HC Deb 04 November 1948 vol 457 cc1031-69

Order for Second Reading read.

3.36 p.m.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a very short Bill and, in a moment or two, I shall describe the material changes it makes. Before doing so, I should like to give to the House a brief retrospect of the tenor of this legislation. It was in 1909 that we had the first Trade Boards Act in this country. That was a very welcome and gallant attempt to deal with the great scourge of sweated industries that surrounded us. There were many sad cases of home work at disastrous wages, and the coming of the first Trade Boards Act had two great effects. First, it lifted the standard of earnings of the people in industry; and, secondly, it protected the good employers, because, in three or four of the industries first covered by the 1909 Act, there were very good firms of high reputation who were treating their people decently, but who found great difficulty in carrying on their own good conditions in face of the discouraging amount of sweated labour throughout the country. That Act has been very useful.

A little later, in 1918, we had our second Trade Boards Act, which followed the Report of the Whitley Committee. The Whitley Committee, as my colleagues will remember, was presided over by the then Speaker of the House of Commons, and the results of its conclusions have been of inestimable value to this country. The Committee recommended that trade boards should be established in the less-organised trades, pending the development of such a degree of organisation as would justify the establishment of a joint industrial council. Looking back, this has been justified, because we now have a great system of joint industrial councils. Unfortunately, there are still cases in which a trade board is required. The Act of 1918 pretty well re-enacted the 1909 Act in its entirety, but with the addition that it gave power to trade boards to fix overtime rates, piecework basis time rates, and guaranteed time rates.

The next stage in the development of this system was the Holidays with Pay Act, 1938. This Act related to the trade boards to the extent that it gave them power, which they did not have before, of prescribing for holidays with pay, and that fitted in with a provision that the holiday to be given was to be a maximum of one week with pay. That maximum of one week was provided, though in some industries it was split up into three days in one part of the year and three days in another, but it was a step along the right road.

We next come to 1934, when the road haulage industry came under investigation. It was felt that something should be done to improve conditions there. The voluntary machinery of collective bargaining was established, but so wide were the ramifications, and so varied were the interests of the parties in the industry that it proved completely ineffective. Therefore, in 1936, the Baillie Committee was established. Its instructions were to examine the position in regard to the regulation of wages and conditions of service of workers in the industry. That committee, in its report, expressed the view that a trade board would be too limited in scope and too restrictive in its powers to meet the requirements of the industry. Shortly afterwards we had the Road Haulage Wages Act.

The Bill which we are bringing forward today proposes, for several reasons, to bring to an end Part I of the Road Haulage Wages Act. The first reason is that it has a very complicated structure. It provides for the establishment of a central board and 11 area boards. That means not only a very unwieldy structure, but a great deal of delay in getting a decision from the central board which may have to consult all the area boards. As the House will remember, there was, two or three years ago, a good deal of opinion expressed in this House that wages councils, and so on, were too slow in reaching decisions. This was one of the slowest of them all because of these difficulties. They have themselves expressed the desire to be brought under the Wages Councils Act.

The main provisions of Part I of the Road Haulage Wages Act covered workers who were working with "A" and "B" licensed vehicles, with powers to fix minimum remuneration, holidays with pay, and to make recommendations about industrial conditions in the industry. The second part gave the opportunity for complaints about unfair wages to workers on "C" licensed vehicles to be made to the Minister of Labour. In the Second Reading Debate on that Bill in 1938, the then Minister of Labour, Mr. Ernest Brown, said: It takes a form which is new in our industrial legislation, because of the rapid development of this form of industrial transport. It will not be the last Bill, although it is the latest, as development and change are taking place with startling speed in the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1938; Vol. 335, c. 164.] Those developments and changes have taken place, and it is a tribute to the Minister of that time that he could look forward and appreciate that what he was doing then was not the end, but only the beginning of things to come later.

That brings us to the Wages Councils Act of 1945. That Measure was introduced by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in December, 1944, and contained the following provisions. It re-enacted the Trade Boards Acts of 1909 and 1918, but reconstituted the trade boards as wages councils. It enabled councils to have the right, authority, and the duty to fix statutory minimum remuneration, including a guaranteed wage, holidays with pay, but without restriction to the previous maximum of one week. It also provided additional powers whereby a wages council could be established subject to a recommendation by an independent commission where the commission is of opinion that the voluntary machinery is not adequate or is likely to become inadequate—so very important to the workers' side and, I think, to the employers' side also—and, as a result, a reasonable standard of remuneration is not being or will not be maintained. Therefore, they have the authority to deal with things as they are, and as they might be expected to be in the future.

Again, I should like to refer to a short sentence of the Minister at the time he introduced his Bill. He then said that the Bill not only widened trade boards legislation, but was a declaration by Parliament that the conception of what was known as the "sweated industry" was past. If I may, I should here like to interpose a personal note. In 1909, I together with a section of my industry, was associated with a trade board. These trade boards have been of tremendous advantage to all concerned. Not only have they improved working conditions and wages, and prevented the undercutting of the decent employers, but they have been one of the most powerful means of bringing about a better industrial relationship. Instead of both sides meeting and sniping at each other, they sit down under the guidance of independent members, to whom too high a tribute cannot be paid for their patience, perseverance, guidance and counsel in helping both sides to argue a matter out to its conclusion, instead of tiring of argument and turning to the strike weapon.

Today, we have 59 wages councils in 51 trades. The other eight are made up of eight trades with separate councils in Scotland. Therefore, we get the position where we have this great organisation flourishing and doing great service. It would be too wearisome to read out the long list of trades, but when one considers the conditions that existed in those industries before the councils came into effect, and the conditions that exist now, it is clear that, in passing this legislation, Parliament was doing a good thing for the country. May I say, in passing, that it was encouraging to those who were trying to fight against the bad conditions in industry to find that Parliament itself was not in the mood to support bad conditions and bad wages, and that, from time to time, this House has used its opportunities and its authority to give protection to those not properly able to protect themselves.

This new Bill has two main purposes. One is to convert the Road Haulage Central Wages Board into a wages council. This is submitted with the complete agreement of the present board and the National Joint Advisory Council for industry. Both sides of the industry, with its independent members, are parties to this change. At the same time, however, we take the opportunity of asking the House to give us certain minor amendments to the Act, based on the experience of the last few years. Such changes are set out in the Bill, and I will briefly refer to them. I think the House would prefer me to deal with them in a general form, because, in Committee, there will be ample opportunity for going into them in detail.

The most important transfer at the moment is the placing in the Wages Councils Bill of that provision of the Road Haulage Act under which inspectors are able to require the production of a vehicle's licence or defence permit which will enable them to verify whether a worker is within the scope of the Bill or not. The inspectors' duty is not merely restricted to saying whether the wages paid are the proper ones or not. They are called upon to say whether a person doing a job is within the scope of the Bill or not. The fact that inspectors will be able to do that, will prevent a great deal of misunderstanding and difficulty.

The next important change is in Clause 3. This gives the Minister power to widen the field of operation of wages councils. At present, we can make an order removing workers from the field of operation of one council and transferring them to another existing wages council. Many of these fields of operation are very close to each other. We have, for instance, wholesale clothing and bespoke clothing, millinery, headwear, and so on. Many of those industries are closely allied to one another. There may be instances where, due to the development and improvement of industrial methods, neither of the councils would be suitable for the workers. Therefore, we ask for very minor power, not merely to remove workers or industries from one wages council to another, but to create, where necessary, a further council suitable for the purpose. Viewing the whole field and scope of the wages councils, I hope we shall be able to reduce the 59 by some such measure as this Bill to a much smaller number, because the fewer there are the fewer duties will fall on the Government Departments handling them and the less we shall need to call upon the independent person. Before I sit down I should like to say another word about these helpful people, the independent persons.

Clause 3 (3) will enable a commission of inquiry where they recommend the establishment of more than one wages council, to recommend the establishment of a co-ordinating committee. It might be that we shall find an industry covered by this new Bill which will require a council, say, in England and Wales and, in Scotland, and it is desired that there shall be power to recommend the establishment of a central co-ordinating committee to keep these councils running in harmony so that they shall not cross, one against the other.

In Clause 4, we have a minor change, but one which is rather important. It extends to the standing joint bodies, such as the joint industrial council, the power to make application for the abolition of a wages council. At present, each side must apply, but we feel that if the standing joint body has reached a common agreement and wants to apply for the abolition of a wages council, then it should have the right to make such an application. There has been one such case in recent years in connection with the furniture trade. A few years ago, the position in some factories in the furniture trade led to very poor conditions, and very poor work, too. A wages council was established; both sides met, and they came to understand each other so well by sitting down and talking that they created their joint industrial council, and came along and said to us, "We do not want any more of your statutory enforcement of our wages scales; we have enough understanding in our industry to do it by voluntary means." That wages council was, therefore, wound up; they are carrying on by voluntary arrangements and, I understand, getting on very well indeed. If we can get more of this kind of thing by agreement, getting outside the wages council into the field of voluntary industrial harmony, it will be to the advantage of all concerned. That, then, is the slight change we want to make here.

Clause 5 (1) deals with the reports made to the Minister by a Commission of Inquiry. The new Clause 5 (1) requires the Minister to publish every report sent to him by a commission and not only, as at present, a report which includes a recommendation to establish a wages council. We ask for the power, which I think everybody will agree should be given, to publish the report of a commission which recommends that there should not be a wages council established. The public will thus know that a commission has been appointed, has considered the matter and made its report. It is rather difficult if we can publish only where we get a positive instruction and not where we get a negative instruction. We do, however, add this proviso: where the Minister refers a report back to the commission for reconsideration, as he may do under a Section of the existing Act, he shall not be bound to publish the first report of the commission until he publishes the further report. In other words, the report coming to the Minister shall not be considered final, if he thinks it necessary to send it back with some observations or for some clarification. The whole report shall be published together; that is, the first part and the second part together.

We put another proposal in Clause 5 (2). It is to clarify the duty of a commission appointed after the receipt of objections by the Minister. Let us say that a commission of inquiry has met to consider an application for a wages council; it has drafted its recommendation; it has been made public. Its recommendation has been published, in accordance with the Act, and objections invited. The Minister may receive some objections which seem worthy of consideration. He can refer them to a commission, but we want to make it clear that when a commission has been appointed to consider the objections it should be restricted to considering the objections and should not go over the whole field again from the time when the first inquiry was started.

The objections notified to the commission need not include any which the Minister thinks fit to exclude on either of following grounds, which I shall explain. The objections from the industry—from one side or the other—come in, but the Minister need not refer them back to a commission in the case of an objection to a draft order to give effect to a wages council recommendation if the objection had, in his opinion, already been made to the commission of inquiry which made the recommendation and had been expressly dealt with in the report embodying that recommendation. We say that if the objection has been considered and the matter decided, then the Minister ought to have the power not to send it back for examination. The second point is one which I think any Minister may find difficult to decide. He need not send forward an objection if he considers it frivolous. Of course, what one man thinks frivolous some others consider to be quite the opposite.

Another small point, in Clause 5 (3) is that wages council orders are statutory instruments. Under the old Act they were to be published by the Minister. These statutory instruments are now to be published by the King's Printers of Acts of Parliament under the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946. This Clause, therefore, relieves the Minister of the obligation of publishing, as publication will be made by the King's Printers. The short sentence referred to, therefore, should come out of the Act.

Clause 6 (1) may seem rather involved when one looks at it, but its real purpose is to make provision for more clear instructions relating to the publication by the council of its proposals and the posting of such proposals by employers. What we want to ensure is that the council must make the widest possible distribution of its notices, and its proposals, and also that the position shall be clear to the employers, that the council shall publish these notices and issue them in such a way as to give the widest possible opportunity of information for those concerned. Many will remember that in the early days of the Factories Acts, when these notices began to be placed in the factories, one could always find the notice behind the door in the dark entrance to the factory where nobody could see it and nobody could read it. Reference to the local public clock by which the factory clock was governed was always written pretty small and nobody could read it unless he had a magnifying glass and a searchlight. The spirit in these industries has changed and is such that they are themselves anxious to give the widest possible authority for publication and themselves request that we should give them more power to do so.

An important change in this Bill is contained in Clause 6 (2). The 1945 Act provided that there should be a minimum of 21 days between the publication of proposals and the closing date for objections being received. In the same Act and in the same Section it provided that, during the period of the emergency, in the war and following the war, that period should be 14 days. We want to cut out the 21 days altogether and make it definitely 14 days. We have made very careful inquiries amongst chairmen of boards and different councils and they are satisfied that 14 days, as a minimum, should be substituted for 21 days. In any case, that does not prevent the council from giving a longer period if they think fit. As that was a point upon which we had a great deal of difficulty some time back I hope the House will readily consent to this change being made.

It may be that those objections which are lodged within the 14 days constitute a very sound justification for making amendments to the proposals and the Minister may feel that the Amendments made are of such a character as to need republication. Thus we get another 14 days. Under the Road Haulage Wages Act, where we got the 21 days, sometimes many weeks elapsed from the original date before all the routine steps were taken and everything cleared away. Therefore, we want to insert 14 days as a definite minimum period instead of 21.

There is one point to which I think I should draw attention, and that is the giving of notice of an order and of its contents. At present the wages council must give notice of an order and of its contents. There may, however, be other matters affecting the operation of an order, for example, where an order provides for wages to vary according to some sliding scale arrangements. Sliding scale arrangements are rather coming into fashion and being adopted in industry. Therefore, we want the wages councils to have sufficient authority to publish an order and the contents, and also other matters and instructions relating to its operation. These are the main changes which the Bill brings about.

In conclusion, I should like to say that it is because of the co-operation that exists between the two sides of industry that they want to come under the general umbrella of the wages councils structure, and to keep in harmony with it. There is another factor. Many of these councils overlap. It is quite obvious that people employed in road haulage may also be employed in another industry. For example, there may be a fellow engaged in road haulage and in a paper bag factory. It is a bit awkward if there are to be two or more wages councils covering the same class of work. This Bill will help to overcome that difficulty.

I submit that the Bill will reduce delays, that it will ensure full and adequate notification of all points which need to be considered, that it will further develop the spirit of goodwill, and the reliance on collective bargaining, and that it will assist the promotion of the good industrial relationship that has been fostered already. It protects the good employer and it protects the standard of wages and the working conditions of the worker. I have said a word already about the independent members, and I should like to say a further word about them. It is the settled policy to arrange for an independent member of a wages council to serve on more than one wages council, and, so far as possible on related wages councils; so that we may, for instance, have the chairman of the clothing trade wages council as deputy chairman of the shirt-making wages council, or some other council related to the clothing trade wages council.

Therefore, we shall have the chairman and his two colleagues serving on more than one council having some major or minor relationship, each with the other. An attempt is thus made to see that we do not get distortion, and widely different wages and working conditions. It may be that the wages and working conditions in one trade may be brought up to a higher level, equal to that of another, and that the people in the latter trade may say that they have always been in front of the people in the other trade, and that they, therefore, must have their conditions advanced, too. From that point of view wages councils have performed a very useful piece of work, in getting something like a basis of uniformity. They have done much good work in that direction, and the ladies and gentlemen who have served on the councils have shown a great spirit of public service, and have encouraged the employers and the workers to make their cases on the merits of those cases.

Many of us on this side of the House will remember that in the old days we used to make our case by saying, "Our people want it," and leave the matter there, not arguing it beyond that. Now people have to show a good cause why such and such a thing should be done, and put up facts and figures. In the old days, employers, for their part, used to say, "We are not going to grant this," and then the workpeople would go on strike. Nowadays, both sides talk it over, and talking it over has brought about this spirit of good relationship in industry. Wages councils have been valuable. They have proved to the full the optimism of those who introduced the Acts of 1909 and 1945. I trust the House will give a Second Reading to this further Measure, and assist us in amending it in Committee if amendment is found necessary.

Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Has my right hon. Friend given any consideration to bringing within the scope of this Bill class C licence holders, as it appeared to be the, intention originally, to do so at a subsequent date.

Mr. Isaacs

Not at this moment, but we shall be very glad in Committee to listen to any proposal to that end.

4.5 p.m.

Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)

I welcome this Bill on behalf of the Opposition. I am sure that everyone in the House, wherever he sits, would like me to express from the House our gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman, not only for the way he has expounded this Bill, but for the spirit which lay behind that expounding, and for the admirable examples of his own experience with which he illustrated his speech. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I thought a little historically in approaching this Bill. It is interesting—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree—how often it occurs in this House—it is one of those mysteries which people outside it find difficulty in appreciating—that after the tumult of a three-line Whip Debate, the next day we come to consider a subject on which we are in general agreement, and with regard to which all parties can show a desire in the past to improve the position of the nation. I am sure that no one in the House will grudge one footnote of mine to history—that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) who introduced the Trade Boards Act of 1909; and it was noticeable that when the Act of 1945 was introduced the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made a quotation from the speech that my right hon. Friend made 36 years before.

I agree with the Minister of Labour that the procedure which was introduced in 1909, and has been improved on the various occasions he mentioned, has been a good procedure. It showed a typically British sense of working compromise because it provided for legal enforcement of the wages which were ultimately recommended, and autonomous boards with independent members to help in arriving at the wages which were to be enforced. That has, as I have said, proved a good working rule.

There is just one point on which I personally should be grateful, as this Bill goes on, to get the views of hon. Members wherever they sit. It has, of course, always been the practice that the results which were come to by the various boards, and afterwards the councils, were arrived at in the light of the particular issues and questions of the industry or trade they were considering. I think we have now come to a stage in our general economic outlook when we have to consider the value and importance of a non-parochial attitude in approaching these questions. It may be necessary—and this is an entirely non-party point—from whatever angle the problem is approached, to consider the wider question of the national interest and the national economic position. That is a very difficult matter. I appreciate the difficulty, because we do not want to detract from the close attention to the special details of the industry. Still, it is something, which, I think, we have to encourage and to engraft on the machinery which we have.

There is one other aspect of the historical side of this matter which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned and which I think is interesting. Apart from the Trade Boards Acts of 1909 and 1918, we had in the ensuing years, a procedure which brings about these results, approached from the point of view of various industries. We had the Agriculture Wages Act, 1924 and, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, the Road Haulage Act, 1938. During the war he will remember—as I certainly do, because the number of speeches which I made on it still brings the blush of shame to my face—the Catering Wages Act, 1942. As Solicitor-General, I had the honour and pleasure of assisting the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to pilot the Bill through the House. It is interesting, having seen this individual approach, to find that today we are, in the case of one of these matters, bringing it back into the general line and fitting it in.

I entirely agree with that suggestion. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has made out his case that the procedure under the Road Haulage Act, 1938, was complicated and did, in some cases, make for slowness, and that the alteration which this Bill makes will be an improvement. May I say as an old colleague of Mr. Ernest Brown, that I very much appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said about him today. I am sure that his words will give great pleasure to an old colleague of us both. It is one of those generous acts which mark British political life, and I thank him for it.

With regard to the various proposals in the Bill, I have dealt with the one for bringing into line the procedure of the Road Haulage Act, 1938. I think that the other proposals are also justified. The Minister should have the right to create separate wages councils where these are necessary. As he pointed out, he has already the right to remove people from one wage council to another, and, therefore, it seems logical that he should have the right where necessary to establish a separate council. I also welcome—and I am sure that everyone who has taken an interest in these matters will welcome—the suggestions which he put forward as to the possible use of the power at the suggestion of some joint industrial council, or something of that kind, for disposing of unnecessary councils in the way he indicated.

I think that he will agree with me that the remaining matters are largely procedural, but, in each case, they are, I think, an improvement of the procedure already there. I must say that he has enlightened me as to the effect of the coming down to the 14 days' procedure, and I shall study what he said with care when I see it in print. Although I am not, of course, binding myself not to have second thoughts on Committee, because obviously we shall have to consider this point, I say quite frankly that I appreciate the object of making permanent the 14 days' period and not reverting to the 21.

The Bill is another step on a well-trodden path. I agree, despite the difference of our political views, that there was a time when the initial steps on that path were a crying necessity, but I am glad that, looking back over its course, we can say that it has always been a path which people from all political quarters and all corners of industry—I am deliberately not saying "sides," for the moment— were ready to help. So long as we can keep that feeling—and it is our most earnest desire that it should be maintained—a great service to industry will be given. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out to us on many occasions the importance of free, frank and friendly negotiations at the present time. He has today underlined the importance of independent and informed consideration. So long as we proceed along these lines, which are logical, British and friendly, I believe that he need not regret our share in shaping the industrial conditions of the future.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

Like the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), I welcome this Bill. If the House does not mind my saying so, I took a little part in this House many years ago in trying to get established in the largest of all our industries some joint working arrangement between employers and employed, namely, the distributive trades. The opposition we had to encounter at that time was fairly strong. There are about 24 million people employed in the distributive trades; and I am pleased now, after many years' experience, to learn that a great deal has been achieved both for the employers and employed through those joint negotiations.

There is one thing in the Bill which perhaps my right hon. Friend would be good enough to answer. He tells us of the power of a joint industrial council to apply for the abolition of a wages council. Having gravitated up to the point of agreement and everything in the garden is beautiful—they may wish to abolish that machinery. I am probably one of the oldest trade union officials in the House, and I have seen many turns of the wheel when we have abolished certain wages machinery to find later on that it ought to be restored. I want, therefore, an answer to the point as to whether, if an organisation requests the abolition of these councils, and finds later on that it has made a mistake, it will be entitled then to apply for a restoration of the machinery.

I do not want to dwell unduly on this Bill. I welcome it very much. Members of the House who have been here for some time will bear in mind—and perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give attention to the point which I am about to make—that there has grown up in this country—and from one angle it is a very desirable growth—the position in which employers and employed come to an arrangement between themselves outside and Parliament is then asked to put a rubber stamp on their agreements. We have had several cases in the recent past of that kind.

While I am a trade unionist, I want, above all, to be sure that Parliament will have the final say in everything that is happening in that connection, and, if Parliament thought fit, that it can decide certain issues arising from the operation of these councils. That is to say that I should like my right hon. Friend to assure me that there is nothing in this Bill in any shape or form taking away the right of Parliament to determine what is best for the nation as a whole and, of course, for the people involved in these arrangements. The power of trade unionism and employers' organisations has grown enormously in my lifetime; and it is all to the good that it should be so. But I repeat that I still believe that Parliament is paramount over all those organisations, and I should like to be assured that in this Bill there is nothing which detracts from the power of Parliament to decide to do what it likes in connection in these matters.

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Upton)

I am very pleased indeed to have the opportunity of taking part in what I feel to be a very important Debate on an even more important Bill. I am pleased particularly because I have the honour to represent an area in the East End of London—Upton, West Ham—where quite a large number of the resident workers are engaged in the all-important industry of road haulage. Many of them are engaged in conveying goods all over the country from the London Docks. For that reason it gives me pleasure to speak this afternoon in support of this Bill. Equally, I am pleased because I happen to be a member of a very old, well-established and great trade union, which has a large number of members engaged in the road haulage industry. I refer to the National Union of General and Municipal Workers. Speaking on behalf of both my constituents and the members of my trade union, I feel sure I can say that they, in turn, will warmly welcome this Measure.

As we have heard from the Minister, the purpose of the Bill is to bring into being a Wages Council in place of the Road Haulage Central Wages Board. I believe it is true to say that everybody agrees that that board has done really good work since it came into existence; but it is also true to say that because of the ramifications of that board, there has of necessity, sometimes been delay which has, in my opinion, caused great difficulties to the employers on the one hand and to trade union officials and the workers in the industry on the other, in bringing about settlements on wages, conditions, or whatever may have been before the board. The Road Haulage Central Wages Board has served its purpose and is now hopelessly and completely out of date. The Minister referred to the recent strike in the road haulage industry. We all remember that large unofficial strike which took place not so very long ago. It was, I think, due partly to the delay, and not to the fault of anybody in particular; it was caused because of the ramifications of that Road Haulage Central Wages Board.

I have had some very recent experience of working as a member of what is I believe the newest wages council. Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the newest wages councils are those which the right hon. Gentleman referred to under the Catering Wages Act. I am confident that those wages councils have done an enormous amount of good. I am more concerned perhaps with the good they have done for the workers; but they have, in fact, done an enormous amount of good for both employers and workers in that industry. Therefore, I feel that the wages council envisaged in this Bill can be of great help and assistance to the workers and employers engaged in road haulage.

Whilst I give wholehearted support to this Measure and to the whole conception of wages councils, I do not believe that wages councils are the ideal; they are not the perfect answer in industrial negotiations, and I was particularly pleased to see Clause 4, which gives employers and the workers the opportunity, through a joint industrial council or by joint approach, to have this Measure abolished, if that is felt necessary by both sides of the industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has the great honour of being the oldest trade union official in this House. Far be it from me to try to disagree on experience with such an old and valuable trade union member. But I believe I have the honour—if it is indeed an honour—to be the youngest ex-trade union official in this House; until recently I was still actively engaged as an official on behalf of my union. I feel, quite frankly, that the joint industrial council procedure is far superior to any wages board or any State legislative body, whether it be a wages council, a wages board or a trade board. I think I could even get the support of the Minister of Labour for that statement, because it is a statement of fact. The Minister will bear me out when I say that there has been the least industrial unrest in industries where there is in existence, and has been for a long time, joint industrial council machinery.

The Minister mentioned his own industry; not his present one, but his previous one. We in the trade union movement all know of the magnificent efforts he made to get the printing industry on to a proper basis, so far as industrial negotiation is concerned. That is the industry with, if not the longest, at least a very long joint industrial council record; and in that industry there have been fewer industrial disputes than in any other. From the workers' point of view the wages and conditions now are among the finest in the country and from the employers' point of view, they have a happy and contented band of workers, and, what is more important to them their profits are quite good.

Therefore, from my short experience, I think that the ultimate aim should be the joint industrial council procedure. I hope that this Bill will not be on the Statute Book for very long. I make an appeal to the employers in this vast industry to come forward now and approach the union general secretaries with a view to seeing whether they cannot set up the voluntary industrial council machinery. After all, there are only two unions, I believe, affected, the General and Municipal Workers Union, of which I have the honour to be a member, and the Transport and General Workers Union.

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

And the Scottish Horse and Motormen's Union.

Mr. Lewis

I have found, and I think all of my trade union colleagues have found, that in the long run the voluntary J.I.C. machinery is more beneficial than any State machinery which has previously existed or is suggested. Perhaps I may take the liberty, on behalf of the wider trade union movement, of telling the Minister that he can be assured, from the trade unionist point of view and from the trade union officials' point of view, of every help and assistance in making this a successful Measure when it has been placed on the Statute Book.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

So far, everyone who has taken part in this Debate has been either a trade union official or a lawyer. We have had, as usual, a most interesting speech from my very old colleague the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), whose work we all know. We have also had another interesting speech from the hon. Member for Upton (Mr. A. Lewis). I hope that in the remarks I wish to make I shall not be more controversial than those of the hon. Member for Upton, whose compliments to the Government were, I thought, sometimes veiled. I wondered when he would find himself in conflict with the Government Front Bench, but in point of fact he only came into conflict with his hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) because he had left out a well-known and highly thought of Scottish union in connection with this most important subject.

I am not looking at this Bill from the point of view of a trade unionist or of an employer. I think it is only right, when we are discussing something that affects both the workers and employers in industry, that an ordinary outsider should state his views. All who read the Press on these matters realise the vital danger to industry and trade of any delays in reaching agreements on any matters which may be in dispute. The object of this Bill is to try to simplify the procedure by which disputes can be settled, and from that point of view, I can support it. I can also give it my support because it continues the policy which has been followed in this country for very many years. The Minister paid a sincere tribute to the work done by Mr. Ernest Brown, who was born in my constituency and is very highly thought of in the West Country.

I wish that the Minister would make that type of speech rather more often outside this House and pay tribute to the enormous amount of work which has been done in this field by the Liberal and Conservative Parties, instead of constantly pointing out that things were not so good between the wars. It is a curious fact that in this Debate we have had mention made of three or four considerable social Measures, including the 1909 Act. How many times have Members opposite made speeches against my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) saying that he is against the workers. Yet that Measure was brought in by him? Then we have the 1933 Act, and the two Acts mentioned in this Bill in 1938. There is the Measure for holidays with pay, which is the greatest single step that has been taken for the benefit of the whole population by any party, and that naturally was the Conservative Party. In every one of these cases the story is very different from the stuff that is published from Transport House. Why cannot the same fairness as has been shown today be shown also in political speeches made outside this House?

The first question which arises out of the earlier Clauses of this Bill is precisely where the representatives of the employers and of the Government come in, and how they are to be selected. I think that we should be given some explanation, particularly in view of the large amount of Government control over the transport industry. Many Members in this House may know the exact position in this regard, but at the moment the employers do not know precisely where they stand. I think it is a great pity that we should not be made more fully acquainted with the Government's intentions along these lines. I should not like to accuse the Minister of shuffling, but he seemed to be a little ca' canny in avoiding having anything to do with the Government adopting the point of view of the employers.

In Clause 5, there is mention of the publication of reports. It is nice to know that the Government are more anxious to give information on this matter than they are on some other things. I should like to know how many reports we may expect to be issued every year. I shall do nothing to discourage their issue, but we should like to be told how many we might expect, because each one must take a considerable time to prepare and no small quantity of paper. The limitation of time which is mentioned in Clause 6 (2) was pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). My right hon. and learned Friend has said that he will look into the legal aspect of this matter, which is undoubetdly necessary. However much it may be necessary, in some cases, to give longer notice—such as in rural districts, where 14 days might be too short—I should like to see the time reduced as much as possible, because speed is essential to justice in this case as in every other.

When we consider the position of the ordinary worker in the road haulage industry there is one point that might be included in the Bill. Sometimes I get complaints about time schedules which compel a driver to go too fast. I mention this not only from the point of view of the driver himself, or his company, but with the safety of the ordinary public in mind. It is right that Members of Parliament should say that it is part of the duty of the road haulage boards, or the new councils, to see that time schedules are so arranged as to cause no danger to the public by drivers, or to the health of the drivers. This is a point which I put forward as affecting my constituency, as an ordinary Tory M.P., and not one of the plutocrats of the Labour Party, who are so powerful today in their control of vast masses of men. I am not quite sure where Scotland comes into this question. Perhaps she might be included in one of the Clauses.

Mr. Scollan

That is about the only thing a Tory would give away.

Mr. Williams

Perhaps I had better not pursue that point any further. There is, however, one first-class Scottish Member of Parliament on these benches at the moment, and I feel sure he is capable of looking after the interests of Scottish transport workers, as I look after the interests of ordinary men and women in my division. I am glad that the Bill does not follow the usual Socialistic lines, but follows the thought of Liberals who come eventually into the fold of the Tory Party, as did the present Leader of the Conservative Party. There is also the case of Mr. Ernest Brown, who led the National Liberals so well when other Liberals took no interest whatever in these social reforms.

These are the reasons why I support the Bill, though I must add that it ought to have been brought in last year or even earlier. It would have had a very much better effect on industry than some of the stupid Measures which the Government have brought forward. I congratulate the Government on bringing it in now, and I hope it will prove of real value to the country. I hope that what I have said will not arouse opposition. On occasions of this sort I doubt whether it is in the interests of the House to have a number of expert speeches from various Members and trade unionists. Let us have the Second Reading as quickly as possible, unless there are more ordinary Members like myself who wish to speak.

4.48 p.m.

Mr. Gibson (Kennington)

I am sure that road transport workers who read this Debate will read the beginning of the speech of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) with great interest, but will be wondering, by the time they get to the end of it, what attitude the hon. Member was really adopting towards this Measure. The hon. Member spread out his coat tails, but I do not propose to tread on them. I support the Bill because it is a first-class Bill. We have heard from the Minister and from the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) something of the history of this type of legislation, and it might also be well to remember that before the introduction of the Road Haulage Central Wages Board the road haulage industry was continually in trouble, particularly between the wars.

Unfortunately for me I was involved in a great many disputes which took place, but I am quite sure that the reason for better conditions and for the new spirit of co-operation and conciliation is because in 1938 we got for the first time some more or less effective method of not only dealing with wages and conditions, but also of providing some discipline for both sides of the industry. I do not dispute for a moment that the lorry driver is a character on his own. He often went very wild in an attempt to insist that his particular grievances ought to be dealt with immediately. But it is equally true to say that on the other side, amongst the employers in the industry, there was an equal lack of discipline at any rate before 1938.

The Road Haulage Board after long struggles, as many of us know, have succeeded in bringing some discipline into both sides of the industry, which is to the good of the industry and for the economic benefit of the country. The only serious dispute we have had in road transport since the war really arose out of the long delay which inevitably occurred under the old machinery. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that this Bill will save the almost interminable delays, which seemed to the men to occur when matters affecting their wages, conditions and livelihood generally were under consideration. If it does that, this Bill will add further to the overall efficiency of the industry.

I believe that the wages board machinery is a much neater and tidier form of machinery for the industry. It is desired both by the men and the employers, who understand that it works more speedily and is safer, as it will have the effect of increasing the possibility of a unanimous agreement when the parties get round a table and discuss their grievances and troubles. By that method they will find agreement on the day to day problems that crop up. That can be accomplished without either side departing from their fundamental and deeply held beliefs. I have taken part in many discussions of this kind during the past 30 or 40 years and I have signed many agreements. I have not, however, regarded myself as surrendering the economic beliefs that I held, nor did the employers with whom I signed. They worked and produced harmony in the industry, and they made some provision for dealing with the inevitable troubles which arise in that, as well as in any kind of industry.

I believe that the wages council machinery is the most effective organisation which has so far been evolved, in the long struggle in this country to get this kind of machinery for dealing with industrial troubles of all kinds. One of my hon. Friends has referred to the fact that if both sides desire to ask for the abolition of the wages council, they are free to do so. Personally, I hope they will not. It is possible under an organisation like the wages council to get all the benefits of a free and harmonious understanding without abolishing the machinery, because what we are able to do now, might easily disappear in five or ten years when we get a new means of handling these things.

I am glad also to be able to support this Bill because it is another instance of the steadily growing practice in this country of dealing with industrial and economic matters, as they arise, on the basis of common sense. If the House will forgive me, I should like to give one personal illustration. I was, I admit, a very young man when I was appointed the first secretary of the workers' side of the first agricultural wages board in Essex. I had the duty of moving the resolution dealing with the settlement in regard to the first minimum wage for agricultural workers in Essex. Although I thought the motion I was moving was an extremely moderate one, nearly all the farmers fell off their chairs when they heard the figure. But it was a long way below the figure which in these days it is thought fit and proper to pay to agricultural workers. We found it rather difficult to get the farmers to agree to a discussion of our troubles, let alone any agreement, but eventually we did get it.

Today the situation is quite different. Employers and workers are prepared to sit down and talk and try to reach an agreement. They do not go into a conference—at least I have never done so—feeling that they must give up their cherished beliefs. They go into the conference with the desire to get out of that conference the best possible conditions for their people. I believe that the wage councils have done as much as any other piece of legislative machinery to encourage the development of that kind of co-operation throughout industry.

Therefore, because this Bill will tidy up an industry which badly needs tidying up and will lead to a speedier consideration of the claims of the parties concerned, while at the same time removing some of the criticisms which have always been made of the old form of machinery in this industry, I am going to support it, and I know that I am also speaking on behalf of the union of which I have the honour to be a member.

4.58 p.m.

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

There is only one point in the Bill in which I am particularly interested. With all the other points I am in agreement. Before I come to that point, I should like to refer to what was said by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). He tried to take a good deal of credit for his party because of the work that was done by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in introducing the Trade Boards Act. It was obvious from the remarks made by the hon. Member that he is not aware of the circumstances in which that Measure was introduced. Further, he is totally ignorant of the conditions prevailing in the industry which brought about that Act. At that particular time the indignation of all right-thinking people in the country was directed towards the most damnable conditions under which many of the workers in the various industries had to work. It brought about "The Song of the Shirt." I suppose the hon. Member never heard of that poem, but it described how shirts were made by a consumptive widow in a hovel and how she got a price which just kept body and soul together. That was what brought about the Trade Boards Act.

The right hon. Member for Woodford was the very honoured person who had the privilege of bringing in a Bill for which the whole country was crying out. It was a very small, meagre Measure. It laid down certain conditions and such were those conditions that, today, the people who laid them down ought to hide their heads in shame. I recommend the hon. Member for Torquay to read about the actual conditions under which the first rules were laid down. If he does so, never again will he open his mouth to claim credit for the Tory Party for that Measure. There have been members of the Tory Party and of the British aristocracy who were friends of the workers. Lord Shaftesbury was responsible for many of the reforms before there were any friends of the working classes in this House.

Mr. C. Williams

Will the hon. Member——

Mr. Scollan

No, I will not. Sit down and try to learn something. I want to deal with one particular matter, which is whether the Act is to be amended to the point of allowing wages councils to fix wages under a sliding scale for particular industries. For nearly 10 years I was secretary of one of the largest industrial councils in the country, relating to the sugar, confectionery and food preserving industries, including all kinds of food preserving. During that time my council never once made a decision which did not create great interest in the whole industry. What impressed me was the lack of knowledge among the workers about the machinery by which their wages and conditions were controlled. They had no knowledge, but an idea in the back of their minds that the Government did it in some mysterious way.

I watched with very great interest during the war, and since, the operation of wage-fixing machinery. It was only remotely connected with the average worker, and was largely responsible for delay in dealing with complaints and grievances. This fact resulted in all kinds of strikes, unofficial and otherwise, for which somebody was blamed, perhaps because of his political colour. As a matter of fact, workers do not go on strike because somebody tells them a fairy tale but because they have a grievance and there is nobody to remedy it. There is no other reason for strikes. I wish I could impress that fact upon people who talk poppycock about agitators.

I remember after the war of 1914–18 that many trade unions undertook agreements containing a sliding scale. Nothing created more difficulty than those sliding scales, when they began to operate in bringing down wages. There were strikes galore. Everybody said that the workers' leaders had accepted a fodder basis for the workers and that it did not matter how much wealth the worker produced for the country, his standard of life was now fixed for all time.

I warn the Minister of Labour that if he is thinking of fixing sliding scales for the industries of the country, he is cooking trouble for himself. The more we produce in this country and the more our industries recover, the more valuable the paper money of the country will become. A sliding scale is bound to bring down the money wages of the workers. Suppose the cost of living is going down. The worker with £5 or £7 per week may appear to be twice as well off as, according to the sliding scale, he ought to he. Sliding scales decided in 1948 will be fixed at the highest point, and as prices come down and the real value of wages goes up, the workers' money wages will come down under the operation of the sliding scale. I therefore ask the Minister to reconsider this matter.

Every time there is a change either in the domestic cost of living or in overseas markets let the workers' representatives discuss the matter with the workers before beginning negotiation. The workers will have their eyes fixed on the negotiations so that whatever the final outcome may be, the workers will be behind their representatives, unless they have a very strong reason for thinking otherwise. They will have followed the whole course of the negotiation. That is much better than an automatic sliding scale by which wages come down by 5s. this week and again in a fortnight's time, without the workers really knowing why, or who cuts their wages down. They only know that wages are coming down, as they must, under the operation of a sliding scale. This country is making progress and will continue to do so. We shall produce more, and consequently the worker will work more. This is not the time to introduce sliding scales, which have created much trouble in the past.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

I am glad of the opportunity of following a fellow Scot, although I rather regretted his attempt to introduce acerbity into the earlier part of his speech. I thought he went out of his way to pour scorn on what was said by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams).

Mr. Scollan

Did the hon. Member hear what his hon. Friend said?

Mr. McKie

It was in reference to the legislation introduced by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in 1909. I venture to remind the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) that the Tory Party were not responsible for any legislation, good or bad, which was introduced in 1909, and that all that legislation was sponsored by the then Liberal Government of Mr. Asquith. The hon. Member for West Renfrew should therefore reserve his stinging remarks for the spiritual heirs—I am sorry they are not here at the moment—of the once great Liberal Party of that day. If the hon. Member says that that legislation was trumpery, he must fix the responsibility and direct his scorn upon the Liberal Party of that day.

The hon. Member tried to make out that the hon. Member for Torquay knew little or nothing about that legislation. Perhaps I might tell the hon. Member for West Renfrew, because he may not know it, that the hon. Member for Torquay contested both the January and the December Elections in 1910 and no doubt heard quite a lot about that legislation at that time. I do not know quite from what angle the hon. Member for Torquay approached that legislation at the hustings. I have not had an opportunity of discussing it with him.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

He approached it as a Tory.

Mr. C. Williams

I have not, previous to this Debate, looked up my election addresses for that time, but I can certainly say that I wanted to see the very best conditions for all the workers in this country and that I certainly approved of all social legislation at that time, as indeed did leaders of the Tory Party such as Mr. Balfour and Mr. Joseph Chamberlain.

Mr. McKie

I am glad to have had that very full explanation from the hon. Member for Torquay. I hope that the hon. Member for West Renfrew will be completely convinced, if he is not willing to accept what I have to say, by the absolutely convincing statement of the hon. Member for Torquay.

Mr. Gallacherrose——

Mr. McKie

The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will no doubt have an opportunity later on of expressing his point of view, if he so desires, upon this matter, which is important to his constituents as well as to those of all of us. While I accuse the hon. Member for West Renfrew of endeavouring to introduce acerbity into the earlier part of his speech, I nevertheless wish to be fair. I only wish that the hon. Member were as fair as I wish to be. He said—and I thank him for it—that there has been a good deal of social legislation promoted by the Tory Party over the last 120 years since the first Reform Bill of 1832. Towards the end of his speech, the hon. Gentleman was making a wide sweep. After all, he must remember that the wages councils envisaged under this quite small Bill are limited to the people employed in road haulage.

Mr. Scollan

If the hon. Member reads the Bill he will find that it is not confined to road haulage. There are also amendments of other Acts. Might I suggest that the hon. Member reads the Bill before talking about it?

Mr. McKie

I always listen to any admonitions, but let me assure the hon. Member that I do not depart from my original statement, that the Bill is designed, first of all, to set up wages councils for people engaged in the road haulage industry. I was much struck with the stern admonitions which the hon. Member addressed, as he so often does, to his Front Bench. There is no Member on the Benches behind the Government of the present day who is more persistent in embarrassing the Government he was elected to support than the hon. Member for West Renfrew, and he showed no signs of departing from his accustomed practice.

I rejoice that there is one hon. Member on that side of the House who realises the serious inflationary position in which this country now finds itself, a state of affairs which has been fostered sedulously by the Government which the hon. Gentleman, although he criticises it verbally, always slavishly supports in the Division Lobby. I am thankful that he pointed this out, and I hope the Government will take warning from his words and realise the serious position we are in. However, the hon. Gentleman must not accuse me, or any of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, of not wanting to see a state of affairs where things are regulated on the best possible lines for all workers. I hope that the hon. Member for West Fife, who represents the Communist Party and who gazes at me so fixedly on this occasion, will think on reflection that there are some good intentions in the Tory Party with regard to that matter.

With those few remarks, like my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay, on general principles, we on this side will all wish to give support to this Bill——

Mr. Gallacher

May I say that I always realise there is something in what the hon. Member says, but I have never been able to discover what it is.

Mr. McKie

I am glad to have that interruption from such a well-known interrupter and persistent heckler as the hon. Member for West Fife, but I am not sure he is always so ready to give way as the hon. Member for West Renfrew. However, I am afraid that the hon. Member does not always listen as carefully as he might to what speakers on this side of the House have to say. If he listened more attentively and allowed his mind to be more open, he would be able to follow much more carefully the arguments which from time to time I endeavour to bring forward.

I was about to conclude by saying that, on general principles, I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay said. We on this side do not desire to oppose this Bill. We go further and say that in the main it is on sound lines—almost on the lines which we as a political party, if in power, would have been responsible for drafting; and while we shall reserve the right to put forward Amendments on the Committee stage, I join with all my hon. Friends in giving the Bill an unopposed Second Reading and wish it well in its passage to the Statute Book.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)

As one who is not a trade unionist I do not normally intervene in industrial matters when they come before this House, but I am not at all diffident in intervening today since I am able to bring the House back to a consideration of the Bill after what I can only stigmatise as a completely irrelevant speech. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) perhaps was principally to blame in leading the House from the Bill in the first place. To him I would only say that the best answer to his attempted defence of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) lies in the definition of goodness and badness by the celebrated American philosopher Professor Dewey. He defined a bad man as one who, however good he had been in the past, had begun to deteriorate, and that I fear is the condition of the right hon. Member for Woodford, whose excellent early contributions to social progress in the country have been acknowledged by none more than my hon. Friends and myself.

I intended to rise on the Second Reading of this Bill because, before the Bill was published, I discovered that there was considerable anxiety in the country on the part of both employers and employees as to what it would contain. It is a measure of that mounting agreement to which the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) so rightly alluded in his able contribution to this Debate, that there is, through the gradual growth of this machinery of negotiation in its various forms, a different atmosphere in industry, so that a private Member of the House could be approached by two delegations consisting of employers and employees to find out what was to be in the Bill and to make constructive suggestions.

There was expressed to me some anxiety lest this Bill should be too narrow; that, for instance, it should confine itself entirely to the changes taking place whereby the provisions of the Road Haulage Central Wages Board would become a wages council, because they felt that was not sufficient. What they wanted was a series of amendments to make the present working of wage negotiations easier and quicker, and one which could be better understood by both sides.

Now, this Bill, small as it is, seems to have covered every point which was raised to me before its provisions were known. If there is one thing productive of distrust in industry at the moment—and it is brought home particularly to Members like myself who are open to attack because we are presumed to be ignorant, and therefore more easily persuaded of the points of view of the people who approach us—it is that where there are what the workers regard as justified wages claims, there is an undue delay in the settlement of those claims through the present negotiating machinery.

The Minister has clearly pointed out the value of the wages board machinery when it was first established. Examples have been given of its usefulness over the course of the years, by other hon. Members on this side who have spoken, but the Minister has shown us most clearly how more effective is the wages council method. I am one who believes that the greater the variety of our approach to the problem, the more nearly shall we find the best solution. The hon. Member for Upton (Mr. A. Lewis) put in a stirring defence of the joint industrial council method. To me, the value of this Bill is that, for the first time, we do not lay down a hard-and-fast permanent form of negotiation. First, we have in Clause 3 (3) what I consider to be a most valuable innovation: Where a commission of inquiry embodies two or more wages council recommendations in the same report, it may include in that report a recommendation for the establishment of a central co-ordinating committee in relation to all or any of the councils to which those recommendations relate … Let me here hark back to something which was said by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby. He pointed out that all the recommendations of wages boards or councils must have some relation to the interests of the nation as a whole. The greater the area where an agreed opinion can be obtained, with the help of those independent members to whom the Minister paid such just tribute, the nearer will these particular industries approach the interests of the nation.

In my constituency I have come up against this rather forcibly, perhaps, because I have the great privileges and also the unfortunate disabilities which follow upon residence right in the middle of one's constituency. In such circumstances one is always on duty, particularly in the spare time of other people, and I have had representations on this point from no fewer than three new industries of very great potential importance in our export trade. What is happening as the result of scientific and electronic research, and so on, is that we are getting new patterns of industry and, indeed, completely new industries. A Bill of this kind, therefore, must be elastic if it is to be useful. One of its provisions which I welcome especially is that set out in Clause 4 whereby representations may be made by a joint industrial council, a conciliation board or other similar body for the abolition of wages councils for their own particular industry. In the elasticity of its provisions I see the possibility of that advance which was asked for by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby.

I am very glad there is general agreement on all sides of the House that this Measure is not only necessary but well drawn up. Unlike most Bills which are small and generally agreed to, the proceedings in Committee are likely to be the most important stage of this Measure, for it may be possible then to amend and extend it to serve an even more valuable purpose than it does as it stands at present, over a greater variety of industries.

5.23 p.m.

Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)

The House is debating one of the most important industries in the country, one which is the lifeblood of the nation. The movement of goods throughout the country can be likened, in fact, to the flow of blood through the body and I am glad that the House is taking some time to discuss such an important industry. Until this industry became organised, it suffered absolute chaos. There was no machinery to negotiate wages or hours, and until after the last war, chaos existed in the whole of our transport industry. It will be within the memory of hon. Members that immediately after the 1914–18 war the Government disposed of all the lorries which they had used during the war, with the result that road haulage contractors sprang up like mushrooms and the multiplicity of contractors made the position of the industry chaotic.

I well remember negotiating wages in the industry in a town in South Wales. The amount laid down by the trade union as a day's wage for a man driving a horse was 10s. 6d. The local authority advertised for contractors to work for them and the contractors offered their services—of man, horse, and cart—for 14s. a day, although the trade union rate for the man alone was 10s. 6d. Men employed in the industry, however, could not complain that they were not getting the trade union rate; because they were afraid of being sacked. Only after a man had left his employer were complaints received by the trade union that he had not been paid the trade union rate under the fair wage clause.

As a trade union secretary at that time, my business was to complain to the local authority that their contractors were not complying with the fair wage clause of their contracts. I was called upon to prove my allegations and an inquiry was held. The committee which dealt with the contracts was called together, the men gave evidence, and it was demonstrated beyond doubt that the road haulage contractors were not carrying out the fair wage clause of their contracts. As a result all the contracts were cancelled and new ones were sought. The chaotic state of the industry in that particular town was to be found also in other parts of the country.

I agree that there have been developments in the wages structure of the industry. Many of them were brought about by the Opposition when they were on this side of the House. But they helped to improve the structure only because of the force of the organised men in the industry. The joint industrial councils, for instance, were first set up, I believe, under a Coalition Government in 1917. Not only did the organised workers press for such action, but the circumstances of the war necessitated the appointment of some kind of committees which would prevent industrial troubles and strikes at that period. In consequence, there has been a gradual development and improvement in the wages structure of this important industry.

If at the present time, with the development of industry which is taking place, we had no trade unions and no wages structure in industry, the Government would be compelled to set up such a structure and to establish trade unions, because we could not carry on the complex system of industry which exists today without a trade union movement. The better the organisation amongst the men in a particular industry, whether road transport or any other, the more perfect will become its wages structure and the smoother will it work, with the result that there will be fewer strikes. It is essential, therefore, to encourage the better organisation of every industry.

We are by this Bill modernising the wage structure of this industry and bringing it up to date, but I wish to remind the House that this Bill is not the final stage in that process. No structure we devise today will be the final structure for all time. What we are laying down today may, 10 years hence, have become obsolete and unusable, and we shall have to adopt a new system. Five years ago, we were discussing the Road Haulage Wages Act and the system laid down then was appropriate to that time, but now things have developed differently and a new structure has to be devised. The time may come when we shall have to revise what we are doing today.

A fact which will be of importance to the industry and the Government was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard). He was dealing with the speed at which differences which arise in industry are dealt with by the wages structure. We continually hear how strikes are caused by the slow working of the wages machine. Negotiating committees are not called together, but are put off from time to time and often the resulting delay causes more trouble in industry than the claim submitted by the men. I claim that the structure laid down in this short Bill will speed up the settlement of grievances and the settlement of wages claims and will, therefore, help industry to move along smoother lines. As one who has had long experience in the trade union movement, organising in this industry on behalf of my union, I welcome this Bill. I feel it will help the men in a vital and important industry and will prevent a number of difficulties and strikes in the future.

5.32 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)

I am sure the way in which my right hon. Friend outlined the purposes of this Bill and its meaning was welcomed on all sides of the House. We are all grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who led for the Opposition, for the way in which he reacted to the manner of the speech of my right hon. Friend. This is a remarkable Bill in so far as it has received the approbation of every hon. Member who has spoken in the Debate. There has been complete agreement on the purposes of the Bill. It is quite natural that we should have some recollection of past battles and struggles when discussing that part of the Bill which deals with road haulage wages procedure.

The right hon. and learned Member made an important point in connection with the non-parochial consideration of matters referred to these wages councils. He stressed that they should take into account not only the circumstances of the particular industry, but the relation of that industry to the rest of our economy. He will be aware that since the publication of the White Paper on prices, profits and wages each of these wages councils has given an undertaking that it would consider that statement in conjunction with the consideration of any claim before it. That, in itself, has been helpful. It has helped to give a rather wider horizon and made it possible to consider not only a narrow sector of facts, but the effect of decisions on the rest of our economy. In that way it has helped to play a great part in steadying the whole position in regard to the rather inflationary pressure that was threatening to come into operation.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned that during the Committee stage there might be points on which there would be differences of opinion and that the Opposition would pay attention to those points. We shall welcome any assistance we have from all sides of the House in making this Bill better. Undoubtedly, in some respects we are groping in a new field and on the edge of new experience. The pattern of industry is changing and it may well be that we shall need new methods to deal with it.

All hon. Members who have spoken on either side of the House have given a general welcome to the Bill, and I propose only to deal with points of detail which have been specifically raised for reply. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who has had a very distinguished experience in this special field of our economy, asked if when joint councils applied for the abolition of their existence as wages councils, becoming joint voluntary bodies, they would have the right subsequently to ask for the restoration of the wages councils. That right will continue to be theirs at any time. Once a wages council goes out of existence, and it is found by the experience of employers, or workers, that voluntary agreements are not being honoured on one side or the other, they will be entitled to ask for the restoration of the wages council structure for that industry.

My hon. Friend also asked whether there was anything in the Bill which took ultimate power from Parliament. On studying the Bill, he will find that Parliament's position in relation to these amendments is exactly the same as it was under the original Act and that there is no attempt to take from Parliament ultimate sanction in reference to what is done in connection with these wages councils.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upton (Mr. A. Lewis) raised a number of points and dealt with a great deal of matter outside the terms of the Bill. He referred to wages boards under the Catering Wages Act. That is not dealt with under this Bill. I suppose the time has not arrived when we should bring catering wages machinery into conformity with the general wages council machinery. He stated a new philosophy. He hoped these wages councils were not the final form of our industrial relations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) took a rather contrary view. He said he hoped no one would ask for the abolition of the machinery of wages councils. I can understand the reasons for both points of view, but the wages council machinery came into existence for the purpose of helping to get order in industries which were not adequately organised. When they become adequately organised on both sides; when employers are able to enforce decisions on their members and trade unions are able to discipline their members, the existence of the wages council machinery seems unnecessary. As we have a very substantial section of industries not covered by wages councils, but by joint industrial councils, it may be that the argument will tend to go along the lines put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Upton.

Amidst a lot of moaning and rejoicing, we had a contribution from the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). He wanted to know a number of things that have nothing at all to do with the Bill. He wanted to know whether, under the Bill, we could do something about time tables and schedules. They do not arise under the Bill and are not matters to be decided by wages councils. He also suggested that the question of the speed at which the men were compelled to work by these new timetables should be considered by the wages councils.

Mr. C. Williams

I said that one of the reasons why the public welcome these bodies and why we think that they can be of adavntage is because we believe that one of the things that a council will do, when inquiring into wage conditions, will be to look into the conditions under which the men work. Obviously anything to do with a timetable must have some bearing on the conditions of work. I did not expect that timetables could be included in the Bill. I merely said that it was one of the reasons why we welcomed the Bill. I was really stating the hon. Gentleman's case.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am not resenting the hon. Member's attempt to help us. I am saying that the considerations which he put forward do not fall within the scope of this Bill, and that the question of scheduling is not a matter for a central wages council. The hon. Member asked how many reports we could expect each year from these wages councils. I find that five reports have been issued since 1945, so that he will not be burdened too much with a lot of reading matter in consequence of the alteration of these wages councils.

A number of other points were raised. The most outstanding was that made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan), who, I think, took an unusual attitude. He rather requested the Government to lay down that cost-of-living sliding scales should not be introduced by these wages councils in their agreements. I should deeply regret to see the day when this Government or any other Government told a body consisting of representatives of both sides of industry what form its wages agreements were to take. It must be a matter for the representatives of the trade unions and the employers on these wages councils to decide what is in their best interests.

Mr. Scollan

Is it not within my hon. Friend's recollection that the Prime Minister issued a White Paper on personal incomes, and that the Chancellor issued advice the obvious intention of which was that the trade union movement and the wage negotiating machinery should observe certain things in the interest of the country. Is it not in the interest of the country to avoid the type of thing to which I referred, which is likely to lead to industrial disputes?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I take the view that trade union representatives who are handling these wages negotiations and such matters day by day are far more competent than I am to advise their members as to what is in their best interests. I know of nothing which the Government have done to advise any body of trade unionists or any trade union organisation to adopt this or any other method. I sincerely hope that the workmen of this country will be convinced that this Government do not intend to influence or control the activities of wages councils or any joint industrial council. Once the Government begin to act in that way other Governments can do the same, and Governments may misunderstand what are the interests which are represented in the joint industrial council or wages council.

Mr. Scollan

If that is the case, as I am inclined to agree—indeed I have advocated it in the past—why did my right hon. Friend, in his opening speech, introduce the question that these councils would have the power to fix sliding scale agreements? Is not that a hint to them to do so?

Mr. Ness Edwards

The councils can do that now, but they are not obliged to publish information about it. What my right hon. Friend referred to was the right to publish. All that is provided in the Clause to which my hon. Friend refers is that the wages council shall publish information about this matter when it has arrived at a decision. The provision means that and nothing more. In those circumstances, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel satisfied that there is no great danger of this Government losing the virtue which he thinks they possess.

I have covered most of the points which have been raised in this Debate. Those to which I have not referred can be dealt with on the Committee stage. I echo again what my right hon. Friend has said, that we hope we shall have ample time on the Committee stage to give the closest possible attention to some of the details, because some of them are really tricky and will require close examination. We shall hope to be as reasonable as we have always been in dealing with Bills promoted by the Ministry of Labour.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.