HC Deb 20 July 1944 vol 402 cc416-31

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [5th July], "That the Bill be now read a Second time"; which Amendment was to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and add instead thereof the words: this House declines to proceed with the Second Reading of the Bill until the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company concedes trade union recognition to the professional and technical sections of its employees."—[Mr. Watkins.]

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

Major Sir Edward Cadogan (Bolton)

It is in the recollection of the House that the Debate on these two Railway Bills was adjourned from the week before last, not on account of any defect or demerit in the Bills, but because the hon. Member for Central Hackney (Mr. Watkins) and one or two other hon. Members raised the claims of the Railway Clerks' Association for recognition. I am intervening at this early stage for a twofold reason, first, because I think I am in a position to inform the House of the course of the negotiations which have taken place since the Debate was adjourned—and one of the reasons why it was adjourned was because it was considered deplorable that when two parties were so much together, an outstanding matter should not be negotiated upon in the meanwhile—and, secondly, because I am authorised by four main line companies to make a suggestion which may enable these two Bills, which I think are innocuous and innocent Bills, to proceed to their destination under their own steam and enable us to resolve the matter in dispute, and open the door to further negotiations. I do not want to weary the House with a long history of these negotiations, which cover a period of two or three years, but I think it necessary to draw attention to one or two salient features. The main point at issue is whether the employees of the railway companies, with salaries above a certain level, should be paid in accordance with their merits and abilities in relation to their posts, or whether they should be paid in accordance with fixed scales negotiated with the trades unions. I am not going to dwell too much on the past history of these negotiations, but I think those who have not been in contact with the subject may want to know about certain points which affect the main issue.

The Railway Companies Act of 1921 established negotiating machinery between the railway companies and their employees, and the position to-day is that there is an agreement with the Railway Clerks' Association and other unions recognising that body as substantially representing the categories of employees who are in receipt of a salary of £360 a year. I might say at once that, though I mention that figure, I mean £360 a year exclusive of the advances paid on account of the war. I think the proper figure would be £426 a year. This Railway Act specifically excluded those who are paid above the figure of £360 for negotiating purposes, although there is machinery for discussion. I need hardly explain that when I use the word "negotiate" that implies that where there is a dispute, the matter in dispute goes to arbitration. When I use the word "discussion," I mean discussion without arbitrament of any kind.

The next point I want to make clear to the House is what are the claims of the Railway Clerks' Association. The first is to negotiate for the whole of the professional and technical staff, and the second is to negotiate salary scales, not only for the professional and technical staff, but also for all the staff who are in receipt of salaries from £360 to £600 a year. The first claim is not a new one. Three years ago—I think it was in September, 1941—the companies recognised the Railway Clerks' Association as representing the technical and professional staff, for discussing complaints which could not be settled through any other channels. To this the Railway Clerks' Association agreed, and later in the same year the special class were made the same offer, which was accepted. In May, 1943, the Railway Clerks' Association submitted a very comprehensive programme for improved conditions for the staff, which also included the claim to negotiate for the fixation of scales of pay, up to those in receipt of a salary of £600 a year.

The railway companies, in response to this claim, asked that the numbers in each group that the Railway Clerks' Association claimed to represent should be furnished. This the Association refused, or said they were unable to do, but the companies thought this was a reasonable preliminary, and, after a certain amount of correspondence, suggested that the Railway Clerks' Association should supply to the Minister of Labour the number of the staff in the 16 groups which they claimed to represent, as specified in a letter which I think was read to the House early in the Debate a fortnight ago. At a later meeting the following offer was made by the railway companies. First, with regard to the professional and technical staff, full and unconditional recognition was to be given for negotiating purposes, as regards all those of the staff in receipt of salaries up to £360 a year.

The second part of the offer was, subject to the Minister of Labour's certificate, that the Railway Clerks Association substantially represented the staff as defined in each of the three groups in receipt of salaries from £360 to £600 and should have recognition for negotiating purposes except in regard to the fixation of scales of salary. That, of course, is the main point at issue. As regards the special class, the offer of the railway companies was that similar arrangements should apply to those in receipt of salaries of £360 to £600, subject to agreement with the other trade unions concerned, in respect of the sections already covered by the agreement.

That is the story of the negotiations up to date, but it is not quite the end of the story. In substance, there are two outstanding points, one rather more substantial than the other. The railway companies claim that they should be satisfied in regard to the representative character of the Railway Clerks Association. The railway companies have offered to reduce the categories of professional and technical staff to three large groups. The second point, which is more substantial still, is that the railway companies find great difficulty in negotiating, as distinct from discussing, with the Railway Clerks Association in respect of salaries for staffs above £360 a year. There was a differentiation specifically recognised in the Railways Act, 1921, since that Act provides in terms for the exclusion of the special class. The companies' offer covers something like two thirds of the total of the professional and technical staff, which numbers, in the four main line companies, about 400.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman speaking for all the companies or only for the London Midland and Scottish?

Sir E. Cadogan

I am speaking for the moment for the four main line companies and I am authorised by them to make a suggestion. I trust that it will be received in the spirit in which it is made, the spirit of conciliation. An amicable character has been displayed in most cases of railway disputes and it is in that spirit that I hope this discussion will take place today. I believe it is the general sense of the House that this matter should be disentangled on these two Bills

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say what precedents there are for asking for information by categories, instead of accepting a global figure?

Sir E. Cadogan

I cannot say what precedent there is. I only know what has taken place during the recent negotiations.

Mr. Mander

Does that mean that there are no precedents?

Commander Bower (Cleveland)

Why should there be precedents?

Sir E. Cadogan

The point in dispute is very much narrowed down. The companies and the Association are in agreement up to this point. If we can leave the door open for further negotiation, it will be in the interest of the House, and of the London Midland and Scottish Railway Co. While the railway companies feel that their offer is reasonable, I am authorised to say that, notwithstanding that there was excluded from the offer the question of the fixing of scales of salaries, the railway companies will be prepared to refer to the Chairman of the Railway Staffs National Tribunal, the question of principle as to whether the fixing of scales is desirable and practicable, in respect of the professional and technical staff in receipt of salaries over £350 and up to £600. I hope that that will be acceptable to the hon. Member who raised the issue last week.

Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

When the hon. and gallant Gentleman says he is authorised to make this offer, does he mean that he has some interest in the railway companies, because, if so, he has not disclosed it to the House?

Sir E. Cadogan

Certainly, perhaps I should apologise for not having done so but I thought the House was in possession of the fact. I am the deputy-chairman of the Great Western Railway Co. Viewed in the light of the considerations that I put forward, I hope it will be conceded that the companies are acting in a spirit of reasonableness and in the interest of the industry.

Mr. Watkins (Hackney, Central) rose——

Mr. Speaker

Has the hon. Member the leave of the House?

Mr. Watkins

I ask for leave to speak a second time in the Debate. I should like to report what has transpired since the Debate was adjourned a fortnight ago. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Member for Bolton (Sir E. Cadogan) has made a very interesting speech but a great deal of it was completely irrelevant and did not in any way approach the real difficulty between us and the London Midland and Scottish Railway Co. He spoke about salary scales. We are not differing about salary scales. Our point is the simple one of recognition, whether the company will recognise the Railway Clerks' Association as the trade union to negotiate a settlement about working conditions for the men in the professional and technical classes.

Commander Bower

Has the hon. Member any particular interest in the Railway Clerks Association?

Mr. Watkins

Not the slightest, except the interest that every man should have to see that justice and right are done—certainly no financial interest of any kind. The Debate a fortnight ago turned on that one central fact. The Association has the majority of these people in its membership. We have declared it to the railway company—we have given them an assurance on the point—and we feel that, having given it, the company should say "Very good, we will recognise you and we will proceed to negotiate along the lines of your suggestion." The talk about the Railways Act, 1921, is beside the point. The professional and technical people are in a special and exceptional class in the railway service. They are a highly paid class in comparison with the ordinary railway clerk. Thirty-eight per cent. of them are getting more than £360, whereas only five per cent. of the railway clerks earn above that figure. They have asked us to negotiate a settlement about conditions.

After the Debate a fortnight ago, in due course, after many days, the railway company invited our people to meet them and made the offer referred to. I want to look at it carefully and to indicate how it does not meet the case upon which, in my judgment, we had the sympathy of the House. The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), when he moved the Adjournment of the Debate, said he had never seen the House so unanimous on our side and against the railway company. First, the company agreed to recognise the R.C.A. as the negotiating trade union for all these people up to £360 a year. Then we were asked to split them into categories and to get a certificate from the Ministry of Labour for each of these categories to prove that we have a substantial number before negotiations can begin. My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) asked about a precedent, and the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) asked why there should be a precedent. This is a new thing in railway trade union experience. No trade union has ever been asked whether it has a majority in the union. We are very decent to the company even in saying that we have a majority. Having said that, and then to be asked to split up our numbers into separate groups and prove that we have a majority in each group, is something which no trade union has ever been asked to do. I am surprised that the company have asked us to do it.

I have been doing railway negotiating work for a good many years, and I was astounded to learn that the company suggested that they should circularise all the men getting more than £360 a year and ask them to declare whether they were or were not members of the Railway Clerks' Association, and then to send the forms to the Ministry of Labour for audit and assessment. That kind of thing never happens in the trade union world, and it ought not to happen here. Mention has been made of referring to the Chairman of the Railway Staff Conference the question of the fixation of scales. We do not say that scales of salaries must be fixed, but we do say we have a right to discuss whether scales of salaries should be fixed and not go into negotiation with an absolute negative against their being fixed.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

So that I may understand what the hon. Member is saying, will he state who is meant by "we"? Has he any interest in the Railway Clerks' Association, and should he not declare to whom he is referring?

Mr. Watkins

I do not know whether that question was prompted by curiosity or not. I was for a number of years President of the Railway Clerks' Association—unpaid—and I am speaking on their behalf and at their request.

Commander Bower

Why did not the hon. Gentleman disclose that when I asked him just now?

Mr. Watkins

Surely I am not called upon to disclose anything which happened in my life years ago. I challenge the hon. and gallant Member whether he is prepared to say everything that happened to him.

Commander Bower rose——

Mr. Speaker

These personal matters are quite irrelevant.

Commander Bower

I do not know whether this is a point of Order but it is considered to be the practice, I think, that when an hon. Member has a vested interest in a company, or a union, in a case like this, he is supposed to disclose it.

Mr. Speaker

The connection of the hon. Member with the Railway Clerks' Association is perfectly clear, and I think that everybody in the House knows it.

Commander Bower

Do I understand, therefore, that it is not necessary that hon. Members should disclose their connections with organisations about which they are speaking?

Mr. Speaker

I did not say so, but when everybody knows what the connection is, it is not necessary to state it. No financial interest, moreover, is involved in this case.

Mr. Watkins

My hon. and gallant Friend says that he wants to remove this matter from the House of Commons and get it settled. So do we. I hated the idea of bringing it to the House. It was difficult for me to do it, because my relations with chief officers of the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company over a number of years have been excellent. I met them from day to day until recently on all sorts of problems, and we have always got on very well together. But they now dig their heels in, and adopt an attitude of mulish obstinacy in a matter in which they are deeply wrong. They are taking action without precedent or justification, and are doing an act against a body of men, who should be the very last to be treated in this way. I wish I could tell the House of the service of these professional and technical men, not only to the company, but to the nation, of what they did during the blitz period, and of what they did to get ready for D Day. When they say, "May the R.C.A. represent us in free and unfettered negotiations about our working conditions?" the railway companies just slam the door in their faces. It is not the kind of treatment that employers should give to workpeople, if they want the kind of country all the rest of us want when the war is over.

I want to get this matter settled. I am prepared to make a suggestion, and I hope my hon. Friends, on behalf of the railway companies, will accept it. We are prepared to accept the decision of the Ministry of Labour on whether or not recognition should be afforded to the Railway Clerks' Association to negotiate with the railway companies for the professional and technical grades up to £600 a year. The companies take one view. We take another. We are to assume that each side is sure that it is right, and there is deadlock. We will take a third party judgment on it, and let the Ministry of Labour decide. We will accept their finding whatever it is, and I hope that the railway companies will too. Will the companies accept this offer?

Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)

Has the hon. Gentleman any information on whether the Ministry of Labour would accept this task, if the railway companies agreed?

Mr. Watkins

I have no direct information on that point, but from what I know of the Ministry of Labour, who are always extremely helpful in matters of this kind, I do not think there will be any difficulty in getting them to arbitrate.

Mr. Goldie (Warrington)

It is, indeed, true that the sins of the fathers are often visited on the children, and in making the time-honoured declaration that I am a shareholder in the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company, I should not like the House to think for a moment that that lamentable misfortune is any fault of mine. I should like to assure the hon. and gallant Member for Bolton (Sir E. Cadogan) that I have also the privilege of being associated to a small financial extent with the company of which he is such a distinguished vice-chairman. I find myself on this matter in a position of considerable difficulty. My real regret is that the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) is not with us to-day, because he is one to whom, with regard to railway matters, I always look for guidance and assistance, as they are matters of which I have no personal experience.

This matter is one of considerable difficulty. I have the honour to represent a Northern constituency which I left early this morning, because I was approached by the Railway Clerks' Association and asked to come here to-day to do what I could to help. I expect that other hon. Members are in much the same position. My difficulty is that when in my constituency a considerable volume of opinion feels that people are not getting a fair deal from the railway companies, it is my duty to look into the matter carefully. On the other hand, I realise that the dispute between the Railway Clerks' Association and the railway companies has nothing whatever to do with the Bill before the House. I am unfortunate in not having been an employer of labour. My life has lain in professional grooves and I have never been the director of a private or public company. I can, therefore, approach this matter from an impersonal point of view. With regard to the suggestion which the hon. and gallant Member for Bolton has brought forward, the issue is simply this—Should or should not these gentlemen connected with the Railway Clerks' Association be represented by that Association?

With regularity, once a year, I receive from every railway company in England a form of proxy which I invariably consign to the waste-paper basket. At the same time I find myself wondering why another place ever authorised, from a legal point of view, the expenditure of shareholders' money for such a purpose. Why on earth cannot a postcard be sent to every gentleman concerned, with the simple question: "Do you want to be represented by the Railway Clerks' Association?" and inviting the answer "Yes" or "No"? It is obvious that one occupying a distinguished position cannot negotiate without being fully informed of the situation, but when there is this body of technical and professional people, as I understand the position, it is one's duty to find an answer to the question whether they want to be repre- sented by the Railway Clerks' Association. I suggest that the best way to deal with this matter is to postpone it until after the Recess and, in the meantime, to find out whether those gentlemen want to be represented by the Railway Clerks' Association.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

May I interrupt the hon. and learned Member? He mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) for whom he professed a very great admiration. Many of us have had a lifelong admiration for my hon. Friend, who was able to state, when this matter was previously before the House, that the Railway Clerks' Association contained more than two-thirds the number of people who are regarded by the railway companies as coming within these categories, and who have asked the Railway Clerks' Association to represent them.

Mr. Goldie

I am very much obliged to the hon. Member. What he has said confirms exactly what I said, but so that there should be no mistake at all—and one accepts every word that the hon. Member for South Bristol has told us—I suggest that it is up to the railway companies to find out definitely whether these people agree with the views of the hon. Member for South Bristol.

Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)

In regard to the suggestion that there should be a personal postcard to every individual, may I point out that one of the main purposes of collective bargaining is to remove from negotiation between employers and employees any possibility of victimisation? If the suggested postcard were sent, it would raise the question for every individual: "Am I opening myself to some victimisation by signing this postcard?"

Mr. Goldie

I agree with the hon. Member, but the point is to find out whether the professional and technical gentlemen shall be represented by the Railway Clerks' Association. I do not see where victimisation comes in, but, from the point of view of the railway companies, the matter should be cleared up. I do not accept the suggestion of compromise put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bolton. This House should be placed in possession of the facts as to whether the Railway Clerks' Association represents these people.

Mr. F. Anderson (Whitehaven)

Before the hon. and learned Member leaves the point, may I ask whether he is aware that thousands of the gentlemen concerned had already signified their desire that the R.C.A. should represent them, by filling up membership forms and becoming members of the Association in a voluntary way? A second point is, what is the difficulty about accepting the suggestion as to the Minister of Labour? He is an independent person, and if he is satisfied that those who have filled up the forms have asked the R.C.A. to represent them, what difficulty can there be?

Mr. Goldie

It is unforgivable to use Latin in the House of Commons in these days, but perhaps I might quote: Timeo Danaos et donor forentes. My hon. Friend is trying to give me assistance in a matter in which I was trying to help him, but I refuse to put myself into the wooden horse of Troy in that fashion.

Mr. Anderson

Will the hon. and learned Member answer the question?

Mr. Goldie

I would remind hon. Members that this is not the first time we have had to deal with this matter. I do not know whether hon. Members remember that, two or three years ago, we had to deal with a Bill from the London and North Eastern Railway Company. It was blocked in exactly the same way by a trade union because of a difficulty about an assessment of pension. That matter was settled amicably and to everybody's satisfaction, and I cannot see why this matter cannot be so settled. Only a month ago, we had exactly the same difficulty arising out of the Education Bill, with regard to the National Association of Schoolmasters. There, the President of the Board of Education very properly gave way and said he was willing to meet in consultation representatives of the National Association of Schoolmasters, although he was not prepared to recognise them as the recognised trade union. Surely everybody with common sense m this honourable House can put their heads together and get this matter settled in the interests of those who really matter—not the railway companies themselves, but the members of the Railway Clerks' Association. My view is that it would be easy to put the Bill off until after the Parliamentary Recess. It would put the Railway Clerks' Association in an absolutely impregnable position with regard to their contention. I sincerely trust that the matter will be so dealt with. Although I am not in a position, and have not the knowledge, to express definite views from the point of view of the Railway Clerks' Association, I am told by my constituents, and I accept their views, that the Association are clearly entitled to the justice which they seek at the hands of this House.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

The hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) has attempted in a new way to simplify the matter, but I am afraid that postponing the Bills at the present moment would mean, for all practical purposes, that they would be lost to the House and to the railway company for this Session. Our object in raising this matter has never been to attack these Bills vindictively, or to deny the benefits that these Bills would confer upon a number of people; but this is the only opportunity we have. I am, and have been for many years, a member of the Railway Clerks' Association, and that is why I am particularly interested in the Debate. I want to warn hon. Members against over-simplification of this position, and against a certain appearance on the part of the railway company of having gone a considerable way to meet the point of view of the Railway Clerks' Association. It is true that on the last occasion we had no indication whatsoever of any recognition for the professional and technical staffs of the L.M.S., and that to-day we have had recognition given or offered in respect of those with salaries up to £360 a year. That may appear to some people to be a considerable concession, but it is no real concession at all. It still maintains a bar against the proper functioning of a trade union in respect of a very large number of that section of railway workers. The offer that is made in that regard by the railway company only carries into effect a measure of recognition that was given to the clerical staff 25 years ago.

I suggest to this House that there is a considerable difference between ordinary rank and file railway clerks, of whom I am one, and men who are on the professional and technical staffs of our railway companies. There is also a considerable difference in conditions and outlook with regard to incomes as between 1919 and 1944, and it seems to me to be quite derisory to say that this should meet the claim we have been making on behalf of the professional and technical staffs in the railway service. The other point is that, although the railway companies have come away from the 16 categories on which they wanted us to prove a substantial membership in each particular category, they have reduced that to three groups, which means six groups, because these have to be divided into those below £360 a year, and those above £360 a year. In that respect the companies are still insisting upon the application of a principle that we as trade unionists cannot agree to, in the light of ordinary trade union practice. If we accepted the segregation of our membership in the way which is asked we would be letting down the whole of our trade union colleagues outside, and we would be striking a blow at ordinary trade union negotiations to which we should not be asked to submit. We must refuse to create a precedent of this kind.

The position that has been arrived at, and the impasse in which we seem to be placed at the present time, are due to what the hon. Member for South Bristol {Mr. A. Walkden) on the last occasion called a "pernickety attitude" on the part of certain officials. I am of the third generation of railway workers, and this is the first time I have felt inclined to be ashamed of my railway connections, because, in spite of the excellent negotiating machinery that is available for use in the railway service throughout this country we have a position like this arising that should never arise, that should not be allowed to arise if a reasonable course were taken. The claim we are making is that we should be entitled to represent these people within our membership, whatever their salaries may be, and we suggest that the line which was drawn in respect of the clerical staff 25 years ago at £350 per annum outside London and £360 per annum within the Metropolitan area, is a line that in respect of the professional and technical staff in 1944 should be drawn at £600, and that we should be free to negotiate fully in respect of those men up to that figure in respect of the scales of salary to which they might become entitled. The railway companies on the last occasion pleaded that scales could not properly be fixed up to salaries of that amount. They say that, but the men themselves say differently. The men themselves have drawn up for negotiation scales up to £600—one figure indeed goes up to £650 for a particular grade that is mentioned in the proposals that have been put forward.

There is nothing impossible in respect of according full recognition for negotiating purposes in regard to scales between £360 and £600 per annum if only the railway companies would be reasonable, and I suggest that the very moderate request of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney (Mr. Watkins), that a decision in respect of recognition should be one taken by the Minister of Labour, is one below which we should not be asked to go, arid as one which, if we did go below it, would mean that we would be denying the proper trade union rights of our members. If the L.M.S. Company and those associated with them in attempting to withstand this claim are not prepared to concede what has been put before them to-day, I suggest to the House that would show the L.M.S. and those associated with them to be unworthy to have the powers asked for in these Bills, because of the fact that they are not acting reasonably in respect of powers which they already have.

Sir E. Cadogan

With the leave of the House, and in order to assist the House, may I be allowed to say that the companies would accept the certificate of the Minister of Labour certifying that the Railway Clerks' Association were representative of a substantial number of the grades in question?

Mr. Watkins

I am sorry that I was out and did not catch the whole of what my hon. and gallant Friend said. Would he be kind enough to repeat it?

Sir E. Cadogan

I was saying that the railway companies, I believe, would accept the certificate of the Minister of Labour that the Railway Clerks' Association represents a substantial number of the grades in question.

Mr. Anderson

Is that said now with the authority of the railway companies or of the Railway Executive?

Sir E. Cadogan

The railway companies.

Mr. Watkins

I think that statement by my hon. and gallant Friend is very satisfactory, as meaning that when the company receives the certificate from the Minister of Labour that we represent a substantial number, negotiations can start forthwith in a free and unfettered way. In those circumstances, I have very great pleasure in asking the House to give me leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.