HC Deb 12 July 1927 vol 208 cc1953-5
59. Mr. OLIVER

asked the Minister of Labour whether his attention has been drawn to a statement made by M. Mertens, a Belgian delegate to the recent international conference at Geneva, that the failure of the principal Governments to ratify the Washington Hours Convention is due to their inability to agree on how a secret Clause of the London agreement of March, 1926, should be fulfilled; and whether he will make a statement on this subject and communicate to the House the nature of this Clause?


asked the Minister of Labour whether his attention has been drawn to the allegation, made at Geneva by the Belgian delegate to the International Labour Conference, that the London agree of 1926 on hours of labour contained a secret Clause regarding reservations to be made in the putting into force of the Hours Convention; and whether he will make a statement on the subject?


As was explained in the reply given on 16th June to the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne), what is described, inaccurately, as a secret Clause consists of an understanding that a list of continuous processes should be drawn up by each of the States represented at the London Conference for the purpose of giving effect to the Agreement. There is no foundation for the suggestion that this understanding is responsible for delay in ratification of the Convention.


Am I to understand from that reply that the statement made by Mr. Mertens has no substance in fact? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the British delegate drew attention to a breach of faith?


I think the statement made by Mr. Mertens does not give a fair representation of the fact. It is perfectly simple. There is no mystery about it. What happened was that one of the parties to the London Conference asked that the fact that a list of continuous processes was being drawn up by the different countries should not be mentioned, and the reason that country did not wish it to be mentioned was because her representative thought it might prejudice him in legislation that was about to be produced. I have no objection to mentioning the country. It was Germany, and it is in deference to the request of Germany that we did not put it in the actual Agreement.


Then, in substance, it is correct that there is a secret Clause in the London Agreement?


No, there is no secret Clause whatever in the London Agreement. There was a verbal understanding to the effect that the fact that this list was being prepared should not be put into the Agreement itself.


Does the alleged breach of confidence refer to Germany?


I think that is putting it rather too high. The country in question was Germany, and it was in deference to a request by Germany that it was not put in the terms of the Agreement itself, for the reason that the representative of Germany thought it might have the very opposite effect from what I am sure the hon. Member desires, and would make it more difficult for him in framing legislation he was about to present to the Reichstag.