HC Deb 18 November 1918 vol 110 cc3309-13

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

9.0 P.M.

I think I ought to make a few observations in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. It has certain novel characteristics, and its main purpose is to secure that for a limited period of six months, during which industries will be changing over from war to peace production, the present level of wages shall be maintained. Legislation for the purpose is necessary, because the provisions of the Munitions of War Acts dealing with wages must cease to be effective as munitions work ceases. The principle that wages should be maintained has been considered and agreed to by the principal employers' associations and the various trades unions concerned. The present level of wages is primarily due to the high cost of living and as there is no immediate prospect of that cost being reduced, it is only reasonable that the wages necessary to meet it should be maintained until varied either by agreement in the trades concerned or, as a result of consideration by an independent tribunal which can take into account any change of circumstances. It is gratifying to be able to say that we have obtained the general assent of industry to our proposal, because, without such assent, it would be practically impossible for the Government to ensure that conciliatory attitude both in regard to wages and other important industrial matters which is so essential during the transition and reconstruction period. Wages are a very complex matter, and in this Bill we do not endeavour to deal with more than broad general rules. In regard to men, the changes which have taken place during the War in wages in each trade or industry have covered practically all the workpeople concerned, whether they are employed on munitions work or not. Therefore, in maintaining these changes we are not to any appreciable extent imposing any new burden or obligation. In the case of women the changes in wages during the War have not covered the whole of a trade or industry to quite the same extent as in the case of men, but it is of great importance that women should be, so far as practicable, protected in the transition period to an equal degree with the men. Large numbers of women must necessarily change their employment. The women's organisations are not so strong as those of the men, or so well able to safeguard the women's interests. There is a danger lest the inevitable employment among women should prejudice the very great improvement in their status and remuneration which has been one of the-most beneficial results of the War. The proposal is that where an Order under the Munitions of War Acts, or an award or agreement have regulated during the War period the wages of the majority of women and girls employed in a trade or branch of a trade that the wages resulting from the order, award, or agreement should be maintained in the trade or branch of a trade. Where, however, an order, award, or agreement does not apply to the majority of the workpeople we propose that the wages which, in fact, the majority of workpeople have received should form the standard, and in order to secure that that standard is not unduly low, the Ministry of Labour is taking power to make Orders with regard to women's wages. The measures I have indicated above will, so far as legislation can affect that end, secure the preservation for the period of six months of the present general level of wages

During the War the settlement of wages has been entrusted to the Committee on Production as an Arbitration Tribunal under the Munitions of War Acts, and that Committee has done an immense amount of very valuable work. With the conclusion of the Armistice, munitions work is bound rapidly to diminish, and the work to be done under the Munitions of War Acts correspondingly decreased, and it is necessary to modify the Arbitration machinery accordingly. It is proposed that the place of the Committee on Production should be taken by Interim Arbitration Tribunals consisting of employers' and workpeoples' representatives, with independent chairmen, who will carry on the work of the Committee on Production so far as that is required, but will be able to deal with all wages questions without regard to whether the work affected is munitions work or not. For women's wage questions women will be represented on the Court of Arbitration. The Government are particularly anxious to encourage each industry to deal with wages and allied questions for itself as soon as practicable. For these reasons the Arbitration Tribunals will be Interim Arbitration Tribunals only, and the whole wage policy which has been indicated is intended to operate only for a period of six months. By that time it is anticipated that industry will have made its own arrangements. If there are cases where it has not, it will, of course, be possible to extend the six months' period; but it is very much to be hoped that the number of such cases will be very few. In some industries there already exists voluntary conciliation boards for the purpose of settling the questions that may arise as to wages and other matters, and in these cases it is the intention, that wherever possible, wages shall be considered by the parties themselves, through the machinery, which they themselves have established. In other trades we have been able to set up a? number of joint industrial councils, consisting of representatives of employers and workpeople in the trades concerned, in accordance with the principles laid down in the Reports of the Whitley Committee. We have every hope that these councils will be able to deal also with the wages position. That is the general scope and purpose of the Bill. It is intended, as I have already observed, to tide us over this period of readjustment of industries from war to civil bases. It will avoid a period of great dislocation in wages, and the unfortunate circumstances which may result therefrom. The Government have felt it to be very desirable that we should, during this period of six months, safeguard the wages standards which have been secured during the War in the hope that, during that six months, the various parties will come together and by negotiations, conciliations, arrangements and the like, establish some permanent basis in these matters.


I fully recognise that a Bill of this kind is necessary, and I therefore welcome it. I feel certain it will prevent quite a number of disputes that would otherwise arise during the intermediate period between war work and civil employment. Therefore, I am sure that when working men and women really understand the measure they will welcome it as heartily as I do. There is one Committee point which I notice in Sub-section (1) of Clause 1. I do not know whether the words are very happy. They say: Provided that such a person shall not be liable.…if he proves that he did not know and that he could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained that the wages paid were less than the wages required.… I am not quite certain whether these are the best words to use in this connection. I am not quite certain, either, whether the Clauses dealing with women and girls will be quite acceptable. If they could be drafted in simpler language they would be more easily understood by the people who are directly affected, and it would be better, because in many instances the women and girls are not connected with trade unions and have not got officials to advise them as to the meaning of certain Clauses in Acts of Parliament. However, these are matters perhaps best left to the advisory committees in the various districts where these girls and women are employed. I am myself pleased to see that certain Clauses considered obnoxious by labour in the Munitions Acts have been repealed I feel quite satisfied that that will be welcomed. The Bill is only for a period of six months. I believe that that time will give organised labour and trade union officials all the time they require to set up machinery for dealing with the various questions which may arise. Therefore, so far as labour is concerned, this Bill, I believe, will be welcomed as an Act of Parliament.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.