HC Deb 20 December 1934 vol 296 cc1502-11

12.21 a.m.


I beg to move, in page 4, line 24, at the end, to insert: (d) that the wages paid by any employer to persons employed by him in connection with the demolition, building, or modernising of any vessel shall, except where paid at a rate agreed upon by a joint industrial council representing the employer and the persons employed, not be less than would be payable if the work were carried on under a contract made between a Government department and the employer containing a fair-wage clause which complied with the requirements of any resolution of the House of Commons for the time being in force applicable to contracts of Government departments, and if any dispute arises as to what wages ought to be paid in accordance with this paragraph it shall be referred by the Board of Trade to the Industrial Court for settlement. (e) that where any award has been made by the industrial court upon a dispute referred to that court under the foregoing paragraph then, as from the date of the award or from such later date as the court may direct, it shall be an implied term of the contract between every employer and worker to whom the award applies that the rate of wages to be paid under the contract shall, until varied in accordance with the provisions of this or the foregoing paragraph, be in accordance with the award. This Amendment asks that fair wages should be paid to all who are employed in the demolition, building, or modernising of any vessel under this Clause. The President of the Board of Trade has been described to-night as being sweet, if not reasonable I hope that he will accept this very modest Amendment and prove himself at the end of this Debate to be both sweet and reasonable.

12.22 a.m.


I beg to support the Amendment. Nothing will give me greater pleasure than to withdraw the statement that I made earlier to-night about the right hon. Gentleman, if I can do so within reason. In every contract issued by a Government Department it has been the practice for many years to insert what is called a fair wages clause. I have had recent experience of bringing to the notice of the Admiralty and other Government Departments breaches of that clause, and in every case it has been my experience that, after inquiry, they saw to it that the clause was given effect to. If it is right to insert this clause in land contracts, it will, I think, be agreed that it is no less reasonable that, when we are dealing with ships that have to be broken up, or modernised, or with new ships that are to be built, the men employed should have the same right guaranteed to them with regard to the conditions of their employment. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will concede this point to us.

12.24 a.m.


The Government are as interested in the payment of fair wages as are the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Amendment, but I would ask them to consider what they are asking the Committee to do. Previous Amendments have elicited the fact from the President of the Board of Trade that there have been fewer labour disputes in the shipping industry than in almost any other industry that one can name, and it is into that happy family that it is proposed to introduce references to the Industrial Court. We have a shipbuilding industry with conciliation machinery, with everything going smoothly, and this Amendment, couched in terms that would cause great resentment, makes a reference to the Industrial Court. The industries concerned are organised trades, there is machinery for settling wage conditions and adjusting disputes, that machinery has worked quite well, there is no complaint of it, and where the going is good, it is foolish to interfere.

This scheme provides for the building of at most about 1,000,000 tons of shipping, spread over a period of between two and three years. A million tons deadweight means about 640,000 tons gross. If the building is uniformly spread over the period, it is at the rate of 300,000 tons a year. It looks as if that building would be about 20 per cent. of the shipbuilding that would be carried on in the shipbuilding yards of this country, and it is suggested that, as part of this Bill to encourage replacement and modernisation, we should subject 20 per cent. of the shipping that is being built in our yards to some different conditions from those which prevail with regard to the remaining 80 per cent. That is not a practical or sensible suggestion. If these were unorganised trades——


It would not subject them to any different status at all, but it would guarantee them that they would get those conditions that are observed by the organised people in the industry.


If we incorporated this Amendment, it would make statutorily applicable to the 20 per cent. what is voluntarily applicable to the 80 per cent., and that is imposing a differentiation between two classes of shipping that are building at the same time. We cannot have an Amendment of this kind grafted into a Bill with an entirely different purpose. These industries are organised, conciliation machinery is working satisfactorily, there is no complaint, and there is no reason to suspect or fear that there will be complaint. The whole idea that anyone wants to use these facilities for building on some abnormal lines is a figment of the imagination. This Amendment is one of a whole series of Amendments suggesting that there is something behind this movement, either for procuring cheap labour, or giving poor accomodation, or paying less than normal rates of wages. There is not a shadow of foundation for the whole case from beginning to end, and it is for that reason that the Amendment cannot possibly be accepted.

12.27 a.m.


We do not propose to continue the Debate at this late hour, but I would ask my hon. Friends to divide against the Government on this Amendment. I have never heard a more nauseous succession of excuses for refusing to assure decent conditions to British seamen. One would imagine that this Amendment was proposing something altogether fresh, but it is in the sugar subsidy policy, and has been for years, in almost identical terms. It is almost identical with the fair wages conditions which apply very widely throughout the country, and even the present Government have been willing to accept it in some other Departments. To-night we have seen the spectacle of the Tory party being led by an ex-Liberal Minister to vote against the employment of British seamen, and a more shameful exhibition I have never seen. The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade has forgotten to mention that £10,000,000 are being found by the public for building these ships, and we are only saying that when the public finds the money, we are fully entitled to require that these requirements should be inserted as a condition of the granting of the subsidy. Why should not the Board of Trade agree to do what every other Government Department does in respect of every decent Government contract? A more degrading exhibition of excuses I have never listened to.

12.29 a.m.


As the right hon. Gentleman was speaking of degrading exhibitions, the most degrading exhibition, to my mind, has been the attempt of the Labour party, by a whole series of Amendments, to lure the National Union of Seamen to the Trades Union Congress.

12.30 a.m.


This is a matter which deals not with hours, so much as the conditions of employment of certain people. We admit that the industry is organized, both as regards employers and workmen. But this matter applies to almost 90 per cent. of Government contracts in which there is a fair wage clause inserted. All that is being asked now is that shipbuilding should come into the same category, and should have applied to it something that is applied in the case of Government contractors. These people, to the extent that they are receiving public money in the shape of a subsidy, should be subject to this fair wages clause. That is all that we have said. It is not saying that the trade unions are inadequate, or that the employers are inadequate, to negotiate. In effect, the Amendment only says that they should be subject to this safeguard. Why it should not be granted and why matters should be raised about machinery having to be altered, I do not know, because the fair wages clause, in the main, applies to highly organized trades. You have it in the case of the Post Office in regard to building contracts, although the building contractors are well organized—both employers and workmen. Why you should not have it for shipbuilding, I cannot imagine.

What objection can there be to putting in this guarantee of a fair wages clause? It is perfectly true that the conditions are in the main observed; I do not deny that, but certainly there arise occasions where it is advisable for the Government to make recommendations to non-observers. All that is asked is that that kind of enforcement should be given. I cannot see why there should be all this great fight about it. It is nothing much for which we are asking. It is a very simple thing and one that the Government themselves ought to grant. Indeed, it is an elementary thing to ask for, and all this white heat worked up about people attacking conditions, leaves me cold. We are simply asking that where public money is granted and this sanction is given, the people who are in part responsible for the work should be guaranteed certain conditions. Nobody is slandering sailors or anybody else. I confess I cannot follow the Government in their refusal. Anyone with a suspicious mind might feel that the Government had some reason for their constant refusal.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is a dogmatic person. I will not go over his past; one does not like anybody's past—not even one's own—to be too much called up; when however the hon. Gentleman has made up his mind, he is dogmatic. I wish he would look at it from this point of view, that this public money is being granted and we on this side are entitled to say that, as in the case of all contracts, the fair wages clause should apply. Is that asking too much? Is there anything in that affecting the conciliation machinery? You might just as well say that to-morrow you will take the fair wages clause out of every government contract and all the building contracts connected with the Post Office because there is conciliation machinery. We do not do that, and all that we are asking is that this extra safeguard should be applied and fully carried out. The position taken up by the Parliamentary Secretary does not do credit to his logic or to his capacity.

12.36 a.m.


I had hoped when the right hon. Gentleman came down here tonight we were really going to discuss this Committee stage in a spirit of give-and-take to some extent. I believed his first words were to this effect, that he was prepared to discuss this whole question in a frame of mind of sweet reasonableness. I do not know whether he thinks he has done so or not. It may be he does, but I took it when he said that, that he was not just paying a compliment or just saying an idle nothing. I really thought that since the time when we discussed this matter on Second Reading and again tonight that the right hon. Gentleman had gone into this business and had given his full attention to the Amendments we had put down and was going to show an inclination at least, if he was not prepared to accept the Amendments in full, that he was prepared to accept some of them, or if not the actual wording of some of them, at least to accept the spirit of them. Instead of that, we have met with a point blank refusal to everything that we have put up tonight.

Since I have been in this House, whether in Opposition or on the other side, I do not know that I have ever known a Committee stage of a Bill which affected the lives of the working classes so much, in regard to hours, conditions of service and accommodation, in which we have been so absolutely refused anything for which we have asked. As I listened to the two right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen if I had not known otherwise, I should have come to the conclusion that as far as the shipping industry was concerned, in such matters as accommodation, food, quarters and hours of work and amount of labour and wages paid, the industry provided the finest position any man could ever be in, and that to be a seaman was to be absolutely in an angel's position. Unfortunately, I know differently, and I know that the picture of the conditions that he has tried to portray to us is not true. I ask the right hon. Gentlemen, is it not true, if my memory serves me right, that when we were discussing the Cunard business and the completion of the Queen Mary, that we did get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer something in the nature of a guarantee as to conditions of work on that ship? I believe I am right in saying that we did get something to that effect. I do not see that we are asking any more now than we asked then.

I was amazed that the right hon. Gentleman, whom I have always looked upon in his past life as an apostle of purity as far as public money is concerned—and I do not say this in any offensive sense—should have argued on the first Amendment that when giving £2,000,000 to shipbuilders, the Committee which is to advise as to how the money should be spent should be composed of shipbuilders themselves and this they could advise that the money should be paid to themselves. I was amazed to hear him taking that line, but we know that he has changed his mind on a lot of things. He used to be the apostle of Free Trade, but since then he has been made the very weapon with which Free Trade is killed. So I suppose we cannot be surprised at anything he said to-night. We have listened to him talking about the advisability of appointing a committee of shipbuilders to advise him to give money to shipbuilders. What would have been said when we were discussing the Unemployment Assistance Regulations if we had adopted his example and suggested that there should be an advisory committee of unemployed to tell the Unemployment Board what amount they should pay to the unemployed? It would have been no more silly than what he is doing to-night. When it suits him to pay money out of the public purse to shipowners and shipbuilders, and capitalists generally, he can argue in this direction; but when it is anything for the working man, even for the unemployed—no; for wages—no; for the guarantee of a fair wages clause—no; for decent conditions for seamen—no; for decent sleeping quarters—no; that, even, British labour should have the choice as against coloured labour—no. From the beginning he calls discussing this thing in a spirit of sweet reasonableness—no, no, no! That is what we have got tonight. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade has tried to tell us that it is all right and that the shipping industry is all right. Again, there is only one answer—it is not true. We know better than he does in this respect. I am ashamed——


May I ask the hon. Member a question?


The hon. Member will have his chance to speak later. I am ashamed that after coming down and promising to do what he said, the President of the Board of Trade should have found it possible to do nothing on behalf of the people whose need is greatest. He has only found it possible to help out of public funds his own particular friends.


I have not taken part in these discussions because I have left it to people who have a better knowledge of the subject than I have. We do expect that when public money is being handled we should have a right to ask that the workers in that industry should be protected as best they can. This Amendment is on those lines. I expected, after hearing the opening statement of the President of the Board of Trade, that when

we arrived at this Amendment we should get some response from him. In place of that, we get a hiding from the Parliamentary Secretary, who said that he could do nothing about it and that there was no need for it. He said that it would lead to special conditions which would give a statutory basis to one section. Would there be anything wrong if the 80 per cent. who were getting certain conditions were given a statutory basis because the other 20 per cent. got it? There should be no difficulty at all. When public money is being handed out protection should be given to the other side.

I heard the earlier Debate when the Committee was being selected from the shipowners, and there was no response to our appeal. I did hope that something would be done on this Amendment. We are determined not to talk too much on this Amendment after 12 o'clock as we want to respond to the appeal that has been made, but at least we expect some concession and some fair deal. We have not got it at all. Under a complacent exterior—and the Parliamentary Secretary has the same demeanour—the President of the Board of Trade makes it appear that the Government are entirely on the side of the shipowners, and we have got to have no protection at all.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 19; Noes, 100.

Division No. 34.] AYES. [12.45 a.m.
Adams, D. M (Poplar, South) Gardner, Benjamin Walter Milner, Major James
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.) Tinker, John Joseph
Batey, Joseph Grundy, Thomas W. West, F. R.
Buchanan, George. John, William
Cripps, Sir Stafford Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Dagger, George Lawson, John James Mr. Duncan Graham and Mr. Paling.
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Logan, David Gilbert
Dobbie, William McEntee, Valentine L.
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Brocklebank, C. E. R. Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Brown, Ernest (Leith) Goff, Sir Park
Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Goodman, Colonel Albert W.
Albery, Irving James Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Grimston, R. V.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly) Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.
Apsley, Lord Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.) Gunston, Captain D. W.
Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Clayton, Sir Christopher Hanley, Dennis A.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J. Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. Harbord, Arthur
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Copeland, Ida Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)
Blindell, James Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.
Bossom, A. C. Cross, R. H. Horobin, Ian M.
Bower, Commander Robert Tatton Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C. Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)
Boyce, H. Leslie Elliston, Captain George Sampson Keyes, Admiral Sir Roger
Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.) Elmley, Viscount Latham, Sir Herbert Paul
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Emrys-Evans, P. V. Leech, Dr. J. W.
Broadbent, Colonel John Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.) Leighton, Major B. E. P.
Lindsay, Noel Ker Palmer, Francis Noel Stourton, Hon. John J.
Llewellin, Major John J. Penny, Sir George Strauss, Edward A.
Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.) Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n) Strickland, Captain W. F.
Loftus, Pierce C. Procter, Major Henry Adam Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Mabane, William Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich) Sutcliffe, Harold
MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A. (P'dd'gt'n, S.)
McKie, John Hamilton Reid, William Allan (Derby) Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Rosbotham, Sir Thomas Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Marsden, Commander Arthur Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Skelton, Archibald Noel Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale Slater, John Womersley, Sir Walter
Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D. Worthington, Dr. John V.
Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-in-F.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J. Smithers, Sir Waldron Captain Austin Hudson and Lieut.-
O'Donovan, Dr. William James Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E. Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward.
Orr Ewing, I. L. Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.

Question put, and agreed to.