§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Marquess of Crewe.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1
§ Minimum wage for workmen employed underground in coal, mines.
§ 1.—(1) It skill be an implied term of every contract for the employment of a workman underground in a coal mine that the employer shall pay to that workman wages at not less than the minimum rate settled under this Act and applicable to that workman, unless it is certified in manner provided by the district rules that the workman is a person excluded under the district rules from the operation of this provision, or that the workman has forfeited the right to wages at the minimum rate by reason of his failure to comply with the conditions with respect to the regularity or efficiency of the work to be performed by the workmen laid down by those rules; and any agreement for the payment of wages in so far as it is in contravention of this provision shall be void.
§ For the purposes of this Act, the expression "district rules" means rides made under the powers given by this Act by the joint district board.
§ (2) The district rules shall lay down conditions, as respects the district to which they apply, with respect, to the exclusion from the right to wages at the minimum rate of aged workmen and infirm workmen (including workmen partially disabled by illness or accident), and shall lay down conditions with respect to the regularity and efficiency of the work to be performed by the workmen, and with respect to the time for which a workman is to be paid in the event of any interruption of work clue to an emergency, and shall provide that a workman shall forfeit the right to wages at the minimum rate if he does not comply with conditions as to regularity and efficiency of work, except in cases where the failure to comply with the conditions is due to some cause over which he has no control.
§ The district rules shall also make provision with respect to the persons by whom and the mode in which any question whether any workman in the district is a workman to whom the minimum rate of wages is applicable, or whether a workman has complied with the conditions laid down by the rules, or whether a workman who has not complied with the conditions laid down by the rules has forfeited his right to wages at the minimum rate is to be decided, and for a certificate being given of any such decision for the purposes of this section.
§ (3) The provisions of this section as to payment of wages at a minimum rate shall operate as from the date of the passing of this Act, although a 730 minimum rate of wages may not have been settled, and any sum which would have been payable under this section to a workman on account of wages if a minimum rate had been settled may be recovered by the workman from his employer at any time after the rate is settled.
§ EARL GREY
I move, in subsection (3), after the words "The provisions of this section as to payment of wages at a minimum rate shall." to insert "subject to an agreement between the employer and workmen in any mine modifying, as respects the workmen being parties to such agreement, the provisions of this subsection." My object in moving this Amendment can be stated in a very few words. The Bill as drafted insists that a minimum wage shall take effect us from the date of the passing of this Act in all cases except those of aged and infirm workmen. It was evident from his speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill yesterday that the noble Marquess realised that there might be other cases in which it would be desirable that the relations between the mine owners and the miners should be placed on the satisfactory basis of friendly relations and not confined in any inelastic strait-waistcoat, and he instanced, as an illustration, that during the time occupied by the necessary work for the reopening of the mines after stoppage, it was desirable that an arrangement should he made between the mine owners and the miners outside the terms of this Bill. The noble Marquess stated that he could not imagine that there would be any difficulty in the employer and the workman coming by agreement to such terms for the short period necessary on reopening. He went on to point out his great satisfaction that the relations had been uniformly friendly between the mine owners and the miners, and therefore in his opinion it was desirable that the miners should have reserved to them natural freedom of contract as to the wage up to the date of settlement in certain cases. The Amendment which I now move is necessary in order to give legislative effect to the views and wishes of the noble Marquess, and if it is agreed to I shall move the consequential Amendment standing in my name.
Page 2, line 20, after ("shall") insert ("subject to an agreement between the employer and workmen in any mine modifying, as respects the workmen being parties to such agreement, the provisions of this subsection ").—(Earl Grey.)
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
May I say one single word in support of what has just fallen from Earl Grey. The noble Marquess who leads the House told us yesterday, what is perfectly evident, that the real desire of the Government is to get the men back to the mines, but the Government's desire is so strong that it seems to me they have only looked at one side of the question, because if men are to go down into the mines there must be mines for the men to go down into. As this clause stands, it seems to me very probable, indeed more than probable, that a great many owners will decline to open their mines until they know what the minimum wage is going to be, and for quite obvious reasons. There are many persons who have large contracts. Well, this Bill comes into force, the owner opens his mine, and the men go down and are employed, and the minimum wage is not settled for some weeks, for it is certain that in a great many cases you cannot have matters so intricate as this settled in a day or two; then the owner will find himself obliged to pay this minimum rate of wages right back from the date of the passing of the Act. As your Lordships have been told more than once, a great many mines have been working on a very small margin of profit, and it is probable that a great many of the owners may find that the increase in wages is such—if it is to be anything like what we have been told in the other House; if it is to be a large amount—that they will not be able to pay the wages, and then they will be obliged to close the mines. What will be the effect upon such an owner? He will have opened his mine, he will have employed the men, and he will then have found it impossible to employ them any longer and he will be obliged to close the mine. Therefore he will have had the expense of opening the mine and closing it for nothing. What will any prudent man do in those circumstances? He wall not reopen his mine until he knows what the minimum wage is going to be. I do not see how it can be otherwise. Certainly if I had anything to do with the mining industry I should not reopen my mine until I knew what wages I would be called upon to pay. There is another matter. I have never before heard of an arrangement being made retrospective by an Act of Parliament. The ordinary arrangement is, when wages have been fixed, or whatever the 732 matter is, that the change takes places from that date, and that is a certain date; but this provision introduces a great element of doubt and uncertainty into the matter. It seems to me that the clause as it stands is quite as likely to defeat the objects of the noble Marquess as to forward them.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am quite sure that the object of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches in bringing this Amendment forward was excellent, and I am also quite certain that neither he nor the noble Earl opposite desires to do anything which in effect would retard the opening of the mines; but the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, if he will forgive my saying so, does not seem to have comprehended quite accurately what I said yesterday. What I said was that there might be certain cases—in my belief very few—of mines just on the working margin, about which the owners might have some doubt as to whether they would be able to stand the district minimum wage and whether they would be able to open their mines at all; but I laid particular stress, or endeavoured to do so, on the fact that those mines must be exceedingly few in number, and I pointed out that if there were any such it would be possible for an understanding outside the Bill—an understanding which, of course, would be bad in law—between the owner who was anxious to open the mine and the men who were anxious to go down it, by which the extra cost of opening should be, so to speak, divided between the owner and the men by the latter not claiming the full minimum wage during the most expensive period. But, as I pointed out, those cases could only be exceedingly few, because they would be altogether outside the Act, and would depend upon the observance of an honourable understanding on both sides. The noble Earl on the Cross Benches apparently desires to make it possible in all cases to contract out of this provision. I believe that, as a matter of fact, the wording of the noble Earl's Amendment would take him beyond the mere retrospective period and would allow some different form of contract altogether, but I have no doubt he only intended to confine it to the retrospective period.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Has it occurred to the noble Earl that in endeavouring to induce owners to open their mines he would by this Amendment put into their hands, or conceivably put into their hands, a weapon of such power that it might have a general effect in preventing the men from going down the mines at all? The noble Earl's Amendment, if it were accepted, would allow owners to say to men who are quite willing to go down, and to go down into a pit of the character to which this particular fear of the minimum wage would not apply—"I will not open my pit unless you make an agreement to accept something less than the minimum wage until such time as the joint district board can fix it." The effect of that would unquestionably be that all the men to whom that threat was made would say, "We will not go down until the rates have been fixed." Therefore the effect of the noble Earl's Amendment might be of a most dangerous and far-reaching character in preventing the resumption of work. I trust, therefore, that the noble Earl will agree not to press it. It would be most inconvenient if the miners were now led to believe that an Amendment carried in this House had the effect of making a plausible case for their refusing to go down the pits until the minimum wage had been actually fixed by the district boards, and I am entirely convinced that such might be the effect of the noble Earl's Amendment if it were carried. I therefore plead with him to withdraw it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The noble Marquess seems to think that collieries in which there is a small margin of profit are very few. I am afraid there are a great many more than the noble Marquess thinks. Consequently the owners of those collieries in which this margin is so small would doubtless be acting rashly if they opened their pits before they knew what was to be the minimum sum which they would have to pay. There is another point, to which I drew attention last night—namely, that the Insurance Act is going to put a heavy burden on collieries, and with the imposition of this minimum wage and the charges under the Insurance Act many of the collieries will have to be closed. Therefore owners will have to consider whether it is wise to reopen before they 734 know what the minimum wage is to be and with the certainty of having to pay a large sum under the Insurance Act when that Act comes into force. I notice that the noble Marquess stated that opportunity might be taken by the owners to refuse to open mines and keep the men out until they had made a satisfactory arrangement with them. As a coal owner myself I can say that we are only too anxious at any time to keep our collieries working. The annual expenses of working a colliery, independent of wages, are very heavy indeed. There are rents, way-leaves, and insurances, and these heavy annual expenses have to be paid whether hundreds of thousands of tons of coal a day are turned out or a considerably smaller amount. Therefore it is not the object of any coal owner to keep his colliery closed if he can get the men to go down. Further than that, coal owners are humane men, and they regret to see the suffering that takes place when there is a strike. The one object of the coal owner is to keep his colliery in full employment. For myself, I do not propose to do anything to retard the passing of this Bill. I do not think it will be the means of solving this problem, but I would be the last person to do anything to prolong the present state of affairs.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I think the noble Marquess opposite is right in thinking that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has taken too sanguine a view when he states his belief that there are very few collieries working on a very small margin of profit. People outside the colliery business do not realise that there are quite a considerable number of collieries working, not at a small margin of profit, but at a loss. In conversation with a noble Lord the other day I could not get him to believe that there are many ordinary businesses in this country carried on for many years at a loss. Anybody who has in the course of his private affairs to study balance sheets of industrial concerns, flourishing and non-flourishing alike, must know that there are an immense number of concerns of that kind in this country that are carried on, some years at a big loss, some years at no loss, other years at a small loss or with a very small margin of profit. The coal trade is likely to be an exceptional one in that respect, because it costs an immense amount of money to equip a colliery, and if the 735 colliery is carried on at a loss the owner does not want to lose all that money permanently; he therefore throws good money after bad, and is always hoping that a boom time will come when the price of coal will be sufficiently high to enable him to get his money back. I think the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has overlooked cases of that kind. It is difficult to know what is going to happen. In legislation of this kind, which I for one support because I think it is absolutely necessary, but for that reason alone, it is almost impossible to prophesy what is going to happen, but I do not think there is much risk that the pits will not be opened under this Bill. What I am afraid of is that a good many of them may not be able to be worked at a profit and will have to be closed. The reason they will be opened is this. The stores of coal in this country have been used up. I think that most concerns which use a large supply of coal will be in the habit in future of keeping larger supplies. It must take all the mines working at great pressure some months to come before they can produce the usual supply of coal that is needed and also make up the wastage that has gone on in the last few weeks. Coal has gone up to famine prices. Directly the mines reopen the price of coal will fall very rapidly, but it must be weeks and months, perhaps longer than months, before the price of coal can be down to anything like it was when the strike began. That being so, for the first few weeks after the pits are reopened the owners will make large sums of money, and therefore I think that even the weakest of the collieries will probably be opened, and opened hurriedly, in the attempt to make hay while the sun is shining. It is not concerning the present that I have any doubt, but as to the future. If some of the pits do close under this Bill, which is very probable, and if miners are out of work under this Bill, as I think is very probable, what will be the result? The result will be that the miners will come clamouring to Parliament for the repeal of this Bill, and that, I think, is a course which none of us will very seriously regret.
§ LORD NUNBURNHOLME
Arising out of the remarks of the last speaker, I should like to appeal to the noble Marquess who leads the House to look forward to that period when this Bill will cease—I refer to the end of the three years. Last night 736 we had a very good offer made to this side of the House by the noble Marquess who sits opposite. That offer was that after this Bill is through and the strike is ended, a step should be taken by all parties to see what can be done to get over the terrible crisis in the matter of strikes with which the country is threatened. I myself look upon this measure as only a temporary one. What many members would like to see done is this. We should like to see some coalition of the clever men of this country formed together, either in a Royal Commission or in some other way, to inquire whether something cannot be done to stop these disastrous strikes in the leading industries of the country. I think that could be confined to the three great industries—the railway industry, the coal industry, and the transport workers. If some arrangement could be come to by which the men in those industries would not strike, the general trade of the country would not suffer so much in the future. Last night the noble Marquess opposite offered his co-operation to this side in any effort to bring about such a state of affairs, and I hope that the noble Marquess the Leader of His Majesty's Government in this House will take due note of that offer and accept it.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I can understand why the minimum wage is to be made retrospective, and I fully appreciate the force of the noble Marquess's objection to Earl Grey's Amendment, but the fact that he has been able to make an effective criticism on that particular method of meeting the difficulty I venture to think scarcely goes far enough. The noble Marquess said that in his opinion the number of cases of mines that were working on such a narrow margin of profit that they possibly might not be reopened was very small. I would ask him. Can the Government give us any figures? Have the Government no knowledge, after all their inquiries and study of this question, which they can impart to us as to the number of mines that are working almost on a margin of loss? It seems to me rather curious that they should be able to give no information to the House in respect to that important matter. Then I would ask the noble Marquess whether I clearly understood his own suggestion. What I understood him to say was this, "There may be cases. I think very few, 737 where mines would not pay to open at the minimum wage. In that case I suggest that the owner may make a private arrangement with the miner and pay a rate less than the minimum wage—a private honourable understanding which would have no validity in law." Surely that is rather a remarkable suggestion to come from the representative of His Majesty's Government at a moment when we are considering the Minimum Wage Bill in Committee, because the first clause of this Bill enacts that it shall be an implied term of contract that there shall be a minimum wage; and lower down appear the words—And any agreement for the payment of wages in so far as it is a contravention of this provision shall be void.Therefore what the noble Marquess proposes is that an owner who is in doubt whether he can afford to open his mine at all should deliberately put himself outside the law and make an agreement with his workman which will not be binding in law, and which, for anything I as a layman know, may subject him to penalties. I do not know whether the Lord Chancellor could throw any light upon this and tell us what the position of an owner would be who made such an agreement in contravention of this Bill when it becomes an Act. I venture to think that though the noble Marquess may have made an effective criticism on the cure suggested by Earl Grey, his own is not one clothed in quite impenetrable armour.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am anxious to make the position clear, as I understand it. It appears to me that there has been a certain amount of confusion arising out of the fact that two entirely different things have been under discussion. I fear I must have expressed myself badly, because both the noble Marquess opposite and my noble friend behind me (Lord St. Davids) suppose that when I mentioned a small number of mines which might be affected I was alluding to mines where the profit was small. I was not alluding to anything of the kind. I was alluding to the particular kind of mine in respect of which I understand the complaint was made to which I alluded yesterday—mines working one or possibly two, very thin seams, very often of low priced coal, mines with a very small capital the owners of which were afraid of the extra expense of reopening that might 738 be incurred, whereas if they only knew what the minimum wage was going to be they would not think of opening their small concern at all. I was not at all speaking, as the noble Marquess and others seem to think, of mines where the margin of profit is small. I have known mines working between fifty and sixty feet of coal which have not paid for years, but those are not the mines the opening of which one way or the other would be affected by the minimum wage. I was speaking of the particular case of a very poor mine working a thin seam which the small owner who owned it might not desire to open, and I mentioned that in such a case I could conceive it possible that a friendly arrangement might be arrived at between the owner and the men that they would not claim arrears of what might be due to them for the minimum wage during the short period while the owner was put to the extra expense of opening. That particular point mentioned by me was an exceedingly small one. It obviously could not have any general application, and from that point the fixing of the minimum wage, whether it was fixed next week or not for a month, would have no effect upon the large concerns of the character of which the noble Marquess was speaking, some of which, no doubt, pay a great deal better than others. It is, of course, quite true, as my noble friend behind me said, that the coal trade is an extremely peculiar one in many respects, and not the least peculiar in the character of the returns it makes to the capitalist. Even the biggest and best managed mines pass through periods when they pay no interest on capital at all. Then come, perhaps, a few years when there is an ordinary and moderate return, and then perhaps every ten or fifteen years comes a great recouping year when, if the owner spreads out his gains, he finds that taking a period of fifteen or twenty years he has earned a reasonable percentage on his capital. I am only anxious to make it clear to the House that I was not at all speaking of the general profits of coal owners in allusion to this particular Amendment, but only to a very small and limited class of mines. I must repeat that the effect of the noble Earl's Amendment would go far beyond dealing with those particular class of mines, because it would offer no small inducement to many owners to attempt to make bargains with their men beforehand, and, what I regard as even more 739 serious, it would be taken as offering an inducement to the men not to go down the pits until the minimum had been actually fixed. I appeal, therefore, to my noble friend not to press his Amendment.
§ LORD FABER
This is a difficult question, and there is a great deal to be said on both sides. I listened with care to what fell from the noble Earl who moved this Amendment, and after he had finished speaking I think I was in favour of his Amendment. But I confess that, having listened to what fell from the lips of the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, as a business man I think the noble Marquess was correct. There is no doubt that in this country there is an enormous amount of money laid out in mines which is dead money if the mine is not working. Therefore it is essential that a mine owner, whether he can raise coal at a profit or not, should raise coal, because what he gets lessens the cost that is continually going on. Consequently I think it is unnecessary to proceed with this Amendment, because I feel practically sure that every man who has a coal mine, whether he is going to work the mine at a loss or at a gain, will start the mine as soon as he can.
§ EARL GREY
The noble Marquess the Leader of the House has appealed to me to withdraw my Amendment. In doing so I would venture to point out that the noble Marquess's speech reminded me very forcibly of that hackneyed story of the housemaid who had an illegitimate child and excused herself because it was such a very little one. The noble Marquess has twice in the last few days counselled the coal owners to do what will be illegitimate under this Bill on the ground that, when it only refers to a small mine with a narrow seam, after all it will be quite excusable to break the law. I am a greater respecter of the law than the noble Marquess. I do not like that position. Where are you going to draw the line? When is the arrangement going to become an improper one which the noble Marquess on three occasions has stated to be a proper one? My object in moving this Amendment has been more or less realised. We are legislating under duress. I do not recognise anything in the nature of a free Assembly when we are discussing this Bill. We are obliged to accept certain provisions even though the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has 740 made a speech in favour of the principle of my Amendment. I only wish the speeches of the noble Marquess had as much legislative influence and force as the proposals for which he is obliged to be responsible as representative of His Majesty's Government in this House. He has pointed out that my Amendment goes too far. I do not pretend to be an experienced draftsman. I have not had so much practice as the noble Marquess. But if the noble Marquess wishes to put the men in the position he has described, not once or twice, but thrice—I mean into a position which will enable them to contract themselves out of this Act without breaking the law—I think it would be within his power to draft an Amendment of his own which will meet his own requirements.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ Settlement of minimum rates of wages and district rules.
§ 2.—(1) Minimum rates of wages and district rules for the purposes of this Act shall be settled separately for each of the districts named in the Schedule to this Act by a body of persons recognised by the Board of Trade as the joint district board for that district.
§ Nothing in this Act shall prejudice the operation of any agreement entered into or custom existing before the passing of this Act for the payment of wages at a rate higher than the minimum rate settled under this Act, and in settling any minimum rate of wages the joint district board shall have regard to the average daily rate of wages paid to the workmen of the class for which the minimum rate is to be settled.
§ (2) The Board of Trade may recognise as a joint district board for any district any body of persons, whether existing at the time of the passing of this Act or constituted for the purposes of this Act, which in the opinion of the Board of Trade fairly and adequately represents the workmen in coal mines in the district and the employers of those workmen, and the chairman of which is an independent person appointed by agreement between the persons representing the workmen and employers respectively on the body, or in default of agreement by the Board of Trade.
§ The Board of Trade may, as a condition of recognizing as a joint district board for the purposes of this Act any body the rules of which do not provide for securing equality of voting power between the members representing workmen and the members representing employers and for giving the chairman a casting vote in case of difference between the two classes of members, require that body to adopt any such rule as the Board of Trade may approve for the purpose, and any rule so adopted shall be deemed to be a rule governing the procedure of the body for the purposes of this Act.741
§ (3) The joint district board of a district shall settle general minimum rates of wages and general district rules for their district (in this Act referred to as general district minimum rates and general district rules), and the general district minimum rates and general district rules shall be the rates and rules applicable throughout the whole of the district to ail coal mines in the district, and to all workmen or classes of workmen employed underground in those mines, other than mines to which and workmen to whom a special minimum rate or special district rules settled under the provisions of this Act is or are applicable, or mines to which and workmen to whom the joint district board declare that the general district rates and general district rules shall not be applicable pending the decision of the question whether a special district rate or special district rules ought to be settled in their case.
§ (4) The joint district board of any district may, if it is shown to them that any general district minimum rate or general district rules are not applicable in the case of any group or class of coal mines within the district, owing to the special circumstances of the group or class of mines, settle a special minimum rate (either higher or lower than the general district, rate) or special district rules (either more or less stringent than the general district rules) for that group or class of mines, and any such special rate or special rules shall be the rate or rules applicable to that group or class of mines instead of the general district minimum rate or general district rules.
§ (5) For the purpose of settling minimum rates of wage the joint district board may subdivide their district into two parts or, if the members of the joint district board representing the workmen and the members representing the employers agree, into more than two parts, and in that case each part of the district as so subdivided shall, for the purpose of the minimum rate, be treated as the district.
§ (6) For the purpose of settling district rules, any joint district boards may agree that their districts shall be treated as one district, and in that case those districts shall be treated for that purpose as one combined district, with a combined district committee appointed as may be agreed between the joint district boards concerned, and the chairman of such one of the districts forming the combination as may be agreed upon between the joint district boards concerned, or, in default of agreement, determined by the Board of Trade, shall be the chairman of the combined district committee.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I move to omit from subsection (1) of Clause 2 the words "and in settling any minimum rate of wages the joint district board shall have regard to the average daily rate of wages paid to the workmen of the class for which the minimum rate is to be settled." I am afraid that as no words appear on the Paper in the name of the Government I must recall your Lordships' attention to what happened in this House yesterday afternoon. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, got on to the discussion of the Amendments, and he told us very distinctly 742 of an Amendment which he said had been agreed between the parties, he believed, and was sanctioned by the Government and which he intended to propose to your Lordships when we went into Committee on the Bill. Then later at night the noble Marquess? old us that he had been misinformed, and that the Amendment was objected to by the miners, and he added that he hoped he would be able to find words which would satisfy both parties. I was in hopes that such words would have appeared on the Paper to-day, but, unfortunately, that is not so, and therefore I must call your Lordships' attention to the four lines which I propose to omit, which contain the arrangement that was placed in the Bill at a very late stage in the other House, and which I think under present circumstances it would be advisable altogether to omit.
The noble Marquess told us yesterday that he regarded the Amendment inserting the words which I propose to delete as being of very little importance, and the Prime Minister, in accepting the Amendment, said exactly the same thing. These were his words—I do not think that any joint district board which understood its functions would fail to take this average rate into account. I think that would be the very first thing they would take into account. How they could proceed to decide without taking that into account passes my comprehension. But if there is any apprehension on that point I can assure my hon. friend that the Government will be very happy to accept an Amendment of that kind.That is precisely what the noble Marquess said here, and therefore it is quite clear that neither he nor the Prime Minister regards the words as being of any importance. But unfortunately it appears that both parties in this case regard them as of very great importance. The Amendment which was actually approved by the Government and foreshadowed yesterday was, I am able to say, also approved by the men. When the noble Marquess made his explanation late at night yesterday he said that he had made a mistake. But the noble Marquess had made no mistake at all. The Amendment had been approved by the men, it had been approved by the owners, it had been approved by the Government, and the Government had said that they proposed to introduce it into the Bill. If ever there was a bona fide, clear, unmistakeable Parliamentary undertaking, it was that. Now let us see what is the reason why the noble Marquess proposes to depart from 743 this. He says that the men object to the Amendment. But the men had approved of it in the first place. Besides that, what locus standi have the men in this matter. Your Lordships will remember that the representatives of the men opposed this Bill in the House of Commons to the very extent of their power. They threatened the Government. They said, first of all, that they insisted on the insertion of the schedule. Then they fell back on the figures. But the Government declined to give way; and then the representatives of the men finally voted against the Third Reading of the Bill. After taking that course, what right have they to then demand further Amendments? Let me point out to your Lordships that this instruction is the only instruction in the Bill. The noble Marquess reminded us that the Government had been most anxious to be thoroughly impartial. He said they had been absolutely impartial between the men and the masters, and had treated both parties exactly in the same way. But these words which I move to strike out are believed by the men, whether rightly or wrongly I do not know, to be a strong point in their favour, and they are also believed by the coal owners to be a point against them. If that be so, and if the noble Marquess is of opinion now and if the Prime Minister remains of opinion that these words really are of no value, then I submit that the right thing to do is to remove them from the Bill. If the Government insist upon retaining them as they are in the Bill, it will be very hard indeed for them to think that the coal owners can possibly believe that they are thoroughly impartial.
page 2, line 34, leave out from ("Act") to the end of the subsection.—(The Earl of Camperdoum.)
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I certainly have no complaint to make either of the substance or of the manner of the noble Earl's speech in putting forward his Amendment. His account of what occurred, so far as it relates to the part of His Majesty's Government in it, was a perfectly accurate one. I regret particularly that I should have misled the House as to the circumstances in which the Amendment was to be brought last night before your Lordships. The particular proviso which I had intended to move was, I believed at the time, accepted by both parties, and it was only in consideration of its being so 744 accepted that I should have moved it, because for reasons which I explained to the House I did not desire either to move or to accept an Amendment of any kind to this Bill, in the circumstances, which could be regarded as of a controversial character. There was a misunderstanding of the most genuine kind—I say deliberately it was a misunderstanding of the most genuine character—as to the agreement upon these words. The representatives of the men were under the impression, and we, I take it, gave them to understand, that the alteration of the words had no real effect in altering their meaning. They understood that the Amendment was, it is not too much to say, of a drafting character. But it afterwards appeared that there are on both sides among the owners and the men a certain number—it is by no means, I think, a universal sentiment on either side—who believed that the presence or absence of these words or the alternative form of words make a serious difference to what may happen when the district boards meet and have to fix the minimum.
I must refer, by your leave, for a moment to what happened in another place with regard to these words, and how they came to appear in the Bill at all. What happened was that on March 22 Sir Arthur Markham, who is a Midland coal owner, asked, in the course of a speech, whether the Government would not give favourable consideration to the suggestion that the average rate paid to men in any county or district should be the minimum wage. He believed that if the average rate was paid, it would in a large measure accomplish what was desired by the men in moving the famous Amendment relating to the 5s. and the 2s. which was then under discussion. In the course of the same debate the Prime Minister said he would not in the least object to a provision being inserted in the Bill in appropriate terms that in settling the minimum regard should be had by the boards to the average daily rate paid for work of that class in the district. It is quite evident that in using those words—I have no claim to speak for Sir Arthur Markham, but I assume his meaning was the same; I can certainly speak for the Prime Minister—the Prime Minister was alluding to what is known as the day rate; that is, the rate paid to day men, and to getters or hewers on the occasions when they are not working at the face of the coal but are employed on some special work 745 elsewhere; and it certainly never occurred to any of us that there was any colour whatever for the belief that, in speaking of the average wage, the daily earnings of the coal getters or hewers who work at piece-work would in any case be taken into consideration. That was entirely foreign to any idea of ours, and this, I think, is quite clear from what was said by the Attorney-General at a later stage. On the Report Stage in another place, if I may quote by the indulgence of the House, the Attorney-General said—When dealing with minimum wages the joint district board must have regard to the average daily rate paid in that district to workmen of that class. That is what is intended, and that is what we thought the House had agreed to. It is certainly what the Prime Minister proposed, and I do think it is the fullest extent to which the Government can go. It will cover the case of the day men, and it will cover the case of the hewer. It will mean—and this is also important—that when the joint district board has to consider this question of fixing a minimum rate it will not be bound rigidly by the average daily rate, but must take into account what is the average daily rate in the district.Therefore it is quite clear that when this phrase was used the allusion was to what is known as the day wage and not to the average daily earnings, if you like so to describe them, of those who work at the face of the coal. And if further evidence is required it is supplied by this fact, that in another place an Amendment was actually proposed saying that the average rate should be the rate for the minimum and that the Government altogether refused to accept it; and I am able to say—it comes to my private knowledge, and I will explain later why it is not public knowledge—that at any rate some of the men (I am anxious to be perfectly candid in this matter and I do not know that they all agreed upon this) take precisely the view which I have indicated.
The noble Earl drew attention to the fact that we do not consider this question as intrinsically an important one. What he said was perfectly true. If I were chairman of a district board—and I do not speak without some knowledge both of the coal industry and of the coal trade—I am quite certain that the ultimate minimum wage for a particular class which it might fall to me to fix in default of agreement between the two parties represented on the board would not be affected whether the words were in the Bill as 746 they stand or whether the words "prevailing day wage," which were the terms of the Amendment I had intended to propose, formed part of the Bill, or whether, as the noble Earl desired, the whole of these words came out altogether. From my saying this it certainly would appear as though I might accept the Amendment of the noble Earl. I do not believe myself, I repeat, that it is of really great moment whether either form of words is in or neither, but, as the noble Earl most accurately pointed out, that is not the opinion of some at any rate on both sides either among the owners or among the men. As I pointed out yesterday, there exists a singular attitude of suspicion, also on both sides, as to the making of any change or amendment in the Bill. It cannot be disputed that there are some of the men, though it is impossible, of course, to say how many, who believe that if the words "prevailing day wage rate" be used, it would prevent in some districts the raising of the lower scales of minimum for day workers which presumably might be raised under this Bill. It is also true that there are a certain number among the owners—again I do not know how many—who believe, if the words are left as they are printed in the Bill, that in fixing the minimum rate a number of considerations will be brought into play which I have explained it is not the opinion of His Majesty's Government can be brought into play—and that is a deliberate opinion of ours which I desire strongly to impress upon the House in the most serious manner in my power.
I had hoped that it might have been possible, if we could have met the representatives of both parties, that that atmosphere of suspicion would to some extent be cleared away, and that a formula would be found to which both parties might have deliberately agreed. That was impossible owing to the fact that the men's representatives have dispersed all over the country, and it was obviously vain to attempt to arrive at a conclusion unless it were possible to see both sides. I think it is possible that had the men's representatives been available we might have found at any rate some representatives of the coal owners who would have been able to speak on behalf of the trade as a whole. Consequently there is nothing for us to 747 do but to leave the Bill in the form in which it came to us from another place. As your Lordships have been made aware from the Press, a ballot is being immediately taken asking the plain question whether the men will resume work or not. I do not think that anybody will say that the terms of that question are otherwise than perfectly fair, and I hope we may be sanguine enough to believe that there will be a good majority in the affirmative. But I am bound to say—and in this I place myself entirely in the hands of the House—that if the Bill were seriously amended here, or if it was believed to be seriously amended here, in the interests of the coal owners, I should look forward with some alarm to the possible effect upon that ballot. There may be—I do not know that there are, but there may be—a certain number among the men who desire to continue the strike and to postpone, perhaps for an indefinite time, the resumption of work. I believe those to be a very small minority, and it is because it is so important, I think, to keep them a small minority that I make the strongest possible appeal to your Lordships not to strengthen their hands in any way by giving colour to the belief that this Bill has been amended in this House adversely to their interests.
If we believed that the Bill as it stands contained anything unfair, if we believed even that the joint district boards would, reading the words naturally, be bound to act in a manner which would be unfair to the coal owners, we might have to throw all these considerations to the winds, and I trust that in that case we should have the courage of our opinions. But, my Lords, holding the opinion we do, that the insertion of particular words or the omission of all the words are not in themselves and cannot prove to be a matter of substantial importance, we feel that it would be taking a terrible responsibility to make it possible for the men to believe that the Bill was being tampered with in a manner contrary to their interests. I cannot say how sorry I am that this misadventure should have occurred. As I said yesterday, I do not blame anybody for it, because I believe that it was a most genuine misunderstanding by those who took an actual part in it, and so far as I am concerned it was a simple piece of misinformation. But even in such circumstances it is very 748 painful to me to mislead the House, and I can only throw myself on the kindness and good humour of your Lordships and desire you to give all the weight that you will to the most serious appeal which I venture to make that you will not amend this Bill in this way and send it back to another place in a form which some believe, although I think wrongly, involves a serious alteration.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Many of your Lordships must, I think, have listened to the statement just addressed to us by the noble Marquess who leads the House with feelings of the greatest surprise, I would almost add with other feelings which nothing but our personal esteem for the noble Marquess prevents us from expressing. We have reason, I think, to complain, not only of the manner in which the coal owners have been treated with regard to this question, but of the manner in which this House has been treated. Let me, in half a dozen sentences, remind your Lordships of the history of this question. I am not going into the House of Commons history of the question. The noble Marquess gave us citations from debates which took place in the other House. What I am concerned with is the history of this matter in your Lordships' House. It was explained to us throughout that it was the intention of the Bill that these district boards were not to be hampered and limited by specific instructions. The Prime Minister's actual words were—They were not to be fettered by directions.As the Bill proceeded instructions were inserted in it. The noble Marquess referred to them last night very airily. He said they were merely sign-posts, and not of any great importance. I rather protest against the metaphor, because to my mind a sign-post is one of the few remaining institutions in this country to which I look with any amount of confidence and respect. But, my Lords, the obvious objection to putting sign-posts in a Bill of this kind is that if you insert sign-posts leading in a direction favourable to one of the parties, the other party will immediately ask to have another sign-post equally favourable to himself, and this process of setting up sign-posts is obviously likely to engender that feeling of suspicion with regard to the administration of this 749 Bill which the noble Marquess has told us again and again he wishes to avoid.
In this case I must say I think the coal owners were justified in regarding with a certain amount of suspicion the particular sign-post which was set up by His Majesty's Government. Avoiding technicalities, I will tell your Lordships in a word why I think that feeling was natural on their part. In the minds of most people the establishment of a minimum wage necessarily implies that there shall be an appreciable interval between that minimum wage and the amount which a skilled workman can earn by the full use of his vigour and knowledge of his work. That is a matter of the utmost importance, because it is in the existence of that interval, and in the existence of that interval alone, that you have an incentive to the general body of the workpeople to render an honest day's work for a full day's wages. What was believed, and to my mind not without reason, by the coal owners was that if you base your minimum wage upon the average daily rate of wages you tend inevitably to approximate your minimum wage much too closely to the full wage which an able bodied workman would find it possible to earn, and that you thereby wipe out, or nearly wipe out, that incentive to conscientious work to which most of us attach so much importance. His Majesty's Government were evidently at first fully convinced of the reasonableness of these misgivings, and the noble Marquess last night produced with considerable solemnity words which were intended to allay these suspicions, and they did allay them to a considerable extent. It is within ray knowledge that several noble Lords interested in the matter were reassured by the speech of the noble Marquess and left the House greatly relieved in their minds. Upon that the Bill was read a second time.
Then very late in the evening we suddenly became aware that a complete change of front had taken place. The noble Marquess, at somewhere about eleven o'clock last night, announced to us that a misunderstanding had taken place, not, he thought, a very serious misunderstanding, but still a misunderstanding, and he suggested, I think very properly, that the debate might stand adjourned in order that in the interval His Majesty's 750 Government might have an opportunity of devising a formula of words to which both parties might agree, and it was upon that understanding that we separated last night. Well, my Lords, we come down to the House this evening and the noble Marquess gets up in his place to announce the failure of His Majesty's Government to make good their words, and the Bill, we now learn, is to remain as it stands with all its admitted faults still uncorrected. That places this House in a very serious position. I think we are hardly treated, and I think we are all the more hardly treated because we have made it clear on this side of the House that we had every intention of facilitating the passage of the Bill, and that we were unwilling to take any course which might obstruct its passage or prevent its becoming law immediately. The noble Marquess has made a very strong appeal to us. He has told us that there is to be a ballot of the men, and that in his view the immediate passage of this measure will make a great difference in regard to the results of that ballot. I am not prepared, and I think my friends who sit by me are not prepared, in the face of the appeal of the noble Marquess, to take upon ourselves action which might have the effect of delaying the Bill or even of risking the fate of the Bill, because I gather from the noble Marquess that there is no prospect whatever of my noble friend's Amendment being accepted and supported by His Majesty's Government in another place.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
That being so, we are face to face with this position, and we had better look it in the face. We may adopt my noble friend's Amendment, for which I think there is a great deal to be said on the merits, but, if we do, we must take the chance either of risking the Bill or of having the Amendment brought back to us tomorrow with a fresh appeal from the noble Marquess opposite, an appeal which the House probably would not be willing in the circumstances to resist. It seems to me, therefore, that, deeply as we regret the course which His Majesty's Government have taken in regard to this Amendment, we must accept, with all reluctance, the course which they propose to us. The 751 only grain of comfort which I can find in the whole episode is this, that the noble Marquess has apparently satisfied himself that the clause as it stands does not carry with it the dangers which so many of the coal owners apprehend, and he tells us that in his opinion we may accept it without any misgivings. I confess that I take that only for what it is worth. I bear in mind that no Ministerial explanations really count for anything in the interpretation of an Act of Parliament, and that what we have to look to is the words of the Bill itself? and not the manner in which it is interpreted by the noble Marquess and his friends. At the same time I think the noble Marquess's assurance is, perhaps, worth something, because should it happen that this clause is found to operate in a manner which the noble Marquess and his friends do not anticipate, he will certainly be reminded of the explanations which he has given to the House to-night. I greatly regret, and so, I am glad to think, does the noble Marquess himself, that this episode should have taken place, and I repeat that I think the House has every reason to complain of the manner in which it has been treated by His Majesty's Government.
§ LORD NEWTON
I think every person, at all events every right feeling person, in this House must feel profound sympathy for the noble Marquess the Leader of the House in view of the singularly unpleasant position which he occupies at the present moment, an unpleasant position which I am sure he acutely feels himself. The noble Marquess in his speech said a good deal about there having been a misunderstanding. I venture to assert that there has been no misunderstanding whatsoever, and that the circumstances are perfectly plain. There has been no misunderstanding of any kind at all, but there has been a certain amount of gross intimidation. What happened was as follows. Yesterday morning the owners went to the Government's representative and put their Amendment before him for the consideration of the Government. The force of the Amendment was seen, it was accepted by the Government, and the representatives of the employers were informed that the men had no objection to it. So far, at all events, there was no misunderstanding whatsoever. In the afternoon the noble Marquess came down to this 752 House, and in the course of a long speech informed us that he intended to move the particular Amendment, and he gave his reasons at length for so doing. It is perfectly clear that up to that point there was no misunderstanding at all between anybody. But at eleven o'clock last night, after the Second Reading had been taken, the noble Marquess recounted his tale of a misunderstanding. Now I put it to anybody, Cannot any fool, anybody however stupid he is, see exactly what happened? After the noble Marquess had made his speech, after he had given his reasons for putting down his Amendment, and after having, unfortunately, explained it from his own point of view at too great length, the extreme people representing the Labour Party put in an appearance and said they would not have it, and thereupon the noble Marquess did what his colleagues so often do—he "toed the line" and made a graceful concession to these gentlemen. When a bargain of this kind is broken—and I assert deliberately that it was most emphatically broken—what can you expect in the future? If you cannot get a definite undertaking from the Leader of this House, how can you expect any contract to be kept? This is one of those questions which deeply agitate Parliamentary circles but not the world outside. At all events, let us drop all this talk about a misunderstanding; and, bearing in mind what has been said by the noble Marquess, let us drop the contention that the Government have been, as they say, endeavouring to hold the scales evenly between the two parties, because it is obviously clear that they have been doing nothing of the kind and do not intend to.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
After the counsel that has been given to the House by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition it is, I suppose, of little practical utility to continue the discussion upon the Amendment of my noble friend behind me, but as one who is considerably interested in this matter I should like to say that I have listened with very great regret indeed to the statement made by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe. I for one certainly hoped that he would be able to redeem at any rate in some measure the pledge which the Government gave us yesterday that they would meet us on this matter. The noble Marquess has told us that opinion is strongly divided upon the words of this 753 particular subsection—that the miners on their side regard the retention of these words as an advantage to them, whereas the mine owners think that they may get disadvantage from their inclusion. That seems to me the very reason why the Amendment moved by my noble "friend behind me should be accepted.
This clause adds or instils an element of partiality into this Bill, and in that way runs contrary both to the declaration and to the spirit of the declaration of His Majesty's Government. During the progress of this Bill in another place the Government told us again and again that they wished to be impartial in this matter, and that they recognised that Parliament was not a proper body to attempt to fix the rate of wages or to settle differences in these matters between masters and men. I believe honestly that they have attempted to adhere to that position. But this clause, by the sign-post to which the noble Marquess alluded, is to my mind a step contrary to the impartial attitude taken up by His Majesty's Government and for that reason I think that we as mine owners have every reason to protest against the inclusion of these words.
But there are other reasons as well which make me think that these words should be omitted. I believe that they will add an element of great confusion to the work of the district boards. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has very clearly pointed out the necessity of keeping what he called an interval between the minimum rate fixed for hewers and the maximum wage that they can earn by skilful and intelligent work. We believe that by the words of this clause the day rate of wages paid to hewers on day work will be confused with the rate fixed for piece work. The words of this clause say that in fixing the minimum wage cognisance should be taken of the daily wage rate paid to workers in that particular class. The fixation of any minimum rate would most certainly include the fixation of the rate for piece work, and if in fixing the rate for piece work the arbitrator has to take cognisance of the average daily wage earned by those men when doing day work an element of confusion is brought into this matter, and the interval which Lord Lansdowne says is so important will be reduced to almost vanishing point.
754 The noble Marquess who leads the House assured us that this is not the intention of the framers of these words, and it may be that the arbitrator in whose hands our fortunes are placed may take that view of the case, but I should like to point out that we have no guarantee or safeguard that that will be so. We have no sort of security that the arbitrator will agree with the noble Marquess or even with the Prime Minister, and, if he does not, very serious consequences to us may ensue. I suppose that we shall have to accept this state of things, and that in view of the appeal which has been made to us by the noble Marquess who leads the House we shall have to hope for the best and rely upon the commonsense and justice of these arbitrators. But in view of the fact that the ballot of the miners is presumably not to be taken until next week, I fail to see why this matter, which is so important to us and on which so much discussion has taken place, should not have been settled during the two days that still remain of this week, and why the Government even by postponing the Bill twenty-four or forty-eight hours should not have attempted to redeem the pledge which they made. I must say I think the absence of the miners' representatives from London is by no means a convincing reason why this matter should be left in the present unsatisfactory state, and I for one deeply regret that we are not in a position to follow my noble friend into the Division Lobby on this Amendment.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I should like to be quite certain that the House understands what exactly it is asked to do. Let us leave out for the moment the question of misunderstanding, or of whether this Amendment would or would not tell on one side or the other in future discussions. The grave matter, as it seems to me, which we are being asked to do as a legislative body is that, a possible misunderstanding being admitted, we arc; deliberately asked to take no steps one way or the other for the purpose of avoiding it. That is, that for a merely temporary peace we are asked to adhere to a form of words as to which it is admitted there is a difference of opinion as to their meaning, and whichever way that difference of opinion is decided it will lead almost certainly to friction and perhaps to litigation. Surely it is the absolute duty of those who are in a position to advise this House to endeavour to get us out of that, as I regard it, discreditable position.
755 It is commonly said that by the acceptance of Amendments here and there as a Bill passes through the Houses of Parliament the original intention of the draftsman is obscured, and when decisions are given, as they sometimes are, and probably absolutely rightly given, by legal authorities in a sense and in a way which it is obvious was not intended, the fault is laid on the Houses of Parliament and not upon those who at first promoted the measure. But here those who are responsible for the measure know of the difference of opinion, and yet deliberately abstain from taking any steps to make the matter clear. The position seems to me to be this. The arbitrator is directed to have regard to a certain state of things. I believe I am right in saying that the words which the noble Earl on the Cross Benches (Lord Grey) is going to move to insert into the clause later were originally in the clause and were omitted at a late stage in another place, and it is largely owing to that omission that the difficulty in which we are now placed has arisen. I hope the opinion expressed by the noble Marquess who leads the House is the right one, and that the arbitrator of the future will not be tied up by the inferences which may be drawn from this circumstance or from that, but I think it would be desirable that we should have, in addition to the expression of opinion on the part of the noble Marquess, some guidance from some one who has even better legal knowledge than he has himself. I think it would probably be wrong to ask that the Lord Chancellor should express an opinion on a matter which he may have to decide judicially, and I do not suggest it; but I am inclined to make an appeal to the noble and learned Viscount the Secretary of State for War as to whether he will take the responsibility of expressing the opinion that it does not much matter whether we accept this Amendment or not.
I am not oblivious of the force of the appeal made to us by the noble Marquess at the conclusion of his speech, to take care lest we prejudice discussions and possible settlements which may take place in the country in the next few days. The noble Marquess who leads the Opposition powerfully supported that view. But supposing a decision is come to on the faith of an expression of opinion by their leaders that this clause as it stands does give the verdict in their case and the men find out that they have been misled, will that tend 756 to peace and to that settlement which we are appealed to not to do anything to prevent? I share in the desire of doing nothing which will prolong the unhappy misunderstandings and prejudices which now exist, but I fear that for the sake of temporary ease we are asked to take a course which will lead to greater difficulties in the future, when by a few days delay now and by facing our difficulties and doing our best like men we might come to a real decision which would have abiding force in the future. For these reasons I profoundly regret that this Amendment and the one which will be moved by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches are not in one form or other to be accepted by the House.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
As apparently no answer is going to be made to the suggestion from this side of the House, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say a word or two with reference to the discussion. I deeply sympathise myself, and I am sure all the House deeply sympathises, with the noble Marquess the Leader of the House because we know that he is incapable of desiring in any way to mislead your Lordships or to give any information which is not fully accurate. I do not find fault with the noble Marquess. I do not impute blame to him in any sort of way. He did not intentionally mislead the House. He was misled, and then carried that information to the House which he was afterwards obliged to withdraw.
But I confess that when we adjourned last night I was under the impression that there was going to be an attempt made to invent other words, but it appears that no such attempt has been made. That seems to me very strange. We are told that the miners' representatives had left London. I think the Government, after what they have done and after the assurances which they have given to the House that an attempt would be made to find words, should have made some attempt for themselves. The miners were not absolutely necessary to them. The Government surely might have endeavoured to alter the words in some such way as to make them less inconsistent than the words are as they now stand in the Bill. With regard to the answer which was made to me by the noble Marquess, I must confess I was very much surprised by it. His 757 whole attitude in the earlier part of his speech was that he quite agreed with me. He stated that he did not attach much importance to these words, and he said the Prime Minister did not, and in the circumstances the natural inference was that he would agree to withdraw the words from the Bill. But what did he do in the later part of his speech? He said that although ho attached no importance to the words, the miners attached importance to them on the one side and the coal owners attached importance to them on the other, and he, being perfectly impartial, in consequence retained the words which pleased the miners and which displeased the coal owners. That was the entire substance of his argument as I understood it.
I do not propose to detain your Lordships any longer. After the appeal made to me by the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, I shall, of course, withdraw the Amendment, but I confess I think it would have been much better if the Leader of the House had acceded to my request. There is a story told of Sydney Smith to the effect that a man went to him and produced the draft of a book and asked him what he thought of it, and Sydney Smith said, "It is quite excellent, and there is only one suggestion I should like to make, which is that you should cut out every second word. You have no conception how that improves the style." That is exactly true of this Bill. If these words which I propose to cut out were excised and a great deal of the remaining part of the Bill as well, I am sure it would be a much better Bill than it is now. I beg to withdraw the Amendment.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
It only remains for me in a very few words to thank the noble Earl for the course he has taken in not pressing his Amendment. I am grateful to him for recognising the very special circumstances in which I made the appeal. I have only to add, as regards the construction to be placed upon the words both in relation to the fears which I said were expressed by some coal owners that all the earnings of a particular class would be taken into consideration in fixing the day wage and also in reference to the particular point raised by the noble Earl below the gangway as to the operation of the words in affecting the minimum paid to hewers, that the opinion I expressed 758 as to the meaning of the words must be taken as being the quite deliberate opinion of His Majesty's Government, to which they adhere.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ EARL GREY moved an Amendment in the same subsection, providing that in settling any minimum rate of wages the joint district board should have regard, "amongst other matters," to the average daily rate of wages. The noble Earl said: My Lords, after the lengthened discussion on the Amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Camperdown, it will be quite unnecessary for me to take up much of the time of the House. I must confess I find it very difficult to swallow with patience the draught of humiliation which is being forced down our throats. We ask for justice, and we are told that because one of the two parties may be nervous as to the possible interpretation of instructions to the court of arbitration we are not to consider justice but what effect our action may have upon their feelings.
§ Let me, in two or three short sentences, give you the history of the words which I am going to invite you to insert, and which I hope the noble Marquess will accept on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and, if not, I trust that the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition will not ask me to withdraw the Amendment. When the Bill was introduced it was a Bill to deal with the difficulty of "abnormal places." There was no instruction to the court fettering their discretion in fixing other rules or rates. After discussion in the House of Commons the sign-post which we have heard so much of was erected, but that sign-post carried the words which I ask your Lordships to put back upon it, and those words were put in by His Majesty's Government, I believe by the President of the Board of Trade, after full consultation, we may assume, between both parties. On the Report stage the words on the sign-post put on to please one party were retained, but the words "amongst other matters," which are the subject of my Amendment, were dropped out. I ask you to put back the words which were originally inserted by His Majesty's Government before their love of fairness was obscured by a desire to meet 759 the prejudices of one of the parties to this dispute.
§ Remember that the Prime Minister himself said that the chairman of the arbitration court is to be an independent and impartial person, and it is not desirable that he should be fettered with instructions. I regret very much that the noble Marquess was not able to accept the Amendment of the noble Earl, so that the court should be absolutely free from any instructions; but as that has not been the wish of His Majesty's Government we are now reduced to this Amendment which I have the honour to move. I maintain that as the House has decided that we cannot leave the court of arbitration without instructions, it is only right and proper that the court should be instructed to have regard, not only to the average daily wage—which may be regarded as a positive instruction by some arbitrators to have regard to that and to that only—but to have regard to other matters as well, and it is because I believe that this is only a common act of justice agreed upon by the House of Commons during one stage of the progress of this Bill through that House that I cannot help pressing the Amendment with all the earnestness in my power.
I sincerely hope that the noble Marquess will accept the Amendment, which only restores to his sign-post the instructions which were at one time upon it. I would point out that in his speech last night about the sign-post the noble Marquess stated that the words upon it did not matter; it was not necessary to follow them. I do not like to say what passed through my mind upon that statement. When it fell from the lips of the noble Marquess I shared the profound pity to which the noble Earl and the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition have already given expression. I shared the profound pity which they felt for the noble Marquess, whom we all hold in great esteem and regard, when we realised what intense difficulties he was put to in endeavouring to play the rôle of loyalty to the Government of which he is so distinguished a member.
Page 2, line 35, after ("regard") insert ("amongst other matters").—(Earl Grey.)
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Precisely the same general considerations apply to this Amendment as applied to that of the noble Earl. If it was undesirable to send the Bill back to another place with an alteration which some considered material, as proposed by the noble Earl opposite, it is equally undesirable to send it back with the alteration which the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, I suppose, considers material or he would not take the trouble to suggest it. The noble Earl knows what my view is as to the importance of any of these words in this particular connection, and therefore I cannot pretend that I consider the presence or absence of these words to be of any serious import.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I will explain. The position is somewhat different with regard to this Amendment from what it was with regard to the last, because the words "average daily rate of wages" were not formally objected to at all in another place. The Bill passed through the other House with those words in it. But these words" amongst other matters," proposed to be inserted by the noble Earl, formed the subject of a discussion, and I think I am right in saying of a Division, in another place. It is evident, therefore, that the effect of sending back to the House of Commons words upon which they had divided and by deliberation rejected would be, if anything, more of a challenge and provocation than the omission suggested by the noble Earl opposite of words which they had simply accepted without a Division. I have never been one of those who have complained, although as a member of the minority here I have often thought them somewhat unreasonable, of demonstrations which it was known would not have ultimate legislative effect when made by this House. I have often sympathised with the desire of noble Lords opposite to assert their existence in the face of another place, and to register votes and offer opinions although they knew that in a particular circumstance the ultimate legislative result would not be effective. As I say, I have never complained of that. But I do ask your Lordships to consider if this is precisely the appropriate moment for a demonstration of that kind. The 761 noble Earl on the Cross Benches spoke, it seemed to me, somewhat airily of the possible effect of the insertion of an Amendment of this kind, and he seemed to consider that his demonstration was called for by the sense of the amour propre of the House. I can only say that I wish the House would take some less critical and some less—I am not afraid to use the word—dangerous occasion than this to assert its existence in such a manner. I can only, therefore, repeat the appeal which I made in connection with the former Amendment, that your Lordships will not send the Bill back to the other House with an alteration which it is known the other House will decline to accept.
The noble Earl asked me why it was that we do not consider these words important. He will hardly maintain that an arbitrator, particularly one who is not acting judicially, is in at all the same position by being told that he is to have regard to certain figures or facts as he would be in if he were told he was to follow those figures or imitate those facts. All that the joint board will have to do will be to direct their attention, and clearly, whether you say it or not, they will direct their attention to this matter "amongst other matters.'' I confess that I shall be very much surprised if anybody would say that in effect, having regard to the character of the arbitration, those words are anything else but otiose. Regard will have to be paid to the particular day rate which is current in the district where the district board sits. That is my reason for saying, with all due deference to the great experience of my noble friend opposite, that the words are not of substantial importance, and His Majesty's Government do not believe that they will have practical effect on the figure of the actual minima which the boards when they sit will settle. It is our firm belief that the practical results will not be affected either by the absence or the presence of these particular words.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My noble friend on the Cross Benches, I thought, showed with considerable force that the addition of these words to the clause would considerably improve it, and the noble Marquess opposite has not seriously met my noble friend's argument but has limited himself to the observation that the words if added to the Bill would have no substantial effect upon its operation. We are, 762 however, in this position, that it is really of no use, in discussing these matters, to consider the question of merits at all. An argument based upon merits makes no impression whatever upon the noble Marquess and his colleagues. The position is simply this, and the noble Marquess has faced it, I think, with great frankness and courage. His Majesty's Government do not dare to ask their supporters in another place to accept any Amendment of this kind whatever case may be made in its favour. We are warned off any suggestions of this kind upon the ground that they imply what the noble Marquess called a moment ago a challenge and provocation to the other House of Parliament. It seems to me quite evident, from what we have been told by the noble Marquess, that we stand no chance whatever of getting this Amendment. All that will happen if we put it into the Bill will be that the Bill will come back to us with an intimation that the Amendment cannot be accepted. Your Lordships will then have to consider whether you will face a prolonged controversy between the two Houses on a comparatively minor point of this kind. My own opinion, I must say: in the face of the announcements which have been made to us twice this evening by the noble Marquess, is that there really is no use in pressing this point on His Majesty's Government, but that we had better accept the position, painful and humiliating as it is to your Lordships.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I accept the statement of the noble Marquess who leads the House as to the opinion of the Government, and I am glad to see the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War assent to that proposition. I confess I think it would be of considerable advantage if that opinion were expressed with the same emphasis in another place for the benefit of those who may have to address their constituents on the matter, so that there may be no doubt that other members of the Government in the other House adhere to the opinion expressed here. I do not make any complaint about it but I should be very much surprised if those who are concerned in this matter pay great attention to the details of what is said in the course of discussion in this House. Committee discussions in this House are not always reported to the same voluminous extent as those in the other House of Parliament, which may or may not be an advantage. But I must say this, that if a 763 arge number of men are going to vote on this question it is very desirable that there should be no doubt in their minds that the Bill as it becomes an Act is not, by the confession of His Majesty's Government and the noble Marquess, what some at any rate of those who will have an influence upon the vote believe it to be. At any rate I sincerely hope that the noble Earl on the Cross Benches will not withdraw his Amendment, but that at most we shall i negative it without a Division.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ *THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ASAPH moved to insert the following new clause—
§ 4. If any question relating to the cessation of (work or the proposed cessation of work in or about a coal mine for the purpose of altering or modifying the terms or conditions of employment is referred by any persons or association of persons interested to the vote of workmen concerned, a ballot of all the workmen concerned shall be taken in accordance with regulations made by the Board of Trade, and the Board in making such regulations shall apply, with such adaptations and modifications as may be necessary for the, purpose of securing the secrecy of the voting, the provisions of the Ballot Act. 1872.
§ The right rev. Prelate said: Coming from Wales, where the present trouble is so great and intense, I feel no apology is needed for my boldness in moving the Amendment which stands in my name. Indeed, the importance and necessity of such a proposal has been brought home very vividly to my mind during the present trouble. I believe that if such a proposal as this Amendment involves had already been part of the law of this country it would have been warmly welcomed by the colliers in my own neighbourhood, and I am not at all sure that if it had been in existence the trouble which has now taken place would have arisen in North Wales. I have lived among the Welsh colliers, and have followed closely for the last forty years every colliery strike in Wales. The North Wales collieries are all in my own diocese. The Welsh collier sometimes suffers at the hands of those who undertake to describe him. His occupation is portrayed sometimes in terms of romance and his character sometimes in terms of reproach. No doubt the risks and hardships of his occupation are exceptional, but his work is not unhealthy, his wages are 764 higher than those of most other workmen in the country, and his hours of leisure are larger and more at his command. The last forty years have seen steady and solid progress for the collier, alike in the conditions of his work and in his general surroundings. Much of that progress the collier has achieved for himself through combination. The awakening which education brings happily made him chafe at the discomforts and limitations which he bore contentedly in the days of his ignorance. No doubt some of the colliers are narrow and class conscious—the same may be said of other sections of society—but taken as a whole I venture to say they are brave, generous, and intelligent men, and respond as quickly as any other class in this country to appeals based upon reason and justice.
§ The noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War said yesterday that in the ultimate resort we must rely upon the character and commonsense of our people. I believe that is our only and most substantial protection; and I am sure I shall command universal agreement when I say that in these complicated mining controversies, where the complexities are as numerous as the collieries themselves, it is of paramount importance that the free and unbiassed voice of the colliers themselves should be heard. If a demonstration in proof of that statement were needed, we have only to look around us to-day. The question of the settlement or continuance of this tremendous disturbance will largely be decided by the votes of the workmen which are to be taken in a few days. I suggest that there are three obvious conditions in the taking of such a vote to which no reasonable citizen can or ought to offer any objection. It ought to be a vote of all the workmen concerned in the mining industry. The absolute secrecy of the vote given must be assured, as well as the freedom of the voter himself. I think that every workman employed in and about the colliery, the fact of whose employment would be attested by the pay-sheet, should have the right to record his vote before such questions as those of cessation from work or resumption of work during a strike are decided. I have made inquiries, but have found it impossible to get accurate information on the point as to whether when a ballot is taken all the non—unionists vote as well as the unionists. But if you take the votes recorded last January 765 and compare the number with the number of people engaged in the collieries, you will find that only half that number really recorded their vote on the question whether or not there should be a strike.
§ I come to the second condition. Reference was made last night by Lord Willoughby de Broke to the insufficient guarantee for the secrecy of the ballot as hitherto taken. So far from being secret the reverse is the case in Wales. The ballot paper employed renders it too easily possible for it to be known how the collier has voted, even if the collier after voting does not display in his buttonhole or in his hat the remaining half of the counterfoil, which proclaims how he voted. I do not desire to attach blame to any one, but I think it is obvious that these voluntary and unofficial ballots are open to many slips. The third point is almost too obvious to need any detailed statement. If the ballot is not secret the voter is open to many influences which may change his vote, if not his judgment, upon the question at issue. I have seen those influences at work; they are extremely powerful, and occasionally violent and unjust. I hope I have established firmly and beyond all controversy the necessity for securing that the ballot should be secret and free.
§ The suggestion in the Amendment standing in my name has strong and recent precedents in its favour. Your Lordships will remember a ballot was taken after the railway strike for the selection of members on the Board of Conciliation, and that those ballot papers were returned to the Board of Trade to be by them, I understand, scrutinised and enumerated. But I will remind your Lordships of an even stronger precedent supplied by the Coal Mines Act of last year. That Act, in Section 118, provided that the Secretary of State might make rules for the procedure to be prescribed for ascertaining and certifying the views of the workmen in any mine on any subject upon which the views of any workmen were required. My proposal is only an extension of the principle already recognised in that Act. The adoption of the Amendment would give to the workmen the security of secrecy in recording their vote, to which they are entitled, and would afford to the whole community the assurance that in these great industrial controversies there was an opportunity of obtaining the free and unbiassed opinion of those 766 whose interests are most vitally concerned in these industrial problems. I cannot think that any reasonable person can take exception to the proposal which I have now the honour to submit to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Insert the following new clause:
§ 4. If any question relating to the cessation of work or the proposed cessation of work in or about a coal mine for the purpose of altering or modifying the terms or conditions of employment is referred by any persons or association of persons interested to the vote of workmen concerned a ballot of all the workmen concerned shall be taken in accordance with regulations made by the Board of Trade and the Board in making such regulations shall apply, with such adaptations and modifications as may be necessary for the purpose of securing the secrecy of the voting, the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872.—(The Lord Bishop of St. Asaph.)
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am sure the House has listened with interest to the speech of the right rev. Prelate, who speaks from his experience of one particular part of the country. But I must remind the House that in relation to this particular Bill the right rev. Prelate's suggestion does not seem to be of a very practical kind, and for this reason. This ballot is beginning at once. It is quite clear that it would not be possible for the Board of Trade to make and issue, still less enforce, regulations with regard to this ballot, some of the papers for which, so far as I know, may be already in the hands of those who are going to vote, and obviously the Board of Trade could not circulate its regulations by tomorrow morning. I am not quite clear whether the right rev. Prelate's intention is that this provision of his should apply to all ballots connected with the coal trade, because if it is intended to do so it is surely outside the scope of the particular Bill which we are considering, and if it is only to apply to ballots relating to the minimum wage, it may, of course, be long, if ever, before such another ballot is taken again.
But the fact is, the right rev. Prelate's suggestion opens up a very large question of general policy because it involves direct interference with the methods taken by a labour or trade association for its own purposes. Of course, if the State is going to issue regulations in respect of a ballot to be held by a trade, so that the ballot if held in the wrong way will be illegal—and 767 assuming the result of the ballot to be a strike, the strike presumably also would be illegal—we then find ourselves in very close connection with the suggestion made by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Willoughby de Broke, that we are to have recourse to the proposals adopted in some of the Dominions by which strikes under certain circumstances may be declared illegal and penalties enforced in respect of them. Apart from that general question, if a strike is to be declared illegal on what is merely a technical ground in relation to the ballot, it would have to be most carefully considered who are the authorities connected with the union who are to be made personally responsible for the cost of the ballot and other similar liabilities. This seems, therefore, to raise the whole question of the ballots of trade unions, because this does not only apply in reference to miners, but to all other trades. The whole question as to whether the State ought to interfere by regulation with the methods under which trade unions take their ballots is one demanding close and separate consideration, and it is not possible, quite apart from the other considerations I mentioned in relation to the former Amendments, to incorporate in a measure like this a large and drastic change of that character.
I do not wish to enter into the particular question as to whether miners' ballots are or are not more or less secret. As we know, even at a general election frequent complaints are made that the ballot is in some cases not secret, and, even more, that a large number of people believe it not to be secret, and their votes are thereby affected. As to what extent the secrecy of ballots in the case of the coal trade has been at different times violated, it is not, I think, useful to discuss at this moment. But in relation to the particular instance mentioned, I think among others by the right rev. Prelate, it is a somewhat remarkable circumstance that when the ballot was taken the other day on the very wide issue, "Are you in favour of the principle of the minimum wage, with the possibility of a strike following?" no fewer than 115,000 votes were cast "No," whereas in view of the general character of the question, had there been any extensive tampering with the votes of the kind which the right rev. Prelate indicated as occurring in some cases it is hardly to be supposed that the minority would have been, as it 768 proved to be, surprisingly large. But the right rev. Prelate will, I am sure, understand that we cannot accept his Amendment simply because we consider the subject is far too large a one for us to attempt to include in this comparatively small and special Bill.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, I desire to say a word in support of the Amendment moved by the right rev. Prelate. Under the new Constitution the deliberations of this House are comparatively futile, but to-night we have reached the absolute limit of humiliation. If it is any satisfaction to the Radical Party to know it, their triumph over the Second Chamber of this country is complete. We know perfectly well what the fate of this Amendment, raising a most import ant question in connection with possible industrial legislation, is going to be. But there will be some slight consolation if the reporters think it worth while to record in the newspapers to-morrow the public service which the right rev. Prelate has performed in this crisis by calling attention to this exceedingly important matter of the ballot. I am not going at length into what I am credibly informed on the highest authority takes place in this matter. Noble Lords must have appreciated the restraint with which the right rev. Prelate expressed his views on this matter. But it may be interesting to state that I have in my hand a facsimile of a voting paper used for the purpose of determining a ballot, and I am informed—I shall be very glad indeed to be contradicted by any noble Lord who has taken pains to inform himself differently—that every single word which the right rev. Prelate has said with regard to these ballots is absolutely borne out by what actually takes place. The upper portion of the ballot paper which I hold in my hand is "For" any particular proposal, and the lower part "Against." The paper is perforated in the middle, and the miner who takes part in the ballot is supposed to destroy the half which he does not use. That, however, is not done. The custom is that the unused portion of the ballot paper is placed either in the miner's hat or in some prominent place, so that the miners' agent may know which way the man has voted. If any noble Lord is going to contradict this, and if I am satisfied that his information is better than my own, I shall most certainly with draw the charge that I am making—
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? I certainly should not be prepared to deny that the particular operation described by the noble Lord has taken place, but I should be surprised if I heard him assert that it was a universal practice in the taking of a miners' ballot.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My information is that this has taken place in more than one mine. This practice vitally affects the vote. But that is not the only thing with regard to the taking of these ballots. The papers are sent down from the headquarters of the Miners' Federation to the miners' agents at the mines. The miners' agent is placed in a position which I should be very sorry to be placed in myself, and in which I should be very sorry to see any of my friends placed in either. I should desire some safeguard. My information is that there is no check whatever upon the miners' agent. He is supplied with, or can manufacture for himself, an unlimited number pf these voting papers, and the number need not necessarily correspond with the number of miners voting at the ballot. There is no check whatever upon his proceedings, and I submit that that is placing the agent in a position in which no man ought to be placed. I feel quite sure that it is not a position which any man would really wish to be placed in. I bring no charge in this matter against the miners' agents or anybody taking part in conducting these ballots; though if the ballots are conducted from the same source that has treated the noble Marquess the Leader of the House in the abominable way in which he has been treated this afternoon, then I should not be at all surprised if we had proceedings of the same kind with regard to the taking of ballots.
Some interesting figures appeared in the newspapers this morning with regard to the strike ballot which was taken in January. It appears from a Parliamentary Paper that the number of underground workers is 863,000. The membership of the Miners' Federation is between 600,000 and 700,000. But of the 863,000 underground workers in the country only 561,000 recorded their votes in January last. The noble Marquess on the Front Bench produced an argument which in a certain sense—I say this without any 770 desire to be impertinent—is rather ingenious. He said that supposing the practice to which I called attention had obtained in certain cases, the fact that there was the very liberal allowance of 115,000 "No's" showed that the ballot was on the whole above suspicion. I cannot help thinking that if the noble Marquess had given us his own view or perhaps the view of the Government on the general ethics of a secret ballot, he would have satisfied a great many people. I know we shall be told that it is impossible to dissociate a ballot taken with regard to a strike from any other quasi private ballot like that which is taken for the membership of a club. But these ballots will have to be taken in the future among the employés of the country on matters exceedingly vital to the State, quite as vital as a General Election, and it is not extravagant to ask His Majesty's Government to let us have their views as to whether it is not at least as important to secure and safeguard the secrecy of the ballot with regard to great industrial questions as it is to safeguard the secrecy of the ballot as far as we are able to with regard to Parliamentary elections—not only in the interests of those who take part in the ballots, but in the interests of the miners' agents themselves, who are bound, owing to the freedom which is now placed in their hands, to lay themselves open to some kind of suspicion in this matter.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I think the House is indebted to the right rev. Prelate for having called attention to this most important subject. It is one with which I feel convinced Parliament will sooner or later have to deal. The abuses which arise in connection with these miners' ballots are notorious. I have seen properly authenticated statements which leave no room for doubt that in many cases the ballot takes place with insufficient precautions for secrecy, and that the men who vote are not sufficiently protected from pressure and intimidation. There is another point upon which I think the right rev. Prelate did not touch, but which I venture to think requires some attention. I believe it is the case that at these ballots not only the men but also boys of sixteen years of age vote. It does seem to me extremely doubtful, considering the enormous gravity of the issues which depend on the votes taken 771 on these occasions, whether it is right that 200 or 300 young lads should be placed in a position to determine the issue of the vote. It must be pretty obvious that to lads of that age a strike means, in the first instance, a few days' holiday with all its attractions, and for that reason alone it seems to me doubtful whether they should be allowed an equal voice with their seniors.
I am, however, bound to say, after listening to the speech of the noble Marquess opposite, that it would not be easy for His Majesty's Government to deal with this question within the compass of the present Bill. I know that some of the noble Marquess's colleagues think that there is nothing in this matter at all. The Prime Minister said the other day, in reply to a Question, that these ballots were the concern of his fellow-countrymen and that his fellow-countrymen might very well be left to manage their own affairs. It seems to me that in transactions of this kind it is very desirable that those who take part in this voting should receive the kind of guidance which the right rev. Prelate desires they should receive from rules and regulations issued with the authority of a Public Department. However, the noble Marquess, I think with truth, says that the question is somewhat outside the scope of this Bill, and he added, I think with irresistible force, that whatever view be held upon that point it is quite impossible that anything can be done that would affect the ballot which is probably in progress at this moment in certain mines. I therefore counsel the right rev. Prelate to be content with this discussion and not to press his Amendment, but I confess I should have been glad if he had been able to extract from His Majesty's Government some kind of assurance that they would look into this question with a view possibly of dealing with it at some future time. I also venture to express my concurrence with what the right rev. Prelate told us when he said that in many cases the miners themselves would be the first to welcome the kind of protection which would be given to them if a procedure of this kind were adopted.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ASAPH
I desire to thank the House for the kindness with which they listened to what I had to say in moving this Amendment. I should not have presumed to bring it forward had I not been conscious of its importance by close observation of what 772 takes place in collieries in my own neighbourhood. Lord Willoughby de Broke spoke of abuses existing in two mines— he used the expression "in more than one mine." To my knowledge this complaint refers to a very large area indeed, and I think I could produce evidence on which there would be no doubt at all. I earnestly hope that this most important question affecting the interests of the colliers will not be overlooked. I beg to withdraw the Amendment.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am greatly obliged by the right rev. Prelate's promptness in withdrawing his Amendment. I can assure him and the noble Marquess opposite that His Majesty's Government will not lose sight of the whole question of these trade union ballots, though I am sure the House will not expect me to hold out any precise hope of being able to suggest a method of regulating or otherwise dealing with them. But the attention of the Department concerned will no doubt be directed to the subject in view of what the noble Marquess and the right rev. Prelate have said.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4:
§ Provision for bringing Act into operation, &c.
§ 4.—(1) If within two weeks after the passing of this Act a joint district board has not been recognised by the Board of Trade for any district, or if at any time after the passing of this Act any occasion arises for the exercise or performance in any district of any power or duty under this Act by the joint district board, and there is no joint district board for the district, the Board of Trade may either forthwith or after such interval as may seem to them necessary or expedient, appoint such person as they think fit to act in the place of the joint district board, and, while that appointment continues, this Act shall be construed, so far as respects that district, as if the person so appointed were substituted for the joint district board. The Board of Trade in any such ease where it appears to them that the necessity for the exercise of their powers under this provision arises from the failure of the employers to appoint members to represent employers on a board when the workmen are willing to appoint members to represent workmen, or from the failure of the workmen to appoint members to represent workmen on a board when the employers are willing to appoint members to represent employers, may, if they think fit, instead of appointing a person to act in place of the joint district board, appoint such persons as they think fit to represent the employers or the workmen, as the case may be, who have failed to appoint members to represent them; and in that case the members so appointed by the Board of Trade shall be deemed to be members of the board representing employers or workmen as the case requires.773
§ (2) If the joint district board within three weeks after the time at which it has been recognised under this Act for any district fail to settle the first minimum rates of wages and district rules in that district, or if the joint district board, within three weeks after the expiration of a notice for an application under this Act to vary any minimum rate of wages or district rules fail to deal with the application, the chairman of the joint district board shall settle the rates or rules or deal with the application, as the case may be, in place of the joint district board, and any minimum rate of wages or district rules settled by him shall have the same effect for the purposes of this Act as if they had been settled by the joint district board:
§ Provided that, if the members of the joint district board representing the workmen and the members representing the employers agree, or if the chairman of the district hoard directs, that a specified period longer than three weeks shall for the purposes of this subsection be substituted for three weeks, this subsection shall have effect as if that specified period were therein substituted for three weeks.
§ THE MARQUESS OF CREWE moved, in the proviso to subsection (2), after the words "or if the chairman of the," to insert the word "joint." The noble Marquess said: This is purely a drafting Amendment.
Page 5, line 42, after the second ("the") insert "joint").—(The Marquess of Crewe.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 5:
§ Interpretation, and provision as to chairman.
§ 5. (1) In this Act—
§ The expression "coal mine" includes a mine of stratified ironstone;
§ The expression "workman" means any person employed in a mine below ground who is not a person employed solely in surveying or measuring, or is not a manager or under-manager of the mine or an official of the mine who is recognised by the joint district board as being in the position of a workman or a person employed as a mechanic.
§ (2) If it is thought fit by any persons when appointing a chairman for the purposes of this Act, or by the Board of Trade when so appointing a chairman, the office of chairman may be committed to three persons, and in that case those three persons acting by a majority shall be deemed to be the chairman for the purposes of this Act.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF CREWE moved to omit from the clause the paragraph defining the expression "workman," and to substitute the words in his Amendment. The noble Marquess said: Your Lordships will observe that this is the definition clause. We propose an alternative form, 774 which I think is better English and more satisfactory than that which appears in the Bill. It does not either detract from or add anything to the sense of the words as they stand in the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 8, leave out lines 8 to 14, and insert ("The expression 'workman' means any person employed in a coal mire below ground other than—
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining Clause and Schedule agreed to.
§ Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) Amendments reported.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.— (The Marquess of Crewe.)
THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, I cannot let this Bill pass from your Lordships' House without entering a protest against some words which the Lord Chancellor used in the course of the debate last night with regard to the breaking of contracts. Some of us on this side of the House have criticised His Majesty's Government and have criticised the Prime Minister because they completely passed over without comment a matter which we think gives a very serious aspect to this controversy, in that contracts deliberately entered into for a specific purpose and for a definite time have been torn up by one of the parties concerned, and treated as if they did not exist at all. It has, however, been left for the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack, not only to pass this over in silence but actually to use words condoning and excusing and, I venture to think, almost defending this new morality which I regret seems to find favour with some persons in dealing with 775 our public affairs. The Lord Chancellor will forgive me if I quote from his remarks yesterday. I can only quote from The Times report, and if it is incorrect the noble and learned Earl will, of course, correct me. But the noble and learned Earl is reported in The Times—and as far as my recollection goes it is fairly correct—to have said last night—We are told we have broken contracts. We may assume that this Bill may involve the breaking of contracts. It seems to be forgotten that contracts were broken in Ireland in 1887 when the fair rent court was set up for one class of tenantry, and that by the extension of that Act in 1887—there must be some mistake in the report in regard to the years—by a Conservative Administration to leases, all leases were broken. Is it fair then to turn round now and say 'because you are breaking contracts that is a conclusive argument against the Bill'?I venture to say that the Lord Chancellor is inaccurate first of all in what he says is our charge. We do not say that it is a conclusive argument against this Bill that it may involve the breaking of contracts. That is not the point at all. What our charge has been, and is, is that after contracts have been entered into deliberately, after long discussion and grave differences of opinion upon certain specific points and after having been solemnly ratified by both parties concerned, negotiations have been entered into by His Majesty's Government with the intention of relieving to a certain extent one of the parties concerned in those contracts who imagine they have a grievance, and that they entered into those negotiations without any protest whatever or rebuking those who, when more than half the time of these contracts has to run, deliberately tore them up and threw them on one side. I cannot imagine why the Lord Chancellor thinks that the instance of the Irish Land Acts is analogous to this in the slightest degree. We know perfectly well that Bills have to be brought in and passed which interfere with contracts when it is in the interests of the State and of the country that certain legislation should take place even though it may involve this. In the case of Irish land the Acts referred to interfered with contracts that were of long continuance or were constantly renewed, based upon the custom of the country, and in those cases we had arrived at a point when, in the view of the Government of the day, for the sake of justice it was 776 necessary to pass legislation which involved the breaking of these contracts.
But this is an entirely different thing. It is not the Bill which is breaking contracts or allowing persons to break contracts. The contracts were broken before the Bill was produced, and we now arrive at this position—that, as I say, a code of morality is condoned and excused which could not possibly be excused if the action related to affairs which had taken place between individuals in their private life. It is idle to say that confidence can exist between Capital and Labour, between masters and those who are employed, if on one side or the other contracts deliberately entered into—and in this case in a trade which depends on making contracts which have to run for a considerable time ahead—and solemnly ratified can be torn up and treated as if they had been non-existent; and I venture to say it is a very serious matter for the country if the Government, whatever Government it may be, takes action such as has been taken at present, with an excuse upon their lips for breaches of agreements such as have taken place in this case.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (EARL LOREBURN)
I shall be very much obliged if the noble Earl will allow me to see the report from which he has quoted, because he has not given me the smallest notice that he was going to call attention to this matter. I am extremely glad that he has done so and I do not in the least complain, although I should have much preferred to have had notice, if only a few minutes' notice.
THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
I regret of course, that I did not give any notice-to the noble and learned Earl.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There is no occasion, however, for any deliberation. As far as I can recollect, the quotation which the noble Earl has made is an abbreviated report of what I said and puts shortly the substance of longer remarks, not very long, which I did make in the House and to which I entirely adhere. I have not had an opportunity of seeing any copy of what I said, and, of course, when speaking in debate late in the evening and trying to condense it may be that I did not express myself clearly. But I will tell the House what 777 I then said, and explain exactly what I mean. There were two subjects which I thought at the time that I spoke had been somewhat mixed up in the discussion. One was the complaint that the Bill interfered with freedom of contract by imposing a minimum wage. The other was a statement that the Bill condoned in some way breaches of contract that had already been made—that is to say, gave sanction to the tearing up of contracts made by parties who were entitled to make them. As to interference with freedom of contract and with the liberty of people to make contracts, I said, and I repeat, that the industrial law of this country was full of such prohibitions. I could give instance after instance in which the Statute says that in the public interest parties shall not be allowed to make contracts of a particular kind because they are against the public interest and ought not to be allowed by the law as far as they conflict with the public interest. I do not know that any member of the House will be disposed to differ from that or to say that the liberty of the individual to make any contract he thinks proper, however deleterious it may be to the community at large, ought to be maintained without qualification.
The second proposition was whether this Bill condoned or led to a violation of existing contracts, which is a perfectly different thing. It is that latter part to which I understand the noble Earl intended to refer in the observations he has made. Upon that I believe I stated to the House that it is disputed as to whether or not there has been any breach of contract. I do not pretend to say whether it was the case or not. I said it is disputed. Thereupon I made, according to The Times, this statement—We are told we have broken contracts. We may assume that this Bill may involve the breaking of contracts—That was not my language. I stated that it was a disputed point, but that I would assume that it was so for the sake of discussion. According to The Times report I then proceeded—It seems to be forgotten that contracts were broken in Ireland in 1887—the year I stated was 1881—when the fair rent court was set up for one class of tenantry, and that by the extension of that Act in 1887 by a Conservative Administration to leases, all leases were broken.778 I did use language to that effect, and the noble Earl has not; denied that it is true. Every one knows that the fair rent court was imposed in lieu of existing contracts, and the noble Earl will not dispute that the fair rent proposals were applied to leases in the year 1887. That meant, not that all leases in Ireland were broken, but the leases of long duration, and there were great numbers of them, which had been made between the parties were broken. Do not let us enter into a discussion of the merits of the Irish land legislation. I was not speaking of the merits of the Irish land legislation, but gave that as an instance of what had been done. And then I added—Is it fair, then, to turn round now and say 'because you are breaking contracts that is a conclusive argument against the Bill'?Those are the impugned words. I repeat that it may be necessary at times, though I admit it is a step which should be taken rarely and only in great difficulties; but it is not fair to say that because you are breaking contract? it is a conclusive argument against the Bill. Though it is most undesirable to impair in any way individual freedom, it is sometimes done, though reluctantly. It is still more difficult and objectionable to make a law which has the effect of breaking contracts that have been made, but even that may under the stress of necessity be necessary. There is no analogy at all between Irish land and Welsh or English coal, but the principle is identical. In both cases the severance of a bond existing by contract between different people is most undesirable, but in either case it may be imposed by necessity, and, as I have said, it has been done by Liberal and Conservative Governments in cases of special necessity. That is all I have to say. I should like to have been able to say it clearer and better, and certainly shorter, as I should have been had the noble Earl thought proper to give me notice that he was going to call attention to the matter.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
I should like before the Bill finally passes to trouble your Lordships with a few remarks. After listening to this debate what most concerns me is that I greatly fear that when the Bill is passed and the miners return, as I sincerely hope they will do, to work, the Government will relapse into that state of inveterate optimism to which all Governments are prone, and that we shall not 779 hear any more of further measures. I hope that will not be the ease. In the course of this debate allusion has been made to several measures which require consideration. There is the picketing question, the operation of the Trades Disputes Act, and the important question to which the right rev. Prelate alluded a short time ago, and which I was glad to hear the noble Marquess say the Government would consider. All these are matters which the country thinks the Government should take up in a broad and statesmanlike spirit, with a view, if possible, of devising some remedy for the present state of things and preventing a recurrence of the events of the last few weeks. No one wishes to act in a hurry. We have suffered from hurried legislation. The trouble we have been in during the last few weeks is largely due to that unfortunate Eight Hours Act which was passed, though many of your Lordships opposed it, in much too hurried a way. I should have been glad if in the course of this debate the noble Marquess the Leader of the House or some other representative of His Majesty's Government had stated that they fully realised the importance of doing something more than this Bill, and would take the matter up either by themselves or by Royal Commission. That is what the country wishes, and if His Majesty's Government will take the whole matter into consideration in that spirit they will receive the assistance of sensible men both inside and outside this House, no matter to what Party they belong.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I should like to say one word with regard to the remarks of the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack a few moments ago, and to express the profound regret which I feel that he did not make it by any means clear that the remarks he made last night applied only to the first of the two cases.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
In that case I venture to say it is most unfortunate that those remarks, which were open to misinterpretation, were not prefaced by any expression of disapproval of those who, having made a bargain ratified by the Government, deliberately tore it up, and tore it up before they came to Parliament for relief, a relief which is to be afforded under language which is felt to be extremely faulty by one party to the bargain—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I must answer this concerted criticism. What is the language I used of which the noble Viscount complains? I have read all the words. I also state, as I said last night, that it is disputed whether there has been a breach of contract. I do not pronounce one way or the other. I do not know. The noble Viscount has hurriedly conversed with his friends. What are the words of which he complains?
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
The noble and learned Earl still remains in the position of not expressing his disapproval of that which has occurred, and proceeds to compare it with a state of things wholly dissimilar. The Irish Land Act of 1887, as the noble and learned Earl well knows, was not passed because the leaseholders had repudiated their engagements and come to Parliament to ratify that repudiation, but it was passed because, in the opinion of Parliament, an interference made with contracts years before had placed those leaseholders in a position which entitled them to be relieved. That came under the first of the noble and learned Earl's propositions, which was that there were cases in which Parliament did interfere with contracts in the public interest. But what is most unfortunate is that the idea should go out that in this House the noble and learned Earl who is at the head of the law quoted as a reason for absolving these men the fact that Parliament had interfered with contracts under other conditions—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (handing to Viscount Midleton the cutting from The Times report): Will the noble Viscount tell me the words of which he complains?
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I will read the words—We are told we have broken contracts. We may assume that this Bill may involve the breaking of contracts. It seems to be forgotten that contracts were broken in Ireland in 1881 when the fair rent court was set up for one class of tenantry, and that by the extension of that Act in 1887 by a Conservative Administration to leases, all leases were broken. Is it fair, then, to turn round now and to say 'because you are breaking contracts that is a conclusive argument against the Bill'?There is no limitation in those words. Those words apply, and have been taken to apply, and have been felt outside to apply, not merely to the fact that Parliament does at times interfere with contracts, but that they did interfere with a contract specially made under Government arrange- 781 ment a year or two ago, which contract has been broken and repudiated, and the repudiation of which is brought before this House for ratification. I venture to say, in regard to the history of land legislation in Ireland, that although there were many cases in which Parliament interfered because trouble had arisen, the question of the leases in 1887 was not one of them. It was, if you like, an act of grace by Parliament. It was not a reward by a Conservative Government to those who had broken the law. I am sorry that the noble and learned Earl resents what has been said from this Bench, but I think we are indebted to my noble friend Lord Plymouth for having made this matter rather more clear and having pointed out the laxity of the language of the noble and learned Earl which has led to misunderstanding.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am not responsible for your understanding; I am responsible for what I said.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed and returned to the Commons.