HL Deb 04 August 1896 vol 43 cc1427-9

On the Order for Committee on the Conciliation (Trade Disputes) Bill,


said the Bill had been framed in order to improve the means at present existing of averting and concluding industrial disputes. It therefore dealt with a subject of some importance—important not only in view of the dislocation brought about in the home industry by these trade disputes, and the consequent misery entailed amongst hundreds of people directly and indirectly concerned, but even still more important in view of the loss to their international trade, when, in these days of keen competition, the apprehension of even a temporary stoppage of work caused the removal of many valuable orders from English to foreign firms. It was almost impossible to estimate with any degree of certainty the actual loss that these disputes occasioned to the trade of this country, but some conception could be formed of its magnitude from statistics furnished by the Board of Trade. From the report on strikes and lock-outs he found that in 1894, 1,061 trade disputes came to the knowledge of the Board of Trade, involving 324,000 persons and the loss of 9,320,000 working days, while in 1893 no less than 31,200,000 working days were lost by this cause. These figures showed that the evil was a serious one, and, he thought, afforded sufficient justification for the action taken by Her Majesty's Government. In framing the Bill, two courses were open to the Government. They could, on the one hand, have attempted to attain the object they had in view by drastic and coercive methods; while, on the other hand, they could chiefly rely upon the powers of conciliation and persuasion. Those were the two alternatives, and the latter course was the one which had been chosen. The Government had adopted that course because the whole history and experience of previous legislation upon this subject clearly proved that drastic and coercive methods had invariably failed in bringing about a settlement of these industrial disputes. Much good work, however, had been done by voluntary boards of conciliation which had been formed in various places for dealing with this matter. These boards had relied solely upon voluntary methods and upon the powers of conciliation, yet their achievements stood out in marked contrast to those of legislation. By their action not only had many disputes been settled, but so effectually had friction been allayed and misunderstanding dispelled that many impending lock-outs and strikes had been averted. They proposed, therefore, in this Bill to follow the voluntary principle. They did not attempt in any way to supersede or interfere with the system so successfully adopted by these voluntary boards. On the contrary, they sought in every way to encourage and stimulate its growth. By Clause 1 it was proposed to allow any board of conciliation or arbitration to add importance to its status and weight to its decisions by obtaining registration from a Government department. This registration would not involve any interference with the constitution or the rules of the conciliation board. The only condition was that the Board of Trade should be kept informed of its proceedings, and of any methods it might adopt for settling disputes. By Clause 3, the Board of Trade was empowered to stimulate the establishment of a conciliation board where none existed. But, although they considered that, in the majority of cases, trade disputes were best settled by local means, there might be cases in which either there was no conciliation board available or the action of such board was ineffectual. In such cases the action of a Government Department might be the best means of settling a dispute or of inducing the parties to come to an amicable arrangement, and therefore the Bill proposed to allow the Board of Trade to take such action when it saw fit to do so. During the last two or three years the Board of Trade had been very successful in arranging industrial differences through the action of an impartial nominee, conspicuous instances of the value of such mediation being the great coal trade dispute in 1893 and the boot and shoe dispute in 1895. It might be said that the Board of Trade already made every attempt to bring about a settlement of disputes, and that, therefore, no further legislation was required to give it additional authority. But, unless the Legislature expressly stated in an Act of Parliament, that in its opinion the Board of Trade ought to take all reasonable steps to bring about a settlement of trade disputes, there was a danger that such action might be regarded by public opinion as lying outside the scope of a Government Department. Practically, therefore, what they asked by the clause was that the Board of Trade should be given a mandate by Parliament to use its discretion in these matters, and to exercise what powers it might possess in this respect for the general good of the trading community. Such were the main provisions of the Bill. Of course he did not suggest that if the Bill passed into law no trade disputes would take place in the future, but he believed it would be found to be a practical Measure of considerable utility and value, and that it would tend to lessen the number of strikes and lock-outs which now unfortunately occurred. ["Hear, hear."]

Bill reported without Amendment; Standing Committee negatived; the Bill to be read 3a on Thursday next.