HC Deb 16 June 1937 vol 325 cc470-7

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I beg to move, in page 39, line 36, to leave out from "made" to "but," in line 38.

The object of the Amendment is to remove the restriction on the setting up of bodies of joint control in cases where the workers make some contribution. That may have been the practice in the past, but I cannot help thinking that it is no longer desirable, because there are a great many things, such as arrangements for mess rooms, the supply of drinking water, the storing and drying of clothes, washing arrangements, etc., towards which the employés do not make a direct contribution, but where their association in the arrangements for management is eminently desirable. There will be a definite restriction upon that if we leave the Clause as it stands in the Bill. We have an opportunity here of doing a bit of very useful practical work in the development and cultivation of that spirit of good will and co-operation which is so important inside the works. Unless the employers understand the desires of the workpeople in connection with the points I have mentioned, they will not make effective arrangements, and unless the workpeople know precisely why the various arrangements are being made and know that they are being consulted and that their wishes are being taken into consideration, they will not be as satisfied as otherwise they would be. Therefore, I hope that this small Amendment will be accepted.

Mr. Messer

I beg to second the Amendment.

8.47 p.m.

Mr. Lloyd

This point was raised in the Standing Committee, and we have considered it and still feel that it is unreasonable to require that the employés shall be associated in the management of these arrangements unless some contribution has been made by them. Where a contribution has been made by the workers it is reasonable that there should be a joint committee, but not necessarily in other cases. It must be clearly understood that these extra provisions are rather outside the welfare provisions which are required by the Secretary of State. For example, there is a great difference between these extra arrangements and the safety first work, where recognition is very important and a general spirit of cooperation is necessary; but in regard to the extra welfare arrangements to which the employés do not contribute, it is the appropriate thing for the employer who has himself paid for them to be the sole manager. As a matter of general practice I do not think that a great deal of trouble arises, and I do not think that there is much demand in industry itself for the exception to be made which is sought in the Amendment.

8.49 p.m.

Mr. E. Smith

I am going to appeal to the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary not to accept this Amendment. I could place full confidence in the carrying out of matters of this kind if they were going to be administered by men like the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), knowing the background of his experience and the background of the policy that he and those associated with him have pursued, but if the Amendment were accepted it would give scope to employers generally to an extent that would be very detrimental to those employed in industry. Let me give one example of the way that such an Amendment would work. Hon. Members who represent mining constituencies and others who have been associated with them have had an instance during the past few months in relation to circumstances which nearly led to a serious national stoppage. I have been provided by one of my hon. Friends with a large number of pay tickets for that particular area, and they show the danger of a proposal of this character. On those pay tickets it was common for men to have stopped out of their earnings anything from 15s. to 30s. a week. If a proposal of this character were inserted in the Factories Bill it would give opportunities for other employers who desire to carry on in that way to further their objects of undermining trade unionism, and they would have this excuse for doing it.

Mr. Mander

The hon. Member has been good enough to refer to me and I should like to say that I do not think he has understood the object of the Amendment. The Amendment would not make it necessary for the workers to pay any contribution. Quite the contrary. It would give them some extra power of control, in a sense, of other people's money. I do not think that on these grounds there can be any objection to it.

Mr. Smith

The Clause says: but no contribution shall be required from the persons employed in any factory, except for the purpose of providing additional or special benefits which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, could not reasonably be required to be provided by the employer alone. In those words are the reasons why I am taking up this attitude. The relationship that has been developed between employers and employed is that the employers are represented in their big industrial organisations and the workpeople are also represented in their organisations, and we ought to be on our guard against agreeing to anything which might affect that relationship. We know of another country where the relationships between employers and employed are not anything like so good as they are in this country, and in that country proposals of this character have been carried out and have had a very detrimental effect on the work-people.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Davidson

I rise to support the Amendment, with all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) who, I know, has only one thing at heart, and that is the interests of the workers in the factories. I would point out that he is under a misapprehension with regard to the effect of the Amendment. The Amendment affects the beginning of the Clause and would take away from the workers in any factory any feeling that a contribution was necessary in order that they might have some of those amenities which the employer might wish them to have. In many industries—I am most conversant with the newspaper factories—they have dining rooms of the best type for the employés. In the great Co-operative movement there are some of the finest dining rooms for employés that are to be found in the country, and in those dining rooms and the amenities that go with them in connection with many factories, we find nice tables, with covers, and cutlery as good as we get in the House of Commons dining rooms. These amenities are not contributed to by the workers from their pay books.

The good employer recognises that the giving of these amenities benefits not only his employés but himself. I hope the Home Office will not be dour and determined in their attitude against the Amendment, which will conduce to a better understanding between employer and employed. Undoubtedly the Amendment will mean that in some industries the employer will give the workers some decent welfare conditions without asking for a contribution from them. The Under-Secretary said that he could not accept the Amendment although it would make very little difference to the Clause. He almost hinted that there was something underlying the Amendment. All hon. Members have tried to improve the Bill, to make it more practical and of more benefit for the employés, and I hope the Home Office will not persist in its present attitude, but will accept the Amendment.

8.57 p.m.

Mr. Garro Jones

I should like to ask the Home Secretary to reconsider his decision. This is a very simple proposal. The Clause says that employés shall be associated in the welfare arrangements of the factory only if they are required to contribute towards the cost. Where employés do not contribute the Clause will result, even in circumstances where they are already associated in the welfare arrangements, in the employer saying that they do not contribute and, therefore, they have no right, expressed or implied, to be associated with the welfare arrangements. There are many factories where the employés are associated in these arrangements, but where they do not make any contribution towards the cost. Unless the Home Secretary will consider this proposal, which I think is most reasonable and moderate, we shall find a tendency on the part of employers to deprive their employés of any co-operation on the ground that they are not contributing to the cost.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Kelly

I am surprised that the Home Office should object to the Amendment. They are laying down the principle that unless a man contributes some weekly payment out of his wages he shall not take any part in the management of these welfare schemes, not even in the conduct of a dining room and mess room, which is often left almost entirely to the men and women employed in the factory. The premises are found and all that is needed for the dining room is provided, but the management of it is left entirely in the hands of the workpeople. The Home Office says that unless they are contributing to the cost they must not have any hand in the management or conduct. May I point out that a contribution is paid by these people? Welfare schemes are permitted by the Treasury to escape a certain amount of tax—I do not know the amount, but an allowance is made for the money expended and it comes out of the costs of production. The working people are paying all the time, but still the Home Office says that these words must remain in, in any case where a proportion of the cost is borne by the people employed. We have had no reason given why these words should be left in. I hope it is a lack of consideration, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look into the matter again and get some idea of how industry and commerce is carried on, and particularly of the work of these welfare associations.

9 p.m.

Mr. Banfield

I think that far too much is being made of this matter by the Under-Secretary in opposing the Amendment. I have always thought that anything which tended even in a small way to bring employers and workpeople together in some consultative capacity, in which they can speak to one another about things connected with the factory, like welfare work, is all to the good; not that the workpeople should have an overriding voice in the management, but rather that they should get the feeling that they are working with their employer for the common good of the factory. I am not afraid of anything dreadful happening if we pass the Amendment. On the other hand, I am satisfied that a peat deal of the friction and discontent in factories is often caused because the workpeople feel that they are treated as cogs in a machine and not as human beings. This may be a small matter, but it is in its way rather important. It is surprising how it is the little things which make the wheels go round smoothly; it is not always the big things. In my own experience as a baker, if I had an employer who looked upon me as something more than a profit-making machine, but as an essential part of the business, and he was ready to consult me on various things, it made life very happy.

Cannot we have this little concession? It will not make much difference. It will not upset the Department; they will still manage to get on very well, but it would give effect to what is a very important aspect of our industrial arrangements. The one desire of people who speak for the workers is that employers should look upon theft workpeople as something more than money-making machines. Here we have an opportunity of bringing that about in a small way. In the case of mess rooms, for instance, employers have often said to me, "We have provided a mess-room and the men use it, but they leave it in a bad state, taking no care at all." In such cases the employers should call the men together and say, "We want the place kept tidy, but we do not want to interfere. Three or four of you will be responsible for its being kept tidy." The job would then be done. This matter is a small one, but in its way it is important, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider it.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. Lansbury

I would like to ask the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary to reconsider this matter. I have visited many factories, and the one thing which all employers are anxious to show a Socialist is the amenities that they supply. They have told me that the workmen, although they do not contribute directly towards the provision of these amenities, are very proud of them and enjoy them.

Mr. E. Smith

Why not start a company union?

Mr. Lansbury

My hon. Friend must not think that it is only in the Potteries that there is trade unionism. In the district from which I come, most of the people have to earn their living in the workshops, and they work in very big workshops. Many of them are members of the union of which I am a trustee. In one of the biggest factories, nearly every employé is a member of a union. There they have all sorts of amenities, including mess rooms, which the workpeople are very glad to use and to take care of. I think it is really pedantry to want to retain the words in this Clause, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the matter.

9.9 p.m.

Mr. Lloyd

I am afraid there is some misunderstanding on this matter. There is nothing in the Clause which would restrict voluntary committees being let up by employers. If the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield), in one of his conversations with employers, were to suggest that they should set up a joint committee, there would be nothing in this Clause to prevent it. In fact we want to see that take place. It is merely a question of whether we should take an absolute power to compel the setting up of these committees. I think the House as a whole will agree that to compel the setting up of these committees would not be the best way of bringing about that good feeling between employers and employés which we all desire. I cannot give any pledge this evening, but we will look into this matter very carefully.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Batey

I disagree with many of my colleagues about this Clause, and I am inclined to support the Government and to ask them not to agree to the Amendment. It seems to me that the Clause is really in the interests of the workmen. In the first place, it says that where there are welfare arrangements and the workmen are asked to contribute towards them, it shall be a condition that they shall have a share in the management. What is wrong with that?

Mr. Mander

It is all right. We are not trying to prevent that, but are trying to extend it still further so that the workers shall have a share in the management whether they contribute or not.

Mr. Batey

If I understand the Amendment correctly, it would delete certain words which would mean that the workmen would not contribute and would therefore not have any share in the management.

Mr. Mander

Just the opposite.

Mr. Batey

What I want is that where there are welfare arrangements, the workmen should have a voice in the management.

Mr. Messer

That is what the Amendment would bring about.

Mr. Batey

The second thing that the Clause says is that no contribution shall be required from the persons employed in any factory except where special benefits are given. If a contribution is demanded from the workmen, why not insist upon special benefits being given? This Clause is really in the interests of the workmen, and it would be better if it were left as it is.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. Mender

In view of the very sympathetic reply given by the Under-Secretary, and if he will promise to look into the matter with a view to incorporating something of this kind, perhaps in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.