§ Mr. HAYDAY
I beg to move,That Item Class V, Vote 7 (Ministry of Labour), be reduced by £100.I move this reduction in order that attention may be called to the matter of the Washington Hours Convention, and to give expression to disappointment at its non-ratification by the Government of Great Britain. I think it is as well that we should remember the incidents surrounding the Versailles Treaty of 1919, if for no other reason than to remind Members of the Committee and the nation of the circumstances that brought into being that Department known as the International Labour Office, for the purpose of securing ratification, particularly of the hours, by the nations which were parties to the great League, and it will be remembered that. Part XIII is the special part of that Treaty setting up the International Labour Office. Words used in connection therewith, I am afraid, have been forgotten, for certainly they have never been brought to the forefront to the extent that they might well have been; otherwise, I am sure the people of this country would have been more insistent upon ratification. It was then stated that universal peace was the object of the Supreme Council of the League of Nations, that that could only be established on a basis of social justice, and that social unrest produced by labour conditions of hardship and privation imperilled the peace and harmony of the world.
59 For the life of me, I cannot understand how it is that, as a nation, we have neglected to play our part in furthering such settlements. We were undoubtedly parties to them, and if only such principles and purposes could be attained, I am certain we should enter into a period where trust would take the place of suspicion, and we should alleviate the privation and hardship due to bad industrial conditions, creating discontent and anger, which too often lead to acts that imperil the world's peace. We, of course, must remind the present Government of the fact that at Washington, in 1919, where the Hours Convention was finally accepted by 82 votes to two against, our own Government of the day—the Coalition Government—which pledged both Conservatives and Liberals to the principles of ratification, Mr. Barnes, acting as the Government's principal representative, stated that he voted for the Convention on instructions from the British Government. There is a, saying that an Englishman's word is his bond. I apologise to my Scottish, Welsh and Irish friends for the use of the term, but it is an all-inclusive one. This nation gave its word more than seven years ago for the ratification of a Treaty. Its word may still stand, but it has not yet answered to the terms of the bond, and I feel sure that that has brought this country under the shadow of suspicion more than anything else has done during the past seven years.
I know it is very often said that the country is confronted with the competition of other nations, that it cannot get simultaneous ratification agreed to, that it is all very well to insist that Great Britain should act first, and leave it to the good faith of others to follow. I would rather accept that position than the position which makes it possible for employers and commercial interests to say that, because others in the race for the markets work longer hours for lower wages, and give a cheap product in greater volume, they really must follow the rest. For the first time in the history, I think, of British politics, the Government last year passed an Eight. Hours Act for the miners, registering for the first time in our history an Act of Parliament actually increasing hour 60 of labour, in spite of their previous professions, as set out in Article XIII of the Treaty of Versailles, stating that privation and hardship, which naturally follow lengthening of hours, lead to international unrest and the possibility of international outbreaks. Where are we going to stop if we follow this line of reasoning and these excuses? Are we to enter into a great race of armaments, leading to a state of affairs where, as in previous years, those armaments had to be tested, and war took place? Are we to engage in this competitive race for the purpose of markets with other countries, and always follow the lead of the worst elements by lengthening hours, by constantly reducing conditions that are economical unsound, and never achieve the results which can be got if you have a virile, vigorous army of workers, working in an atmosphere of satisfaction and not under conditions of despondency and worry?
It seems to me that the Government ought to have done much more than they have done up to the present moment. I am not going to make any quotations from the OFFICIAL REPORT as far as speeches or questions are concerned, but one will remember that in May, 1921, the Right Hon. G. N. Barnes raised the question in Parliament as the competent authority. One can well understand that as the Government's leading representative at Washington in 1919, he felt that there was responsibility resting upon him, and he raised the question on the floor of this House. What was the position of the Government of 1921? They moved an Amendment to the Motion of Mr. Barnes, and it was carried, to the effect that it was not expedient to proceed with legislation to give effect to the Washington Convention on Hours of Labour. I wonder how that was received by the other nations. Were we right to put them under suspicion when we were so hesitant ourselves? I think the fact that the Government of that day tabled such an Amendment would lead other nations to be suspicious of us. It certainly does not justify our being placed on the pedestal always as Honest John, who is the individual upon whom the international confidence tricksters practice their wily arts. It rather appeared 61 to me that we put our country in a very poor light amongst the nations of the world. I think, too, I ought to mention that in 1924—these are incidents upon which it is very necessary that memories should be brightened—the question of the railway agreements arose with the International Office, and the Government of the Day raised the question as to whether a new Convention ought not to be suggested or promulgated in consequence, as it was then stated, of the difficulties surrounding a common understanding upon the Convention of Washington. Representations were made to the International Labour Office as to whether this could be done. In the meantime, certain States had ratified the Convention, and, quite naturally, the International Labour Office refused to entertain the question of setting about promulgating a new Convention. I think the principal objection then related to the Railway Agreements. The question of the Railway Agreements has since been put right. It was the subject of discussion as recently as 1926 among the Labour Ministers of the various countries.
In 1924, when the Labour party were in office, the then Minister of Labour tabled a Bill for the ratification of the Convention. That represented the first real effort to bring before the proper authority of this country in a proper manner the desire for ratification. It was immediately followed by the Conference at Berne in the same Year between the Labour Ministers of Great Britain. Belgium, France and Germany—to discuss the Convention and to remove any difficulties of interpretation so as to facilitate the process of ratification by the respective Government. I understand that the difficulties which were apparent had been cleared away, because I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who was the Government representative at Geneva in the same year, stated the intention of the British Government to proceed with the Bill when the business of the House permitted. That, as everyone will understand, was rendered impossible by the early defeat of the Labour Government. Consequently, the nation lost not only a valuable, honest Government, but a very 62 valuable opportunity of redeeming the word of the people of this country.
Therefore, if you trace those incidents, you will find Liberals, Conservatives and Labour all pledged at some time or other, and that pledge, so to speak, concentrated on definite undertakings. Yet here, seven years afterwards, we still have to plead with the Government to overcome any remaining difficulties—if there are any, and we cannot see them—in order that we may go for definite ratification. There is something else. Unless there is some speedy effort made for the ratification of this Hours Convention we shall have a repetition of incidents like that of 1925 in the engineering trade. See what happens. You have a race for markets. Our merchants say: "We cannot compete. Hours are longer on the Continent and elsewhere than they are here, and, if we are to compete successfully, we must increase our hours. "We all know that in April, 1925, a request was made by the employes in the engineering trades of this country for an increase in wages, the engineering trade having been hit, perhaps, the hardest of all the industries in this country as the result of the aftermath of the War. They were met with the request from the employers for an increase in working hours. I do not want the Committee to take merely my word for the reasons that prompted, or that were stated to have prompted, that demand from the employers. In the 1926 annual Report of the Director of the International Labour Office he makes mention of the matter and says:The Employers Federation contended that their proposals were necessitated by the condition of the British engineering industry, which had become still worse since the beginning of the year, and that they would enable Great Britain to compete with other European countries where the workers worked longer and earned less than in Great Britain. The employers also suggested that the Federations concerned should submit a joint petition to the Government in order to secure an arrangement for a reduction in working hours abroad.I need not go right through, but they appointed a deputation to wait upon the Government and point out the necessity for taking such steps as might be possible under the Peace Treaty, or otherwise, to secure an agreement on hours of work with the Continental countries. After the interview had 63 taken place with the Labour Minister, of 10th November, 1925, this Report followed:The deputation directed attention to the Labour Clauses in the Treaty of Versailles, which laid it down that the high contracting parties recognised the necessity of a uniform working day of eight hours as being essential for securing the peace and well-being of the peoples of all countries. The Minister in reply "—I take it that is my right hon. Friend—expressed his appreciation at meeting the joint deputation, and said that, in view of the representations made in regard to the Versailles Treaty, he would give the matter his early and earnest attention with a view to arriving at a satisfactory understanding with the other nations.The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, will recognise that you there get employers and employés alike in an industry affected by this European competition, asking the Government of the day, through its responsible Minister, to see whether it was not possible to get this universal agreement which would be of benefit equally to European countries as well as to ourselves. It would he a matter of all starting from the same mark, leaving the rest for ability and other characteristics in competing for whatever trade there might he going. I know that the Minister of Labour did, as a matter of fact, follow that up, because in March, 1926, a meeting of the Labour Ministers of Great Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy was arranged in London to discuss methods of administration to be adopted. That rather sounds as if all five Ministers went with the real intention of seeing to what extent they could get uniformity of administration, and I am sure that the proceedings were very keenly and hopefully followed by those of us who were in a position at all events of having semi-contact with the matter. It certainly did appear that an understanding had been arrived at such as would remove all the difficulties of the British Government on the questions of flexibility and the railway agreements. I have here a print giving the series of articles as they were discussed. I do not suppose that they will be questioned, and I need not therefore weary the Committee by reading them, but one point was as to whether there would be flexibility enough under 64 the Hours Convention to deal with Sunday work, week-end time, continuous processes, overtime, and matters of that kind, and, in addition, the railway position. It was at that Conference, believe, that the Minister of Labour of the British Government was satisfied that the understanding at all events cleared away the railway agreements difficulty and that there was sufficient flexibility under the Convention to give plenty of scope and room to deal with all the questions previously mentioned as possible obstacles towards the ratification.
Therefore, I hope that the Minister, as the result of all those incidents—the Berne discussion and the London discussion—is going to be able to say that they have come to arrangements, whereby there is the possibility of ratification taking place simultaneously by at least four of the Powers, because, of course, we know that one—Italy—has since broken from any question of ratification. I understand that the Great Dictator there has decreed an increase in the hours of labour for workers. I certainly am hopeful that the Minister will he able to say that the Cabinet have had this matter under consideration, that all the difficulties are now removed, and that they will proceed at the earliest possible moment to ratify the Convention. I believe in June last year the Prime Minister himself said that it was not possible to discuss ratification just then in view of the industrial position in the country. One can understand these difficulties arising now and again, but I certainly hope that to-day we shall hear something that will lead eventually to the redemption of the undertaking we gave in 1919. I believe, though I do not know for certain, that by 1930 nations which have not then ratified will be able, so to speak, to put themselves outside the bounds of possible ratification; or it may be—I do not know—that the question of the conduct of the nations which were parties to the revision will then come up again.
At the moment, cut of the four Powers, Belgium has ratified quite unconditionally. She is not afraid. Belgium, as a great iron and steel-producing country, enters into competition with this country almost as much as 65 does France and Germany, and she certainly competes with France and Germany. If Belgium can ratify the Convention without restrictions and still keep her hold on the market, that ought to be a lead to ratification on the part of Britain. In France the Senate voted for ratification by 279 to one. If, as I believe, that ratification is conditional upon ratification by Germany and Great Britain, that is another reason why we ought to ratify. Before the question comes before the lower House in France I would like those discussing it to be able to say: "At least Great Britain is prepared to ratify." Then we should have Belgium, France and Great Britain in agreement. As for Germany, she has not been altogether idle in this matter. It is true that we have conflicting reports as to the actual state of affairs, but Germany has introduced a Labour Protection Bill, which provides for an eight hours day or a 48 hours week. Last week I was informed that this did make possible ratification on the lines of the Hours Convention. This morning I got another point of view from the German Federation of Trade Unions, who say that in their opinion it does not satisfy the requirements for the ratification of the Convention. This morning, also, I got still another expression of opinion, the International Federation of Trade Unions saying that in their opinion it does make possible the effectual ratification of the Convention. Still, though there may be doubt and hesitancy, at all events a move is being made.
Are we going to hasten this move, or are we going to retard it? I think that if we ratify, France, Belgium and Germany will also ratify, and then we shall get the cumulative results of the Berne and London Conferences. True, eight years almost will have passed from the time when the matter was discussed, hut what we shall have done will be worth something. It is not too late for the sinners to repent, and I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that all public-spirited men and women in this country, whether of the employing class, the working class, the commercial class, the religious class, or the professional class, are urging the ratification of the Hours Convention, believing that in that way we shall do something to clear the ground upon 66 which discontent and suspicion breed. If we neglect our duty much longer, suspicion will delevop into viciousness—I would use the word "hatred," only it is one that I do not care to introduce into my vocabulary. Certainly it will lead to viciousness if these suspicions to be bandied backwards and forwards, in spite of conferences and explanations with the object of clearing matters up.
I notice that at a meeting of the governing body of the International Labour Office in January of the present year the employers' representative put in a further series of questions which he desired to be answered, and at the same time that the Government representative also asked for further questions to be elucidated. The Labour representative on the governing body puts it this way:The British employers' representative stated that he now had half of the information; when he had the other half he would present his case.Seven years, and one half of the evidence only! Seven years, during which representatives of the employers have been parties to joint deputations to the Minister asking for the Convention to be put into operation; and when we get near to the possibility of that being achieved, then the employers say, "We have only half the information we want." If we have to wait another seven years to complete the other half, the people of the country will want to take a hand in the business instead of leaving things to representatives who, in seven years, cannot get to know exactly what it is they want. This is the declaration put in by the employers at the meeting of the governing body in January:The employers' representatives on the Committee, in accordance with the purpose which was in view when the Committee was set up, have drawn attention to a series of difficulties which in their opinion at present stand in the way of ratification by a certain number of countries. They regret that the Committee has not thoroughly examined those difficulties, and they consider that in these circumstances the end in view has not been attained, and they desire to disclaim all responsibility in this matter.The Workers' Group, representative of all the nations associated with the International Labour Office and, through that, the League of Nations, had a group meeting to see what really was the 67 matter, and felt very much disturbed to find that it was a representative of the British employers who said he had been tally half satisfied as to the information he required. The Workers' Group decided that no valid reason now exists for refusing the ratification of the Hours Convention, and suggested that the governing body should urge upon all States which are members of the organisation to put the Washington Hours Convention into operation forthwith.
It may be asked: What have we to do with the workers' representatives of other nations? In reply to that, I would say that it was hoped that, as the result of the sacrifices made by the workers of the world in the Great War, one good thing, at all events, would emerge from that War, and that was a Charter for Labour throughout the world, a Charter that would establish some degree of uniformity so far as hours were concerned. It may not be possible to dictate to the various countries on all matters, having regard to the varying economic conditions of countries, but, at all events, it was hoped it would be possible to secure uniformity about hours. The Charter represents a real attempt to lay the foundation stone of peace. Peace is disturbed as the result of world competition for markets. First there is international warfare in matters of trade and commerce, and then comes the desire for territorial expansion. If we could satisfy the elements from which this competition springs, the possibility of trouble between nations would recede into the background.
I feel I have taken up as much time as I ought in a Debate that can only cover the part of the ground which is before us to-day, and that I may be asked, "Why just those States?" Other countries have ratified the Convention, including Greece, Roumania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and some smaller States. I hope hon. Members will not smile because they are small. I have heard it said, "Oh, those are little tin-pot places from the industrial point of view. As regards their industrial value, any one of them could be put into Manchester or Liverpool." They may be small, but let us not overlook them. I believe India 68 has ratified the Convention in part, not agreeing straight away to the eight-hours day, but adopting a graduated scale which will permit her to bring down hours gradually. Do not let us say that because countries are small they are unimportant. It is for the big nations to do the big thing, and the great industrial nations of the world ought to give encouragement to the others. In this case, I do not want us to wait until a number of small nations take the lead, and I would like us to go ahead and encourage the others to go forward.
It is true that a number of other countries have recommended ratification, and we all know how far they depend upon the lead given by this country. Of course, we must follow our own judgment. The signature, of a number of other countries depends upon what the four great Powers do, and they include Brazil, Denmark, Holland, Poland, Spain, and several others. There is one industrial country which has ratified conditionally, and that is Austria, and she has ratified conditionally upon the five Powers who were parties to the London discussion ratifying. All I can hope is that the Government of to-day and the Minister of Labour will be able to tell us that they have now got clear of all their difficulties. If they say that, we can excuse them, but, if they say that there are still difficulties, then we must condemn them for not having utilised the time to a greater degree, and for not having faced whatever difficulties they had to meet. There is no difficulty so great that it ought to stand in the way of Great Britain ratifying.
In 1919 our word was given. We expressed with other countries our abhorrence of War and the desire to build up and institute international justice, and we created the Grand Council of the League of Nations. You see now difficulties arising, and industrial opportunities are being sacrificed, and industrial status has almost disappeared. This ought never to have happened. For these reasons, I think we ought to be prepared to go out of our way to provide this separate department whose business it will be to watch such social measures as affect the home and the industrial life of the people. In this country we were so intense upon this matter that when Dr. Woodrow Wilson called the Washing- 69 ton Conference we expressed our desire to do everything we possibly could in that direction, and as the voting was 82 to two, I think that shows the desire of the world at that time. In my view, the obstacles can be no greater now Alan they were then when the industrial machine was cracking and out of gear. We are now getting back to the old standard, but do not let us allow it to crack again at the foundation by neglecting an opportunity for an international understanding.
§ Major HILLS
It is a rather curious circumstance that in this, the eighth year after the signing of the Washington Convention and after all the political parties in the State have expressed themselves in favour of it, that we should be still discussing its ratification. I hope that before the Debate finishes to-day we shall learn from the Government that they do mean to ratify the Convention. The hon. Member who has just sat down has made the general case for ratification so completely that I do not think I need to repeat his arguments, and I do not want to go into the ancient history of this case. I will only say in this connection that all the people who have studied industrial questions are agreed that the only improvement in conditions that can come must come internationally. It is no good one country raising its standard in advance of another, because it only runs the risk of being compelled later to lower its standard. Therefore, it has now become well recognised that all these questions have to be discussed upon an international basis. I do not want to go into details as to why the Convention has not been ratified. My own view is that all parties in the State and all Governments are to blame in the matter. First of all, there comes the Coalition Government. They had three years in which to ratify, and they did not do it. Next comes the Conservative Government, and they failed to ratify. They were followed by the Labour Government, and they also failed to ratify. Now we have the present Government. I hope the Minister of Labour is going to show that the repentance of this country is complete, and that he will be able to announce the ratification of the Convention.
How does the matter stand outside this country? I will try to put the position 70 in a very few words. All our great industrial competitors have ratified or are ratifying. Belgium has ratified, France is in process of ratifying. The permissive Bill in France has passed the Senate, and this enables the Executive to ratify providing Great Britain and Germany ratify. I know this is not actual ratification, but it is a Bill which enables the Executive to ratify, and it is conditional upon ratification by Germany and this country. In Germany, the Bill for ratification has been deposited, and it is conditional on the ratification of the chief industrial countries. Since, then, Belgium has ratified, I take it the other chief industrial countries are France, Great Britain and Italy. It was generally thought that the decree issued last year or the year before in Italy setting up a nine hours' clay prevented the ratification of the Washington Convention by that country, but since then conditions have changed. The decree issued on the 11th January of this year confines the nine hours' day to exceptional circumstances, and in addition before the nine hours' day can he worked, there must be agreement between the workers and the employers' organisations and those agreements must be approved by the Minister for Public Economy.
Consequently, it comes down to this. The ratification or non-ratification turns entirely upon what we do. If we ratify, then ratification in Europe becomes general. If we do not, then France and Germany will not ratify. As to what Belgium will do, I cannot say, but Italy may change and go back to the nine hours day. Under these circumstances, surely it is to our own interest to ratify. Do not let us forget that in this country a large majority of organised trades are working a 48 hours week, or better, and we are in the position of being the one country whose interest it is to bring the other countries along in this direction. In all human affairs you have to seize opportunities when they occur. The opportunity is there now, and, if we linger and delay any longer, how can we be certain that the opportunity will recur? Surely we who called a conference last March and asked the other nations to meet us here when we took charge of that conference ought not to be the country to hang back. As I understand it, all the difficulties in regard to interpretation and application of the 71 Convention were removed at that conference. I have in my hand a report which was issued on this subject, and, so far as I can read and understand it, all the difficulties of application and interpretation were removed at that conference. At any rate, if there are any outstanding points, I hope the Minister of Labour will tell us what they are.
I want to deal with one or two objections which I have heard stated. The first is the picture of the honest but rather stupid Englishman who is at the mercy of the dishonest foreigner, in case we observe the. Convention and the dishonest foreign nation does not do so. If that be the true picture, it certainly is a rather arrogant one, and I do not think we ought to arrogate all the honesty in the world to ourselves. In this connection, I want to point out that there is a very complete machinery for bringing to book any State that ratifies, and does not carry out the terms of the Convention. This machinery is contained, not in the Covenant of the League of Nations, but inside the four corners of the Peace Treaty itself. The procedure is that if a State is not observing the Convention, that breach can be reported to the International Labour Office, and the complainant can ask for a committee of inquiry. That committee is nominated by the Secretary-General of the League of Nations from a panel representative of workers and employers and independent persons. One representative is selected from each of the three categories, and that commission of inquiry examines the question and reports, and in case of disagreement the question can be referred to the Court of International Justice, and that Court can issue a decree providing the economic measures that can be taken by the States that are damaged against the States that are in default. Anyone who says that we are at the mercy of a foreign country that may not be carrying out the terms of the Convention cannot, I think, have studied this very detailed procedure. It gives a complete answer to that objection. As soon as a State has ratified the Convention, it is bound to carry it out, and it will carry it out. So mach for the first objection. I do not know how widely it is felt, 72 though certainly I know that it is felt, but I do not think that that objection will hold water.
The second objection is this: It is admitted that we ought to ratify at some time, but it is said that the present time is an inopportune time at which to do so—that we have passed through a period of industrial strife, that the country is still unsettled, and we had better wait. One always meets that argument. Even where you have convinced people that a certain course is right, they end up by saying that, while they admit that the course is right, the occasion is not an opportune one, and I am quite certain that we should meet the same objection whenever ratification was suggested. It seems to me, however, that this period, before the increase in trade that we all expect and hope for starts, when there is a period., more or less, of quiescence, is a very good time at which to put our house in order. I will not argue the question of the effect of the shorter day upon production, but I will just make one observation. Every shortening of hours has been hailed by certain people as foretelling the ruin of British industry, lint hours have been shortened, and British industry has emerged more prosperous than ever. Therefore, I do not think that in this case ruin will ensue: in fact, I am pretty sure that British trade will improve as a consequence.
Against these two objections the argument in favour of adhering to the Convention is overwhelming. Some seven and a half years ago the British Government representative signed this Convention at Washington, and seven and a half years is a quite long enough time in which to fulfil a promise. In addition to that, it is to our interest to do so. It would diminish rather than increase the competition to which British products will be subject; it would improve conditions of labour, and would improve them especially in those categories in which they are least favourable and least good; and it would do something to restore that leadership in industrial legislation which, honestly, this country stands in danger of losing. This country, in the past, has led the world in industrial reform, and with each step upwards our prosperity and our wealth have increased. We, therefore, have not 73 suffered from it. I do not want to see that leadership which belonged to us in the past fall into the hands of some other nation. The case is very strong. There may be an answer to it, but, after giving the best study I can to the question, I cannot find any answer. If there be no answer, why cannot the Government come right out and say they will ratify? I hope that, before this Debate closes, we shall hear a statement to that effect.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I welcome very heartily the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills), with which I am in cordial agreement. I want, in the few words that I propose to address to the Committee, to recall the beginnings of this question. In connection with the acceptance by the Peace Plenipotentiaries of Part 13, it was distinctly stated, in a White Paper issued by the Ministry of Labour in 1919, thatThe Section was based, as was pointed out m a pamphlet issued some months ago by the Ministry of Labour, on the proposals jolt forward by the British representatives;so that we were really in it from the beginning. We initiated Part 13 of this Treaty; we have claimed credit for initiating the very proposals the principal item of which is this question of the eight hours day. We were delighted to claim credit for having so initiated these proposals. Then, when we pass from Paris to the position at the same time at home, we were in this country engaged in conversations, in a Joint Industrial Conference set up by the then Prime Minister of the Coalition Government. That Joint Industrial Conference was assured that any resolutions they came to with unanimity would be implemented by the Government—that the Government would carry them out in the legislation of the day. The employers' side at that Joint Industrial Conference had as its chairman no less a figure than Sir Allan Smith, and the Conference unanimously came to this decision on the hours question:In favour of legislation fixing fortyeight hours as a maximum length of working week throughout industry;Matters went so far that actually an official Bill was drafted, and, I believe, was introduced into the House.
Then, moving from the London situation to Washington, in the same year, 1919, 74 where the international conference of Governments employers and workers had agreed with the principle of the 48 hours week, we again, as has already been stated by my hon. Friend, claim the credit for initiating matters there. We find that this same White Paper pronounces, I was going to say, a benediction on the work at Washington; it certainly gives great praise and significance to it. It says that it wasa gathering of the greatest significance for the future of industry"—this is a Ministry of Labour document from which I am quoting—and, it is to be hoped, was the prelude to far-reaching reforms in the working conditions of labour which will be progressively instituted in all countries with the active encouragement of the permanent International Labour Office.The White Paper goes on to say thatThe Conference adopted, by more than the necessary two-thirds majority in each case, no less than six draft Conventions and six Recommendations. Thus, after less than a month's work, in spite of the great difficulties with which it was faced, the Conference produced 12 detailed constructive international agreements which were adopted, not only as the basis, out as the text, of future international action.In another paragraph they say, dealing with the discussion that took place on the Eight-Hours question:Eventually agreement was reached, the principle of the eight-hour day being laid down, but the conditions in regard to its application being made fairly elastic.On that point I want to emphasise here the line that has been always maintained by the Labour people who have had to do with the controversies on this matter. We have always maintained that the Convention itself was drafted sufficiently widely to provide for all the necessary variations required by continuous industries, by certain processes like railways, and so on, and that many of these vexations questions were raised, one might almost say for the purposes of delay rather than because there was any real substance in them. The White Paper goes on to say:The Convention as finally passed involves an agreement of the countries concerned to introduce legislation for securing an eight-hour day and a 48-hour week for all workers in industrial undertakings.Then we have a most remarkable thing to record in relation to other parts of the Empire. At that Conference in Washington, the Government of British India 75 was opposed to many of the recommendations of the Conference. The excuse frequently urged against ratification in this country of this, that, or the other Convention has been that it would require some modification of existing practice or law, but what about India? India had the position to face, and her representatives were not very enthusiastic about facing it at Washington; but they went back to their own country and honourably fulfilled what they regarded as an international obligation undertaken at Washington. Let me just remind the Committee what India has done. The hours of Labour have been reduced from 72 to GO per week—that was the graduated scale to which my hon. Friend referred—representing a reduction of 20 per cent. in the hours being worked in India at that time. The starting age for boys and girls was raised in certain industries to 12 years, which may be said to be equivalent to 14 or 15 in this country; the number of hours that they could be employed in factories was fixed at a maximum of six per day, and so on throughout the whole list of 10 items in which very real changes had to be effected in the legislation of India in order to keep faith with the. International Convention.
It is with great sadness and disappointment that we have to turn again and again to the attitude, particularly, of the employers, which has, in our opinion, far too great weight with the Government in matters of this kind—the narrow and short-sighted views of some employers against making, even if they were temporary sacrifices, these necessary changes in the custom and practice of this country in order to bring us into line with international obligations. Our contention has been all along that we of all countries have least to modify and change in our practice in connection with the eight-hour day. It has been the custom and practice in all staple trades in this country for a long time. In the eyes of Europe, we are, I believe, convicted of hypocrisy and self-delusion, of having laid claim to superiority on mere words which have not been backed up by the necessary action.
I also want to deal with the point that has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon, as to our administration being more complete than the 76 administration and enforcement of laws in other countries. That is a point which has probably a good deal of substance. What is the remedy The remedy is not a refusal to ratify; the remedy is to support the International Labour Office in the efforts they are making to see that the standards of inspection and administration in other countries are brought up to the level of ours. It is a most foolish policy to imagine that we can assist matters in other countries by failing to honour our obligations in our own. From that point of view, we have not a shadow of excuse on the ground of better administration, because the right corrective to that has already been supplied by the International Labour Office. They called a conference on factory inspection and administration, and real efforts were made to codify the standards in that respect and enable us to get something like uniformity of enforcement as well as uniformity of law. With regard to the effect upon other nations of the failure of this country to ratify, I would refer to that very interesting and illuminating document, the Shipbuilding Report. If there is one trade in this country more than another that requires international ratification, it is the shipbuilding industry, and we find in Appendix "A" of that Report a letter from the Director-General of Labour of the Netherlands Government, in justification of the extension of the hours of labour in that country. It says:It is unquestionably for you, as well as for me, very nard that in this way the international maintenance of the eight hours labour day comes into danger, but we do not like to see that the Dutch population gets poorer by unemployment as a result of the actions of other Powers. These actions threaten to destruct the world in such a way that still much more than the eight hours labour day would get lost.5.0 p.m.
I am perfectly certain that that paragraph is aimed at Great Britain, and that, if Great Britain had ratified, there would have been no question of that letter having been issued. Then we find an astonishing coincidence in connection with the Italian decree law of 30th.June. In Hansard of 28th June appears a statement made by the Minister of Labour in this House, in relation to the Debate of the Coal Mines Eight-Hours Bill. He said: 77For a period of five years this Bill enables the extra hour which is already possible on 60 days of the year, to be worked on the other working days as welt. It is not a permanent Measure. It does not compel the extra hour to be worked on these other days.Then, after some interruption, he goes on:It is temporary only in its effect, and it is permissive only in its character."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1926; col. 836, Vol. 197.]In Italy, on 30th June, the following words were used in the decree which was then issued:The Italian decree law No. 1096 of the 30th of June, 1926, concerning hours of labour provides that, until further orders and by way of exception to decree law No. 692 of the 15th March, 1923, and of labour agreements based thereon, all industrial, commercial, and agricultural undertakings are hereby authorised to increase the hours worked by their employés and workers by one hour.'It sounds as if, having read the speech of the Minister of Labour in this House, the Italian Prime Minister decided to go one better and to extend by one hour the hours of labour in all industries. It is an unfortunate thing that the influence of this Government has been used to back up all reactionary proposals instead of being used to try to strengthen those forces which are endeavouring to make for international agreement. In regard to the consultation of the five Powers, I am sure the Minister of Labour will agree that, as far as the trade union movement in this country is concerned—he took the General Council into consultation in regard to some of the difficulties—they did all they could to help. The Conference removed the alleged obstacles of interpretation, even though some Powers felt they were departures in detail from the intention of the Convention, in order to meet the British view. We attended those consultations in the profound belief that at last something decisive was to be done. Although there had been some necessary modifications in regard to interpretations; these we believed would be accepted by the International Labour Office as not contravening the intention of the agreement, and we were satisfied to raise no objections on our side. Yet we are now faced with the fact that again our representatives have had to go to Geneva and to occupy the humiliating position of being silent while all the other 78 countries made a pronouncement. Every other nation made a definite pronouncement, and everybody expected to see our British representatives get up and make a similar pronouncement or an even stronger or more definite one; but nothing happened. It is from that point of view that we have a very just indignation in regard to the position in which we find ourselves. In this Parliament of 39 States, including all the great Powers except the United States of America and Russia, we occupied a position of ignominy and humiliation. I hope most sincerely that this is going to be the last time upon which this country is to be placed in that position, and that we shall hear to-day a statement definitely made that there is no further obstacle in the way of ratification, and that ratification will be an accomplished fact this year.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
The ground has been so well covered by the speeches of other hon. Members who have preceded me that there is very little now that I can add to the Debate. At the same time, I would like for a moment to support the appeal which has been made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) that the Government should ratify the Eight Hours Convention, and I thoroughly agree with him that this country has everything to gain and nothing to lose by ratification. Our industries would not suffer, inasmuch as about 90 per cent. of our workers are already working the eight hours day; but if, on the other hand, other nations ratified, we should have a valuable piece of machinery for bringing the position of labour in other countries up to the standard of our own. There has been a great deal of ill-informed criticism about the Eight Hours Convention. It is said that, if we ratified, there is no guarantee that other nations would follow our example, or that, if they did ratify, they would observe the regulations. As has been pointed out, the most valuable piece of machinery would be placed in our hands if this Convention were ratified. If any group in any nation—say any group of employers in this country—were dissatisfied with the observation of the regulations in Germany, they could bring it before the International Labour Convention, and if they were not able to deal with the matter, it could be brought before the Permanent Council at Geneva. 79 When we debated this question last year, there was an element of uncertainty as to the attitude of other nations, but there is practically no element of uncertainty now. All the great European industrial nations are willing to ratify the Convention. Belgium has ratified, and her regulations even go beyond the necessary strength. What is more, I am told that they are strictly observed. The French Government have power to ratify, and the German Labour Minister is now passing a Bill through the Reichstag which will give him power to ratify. Even the situation in Italy is not quite so bad as it appears to be at first sight. At least, I am told so, because, thanks to the action of the International Labour Office, and thanks to public opinion in Italy, the decree which authorises working up to nine hours a day has been so modified that only in exceptional circumstances will it be permitted in Italy to work nine hours a day, and that can only be done with the consent of the workers and of the Minister.
The reason why I urge that this treaty should be ratified is that it would have a most valuable psychological effect upon the minds of the workers of this country. There is no doubt that a great deal of the unrest and the suspicion of capital felt by the workers in this country is due to a feeling of insecurity which is due largely to the dread that an attack will be made upon their standard of life and hours of work, and from what we saw in connection with the Coal Mines Act, I am bound to say that there is every reason for their suspicion. To ratify this Convention would remove that barrier, and would open up the road to a better atmosphere and a better feeling and a greater hope for co-operation between labour and capital. If I may say so. I think that, by their refusal to ratify the Convention, the Government are hardly doing themselves justice. I am perfectly certain that there is no foundation whatsoever for the suspicions which I have mentioned, but the refusal of the Government to ratify without giving any reason for their refusal, does arouse in the minds of the workers of this country a suspicion that they are acting under the pressure of a reactionary body of employers, inside and outside of this House, who still think that it may be possible to lengthen the hours of labour. I hope the Government will 80 give no countenance to this foolish illusion. It is a foolish illusion. No large body of employers of labour in this country would ask their workmen to work longer hours, say, in Lancashire, without causing great industrial strife and arousing a wave of sympathy with the workers on the part of the public in the same way as the lockout of the miners aroused it last spring. There are two definite theories in this country working against each other for mastery. There is the theory of an industrial policy which believes in inefficiency and antiquated methods, and there is the theory which believes in up-to-date methods and high wages and reasonable hours of work. But there is, unfortunately, this lingering industrial theory that competition can best be met by longer hours and lower wages. I hope the Government, for the sake of industrial peace in this country, will dissociate themselves from those who hold that theory. Let me, in conclusion, remind the Government that the Prime Minister himself, this time last year, gave a pledge that the Government would ratify this Convention. He was speaking on the Debate on the Address in 1926, and, referring to the London Conference, he said:We shall do our utmost to secure complete agreement and understanding. If that agreement is reached the ratification of the Washington Convention by the participating, countries will then be possible and we shall proceed to ratify."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1926; col. 49. Vol. 191.]I think that that statement needs some little explaining away. Unanimity was reached at this conference, other nations are ready to ratify, but, notwithstanding the Prime Minister's pledge, our Government have not yet ratified the Convention.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
There hrs been an unbroken series of speeches in this House this afternoon in favour of ratification, and these speeches have been made on both sides of the House. The hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) said one thing, and only one thing, with which I disagree. I do not wish to make a party point out of it. He said that all parties and all Governments in this House since 1919 had been equally culpable so far as non-ratification was concerned. I hardly think that in that statement he did adequate justice to the 81 minority Government of 1924. The Government of that time was led in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes). He made this declaration on Behalf of the Government:The policy of His Majesty's Government is to give effect to the Washington Hours' Convention irrespective of any action which may be taken by other European countries.A Bill was actually drafted and was in charge of the then Minister of Labour, and only the fact of the sudden, and, as I think, unnecessarily hastened demise of the Government prevented that ratification from being made. I think the hon. Member who lumped the Labour Government and the Coalition Government and the subsequent Conservative Government was not altogether fair. This question seems to me to be so predominantly of British interest that I cannot understand what stops the Government from pushing ratification by every means in their power. The only reason I can gather was covered by a statement of the Minister of Labour reported in the "Times" of 22nd June, 1925. He said:It was very vital at present, with the existing critical condition of industry, that we should aim at getting hours worked of decent length and really endeavour to get smaller hours of work adopted in those countries which competed against us. It would only be by getting better conditions adopted abroad that we should be safeguarded against those countries which would take advantage of our better conditions and seek to under-cut us.How, unless by international agreement; how, unless by adopting the Washington Convention, this very desirable international regulation can be secured, I cannot understand. Here and there in the Press which normally supports the right hon. Gentleman we continually find a fear that if Great Britain ratifies, less scrupulous or more backward countries might refuse to ratify and British exports would be placed in jeopardy. What is there in that argument? Hon. Members opposite have already quoted the Articles in the Peace Treaty which definitely and clearly laid down the method of procedure by which a defaulting country might be brought to book through the Permanent Court of International Justice, which has power to make such appropriate economic punishment as it may think fit under the circumstances, and when we are asked what that appropriate economic punish- 82 ment could be the answer is obvious and clear. It is the considered opinion of all the Members of His Majesty's Opposition that the way is easy and simple by which a defaulting country could be brought to book. Supposing ratification had taken place and one country refused to ratify, or did not implement its agreement, and continued to work 12 hours a day, as some countries are doing now, and some countries with British capitalists operating in them, the Court of International Justice issues its decree. What kind of compulsion could be brought to bear? Obviously an international boycott of the sweated goods. But a boycott by one country is not enough. For example, if India ratified and fulfilled her stipulation and reduced hours of labour to 60 and Japan did not, a Japanese merchant could purchase cotton in India, work it in Japan and send the manufactured goods back into India at even lower prices than the Indian mill owners, with their very low wage standard, could manufacture. Something has got to be done. I can see nothing else than an international declaration that any country which does not honour its signature to the Washington Convention shall be declared a sweated country and its goods boycotted, in so far as there is unavailable alternative source of supply, by every other country signatory to the Washington Convention.
Unless and until we are prepared to take international action of that kind, there seems to me to be no possibility of fair competition. You have not got it to-day. In mandated territory under the British flag we have not only got British but foreign capitalists erecting factories, mining coal there, running railways and not honouring this country's signature to the Washington Convention, working to my knowledge in some cases 15 and 16 hours a day. This House in December last guaranteed a loan to develop a coalfield in East Africa to produce 300,000 tons a year, to be owned by a Belgian syndicate and run over a Portuguese railway at wages of 5s. per month and hours of labour running up to 14 per day. This thing cannot go on. British standards of civilisation can only be maintained if there is some raising of the international competitive level. That can only be done if the Government will go to 83 Geneva declaring that we are ready to ratify and that we propose to take any and every possible step for an economic boycott through the International Court or otherwise, and so to level up competition, so that whatever competition in future is to take place shall take place on a more or less civilised basis and not, as at present, by degrading every country in the world to our level of civilisation. I trust that if the Minister of Labour does not give us a firm pledge to do that, hon. Members opposite will indicate in the Lobby that there is a clear determination in the House that this thing cannot go on any longer—it has gone on for eight years—and that it is the Government that stands in the way. I believe in standing in the way they are not supporting British industry but harming it. They are not supporting decent employers in this country and in the Dominions overseas but hurting them. They are standing for reaction and for coolie conditions. I trust the House will use the opportunity afforded it to indicate in the Lobby, if necessary, its firm determination that this scandal has gone on long enough.
I hope that we are going to get a lead from the Government, the social reformers of the back benches—and there must be some on the Front Benches too—and that we are going to retain England's lead in industrial reforms. Every argument one is prepared to make has already been made. The hon. Member who has just sat down does not see how we are going to keep the standard of living here at home unless we get international agreement. That seems to me a vital thing for the people in the British Isles, who have fought so long and have led the way. It is a remarkable thing that the Italian Government—we were a little nervous about what they were going to do—has given a practical ratification of the Convention except for an extra hour, which can only be given by agreement between employers and employed in exceptional cases, and they only give 10 per cent. extra wages, whereas the Washington Convention says 25 per cent. I do not see how it is possible for the Prime Minister to do anything else than ratify the Convention. I do not see how it is 84 possible for the Minister of Labour to do anything else. We have a definite pledge that if there was agreement in London they would be ready to ratify it. We all understand there has been complete agreement. You will have to tell us there has been a very distinct disagreement to make us see that our duty is not quite clear. We believe in this, not so much from the point of view of other countries as from that of our own country, and we have got to see what we are going to do about it. Are we going to go back on this, or are we going to vote with the Opposition? I see a smile, but it is a very healthy thing with all Governments to have a small group of people who are willing to ginger them up, and you cannot do it by speaking. Words are but poor things to move Governments, but when they see us going into the Opposition Lobby perhaps they will begin to think.
I feel convinced that if the Minister of Labour cannot announce that we are going to ratify it is not his fault. He has fought hard for it and he is pledged up to the eyes, so I am not blaming him. I have no doubt he has had a hard time, and we are helping him in his fight, with whomever it is. I do not know whom it is with. I am not prepared either to blame the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Even Mussolini is seeing the light on the Eight Hours' question. Of course, there is a group of employers in every country who have a vision of going back to the good old days. They have made their pile out of the good old days, and they are not very much interested in what is going to happen. But nearly all the young employers with any vision and with any desire to get peace in industry realise that you cannot go longer than a 48-hour week. A great deal is said about business men and their vision. If it had not been for the social reformers of the House of Commons you would have had no business in England if you had left it to the business men. They always said the same thing. "It is a very good Bill, but now is not the time." In the same way every great social reform has always had a small group of men who think it is splendid, but to-morrow will be time enough. We think the time has come when we have to keep our pledge and we think it is essential, not only 85 from the country's point of view, but from the Government's point of view, to take a lead and not to have Resolutions coming from the opposite side of the House. It is mortifying to some of us who support progressive legislation and are pledged to it and believe in it heart and soul.
We are not interested in the old-fashioned man who thinks he is going back, nor in that too forward fellow who is going too fast forward, but we are interested in the great body of zealous social reformers who realise that the time has come when you will not get peace in industry until you have the vision of a short day with hard work, dividing the profits among all who earn them. I hope the Minister of Labour will give us a lead and stop once and for all having these Resolutions coming from the other side. It is bad for the Government and certainly bad for their supporters. It is not a very pleasant thing to speak against the Government. I am not now speaking against the Government, because the Government have not given an answer. We do not know whether they are going to ratify the Convention. What we are saying is just a little spur to let them know what we are thinking. We are told that if this country ratifies, there is fear that other countries will not. If hon. Members read the Treaty of Versailles they will see that we are absolutely guarded. Now, we are not guarded. Other countries can do what they like. We have to meet them in competition. I hope that hon. Members on this side will speak in favour of ratification, and if the Government fail, we shall have to do what we think best in the circumstances.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
I think the best thing that could happen now, seeing that the Debate has gone so far, would be for the Minister of Labour to let the House know what the Government intend to do. I would willingly sit down and not speak again during the Debate if I could know what the Minister intends. In the best interests of the Debate it would be well to know what he proposes to do on behalf of the Government. There are hon. Members on this side who are anxious to express their opinion about the Amendment, and there are hon. Members on the other side who do not want to vote 86 against the Government. It might prevent some of his own supporters from voting against him and it might prevent a number of speeches being made from this side, if the right hon. Gentleman would indicate that he proposes to ratify the Convention. The right hon. Gentleman does not take advantage of my very cheery suggestion. I hope that he will ratify the Convention.
I have had some experience of working very long hours, and I have had some experience in the West Biding of Yorkshire in securing an agreement with the employers to reduce the hours from 55½ to 48; but we have not legal sanction for that yet. Any time when employers in the West Riding feel that they are strong enough to force us back to 55 hours, I do not think they will hesitate to try to get us back to the 55 hours. I agree with the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) that there is a definite fear among the working people of this country who are now working a 48-hour week, and who have secured that working week by industrial agreement, that, sometime, some set of unscrupulous employers will try to get back to 55 hours. I wonder whether the Government will help them. In the textile industry which has, happily, been so long without a dispute, I am certain that if there is one thing that would cause a strike it would be an attempt on the part of the employers to get back to the 55-hours week. The workpeople would resist a 55-hours week much keener, I believe, than they would an attempt to reduce wages. I am wondering, as an old textile worker, what would he the attitude of the Government if the employers did try to get an increased number of hours. From the experience which we have had, I have formed the opinion that the present state of mind of the Government would be to help the employers to get a longer week rather than to help the workers to keep the shorter week. We have evidence that when in one of the largest industries the employers wanted a longer working day, they got it, and I am wondering what will be the position of the Government if other employers follow that example.
We have to realise that there are unscrupulous employers. In the West Riding of Yorkshire there are one or two 87 unscrupulous employers who are still working people 55½ hours a week. That makes people get up at 5.30 in the morning, in the middle of the night I call it, in order to earn their living. I would like the Minister of Labour to come with me to the West Riding and to go with me in a tramcar at 6.30 in the morning and see our weavers, young men, young women and old women, going to mind the looms at 6.30. I would ask the Minister whether he would like his womenfolk to do that. There is nothing legal to prevent the employers from making another quarter of a million of people do that, as they did in the old days. We ought to make a, step forward for humanity's sake, and not for the sake of party politics. No one in this House would welcome the introduction of a 48 hours week by a Tory Government more than would the Members on this side I would like to see it made illegal, I do not care what Government makes it illegal, that any employer should have the power and the opportunity to do that. They have the power at the present time, providing that our industrial machine does not get any weaker, to force longer hours upon the workers by industrial methods: by the method of the lock-out. I have known of employers using the lock-out method to force something which they want. There is no legal reason why the employers should not attempt to make our textile workers in the West Riding get up at 5 o'clock in the morning, as I did over 20 years ago, in order to go to work. Will the Minister of Labour tell us what is the intention of the Government? I hope, after the speech of the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), that if he does not give us a clear reply and state the intention of the Government that they are going to ratify the Washington Convention, that hon. Members opposite will join in voting against the Government and in speaking against the Government in the country.
§ Mr. VIANT
I also desire to join in the appeals to the Government to ratify this Convention. Some of us are beginning to despair about the ratifying of Conventions passed as a result of the establishment of the League of Nations. Generally speaking, the people are beginning to feel that they cannot put 88 faith in the Conventions or Agreements that are set up at these various conferences. Quite recently, one of the Conventions has been scrapped. Only last week in another place the opportunity was taken of showing how the honour of the Government is very much lower than the honour and integrity even of the civil servant. I hope that to-day we shall have a statement from the Minister of Labour which will allay suspicion and which will, at least, show the electorate that as far as this Convention is concerned, the Government will ratify it. Our industrial future depends to a very large degree upon the ratification of this Convention. If we refuse to ratify the Convention, the chances are that the competition which is taking place between the industrial nations of the world will become intensified and aggravated by the lesser industrial nations lengthening their hours of labour, in order to compete with us as the leading industrial nation.
If we are to safeguard the industrial, social and political future of this country, we should be well advised to ratify this Convention. If we can standardise the hours of labour, we shall at least have gone a step in the direction of standardising the labour conditions in other countries. We shall have taken a step which will, to a certain extent, modify the intense competition. I am anticipating that arguments will be brought forward to the effect that we as a nation cannot ratify this Convention for fear of other nations not doing so. Some of our keenest competitors have already ratified it or declared their intention of ratifying it. Therefore, we ought to have no fear in that respect. I would like to put forward the view that is taken by a number of workers in this country. Our compulsory system of education has had its effect in enlightening the operatives in the various industries, and they are able to observe and draw deductions for themselves. They know the advantages that have accrued from improvements in machinery. They know the advantages that have accrued as a result of increased production, and as a result of that increased production they are legitimately entitled to expect some reduction in the hours of labour.
In a number of instances, the ratification of the Convention would mean a 89 reduction in the hours of labour to the operatives. We are confronted at the present time, as are most industrial countries, with the enormous problem of unemployment. The average man and woman to-day are feeling that the unemployment problem must be grappled with by the Government of the day. If we could standardise the pours of labour by reducing them, we should at least have done something to share out the work that is available among a larger number of operatives, or amongst those seeking employment. I remember 12 or 15 months ago, quoting from memory, that the present Minister of Labour, speaking in this House, defending his Department in connection with the problem of unemployment, referred to the increased productivity that had taken place in the iron and steel industry of this country during and since the War. He said that the increased productivity of that industry was equivalent to 30 per cent. I suggest that increased productivity has occurred in many instances to a larger degree right throughout the whole realm of industry in this country and other countries. If we could by a ratification of Conventions of this kind reduce the hours of labour, as undoubtedly they must be reduced in the future, we should be doing something to mitigate the problem of unemployment in this country and other countries. Many men and women who are accustomed to work in productive industries tell us, quite candidly, that they are not getting, as they are entitled to get, a reasonable proportion of the results of the improvements that have been effected in industry. They point to the fact that according to the return of Income Tax payers the number of Super-tax payers in this country has increased five times between 1913 and 1925. Our productive capacity has increased to such an extent that whereas we had 14,030 Super-tax payers in 1913, we have to-day 80,000, and that is after making due allowance for the fact that the basis on which Super-tax is assessed has been reduced. If we are to have peace in our time we have not only to improve wages—and this does not apply to this country only, but to every industrial country—but we must be prepared to reduce the hours of labour, if the working classes are to co-operate in the results of improved 90 organisation and improved machinery. I hope we shall hear that the Government are going to ratify the Convention and show that for the future we are going to make use of the machinery of the International Labour Office for the purpose of regulating and improving the hours of labour in every industrial country throughout the world. I hope we are not going to hear from the Minister of Labour that the Government are not going to ratify the Convention, as they refused to ratify other Conventions which would have improved the conditions of labour in many industries.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
The hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday), who introduced the subject to-day, did so with his usual moderation, and we all know that when he makes a speech in this House, which is not, very frequently, he does so with much knowledge and experience. He has always shown knowledge and experience when dealing with unemployment insurance matters, and, although we have not known him so well as an authority on the International Labour Office, he has shown exactly the same aptitude for dealing with that question to-day as he has in regard to unemployment insurance. I gladly acknowledge at once the friendliness of his attitude toward my colleague and myself, and also the friendly attitude of the hon. Member who invited me to speak earlier. My reason for not doing so was that I was anxious to hear his contribution to the debate. The hon. Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) was friendly also, but at the same time somewhat critical. I think hon. Members opposite look upon me as a sort of brand that has to be plucked from the burning, but at the same time they have a sort of uneasy conviction that the burning process is likely to be completed before the plucking operation begins. There has not been a great deal of strong language used so far; a little, perhaps, in the way of biblical instruction and the chastening of those whom we love.
Perhaps the strongest language was used by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield), and I am not quite certain whether I followed one of her arguments precisely. She quoted an utterance of mine on 28th June last, and proceeded to draw from it awful 91 deductions as to its influence on the promulgation of the Italian Decree of 30th June.
Was she not exercising her powers of imagination just a little too far? I am much more modest in my estimate of the effect of what. I said on 28th June. My statement could only have been published on 29th June, and to believe that, having been telegraphed in extenso to Rome, it formed the basis of the Decree of the Italian Government of 30th June—which must in that case have been thought out without any consultation with the interests involved—is really straining the credulity of almost every Member of this House. She used some fairly strong language; but I am not quite certain whether all the strong language that is used by hon. Members opposite is really meant. If it is, then I am sure hon. Members opposite will not grudge me the exercise of the same privilege of plain speaking which they claim for themselves, and will restrain themselves if I say anything with which they do not agree. What are the charges that have been made against the Government? The first is that the Government have been dilatory in this matter. The second, that the Labour Government put their hand to the plough, and that the present Conservative Government have drawn it back. And in the third place, we have had the more or less usual statement that we have neglected our moral obligations under the Washington Convention of 1919; that we ought to stand in a white sheet, and that we compare unfavourably with other countries. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] May I remind the hon. Member who says "Hear, hear" of an experience of mine at a public dinner on one occasion? The man who made the principal speech of the evening sat next to me. He delivered a most telling oration with a particularly eloquent peroration, but for the assurance of himself and the Press he had committed it to writing. I looked over his shoulder and I found that it was punctuated at the appropriate intervals with "Cheers," "Loud cheers," and "Loud and prolonged applause," and at the end it said "the audience waved their napkins."
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
As far as I could distinguish, the little obbligato which was accompanying my remarks came from hon. Members on the bench just behind the hon. Member. Let me deal with the charge of delaying. I ask the Committee to forgive me if I have to be a little dull in giving a really broad narration of the facts. I do not want to traverse the very full ground which has been covered this afternoon, but I want to take up the history of what has happened at the stage when the Labour Government left office. Hon. Members will remember that a Bill had been introduced, but not passed, and that there had been a conference at Berne, to which I will allude briefly later on. One point has been made quite clear, and that is that there was a wide variation in the interpretation of the Convention, and also in the practice under it, by those countries which had ratified it. I wish to point out once again, as I have done on previous occasions, that it is not ratification primarily that matters. What is important is an actual identical interpretation, and adequate enforcement after ratification; that is what truly matters. An hon. Member on this side of the House recognised that point well, but it is a matter which is far too often forgotten.
That there was a wide variation in interpretation was clear at the moment when the present Government came into power, and in those circumstances it seemed to the Government that the first step was to attempt to clear away the doubts—and they were very serious doubts—in the minds not only of those who were opposing the Convention, but those who were in favour of ratification.
That was the reason why we decided upon conversations with the chief industrial Powers of Europe—France, Germany, Italy and Belgium—with the idea that the representatives of these Powers might subsequently meet in conference in London. It was for that reason that the statement of the difficulties and the most practical way of helping to overcome them was sent to the Powers concerned and they were 93 invited to submit their views on the points raised. They were informed that if there seemed to be a prospect of an agreement being reached His Majesty's Government would invite them to a conference in London. The result is known to nearly every Member of the House. There was a very considerable discrepancy in the replies which reached us, but, on the other hand, the possibility of an agreement seemed sufficient to warrant the invitation being sent, and accordingly the Powers were invited. They came, and the conference was held in London in March of last year. It lasted a certain number of rather strenuous days, at which the points which presented many difficulties were discussed. Ultimately, the agreement which has been published—and which I need not therefore read—was arrived at. I only want to mention two points in this connection. In the first place we made it quite clear that the Powers which met did not arrogate to themselves the right of interpreting the Convention, and, in the second place, it was made clear that, so far as Great Britain was concerned, we never stated that the Government put forward the view that the agreement which was reached in London necessarily fell within the four corners of the Washington Agreement as strictly interpreted. It is fair to say, however, that some of the other Powers there were of opinion that all the points in the London Agreement fell within the four corners of the Washington Convention. I mention that because it is important in facing the problem in a practical way.
May I now pass on to what has actually happened, which, I think, is perhaps not fully or accurately known to hon. Members. It was agreed by the parties to the Conference to submit documents to our Governments, and in the case of Belgium a Bill to ratify the Convention was already passing through their Parliament. It had been initiated before the London Conference. This Bill passed into law in September. In France a Ratification Bill had been passed by the Chamber of Deputies before the London Conference. That Bill, which is an enabling Bill, providing that ratification shall only become operative on similar action being taken by Germany and Great Britain, was 94 recently passed by the Senate. In Germany a, Bill designed to carry out the provisions of the Convention has been issued and is now under discussion. The German Government has recently declared its intention to ratify the Convention, subject to similar action by the chief industrial States of Western Europe. At that point may I [...]tter one word of caution to the House? The impression is very widely abroad, and I think it is entertained by Members of this House, that both the other nations immediately concerned, whose names I have stated—apart from Belgium, which had already ratified—were ready to start off straight away with ratification, with a similar interpretation, with adequate enforcement, the moment that our adhesion was announced. That impression is erroneous. If people lock upon it as, so to speak, the toeing of the line for a start, only waiting until we have got into the place to start for the pistol to be fired, that is going beyond the facts as they are now. That part of the problem I hope to deal with in a moment.
Let me illustrate what I have said. Hon. Members will then understand some of the difficulties that there still are in the matter. In Germany, for example, a Bill has been introduced, as we understood, to be a basis for ratifying the Convention. Without question it contains material which, from our point of view, is inconsistent with the Convention and inconsistent with ratification. I take, for example, the provision as regards overtime. One quite clear and specific item about overtime in the Convention, plus the London agreement, is that overtime should be paid for at time-and-a-quarter. The German Bill is in consistent with that. Similarly, I think it is more than doubtful whether the German Bill is consistent on another and quite important point, namely, the question of intermittent work. Take the case of France. I am giving these illustrations only to show that one has to go carefully in a matter of this kind. In France they have a different attitude and a different practice at the present moment towards many of the most important points—towards hours of work, towards the distribution of hours and towards the recovery of lost time. There are some other points as well, but I will not 95 weary the House with them. Anyone who is anxious for ratification, one would think, would at once proceed to put those points straight. Here I am faced with this kind of difficulty: Are we going to get—it is all important—not 100 per cent., but an adequate degree of enforcement? In the words of an hon. Member, "Every improvement must be international; it is no good one country raising its standard irrespective of the others." Consequently, there must be an adequate degree of enforcement.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am quoting it for the acceptance of others. There must be a fair expectation of enforcement. Here I get this kind of difficulty: At the last meeting of the governing body, when the Report of the Committee on the Eight Hours Convention was being discussed, the representative of the French employers detailed to the governing body a number of difficulties with which French industry would be faced if it became necessary to apply the Hours Convention. The difficulties related to such points as the distribution of hours of work, the making up of time lost, the interpretation to be given to actual work and to intermittent work. The definition of actual work is extraordinarily important in this connection. Almost concurrently with the making of this statement, the French Minister of Labour informed the French Senate, on 3rd December, that the chief result of ratification by France will be to make the existing French law, different from the Convention as it is on hours of work, an international law instead of a national law, and in reply to a question as to whether, if the Convention were ratified, the French law would be modified so as to increase the burden of national economy, the Minister replied that there was not the slightest intention of laying before Parliament a proposal of that kind.
The last thing I want to do is to criticise the action that might be taken domestically by any foreign country. What I wish to lay before the House is that it is of the utmost importance to industry in this country that if we are to make progress we must try to secure 96 such unanimity of interpretation and adequate enforcement as is possible. It was for that reason that we asked for the conference last year us regards interpretation. That is the type of difficulty with which we are faced regarding enforcement. At the same time I can say with confidence that while this was happening in foreign countries we had not lost sight of the question and were not idle. Yet everyone who wants to do justice upon this question must remember that, whatever be the rights or wrongs of the late industrial dispute here—that I am not questioning—at any rate it took more than six months out of the time of the Government for dealing with questions which might otherwise have gone forward more rapidly, and it took away more than six months which other countries had at their disposal for going forward if they wished. The taking away of that amount of time is one of the least effects of such an upheaval as that of last year. But even so we were impressed, after the London Conference, by the evidence that there was in fact a very widely different practice in the matter of hours, even where legislation was enforced.
Accordingly, in October last, it was proposed by the Polish Government—not by us, but by their representative on the governing body—that a Committee of that body should be set up to inquire into the actual position with regard to hours in the various countries of Enrope, and to report to the governing body how best ratification of the Convention could be secured. We supported that proposal when the Polish Government made it. The first meeting of that Committee was held at the end of November.Once more the meeting was fruitful in throwing light upon the difficulties being experienced in varying European countries. The British representative indicated that the most helpful way that could be taken by the Committee would he to obtain information on a certain number of definite points so as to get something definite which could be submitted to the Committee.So it was accordingly agreed that the International Labour Office should draw up, in answer to these questions, a full report based on the information already in its possession, and should present it to the Committee at the January meeting. It is a document of great interest, setting 97 out for the first time an amount of comparative information with regard to the actual practice in respect of hours in some of the principal European countries. The result was that during the year 1926 we have had two things made clear—first, that the matter was not allowed to rest; secondly, that the British Government maintained real progress, that some matters required to be cleared up before British progress could be made, and that we were actually justified by the facts. Indeed the whole history of the last two years has shown that the only safe method in a matter of this kind is not to plunge in the dark. I say candidly that that is the only way in which substantial progress can be made. An hon. Member says "a year is nothing." That is the only way in which proper progress can be made. I have been responsible at the Labour Ministry for two years, and during that time more has been done to clear up the situation than during the whole five years previously.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Mr. Wolfe, of the Ministry of Labour. An bon. Member has interrupted with the remark that we are trying to evade ratification. That is not the object of our action at all. Let me make comparison with the action in bringing forward a Bill in 1924.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
Last year, when I introduced a 48 Hours Bill, we were told that the Government were considering the matter. A year has passed. Now we have nothing but a smoke screen.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
No, that is really not the case. If hon. Members opposite think that they can have an upheaval for six months and more, like that of last year, and that they can treat it exactly as if nothing had happened, they are turning their backs on the reality of events. I say candidly that the way we have gone forward is the only suitable and proper way to go forward. [HON. MEMBERS: "Standing still."] It is not standing still.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have listened to hon. Members opposite without interrupting. Some hon. Members 98 opposite are Like certain New Zealand geysers, which erupt every two minutes and only have an uneasy quietude in between. I am ready to have the course that I have taken compared with that taken by the Labour Government. The Labour Government came in and they produced a Bill. I wish that my predecessor were here, and I only hope that he may be soon restored to health from, illness. I do not wish to refer to the Bill which he brought in without first saying that. I compare his Bill and his method of procedure with my method of procedure, and I say his method was a wholly impracticable way of setting to work. It was wholly impracticable to produce a Bill of the kind which was then brought in, and I contrast it with the course which I am taking. I do not criticise the original Convention of 1919. It was the first time that an intricate subject like this had been dealt with and obviously when dealing with such a subject for the first time you cannot do so with final perfection. Everyone in this House knows that when you bring in legislation on intricate industrial questions for the first time, it is always certain that experience in the years afterwards will make clear the necessity for amending Bills in order to deal with facts which did not emerge at first, however carefully the matter had been gone into.
Now I take the question of the Convention itself and the Bill of 1924. The Convention was framed in 1919. The whole history of the matter since, all the questions of practice which have come to light in our researches abroad, all the experience gained by going carefully, show that if we interpret the Convention according to the strictest possible canons, it is too rigid for its purpose. As I say, it was shown in the London Agreement that different nations have different canons of interpretation. But there you had a Bill introduced which might have been framed by the strictest sect of the Pharisees in the matter of interpretation. Yet it was criticised from the point of view of practicability, and not only by Members on this side of the House. It was criticised at least as severely by Members of the Labour party and of the Labour Government. I have in my possession a paper in which it was intimated that there was likely to be a stoppage of all Sunday work on the railways unless they were excluded from the 99 operation of the Bill brought in by the Labour party. That was a representation by the trade unions concerned, and that shows what I call the danger of going ahead without due care and consideration. The conferences showed the same difficulty. What was the result of the conference at Berne? The total result as published was this:They were glad to find that on most points their views coincided entirely, and that while divergencies existed these were not considerable. … The conference closed with the unanimous feeling that common ratification is possible.A magnificant formula that! It might mean everything or it might mean nothing. But when it came to be tested by actual facts there was no agreement. No agreement had been reached on the vital points which came up at the London Conference. There we tried to reach agreement on such questions as what was meant by actual work—on which opinions in the various countries differed —what was meant by making up lost time, and what were the conditions as to overtime. I do not wish to be offensive, but the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder) used the expression "smokescreen" and other expressions. I do not think he fully intends these expressions, and possibly he uses them in an exaggerated way. They are rather like some of those expressions to be found in what is called the "Flappers' Glossary," with which we have been made familiar recently in "Punch."
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have been explaining the Government's attitude, and I should have reached the end of my speech if the hon. Gentleman had not started to chasten me. The hon. Member has been interrupting and making references. As I say I hope he does not mean them all. When I look at this "Glossary" which I have mentioned, I find that the word "damnable" is defined as "what we do not like," and the expression "perfectly damnable" means "unpleasant." Perhaps it is in that way that the hon. Member intends the language which he has been using. The honest truth is that you cannot get a Convention which will stand the test of practice until you have explored the 100 ground and made it as clear as you can that all parties mean the same thing and are going to carry it out in the same way. Any other kind of Convention is humbug. It is no use to pretend otherwise. There is nothing so pathetic and at the same time so disastrous as pretending that either by a formula or by a Convention you can do away with hard facts. You must search out the ground and make it quite clear that all are dealing with the same thing and that all will try to enforce the Convention. The move that I made at the London Conference was the first real attempt that had been made througout the whole history of the business to try to make clear that we were getting down to hard facts and business. Since then, despite all the difficulties with which we have had to contend, I have been trying to clear up matters so as to get the issue quite plain. Hon. Members say that they have to be patient. They must indeed be patient in these matters. Let me say one word about the moral obligation and I will sum up.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the London Conference, will he answer one question? He says that certain difficulties, such as the definition of the word "work" were discussed. Can he tell us whether or not agreement was reached upon them?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am sorry for speaking so long, but the hon. Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) is a singularly inattentive listener.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Otherwise, the hon. Member would have understood what I said. If he says he has been an attentive listener, then all I can say is that what I would call the mental operations do not proceed quickly.
§ Sir H. STEEL-MAITLAND
I say at once that if the hon. Member thinks that my remark was offensive, I withdraw it absolutely. I never wish to say anything which is offensive to him. But let me put this point to the hon. Member. I have been trying to reach agreement. I have tried to get down to the facts as no other Minister of Labour has yet tried to do. I have tried to get down to the facts as regards interpretation and the fact as regards enforcement.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am sure my hon. Friends opposite will excuse me for turning round, but I wish my hon. Friend the Member for South Nottingham to be fully cognisant of this matter. What has happened is that further difficulties have arisen, which have shown that we are not entirely at the bottom of the business yet. What I am trying to do is to clear up the remaining difficulties. I demur to two suggestions. The first is the suggestion that we are not trying to reach a conclusion on these points, and that we do not wish to reach a conclusion on them. I also demur absolutely to the idea that as compared with oilier countries, we are not acting up to our moral obligations.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MA1TLAND
There the geyser goes once again. Let me state the position as regards moral obligation. If I were to be talked to like that by representatives from abroad, as to our position in this matter, I should at once ask in return: Are such criticisms justified and who are the critics? How do they stand themselves? Not a single one of those who taunt us with not fulfilling our moral obligations has the slightest right to cast a stone at us. So far as the question of voting for a Convention and then not ratifying it is concerned, our position is far better than that of any of our critics.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I will give the position as regards India to the hon. Member if he desires, but I am speaking now of those European powers with whom we are generally confronted in 102 regard to this question. Take our position. The number of Conventions for which we have voted and which we have not ratified is four. In the case of Belgium the number is seven, and when it comes to France, Italy and Germany the numbers are 10 and 11 and 12—double or treble ours—so that our position stands higher than any of those countries with whom it is sought to compare us unfavourably. Now, as to what we propose to do—for which the hon. Member for Shipley has been so patiently waiting. We have been trying to get at the actual facts and to get to the basis of an agreement. The German Bill and what has happened in the French Senate do not make things easier, but more difficult. We are really trying to explore the ground. The matter is under the active consideration of the Cabinet as a whole at this moment. I am not prepared to give the House a final decision or a final statement. All I can say is that we have been definitely trying to get down to a solid basis.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MA1TLAND
Both the Minister and the Cabinet. We are trying to get to a definite basis.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
In any case, I think the Minister has shown himself to be a philosopher in dealing with snipers from both sides. I put it seriously to the Committee that, if one is going to deal with this question so as to reach a final settlement of a proper kind, one has to get down to these facts. It is not merely a question of delay. You cannot reach a proper solution without delay. I submit that the solution which would have been reached in 1924, would have been the wrong one, that it could never have lasted and that it would never have attained its object. What I am anxious is to see that we all mean the same thing, and that we enforce the same thing. If hon. Members will believe me, it is because I recognise the responsibility involved in dealing with a matter so intricate and so important that I say it is a matter in which we must, perforce, move very carefully, but I have been moving the whole time. I have not been attempting to send up a 103 smoke-screen. I have told the House what I have been doing. Six months have been taken out of our time, but we have been going forward, and the only thing is to go on until we get a sure foundation. I trust that a final settlement and a final conclusion will not be long in coming, and that the one or two points which remain will he satisfactorily cleared up and that we will be able then to approach the other countries definitely and that we will be in a position to take action. If hon. Members think I have been merely trying to spin out this inquiry, I would point out that if I had not been anxious to make an advance on the subject, I should never have summoned the London Conference to meet. When the London Conference had met, if I had not been in earnest on the matter, that conference would have broken down, if it had not been for my efforts once or twice in the course of it, because of differences that arose. This is the only pledge that I can give, that I am going forward in what I consider to be the only possible businesslike manner. If anyone wishes to proceed straight away with ratification without going through the process of clarification, it is like a business which launches out into grandiose schemes and comes to grief in the next few years. It is only in the way in which I have been proceeding that I believe you can get a real path of permanent progress. However Members may dislike the cautiousness with which—like a good Scotsman—I have proceeded, it is only so that you can really get the foundation on which you can get a decent permanent structure.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am sure the Committee must have sympathised with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, for during the last half-hour quite clearly he was speaking only partially his own mind and not giving the Committee, with the same freedom which he might have done had he been sitting on the opposite side of the House, exactly his own attitude towards the Washington Convention. I am afraid that although am not guilty of—certainly I should not plead guilty to—any charge of inattention, I cannot understand what the right hon. Gentleman was driving at. The difficulty in which the Committee has been 104 left is that, while the Committee knows that he sympathises with the general aims and objects of the Convention, the Committee is also aware of the fact that six years after the Convention was signed the Minister of Labour felt that there were many points on which there must be a clearer interpretation, and that without that clearer interpretation we should only make a mess of the whole business. I am not prepared to quarrel with him on that. By all means, let us be perfectly clear as to a hat we mean. Everybody who has had anything whatever to do with factory or labour legislation knows quite well that questions of interpretation give rise to a great deal of trouble, but I would ask, not the right hon. Gentleman, but anybody who has had authority in the last six years, What have they been doing to have these points cleared up at an early date? It is obvious that if the Convention meant business at all, this process should have been proceeded with long ago.
The time is now long past—it is some seven years at least—since the Convention was thrown out into the civilised world as a basis on which industries might be organised, and during that time the world has moved very fast. We have gone a great deal farther than we were in the year immediately after the War, and the democracies of Europe, at all events, are now able to express their minds with much more effect than at any previous time, and I cannot believe that, if we take a lead in the ratification of Conventions of this kind, we will not find the democracies of Europe prepared to follow. We had an honourable position in the past in these matters, and it is really something like a sense of shame that we feel when we recognise that, after a period of 7½ years, all that the Minister can do is to come down to the Committee, tell us about the difficulties of the last 12 months, and give us absolutely no guidance as to the future.
I do not want to be at all unfair to the Minister, because I know how great his difficulties are, but let me just for a few moments, because I know he is desirous of an early division—it might be more convenient for us if we had it now—put a few considerations that occur to me as a general observer and as one who has known something about industry and 105 commerce in his time. There is little or no chance of our making much progress now in industrial legislation unless we carry the civilised nations along with us. I should never think, however, of taking up the line that we must wait for all the Powers to be agreed. I believe that would be retrograde and reactionary, and, indeed, a great many of the improvements in factory and labour conditions which have been brought about, largely by idealists, in the last 70 or 80 years, have not been detrimental to British industry and commerce. I cannot remember more than two or three instances in which legislation by this House of a humanitarian kind has been of real harm to industry and commerce. The fact is that these things bring their own reward. I quite recognise that you may carry legislation on hours, for instance, too far—it is possible to be extreme even in good things—but, on the whole, the progress we have made in the last few generations has all, with a possible exception of last year, been in the right direction.
The point that I am making now is that there is no reason in the history of our own trade why we should be slow in leading the van in industrial legislation. It has been a good thing for those who have been engaged in trade, it has been good for those who have managed industry, and, oddly enough, it has been a good thing for those who have owned the industries. Nobody can say that British industry has been less remunerative in the last 50 years than in the previous 50 years. It has been spread over a much wider area, and there is not a man who, in his own capacity at the head of a great concern, has treated his workpeople well who has not been amply rewarded for his good feeling and humanitarian regulation. There are many living to-day, including some Members of this House, who are on the best of terms with their workpeople. They are not on the best of terms because they spoil them, but because they take a gentle interest in their surroundings. If we are going to deal with the question of hours on a national basis, by all means let us do it. We have been doing it piecemeal, and it has done us no harm up to now, but if we could get international agreement, how much better it would be. Not only would it 106 be a considerable advantage to us, but it would confer benefits on other democracies which are less enlightened than our own.
There is one point I would like to impress upon the Committee, and it is this; We are living in days of international agreements of all kinds. An international cartel appears to be born about once a month. International cartels without uniform labour regulations are going to give an unfair advantage to the producers in the least progressive States. If trade is going to be organised on an international basis, why not have an international Convention? The Minister says there are great difficulties in the way, but I would urge the necessity of removing them with the greatest possible rapidity. The sooner, for the sake of our honour, for the sake of our trade, and for the sake of those engaged in these industries, we ratify these Conventions and, having ratified them, enforce them, the better it will be for all concerned.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
Like the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman), who has just addressed the Committee, I feel a great measure of sympathy with the Minister, and I cannot help feeling that he is a little unfortunate, because Members of the party opposite, who perhaps enjoy the opportunity of bringing forward a debate in which they are likely, for once, to get the support of a good many Members on this side, are naturally tempted to revel in their opportunity, and I could not help feeling that in some of the speeches to which I have listened that danger of exaggeration was large and that the temptation was indulged in. To he told that it is contrary to the spirit of the regulations in regard to eight hours to make any change in the existing working day of seven hours, and all the references to the coal mines dispute, seemed to me to be beyond the mark. What we are discussing to-day is what attitude the British Government ought to take at the present time with regard to the Washington Convention. The Minister did quite clearly what it is the duty of Ministers under certain circumstances to do; he made a speech which was not intended to have any particular meaning. I am quite sure that there are 107 Members on the Front Bench opposite, as well as prospective Front Bench Members on the back benches, who may be in that position, or who have been in it, in their time. It is not an altogether unknown Parliamentary situation, but the object of this Debate is to bring about, as I hope, such a state of affairs that the next time the Minister is able to speak to us on this subject he will be in a position to make a perfectly clear and categorical statement on the policy of His Majesty's Government towards it. If the Debate has served or can serve that purpose, it will have done good work.
There was one remark made by an hon. Member opposite which gained for him no applause from his political friends, and that was when he said how glad he would be to see this great reform implemented by a Tory Government. That remark was treated with the most gloomy silence by his supporters, but I do not hesitate to say haw glad I shall be to see this Convention ratified by a Tory Government, and I would put strongly before the Minister the feeling of many Members on this side, who hold most strongly the Conservative view, which we are here to represent, and who believe from the bottom of their hearts in the right of the cause for which they have worked humbly and as back bench Members, that there will be no day which will give us greater pleasure than when we see this Convention implemented by His Majesty's Government. It is clear, and it has been all through this discussion, that there is a difference between ratification and effective ratification. It is clear that there are all kinds of difficult points of interpretation which have to be cleared up. I always understood that the object of the Conference last March was to clear up those points, and, if that Conference has not cleared them up successfully, let there be another Conference. At any rate, the real point is that at the present time the practice of this country is almost entirely in conformity with the spirit of the Convention.
As the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken well said, England has been in the van of these movements, and over 96 per cent., I am informed, of the great manufacturing trades of this country are operating under a 48-hour week or better. 108 After all, it does not seem that, we have much to loose, even if we take the risk of ratifying, even if we are not followed, or if some countries choose, by quibbles or evasions, not to come up to the full spirit which we would like to see adopted. We are not risking much, we are not losing much, but we do stand to gain great, substantial advantages, physical and spiritual. We stand to gain a real advantage by giving a lead which it would be very difficult for other countries wholly to evade, and we stand to gain an advantage both to our own industry and to our own sense of honour as being really in the van of this movement.
With regard to the actual procedure, I think that is a more difficult question. There is no doubt that one of the difficulties of all these international arrangements, which we hope to see more and more in the realm of international affairs, is the difficulty of the different administrative and legislative procedures of varying countries, but we have to face these difficulties. Many of us hope, I think we all hope, that that side of the League of Nations which is represented by the International Labour Office will prove to be perhaps the most useful side of all international efforts. It is a side by which practical progress can be made. When we deal with the real fundamental object of the League, the keeping of peace, one has to admit that there are some great world movements, racial movements, which may sweep across the world, where peace will not be kept by the machinery of the League of Nations, but, on the practical side, the kind of advance which the International Labour Office represents is really the best side, or at any rate the most hopeful side, of the League of Nations' work.
In all these Conventions this different procedure of different countries will have to be faced. If it is true that the practice of some countries is to lay down general propositions, and to allow the administrative authorities to make regulations calculated to carry them out, while it has been our practice to regulate all these matters by the terms of various Sections of Acts of Parliament, then in this case we must change our procedure. We must have, if necessary, an enabling Bill, and allow the Minister to make regulations which, in his opinion, or in our opinion, are a satisfactory ratifica- 109 tion, and if any representations are brought against us, according to the procedure of the League of Nations, before the League of Nations, we shall be only too glad to face them, because if any complaints are made against us that we are not acting up to the full terms of the Convention, it will mean that there is a desire to tighten up the procedure, to use the procedure which has been laid down. I cannot help thinking the Government will make a great mistake if they continue to delay upon these small points, if they do not take the question as a whole, and decide, first of all, that the actual practice of this country is according to the terms of the Convention; and, secondly, that the obvious interest of this country is to make a great demonstration of the importance which we attach to these movements in the labour world, and to decide to take a definite step. If the Government would announce that, it would certainly give as much satisfaction to this side of the House as to any other quarter of the House.
§ Mr. KELLY
When the report of this Debate is read to-morrow, people will wonder what it is that prevents this Government from ratifying the Washington Convention. What is it that stands in the way? We have had no reasons given to us by the Minister this afternoon. He has suggested that there must be interpretation before there is ratification. It seems to be a new method of conducting an agreement, that before you enter into your agreement you are going to have all the interpretations laid on the Table, and, afterwards, you will consider whether or not you will ratify. Surely that is a reversal of the method of conducting these matters. Even though the Minister found himself in a position that he could not say the Government were prepared to ratify, I would ask him why he has turned such a deaf ear to the appeals made to him by bodies of employers and employed in this country? Shipbuilding employers of the country, sitting in conference with the representatives of the trade unions in that great industry, have asked that the Washington Convention dealing with the 48-hour week and the eight-hour working day, should be ratified. A little over 12 months ago the engineering employers and the engineering trade unions sent a deputation to meet the Minister. If I 110 mistake not, there were two from each side on that particular conference asking that the 48-hour week, as agreed upon at the Washington Convention, should become operative, so that on the Continent of Europe, particularly, there should be the same conditions of working in the matter of hours. We were not afraid of those interpretations, and what are the interpretations about which we hear so much? It happens that in one or two of those countries they have given the opportunity for a certain trade to have exemption for periods, and they have given opportunity for overtime working. Surely those are not reasons for this Government to shelter behind in order to refrain from ratifying the Convention?
This afternoon we had it from the Minister that the fatal thing in the German proposal is that they are suggesting they will only pay 25 per cent. for all overtime worked. Surely the Minister is not going to ask those of us engaged in industry to believe that the reason for non-ratification by this country is the fact that the German employers would only be paying time-and-a-quarter for overtime worked in that particular country? That was the whole point put to us by the Minister when describing the difficulties he had to face at this particular time. If that be the only justification the Government have for non-ratification, then, certainly, it is not understandable that they should be holding off. We heard that we should take into account the fact that six months was taken out of the life of the Government through the happenings of last year, but surely it was not within the last 12 months that they were asked to engage in this work. They knew of it in 1924, at the time of their election. They had 1925 in which to engage in it. They knew that the Bill which was introduced by the Labour Government had been on the Table of the House, and they also knew—and this was not mentioned by the Minister this afternoon—that a conference was arranged in 1919 by the Coalition Government, which had set up a Council to consider this matter, that there had been agreement by the two sides of the Council for a 48-hour week to be brought into operation in this country. Yet, after that conference, with the knowledge that employers and employed had agreed upon it, the Government have withheld approval of the ratification.
111 We were told by the Minister this afternoon that the method of the Labour administration was an impracticable way of dealing with this matter. It can hardly be impracticable when it was agreed upon by the employers in all the great industries of this country. All the great industries were agreed that the 48-hour week should be ratified by tins country, and ratified at an early moment. One feels sorry at times for those who represent us at some of the conferences. I, certainly, had great sympathy with our representatives at the Paris Conference. The fact of the matter is that the altitude of this Government with regard to the Washington Convention, the attitude of our representatives at the Paris Conference, has given the suspicion throughout the world that we are determined not to ratify this Convention. Each speaker on the other side has stated that he was anxious we should have this ratification. If that be their position, how is it the Government are holding back? It does not mean an alteration in the working week as far as our industries are concerned, because in all our industries we are working from a 44-hour week to, I think, the very worst, a, 48-hour working week at this time. If that be the position, the operation of this ratification would not mean that we would have to alter our position, that we would have to make a change in the conditions in our various industries. Yet, despite that knowledge, despite the fact That we are working less than a 48-hour week, the Government withhold their assent, and state that they are afraid other Governments will interpret and administer that particular measure in a way which would be to our disadvantage.
Those of us in industry are not afraid. We are afraid at this moment that non-ratification may encourage some of the industries in other countries to work a much longer week than they are engaged upon now, and everything of which I know with regard to conferences of the great industries of this country points to the demand that this Government should not have delayed even up to this point the ratification of the Convention. I hope even after the statement we have had from the Minister of Labour, there will be a determination to hurry on with this matter, so that industry may have reason to be less suspicious than it is at this moment.
§ Miss WILKINSON
One of the most interesting things in this Debate has been that from no side of the Rouse has come any speech against the ratification of this Washington Convention. Speaker after speaker among the Government's own supporters has spoken of the necessity for this ratification, and much harm is being done in the eyes of the world by the continued refusal of this Government to ratify. The Minister of Labour has said that there are many points of interpretation on which agreement must be reached before it is possible for this Government to ratify, but I would remind him of what took place in March of last year, when, under the auspices of the Minister of Labour, there was the Convention at which were representatives of Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy. Obviously, if five countries are united on the interpretation of the agreement, that, surely, as far as a very large part of the world is concerned, is sufficient to prevent the competition about which the right hon. Gentleman is so fearful. The fact that in the East, both India and Japan have put into operation the special provision made dealing with their particular countries, has meant a great improvement in industrial conditions in Japan and India. If it has not put India and Japan upon anything like a 48-hour week, unfortunately, it has put their people on the right road.
I would like to ask the Minister, or whoever replies for him, if he would be a little more specific, and tell us what points of interpretation are still outstanding. At the Conference in March last year there were very substantial points of agreement reached. It was agreed, for example, on the vexed question to whom the Convention applied, that it should apply to all industrial undertakings whatever the number of persons employed, except in those cases where members of a family were employed. There was also agreement as to the position of the postal telegraph service and similar services. Then, with regard to what constitutes working hours, these five countries agreed that it should not include the rest period. That was another big bogey cleared away. Next agreement was reached with regard to the vexed question of the building trade. Then on the special question of essentially intimate work—a phrase that 113 has been used in the Convention over and over again, and where the question of interpretation has been extremely loose—it has been pointed out that the actual words specified were said to apply to those workers who were not connected with production so-called, and that those where their work was interrupted by long periods of inaction were definitely excluded. Then you had an agreement reached with regard to the five-day week, the very question that has been such a problem in England because of the Saturday rest holiday. It has been pointed out over and over again that the 48-hour week would mean in practice a 44-hour week, if the Saturday afternoon holiday were maintained. An agreement wars reached in March on this very question, and it was agreed that, where the Saturday rest day was the normal state of affairs, it would be possible to fix extra hours during the other days, so long as the maximum did not exceed 48 hours, and the weekly rest day, it was agreed, might be dealt with specially under national legislation.
There are other questions, such as that regarding time lost by holidays and similar questions of interpretation. This Conference was held a year ago next month to deal with this very question of interpretation which the Minister has raised. Five of the great States have agreed on that. It is understood that our competitor in this matter is not the other great Power which is outside this agreement—America—because the hours a of work in most of the industries there are already coming within, if they have not already done so, the 48-hour limit. It is the European countries that have caused the difficulty, and now each one of them is waiting on the other. France says she cannot ratify until Germany does, and Great Britain says she cannot until everybody else does. Surely we are going to have a position where our own Government for once can take the lead. It has been pointed out that the great staple industries, which are most concerned with foreign competition, already have the 48-hours week, so there is no difficulty there.
Frankly, what I feel very much concerned about is the large number of women workers in this country whose hours are nothing like 48. There is far too great an assumption on the part of 114 people of all parties that, as a matter of fact, the 48-hours week has been largely won, that there is really no necessity to make a fuss about this Convention because the majority of people have it, and that therefore it is merely a question of formal ratification and what does that matter? As regards the organised workers and the great mass of men's trades, they are thoroughly well capable of looking after themselves, but we have in this country this vast reservoir of cheap unorganised female labour, and there is no bar on their hours whatsoever. Quite recently I was myself concerned, through my trade union, with a factory where every kind of time-stealing was going on —not time stealing from the point of view that you could bring them under the Factory Act, but excessive hours were being worked and hours that seemed incredibly long compared with any kind of modern standard. We forget how very long are the hours that are even to-day permitted under the Factory Act. We forget that it is over 50 years since there has been an Act regulating hours and conditions in this country. It is not really to our credit that our last Act was in 1870, when you consider the enormous progress that has been made public opinion since that time. We are living in almost a different world as regards labour conditions than we were in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, and yet that old Act dominates our work to-day. Here we have these workers who can be, and are being, worked these long hours, girls who have not the protection of the trade boards and trade unions, and who are left entirely to the mercy of their employers to work the 10i hours that are allowed now under our Factory Act.
I would ask the Minister whether he knows of any reputable body of employers that is against ratification of this Convention. It is often said that you do not have to legislate for the good employer, and that is true. The one we are dealing with here is the employer who, when he has only unorganised, young women to deal with, is prepared to take advantage of the last hour if necessary. It is surely recognised in modern practice that it is part of the work of the State to give help and protection to those who are not able to protect themselves. I think that these girls would be better protected by trade union organisations, but the fact is 115 that it is among these girls and young women that trade union organisation is so weak. Here is a clear ease where we have the right to ask any Government that is concerned with the health of the community and with the health and education of young people, to cut down the excessive hours that are being worked. I was amazed when making inquiries for the Factories Bill, which I introduced last year, to find the hours that were being worked by young people in this country. It is a condition of affairs which leaves them no time for recreation or for continuation work, but which does leave them thoroughly exhausted, and any kind of excitable pleasure is all that they are able to stand when their working day is over.
I do feel that, if the Prime Minister and the Cabinet would really go into this matter, they would realise that there are two things before them. If they stick to the attitude they are taking up now of not ratifying the Convention, it will simply lend colour to what we have said—and I have said it on a good many occasions—that the Government have always stood for the employers whenever there has been any question of wages or conditions. If the Government want to wipe out the stains on their honour that have existed ever since the happenings of the coal mining dispute, this is one of the ways in which they can wipe them out. We are a little bitter at the way in which the Government have handled the whole question of labour conditions since they came into office. We are bitter about the Eight Hours Act and about their dropping the Factories Bill when they can find time for interfering with the rights of trade unions. This is a question where plain humanity is involved. Through the League of Nations and the International Labour Office, which is the organised body of decent civilised public opinion in every country in the world these agreements have been reached, and in this country, which has prided itself in the past on taking the lead as regards working conditions, it is about time that the Government took a strong line and said that this Washington Hours Convention should be ratified.
§ Mr. FORREST
On many of the questions which come before this House, I am 116 content to give a silent vote, but on this question I feel so strongly that, as on other previous occasions, I venture to intervene for a few moments. While we recognise the difficulties which the Minister of Labour enumerated in his speech, I do feel encouraged very respectfully to suggest that there is one way in which he can show his sincerity on this question and one method by which he can prove his bona fides to the Committee. Two years ago I ventured to introduce a Bill on this particular subject which would have proved to the country that the Government were sincere in their desire to promote the 48-hours principle. It was a Bill which would have enabled industry to have put the principle into operation with the least injury to those trades which were not ripe for it, or for which it was not suited. If the Government could now, in reply, give some indication as to whether they would be willing to adopt a permissive measure of that character, I feel sure it would gratify the Committee and give the country some reassurance on this point. The 48-hours week is undoubtedly the maximum which the staple industries of the country at present work and it does seem to me that the tendency to-day in all industries is towards a reduction of hours and increasing leisure for those engaged in them. That principle has undoubtedly proved not only beneficial to the employés in all industries, but, generally speaking, profitable to employers in industry.
I speak more particularly with regard to the textile industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire. I do not quite follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder), if I interpret him rightly, when he said that many employers were looking for an opportunity to revise the hours of labour and to, go back from 48 hours to 55 hours. Undoubtedly there may be an isolated employer who is anxious to do that, but I am quite satisfied that the percentage of employers who would take that step is negligible. I pay my tribute to the way in which the industry has been managed for a great many years. The employers and the leaders of labour there have managed it in such a way that with one very short lapse last year, there has been no break in the industry and no dispute for a considerable number of years. In fact, they went through the whole of the trying time of the War and 117 after without a single dispute of any kind. There is, however, undoubtedly lurking in the back of the minds of those in the textile industry, a fear that some individual employer might make a successful attempt to encroach on the 48-hours week which has been secured by mutual agreement, and there would be a very much greater feeling of security if that 48-hours week could be legalised so that no bad employer could take advantage of a slump in trade or a slackness in employment in order to snake an inroad into it. It is because of this that if venture to support the principle of the legalising of the 48-hours week, believing that it will not only be of advantage to the employé, but profitable to the employer.
Mr. W. M. ADAMSON
It was with very little feeling of hope that I anticipated the statement of the Minister of Labour to-day, in spite of the many pleas which have been put forward to him from all sides of the House with regard to this most important question of the Washington Convention—and it is no new question that we are discussing here to-day. When he met the accusation of dilatoriness on the part of the present Government he rather offhandedly, it struck me, indicated that so far as he was concerned during the past two years no accusation of that kind could be made against him. I might have used a stronger term with regard to his attitude, because his explanations with regard to the Berne Conference and the Special Conference for which be was responsible showed that he had not exercised the power and the influence we might have expected in order to bring about a settlement a the difficulties that arose from time to time. All he could tell was that certain difficulties were raised by other countries regarding the interpretation of the Washington Convention in its inception. What were those interpretations? Generally speaking, they concerned the distribution of hours over the periods covered by night and day labour, the recovery of lost time, and how the word "hours" was going to be applied.
It has been pointed out this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) that there is no complaint from this side of the House about the operation of the 118 48-hour week in the big industrial concerns—apart from the references which have been made, and I may say the plea of the Minister of Labour that we had lost six months last year might have drawn the rejoinder that it looks as if he had lost six years over the interpretation of the difficulties which have arisen—but we know that in the majority of industries, in particular those affecting women, there are no regulations whatever governing either the hours or conditions of labour that make it imperative that a 48-hour week should be put into operation in the case of women workers until we come to some international agreement which would make that operative. I would ask the Minister of Labour whether he is serious in supporting the objections put forward by other countries, while not indicating in any way in which direction he would like to see those difficulties overcome. He stated that the Department had been called in on various occasions to try to heal the differences that had arisen, mentioning specially the London Conference. If our information be correct, we are rather inclined to believe that the very fact that they were called in only prolonged the differences, and that there has been no serious intention on the part of the representatives of the Government to try to compose them, or to give any indication that we as a country are prepared to carry out our definite pledges under the Washington Convention.
If the Minister of Labour be really serious in saying that we must take more time, and must go into all the arrangements in very much greater detail before the 48 Hours Convention can be approved, I feel some sympathy with the hon. Members who reminded him that if a Bill is not brought forward very speedily there will be little opportunity for the present Government to act in the matter. What we saw in the House to-day should have been a reminder to the Minister of Labour that the public generally are watching very carefully the evasions of the Government in face of the pledges they have given. We think the statement of the Minister to-day shows that the Government have no intention of proceeding seriously with the work of establishing the 48-hour week and have no intention of collaborating with other countries. As 119 to the difficulties with regard to the German Bill, we feel this country ought rather to set Germany a precedent by passing legislation which would show them how the pledge can be carried out. I appeal to the Minister of Labour and his colleagues to carry out during the present Session some of the things for which we are asking, so that the workers may know that a 48-Hours Bill will be placed on the Statute Book, and we may know that we are making some advance in industrial legislation.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
This has been a very remarkable debate, and it is, I believe, the first debate to which I have had the privilege of listening in the last four years in which not a single speaker has been found supporting the Government. I think 14 Members, in addition to the Minister, have spoken this afternoon, all parties being represented in that list, but in no single case did the Minister find that he had a friend. One evening last week when there was a Division on the London County Council (General Powers) Bill the Lobby found some very strange bedfellows, and I heard one hon. Member say, "What a delightfully impartial mind this House has when the Government Whips are not behind Members." It seems to me that the Committee are showing a delightfully impartial mind on this subject to-night, or else it is that Members have noted how the wind is blowing politically, as indicated by Smethwick, Stourbridge and other by-elections. The Minister of Labour said the Government had been charged with being dilatory and evasive and with having deliberately caused delay. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) disposed of the main arguments submitted by the Minister when trying to justify the delay. He said three arguments were constantly put forward as to why ratification should not take place, and in each case he furnished a reply which it is almost impossible to refute.
The Minister says that to-clay it is not so much a question of ratification as of interpretation. If we could only get a proper interpretation of all we are seeking, ratification would become a comparatively simple matter. In the present 120 state of mind of the Government, and in view of their actions during 1926, I do not think ratification is so simple as he would have us believe, and I am not sure that the action of the Government last year in imposing an 81 hours day on miners working below ground is not the biggest barrier to the ratification of the Washington Convention. I can scarcely believe that a Government 'who would compel a miner to work 8½ hours below ground are ready and willing to enact an 8-hours day for surface workers, I cannot think they are so charitably disposed towards this movement that they would unduly bind themselves to an endeavour to secure the interpretations which appear to be necessary before they can ratify the Convention.
Assuming that the question of interpretations is the real difficulty, will the Minister explain why the Government took no steps towards calling together other European nations until 15 months after they had come into office, and why, after certain agreements were reached in London, a further 12 months were allowed to expire, and why to-day he is telling us that he cannot hold out any hope that ratification will take place for a considerable time yet? It is perfectly true that during the last year we had a dispute going on for six or seven months, but at this moment we are involved in a dispute in China, and would the Minister argue that because of the complications in China the Government would be justified in delaying action for over two years? When it suits them they can take action, no matter what the complication may be, whethe7 it be domestic or international; when the subject does not concern the workers they can take instantaneous action, as they did some few weeks ago; but when it deals with the hours of work or the wages or the moral of millions of people, then a delay of two, four, six or eight years matters very little.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that, although they reached an agreement in London 12 months ago, the British Government did not understand that certain points involved in that agreement were within the meaning of the Washington Convention. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what he meant by that phrase. Does he mean to say that 121 the European nations represented at that conference sought with the British representatives to obtain agreement on various matters, but that the agreements reached were not within the meaning of the Washington Convention, and that if all the European Governments who agreed to them had embodied those agreements in Acts of Parliament, they would not be subject to the ruling of the Washington Convention and, incidentally, subject to the Versailles Treaty? That is a very important matter which the right hon. Gentleman ought to explain when he rises to reply, or when the Parliamentary Secretary rises to reply. The German Bill, as compared with the British conception, contains certain inconsistencies and is not quite parallel with our own, and that is one of the difficulties of ratification. At the very moment when we are discussing this particular proposal the industrialists of France are approaching the Government Department pointing out that it may increase the cost of production and cause difficulties with the industrialists of France, and as a result the French Government are not moving in the direction which the right hon. Gentleman thought they ought to move if we were to be in a position to ratify this Convention.
Every time the industrialists interfere with the Government, whether it is the British, French or the German Government, the result is the same—they always come down on the side of the employers. Consequently we cannot rely on any of their promises to the workers. But while the right hon. Gentleman is explaining the inconsistencies of the German Bill and the difficulties which the French Government are in, what help has the British Government given to France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, or anybody else during the last seven or eight years? What have we done to signify our willingness to ratify this Convention? We have sheltered ourselves behind other European nations and they have in turn been sheltering themselves behind us. They say they will ratify if the British Government ratify, but they say that they will not do so until the other countries have ratified. None of these foreign Governments is ratifying this agreement and carrying out their promises to the workers.
122 I know the British Government has done something during the past 12 months. They have passed an Eight Hours Act for miners, and if any single action of the Conservative Government during the past two years has had a deadly effect on this movement for a general reduction in working hours, I think it is that Eight Hours Act. The Minister of Labour, just to emphasise the difficulty, of giving effect to our desires, said that the Polish Government in November of last year asked for another conference to obtain more information and that conference was held. Another conference was held in January of this year, and no doubt more conferences will be held in 1929 and 1930 and perhaps in later years if the present Government are still in office. Apparently nothing is going to be done, and there is a limit to the patience even of Conservative politicians as has been indicated in the Debate this afternoon. Hon. Members opposite have told us that it would be unwise to take a plunge in the dark, but we cannot conceive the Minister of Labour taking such a plunge. What has been the right hon. Gentleman's attitude during the past two years? I do not suggest that his difficulties have not been very great, but that is one of the things which ought to be in the forefront of his mind and constantly occupying his attention and should never be removed from it until he has given effect to the promises which Governments have given during the last eight or nine years. The Minister of Labour puts a certain amount of blame on the miners' lockout, but in his very next breath he makes a statement that the truth really is that you cannot get a convention that will stand the test.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Apparently in my speech I was not able to make myself clear on this point. I did not intend to say that I could not get a convention which would stand the test. What I intended to convey was that you can never get a convention that will stand the test unless you get all the facts placed before them.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation, but I hope he does not feel it is impossible to secure a convention that will stand the test.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am sure my hon. Friend will forgive my intervention, but what I intended to convey was that in order to get a convention to stand the test we want to obtain the facts and make them clear. At the present time we are not in a position to make a definite statement, but the whole matter is under consideration by myself and in the Cabinet.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am pleased to hear that, statement, but I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he could not get a convention that would stand the test. Now the qualification is that the right hon. Gentleman cannot get a convention that will stand the test unless minute and detailed attention for a number of years is given to the facts. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman's statement is a very different one now he has explained it, and I will accept it.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am sure my hon. Friend does not want to misrepresent me. If I actually used those words, which I do not remember, let me make a correction now. All I want is to get the facts, and the hon. Member must not misrepresent me by saying that I said we must spend seven or eight years in regard to this question, because I have been trying with all possible speed to overcome the difficulties.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Of course, I accept the right hon. Gentleman's correction, and I do not desire to misrepresent him. My point is that too much delay has already taken place, and the arguments put forward by the right hon. Gentleman have now been boiled down to the solitary one of the difficulty of interpreting what is required, and securing absolute European unanimity. I realise that is a difficult problem, but I believe that within a period of eight years or even two years; if the will had been there, the interpretation could have been obtained long ago. As previous speakers have said it is not so much a question of more exploration and information, but a question of the will much more than the information and ratification could take place in a comparatively short space of time. The right hon. Gentleman repeated the statement made by the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) and he said you can only go forward by international 124 agreement. Really I do not think the right hon. Gentleman believes that statement although he made it. To go forward only by international agreement would mean that all the nations would only move forward with the most reactionary body of employers who had got the most antiquated and obsolete kind of machinery and equipment in any nation. We have gone forward but only to the extent of about half of what we are asking for here this afternoon. The Minister has stated that millions of people are now enjoying a working week of less than 48 hours, but I think this ought to justify the right hon. Gentleman in taking slight and very small risks in giving effect to the Washington proposals, and the agreements which they made in London last year, and subsequently in November last year and in January this year. I am convinced that in the end British employers will not be found hostile to these proposals, but will ultimately regard them as something that is going to assist them rather than deter them from making progress. I think eventually we shall find employers adopting a lower number than eight hours a day because they will be convinced from personal experience that there is only a maximum amount of energy which a man or a woman can put forward. For these reasons I think employers will be inclined to accept fewer hours than are being worked at the present time. I trust the Minister of Labour is not going to delay this matter much longer and I trust he will give us a real earnest that he desires to see the Convention ratified. If on the other hand he continues to procrastinate and refuses to take a leap in the dark, this will be another reason why the result at Stourbridge election will be repeated again until there are no Conservatives left in the House.
§ Major ROPNER
I cannot refrain from intervening in this debate in order to break the record which was alluded to by the hon. Member who has just sat down. I do not, however, think that the bon. Member was quite right when he said that no speaker in this debate up to the moment had been found ready to support the Minister. I am quite sure that the Minister of Labour does not require my support, but I am rising for a very short time in order to assure the 125 hon. Member who has just spoken that he is wrong. I shall have no hesitation in voting against the Amendment as a result of the assurance which the Minister of Labour has given us this afternoon, and because I agree entirely with the careful way in which the right hon. Gentleman has approached this complicated problem.
What does surprise me is that lion. Members opposite should criticise the Conservative party. I have been trying for years to persuade them and their friends, particularly that section of, their party that is noticeable for its absence this evening, that it is largely by international agreements that we can solve the labour problem throughout the world, and not, as they have so frequently advocated, by strikes and the sowing of dissension among ranks of Labour. We are all, I suppose, without exception, really in favour of the principles contained in the Washington Hours Convention, and, if I may, I will read what they really are, as stated in a letter addressed primarily by the Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, to the Secretary of the Cabinet and sent by him to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations. They are, firstly, that the working hours of persons employed in industrial undertakings shall not exceed eight in the day and 48 in the week, with certain specific exceptions; and, secondly, that overtime hours in excess of the daily or weekly maximum are, in effect, prohibited.
It has not been brought to the attention of the Committee this afternoon that there is no mention in the Washington Convention of wages; the so-called labour problem is only dealt with from the point of view of hours. I suppose it is an indisputable fact that wages in this country rule higher than in any other European country, that on the average the manual workers, the wage-earners, in this country receive more for their work, even in those industries which are open to the full blast of foreign competition. It is true, even so, that industrial agreements do now cover nearly 90 per cent. of the workers of this country allowing for an 8 hour day or less, and it seems to me that the Minister of Labour is perfectly right when he approaches this matter very carefully indeed, seeing that by agreement we have already shorter hours and higher wages than in any other European country. If the Minister, 126 in addition to what he has already said, can assure me that ratification of the Convention would mean even one more unemployed person in this country than we have to-day, I should give him my still more hearty support in the line that he has adopted.
An hon. Member has already this afternoon drawn attention to one of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills). He said that it is no good one country raising its standard in advance of another; and he went on to say that, if one country went too far by itself, it would have to slide back, because it would be open to what we know as unfair foreign competition, and the last stage would be worse than the first. It is because we do lead here and now that we cannot afford, before and until we have still further considered what is really meant by some of the passages in the Washington Hours Convention, to ratify that Convention. I will delay the Committee no longer, except to reaffirm my support of the Minister in the line that he has adopted.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I think the charge of dilatoriness on the part of the Government which has been levied from this side can easily be justified and borne out by the facts of the case as shown by the Minister of Labour himself in the statements he has made from time to time with regard to the progress of this nation in connection with the Washington Convention. As far back as the latter end of 1924, the Minister of Labour said that he refused to bea party to anything which will lay additional burdens upon British industry in its present condition as compared with the foreign industry that competes with it.And he declared that there wasNot a shadow of justification for the statement that, if Britain ratified, France, Germany and Belgium would take the same course.That was over two years ago. Then, a little later, in May, 1925, the Minister of Labour said:If we move cautiously in the way I suggest, we safeguard the position of British industrialists much more securely, and we have a much better hope of bringing conditions in foreign countries, which are beneath the present level up to ours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1925; col. 536, Vol. 183.]127 After that, there was the Conference that was held in London in March of last year. At that Conference 13 points were unanimously agreed to, and there was only one about which there was some slight disagreement, according to the report in the "Times." We have had, in the speech of the Minister of Labour, some indication of what that disagreement has actually amounted to, but the "Times" said, in reference to that Conference:It is further agreed by the representatives of the Governments participating in the Conference that they will report to their respective Governments the conclusions as set out above which the Conference has been able to reach, so that those Governments who have not ratified the Convention may, taking account of the agreements reached, ho in a position to proceed with their consideration of the ratification of the Washington Convention.Then we had the statement of the Minister of Labour, less than a year ago, to the effect that the Government were prepared to consider the question of the ratification of the Convention, but that there were difficulties in the way; and then, later on, he said that the great difficulty was the amount of Government time that had been wasted owing to the industrial trouble of last year. There seems to me to be, in those statements, a considerable variation of opinions in the mind of the Minister of Labour as to the real difficulties of the nation and of the Government in ratifying this Convention, and it does suggest that the actual difficulty is not so much of the kind suggested as the desire of the Government to avoid anything in the nature of stabilising decent conditions for the workers of this country. The hon. and gallant Member for Sedgefield (Major Ropner)—the first in the whole Debate who has supported the Government and the Minister of Labour—made the statement that 90 per cent. of our industrialists have voluntarily agreed to a maximum 48-hour week. I think he was somewhat incorrect in that statement. It is perfectly true that 90 per cent. of the industries concerned in the Washington Convention are in this country tinder agreements which on the whole represent a maximum 48-hour week or eight-hour day, but it is not the case 128 that 90 per cent. of the industries of this country have established an eight-hour day.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
If the hon. Member will refer to the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories, I think he will find it stated there that 90 per cent. of the industries of this country are working 48 hours or less per week.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I had that Report in mind, and looked it up to-day, and I assure the hon. Member that the 90 per cent. does not apply to the whole of the industries of this country but to a specially selected number of the leading industries. In any case, the point I wish to make in reference to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Sedge-field is this: If it be true that this country has already an eight-hour day to the extent of 90 per cent. of its industries, surely we have practically nothing to lose by the ratification of the Washington Convention. That is one point, but there is more to be said with regard to that. If we have nothing, or very little, to lose, if there is very little risk of our losing anything by ratifying the Washington Convention, what about what we are going to gain—I mean as a nation, from the point of view, not of the nation's workmen, but of the industrialists, the employers of labour, on the question of foreign competition? The status and standard of labour in foreign countries, surely, affects unsheltered industries in this country, and if the ratification of that Convention by this country means that other countries will sign the ratification, as they have agreed provisionally to do, surely the advantage from the point of view of international competition will he very great indeed. Putting it on no higher scale, and leaving aside the human considerations, from the standpoint of business, of practical pounds, shillings and pence business, it ought to pay this country to ratify that Convention, to take what slight risks there are—and it has been shown that the risks are very slight—in order that we shall be able to get these rival nations of ours adopting and maintaining a stbilised condition for their workers and a higher standard than now obtains on the Continent of Europe.
Then I would like to impress upon the Committee another point of view. 129 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) spoke a little while ago in reference to the tendencies of modern industrialism, of the commercial system of the world, towards economic federation, cartels, the rationing of markets and all the indications of the breakdown of competitive conditions and the substitution of a co-operative capitalism for competitive capitalism. It is perfectly true that events are moving very rapidly in that direction. Only a few weeks ago we had the first of a series of conferences between German industrialists and British industrialists at the country house of the Minister of Transport, under the ægis of the Government itself, almost, where they discussed—
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
That may not be quite correct; I see the Minister shakes his head. At any rate, it was a very important conference indeed, and it was called for the purpose of eliminating certain competitive elements and of seeing if it were not possible to make satisfactory arrangements to end, or partially end, the cut-throat competition that has gone on between this country and other countries. We have had had recently the chemical merger, with a capital of £38,000,000, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen is the head. He stated, in his appeal to the public with regard to that merger, that the object of it was to combine the chemical industries of this country so that they could speak with one voice in making commercial and trading engagements and relations with the chemical industries of foreign countries. The same kind of thing is happening in finance. The iron and steel industries in Europe are actually rationing the markets of the world among themselves, although our own iron and steel masters have not entered into that arrangement. All these things point to an international co-operative capitalism taking the place of the old competitive conditions. I think I can say, for the working people of this country, that capitalism cannot do that with the object of restricting production and ordering and parcelling the world out for itself and its profits, unless it is prepared at the same time to balance 130 consumption and production, to make the status of labour high in comparison with the increased potentiality given to combined capital upon this international plane.
This is the way in which it could be done. If internationalism is good enough for capitalism, it is good enough for labour, and if those who are responsible for the industrial undertakings of the country really want peace in industry, they must pay the price of peace in industry. That price must be commensurate with the international development of modern capitalism, with the tremendous increase in the financial power, wealth production, and the organisation of markets all over the world, and with the elimination of competition. You cannot go on those lines and expect industrial peace unless at the same time you raise the status of the working producers of the world. We must have these international arrangements and for that reason—a reason embracing all the tendencies of modern capitalism—there is every case indeed for this country to ratify immediately the Washington Convention.
I would like, in a final word, to put one other point to the Minister of Labour direct. When I put a Supplementary Question a few clays ago I was asked by his second in command to bring up this point in the debate to-night. We heard in the answer to the main question to which I put a Supplementary, that countries abroad had ratified the Convention provisionally. I suggested, and I was asked to bring the matter up in debate to-night, that the idea of a provisional ratification might at least temporarily be a good one for this country to adopt I invite the Minister of Labour to consider whether we might not do the same as other countries have done in regard to ourselves, and say, "We do not want to put ourselves into a false position and find ourselves let down, but we are in favour of ratifying the Washington. Convention. We will ratify provisionally, and when all the nations agree to that ratification we will go along and get the whole thing settled to the advantage to all the nations concerned without risks of being let down 131 by the default of other nations." I ask the Minister of Labour to consider as a possible alternative a provisional ratification.
§ Major SALMON
In listening to the hon. Member who opened this debate this afternoon, one rather thought that the ratification of the Washington Convention was a panacea for better relationship between capital and labour. I would like to say at once that one is desirous of seeing that labour only works a, reasonable number of hours, but, as a matter of fact, as many Members on the Labour benches told us this afternoon, a large majority of the employs of this country are now only working 48 hours a week. If you are going to have a Convention, and if you are going to put it on the Statute Book and say that the workers are not permitted to work more than 48 hours a week, I suggest that you should take great care to see that the people who are entering into that Convention are going to carry out their side of the agreement both in the letter and in the spirit. If anyone was justified in delaying this, I think the Minster of Labour has more than justfied himself to-day. If you want more justification, I would refer my hon. Friend to the Conference that was held in London only a few months ago. At that Conference it was necessary, as no doubt hon. Gentleman have read, to clarify many points in connection with the Convention. A not unimportant matter that arose was that in connection with the payment for overtime. I believe that one country decided that they would pay at the rate of 10 per cent., but it was ultimately agreed that the minimum for overtime should be 25 per cent. of the regular wage. In connection with one's objection to having an agreement of this kind, I would like hon. Members to bear a particual point in mind. There is a great difficulty in many industries in getting all the necessary periods of work within the prescribed period during the week of 48 hours. If there is to be an embargo put upon the hours that will be permitted to be worked in a year for overtime, you are, in my view, going to increase the cost of production. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) shakes his head. I venture to think that will be the 132 result. I admit I am open to the criticism that I want to postpone this indefinitely. I think it is essential to postpone it, for a reasonable period; at any rate, it is necessary to satisfy ourselves on the one hand that those who are going to sign this Convention with us are going to carry it out on the same terms and under the same conditions as we propose to carry it out.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
May I point out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that Clause 418 of the Peace Treaty gives a formula for dealing with defaulting nations?
§ Major SALMON
It is so easy to talk about putting into operation a formula for dealing with defaulters, but, as practical men of the world, we know that that is very unlikely ever to operate. We must not deal with defaulters, but we must try to get the position so cleared up that there will be no defaulters to deal with. I do suggest that in connection with an important document such as this, if it is going to be carried out both in the letter and in the spirit, it is essential that the Minister should look at it both from the employés' and the employers' point of view and should satisfy the House that all the points that are likely to arise should be thoroughly investigated.
It is so easy for hon. Members opposite to jeer at the Minister because there has been a delay. May I remind my hon. Friend that an important point has arisen since the signing of the original Convention. Do hon. Members opposite recognise that the currency of Germany, France and Belgium is so low that they can compete very largely with this country? They have become very great competitors of this country. Things are becoming to-day more stabilised than they were a few years ago. I am quite sure that there is no one more anxious than the Minister himself to see that all the problems and difficulties are overcome before he signs an agreement. That is the only way in which the Convention can be signed. When matters of detail were gone into, many more difficulties arose than hon. Members opposite seemed to think. They say, "We desire high wages and short hours." That is very desirable if it were practicable in industry, but you have to have regard 133 to the fact that when you are competing with the world you must be able to produce the articles with which you are competing at such a cost that will permit you to sell in competition with the rest of the world, otherwise you might as well close up shop. In my view it is a very fine thing to have a 48-hour week. On the other hand, I think that there should not be unnecessary restriction on the question of overtime when overtime becomes essential. There are many industries in which overtime is an important point, and a practical difficulty in this matter arises in many industries at different times of the year. The Government have nothing to regret in regard to the delay that has taken place up to now. They have only had a reasonable time to consider points that have arisen since the London Conference. I suggest that, given a reasonable time to get answers from the respective Governments on the points that have arisen from this Conference, a satisfactory solution will be found for all the difficulties. I am quite confident that we shall be perfectly safe in leaving the matter in the hands of the Minister to bring forward in due course a scheme that will meet with the approval not only of hon. Members on one side of the House but of the House generally.
§ Mr. BARKER
I rise to support the Motion moved by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) for the reduction of this Vote. I have been in the House practically all the time the Debate has been on, and was very much disappointed with the statement made by the. Minister of Labour. I have never heard a weaker statement made by any responsible Minister since I have been in this House. The excuse that he put forward, as the reason why this Convention has not been ratified, that last year there was a dispute in the mining industry that lasted for seven months, is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard since I have been a Member of the House of Commons. I remember in 1921, Mr. G. M. Barnes, speaking from one of the Benches opposite. If I remember rightly, Mr. Barnes was our representative at the Washington Conference, and I think no one could have been more indignant than he was with the Government for not carrying out their pledges with reference to this Convention. I should like to call the attention of the Committee to the 134 obligations of the Government in reference to these matters. In the Treaty Versailles, Article 405 states:Each of the Members (that is, the Governments) undertakes that it will lay the recommendations of the draft Conventions before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies for the enactment of legislation or any action.It was in 1919 that the Washington Convention was held, and out of over 200 conventions and recommendations made by the National Labour Organisation, this was the very first to be ratified. The Government in these international labour conferences is represented by 12 Members, and employers and labour by six each, making a total of 24. The representatives of this country ratified this 48-hour week or 8-hour day convention because it was the most urgent question that had to be settled after the cessation of hostilities. The hours question is at the very root of the seething discontent in Europe. We are constantly increasing the power of production and endeavouring to increase the hours of labour. These two actions of ours inevitably produce millions of unemployed men. We get an example of this in the Eight Hours Act passed last Session. In my own constituency it has increased unemployment, according to the figures I received, from the Ministry of Labour only this month, by 91 per cent.
This question of the hours of labour is the most vital before the world to-day. I would invite hon. Members who take an interest in the welfare of the country and of European countries to read a remarkable article in the "Obverser" yesterday entitled "The Menace." Europe to-day is seething with unrest and poverty and destitution. The working classes are surrounded by an abundance of articles of commerce, all the wealth that can be desired is put in front of them, the stores and warehouses and shops are overstocked with commodities, and the working classes are thrown out of employment by hundreds of thousands, and if the Governments of Europe do not deal with this question of unemployment, it will bring about the downfall of the present Governments of the world. It is amazing that this question of unemployment should have been on for a period of seven or eight years. This country which formerly led 135 the way in reforms of this character, has now become the most reactionary in Europe. France, Germany and Italy are prepared to ratify the Convention if Great Britain will, and now we are told by the Minister of Labour and speakers on the other side of the House that this cannot be rushed. The idea of rushing a proposal that has been before the world for eight years! As an excuse it is simply lamentable. It shows that there is no valid reason why it should not be ratified. We know what have been the staple arguments of employers. They perpetually complain about the keenness of international competition, and yet we have been told that we have better labour conditions in this country than in other countries. If that is so, why will they not ratify the Convention on purpose to stifle the competition they are afraid of as the result of unlimited hours of labour? There is no case for withholding ratification. To get to the genesis of the question, we have to go back to June, 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed. When this International Labour Organisation was set up, we had in the preamble the following:Whereas the League of Nations has for its object the establishment of universal peace, and such peace can he established only if it is based upon social justice, and whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled, and an improvement of these conditions is urgently required, as, for example, by the regulation of the hours of work, including the establishment of a maximum working day and week.That was in 1919. Now we are in 1927, and the very first article in the Convention has not been ratified by the Government. I have already stated the obligations the Government are under. They are disgracing the nation by not carrying them out. I remember very vividly the speech made by Mr. Barnes. He was unspeakably grieved because the Government had practically let him down, because he had signed this Convention and the Government refused to carry it out. In another place on Wednesday there was a great Debate because they had let another representative down on another important question. It seems to 136 me to be the policy of this Government to let all their representatives down and to let the nation down in the face of Europe.
Belgium has ratified this Convention; why cannot we ratify it? What is there peculiar about our position? If Germany, France and Italy are prepared to ratify, what is the stumbling block that prevents us? It is the Government of capitalists, and you rare standing in the way of the economic and industrial progress of the working classes. This country used to lead the way in legislation of this character. Now we are becoming the laughing stock of Europe. I can understand the Government refusing to ratify at this moment. The Convention should have been ratified years ago, but it is very difficult to-day to ask the Powers of Europe to ratify this Convention after the action of the Government in passing the Eight Hours Act last Session. The result is, that the Minister of Labour has over 1,250,000 people unemployed. He has the Unemployment Insurance Act over £20,000,000 in debt. Instead of seducing the hours of labour and employing more people, he is putting them further into debt and promising to bring in legislation later on this Session which will more deeply depress the workers than they are depressed at the present time. It is astounding to think that at this time of day we should have constantly one million people unemployed. Those million people represent at least four million human beings. The Government do nothing whatever to alleviate and mitigate these conditions. They have now an opportunity, which they should have embraced with eagerness long ago, of ratifying the Convention, which would place an obligation upon their competitors in the European markets. They refuse to do so for some reason that has never been given to this House. This is the most important question that has been before the House of Commons. It lies at the very root of unrest in this country. Unless the Government confirm this limitation of hours and reduce the hours of labour and find employment for the people of this country, they are plunging the people into unspeakable misery which will produce, ultimately, a revolution in the country.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
The last speaker wandered somewhat from the subject. As far as I could understand his argument, it was that we should work fewer and fewer hours in order that we might employ more and more people, without regard to an economic solution of the problem. The point we are discussing is the ratification of the Washington Convention. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Minister of Labour, because when he was speaking I formed the impression that he really was sincerely anxious to do all he possibly could towards the ratification of the Convention, but there were certain very grave difficulties in the way. Unfortunately, perhaps, it has been my peculiar privilege to speak each year since I have been a Member of this House on the 48 hours week question, and in every ease to speak and vote against my own party, because I am a firm and convinced believer in the necessity of a 48 hours week. But, recognising that fact, it is not necessary to curse the Government and try to smite them hip and thigh as if their sole object was to see the people of this country work long hours, and that they were, for some reason or other, trying to hold back legislation which would have a beneficial effect upon the working classes. We have been told often to-night that we have this Washington Convention and that the Powers represented there were anxious to agree to sign the ratification for the 48 hours week; but the fact remains that the thing has gone on for eight, years, and it is not yet ratified. As far as I can understand it, the whole of the blame for the delay is put upon this country. We are the sinners, and if it had not been for our peculiarity or our obstinacy or for some ulterior motive the Convention would have been signed long ago and the world would have been at peace.
It is one thing to promise to ratify a Convention, but it is another thing to ratify. The essential point is, that we should all mean the same thing when we ratify. From what the Minister of Labour told us this afternoon, the impression I got was that everybody is anxious to ratify the Convention but to interpret it in their own manner. As far as I can understand it, the only difficulty of the Minister of Labour is in trying to bring all the different nations into common agreement as to the interpretation of the 138 Treaty. It is, apparently, a very difficult question. What is our position at the present time? In this country 90 per cent. of our workpeople are working a 48 hours week, or less. Simply 10 per cent. are outside. Some people say, "Then, why ratify the Convention? What benefit will ratification bring to us?" I think it will bring a very great deal of benefit, but I will refer to that point later on. My point, for the moment, is that we are to-day probably, with the exception of America, the premier industrial nation in the world with regard to hours, wages, and conditions of labour, and we have for some years been able to compete and hold our own against the nations of the world in very severe competition.
Who is going to benefit if this Treaty is to be ratified? [HON. MEMBERS: "Great Britain."] Yes, Britain, and Britain alone. That is a point which hon. Members do not seem to understand. It simply means that all the foreign Powers will have to reduce their hours of labour. That is going to put them at a disadvantage compared with us, on their present standing and, naturally, they are not anxious to sign, except upon their own terms. My impression is that the Minister of Labour is going to find it singularly difficult to make these nations agree to any terms which would put them on an equality with us. We should get the benefit, and they would lose a certain benefit which they have at the present time. Therefore I think the difficulty will be not with us, but in trying to persuade the other nations of the world to come up to our standard. Hon. Members of the Labour party may say: "We can manage that internationally. We of the Labour party are now so very well organised that when other nations see that we have a 48 hours week we can ask our International Labour Office to appeal to the workers of other countries so to unite as to compel their Governments to go in for a 48 hours week." Can you do that? I think our experience of the last few years is just to the contrary.
What has happened? When we have had trouble in this country industrially, do hon. Members of the Labour party find their brethren of the International Labour parties throughout the world anxious to come to their assistance by having stoppages, or helping them in that way? No They do all they possibly 139 can to collar our markets. When America had her coal strike, the colliers of this country did all they could to send coal to America. When we had our coal stoppage, we found the colliers of other parts of Europe only too anxious to send coal here. We are competitors. We cannot get away from that, and with all the good will in the world and with all the treaties ratified in the world we shall find that we are and always will be their competitors. Not necessarily does this argument apply only to people abroad. We find competition in this country and even within industries in this country. We find labour in the different industries not loyally 'helping each other. I remember what happened in the cotton industry during the War when so many men had to go and the employers had to take women into the spinning rooms to do work which originally had been done by men. The difficulty arose when the men came back of getting rid of the women, and it was a difficulty, not from the employers' point of view, but from the point of view of the workers, because the minder who found that he was paying women less than he had to pay a man piecer and that there was more money left for himself, did all he could to prevent the women leaving the spinning room. That can happen in one industry, where there is not absolute loyalty.
We shall find that the foreign nations will only ratify the Convention if they can interpret it to their own advantage. It is not common sense and reason to expect them to sign a thing which will be to their disadvantage. The work of the International Labour party should he so to improve the education el their competitors abroad as to make them demand the same standard of living that we have in this country. We cannot possibly ask our workpeople to descend to a lower standard. We must raise the standard of our foreign competitors, and the only people who can do that are the labour organisations themselves. If they devote their attention to that, they might do some good. I should like to know from the Minister what possible harm it would do us if we ratified it. We should not be any worse off than we are to-day. The only danger I can see is that you would make what is now an agreement the law of the land. That is the only difficulty. Supposing we did 140 that, is it not worth while? If there is one thing about which I am convinced, speaking as a representative of a Lancashire constituency, it is that under no consideration whatever will the workers have longer hours. I am convinced of that. They would prefer lower wages, if it was economically proved to be a necessity, rather than longer hours. Yet there is this shadow behind them, and behind all industries, that the 48 hours is only an arrangement between employers and employés, and the time may come when they will be called upon to work longer hours.
If the Minister would or could promise that he will do all he can to enter into a provisional ratification that we will lead the way because we have nothing to lose, and that if within a certain time other nations do not ratify the agreement and give it the same interpretation as we do, then we are at liberty to repeal it, it would be well worth doing; and for this reason. There is a great lack of industrial psychology on our Front Bench. One can quite understand that from the sublime heights of Cabinet office they are not perhaps able to look down far enough to the life of the industrial workers of this country, and perhaps by their circumstances of life they may not have had an intimate association with these people. I have worked with them for the greater part of my life, and I can claim to know them extremely well. If the Government could take a, course in industrial psychology they would learn that the very effect of ratifying this agreement would cause such tremendous feeling of thankfulness and relief amongst the working people of this country, would give them such a feeling of confidence in our Government, that we should have peace in industry and the Conservative Government would be in power for the next generation. They would be absolutely convinced that we of the Conservative party are honestly out for social reform, to do the best we can for the working people of this country, at the same time remembering that there are other classes besides the working classes.
It is all in the direction of ratifying the Convention. My con- 141 tention is that if the Government would ratify this agreement, if only provisionally, it would create such a feeling throughout the whole country amongst the working classes that would more than justify any risk that might be taken; and it does not matter a scrap whether other nations ratify or not.
§ Mr. SNELL
The hon. Member who has just spoken touched what is the real kernel of the whole question towards the end of his remarks when he said that if this ordinance was ratified it would cause a feeling of security and satisfaction throughout the whole country which would show itself in new relationships in the future. This ratification is withheld year after year, and it appears to be likely to be still further postponed. The importance of this matter is not sufficiently realised. Whether this is due to the fact, as has been admitted by the last speaker, that the Conservative party has no industrial psychology or not I cannot say, but I rather fear that the reason is that they are not really interested. If it were some petty matter involving a military display you may be sure not only that the benches opposite would be crowded but that they would be alert with patriotic cries for something to be done without delay. But this is a matter of the good faith of the British nation, entered into by one who was not a wild person on behalf of the British Government, and for seven years one excuse after another has been forthcoming why that pledge should not be fulfilled. The hon. and gallant Member for the Harrow Division (Major Salmon) warned the House against rushing into premature action. The House does not appear likely to be rushed on this matter. We can scarcely get from the Government any indication as to what is likely to happen.
I listened with as much attention as I could to the declaration of the Minister of Labour and when he had finished I hail the greatest difficulty in understanding what it was that he really wished to say to the House. What I gathered was the burden of his speech was that there were difficulties in the way; if there were no difficulties the Government would really ratify it, but as there are many difficulties we must wait until they are solved. I agree that the machinery of 142 one nation is a difficult thing to wield in one direction or another, and that when there are many nations the difficulties are naturally increased, but I also believe that if there was a real desire to find a way through the difficulties they would be overcome. My own feeling about it is that the good faith of this nation should not suffer under this continual delay. Why do we trouble to send men holding our authority in their hands to these international conventions if, when they come back, we treat their work as though it had not been. After all, it seems to sustain the all too popular belief that politics and diplomacy are only part of a great farce which is being played in the world. If you postpone the ratification of these conventions indefinitely, as the present Government are doing, you will give a very serious impetus to this view throughout the world.
We hold that some such ratification as we desire is necessary, in order to bring some order into the world. The last speaker said that if you have the thing in actual practice it does not matter whether or not a law is passed to secure it. That remark showed a want of industrial psychology on the part of the speaker. A law makes all the difference in the world. A thing is never secure if it is dependent on the ebb and flow of temporary public opinion. So we urge that if we are to keep our place in the markets of the world, taking account of the increased production and the greater efficiency of the tools of production, we have to restore some kind of equilibrium by an increase in the amount of leisure given to the workers. It is because we regard this instrument as the beginning of a real international attempt to deal with the low lands of labour—to try to bring the lower lands up to a higher level—that we press, almost without hope but time after time, that the Government will realise the importance of this subject, and even at the eleventh hour make a determined effort to give a preliminary if not a final ratification to the Treaty.
§ Mr. STEWART SANDEMAN
I think the Debate has proved the absolute inconsistency of my friends of the Labour party. Why cannot they practise what they preach? I know many of them have often said to me, "We are doing 16 143 hours a day." That was towards the end of the Parliamentary week. It is a pretty heavy week's work. I reckon that I know something about the difference between a 55-hours week and a 48-hours week. I do not think that anyone wants to see men working more than 48 hours a week. But the point that strikes me is that that can be arranged at home without tying us up abroad. It is all very well to talk about people on the Continent sticking to a 48-hours week. I know perfectly well that that is not done, even in Belgium, where the proposal has been more or less ratified. There is a certain amount of elasticity about, shall I say, the morals of some of these Continental countries which it is extraordinarily difficult to pin down, and a 48-hours week might quite well expand to 55 hours and even to more. So I feel that in spite of what some of our Conservative Socialists have said—[Interruption] Oh, yes, there are certain of them, but I do not think they have ever done a 55-hours week, and they are really not the sort of people to whose advice I should pay the least attention so far as conditions amongst our working people are concerned. I know plenty of people working 72 hours a week. I know of an engineer, aged 73, who talked about his 70-hours week and how glad he was that he had done it. Some of our friends are glad to work 16 hours a day and then go to their constituents and talk about it. After all, it is not quantity that matters, but quality.
I am easily diverted from the narrow and straight path by my hon. Friends of the Labour party, who are trying to lead me on so that I shall be obliged to sit down for the third time, and be unable to conclude my speech. Coming back to the 48-hours week, I cannot see what we are to gain by it. We can arrange between the unions and the employers for a 48-hours 144 week. I have a very strong objection to our tying our hands by any conventions whatever. In the long run it will be a question entirely of economics. If 48 hours are not enough or if they are too much to give the best production, economics will fix what the hours are to he. It is no use trying to work people longer than they can work economically. If it turns out that we have to work longer hours, much as I should be sorry to see it, I am afraid that we will just have to do so.
§ Mr. BATEY
I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary on the Government Front Bench, but I am sorry that the Minister of Labour is not present, for his speech was an amazing speech. He seems to think that we should regard it as a serious speech. I regarded it more as a joke. Because we did not agree with him the right hon. Gentleman got rather ratty. He began to throw bricks about. He hit one of his own party, and, not satisfied with that, he threw a brick across here and hit me. I would have been delighted if he had been here now. To my mind his speech showed that he was really attempting something that was beyond his powers. What he wanted to show to the House was that last year as Minister of Labour he really moved forward. As a matter of fact he moved backward. He pointed with great gusto to the fact that last year he had been the means of calling the London Conference, and, following the London Conference, that Poland had suggested a Committee in Paris, and he had agreed to that. He said in effect "Those two things stamp me as having moved forward last year." When I first came to this House I was taught that whenever a Government did not want to do anything but wanted to evade a question, it suggested a Commission or Committee or Conference. That seems to have been the policy of the Minister of Labour last year. Not wanting to deal with the ratification of the Washington Convention, the right hon. Gentleman went back to the old idea that the best thing was to call a London Conference and then a Paris Committee. After that conference and that committee there has been no progress. On the contrary we are further back to-day than we were last year at this time.
145 The position of the Government is far more difficult now than it was last year. Last year on this hours question the Government took an immense step backwards by passing the Miners Eight Hours Act. In the north of England the surface workers around our coal pits, men and boys alike, do not work 48 hours a week but 49 hours a week. One can well understand why the Minister of Labour does not want to go into conference with the other countries on this subject. He does not want to be in the position of being asked by the other Powers, "How can you talk about a 48-hour week when last year you passed an Act which has forced men and boys to work a 49-hour week in the coal mining industry?" With all the faults of the Minister, one can hardly imagine him being so foolish as to want to be placed in such a position and to desire that the European Powers should be able to point out to him the huge blunder which his Government made last year in this respect. We on these Benches believe that the object of the Washington Convention was to reduce unemployment. The one thing we have believed all along is that if the Convention were ratified it would tend to reduce unemployment. Again I have to remind the Under-Secretary that the Government by their blind and foolish action last year have increased unemployment in this country. Only the other day we were told by the President of the Board of Trade that since the beginning of the lock-out last year, the unemployed in the mining industry had increased by 100,000.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
I desire to keep in order, but I would point out that in the course of this Debate, the question of unemployment has been gone into very fully by Members on both sides. I did not think I would be out of order in pointing out to the Ministry that one effect of the Government's action has been to increase unemployment and to make it more difficult to ratify this Convention, as it ought to be ratified. The Minister used the amusing argument that there should be no legislation until they were absolutely sure that the legislation would be perfect. He argued that until he was sure that the legislation would work perfectly he was 146 not justified in introducing a Bill. I ask the Under-Secretary whether the Ministry of Labour has always been guided 'by that principle. Last year they brought in a Bill dealing with unemployment, the effect of which was to reduce the Government's contribution in respect of each person employed. Did they believe that that Measure was perfect before they introduced it? That step has been the means of increasing the debt on the unemployment fund. One cannot regard the Minister as serious in his suggestion that the Government are justified in not ratifying the Convention until they are prepared with perfect legislation. An hon. Member to-night has said, that the Government need have no regrets that they have not ratified the Convention up to the present. In my opinion the Minister has not justified himself up to the present, but one did expect that he would have been able to say something as to the future. His speech left us in a complete haze as to what the Government's future action may be. So far as one was able to judge from his speech, this Government have no intention of ratifying this Convention or of taking any steps towards the reduction of the hours of labour in this country. I can well understand their position. I think, in expressing that view, the Minister only said what was perfectly true. This Government arc in the hands of the employers of labour in this country and they dare not attempt to ratify this Convention or to reduce the hours of labour until they get permission from the employers. Last year we found the Government were helpless so far as the coal owners were concerned. The coal owners of the North have now the 49-hour week for men and boys—and it is worse in the case of the boys than in the case of the men. The Government dare not reduce those hours to 48 without the coal owners' sanction. Therefore, one regards the position of the Government in this respect as helpless and there is no hope that I can see that this Government will take any step to ratify this Convention or reduce the hours of labour.
Lieut.-Colonel LAMBERT WARD
I think at this time most of us, if not all of us, have arrived at the conclusion that in the more strenuous industries, an 147 eight-hour day is quite sufficient—excluding, perhaps, sedentary occupations such as that of membership of the House of Commons, which, as the Chairman has rightly said, does not come within the scope of the Convention. So well is that truth recognised on almost every hand, that I still maintain, in spite of what the last speaker has said, that 90 per cent. of the workers in this country and 90 per cent. of the industries in this country are working an eight hour day or less. Therefore, what is the reason for passing legislation upon this point? A speaker a short time ago said the reason was the psychological effect which it would have on the workers. He said they would rather see it definitely laid down by legislation than dependant on the ebb and flow of public opinion. What is legislation but the result of the ebb and flow of public opinion? It is the ebb and flow of public opinion which compels this Rouse to pass legislation one way or the other. Why, there is legislation in contemplation by this Government and legislation passed by this Government which I have heard hon. Members opposite declare their intention of repealing at the earliest possible moment, when public opinion is at a sufficiently low ebb to place the hon. Members opposite upon the Treasury Bench.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid the hon. and gallant Member is getting away from the Washington Convention.
To revert to the Convention, my principal objection to its ratification is that it is not definite enough. It lays clown an eight-hour day, but it also allows overtime to be worked under certain circumstances, and the trouble is that we do not know how foreign countries will interpret that proviso. From the point of view of this country, I would rather see a definite eight-hour day without exception laid down for this country and a nine-hour day laid down for the Continent, and then we should definitely know where we were, if we could be absolutely certain that it would be enforced abroad in the same 148 spirit as in this country. I know very well that we are not the only honest nation in Europe, but I maintain that we have brought commercial honesty to a higher pitch in this country than they hate in any country on the Continent, and I say that on account of the Conventions which have not been ratified abroad, and particularly on account of their treatment of their debts to this country. We, being an honest country, have paid, and are making the most desperate efforts to pay, the debts which we owe abroad, but we cannot say that other countries are making the same efforts to pay the debts which they owe to us. Can anybody seriously contend that the Germans, individually and collectively, have really endeavoured to pay their War indemnity? Of course, they have not. They have done their utmost to avoid it.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the argument was that we could not trust certain countries to carry cut the Convention in the way in which we could trust ourselves. It was not directly germane, but it was not out of order.
Is this Convention being pressed with the idea of raising the standard of living and increasing the hours of leisure, as a speaker opposite suggested? If so, I am with it heart and soul, but at the same time we must not forget that, if we increase the hours of leisure, it is also necessary to increase remuneration, because leisure is a particularly poor thing unless one has something with which to occupy it, and in many cases, unfortunately, leisure cannot be taken advantage of unless there is also money to spend. Personally, I cannot see any great harm in ratifying this Convention, but at the same time I think it is up to the Government to consider the interests of this country, and to make certain, before they ratify it, that they have seine dennite understanding that foreign countries, and Continental countries in particular, will also ratify it and endeavour to abide by it, not only in the letter, but also in the spirit.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I am quite sure that every Member will have come to the conclusion by now that those who 149 introduced this subject to-day were justified in bringing the issue before the House of Commons just at this stage. We have been justified were it only to find out what is the attitude of the Government towards the Washington Hours Convention. Their attitude has been made quite plain to us during the Debate, and the Minister of Labour was very unhappy indeed in his speech. He is the most unhappy Member of the most unhappy Government of modern times. His speech was the most feeble, meaningless, and hypocritical ever delivered from that Front Bench.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I did not mean it personally; but if it is taken in that way, I will withdraw it at once. I think, however, I am justified in saying that the speech was a miserable attempt to whitewash the Government. The strange thing is that, with the exception of two or three members on the Government side, all who have spoken have favoured the ratification of the Convention; and I trust now that they will be logical to the end, and that they will vote to-night in the Division as they have spoken. It does not always follow that they do so; but they ought to carry their opinions logically and vote with us, because, after the explanation of the Minister of Labour, we feel bound to press this Amendment to a Division.
The Minister to-night made several wonderful and amazing assertions, and I will try to pick them up one by one. I hope I am not exaggerating what he said, and that he will pardon me putting it in this way. He gave me the impression, and I think he has given hon. Members behind me the same impression, that the non-ratification of this Convention is to be regarded as a penalty upon the working classes of this country, merely because of the industrial disputes of 1926. I say that that would be an awful thing to contemplate, that, merely because we have had an industrial dispute—on a very big scale, I admit—the Government are going to visit that as a penalty upon the workers of this country by saying that they will not ratify this Convention.
The right hon. Gentleman made another point, namely, that we had 150 ratified more Conventions than any other country concerned. That is true, but, strangely enough, we have ratified just those Conventions that did not cost us anything; and when we came to an issue where the Convention meant something substantial and was going to cost this country something to put it into operation, lo and behold, as in the White Lead case, they gave us a Bill which did not ratify the Convention at all. I say, therefore, that there is no virtue at all in the fact that this country has ratified more Conventions, as the Minister has told us, than any other country in the world, because those Conventions did not cost the country anything.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Gentleman has not recorded accurately what I said. I said that, if it came to a question of moral obligation, the occasions on which we voted for a Convention, but did not ratify it, compared favourably with those of any other country. That is a quite different point from that which the hon. Member is making.
§ Mr. DAVIES
That explanation does not carry us much further. I might add, in passing, that all parties in this House are implicated in this problem. This is not a party issue. This is an issue for the. British people, as represented by Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) and myself are personally implicated in a number of these Conventions; and when I hoard the Minister of Labour telling how the Government are dealing with this Convention in particular, I felt that the honour of every party in the House was at stake. This, as I said, is an issue for the country, and not merely for the Tory Government. If the Tory Government avoid putting any of these Conventions into operation, some Government is bound to do so later in order to vindicate the honour of this country. I was very proud when I saw at Geneva that the name of Great Britain, whatever may he said to the contrary, is a name respected in all the International Conferences of Europe. For that reason, I do not want the good name of Great Britain to be assailed merely by the non-ratification of this Convention, as has been indicated by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman told us we must not make 151 a plunge in the dark. I wish this Government would make a plunge of any kind.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member will excuse me for intervening, but he said I indicated the non-ratification. I have indicated nothing of the kind.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Will the right hon. Gentleman, or his assistant, be good enough then, when replying, to say something more definite before we part this evening. The right hon. Gentleman's speech, in fact, was the biggest conglomeration of pros and cons I have ever heard from any Minister at that Box. He spoke for about half an hour, and never said anything particular. I hope I am not doing him an injustice when I say that the right hon. Gentleman is unhappy, because he knows, as Minister of Labour, that he is in honour bound to ratify this Convention. But the Cabinet apparently decline to allow bun to proceed with the matter. I venture to say that if we got the inner history of this question in the Cabinet, the right hon. Gentleman has requested them to ratify, and they have declined. There is no response to that challenge. The Tory party have now obviously got into the habit of singing that wonderful anthem, "The more we act together, the more we disagree."
We have had a new piece of economic philosophy thrust upon the House today, namely, that in future every improvement must be international. I must pay a tribute to the good work which the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) has done on behalf of the International Labour Organisation and Labour Conventions in general and I trust he will pardon my saying that this country up to now has never adopted that philosophy; in fact, I am pleased to say in respect of social insurance, in particular, this country still stands right at the top of the list. It is only in connection with this Convention, the White Lead Convention and one or two minor ones that it has failed to keep abreast of the time. There are, as I said, one or two other small Conventions; but those two are most important from my point of view.
152 The right hon. Gentleman made another statement which astonished me. He said that since the French Government have decided to ratify this Convention, the French employers have gone to the governing body of the International Labour Organisation to complain that the ratification is impossible of administration. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I will put it another way. The right hon. Gentleman made a statement that the French employers have been to the governing body of the International Labour Office at Geneva to say that the ratification of the 8-hour day is impossible of administration in France.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Again the hon. Gentleman has either misunderstood or misinterpreted what I said, which was that the representative of the French employers in Geneva at the Committee meeting said there were certain French practices which, as the law is at present, are quite at variance with the Convention itself.
§ Mr. DAVIES
That suits my purpose very well, because if this House of Commons, even with a Conservative Government, decides at any time to ratify the Washington Hours' Convention, in my view it would be wrong for the employers or workpeople—I put both in the same position—when the supreme authority in this country has decided to enact a law, to go to another tribunal to complain of the action of Parliament. I think that wrong in principle, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman's Department, represented on the governing body, as I understand it is, will sec that that point is made clear for the future.
I think we ought to understand exactly what the real position is at the moment. The working people of all the world are more interested, I should think, in this problem of the eight-hour day than anything else. This is the one object that 153 has fired the imagination of the working classes throughout the world, irrespective of colour or race, and the right hon. Gentleman really must understand that we are desperately determined to see that nothing shall prevent the ratification of this Convention in our own country. Let us see, therefore, where we stand. Belgium has ratified this Convention without any question as to any other nation doing so.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I will deal with that now. The point has been made several times that other countries do not carry cut their laws as well as we do. That is to say, once we pass a law here, every employer in the land carries out that law. Let us put that statement to the test. This is the Report of our Chief Inspector of Factories, who knows more about this subject than anybody in this House:With a customary week of 48 hours manufacturers have a very considerable margin of permissible hours left out of the statutory maximum, and, accordingly, illegal employment is exceptional.There is illegal employment.
§ Mr. DAVIES
No; it is our own country.When, however, opportunity arises, the inclination to work excessive hours and disregard the law still exists amongst a certain type of employer, as the following flagrant examples testify,This is in Great Britain—not Belgium—A number of women were employed on mantle and dressmaking from 9 a.m. to midnight for six consecutive days, and also given work to do at home on Sunday.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I will read him something worse than that, because I want to combat the ridiculous point that is continuously made that other countries do not pursue their laws as well as we do:Women and young persons from 14 years of age upwards were found to have been employed from 6 a.m. to 11.30 p.m.That is in Great Britain.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Yes, he was; but according to the interruptions of the hon. Gentleman you could imagine that these eases never arose here at all, but were all in Belgium, France and Germany.
§ Mr. DAVIES
If the hon. Member will be good enough to let me see the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories in Belgium, and translate it into Welsh, I shall be, glad to read it; the hon. Member seems to be competent to do everything. As I said, the position briefly is as follows. Belgium has ratified the Convention unconditionally. France and Germany will ratify on condition that Great Britain does. That is really, in respect of this Convention, the most definite challenge to our honour that has ever been made. That these two great industrial countries should adopt the attitude that they have done is, in my opinion, a definite invitation to Great Britain to do its obvious duty. Germany lost the War, and strangely, Germany is now willing to ratify the Convention for a 48-hour week, and we are declining. At any rate, the Minister of Labour has not given us anything definite at all tonight to indicate the real attitude of the Government.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will he able to give us something more definite than the Minister himself gave us. It is an unusual thing to request an assistant to upset his chief; but really, as his chief has had such a thrashing, I feel sure we shall get something more definite after what he has heard on all hands to-night. The Minister was very jerky throughout his speech. He can do very much better than that when he is free to tell us what he himself thinks about this subject; but he was tied, apparently, by the decision of the Cabinet. I am confident that what was in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, backed up by the Government, was this: There are, as an hon. 155 Member behind me has said, men in the mining industry working a 49-hour week, under the Act of Parliament providing for it which was passed last year. The trouble is this, that having passed that Act last year, the Government do not like now to ratify this Convention because it would torpedo their own Act of Parliament. That is where the whole trouble lies.
Then the right hon. Gentleman made the statement that all these countries would start their conventions and put them into operation all at the sound a pistol, as it were. Well, we do not seem to hear any sound from this Government, at any rate. They do not seem to be ready for the race yet. They are not even preparing for it. If the speech from the Minister to-day is an indication of the attitude of the Government towards this Convention, we shall not hear the pistol at all, so far as they Axe concerned. Somebody else will do the job later, and very much better than this Government.
Then the right hon. Gentleman doubted very mach whether the proposal to ratify the Convention made by France and Germany really covered the Convention and its provisions. I would ask him, is it for him to judge as to whether a Bill propounded in the Parliaments of Germany or France to cover the provisions of the Convention, meets the case? When at a later date we have discussed the Convention here, and clothed it in an Act of Parliament, I venture to say it is not for the Ministers of Labour of France, Germany or Belgium to judge whether our Act meets the case. I have always been under the impression that the tribunal to judge whether an Act of Parliament embodies a Convention was the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation, and not the Minister of Labour in any single country.
These are the reasons given why the Convention is apparently not to be ratified by this Government: First of all, that the Bill of 1924 was not effective as an instrument of ratification; because apparently it was a Labour Bill it did not consequently meet the case. Then, that the London conference disclosed differences of interpretation; and that what matters in respect of a Convention of this kind is not ratification, but interpreta- 156 tion. How different from the Mines Eight Hours Bill! It was not the interpretation and administration of that Act that counted. It was its passing here that mattered. Its interpretation and administration was left to another day. When you come to the ratification of this Convention it is not the passage of an Act of Parliament that matters; it is the interpretation of the Act forsooth. I think I know the reason for the attitude adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. I have seen resolutions passed by bodies of employers in this country hoping that this Convention would not, be ratified. The same old tale; the same old story—that we cannot compete in the markets of the world unless we are allowed to work more than eight hours a day. That argument has been destroyed over and over again. In fact, it does not follow that men who work 10 and 12 hours a day produce more than those who work eight hours. I am sure that that can be proved by experience.
Then we are told, as another argument, that discrepancies have been disclosed in the replies on interpretation received from the Powers. May I ask who initiated that questionnaire? Did the British Government initiate it, and if so, how came it about that the British Government issued the questionnaire to the other Governments? I should have thought that it was the duty of the international Labour Organisation to find out what they thought about the interpretation.
Then we are told that the British Government had laid it down that the London Agreement did not conform to the provisions of the Convention. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to explain a little more clearly what is meant by that—that the agreement arrived at at the London Conference did not cover the whole of the provisions of the Convention it self.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
If the right hon. Gentleman wants me to explain, it was like this. There were certain points about which there was a difference, which were discussed by the nations which met at the Conference in London. We reached agreement, in substance, on all these points, but whereas it is true to say that they regarded the interpretation so reached as coming within the scope of the Convention, we have never stated 157 positively that we thought that actually the Convention itself can cover every conclusion there arrived at.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I fail to understand how any one Government can take the initiative in questioning other Governments as to the interpretation of a Convention jointly adopted by all, that is, all the Governments affiliated to the Independent Labour Office. I hope I shall not do any injustice to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman when I say that, boiled down to two or three sentences, it comes in substance to this. He said the Cabinet, were exploring the ground and seeking a real basis for the solution of this problem; and then came the wonderful declaration: "I have been moving the whole of the time." In order to emphasise the importance of that statement, he added, "I am really going forward as fast as possible." He was true to Tory tradition. As fast as possible—but not too fast!
I say again the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was a very feeble one and did not convey what he wanted. Apparently he was tied down all the time by a decision of the Cabinet. They have determined that they will not ratify this Convention. To prove how they have treated the Labour organisation and the League of Nations with sheer contempt, let, the Committee note what they have done. The ease of Poland is quoted. How Poland came to take such a keen interest in this problem I do not know. I wish she would take a little more interest in other Conventions. From what I can gather she is very backward. But Poland takes the initiative; so the British Government joins Polana—because our Labour Minister does not want to move too rapidly! He wishes to explore everything that is happening in every country in the world in order to be assured that the interpretation of the Convention shall be absolutely perfect. What a wonderful position! What an amazing Government! There was a time, I am pleased to say, when Great Britain took the lead in promoting industrial legislation. She is now placed on her honour by several European countries, and is taunted with failure to keep abreast of the times.
The Government cannot plead lack of Parliamentary time and facilities, because 158 their legislative programme for this Session is the most meagre in the history of Parliament. We are not pleading for the ratification of the Convention because it will help those employed in well-organised trades. In asking for its ratification we have in mind the scores of thousands of workers, particularly women and young persons, engaged in small factories and workshops among whom trade unionism does not exist, We see now a strange anomaly in this country. Show me men and women who do the hard work of the world, the dangerous toil of the day, and I will show you men and women who work long hours for low wages. People removed from the actual production of the necessities of life, those in offices, banks and insurance companies, are not working a 48-hour week or a 49- or 50-hour week, but a 38-hour and sometimes a 36-hour week. In demanding the ratification of the convention we are not pleading for the strongly organised. If all the working people of this country were organised in trade unions, as they ought to be, we should not be asking for ratification, but we are speaking for the millions—yes, millions—in Lois country, particularly women and young persons, who are being exploited by a certain type of employer. The best employers give fair treatment to their workers whenever they can; but there is a certain type who will not do the right thing unless compelled by law; and in my opinion the only way of dealing with them is to ratify the Convention, trust that whether it falls to this Government, or to any other to do so the honour of this country will be vindicated once more in the eyes of the world.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
I am quite sure that I am speaking for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour as well as for myself when I say that I do not at all regret that we have had this discussion to-night. I welcome the opportunity which is now afforded me of explaining the present position, and I hope at the same time to cure the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) of some of the illusions under which he appears to be labouring. No one will deny that this matter is one of great and, indeed, of 159 paramount importance, but, on the other hand, no one who has given it a moment's consideration will deny that it is one which bristles with difficulties. As has been pointed out by more than one speaker, the question has, in one way or another, baffled every Government since 1919, including the Labour Government of 1924, because it is common knowledge, and my predecessor sitting opposite would be the last to deny that the Bill introduced by the Labour Government would, if it had been carried, have involved endless difficulties in connection with the railway agreement.
Before I proceed further may I deal with a point, a serious and a very relevant point, made by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) when he referred to the position under the Mines (Eight Hours) Act passed last year. Quite clearly mines and miners come under the Washington Convention. About that there is no doubt at all. It is clear, therefore, that if we legislate in order to ratify the Convention, and if it should then appear that certain arrangements have been made under the Act of last year, those arrangements would be subjected to the new legislation. I hope that statement is perfectly explicit.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Perhaps the hon. Member will reserve that point. What is the complaint which has been made in speech after speech this afternoon? It is a charge that the Government nave done nothing in regard to this matter during the past year. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) said we had done nothing for the last seven years. Others have complained that we have done nothing since last March which is the date of the London conference, and that we have wasted our time ever since. Over and over again last year I answered questions put to me as to what we were doing in regard to this matter, and I gave the only answer which I could give, namely, that while the coal stoppage was on the preoccupation of Government was such that they could not apply themselves to the consideration of this question. What would have been said if during the coal stoppage 160 and contemporaneously with it we had attempted to consider this important question? Of course, we could not touch it.
It is only fair to say that when our representative at Geneva was asked twice or three times what we were doing in regard to this question, the Government representative replied that while the coal stoppage was still in existence it was impossible for this country to consider the question. That explanation was accepted at Geneva as well as by this House, and I am sure if hon. Members will think it over they will agree that that was not only a good answer, but it was the only course we could have taken. As a matter of fact we did not wait until the end of the coal stoppage before we did something. The hon. Member who has just sat down referred to the Committee which was set up at the request of Mr. Sokal, the representative of Poland on the governing body, and the hon. Member seemed to suggest that Poland was acting as a sort of cat's paw to this country. If that was his suggestion he will realise that it s not only very rude to Poland, but it is perfectly untrue.
§ Mr. R. DAVIES
What I endeavoured to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman was that I should imagine all such inquiries should he made through the International Labbour Office and not from one Government to another, and thought that was the practice.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Here we have a suggestion made by an important country to the International Labour Office that a committee should be set up with very definite terms of reference. What are they? They were:To examine the difficulties in the way of ratification by the different States to see in what way ratification might he facilitated.I should have thought that such an inquiry was not only most useful, but a most necessary inquiry, and that is why it took place. There were meetings, I think in November, of a committee set up with those, terms of reference, and there was another meeting in January. The report of that inquiry was produced at the beginning or in the middle of February, and I have seen that document. It is a very long and important 161 report, and it shows, among other things, how divergent are the practices adopted in different countries. That report is a complete justification of the action which Poland took, and in which we acquiesced. Only this afternoon the hon. Member who opened this-Debate told us of three important international bodies which within the last two days had come to entirely different, conclusions as to what would be the effect of the proposed legislation. Here we have an example of what are the views of different people upon legislation of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman for West Swansea said it would be better if we could get an international agreement, but surely that is elementary common sense. Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to say if they like that, whatever other countries do, we should proceed regardless of their action, but if we took that course of action and proceeded regardless of other people's views, then we should certainly lose five-sixths of the benefits we should get from ratification. Of course, if we can get international agreement, so much the better. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea spoke about international cartels without international wages.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Will the Parliamentary Secretary deal with the suggestion I made which was that pending an agreement we should have provisional ratification?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I am sorry I was not present when the hon. Member spoke. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea that this country has from every point of view profited by what he calls its social and humanitarian legislation. I think we are all in complete accord with that statement, and I am extremely glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's testimony on that point. With regard to the charge that we have been doing nothing in regard to this question, I may say that last December we received a deputation on this very matter from the Trades Union Congress, and the position was fully discussed. As recently as Thursday last, my right hon. Friend received a deputation from the British section of the International Federation of Metal Workers, when most valuable suggestions were 162 made, all of which will have the consideration of the Government. That brings the history of this matter up to last week. I have shown that within the last few weeks we have received the Report of the Committee set up at the instigation of Poland. I have shown that we have received two deputations of great importance within the last few days, and I shall now, I think, be able to satisfy the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), as to what, in view of these facts, the Government have done. The Government have set up a Cabinet Committee which at this moment is charged with the duty of examining the whole position with a view to arriving at an early conclusion. I have not the slightest doubt that, in their consideration, they will take into account the many and various arguments that have been addressed to the Committee this afternoon, but I do say that what I have said is enough, or ought to be enough, to remove any feeling in any quarter of the House that the Government are indifferent to the importance of this matter, or are unmindful of coming to an early decision upon it.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
May I press for an answer to my question, as to whether the Government would agree to a provisional ratification?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Perhaps I might answer that. In coming to a decision, the question whether the ratification should be by an enabling Bill, or some other provision allowing us to ratify conditionally on the other nations ratifying, is precisely the kind of point that we shall take into consideration.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WRIGHT
In this interesting Debate, it has not been possible for one to listen to all the speeches, but I want to assure the Minister of Labour at the beginning that, so far as I am concerned, he will have no cause for complaint about any further sniping. He complained in the early part of the Debate that his own supporters and Members on this side have been guilty of sniping at him rather severely. Nor am I going to criticise his speech; I think that that has been quite adequately done already. I would like, however, to make one or two observations in reply to some of the arguments advanced by supporters of the Government, although they all seemed 163 anxious to ratify the Washington Convention. An hon. Member below the Gangway expressed the opinion that, if the Government would take a course in industrial psychology, it would be a great advantage to them, and I should like to add that, if the present Cabinet would take a course of industrial experience in some of the great industries of this country, they would be able to discuss these problems much more efficiently than they can at the present time. Lightly or wrongly, I have a pro found belief in the experience of life, and I think it is extremely difficult for any hon. Member of this House who has had no personal experience of the industrial conditions prevailing in this country to understand them adequately. I do not think that either a public school or a university education, or a business training, can in itself quite supply that absolutely essential condition for the understanding of these great industrial problems which affect our land. Therefore, I would add, to the suggestion of the hon. Member below the Gangway, the suggestion that some of them should qualify in this respect. The strange argument was advanced, by an hon. Member opposite, that it was more or less useless to give to the workers a shorter working day unless they had some financial means whereby they could spend their leisure time. As a matter of fact, the people who have the most leisure and the most money behind them are often, as far as I can judge, the people who spend their time most unwisely. At any rate, we are, surely, not to be cut off from such advantages as a shorter working day because we have not a greatly increased wage.
I want to look at the question from a rather different point of view. Great Britain has led the world industrially. Many of the great industrial inventions and discoveries had their origin in this country, and for a long time we were regarded as the workshop of the world. Work, however, is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end; and, if we can get all the essentials of a well-ordered life by working 10 hours a day instead of 12, I do not see any great purpose in working the 12 hours. If we can get them by an eight-hour day instead of a 10-hour day, that seems a very good 164 reason why we should not regard life as one daily monotonous round of never-ceasing toil. I submit that, in the tight of the extraordinary development of mechanical power within modern times, we are perfectly entitled to press for a shorter working day for all the people in this country, even if it only benefited some 10 per cent. of the working population. But I do not accept the statement that 90 per cent. of the industrial workers of this country have an eight, hour day. I have no evidence to support any such contention. I say that it is begging the question, and I venture to think it could not be substantiated in the light of one's actual personal experience and of what is going on in the land at the present time. Much has been said about the Washington Convention and the conditions which prevail in the United States of America at the present time. Mr. Carroll D. Wright, who was at the Bureau of Statistics in the United States for many years, declared some 25 years ago thatTo-day 4½ million men, aided by machinery, could produce all that would require the labour of 40 million by hand.Owing to the extraordinary development of mechanical power since the industrial revolution, we have now to aid us, in producing the essentials of life, such stupendous power as has probably escaped the attention of some hon. Members, and certainly the public generally. James Watt was born in the year 1736, and by about 1786 he had made the wonderful discovery of the application of steam power to machinery. In 1860, the "Quarterly Review" stated that, owing to the discoveries of James Watt, it was calculated that there was then in existence the equivalent of the manual labour of 400,000,000 men, or twice the number of male workers in the world. Professor Soddy, speaking in December, 1923, expressed this view:A machine to-day can embody tens of thousands of horse-power, every horse-power equal to 10 men, and that machine can work 18 to 24 hours a day so that it can produce as much wealth to-day as 300,000 men in the time of Adam Smith.My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), a short time ago, seemed to blame the whole of the employers of labour in their attitude on this question, but I think he was slightly mistaken in describing all employers of 165 labour as opposed to an eight-hour or shorter working day. A former Member of this House published a book some years ago advocating a six-hour day, and he said, in a preface to a book by Professor Spooner in 1918:We might, with the means science has already placed at our disposal, and which are all within our knowledge, provide for the wants of each of us in food, shelter and clothing by one hour's work per week for each of us from school age to dotage, thus clearly showing what can be done by avoiding waste.There is no hon. Member sitting on these benches who has had any experience of the industrial workers' life who does not know from his own practical experience the enormous waste in the modern industrial system. I could give a dozen instances from my own personal experience of days gone by. We are not asking for an unreasonable thing when we demand a shorter working day. Life is not made up of an unending round of dull monotonous toil from January to December, from daybreak to dusk; there should be something more in life than mere physical existence. I think we shall realise that these great changes have taken place and are taking place day by day. Sir William Ashley in his "Economic History," speaking of the rapid development of machinery in the iron and engineering trade, says:Thus it has been reckoned that while there were about four times as many blast furnaces in 1900 as in 1800, the average 'make' per furnace had increased well-nigh 15 times.The "Daily News" only last week—[Laughter]—I think it is well that we should remember these things in order that we may be able to arrive at something like industrial efficiency and peace. What is the good of talking about "Peace in our time, O Lord," and yet at the same time ignoring all the conditions that are bringing about peace in other parts of the world? If a man like Henry Ford can introduce an eight hour day and pay £6 a week for a five day week—more than £1 a day—why could not the same method be adopted in this country? It is being adopted now in a number of cases. Here is a case down in South Wales of the Whitehead Iron and Steel Company of Tredegar and Newport. The "Daily News" last week stated that 166Instead of a production of about 20 tons a shift in an old type mill of a similar size an output of 120 tons is now easily achieved.If there is any meaning at all in this it goes to show that a shorter working day is possible and that a higher wage is possible. Let me take the case of the Morris Motors. The "Daily News," last week, published a letter which said that three men now made two Morris motor engines in the time taken by seven men in the year 1923. The same applies to many other departments of life. But I should like to advance one or two other reasons why we should not be behind other nations but should rather lead other nations on these matters. Let me give one instance of what Lord Leverhulme says. This applies particularly to the class of people who are not well organised and who have every need for defence which can be given them by Parliament. Lord. Leverhulme, in his book called "The Six Hours Day and other Industrial Questions," says:Recently an employer stated that in the early days of the War the nominal hours in his factory were 53 for the women; and he was staggered to find that the women were losing an average of 14 hours each per week. Fourteen hours a week was the average time lost for each woman, bringing the actual average time worked by each down to 39 hours, and he said: 'Oh, this won't do; we will let the women come an hour later in the mornings, and we will let them go an hour earlier in the evenings, making 12 hours a week reduction.' So he made the hours 41 a week, and then he found that the lost time averaged one hour per woman per week; therefore they were making 40 hours instead of 39 as previously. But he found, in addition, that in the 40 hours that they now worked—this was after deducting lost time—he had an increase in the output in a week of 44 per cent.I would ask hon. Members to apply that to the very large number of women and girls who are overworked and underpaid in this country. Something like a revolution would take place so far as their life is concerned. I have said that I do not believe that all the employers are in favour of the longer working day and in this connection I would like to quote the attitude of a group of employers. The Provisional Joint Committee of the National Industrial Conference of April, 1919, at which 30 representatives of employers, covering all were principal groups of trade, present, 167 unanimously recommended a legal maximum of 48 hours per normal working week. The Report of this Committee, which was signed on behalf of the employers' representatives by a former member of this House, Sir Allan M. Smith, then M.P., stated that:In regard to hours, the Committee are unanimous in recommending the principle of a legal maximum of normal hours per week for all employed persons. The number of hours they recommend is 48, but they recognise that this number may be reduced by agreement, and that there are also exceptional cases in which it may be necessary that it should be increased.There is one other quotation that I should like to give because I think it has a very great bearing on this question. It will be remembered that Sir Richard Redmayne advised the Coal Industry Commission in 1919 that the estimated reduction of output consequent upon the introduction of the seven-hours' day in the mines would be "a little under the 10 per cent. per annum." In point of fact the rate of output under the seven-hour day, far from falling short of that of the eight-hour day, was the highest ever known in the history of the coal-mining industry, exceeding even that of the "record" year 1913. So from the point of view of efficiency, from the point of view of bringing peace in the industry, and from the point of view of giving the workers some chance of exercising other faculties than the mere powers of creating wealth, only a small share of which they are able to enjoy, I hope the Cabinet will take into consideration this question and that, without any further delay, they will ratify this Convention, and set an example to the world of what might be done. I am convinced that it is possible and I hope it will be done.
§ Mr. RILEY
I want to offer a few words by way of reply to the Parliamentary Secretary s extraordinary defence of the non-action of the Government. The first reason he puts forward is that while the subject is important it bristles with difficulties. I do not think we need have waited since 1919 to be told that to-night. Obviously to a defence of that kind there is a perfectly adequate reply. If the subject bristles with difficulties for this country does it not also bristle with difficulties for Belgium, France and 168 Germany? I should say there are quite as many difficulties for them as for us. Therefore the hon. Gentleman's reason is not justifiable nor adequate.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
What I pointed out was that owing to the coal stoppage we only had two months in which to consider it, while the countries to which he referred have had since the conference of last March.
§ Mr. RILEY
That was the hon. Gentleman's second reason. He said we must remember that last year when our representative was at Geneva we were in the midst of the coal dislocation and it was not reasonable to expect the Government to be in a position to implement what we understood were their wishes with regard to ratification. But our representatives have been to Geneva this year. They were at Geneva in January, and the official delegate of the Government used all his influence to prevent an agreement being arrived at. He used every argument he could use. I regret the Prime Minister is not, here, because I should like to remind him that such is the impression of our action at Geneva that no less a paper than the "Manchester Guardian" came out with a special article headed "Triumphant reaction of the official delegate at Geneva."
§ Mr. BETTERTON
If the hon. Member is referring to the Gentleman who was acting as my substitute, it is only right to point out that what he says is really totally untrue. Whatever the "Manchester Guardian" or anyone else may say, it is quite untrue that the British Government representative at Geneva acted in the way the hon. Member says.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
The hon. Member is mixing two entirely different things. We are discussing the Washington Hours' Convention of 1919. The hon. Member is now talking about the proposed convention for seamen, which is an entirely different matter.
§ Mr. RILEY
Anyhow the spirit was there. The hon. Gentleman's third reason was that what we proposed, and what operated with the Polish Delegate at Geneva, was that we were desire us before coming to a decision to have the widest international inquiry, to get the fullest information and to know exactly what the conditions are in all countries so that with that information we might be in a position to come to a -vise decision. What was the, purpose of the Conference which the Prime Minister called in March of last year? Was it not to obtain the information which the Minister is now talking about? Did not this Government in March of last year invite not the small negligible countries but the great Powers, France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, to come to London to discuss with us the whole implications of the Washington Convention? Was not that the purpose, namely, to inquire and to investigate? Did not they sit for some considerable time inquiring and, as the Minister of Labour said, in an intervention during the Debate, did not they come to a general conclusion as to the interpretation of the Washington Convention? After the Conference, there was a, feeling
throughout the country that through the initiative of the British Government an agreement had been arrived at in regard to the Washington Convention. Nevertheless, here we are, 12 months afterwards, and practically nothing has been done. May I remind the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary of what the Prime Minister said when he opened the Conference in March of last year:
The suspicions of working teen will be allayed or intensified in proportion as the conference succeeds or fails in the task before it.
Here we are, a year afterwards, with the Prime Minister's words 12 months behind us, and no further progress has been made. In this matter the attitude of the present Government has been reactionary. There is no excuse for their attitude. We pride ourselves on being the foremost, the most enterprising, the most humanitarian industrial country in the world, yet we are challenged by small countries like Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Belgium to come into line on a policy which we initiated in 1919. The Government must remember that this story will be repeated everywhere.
§ Question put, "That Item Class V, Vote 7, be reduced by £100."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 108; Noes, 109.171
|Division No. 24.]||AYES.||[10.25 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Gillett, George M.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Greenall, T.||Potts, John S.|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bllston)||Grenfell, D. R, (Glamorgan)||Purcell, A. A.|
|Baker, Walter||Groves, T.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Grundy, T. W.||Riley, Ben|
|Barnes, A,||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Ritson, J.|
|Barr, J.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(W.Bromwich)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hardie, George D.||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks,W.R.,Elland)|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Harris, Percy A.||Rose, Frank H.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hayday, Arthur||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Bromfield, William||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Bromley, J.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Hills, Major John Walter||Scurr, John|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hirst, G. H.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Clowes, S.||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Cluse, W. S.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Compton, Joseph||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Connolly, M.||Lansbury, George||Snell, Harry|
|Crawford, H. E.||Lawrence, Susan||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lee, F.||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lindley, F. W.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Lowth, T.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Lunn, William||Sullivan, J.|
|Duncan, C.||MacDonald,Rt.Hon.J. R. (Aberavon)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Dunnico, H.||Mackinder, W.||Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro, W.)|
|England, Colonel A.||March, S.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Montague, Frederick||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Forrest, W.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Townend, A. E.|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Mosley, Oswald||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Gardner, J. P.||Oliver, George Harold||Viant, S. P.|
|Wallhead, Richard C.||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)||Wright, W.|
|Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Wellock, Wilfred||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Wilkinson, Ellen C.||Windsor, Walter||Mr. Hayes and Mr. Whiteley.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hon. W.G.(Ptrsf'ld.)|
|Albery, Irving James||Fraser, Captain Ian||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Galbraith, J. F. W.||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Penny, Frederick George|
|Apsley, Lord||Gower, Sir Robert||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Grace, John||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Raine, W.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Ramsden, E.|
|Balniel, Lord||Grotrian, H. Brent||Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)|
|Banks, Reginald Mitchell||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Hall, Vice-Admiral Sir R. (Eastbourne)||Remer, J. R.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Harland, A.||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Harrison, G. J. C.||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Hartington, Marquess of||Ropner, Major L.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Hawke, John Anthony||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Bennett, A. J,||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)||Rye, F. G,|
|Berry, Sir George||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Brass, Captain W.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Holland, Sir Arthur||Savery, S. S.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Holt, Captain H. P.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nu[...].)||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Smith, R. W.(Aberd'n & Kinc'dlne, C.)|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Burman, J. B.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Huntingfield, Lord||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Hurd, Percy A.||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hurst, Gerald B.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hutchison, G. A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Tasker, R. Inigo.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Jacob, A. E.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Christie, J. A.||Jephcott, A. R.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Waddington, R|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir G. K.||Knox, Sir Alfred||Ward, Lt.-Col. A-L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Wells, S. R.|
|Couper, J. B.||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Maclntyre, I.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||McLean, Major A.||Wilson, M. J. (York, N. R., Richm'd)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Withers, John James|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Meller, R. J.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Merriman, F. B.||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Meyer, Sir Frank||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Young, Rt. Hon. Hilton (Norwich)|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Fanshawe Commander G. D.||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Major Cope and Captain Margesson.|
|Fielden, E. B.||Murchison, Sir C. K.|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Nelson, Sir Frank|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I want to raise a matter on the main Vote—nothing to do with tie matter that 172 has been under discussion during the greater part of the day. I presume that the Minister of Labour is going to see his Vote safely disposed of, but, if not, 173 perhaps one of the numerous Ministers whom I see, from the Prime Minister downwards, will convey what I am going briefly to put before the House? In the last 12 months an extraordinary practice has grown up at the Employment Exchanges up and down the country. Particularly is that the case in the Exchange at Hull. The practice is as follows: When a young man in an insured employment is thrown out of work, if he is living with his parents and his father is in work, or his father and mother are in work—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)
Do I understand that the hon. and gallant Member wishes to discuss something on the Ministry of Labour Vote? We have discussed that and dealt with it and cannot discuss it any more.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I understand that the discussion we have had has been limited to the ratification by the Government of the Washington Convention. Here we have the Ministry of Labour Estimates in our hands, and I wish to raise an administrative matter before the opportunity is gone.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The question which was under discussion was Vote 7, Class 5, Ministry of Labour, and we have disposed of that.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I understood there was an Amendment for a reduction of the Vote by £100. Are we not now at liberty to discuss the whole sum that you have just put to the Committee?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
We cannot discuss that particular item again; we must go on to some other item now.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not wish to appear as in any way contesting your ruling, but this is an entirely different matter concerning only the administration of the Employment Exchanges of the country.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That is so, but it comes under the Ministry of Labour Vote, which we have already disposed of.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In that case, am I allowed to discuss any of the other items in the Vote on Account?