HC Deb 29 May 1934 vol 290 cc84-92

Amendments made: In page 3, line 7, leave out "of a class," and insert "who is":

In line 14, leave out "of a class," and insert "who is".—[Mr. Entwistle.]

6.22 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 19, at the end, to insert "in each case."

The object of this Amendment is to ensure that on each occasion when an employer is found to have employed an employé at a wage less than that men- tioned in the Order, he shall be liable to the fine mentioned in the Clause. The words of the Clause may mean that already but, if it means that an employer may employ all his weavers, say, at a wage less than that mentioned in the Order and get away with one fine of £10, the whole scheme will tend to break down. Already, under agreements which have been entered into in Lancashire, reductions have been made upon the wages agreed upon by certain employers amounting to between £30 and £100 a week. If such a state of affairs as that were allowed to continue with one fine of £10, obviously the employer would continue to do it.

6.25 p.m.


I can assure the hon. Member that the Amendment is unnnecessary, because the meaning of the Bill is that the fine can be imposed in respect of each case.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 3, line 21, leave out "of a class," and insert "who are."—[Mr. Entwistle.]


I beg to move, in page 3, line 23, to leave out the word "agreement," and to insert "Order."

I am not sure that "Order" ought not to be substituted for "agreement" in the two preceding paragraphs as well as in this one. I did not put such an Amendment down, because I rather thought that in those paragraphs the agreement was referred to as something that had happened in the past, but I think it should be corrected in paragraph (c), as by that time the agreement has, in fact, become on Order.

6.26 p.m.


I am prepared to accept the Amendment in principle, but I am not quite sure that it is in the right form. If it is not, I will have inserted in another place an Amendment which will attain my hon. Friend's object.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 25, to leave out "setting out," and to insert: containing a copy of the Order together with a schedule of. The object of this Amendment is merely to ensure that an employer, when he sticks up a notice setting out the rate of wages, is to set out at the same time a notice giving a copy of the Order under which the rate of wages is made.

6.28 p.m.


Again I am prepared to accept the principle of this Amendment, but I am not quite satisfied that the form in which it is moved is the best. I will accept it now and, if necessary, bring forward an Amendment in another place which will best carry out the object.


The Committee is at some little disadvantage in considering a manuscript Amendment which it has not seen. It may be that, as the result of this Amendment, wages agreements which apply to a limited number of individuals and firms may by force of law be imposed on the whole of a very large industry, a large proportion of which may or may not be interested in the agreement. I hope that, before the matter is finally dealt with, that point of view may be considered.


I will certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend says.

6.30 p.m.


I can assure my hon. Friend that this does not alter the situation in the least. It is exactly the same as it was before. It is the duty of every employer who employs persons of the class affected by the rate of wages to put up a notice, and my Amendment is to say that he has to put up a copy of the Order as well as a notice setting out the wages.

Amendment agreed to.

6.31 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 33, at the end, to add: (d) It shall be a defence against any proceedings under this sub-section if the employer proves that as a consequence of the alteration of methods of production he has adopted piece rates of payment lower than those prescribed in the order but which result, on the average, in higher weekly earnings than those earned under the provisions of the order when the previous methods of production were in operation. This Amendment, if carried, would remove most of my objections to the Bill because, as I have said, both on the Second Reading and on one or two occasions this afternoon, I am afraid that we are going to prevent independent manufacturing people from making progress, and make it difficult for new methods of production to be introduced, and it is obvious that if this industry is to save itself, drastic new methods will have to be adopted. It does not follow that everybody will move in the same direction. There may be experiments of one kind or another, and if a manufacturer adopts entirely new methods of production which carry with them lower piece rates but which, nevertheless, enable the workpeople to earn higher wages, it will be a very desirable state of affairs, but if this Bill becomes law such a procedure in a great many cases will be impossible. In the agreement there will be piece rates, which, I presume, will be based on yardage under present methods of production. If entirely new methods were adopted which enabled men to produce a much greater yardage in the industry, naturally piece rates would be reduced, the selling price would be reduced, the industry would be helped but the workpeople would get better wages. I want to make that state of affairs a legitimate defence against proceedings under this Bill if it becomes an Act. It may be said that the employer who wants to do that has his remedy. I do not see what remedy he has under the Bill. No individual employer can make application under the provisions of Clause 1. He might conceivably make representations to the organisation representing the majority of employers that they should consider his proposal and that they, after consulting the majority of the workpeople, should put forward the proposal which he had worked out; but that seems a very unprogressive way to reform a great industry.

We all know that reform in industry comes about because a progressively minded employer decides to inaugurate new methods. If he is successful, in due course the others follow his example. I want that freedom to be left to employers in the cotton industry. I am satisfied at the moment that if somebody discovers an entirely new method which has not been proved out, the majority of the employers in the industry will resist the proposal if they fear that it will force them to adopt new methods about which they are doubtful and necessitate new capital expenditure which they do not think will be justified. Therefore, such an employer would never be able to get the majority of his employers to support his case, and still less, in all probability, will he get a majority of workpeople to support his case. Therefore, the chance of the individual employer introducing entirely novel methods of the kind which may represent ultimately the salvation of the cotton industry is going to be ruled out, unless we introduce into the Bill a degree of elasticity which it does not possess at the present time. The words of my Amendment make out a case for themselves. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the proposal. If he does not like the existing drafting of the Amendment, I do not mind in the least how much he alters it as long as he preserves the principle that the progressive man who is doing things which are likely to save the industry shall not be punished for his enterprise. If he cannot consider it now, I hope that he will do so before the Bill appears in another place.

6.36 p.m.


The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) has tried every method known to his Parliamentary experience to torpedo this Bill, and this is another of his attempts to do so. I feel sure that I can convince the hon. Gentleman of one thing at any rate, namely, that if his Amendment were carried every employer could come to court and prove his case against carrying out my agreement. What do the words say? It shall be a defence against any proceedings under this Sub-section if the employer proves that as a consequence of the alteration of methods of production he has adopted piece rates of payment lower than those prescribed in the order but which result, on the average, in higher weekly earnings than those earned under the provisions of the order when the previous methods of production were in operation. Where the hon. Gentleman goes wrong all the time—and he raised this point on the Second Reading of the Bill—is to presume that, when an employer alters his method of production and makes more profit for himself thereby, automatically the wages of the workmen are raised. As a matter of fact, that does not follow.


If it does not follow, the argument does not arise. It is only when higher earnings arise that it has a difference.


Yes, but the hon. Gentleman really is talking as if the cotton industry were a tool-making industry. He is very conversant with the engineering industry, but I do not think that he understands the Lancashire cotton industry quite as well. Let me analyse his proposals. Every recalcitrant employer who now declines to carry out agreements without the passing of this Bill would succeed every time in a court of law. Who is going to inquire whether his claim is good or not? He will have to go to a court of law and perhaps have to appear before a magistrate knowing nothing about the industry. When an employer pleads his case and says to the magistrate, "I can prove to you this and that," what happens? The magistrate must be an expert in the mechanics of the textile industry before he can decide whether an employer has made out a case or not. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. All the magistrates of this country are not quite as intelligent as he thinks he is. That is the thing which we have to remember all the time. The hon. Gentleman has tried to get the Committee to accept an Amendment to allow black-legging among workpeople under the Bill, and now he is championing the case of the blacklegs among the employers. This is a black-legging Amendment for employers of the cotton industry, and I hope that the Minister will get up once again, as he has on several occasions, and put the hon. Member for South Croydon in the place that he deserves and make him look as small as I think he is.

6.40 p.m.


I rise only to add a few words with reference to the Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) visualises the possibility, and indeed the certainty, of improvements from time to time taking place in production. These are matters to be dealt with and considered in making the agreement, and if the method of production so changes or improves that a new agreement is necessary or desirable, no doubt the parties concerned will make such new agreement. I am altogether opposed to inserting in the Bill an Amendment of this kind which, I think, would be repugnant to the whole object of this Bill, the main object of which is to enable the parties themselves to come to their own agreements. They can change their agreements if they like, but let them come to agreements and, having come to them, let us do what we can to help them.

6.41 p.m.


Let us assume that an individual cotton manufacturer believes that the adoption of a certain type of machinery will enable him to produce much more economically. He decides to do this, and possibly has to spend a great deal of money on new plant. He gets a larger output per employé, and in order to reduce his selling prices he will want to reduce his piece rates under a method of production which was not contemplated when the agreement was made. He alone undertakes this enterprise at the beginning. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me what he is going to do, and how he is going to get freedom to adjust piece rates under the Bill as it stands, unless you give him some freedom to act as an individual.


What about the coal trade?


At the moment we are discussing a particular Bill and not what is carried out in the coal trade. I am trying to eliminate from the Bill the undesirable features without prejudicing the Bill as a whole. The Bill provides that there shall be a certain scheme of wages which is to operate until altered by an Order. I want to know what an individual manufacturer is to do who decides to make a complete change in his methods of production but who is compelled to work under a wage scheme designed for another system of production? Let me give an analogy from the engineering industry. The cost of motor cars has been enormously reduced for many reasons, but one is because of the system of assembly whereby various parts travel on moving bands, with people standing on each side performing certain operations as the parts travel slowly past them. That system of assembly has brought about an enormous reduction in the cost of motor cars. The cost under that system, with certain piece rates in operation in the assembly of the engine of a motor car, is obviously much lower than where the thing is done by hand in one of the firms making the more expensive luxury cars. Who would suggest that you should make an Order for the motor car industry providing that the piece rate charge for fitting the end of a cylinder should be identical, irrespective of the methods of production adopted. I want to know from the Minister what the individual employer is to do in this particular case.

6.44 p.m.


The points raised by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) are theoretical points, and they ought to be applied to a practical Bill. There is no analogy, as far as I can see, between the engineering trade and the cotton trade, and if, in fact, improvements in machinery and so forth were of such a character as to justify a new wage rate being introduced, then employers would ask for a new agreement. Then, by the operation of this Bill an application by the employers would automatically do away with the application of the statutory control, and in that way it would be possible for any large measure of improvement to be brought into the industry.


How is the individual employer who wants to make an experiment to be permitted to do so?


The practical answer is, that all these matters will be brought into consideration when the employers and the employed are making their agreement. The hon. Member must imagine that the employers in the cotton trade have no idea how to conduct their wage agreements. This point will be brought very carefully before the committee of employers and employed who are considering whether or not they should give some loophole in the agreement itself for operations of this character.

6.47 p.m.


In the case about which the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) speaks, if those improvements were made there would be such an enormous rise in the wages of the operatives that neither the employers in the other mills nor the trade union workers in adjoining factories would be pleased. At once they would come to an agreement, or for the workmen on new classes of machinery there would be a different wage rate agreed to.

Amendment negatived.