HC Deb 25 July 1919 vol 118 cc1769-78

(1) Where, in any establishment to which this Act applies, any rule, practice or custom obtaining before the War in any industry or branch of an industry (hereinafter referred to as a trade practice) has, during and in consequence of the present War, been departed from, the owner of that establishment shall be under an obligation, at the expiration of two months from the passing of this Act, to restore or permit the restoration of the trade practice so previously obtaining, and for one year after such restoration is effected, or if it has been effected before the date of the passing of this Act for one year after that dale, to maintain or permit the continuance of the trade practice.

(2) Where any industry or branch of industry, which before the War was not carried on in an establishment, commenced to be carried on in the establishment during the War and continues to be carried on therein after the termination there of, or where the establishment is one which commenced to be worked after the beginning of War, the owner of the establishment shall be under the obli[...]ation, at the expiration of two months from the passing of this Act to intro- duce or permit the introduction of, and for one year after such introduction is effected, or if it has been effected before the date of the passing of this Act for one year after that date, to maintain, or permit the continuance, of such trade practices as obtained before the War in other establishments where that industry or branch was carried un under circumstances most nearly analogous to those of the establishment in question.

(3) Save as expressly provided by this Section, nothing in this Section shall prejudice the position of employers or perons employed after the War.

The following stood on the Paper in the name of Colonel LAMBERT WARD:

At the end of Sub-section (1). insert the words provided always that a woman shall not be disqualified by reason of her sex from undertaking any work which she is qualified to perform.


I am rather doubtful about this Amendment. It seems to me to be a contradiction of what Sub-section (2) contains and really to amount to negativing the Section. What the hon. Member wishes to do is to omit the Section and that would be to negative the whole Bill.


I take the view that to insert this Amendment would be to negative the greater part of Sub-section (2).

Lieut. -Colonel GUINNESS

I beg to move, at the end, to insert the words, Nothing in this Section shall be taken to apply to any industry or branch of industry which was before the War not already established and organised in this country or to any establishment carrying on any such industry or branch of industry. Sub-section (2) is rather ambiguous in language. It is desired to deal with pre-war industries whether they are carried out in pre-war establishments or in specially adapted establishments. The object of my Amendment is to make the intention of Sub-section (2) perfectly clear. In moving this new Sub-section I wish simply to carry out what I believe to be the intention which the draftsmen had in mind when framing this Bill. That is to limit it to pro-war industries. I think that the House will probably agree on the merits of this limitation, because if the Bill is extended beyond this rather narrow scope it will have a far-reaching effect on employment in conditions which developed during the War, especially the employment of women. This Amendment does not deal only with the question of women. Its object is to make certain that the Bill will in no way affect the employment of dilutees in these new industries and especially the employment of discharged and demobilised soldiers and sailors. I do not for a moment believe that the Labour party will object to the principle of this Amendment, and that they will wish to put any form of labour, which did not take part in active operations in the War, in a position to profiteer in new industries at the expense of those who were fighting by land or sea or of those women who came forward in the hour of national emergency. It is quite possible, unless we put in some such limiting proviso, that in certain industries there may be a certain temptation tending, perhaps, to litigation to try to widen the scope of the Bill. In the Committee discussion the Government told us that any such proviso as this was unnecessary. The Parliamentary Secretary said: The view of the Ministry is that it is entirely unnecessary, and that nothing in the Bill has anything to do with new industries. Further he said, The whole object of the Bill is simply to bring back to those establishments carrying on before the War the practices which had been altered. That is satisfactory so far as it goes. The question is whether the language of the Bill carries that out. I am not a lawyer, but I am sure that to anybody but a lawyer the meaning of the Clause is extremely involved. In a Law Court it will not be possible to quote the opinions given by the Ministers of the Crown in Debate either in Committee or in this House, and it is necessary to make the Bill absolutely beyond doubt in its meaning. We were told that this Bill was practically verbally inspired, that it was the result of seven months' delicate negotiations between employers and trade unions under the close watch of the Government. But the Debate rather showed that the Government and the trade unions may, perhaps, not attach exactly the same sense to the language of the Bill, because, in spite of the Parliamentary Secretary having said that no such limitation was necessary, the hon. Member for Preston, speaking from the Labour point of view, said he was going to vote against the Amendment, believing it to be unnecessary, arid believing that it might be provocative of legislation in future to remove it, but certainly of proceedings in the Law Courts. The only meaning of that is that, in the mind of the hon. Member, there was the idea that this Bill is not limited to pre-war practices, and it will not be satisfactory to one party to the discussion if it is so limited. Surely we ought to make the Bill quite clear in its meaning. We ought to try to avoid litigation. If the House wishes to extend the Bill, let it say so; let it say the Bill is to apply to all industries, but do not let us imagine we have agreement on a form of words, when really the agreement does not apply to what the words cover. If we extend the Bill to apply to new industries, we shall, I believe, bring about a great injustice and a handicap of certain classes of labour which have done valuable service during the War.


On a point of Order, I would suggest that this Bill does not apply to new industries, and I respectfully submit that the Amendment is not within the scope of the Bill. The title of the Bill is To make provision with respect to the restoration after the present War of certain trade practices, and to amend the law relating to munitions tribunals. It is only pre-war practices that are mentioned, but the hon. Member is now talking of new industries. I respectfully submit, therefore, that, the Amendment is not in order.


It is puzzling, I am bound to admit. The Bill is intended to apply to practices which were established before the War. The hon. and gallant Member says there is some doubt in the phraseology of this Section as to whether that limitation is established by this Bill or not. I understand he is proposing this Amendment in order to clear up such doubts. Before I give any decision I would like to hear the views of the -Minister of Labour on that point. If it is quite clear that the Amendment is unnecessary because it says nothing beyond what is m the Bill, I should be justified in ruling it out. If there is any doubt in the lauguage of the Bill, the hon. and gallant Member would be entitled to move the Amendment in order to set the doubt at rest.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

I do not wish in any way to press the Amendment, except to make the meaning of the Bill clear. If the meaning of the Bill is as has been stated by the hon. Member for Gorton, I do not think it could do any possible harm to accept it and thus to put ambiguity out of the question.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir R. Horne)

The Clause to which reference has been made seems to me to lay all matters of doubt at rest. The intention of the Bill is to deal only with pre-war practices, but practices existed with regard to certain trades, not merely in shops which had existed before the War, but in shops which were erected after the War began where the same class of work was done, and, therefore, the practices were carried on in the new establishments but not in new trades. Again, many shops which had not been carrying on any munitions business began to make munitions in the course of the War, with the result that practices existing in other shops doing the same class of work were introduced into these establishments, now given over to work they had not previously done. The intention of this Sub-section is to deal with these cases—not to deal in any way with any industry that is new, but only with industries which were being carried on prior to the War. The Bill does nothing whatsoever to interfere with any conditions that may arise in any new industries, and the view I venture respectfully to submit to you is that the Amendment is entirely unnecessary. It does not really arise upon anything which is in the Bill, and so far from getting rid of confusion or ambiguity, it tends only to create both. My hon. and gallant Friend has referred to what might be the legal interpretation. I happen to know a little of the law, and I can imagine, in fact it is perfectly certain, that if this Amendment were added you would immediately have a skilful lawyer arguing that because you had that Amendment there the second Sub-section does not mean what it says. Further, if you want to start confusing your meaning, I cannot imagine any language which would provoke it more readily than the language of the Amendment. The phraseology refers to industries which before the War were not already established or organised. What do those words mean? I can imagine the most hopeless confusion of argument in connection with this matter before any munitions tribunal in which the question was raised. I submit that the Amendment is in no wise relevant either to the language or the purpose or the title of the Bill, and that it is out of order.


I think I am bound, after the statement of the Minister of Labour, to remain of the same opinion, namely that the Amendment does deal with a matter outside the scope of this Bill.

The following Amendment stood on the Paper in the name of Colonel L. WARD:

At the end of Sub-section (1) to insert Nothing in this Section shall prevent the employment of a discharged soldier who has served in any of the various theatres of war on any work which he is capable of performing.


I respectfully submit that this Amendment is outside the scope of the Bill. It introduces something which occurred since the termination of hostilities, and, therefore, it cannot be in any way a restoration of pre-war practices.


reading Sub-section(1)— Nothing in this Section shall prevent the employment of a discharged soldier who has served in any of the various theatres of war— I think the same line of argument applies to the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Durham (Major Hills).


I quite agree that the main part of ray Amendment is covered by the ruling, but my Amendment in the last sentence deals also with the wage question. On the whole, and in view of the very clear statement that has been made, I think it is of little use my trying to move it. I only hope that the Minister of Labour will himself have regard to the last part of my Amendment, for since women may be admitted to the post-war trades there should be some regulation of the wages under which they are admitted Otherwise we shall see serious undercutting.


At the end of Sub-section (2) there arc the words "circumstances most nearly analogous." I presume that the "circumstances most nearly analogous" are confined to considering the circumstances of the establishment and not the circumstances of a particular new kind of work carried on in the establishment?

Colonel GREIG

I handed in notice of an Amendment which may come under the ruling that has been given, and which applies to a defence which the employer might be entitled to set up in addition to those already provided for. It would have the effect of putting into legal phraseology the lucid explanation given to us to-day by the Minister of Labour, who told us that this Bill does not apply at all to new industries. The proposed Amendment was as follows: It shall also be a good defence in any such proceedings aforesaid that the trade practice involves the discontinuance or restriction or employment of females in an industry or branch or process thereof which was not established in this country before the War, or prevents the employment of females in industries or branches or processes thereof which have been started in this country since the commencement of this War. That would permit the employer, in addition to the defence of an agreement altering the practices and another defence, to put in a third defence that it was in fact and in substance a new industry, and we have had the admission from the Minister of Labour in respect of new industries and therefore an employer in that position would be entitled to protection. The reason I ask this to be inserted is this. This Bill is coming into operation immediately and is to operate for one year from the passing thereof. If it is applied rigidly and harshly, even to new industries, and it might be, the whole harm would be done and there would be no opportunity whatever of remedying it. I am much obliged to the Minister for having cleared up a matter which had given rise to a good deal of confusion. That confusion of thought was entertained by a good many people throughout the country, and the explanation to-day that this Bill is not intended to apply to any new industry will clear up a good deal of that confusion.


If it be a new industry, is it not open to the employer to make that point and say, "This Bill does not apply to me?"

Colonel GREIG

I want to put it into legal language, so that the employer may have this third defence in addition to the other two which are open to him, otherwise he would be confined absolutely and minutely to the defences which the Bill permits. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I should like to see this third defence specifically stated. It is in accordance with the principle of the measure and the declarations of the Minister and of hon. Members opposite who support the Minister. Surely it is only fair and proper and wise and just that the anxieties of women in these industries, especially new industries, should be allayed. I happen to know an employer who employs large numbers of them.


If the Amendment be out of order, is it necessary that the hon. and gallant Member should argue on its merits?


With my usual patience I permitted the hon. and gallant Member to explain the meaning of the Amendment, but it now seems to me that it is really unnecessary. If the employment is a new employment which was not in existence before the War at all, then obviously this Bill when it becomes an Act will not apply to it. Therefore, in those circumstances, all that the employer has got to do is to say, "You are charging me under this Act in relation to this, that, or the other thing, but this employment is a new employment and does not come within the Act." It is just as if a man were charged with committing an offence under a Statute and said, "I do not know whether it is an offence or not, but it is certainly not an offence under this Statute, and therefore you cannot convict me." That being so, it seems to me to be unnecessary.

Colonel GREIG

I am extremely obliged to you, Sir, for what you have said, and in those circumstances I do not move.

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


I wish to say something in support of the Bill from the standpoint of the unskilled and general workers who are supposed to be the special protégés of hon. Members opposite. We are prepared to take care of ourselves and we trust our fellow workers in skilled trades. Attention has been drawn to discharged soldiers and sailors. May I remind hon. Members opposite that they arc discharged soldiers and sailors and have now become workmen and as such are entitled to all the consideration that workmen deserve? I am afraid that some hon. Gentlemen who are now using them for political purposes are not prepared to deal with them fairly from an economic standpoint, because some of our unions have had to conduct strikes for the purpose of seeing that the pensions of discharged soldiers and sailors are not taken into consideration in the fixing of their wages. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] In Norwich and other parts of the country. We object to men coming in, whether discharged soldiers or sailors, or anyone else, who reduce the standard of wages by pensions being taken into consideration. We are not the opposition party: we are the supposition party. May I also be allowed to say in support of the Bill that we are pre- pared to say that the general workers are not going to allow themselves to be squeezed out of industry at the dictation of what might be called the skilled work man. We have rights as well as duties, and we are prepared to defend our rights, but we are not going to allow ourselves to be used as tools to defeat the principles of trade unionism. Consequently, so far as this Bill is concerned, we agree to accept the Bill, because our fellow-workers in the organised labour movement undertook that in the event of any difficulties negotiations would take place to settle them, and that is sufficient for us. We do not want trade unionism supported by the State, and especially that kind of trade unionism that is backed up by its principal enemies. The people who would never help us are now willing to kiss us. They remind me of that animal in the Zoo, of which I have often heard, which slobbers over you before it finally devours you, and the sympathy for Labour of some of the Gentlemen who have spoken this after noon seems to me to be of that particular character. I thank them for nothing. We are going on with the Bill as it stands, and Labour itself, skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled, will look after the interests of our men and of our wives and of the women in industry. We do not want our women to be used to cut down the standard of wages for Labour. If a man is good enough to work he is good enough to maintain a family, and he ought to get a wage sufficient to maintain a family, and his wife and daughter ought not to be introduced into industry in order to reduce the general standard of living in that industry; so that, so far as we are concerned, speaking as a member of the Committee that negotiated with the employers and the Government, we accept the Bill as it stands, and trust our fellow-workers, but we do not trust those whom we could never trust before.


There is a Section in the Bill which deals with workmen in Royal establishments, and I have a command from His Majesty to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, gives his consent, as far as His Majesty's interest is concerned, that the House may do therein as they shall think fit.


He is a better trade unionist than some of his supporters.

Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed (King's Consent signified)