§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
May I, first, apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland), in whose name this Bill was presented. He apologises through me to the House for his inability to be present here today. His misfortune is my good fortune in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on his choice of subject after his success in the Ballot, and I am grateful to him for allowing me to take his place here today.
This Bill authorises the payment of wages to manual workers by some methods other than in cash. I use the word "authorises" and I should like to stress that. In no way is this a Bill of compulsion on employers or employees to adopt this method of payment of wages, but it happens that in some very old Statutes in certain cases if an employee is paid in anything other than the current coin of the realm an offence is committed. The purpose of the Bill is to remove that restriction on reasonable agreement between employer and employee. The Bill also deals with a few other minor amendments to those old Statutes which we know under the title of the Truck Acts.
I apologise in that this speech may be something of a repeat performance. There was before this House a Bill which I have had the honour to present last year, the Second Reading of which was debated in June last. During that Second Reading debate the Parliamentary Secretary gave an undertaking to enter into discussions about this subject with all those concerned with the payment of wages, and on that assurance I was happy to withdraw the Bill on that occasion. I am happy to learn that those discussions have now taken place and that to a great extent there has been agreement between all parties concerned that legislation is necessary to amend the Truck Acts in many respects and, in particular, with regard to the payment 1369 of wages either through a bank account or by cheque. In the same way as the Bill has never been intended to put any compulsion on anyone, so one is happy to learn that agreement of this sort has been reached in the discussions.
I understand, too, that there have not only been those official discussions by the Minister through the medium of the National Joint Advisory Council of the Ministry, but that also he has had unofficial discussions and in general has found a desire to co-operate in amending these statutes. This debate is an opportunity, perhaps, to discuss rather the announced intentions of the Government on this subject than the particular Clauses of the Bill, although I will, if the House will bear with me, deal with those Clauses later.
Following upon the discussions, and, in particular, following upon a meeting of the National Joint Advisory Council of the Ministry of Labour, the Council indicated that there appeared to be no reason why the worker who wanted to use banking facilities should be restricted by an archaic bar to the payment of wages through a bank. In particular, the Council accepted the Minister's proposal in four respects. The first was that any person employed under a contract of employment might, if he so requested and the employer so agreed, have his wages paid directly in to a bank account; secondly, that the worker's request for payment of wages into his banking account should be made in writing not less than a week before the first pay day on which payment would be made in the manner requested; thirdly, where a worker is absent from his usual pay station owing to sickness or for reasons connected with his work, then his wages might he paid by postal order or money order; fourthly, where a worker himself requests and the employer agrees that payment should be made by cheque, provision should be made for this.
My right hon. Friend the Minister, understand, gave an assurance to the National Joint Advisory Council that, before actually introducing Government legislation on the subject, he would have further consultations with those con-corned to ensure that it was drafted with the approval of all those who had taken part in the discussions. Generally, one can say that it has been found, over the 1370 past twelve months since the previous Bill was withdrawn, that, although there are reservations from bankers, bank employees, manual employees and their unions, employers and their associations, retailers, chambers of trade and commerce, and so forth, in general the attitude is, "Let us have it. There will be problems but let us see how it works. It will bring its benefits". It may be within the recollection of hon. Members that, for example, the general manager of Barclays Bank, in his annual address, made a plea for the reform of the law in this respect so that there should not he the restrictions on the payment of wages by cheque or through hank accounts.
I have been able to trace antagonism towards this proposal from one union and from no other source, namely, from the National Union of Public Employees. The opposition of this union to payment by cheque is, indeed, traditional. I recognise that it had great difficulty during the war when the emergency regulations were in force and local authorities were permitted to pay roadmen by cheque. The opposition of the union dates from that time. It took action later against a local authority which was paying cleaners by cheque.
The basis of the opposition was, I think, stated clearly at a recent meeting of this union by Mr. Bryn Roberts, the general secretary, when he said, according to the report I have, that he recalledwith bitter memories the evils of the cheque system imposed on manual workers employed in local government service during the war years.I think that his opposition comes from the word "imposed." There is no intention whatever by the Bill or, as I understand it, by any legislation which the Government contemplate to impose the practice on employees.
The intention is merely to make it legal for employee and employer to reach agreement on this system of payment. Indeed, the National Union of Public Employees will be perfectly free to object as strongly as it wishes to the payment of its members by cheque if this proposed legislation should take effect. Of course, there will be occasions when payment by cheque is quite inappropriate and it would be proper for the unions and for individual employees to object strongly to payment in that way. The Bill would 1371 certainly not force that method of payment on anybody.
There have been other criticisms of the proposal in the Bill from the National Union of Bank Employees, but this union has said clearly that it is not opposed to the principle. It makes reservations, but they relate to administration rather than to principle. It is interesting to note, in passing, that the police forces do not agree with these criticisms because, so I was interested to read in a recent report, the 164 police forces in England, Scotland and Wales have been asked to encourage the "Bobby-on-the-beat," as the report puts it, to open a bank account and take his pay monthly by cheque instead of weekly in cash. Indeed, I do not know whether that is the usual system of payment for the police.
Apart from those objections from the National Union of Public Employees and the criticisms made by the National Union of Bank Employees, the criticism has been directed not to any matter of principle, but to the question of how the proposals would work in practice. For example, it has been said that, although the Bill is purely permissive and there is no compulsion, it might be compulsory in fact. I feel that this can be true only if an employer were to say that he would accept no employee who would not agree to be paid through a bank account or by cheque, if the employer, as it were, imposed a closed shop open only to banking-minded employees.
The unions could surely deal with this matter. Organised labour could tackle any employer who went to those extremes. It is, I think, interesting to note that it is the most unorganised section of labour which has not the protection, if protection it can be called, of the Trunk Acts, for instance, the office workers and the non-manual workers. There has really been no complaint from them that any employer has imposed upon them the payment of wages by cheque.
Of course, if an employer wants to adopt the system which would be legalised by the Bill, he must reckon that some employees will not wish to be paid in that way. He may have to adopt the course of paying some of his employees by cheque and some by cash, if he thinks that worth while. I feel, however, from the example of cases where employees 1372 have already been paid by cheque where it is legal to do so and they are not manual workers, that it has been shown that all employees have come into the scheme and it can be worked satisfactorily. The scheme can be made attractive without any compulsion whatever.
A further criticism might be that there is so much more in the Truck Acts needing amendment that one ought not to deal with this large subject piecemeal by the few provisions in this Bill and we ought to wait for a complete amendment of the Acts. I hope that the House will not take this view. My right hon. Friend has set up a committee to consider all the other ramifications of the Truck Acts and to what extent they should be amended. Reporting on the setting up of this committee. The Times said:A small independent committee is to be set up by the Minister of Labour to review the Truck Acts, on the recommendation of the Ministry's National Joint Advisory Council. The committee will make suggestions for bringing the provisions of the Acts into line with present-day developments. Those interested will have an opportunity to give evidence.The report goes on to say that the Council had realised thatalthough the Acts contain some valuable safeguards for workers which should not be abandoned, they might no longer be beneficial in all respects and might even sometimes prevent employers from doing things which would be to the workers' advantage. There have been developments in bonus and co-partnership schemes and in the provision of transport, housing and canteens, which had not been contemplated by those who framed the Acts.It is necessary to consider the amendment of the rest of the Truck Acts, but upon the subject covered by the Bill there can be easy draft Amendments. What is necessary is quite clear, and we can deal with those matters and leave the more complicated subjects for a report from the committee and, one hopes, legislation resulting from it.
Before I deal with the main Clause relating to the payment of wages through a bank account or by cheque, I should like to refer to the other few minor Amendments to the Truck Acts which are included in the Bill. I refer, first, to Clause 3, which provides for the payment of wages by money order or postal order. It may surprise hon. Members that it is not legal to pay wages by 1373 postal order or money order and that if a man is sick, or is working at a distance from the place where he is normally paid, it is illegal to send him his wages by money order or postal order.
But it is not illegal for the Government to do so. The Government can send sickness benefits and other similar payments through the post. There seems to be no reason why the employee of a private employer should not have similar benefits and if he is sick be allowed to receive his wages by money order or postal order through the post. Clause 3 is intended to legalise that system of payment.
Clause 2 has nothing to do with cheques. It is an effort to legalise a form of coinless payment—payment to the nearest bank note. There are one or two very good examples of this throughout the country. The port authorities of Bristol have been paying their non-manual workers on this system for the past seventeen years. It has proved very satisfactory to the port authorities and to their employees. It is done only with the employee's consent, but as the law stands at present I believe that it is illegal, although the point is doubtful. I have been advised by some sources that it is legal, but I think the House will bear with me if I refer to one or two sections of the Truck Acts on this matter because they are of value in considering the later Sections.
Section 3 of the Truck Act, 1831, reads: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".The Section refers to "the entire amount of the wages". Therefore, if an employee is paid in round figures each week and his wages are adjusted the next week, his entire wages are not being paid. When the Truck Act, 1831, was applied to the hosiery trade by the Hosiery Act, 1874, the phrase "the full and entire wages" was used.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
Do deductions made from wages in any way infringe upon "the entire amount of wages"?
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
That cannot be right, can it? If the employer pays more than the wages to even the amounts up, surely that is perfectly in order because the whole of the wages have been paid. In relation to statutory deductions, such as National Health Insurance deductions, these are covered by Statute. To that extent the Cheques Act is modified.
§ Mr. Page
In the case of coinless payment—what has been commonly called "Nosnod", no shillings, no pence—wages are paid to the nearest 10s. It may be that one week the employee does not receive his full wages, and to that extent it is not legal, although the wages are paid the next week.
The cases on this matter are very strongly against any sort of deduction from an employee's wages. In the case of Williams v. North Navigation Collieries, one of the leading cases on the subject, in which an employee had a court order for payment of a sum of damages to his employers for damage which he had caused to the employer's property against him, the employer was not permitted to deduct the damages from his wages. It is perfectly clear that the courts always uphold the employee in demanding full payment of his wages in the current coin.
The system of paying to the nearest 10s. has proved of immense saving where it has been employed. It was used, for example, in the Shenley Hospital. I have before me a report of the results which are extremely interesting from the point of view of saving. On the question of book entries, it is said:To calculate … the wages of some 200 employees paid weekly, the time consumed on pure book entries is approximately eighteen hours.… for 200 staff there are approximately 3,000 entries in the columns as well as constant reference to tax tables, and some 2,000 arithmetical additions and subtractions to be made each week. If a net sum 'on account' of wages due were to be introduced there would be only 200 entries and no mathematical calculations whatever.In bagging up the wages, there is, again, a great saving of time:To 'bag up' the wages of some 200 staff normally takes a senior and assistant clerk approximately 1½ hours. If Treasury or Bank 1375 of England notes only are included in 'on account' payments the same number of operations takes half an hour. Whilst this saving of time in bagging up might not seem considerable, it is stressed that the senior clerk handling cash is usually a highly paid officer, and any saving, however small, is important.That meant a saving of public money because it was adopted by a regional hospital board.
§ Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)
That may be quite easy because the wages or salaries are static. Could the hon. Gentleman say how it will be easy where one firm employs thousands of employees who have varying wages? Would not the practice create more trouble?
§ Mr. Page
It may not be applicable in such cases. All this Clause endeavours to do is to legalise what is suspected to be at present an illegal operation. Let me stress once again that the Bill attempts only to legalise the entry into of agreements in these matters which are at present quite archaically illegal under the existing law. If it is not desired to adopt them and if there is no advantage from them, then they will not be adopted.
Clause 4 refers to profit sharing. The position at present is that if it is merely a matter of bonus then it is legal to give any profit sharing in shares. If, on the other hand, there is a contractual obligation on an employer to give a share in profits by allotting shares to an employee, then that is quite illegal. This seems to be a point worth clearing up, but I am inclined to think that it would be better relegated to the committee which will consider the whole of the amendments to the Truck Acts than to have it included in a short Bill of this sort. It certainly is not essential to the present Bill.
I turn now to the major point of the Bill, the payment of wages either through a bank account or by open cheque. This is necessitated by the Truck Act, 1831, and the amending Statutes throughout the last century. If the House will bear with me for a moment, I would like to put on record the Sections of the Statutes which prevent the payment of wages by cheque through a bank account to a manual worker.
I begin with Section 1 of the Truck Act, 1831, which states that 1376In 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; and if in any such contract the whole or any part of such wages shall be made payable in any manner other than in the current coin aforesaid, such contract shall be and is hereby declared illegal,The Truck Amendment Act, 1887, defined "artificer". I will not weary the House by reading the definition. I merely say that it covers every manual worker. From that was excepted, in the Employers and Workmen Act, 1875, domestic servants. This raises the interesting point that a person can pay his "char" at home by cheque but that if he pays his "char" at the office by cheque, he is committing an offence for which he might well suffer.
The Truck Act, 1896, brought shop assistants within the scope of the Truck Act and the Hosiery Manufacture (Wages) Act, 1874, which I have already quoted, brought all hosiery workers, whether manual or non-manual, within the provisions of the Truck Act. If wages are paid to any of these workers by any other means than by the current coin of the realm, the employer is a criminal. It is a criminal offence to make an agreement to pay wages in this way or, in fact, to pay them.
The penalties are laid down in Section 9 of the Truck Act, 1831, which states that:Any employer of any artificer …who shall, by himself or by the agency of any other person or persons, directly or indirectly enter into any contract or make any payment hereby declared illegal, shall for the first offence forfeit a sum not exceeding ten pounds nor less than five pounds and for the second offence any sum not exceeding twenty pounds nor less than ten pounds, and in case of a third offence any such employer shall be and be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and, being thereof convicted, shall be punished by fine only, at the discretion of the court, so that the fines shall not in any case exceed the sum of one hundred pounds.'I was in error, perhaps, in saying that the offence might be met with imprisonment, although it might eventually be met with imprisonment if the fine were not paid.
As I have said, the Statutes apply only in general to manual workers, but the decisions on what is a manual worker are extremely confusing. The restriction applies to manual workers, but not to 1377 domestic servants. It applies to non-manual workers who are shop assistants or in the hosiery trade. An employer can pay a bus conductor by cheque, but if he does the same for a bus cleaner he is a criminal. He can pay a train driver by cheque, but if he pays a bus driver by cheque the driver can cash it, pocket the money and demand payment all over again.
Similarly with a goods guard but not a scene shifter, a hairdresser but not sempstress, a filing clerk but not a filing porter, and so on. The cases on the subject are numerous. Although an employer could probably adopt a timesaving form of payment by cheque for part of his staff, most employers find the position so doubtful as to which part of their staff is entitled to payment by cheque in that way that they do not adopt the system at all.
The arguments against abolishing these anomalies seem to me to have nothing whatever to do with the principles of the Truck Acts. They were originally introduced to combat the evil of payment in kind which forced an employee to spend part of his wages in the company's shop, or what was known then as the tommy shop, "tommy" meaning bread and provisions, and thereby not receiving the full value of his wages.
There is no intention in the Bill, nor in the announcements made by the Government, as I understand them, to tamper with that general principle of the Truck Acts. I am, however, inclined to think that some employers are often in breach of them in issuing luncheon vouchers. One can issue a luncheon voucher without offence to a typist, but a person who issues it to the commissionaire or cleaner may well be committing an offence.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that a typist is not a manual worker?
§ Mr. Page
I think I am correct in law in saying that a typist is not a manual worker, although she works entirely with her hands—but, perhaps, not entirely with her hands; she uses her brain as well.
Clause 1 deals with the payment of wages into a bank account. The inten- 1378 tion by the Bill is, first, to authorise the payment of wages into a bank account, not to commence this operation by authorising at once the payment of wages by open cheque, but merely to authorise for the moment the payment of wages into a bank account if the employee so wishes and if he has a bank account. This could be done either by what is known as the system of traders' credit or by presenting the employee with a cheque specially crossed to a certain bank. So there would be no question of his cashing an open cheque with the shopkeepers or in the public house. It would give employers and employees freedom to do something which can surely harm nobody and which may be of great convenience to both parties.
I cannot believe that in this there is anything wrong, oppressive or unfair, or that anyone would wish Parliament to dictate to employers and employees what the contract between them should be. It does not seem to fit in with our modern ideas of the relationship between employer and employee that Parliament should interfere in their right of contract between one another.
What the Clause could achieve is that, first, it would abolish the anomalies between manual worker and non-manual worker and permit the adoption of payment of wages into a bank account if that were desired. Secondly, it would undoubtedly encourage not only the banking habit, but the thrift which results from the banking habit. I think it would be accepted that loose cash in the pocket goes much quicker than if it is in the bank. Even if one has only a few shillings' credit at the end of the week at the bank, it soon adds up.
I received an interesting statement from the Midland Bank recently which said that its personal accounts scheme showed that on an average those who kept a personal account have as much as £50 credit. That is the simple personal account scheme in which each cheque costs 6d. and there are no other banking charges.
Thirdly, the Clause would result in a saving of time in accounting and paying wages in cash. Fourthly, there would be a reduction in the transmission of cash through the streets from the bank to the 1379 place of payment. This is extremely important because every Friday we read of wage grab crimes. It is not only a question of the money being stolen, but the seriousness of the violence towards those who are carrying the cash. We frequently read of the severe injuries inflicted on wage clerks, and we ought not to force wage clerks to be exposed to this sort of violence. That is what we are doing by retaining the provisions of the Truck Acts.
Probably only about £150,000 of wages are grabbed in this way a year and of course it is not expensive to insure against that. I think that it is 2s. per £1,000 or something of that sort, but apart from the amount concerned it is a great temptation to those of criminal mind to use violence to seize this cash. One firm in Staines runs four armoured cars which can be hired to protect one's wage clerk. When we get to that stage in this country, a sort of Chicago stage, we ought to do something about it.
The fifth advantage will be the reduction in the inconvenience and the time wasted by the employee going to his pay desk and queueing for his pay. Where the system of payment through a bank account has been adopted the employees have found it of great advantage in saving time. It has weighed heavily with the workers in agreeing to the scheme.
The people who will really decide whether the payment of wages should be through a bank or by cheque are the wives. They will get the greatest advantage out of it. Where it can be arranged for them to draw on the bank account during the week they will be able to spread their shopping days over the latter part of the week instead of having to do all their shopping on Saturday morning. They will be able to give the bank a direction to pay the H.P. instalments regularly instead of having to trot up the road or round the corner to pay them in cash. In many ways there will be great advantages to the households, and the wives in particular, in being able to deal with matters through a bank account.
It is hoped that Clause 1 may increase the banking habit in this way by authorising payment into a bank account, and that when that banking habit has developed it will be possible to permit the payment of wages by open cheque. Clause 6 of the Bill gives authority to 1380 the Minister to permit payment of wages by open cheque. Obviously, that order will not be made until the banks have had time to arrange staffing, premises, opening times, and so on, and until employees have realised the advantages of having and operating a bank account. In short, it is intended to leave the Minister to bring this into effect in consultation with those concerned.
Retailers are particularly concerned in the payment of wages by open cheque. If an employee has not a banking account he may wish to cash a cheque across the counter of his local grocer, or perhaps even in a public house. The objections which I have received have been the theoretical objections of the traders rather than objections by the traders. There has been no real objection by any body of retail traders. In fact, the National Chamber of Trade, which represents no less than 400,000 shopkeepers, has demanded, by resolution at one of its general meetings, legislation on the lines of this Bill.
The Bill will give freedom to the employer and employee to enter into an arrangement convenient to both of them. It is intolerable that there should continue to be this restriction on payment to a manual worker and this distinction, which I would call a snob distinction, between the manual worker and the non-manual worker.
The Bill is not an attempt in any way to codify the Truck Acts, or to amend them in full, or to remedy all their anomalies, but to remedy some of which in no way seem to be connected with the real purposes of the original Acts. Perhaps hon. Members will bear in mind that the Truck Acts were intended to protect people who are now mainly organised labour, but who had not the protection of unions in those days. They had no one to speak for them and they could be victimised by their employers. That is completely out of date at this time.
I would stress again that the Bill imposes no compulsion whatever. It is merely authorising and legalising an agreement freely entered into between employer and employee. It will be for all concerned to work out the details in any particular case and whether it will be of advantage or not, and Parliament ought to give them the freedom to work out those details themselves.
1381 In introducing the Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark desired to apply the law in Scotland to England, because payment by cheque is allowed in Scotland. It may he an accident, but generally in Scotland one can pay wages in cheque. It comes about in this way. In the Truck Act of 1831 payment of wages by cheque was permitted if it was a cheque on a bank which had the power to issue bank notes, and if that bank was within 15 miles of the place of payment of the wages. Banks in Scotland are still licensed to issue banknotes, so it is quite legal to pay wages by cheque within 15 miles of the bank issuing notes.
The only bank in England still licensed to issue notes is the Bank of England. Nevertheless, if enterprising employers and employees wish to enter into agreements to pay wages by cheque and the place of employment and payment of wages is within a 15-mile radius of a Bank of England they are quite within the law. I take that to be any branch of the Bank of England. This means that any firm within 15 miles of Threadneedle Street, and within 15 miles of branches of the bank in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle, Southampton and the London Law Courts, can pay by cheque. That shows another of the anomalies of the old Statutes and is a point which appealed to my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark.
I have kept the House for a long time, but this is a complicated subject, which is quite unintelligible unless one looks back into history and learns how the process began. When one has done so one wonders why the law was not amended previously. Only four years ago, Pye Radio started a scheme for paying their manual workers by cheque. 'The scheme operated extremely successfully amongst about 800 employees, no employee objecting to it. The firm set up a cash office within the building where the men could cash their cheques if they wished to do so, but that office was soon closed down because it was not used. The retailers in the district cooperated to the full, and there were no complaints about the cashing of cheques across shop counters. In fact, where this system has been operated it has proved to be to the satisfaction of em- 1382 ployers and employees, besides the local retailers and banks.
I hope that the House will approve the principle of the Bill. Hon. Members will realise that even if it is given a Second Reading it will have little opportunity of making any progress in this Session. In moving an Amendment to the Finance Bill yesterday the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said that he would not withdraw the Amendment because that would give the impression that he had been persuaded by the arguments against it that it was not a good Amendment. I feel the same way about the Bill. The action of withdrawing a Bill is misunderstood outside the House. My right hon. Friend has given an undertaking, in published statements made by him in the last few weeks, that the Government will eventually bring in its own Bill on this subject.
If the Bill is given a Second Reading no further progress would be made with it, since the Government will shortly be bringing in their own Bill, but the action of withdrawing this Bill may be misunderstood outside.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I beg to second the Motion.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on his very learned and eloquent speech and upon taking us a step forward into the modern world. My hon. Friend is a most persistent Friday speaker and has been most persistent in his commendation of the Bill. I hope that in due course his endurance will be rewarded.
In seconding the Motion, I want to emphasise that the Bill is permissive and provides mainly for wages to be paid by way of a trader's credit. That means that wages can be paid in the same way as Members of Parliament's salaries are paid, namely, into their bank accounts. It is not the main purpose of the Bill, as is popularly thought, to provide that wages shall be paid by cheque, which may float around and be lost. Such a provision is contained in Part H of the Bill, but that can be brought in only with the permission of the Minister of Labour.
The nigger in the woodpile which has prevented these arrangements being made hitherto is the Truck Act, 1831. 1383 I examined that Act and found that it lays down that the wages of artificers must be paid in the current coin of the realm only. We can do better than that 128 years later. In the course of my researches, I looked up the meaning of the word "truck," because I did not know it. Murray's dictionary tells us that the word is derived from the old French word "troc," which, broadly, means swapping. The Gentleman's Magazine of 1747 provides an example of the use of the word when it says:Their trade is managed by truck or bartering one commodity for another.I wondered how it differed from the modern word "truck," meaning a wheeled vehicle. That is derived from the Latin "trochus," which means a hoop. I suppose they hula-hooped in Roman days. The hoop came to mean a wheel, hence a wheeled vehicle. I cannot help feeling that the two derivations have become intermingled, because the bartering or truck of goods would no doubt involve the use of a truck on the roads. In Victorian times, as we remember from the novels about the industrial scene in Lancashire, truck was highly unpopular.
My experience of the payment of wages on a large scale goes back to my time in the steel industry. There is a large steelworks between Rotherham and Sheffield, which is probably well known to the hon. Member for Rother Valley—Steel, Peech and Tozer. That has a very large melting works and a rolling mill and employs about 8,800 people. The amount of money which has to be paid out in cash in respect of wages every week is about £100,000. That requires the services of no fewer than 15 wage clerks. In the steelworks of Rotherham and Sheffield the working week ends between 6 p.m. on Friday and 6 a.m. on Sunday, according to the shift being worked. On the Monday of the following week the operation of making up the payroll has to be carried out. In a large works that is a very complicated calculation. All the time-keeping of individual men has to be worked out. The tonnage bonuses have to be calculated, together with the cost-of-living bonuses, and adjustments have to be made for National Insurance and pensions deductions, National Savings and finally, deductions for Income Tax under P.A.Y.E.
1384 Although the calculations in respect of these 8,000 employees are done by the most modern mechanical methods—by punched cards—they take about two days. That takes them up to Tuesday night. As far as I remember, on Wednesday the beginning of the transactions which are intimately affected by the Bill come into play. There is first the collection of the cash, amounting to £100,000, from the bank. That money has to be counted out by the bank and then carried to the works by motor cars or lorries, brought into the works, checked and then allocated into sections. After that it is made up into individual wage packets.
That is a long job. There is generally overtime to be paid and there is a labour bottleneck. The individual packets are then put into departments or sections for easy handing to the men. The whole operation takes about one and a half days in a works of the size to which I have referred. The net result after all this, the drawing together of the money and the separating of it into packets and departments, means that the whole operation of the payment of wages begins on a Monday and ends when the wages are paid out on a Thursday afternoon.
If these wages were paid by listed bank credits as hon. Members are paid, I am credibly informed that they could be paid on a Wednesday morning, a day and a half earlier. If wages were paid by notes, for which this Bill provides, they could, I am told be paid one day earlier, on the Wednesday afternoon.
I do not think that that is an isolated instance. I made inquiries from the company of Humber's Limited of Coventry with which I am associated, and I understand that there the same conditions prevail. I think that in Coventry they are a little later in paying out. They pay wages at mid-day on Friday. There is no doubt that if wages there were paid by bank credits the payments would be made earlier.
The advantage of payment by bank credits would be that employers would not have to drag the cash around the streets subject to attack and theft. In Rotherham and Sheffield, in the instance which I have cited, no less than £100,000 is so carried. Secondly, of course, the wages could be paid earlier, or, alternatively, considerably fewer staff would be 1385 required for the counting out of the money and the making up of the wage packets.
If this system were adopted, how would it work out for the ordinary operative? As I see it, his weekly payment would be made on a Wednesday or a Thursday to a bank which he nominates. No doubt he would give his wife a standing order so that she could go and collect her housekeeping money from the bank on Thursday or Friday, or even on Saturday if she so wished. If she collected her housekeeping money on, say, Thursday afternoon she would have the whole of Friday and Saturday in which to do her shopping. It would be much more convenient for her.
I admit, of course, that this method should only apply to people who live near a bank. If the system were widely adopted we should want more banks, or, possibly, in big industrial areas, banks would have to keep open later, say, on a Thursday or Friday. Are there enough banks? I understand that there are about 20,000 in the country—incidentally, about the same number as garages. If this Bill or a similar Bill became law, no doubt the banks would extend their services and we should find more branches growing up in the outer suburban and other industrial areas.
One point which has been put to me needs emphasising. It is that under such a system the payment of wages would still, of course, be quite secret. There is the privity of contract between the employer, employee, and the bank. It is a secret transaction. There is no thought of cheques being left lying around for everyone to see. There is another objection. It has been asked how the worker could draw his cash, apart from the housekeeping money which had already been drawn by his wife. He could draw his cash from the bank, or he would not have much difficulty in drawing it from a shop or a public house where he was known.
I have discussed the matter with one or two shopkeepers and publicans and they tell me that if a worker came in on a Saturday to cash a cheque they would welcome it because they have difficulty in getting rid of large sums of money on a Saturday. In many cases they have to keep it over the weekend. They would rather get rid of some of it to 1386 their customers instead of keeping it on their premises over the weekend.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he has already agreed that the Bill should be withdrawn, because it seems to me to be an awful waste of time to continue with the argument for the Bill if it is ultimately to be withdrawn. On a Private Members' day it is, I think, unfortunate, that other matters of importance should be interfered with if it is intended to withdraw the Bill.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I do not think that there is any understanding that the Bill should be withdrawn. I think that this is a matter of very great public importance. A great many questions have been asked on the matter. I have been intimately concerned with the Bill for several months now, and my hon. Friend and I have tried on at least two occasions to bring it forward, but for one reason or another we have not had the opportunity of doing so. I think it only fair to the House that we should make a full explanation of how we visualise the Bill would work if it were passed into law. I do not intend to take up very much time. I am not a lengthy speaker, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Clause 2 of the Bill makes it possible for an employer, with the agreement of the employee, to pay wages by notes to the nearest ten shillings. Here, again, I wil, if I may, draw on my previous experience with the United Steel Companies. They made an offer to pay by notes at one of their works on the coast of Cumberland, but in that case the union said that it did not want the men to be paid in that way because it wanted them to have small change in their pockets on a Friday so that they could pay their union dues. Therefore, no agreement could be come to between the union and the company for payment by notes. I hope that the unions—perhaps the hon. Member for Rother Valley will look into this—will find a way round the difficulty. Perhaps if wages were paid on an earlier day the men would have some money in their pockets on a Friday with which to pay their union dues.
A further disadvantage of the scheme which has been put to me is that a 1387 worker who opens a banking account would, no doubt, have to pay a small sum throughout the year in bank charges. I understand that some banks do not require bank charges to be paid if a certain amount of cash is kept in the account. I believe that all these minor disadvantages are outweighed not only by the positive advantages of administration which I have mentioned but by two more advantages. First of all, there is the psychological advantage.
I should like to see killed the idea of a man having to live only from week to week. It is a weakness of our industrial system that a man is paid on a Friday and is, more or less, encouraged to get rid of his week's money by the following Friday. If he were paid by cheque or bank credit he would have some money in the bank which would carry him over for a day or two. As wages in many industries are between £12 and £20 a week, I think that a worker would be encouraged to build up a bank balance. For instance, in Coventry, which is a very prosperous town, the average wage of operatives is about £18 a week. Surely men in that position should be encouraged to have banking accounts and to build up a surplus.
Another positive advantage of the system, I think, would be the encouragement of thrift. We have seen a spectacular increase in National Savings since the Socialist Government were in power. They have gone up from £261 million to £1,500 million a year, a very encouraging increase. The fact that this works out in practice was borne out by a conversation which I had with a solicitor who has a practice in a very large working-class area on the borders of my constituency. He has offices in that area and has 800 clients on a large housing estate. He tells me that the average amount of money left by those people when they die is between £200 and £1,500, generally in the form of National Savings or Post Office savings.
Surely it would be an advantage to those people to have money in the bank in their own account. They might even be encouraged to invest in unit trusts and thereby secure a stake in British industry. It is not appreciated by many people that a large number of workers are becoming capitalists. It may be that the intellectuals on the benches opposite 1388 object to that phrase. But I do not think that trade union representatives would object to it. They would be proud to see members of their unions becoming capitalists, even if only in a small way.
I hope, therefore, that the House will welcome this Bill. It would have the effect of cleaning up part of the Truck Acts which are painfully out of date. It is only a permissive Measure. I trust that union representatives will take the opportunity of showing us that they are up-to-date in their mentality as we know that they are.
Even were the Bill to become law tomorrow, payment by bank credit could not be done overnight. It is a practice which will grow slowly and by example, and will call for the provision of greater banking facilities throughout the country. Finally, such a practice may be adopted only with the consent of individual workers. For all these reasons, I have pleasure in seconding the Motion. Even though the Bill may not reach the Statute Book in its present form, I hope that the Government will bring forward a Measure giving effect to the principles which are embodied in it.
§ Mr. Janner
Does not the hon. Member know that it is nothing but a pure waste of time to discuss this Measure, because the Government have undertaken to do what he wants and subsequently his hon. Friends propose to withdraw the Bill? Is he not aware that this is merely an attempt to stop the House discussing other important Measures on the last day when it is possible to discuss Private Members' Bills and particularly one Measure which is designed to help people who need the protection of this House?
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I wish to support the Bill, because I consider it represents an important step forward, and to preface my remarks by congratulating my hon. Friends who have 1389 succeeded in introducing the Bill and obtaining a Second Reading debate upon it. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) emphasised that its provisions are designed to iron out the idea that there should be some, difference between one section of society and another regarding the way in which people receive their remuneration. We all know that in these days high wages are paid in industry, and provided that we continue the wise policies advocated by Conservative Governments since 1951, I am certain that this high level of wages will be maintained.
At the same time, it is important that when people are paid as well as they are today, they should be encouraged to save. One of the greatest steps forward taken by anyone associated with the Savings Movement since the end of the war was taken by the noble Lord, Lord Monckton when, as chairman of the Midland Bank he introduced a scheme to enable a much greater number of people to have banking accounts. I consider that the desire to have wages paid by cheque is likely to increase in the future rather than to decrease, because there is an increasing number of people who, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham, are securing a substantial stake in the business of the country. They will wish to make use of banking facilities in order to develop that stake.
There is no doubt whatever that a considerable number of people have a certain amount of surplus money in their wage packet every week which they invest in savings, and provided that we encourage a high level of employment, as is the policy of the present Government, and if we encourage efficiency in industry, I am quite certain that the rewards for people in business are likely to increase rather than to decrease.
I see one danger. If by any chance the party opposite is returned to power at the next General Election, we might find a very different state of affairs materialising. We are aware of the burden resting on the community because of the losses incurred by various industries which have been nationalised and there will not be much reward for workpeople in any form of business should that policy be extended. No one 1390 can discover from the party opposite whether that situation will develop if hon. Members opposite are returned to power after the next General Election.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I have already made the point that the payment of wages by cheque is desirable only if there are adequate rewards for the wage-earner, and that if the nationalisation of industry is extended I am certain that the rewards for everyone would be less than they are today.
No one knows what the Members of the party opposite intend to do, should they be entrusted with the government of the country after the next General Election. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) asked recently, "What the devil is the party getting at?" —I am sorry to have to make use of that expression, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not know whether——
§ Mr. Janner
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I ask whether this has anything at all to do with the Bill that we are debating? Is not the debate on this Bill purely a waste of time and designed to obstruct the discussion of really important business? It is perfectly well known to hon. Members opposite that it is proposed to withdraw this Bill.
I have been listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), and had he been out of order I should have stopped him.
§ Mr. Robens
May I ask for your guidance Mr. Deputy-Speaker? I have been absent from the Chamber for a few moments—I could not stand any more of it. On my return I heard the last few remarks of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) and I should like to know whether we are still dealing with the Bill relating to the payment of wages by cheque?
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I and my hon. Friends can understand the reluctance 1391 of right hon. and hon. Members opposite to hear any reference to what the party opposite propose to do should it be returned to power after the next General Election. But that is important in relation to this Bill, because if there are no rewards for people in industry they will not wish to make use of the banking facilities which we have been discussing.
I was referring to the remarks of the hon. Member for Cannock who asked, "What the devil is the party getting at? Is it going to nationalise everything or nothing?" I can understand the confusion which exists in the mind of the hon. Lady because it also exists throughout the country. Not only hon. Members on this side of the House——
§ Mr. Robens
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I ask whether it is suggested by the hon. Member for Exeter that this Bill should contain some reference to future Labour Party policy? If not, I do not see the relevance of his remarks. We are here discussing a Bill which deals with the payment of wages by cheque and contains proposals to modify the Truck Acts, and so on. I do not see the relevance of references to future Labour Party policy unless the hon. Member feels that there should be a reference to that in the Bill.
I know that on Fridays our debates sometimes range widely, but some hon. Members present have other important matters to attend to. The learned Solicitor-General is present in the Chamber and his time is being taken up. I think that it would be a help to us all if we speakers would keep to the terms of the Bill.
§ Mr. McAdden
Is it not a fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) made the point that certain Government employees are already being paid by cheque without any infringement of the Truck Acts? If my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) draws attention to the extension of the system to other Government employees, might that not be covering the same point?
§ Mr. Robens
Further to that point of order. Any hon. Member who has taken an intelligent interest in the Bill must have read about the Truck Acts, and the hon. Member who has just interposed must have known that the workers to whom he was referring are not covered by the Truck Acts unless they are industrial workers. The present course of the discussion is irrelevant and is a waste of Parliamentary time.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The reason why we can alter the law is that we are now in 1959, a year of prosperity, when wages are very much higher than they were a few years ago. We do not want to go back to Victorian times.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I do not want to have to make my speech in small spurts. I was saying that when the hon. Lady made those remarks she was replied to by a gentleman called Mr. Morgan Phillips and——
§ Mr. Robens
On a point of order. I must ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether all this is relevant to the Bill that we are discussing, and whether you would not be good enough to rule a little more narrowly than is usual on Friday and say that, as the policy of the Labour Party is not contained within the Bill, the discussion is out of order? Will you give guidance to the House about how far we may go in discussing the policies of the various political parties on a Bill dealing with the payment of wages by cheque?
The debate is usually wider upon Second Reading than upon Third Reading. I hope that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) will keep within the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I will do my best, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have mentioned that the Bill proposes to put a number of people outside the Truck Acts and——
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my speech he may learn something.
§ Mr. Robens
I shall not learn anything from the hon. Gentleman, who is wasting Parliamentary time deliberately in order to obstruct the passage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Janner
On a point of order. May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether it is right that the time of the House should be wasted and Parliamentary opportunities abused by irrelevancies of the kind that we have heard, when there are very important matters to be taken later on which affect the interests of the community as a whole? The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) knows, and if he does not perhaps he will deny it, that there is an intention on the part of those who are sponsoring the Bill ultimately to withdraw it—[An HON. MEMBER: "No."]—because there has been an understanding with the Government that that will be done.
I would ask you to say whether, on a Private Members' Bills day, and when a Measure to deal with small shopkeepers is to be discussed later, we should have irrelevancies of the kind we have heard, used as an abuse of the time at our disposal to prevent important measures from going through? It is a scandalous matter.
§ Mr. McAdden
Is it out of order, when a Private Member's Bill is down for discussion, to discuss it? Surely it should not be right that discussion should be restricted merely because the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has a Bill of his own on the Order Paper. Many of us think that the Bill before us is one that ought to be discussed. I hope that he will support this point of view, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
§ Mr. Janner
I submit that these interventions are irrelevant and facetious and that what is happening is an abuse of the rules of the House which should be dealing with matters of importance to the country. These irrelevancies have nothing to do with the Bill at all and ought not to be allowed.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and will now endeavour to continue my speech.
As I said, the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock made the remark to which I have already referred, and she was answered by Mr. Morgan Phillips, secretary of the Labour Party, who said, "We do not intend to nationalise the large firms". It was a fairly effective retort to the allegation that hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to extend nationalisation which, in my opinion, would bring such poverty to the workers. [Interruption.] They would have no wages at all, quite apart from having them paid by cheque. [Interruption.] If interruptions continue I shall have to take very much longer about my speech. That was an effective reply to the hon. Lady. There are still some Conservatives who work in business and industry and who are interested in the Wages Bill.
Later, the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) made some remarks. He said.To get the thing absolutely clear I set down here what I believe to be the programme for which 'Industry and Society—Labour's policy on future public ownership' provides"—
§ Mr. Robens
On a point of order. Do you regard this discussion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as a discussion on the Bill which is now before the House?
I do not think that he was doing more than using it as an illustration to lead up to a point relevant to the Bill.
§ Mr. Robens
It is within the recollection of all of us that the hon. Member's remarks had nothing whatever to do with the Bill. They had something to do with Labour Party policy. If I catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, perhaps you will permit me to deal with party political matters in this way. I shall be 1395 delighted to join in the fun and games. I thought that we were here to deal with the Bill before the House.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I hope that I shall not be accused of tedious repetition if I repeat the remark made by the hon. Member for Reading, vice-chairman of the Labour Party, when he referred to this point about the nationalistation of 600 companies. He said—and this is only a short quotation:To get the thing absolutely clear I set down here what I believe to be the programme for which Industry and Society—Labour's policy on future public ownership' provides a mandate. It is that we transfer to public ownership by compulsory sale, and as quickly as possible all the equity shares in about 600 giant companies.If the policy of the Labour Party became the policy of Her Majesty's Government there would be a major economic disaster in this country. There would be mass unemployment among our people and there would be no wages paid, either in coin or by cheque. It is important that we should make it clear to the people that the Wages Bill is only relevant if there are decent wages being paid to the people concerned.
§ Mr. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt remember that the Labour Party was in power in 1929. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that hon. Members opposite stayed in power when they could not rule, which would have been a dishonourable and dishonest thing to do.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I was replying to the point which the right hon. Gentleman made. He was goading me after my reference to what happened in 1920.
Provided that there is a high level of wages and prices are reasonable, there should be a surplus in every man's pocket every week, and it is desirable to encourage him to make use of bank facilities and payments by cheque in order that that surplus should accumulate in his bank account and not be left lying about uselessly at home where it could be lost, stolen, or frittered away on worthless matters.
1396 My hon. Friend has done extremely well to introduce the Bill. I am not sure that I am in favour of its being withdrawn. I cannot see why we cannot let the Bill go through. I am sorry that there are not more hon. Members opposite to discuss it. I understand that many more of my hon. Friends will arrive to discuss the Bill in due course, since it is a very important proposal and a fine step forward in our economic development.
Clause 1 allows the payment of wages by cheque by the employer to the employee's bank after two months from the passing of the Bill. I should have thought that the period of two months could have been extended. While I am entirely in favour of the payment of wages by cheque, I am not sure that two months is adequate for the employee to decide whether he will take advantage of the facilities offered or whether he should consult some of his friends, his lawyer, his trade union officials, and so on, before finally deciding. I hope that in Committee my hon. Friend will agree——
§ Mr. Janner
Would the hon. Gentleman say whether he has yet read the Bill? Is he not wasting the time of the House?
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would let me get on with my speech. I want to go and have lunch and there are other hon. Members who wish to make speeches. I do not want to be accused of hogging the Floor of the House. There are other hon. Members who do that sort of thing, but nothing is further from my mind, because the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has a Bill in which he is interested and in which I may be interested later, and about which I may he forced to make a few remarks. If I am constantly interrupted, my speech will be delayed and I shall have to take far longer than necessary.
§ Mr. Janner
I should be prepared to suffer and countenance that if the hon. Gentleman would tell the House why he 1397 presumes to come here and to take up so much time of the House without having read the Bill properly and having to be corrected by his hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Bill. I have read it, but I misunderstood one paragraph. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be too upset if I say that I did not understand this point, although I have done my best to understand the Bill.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill. On many occasions he has sponsored legislation, such as the Cheques Act, and I hope that this Bill will receive a Second Reading. I am not sure that I am in favour of its being withdrawn. I do not see why it should not have a Second Reading, and, if it does, I hope that the Government will provide an opportunity to get it through its Committee stage before we rise at the end of July.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)
I commend the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) for the crystal-clear manner in which he presented the Bill. His manner was such that I was becoming emotional. The sentiments he expressed on behalf of employees and the benefits which they would derive from the Bill were bringing me nearly to tears.
I was not so much in tears at what was said by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), who revealed the true essence of the Bill. I wish that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) had never mentioned it. However, he got his party piece on record and that is all that matters to him.
Whether it is withdrawn or given a Second Reading, I oppose the Bill because it is fundamentally unsound. I agree that the Truck Act is out of date and needs to be brought up to scratch, but the Minister has already stated that he is to set up a special committee to go into this problem with a view to later legislation. If that is the Minister's view, would it not be better to adopt that procedure rather than to have piecemeal legislation?
I think that that would be much better and I have one or two comments on the 1398 moral issue to put to the House. The hon. Member for Twickenham hoped that the unions would find a way round the difficulty. If they cannot find a better solution, I am perfectly sure that hon. Members cannot do so, regardless of whether they are trade union officials, company directors, or connected with mining or with steel production.
The hon. Member spoke of the difficulties of the wage clerks in the firm in which he is interested. I ask the hon. Member for Crosby whether he can imagine this procedure operating in an industry with a complicated wage structure and with different wage characteristics. This procedure would be much more difficult to operate in those circumstances than in an industry where there were basic salaries and wages or fixed salaries and wages, a subject which he mentioned when the hon. Member for Twickenham was not in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's reference to my not being in the Chamber. I have been here since eleven o'clock and I have heard every word of the debate. I was saying that this was a matter for the unions and that in one works there had been the objection that men did not have money in their pockets on Friday for the payment of union dues. I merely said that if they were paid in notes it was up to the unions to find a way round that problem.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman is chasing the shadow and missing the substance. Payment by cheque will create more domestic troubles than he imagines. Hon. Members opposite do not have experience of these things. They say that wages can be paid by cheque and that housewives can draw their housekeeping money from the bank. However, it is not as simple as that.
I appreciate the fact that the hon. Member for Exeter said that we wanted prosperity to continue. Prosperity is not continuing. Wages in the steel industry and the coal industry are not as high today as they were last year or several years before that. Weekend work, overtime and the four-day week have ended, and steel production is only 70 per cent. or 75 per cent. of capacity. To say that those workers are getting more wages than in 1957–58 and years before that is a complete fabrication.
1399 I welcome any suggestion for encouraging savings and thrift, but this is not the way in which to do it. What employers of labour want to do is to remove the responsibility. I know that there are internal difficulties and I understand the hon. Gentleman when he speaks of the difficulties of wage clerks who have to spend from Monday morning to Wednesday or Thursday evening before they can make up their accounts and draw the wages from the bank. I have had sufficient experience on the industrial side to realise that.
The greatest difficulty which has to be avoided is smash and grab. I submit that many firms themselves have been responsible for much of that. I do not want to do anything to encourage those who are molesting men and women going on a rightful mission, but every day we read in the newspapers of firms sending mere boys and girls in their 'teens with large sums of money, sometimes amounting to four figures and more in ready cash, and those firms are soliciting trouble for themselves. I am sure that firms could obviate many of these difficulties.
For these reasons—and I could raise many more objections to it—I feel that it would not be in the best interest of the employees to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley McMaster (Belfast, East)
I should like to say a few words about this Bill, because I view it as a major measure of social reform which is of concern not only to manual workers but to small shopkeepers and traders throughout the country. Last year, the chambers of commerce movement discussed the principles of the Measure and as a whole approved of the paying of wages by cheque.
§ Mr. Janner
Is the hon. Gentleman talking about the small shopkeepers who are to be turned out of their homes if the next Bill down for discussion is not passed? What is the good of discussing this Bill if the small shopkeepers are not to be allowed to remain in their shops?
§ Mr. McMaster
The reason I mention the small shopkeeper is that it has been suggested that one of the results of this Bill will be that they will have to keep large quantities of money in the 1400 till and that although the Bill might result in stopping pay day robberies of wages clerks, it will expose the small shopkeeper to danger in this way.
§ Mr. Janner
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that the next Bill, which is being obstructed now, is a Bill which intends to allow the shopkeeper to remain in business?
§ Mr. Janner
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. Member is making a point about wages being paid by small shopkeepers. If the small shopkeeper is to be subjected to remaining in the condition in which he is at present he will not need protection by this Bill, because there will be no small shopkeeper. I submit that I am entitled to point out that if the hon. Member is making a point about the small shopkeeper being protected, he should see that he does not obstruct a Measure which safeguard's the small shopkeeper.
The hon. Gentleman has made that point at least five times since I have been in the Chair. We all know that he wants his Bill and thinks that it is of more importance than other Bills, but other hon. Members may not agree.
§ Mr. Janner
With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, this point has not been made before. There is a point being made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) in which he is referring to a specific class of people who are keeping shops—the small shopkeeper. He knows, and his colleagues know, that this Measure will go no further and he is obstructing the very point which he himself wants to make.
§ Mr. McAdden
On a point of order. If the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) persists now in making a Second Reading speech on the next Bill, will he be allowed to make a Second Reading speech when we reach that Bill?
§ Mr. McMaster
The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) misunderstood my reference to the small shopkeepers. I was not referring to their paying wages by cheque but to small shopkeepers who, because wages were paid to manual workers by cheque, had to carry large "floats" of cash in their tills on Fridays or Saturdays. I am fully in sympathy with the Bill of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West with reference to the small shopkeeper. I am interested in that Bill and will perhaps take part in the debate on it later, but for the moment I have one important point which I should like to make concerning the Wages Bill.
§ Mr. D. Griffiths
Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that one of the dangers of bringing in this Bill is that workers will go to the local shopkeeper to cash cheques, which means that the shopkeeper will have to carry much more cash than he normally would.
§ Mr. McMaster
If I may be allowed to continue. I will endeavour to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for [(other Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths). He has anticipated my remarks. I should like, first, to stress that it was decided by the chambers of commerce movement to discuss the principles of this Bill. The movement represents small shopkeepers and many others, and it has approved of this Measure of social reform. It marks a step which will be a considerable convenience not only to employers of manual workers but also to the workers themselves.
The average manual worker earns a basic wage of about £13 a week, and many, with overtime, earn as much as £20 to £25 a week. I think that it is an important step to encourage saving that workers should be paid by cheque and encouraged to develop the banking habit. The banks provide considerable services for their customers, and I think that if wages were paid by cheque the habit would grow in this country, as, indeed, it exists in Canada and the United States, of paying traders' monthly accounts by cheque in the same way as many non-manual workers do.
§ Mr. Robens
I am enjoying the hon. Member's speech very much. He is making some constructive remarks. In an anxiety save time, may I ask him 1402 whether, as a representative of a Northern Ireland constituency, he is aware that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. McMaster
I agree that it does not apply to Northern Ireland, but the procedure in the House is closely followed by people living in Northern Ireland, and if the Bill is passed and proves successful it will no doubt be followed in due course in the Northern Ireland Parliament by a similar Measure. In addition, I have had personal experience of views held on the Bill through my connection with the chambers of commerce movement. For that reason I thought that it was valuable to acquaint the House with the opinions of members of that movement, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout Great Britain.
It is an important point that if the Bill, or a similar Bill introduced by the Government, is accepted in this country, not only will it tend to avoid the horrible state of affairs in which, every Friday evening or Saturday, one picks up a newspaper and reads of wages robberies or very serious stores robberies, but, also, it will encourage savings in the community. It will accustom everyone in the country, as is the experience in America, to the banking habit. Traders will not have to carry large cash "floats." I am convinced that arrangements will be made to pay workers by cheque and for those workers to draw cash at intervals of perhaps a week, a fortnight or a month, as they require it, from the banks.
That brings me to perhaps the major problem in the Bill. The major problem which the Bill presents is our banking system which, in spite of the large number of banks, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) referred, is not developed sufficiently to meet the demand which would be created if the Bill were passed and if it led to the general adoption of the payment of wages by cheque. The banks would have greatly to extend the number of their branches. It is common knowledge that the banks are very thin on the ground in working-class districts. Branches would have to be opened in those areas, and not only during ordinary 1403 banking hours but during extraordinary banking hours.
This would mean greater banking staffs, and at the moment the banks have neither the staff not the facilities to meet the demands which would be created by the widespread payment of wages by cheque. I do not think that this is an insuperable obstacle, however. After all, we have developed our present state of civilisation by specialisation. It is the job of the banks to provide this service for the community, and not only for the non-manual worker in the community but for everyone in it.
I believe that if the Bill is passed the banks will rise to the challenge, will spread their branches and will employ more workers in order that facilities can be made available so that the manual workers who are receiving their wages by cheque can draw the cash which they require as and when they need it. This may have the result that we shall all have to pay more banking charges, and this problem must be recognised by the House.
§ Mr. McMaster
If I may answer that very briefly, it is commonly known that as a country becomes more civilised it employs fewer people in productive industry and more people in secondary and tertiary industries. It is a sign of civilisation that fewer people employed in productive industry can produce sufficient goods to keep the entire community employed in secondary and tertiary industries. We have only to look at the development of the country since 100 years ago, at which time a large proportion of the population was employed in agriculture, to realise the benefits of this to the community.
If the banks extend their services in this way it will be of benefit to employers, who will save time, and it will not only tend to prevent the increase of crime but it will also encourage a good deal more saving by the workers. They will be able to draw the cash which they require instead of having ready money in their pockets. As hon. Members all realise, when they have ready money in their pockets it means that the money will be spent. Instead of that, the balance will be saved from week to week.
1404 This is an important Measure in so far as it will encourage the workers to save and to invest in the industry of the country. The Bill will, therefore, help to keep a balance in the country between the amount of money which is being spent on consumption and on luxury goods and the amount which is being invested. It is more important, to my mind, that a proper balance should be kept between consumption and investment than that a large proportion of the workers should, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) suggested, be employed in production. It is for these reasons that I support the Bill.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for calling me now. I appreciate the opportunity which has been given me, although, of course, I do not want to protract the discussion on this Bill. I have a sneaking feeling that all is not well on the other side of the House. They are not anxious to see this Bill do anything, because I believe that they are prepared to withdraw it and to let the Government introduce a Bill. What they are trying to do is to prevent any other Bill from being discussed today. This is a relevant point, because the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) specifically pinpointed the one issue here which would be affected by my Bill which is due to come before the House and which has been prevented from being discussed by the House because of the obstructive methods of hon. Members opposite.
The hon. Member stated he is anxious to protect the small shopkeeper. I gather that this was the main purpose of his speech. He wishes to ensure that the small shopkeeper is protected against the possibility of having the cash, which he gets together to pay wages, stolen or taken in some other way. He is concerned about the small shopkeeper and his heart bleeds for the small shopkeeper. How on earth is a small shopkeeper to collect money for the wages, never mind prevent them from being stolen, then he will not have a shop? He will then no longer be a small shopkeeper, except in the imagination of hon. Members opposite, who want to push him out of existence. I am seeking to give the House an opportunity 1405 to prevent that but, in their desire to crush the small shopkeeper, hon. Members opposite are preventing me from doing so.
I am talking about the small shopkeeper and not about the big shopkeeper or the multiple store. Nor am I suggesting that I am opposed to this Bill. I do not think that the Government are opposed to it in principle, and I do not think that the Opposition are opposed to it, provided that a Measure is introduced containing certain safeguards. In fact, I gather that there is some understanding that a Government Bill of this kind will he introduced. All of us, even my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths), appreciate the necessity for avoiding the possibility of moneys being stolen before they reach wage earners' pockets. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) for introducing the Bill and to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) for the manner in which it was introduced.
It is no good talking about protecting the small shopkeeper, because the small shopkeeper today happens to be in a position in which he can be turned out of his shop, if it also happens to be in a building in which he is living and if it is below a certain rateable value.
I think that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) made the point that if the shopkeeper did not have a shop he was not a shopkeeper.
§ Mr. Janner
That is the point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. A small shopkeeper will not be a shopkeeper for very long. Therefore, there is no necessity for a Measure to protect him. The hon. Member for Crosby does not realise that by obstructing in this way the Measure which is to be considered next by the House he is creating a situation which is even worse.
§ Mr. Page
On a further point of order. Is not this tedious repetition? We on this side of the House have heard the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West say many times that we are obstructing his Bill, so in that sense it is repetition. There is no obstruction whatever. This is an important point we are discussing on the Wages Bill. It is being discussed without tedious repetition from this side of the House. Is not the hon. Gentleman out of order in being guilty of tedious repetition from his side?
§ Mr. Janner
I am obliged. The hon. Member for Crosby is still continuing his obstructive methods. If hon. Members opposite really want to protect the small man who has a shop and is living in the shop, they will not be able to give him by this Bill any protection whatever, because he is in the position of being able to be turned out merely because the landlord of the shop can say that he wants the place himself. What on earth is the House——
Now we are outside the scope of the Wages Bill.
§ Mr. Janner
There cannot be protection for people who have or perhaps will have nothing to be protected. That is what I am trying to point out to hon. Members opposite. They are putting the cart before the horse. If they desire to protect the small shopkeeper, they should ensure that he can have his shop before the Bill can be effective.
§ Mr. McMaster
On a point of order. It might save the time of the House if I corrected a misapprehension of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner). The hon. Member prefaced his point of order by saying that in my speech I had said that my main desire was to protect the small shopkeeper in gathering wages. I did not refer in my speech to small shopkeepers collecting wages. My desire was to protect small shopkeepers from having a large float of cash in order to carry on their businesses. I pointed out that it would perhaps not be necessary and that it was an unreasonable anxiety on the part of small traders.
§ Mr. Janner
Then the hon. Member for Belfast, East was speaking outside 1407 the Bill. As I understood it, the hon. Member was referring to the Bill. Even from what the hon. Member now says, he is still endeavouring to protect the small shopkeeper. It is an absurd position to continue to attempt to protect someone who is in such a perilous position at present with regard to his holding of the premises that no protection intended to be afforded by the Bill can save him unless the Bill which hon. Members opposite are obstructing this afternoon comes into force to enable him to remain in his shop. That is my point.
If hon. Members opposite are in earnest—I hope they will possibly think again about this—I hope that they will bring this particular debate to an end. Hon. Members opposite say that the shopkeeper has to be protected because cash is in his till, or would be in his till if he were still there, or perhaps their view is that he has to be protected so that the wages he has to pay out shall not be filched. He cannot be protected unless the Bill which I propose to introduce is brought into effect to protect him in his residence and in his tenancy of the shop.
I submit that it is an abuse for hon. Members to come here to pretend that they are trying to protect the small shopkeeper and at the same time leave him open to be pushed out of the place in which he is living.
§ Mr. McMaster
Further to that point of order. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West continues to misinterpret my remarks. My remarks on the Wages Bill were not designed to protect the small shopkeeper. I was dealing solely with points of fact. I was pointing out that, as a point of fact, the passing of the Wages Bill would not expose the small shopkeeper to the dangers which some people seem to think that it will. That was a point of fact not aimed at the protection of the small shopkeeper. The small shopkeeper has my sympathies, but in my speech, which was addressed to the Wages Bill, I was more concerned to point out the difficulties from the point of view of banking and the banking community than I was with the small shopkeeper.
§ Mr. Janner
I did not appreciate that my hon. Friend's intent was only to protect bankers, otherwise I would have made a speech on bankers.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
I have been here since 11 o'clock this morning taking an interest in the various forms of legislation which have gone through the House and thinking of their relative importance in the scheme of things. I do not subscribe to the view that the only Private Members' Bills which have any importance are Bills sponsored by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner). Other hon. Members may have something useful to contribute to the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who, in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland), very carefully deployed the case in favour of the Bill, without heat, without excitement and without the generation of any kind of party feeling. It is unfortunate that at this rather late stage of the consideration of the Bill a great deal of the time should have been taken up in party conflict and arguments of that kind which are by no means necessary.
§ Mr. McAdden
As the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) says, it may be that the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) provoked some discussion.
It is no part of my intention to make a speech about nationalisation or public ownership. My intention is to speak on the Wages Bill. Nevertheless, I will most jealously defend the right of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter to say, as he did, that one ought to consider, not only the legislation as it is drafted and put before us, but the circumstances in which that legislation has been placed before us.
Obviously, to produce a Bill for the payment of wages by cheque when wages were very small would have been inappropriate. In the general context, it was fair for my hon. Friend to argue, as some of us do, that today we are living in a very different age from the age in which the Truck Acts were approved. Many of the provisions of the Truck Acts are today out of date. 1409 Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that we should look at this from a more reasonable point of view.
I do not think there is any difference between he Government and the Opposition on this point. It is possible, without inflicting any hardship upon anyone, to bring about some amendment to some of the enactments contained in the Truck Acts. If we can look at these matters dispassionately and see where improvement can be made, it will benefit the country as a whole.
My hon. Friends have brought forward this modest Measure, which will seek to make it possible—not coercive but permissive—if employers and employees agree for wages to be paid into bank accounts or by cheques. Having regard to the circumstances of the day, we should recognise that there is a great deal of feeling outside the House that the collection of large sums of money from a bank and the work involved in doing them up into wage packets and taking them around from place to place in order to pay out wages exposes not only wages clerks but a number of other employees of companies to considerable risks at a time when we can hardly ever open a paper on a Friday without hearing about a smash and grab raid somewhere in which people have been assaulted and so on.
Reasonable people outside the House who consider that we ought to devote ourselves to ways and means of trying to deal with the problem will, I am sure, not think that we are being over-obstructive if we consider for a moment whether it is not possible for the House of Commons to devise some means whereby it would be possible for employers and workers, if they agree, to eliminate that risk which at present presents itself to those employed in the collection and distribution of wages.
This Measure is modest and reasonable. The employee must consent to his wages being paid either by cheque or into a banking account. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) was quite right, of course—and I was glad to see at least a smile of assent from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who filled the office of Home Secretary with such distinction—when he said that the 1410 payment of wages in this way could lead to domestic difficulties.
It would be an ignorant man indeed who did not know that there are some husbands who do not tell their wives how much they earn, and if, instead of being paid in cash, and so being able to be able to retain part of it without the knowledge of the wife, they were paid by cheque or payment was made direct into a banking account for which the wife might insist on a joint signature, it might provoke some domestic argument that we would not like to see. I myself have always taken the view that a man ought to disclose to his wife what he earns. I believe that it should be a joint partnership. Therefore, I would not hold that as an argument against the Bill. Nevertheless, as the hon. Member for Rother Valley said, there is the possibility of domestic difficulties.
Whilst payment of wages by cheque might—and I am sure that it would— reduce the risk of wages snatches at the present rate, it also presents a problem which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) attempted to demonstrate to the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West—with, if I may say so, singularly little success. I do not think that that was the fault of my hon. Friend but was due to the over-anxiety of the hon. Gentleman to make his Second Reading speech on his Bill.
Had the hon. Gentleman listened to my hon. Friend, he would have heard him point out that although, at the moment, we may have a limited number of points, relatively speaking, at which wages snatches can take place, with this system of payment by cheque there is the possibility of those wage earners who are not the fortunate possessors of bank accounts, or who, for domestic reasons, do not want to open one but prefer cash, even though they may have agreed to take payment by cheque in order to fall in line with their colleagues in the factory, taking the cheque to the local shopkeeper and asking him to cash it——
§ Mr. McAdden
That is a hypothetical question. We are now dealing with facts 1411 as they are. The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed that in his constituency there are shops, though there are much better ones in Southend. There are a large number of shops throughout the country at which ordinary people do business. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider the possibility that the present shopkeepers might be asked to cash customers' cheques, and that if they were unwilling to do so the customers might take their custom elsewhere—perhaps to the multiple stores.
The shopkeeper, in order to be able to meet the requests of his customers to cash cheques——
§ Mr. McAdden
I start on the simple premise that if an individual has not a shop he is not a shopkeeper. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman with his legal training is not able to grasp that. For a man to be a shopkeeper presupposes that he has a shop, and if he is a shopkeeper he may have customers who wish him to cash their cheques. In order to satisfy that wish he will have to carry a very much larger sum of money than is at present necessary for the normal conduct of his business. That would present difficulty——
§ Mr. McAdden
That is a valid and convincing argument, but for the shopkeeper to have been able to do that during the day he must, at the beginning of the day, have had obtained a lot of cash from somewhere. Presumably he would have got it from his bank——
§ Mr. Page
Surely, my hon. Friend does not envisage that every customer will hand in a cheque to be cashed. Some customers will come with cash. They will not ask for a cheque to be cashed. In fact, the customer who asks for his cheque to be cashed will probably not want to come back again. On the other hand, if many customers ask for cash 1412 in exchange for a cheque, the shopkeeper will have very little cash left at the end of the day.
§ Mr. McAdden
That is true—but I am a little worried about the suggestion that the man who has been to the shop once will not come back again. It rather suggests that the cheque might not be a very good one—but I am sure that that was not what my hon. Friend meant.
It is true that, in addition to a number of customers who want cheques cashed—mainly, presumably, on Thursday or Friday evening—a great deal of business will be done for cash from which the shopkeeper will be able to meet some of the demands made on him, but we must remember that those who now get their wages in cash do not normally take all their cash to shop and spend it all at that shop on Friday night. Therefore, only a limited portion of the normal takings would be available for cashing cheques, from which it follows that, in order to meet the demands of his customers, the shopkeeper would have to have a larger amount of money on his premises than he has at present.
One has to balance the advantages, and, having considered the disadvantages which would result from a large number of shopkeepers having to carry rather more cash than they used to, on the whole I come down very much in support of the Bill. I think that it will improve the present position, which is rather cumbersome and extremely dangerous. The Bill provides a reasonable solution of the problem of the present limited number of points for the collection of large sums of money.
I was encouraged to hear my hon. Friend say that this view—I would be glad if the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West would pay some attention to what I am saying. He says that he is very interested in this Bill——
§ Mr. Janner
Why should I pay attention to what the hon. Gentleman is saying if he is merely wasting time?
§ Mr. McAdden
I am under the impression that it is the hon. Gentleman, who has made far more speeches than I have, who has wasted time, and, incidentally, has done much to destroy his own chances of the House reaching his own Bill. I suggest a little more reticence 1413 on his part so that we may reach that interesting Measure of which we have heard so much and seen so little.
As I was saying, I was encouraged to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that the National Joint Advisory Committee has recommended the setting up of a committee—and I understand that it has already been set up—to review the working of the Truck Acts. Any recommendation coming from such an excellent body as that shows that there is a disposition on the part of both sides —of both partners, as I prefer to think—of industry to try to do something about these difficult matters.
I am most anxious that this Bill should get a Second Reading. Any difficulties that exist could he dealt with in Committee. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be prepared to be as accommodating as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) promised to be the other day in regard to his own interesting legislation, and it should be possible so to draft this present Measure as to ensure that it will be workable and practicable.
I have had a fair amount of experience in industry. I happened at one time to have been responsible for the making up of wage packets and I know what a laborious job it is. The provision embodied in this Bill for the payment of wages to the nearest Treasury note equivalent, rather than the payment in coin, is a useful and helpful suggestion. The making up of odd amounts of shillings and pence is a laborious process, and if this provision were purely permissive and could be encouraged throughout industry it would be of great benefit.
The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said that this might lead to the creation of a larger number of unproductive workers in the banks. Even if that were so, it would lead to a diminution in the number of unproductive workers in industry. It would mean that instead of people being employed unproductively in one industry they would be employed in the operation of the banking system and in the provision of a more extensive service of banking which would be of great benefit to us all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East drew our attention to an important point, namely, that if this proposal is to work effectively it would 1414 involve the siting of bank buildings in areas where at present they do not normally exist. They are, in the main, concentrated in large shopping areas and business community areas. It would mean that some of those banks in residential areas, which are open for only a couple of hours or so each week, would have to have a revised system of operation. Also there would have to be a full appraisal by the banks of the implications embodied in this proposal. I hope that during the further discussions on this Bill, before it passes finally from the House, having gone through its Committee, Report and Third Reading stages, we shall have heard from the banks, having taken note of the legislation which we are contemplating, that they are prepared to embark upon such a programme of expansion as will ensure that the Measure will work to the great benefit of the country as a whole.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way that he expounded the case for the Bill, and I wish him every possible further success in its passage.
§ 2.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
Two points emerge in the consideration of this Bill of which I am in favour. First, it draws attention to the fact that the Truck Acts are now completely out of keeping with modern times. Secondly, I think that if a workman wants his wages to be paid by cheque he should be entitled to have them so paid. This Bill highlights those two important points and I repeat, I am not against either of them.
I am not sure, however, that a Private Member's Bill is the right method by which Parliament can give proper consideration to all the matters that will arise from acceptance of the two points which are inherent in this Bill. In the first place, the examination of the Truck Acts must be done with great care and many people will require to be consulted. That, it seems to me, can only be done by the Government themselves.
In this matter I know that we are all very pleased that, as a result of discussions in the House on a similar Bill, the Ministry of Labour, having consulted the Advisory Council, has already set up a committee to inquire into the whole operation of the Truck Acts and presumably to report to the Minister, 1415 and finally, no doubt, this will find its way in some legislative form into this House, perhaps for recasting the Truck Acts in the light of modern requirements.
As to the second point about the right of a manual worker to have his wages paid by cheque if he so desires, the Truck Acts are denying the worker an elementary right possessed by every other worker who does not happen to come into the category of manual worker. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was good enough to give a number of examples of workpeople whom we would regard as people whom the law has decided are not manual workers. He gave the example of a bus conductor who would not be regarded as a manual worker, and the bus driver who would be so regarded. Therefore, the bus conductor has the right in law to ask his employer to pay his wages by cheque and the employer can accede to that request without breaking the law.
If, however, the bus driver wants the same facility, the employer has to say, "I am sorry: that would be a contravention of the Truck Acts and, therefore, I cannot do it." It is plainly absurd and inequitable, and ought to be dealt with on the basis of giving anybody who draws salary or wages the right to say that he would like to be paid by cheque if he so wishes.
But, again, I think that the proper channel for this must be through Government legislation, for many of the reasons which have been indicated today in advocacy of this Bill. I doubt whether any hon. Member who has spoken on the Bill has not referred to some of the snags and difficulties that will arise for various people as a result of the passing of this Bill. Reference has been made to the banking industry. The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) said he hoped that with the passage of the Bill into law banks would open branches in many parts of the country, in rural places and not just in business and commercial centres.
That is easy to say in this House, but if one faces the facts one realises that the building and opening of branches on a vast scale would put a substantial burden upon the banks—a burden which should only be put upon them after due consideration and after they have had 1416 an opportunity of consulting with the Departments concerned at Ministerial level as to how this could best be done.
Therefore, while I am in favour of the workman having the right to be paid by cheque if he desires, and the employer being able to accede to that request without contravening the law, it seems to me that there requires to be considerable consultation among the banks, trade unions and employers generally on how this can be done with the minimum inconvenience to industry and with the maximum efficiency.
I think that the sponsors of the Bill, having on more than one occasion brought this issue to the House, have established their case. They have established the case for another look at the Truck Acts. They have established the right of the workman if he so desires to have his wages paid by cheque or into his banking account if he happens to have one. Having established that case, which is freely accepted by all in this House, I think that the wisest course would be to invite the Government now to take over those principles and to have the kind of talks to which reference has been made with industry and the banking world, in the hope that Government legislation would be brought to the House and would receive approval in all quarters of the House to meet the two main points emerging from this Bill.
I have tried to keep strictly to what is in the Bill, although the temptation to depart from it has been very great. I believe that the sponsors have served a useful purpose in the way that I have described. I hope they will feel that their task has been accomplished and that they will make an appeal to the Government on the lines that I have suggested, and I trust that the Government will accept that duty. If that were the case, I should support those measures to which I have referred.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)
I shall endeavour to copy the admirable example of the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and confine what I have to say to the Government's attitude towards the Bill. I know that the House will forgive my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour for not being here. He has many simultaneous duties. The result of his 1417 not being able to be here is that I have been able to enjoy very much hearing the extremely competent and well-informed speech with which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) developed his case.
I think that the whole House will he grateful to my hon. Friends—I must include my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) and the other sponsors of the Bill—for the service they have done by being so tirelessly persistent about this useful topic. If I may say so without offence, I could not help thinking that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) was a little unkind at one moment, in his modest and wholly reticent way, when he accused them of obstructing him because, as a preface, perhaps, to withdrawal—about which I say nothing at all—they desired fully to develop their arguments in the House today.
If one glances for a moment at the history of the matter, one can see what good full ventilation of what they wanted to do has done. Their unremitting labours have continued for some considerable time. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby who took the first step at the beginning of 1957, with his Cheques Bill. It is only fair to say that the matter had not been much discussed then and it met with a certain amount of opposition directly it was mentioned.
My hon. Friend did not pursue the subject. But his efforts provoked discussion and, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour found when he came to consult with the National Joint Advisory Council, there was opposition not only from the trade union representatives on the Council but from other interests also. For the time being, a real probing of the possibility of making any changes in the Truck Acts to make them fit modern affairs had to be dropped.
My hon. Friend returned to the attack in the sense that, in January, 1958, he produced some modified proposals. Both sides of the House were not unsympathetic to the purpose he had in mind. It was then that the right hon. Member for Blyth first advanced his protest that this is not properly a topic for a Private Member's Bill. He made the helpful suggestion that further consideration 1418 might be given to the matter by both sides of industry and, if they were agreed that some action was desirable, that it would be more appropriate for legislation presented in the form of a Bill sponsored by the Government.
My right hon. Friend took the right hon. Gentleman's advice and, as a result of further discussions on the National Joint Advisory Council, he was able to tell the House on 11th May:My National Joint Advisory Council has accepted the view that wages might, at the request of the worker and with his employer's agreement, be paid into the worker's bank account or by cheque, and in certain circumstances be paid by money or postal order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1959 Vol. 605, c. 86–7.]The more precise terms of the Council's conclusions have been stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby today and I have no need to repeat them. That was a happy outcome of the discussions.
I am glad now to be able to inform the House that it is the Government's intention, when Parliamentary time permits—which will not be this Session—to introduce legislation giving effect to the recommendations of the National Joint Advisory Council. I know that the point is much in the minds of hon. Members in all parts of the House and I therefore wish to emphasise with regard to the Government's intentions, just as my hon. Friend emphasised it with regard to his Bill, that there is no intention of imposing any change as to the payment of wages on anybody.
The idea, to which we subscribe, is that any change in the method of payment of wages through banking channels must be subject to the consent of the worker concerned freely given. It is important to emphasise that because, outside the House, there seems to have been some misconception about it. We propose, in any legislation we should bring forward, to take great care on that point in order to see that the proper safeguards are there.
Before the discussions in the National Joint Advisory Council had reached a conclusion, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark had brought this Bill forward. Really, when the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West was complaining about obstruction, he was, perhaps, ungenerous in forgetting what has happened to this Bill. It was down for 1419 Second Reading on 27th February, but, owing to all the phases of misfortune which fall upon Private Members' Bills in their progress on Fridays, there has not been an opportunity for my hon. Friend to ventilate his proposals and the reasons for them until this very day. That is why I hope that the House will not feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby was unduly occupying its time in giving a full discussion and ventilation to the matter today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said that it was not his intention to withdraw the Bill—I noted his words—because, as he rightly said, withdrawal is sometimes misunderstood outside the House. I wonder, however—I know that it is a matter for him—whether he could now properly accept the view suggested by the right hon. Member for Blyth that, in view of the great importance of the topic and the large number of people whose everyday lives will be affected by it, it would be right and best for the topic to be tackled in Government-sponsored legislation. If he did feel able to accept that view, 1420 now that his arguments have been thoroughly ventilated in most public fashion here today, bearing in mind the undertaking I have given on behalf of the Government, it would, I think, be possible for him, without risk of being misunderstood, to withdraw the Bill.
If my hon. Friend did withdraw the Bill, I think that it might tend to save the time of other hon. Members in the House and, indeed, facilitate other matters. I said that we could not legislate this Session. That is obvious. It will not for a moment be misunderstood, I know, if I take up what the right hon. Member for Blyth was saying and point out that, before we put into detailed enactment exactly the proposals which we all have in mind now, it will be necessary to have considerable further discussions with bodies representative of those whose interests will be affected by the Bill.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members not being present, adjourned at twenty-nine minutes to Three o'clock till Monday next.