HC Deb 16 November 1926 vol 199 cc1695-701

I beg to move, That leave be given to introduce a Bill to prevent any strike or lock-out in any industrial dispute until a preliminary arbitration has taken place before a properly constituted Court. I rise to move the Motion standing in my name, having regard to the present industrial situation, and to the tremendous cost of the coal strike—[HON. MEMBERS: "Lock-out!"]— and other industrial disputes to the community at large. I do feel that the one class of people in the community of this country who have been entirely overlooked in all these industrial disputes is the general public, who have had no say or interest in any particular trade dispute. The Bill I ask leave to introduce is one which will say to the employers' federations and to the trade union officials, that before there be a strike or lock-out in any industry, before notice can be given of any intention either to strike or to lock-out, there must be preliminary proceedings before an Arbitration Court, and the full facts of the case must be arbitrated upon by an impartial tribunal. I suggest that this course would have tremendous advantages. It is admitted on both sides of the House that the trade of the country is in a precarious condition, and that the only hope for trade in the future lies in peace in industry, and I feel that if there were preliminary arbitration in important trade disputes that in nine cases out of ten they could be settled without the dire results of a strike. I feel that I am entitled as a member of the general public, apart from being a Member of Parliament, to come to this House and say that there are a large body of people outside any particular trade dispute who, as things stand, always have to pay the piper at somebody else's call. They have nothing to do, for instance, with the coal strike or lock-out—whatever you care to call it— but they are engaged in other trades, and they are the unfortunate people who have to suffer.

In international affairs hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House say: "Why should we have any war? Let us bring all questions of European or international polities before a tribunal to decide on what is right and what is wrong." Taking that view, surely they can have no objection to saying: "We rely upon our case; we are prepared to bring our case before an impartial tribunal; we are content to take the verdict of the general public as to whether we have a good case or not." I do not suggest that we should take away the proper right of the workman to strike, or the proper right of the employer to lock out his workmen; and I see that what I am proposing has been approved by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in an article in the "Daily Express" this morning, in which he said: Meanwhile, for the protection of the community, some legal machinery ought to he set up for the impartial investigation of the facts of a dispute before it gets to the length of strike or lock-out. Public opinion can exert a very powerful influence in the determination of an industrial dispute. At present it is ill-informed on the facts of the dispute. A preliminary investigation into the facts and a report on them by a court of investigation would enable public opinion to form an accurate judgment, and this would usually deter either party from causing a stoppage when the facts were obviously against them. It is on those lines that I have had the audacity, on the part of the general public, to frame this Bill. I consider it is the duty of anyone who has witnessed the situation which has developed in this country during the past few months to see whether there is any possible, method by which we can get rid of those people who do not desire to see peace in industry. [Interruption.] There are such people on both sides. This is a perfectly fair Bill, because it deals with both parties to a trade dispute, and I suggest that Members of this House, whether they sit on the Benches opposite or on these Benches, if they do really desire to see sonic decent law for determining the issue in industrial disputes without bringing agonising consequences upon a lot of innocent people, should give me a First Reading for this Bill.


I rise to ask the House to oppose the First Reading of so ill-thought-out a Bill. Although, perhaps, he does not appreciate it, the hon. Member is really introducing a Bill to licence strikes and lock-outs. He says that first of all there ought to be a preliminary arbitration. If I know anything about arbitration, he should have prefaced the word, making it "compulsory arbitration," because arbitration implies giving a decision, and what is the use of a preliminary arbitration before any question of strike or lock-out arises? The absurdity of the whole thing shows the danger of Members stepping in with only a little knowledge, but overshadowed by frenzied panic, and trying to frighten the people of the country. I want the House to consider what this Bill would mean if it were passed. It is not as though it were the Government bringing forward some well-thought-out subject for debate in the House. This Measure is ill-conceived and wrongly-named. It is not arbitration at all, and, as a matter of fact, will be the first step towards creating more distrust in the industrial world. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I would remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker's honourable name is associated with what are termed Whitley Councils, which exist in most of the principal industries of this country. What hon. Members should direct their attention to is getting a more generous interpretation of our responsibilities in industry and commerce rather than to driving in a wedge to create greater distrust by making thoughts of a strike or a lock-out come uppermost in the mind at the outset. I can mention many instances where, with conciliation boards and Whitley Councils, matters have been discussed for pretty well a year, yet the first thought has always been to avoid a dispute, which is looked upon only as a final resource.

Under this Bill the first thought in the reactionary employer's mind would assume, the need of a lock-out to force reductions; and the first thought in the mind of the workman—let us be quite open and frank—who wanted to secure improvements would be "if we want to get a discussion on the matter we must threaten a strike." A strike or a lockout would be threatened before they had first endeavoured to thrash out their differences by conciliatory machinery. If this Bill ever found its way on to the Statute Book the Government would have to create an arbitration Ministry. Though we mention on the Floor of this House one big dispute that looms large in the eyes of the public, thousands of disputes of which the nation knows nothing at all are settled by conciliatory means, apart from any arbitration methods. The right hon. Gentleman who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Government is right. Times out of number the trade union movement has suggested investigation. We have nothing to be afraid of in investigation, but we do object to compulsory arbitration, and we will fight it right the way through. No one ever disagrees with investigation. It is the principal work of trade union officials throughout the country. There are to-day at least a thousand gatherings where employers and workmen are meeting trying to conciliate or compose their differences. The House knows nothing of that. Take that away and as soon as a man is dismissed and his workmates threaten a strike, you have to call in a Government Department and create a properly constituted court. You have to hear a lot of evidence as to whether the employer was right in discharging the man, or whether the men were right in threatening a strike. You say that must be arbitrated upon, whereas a little British commonsense tells us that a round table conference with a full realisation by both sides of each other's difficulties will settle the matter. If you want to break up your conciliation machinery this is the best way to do so. If you mean compulsory arbitration, then say so.

You say preliminary arbitration before a strike, but if the arbitrator says he believes the employers to be right you cannot enforce his decision. [Interruption.] Yes, that is what the hon. Member who introduced the Bill said. Evidently, you know more about the Measure than he knows himself. You seem to have come to the conclusion that his Bill falls far short of your conception of what he means. What he said was "preliminary arbitration before a dispute." After arbitration, you can have your dispute. I say it is better to have conciliation and investigation to avoid a dispute than to create distrust in industry at this stage. This Bill is bound to create more disturbance than anything else, and the best thing the House can do is to refuse to give a First Reading to a Measure that can only be mischievous, that can only lead to a good deal of injury to our present conciliation machinery, and can only put hack the possibilities of trade and industrial development for many years. Under this Bill you would have dozens of Courts sitting up and down the country trying to avoid disputes, when the contestants, in their own surroundings and in their own industries, if we can only get a generous interpretation of the responsibilities and obligations which we have to each other, would be better able to arrive at a settlement.

Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prevent any strike or lock-out in any industrial dispute until a preliminary arbitration has taken place before a properly constituted Court.

The House divided: Ayes, 135; Noes. 82.

Division No. 458.] AYES. [4.5 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Christie, J. A. Fairfax, Captain J. G.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Churchman, Sir Arthur C. Fanshawe, Commander G. D.
Albery, Irving James Clayton, G. C. Fenby, T. D.
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir G. K. Fermoy, Lord
Atkinson, C. Cooper, A. Duff Fielden, E. B.
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Courtauld, Major J. S. Forestier-Walker, Sir L.
Barnett, Major Sir Richard Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Forrest, W.
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Cunliffe, Sir Herbert Foxcroft, Captain C. T.
Braithwaite, A. N. Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh) Fraser, Captain Ian
Briant, Frank Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Frece, Sir Walter de
Brittain, Sir Harry Davies, Dr. Vernon Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Ganzoni, Sir John
Buckingham, Sir H. Dawson, Sir Philip Gates, Percy
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Dean, Arthur Wellesley Goff, Sir Park
Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan Dixey, A. C. Gower, Sir Robert
Burton, Colonel H. W. Drewe, C. Grace, John
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Eden, Captain Anthony Graham, Frederick F. (Cumb'ld., N.)
Campbell, E. T. Elveden, Viscount Grant, Sir J. A.
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.) Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.
Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Everard, W. Lindsay Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (W'th's'w, E)
Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.) Meyer, Sir Frank Savery, S. S.
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Milne, J. S. Wardlaw- Shaw, Capt. Walter (Wilts, Westb'y)
Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Sheffield, Sir Berkeley
Haslam, Henry C. Moore, Sir Newton J. Slaney, Major P. Kenyon
Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley) Murchison, C. K. Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinedine, C.)
Hilton, Cecil O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh Sprot, Sir Alexander
Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard Oman, Sir Charles William C. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) Owen, Major G. Tasker, Major R. Inigo
Hopkins, J. W. W. Penny, Frederick George Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)
Hurst, Gerald B. Perkins, Colonel E. K. Tinne, J. A.
Hutchison, G. A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's) Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Waddington, R.
Jacob, A. E. Philipson, Mabel Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Jephcott, A. R. Pielou, D. P. Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Power, Sir John Cecil Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Kennedy, A. R. (Preston). Preston, William Wells, S. R.
Kidd, J. (Linlithgow) Price, Major C. W. M. Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Kindersley, Major G. M. Raine, W. Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Knox, Sir Alfred Rees, Sir Beddoe Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)
Loder, J. de V. Remnant, Sir James Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Rhys, Hon. C. A. U. Wise, Sir Fredric
MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford) Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)
Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Ropner, Major L. Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
McLean, Major A. Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A. Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Makins, Brigadier-General E. Sandeman, A. Stewart TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Malone, Major P. B. Sanders, Sir Robert A. Dr. Watts and Sir Cooper Rawson.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)
Ammon, Charles George Hardie, George D. Rose, Frank H.
Attlee, Clement Richard Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Salter, Dr. Alfred
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Hayday, Arthur Scrymgeour, E.
Baker, Walter Hirst, G. H Scurr, John
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Barnes, A. John, William (Rhondda, West) Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Barr, J. Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Batey, Joseph Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Kelly, W. T. Stamford, T. W.
Bondfield, Margaret Kennedy, T. Taylor, R. A.
Bromley, J. Lansbury, George Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Buchanan, G. Lawrence, Susan Thurtle, Ernest
Charleton, H. C. Lawson, John James Townend, A. E.
Cluse, W. S. Lowth, T. Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R Lunn, William Viant, S. P.
Compton, Joseph MacNeill-Weir, L. Wallhead, Richard C.
Cove, W. G. March, S. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Dalton, Hugh Maxton, James Westwood, J.
Day, Colonel Harry Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.
Dennison, R. Naylor, T. E. Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Dunnico, H. Oliver, George Harold Wiillams, David (Swansea, E.)
Freemantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Paling, W. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Gardner, J. P. Potts, John S. Windsor, Walter
Gillett, George M. Purcell, A. A.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Groves, T. Riley, Ben Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. T.
Grundy, T. W. Ritson, J. Henderson.
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Dixey, Major-General Sir Alfred Knox, Dr. Watts, Mr. Jones, Mr. Goodman Roberts, Sir Walter de Frece, Mr. Fenby, and Sir Cooper Rawson.