§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This is a short and, I hope, non-controversial Bill. It is designed mainly to remove certain anomalies which have arisen in connection with the operation of the Restoration of Pre-War Trade Practices Act, 1942. That Act imposes certain obligations on employers to restore within two months of the end of the war—that phrase will crop up frequently and that is the point with which I am concerned—and then to maintain for 18 months from the end of that period the trade practices which obtained before the war but which were departed from during the war. It also provides that those obligations may be waived or modified by means of written agreements between employers and trade unions. I wish to make it clear at the start that those provisions for waiver or modification remain unaffected by the Bill.
The war period for the purposes of the Act was defined as beginning on 3rd September, 1939, and ending on such date as the Minister of Labour might appoint, not being later than the date on which the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, expired. In fact, no date for the end of the war has so far been appointed. In the view of the Government and of the two sides of industry the abnormal circumstances of the post-war period have made it necessary, in the economic interests of the community, to postpone a return to the pre-war trade practices departed from during the war. With the agreement of both sides of industry, steps have been taken each year since the war and under emergency legislation, to extend the end of the war period for the purposes of the Act for a further year.
The present position is, therefore, that the end of the war period, that is the date on which the obligation takes effect to restore the pre-war trade practices departed from during that period, is to be a date appointed by the Minister of Labour, not being later than December, 1951. The Government are, however, still 1263 of the opinion, which is supported by the National Joint Advisory Council, that the economic circumstances of our country are such that it would be wholly inappropriate to provide at present for a return to pre-war trade practices. I am sure that this is a view which will command support from all sides of the House.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
Could my right hon. Friend give us one or two examples of these pre-war trade practices?
§ Mr. Isaacs
I realise that although this is a simple, short Bill there are some complications in it and I would readily digress at any moment to give such information, but if my hon. Friend will be good enough to put that question to me a little later I shall be glad to give him some information then.
We have carefully considered what is the best way of approaching the situation. This Bill has been prepared in the light of the advice given to me on this subject by the National Joint Advisory Council. Its objects have the support of the British Employers' Confederation, the Trades Union Congress and the nationalised industries, all of which are represented on the N.J.A.C. It might be argued that the appointed date for the end of the war period for the purposes of the Act should continue to be postponed by means of emergency legislation. It appears to us, however, that there are certain objections to doing this.
The continued postponement of the appointed date year by year through emergency legislation is not a satisfactory method of dealing with the statutory responsibilities imposed by the Act. It is very much better that any action which we may take, in regard to an Act carrying such important implications for both sides of industry, should rest on a more satisfactory basis than that of temporary legislation. This is the view which I have expressed to the National Joint Advisory Council and it commands their full support.
There is, however, a still weightier objection to the practice of extending the war period for the purposes of the Act by annual Order in Council. The House will appreciate that the effect of the action which we have taken year by year is two-fold. While it postpones the coming into operation of the obligation 1264 to restore pre-war trade practices departed from during the period of hostilities, it also brings within the scope of the Act departures from pre-war practices which have occurred since hostilities ended. This is due to the war period for the purposes of the Act being continually extended by the annual use of emergency legislation. The intention of the Act was to deal only with departures taking place during the actual period of hostilities. Parliament did not, I am sure, envisage, when it gave its approval to the Act in 1942, that it should cover post-war events. Nor is that a position which commends itself to the two sides of industry.
Perhaps I might digress here and try to answer the point which was put to me by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). One example of pre-war trade practices which have been departed from is recognition that work of a certain character should be done by men and has always been done by men. There are many examples in the engineering industry and passenger transport where women have been employed on men's work. The prewar practice was for certain work to be done by men. During the war that practice was surrendered and the work has been done, and is still being done, by women.
For another example, a great deal of dilution of skilled labour has been brought about in many engineering factories. That diluted labour is still there and has been taken into membership of the unions and has got some form of recognition; but under the Act which we are amending the unions could claim the restoration of the pre-war practice of having skilled men in those jobs. It is to their credit that no steps have been taken to claim the return of that practice. If, as I go along, there should be any other examples which I can give to the House I will gladly do so.
It was in the light of these facts that I asked the National Joint Advisory Council for their views as to how we should deal with this situation, and they have unanimously recommended two things. I will first digress to explain to the House what is the National Joint Advisory Council, which was established shortly before the war. It consists of representatives of the national organisation of employers—the British Employers' Confederation—and the Trades Union Congress, and during the war it gave very 1265 valuable assistance to the Government in industrial affairs. Since the war it has been reconstituted and slightly enlarged, and now it consists of 17 representative employers, 17 representatives from the Trades Union Congress and representatives of the nationalised industries.
There are, therefore, four sides on this Council. It is more than a tripartite organisation. We get the national employers' organisation, the trade unions, the nationalised industries and the Government. It is only proper that in referring to the Council at this point I should explain what really valuable work it does, what guidance it gives and what an excellent example we can show to the world of desire for co-operation between employees and management on matters of mutual interest.
The Council have recommended two things. First, they suggest that steps should be taken to empower the Government to fix an appropriate time in the future when the obligation to restore prewar trade practices should come into operation. This would mean that, instead of there being, as at present, a deadline date before which the Minister of Labour must fix the appointed day, it can be fixed at any appropriate time. This will obviate the present necessity of relying on periodical emergency measures to extend the period within which the appointed day shall be fixed. It goes without saying that the Minister will only fix the appointed day after full consultation with both sides of industry, and I have given the National Joint Advisory Council the assurance that such consultation will take place.
§ Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)
This might be an important point in the future. If the trade union side, which had the rights and gave them up, asked for it but the employers' side was not so keen, am I right in presuming that the right hon. Gentleman would still consider granting an Order in Council?
§ Mr. Isaacs
I should certainly have to consider it, but my experience of the Council is that, if one side asked for it, it would be very fully and carefully discussed and if sound reasons were given by the employers why they should hesitate I think that free discussion would take place. On the other hand, the employers might agree that it should come 1266 into operation immediately. My impression is that there is absolutely no desire or intention on either side to go back to the pre-war trade practices. Moreover, as I shall explain in a moment, the draft order fixing the appointed day will have to be laid before Parliament and will be the subject of negative Resolution procedure. So, although both parties may wish it, it will have to come to Parliament.
In the second place, the National Joint Advisory Council recommend that powers should be sought to exclude from the operation of the 1942 Act all departures from pre-war trade practices which have occurred since the end of actual hostilities, thereby, in effect, confining the application of the Act to departures which took place before 15th August, 1945. This would avoid the anomaly by which the war period for the purposes of the Act is artificially extended beyond August, 1945.
I have given careful consideration to the advice given by the Council, and I am convinced that the measures which they propose, offer a practical and acceptable solution of the difficulties to which the Act gives rise. The Government, therefore, decided to introduce the present Bill to give effect to these proposals.
I now turn to the provisions of the Bill. The main part of it has been drafted in the form of a re-enactment with modifications of subsections (1) and (2) of Section 1 of the 1942 Act. This method has been chosen as being clearer and less confusing than the alternative of presenting a number of minor amendments which might make it difficult to follow what the Bill sets out to do. The essence of the Bill is contained in Clause 1 (1), which re-enacts with modifications the provisions of Section 1 (1) of the 1942 Act.
The effect of these modifications is to do two things. First, they provide that the date from which the obligations under the 1942 Act, as amended, will operate will be a date appointed by His Majesty on the recommendation of the Minister by an Order in Council. This Order will have to be laid before Parliament and will be subject to the negative Resolution procedure. As I have already explained, it is intended that the National Joint Advisory Council will be consulted before any such recommendation is made by the Minister.
1267 Second, the subsection, as amended, will confine the obligation to restore pre-war trade practices to cases where the pre-war trade practice has been departed from during the period from 3rd September, 1939, to 15th August, 1945. In a limited number of cases affecting munitions factories operating before the outbreak of war, the 1942 Act provides that the war period for the purposes of the Act commences on 30th April, 1939. This provision will remain unchanged by the amending Bill. It is inserted because some of these practices were surrendered before the actual outbreak of war. It is felt, therefore, that these practices ought to be covered by the Bill.
Clause 1 (1) deals with both points agreed by the National Joint Advisory Council. Let me explain the effect of this Amendment. The firms affected can be put, roughly, into three groups: first, the pre-war firm—that is a firm actually in operation before 3rd September, 1939; second, the war-time firm—that is, a firm which started to operate during the period of hostilities; third,. the post-war firm which started to operate after 15th August, 1945. I will call these "pre-war firms," "war-time firms" and "post-war firms."
A pre-war firm which departed from a pre-war trade practice during the period of hostilities will, within two months of a date to be appointed by His Majesty, have to revert to that pre-war trade practice, unless a written agreement to the contrary is made with the appropriate trade union under Section 2 of the 1942 Act, a Section which is unaffected by the Bill. This obligation, I should add, will remain even though some further change in the firm's practice has been made since 15th August, 1945. If, however, the pre-war firm's first departure from its pre-war trade practice was after 15th August, 1945, there is no obligation under the Act to restore it.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
Does the right hon. Gentleman also include Government Departments?
§ Mr. Isaacs
This covers all industrial departments where such practices come within the scope of the Bill.
Now a word about Clause 1 (2). The points covered by this subsection, while 1268 not specifically set out in the recommendations made by the National Joint Advisory Council, are, in fact, corollaries of the steps taken in subsection (1), which, as I have said, deals with pre-war firms. Subsection (2) is concerned with war-time firms and post-war firms. Postwar firms present no great difficulty. The purpose of our amending Bill is to limit the operation of the Act to events occurring during the period of war. We are. therefore, in subsection (2) removing postwar firms from the scope of the Act. Subsection (2) also deals with war-time firms to a certain extent.
For example, firm A is a pre-war firm, and firm B is a comparable war-time firm. Firm A changes over from men staffs to women staffs on men's work during the war. Firm B is one starting operations during the war, and it follows the staffing practice of firm A. Although it had not existed before the war, it would have to adopt the pre-war trade practices in the comparable firm A. Both firm A and firm B are excused by this Bill from having to put men back on the machines, if firm A did not change over to women staff until after the war.
The rest of the Bill consists primarily of technical and consequential amendments. In Clause 2 (1), we are providing that in Northern Ireland the appointed day is to be fixed by order of the Northern Ireland Ministry of Labour and National Insurance. This is being done at the request of the Northern Ireland Government, and any such order will have to be laid before the Northern Ireland Parliament.
I commend the Bill to the House. It does succeed, I hope, in meeting the wishes of both sides of industry by removing a number of anomalies, and, for all its apparent complexity, it does this in a fair and equitable manner and is clearly understood by those affected. In conclusion, I should like to take the opportunity of expressing my thanks to the National Joint Advisory Council for its most valuable help and advice to me in this matter.
It is also proper for me to pay a particular tribute to the trade unions, who have recognised to the full that the needs of the country make it essential to postpone a return to pre-war practices, and who have so ungrudgingly accepted this 1269 situation in giving their support to the Bill.
§ Mr. Gibson (Clapham)
Suppose there is a dispute as to whether a certain practice is or is not a pre-war trade practice? What provision is made for dealing with that situation, to avoid both sides being involved in a big dispute?
§ Mr. Isaacs
When the 1942 Measure was passed, it was provided that such practices should be recognised, by agreement, between the unions and the employers and could be recorded at the Ministry of Labour's local offices. It is interesting to note that although many of these practices were surrendered during that period, very few were reported at the Ministry's local offices. It shows the good relationship which existed between both sides, that such agreements could be reached with such satisfaction that no question could arise in the future. It is those agreements which have been reached that are the subject of the Bill.
§ 11.27 a.m.
§ Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)
We are grateful to the Minister for giving the details of the mechanics of this rather complicated Bill. We on these benches will not seek to oppose the passage of the Measure in any way. I understand—and the Minister has confirmed—that this Bill has been agreed upon between the trade union spokesmen and the employers' organisations concerned. When that happens, he would be a very rash man who would plunge in and try in advisedly to upset such an agreement.
As I see it, the trade unions have certain rights under the 1942 Act with regard to the restoration of certain pre-war practices and agreements which were relaxed during the war. The reason for this was given in Section 1 (3) of that Act, which I quote—with a view to accelerating the production of munitions of war.It was, therefore, recognised in the original Act that these practices were a handicap at that time to the increased productivity that was so necessary for the war effort. We have been postponing each year, with the full agreement of the trade unions concerned—and all credit is due to them for it—the restoration of these pre-war practices. I quite agree with the Minister that this is a cumbersome and far from satisfactory process. 1270 After all, some of these relaxations are important, and if the firms did not know from month to month exactly what their position was, it was very difficult for them to make forward quotations for export orders and the like.
I entirely agree with the present proposals which put this restoration into cold storage, if I may use that word, as being much more preferable. In order to "unfreeze" these restrictions at any time, it is thought desirable that an Order in Council should be proposed by the Minister, which I understand, will be subject to the negative procedure, thus giving us full control. I personally hope that these restrictions may remain frozen in their new home, undisturbed until the time has come for them to pass into oblivion. One can quite understand the trade unions, who had these specific pledges granted to them by Parliament in 1942, not wishing at the moment to abandon them absolutely and I am certainly not complaining of their attitude on the matter.
The rest of the Bill appears to seek to tidy up and define certain matters which have become anomalous owing to the fact that they have gone on since the end of the war. I do not think the Government have succeeded in this matter, and I do not think they can succeed in tidying up all those anomalies. I should like to take the Minister a little further in regard to his explanation about firms "A," "B" and "C." As I read the Measure—and I think I am right—if there were three firms, one formed before the war, one starting during the war and one starting since the war, all dealing with exactly the same product, those which started before and during the war and acted under dilution agreements, or whatever it may be in war-time, are under an obligation, when this Measure is put into operation, to revert to pre-war practices in 18 months, or whatever the period may be; but firms founded since the war will have no such obligation, and we shall have the apparent anomaly of three firms, one pre-war, one a war-time firm and one a post-war firm, all doing exactly the same thing, two of which will have obligations while one has no obligation.
In actual fact it will not work out like that, and I am not complaining, because what will happen is that negotiations will be set on foot between the two sides of 1271 industry and the post-war and pre-war firms will normally tag along together. Although there is an apparent anomaly, I do not think it is anything we need worry about. I mention it in passing in case any pedantic person might like to make a great deal out of it.
The subject matter of the Bill is practices of a restrictive nature in regard to production. I wish to say a few words on this very important subject. We had a considerable Debate on the Address and nearly every hon. Member, I believe—I have been glancing through the OFFICIAL REPORT again before making these remarks—stressed the virtue of increased productivity. The call came from both sides of the house—from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and right hon. Members on the Front Benches and hon. Members on the back benches—for increased productivity if we are to handle our rearmament programme and do anything to maintain and improve the standard of living. I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member of Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) devoted practically the whole of his speech to a detailed consideration of this matter.
I also listened with great interest to an open meeting held this week in which very distinguished men from the employers and trade unions told us about the work of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity. I was very much impressed by the words of Mr. Lincoln Evans, that distinguished trade union leader, who impressed upon us most strongly the fact that we have to get the idea to the people that the only chance of a higher standard of living will come from increased production.
The Minister will remember that during the passage of the Monopolies Bill 18 months or two years ago, the Lord President of the Council undertook to have the question of restrictive practices —which came up under that Bill in relation to employers—referred to the N.J.A.C. for any advice they could give and I read in the Annual Report of the T.U.C. for 1949 three paragraphs on the discussions that were going on. I have made such inquiries as I can and I also read the Sunday Press, but I gather that so far, at any rate, nothing of real value has emerged from that quarter. I say immediately that I am not very 1272 surprised, because I do not believe that that quarter is the very best to which to turn to consider this problem. I understand that the T.U.C. is an advisory body and that sovereignty rests with individual unions. Anyone who has been negotiating with individual unions in one way or another will know that they are very jealous—I am not blaming them for that—of their individual rights as sovereign entities on behalf of their members.
Many of these co-called restrictive practices are embodied in agreements between employers and trade unions in an individual industry, and obviously the T U.C. could not condemn agreements entered into by one of their bodies without a great deal of difficulty. The representatives of the British Employers' Confederation on the N.J.A.C. naturally would not wish, in view of the many very important matters they have to discuss with the trade union representatives, to pursue too far and rather fruitlessly a matter which might lead to considerable acrimony.
One must recognise that there are a good many susceptibilities in this matter. The reason can be expressed in one sentence. These practices which may be now of a restrictive character were not imposed from the top, but grew up from the floor of the shop. They are embodied in shop agreements between shop stewards and managements in an individual factory, or in customs of the shop, or in certain cases they are embodied in written agreements between the trade union and the employers' organisation of the industry.
The reason for their existence, we all know, was the fear of unemployment. The reason for their continued existence now that we have no unemployment—and I trust we will not have any unemployment of a serious nature—is a fear that unemployment may return, a fear that we must do our best to dispel, and also a matter of habit. After all, when a man has been doing the same thing for 30 years in a certain way, it is difficult to make him do it in a different way. If we wish to have increased productivity, we must do our best to dispel that fear. I suggest that we must start, and I believe it is recognised that it must start, not in the council chambers of the 1273 T.U.C. and the British Employers' Confederation, not in Transport House or Tothill Street, but on the floor of the factory, in the mine, or in the workshops.
In this connection I should like to praise most highly the work of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity, because I believe they are starting in exactly the right way. They are arranging for many teams of ordinary employees and managements in the different industries to go over and study productivity in America, to live together for months and to come back to tell men and women working on the floor of the shop in their own industry all about what they have seen and how desirable it is for us to get increased production. I believe that they are training the very best ambassadors for the greater output which is so very necessary in this country. Who better than a workman can explain to his mate how necessary this increased output is if a real increase in the standard of living of our people is to be obtained?
We in this House today are doing our part so far as legislation is concerned, because in the matter of practices which might restrain production, we are, with the full blessing of the trade unions and employers concerned, putting them into cold storage. We are in a measure burying them, and we hope that they will not have to be dug up again. I believe I carry the whole House and the Minister with me in asking whether we might take the opportunity which this occasion affords of calling upon the men and women in the individual factories and industries likewise to examine their individual customs and agreements to see whether they impede higher production in any way; and, if they do, to call upon them mutually to seek ways of overcoming the obstructions. I emphasise "mutually" because nothing can be done in this matter except by taking everyone along together.
I should like to urge the individual trade unions and the individual employers' organisations concerned in the different industries to do likewise; for I believe that as we start out on our tremendous re-armament programme, which all of us in this House realise is our best hope of peace in these troubled times, such a call, such a summons, coming from the Minister and backed by 1274 the whole House, to the factories, workshops and mines where the work is done, might well encourage enthusiasm and arouse still more effort from our people for their great task.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Hale (Rochdale)
This short Bill is a Measure that is not likely to "hit the headlines" in the national Press tomorrow morning. Nevertheless it is a very important Measure indeed. I happened to be on the floor of the workshop at the time of the 1942 agreement between the trade unions, employers and the Government. I know that the Measure which that agreement then made possible was welcomed with rather mixed feelings in the workshop. Crafts which over a number of years had built up practices did not give them away easily and without thought. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) has pointed out, these traditions in industry were built up to protect craftsmen against unemployment, which was often their lot.
I believe that the House is unanimous in the view that we need not expect any great resurgence of those restrictive practices so long as full employment is maintained in this country. I am glad that this Measure has been introduced this morning because it was forecast by many people, particularly on the workers' side in industry, that the workers' had relinquished rights which they would never regain. The present Measure is testimony to the fact that Parliament is prepared to continue to honour an obligation given so long ago.
This Bill is important in another way. We know full well that the only hope in these times of Britain's standard of life being maintained is that we should maintain craftsmanship at its highest level. The industry that is diluted does not encourage young men to take upon themselves apprenticeship, with all its restrictions, particularly in earning capacity. Dilution in craft industries often produces men who are "Jacks of all trades and masters of none." It would be a sad day if British industry had to rely on people who had no specialised knowledge such as comes from having served an apprenticeship.
I believe that we are also unanimous in the view that it was a patriotic act 1275 to relinquish these practices in the interests of the nation. I am afraid, however, that that patriotism has not characterised all sections of the trade union movement. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom has mentioned that the re-armament which this country is forced to undertake will produce many problems such as the one we have before us today. There is a section of the British trade union movement which could assist the nation very much at present by following the example of the craft unions which, in the early days of the war, made their sacrifice in the interests of the prosecution of the war. The unions to which I am referring might now make equal sacrifices so that we may pursue a peace economy.
Unemployment was not, of course, the only reason why restrictive practices were indulged in. Unless some restrictive practice is observed, an industry very often goes to pieces. We have good testimony to the truth of that statement in that the legal profession, which is not without representation in this House, holds very strong views on this matter; and the medical profession likewise. Restrictive practices are not confined to productive industry or to the so-called lower strata of our economic life. I am not attempting to be facetious in saying that I believe that many of our professions might find an example in the Measure which is now before us.
I hope, although I suppose it is a rather forlorn hope, that the Press will give publicity to this very small Bill to show to those in industry that Parliament is not going back on its word. We, with them, hope that many of the restrictive practices that were registered will never need to be called into operation again. I think I shall carry the House with me when I say that this is not merely a petty gesture which we are making here today in bringing this Bill before the House; it is a further pledge that Parliament intends to honour its word, which was given eight or nine years ago.
§ 11.49 a.m.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
The Minister began his speech by saying that this was a non-controversial Bill, and the sweet reasonableness that has so far endured during the Debate 1276 shows that that is so. That does not mean, however, that there are not quite a number of observations to be made about the burden of the Bill, and that I now hope to be able to do. There is no doubt about the importance of the role which trade unions are now called upon to play. Events, circumstances, the passage of time, have put great power into their hands. I am content that that should be so, provided also that they show great wisdom, because power without wisdom can be a very dangerous affair.
Fortunately, there is much evidence which shows that trade unionism today is coming to realise its responsibilities and to play a worthy part. We have heard a great deal already, here and in the country, of that very overworked postwar word "productivity," to which I would prefer to refer as "work combined with efficiency"; and it is generally recognised that productivity is at the basis of our present problem. There are islands of subversive thought where the dwellers, perhaps, do not walk along that same road, but they are those islands where Communist influence is strongest, for Communism seeks only to disrupt the British economy and the trade union movement.
On this question of productivity, I should like to read a short passage from the admirable document of the trade union delegation which went to America under the aegis of the Anglo-American productivity organisation, in which it is said:As trade unionists want the standard of living to rise continually, they cannot justify opposition to the installation of new or modernised machinery or the use of redeployment techniques.That blows like a gust of fresh wind through the cobwebbed thoughts with which we had to struggle until quite recently. Indeed there is much evidence that trade union thought is a good deal more enlightened than the thought of a number of hon. Members on the benches opposite.
Some pre-war practices have already been abandoned; a great many of them are out of date. The right hon. Gentleman who is now the Foreign Secretary said in the Debate in 1942, on the Act of that year, that the war had brought about an enormous increase in the productivity of labour, and restrictions and 1277 customs of all kinds had been cut out. That is so, and very often it has been brought about by a considerable introduction of new plant and machinery. If I may reverse the old adage, I beg that old wine be not put into new bottles.
Some of these practices have been abandoned by agreement and some by the mere pressure of events and circumstances, by use and wont. If we ignore those which remain—questions like demarcation; dilution, which the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. J. Hale), I think, mentioned, and which it would be controversial to introduce, although a good deal could, nevertheless, be said; and the manning of machinery, it remains important, however, that with the existing shortage of manpower and the need for the re-armament programme, we should take no hasty or reactionary—reactionary in the purest sense of the word—step in this connection.
Having said that, let me say at once that a pledge has been given; and a pledge once given, of course, must be honoured. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) said in the Debate in 1942, the workers rose nobly to the demands made upon them by war-time needs. We on this side are just as determined as hon. Members opposite to see that their position is protected under the pledge that was then given.
What does the Bill do? By an Order in Council the Minister may require, as he has explained, that those pre-war trade practices which were abandoned between the period from six months before the war to the end of the war shall, in certain circumstances, be restored unless they have been the subject of subsequent agreement. What sort of Order in Council has the right hon. Gentleman in mind if it should ever come about that it was needed? The main Act allows that the Order in Council can be of two kinds, either a blanket—or general—order, or a partial order applying to a particular trade, or even, perhaps, to a particular restriction or trade practice.
It is immensely important that it should be the latter, and not the former, type of order that should be used. It would be tragic to drag in all the endless practices which are, perhaps, proceeding quite satisfactorily and which would automatically be restored in a general order merely because there had been 1278 some particular difficulty in some trade or concerning some particular practice.
§ Mr. Isaacs indicated assent
§ Colonel Hutchison
I see the right hon. Gentleman nodding his head, and I am glad to have even that form of assurance that I am thinking along the right lines.
§ Colonel Hutchison
That becomes even stronger. I was glad also to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that, of course, the order, whichever it may be, will always come before the House under the system of negative Resolution.
It is important, as I have said, that the pledge that has been given should be honoured, but I want to be quite sure—and I think the country is entitled to be assured—that before the final step is taken of an order being put into force, all possible conciliation machinery has been used to avoid reaching that, so to speak, impasse.
Under Section 3 of the main Act, which is not amended by the Bill, the words are used that:A dispute or a question may be referred to the Minister.I submit that the right hon. Gentleman should consider whether the word "may" should not be "shall." After the question has been submitted to the Minister, he can take a variety of steps. Where he is satisfied that adequate conciliation machinery exists he can refer to that machinery or, where there is none, he may take such other steps as he considers desirable; or he may refer it to arbitration. I suggest that in the second of these two categories—that is, where no machinery for conciliation already exists, he should. before he refers the question to arbitration, set up if necessary ad hoc conciliation machinery, because a matter which has been imposed upon a shop by arbitration does not, as a rule, leave a happy shop at the end of the day. I should like the Minister to consider this and, perhaps, to give us some, reassurance.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr McCorquodale) has mentioned the possible anomaly of the postwar, the pre-war, and the war-time concerns, and I am perhaps one of those 1279 pedantic people who think that this matter should be still further cleared up when we reach the Committee stage.
My last point is that we are very much in the dark—not only the whole House, but the whole country and, I dare say, the Minister himself—about the importance of the area of thought which we are discussing. A joint report was brought out by the shipbuilding industry, for example, in 1926, in which representatives of both sides of the industry took part. They produced a very considerable list of practices which were objected to, and some of which, I know, still continue. The first of the examples, which illustrates a little of this kind of nonsense, was of the interchangeability of labour, which the employers then objected to, in hole boring, in respect of which it was recommended thatany trade may bore and tap odd holes as they require them in connection with their work.I understand that the then position still continues—I do not know how many others continue—and this is in only one industry.
I do not believe that we really know how important this matter is. The Minister has said that there is a recorded list of some of the practices that were abandoned during the war, but that it is not necessarily a full list. I suggest that there should be an inquiry into what still continues and into what is reasonably objectionable at the present time. As my right hon. Friend has said, I am not sure that the National Joint Advisory Council is the right body to make that inquiry. Before the Minister reaches that Order in Council stage—fortunately, we are not faced with an Order in Council at an early date—I think that some form of impartial inquiry should be instituted, it being re that under the Monopoly and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act an impartial body is set up to inquire into restrictive practices on the other side of the industry.
Let us bring the whole question out into the open. Let us know the importance of the questions we are considering—whether or not they have virtually all disappeared, or whether many of them still exist. I should like to know what is an undertaking in this 1280 matter. Can an undertaking change its character? I should like reassurance on certain points. For example, have the British Railways taken over all the obligations of the old Great Western Railway Company? Is it time that a concern, by changing its name, or even its constitution, does not escape the obligations which would have fallen upon it if its name had remained unchanged? I believe that that is so, but I should like to be certain on the point.
I cannot underline too strongly that a pledge is a pledge, but before we enter into the full rigours of a system of Orders in Council, for goodness sake let us be sure of two points, first on the area of the possible trouble we are considering and, second, on whether we have tried every possible form of conciliation before the Order in Council and arbitration system is engaged upon. As the Anglo-American trade unionists said, in their excellent Report:Britain has to keep prices down not only to maintain a high standard of living but to compete effectively with other countries in order to secure imports of foodstuffs and raw materials on which full employment and the standard of living depend.In this matter, as in all others, let us be conservative. Let us conserve what is good of the past and carry it forward into the future. Let us abandon what is indifferent and what is bad and so build gradually a more realistic future.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson (Clapham)
I am not sure whether or not I ought to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Scotstoun (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) on having made a maiden speech, as I heard him so often in the last Parliament. When he started his speech, I thought that he was running a serious risk of starting a first-class row in the House. I thought that perhaps he was being a little less than fair to himself, because he must realise that the trade union movement will not be treated as a junior partner in this matter. I have had some experience of negotiations in the industry to which he referred and with which I think he is connected. Many of our troubles were caused by the idea, which I am afraid still exists in some quarters, that the men are mere "hands" and not part of the industry entitled to be treated as equals. The trade union movement and the T.U.C. would not accept the 1281 kind of suggestions expressed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman at the start of his speech.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
I had no intention of trying to convey the thought or the idea that the partnership is, in my view, other than equal. I believe that the partnership is an equal one.
§ Mr. Gibson
I am glad to have that assurance. I am not the only one on these benches who got the impression which I have just outlined. I hope that what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has now said will be duly noted. This Measure is not merely reasonable but necessary. I was pleased to hear that the T.U.C. have accepted the terms of the Bill. I was also glad that the Minister took pains to point out that when the war started the trade union movement in this country waived all their trade practices without any very great difficulty.
I was involved in some of the discussions which took place, and I think that a tribute is due to the trade union organisations and to the individual members of the unions for the ready way in which they waived completely all the practices which had been built up over many years in their industries. In spite of the criticisms one sometimes hears from the employers' side, I maintain that those practices had been built up to protect the interests of the men in the industries. If they had not been in force, their conditions in life would have been very much worse than they were—and they were not too good before the war.
It is right that the trade union movement and the individual trade unionists should have a measure of praise from the House when a Bill like this is discussed. Of course, since the end of the war we have had no trouble on this point. We have had nothing like the trouble experienced after the 1914–18 war on similar matters. As has been said, the reason is that we have had full employment. Had we been cursed with a large number of unemployed men and women, inevitably we should have had demands for the return of some of these restrictions, and it would have been most difficult to resist those demands in view of the firm pledges given when the war started.
For 40 years I have been a trade unionist and I have often been in trouble with my own organisation and other 1282 unions for preaching the necessity of getting rid of what I regard at some absurd restrictions. I can give details of some which are much more ridiculous than those mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Scotstoun. We shall not get rid of them for all time unless we can retain full employment and dispel the fear that men's families will suffer in the way they suffered between the wars because of unemployment. It is important to remember that.
I have vivid recollections of the arguments, discussions and strikes which took place from 1918 onwards in connection with the return of pre-war practices then. One of our troubles was that there seemed to be no machinery for solving differences between employers and unions when a dispute arose about whether a certain practice was or was not a pre-war practice. It is easy to appreciate the difficulty. Processes sometimes change so rapidly that it is difficult to recognise a modern process as having any relation at all to a pre-war process. We had arguments, discussions and many disputes. With due respect to my right hon. Friend, I would say that there must be more effective means of settling these disputes if, and when, they arise. It is true that the list is kept. My right hon. Friend referred to it as being a comparatively small list. I do not know about that. The list I saw in 1940 was a pretty long one.
§ Mr. Isaacs
What I tried to convey to the House was that the list as recorded and registered in the Ministry of Labour was a small one, but we know that there is a huge list of agreements between employers and workers.
§ Mr. Gibson
Yes, and it is in that connection that we shall have trouble if we are not careful. The general impression is that it is only the changes registered with the Ministry of Labour which are covered by this restoration Measure. There will be considerable discussion and hard feeling if we get back to a time when there is a strong demand for the restoration of these practices. I suggest that there must be some immediate and quick method of dealing with these methods, and that it should be at the shop floor level.
The men in the shop—and this applies to employers, too—must be prepared to discuss the matter. In 1918–19 the 1283 employers would not discuss it. That is why I was involved in so many strikes. If there is willingness to discuss, I believe it is possible to settle any disputes on this matter without any serious trouble. I agree that some restrictive practices which are operated by employers should also be abolished. I am not sure, however, that they are registered with the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. Gibson
I hope this machinery will not be used. I am afraid that the time taken under that Act is so inevitably long that more discontent would be created. There must be some speedy method of dealing with it. It is no use expecting the engineers, who are mainly concerned in this, and the shipbuilders, and, to some extent, builders, who waived their rules and practices completely during the war, to be ready and anxious even to shut their eyes to the restoration of pre-war practices if in their own industry they know there are price rings operating, for instance, and if they know that there are organisations of employers whose object is to protect themselves and to prevent the widest possible expansion of productivity in the interests of profits. After all, during the war we had women doing navvies' work and even bricklaying.
Therefore, there will have to be very extensive reconsideration of the restrictive practices which apply on that side of industry, as well as those which have applied, through the trade union movement, on the other side and which, in the meantime, have been waived. I believe these things can be solved with real intention and effort by both sides of industry. With consultation with the men immediately concerned in their operation at shop level, it should be possible to find a solution to any of the difficulties which may arise and to enable this country to go on increasing its output and productivity. I rather like the word "productivity" because it indicates work being done and results being achieved. The solution of these difficulties will enable productivity to increase to a point which will ensure a continually rising standard of life for our own people and ensure employment which will give all of them the greatest satisfaction.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde (Belfast, North)
I should like to address to the House a few observations on the application of this Bill to Northern Ireland. I know some hon. Members opposite sometimes take a rather jaundiced view of Northern Ireland. I know that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), who, I am sorry to see is not in his place, is rather inclined to think that we have a kind of police State in Northern Ireland. May I assure the House that we are more enlightened than some hon. Members suppose? As an example of our enlightenment I might refer to the number of Bills introduced by right hon. Gentlemen opposite with which our Government and Parliament in Northern Ireland have been in agreement, and of which this is a very good illustration.
I hope I am not one of the pedantic individuals to whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) referred, but I should like to mention post-war undertakings because, from the point of view of Northern Ireland, they have considerable importance. In Ulster we made the mistake of over-specialising in our industry before the war. Over 60 per cent. of our industry consisted of shipbuilding, engineering and linen. Since 1945 a great many new industries have sprung up, owing to the enterprise of our government there. Something like 30 new industries have come into being, and the question requires to be examined of how these pre-war trade practices affect these new industries, and whether these new industries should not come into line with their older competitors.
I was glad to hear the Minister say that the negative Resolution procedure would apply because, on reading the Bill, I was not quite clear whether that was the intention or not. As hon. Members who study the Bill will see, Clause 2, which applies to Northern Ireland, applies with certain modifications, and one of the modifications relates to the negative Resolution procedure. By our local Statutory Rules Act, 1950, it was only necessary, in Northern Ireland, for the order which had to be made by the Northern Ireland Ministry of Labour to lie on the Table for 20 days, of which 10 days must be 10 sitting days of the Northern Ireland House of Commons. I do not know whether 1285 it is because we move rather faster there than here that it should be 20 not 40 days. as it is in this House.
The Northern Ireland Parliament agreed to the Act of 1942. In Ulster we appreciate that the trade unions waived these restrictive practices in the interest of the war effort, and that they agreed to the dilution of skilled labour and to the employment of female instead of male labour. We greatly appreciate it because, had it not been for the action of the trade unions at that time, I do not think Ulster could have contributed to the war effort in the measure in which she did, by the production of ships, aircraft, parachutes, ropes and uniforms. On the other hand, we have borne in mind that there is an obligation to restore these practices and that a pledge, once having been given, should subsequently be honoured.
I should also like to associate myself with the remarks several hon. Members have made on the question of whether the National Joint Advisory Council is the most appropriate body at which these trade practices should be discussed. We, in Northern Ireland, certainly feel that the shop floor is a more appropriate place for these matters to be mutually discussed in an amicable way.
However, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, it will devolve upon the Minister of Labour there to fix a day for the restoration of the practices, subject to the approval of the Northern Ireland Parliament. I am assured, personally, by the Minister of Labour in Northern Ireland that, in the light of circumstances prevailing there it is unlikely that any date will be proposed by him, or approved by the Northern Ireland Parliament, other than the corresponding date proposed and approved by this House. This is an important point, which shows that we in Northern Ireland are not likely to proceed independently of this House in this matter.
On behalf of the Ulster Unionist Members, I should like to say that we accept this Bill in principle. While admitting the obligation to restore pre-war trade practices, we appreciate that it defers their actual restoration in the light of present conditions. It also shows that we in Northern Ireland are proud to play our part in the maintenance and integration of the economy of the United Kingdom.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cooper (Deptford)
I should like, first of all, to pay tribute to the opening statement of the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) which, I think, contained a very fair description of the effects of this Bill. I think it would be regretable if, in considering this matter this morning, any controversy should arise. At the same time, I think the impression has been created that by continuing restrictive practices we are ensuring the maintenance of productivity which would otherwise be lost. To a certain extent, I think we are overlooking some of the effects of the assurances which were given in relation to the 1942 Act.
While the main object of modifying these practices was to maintain and increase productivity during the war, we must remember that part of the problem was to release men for the Forces, and to enable women to take the place of men. I think it is important to spend some time on this question because since the war, although to the credit of British industry, productivity has gone on extremely well, nevertheless, with these voluntary agreements, men have gradually gone back to their old jobs. In other words, there has been a movement of women out of industry which, to a large extent, has modified the effect of restrictive practices. I mention this because it is a factor which we should not ignore when we assume that by this Bill we are going to take full advantage of some of the things that happened during the war.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. J. Hale) has referred to the undesirability of diluting craftsmanship. I do not think there is a Member of this House who does not feel great pride in British craftsmanship when we look round and see the results in this new Chamber. But I would say that the great thing for craftsmen to do is to improve the quality and raise the qualifications of their craft. If a craft is worth having at all, it is worthy of the fullest capabilities of the men engaged in that task. There is a tendency among the craftsmen in this country to keep for themselves jobs which, in my opinion, are not worthy of the dignity of a craft. I make that point because an appeal has been made this morning to protect the crafts; and, while I am all for the protection of the crafts, I think 1287 that protection lies in the quality of the work of which a craft is capable rather than in trying to preserve jobs which are no longer worthy of craftsmen's abilities.
In considering this matter in relation to the desire for greater productivity, we should not ignore the rapid evolutionary changes that have taken place in British industry in the last eight years. If the economy of the country were capable of standing the strain, I am sure that on both sides of the House hon. Members would all be happy to see carried out the principle of equal pay for equal work. Anybody who understands industry will appreciate that if that principle were once conceded, half the difficulties surrounding restrictive practices would be removed in one blow, because the restrictive practice which is so strong in industry arises from the fear of the workmen that women will be used to undermine their status, as a form of cheap labour.
Then we have the development of machinery. I was glad to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) speak in the Debate this morning, because we have had some unfortunate experience of Belfast since the war—an experience of what, in my opinion, were unjustifiable occurences in the shipyards. They were due not to the problem of restrictive practices so far as they operated in 1942, but to the attempt to impose restrictive practices on new methods of ship construction. It is regrettable that we should have disputes among craftsmen as to who shall do a job and who shall not do it when, because of mechanisation, the job has gone far beyond their capabilities.
Then we have this interesting point concerning dangerous industries. We never see a restrictive practice applied when, by means of mechanisation, danger is removed from an industry. The same applies to heavy industries, such as in the gas industry, where vertical retorts, and so on, are utilised. That is a development to which we should have regard; it cannot be ignored in a consideration of this kind.
In welcoming the Bill, I express the hope that it will be of encouragement to the trade union movement and to industry at large to go ahead with productivity. While it is very important to 1288 air our views in this House, I must return to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Epsom and reiterate that in the last resort this problem will be settled at shop level.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
I would like to put myself in order at once and allay any apprehensions which may be entertained as to my straying from the path of righteousness, by saying that under this Bill the Minister of Labour is given certain important powers. It is, as I understand it, proper that the House should, in such circumstances, ask for any explanations or assurances in connection with the subject generally as may be thought proper before granting those powers to the Minister.
It is in connection with the general question of restrictive practices that wish to ask one or two questions. As was made clear by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. J. Hale) I, belonging to perhaps the oldest trade union but one in the country, have some sympathy with that point of view. I should like to make it clear at once that anything I say today is not said in the least spirit of hostility. I will only say that I have the honour of having a number of friends who are loyal trade unionists and with whom I have discussed this question.
There is no doubt that the question of restrictive practices is causing anxiety among quite a number of people. The public do not know what the facts are. They read in their newspapers reports which are sometimes accurate and which are sometimes not so accurate. They read that milk may not be delivered until after 7.30 in the morning. That is the sort of thing that concerns them very much. They read dramatic accounts of how a man has to stand by all day because somebody wants sand scattered on the ground and if he is not the sand scatterer he must not do it. We do not know to what extent those accounts are accurate.
Therefore, shortly after I came into this House I took it upon myself to try to get some information on this subject. First of all, I studied what was said by the Lord President of the Council during the Debate on the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Bill, and I found that on 22nd April, 1948, the right hon. Gentleman had dealt with this 1289 question. It had been suggested that res practices on the trade union side ought to be dealt with by the Mono Act, and I think there was very great force in the answer that it was not appropriate that they should be. In answer to the Debate, the Lord President said that the Minister of Labour, appreciating the importance of this question,is proposing to bring before the National Joint Advisory Council the general question of restrictive labour practices."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 2128.]That was taken by the House as being some assurance at any rate that something should be done.
Questions were asked on several occasions before I had the honour of arriving at this House, but nothing happened. On 30th March, 1950, I asked the Minister of Labour a Question, which went as follows:In view of the proposed investigation of various complaints of alleged restrictive practices by trade and employers' organisations set out in the report (H.C. 21) under the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948, what steps he proposes to take to provide machinery for similar independent investigation of alleged restrictive practices of trade unions.The right hon. Gentleman replied:The question of restrictive practices in industry is still under consideration by the National Joint Advisory Council.After having referred to 22nd April, 1948, I asked the right hon. Gentleman:Is he further aware that he himself, on 13th December, told the House there would he a report on this matter early in the new year; and does not he think that it is getting late in the new year?The right hon. Gentleman replied that the National Joint Council hadmade their inquiries, and I understand that they are now able to present their report to the Council."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1950; Vol. 473, c. 538–9.]We waited hopefully from March till June, and on 20th June I asked another Question. I knew the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties in this matter, and I did not want to be in any way unreasonable, but I thought that to wait three or four months was not unreasonable and, therefore, on 20th June, 1950, I asked him the following Question:Why he has not yet made available the Report of the National Joint Advisory Committee on Restrictive Practices, in view of the fact that this Report was ready for presentation on 30th March.1290 The Parliamentary Secretary, in reply, stated:My right hon. Friend regrets that through inadvertence his reply to the hon. Member's supplementary question of 30th March incorrectly stated the position. In fact, the matter was still under the consideration of the parties, and that is the present position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1950; Vol. 476, c. 1039.]I then asked the hon. Gentleman whether he could not accede to my request of 30th March that there should be an independent inquiry, and that was that.
Nothing happened from then until the end of July, when I thought it would not be unreasonable, as the House was about to rise, to make an inquiry from the Minister. Therefore, I wrote him a letter at the end of July which he was good enough to answer at the beginning of August. He said that the matter was still under consideration and concluded by saying:As regards your suggestion that I should institute an independent inquiry, I do not think that it would be useful, and it might arouse the resentment of industry if I were to embark on an independent investigation while the Committee were still engaged on their own consideration of the matter. I can assure you, however, that the Government are as anxious as anyone to have at as early a date as possible a report that will be of practical value, and that there is no question about the genuineness of their intentions in this matter.It now appears, if there was any accuracy in the report published in the Press recently, that very little if any progress has been made in the matter at all. I have no idea with what accuracy, but it was actually stated in the report that telephone inquiries had failed to disclose who were the members on both side of the Committee and whether anything was being done. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) that this is really not the proper way in which to deal with the matter at all.
I do not desire for one moment to blame the Trades Union Congress in the matter, and though I wish to avoid recriminations, I personally think that the person responsible is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour who has, in fact, ever since 1948, adopted the procedure which everyone now agrees is quite unsatisfactory. Therefore, I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman to deal with this matter when he comes to reply, and to tell the House what steps he proposes to take to ensure that there is some 1291 really helpful inquiry into the matter, because, with great respect, I think that the little story I have told does show that the procedure adopted is the most abortive and futile one could possibly have in order to arrive at the facts.
In conclusion, I wish to say that I agree with everything that has been said this morning about the loyalty of all those concerned in giving up things which for years they have valued, and which originally, in many cases, were really necessary for their protection and well-being, but which, in the course of time, have become in many cases obsolete. That is all to the good. There are many here today who have a vastly greater right than I to speak on a subject of this kind, but I have been informed by good friends of mine who do know that in certain industries at the present time there are some quite serious restrictions which do have a bad effect.
I hope that, without stirring up any bitterness or recrimination, the Minister will tell the House what steps he will take to ensure that these matters are brought out into the open, investigated, and, if possible, dealt with.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Deer (Newark)
I wish to add my congratulations to the Minister on introducing the Bill which we are now discussing. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. J. Hale), I am very glad that we are able to satisfy a number of our friends outside who predicted that once these practices were given up, they would never be restored by Parliament. To that end, I am glad that we have been able this morning to arrive at the position where we can at least say that agreement has been arrived at nationally which has made it possible for the Minister to introduce this Bill.
I wish to pay tribute to the excellent work done by the National Joint Advisory Council in respect of the Ministerial decisions made. Like most other speakers on this side of the House, I have devoted a large part of my life to trade union organisation, and it is rather significant that the last three hon. Members who have spoken on this side have all had experience of the general unions which, in many cases, have not always seen eye to eye with the restrictive craft privileges and practices that have taken 1292 place. Like the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. J. Cooper), I wish to say that more than once I have been in difficulties when I have had to meet and discuss with craft unions their difficulties in respect of what they considered were their rights and privileges as opposed to what I considered to be the rights and privileges of my own members.
There is another point which I think must be borne in mind, which is that one cannot take a too generalised view of this matter. I sometimes found that geography, quite apart from industry, had something to do with the question, and that restrictive practices which were very definitely held in one small town had been entirely wiped away by agreement between the unions themselves in an adjoining town a few miles away. In many cases this was dealt with even when the two towns came under the same trade agreement and were covered by the same negotiating committee.
I want to point out another factor which I think is rather important. Providing that we have the guarantee that wage standards will not be prejudiced, that employment will not be prejudiced, then quite a number of matters which were regarded as very important prior to 1939 will not be regarded as being quite as important today. I think we have to bear that in mind when discussing this problem. During the war I was privileged to act as the chairman of a regional committee of production. I was called upon in that capacity many times to go into factories to deal with problems that arose.
I remember that one of the biggest tasks I had was with respect to allegations that trade union rules were being flouted, that tradition had all gone to blazes, and all the rest of it. When I made inquiries, I found that the man who was leading the attack upon the position was a dilutee who happened to be a Durham University student himself, and who, but for the fact that we had this particular legislation with which we are dealing, would not have been in the factory. I mention that to show that the average skilled craftsman and the average semi-skilled man is not quite as stubborn as some people think: and provided he can be assured that his standards and his livelihood are not going to be jeopardised, I do not think we 1293 shall have a struggle when we come to the point of giving effect to the Bill.
To that extent I welcome the Bill. I am glad we have come to the position where it will not be contentious, and that indeed it is not in the sense that both sides accept it. I want to thank the Minister for introducing it.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
There have been occasions, it will be within your memory, Sir, on which, on a Friday, a Bill has been received with so much and so protracted enthusiasm that towards four o'clock eyes on the Treasury Bench have looked somewhat apprehensively towards the clock. I hope that that may not be the fate of this Measure, and that it may not, as other Measures the right hon. Gentleman recalls, be so smothered in kindness that it may be quite unable to move.
I think there are sober reasons for satisfaction that the right hon. Gentleman is able, with the consent and agreement of all the parties concerned, to bring forward this Measure at this time; and I think it is quite right, as the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) said a few minutes ago, that the very great sacrifices of hard-won privileges and concessions made for the common cause during the war by the trade unions concerned should be fully and properly recognised at this time.
At that time all sections of the community made efforts and sacrifices, but it is a fact that it is much harder to give up rights which were fought and struggled for for many years than it is, perhaps, to give up any other kind of right; and I think it is absolutely fair, as the hon. Member for Clapham said, to say that very great sacrifices were made, and that that should be properly appreciated by this House, and by the country as a whole.
There is one small matter on which I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, and that is that, in this respect, at any rate, he has decided not to carry on by emergency powers but to proceed by the proper method of statute. There is proverbially more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, even over only a hundredth part of the subject matters of his Department, than over ninety-nine just persons who have always 1294 proceeded in the proper way by statute; and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, having seen the enthusiasm with which his initial efforts to get away from emergency powers has been received by this House, will be encouraged in well doing.
There is one small technical point on the operation of the Order in Council, which, in certain circumstances, it would be the right hon. Gentleman's unpleasant duty to make, on which I should like to ask him a question. The right hon. Gentleman told the House—I am sure, quite properly—that this Order in Council would be subject to the negative Resolution procedure. There are various kinds of negative procedure. If I am right in my belief that this Bill, being incorporated in the 1942 Act, attracts the provision of Section 9 of that Act, the negative procedure to which the right hon. Gentleman referred will be, from the point of view of Parliamentary control, the best variant in that procedure. That is the procedure under which the order is laid in draft, remains in draft for 40 days, and only is made to take effect if no Motion has been carried against it in that period.
As the House is aware, under the general kind of negative procedure the order takes effect immediately, and continues to operate until it is annulled. I hope I am right in my reading of the Bill. Perhaps, the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I think, is to reply to the Debate, will be good enough to confirm that this, which, in the view of many of us, is the best form of the negative procedure, is the one which will operate if the order has to be made.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance. All the amendments of the Act are those in the Bill. That Section is not altered.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am much obliged; we can proceed on that basis.
Although some of us think the affirmative procedure would be better, nevertheless it is that form—that variant—of the negative procedure which gives this House most control which is being adopted, and that seems to me most satisfactory. The difficulty we are all in, of course, is that we are giving to the right hon. Gentleman power, by Order in Council, 1295 to effect the restoration of pre-war trade practices without any of us in the House knowing what all of them are. The right hon. Gentleman has said, quite frankly, that only a very small proportion of these practices have, in fact, been registered with his Department. I quite appreciate that in those circumstances it is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what those practices are, but it is a little difficult for the House to legislate when it is inevitably—and I am making no complaint—in ignorance of important factors bearing on the matter.
If one looks on this purely as a piece of legislation, while it enshrines, we hope, the intention that these practices should never be restored, yet the flexibility works both ways; and it would, in fact, be possible—legally possible—for these practices to be restored within 40 days of the coming into force of this Measure; and in that state of affairs I think it would be necessary for the right hon. Gentleman, in one way or another, to inquire, and to give to the House full information as to what the practices are which we should then be legitimising.
At this stage, I appreciate his difficulty, but I hope his Department will bear in mind, if and when the Order in Council is produced, the difficulty in which this House would then be placed, and the necessity of its being informed, so that it can do its duty properly, of what the practices were which, as a result of the Order in Council, would be restored; because it would not be fair to ask the House to operate in such a complete intellectual vacuum.
The other thing about the Bill which strikes me as of some importance is one which has already been alluded to in passing by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Colonel Hutchison), and that is the exclusion from this Measure—I think I am paraphrasing though not quoting the right hon. Gentleman's words—"the undertakings which came into being since 3rd September, 1945." I appreciate that my right hon. Friend may very well say that it is pedantic even to mention it. I appreciate that the practical importance of it is not very great, because the anomalies which the statute permits would be very unlikely to be permitted by any vigilant trade union concerned.
1296 All the same, the position, as I understand it, is this. If an Order in Council were made under this Bill and pre-war trade practices restored, firms established before and during the war would be compelled to go back to those practices for, I think, 18 months, but a firm established since the war, which would naturally be operating on the present practices, would be under no legal obligation to go back to pre-war practices. It would, therefore, find itself, from a competitive point of view, having, it seems to me, a highly unfair and anomalous advantage over its competitors in the same industry, from whom it is distinguished only by being of more recent creation.
After all, we are legislating, and although I concede at once. that I do not think the practical importance of this is very great, it is none the less an important principle in legislation perhaps even to be pedantic, certainly to make sure that the statute is watertight and that anomalies are not deliberately created by legislation. In parenthesis, I would observe that we all know that anomalies are inadvertently created by legislation on many occasions, and it seems all the more pity that we should quite deliberately create one, as we seem to be doing in this particular respect.
The real importance of the Bill, of course, is not what it does or enacts. Its real importance is that it symbolises a general national intention to dispense with restrictive practices which hinder output, efficiency and—to use the word which the hon. Member opposite liked, but which I do not—productivity. That is the real essence and the spirit behind the Bill, and it is immensely encouraging that people who disagree about so many other things do agree about this, and that the right hon. Gentleman should be able to bring forward a Measure, the spirit behind which is a very clear indication of our national intention to see that no unnecessary handicaps are placed upon our people in their struggle for survival.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
We are having a nice friendly chat this morning the atmosphere is cool, calm and collected, and I shall try not to disturb it. I shall not follow the intricacies of the argument of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). When he and his fellow 1297 lawyers get on the job, I always feel that there is a tendency to create—dare I use the word?—a miasma of words that ordinary laymen like myself find extremely difficult to follow. However, I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will read with great care his speech in HANSARD to see whether after two or three goes at it, I may be able to get just what his point is.
It seems to me that there are three reasons why in the past the trade unions have tried to bring into operation what are undoubtedly restrictive practices. The first is craft; the second, fear of unemployment; and the third—dare I say it? —the maintenance of privilege. I think we can all agree that where the intention or the motive is the preservation of craft, broadly we all support it. I pro to say a little about the fear of unemployment in a moment. That is also very understandable, and, while we may regret it, there is today amongst some sections of the workers a "Luddite" sort of mentality which is not helpful.
In regard to the maintenance of privilege, we must at some time or other be very frank with ourselves. I deprecate the practice which has gone on, and which is still going on, in a number of industries, where entry is restricted to a father-to-son basis. I think that is quite wrong. It is against the best interests of the country and the best interests of the trade concerned. I very strongly deprecate that type of privilege, or that type of restriction which causes unhealthy privilege. I believe that entry to all industries should be free to all men; that provided they can do the job and have got the capacity they should be able to rise in their industry. It is wrong in the lower income groups or in the craft unions to adopt an attitude that makes for privilege. I also think it is wrong in the professions, and I rejoice that since 1945, the Labour Government have, by their educational policy, helped us considerably in that respect, although a lot still remains to be done. I strongly hold that it is the function of the State so to clear the ring that every individual can exercise his potential to the full without restriction.
I was extremely interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) when he referred to production. I would suggest to employers —of whom I think there are many more 1298 on the Opposition benches than on these benches—to try the tactic of the boss coming to work at the same time as the workers in the shops. And what about the office staff all coming in at, say, half-past seven or eight o'clock instead of nine or ten o'clock. It is surprising to find what a marked effect that has upon production in other countries where that is a common practice. I say this with diffidence, because perhaps even Ministers might begin to adopt the practice. I do so say quite seriously, that if this were done it would have a marked effect on production.
It is very fashionable in this House—and I have noticed it during the whole of this debate so far—to assume that full employment is a permanent feature of our economic life. Well, quite frankly I do not believe it. I do not believe it for one moment. I know that when the Coalition Government announced their policy and brought out their White Paper it was accepted, but I cannot help remembering that since 1945 every proposal from the Labour Government for the purpose of ensuring power to the State to prosecute a policy which means full employment has been opposed by the Conservative Party. I have not the slightest doubt that when the Bill dealing with controls is introduced—whatever its title may be—it also will be opposed. That is the fear in the mind of the average worker. The average worker in the trade union movement is not convinced, and is not likely to be convinced, that if the Conservative Party came to power they would have the desire or be prepared to give themselves the power which would ensure a policy of full employment.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
The hon. Gentleman must remember that during the last election Conservatives pledged themselves to a full employment policy, and told the people exactly what they would do to obtain it.
§ Mr. Daines
I read "The Right Road for Britain" and studied every other document they issued, and I reply flatly that the State must be given powers and effective economic controls in order to ensure a policy of full employment, and everything else is sheer moonshine. I share the feeling of the rest of my fellow workers. I do not believe either in the sincerity of that objective or that a Con- 1299 servative administration would arm itself with powers to make a policy of full employment effective. That is a fact which must be faced. It is not only my own feeling, but I am sure it is widespread amongst the ordinary working people.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that? He speaks as though he thought that everybody on these benches was a liar. I do not believe he really means it.
§ Mr. Daines
I do not mean that for one moment. I really believe that some hon. Members opposite are convinced that their policy will give the results they claim, but I am arguing that I do not believe it and that the organised workers do not believe it either, because all powers that make it possible have been opposed by the Tories. I am coming to the point about trade union opinion, which is not due to policies or programmes, or even to radio speeches, but is due to bitter, practical experience. In my generation, the people of 30 to 50 years of age have had experiences that will never be eradicated from their minds.
There are hon. Gentlemen in this House who grew up in comfortable homes where education and everything else was there for them. They went out into life when they were 23 or 24 years old. They never knew unemployment. In my generation, the workers went through long periods of mass unemployment and any hon. Member—and I believe they are confined to this side—who had that experience, will have, for the rest of his life, a sense of insecurity. It will not matter where he is or what position he may obtain. He may become a master man or a wealthy man, yet at the back of his mind all the time will be that sense of insecurity which is never present in the minds of other people who did not have those indelible experiences. Those deep, psychological factors arose in the period when mass unemployment was accepted as common-place and are behind these restrictive practices, and therefore I say that I understand them.
I understand, too, how it is that the workers today still feel that way about things, because they are not convinced, as I am not convinced, that full employment will continue when and if the Conservative Party come into power. There it is. Those are the plain facts. The 1300 trade union movement, wisely in my view, has been careful to safeguard the maximum of power to itself in order to prevent those experiences from coming again.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)
The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) has just delivered himself of a very trenchant attack on the motives of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. Although that has nothing to do with the Bill of which we are discussing the Second Reading, it is necessary to point out that the hon. Member attributes all kinds of lack of understanding to hon. Members on this side of the House, and claims to understand the feelings that are going on inside the minds of other people who have had experiences which he has not had.
§ Mr. Daines
As that is a personal point, I would like to make it quite clear that for several periods of my working life I was unemployed.
§ Mr. Grimston
I believe that the hon. Gentleman was speaking from deep personal experience, but we on this side of the House are as fully convinced and determined as any hon. Gentleman on that side, that mass unemployment such as we experienced in this country before the war, and which many people tried hard to stop, shall not be tolerated again.
This Bill is a very convenient peg on which to hang a number of discussions about productivity in general. Possibly we exceeded the scope of the discussion when we talked about drilling holes in steel plates in ships in 1926, for the restrictive practices which we are discussing are all written down and agreed upon, and signed between firms and unions, and they are in the files of the firms and of the unions. They are sometimes, but very rarely, filed with the Ministry of Labour, too.
Speaking on this matter when we were discussing the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, I made two points. The first was that it was necessary to stop imposing on industry the obligation to return to the restrictive practices which were departed from after the end of the war. That point, I am glad to see, is fully covered by the Bill. Whether that was a question of great minds moving along the same road I do not know, but I am extremely glad to see it.
1301 The second point I made on that occasion was misunderstood by the Minister, but I blame myself for not having made my meaning sufficiently clear. I will try to put it into more specific terms. Under Clause 2 (2) of the Bill there is a need to define in each factory or branch of the factory started since the war the analogous practices which must be reintroduced because they existed previously in another factory. The Minister will know very well that at the beginning of the war we suddenly found ourselves without many minor components which, previously had been imported from Germany or brought from some other part of the world. Some factories established departments for producing those components.
Let me give the House a specific case which came within my own experience although not in the business in which I work. It is a case of making diamond dies. These dies had to be imported in very large quantities, before the war, and it became necessary, at the beginning of the war, to make them here. So new factories were started to pierce these diamonds and women were employed on the work. When the date of the Order in Council comes, under the terms of the Bill, firms who have been doing that kind of work may be required, perfectly properly under the 1942 Act, to put men on to that work because it is analogous to the work, which was done before the war, of polishing diamonds, on which men were employed, although an entirely new industry has been started. If, in fact, I am right in my interpretation, this is a point which the Ministry of Labour might very well take up with the employers and the trade unions.
The point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. J. Hale), and was taken up by other hon. Members, that when the workers gave up their privileges in 1939 they felt that they might never get them back. That is a point of great substance, and we in this House must make it clear to the trade unions that they may have these restrictive practices back. It will be necessary to declare a date in the Order in Council, and I would prefer it fairly soon. If we are to carry out our obligations to the trade unions it must be made abundantly clear to them that they can have their pre-war practices back.
1302 My last point is that under the Act of 1942 a number of men, for instance, fitters' mates, were promoted, in this instance to fitters. These men are still doing the work of fitters, as they have been doing for eight years already, and they may be doing it perhaps for 12 years before there is any question of bringing the Bill into force by Order in Council.
Are we to face having to tell the men who have done fitters' work for 12 years that they must go back to being fitters' mates and take the drop in money and loss of prestige which that entails, or are we to go now into consultation, with leadership from the Minister—and he has exerted great leadership in bringing this forward—on the clear understanding that is is the wish of the Minister that, where possible, local agreement on the floor of the shop shall be arrived at under which men affected by the 1942 Act shall be allowed to retain the higher grade? It is an extremely important thing, in many cases, where a man has served his apprenticeship as a grown-up man rather than as a boy and has obtained a higher position in the factory. He should be reinforced in that position if possible.
While I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on having brought it forward and having exerted his influence to bring both sides of industry together, I ask him to examine those two further points to see if something can he done about them.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
We have had an extremely useful debate. We have listened to helpful and constructive speeches from both sides of the House and there has been very little controversy or bitterness except for the speech of one hon. Member. It has become quite clear from what hon. Members have said, that a great deal has yet to be done to bring both sides of industry together to get rid of restrictive practices that are now out of date. I know that the employers have been guilty in the past of some of these practices. When I tell the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Dames) that the Conservatives have time after time pledged themselves to bring these restrictive practices to an end as far as they are able to do so, he will probably say that that means nothing at all. But the Government have done their bit in the 1303 Monopolies Act, and we have always given them our support, and we intend to break down those restrictive practices whenever they are carried on by employers.
I can very well understand why there are so many restrictive practices used by the employed. It is well known that the chief reason is the fear of unemployment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) said that he felt that the greatest help could come from the floor of the factory, but I believe that much can be done if the Government will give a lead. If we are to get our defence programme through, gain the dollars we want and build the houses, we must reduce restrictive practices. If it is the fear of unemployment which is causing most of them, let us try to remove that fear. Let us have some propaganda.
Cannot the Government now announce their plans to deal with unemployment immediately it threatens? The Government have told us that they have plans to deal with it and the Conservative Party have constantly told the country that they have plans to deal with it also. Could not the Government state now and over and over again, that if unemployment begins to creep in, they will build roads and bridges, new towns or even an extra pier at Brighton, or anything else which will employ the people? If the country knew that the Government would tackle the problem, the fear of no work would gradually go. To deal with unemployment the Government have told us that they will probably pay off postwar credits and reduce Income Tax in order to give the people more spending power. That is the policy of the Government and the other two parties. Could we not have a little more publicity about this to let the people know that there will not be unemployment. The Government should be loyal enough to say that they do not think that there will be unemployment under the Conservatives instead of saying just the reverse, as did the hon. Member for East Ham, North.
§ Mr. Daines
Surely the hon. Member is not saying that the only person who is loyal is one who supports the Conservative Party?
§ Mr. Williams
No, I was talking of loyalty to the country. If we want people to realise that there will not be unem- 1304 ployment, the hon. Gentleman must say not only that his own side are doing all they can to prevent unemployment, but that he quite honestly believes that the Conservatives will carry out the same plans.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman may hold his own view but it will not help to remove the fear of unemployment. If only we can get rid of some of the restrictive practices which are completely out of date—many of them were designed, understandably, to spin out time —we may get the 10 per cent. increase in productivity which we desire, and if we do that, we can have both armaments and houses. And if the Government take the lead in convincing the workers that there will be no unemployment, then restrictive practices will not be wanted and we will get the goods.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
It is apparent that all sides of the House agree that restrictive practices, whether confined to one side or the other or whether they apply to both sides of industry, are not in the best interests of the country. I want to give an illustration of how they can apply. I have always thought of them as of self-protective practices because, on both sides of industry, they have been concerned with the protection of the interests of either the worker or the employer; in the case of the employer his own trade interests, and in the case of the worker his interest in not wanting to work himself out of a job.
The other day I heard the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) say how seriously the population can be affected by overcrowding, and he mentioned the number of children who die because of overcrowding. It is equally true that unemployment finds its victims in an increasing death-rate, particularly among young children and the more vulnerable sections of our population. When, for example, men in the building industry cannot be assured that the material for their work is in supply all the time from day to day, and that they will not be working themselves out of their job by working harder and more quickly, it is quite understandable that what we term, very broadly, "restrictive practices" should be employed.
1305 The House will be interested to hear of an example from the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Four or five months ago we noted that the number of men engaged by builders working on corporation contracts had fallen to about 450. We felt that this was a very serious matter, because it meant that the output of houses was roughly 400 per year. A remedy was sought and the result has been that the figure has now risen to about 1,000, and we confidently expect to bring it to about 1,400 by the spring. This has been done as a result of the energy of the housing committee and the co-operation of all the private builders engaged, for it is they who employ the men and it is they who have brought the men on to the contracts to speed up the building of houses for the city council. We are extremely glad about this; it points to the fact that the labour which was available was being used for other purposes, and that by means of good will and understanding agreement can be reached for bringing more labour to the building of houses.
The moment we started to do this we found ourselves faced with certain difficulties. The first was that cement was not in sufficient supply. I want to put it on record that the action taken by the Ministry of Works enabled us to overcome the problem, and no builder has had to put off men on any contract through a shortage of cement. But we now find ourselves up against the difficulty of getting enough bricks to employ even 1,000 men on our contracts. At the rate bricks appear to be available, we certainly shall not be able to find enough for the 1,400 men we want to employ in the spring.
This is happening in North Staffordshire, which produces enormous quantities of bricks. We know what has happened. It is due to restrictive practices on the part of the employers. I am not blaming them for having taken this opportunity, but I am urging them to understand what the problem is like, and to take steps to overcome it, or to help us to overcome it. We know that in 1947, as a result of the representations of the Minister of Works, they were producing many more bricks than at present. They were producing more bricks than we could take up in the area, or than they could sell outside.
It is fair to say that production of bricks in North Staffordshire is now about 1306 80 per cent. of what it was. Because everyone is fully employed—and we could employ many more women in particular industries—it seems that every brick is sold before it is made. That is very useful and highly desirable from the point of view of the manufacturers, but it is not so' desirable from the point of view of the community as a whole. The employers must give up this privilege of producing at just under the rate of supply, or at a rate which is equal to the supply. They must take some risks, just as the worker is taking risks. We cannot ask the worker to take the risk of working himself out of a job, unless some risk is taken by those on the other side of industry, who can afford to take a risk much more than the worker.
If, as a result of the Minister bringing in this highly desirable Bill, it is seen that a risk can be taken by both sides, with the worker prepared to work as hard as he can, and to accept bonus schemes and overtime if necessary, and the employers giving up their restrictive practices for the sake of the community, then nothing but good will result from the Measure.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
The most remarkable feature about this debate has been the unanimity shown on both sides about restrictive practices. There is no doubt that there is general recognition that it is no longer opportune —or at least not now opportune—to restore compulsorily trade practices which restrict output. That is not to say, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) has said, that some restrictive trade practices, whether by agreement or otherwise, have been restored since the war.
The purpose of the Bill is to implement the guarantee given to the workers during the war, that the practices they abandoned in the interest of the nation would be restored, if necessary, by the nation. As far as I can see, the Bill changes the implementation of that guarantee from an automatic date to a date, or dates, at the discretion of the Minister.
The Bill makes it possible for the Minister to restore trade practices by an Order in Council. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has dealt with the question of the way in which such an order 1307 should take effect and ought to consider how this question may arise. It may arise as a result of a dispute, or it may arise owing to the falling off of employment in a certain area. The workers may consider that the time has come to honour the obligation, and the employers may consider that the time is not opportune. The workers will then come to the Minister and say that they want the nation to honour its obligation. But if they have to wait for 40 days before that obligation is honoured, we may be creating a serious obstacle to the settlement of such a dispute.
The Minister may say that he does not envisage this situation, but it is extremely important that we should anticipate the sort of conditions under which he may be called upon to honour the obligation, so as to see whether the negative procedure is appropriate. I should like to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston) has said about the long time which will have elapsed before the obligation can be honoured for a particular industry. The longer the time, the greater will be the hardship involved, and the less will be the advantage of restoration.
We have to remember that people were directed to certain jobs during the war, and that these people thought the jobs they were doing were only to last for the duration. They thought that the 1942 Act would operate at the end of the war, and that after the war they would have an opportunity to start again in another job Already over five years have elapsed since the end of the war, but there has been a positive urgency for these people to remain at their jobs. The position is that, in spite of the skill which they have acquired, they are still liable, as dilutees, to have to give way to those with less skill in that particular job. I know that this has happened already in certain areas in the case of the Air Ministry.
There is also the further difficulty which the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) referred to, that in the event of some dispute arising in an area, the Minister will have to consider whether he will accede to the request of the workers in that area—so far as I can see, he can only make an order that will apply throughout an industry and 1308 not for any single area. Yet it might not be appropriate to restore trade practice for the whole industry. That is one of the difficulties in which we find ourselves by the selectivity and discretion we are putting into the hands of the Minister. Nevertheless, I feel it is right that we should do so just now. Of the agreements which have been made it is desirable that some should be retained, possibly indefinitely, some have already served their time, if I may use that phrase, while some have already been discarded.
I would emphasise what has been pressed from this side of the House, that the Minister should see that he is made aware of all the agreements in existence and still being worked upon and which have not so far been discarded. If that is done, and a full inquiry is put into effect to enable him to get the information, he will be in a better position to see what the condition of the country is as a whole in regard to restrictive practices and to work towards what is clearly the desire of the whole House, that all restrictive practices shall be abandoned in the interests of the nation.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham. South)
I agree with the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson), who ended by saying it is the unanimous wish of the House that restrictive practices which used to pertain before the war should be abandoned. I was much struck by what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), who widened the scope of the debate when he referred to people who were not working at the bench but who restricted the supply of materials required so that industry could carry on.
The only quarrel I have with the Bill is with the title, because when my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, referred to restriction of trade practices, I am not sure that the action of, shall we say, the makers of building materials in restricting supply is a trade practice. I should have thought it was a business practice. This has a great bearing on what was said by the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) in a perfectly proper interruption of one of my hon. Friends when he referred to the widespread fear of unemployment which, as hon. Mem- 1309 bers have said, is the greatest cause of a tendency on the part of some workmen to restrict output or to persist in practices which may have that effect.
This fear exists to a most appalling degree in my own constituency. I happen to be a revolutionary who believes that the whole purpose of industry is to satisfy consumer needs. That is not believed by hon. Members opposite, who think its whole purpose is to make profits; nor is it believed by many hon. Members on this side of the House, who think industry's whole purpose is to create employment. I am revolutionary enough to believe that the maximum satisfaction of consumer need is the object. We can never have the common sense view that industry exists to satisfy consumer need so long as restrictive practices persist.
I can tell the House of an industry which restricted production before the war, a creative industry in which they made something as necessary to the conduct of industry as petrol is to the motor car. That industry continuously, throughout the inter-war period, restricted its output. The propaganda needed to convince workers that full employment will continue must come from the other side, not from this side. Working men believe that, if ever the other side got into power, this same restriction would start to function once again. It is inherent in many speeches of hon. Members opposite, and in their party's policies, that the money supply must be reduced, and if the money supply is reduced we get unemployment again. It is there that propaganda is needed, if we are to get rid of the unfortunate Luddite mentality among some of the workers.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Frederick Lee)
On behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself, I thank the House for the eminently constructive mood in which this very important matter has been discussed. We all know that the Bill itself is small in bulk and is confined to two Clauses only, but I believe that the subject matter it covers reveals, in a particularly splendid light, the unanimity of purpose which invariably obtains throughout British industry whenever great external danger threatens our country.
1310 It is well worth recalling that in very many instances agreements between trade unionists and employers which have been referred to today, dilution agreements and so on, designed to assist in the better utilisation of our labour force and the provision of a large number of highly skilled craftsmen, were in fact entered into long before the guarantee of restoration of prewar, trade practices was made at Government level.
Listening to oft-repeated statements about the enforcement of restrictive practices by people who know little about industry, one is tempted to suggest that a little more spreading of the facts about this era of agreement on dilution and so on, in place of a lot of hot air generated on the question of restrictive practices, would be of inestimable value to everyone concerned. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) quite rightly asked what were the restrictive practices which the House is discussing. He pointed out that it was very necessary when passing this sort of legislation to be aware precisely of the sort of thing which happens, and I will try to give a number of illustrations of the sort of thing we are discussing.
I recall with a great deal of satisfaction that as early as October, 1937, in one large engineering establishment, not unknown to the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), a scheme was agreed for the upgrading of semi-skilled men to skilled work. This was two years before the emergency arose Very large numbers of men were able to advance their status as a result of that agreement and a far better and more evenly balanced labour force resulted.
Then, in 1939, in the same factory, the E.T.U. and the A.E.U. signed an agreement under which women were allowed to work with men on radar production, and in fact these relaxed conditions still obtain in that factory. These things were happening—and I make no apology for drawing the attention of the House to them—within a few years of the passing into law of the 1927 Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act and when full employment was entirely unknown under peacetime conditions in this country. I wish at times that people who should know better would refrain from making too much of a point of the question of restrictive practices as applied by trade unions under certain conditions.
1311 The first relaxation agreement in the national sense in the engineering industry, which naturally was the industry most concerned in this issue, was signed between the A.E.U. and the Engineering and Allied Employers' National Federation on the 28th August, 1939. Again, hon. Members will notice that it was signed before the outbreak of war. The background to it was the Government's rearmament programme and the shortage of skilled manpower due to the expansion of armaments production. The agreement stated:In order to supplement skilled manpower in the industry where it can be shown that skilled men are not available and production is prejudiced, it is agreed that an alternative class of worker may be employed on jobs hitherto done by such skilled men under reservations to be mutually agreed.That agreement was followed by a further agreement on 11th September, 1939, which provided for a review of the operation of the earlier agreement at certain intervals. On 22nd May, 1940, a new period, era if one prefers that word, came into being, when it was agreed that women could be employed on jobs formerly done either by youths or by adult male workers. I give that history and background in order to show what type of thing it is we are discussing, and in order that we may be able to see the magnitude of the problem which now faces us.
Since the end of the war, proposals to end the dilution agreements have been considered on a number of occasions by the national conferences of those unions which entered into such agreements. A point of view was expressed on some of these occasions that the time had arrived when the agreements should be terminated. I am more than happy to know that on each occasion on which this question of the termination of these agreements has been discussed there has been overwhelming support for the view that, although the war ended over five years ago, there is nevertheless a necessity, because of the country's economic situation, to continue those agreements in existence. I know of no individual trade union which entered into a dilution agreement during the period of our danger which has yet asked for the termination of that agreement.
A question has been asked about the numbers of people involved in dilution 1312 during the period. I do not know that one can form an accurate estimate of the numbers involved, but I have some information which will perhaps give the House an idea of the extent of dilution. For example, in the case of one union there are in existence in its head office more than 19,000 relaxation forms which were signed during that period. Each of those forms could be used for numbers varying between one and 50. That example relates to male labour.
In the case of registration forms used for jobs in which women were introduced, I should explain that these did not register individual women but rather registered the change as a job which had been diluted. One can see that the numbers of people in engineering alone who were enabled to take up jobs which under prewar practices they would not have been allowed to do runs into hundreds of thousands of people. I am perfectly certain that the whole House will agree that had the unions not been prepared to take this very constructive outlook at that difficult period, our progress to final victory in the war would undoubtedly have been delayed for a considerable period.
I could give many instances in reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames about the type of work which was diluted. I can quote as an instance one form submitted by a Manchester firm showing that no fewer than 15 different types of work formerly done by skilled or semi-skilled male workers were handed over to female labour. If any hon. Member would like to have the particulars, I shall be happy to supply them. That is one instance to show the great variety of jobs in which semi-skilled men and women were enabled to play a full part in producing the armaments upon which the safety of the country depended. I believe that these records are the finest tribute and chronicle of the desire of the trade unions to serve the nation in the hour of its greatest need. They form a complete answer to those who wish to convey the impression that the trade unions exist merely to put a brake on industrial progress.
Having given that general outline, I say at once that with much of the criticism which has been expressed of restrictive practices, either on the part of employers or the trade unions, under the very different conditions of today, I am in com- 1313 plete agreement. The background of mass unemployment and fear of insecurity against which restrictive practices grew up no longer obtains. We simply cannot try successfully to cure the problems of 1950 by giving the answer which may have been the right answer to the problems of 1930.
I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), that, while I am not competing with him for the dubious distinction of the longest period of unemployment, I have had my share. He is quite right in saying that once one has had a period of it, running into years in my case, one never forgets it. It certainly eats into one's soul. But I would make the plea that we should see the nature of the problem today, not against the background of what we suffered then, but rather in the light of what I believe to be the fact, that the problem which we now have to meet cannot be solved by restricting output. I would say that the greatest reason for the fear of those days coming back again will be brought nearer and nearer unless we can get, not a decrease in productivity, but maximum productivity.
On the other hand, I hope that certain right hon. Gentlemen opposite will be a little careful in their speeches in their approach to the question of trade union leadership. I read with some interest and quite a good deal of amusement the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), as expressed at the Blackpool Conference, when he sought to show that in these days the trade union leadership is not entitled or is not allowed to have singleness of purpose in determining whether a strike should or should not take place. I hope that rather than pursue that kind of line in his speeches, the right hon. Gentleman will remember that the same men of whom he is now making that unjust criticism are the people who signed those agreements which helped us so much in the war period.
I now turn to a number of points which have been mentioned in the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) spoke with his usual courtesy and high degree of good common sense. He was eminently constructive, and he asked questions on one or two points. He rightly made the point that many of the practices which are 1314 now seen to be restrictive in outlook have come into being as a result of agreements reached at workshop level between the shop stewards and managements concerned. I make no complaint of that. But it should be seen also—this is why I have given the background of history—that many of the most important and constructive agreements which ultimately led to the national relaxation agreements, and the ability of my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary to introduce the original Act in 1942, were based upon local agreements between shop stewards and managements. In that way the workshop organisations played a most important part in bringing those questions forward and making it possible for the national agreement to take place. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned also a point regarding the type of the prospective Order in Council, and I think that my right hon. Friend gave the answer which he desired.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. J. Hale) spoke as one who, like myself, had the job of implementing the national agreement from workshop level. He displayed everything that is best in the thinking of the trade unionist today in the manner in which he showed that restrictive practices which were forced upon the workers, as once they were under the then prevailing conditions, would not be in any way to their advantage under present conditions. My hon. Friend was so bold as to mention restrictive practices in the legal profession. I will not follow him too far into that except to say that in these days it is very gratifying to realise that there appear to be, not one dockers' K.C., but quite a number, in this House, and not only on this side.
The hon. and gallant Member for Scotstoun (Colonel Hutchison), who in the last Parliament spoke on trade union matters on a number of occasions, also referred to the type of Order in Council which may be made. I think that the interjection of my right hon. Friend answered his point. The hon. and gallant Member talked of the great powers of the trade unions under existing conditions and hoped that they would he able to meet them in a spirit of equal responsibility. I claim that the history, not only of the war period, but of the past five and a half years, and the fact that we are now discussing the putting into cold storage of 1315 certain conditions which they could have claimed at the end of the war period, are the real answer to that problem and show the utmost responsibility in the attitude of the unions towards these great questions.
The hon. and gallant Member asked whether a change in ownership of a particular factory would mean that the agreements entered into by the original employer could be waived, and he instanced the case of a nationalised industry—one of the former railway companies, I think. The answer is, No. An agreement entered into under the private ownership would, of course, carry on into the nationalisation period and the board would take the same responsibilities as the private company had done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), in a robust trade union speech, again showed that a very different attitude now prevails, not only because he happens to be a Member of Parliament, but because he takes the history and background of his trade union activities to heart and learns from them. I was very much heartened to hear his viewpoint on this important issue.
I should like to point out that, although under the 1942 Act there was no question of anybody having to register the changes which took place in industry, there is contained in S.R. & O. 1305 of 1940 the machinery by which such changes could be registered. Although it is not enforceable, changes could be registered through this machinery as well as through that which my right hon. Friend outlined. I could not at this stage give the percentage of changes which were registered, although we know broadly, from the type of form, which I have explained, was submitted at the time, what sort of operations were diluted.
The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) spoke of the implementation of the Order in Council and asked, among other things, whether it could be done in isolation in any one district. We need to look a little more closely at this, because the relaxation agreements under which particular jobs or processes were relaxed still obtain. The process in industry is that when a period arrives when there is obviously an adequate supply of the particular type of labour required for a certain job, the relaxation on that par- 1316 ticular job need no longer obtain. Instead, therefore, of having to wait for an Order in Council to be applied, the relaxation of certain jobs may be ending daily, and may have been happening daily since the war, because of the fact that by mutual consent the two sides who had agreed to the original relaxation under war-time conditions had again mutually agreed that the period during which that relation was necessary had now passed, and had, therefore, terminated the relaxation of the particular job.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
Such agreements themselves, of course, provide for implementation whenever a sufficient supply of skilled labour exists locally.
§ Mr. Bell (Bucks, South)
What would be the effect of the written agreements which were entered into during the currency of the Act and of the renewing orders before the time, if ever it were to come, when these restrictive practices were put back into force? Would a written agreement then operate as a bar under the 1942 Act to relieve the employer of that liability?
§ Mr. Lee
It must be remembered that the Bill deals only with the things which were relaxed during the war period. That is precisely why it has been brought forward. It does not interfere with things which have taken place since the war. There may have been a relaxation of an existing custom that took place during the war which could have led to a further relaxation in some way or other since the war. In that case there would be a just claim by the union that it was involved in the original act of relaxation. On such issues, however, the question would be one for discussion between the parties. If it could be shown that the further relaxation which had taken place since the war was an outcome of the original act which took place during the war, there would be a just claim for it to be considered within the terms of the Bill.
Various other points were raised regarding restrictive practices. We have seen in the Press and have heard from speeches in this House that piece-work conditions in industry are being abused. Although men have at times worked on a tight rein because they have a good piece-work rate, I believe that the em- 1317 ployer also has a big part to play in this matter. I recall clearly one of the first things that happened in a great factory in which I had experience during the war. The management, having discussed the question with the workers' side, put up a notice to say that "the sky was the limit." In other words, no matter how much piece-work money was earned by the men, the management would not take advantage of that to ask for a diminution of the piece-work rate. That showed to the men that the days had gone in which, if operatives earned over a certain percentage of bonus, there would be some excuse for removing a lug from a casting, and that there would be no resort to things of that kind to take advantage of workpeople who had agreed to work at full stretch in order to increase not only their own earnings, but also the wealth produced in the country.
We have reached a phase when, because of national policy, the country has undertaken very great commitments which we never had before. We have talked at the Colombo Conference and so on of the necessity to ensure the defeat of Communism, if hon. Members wish to put it that way, but I prefer to look at it in a more constructive way as the spreading of our own way of life. We have decided to do a lot to assist in raising the standards of life of the peoples in those areas. I think the House would agree that that is an utterly vital consideration which everybody on both sides in industry must take into account in the period into which we are now entering.
I should like to feel that the inspiration of war conditions could be brought back again under the impetus of that type of policy. I know that perhaps it is not widely known in the country yet. I know that we cannot get the same enthusiasm for hard economic policies that we could get in the fervour and inspiration of war. But such is the temperament of the British people that, if we can show clearly that it may be upon their ability vastly to increase their productive effort, and in that way to bring a higher standard of life to Asia and the Far East, that peace or war ultimately may depend, then I am certain that those men and women who performed such gigantic work under war conditions can, and will, repeat that performance in order to ensure that war never comes again.
1318 It has been said in the debate that the rearmament programme will also cause greater difficulties. I know that that is so. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has a big problem in trying further to stretch the manpower of the country, starting as we do from a basis of full employment. We must endeavour to make even better use of the existing manpower than we do at the moment. That is a job which both sides of industry must discuss in a co-operative manner, just as they discussed in 1940 and 1941 the bringing into being of the 1942 Act.
I thank the House again for the reception which it has given to this Bill. I invite hon. Members again to remember that though the Bill is perhaps small in scope, it covers one of the most significant periods of the whole of British industrial history. It covers a period when men and women, realising that the country had its back to the wall, were prepared to work day and night for seven days a week, were able to bring in unskilled people who did not know their craft; were able to teach them their job, and at the same time to carry on their productive effort themselves. That is a period of which we all are entitled to be very proud.
I conclude by saying that the trade unions have earned our gratitude. I am certain that, as a result of the developments which we see now in that movement, they will continue to earn our thanks. In that spirit let us go on. Let us hope, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that the Order in Council will never have to be made. Let us hope that, through the increased productivity which we got during the war and which we have obtained since the end of the war as a result of these agreements, we can speedily bring about that restoration of our economic independence for which every one of us yearns most deeply. Let us ensure that in that way we bring to the world again the conceptions of industrial relations which, undoubtedly, are an inspiration to countries well beyond our borders. If we can do that, and continue in that way, I am sure that we can make a great contribution not only to that economic stability of which I have spoken but to the peace and prosperity of the world as a whole.
§ Question put, and agreed to.1319
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Royle.]
§ Committee upon Monday next.