|9||Ministry of Labour||…||4,375,000|
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. THOMAS SHAW
I beg to move,That Item Class V, Vote 9 (Ministry of Labour), be reduced by £100.I make no apology for reintroducing to the Committee a matter which we on this side of the House not only believe affects the honour of the country, but, in regard to which the Government have shown a considerable lack of the most elementary common sense. I refer to what is known as the Washington Hours Convention. When we signed the Treaty of Peace we set our signature to certain principles, and we declared, with the other nations who signed that Treaty, that labour should no longer be considered an article of commerce, that it was essential in order to secure the future peace of the world that the workers should have a better life than they had previously experienced; and we most emphatically stated that one means of attaining that end was the adoption of an eight-hours day or a 48–hours week as a standard in countries where that standard had not already been attained. In accordance with certain provisions of the Treaty, a Labour Conference was held in Washington at the end of 1919 at which this pledge given by the nations was discussed. It is now nearly nine years since that Conference was held, 73 and there have been since that time many vicissitudes in the life of the Washington Convention, but the decision of the Government eventually was to scrap that Convention and under no circumstances to ratify it.
We hold that that is absolutely contrary, not only to the understanding of the Treaty of Peace, but to the deliberate promises made by the Government representative at Washington, and contrary to the agreement made with the employers represented at Washington. When the Washington Hours Convention was agreed to, it had the approval of all the representatives from this country. It was agreed to by the Government representatives, the workers' representatives, and the representatives of the employers. There was complete agreement, and I assert that had the workers' representatives believed that they were dealing with men whose word was of no account, they would have saved their time and would not have gone to Washington at all. The workers' representatives thought it was wrong to treat this Treaty as a scrap of paper. In regard to the breaking of agreements the Government have as many scraps of paper as would allow them to have a paper chase. No attempt has been made to implement the definite understanding which was reached at Washington that the British representatives would carry out their part of the bargain and that the British Government was behind their representatives.
So far as the employers are concerned, we have the same sorry story. We were told in a speech made recently by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour that these things have been done in a hurry, and that it was impossible to expect that the work could be done so quickly and be done effectively. Let me give the Committee the names of a few of the representatives of the employers from this country who dealt with this matter in order to show that not only were the workers' representatives well known in the labour movement, and certainly had some idea of the industries they represented, but also that the employers themselves were thoroughly well represented. Among the employers who sat on the Committee that drafted this Convention was Mr. Majoribanks who was then, I believe, the managing director of 74 Armstrong Whitworth and Company; and assisting him was Mr. MacGuinness, one of the deputy directors of the firm of Kynochs; Sir Archibald Ross, well known in shipping circles, a gentleman who knows enough about the chemical industry to be the editor of the "Chemical Journal," is a Doctor of Science, and, I think, a Bachelor of Law, and consequently is doubly trained in science and law. Those were the employers who took part in the drafting of the Convention. Then we had the deputy general manager of what was then the London and North Western Railway Company. Those are the men about whom it is said that they did their work hurriedly, that they have made many blunders and have made themselves parties to an imperfect scheme.
The Government representatives were the present Permanent Secretary for the Home Office (Sir Malcolm Delevingne). Mr. George Barnes and representatives of the staff of the Minister of Labour, including some of the most honoured names in the Civil Service. It is now said that these gentlemen did not know their business. I will not speak of the part I played on the Committee. I happened to be chairman of the Committee, and I claim to have a knowledge of industrial life because I have been connected for a lifetime with negotiations with employers. We were the people who approved of this Convention, and we honestly meant to keep our word. That word has not been kept, and we are as far away to-day from this being done as ever we were. I remember Mr. Barnes speaking on this matter in the House when he said quite plainly what was his position. May I quote one or two of the statements which he made in this House? Hon. Members will recollect that Mr. Barnes was a Member not only of the Cabinet, but of the War Cabinet as well, so that his standing in the Government admits of no doubt whatever. This is what Mr. Barnes said in 1921:There is a moral obligation resting on the Government to submit it (the Convention) to this House and there is a moral obligation resting upon them to adopt it because we went to Washington and voted upon it according to our instructions."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 1st July, 1921: col. 2511, Vol. 143.]If we had not been told at Washington that that was the case we could have 75 got a much stronger Convention, because the Labour representatives gave up things which they were pressing for very strongly because of the statements made by the British representatives that unless certain concessions were made they could not guarantee the British Government would support the Convention. Mr. Barnes said:No self-respecting man who was at Washington, as I was and who had instructions such as I had could do anything but vote against the suppression of the Convention in regard to which he had such clear instructions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1921; cols. 2514–15, Vol. 143.]4.0 p.m.
I suggest that both from the point of view of the Treaty and the action of the Government representatives at Washington no honourable body of men can escape the responsibility for this Convention. If this were a case of a private individual who had acted in this way, there is not a club in London that would accept him as a member, but when we get together in a body, somehow ordinary common morality seems to go to the wall and a mere signature, a mere treaty is a scrap of paper, and it does not matter particularly if it be a treaty which will give advantage to the workers. We hold that, not only were we misled at Washington, but we have been misled continually since. There has never been an indication given by this Government that it did not intend to ratify the Treaty until quite recently. It is always said, "There are certain technical difficulties in the way. When we can surmount them, we stand by the principles of the Treaty, and will ratify them." The latest appearance of the Parliamentary Secretary in Geneva is the clearest possible proof that the Government have not the slightest intention of ratifying the Treaty, whatever the conditions are.
Let us see what has gone on. In 1921 certain excuses were made about different interpretations of different clauses of the Washington Convention. Years dragged on without, apparently, any effort being made to state what the differences were, to put them down plainly and to arrive at a, settlement. If the Government all the time had definitely stated their grounds, had frankly and honestly told other Governments what they meant, and had frankly and honestly tried to come 76 to an agreement, I could have understood their action in, at any rate, saying, "We cannot come to any agreement, and consequently we cannot ratify it." Nothing of that kind was ever done. I, personally, met the Labour Minister of France it 1924. I had, of course, in the Ministry of Labour a knowledge that there were some outstanding differences of opinion as to interpretation. The result of that meeting with the Labour Minister in Paris was that another Conference was called at Berne, in which we had the German, Belgian, French and British Ministers together. We went through every clause of the agreement which, in my opinion, is perfectly clear, and we found, at the end of it, that there was nothing at all to improve or to prevent ratification, and a declaration was made to that effect.
I came back, and a Bill was finally presented to the House which would have ratified the Washington Convention. There is no question as to the possibility of mistake, because it was done by the Labour Government, and, more than that, Belgium, after the Conference that was called by the present Minister, definitely ratified the Convention, proving by their action that they had no doubt as to their capacity for carrying out the ideas contained in it. We had speeches from the Prime Minister which definitely led us to think that there was no question at all about what would be done. I am leaving out unnecessary details, and am trying to confine myself as directly as I can to the leading features of the case, because I want to give right hon. and hon. Members the possibility of stating their views. The present Minister called together a Conference of Ministers in London. Various statements were made. This is what, the Prime Minister said:We shall do our utmost to secure complete agreement and understanding. If that agreement is reached, then the ratification of the Washington Convention by the participating countries will be possible, and we shall proceed to ratify, but we are not going to ratify until we are convinced that we all mean the same thing.I want to ask the Minister, did he in any way tell the Ministers in London that they had not agreed to ratify, or did he let them go away with the understanding that they were agreed on everything of importance? Did he give any indication at all that the pledge of the Prime Minister would not be kept, and that there were such things 77 of importance oustanding that the Convention could not be ratifie? If not, what becomes of the very definite promise given by the Prime Minister?If that agreement is reached, then the ratification of the Washington Convention the participating countries will be possible, and we shall proceed so ratify.Could anything be plainer than that? I think the Committee is entitled to know from the Minister definitely what are the points of difference on which agreement was not reached, and whether those points of disagreement were frankly stated to the Ministers. The fact of the matter is that the declaration of the Parliamentary Secretary in Geneva was received with dismay by all friends of the League of Nations, and with disgust by everybody who believes thoroughly that an Englishman's word is as good as his bond, and that the action would go a little further if necessary than the promise. The Belgians ratified the Convention; the French are ready to ratify with Germany and ourselves. The Germans were moving well on the way. The action of the British Government, and that alone, has torpedoed this Convention, and made all our promises as worthless as any scrap of paper. There is something, I think, even worse than, or, at any rate, as bad as the definite breach of our promises. It is that we have not only broken our promises, but we have been Pecksniffian. We have been hypocritical humbugs about it. We have talked about not being able to do these things, because other Governments would not keep their promises if they passed the agreement as we would, and we have tried to avoid our responsibility by insulting our neighbours. That, I think, is a policy which the British House of Commons, above all other Houses in the world, ought not to follow.
The French Minister stated quite definitely at Berne, that the eight-hours' law which they had in France was not on all fours with the Convention, and that if they made a promise to ratify the Convention, they would have to alter their law in consequence. Yet it has been assumed that that was not the case. We have been told in this House how many Conventions this country has ratified. I venture to say there is not a single Convention which has been ratified that has 78 needed an alteration in the law, and every time a Convention has come forward involving a change in law it has been rejected. There is not a Convention of which I know for which we have made an alteration of the law in order to comply with international agreement. France was willing to change her law, and I would like to quote from a speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour showing that, possibly, he had not understood what was going on in France, for he certainly gave to the House a wrong picture of the conditions that actually exist. Speaking on the Vote on Account last year, the right hon. Gentleman said: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 French Minister of Labour replied that there was not the slightest intention of laying before Parliament a proposal of that kind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1927; col. 95, Vol. 203.]The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1927; col. 102, Vol. 203.]Repeating the idea that if these difficulties could be got out of the way, ratification would follow, what the Minister of Labour in France said was, "We shall not alter the law as it now exists until the Convention is ratified, but when the Convention is ratified it will involve changes in our law." That is what the French Minister of Labour said—a thing that was perfectly honourable, perfectly above-board, but which was misinterpreted. We are the most advanced industrial nation of the parties to the Washington Convention, the nation which has most to gain by its ratification. The decrease of hours on the Continent since the War has been much greater than in this country. Hon. Members surely know that, given 1928 with the Convention, Great Britain in comparison with before the War is standing in an enormously improved position, but it is this country which is holding up ratification. No other country has taken the action that we have. It, is safe to say that we have prevented ratification by many countries in Europe by our hesitation, and, finally, by our frank abandonment of the Convention, 79 because the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary that this Convention ought to be revised means throwing the whole thing into the melting-pot, and that the Convention is dead.
I have here a booklet containing quotations from the proceedings in the French Senate and in the French Chamber, and there is no possible shadow of doubt that the French Minister of Labour made it abundantly clear that if this Convention were ratified the French law would have to be changed to bring it into line, and the right hon. Gentleman surely knows that one of the statements of the French Minister of Labour was, "We know that our law is not in accordance with the terms of the Convention, but that has nothing to do with the matter. If we accept the Convention, we accept it in the fullest sense. It means an alteration of our law, and if you are not satisfied that we are administering the law as it ought to be administered, you have a court of appeal in the League of Nations before which you can lay your claim that we are not administering the law fairly." Can anything be fairer than that? Yet over and over again we have these doubts thrown on the good intentions and the good will of the French Government. We were told that they would not level up the law if they passed this, and all the rest of it. We ourselves have been the people to be looked upon with suspicion, and not other nations, and I say again, it is distinctly Pecksniffian for a nation like ours, which has avoided its responsibility, to say it has done so because other nations that are willing to accept the Convention and carry it out are not quite as honest as we are. I think we ought to drop this slimy humbug, if I may use the expression.
It is not true that other nations do not apply their laws. I venture to say that the labour laws in Belgium and Germany are as strictly applied as ours are over here. It may be that in some nations they are not applied quite strictly, but the importance of that trifling detail is as dust in the balance compared with the importance of the broad general question. We are going on for years without doing anything to keep our word. When the Minister of Labour and the Prime Minister were making their statements to the effect that if the difficulties were got 80 out of the way, there would be ratification, I hoped that at last we had come to the point, but there is what is known this country as a Confederation of Employers, and, when the whip cracked, the Minister answered it. After his conference with the Ministers, after the agreement that had been arrived at, after his statement to the Ministers, after the signature of the agreement, the Confederation of Employers issued this document which I have here, and the Government answered it. It is true that the Minister himself, immediately after the issue of this document, spoke about the foolishness of the employers in apparently wanting to do nothing, but he obeyed their call. Whenever did the Minister know the employers to agree to anything in the shape of legislation for labour improvement? Is there a single case in the whole history of our country in which the employers have ever consented, have ever been a willing party, to a reduction of hours?
§ Mr. SHAW
"The Washington Hours Convention.'' It is issued by the National Confederation of Employers' Organisations, and it repeats the statement that the French have no intention of changing their law, a statement for which there is no foundation at all in fact. There I leave the history of the matter, confident that any Member of the House who was dealing with it in his own private capacity would never hesitate for a moment to keep his word and ratify the Convention, and I turn to another subject, namely, the danger of the Government's action, or inaction, with regard to the Washington Convention. The Confederation of Employers have, after the first flush of generous feeling following the War, always played the game of declining to accept any change in legislation dealing with the hours of adult persons. It is no new policy of theirs; they have done nothing else. They cracked the whip, the Minister gave up his idea of a convention, and the cotton trade employers put in a demand for 52¼ hours per week instead of 48. That is the one big, outstanding fact. Let me give the sequence:
Minister of Labour and Prime Minister apparently willing to ratify.
81 Meeting of Ministers in London. If anything were said to the Ministers at that meeting to the effect that Britain could not ratify, we know nothing of it yet.
Issue of this manifesto.
Change of front on the part of the Government.
Demand on the part of the cotton trade employers for 52¼ hours per week.
There is the chain of events; it is plain enough for anyone; and I think we are entitled to ask the Government definitely and finally, what are these grounds, and did they communicate them frankly and fairly to the Ministers, or did they let them go away from London with the understanding that an agreement had been arrived at, with only some trifling matters of detail in question, and there was a possibility of ratification taking place? We are entitled to know that. I have long ago lost hope that we should keep faith with the League of Nations. We seem to be sinking farther and farther back in the estimation of foreign nations who belong to the League; no one takes us seriously now. If the Parliamentary Secretary, when he made his speech at Geneva, was of the opinion that he was being looked up to as the representative of a broad, generous and noble nation, he had better get rid of the idea. I have had sufficient conversations with people who have been at Geneva, belonging to many nationalities and many different parties, to prove to me that everybody who loves the League of Nations, and wants to see its work successful. is postively dismayed at the part played by our own nation.
I will now turn to what I consider to be the most foolish part of the policy of the Government. Let us remember that this nation is a great producing and exporting nation, a great industrial nation, and that it is to our advantage to have competition from our competitors on lines as fair as we can possibly get. We went into a war in 1914 with lower hours and higher wages than any country in Europe—not merely slightly lower hours, but much lower hours than in any country in Europe. The Washington Convention, if it had been generally accepted, would, as far as the question of hours is concerned, have put us in a position so infinitely superior to the pre-War 82 position that any ordinary man of common sense would have tried at once, not only to get the Convention ratified in his own country, but to get it ratified outside. We, who have most to gain, are the nation that has kept this Convention back. It is fairly safe to say that there is not a nation of any industrial importance in Europe that, if we ratified, would not be willing to ratify. There may possibly be an exception, for a few months or a year, in the case of Germany. Germany has been in a very exceptional position, but, judging from the speeches of the German Minister, Herr Brauns, there seems to be no doubt at all that it is this country that is holding even Germany back.
It seems to me to be the height of folly for us, of all nations in the world, to keep this Convention back. I am not for the moment talking about the morality of the matter; I do not want to mention that, because I think that to ask for morality is to ask for the impossible. I do, however, want to ask for common sense. The statements I have heard in this Chamber about what takes place on the Continent simply stagger me. They disclose a lack of knowledge of the true facts of the ease that I have never seen equalled. I do know something about one big trade in this country, the largest exporting trade in the country. It has been my lot, in connection with my ordinary work, to visit textile factories in almost every part of Europe, and I have seen what is going on. I was out in the Vosges last August and September—right out in the East of France, far away from Paris, and where, surely, if there had been any lack of strictness of administration, one would have seen it. I found the cotton workers of the Vosges working exactly the same hours that we should be working in Lancashire if we were working full time. It is not true to say that these nations are so backward. It is certainly not true to say that relatively they are worse than we were in the period before the War. It is true to say that relatively we are much better circumstanced than before the War.
I am not going to make an appeal on the ground that 48 hours at a manual occupation is quite enough for anyone. I have made enough of such appeals, and I shall make no more. All that I have to say is that people who work with their 83 hands will get justice when they can force it, and they will never get it one moment before. Never in the course of my trade union experience have I ever known employers definitely to accept a proposal which meant a reduction of hours. In this case, when the industry is working 36 hours a week, when weavers are running three looms, and sometimes only two, instead of four, when the factories cannot be run for 48 hours a week, they make a demand on the workers for 52¼ hours. That way madness lies. I venture to appeal, then, on the ground of the plainest common sense for a change in our methods and in our ways. My final word is an appeal to the Committee on what I think is the highest ground of all. We cannot form a League of Nations, we cannot work a League of Nations, unless there is good faith amongst nations, and unless, when an agreement has been made, there is an attempt to realise that agreement. We have been sadly lacking in that respect. We, proud as we are of our claim to be in the forefront of progress, ought not to be dragged at the tail of either France, Belgium, Germany or Czechoslovakia. We ought not to allow our Labour legislation, particularly for women and youths, to sink below the level of European countries which have always been regarded as rather backward in industrial development. That we are doing, and, while I make no appeal at all to the Minister on this matter, I do appeal to the Committee to support me in the request that the Washington Convention shall he ratified, in the name both of morality and of common sense.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw), in presenting his views to the Committee, has, in addition to the familiar and customary denunciation of the Government which we know so well, charged us with conduct which in his view is not the conduct of honourable men, and that is the charge which I am going to answer. About a fortnight ago, speaking in the House, the right hon. Gentleman said:If the Parliamentary Secretary and the Prime Minister believe that they are looked upon as men of honour and strict 84 probity on the Continent, let them get that idea out of their heads. As a matter of fact, they will find, if they make inquiries, that their honour stands very low on the Continent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1928; cols. 769–770, Vol. 213.]I think it will be a matter of general agreement that the right hon. Gentleman's new style of conducting political controversy in this Chamber shows a distressing lapse from that robust, energetic and effective, but always courteous manner which formerly characterised his Parliamentary utterances. It would not matter so much if the right hon. Gentleman had confined his views on this matter to this country, but I am going to quote a passage which I think, in the circumstances, was unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman and of the position which he occupies. After I went to Geneva recently, as I believe is customary on those occasions, the views of various leaders of the trade union movement as to what took place there were invited and expressed. I have a collection of them here. With one exception, to which I will refer in a moment, every one of those expressions of opinion was conveyed in language which was restrained, calm and dignified, however much we may disagree with the sentiments expressed. What, for instance, could be more dignified than the answer of Mr. Aufhäuser, of Berlin, who is the President of the National Federation of "Free" Salaried Employés? He said:If it is urgently necessary that the eight-hours day should, for social, hygienic and cultural reasons, be the general maximum for every worker, and if, in view of the present speeding up of modern production, it has become absolutely imperative, in the case of non-manual workers an eight-hours day of strenuous intellectual work is already too long.We had some others from Copenhagen, Hamburg and Berlin in the same sort of language. It was left to the right hon. Gentleman himself to try to smirch the honour of this country by the message he broadcast throughout Europe. This is what the message was:Britain is bound, both by the terms of the Treaty itself and the agreement of Government, employers' and workers' representatives at Washington. For her not to ratify is to be guilty of the grossest deception towards all those people who believed in the word of an Englishman.85 Those are the charges the right hon. Gentleman repeats. I am glad, because now I have an opportunity of answering him, I hope effectually. I will deal with the points one by one. The first is that Britain is bound by the vote of its representatives at Washington in 1919. That is the first ground on which the right hon. Gentleman bases these charges of deception. I will answer that charge. It rests on the fundamental fallacy, which is perfectly obvious to anyone who has taken the trouble to examine the matter at all, that a draft convention for which they vote is not a draft convention but a treaty. Lest there be any doubt about that, the Treaty itself lays down quite clearly the right of any Government to adopt or not adopt the vote of its delegates at one of these conferences. Article 405 of the Treaty says:In the case of a draft Convention the Member will, if it obtains the consent of the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies communicate the formal ratification. …That clearly means that it is conditional upon obtaining the consent of the home Government. The opposite construction would mean that Parliament is to be bound by a draft convention signed by a delegate. I cannot imagine anything more likely to incense the House or to impair the authority of Parliament. If this House is to be told that because a delegate to one of these conferences signs a draft convention which is binding and that this House has nothing further to say, nothing would impair more the sovereignty of the House or be more inconsistent with the Treaty itself. We are not prepared so lightly to abandon the rights of Parliament.
There is a danger in the right hon. Gentleman's fallacy which is much more serious than perhaps he realises, or than has yet been explained. The implications of his fallacy are, and must be, not only of the most injurious character to the organisation itself but may have grave international consequences. I will explain exactly what I mean, because it is quite time this fallacy was exposed. It has been obvious to no one more clearly than to that very experienced, very watchful and very able director of the international organisation itself, I mean, M. Albert Thomas. For what reason I know not—it may be that he 86 was aware of the views which the right hon. Gentleman was publishing abroad a year or two ago and that he wished to prevent any mischief arising out of them, but whatever his motive, M. Albert Thomas in July last year issued a Memorandum to the League of Nations which is to be found in the official journal. Amongst other things, this is what he said:The draft Conventions, being adopted by a two-thirds majority of the Conference, are not signed by plenipotentiaries and have to be submitted by the Governments directly to their respective Legislatures, with whom lies the decision whether the State should or should not contract the engagements involved.I refer to this at this moment only because I want it to be in the mind of the Committee. He goes on to say in the same document that these conventions are unalterable. They have, like the Prayer Book, to be taken in whole or not at all:Reservations would still be inadmissible, even if all the States interested accepted them; for the rights which the Treaties have conferred on non-Governmental interests in regard to the adoption of international Labour Conventions would be overruled if the consent of the Governments alone could suffice to modify the substance and detract from the effect of the Conventions.That, of course, means that you can neither enlarge nor modify nor limit the draft Convention when it is once signed. You have either to ratify in whole or not at all.
The implications to which I referred are these: You cannot, after all, charge your own Government with dishonesty, even for party purposes, without at the same time implicating other Governments who have done exactly the same thing but rather on a larger scale. I have got out, for the purpose of this Debate, a table in order that I might see what other Governments have voted for Conventions which they have not thought fit on consideration to ratify. I am not suggesting for a moment that they were not perfectly within their right. Of course, they were, but it is a right which has, in fact, been exercised far more readily by almost every other Government, France, for instance, has voted for nine Conventions which she has not thought fit to ratify. Germany has voted for 11 which she has not thought fit to ratify. Great Britain has voted for four 87 which up to now she has not ratified. Czechoslovakia has voted for 12 which she has not yet ratified; the Netherlands has voted for 13 which she has not yet ratified and Norway has voted for 16 which she has not ratified. What becomes of the charge that we of all the nations of Europe have done something so dishonourable that we are not fit to be seen in their company? That first part of the right hon. Gentleman's charge, therefore, is completely and absolutely repudiated and falls to the ground.
I am going now to deal with the second part of his charge, in which he said we are bound by the Treaty itself. I will refer to those passages in the Treaty in which there is any mention made of hours at all. First of all it appears in the preamble, which says: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 on those conditions is urgently required: as, for example. …Then it sets out a variety of examples in which it says an improved condition is required. Amongst other things, it mentions protection of the worker against sickness, compensation for accident, provision of an adequate living wage and regulation of the hours of work. The second place where it is mentioned is in the Agenda in the Annex to Article 426. Five items are set out in the Agenda of the first meeting of the Annual Labour Conference in 1919, one of which is "The application of the principle of the eight-hours day or of the 48-hours week." Then comes the passage, in Article 427, to which the right hon. Gentleman has often referred. Article 427 sets out nine different general principles and it prefaces them with this paragraph:Among these methods and principles, the following seem to the High Contracting Parties to be of special and urgent importance.The fourth of these principles is:The adoption of an eight-hours day or a 48-hours week as the standard to be aimed at where it has not already been attained.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Certainly, and we mean it now. I do not want to disparage the work of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, but he seems to assume there is something in that paragraph which compels this country to accept and ratify the first crude, illfitting and ambiguous document which emerged at Washington. To accuse us of deception because we have refused to accept as final a draft which, if ratified, would cause infinite injury to hundreds of thousands of workers in this country is to ask us to adopt an action which would be quite inadmissible and inexcusable. The right hon. Gentleman told us that at Washington the Draft Convention was the result of a compromise, and that some of his friends at Washington wanted a more stringent Convention. When the right hon. Gentleman states a question of fact I should never dream of questioning it for a moment. When he tells us this, therefore, I accept it and, of course, I believe it. The fact that there was a compromise is obvious in almost every clause of the Draft Convention itself, because it is clear that some of those at Washington thought overtime should he prevented, while others thought it should be regulated, and it was just this conflict of view that produced an ambiguous document which, in our view, is quite unfitted to the needs of British industry at present.
I want at this stage to make this clear. Before we can ratify a Convention we have to bring the law of this country into conformity with the Convention itself. As I have said, and as M. Albert Thomas pointed out, the Draft Convention cannot be altered, therefore, the law in this country, if Parliament is to ratify, must be in precise accordance with the Convention itself. Of course, ratification involves an international obligation which can be enforced at the International Court at The Hague by all the sanctions provided by the Treaty, but that is an entirely different thing. If you passed an Act of Parliament in the terms of the Convention as ratified, such an Act of Parliament would be construed by the British Courts and by British Judges. It follows, therefore, that an agreement made by British people in this country would be construed by British Judges in British Courts. When the right hon. Gentleman 89 tells us, what I am quite sure he believes, that there is no difficulty in the matter at all, really, his opinion, however illuminating on other things, in this matter is entirely irrelevant. It does not in the least matter what he or anyone else thinks. What matters is the view which the British Courts of Justice would be likely to take of such legislation passed to ratify such a draft.
This further result follows. If you have agreements in this country which are inconsistent with the law, which, I assume, you are going to pass in order to ratify the Convention, these agreements become invalid insofar as they are in conflict with the law. When, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman opposite asks, "Why do you not ratify in spite of all this, because 95 per cent. of the people, or whatever it was, are working 48 hours or less?" the answer quite plainly is this. Because there are in our view at this moment agreements in existence affecting many hundreds of thousands of workers, which agreements, we believe, are valuable instruments in the maintenance of industrial peace. We believe that those agreements would be imperilled. Such a result, we think, would be calamity, and it is a risk that we are not prepared to take. I am going to refer to one of those agreements to illustrate exactly what I mean. I am going to refer to the Railway Agreement, and I am also going to refer to details of the Draft Convention itself. It is quite clear first of all, that the railways come within the terms and scope of the Draft Convention, because Article I says:For the purposes of this Convention, the term 'industrial undertaking' includes—I am leaving out certain passages—Transport of passengers or goods by road, rail, sea or inland waterway.So the first point I am going to make is, that railways come within the terms of the Draft Convention. The second point is this. Article 2—and here we have an indication of that compromise which, no doubt, is inevitable, and which produces ambiguity—reads as follows:The working hours of persons employed in any public or private industrial undertaking or in any branch thereof other than an undertaking in which only members of the same family are employed, shall not exceed eight in the day and 48 in the week, with the exceptions hereinafter provided for. …90 Let us see what those exceptions are. The exceptions referred to are contained in Article 6 (b)—Regulations made by public authority shall determine for industrial undertakings: … The temporary exceptions that may be allowed, so that establishments may deal with exceptional cases of pressure of work.The Railway Agreement is a very valuable and a much prized instrument. It gives the men a guaranteed day. It gives them a guaranteed week, six days of eight hours—of 48 hours. I t provides that all Sunday work shall be treated as overtime and paid at overtime rates. I would ask the Committee to consider how are we to fit in the Railway Agreement with what I have just said.
§ 5.0 p. m.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
The right hon. Gentleman really goes too fast. I can deal only with one point at a time, and I am coming to that. When I was interrupted, I was asking the Committee to consider how they would fit in the Railway Agreement with the words that I have read. Sunday work is not a temporary exception. Sunday work goes on every Sunday in the year, and to say that work which goes on every Sunday in the year is a temporary exception and to attempt to persuade a British Judge that it is a temporary exception is, of course, ridiculous. It goes on to say,So that establishments may deal with exceptional cases of pressure of work.We heard at question time that all the Railway Companies of the country are coming here to-morrow to tell us that, so far from being subject to exceptional pressure of work, they have far too much time in which to do the work they have already to do. Therefore, to attempt to say that Sunday work is either exceptional or due to pressure of work is really, I think, if I may say so, so absurd that no one would dream of putting it before a British Court.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder), whom I am very glad to see in his place, brought in a Bill last year which was very interesting for two reasons. The first was, that the hon. Gentleman grafted on to the right hon. 91 Gentleman's former Bill a Clause which was specially designed to deal with this very difficulty. That, at any rate, showed, in the hon. Gentleman, an appreciation that the difficulty existed which the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench has not yet admitted. With great ingenuity and a courage which I admire, he attempted to get out of this Article 6 (b) which I have read, and to bring the railways under another Article—Article 5. But the result was that, having got out of one difficulty, he landed straight into another, because Article 5, under which he attempted to bring the railways, restricts the total hours to 48, inclusive of overtime, while the Bill of the hon. Gentleman permitted of 48 hours, plus overtime. Therefore, with his Clause most ingeniously drafted, and having got out of one difficulty, the hon. Gentleman jumped straight into another.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston said, "I had a conference at Berne with some of my colleagues on the Continent and there we settled all this matter and nothing was left over." The proceedings at Berne were confidential, and therefore I am not at liberty, certainly without the consent of the other members of that Conference, to state in detail what happened, but it is perfectly obvious that the agreement that they arrived at was arrived at by this very remarkable process of pretending that no difficulties existed, and by ignoring them. The proof of that was forthcoming when the next year or the year after we had the London Conference, when every one of those difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman thought he had settled at Berne cropped up again; all advanced by the same people from the same countries as if for all the world those gentlemen had never heard of Berne or even of the right hon. Gentleman himself.
We come to London, and I now deal with the point to which the right hon. Gentleman referred when he interrupted. I want to make it quite clear what did not happen at London. In the London Agreement it was clearly stated that the Ministers at the London Conference did not arrogate to themselves the right to interpret the Convention. Those words are in the preamble to the Agreement itself. What they did was to determine with regard to a number of points 92 how they would administer the Convention if they ratified it, and that is the point, of course, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred when he interrupted. All were agreed that administration on the lines of London is essential from the practical point of view, but whilst certain of the Ministries—and it is very important—were convinced that the agreements reached were completely in harmony with the Convention, we, that is to say my right hon. Friend, felt and expressed considerable doubt as to whether it was not encroaching upon revision, and these doubts have been strengthened by further consideration of them. If the conclusions reached amounted to revision, which we say they did, then it does not help us to ratify the Washington Convention. Nevertheless, these conclusions are very valuable when we have to consider the case for revision. My right hon. Friend never agreed that the decision of London did not exceed the function of interpretation and encroach on the domain of revision. On further consideration, it was quite clear that they did. The conclusions that were reached are valuable when you come to revise, and I think the conclusions of London Conference, and the London Conference itself, made revision absolutely inevitable. Those are the circumstances under which I went to Geneva three weeks ago. I will state exactly what I did say at Geneva. There are certain paragraphs in the speech which I made which were not reported in the English Press. I do not in the least complain of that. The reports that I saw were singulary accurate, but they were necessarily incomplete. This is what I said:It will be remembered that as far back as 1921 the British Government addressed a letter to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations, in which it was suggested that the International Labour Conference should reconsider the Washington Hours Convention with a view to the elimination of certain grave difficulties which in their view constituted a serious obstacle to its ratification. That suggestion was very fully considered by the Governing Body in 1923 but failed to secure acceptance at that time.Then I further went on to point out that in any case this Draft Convention comes up for ratification in two or three years from now. I said:In the course of the next two or three years the Governing Body is hound to review the Convention and to consider the 93 desirability of placing on the agenda of the Conference the question of its revision or modification. The British Government has never wavered in its adherence to the principles prescribed in the Preamble of Part XIII, but it is firmly convinced that the most satisfactory prospect of securing a solid international agreement on this matter will be afforded by placing upon the members of the Organisation in full Conference the duty of producing a workable Convention, free from the difficulties that have been encountered, rather than leaving it to a restricted number of Powers to grapple with these difficulties in unofficial discussions.I further said:Our intention is to work towards the framing of a Convention which, while adhering to the principles of the Washington draft, will he free from the difficulties encountered in that draft and we shall be prepared, if such a satisfactory Convention is obtained, to stand in line with other industrial States by ratifying it and putting it into operation.There is one further point to which I, must refer, arising out of something which the right hon. Member for Preston said to-day, and what he has often said before. He said that Czechoslovakia has found no difficulty; that Czechoslovakia has ratified and that Belgium has ratified. Then he asked: "Why cannot you do what little Czechoslovakia has done?" The right hon. Gentleman has constantly given us Czechoslovakia as an example.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to Czechoslovakia as an example which we ought to follow. I suppose there is no country in Europe which is less likely not to honour its obligations than Czechoslovakia. There is no country which is likely to be more scrupulous in observing those obligations, according to her conception of their interpretation; but it does not in the least follow that her interpretation is ours. Czechoslovakia has shown herself to be one of the most prosperous countries in Europe since the Armistice. Her employers are progressive and skilful people, her employed 94 classes are industrious and thrifty, while amongst her statesmen are to be reckoned some of the most eminent and distinguished men in Europe. Certainly, some of them have held high office in continuity since the Armistice for a longer time than any other leading statesman in any other country.
Let us see what construction Czechoslovakia has placed upon this Draft Convention. Let us see whether the construction which in all good faith she has put upon the Convention—which she was perfectly entitled to adopt, and which I would not dream of criticising even by inference—would be likely to be adopted here. Article 4 of the Draft Convention deals with what is known as continuous processes, and says that in any processes which are carried on continuously by a succession of shifts, three shifts may be worked, but the hours of work shall not exceed 56 on the average. In this country, the phrase "continuous process" is a term which is pretty well understood. It means a process the stopping of which would do injury to the process itself or would do injury to some other department of the foundry or workshop, as the case may be, with the result that work is continued by day and night. The common instance is the blast furnace. Necessarily, there are not many of these continuous processes. Czechoslovakia has, in accordance with the Draft Convention, that is, under Article 7 of the Draft Convention, communicated to the International Labour Office, for their full information, the working of the Agreement mentioned in Article 5. She has communicated to the International Labour Office as continuous processes some 29 processes, including ironworks, metal works, enamelling works, malt works and breweries, liquorice works, sugar factories, chemical works, starch works, jam, fruit pulp, and sausage factories, water mills, gas works, etc. She has communicated a whole list of processes which under no circumstances in this country would come under the definiton of "continuous." [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the chemical industry?"] Yes, chemical processes would, but few, if any, of the 29. I do not think for a moment that the men working in these different processes all work 56 hours without payment of overtime at some rate or other. 95 There is this very significant fact to remember, that in the Report of the Committee of Experts who were appointed to examine the reports which the various countries sent in—the rapporteur of the Committee was a Frenchman—the following paragraphs appear:Czechoslovakia. The legislation examined does not appear to fix the rate of pay for overtime, which Article 6 of the Convention requires to be not less than one and one-quarter times the regular rate.The Report points out other obscurities, and says:The Czechoslovak Government might be asked to furnish additional explanations on these points.Until I have seen the further explanation I am very far from committing myself to the view that what Czechoslovakia, in her own interests, has quite rightly done, is necessarily a precedent which this country could follow. With regard to Belgium I do not know, nor does anybody else, what interpretation she has put upon her obligations, because she has only ratified quite recently, so that until the report of what she has done since ratification is produced I can say nothing.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Yes, of course, she ratified unconditionally, but what her interpretation of it may be I cannot say. The right hon. Member for Preston referred to examples of Mr. Pecksniff. There are many people in this world who live and die under the impression that they alone are righteous and the rest of the world are wicked. That is an attitude which is usually regarded as a harmless, though sometimes an irritating foible. It only becomes mischievous when it is developed into a depreciation abroad of your own country. The alternative before the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly clear and simple, and he can take his choice. If he desires to pursue this question for party reasons he will obstruct our efforts at revision. He will continue to make the sort of speech which he has made to-day, and will continue to cast aspersion on the honour of his country. If, on the other hand, he wishes the condition of the workers throughout the world in regard to hours made secure, then he will support us in the efforts which we are making.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
One could almost have believed that the hon. Gentleman really meant the last few words of his peroration, had we not remembered that it is two years since this matter was discussed at any great length in this House. I would suggest to the hon. Member that on this side we have not made it a party question for at least two years. It is nearly two years since I introduced the Bill to which he has referred. At that time, we were very hopeful, from what was said by the Minister, that this country would before now have reached an agreement with other countries on the question of the 48-hours' week. We have been told by the hon. Member of the latest conversations which have taken place. We would like to know what was said by the Minister at the conference with other Ministers, two years ago. Will he tell us what excuses were given as to why we had not ratified the Convention?
§ Mr. MACKINDER
When the Minister replied on the introduction of my he expressed great hopes, and he carried the House with him and led us to believe that within 12 months, certainly no longer than 12 months, the Government would be introducing a Bill to ratify the Washington Convention of 1919. I thoroughly believed that statement, and I think the majority of hon. Members on this side believed it. We thought the Government really intended to introduce a 48-hour week, but we have been waiting in vain ever since. The Minister cannot get away from the fact that our representatives in 1919 pledged the people of this country to other countries that we would introduce a 48-hour week. The workers of this country have been waiting for eight years or more for Government sanction to something that they think they ought to have.
The hon. Member has spoken about peace in industry. I can imagine nothing more likely to bring about a better feeling among the workers of this country than to feel that at last, after eight or nine years, the Government really intend that they shall not work more than a 48-hours' week. We in Yorkshire, and my friends in Lancashire in the textile trades, managed to get the 48-hours' week 97 by negotiation and agreement with the employers. It has been said: "What is the good of legislation for five per cent. of the community, when 95 per cent. have got the 48-hour week?" It is not long since the miners had shorter hours, but their hours have been increased, although by agreement and by Act of Parliament they had had their hours reduced. The feeling of people in Lancashire—I think I can measure their feelings—and the feeling of the people in Yorkshire is that the Government would not grumble nor would they say anything contrary to the employers if they tried to force upon us a 55½-hours' week again. I worked a 55½-hours' week for over 20 years, and I can say confidently that if there is one thing which would destroy the small remnant of peace in the West Riding textile industry it would be an attempt to put upon the workers there what has been done to the miners. It would destroy the possibility of what little bit of peace we have in the textile trades. It is significant that the employers in the Lancashire cotton trade, following the increase in the mining hours, have made an application for an increase in hours although they cannot now work the full number of hours which are allowed under the existing agreement. In Yorkshire we are expecting that if Lancashire goes down an attempt will be made to bring down the Yorkshire textile workers.
Those engaged in industry have for years been looking to the Government to see if they are going to do what they promised to do. For two years at any rate we have not made this a party question, and I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that the people of the country are looking very anxiously towards the Government, after what they did to the miners, and are expecting that agreements for a 48-hour week throughout the country will be in danger. The Parliamentary Secretary might have given us some details of the discussions which took place two years ago. We know next to nothing about them. This is a matter which affects the people of this country, and I do not think the Government have any idea of the feeling which has been aroused. They are wondering when the 48-hour week will be sanctified by law. They have asked me, and I have had to say, "I do not know."
I have as much respect for the Parliamentary Secretary as anyone in this House, 98 and I say that there is certainly no hope of this Government ratifying the Convention. I am going to be as frank as the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw), and I say that the honour of the British Government is not as high as it ought to be. Nine years ago the British Government gave its representatives definite instructions. I cannot believe that they signed the Convention on their own. There must have been some instructions by the Government; their representatives must have had some idea as to what the Government felt on this matter. The Government of 1919 must have been in favour of a 48-hour week. I met one of the permanent officials who attended the Convention, and he is not a man who would go to Washington and sign a Convention of which the Government were not in favour. That Convention was signed; a pledge was given to the people of England. That pledge has not been carried out, and the only opinion I can come to is that a Government which promised and promised to ratify that Convention are not as honourable as we would like them to be.
The right hon. Member for Preston had the good sense when he was Minister of Labour to introduce a Bill to ratify the Convention. It was not carried through. An hon. Member on one occasion asked me why the Labour party did not pass it. They were not allowed to pass it. They were only nine months in office. I wish we could have remained a little longer in order to show that at all events there was one Government between 1919 and 1928 which was ready to keep its word, ratify the Convention, and give to the people of this country by law that which they had gained by agreement. In that case the employers would not be able to take away the 48-hour week. I am sorry to say that with the present attitude of the Government employers will now try to break the agreement of the 48-hour week and substitute 55½ hours. If employers do take advantage of this indication on the part of the Government with regard to the miners, and the indication which has been given lately at Geneva, to introduce longer hours, there will not be peace but war in industry.
§ Mr. CLAYTON
Let me say at once that I cannot believe that the employers of this country have any intention of increasing the hours of labour——
§ Mr. MACKINDER
They have definitely tabled proposals for increasing hours; and reducing wages in addition.
§ Mr. CLAYTON
The employers of this country are anxious to maintain the standard of life and the hours of labour; that is, eight hours a day or 48 hours per week. The danger we have to fear is that the conditions abroad will make it very difficult for us to maintain those hours. We are anxious that the Washington Convention should be ratified in such a way that we shall not be at any disadvantage as compared with other countries. This question was debated on the Whitsuntide Adjournment last year, and on that occasion I spoke against ratification, because in my opinion it was not going to be advantageous to British industry. My reasons are these. We are working shorter hours in this country and paying more for overtime than in any other country in the world, and we are conforming more closely to the Washington Convention, as we understand it, than any country which has ratified it. We consider that before we ratify the Washington Convention we should know quite certainly what obligations other countries consider are implied by ratification on their part. It may be that other countries will not consider the obligations implied in quite exactly the same way as we do, but when we do ratify the Convention the law in this country will enforce these obligations rigidly.
At the present moment 50 per cent. of our workers are working less than 48 hours per week and the number working up to 48 hours, but not more, is 95 per cent. That has been achieved by arrangement between the employers and the representatives of the workers through their trade unions, and it is an achievement of which we have every right to be proud, especially when we remember that as late as 1919 the normal working hours in this country were 54 hours per week. There are, of course, a number of industries in which it is very difficult to get a rigid 48 hour week; industries in which a stoppage of the plant at certain periods would mean a deterioration or destruction of the material. There are also industries which are affected by weather conditions, and other industries, such as dock labour, where satisfactory arrangements have been made between the employers and trade unions dealing 100 with overtime. These were not considered when the Draft of the Washington Convention was arranged, and I agree that with all these difficulties before us it is absolutely necessary that a revision of the Draft should be undertaken.
I am pleased that the Government have tabled a proposal for this revision at the 1929 Conference and I should like to assure them that the employers of this country will give them every help in revising the Draft in such a way as will benefit the workers of this country. We want to maintain the standard of life of the working people, if possible to improve it, and I promise the Government that we will do everything we can in order that a Convention can be signed which will be of benefit to this country. Our sole object is to maintain the standard of life; but that standard of life is imperilled when we have unfair competition from industries abroad.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I listened with great interest to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary and the novel doctrine he tried to expound. Let me examine his speech. In 1919 the Government were represented at the Washington Conference. Their representatives, especially the representatives of the Ministry of Labour, knew exactly the conditions in this country, the hours of work and the agreements that were in operation in practically every industry, especially the large industries. The Parliamentary Secretary said—if I am not correct he will put me right—that no Government can be bound by any agreement entered into by its plenipotentiaries.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
No, no. What I tried to point out was that, in the first place, they were not plenipotentiaries and although I do not say that the general practice of the Government is not to ratify a vote given by its delegates, still there is nothing which precludes a Government from considering the matter and deciding, when it has the Convention before it, whether it shall ratify it or not.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I am coming to exactly the same point. The Convention, or at least the draft scheme, was carried by 82 votes to two. Two Governments, the Canadian and the Norwegian Governments, were in the minority so far as the vote was concerned. At that Conference, 101 men of knowledge and experience had sat for a whole month and they came to an agreement so far as the Hours Convention was concerned. Here is my second point. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the Government cannot be bound by any agreement that their representatives entered into with other foreign countries, and that therefore we are not compelled to ratify the Washington Convention. The hon. Member uses as an excuse the fact that there was an agreement entered into between the railway workers in this country and the railway companies. How can he consistently say, seeing that delegates representing the Government entered into an agreement with other countries, that the Government are not bound to honour the agreement simply because there has been an agreement in this country between the railwaymen and the railway companies?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I am sure it is my fault that I did not make myself as clear as I should have done. What happens when you sign a draft convention is not that you make an agreement, but that you sign something which does not become a binding international agreement until ratification. It is a draft until it is ratified by the Government concerned. Of course, that is quite distinct from any question of an agreement between the nationals of a country, like the railway people. The thing that you enter into is not an agreement, but a draft convention. It does not have the force of something like a treaty until it is ratified by the Government.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
Very well; that matter is clear. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary did not deal with the point of view of the Mover of the reduction of the Vote, as to the danger that may arise because of the Government refusing to ratify this Convention. I wish that the Parliamentary Secretary had dealt with that side of the question and had tried to understand what is arising in the great industries of the country to-day as a result of foreign competition. I am sorry that instead the hon. Gentleman tried to make small debating points here and there. These small debating points do not count. Let me give an illustration, from what happened only last week, of the danger of the Government not ratifying the Convention. 102 Let me also show what we have been doing in the industry with which I am associated. In South Wales it took 12 years to establish an eight hours days throughout the steel trade. Probably it is unnecessary for me to point out that there are good men among the Church people as well as among the Nonconformists in South Wales. One of the leading steel magnates in South Wales, a very fine and generous employer, was Mr. Eccles, of Briton Ferry. He discovered that the men were working 12 hours a day in the steel works. The arrangement was that they worked for 10 hours during the day and for 14 hours during the night. The night men went in at 5 o'clock in the evening and finished at 7 o'clock the following morning. Anyone who knows anything about the steel trade knows that even to remain so long in the atmosphere of steel works, to say nothing of the tremendous heat in melting the raw material for making steel, is quite sufficient. It had a very bad moral effect upon the men.
This employer discovered that a large percentage of the men, when they had finished work in the morning, were so exhausted that instead of going home they went to the nearest public house and spent about a couple of hours there. The men working during the day did exactly the same when their work was ended. He concluded that, from the moral and physical standpoint, he would give the eight-hours day a chance. What did we do? We went to the men who were paid tonnage rates, and our men were so advanced in their opinions on the question of the eight-hours day that all the tonnage men employed in the steel trade brought in a third shift themselves. That worked out in this way: If two men earned £5 a week each, they brought in a third man to share the £10. It did not cost the firm a single penny extra to pay the tonnage men on an eight-hours day. But so far as the datal men were concerned, those earning 6s. a day, which meant 12s. for two men, the employer put on 3s. a day in order that the men might get a minimum of 5s. a day each for the eight hours.
This experiment went on for 12 months. At the end of that time it was found that the output on the eight-hours day was more than it had been with the 12-hours day in the bar mill and melting 103 shops. That gave other employers encouragement. I went to Llanelly and other places, and all the other employers followed suit until every steel works in South Wales was put on the eight-hours day. In South Wales some of the employers have very religious tendencies, and by tradition the Welsh people are very religious people. Owners and men agreed that there should be no Sunday work in the steel trade. That arrangement has been going on for at least 15 to 20 years. A week before last the Ebbw Vale Steel Company, one of the largest in South Wales, a firm that can produce from 4,000 to 5,000 tons of steel rails every week and a firm that has to compete with Belgium and Germany and other continental countries, came forward with a fresh proposal. Probably there are hon. Members who have travelled, as I have done, from Constantinople through Czechoslovakia and Italy, and so on westward. I discovered on that journey that practically all the rails laid down were from Ebbw Vale and from the works of Guest, Keen and Nettlefold at Dowlais, but that the rails that were being sent to replace them were rails from Belgium and Germany and other places that are in competition with Ebbw Vale and Dowlais.
Sir Frederick Mills saw a deputation to the men a fortnight ago, arid said, "I will put all my cards on the table. I am in competition with Germany for some thousands of tons of rails, but on account of the hours worked at the week-end by firms that compete against me, I cannot get the orders. If you will work on Saturday afternoons and on Sunday nights, I shall be able to compete against the Germans." The men held a meeting. They said amongst themselves, "From time immemorial we have never worked on Saturday afternoons or on Sunday nights. We have always had our Saturday afternoons to ourselves and we have always enjoyed our Sundays. What are we to do? We are faced with this great economic difficulty." The men eventually agreed to give away their Sunday nights but to retain their Saturday afternoons. I want to point out the danger of the Government refusing to ratify the Convention. If Great Britain had only given a lead and ratified the Convention, Germany would 104 have followed the example. France and Belgium have already ratified unconditionally. When I spoke during the Debate on the Address I confused the week-end working in Belgium, France and Germany with the Washington Convention, and the Belgian Ambassador sent me this letter on the following day:In the speech which you made in the House of Commons on 9th instant you remarked that 'if this Government had put the Washington Convention into operation we should have had an eight-hour day in those countries—Germany, France and Belgium.' It appears to me that your statement, as regards Belgium, must be based on a misunderstanding, as Belgium has ratified unconditionally the Washington Convention, and notice thereof was duly given to the League of Nations on 6th September, 1926. Among industrial countries Czechoslovakia is, I understand, the only other having done this.In the face of that letter from Belgium and in the face of the great power which this Government enjoy, the Minister of Labour ought to be ashamed of himself to stand at that Box, having failed to ratify this Convention, when a little country like Belgium has done so. This is a very serious question for South Wales. As I have said, our people by their traditions are a religious people. They love their chapels, their Sunday schools, their singing schools and their music; but the policy of this Government ever since they came into power has been to destroy, if I might put it in that way, the industrial, social and religious well-being and life of the people of this country. We have had an example of it in the case of the miners' hours. We have had an example of it in the action of the Minister of Health concerning the poor and the boards of guardians. We are having an example of it here in regard to the steel trade. I hope the Minister will consider this question from the standpoint indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw), namely, the danger involved to this country. I have given an illustration of what has happened in South Wales, and it cannot be said that that state of things may not be extended to the Midlands and the North of England and to Scotland. I hope the Minister will not put the trade unions into the difficult position of having to fight the employers on these conditions. These conditions have been established by trade union effort, and I trust the 105 Government will realise the danger to the country as a whole involved in their refusal to ratify the Convention.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his admirable exposition of the Government's case on this question. I think his speech was admirable alike in tone and in matter. There are two things the introduction of which in this Debate I, personally, deprecate. In the first place, I think that, as far as possible, anything connected with the League of Nations should be kept out of party politics. I cannot imagine anything which is less likely to be a good influence either in the industrial sphere or in regard to the desire for universal peace, than that the League of Nations should become a subject of party politics. In the second place, I deprecate remarks in which one or two of the speakers from the opposite side have indulged. They have sought to fulfil a function which they seem to enjoy, namely, that of opposing the Government of the day, and incidentally their own country, because on a certain matter the Government do not absolutely agree with them. These speeches will be reported in papers abroad and will do this country infinite harm. I cannot imagine anything worse than an accusation against the Government of the day of breach of faith such as we heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw).
I think it is universally agreed that we in this country set a standard to the world in hours of labour and in the payment of overtime rates, and I am sure we all wish that other countries had the benefits which we enjoy in these respects. I am sure we would all wish to see this Convention ratified, if we were certain that its ratification would not unduly hamper our efforts to regain trade, so much of which we have lost for various reasons in recent years. The Parliamentary Secretary dealt with the difficulty of interpretation. It is always difficult to interpret international agreements, and there is an additional difficulty When those agreements deal with highly technical subjects. The meaning of a phrase in one language may be quite different from its meaning in another language, and even though you have two authorised versions there 106 may be a wide divergence of interpretation and considerable doubt as to a particular point. I give one instance in the case of this Convention, which affects the crux of the whole question. What is meant by an eight-hours day? I find that in America it is interpreted as eight working hours, but in other countries there are different interpretations. In one case the eight hours is taken to mean the time at the disposal of the employer; in another case it is regarded as eight hours of actual work. I need not labour the fact that points of that kind can be interpreted in entirely different ways in different countries. Therefore it is essential that a Minister, who is responsible for the trade of the country, should hesitate before committing his country to something which might be open to considerable doubt.
It is easy to criticise those in authority. It is extremely easy for those who sit in Opposition to criticise those who have the power and the responsibility of signing a Treaty of this kind, which, in their view, might do great injury to the country. I do not think any of us would expect in the case of the Washington Convention or any Convention of that kind a meticulous exactitude of interpretation, but we think that there should be a general understanding as to what is intended by the terms of the agreement. We have heard very little this evening about the London Conference, and I hope the Minister of Labour will deal with that subject at some length when he replies to this Debate. It seems to me that the London Conference showed how wide was the divergence of opinion and how much was left open to interpretation. In regard to the agreement in London, it seems to me—perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that there was nothing binding in it. It was really what is called a "gentleman's agreement," which meant that only those five countries which were actually parties to the agreement would stand by it but would not bind the other countries in any way to agree to what had been decided at the London Conference. I think that is a very important point and, in itself, it seems to show that, whilst the London Agreement binds the five countries actually concerned in the Conference in London, the Convention needs a considerable amount of revision.
107 There are certain questions which we must ask ourselves in this connection. We ask ourselves whether the ratification of the Convention by us would directly or indirectly benefit the workers of this country? We have heard from the last speaker, hits opinion and that of his friends, that levelling up the standard in other countries will improve conditions for both employers and employed in this country. Another thing which we have to consider is whether we are unnecessarily preventing the raising of the world standard of work by refusing to ratify this Convention. I think we ought to have some more explicit statement than we have yet had as to the way in which the Government require the Washington Convention to be revised? I ask the Minister to give us some general indication of the proposed revision. I know we cannot expect him to give us all the amendments or new articles which he proposes to embody in the Convention; but I think it is due to the House and the country that we should have some definite statement as to what the Government are aiming at when they put down for April next the consideration of the draft of a new Convention. In view of the divergent statements which are made and the divergent letters appearing in the Press, it would also be well if the right hon. Gentleman published a White Paper giving exactly—as far as the information is at the disposal of the Ministry of Labour—the number of hours at present worked and the wages at present paid for overtime in other countries as compared with this country? The League of Nations gives some figures and the Employers' Federation give figures. It would be of assistance to the House and to those who wish to make a decision upon this important controversy to have a statement laid before the House showing the exact conditions under which men and women work in this and other countries and their rates for overtime, I fully appreciate the difficulty and responsibility with which any Minister of Labour has to contend, and I am sure that the present Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are striving to conform to the best interests of this country, both as regards employers and employed, and also the interests of the workers of the world.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. KELLY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay) asked the Minister one or two questions, and I also wish that the Parliamentary Secretary had explained to us his intention when he spoke of a revision of the Convention. I am always doubtful when any member of the Government talks about revision, and when that revision deals with working conditions and wages I doubt whether it is going to be to the advantage of the workpeople. The hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge asked that we should have a White Paper showing the rates of wages that are paid as overtime percentages in other countries. I think that has been shown many times in the conferences between trade unions and employers in this country, but a curious thing is that while what is taking place in other countries is known to the employers, the Confederation of Employers' Associations, a body that has not helped in any way to bring about better feelings in the industries of this country at any time during its brief existence, made it appear, in the Memorandum which it presented to the Minister of Labour, that there were no percentages paid for overtime work in other countries. If they did not know what was taking place, all that I can say is that those who are members of the confederation and on its executive have no right to continue in an association that approaches the Government to give orders to the Government, and if its officers did not know what was happening in other countries it was a piece of impertinence on their part to approach the Government.
I wonder why it is that the Government are quite prepared to listen to bodies like this National Confederation and to take them as representative of the industries of this country. I am not permitted this afternoon to deal with the Factories Bill, but it is well known on this side who gave the direction to the Government that they must not pass the Factories Bill just now, and I think, if the National Confederation had any desire to see industry put on its feet, it would engage in work other than that which it is now employed upon.
109 It is said, as a reason for refusing to ratify this Convention, that other countries have a different interpretation of working hours and that those other countries would, immediately we ratified the Convention, do something that was opposed to the spirit of the Convention. I would ask the Government to give us some evidence in support of this suspicion that other countries would act in this way, or that the workpeople in those other countries would permit their employers, in these days, to break through the letter and the spirit of the Convention. I hope the Minister of Labour will tell us which of our industries would be hampered by the fact that we had ratified the Convention, and which is the poor industry which is going to be put out of business because workers on the Continent will be compelled to stick to an eight-hours day. The fact of the matter is that the Government do not appreciate the position, and they seem quite willing to enable certain industries to keep the standard of life of the people of this country down at a low level.
It is part of my work to enter the conference room dealing with wages and conditions in many industries in this country, and time and time again we are faced with the position that the hours of the working day in other countries are more numerous than they are here. They tell us that for that reason it is impossible for them to give an advance of wages, or else it is used as a justification for taking wages down or keeping them down, and we are asked by the employers why we do not force the Government to do something with regard to the hours of working in other countries. In the engineering trade we have heard it time and time again. In the shipbuilding trade there was a board of inquiry, of which I was a member, and in the report of that inquiry, a copy of which has been in the hands of the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade, and also of the Prime Minister, whom we saw on the subject, it is brought to the notice of the Government that, if there is any handicap against the shipbuilding trade of this country, it is because of the hours of working in other countries, and that because of the non-ratification of the Washington Convention we have not been able to interfere to the extent that we would like to 110 interfere with the hours of work in those other countries. Yet the Government refuse to move.
Do they suggest that ratifying this Convention would be a handicap either to the engineering trade or to the textile trade? In the textile trade, the employers have made an effort—which one hon. Member said this afternoon was only a suggestion—to get a 52½ hours week and a 12½ per cent, reduction, and the operatives are reminded as to what is taking place in mills in the East and on the Continent of Europe, and they are told that because these people work longer hours the employers here are unable to sell the product of the Lancashire mills to the extent which they could if they could produce more cheaply. All this is put forward in order to create an atmosphere that it is to the advantage of the people of this country to work longer hours. The fact that the Government refuse to ratify the Convention prevents us from having the eight hours day or the 48 hours week in the cotton mills of these other countries of the world, and the Government will render no assistance, but declare that it is impossible for them to ratify the Convention because other people do not give the same interpretation to it that we are inclined to give.
The Parliamentary Secretary reminded us at great length to-day that this was only a draft treaty or agreement, and that Governments could not accept the position that they must ratify what comes to them from these Conventions in a draft form. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that in 1920 the Government of this country were so much impressed with what had been done that they drafted a Bill for an eight hours day and a 48 hours working week. I am possessed of a copy of that Bill somewhere, and it was passed on for the information of those who were engaged in industry. It was accepted by the employers and by many of the trade unions, representing the people engaged in the various industries, but it was held up by the Government until they thought there was no longer any fear of a revolution in this country and then they went away. When the hon. Member suggests that the Government are not compelled to ratify that Convention, may I say to him that the Government of 1920 and 1921 were so much impressed with 111 it that they actually prepared a Bill to operate what was contained in the Washington Convention? Why is it that they have run away from it now?
I listened to the statements made this afternoon with regard to the various Articles of the Convention, and I noticed that we were reminded of that term "continuous processes." Whenever anybody is in bad faith with regard to the Washington Convention, they fall back upon the term "continuous processes," and say how difficult it is for the different countries to understand what is meant by a continuous process. There is very little difficulty with regard to the industries that realise what is a continuous process, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not in good faith on the part of the Government to suggest that the absence of an interpretation of what is a continuous process is a justification for not ratifying this Convention. Again, I noticed the hon. Gentleman's use of the conditions in the railway world as a justification for the Government's attitude, but how long are they going to shelter behind what they know is not correct? There is nothing in the Washington Convention that says in regard to the 25 per cent. for overtime that we must come down to that level. Is it suggested that the conditions in the engineering trade—for which I must take some responsibility, as operating from the 1st May, 1920—must be brought down if we ratify the Convention, or is it suggested in regard to the conditions in the chemical trade, on which I noticed the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Clayton) spoke to-day? I wish he had given us some justification for his appeal for a ratification of the Convention. Surely he knows what a continuous process is, but the conditions we have in that trade, and in engineering, shipbuilding and the railways will not be interfered with and brought to a low level because of the ratification of the Washington Convention.
We have had to fight hard in industry in this country for anything we have got. Employers have never given us anything except what we have been strong enough to force from them. To suggest that ratification of the Washington Convention would be a detriment to us and interfere with the furtherance of trade is begging the question, and is a fear 112 such as is possessed by the National Confederation of Employers. It is in the interests of this country, of trade, and of the people engaged in industry that we should have this international understanding on the hours of work. It would help the textile trade which is so depressed, and not only would it help industry, but it would enable us to keep the word we gave in 1919. The hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Ministry of Labour reminded us that it was not the thing to do to disparage those who represented us at Geneva. I have no desire to do that, but when those who spoke for us at Geneva are not prepared to keep the word which was given by our representatives at Washington, even though the Government of 1920–21 seemed to be inclined to do it, then it is a disparagement of this country, and it puts us in a wrong light with the peoples of other countries. The hon. Gentleman may look upon the Washington Convenion as a crude and ill-fated document——
§ Mr. KELLY
Ill-fated may also have described it, but it was crude and Ill-fitted in the fact that those who have been in Cabinets since that time have not known how to fit it into industry and to use it to help achieve that understanding which would assist the carrying on of industry. I hope that even now the Government will not press for a revision. The National Confederation of Employers in their memorandum gave us no reasons for it. One knows the kind of people they are. They are certainly not the leaders of the industries in which they are engaged; and for the Government to take note of that body, and to refuse to take note of the people who are engaged on the operating side of industries, is not acting as a Government ought to act. I ask that the word of this country should be kept. We pledged ourselves in 1919 to ratify the Convention. Other Governments have ratified it, and I ask this Government at least to keep our word, and let our word stand as high in the estimation of other countries as it did at one time.
Mr. SANDEMAN ALLEN
One of the great advantages of this Debate has been to explode the idea that this country has in any way failed to maintain its honour or to keep its word. We have had it explained to us—and some of us who 113 have taken part in preparing and settling these Conventions from time to time know it perfectly well—that it is utter rubbish to talk of our representatives pledging the Government to ratify the Treaty. The very words of the Draft itself show that nothing of the kind was done. What the Debate has also brought out clearly is that the Government stand by the principal ideas that are embodied in the Washington Convention. What has been most definitely brought before us is that there are many flaws in the wording of this document, and we have had our attention particularly drawn to the great danger of misunderstandings by other nations arising from terms used in documents, and to the immense importance of taking pains that the words mean the same, and that the effect of the words is the same, in different countries before a definite and final settlement can be made. That point is one of the most important that has been cleared up to-day. One is thankful that the greatest interest of most people in every party, and most people who have no, party, is to be sure that this country is really living up to its word, and they will be comforted by this Debate, for they will realise that we have lived up to our word, that the Englishman's word is as good as his bond. That is why we are careful not to ratify the Treaty.
It is not only the party on the other side that takes a deep interest in the workers of the country; we on this side represent more workers than the Members on the other side, and we realise the importance of protecting their interests. The Government have their duty to protect every class and every interest of the country, and it is perfectly certain that if we were to ratify the Convention, we should be doing a good deal of harm to the trade of the country. We are all in accord with the views that have been so clearly expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary. It would be necessary to have the eight-hours clearly laid down, and the terms of the agreement drawn up so that there should be no misunderstanding between the countries; but knowing what we do, and knowing the dangers of misinterpretation, no good would result unless the Treaty be revised. A claim was made by the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) that when the French Government had ratified the Treaty, they would alter 114 their law. What we invariably do in this country is to alter the law as we ratify the treaty. We do not ratify the treaty, and then promise to alter the law, because we know what might happen. Members who, with all good faith, may have pledged themselves and their Government to bring in a, new law may find themselves outside Parliament or find their party incapable of carrying out what they promised. So I do not think that there is any argument in that point. I felt that it was rather important that from an independent quarter on this side of the House it should be stated for the satisfaction of the people of the country that, instead of there being any doubt or failure as to the honour of the Government in this connection, we really have done the right thing. I am not afraid of what foreign countries will say, unless they want to use it for their own ends. I strongly hope that this matter will be reconsidered, and a suitable Convention drawn up at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
The last speaker would lead the country to believe that the present Government have re-established themselves in the eyes of the world in connection with the Washington Treaty. He says that the Government have exploded the idea that we have failed in our responsibilities. There are many of us who would like to see evidence of that—certainly something more than the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary. He said that England has honoured her bond, and he also mentioned that we approached these things from a different angle from that of most other nations, that is, we endeavour to alter the law first in order that it may fit in with the treaty we are about to ratify. That is just the thing that no one can understand in the attitude of the British Government since 1919. The Government are willing to assent to ratification, providing it does not necessitate having to concede something beyond the laws on the Statute Book, or the conditions prevailing in the country. It does not matter to what extent their actions might involve other nations in drastic alterations in their law, but if it does not upset the equanimity of their own law, it is a suitable thing for ratification. Great Britain certainly did give its word in 115 1919; it certainly did give instructions to its representative to vote for the Convention, and it certainly did imply by its action that it was prepared to ratify. From 1919 up to the present time it has led the country to believe that, by Inquiries and Conferences, it hoped to be able to bring about a position in which there might be general ratification on the part of those nations which were waiting for Germany and Great Britain to ratify in the first instance.
Then came the bombshell of the February Conference at Geneva where, at the request of a British representative, the discussion was adjourned for a day to await the arrival of the Parliamentary Secretary from Great Britain, who had a statement to lay before the Conference. No one knew the nature of that statement. As it has been conveyed to me, the hon. Gentleman led that Conference to believe that other nations were agreed that it was necessary to have a revision of the Convention before there could be ratification on anything like a large scale. What truth is in that one cannot properly judge, but it brought consternation to the Belgian representatives to know that Great Britain had let down them as well as other nations which had either fully or partly ratified the Convention. The position is that there has been eight years' discussion; during that period certain nations have ratified the Convention and others have said they were willing to ratify subject to Great Britain honouring her word given in 1919, and now, suddenly, all is thrown into a state of chaos again. To my mind British prestige, as far as honouring her word is concerned, has fallen very low indeed. It is no use saying that we have done our best, that we have sought the means whereby ratification could take place, and that it is only after eight years that we can admit that the difficulties are insurmountable by us and we must have a revision. If we are to have a revision of the Convention it will mean losing the confidence of the nations which have already ratified; they will feel they have been badly let in. They will have no more faith in the honesty of our intentions in regard to a revised Convention than they now have in the word we gave in 1919. They will say that unless the revision is satisfactory to our own cir- 116 cumstances and our own point of view, we shall say again that it is unsuitable to us in this country.
What a fine picture it is! Here we have Great Britain, the Goliath of nations—[Interruption]. Yes, the Goliath, by comparison with Switzerland, which now says to us, "Big brother, it has taken you eight-and-a-half years to find out that you cannot ratify this Convention, whereas we made up our minds in 1921." We are bringing down Great Britain to the measure of Switzerland on a question of industrial judgment. I make the suggestion that the Government of the day have acted as they have because of pressure brought to bear upon them by the Federation of Employers in this country. They have lent themselves to the employers' agitation. The little Blue Book which I see on the Box on the Opposition side of the Table has been published as a reply to the allegations of the Federation of Employers that it was impossible for them to carry out the terms of the Convention. The Labour Advisory Committee of the League of Nations Union went into the subject, and published that reply, and to my mind it is a very effectual reply.
What is going to be the effect of this latest decision on other countries, and particularly our own Dominions? Europe has always looked upon us as the pioneers in social and industrial progress. Great Britain has been in the forefront of the shorter hours movement, and, indeed, one of the arguments used to-day is that as approximately two-thirds of our industrial population are already on the eight hours' basis through voluntary agreements there is less necessity for us to ratify a Convention which would bring in the remaining one-third. In effect, however, our action in not ratifying the Convention and in asking for a revision puts back the whole question of whether Europe will readjust its economic eireumstancee by decreeing uniform working hours. New Zealand, too, is asking what has become of the old country. The Dominions have largely followed the advice and the lead of the old country, and have endeavoured to assist her in carrying out her pledged word regarding this Convention, and we find the workers' representative from Canada pointing out the loss of confidence there will be from the point of view of the Canadian worker. 117 It is the same in the case of industrialists in New Zealand, where, I believe, they already have an eight hours' day by legal enactment. If they have not, at any rate the Association of Employers of New Zealand have issued an authoritative statement to the effect that eight hours a day is long enough for any person to be employed in industry.
Now we are giving encouragement to the question of hours being brought into discussion again, and any alteration is not likely to be in the direction of a diminution. As soon as we break away, as I think we have already done, from our pledged word, there is nothing to stop Belgium from scrapping her ratification and entering into competition with us in the manufacture of steel by imposing, if she can, longer hours on her work-people. There is nothing to stop France from scrapping all the processes she has gone through towards ratification. There is nothing to stop Germany from altering her attitude, which was culminating in a very effective Eight Hours Act. To my mind, Europe will fall back considerably, and I do not know how adequately to express my surprise at this unfair action on the part of the Government in not ratifying the Convention. All the conditions prevailing at the time of the Treaty of Versailles and at the time of the Washington Convention were as well known to the Governments of the day as they are now. No new theory has come into the discussion, and I would urge the Government to reconsider their point of view. It is known that there is not unanimity in the desire for revision. A huge majority of employers are in favour of an agreement which would give them a freer hand to introduce a nine hours' day in this country, but the whole of the workers' representatives in all the countries represented in the League of Nations are opposed to revision because they can see all the work of the past eight years being scrapped. At a moment when they were hoping to emerge from a state of depression and looking forward to some economic recovery, there comes a statement, from Great Britain, of all countries, "We cannot honour our word and our bond; our word in 1919 was never intended to be honoured; we had no intention of carrying out our word." The Government are cutting the painter in asking for a revision. If it is not satis- 118 factory, if it is not supported by the Federation of Employers, a revised Convention will not be ratified by this Government, and the only result of all these discussions will have been to add greater confusion to the world's economic and industrial affairs.
§ Mr. STEWART SANDEMAN
I am very glad that we have not ratified the Washington Convention, and I hope that until something very much more explicit and understandable is brought forward we shall refuse to sign it. We have heard a great deal about the question of honour in this matter. What are the facts? Is it not a fact that the delegates were in honour bound to report to those at home who had the settling of this matter? Why talk about honour being broken? We have heard a great deal from the ex-Minister of Labour about what Mr. Barnes said, but even Mr. Barnes admitted that after this question was discussed in the Convention it was still open by the terms of the Peace Treaty for Canada or any other country represented at the Conference to reject. Mr. Barnes asserted that all they were in honour bound to do was to put it to their competent authorities, and then such authorities were quite free, according to the Peace Treaties, to reject the whole thing if they thought proper. That was the view of Mr. Barnes. I think that does away with any talk about our honour, and I think my hon. Friends are just, as keen about honour as anyone above the Gangway.
This Convention was made in America. A lot of good things have been made in America which the Americans have no intention of signing. Take, for example, the action of America in regard to the Covenant of the League of Nations. I am a great believer in that organisation, but the Americans would not sign it. The Americans will not sign such agreements because they consider the best course to adopt is for the trade unions to make the bargains with the employers of labour, and I am inclined to think that they are right. That is the position we are in to-day. The trade unions and the employers can make Convention terms if they like. I am not against the Convention if it is made to my way of thinking. I would like to point out, however, the great difficulty of interpreting what is really meant by the Convention. 119 You have people to deal with from the North, South, East and West, where they have different modes of life and different standards of living. They also have different ideas of honesty, and different trade unions. I think this was proved at the Berne Convention, where the delegates found that on most points their views coincided. I take it that at the London Conference the result was much the same as at the Berne Conference. At both those Conferences they encountered insuperable difficulties, and they thought it better to skim the ice as quickly as they could and get on to solid stuff once more. If we could only get at the real truth we should find that the difficulty at both those Conferences was the interpretation of the meaning of the Washington Convention. I am sure the delegates will be honest enough to tell us some day what really did happen at those Conferences. We have obtained a certain amount of experience from those inquiries. We know what difficulties arose and we ought to profit by them.
I am in favour of scrapping everything that has been done on this question, and I think we should begin again to see whether we cannot get some sort of arrangement which we all believe in and can trust, and which we know other people cannot get round. It is our duty to the people who send us to this House and who place their interests in our hands to see that we do not have our legs pulled by anyone on the Continent. These proposals may be all very well for the sheltered trades, but what about our export trades? It is our export trade that we have to look after, and if we signed the Washington Convention we should be selling our interests, and I will never be a party to that sort of thing. The position abroad is very difficult to understand. For example, there is the question of overtime, and in many countries overtime is not paid. In some countries overtime rates are paid, but they do not pay time-and-a-quarter. That is a question upon which we should like a good understanding, although it does not really come into the question of hours.
Take the position in France. I understand that there has not been a factory inspectors' report in France since the years before the War, and that gives us cause to think. Another interesting 120 point is that we should see exactly what interpretation France puts upon the Washington Convention. France recognises 300 working days or 2,400 hours per week; temporary exceptions 150 hours; cleaning 52 hours; holidays 14 days. Altogether they recognise 2,714 hours which for 300 working days works out at about nine hours per day. If you take a year of 300 days you will find it is about 50 weeks, and even under the Washington Convention a 54-hours week might possibly be allowable.
A great deal of water has flown under the bridges since that date. I think if my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston goes a little further into this matter he will find that the French are not prepared under any circumstances to change their reading of the Articles of the Convention. As for Italy the trade unions there have not the powers they would like, and I fancy that if Italy signed the Washington Convention they would have to read into it what was best for Italy. I am responsible to my own constituents; I have to look after their interests, and I do not believe I should be doing that by supporting the Washington Convention. If you can bring out a convention which is absolutely cast-iron in its character and get the same interpretation by every other country, things might be different, but you cannot get the same reading of the Articles by every other country. Perhaps two or three years hence when the present Government returns to office, I have no doubt we shall have time to put this matter right. I deprecate the idea of the Government signing this Convention at the present time, because this would tie our hands for the future. The policy pursued by hon. Members opposite reminds me of the fable of the fox that lost its tail. You advised the Government to go to the other people who have not signed the Convention and say. "Look at my stump: get your tail cut off." Let us keep our tails until we have to cut them off.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
After listening to the Debate this afternoon, I have been 121 reminded of a Debate which took place on a similar subject last June. The fact which has struck me very forcibly is that I find much more complacency in regard to this question among hon. Members opposite than was the case last June. On that occasion when the Debate was proceeding I was particularly struck by the arguments against the Washington Conference used by hon. Members opposite. I remember saying to a colleague of mine at the time, "What is the meaning of this fierce opposition?" and my colleague said, "I wonder." I replied, "I shall be very much surprised if within the next few months we do not find in one of the big industries a decided attack on the hours of labour." That has actually come about, and I will say a word or two later upon that subject. We are faced with the fact that nine years have elapsed since the Convention was passed at Washington, and we are still in the position that the Government has become more and more complacent. They have unearthed a number of minor difficulties, and they have made those difficulties the grounds for bringing about a position whereby we now know that the Convention cannot be ratified in the lifetime of this Parliament. That is a very serious state of things.
Going back to the situation in 1919 when the atmosphere was decidedly in favour of the workers, when there was a shortage of labour and when the promises which had been made to the men who had come back from the War were remembered by everybody, it was felt that a Convention like the Washington Convention ought to be passed, and would be passed within a reasonable time. The further we have got away from the conditions of 1919 the more we have found it impossible to carry this Convention. I cannot believe that any Government who really believed in the Washington Convention would not be able to solve with very little trouble the outstanding difficulties. It has taken a number of years for these difficulties actually to find mention, but, now that they have been mentioned and we know their substance, we can quite definitely say that, if the Government had put their cards upon the table, had stated exactly what the impediments were to a complete agreement, there would not have been any difficulty whatever in bringing 122 about unanimity with the various nations concerned. It shows that the Government have not really been sincere in their desire to carry the Washington Convention and, now that it is known that the Washington Convention cannot be carried in the lifetime of this Parliament, we find far more complacency on the Government Benches than was the case before.
I was very much astonished to hear in the Debate the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Clayton) say that he thought we were quite mistaken in thinking that any employers in this country desired to raise the hours of labour. I was particularly astonished because his division lies so close to the cotton area of Lancashire. Has he not read the newspapers during the last few weeks? Does he not know that negotiations for conferences broke down on the issue of whether the question of hours and wages should remain in the forefront of the programme which had to be discussed at those conferences? These matters have been patched up, and the conference is taking place, but the whole question of costs of production has to be considered. But it was the deliberate intention of the employers in the cotton industry that hours of labour were to be considered in their deliberations at those conferences. Furthermore, anyone who goes into Lancashire to-day knows that the question of the hours of the cotton trade is the sole subject of discussion in every cotton town. I was in Lancashire on Saturday, and I found there the question of hours cropping up among the workers in every section of the cotton trade, while a letter I received this morning discusses the same point.
In this matter we are up against a serious situation as regards foreign competition. I, myself, saw in America less than three years ago a very serious situation as far as competition in the cotton trade is concerned. I went into factories in Carolina where the cotton workers were working 62½ hours a week. That state of affairs is causing a great deal of trouble in America itself, and a division of opinion between the North and the South. How are we going to meet that state of competition between a 48-hour week in this country and a 62½-hour week in America? We cannot hope to deal with that competition by 123 competing with that 62½-hour week. Are we to raise our hours? I maintain that the only way in which we can rationally deal with that situation is by carrying the Washington Convention and declaring to the whole world that our posifion is laid down quite definitely, thus putting America upon her dignity. I believe there is sufficient civic and national pride in America to see that their country does not lag behind the position we take up in this country.
In the iron and steel industry we see at once the difficulty in which we are going to be unless some very serious attempt is made to construct a dyke in order to prevent the waters of reaction from rushing further and further down in the direction of raising the hours of labour and reducing the wages of the workers. In the Debate on the King's Speech the hon. Member for one of the divisions in Aberdeen pointed out the changes that were taking place in that industry in Germany. During the weekend I have been reading an article upon that subject which confirms exactly what he said. The writer further stated that, as a result of the increased efficiency and the elimination of the backward elements in the iron and steel industry in Germany, in the next year or two we were going to enter upon a fiercer competition in the iron and steel industry, particularly between Germany, this country and the United States, than we have known in our entire history. Unless we have some dyke beyond which our conditions cannot go, then we shall have to be prepared for many fights in trying to keep our 48-hour week. Attempts will be made, as they are being made at the present time, to reduce the conditions of the workers in Germany. The 48-hour week will practically go there and there will be similar attempts to break down the 48-hour week in this country, and, possibly as a result of the migration of industry from North to South, in the United States the 48-hour week will break down in that country also. If that is the case, then, as the result of the fact that our processes of manufacture are to-day making it possible for a smaller number of men to supply the world's needs in almost every commodity that we produce, that it means that in every industry we are to have an increasing pool of stagnant 124 labour which will bring about not merely an increasing problem of unemployment but—and especially as the result of such legislation as we passed last year, whereby increasing numbers of people are going to be thrown off the Exchanges an to the Poor Law, and further as a result of tightening up the machinery of the Poor Law and throwing able-bodied men off the Poor Law on to the streets—will bring about a revolutionary condition not only in this country but in Germany and America. We are entering upon a field of fierce competition which will operate during the next few years, and it is very important that we should do something to stem the tide towards reaction as far as hours of labour are concerned and so prevent the coming about of this condition of unrest and revolution.
I was also reading during the weekend a very able economist in America who had been writing to the "New Republic," and who stated that during the first nine or ten months of last year the power of production per individual in industry had gone up from 100 to 107. Taking 100 per cent. in January, 1927, by October the power of production had increased by 7 per cent., while during the same period the amount of employment had dropped to 95 per cent., so that there was a difference of 12 per cent. in the 10 months' working, in the iron and steel trades particularly, but also in other trades in the United States. If that is going on, if in the midst of such a process—a process which is becoming more intensive every year, and in fact every month—we refuse to ratify the Washington Convention and hours are allowed to slip back to what they were a few years ago, then I say, without hesitation, we shall have a revolutionary situation not merely in one country alone but right throughout the industrial world. I lament more intensely than I can say that the Government have been so dilatory over this important question, and I hope that they will even at this late hour recognise the seriousness of the situation and carry out what it was intended our representatives should carry out at Washington, and what our representatives thought this House would carry out, namely, this Convention, and with zest behind the Government I have no hesitation in say- 125 ing that within six or 12 months these minor differences would be entirely swept away.
§ Major HILLS
I recognise that the Washington Convention is dead, and I do not propose, therefore, to try to answer the speech of my hon. Friend. I might argue in favour of the Convention, as I have often done in the past, but I have to look the facts in the face. The Government have denounced the Convention and pledged themselves to its revision. I only got up for the purpose of asking the Government two questions. The first is whether it is their intention to press forward with the revised Convention, and, secondly, what will that revised Convention contain? May I sum up the industrial situation in the world as I see it at the moment? In this country a very large majority of organised trades are working a 48-hour week or better; a very small minority would he affected by this Convention. In France the ratification or non-ratification depends entirely upon what this country and Germany do, and what Germany does depends mainly upon what this country does. In Germany, hours, instead of getting shorter, are getting longer, and the difference between German hours and British hours is increasing. That cannot be a good thing for us, and anything that we can do to arrest that would be to our advantage.
I have always failed to see why employers object to this Convention. I do not believe that the best employers do, because it seems to me so clearly to their advantage to level up foreign conditions to British conditions. Anyhow, the conditions of Germany are tending to get longer, and I am convinced that tendency is increasing. We shall see their hours longer still. Many factors into which I need not go operate. Perhaps the chief is the necessity for paying reparations. In Italy the position is very much the same as in France. There, again, the ruling factor is what this country does. All over Europe, if you look closely, you see that we are the key to the situation. What does my right hon. Friend intend to do? Revision can mean very different things indeed. It can, on the one hand, mean the shelving of the whole question, putting it off from year to year, as has been done already for nine years. I do not want to see it put off any further. 126 On the other hand, does my right hon. Friend mean to use the time between now and when the discussions will start at Geneva to settle points of difference and points of difficulty?
I confess that I had thought, after the Conference in March, 1926, that the interpretation and application of the Convention were agreed; and the point that was mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary about the railways was, after all, known in 1920. It is now eight years old, and it is a little surprising to find that, after eight years, we are told that there is an objection which existed all the time and was not mentioned. At any rate, since March, 1926, I thought, and I consider that I had every reason to think, that all objections, all difficulties of interpretation and application, were removed. Now we find that that is not so, because the Parliamentary Secretary read out a statement by the Minister of Labour in which, I think at that meeting in March, 1926, he talked of revision. I never heard revision mentioned until I read about it in the papers last month.
I mention that because we who support this Convention—and there are a good many more Conservatives who support it than the course of this Debate might indicate—we who support this Convention are rather uneasy at what has happened. The word "revision" may mean, as I have said, that the Convention is put off from year to year, but, on the other hand, it may mean that my right hon. Friend will bring all his energy and all his intellect to bear on the production of a Convention which will enshrine the principle of the eight-hours' day. I am bound to ask the Government this question: Do they or do they not adhere to the principle of the eight-hours' day? I cannot believe that they will go back on it, but we do want to know that the new Convention will broadly establish the principle of the eight-hours' day. Difficulties such as the railway position, which I thought had been overcome long ago, can easily be fitted into that scheme, for, after all, it must not be forgotten that the Treaty itself says that no Convention is to make worse the position of any worker who enjoys better conditions than the Convention gives.
I want my party to take a lead in this matter. We hoped for the ratification of this Convention, and the Convention 127 is not to be ratified. We were promised a Factories Bill, and the Bill has been put off. I do not want our policy to be always negative. I do not want it to go out that the sole repository of Conservative doctrine is the National Confederation of Employers, because I am sure my right hon. Friend recognises that a liberal treatment, a broad view, of the question of hours of labour, an endeavour to secure the eight-hours day in a more universal form than now, is not inconsistent with the soundest Conservative policy. I hope, therefore, that, when he comes to speak, he will give us some hope. He has the whole position in his hands. What we do is the important thing now. If we give the lead—and there is every reason why we ought to give the lead, because it is to our interest to do so, and because we have led in the past—if we give the lead, I am perfectly certain that the rest of the world will follow. I do hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us that he means to press forward a revised Convention, and that that Convention will include the broad principle of the eight-hours day.
§ Mr. JOHN BAKER
I am one of those who believe that the action of the Government, after nine years of discussion, in tabling a Resolution for the revision of the Convention is an act of treachery to the workers of the world. I believe that the honour of Britain is at stake, and that the House of Commons ought not to endorse the action of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour at the recent Conferences. It is refreshing to hear a speech such as that of the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills). He is perfectly frank and straightforward in saying that the Convention is dead. If that be the view of the Government, why do not they say so to the House of Commons? Then the House would have a better chance of knowing how to deal with the question.
We have been told that the House of Commons was not in honour bound to endorse the Convention, and that all that was necessary was that our delegates in 1919 should report to the Government. The gentleman who made that statement, surely, has not been taking any interest in this matter since 1919. Had that report come in 1919, and had the Government then taken the action which they 128 are now taking in 1928, it would have been at least understandable, and one might have been able to retain some measure of respect for them; but to go on shuffling and blaming the other nations for nine years, and then to disclose the fact that they want nothing to do with this Convention whatever, is not honourable. The House of Commons has been led to believe that we were really desirous of endorsing the Convention if only we could get a common understanding of what it meant. We have been told that the repeated discussions centred upon the point that France believed that it meant one thing, that Germany believed that it meant another, and that we had our own particular views. If we could reconcile those views—and we have been assured that those views have been reconciled—the House could have come to no other conclusion, after the speech of the Minister of Labour, when he made these statements, than that the Government were desirous of endorsing this Convention and of seeing established a legal eight-hours day, not only in this country but in other countries.
Now we are told that we are not in honour bound. That, to me, means that we have a Government without honour. We are told, also, that we are here to look after the interests of the trades that have to compete with other countries, but, surely, the best way to secure the interests of British competitive trade would be to get the hours of labour in other countries reduced, and the wages of labour in other countries increased. Surely, all that the British capitalist desires is a fair show. He calls himself a sportsman; surely he is not whining to get an advantage over his competitor by establishing longer hours here? I myself am convinced that the reason why this Convention has not been ratified is a sneaking belief on the part of the employing class of this country, backed by this Government, that there is going to be a favourable opportunity of enforcing longer hours upon the British worker. That can only lead to conflict, and out of that conflict can come no good. There is bound to be destruction; there is bound to be delay in production; the production of wealth is bound to be put off for a time, and we do not see the end of the conflict here to-night. 129 The better way would have been to try to arrange this matter and secure advantages.
There is one thing that I have never been able to understand when we have been discussing this Convention. It is supposed to be in the interests of workmen, and, therefore, we can expect all employers to be opposed to it, but, to my mind, it is just as much in the interests of the employers of this country as it is of any workman in the country. The employer who believes that it is a paying proposition to work a workman to death is not wise in his own interests. The employer who believes that he is going to get, cheap output by long hours certainly does not understand his business. There is another thing that I fail to understand, and it is this: We entered into a military Pact with these nations, and we sang the praises of the Foreign Secretary in regard to Locarno; hut, when it comes to an industrial undertaking, they are all such infernal liars that we cannot accept their word.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)
Do I understand the hon. Member to suggest that members of the Government were of the description that he indicates?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I thought, he was saying that, whereas those who went to Locarno had every merit, when the same people were engaged in dealing with other matters the description which he indicated applied to them.
§ Mr. BAKER
No, Sir; that was not my intention in the least. What I wished to say was that we are perfectly willing to enter into a military agreement with any country that is prepared to sign, but, when it comes to an industrial arrangement, we are not prepared to enter into it with the same country because we cannot accept their word. We sing the praises of the Foreign Secretary for having obtained the Locarno Agreement, which is generally accepted as a particularly fine thing, but, when it comes to having an industrial agreement with the same nations, Gentlemen in the 130 House of Commons—not myself; I would accept their word on this matter just as on the other—Gentlemen have stood up in the House of Commons and said, "We cannot trust them; they will not carry it out." How can you trust them in one thing if you are not prepared to trust them in another? It is not logical, and it is not honourable. As far as I am concerned, I always suspect the person who charges the other fellow with lying. It always brings to my mind the picture of a number of boys coming out of an orchard with their pockets full of apples, and, when the farmer has caught them at the gate, swearing that they have never been in, although they were actually coming out. The Government now are following the lead given by these people. "We have been willing all the time, but the other people are not; we cannot get an understanding with them. We have a meeting one day and they say such-and-such a thing, and the next day they say something else." Therefore, we are trying to get a revision, or, in other words, to waste time until the employers here seek a favourable opportunity of restoring the 12-hours shift in the iron and steel trade, as well as in other trades.
I want to clear the mind of the Committee of one piece of cant, if I can. It is that we are working either an eight-hours day or a 48-hours week. What we are doing is to use the 48-hours week as a measure. We are not working it. We say for 47 hours in some particular trade we will give you so many shillings. If you work one-sixth of 47 you will get one-sixth of 47 shillings. If you work seven-sixths of 47 you will get seven-sixths of 47 shillings. We are working overtime in this country just the same as they are in France, Germany, and Belgium, and they admit it. We do not France passed an Eight-Hours Bill in 1919 or 1920. In that Bill, she made provision for working 200 hours a year overtime. That is straightforward and honest and understandable. In this country, we say that we have our trade union agreements and that we are working a 48-hours week, and there is therefore no reason for any law. All those gentlemen who are mixed up in industry ought to know very well that there is overtime being worked while men are walking the streets. If we were in earnest about this, if wo really believed 131 that it was necessary to take further time to reconcile differences over this eight hours question, knowing the number of unemployed there are, we should pass an emergency Measure to forbid any employer working men overtime except in case of emergency or breakdown while others belonging to the same trades are trudging the streets.
I expect hon. Members who follow me will say that the man in the street cannot do the job. I have been told that by employers. But the man in the street did the job last week or the week before he got the sack. That is no argument. In the iron and steel trade you have not a 48-hours week without overtime, and this Committee ought to know it. You have men working a seven-days week. We may have Members of this House getting hysterical before long about transubstantiation or something of that kind, regardless of the fact that every week the law laid down by Moses is broken by working your blast furnaces seven days a week. Some of these blast furnaces have arranged that the men shall not work seven days a week, though they work on Sundays. They bave rearranged the week's work, and, by slightly increasing the staff, they employ more men without working any of them seven days a week. But the House takes no interest in that. In your steel works the employers are now starting smelting at two o'clock on a Sunday. Profit comes before morality or religion or honour or anything else. Some of them are starting their rolling mills at six o'clock on Sunday evening, and so the merry game of competition goes on, destroying the health of the worker, believing that they are going to produce wealth thereby. I believe that the health of the people is the greatest wealth we have. I do not believe that working some and starving others because we have no work for them is a way out of our difficulties. I believe the saner way would be to examine this, not in the light of shiny shally and not in the light of being afraid to touch it.
The hon. Member who told us that the Convention was dead evidently does not know what is taking place in Germany. The Minister of Economics in Germany ordered an eight-hours day and the three-shift system in the steel works. The employers replied that if that were 132 established they could not compete with this country, but he said that it had to be established in the interest of the health of the people. In some of the departments he insisted that it had to be carried out from 1st January; in others, because it would necessitate some reconstruction and extension and the training of more people to do the work, he extended the period to 1st February, but to-day, if I am rightly informed, in the rolling mill section—not in the blast furnaces section; they have had an eight-hours day and the three-shift system for some years—you have an eight-hours day and a three-shift system. While we are talking about this and abusing them and saying that their bona fides are not good, that they are not honourable people and do not intend to sign, and if they signed they would not carry it out, they are actually carrying out the idea of an eight hours day exactly the same as we are trying to carry it out, and of course working overtime too. It is all bunkum and nonsense about us being the one race of honourable people on the face of the earth and the only people who are working an eight-hours day. If we are the only people, then there is no one doing it. Engineering shops, iron and steel works, blast furnaces and railways are all working longer, and most of the men are working longer, but we use 48 or 47 or 44 hours as a measuring rod, as a rule to dictate the period when we say the wage has been earned. If we get rid of cant, we shall probably be able to deal with this matter in a rather more sensible and honourable way. The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Sandeman) said that he was glad our Government had not agreed. I do not know why he should be glad. Why should anyone be glad that it is necessary to overwork the British workman merely to compete senselessly with some other workmen who would be jolly glad if they could have their hours reduced to the level of this country?
Competition in many regards is absolutely and unutterably senseless, and I have a good deal of sympathy with people who are trying to control output in different directions with a view to preventing the waste of human life and loss of capital and the power to produce wealth. Control on the same basis would be infinitely better than going on fighting as we have done in times past. We 133 have had a hundred years or more of this intensive competition, and what problems have we solved with it? We have created several. We have a nice little problem with an army of unemployed seeking work, nearly all, if not all, of whom would be jolly glad if they could find it. We have another group which has been described as our pauper army—a rather unfortunate description—of over a million created by private enterprise and competition and by that destructive fight to get an advantage over your fellows and be top dog, and then we have another army of half a million living upon the Poor Law. That is not solving problems; it is creating them, and I hope our Government are going to change their view and to say that it would be better for the world if we could possibly organise the production of wealth on a better basis——
§ The CHAIRMAN
That can hardly be done by the Ministry of Labour. We are concerned only with the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. BAKER
I was thinking only of eight hours, not of Socialism. I want the Government to change their view on this Eight-Hours Convention and to say that it would be better for our work-people if they could persuade the Germans, the French, the Belgians and the Italians and the rest to do what is suggested in the treaty which we have signed. In the Versailles Treaty, in the Labour Charter, we pledged ourselves to try to raise the social standard of all the workers in the world. The Minister of Labour can take his part in persuading the Government to put their hands to this Convention and help in that direction.
§ Major SALMON
I should like to ask the hon. Member who has just sat down if he would suggest that Members of his party should work only eight hours, and, if they have to work longer, that they should bring others in to carry it out—I am sure there are plenty of gentlemen outside who would be very pleased to come into the House on those terms, on a shift basis, because it is about as practical—
§ Major SALMON
It is about as practical to do that as it is in many industries to bring in anyone who happens to be unemployed to do a particular piece of work. I am surprised to hear anyone suggest that employers are desirous of working men an unreasonable length of time. I quite agree that it is most economic to work an unreasonable number of hours, but the fact remains that, without having any Washington Convention, the hours generally throughout the country are less to-day than they have ever been, and they have not been forced by any particular convention. They have been reduced by agreement between employers and employés. The Washington Convention was called by the American nation, but, when it comes to implementing the Treaty, America stands aside, no doubt because she finds, as others find, on going into it in detail the many pitfalls that stand in the way-of having such a Convention. The hon. Member who has just spoken says that we have no objection to signing a military agreement at Locarno, but we object to signing an industrial agreement. The difference is that the Locarno Agreement clearly defines the respective positions. The Washington Convention does not so easily define them, because each country takes unto itself the right to interpret certain regulations within the Convention, and it is the different interpretations and the different applications of the Convention itself which makes it so difficult for everyone to follow on the same lines.
To suggest that we should sign that Convention and should not have more than say 200 hours a year overtime is, to my mind, an unworkable proposition. There are many industries which could not possibly be carried out if this Convention were followed, and I applaud the line the Minister is taking of making thorough inquiries, seeing what is possible and what is not. It is infinitely better to understand our difficulties before we sign the Convention than to sign it and then find that we have made a great mistake. Instead of the Government doing something unfair or unreasonable, my view is that they are taking a business-like attitude. I was a little surprised to note the observations of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) because I understood 135 him to say that the reason the proposed Convention was dead was that the national confederation of employers had suggested that was so. I say that that is entirely against the facts. I am quite sure that the Minister and the Cabinet recognise, as all thinking men must recognise who look at this from a detached point of view, not what is good for one industry but what is good for the whole of the country. I venture to say that the Convention as drawn would be a very serious detriment to industry in this country. As a matter of fact, we have to fight competition in this country to a much greater extent than many hon, Members seem to realise. The Home Office, under the Factories Act, see to it that we avoid very largely the amount of homework that is done by the man who has a small family and who makes or manufactures goods at his own house and then sends them to another factor who in turn sells them in competition.
Take the textile industry. We find that in Belgium, through the method of electricity and the cheapness of it, and owing to the fact that looms can be purchased on the instalment principle, a very large number of small people have purchased looms on the hire system and are manufacturing textile goods which are sent to this country and sold at a considerably lower price than that with which we can compete. That sort of thing would go on just the same you might say if we signed or did not sign the Convention. But the fact remains that we in this country are much more strict as regards our factory laws than they are in other countries, and we do not allow in this country what foreigners allow in their countries. That must also be taken into consideration. I attach considerable importance to the fact that if a man works overtime he should be paid at a higher rate so as not to encourage overtime, but it is, as I have already said, essential for many industries to work overtime. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken suggested that if they worked overtime the men did not get any more for it, but I do not think that can be borne out.
§ Major SALMON
Though the hon. Gentleman admits that they are paid time and a half and double time, I think he would also admit that if it were possible to employ fresh men on the same job at the normal figure employers certainly would not employ men working overtime at a higher figure. The hon. Gentleman's point is really this, and it is a point which is often heard from those benches. He rather assumes that it would be much better if people were not allowed to work more than 48 hours because that would absorb—and it is a fallacy—a very large number of people who are unemployed. It would not make a considerable difference, and in certain industries it would not be practicable. I can only say in conclusion that I hope the Minister will stick to his guns and not agree to sign any Convention until all the details are settled, until the question of overtime is properly defined, and until it is known how the different countries will interpret the regulations.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
In connection with this subject of the ratification of the Washington Hours Convention, it is not without significance, I think, that we have had to wait practically nine years before we have had a fairly organised expression of opposition from the opposite side to the idea of this Convention at all. We have had more open and unqualified expressions of opposition to it to-day than, I think, has been the case in the whole history of these discussions since the very beginning. At last we are able to say with some confidence, basing that confidence upon the expressions of opinion here to-day, that in plain fact the Tory party, and the Government representing the Tory party, never held a brief for the Convention from the very beginning. They have camouflaged that view for a considerable period. They have played up to the altruistic feeling and sentiment which have been apparent in the country since the days of the end of the War until such time as they thought it convenient to make their position perfectly plain to the country. Now we know where we are. We cannot have it more candidly than it was put by the hon. and gallant 137 Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) who in his opening sentence said that the Washington Convention is dead. Nothing could be more frank. Nothing could be more complete by way of a summary of the position than the statement that the Washington Conference is dead.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. JONES
We are taking the present, not the future. How comes it that we are able to contemplate the death of this thing to-night. No one can say that a foreign Government has killed it, for Governments one after the other, not all, it is true, but several of them and some of the important ones, have indicated, one after the other, their readiness to co-operate in ratifying this Convention. The chief Government concerned on account of her special prestige in Europe is our own Government and our own Government have given the coup de grace to the Convention. It is perfectly true they still hesitate about it, and they say, "We do not want to kill it; we want a sort of revision now." That is the new word, but in plain fact they have finished the Convention and it is no more. I think the situation is one of considerable gravity, not only from the standpoint of our relationship with foreign countries in the future, but also from the standpoint of our people, our trade, commerce and business inside the country itself. I am somewhat surprised that members of the Tory party should contemplate the destruction of this Convention with such equanimity as they apparently do, for everybody knows that the present condition of the trade in the country is indeed a very parlous one. No one will deny that the unemployment problem is really grave, baffling even in its complexity, and no one, I think, will deny that a good deal of that industrial distress is due to a considerable measure of competition which our trade in this country has to undergo at the hands of other trades and other competitors from abroad.
Have we not frequently had Tory speakers on public platforms for years now pointing to the evils of dumping at the ports of our land? How comes it that so much of that dumping is possible. Is it not due to the fact that conditions 138 of employment as to hours in some respects and as to wages in others make it possible to produce commodities on the Continent at a rate that competes unfairly with the rate at which they can be produced in our own country. It seems to me, therefore, that without falling back upon any artificial methods of excluding these commodities at all, we have at our hands in this Convention ways and means whereby we can standardise the conditions under which these things are being produced in the world. I think no one will deny that it is a well-ascertained economic fact that it is a bad thing that commodities should be produced at too low a level either of wage or at too long a measure of hours per day. What I mean is this. Everyone knows that it is a good economic proposition that we should maintain as far as possible in connection with our commerce and our business as high a measure of efficiency as is possible as to the condition of the workers and as to the condition of the material. It can, I think, be argued from public documents that the reduction of the number of hours worked per day has, in fact, tended to increase to a considerable degree the measure of efficiency of our workers. May I quote one phrase from an entirely unbiased source and yet an authoritative source—the report of the Chief Commissioner of Factories for the year 1921. It says:Since the 48-hours week has thus established itself, it is satisfactory to find where reduction of hours is effected over a considerable period output tends in the majority of cases to attain the old level and the beneficial effect on the workers is making itself apparent.8.0 p.m.
There we have testimony from an entirely impartial source as to the beneficial effects in the factories and workshops of the policy of a reduction of hours. In this Debate, different speakers have referred to the condition of affairs in industry in America. It is true that the American Government have not ratified the Washington Convention, for reasons best known to themselves; but anyone who examines American business methods and arrangements at first hand and on the spot will observe this singular fact, that it is part and parcel of the mentality and attitude of the American employer far more than is the case on the part of the English employer to reduce the hours of work of the employés. They believe in the policy 139 that in order to secure physical efficiency inside the factories on the part of the workers, it is a good thing to reduce the hours of employment as much as possible. On the other hand, we have seen in our own country in recent times, and we see a suggestion of a further development of it in future times, of a policy obviously quite tenaciously held by employers in this country, that in order to safeguard their own business progress they must increase hours and lower wages.
I have cited evidence which indicated that the policy of reducing hours had met with the commendation of the Chief Inspector of our factories in 1921. May I add this? In the very valuable issue of the International Labour Review for December, 1925, there is abundant evidence adduced to show that what so impressed our own Chief Inspector of Factories in this country, prevails also in other countries beyond the seas. Not only does the efficiency disclose itself in regard to the men inside the factories, but in country after country and in trade after trade it is abundantly shown that the effect of reducing the working day has meant the perfecting more and more of the machinery employed inside those countries. In instance after instance within the four corners of this volume there is abundant evidence to show that when the normal working day is reduced, the employers, in order to maintain their position relatively to other countries, have been forced to perfect their machinery so as to retain their competitive powers.
Who will deny that one of the essential qualifications that will be expected of efficient business and commerce in the coming years if we are to hold our own against competition from abroad, will be the bringing into operation of far more up-to-date and efficient machinery, so as to lighten the toil of our workers and to increase output by the use of mechanical devices. Having said that, I think it is a fair and logical deduction to make, that the refusal of the Government to implement what we all understood to be their intention by the ratification of the Hours Convention, is a blow at the need for increasing the efficiency of the workers in our factories, and the necessity for reducing the hours of labour and provid- 140 ing the most efficient machinery that can be devised.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour seemed to show some measure of resentment at the nature of the charges which were made by the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw). He seemed to think that my right hon. Friend lacked justification for the strictures which he passed upon the Government with regard to its attitude concerning this Convention. Am I not right in suggesting that throughout the whole period of the life of the present Government, speech after speech has been made by Members of the Government and their supporters, both in the country and in this House, upon this very important question of the ratification of the Washington Convention, and that not in one of them was there the slightest indication of the final decision of the Government not to ratify the Convention? I think I should be right in saying that most of us have understood that it was the intention and the desire of the Government to ratify the Convention. In support of my case, let me quote what was said by a distinguished Member of the Government, Lord Balfour, who, speaking in another place, used this expression:I hope and believe that the ratification of the Washington Agreement will be rapid. I expect it will be rapid.That view was expressed last year by Lord Balfour. That has been the trend of speeches of Members of the Government all along the line. There have been certain objections and certain technical difficulties, but there was no doubt whatever in our minds that, ultimately, this Convention would secure ratification at the hands of the present Government. Now, we are told to-night by a distinguished supporter of the Government, in his initial sentence, that in his judgment it was time to recognise that the Convention is dead. Everyone recognises that it is vital for the future well-being of Europe that the League of Nations and its various institutions shall have the cordial support of the members of European Governments. The well-being of the League of Nations and the well-being of the International Labour Office and their effectiveness, depend upon the measure of real trust and confidence that prevails between the various individual States that comprise the League.
141 Our submission is that, the action of the Government in refusing to ratify this Convention is a very serious blow at the retention of the necessary good will and good faith between the various nations. The Parliamentary Secretary in defending the Government said that when a representative goes to Geneva, to the international Labour Office or the League of Nations, he does not go as a plenipotentiary but merely as a delegate, and that if he agrees with others that a certain Convention ought to be ratified, this Government and this Parliament are not thereby committed to his acts. That is right up to a point, but the hon. Member did not go to Geneva without some instructions. He was not told to go there and to talk simply in the air.
§ Mr. JONES
I am talking about Geneva and your last visit to Geneva. You went to Geneva concerning the Washington Convention. I presume the hon. Member went as the representative of the Government, and I presume that before he went there he received instructions from the Government. I presume that when he made his speech he spoke for the Government. The hon. Member having said "Yes" with respect to certain propositions, it is just possible that he, might come home and the Government might say "No" to every proposition which he laid down; but he knows very well that the occasions upon which members of Governments go abroad and commit themselves in that way are very rare. He would have to blunder very badly to have gone so much beyond the instructions of his Government. That is what has been happening all along the years. Representative after representative has gone with instructions from the Government. If the hon. Member had gone in 1921 and his decision or his agreement there had been turned down by the Government in 1921, his proposition would stand: but instead of that being the case, delegate after delegate has gone year after year.
For nine years we have been represented there. There have been conferences in Berne and conferences in London and, obviously, the whole purpose of the conferences and the whole 142 assumption behind the conferences has been that you were practically in agreement for this purpose; that you were with them most of the way, and that if you were in disagreement at all it was only small details of a technical character. But, on the general ground, the assumption was perfectly clear that there was general agreement; yet after nine years' collaboration, after nine years' confabulation, after nine years' co-operation, we are suddenly told by the Government, "We cannot ratify, we want revision." If hon. Members will look at the speech of the Prime Minister on 13th February, they will find that he based his defence of the Government upon this principle, that before you ratify you have to be perfectly clear that you are all ratifying the same thing. There was no mention in that speech about the railway agreement. The Prime Minister did not mention that at all; it might never have existed. If the Prime Minister had adduced that argument that night, he would have strengthened his case, for it was very poor on that occasion. To-night, the Government stand upon this leg—the railway agreement. Even that is not new. Dr. Macnamara, as Minister of Labour in 1921, intimated that the objection then was the failure to agree in regard to the railway question, and also concerning the agricultural difficulties. They had a conference upon agriculture; and I believe that was settled. Let me assume for the sake of argument that there is some point in the difficulty concerning the railway agreement; in deferring this business until the date suggested, until 1929, is there a guarantee that the railway agreement difficulty will not prevail then? Will it be gone in 1930; will it be gone in 1935? When will you be able to get over this difficulty?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
The railway agreement is in the Draft which was voted upon at Washington. We hope that in a revised Convention it will disappear.
§ Mr. JONES
Then, I gather, that practically the whole scope of the Washington Convention is to be altered and if we are going to arrive at an adequate decision it will be another nine or 10 years, perhaps 90 years, before we have finally accepted a Washington Convention applying to hours' conditions. The Government has arrived at last at the 143 cross-roads. They have to decide whether they will take steps to ratify the Washington Convention, and in that way improve the conditions of the workers of this country, possibly alienating thereby some of their financial supporters, or throwing overboard the workers of the country and reconciling their financial supporters. It is perfectly clear which alternative the Government accepts. The year before last they lengthened the hours of workers in the coal mines in this country and the result is that they have increased the output in the mines and fewer and fewer men find employment therein. More and more men are being thrown on the unemployment market. I wonder whether we may not draw an inference from the juxtaposition of two facts. There is the demand in the Lancashire cotton area for a lengthening of the hours and a lowering of the wages, and it is not without significance that the Factory Bill has been put off this year, presumably until the Greek Kalends.
We understand the meaning of this choice. It is that the masters of the Government have indicated to them that the period of cordial relationships between employers and employed in regard to wages and hours is over. The workers are now thoroughly beaten; they are thrown down to the ground, and consequently it is easy, so they think, for longer hours to be introduced into various trades thereby turning back the clock of progress in this country. There is not the faintest doubt that the failure of the Government to ratify this Convention will have a deplorable effect upon the mentality of our own workers, but what is far worse, if it can be worse, is that it will not be so easy to arrive at agreements with other countries in the future concerning arrangements such as this. Because of the blow that has been dealt to international good faith, trust and confidence, by the reversal of the Government's policy, if it has been a reversal, I desire to support the reduction of the Vote.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
Once again I have been privileged or otherwise to hear the Debate on the Washington Hours Convention. We have had the usual charges from Labour Benches as to the 144 incapacity of the Government, of their very definite desire not to ratify the Convention.
And of their subservience to some body of gentlemen who are supposed to represent the wealth and industry of this country and whose one object in life is to convey orders to the Conservative party, which are promptly obeyed. I should like someone to give me some orders if there is a little credit attached to them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) followed his usual line in attacking the Government by making very definite and specific charges, which we have heard before and shall perhaps hear again. But there has been one great feature in the Debate to-day which I think has made it different from all the previous Debates to which I have listened or taken part in, and that is that to-day the Government by means of the Parliamentary Secretary has made some attempt to controvert the charges which have been made. It is a peculiar thing that both the Labour party in wishing for ratification and the Conservative party in opposing it say that they do it in the interests of the workers. Both sides cannot be right. Unfortunately, up to the present, the Government have not yet convinced me as I would like to be convinced. In my own heart of hearts I have not the slightest doubt that the Government are sincerely anxious for the welfare of the working people of this country and are very anxious to do nothing which might in any way interfere with their competitive power in the markets of the world, but unfortunately the working men in the country do not believe them. They have not been able to convince them that this is their one and only object, and I was pleased indeed to hear the Parliamentary Secretary make certain specific statements which I am sure will be of the greatest value to the working people when they read and digest them.
The first is that the right of Parliament is supreme. The fact that we sent delegates to Washington to ratify the Convention did not necessarily mean that the Government were compelled to give effect to their ratification. It is rather 145 a good thing that the people should understand that. Another point that was well brought out was that the Convention must be ratified as a whole and not in part, that we cannot pick and choose, and that that was one of the reasons why the Government had not accepted it. A further point was that other nations have also the bad habit of not always ratifying the Conventions that have been made by their delegates, and that we are not the only sinners in the world. I see that we have failed to ratify only four Conventions, that France has failed to ratify nine, Germany 11, Czechoslovakia 12, the Netherlands 13, and Norway 16. Really, of all the sinners, we have sinned the least.
I would like to impress on the Minister of Labour that this question of the 48-hours week is a very vital question to the workpeople of this country. It is the one thing on which they have concentrated. They hold the opinion that they have won the 48-hours week only by prolonged and bitter fights, and they are determined that under no circumstances, short of very dire necessity, will they ever give it up. What the Government have not quite convinced them of is that the non-ratification of this Convention is to the advantage of the workpeople of this country. We can understand that the people are a little bit suspicious. Reference has been made more than once to-night to the permissive eight-hours day in the mines. Hon. Members of the Labour party always and deliberately leave out the word "permissive." That has perhaps created an unfortunate impression. Then we have the more unfortunate thing still, that a certain section of the Lancashire cotton trade has expressed a desire to increase the hours to 52 and to reduce wages. It is not the whole of the Lancashire cotton trade that is concerned, but only a section. The trade was by no means unanimous.
These two things have created a suspicion in the minds of the workers that the Government, taking orders from wealthy manufacturers, are out to increase the hours of labour. I am quite convinced that that is not the case. I will make a suggestion to the Government, and perhaps the Minister in his reply will be able to say something about it. The Government say that they are not ratifying this Convention because 146 the interpretation put upon it by foreign nations is not the same as ours, and that that foreign interpretation will work to the disadvantage of our own people and our own industries. What I want is not a general statement like that. Would the Minister now, or at some future time, give specific instances, and simply say that if we ratify the Convention it means that the textile workers will be working 48 hours a week with no overtime, but that in Germany they will be working, say, 50 hours, or 60 in Czechoslovakia, and so on? Will he give actual instances? Such a statement would carry conviction. Naturally, members of the Labour party are anxious for the welfare of their workers. We of the Conservative party are equally anxious, and I am always protesting against Labour Members' arrogance in asserting that they are the only people who look after the interests of the workers. We Conservatives do it as much as they do; if we did not, we should not be here.
Up to the present the Government have not made the best of their case. The workers are determined that they will not give up their 48-hours week or their eight-hours day. The Government have not been able to prove conclusively to me that ratification would be definitely to the detriment of the people of our country, I am compelled for the fourth time to speak against the party to which I belong. I hope it will be the last time in this House that I shall have to oppose myself to the Minister of Labour on this question of the ratification of the Washington Convention. I hope the Minister will be able to make out a strong case in proof of the statement that ratification will be detrimental to the workpeople and the industry of this country, and that the Government regard it as their duty, in looking after the workpeople's interest first and foremost, to refuse to ratify the Convention. If the Minister is able to do that, I hope that members of the Labour party will recognise that our interests are identical and that they will not try to make political capital out of assertions about the incompetence of the Government, about their lack of honour, and the breaking of their word—accusations which fly across the Floor of the House but which hon. Members do not always believe when they make them, and accusations which are apt to give a false impression abroad. I hope 147 the Minister will be able to convince the Committee that the Government are justified in the action that they are taking.
Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
After the speech of the last hon. Gentleman and other speeches which we have heard from the Conservative benches, the Government cannot be particularly satisfied with the very lukewarm praises they have received from their own supporters. Some hon. Members who support the Government have been torn between their allegiance to the Government on the one hand, and their belief in the League of Nations on the other hand. I think it is to the credit of the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) that he showed that he believed in the League of Nations first and in the Government second. But those supporters of the Government who have spoken in favour of the Government's action in dropping this Convention have clearly torn away the veil—if indeed the veil still existed—of pretence that we are really discussing whether or not we should honour a Convention passed several years ago. We are simply discussing the question whether the eight-hours day is suitable for industry to-day or not. In my judgment there is only one method by which the Minister of Labour can retrieve himself. There is only one reason that can justify him to-night, and that is to tell the House frankly what he proposes to put forward in substitution of the Convention which has been cancelled or which it is proposed to cancel. That is the only way in which he can justify himself not only to this House, but to the whole world at large, which is looking with disgust on the attitude of the British Government.
In his opening remarks the Parliamentary Secretary referred at some length to the phrases used by the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw). This is a question on which one is entitled to feel strongly and to speak strongly. There are two particular aspects of the case. First, there is the industrial aspect. In one respect the Government have pursued a policy which has been perfectly consistent throughout their three years of office—a policy from which they have never wavered from the time they came into power until now, 148 and that is the policy of reducing wages and lengthening hours. That has been the underlying feature of their policy throughout their tenure of office. When we recognise that, there is nothing at all surprising in their attitude towards the Washington Convention. It fits in absolutely with the rest of their policy in regard to wages and hours. They have abandoned the Factory Bill, and that action shows exactly the same policy. They have reduced the wages of the workers of this country by a sum which has been computed to be equivalent to no less than £600,000,000 in the annual wages bill of the workers. The Government have shown themselves to be the servants of a small group of employers It is the employers who have dictated the cancellation of this Convention. May I quote what was said by Mr. E. L. Poulton, the British workers' representative on the governing body of the International Labour Organisation, when he returned from Geneva on 12th February this year. He said:If one seeks for real reasons, as distinct from excuses, one is more likely to find them in the attitude of the British employers' representative, Sir James Lithgow, who resigned from the Governing Body in December. He took up the position that if I would be quiet, the whole business of the Hours Convention would die quietly. His successor, Mr. Forbes Watson, at this month's meeting complained of my constantly raising this question of ratification. He objected specially to my having drawn attention to the fact that the Lancashire cotton employers had proposed au extension of working hours. This, he said, was a matter of domestic policy:An hon. Member who supported the Government this evening told us that we ought not to cut off our own tails until other people had cut off theirs. I contend that you ought to keep your tail, perhaps, but it is no use keeping your tail if you have lost your head—and that is what the Government have done in their attempt to improve trade. It seems to me that any man who imagines that you are going to improve the trading relations of this country by shortening wages and lengthening hours is only fit for an asylum. One of the first acts of this Government was to pass the Coal Mines Eight Hours Act, thereby showing themselves to be the servants of a small group of coalowners and not the servants of the nation. They have disregarded the recommendations 149 of two Royal Commissions who reported in general terms on the only possible solution of the coal difficulty. They disregarded the advice of independent men of all parties in this House. Then take their attitude towards the cotton industry. Does anyone who understands the situation in the cotton trade, who knows about the growth of cotton mills in the Far East, the exploitation of native labour, and the competition from countries like Japan, really imagine that by increasing the working week to 52 hours, and reducing wages by 12 per cent., you can get back these lost markets? If the cotton operatives in the Lancashire mills were to work 24 hours a day for no wages at all, you would still be unable to get back some of those markets.
We lost those markets largely because we have been competing with native labour, and if you are going to raise the standard of labour among the native races you will have to make use of organisations such as the League of Nations and the International Labour Office. If you lower the prestige of the League of Nations, as the Government are doing in this respect, you are putting back the possibility of any international or world-wide organisation. When the loss of our cotton markets is largely due to foreign policy, you cannot remedy that loss by increasing hours of work; you can only remedy it by conducting your foreign policy so as to create and not kill those foreign markets on which the trade of this country depends. A revival of trade is only possible if we support the League of Nations. The attitude of the Government on this question only encourages other countries to permit longer working days, and that will intensify competition. There is only one satisfactory aspect of this question. Whatever attitude the Government may take up at Geneva, there are other countries which are going to see that this Convention is not allowed to drop or to be scrapped at the meeting in April next. Although the industrial side of the question is extremely important, I believe there is a yet more important aspect, and that is regarding the whole attitude of the Government towards the League of Nations. Supporters of the League have watched with dismay the Government's 150 attitude towards the League, and particularly towards disarmament. Schemes of international security and international arbitration have been scrapped.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)
The hon. Member's argument now seems to be rather wide of the particular question which we are discussing.
What I was attempting to put forward was the view that whether in regard to industrial questions or disarmament questions, the Government have shown only lukewarm support of the League of Nations. I was pointing out that disarmament conference after disarmament conference had ended in failure, because of the Government's refusal to support the League of Nations. During the three years they have been in office they have done a tremendous amount to weaken the prestige of the League. I believe that the question of the League of Nations is the most important question in front of us. The Government by their attitude towards this international labour Convention are dealing one more blow at the superstructure of the League of Nations. You cannot sign a Convention like this, then daily for nine years with it and finally say you are going to dishonour what you agreed to nine Years ago, and expect that other people in other nations will treat your international policy seriously. My mind goes hack to those Debates in 1919 when Lord Robert Cecil. as he then was, pleaded eloquently for the League of Nations. Surely the resignation of the Noble Lord. who has maintained his policy and his affection for the League of Nations, must have taught the Government a lesson. it is because I feel strongly that the most important question before us is that of the prestige of the League, and the making of the League a real, live, international force that I appeal to the Government—I know without any hope of result—that they will reconsider their action and, if they cannot ratify this Convention, give us in substitution something much better.
§ Mr. STAMFORD
I have listened to two highly interesting speeches from the Conservative Benches this evening. Both those speeches I imagine gave more satisfaction to Members on this side of the Committee than to Members on the side to which the speakers belong. I 151 have listened to a number of appeals that the Government should change their mind with regard to the decision concerning the Washington Convention. I am not going to waste time by joining in those appeals, because I regard all such appeals as perfectly useless. The Government have made up their minds quite definitely, and I am compelled to agree with the observation of the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) that the decision of the Government meant the death of the Washington Convention. I believe that to be literally the case, and I believe that if the Convention is dead, it has been killed by the hand of His Majesty's Government. The serious side of that is to be found in the fact that, if the Convention is dead, it is dead not, merely so far as this country is concerned; it is dead so far as all the other Powers are concerned that have up to now accepted the principle underlying that Convention.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ripon asked the Government whether their decision to secure, if possible, a revision of the Convention meant a shelving of this matter. I do not think there is the least doubt that it does, and I am very much inclined to think that that is precisely what the Government have been seeking. If the whole of this Convention is now to undergo scrutiny with a view to a possible revision, that means not merely a delay, but a very long delay indeed, and my own impression, from following the development of this matter for some time past, is that that is exactly what the Government are seeking. Some reference has been made to the question of whether or not British honour is involved, and to the fact that representatives of the British Government were signatories of the Washington Convention, but we need to go back a little further in history than that. If one looks through the Peace Treaty and turns to the Section dealing with general principles, one will find that the signatories to that Treaty state that among the methods and principles with which they are dealing:the following seem to the High Contracting Parties to be of special and urgent importance:First.—The guiding principle … that labour should not be regarded merely as a commodity or article of commerce.152 Then, passing to the fourth paragraph:The adoption of an eight hours day or a forty-eight hours week as the standard to be aimed at where it has not already been attained.The signatories to the Peace Treaty not merely considered these general principles as of considerable importance, but, in their own words, they agreed that they were "of special and urgent importance." When that Treaty was signed I have no doubt that many people in this country looked to the Government to implement the Articles of that Treaty without unnecessary or undue delay, but time went on, and although working-class organisations from time to time pressed the Government to give effect to that part of the Peace Treaty dealing with hours of labour, no action was taken. Later on, the Conference assembled at Washington, and certain decisions were made. Again time went on, until ultimately there was the Conference called in London, to which representatives of the five great European industrial Powers were invited. Before that Conference was held, in a Debate on the Address, the British Prime Minister said in this House that if at that Conference agreement were reached, the Government would proceed to ratify the Convention. I want to be perfectly fair to the Prime Minister, and it is true that he made the qualification that ratification could only take place after the Government had satisfied themselves that all the parties agreed in their interpretation of the Convention.
After the London Conference was held, so far as those outside could judge, complete agreement had been obtained, and the public quite naturally looked to the Government to take an early opportunity of giving full ratification to the Convention. What has happened since the London Conference? There was nothing forthcoming from any spokesmen of the Government that would lead the public outside to assume that any new difficulty had arisen or that the old difficulties, to deal with which the London Conference had been called, had not been resolved. There was a general feeling, I believe, throughout the country that we were rapidly approaching the time when it would be possible for the Government to give complete ratification to the Convention. What has happened since that time? One thing we know has happened, 153 and that is that there has been a very generally organised campaign on the part of British employers of labour to prevent that ratification being made. That agitation started at the time when, in the public view, we were rapidly approaching the date of possible ratification, and I think that fact is significant in itself.
Reference has been made to-day to the action taken by the Confederation of Employers. I know nothing about that organisation, and I do not know who the people are who are represented on it, but I imagine that the industrial concerns which they represent already have in operation fairly generally the advantage of an eight-hours day. If that be the case, why is it that these employers of labour are so very much concerned to prevent the Government taking any step for the early ratification of the Washington Convention? I am inclined to think that the reason is an obvious one. It is not so much because of external difficulties as because they desire to see the door kept open to any attempt that may be made by them in future to impose additional hours of labour on other bodies of the British working classes. I am confirmed in that view by a letter that recently appeared in the "Yorkshire Post" over the signature of Mr. Arnold, Chairman of the Legislation Committee of the Federation of Master Printers. In the printing trade, as a result of a national agreement, a 48-hours week is already in operation, but Mr. Arnold strongly opposes the idea of the Government proceeding to the ratification of the Convention. After a pious hope that it may be found possible to increase the wages of labour in Great Britain without extending hours, he makes a complaint that while trade union leaders themselves admit the need for greater output, it has not yet been possible to eradicate the spirit of ca' canny among the workpeople, or voluntarily to modify the rigid lines of demarcation of labour that have, in his opinion, contributed to our industrial depression. Then he goes on to say that without the will to change—by which, I assume, he means without the will on the part of the workpeople to change the conditions about which he complains—any limitation of hours, or any difficulties that would impede the extension of hours, is a serious problem not to be treated lightly.
154 That letter is very significant, for it seems to indicate that the working classes have not yet passed the danger of further demands being made by British employers to impose extended hours of labour. The interesting thing to us is that, during the whole of the controversy with regard to the ratification of the Convention, the Government have maintained one steady and deliberate attitude. From the beginning, in spite of all the pressure from this side of the House and from organised trade unions, in spite of the knowledge that it must have had that public opinion in the country stood for the ratification of the Convention, the Government have maintained the attitude, deliberately, I believe, of refusing to close the door against any possible attempt that employers may make in this country to secure further extensions in the hours of labour. The Government can put up their spokesman in this House to explain why it is that delay has taken place, and to state what they believe to be the difficulties in the way of ratification, but the reasons advanced by the Government, though they may satisfy the members of the Government party, do not satisfy us. They do not convince us, and I am certain that they will neither satisfy nor convince the country, because the public will be able to form a pretty shrewd and accurate judgment as to the motives that have animated the Government in the course they have taken.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LLOYD
I want to put the industrial view on this question as against the political view that has been so much pressed from the opposite benches. Great efforts have been made from those benches to flog a dead horse in the sense of endeavouring to make out a case that either the Government or the employers, or the Government and the employers together, were engaged in a tremendous conspiracy to increase hours and reduce wages. It has been stated, entirely untruly, that the Government have reduced wages, and I think the whole case, as put from that point of view, has fallen so flat that we can leave it on one side, and look at the real difficulties inherent in this matter, which are apparent to responsible people on the side both of employers and workers. It is not only on the side of employers that any difficulty is felt in this matter. Responsible leaders of the workers themselves are 155 fully apprised of the difficulties inherent in this Draft Convention. What is the Convention? It seems, in the public estimation, to be becoming a sort of sacred document which no one must criticise and no one must touch. Actually, it is simply a Draft Convention prepared at the time of the Washington Conference, prepared—and I think the League of Nations Union did not deny it—in an atmosphere of haste and with wholly insufficient preparation and consideration of the vast amount of detail which it covers, and without a realisation that it might have to become the basis of some unalterable Statute in this country. I do not believe that the people who prepared it understood the legal difficulties which would show themselves when it came to translating it into legislative action.
The real trouble in the matter is this: Some people desire the Convention to be considered as a declaration of principle in favour of an eight-hours day. If it were only that, I do not believe that this House would spend any time in hesitating about putting it forward as a decision. We are all convinced of the virtue of a 48 hours-week as the basis of all negotiations in industry. But the Draft Convention is not that at all. The Convention, if ratified, must be translated into a Statute of this country, and that Statute must be a definite, regular Statute imposing the fullest obligations upon employers and workers of this country down to the minutest details of the provisions of the Convention. It is when you come to these details that you find, not only that the Convention may impose some difficulty on future industrial negotiation, but that it might easily become the basis of an argument for the worsening of conditions already achieved in this country. Further than that, it is capable of producing entirely unworkable conditions in certain cases, notably in regard to the railways, and it is because of the unworkable nature of its provisions that the whole trouble arises.
I refer to the railway case because it has been quoted so often, and the various attempts which have been made to wipe out that case have not in the least succeeded. The first effort was made by a draft Clause which was agreed upon between the railway unions and the Trade Union Congress and was incorporated 156 in a Bill introduced into this House by the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mac-kinder). That Clause, if carried into effect would have involved a direct infraction of the Convention itself, and therefore could not assist towards the ratification of the Convention. The second method proposed for getting over the railway difficulty was that put forward at the London Conference, which suggested that the provisions of the draft Convention already gave sufficient latitude for the necessary overtime in railway work. That, I believe, is contrary to the facts of the case. And so we have the position that in that great case we should have an absolutely impossible position were the Convention to be ratified as it stands. Why should all this heat be introduced into this Debate, and this endeavour be made to poison the relations between employers and workers by allegations that there is some extra-ordinary plot in this matter? Even the speakers on the benches opposite have admitted again and again that practically every worker in this country is already on the right side of the line which would be drawn by this Convention. There is practically no worker—at any rate, there are very few workers indeed—who would benefit directly if this Convention became law, and the last speaker very rightly said that probably the employers who were most concerned in this matter already ensure better conditions in their works than those which are provided for by the draft Convention. That is true, and I think it should prove to hon. Members opposite that the idea that efforts are being made to bring about a reduction of wages or an increase of hours is entirely foolish and unreasonable.
The whole anxiety of employers in this country in regard to this subject lies in a different direction. Industrial relations here have always had a higher degree of intimacy and attained a better standard than in any other country in the world, and that has been achieved by direct negotiation between the two parties without the intervention of the State. It is their intense resentment at the theory of legislative interference by the State in what should be happy negotiations between the two parties concerned which leads employers in this country to object to the whole theory of this Convention as it stands at present. I am sorry to see the League of 157 Nations' Union apparently coming out in a rather factious and partisan spirit, and endeavouring to introduce a political atmosphere into this matter. The Union have the support of most Members in this House, and if they deflect their efforts from the true task of furthering the peace of the world and spend their time in stirring up factious feeling in this country they will rapidly lose the respect of the people from whom they are drawing such very large support. They are a body with a very large staff, and I suppose they feel they must get some sort of decision to their credit; but I hope they do not feel that it would redound to their credit to secure the ratification of this draft Convention in the face of the best opinion amongst employers and employed. I hope the Government will persist in taking the calm and reasonable view that the Convention in its present form is unworkable, and will not allow themselves to be distracted by vain suggestions of malice or of an intention to lower wages and increase hours. I hope they will endeavour to pursue internationally the setting up of higher standards of labour and wages abroad, so that the conditions between other countries and our own may be made more equal, and I trust that if any declaration of principle is necessary to encourage other nations, they will not fail to make any such declaration on this great principle of the 48-hours week.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Lloyd) rather questioned the qualifications of the gentlemen who first drew up this Convention at Washington. I think a sufficient reply to him is to advise him to read the names of those who sat on the Convention as representing this country. They were given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw). It appears to me they were men well qualified for the work. They represented practically every phase of British industry; they represented the economic life of the country in an all-round manner. I am quite sure that the right hon. Member for Preston, as Chairman of that Convention, was very well qualified to speak from the working-class point of view, and his colleagues were ae well qualified to speak from the employers' point of view. The hon. Member has talked about difficulties. One can readily assume that there will be 158 difficulties in the application of a Convention such as this, but I cannot conceive that the difficulties of working it are to be compared with the difficulties we are certain to experience if this Convention be broken. The hon. Member has pointed out the difficulties that arose over the question of hours of labour. At the Trade Congress held at Edinburgh in 1927Mr. J. H. Thomas asked whether in the event of the Convention being ratified the position of the workers enjoying better conditions than those laid down in the Convention would be safeguarded.Mr. Poulton, who is the British representative of the International Labour Office on the League of Nations, said:The existing conditions, where superior to the minimum conditions laid down in the Convention, would be fully safeguarded.He also quoted Article 405 of the Treaty of Versailles, which lays down thatin no case shall the protection afforded by existing legislation be lessened as a result of the adoption of a recommendation or draft Convention by the Conference.The question of railways has been raised, and I think it may be claimed that the railway unions themselves have agreed upon a formula which should be applied so far as railway conditions are concerned. The hon. Member for Dudley specifically quoted the opinion of the officials of the railwaymen as being fully aware of the difficulties raised. The formula to which I have referred and upon which the railway unions are agreed is as follows:If in the case of persons engaged in the transport or passengers or goods by rail, but excluding transport by hand, an agreement is arrived at, whether before or after the passing of this Act, between organisations of employers and workers, concerning normal working hours, the method of computing hours and overtime, the rest days, and holidays, the Minister may by order prescribe that such agreement shall apply in respect of such persons provided that such agreement is reasonably required to meet the conditions appertaining in respect of their employment and that normal working hours authorised by such agreements, exclusive of overtime, shall not exceed on the average 48 hours per week, and that overtime shall be remunerated in accordance with Section 3, Sub-section (4) of this Act.The London Agreement specifically states that the necessary overtime is permissible under Articles 5, 6A and 6B of the Convention. The general question of overtime and the operative agreements in British industry illustrate the position 159 which is said to be safeguarded. It is laid down that overtime is not to be restricted in breakdowns, repairs, replacements, trial trips, and completion of work, and there are other points where the conditions now existing are practically those laid down in the Convention. Upon all points relating to overtime and the difficulties of working in certain industries, provision has been made by which those conditions are carefully safeguarded. In face of these facts, it seems to me that the argument that these difficulties are of an insuperable character must be dropped, because they can be very easily met in the way that I have described.
In regard to the Washington Convention, the Government have met with very faint praise from their supporters. The hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) condemned hon. Members on this side because we have charged the Government with acting treacherously. In face of the history of this Convention, the commitments of the Government, and the statements that they have made on this subject in which they have declared their abandonment of the position they took up; in face of the fact that they are now seeking to get a revision of the Convention, which it is agreed means an absolute abandonment of it, I say that no other words than that they have been acting treacherously can be urged against the Government.
I cannot understand why hon. Members opposite do not press the Government if they have any concern for industry to put this Convention into operation. The hon. Member for Dudley has told us that in this country we probably enjoy better industrial conditions than workers on the Continent. The same hon. Member also stated that there are very few trades in this country which would be either adversely affected or much improved by the passing of the Washington Convention. My experience in industrial disputes has always been that when an employer wanted an argument in favour of a reduction of wages, or lowering the standard of living, the whip he generally used as a scourge has been the conditions appertaining in foreign countries, and Germany in particular. Now we are told that the same arguments apply to France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany 160 and Austria combined. If hon. Members opposite wish to avoid this bad form of competition from Continental manufacturers who work their employés long hours and call upon them to work overtime at ordinary rates of wages, why do they not get this Convention ratified at the earliest possible moment?
Supposing that the worst happened, and one or two instances could be brought forward where other countries did not carry out to the fullest extent the conditions of the Convention, even then our position would be improved. If this Convention were ratified, I suggest that it would be to the advantage of every nation signing it to see that its neighbours or competitors kept to their bargain. It seems to sue that on this question all the arguments are on the side of those who contend that the Convention would be a practical step towards doing something to wipe out what we are told is the adverse margin of competitive advantage now exercised by our competitors on the Continent. If we could compel all foreign manufacturers to come up to the best conditions as to hours of labour, overtime and Sunday work, we should hear much less of the advantages which are supposed to be given in foreign contracts or in the conditions laid down when submitting tenders. This policy pursued by the Government verges upon absolute insanity. I believe very firmly indeed that the Federation of Employers is behind the Government, and the history of the Government in the last two or three years lends colour to the charge we bring that employers do exercise tremendous influence upon the decisions of the Conservative Government in industrial matters in particular. We on these benches do not merely argue in favour of the establishment of the Convention. One of the reasons we want it established is because we fear the efforts that are being made by employers at the present moment to lengthen the hours of labour. We want those hours fixed as much as we can to rob employers of any excuse they have to take away from the workers the small advantage they have gained after many years.
There is the other point of view, namely, the effect of lengthening hours upon unemployment. Some illustrations can be drawn of the effect on our situation here from what is happening 161 at the present time in America. America is now entering upon a phase of unemployment. They had it very badly in 1920, and then the Federal Reserve Board stopped their policy of inflation in time to prevent the worst defects becoming of a semi-permanent character, but even now unemployment is appearing again and, according to the latest reports, there are now 4,000,000 persons unemployed in America. Compared with their population, 4,000,000 unemployed is a worse percentage than we have in this country. We are told that in New York the bread lines are appearing to such an extent that they are actually blocking the traffic. Charitable organisations are compelled to become particularly active because in America they lack some of the checks we have here as far as the direst effects of unemployment are concerned. There have been some attempts to discover what there is behind this sudden appearance of unemployment to this extent in America and, in the "New Republic," Professor Schlichter has recently been analysing some of the available statistics dealing with unemployment and the question of production, and this significant fact has emerged. He makes the figure of 100 the basis, and shows that in 1927, comparing it with the three previous years, the startling fact emerges that output has increased while employment has declined. He takes the first 10 months of 1927 and points out that factory output rose to 107 while employment in the same set of factories fell to 95, so that, though there was a decrease in the number of men employed, production had bounded up by seven per cent. That is a significant fact, and it covers the whole mass of American Production.
We have got the same thing here. In a recent speech in this House I pointed out that in the year 1913 there had been a certain output of deadweight tonnage built on the Clyde, and that to turn out that amount of shipbuilding about 162,000 men had been employed in that year. In 1925 the output had increased far above that of 1913, but the number of men employed had fallen from 162,000 to about 93,000, so that there had been roughly 70,000 men less, or almost 50 per cent. fewer employed, while the men who continued in employment turned out a greater output. That is true in all the trades where mechanical development 162 could be applied during the War. During the years of the War, wherever there were mechanical appliances that could be used for turning out war material, every invention was applied in a wholesale fashion. Whether hon. Members opposite like it or not, during the War we socialised inventions. We took away from the inventor the right to retain for his own purpose the invention which his inventive faculty had produced, and threw inventions open to everybody who could use them. There have been tremendous discussions going on during the last few years as to what should be paid to the men whose appliances had been used and who have been asking for compensation. The great fact that emerged was that invention speeded up at a terrific rate. Automatic machinery became the order of the day. In every mechanical trade of the country we have now got such perfect machinery, and output can be so increased that, unless we begin to deal with the question of limiting the hours of labour, we are going to find ourselves overwhelmed with unemployment.
From every point of view it ought to be the duty of the Government to do all they possibly can to press all nations to come under the wing of this Convention, to bring all nations as far as possible upon a common competing level. I wonder how it is that a Government, which represents the great mass of wealth and economic power in this country, is so blind to our national interests that it cannot see that its duty here should lead it to accept this Convention and bring about this reform at the earliest possible moment. I often wonder what fell power it is that impels the Government to go on this line of sheer, blind folly. I have no hope that the Government can be brought round and compelled to change its point of view. if speeches from their own benches cannot do it, speeches from ours will not. It was stated in a speech on Saturday by the Leader of this party that we had struck a, bad patch in recent by-elections. The Government have struck a bad farm. There are no bad patches with them, but the whole thing is going to ruin as far as they are concerned. I think the people are judging them by their failures to carry out their pledges and promises.
163 The people of this country regard the 48-Hours Convention as a solemn pledge of an international kind. It was something that was going to safeguard national interests against unfair international competition. The Government are always talking about international competition; they are always talking about the necessity for safeguarding ourselves. They will put on taxes, they will attempt to create monopolies, but to level up conditions is the last thing they will attempt to do. It seems to me that, instead of pursuing this economic futility of safeguarding against bad conditions abroad, they should do all that they possibly can to ratify an international Convention that would compel our international competitors to raise their standards to the level of our own where ours are better, and thus give our people the chance they deserve to keep their heads above water.
§ Major ROPNER
I cannot hope to compete in volubility with the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead), but it seems to me that this Debate has demonstrated once again the complete incapacity of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to comprehend the very real difficulties, the inherent perils, of attempting to improve the conditions of industry in this country by legislation without paying any regard to the conditions of industry in other countries, and, in particular, in other European countries. May I, with a proper apology and due deference, invite my hon. Friends on this side to follow hon. Gentlemen opposite into the realm of what is known as "Crusoe" economics, and consider what would be the problem which would face us were this country, in the first place, self-supporting, and, secondly, were there no considerations of foreign competition or trade. It is perfectly true that, if that were the case, the hours of labour in this country could be reduced by three, four or five, until we found ourselves working for a mere matter of two, or three, or four hours a day, with this one effect only, that the standard of life of the people of this country would deteriorate in direct proportion to the lessening of the work which the people were doing. It would still remain true that the sum total of the utilities, services and output, which in the aggregate mean the national 164 dividend, would be directly proportionate to the amount of work done, and, although we might see—I should not like to see it—the standard of life in this country deteriorate, we should not be in the same position in which we are to-day, open to the full blast of foreign competition.
We are open to foreign competition; we do have to compete in the markets of the world; and, were we to reduce our hours of work below a standard which must bear some proportion to the hours worked on the Continent and in the rest of the world, we should not only see a degradation of the standard of life of the people of this country, but we should see actual ruin facing our industries throughout the length and breadth of the realm. We should see those very things which hon. Members opposite, I am sure, in common with the rest of the House of Commons, would sooner not see—increased unemployment, increased misery, and increased starvation. We cannot afford a statutory 48-hour week with a total disregard of the hours worked by the rest of the world. The suggestion has been made that the Government have been procrastinating, have been vacillating in dealing with the question of the Washington Hours Convention. It is said that they have been thinking over the matter, and giving answers which were not altogether straight, from 1919 until the present year, 1928. I hold a completely contrary view. I feel that it is demonstrated without a shadow of doubt that the Government to-day are genuinely desirous of ratifying a workable Convention which will restrict hours of labour throughout the world. They realise, however, that you cannot take action of that sort alone in the world, but that we must realise, and realise fully, that we are competing in the markets of the world, and that we should be jeopardising industry in this country were we to stand alone as the one country which adhered closely to the terms of the Washington Hours Convention. Those two necessary conditions cannot be fulfilled within the scope of the Washington Hours Convention. There is no party that would sooner see a statutory 48-hour week in this country than the party to which I have the honour to belong. We are only too anxious that the hours of labour should 165 be strictly governed, but we must pay attention to what is happening in the rest of the world.
Before concluding, I want to express to the Minister of Labour the hope that, while many of us are in full accord with the action he has taken in regard to the Washington Hours Convention, this country will lead the way in the world in further action towards bringing about a statutory 48-hour week. We believe the Minister to be right when he says that the difficulties which present themselves in ratifying the Convention we are now discussing are insurmountable, and that it would be unfair to the industries of this country were we to ratify it. I believe it to be true that we should increase unemployment; but I also believe that it is within the bounds of possibility, at Geneva or elsewhere, to find a formula, a Convention, an agreement which would be acceptable to every nation throughout the world. I hope that the Government will prove their undoubted sincerity in the action which they are taking to-day and which they have taken with regard to the Washington Hours Convention, by formulating new proposals and broadcasting those proposals throughout the world, in order that, at no distant date, we may bring forward a Convention acceptable to the nations of the world.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman began his speech by saying the Debate had shown him that we, and members of our party who have previously been Members of the House and have taken an interest in the Washington Convention, did not, really comprehend the subject. After listening to his remarks and hearing him explain to a more or less bewildered House that the Washington Convention would be a bad thing if Britain alone ratified it, I car quite understand his difficulty in comprehending what we are all out for. People like Mr. George N. Barnes have forgotten more about Labour legislation, its possibiilties and its difficulties, than the hon. and gallant Gentleman has so far learned.
§ Major ROPNER
I think the hon. Member has misunderstood the point I was trying to make. I did not suggest for a moment, because it would not be true, that Great Britain alone should 166 ratify the Convention, but no doubt the hon. Member will agree when I say the difficulty the Minister has to contend with is that there have been very various interpretations of exactly what the Convention means, which is the whole difficulty we have to face.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Quite so, and when the hon. and gallant Gentleman reads his speech to-morrow he will find more general agreement with his later interpretation of his own speech than he will find with the speech itself. The subject has been worked to death and I am not aware of anything fresh that can be said about it at this time of night. Since my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) spoke we have heard all the old objections trotted out to ratification and one or two that were quite new to me. We heard the old argument that because of the difficulty—and I frankly admit there is a difficulty—about the position of the railways regarding Sunday labour, ratification should have been postponed for nine years and then finally scrapped, because that is what the decision of the Government amounts to. I want to put this in the form of a question. Is it not the case that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department are quite aware of methods and formulæ that can be used to bring the railway agreement within the scope of a Bill, and is he not aware that the representatives of other nations at Geneva have expressed their willingness and their desire to ratify any such agreement if brought before them? We had from the Parliamentary Secretary the objection that Czechoslovakia had an interpretation of continuous processes which was different from that held in this country, and he instanced jam works, fruit pulp works and sausage works. Because Czechoslovakia regards continuous processes differently from us he thought he had discovered a magnificent argument against ratification. He has actually lifted the sausage argument word for word out of the manifesto, or memorandum, issued by the National Federation of Employers' Organisations. Indeed, the Government take their whole case from this memorandum.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Gentleman quoted it because he has discovered that in Czechoslovakia there is a different interpretation of continuous processes of manufacture from that which prevails here, and he thought he had a splendid argument against ratification. The Minister of Labour, after the London Conference, was so satisfied that an agreement had been partially reached that he himself, on 19th March, 1926, signed the joint manifesto signed by the other four representatives of the large industrial nation in which he said that the Conference has been able to reach a definite conclusion so that those Governments which have not ratified the Convention may, taking account of the agreement reached, be in a position to proceed with consideration of the question of ratification. So far it was quite satisfactory. Now, in 1928, the Government tell us they cannot see their way to ratify at all and that the whole thing must begin de novo. Then we had another hon. Member who discovered another objection. It was the meaning of the word "work." He did not condescend to give us his own idea of work, but he left us with the impression that, if the Minister really cared, he could find sufficient rabbit holes round about the word "work" to spin out consideration of the Washington Convention for another nine years. Another hon. Member found a most difficult question in the meaning of the word "time." It was a metaphysical abstraction. It was no physical entity. Here was something they could wrangle about for another nine years after they had settled about the word "work." Another hon. Member wound up by declaring that he objected to the whole theory of a political national Convention dealing with hours of labour.
What attitude the right hon. Gentleman is going to take on the whole question I do not know—whether he is going to offer us some alternative method of securing international regulation or whether he is going to shelter behind the many abstractions and vacuities which have been offered us in such profusion. The Parliamentary Secretary accused my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston of using violent language. I turn up the Debates of 28th February, 1927, and I find that nothing the right 168 hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston has said in his justifiable anger at the delay in ratifying the Agreement he himself was authorised to draw up at Washington nine years ago approaches what the Minister of Labour said on that occasion, when he was not above referring to Members on this side of the House as "geysers" who were always in eruption on this subject. He also referred to one hon. Member on his own side of the House who had incurred his displeasure as having mental operations which did not proceed very quickly. So I await with some pleasurable anticipation what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about the right hon. Member for Preston after the efforts of his usually placid and tranquil Under-Secretary.
The League of Nations is an attempt, a necessary and, in our opinion, an inevitable attempt on the part of certain populations to reach a world state. Some of us believe that a world state must be achieved if we are going to escape war. The International Labour Office is an attempt to obviate the grosser cruelties and stupidities and follies of the economic war. I take it that that is the underlying purpose of the whole business. We hear a lot of talk about Czechoslovakia. We know something about British capital flowing into Czechoslovakia; we know something about factories being erected there and in Austria. [Interruption.] India, fortunately, is the one country in the world which honoured its signature fully and completely at the Washington Conference. In Europe we see British capital flowing into cheap labour countries for the sole purpose of producing goods at a cheaper rate than they are produced here. These goods compete with British goods, not only in British markets but in neutral markets of the world.
The Washington Convention was an attempt made at the end of the War to save the higher standard of civilisation from utter destruction. from being beaten down to the lowest level in the international competitive market. That attempt was made nine years ago. Nine years ago employers and employés and the Government made a declaration against sweating, a declaration that there should be a minimum standard of hours of labour all over the world. Nine years have gone and His Majesty's Govern- 169 ment not only finding legal difficulties about railwaymen and Sunday pay, offer us nothing whatever to stem the competitive struggle which is dragging us further down to the level of coolie civilisation. An hon. Gentleman behind me said a moment ago that the Government's policy was safeguarding. I am not going to argue that question here, but safeguarding at the very best only protects the home market—it only protects the British market, and it does not protect the neutral markets. It does not save our export industries in their competition with cheap labour countries abroad. Regulation has to be international. The mere protection of the home market is not enough. We must protect our markets internationally or lose them, and the Labour movement in this country stands four-square for an international regulation of the hours and conditions of labour in order to meet the international capital which has gone over the boundaries of the nation, and which flow freely into the cheap labour countries. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to-night when he gets up not to spend his time in finding out little twopenny difficulties which he, I am sure, and his very able staff, could get round in half an hour if they desired to do so. He must not put us off with tales about Sunday labour on the railways. Will he tell us how, as representing the Government, he proposes to deal with this great problem of international competition on the basis of cheap sweated labour? We begin with the hours of labour. We acknowledge that money rates vary in different countries and that purchasing power varies, but we say that there are only 24 hours in everybody's day and that the hours of labour can be attacked by universal formula.
We say that a Government who do not seek to preserve the higher British standard from attack by the lower standards in Europe is a Government that is not protecting real fundamental British interests. What does it mean? We are assured by the employers themselves in this precious memorandum which they issue that already in this country not less than 92 per cent. of the industrial workers are already, as a result of private negotiation between employers and employés, already engaged on a 48-hours basis or less than a 170 48-hours basis. They have already secured it, 92 per cent. of them, and for the sake of the other 8 per cent., including the continuous processes people, for whom special provision has been made, His Majesty's Government are prepared to lose all that has already been achieved, lose what has been signed and ratified by India and other countries who have agreed to honour their signatures at Washington—His Majesty's Government are prepared to scrap all that and begin, as they say, de novo, without offering this House and the country the slightest indication of how they propose to set about the business. Year after year, science and invention increases the productivity of mankind. We are able, with a few weeks or a few months of labour in the year, to produce far more commodities than our fathers were able to produce with a year's labour. How else than by increasing the purchasing power of our people and reducing their hours of labour, can that increased productivity be broadcast throughout the land? If we do not do it in this way, the increased productivity will be absorbed by rent increase and profit.
Although on the face of it this movement only seems like a struggle for the eight-hour day for 8 per cent. of the industrial population, there is a great vital principle involved, a principle upon which the great Labour movement is, based, that the product of labour should go to the producer in an ever increasing proportion. That is why we say that by saving the 48-hour week we shall be able to better our conditions still further next year. If we lose the 48-hour week now, if we go back in cotton as we have gone back in coal; if we go back further in shipbuilding and in some other industries, it will be on the basis of an international struggle in hunger, an international coolie competition. That is all that His Majesty's Government offers to the working classes of this country. We on this side take a radically opposite point of view. We are prepared to admit that there are little technical difficulties, but we say that the Government can get round them. We say that the methods by which they can get round them are already known, and we invite the Minister of Labour to-night not to put off the nation with little stories such as we have been put off with in the past, but to envisage this problem on a large scale, and 171 to tell us how he proposes to defend our British standard of civilisation from the coolie and the sweater competition. If he can do that, although I have very little hope that he will, I assure him that he will earn for himself and his Government a. very much greater meed of thanks than either he or his Government have earned up to now.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
I have listened with great attention to nearly all the speeches that have been made to-day, and to the remarks which have just been delivered by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). He has asked me if I will try to convince him that the Government intend to safeguard the standard of the workers in this country, although he has little hope that I shall do so. I will endeavour to do so to-night, to the best of my ability. Whether I shall convince him or not I cannot say, but I think it is possible to convince any person who has studied this subject impartially, and really looked into the facts by themselves, and the truth of the facts. I freely say that I welcome the toneand the temper of nearly all the criticisms that have been made to-day, and I welcome them particularly for this reason, that the question of the Eight Hours Convention is very complicated. It is complicated in itself, and the history of the question has made it more so. Misunderstanding, therefore, is natural. For that reason, intemperate language of the kind of which we have only had one instance to-day, and that from the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) is to be regretted, because it really obscures the subject instead of illuminating it.
I will ask the Committee to bear with me as I go through some of the facts of the question that has been at issue between us to-day. The first point with which I will deal is the alleged breach of faith and lack of honour on the part of the Government. I will deal with that briefly, because those who were present at an earlier hour this afternoon will, I think, agree that no more conclusive disproof could probably be given to any charge than that which the Parliamentary Secretary gave in reply to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I will indulge in as little recapitulation as I can, but I must repeat the charge that has been made, because 172 there are many hon. Members present now who were not here earlier this afternoon. The charge can best be put in the words of the right hon. Member for Preston, when he said:If the Parliamentary Secretary and the Prime Minister believe that they are looked upon as men of honour and strict probity on the Continent, let them get that idea out of their heads. As a matter of fact, they will find, if they make inquiries, that their honour stands very low on the Continent.
§ Mr. SHAW
I should regret very much if anything I had said would lead to an accusation of personal dishonour. In the statement that I made as to inquiries being made, what I intended to convey was that if inquiries were made on the Continent, they would find that the reputation of this Government stands low.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
We have got one stage upon our journey. The personal imputation, I am glad to say, has been withdrawn. Now let us come to the imputation against the Government. I will quote again from the right hon. Member for Preston. If the Government have that reputation on the Continent, and have it quite undeservedly, one of the persons who has been responsible for spreading it has been the right hon. Member for Preston himself. Here are the words of the message which he sent to the International Federation of Trade Unions:Britain is bound both by the terms of the Treaty itself and the agreement of Governments, employers, and workers' representatives at Washington. For her not to ratify, is to be guilty of the grossest deception of the people who believe in the words of an EnglishmanAnyone would imagine that before making a charge of that kind the right hon. Gentleman would be careful to ascertain his facts. The facts are clear. From the first framing of the draft Convention at Washington up till now, they have been testified to. I am not going to repeat what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. If there has been a breach of honour the right hon. Member for Preston is including in his charge every other of the nations on the Continent, none of whose record is better than our's. Our record is better than any single one who was pledged to the ratification of the Convention. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Belgium?"] Our record is equal 173 to that of Belgium, and it is better than that of any other country on the Continent. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about India?"] I said on the Continent. The testimony is clear, from the time of the Convention up till now, that there is no obligation on the Government necessarily to ratify the Conventions that are adopted. I give, first, the testimony at the date of the Convention:Even after we have discussed it, it is still open, by the terms of the Peace Treaty, for Canada or any other country here represented to reject it. All that they are in honour bound to do is to put it to their competent authority, and that competent authority is quite free according to the terms of the Peace Treaty, and we cannot take that right away from them, to reject the whole thing if it thinks proper.That is a statement made by Mr. Barnes at Washington. Let me read the most recent statement, and I ask pardon of the Committee for repeating a quotation which has already been given this afternoon. The director of the International Labour Office, M. Albert Thomas, said:With regard to the draft Convention being adopted by a two-thirds' majority of the Conference, it is not signed by plenipotentiaries and has to be submitted by the Governments directly to their respective Legislatures, with whom lies the decision whether the State should or should not contract the engagements involved.What I have to ask the Committee is whether charges of this kind should be brought in a foreign country by any Member of this House, of whatever party, against the Government of the day when, quite clearly, he has no proof whatsoever to substantiate his accusation. There is one person and one person only whose conduct in this matter is open to reproof, and that is the right hon. Member for Preston. He is very sensitive himself in these matters. He was accused recently by a member of the Liberal party of betraying the cause of the Washington Convention, and he was greatly incensed, indeed so incensed that he did not even study the paper properly in which the original statement was reported in order to see whether his own letter in reply had been published or not. He used these words in his reply in the "Daily Herald":I thought that with an allegation of betrayal and the specific mention of a person's name, common decency would ensure 174 the publication of evidence, but I find that common decency was not so common as I had thought.If the right hon. Gentleman is so sensitive about a charge of betrayal of his own case, I should imagine that he would have been more careful to find decisive proof before he brings a similar charge against the Government of his own country before other countries. In any case, let me add that "common decency would ensure the publication of evidence, but I find that common decency is not so common as I had thought." Now may I come to the substance of the Washington Convention itself?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Less than five minutes ago the right hon. Gentleman accused my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) as being the one man who had something to apologise for in the case of non-ratification, and he is going away from that charge without having proved it.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have said that the right hon. Member for Preston was the one person who in connection with this question had made a charge which he had never proved, and for which he cannot adduce evidence.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Then I can only say that what the right hon. Gentleman quoted is diametrically opposed to the quotation which I have read from the speech of Mr. Barnes. Whatever Mr. Barnes may have considered his duty as regards himself, his language was quite explicit as regards the Government:The competent authority of the Government is quite free, according to the terms of the Peace Treaty, and we cannot take that right away from them, to reject the whole thing if it thinks proper.Whatever Mr. Barnes thought about his own personal position, the statement which he made with regard to the Government—it is the responsibility of the Government that is in question—is perfectly clear.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have no wish to question the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to whether Mr. Barnes used the words that have been quoted or not. What is in dispute is not what Mr. Barnes thought as regards himself personally. The point is rather what he thought of the Government, and the quotation from his statement which have read, with regard to the Government, is absolutely plain.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have never denied that he said it. But as regards the Government the case is quite clear. Let me pass to the substance of the Washington Convention itself. It is clear from to-day's Debate that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends would like to ratify the Washington Convention as it stands. That I understand to be the case? I pause for correction, if I am wrong.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Now we have got to an interesting stage. As far as I know, this is the first time we have heard that statement made by the other side. Let the Committee remember that we have had statements to the contrary in the course of this Debate. Now we know that the right hon. Gentleman and his party do not wish to ratify the Washington Convention as it stands. It is the first time that has been stated.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
All I can say is that I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman stands now.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Hon. Gentlemen opposite want to ratify the Washington Convention with the particular clause dealing with the railway difficulty. Is that true? Let me ask the Committee to consider what they would be doing by ratifying the Convention even with the clause about the railways. In the first place, I ask any industrialist to remember some of the legitimate practices in British industry at the present day. There is quite a number of industries which are working 48 hours a week or less, but are working that time during five days of the week. That is the case in many establishments of the boot and shoe industry, the furniture industry, the chocolate-making industry, in night work in the engineering industry; and in these and many other industries that practice would be illegal under any domestic Act founded on the Washington Convention. It would completely prevent these working arrangements operating as they do at present. In the next place, ordinary commercial overtime such as is worked under the engineering agreement at present would be impossible under a domestic Act founded on the Washington Convention. I now come to the railway question. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) said that it would be quite easy to get some formula which would get round the difficulty, and there was the Bill which was introduced, I think, by the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder). Any Bill which tried to meet all these different practices, and also to provide for the present railway agreement would not be in harmony with, and would not enable us to ratify, the Washington Convention.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member may think that it would, but in this case I asked the railway companies their opinion, and one of their directors was kind enough to give me a definite legal opinion which they had obtained. It was signed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) and by Mr. Cyril Asquith, and, according to that legal opinion, it would not be possible to adhere to or to ratify the Washington Convention if we passed such a Bill with the railway clause to which the right hon Gentleman opposite has alluded. It may be said that this is an old difficulty. Of course it is, but it is 177 none the less real. All these difficulties are just as much difficulties now as before. If you ratify the Washington Convention, you throw out all these agreements, which were freely entered into by responsible and powerful trade unions on the one hand, and responsible federations of employers on the other. I ask the Committee to note that in all the cases I have mentioned there is absolutely no breach of the principle of the 48-hours week. It is observed in all these practices which I have mentioned, and yet, under the Washington Convention, you would prevent these legitimate practices from being worked, you would interfere with all these perfectly right and proper industrial arrangements. They would all be ruled out.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite consulted with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) before he gave his final opinion about this matter. We all know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby is a courageous man. No one doubts his valour; but I rather think that discretion is the better part of valour when these Debates come on, as I seldom see him sitting through them and giving his adhesion to the Washington Convention and its harmony with the railway agreement of which we have heard. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was here today!"] In any case there is the interference of the Washington Convention with legitimate practices in this country in which the 48 hour principle is observed. Now I propose to deal briefly with another side of the Washington Convention. If it is too restricted in the respects I have just mentioned, it is too loose in others. The hon. Member for the Royton Division (Dr. Davies) asked me for definite instances. I have given three important instances in which it is too strict from the one point of view. There are others, as to which there is a difference of opinion, but in which we think it is too loose. We are informed by other countries, which have just as much right to their interpretation as we have to ours, of an interpretation that makes it possible to make up—and this is a point with which the right hon. Gentleman is, I think, quite familiar—hours of work previously lost through holidays, and to spread all those lost hours of work from past holidays over 178 future weeks without their being an addition to the normal 48 hours.
In the same way there is a difference as to the definition of hours of work. We believe in this country that hours of work should be hours at the disposal of the employer. Their own interpretation—I have no right to quarrel with their having their own interpretation of hours of work so long as the wording of the Convention is left loose and vague—is that hours of work are hours of effective work, so that a man who is not actually at work for a great part of his time, though he is at the disposal of his employer, is not counted as at work for the whole time. For example, in some electrical power plant, a man may be in attendance at his work for 12 hours, but it may be only rated as eight effective hours. I ask the Committee to note that once that type of interpretation is legitimately possible, the whole basis of the Convention really goes in regard to the 48 hours. I give these instances in addition to the instance of the continuous processes to which my hon. Friend alluded.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That was formally advanced by Italy. I do not criticise the authors of the Washington Convention. I am not saying even that they dealt with it in a hurry, though a great deal of time is really necessary for work of this kind. I do say, however, that the first time that any body of men, however able and however conversant with their work, deal with a peculiarly difficult and complicated subject, you cannot expect to get either a, law or a convention or any other document which is letter perfect at the first attempt. It is a matter of ordinary common experience. We started a health insurance system in this country, and we passed a Health Insurance Act. It was not perfect at the first attempt, and we had to have amending Acts. The same is true with other insurance systems, and if it is true of health insurance and other complicated subjects in this country, then let me remind the Committee that when you come to deal with the trades which go to make up manufacturing industry as a whole and which are comprehended within the ambit of the Washington Convention, 179 you have a much more complicated subject-matter still.
Therefore, it is only natural, as I say, that any first draft of a Convention, when it was brought back to the different countries and thought over, should be found to need amendment or addition in some respects. That, I think, commends itself to the common sense of every Member of this Committee, but, really, what is silly, if I may say so without offence, is to take a Convention made under those conditions as though it was literally inspired, like Holy Writ, and never to be altered or amended. That is where real silliness lies. What is almost equally foolish is for anyone to come down to this House and to reprove us as though anybody is wicked who is not willing to commit the folly of fastening a Convention on British industry to which it was unfitted without further amendment.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am coming to that. I am passing on, as I was asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay), to deal more in detail with the London Conference. I appeal to all inside this Committee, and outside, who want to get a really sensible solution, to give their minds to the problem. I think, if they will do that, they will approve the course of action that the Government have taken and the line that we propose to take. When I took up my present office, I found the question full of ambiguities and points of disagreement in substance or interpretation or both. I know that the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to get over some of the troubles, but I found them still existing when I took office, as anyone can see from the answers of other countries to a questionnaire which I sent out. There were two methods of progress to make the Washington Convention adaptable to industry in this country. The one line of progress was revision, and the other was to get an amending protocol or instrument which should be agreed to at the same time as the Convention. The path of revision had already been tried in this country. The proposal was made in 1921, and because that had not been welcomed, we decided that it was right to try the path of 180 amendment. That was the origin of the London Conference.
When that Conference met, we discussed points of difference, we tried to get down to the actual crucial facts. We tried not to let real differences be glossed over by ambiguous phrases that might conceal the differences of opinion underneath, and in the end, after many hours of sitting, we reached agreement on points of substance. Then the question arose: Did these necessarily follow from the Convention and fall within it, or did they not? Some of those present thought that they did, that they could come within their interpretation of the Convention itself. We were quite decidedly of opinion that they could not, and that they oould only form amendments to the Convention, amendments which were very desirable. I thought that these should be recorded in an instrument and bound up with the Convention, so that they could both be read together. On the other hand, other Governments, and particularly the French Government, which had a perfect right to its own course, had always said that all that they would agree to was interpretation only, and they held to their view. I urged that we should have the points on which we had agreed embodied in amendments as distinct from letting them be recorded as interpretations. It was only when it became quite clear that if I further pressed my view the whole Conference would break down, that I was prepared to sign the list of points of agreement with regard to substance. That this was the result of the London Conference, let me give a proof from outside. The annual report for 1926 of the director of the International Labour Organisation says:These conclusions can in no way be considered as clauses of a new protocol to be added to or substituted for the Washington Convention. Strictly speaking, the other States retain entire liberty of judgment in that connection. They are entitled to maintain before the governing body, or before the permanent Court of International Justice, that the London interpretations are too narrow or too wide.That was the position as the result of the London Conference. From one point of view the value to me was lost, because I felt we were no longer safe in signing the Convention if a protocol or paper embodying those points which we had reached could not be combined with it. Any country 181 could impugn our practice over a great part of the whole range of British industries. It was not a twopenny-half-penny point at all. I could trust the four countries who had signed it as an expression of intention, as a "gentleman's agreement," as it is said, not to do so, but it was open to any other country to do so. [Interruption.] An hon. Member made an interjection, "In that case, why sign it at all?" The answer to my mind is clear. There was a value in signing it, because our signatures showed that we had reached a point where we could adopt an agreed expression of opinion on a number of points, and even if, on consideration, we could not ratify the Convention, that expression of opinion on those important points would be of value later on if any further question came up, such as the question of revision to-day.
It is in the light of this knowledge that I ask the Committee to come to the present-day situation. As a matter of personal conviction, I have always been in favour of any proper Convention for a 48-hours week. I have myself been opposed alike to having no Convention at all, and to having an unsatisfactory Convention such as the Washington Convention is, taken by itself or taken in conjunction with the railway clause. In London we tried the path of amendment and we failed. It was not satisfactory. At best it was only a second best method. This last autumn, at the meeting of the International Labour Governing Body, one of the French representatives there, M. Lambert Ribot, the French employers' representative, raised the question of the revision of the Convention. It was perfectly natural and right that under these conditions we should support the proposed revision, once it had been raised again from some other source outside this country. In answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge and the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills), I would say I think quite clearly that we ought to press for revision. That is the answer to the first question.
The answer to the second question, as to the contents of the Convention for which we should press, is also quite clear. It is a Convention the principles of which are the principles of the 48-hour week contained in the Washington Convention. We have no objection to the 182 principle of the 48-hour week contained in the Washington Convention, and we have to embody in any workable Convention those points which were raised at London, and one or two other points which probably need consideration as well. That is the revised Convention which I myself have in mind. I am quite convinced in my own view that that is the right course to pursue. For one thing, I do not believe if we pursue that course that there will really be any fundamental difference between us and France. If I understand the objective which the French are pursuing, I do not think there ought to be any fundamental difference. Secondly, and I say it advisedly, I am convinced also that the representatives of British industry, both of the employers and of the employed, ought if possible to be able to speak with one voice together at the International Labour Office meetings at Geneva.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
No, I can not give way; I have given way too often. As I was saying, for my part I think it is to their interest to do so. In the next place I hope they will do so, because, progress upon practical lines may very largely depend on their being ready to do that. I have reason to hope that they will do it, because I have been in touch with both sides on the subject. The representatives of both parties in industry know my views quite well. They know that I have been absolutely frank with them. At present, however, there is this point of difficulty. I have reason to hope that the employers will be prepared to sit down with me to help to work out a practical Convention, but they make the proviso, which is not unreasonable, that revision is decided upon. In other words, they feel that the Washington Convention does not fit the needs of industry and cannot be made to do so except by revision.
I hope the employés' representatives and the Trades Union Council will also sit down with me and help. They still hold on to the Washington flag. That also is not unreasonable. They do not want to haul it down until they are assured that there is another and a better flag to hoist to the mast in its place. Such is the situation. I do not think the two views are irreconcilable. The only general difference now between 183 reasonable and fair and far-sighted men on both sides, is one of procedure, and that is not insurmountable. Points of difficulty are bound to arise, and I can foresee some of them. But to both sides in industry I make an appeal to continue their co-operation with me, as it is in that co-operation that the chance lies
§ of success in a practical solution, and what, if practical, will be a happy solution of a question as important as it has proved difficult in the past.
§ Question put, "That Item Class V, Vote 9, be reduced by £100."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 98; Noes, 214.185
|Division No. 17.]||AYES.||[10.50 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Groves, T.||Potts, John S.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Riley, Ben|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhamton, Bilston)||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Barnes, A.||Hardle, George D.||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Batey, Joseph||Hayday, Arthur||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Hayes, John Henry||Scurr, John|
|Broad, F. A.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Bromfield, William||Hirst, G. H.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Bromley, J||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Smillie, Robert|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Kelly, W. T.||Stamford, T. W.|
|Cape, Thomas||Kennedy, T.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Suillvan, J.|
|Compton, Joseph||Lansbury, George||Sutton, J. E.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Lawrence, Susan||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Lawson, John James||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lindley, F. W.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Lowth, T.||Townend, A. E.|
|Day, Harry||Lunn, William||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Dennison, R.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. B. (Aberavon)||Viant, S. P.|
|Duncan, C.||Mackinder, W.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Dunnico, H.||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Edge, Sir William||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermilne)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Maxton, James||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Gardner, J. P.||Mitchell, E. Rossiyn (Paisley)||Windsor, Walter|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Murnin, H.||Wright, W.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Naylor, T. E.||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Gillett, George M.||Oliver, George Harold|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Owen, Major G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Greenall, T.||Palin, John Henry||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Charles|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Paling, W.||Edwards.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Cassels, J. D.||Everard, W. Lindsay|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Cautiey, Sir Henry S.||Fairfax, Captain J. G.|
|Albery, Irving James||Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth. C.)||Fermoy, Lord|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Forrest, W.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Chapman, Sir S.||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Charterls, Brigadier-General J.||Gadle, Lieut.-Col. Anthony|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Christie, J. A.||Gaibraith, J. F. W.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Ganzonl, Sir John|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Clayton, G. C.||Gates, Percy|
|Balniel, Lord||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton|
|Banks, Reginald Mitchell||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Barclay-Harvey C. M.||Cooper, A. Duff||Glyn, Major R. G. C.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Cope, Major William||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Bennett, A. J.||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Grace, John|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)||Grant, Sir J. A.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Grattan-Doyls, Sir N.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major Sir A. B.||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsay,Gainsbro)||Grotrian, H. Brent|
|Brass, Captain W.||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset,Yeovil)||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Dawson, Sir Philip||Hamilton, Sir George|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert||Hammersley, S. S.|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Drewe, C.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Harrison, G. J. C.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks,Newb'y)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Elliot, Major Walter E.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Ellis, R. G.||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.)||Henderson, sir Vivian (Bootle)|
|Hencage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Savery, S. S.|
|Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Merriman, F. B.||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)|
|Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl.(Renfrew, W)|
|Hills, Major John Waller||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Hilton, Cecil||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Moles, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Smithers, Waldron|
|Homan, C. W. J.||Moole, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Nelson, Sir Frank||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)||Nevllie, Sir Reginald J.||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonol Rt. Hon. G. F.|
|Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn.W. G.(Ptrst'ld.)||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Nuttall, Ellis||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Oakley, T.||Stuart, Crichton-. Lord C.|
|Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n)||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Huntingfield, Lord||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Pennefather, Sir John||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Penny, Frederick George||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Kidd, J. (Linllthgow)||Perring, Sir William George||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Kindersley, Major G. M.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Lamb, J. Q.||Philipson, Mabel||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Power, Sir John Cecil||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Little, Dr. E. Graham||Price, Major C. W. M.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Raine, Sir Walter||Wells, S. R.|
|Looker, Herbert William||Ramsden, E.||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple|
|Lumley, L. R.||Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Ropner, Major L.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Maclntyre, Ian||Russeil, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||withers, John James|
|McLean, Major A.||Rys, F. G.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Macmillan, Captain H.||Salmon, Major I.||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Sandeman, N. Stewart||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|MacRobert, Alexamder M.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Major, the Marquess of Titchfield|
|Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Sanderson, Sir Frank||and Sir victor Warrender|
|Margesson, Captain D.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.