 1476 provisions of the Munitions of War Acts, 1915." That brings in all the men who are employed not only as mechanics, but as machine men, or men no matter of what degree of skill or no matter how organised or disorganised they may be. It seeks to set up no differentiation, and it acts in no way unfairly against unskilled men to the benefit of skilled men. In spite of gallery talk to the opposite, I should subscribe to nothing of the kind.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept this Amendment, not only because it is fair in itself but because it does substantially carry out the promise made three months ago. Let me remind the House that when that promise was made those outside of the Munitions Act were not in mind at all, and we had no mind of the people who have claimed two months in consequence of that. Therefore this Amendment, I think, does substantially carry out what was promised three months ago. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to accept the Amendment for another reason, that I do not want it to enter into the minds of the men outside that we are trying to get behind them and are breaking a promise. Everybody knows what has been going on for the last two or three days, when statements made have been tortured and when people have been charged with breaking promises of one form or another. If there is anything that would give rise to that sort of talk outside, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will prevent it being done. I believe that, on the whole, if this Amendment is adopted, it will carry out the promise of three months ago and will prevent a great deal of misapprehension outside, and that it will be an Amendment which will commend the Act, if it is possible to commend it, to the great mass of the workers.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I beg to second the Amendment. The proceedings on the benches in this direction this afternoon have been very lively. I want to say quite frankly that I do not think certain members of the Labour party have been treated fairly by their colleagues. It is not the place in this House to deal with that question, and I do not, therefore, proceed now 1477 to deal with it. But I must say with regard to the present Amendment that if my hon. Friend the Member for Derby is such a stickler for the Labour party's Amendments being carried, then in this case at any rate he is bound by his own proposition to support the Amendment.
Mr. T. WILSON
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept this Amendment, or if he cannot accept it that he will introduce words bearing the same meaning. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but they know perfectly well that that is the way many a time in which the Government get out of difficulties. Last Thursday morning, about three o'clock, I made practically the same suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. I pointed out then that if they press this matter too far they will have industrial trouble in the munition centres. If the hon. Member for Bedford could tell the House what he knows about the trouble that is going on and the resentment that is felt in munition areas with regard to certain sections in certain Acts of Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman would have no hesitation whatever in accepting the Amendment. As to industrial compulsion, one large firm only a few weeks ago discharged joiners of thirty years of age with the object of forcing them into the Army. At a great munition works of the Government all the carpenters under thirty years of age were discharged with the object of forcing them into the Army, and yet they cannot find ship joiners and carpenters to do work of national importance. With a view to allaying suspicion and resentment in the minds of these people, the Government would be well-advised to accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. LONG
My hon. Friend has suggested that if the Government do not accept this Amendment they should propose other words which do the same thing. The truth of the matter is that, whether among those who represent Labour or among those who represent the Government, nobody has been able to devise the exact form of words that we want to meet the difficulty. I am afraid that this Amendment, as it stands, goes a little too far. I should like it better if my right hon. Friend would limit it to Section 7 of the Munitions Act. We all want exactly the same thing. We do not want men engaged upon munition work or such work as shipbuilding to be disturbed. We certainly do not 1478 want to take the men referred to by the right hon. Member for Blackfriars. We do not want to take men who are honestly engaged in munition work, or other work essential to the country. On the other hand, when these various works have been closely investigated, and it has been found that a certain number of men in them who are not, under existing conditions, entitled to certificates or badges, have been certificated or badged, and when these men are not needed in other work of a similar character, we want to get them for the Army without delay. I have been trying to find words to meet this exact case ever since the difficulty first arose. We have puzzled ourselves over this, and the draftsmen have done their best. Now we have an Amendment which has been produced by the representatives of labour, and which, I think, does limit it as compared with the original Section in the Act. I think it is true that this Amendment will be confined to the munitions workers and the people protected by certificates and those otherwise protected. On the other hand, I am only afraid it will allow a very considerable number of men whom we are combing out, not to escape altogether, but to escape for the time being. In practice we find that that is so. We find that men that are de-badged, as we call it, and who are not entitled to re-employment, yet escape for a time, and sometimes altogether, by passing, I suppose, from one place to another. I do not exactly understand the method, but I am told they pass from one place to another.
§ Mr. LONG
And it is impossible for the military authorities to follow them up. While they are not essential for civil industry, they are not available for other industry, and this is not what my hon. Friend wanfs, or what anybody wants. I say, quite frankly, that the position of the Government in this: that throughout the original Act, and throughout this one, we have been bound by a distinct pledge, and so far as I know everybody desires that the difficulty referred to should be avoided. If my right hon. Friend is prepared to limit his Amendment to Section 7 of the Munitions Act, and will accept the condition that the Government must reserve to themselves the right to make quite certain that this does not carry us further than we want to go, and does not really release people who ought not to be released, I 1479 am prepared to accept the Amendment limiting it to Section 7. I feel that we are bound not to break the pledge that we have given, and given on behalf of the Government on more than one occasion that we would do nothing as a result of a measure of this kind that would help to bring in industrial compulsion.
§ Mr. J. PARKER
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to accept the Amendment in its entirety. Those of us who were responsible for putting it on the Paper have no desire to do anything outside that which the right hon. Gentleman himself tells us he is seeking to do. What will happen if we accept the suggestion which the President of the Local Government Board has put forward just now? As I understand—although it is not very clear—Section 7 of the Munitions Act would confine the application of this Amendment to controlled workshops engaged on the production of munitions. Well, now, that is not our object at all. Take the mining industry. It is conceded that you cannot take many more men from the mining industry. There are many other trades and occupations from which it is practically agreed all over this House men ought not to be taken. We are submitting, under the terms and wording of this Amendment, that the combing process, as it is called, can go on. Men who are not indispensable would not be affected by this Amendment of ours. If the Amendment is to be really effective it must have a wider application, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept the Amendment in its entirety. I do not think for a moment it would materially affect the number of men whom the right hon. Gentleman would get under the Bill. At any rate, so far as it did affect them, it would leave the men to do the work necessary for the nation, which they ought to do.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I am very sorry support for this Amendment has come only from hon. Members who, in popular language, represent Labour, because I am sure other Members in this House feel as they do both the difficulty and the delicacy of the position. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board for the tone of his remarks upon this Amendment. I quite see what he wishes the House to do, and I understand how it could simplify the matter if the 1480 operation of the Amendment were confined in the way he suggests, but I would ask him to risk on this occasion the comparatively short delay or the comparatively small number of persons which would be involved by the acceptance of the Amendment as it stands. I am very glad indeed that the Clause to which this is an Amendment has not only been proposed, but has been carried by the House, for those who work on tribunals know how detrimental the too wide application of the two months' delay has been to the carrying out of the provisions of the Military Service Act, and some alteration of that was obviously necessary; but there is the gravest danger which will arise in this country if the shadow of industrial compulsion falls upon the operation of the Military Service Act, and my hon. Friends who have spoken from the Labour Benches are in the position to realise that perhaps better than anyone else. I therefore desire to associate myself with them in support of this Amendment. While all these proposals cannot be reduced to absolute precision of operation, and it is perfectly impossible for anyone to know exactly how many men you can get, and how many may possibly escape, I do earnestly ask the Government to accept this Amendment, and I am sure they would gain more in the widespread and sincere co-operation of those who speak for Labour than they would lose by the possible escape here and there of some adroit shirker who, in the long run, would be caught and put to serve where he ought to serve.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think there was some misapprehension shown in the speeches of the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Parker) and the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) as to the offer my right hon. Friend has made. He does not propose to confine this Amendment to cases coming within Section 7 of the Munitions of War Act. What he proposes is that it should extend, as it now extends, to the whole of the occupations certified by a Government Department to be work of national importance, and that only the following words referring to the Munitions of War Act should be confined to Section 7. The object of that is quite plain. If the words stand as they now are in the Amendment, they would apply to all occupations coming within the Munitions of War Act or any part of it. So far as I know, there is no occupation in the country which floes not come within some part of the Munitions of 1481 War Act. Section 1 extends to other occupations, and the object of my right hon. Friend is to confine it to Section 7, in which case the man may not be liable for six weeks.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
Do I understand that the Government are prepared to accept this Amendment if the words "subject to the provisions of Section 7 of the Munitions of War Acts, 1915," are inserted?
§ Sir G. CAVE
Yes, I am going to move that Amendment. I beg to move as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after the word "of" ["the provisions of the Munitions of War Acts, 1915"], to insert the words "Section 7 of."
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Something has been said about the number of men who have gone into the mines in order to escape service. I take it that although the right hon. Gentleman said that the Act generally applied to most trades, this particular Section does not apply to mines. In works with which I am associated some 18 per cent. of the men are not attending to their work.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Let us assume that a man who is covered by Section 7 intends to do two or three days' work a week and spends the rest drinking. Is that man entitled to exemption? The percentage of absentees in South Wales collieries with which I am associated is 18½ of the total amount of men employed underground and who are still getting exemption from military service. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) fell foul of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Black-friars Division (Mr. Barnes), who would never recommend that the labourer should be treated differently to a skilled worker. The hon. Member does not remember the fight which took place years ago, when on one principle I fought the union to the best of my ability. The union said, "Once a labourer always a labourer," and that a man who had been a labourer should never rise above that position or take the work or in any way engage in the work of a skilled workman. I thought that was a vicious principle, but that was the position which the Amalgamated Society of Engineers have always taken up. I believe that is their view to-day. No man, even if he is a skilled labourer in the way of putting pieces of iron in the machine—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have a difficulty in following him. The Amendment now before the House is whether we should insert "Section 7" before the words "the Munitions of War Acts."
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I was only replying to the point in the discussion between the hon. Member for Derby and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Black-friars Division, but I do not wish to pursue it. All I want to know is this: Is the House, under the acceptance of this Amendment, going to exempt men who are only attending to their work two or three days a wëek? I say that no man, whether in munition works or other industries associated with munition work, as mines are, ought to be exempted unless he attends regularly to his work. There is only one object in giving these exemptions, and that is that the men should be engaged on work of national importance. Seeing that a number of men are not following their calling, I say that the exemptions should not apply to men unless they regularly attend to their work, and it ought to be the duty of the President of the Local Government Board to make it quite clear that those men who do not regularly attend to their work ought to be roped in and not have the exemptions which they get at the present time.
§ Mr. BARNES
I think it would meet the general convenience of the House now if this Debate were to close. I simply got up to say that the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Markham) must not fasten on to me an endorsement of a principle that would tie a man to a particular job all his life. I never did endorse it, and I hope I never shall. With regard to the men who absent themselves two or three days a week, the Board of Control will look after them. The Amendment suggested does concede to us substantially all that we want. It applies to all the men covered by the six weeks' exemption and to men engaged in work of national importance. On that understanding, I gladly accept it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think the House does not quite understand that this may be a very serious step. As far as I can make out, when the right hon. Gentleman introduced this Bill he told us that the exemption of two months had resulted in a large number of men who ought to have joined 1483 the Colours not joining, and as a result of the two months also the military authorities were unable to trace these men. That being so, he intended to alter the time from two months to two weeks. Now I understand the effect of this Amendment is to revert to the two months' principle which we were told by the President of the Local Government Board had acted so badly as far as obtaining men for the Service goes, for all men engaged in occupations certified by Government Departments to be work of national importance, and in addition to all men who come under Clause 7 of the Munitions Act, I say these are just exactly the men whom you should not exempt. The men who are to be exempted, who are engaged in work of national importance are the very men who have taken advantage of this exemption to go into these places in order to avoid service with the Colours. And now the right hon. Gentleman, because the Labour party ask him to go back from what he said was necessary, comes down and practically accepts the Labour party's Amendment, which will exempt the men whom the right hon. Gentleman told us a short time ago it was necessary to have for the Army. I do not know quite what good this Bill is going to do, and, as far as I am concerned, I do not care whether it passes or not.
§ Mr. LONG
Perhaps he will point them out at some other time. But a more absurd suggestion I have never listened to. He then charged the Government, or rather me, with giving way to the Labour party, who moved this Amendment. A more ungenerous or unfair charge I have never listened to in my life. The right hon. Gentleman can easily fling these charges across the floor of the House to those who have been political friends and associates in his political career. But he 1484 chooses to ignore the fact that the Labour party—and I am not ashamed to say it and to repeat it here and elsewhere—that the Labour party has played a very honourable part in this great War. We are not ashamed to acknowledge it when we are talking outside the House of Commons that it has played that part. If he wishes to provoke a conflict with Labour and break a promise which the Government distinctly gave, I am not prepared to do anything of the kind. I take full responsibility for the course which I have adopted, and I repudiate in toto the insinuations he has made.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ Proposed Amendment amended by leaving out the word "Acts" ["Munitions of War Acts"], and inserting instead thereof the word "Act."
§ Question, "That the proposed Amendment, as amended, be there inserted in the Bill," put, and agreed to.