HC Deb 19 November 1918 vol 110 cc3348-64

(1) During the period of six months from the passing of this Act, any person who employs in any trade or industry a workman of a class to which a prescribed rate of wages as defined by this Act is applicable shall pay wages to the workman at a rate not less than the prescribed rate applicable to workmen of that class, or such other rate as may be substituted for the prescribed rate by an award of the Interim Court of Arbitration constituted as hereinafter mentioned, or by an agreement approved by the Minister of Labour on the advice of that Court, and if he fails to do so he shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and liable to a fine not exceeding five pounds for each day or part of a day during which the offence continues:

Provided that such a person shall not be liable to be convicted of an offence under this Act 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 under this Section to be paid.

(2) An agreement for the payment of wages in contravention of this Section or for abstaining to exercise any right of enforcing payment of wages in accordance with this Section shall be void.

(3) The Minister of Labour may by Order exclude from the provisions of this Section any particular trade or industry or branch of a trade or industry or workmen of any class or description mentioned in the Order, but save as aforesaid this Section shall apply to all trades and industries.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. George Roberts)

I beg to move, in Subsection (1), after the word "or," to insert the words, "as respects all or any of the workmen of that class."

It will be seen that most of the Amendments on the Paper are of a drafting character. I may explain that this is largely due to the fact that the Bill was somewhat hurriedly prepared. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That is not my fault, because the emergency arose very suddenly, and we had to prepare the Bill rather hurriedly. After the Bill was in draft we had to negotiate with the various parties concerned, and we found it utterly impossible to pass this Bill unless we were assured of the concurrence of the employers on the one hand and the workers on the other. I am glad to say we have secured the general assent of both parties, and the Committee will find that the various points dealt with in these Amendments are designed to meet the points of view of the two parties, or else they are of a drafting character. May I say in respect of the first three Amendments that they stand together, and it will be observed that in regard to Clause 1 they are designed to make obligatory the rates of wages now prevailing for the period of the ensuing six months, subject to their modification by an award of the Interim Court of Arbitration which it is proposed to set up under the Bill or by other forms of agreement as between the two parties.

It will be observed that under the Bill the prescribed rate can be altered by four different methods. (1) By an award of the Interim Court of Arbitration which it is proposed to set up under the Bill; (2) by steps taken by the Minister of Labour for a settlement of an advance; (3) by the settlement of a trade conciliation board; and (4) by agreement. With regard to the Interim Court of Arbitration the effect of an award would be to alter the prescribed rate, not only with respect to parties to the arbitration, but as respects the whole of the class of workmen, and for this reason under Clause 2 such differences cannot be referred to an Interim Court of Arbitration unless one of the parties represents a substantial pro portion of the persons to be affected. With respect to the other method of altering the prescribed rates there seems no reason if a practical agreement between an individual employer and his workmen is arrived at, why the prescribed rate as respects those workmen should not be altered, leaving the prescribed rate as respects all other workmen of that class unaffected, and similar to other methods of settlement, but it would be inadvisable to allow such agreement and settlements to be made without the consent of the Minister, as the result of such an agreement might seriously affect other work men and industries. We have had several instances during the war of the arrangements between employers and workmen which, while they might have been justified under normal circumstances, under war conditions they have had a serious effect in respect of other parts of the industry. Therefore it is proposed that there should be no departure from this, except with the concurrence of the Minister of Labour, in order that he may be able to appraise any such agreement in his general wages conditions. It does not seem necessary in such eases that the Minister should be required to act on the advice of the Interim Court of Arbitration, though he could always take that advice if he wished to do so. These three Amendments are to be taken together, and they represent the policy which I have outlined to the House.


I am sure we all welcome the measure which the Minister for Labour has just brought before the House. I would like to ask when these Courts of Arbitration or Conciliation Boards have agreed by common consent to the proposals submitted to them, by what method is the Arbitration Board going to enforce the settlements that are agreed upon. I think that no measure that has been brought before this House since the signing of the Armistice is so valuable as the one which is now before the House, and I think it is calculated to do a great national service in the way of securing that industrial contentment and peaceful relations between capital and labour which it is intended to secure. I can, as representing Labour interests in the country, support such an admirable and wisely conceived measure with all my heart. The only point that troubles me is as to whether or not the agreements between the employers on the one side and the workmen's representatives on the other will be of such a character as to win the confidence and, I hope, the acceptance of those who are affected by them. I would like to be informed by the Minister on that point, which is the only one that seems to me in doubt.


If my hon. Friend will turn to Clause 1 he will see that the rate of wages is subject to any variation which may be agreed upon by reference to the Interim Court of Arbitration or by the other methods prescribed in the Act, and if an employer fails to recognise such rate the Clause provides that he shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and liable to a fine not exceeding £5 for each day or part of a day during which the offence continues. That gives the workman a statutory right to the rate of wages as prescribed under the Act and imposes a penalty on the employer if he fails to perform his obligations under the Act.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: After the word "agreement" ["or by agreement"], insert the words "or settlement."

Leave out the words "on the advice of that Court."—[Mr. Roberts.]

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