HC Deb 10 March 1925 vol 181 cc1136-8

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the hours of industrial employment. The object of the Bill is to provide an opportunity for the introduction of the forty-eight hours' week into any or every industry where the innovation is desired. We heard a great deal last week of what is popularly described as "contracting-in" and "contracting-out." This Measure provides machinery for contracting-in. The power of initiative will be very largely in the hands of the Minister of Labour, the Bill merely providing that he must. be satisfied that there is a general demand for a change before he issues an Order. Where there is a thoroughly representative general industrial council, trade-board or similar organisation, the Minister may delegate his powers and his authority to it so far as relates to the temporary working of overtime. Subject to this provision, overtime is strictly limited to a total working week not exceeding 55½ hours.

There are special provisions regarding accidents and to meet emergencies, and also for special working conditions. The rates for overtime can be fixed for any industry by any joint organisation of the men representing not less than 75 per cent. of those engaged in the industry, but the overtime rates must not be less than time-and-a-quarter. This proposal, although applicable to all industries, I admit is made in the interests of the textile industry, where a complete understanding between employed and employers already exists with very happy results. This is one of the few industries which went through the whole War, and which has gone through the slump since the War, without a single stoppage of work from any cause whatever. The 48 hours' week is all they got out of the war experience, and at present it is in operation by voluntary agreement. For obvious reasons, however, it is most desirable to legalise it, and this Bill does it with due and proper safeguards.

The Minister will have full power to order an inquiry to be made on the application of any organisation representing not less than 50 per cent. of the workers engaged in that industry, and he may sanction a decision on the demand of not less than 75 per cent. of the workers so affected. The employers are reasonably protected by the need of laying on the Table of this House an Order which only becomes operative at the end of 40 days, provided no address has during that period been presented against it. Similar arrangements are made to the modification or discontinuance of this Order. All Regulations are made by the Minister, but an appeal lies to a specially nominated Judge of the High Court.

Finally, there are the usual penalties for the non-observance of the Act. That is all that there is in the Bill. I have endeavoured to limit it strictly to the aim and object of the Measure, and there are no subsidiary Clauses. This is an attempt to meet some of the industrial objections to a compulsory Act, especially in regard to one or two of the leading trade unions. There ought to be an avoidance of complications, and there should be no hard or fast application of the main principle in special circumstances. The Bill places in the hands of the workers great powers, and if they desire the change or already possess it and desire to legalise a 48 hours' week, it will be the easiest thing in the world for them to do so. Nor will this Measure do any injury, so I hope, to industry, especially at the present time. I have endeavoured to hold the balance fairly, and I trust this will be recognised by moderate opinion in all quarters of the House. It is a nonparty Measure, and it is supported by hon Members on both sides of the House. It is a great gesture, and a practical step forward in the direction of the ideal international 48 hours' week. I hope I shall be given facilities for introducing the Bill, and that the subsequent stages will be sympathetically and favourably considered by His Majesty's Government.


On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I would like to point out that I have already given notice through the ballot for Friday Motions that I intend to move on Friday, the 1st of May, a Motion, and introduce a Bill dealing with hours of labour. I want to safeguard my own rights. I understand that if a Bill has already been given notice of it blocks any other Bill on the same subject. I have no desire to block this Bill, and all I want to do is to preserve my own rights.


Certainly this will not in any way affect the rights of the hon. Member, or the Bill which he has put down. We have often two or more Bills on one subject, and the hon. Member will be quite safe in his right to move that Bill on the day to which he referred.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Forrest, Colonel England, Mr. Hugh Edwards, Lieut.-Colonel Gadie, Mr. Ramsden, and Mr. Trevelyan Thomson.