§ Mr. T. SHAW
I take this opportunity of again calling attention to the proceedings at the Labour Conference in Geneva—proceedings of an extraordinary character—and I hope to demonstrate that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer will keep the promise he made a moment ago that the right thing shall be done, we may be able to get a change of front on the part of the Government. I am going to refer principally to what is best known as the Washington Hours Convention. I must deal with history, 1884 because it is my intention to try to demonstrate that the organised workers of this country have certainly been deceived in their hopes and aspirations, and have certainly not had the promises that have been made to them carried out, and I am hoping that these promises so solemnly made will finally be implemented. I absolutely decline to agree that Conservative honour simply consists in voting money to its own friends. We had not long ago an exhibition of how strongly Conservative feelings could be moved when questions of honour affecting large sums of money of their own supporters were in question.
First of all, let me try to demonstrate why I claim that the Government are in honour bound to deal with the question of the hours of labour, and to implement certain definite promises that have been made to the workers of this country In the Treaty of Versailles itself, signed by the High Contracting Parties, there is no question as to the promise made to the workers of this and of every other country which were parties to the Treaty of Versailles. In the Preamble it was stated by the High Contracting Parties:Whereas the League of Nations has for its object the establishment of universal peace, and such a peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice,and then they proceeded to state what was implied in that justice. A very definite statement was made by the High Contracting Parties in the fourth Clause of the General Principles. It speaks ofThe 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.Therefore, there is no question that, as far as the Treaty of Peace is concerned, it is definitely laid down that the attainment of the 8-hours day or the 48-hours week is as much a part of the Treaty of Peace as any other part, and our Government were a signatory to the Treaty of Peace. In consonance with the provisions of the Treaty of Peace, a conference was held in the year 1919 in Washington, and the principal item on the agenda was this question, laid down in the Treaty, of the 8-hours day or the 48-hours week. Now the representation at that conference was threefold in character—representatives of the Governments (two for each Government), 1885 representatives of the employers (one for each organised national body of employers), and one for the workers representing the national body of workers. These delegates had technical advisers to help them in their work.
Let me deal first of all with the representation of the Government. The representatives of the Government were Mr. George Barnes, a member of the War Cabinet Committee, and Sir Malcolm Delevingne, of the Home Office. The representative of the employers was Mr. Marjoribanks, who was not only representing the organised employers, but was also himself connected with one of the largest industrial concerns in the country. The representative of the workers was Mr. Stuart-Bunning, who was then President of the Trade Union Congress. These delegates had the right, if they so wished, to appoint any of their advisers to act for them on any of the commissions that sat to deal with special cases. On the commission that dealt with the question of the hours of labour, Mr. George Barnes, along with Sir Malcolm Delevingne, attended the sittings all the way through. The employers' representative on the commission was their principal representative, Mr. Marjoribanks, and I attended as the workers' representative, and actually was the chairman of the commission. Nobody at Washington ever dreamt that the British Government would decline to ratify any agreement that was made, or would fail to give legal effect to the 8-hours day or the 48-hours week. Let there be no question about that.
Before we went to Washington the organised employers, through Sir Allan Smith, had already declared their adhesion to the 8-hours day or the 48-hours week, and Mr. Marjoribanks, in entering into the agreement at Washington, was merely carrying out the declared policy of the employers of this country. So far as the workers were concerned, they were known to be in favour of the 8-hours day. It was an age-long request on their part that there should be an 8-hours day. When I was a child I used to hear the phrase "Eight hours work, eight hours play and eight shillings a day." As to where the Government stood, there need be no question regarding the definite and precise promises that were made. Mr. 1886 George Barnes, speaking in this House on the 1st July, 1921, 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 a Convention in regard to which he had such clear instructions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1921; col. 2514, Vol. 143.]He also said that there was a moral obligation resting on the Government to submit the Convention to the House and that there was a moral obligation resting upon them to adopt it, because their representatives went to Washington and voted upon it according to their instructions. If ever there was a definite promise made to the workers by the employers and by the Government, it was made in connection with the Washington Convention, and I ask that, if feelings of honour are to be brought into play, honour should not be confined to the rich. The Government should take care that they are strictly honourable to the poor as well as the rich. The British Government, in a letter dated the 20th July, absolutely declined to ratify the Convention, on the ground that there were:difficulties inherent in the present industrial conditions in this country which prevent the complete acceptance of these principles as set forth in the Draft Convention.I have tried to find out what those difficulties were and I have discovered that, roughly, they amount to this, that it was a question whether the agreement of the railway workers with the railway companies could be brought within the four corners of the Convention. That was the outstanding difficulty, and that was the difficulty which had to be faced. The Government devoted a whole paragraph to defining the conditions applying to from 10 to 12 millions of working people in this country who are engaged under the 48-hours system. The Government have no right to claim for themselves either the responsibility or the credit for that state of things. The Government had nothing to do with it. The trade unions and the employers are responsible. Where the trade unions are not able to keep the 48 hours, the Government step on one side and allow the employers to break through. Therefore, no credit rests upon the Government so far as the institution of the 48-hours week is concerned. The only positive actions of the 1887 Government have been against the workers so far as hours are concerned, and never in favour of them. They have stood on one side when breaches of the 48-hours week have been made. Therefore, it is mere humbug on the part of the Government to claim any credit with respect to the 48-hours system that now exists in this country.
The principal difficulty was with regard to the railway agreement and whether it could or could not be brought within the four corners of the Washington Convention. I admit, quite frankly, that I believed at the moment that under the clauses of the Convention it was highly doubtful whether that agreement could be brought in or not; but that difficulty has been entirely removed. There is no excuse now on that score. The difficulty, if difficulty there was, no longer exists, and the Government have no excuse in any shape or form. Even if under the clauses of the Convention the railway agreement could not be brought in, there is a guiding and dominating clause which says that nothing in the Convention shall be used to make conditions worse than the existing conditions. It is declared on behalf of the railways, both by the companies and the men, that their agreement is better than the agreement within the Washington Convention itself. However, even if the difficulty of getting the railway agreement within the four corners of the Convention had not been taken away, as it has, there still existed the other clause.
I was keenly anxious not only to find where the difficulties were, but if there were differences of opinion as to interpretation to discover where they were, and what they were. I took the opportunity of meeting the Labour Ministers of France, Belgium and Germany in order find out whether there was any real difficulty in interpretation. I discovered that there was very little difficulty and that, generally speaking, there was a most perfect understanding as to the interpretation of the clauses. I drew up a Bill which would have allowed us to ratify the Convention and to carry into effect the promises that were given to us by the Government and the employers, not only at Washington, but prior to the Washington Conference. The 1888 Labour Government were not in office long enough to ratify the Convention; but the present Minister of Labour, in 1926, called a meeting of Ministers in order to see if he could get an understanding as to what the interpretations of the Convention should be. If words mean anything at all, we were certainly told by the Prime Minister that if those Ministers could reach an agreement as to definition and interpretation the Convention would be dealt with in this House, and ratified. The Prime Minister, speaking on the 2nd February, said:We shall do our utmost to secure complete agreement and understanding. If 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.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear!"] Exactly, and I will answer hon. Members. I will deal with the point. I shall try to show that they did mean the same thing, and that the Ministers left this country feeling that everything was settled. The Minister of Labour, speaking at the beginning of the Conference of Ministers, said:Though the present British Government had not felt justified in pursuing a policy of immediate and unconditional ratification, they felt that to do nothing might be a dangerous policy and might lead to a retrograde movement as a result of international competition.The Conference took place. The Ministers went through the difficulties of interpretation and, at the end, the Minister of Labour made this statement:I am sure that we all agree that the Conference has been able greatly to advance the consideration of the whole question of hours of labour from the international standpoint, and I acknowledge with cordiality and gratitude the co-operation of my colleagues to that end. I gladly assure them that I shall, for my part, submit the conclusions of the Conference to my Government, and I venture to express the hope that the other Ministers present will find themselves able to do likewise.If the House wants an interpretation of what is meant by "submitting the conclusions of the conference to my Government," shall I read what the Ministers themselves meant by the conclusions?It is further agreed by the representatives of the Governments participating in the Conference, that they will report to their respective Governments the conclu- 1889 sions, as set out above, which the Conference have been able to reach, so that those Governments who have not ratified the Convention may take account of the agreements reached and be in a position to proceed with their consideration of the question of the ratification of the Washington Convention.Therefore, the conclusions meant, apparently, everything, and the Ministers left London believing that all the technical difficulties had been swept out of the way and that nothing stood in the way of ratification. There is no word in the "conclusions" and there was no word used at the time about any outstanding difficulties of any kind, much less difficulties sufficiently serious as to make ratification impossible for any Government. There can be no doubt from the actions of the other Ministers that they left London feeling that a complete understanding had been arrived at, that everybody knew what was understood by the different clauses and how they should be interpreted. The real friends of the League of Nations hoped that, with the real difficulty of the railwaymen out of the way and with this conference of Ministers, who were apparently agreed upon everything, we should get an understanding, that the Convention—the touchstone of the success or otherwise of the International Labour Office, would be ratified, and that we should really begin to play a part in the League of Nations on its labour side consonant with our dignity and record as an industrial nation.
In June, 1927, a new development took place. The Confederation of Employers published a pamphlet. They threw their representatives at Washington to the dogs. The agreement that had been arrived at in Washington through their representatives was to them no more good than the agreement arrived at with the representatives of the Government. If the Minister of Labour thinks that the Confederation of Employers is ever likely now, after it has taken the step of breaking the agreement made by its representatives at Washington, to agree to a Bill to limit the hours of adult workers to 48 hours per week, he can get that idea out of his head. The employers do not mean to agree to an act of that kind. Their claim is, that they should be left free to work in accordance with the necessities of the situation. Once they have taken the step of abandoning their re 1890 presentatives at Washington, there is no hope of getting them to agree to a Forty-Eight Hours Act, and every honest employer knows that. Speaking generally, the employers with whom I have had the experience of a lifetime, have never done anything like that before. As an active negotiator I have dealt with bodies of employers for the last quarter of a century and I know that when they have given their word they have kept it. I have never known them do a thing like this before. I should have been very sorry for them had they done so; but it has been done in this case, and the promises made at Washington have been abandoned.
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour evidently have forgotten all they said and have accepted the position of the employers. In other words, they have made a complete surrender, and we are now in as bad a position as we were in 1926; indeed, we are worse, because the difficulty of feeling that everything was strictly in order in 1926 has been intensified since and the discussions at Geneva were not of such a kind as to make for a more friendly feeling between Governments and between Governments and the principal representative of British employers. The ideas of the Foreign Ministers who came to London can be best understood by their actions afterwards. The Belgian Minister proposed to his Parliament the unconditional ratification of the Convention, and the Convention was ratified. The French Minister, on the 10th February, 1927, declared that the French Government invited Parliament to ratify the Convention provided Great Britain and Germany ratified it also. That was their idea of what had happened in London. The speeches of the German and Italian Ministers at Geneva show plainly what they thought of the action of the British Government. The British Government got little, if any, support from any of the Ministers they had met in London, and there is no question that Great Britain is the one country in Europe that is holding up the ratification of this Convention. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will question that statement.
The Minister of Labour goes to Geneva and produces to an astonished Conference some 13 or 14 new points. Some of them are not new, I admit. For instance, one point he put was that in places where 1891 there are less than five workers there may be a difficulty against ratification in some quarters. What a ridiculous suggestion. The right hon. Gentleman says that in such cases it is difficult to determine what are the real hours of working. In London the Conference came to the decision that the hours of working must be measured by the hours the employer demanded the attendance of the workers, and at Geneva the Minister trots out all these absurd things to people who thought they had settled the question. The result was the greatest humiliation a British Government has ever suffered in an international body. Mr. Forbes Watson said the employers were not going to have the Washington Convention in its present form pushed down their throats. I hope the time will come when someone will tell Mr. Forbes Watson kindly but firmly that he is not the British Government. If he has been correctly reported, that is a statement which might have been made by the British representative but should never have been made by a non-Government representative on behalf of Great Britain.
The Government I know have declared their friendliness towards the Convention, but they have a most wonderful way of dissembling it. If the Government really meant what they have said about the 48-hours week, they could have passed a general Act in order to assure that 48 hours should be considered legal in this country generally—that would have proved their bona fides—and they could then have said: We cannot ratify this Convention until we have absolute certainty on the interpretation of the Clause and on the details. The Government has never taken any positive action in providing a 48-hours week. Indeed their actions have been directly opposed to it. The Home Secretary introduced a Bill which, on broad lines, gave a 48-hours week to women working in factories, but that Bill was jettisoned. Then, when a Bill dealing with the position of women workers was running out, the Home Secretary re-introduced it, and their position was made worse than it was before the War. Some of these women were working in trades of great national emergency, such as the washing of beer bottles and the wrapping of chocolates It shows the way in which the Government works.
1892 When the Lancashire employers demanded a 52½-hours week, did the Government declare that it would be a clear breach of the Treaty and the Washington Convention and that they would take steps to deal with the situation? Not at all.
§ Mr. HILTON
It is not so. I know something about these things, because I am one of the employers. A vote was taken of the masters themselves, and it was not carried amongst our own people. No demand was made of the trade unions in Lancashire.
§ Mr. SHAW
For the moment, I will confine myself to saying this, that as I have not the actual documents with me at the moment I must accept the hon. Member's statement. That is all I can say in the circumstances. But is there any doubt that a firm in Bolton has broken through the arrangement and is working 55½ hours per week? Does the Minister of Labour know anything about that; and, if so, what is the Government going to do in order to prove that it really believes in a 48-hours week and that it is only a question of interpretation that is keeping them back? Are the Government going to do anything? They have jettisoned the Home Secretary's Bill, which would have carried out the promise to some extent; they have increased the hours of the miners and made things worse as far as women workers are concerned, and now they stand on one side and merely say that there are so many millions of our people who work 48-hours a week but since the employers are strong enough to make them work more, there is nothing that we can do.
We used to have a great prestige as an industrial nation, but the Government found itself in this position at Geneva—and it is the clearest possible proof of what other Governments think 1893 about their action—that they were unable to carry the proposition they made for what they were pleased to call a revision of the Washington Convention. We had the humiliating position of the British Government and Mr. Forbes Watson, or, I should say, Mr. Forbes Watson and the British Government, being alone against all the rest of the Convention. Britain used to be considered to be in the line of progress and a leading Power in the League of Nations. But yesterday the fame of Britain might have stood against the world; now lies it there, and none so poor to do her reverence. That was the position of the Minister of Labour at Geneva; absolutely alone with all the rest of the Powers against him. Does not that prove more clearly than any words of mine where we have got to in the International Labour Office. There is absolutely no excuse for pretending year after year for nine long years that you are in favour of the principle of a 48-hours week and do nothing at all except obstruct those who are trying to get it. There are thousands of ways of proving that you really mean what you say. Even if it be the case—I do not accept it—that there are difficulties of interpretation which ruake it unwise for this country to sign, there are a dozen and one ways in which the Government can show that they really mean business on the question of the 48-hours week. We have fallen behind Poland; we have fallen behind Czechoslovakia. What a picture for proud Britain! What a picture it is that even Spain is prepared to go further than we are and carry out the decisions of the Washington Convention. We, proud Britain—
§ Mr. SHAW
You can go to the moon if you like, I am dealing with the question of our not signing the Washington Convention. Our employers went to Washington and agreed with it; our Government representatives went to Washington and agreed with it. What is the use of talking about America or anybody else! It is for us to keep our own promises. The German Minister, feeling sorry to see the Minister of Labour drowning in the troubled waters of his own creation, tried to throw him a lifeline, and the French Minister of Labour 1894 came to the help of the German Minister of Labour, and both suggested that they would help the right hon. Gentleman and get all the things decided at the London Conference put into a Protocol and embodied in the Convention. The right hon. Gentleman did not accept that kindly offer. They tried to help him out of his difficulties, but he did not want help. I am afraid the employers' representative was rather too powerful. The German Minister says that they are certainly going on with the proposal to ratify the Washington Convention; and here I want to enter a protest against the assumption that we are the only country in the world which honestly carries out what it promises to do. There is no greater hypocrisy I know than the assumption that if we agree to the Convention we shall be the only people to carry it out. That is not true; it simply is not true. If we take our record in connection with this business and compare it with the frankness of the French, Germans and Belgians, we have nothing on which to plume ourselves.
We are the last people in the world who ought to be guilty of lending the appearance of support to the idea that other people are dishonest and that if they enter into a Pact they will not keep their part. That is the most foolish thing Great Britain could do. If we really need an advantage it is that other nations in Europe should work on the same lines as ourselves. In many parts of Germany and France before the War workmen in factories worked longer hours than the workmen in this country, and on the Continent, Saturday was worked like an ordinary day. We have gained that advantage by the Washington Convention, and it is to our economic interests as well as in the interests of our workers that we should agree to arrange for this Convention to be signed. To sum up, I want to repeat that the workers have a real claim that promises made to them by the Government and the employers should be kept, solemn promises, guaranteed by signatures and laid down in the Treaty of Peace; that the delegates at Washington, Government, employers' and labour, never dreamt for a single moment that this would be the country that would raise objections; and, finally, that when the Ministers left London in 1926 there is no evidence whatever that they 1895 had any knowledge of a series of objections not dealt with, that were serious enough to prevent the ratification of the Convention. On the grounds of honour, on the grounds of common sense, on the grounds of understanding with other countries, on the grounds, above all, that in the League of Nations we should be in the van and not be dragged behind like a yapping puppy as we were at the final sitting in Geneva, we ought to be a leading party in the International Labour Office.
Take our last record. We voted against the Budget. So far as I can see the only cut in the expenses that was proposed was something in the region of 100,000 francs. Assuming that that sum had materialised, what would Britain's share of it have been? Would it have been about £400? I ask the Minister of Labour if he will kindly do the sum for me. For that we held up the whole conference, and the final result was what I say. We were left absolutely alone; even other parts of the Empire refused to vote with us. It is to that that we have come. I think I can speak for the whole of my party when I say that we shall never rest satisfied until the promise made to our workers has been kept We do not believe that the reasons given against ratification are reasons serious enough to prevent the keeping of the promise, and we do not believe that anything at all exists that ought to prevent the signing of the Agreement that was made at Washington.
§ Captain CAZALET
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has painted a very gloomy picture, but I am certain that if his prophecies were true there is no one who would regret the fact more than the Minister of Labour. Certainly no one would regret it more than hon. Members on this side of the House. I cannot help thinking that when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour replies, he will be able to enlighten us, and I am sure that he will paint a somewhat brighter picture of the prospects of getting the Convention ratified. I want to make one or two observations with regard to the work of the International Labour Office. First, I would offer my respectful and humble congratulations to the Minister of Labour on having attended the recent conference. I 1896 trust that he has set a precedent which will be followed in the future. I have seen something of the work of the International Labour Office, and I believe that the work that it does and that it may do in future is almost as important as the work which is being done by the League itself. One of the unfortunate things about the International Labour Office is its name, for in the minds of many people it immediately conjures up-pictures of Bolshevism and Socialism. But a very small knowledge of the work that is done in the Office will quickly dispel that suspicion. After all, if you translate the name into French, Bureau Internationale du Travail, your troubles on that ground are dealt with.
The work of the International Labour Office is not only to improve the conditions of the workers throughout the world, and to make their lives happier and safer, but also to make them more efficient, and to make the industries in which they work more efficient. There is no office, no organisation in the world, which disseminates so much knowledge as this office in Geneva. I do not believe there is any other place in the world from which one can get the information and knowledge and facts that one can get from Geneva. It combines with the League of Nations in breaking down those economic barriers which divide the various countries of Europe to-day, and it helps to promote that policy for which we on this side have always stood—a fairer and freer condition of trade. I am certain that there is no surer foundation upon which to lay the future peace of Europe than to break down the economic barriers that divide the various countries. To put it on the lowest basis there is no country which stands to gain so mach as this country from the effective work of the International Labour Office.
Everyone knows that the conditions of labour as a whole in this country are better than they are in the various countries of Europe that are among our keen competitors. There is no better example of this than the question of the Washington Convention for a 48-hours week or an 8-hours day. In Germany, in certain industries, they are quite openly working nine hours a day. With what result? That they impose lower conditions and a lower standard of life on the workers of this country, 1897 because we have to sell the same articles in competition with them throughout the world. I realise the difficulties—I have a list of them here—but I cannot profess to know the intricate details of all of them like the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I realise that these 15 difficulties, a list of which the Minister of Labour has drawn up, are real. But my argument is that we have had 10 years in which to solve those difficulties. It is not enough to state what the difficulties are. I think that we have now to say how the difficulties and objections can be met. If we were to frame a comprehensive solution of them and submit it to the representatives of the other Governments, I am certain that there could be found some solution which would not only meet the difficulties that arise in this country, but would also be acceptable to the other nations.
One difficulty was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. It is an argument which is used very generally against the ratification of the agreement by this country, and it is this: that if we ratify we shall carry it out, whereas other countries will probably not do so. My reply to that is this: What is the use of the Press? If the Convention is ratified at Geneva by all the nations concerned, does anyone imagine that there would be a newspaper in the world which would not publish that fact? I ask the right hon. Gentleman also, what is the use of trade unions in other countries if they do not see that those countries and the employers there carry out the terms of the Convention? Finally, there is Geneva. There are those who are sceptical of the uses of Geneva, but I think they are all united in believing that there is one thing that Geneva can do, and that is that it can give publicity to the misdeeds of any individual country, or of any section of industry in any country. I believe that with the Press and the trade unions and Geneva, we have ample safeguards that if the Convention were ratified it would be carried out by the various countries concerned. After all, if there may be still some doubt left, and if employers in this country think that it would not be carried out for some time, at any rate we in this country cannot lose, because in 95 per cent. of our industries we already carry out the conditions included in the 1898 Agreement, I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour when he replies will have an answer to these difficulties, and will give us a much more satisfactory account of the prospects which attend the ratification of the Agreement.
One or two words in regard to the Budget of the International Labour Office. I regret very much that the Minister of Labour found it necessary to abstain from voting on this matter. I do not want to be thought to be for a moment an advocate of extravagance, and I realise that someone has to do the dirty work in these matters, that the onus of calling attention to extravagance must fall on someone. I am certain that no one in this House would doubt for a moment the sincerity of the Minister when he abstained from voting for the Budget. But the difficulty is that the representatives of other nations did not take the same point of view. I was at Geneva in September last when the Budget both of the League and of the International Labour Office came before the Fourth Commission. I was present on both occasions. In the first place our representatives, with great courtesy and eloquence, endeavoured to cut down the Budget of the League by some insignificant sums, while at the same moment, in another Commission, our representatives were advocating the spending of some 500,000 francs by an Opium Conference. Other nations could not understand our attitude; they could not believe that we were sincere in either Commission.
Then again, when the Budget of the International Labour Office came up for discussion, we opposed it, and again recommended that certain items should be cut down. Yet, in accordance with the view of the officials at Geneva, our representatives had already sanctioned that Budget on behalf of the Government. It is very difficult for foreigners to understand the manner in which we conduct our affairs, and in these two instances we have given them, I am sorry to say, ample opportunity of suspecting our sincerity in advocating the work performed by the International Labour Office and, in fact, by the League as well. I believe that if I were allowed free play in the Ministry of Labour in this country I could find items in its Budget which 1899 could be curtailed by some small amount, and yet because of that I certainly would not think of opposing the general work which the Ministry does. After all, does any Budget in the world go through the scrutiny that the Budget of the International Labour Office does? Here are the various Departments and Committees: First of all the Budget is drafted by the Office; then a special sub-Committee undertakes to examine it; then it goes to the Governing Body; then to the Supervising Finance Committee of the League, on which we have an honoured and respected member, and it most carefully examines every point which might be criticised as erring on the side of extravagance. Finally, it goes to the Fourth Commission, and then to the Assembly itself. In September India, to the surprise of many delegates, made a strong attack on the subject of the extravagance of the League of Nations, and, yet, I understand that India voted the other day for the Budget, and I believe Canada did the same. I do not wish to criticise the Minister's attitude, but I think that by a statement made in this House he might allay the suspicion which his action must naturally arouse in other countries. The sum involved is £33,000, and, as a matter of fact, I think the telephones of the Ministry of Labour cost about £36,000 a year so that, actually from the point of view of money, it is a very small matter indeed. I have no desire whatever to make the task of the Minister more difficult than it is, and I would like to end on the same note as that on which I began. I am very glad indeed that the Minister went to Geneva, and I hope and trust that his presence there will prove to be a sufficient guarantee and evidence of the sincerity with which we in this country regard and support the work of the International Labour Office. I am convinced that there is no country in which industry, both capital and labour, will benefit more from the work performed by the Labour Office than the country of which the right hon. Gentleman was the respected representative at Geneva.
§ Mr. HARRIS
There is one point on which I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. I believe that the one good thing which the 1900 Minister of Labour has done during his term of office has been to visit Geneva. We cannot place to his credit many useful acts, but certainly that is the best of his actions since he undertook the office of Minister of Labour. Let me express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman learned something at Geneva and that his journey there has been attended with some profit. I do not go as far as to hope that he comes back to us in a white sheet, but, what may prove to be the right hon. Gentleman's swan song, as Minister of Labour, may also be in the nature of a song of repentance. At any rate the right hon. Gentleman when he entered office aroused great expectations because of the record of his early youth as a pioneer in labour matters. His appointment was considered by many of us to be one of the strong appointments of the Government, but no one who has watched his career for the last four years can say that he has justified that promise. Certainly, he has cut a very sorry figure before the world outside.
The hon. and gallant Member who spoke last said that, as a visitor to Geneva, he found suspicions about the sincerity of the Government in reference to Labour matters. I am afraid that suspicion is not limited to foreign countries. Some of us, much as we hesitate to do so, begin to suspect the sincerity of the Ministry of Labour in its attitude to the 8-hours question. For my part that attitude is a complete mystery. The right hon. Gentleman, as far as I can make out, uses words to confuse issues and to hide policy. He is a great master of long sentences, and I hope whoever is going to reply to-day will give us a clear statement of policy. It is remarkable, however, that although we have two Ministers representing the Ministry of Labour neither of them deigns to be present at this discussion. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to hear our criticism; perhaps he would find it very depressing.
§ Sir FREDERICK THOMSON (Vice-Chamberlain of the Household)
I will take a careful note of it, and convey it to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. HARRIS
I think on an occasion of this kind, either the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary might trouble to be present. It is an 1901 occasion of sufficient importance to demand the presence of someone more important than the Government Whip for Scotland, although, no doubt, Scotland is concerned in this matter. I think anybody who heard the indictment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) must admit that there is a strong case to be answered. Whatever we may say about the success or otherwise of the ex-Minister of Labour in producing schemes, whatever we may say about the details of his administration, we must do him the credit of acknowledging that he played a good part in drafting and in endeavouring to implement the Washington Convention. It is to be remembered that this country is as much responsible for the drafting of the Convention as any other country. The Convention was carried in Washington as long ago as 1919 by 82 votes to 2, which is as near to complete unanimity as it is possible to get in connection with a Convention of this far-reaching character. As a matter of fact, the original Convention was drafted by a committee of 15 on which we had three representatives. It was afterwards modified and given more elasticity in order to meet the requirements and criticisms of employers, particularly employers in this country.
After 1919 new difficulties arose, particularly that of the withdrawal of America from the League of Nations, which explain the first year or two of delay. It came as a shock to those who supported the Convention when the United States withdrew from the League of Nations. Of course, it would have been quite a different story had the United States remained in the League. But everybody knows that that is not the big fact. If you take labour conditions in America, wages and hours and all the other conditions, no one can say that, on the whole, labour conditions are worse in the United States than in this country. On the other hand, it is our boast and pride that we lead in Europe and have led during the last quarter of a century, in regard to hours, working conditions and factory laws. We have been endeavouring for years to level up conditions on the Continent of Europe. Hon. Members opposite found their case for Protection, largely on the inferior conditions of labour in 1902 Germany and France and among our competitors, particularly as regard hours of labour. Speech after speech is made by hon. Members pleading for safeguarding on the ground of the longer hours of labour worked by our competitors.
Here is a chance, a real living chance, to level up conditions of labour throughout Europe. For the life of me I cannot understand the attitude of the Government. It is a complete mystery to me and to thousands of people outside. What is in their minds? What are the influences at work? I know that employers of labour, to some extent, have not been favourable to the idea—not because they are against the principle of the 48-hour week but because they like to keep hours of labour as an instrument of bargaining with labour, when it comes to negotiations on general conditions. They do not want to hand over that instrument to the State. But that only applies to a percentage of employers. I think only 7 per cent. of the workers of our industries are working more than eight hours a day.
§ Mr. HARRIS
That may be so, but that only strengthens the case for ratification. I did not know they were actually working more than 48 hours a week but that strengthens my case, because the justification for the Government's policy, in increasing the hours of labour, was the existence in Poland of scandalous conditions almost equivalent to slavery. You will never improve those conditions in Poland until the whole matter is brought before the International Labour Office and thoroughly threshed out, and until we set an example by signing this Convention and showing our sincerity. It has been our boast in the past that we are pioneers in social legislation. This country has always been regarded as the home of Liberalism, and the toilers of European countries have looked to us for inspiration. They are unable to understand the reactionary attitude of the Government. No doubt we shall be regaled with all sorts of excuses. The account which I read of the right hon. 1903 Gentleman's remarkable speech at Geneva, if it was a true account, shows that speech to have been a wonderful performance in word-splitting. According to the "Times" account, the Minister said at Geneva that:the actual interpretation put on the phrase 'hours of work' was not understood by him.He also asked how was "intermittent work" to be defined? and we have this further gem:To begin with the Convention never said what 'hours of work' were.Then follows this delightful phrase:What did the Convention mean by the word 'week'.
§ Mr. HARRIS
Yes, it has taken 10 years to discover these difficulties. I would point out also that in 1926 there was a conference on this matter, not in any foreign country but in London, in our own city. Here we were not under the disadvantage of conducting negotiations in a foreign language and we had at hand the assistance of our experts. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman was in a position to give a lead. Just before that conference met the Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons said:We shall do our utmost to secure complete agreement and understanding. If that agreement is reached the ratification of the Washington Convention by the participating countries will then be possible and we shall proceed to ratify, but we are not going to ratify until we are convinced that we all mean the same thing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1926; col. 49, Vol. 191.]In other words, they were to try to get a proper interpretation of these various points like the meaning of "hours of labour" and of "week." Then the right hon. Gentleman himself at the opening session of the London Conference said:Though the present British Government had not felt justified in pursuing a policy of immediate and unconditional ratification they felt that to do nothing might be a dangerous policy and might lead to a retrograde movement as a result of international competition.Well, we have had a policy of doing nothing—a policy of mere negation. I think we have the right now to demand from the Government a clear statement of their attitude. Are they going to be 1904 mere tools of the Federation of British Industries? Are they going to be manipulated by that Federation? I do not believe it represents the real mind of the best employers of the country. They recognise that it is in the best interests of this country to have a general levelling up right through Europe to the best standards of British conditions. The attitude of the right hon. Gentleman seems to justify the most revolutionary and extreme section of Labour representatives. There are sections in the country who believe that the Government stand to force down labour conditions in this country. I do not believe that that is the real attitude of the Government, but the figure cut by the right hon. Gentleman at Geneva seems to justify the most extreme criticism of their action, and I only hope that one result of our discussion to-day will be that the Minister will be able to show that he has learned something at Geneva, that he has a policy outside mere word splitting, and that he means to do something. If, by some freak of fortune, he should be in office next year, it is very unlikely—[Interruption.] To-day a safe Tory seat was turned into a Liberal seat by a large majority, and if we have any more reactionary work done by Government Departments on the lines of the action of the Minister of Labour in this connection, they will be doing their best to help on a great Liberal revival. From that point of view, we thank the right hon. Gentleman for his attitude, but from the point of view of the well-being of the country, we can only regret it.
§ Sir J. SANDEMAN ALLEN
I listened with great interest to the opening speech of the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw), which is one that we have heard before on many occasions, but slightly altered to meet the changed conditions of the moment; and I feel that it is only right that one like myself, who has nothing to do with employers of labour, but who has studied these questions very closely and who has been to Geneva and attended many international conferences, should say a word or two on this subject. The case in regard to the Washington Convention has been put forward in such a way that people who are not familiar with the methods of arriving at and preparing conventions may be misled into thinking 1905 that because, after discussion, certain representatives of foreign Governments come to a general agreement as to the form of a convention, that is a promise binding in any way on the different Governments concerned. We know very well that a large number of international conventions and agreements have been made, at which points have been threshed out and, according to the best knowledge of the representatives present, agreements have been drawn up for submission to the countries concerned for consideration, and, after modification and alteration in detail, to make the language more clear, the conventions have finally been agreed to in a form understood by all concerned.
When we come to the Washington Convention, I think it is only right that it should be made perfectly clear that our Government have right through approved the general principles of that Convention. Anything to the contrary that has been said in this House has been said for reasons which we thoroughly understand and to which we are quite accustomed on occasions like the present. I do not say that these arguments are either true or untrue, but they are put forward in a party political manner and addressed to the country as a whole rather than to the common-sense and intelligence of this House, and it is of importance that we should realise the true position. The Government of this country have never set themselves against the broad principle of a 48-hours week, and I submit that the present Government have done their very best to maintain the high standard of labour conditions which we have attained in this country. I am thoroughly tired of hearing people, both inside and outside this House, making light of this country's achievements in this connection. In spite of all that has been said, I maintain, with certain knowledge—having in the last few years been all over Europe, meeting most of the Ministers and many of the Opposition members in the different countries, and having attended international conferences of all kinds—that no country in Europe stands as high in the general opinion as does this country under the present Government.
The fact that we have not ratified this Convention shows, in my opinion, the real honour of the Government, because they will not put their name to something which may be interpreted to mean one 1906 thing by one person and something else by another. We know very well that some foreign countries have ratified the Convention and that they take a different view of the meaning of its words from that taken by us. I do not want to talk about effective working hours, and continuous processes, and other things which are difficult of interpretation, but the Government are determined, irrespective of party, to carry out their obligations when they undertake them, and the Minister of Labour has, in the opinion of many of us who have no practical interest in industry, acted soundly, in the best interests and to the honour of this country. Whatever may be said for certain purposes by people abroad—and one is very familiar with these things—at heart they know what England stands for, and that England is the one country that they can trust more than any other. A great many Conventions have been signed, and I would like to ask hon. Members to take note of the fact that the Government of this country have ratified more Conventions than any other Government in Europe, and have carried them out. At the present moment there are certain Conventions that the Government are carrying out, affecting the trade of this country in a particular way, and we have found it necessary to call the attention of certain other nations to the fact that they have ratified those Conventions and that those Conventions contain certain Clauses which they are not practising. We can do that with certain knowledge, because this country has maintained to the letter the Conventions that it has signed.
It is a ridiculous statement to make to say that the Government have acted in this matter in the interests of the employers of this country. They have acted in the interests of the industry of this country, in the interests of those called the workers, just as much as if not more than in the interests of those called the owners. I cannot imagine a more foolish statement to go abroad than the statement that this Government or any honest British Government have been influenced in a matter of this kind by the interests of the employers as distinct from the interests of industry as a whole. They have acted in the interests of the workers, and it would be a very satisfactory thing to feel that we had a united support 1907 for every measure that we want to see taken to develop the industry of this country, in the interests of everyone participating in it, by taking care of and paying attention to what is going on abroad. On the contrary, what happens is that Debates like this, which have happened half-a-dozen times in the last three or four years, have a deliberately ruinous effect on the very thing which we are seeking to do. These Debates are quoted in various parts of the world and, instead of being regarded as a mere talking to electors they are believed to be a solemn statement of the facts of the case, and a large number of people abroad are misled. I believe that at heart everyone wants to improve the conditions abroad, so that our British working man can have a better chance of proving what he is really worth, and I think the line of argument put forward to-day on both sides of the Gangway opposite is entirely destructive of the production of the right spirit in that connection.
One speaks rather hotly about it to-day, because this is not the first nor the second time that one has heard these statements. We have had a very flimsy case put before us, and anybody who has a trained legal mind would, I should think, say that it has been entirely lacking in the ordinary law of evidence, and that a large number of mere assumptions have been put forward. Every pledge that the Government have made in this direction and in every other direction has been thoroughly maintained, and any suggestion to the contrary with regard to this particular question is really not based upon facts. Those of us who have had the opportunity of working at many international conventions know very well that we do our best to arrive at a general understanding, and that then we have to submit the convention to our respective countries, unless we are plenipotentiaries, and none of those who went out there were plenipotentiaries. Many of us have worked out draft conventions, and seen them submitted to the Government, and recast and altered until there has been finally a clear and definite convention expressing what we intended to do.
If the party opposite want a charter for the working men, let them not have 1908 one that other people can get behind—I do not say deliberately—but let us have it at least foolproof and straightforward. This Convention is neither one nor the other. I think it is a vital matter that we should know what we are signing and that the actual meaning of the words should be made perfectly clear. It was said that we are behind Poland. It was childish if it was meant to suggest that the methods of Poland can compare with those of this country. Those of us who have been there and who know the hours and conditions of labour and the standard of living there, know perfectly well that to compare the two nations is absurd. The whole of these arguments are worthless, except for publication in the country, where the people are not familiar with the details of the subject. I do not think they were really meant in that way, but I believe they were due to the exasperation of one who very earnestly and energetically wanted to see this particular form of words adopted by this country. I think it is really in the interests of the country that people should content themselves by endeavouring to stand by the Minister who is here to uphold, and who has upheld, the honour and dignity of this country, and to see that when we put our signature to a document it is done in such a way that neither we ourselves misunderstand it, nor others who sign it misunderstand or misuse it, and thus only lead in the long run to greater trouble.
On the broad question of whether or not legislation should be at once undertaken in regard to the subject matter of hours of labour, irrespective of the Convention, I do not pretend to be in a position to judge, but I assert, without fear of denial from any honest man in this House, that the Government and the party on this side are just as keen and anxious to see the genuine, fair, and proper carrying out of the broad principles of that Convention as anyone else in this country. I feel that the attack on the Minister of Labour has not been a fair one, and I trust that be will give a definite, clear, and very strong answer to it. I want him to be less conciliatory on the subject, to show what this country has done and is determined to do, and to see the right thing done in face of every difficulty.
§ Mr. J. BAKER
The hon. Member for West Derby (Sir J. Sandeman Allen) seems to think that it is a trivial thing when we on this side of the House charge the Government and their predecessors with not having carried out a pledge. There was a time in this country when an Englishman's word was supposed to be his bond, and that feeling was broadcast in the world, but this is not a case where someone has said something and may not have been quite as clear as he otherwise might have been or desired to be. There are two points at issue. One is the Versailles Treaty, where something was definitely laid down. The signatories to that Treaty said: "We, the high contracting parties, hereby agree," and they signed it. It took them days of consideration to arrive at that conclusion; there was no hurry and presumbably they knew what they were doing. If they did not, it is rather curious that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House are insisting that every other provision in that Treaty shall be carried out except this particular one. Since we discussed this matter last year, a rather important event has taken place. A Committee was appointed in 1924 to examine industry with particular reference to our overseas trade and unemployment, and their Report, which has recently been issued, has some bearing on this discussion. The Committee examined witnesses and documents, took evidence and made surveys, and in their final Report, dealing with hours of labour, they say:It appears to us that the obligations laid upon the parties to the Treaties of Peace cannot be said to have been adequately met so long as the important declaration with regard to hours of labour is not generally and effectively fulfilled. It is true that an attempt was made at the Washington Conference of 1919 to give practical effect to the Treaty declaration, but unfortunately the Convention framed for the purpose has not so far met with any general acceptance from States of commercial importance.That is not the opinion of biased politicians or of Labour men waving red flags, because that Committee was constituted of 17 persons, of whom only six were Socialists. The others were anti-Socialists and in sympathy with the speech of the hon. Member for West Derby. They belong to the employing and commercial class, the only class with any honour and ability in this country, 1910 the class that always keeps its word if we are to believe the hon. Member for West Derby, and the class which always does the right thing. They are members of the class that never by any chance does the wrong thing. It is no good the hon. Member shouting for himself and his Government, and using high falutin' sentiments and getting himself a little heated in the process. It is not a question of the Government having made an assertion, and our misinterpreting that assertion. The Report of the Committee goes on:It appears to us that the language of the Treaties of Peace, laying down a certain length of working hours as the standard to be aimed at where it has not already been attained, is incompatible with the adoption of any policy of reverting to longer hours.The Committee therefore condemn any attempt to revert to longer hours.We think, moreover, that whatever be the defects of the Washington Convention on hours of labour, the mere refusal or omission to ratify this particular Agreement does not release a State from its continuing obligation under the Treaty of Peace to seek means to give effect to the aspirations expressed therein.There is a definite opinion in writing which condemns this Government, and which is not expressed in order to further the object of the Labour party, but to try to restore the trade of this country, because the Committee clearly realise that there is a great danger of conflict in industry in the immediate future over this very question of hours, and that it ought to be cleared up before the danger of the conflict arises. These two references are on page 106 of the Balfour Report. On page 107, the committee go on to say:If, however, these premises be admitted, and if consequently any general increase in the length of the nominal working day in British industry is barred, not only by trade union opposition, but by the obligations of the treaties of peace, it can hardly be doubted that the right policy to pursue in the interests of British competitive power is to endeavour to conclude a suitable convention which shall so far as possible safeguard our industries by establishing an international standard of hours.Have we even been trying to do that by the way in which we have gone on during the past four years? Had I been in the position of the Minister of Labour at Geneva having to admit that I did not know what a working week was, or what 1911 hours of labour meant, I should have felt a little ashamed of myself. We have had a hundred years of industry in this country, and a hundred years of trade union conflicts, and these matters have been settled here, as they have been settled in Germany, France and other countries, and they are in the process of being settled all over the world. The point made by the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) covered the whole question, namely, that the hours that are to be paid for are those during which the employer can call upon the workman to work. I am afraid that if the Minister of Labour went into the steel trade or into a puddling forge, he would be like some of the employers in the industry and take a tally of the actual seconds that the men do something which the employers said was useful, and in the old 12-hour days he would have declared that a puddler worked only four hours. If the puddler could do his four hours, and go home and be a free man and spend his time as he liked, the employer would not be called upon to pay him as long as he was not there, but as long as the employer keeps the man inside the gates, the employer's job is to see that he is fully employed; if the workman cannot work all the time, and if he is not supplied with the raw material with which to get on with his job, the employer must pay him.
The Minister of Labour wanted to know what intermittent work is, and after it-had been clearly pointed out that it is defined in the Washington Convention, it has not impressed him with a desire to come to a common agreement with people in other countries who are considering this particular problem. In the Memorandum at the end of the Balfour Report, on page 303, this matter is dealt with. It is signed by seven members of the committee, and it says:We would emphasise the urgency of Great Britain honouring its pledge under the Peace Treaty to adhere to an International Convention regulating hours and other conditions of labour, with a view to raising the standard of life throughout the world.The Government which signed the Treaty ought immediately to have proceeded to carry out Clause 4 of Section 13, and establish an 8-hours day or a 48-hours week. I know that there are difficulties in doing it but I have suggested 1912 in the House before how to get over them. In the steel trade in 1919 we demanded an 8-hours day. We have been told this afternoon that employers are anxious to do their best for the workmen, and to work them reasonable hours and to pay them well. Before the War the organisation with which I am associated asked for an 8-hours shift for a particular section of the industry, and guaranteed that that change should not cost the employers a penny. The workmen who were on piece rates would get the same piece rates; the workmen who were on days, and would have to receive increased hourly rates, would have to be compensated; and the wages of the third shift would necessarily have to be paid and would be paid by the workmen. The employers would not have to pay for it, and yet they refused that offer.
In 1919 we told the employers that we wanted an 8-hours day and that we were going to have it. We did not in the least desire to injure the employer or to destroy the trade. In the negotiations, a ways and means committee was set up. The country was not dealt with as a unit, but every district, every works, every mill, every forge and every smelting plant had a chance of putting its case before its ways and means committee, in pointing out the difficulties and discussing them, not with a view to hindering progress, but with a view to getting a right settlement which would not injure either side. That meant give and take on both sides, and we established the 8-hours day. There is not a 47-hours week, but we established the 8-hours day. It is less, because you cannot work three eights in 24 if you are going to have something to eat while you are working. The men actually work fewer than eight hours. I have suggested to the Government that they should carry out the pledge in the Peace Treaty, pass legislation, establish the 48-hours week and the 8-hours day, and make provision for its application to the peculiarities of every industry in the country. I could give the hon. Member for West Derby the prophecy that if he expects the workers to wait until everybody on earth can supply a stereotyped formula to every industry, he will be found dead waiting and will never achieve it. These things are brought out with a view to stopping progress, and not with a view to helping things forward. The plain facts of the situation are that, 1913 notwithstanding the assertions referred to, the employers of this country want longer hours.
I am not vitally interested in the cotton trade, but I do read the Press, and my impression from Press reports is that on no fewer than three occasions employers in the cotton industry have demanded longer hours. On one occasion cleaning time was involved. When suggestions were put before the men they were willing to discuss wages but point-blank refused to discuss hours. When the employers wanted to alter the cleaning time the men said, "Bring in other people and have your machines cleaned, but we are not going to work longer hours." The hon. Member who knows says they have never done any such thing. I understood that in the woollen industry they also asked for longer hours. I am not an authority on the woollen industry, but I know the secretary, and I understood that this has been one of his troubles on several occasions quite recently. In the iron and steel trade we do know that they want longer hours, because they have asked us for them. They say we work fewer hours than the Germans, and that we ought to work at least as many, and perhaps a few more.
In Scotland, in the puddled iron trade, that is, the malleable iron trade, the employers, who are associated with a board of arbitration, gave notice cancelling all agreements. They closed down their works on a Saturday, and thought they could re-open them on brand new conditions on Monday. Every man was invited to go back and resume his job, and he would then be told what his wages would be. The hours would certainly be longer than the hours he had been working, but not more than 48, and his wages for 48 hours would be no more than they were for the fewer hours. The men refused to start. We thought those Scotsmen had engineered their case splendidly. What I, at all events, believe is that they wanted to re-start the old 12 hours shift. But they did not do it like that; they were too canny to do a silly thing like that. I believe the Minister of Labour would have jumped on them if they had wanted to restore the old 12 hours shift. What they did was to dismiss one of the three shifts and to work the other two shifts on the basis on which they had been working 1914 when three shifts were engaged. Then they came along later to say, "It is silly to work on Saturdays. It is a short day and you never do much. Cannot we get these hours in the five shifts? The men did not agree, and hence the notice that was issued. I believe that is what all the employers in the iron and steel trade would do if they thought they could get it, but they know they cannot succeed without conflict. They got conflict in that case. On paper we were wiped out. In that area there were 6,000 men who could take our place. We had only 600 members. The employers were refusing to arbitrate, though they were members of a board of arbitration. We had to appeal to the Minister of Labour. I believe he acted fairly. I do not want to say he helped us, lest he gets into trouble, but he was certainly of assistance in ending that dispute. I do not know whether he would have gone further if he could and have helped us, but he did take the view—or he appeared to—that in refusing arbitration the employers were not acting wisely. His Department intervened, and the case has been arbitrated upon, but we have not yet got the decision.
In face of these facts, it is no good for any Member of the House to tell me that the emlpoyers do not want to bring about longer hours, because I cannot accept it. We have not got 12,000,000 people working a 48-hours week or less in this country. What we in this country do with the hours stipulated for a week's work is to use the figure as a measuring rod. We say: "You work 47, 46 or 44 hours and you will get a week's wages." But how many of those 12,000,000 people are working overtime? I do not think it is wise to work one group of workpeople too long, while there are other groups who could be set to work who are walking the streets. Take the case of the three shifts of iron workers. The third shift which was dispensed with was selected arbitrarily. It was not a question of these men being less capable than the others. There were three shifts, and one had to go, and one shift went out. It would have been wiser to keep those three shifts running rather than have to support one of them on the funds of the Ministry of Labour, because that is what has happened; and this at a time when we are working overtime! The millions 1915 who are supposed to have a 48-hours week are working long spells of overtime. If this overtime were not worked, other workmen would be absorbed.
It has been stated in this House that we cannot trust other countries in this matter; that the French, for instance, have passed an 8-hours law, but have made provision for 200 hours overtime to be worked in the year. In the engineering trade of this country there is an agreement which permits an employer to work his workpeople not more than 30 hours a month; that means 360 hours a year overtime. We hold the Frenchman up to ridicule because he makes provision for working 200 hours overtime a year, though that may not always be taken advantage of, while thinking ourselves the soul of honour through continuing an agreement which will enable an employer to work his workpeople 360 hours overtime in the year. That sort of reasoning does not appeal to me, and I believe that in this matter we are wrong and are dishonouring ourselves and our country. We could put this matter right if we would, but we will not. Our pledge on the Peace Treaty has nothing whatever to do with what another country does. If America does not give an 8-hours day, that has nothing to do with us. We pledged ourselves in the Peace Treaty to do a certain thing, and until we have done it we have not carried out that Treaty as far as the workmen are concerned.
We have been told that the Government of this country have signed more Conventions than any other country, but they were trade Conventions affecting commercial men and employers of labour. Of course, a Government of employers will carry out Conventions which affect commerce and affect themselves. Here is a Treaty affecting the lives, the well-being and the health of working mea, and it is not carried out, and we workmen are left free to drawn our own conclusions. I think the time is ripe for a further reduction of hours. I have told the House that in 1919 we got an eight-hours shift. In 1924 there were 30,090 people engaged in the pig-iron industry, and in 1928 22,150, so that in four years the numbers had fallen by 7,940. The percentage of unemployed in 1924 was 18.23, and in 1928 1916 16.12. Production was lower in 1928 by 7,600 tons, but it was larger per person engaged in the industry. As long as that is going on you are creating unemployment. Unemployed men could be absorbed by a further reduction of hours, and by stopping overtime except in cases of emergency, and until the Government of this country take such action, no one will be able to persuade me that it is carrying out its pledge in the Peace Treaty or under the Washington Convention.
The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. J. Baker) has referred to one matter which, in itself, shows the difficulty of interpreting this Convention. He spoke of the cleaning time in the cotton trade. In England the cleaning time is regarded as part of the effective working time, but on the continent it is additional to the working time, and until we have a satisfactory settlement of the definition of effective working time we shall not have removed one of the difficulties of carrying out the Convention. I am glad the Minister of Labour took up the attitude which he did at Geneva. This Convention ought to be revised; in fact, we have nearly reached the period when, according to one of its Clauses, it is due for revision, and for modification if necessary. I am rather surprised that no stress has been laid upon the fact that this Convention does not carry out what was expressed in the Peace Treaty. The Peace Treaty asked for a 48-hours week. If you look at the various articles of this draft Convention, you will find that it expressly provides that Japan shall work 57 hours per week, that is in the case of any workers who are above the age of 16, and I think that in the raw silk industry they work 60 hours a week. That Convention, which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken of as a 48-hours week Convention, specifically lays down that the people of India shall work 60 hours a week. It also definitely excludes the people of China; they are not brought within the scope of, this Convention in any way.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to give a wrong impression. Surely he is aware that under the terms of the Treaty itself undeveloped industrial countries are specifically mentioned, and have to be specifically dealt with, and not on the same lines as a country like Britain.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WADDINGTON
I cannot accept the statement that Japan, for example, is an undeveloped industrial country. I know, and the right hon. Gentleman knows, that we in Lancashire are suffering from unemployment in the cotton trade from the very fact that Japan's cotton industry is highly specialised. That the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) as a representative of the cotton trade should ask us to support a man working 57 hours per week in Japan when he wants the men of Lancashire to work 48 hours is absurd.
§ Mr. WADDINGTON
The right hon. Gentleman, as one of the framers of the Convention, accepted an article which makes it obligatory upon us to exclude Japan, where the workers work 57 hours per week against our 48. Why is the right hon. Gentleman so eloquent in asking for this Convention to be ratified now? I recall a period in 1924 when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Labour and when, burning over with zeal, he ought to have put ratification in force. I remember that some of his colleagues at that time pressed him to ratify this Convention. Since the right hon. Gentleman made his speech to-day I have taken the trouble to extract from the OFFICIAL REPORT some points from the right hon. Gentleman's speeches when he was Minister of Labour. I find on the 14th February, 1924, he was asked when his Ministry were going to ratify this Convention in a Bill, and his answer was that the subject was under consideration. On 20th February, 1924, the right hon. Gentleman replied that the Bill was now being prepared. On the 19th March, 1924, the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped to be in a position to introduce the Bill at an early date. On 2nd April, 1924, he said:I hope to be in a position to introduce this Bill within a short time, but I am not yet able to indicate the precise date.In answer to a Supplementary Question on that occasion about ratification, the right hon. Gentleman said: 1918I am not prepared to give further delay."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd April, 1924; col. 2143, Vol. 171.]On 2nd May, 1924, the right hon. Gentleman said:I hope to introduce this Bill at an early date."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1924; col. 1981, Vol. 172.] On 21st May, he said:I am not yet in a position to indicate the precise date on which I shall introduce this Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May, 1924; col. 2178, Vol. 173.]On 2nd July, 1924, Mr. Ben Turner put a similar question, and he received an answer from the then Prime Minister to the effect that the Government were not yet in a position to give the precise date. Then Mr. Turner got up—I remember the scene—and used these words:Is it not a fact that we have had for at least four months the statement from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour that this Bill will be introduced shortly? When will 'shortly' expire?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1924; col. 1324, Vol. 175.]Evidently Mr. Turner's indignation had some effect, because on 14th July the Hours of Industrial Employment Bill was introduced. Mark what followed. On 4th August, a representative of the Railway employés put a question asking whether in the existing agreement between employers and their workpeople there was a provision that they should be exempted from the said Bill. The answer came that if they came to the possibility of ratification they would be exempt. The difficulty of that answer and the importance of the question were so effective that, during the existence of the Labour Ministry, this House was never troubled any more with other questions relating to the Hours of Labour Convention, and the House was not asked to give a Second Reading to that particular Bill.
I submit that with a record of that sort the right hon. Gentleman comes to us in a false attitude at the present time, pretending that he and the Labour party and the workers of this country have always been anxious for the ratification of this Convention. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that at a meeting we had when the representatives of the textile organisations of Lancashire came to this House, asking for the Factory Bill, they asked for the ratification of this particular Treaty in order that 48 hours 1919 might be conceded to Lancashire operatives. The point was put to them as to whether they would be willing in the Factory Bill for the 48 hours to be made legal as far as women and children only were concerned. The late Mr. Judson, speaking for the textile operatives' organisations of Lancashire, said:Yes, that would suit them. They were not particular about the men so long as the women and children were subject to the 48-hours legal week.No doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston will recall that particular incident.
§ Mr. WADDINGTON
I suggest that the difficulties which have occurred in connection with this Convention have been due to the attitude adopted by the Labour party. Take the London Conference of two years ago. I would like the Labour Minister to tell us whether that London Conference was one which was binding upon those who attended, or whether it was merely a conference for discussion in order to elucidate points without having any real binding effect upon the various Governments concerned. It is interesting to look at what people in other countries do on this subject, and how they view the question of a 48-hours week. The French people have had an Eight Hours Act since 1919. It is true that two years ago they had a discussion in the French Parliament, where it was stated by the Minister of Labour that if the other countries would ratify the Convention, they would put it into force in France. A further question was put to the French Minister of Labour asking whether it was the intention of the Government to make changes in the existing law relating to the 8-hours day, and the Minister replied that there was no intention of making any change of any sort. Let me bring to the notice of the House a speech which was made by Mr. Louis Gro during a discussion on this question in the French Chamber on 26th November. He spoke of the exceptions, and they are what make this Measure most important. After referring to what had to be included in the Bill and for what each country was allowed to claim exemption in various industries, he said:One may lay down as a principle that the Act is not applicable to motor drivers, 1920 engine drivers, electricians, overseers, superintendents, specialists, controlling agents, caretakers, porters, messengers, lift attendants, office boys, etc. I will stop there, gentlemen, for it is impossible to mention all of them. The result is that large quantities of workmen are totally deprived of the eight hour day.The same gentleman then took examples from various trades of the exceptions which were allowed, and I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that various countries can place their own interpretation and make their own exceptions. All they have to do when they make those exceptions is to report what they have done to the League of Nations, and there is no penalty or compulsion in the League of Nations to say that they have made a wrong exception, or that they have taken advantage of another country. They simply have to report what they have done. Mr. Louis Gro took another example. He said:I take as an example the corn milling trade. The millers, sifters and cleaners, the three largest classes required for working, are by permanent exception allowed to do all the year round 12 hours of effective work per day.This does not exclude the mills from working 260 additional hours per year. The same gentleman went on to say:Another trade is that of metallurgy and metal working. There are 13 categories for permanent exceptions comprising such a vast number of workers of various kinds that one asks if indeed there can remain in these trades any paid worker eligible to benefit by the eight-hours day?In the glass works the permanent exceptions comprise 14 different categories of workers. The same thing obtains with very little variation in all large industrial classes."
He continued:In fact, one ends with a system not of an eight-hour day with exceptions, but with a nine-hour day without exceptions.That is what has happened to an Act which, at its inception, was considered by all the working community as one of their greatest victories, and upon which they place their fondest hopes. If that is the experience of an Eight Hours Act in France, I ask, are we not justified in this country in urging that there should be more consideration, and a real desire to get a common understanding before we are prepared to go to the extent of 1921 ratification? Finally, I would like to say that all of us, whether representing workers, or employers or the general mass of the people, ought to consider the difficulties under which we should place our trade and industry if we ratified this Convention, and 12 months or two years afterwards we found that we had put ourselves into a most difficult position. One of the conditions is that you cannot undo a ratification for 11 years after you have ratified the Convention. Is it not a dangerous thing for this House or for the Government to ask us to ratify a Convention in regard to a subject which bristles with so many difficulties? I am glad that the Minister of Labour has taken up the attitude which he has, and I hope he will persevere in that attitude until we get a greater measure of common agreement among the various industrial nations of the world.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Although I cannot subscribe to the arguments of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Waddington), I can say that I appreciate that his speech contains what I consider to be the pith of the case against the ratification of this Convention, and I think it may be regarded as being as good an exposition of the case as it is possible to advance. I submit, however, that there are one or two considerations which the hon. Gentleman has allowed, shall I say, to distort his judgment. He referred particularly to the argument, which is often advanced, that it is a dangerous thing for the Government to embark upon a policy of ratification of the Washington Convention, because in practice various nations who have already indicated their desire to ratify interpret the terms of the Convention differently from ourselves. In the course of his argument, the hon. Member referred particularly and specifically to France. He is not alone in the allegation which he makes concerning the statement of the French Minister on this point. Indeed, our own Minister of Labour, speaking on 28th February, 1927, used these words:The difficulty related to such points as the distribution of hours of work, the making up of time lost, the interpretation to be given to actual work and to intermittent work. The definition of actual work is extraordinarily important in this connection.1922 Then the Minister went on to refer to the particular point which was made by the hon. Member for Rossendale. He continued:Almost concurrently with the making of this statement, the French Minister of Labour informed the French Senate, on 3rd December, that the chief result of ratification by France will be to make the existing French law different from the Convention, as it is on hours of work an international law instead of a national law, and, in reply to a question as to whether, if the Convention were ratified, the French law would be modified so as to increase the burden of national economy, the Minister replied that there was not the slightest intention of laying before Parliament a proposal of that kind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1927; col. 95, Vol. 203.]That was the reference made by the Minister of Labour in this House on the 28th February, 1927, and I observe that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken is under a similar misapprehension as to what the Minister of Labour in France in fact said on this particular point. There was a discussion in the French Chamber, which arose almost as a direct consequence of the words of our own Minister in this House. I apologise to the House for quoting rather extensively, but it is important that we should get the matter quite clear, for the sake of good international understanding as well as for other reasons. On that occasion the French Minister of Labour said:In these circumstances, Gentleman, the Government is in full agreement with your Committee, and invites you to ratify the Washington Convention as now proposed; that is, with the addition, to the reservation made in the Bill adopted by the Chamber of Deputies, of a fresh reservation regarding Great Britain. The only result of this will be that France's ratification cannot become operative, nor can charges be brought against her for non-application, until Great Britain and Germany have also ratified the Convention definitely and unreservedly, or (if they ratify conditionally) until their conditions are fulfilled. In other words, Gentlemen, a Convention ratified in this manner threatens, if one may say so, no danger to the industries of the nation…THE REPORTER OF THE COMMITTEE: French employers are aware that no immediate charge is imposed on them They no longer oppose the Convention, but, on the other hand, they desire as a minimum safeguard that our existing Eight Hour Law should not be modified in any way as a consequence of the text of the Convention until the Convention is definitely ratified. This appears right, and, in so far as the Government can give such an undertaking, we consider that 1923 industry should be reassured on this point….Then there was some further cross-examination, designed to get the matter clearly from the Minister, and the Minister of Labour said:The Government has already given that undertaking.THE REPORTER: You have not said so from the platform, Sir; the country will welcome such a declaration from you…THE MINISTER: I willingly satisfy M. Courtier's request. The Convention as it is presented to the Senate, and as we asked the Senate to adopt it, in no way requires us to modify our national legislation, and the Government has no intention whatever of proposing any amendments to our existing legislation.So far, it would appear that the statement of the Minister in this House interpreting the French position was right, but subsequently in the Chamber of Deputies there was a discussion upon this particular point, and the whole matter was thoroughly and completely cleared up. A reference was made to it in the Chamber of Deputies by M. Lebas, and these are his words:Here are the words of Sir A. Steel-Maitland, British Minister of Labour in the House of Commons, on 28th February:'We have boon trying to get at the actual facts and to get to the basis of an agreement. The German Bill, and what has happened in the French Senate, do not make things easier, but more difficult.'That, Sir, is the view taken by your British colleague.THE MINISTER OF LABOUR: I too, am aware that he very much misinterpreted certain expressions which I employed in the Senate, and I am grateful to the Reporter for having given them their true meaning.M. CHABRUN (Reporter): Thank you, Sir. I am glad that we agree. I think it was necessary to point out this mistake to the British Government.M. LEBAS: The British Minister said earlier in the debate:'The Minister of Labour informed the Senate that, if the Convention were ratified by France, he did not intend to propose the amendment of the existing legislation,'The French Minister did not say that at all. In reply to a Senator, he said:'It is clearly understood that the text which the Senate doubtless will shortly adopt means that the International Eight Hours Convention will not be applied in France until Great Britain and Germany have also ratified unconditionally, or, if they attach conditions, then when those conditions are fulfilled.'1924I think I have reproduced your declaration fairly accurately.THE MINISTER: As you raise this point on the platform, I desire to state, in order that there may be no doubt whatever on this matter outside our frontiers, that I entirely accept your interpretation of my words.In other words, until Great Britain has fulfilled the condition which the French Government attached to its ratification, that is to say, until Great Britain has ratified, the French Government regards itself as being free from any criticism for not applying the conditions of the Convention. That is an entirely sensible, fair and proper position to take up, and it has been more than once repeated. It seems, therefore, unjust that hon. Gentlemen in this House who are against the Convention should make use of the fact that the French Government and the French Ministry of Labour have not applied the conditions of the Convention in advance of the fulfilment of the condition which they laid down as a preliminary to their acceptance of the Convention. They consider themselves free until we have fulfilled that condition, and I think that in strict fact and logic they are entitled to regard themselves as being so free. Therefore, I submit that a good deal of the speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale rests upon a false hypothesis in so far as it is a criticism of France for failing to observe the conditions of the Convention. She does not intend to apply the conditions of the Convention until we have ratified it coincidentally with herself I think it is rather unjust, and, indeed, rather dangerous, for us to use an illustration of this kind when we know that it is rather twisting the situation to suit our own action.
Having, I hope, made that point quite clear, let me take another point made by the hon. Member for Rossendale. He twitted my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) with having failed to do this, that and the other with regard to the Convention during the period of office of the Labour Government in 1924. The hon. Gentleman, however, must be fair, and I am sure he wants to be fair. He knows very well that the Labour Government in 1924 were under serious handicaps. I do not intend to reiterate them now, but, whatever they were, my right hon. Friend did in fact introduce a Bill into this 1925 House, I think in the month of July, for ratification of the Convention. But, says the hon. Member for Rossendale on the 4th August, 1924, some railwaymen raised a difficulty, and after that, says he, nothing more was heard about that Bill. The hon. Gentleman will, however, remember that it is usual for this House to rise fairly early in August. The Government of 1924 went out of office before the end of October. The House did not reassemble until late in September, and, therefore, the point that the hon. Member has made that nothing more was heard of the matter in that Parliament is really stretching the argument unduly, and a little unfairly.
Let me turn now to the gravamen of the charge which we advance against the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I have taken a very deep interest in this Debate, because I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting the right hon. Gentleman himself in Geneva last Monday week when he was there on official business, and I do not mind saying here and now—I know the right hon. Gentleman will not agree with me, but I cite the opinion of a large number of people who were there and heard the discussion—that I never expected to see any representative of the British Government placed in so deplorable a position as that of the right hon. Gentleman last Monday week. Let me just indicate, following what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet), the spirit in which the Government approach the whole question of the League of Nations and the International Labour Office. A criticism was made by an hon. and gallant Member opposite with regard to the Budget of the International Labour Office, but what are the facts? The Estimate for the International Labour Office, which was presented last week, for the year 1930, was actually less by some 206,000 francs than the Estimate presented last year, which the British Government heartily supported. Hon. Members were against a bill which was 206,000 francs less than the bill which they supported last year.
Perhaps I might add one or two interesting details about this year, which the House may like to know. That Budget had been reduced by 298,000 francs on account of the fact that a certain amount of refugee work which 1926 hitherto had been undertaken would not be undertaken in 1930. But, on the other hand, there was added to the bill a sum of 215,000 francs to cover certain statutory increases which the Assembly of the League of Nations itself had authorised. Further, the increase covered expenses in regard to certain Conferences which are going to be held in various parts of the world, one of them being a Conference to be held in Johannesburg to examine the whole question of silicosis among miners. A sum of 25,000 francs is to be spent on that subject. There were also some 30,000 francs to inquire into the whole question of labour conditions in China, and it is against a budget involving expenditure of that sort that the right hon. Gentleman's representatives at Geneva thundered so tremendously a week ago.
There was disappointment at Geneva on one or two grounds. Let me take, first of all, the effect upon Government representatives. My right hon. Friend the Member for Preston has covered some of the historical ground in regard to the evolution of this Washington Convention. There have been some three occasions on which Government representatives have met together in order to arrive at a definite agreement concerning the interpretation of the words of the Convention. There was the Washington Convention itself, there was the Berne discussion, and the discussion later on in London, and it is worth while pointing out to hon. Members opposite who take the view, apparently, of the employers—which is quite natural and in accordance with precedent—that, when the proposal was first presented to the Washington Convention for acceptance or otherwise, there was attached by the Committee that examined the proposals a series of schedules in which an attempt was made to cover certain of the points which have since then been the subject of controversy on the part of the employers. It was definitely on the motion of the employers' representatives themselves that those schedules defining, for instance, continuation processes and other matters, were removed from the Convention. Those schedules were suggested because it was hoped they would define and make more clear certain terms that were used. They were rejected at the instance of the employers. Now the employers are turning the other way 1927 and wanting some more definite and precise wording. It was they themselves who got those words removed in 1920 at Washington. Anyhow, at Washington there were representatives of the employers. Surely they could not have been innocent, lamblike people, led to the slaughter. They must have known what they were doing. They knew their own mind. They committed themselves to this instrument which has since been the subject of so much controversy.
Then came the Berne Conference, and there again agreement was arrived at between some four leading countries. The right hon. Gentleman will argue that he was in no wise committed by what his predecessors had done. Very well. Since then nearly five years have elapsed. The right hon. Gentleman apprehended at once that there would be differences of opinion and, in order to remove them, he invited the leading representatives of some four or five States to meet him in London. They discussed points of agreement or disagreement and issued a communique. Here is the curious thing. After having arrived at an agreement in London upon some four or five definite articles, this year at Geneva the right hon. Gentleman not only raises the issue over again concerning those points which were in discussion in 1926, but raises other articles which, apparently, he did not raise at all in 1926. It is abundantly clear that the Government representatives do not desire to have any agreement upon this matter. Fancy the right hon. Gentleman raising the issue as to what you mean by industry, by commerce and by agriculture, when the Convention states clearly that the determination of the lines of demarcation rests upon the national and not the international authorities. The right hon. Gentleman said at Geneva: "I am putting all my cards on the table, the twos and threes as well as the aces." He did not have an ace. The cards were of very low denomination indeed. At most they were only sixes and sevens. He raises the whole point all over again—15 points—one more than President Wilson thought necessary to solve the whole question of the peace, all of these points, piffling, small, finicky little things that anyone could see through at once. It was only intended to jeopardise the whole agreement. As a matter of fact, to continue the 1928 right hon. Gentleman's own simile, instead of playing through the game properly with the cards he had, he has revoked very badly.
If one examines the objections he had, he does not even advance a case against any particular country. Certain countries are not doing this and certain countries are not doing that. He took good care not to say, "You are doing," or "You are not doing," because he might have been faced with the answer at once. It was easy to say, "So-and-so is not doing it," without defining so-and-so. The result was that he was able to escape behind a cloud of indefiniteness.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
Did I say that at Geneva? What words did I use?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member says I said there had been failure to carry out the Convention. Where did I say there had been failure to carry out the Convention on the part of some nation?
§ Mr. JONES
I wish the right hon. Gentleman would follow my argument a little more closely. I accuse him of using words in too general a way. He says "certain nations." I accuse him of having failed to specify what nations he meant, and by using those words he was able to escape quite easily without any special challenge. That is the whole of my argument, and he knows that what I am saying is absolutely true. If he wants any further confirmation, I will quote his speech if he likes.
We hear a good deal about the failure of Germany. I heard the German Minister, who told him quite frankly that the German Government have already a Workers' Protection Bill before the Reichstag. If I understood him aright, he also said there is at this moment a Bill before the Cabinet in Germany whose whole purpose it is to ratify the Convention per se. That, of course, stands in jeopardy after what the right hon. Gentleman said. But he made a suggestion. He said: "I am prepared to grant that you have difficulties, and I will try to meet you." "I suggest," says Herr 1929 Wissell, "that, if agreeable to you, we should attach the London Agreement as a protocol to the Convention itself." M. Loucheur said the same thing. There was a gesture of good will to meet the right hon. Gentleman in his difficulties. But the right hon. Gentleman by now had discovered all sorts of new difficulties, and the consequence was that no agreement was at all possible. I heard one or two words at Geneva which I feel were indicative of a trend of opinion or thought. The workers' representatives there, the English, French and Belgians, are all agreed pretty well in committing themselves to this observation. The British Government, by its action at Geneva last Monday, had taken a step which, if it is not corrected soon, might land us in a complete breakdown of the machinery of the International Labour Office. After all, it depends on good will, good understanding and good feeling. If any Government or workers' representatives, or employers' representatives have the feeling that any Government is not facing up to the issue frankly and honestly, clearly there is no point in their staying in an international organisation of that sort any longer. The right hon. Gentleman was warned that if this kind of attitude was to be maintained, the future usefulness of that international organisation would be in jeopardy.
Is it too late to ask him to review this thing once again? He could very well have joined the other Ministers in ratifying even though he felt some apprehension concerning the meaning that might be attached to certain phrases or clauses or terms, because, after all in 1931 he could, if the Government are still in office, denounce the Convention. He is not precluded from doing that. In any case, how do you learn what are the shortcomings of an Act, either national or international, unless you see how it works in actual practice? He knows very well that if there were flaws in the actual working of the thing or misunderstandings arising from interpretation, he could raise the issue at some future date in the International Labour Convention or at the governing body, and his fellow delegates would have listened with patient attention to all he had to say. Instead of that, we are clearly at this point, that until the present Government are removed from 1930 office and another Government take their place, the whole structure of international legislation for safeguarding labour conditions is in serious jeopardy.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
No one is more unfeignedly glad than I am to have an opportunity this afternoon of dealing with the facts, and the whole of the facts, of this situation for the purpose of elucidating the matter and of showing exactly, I trust, where the different parties in this country stand. The country has a right to know what is the policy of the Government with regard to this matter. I made it abundantly clear before, and I trust that I shall, if possible, be able to make it clearer still to-day. The country has equally a right to know what the policy of the Opposition is in this matter. The policy of the Government is perfectly clear and has been perfectly consistent. We are in favour of a revision of what is called the Washington Hours Convention, and we stand by that. We want to get a workable Hours Convention that shall clearly embody the principles of Washington, but a Convention that shall be clear and applicable equally to all the countries that ratify it. That is the reason why we ask for revision, and, as I hope to show a little later, we have been absolutely consistent and straightforward in our action. I have stated those principles quite clearly. Now we would like to know what is the policy of the Opposition. [An HON. MEMBER: "Give us your's!"] I have stated it, and I am going to develop it. Now I want to know what is the policy of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
The ratification of the Washington Convention as understood at the Conference of Ministers in 1926.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I see. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to ratify the actual instrument called the Washington Hours Convention?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
What we want to know is this: The right hon. Gentleman said in 1925:I claim that the acceptance of this Convention would be good for the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1925; col. 546, Vol. 183.]In 1926, he said:I have never been able to understand the position of a Government in this country which under all the circumstances has obstinately refused to ratify this Convention."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1926; col. 2378, Vol. 194.]He sent a message after the London Conference saying:Britain is bound, both by the terms of the Treaty and the agreement of Government, employers' and workers' representatives at Washington. For her not to ratify is to be guilty of the grossest deception."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1928; col. 84, Vol. 214.]Let us come to the London Agreement. The London Agreement has by itself no binding force. As far as it was an agreement of substance at all, it was between five countries only, and not between all the countries. In order to give force to the London Agreement, or to any points like that, the right hon. Gentleman will have to revise the Convention. Is he prepared to revise it or is he not?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I want the answer of the right hon. Gentleman and not the answer of Herr Wissell. Let me quote what he said last year when I asked him the same question. I saidAll I can say is, I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman stands now.and his answer was:The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the last Bill we introduced with the new railway Clause in it dealt with the railway difficulty on the lines which assured the ratification at Geneva."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1928; col. 175, Vol. 214.]Again, I want to know, in order to meet any additional points, whether in the London Agreement or in regard to other points such as I have raised, it is necessary to modify the Washington Conven- 1932 tion? Is he prepared to do it, or is he prepared to sign the Convention as it stands? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] It is quite clear to this House that, if it comes to trimming, we know where the trimming is. We want to know. In order to incorporate the London points or any other points such as I raise it is necessary to have a modification of the Washington Convention. That is quite clear. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech to-day used words which went to indicate the signing of the Agreement made at Washington. If there was any ordinary plain meaning to be attached to those words he was going to sign the original Washington Convention as such. Is he going to do that or is he going to modify it? That is what we want to know and surely he can give us a plain answer on that point.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Now we have it, and now let me repeat precisely what he has said:The ratification of the Washington Convention without modification but with explanation on the lines of the London Conference.That begins to clear the air. Let me go in detail into—
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Let me go into the Government case for revision in details and I will deal with it at the risk of repeating what I have said in some previous debates, and I do so because I think that it is necessary. There are two main reasons for revision and for modification in the course of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Waddington) was perfectly right but the criticism by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) were completely wide of my hon. Friend's point; he never met the point at all. It is not a question whether the existing French law will be different or not when the Convention is ratified. That was the point with which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caerphilly dealt, but that was not the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale. My point is 1933 the same as that of the hon. Member for Rossendale. Whether the French at the present moment have an Eight Hours Act or not, there are some phrases in the Washington Convention—which these gentlemen opposite are not going to modify, but only to explain—which are so loose and so vague that a lax interpretation of them, which would be a perfectly possible interpretation, would take the whole value out of any ratification. May I quote from this point of view exactly what I said at Geneva?The framers of the Convention were like artists in tapestry, set to work on a new design in a new material, and that too with great haste and under a great strain. Can you wonder at a loose end here and there? The surprise to my mind is that there are not more. The fact, however, that remains and with which we have to deal is that it has become quite clear that there are some points in the existing Convention on which there is general uncertainty of interpretation… Representatives of all countries alike have realised that differences of interpretation may exist on some very important points. What, for example, is the actual interpretation to be put upon the phrase 'Hours of work'? 'How is intermittent work to be defined?' 'What exactly are the limits of overtime as applied to railway workers?' 'Can Article 5 be applied or not to the building trade?'My contention is that these points affect the whole validity of the Convention if it were ratified in its present form. We dealt with some of those points at London and the truth about London was this. We arrived at an agreement on points of substance at London, and we hoped that that would mean that we could take a very definite step forward. Some countries said that they would regard the conclusions reached at London as interpretations only, but we said that they must be put into an actual amending agreement having binding force. The French and the Italian Government wished the London points to be considered as matters of interpretation only. I never could fully understand that, because those who wished to have interpretations only would really not have had their own positions altered unless the interpretations were made binding in an agreement. We could not get further. Therefore, the London Agreement to start with had no binding force, and, as far as it was an agreement upon substance, it only concerned the five nations who took part in it. I say quite clearly 1934 that the interpretation of the Convention must be within the spirit of the Convention: it must be the same for all on important points and it must be binding on all.
The second reason for revision is also quite plain. It applies peculiarly to Great Britain. If I may use exactly the same words as I used at Geneva, it is this:If we embodied in a British Act of Parliament the points contained in the London Agreement, we should not be entitled then to ratify the Convention. On the contrary we should under British canons of interpretation be debarred from doing so. For example, we have certain industries in which the normal working week is 47 hours and is well within the principle of Washington. They prefer to work those 47 hours in five days and to have a whole holiday on the Saturday.Since then, I have heard of numbers of cases in which this is a normal practice in British industries. When I read the last Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories I see:The five-day week maintains its popularity and there is a slight increase in the number of factories working on this system… In the south-eastern division (for example) Miss Sanderson (North-East London) reports that in a large engineering works the five-day week is still in force, output has at least been maintained, if not increased and neither employers nor workers have any desire to revert to the six-day week.7.0 p.m.
This is all within the spirit of Washington, and the Law Officers' opinion is that we should be debarred from ratifying the Convention if we passed a domestic Act of Parliament which recognised that practice of a 5-day week. In the same way the Engineers Agreement here at this moment would not be within the Washington Convention, and the same is true with regard to the Railway Agreement. It is not a question of whether the Convention can be modified or not by any railway clause such as satisfied the right hon. Gentleman in his speech last year. Last year, he said that that removed all his difficulties. I obtained the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown. Their opinion, when they were asked to advise whether the provisions of Clause 2 (5) of the Hours of Industrial Employment Bill—the clause that satisfied the right hon. Gentleman opposite—was that the clause would, if passed into law, conflict with the 1935 Washington Convention. The clause appeared to them to be founded upon Article 5 of the Convention. They held the view that railway transport would not be regarded as within the "exceptional cases" to which alone the Article-applied, and that the Article itself imposed a limit of 48 upon the average number of hours worked per week, and that limit included overtime. They informed us that they entertained no doubt at all that Clause 2, Sub-section (5) of the Bill, if passed into law, would constitute a breach of the terms of the Washington Convention, assuming that Convention to have been ratified by this country. From all these points of view, we have decided definitely for revision. In the Liberal Yellow Book, I see that that party also has decided for revision. When I turn to the reports of the Balfour Committee, they come to this conclusion:Subject to the considerations set out below, it appears to us that the weight of argument is in favour of adhesion to a revised Convention, but against unconditional ratification of the present instrument.The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. J. Baker) quoted the words from the Memorandum by the Labour Members of that Committee. Those words are exceedingly significant. They emphasise the urgency of Great Britain fulfilling its pledge under the Peace Treaty by adhering toan International Convention regulating the hours and conditions of labour.They carefully avoid mentioning the Washington Convention and speak of "an international convention," and are therefore in harmony with the main report, which they also signed, proposing revision. Lastly, that Report makes this special observation with regard to labour:We understand that it is the considered view of the trades unions of railway employés…that the peril, which would result from unconditional ratification, to their present national agreement regulating hours of labour could only be removed by revision or reservation, and not by any interpretation of the text.The case, therefore, for revision is absolutely overwhelming. The type of criticism which may be raised is: "If so, why have you not stated all these facts long ago?" The answer is that the policy of the Government has been abso- 1936 lutely consistent from the very beginning. At the very outset the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Peace Treaty. Let me quote for one moment what the Peace Treaty says:In the case of a draft Convention, the members will, if it obtains the consent of the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies, communicate the formal ratification.In other words, it was always contemplated that a convention should be submitted to the home authorities before a final decision was come to, and that was repeated by the Director of the International Labour Office. Our policy has been perfectly consistent. In 1921 a letter, of which I have a copy here, was addressed to the International Labour Office asking for revision. Such a difficulty as the railway difficulty and as the difficulty of working a five-day week had already been felt, and already the Government had said that revision was the proper way. A committee was appointed, and after a good deal of discussion we were unable to get our way. In 1924, when he was in office, the right hon. Gentleman, when faced with the facts officially, seems himself to have felt the same difficulties about interpretation on certain points, or he would never have had the meeting at Berne. All I can say about the conclusions, if they were conclusions, to which they came at Berne, is that they clearly did not indicate agreement, as was shown by the fact that in 1925 he issued a questionnaire, and received replies differing in very important particulars from the replies he had received from the people whom he had consulted in the previous year.
That was the reason which led us to issue a questionnaire, and to have the London Conference. I have shown the House already, that on the points which we dealt with at London we did not get a binding agreement in the end. It was a record of agreement as to opinions on certain points of substance, but it did not extend to the countries which were not present at the Convention, and it was not a binding agreement. If it had then been made into a binding agreement we would have taken it, but as we did not get it then, we reverted to the path of revision. When we are asked: "Why did you not produce the points?" I say that points enough were known, and 1937 known in 1928. They were stated last year by the Parliamentary Secretary. Points enough were already known absolutely to warrant revision. On the point of hours of work alone, the necessity of revision was quite clear. All those points were fully known. If the steering-wheel of your motor is broken, that is reason enough to send it to a repair shop without waiting until all the other parts of it have come to pieces.
What was asked for last year at Geneva was that a procedure as regards revision should be settled upon. We wished to have revision undertaken straight away, and we were ready to consider the procedure as to Standing Orders dealing with a proper procedure of revision. So we come to this year. I went to Geneva to put our points perfectly clearly, and without any reservations. I knew I should be met with the dilemma of exactly the same sort as has been partially raised on the other side to-night. I hope I may be allowed again to say the same thing as I said at Geneva, and to put it in this way:In making my speech I have been faced by the following dilemma. If I indicated only a few points, though points of such importance that they would by themselves alone justify an amendment of the Convention, someone may say to me afterwards: 'Are those all the points you had in your mind? If I then said: 'No, I have some others,' he may then say: 'Why did you not mention them?' If, on the other hand, I produced all that I had thought worthy of consideration, the same critic might then say: 'Why such a long list?' Between the two difficulties, I have preferred to be frank and tell you everything.I, therefore, want to say quite distinctly that we did put forward the London points again. I definitely explained and made clear some of the London points, and particularly the point about overtime, because it was not clear enough at London in order to have a proper working Convention. It was not clear enough then, so when I looked at it and other points, I put them in for consideration. I was asked to put forward everything that might be considered from an international point of view. As far as the point about small establishments is concerned, I knew some people set store by it—not in this country, but in other countries—and I wanted, as far as I could, to let them have everything 1938 that they had asked should be considered for a proper Convention.
That was the situation which was reached there. I have shown quite clearly that we have been perfectly consistent throughout, and have wished to show all the reasons why revision is necessary. We are supported to-day in the conclusion that revision is necessary by such an authoritative body as the Balfour Committee, signed by all the members who produced that statement, and I venture to say that the result of having put it straightforwardly and quite frankly and outspokenly at Geneva has been that British prestige has stood higher there than it has done for years past. I told them quite frankly, as an indication of the British attitude:If at this moment we had an amended Convention on the table here in the drafting of which these points had been satisfactorily considered and settled, I would recommend my Government to-morrow to ratify.If there has been any lack of progress, it has been from the fact that on the one side there have been faint hearts who wanted to cling to the shadow which did not give them the substance and there were others, perhaps, who were content to let the shadow remain, provided it always remained a shadow, and no substance was given to it. Then I come to the other kind of criticism, made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that we have been subservient to the employers. I am glad again to have the chance of being able to show what are the facts in answer to a flimsy accusation of that kind. To start with, I say frankly that as far as Great} Britain is concerned, there should be no opposition between the employers and workers on this matter at all. I have consulted both sides regularly. There should be only one British policy. Both sides ought to be together, if only the people on those benches would not treat these industrial questions from the point of view of politicians, but of those who want to get a common agreement. So far from the policy of revision being dictated to me by anyone, I am in the memory of most Members of the House when I put it before them that here we have as a Government continually proposed revision. On the other hand, up to comparatively recently, the employers, owing to the difficulties, would have preferred to have no convention at all, 1939 and the workers, as far as their view is voiced by hon. Gentlemen opposite, would have liked to ratify the Convention without any change. The sensible policy of having a workable Convention by revising it was the policy which neither of them had had until comparatively recently. To-day the employers have come round to the view that if you can get a workable convention they would support it. Outside of this House and of one of two individuals, the bulk of the trade union leaders who really have thought about it, like the signatories of the Balfour Committee Report, realise that revision is essential.
§ Mr. J. BAKER
Is the right hon. Gentleman justified in asserting that the whole of the members of the Balfour Committee signed a document asking for the revision of the Washington Convention, when his attention is directed to the memorandum at the end of that volume, in which seven of the members say that they believe that it is a matter of urgency for this Government to carry out the pledge in the Peace Treaty, and sign an international convention?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member was not in the House, otherwise he would realise that I quoted the sentence which he has quoted, and I laid stress upon the fact that the signatories referred to "an international convention," which I am advocating, and not to the Washington Convention. So far as the Government's policy is concerned, instead of the Government having been dictated to, it is the Government's policy which I am glad to say the employers have now adopted, in order to get a workable convention, which they desire. So far as the other representative signatories are concerned, many of them, the trade union leaders who have thought about it, realise that the present Convention is not workable, and they want to get a workable Convention.
What happened at Geneva? I put forward a Resolution there, and the workers voted against it. The employers, apparently, differed amongst themselves, and abstained from voting. There does not appear to be much dictation about that. The effect of the Resolution was that it did not bind the people there to revision at once. It gave them time to consider 1940 the matter until May. It asked for an office report upon the points raised. While the tone of the Resolution was favourable to my particular point, it did not bind anyone definitely to acceptance of it until they had had full opportunity of studying it. I think it was the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) who talked—I do not want to misquote him—about our Government being isolated among the Governments. What are the facts? Of the 10 Governments that voted, eight voted for my Resolution. One person who spoke in favour of my Resolution who, surely, is a friend of an Eight Hours Convention, but a workable one, was the Director of the International Labour Office, Monsieur Thomas. He spoke strongly in favour of it. Another person who voted for it was one who, whether we disagree with him or not, commands our respect, and that was my German colleague, Herr Wissell. He played a most important part in the great troubles in Germany soon after the War. He knew perfectly well, as he told me, that although we might differ in opinion in regard to other things, at any rate he knew that I was acting perfectly straightforwardly. He, together with the other seven Government representatives, voted for the Resolution that I put forward. There were only two Government representatives who voted against the Resolution. One of those representatives had had instructions to do so from the beginning, and could not return for further instructions, namely, the Belgian representative. The other representative who voted against the Resolution was the Italian representative. The French representative abstained from voting.
That being so, I am content to leave the matter for the country to judge. Here is our policy—revision, a workable convention, supported by the opinion of the law officers on all important points of British practice, supported by the Liberal party and supported by the Balfour Committee and its signatories.
§ Mr. BAKER
May I correct the right hon. Gentleman again? The right hon. Gentleman has quoted the wording in the minority report. Will he accept my assurance that it does not mean what he thinks it means. It may be bad grammar, and I confess than when I read it to-day with the intention of using it, I noticed the bad grammar from my 1941 view-point. I am in favour of the Washington Convention. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman leave me out?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The last thing that I want to do is to pin my hon. Friend to any conviction which he does not hold. I would only say in regard to the other signatories, that the main body of the Report, to which they said they jointly assented, contained a very distinct statement that the weight of opinion was in favour of an International Convention for the limitation of hours, subject to certain conditions. Then they say:Conversely, we are of opinion that without the fulfilment of these conditions ratification of the existing Washington Convention would be a hazardous step. Subject to the considerations set out below, it appears to us that the weight of argument is in favour of adhesion to a revised Convention, but against unconditional ratification of the present instrument.I do not wish to pledge the hon. Member to that, but I think it is a pity that he and his colleagues should have used the words "an international convention."
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
And also that when the other phrase was used in the main report, that he did not indicate that he differed from it, because it was a very precise statement that was being used. The hon. Member is entitled to his opinion, but it is unfortunate, under the circumstances.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
As regards the other signatories, unless and until we get a recantation from them, we are entitled to attribute to them what they said. I am perfectly prepared to go forward, plainly stating the facts in my favour, and the support that I have received. On the other hand, we have elicited the fact that the party opposite stand for ratifying an unrevised Convention, resting upon the understandings of London. I can only say this: let them go forward with that policy, if they will, but I am afraid that it only shows once more the enormous difference there is between politicians on the Labour side and the real trade unionists. It has been shown before, on the question of the cost of living, and it is shown again in 1942 a matter of this kind. The real trade unionists for the most part realise the position, but the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) and his party, for whom he has spoken, are going to go forward to ratify an unrevised Convention, resting on the understandings of London. They can only do that in safety, because they know they will not have a chance before 1931 of giving effect to their policy.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman, as usual, has satisfied the hon. Members on his own benches that the Government have done the right thing. He tells us, in 1929, that the only conceivably successful way of dealing with the Washington Convention is for the Government to obtain a revision of certain portions of that document. The right hon. Gentleman may be able to satisfy himself that ratification in months or years to come will have to take place, but before there is any ratification there are one or two things that he will not have removed from the minds of hon. Members who sit upon these benches. From the minds of at least one section of the community, certain things will require a good deal of elimination. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly consistent in his inconsistency. That is the only consistent part that he has played in this business. I want to submit the right hon. Gentleman to a few questions. Will he tell the House and the country how he can contemplate ratification of any 8-hours Convention as a member of a Government which started the 9-hours day for miners?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Is the right hon. Gentleman so ignorant of mining conditions in this country that he does not know that the present law enables a man to be down the colliery for at least eight hours and 50 minutes? Has he not consulted the Secretary for Mines, who can tell him that the inspectors of mines have allocated times at certain collieries, where the numbers employed are very large, and where, under the existing 8-hours Act, miners can be below ground for 8 hours and 50 minutes?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Counting winding time. Can the Minister of Labour contemplate the ratification of an 8-hours Convention, limiting the hours of work for men and women who work upon the surface, from factory gate to factory gate, while the Government of which he is a member are responsible for an Act of Parliament which keeps miners in the pits, which are sometimes over half a mile deep, for 8 hours and 50 minutes every day? There may be some point in the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion of revision, but it seems to me, reviewing the past four years, that the right hon. Gentleman is neither serious nor sincere. Might we recall what has taken place during the past four years? The Minister of Labour and the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) would deny any charge of being the direct representatives of the employers, but what are the facts of the situation? In 1924, after a very short period of office, with a minority Labour Government, a Bill was brought to this House indicating an intention and desire on the part of the Labour Government with respect to the Washington Convention; but the Labour Government were sent out of office and replaced by the present Government.
During 1924, the miners had secured an increase in wages, after having submitted their case to the Industrial Court. The moment the Conservative Government were returned to office, with full power, in January, 1925, the coalowners publicly demanded an eight-hours day for mine workers, which means in many cases eight; hours and 50 minutes in the bowels of the earth. The mineowners prosecuted their claim until, in 1926, the present Government gave them the Eight Hours Act. From the first moment that the present Government came into office they were almost entirely in the hands of the mineowners. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Waddington) is interested in the textile industry, another industry in which the employers have been attempting to extend the hours of employment of the operatives. Having given to the mineowners an extension of hours for mine workers, it makes it impossible for them to ratify the Washington Convention, either revised or un-revised, without repealing the Eight Hours Act.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that this or any other Government could ratify the Washington Convention and still leave the Mines Eight Hours Act on the Statute Book?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the right hon. Gentleman says that the Government can ratify a Convention limiting the hours of work to eight hours, from factory gate to factory gate, and at the same time leave 1,000,000 men in a position where the coalowners can compel them to be down the coal mines for times varying between eight hours and 20 minutes and eight hours and 50 minutes, I should be inclined to agree with the Minister of Labour that there needs to be some interpretation of what the Washington Convention means. If it is the conception of the employers that you can have an Eight Hours Act, which means nine hours for some workers, it is not the view taken by hon. Members on these benches. The right hon. Gentleman may argue for a revision of the existing Washington Convention in certain important particulars, but he cannot deny the fact that while there is a miners' Eight Hours Act on the Statute Book there is little or no hope of the Washington Convention, revised or unrevised, being ratified by the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman talks about trimming. He has become a perfect expert in trimming; in finding ways and means how not to ratify and how not to render any real contribution to international relations in regard to hours of work.
There are other reasons why some of us doubt the sincerity of the present Government. We hear representatives of great industries speak from the Conservative Benches in favour of a reduced working day with certain provisions, but the provisions they lay down always make the reduced working day impossible of achievement. The Prime Minister is known by the miners as a politician who has always believed in longer hours for workers. Did not the present Prime 1945 Minister make his maiden speech by speaking against the miners' Eight Hours Act in 1908? And it was the present Prime Minister who introduced or who was responsible for the present Act which means that miners work nearly nine hours a day in the pits. That is the character of the Prime Minister. Notwithstanding his supposed honesty and sincerity and also the honesty and sincerity of the Minister of Labour these two right hon. Gentlemen are largely responsible for creating a condition which makes it well night impossible for us to ratify the Washington Convention unless we first of all repeal the Coal Mines Eight Hours Act of 1926. If it is true, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, that certain interpretations are absolutely necessary before there can be uniformity in regard to hours of labour throughout the world, he has had more than enough time in which to smooth out any difficulties that may exist, and the fact remains that they have not smoothed out these difficulties between 1919 and 1929.
In spite of all the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues and the huge posters which are now being shown all over the country indicating what the Government are supposed to have done—it will take posters 10 times as large in size to indicate what the Government have failed to do during their period of office—you have this fact staring you in the face: that there are 1,500,000 people for whom no work can be found. If there was a sincere desire on the part of the Government to provide for uniformity in hours of work, a revision of the Washington Convention could have been brought about and its interpretation could have been made clear. The present Government, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman, stand for longer hours, for an extension of the hours of work instead of a reduction, and we see no hope between now and the end of May, or indeed for another five years if we had another Tory Government, of securing the ratification of an International Convention which would be useful in stabilising or reducing the hours of labour. The blackest spot in the 20th century was the Coal Mines Eight Hours Act, and while that remains, in spite of all the right hon. Gentleman can say, there is no chance of any ratification of the Washington Convention.
§ Sir WALTER RAINE
If what the last speaker desired was carried out, instead of having 1,500,000 people out of work we should have 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 unemployed. I am amazed when I listen to such speeches, and I do rather frequently. Hon. Members are carried away with one idea; it does not matter what the world competition may be, we must not work more hours than we used to work when we were the workshop and the chief coal-producing centre of the world.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Is the hon. Member not aware that English miners are working longer hours than any miners in the world?
§ Sir W. RAINE
I know all about it, and, if this were the time and place I should like to give the hon. Member a little instruction on the serious competition in the export trade. After the clear and convincing statement of the Minister of Labour, there is little more to be said, and my only reason for speaking is that I think it is necessary to express the views of the Chamber of Commerce on this matter. The Chamber of Commerce is not a party political association at all, and it looks at all these business questions from a strictly business standpoint. It has viewed with serious concern the ratification of the Washington Convention, and it has sent resolutions to the Government time after time, pointing out, from their standpoint, what a serious matter it would be if the Convention as originally drawn was ratified. They are in favour of the principle of an 8-hours day; and so am I.
I learnt my lesson very early from a practical experiment made in Sunderland, the town which I have the honour to represent. Very early in the agitation for shorter hours two large employers of labour, a shipbuilder and an engineer, on their own initiative called their men together and told them that they were going to try eight hours a day for one year to see if it was a success. It was an abundant success, and a further reduction in hours took place. These two works were the pioneers on the question of the 8-hours day. I learnt that lesson very early and, consequently, I have always been in favour of an 8-hours day as far as it can be carried out. At the moment we actually have by agreement between employers and employed in the 1947 various trades an 8-hourg day in 92¾ per cent. of the trades of the country, and in the 7¼ per cent., which is the actual percentage of those who have to work over 48 hours a week, are included the continuous processes.
One would have thought that, having secured this by voluntary measures, we should not be so anxious to ratify a Convention which was going to bind us hand and foot under all circumstances, while other countries would be able to ratify the Convention perfectly honestly from their standpoint, because they put a different interpretation on an 8-hours day. I am not saying that in any unfriendly way. Take the case of France. What is the position in France? France under her interpretation regards 8-hours day as an effective eight hours a day, and in addition she is allowed to add all bank holidays, all other holidays, loss of time and slackness of work in certain periods of the year. If you add all these together you ratify nine hours a day for France under the interpretation of the Washington Convention of eight hours, and France, perfectly honestly from her standpoint, would interpret it in that way. Belgium is in exactly the same position. I could mention other countries, but as long as you have this difference in interpretation I think the Government is quite right in refusing to ratify.
The House and the country will read with satisfaction to-morrow morning the speech of the right hon. Gentleman when he said that he is definitely aiming for revision in certain conditions. The right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) referred to two countries—Czechoslovakia as having ratified, and Spain as wishing to ratify. With regard to Czechoslovakia, it is curious that in a list of continuous processes there are no less than 29 classes of industries. Again, I am not accusing them of any bad faith, but hon. Members will see how lightly this matter so far has been treated. In this category of continuous processes is included jam and fruit, and it shows how, perfectly honestly from their standpoint, many of these countries treat this question whilst we treat it from a far more serious standpoint.
The only observation I have to make with regard to Spain is that during the past two years she has done her best 1948 by raising her tariffs to interfere with our trade, but she has always suspended these tariffs for a few short months in order that British people might exhibit at Barcelona and Seville. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman was very fortunate in his reference to Spain. In to-day's "Times" there is an account of an agreement which has been arrived at between the transport workers and the railway workers, under which some of the transport workers in certain conditions have to work up to 12 hours in one day. That shows the kind of anomaly you get in connection with all questions of this kind. As far as the Chamber of Commerce are concerned they are pleased that the Government have up to now refused to gratify this Convention. They think it is in the best interests of the workers themselves and the Minister of Labour will have the wholehearted support of the commercial community in the line he intends to take.
§ Mr. W. BENNETT
I only desire to detain the House for just one or two moments. I have not been here very long, but this Debate, together with the Debate on unemployment, with which this matter of eight hours a day is intimately connected, is the most important Debate I have heard. It has also been one of the most unreal. The only real Debate I have heard was that on the question of pensions for people in Northern Ireland, when there was a possibility of the mind of the Government being altered by the speeches which were made. There is no possibility this afternoon, whatever arguments may be used, of any change whatever in the Government's intentions. Everyone on this side has known, as everyone on the other side has known, that under no circumstances whatever would the International Convention be ratified by this Government. Every argument that I have hoard [...]rotted out to-day has been precisely the same as the arguments that were put forward against every Factory Act that has ever been passed. There have been delays and objections of every kind. In these matters it is necessary to take some risk. If the intention of a Government is to interfere between masters and men and to control either conditions of hours of labour, they have to take some risk in bringing in a Bill. No one outside this House, none of the millions of working 1949 people who are affected by the possibility of an international agreement on hours of labour, would believe for one moment that it was the intention of the masters of the Government that this Convention should be ratified.
Let me refer to the speech of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris). He claimed that the Liberal party were responsible for the factory legislation of the past. Most remarkably short memories these Liberals have. It is true to say that the Liberal party, on principle and consistently, opposed all the early Factory Acts one after the other. It is true that Mr. John Bright in this House stated that the first Act which limited the hours to a total of 10 per day, was the worst Act ever put on the Statute Book, because it interfered with the freedom between master and man. As a matter of fact the first Factory Ants were due to a Conservative, Lord Shaftesbury, who introduced the first Bill in 1802, to limit the hours to 12 per day. That Bill was defeated. Of course the present Conservative Government has entirely departed from the Socialism of Lord Shaftesbury, and to-day stands for a different point of view, just as the Liberals have forgotten that on principle they are opposed to such Socialism. Still, we have had at least an admission of the right and the duty of a Government to state what should be the hours of labour in this country, even for coalminers. It is true that the Government used their power to lengthen the hours. I am certain that the Government have no intention whatever of ratifying this Convention, and that ratification will come from a Government of quite a different complexion in a few months.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I would like to make one or two comments on the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Sir W. Raine). We are always told in this House that we ought to represent our constituents, but I noticed that the hon. Member started his speech by telling the House that he spoke for the Chambers of Commerce—not for Sunderland, not for the teeming thousands of working people there, but for a select few and the fairly well-to-do. The hon. Member seemed to think that he had a right and a duty to speak in that way, and that it 1950 was in conformity with Parliamentary procedure. I think it would have been much more interesting if he had spoken as the representative of Sunderland and its working people. It is a fact that in Sunderland to-day the large mass of the workers have a 48-hours week, or even less. Why, then, the Member for a Division which enjoys the privilege of a 48-hours week should object to the principle being applied to other workers who are less fortunately placed, I cannot understand.
The Minister in his reply to-day evaded the main argument by quoting France, Belgium, and some other country as not being willing to accept or ratify the spirit and intention of the 48-houra Convention. For the sake of argument, let me admit that the Minister has a case, that what he says is true, and that there are certain difficulties in the way of international compliance with the Convention. Even then the Minister cannot escape the question: Is it essential for the well-being of the working classes in Great Britain, apart from whether other nations ratify or do not ratify—is it for the welfare and the increased comfort of the people of this country to have a 48-hours week? That question ought to be answered, apart from what any other country is going to do. The Government should not merely put on the Statute Book ratification of the 48-hours week, but should go even further and make a larger reduction in the hours of labour of the community. If any criticism can be levelled against the Labour party, it is that it has been too mild in making a claim only for a 48-hours week.
I think the time has come when, as men can produce goods so rapidly—they cannot be consumed with the same rapidity-there should be a reduction in hours even below 48 per week. I cannot see the sense of having at least 1,500,000 unemployed while other workers are working too long. It seems to me good sound sense that the workers doing nothing should be asked to do some work, while those who are working ought to be asked to do less. With security and good sense the country could take a step forward and inaugurate for the mass of the workers a 7-hours day. The office population, the Civil Servants who draft Bills and give the Ministers their speeches, never work the time that the mass of the people 1951 have to work. When one goes to a shipyard one finds men who work 42 or 43 hours a week, while other sections of the community who are less fortunate are compelled to work an excessively long-day. If the Minister of Labour were serving his country well he would introduce a Bill to go further than ratification of this Convention by inaugurating a week of 44 hours for the great mass of the people.