HC Deb 09 April 1925 vol 182 cc2475-560

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."


I was about to urge the Home Secretary not to allow the question of anthrax to drop. I hope he will not adopt the attitude of waiting for something to turn up, but that he will again call delegates together from the Dominions in order to find out, first of all, whether a settlement within the Empire is possible, and then raise the whole issue at Geneva. I appreciate that it is very difficult to secure the co-operation of other countries in regard to this matter, when we are not united within the Empire itself.

Of the last two points to which I wish to draw attention, one relates to emigration. I understand that this country was placed in a very awkward position some time ago by the fact that the Italian Government called together a conference of several States to deal with emigration. I would urge the point that whenever His Majesty's Government receives an invitation from any foreign Government in connection with a conference on emigration, that foreign Government shall be informed that emigration is a subject which ought to be dealt with by the International Labour Organisation, and ought not to be taken up by a separate Government.

During the last few weeks, in fact almost every week during the past year, we have had debates in this House as to sweated goods and tariffs, and the menace to our industries because people are working long hours for very low wages on the Continent and elsewhere. It does seem to me that in the discussions regarding Free Trade and tariffs and sweated goods, there is only one way out, and that is to so arrange the conditions of labour throughout the world that they will be standardised as far as possible, and that having standardised them we shall then proceed to find out whether further reforms are possible in this or that country. I would suggest that people who are criticising the International Labour Organisation would remember one thing above all others, and that is that wars and disputes between nations in the past have arisen because of the economic problems to which I have referred, because there is competition for markets between the several States. I came to the conclusion long ago that whatever fault this International Labour Organisation may have, and I have criticised it myself, up to now it is the only means available whereby governments can meet together and discuss these awkward questions, and where they may be settled. I would appeal, finally, that when the delegates go to Geneva they shall not be tied hand and foot to the British policy only. There is only one way to secure international agreement, and that is by compromise between all the nations who attend the Conference.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)

It would be convenient if I give the honourable Member the information for which he asks in regard to those matters which affect my Department. In regard to what he says as to the Delegates to the International Labour Office, I think that would be better left to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. The hon. Member will realise that while there are various shades of red and pink in the Labour and Socialist parties, so there may be different shades of blue in the Government. I think it is desirable that there should be different shades both on the Socialist side of the House and on our side of the House. I do not propose to be drawn into criticism or defence of the International Labour Office, which appertains rightly to the department of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. He is responsible, and he or his Department will be sending Delegates to the forthcoming Conference.

I will do my best to reply to the hon. Member's courteous inquiries in regard to several conventions which he has mentioned. With regard to the White Lead Convention proposals, there has been very great difficulty. I am not sure whether he will be pleased with the information which I am going to give. There are two schools of thought; one which wants to prohibit the use of white lead, and the other which wants to regulate the use of white lead. No one regrets more than I do the very grave figures which the hon. Gentleman quoted as to the cases and deaths that have arisen during the last three years from white lead poisoning. It is a matter to which any Government must pay the utmost attention and do their best to deal with it, having regard to the possibilities of legislation.

In regard to white lead, there are great difficulties in getting a prohibition Bill through. I have come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to proceed as far as we can, and then, if what we propose to do does not prove satisfactory, we can come again to the House of Commons for further powers. That being so, I hope to bring in directly after Easter a Bill, which I have already in draft, to enable me to make Regulations dealing with the use of white lead paint. It is, perhaps, not usual to quote the contents of a draft Bill, but I can go so far as to say that arrangements, amounting almost to an agreement, have been made between the users of white lead and the manufacturers of white lead. I hope to get general agreement in regard to the Bill which I propose to introduce after Easter, and to make regulations which have been agreed upon by the trade.

They will be Regulations to deal with all persons employed in painting buildings, and, in particular, will prohibit the use of any lead compound except in the form of paste and paint ready for use.

The Regulations will seek to prevent the danger arising from the application of lead paint in the form of spray, also to prevent, as far as possible, the danger arising from dust caused by rubbing down and scraping of old paint, and to prohibit the employment or to limit the period of employment of young persons in the lead processes, and secure facilities for washing during and on the cessation of work. It is also provided that all persons employed in lead painting should have the use of protective clothing, and that there should be a hygienic instruction and so forth. We hope that these provisions will go a long way in the direction of meeting the objections of my hon. Friend. Those are the main heads of the regulations which are in draft, and are practically agreed to by all the parties concerned.


The right hon. Gentleman will understand that that is not conforming to the convention, and it means that the convention will not be ratified even if the Bill become law.


I agree. I am just giving the hon. Gentleman the decisions of the Government in regard to the Convention. I shall give him the decisions in regard to the other Conventions later on. My standpoint is that in dealing with all these matters one must have regard to the exigencies of the position here. We must, in spite of the appeal which he has made for international agreement, put the interests of British commerce and trade first. That is the way in which I, at all events, approach all these questions—whether they are in the interests of British trade and tend to reduce the very large amount of unemployment which we have in Great Britain at the moment. I know that it will not be satisfactory to the hon. Member but it will do a great deal to improve the existing position of affairs. When I introduce the Bill I hope to be able to give the House the further undertaking that if the regulations which I propose to make, if the House gives me the power, do not carry out what I hope they will do, and do not enormously improve the position of affairs in the lead paint trade, and diminish enormously the illness and death to which the hon. Member has referred, then I shall have to come to the House for further powers and I am sure that after full experience of the regulations the House will give the Government the further powers if they so desire.

Then the hon. Gentleman asked me what I proposed to do in regard to night baking. I assume that the hon. Gentleman has not seen the reply which His Majesty's Government made to Geneva -on the 12th of January, this year, which indicates fully the position which we had adopted and which our delegates will adopt when they go to Geneva. The position is that the Government are unable to accept the Convention in regard to night baking, unless it contains certain definite Amendments. These Amendments are, first, we think that it should be limited to bakeries where bread or confectionery is made for sale to the general public and should not apply to hotels, restaurants, schools and other institutions. That is one of the matters as to which we are going to ask our delegates to get an amendment adopted at Geneva this year. We have already given notice of it to the International Labour Office there. We also think that it is not necessary to make the prohibition apply to the master baker himself. All those Conventions are to protect the persons who are employed, and I am not sure that it is desirable that Parliament should interfere with the desires of individual persons if they wish to do night baking in their own bakery, but we want to protect the workers in the trade.


Have you taken into consideration the competition which the master baker and his family will be able to apply against the other people who are employing labour and do you not think that it would be rather awkward for them?


Of course there will be competition. There always is competition in life. I am not one of those who object to competiton.


But this is not healthy competition.


I have no evidence brought before me of master bakers producing unhealthy competition, but I think it is clear that this would be outside Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles, which deals with matters affecting the protection of employés and workmen, and I think that anything which goes outside the limits of the Treaty would be ultra vires, and that the Convention ought not to be ratified except subject to the amendments which we propose. One further amendment which we shall ask is to make the period of night shorter so that it should be either between 11 and 5 or 10 and 4. That is a small matter on which we shall instruct our delegates.

It is only fair to state that the Government have decided that, even if these amendments are accepted at Geneva, they are not prepared to ratify the Night Baking Convention until they have received the report of the Royal Commission on Food Prices which is now sitting. We have asked the Royal Commission to take into consideration the effect of the abolition of night baking on any possible increase of prices. We hope to get the report of the Royal Commission in the course of a week or two, before the House reassembles, and if that report shows that, in the opinion of the Commission, the abolition of night baking would increase the cost of food to the people of this country then His Majesty's Government reserve the right to reconsider the whole position in regard to this convention. If, on the other hand, they come to the conclusion and advise the Government that the abolition of night baking will not cause any rise in the cost of food then, subject to these amendments, His Majesty's Government are prepared to accept the convention as proposed last year.

I have here the report made by the hon. Gentleman himself on his own proceedings at Geneva last year. I have not time to read it all but, if hon. Members will take the trouble to get it—and it can be obtained in the Vote Office—they will find that the hon. Gentleman himself was not very much enamoured of the Convention without some amendments being made in it, and I think that he will agree that the amendments which we have suggested are not very far removed from the amendments which he himself would have suggested, and did suggest, while he was at Geneva. So much for night baking. Then the hon. Gentleman asked about the weekly suspension of work for 24 hours in the glass furnaces. There we get to very considerable difficulty because there is very keen international competition between the glass furnaces of the different countries of the world, and we have carefully to consider the effect which the adoption of this Convention would have on our glass factories, unless it was resented by all our rival countries which run glass factories competing with ourselves. We are in the most complete sympathy with the weekly rest. England has led the way in regard to the minimising, almost the abolition, of Sunday work. I for one am a strong believer in the Sunday rest, and I want to see the weekly rest day on Sunday made permanent in as many of our trades as possible, but on this point, after careful consideration, we have felt that there must be an amendment of Articles I and II, in reference to the stoppage of machinery on Sunday. We want a rest for the individual worker, it is true, but there is the question of a rest for machinery itself, and the Convention, as it now stands, I understand, would involve the stoppage of machinery as well as giving a rest to the workers.

You may say that it is far better to stop the whole thing on Sunday, but very grave difficulties would arise in regard to machinery, and while we want to give, as far as possible, the greatest time of rest to the individual worker, there must be some workers kept on in order to keep the machinery going, provided that there should be as little interference as possible with Sunday rest. Therefore, we are authorising our delegates to do all they can to arange by the Convention that there should be a weekly rest of at least 24 hours, and that this rest, where possible, should be given on Sunday. That is the attitude which His Majesty's Government have taken up and which our delegates will take up at Geneva.

Another very remarkable Clause in this Convention is Article III, which provides that each State shall be given an absolute discretion to exempt any work which must necessarily be carried on continuously for technical and economical reasons. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that where there is keen competition, as in the glass making, this leaves it open to, any State practically to abrogate the Convention altogether. Any State can say that for technical or economic reasons, connected with the cost of production, they are going to abrogate certain Clauses of the Convention, and the whole thing must continue as it is at present. The hon. Gentleman himself was very keen on this very point. He actually went so far as to say in his report that he would have preferred, as representing the Labour Government last year, a Convention of a particular form, requiring that every glass worker should be secured one day's rest in seven, to be given as far as practicable on a Sunday. That is what we want. We agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman in regard to that question.

He recognises in his report that this would involve the re-drafting of the Convention. We agree that it will. When the Conservative Government agree with the Labour Government then the Convention must be redrafted, and when you get practically the whole House of Commons and the whole public opinion of Great Britain agreeing on this question then, even if it involves the redrafting of the Convention, I am afraid that that cannot be helped. The hon. Gentleman himself did not want to support the Convention in the form in which we have it, and he voted for amendment, but he was voted down by 61 votes to 13. Altogether the hon. Gentleman's report on this particular Convention is not very favourable, and he voted for it, and the Government delegate voted for it, provisionally on the distinct understanding that His Majesty's Government were entitled to put Amendments into it. This shows the very great care which the hon. Member took when he was at Geneva, and we have provided that we shall make amendment, and we propose to instruct our delegates merely to carry out his advice.

Coming to the question of workmen's compensation, there we are wholeheartedly in favour of the Convention. We have led the way in regard to workmen's compensation. Our law is a good one. As I said the other day, I am hoping to codify very shortly all the Workmen's Compensation Acts, and I hope to get the necessary Bill through, if possible, this Session. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about amendments?"] I think that it would be a great pity, after the House has passed a very important and very valuable Act, within the last two years, that we should attempt to amend it without seeing much further how it has worked. In regard to this Convention we do give the stranger within our gates workmen's compensation, and I admit that the object of this Convention is practically that the British plan should be made obligatory on the other countries of the world. Therefore we give our whole-hearted support to this particular Convention, and we shall do our utmost to get it carried at Geneva on this occasion.

There is only one other Convention to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and that is in regard to the trouble of anthrax from infected wools. He knows as well as I do where the difficulty lies. The difficulty lies, as he said, because the British Empire is not unanimous on this question. The hon. Gentleman was at Geneva last year. He knows that the Home Office, my predecessors at the Home Office, have been trying for years to improve the position in regard to infected wool. We have established at Liverpool a disinfecting station which is doing enormously good work in disinfecting vast quantities of wool. I hope that it is improving the position and minimising the danger of infection from anthrax. At the same tme, I say quite frankly that we are not only willing, but anxious to try to get a Convention which will enable us to ensure that wool will be disinfected before it comes to this country. The Conference at Geneva would not pass the proposal. I cannot help it. Not only would they not pass it, but they declined to have it put on the agenda for this year. There was a proposal made by the hon. Member himself, who spoke strongly in favour of a resolution on this matter being put on the Agenda for 1925. The hon. Gentleman was defeated by a majority of 50 against 41. Therefore, it will not appear on the agenda this year. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did his best. Had he succeeded, had his speech been a trifle morn moving and eloquent, he might have transformed that minority of nine votes into a majority of three or four.


I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to miss the point. Do the Government intend to try to secure agreement within the Empire? That is the point at issue.


Had the proposal been on the agenda we would have done our best to promote a Convention. It is not on the agenda, and therefore it cannot arise. But I can say that I and my Department are anxious to do all that is possible. We realise the grievous evil of anthrax. It is our duty to do our utmost to stop it. By our disinfecting process at Liverpool we have done a great deal, and the hon. Member knows it. We are and we shall be willing to negotiate, willing to try to get the Empire as one. The hon. Gentleman knows the difficulty, perhaps, as well as I do. He was at Geneva. He heard the statements and speeches, and he came in close contact with the delegates of other parts of the Empire. He knows my difficulty. I ask him not to press me too hard in regard to that. But anything that we can do to this end we shall do, and if we can succeed in getting a Convention which will either minimise, or cause to disappear altogether, the dangers of anthrax, no one will be more pleased than the Home Secretary and the Department over which he presides. I have endeavoured to answer questions in detail, and I hope I have given the hon. Gentleman fair and straightforward answers. Any other point I shall be glad to answer, and my right hon. Friend later on will deal with the whole question of the International Labour Department.


I am sure that the House must be very grateful to the Home Secretary for his full, perspicious and good-humoured statement. It is, at any rate, satisfactory so far, inasmuch as it shows us that the Home Office is taking these Conventions seriously, even if it is unable to adopt them in their entirety in every case. Personally, I regret that the Home Office has not seen its way to frame legislation more closely on the lines of the Convention in respect to white lead. I will defer my observations on that subject until we have the Government Bill before us. I did not rise to deal with these details, but rather to pursue a line of thought which was initiated by the hon. Member for West Houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies) in his interesting speech. The Home Secretary pointed out with considerable force that the Government, in considering a Convention which comes to it from the International Labour Office, is bound to take into account the conditions in this country. I agree; everybody agrees. But I submit that when the Convention has been ratified by the Conference, and when it has received the support of the British Delegates at the Conference, the Government should look at the problem with a very strong bias indeed in favour of ratification, and only on the serious ground of national necessity should fail to ratify it. It has been pointed out that there has been a great deal of criticism recently in this House upon the work of the International Labour Office. It has been alleged that it is expensive, that the country is getting nothing out of it, that it is doing its work ill, or that it is not doing sufficient work. I challenge all those statements. I believe that the International Labour Office does constitute a very fruitful and important departure in International politics.

In this country we have built up by unremitting toil and many struggles a standard of life for our working population. It is not satisfactory in every respect, but in any case it is far more satisfactory than the standard of life which prevails in other industrial countries which compete with us. Nobody can look at the industrial landscape of the world without feeling that this country will be in an increasing measure exposed to the competition of sweated goods coming from other countries which have not our factory legislation, which have not our standard of life, which have not our conditions, and which are consequently able to undersell us in the markets of the world. I do not see how we can possibly maintain the standard of life of our population unless we give our support to an institution which stands for the levelling up of industrial conditions throughout the world. The International Labour Office has had a very short life. In that short life it has furnished a valuable tale of work. It has provided an industrial code for Czechoslovakia and other new countries which have been the creations of these Treaties. It has led to an improvement in the Factory Legislation of India, to a law prohibiting the industrial employment of children up to the age of 12. It has led to the improvement of factory conditions and the protection of child labour from industrial exploitation in Japan, but has led also to a very considerable strengthening of the Trade Union movement and of Trade Union feeling in Japan.

I was talking only yesterday to a Japanese visitor to these shores, and he informed me that as a result of the work of the International Labour organisation, the Japanese Press was paying much more attention to Trade Union problems, that the ideals which have informed the Trade Union movement in Britain, in France, in America and other advanced countries, are becoming more and more familiar in Japan, with the result that there is growing up in Japan a public opinion far more sensitive to infractions of factory legislation than, would have been possible some years ago. I consider that these alone are very considerable achievements. The hon. Member for West Houghton has pointed to the fact that 17 Conventions which have been passed by the Labour Conference have been very widely ratified. I understand that there have been no fewer than 142 ratifications of Conventions. He has also reminded us that, so far from it being the case that Great Britain is the only country that ratifies Conventions, other important countries have ratified Conventions, and, indeed, I believe it to be the case that the only important country industrially which has not ratified the Conventions passed by these Conferences is New Zealand, and, as the House is well aware, there is no country in the world where labour conditions are more satisfactory, I might almost say so satisfactory, as they are in the Dominion of New Zealand.

It is sometimes said that it it is all very well for countries to ratify Conventions, but can we be certain that these foreign countries really administer the Conventions? I agree that that is a very important question to ask. It is not sufficient for us to have ratifications on paper. If we are going into an International Combine for the regulation of industrial conditions, it is important to be assured that our associates in that Combine are playing the game. It is very important that the Labour Ministry should keep in close touch with the Labour organisation at Geneva. I believe that that is already done, but I suggest that the Labour Ministry should very closely watch the administration of these Conventions in other countries. I have made an attempt to discover how far these Conventions are in effect being operated in the countries that have accepted them. I confess that although it is true that in some countries public opinion is not so vigilant as it is here, or Trade Union organisation so strong or well developed, nevertheless the indications point to a loyal observance of the Conventions that have been accepted.

I do not say that the evidence is complete, but I point to such indications as these: In France there has been a considerable agitation from influential sections of capitalist opinion against the working of the eight-hours, flay. The same movement is to be seen in Belgium, and I doubt if we should have such an agitation from the capitalist side, if it were not that the eight-hour day is being effectually operated in those countries. The International Labour Organisation has at its disposal the means for following out, verifying and checking the administration of these laws. I think I am right in saying that occasions have arisen in the past in which complaints have been made to the governing body of the organisation in Geneva, that in certain respects the Conventions have not been honoured. Inquiries have been made and protests have been made with the result that there has been amelioration, and that process can be carried still further. I know the Minister of Labour is a very heavily charged Member of the Government and has not much spare time on his hands, but just as it has been found desirable that the Foreign Secretary should attend the meetings of the Council of the League of Nations as often as possible, so it would be very much in the interests of this country if the Minister of Labour or, at any rate, his second-in-command, were to attend the meetings of the International Labour Office at Geneva. After all, to what do the complaints which we hear in various quarters amount? They amount to the fact that our delegates have, in certain cases, supported proposals and Conventions which have not altogether squared with the industrial needs of this country, and I cannot conceive a method more effectually calculated to obviate that danger and inconvenience in the future, than that the Minister should attend those meetings and make himself responsible for stating the views of this country.

The hon. Member who introduced this subject asked some specific questions which have in large measure been answered by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I now desire to ask the Minister of Labour what are the intentions of the Government with respect to a very important Convention which the British Government has not yet seen its way to ratify, namely, the Hours Convention? The Hours Convention was, as the House knows, accepted at the Washington Conference in 1919, when the British delegation spoke emphatically to its favour, but difficulties have arisen, it has been found that the Eight Hours Convention—the 48 hours week—does not accord with the working arrangements on the railways, and that, I understand, has been the main objection to the acceptance of the Hours Convention. I am not one of those who complain of the delay in accepting these Conventions. I think they should be very carefully examined in this country, always with a bias in favour of accepting them.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the British Government should ratify the Eight Hours Convention unconditionally. I certainly think if we do ratify the Convention, and I hope we may find a means of doing so, we should make it a condition that Germany and one or two other great industrial powers who have at present not ratified it should also do so. I understand there is now a feeling in Germany in favour of ratification, and that the German Minister of Labour actually indicated that the late German Government would have been willing to ratify. My right hon. Friend the Minister will perhaps be able to tell the House whether that is so or not, but in any case let me remind the House that this Eight Hours Convention, if ratified by us—and we must remember that Italy, Austria and Belgium are willing to ratify if other Powers do so—will have a great effect in levelling up industrial conditions all over the world. There is no Convention of all those which have been discussed and passed at these Conferences which will have so great an effect in realising the object we all have in view, namely, the protection of the standard of life in this country from the competition of sweated goods from outside. Consequently, I very much hope that His Majesty's Government will not let this matter drop, but will earnestly pursue the question and consider whether they cannot make suitable arrangements which will meet the difficulty of the rail ways. I hope that we may hear from my right hon. Friend the Minister that there is a prospect of something substantial being done in this direction.


I think we must all be grateful to the hon. Member for West Houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies) for raising this question which we have not had an opportunity of discussing so far this Session. Reference has been made to the existence of a certain amount of hostility towards the International Labour Organisation. I do not think there is any hostility towards the aims of the organisation, but I think there is a certain amount of hostility with regard to the methods adopted. As I understand it, the object of the International Labour Organisation is the levelling up of labour conditions throughout the world, and in this connection there is one point which I cannot quite understand. We are told that higher wages, better conditions of labour and shorter hours make for industrial efficiency, yet hon. Members opposite say that they want to see the industrial conditions of other countries raised because, on account of those conditions being at present lower than ours, we are adversely affected by the competition of those other countries. I should have thought that if better conditions meant greater efficiency, it was much better—from that point of view—to leave things as they are. But if the object of the International Labour Organisation is entirely philanthropic then understand it. If it is the desire of hon. Gentlemen opposite that other countries should enjoy the same conditions as we have, I appreciate their motive, but I cannot see the point of the other argument to which I have referred.

At all events the first object of the organisation appears to be the levelling up of conditions of labour throughout the world and the second object, which is I think a far snore effective one, is to establish a sort of international clearing house for information on labour matters. Insofar as the organisation has not been an unqualified success I would refer to what appear to me to be the reasons for that want of success. I think one reason is that the United States, almost the greatest industrial nation, has taken no part while Germany has only just come in and Russia, which, of course, at the moment does not count for much in international trade, is outside. That seems to be one reason for the comparative failure in the working of the organisation hitherto. Secondly I think it has been due to excess of ambition on the part of the organisation. It tried to do too much. All countries after the War had mnay problems and they were asked to deal with too many of these conventions. I think in the three years, 1919, 1920 and 1921, sixteen draft Conventions were put forth. The countries concerned were too busy to deal with all these questions by legislation and it is interesting to note that by 1925 the 38 nations which took part in the conferences had between them registered only 130 ratifications. Had all the conventions been ratified that number would have been 608. There is another reason for the comparative failure of the working of the organisation and it is that the representatives who attend these conferences on behalf of various countries try to act as legislators. The fact is they do not really represent their constituents and they are not responsible in any way for accounting to those constituents. That seems to be another reason why this organisation as at present constituted, cannot succeed in its object.

We also find that the representatives of the governments of different countries are mostly, with great respect,—of course I do not suggest that this applies to the hon. Member for West Houghton—only officials of no very great standing while the representatives of the workers and employers are merely nominated by their respective organisations. We can only deem them to be representatives; they are not in the real elective sense representative of the organisations which they profess to represent. Then it is to be remembered that some of the organisations which nominate representatives are interested in one thing and some in another, while some of the countries are interested in one thing and some in another, with the result that there is a great deal of "log rolling." The White Lead Convention was a case in which the interests of Great Britain and France were directly opposed and the propaganda, the log-rolling, which went on in connection with that Convention was perfectly scandalous. I cannot do better than quote from the report of the last meeting of the conference some statements made by our representative the hon. Member for West Houghton. It is a fair illustration of the difficulties, because here is a man who goes there, entirely sympathetic to the Convention, and yet, listen to some of his remarks on the subject of the various questions that were brought before them. First of all, there was the recommendation on the utilisation of workers' spare time, and the hon. Member representing this country said of it: A general statement of self-evident principles. He hoped that in future recommendations would be more practical in their intention and more limited in scope. On the question of night work in bakeries, he said he could not support a Convention

drawn in such a form that its translation into law by the British Parliament would be difficult. Then, again, the question of a weekly suspension of work in glass manufacture was referred to, and he said: We do not think the draft Convention contains very much of use to anybody. These are the statements of our own representative, sympathetic to the Organisation, taken from this Report. On the subject of anthrax, probably the, most practically important question before the Conference, he said: The failure of the Conference to deal with this important question is much to be regretted, both because of the injury it may inflict on British industry, and because of the damage to the prestige of the Conference itself. Surely the inference that should be drawn from this Report about the last Conference, in 1924, is that it was either futile or illusory—I do not think that is too hard a statement—and that where agreement was most needed, as, for instance, on the question of anthrax, it was found to be impossible. As everybody knows, a good many of the delegations were not complete, and I think that shows a growing lack of interest in these Conferences, simply because people realise that the whole thing is really impracticable. They aim at doing too much, and I very much doubt whether the expense which this country incurs is really justified. I think—and I wish to emphasise this—that the collection of in- formation from the different countries, about their unemployment problems, for instance, and the various remedies proposed, and also about the methods employed for conciliation and arbitration in labour disputes, is work of real utility—what I call the clearing-house work of the organisation. I believe that to be intensely useful, and I think the information gathered will be of infinite use to all the countries who send delegates to the organisation, but these attempts to legislate for the world, for that is what you are trying to do, are at present almost futile.

I want to deal now with the question of ratification. We seem to be regarded as rather behindhand in this matter, but that is really not so at all. The position, as far as I understand it, is this: Of the great European industrial countries, France and Germany have ratified none, Holland has ratified two, Belgium six, Czechoslovakia seven, Great Britain seven, and Italy ten. Outside Europe, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and Canada have ratified none, South Africa two, Japan five, and India eight. Our record in regard to ratification is, therefore, as good as that of anybody, except Italy and India. Now the whole scheme of the organisation surely is this: that you ought to get, in order to achieve your object, coincident ratification. Everybody ought to ratify at the same time, but this has clearly not been realised, and in the result this organisation has accentuated rather than reduced the differences in the standard of industrial legislation as between the different countries, because if you get one country ratifying and another country not ratifying, you accentuate the differences between those countries.

I would beg of the Government to consider, and I think the time has come to consider, whether a Committee ought not to be appointed to decide whether it is advisable, or with what modification it is advisable, that we should continue to send our delegates to this Conference. As I have said before, I believe enormous use can be made of the organisation as a clearing house for international labour information, but I believe that, in these attempts to legislate for the world, we are really attempting a thing which is impracticable and, as far as this country is concerned, very often extremely dangerous. One reason has been alluded to already, and it is most important. We, as a nation, when we set our signature to any convention or a treaty, carry out our bond. That is what has given us bur position in the world, both commercially and in other ways, but other nations do not attach the same importance to a signature. Hon. Members opposite always seem to think that, if only you can get a thing signed, everything will be all right. Signatures, believe me, matter very little. It is the spirit in which a thing is signed that matters. You can put your signature to a thing without any intention of keeping to it. Lots of people do, as anybody who is engaged in business knows perfectly well.

If hon. Members will only believe me, in the City of London syndicates are formed sometimes to control a certain number of shares, and everybody guarantees that they will not sell those shares before a certain date. The great difficulty is that somebody constantly, as we call it, "rats." If you could guarantee that those who sign these conventions would never "rat," it would be well, but you cannot-guarantee that. Every country will always put its own interests first when those interests are challenged, and I would beg hon. Members not to rely on these conventions, such as the Eight Hours Convention, which I believe is coming before the House, to minimise the competition which we have to meet to-day in the industrial world. We can only meet that competition by our own right arm and by hard work and efficiency. I ask hon. Members as practical men to consider this: I am a business man, and do they suppose that, because I want to work for only five hours a day—I work for fourteen, as a matter of fact, most days of the week—it would be any use my going to my competitors and saying, "Will you not agree to work for only five hours a day, because I want to do so?" They would laugh at me, and why, in these international matters, should we be less practical than we are in our own everyday business? That is the great danger of these international conventions, and I urge upon the Government to consider whether the time has not come when a select committee ought to be appointed to consider the whole question and whether we should continue to be represented on this organisation until some modification has been made in its objects and in its methods.


I am afraid the time of the House will not permit me to reply in detail to the extraordinary speech to which we have just listened from the hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin (Major Kindersley), but I must touch upon one or two points. I am sure the rest of the nations of the world will be gratified to know that we are quite satisfied that virtue resides in us alone, that we are the only people who keep our word, while they agree to things, and their signatures de not matter. I have heard many claims made on the part of my nation, but I never heard a claim of that extent made in such a way before. I venture to assert that Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, and Germany have as high a standard of administration, and pay as faithful a regard to their laws as we do, and the assumption that we are such superior persons might, I think, have been left to somebody not in our nation, and a little bit of modesty shown on our part. Then we are told that the represenatives who go to these meetings do not matter. Who are the representatives who go? France sends her Minister of Labour, Germany sends her Minister of Labour, Belgium is always represented by a very prominent Belgian, who has the confidence of his people, Sweden has been represented even, I think, at one meeting by her Prime Minister himself, and yet we are told that the people who go to these meetings do not matter. Who go on behalf of the employers? Men appointed by the biggest employers' association in the country. Who goes on behalf of the workers? A man appointed by the Trade Union Congress, the only body that can claim to represent the organised workers of this country, and the British representative from the trade union side has been for years Mr. Poulton, one of the most highly respected industrial workers' representatives in this country. Yet we are told that these people do not matter. Serious insults of this kind are thrown, but I think that criticism in this House ought to have some respect for the people of other nations and for the people of our own nation. The representatives to these meetings of the International Labour Office are the most highly respected, or among the most highly respected, men in their nations.

Then we are told that Germany has only just come into the organisation. As a matter of fact, Germany accepted the first invitation to these meetings that was sent, and only the impossibility of her delegates getting there prevented her being represented at the first Conference of all, in Washington. I think that the hon. and gallant Member might have paid rather more respect to facts in his criticism than evidently he has done in his speech this afternoon. Now may I trespass upon the patience of the House for a moment or two in order to call attention to certain facts and certain promises that were made to the workers when the War ended, promises which evidently some hon. Members are now prepared to treat as scraps of paper and to tear them up, if indeed they have not already been torn up. The Treaty of Peace, which was agreed to by a Coalition Government, containing representatives from every party in the House, and for which every party is equally responsible, laid down certain very definite things. It said, amongst other things, that whereas conditions of labour existed involving much injustice, hardship, and privation to large numbers of people steps should be taken to avoid that danger and to give to the workers of the world a real chance and a real opportunity of living. Those were the promises deliberately made to the workers at the end of the War, and yet the hon. Member, if his speech is to be interpreted, is one of those who would forego every pledge, and go back to the old state of things, in which everyone should scratch for himself, and nothing should be done.

There was another thing that the Treaty of Peace laid down very definitely. In one of the Articles of the Treaty itself it is laid down that we should aim at the adoption of an 8-hours day or a 48-hours week as the standard, where it has not already been attained. I say that the Government should seriously take into consideration the advisability of keeping its word. The Government cannot escape, as hon. Members who sit on the back benches can escape, by saying it is the only Government that keeps its word. I want to know whether the Government is going to keep its word with regard to this. We were all implicated in it. Is the Government going to implement the word that was given when the Treaty was signed or is it not? Let us wash our own doorstep before attacking other countries. I am going deliberately to claim that, so far as the Washington Convention is concerned, if words are to be kept, if a Briton's word is going to be his bond, there is no alternative for the Government but to work for the carrying of this Convention.

What took place at Washington? The Government delegates were a member of the War Cabinet and the highest official, or one of the highest officials, in the Home Office. The employers' delegate was appointed by the principal employers' organisation, and the Trade Union delegate was appointed by the Trade Union Congress. I happened to be the Chairman of the very committee that arranged this Convention, and I know what took place. What took place was that the workers' representatives, who could have got an infinitely better Convention adopted by a majority of two-thirds, deliberately cut out of their request many things, because they knew, from the declaration of the British Government representatives, that if they maintained them, they were not likely to get the Convention unanimously agreed, and the Washington Hours' Convention is a Convention which is a compromise, for which the British Government representatives of the time were largely responsible. Not only were the British Government representatives largely responsible for that Convention being modified from what it might have been, but the British Government itself had been largely responsible for the labour charter in the Treaty of Peace. So that we, of all people in the world, should be the last to throw stones at others, because our word needs to be implemented before we complain about any others.

This Hours' Convention, I beg to submit to the Minister of Labour, is not an eight-hours day as the Labour movement understands it. The Convention itself leaves out of account the whole of the agricultural world. It does not contain within its framework what is known as commercial. It does not contain the sailors, although the sailors were left out with a definite understanding that a special conference would be held to deal with that question, and I blush to say, that when the sailors' question was dealt with finally, the vote of the British Government representatives was the vote that prevented a convention for a sailor's eight hours' day. Instead of the British Government representatives voting for a 48-hour week for sailors as France, amongst others, was prepared to do, they voted for the 56-hour week and so prevented the two-thirds majority necessary for the arrangement of a Convention. That is a country the workers in which were promised after the War that they would have a better opportunity! And we talk about our being superior to all others! If other countries had acted in the way we have acted towards the organised workers of this country, we should have reason to complain, but we have no reason at all to complain.

After this Convention was agreed to, the German Government by decree—and remember the condition of Germany was in at the time—introduced the 48 hours, and industries in Germany generally were working less hours than our own. One industry I know very well indeed—the textile. While we were working 48 hours, the textile industry in Germany was working 46. It is perfectly true the collapse of the mark and the change of Government meant a difference in Germany, but Germany broke no bond—not at all—and the Germans are slowly getting up to a condition quite equal to curs. My information is that the German Minister of Labour is definitely prepared and has definitely stated his intention of advising the German Government to ratify the Washington Hours' Convention. France has a 48 hour week which does not conform in ail respects to the Convention, but France is prepared, immediately Germany ratifies, to ratify the Convention, and the French Minister of Labour states definitely that if the Convention be ratified, and any nation claims that France is not carrying out the Convention she has ratified, that nation has recourse to the League of Nations, where she can lay a complaint, which has to be investigated. I put the attitude of France, which, after all, was not so much responsible for this Labour Charter, and did not make so many promises as we did, by the side of our own Government's attitude, and ask the House to consider which is the country that has best kept its word given in the Treaty of Peace. Holland came back from the Conference and introduced—I am speaking from memory but I think I am correct—a 45-hour week. Belgium has a 48-hour week, and to talk of Belgian legislation not being applied is simply to talk moonshine. The Belgian Labour movement is as powerful a labour movement as any that exists in the world, and the Belgians are willing to ratify this Convention if they can have the asurance that Great Britain, France and Germany will also ratify.

We have to find who has been the most backward member. Is it France? No. Is it Belgium? No, because both France and Belgium have got 48-hour Bills. Germany? We know the condition she has been in. This country, which took the leading part, and which ought to take the leading part—this country, which, before the War, was infinitely ahead of the other countries in labour conditions, has held back. I do not want to make a personal accusation, but I cannot help saying that when I meet, as I do meet frequently, representatives of industry on both sides of the table in nearly every European country, I rather blush for our capacity for putting ourselves on a pedestal, and assuming virtues that we do not possess.


Does the right hon. Gentleman maintain that there is any legal obligation on this country to ratify any single one of these Conventions?


That question has got nothing at all to do with what I am saying. What I do say is that this country had a legal obligation, in my estimation, and in the estimation of everyone at Washington, to give Parliament an opportunity of deciding inside 18 months.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that there was a legal obligation for that Convention to be brought- before Parliament?


I said that, in my opinion, definitely there is a legal obligation to bring the matter before Parliament. I know legal opinion has been given to Governments that the King in Council can deal with this matter, but I want to suggest that is an extremely dangerous card to play. Let the organised workers of this country know that your opinion is that the King in Council is to deal with a 48-hour week, and you at once place a responsibility on the head of the State that does not belong to him at all, and you are playing an extremely dangerous card in international life.




May I ask whether exclamations such as "rubbish" are in order, or shall I reply in the same terms?

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)

The word did not catch my ear.

Captain W. BENN

Is it in order for an hon. Member to lie on the seat and put his feet up?


It is more usual, if an hon. Member wants to take up that position, to do it elsewhere.


If I may sum up, we above all other people in the world are responsible for this International Labour Convention. We above all other people have made a promise to the world on the matter. We through our Government representatives agreed to this Convention in Washington, as indeed did the employers and the workers. I would like to know the reason no attempt has been made to carry out those promises. Let me turn even to our personal interest in the matter. Is it not to our interest to do what we can to raise the standard of other peoples? We continually hear that the long hours and the low wages of other peoples prevent us from going ahead. For what does the International Labour Office exist? To raise the standard, according to the Treaty of Peace, and one of its objects is to get a 48-hour week. The nation which used to be proud to lead the world in labour conditions is the nation in Europe which is sinking most rapidly into a backward place.

I know no nation in Europe which has not made more progress in hours than we have. I know no single nation in Europe which, comparatively, has not made far more progress since 1910 than we have done. In 1910 nearly every nation in Europe was working much longer hours than we did. In 1925 we cannot say that we are at the top of the tree, except for the unfortunate fact that our people are not working, because they have no work to do. Legally we are not equal to many of the nations in Europe. We are not equal to France. We are not equal to Belgium. We are not equal to Italy—nations that we thought we were infinitely ahead of before the War. I am pointing out these cold facts because, evidently, they do not seem to have percolated. We are told in regard to this Hours Convention that nobody has ratified it. That is scarcely true. Czech-Slovakia, one of the new nations, has definitely ratified it. Austria has ratified it, conditionally that the industrial States ratify it. France and Germany are both prepared to ratify it.




I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman again is wrong. I understand that the French Minister of Labour is now prepared to ratify. That is my latest information, though I am open to correction. I understand, however, that the latest declaration is that the French Chamber will be asked to ratify it. Belgium is in the same position. The Netherlands are in the same position. Italy is in the same position. We alone, a principal nation, have neither said that we will not ratify it or the contrary. We are the one outstanding nation in Europe in this respect, and we ought to have been in the vanguard. We are the one outstanding nation in Europe that has not made a declaration conditionally or otherwise.


May I point out that, though presumably the nations to whom reference has been made, are working 48 hours a week, in nearly all cases there are exceptions.


These countries know perfectly well what the Convention implies. The Convention implies that if it be ratified, and any nation complains that a certain nation is not carrying out the ratification, the nation complaining has the right to take the matter before the international body and get it considered. The French, it is perfectly right, have stated definitely that their 48 hours at present must not be taken as meaning ratification, but if they ratify they know the conditions under which they ratify, and that they are open to inspection, so to speak, if they are not carrying out the terms of the Convention. These things are perfectly true. I hope, how- ever, that this House will get rid of the idea that we in this respect are bearers of all the virtues, and that other people are the inheritors of all the sins of the world. I repeat—and I ask the Minister of Labour if I am not correct?—that so far as the Convention is concerned we are the most backward of the nations of Europe that claim to be an industrial nation. I am going to finish by trying to point out to the House that Britain had a proud record in hours, standing ahead of the other nations of Europe. I suggest that she ought to maintain her position, that it is for her to show an example of honour, truth, justice, and progress. We have seriously jeopardised the fair name of Britain in our action with regard to this Convention. Instead of being a leader we have been dragged at the tail of others.

If anybody had said a dozen years ago that we should be in the position of having worse legislation that France on the question of hours; than Belgium and Holland, nobody would have believed it. Still, these are the things which have come to pass. We have nothing to lose by this International Convention. We have everything to gain by it. When I heard the Minister of Labour make a declaration in the House that he was not continuing the negotiations with the other responsible Ministers of Labour in Belgium, France and Germany—frankly, I was disappointed. I am going to appeal to him that this country should ratify this Convention, and keep what I consider to be our word honourably given to the world and to the workpeople of this country, to bring Britain where she never ought to have ceased to be—into the van of the nations—so to help and strengthen this side of the League of Nations, which is as valuable a side as any other.


May I intervene to say that I am sorry that I used the word "rubbish" a little while ago. I had no desire to use a disorderly word, but I desired to point out to the right hon. Gentleman who implied that the action of the King-in-Council was the personal action of the Sovereign—that it is action that he takes on the advice of his responsible Ministers. When the right hon. Gentle- man suggested that the responsibility rested on the head of the State he is giving a wrong impression.


If the hon. Gentleman had done me the courtesy of listening to what I said instead of being rude he would have heard that I said it was an extremely dangerous thing to give the workers the opinion that the responsibility rested on the head of the State. The hon. Gentleman is very fond of these interruptions which, sometimes, are in rather questionable taste. The incident, so far as I am concerned, is closed.


In raising another point which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has asked me to raise so that he can reply to it, I desire to associate myself with what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. In regard to the question that we have been discussing I have some difficulty in following the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last from the Conservative Benches. He pleaded with the Minister of Labour to set up a Committee for the purpose, as I understood, of reconsidering our whole attitude to the International Labour Office. I cannot follow his reasoning in view of what has gone before. First of all, he—and others—come along and tell us in this House when we propose to deal with a reduction of the hours of working that such proposal, or Bill, put forward is impracticable because other nations are not prepared to adopt that particular proposal. Then, when we come along and suggest that in order to wipe out that impracticable side we should work in conjunction with other nations he tells us again that this is impracticable because other nations are not quite like us- The truth is that we are told that everything is impracticable—from their point of view—because it is going to improve the condition of the mass of the people. These were the arguments put forward and which Shaftesbury and others have to meet when they tried to make progress and improve the condition of the masses of the people of this country. We are told, first of all, that it is impossible to effect improvement, because there is outside competition to face; then the moment you try to get into working order a reasonable international labour organisation to get over that difficulty, it is said to be impracticable because of some other particular reason or reasons. This, I confess, brings me back to another and similar aspect of the question, though in this regard, in respect to certain Members, I do not want to question their good faith. But it does seem to suggest to the minds of many of the working people outside a doubt of the good faith of those who oppose, and makes them inquire whether really it is the intention of those who say it to try to improve the conditions of the people, and to make them better than heretofore.

May I, in this connection, say a word, as one who comes from the working people in view of what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Fisher). I do it with a certain amount of modesty. He pleaded with the Minister of Labour to do something to adopt this Labour Convention. But it was the Government with which he was associated more than any other Government that killed any prospect of an International Labour Convention. My predecessor in the constituency I represent here is a man with whom I disagree on many things. I have fought him bitterly from many points of view. But he is a man of character and honest intention. I refer to Mr. George N. Barnes. At the request of the Coalition Government he went to Washington. He took part in the deliberations at Washington. A short time after his coming back he placed a Motion on the Order Paper that these draft resolutions should be discussed in this House of Commons. Of all the people who opposed Mr. Barnes—I quite agree a number of his colleagues certainly backed him up—Dr. MacNamara on behalf of the same Government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the English Universities was a Member and, if I may say so, even a Member now of our party—though I have my doubts—I refer to Dr. Addison, who was also in the Government, like the hon. Gentleman who lately got up on the Tory Benches, did not honestly say, the Bill was a bad Bill, they looked about for other reasons! Ultimately the then Coalition Government brought out the question of legality, and put forward the plea that the Convention might not be quite sound. As Mr. Barnes well put it, it was a flimsy reason and one not becoming the dignity of this House of Commons. I only make these few observations because I want to see this International Labour Convention carried forward in this country at the earliest possible moment.

2.0 P.M.

There is no question of an international character which is of more importance to the large number of working people in this country than this one. The point I wish to raise is this: Under the Unemployment Insurance Act at the present time a working man or a working woman who goes to the Employment Exchange and makes a false statement to the manager, or to any official, is liable to prosecution, and either fine or imprisonment. I want to raise a point which I do not think has hitherto been dealt with. Recently I have had, in the city of Glasgow, not one, but a number of cases, in which working men and working women have been disqualified from benefit for five or six weeks at a stretch because the employer went to the exchange and said that such and such a man or such and such a woman had been in their employment, and he or she had been dismissed, or had left for certain reasons which the exchange thought were good enough to allow the stopping of their benefit for a certain period. Another case in which I have had experience is where a working woman left her employment to get other work. The employer informed the exchange that this woman did not want work for certain reasons which he gave to the exchange. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman will tell me, that those people afterwards got benefit, but working people cannot afford to be without benefit, unjustly withheld, even for one week. If you keep benefit back for five or six weeks, you inflict on them a money loss which can hardly be measured by the sum withheld, even although you afterwards pay them. Let me point out what has happened in Glasgow. Assume that you hold back a man's benefit for six weeks. Immediately be borrows money, possibly from a moneylender; your action, or the action of the employer, in delaying payment is very serious to the man, because it very often puts him in the hands of moneylenders on a small scale and financially embarrasses him.

I will give one or two concrete cases, and in this connection I would say that I have received every courtesy from officials of the Employment Exchange, and anything I have to complain of is not a complaint against them and their work, but against the actual regulations. Some old colleagues of mine had been working for a firm on the south side of Glasgow. They had been working overtime constantly. Their trade union said: "We have men out of work, so we will approach the firm to see if the overtime cannot be reduced." For the purpose of finding work for the men who were idle, and to save the union, who were paying unemployment benefit, and to save the Employment Exchange, who were paying unemployment benefit, they asked that those men should be given work. Shortly after the union took this step—within a few days—the men were dismissed, and the firm informed the exchange that they had been dismissed because the union had put a bann upon them. The union had not done anything at all, except to negotiate with the firm to see if some other men could be given work, seeing that overtime was being resorted to.

The secretary of the Engineering Employers' Federation, of which this firm, the Mirrlees Watson Company, were members, wrote to the union telling them that the reason for the dismissal of the men was due to the fact that the work had been completed in its ordinary course. Here was an occasion when men were denied benefit, in two cases at least, not clue, I agree, to the Minister of Labour's Department, but due to the action of the employers in notifying the exchange. Benefit was delayed for six weeks, though they ultimately got thin benefit to which they were entitled. If a workman is to be prosecuted for making a wrong statement, it seems to me that an employer ought to be put on exactly the same footing.

Let me give this other instance, and then I will conclude. There was a case in which eight women in my district were sent by the exchange to do work at french polishing. When they arrived, the employer started two out of the eight women at work. He told the other six, for some reason or other, that they were not wanted. When the women went back to the exchange they found they were disqualified for benefit because, it was alleged, they had refused to start work. The two women who were given work only received a day and a half's work, and yet the other six were to be disqualified for six weeks in respect of a day and a half's work found for the other two women. The women appeared before the Court of Referees, but they were not organised, and there was no person to put their case, and they were refused benefit. I took up the case with the Minister of Labour, and here I want to pay a tribute to the officials of the Ministry for going into that ease in a very thorough fashion. After it had been inquired into, the Ministry came to the conclusion that the women were right and the employer was wrong, with the result that the six weeks' benefit was ultimately paid, but not until five months after the date when the employer had notified the exchange that the women did not want to work. In having to lie out of this money, a sum of over £4, for five months, these women were suffering a financial hardship of the first magnitude.

I have illustrated only two cases, but they are typical of many that have happened up and clown the country. Working men are disqualified for six weeks, and though it is true that after the union or some other person fights they get the money, there has been an incalculable loss to the workman and his family—the delay very often means a refusal of food to the family. If a working man or a working woman, if a miner, say, made a deliberately wrong statement to the Exchange regarding the number of his family, or as to his age, or anything of that kind, in many cases, possibly, you would immediately have him prosecuted. I am not asking that you should make criminals of employers, but I am asking that the Minister should at least deal with an employer who inflicts an injury on a workman in the same way as he deals with a workman who inflicts an injury on the Exchange or on the State. We ask the Minister, in his reply, to say that the Regulations shall deal with employers, in order to put an end to many of the hardships which thoughtless employers inflict on men and women for no reason at all. This is an important point affecting many thousands of working men and working women, and I hope something will be done to remedy it.


I will endeavour to deal, as briefly as I can, with the two classes of case which have been placed before me. First, I would make my acknowledgments to the hon. Member who has just spoken. I suggested that the present might be a suitable occasion for him to make the point he has done, because normally speaking, and except by the leave of the House, I can speak only once on the Motion for the Adjournment, and otherwise he woud have got no answer from me, and I did not wish him or other hon. Members to be in the position of thinking I had overlooked any point they wanted to raise. I would like to apologise most frankly to the House for a quite small slip which has occurred in this connection, a rills-print in an answer that appeared in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and also in the copy of the answer that was sent to the hon. Member. It was an answer in reply to his question on this point, and is the reason for this subject being raised to-day. My answer, in fact, was that benefit was not disallowed, but it became printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and was in the copy of the answer that was sent to the hon. Member, that it was not allowed. Now and then a mere typing slip will occur, and I am sorry if it misled the hon. Member or anyone else. I had between 40 and 50 questions yesterday, and the replies had to be typed afterwards to send copies both to the Members asking the questions and to the OFFICIAL REPORT, and occasionally a slip will occur.

What the hon. Member asks me to do is to be prepared to prosecute employers when they make a statement which, as in the two cases he laid before me, was a mis-statement, but a perfectly innocent one. He compares that with the prosecutions that occasionally take place of people who make deliberate misstatements to Exchanges or to committees in order to get benefit. I say quite frankly I have, at the present time, no power to do what he asks, and, what is more, I do not propose to take power to do it. The cases seem to me to be quite different. In cases where anyone obtains benefit who is not entitled to it I have to use a, certain amount of discretion as to whether a prosecution should be instituted or not. Cases have come up to me where a misstatement has been innocently made, and no prosecution has followed. I remember one case where the mis-statement was not innocent, but I came to the conclusion that the man who made that mis-statement was, perhaps, not quite right in his mind, and I said: "This does not seem a case for prosecution." Cases in which prosecutions take place are cases where there is a perfectly deliberate attempt to defraud.

In the other class of cases, what does the whole matter really amount to? I will not say that I am tired of saying to the House, but I am sure the House must be tired of hearing it from me, that all I want to do is to get justice, to see that the people who are entitled to benefit get it, and people who are not entitled to it do not get it. I follow that course with great difficulty among the bogs and quicksands that surround my course, and I do it as well as I can. In the course of our work we have, where we can, to get statements from employers as to why employés are discharged. The statement is shown to the employé, so that he or she may not be prejudiced in the presentation of the case. In the case of the Mirrlees Watson Company, there was a wrong statement. As far as I can remember the details, among those of all the cases that pass through my hands, it was a case in which they were working two shifts, and had asked certain leading hands to work overtime so as to dovetail the work, so to speak, and make it flow on continuously from the first shift to the second. That was the extent of the overtime—it was undertaken, so to speak, to marry the work of the two shifts harmoniously together. A question had arisen with the union about the overtime and the reason why these men left was written down, if I remember the words rightly, as that the union had "placed a bann on them." That was not so: the fact was that the work had terminated, and that the second shift was at an end. I think that was the mistake. As far as I remember the case, they themselves took the initiative in bringing the facts to the notice of the exchange. I am bound to say that I think it would be grossly improper and wrong to bring prosecutions in cases of that kind. Do not let it be thought for a moment that I am denying the hardships to people which may arise from delays. I am quite prepared to do anything in my power with the object of avoiding it, and the local exchange officers are also anxious to see that any such delay is reduced to a minimum, but I think the hon. Member exaggerates when he talks of thousands of people being placed in this plight. He has just raised this point. The Insurance Acts have been in force now for many years. I am sure my predecessor was not an unsympathetic person. I do not think this matter came before him, as it would have come if it had been such a common occurrence. Therefore I will say that I will do my best in any case to try to see that delays of that kind are avoided and shortened as far as possible. I think we would be going from one bad thing to another if we were to do a thing so unjust as to try to get powers to prosecute.

I will now turn to the other questions which have arisen in the course of the debate in regard to the International Labour Office and Conventions. The hon. Member who spoke first from the opposite benches raised certain questions about non-ratification. The questions which he raised were the Maternity Convention, the Convention about the methods of employment of seamen, one as regards the minimum age for agriculture, and then there were three Merchant Shipping Conventions, for indemnity for loss of work, for a minimum age for trimmers and stokers, and for the examination of young persons at sea. I will tell him at once what the state of affairs is with regard to those conventions.

As regards the Maternity Convention, the reason why it has not been ratified is one that is well known to my predecessors as well as to myself. It is generally considered that the position of married women in this country under National Health Insurance has proceeded along quite different lines from the maternity conventions, but on the whole they have been secured as favourable conditions. As it is on different lines, however, they cannot be harmonised.

As regards the minimum age of entry into agriculture, that is the absolute practice in England at the moment, but I believe in Scotland and in Northern Ireland there are a few cases which are not in harmony with the terms of the Con- vention itself. I will consult about that, but I think it is not a matter of very vital importance. The matters of greater importance are those which affect the Mercantile Marine and persons employed in it.

As regards employment exchanges, the Convention which was proposed provided for joint bodies being set up by employers and employed for the purposes of engage-men of seamen in different ports. England is a country in which that is a much more complicated problem than in all the other great countries. The fact is that at this moment in certain ports the attempt is being made between the employers and the employed to have joint places where the engagements can be made, but as a matter of fact the employment exchanges of the Government in other ports really effect the same object as efficiently. From that point of view I am not at all sure that it will not be a retrograde step in all cases to try to follow out the principle of the Convention in its entirety. In some cases I think it is quite possible that the present system in force in this country and the experiments we are now making on slightly different lines are really more desirable from the point of view of the seamen themselves. As to the other three Conventions dealing with seamen, the indemnity for loss of employment and loss of pay, for the minimum age at which trimmers and stokers should be engaged, and for medical examination of young persons, those were embodied in the Merchant Shipping Bill which received a Second Reading in the House of Lords on 25th March, and I trust will come down to this House in the course of this Session, so that the legislation will, I hope, be put through in order to enable all three to be ratified before the Session finishes.

That is the position with regard to the other Conventions which were not dealt with by the Home Secretary. As regards the right hon. Gentleman's next point, he asked, in the first place, whether all Conventions which are adopted at Geneva should not be subsequently ratified, and he also asked that anyone who goes to Geneva should have plenary powers in order to compromise. I quite agree with the right hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Fisher) that if it is possible for anyone to go there who has got full, complete, and final authority on the part of the Government, then it is possible for him to go prepared to make a compromise and afterwards to have it ratified. But, humanly speaking, it is not always possible. If you send officials there with power to compromise, the Government and the country ought to have the chance of saying afterwards whether the Convention arrived at by compromise is one which so fits in with the rest of its industry that it can be ratified. I say for myself—and here I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend—that if a Convention is adopted at Geneva by the country it ought to be on the understanding that the Government of the country intends to ratify and will do its very best to ratify it, but that it should consider itself absolutely bound to do so without any loophole for withdrawal, I think he will himself recognise is not practical politics.

I was asked by the same right hon. Member whether we were considering getting other countries to ratify. We are considering the methods of approaching foreign countries more effectively and we are considering at the present moment how to do it. Those are some of the preliminary questions with which he dealt. Now about the eight-hours' question—


Will the right hon. Gentleman devote his attention, before he leaves this matter, to the statement that was made that these conferences cost £100 per week. It is a small thing, but it does make a difference.


As far as I know, the cost is something about £16 a week. That is off-hand.


It is a little more than that.


That is a very hasty calculation, and it is very hard to be called upon to do mental arithmetic while one is on one's legs.


I have not raised it.


No; the hon. Member is much too careful to use figures which cannot be fully substantiated.


I have not raised it either.


I have just been brought the information that my figure of £16 a week was precisely accurate. I divided the number of people into the cost. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke with regard to the Eight Hours Convention treated my hon. Friend behind me and my hon. Friend below the Gangway a little severely. He asked that they should stick absolutely to facts. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman has stuck to facts quite accurately himself. He said that the French Minister of Labour was a constant attender at Geneva through the session.

Mr. SHAW indicated dissent.


It whittles down then, I gather. He made statements with regard to a German Minister attending at Geneva. For how long?


He put in an appearance.


As a matter of fact then, their attendance—if it come to putting in an appearance—is a very different thing indeed from having the responsible head of the department there in attendance conducting the business. That was really the inference which I myself drew from the right hon. Member's speech, even if he did not wish to convey it. The other statement which he made was that France was absolutely ready to ratify and I gather that le said Germany was ready to ratify too. He is such a stickler for facts that he may have later information on the subject than I have.


I think I have.


It is very likely. At any rate so far as I know, the German Minister of Labour stated that he had never refused ratification in principle and was prepared to come to an understanding with the other States concerned in regard to the interpretation of the Convention and the extent of their obligations thereunder. Then he proceeded to talk about Article 14 and the difficulties of Article 14. That is not that readiness immediately to ratify it.


My information is clear end precise that not only the French Minister of Labour but the German Minister of Labour stated quite recently that they are willing to recommend ratification, and as a matter of fact in a pamphlet I have in my pocket issued by the League of Nations Union they evidently have the same information because Germany is marked there as willing to recommend ratification.


I am quoting from the official publication of the International Labour Office for March. I am not sure from what the right hon. Gentleman is quoting. I take the next point of the facts which the right hon. Gentleman has stated. That is that it is a definite legal obligation upon this country.


(passing across a paper) There it is.


We will quarrel as to the Minister's readiness afterwards, in friendliness. With regard to the point with which he belabours my hon. Friend below the Gangway, I think the right hon. Gentleman stated that we were under a legal obligation to submit the Eight Hours Convention to Parliament.


I stated that in my opinion they were.


I think the right hon. Gentleman's opinion is quite wrong. What the hon. Member below the Gangway said as to the constitutional position was right in every particular. The power of ratification lies with the proper competent authority. That proper competent authority differs in various countries. In some it may be the Legislature. In the United States it is the Senate, in this country it is the Crown, acting on the advice of responsible Ministers.


I am sorry to interrupt again, but is it possible for the Crown, acting on the advice of responsible Ministers, to pass this into law?


It is possible for the Crown to ratify, acting on the advice of responsible Ministers; and, of course, that means the Government of the day, on whom the responsibility really lies.

Captain BENN

Is there any reason why the Government should not consult the House of Commons and take their view?


I will deal with that later. May I spend just five minutes in making this point quite clear. The proper competent authority to conclude an agreement or ratify a convention is of course the Crown, acting on the advice of responsible Ministers; that is to say, the Government of the day. There have been one or two cases in which there was some limitation in this respect, but they do not affect this question at all. There was the question of cession of territory in 1890, but it does not affect this point. The misconception which really exists in the right hon. Gentleman's mind lies in the difference between the proper competent authority to ratify a convention and the body with whom the fundamental power eventually rests. It. is as though you were taking a public company in whose articles of association it might be provided that the seal of the company should be affixed by the secretary and the general manager. They would be the "competent authority" to execute a document dealing with some other company, but, of course, the general manager and secretary would have to keep on good terms with the general board of directors, otherwise they would be removed from their office. And the general board of directors would, in turn, have to answer to the shareholders' meeting. It is very similar in the present case.

The fundamental power, of course, lies with Parliament, or more truly still, not with Parliament, but with the electorate. But the competent authority to ratify is beyond question the Executive of the day. Then as to the question of carrying it into law. A Convention is not carried into law; it never is. What happens is this. A Convention is an obligation to other countries. No doubt to carry it out administratively and fulfil your obligations to these countries the Departments require certain statutory powers. In some cases they possess these powers already, as in the case of unemployment insurance. Consequently, the Executive was perfectly able to ratify that Convention without necessarily coming to Parliament for powers. When it comes to other conventions, then the Departments are not able to carry out these conventions unless they have new statutory powers. The result is that in this country the Executive has to come to Parliament and get Acts passed under which they know that the Departments, acting subse- quently, can carry out the obligations that the conventions impose. Then the executive ratifies the conventions. I apologise to the House for saying all this, but that is the mere statement of the case. With regard to conventions generally, and apart from legislation to give operative effect afterwards, of course the Government of the day presents the convention to Parliament in order that Parliament should know what the Convention is. It presented the Washington Convention and all the other Conventions since have been presented to Parliament. That is the actual position. These are the facts which I am sorry to have to press on the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. There is only one other ground on which he can possibly claim that the legal position has not been properly maintained. If he will look at the Versailles Treaty—I see he has it before him—and will turn to Clause 405—


Mine is in French.


I will hand him my English copy. In Clause 405, he will find these words: Each of the Principals undertakes that it will bring the recommendations or draft conventions before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies for the enactment of legislation or other action. The whole point of this lies in what is meant by the word "matter." It can conceivably be argued that the word means taking the legislative power which can give operative effect to conventions afterwards. But if you read the whole of this Clause you will find in the second paragraph later down, a sentence which makes it quite clear that "matter" does mean actual ratification. I do not wish to take up too much time of the House on this one point or bore the House with a disquisition on the constitutional position.


Is it possible to deal with these conventions and carry them without legislation?


Certainly not. All I have endeavoured to do is to make the situation clear, and apparently I have not yet made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman. The competent authority is the Executive, but legislation would be needed in order to give operative effect, and for that the Executive would have to come to Parliament. If however the Executive does not want the Convention and is against carrying it into effect, it would be absurd for it to present a Bill to Parliament and then have a vote against the Bill itself. Now, with regard to the Eight Hours Convention. The real case is this: The right hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Fisher) asked me whether we could pass this Convention. I think he must have had a change of heart or of head since the day when he was a member of the Government. In practice British industry in a large measure conforms to the spirit of the Convention, and to some extent is really ahead of it. That is another fact on which I should like to challenge the right hon. Gentleman opposite; I must ask him to give the hours of labour in Italy and France as compared with this country. Not only is it the almost universal custom here to fix by agreement a standard maximum normal working week and by agreement to pay' extra rates for overtime, but in almost all industrial undertakings that maximum is forty-eight hours, and in a number of important industries it is less. The general objects at which the Convention aims have been at least as completely secured in this country as in any of the countries who participate in the Convention. The Government are not aware that any representative opinion in this country desires that there should be any alteration of these agreements in the direction of raising the normal working week above forty-eight hours as at present. But the variety of British industries is very great, and they have advanced in this matter by voluntary agreement and by diverse methods, each adopting an arrangement of hours as best suits its particular needs.

The terms of the Convention are unfortunately in this respect very precise and rigid, particularly in regard to the limits of daily working hours and the duration and arrangements of overtime. It hardly appears to have contemplated the necessity of providing a continuity of operation in certain industries, such as railways, or the fact of the British custom to observe half-holidays or in some instance whole days off in addition to Sundays. Neither the present nor any preceding Government has found it possible to frame a Bill which will conform to the terms of the Convention in its present form and which will not involve the abrogation of existing agreements in important industries, and gravely imperil if not destroy that elasticity of reasonable freedom of self-government which both employers and employed in British industries should quite rightly prize. It is for these reasons that His Majesty's Government in 1921 suggested the consideration of the possibility of a revision of the Convention in the light of experience. His Majesty's Government, I wish to make this quite clear, are in the fullest accord with the aspirations expressed in Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles. In their view the International Labour Organisation can and ought to be organised more fully than in the past for the purpose of improving the conditions of labour in the more backward countries of the world, conditions which constitute an obstacle in the way of nations which, like Great Britain, desire to effect still further improvements in the lot of their own workers. But we are not satisfied that as much has been done by way of the ratification of conventions by other countries as could have been done. While His Majesty's Government do not at present see their way to overcome the difficulties which prevent the formal ratification of the Hours Convention in its present form it is our intention to cooperate to the fullest extent with the International Labour Office in carrying out the principles laid down in Part XIII of the Treaty. I want to make the position quite clear in regard to two final points. One is the question referred to by the right hon. Gentleman and the other is the observation that we are behind other countries in this matter. It has been said that, with the exception of France and Germany, other countries were in front of us in the matter of ratification. I put it to the House that to say that "with the exception of France and Germany" such is the case is like playing "Hamlet" without the Prince of Denmark. The attitude of France and Germany is of vital importance to this Country.

In the next place I submit to the House that it is not a question merely of ratification. It is a question of introducing the necessary legislation to carry out the ratification. As the right hon. Gentleman himself has just said, perfectly rightly, and I agree with nearly every word he said, after legislation has been passed it is necessary to see that the legislation is carried into operation by administration. I would be the last, to level a taunt at any other foreign country as to its legislation, still less as to administration, but if the right hon. Gentleman will consult his own table, which he offered to lend to me just now, and which we will consider together afterwards, he will find, in the first place, that legislation to carry out Conventions is as vital as, or even more vital than, ratification itself. If he will study that chart, he will find that this country is a long way ahead in ratification and legislation together, in regard to international labour matters. The right hon. Gentleman belongs to that self-disparaging type of Englishman who does it with the best motives. I do not want to boast too much, but I do not want us not to have the credit which we do deserve. If the right hon. Gentleman will examine both lines of the chart, the first for ratification and the second for legislation, he will find that we are not behind any other of the great countries. Further, the point that was made by the hon. Member who spoke first was that we prided ourselves on being the first to ratify, but that other countries ratified more quickly than we did. The hon. Member, however, omitted to think of one very important point. In this country, when new legislation is needed, in order to make sure that we can fulfil our obligations when we have ratified, we carry that new legislation first of all, and we ratify afterwards, and that is not the universal practice elsewhere. Consequently, that is a full, complete, final and sufficient answer to the point which the hon. Member made.

Let me just say this in conclusion. I think I agree almost absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman in his attitude towards the International Labour Office. In so far as we think that we are a country which, in regard to industrial conditions generally, is ahead of most other foreign countries, it would seem absurd not to be friendly towards an International Labour Organisation the primary, expressed object of which is to level the conditions of backward countries up to those that are more progress- sive. Therefore, in that general outlook, I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman. I find myself here, as in the administration of unemployment benefit in a most invidious position. I always seem to be standing half-way between the enthusiasts who want to go straight ahead and sign everything, and those who hang back because they are too suspicious to go ahead at all. I do not know which are the worst—the people who want to leap before they look, or the people who will neither look nor leap.

What I really want to do is to see if we cannot make the best possible use of the International Labour Office, and, there- fore, I want its work to be practical. I want that, so far as we can, in one way and another, the Conventions made should suit the needs closely. I want a country which genuinely wants a convention not to find it difficult to ratify it because it is so expressed that you cannot put the existing life of the country into the straight jacket which that particular Convention would provide. That is really the difficulty. We want these Conventions to fit the circumstances carefully. We want to try to see that ratification should go, as far as possible, concurrently, not necessarily in every country that is a member of the League, because that would be quite impracticable, but, at any rate, in the great countries that are concerned with the progress of one another in any particular great industry. Lastly, and here I am at one with the right hon. Gentleman, and although other work has been pressing, I have already been working on the subject, we want to see how far we can ensure that administration in countries as well as legislation is really calculated to carry out the Conventions we desire. The International Labour Office is young, and has a very difficult task before it. We have to try to combine the ideal and the real, because they are ultimately the same, and to go forward trying to see that the conventions, the ratifications, the legislation and the administration should gradually be kept up at a standard pace in the different countries. It is only in that way that you can get real, genuine progress in the end, a progress in international labour organisation which will, in the end, command the fullest consent of the different countries.

Captain BENN rose


On a point of Order. The Members representing mining constituencies arranged with Mr. Speaker that, when this last Debate finished, we should be allowed to discuss the closing of coal mines. This Debate has lasted an hour and a half longer than was anticipated, and we have been cut out of that time. You are now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, proposing to take another subject, which does not seem to be in accordance with the arrangement which Mr. Speaker made with us.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)

The actual length of the Debate is a matter in regard to which I am unable to interfere. It depends upon hon. Members themselves how long they take to deal with a particular subject. As regards the question which the hon. Member has raised as to the subject now to be discussed, according to the instructions I have received there are numerous subjects which are to be dealt with under one head, and I called upon the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn), who, I understand, will deal with one of the subjects comprised under that head.


Before you call upon the hon. and gallant Member, may I put it to you that this is not in accordance with the arrangement that has been come to? We were to come on at half-past two—


Half-past one.


It is now three o'clock. The Debate will finish at five o'clock, and the probabilities are that we shall not get an opportunity of dealing with this matter. I put it to you, and also to the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn), that this matter is of so much importance to us that we might, at least, get an opportunity now of putting it before the House. Otherwise, it will mean that the mining Members will have to take more drastic action than they have done. I do not want to be in any way disagreeable to hon. Members, but our patience has been nearly exhausted. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Leith will recognise the claim we put forward, that we should have an opportunity of dealing with this question.