Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £14,338,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Labour, including sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund, Grants to Local Authorities, Associations and other bodies under the Unemployment Insurance, Labour Exchanges and other Acts; Grant in Aid of the National Council of Social Service; Expenses of Training, Transfer and Resettlement; Contribution towards the Expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); Expenses of the Industrial Court; and sundry services."— [Note.—£9,500,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Crossley
On a point of Order. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this point as he was about to speak. It is, I believe, the practice of the International Labour Organisation to pass conventions, and certain of those conventions are susceptible of being put into practice in this country by administrative methods, and some of them would demand legislation. In the specific case of the textile convention, which has just been passed by the International Labour Organisation by the necessary two-thirds majority, so far as I can see it could not be put into practice in this country without legislation. I want, therefore, to ask you two questions—first of all if it will be in order to argue whether it would or would not be advisable for the Government to bring in the necessary legislation; and, secondly, if the answer to that is in the negative, whether or not it will be permissible to argue as to whether the 40-hour week is or is not desirable in the textile industries of the country?
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
On that point of Order. It would be very inconvenient if it proved that the conventions considered by the International Labour Office could not be considered in Committee of Supply. My own intention, subject to your Ruling, Captain Bourne, was to make reference to the conventions and to the attitude of the Government at Geneva upon them, and to get to the point of discussing whether or not the Government itself as a Government has taken steps for ratification of these conventions, and I was proposing to stop there. That, I think, leaves me just clear of the legislative stage. For the convenience of the Committee I hope it may be possible to have a debate which includes the conventions, as otherwise the subject of the International Labour Office comes to very small proportions.
The point raised by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley) is obviously one of some difficulty, but it appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) has indicated, with great accuracy, what, prima facie, I should regard as the limits of this Debate. Obviously, we can discuss in Committee of Supply what action the Government have or have not taken at Geneva, but if we are going to say that anything that should be done might involve legislation, then that may not be discussed. If the discussion is limited as to what action the Government representatives have taken at the International Labour Office, and whether the Government propose to ratify any convention, then I conceive that it would be in order. I should like to reserve my decision in regard to the other question. It is rather difficult to say in advance.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I hope that I may be able to say what I have to say without feeling that I have a terrible sword hanging over my head. I move the reduction in order to call attention on behalf of hon. Members on these benches to the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards the work of the International Labour Office during recent years. We feel that the general attitude of His Majesty's Government to 1225 the work and activities of the International Labour Office is very unsatisfactory, and leaves very much to be desired. The Committee will remember that the International Labour Office was established as a sort of by-product of the Treaty of Versailles. I think it can be said fairly that the International Labour Office and the League of Nations were, perhaps, the only two good things that came out of the great War. The idea was to link the International Labour Office with the peace settlement, and the view which justified such a linking up was that international agreement on economic questions, including questions on the standards and conditions of labour, were not unrelated to the peace of the world.
We know, particularly in the last 100 or 150 years, that there have been present as causes of conflict between nations economic rivalries, economic jealousies and economic frictions. Therefore, the view was taken that if by international agreement social justice could be done to the workpeople, that would be a fine international action in itself and that, indirectly, by removing those elements of what are regarded as unfair competition between one nation's industry and another, it might remove one of the economic, psychological, subsidiary causes of war itself. In the language of Section II of Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles it was stated that labour should not be regarded merely as an article of commerce but that there were methods and principles for regulating labour conditions which all industrial communities should endeavour to apply so far as their special circumstances would permit. There were set out a number of points upon which international agreement might be reached as to the conditions of labour. The Draft Convention creating a permanent organisation for the promotion of the international regulation of labour conditions, which again was part of the Peace Treaty, recited that:Whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled;it was desirable to set up an organisation for the international regulation of such conditions, andthe high contracting parties, moved by sentiments of justice and humanity, as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world, agree to the following.1226 They agreed thatA permanent organisation is hereby established for the promotion of the objects set forth in the Preamble.It was recited in the Preamble thatThe League of Nations has for its object the establishment of universal peace, and such a peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.There were other reasons not specifically mentioned in the words which I have quoted. It was a familiar argument against improvement of labour conditions in our own country, by private employers and by successive Governments—what was true of our own country was also true of other countries—and one of the strong objections raised by employers to the trade union demand for improvements in conditions of labour, and also raised by successive Governments with regard to the trade union demand for legislation for the purpose of safeguarding and improving the conditions of labour, that while they would like to do this, and they did not say that it was an excessive demand, yet they were faced with the fact that we had a great export trade, and had to meet the competition of other manufacturers in all the other countries. Up to a point and in proper circumstances I am not going to say that that is a factor which one can rule out as entirely unworthy of consideration, although it is often an argument which is abused, and frequently goes beyond what is reasonable.
It was urged, and we were enthusiastic supporters of the proposal, that if there could be established an International Labour Organisation which as the result of consultations between Governments, organised employers and organised work-people, could work out conventions of an international character for operation in as many countries as possible, it would be possible to get a steady improvement in the conditions of labour and a steady improvement in labour standards without one country being embarrassed by the undercutting and unfair conditions of another country. Therefore, provided the conventions are not hopelessly beyond the limits of what is reasonable and practicable, this country, where in particular —perhaps America a little more—labour standards by trade union action have become almost the best standards of labour in the world—I will not say the best, because in certain respects the United States beats us, and perhaps some of the 1227 British Dominions and Scandinavia also beat us should have taken the lead. As far as the continent of Europe is concerned, we may say that trade union action has lifted. British labour conditions to a higher standard than the generality of labour conditions in other European countries, and we——
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis
Can the right hon. Gentleman say that the Labour conditions in America, which he puts on a higher standard than ours, are due to trade union action?
§ Mr. Morrison
Very largely, combined sometimes with somewhat greater enlightenment on the part of the employers of America, compared with our own. However, this country had a particular interest in utilising the machinery of the International Labour Office to the greatest possible extent: In so far as we could lift up by international agreement, the standards of labour in other countries to a higher standard, we were assisting British industry and relieving what was complained of as the unfair competition between backward and advanced countries as far as labour conditions were concerned. Therefore, in the International Labour Office, as in the League of Nations, the British Government in particular ought to have been the leader in the making of conventions and agreements for the improvement of labour standards.
Our complaint is that since the Labour Government went out of office and a Coalition Government came in—there has been a succession of them, but nobody will quarrel with the statement that they are much same—I think it is fair and legitimate to say that, taken as a whole and especially in relation to the position that Great Britain ought to occupy, British influence, British Government influence, in the International Labour Organisation has been a backward influence, a reactionary influence, a retrogressive influence which, instead of being used to urge the other countries on and to bring them up to higher standards, has on the whole been an influence that has been backward and often sometimes obstructive, as I hope to prove before I finish what I have to say.
Let us look through some of the issues upon which the British Government have 1228 either taken a negative attitude or have failed to take steps towards ratification. At the session of 12th to 30th April, 1932, there was under consideration a convention with regard to the minimum age for entering non-industrial employment. I freely admit that a number of the provisions of this convention were already embodied in British legislation. It was admitted by the Government thaton certain material points the proposals in the Draft Convention go beyond the law relating to the employment of school children in Great Britain, which was reviewed by Parliament in 1932.His Majesty's Government notified the Secretary-General of the League of Nations that the proposals of the draft convention were excessive, and accordingly that His Majesty's Government proposed to take no final decision on ratification, but to keep the matter under consideration for the time being.
There was also a proposal to abolish fee-charging employment agencies, by international agreement. Again, as on the question which I have just mentioned, no action was taken by the British Government. They stated as the basis of their objection:While His Majesty's Government are in favour of the development of the work of the national employment exchanges so as to offer the widest practicable range of services for the free use of the public, they do not agree that it is desirable to abolish the specialised services provided by fee-charging agencies that are conducted with due regard to the public interest. His Majesty's Government rely on local authorities in the United Kingdom to obviate the possibility of abuse under the powers which they exercise in accordance with existing legislation or in pursuance of private Acts.We know that there is a great deal of abuse by fee-charging agencies, and we also know that the Home Office has not been as helpful as it might have been in giving assistance to the local authorities with regard to their control.
I come now to the question of the hours of work in coal-mines. This question has been under consideration ever since the Labour Government of 1929–31, when our Government were taking steps at Geneva for the purpose of getting an international convention, and discussions were going on in Great Britain between the Government, the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. Had our Government remained in office there is small doubt that Great Britain would have 1229 ratified that convention, provided there was reasonable support from other countries, and that appropriate steps would have followed. That convention concerned the revision of the 1931 convention, and certain technical points which had been found by several Governments to preclude its ratification. The 1931 convention limited the hours of work in coal mines to 7¿, bank to bank, with certain exceptions, and a provision for 60 hours overtime in the year. That convention, of very great importance to the British mining industry for securing better standards in all the great countries of the world, has not yet been ratified by Great Britain; the matter has been allowed to drift. Similarly on the reduction of working hours for glass bottle manufacturers there has been no ratification by Great Britain. Then there is the provision of holidays with pay, a principle with which this House, obviously, has very great sympathy in view of the difficulties into which the Government got one Friday on a Private Member's Bill. One of the arguments used again is that other countries ought to do the same thing.
What has happened? There was a convention which provided for holidays with pay for workers with one year's continuous service. It was adopted at Geneva by 99 votes to 15. It has not been ratified by Great Britain. In the twenty-first session in 1936 there was a proposed convention as to officers' competence certificates in the Mercantile Marine. That has not been ratified by Great Britain. The proposal for holidays with pay for seamen has not been ratified; indeed, it has been opposed by Great Britain. Shipowners liability for sick and injured seamen has not been ratified. Sickness insurance for seamen—no ratification. Hours of work and manning on board ship—no ratification. Minimum age of employment at sea—no ratification. That is a pretty long list of conventions where the British Government either have opposed or have refused to take any steps to implement the convention, and while one must in fairness say that many other countries are in a similar position, our complaint is that the situation has not merely been accepted by His Majesty's Government, not merely tolerated, but has been encouraged by His Majesty's Government with a view to the International Labour Office being infinitely less effective than it otherwise would be.
1230 I want to refer to the discussion which has taken place with regard to a 40-hour week both generally and as regards specified industries. The International Labour Conference of June, 1935, adopted a resolution which declared:The Conference considers that a general convention should be adopted, based on the principle of a 40-hour week with the maintenance of the standard of living of the workers.This Convention was to constitute the framework within which different industries would be placed, and the draft convention was adopted by 79 votes to 30. What was the attitude of His Majesty's Government on this matter? We know that employers in industry reject the 40-hour week, as they formerly resisted restrictions on the hours of labour because of international competition. His Majesty's Government used the same kind of argument on this question. One would have thought that His Majesty's Government would have said "Go ahead. If we can get a restriction of hours by international agreement it suits us very well, because our hours of labour are shorter than in many other countries." The truth is that we are really becoming a backward country in some of the standards because of the progress made by other countries. When the British Government were asked what was their attitude to this proposed convention they replied to this effect:The provision in the draft convention for the maintenance of wages and the resolution concerning the maintenance of I he standard of living were illusory safeguards.I do not know whether they were considered illusory safeguards in the interests of the working people or in the interests of someone else, but if they were illusory safeguards so far as the interests of the working people are concerned, I should have thought His Majesty's Government would have been better occupied in taking steps to see that proper safeguards were put in.
§ Mr. Maitland
Is it not a fact that the formula to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred was a compromise and that the attitude of the British Government was that they wanted to know precisely what the original convention meant. Did it mean that there was to he a reduction of hours without a reduction of wages or did it mean a reduction of hours with a reduction of wages. Is it 1231 not a fact that other countries were prepared to accept the principle of a reduction of hours or a reduction of wages, and that this formula was come to to meet the situation which had been specifically raised by the British Government, who wanted the convention to decide that if there was a reduction of hours there should also be a maintenance of the earning capacity of these workers.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is a defence which I cannot accept. Looking through the history of all these proposals for a 40-hour eek in textiles and chemicals, it really is not unjust to accuse His Majesty's Government of opposition to the proposal. It is perfectly true that there have been discussions on side issues, but they are only evasions and the truth, broadly speaking, is that His Majesty's Government have been opposed to these proposals. Let me take the Committee through the history of the proposed 40-hour week as far as the textile industry is concerned. A committee was appointed and it made a report. In the course of their report the committee say that Mr. Leggett who represented the British Government made it clear that:an improvement in the conditions of the textile workers was dependent on an improvement in the conditions of agricultural workers throughout the world, who formed the main body of the purchasers of textile goods.There is no doubt from this report that there was a general attitude of opposition. It is a far cry to say that there can be no 40-hour week in the textile industry because of the complications of the agricultural industry throughout the world. I am not blaming Mr. Leggett, who is a civil servant. Obviously he carries out the wishes of the Minister, and must do what he is told. There is no justification for being critical of him, and I am sure he would say the other thing if he had a Labour Minister to deal with. That is what civil servants are for—they are remarkably adaptable people. But let us see what happened. The committee met and made its report. In the last few days there has been at Geneva a new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. He has made his bow to that assembly, and we all hope that he enjoyed himself. He said, by the way, that he was not as reactionary as he was going to sound, but he informed the gathering: 1232I hope that it will be understood that if, in explaining the attitude of my Government, my feet are firmly on the ground, they are not for that reason stuck in the mud.Whereupon the hon. Member proceeded not only to stick his feet in the mud but really to stick his head in the mud as well. What did he say? He was opposing a 40-hour convention for the textile industry, and he put forward another evasive argument. The hon. Member told the gathering:For many years now, the policy of the British Government has been to encourage and to help build up in industry a vast machinery of bargaining between employers and employés. We in Great Britain are justly proud of the success which has crowned this policy, which derives from our belief in decision by agreement between parties rather than the imposition of a decision by authority.If that means anything at all, it means that His Majesty's Government are in principle opposed to international conventions altogether and desire to leave the matter to free negotiation between employers' organisations and the trade unions. What will happen when the textile employés go to the employers' federation and demand a reduction in the hours of labour? The employers' organisation will say, "We have to suffer the competition of other manufacturers in other countries where they work longer hours." When the textile operatives' representative, Mr. Shaw, argues at Geneva for an international convention, up comes the Parliamentary Secretary and says: "That is not the way to do it. The way to do it is by collective bargaining." I say that this attitude is hypocritical, is evasive, and is not even a passable or presentable excuse to hide the real attitude of His Majesty's Government, which is that of opposition to a 40-hour week by international agreement. But the Parliamentary Secretary also said:On the information available the British Government are satisfied that in present circumstances the reduction of hours to 40 would be likely to cause a reduction of wages and a rise in the cost of production to an extent which would increase and not reduce unemployment.There happened to be present on that occasion representatives of the United States Government and also a representative of American employers. They were able to speak from an actual experience of some years of a 40-hour week in the textile industries. This is not evidence 1233 from a backward country where wages and standards are low, but from a modern country where the wages and standards are higher than they are in Great Britain. Listen to what Mr. Hinrichs, the Government adviser of the United States, said, speaking not out of his hat, not theoretically, but of something of which he has had actual experience:The United States Government gives wholehearted support to the proposed convention. The textile industry of the United States has had four years of experience with the 40-hour week. It has found it good. Under the N.R.A. it was the cotton textile industry that asked for Code No. 1. It accepted the 40-hour maximum. When this legislation was invalidated in 1935 trade associations throughout the textile industry sprang to the defence of the 40-hour week. For two years almost all employers have voluntarily maintained that standard and to-day workers, employers, and the Government support a work week not to exceed 40 hours.He made several statements in support of the proposal. Let us proceed to see what one of the American employers said about it. Listen to Mr. West, the employers' adviser of the United States of America, in a speech made at Geneva as recently as Sunday last—the better the day the better the deed. Mr. West said:There has been noticeable at this Conference a degree of astonishment, and in some quarters a measure of pained surprise, that a textile employer should be favourably disposed towards a 40-hour week. The fact that he should admit it occasions an even greater degree of astonishment. In extenuation of such a position, however, it has been suggested that conditions in the United States of America are entirely different from those obtaining elsewhere. Permit me to say that competition is no less keen on the American continent than in other parts of the world, and while no doubt we give many evidences of being irrational and imprudent, those of us who are responsible heads of business enterprises are actuated by the same necessities as those which dominate the conduct of business the world over. When, therefore, we take a favourable position on this question it is not because we pursue a social will-o'-the-wisp; rather, it is because we have at hand an asset to industrial management to which we are disposed to attach considerable value.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the American textile employers export to foreign countries at all?
§ Mr. Morrison
They do export, and Mr. West himself, speaking for the employers, states that they are operating under very competitive conditions. There was a spokesman from India, and he opposed it. 1234 India is one of the countries where we want to lift the people up if we can, but the spokesman from India opposed it with the support and encouragement of the Government of India, for which, I believe, the Secretary of State for India still has some responsibility in these respects. The Government similarly opposed a proposal for the 40-hour week in the chemical industries. It is stated in the report of the Committee:The British Government member considered that the preparatory work done by the Tripartite Meeting should be taken up and continued at the point at which it had been left off in December last. The British Government had come to the Conference expecting that the double discussions procedure would be followed for this item on the agenda in view of the decision taken by the Conference to proceed to the single discussion, the British Government was not in a position to co-operate usefully.That seems to me to be riding off on an issue of procedure. I would say in passing that the chemical industry in Great Britain is highly organised, trustified and very prosperous, and I should have thought that on the merits of the case His Majesty's Government would have a greater difficulty in arguing against the 40-hour week there than even in the case of the textile industry. Nowadays it is not so easy for us to say that other countries are hanging behind and that we are taking the lead. Mr. Butler, the Director of the International Labour Office, pointed out that we had got beyond the stage of idealistic discussions about things to come in this direction. A number of countries have actually applied it, and in the course of the discussions Mr. Butler said:We heard Mr. West at the Washington Conference relate in detail, the favourable results achieved in his own mill through the establishment of the shorter work period. We find Mr. Armstrong telling us that in New Zealand the employers have not been ruined by the 40-hour week as they expected. Mr. Lebas has stated that, although the Decrees applying the 40-hour week to nearly eight million workers and employés in France have only recently come into operation, they have been mainly responsible for restoring a quarter of a million persons to employment.These are facts, and I venture to think that they cannot any longer be simply dismissed by advancing theories and hypotheses against them—such as that a reduction of hours would disorganise prices, reduce production catastrophically, destroy the balance between industry and agriculture, and so on. These things have apparently not happened in the countries where hours have been reduced. A prima facie case in favour of the 1235 shorter working week has therefore been made out by the actual experience of a number of countries. It is no longer a battle of words and ideas, but a confrontation of facts.That is the situation, and we make the strongest complaint that the British Government should have adopted an attitude which, we think, is reactionary and backward, and which is encouraging other countries to be backward. It is a serious temptation to countries that have advanced beyond us to begin to think about going back. We say that it is the duty of the British Government not to come up behind—I am not sure that they are not walking away behind—but rather to lead and to make progress in these matters, and to recommend progress in other ways.
I have been through the speech of the Minister of Labour at the International Labour Conference, but I have no extracts from it because, frankly, there is nothing to extract. I do not know whether hon. Members have seen the speech of a mayor in welcoming a political conference of a party of which he was not a member. They will remember how the mayor is careful not to say anything particular, not to say anything to offend his visitors or to violate his own political principles. Therefore, he occupies five minutes and walks round things very nicely. The Minister of Labour would make a good mayor welcoming a conference of the Labour party to Edinburgh, or somewhere round there, and making a speech which did no violence to his own political views—which would be difficult—and, on the other hand, did not say anything which was offensive to us. I have moved a reduction of this Vote by £100. If I knew what it cost the Minister to go to Geneva and waste time in making this irrelevant and pointless speech, I would add the sum of that cost, or take it as a separate Vote, in the hope that I would carry the Committee with me and make the right hon. Gentleman pay his own expenses.
I suggest that I have made a strong prima facie case against the Government. I have indicated that during recent years, instead of the British Government leading, advising and trying to get a general improvement in international labour standards, their influence has been in the other direction. They are letting down the good name of Britain 1236 in the eyes of the world in this respect. Our trade union friends in other countries say, "What is the matter with the British Government? It gets worse every time it comes to Geneva." Even employers from other countries wonder why we have such a particularly reactionary Government. It is beginning to be the despair of Governments that are progressive in the question of labour conditions. We, therefore, think that His Majesty's Government are very much open to condemnation in this matter. As the Minister of Labour is responsible for the directions given to the representatives of the Government who go to Geneva, we say that he is open to censure. We think that his policy has been bad, reactionary and disgraceful, and we ask the Committee to vote for this reduction in his salary.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) has done a real service to the country, to industry, and to international trade by asking the House to give a day to discuss the work of the International Labour Office. I am surprised at times to find how little the work of this great organisation is known to the public. It does not get nearly enough publicity in the Press, and even industrialists and people interested in labour problems are not conscious of the great work that the International Labour Office is doing at Geneva. It has now become fashionable among many former admirers to depreciate the work of the League of Nations. It is a common argument that now that Germany and Japan have left the League and the United States is not a member, we cannot seriously take the League as an organisation for settling international disputes. That is a doctrine which I have never accepted, but superficially there is some case for it.
That cannot be applied to the International Labour Office. It is true that Germany has severed its connection, but against that Japan has not withdrawn and is an active member, and it is significant and encouraging to international machinery that the U.S.S.R. and the United States have jointed. The United States has given no mere lip service to the work of the International Labour Office. It has made constant use of its 1237 secretariat, and has used its staff to solve some of its own internal problems. It is coming more and more to take the leadership in the organisation. I had the good fortune a year or two ago to visit the headquarters of the Labour Office. No doubt my hon. Friend the new Under-Secretary, whom I congratulate on his new sphere of usefulness, was, as I was, much impressed with the whole tone and temper of the office, and the hub of activity and enthusiasm of the staff drawn from 40 countries. The Office is full of life and vitality and conscious of its responsibility, and firmly believes in its mission to improve the labour conditions of the world.
The publications of the International Labour Office are very efficient, and are now translated into many languages. They are becoming more and more the Bible of the social reformer and the student of industrial life. It would be a pity to suggest that the International Labour Organisation has not accomplished great things, even in this country. I think I am right in saying that it has adopted 52 Conventions and that Great Britain has ratified about 30 of them. That is a great thing, and I will pay my tribute to the Ministry of Labour for it. The Government have shown a readiness and willingness to make use of the knowledge and resolutions of the International Labour Office on almost any problem, but when they come to the question of hours, for some reason which I cannot understand, the Ministry of Labour have from time to time been reactionary.
The Government are always "sticky" when it is a question of hours of labour. That was the case with the Washington Eight Hours Convention, and it is now the case with this new principle. The Ministry of Labour have always been chary of using the organisation of the International Labour Office to bring about a shorter working week. If the right hon. Gentleman, when he speaks, refers too much to hon. Members of the Opposition, they may be able to refer to some of his speeches when he was attacking Miss Bondfield because she was not more progressive in that respect. I sometimes wonder whether the public outside do not get the idea that, by a stroke of the pen, we want suddenly to introduce a 40-hour week all over the world, and in this country in particular. I will not say that is not the aim, but it is not the direct 1238 purpose of the various conventions. The immediate purpose is to get all the countries belonging to the International Labour Organisation to accept the principle. It is repeatedly being brought home to us that the strain and monotony of factory life, and particularly the noise, make a long working week almost impossible. That was brought home to us recently by the strike of omnibus workers. It was the nervous strain imposed by modern conditions, the running of powerful engines and the constant contact with traffic more than any question of wages that brought that dispute to a head.
It is recognised by anybody who has studied the reports and discussions that it is not possible to apply the 40-hour week universally. I think my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me when I say that the idea is that the principle should not be rigid and unalterable, but should be adaptable, according to the circumstances and conditions of each industry. For instance, the Glass Bottle Convention, to which my right hon. Friend referred, proposes to fix a 42-hour week, whereas the Coal Mining Convention proposes a 38-hour week. The idea is that there should be elasticity and that the principle should be adaptable according to the conditions and requirements of each industry and above all according to the strain and stress of the conditions of the particular industry. The International Labour Office proposes that, first of all, there should be ratification of the principle and that only later, when it has been worked out in detail with proper regard to the conditions in each industry, should the application of it be required.
We ought to clear our mind of the idea that this is a revolutionary proposal. The Government and the Ministry of Labour are merely being asked to accept the 40-hour week in principle. The case put up by the Government and constantly repeated is an attractive one. It is that they have to maintain the standard of living, that other countries have a different interpretation of the application of the 40-hour week, and that they want to be satisfied that the weekly earnings shall be maintained. In that respect, I think the Government will have the Committee with them. The workers in the different industries are not prepared to make any 1239 financial sacrifice, particularly at a time when, as at present, the cost of living is rising. But that is not a reason for opposing the principle. The Government then put forward the ingenious argument that they desire to protect our system of trade unionism, of collective organisation. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney referred to the speech made at Geneva by the Minister of Labour. Certainly that speech was full of excellent platitudes, but it did not contribute very much to the matter. However, the Minister did make his position clear when replying to a deputation of the League of Nations Union. He said:What is certain is that if the measures taken were to be effective in securing their object, they would also prove only too effective in destroying the great system of voluntary bargaining which is a cardinal feature of our industrial life.That is the case put forward by the Minister. The Government have opposed the principle of a minimum working week of 40 hours, because they allege they are afraid it would weaken the authority of my hon. Friends above The Gangway. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is more royalist than the king. It is very significant that the trade unions are prepared to take that risk; they feel that they would be strengthened in their collective bargaining if the principle were accepted, not locally, not nationally, but internationally. The Government also say that any improvement in the direction of a shorter working week would weaken the export position and competitive powers of this country. That is the case which the trade unions have inevitably to meet when they ask for a shorter working week or improved conditions, but if they are able to show that some 20, 30 or 40 countries have accepted the principle, then they have gone a long way towards justifying their claims. The unions are prepared to take the risk, and it ill-becomes the Minister of Labour to use these arguments as reasons for not accepting the principle.
There is another aspect of the matter. There are in this country 12,500,000 insured persons, only 4,500,000 of whom are in the trade unions. The great majority of insured working people have to look to the Department of which the right hon. Gentleman is head to be their champion in seeking an improvement in 1240 their conditions of labour. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney was right in referring to the position in the United States. In 1933, faced with a great dislocation of industry, President Roosevelt brought forward the Labour Charter, establishing the 40-hour week in the whole of United States industry. In due course, the Supreme Court declared that to be unconstitutional, and a few industries took advantage of that decision to depart from the principle, but it is very significant that on 19th June, at Geneva, not only was the United States Government delegate able to say that many industries still adhered to it, but the employers' textile delegate said that in practice the employers found that it worked. There is one short passage in the speech of Mr. West, the employers' delegate, which made a profound impression on me. He said, on 20th June:The textile manufacturers of the United States of America, through the instrumentality of their trade associations, immediately sought, with a singular degree of unanimity, to perpetuate by voluntary action what had hitherto existed by virtue of law. The opportunity to abandon the standard 40-hour week was regarded as nothing less than an opportunity to wreck the industry.Those were very remarkable words. Hard-headed American business men, not sentimental, not too squeamish as a rule, out to make money, found in practice that on the whole the 40-hour week worked well after three or four years' experience and they do not want to abandon it.
§ Mr. Crossley
I think the hon. Baronet is making an illusory point. Does he know that 98½ per cent. of the products of the American textile industry are consumed in the American market, whereas one-third of the products of our textile trade are consumed in this country? Does he know further that the American tariff is so high that it is impossible for any other exporting country to send textile goods into America, and that the prices of textile goods are very much higher in America than are the prices for similar goods in this country?
§ Sir P. Harris
That may be true, but it is also the case that American manufacturers are looking for new markets, because they are finding that they cannot keep their mills going purely on internal trade. Although many of their lines are not competitive, they are doing a considerable amount of trade in textiles in competition with the world. I will quote 1241 one more phrase from Mr. West's speech. He said:The higher wage rates paid under the shorter work week came from improved manufacturing technique.It does not necessarily follow that the shorter working week means higher costs of production, for it makes it possible to speed up machinery and to make greater demands on the workers. One of the difficulties that Lancashire has had to face has been that the nervous strain caused by the speed of the new machines has led to a good deal of opposition in certain sections of the trade. The workers say that the strain of the faster machines on nerve and hand makes it more difficult for them to put up with the work. The 40-hour week, with the greater leisure which it would give to the workers, would remove the excuse for opposition to the high speed of the machines. After three or four years' experience, the Americans are prepared to go on with the 40-hour week in one of their very important industries. Italy accepted the principle some time ago and applied it. I recognise that the Italian motive was different—a desire largely to spread employment—and also that now Italy has gone back on the principle in that in the armaments industry the working week has been increased to 56 hours.
I think that all the reports of the Debates and discussions prove that there is no intention to have a cast-iron system of 40 hours for all industries irrespective of local conditions. What is wanted is acceptance of the principle of the shorter week. This country, the most important industrial country in the world and, in the past, the leader in standards of employment and social conditions, ought not to hold back from supporting such a principle. I know that it has been argued with some plausibility that when we accept a principle of this kind, we apply it, but that other countries are hypocritical and less inclined than we are to enforce conditions which they have accepted in principle. I do not think that is true to-day. I understand the International Labour Office has its representatives in every country who report each year to headquarters in Geneva on the operation of the conditions which have been accepted in different countries—how far they are carried out and how far they are neglected. I think that argument no longer holds.
1242 Then, there is a very interesting experiment in a conference of factory inspectors from all countries. By means of co-operation of this kind the International Labour Office is gradually getting common standards of employment throughout the greater part of the civilised world. I have heard many times from hon. Members opposite as well as from hon. Members above the Gangway that the real case for Protection is the necessity for keeping out of this country goods made under worse conditions than those which obtain here. As this country is the leader in factory conditions and in factory hours and wages, it is said, that we are only Protectionists in order to keep out sweated goods. It has always been an attractive argument, and I have gone so far as to say that I am prepared to keep out goods which can be proved to have been made under sweated conditions.
Here is an opportunity, however, to test the sincerity of that argument. There is to-day a great call, from America, from the Scandinavian countries, from France, and from Belgium, for a lowering of trade barriers. Would not the first step towards the acceptance of that challenge be to get the common standard of employment conditions at which this Convention aims? The first step would be to have the same working week, and the second step would be to have the same factory conditions. We have gone some way towards that ideal in the Factories Bill which we have just passed. Cannot we prevail upon the Minister of Labour now to justify his position as an advanced thinker and as a social reformer by giving a lead in this matter to this country and to the nations of the world, and going out boldly in favour of the principle of a 40-hour week?
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)
The hon. Baronet has asked me to justify myself as an advanced thinker and a social reformer. In view of that request, it is interesting to note that this is the beginning of my third year as Minister of Labour and that I have not yet had the chance in this House of explaining the Estimates of my Department as a whole. In order that I may be able to justify myself as an advanced thinker and a social reformer, I invite the hon. Baronet to use his influence with 1243 his group, when next they have a Supply day, to put down the Estimates of the Ministry of Labour as a whole, so that I may be able to open the Debate with a general statement on the work of the Ministry. Such a statement will show that never in the history of the country have more things been done for the benefit of the working people of the country than have been done in the series of years through which we have just passed. To-day I will leave it at that.
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are quite within their rights in desiring to select from the many Votes for which I am responsible, any one raising a particular issue to which they think that public attention should be directed. They have chosen this issue and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) in opening the Debate has used a good many adjectives. His favourite adjective appears to be "reactionary" and I am not sure that it does not come out of his sub-consciousness. I have a distinct recollection that on many occasions various advanced thinkers on the left have referred to him as a "dyed-in-the-wool reactionary" and I suppose the adjective has sunk so deeply into the right hon. Gentleman's consciousness that he could not help flinging it as a word of prejudice across the Floor of the House to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] "Nonsense" is only another word of prejudice. I cannot help saying at the very outset of my speech that I think the right hon. Gentleman had more command over his adjectives than he had over his documents. In discussing these complicated questions it is more important to know your documents than to adopt slogans or use adjectives of prejudice. Let me deal first with the general charge made by the right hon. Gentleman. It was that the administration of the Ministry of Labour at the present time was unsympathetic to the work of the International Labour Office.
§ Mr. Brown
The right hon. Gentleman has an unexpected and unusual supporter. But I think the Committee having read and reflected on the right hon. Gentleman's speech, will consider that the evidence which he produced in support of that general charge was singularly thin. 1244 It consisted of a list of measures which he read out with no comment, no explanation and in some cases, quite obviously, with no understanding of whether the Government had actually voted in favour of or against them, or of what the position was at the moment between the Governments associated with the International Labour Office and the International Labour Office itself. I wish to refer to one or two of these measures. Take, for instance, the Convention relating to the minimum age of entry into non-industrial employment. It apparently sufficed for the right hon. Gentleman's purpose to-day to say that we had not ratified it. He may therefore be surprised, when he reads through the whole of the voluminous documents which will come from Geneva in due course on this subject, to find that that Convention has been under revision this year. That fact indicates that there were real points of difficulty in the Convention as it stood. The revised Convention will be sent to us in the usual way when the revision is completed, and we shall give that revised Convention consideration.
§ Mr. Brown
I propose to show in a moment, if the hon. Member will allow me, what the "usual consideration" of the British Government has been in recent years, and I will produce facts to justify my contention that the case made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite is very thin. As regards the question of holidays with pay to which reference has also been made, we have set up a powerful committee to deal with it. That committee is now taking evidence from all quarters on that issue. More than that I do not say, except that the House would not expect any Government to ratify a Convention on that subject in advance of the report of this expert committee whose appointment was welcomed on all sides of the House. As regards fee-charging employment agencies, the Government have stated quite definitely the view that the development of the employment exchange service would ultimately make such agencies unnecessary, and the fact that within the last year more than 2,600,000 jobs were found through the Employment Exchanges, shows that that is not an illusory but a real hope. Then the right hon. Gentleman mentioned a series of maritime Conventions. Although it is 1245 true, at the moment, that ratification is not complete, it is interesting to know that in regard to both the insurance of seamen and the minimum age of employment—the amendment of the Convention of 1930—the British Government voted in favour of both, and ratification is now being sympathetically considered.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the record of the Government on the other maritime conventions?
§ Mr. Brown
With regard to hours and manning, the House well knows that, at the time of the Maritime Conference, a new agreement on hours involving a great improvement in the conditions of seamen had only just become operative. We were then asked to go much further, to risk serious damage to the shipping industry and to endanger the National Maritime Board, which is one of the most successful joint industrial councils in the country. We asked for time to see how the new agreement worked in practice, and on that ground alone we cannot at the moment contemplate ratification.
I put it to the Committee and the country that this Government cannot be accused of not being sympathetic to the work of the International Labour Office. I have given the Office every assistance and support—much more assistance than one or two other Governments which could be mentioned. We have always put our knowledge at the disposal of the Office, we have supported it regularly by money and in the last two years the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry has been the principal delegate. Although it was not easy for me to go last year, I did go to Geneva and made a speech about the hours of labour, setting out the policy of the Government which made it quite unnecessary for me to add anything on this subject this year.
Therefore, whatever the right hon. Gentleman says about my speech on that occasion, I assure him that if he reads the record of it and subsequent speeches, and if he reads the report of the Director, he will find that the issue to which I have directed public attention, namely, the future relation of the great new productive capacity of our industrial world to the purchasing power of the agricultural part of the world is not regarded as lightly by the Office as he 1246 seemed to regard it, to judge by the casual and light-hearted phrases which he used this afternoon. I expect to hear a great deal more about that subject in the years to come. If the right hon. Gentleman and the House study the report of the Director they will find that in trying to draw constructive and helpful lessons from the slump, he points to the downward trend of industrial employment on one hand and the downward trend of the reward given to the agricultural part of the world on the other. Those facts are intimately related.
I have said that we are in sympathy with the ideals of the International Labour Office and have given them every help in our power, but I differ in one respect from the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). I do not believe those are the best friends of the International Labour Office who adopt a high-sounding slogan and then treat that slogan as something sacrasanct. I believe the best friends of the International Labour Office and of the workers, whose fortunes are to some extent bound up with the success of the International Labour Office are those who without prejudice examine the issues raised, relate them to the facts of life in the 62 countries affected and then try to work out a constructive policy in the light of full information. Those are not the best friends of the International Labour Office who content themselves with making great gestures of abstract benevolence on platforms at Geneva or elsewhere, but shirk the hard, detailed work which, alone, can bring success in any attempt to determine the conditions under which industry in the world is to be conducted.
I further assert that we have not been unsympathetic to the work of the International Labour Office, in proof of which I will add one passage from the Director's report. The right hon. Gentleman told the House what we have not ratified. The Director spoke at Geneva of what we have done, and this, I think, will quite clearly prove to the country that we are not reactionary, that we are not looking backward, but that when we give our word at Geneva we do our utmost to carry it out, not merely in law, but in fact. What does the Director say? The total ratifications for 1937 were, 50, and he says: 1247Of the total number of ratifications registered during the year, 28 came from Europe, 14 from the American continent, 7 from Asia, and 1 from Africa. The geographical distribution is thus world wide and Europe has once more taken the foremost place among the continents "—Not the United States, because, unfortunately for us, for them, and for the International Labour Office, they are not able to ratify under their constitutional arrangements. He goes on:The largest single contribution is that of Great Britain, which has ratified 11 conventions during the year. The total number of British ratifications is now 30, the highest number with the exception of Spain of any European country. The other two most prominent countries have been Argentina with 7 ratifications and China with 6.There is no lack of sympathy with the work of the International Labour Office shown there. There is no talk in vague terms about social justice there. To confuse the great constructive work of the International Labour Office merely with the idea of the 40-hour week is to do the whole structure of the International Labour Office, in my judgment, grave damage. The right hon. Gentleman gave a list. I too have a list. What are the conventions which we have ratified, which means not merely that we have put a ratification on paper but that they are operative in these islands to-day? There is, first, Unemployment (Free public employment agencies and circulation of information to International Labour Office). The right hon. Gentleman said we had not been helpful, but the fact is that the employment exchange service of this country is the envy of the world, and in the last two years during which I have been at the Ministry of Labour it has been my good fortune to meet representatives of other countries and of our own Dominions, including New Zealand, and to do my very best to assist them with all the help and advice that we could give them, and indeed if the right hon. Gentleman would take the trouble to look at it, there is available now for Members of the House a report to the New Zealand Government and to the Government of Australia in regard to social insurance and employment exchange work, made by an expert sent out by the Ministry of Labour, at the request of those Governments.
This is constructive work, valuable work, and as a matter of fact it is a 1248 complete misrepresentation of this country in the eyes of the world at Geneva to say we have been unsympathetic when we have raised reasoned objections of detail which would be felt, not merely by this Government, but by any right hon. Gentleman now sitting opposite me were he sitting here, if he were asked to bring forward the legislation necessary to ratify the present proposals for a 40-hour week at Geneva. Here are the other Conventions which we have ratified: Night work (women), Minimum age of entry into employment in industry, Night Work of Young Persons (Industry), Minimum age of entry into employment at sea, Unemployment Indemnity (Shipwreck), Right of Association (Agriculture), Workmen's Compensation (Agriculture), Minimum Age of admission to employment as trimmers and stokers, Medical examination of young persons employed at sea, Workmen's Compensation (Occupational Diseases), Equality of treatment for national and foreign workers as regards workmen's compensation for accidents, Simplification of the inspection of emigrants on board ship, Seamen's articles of agreement, Sickness insurance (Industry), Sickness insurance (Agriculture), Minimum wage fixing machinery, Marking of weight (packages transported by vessels), Forced labour, Protection against accidents (dockers—revised); and now this last year, which caused the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends opposite to put down a Motion for the reduction of my Vote to-day on this issue, old age insurance (industry), Old age insurance (agriculture), Invalidity insurance (industry), Invalidity insurance (agriculture), Survivors' insurance (industry), Survivors' insurance (agriculture), Night Work (Women) (Revised), Workmen's Compensation (Occupational Diseases) (Revised), Regulations of hours of work in sheet-glass work.
What do they say about that? That is the proof, if right hon. and hon. Members opposite want proof, that we are not unsympathetic merely. It is not a question of the number of hours, for we have ratified that Convention. The Director points out in this report that this particular Convention, together with the Glass Bottle Convention, which is being ratified by Norway this year, marks the beginning of the 40-hour week by international agreement in industry. I would not go so far as to say that.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Do I gather that the British Government supported the whole of those things in the discussions at the International Labour Office at Geneva, or did the Government's representatives vote against some of them?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am asking whether the British Government supported the whole of them in the discussions at Geneva.
§ Mr. Brown
Obviously, the British Government would make their constructive suggestions, which were sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, as indeed is bound to happen in any constructive examination of any complicated subject by reasonable men who are not merely using slogans. For slogans have one defect in common. All slogans leave out too much, and that is why the right hon. Gentlemen sitting there have always found it more easy to state their slogans in abstract terms when out of office. [Interruption.] I am talking—it appears with some success—in order to disprove what the right hon. Gentleman said about the work of this Government in regard to these particular sides of the work of the International Labour Office being either unsympathetic or unhelpful. I was saying that I would not go as far as the Director in what he says about the 40-hour week. I would rather put it as the 42-hour week.
Let me complete the full list of ratifications, however. There are two others, for there is one since the Director's report. The total is 31 now. They are Unemployment (Ensuring Benefit or Allowances to the Involuntarily Unemployed), and, the last one, Underground Work (Women). That is a list of which any country can be proud. It is a constructive contribution of a practical kind, ratified here in this country, made effective to the benefit of the lives of many thousands of our fellow men and women, and appreciated by all those who know the conditions of labour in this country and who know that so far, in their dealings with the Ministry of Labour on these questions, the Ministry is not unsympathetic, but has done its best, not merely to say it is in favour of collective agreements, but to prove it, not merely to say that it supports the work of the International Labour Office, but that it does 1250 take every opportunity when the International Labour Office makes decisions, to do its best to see that they are ratified in the law and practice of this country—sometimes the one, sometimes the other, because not all ratifications require law. That leads me to the main burden of the right hon. Gentleman's case.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to notice that he has overlooked any reference to the Coal Mines Convention, and will he say what the Government have done about that?
§ Mr. Brown
I was just coming to that, and I quite understand the hon. Member's personal interest in that matter, because he helped to carry the Convention of 1931 at Geneva. Mr. Isaac Foot pointed out to the International Labour Office that that Convention would not work in his judgment, in the judgment of his Government, because of some technical defects. I succeeded him as Secretary for Mines, went to Geneva, and convinced the countries in the Conference there that there was a necessity for revision, and they found out, not merely that there was a necessity for revision on our two points, but on three others as well. The Convention was revised. We then gave our word, as indeed did everybody else with one exception, that when other countries ratified that Convention, we also should be prepared to ratify it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not give a lead?"] These things are not so easily done. It is very easy for hon. Members opposite to say, "Give a lead," but if taking the lead should happen to mean undermining your competitive power in the world markets in a particular commodity and displacing the labour of British people, the lead had better not be taken. At the moment the hon. Member opposite will be entitled to ask me, as I was asked in the House the other day, whether we are doing anything to invite other nations to ratify that Convention. The answer is that at the moment we are making some approaches to Germany on the matter, and more than that I cannot say.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman's recital of the facts, but is he aware that immediately after the convention was agreed upon an assurance was obtained from the other coal-producing countries that if we were prepared to ratify the convention imme- 1251 diately, it would be accepted and applied by them?
§ Mr. Brown
I am not aware of that, but I am aware that that was not the case when I had to see technical objections removed at Geneva. The case now is that not all the coal-producing countries are prepared to ratify the convention now.
The main discussion this afternoon has been about the question of the 40-hour week. Let me say at once that the Government have made it clear at Geneva over and over again, and elsewhere in all discussions, that they are certainly not unsympathetic with the idea of the shortening of the working week. But let the Committee consider the inception of this whole matter, which is now concentrated in slogans, which is now made almost an act of theological faith by those who discuss it here, there, and everywhere. Let us consider its inception. What was the beginning? A little history, if I may detain the Committee with it, might be useful for any further discussion of this matter, and I will give the Committee a clear account of what happened. The discussions date from 1931, and they come from the Unemployment Committee, a committee of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office dealing with unemployment. They made the recommendation—that is, the Unemployment Committee—in favour of a 40-hour week, and so far from the British Government raising the wages issue as a kind of afterthought, the British Government at once took the initiative and pointed out that this proposal must have an effect on wages. That, of course, is obvious to those who know anything at all about these questions.
We have taken the view from the beginning that it is quite impossible in ordinary cases to discuss the question of hours in industry apart from two other things, namely, costs on the one hand and wages on the other, and the British Government then, in 1931, took the initiative in pointing out the effect on wages. In January, 1932, the Governing Body instructed the International Labour Office to study the question. In April, 1932, the International Labour Conference adopted resolutions, proposed by the French workers' delegate, inviting the Governing Body to investigate the institution of a 40-hour week with a view 1252 to the adoption of international regulations on the subject. In July, 1932, the Italian Government representative requested that a special session of the Governing Body should be convened to consider the adoption of emergency procedure with a view to exploring the possibilities of framing proposals capable of immediate application on the question of the reduction of hours of work internationally as a means of combating unemployment.
This special session was held in September, 1932, and the British Government then urged the necessity of an inquiry in each country first, in order that information might be available as the basis for a rational discussion by the countries engaged in the conference. This proposal was rejected. It was decided to call a preparatory technical conference in January, 1933, without preliminary inquiry, in the countries concerned. In view of the decision to hold a preparatory technical conference in January, 1933, the British Government encouraged the employers' and workers' organisations in Great Britain—I use that word "encouraged," because I have some reason to know that there was no lack of sympathy for International Labour Office ideas on the part of the Government of the day—to send full delegations of advisers in order that the technical problems could be properly explored, and I think I should not be wrong in saying that a more complete set of technical advisers was never sent to Geneva for the discussion of any particular problem in the history of the International Labour Office.
With that encouragement the delegations went. A large number of problems were brought to light in the general discussions, but, unfortunately from our point of view and, I think, from the International Labour Office point of view, the conference proceeded to discuss the heads of a draft convention without first examining those technical problems. It was decided to place the subject on the agenda of the International Labour Conference of June, 1933, with a view to the immediate formulation of a draft convention. The governing body then instructed the International Labour Office to prepare the text of a convention for consideration by the conference. On the ground that insufficient information was available for the drafting of the Conven- 1253 tion the British Government representative, in association with the representatives of Germany and Japan, voted against the instruction. Germany was then attending at Geneva. It was emphasised that until the technical problems had been discussed it was impossible to formulate an international policy or to expect the framing of international regulations which would be generally observed, and I should have thought that that would have commended itself to any reasonable man who knows anything about the complications of the industries which would be affected by a slogan of this kind—a 40-hour week.
The International Labour Conference of June, 1933, did not adopt a convention, but decided to issue a questionnaire to all States-Members and to place the subject on the agenda of the conference to be held in 1934, and the British Government supported that course. But it was clearly demonstrated during the discussions that there was a serious difference of view on the most important question of wages. In some quarters, and this was true particularly of the workers' group, it was made clear that what was intended was that the weekly earnings of the workers should not be reduced by reason of the shorter working week. In other quarters the view was accepted that earnings should be reduced, and that what was intended was the sharing of employment and wages among the workers, and this was a vital difference when it is remembered that the political organisations of the countries inside the International Labour Office are of every shade. Ours is a free democracy, other countries are not free democracies. It was vital to the free democracies, before they took steps which would affect the livelihood of the workers in their industries, that they should know precisely what the effects were likely to be as regards both work and wages. These policies are different and their effects would be different. In countries where there is no unemployment insurance the sharing of work was bound to appear attractive, but we are not a country without unemployment insurance. On the contrary, it is true to say that now that agricultural workers are within the ambit of unemployment insurance we have the most complete, the most effective and the best unemployment insurance scheme in the whole range of social insurance in the world.
1254 Let us look more closely at the 1934 proceedings. The questionnaire was sent out to all Member-States. It was fully answered by very few Governments—very few, and there was much difference of opinion both on the practicability of adopting a convention and on the actual terms of it. The British Government expressed the view that an international convention was impracticable in the existing circumstances, and that the subject could only be discussed, whether nationally or internationally, industry by industry in the terms of those industries and their management. There was also the fact that there are countries like ours which are dependent upon export markets, countries like New Zealand which have very few industrial workers and no export industry, and the United States, whose problems, as already pointed out by my hon. Friend behind me, are entirely different to those of other nations. I will not detain the Committee with the full answer which we gave to the questionnaire, because it can be found in Cmd. Paper 4584, which can be obtained at the Vote Office.
Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that few answers were given, that there was great divergence of opinion, and that some of the most important industrial nations pointed out that they thought the idea impracticable, the International Labour Office placed the draft convention before the International Labour Conference in June, 1934. This draft convention, as this Committee will recognise, had obviously no sufficient basis of evidence. Nevertheless, the conference decided to have this draft convention considered by a committee, but the employers' group, with the exception of the Italian employers' delegate, refused to take part in the discussion. In committee certain amendments were made on the initiative of the workers' group—and I may say that most of those amendments were supported by the British Government delegate—with the result that several countries no longer found themselves able to support the adoption of the convention. The most important amendment was to provide for the inclusion of small undertakings within the scope of the proposals, which brought in a large part of industry and commerce in such countries as Italy and Belgium, which they had hoped to exclude. Consequently, there were so many abstentions—and, as is known, a 1255 certain proportion of votes is necessary in a conference at Geneva—that when the vote was taken a quorum was not obtained.
Then the Italian Government delegate, desiring to prevent the total loss of the proposals, drafted a resolution which was considered by a committee of Government delegates, including the British Government delegate. The resolution was substantially changed, particularly by including the subject of wages as a subject of inquiry, and in this form it was unanimously adopted by the Government delegates at the conference. It provided for a further consultation of Governments and directed the Governing Body on the basis of the replies to consider whether the matter should again be placed on the agenda of the conference.
Let the Committee see what happened. This unanimous decision of the Government delegates was upset before it could be submitted to the conference by a further resolution put forward by the Italian Government delegate. This resolution provided for a less definite inquiry and instructed the Governing Body definitely to place the subject on the agenda for the 1935 conference. The British Government delegate supported by other Governments, including Japan and Holland, placed the original unanimous resolution before the conference. The Italian proposal, which was supported by the workers' group, was, however, carried by 75 votes to 37. I will not go into the whole of the very detailed considerations in the discussion about the convention and about various subsidiary conventions, but the problem was made harder than ever for all who participated in the International Labour Office by the amendment moved by the Italian Government delegate later to substitute as a setoff against loss of earnings a vague formula speaking of the "standard of living."
The British workers, of course, have always taken the strongest possible view about this. Those British trade union leaders who have been foremost in pressing for the 40-hour week have seen that there is a danger of reduction of wages, and have realised that the rank and file would not be enthusiastic about any movement for a 40-hour week which involved any risk of a reduction of earnings. The Italian proposal was adopted. It is true 1256 that a resolution with a form of words about not lowering the standard of living of the workers, was appended to the convention, but this resolution has no binding force. So the British Government was left in this position, that we were asked to vote for a convention of principle in the absence of full information, in the absence of preparatory technical work, and in the presence of a form of words which might be very suitable to Italian economy and to the economy of other nations but which would in this country be rejected by anyone who had thought even lightly about our system of collective bargaining. I will go further and say that any right hon. Gentleman opposite who dared to come to this House and propose legislation to give effect to a Convention for a 40-hour week which did not safeguard the workers against loss of earnings would find that his tenure of office on this bench would not last for many moments.
On the question of special conventions, such as that dealing with the textile industry, the Government made the proposal that there should be a preparatory technical conference, and this was held, and it was agreed to send a delegation. We sent a very strong delegation, headed by my hon. and gallant Friend who is now the Under-Secretary for Air. It was done at a cost of over £3,000, and a great expenditure of effort and time, but as a matter of fact the procedure at Geneva this year has made it impossible even to consider the reports of these technical experts at Washington, and has taken place in advance of a report from the Governing Body upon the work of the experts who went so thoroughly into the technical aspects of the matter at Washington.
§ Mr. Brown
No, they were not. Let me tell hon. Members what we have done in the last fortnight. There was first the work of the Conference at the 1257 International Labour Office. In order that the Government concerned might have an opportunity of considering the implications of the proposed convention it was proposed that there should be a report upon the matter next year and then a Second Reading Debate. The first thing that happened was that the workers' representative moved that, instead of this double procedure there should be a single discussion and that the convention should be adopted as the result of that single discussion. That Motion was carried. The most remarkable fact was not the number voting for or against, but the number of abstentions. It was voted upon by workers, employers and Governments, and the remarkable fact was the number of Government delegates who abstained from recording a decision upon it. There was a great deal of uneasiness whether this thing was not being rushed in advance of detailed consideration.
§ Mr. Brown
No, they all voted for, every one of them. If the hon. Member knows anything about the procedure at Geneva he will be aware that a solid front does not always mean a united rear. The most remarkable fact was those abstensions.
Since the original draft of the Textile Convention, there has been an alteration, which is most important. It is that instead of a maximum number of hours for each week, the convention now includes a provision for averaging. A representative on the Committee asked why averaging was brought in. The reply was that Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and, I think, Switzerland—four countries anyhow—intimated that it was impossible to work the maximum number of hours without averaging. The convention that we are now asked to ratify, and are upbraided by the Opposition for not ratifying, has averaging as part of its text. The British delegate asked the Office to explain what this alteration meant. The Office authority agreed that the arrangements for averaging the 40 hours might work out in this way: Sixty hours for 20 weeks of the year, with no overtime; 40 hours for 20 weeks, and 12 weeks' unemployment. He was asked whether that would be 4o hours within the terms of the convention as to 1258 averaging, and the answer of the Office was "Yes."
My remark about disunity I think I have now made good. Mr. Arthur Shaw, who is the most competent and able of the British textile workers there and is chairman of the textile workers' international body, said, speaking on behalf of the textile workers—I listened to him, and heard what he said—that the British workers did not agree with the principle of averaging but they were agreeing to it for purposes of international solidarity. It may be possible for those who are not in office in a Government in this country to take that view, but it is not possible for a responsible Minister to do so. As long as I am at the Ministry of Labour I will do my best to give to every piece of constructional work which is done by the International Labour Office sympathetic consideration, and in matters of social justice and betterment, all the help I can, so that the backward countries will find their level raised and the forward countries may march on together; but as long as I go to Geneva I will not pretend that the British Government believe in a policy which they regard as badly founded and incomplete in its preparation, and has a proposal in it which would not be accepted in any joint council in any industry in this country. I hope that I have said enough to prove to the Committee that the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman is not well founded.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
The Minister might have given us more light and less heat. I happened to be in Geneva in 1934 when some of the employers, led by the British employers, refused to play the game. They refused to go into discussion upon the principles of the 40-hour week and for that they were severely taken to task. The most scathing of those who did so was the representative of the United States, who declared that the arguments used by the employers were what one would imagine would appeal to an assembly of Rip van Winkles of the eighteenth century, and that one would think that God had wound up the clock at the beginning and had thrown the key away.
I want to confine my attention to the 40-hour week and to show what has been the attitude of the British Government during the past few years, and until last 1259 year. There is no denying that the British Government have lagged behind other Governments in dealing with this question and have made a lamentable exhibition at Geneva. Year after year they have sent a civil servant with instructions either to oppose or to remain neutral, and they have placed that civil servant in a very invidious position. It was only last year that the Minister of Labour decided to go to Geneva. He has been at Geneva this year. What did he do? Did he help in the discussion of the 40-hour week? He never mentioned it. Did he represent the views of the enlightened British employers? He did nothing of the kind. The Government's views on this 40-hour week question has been that of the most reactionary employers in the country. I happen to be on the Industrial Advisory Council of the League of Nations, on which are employers as well as workmen. They are unanimous on the question of a 40-hour week. Fortunately, the International Labour Office has at its head one of the best informed and farthest-seeing men that the British Civil Service has produced, and one of whom we can be rightly proud. His reports year after year show depth of knowledge of economics and offer valuable guidance to every country. I wish the British Government would take a lesson from Mr. Butler's report. Let me quote from his report. He was dealing with the United States, which is the best example of a reduction of hours without any reduction in wages. He says:During the National Recovery Act period the work week averaged 35.6 hours. Despite the declaration of the Act as unconstitutional, the 40-bour standard still commands the general support of public opinion among employers. The general sense of the country is indicated by the enactment by Congress of an Act providing that no public contract exceeding 10,000 dollars shall be granted unless it contains provisions prohibiting any person being employed more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.I hope the Government will take note of that when they are giving out contracts for munition work. He goes on:Further Acts applying the 40-hour week to Government employés in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, in engineering and shipbuilding establishments, and in the postal service, including the mail and equipment shop. Theo President has already interpreted his great: majority at the Election as a mandate for 'reasonably short working 1260 hours among other social reforms' and has plainly indicated that in his view this means not more than 40 hours in the week.What about the speech of the Minister of Labour at Geneva? As I have already indicated, he made no reference to the 40-hour week. His concern seemed to be about the world situation in agriculture. An agricultural congress is taking place at the present time at the Hague, and I believe the British Government are represented there. Why waste time discussing agriculture at Geneva when a congress is already in being at the Hague at which the British Government are represented? The Minister left Geneva, and left the Parliamentary Secretary to face the music. My sympathy goes to the Parliamentary Secretary. Time and again I have seen Mr. Leggatt instructed either to oppose or to remain neutral—not an enviable position.
The first objection of the Government to the 40-hour week appears to be that since the convention does not specifically stipulate for maintenance of wages it is a threat to the wages and standards of British workers. The trade union movement of this country will look after that, and the Minister of Labour need not worry on that score. Secondly, the objection is that it is impossible to regulate hours of work apart from wages, and therefore no international agreement on hours is possible without agreement on wages. Is that true? The Washington Convention dealing with a 48-hour week contained no provision for safeguarding wages, but it was ratified by 30 countries. Most of those countries are now seeking further to reduce hours. Then again, has this policy been long sustained by the Government? Why have they departed from it in the Factories Bill, which reduces hours without any safeguards as to wages. The Government have departed in that respect at home from the policy for which they stand at Geneva.
Is there really a sound case for the Government's concern about wages? We know that Germany and Italy, where there are dictatorships and where the workers are mere ciphers, wanted a reduction of hours for the sake of spreading over, but even Italy has recently decided to increase wages. The United States, by reducing the hours in certain industries to 35, and in others to 40, while at the same time raising the age of entry into industry to 16, were enabled to absorb 1261 over 5,000,000 workers. I challenge the Minister and the Government to name a single country where the hours have been reduced and it has meant a reduction of wages. In America it has meant an actual increase in wages; in France also there has been a reduction of hours while at the same time wages have been increased; and the same has happened in Belgium and in the Scandinavian countries. The Government supported the Mines Hours Convention, and in that convention there was no mention of safeguarding wages. Why should the Government on one occasion support a convention for the reduction of hours without safeguarding wages, and then, when it comes to this 40-hour week proposal, always make that an excuse for not ratifying it? The same thing happened in the case of the Sheet Metal Industry Convention. There was no safeguarding of wages in that convention, but the Government supported it.
In the case of the Mines Hours Convention, we know that the stipulation was that ratification had to be simultaneous by the seven coal-producing countries. To-day we find that in the United States, Russia, Poland—which is our worst competitor—France and Belgium the mine workers are working 40 hours or less a week. I know that Germany, because Germany was outside the League, was brought forward as an excuse, but the Government did not hesitate to enter into a Naval Pact with Germany behind the back of the League, and, if the Government can do that with Germany, there is no reason why they should not approach Germany with a view to coming to an understanding for the ratification of this Mines Hours Convention. Why cannot the Government ratify the convention conditionally upon other countries following suit? That certainly would be an encouragement to other countries to do likewise. Referring again to the wage question, we have recently seen here in Britain that in industry after industry hours have been reduced while at the same time wages have been increased. The Ministry of Labour Gazette for 7th March showed that in 1936 no fewer than 4,062,000 workers in this country received increased wage rates, while at the same time hours were being reduced.
One excuse for not ratifying the International Convention is that while, as has been said time and again, British employers are all above reproach and honest 1262 in their dealings with their workers, the same does not apply in other countries. That is a reflection on employers in other countries; let us examine it. We are told that other countries are inclined to introduce qualifications and exemptions, and France has been particularly mentioned. But the fact that France introduced the 40-hour principle in advance of other nations and allowed certain exemptions is no proof that, if there were an international convention which she and other countries ratified, she would not carry it out to the full. But have we very much to complain of in that respect? When the Washington Convention for a 48-hour week was under discussion, I was one of a deputation that approached the then Minister of Labour, and the argument of the Government at that time was that 95 per cent. of the workers in this country already enjoyed a 48-hour week, and, therefore, there was no necessity for ratifying the Washington Convention. Surely the very fact that only 5 per cent. were outside would have made it quite a simple matter for the Government to ratify that Convention. If it be the case that we enjoy a 48-hour week in this country, is it not also the case that, despite the 48-hour week, there is a considerable amount of overtime? Why, then, should we blame other countries for having exemptions and qualifications when we have that system in operation ourselves?
The real question is whether the British Government refuse to accept any international agreement. If they do, what is the use of talking about foreign competition? Is there any means of bargaining for a reduction of hours internationally except through the International Labour Office? The fact is, and it has been seen year after year at Geneva, that Britain during the past five years has been the stumbling-block in the way of improved conditions owing to her refusal to carry out this 40-hour week. I cannot do better than quote in conclusion from the very excellent summing up of the debate on the question of a 40-hour week by the Director of the International Labour Office. He says:In the United States, after four years' experience, we find a Bill introduced into Congress for again enacting the national 40-hour week; and this is all the more remarkable, as during the past two years, since the National Industrial Recovery Act was declared unconstitutional, American industry could have returned to a longer working week 1263 without any let or hindrance, and yet Mr. Harriman stated that 'because of the use of technology the representatives of American labour and American business can unite in supporting a wisely drawn 40-hour Convention at Geneva'.He sums up the matter by saying:A prima facie case in favour of a shorter working week has been made out by the actual experience of a number of countries. It is no longer a battle of words and ideas, but a confutation of facts.Let me urge the Government to consider well these wise words of the Director of the International Labour Office, and the evidence of countries where the shorter working week has operated with no disadvantage either to business or to the workers concerned.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys
I wish to say a very few words in support of the attitude the Government have adopted in general towards the International Labour Office, but I intend to devote my remarks mainly to dealing with their attitude towards the 40-hour week Convention. In the first place I should like to say, from my knowledge of the International Labour Office, that, as regards the interest of His Majesty's Government in the organisation, the impression created is quite contrary to that which has been alleged by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). The impression there, so far as I can find out, is that His Majesty's Government take an extremely keen interest in the work of the International Labour Office, and the fact that both the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Labour himself have found time on more than one occasion recently to go to Geneva and take part in the work of the International Labour Office, has been very greatly appreciated.
It is quite clear from this Debate that there is no difference between us in our general desire for progress and our desire for the improvement of labour conditions in this country and throughout the world. We are not here this afternoon to discuss the general desirability of shorter hours, and it is no use anybody trying to make out that that is the issue between the Opposition and the Government. What we are discussing is whether the 40-hour Convention of the International Labour Office is a practical proposition, whether it would benefit the workers in our in- 1264 dustry, and whether, in its application, it would prove to be a forward or a backward step. The chief objection, I think, of hon. Members on this side of the House to the Convention is that it attempts to fix hours without any relation to wages. I submit that a reduction of hours in present circumstances as defined by the terms of this very loose Convention would certainly have the effect either of lowering wages or of raising costs. It would probably have both these effects, and it would certainly result in unemployment. In addition the averaging of hours over a long period, such as is allowed under the Convention, destroys the chief safeguard of the employé in industry against overwork.
A great deal of play was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney, and also by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), speaking for the Liberals, about conditions in the textile industry in America, but that seems to me to be entirely beside the point. Conditions in the American textile industry are utterly different from the conditions of the textile industry in this country. As I think was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley) in an interruption, the percentage of exports in the American textile industry is infinitesimal compared with the exports for which we have to cater in our industry. Furthermore, their internal market is so much larger than ours that even if they are, as I think the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green suggested, trying to find a few small additional markets outside their country, they are able, by that procedure from which we have suffered so often in this country, to use the strength of their big internal market to enable them to dump their surplus on countries abroad. Therefore, I submit that the case of America with regard to textiles is not comparable, and offers no parallel of any kind, to conditions in this country.
The phrase used in the convention to cover the whole question of wages is ridiculously vague. It is that the 40-hour week shall be introducedin such a manner that the standard of living is not reduced in consequence.This makes a totally artificial distinction between hours and the standard of life. It raises the whole question of priorities in an acute and extremely unnecessary 1265 form. This phrase in the convention assumes that we have reached a stage in our progress when it is more desirable to shorten hours than to raise the general standard of life. That is a proposition which I certainly cannot accept. I notice with satisfaction that in the report of the Imperial Conference issued the other day at the end of the section dealing with foreign affairs it is stated that:They (the delegates) declare themselves ready to co-operate with other nations in, examining current difficulties, including trade barriers and other obstacles to the increase of international trade, and the improvement of the general standard of life.What we have to do in the first place is to improve the general standard of life and we are not going to embarrass ourselves in any way or restrict the scope of our endeavours to raise that standard by any convention of this kind. It is a most doubtful proposition to say that what we now need most is to shorten hours and that only after we have achieved that shall we consider raising the standard of life. You cannot isolate hours from general labour conditions as a whole. They are part and parcel of the same problem. There is the movement for holidays with pay. Is that to be postponed? Is it regarded as of less importance than the question of shorter hours? The two are very much connected with one another. Another matter that was referred to is the question of the intensity of work. That surely deserves consideration. Are we as a result of shorter hours to have harder work? Lastly there is the whole question of employment and security against unemployment. All these matters need much more careful thought than they have received in this convention. In the circumstances I submit that the price that the industrial workers would have to pay for the privilege of passing a convention of this kind in the loose terms suggested at Geneva would far more than outweigh the advantages.
However, whilst I am not prepared to accept this 40-hour week Convention, I am just as impatient as hon. Members opposite to see an improvement in labour conditions. I would, therefore, invite my right hon. Friend to consider others methods of achieving this end. We have just passed a Factories Bill. It could necessarily only lay down the very bare minimum below which, under pain and penalty of the law, labour con- 1266 ditions should not be allowed to fall. But I suggest that we should try, side by side with that bare minimum, to take steps to encourage the promotion and establishment of better conditions of labour—not merely hours but general conditions—by voluntary action. I wonder whether it would not be possible for firms which maintain a higher standard of labour conditions—hours or holidays with pay or other amenities—to be given some sort of official recognition in the form of an official certificate. If so I suggest that the Government, in placing contracts, should give preference to these certificated firms who in their turn would undertake, in placing their sub-contracts, that they also would give preference to firms similarly certificated. That is no new principle for we have already recognised it in the fair wages clause in Government contracts. In addition to that, if this system could be introduced, firms would be able to advertise that their goods were made, under Grade A labour conditions. In that way it would be possible, as in the "Buy British" campaign, to enlist the support of the consumer in a campaign to raise the standard of labour conditions. In short, what I am asking my right hon. Friend is that the Government should discriminate in favour of enlightened and progressive firms and should encourage the consumer to do the same.
To impose a general standard of labour conditions by legislation is, in my opinion, not the best way to achieve progress. If the standard you set is high, many firms cannot bear the burden. If it is low enough for all, then it is really no use at all as an instrument for achieving improved labour conditions. It is, therefore, only by elastic and voluntary methods that we can hope to give effect to this desire, which is very widespread, for an improvement in conditions of work. The International Labour Office proposal for a 40-hour week is undoubtedly progressive in its intention, but it would, I submit, be unpractical and actually retrograde in its operation. There is nothing more damaging to the cause of social progress than well-intentioned but unworkable social legislation. All practical men who recognise that the welfare of the workers in industry is of more importance than any abstract theories will not hesitate to support the attitude 1267 taken up by the Government, and I feel sure that all hon. Members who have the genuine cause of progress at heart will do the same.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Riley
The hon. Member commenced by saying that the question at issue was not the attitude of Members of all parties toward the International Labour Office or the Government, but rather the question of the practicability of the proposed 40-hour week. On that I differ. The question is not whether the 40-hour working week is practicable but what is the attitude of the Government towards this and other matters in connection with the International Labour Office at Geneva. The hon. Member is quite mistaken as to the real issue that is at stake.
§ Mr. Sandys
Did I understand the hon. Member to say that I am confused? I think he is confused. He has contradicted himself already. He first said the issue was not the attitude of the Government towards the International Labour Office and now he says it is.
§ Mr. Riley
The question at issue is not the practicability of the 40-hour week but the attitude of the Government towards this and other questions in connection with the International Labour Office at Geneva. It is all very well for the Minister of Labour to ride off on a long programme of more or less meritorious achievements in connection with the ratification of some 30 conventions out of 50 which have been adopted at Geneva. No one disputes that this country, as in certain respects have all Governments, has been friendly disposed towards the work of the International Labour Office. We were in part its creators, and no one disputes that there is a wide measure of sympathy and support of much of the work the International Labour Office is doing in various fields of industrial progress. We are not disputing that some enthusiasm has been shown for some of the conventions that we have adopted, but in connection with three very outstanding social and industrial issues of the present day this Government has not only been reactionary but has written a most shameful chapter in the industrial history of the country. I refer to its attitude first towards holidays with pay; secondly, with regard to 1268 lower hours of labour; and, thirdly, with regard to raising the age of entry into industrial employment to 15 years.
§ Mr. Hepworth
Does the hon. Member give his workers holidays with pay and allow them to work a 40-hour week?
§ Mr. Riley
That is a very personal question. It so happens that I have been in business for 37 years, and there are some hundreds of workpeople working in my family business. Ever since 1918 we have given every employé, from the errand boy to the most skilled worker, a fortnight's holiday with pay without cessation. Therefore I know exactly what I am talking about, and I do not want to be taken on to that side issue. I want to pin down the Minister who is going to reply to what the Government have to say about their attitude at Geneva on the question of the conventions dealing with holidays with pay, reducing the working week, and giving boys and girls a chance to remain at school by not having to go into factories until 15 years of age. The facts are perfectly well known. Last year, after three or four years of inquiry, of reports and questionnaires circulated to all the Governments, the International Labour Office at Geneva decided by 98 votes to 15 to establish a convention asking all countries to put into operation holidays with pay in all industries, except agriculture, and seamen were excluded for the special purposes of the convention.
My right hon. Friend who opened this Debate to-day complained of the attitude of our Government at Geneva last year because they did not ratify the convention, but that is by no means the extent of the culpability of the Government. They voted against the convention—that is the thing to remember. Whereas 28 Governments at Geneva last year voted for the convention for holidays with pay, we were one of two Governments who opposed it. We were ranked with Bulgaria. Those are the facts with regard to holidays with pay. It was not that we refused to ratify the convention, but the Government were not prepared to give a chance to have it ratified or passed at all. The gravamen of what I have to say to the Government on this matter is, that it is not a question of not having supported the carrying of these conventions on outstanding industrial questions, but of not having given a word 1269 of encouragement at Geneva in order to get the various conventions established. No word of support has come from our Government upon any of these questions either of holidays with pay, hours of labour, or the raising of the age of entry into industry. There has been the application of the cold douche every time the matter has been raised at Geneva during the last three or four years.
The convention in favour of the 40-hour week in the textile industry, after having been the subject of years of inquiry, was carried at Geneva last Sunday by 88 votes to 41; 39 Governments voted in favour of the convention and only six Governments voted against it. It is well that the Minister of Labour should consider the company he is now keeping. The six Governments who voted against the establishment of the convention were Japan, India, Esthonia, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The singular thing is that in regard to the opposition of our Government to the convention we are allying ourselves, in social reform, with Japan in opposing the establishment of these conventions to reduce the working hours. We are the associates of small countries like Esthonia, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
§ Mr. Holdsworth
In all fairness the hon. Member ought to tell the Committee the wages that are paid in the countries that signed the 40-hours Convention compared with the wages in this country, and whether, though they have signed that agreement, their wages are 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. less than ours.
§ Mr. Riley
Are the three of no use? The hon. Member asked for the names. Great Britain, associated with the Dominions at Geneva, has voted against a convention of which the Dominions are entirely in favour. There were two other conventions which were not carried because the two-thirds majority was not 1270 obtained. They were the convention for the printing industry, where the voting was 72 to 43, and where again we were in the minority voting against the convention; and the chemical industry convention, where the voting was 76 to 42, and where again we were in the minority-and voted against the convention.
§ Major Procter
Can the hon. Member tell the Committee how Lancashire, with a 40-hour week, can compete against Japan, with a 60-hour week, where the earnings are 6s. 10d.?
§ Mr. Riley
Does the hon. Member wonder how Czechoslovakia, France or Belgium can compete against Japan? Are we never going to move? Are we going to be reduced to the standards of the East, and is this proud country going to be the associate of backward countries in cutting down social conditions? At Geneva an almost unanimous decision was arrived at that the entry into industrial employment should not be permitted, before the age of 15. We were one of the countries opposing that proposal and were, therefore, again reactionary. On these three outstanding issues, the Government have not upheld the traditions of this country of being in the forefront of social and industrial progress, but have lagged behind with the backward countries, and they are lowering the flag and reputation of this country.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Crossley
I hope that I shall deal' faithfully with most of the points which the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) has made about the 40-hour week during the course of what I have to say. May I at the outset not follow him for a moment but turn to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour on the speech which he made at Geneva last week? He plainly came out into the open with statements on behalf of his Government which could neither be misunderstood nor misinterpreted. I cannot help believing that when he made that speech he had a case behind him which, when it is understood, will be wholeheartedly supported by the workpeople of both Yorkshire and of Lancashire. It is much better to have your feet on the ground and stand still if necessary for a little time than to go walking forward with your head in the-clouds so that you cannot see where you are going. I cannot help thinking that 1271 his own choice of words was a happy compromise and that there is no reason whatsoever to consider that the attitude of the Government towards the International Labour Office is retrograde or reactionary, because he did not embark with wild enthusiasm upon a proposal which would have done infinite damage to one of the greatest industries in the country.
I will say a general word upon the International Labour Office itself. It ought to be a great publicity organisation for improved industrial conditions, and it often has been in the past. It can be a thoroughly dangerous meddler in the complicated mechanism of international trade, and again on one or two occasions it has been in the past. Nobody can say that it has at any time any executive power whatever. Therefore I would put before the Committee three propositions which I believe the organisation itself and our Government in particular when participating in the work of the organisation should keep most steadily in front of them, to borrow the words of the Director who has been much quoted to-day, a confrontation of facts which they should never forget. The first of these propositions is that where relations between employers and workpeople are good, the International Labour Office should not by its proposals endanger these industrial relations. The second is that employment itself being governed by economic factors, the International Labour Office should not in stressing some social desirability advocate proposals which might imperil the very livelihood of the workpeople of member-States and especially of member-States who are well to the fore in their industrial conditions. The last proposition is that the International Labour Office ought never to advocate proposals which would inevitably lead to a reduction of money wages.
These are the three tests which I intend to apply to the Textile Convention when I come to it: the endangering of industrial relations, the endangering of the livelihood of the workpeople themselves, and the endangering of their weekly wage rates. I do not believe that any Member of the party opposite can say that those are improper standards to take. First I want to add a word to what the Minister has said on the history of the 40-hour week at Geneva. A general convention 1272 in 1934 was turned down, but in 1935 a general convention in principle was adopted. The right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) got into rather a muddle with these conventions, because when talking of the general convention in principle he suddenly introduced arguments which were relative only to the Textile Convention and accused the Government of not having put forward specific wage amendments. But when the general convention in principle was being discussed it was the Government delegate himself who proposed in specific terms this amendment:That the standard of life should be preserved by means of such adjustment of wages as will secure to the workers not less income per week than was received by them prior to the hours being reduced.Let me remind hon. Members opposite that it was the British workers' delegate who seconded that amendment. It was out-voted and it may be of interest to hon. Members opposite to know that whereas among the people who voted with the minority were Canada, South Africa, United States and France, among the people who voted for the maintenance of the standard of living without our specific amendment were such civilised and industrial countries as Albania, Bolivia, Mexico, Dominica, Liberia, and Afghanistan.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Member says that the British workers' representative seconded the Government's amendment. Is it not also the case that when it came to the final vote on the convention which was in the end approved, the representative of the British workers was found with the majority in favour of the convention and the British Government with the minority against?
§ Mr. Crossley
That was doubtless due to the desirability of maintaining international solidarity. In 1936 there were various draft conventions, only one of which received the necessary majority, the Public Works Convention, and as public works are merely a cross-cut of various industries it is significant that the trade unions have not pressed in any way for a ratification by this country of that particular convention. Finally, we come to this year when we have the extremely important Textile Convention, again with no specific safeguard for maintaining money rates, and it has received its requisite majority.
1273 I understand that I am in order if I indicate some of the reasons why I am glad that our representative opposed this particular convention. The textile industry embraces cotton, wool, silk, and artificial silk, and their main processes are carding, spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing and bleaching, and they affect certainly more than 1,000,000 workpeople, practically all of whom are members of trade unions. To apply the first test to this convention, does it endanger industrial relations? In the present state of trade with a one-shift system, it is quite impossible to obtain a voluntary agreement, for hours of work to be reduced. Therefore, if we were to reduce the hours of work legislation would be necessary, and here I recognise that I come on to dangerous ground, and will content myself by saying that any coercive legislation compulsorily reducing hours of work must necessarily destroy the system of collective bargaining which demands the confidence of the employers as well as of the workpeople to operate.
Does this convention endanger the livelihood of people in the textile industry? Exports are about stationary to-day, about 2,000,000,000 square yards over each of the last few years, and that represents just under two-thirds of the production of the mills of Lancashire. In the woollen textile industry there is a greater proportion for home production. We have a one-shift system, and therefore a reduction of working time by one-sixth would also mean a reduction of the hours in which the machinery works equally by one-sixth. I submit to the Committee that inevitably that would have a most important effect on price, on the cost of the finished article. Let the Committee examine, for example, the Brazilian textile industry, a considerable one. Brazil used to be one of our biggest markets; now we sell nothing there at all. They entirely supply their own market. They can easily reduce their hours of work without in any way affecting their prosperity, providing they charge a higher price to the Brazilian people and providing their Government protect them with an adequate tariff.
Turn from an industry like that to our cotton industry in Lancashire and immediately we try to pass on the price to the consumer we lower our competitive power, and there is not an hon. Member opposite who dare say that the profits of 1274 that industry have been sufficient, even where there have been profits during the last few years, to pay the margin for such a luxury. We must look at our principal competitors. Our two main competitors are India and Japan. In addition China, Italy, Germany and France are considerable competitors and there are also many countries up and down the world which have a highly prosperous domestic industry supplying their home markets. What are these competitor countries doing about this proposal? Mr. Kitaoka, the Japanese Government delegate, says that there is no question of reducing hours to 40 in Japan and they are now between 56 and 60. M. Pao, the China Government delegate, admitted the complete inability of his Government to apply factory legislation at all, and the average hours there are something over 60. The Indian Government member said that the hours had just been reduced from 60 to 54 and he could not bind either himself or his Government. The hon. Member who spoke last was good enough to answer an interruption by saying, Why should we have our hours of work settled for us by primitive Oriental countries? I do not know whether he means that he is prepared to give up attempting to compete in all tropical and Oriental markets, and whether he thinks that if we did so we should be benefiting the workpeople of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
If these are the views of the big cotton manufacturing countries what about the countries which actually voted for this convention? We have had an awful lot of names to-day; I am going to read out to the Committee the names of the countries which voted for this Convention. Albania, United States of America, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Spain, Finland, France, Latvia, Luxemburg, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia. The one remarkable fact about that list is that with the single exceptions of Belgium and France, which have small exporting industries, there is not a cotton exporting country among them.
§ Mr. Silverman
I apologise for interrupting, but I think that I may assist the hon. Member's argument. If he can answer the question it will assist his 1275 argument. Which of the great textile countries in the world, apart from Japan and China, are not included in the list which he read out?
§ Mr. Crossley
Germany is not included; Italy is not included. There you have five of the seven great textile countries. I do not think that the hon. Member could call Belgium a great textile country.
§ Mr. Crossley
Czechoslovakia has a few mills, but is certainly not a great textile country. Nobody would call it so. There is one further inquiry which I should like to make in the interests of a true study of this question, and that is an inquiry into the five countries which are working a 40-hour week in the textile industry. There is the United States of America, which has been much quoted. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) dealt with that point quite clearly. They have high tariffs, and an entirely internal market. They have high costs for their products, which are passed on to their consumers, and they have high wages. They do not export any, or practically none, of their textile products —only 1½ per cent. is for export. Therefore, their case is entirely irrelevant to our argument. There is Italy, a highly civilised country, who get rid of their unemployed either in wars or by a system of low-wage work-sharing. They put that point before the International Labour Office years ago. There is France. The wages in the French textile industry compare very unfavourably ecen with those in our own textile industry and we are dealing with a very lowly paid trade when we are talking about the textile trade. I should not venture to put before the Committee the suggestion that the economic, financial or trade statistics of France create any very great cause for envy on our part. Then there is New Zealand. New Zealand is a very enlightened and progressive country, but it has not a cotton industry. It has two mills. Finally, there is Russia. Very much the same argument applies to Russia as to Italy, and I have no wish whatever to see 1276 the British workers reduced to the status of the Russian workers. My final question is this: Does this convention endanger wages? Apart from the two-shift system —and I wish hon. Members opposite would apply their thoughts to the possibilities of reducing hours under the two-shift system, because I believe it could be done—this proposal could only be carried into effect either with a drastic reduction of wages or a drastic reduction in employment.
May I, in conclusion, make two general observations? I cannot help feeling that to hasten on this convention in the way it has been hastened this year will if repeated bring most serious disrepute upon the International Labour Office itself. I believe as strongly as any hon. Member in an improvement of the conditions and hours of labour in the textile industry, and I believe that it can be achieved. The first steps towards that achievement, how-ever, do not rest with my right hon. Friend, but with the President of the Board of Trade, to enable that industry to reorganise itself, to concentrate its productions and so to improve its wages and conditions, as also its profits, on which wages and conditions are apt to be founded.
I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary will continue to keep their feet planted firmly upon the ground, and not to go forward with their heads in the clouds. I hope that they will resist most firmly proposals which would be calculated to wreck the export trade of this country and to endanger the livelihood of the workers. I believe that they will do so with more confidence because they have a case which the workers of the country perfectly understand when it is presented to them. The workers do not wish to lose their livelihood to the Japanese or the Chinese workers. I cannot help feeling, after the propaganda which we are apt to get so often on this subject, that if hon. Members opposite ever get a majority and find themselves in power, the workers of the country will not be pleased when they find how very seriously and consistently, in the interests of that propaganda, they have been misled.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
May I be allowed, in the first place, to express my apologies to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. 1277 Crossley) for having ventured on two occasions to interrupt his argument and to ask him also to forgive me if I do not for the moment follow the extremely careful and well-thought-out speech that he has delivered, although I hope before I sit down to return to it. I should like to say, with all humility, as a new and inexperienced Member of the House, a few things about the speech of the Minister of Labour. I found his speech a shocking thing, and I can assure him that there are a great many people in the country, certainly a great many people in Lancashire, who will think it a shocking thing, too. It is perhaps fair to say that he has bemused himself in an endeavour by the rather loud voice of the present to silence the still small voice that must have come into his heart from his own past.
He forgets exactly what a reactionary is. He was most indignant that anybody should call his policy at Geneva, reactionary. He was quite sincere in his indignation, but has he not forgotten what it is to be reactionary? Is it not this, that to he reactionary is to find an idea which is progressive, an idea which if adopted and made operative would add a great deal to the value of life for millions of workers all over the world, and then not to set one's face against it, not to argue against it; not to oppose it formally and openly, but to multiply the difficulties and exaggerate the obstacles, and then to point out that this thing for which so much is claimed, is not really a very practicable thing? The days have gone by when anyone can venture to oppose these reforms, and the only thing left for those who are so reactionary as to wish to defeat them is to multiply the difficulties, exaggerate the obstacles and use those difficulties and obstacles not as opportunities to enable the reform to be made, but as excuses to continue an indefinite postponement of the achievement of that reform. It is exactly that policy that the Government have pursued.
It is said by the right hon. Gentleman, and it was said by another hon. Member on his side of the Committee, that it is not really a question of whether a shorter working week is desirable, because everyone wants a shorter working week. Is that true? The Textile Convention has just been passed by the necessary two- 1278 thirds majority for the 40-hour week. What has been the attitude of the British employers at Geneva on that question? I think it will be found on examination of the records that the Government and the employers spoke with one voice and with one mind on this issue. They used the same arguments about the necessity for keeping any reduction of hours in line with the desire to prevent any deterioration of wages. The employers' representative and the Government's representative appeared to espouse the idea that everybody wants this reform and thinks it desirable. The only question was whether it could be achieved in this way. The employers were represented at Geneva by Mr. Thomas Ashurst, the Secretary of the Federation of Master Cotton Spinners. He made a report to his Association last January in which he said, referring to the coming discussions about the International Convention for a shorter working-week in the cotton section of the textile industry:It may be that the somewhat nebulous deliberations of international conferences seem unlikely ever to have any concrete effect upon the Lancashire textile industry, but that is not the case. The workers are unanimously striving to have a convention recorded by the International Labour Conference, and many foreign Governments, notably Italy, France and the United States of America, are favourably inclined towards the project. Unless the textile employers (that is, the l3ritish textile employers) take the opportunity of putting forward their opposition at every step, it is probable that the convention will be passed, and once it is in existence it will come more prominently' into the arena of political controversy, pressure may he brought to bear upon His Majesty's Government to ratify it, and thereby bring a 40-hour week into legal operation in this country.That is the thing which the representatives of the employers at Geneva desired to prevent at all costs. They have not succeeded in preventing the passing of the Convention, but that is not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, who allied themselves with the employers and with other people in order to prevent, if they could, that Convention from 'ever being passed or attaining the requisite majority. To whom did our Government ally themselves? It has been asked: "How can the British cotton industry be expected to apply a 40-hour working week in competition with Japan, with its 56 to 60-hour week?" I find the utmost difficulty in appreciating the reasoning behind that formula. Of course, the employers cannot be expected 1279 to apply a 40-hour working week in competition with a 56 or 60-hour working week. Here, when there was a question of establishing an International Convention whereby that unfair competition was to be avoided.—a Convention which would apply in the industry a 40-hour week—we find ourselves voting with our competitors to prevent that Convention from being passed.
§ Mr. Crossley
There is no executive force in this convention. It entirely depends on what Governments choose to adopt: it. If we adopt it and Japan does not, our last state is infinitely worse than our first. The quotation I gave to the House was what the delegates of this country thought of the convention. That was my point.
§ Mr. Silverman
I appreciate that it was the hon. Member's point, and also that the International Labour Office has no executive powers, and that when it passes a convention is not legislation which is compulsory on those countries which vote for it, let alone, those countries which vote against it. But at the moment we are not discussing whether international legislation is feasible or desirable; we are asking on which side the influence of this country is being cast. It is no answer to say that the weight of our influence and prestige is being cast on the side of those who say "no" when we would like to say "yes" because there are so many people who are saying "no" that we dare not.
§ Mr. Crossley
The hon. Member is advocating a very dangerous policy. He is saying that it would be perfectly justifiable for this country to vote for a convention at Geneva and then come back and say that if it was not put into operation by certain other States, it would not be put into operation here. That would be a most dishonest action.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am advocating no such thing. I have not said a single word to advocate any such proposition. We are discussing the attitude and the policy of His Majesty's Government at Geneva when these matters were being discussed, and we say that it is absolutely incomprehensible that our Government should adopt an attitude which casts the weight and influence of this country on the side of maintaining the unfair competition as 1280 it is now, instead of their being cast on the side of an International Convention which would abolish this unfair competition and establish international standards. It is not a question whether it is possible to do this, or whether there is any compulsory force behind the convention. The question is not what the ultimate result would be, not whether it would be honoured or not. The question is on which side are we? Do we desire an international convention or not? I say that out of their own mouths the Government are convicted when they say that they voted against it and then give as the reason that on existing standards we have to face unfair competition.
Something has been said about wages. The hon. Member for Stretford had something to say about the effect on wages and livelihood. Has the hon. Member considered—I am sure he has, remembering the constituency he represents—the present condition of Lancashire textile operatives? Has he read the results of the census of wages? I am sure he will agree that we are dealing with the most highly skilled craftsmen not merely in this country but in the world. What is his return? What is this livelihood which is going to be endangered by an international convention? What is this standard of living which by all means must not be reduced? What is this lot and portion attained by arrangements with the employers which must not be by any means endangered, this confidence which exists between workmen and employers, this collective bargaining which must be maintained? I do not want to weary the Committee with a lot of figures, but, in the main, for a 48-hour week the most highly skilled operatives in the world get an average wage of hardly more than 30s. per week. Three per cent. are earning 50s. per week, and 6 per cent. are earning round about per week for 48 hours. Have the workers in the Lancashire textile industry achieved so much that they should fear to take a step which may jeopardise that standard of living or render it more difficult for collective bargaining to operate?
The Minister in the course of his speech said that it was remarkable to notice how many Governments abstained from voting, and he invited the Committee to infer from that, that really there was not very much support for the idea in the world, in spite of the fact that a two- 1281 thirds majority accepted it. When I asked him whether there was a single workers' organisation which abstained or voted against, he said that they all voted in favour. I should have thought by parity of reasoning that he would have invited the Committee to believe that all workers were in favour of it. Because many Governments did not vote for it or abstained from voting the right hon. Gentleman inferred that the support for it was not very widespread, but he was not prepared to apply that argument to the workmen's representatives. He agreed that they were unanimously in favour of the convention, and then invited the Committee to believe that they did not really mean it. The International Labour Office has, as its main function, the improvement of workers conditions. That is what it was established for. It is true that it has to be done with due regard to all relevant considerations, to use a time-honoured phrase in this House, but in the main the establishment of this office has as its object an endeavour to secure by international agreement a removal of unfair competition, where possible, and better standards of working conditions everywhere. It is not a light thing that every workers' representative at Geneva was in favour of this Convention.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the British Government voted against it, not because they do not want to see it established, but because it was dangerous to the workers themselves and would not achieve the object they have in view. Surely the trade unions, at any rate in this country and in many other countries, have proved that they are able to look after the interests of their members, and that they are better judges of the interests of their members than the representatives of the Federation of Master Cotton Spinners or the right hon. Gentleman's representatives at Geneva. If they are sincere in their professions and really think that this reform is desirable, let him not treat too lightly the fact that the workers' representatives are unanimously in favour of it, and that at this conference a majority of two-thirds voted in favour. The whole task of this generation, not merely in this country but everywhere, is to see whether it is not possible at last, either in this system or in some other system, that the common man and woman, the ordinary worker, without whom a continuance of industry would 1282 in any case be impossible, shall share to some extent in the really miraculous achievements of industry over the last too years, in higher standards of living and in greater leisure.
Surely when we regard unemployment as a disease we are taking entirely the wrong view. The whole object of our effort during the last 100 years has been to make work less and less necessary; and we have succeeded. What we have done at the same time is to treat the leisure which has resulted from that as a penal thing, to be put at the bottom end of the social scale, to treat it as a crime. We shall never solve the problems of unemployment, and never solve the problems of peace and war, unless we are able to extend the advantages of our industrial progress to all workers in industry. The point I want to make is that the modern world is a small place. Conditions in one country react on conditions everywhere else. There is an economic interdependence which overrides political frontiers. It is because of this that it was necessary, if any major advance was to be made in the standards of life, to establish an International Labour Office and see whether the standards could not be raised by international agreement.
The right hon. Gentleman's activities at Geneva are making that endeavour futile, and I venture to say that the real explanation of that attitude and that policy was to be found in the speech of the hon. Member who spoke below the Gangway when he questioned whether it was possible to apply standards in industry by legislation. It is because the Government do not believe in the establishment of those standards that we have the Factory Bill which the House has just passed and about which the Home Secretary said that, unless we were content to forego any major reforms, we would get no factory legislation at all. It is because of that that our domestic labour legislation is of the paltry kind it: is; and it is because the Government do not believe in the establishment of those standards by legislative authority that the attitude of the Government's representatives at Geneva has been constantly one of obstruction.
§ 7.47 p.m.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not follow them in their interesting speeches in connection 1283 with various aspects of the work of the International Labour Office, because I want to take this opportunity of talking about another subject, which I understand is in order to-day, and which I believe to be of considerable importance, namely, domestic service. The Ministry of Labour has some excellent training centres, both day and residential, in different parts of the country. These centres are under the direction of the Central Committee of Women's Training and Employment. This committee has been in existence for 17 years, and during that time has done valuable work and has trained no fewer than 80,000 women and girls for domestic work. Ministers of Labour of all parties in the past have shown great interest in this work, and I do not think that we can praise too highly what has been and is being done by this committee under the very able chairmanship of Miss Violet Markham. I recently visited one of the residential centres in London, where girls are drawn mostly from the Special Areas, some from South Wales; and I was impressed by the atmosphere, not merely of efficiency, but of happiness among the girls attending the course. Admirable as these centres are, they only touch the fringe of the problem. There is the greatest difficulty in attracting a sufficient number of girls to fill them, and to-day there are no less than 200 vacancies.
I want to say a few words why I think this dearth exists, and why we so often hear parents say that they do not intend to allow their children to go into service. To-day there are between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 people in private domestic service in the country, and while it is impossible to estimate the unsatisfied demand, it is an interesting fact that in 1936 there were no fewer than 127,000 vacancies notified at the Employment Exchanges, and that 72,000 places were filled. These are apart from the private domestic agencies, for which it is impossible to get figures, but which deal with the vast majority of vacancies.
After having studied the problem fairly carefully and making a good many personal inquiries, I have been forced to the conclusion that we shall never have a sufficient number of the right and best type of girls going into this service unless we can accomplish two things. First and 1284 foremost, the whole status of those entering domestic service has to be raised. How can we expect girls to go into this profession if they feel that they are looked down upon by their own kith and kin who are in different types of employment? It is equally important, if we are to put this service on a sound foundation, to secure proper conditions. I should like to see some employers have to qualify for certificates before they were allowed to have any domestics at all. I am not saying that there are not a great many good employers and mistresses, just as there are excellent domestic servants, but I have been horrified and disgusted by some of the accommodation which is provided, or, I should say, not provided in many houses. Why should the most miserable, coldest and worst-lighted rooms be relegated to domestic servants? Why should the ugliest things be put into their rooms—old wicker chairs, pieces of furniture with the paint half chipped off, and bits of chintzs and carpets which never attempt to match?
I agree. I can only say that some of the rooms that I have seen are rooms where the employers would not even put their dogs to sleep. They certainly do not, because I have noticed that their dogs nearly always sleep in the most luxurious quarters in their own rooms. We shall never get a sufficient number of girls going into domestic service until there are vastly improved conditions in many houses and flats. Wages, time off, and opportunities for companionship where the staff is small—all these and many other points will adjust themselves provided that we first secure not only a proper position and status for those in this profession, but also really good conditions in all houses. I think that the raising of the school-leaving age will certainly be a great help in affording girls more time to concentrate on the domestic arts, not only to fit them for domestic service, but so that when they marry they can make for themselves a happier and more interesting home life.
I should like to make one suggestion to the Minister. A number of people today wish to have married couples to look after them, but it often happens that one of the pair is more efficient than the other. I am wondering whether the 1285 Minister could consider setting up an experimental centre where married couples might get some training together. A great deal more thought has to be given to the whole question of domestic service, and I would ask the Minister to keep it in the forefront of his mind, because I am certain that domestic service is a profession for women which should be looked up to, and certainly not looked down upon as it is at the present time.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Sanders
I would ask the Committee to allow me to take the discussion back to the highly important questions raised in connection with the International Labour Office. At this time nothing is more important than to try to keep alive and strengthen all the international organisations that have been created since the War. They have been strained very considerably. We have seen the League of Nations beaten by attacks on it and by disloyalty to the Covenant. So far there has been no weakening in the structure of the International Labour Organisation. Rather has there been a strengthening during the last four or five years. It is noteworthy that when Japan left the League she did not leave the International Labour Organisation of the League; nor did Brazil. We had the United States apparently steadily opposed as much as ever to taking part in the work of its creation, namely, the League itself, but becoming an active member of the International Labour Organisation. That is something to the credit of the movement towards international understanding, and it is the business of any Government of this country to do its best to promote confidence in the organisation, to believe in its usefulness, and to strengthen it in every way.
Among the many fortunate things that have happened to me while I have been in public life was a period at the International Labour Organisation of nine years dated almost from its beginning. I was fortunate enough to occupy a position of some responsibility which gave me an opportunity of seeing every side of its work and of testing the amount of interest, friendly or otherwise, taken in the organisation by the various governments and groups of employers and workers. The organisation is an almost purely British idea. It arose first in the mind of that great Englishman, Robert 1286 Owen. It was taken up after the War at the Peace Conference in Paris, and it was believed by many people that the great Powers decided to reward their subjects, especially their working class subjects, by endeavouring to secure a wide and beneficial code of international labour legislation as a reward for what they had done in the War.
What has been the history of Britain's connection with the International Labour Organisation? The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) said that the British Government had always taken an interest in the International Labour Organisation, and I believe he used the words "friendly interest." Unfortunately, it was my experience while at the International Labour Office that when the Conservative party was in power, they did take an interest in the organisation, but it was the sort of interest which a mother takes in her children when she says to one of them, "Go and see what So-and-so is doing, and tell him not to do it." Over and over again the British Government's delegate, when the Conservative party has been in power, has given admirable and striking reasons for doing either the wrong thing or doing nothing.
I remember the great storm that attacked the Office just before 1924, when the Tory Press in London conducted a campaign against it on the ground that it was useless, extravagant and wasteful, and ought to be swept away. The Conservative Government sent to Geneva a strong deputation to do its best to cut down the efficiency of the Office in every possible way. I remember that my great chief, M. Albert Thomas, when speaking to me about it afterwards, said that there was at least one thing one could say, and it was what Abbé Sieyès, the great constitution maker, said after the French Revolution at the time of Napoleon, when he was asked, "What did you do during the great Terror?" and he replied, "I survived." The International Labour Office survived the great storm, and under the guidance of M. Thomas it regained its prestige.
Why is it that the British Government, when it is Conservative in complexion, always gives the impression to the people of the world that it is against the activities of the International Labour Organisation? 1287 I think I have hit upon the reason. I do not deny that there are good employers in this country, and it would be foolish to do so, for we know plenty of good employers, men who support factory legislation, who meet the representatives of the trades unions on equal terms and who discuss amicably methods of improving the conditions of the people they employ. But there are other employers, and in speaking of the employers in relation to the International Labour Organisation, I have only to modify the words of Lord Tennyson's "Northern Farmer" when he spoke about the poor, and instead of using the word "poor," say, in this connection, that the employers "in a loomp is bad." There is a Gresham's Law among employers when it comes to international questions relating to the work of the International Labour Organisation which results in the bad employers driving out the good.
The employer who is sent to Geneva is the sort of man who never approaches any proposal brought up at the International Labour Conference or the International Labour Office other than as an opponent at the start. Why is that so? It is because the employers' chief representative is not a direct employer, but a lawyer—and what a lawyer! I withhold my real opinion of him because he is not in the House and it would not be fair for me to state it, but I had some experience of his attitude and of how he led the British employers' delegation at Geneva. He went out of his way to demonstrate to the workers of the world, as far as he could, that the British employer is the kind of man who puts his hand on his heart and says, as an hon. Member said in the House the other night, "I am not a slave driver," and then makes a speech which indicates that it is not for want of inclination that he is not a slave driver, but for lack of opportunity. My late chief at the office appealed to the British employers to send representatives who were in actual contact with the conditions of work in order that they might discuss things at Geneva, and not to send a lawyer who acted as though he were fighting a case. That is not supposed to be the attitude of people at Geneva. The object of the International Labour Organisation is to try to find out from people who have practical knowledge of industry and agriculture, the best possible means 1288 of improving conditions in those two great spheres of human activity. It is true that during the first year or two the employers sent a great employer; they were useful, and their tone was different; but afterwards it was a question of dry legal arguments and of making every subtle move to check the work of the International Labour Organisation. In my opinion, that brought into discredit not only the British employers but the Conservative Governments, which I am sorry to say, were too often influenced far too much by that type of employer in connection with international legislation.
The hon. Member for Norwood made a remark which cuts at the very root of the existence of the International Labour Organisation. He said, in effect, that the proper way to secure improvement is by voluntary action. If that be so, and if hon. Members opposite agree, then there is no need to pretend to believe in the International Labour Organisation, because the essence of that body is to carry over into the international sphere that which Great Britain was the pioneer in, namely, labour legislation, including Factory Acts. I want to point out an elementary fact which, apparently, is sometimes forgotten by hon. Members opposite. For years and years even the trade union movement fought against State action because they thought it would hamper them, but later they came to the conclusion, with regard to a multitude of low paid industries which were known as the "sweated", that the only way to improve the conditions in those trades was to have State action. The result was that there was passed the Trade Boards Act, under which millions of workers have had their conditions improved. It would not have been possible to improve them by voluntary action alone.
I would like now to bring to the notice of the Under-Secretary of State an instance of what employers can do in fighting conventions even when they are brought in by a Government which is friendly to them. Hon. Members opposite who are employers rightly complain, as does the International Labour Office, that there are scores of countries in which wages are abominably low and ought to be improved. While I was at the International Labour Office, Sir Malcolm Delevingne on behalf of the British Government, made a proposal for a convention calling upon 1289 all States to institute trade boards somewhat on the English lines in order to get rid of those low wages in many industries. One would have thought that there was an opportunity for the employers who complained about low wages in other countries to support a convention for once, but the British employers voted against that convention, which seemed to indicate that they were even against the Trade Boards Act which was working so well in Great Britain. On another occasion I heard a speech by an employer who said, "We do not want to improve the conditions of workers in other countries because, under the law of the economy of high wages, better conditions in other countries which now have bad conditions will so improve the quality of the work done by these people that they will be greater competitors against us than they are to-day." Those two arguments have been made by employers. If the Government would listen less to that type of employer and if they would remember the object for which the International Labour Office was started, the reputation of Great Britain as a leader in the industrial field would be far higher than it is at present.
The employers' representatives, and sometimes the Government's representatives, sometimes say that this country is more or less the only country which, after the conclusion or ratification of a convention, actually carries out its word. I do not say that that is typical British boasting, because as a rule British people when abroad do not boast, and I suppose it is only a certain type of employer who would use that argument publicly; but I have never heard, at Geneva, a single demand from the employers for the putting into operation of the machinery of the International Labour Office in order to find out whether the Governments which ratify conventions are actually carrying them out. There is a machinery for that purpose. The first step is for a body of experts, on which Great Britain is represented, to examine the legislation passed by a State to embody the convention in order to see whether it carries out the letter and spirit of the convention, and if it does not, to report the fact to the conference, where the State has to explain itself.
There is then a second step. If there is suspicion that, although the legislation may be all right, the administration is all wrong, and that the legislation is not 1290 being properly administered, an appeal may be made to the International Labour Office and the League to send a deputation of experts to examine the working of the legislation. That has never been demanded by the employers who make these accusations against other countries. Two countries asked for such deputations to be sent to them because of charges which had been made. Czechoslovakia was challenged on the ground that it had not carried out its conventions. It asked that a deputation of experts should go there, and the deputation brought back the statement that that country had carried out in legislation and in administration the laws to which it had agreed in conventions at Geneva. The other case was in the early days of the International Labour Office in connection with Hungary.
I am sorry to have taken up so much of the time of the Committee, but this it an important subject. At this hour in Europe it is our business to strengthen every international thread that remains of those created after the War. We want to mainain the ties between all countries willing to work with us in all departments of public welfare. Here is an opportunity for a great nation like ours to declare itself at Geneva, and to take up a positive instead of a negative attitude. If we say that although we do not accept the convention in this form, we are not going to oppose the principle; that we are going to act upon it, but with reservations—that, at any rate, would be something. It would be a modification of the purely negative attitude and would be welcome. But if, regardless of what the convention may be, we are to be led by the class of employers who say they do not believe in the International Labour Office, who regard it as a nuisance and would like to see it abolished, then it will be the beginning of the end of a great experiment which promised splendid results for the benefit of the poorer part of mankind.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Maitland
The hon. Member, by virtue of his personal association with the International Labour Office, has been able to give us a very interesting speech. I am not sure that I agree with some of the conclusions which he has drawn from his personal experience, but I enjoyed his speech and if I do not follow him, it is because I wish particularly to refer to what has been the main subject of this 1291 discussion, and that is the question of the shorter working week. On the part of the Opposition the Debate has been vigorous, and as I listened to some of the charges levelled against the Government I wondered whether hon. Members of the Opposition had in mind what they did in connection with the shorter working week when they were in office. It is easy indeed for carefree and irresponsible people to make statements as to what they would do if they were in authority. But I think the Minister was right when he said that it was the Government's responsibility and their business, before approving of any scheme, however attractive, to be satisfied that that scheme was in the best interests, not of the employers only, as the last speaker seemed to suggest, but of the country as a whole, and of the employers and workers in particular.
What is the record of the Opposition on the question of the shorter working week —not the 40-hour week, but the 48-hour week? When they were in office, and in a position of responsibility, they had an opportunity of dealing with these matters and of putting into practice those precepts to which they have given utterance to-day. In 1924 Mr. Tom Shaw, then Minister of Labour, introduced a general Bill for the limitation of hours to 48 per week. That Bill did not even get a Second Reading. I pass to the next occasion when a Labour Government was in office. In the Parliament of 1929–31 when, I think, the hon. Member who spoke last was a junior Minister, his Government again introduced a 48-hour week Bill. What happened to it? It did not even receive a Second Reading. There must have been some reason. No doubt there were many reasons, but I venture to suggest one. At that time, perhaps, the Labour party were divided among themselves as to the wisdom of the course which their Minister of Labour suggested. At that time the railwaymen had certain arrangements with the railway companies as to working hours and particularly as to pay for overtime. It was the leaders of the railwaymen's union who objected to that Bill and to the principle, because they feared it would interfere with the arrangements which they had made and the agreement into which they had entered with the railway companies.
§ Mr. Lawson
I would like to meet that point. Everybody knew there were difficulties of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member, but he would also know, if he took the trouble to investigate the matter, that all those difficulties were overcome. As a result of interviews and agreements between the railwaymen and all other sections and the employers, a Bill was finally drafted, and in June, 1931, I, on behalf of the Government at Geneva, gave a definite pledge that the Bill would get a Second Reading and would be carried through within the next Session.
§ Mr. Maitland
That does not destroy the point which I am making. The only contribution of the Labour party on this question of reducing the working week by legislation has been the introduction of two Measures, neither of which got a Second Reading. Hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway are confusing action with progress. They admit now that it was not possible for them at that time, because of certain difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, to proceed with the Bill. If you spend all your energies in keeping a rocking-horse in motion, you will get action but you will not get progress, and hon. Gentlemen are confusing the two. It is the business of His Majesty's Government to keep these things clearly defined before them. It is their business and their responsibility to be satisfied that Measures which are proposed are, ultimately, for the good of the people as a whole. I wonder whether hon. Members above the Gangway, and particularly the leaders of trade unions, are convinced in their hearts that if the British Government were to agree to the application of this principle to the industries of this country with no safeguards —and safeguards are unfortunately absent—the interests of those whom they profess to represent, namely, the working people, would be adequately protected.
I take, by way of example, certain Conventions considered at the last Conference at Geneva. I take the Conventions dealing with chemicals, textiles and printing. For my purpose it is immaterial whether they have been adopted or not. The point that I want to emphasise—and I 1293 would like the Minister to correct me if I am wrong—is that as I understand it the Conventions regarding these three industries do not say that there is to be a specific 40-hour week, but that there is to be an average 40-hour week. I understand, from what the Minister said earlier to-day, that it would be possible in those circumstances for individual firms in these industries to work 60 hours one week and 20 hours another, and that the average for the year would be taken to be the right average in settling whether or not overtime came into operation.
I do not understand why hon. Members above the Gangway on this side, notwithstanding the fact that in their speeches they have tried to say that it is through the trade unions and the trade union movement that real progress has been made in improving the conditions of the workers, object to His Majesty's Government saying, "We regard as important the maintenance of our existing machinery for the settlement of wages and labour conditions." If they are prepared to let this go, well and good, but I am sure they recognise that if there is to be compulsion among all countries and in all countries with regard to hours, there will necessarily follow a compulsory arrangement internationally with regard to wages and conditions of work. [An HON. MEMBER: "why?"] If you do not attempt to get this, I say that you are failing in the fundamental function for which, as I understand it, the International Labour Office was formed, which was not only to pass measures through, but to collect and study all information with regard to industrial matters and, by the result of their study and investigation, to attempt to get a general rise in the level of industrial conditions.
§ Mr. Leslie
Is it not a fact that recently we passed the Factories Bill for the reduction of hours, and that there is no safeguarding of wages under that Measure? Is it not also a fact that the Government voted for the Miners' Convention, and that there is no safeguard regarding wages there; that they did the same in regard to another convention, the subject of which I forget at the moment, 1294 without safeguard; and that there was no safeguard either in the Washington Convention for a 48-hour week?
§ Mr. Maitland
I do not think that argument in any way destroys the validity of what I have said. On the contrary, I think it shows that with regard to our domestic concerns our Government are prepared on humane grounds to introduce legislation with regard to the reduction of hours of labour, legislation for which this country is responsible, but that they do not undertake by so doing to put this country in a less favourable position in comparison with other countries and that they do not undertake to enter into commitments or obligations which are to our disadvantage.
§ Mr. Silverman
But does not the hon. Member recognise that if there were by international agreement, a maximum 40-hour week, the trade unions could safely be entrusted with the job of seeing that within those limits the average of wages and standard of living were adequately maintained? And is it not exactly that which was the attitude of the Government on the Factories Bill, when they brought in legislation for maximum hours of work per week, but agreed that it should be a matter of collective bargaining to deal with the question of wages?
§ Mr. Maitland
I think the hon. Member is going too far in saying that, and I beg him to remember that when first the question of the general Convention was introduced, it was a general Convention to apply to all trades. It seems to me that the proper thing to be done was what was done by our own Government at that time, when they said, "What is meant by this Convention? What are the precise conditions under which you are asking us to acquiesce in the principle?" They asked specific questions—"Is it to be the maintenance of weekly wages? Is it to be the reduction of hours on a basis of the maintenance of rates of wages? Is there to be any reduction of wages consequent upon the reduction of hours "Those were the specific questions, but what were the answers? It is important to get them. There were certain Continental countries which were prepared to accept the principle of a reduction of hours, but there were others which were prepared to accept a reduction of wages, and be it 1295 said to the credit of the Government that our delegates then took the attitude, and since then have been consistent in that attitude, that, so far as the British Government were concerned, they would not acquiesce in a principle involving a reduction of hours unless at the same time there was a definite and binding arrangement that there should be no reduction in the earnings of the working people.
What is wrong with that? It is a point of view which is taken by the British workmen and by their leaders. Very well; if that be the answer to the questions, His Majesty's Government at the very inception of this proposal asked that the position should be clearly defined and that there should be on all sides an acceptance of the Convention on the distinct understanding that there should be no reduction in wages. But that was not agreed to, and there were in fact other countries which were unable to accept the obligation to maintain weekly wages, although they said in somewhat vague terms, that they hoped to compensate their workers, at least in part, for the reduction of their wages by certain advantages. There were prolonged negotiations, and the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate did not put a right interpretation upon this matter. It was only arising from this question and after prolonged negotiations that a Convention imposing an obligation to maintain the workers' "standard of living" was drawn up. But unfortunately there is still no question of a definite principle leaving wages untouched. There is, however, a pious resolution, which has no legal force, in favour of "the maintenance of wage-levels." I think the Government are right to insist upon the attitude which they then took and have taken since, and. I think it is much better that the difficulties should be faced before a tacit acquiescence is given in the enunciation of sonic general and attractive theory without understanding precisely the conditions and terms to which you give your consent.
Sometimes it is said that the British Government have opposed the Convention on principle, but I cannot find any evidence that at any time the Government have expressed their opposition to the principle of a shorter working week. They have, however, been insistent, and rightly so, that in the application of that 1296 principle there should be certain definite and specific safeguards. In my judgment, if they had not insisted on those safeguards they would have been wanting in their duty to the workers of this country. Some of the references we have heard to-day would suggest that a week of 40 hours for work is regarded as something which is rigid and unalterable. It is nothing of the kind. The 4o-hour week is a slogan.
§ Mr. Maitland
I work more than 40 hours a week and interventions like that do not help the hon. Member. There is no sanctity in the number of 40 in regard to weekly hours of work. It is not a figure which is scientifically related either to the current methods of organisation or to the social and industrial habits of the peoples of the world. Moreover, it is not seriously argued, except by the unique Member who is an argument all to himself, that 40 hours of work a week is the maximum which humanitarian considerations permit. In origin the number 40 is a slogan, designed to promote the movement towards shortening the hours of work with a view to relieving the unemployment position. [Interruption.] That is the historical fact. I am glad to see that I have the support of one hon. Member there who knows the position. In 1931 or 1932 a reduction of hours was called for, without any consideration of the question of maintaining wages, in order that there could be a sharing of work.
It would be wrong for the Government of Britain to enter upon any proposal of this kind, and it would be wrong for the countries represented at Geneva not to have regard to the fact that there are not two industries alike, and that no two countries have the same historical, social and industrial background. As I understand the position, His Majesty's Government have never taken up the attitude that a reduction of hours in industry is either impracticable or undesirable. I can find no evidence of it. They have been critical of the proposals made at Geneva, but critical not so much of the principle as of the instruments which Geneva suggested should be employed. I will submit one or two specific arguments which represent the attitude of the Government as I understand it. They 1297 have said that it is not possible to apply the general principle to every industry. They have said that this is a question which should be subjected to investigation and inquiry and that it should be dealt with industry by industry. That is not a new thought on the part of the Government, but is a view which has been steadfastly presented by them at Geneva, and the validity of it has now been accepted by all the countries discussing the problem at Geneva.
I ask hon. Members to remember that the ratification of the Convention of Principle involves no obligation; that only arises when it becomes a question of the ratification of the Convention of Application. Therefore, it is very important that we should make ourselves perfectly plain as to the conditions we desire to see accepted before we undertake any ratification of the Convention of Application. The British Government have throughout insisted upon the necessity of possessing what was happily termed "the solid basis of dates, facts, figures and considerations in their widest form relating to the particular industries involved." While that does not affect the Convention of Principle it is an argument against over-hasty conclusion of any particular Convention of Application.
It is sometimes said that Great Britain has shown a disinclination to introduce the necessary legislation. That may be true but statements of policy have from time to time been made by the spokesmen of the Government. They have said that they were determined to maintain as far as possible existing machinery for collective agreements. I ask hon. Members on the Opposition benches not to sneer at that, because it is a matter with which they themselves are closely and directly concerned. In my judgment it is infinitely better that arrangements in regard to the industries of our country should be made collectively. It is better for employers and employed, and I believe we shall get better results by a continuance of those relationships, working, if you like, side by side with any international obligations into which we may enter. There was another principle which, I think, is a very wise one, and that is that any form of compulsion in regard to the 40-hour week—I am thinking of compulsion in the sense of it being imposed by law—should be such as the workpeople could accept and the 1298 employers could operate. That is a sound and wise provision.
Summing up the position as I see it, I agree with the attitude which His Majesty's Government have taken up in regard to this very important question. Though hon. Members may complain that the Government have been dilatory, at any rate that is wiser than rushing into arrangements before we have a proper appreciation of what those arrangements mean. They have said in terms that we do not expect other countries to take on obligations which we ourselves will not undertake; they have also said that in any mutual undertaking the effects must be similar. It is very important, so far as Great Britain is concerned, that any arrangements should not create a wider margin between the conditions of British workers and those in other countries. On those general grounds I suggest that the policy of His Majesty's Government, if not as speedy as some hon. Members on the Opposition side would desire, has been one of caution and wisdom.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
I was not aware till this Debate began that we were to consider the training of domestic servants, a subject which was raised by an hon. Lady opposite. She was held to be in order, and therefore I hope that I shall be allowed to proceed with the few observations which I have to make on the subject. She called domestic service a profession. I notice that it is a profession which is not entered by the tipper classes in this country. Most of the trainees for this so-called profession come from the Special Areas; not because the parents of those girls have any desire to send their children to the South of England or elsewhere to be the hewers of wood and drawers of water for the richer people; not because they want to send their children into what is called service but often develops into slavery; not because they want their girls to go about with the badge of servitude; but because economic conditions at home compel them to allow their daughters to go away for training. The hon. Member said that their status should be raised and their conditions should be amended. When we are talking about the 40-hour week it occurs to me, why not introduce a 40-hour week into domestic service? 1299 That would be a very good place to make a beginning.
§ Mr. Sexton
Below stairs, the hon. Lady said, the furniture was ugly, but all the ugliness is not in the furniture or in the pictures in the basement; much of the ugliness is upstairs in the haughty manners of the mistresses of those domestic servants. The girls are condemned to solitude and to sitting alone after they have been working for long hours, day and night. No wonder that the hon. Lady deplored the present scarcity of entrants into this profession. She told us that in some cases the dwelling-places of our girls were not fit to house a dog. Dogs are treated better. They have better sleeping accommodation and food, and they do not lack even the caresses of their loving mistresses. "Treated like a dog," used to be a slogan against people, but to be treated like a dog, sleeping on those wonderful cushions and being combed, fed, and caressed, not so bad after all. That kind of treatment is not accorded to many of our girls from the Special Areas. They have to bear a burden—and to grin and bear it. They are treated more like outcasts. They are the very Cinderellas of our social life, and there are still some ugly sisters in the world. I am glad to have an opportunity of saying something on this matter.
I want to make an observation or two about the International Labour Office and to pay a tribute to it, because it is one of the valuable results of the Versailles Treaty. It could have a tremendous effect in cuestions of war and peace, because it takes into consideration the economics of the world. According to my reading of history, all wars have been based upon finance and economics. If we could put the economics of the world right we should have gone a long way on the road to peace. In his opening remarks, the Minister talked about the number of conventions that had been signed and ratified by the Government; I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the point that what matters is not the number of conventions which have been signed, but the relative importance and quality of them. Among the stars in the crown for which the Minister took credit was the bringing of women out of the mines, but that was done long ago in this 1300 country, and it does not stand to the credit of this Government. It was done in the days gone by, under severe pressure.
It appears that, in the past, the trade unions of this country have compelled this nation to be the leaders in the world of industry. Such things as the taking of women and children out of mines were not done voluntarily; they were done under pressure of public opinion, brought about by the representatives of the workers. In this age of machinery it is not a big cry to ask for a 40-hour week. We were shouting, 30 years ago, for an eight-hour day and a 48-hour week, but in those 30 years the potential productivity of machinery has increased so tremendously that I am almost ashamed to stand here and ask for a 40-hour week. We should be crying out for a 30-hour week and for taking the improvement of the machinery and the inventive skill of man. Who has reaped the benefit of the increased productivity of the machines? Not the working man, who is working his eight hours a day still. He has not reaped it in wages or in improved conditions. Some people say that conditions are better than they were 3o years ago; it would be a great shame if they were not, but relatively speaking we are not as well off as we ought to be, considering the great power of machinery.
What objections have been raised to the 40-hour week? I was reading for the nth time the objections raised against bringing the boys of six years old, and women out of the pits. They used all the arguments that we hear to-day, and chiefly that industry could not stand it. I was talking a few weeks ago to a man in my division. He is 86 years of age, and he went to a pit at six years of age and sat on his father's knee going down in the cage. He worked for 14 hours a day on six days a week. When children were taken out of the pits, it was said that the pits would have to close but, as a matter of fact, the pit is still going to-day down which this man went at six years of age. The Blue Books in our Library are full of the same arguments against withdrawing children from factories, at the time when they took the little lads out of the workhouses and practically sold them to slavery in the factories. Yet industry was resilient enough to withstand it all.
1301 This proposal for a 40-hour week is not put forward merely as a theory, because it has already been put into practice very thoroughly. The United States have been referred to and I will not repeat what was said on that subject, but even in our own country we have had experience of the 40-hour week in certain industries. Where 40 hours have been put into operation, the experiment has been proved to be a huge success. There should, of course, be no reduction in wages. The power of the trade unions will see to that. If we would have this convention ratified and the hours of labour reduced to 4o per week, I am not afraid that the trade unions of this country will not see that wages are safeguarded and maintained.
The introduction of a 40-hour week would partially cure unemployment, but that is not its sole aim, although that is a very worthy aim at a time when we have 1,500,000 men and women standing idle. They have enforced leisure, and we want that leisure to be shared. We want other men who are working a 48-hour week to have eight hours or 10 hours a week less work and the men who are standing idle to have some work. With all the plans for curing unemployment, there is only one that will be effective, and that is the shortening of the working life. This can be shortened in various ways, and one of those ways is to make a 40-hour week. You would then at once set at work many men and women who are now standing by. Plans are now being made to secure physical fitness and recreation; we want all the men and women of our country to enjoy such conditions of life that they would be able to make the most of their leisure, but people cannot enjoy physical fitness because of their mental worries.
In my opinion, the introduction of a 40-hour week in industry would be the first preparation for attacking the approaching slump. Industrial history proves that there is ebb and flow. We now have the flow, but there is no doubt that the ebb will come. We ought to be looking forward to those years of contraction in industry and in work, and by starting a 40-hour week we should be doing something in that direction. I hope that the Minister will take that into consideration. At Geneva, when asked to ratify the convention, it looked very much as though they were "ratting" from the 1302 position altogether, and instead of ratifying they ran away from it. All the arguments that were used were used 100 years ago. I hope those arguments will be swept aside as they were swept aside years ago, and that something will be done to shorten the working life of the workers.
§ 8.55 p.m.
I had hoped that we should bear from the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Sanders) an answer to the criticisms of the 48-hour week in the textile trade that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley), in a reasoned, well-informed, detailed and not unsympathetic speech. I hope that before this Debate closes someone will attempt to deal with the points that he raised, for they went to the root of the whole question. I agree with the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton) that many foolish and wicked things have been done in the past. The past is choked with monuments to human folly. But when you get, not a case like that of maintaining children of six, seven or eight in the cotton mills or in the mines, but a concrete case which affects the employment of hundreds of thousands of people, you have to go carefully and be certain whether you are right. I want to say a word for the International Labour Office. According to the hon. Member for North Battersea, the International Labour Office is really useless, because of the iniquity of all employers, and especially of British employers. But does the hon. Member really believe that British employers wish to maintain bad conditions and low wages? If so, I do not agree with him: but I am not sure that that is what he really thinks.
§ Mr. Sanders
I never said that they did. I said that there were many good employers in this country. But I said that, as regards the policy in connection with the International Labour Office, the bad employers seemed to dominate the situation, and I still persist in saying that.
I think the hon. Member will find, when he reads his speech tomorrow, that his charge was more general than that. It was a charge that employers in general tried to wreck the International Labour Office and wanted to maintain bad conditions and low wages in industry. I know that that is 1303 not true, and I do not think that any Member of the House believes it to be true. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) thinks it is true.
§ Mr. Shinwell
As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has challenged me, I respond at once and inform him that within my own experience employers have deliberately tried to prevent countries from securing a quorum by abstaining from voting and even going so far as to absent themselves deliberately in order to disturb the proceedings.
That is not a general charge against all British employers, and the hon. Member knows quite well that such a charge cannot be maintained. There are combatants on both sides in industrial discussions who go rather far, and it is not only the employers who go rather far in supporting their case. The hon. Member knows that as well as I do. I want to say a word or two for the International Labour Office. I recognise in this country a somewhat strange reluctance to rely on the international regulation of labour conditions. It is not confined to one party. I will not go as far back as 100 years, as the last speaker did, but, going back 40 years, I find that successive British Governments of those days encouraged the International Association for Labour Legislation, a body which did and still continues to do extremely useful work. They helped and supported and encouraged and subsidised it, although 40 years ago the international regulation of labour conditions was not nearly so much in the news and not nearly so good a platform cry as it is now.
Another reason why I find this reluctance strange is that I have always thought that Britain was the one country which would benefit by the international regulation of labour conditions. I have always thought that we should benefit, owing to our higher standard of life and better wages, by bringing the rest of the world up to a higher standard through better wages, and that we should also benefit as the great exporting country of the world, having to meet the competition of goods produced under conditions of long hours and low wages. But I am bound to tell hon. Gentlemen opposite that, when I used to support the 1304 Washington Convention of 1919, for a 48-hour week, they did not put that into force, although they had plenty of opportunities of doing so; and I would also tell them, and I do not think they will contradict it, that if the great organised trades of this country, the great trade unions, had supported that Convention, and supported it with force, whatever Government happened to be in power would have been obliged to legislate.
The question of an 8-hour day belongs, however, to past history, and we are now talking of a 40-hour week, but, as I have said, I see in this country a reluctance, which goes farther than party and farther than Parliament, to rely upon international betterment of labour relations. Nevertheless, I believe it has got to be done. I do not believe that a real advance is possible by any country individually; I believe that all advances have got to be international, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour agrees with me. But when we come to the question of a 40-hour week in the textile trade, I confess I have very grave doubts. It is no use saying that so many people voted in favour of it. In a case like this you have to weigh the respective values of the votes, and you cannot expect anybody to regard the vote of, say, Liberia as having the same weight as the vote of a great industrial country like Britain, France or Germany—though Germany, by the way, was not there; you must consider the special factors which govern great industrial countries. I do not in the least say that the 4o-hour week is impossible.
That leads me to the second thing that I want to say. It seems to me that hon. Members opposite place too much importance on the ratification of conventions. They think that the whole spirit of the International Labour Office would come to an end if conventions were not ratified. Nothing is more dangerous than for a country to go to Geneva and vote in favour of a convention when it does not mean to ratify it. I believe that is destructive of all international progress, and there has been too much of it in the past. The "Times" to-day—not an unfavourable critic of the International Labour Office—says that certain Latin American countries who voted in favour of the 40-hour week left the Conference in no doubt as to the slender prospects of ratification. I think there is too much of 1305 this flag-flying and slogan-talking about the whole business. I entirely agree with what the Minister has said, that you must not promise more than you mean to perform. I do not know whether the hon. Member for North Battersea knows the work that the International Labour Office has really done. It is not limited to the list of conventions that has been read out. In many cases they have anticipated the trend of opinion in this country. Take the question of workers' leisure, which was the subject of a recommendation in 1934. That recommendation, I agree, was received with ridicule, but it is not laughed at now. Take night baking. A convention was adopted 12 years ago, and night baking still continues, but the effect of the convention is certainly not negligible. I believe a Royal Commission is now sitting on the subject, and the fact that the International Labour Office passed that convention has caused opinion to move in its favour.
One of the great ambitions of my friend, the late Albert Thomas, perhaps the second after the 8-hour day, was to get a Convention on holidays with pay. He was extremely anxious about it. That has become a popular movement in consequence of the action taken at the International Labour Office. The International Labour Office can never be a legislating body. It cannot always be all that some people wish, but it can start a movement of thought and, after all, it is a movement of thought that carries all before it. People are thinking about the 40-hour week in a far more close and intensive way than they were thinking about it before. I do not know whether it will come, or w hen it will come, but the question stands in quite a different relation after the International Labour Office has taken it up. Again, do not think that the only benefit of Conventions lies in their ratification. Take the Lead Poisoning Convention. That has not been ratified. I am sorry. I wanted, and I still want it ratified. I have tried to fight the evil of lead poisoning. But the fact of that Convention being passed has caused administrative action to be taken in this country which has mitigated and largely abolished the evil. Those two facts, that opinion is moved by what occurs at Geneva and that even if a Convention is not passed action is taken on the lines of the Convention, give me hope, and I think they ought to give hon. Members 1306 opposite hope. Do not let them think that the whole problem depends on getting a Convention ratified. I have many times tried to persuade different Governments to ratify the Eight Hours Convention. A lot of water has flowed under the bridges since then and we are talking now, not of a 48 but a 4o-hour week. The fact that that Convention was passed in Washington in 1919 affected opinion not only here-but all over the world. I, perhaps, may think it advisable to move more slowly than hon. Members opposite, but I am sure that you get big reforms carried only by getting behind them a great weight of opinion of moderate men in all countries, and that, I believe, you get by the ventilation of difficult problems at the International Labour Office.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been giving us a lot of good advice which is worth exactly what it cost him to give. I could not help thinking, especially in the earlier part of his speech, that it will be one of those speeches that will be quoted a hundred years hence as an example of the way that everything that happens to-day is right, but everything that happened 100 years before was wrong. He stands by the sound old Conservative doctrine that everything that is is right, quite forgetting that that also carries the corollary that everything that was was right, and the fact that the world moves sometimes a little more quickly than he is apparently prepared to contemplate is due to the fact that a rearguard action is sometimes tin-successful. [Interruption.] I am glad to know that I have, at any rate, held up the looking glass a little bit to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I hope he will appear mentally as pleasant to a future generation as he always appears physically pleasant to us now. It is a very great disappointment that we should have to discuss these subjects in the atmosphere that we have to-day, and in the atmosphere of the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills). This much is certain, that if real progress is to be made in the world as it exists to-day, it will have to made by international cooperation and action in these matters. We all live so close together to-day that what happens in one country, good or ill, affects other nations far more and far more quickly than it ever has done in 1307 the past. I well recollect that one night during the week when Campbell and Black went to Australia in less than seven days, Lord Beaverbrook, over the wireless, said that our proper industrial policy should be one of isolation. I really could only imagine that his Lordship was wise enough not to read his Lordship's own papers, and that therefore that piece of news had not been conveyed to him. I also wonder, in view of such a mental attitude, why he had to go to Canada to get his title when in Surrey he has a residence at a town called Leatherhead.
§ Mr. Ede
There is a very great deal of leatherheaded talk about the particular belief that in this country we can have conditions to-day irrespective of what is happening among our neighbours, and to-day everyone is a neighbour in the industrial sense. But that does not relieve the Government of this country, with a long tradition of social legislation behind it, from taking a very strong lead at international conferences. We have had the experience of seeing, time and again, the prophecies of ill that always accompany any efforts to improve matters prove wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton) alluded to some of the prophecies that were made in the past and the way in which it was believed that things would go ill with the country if ordinary humane conditions, which everybody accepts to-day, were granted. The belief that these things, if they were attempted, would result in ruin for everybody, has long since been shown to be quite unfounded. It is, therefore, a disappointment to many of us that this, country's past is not made more use of by those who speak for us in these international conferences, so as to encourage some who may still be timid in coming forward to accomplish the things which, I believe, every right-thinking person in this country desires.
1308 I thoroughly support the argument that was adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle with regard to the urgent necessity for dealing with the question of the 4o-hour week. When one thinks of the extent to which production has been speeded up during the lifetime of those of us who are here now, it is quite clear that we must have some fresh regulations of hours, if we are to be able to preserve anything like industrial opportunity for the whole of our people. Is it not really a remarkable thing that the working classes are still obliged to regard what are called labour-saving devices as a menace to their immediate happiness and prosperity because of the fact that by increasing productivity the only effect at the moment is that they are thrown out of work? If any of us could go on to the allotments in the Spring of the year and show to the men who were working there on Sunday morning a shovel, which we could assure them would enable them to dig their allotments in half the time, they would regard us as the biggest benefactors they had seen for a long time. But if on the Monday morning we went with them into the factory yard and showed them a machine which would enable the work of the factory to be done in half the time, their thought would not be one of joy at seeing the machine, but every man would say to himself, "Which half of us will the governor have to sack?"
It is quite clear that we have to regard the question of rationing out work and rationalising leisure as one of the most important to which statesman can give their minds. It is one of the most disastrous things that the more unemployment there is, the less are men able to resist the demand of bad employers for overtime to be worked. When times are good and there are no unemployed to fall back upon, a man can say, "I am not going on." But when times are bad and there are plenty of unemployed about, the man who is asked to work overtime has to say to himself, "If I resist the desire on the part of the governor to work overtime, there are plenty of men to take my job." The very existence of unemployment is frequently an excuse for getting overtime worked at moments when it ought not to be attempted at all. I am quite with the Government to this extent, that 1309 with the narrowing of the world we become more and more dependent upon international action to make our work in this line effective.
I really did hope that when the right hon. Gentleman became Minister of Labour he would not prove himself to be what the hon. Baronet this afternoon called him, "an advanced thinker." I really did not want the right hon. Gentleman to do things that would make it uncomfortable for him with his colleagues in the Government, but I did not regard him as a thinker. I never have regarded him as that, but as a man of action—a man whose actions would speaker louder than his words. [Interruption.] Yes, louder than his words. I was quite sure that the deeds as well as the words of Britain would be known throughout the length and breadth of the world. We have been frankly disappointed, because brave words have not always been followed up by sufficiently strong action. I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that, as a result of to-day's Debate, he will be justified in taking a stronger line with regard to this matter than he has hitherto done. I repeat, because I think that it is really one of the essential matters, that Britain ought to take the lead at these conferences, when its own industrial history refutes so many of the arguments that have been brought against countries which have not had our experience.
I did not have the privilege of hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley). I regret that fact, but I am bound to say that I should not regard myself as competent to express a view as to how a particular industry can be organised. That, obviously, is a matter for the experts in the industry. As a schoolmaster I have suffered too much from laymen who could tell me how to organise and run a school, and I am not going to be so foolish, as a schoolmaster, to tell a textile manufacturer how he can run his particular business. But technical advice and ability can be found if the will to do the thing is there, and I have no doubt that the skilled advice which is available to the textile industry would enable them to meet this if they had a desire to consult it. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is quite fair in suggesting that people who are not connected with the industry should produce a cut-and-dried scheme.
1310 We have seen throughout industry the way in which factory legislation time after time has been met first with prophecies of disaster, then with the discovery of a way to meet it and finally with a greater wave of industrial prosperity than at any time that preceded it. I sincerely hope that as a result of to-day's Debate, the Government when they next go the International Labour Office will feel that they are encouraged to act as well as talk, to talk courageously and to act in a way which will show the world that we at least believe that the march of progress in this matter has not yet ended.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Major J. Herbert
I think that the Committee cannot but have enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), but I might criticise it by saying that it has not added very much to the Debate. The Opposition are criticising the Government for not ratifying the 40-hours Convention. We expect to hear from them whether, if they were in office, they would have ratified it, and if they had signed it and ratified it, whether they would have brought about the 40-hour week in this country at the present moment. The arguments against immediate imposition of the 40-hour week have been put extremely well by other speakers. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) expressed the point of view of all of us, namely, that we want to improve conditions quietly and gradually, and to avoid any risk of spoiling the prosperity of the working man. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley) very ably mentioned the position of the textile industry. It must be obvious that if the 40-hour week is imposed arbitrarily, it will have some effect on either wages or prices, or on both. It will, by adding to the labour cost to the article, raise prices, and those prices will be passed on to the consumer. Certain industries as a result of mechanisation and so on can at present bring in the 40-hour week, and we welcome that. Other industries have to compete with those abroad, and it would be a wicked thing if the Government by imposing the 40-hour week, thereby creating conditions under which articles could not be sold, so that firms might have to go out of business, thus creating more unemployment. If wages were reduced, as was suggested by an hon. Member opposite, that would be imposing the 1311 greatest possible hardship on the workers of this country.
§ Major Herbert
I am trying to bring out how it could be brought about. Suppose that it did not matter that all these things should happen and that the 40-hour week were imposed arbitrarily. We have always heard that the 40-hour week is an ideal on the one hand, and a means of increasing employment on the other. By reducing the length of the week by 20 per cent. it must increase employment in the industries concerned by between 10 and 20 per cent. Five years ago there were 9,000,000 people in insurable employment in this country and 2,500,000 unemployed. At present there are over 11,000.000 in insurable employment and less than 1.500,000 unemployed. If the 40-hour week is a help towards employment, then it should have been brought in when unemployment represented 25 or 30 per cent. of those in employment, namely, when the Opposition were in power. To bring it in now would be extremely difficult, because there are not the people available to go into the various categories where employment would be available. The day on which the register is made up is Monday, which includes those moving from one job to another, juveniles, casuals, and those temporarily stopped. Were the register to be made up on Thursday, the Minister of Labour would have a prettier picture to present. Two-fifths of the unemployed are unemployed for less than six weeks, and half of them for less than three months. The hard core is represented by those who are unemployed for 12 months or more. They number 314,000 as opposed to 368,000 last year.
That shows that there are at the present time not any great number of unemployed distributed all over the country, and that in the figures of unemployed there are many who are merely moving from one occupation to another. Therefore, if we take the argument that employment were to be increased in particular industries I would ask what, by the imposing of the 40-hour week would happen in an industry like the cotton trade, where there are about 46,000 unemployed of an employable population of 420,000, in other words 1312 9 per cent. of unemployment, or in general engineering, where there is only 5 per cent. of unemployment, or in the building industry, where the unemployment is between 9 and 10 per cent.? It must be realised, and it is realised, that those unemployed in these particular categories are on the fringe of those categories and are the unskilled men. Therefore, even if there were a greater demand in those trades they might possibly not find a job in them.
If we take the geographical distribution of unemployment it is rather interesting that in Durham and Tyneside as one area, and in South Wales and Monmouthshire as another area, there are in each about 108,000 unemployed. We want that number to be far less. In January, 1935, in Durham and Tyneside there were 184,000 unemployed and in South Wales 157,000.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
In making that comparison, will the hon. and gallant Member bear in mind that since January, 1935, there have been not only in South Wales but in Durham enormous transferences of unemployed people?
§ Major Herbert
The point that I am leading up to is that in Durham and on Tyneside employment has improved by 76,000, chiefly owing to improvement in the steel industry and ship building in that area. In South Wales it has improved by 49,000 only. Therefore, South Wales has not gained as much as Durham and Tyneside. At the present time, when we are thinking of the introduction of this complicated machinery, we must think very carefully whether the reducing of the working week might not raise the price of export coal from South Wales. It must not be forgotten that South Wales depends for its prosperity upon export coal.
Then comes another point, that in South Wales the percentage of unemployment is 22.5 per cent., in Scotland 15 to 18 per cent. whereas in the South and Midlands it is only 6 to 8 per cent. If we reduce the number of working hours it would obviously create greater employment in those very industries where there is the least unemployment at the present moment, namely in the South and Midlands, where the unemployment is only 6 to 8 per cent. If a shorter working week were introduced those trades would 1313 not wish to lower production, and if they are to continue production on the level of the longer working week they would have to bring other labour to those places and, obviously, that labour would have to come from the chief area of unemployment, notably South Wales. Meanwhile we are trying to introduce new industries in South Wales at the same time as we are trying to encourage the export of coal.
If the Opposition were in power to-day these are various considerations that would prevent them from imposing the 40-hour week arbitrarily at the present time. If that be so, I do not think that they have any claim or justification for the speeches that they have made against the Government and their statement that the Government ought to have signed the 40-hour Convention; and ought to be prepared to ratify it. The result of the policy of the Government has been to reduce unemployment so greatly in some areas that there is practically no unemployment there to-day. I should like some hon. Members opposite to study a publication of the Ministry of Labour, "The Local Unemployment Index." It is rather a costly publication, costing three guineas, but hon. Members would find it very interesting. Hon. Members would find on opening that publication that the first county mentioned is Bedfordshire, where the general unemployment is only three per cent. But if they went to Bedfordshire they would find that the farmers there are having the greatest difficulty in getting in their crops. I am told that hundreds of acres of hay cannot be gathered in and that there will be other crops in that district which it will be difficult to raise.
Instead of saying that the Minister of Labour is wrong in the action he has taken, I think that we ought to congratulate him in having gone so far. To-day the Minister of Labour is not the man who has to bring employment to various places, but he is the man who has to co-ordinate those who are unemployed and try to send them to the jobs that are available. In that connection I was rather surprised to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton), who asked, what was the good of saying that domestic service was any good to anybody? He said that there are bad employers, bad houses and so on.
1314 Many of us feel very strongly on this point, and I think hon. Members opposite will agree with what I am about to say. There are some very bad employers but, on the other hand, there are some very good employers. Would it not be possible for the Minister of Labour to consider having a King's Roll of those good employers? [HON. MEMBERS: A Queen's Roll."] Yes, a Queen's Roll or a Princess's Roll. When a firm or a company are running a factory they do not mind the factory inspectors going there to make their visits. Speaking for myself and many of my friend, I can say that we should be very glad to be on the roll and should be only too glad to let any inspector see that the conditions of employment in our homes were good. If the girls realised that they would be only sent to places where they would be well looked after and where the general conditions of housing are good, their fathers and mothers I am sure would not mind sending them to these posts of domestic service.
§ Major Herbert
If I had a daughter of suitable age I should very much prefer to know that she was going to a place where she would be well looked after and where the conditions of housing were good, and where if she were in trouble there would be someone to care for her.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Would not a corollary of that suggestion be that it would be necessary to make rules, regulations and conditions governing domestic service?
§ Major Herbert
That is a thing that could come gradually. It is unfair that girls should go into service in places where they may never get out for an afternoon, and I think that the Minister should draw up something in the nature of humanising conditions which would enable these girls to know that when they came to service in London or in the large towns they would be going to a good job and would have someone to look after their welfare.
§ Major Herbert
I have discussed the matter privately with the Minister of Labour, and I think we require something more than we have got at the moment. If there were something in the nature of a roll it would give girls confidence that they were going into really good service, and would also encourage parents to allow them to take up this form of employment. It is most illogical to say that girls from the distressed areas should not go into private service. On the one hand, hon. Members opposite say that these distressed areas are unhealthy and unfit for young girls, and, on the other hand, they claim that there is not a single house in Great Britain which is fit for girls who go into domestic service. I entirely disagree. There are plenty of houses where girls would get the best conditions with plenty of holidays, and would be able to meet other people. If our education continues to give the idea that domestic service is bad, it w ill automatically stop anything of that sort. I hope the Minister of Labour will have a talk with the President of the Board of Education on this matter, and that he will also confer with him on the subject of agriculture. We must stop the feeling in the country which may be growing that agriculture is bad as an employment and that it is merely for uneducated people. That is not good for the agricultural industry, and it is not true. Besides there will arise a great danger, if we do not look out, that we shall have trouble in finding skilled agriculturists to go on the land. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about wages?"] From my knowledge of the farmers of this country I am sure that they would be willing to pay more in wages if they were able to obtain better prices for their produce. We want to try to improve conditions so that the farmers can give better wages.
However, it is quite wrong for the Opposition to claim that the Minister has done the wrong thing at Geneva unless they are prepared to say exactly what they Would have done if they had gone there instead.
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I do not propose to follow the Eon and gallant Member for 1316 Monmouth (Major Herbert) in the general line of his argument, but to reply to the speech of the Minister of Labour and to some of the arguments which have been adduced in his support by hon. Members opposite. The right hon. Gentleman was moved to great indignation. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) seems to have stung the right hon. Gentleman somewhere, and we had from him a speech full of indignation, full of sound and fury. I would remind him that even the Chinese have ceased to try and win battles by making faces and loud noises. I remember the right hon. Gentleman in his more regenerate days, when with wealth and volume he fulminated in the interests of the poor and down-trodden. Now we hear him speaking like a man who has come down from the heights of Olympus to Geneva, telling the world how to put its economic problems right. He complained of adjectives—and let me say that I really do object to the word "nonsense" being regarded as an adjective. My grammar may not be very good, but my recollection is that nonsense is not an adjective. He will, of course, expect more adjectives from me, and perhaps some adverbs.
He was a little indignant when my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney described his attitude and policy as reactionary. I repeat; the Government's policy is definitely reactionary. I say that it has been deliberately obstructive at Geneva. I say that it has been cunning in its pursuit of a dilatory policy. It has not assisted, it has put a sprag in the wheel whenever it could on large and major issues. My hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea (Mr. Sanders) referred to the matter in his speech. He speaks as one who has an intimate knowledge of the International Labour Office. The Government now have become the catspaw of short-sighted employers, the mere mouthpiece of the worst type of employer. It is unfortunate that at Geneva there is a sort of Gresham law, bad money driving out good money, bad employers driving out good employers. We have had from my hon. Friend astonishing illustrations of that situation. The Minister of Labour made great play with a long list of Conventions which have been ratified. I listened with great interest. I wondered whether he was trying to make up for the paucity of his 1317 contribution to the Debate by the length of the list of Conventions.
I remember not so long ago, about three years ago, the Industrial Council of the League of Nations Union appealing to the National Government to ratify the outstanding Conventions, to do it as a sort of gesture, and informing the Government that the bulk of them would not affect this country in any way at all. That is perfectly true. Of the long list which the right hon. Gentleman read out, with the necessary pauses for effect, very few of them required any legislation at all; the substance of most of them was already the law or the practice of this country, and what the right hon. Gentleman was doing was trying to capitalise the fact that this, the oldest industrial country in the world and the most forward in its social and industrial legislation, had ratified Conventions many of which had been in substance the law of this land for nearly half a century. I take one example, one upon which the right hon. Gentleman dwelt—I almost thought he was going to break down under the strain—the ratification of the Convention with regard to women working underground. What a great contribution to the well-being of the women of our land! If my recollection serves me aright, women have ceased to work underground in this country for nearly a hundred years. Such work was prohibited in 1844. What a noble gesture! The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well against what countries that Convention was directed. One was his ally, India, the country he stands for to-day.
It was fatuous for him to pretend that the ratification of a convention of that kind was whole-hearted support of the International Labour Organisation. The policy of the Government is ratification on the cheap, ratification of things which can be done without raising controversial issues. The Minister spoke with deep feeling of his sympathy with the International Labour Organisation. He even described himself as one of the friends of the workers, and that, if I may say so, is "going some." Remembering his heartfelt appeals when he sat on the high Olympus where my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) sits, I was a little disturbed when he dismissed the term "social justice" as a vague term. To us on this side of the Committee it means some- 1318 thing, and before the right hon. Gentleman sat on the Government Bench it meant something to him. I think that the words of the Treaty setting up the International Labour Organisation are among the noblest words ever used in a public declaration.
The right hon. Gentleman, having descended from Olympus to the hard realities of his job, tells us what he is doing. The Government supported the International Labour Organisation with money. Dare they have done otherwise? Is that to the right hon. Gentleman's credit? Every Government, including some nearly as bad as this one, has supported the International Labour Organisation. He has given the organisation information, but all reasonable Governments would do that. He quoted members of the Commonwealth to which he gave information as a sign that he is deeply interested in all those questions with which the Organisation was established to deal. That, again, is constructive effort on the cheap. Giving information costs nothing. I give a lot myself and I find it costs nothing. That is entirely different from being a hero who is a friend of the workers battling for the cause of the workers. He has supported the machine, but he has put grit into the wheels of the machine time and time again.
The right hon. Gentleman devoted a good deal of his time to the Hours Convention which has recently been under discussion at Geneva. There His Majesty's Government have been guilty of deliberate delay. I will not go over all the details of it, but as recently as 6th June the British Government delegation opposed the proposal that it should be made possible to adopt a convention for a 40-hour week for the printing and chemical industry this year by opposing a proposal that single discussion procedure should be adopted—which was part of their dilatory policy. We have heard about the first reading and, after a year, the second reading; but he did not tell us that the British Government found another way of putting it off for another year by splitting up the discussion. That was deliberately obstructive, and was intended to be so. On the following day, 7th June, the British Government delegation took the lead in opposing the 40-hour week, according to a report in the "Manchester Guardian." They even brought pressure to bear on those 1319 highly industrialised countries, Japan and India, not to accept a compromise, but to oppose any convention on the hours of labour.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am quoting from the report of the "Manchester Guardian" of 8th June, which is usually well informed on these matters.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I shall be glad to receive the evidence that it is not so. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will deny this, because Japan and India are his, allies in this business. The compromise was that for those countries it should be a 48-hour week and not a 4o-hour. That seems to me to have been reasonable, but the British Government delegation opposed it. On the following day, the right hon. Gentleman appeared in person before the conference in place of the civil servant or the Parliamentary Secretary, as the case may be. He quoted his words to-day, and I would like to quote them again:We are not willing to take part in applying the principle of the general convention—that is, the 4o-hour week—knowing that the universal compulsory sharing of work is not acceptable in Great Britain.The right hon. Gentleman knows too much. That is really what is wrong with him in all his conduct of negotiations at Geneva. He went on to say:The Government prefer to leave these matters to the wisdom of the employers' and workpeople's representatives.The Parliamentary Secretary made the same kind of speech on the same gramophone record at Geneva at a time when the Factories Bill was on the Floor of this House, when his Government had come to the conclusion that you cannot rely upon the wisdom of employers' and workers' representatives. It is untrue that that is the policy of this country. Increasingly in recent years, Parliament has had to interfere in that kind of thing. They have had to override the so-called wisdom of employers' and workers' representatives. As to the effect of voluntary agreements, an old Member of this House and an old friend of mine, Mr. Thomas 1320 Shaw, pointed out that of 522 textile firms, 304 employed women and young persons in excess of 48 hours, and that the voluntary system of limitation of hours in textiles had broken down. That is the point at issue—hours of labour. The right hon. Gentleman says that the policy of this country is to leave it to the wisdom of the employers and the workers.
I do not wish to go into the details of the whole of the discussions on this unfortunate policy of the Government, but simply to point out that in the matter of hours of labour the right hon. Gentleman has not played a straight game. He referred to the 40-hour week, rather disparagingly I thought, as a slogan, and said that it had become a matter of theological faith. In these days of great production, why should it not be? He explained that we have export markets, and he was satisfied, in his wisdom, that a shorter working week was impracticable except on the basis of lower wages and perhaps of greater costs of production, and therefore of greater unemployment. Is there no case for maintaining the purchasing power of hundreds of millions of potential British customers abroad? Is it always to he the case that leisure has to be paid for in poverty by the workers? We have it on the authority, not of people on this side of the Committee, but of great industrialists, that our capacity for production is now large enough to fulfil all reasonable needs. If that be so, the task of statesmanship is to see that, as a result of that, the worker gets his increased leisure and a share in the new prosperity. That is the problem which the right hon. Gentleman is funking. The power to produce, and the inability, apparently, to utilise that power for the general benefit of mankind is the fundamental problem of the world to-day. We can get a 40-hour week, or a 38-hour week, whatever it may be, but we get it at the price of a reduction of purchasing power.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I have heard that before, but it is undoubtedly the case that, with the labour market as it is to-day, there is a capacity for production which is not being fully used.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am not so sure that is true, and if it be true, it is due purely to transitory conditions. When the rearmament programme is over we shall go back again to the old position. I am speaking of the world's capacity for production for the fulfilment of the normal peace-time needs of life, and I am saying that it is possible—many employers are doing it now—to shorten the hours of labour of the workers without asking them to sacrifice their standard of life. That problem has baffled the right hon. Gentleman, and because of that he has used every influence he could since he has been Minister of Labour to stop the progress of conventions dealing with the problem. One aspect of this question has been troubling me very much since I heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Why are the majority of States, numbers of employers and the workers' group at the International Labour Office so often wrong, and the right hon. Gentleman right? Apparently all are out of step except him, and his friends in Esthonia, Japan and India. Why are the larger and more important States, far-sighted employers and trade unions—we may be stupid people, but we count for a bit—wrong and the right hon. Gentleman's minority right? I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give an answer to that question?
The right hon. Gentleman referred to some of the maritime conventions, and I would like to say a few words about them, because I have followed the problem of the seamen with a certain amount of interest. At Geneva last year we had a number of discussions dealing with maritime problems. There was a recommendation concerning the protection of seamen's welfare in port. Nobody voted against it, not even the British Government. They voted for it. It did not amount to very much. There was a draft convention concerning the minimum requirements and professional capacity for masters and officers on board merchant ships. The British Government voted against that, and their only friends in the lobby were the British shipowners, the Japanese shipowners, the Indian shipowners and the Japanese and Indian Governments. What company to be in! There was a draft 1322 convention concerning annual holidays with pay. On that occasion, discretion being the better part of valour, His Britannic Majesty's Government did not vote at all.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I could give cases of certain Scandinavian shipping firms and a number of American shipping firms which treat their officers and seamen far better than do the shipowners of this country. Then there was a draft convention concerning the liability of the shipowner in case of sickness, injury or death at sea. The British Government voted against it, and the only companion they had in the lobby on that occasion was the representative of the Finnish Government. There was a draft convention concerning sickness insurance for seamen. As it cost them nothing and we had it already, they voted for it, but when it came to the next one, a draft convention concerning hours of work on board ship and manning, although the voting was 62 for and 17 against, the British Government were against it and on that occasion the only other Government to vote with the British Government was the Japanese Government. It is a sorry record. But of course on this matter the Government have not been honest. They publish the list of recommendations and conventions in the "Ministry of Labour Gazette," but do they say what they did? Not a word. It had to be dragged out of them by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) by questions in the House. On r7th November last, my hon. Friend asked what was the attitude of the Government on the convention dealing with seamen's hours and manning. The then President of the Board of Trade—and I am not blaming him because his successor will be just as bad although he is not a shipowner, this being the settled policy of the Government—said:During the course of the conference the draft was so amended as to make it unacceptable in important respects and the Government representatives voted against its adoption. The Japanese Government representatives also voted against itThe ex-Mr. Runciman—I cannot call him the late Mr. Runciman—thought to put off my hon. Friend with an answer like 1323 that, but my hon. Friend, with his usual persistence, carried the matter further and asked the right hon. Gentleman in what respect the Government opposed the amendment and why they were in conflict with a most important British Dominion—that being Australia, which voted in favour of the convention. The reply was:Our position was clearly set out by our representative there. He pointed out that a new set of agreements had been voluntarily entered into by the National Maritime Board which came into force on 1st October last and that we were not prepared to vary those agreements without any experience up to the present of their working."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1936; cols. 1487–1488, Vol. 317.]I thought they trusted to the wisdom of the trade unions and the employers' organisations. I thought they would have accepted the word of the National Maritime Board, which consists of representatives of that kind. But, no, their excuse—and it was a mere excuse—was, "Here is a voluntary agreement; therefore we must not take action on it until we have had experience of its working." I could quote other questions and answers to the same effect, but I will not use the time of the Committee in doing so. The truth is that, on this matter of the International Labour Organisation, the Governrnent have persistently and consistently conceded small things and voted against big things. They have betrayed the workers' interest, not only in this but in other countries. They have used the power of delay wherever possible and have fought on every issue of magnitude on the side of the employers and often enough on the side of the worst and roost short-sighted employers. To them, any excuse is good enough. They have been fertile in excuses but extraordinarily costive in the way of constructive proposals. They have always been prepared to pick holes in any convention of importance but have never been prepared to show how the difficulties can be overcome.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to proposals made by the Italian delegate. There was no proposal from the British Government except a wet blanket. They have never, on any one of these big issues, as far as I recollect, done anything constructive to forward these conventions and ensure 1324 their adoption. As for workers and enlightened employers—I return to this point as I said I would—they are regarded merely as poor fools without understanding. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is far more familiar with the textile industry of the world than are those employers who were quoted by my right hon. Friend this afternoon, but still I cannot agree, when a workers' group and enlightened employers from many countries realise that progress is their common interest, that Governments are right in the face of that evidence. The right hon. Gentleman's heart is always bleeding for the workers, and here he is, doing his best, in his great wisdom, with passion and determination, to save them from the results of their own folly and their own ignorance. The poor people do not know what is good for them; they do not realise that shorter hours mean a worse life. He has taken upon himself the mantle of the man who is to lead them into the kind of dark prosperity which is all that the capitalist system will ever offer them.
The right hon. Gentleman referred several times in his speech to hard, constructive work—no longer the great idealist, but the stern, practical statesman who faces the problem that confronts him. All this talk about hard, constructional effort and all these phrases are camouflage statements to hide the Government's unwillingness to take any initiative at all to improve substantially the lot of the workers. They are camouflage statements to stand in the way—because that is what they are doing—of the establishment of world standards which would be an advantage to the people of backward countries, which would open new markets to British industry, and which would, by abolishing the wide disparities which now exist in labour standards over the world, restore to Britain her former prosperity. The people who are standing in the way of progress now are the National Government. They do not realise the world in which we are living, they are still thinking in terms of the nineteenth century, they do not recognise the power which now lies to our hands, and they still seem to think that Britain can profit out of the impoverishment of her customers. That is absolutely impossible. My right hon. Friend, in moving the reduction of the Vote, hoped, somewhat optimistically, as I thought, that the Com- 1325 mittee would follow him into the Lobby. I have no such hope, but I am bound to say that after the right hon. Gentleman's speech and after the speeches that have been delivered from the benches opposite, this party has no alternative but to go into the Lobby against the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Butler)
I trust that the Committee will extend to one who has changed the sphere of his 40-hour week the usual indulgence granted to those who are proceeding upon a new career. May I say what pleasure it gives me to have the opportunity of working with my right hon. Friend in what I am sure the Committee will agree with me, is the most important of all Government Departments, in that it does affect the lives and well-being of some 13,000,000 wage-earners? I cannot recognise the efforts which have been made by my right hon. Friend to improve their conditions in the "camouflaged" statements, to borrow a word of his own, of the right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat. He must know, though his own party were not ready to face my right hon. Friend upon his own Estimates, that the record and achievements of the National Government in the sphere of improving the standards of workers in this country bear comparison with that of any other country in the world. But it is not necessarily in this tone of controversy that I wish to open my remarks. I have for the first time had the privilege of representing this Government at an international conference at Geneva, and I can assure the Committee that I appreciated the opportunity of visiting Geneva and not only doing my best for the workers of this country but doing my best to take my part in international discussions of the importance of those which I attended.
I do not propose to give the Committee a descriptive lecture upon the beauties of Geneva or upon my own first impressions, but I could not help thinking, when I noticed the languid note of the Debate up till the right hon. Gentleman's speech, of the rushing river Rhone which flowed under my windows at Geneva, and being reminded of some reflections of the elder Pitt when he noticed the confluence of the Rhone and the Saône at Lyons. He said: 1326This, the Rhone, at that place is a gentle, feeble, languid stream, and, though languid, of no depth; the other a boisterous and overwhelming torrent.Up till this moment I think that adequately describes the contributions to this Debate from both sides of the Committee. I am relieved to notice that the effect of certain movements of the party opposite has at once been observed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I congratulate him upon his force and vigour.
Before I come to the details of this Debate I want to say a word on a subject raised by the hon. Lady for East Islington (Miss Cazalet), the question of domestic service. It is the only matter to which I shall refer outside the work of the International Labour Organisation, and I would only say that the Government will certainly consider with sympathy the point of view which was put forward, and that this is a serious matter which we realise needs our definite consideration. I was impressed in going for the first time to the International Labour Organisation by the great opportunities of what is the industrial parliament of the world. I was impressed by the atmosphere, and I was impressed by the opportunities, and I was impressed by the tripartite delegations going from each country. In that vast parliament you find representatives of the Governments, the workers and the employers of each country. That is a fact which must impress any man who visits that scene. I was glad to be there in such an important body. There is no doubt that this was a particularly important conference, bigger than any hitherto, and that fact proves that there is great life in the International Labour Organisation. This was the year in which a monument to M. Albert Thomas was erected in Geneva and opened, and I was glad to attend and on behalf of the British Government to pay my tribute to his great work.
Hon. Members may ask me in what atmosphere of mind I approached these problems, and how I saw the International Labour Office for the first time. I confess that I did look upon it as a great industrial parliament of the world in being, and I approached it myself as a Member of Parliament and as a Member of Parliament considering the documents of a parliament in the Committee stage. That is to say that, in fulfilling my duties, I attempted to give 1327 the document that we were considering the most practical consideration. I did not adopt the method recommended by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) that you should first accept the principle. I took it that His Majesty's Government had accepted the principle that there is no objection to a reduction of hours of work as such. What I had to consider was whether the draft convention was in the interests of the British workers, and whether it would improve their conditions, or indeed, improve their hours of work. I am obliged to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley) for his kind remarks on the subject of my speech and to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney t Mr. H. Morrison). Nevertheless, I kept my feet upon the ground, because I thought it advisable, when considering the well-being of the workers of this country, to look at things as they are, and not as they might be.
If that were the attitude of approach of a private person, what must the approach of a Government be? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that we should not do ratifications on the cheap; I maintain that if we had given our signature to that rather vague convention, that would have been ratification on the cheap. Let me examine the point raised by the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Sanders). He said he had never heard of any steps taken to see whether conventions were properly ratified, but he admitted, from his knowledge of the International Labour Office, that a committee was in being to examine the question of ratification of conventions.
§ Mr. Sanders
I described the machinery. I never said that it had not been used. The machinery is used with regard to testing legislation passed by countries that ratify conventions periodically.
§ Mr. Butler
I realise that the hon. Gentleman has great knowledge of the International Labour Office, but he did use the phrase that he had never known any steps taken by this Government to use this machinery.
§ Mr. Sanders
I said that I had never heard of a British employer demanding that an inquiry should be made in any country to prove their statement that ratified conventions were not carried out.
§ Mr. Butler
I accept the statement that the hon. Gentleman was referring to employers. I will refer for a moment to the machinery that has been used this year. The interesting fact about that machinery was that there was a British rapporteur and that British workers, employers and the Government were united in presenting and supporting the report of that committee. In its report, that committee described the forms of ratification, one vague and undecided, and the other precise. It held this:The ratification of International Labour Conventions is as solemn and as binding an act as the ratification of any other international treaty, and there is no legal basis for delay on the part of the State in giving effect to a convention it has ratified.That is the strict view of ratification of conventions which His Majesty's Government accept. In view of that, one must approach a signature of such a character with the utmost care and the utmost feeling of responsibility. What this Committee has to decide is whether the Government could, in the light of the terms of that committee's report, append their signature to the convention which we have before us. It is in that spirit that I propose to examine the convention.
Before I actually come to the terms of the convention, I want to take up the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman when he asked the Government why we were on the one side, while all these workers and the representatives of 39 Governments and others were on the other side, and why we tried to prove that we, in a minority, were right, and they were wrong. We were actuated by the strictest considerations, which were that our signature to this convention would mean immediate ratification, and, in the case of this country, immediate legislation to carry out the terms of the convention. We were also faced with the fact that, if we ratified this convention, we must be satisfied that it would be in the interests of our workers. I propose to take as examples two trades which have been mentioned but have not yet been considered in detail. The first is the printing trade, and the second is the chemical trade.
What are the conditions in the printing trade to-day? The conditions are that this industry is of great age is finely organised, and has probably the finest machinery for collective bar- 1329 gaining in the world—the Printing Trades Joint Industrial Council. The workers' conditions, as a result of this machinery, have been improved, holidays with pay for 12 days in the year have been instituted, and recent discussions, which are still in progress, will, we hope, have very satisfactory results. This is a "rush" industry, the servant of other industries, and one in which conditions must be very carefully calculated between employers and workers, and in which the representatives of the employers and of the workers at Geneva tell us, the atmosphere and feeling between employers and workers are as nearly perfect as is possible. The Government have to decide, in view of the conditions in that industry, whether they will substitute immediate legislation imposing a 40-hour week upon an industry which has already, under its own system, reduced hours by a most elaborate and carefully balanced system of machinery within itself.
Will the hon. Gentleman further expound that argument by pointing out that the National Joint Industrial Council of the Printing Trade has stated that legislation can be effectively passed reducing the hours in the printing trade to 40 per week without affecting already established hours in other printing trade establishments; and is he aware that in the printing trade many establishments in London, particularly in the newspaper industry, have established a 35-hour week, and that the Joint Industrial Council of the Printing Trade—I was a member of the Scottish Printing Trade Industrial Council—have stated that there could be no difficulty in making legislation effective to reduce the hours of labour?
§ Mr. Butler
I am perfectly aware that in certain sections of the printing trade a week of less than 40 hours has been agreed upon, through this very collective machinery which I have described, and I have already said that the Government have no objection to reduction of hours as such; indeed, they welcome it. But I said that it would not be the course of wisdom for a responsible Government to substitute, by legislation, a fixed international code of this sort for collective agreements based on liberty of negotiation between employers and employed.
A shorter working week has been established in the printing trade, but the organisation to which the hon. Gentleman is referring has agreed that, as regards other parts of the industry, which have asked for and have not received this shorter working week, there is no barrier against the Government passing legislation for those sections of the printing trade which have not the shortened working week.
§ Mr. Butler
I am not aware of that particular decision, and I was not aware that the trade union representative at Geneva put that point. I should have thought he would have put it, but I listened to his excellent speech, and was not aware that he did. I am aware that the relations between workers and employers in the printing industry are excellent, and I am also aware that it would be better to leave the industry to make up its own mind about the hours of work in its different branches than to impose a regular 40-hour week on the whole industry, in view of the rush hours sometimes worked in that industry. I am also aware that in New Zealand, which has a 40-hour week, they have exempted the printing industry in particular circumstances.
In the chemical trade there is also joint negotiating machinery of a very high standard. We find, for instance, that there is a Gas Joint Industrial Council and a Match Council.
Here I want to take up a point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, when he said that the Government were always delaying and were purposely adopting dilatory tactics in order not to face the issue. That is typical of hon. Members opposite. They say at one moment that we adopt dilatory tactics and at another that we attack the Convention with direct arguments with which they cannot agree. I will meet him on both points. Let me take delay. Does he suppose that it would be right to establish and substitute instead of these joint councils a n imposed 40-hour week on the basis of a rather vague International Convention? In particular, I think it important to remember that in the chemical trade there has not been time for this national organisation properly to consider the details of the industry. Let me give one example. It had not been decided, until the Committee sat, whether the artificial silk in- 1331 dustry was in fact a textile or a chemical industry. This is a subject which has not been fully decided here or in any other country. On the basis of a discussion of an hour or two in one of the committees a decision was come to on the point. I take that as an example of the danger of rushing an issue of such a kind in an international discussion.
§ Mr. Butler
It was not. It was a reason why the Government regrets that those matters have been so quickly decided when they are so technical and difficult. Let me take an example of the danger of hasty action in the printing trade. In previous discussions that we had with them it was pointed out how much the printing trade suffered competition from the multigraph and cyclostyle processes, so that it might be possible, supposing we were to put our signature to this 40-hour week, for the whole decision to be upset by failure to reach agreement with those two industries. Those are practical examples in both the chemical and printing industries of the danger of hasty decisions. I am sure that those who are associated with trade union organisations will realise how delicate is this machinery. It is not we, as the right hon. Gentleman said, but he and his frends who wish to throw grit into the wheels of our collective bargaining machinery.
§ Mr. Kelly
I am rather surprised at the hon. Gentleman's statement with regard to the chemical industry. Up to a few months ago I was Secretary to that Joint Industrial Council. I am amazed at the statement that there is still a question with regard to artificial silk. It was at one time. but is no longer, considered a part of the heavy chemical trade.
§ Mr. Butler
The matter was debated at Geneva. I am glad to find that there is less doubt on the subject in this country, and I accept the hon. Member's point of view as an expert. But the matter has not been decided internationally and it was doubtful whether a clear decision was come to at this conference. I deny the charge of dilatory tactics. The hon. Member said that we had deliberately adopted these tactics, whereas I maintain that this proposal was not a question of tactics 1332 but a question of necessity in view of the complication of the industry. The right hon. Gentleman said we had purposely prefaced our consideration of the Textile Convention by proposing a tripartite conference at Washington, and he complained that the decisions of that tripartite conference had not been properly considered. In fact, they were not considered at all. One of the most important of these recommendations was this—and it is a question of vital importance to the workers:That minimum wage-fixing machinery and trade boards be established in countries where they do not exist to regulate wages and working conditions.That was one of eight recommendations made by the Washington Conference in order to try and regulate the international textile trade on the basis of fairness for our own workers. None of these detailed recommendations was even considered, and these detailed recommendations, taken one by one, are individually nearer helping our working people in the textile industry than any general signature to a draft convention could do. The right hon. Gentleman said that we have no proposals—I am deliberately taking his points. I could read to him from page 43 of this document, the Report of the Washington Textile Conference, the detailed proposals, to the number of seven, which are made for further considerations before a draft convention can be signed. That is only the detailed aspect of our definite proposals, which were that the question of the reduction of the week to 40 hours should be considered by a series of technical conferences first, so that the whole matter could be properly and scientifically considered. This method of considering the subject is particularly important when you come to examine the details of the convention we were asked to sign.
The question of the standard of living has been raised. There is no mention of the question of wages and maintaining the standard of wages in this convention at all, except in the preamble. I said that I did look at this matter as an ordinary Member of Parliament. If I am asked to put my signature at the foot of a bill, I naturally wish to know its contents, and I am not satisfied with vague statements in a preamble, nor do I think that any British worker will be satisfied. If he is asked to vote for a convention 1333 which merely fixes hours without consideration of wages in such a complicated industry as textiles in present world conditions, I think that he would not be grateful to the Government which appended its signature without the most careful consideration being given to this subject.
Let me consider some of the other details and side-issues to the essential subject. One is the question of hours, which my right hon. Friend has already mentioned. The point I want to take upon it is that in some countries such as this the basis of agreement between employers and workers is that there should be a maximum number of hours in any one week. That is a well understood convention in British industry. If we departed from that the workers might be the first to resent it. Under this convention it is possible for some countries to adopt the principle of averaging, with the result that, if we were obliged to adhere to a maximum in any one week and another country were allowed to average so that in a rush season it could work 60 hours, it would be possible for that competing country to work 60 hours at ordinary rates, and we, under our convention, would be obliged to work 40 hours at ordinary rates, plus 20 hours at overtime rates. I fail to see how we could compete with world industry in such circumstances. I also fail to see how our signature to any convention of that sort would encourage international equality, which is the object of all international conventions. I am certain that the principle of averaging, combined with the consideration of overtime, would mean that this convention, in fact, would not create international equality.
The question of collective bargaining was also not adequately dealt with in this convention. The International Labour Office itself inserted some special paragraphs in the draft which made full allowance for the Government to take into consideration the principle of collective bargaining. These sub-paragraphs would have assisted us, but the committee, despite the initiative of the Office in putting them, cut them out. That made our task very much more difficult in deciding whether we could append our signature to this convention.
The Government are not opposed in principle to a reduction of hours as such, but we prefer the reduction of hours to 1334 be regarded as a practical matter in the light of those practical points to which I have already tried to draw the Committee's attention. We prefer to consider them according to the problems of each particular industry. We would wish to take into consideration in the textile industry so important a question as that of shifts. It is quite easy for an industry such as the textile industry of America, which has new machinery and has agreed to the shift system, to agree to the 40-hour week. It is not so easy to impose it on the textile industry of Lancashire, where the shift system has not been completely accepted, where the machinery is not entirely modern and where the factories are not equipped to take two shifts running. It is essential, before one appends one's signature to a convention, to consider the running hours of machinery as well as the working hours of operatives, and there was no attempt to do that in the discussions at Geneva.
A certain amount of play has been made with the excellently worded report of the Director of the International Labour Office. He referred to the nervous strain of modern industry, to the use of leisure, the need for more leisure and the danger of speed. These are all questions which were often put before us by the ex-Prime Minister, and I was particularly struck in listening to the Director's report by the influence of our Prime Minister's remarks upon Mr. Harold Butler's observations. He pointed out how slow had been the development of the industrial system; how unused was the body of man, accustomed to years of toil in agricultural pursuits, to adapt itself 10 the age of machinery. There we would all agree. He said that it was very dangerous to submit man to too much burden and strain from machines. There can be no doubt of that. But we should borrow from the Director one warning, that of the danger of speed in making alterations in any system which has been gradually built up, and I would apply that warning in considering whether by our signature to an international convention we were to interrupt even to a small extent, break up or endanger, the relationships of employers and employed, which have been built up on a basis of freedom of negotiation in our general machinery for collective bargaining.
I am not satisfied that experience in other countries, whether in France, 1335 America with her special circumstances, or New Zealand with her small industrial population, has given us sufficient proof that it would be right or responsible for this Government to impose by legislation this 40-hour week upon the industries described. The matter is one which can be carefully considered, and we should naturally be interested to hear what the industries concerned, with their valuable joint organisations, think about the new Textile Convention. I could give quotations from the conference which show that the success of France—to put it very optimistically—has not yet been proved.
I will try to sum up the reasons why the Government did not lend their support to this convention. Our attitude is not one of opposition to the International Labour Office itself, as my right hon. Friend has proved. It is not actuated by nineteenth century motives, as the right hon. Member opposite tried to make out. [An HON. MEMBER: "Eighteenth century!"] As the hon. Member opposite refers to the eighteenth century, it gives me the opportunity to sum up the whole tenor of what I am trying to say by reference to a man who lived in the eighteenth century, J. J. Rousseau, who wrote his "Social Contract" at Geneva, on an island opposite the hotel in which the British Labour Delegation is accustomed to stay. He said:Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains.
§ The way that I would sum up our action is that our industrial system was born in chains and we are determined as a National Government never to impose upon it new shackles that have not been agreed to by both employers and workers in industry, but to respect that freedom of negotiation which the workers themselves are most loth to lose.
§ Mr. Kelly
I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say, in regard to what happened at Geneva, that he was told there was a general industrial council in the chemical industry, dealing with the affairs of that industry. I hope that was not told to him, because the fact is that the general industrial council for the chemical industry went out of business last year.
§ Mr. Butler
I am glad the hon. Member has asked me that question. What I said was that in the chemical industry there was a Gas Joint Industrial Council, and also one for the match industry. I am glad that the hon. Member has given me the opportunity of correcting a false impression, because I am aware of the facts that he has stated.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £14,337,900, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 124; Noes, 191.1337
|Division No. 236.]||AYES.||[10.59 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Jones, J. J. (Silvertown)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Adamson, W. M.||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Kelly, W. T.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Frankel, D.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Gallacher, W.||Kirby, B. V.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Gardner, B. W.||Kirkwood, D.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Garro Jones, G. M.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Banfield, J. W.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lathan, G.|
|Barnes, A. J.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Lawson, J. J.|
|Barr, J.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Leach, W.|
|Batey, J.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Lee, F.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Leonard, W.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Griffiths, R. (Llanelly)||Leslie, J. R.|
|Bromfield, W.||Groves, T. E.||Logan, D. G.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Lunn, W.|
|Buchanan, G.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)|
|Burke, W. A.||Harris, Sir P. A.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Cassells, T.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Chatar, D.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Mander, G. le M.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Marshall, F.|
|Daggar, G.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Milner, Major J.|
|Dalton, H.||Hollins, A.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Hopkin, D.||Muff, G.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Nathan, Colonel H. L.|
|Day, H.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Noel-Baker, P. J.|
|Ede, J. C.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Paling, W.||Sanders, W. S.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Parker, J.||Seely, Sir H. M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Parkinson, J. A.||Sexton, T. M.||Walker, J.|
|Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Shinwell, E.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Price, M. P.||Silkin, L.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Pritt, D. N.||Silverman, S. S.||Westwood, J.|
|Quibell, D. J. K.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Smith, E. (Stoke)||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|Riley, B.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees (K'ly)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Ritson, J.||Smith, T. (Normanton)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Sorensen, R. W.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Rowson, G.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Salter, Or. A. (Bermondsey)||Thurtle, E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. John and Mr. Mathers.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Peake, O.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Fleming, E. L.||Peat, C. U.|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Ganzoni, Sir J.||Plugge, Capt. L. F.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Gluckstein, L. H.||Porritt, R. W.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Goldie, N. B.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Gridlay, Sir A. B.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Balniel, Lord||Grimston, R. V.||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Guy, J. C. M.||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Hannah, I. C.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Bernays, R. H.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Remer, J. R.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Harbord, A.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Hepworth, J.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Rowlands, G.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Higgs, W. F.||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Bull, B. B.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Burghley, Lord||Holdsworth, H.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Butler, R. A.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Selley, H. R.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Cary, R. A.||Hunter, T.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st)|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Joel, D. J. B.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Clarke, F. E. (Dartford)||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Somerset, T.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Spens, W. P.|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||Storey, S.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Leckie, J. A.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Lees-Jones, J.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Crooke, J. S.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Liddall, W. S.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Lindsay, K. M.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Loftus, P. C.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|De Chair, S. S.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||M'Connell, Sir J.||Train, Sir J.|
|Denville, Alfred||McCorquodale, M. S.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Dodd, J. S.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Turton, R. H.|
|Doland, G. F.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Donner, P. W.||McKie, J. H.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Dorman-Smith, Major Sir R. H.||Magnay, T.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Drewe, C.||Maitland, A.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Dunglass, Lord||Maxwell, Hon. S. A.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Munro, P.||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Emery, J. F.||Nall, Sir J.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Errington, E.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Major Sir George Davies and|
|Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Patrick, C. M.||Mr. Cross.|
Bill read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.
§ Original Question again proposed.1339
§ Mr. Davidson rose——
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.