HC Deb 18 November 1919 vol 121 cc441-4

  1. (1)This Act may be cited as the Industrial Courts Act, 1919.
  2. (2)The Conciliation Act, 1896, is hereby repealed.


I beg leave to move, to leave out Sub-section (2).

The object of this Amendment is, so far as we are concerned, to protect the rights of the workmen under the existing Conciliation Act of 1896. Nearly every trade throughout the country has a voluntary arrangement whereby they take advantage of this Act. They are firmly of opinion that if any attempt is made to interfere with existing agreements and arrangements under the Act, it is going to make considerable trouble and prevent the successful carrying of the provisions of this Bill. A large number of trade unions are not satisfied with the provisions of the present Bill, consequently they claim the right to remain under existing arrangements. We do not want this measure to affect the unions already covered.


I quite understand the position of my hon. Friends opposite to make the claim they do, but I think we have made Amendments to this Bill which provide for all that any of them have either asked for or can ask for. In the initial part of the Committee's proceedings the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton raised the question as to the position of the Bill under the Conciliation Act. I was very glad to adapt from him a proviso to Sub-section (2), which entirely meets the whole point of such agreements under the Conciliation Act. The proviso, as the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jones) may have noticed, runs as follows: Provided that if there are existing in any trade or industry any arrangements for settle- ment by conciliation or arbitration of disputes in such trade or industry, or any branch thereof, made in pursuance of an agreement between organisations of employers and organisations of workmen representative respectively of substantial proportions of the employers and workmen engaged in that trade or industry, the Minister shall not, unless with the consent of both parties to the dispute, and unless and until there has been a failure to obtain a settlement by means of those arrangements, refer the matter for settlement or advice in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this Section. 6.0 P.M

That, along with the other provision with regard to a board of arbitration composed of a chairman, with panels of employers and workmen, entirely covers everything that the Conciliation Act does except that there is no provision made for the registration of conciliation boards. In point of fact, registration does not add anything to the efficacy of the conciliation boards, and out of 400 of those, boards only eleven have been registered. I know that originally there were twenty-four registered, but only eleven have survived; all the rest are unregistered, and they are just as efficacious. If you read the Conciliation Act you will find that it does nothing that is not done under this Bill. On this point I have completely satisfied the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge), and I think a careful examination of this measure will show that nothing in the Conciliation Act is omitted. I keep in mind that I have gone even further at the request of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Withies (Mr. Henderson), because the Minister of Labour may set up panels of employés and workmen upon whom calls may be made for service in cases of arbitration.


There is no need to argue this question very much, for it is only a matter as to whether in the case of the Act of 1896 we might allow it to remain. If we did it would be an alternative to the machinery of the Bill we are now discussing. It would have continued to act, as I believe it has acted, in spite of failure to register, as a stimulus to the setting up of conciliation boards. Inquiries go to show that vast numbers of conciliation boards have come into existence since this legislation was passed. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman is that this Act is superfluous in view of the new Bill, but I think the Committee will be well advised to allow it to remain.

If organisations desire alternative machinery which alone can be obtained under the Conciliation Act of 1896 why should they not have it? The right hon. Gentleman accepted the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge), but that does not encourage the establishment of conciliation boards like the Act of 1896. We have not another day for Report under the arrangements made two nights ago, and we want to observe that arrangement, or I should have asked the right hon. Gentleman to have gone into the matters as to whether there was not some value to be derived from leaving this Act on the Statute Book, and allowing it to be supplementary, and an alternative both to organisations of employers and workmen if they desire to avail themselves of it. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether even now he cannot see his way to leave, out this Sub-section?


May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the whole thing we emphasised was that he should not interfere with the machinery of the conciliation boards now in existence, and that we should be allowed to carry on our business in an amicable way same as in the past. The Act of 1896 is an inducement for employers and workmen to come together, and nobody knows the benefit of arbitration boards more than the Government. Under this Act you do not give an inducement for employers or workmen to come together to establish these conciliation boards, but if you repeal this Act there will be no inducement for conciliation boards to be established. What is the danger of allowing the Conciliation Act of 1896 to remain in the Bill?


I am afraid that my legal instincts sometimes get the better of me, and it was really from the point of view of always trying to avoid confusion either between statutes, or different sections of the same statute, that I put in tins Sub-section for the repeal of the Conciliation Act of 1896. I am very much impressed with what my right hon. and hon. Friends opposite have urged upon me, and I recognise the value of the word conciliation. It has had a great advantage over the years in which it has received sanction in the Conciliation Act. I have looked carefully through the Act to discover anything that can clash with the provisions of the measure now before the Committee, and I have come to the conclusion that no very great harm can be done, although there may be a certain amount of confusion. On the other hand the balance is in favour of the word conciliation in a statute, and holding it up as a lamp to which people may direct their eyes. I therefore consent to my right hon. Friend's request.

Amendment agreed to.

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