HC Deb 19 November 1918 vol 110 cc3372-5

(1) Proceeding for offences under this Act shall be taken before munitions tribunals of the second class in like manner as for offences under the Monitions of War Acts, 1915 to 1917, and the provisions of those Acts shall apply accordingly:

Provided that proceedings against an employer may be instituted by or on behalf of a trade union.

(2) In any proceedings under this Act for failure to pay wages as required by this Act the tribunal may, whether there is a conviction or not, order the employer to pay in addition to the fine (if any) such sum as appears to the tribunal to be due to the workman employed on account of wages, the wages being calculated at the prescribed or such substituted rate as aforesaid, and if in any such proceedings it appears to the tribunal that any such question as is mentioned in Sub-section (2) of Section two of this Act arises the tribunal shall refer the question for settlement by the Interim Court of Arbitration.

Amendment made: In Sub-section (1), after the word "Acts" ["provisions of those Acts"], insert the words "relating to munitions tribunals and proceedings before them, including the provisions as to appeals."


I beg to move, at the end of the same Sub-section, to add the words "and any party to any such proceedings may appear by an officer of a trade union or federation of employers to which he belongs." It was felt that while we give this power to a trade union it is only fair that the representatives of an employers' organisation should have equal rights with the trade union in these matters.


I take it for granted that this means that only officials of the federation may appear. It does not mean that a solicitor or barrister should appear on behalf of either of the parties. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make that perfectly clear.


It is not intended that either party should brief counsel to appear before the tribunal, but if it happens that a solicitor or barrister is an official of the federation, or of the union, you cannot prevent him appearing.


I am very much afraid that this will be an encouragement to one or other of the parties interested in this Bill to appoint as one of their officials a barrister or solicitor, and this will place the party which does not possess a solicitor or barrister among its officials at a disadvantage before the tribunal. What will be the position if an employers' association is represented by a barrister before the tribunal? If the men's trade union applies for permission to engage a solicitor or barrister for them, will it be granted? It seems to me that there is room for a little friction arising in this direction.


I am afraid it is utterly impossible for one to provide absolutely against such a contingency as that hinted at by the hon. Member. We are anxious that the Courts should not be regarded as Courts of litigation, and as far as we possibly can, we desire that neither of the parties should brief counsel for any purpose under this Bill, but I do not see how we can grant a trade union the right to appear before the tribunal, and refuse permission to the other side.


I agree there.


And I do not see how we can provide against a trade union appointing as one of its officials a person who may be a barrister. I quite realise the point which my hon. Friend is raising, but I hope we may rely on the good sense of both parties to see that no friction arises in this matter in regard to the arbitration. My hon. Friend and myself are animated by the same purpose. I am hopeful that during the operation of this Bill the two parties will be animated by good will to do the best they can for the country's interest, because I am sure that if in the six months covered by the Bill we have industrial strife the interests of the country will be seriously prejudiced. If an official of one or other of the parties happens to be a person with legal training, I do not see how we can exclude him from appearing before the tribunal.


I think the point raised by the hon. Member for the Westhoughton Division is an important one, but the difficulty could be easily guarded against if the Government would only consent to insert words to the effect that no barrister or solicitor should appear before the tribunal. The Clause would read "should appear by an officer of the trade union or federation of employers, not being a barrister or solicitor." I hope the Government will consent to the inclusion of these words. It would be perfectly fair to both sides, and would prevent a great deal of money being spent on legal technicalities.


I am afraid there is great difficulty in dictating to any organisation as to what class of person they shall not appoint as one of their officials. We must bear in mind that the Bill presupposes that these officials are already appointed, not because they are solicitors but because they are experts in trade union questions. I think we may have confidence in the good will of both parties.


The words I suggest would not prevent an organisation from appointing a solicitor or barrister as one of its officials, and I quite agree we could not go so far as that, but we could provide that no solicitor or barrister should appear before an inquiry of this sort.


And the result then would be that assuming a federation or trade union, two or three years ago, appointed as their secretary a man who had legal training, they would have to appoint another secretary. Seeing that this Bill is only to be enforced for a period of six months, is it likely that during those six months a trade union or a federation of employers would get rid of its present secretary in order to appoint someone with legal knowledge? I cannot conceive any situation arising such as that feared by the hon. Member (Mr. Tyson Wilson), and I think we would be doing a great injustice to existing officials of trade unions by inserting such a provision.


Many of us are accustomed to meet representatives of employers who are men with legal training, and we certainly have no objection to meeting them when they hold an official position. The only way one can safeguard against what is feared here is to put in the words that counsel shall not be briefed to appear before the tribunal. In the many negotiations I have been engaged in during the past years, I have not found the least objection to meeting officials on the other side who have had a legal training. We have nothing to fear from that point of view.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In Subsection (2), leave out the words "such question as is mentioned in Sub-section (2) of Section 2 of this Act arises," and insert instead thereof the words question arises as to whether there is a prescribed or substituted rate applicable to the class to which the workmen belong or as to what is the prescribed or substituted rate for that class.


I beg to move, in the same Sub-section, to leave out the words "refer the question for settlement by the Interim Court of Arbitration," and insert instead thereof the words report the question to the Ministry of Labour who shall proceed thereon as if it were a difference reported to him by one of the parties to the difference. The object of this Amendment is to enable the Ministry of Labour to take advantage of existing conciliation machinery instead of referring the matter to arbitration.


I understand the right hon. Gentleman simply means to make use of some of the machinery already in existence?


I think it desirable if there is machinery already in existence recognised by the two parties, that machinery should be utilised under this Bill, or, on the other hand, that the Minister of Labour should not be compelled automatically to refer matters to the Court of Arbitration, but that he should be allowed to exercise his ordinary powers of conciliation by bringing the two parties together. I am sure that it is a much more fruitful means of settling these points.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Clause 6 (Repeal of Certain Provisions of the Munitions of War Acts) and Clause 7 (Short Title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported; as amended, considered; read the third time, and passed.