HC Deb 22 July 1938 vol 338 cc2643-53

2.5 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies

I beg to move, in page 2, line 6, to leave out "exceeding" and to insert "less than." This is the only Amendment we propose to move on the Report stage of this very important Measure. There is room for some other very important amendments in the Bill, as drafted, but the time available for its consideration is short, and we are all agreed that the Bill should pass through its final stages to-day. The principal reason for moving this Amendment is to give the Minister an opportunity of telling us what has been the result of his statement on 19th July during the Committee stage of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman then said: I will weigh what has been said and before the next stage of the Bill I will take consultation with all those concerned in the committee."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1938, col. 2077, Vol. 338.] He will now, I presume, be able to tell us what has happened since. I, therefore, confine myself to stating one or two simple points in favour of the Amendment. If the Bill passes in its present form it will, as far as these words are concerned, be a fundamental departure from the recommendations of the Committee upon which the Bill is based. We fear that if these words go on to the Statute Book for the first time in the history of our country, implying that the maximum holiday with pay shall be one week, not only will they stabilise that idea in the minds of unscrupulous employers, but they will be quoted against trade unions in future negotiations as to holidays with pay, particularly in offices and shops. This is, as far as we know, the only instance in which the right hon. Gentleman has departed from the main recommendations of the Committee. While we appreciate his difficulties in negotiating with some parties behind the scenes, we ask him to accede to the request which is embodied in this Amendment. He must not take exception to our having put down this Amendment, because I can assure him that if we were on the Government side of the House and he were on the Opposition side and if a proposal of this kind were moved, he himself would be a very fierce critic of the words in the Bill as it stands.

2.9 p.m.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)

There is a difference of opinion at once between the hon. Gentleman and myself. He says that the Bill is a fundamental departure from the report of the committee.

Mr. Rhys Davies

These words.

Mr. Brown

I contend that the words in the Bill carry out the intention of the committee as expressed in the Report. The only reason why I agreed on the previous occasion to which the hon. Gentleman referred to consult the members of the Committee, instead of taking a decision was because it was pointed out to me what had not occurred to me before that the words "at least" might be read in two different ways. We had always read them as we understood the Committee intended them to be read as applying not with regard to the period but with regard to the powers. It has been impossible to consult all the members of the committee because they are scattered and more than one is on the high seas. I have put the point to the chairman, Lord Amulree, whose view I am sure will be taken as representative of the committee's desire. Paragraph 146 of the report of the committee recommended that legislation should be introduced in the following sense: In every industry under a trade board the trade board should be given authority to consider and to determine whether in the circumstances of each industry the provision of a holiday of at least one week with pay is one that for the time being should be granted, In the case of agriculture the committee said: The Agricultural Wages Committees should be given authority to consider and determine whether in the circumstances of each area the provision of at least seven days with pay is one that for the time being should be granted. The attention of the House was called to the words "at least one week" and "at least seven days" by many hon. Members during the Committee stage. I want to draw the attention of the House also to the words "for the time being," and to quote paragraph 134 which reads: It seems to us not unreasonable in view of what we have said above that the period of the holiday should be more than one working week, but having in mind the desirability of proceeding judiciously in the matter for reasons connected with production we think that our recommendations in regard to the annual period of consecutive paid holiday for industrial and kindred workers should be confined to a minimum of a working week after the qualifying period has been served. I put these points to the chairman of the committee. I put to him the ambiguity which led me to take the decision to approach such members of the Committee as I could approach, and Lord Amulree authorises me—and the House will understand that he is not in a position to bind the committee but his view will, I am sure, carry the greatest weight—to say that in his opinion the Bill, as drafted, carries out the intention of the committee. His view is that the recommendation in paragraph 146 must be read in conjunction with paragraph 134, that as stated in paragraph 143 an annual holiday with pay should be established without undue delay as part of the terms of the contract of employment of all employés and that the holiday should consist of at least a week. That is the goal, but in the committee's opinion it was necessary to proceed judiciously, and, having regard to the general position in industry and the fact that most voluntary holiday agreements provided for a holiday period of a week, their view was that as a first step trade boards and agricultural wages committees should be given power to provide holidays for a week. The position would then be reviewed in 1940–1 in the light of the situation then existing, the committee contemplating that, having regard to developments in industry generally, it might then be desirable to extend the powers of trade boards and agricultural wages committees to give holidays for a period exceeding a week.

That is the statement which Lord Amulree authorises to be made and it bears out my view that we have interpreted, according to the judgment of the chairman, what was meant by the committee. Let the House consider another point. There is an ambiguity, and I have given the House the chairman's view that the Bill carries out the intention of the committee, whatever the precise wording may say. But let me put this point. The hon. Member said that this would be quoted against the trade unions. I beg to differ with him on that. Let us consider the circumstances in which the Bill was introduced. The committee got to work and we got the report much too late in the normal way to permit of implementing it this Session, but I saw one thing clearly. Here was a great range of workers, most of them in the lower-paid categories, and if the clear distinction which is drawn by the committee on the main proposal namely, between voluntary agreement up to 1941 with the possibility of general compulsion after, was to be carried out, it was clear that, unless we could legislate before the Recess, these workers would be at a disadvantage of some months compared with their more fortunate fellows.

That is the only reason that made me put on pressure, in order to see whether we could get a move forward, so that these workers might not have five months or possibly seven months disadvantage compared with the others. Then what happened? We drafted the Bill. Hon. Members know what is the procedure in a matter of this kind. The Bill is produced and we invite the observations of both sides in the industry, the Trades Union Congress on the one side and the employers' Confederation on the other. That was done. The result was that we approached the Opposition on the basis of this Bill—not some other Bill—with the full knowledge of all concerned and the signatures of six trade union members to the Report. On the basis of that agreement we came forward with the Bill, within this short time, and I am now asked by the Amendment to make what would be a fundamental change in the Bill. I could not possibly do that.

For these reasons I cannot accept the Amendment. I assure the House that the Government drafted the Bill in the firm conviction that it carried out the meaning and intention of the Amulree Committee. If in the course of the next two-and-a-half years every trade board in the country and every agricultural wages committee can get a week's holiday with pay established on this enabling basis, we shall have achieved a very great reform for which the whole country will be grateful.

2.17 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Greenwood

The Minister's speech is somewhat disappointing. I do not feel that I can accept with complete authority the statement of Lord Amulree. It is less than two years since this House in its unfettered judgment agreed to the Second Reading of a Bill which provided a fortnight's holiday with pay. That was indeed an expression of the social conscience.

Mr. E. Brown

But do not forget that the original Bill was for six days' holiday, and that it was only after the Amulree Committee began to sit that the increased number was put in.

Mr. Greenwood

That is not my point. I am referring to the Bill of my old friend, Mr. Rowson, now dead. He introduced a Bill for a fortnight's holiday with pay, and it received the approval of this House on Second Reading. There can be no challenge about that.

Mr. Ronald Robinson

The Bill which received a Second Reading in this House provided for one week's holiday with pay. I was one who worked with the late Mr. Rowson to get it through.

Mr. Greenwood

Of course I accept the hon. Member's statement, but my recollection is that nearly all the discussion was on the basis of a fortnight's holiday with pay and that the proposal was supported on the Government side of the House. I come to the Amulree Committee itself. The intention of the Committee is, of course, very difficult to interpret, and if Lord Amulree interprets it in one way, I as an ordinary layman, who was not a member of the Committee, am entitled to interpret it in another way. The Minister of Labour stresses the phrase "for the time being." On this issue I attach no importance whatever to that phrase, because quite clearly if words have an ordinary meaning, "for the time being" really means until there is an Act of general application, with an interim period dealing with two or three categories of workpeople who should have their own arrangements until there was a general measure brought before the House. Therefore the phrase "for the time being" really does not apply to this argument.

The right hon. Gentleman also stressed the term "applied judiciously." My experience of trade boards is that they are a little too judicious. I do not therefore attach much importance to that particular term. There are two phrases that occur in the report of the Amulree Committee and they can bear only one meaning. If you say "at least one week," the week is a minimum. If you say "a minimum of a working week" you are envisaging the possibility of a holiday longer than one week. I do not see how that conclusion can be avoided. It may be that agricultural wages committees and trade boards will give a round week. It may be that some of them will be a little reluctant to give even that. But that is not the point. I still hold that it is not in accordance with the spirit of the Amulree Committee Report that the week should be made a maximum, when repeatedly the statement is made about a holiday of at least one week or the minimum of a working week.

In these circumstances I do not feel that we can withdraw our Amendment. We must stand by it. I do not want it to go forth from this House that we, having exhausted a good deal of the day on a Bill which seems to me to be of minor importance compared with this, have been in any way responsible for wrecking this Bill; but at the same time we are bound to make our protest again now and in the Lobby to record our view that the word- ing of the Bill does not in fact accord with the statements made in the Amulree Committee's Report. I am not on the point as to whether the bodies concerned would be likely to implement the longer period. It may be that they would not. It may be that if more than a week were given it would be given by the ordinary negotiating machinery outside the terms of the agricultural committees and trade boards. I am simply on the specific point that according to the views laid down by the Amulree Committee the statutory bodies should be empowered, if they so choose, to extend the holiday beyond the working week.

2.25 p. m.

Mr. Harold Macmillan

Having moved in Committee the Amendment which has caused all this trouble, it would be very discourteous on my part if I were not to take a few minutes in which to acknowledge my right hon. Friend's courtesy in having carried out exactly what he said he would do when the Amendment was withdrawn on the Committee stage. It would also be very ungracious of me not to accept—and I fully accept—what he has told us of the history and genesis of the Bill. I know what anxiety he felt that the Bill should become law rapidly, and we all appreciate, I am sure, the personal interest that he has taken in pressing forward this movement. I also accept Lord Amulree's interpretation of what was in his own mind and what he believes was in the mind of his colleagues in their report; and I hope my right hon. Friend will in return acquit me of any impropriety in this matter. I was not a member of any of these committees or ordinary channels by which this matter was arranged, other than as a back bench Member of the House of Commons, but in these semi-Fascist days the House of Commons is almost the last body that is ever allowed to express its views on anything. I was told that this Bill could only pass into law rapidly if it carried out exactly the report of the committee, and that otherwise it would have to be postponed.

Mr. E. Brown

The agreement was made, not on the report, but on the Bill.

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, but the agreement was made between other persons than Members of the House. We were told, and I think properly told, that the only chance of getting the Bill was to stick to the report, and, therefore, my hon. Friends and I decided that we would relate our Amendments to the report, and although I fully accept Lord Amulree's interpretation of the report, I think it was not unreasonable for us to assume that the Bill did not carry out the exact terms of the report, seeing that the words used were, in two passages, "at least" a week's holiday. Now "at least" means, ordinarily, "not less than" Lord Amulree now tells us that it means "not more than," and, fortifying that argument, he points to another part of the report, where it speaks of "minimum", and says that "minimum" is always understood to mean "maximum." It all seems very confusing to me, and it reminds me of the White Knight, who said "The song is called 'Long, long ago.'" "Oh, that is what the song is," said Alice. "No," said the White Knight, "the song really is 'A'sitting on a Gate' ".

We are entitled to interpret the report according to the ordinary rules of grammatical English, although I know that those rules are not cultivated as well as they might be in certain quarters. I have sufficient experience of authors to know

that they do not always write exactly what they mean. However, now that the book, as it were, is passed for press, is even printed and bound, I will do nothing to stand in the way of its circulation, for good or ill, to the public. I therefore accept what the Minister has said, that the Bill must either stand or fall as it is, and I would rather see the Bill passed in this form than do anything to prevent its passage into law.

2.29 p.m.

Mr. R. Acland

I want to say one thing bearing on the relative means of the terms "at least" and "not exceeding." The Minister said, on the Committee stage of the Bill, that universal compulsion was ruled out for at least three years. I hope we may take that as meaning that universal compulsion is ruled out for not more than three years, and if I could have a personal assurance from the Minister on that point, I think I would refrain from following my hon. Friends above the Gangway on this side into the Lobby in support of the Amendment.

Question put, "That the word 'exceeding' stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 133; Noes, 90.

Division No. 319.] AYES. [2.30 p.m.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Dugdale, Captain T. L. Llewellin, Colonel J. J.
Albery, Sir lrving Duncan, J. A. L. Loftus. P. C.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Eastwood, J. F. Lyons, A. M.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.) Eckersley, P. T. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.
Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's) Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Ellis, Sir G. Macnamara, Major J. R. J.
Balfour, G. (Hampstead) Elliston, Capt. G. S. Macquisten, F. A.
Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M. Fildes, Sir H. Magnay, T.
Bennett, Sir E. N. Findlay, Sir E. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.
Bossom, A. C. Fremantle, Sir F. E. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Furness, S. N. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Fyfe, D. P. M. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)
Broadbridge, Sir G. T. Gluckstein, L. H. Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Goldie, N. B. Morgan, R. H.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Guinness, T. L. E. B. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Bull, B. B. Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W. Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.
Bullock, Capt. M. Hambro, A. V. Munro, P.
Carver, Major W. H. Hannah, I. C. Nall, Sir J.
Cary, R. A. Harvey, Sir G. Nicholson, G. (Farnham)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Nicolson, Hon. H. G.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Heneage, Lieut-Colonel A. P. Patrick, C. M.
Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead) Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Peake, O.
Clarry, Sir Reginald Hepworth, J. Peters, Dr. S. J.
Clydesdale, Marquess of Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Petherick, M.
Conant, Captain R. J. E. Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S. Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. Hunloke, H. P. Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)
Cox, H. B. Trevor Hurd, Sir P. A. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Craven-Ellis, W. Hutchinson, G. C. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Crooke, Sir J. Smedley James, Wing-Commander A. W. H. Russell, Sir Alexander
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
De Chair, S. S. Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L. Samuel, M. R. A.
Doland, G. F. Liddall, W. S. Sandeman, Sir N. S.
Sanderson, Sir F. B. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn) Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Selley, H. R. Touche, G. C. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Shakespeare, G. H. Wakefield, W. W. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar) Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan Wise, A. R.
Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A. Ward. Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull) Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D. Warrender, Sir V.
Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich) Watt, Major G. S. Harvie TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Smithers, Sir W. Wedderburn, H. J. S. Mr. Grimston and Sir J.
Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald Williams, C. (Torquay) Edmondson.
Strauss, H. G. (Norwich) Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Green, W. H. (Deptford) Parker, J.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A Parkinson, J. A.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Grenfell, D. R. Pearson, A.
Ammon, C. G. Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Poole, C. C.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Pritt, D. N.
Banfield, J. W. Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.) Quibell, D. J. K.
Barnes, A. J. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Ridley, G.
Barr, J. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Riley, B.
Bellenger, F. J. Hardie, Agnes Ritson, J.
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Harris, Sir P. A. Seely, Sir H. M.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Silverman, S. S.
Buchanan, G. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Simpson, F. B.
Burke, W. A. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Chater, D. Hills, A (Pontefract) Smith, E. (Stoke)
Cluse, W. S. Hopkin, D. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Cove, W. G. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Sorensen, R. W.
Daggar, G. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Stephen, C.
Dalton, H. Kelly, W. T. Stokes, R. R.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Lathan, G. Thorne, W.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Leach, W. Thurtle, E.
Dobbie, W. Macdonald, G. (Ince) Tinker, J. J.
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) McEntee, V. La T. Viant, S. P.
Ede, J. C. MacLaren, A. Watkins, F. C.
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.) Mathers, G. Wayland, Sir W. A
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Maxton, J. Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Foot, D. M. Messer, F. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Gallacher, W. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Garro Jones, G. M. Noel-Baker, P. J.
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Oliver, G. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Paling, W. Mr. Adamson and Mr. Groves.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.