HC Deb 06 July 1926 vol 197 cc1884-6

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for minimum rates of wages and maximum hours of labour in industries protected from foreign competition. This is designed to meet what appears to be a very obvious defect in the legislation of the country. I moved an Amendment to the Clause in the Finance Bill imposing a duty on wrapping paper. That Clause was designed to secure that the men employed in that industry should receive an increase of wages and a guarantee that the hours would not be made longer after the duty was imposed. It appears to me that the principle of providing for an increase in the remuneration of workers in an industry that is protected from foreign competition by the imposition of a tariff, and for the maintenance of the standard of their hours of labour, is one which it is very difficult for Members on any side of the House to desist. Members of the party opposite when they are advocating methods of protection, or the safeguarding of industries, speak of industry as a whole, but it is a fact that when a duty is imposed, while it is quite certain in the opinion of hon. Members opposite that the industry will receive a benefit, while they state that the men who have their capital invested will get a better return on that capital, and while they think there will be more profits in the industry, there is a defect in existing legislation in that there is no provision that there should be a corresponding improvement with regard to the remuneration and the condition of those employed in the industry. The workers, in fact, are left out of consideration as a definite factor. They are lumped into the industry in general. This Bill is meant to remedy that defect. It is meant to insure that when any duty is imposed on any article manufactured in this country which is supposed to be a protection against foreign competition, if the duty is 16 per cent., there should be a 4 per cent. increase in wages, if 20 per cent. it is to be a quarter of 20 per cent.—in fact, a quarter of the rate of the duty that is imposed.

When these matters of safeguarding and Protection have been before the House from time to time, Members on the other side have been loud in their protestations of a desire to improve the lot of the workers. This Bill is designed to give hon. Members a chance of implementing their good feeling. When the safeguarding of industries legislation was first being discussed in this House, the discussion taking place on the White Paper that was first published, I asked the President of the Board of Trade if it was not possible to give us an assurance that they would strengthen what I might call the labour side of the White Paper and pay more attention than on the face of it was inteneded by the White Paper to the actual conditions of the workers and their standard of life. The right hon. Gentleman said all the reasoning of my speech was the basis of the object of the policy of safeguarding, that is to say, the improvement of the conditions of the workers, and it would be one of the objects of the Committees set up under the safeguarding procedure to try to maintain higher standards of life for our workers. He also said that I might rest assured that what I said was not only implicit in the instructions but really one of the great root causes and the justification of the whole policy. If that is really so it seems to me that the Government and hon. Members opposite cannot resist this Bill, because it is intended to implement that promise of the President of the Board of Trade. This Bill makes it not a promise, not a matter of good intentions only, but a definite obligation that when any tariff is imposed the workers shall get a definite, defineable share in any advantage which accrues.

I do not want to be regarded as accepting Protection as a policy. I am accepting the facts of the case as they are at the present time. It is safe to say that so long as the present Government is in office we are likely to have a good many instalments of Protection under one name or another. We ought to recognise that fact. The Labour approach to these problems would be a different one. Accepting the facts of the present political situation, lamentable as that is, we ought to see that the workers get a share of the advantages which accrue from any legislation. By this Bill I want to establish a new principle in British legislation. At the present time, men speak as though it was only industry as a whole which is our concern, and that labour was only a constituent to be considered, like machinery or anything else that is used in the industry. Labour is not a constituent. Labour claims to be an equal partner and to be considered as an equal partner. It is for that reason that I put forward this Bill. The Bill is a modest one: it makes no extravagant claim, but it is the assertion of a principle which is of vital importance and one that should be part of the fundamental considerations always kept in mind in this House when we consider legislation. For these reasons, I hope the House will accept the Bill, will allow it to be brought in and read the First time.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Haden Guest, Mr. Thomas Johnston, Mr. Dennison, Mr. Scurr, and Mr. Lansbury.