HC Deb 18 November 1919 vol 121 cc456-9

In the case of a trade dispute in the industry of agriculture steps to be taken under this Act by the Minister of Labour shall be taken in consultation with the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.—[Sir R. Horne.]

Brought up; read the first and second time, and added to the Bill.

In second column, relating to Section 4 (Definition of prescribed rates of wages), insert the words As from the commencement of this Act a reference to the Industrial Court shall be substituted for any reference to the Interim Court of Arbitration."—[Sir R. Horne.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Schedule, as amended, be the Schedule of the Bill."


I had intended to raise the position of women and girls on a previous Amendment. I have already spoken of the delay that is being experienced in setting up trade boards for the trades in which women are very largely employed. I think the right hon. Gentleman would have to admit that there has been a certain amount, of delay. There is a good deal of apprehension that if that delay continues, and now that we have taken away the right to come to ask for an improved rate or a substituted rate, that many women and girls may be in a position of serious disadvantage. What we were trying to do by our last Amendment was to try to give them some protection and to make it possible for the Court in the interim period between the passing of this Bill and the setting up of trade boards for some of these trades to have an opportunity of establishing a minimum rate for women and girls. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can see his way to insert some words on the Report stage whereby if a case of badly-paid women or girls was brought before the Court and the Court wanted to establish a minimum rate, then if it was only for the interim period until the Trade Board had been established in that particular trade, that minimum rate could be secured for this class of worker.

7.0 p.m.


I have great sympathy with the point which the right hon. Gentleman has raised, but I do not think the matter could be dealt with in the shape in which he puts it before the Committee. It is quite outside the scope of any Court set up under this Bill to establish any rate. Indeed, so clear is that, that ray right hon. Friend and I have upon many occasions been in consultation with regard to the passing of another Act through this House for establishing and fixing minimum rates for both males and females throughout the Kingdom. Accordingly, I cannot do anything in the shape in which he asks for it in this measure. In regard to the trade boards I agree that they have not been set up at anything like the speed that one would have desired. My right hon. Friend used the word "delay." I cannot admit delay, because the real fact is that that part of the Ministry of Labour which has been engaged upon this necessary and laudable object has been strained to the very uttermost in doing the work which they have succeeded in accomplishing. Nobody who has not actually taken part in it has any idea of the number of inquiries and negotiations which have to take place before a trade board can be set up. You have to discover what ambit your trade board will cover, and that involves innumerable inquiries in all the various branches of a particular industry. I am endeavouring to expedite that in every way I can, but there is a matter which the House has been dealing with recently, namely, the question of expenditure. Unfortunately, a certain amount of expenditure will be necessary in regard to staff, and I am very reluctant to ask too much in that respect. I am endeavouring to hurry matters in every way that I can, and I have done more. Under the Interim Act there is a power which is being continued under the present measure, and which does enable me to encourage the increase of women's wages where any women are working at sweated rates in some industries for which trade boards have not already been set up. I think I have strained my powers to the uttermost in that respect, and I am prepared still to go on in that good work. I am afraid, however, that I cannot give my right hon. Friend any assurance that there is any means of doing anything which would interfere with the work of a trade board, or would overlap with its duties, under this measure. What I am clear about is that it could not possibly come within the scope of the present Bill.


May I just call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one point? Part of tins Act is temporary until the 30th September of next year. The Bill he refers to, which has had its First Beading, is only a Bill for the establishment of a Commission. That Commission will have to sit, and will have to take a vast amount of evidence, and I think he is a very sanguine man who would say that before many months are over the, minimum rates that that Bill is intended to secure will be established. What I was asking was, Could the right hon. Gentleman not do something in the interim between the passing of this Bill and the time when either a trade board will be set up or the General Minimum. Rate Act has been passed and a minimum rate established for this class of work?


That shows me that not only the Amendment but the subject of trade boards and the establishment of minimum rates do not come within the scope of this Bill.


I should like to refer to one point in connection with the Wages Regulation Act. I have great sympathy with the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henderson), and I do think that some means ought to be found of bridging the gap between the time when this Bill passes and the time when the trade boards can be established for the general regulation of women's wages. I think it can be done under the Wages Regulation Act of 1918, if some tribunal of the character of the Interim Arbitration Tribunal would continue to legislate for women's wages up to the 30th of September next. Then we should not be outside the scope of this Act. All that we should be saying would be that, in the special case of women, the Courts established under this Bill should have the same powers as they had under the Wages Act of 1918. I would reinforce that by saying that what is happening now is simply that women are losing all that they won during the War, and the whole position is going right back. Women are starving—


That would not be in order on the Schedule.

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