§ 12 n.
§ Mr. CECIL WILSON
There has been circulated to Members of the House during the past few days from the National Confederation of Employers' Organisations a statement in regard to the Washington Hours Convention, which purports to be a statement of fact, but which appears to be based upon a complete misapprehension if not a piece of deliberate deception in regard to the matter. This statement says that in July, 1921, Parliament, after full deliberation and discussion, decided not to ratify. In July, 1921, what happened was this. The then 'Minister of Labour, Dr. Macnamara, moved this Resolution:That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government respecting the several Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labour Conference at Washington in November, 1919."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1921; col. 2498, Vol.143.]When that Resolution was put to the House 22 hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the Front Bench opposite voted for it, and in the course of his speech on the Resolution, the Minister made it clear what was the intention of the Government at that time. He said:I have more and more come to the conclusion that it would not be serving the ultimate interests of this movement to put forward a system of ratification with reservations. … We propose to send a letter to Geneva explaining the difficulties which here confront us and intimating that we shall be very glad to take part in a reconsideration of the Hours Convention, probably drawn on lather more elastic lines, at a future Congress of the International Labour Organisation. …I was only going to say this, do not let those who are impatient to secure ratification in some form or other set aside the wisdom of proceeding along lines which may in the end lead to ratification more real and solid."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1St July, 1921; cols. 2506-7, Vol. 143.]572 So that the statement of the National Confederation of Employers' Organisations that Parliament decided not to ratify is entirely misleading, and I hope no further attention will be paid to a document which is based upon that statement. When this question was under discussion in February last, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said: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. … 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1927; col. 162, Vol. 203.]A month later he repeated the earlier part of that statement, and intimated that ratificaion involved legislation, and that a Bill must be prepared very carefully; and he almost. led us to believe that such a Bill was being prepared. He intimated that the Committee had been appointed five weeks previously. Coming to -19th May, the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) put a question—
§ Mr. WADDINGTON
On a point of Order. The statement was made that His Majesty's Government had not decided to refuse ratification. In a letter sent on 22nd July, 1921—
§ Mr. WILSON
As I was saying, on 19th May the Noble Lady inquired whether any decision had been arrived at, and the Minister replied with a statement made in another place by the Lord President of the Council to which he said he had nothing to add. Then on 26th May my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne) asked whether the French Government had passed a Bill for ratification with a proviso inserted by the Senate that it was only to take effect after ratification by Germany and Great 573 Britain, and also what was the intention of the Government? The reply was that the Government were aware of what the French Government had done, but that there was nothing to be added to the reply of 19th May. A further question was put as to whether any definite reply would be given within two or three months, and the answer was that the question could be repeated but that there was nothing then to add to previous replies. I suggest that these replies do not reassure us that any real progress is being made.
Then we find that Earl Balfour on 4th May, in another place, in the absence of Lord Cecil, said there was need for great care to prevent misunderstanding as to what was involved in ratification. He expressed very great regret that six or seven years had elapsed and that practically nothing bad been done, and he proceeded to intimate that the policy of the Government was to proceed with the legislation which was required before ratification could take place and, immediately after that legislation was accomplished, to proceed with a policy of ratification. When we ask, however, whether there is anything in the way of legislation proceeding at the present time, whether any Bill for ratification is being drafted, we do not seem to be able to get any information at all. Although we know from the International Labour Office what other countries are doing, we cannot get any knowledge at all as to what our own country is doing. In the course of that speech Earl Balfour said that 90 per cent. Of the industrial population of this country were enjoying all they would ever enjoy under the Convention if it was ratified. While that is true, it is no reason why we should not endeavour to get the whole Convention ratified. He proceeded to say:I do not myself see why there should be any serious delay in carrying it out. The Government desire to carry it out, desire to pass the necessary legislation, and desire, after they have passed the necessary legislation, to go through the stage of ratification. Of that I can assure the House there need be no doubt whatever.When is it going to be done? The delay seems to continue. We do not seem to get any further forward. Has there been, as was suggested, consultation with other industrial powers, or are such con sultations now taking place? Earl Balfour pleaded for patience, but it is 574 exasperating to many of us here, as well as to other countries, that there should be this continued delay. There is not a word in Earl Balfour's speech to suggest that during the two or three months which have elapsed since the appointment of the Cabinet Committee there has been either any real progress at home or any inquiry abroad. Since that speech there has been another speech in the other place which is more disquieting. It was delivered by Lord Cecil on 17th May, and dealing with the question of the moral obligation of this country, he said:I think it a very unfortunate thing, personally, when it becomes necessary not only in this case but in any case for a Government to take a different view from that which is taken by its representative in an international assembly.Certainly, I think the House would agree that that is the attitude which every Member would desire to take. Then he referred to the challenge made to the Minister of Labour in 1925 on the whole question of the moral obligation arising from the representative of the British Government having voted in favour of the Labour Convention. The Minister of Labour said:I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Fisher) that if a Convention IS adopted at Geneva by the country, it ought to be on the understanding that the country intends to ratify and will do its very best to ratify it, but that it should itself be absolutely hound, without some loophole, I think he will recognise is not practical politics."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1925; col. 2511, Vol. 182.]I can conceive of very few occasions upon which the idea of endeavouring to find some loophole of that kind will not cause infinite mischief when publicly put in that way. It seems to be disastrous for any Government, and more particularly the Government of this country, to take up a position of this sort.
§ Mr. WILSON
The hon. Member will have an opportunity of saying anything which he has to say. My time is limited, and I am not going to reply to interruptions. There is not a word from Earl Balfour or the Minister of Labour or Lord Cecil to say that any progress has been made since the Cabinet Committee was appointed. Meanwhile we are having pressure on the Government by 575 the National Union of Manufacturers, the Federation of Master Printers and Allied Trades, the Federation of Master Cotton-Spinners, and one knows not who else, and, lastly, we have the pressure from this Confederation of Employers' Organisations. Furthermore, Lord Cecil does not seem to be expressing the same view as Earl Balfour, who said that the desire of the Government was to pass the necessary legislation. The hope that Lord Cecil expresses is that there will be a loophole out of the obligation placed on us by what our representative has done. What is the position to-day as regards the Convention? There is a, statement by the International Labour Office dealing with 39 States. In the case of 10 there has been no registration and no approval of the Convention on Hours of Labour. These are Cuba, Finland, Hungary, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State and Great Britain. This information with regard to these 10 States which have not agreed to ratification, is going around the world and our whole reputation is at stake in regard to it. We seem to be basing our position upon the desirability of having a loophole through which we can get away from ratification. In the Director's Report of the International Labour Conference, published quite recently, reference is made to the difficulties in the drafting of Conventions and the procedure for ratification, and the report proceeds:The fact is then that few formal difficulties arise on the drafting of conventions or in regard to the procedure for ratification. Perhaps they would have completely disappeared if the governing body had thought that it could … exercise the power of giving interpretation.It is quite true that there was a Conference summoned here in March of last year and there seemed to be some hope of progress, but there were States not represented and the complaint was made that the employers were not represented, and the outlook appeared to be altogether too narrow to offer hope of progress. What we should like to ask this morning is: what has been done in the way of consultation with other States; what has been done in the way of consultation with employers, and what has been done in the way of consultation with organised labour? The Cabinet 576 Committee, with the best intentions in the world, cannot go into all these matters of detail at the present time in a way which will give us any hope that anything will be done to arrive at an early decision. In a further portion of the report of the director we find this:Down to the discussion in 1924 the general policy was one of waiting, silence and more or less conscious inertia.Who is responsible for this policy It is not a question of parties in this House but of countries. What the people abroad see is this country of ours. They are regardless of one party or another, and they ask who is responsible for the waiting, silence and inertia, and they find the answer in the report of the director when he says:The British Government, the Government for which most of the other States allege that they are waiting to give the signal before they themselves ratify"—That cannot be a good thing from any point of view. Why should this country, having 90 per cent. of its workers unaffected by the Convention hold back? There is a heavy responsibility upon us. Has not the policy which we have adopted all the outward appearance of waiting, silence and more or less conscious inertia?
§ Mr. WILSON
Earl Balfour, in the speech to which I have referred, said there was need for great care to prevent misunderstanding in regard to interpretations, but there is equal need for great care to prevent the effects of this waiting, silence and more or less conscious inertia. The time has come for some clear declaration, and we should get rid of all evasion and all talk about loopholes. We need to be told here, both for ourselves and for the sake of other-countries, what is being done, and how soon legislation is to be introduced and when we shall be able to ratify. It appears to me, as I have said, that this is not a question of parties but of what other countries are thinking of us. They are looking to us, and when we ratify they win be prepared to ratify. Our honour is at stake, and only by a bold and courageous declaration can we hope that others will believe in our sincerity.
§ Mr. CLAYTON
In my opinion this is a question of whether we should ratify 577 this Convention or not, and I think we are not in any way bound to ratify, if, in our opinion, it is not to the advantage of this country. I should like to call attention to what Lord Cecil said on 17th May last. The one point he said which we ought to emphasise was what was necessary for the good of the country, and he said our decision as to ratification or otherwise must depend upon that. The Minister of Labour also said in this House in April, 1925:You cannot put the existing life of the country into the straight-jacket which that particular Convention would provide."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1925; col. 2519, Vol. 182.]I maintain that no advantage would be obtained from ratification, because without ratification employers in this country are doing better for their work-people than is done for the workpeople in any other country, whether it has or has not ratified the Convention. The last speaker mentioned that more than 90 per cent. of our workpeople are working eight hours or less a day, but he omitted to say that the balance includes those people who are working on continuous processes, which would be exempted, I understand, even if ratification were carried out.
§ Mr. CLAYTON
I am taking the actual figures. Over 92 per cent. work 48 hours or less a week, and amongst the balance are those employed on continuous processes. In the industry which I know best overtime is paid at the rate of time and a-half after 45⅓ hours per week, so that the workers have no grievance, and they do not think they have. It must be borne in mind, also, that in this country the hours are the actual hours in the works, so that ratification, coupled with the fact that the period worked would not be confined to 48 hours' effective work, would mean that people in this country would, under ratification, work at least 54 hours per week, that is, a nine hours' day instead of an eight hours' day. I do not know whether that would satisfy the Labour party, but I do not think it would be popular in the country. In this country we pay overtime rates when more than eight hours a day are worked, and this is an effective 578 check upon the abuse of overtime; besides, the representatives of Labour would speedily call attention to any abuse of overtime. Under present arrangements hours and wages are settled here by the method of collective bargaining, and the results are infinitely more satisfactory than they would be under any cut-and dried legislation which aimed at uniformity with foreign countries which, in my opinion, will never be achieved. Legislation in this country is obeyed in its actual letter, whereas abroad innumerable exceptions are permitted, the law being read in a different spirit, with the result that with universal ratification there would simply be chaos with this country heavily handicapped. The employers of this country have no desire to depart from the present practice of an eight-hour working day, which in actual practice is less than eight hours in about 50 per cent. of cases; they desire to abide by collective bargaining, without State interference; and they feel that the role of this country is to set an example of how labour problems should be settled, and to leave the rest of the world to follow our lead.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
We on these benches feel that we are entitled once again to raise the issue of the Washington Hours Convention in this House. This is not the first time we have brought the subject to the attention of the Government; but, strangely enough, every time the issue is raised, the replies we get from the Government become more feeble as the years go by. The Government have been in office for two and a half years, and time and again they have promised that the Convention would be ratified; but nothing tangible has been done yet. The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. C. Wilson) has already quoted statements made in this place by the Minister of Labour, and the Parliamentary Secretary—who, by the way, carried the matter a stage further than his chief—and by the representative of the Government in the House of Lords. All those statements indicate that the Government have been doing something; but, as far as I know, that something is confined to appointing Committees of Inquiry. That is not good enough for us; we want something much more effective than an inquiry. We want the Minister to-day to give us a more definite statement than he has ever given us before.
579 The hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes (Mr. Clayton) has trotted out a lot of old arguments which have been used in this House on behalf of employers of labour throughout the last century. If to-day we were seeking, say, a reduction of hours from 70 a week to 60, his argument would apply just in the same way. Every one of the reasons he gave us this morning have been used in the past against trade boards, against shop hours legislation, in fact, against every piece of social and industrial legislation ever introduced into this House.
§ Mr. CLARRY
Ninety-five per cent. of the people are already getting any benefit they might receive under the Convention.
§ Mr. DAVIES
That does not in the least destroy the arguments I used to combat what the hon. Member said. There is always a small but powerful section of employers in this country who oppose every movement which tends to benefit the working classes.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Not all. There are notable exceptions, as I indicated, and were it not for those notable exceptions we should still, I suppose, be in the feudal state. I said a moment ago that the hon. Member for Attercliffe had given quotations to prove that the Government have, at any rate, promised to carry the matter a step further; but we are not going to be satisfied with their many promises which never mature. As far as I know, the most important event in this connection has emerged recently in France, where the Chamber of Deputies have approved the ratifying Bill as amended by the Senate. That Measure provides for ratification by France conditionally upon similar action by Germany and Great Britain. What has been said on the question in another place is very interesting in this connect ion. Lord Balfour talked of the necessity for all the great industrial Powers to know exactly what it is they are to ratify. Surely the Minister of Labour could have told him that; but the voice of Lord Balfour about ratification was the feeble voice of the Prime Minister on the subject.
It seems to me that the doubtful statement against ratification we have received this morning on behalf of the employers 580 explains exactly what the Government would like to see accomplished were it not for the electorate whom they will have to face later. The claim made by our Government is that we must have simultaneous ratification; that is also the main point of the argument of the employers' representatives in this House. If we had always adopted the attitude of waiting until other countries came up to our standard what would be the position of the workpeople in this country? It would be appalling! Siam, fur instance, which is by the way affiliated to the International Labour Organisation, has a population of 10,000,000 people. There is little or no labour organisation there. As far as I know there is not a single piece of real industrial legislation, as we know it, in the country; it is still in a feudal state. Are we to be asked to wait until Siam comes up to our standard before we make another step forward 4 Surely that is not the mind of the British people.
§ Mr. CLARRY
We are already doing it. You have not dealt with the point I raised just now, as to whether you deny that the workers in this country already have every advantage they would get under the terms of the Convention.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The position is as the hon. Gentleman states. The fact that over 90 per cent. of our workpeople are working 48 hours per week or less is, strangely enough, used as an argument against ratification.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Surely the argument ought to be, that because 90 per cent. of our workpeople are employed for 48 hours a week or less Parliament ought to take the logical step of bringing the other 10 per cent. into line. The hon. Member represents Newport. If 90 per cent. of the people of Newport enjoyed a concession by legislation would he be prepared to stand up here and say that the other 10 per cent must remain out? He would never get elected again if he adopted that attitude.
§ Mr. CLARRY
The point is not quite analogous. Under the terms of the Convention certain process workers would be exempt, and in the 10 per cent. are numerous process workers who would not gain the benefit at all. I doubt very much whether the percentage could be 581 increased above the percentage that exists to-day, even if the Convention were ratified.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Gentleman is playing into my hands again. If, as stated by him, practically all the working people of this country who would come within the terms of the Convention are now working under similar conditions, why on earth should not all of them be brought within the Convention?
§ Mr. DAVIES
If this Convention were to benefit employers at the expense of the workpeople, the hon. Gentleman would not complain. The hon. Gentleman never takes up his present attitude when it is a question of employers getting State aid. He does not object to the State giving them subsidies for this, that and the other.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Surely the time has gone by when an hon. Member can stand up in this Assembly and say that the State shall not enact legislation in favour of working people who are sometimes exploited by employers. Another argument which has been put forward is this. The hon. Member for Widnes stated that when we pass legislation it is pursued very much better than it is in other countries. I wish he would investigate that point a little further. When last I spoke in this House on this issue, I said that the only method of finding out whether a piece of legislation was being carried into effect or not was by noting the number of inspectors employed by the Government to see that the law is carried out, and by the test of the number of prosecutions taken into the Courts. On that occasion I gave the House the figures provided I think officially by the International Labour Organisation; and it was proved over and over again that although our claim may be true in part it is not true as a whole. There are countries which enforce their laws as well as we enforce ours; and if the hon. Gentleman has read the Report of the Home Office in relation to the inspection of factories, he will find that we have 582 hardly a sufficient number of inspectors to see that our own laws are carried out.
§ Mr. WADDINGTON
Is it not a fact that in France there has not been a single factory inspection report, either to a municipal authority or to the Government, since 1913?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I would not like to dispute that, but that is new to me, and is quite contrary to the evidence in my possession.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am prepared to look into that subject; but although I am willing to admit that on the whole it is probable that the law is better pursued in this country, it is not true to say that other countries simply pass Acts of Parliament and that nothing happens—that everyone is allowed to break the law. That is the deduction to be drawn from the statement of the hon. Member for Widnes. We are anxious for ratification for another reason. It can be proved that workpeople employed for 48 hours a week or less produce every often as much as they did when working longer. An hon. Member shakes his head. He ought to read the report on the munitions workers in this country. It was proved in some cases that women working on munitions produced more in a fewer number of hours than they did in a larger number.
§ Mr. DAVIES
It was proved to be so in the case of a large engineering firm in Manchester, even before the War.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Member is a master of the art of interruption, but I hope he will allow me to conclude my speech. It is evident from the discussion this morning that the representatives of employers in this House are determined that this Convention shall not be ratified. That is very obvious. We are anxious for the ratification of the Convention so that the honour of this country may be sustained. That is a very important point. The hon. Member for Attercliffe 583 was quite right when he said that the people of France, Belgium and Germany never troubled about the political colour of the Government in power in this land; all that matters to them is that the British Government have put their signature to this Convention. They are not concerned as to whether the Government are Labour, Conservative or Liberal. The point they look at is that the British Government are pledged to this Convention; and they fail to understand, therefore, why we have not carried out our promises. The failure of the Government to ratify the Convention develops a tendency to extend the hours of labour in this country. Prior to the War the hours in shops were about 70 a week. The War probably did more to reduce hours of labour in shops than any other force. Employés in shops and warehouses are, by the way, the most numerous section of workers engaged in any single industry in the country. There is always a tendency in this House to extend the hours of labour in shops and in other industries too; and the non-ratification of this Convention is a direct incentive to bad employers to extend the hours of their work-people. For the several reasons I have given I appeal once again to the Minister of Labour to carry this matter a stage further; not merely to say that a Cabinet Committee has been appointed, but to let us know that it has reported, and that legislation will ensue at once. He will not have done what is his obvious duty unless he tells us now that it is the intention of the Government to ratify this Convention and that at long last he will shortly translate the Convention into law in order that the honour of this country may be maintained in the eyes of the world.
§ Mr. FIELDEN
I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but I wish to make clear the position of the railway companies. The railways at present have an eight-hour day and a six-day week, but they are obliged to work overtime on certain days, owing to the fact that the flow of traffic is intermittent, and, also, they are obliged to work on Sundays. The men are paid overtime rates. If this Convention is ratified, it will mean that conditions and hours in the railway service will again be in the melting-pot. That is something 584 for which the directorate of the railway companies certainly would not wish, and I am equally certain that the leaders of the Railwaymen's Union do not wish for it. We have been told that the case of the railways is covered by certain words in the Convention.
In March last a conference of the major Powers was held in this country. and on 19th March certain conclusions of that conference were published by the Minister of Labour. These included the following:It is agreed that the railways are covered by the Convention. In so far as Article 5 and Article 6 (a) are not sufficient for the needs of the railways, the necessary overtime is permissible under Article 6 (b).That statement has gone forward, and the railway companies have taken the best legal advice that they can obtain. That advice says that this deduction is incorrect, that under those Articles and Sub-Articles the railway companies' present arrangements would be forbidden. I, therefore, rise with the object of making it quite clear, and of making our protest, that under the present Convention the railway companies' arrangements would have to be entirely recast. It may be that the Convention could be signed with a qualification, but if that were done, the qualification would entirely destroy the signing of the Convention. The signing of the Convention can only be the signing of the actual words in that Convention, and as we are advised that those actual words would prevent the railways in this country from being carried on as they are carried on at present, we wish to make our protest in this House.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
I have listened very attentively both to past Debates and to this Debate and to the arguments that have been adduced in favour of the Government being pressed to sign the Convention quickly and without further delay, and, an the other side, I have read with some surprise a pamphlet which has apparently been circulated to Members this morning and which I also have only just seen. It is quite clear that we have two sets of entirely conflicting views. There are those who ask the Government to leap practically without looking, or at any rate without properly considering the obstacles, and there are those who, when we want to consider the question with a view to ratifying, are ready that we 585 should consider but apparently on the condition that we should never ratify. Those are two sets of conflicting views, and I propose to deal with them shortly. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has adduced arguments which we have heard before. He has said that this Government is in honour bound to ratify this Convention. I take this opportunity of saying that it is nothing of the kind. It is perfectly well known—and I should think that of all people the hon. Member ought to know it—that when a Government representative goes to Geneva, what he does is that he concurs (if he does concur) in the adoption of a draft Convention for submission to the different Governments. There is no obligation on the Governments to ratify.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
What is the use of drafting a Bill for this House? Obviously, a draft has to be prepared in the first instance before ever a Bill can be passed here, and a Convention has to be drafted, and under the circumstances of international negotiations it has to be discussed at Geneva before ratification by the home Governments can possibly take place. What I have said is absolutely the case. It is true with regard to the Washington Convention, and it is true with regard to other Conventions. I have in my hand a table of the Conventions which have been adopted at Geneva and elsewhere and of those that have been ratified by different countries. For a citizen of this country to criticise the position which is occupied by this country as contrasted with other countries is, I say, quite ludicrous. Of those draft Conventions, with the adoption of which our representative has concurred, our record in the matter of ratification is distinctly better than that of others whose names have been mentioned to-day, whether it be France, or Germany, or Italy, or Spain, or Czechoslovakia, or Belgium. The hon. Member for Westhoughton, if I remember aright a previous speech of his—I may not be accurate, but, if I am not, perhaps he will correct me—said, "Oh, yes, you are ready to ratify a Convention when it costs you nothing, but you hesitate about ratifying it when 586 it costs you something." I ask the House if there ever was such a topsy turvy way of looking at the matter. Would he wish us to ratify without consideration the Conventions that cost us something, and then to hesitate about those that cost us nothing?
Let me take another point. I do not believe that those who ask the Government to go ahead so quickly have the faintest realisation of the practical difficulties in the way. I have always said with absolute sincerity that I look upon them as difficulties to be faced, but to pretend that they are not there and to deal in generalities is no help whatever towards getting this Convention ratified. Take an instance which was brought forward by the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Manchester (Mr. Fielden)—the question of overtime. The usual view over here held by other lawyers than those whom the hon. Member has quoted is that under a strict British legal interpretation of the Convention, taken by itself, the present overtime system in force in this country and accepted by both workmen and employers in this country would be impossible, whether on the railways, in the engineering trades, or in an industry such as ship repairing. Under those circum, stances, is it not true that some care ought to be taken to see that we get a workable instrument? More particularly is this important because abroad the interpretation is different. Under their interpretation it would be possible for the railways to work overtime, which under our legal interpretation here it would not be possible for them to do. What would be the results if we were to go so gaily ahead as we are asked to do? The results would be that when we have had a hard enough time here on all sides we might have our industry hampered grossly, while abroad', with a quite different interpretation, there might he no trouble at all. Therefore, I concur with what has been said in another place by the Earl of Balfour, but I would ask the hon. Member to realise in this connection what it was that Lord Balfour said. He said:What we want is not merely that all the great industrial Powers should ratify, but that all the great industrial Powers should ratify the same thing, knowing what that thing is. That is the really essential point. And, therefore, there are questions of consultation with other great in- 587 dustrial Powers as well as of consideration of the precise terms of our own legislation.It was for that reason that we held the London Conference.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves Lord Balfour, may I say that Lord Balfour did say "I expect it will be ratified"?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Let me, at any rate, correct myself then and say, quite definitely, that I hope that we may be able to ratify. If anyone says ratification with rapidity, then I say, from my point of view, that I want to define "rapidity," and I am quite clear that it is going to take some time. We had the meeting in London, and if I might ask the Noble Lady really to consider the difficulties and not sometimes to let her zeal outrun her discretion—
I do not want to seem impatient, and I am a supporter of the Government. I know as well as the Government that there are great difficulties, but I also know that we have got a section in our party who do not want to ratify, and that is what makes me eager.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am quite well aware of the section to which the Noble Lady refers, and I am going to deal with them before I have done, but I am dealing first with this type of criticism. The reason why we had the meeting in London was to try and get some of these difficulties clarified, and agreement reached on them. We did, with regard to some of them. One of our objects, which we thought we had attained—I would say to the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Manchester—was to get an agreement reached as regards overtime which would enable the system of agreed working between employers and employed on the railways, in engineering works, and in such industries as ship repairing to be carried on without dislocation. I take it from my hon. Friend that they have doubts about it. I put it to the House, and to anyone who wants to get a practical 588 instrument, that while we thought we had got it by the London Agreement, yet there may be some doubt. We certainly have got to get it clear. When you go into a question of this kind, that covers all the industries in this country, the moment you dig into it you find how complicated it is.
It is quite clear that one or two of the things that we thought we had got clear at the London Agreement do not seem now to be quite clear. Others have come up since. For instance, I have had the question of preparatory and complementary work put to me, as one that affects Lancashire and the cotton-spinning industry. I would ask the hon. Member for Westhoughton, who believes we could sign so quickly, whether he has himself analysed the question of intermittent work and what it means. Is road transport intermittent work, or is it not? It is no good saying, "Go ahead," unless you can answer questions of that kind and know what you want. Road transport is a question that has arisen since the London Conference. It is an industry whose development has largely taken place since the date of the Washington Convention, and we have to know how it is to be regarded. The Germans have precisely the same difficulty that we have, and they are considering it, and I am sure that they, too, find it difficult and puzzling. In the draft of their law, road transport is, I believe, regarded as intermittent work. Yet it is difficult to see how under the London Agreement it could be considered intermittent. The real trouble is this, and there is no attempt at camouflage on my part'. The Washington Convention itself is full of general terms which must be interpreted and made clear. There is no getting out of it. Hon. Members say that the Trade Disputes Bill contained. terms which were not clear and which wanted definition, and yet they are willing to take the Washington Convention and swallow it. They are straining at a gnat and swallowing several camels. I go further. If it is necessary to be clear in a piece of domestic legislation, it is doubly necessary to be clear when dealing with an international matter. Let me again quote from Lord Balfour's speech:It is really most important that these treaties should not be ratified until it is quite 589 clear that they can be carried out clearly and to the letter. After ratification it is too late conveniently and properly to ask for changes, reforms, modifications of language, increased clarity of expression or any other of the Amendments which may seem small but when they become the subject of controversy have a most unhappy habit of turning out to be of great importance and great causes of embitterment in international relations.I now come to the question of the undertaking by the French Government to ratify, and I ask the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) whether he can give me an answer to this question. Would he and his friends be willing for us to ratify following on the French model? I will gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman to say whether he would be willing for us to ratify if we followed the French legislative and administrative model.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not expect me to speak for the French Government. I want him to answer this question. Surely I cannot be expected to answer as to the French Government.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Let me put it to him quite straight. I never asked him to reply for the French Government. It is not the business of any of us either to reply for Or to criticise the French Government. I have no wish to do that, and I want to make this quite plain. I would never claim to criticise the Government of a country for what they do internally, since we know that they have their methods of legislation and administration, while we hitherto have proceeded on different lines. What I ask is whether the hon. Gentleman as a British Member representing the British Opposition would be content if we in this matter were to follow not our own pre-existing habits but to legislate and administer on the model taken by the French Government?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I will reply to that in this way. The right hon. Gentleman has already met the French and other Governments in order to get an interpretation of the Convention, and. Lord Balfour has already stated that the object and policy of the Government—and I want to pin the right hon. Gentleman down to this point—was to proceed with 590 the necessary legislation and then with the policy of ratification.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The object and policy of the Government is as Lord Balfour stated, but, as he stated, it is also to get over the difficulties first. It is interesting to note how the hon. Member has for the second time deliberately and completely evaded answering my question. The House can form its own judgment on the evasion. Let me now show the House and the Noble Lady the Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) what are the real difficulties. Take the question of interieittent work on which we thought we had got agreement at the London Conference. I find under the French Railway Law this regulation, passed under their Eight Hours Law:
That is an interpretation which they are perfectly entitled to make as long as there is no international agreement to the contrary. I do not venture to criticise it, but it is not an interpretation which could possibly be put on the Convention in this country. Someone may say, "Yes, but would not that be altered under the Convention?" I can only quote the French Minister of Labour:
- "(1) The duration of work is based on 2,504 hours of work per annum (Ka days), either eight hours a day or an average of eight hours a day spread over a period of not more than 10 consecutive days. Thus time lost and holidays may he made up.
- (2) A distinction is made between the periods of actual work and iperiods of attendance. Employés may be required to be in attendance for 12 hours, which count as eight hours' work. Periods in which no actual work is done count as 25 per cent. actual work. The number of hours on duty of pointsmen may be increased to 12 a day when less than four trains are signalled per hour. The hours of duty may be increased beyond eight hours by a period equal to three-quarters of the time not occupied in actual work up to a maximum of 12 hours."A speaker asked me, 'If the Convention is ratified, will you modify your law in a manner which makes it more onerous for the national economy?' I hasten to reply to him that it is by no means our intention to make such a proposal to Parliament. On the contrary, it is not in our mind to ask Parliament to make any modification in the law likely to alter its principle.Further, the Rapporteur, the Chairman of the Committee, on 20th May of this year, in dealing with the law and reply- 591 ing to an interpellation when someone said to him, "Supposing only two trains passed per day, would you still require only eight hours of actual presence?" gave this answer. I will give the French first and the translation afterwards:L'application de la loi de huit heures dans les chemins de fer se fait avec une amplitude telle que certain agents dans certain eas, font des journées allant jusqua'à quatorze heures. S'il est une gare où il ne passe que deux trains par jour et où cependant la journée de huit heures soit strictement appliquée, je vous prie de me l'indiquer.I translate that as follows:The eight hours law is applied to railways with such latitude that some employés work up to 14 hours a day; if there is a station through which only two trains pass per day and where, nevertheless, the day is strictly limited to eight hours, I should be glad if lie would name it to me.As I say, that is one of a number of instances. I want again to disclaim any intention to criticise the domestic policy of any other country, but, on the other hand, when an international Convention is in question, we must be sure that we do interpret similarly. When you get a law which deals generally with hours regulation, and which is administered by a number of countries, it is the method of interpretation that matters. I asked the hon. Member opposite whether he would be ready for ratification if we were to follow the French model, and I think it is now perfectly clear why I could obtain no affirmative answer. The interpretation is the trouble or one of the troubles. Obviously, we must get the matter clear.
Now let me turn to the other side. As I said, there are on the one side those who want us to go ahead quickly without really facing the difficulties, and there are others who would like us to consider the matter for ever and to do nothing. I have this pamphlet which has been given me. I have only just recently received it like other Members. I think we may assume that those responsible for it do not desire to see the Convention ratified at all. I look at page 6 of this pamphlet—and I am now dealing with those who do not want ratification at all—and I see that nearly 93 per cent. of the people in this country already work 48 hours or less, and the remaining 592 7 per cent. include a number of men employed on continuous processes which are specially dealt with. So that the proportion of people not working 48 hours in this country is stated to be really quite small. Then, when I come to the next page, I see it says that:The crux of the question, therefore, is why Great Britain—which was the pioneer of the principle of the 48 hours week—whose employers have throughout the past eight years demonstrated their loyal adherence to it, and whose employers have no desire or intention to depart from it, should refuse to ratify a Convention which was to have been drafted to give effect to that principle.I quite agree, that is the crux of the question. But when I get a statement of that kind it seems to me that provided we can get these other questions cleared up such as the hon. Member (Mr. Fielden) has put—and I quite agree they have got to be considered, and that it is vital that we should get them cleared up—it is, candidly, going to take some time to clear them up—but when I find the broad statement of those two facts in the pamphlet, I am entitled to assume that the people who are responsible for it ought to accept the principle of the Convention and be the first to try to make the Convention clear. Our difficulties are great because what we have to look at is that our method is to legislate in a comprehensive way and not, like other Powers, in a general way. We have got to go into the question of the different industries first of all. We have got to meet a ease such as that of the crucible iron workers who are on piecework and the tailors who also work on piecework, where there is no question of hours at all. Let those who issued the pamphlet help us to deal with this question and then we may get the difficulty cleared up, if they will look at the problem again and see how far the difficulties are met by the London Agreement or where they do not appear to be met by that Agreement, see whether some other agreement could be designed which would make the Convention quite clear, and interpret what is obscure.
It is clear that we have got critics on both sides, neither of whom are, in fact, helpful in a most extraordinarily difficult piece of work. It has got to be made a shipshape piece of work before it can be actually carried into effect with safety to British interests. What I may call 593 merely general exhortations do not help, and objections which are also general do not, help either. I would say, therefore, if anyone asks me whether we can go straight ahead and hope to ratify quickly, this week or next week or this month or next month, I say it does not seem to me it is conceivably within the range of practical considerations.
For that reason, I say on the one hand as far as I am concerned, I do not propose that the Government should be stampeded when we do not think it is for the good of the country. On the other hand if there are difficulties to be surmounted—and there clearly are—let those who are concerned with those difficulties help us to see whether they are insuperable and whether they cannot be got out of the way.
§ Mr. C. WILSON
Would the right hon. Gentleman indicate what is being done in the way of negotiation with people abroad and at home?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am trying to get a statement of what are the industries in which the real difficulty is felt. One or two have been given to me, such as crucible iron, where the employés do not work to any hours at all. In other industries they are given piecework only. They come when they like and go when they like. It seems that, while we thought we had made it all plain in the London agreement, it is not plain. We have got to see whether we can get the other countries to take the same line. I am bound to say that this is the most difficult and complicated piece of work upon which I have ever been engaged.