HC Deb 03 August 1944 vol 402 cc1712-21
Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I desire to raise a question of which I gave notice some weeks ago, that of joint production committees and works councils. These are bodies that can play an exceedingly valuable part in our industrial organisation, and I am going to ask whoever replies as representing the Government to state the position fully as they see it and to say how far these bodies have been successful, the scale on which they are operating and what ideas the Government have for their continuance after the war. My personal interest in the matter is that I have been, it so happens, for 20 years chairman of one of these works councils, and during the last 15 years I have on a number of occasions introduced a Works Councils Bill with the object of making such bodies compulsory in industry and with a view to ventilating the subject. As it is, it is the compulsion of war that has brought in these bodies by general agreement between employers' organisations and the trades unions. According to information that was given to me in reply to a question the other day, there are in the engineering industry something like 4,565 committees in being, which appear to represent about two-thirds of all the firms employing over 150. There are also the pit committees operating in the mines, which have a most valuable part to play both now and in the future, and there are a large number of committees operating, as they have operated for years, as a result of private initiative.

A good deal of experience must have been gained during the last few years. We want to take stock of the position and find out what that experience has led to in this matter. I hope that the Government will consent, apart from explaining their views, to conduct some kind of inquiry in whatever way seems to them to be most fruitful of results. One method would be to ask the Trades Union Congress and the British Employers Confederation to go into the matter jointly and report to them. The Government could do it themselves, and I have no doubt there are other, and perhaps more useful, methods of arriving at that result, but I only ask the Government to make the best inquiry they can in their own way.

There are mixed opinions among employers as to their experience. Some have found them to be useful and wish to continue them and others have had the contrary experience. I hope that we shall continue them permanently, in an amended form, in whatever way proves to be most generally acceptable to both sides. I want to deal with one or two difficulties which have been experienced. You cannot make these bodies succeed unless there is leadership—leadership on both sides. First of all there must be leadership from the employer. It ought to be part of the function of the managing director to pre-side over such bodies. That is very often done, I am informed, and he makes it clear from the top that he attaches very great importance to the functions of the committee and gives it all the weight of his authority. But it is not sufficient for the employer alone; he cannot do it without the co-operation of the other side. The trades unions might perhaps play a more active part in certain respects than they have in the past by helping with these bodies.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

The hon. Member speaks of the managing director. Is he referring to the managing director of the joint production committee or to the managing director of an individual firm?

Mr. Mander

I am referring to the managing director of a company. Personally I am chairman of a company and I always preside at the works council. It is quite a usual thing to do. There have been complaints about the composition of these committees. It has been suggested that those who have been elected, in some cases, have not been all of the most constructively minded and co-operative type. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which side?"] No doubt that applies to both sides. I am dealing now with the employees' side. It has been suggested that they have perhaps been more political than industrial. The trades unions could be of very great assistance in this matter if they were to exercise the great powers of leadership and guidance which they have and look out for the most likely among their numbers who could function effectively on these committees. I know from experience what an immensely valuable part trades unions can play in this as in other fields of industrial activity.

Another point is, that these bodies do not want to be too narrow in their outlook or in the work that they do. The actual designation of the work of the joint production committees is very narrow. They are asked to deal with things purely of production. But you have to deal with that in a very broad sense. Anything that has to do with the human comfort of the individual worker is a matter affecting production, and such things as health, welfare, canteens and meals, and the local application of national agreements, are essentially matters that ought to be discussed. One does not want to interfere with the national work of trades unions, but their local application is quite another matter. Some of these committees have very wisely gone outside their terms of reference and have dealt with absenteeism. That is a very suitable subject, because the workmen themselves are in a far better position to deal with absenteeism where it may exist on a small scale.

Mr. Glanville (Consett)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that production committees have nothing whatever to do with absenteeism and that it is entirely outside their scope?

Mr. Mander

My hon. Friend no doubt is right in referring to certain production committees, but I can assure him there are a number where they do deal with absenteeism, within my own experience, and I am suggesting that it is desirable that they should do so more than is actually the case at the present time. The wisest course for a body of this kind is to leave nothing out at all which is in any way relevant to the conduct of the business. You get the best results by that method. I do not think that it is necessary to have equal representation on these bodies, which are necessarily advisory, and therefore it is not necessary to have the same number of employers and employed. You ought to have representation not only of the management, but the foremen, and the office staff and the technical staff as well, so that every grade and class of worker in the factory can play his full part. If I may mention, as an example, the practice in the committee over which I preside, we open the proceedings with a statement in confidence as to the work on which the company is engaged, the future prospects, any changes that are to be introduced, so as to take the representatives fully into our confidence and get their advice on any proposals that may be brought forward and to let them see the reasons for the action which is proposed to be taken, which might otherwise be entirely misunderstood and lead to a great deal of quite natural misunderstanding. It is usual for us to have the trade union secretary present not as a Member but in an advisory capacity where he plays a most valuable part, and, I venture to think that is a useful thing to do. Then we have a report from the benevolent fund, a night watchman's and time-keeping report——

Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)

How many night-watchmen does the hon. Member keep?

Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

We shall need one here, soon.

Mr. Mander

The question of pensions is gone through, the employees' shares, and matters of that kind, and then either side can put down any other subject which they feel will be useful for discussion. I suggest that one valuable function of these committees is to deal with works rules. In a factory you can only get government by consent of the governed and it is essential, if the rules are to be obeyed, that those most closely affected by them should have a part in shaping and approving them. I put that forward as a useful function of these committees. Furthermore, when it is necessary to have dismissals or to work short time—before anything of that kind is done—the works committees can very usefully give their views as to the method which they think would be the least burdensome to their members. I sincerely hope that in view of the White Paper policy of the Government there will be no necessity for this in the future and that there will be full employment for all. But if there were some mishaps and that did not happen, the workers certainly ought to be consulted.

I would like to say a word about the disciplinary side. With us, whenever a worker is brought up before the management for any reason, he is entitled to be accompanied by his shop steward, not to take part in the discussions but so that he may go back and report that the decision—whether he agrees with it or not—was taken on industrial grounds, on the merits of the case, and for no other reason whatsoever. I venture to think that is a useful safeguard. It also seems to me desirable that where a workman is dismissed for some offence, he should have the right of appeal—of course the management have the final decision—to an advisory body, either the works committee or some special committee of it, so that his case can be fully gone into by a jury of his fellows.

Mr. Glanville

What is a trade union for?

Mr. Gallacher

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I do not know how it is that the hon. Member who raised this subject got in at this stage. I want to ask if this is really a subject to raise on a day like this—a general ramble round the whole question of what should happen in production committees and works juries and all the rest of it. What has that to do with any particular question to which attention should be called on the Adjournment?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

That is not a question of Order at all. The hon. Member is quite within his rights but, since the point has been raised, I hope the hon. Member will be as brief as possible, in order that other hon. Members may have a chance of speaking.

Mr. Gallacher

The subject which we wish to raise was to have been taken over an hour ago. How is it that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) was called when he withdrew his name?

Mr. Mander

I ought to say that I had the Adjournment yesterday but at the special request of the authorities I agreed to take it to-day instead, although I wanted to do so yesterday. I have been called because Mr. Speaker decided to call me to-day. The matter is one to which I attach great importance. It affects millions of people all over the country and if the hon. Member cannot and will not contain himself, I shall go on for another two hours.

Mr. Gallacher

The hon. Member can go on as long as he likes. I do not care.

Mr. Mander

I am sure my hon. Friend will show a little indulgence.

Mr. Gallacher

The Secretary of State for War has to go away in an hour.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

He can put off his engagement; he always does.

Mr. Mander

I think we shall get on if I am allowed to proceed.

Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)

The hon. Member is wasting time now.

Mr. Mander

When I was interrupted, I was dealing with the question of appeals to the joint works committee in disciplinary cases. I have always found this valuable in avoiding any possiblity of a feeling of victimisation. If a manager or foreman knows that he must explain the reasons for his action before a jury of his fellow workers, he will take very good care that the reasons are of a purely industrial kind. That is a useful safeguard, I think. Then there is the question of how the councils are to report back to their Members, because there are difficulties about that. There are three methods which I can see. You can put it up on a notice board, which is not very effective; you can hold a special meeting of your constituents, as it were, which is quite a valuable way; you can also do it by publication of the minutes in the works magazine. Both these last two are useful ways. I should like to call attention in this matter to what is being done in the United States. The United States Production Board have a considerable number of what the[...] call labour management committees, and they publish an official weekly journal known as the "Labour and Management News." I have some copies here. It shows the tremendous amount of importance attributed to the war production drive by a determined government.

I put a Question the other day to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Production with regard to works relation committees. There are seven in existence at the present time and I want to ask my hon. Friend whether he does not think that the work of these public relations committees cannot in some respects be brought before the joint production committees. I see it is stated: The object of the Centres is to encourage the wider adoption of the works relations system, whereby industrial workers are provided with a regular flow of information about the work on which they are employed, its importance in the chain of production, and the purposes for which the products of industry are used in the theatres of war or other spheres of essential national activity.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 319.] I hope my hon. Friend will consider whether there cannot be some link-up there. I was going to say a word——

Mr. Gallacher

The hon. Member shows a lot of consideration.

Mr. Mander

I am going to say a word in conclusion which may perhaps meet with some approval from my hon. Friend.

Mr. Gallacher

No approval from me.

Mr. Mander

Well, I shall continue——

Mr. Gallacher

Mr. Deputy-Speaker told me that he was allowing the hon. Member to go on because he was only to speak for a short time.

Hon. Members


Mr. Mander

I think it is generally agreed that we and Soviet Russia have a good deal to learn from each other, and they have in the matter of works councils developed certain ideas from which we can choose something useful for ourselves. On the other hand, they have much they can learn from us. They have certainly developed a type of democracy in industry, whereas too often here democracy stops at the factory wall, In my view it ought to be brought inside. I believe that these joint production committees can be, and should be, a valuable permanent part of our industrial life, worked out in our own thoroughly British way. It is a matter of trial and error. We have made mistakes but we shall improve, and I am asking the Government now to make inquiries and to do all they can to give all possible encouragement to making these bodies a permanent part of the industrial life of this country.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Production (Mr. Garro Jones)

I hope hon. Members opposite will possess themselves in patience for a little longer on the reflection that I am sure they will realise that this is a subject of great importance to many millions of British workers. While Members no doubt feel keenly about the particular subject they wish to raise, this is not a matter which should be hurried over, or passed over lightly. At the same time, in deference to their point of view, I have risen perhaps a little earlier than I intended, and I hope other Members who wanted to speak on this matter will not complain.

Sir P. Hannon


Mr. Garro Jones

The House will be quick to recognise that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) was speaking about something of which he has particular knowledge. It might have been thought that on this comparatively new subject it would be hard to find any Member who had long experience but the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton was a pioneer in establishing these committees. He has been chairman of one of them for close on 20 years and, therefore, his views on this subject are entitled to be heard, and heard with patience. It is true that a great development of these bodies has taken place in the last two or three years. Following upon an agreement signed by the Ministry of Supply with the Royal Ordnance Factories and six of the large trade unions, the Allied Employers' Confederation signed a similar agreement with the engineering trade unions. Since that time close on 5,000 of these joint production committees have been established, and if I could give the House the number of workers who were covered by them I am sure they would recognise that it was an impressive figure. In dealing with the growth of these bodies I would like to say that it has been much greater in Southern England than in Northern England and Scotland—immeasurably greater. I believe that the North of England and Scotland will, in the long run, be losers through that fact.

Mr. Wootton-Davies

Is it not a fact that taking a line North of Birmingham, industry tends to be in smaller units than in the Southern part of the country? Is not that probably due to that fact?

Mr. Garro Jones

I would not deny that that is a factor in the comparative slowness in forming these bodies, but it is by no means the only one. The Supply Ministers and the Ministry of Labour would like to see a greater impetus in the formation of these bodies in Northern England and in Scotland. It is as well to bear in mind that there has been no compulsion, other than the compulsion of the common purpose, in this war, and the House will feel that the scale of this movement is a significant feature of our war production effort. I want to say a word or two about the question of the usefulness of these bodies. There are still a few people who doubt their use, and particularly the value of their direct contribution to the problems of management. Well, I hope these pessimists will not be disappointed if I say that the Government do not share their doubts. While success has not attended the labours of every committee, the great majority of them have served well the common cause and whatever their contribution in the form of technical suggestions has been their usefulness in a variety of important matters is fully recognised.

For instance, they are a valuable channel for the dissemination of information about changes of programme. They have been extremely helpful in such measures as fuel economy, campaigns for salvage and so on within the works, the prevention of fire and accidents, and measures to reduce losses of production through enemy attacks—an extremely important element of their work at the present time in the London area. While, in a few cases, there may have been a tendency on the part of these committees to work on antagonistic lines—the workers' side considering it to be their mission to criticise the management and the management perhaps looking suspiciously and rather impatiently on the suggestions of the workers—there has been, on the whole, a fine and useful spirit of co-operation shown between the two sides. They have done an immense amount to remove many avoidable causes of friction, to provide answers to hosts of questions, to the "whys" and the "why pots" which arise in factories and which, if not answered, are a potent cause of friction. Friction, of course, means waste. Hon. Members who have read the recent survey by Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, who is a pioneer investigator, and who often strikes the valuable vein of truth, may recall that he said—I am speaking from memory—that the greatest single cause of waste in industry is lack of co-operation between management and workers. Therefore, I say that these committees, now such a large part of our war production effort, are very important features. The unity of purpose which has been established during the war has found its organic expression at the top in the National Production Advisory Council, which advises the Minister of Production and the Supply Ministers, and the Joint Consultative Committee, which advises the Minister of Labour. These joint production committees, or works councils, as they are sometimes called, are an expression of the same spirit at the factory level.

I conclude my remarks by saying something about the future, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton asked me to do. Although most of this machinery has been established only for the duration of hostilities, it would be lamentable if the spirit embodied in it were to evaporate at the end of the war. The task of reconstruction will need all the collaboration we can get, and in my view we simply cannot afford to dispense with this spirit of collaboration after the war. Certainly we do not intend to let it go at the end of the war. The Government regard it as desirable the whole consultative and co-operative machinery in industry should be now under the active consideration of both sides in industry. The future of these committees in the post-war period is not a matter for the Ministry of Production but for the Ministry of Labour. We are concerned only with war production.

The Minister of Labour has authorised me to tell the hon. Member that he is already in active consultation with the Trades Union Congress, with the Employers Federation and with branches of industry with a view to arriving at proposals for the maintenance of this machinery of collaboration in the post-war period. Consultations, of course, will be much wider than the joint production committees and the works councils. The end in view is quite a simple one, though one would not think so, judging by the difficulty in bringing it about. It is increased collaboration, increased efficiency and mutual understanding of each other's point of view. It is undoubtedly a great aim which, if fully achieved, would bring a rich reward. My right hon. Friend and I feel that the pursuit of that aim is fully worthy of the zeal and the zest of responsible leaders in industry on both sides.