HC Deb 17 May 1934 vol 289 cc1993-2028

Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


When our proceedings were interrupted by Black Rod, I was dealing with certain remarks made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham which have generally been considered as a, reflection on the business ability of the Lancashire cotton trade. The charges, which have been publicly made, are of a character which implies that every mill in the Lancashire cotton trade engaged in spinning medium or course counts is obsolescent. The exact words are : There is not a mill in the British Isles sufficiently well equipped. I am challenging the accuracy of that statement and saying that in that efficiency of equipment and character of machinery which will give the greatest quantity of production from a good type of cotton, there are many mills in Lancashire to-day which will produce as much as and more than the most efficient modern plant which can be laid down. I am glad that the hon. Member is in his place and proposes to say something, because the matter is one of very great importance to the county, and, in my view, his general charge is levied without substantial foundation.

This is a Bill which may be of very great value to the industry. I use the words "may be" because it is the industry itself which is responsible for coming to the agreements. Nothing will be done unless the industry itself agrees, and it is for the industry itself to show whether in fact the Bill does give it that foundation without which the reorganisation of the trade will be very difficult. Frankly, the Bill is an experimental Measure, and for that reason it has a time limit. I take some exception to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) who suggested that Lancashire Members dare not vote against the Bill. The Lancashire Members support it because they believe it is a Bill which they think should be supported. Had there been any reasons which might have made it desirable in the minds of Lancashire Members to oppose the Bill, they would certainly have done so, but it is a Bill which, in my view, all sections of the House would be well advised to support, and to which they should give their con-sent.

5.50 p.m.


I do not often worry the House for I am a poor speaker, and I should not intervene today but the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) informed me that he proposed to raise a matter which concerned me, and I am bound to answer his challenge. Why is this Bill necessary at all? It is necessary in the cotton trade only because of the awful state in which that trade finds itself to-day. No other trade has found such a Bill necessary. I am not saying whether the Bill is a good one or a bad one, but I do suggest that it has been introduced because of the state of the cotton trade. Therefore, before we consent to pass such a Bill, we must ask ourselves what is the reason for the cotton trade being in its present state and whether this Bill does anything to help it. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Stockport spoke as he did; he reminds me of the ostrich which hides its head in the sand and thinks that nobody else can see it. All the world knows that the machinery of Lancashire is old. Sir Kenneth Stewart made a statement two or three years ago that the average age of the weaving machinery in Lancashire was 40 years and of the spinning machinery 35. Lancashire has bought practically no machinery since.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport finds fault yith a remark I made the other day. I do not qualify it or withdraw it in the slightest. I repeat that there is not in this country one mill spinning coarse or medium counts which has a hope of competing with the mills that are being used in Japan to-day. I have been to Japan. I and my staff went over a large number of mills there, and I am able to compare them with English mills because at my works we have details of the machinery of every English mill as well as every foreign mill. There are no better operatives than those of Lancashire and I have full admiration for them; they are the finest workers in the world, but they are hopelessly handicapped in being asked to use machinery with which they cannot possibly compete with the Japanese weaver and spinner. The hon. Member for Stockport said he himself owned mills which were more efficient than anything else in the world. If he will give me in the Lobby the name of any mill he owns, I will tell him what is necessary to be done to that mill to bring it up to what I call Japanese standard. I am sorry to say he is very wrong in what he says.


I take it that the hon. Member is not suggesting that the efficiency of production is to be measured merely by the age of machinery, and that when he talks about modern machinery he really means efficient machinery, that is to say, machinery which will give the quantity of production which is required. If that is the test, I take on his challenge.


By efficient machinery I mean machinery with some hope of competing with the rest of the world. I may have an old motor car 10 or 20 years old which is wearing excellently, but it would be ludicrous for me to take it to Brooklands to compete with modern racing cars. That is what my Lancashire friends are doing to-day. I want to help Lancashire, and because I have come out into the open and tell them what the position is, I am told that I am a bad friend. I think I am a good friend and that my hon. Friend is a very bad friend, for he is encouraging Lancashire to believe that all is well when all is not well. The fact that he is a director of one or two cotton mills would indicate that what he says must be listened to, but frankly he is not a practical man and does not know what he is talking about. Since I made my speech last week I have received a courteous invitation from the Master Cotton Spinners' Federation to go and see them. I am hoping to see them next Thursday, and I am sure that when I meet them I shall be able to put before them such overwhelming proof of my case that I shall convince them of the two chief things that I said in my speech.

My first point is that there is not a mill in this country which can hope to-compete with Japan. My second point, which is by far the more important point, is that, given modern preparation machinery, modern high draft ring spindles and automatic looms, the Lancashire operative, who is the best man in the world, can produce and market in India grey cloth, which is the big staple purchase in India, at a price considerably below the price at which Japan is selling to-day. The Lancashire manufacturer is a bit shy of owning up officially that his machinery is obsolete, but if you talk to him and let him see you know what you are talking about he will admit he ought to scrap the lot, but he will say that he has no money.

The hon. Member for Stockport accused me of criticising our Lancashire manufacturers. I am not criticising their business capacity. I am criticising their lack of finance. They know that their machines are obsolete, but they have no money with which to replace them. During the boom in Lancashire 10 or 12 years ago the bulk of the liquid cash was taken out of the county by certain unscrupulous financiers, and the county today has got no money. If you go to a financier and say, "Will you give me some money for Lancashire machinery?" he smiles at you as if you were loony. If you go to the bank and ask for money, they reply, "We are very sorry, but we have burnt our fingers already, and are not taking any more risks."

Lancashire cannot get money without Government help. They are a very charming, but stiff-necked people. I have told Lancashire that this is what they ought to do to put their house in order. They must first close permanently all obsolete mills and close all redundant mills, so that the remaining mills can work 100 per cent. output. They must renovate the mills that are left with really modern machinery and group them in a small number of units allied with batteries of automatic looms so that the mad internal competition which is going on in Lancashire will be stopped. Lancashire wants a proper sales organisation for each group and a pledge among the groups that they will join in a price control system. Last, and almost as important as anything, Lancashire wants to use Indian or Empire cotton.

Much can and should be done. People in Lancashire to whom you talk agree that that is what they would like to do, but they do not see any way of doing it because there is no money. I suggest to the Government that this is the time when they can help. What happened 10 years ago is not the fault of the present people in Lancashire. It is not the operative's fault; he is losing his job. If you want to give a fair deal to the operatives and the working people in Lancashire who are interested in cotton, the Government should come forward, as they did in connection with the Cunard Line, and say, "We will help you, but on conditions. We will only help you on condition that you group yourselves into a few large, easily-handled groups, of 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 spindles. We will only lend you money if such groups have proper sales organisations. We will only lend you money if you undertake to join a price control association, and only lend you money if, for every one new spindle you put down, you will scrap two obsolete spindles." If the Government would do that, from figures I have got I am confident that very large profits could be made. And if I were in the Government I would advise them, if they lent money, to put in a final clause that no dividend exceeding 5 per cent. should be paid by any mill which had Government help—and a profit of 5 per cent. today in a cotton mill is looked upon as almost beyond the dreams of avarice—unless they had first of all paid off their Government loan.

There is every excuse to be made for my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport because when the figures showing what could be done by modern machinery for automatic weaving were first brought to me I was startled, and I would not believe them myself. But I have since been through those figures; I have had some half-dozen very hard-headed Lancashire spinners and weavers checking them; my own accountants have been through them; a firm of chartered accountants have also been through them, and we cannot find that they are wrong. If they are not wrong, then a modern English mill, with weaving shed attached, equipped with automatic looms, can sell grey cotton cloth in India a halfpenny a pound cheaper than Japan is charging to-day. A halfpenny a pound is an enormous profit in the cotton trade. I was told by a well-known spinner that a saving of one-sixteenth of a penny in the cost of his spinning meant a 5 per cent. dividend, and yet our figures show that we can market in India at a halfpenny per pound cheaper than Japan is doing to-day.

With the whole of Lancashire practically heading straight down the road to bankruptcy, with 80 mills closed in Oldham alone, the unemployment bill must be enormous in that county, and I suggest that this proposal is one which should be looked into by the Government. It is worth their while to loan £9,500,000 to the Cunard and White Star Lines in order to build a ship to regain the blue riband of the Atlantic and to find employment for a certain number of men in the shipbuilding trade. Here is an opportunity to find double employment; because if we re-equip our mills and our weaving sheds we shall first employ builders and machinery builders and, when the mills are finished, we shall have all the mill hands at work again. I apologise for speaking on this matter at all, because as chairman of a textile machinery combine I am an interested party, and much as I want to help Lancashire I should not have dreamed of rising but for the fact that the hon. Member for Stockport has raised this matter, and challenged me so strongly. I do hope, however, that the Government will give some attention to what I have said.

6.4 p.m.


I claim the right to take part in this Debate because Lancashire is mentioned, and I am the representative of a division in Lancashire, and have been a witness of the circumstances which have led to the introduction of this Bill. I remember a Debate in the House not long ago in which the Minister was pressed from this side of the House to take some action along these lines. We asked him if he could get common consent among the employers and workmen to bring in a Bill of this character and he said he would do what he could to bring that about. That is why I welcome the Bill. For some time past we have had agreements in Lancashire between employers and workmen, and they have been honourably carried out for a period, but, owing to the distress largely brought about by the causes which have been mentioned—inefficient machinery and things like that—some employers have found that they could not sell their produce at a price which would enable them to make profits while paying the stipulated wages. Then they have said to the workmen, "I cannot keep on with my concern unless you are prepared to accept a lower rate of wages," and, unless the men would consent to that, the employers have broken away from the agreement and forced lower wages on them. That kind of thing could not go on for any length of time without something being done, and as a trade unionist I am very strongly in favour of protection being given to them in this way.

I belong to the coal industry. We are more highly organised than the cotton industry, but we constantly meet with cases where employers try to break away from agreements, and it requires all the pressure of the good employers to make them toe the line. But we manage to do it, and what is good for the coal industry ought to be good for the cotton industry. Up to the moment, however, the cotton industry has not been quite equal to the occasion, and has had to ask the Government to help it, and therefore we have this Bill, which to my mind is a very fair Measure. It states that when both sides, the employers and the workmen, come to a common understanding on wage agreements, Parliamentary sanction shall be given to those agreements. Surely no one can complain of that. I do not think any hon. Member opposite would argue that if 5 per cent. of the employers wanted to break away from an agreement they ought to be allowed the privilege of doing so, in opposition to the other 95 per cent. of the employers. The Bill provides that if at any time either side, as a body, want to break away from the agreement because the state of the industry does not warrant the payment of the wages, they can appeal to the Minister, and the Minister, after an inquiry, can sanction the greaking of the agreement after three months' notice. Further, if the Minister finds that the industry is not able to meet the wages call upon it—or for any other reason—he has power to dissolve the agreement after a certain length of time.

The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill made certain statements which seem to me to be very difficult to back up. He did not want to support a Government which was attempting to bolster up certain industries; he wanted them to be free to protect themselves, and not to look to Parliament for protection. Not long ago, however, he himself introduced a Bill to force all electors to record their votes, and those who did not do so were to be fined. He is not in favour of allowing electors to have freedom to do as they wish, and yet when something is to be done to meet obvious difficulties in the cotton industry, the hon. Member calls for free play and says that nobody ought to be coerced. He read a letter from a non-federated employer which appeared to me to afford ample justification for this Bill. The writer of that letter stated that he wanted freedom to do just as he liked, he wanted to break away from all agreements, and said that in that way he would be able to keep his mill working. If we follow that argument to its logical conclusion it means that any employer who cannot pay the standard rate of wages has only to say to his workmen "All right, if you do not accept a lower rate of pay you must be out of work." If we were to accept that line of reasoning we could have no governing agreements in any industry.

Therefore, I can support this Bill with some degree of satisfaction, and the more so because it is opposed by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams). Our views are so entirely opposed on most matters that it helps me to back the Government when I know that Members like him are against it. As one of the five Labour Members for Lancashire—we are now only five out of 66, the other 61 being National Government men—I want to raise my voice on behalf of the cotton industry. I believe that this Bill is a means to protect that industry, and I believe it will give great satisfaction to many of the mill operatives. If the Bill proves satisfactory, as I believe it will, I hope that there will be a great extension of legislation of this character. There is one point in the Bill to which I wish to draw attention. Clause 3, paragraph (b) states : if any employer pays to a person employed in the industry of a class affected by the agreement wages at a rate less than the rate applicable in his case under the order, the employer shall (without prejudice to any proceedings under the last foregoing paragraph) be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds. Let us assume that an employer has not paid the rate of wages agreed upon and is found to be guilty. Do I take it that the workmen will be able to recover all the arrears of pay which are owing to them? I do not find any specific statement on that point in the Bill. I assume that that is implied, but I should like the Minister to be quite definite on that point, because lawyers find many loopholes in Acts of Parliament. If that right is not clearly established in the Bill I would like it to be made definite during the Committee proceedings. If that is done, I think the Bill is well worth the support of the House.

6.14 p.m.


The Minister of Labour, in his admirable speech, has so concisely outlined the main proposals of this Bill, that I wish to devote myself, in the few minutes I intend to keep the House, to discussing its main principles. This Bill confines its purview to wages, it hedges itself about with numerous restrictions and safeguards. Nevertheless hon. Members who oppose it claim that its propositions impinge upon the liberty of the individual. Civil law allows a man freedom of conscience, of thought and even of action, provided he does not injure his fellows. But if he injures them or steals or murders, then the law lays a heavy hand upon him. That principle is equally applicable to industry. It may be that, in the cotton industry, the intense internal competition now prevailing gives for a certain time a temporary advantage to one individual, but this temporary advantage may in the long run be a serious disadvantage to other members of the industry.

As I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) I imagined that I was listening to one of the perorations that so often echoed through the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, in the nineteenth century. It was pure Liberal doctrine. The great Tory traditions of Shaftesbury and Disraeli insisted upon interference with industry when bad conditions prevailed, and upon the State stepping in to intervene in the cotton industry. The traditions of laissez faire, which prevailed in the nineteenth century, doubtless benefited that industry when markets were rapidly expanding and cotton goods found a ready outlet all over the world—in Asia, America and Africa. But in these days, when Japanese competition has so terribly limited the markets at our disposal, drastic internal competition does infinite damage to the trade as a whole. I am therefore convinced that this Measure, which is the first of its kind and is experimental in its nature, will prove of benefit to the industry, provided that it can be made to work.

It is significant that Lancashire, traditionally the home of laissez faire, has provided so many influential men in all sections of the community willing to give this experiment support. I, for one, if this experiment succeeds, and if it finds acceptance in the cotton industry, will not suffer agonies of conscience if the principle is extended to other industries. A farmer who was a father of twins wired to his relations, "Twins to-day. More to-morrow." When industry is passing through a transitional stage, every movement must be purely experimental, and I, for one, welcome this step, and heartily support the Minister.

6.18 p.m.


I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. H. Kerr) with reference to the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) on the question of it being a Tory principle to interfere with business. This Bill purports to interfere with the great cotton industry in Lancashire. I remember 12 years ago, when I first took part in politics, that I had the temerity to oppose a very great Free Trader like the late Mr. Stephen Walsh, and hardly a Conservative Minister would assist me in the campaign because I was a Protectionist. I believed then, as I do now, in interference in industry where that is necessary. I believe that the breaking of agreements which has been going on in the Lancashire cotton industry for the last two years has risen to such serious proportions that it is high time the Government brought in such a Bill as that which I welcome to-day.

There are points in the Bill which need elucidation. One example of that is the word "majority" in Clause 1. That could mean, as has already been pointed out, a majority of one over the half-way line, or of one under the total. An hon. Member has pointed out that you might have—although i doubt it very much in the Lancashire weaving industry—a case of 51 against 49, and the majority of 51 would then, of course, be entitled, if the Bill became law, to impose their will upon the minority of 49. That is how I read the word "majority," and the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) evidently reads it in the same way, because when he addressed the House he introduced the phrase "substantial minority." He pressed the Minister of Labour to take steps to enable what he called substantial minorities to be heard before the board which it is proposed to appoint. If the hon. Member for Stockport had not read into the word " majority "the same idea that comes into my mind when I see the word, I do not think that he would have been tempted to use the phrase "substantial minority."

I urge the Minister to consider the question of altering the word "majority," or of amplifying it in some way, so that it would enable substantial minorities to be heard before the board, and would exclude the possibility of anything like a substantial minority being repressed by the will of what we might call an insubstantial minority. I do not think that in the Lancashire weaving industry with which this Bill deals, there is any danger at the present time of any substantial minority being oppressed by Clause 1. From what I know from personal experience in different parts of Lancashire, and particularly around Darwen, Blackburn and Preston, wage-cutting is not being carried on by any substantial minority. It is being carried on by some of the friends of the hon. Member for South Croydon, who are using the wage-cutting and price-cutting method in order to injure firms who have been honourably keeping to their agreements and to injure the trade unions who look after the welfare of the operatives.

The main reason why I support the Bill is because the matter was brought to the notice of nearly every Lancashire Member who is interested in the cotton industry, before the last Election, and at the last election, when there was much discussion about foreign competition as affecting the Lancashire cotton industry. It was suggested by some of our laissez faire friends that there was a method of meeting foreign competition by the reduction of the operatives' wages. I made it well known throughout the division which I fought that I would never agree to any system which would injure the wages at present obtaining in the Lancashire cotton industry, and that I would do everything I possibly could to raise those wages if that were possible. I shall certainly do everything I can to prevent the wages from being reduced to the level that obtains in some of the countries which are at the present time, unfortunately, successfully competing with the Lancashire cotton industry. That is one of the strongest reasons why I am delighted that the Bill has been brought forward.

Lancashire hon. Members when they go among their Lancashire friends are asked time and time again, "What are the National Government doing for the cotton industry?" Here we have a specific reply. At last an attempt is being made, on the recommendation of employers and employés, to do something for that industry. I believe that the Bill will help to set it upon a firm foundation. I do not believe that it will solve all the troubles in the textile industry nor does anyone else in this House, but I am glad that the Government have at last made a start to assist, and I hope that this will not be the last attempt, but may merely be the beginning of several attempts to help the Lancashire cotton industry.

6.26 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY

I congratulate the Minister heartily on bringing forward this Bill. It is one that we have needed for some years in Lancashire, in order to provide that when employers and employés have come to an agreement as to the rate that shall be paid, neither party shall be allowed to break away and that the agreement shall be a statutory obligation, with the option of giving notice to break it after three months. One of the salient points which have not been mentioned in connection with this Bill is that there are employers who will get cheap, non-union labour from outside the federation. When the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) read the letter, that was from outside the federation and is about the strongest argument that he could have used in favour of the Bill. Those firms undercut firms which are paying their employés properly. Not only do they take away orders, but if they lower the price of their commodity by as much as one halfpenny per yard, that reduction lowers the price of the commodities practically throughout Lancashire.

The Lancashire cotton trade is going through a terrible time. We have had to substitute a lot of home trade for our foreign trade, and the firms to which I have alluded are putting their goods into the home-market at low prices which are not necessitated by the circumstances. They could get higher prices quite easily, they would be able to pay their employés properly, and the whole trade would derive great benefit. I am not going to criticise this Bill, because I do not believe that any Amendment of it is required. The Minister does not interfere with the industry; what happens is that employers and employés come to an arrangement among themselves, and then the Minister says——


The Bill does this : When two people come to an agreement, that agreement is imposed upon somebody else.

Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY

Not at all. If one party breaks an agreement, the parties go into the law courts in order to see that the agreement is prevented from being broken. In this case it is the Minister who says, "I will see that the agreement is kept."


If two people make an agreement, the Bill has nothing to do with that position. This is a position in which two people can come to an agreement and other parties are compelled to agree to it.

Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY

The hon. Member makes my argument all the stronger. If 5 per cent. of firms are working with badly-paid labour and are sweating their people to try to get an order or two out of the man who is paying decent wages, that minority should be brought in and be compelled also to pay decent wages. That is why the Minister should be able to say, "You must pay decent wages."

I want now to leave the Bill for a few minutes in order to deal with a statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Sir W. Preston), which threw a serious aspersion on Lancashire. It was one of the wildest statements that I have ever heard in this House, and not one-half of it was true. My hon. Friend says that all the machinery in Lancashire is obsolete, and ought to be scrapped. He is a maker of machinery himself, and he says he has been to Japan. Was he there for the purpose of studying machinery, or for the purpose of selling the Japanese some machinery? However, I will let that question pass, but I should have been glad if my hon. Friend had been in the House to answer this question : Eight years ago he was a party to putting the machinery into a spinning mill within easy distance of Manchester, and he took his money for that machinery in shares. A few months ago that mill went bankrupt. So much for his modern machinery, and so much for the rest of Lancashire which has not a machine that can compete with the Japanese.

What is the use of my hon. Friend talking about improving the automatic loom when he knows perfectly well that the trade unions will not agree to the operatives working automatic looms? Let my hon. Friend tell us something that is constructive. It is all very well for him to say, "Get the operatives in Lancashire to run 40 looms for 120 hours a week, as the Japanese do, and I will show you how to compete with the Japanese." If he can do that I am with him, but to put an impossible proposition before the House, and to let it go out to the world that Lancashire is totally inefficient and that its machinery is obsolete from top to bottom, will not only do Lancashire a great deal of harm, but is an extraordinary perversion of the truth. I would offer a challenge to my hon. Friend in regard to my own works, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) has thrown out a challenge. The cloth in my works goes over the machines at the rate of 120 yards a minute. If my hon. Friend will come down to my place and will increase my production beyond 120 yards a minute, then I will order machines from him. I want to make that offer because, whenever we speak about the state of the Lancashire cotton trade, we are always told that we are not efficient, that our machinery is not up to date, and that we do not know how to run our places as well as foreign firms do. There is only one thing in which I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is with regard to the banks. It is not a question of attacking the banks, but the policy of the banks to-day is of no use to the trade of this country. If one wants an overdraft to-day——


The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) has already replied to the same charge, and the hon. and gallant Member is doing so again. I think he has gone far enough now, and ought not to pursue the subject any further. It has nothing to do with the Bill.

Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY

I apologise, of course, if I have gone too far. I only intervened because, the matter having been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, and a charge having been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, I felt, as one who is engaged in the cotton trade, that I should like to reply.

6.36 p.m.


This Bill only applies to the Lancashire cotton manufacturing industry, and it is submitted that the whole of Lancashire, as far as I have been able to gather, is in support of the Bill. As far as the Members representing Lancashire constituencies in this House are concerned, the Bill has been before their Committee, of which I have the honour to be the Chairman, and I can tell the House that not one voice was raised there in criticism of the Bill; so we can take it that, as far as Lancashire Members are concerned, there is unanimous support for the Bill. As regards the various sections of the cotton trade, the Bill, of course, only affects the manufacturing and weaving section. That section, I understand, supports the Bill, and the other sections view it with favour. It is, therefore, significant that Lancashire, which has always been attacked as being unable to reorganise because of the individualistic temperament and character of the Lancashire employer, should be supporting this Bill, and that its main antagonist should be the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), who has used analogies such as the Russian system, the Italian system, and various other bogeys which are raised about the Bill.

The hon. Member for South Croydon has at any rate always been an ardent Protectionist, and the one thing that Protection does is to interfere with free competition in the interests of the State as a whole. It is really absurd to talk of this Bill as introducing any of the dangers of Socialism. All of those restriction schemes which, under the economic conditions of the world, are now generally recognised as necessary for making industry more prosperous—I am speaking of restriction schemes such as those applied to tin, rubber and other commodities—have required Government sanction to make them effective, and that, after all, is all that this Bill does. It only comes into operation if the representatives of both sides of the industry agree—they have not only to be representative of a majority, but they have to agree—and in that case the Government has to come in in order to give the agreement statutory effect. What the hon. Member for South Croydon is really advocating is a position like that of members of a trade union who indulge in an unofficial strike contrary to their own union, but he would be the first Member of the House to denounce action of that kind. Now, however, in opposing this Bill, he is supporting those blackleg manufacturers who are trying to get an exceptional advantage by paying lower rates of wages than the bulk of the employers in the county.


I do not want to interrupt my hon. and learned Friend, but, after all, that is quite an unfounded charge. It is made by people who do not understand the basis of fixing wages. Obviously, while you may have imposed on an industry a rigid system of wages, if you re-equip a mill on entirely new lines, as I explained in my speech, you must have lower piece rates. That does not necessarily mean lower weekly earnings; the earnings may be higher; but under the system of this Bill nobody in the industry will be entitled to alter the piece rates, because they will be tied by the agreement.


I do not think that any Member of the House will credit the statement which my hon. Friend has just made. An agreement with regard to wages deals with piece rates as well as with hour rates, and it is absurd to think that, if there are new inventions and so on, those piece rates can never be altered because they are in the agreement. The representatives of the two organisations would themselves substitute a new agreement applying the piece rates which are appropriate to the new inventions. Besides, there are other provisions in the Bill for revoking and terminating an agreement if either of the two organisations requires the Minister to do so. I still assert that what the Bill does is merely to deal with the small recalcitrant minority who, quite apart from the interests of the community as a whole, and of their industry in particular, are trying to seize a mean advantage at the expense of the great bulk of the employers who are considering, not only their own interests, but the interests of the industry as a whole, and, in the long run, the interests even of that minority, for ultimately their interests are wrapped up in the prosperity of the industry. But it is always the case that, however clear it may be that a certain course of conduct pursued by individuals must ultimately result detrimentally to those individuals, still, if they can see an immediate advantage, they are shortsighted enough to try to seize it, letting the future look after itself, and hoping for the best. It is not in the interests of the Lancashire cotton industry, and it is not in the interests of the industry of this country as a whole, to encourage that sort of thing.

Another reason why I am in favour of the Bill has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley), and that is that Lancashire is constantly being urged to reorganise itself. Strenuous efforts are now being made to arrive at agreements among the different sections of the cotton trade on the very things which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Sir W. Preston) says it is necessary for Lancashire to do if she is to be prosperous, such as dealing with redundant machinery, price-fixing, and other matters. Lancashire is working very hard at the moment to get agreements on these schemes, but everyone recognises that the complexities of the trade make it extraordinarily difficult to arrive at such agreements. If, however, reorganisation is to be practicable, one of the essential things is that wages agreements arrived at by representatives of both sides shall be faithfully carried out, and shall not be allowed to be upset by the action of a small minority. Therefore, by passing this Bill, which, after all, is an agreed Measure and represents a specific practical step which can now be carried out, we shall in fact be helping towards that reorganisation of the Lancashire cotton trade about which we are all agreed.

6.43 p.m.


The hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Mr. Entwistle) has just made a very powerful defence of the Bill. It has been interesting to observe during the Debate to-day the strong concurrence of opinion among hon. Members who are normally bitter opponents. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) observed some little time ago, that rather makes one suspicious of the merits of the Bill, and perhaps on that account some of us have looked rather more carefully for flaws in it than otherwise we should have done. One hon. Member said earlier that it was hard that Members other than those who sit for cotton divisions should intervene at all. If we were a "corporate State," obviously only experts would speak on any given subject. Experts find it notoriously difficult to agree among themselves, and, when they do agree among themselves, one generally finds that it is at the expense of some third party.

There appear to be certain flaws in the Bill, which have been pointed to by various speakers. The Minister of Labour at the beginning of the Debate pointed out, I understand, that the Bill had been brought in at the instance of representatives of both employers and employed in a very large majority. It is very interesting to know that, because the Bill provides that only a bare majority of employers and employed is needed to secure the fixation of wages. I freely admit that there is a provision to safeguard that position in Clause 1 (4). The board have to be satisfied that the organisations are representative, and that there is a majority, but the board also have to be satisfied that it is expedient that such an Order should be issued. Therefore, after they have examined the case put up by both sides, there is an opportunity for the board to say, "This is only a very small majority which desires the wages to be fixed, and we do not think that it is expedient at the instance of 51 per cent. of the trade to fix wages at the expense of the disagreement of 49 per cent.," and I think the board would quite reasonably come to the conclusion that a substantial majority was not only advisable, but necessary. But it does not say so in the Bill, and, although this may be a Committee point, I think it is quite proper that it should be ventilated on the Second Reading, so that the Committee may pay very careful attention to it.

As the hon. Member for South Croydon, with whom I am in substantial agreement in many of his arguments, said, the Bill presents a grave danger in that you are enforcing contracts made by two parties upon a third. It is admittedly a recalcitrant minority, but it is certainly a very grave step to impose agreement such as this on those who do not desire it. Of course, if you assume that there is only going to be a recalcitrant minority of 5 per cent., if it be in the interest of the vast majority that a certain rate of wages should be fixed, that rate of wages ought to be fixed, but I feel that a definite figure should be laid down in the Bill of the percentage that is required to enable the Bill to be enforced.


I do not think I said 5 per cent. I did not mean to say it.


The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) mentioned 5 per cent. The hon. Member for South Croydon pointed to another very grave danger. The Bill only affects a certain area and it is at least possible that a new company might be formed to exploit a certain invention with almost unlimited money behind it and it might decide to start a factory in the South of England. The wages agreement would not apply and they might well be able to undercut the whole of Lancashire.

Whether or not the machinery of the Lancashire cotton industry is inefficient I am not competent to judge. We have had many stalwart speeches in defence of the efficiency of the methods and the machinery of Lancashire. It is a very odd thing that, when some of the Lancashire Members are endeavouring to urge the Government to take strong steps to deal with Japanese competition, one of the main points generally seems to be that it is difficult for Lancashire to compete owing to the fact that so much of the machinery is out of date and that they cannot get money to instal fresh machinery. But to-day we have seen quite the other argument used in connection with this Bill. For the reasons that I have mentioned I am very doubtful as to the advisability of the Bill. At the same time I believe that, with one or two Amendments, it is worth trying out. If it is found to be successful, if it is found that the operation of the Bill does not necessarily mean that industry always goes at the pace of the slowest and the most inefficient, if it is found after a period of time to work smoothly, I believe it might be extended with advantage to other industries. I feel that we should go very carefully when we are imposing on a minority wages arranged in effect by a majority. Although I agree with the hon. Member for South Croydon in his objections to the Bill, both in principle and in practice, I feel that on the whole it is worth giving it a Second Reading.

6.51 p.m.


We have listened to yet another speech from a Member who represents the sunny South based largely on hypothetical fears of what may possibly happen in the future. Today we are dealing with realities, and we are only dealing with Lancashire, in fact only with a certain part of Lancashire—the weaving industry—and with conditions as they are at the moment. I rise to give my full support to the Bill, which in my opinion is a good and workmanlike Measure. It will be of considerable benefit to the Lancashire cotton trade as a whole, both employers and employed. It has the support of Lancashire, and that redoubles the value of the Bill, because the people of Lancashire are an extremely independent race, and the fact that they have come and asked the Government to give them their aid gives much greater force to their plea than would otherwise be the case. It is a Bill, too, which has been wanted for years. If anything it is long overdue. It has often been said, "Lancashire does not know what it wants. If only they would make up their mind what they want, we should be able to act." If there be any truth in that allegation—and I think there has been some—Lancashire does now know what it wants and has come to ask us to enforce it. Let us not allow the opportunity to slip by.

The Bill does not interfere with any of the trade relations that exist in the industry. There is nothing unusual in it. The suspicions that have been brought forward by some who have been opposing it are largely unfounded. The only unusual thing about it is that the Opposition are supporting it. To my mind, that adds very great weight to our point and again redoubles the value of the Bill. It is essential that some system of wage regulation should be put into force if the trade is to continue. The Bill is voluntary. The Government are not trying to force its own conclusions on those who do not want them. As the Minister said, the Government are hoping to help the trade to help itself, and Government action is to be at a minimum. It may be suggested that Lancashire independence arid enterprise is everything, but with all this under-cutting going on we cannot allow Lancashire enterprise to take its own course as regards this section of the industry. Is not that exactly what has been happening in Japan? Japan has been cutting prices, cutting prices and cutting prices again and has captured the trade by methods which have lowered the standards of the people and the conditions in the industry. Price cutting can only lead eventually to sweated labour. Wages are low enough already. They are at the very rock bottom, and I think the Bill will tend to encourage them to rise.

We are not asking that hours should be regulated or wages fixed or the number of looms per man fixed. We are only asking that, if the majority in the trade agrees that a certain wage agreement should be imposed on all in the interests of the trade, the Government should enforce it. Progress towards industrial recovery in Lancashire has been extremely slow. It has not kept pace with the progress in some other parts of the country. I think the Bill will be a help to hurry on that progress, and, combined with the action of the President of the Board of Trade the other day in regard to quotas on foreign imports into our Colonies, will be a definite help to Lancashire trade.

6.58 p.m.


The Bill in itself is of limited scope. It does not even deal with the whole of the cotton industry, but only with one section of it. It is hedged about with restrictions and safeguards. But, as the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) remarked, it shows a great departure from present and past practice and introduces a new principle which I heartily welcome. I believe the day of laissez faire and Free Trade is, for the time being at any rate, over, and how you can have unfair competition when it is with a foreign country and when it is with your next door neighbour call it fair competition, when in fact it is exactly the same thing, I fail to see.

I realise that this is an experimental Bill. We shall watch it working with great interest. If it be worked aright, it will be of great advantage to industry in the rest of the country. I believe that in the future all organised trades and industries will require powers of this sort. Having put themselves in order, they will come to the Government and say, "We can rule ourselves. Give us the power to rule ourselves." I strongly believe that the argument of the future between Socialists and anti-Socialists in the conduct of industry will be that we anti-Socialists will claim that industries should be allowed to run themselves, while I have no doubt that the Front Bench of the future will continue to claim that it should run them. That will be, in the future, the grounds of difference between us. I am therefore delighted to see that, so early in the Debate, they have somewhat left that point of view and are delightedly acclaiming the right of industry to run itself without State ownership.

If I could have the Minister's attention for a moment, I should like to refer to two minor points. One is the remarkable list on page 7. I believe that the Minister, like the Lord President of the Council and other hon. Members, is a great lover of the English language and of old English place-names. If he had wished to make a collection of old English place-names, be could not have done better than those he has written down on page 7. They are true to life. I will not read them all out, but will read a few : The Borough of Todmorden, the Urban Districts of Barnoldswick, Earby, Hebden Bridge, Luddenenfoot, Mytholmroyd, Saddle-worth, Silsden. They are marvellous names; and we have, a little lower down : The Parishes of Charlesworth, Chisworth, and Ludworth, in the Rural District of Chapel-en-le-Frith. You could not have a better list. Nevertheless, the industry to which it is proposed that the Bill should refer should have been defined in explicit terms and not by the place where the industry works upon which we propose to place this measure of control. Half my constituency is covered by these picturesque names, and the other half, though equally well fitted for cotton spinning, is not covered. Anachronisms of that sort should not be introduced into the Bill. I would ask the Minister whether in Committee or at some later stage he could regard these places, not from the point of view of the picturesqueness of their names but from the point of view of their efficiency, and eliminate the method of area description of industry in favour of an exact description of the industry itself.

There is only one other minor point to which I should like to refer, and which has been referred to by many hon. Members. That is the definition of "majority." It is obvious that a narrow majority is not what is indicated in this Bill, but a substantial majority. A definition of what constitutes a substantial majority would be an improvement in the Bill. Nevertheless, with those two small criticisms, I should like to add my strong support to the Bill and to the principle on which it is based.

7.3 p.m.


There is one point which I do not think has been sufficiently brought out, and which is hardly ever mentioned in this House. This country has pulled round considerably in the last three years. On our side we might say that this recovery has been due to Protection; on the other side, hon. Members might claim that it was due to our going off the Gold Standard; the Socialist party might say that the trade of the world has improved. Those reasons are all true, but there is a fourth point which we are apt to overlook. During recent years we have had fewer strikes and fewer lock-outs than any country in the world. Because we have had peace on the home front, we have succeeded well elsewhere. Those of us who live up in these districts—I happen to live near Skipton, Barnoldswick and these nice places—realise the unpleasantness that is likely to happen unless some Bill like this is carried through. It is likely to lead to civil war, which is the most unpleasant type of war in the world. It is setting village against village, works against works, and families against families. That is what we want to avoid. We want employers and employed to pull together. Hon. Members who have been in the trade, or in trades, will realise what an awful nuisance a very few people can be. I happen to be chairman of one business; it is not in the cotton trade but it is germane to this extent : For 12 months we have been trying to come to an agreement; 95 per cent. of us have agreed and the other 5 per cent. have held the thing up. That is the sort of situation we want to avoid and of which the Government are trying to relieve us. I hope that the Bill will pass rapidly, and I can assure the Government that it will have the best wishes and thanks and the cordial support of all those who sit on this bench.

7.5 p.m.


I make no apology, as another Member of the Sunny South, representing the consumers, for intervening in the Debate on this Bill. It is not, as one hon. Member said, merely the question of a cotton Bill dealing with Lancashire only. The case WEIS stated by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) and by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. McCorquodale), that this is the first time that this form of organisation has been imposed upon or granted to an industry. If it is successful, it will be followed by other similar charters or impositions upon other industries.


Would the hon Member tell me the difference between this Bill and the principle of the fixing of wages under the Trade Boards?


That is not applied to one industry only. This, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Sowerby, empowers a particular industry to run itself.


I happen to be an employer of labour ruled by a Trade Board. They do apply to definite industries. I know that they can act for different industries, but they do decide on the minimum wages which shall be paid in an industry. What is the difference between those Trade Boards and these organisations?


Under this Bill the matter is decided primarily by the two sides of an industry itself, by the majority rule of the industry. That does not affect my point, because this is the forerunner—as has been admitted—or may be the forerunner, of many similar Bills for other industries. This is, therefore, the moment when the advantages and the dangers of this system should be stressed, not only by the members of the industry to which it is applied, but also by members of other industries to which similar systems may be applied in the future. I do not think that any hon. Member at this time of day will suggest that it is a good thing to leave matters to the old- fashioned, cut-throat, free competition. I do not think that there is anybody in the House who would perpetuate a state of things such as has just been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Rickards), by which a small minority and—as I am prepared to believe, from my knowledge of the hon. Member, a wrong-headed minority—should hold up a scheme indefinitely. I was much interested to note the strong belief of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) in the unimportance of minorities and the importance of majorities; I only hope that one day he will carry that belief into international and other spheres.


Surely it is the custom for majorities to rule in this country.


The hon. Member's party is always on the look-out to safeguard the rights of minorities. It was an interesting moment to-day when I saw him on the side of the majorities. I do not think that anybody would deny the principles which I have just laid down as those behind the Bill. What, however, we have to decide, and what this House has very carefully to consider, is whether this method is the best way of dealing with the situation. The advantages have been stated very fully, very clearly and very fairly by the supporters of the Bill, but the disadvantages or dangers have been rather lightly thrust aside. In the first place, one of the misfortunes of industry in this country has, on the whole, been that those in charge of the organisations on both sides of an industry—I am not specifying the cotton industry, Because I do not pretend to know anything about it as such—have not as a rule been drawn from the wisest or the ablest of the men in that industry. It has been made abundantly clear again and again that a great deal could have been done for various industries in this country if the different associations representing employers and employed had been more reasonable and less obscurantist, and had in fact represented more accurately the majority of their members. It is to those organisations that we are about to give the power in this case.

I hope that the Minister, in observing the working of this Bill when it becomes an Act—as I have no doubt it will—will study very carefully whether it is upholding its usefulness, and whether there is any remedy to ensure that the case for the majority is handled and presented by the people who really represent the majority and not by the people who, by their positions, merely say that they do. There is also a danger, which was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), and which is a very real one, that new methods, new ideas may be introduced by a minority; the majority may oppose them, and then those methods and ideas, which might, if carried into effect, have meant the saving of the industry, may be turned down because the majority are too unwise and obscurantist to adopt them. That is a very real danger and one against which it is necessary to guard. What we have to do if we are to develop this system is to see that those who have at heart the interests of the industry as a whole, and not those of a small section, are the persons who have the power of ruling the industry. I am a little doubtful whether this Bill does that. It stresses too much the question of an organised majority; it may put too much power in their hands.

I am not going to vote against this Measure. It would not be right for anyone unconnected with the cotton trade or with that part of the country to oppose in the Division Lobby a Measure so obviously and universally desired by all those who are intimately connected with it. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton said that he believed that this Bill would work well. I sincerely hope so, but I am very glad that it is a temporary Measure. We must have time to observe its working, to see where, if anywhere—it may be nowhere and all these fears may be illusory—a mistake has been made. When and if we impose codes of this kind—and it is probably the feeling of many hon. Members that in future the codes will not only deal with wages but will also deal with other conditions—we must see that the people who are administering them are really the people who are the best fitted to do so. An old Parliamentary friend of mine told me when I first come to this House that when a Bill was agreed upon by the two Front Benches it was almost certain to be a bad Bill. This Bill suffers not only from that stigma, but also from the support of the largest Liberal front in the House. Even so, while I am a little frightened of its detail, and that we may be content to stabilise old-fashioned inefficiency and obscurantism instead of to destroy them, I only hope that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton will prove right and that this Bill, which I do not suppose will be opposed in the Division Lobby, will have great success.

7.15 p.m.


I have listened to the whole of this very interesting Debate, and I am very pleased at the reception the Bill has received from all sides of the House. I am delighted to see the Secretary for Mines in his place listening very attentively to our discussion to-day, because I am hoping that he may be taking in some of these suggestions about legalising wages agreements with which perhaps he or his successor may be confronted at some future date. And now I come to the Bill itself. Hon. Members who have had any apprehensions about its provisions must be indeed greatly mistaken. There is one issue which has not been mentioned before in the Debate, yet in my opinion it is perhaps the most important of all. Hon. Members will be interested to learn that in the weaving section of the cotton trade of Lancashire and the surrounding townships about 60 per cent. of the operatives are women. What we are doing to-day, therefore, is not merely giving legal clothing to a wage agreement; we are in fact rescuing some women weavers of Lancashire and the surrounding towns from the very serious position in which they have found themselves on more than one occasion. Therefore, the Bill is very important because, as is known to all, the woman is more easily exploited by a bad employer than the man.

Let me add a word in support of the argument which was put forward by the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Rickards), who knows this business very much better than most of us. Although I do not know very much about the cotton industry, there are a number of mills in my Division. I can assure the House that in certain Lancashire villages with say, half-a-dozen mills, where five of the employers owning the mills will play the game towards their workpeople and carry out the agreements of the employers and the trade unions, and the other employer is too stiff to follow suit, the results are such that they embitter not only the social and church life of the village, but some of the family circles as well. Hon. Gentlemen really must understand that the cotton industry of Lancashire in many respects differs fundamentally in its social conceptions from that of coal, engineering, or shipbuilding.

I will now pass to the actual merits of the Bill. The Hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) has indeed contributed something to our discussion to-day. Were it not for his intervention, I am afraid that the Bill would have passed the Second Reading already. He made the statement that this was the worst Bill that has been introduced into this House. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's great fund of information, and I consequently hope that he will not be offended when I say that, if this is the worst Bill that has been introduced in this Parliament, he has to-day delivered the worst speech that he has ever uttered. I have never heard such foolish arguments from him before. The substance of the hon. Gentleman's argument was that if we passed this Bill to-day to clothe in legal enactment a voluntary agreement on wages, it would stifle all invention and progress in the cotton industry.


The Bill does not propose to do that; it proposes something quite different.


The hon. Gentleman is continually correcting hon. Members who refer to his speech. He is apparently ashamed of what he has said. Let him listen, therefore, to one who thinks that he has a better memory than what he possesses. It is quite common, by the way, for a listener to remember things said by a speaker better than the speaker remembers them himself. His argument was, in short, that if you legalise these voluntary wage agreements you could not hope for success and progress consequent upon the operation of new inventions. If he had told us exactly what was in his mind he would have said that the employer ought to be entitled to exploit his workpeople to the utmost extent and to sweat them too if he liked.


The hon. Member has no right to put words into my mouth which I did not use. A previous speaker did the same thing, and I took the opportunity of correcting him and explaining exactly what I meant.


I am not putting words into the mouth of the hon. Gentleman; I am just trying to picture his mind. I am on occasions a good artist at that Let me follow that point, because it is very important in connection with this Measure. I will give an illustration which contradicts the argument of the hon. Gentleman. I had the privilege and honour in 1916 to organise and lead a strike of 250 women laundry workers, They were all adult women, and the wages they were being paid in the sunny West of England for 60 hours a week was 6s. 6d. It was because of the terribly low wages that were being paid in the laundry trade of that day that a Trade Board for that trade was established. My answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I know of no industry in this country which has developed more rapidly and progressed more scientifically, after the establishment of Trade Board wages, than the laundry industry. Consequently it is not true to say that if you stabilise wages by the methods of a Bill of this kind that it will prevent progress in the industry.

There is one question which I want to ask the Minister of Labour. Incidentally, I was pleased with the speech of the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway about the names of those little townships. Being a Lancashire man myself I rather relished the reference to those names. It is astonishing how we Lancashire folk cling together. From the list of townships given in the Schedule to the Bill, I take it that they are districts in which employers and employed are in local associations, and that they are bound together in one federation at the top as it were? Will the wages agreements covered by Orders made under this Bill when it is an Act of Parliament be wages agreements in respect of each district, or will they be agreements covering the whole of the county and the surrounding townships in Cheshire and Yorkshire? That matter is very important as far as this Measure is concerned. I ought to add that the official Labour Opposition is in favour of this Measure. It is, of course, an innovation. It is a new thing in so far as the law of the land is concerned to bring legal sanction to bear on the enforcement of voluntary wage agreements.

I am willing to confess right away that I regard the Bill as very much more important than what would appear on the surface. It may be that we are beginning a new era in connection with wage agreements. The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) said that he thought the Bill ought to cover something besides wages. I take it that the answer to that point is that, if the employers and the operatives had been desirous of including not only wages, but hours of labour and conditions of employment as well, probably the Minister would have included both. The only answer therefore on that score is that neither employers nor employed want at the moment legal sanction to anything outside wages agreements. I take it also that if employers and employed in any other industry in the future want similar legal sanction, once we have passed this Bill, no Government can decline a request in respect to a similar application from any other industry. We have therefore reached a stage when the State is beginning a new venture in reference to industrial relations.

But it is very unfortunate indeed that this sort of thing has become necessary at all. I regret the causes which have given rise to the demand for this Bill. Before the present trade depression the word of the Lancashire cotton magnate to his workpeople was his bond, and the smaller mill-owner followed in the footsteps of the big mill-owner on all occasions and implemented agreements made between employers and employed without any trouble at all. Unfortunately that is not the case to-day. There are cases, as I have already indicated, in which a great deal of bitterness has been introduced in some of the townships of Lancashire because of the violation of agreements, and I welcome the Bill therefore in order that it may remove some of those terrible social consequences with which I have become acquainted on more than one occasion. It will be remembered that the Lancashire cotton industry is meeting with severe competition in the markets of the world. It is however very wrong that any Member of this House should try to depreciate the importance of this industry. I have heard speeches in this House to-day which seemed to indicate that this industry has so declined that it is practically the smallest industry of its kind in the world. As a matter of fact, that is very far from being the case. I will quote figures to show the difference between the size of the Lancashire cotton industry and the cotton industry in other countries. Take the total estimated number of cotton spindles in the countries of the world. In Great Britain the number is 47,952,000, in France 10,000,000, in Germany 9,000,000. When we talk of the size of the Lancashire cotton industry in proportion to that of Japan it astonishes me to find that whereas we have nearly 48,000,000 cotton spindles, Japan, with all the noise that is made about her, only possesses 8,641,000 such spindles. Therefore, although this Lancashire industry has declined to about one-third of its production of a few years ago, it is still by far the largest cotton industry in the world.


Has the hon. Member comparable figures of the number of spindles working in Britain and in Japan?


I thought that the hon. Member would know more about the subject than I do, otherwise I would have given him the figures already. This Bill raises the question of good faith in matters of bargain and promise and it fits in very well with some statements that I have read from time to time uttered by men who understand the law very much better than I do. One eminent person said that those who desire to be assured of getting anything that is promised must either exact an oath, or a pledge, or embody the promise in legal enactments. As I have said, I am very sorry that it should have become necessary to give these agreements the sanction of law in this fashion and that it has been found necessary to take action to bring offenders before the court so that they may be fined for not carrying out agreements; but we have reached that stage at last.

I feel sure of one thing, and that is that the mere introduction of the Bill will already have had a salutary effect upon those employers who are not play- ing the game. It is not the very large employer as a rule who fails; it is the small employer, who will not join the employers' association and who has a great deal of undue influence with his employes. On occasion, I understand, he can induce his employés to agree with him to contract out from the trade union and from the employers' association as well. That is literal anarchy and we ought to do all we can to prevent that state of affairs from continuing. The situation is a very bad one at the moment. Representing a Lancashire constituency in which some cotton mills still remain, I feel sure I am voicing the opinions of the employers and the workpeople there—and they are among the best in the Lancashire cotton industry—when I say that they welcome the Measure and desire that when it becomes an Act of Parliament it will not be sufficient merely to see it on the Statute Book, but that its provisions shall be applied without any fear or favour.

7.35 p.m.


I can only speak for a second time by leave of the House. I should like, in a few sentences, to reply to this most interesting Debate. I confess that I am extremely gratified with the reception of the Bill. It is, as has been said, an innovation, and I doubt if ever a Bill which could be described as an innovation has been received with such warmth and unanimity. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) semed to be almost embarrassed because he was in agrement with me. I am sorry he should feel that way about it, and I hope that he has found the experience so agreeable and stimulating that he will repeat it. The supporters of the Bill have been honourable Members from Lancashire, Yorkshire, and other districts in whose Divisions the cotton industry is situated. We have had speeches in support from the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), the hon. Member for Skipton (M. Rickard), the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. McCorquodale), the hon. Member for Royton (Mr. Sutcliffe), the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. Entwistle), the hon. Member for West Salford (Commander Astbury), the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley), the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr), the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), and others. All of them, without any exception, said in almost identical language that they regard this Bill as one which will be of the greatest value to the great industry which they represent.

On the other side we have had criticisms from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Mr. H. Williams), from my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes), my hon. Friend the Member for Penrhyn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick), and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont). I confess that if one compares—I say this without disrespect—the qualifications of those who come from Lancashire and the areas where this great industry is carried on, with those of the critics of the Measure, it must be admitted that their qualifications in this matter at any rate surpass those of the four hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred. The arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon have been answered over and over again in the Debate, and lastly and most effectively by the hon. Member for Westhoughton. Whether this Bill be an innovation or not, it is quite certain that the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon are as old as the hills. They were the arguments that were used by the laissez faire doctrinaire in the days of Cobden and Bright. Perhaps my hon. Friend wished to out-Bright Bright in his doctrines. They are also exactly the arguments that were advanced against the two Trade Boards Acts, the Act that was passed before the War, I think in 1909, and the extension of the Trade Boards Act after the War. Such arguments are perfectly familiar to us and they are arguments which at the present day seem to be just as dead as Mr. Bright himself.

One point was raised by the hon. Member for Leigh with regard to arrears of pay. He asked whether the point that he raised is covered by Clause 3, paragraph (b). It is not covered by paragraph (b) but by paragraph (a). With regard to the scope of the Bill, that was a point which I discussed at considerable length with the representatives of the employers and operatives when we considered the form of the Bill. The scope is the scope which was agreed with them, and they are perfectly satisfied with it. If it is a scope which satisfies those who are most affected by the operations of the Bill, I am prepared to accept it. If, in Committee, any good reason may be advanced why it should be altered, one can consider it, but I shall be very loth to alter it without the full approval of the organisations concerned.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton asked whether the agreements relating to conditions in one area could be made obligatory. The answer is "Yes," but only if the central organisation confirms them, and makes them the subject of an application. The local organisation cannot themselves apply but the application will be made through the central organisation. There is only one further question with which I want to deal, and that is the question of minorities and the rights of minorities. We have been most careful to meet that point, which has been raised in more than one speech. It will be the business of the board, before making recommendations to the Ministry, to consider first of all the size of the minority and the importance which should be attached to the minority. That is exactly one of the things which they will take into consideraiton before making their Report on which the Minister will act.


Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that the £10 fine applies to each payment to each person?


I think that is perfectly clear. If the hon. Member will look at the wording of the Clause, it says : if any employer pays to a person employed in the industry of a class affected by the agreement wages at a rate less than the rate applicable in his case under the order, the employer shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds. That, clearly, does not mean that the fine of £10 would cover, say, 200 persons. Quite clearly it applies to one person.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give a little further definition of a minority? Is he prepared to put any guidance into the Bill in Committee on this point, because there is an outstanding fear lest a large minority might not be taken sufficiently into account. Some guidance would be very useful.


I will consider that matter before the Committee stage but as at present advised, I think that the wording of Clause 1 (4) covers that point : If the board is satisfied that the said organisations were 60 representative as aforesaid the board shall inquire whether it is expedient that an Order be made under this Act, and shall, as soon as possible, make to the Minister its report which, however, shall not contain a recommendation that such an Order be made unless the board is unanimous in making that recommendation. It is clearly the business of the board to consider the representation of minorities and to satisfy itself that the representation is such that it would make it inexpedient for an order to be to be made. However, I will look into the point; I think it is covered.


Do I understand that before an agreement can be ratified it will have to be sanctioned by the central authority? The largest organisations in the area are representative of employers and employed. Does it mean in effect that the central authority, apart from local organisations, will lay down the definite terms so far as wage agreements are concerned?


I do not think there is any substance in the point raised by the hon. Member. As I understand it, a wage agreement in respect of each application will be an agreement made by the central organisation and when it is brought before the Minister for confirmation it comes within the purview of the Bill. If the hon. Member's question is whether local organisations can themselves apply, I should say that the answer is no.


There are certain areas named in the Schedule. Are they to be representative of individual organisations? If they can, I want to be sure that they cannot represent individual and different demands.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a. Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tuesday, 29th May.—[Sir A. Lambert Ward.]