§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Dr. Macnamara)
I beg to move,That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government respecting the several Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labour Conference at Washington in November, 1919.I may remind the House of the circumstances which have led to the Debate upon which we are now entering. On Friday, 27th May, my right hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division of Glasgow (Mr. G. Barnes) called attention to the fact that the Government had not yet submitted to Parliament certain Conventions adopted by the International Labour Conference at Washington, and he moved,That in the opinion of this House the Conventions adopted by the International Labour Conference under the League of Nations should be submitted to Parliament as the competent authority.To that I moved an Amendment to leave out from the word "House" to the end of the Question and to add words, so that the whole Motion would then have read as follows:That in the opinion of this House, it is not expedient in existing circumstances to proceed with legislation to give effect to the Washington Convention on hours of labour.That Debate stood adjourned. We take it up anew on a Motion deliberately intended to meet the wish of the House, as far as it could be gathered, to be 2499 allowed to express its opinion on the Government policy, and I ask that that opinion should be one of approval. Two main considerations are here involved, namely, in the first place, what were the Washington Labour Conventions and Recommendations, and what is our national attitude towards them; and, in the second place, who is the competent authority to determine that attitude—the Executive or the House of Commons? Nobody would deny that the second, the constitutional issue, dominated the discussion of the 27th May—so much so that the most important question of our attitude towards these Conventions and Recommendations was not only overshadowed, but so far set aside as to make it appear, as indeed many hon. Members themselves clearly thought, that we had treated a number of proposals designed for the well-being of the working people with disregard and even contempt. The House will forgive me if I say that the eagerness to establish the charge of what has been styled flouting Parliament was so great in some quarters as to cause hon. Members, as I thought, to treat with some impatience and misunderstanding the endeavour to state our attitude towards those Conventions and Recommendations themselves. That certainly was a great pity. It has created an impression wholly inconsistent with the facts and it does our country a real injustice.
As far as the constitutional point is concerned, as to who is the competent authority, the House knows the state of the law as explained by the learned Attorney-General on the 27th May. According to the Attorney-General, what ratifies the Conventions in this country is the authority of the Crown. Of course, as he told us on that occasion, where a Convention cannot be given effect to without the expenditure of money or the passing of a Bill, then ratification by the Crown does not take place until Parliamentary sanction has first been asked and obtained. In the Resolution I am moving, I leave the question of procedure on one side, and direct attention to the essential merits of the Government's policy with respect to the several Washington Conventions and Recommendations, and I give the House an opportunity to express its opinion on that policy. Before I go into that, however, there is one point to 2500 which I desire to call attention. The ideal which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals sets before us is a noble one, namely, that of the nations of the world marching forward together, stimulating one another by the force of example to the adoption of measures which shall render the lives of the people more humane, more happy and more contented. My right hon. Friend has laboured ceaselessly to that end, and, inspired by that great conception, he went to Washington. Much as he may regret it, however, he cannot overlook the fact that the position to-day is not quite that which confronted him at the outset of his quest. His great ideal of all the great nations marching together has not altogether been realised. That will not damp his ardour, but it has its bearing on the situation. Having said that, let me come to the Conventions and Recommendations themselves. I think it important to clear ourselves in the eyes of the other nations who were parties to the Washington Conference—so important that I propose, in the briefest terms, to restate the six Conventions and the six Recommendation sent to us from Washington, and to state our position in each case.
The first Convention deals with the limitation of the hours of work in industrial undertakings to eight in the day and forty-eight in the week. I will return to that later. The second Convention deals with unemployment, and principally with the establishment of a system of free public employment agencies or exchanges. That second Convention is covered by existing British legislation and practice, and we propose to ratify it. The third Convention deals with the employment of women, both before and after child-birth. To that also I will return later. The fourth Convention deals with the employment of women during the night. It has been covered by the Women, Young Persons, and Children (Employment) Act, 1920, and will be ratified. The fifth Convention, fixing the minimum age for the admission of children to industrial employment, has been covered by the same Act, as has also the sixth and last, which deals with the night work of young persons employed in industry. Our proposal is to ratify both of those Conventions.
I come now to the Recommendations, which are also six in number. The first 2501 deals with unemployment, and contains four Articles. The first and second Articles, referring to fee-charging employment agencies and the recruitment of bodies of workers in other countries, we have not been able to accept, but there is no issue here between the Government and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals. He did not recommend the adoption of those Articles. He has stated that our representatives could not agree to those two particular Articles of the first Recommendation, and that view we confirm; and I set that matter aside because, as I have said, there is no issue between us. The third and fourth Articles of this first Recommendation deal with unemployment insurance and the co-ordination of public work. As regards unemployment insurance, we have a scheme more comprehensive than any other in the world. It may not be all that my Friends opposite wish, but in relation to other nations I do not think they will deny the proposition which I have stated. As regards the co-ordination of work undertaken under public authority, that Article does, in fact, represent the existing practice in this country. So far, therefore, as the first of the Washington Recommendations is concerned, we shall notify the acceptance of these two Articles, which are, I can safely say, immeasurably the most important. We cannot accept the other two, and here we follow the advice of my right hon. Friend.
The second Recommendation deals with reciprocity of treatment of foreign workers in our midst. The difficult and important question of equal rights for the foreign worker in every country is here involved. Here again I can state that for long the British treatment of foreign workers has been fully up to the standard of the Recommendation, and that, let me say, without reciprocal agreements. As, however, the general question falls within the terms of reference of the International Commission on Emigration, it is thought that we should await the report of that Commission on that point; though I must insist that our practice in regard to foreign workers in our midst is fully up to the standard of this Recommendation, and so far, generally speaking, without reciprocal agreements. The third Recommendation deals with the preven- 2502 tion of anthrax, and is covered by the Anthrax Prevention Act, 1919. The fourth Recommendation, concerning the protection of women and children against lead poisoning, has been fully dealt with in the Women and Young Persons (Employment in Lead Processes) Act, 1920. The fifth Recommendation, concerning the establishment of Government Health services, does in fact represent existing British policy. The last—the sixth—of the Recommendations deals with the use of white phosphorus in the manufacture of matches, and was anticipated in this country by the White Phosphorus Matches Prohibition Act so long ago as 1908, which covers ground which is designed to be covered by this recommendation of 1919. The Secretary-General of the League of Nations was informed in January of this year of the acceptance by this country of the first four Recommendations to which I have referred, and he will be duly notified of our acceptance of the two most important Articles of the first Washington Recommendation. Leaving aside the second Recommendation, which, as I have said, is still under examination, the position, therefore, to put it quite shortly, will be this, all the Washington Recommendations have been accepted, with the exception of the two lesser Articles of the first Recommendation.
I turn to the Conventions. If I summarise the position with regard to the Conventions in the same way, it is that we are prepared to ratify four out of the six Conventions. I announced these decisions in the course of the Debate on 27th May. Two outstanding Conventions, the first and third, are those dealing with the 8-hour day and maternity. It seemed to me on the 27th May that the House desired a further examination of the reasons which had led us not to ratify in these two cases, and, accordingly, before the Debate closed, I said that a further opportunity would be offered for a more detailed examination of the reasons which have led to our decision. That opportunity is now given. As regards the Maternity Convention, the proposals of the Washington Convention were that we should provide for the six weeks preceding and the six weeks following confinement, and these proposals related only to employed women. Now in this country we have developed, over a period of years, a system for dealing with this question which is on entirely different lines, and which pro- 2503 vides, not only for employed women, but for the wives of employed contributors—a very much larger number. The system which we have directed to the same objective is animated by the same spirit as this particular Washington Convention, but the Washington Convention, if adopted, would cut right across the arrangements which, during a series of years, have been made and built up in this country, and are in advance, I will say again, in this particular, of those in any other country in the world, under the National Health Insurance Act, and in connection with maternity and child welfare centres throughout the country.
It comes to this. Are you going to scrap your existing machinery, built up with a remarkable measure of success as the result of years of effort, in order to start again from the beginning on entirely new lines? After full consideration the Government decided that such a change would be unjustifiable. I do not for a moment say that the last word on this maternity question has been said, but what I say is that we have worked along certain lines for some years in advance of other countries, and it would be a pity to scrap all that to start on different lines.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
We really are proceeding towards the same objective, inspired by the same desire, and let us work out a reform which, as my hon. Friend knows, has been attended with such success along the lines we are proceeding, rather than proceed on another tack altogether. For that reason we are unable to ratify the Maternity Convention. Lastly, I come to deal with what is, in some ways, the most difficult question we have to consider, and that is the position of this country with regard to the Hours Convention.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
No; the British attitude towards this Convention. Our difficulty here is that there are existing systems, based upon voluntary agreements between organisations of employers and employed persons in this country, on lines different from the Convention. Just let me make this general observa- 2504 tion. After all, the task of fitting national customs and habits into the mould of internationalism is not altogether easy and simple. As I explained on 27th May, the question of regulating the hours of labour in industries generally has been before the Government constantly for a very long time past, in connection with the Hours of Employment Bill, introduced in August, 1919, and the many efforts made since to frame a Bill which would meet the circumstances and necessities of the different interests. I leave Washington for the moment, because the matter has been advanced from another quarter, the National Industrial Conference, which appointed a Provisional Joint Committee in the, early part of 1919, and advanced the necessity of securing a 48-hours' Bill. We have done our best, arising out of that, to secure an agreed Bill, but we have not been able, so far, to do that. As there has been a great deal of misapprehension about this, I should like to say that, supposing we had brought in a Bill designed to carry out the wishes of the Provisional Joint Committee, it would not have satisfied Washington. I want my hon. Friends who have called my attention to our failure to push on with that Bill to keep that in mind. It would have been necessary for us, in order to ratify the Hours Convention on the basis of that Bill, to make considerable reservations. A Bill in accordance with the Committee's Report—I am now dealing with the original Bill—would not have satisfied the Washington Convention. I do want my hon. Friends of the Provisional Joint Committee to face that fact. They may complain that we have not proceeded with the Bill for which they asked. They do, and no doubt will, but it does not help to bring that complaint into a discussion as to whether or not we have dealt seriously with Washington.
I come to Washington. In considering the Hours Convention we find ourselves confronted with difficulty. On the one hand we had the position of the railwaymen who are included in the Washington Convention. Their position here in this country is governed by agreements under which they have a guaranteed day and a guaranteed 48 hours' week, apart from Sunday, with regular Sunday duty occurring in some grades every second or third Sunday. That Sunday duty is 2505 paid for at special rates, and is outside the guaranteed 48 hours' week. The position, therefore, is that the railways have by agreement a system which, in fact, does recognise more than 48 hours as a regular week; quite apart from ordinary overtime. Such a position is inconsistent with the Washington Hours Convention.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I have been trying to show that the railwaymen by agreement have a system which I do not question, or challenge, but which is inconsistent with the Washington Convention. The railway trade unions, the railway companies, and the Minister of Transport are agreed that the limitations of the Convention are not applicable to the British railway system. The Government, I venture to suggest to my right hon. Friends opposite, would find itself in great difficulty if they applied a proposal which would compel them to interfere by legislation with the existing agreements entered into by the various parties. That is the position of the railways. There is another difficulty to which I referred on 27th May, and I ask hon. Members on the Labour Benches to face it. The Convention does not give any recognition to overtime as a regular feature of industrial work at all. Generally we agree. Here I make another statement, that in this country the average working day is shorter than most other countries. The provisional Joint Committee, emerging out of the National Industrial Conference, in their discussions on the Hours Bill—the Bill of August, 1919—recognised the necessity for some overtime, but agreed that it should be limited by agreement between employers and workmen; they certainly contemplated some elasticity to meet varying trade conditions. Again, I should be put in this position, that if we were to ratify the Washington Convention without limitation, we should be cutting across the position of our own people who have made agreements so far as overtime and trade conditions are concerned, and there can be no doubt it would not help the situation.
We have in this country established a normal working week of 48 hours, and practically all these various agreements in this connection have provided for definite conditions respecting overtime work. Reviewing the whole situation trade by 2506 trade we really do not think it would be wise—I want to make this perfectly clear—to ask any Government Department to override this network of agreements by a system of Regulations, nor do we think it would be easy at one and the same time to comply with the particular Convention and also to provide sufficient elasticity so as to cover customs and needs of our own industrial undertakings. These, then, are our two main difficulties. I have stated them perfectly fully and perfectly frankly. I refer to the position of the railwaymen and the general question of overtime.
We come to a consideration of the policy involved, and that we ought to pursue. We have examined with the greatest care the suggestion of the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) that we should recognise this Hours Convention with reservations. It looks superficially attractive, but—in my judgment—for what it is worth—taking the long view, I want the Noble Lord to realise that it may expose those who wish this effort to be real and solid movement amongst the nations for the improvement of the condition of the working people to certain dangers. The policy of ratification with reservations may ultimately land the pioneers of this great movement in a position in which they would have, no doubt, secured aquiescence, but with such a number and variety of exceptions as to rob their endeavour of a good deal of its possible value. I do not say that would be done deliberately—not at all—by any country. But it might work in that direction. Therefore, applying my best judgment, I have more and more come to the conclusion that it would not be serving the ultimate interests of this movement to put forward a system of ratification with reservations. We do not, therefore, propose to take that line, and I can assure hon. Members and the Noble Lord that we have not arrived at that decision without great care. We do not propose to take that line in connection with this particular Convention. What do we propose to do?
We propose to send a letter to Geneva explaining the difficulties which here confront us and intimating that we shall be very glad to take part in a reconsideration of the Hours Convention, probably drawn on rather more elastic lines, at a future Congress of the International Labour Organisation. That, I think, will be the most expedient course—to 2507 take a long view of the matter which we all have at heart and the object we seek to reach. May I say upon this—
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Yes, but I think their hands will be very full, and this conference will deal ad hoc with this question of hours. I was only going to say this, do not let those who are impatient to secure ratification in some form or other set aside the wisdom of proceeding along lines which may in the end lead to ratification more real and solid. I have stated our policy with regard to the Conventions and Recommendations in detail. I have dealt with the subject of the Hours Convention in particular, because I thought I ought to do so. It only remains for me to commend it with every confidence to the consideration and support of the House.
§ Mr. BARNES
I desire in the first place to thank the Leader of the House for giving us this second opportunity on the Floor of this House of discussing the Washington Conventions, and the principles underlying them. May I express the hope that in the interval since our last discussion the right hon. Gentleman has used his leisure to read some of the literature on the subject, and make himself acquainted with the commitments of the Government, and if he has done that I think before this Debate ends he may be a little more helpful. I am glad to recognise that already there is some change for the better. A few months ago in regard to this matter the heads of Ministers were in the air and Members of Parliament were considered to be small fry who could be fobbed off with any excuses or evasions for the time being. That was the position.
§ Mr. BARNES
That was so, because I badgered the right hon. Gentleman for over a year and I got nothing but evasions and promises which were never fulfilled. We recognise the change to-day in the fact that the Government have now recognised Parliament as the 2508 authority before which they are going to try and justify their policy, and if the recognition of facts is the beginning of wisdom then the Government are on the right road, and I hope they will recognise some time or another all their obligations under a signed treaty. I scarcely know how to regard the attitude of the Government to-day. It is better than it was before, but still it does not comply with the documents they have signed. Let me read the relevant part of the document which they have signed. It says:Each Government undertakes that it will bring the Recommendation or draft Convention before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies.You have recognised that the authority in whose jurisdiction the matter lies is Parliament. That I take to be the real gist of the speech of the Labour Minister, and although to that extent it is a great improvement it is not compliance. As the words which I have read out clearly indicate, the Government have come under an obligation to bring each convention or recommendation before the competent authority. The Government has not complied with the technical requirements of the documents which they have signed. I am not disposed to press that point, but for the time being I accept the position that Parliament is now recognised as the competent Authority under the Treaty.
I want to concentrate now upon the Eight Hours question, and I wish to put it to the House that the Government is under an obligation not only to submit but to ratify the Eight Hours Convention. I am not going to be confused by statements of the right hon. Gentleman comparing the Convention and the requirements under it with some Bill which I have not seen, but I happen to know that that Bill differs altogether from what is needed under the Convention. In some respects it is wider. But now let me first clear the ground. I was much amused to hear the Labour Minister enumerating all the good things the Government have done in giving effect to the Conventions and Recommendations which were arrived at during the Washington Conference. To hear the right hon. Gentleman one would think he wanted to convey the impression that some great fundamental changes have been made, or that Conventions and Recommendations adopted at Washington were of equal value and importance.
§ Mr. BARNES
The right hon. Gentleman said the Government had given effect to four Recommendations out of six, and I think he said two or three of the Conventions.
§ Mr. BARNES
Let me take the Recommendations. I take one with regard to the use of white phosphorus in the manufacture of matches. I believe that Convention was adopted at Berne in 1906, but it was adopted again at Washington, not because it had any reference to this country, but in order to bring two other countries into line who had not adopted it. That has been done and it has not made any difference to this country.
§ Mr. BARNES
No, but the right hon. Gentleman claimed it as something that we had done. Take also the question of the Labour Exchanges. We have had exchanges in this country for over ten years and, therefore, the Convention made no difference to us. Take the fourteen years' limit in regard to employment of boys and girls in factories. We adopted the fourteen years' limit at Washington not because we needed it in this country but for the purpose of bringing other countries up to our standard. To a certain extent that has eased competition with foreign countries. In effect there were two Conventions at Washington, and only two, which affect this country, and let us get that fact into our minds. They are the Maternity Convention and that in respect to hours of labour. As regards the other conventions which were adopted at Washington, avowedly they were for the purpose of bringing other countries into line with us in certain respects. I agree that in regard to some of these matters we were far ahead of other countries, but there was nothing astonished me so much as to find that in certain matters other countries are far ahead of us.
Will my right hon. Friend tell us which countries are ahead of us in regard to the subject of maternity?
§ Mr. BARNES
I believe Greece is ahead of us and the Scandinavian countries. I knew that we had been dealing with the matter on our own lines, 2510 giving authority to local bodies and insuring industrial workers through the agency of the Insurance Act. I did not vote for it, but at the same time I am not against it. I was relieved to find that the cost was not so very high. The auditor told us that the cost of ratifying that particular treaty would be about £1,700,000.
§ Mr. BARNES
It is true that he argued that the effect might be to attract women to industry who were not now in industry and that therefore the cost might be greater. At the same time, it is argued by others that employers would not employ married women if they were to be subject to the breakages of this Convention. I did not vote for it at Washington, but, while there is no obligation on the Government to adopt it, I would have no hesitation in voting for it if it could be fitted into our conditions. By a process of elimination, I come to the Eight Hours' Day Convention. There are some in the House who have, ridiculed the idea of conventions with regard to hours of labour and other things. The right hon. Baronet who sits near me (Sir John Rees) has sometimes ridiculed the Eight Hours' Day Convention, because he assumes that it is going to flatten out all countries to one dead level. It will do nothing of the kind. The labour organisation terms were very carefully considered at Paris and made to conform to the requirements of all countries so far as it was possible to do so. Therefore, with regard to India, which is the country of which my right hon. Friend has spoken, the hours were not to be eight per day; we recommended that in India they should adopt the sixty hours' week as being applicable to their particular stage of industrial development and climatic conditions. I am glad to say that India has adopted all the Recommendations and Conventions adopted at Washington. They have agreed to the Recommendation in regard to sixty hours being a normal working week. Perhaps I am going too far in saying that they have adopted all of them. I know that they were not pledged to adopt the twelve years of age limit, but I believe that they have adopted it. At all events, having submitted each of the Conventions in turn to the new legislative body, I am safe in saying that they have adopted, if not all, 2511 then all except that in regard to the twelve years of age. That is a great example for my right hon. Friend.
The Eight Hours' Day Convention fulfils other conditions that were applicable to this country. There is an obligation resting upon the Government to submit it to this House, and there is a moral obligation resting upon them to adopt it, because we went to Washington and voted for it according to our instructions. I thought, before we went, that there was common agreement that an eight hours' day was to be the subject of legislative enactment in this country, and in that we were only following the example of other countries. By the end of 1919, when we went to Washington, other countries. Czecho-Slovakia and, I believe, Germany, had actually adopted the eight hours' day. Therefore, when we went to Washington we thought that it was common agreement. Although I did not know the terms of the Bill which has been spoken of, I knew that there was common agreement between the Government on the one side and the employers as well as workmen on the other side with regard to a Bill. Therefore, when we went to Washington we were not concerned about the principle of the eight hours' day; we thought that that had been settled, and that the Government were fully committed to it right up to the neck. We had rather to see that the Eight Hours' Day Convention would fit into the mould of internationalism. That was our duty. We found that there was some difficulty. It was a very difficult matter to make the Convention fit the differing conditions in the various countries which were signatories to the agreement. We were fully seised of that difficulty, and we placed ourselves in communication with the Government when we found difficulties in framing Conventions to fit in with the requirements. Therefore, we wired to the Government, and we had a reply. I suppose it would be infra dig to read the whole of it as giving practically our instructions. Part of it says:The Labour Clause of the Treaty permit a choice between the two principles of the eight-hours' day and of the forty-eight hours' week, and the principle of the forty-eight hours' week is unanimously recommended by the report of the representative committee of trade unionists and employers in Great Britain. In the view of His Majesty's Government this principle should be adopted without qualification.2512 I have here, simply for the convenience of quoting, a book written by Professor Hetherington, of Cardiff University, and I quote from it the actual terms of the Eight Hours' Day Convention. We were recommended to get passed at Washington, not the eight hours' day, which would have meant five times eight, namely, forty, and another four hours on Saturday, conforming to our conditions and making forty-four; we were instructed to guard against that, and we did so. We got a Convention Clause which lays it down thatWhere the hours of work on one or more days in the week are less than eight, the limit of eight hours may be exceeded on the remaining days of the week by the sanction of the competent authority.We got this Convention to square with our national conditions. We have in this country a weekly rest time, including the half-day holiday on Saturday. Other countries have not got that. Therefore, the enactment of the Convention about an eight hours' day would not have fitted our conditions and we had to get provision made that longer hours should he worked on other days of the week, and we got it because of the direct instructions we received from the Government while there. The Government further said:We sympathise fully with the suggestion that a reasonable limitation should be placed on overtime, but can only accept 300 hours tentatively as a general rule and subject to the recommendation at Geneva. It will be necessary to go into this question in detail in this country.Why have they not gone into it in detail? They have had nearly two years, and so far as I know no step has been taken until to-day. The Government expressed the view that overtime should be worked under certain circumstances, but, let me say it while I think of it, not as a regular feature. The Minister of Labour to-day said something about the provision for overtime being made a regular feature in industry.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
In one particular great industry in this country there is a condition of things which makes it difficult to fit it in with the Convention.
§ Mr. BARNES
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the reason 2513 why this Convention should not be and cannot be adopted was that it made no provision for overtime as a regular feature in industry. I never understood from the instructions I received that it was desirable to provide for it as a regular feature. I would never have done that; I would not have been a party to it. What I understood was that we should make provision first of all that overtime should be worked in cases of breakdown or accident, and that there should be some provision for it being worked under exceptional circumstances, say, when there was an order to be completed which had to be despatched by a ship sailing on a certain day. That is how I understood my instructions, and I got those instructions embodied in the Convention. Article 2 limits the hours worked on any one day to nine. Article 3 provides that the limit of hours of work prescribed by Article 2 may be exceeded in case of accident, actual or threatened, or in case of urgent work. Further, it is provided that in cases of continuous industry processes the hours of labour may be. 56 and not 48 per week. Then, under Article 6, we have made provision much more elastic than those dealing with the 300 hours mentioned in the telegram sent to us at Washington. Article 6, Sub-section (b), makes provision for dealing with exceptional cases of pressure of work. What more is wanted? I come next to the railways. It is perfectly true that the overtime conditions do not cover the railways, and I venture to say that the railway agreement does not square with trade union or other sentiment in this or in any other country. It makes provision for a 48 hours' week being worked between Sundays. If a workman works on a Sunday he is to get time and a-quarter, and he may work every other Sunday so long as he gets that rate. I was sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the workmen, the directors of railways, and the Ministry of Transport are all agreed that that is a necessity of our railway system.
§ Mr. BARNES
I thought the right hon. Gentleman went further. I understood him to say that those who had been instrumental in drawing up this agreement regarded it as a necessary condition of working the railway system in this 2514 country. But it is not a condition necessary in other countries, and why should it be necessary here? Apart from that I am quite sure that it would require some courage on the part of the trade union representatives to get up on these benches and say anything in favour of perpetuating a system which involves systematic overtime and systematic working on every other Sunday. I quite admit that the Convention of Washington does not square with that particular agreement. There are two ways of getting over it. The agreement ought to be revised. That is the best way, and I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should approach the other side with a view to its revision. I venture to say that those who were instrumental on the Labour side in subscribing to that particular arrangement will have some difficulty in converting their friends to it. Therefore I suggest that the first thing to be done is to revise that particular agreement even at the eleventh hour. If that cannot be done, then it seems to me the other bold course is to strike the railways out of the agreement. I hope that will not be done. I have in my mind the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman for a special Conference—that a special Conference should be held if you cannot get a revision of the agreement made in the year 1918, and that you should strike the railways out of the Convention if you find it necessary to do so. I submit that this particular Convention should be ratified, and I protest against its being lumped in with a number of other Conventions and Recommendations with which it has no connection and in regard to which the circumstances are altogether different.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but I want to get quite clearly what is in his mind. Does he mean that the Government ought not to ratify the Convention or that it should break the railway agreement and enforce the Convention?
§ Mr. BARNES
Certainly I think the Convention should be ratified, but if it is found impossible to do that, then my right hon. Friend's suggestion for a special Conference to knock the railways out should be adopted. So far as I am concerned, my mind is perfectly clear. No self-respecting man who was at Washington, as I was, and who had instructions such as I had could do 2515 anything but vote against the suppression of a Convention in regard to which he had such clear instructions. At the same time I cling to the hope if not the belief that the Government may somehow or other get matters arranged so that the Convention may be ratified. I want to make an appeal as strongly as I can to Members of this House to regard this Labour Organisation as a serious effort on our part for Labour reconstruction. There are those I know who regard the Labour organisation as a sort of conspiracy on the part of foreign devils to bring us down to their level. Only this morning I was reading a speech by the Duke of Northumberland in which he lumped the Geneva Convention with other Labour Organisations, and described them as an effort to bring this country down to the level of other countries. There is absolutely nothing in that contention. The interests of all countries are carefully guarded so that no country is compelled to make any law except that to which it is pledged by the votes of its own representatives. I am afraid there are many, including some in this House, who regard the Labour chapter of the Peace Treaty as a mere tag to keep Labour hoping and talking. If that impression gets abroad outside, it cannot fail to have dire results. I appeal for support for the Labour Organisation and the Labour Chapter of the Peace Treaty, not as a mere declaration of rights or of hopes, but as something to which we are all committed, to enable all countries to march forward together, to lift Labour questions out of the rut of strike and lock-out into the region of moral law and social justice. That is the purpose of the Labour Organisation in its larger aspects, in its humanitarian aspects.
We are, however, accustomed in this House to deal with practical things in a practical way, and on that ground I appeal for support for this Labour Organisation. At one time we were specially fortunate in this country. We got other countries to send us all their raw materials, and we worked them up into finished products and sent them to other countries, sent them in large measure to the countries which had supplied us with the raw material. For instance, we had jute from India, we had cotton 2516 from America, we had ores from Spain. All these countries are now more or less training their own labour to make up their own raw material, and that means that we must go in for internationalism. We have no option, because we find more and more that labour is going to be employed in those countries where it is cheapest and most amenable. Take India as an example. All the jute in the world is grown in India, and it all used to be imported into this country and made into cloth, and it went back again in large measure to India; but the Indians are now being trained to work up their own raw material, and for a great number of years that particular industry has been more and more developing at Calcutta and its vicinity, so that they now have more mills in Calcutta than they have in Dundee or in this country altogether, and they are owned by the very people who used to import the jute here. Anybody can use his capital as he likes in a free world, but we are fools to tolerate the evils connected with it. The Indians have now adopted the provisions of this particular Convention. They have reduced their hours to 60, and in reducing their hours to 60 they have done more than anybody asks the Government here to do in reducing our hours to 48. That is the question that ought to appeal to us. We have no right to ask India to do things unless we are prepared to follow India's example. Therefore I submit that this Convention is calculated to help this country in world trade if we carry it out.
Just a last word in regard to the special obligation resting upon us in regard to the Labour Organisation from the point of view that the organisation is our organisation; it is our work. Before I went to Paris, as soon as I knew I was to be honoured with a place in the Peace Conference, I knew my specific job was labour, and I began to pick the brains of everybody with whom I could come in contact with a view of getting something done in Paris which would be worth doing. I think one of the first men I went to see was Sir David Shackleton, and we talked the matter over. He introduced me to Mr. Butler, of the Labour Ministry, and we talked the matter over. Then when I went to Paris the Labour Minister sent over Mr. Butler, of the Labour Ministry, and Sir Malcolm Delevingne, of the Home Office, to help 2517 me in fixing up a Labour organisation to fit into the Peace Treaty. We got to work and drew up two or three pages of foolscap, and then I got the Prime Minister's sanction to bring over six representatives of Labour, including my right lion. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. A Henderson), my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman), and, I think, the present Labour Leader (Mr. Clynes)—at any rate, six of the most representative Labour men in this country. They came over, and we submitted the document to them, and we revised it after two or three days' discussion with them. As soon as the Peace Conference proper began, the Prime Minister, on the very first day, moved that the Labour Commission should be set up to draw up a document. It was set up, and we met. I forget how many of us there were, but we sat for 36 days, I think, and we found all those difficulties that my right hon. Friend has in his mind and more, but we sat for 36 days patiently thrashing them out, and after that the elongated document was again submitted, first of all to my colleagues in Paris, then to other Labour representatives and employers of labour in this country; then it was taken back, and finally it was adopted by the Peace Conference itself.
Therefore, it seems to me that having gone through all that process, finding that other countries, as we expected, had not got anything ready, and we had, we got them to adopt practically our document, because the Labour Organisation, as it is now a part of the Peace Treaty, embodies still all those provisions that were in the document at the very beginning. I do not know whether I have anything further to say except to appeal again to the right hon. Gentleman to ratify this particular Convention, and, in order to ratify it, I put it to him that there is no difficulty in regard to the overtime provisions, that they are sufficiently elastic to cover all legitimate purposes except that of the railway agreement, and I recommend him to get that agreement revised in accordance with the terms of the Convention and, I venture to think, in accordance with the sentiment of labour throughout the world. President Wilson, in Paris, when the Labour Commission was set up, said that the object of the Organisation that was to be drawn up by the Labour Commission was to benefit those who went to bed tired 2518 and weary at night and rose in the morning without the stimulation of hope. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," and I am afraid there are some in this country who have been interested in this Convention who are almost reaching the stage of heart-sickness. At all events, I appeal to the Government to revive confidence in this Labour Organisation, to revive confidence in themselves as having signed the Labour Chapter of the Peace Treaty, which includes this Labour Organisation, and in doing that to give encouragement to those who want to bring employers and Governments and workmen throughout the world together to hammer out their differences and settle them on the anvil of common sense. On that road only lies our safety as well as our honour.
§ Mr. CLYNES
My right hon. Friend who has just sat down has made a very powerful speech and a very helpful contribution to a really great theme, and on that account I can forgive, the excess of generosity which I thought he displayed towards the Government in the earlier part of his speech in relation to this Motion and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. In my judgment, this House of Commons will fail in a duty which has been placed on its individual Members if this Resolution is to-day supported in the Lobby. It asks the House to approve the policy of His Majesty's Government respecting these several Conventions. I doubt whether anything whatever would have been done by the Government either a month ago or to-day had it not been for the repeated prods of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) and many other Members who by speech and question sought, until they were tired, to get the Government to announce its policy and to give the House an opportunity to discuss the conditions of what virtually was an international Treaty entered into between ourselves and the representatives of other countries-at Washington. Six or seven times my right hon. Friend put questions to the Government, and six or seven times was turned away without any hope whatever of a policy being outlined, and at length, when the Government had to say something definite, they informed my right hon. Friend that they had no intention of ratifying the Convention and had no intention of submitting the matter to this House, and therefore His Majesty's 2519 Ministers have at length been forced to state their position and give the House an opportunity to discuss this matter.
I have read very carefully the pronouncements of the Attorney-General on the purely technical or legal side of this question. They are reduced, I think, to this, that the competent authority to decide matters in relation to these conventions is the Crown. That is treating the question as though we were still in the Middle Ages, or as though this were a matter of some conflict between an individual and the State, and that that conflict was being settled in a Court of Law between them. It is a much bigger matter than that. The Government cannot shelter behind the Crown. Parliament in this country must assert its claim to be the responsible and the competent authority for dealing with matters, either legislation or the review of executive action. We thought we had done with secret diplomacy. What has happened in this matter? By certain Departmental action without reference to this House, the Government has dealt with a number of minor matters that were the subject of decisions at Washington, and the Government has then refused to conform to the decisions of Washington or to give this House an opportunity freely to decide in relation to those decisions so far as they were major matters of outstanding importance, as my right hon. Friend has clearly proved. The two things that did matter to us were the maternity question and the question of working hours, and on these matters the Government has wholly failed in its duty, in even that first step towards any attempt to do its duty, namely, to give this House an opportunity to discuss and ratify, if it thought fit so to do, the decisions that were reached at Washington. I do not know what the Government may think of the example it is setting. This Government, however long it may last, cannot last for all time, and it should think of its successors. It may in due course, in the nature of political evolution, be followed by a Labour Government. That Labour Government may be anxious to take short cuts in the direction of doing big things and making great changes. What will be said by the Opposition of the day if the Labour Government shelters itself behind this screen of the Crown and in private either decides or refuses 2520 to decide what it thinks proper, relying upon the largeness of its majority to confirm in public what it has done in private? Surely with an ever increasing constituency Parliament must no longer tolerate this doctrine of leaving to the Executive to claim to be the competent authority to deal with these large national and international questions.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend said in that most helpful part of his speech in regard to the international aspect of this question. The very reason for having the Convention was the reason that countries were sick and tired of a form of vicious competition in different countries, and of the method of each one separately using the conditions of the others in order to prevent development and progress in the particular country that might be concerned, and the idea was that we must accept the doctrines both of world prosperity and world humanity. Those are not platitudes, but if they are to be more than mere phrases, if they are to be made into a real doctrine, this Parliament must be free to give this statement legislative effect. I remember when carrying out the ordinary work of a trade union official years ago, many times meeting employers and claiming some slight advance in wages or improvement in conditions, and being told it could not be done because other workers in other countries were differently situated and were worse off than we were, and the bad conditions in one place were usually used to prevent improvements in others, and the tendency therefore was to pull down the best intentioned to the level of the worst, and to make it impossible for a good employer to go ahead because he had to deal in ordinary matters in the same market and with the same material as the worst type of employer. And those conditions having such a bearing upon health and upon physical and human development compelled us at the close of the War to recognise international doctrines and to bring representatives of all countries together in order that we might seek common agreement for the common good. The question to us in these international conferences and decisions is, Are we to be leaders or are we to be laggards? It is true that in many respects we occupy a front place, but we can still do much by example and by leadership. We can do something completely to regain for 2521 ourselves that proud place occupied once by the British Empire in respect of many of these industrial questions. Let us not be content with being ahead on one point, or a few points. We should seek the ambition of leadership on all these points. We have the genius and I believe the competence and the qualities to enable us to secure and to maintain that proud position.
The two questions, then, that still matter to us are the question of hours and of maternity conditions. As to maternity, I fail to see the force of the argument of my right hon. Friend when he pointed out that the Washington decision applied only to employed women, and that seemed to be used as an argument for describing the Washington provisions as narrower than our present provisions. I do not take that view. It is because women are engaged in industrial and other forms of employment that we are having to think in the terms of this legislation. If they were not in employment, and had no cause to be employed, they would have the certainty of all the light conditions to which they are entitled because of their condition. What we are asking is that women who have to work for their living and enter into employment should be assured of the fullest care and rest many weeks before and many weeks after confinement. Therefore it is beside the mark to say that this Washington Convention applies only to employed women. Let us deal with those who are affected by and who are in need of this legislation, and then we may well think of the needs and conditions of others.
Nor is the question altogether one of pay. It is true that in cases of maternity now for insured persons some provision is made, and while to some extent this does raise the question of money, that is not the whole question. It is a question of rest, of fresh air, and of treatment of a kind that in itself is certain to be a contribution towards the building up of the better nation of the future that we desire to see. I do not know whether any attempt has been made, at any rate, I have not heard of it, on the part of the Government to justify their action upon grounds of economy, upon grounds that we cannot afford the expenditure which the ratification of this Convention will involve. If they have in mind the future, and they say that we cannot afford the money, my answer is that this is essen- 2522 tially a matter upon which we cannot, afford to save. They cannot afford to allow women and children to suffer by reason of a saving which may be £2,000,000 a year in the matter of ratifying this Convention, and providing what is a physical essential if we are to make a contribution to the better nation to which this Government is pledged.
A word on the question of hours. The railway and agricultural workers, it may be, have given the Government some excuse for delay in their attitude to the Washington Convention dealing with the subject of hours, but let not my right hon. Friend commit himself to the doctrine, which I drew from what he said, that the Government cannot do anything for anybody until it is in a position to do everything for everybody. We have my right hon. Friend arguing that there must not be legislation which will have to be subject to exceptions. That is only the more Parliamentary way of stating the view which I have just expressed. What legislation can we have if there are to be no exceptions, no qualifications? I doubt whether an Act of Parliament is possible with reference to any of these matters which does not provide for some exceptions. How often has my right hon. Friend pleaded in this House in relation to his several Bills on the problem of unemployment insurance that there must be certain exceptions? You cannot treat everybody alike.
§ Mr. CLYNES
There is very little difference between ratification and the subject of legislation of which I am speaking. One is, in effect, only a term for the other. A like end is reached no matter which particular process is used. I should like to know what authority on this question of hours of labour the Government have consulted to enable them to reach a decision, or have they consulted no authority and simply drawn their conclusions from the inner well of their own wisdom? If the latter, I suggest that their information can be very much improved. They might return to the view of representative employers, even leaving out the view of the representatives of the employed. The question of working hours was one of the leading questions debated at great length by the General Industrial Council, created on the appeal 2523 of the Prime Minister at the moment when very great trade dislocation was threatened and trade disputes loomed very large in the air. In that Industrial Council there were over 500 employers, and substantially the whole of the employers in the Council declared, together with the representatives of organised labour, in favour of an eight hours' day by law. We ought not now to have brought forward an argument relating to either seamen or railwaymen as any excuse for delay in this connection.
Small as is the attendance in the House at the present time, I should regard this House as lacking in its collective duty and lacking in its individual obligation towards the constituencies if hon. Members go into the Lobby in support of the Government's Motion. I hope that as the discussion proceeds my right hon Friend will see that the balance of opinion is in favour of not committing the Government to the terms of the Motion, otherwise it will be a discouragement to those who have to take this work ahead in the time to come, and it will be an encouragement to reactionary opinion in different countries in all parts of the world to stay the good work to which we are committed.
§ Viscountess ASTOR
I cannot make a passionate appeal to a Government which is not present, and I cannot hope to do very much to change the mind of a Minister if it is thoroughly made up. We have, however, signs to-day of a thawing in the mind of the Minister of Labour. So far as the Maternity Convention is concerned, he has said that our Insurance Act is better and covers more people. The last time I spoke on this subject I pointed out that if the husband and wife are both insured they get £4 at the time of the confinement, but the woman draws nothing after confinement, unless after four weeks she is ill, and then she gets 12s. a week. The whole point of the Washington Convention was to protect women who through the illness of their husband or through the husband not getting a sufficient wage to keep the family were forced in industry and had to keep at work up to the very last hour before confinement, and had to go back after a week's time.
If the Minister would call a conference of women experts and see if there is any way in which they could draft something 2524 which would cover this crying need it would be very desirable. There is nothing which touches it now. A woman only gets £4 at the time of the birth, and that soon goes, and then she has to go back to work. If we could get a conference of women so that we could see what could be done on the lines suggested, we could go a long way not only in satisfying the legitimate demand among working women, but also in satisfying the general opinion of this House. A great many Members of this House, if it was put to them clearly, would see that it was in the vital interests not only of women but of the country. Some of them, unfortunately, know very little about things concerning women. Two of the most recent Members of this House, when asked by women at by-elections what they felt on this point, said that they had never heard of it. There may be others here in the same position. For that I rather blame the women for not having educated them. I ask the Government to reason it out with the women who are concerned. I do not pretend to be an expert, but I ask the Minister of Labour to treat the experts as reasonable people. There are women in this country who have studied this backwards and forwards, and I ask him to meet them and see what can be done.
The right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) put the case for the eight-hour day with clearness and force. All the enlightened employers in the country are for it. One of the biggest employers of labour, talking about foreign competition the other day, said that there was nothing better which the Government could do than introduce an eight hours' day and improve our own labouring population who later on, in these great international conventions, could influence the action in foreign countries. They can do it. They are becoming more and more powerful at these Labour conventions. The Federation of German Employees has addressed a memorandum to the Legislature demanding that the Washington Convention should be ratified by Germany only subject to the condition that other States, members of international organisations, should also ratify it. A similar resolution was adopted by the Joint Industrial League of Employers and Workers in Germany. In France you have the same thing. The final decision of Great Britain is awaited. In Belgium from 2525 the first they indicated difficulty in ratifying the Convention without a guarantee that other Powers would do the same. The Belgian Senate proposed to make the coming into operation of a new Eight Hours Act contingent on the action of other States, and then the Chamber of Deputies rejected the proposal. The question is likely to be brought up again. So if we take action we influence other countries and not only protect our own workmen at home but protect them from greater foreign competition.
I know that there is a great feeling among certain people in the country that workmen are not working now and ought to work longer hours. I think that that is greatly due to the effect of war and also to a certain number of socialist agitators who have been going about telling people that they can get something for nothing. They have put into the minds of working men and women that they can get a great deal more without working. Working people in this country will not get anything without working. [HON. MEMBERS: "Everyone should work."] Yes. Make everybody work.
§ Viscountess ASTOR
Yes, and probably you would be there if you had enough money to get there. There is that general feeling which is half due to the War, but the Government should not be put off by a thing like that. They have got to see what is really best for the nation. They have got expert opinion than an eight hours' day is best for the nation and best for the whole world. All those who deal with social legislation in the different countries are looking to England. Look in a bigger light at these two things which you have turned down. The railwaymen are used as an excuse. Let them point this out to the railway leaders. I cannot see them defending it at a big labour convention. They will not dare do it. They are the very men who will talk about internationalism and love for their brothers throughout the world. Let them prove it by sacrificing some of their hours for the general good of the world. An eight-hour day will mean more output and more healthy and more encouraged workmen. Maternity benefit will give the women and children a far better chance.
2526 Do not be put off by reactionaries or the people who say "Nonsense.' I agree that the men are not working hard enough now, but giving them longer hours will not make them work harder. I know after watching them that they are not working hard. I wish that most Members of the Labour party were as good attendants in the House as I am. If you shorten the hours and better the conditions of the workers then they will get the ginger and the keenness. Take the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Miles Platting. Do not turn down maternity benefit and the eight hours' day. The Government will some day deeply regret not taking the advice of those who know about industry instead of the advice of those who may be a little prosperous and think that, by working a man 12 hours a day, you can get more out of him. That day is past and I hope that it will never come back. I know that the Minister of Labour is interested in workmen and labour questions, but he is hampered by reactionaries who are to be found not only in his party but in every party. I hope that the Government will give way on these two points.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
When I compare the situation with which we are placed here to-day on this Motion with the intention which many of us had more than two years ago when the Labour Convention was originally in preparation and under discussion? I wonder whether the Government really have any memory at all of what it is sought to do by this Labour Convention. What, after all, was the object of the Labour Convention? It. was not to provide an entirely new form of international legislation. There has been international legislation on these Labour subjects before. There have been international conventions regarding night work for women, and so on. The whole object of the Labour Convention as it stands in the Treaty was to remedy the ascertained defect of the working of these international conventions. The ascertained defect was that while the conventions might be signed, the legislatures of the different countries did not put them into force. Some did so and others did not. The consequence was that a few nations which carried out their international obligations were, to that extent, penalised in international competition. The whole object of the way in which the Labour Convention was drawn up was that 2527 at the very first stage after you had concluded your draft convention, that draft convention should come before the legislature in order that the legislature might be irrevocably committed by legislation to carrying out the policy declared. What is the position in which we are placed today? We are asked to vote for a Motion approving the policy of the Government. To-day is the 1st of July. I observed in Article 19 of the Eight Hours Agreement:Each member who ratifies this convention agrees to bring its provisions into operation not later than 1st July, 1921, and to take such action as may be necessary to make these provisions effective.And we are discussing it on that very day. Is it conceivable that the Government should have departed so far from the original policy? Let me support what the right hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) has said about the practical utility of this policy. I should like to give one other instance of it. I remember that the hon. Baronet the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees), when we were discussing this a month ago, said how absurd it was by international action to try to impose the same kind of conditions on India as you would impose on Western Europe. As a matter of fact, in regard to child labour, it will be observed that the Washington Convention imposes on India the obligation not to put children under 12 years of age into industry. I remember distinctly that the original draft of the American Tariff Act of 1913 proposed to exclude from the United States the products of any industry, no matter in what part of the world, and therefore including India, into which the labour of children under 16 years of age had entered. I could give other instances. You cannot in the present situation of the world avoid international legislation merely by avoiding agreement on it. Anyone who has to work in international business at all—I spent many weary weeks trying to fight that particular provision in the Tariff Act—knows that you cannot prevent any nation from passing legislation which is international in character. You will get it. The only question is whether you will agree on that legislation beforehand.
2. 0 P.M.
That is the practical object of the Washington Convention and of the appeal of everyone with a practical mind, no matter what his general industrial or political policy may be in regard to such 2528 matters. Here we are put in this position: The Government asks us to approve its policy, and for the first time submits this Convention to us for discussion on the day when it was originally stated that legislation must come into force. I do not quite agree with one thing said by the right hon. Member for Gorbals. He stated that the Government at the time of the signing of these Agreements had a moral obligation to ratify them. If the Government had a moral obligation to ratify the Eight Hours Convention, that means that the Government had committed this House in advance to the policy entailed in that Convention. That, I think, cuts at the root of the very argument I am now making, namely, that the Legislature should not be committed until it had committed itself. I am amazed at the argument that the Crown was intended under this Convention to be the competent authority within the meaning of the Convention. If that was so, why are these Conventions called draft Conventions? In diplomatic language, when a Convention is signed but before it is ratified, it is not a draft Convention but a full Convention, although still unratified. These Conventions were specially designed to be draft Conventions in order that they might come before the Legislature for, if necessary, amendment and revision before being sent back. The Government is in a very difficult position. There is not time in this Session, perhaps, to submit these Conventions for a full discussion as if they were Bills, which is the proper way to treat them. The difficulty is due to the fact that the Government has delayed so long. Here you have a draft Convention not fit for ratification because it is not discussed, and you have six of them thrown at this House on 1st July. I do not by any means like the Eight Hours Convention as it stands; and for one reason above all. Article 5 is so drafted as to allow every nation to do exactly what it pleases. It says:In exceptional cases where it is recognised that the provisions of Article 2 cannot be applied, but only in such cases, agreements between workers' and employers' organisations concerning the daily limit of work over a longer period of time may be given the force of regulations, if the Government to which these agreements shall be submitted so decides.
§ Mr. G. BARNES
That applies only to the last paragraph of Article 2, which 2529 makes provision for more than eight hours per day being worked in any one week so long as the eight hours is not exceeded on the average of three weeks.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Of course, I bow to the right hon. Gentleman's opinion. I am looking at it from the point of view of the international lawyer. It seems to me that Article 5 is so drawn that I, knowing what difficulties and differences of opinion come up in regard to all international treaties, would be very reluctant to sign a treaty capable of such very different interpretations. But we have no opportunity of discussing it. There is no possibility of considering these Conventions as if they were drafts of legislation, which, as a matter of fact, they are. I agree with everything said by the Minister of Labour as to the undesirability, in international business, of fixing reservations to your ratification. It is a very clumsy method of procedure, and gives rise to a tremendous amount of misunderstanding, and it has always been one of the obstacles to our concluding treaties with the United States. We ought to have an opportunity of examining these Conventions, and amending them in order that they might go back to the International Labour Office if necessary. The Government seems to have lost its memory entirely as to what was the prime object of concluding these Conventions, because the present procedure bears no relation to the practical objects for which the Conventions were originally concluded. For these reasons, in spite of the length the Minister of Labour has gone in meeting our desire to have a discussion on the merits, I cannot commit myself to a statement that I approve of the policy of a Government which, as I say, appears to have lost its memory on the subject.
§ Captain BOWYER
There seems to be a curious discrepancy between the line of attack adopted by the hon. Member for Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes)—to whom every Member of the House listened with the most acute appreciation—and the line of attack taken by the right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes). If I understood the hon. Member for Gorbals aright ho said, "I have never put it to the House that the Government should ratify the Maternity Convention, because, we have advanced along different lines." On the other hand the hon. Member for Miles Platting took up the cudgels against the Govern- 2530 ment, not only because the Government had not, and were not going to ratify the Eight Hours Convention, but also because in his opinion they should have already ratified the Maternity Convention as well. Hon. Members will appreciate the great difference which exists between these two attitudes. If the hon. Member for Gorbals says the Government is justified in not ratifying the Maternity Convention, there is a very great deal to be said on behalf of the Government as to why they declined and still decline to ratify the Hours of Labour Convention. In regard to the question of India, I was puzzled by the attitude of the hon. Member for Gorbals. He said the Indians were going to ratify the Hours of Labour Convention and reduce the number of hours per week to sixty, and he also said that in making that reduction they were doing more than we should be doing if we ratified the forty-eight hours week and reduced our hours accordingly. I do not understand that; I do not understand how that can be called a ratification by India of the forty-eight hours week.
§ Mr. BARNES
I thought I pointed out that the Labour Organisation which is embodied in Chapter 13 of the Peace Treaty makes provision that in those countries of lesser industrial development or special climatic conditions modifications may be made in any Convention. The modification that we have inserted in the Washington Convention in respect of India is strictly in accordance with the Labour Organisation, and it is that the hours shall be reduced from seventy-two to sixty. That reduction of twelve hours is a larger reduction in proportion than would he the reduction from the hours at present worked in this country to forty-eight. While I am on my feet may I say, in regard to the other point raised, that I hope I did not state the Government were justified in not giving effect to the Maternity Convention. I did not intend to say that. What I did intend to say was that the Government were under no obligation, as far as Washington was concerned, to ratify the Maternity Convention, because we were not instructed to vote for it.
§ Captain BOWYER
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his information. By the process of elimination what has the House now got against the Government? The Leader of the 2531 Labour party has gone much further than the hon. Member for Gorbals, and has said—as the hon. Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) also said—that the Government are to blame because they do not intend to ratify either of these two Conventions. Indeed the sense of the Debate so far has been that the Government is still more to blame because these were the only two Conventions in regard to the subject of which we were possibly lagging behind and that we should have taken definite action. The Government has clearly shown that, as regards other Conventions, the necessary legislation is on the Statute Book already to bring us up to the required standard. The opponents of the Government say, "You cannot take any credit for that, because as a matter of fact these subjects were not brought before the Washington Convention for the purpose of bringing you in, but for the purpose of bringing other people up to your standard." Taking it from the point of view of the Labour party there are only two Conventions, the Maternity Convention and the Hours of Labour Convention, which the Government should ratify, and from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals there is only one, and that is the Hours of Labour Convention. There is a very serious conflict between the two views. What is the reply of the Government? The Government say, "You cannot ask us to ratify something which would entail our scrapping a system under which we are working now and starting again along the lines advocated by the Washington Convention." My Noble Friend the hon. Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), who was bitter enough in his antagonism against the line adopted by the Government, said to make reservations on ratifications was a clumsy procedure. If you cannot on the one hand ratify Conventions because of the line you have gone on in your legislation, what other alternative have you if you may not ratify with reservations, except not to ratify at all. That is exactly the attitude taken up by the Government. The right hon. Member for Gorbals says, "I will give you two ways out; either you must have a special conference at some future date and get it to release you as regards the agreements which tie you, or you must break those agreements and make fresh 2532 agreements, with the railways for instance, under the Eight Hours Convention." Each of those is, I submit, a proposition which cannot be put forward with any hope of a successful issue. If the question of hours were the question upon which the issue really lay between the two contending schemes, it might be settled. But when you get, as the Government have pointed out, the whole line upon which you have advanced, as regards either maternity or agreements as to hours of labour, at total variance with that recommended at Washington, surely it is a big thing to say that you must scrap it altogether, or must hold a new International Labour Conference in the future, and get them to put forward a new view as to what the Hours of Labour Convention should be. Although it was constructive criticism, I submit that the Government cannot be blamed for saying that all of those cases are full of difficulty, and that the only course they could take was not to ratify. Although we are as keen as anyone upon the questions of hours of labour and maternity welfare, yet, in view of the fact that we have proceeded on different lines from those recommended or advocated at Washington, we cannot ratify those Conventions; but this country is at least as far advanced as any other in regard to both of those matters.
I submit, also, that when the Minister of Labour, supported by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings, said that to ratify with reservations is a dangerous policy and very unsatisfactory, that is a perfectly justifiable attitude to take up. It may be said, especially by hon. Members opposite, of any of us who dare to attempt to-day to justify the attitude taken up by the Government, that we are reactionary, that we do not care about such questions, and that we are lacking in sympathy or in foresight as to the enormous importance to be attached to both of these great matters. I do not think that any thinking man or woman to-day could possibly take up an attitude failing in sympathy towards either of those great questions. You cannot look at industry with sympathy and fail to see that you must treat those who work in industry as human beings and not as pieces of machinery; and, when you have said that, it surely leads you every bit as far as any hon. Member opposite would like to take us. In the same way, do you 2533 suppose that any man of us here who has a wife or child is lacking in sympathy for what they need, especially at the hour when the child is born? I claim that we are not lacking in sympathy or knowledge of what is due to a woman at the hour of child-birth, and the question here to-day ought not to be put on the lines that, because we take up the attitude of supporting the Government in not having ratified the hours of labour Convention or the maternity Convention, we are to be accused, as we may be, of thereby showing lack of sympathy for those two great movements. No one can be keener than we are. The Government has assured us, and I think without contradiction, that this country is as forward as any other in the world in regard to those matters.
Although I have been trying my best to defend the Government, I sincerely wish that they could have found time to let us discuss this matter across the Floor of this House, not only this year, but last year or the year before. I think they would have found the result to be that the House would then have seen and made up its mind that at the moment it was impossible to ratify those two Conventions; or it might have been that the House would have come to the conclusion that they could be ratified with a reservation. Personally, I am not of that opinion, but at least we should have had the discussion, and then it could not have been thrown in the face of the Government, as it has been to-day, that, nearly two years after the opportunity was given, the House for the first time has a chance of discussing the matter. I submit that the Government are right in their proposal not to ratify these two Conventions.
§ Sir GODFREY COLLINS
No hon. Member will accuse my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down either of lack of foresight or of lack of human sympathy, and I think I can show him that the views advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals this afternoon will soon be adopted by the Government as their policy. This Debate is a complete vindication of the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman on Friday, 27th May. The Resolution on the Order Paper to-day, and the opening sentence of the Minister of Labour stating that the Government ask the House of Commons to approve of that Resolution, are a 2534 vindication of the point put by the right hon. Gentleman that the competent authority should be the House of Commons. Therefore, encouraged by this Debate, I think that, when the Conference meets at Geneva in the not too distant future, the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals will be accepted by the Government. The Minister of Labour reminded the House that several of the Conventions had been adopted already by the Government. Those Conventions which have already been adopted are, however, more of a national than of an international character. They deal with the internal problems which face each country, and which can be solved by each country without international co-operation. In his closing sentence the Minister announced the policy of the Government. He said that they had sent to Geneva a letter suggesting a future Conference at an early date to inquire further into this subject.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Sir Montague Barlow)
I wish to avoid any misunderstanding. The right hon. Gentleman did not say that a letter had been sent, but that that was the course which the Government proposed to adopt.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I do not wish to read into it anything more than the words convey. The problem of a universal eight hours' day is of an international character. I would ask the House to observe at the start that, during the last seven years, a spirit of nationalism has been invoked in every country. During the War, as several writers have recently pointed out, it was necessary to improve the moral of each nation, and to improve the moral of each nation during the War the spirit of nationalism had to be invoked. I think it is generally realised that, where the narrow spirit of nationalism is inflamed and impassioned, the spirit of internationalism is placed on one side. All history tends to show that the narrow outlook of nationalism is incompatible with the wider outlook of an international spirit. If this Debate directs the attention of the Government and of the public to the large international question underlying the meetings which will take place at Geneva in the not distant future, it will serve a useful purpose. The whole spirit of these 2535 Conventions, and of the meetings which have taken place at Washington and which will take place in the near future, depends upon the hearty co-operation, not only of this country, but of every country in the world. I understand that at Washington the representatives of Germany sat side by side with the representatives of the British Government, and, if I am correctly informed, the German Government to-day have accepted the Convention regarding the eight hours' day.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Not yet? Then the question is still under the consideration of the German Government. I am glad to have that information, because I have been incorrectly informed upon that point. That leads me to this point. Is it possible for the British Government to invite Germany to join with this nation in the larger League of Nations? Has not the time arrived when the War spirit and the War outlook should be banished? Here is this nation conferring with Germany as to industrial conditions. This nation is anxious to improve her industrial position. Will not the very fact that there is, on the Continent of Europe, a nation which is debarred from council, and from sitting side by side with other nations, tend to depress the industrial conditions in Germany, and by that means lower the position of our workers in this country? Side by side with that there is the threat of armed occupation hanging over the German people, and, while that threat continues, there will always be, and there must be, a very definite weapon in the hands of every reactionary in Germany to depress still further the industrial conditions in this country.
Internationalism, whether in industrial matters or in other factors, depends upon the hearty co-operation of each country, and the plea I put in this afternoon, supported as I am by hon. Members associated with me on this side of the House, is that Germany should be invited into the League of Nations, and that the past should be buried. The wave of idealism, which spread over this country at the time of peace, to put past acts on one side, has spent its force, but the spirit which animated that wave exists to-day. My appeal is addressed to the Govern- 2536 ment, that they should invite the German nation to join the British nation, and endeavour to solve one of the most difficult problems which our statesmen will be required to face in the immediate future, namely, the industrial conditions and the hours of work in every country and in every town.
§ Mr. JAMES WILSON
I should not have risen in this Debate, after the very able and helpful speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes), if it had not been that I thought he failed somewhat to develop his point with regard to the reason urged by the Government as a justification for their having failed so far to ratify the international Eight Hours Agreement. The reason urged by the Government was that, owing to railway agreements of various kinds, it was impossible for the British Government to give effect to that part of the Convention without cutting across those agreements. I am at one with the right hon. Member for the Gorbals Division when he said that these agreements are no insuperable barrier towards giving effect to the terms of the Convention, but I think that, if the Government are to be urged to introduce legislation to remove such disabilities as there are, it is only reasonable that the Government should be told upon what lines the legislation ought to take place. I have said previously that, in my judgment, railway conditions offer no insuperable barrier if the Government, and, more important still, the country, is ready. The right hon. Member for Gorbals is, possibly, not so well informed as he ought to be, but it would be well to remind the House that there are hundreds and thousands of railwaymen in this country whose conditions, so far as hours and wages are concerned, are on all fours with the conditions of every other trade and industry in the country.
Take men who work in railway shops, and whose conditions are comparable with the conditions of men employed in outside engineering trades. There is no difference, so far as conditions of hours and wages are concerned, and railwaymen in shops have never asked, and are not entitled to ask, for any alteration or variation in the conditions of employment where conditions are comparable. But there is another type of railwayman, working under very peculiar conditions, 2537 and it is quite true that, so far as those men are Concerned, they have their 48 hours' week, and, in my judgment, are entitled to it, exclusively of any hours worked on Sunday. Where men are working under conditions comparable with general labour conditions, where they are employed in an occupation which is vitally necessary all the time to the commercial and social life of the country, they are entitled to be treated on all fours with every other class of working men; but if you are to call upon workmen to work upon a day when it is not customary to work, and to do work that is not vitally necessary to the economic and social welfare of the people, then those men are entitled to receive some special consideration for being called upon to work under those special circumstances.
Let me give a concrete illustration. We have, in London, a system of railways which is continually flowing underneath the streets, and which, from early on Monday morning till late on Saturday night, is vitally necessary to the social, commercial, and industrial life of this city. Industry and commerce could not be carried on without it. But on Sunday you have a totally different set of circumstances. You can do without these railway services on Sunday. It would be inconvenient, but they are not vitally necessary. I am sure nobody would welcome more than the London railwaymen a total cessation of those services on Sunday, and I am quite sure that the railway companies themselves have no desire to run those services on Sunday. If the people of London are ready for the cessation of those services on Sunday, then I should welcome legislation on the part of the Government to give effect to that desire. If the people of London are not ready, do not let us pay lip-service to something which cannot be given effect to. There are, however, people in the country generally who are willing to submit to the inconvenience upon the seventh day, and what applies to London applies to the country generally.
Take, for instance, Scotland. The train services there on Sunday are almost infinitesimal. If the people of England and Wales are prepared to follow Scottish custom on the seventh day there is no reason why they should not, and if they are so prepared then there is no question of railway conditions cutting across general labour conditions, and preventing 2538 the Government from giving effect to the terms of the Convention. If men are not called upon to work on Sunday then the need for special provision and special rates of pay no longer exists. It is because of that that I want to make it abundantly clear so far as the railway men and, I believe, also the railway companies are concerned, they would welcome legislation along these the lines I have indicated. If those concerned are prepared to interrupt the social life of London on Sunday—and undoubtedly there would be some inconvenience—no one would welcome railway cessation on the Sunday more than the railwaymen and, as I say, I believe the railway companies. That is the issue we have to face.
§ Mr. G. BARNES
Is there any reason why the man who works on Sunday to meet these requirements should not have a holiday on Saturday or Friday?
§ Mr. WILSON
Yes, there is, and a very special reason. There are hundreds and hundreds of trains run on Sunday in this country which would not be run were it not that the people insist upon them being run, and those concerned are entitled to spcial consideration. It would not meet the case to have a day off in the week when a man's associates were at work. The right hon. Gentleman knows only too well that a day off in the week which is not during the general rest period does not give that advantage to to the workman that he gets when that time of holiday is shared by his mates. For that reason a day off in the week in substitution for Sunday is no answer, and will not be accepted by the majority.
Those who have taken part to-day in this Debate have the sympathy of the whole House and the country in their very natural wish that in all these matters, which are closely allied to the idea of the League of Nations, we, as a country, should be continually in the van of progress. From what I heard from the Minister of Labour and from what we know of his past history I feel certain that we do well to entrust the position, so far as Labour is con-concerned, into his hands, with his practical knowledge—better than we could possibly do in following the advice in the speeches of some of those tremendous idealists, shall I say, who seize hold of an ideal and follow it absolutely regardless of what the 2539 bulk of the nation are thinking. There is no doubt in my mind that at the present moment the chief enemies by far of the general ideals connected with international organisation of Labour, or the League of Nations in its wider sense, are to be found in those people who thrust this idea down the throats of people not ready or prepared for it.
What my hon. Friend who has just sat down said is the real crux of the matter, and that is that at the present time we can only go as far as the people of the country are prepared to go; he, of course, spoke in relation to railway matters. The position the Government have laid down just now, it was pointed out quite clearly, is that we at any rate in Great Britain are a long way ahead of most other nations in these respects. Take the case of white phosphorus for matches, which was quoted. We had legislation on the lines now desired by the International Conference as far back as 1908. Take, again, the question of women's hours. Naturally, in common with every Member of the House, one realises the supreme importance, whatever the conditions of the hours of men may be, of the absolute essentiality for the future welfare of our nation that the conditions and hours of women should be the first regard of all Labour problems of the present time. This is more essential for the welfare of our country than almost any other factor. Here again, however, it has been shown fairly clearly that in comparison with other nations we are a long way ahead. Take, again, the third point which has just been dealt with at some considerable length, the question of an eight hours' day. We are leading in these matters all the time.
What I am afraid of in regard to these international conventions at the present time is that we will make an agreement in these matters and come back to follow them out, while other nations will not follow them out with anything like the same accuracy of detail, and that later the trade and industry of the country and the people who are engaged in these, the factories, the works, and the railways of this country, will find themselves handicapped in trading with other nations, and the net result will be a very great reaction against the whole of these ideals. That will be inevitable. That will hinder us. It will prevent us as a great nation leading in 2540 these movements. Instead of leading, as to-day, progress will be reversed: you will get a different Government in which will be reactionary in its policy instead of, as this Government is, progressive. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!" and "Hear, hear!"] I note those very considerable cheers from a miscellaneous body of Noble Lords and other people of varying types, and no settled policy—there will inevitably be in the end a most reactionary Government in that long distance perhaps, if they ever do get there—which I doubt! The point I was emphasising is that the best line to take up is to follow the Government absolutely and entirely, and give them our fullest possible support because they actually have carried out a great many of these conventions, and they have gone further than any other nation in the world. If we want one example of what has been done by the extreme section in endeavouring to go further than the people as a whole desire we have only to look at the unfortunate position of America in regard to the League of Nations.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has apparently undertaken the duty, the very useful and not unagreeable duty, of defending the Government, whatever they do and whatever they say, in all circumstances, and he has even gone so far as to suggest that any Government that could possibly succeed this Government would be sure to be more reactionary. I can conceive that whatever else is likely to happen, that is a thing which we need not seriously consider. The hon. and gallant Member said one thing with which I agree, and it is that you must not try and go too fast for fear of frightening back the people who are not prepared to go as fast as you wish. I am not here to recommend any violent course in this matter, nor do I want to go beyond that which I believe, on the whole, you may safely assume without being seriously in front of political opinion.
There is another danger, and it is that if you are always afraid of doing something, you will never do anything at all, and a Government with a large majority, more than any other, must be prepared to take risks and do things which for the moment are unpopular. My chief complaint of the present Government is that it does not seem to me to have realised 2541 that position. It is always watching to see what will be approved of by certain sections of opinion, and not guiding its course by what it thinks to be right, but by what will command the greatest number of votes at the by-elections. Let me come to the facts. I am not going to deal with this question in detail, and the Government cannot make their case any better by a recital of a number of recommendations which they have agreed to at Washington. There is no conceivable reason why they should not agree to them, because they had everything to gain and nothing to risk.
The real controversy arises around the Maternity Convention and the Hours Convention. As to the former, I am disposed to agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes), and I doubt whether the House would have pressed the Government to ratify it, and they are quite free in the matter, because their representative at the Washington Conference voted against it and thus gave a warning to all the other members of the Conference that this country was not prepared to accept the Maternity Convention. I should be as glad as anyone if the opportunity arose for us to go further in that direction. I quite understand the necessity of having a Convention in that matter. With regard to the Hours Convention, that is an entirely different position. In the Treaty of Versailles itself, it is laid down as one of the fundamental principles of labour legislation for the future that there shall be the adoption of an eight hours' day or a 48 hours' week as a standard to be aimed at where it has not already been attained, and also that there shall be the adoption of a weekly rest of at least 24 hours wherever practical.
It will be seen from this that the two principal Conventions were laid down in the Treaty of Versailles, and they were agreed to, not by the representatives of the workmen who attended the Washington Conference, but by the Prime Minister and the other plenipotentiaries who signed the Treaty of Versailles. Therefore this Convention stands in a very special position, and it is different from all the others. All the Conference at Washington had to do was to frame a Convention which would carry out those principles. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals was perfectly justified in saying that he went to Washing- 2542 ton with instructions to carry out this principle in a workable Convention if it could be done. He has told the House exactly what happened. I do not think anyone will accuse my right hon. Friend of being an unpractical theorist, but he saw practical difficulties in the way of carrying out the Hours Convention, and he put certain questions to the Government in reply to which they gave him certain instructions which he interpreted as direct instructions to enter into this Convention. That was the situation in November, 1919. The Convention had been agreed to previously at a conference by the British representatives. I should have thought that was a very strong case of moral obligation on this Government to ratify the Convention.
Just let me call the attention of the House to the whole idea of this Labour agreement which was signed at Versailles. The theory was this. Everybody desires that there should be an advance in labour conditions where economically practical. Everybody agrees that there is a great difficulty when one nation advances and not another, because it may put the advancing nation under a disadvantage in competition with the lesser advanced nation. The whole principle of this agreement was that you should arrange for a general advance all over the world. My hon. Friend suggested that every nation thought that their own was the only nation which fully carried out these conventions. I happened to put that point to a British official of the Labour Organisation, and he said that every nation thinks that they alone will carry out the convention and other people will not, and for his part he did not think the British were particularly good in this respect or particularly bad, and that other nations were just as good and just as ready in carrying out the international obligations entered into. Unless you have international agreements and attempt a joint advance, the only way is by solitary advance, in which case other nations will not be bound at all, and you will have to go forward knowing that it will be to your disadvantage, or, at any rate, that you will have no security that other nations are going forward at the same rate. Therefore, this system is chosen to meet the danger of which my hon. Friend is afraid, namely, that we should advance at a greater rate than 2543 other nations and so suffer in competition with them.
It is quite clear that if we are to have this system at all it will not do for us merely to accept Conventions which carry out legislation which we have already passed. That is absurd; that is heads we win and tails all the other nations lose. They are to level up to us, but we are never to level up to them. That is the policy which, as I understand, the Government recommends to this House. So far as I know, they have not ratified a single Convention which requires us to make a substantial change, but they expect other nations to ratify Conventions which do make a very considerable change in their labour conditions. If we are to get the other, and, as we like to call them, lesser advanced nations to come up to our standards and to level up to our conditions, then we must be prepared, if necessary, to make sacrifices in order to level up our standards to theirs. We cannot have it both ways. That is why I think it is very regrettable, having entered into this Convention, that the Government should now say that they are not prepared to ratify it. There might have been something to be said, in view of the special conditions of the railways, for instructing our representatives at Washington not to enter into this thing at all, and for saying that this Convention went too far and that we must not enter into it, but must reserve our full rights. That would have been a possible thing to do, but the Government did not do it, and, not having done it, then, as a matter of international good faith, or, at any rate, if we are to set a high standard in international conduct such as I wish my country to set in all these matters, it is their duty to ratify this Convention which they entered into formally and after consideration at Washington.
I have heard it stated that conditions have changed because America has not come into the League, but in November it was known that it was exceedingly doubtful whether America would come in. The Government entered into the convention with full knowledge of that fact, and their only duty is to ratify it. It is deplorable how often this Government falls into that kind of error They lay down a policy and make strong speeches 2544 and announce what they are going to do, and then, after a greater or lesser interval of time, we find that they have done exactly the opposite. It is fatal to their good name and to good administration. I venture particularly to press this on this occasion because the international labour situation is a very difficult one. My right hon. Friend knows better than most of use the great efforts which are being made by the extremists to combine in what is called the Third International, and, although that particular effort may fail, and I hope it will fail, yet it is only the extreme form of a dangerous movement. Everyone knows it and everyone feels alarmed at it, and it will make for a very serious situation, if not next year, then the year after, or at any rate within a few years. The theory on which that policy is recommended is that you cannot trust the old gang. All these Governments will promise you these things, and then deceive you. You cannot trust them The only way in which you will get real advance is by taking the law into your own hands. That is what is being preached, that is the great argument or great reason which is put forward for movements like the Third International.
Personally, I regard the League of Nations and all these subsidiary developments such as this Labour Organisation as the greatest answer to that point of view. I believe in it profoundly as the House knows, and I believe it to be worthy of support, particularly from those who are more afraid than I am of revolution. It is the great reply to that line of thought. Here is a constitutional means of development towards the very ideals which you hope to reach by revolution. We show you a way by which you can get peacefully and without disturbance that which you think you can only get by fighting. If you are really going to make that a success, if you are really going to put your back into the whole thing, League of Nations and labour organisations, then, I think, the answer is a good one, and that you will convince the working class that we can advance by peaceful development to a better state of things. If, however, they are led to believe that you are playing, that you are not in earnest, and that when you begin to touch the interests, as they call them, you will draw back, and particularly if I they believe that you make perorations 2545 and speeches praising these ideals without any real intention of carrying them out, then, indeed, so far from weakening the Third International and the cause of the extremists, you will strengthen them, and give them the greatest argument which they can ever hope to get in favour of their revolutionary plans.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman who preceded my Noble Friend did not see fit to stay and hear his speech. He belongs to that growing band who when they go to bed at night look under it to see if there be any Bolshevik or Sinn Feiner or other wild person threatening the foundations of the Empire. The argument of the Noble Lord is the most powerful which can be brought forward in this House to induce Members not to give the Government a clearance on this great question. Appeals to conscience and appeals to higher morality seem to get no echo from the other side. It is appeals to fear and to the most material self-interest that alone find response, and I ask hon. Members to consider this matter on that ground. The great movements represented on the right in politics in this country play entirely on fear, the fear of the great German-Russian international conspiracy, the fear that the Irish intend the overthrow of the British Empire, and all that sort of nonsense. On those very narrow lines the argument put forward by the Noble Lord are very powerful indeed. I cannot attempt to improve on it, and I will leave it where it is. I want to congratulate the Government on having now got down from their high horse of 27th May. Hon. Members will remember that on that occasion, when the House was very thin—much thinner than it is at this moment—the Attorney-General attempted to justify the contention that the Govern-men need not submit these Conventions for ratification by Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman's words were:Now, as I have already said, the authority which in this country is to ratify or not is the Crown, the Crown, of course, being advised by the Ministers of the Crown. What could be a more ridiculous waste of the time of this House than that a particular Convention or a particular part of a Convention should be brought before Parliament by way of legislative proposal when for good reasons the Ministers of the Crown had decided that it was not such as could be ratified? … If you are not going to ratify, what is the purpose of taking steps 2546 which have no meaning except as leading up to ratification.Here I am afraid I did a very wrong thing, I interrupted the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I do not want this jewel to be lost altogether. I said:It would give the House an opportunity of discussing it.The learned Attorney-General went on to say:I am not at all sure that it is necessary for a literal compliance with Article 405 to lay the Convention in every case before the House. But here all the Conventions have been laid before Parliament.These words I submit are very extraordinary—They were presented to Parliament by command of His Majesty last year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1921; col. 494, Vol. 142.]In other words a White Paper was submitted, and no time was given by the Leader of the House for its discussion. I say that is intolerable. I congratulate the Government on now having come down from their high horse in this matter. When the Minister for Labour this morning justified the Motion before the House I thought he presented a very pathetic figure. The right hon. Gentleman would make a very bad lawyer, because when he has a bad brief and knows it he cannot help showing it. He presented the spectacle of a man pleading for a brief which in his heart of hearts he could not approve. The Attorney-General I believe equally does not approve, but then he is a wonderful man and he was able to display great gusto in speaking to his brief. The Minister for Labour did not believe what he told us. He does not believe that this proposal of the Government is in the best interests of the country. But he feels too that he must make it. May I strengthen that better nature of his by one or two arguments. I still hope to entice him over into the proper home where he ought to be. I am sorry he ever strayed from it. It is very dangerous I think for us, of all people, to give other nations an excuse for not ratifying this Convention. Yesterday I questioned the President of the Board of Trade about a convention reached by the International Economic Council at Brussels in 1920, which recommended breaking down trade barriers. I asked him if the Bill to be discussed in the House that day (the Safeguarding of Industries Bill) could be justified, seeing that it was admitted by 2547 implications that it was in direct contradiction to the recommendations of the Supreme Economic Council The excuse given was that six or seven other countries had not carried out the Convention but had since put up their tariffs. Could not a similar excuse be given for a dereliction of duty by a man who drinks too much? Could he not make the excuse that the men around him also drank too much?
In international politics we ought not to make such excuses on behalf of the British Government. We ought not to say that because other nations do not carry out their obligations we need not do so. If we take that course, is it to be wondered at that other countries waiting upon us to ratify the Convention are taking our refusal to do so as a reason for following suit. I have no doubt most hon. Members have received the same communication as I have to-day from the League of Nations Union, in which it is stated that France, Germany, and Belgium are waiting upon us and are using or will use our failure to ratify as an excuse for not themselves ratifying the Convention. One of the matters which we in this House should have the greatest sympathy with at the present time is the struggle going on in France to secure the English week—the Saturday half-holiday. The French are not so advanced as us in that respect, and this Convention would have helped French workers to reach their idea in that particular direction. The use which is being made by French employers of the attitude of the British Government will not tend to improve relations between the French democracy and the English democracy. It is all very well for us to point to that flagrant example in Europe of the non-carrying out of international obligations by the Poles. It is all very well for us to throw stones at other people, when, forsooth, because it may be inconvenient for the Railway Union or for railway companies, we refuse to ratify the Eight Hours Convention. It is not sufficient to say that we have carried out half-a-dozen of these Conventions which have cost us no sacrifice. It will be immediately pointed out that directly we come to a Convention as to which there are difficulties we refuse to ratify it. It does not look well for us that, while we ratify Conventions which cost us very little in comparison with the 2548 sacrifice entailed on other countries, we are amongst the first not to carry out ratification when some sacrifice is called for on our part. Other nations are prepared to fall into line on this matter, and I very much regret that we should be among the first to break an international contract by refusing to ratify an agreement because it would entail some small sacrifice.
We are asked "Would you override the agreement come to by the Railwaymen's Union?" What a question that is! The very implication of these International Conventions is that they shall override domestic undertakings; otherwise what is the use of our trying to get, for example, the Japanese to meet us in an International Labour Convention to try and raise the standard of living of the Japanese employ és, if they can go back and say, "We have got certain labour laws here in Japan which we cannot override," or, "There are certain arrangements come to between the trade unions; and the employers here, and we must not interfere with them"? The whole thing would be reduced to an absolute farce, and those who think most deeply to-day about the great and lowering problem of the Pacific and know that it is based on the white man's fear on the Pacific slopes of undercutting by cheap Asiatic labour, and who see that the only possibility of avoiding an international upheaval in the Pacific is by raising the standard of living of the Asiatics who are threatening the white man's standard of living, see in this action of the Government's an attack on one of the greatest possible hopes for preventing another great war. Wars are not caused altogether by secret manœuvres and intrigues; they are caused as much by the rivalries and fears created by uneven standards of living among great peoples. There are those who think that the only way you can prevent wars is by arrangements of this sort, and it will be a bad day for our people if the House of Commons supports the Government to-day in this Motion. It is a big subject, and I only wish I could do it greater justice, but we have, on one day in the week, legislation brought in by the fear of the slave labour on the Continent and, the next day, an attempt by the Government to overthrow the Conventions that would help to raise that slave labour up and remove the fear. It is a case of fears of dumping one day and objections to 2549 removing the possible causes of dumping the next—broken pledges, wobbling politics. It can only have one end, and that will be the understanding at last by the people that no good can come out of this Government. I think I have said enough about the good nature of the right hon. Gentleman, and perhaps he will get out while there is yet time.
§ Mr. FILDES
Having listened to the Debate with all the intensity at my command, I cannot see that there is a very great difference between the Government's proposition and that contended for by hon. Members opposite, but I would like to have a really accurate idea of the situation. I understand the Government's position to be this, that they do agree to four out of six of these Conventions, that there is a fifth one, with regard to maternity, as to which there is a general consensus of opinion in the House that it would not be wise to ratify it; while in regard to the Eight Hours Convention, that is narrowed down to the point as to whether it is desirable at this time to ratify it. I think it has been revealed to us that at the time of the Armistice we were filled with ideas and ideals which, coming down to practical politics, we have not been able to fulfil. Take the housing question, for example. The housing shortage is largely the result of the direct policy of labour, the policy of the bricklayers to lay 250 bricks a day instead of 1,250 as before the War, and at four times the money.
§ Mr. FILDES
My point is that the labour costs of these things have gone up to such a high rate that it has been impossible to carry this eight hours day through. If we are going to say to the whole of the industries in this country that they shall only work 48 hours a week, at a time when we recognise that there is grave need for increased production, I think the Government's policy is far and away better, to call another meeting of this Convention, or Committee, and see if we cannot come to some arrangement with the other countries that will, at any rate, leave us a little more freedom. Take the cotton trade. I am as anxious as anybody in this House to see the hours of labour reduced, but, to go back to the War days, supposing a Zeppelin came over and destroyed the town of Burnley and wiped out 100,000 looms, our newspapers 2550 would have been filled with paragraphs stating that a great disaster had come upon the community, but as a matter of fact we have, by reducing the number of hours from 54 to 48, wiped out the output of 100,000 looms in Britain. I am not tying myself down to mere details, but on the broad lines of policy I say that the whole of this question of shortening hours is one that requires very careful consideration, and I think honestly that the Government are well advised, and that we should be well advised if, on the advice of the Government, we postpone the decision we take with regard to this matter.
§ Mr. FILDES
It has been established by the cotton trade in this country, but the wisdom of it at the moment is a thing, that might be debated and questioned. It is the fact that men work two shifts a day and go from one factory to another on the Continent, but I will let that pass and conclude my argument by saying this, that the America we have got to face commercially to-day is very different from the America of 1913. The financial position of America, of her labour organisations, the freedom from the conditions obtaining in some other countries—
§ Mr. FILDES
Yes, and the open shop, but you must remember that America is not a party to this Eight Hours' Convention.
§ Mr. FILDES
They are demanding it, perhaps, but they are not parties to this Eight Hours' Convention, and if we can bring America in, it is worth waiting for, and it will be certainly something achieved towards giving to the League of Nations that authority which has been sadly weakened, by America repudiating her bargain with regard to the League of Nations.
§ Mr. MYERS
I wish to tender my humble tribute and keen sense of appreciation of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes). At the back of his 2551 mind, in his enthusiasm on this question, is the idea that the provisions of these Conventions have for a long period received lip service, and certainly about the time of the Armistice the declarations that were made in respect to improvements in social and industrial conditions would get no more than their due if these Conventions were carried out. We are seeking to lift up the general social and industrial conditions in different parts of the world. For many of these conditions we in this country must be held responsible. Britain in the days before the Factory Acts, when long hours of labour were common and low wages prevailed, had the lead of the world in industrial conditions and set the standard upon which other countries have followed since that time. During the last 50 years or so the economic development of the world has been moving very rapidly and new countries have arisen in an industrial sense, and in many parts of the world British capital and labour are being employed in developing industries such as only existed in this country many years ago, and in these countries the same standard of conditions as prevailed here before the Factory Acts are at present in operation. In the discussions we have had this week on the Safeguarding of Industries Bill one Member after another has got up and deplored the competitive effect of goods coming from other countries, and time and again we have had the complaint of the wages paid to workers in this country as against the low standard accepted in other countries, and if the conditions could be balanced it would be better all round. But the idea behind the argument presented was that we should balance downwards and not upwards, and bring down the wages of the British worker, whereas these Conventions aim at adopting the same principle the other way round, and lifting up the conditions of labour in other parts of the world in these new industrial countries where severe competition is likely to be found in the future and where little is in operation in the direction of protective legislation similar to our Factory and Labour enactments. From the purely material aspect of self preservation and reducing the competitive effect of this low standard of conditions in other countries, it is up to us to adopt the provisions of these Con- 2552 ventions, which make for the removal of these conditions.
I desire to put the matter on the higher plane of its moral and humanitarian aspect. The outcome of the War has left this country a very undesirable legacy. These Conventions aim at effecting some limitation upon the use of child labour and night work among women. The well-being of this country is not likely to be built up by child labour or women working at night time, and whether it is these Conventions or any other proposal that seeks to restrict these activities, it is a move in the proper direction. The evidence that there has been some slackening in these matters is apparent. For a large number of years I was employed in an occupation where the employment of female labour was never even suggested, and if it had been it would have been turned down instantly by both employers and employed. I have sat round a table with the employers and I know their mind upon the matter. But owing to the exigencies of the War, female labour was brought into this industry and was used for a considerable length of time. I agree that since the Armistice female labour has been removed from many of these factories, but I was told only the other day of a factory in Yorkshire where female labour is still employed. What was produced by the exigencies of war-time necessity is now being recognised as a commonplace and a matter which can be pursued indefinitely. I use that illustration only to indicate the evidences that there are of a retrograde tendency even in these directions, and if these Conventions can do anything in the direction of removing the employment of women from undesirable occupations, preventing the night work of women, or restricting child labour, they are all to the good.
I desire to say a word in respect of the employment of women before and after childbirth, and the interpretation of these maternity clauses of the convention. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals ventured the suggestion that the condition surrounding maternity was better in some other countries than in this country, and the Leader of the House, in addition to the Minister of Labour, seemed to doubt that statement. Anyone who examines the facts that are available in respect to infantile mortality in those parts of the country where women are employed will 2553 admit the necessity of dealing with this matter. The maternity clauses of these conventions, it is true, deal only with a minority of the women of the country, and probably a comparatively small minority—those women who are compelled to work for their livelihood. The parts of the country where women are employed can easily be found, and the infantile death-rate can also be seen, and anyone investigating this question from that point of view will see the necessity for very definite action being taken. What are the conditions that prevail in this country? We prohibit the employment of women for a month after childbirth, and it is stipulated that that shall apply only to women employed in industrial occupations. In Italy and in Denmark a similar condition of things prevails, but whereas in Belgium similar conditions are applied, Belgium so far improves upon the conditions of this country that they stipulate that not only shall it apply to industrial occupations, but to occupations in which women are employed, of whatever type and character those occupations may be. From the volume written by Professor Etherington the right hon. Member for Gorbals could have quoted, in defence of his position, the statement that in South Africa the employment of women is prohibited four weeks before childbirth and eight weeks after, a period of twelve weeks. That is a substantial advance upon anything which prevails in this country. In some countries women are given the opportunity of having an optional resting period. At any time previous to con finement they can remain at home, and they have the right established by law that when they present a medical certificate at any time after confinement they can resume their occupation, and the employer has some measure of responsibility to take them on. We can investigate all the provisions around this problem of maternity in any civilised country in the world, and if we do so we are compelled to admit that this country has the minimum conditions prevailing. There is, therefore, room for substantial improvement.
With respect to the hours of labour, we had a meeting upstairs organised by the Parliamentary Committee of the League of Nations Union and addressed by Mr. Butler, the Acting Secretary-General at Washington, a gentleman who has a wide 2554 international experience. He discussed with us the various aspects of this question and dealt with the measure of acceptance that had been given to these conventions in different parts of the world. He answered the point which has been raised in this House to-day, and informed us that the eight-hour day was almost universal in Germany. One Member of the House asserted that there was not a single unemployed man in Germany who was willing to work, notwithstanding the adoption of the eight-hour day. He further stated that in Japan, probably Britain's greatest competitor in the future, there was an inclination to adopt the Convention so far as hours of labour are concerned. I understand that the only Factory Act in operation in Japan is one which imposes a maximum working day of 13 hours for women and children. Mr. Butler told the meeting that Japan was willing to accept the provisions of this Convention, in respect of the eight-hour day if they believed that it would be accepted in this country. In the Memorandum which has been sent to us from the League of Nations Union a declaration is made that not only in France, but in Belgium they are looking to this country to ratify the Convention upon these lines. All the objectionable features which were instituted in the early days of the factory system in this country are being copied by other countries. If we set an example, in the downward direction, then we are now entitled to encourage the upward tendency towards improvement in these directions. I agree with the right hon. Member for Gorbals that Great Britain has a moral obligation in this respect. I believe also that Great Britain has a material advantage to gain if she is prepared to lead the world in this matter. If the Government decline to accept this responsibility, and after having put their name to these conventions they decline to institute the provisions which the Convention sets forth, we are left to the only inference which is available, and that is that these declarations have been no more than specious promises to the people which the Government do not intend to carry out, or that they have been nothing more than the enthusiasm and the intoxication of spirit following upon a. military victory.
I had another engagement which I contracted some time ago and which I could not abandon, and therefore I have not heard the whole of the Debate, but I have heard sufficient to entitle me to take part, not, I hope, without serving some useful purpose. I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes) and I was glad that he thought the Government was a better Government to-day than it appeared a month ago Perhaps that testimony was a little grudging, but I am always glad of the approbation of my right hon. Friend, and I accept it without inquiring too closely into the limits which he places upon it. I think that my right hon. Friend and other speakers would have been less impatient and less critical of the Government if they had really appreciated our attitude in this matter. There are certain hon. Members who have got it into their minds that it is the purpose and intention of the British Government to wreck the League of Nations to which they are a party, or to render futile the Labour Organisation set up by the League. That is not so either in one respect or in the other. We signed the document instituting the League of Nations with as much hope and with as firm an intention to make the best of it as any of my hon. Friends would desire. If we have been in some respects disappointed, if we feel that the League as now constituted is not the League which we then contemplated, and that the absence from the League and from the Labour Convention of nations whom we expected to play a primary part in the gatherings of the League makes an alteration in the situation, surely that is nothing more than everyone expected. It is a change for which neither this Government nor this country were responsible, and a change which neither this Government nor this country can afford to ignore. I ask those right hon. Members and hon. Members who have that lurking suspicion, to get out of their mind, if they can, and if they place any faith in my word, the idea that we are surreptitiously and in an underhand manner trying to destroy the value of the signature which we placed upon an international document. That is not the case, and there is no foundation for it.
2556 With that preliminary observation, I come to the particular subject of discussion to-day. The complaint of my right hon. Friend was that the Government were arrogating too much credit to themselves. My right hon. Friend has entirely misinterpreted and misunderstood the speech of the Minister of Labour. My right hon. Friend recounted facts which nobody disputes. He says that those facts are not the result of any acts of ours, that we are not entitled to any credit for them. So be it. We do not want any credit which is not due to us. We are very little concerned in a matter of this importance with the credit of the Government except as it affects the policy and the credit of the nation. We are not making that kind of claim against which my right hon. Friend protests.
There are six Recommendations and six Conventions. Roughly speaking, five and a half of the Recommendations and four of the Declarations have long been the law and practice in this country. It is satisfactory that the acceptance of those Recommendations and the ratification of those Conventions is merely the recognition, and interpretation perhaps, in the form of an international document, of our established law and practice. Is it a discredit that we, as the greatest industrial nation, or one of the greatest industrial nations, in the world, should have led the way in a reasonable limitation of the hours of work and in the protection of those engaged in industrial occupation? That has not been the work of one party only. It has been the common task of the State and of all classes in the State, and it is a matter of satisfaction to see that other nations are now in this respect bringing their legislation and practice into something like that which we have adopted all along without any reciprocal obligations and in spite of the disability to which it put our workers and their employers.
§ Mr. BARNES
It is a great advantage of the Labour Organisation that it has helped us by helping other people.
That brings me to the point which I wish to make now. My right hon. Friend was a prime mover in the establishment of this great organisation. His hope and the hope of those foreign statesmen, and in particular of those representatives of foreign labour who co-operated most closely and effectively 2557 with him, was that instead of single nations proceeding alone to the detriment of their nationals in world competition, the world should advance in line. Has that hope been fulfilled? Can it be fulfilled as long as the constitution of the League of Nations—as regards the nations who adhere to it—and the constitution of the Labour Conference are what they are now? The point was foreseen by spokesmen in Paris when the International Labour Organisation was brought to birth. It was expressly recognised at that time by one of the foremost collaborators with my right hon. Friend that it was impossible for an international conference, from which some of the greatest industrial nations were absent, to legislate for the workers of the nations who were present. It was foreseen that for the moment certain nations would be absent. Germany was not immediately available, and Russia was not in a position to take her place. Did my right hon. Friend, who worked wholeheartedly and with great success in the formation of this organisation, contemplate that America would stand outside? What would then be the meaning of "advancing in line?"
If my right hon. Friend will allow me take my argument in stages, I will try to deal with his argument. I am dealing with the constitution of the International Labour Organisation, its authority, its effectiveness, and the power of applying its decrees as long as it is not fully representative, I will not say of the world, but of the industrial nations of the world. In this discussion to which I was alluding one of the most earnest collaborators with my right hon. Friend pointed out that in the absence of these powers—he was not thinking of America; he was not contemplating the exclusion of America; he was thinking only of Germany and Russia—our legislation would be inefficacious, because it would not apply to all the great industrial countries. I agree that it was a great beneficent, magnificent conception that the industrial advance of the world should be checked by no national boundary, that the world should advance in line in an endeavour to secure an improvement in industrial conditions 2558 of the population. The very reason why my right hon. Friend and his fellow workers sought to create such an organisation was that that advance had been checked in the most advanced countries by other countries lagging behind, standing out, and taking advantage of every advance made by the countries which had advanced in order to increase competition with them and diminish their trade. To our great and profound regret America, one of the greatest industrial nations in the world, is no party to this body, is no party to the Convention which met at Washington. That is a fact of which we must all take account. It goes to the very root of the purpose which my right hon. Friend sought to serve, and which we would serve as gladly as he. [Interruption.] My Noble Friend (Lord R. Cecil) never allows me to proceed with an argument without interruptions, which are audible whether they are intended or not. If he wants to interrupt, I wish he would do it openly.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Certainly. My right hon. Friend is really extraordinarily sensitive if one cannot say "No" when disagreeing with a statement. It is an old Parliamentary practice. I intended no discourtesy, as I am sure he would be the first to admit. What I meant by saying "No" was that it was quite untrue in my judgment to state that the utility of the labour organisation has been destroyed by the absence of one country. It is quite untrue. There is not as great an advance as there would be if all the countries were in, but it is very great indeed if all advance except one country, and you will be in a better position than if the countries advanced separately. Apart from that, these Conventions were entered into in November, 1919, when it was notorious that the adhesion of America was extremely unlikely.
Now I know what was my Noble Friend's contradiction. He is contradicting a statement which I did not make. I did not say that the whole organisation was useless because one of the greatest industrial nations had abstained. But I did say that the abstention of that great industrial nation was, for the time for which it lasted, an insuperable barrier to the realisation of the hope and ideal which 2559 inspired the right hon. Member for Gorbals when he secured the organisation, and that it prevented the world advancing on a level front. I do not think my Noble Friend would deny that. Then my Noble Friend referred to the telegram sent to the right hon. Member for Gorbals. He referred to the instructions.
He referred to the fact that the Convention was made at a time when it was known that America would stand out. I do not want to enter into controversy on the subject. I think the Noble Lord agreed with the right hon. Member for Gorbals that the instructions that were given to the right hon. Member for his conduct in Washington placed a moral obligation on the Government to ratify this Hours of Labour Convention irrespective of the absence of America. That, at any rate, is the plea of my right hon. Friend, and I think that much of his criticism of the Government arises from the fact that he thinks that, as the representative of the Government in Washington, he was instructed to do something which the Government, now that the time for correlative action has come, has repudiated, and that that has placed him and his country in a false position. There are great objections to a representative of the Government at any of these conferences reading or professing to read from documents which nave not been published, whether they are international documents or the confidential instructions of his Government to him. It is a little difficult to deal with these matters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals, without consulting the Government, without consulting Allied nations, can quote from an international document what he pleases, and is not bound to produce it. He can quote from his instructions what he pleases, and he is not bound to produce them. It is unusual, but it is possible, and that is the course which my right hon. Friend has taken. If I quote from any document I must produce it. I cannot produce international documents without the consent of other nations who are parties to them. But I can say something about the instructions 2560 which the right hon. Member received. This was not a telegram sent as a happy thought by a Cabinet who, having nothing else to do, said, "Cannot we send some kind of message to our old Friend and colleague to cheer him in his work and help him on his way?" It was the answer to a telegram which the right hon. Gentleman sent to us.
§ 4.0 P.M.
What was the question my right hon. Friend put to us in respect of this particular matter and to which the phrase he has quoted was an answer? My right hon. Friend explained that difficulties had arisen and that there was some controversy in the Conference as between an eight-hours' day and a 48-hours' week, and the Government replied that we were without qualification in favour of the 48-hours' week. It had no-such implication as my right hon. Friend now seeks to put upon it. The question that was put was, whether we were to have an eight-hours' day or a 48-hours' week, and as between those two we were in favour, without qualification, of the 48-hours' week, because the eight-hours' day is not applicable to a country where the Saturday half-holiday has become an established custom in almost every trade. I think there is very grave inconvenience in quoting from confidential instructions, but I think the inconvenience is of greater gravity when the gentleman who quotes them is misunderstood and when two years after the event he reads the instructions without reference to the question on which he had asked to be instructed.
§ Mr. BARNES
I am very sorry if I have laid myself open to any rebuke by the right hon. Gentleman, and the last thing in the world I should think of doing would be to read anything which is not proper. I fail to see where the right hon. Gentleman has in any way contradicted what I said. What he has just now stated is exactly what I put to the House. The words "without qualification" were to be read with common sense. If they had been read without qualification it would have meant lugging the railway-men in by the lugs in favour of 48 hours without qualification. I read it to read that the Convention had to be framed in such a way as to fit in with our conditions, having regard to the Saturday half-holiday. That was done.
There was a much smaller House when my right hon. Friend spoke. I am within the recollection of those who were present. The implication of my right hon. Friend's speech was that the Government had directed him to agree to a 48 hours' week without qualification, and that we were debarred from addressing to the House the argument which the Minister of Labour subsequently addressed, that an unqualified 48 hours' week was unsuitable. Whether I misunderstood him or not—and if I did I am glad I misunderstood him, because then the difference between us will be less—the answer sent to him, and the words he quoted as to the preference of the Government or as to the Government being in favour of a 48 hours' week without qualification, was an answer directly to the question: Is it to be an eight hours' day or a 48 hours' week? and to no other question.
Well, I misunderstood my right hon. Friend and I apologise to him for having misunderstood him, but it is vital that the House should see—and I am glad that my right hon. Friend confirms me in it—that the instructions which he received were not instructions to agree to a 48 hours' week without qualification, but to support a 48 hours' week as against an eight hours' day. There is a much larger—
§ Mr. BARNES
May I again interrupt the right hon. Gentleman and remind him that is just what I said, and, further, that the Government were committed to the principle of an eight hours' day before I went to Washington, having made agreements with employers and workmen on that basis?
I do not want to magnify any difference that exists between my right hon. Friend and myself. It is much less than I thought it was. That being so, I submit to the House that the particular instructions—sent out by the Government to him, and read by him, are not germane to the issue which is raised to-day. That issue is, whether we are to ratify a 48 hours convention which is incompatible with the existing conditions arrived at by voluntary arrangement in some of the important industries in this country. In that same telegram we expressed our complete 2562 sympathy with the proposal for reasonable limits on overtime, but we went on to inform my right hon. Friend that we could only agree to any proposal that was made, subject to reconsideration at Geneva after examination of it, in relation to ourselves and subject to the scheduling of certain industries for exemption, which might very probably be found necessary. We added one further word of caution, which I venture to bring to the notice of the House. We said exceptions might have to be made in regard to the transitional period of reconstruction—the difficult and fateful period of reconstruction, following upon the debts and expenditure incurred during the War. What is the position? We have really been in the forefront of industrial legislation for the protection of the health of our industrial community, and for the promotion of good conditions of life for those engaged in industry. Our workmen's organisations are, I think, the strongest and most comprehensive that exist in any country in the world. There is no country, as far as I know—no great industrial country—where workmen's organisations have anything like the comprehensiveness or the strength of our trade unions. There is no country in the world where their rights are more established, safeguarded, and protected, alike by custom and by legislation. It cannot be said that workmen in our country are less advantageously placed for making agreements with their employers than are workmen in any other great industrial country. On the contrary, they are in a better and stronger position. I am certain that every member of a trade union will recognise that that is so. This Convention cuts right across, and would destroy, a voluntary agreement between one of the strongest unions in the country and their employers.
We are still in the midst of that difficult and painful transitional period of which I have spoken. To free industry from the control which became necessary during the War—and a little control leads to more control, and so the thing goes on—to free industry from that control, and to restore its financial position, has been one of the problems that this House and the Government, and the parties outside, have been trying, with a varying measure of success, to solve in the anxious and difficult months through which we have been passing. We 2563 are not at the end of our difficulties. Heaven knows how great those troubles have been under the prodigious industrial dislocation to which that problem led! In face of, and in the midst of, all these difficulties, my right hon. Friend, carried away by an enthusiasm which I admire, by ideals which I profoundly respect, gravely advises the Government to break the agreement made by the railwaymen and the railway directors, to legislate over their heads, to upset that agreement, and to substitute something else. It is a risk which we cannot take. When employers and employed have come together in these difficult times, let us thank Heaven for the reason that is shown on both sides, and let us be grateful to them for having saved the country much dislocation, suffering, and misery. Let us be careful, now that that happy result has been obtained, lest we disturb it and throw the whole thing into the melting pot. I venture to submit to the House that that is a course from which my right hon. Friend himself would shrink if he had the whole responsibility of government.
I submit to the House two things. The first is that the accomplishment of all our hopes and ideals is not possible as long as some of the greatest nations of the world, and especially some of the greatest industrial nations, take no part in these Conferences, are no parties to their decisions, and do not act with us in the general endeavour. I submit, in the second place, that in super-legislation of this type the proposals must be made elastic if they are to be successful. We know how difficult it is to legislate in this country for the varying conditions of industry in this country alone. It is incomparably more difficult to legislate in a world assembly for the manifold conditions of all the nations of the world. If the Labour Conference makes its proposals too rigid, they must inevitably fail to secure acceptance, not because men are unwilling to conform to the general purpose which they have in mind, but because such a rigid and inelastic scheme would destroy the progress already obtained and throws us back into a welter of chaos and dissension from which it must be the business of the individual legislators of the country affected to save their nation.
There is only one other matter, I think, with which I need deal. My right hon. 2564 Friend referred to the Maternity Contention. In the course of his observations about it he said there were many nations which had gone further than ourselves in this matter. I ventured to interrupt him with a question, because my information—and I have been endeavouring to inform myself on these matters—is different from his, and I wanted to check it. He mentioned Greece and a Scandinavian country as examples. My information is that our legislation has gone further in this matter than that of any country, with the possible exception of one of our Dominions and part of another. I cannot find that there is anything comparable to our legislation in Greece or in any Scandinavian country. In Norway and in Sweden, so far as I know, there is nothing at present.
§ Viscountess ASTOR
I am not quite certain, but I think that, with regard to women in industry before and after child-birth, you will find some of the countries are more advanced than we are on that one point.
I have made inquiries since my right hon. Friend and hon. Friend spoke, and I am informed that they are mistaken—that there is nothing comparable to the maternity benefit given in this country in any country in Europe, or indeed anywhere, with the possible exception of one of our Dominions and part of another of our Dominions. If my right hon. Friend persuades other countries to come up to our standard, we will go forward with him in the endeavour to secure agreement with other countries, which have reached our standard, for still further progress. But if his policy is to be effective, if his hopes are to be realised, it is no use starting to ratify Conventions with one exception in one country, another exception in another country and a clause in a third which enables you to accept anything. That way there will be no progress, but a hollow appearance of assent which covers an infinite difference of opinion. We must have these Conventions drawn with sufficient wisdom, with sufficient moderation, with sufficient patience, and with sufficient elasticity to enable them to be readjusted to the varied conditions of the different countries, and we must seek to secure, as members of the organisation, and as parties to the legislation involved, other great industrial nations who are at present no party to the Conference.
Mr. J. JONES
I very much regret that I cannot speak with the same amount of international knowledge upon this subject as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. But I suggest that whenever trade unions appoint a delegate to represent them at a conference they, to a large extent, accept responsibility for the action of those who represent them. If we are going to tie them down definitely to preconceived notions of their duty we should at least be honest before we send them as delegates and tell them what they have to do. In this case the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Barnes) has been used as a sort of industrial commercial traveller, to collect orders for the Government, and to justify the policy of the Government when the General Election took place, and later to say the goods were not going to be delivered. We are now told that the right hon. Gentleman did not understand his job, and that telegrams passed between the Government and its representatives telling them what they ought to have done. Now the two right hon. Gentlemen misunderstand each other. When thieves fall out honest men come by their own.
Certainly, I am glad. Show me your country, and I will tell you what you are. What are we being asked this afternoon to believe by the Leader of the House? We are told that England stands at the head of the countries in the matter of industrial legislation, that 85 per cent. of the matters contained in the Washington Convention are already realised, that we have taken that risk in the past, and that all the other countries are behind us. I suggest that the trade unions of the country can claim a great deal of credit, both from a legislative and industrial point of view, both in the matter of Acts of Parliament and voluntary agreements, for the camparatively favourable—in various respects—industrial position of the workers of this country.
Yet this country, which took 85 per cent. of the risks when other countries would not touch this matter with a 40-foot pole, is not prepared to 2566 undertake the other 15 per cent. With all due deference to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who seem to forget their policies when they hold office—and the longer they hold office the more they forget—I suggest that the eight hours' day or the 48 hours' week is not a matter on which you can argue as to whether one method is better than another. I suggest to the Minister for Labour that whenever we make agreements with employers we always have in those agreements a clause which provides that where conditions are better than the agreement immediately entered into, those conditions shall continue to be observed. Is there any great difficulty when we have great international conferences with similar clauses that the same thing should not apply, and that in any country where better conditions already prevail they should not be nullified by any new legislation? This quibble we have had this afternoon, that because other countries would not come up to our level we must stay where we are, will not stand serious examination. I wish the Government would adopt that procedure regarding Ulster. Unfortunately our case is here.
I was one of those who during the War ran some risk in standing up for the Allies against the Central Powers, along with a large number of my colleagues. One of the arguments we used effectively on the platforms amongst our fellow trade unionists was that we hoped the result of the War would be to introduce better conditions of labour, the breaking down of barriers between the countries, and the establishment of something like fairer economic conditions than previously prevailed. This has been the very first step. Our justification has been the Labour Convention, and what do we find? We are told that England stands at the head of the world in the matter of maternity benefit and the matter of arranging for maternity, but really, is our position in this matter anything of which we can boast? We are allowing a paltry few shillings to enable a woman to escape from the terrible circumstances prevailing at this particular time. I belong to the General Workers' organisation, and we know what all this means. The woman is compelled to remain away from her work for a certain period, and during that time she gets a few paltry shillings, and frequently gets into debt. It appears to me that the only crime against the work- 2567 ing classes which is alleged by this kind of argument is that they have not been sufficiently careful in choosing their parents, or they would have been better off. To the woman who has received this £2 or £3, which she may get through some organisation or from the State, is it any consolation to tell her that she would be better off if she lived in Japan? She does not want to go to Japan, and not even to Mesopotamia.
The instances of other countries which have been quoted where the circumstances are equal to our own are poor countries as compared with ours, and they are less able to bear their burdens and responsibilities. We say that the throwing over of all these regulations is a confession of failure, and you are demonstrating not that you are going to make this country fit for heroes to live in, but that they will have to be heroes if they want to get a living in it. We want all these conventions in order to produce a healthier race, and if you are looking forward to the possibility of a brighter future you should be prepared to enter into these international relations. With regard to what has been said about America, the resolutions passed by the Americans ask for far more than we are asking in the matter of the reduction of hours. Their wages are higher than ours, and they are also asking for the 44-hour week. Why, then, should we quibble about 48 hours? The method of administration may be different, but the principle cannot be contended against.
I suggest that the Government have simply done what we have charged them with all along. They dressed the windows in 1918 and held out great hopes to the people. They told the people, "If you win this great victory you will never go back to your previous conditions because you are going to have a better England." Now we find all that is a lot of Dead Sea fruit, and none of these promises have been carried out. I hope that every hon. Member of this House who is true to his election pledges and who stood on the platform supporting the new England and the policy embodied in those professions, will to-day vote against the Government, and show that we are going to be honourable in regard to our international agreements.
I wonder if hon. Members will be prepared to reject other parts of our 2568 Treaties. Would they be prepared to reject the Treaty of Versailles in the same way? Are hon. Members ready to promise that they are going to review the whole peace situation again and the Versailles Treaty. Why is the Labour part of that Treaty to be the only one which is to be reviewed. The Prime Minister has already told us that every particle in the bond must be carried out when it is viewed from another point of view. Why is that to be stuck to and the other part rejected? Why is it that the only part to be thrown overboard is that part which affects Labour? I want hon. Members to go down to their constituencies and to tell us why. We stand by the Labour part, the best part, the only part that justifies the Treaty, and now we are told that this part, which gives a message of hope to the poor downtrodden and which opens up the opportunity of a great international social advance, is to be repudiated and that all the rest is to stick. We are to use horse, foot, and artillery, battleships and aeroplanes to inflict the bond of the Treaty upon others who are parties to it, and, if we insist upon Germany keeping her part of it, we must insist upon the Government keeping their part of it.
May I appeal to the House? I have just learned that our proceedings are to be interrupted presently by a Royal Commission, and, if the House wants to divide, we must vote early.
§ Major HILLS
I do not think that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman ought to be allowed to be passed over. If it represents the policy of the Government, it means the withdrawal of Great Britain from all international labour Regulations. I believe that the case of my right hon. Friend below me (Mr. Barnes) is absolutely right. All the facts that have been now stated, 18 months afterwards, were in the Government's mind at the time that they instructed him. First of all, they knew that America was not in; and they knew that the eight hours' arrangement with the railwaymen had been made. My point, however, is much wider. My right hon. Friend said that unless we get America to come in we can do nothing at all.
§ Major HILLS
The whole effect of that speech, when: it is read to-morrow, will be to create, the impression that unless other nations come in it is impossible to make any advance. Do I overstate it?
§ Major HILLS
I listened, so far as my poor powers allowed me, and I am in the recollection of the House. Hon. Members will bear me out that the right hon. Gentleman made a great point of the difficulty of advancing, or of doing anything, and especially of ratifying this Convention, owing to the fact that not only Germany and Russia but also America were standing out. He went on to use these very words:You cannot legislate in a World Convention, and to do so is to destroy progress and to produce a welter of chaos.
My hon. and gallant Friend has either got my words wrongly, or taken them down without intervening words, and is placing upon them an interpretation, which, if he reads my speech to-morrow, he will find they do not bear.
§ Major HILLS
Are we to understand that we, who in the past, when all the rest of the world has stood back, have led and have carried the flag, are to do nothing just because a few countries are standing out? If so, the sooner we withdraw from the International Labour Organisation and bring back our representatives from Geneva the better. The case which he made was that if you cannot advance unless you advance in line. We advanced singly for many years, and we must go on; we cannot afford to keep
§ still. I do not want to dogmatise or to claim greater knowledge than other hon. Members, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman, as one who for years has been in this movement, that his speech will have the most disastrous effect on the whole international situation. It means far more than the turning down of this Convention. It may be right or it may be wrong to do that—I have not time to argue it—but the whole basis of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was that unless we can get complete agreement we can do nothing.
§ Major HILLS
It is too serious a question for misrepresentation. When the right hon. Gentleman uses the expression "advancing in line," when he complains of the action of other industrial countries, will he allow me to say the only implication is that he does not mean that this country shall move. Are we to regard what he has said as a reason or an excuse? Just think what would have happened if during the last fifty years we had acted in that way. It would have been quite disastrous. I do hope my right hon. Friend will see, will read and will observe the effect of what I am saying. If I have misunderstood him, as I hope I have, I trust the correct explanation will be forthcoming.
That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government respecting the several Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labour Conference at Washington in November, 1919.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 164; Noes, 53.2571
|Division No. 220.]||AYES.||[4.40 p.m.|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral Thomas B. S.||Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Falcon, Captain Michael|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray|
|Allen, Lieut.-Col. Sir William James||Burdon, Colonel Rowland||Farquharson, Major A. C.|
|Amery, Leopold C. M. S.||Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Carr, W. Theodore||Flannery, Sir James Fortescue|
|Armstrong, Henry Bruce||Cautley, Henry Strother||Ford, Patrick Johnston|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm. W.)||Forestier-Walker, L.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Child, Brigadier-General Sir Hill||Forrest, Walter|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Coats, Sir Stuart||Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Cobb, Sir Cyrll||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Cope, Major William||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)||Gilbert, James Daniel|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John|
|Barrie, Charles Coupar (Banff)||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Goff, Sir R. Park|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Goulding, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward A.|
|Blair, Sir Reginald||Davies, Sir David Sanders (Denblgh)||Grayson, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Henry|
|Bowles, Colonel H. F.||Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)|
|Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.||Dean, Commander P. T.||Greenwood, Colonel Sir Hamar|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Denniss, Edmund R. B. (Oldham)||Greig, Colonel Sir James William|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Elliott, Lt.-Col. Sir G. (Islington, W.)||Gretton, Colonel John|
|Brown, T: W. (Down, North)||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Hall, Rr-Adml Sir W.(Liv'p'l,W.D'by)|
|Bruton, Sir James||Evans, Ernest||Hamilton, Major C. G. C.|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Harris, Sir Henry Percy||Mitchell, Sir William Lane||Seager, Sir William|
|Haslam, Lewis||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S)||Morison, Rt. Hon. Thomas Brash||Stevens, Marshall|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Morris, Richard||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Morrison, Hugh||Sueter, Real-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Hopkins, John W. W.||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Sugden, W. H.|
|Horne, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Surtees, Brigadier-General H. C.|
|Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Murray, Hon. Gideon (St. Rollox)||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.||Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||Neal, Arthur||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Jodrell, Neville Paul||Parker, James||Townley, Maximilian G.|
|Johnstone, Joseph||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Jones. J. T. (Carmarchen. Llanelly)||Peel, Col. Hn. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)||Ward, William Dudley (Southampton)|
|Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Percy, Charles (Tynemouth)||Waring, Major Walter|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Perkins, Walter Frank||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Lindsay, William Arthur||Perring, William George||Williams, C. (Tavistock)|
|Lister, Sir R. Ashton||Philipps, Sir Owen C. (Chester, City)||Wilson, Capt. A. S. (Holderness)|
|Lloyd-Greame, Sir P.||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Wise, Frederick|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Lorden, John William||Pratt, John William||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Prescott, Major W. H.||Wood, Major Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Lynn, R. J.||Purchase, H. G.||Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward|
|Mackinder, Sir H. J. (Camiachle)||Ramsden, G. T.||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|McLaren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel||Young, Sir Frederick W. (Swindon)|
|McMicking, Major Gilbert||Reid, D. D.||Younger, Sir George|
|Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Royden, Sir Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.|
|Maddocks, Henry||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Norwood)||McCurdy.|
|Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur|
|Astor, Viscountess||Hanna, George Boyle||O'Grady, James|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hayward, Evan||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Hinds, John||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Bell, James (Lancaster, Ormskirk)||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Hurd, Percy A.||Redmond, Captain William Archer|
|Briant, Frank||Irving, Dan||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Smithers, Sir Alfred W.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)||Spencer, George A.|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Kennedy, Thomas||Swan, J. E.|
|Davies, Major D. (Montgomery)||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Devlin, Joseph||Kiley, James Daniel||Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.|
|Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)||Lawson, John James||Wignall, James|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Macdonald, Rt. Hon. John Murray||Wilson, James (Dudley)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Mills, John Edmund||Winterton, Earl|
|Glyn, Major Ralph||Mosley, Oswald||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Myers, Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Mr. G. Barnes and Major Hills.|
Lords Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government respecting the several Conventions and Recommendations or the International Labour Conference at Washington in November, 1919.