§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [18th April] That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I beg to ask leave to speak a second time on the Second Reading of the Bill. The Bill was originally called for Second Reading on 18th April at one minute to four o'clock, when I spoke and then resumed my seat. With permission, I would now develop the arguments in favour of the Bill.
The Bill would amend the law relating to wages, that is to say, the law contained in the Truck Acts. It would not amend the whole of the Truck Acts but would tidy up certain anomalies which have appeared in the last century or so since the principal Act, that is, the Truck Act, 1831, was passed. Before that, there were centuries of legislation upon the particular subject dealt with in the Truck Act, namely, the protection of the employee from being forced to accept wages in kind.
I am sure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will agree that that is a very right and proper principle. The Bill does not intend any erosion of the general principle of the Truck Acts, but intends 'o knock off some of the barnacles which have attached themselves to this law over the period of the last century.
Incidentally, I should explain the meaning of the word "truck". I looked it up in the dictionary and I found that the verb means "barter or bargain". _When used as a noun, the word means "small wares or rubbish". If the House will bear with me, I will run over the existing legislation of the Truck Acts in order to explain where it is necessary to amend them to meet the convenience of modern industry and commerce and of those employed in them.
One starts with the Truck Act, 1831, Section 1 of which says:In all contracts hereafter to be made for the hiring of any artificer … or for the performance by any artificer of any labour … the wages of such artificer shall be made payable in the current coin of this realm only, and not otherwise.Those are the important words.
1492 As to the kind of employee who comes within the expression "artificer," there are Amendments in later Acts, to which I need not refer in any great detail, except to mention them. Under Section 2 of the Truck Amendment Act, 1887, and under Section 10 of the Employers' and Workmen Act, 1875, the present definition of that type of employee is, in short, a manual worker, someone engaged in manual labour or carrying out manual work. There have been added for certain purposes by other statutes shop assistants and all those engaged in the hosiery trade.
What happens if an employer fails to pay the entire wages in the current coin of the realm? For that purpose I turn again to the Truck Act, 1831, of which Section 2 says:If in any contract hereafter to be made between any artificer … and his employer, any provision shall be made directly or indirectly respecting the place where, or the manner in which. or the person or persons with whom, the whole or any part of the wages due or to become due to any such artificer shall be laid out or expended, such contract shall be and is hereby declared illegal, null, and void.It means that if there are any such conditions in a contract of employment the employee can disregard the fact that he has been paid wages in kind or any wages at all in certain contracts and can claim them all over again. Section 3 of the Act uses these important words:The entire amount of the wages earned by or payable to any artificer … in respect of any labour by him done … shall be actually paid to such artificer in the current coin of this realm, and not otherwise.Therefore, wages have to be paid to the employee engaged in manual work in the current coin of the realm and actually paid to him.
The next reference I want to make to the Act is to Section 4, which says:Every artificer … shall be entitled to recover from his employer … in the manner by law provided for the recovery of servants wages, or by any other lawful ways and means, the whole or so much of the wages earned by such artificer … as shall not have been actually paid to him by such his employer in the current coin of this realm.An interesting exception to that general rule is included in the Truck Act, 1831. It authorises the payment of wages to a manual worker by cheque. That is done in Section 8, which defines 1493 a "cheque" very narrowly. It defines cheques as beingdrafts drawn upon … a banker … within fifteen miles of the placeof the payment of the wages. It also says that the bank must be one which is licensed to issue bank notes. At present that provision is quite irrelevant.
Difficulties which have arisen about the existing law are mainly related to the definition of "manual worker" and the rather elaborate distinctions which have been drawn in cases which have come before the courts. For example, one can pay a bus conductor his wages by cheque, postal order or money order, yet one cannot so pay a bus driver or bus cleaner. If one does so one is committing a criminal offence. One can pay a train driver in any way one chooses, even in kind or by cheque, but not a bus driver. One can pay a goods guard in any way one chooses, but not a scene shifter or loom overlooker. One can pay a hairdresser in any way one chooses, but not a seamstress.
One gets extraordinary differences in the cases which have come before the courts. In many industries one could probably adopt a time-saving form of payment such as I am proposing in this Bill for part of the staff, those who are non-manual workers, but the very difficulty of distinguishing between what is a manual worker and what is a non-manual worker has prevented firms adopting such time-saving methods in the payment of wages. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that arguments against abolishing such anomalies seem to have nothing to do with the general purposes of the Truck Acts themselves. The Truck Acts were to combat the evil of payment of wages in kind, the evil of what was called the company shop, or the "tommy" shop. I understand that "tommy" in that phrase means bread or provisions.
A century or so ago the employer would set up his own retail shop and oblige his employees to buy their household provisions from that shop. On occasion, he would put the price of those goods up to an exorbitant figure so that the employees did not in reality receive full wages. There is no intention in this Bill of tampering with the provision against that, although I believe that in practice it is tampered with quite a lot 1494 today by the distribution of luncheon vouchers. However, I assure hon. Members that this Bill does not affect the luncheon voucher scheme in any way.
Clause 1, the language of which I think is simple and speaks for itself, says:Where a workman consents to the payment of his wages into a bank account specified by him, any payment so made …"—I skip the words in parenthesis—shall be valid if it is made by means of an order to a banker.This is not authorising or legalising the payment of wages by an encashable cheque. What I desire to regularise is the transfer of wages from an employer's bank account to an employee's bank account if the employee so wishes. That could be done either by a direction to the employer's bank to make the transfer or by a cheque specially crossed to a bank.
That means not a cheque encashable in any other way than by handing it across the counter of the bank specified in the crossing and that bank paying the money into the payee's account. I want to stress that the Bill does not and has no intention of legalising the payment of wages by an encashable cheque, a cheque which the employee could hand across the counter at his grocer's to be cashed. It is purely and simply to authorise a system of payment through bank accounts and thereby to give employers and employees freedom to do something which can harm no one but which, in fact, is at present forbidden by the Truck Acts.
Even assuming that there was something wrong, something oppressive or unfair, in this proposed reform, I wonder whether those in responsible positions in organised labour, in the trade unions, would wish Parliament to dictate the terms of a contract between an employer and an employee. I think not at present.
§ Mr. Page
Nor at any time, but under the Truck Acts that is what was done. I wish to give freedom to the employer and employee to make a reasonable arrangement of this sort if they both wish to do so.
Clause 1 would abolish the anomalies between the manual and non-manual 1495 worker which I have mentioned and permit the adoption of this very reasonable payment through bank accounts if desired. Secondly, by encouraging the banking habit, I think it would encourage thrift among employees. It would do so if the banks would adopt the same sort of system as that which Canadian banks have adopted. In Canada, I understand, it is quite legal to pay wages through banks, or even by cheque. I am informed that the Canadian banks pay deposit interest on those wages. Apart from what the employee wants to take out each week, immediately the money is paid in it starts to earn interest. If banks here would adopt the same system it would be a great advantage and an encouragement to thrift among wage earners.
Thirdly, I think the Bill would achieve a saving of time in counting and paying wages in cash. This system of bagging up wages in cash takes a great deal of time. When hundreds of employees' wages have been bagged up one finds an odd penny or threepence left on the counter—something has gone wrong—and the process has to be gone over again. I feel sure cashiers who have done that will confirm that it takes a very long time. This was timed out in a hospital recently with a staff of 200. It was found that the bagging up of cash wages took some three hours, but the process could be reduced to less than one hour if the wages were paid merely by direction to the bank into an employee's bank account.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Will the hon. Member tell us whether in that calculation anything was added for the amount of time which would be taken for employees to go to the bank and collect their money?
§ Mr. Page
Certainly not; I was dealing merely with the administration of the process. The hon. and learned Member is quite right in raising that point, and I shall deal with the advantages to the employee later. They set off the disadvantage of his having to go to the bank to receive his cash. Under present circumstances, we ought to seek to streamline administration as much as possible and do away with unproductive work such as the bagging up of wages.
1496 A further point which Clause 1 might achieve is that it would reduce the transmission of cash from the bank to the employer's premises It would therefore reduce the number of wage-grab crimes—the violence about which we frequently read in the newspapers of a cashier being coshed because he is carrying wages from the bank to his employer's premises. This is a very humane consideration. If we could avoid those injuries to cashiers—indeed, if the Bill prevented the occurrence of only one of those crimes—it would well be worth passing it. We ought not to expose wage clerks to this type of violence by robbery if we can help it.
The fifth point is that it would undoubtedly reduce the inconvenience of many employees in having to travel some distance to the place where the wages are paid, to queue up at the pay desk and to spend a considerable time waiting. I am informed that where this system has been adopted, even in face of the Truck Acts, this point has weighed heavily with the employees. I think that answers the question put to me by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who spoke of the time taken by the employee to go to the bank to get a cheque cashed. The employees of those concerns where this has been tried out—because it can be done for non-manual workers without alteration of the present law—have welcomed the fact that they have not had to travel to some other part of their employer's premises, which may be a considerable distance away from where they are working, to queue up for their wages. They welcome the fact that they can get the cash from their banks.
I am also told that their wives have welcomed it. By having a joint account, it has been possible for the wife to draw the shopping money on Friday morning and to do her shopping without waiting for her husband to come home with the cash on Friday night. In one case where this has been adopted, an arrangement has been reached with the bank that the employees' accounts are credited on the Wednesday of the week, even though the money from the employers does not go into the bank until the Friday. This arrangement with the bank enables the employee or his wife to draw on the account on the Thursday. That has been 1497 greatly welcomed, particularly by employees' wives, who can do their shopping on the Thursday or the Friday, thus leaving the Saturday free.
§ Mr. Moyle
In order that he may temper his views with the consideration of some of the physical difficulties involved, may I ask the hon. Member what he proposes to do about the 500,000 rural employees, such as agricultural workers, county road workers, quarrymen and rural station staff, in whose case there is often no bank within five or six miles?
§ Mr. Page
This is entirely permissive; there is no obligation. Indeed, employers could not force employees to accept the scheme. The hon. Member will see from later Clauses of the Bill that it depends entirely on the employee's consent. If the scheme is not convenient, the employee will not consent to the scheme. I understand that where it has been put to employees in an appropriate type of firm, within a town and within easy distance of banks, it has been accepted by employees as a real convenience to them.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Is it permissive? Is it not possible for an employer to say to an employee, "Unless you consent to this arrangement I will not employ you"?
§ Mr. Page
I have not received any violent objections. I would merely say that the proposal did not receive approval generally. In some spheres it was favourably received, but, generally speaking, from the trade union side it was not.
There are objections, from retailers as well as from employees, to the payment 1498 of wages by encashable cheque, and that is one of the main reasons I have not endeavoured in the Bill to go to the full limit of authorising the payment of wages by encashable cheque. Such a system raises great difficulties for retailers. It means that the local grocer and the local butcher, for example, are carrying the float for wages which the employer should carry, because the employee would go to the local shop with his cheque from the employer and endeavour to cash it with the retailer. That would be objectionable and would cause a great deal of trouble for the retailer.
This objection does not apply to the scheme which I suggest in the Bill. Perhaps I may quote to the House a letter which appeared in one of the popular daily newspapers; I do not know whether it is an argument for or against the payment of wages by cheque, but it was headed, "She wants a cheque, mate." The letter reads:I wish my husband was paid by cheque. Then he would never have a pocketful of ready money to fritter on pay night.It is, of course, true that there is some objection to payment by cheque in that it causes a disclosure of the amount of wages, possibly to the employee's family and to the shopkeepers with whom he deals. I emphasise, however, that I am not suggesting the payment of wages by cheque. I am proposing the payment of wages into the employee's bank account if he wishes that to be done.
The question whether any employee will consent to this system was tested by Pye Radio. About two years ago they started a system for the payment of wages by cheque. They had to abandon it because some of their employees were manual workers and the Truck Acts prevented it. Nevertheless, they had an almost 100 per cent. response from the employees in favour of receiving their wages by cheque.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
Has the hon. Member made any provision in the Bill, or does he propose to make any provision, to deal with bank charges? For example, if this system were operated in my constituency, most of my constituents would have practically no money left in the bank at the end of the year. The bank would, therefore, make charges against the depositor. Does the 1499 hon. Member propose to ask the employer to meet that charge in any way?
§ Mr. Page
It is a matter of arrangement with the banks. I can inform the hon. Member that in the scheme which is now in operation at one concern of I.C.I. the banks have agreed not to take any charges from employees for a matter of six months to see how the scheme works. Naturally, there must be some arrangement between banks and employers to compensate the employee for bank charges in some way, because the employer, as well, as the employee, who is receiving a benefit out of this. It is a matter of arrangement with the banks, and it is a matter, too, which would come into account when the employee is being asked whether he consents to this form of payment. Again, I must stress that it is purely a matter of arrangement between the employer and the employee as to whether or not the scheme is adopted. All I seek to do is to legalise it where it is illegal under the Truck Acts.
Clause 2 has nothing whatever to do with cheques or bank accounts. Its purpose is to legalise what I might call the coinless payment of wages; that is to say, the payment of wages to a round figure of 10s. each week—what has been referred to as the "nos-nod" system—no shillings, no pence. It means the payment of the employee's wages in bank notes. This can go on indefinitely until the employee leaves, with the payment being to the nearest 10s. or below, or it can be done by settlement after, say, four weeks.
Those who have adopted this system for four-week periods find that there is a very great saving in time in the bagging up of wages. Unfortunately, for manual workers it is now illegal, because, as I quoted at the beginning, some Sections of the Truck Act lay down the paying to the manual employee of his entire wages each time they fall due. Again, it is a matter of streamlined administration if the employees agree. I can inform the House that this system is being tried out at the moment with a number of employees in the hospital across the river. The response from the employees is very good. They are very happy to receive their wages in that way. It affects only one 1500 class of the hospital's employees, and the scheme is proving of great administrative economy—
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Would the hon. Gentleman explain how it would work in the following case? A person's regular weekly wage may add up every week to so many pounds and 4s. 9d. He will, therefore, get 4s. 9d. less than he has earned put into his fist at the end of the week. When does he get that back money? On the other hand, if the amount is so many pounds and 5s. 3d., so that he gets 4s. 9d. more each week than he has earned, when does he have to fork that out?
§ Mr. Page
If it is on the basis of a settlement each four weeks, as in the case of the scheme I have just mentioned, in the fourth week he gets four times the 4s. 9d. There is, however, the further scheme of carrying on indefinitely and paying to the nearest 10s. each week, when what he may lose in one week he gains in the next. I am not, however, very much in favour of the indefinite period scheme. But the four-week scheme has proved a great administrative economy, and the House should be quite pleased with that as it is an administrative economy in Exchequer money in that hospital—
§ Mr. Paget rose—
§ Mr. Page
—and, in any case, I do not think that a Second Reading speech is the occasion to work out intricate mathematics. I can assure the House that, 1501 where it is in operation, the scheme is operating very well, and with economy. The Port of Bristol Authority is also operating it and has found that the time needed for payment of wages has been reduced by two-thirds as compared with the bagging up of wages needing coin.
The purpose of Clause 4 is merely to dispel the doubt as to whether or not wages can be paid by postal orders or money orders. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, such orders are not current coin of the realm. Bank notes are, by Statute, but postal orders and money orders have never been put into that category. There are many occasions when employees are working at a considerable distance from their employer's place of payment of wages. The building trade, civil engineering, lorry driving, forestry work and that sort of thing are examples where it has been necessary to send someone out to the employees—perhaps very many miles—to pay the wages in cash.
Incidents of this kind have come to my knowledge from overseas. The Truck Act was passed in 1831, and applies, therefore, to very many Colonial Territories. Where there are outworkers, perhaps a matter of a 100 miles away from where the cash is kept—on civil engineering work, or work of that nature—the employer is really breaking the law either by sending the cash through the post to the employee or sending the wages by postal or money order.
During the war, this point was realised in the employment of roadmen by county councils, and the County Roadmen (Payment of Wages) Order, 1942—Statutory Instrument 1644 of 1942—authorised the payment by county councils of roadmen's wages by cheque. The difficulty was clearly recognised then, and I think that it is rather a pity that that Order was ever revoked. We might have developed it a little further at the present time.
The present position is ridiculous. For example, if a man is sick, it is illegal for the employer to send his wages in cash through the post, or to send him a postal or money order—and. of course, it is illegal to send it by cheque. I think in that case the matter should be put right even without any prior agreement with the employee, because this so frequently occurs in an emergency and there seems to be no reason why, even 1502 without the employee's agreement, he should not receive his money by postal or money order. This Bill, therefore, does not require the agreement of the employee in this case.
Clause 5 represents an effort to clear up an anomaly over profit sharing. If a bonus is paid under a profit-sharing scheme—and if it is merely a bonus and the employer is under no obligation to pay it—it is legal to give the bonus to the employee in the form of shares, but if there is a contractual obligation on the employer to give the employee any part of the profits, it is illegal to make any agreement with the employee that he should receive any part of it in shares. I admit that this is, perhaps, a controversial Clause, but I think that it would do some good in encouraging profit-sharing schemes. Hon. Members might think that this is tampering too much with the Truck Acts, but it would clear up a rather peculiar anomaly that exists at present.
This Measure is not an effort to codify the Truck Acts in any way, or to remedy all the anomalies. I think that the time must come when we should codify the Truck Acts and bring them up to date, but this is not an effort to do that. It is an effort to remedy some of the anomalies that are in no way connected with the real purpose of the Truck Acts. I would ask the House to bear in mind that the Truck Acts were intended to protect people who were, at the time when the Acts were passed, unorganised, but who are now in the main, as manual workers, organised labour and well able within their organisations to look after themselves, to fend for themselves, and to know whether or not to enter into this sort of agreement with the employer. In fact, the Truck Acts might well be more appropriate at the present time to the non-manual worker—the office worker, for instance, who is not in an organised position. One may pay the office worker in any way one chooses; one may pay the whole of his wages in kind.
This is not an employers' Bill as such. It brings employers some benefits, of course, by administrative economies, but I think it brings greater conveniences to the employees. It is not a bankers' Bill. In fact, it has received rather a cold reception from the bankers in this country—not in the United States and Canada 1503 where the payment of wages through a bank account is well accepted. I think this is an employees' Bill in that it would give great conveniences to the employee. It would certainly be what I might term a National Savings Bill because it would encourage thrift, through the banking habit, and it would reduce time spent in unproductive work.
§ 12.22 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I have every reason to thank the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) for having drawn our attention to the various anomalies in the Truck Acts and for having suggested some remedies. On the other hand, I certainly do not feel that this is the sort of matter in which we could possibly legislate on the nod. I feel that we must take what he has done as a suggestion, which I hope the Government will consider very seriously the next Session.
This certainly is not the sort of Bill which we should pass now. Indeed, it is not the sort of Bill which should become law through the private Members' procedure at all. 'The private Members' procedure really may be divided into two heads. There is the sort of Act which deals with a very limited interest or a very limited point. We had a very typical one, an anomaly concerning the registration of medical practitioners, which is just the subject which one can tidy up in a Private Member's Bill. That is the first function of private Members' legislation, and that is the part of the private Members' procedure which may result immediately in law.
The other class of Private Member's Bill procedure involves the Bill which is not designed of itself to become law because it deals with a general subject, but is designed as a suggestion to the Government whose function it is to deal with legislation of wide and general effect, and which becomes law if the Government adopts it, and then carries out the appropriate negotiations for this type of legislation.
Frankly, to interfere with the Truck Acts on a wide front without discussing the matter with the trade unions and at least getting their views on the matter would be, I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree, unthinkable in modern circumstances. It is not something 1504 which this House should do, or, I think, would dream of doing. But the hon. Member has brought forward—
§ Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman say why a Private Member's Bill should be so limited as he has suggested?
§ Mr. Paget
Because of the convenience in needs of our procedure. I suppose it boils down almost to representative Government.
We believe not in democracy as such, which is a totally unworkable system; we believe in representative democracy—that is to say, authorising, trusting, accepting representatives. Within our Parliamentary system we provide a Government. That Government is the representative whom we have appointed of the general interest, and it is for the Government to deal with legislation, because it is the representative body which this House has created to deal with legislation that affects wide interests. That is why our procedure provides no opportunity for the Opposition to offer legislation—because the Opposition is not the representative body which has been created by this House.
That is, in rather wide terms, what I think the constitutional point is here. But to private Members a limited field of legislation is reserved. It is a field which is useful in dealing with small issues, issues which do not affect on balance wide interests within the community. If, as in this Bill, a suggestion is brought forward affecting those wide interests, that system is brought outside the field of the machinery which is available to private Members. Private Members have not got the machinery for consultation with the T.U.C., the Co-operatives, the trade unions or the bankers, with all the wide interests of people who will be affected by this legislation and who must be consulted before a responsible decision can be taken.
I have been rather long and discursive in the rather wide question which the hon. Gentleman put to me, but I believe that within our Parliamentary procedure one must accept the limitations that apply, and to private Members there are very real limitations that apply within the field of legislation which they can initiate.
1505 I rather gathered from the hon. Member for Crosby that he recognises that this can only be a suggestion to the Government. The next move rests with the Government. It is, I think, too late in this Session to take this Bill further, but I feel that this is a subject which the Government certainly ought to consider the next Session, when there will be time to deal with it. For my part, I feel that the hon. Member for Crosby, in a most interesting speech moving the Second Reading of his Bill, certainly made that case.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
I must begin by firmly disagreeing, regretfully, with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in his view that private Members should not introduce Bills affecting wide interests. Wide interests, however important, can find their expression in this House whether there have been prior consultations or not. Of course, in the Private Member's Bill procedure, if there is strong opposition to a Bill, inevitably it will be killed. But there are many Private Members' Bills affecting wide interests which do secure passage through the House, and I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not stood up for the interests of private Members and their right to introduce legislation in the House.
§ Mr. Paget
It is probably my fault for not making myself clear. The hon. and learned Member has not understood what I said. I said that, if a private Member—this is one of the functions of private Members' legislation—goes into the wider issues, he can do so only in the sense of making a suggestion to the Government. Unless the Government, either by providing the time and leaving it to a free vote of the House, or by adopting the Bill and making it their own, are prepared to take up the suggestion, the private Member must recognise that his Bill cannot go beyond the suggestion stage.
§ Mr. Hobson
That interjection seems to amount to saying that such Bills have a better chance if the Government support them, as, indeed, we all know is the case in respect of all Private Members' Bills.
I propose to devote a few minutes to a consideration of the advantages of this 1506 particular Bill, to which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton did not devote any of his speech. It has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that the only people at present affected by the Truck Acts are those known as manual workers. The definition of "workman" for this purpose isany person who, being a labourer, servant in husbandry, journeyman, artificer, handicraftsman, miner, or otherwise engaged in manual labour,… has entered into or works under a contract with an employer.To persons in that category, according to the present law, wages must be paid in current coin of the realm and in no other manner, but to all other employees within the United Kingdom it is perfectly legitimate to pay their wages in any manner that the employer desires, whether the employee consents or not.
We have, therefore, this extraordinary situation. A grocer's assistant who does not serve in the shop, a foreman carpenter, an omnibus driver who does not do repairs to his vehicle, a conductress, a clerk or typist, or any member of the office staff, a domestic servant, a public house potman, or a hairdresser, can be paid in a manner otherwise than in current coin of the realm, but if an employee comes within the category of manual worker he must be paid in current coin of the realm.
As an example, if a lady comes to sweep up for an hour or so in one's domestic premises, she can be paid by cheque or in any other manner, but if she then steps round to one's business or professional premises and there sweeps up, she becomes a manual labourer and must be paid only in current coin of the realm.
While this may have been a sensible provision when the class of manual workers, in the early 1830s, was a depressed class, to whom it was essential that wages should be paid in current coin of the realm, a very different situation arises today. Such distinctions in the payment of wages are now really wholly anomalous. For instance, in or near my division, where the motor car industry flourishes and where very high wages indeed are paid, the persons who are, as it were, the manual labourers in that industry—the artificers, skilled men and handicraftmen—are earning very much higher wages than those earned by the 1507 office staff, by the clerks, typists and non-manual workers within the same industry.
We have the odd position that those earning high wages, perhaps over £20 a week, may not have their wages paid to them by cheque or other means even though both employer and employee would like it, whereas those paid lower wages in the offices can have their wages paid to them by cheque even though they, the employees, do not particularly want it.
There are other anomalies. I am told that, in my division, many of the apprentices attending technical school for instruction are drawing wages higher than those of the staff employed to instruct them. The staff employed to instruct them can be paid by cheque, but the apprentices, if engaged in some form of manual labour, can be paid only in the current coin of the realm. In this situation, I respectfully submit to the House that the only sensible thing to do is to pass legislation which is permissive only and does not place any obligation whatever upon a manual employee to accept his wages other than in current coin of the realm.
In one way, the suggestion contained in Clause 1 of the Bill does not go nearly so far as the provisions of the Truck Acts went in those earlier days. The Truck Act of 1831 provided that wages could lawfully be paid by orders for the payment of money to the bearer on demand drawn on any banker. As I understand, that means an encashable cheque or any other form of cheque.
There were, however, three limitations put by the Truck Act of 1831 upon payment by cheque drawn on a banker. First, the cheque had to be drawn only on a certain category of banker, namely, those bankers licensed to issue bank notes by the Revenue, who would, presumably, be the more substantial bankers in those days. One knows that, at that time, there were a good many bank failures, but not by those who were in the category entitled to issue bank notes as part of the currency used in the realm. Whatever one may say about bankers, whatever views one may have about them from a political or other point of view, it can at least be said that nowadays they do not fail. That safeguard is, therefore, no longer necessary.
1508 Secondly, the bank had to be within 15 miles of the place of payment of the order. Thirdly—this is important—such a payment by order on a banker could be made only if the workman freely consented to receive such order. Thus, in 1831, one could pay by an encashable cheque, but only if the workman freely consented to receive payment by that means.
Are not all those three principles and qualifications preserved in this Bill by the proposals of Clause 1, which goes very much less far than did the provisions of the 1831 Act? As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby pointed out, it is not intended to allow payment to be by any form of order payable on demand. It must be either a transfer into the bank or an order encashable only at the bank of the payee and, therefore, not by any negotiable instrument which may be cashed at any other place.
But even so far as his limited proposal is concerned, he is providing that payment can be made by means of responsible and reliable bankers such as exist today. In the old days there was a limit of 15 miles within the place of payment, but at present, with the improvement in communications and postal facilities, there surely cannot be much difficulty in getting the cheque to the bank or in an employee receiving payment from his bank.
There are, of course, many people living in the country, as has been pointed out, to whom it may be exceedingly inconvenient to receive payment into a bank; but there is no obligation of any sort or description upon them to receive payment by money order. Therefore, whatever may be said about the workmen consenting, to strengthen the provisions it might be possible to add a Clause in Committee to the effect that any attempt to bring pressure to bear on a workman to receive his wages by payment to his bank is a criminal offence subject to a penalty, or other safeguards could be included if they are thought necessary.
It is plain that the intention of the Bill as drafted is that the workman should have the option whether he receives his wages by a money order through a bank. Like everybody else, I fully realise that there are thousands of people who do not want a bank account and who would not want to pay bank charges. Thousands 1509 of people are paid at such a rate of wage that they need the cash on pay day and, therefore, do not want the trouble of going to the bank but want the cash as soon as possible to carry them over to their next pay day. Because there are these people, that is no reason why those to whom it would be a great convenience to receive payment by cheque or money order should not have Clause 1 approved by the House so that when suitable for them and their employers payment can be made in such a way.
Turning to Clause 2, it appears that hon. Members who interposed to question my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby did not exactly understand the provisions of this Clause. As I read the Clause, the position never arises at any stage when a sum of money is repayable by the workman to his employer. What happens is that if there are odd shillings or pence beyond the round 10s. or 1 in any one week, the employer retains the odd money for either the four week period or until it amounts to another 10s.
If a man's wages amount to £10 5s. 3d. in a given week, then in that week he will receive £10 and the employer will retain as trustee for him the sum of 5s. 3d. If the man's wages are again 10 5s. 3d. the next week, the 5s. 3d. already retained by the employer is added, so that the total amount due to the employee is £10 10s. 6d. He then receives in notes £10 10s. and the odd 6d. is retained for his credit. In the following week another 5s. 3d. makes the amount retained by the employer 5s. 9d. for the credit of the worker. In the week after that, the worker will get an extra 10s. plus a credit in respect of the money left over.
That is on the 10s. basis. On the basis of the four-week period, which, I understand, is operating in the hospital on the other side of the river, the 5s. 3d. is retained each week by the employer as a trustee for the employee, so that at the end of the four-week period £1 1s. is due to him which is paid in addition to his wage of £10. At no time under the proposals can the situation arise whereby the employee is repaying money to his employer, because the odd shillings and pence are being retained by the employer as trustee for the workman. From that point of view, this seems to be a sensible arrangement. It is entirely permissive 1510 and entirely subject to the approval of the workman who is content that small sums should be retained by his employer on his behalf.
The only other point which I desire to discuss arises on Clause 4. It may be that this is largely a Committee point. It is not plain whether the Bill is intended to entitle payment by postal money order or postal order or by money orders generally, because money orders can be drawn on banks and other institutions. Therefore, I think that some tidying up is required in this Clause to make clear within what limits the workman can, in an emergency, be paid otherwise than in current coin of the realm in accordance with its provisions.
I support the Bill on the basis that it is purely and solely permissive and is subject at all times in its provisions to the consent of the worker who is affected. While there may be hundreds of thousands of workers who would not, under any circumstances, desire to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill, there must be many hundreds of thousands of others who would find it a great convenience. For that reason, I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) made an extremely interesting speech, and I agree that we are indebted to him for drawing particular attention to the anomalies that undoubtedly result from the provisions of the Truck Acts.
However, I am inclined to agree with the views expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), when he said that this proposal is not the sort of thing that ought to be dealt with by means of a Private Member's Bill. I do not say that I agree with the criticisms of my hon. and learned Friend and the conditions that he laid down as to what a Private Member's Bill ought to deal with, but I think that these anomalies and this grievance should not be sought to be remedied by the provisions of a Private Member's Bill in this way.
After all, a vital change is proposed in connection with the payment of manual workmen and labourers, and I should have thought that it was an 1511 important condition precedent that before one introduces legislation of this kind there ought to be discussion with representative bodies of labour and agreement reached on the changes which are proposed. That has not been done. In fact, the hon. Member for Crosby referred to a certain measure of disapproval by such a body in connection with an innovation proposed in the Bill.
The Bill does introduce changes and it may be that some of them are very good changes that ought to be made. But in dealing with a subject of this kind it surely is only proper that the Government should consider these anomalies and introduce remedies only after they have had proper consultation with the representative bodies of labour. One of the things that occurred to me as most important was the subject matter of an interjection on my part. Again and again in the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson) reference was made to the fact that the Bill is all right because the consent of the workmen has to be obtained and that it is permissive. If a person does not want it he need not have it. I do not think that that assumption is correct. It is true that on the face of the Bill it is clear in each of the provisions that they are not to be brought into force unless consent is given.
It is so easy to get consent which is not free consent on the part of the workman. Suppose a workman is taking up a job. The employer may say, "One of the conditions of your entering into this employment is that you consent to the provisions set out in the Bill." What chance has the employee if his employment depends upon his giving consent, and if that is made a term of the contract of employment?
§ Mr. Weitzman
It has to be remembered that an employee asking for work has to listen to the employer. He may want the employment very much. Indeed, it may be essential to him. If the employer says to him that, as a condition of having the employment, he must consent to these provisions, it is idle to talk about it being a voluntary agreement on the part of the worker. 1512 It is consent as a term of contract. I think that that is a serious criticism of the proposed imposition of these provisions.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I do not agree that that is the logic of my argument. I agree that there are anomalies in the Truck Acts and that those anomalies ought to be examined, and I agree that changes may well be made and might well be of benefit. The point I have made is that we should not carry out those changes in this way. I am pointing out, by way of criticism of the provisions of a very good Private Member's Bill, that the plea that these changes would be made only with the worker's consent is not a true account of what would happen, because it would not necessarily be the free consent of the worker in every case.
If we examine the Bill further, there are other criticisms. Clause 1 requires the workman's consent to the payment of his wagesinto a bank account specified by him".That presupposes that he has a bank account, or that he can specify some bank account into which payment must be made. Suppose that he has not a bank account. Suppose that he has not a bank account which can be "specified by him". Suppose that the employer, at the beginning of the employment, says to him, "As a term of your employment, you must consent to this arrangement". It seems to me that this would place an undue burden on the workman.
Turning to Clause 2, why should we have an arrangement, however convenient, whereby the employer retains for a period of time a sum of money which belongs to and can be spent by the workman at the time that he is entitled to receive it? Why should the employer be entitled to retain in his hands up to 10s. and not to pay it out to the workman at the proper time? The answer given may be that the workman consents to it, but the same criticism arises as I have made earlier; it is not a question of the employee freely consenting.
1513 Clause 4 validates payment of wages by money order or postal order. If the employee consents he can be paid by postal order. This means that the employee has to join the queue at the Post Office and wait for payment over the counter of money due to him but paid to him by a postal order. Look at the difficulty we create for a workman from that point of view. The hon. Member referred to the fact that the Truck Acts make it illegal for payment to be made in kind. They also make it essential—apart from the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Crosby—that the workman shall receive into his hands the payment of the actual money—and that is very important from the workman's point of view. Even in modern conditions, not in 1831, consider how important it is that when he is paid the workman shall have in his hand the actual cash, the money, which he can take home to his wife so that they may spend it immediately. The Bill strikes at that right on the part of the worker. Difficulties would be put in his way.
I agree entirely that the anomalies resulting from the Truck Acts ought to be examined. I believe that certain remedies could be suggested, but I believe that they should be effected only after proper consultation by the Government with representative bodies of labour and not through a Private Member's Bill of this character.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I rise to support the Bill. I think that we should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) for introducing a Bill of this character. I have heard what has been said by the hon. and learned Members for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) about the character of Private Members' Bills, but I have frequently been a critic of Bills introduced by private Members because only too often they are concerned with a niggling interference with the proper freedom of the subject. Consequently, I am glad to support a Bill introduced by a back bench Member the object of which is to enlarge in some degree the freedom of the subject. I wish that all Private Members' Bills were of that character.
1514 The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North made one valid criticism, pointing out that the fact that the provisions of the Bill depend on the workman's consent is not in itself a conclusive argument in its favour. I have not verified the position, but I shall be surprised if the legal position in the nineteenth century is not that at all times, or, at any rate, usually, the workman is entitled in law to sue for his wages to be paid in legal tender. That is the general common law of England.
What made the truck system oppressive was the fact that employers at that time had so much the whip hand that, in practice, they could enforce the truck system upon their employees, either by making it a term of contract of employment or, without making it a term of contract, by threatening to sack a man if he did not agree to the truck system. I therefore agree with the hon. and learned Member that consent by the workman is not a final justification of the provisions of the Bill.
What we must do, however, is try to ascertain what is reasonable at any time. The truck system was one of the great abuses of the nineteenth century and was a great hardship to the workers. Nobody imagines for one moment that any such danger threatens the workman today.
The proposal in the Bill is not to take away from the workman the general protection of the Truck Acts. I should be the last person to agree to that; I should think it very dangerous indeed if we made it even permissive for the employer and the employee to consent together that part of the wages should be paid in kind. That is the type of thing which is difficult to control, and it is a change which we should hesitate to make.
What is proposed here, however, is simply that the current coin of the realm should be understood to include a balance in the bank. If we apply the test of what is reasonable in the conditions of the time in which we live, I am bound to say that it appears to me to be archaic that in the middle of the twentieth century we make it legally compulsory to pay people by carting round physically vast quantities of what is euphemistically described as current coin of the realm.
If this business of physical movement, of physical pressing into palm, is so important in this age, one must look askance at the bank notes which form a major 1515 part of our money these days and which are not themselves really current coin of the realm, but a promise to pay on demand a sum of £1 or whatever it may be. No one in his senses imagines that a note issued by the Bank of England, which is legal tender, when paid to a workman, restricts that man's freedom or damages the principle of the Truck Acts. We made that change by Statute and nobody would want to reverse it.
Nobody seems worried when, by Statute, we allow a man to consent to deducting from his wages by his employer of a sum for National Savings to be put at the employee's request into a Post Office or into National Savings Certificates. In effect, he is partly paid in current coin of the realm put into his hand, and partly by a balance in the Post Office Savings Bank. The only difference on which one can place one's finger is that the balance so allocated would normally carry interest, although if it were put in the Post Office Bank and were less than £ 1 it would carry no interest and the effect of both kinds of payment would be parallel.
Parliament has not shrunk from this or thought it unwise. On the contrary, it has been considered a desirable end of public policy to try to encourage the manual worker to get away from a state of affairs in which he lives from week to week with money put into his hand and directly applied to the purposes of that week. It is not in itself a very healthy state of society. One of the reasons why we in Britain have been more energetic and successful in our commercial enterprises is that the habit of putting money into the bank or other form of savings has been so widely spread among all classes of the community for many generations past. Therefore, unless there is very cogent objection to this provision, I believe that it is one which the House should encourage as desirable in itself.
There is, of course, the additional, very strong consideration to which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby has referred, that this physical transport of large sums of cash nowadays is a frequent source of crime. It exposes people who carry wages around to considerable danger from snatch raids. Many people have been seriously injured while carrying 1516 wages. When one compares all these advantages on the one side with any disadvantages apprehended on the other, it seems to be a very unequal balance. I cannot really see what disadvantage a workman could suffer at all.
The Truck Acts were primarily aimed at ensuring that a workman was paid in something which was freely convertible when he wanted it, and a balance in a joint stock bank is freely convertible in that way. I am very pleased if these arguments which I am addressing to the House have created such an impression that the Opposition, apparently, are now discussing actively whether they will lend support to the Bill. It will be interesting to hear, when the discussion is concluded, something of their purport and outcome.
There is one small reservation I would wish to make about the Bill's provisions. I am not very happy about Clause 4, which authorises payment of a workman who is working some distance away from the headquarters of his firm, by postal order or money order. I see that that Clause is not made dependent upon the consent of the workman in any way. It is something to which he must agree. His wages will be deemed to have been paid if the employer despatches by registered post to his last known address the amount of the wages in a money order or postal order. I should like to have that considered in Committee. Some safeguard should be provided there.
The man is entitled to be paid and undoubtedly should be paid either in cash or a bank balance, but I do not think it proper that it should be sufficient to say that because a money order or postal order has been sent by registered post to his last known address the man has been paid, whether he received the money or not and whether he consented or not to that being done. I am not very enthusiastic about that and I should certainly want to amend it in Committee.
The main provision of the Bill is certainly an advance which we must make sometime or another. The present method of paying wages is an anachronism and I think that people would be surprised at the response from manual workers if we passed the Bill. I believe that they would actually ask that 1517 their wages should be paid in future by cheque. I believe that there is a real desire for this to happen and that at present, by the old statute law, we are actually stopping our fellow men from doing something which they very much want to do.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Most hon. Members who have spoken from this side have voiced some misgivings about the Bill, I, too, have misgivings, if not about the principle or the purpose, about whether the Bill has had sufficient examination and discussion in relation to the vast repercussions which it would have, even if it were passed with Amendments. The whole question boils down to the matter of consent, as has been made clear from this side of the House, and the mechanics of consent in the industrial world of today, as at all times, are rather difficult to define.
It is true that in a well-organised industry like the railways, coal mines and iron and steel there should be very little difficulty about the trade unions ensuring that no man was penalised because he was reluctant to give consent. But there is a vast field of employment where trade union restraints do not apply and the individual employee is largely at the mercy of the employer who can apply various pressures. It is very difficult for the individual employee to object, if he is the only objector in a small staff, when the employer has persuaded the rest of the staff by some means or another to accept. The objector's position would be a very invidious one.
I should have thought that in a matter of this kind which has such wide repercussions it would have been better if the Government had been in favour of giving time to an official Bill, when all the proper checks and discussions could have taken place beforehand, or if the sponsors of the present Bill had explored the matter very thoroughly with representatives of the T.U.C. and other similar bodies.
§ Mr. Page
The hon. Member will appreciate that this matter was discussed very fully in the International Labour Organisation as long ago as 1949, when a resolution was then passed which, if I may interrupt his speech, I will read to the House. It is Article 3 of the I.L.O. 1518 Convention, No. 95 (Protection of Wages Convention, 1949) and reads as follows:1. Wages payable in money shall be paid only in legal tender, and payment in the form of promissory notes, vouchers or coupons, or in any other form alleged to represent legal tender, shall be prohibited.2. The competent authority may permit or prescribe the payments of wages by bank cheque or postal cheque or money order in cases in which payment in this manner is customary or is necessary because of special circumstances, or where a collective agreement or arbitration award so provides, or, where not so provided, with the consent of the worker concerned.That resolution was passed after debate at the I.L.O.
§ Mr. Hynd
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving us that information. No one has more respect for the International Labour Organisation than I have and no one who would be more prepared to see the almost automatic adoption by this country of the conventions of the International Labour Organisation, but that has not been the practice, and even less has it been the practice under the present Government than under the previous Government.
After all, it is generally accepted in this country by Governments of all parties that the International Labour Organisation's conventions or recommendations are standards which are laid down and are subject to various factors operating in different countries, standards of relations between individuals, social standards which have been established and which must be broken down rather gradually. If they are broken down something less than gradually, then it should be as the result of a first-class Measure fully discussed in the Parliament of the country concerned so that all the interests are well examined before any step is taken even in the implementation of an International Labour Organisation convention.
It is on that point that I am really concerned here. I want to be a little bold, perhaps, by illustrating some of the difficulties which might arise unless the assurance can be embodied in the Bill that in each case every individual will be completely safeguarded against any pressure; in other words, that every consent by every individual will be a genuine consent. Even then we should be running into an awful lot of trouble.
1519 For example, it may be a very good thing or a very bad thing that workmen should not declare to their wives the amount of their weekly wages. It happens to be the case that in this country there are millions of workmen who do not tell their wives what they earn. There are millions of women who do not know how much their menfolk earn, and there may be millions who are not particularly interested in knowing, except as an academic exercise, because it happens to be the standard in millions of families, recognised by the wives as by the men, that the man, the legally responsible person for the family expenditure, should be the person responsible for handling the income. So long as the wife receives sufficient housekeeping money and so long as the house is well looked after and the man is a good husband, everybody is happy.
Resentment might be caused if by some Measure of this kind put through the House of Commons on a Friday with very few Members being present and one which had not been thoroughly examined and discussed and been through all the channels open to the Government, it were suddenly found that by these improper pressures on the part of employers millions of men had to open banking accounts, probably jointly with their wives or at least in such a form that their whole income was disclosed. It may be that the balance of life might be seriously affected. On the other hand—
§ Mr. Ede
Did not my hon. Friend hear what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said, that there may be joint banking accounts, that the employer would pay in on a Wednesday the wages that were due on Friday and that the wife could turn up on Thursday morning, wipe the account clean and elope with the lot.
§ Mr. Hynd
Precisely. I was going to develop that point.
On the other hand, there is the other type of family where, in fact, the workman takes his wage packet home and hands it to the wife and where the wife is responsible for handling the money. In those cases, millions of wives might object very strongly if the men double crossed them and gave their consent to having their money paid into the bank and the wives were unable to handle it.
1520 It may be deplorable that these marital arrangements exist. However, they do exist and they happen to be deeply grounded in millions of families. We should be running into very serious trouble if suddenly, by a single simple Measure passed on a Friday, we changed all that. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) pointed out the possible case where the husband, being legally responsible for the finances of the family, might find on the Friday that the joint account had been wiped clean and that there was no money in it. That, again, could lead to very serious difficulties.
These are not frivolous observations. I hope that they are not immoral observations. They are observations which take into account long-established social practices within families which, even if they are to be deplored, if changed would have to be changed in a somewhat different fashion. If they are to be changed abruptly they should only be changed after the fullest consultations and under the full responsibility of a Government Measure.
Therefore, whilst joining in the congratulations that have been showered on the hon. Member for Crosby for bringing this problem before the House and the country, I think that we shall have to be very careful what we do. I recognise, as many of my hon. Friends recognise, that there are problems here, problems of economic procedure, of practical procedure, of streamlining and of avoiding the great temptations of crime. The rather crude system of men carrying big bags of silver in taxis and carrying them out on to the pavement where, perhaps, there is a boy with a revolver in his pocket, who is afraid to use it anyhow and has not the time, is all very stupid.
I know that many of these things must be changed. Therefore, we are grateful to the hon. Member for having brought the matter to our attention. I hope that this discussion will convince the Government that something on the lines of the Bill will have to be thoroughly examined and brought before the House, something more comprehensive than the Bill we are discussing, after the fullest discussion with and examination by trade union representatives and others of the implications of such a Measure and the adjustments that would have to be made.
1521 Whilst being anxious to give the hon. Member for Crosby every encouragement—and I should be delighted to do so if it were merely a matter of a resolution or a recommendation such as those of the International Labour Organisation which would be an instruction to the Government to produce an appropriate Measure, in which case I would be happy to go into the Lobby and support it—I feel that this Bill is neither a recommendation nor a convention. It is a Bill which would become law if passed by the House. In view of the considerations I have mentioned, I feel that we should be a little too precipitate if we passed the Bill in its present form without taking further into consideration all the difficulties that may arise.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
Judging by the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) and by the interjection of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), if that trend of argument proceeds very much further it seems to me that the Bill may not be designated as the Wages Bill, but as the "Housewives Charter".
I am sure that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) will not be surprised at my misgivings about the Bill. He was good enough when he first introduced a Bill, which his own good judgment caused him to withdraw, to discuss the matter with me, when I indicated to him the very serious objections that the trade union movement had to what he then proposed to do. The hon. Gentleman was gracious enough to withdraw the Bill notwithstanding at that time the rather subtle encouragement given by the Minister of Labour. Subsequently the Minister saw the red light.
The trouble about this Bill is that it arouses a lot of prejudice. It will require something more than a Private Member's Bill, sponsored only by the hon. Member for Crosby, to overcome the difficulty. The hon. Gentleman has talked about the economy which will stem from the payment of wages to manual workers in the way he has indicated. But he has ignored the physical difficulties, and the real dangers to the worker's interests which may follow the passing of this Measure, and the repercussions that might follow if employers were so minded 1522 to exploit its provisions. I do not think that I am over-estimating when I say that, roughly speaking, there must be about 500,000 manual workers. I know that there are 300,000 in local government.
§ Mr. Moyle
I am putting it at 500,000. I am talking about rural manual workers in the strict sense of the term. It will meet my point not to overstate my case.
In Clause 1 the hon. Gentleman refers to consent in relation to the proposal which he makes. That is the operative Clause of the Bill. If a workman agrees and opens a banking account, and he is paid by means of a bank order, what happens? Take the case of road workers in rural areas. Where is their bank?
§ Mr. Moyle
So am I—perhaps I had better declare an interest.
Where is the bank which these people could use? I could quote cases where the nearest branch would be 10 or 15 miles away from their work, and because the man would always be at work during banking hours, the only person capable of drawing the wages by a bank order would be his wife. The sequel would be that were he paid by cheque, or any other money order as happened up until recently—particularly in the case of local government employees—it would again be the case of "pubs" and grocers shops being the places where the wages cheques of the working people were cashed. The hon. Gentleman, therefore, will raise a lot of prejudice and hostility by the introduction of this Bill. I think that its provisions would become inoperative because of the physical difficulties which I have outlined.
Reference is made in Clause 1 to the consent of the worker. How is that to be expressed? Will it be by word of mouth between the workmen and his 1523 employer? There must be a proper formula governing the expression of consent and particularly its revocation, but there is no indication of that at all. The hon. Gentleman is sufficiently acquainted with human nature to know that if the present unemployment figure was increased from 2 per cent. to, say, 5 per cent., and a man was competing with two or three workmates for a job, and his employer said, "I want you to open a banking account", the man would say, "Yes, guv'nor I will". That would not be his freely expressed consent. It would be consent by economic duress. That cuts right across the concept of a collective act of consent and thus of collective bargaining. It is related to the individual's consent and not to any representatively expressed consent.
Concerning Clause 5, the hon. Gentleman does not say whether there is to be any payment in kind as well as cash. He speaks of shares in the Explanatory Memorandum, but that does not appear in the Clause. I admire the industry of the hon. Gentleman and I would never discourage him from being weary in well-doing, but I wish his industry were allied to more useful and important projects than this Bill. The hon. Gentleman should consider introducing an all-party Measure and obtain the consent of the T.U.C., and, indeed, of the F.B.I.
My main objection to the Bill is that while it is called a Wages Bill it is, in my opinion, a paving amendment to something bigger in the way of legislation which could be introduced to restore once again in rural areas the old vicious system—as it turned out to be in practice—of the payment of wages by cheque. Here let me declare an interest, as an officer of the National Union of Public Employees, which spent thousands of pounds fighting county councils to get rid of the iniquitous system of paying workmen by cheque.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth) rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
The right hon. Gentleman can speak only by leave of the House, since he has already spoken.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I said that the right hon. Gentleman should ask the leave of the House to speak again, as I understand he has already spoken once.
§ Mr. Robens
Yes, on 18th April. That is so. I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. That had me confused for a moment. I thought that you were referring to today and that I might have made a speech without knowing it.
If I may have the leave of the House to speak again, I will not detain it for very long, I recollect that on 18th April the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) introduced this Bill and because of the shortness of time—there being only two minutes available—he moved it formally. On that occasion I drew his attention to the fact that this was a Bill requiring some explanation from its sponsor, because I felt that there would be many people wishing to raise objections to its details. The hon. Member will, I think, agree that the discussion today has shown that I was correct.
I think that if the hon. Member for Crosby were to make a short reply, he would say that the objections that have been raised were not really legitimate objections, because nothing happened unless the workman consented to do it. For the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle), and from the experience which many people have had in the trade union movement and in industry generally, we are well aware that we can get coercion of a quiet kind, but, nevertheless, coercion, to consent to something of this character, which, if the workman was absolutely free, he probably would not accept the idea of wages paid by cheque at all.
No one would deny that the principle is not worth considering, or that there are thousands of people among the classes of workers who are now covered by the Truck Acts who would be glad to have their wages paid by cheque. Nevertheless, as has been stated by hon. Members, there are a number of serious practical objections. I will not deal with any of the practical objections, to save the time of the House, because there is no point in repeating them, however differently they may be put.
The only case that I want to make against the House agreeing the Second 1525 Reading of this Bill today is that I believe that a Bill involving this great principle needs further consideration. After all, the Truck Acts were not passed without great consideration of all the issues that surrounded the actions of the day, and it would be quite wrong for us to breach the Truck Acts by reason of a simple Bill of this character which had not previously been thoroughly explored by all the interests concerned.
This is not just a little Bill to facilitate the payment of wages, to produce economies, to which the hon. Member has referred, to prevent a good deal of loose cash being carried around in the streets, or to prevent burglaries, smash-and-grab raids and that sort of thing. This is not a Bill to do that. It is a Bill to breach the Truck Acts. If there is to be a Bill to breach the Truck Acts and perform this function, which, in principle, may be perfectly legitimate, then the employers' organisations, the trade union organisations and the Ministry of Labour should be the people to investigate thoroughly the whole process and discover what may emerge from the passing of a Bill of this character.
Indeed, I would have thought that this would have deserved the attention of a committee to be set up, possibly, by the Minister of Labour to investigate it, upon which would sit representatives of both workers and employers, and which could produce a report out of which may emerge, it may well be, some modified legislation, something like this Bill, to meet the situation, but without any of the objections to which reference has been made today.
I do not damn the principle of the Bill at all. All I say is that because of the importance of the Bill, it should be dealt with in a rather different way. We can thank the hon. Member for Crosby for giving us the opportunity of expressing our views on what is an important matter. Although, perhaps, when the hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill, we thought that it was to deal with a small and simple matter, it proves to be something a little bigger than that.
Therefore, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has served his purpose well. He has drawn the attention of the House to something quite important. We have aired it and we have indicated some of 1526 the imperfections, weaknesses and difficulties that may arise. I wonder Whether the hon. Member's purpose has not now been fully explored, and whether he would not think that the best way to get the principle adopted would be to invite the Minister who is representing the Government today to give this matter his consideration, and perhaps discuss it with his colleagues with a view perhaps to some other action being taken along the lines which I have stated. In that case, it may be that the hon. Gentleman may seek the permission of yourself, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and that of the House to withdraw the Bill.
This is not something which we damn out of hand; I certainly do not. I merely say that it is a breach of the Truck Acts, and that that is a very important matter. It is wrong that, without detailed and serious consideration of all that is involved, we should be asked to pass such a Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Crosby, after accepting our thanks for giving us the opportunity of discussing what is quite an important matter, may feel that, provided the Minister is able to say that he can do something along these lines, he can withdraw the Bill, rather than put it to a vote of the House today.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Richard Wood)
Perhaps I may be allowed to follow the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) in order very briefly to state the thoughts of the Government on the Bill.
First of all, the Government believe that some of the objectives which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said were in front of him have a great deal to commend them, and, if I may say so without presumption, I think that my hon. Friend when he introduced the Bill to us this morning made an extremely able and well-informed speech, which I was very glad to hear. There is certainly a great deal to be said—and this seems to have had support on both sides of the House—tor trying to sort out some of the anomalies created by the Truck Acts. My hon. Friend drew attention to a number of these anomalies, and the right hon. Member for Blyth has just been referring to them. My hon. Friend made clear how extremely complicated 1527 this matter is and how very deep the roots of the whole confusion seem to go. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) drew our attention in an interjection to certain other complications which arise.
The position is that the Government feel that it is impossible, and here again I am echoing a number of things which have been said this morning, to deal with this immense task in the way which my hon. Friends suggests by means of a Private Member's Bill. The right hon. Member for Blyth and some of his hon. Friends have mentioned the possibility of Government action in this matter. I am afraid that I cannot this morning give an undertaking, and I do not suppose that it would be expected, either of legislation or of a promise to initiate detailed discussions.
As the House knows, my right hon. Friend is at the International Labour Conference at Geneva, and he is very disappointed that he has had to miss this debate. I can certainly promise the House that when I see him, which I think will be fairly shortly, I will certainly bring to his notice and discuss with him many of the points raised in the debate. My right hon. Friend will then certainly consider, in consultation with his colleagues, the kind of approach which the right hon. Gentleman has just suggested might be made.
Therefore, I join with the right hon. 1528 Gentleman in hoping that perhaps my hon. Friend, having had an extremely valuable discussion of this matter, might be willing to ask the leave of the House to withdraw his Bill, with the undertaking that I have given that I will certainly discuss the whole debate with my right hon. Friend when I see him.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Page
With your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and that of the House, may I say a few sentences before indicating what I intend to do?
I am extremely grateful to right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate and have brought forward constructive ideas on the subject which is dealt with in this Bill. I think it would be the wish of the House that it should not be embarrassed by having the Bill on record on Second Reading, and, from what the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) has said, I gather that from that side of the House discussions on this subject would be supported and, indeed, encouraged. From what has been said by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, it is possible that discussions might be initiated by the Government. I hope that they will be. I intend to press for them.
In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdrawn the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.