HL Deb 17 August 1921 vol 43 cc881-4

Clause 4, page 3, lines 14 and 15, leave out (" or conditions of employment ") and insert (" of labour ")

The Commons disagree with this Amendment for the following Reason:

Because the amendment limits the purposes suggested in the preamble, for which the Conciliation Committees are to be established, and because no sufficient ground has been Shown for such limitations.


I move that your Lordships do not insist upon this Amendment.

Moved. That this House doth not insist upon the said Amendment.—(The Earl of Ancaster.)


My Lords, as I was responsible for the Amendment which resulted in the omission of these words, I should like to say that the main objection, which I am afraid is not fully realised in another place, is the extreme vagueness of this expression. We do not know what is meant by"conditions of employment." It may include such subjects as the condition of cottages, half-holidays, and all sorts of matters which may affect persons in other employment than that of farmers, who are, of course, represented on the conciliation committees. For my part I do not think it is a matter of great import- ance, and, unless other members of your Lordships' House have any strong views on the subject, I think we ought to waive our objection.


My Lords, I think there should be some explanation as to what really"conditions of employment"cover. There is something beyond what the wages boards have done in the past. They have covered actually wages, valuation, allowances, hours and holidays, but there is something snore than that; otherwise, these words are meaningless. I find it difficult to see what other matters there are to come within the purview of these conciliation committees.


My Lords, I do not attach great importance to this Amendment one way or the other. The view was taken in another place that these words form part of what one might call the preamble of the clause. I think one noble Lord, in the course of our debates in Committee, stated that the only thing the labourer really could sue for was wages; but in another place it was thought that it should be set out in the preamble of the clause that these conciliation committees should take into consideration all the circumstances of the case, including such matters as cottages and allowances. I believe these things have been taken into consideration by wages boards in the past, and there is no doubt in my own mind that the conciliation committees will take them into account in the future. I really do not attach much importance to whether these words are put in or not. I honestly do not believe that it makes very much difference, and I hope your Lordships will agree with my Motion.


My Lords, I am sorry my noble friend has decided to give way upon this Amendment, because I think that it brings in questions which ought not to be brought before the conciliation committees at all. I am particularly afraid of the question of cottages, because the interference with them has'been withdrawn by the noble Earl's predecessor on that bench, and I think it quite possible that conciliation committees might be dragged into that very difficult question through these words. But as the Government propose to agree with the action of another place, I think it will be perfectly legitimate for your Lordships to insist upon the Amendment, and if the noble Lord should still be disposed to do so, I shall support him.


My Lords, I should have taken very strong exception to the inclusion of the matter of cottage rates in the matters considered by the committees. With regard to the action of the wages board, whether it was an arbitral act of theirs, or not, I am very doubtful whether they ever had legal power to deal with this matter. But whether it was by an obiter dictum or not, the result was most inequitable. Conceive for a moment Tom Smith, who cannot get a cottage on a farm because they are all occupied. He gets 46s. a week; he has to walk or bicycle some miles in order to have a home for himself and his family, for which he has to pay 6s. or 10s. a week. His fellow workman, doing precisely the same work and receiving precisely the same wage, because he has the advantage of a cottage on the farm, cannot get it, because the wages board lay down this obiter dictum that he had got to have it for 3s., an absolutely uneconomic rent, and one which it was a gross imposition to impose on the farmer or the landlord, whichever you choose to regard as the owner of the cottage. It hardly paid for rates and repairs. The cottage. was obviously worth more, as everything had gone up in value, whereas the landlord was compelled by a most tyrannical Act to take the same rent as before the war. This was one of the few things which did not go up in value, simply because the wages board said that it was not to go up in value.

This was most unfair and I should take the strongest exception now, when I have the opportunity, to this grossly partial system being continued, were it not for the fact that under the Act it is for the conciliation committee to decide for themselves whether they will take the matter in consideration or not, and if either party chooses to say that they are not going to consider that particular point, the result is that no agreement is come to. As I read the Bill, the Minister has no power to make an Order, either as regards wages, hours, cottages or anything else. The whole thing has been left to the conciliation committees. Personally, I sincerely hope that agreements will be reached through these conciliation committees. I think it was a very great advantage during the war that the arrangement of wages was taken out of the hands of the principal parties and was decided by a superior authority.

The result has been a most admirable example from agriculture to the whole of the rest of labour in this country. There has been no interruption. It has been a good example, and I think we are very much to be congratulated in having had the advantage of a wise statesman who imposed this system upon the country. But now that it is left to the respective parties to come to terms by themselves, I sincerely hope that these conciliation committees will be as useful a medium of agreement as under the old arrangement.