HL Deb 18 April 1929 vol 74 cc73-104

LORD PARMOOR rose to call attention to statements made on the question of the ratification of the Washington Eight Hours Convention at the late meeting of the International Labour Bureau; and to move that in the opinion of this House there should be no further delay in rati-

cient to define what is intended. The word "village" also has no definite legal meaning in local government law. Then again, the words "social improvement" and so on are capable of very wide interpretation; and the words "a particular group of such inhabitants" are rather ambiguous. What do they mean—a dancing club, a Boy Scout troop or a troop of Girl Guides? All these things show that the Bill would have to be drawn rather more carefully if we wanted to make it workable. But, even if these difficulties of administration and drafting were overcome, which I dare say is possible by amendment in Committee, I should be unable to recommend the Bill to your Lordships for the reason that I have given—namely, that it would be introducing a very new principle into rating law for a very limited class of property. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will not give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 7; Not-Contents, 31.

Cawley, L. Remnant, L. Shandon, L.
Rathcreedan, L. Sandhurst, L. Stanmore, L. [Teller.]
Strachie, L. [Teller.]
Hailsham, L. (L. Chancellor.) Morton, E. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)
Onslow, E.
Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.) Plymouth, E. Darling, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Daryngton, L.
Marlborough, D. Westmorland, E. Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]
Ancaster, E. Bertie of Thame, V. Hampton, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)
Hood, V. Lovat, L.
Iddesleigh, E. Novar, V. Templemore, L.
Leven and Melville, E. Younger of Leckie, V. Wharton, L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Wraxall, L.
Lytton, E. Belhaven and Stenton, L.

fication. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the form of the Resolution which appears upon the Order Paper shows the limitations within which I intend to speak to-night. It is to call attention to statements made on the question of the ratification of the Washington Eight Hours Convention at the late meeting of the International Labour Bureau. I propose then to move that in the opinion of the House there should be no further delay in ratification. I have had the advantage of certain communications with the noble Marquess opposite [Lord Londonderry] who is going to reply to me, explaining to him the matter that I desire to discuss and the limitations within which I intend to make my speech.

I see the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in his place. In a powerful speech which he delivered last November he gave your Lordships a complete history of the dealings of the Government with the Eight Hours Convention. On that occasion he asked that the Government should disclose either, I think, by a Bill, which has not been done, or by giving full information at Geneva, what their objections were. His intervention was well justified in itself and it resulted in what he desired. A full statement has now been made at Geneva by the Minister of Labour and I do not propose to go into the history which was thoroughly investigated on that occasion. In fact, I regard the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, as an extremely valuable one and it resulted in the success which he desired—namely, in ascertaining what the attitude of the Government really was.

The result of the statement made by the Minister of Labour at Geneva, to which I desire to call attention, was more than disappointing. I think it must be called a fiasco and a failure, because the result of it was that all the labour representatives there were opposed to him. The representatives of, I think, France, Italy and Belgium gave him no support, and the question was left in this position—first of all, that the revision which he proposed did not receive the necessary support to go forward; and, secondly, that future action (so far as I can see) cannot be expedited till the October meeting. We shall see whether I am wrong about that, but I believe that is how the matter stands. I hope that the noble Marquess opposite will not think I am taking any personal or even Party attitude on matters of this kind. These international questions have to be and ought to be looked at from a wide standpoint. Judged from that wide standpoint, I think the policy and the attitude adopted by the Minister of Labour at Geneva at the last meeting of the International Labour Office must be held to be a distinct failure.

One or two words in order to emphasise the point about Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles and the similar Part in the other Treaties executed after the War. Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles has to do with labour. It is headed "Labour." I do not disguise from myself the fact that, properly interpreted, it means that labour questions are to be facilitated and that labour conditions should be improved on an international basis. I think that is clear. The preamble itself has these words: …such a peace "— that is, an international peace— can be established only if it is based upon social justice. It is obvious, of course, that "social justice," although the means of obtaining it may differ between the noble Marquess and myself, means justice to the labouring people and labour generally. I do not mean to say that it excludes any one else, but that is the chief object of this portion of the Treaty of Versailles. And it goes on to make this statement. I will not read the whole of it; if the noble Marquess wishes to supplement it at all he can do it. It goes on to speak of "injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of the people"; that is, to the labouring and working class. We cannot, of course, put out of sight a statement of that kind and the importance of it. It is not made as between the employers and employees in a particular country, but in the most solemn manner by the great statesmen of the day and incorporated in Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles. It is not a matter for discussion. It is a matter of statement which must be accepted to be accurately made and to be justified by the conditions as they exist.

Then, it goes on to say this, which is the important point— …and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required "— no one can doubt that, if the former statement is true— as, for example, by the regulation of the hours of work, including the establishment of a maximum Working day and week… Your Lordships will see, therefore, that in the forefront of what is necessary in order to obtain social justice there is an international dealing with hours of work, including the establishment of a working day and week. That is the object of the Washington Eight Hours Convention. It was started, as we know, very early after the signing of the Peace in 1919. It was very thoroughly discussed at Washington. It has been stated more than once that the discussion there took, I will not say more than a month but about a month, and the Convention was adopted almost unanimously; that is to say it was adopted by 82 votes to 2. Since that time no real progress has been made. I do not intend to deal with that history because it has already been dealt with.

The next point I wish to say a word about is what passed in 1926 when the Labour Ministers of Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and Italy met together in this country. I entirely agree, of course, with what the Minister of Labour said at Geneva, and what he said in the document that has been supplied to me from official sources, that the conclusions on that occasion were not binding either as an interpretation of the International Treaty itself—that is to say, the international agreement contained in the Eight Hours Convention—or in any other way; but, at the same time, they were of great importance and of great authority. I only need say this, in order not to detain your Lordships longer, that most of the questions—I think all the more important questions—which were raised at Geneva at the late meeting as objections to the ratification of the Eight Hours Convention were dealt with in London in the spring of 1926. There may be some new matters outstanding, but, in substance, I can find nothing new or novel in the statements made on questions of the construction or interpretation of the Eight Hours Convention at Geneva. I shall, however, have to refer to statements made at the time by the Minister of Labour as most unsatisfactory and as paralysing to one of the great efforts which is intended to be brought to fruition under the aegis of the League of Nations.

At Geneva the Minister spoke at great length on certain points of principle and certain points of detail. In order that I should make no mistake and be perfectly accurate, I shall quote from the official statement. I must thank the noble Marquess opposite for having obtained for me the official statement made by Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland at a meeting of the Governing Body of International Labour at Geneva. This statement was supplied to me from the Labour Office and I accept it as quite accurate, as no doubt everyone else will do. There is one statement in the Report, the official copy of which I have before me, of the meeting in March, 1926, to which I ought to call attention, because it appears to me to be very inconsistent with the attitude taken by the Minister of Labour at Geneva, if I rightly understand what that attitude is. If I make a mistake no doubt the noble Marquess in his reply—that will be the most convenient time—will correct me.

The statement to which I desire to call attention says the Ministers collected at the London Conference were fully alive to the fact that, in accordance with the regularly constituted procedure, it lies with the International Court of Justice in the last instance to decide all disputed points which may arise upon the interpretation or the application of the Convention. That is absolutely accurate. I do not suppose any one would deny for a moment that on international arrangements and agreements of this kind the last word and the final determination is with the International Court. In fact, apart from that you cannot enforce or make of any value international arrangements of this kind, though it is not necessary to refer to it, for every one who knows the international position sufficiently well understands that Part XIII contains really the complete code for investigating complaints made for non-observance by those who ratify the Eight Hours Convention. Matters first of all are to be considered by selected persons, and, if they cannot come to a final conclusion, then the final determination is for the International Court. I think those few preliminaries are necessary in order to make the full position quite clear.

Allow me to pass to the actual statements made by the Minister of Labour at Geneva. The difficulties referred to by him really range themselves under two heads. Under one head, he deals with the principle of interpretation and sanctions of an international arrangement under the International Court, and there he states a matter of principle with which I am bound to say I can in no wise agree. The chief of the reasons he adduces for the delay which he required and the additional revision turn upon his wrong statement, if I may so call it, of the principle under which international agreements and international arrangements must be construed, and how they ought to be enforced as against any offending nation which has ratified such a document as the Eight Hours Convention. That, I think, is all of much importance. He suggests a difference in principle between the construction of a document of this kind and an ordinary legislative national document. I think the way he has phrased it cannot be maintained, and I also think the matter has been absurdly overstated so far as it is accurate at all. In either case you may have differences of construction, and construction in either case would really be governed by the principles laid down long ago by the greatest, probably, of all jurists, Grotius. Of course, in international affairs it is known that the principles of interpretation suggested by Grotius have substantially been always maintained, but it is sometimes forgotten, I think, that the real basis of our interpretation of national documents in this country is determined when a dispute arises under precisely the same principle.

I do not understand the statement made by the Minister of Labour when he suggested there is a different principle in the two cases, because it is on that difference of principle that he largely bases his objection to the immediate acceptance, if I may so call it, for ratification of the Eight Hours Convention. I think if I quote a few words of what he says it will bring the point home to the noble Marquess. He says:— The principle is this, that ambiguity in a national law "— he is complaining of ambiguity, but that is a subsequent matter— may have a very different effect from ambiguity in an international convention. I cannot assent to that. Of course, ambiguity will always arise. Perfect clarity of language is impossible in the imperfection of our human speech. If ambiguity arises in a national document from national legislation, our Courts decide it, and if it arises in international matters, the International Court decides it. In either case you get a final decision of the constituted Court. Apart from that, an international arrangement or agreement might be disregarded, and really would have little or no sanction at all.

The Minister goes on to make this statement:— It is open to each nation that ratifies it, to interpret it as it thinks right. Of course that is not so. To interpret as it thinks right means a system of chaos. Instead of having an international agreement on an equality of terms binding all the ratifying nations you would have each nation going off in its own direction, giving what construction it liked. I do not understand really some of these passages and therefore I have read the actual words. But if there is ambiguity—and there is sure to be some ambiguity in all documents of this kind—then it must be settled by the International Court. If there is ambiguity here of course it is settled by our own national Courts.

Then he says their interpretations differ very largely from one another. Surely that is a mistake. If you start on a principle of that kind you undermine the whole basis of international agreements and international arrangements. It is quite clear that the interpretation of national documents before our Courts is one thing and the interpretation of an international agreement before the International Court is another; but there is really no difference. I do not mean to say that any two Courts, even any two International Courts, will necessarily come, in all cases, to the same result where questions of fact are very closely mixed up with questions of law, but it is the same in both cases—you must go to the Courts for interpretation whether it is an international or a national arrangement. More than that, it is one's experience in legal matters that the right way to ascertain what an agreement of this kind means is to see how it works, and if you find it works in a way that you do not expect or anything of that kind, or the Court should hold an interpretation contrary to yours, the time comes for revision. As the noble Marquess knows there is ample provision in the terms of the organisation of these matters in the International Labour Office at Geneva for revision and, in fact, revision comes on as a matter of course every ten years.

Next there is a point about which I think there must be a misunderstanding. He is talking about the Law Officers. Of their opinion I speak with great respect. Though one always wants to know what the instructions are before you know the value of an opinion, still let me speak with every respect. He says:— We have been definitely advised by them to this effect. If we embodied in a British Act of Parliament the points contained in the London Agreement, we should not be entitled then to ratify the Convention. Then he says that in England lawyers form their opinion on the precise meaning of the words themselves in any given clause. Of course that is not correct. Taking the words in their natural meaning you will consider the effect of the context and the general purpose of the document in which they are found, but it is not a matter of British construction if there is any difference at all. The first question to be decided here is the construction of the international document and that must be decided on terms applied by the International Court equally to all countries and all nations which have ratified the document.

I think I see what he means, but I suggest that a serious mistake has been made. At one time it was said that before ratifying the document and putting it into operation it would not be necessary that there should be any modification of the French national law. That has been put right. The Minister of Labour in Paris has stated definitively and finally that changes in the national law may be required in order to put in force the terms of this Eight Hours Convention. So it is here. I do not deny for one moment that we may have the necessity of certain national Acts, as they are called, in order to bring about cur complete compliance with the terms of the international arrangement as we understand it. That, of course, is a consequence and necessity of all international agreements. If a matter of that kind were raised as an objection no international agreement could be enforced in any country anywhere; but what is much more important is that if experience shows that we may have made a mistake, or any other country may have made a mistake, there is ample provision for revision in the terms of Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles itself.

I do not want to dwell further on this, because I confess I do not understand it. I do not understand what is the difference of construction between British law and International Law, and so far as there is any difference between the two of course International Law must govern in a matter of this kind. That may imply certain changes in our national law which we should loyally undertake when the time and necessity arise. That is what was said in 1926. I think it is of the greatest importance that all the great industrial Powers came to a common agreement on certain points and it is almost incredible that an agreement so arrived at should not be the interpretation adopted. That, however, is not the point. The point is that the final interpretation must be in this international arrangement and it is an objection which, though I admit I hardly understand it, appears to me to be out of place.

The rest of the objection in this document arises under two heads. I do not want to be too technical, but the first of these heads raises questions which really are matters of substance which have been already raised and discussed in 1926. They are matters which, if we were discussing an Act of Parliament, would be matters proper for discussion in what we call the Committee stage. All these matters were considered and discussed in 1919; they were rediscussed in 1926; and if each time the point arises whether you like a Convention or not you were to delay ratification and to put off its operation, it is a question whether it is really worth taking any trouble about making international agreements of this kind. That is the real difficulty of the attitude which the Government have taken up. I say they cannot take up an attitude of this kind if they are really desirous that the particular instrument should come into active operation.

I am making no charge against them, but I am sure the noble Marquess will agree that whatever the views of the Government may be the views of the employers are, in general, not in favour of this international arrangement. The employers agreed with it in 1919. They were represented at that date by a director of Messrs. Armstrong. All the employers' representatives were unani mous at Washington after full thought and consideration. If we are to take what Mr. Watson said, representing the employers, at Geneva, he certainly expressed the most determined opposition, not on the comparatively minor points raised by the Minister of Labour but against the whole scheme, and he said somewhat graphically that he and his brother employers were not going to have this matter "rammed down their throats." In one sense, one can quite understand that attitude. That is not the way to deal with an international agreement, and I am certain that the noble Marquess will not suggest that it is. He is quite entitled to say, and I have no doubt that he will say, that the Government have done their best, but could not proceed with ratification at this stage. That is a different matter altogether.

I have read very carefully the whole of this document, and the objections raised are mostly small matters of wording and drafting. Three illustrations will be enough. It is said that we have to consider further the meaning of the word "week." I do not think that you can have any definition of that without creating new uncertainty. Then they require definition of "hours of work"—a point that was dealt with in 1926. I am still more sceptical when they ask for a definition of the word "accident." An accident is a matter partly of fact and partly of law. If anybody has read the decisions in your Lordships House under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, he will take a very doubtful view as to the desirability of defining in too strict a way a common word which we all understand. I recollect that Lord Macnaghten, who was a master of language, defined "accident" about as simply as anyone could when he called it "an unlooked-for mishap." Directly you adopt that phrase you want two definitions instead of one—a definition of "mishap" and a definition of "unlooked-for."

Looking through this document very carefully, I find little but matters of detail. I think it was quite honourable and right for the Minister of Labour to say that he had put all his cards on the table. I am very glad that he did so, but I think the result is to show that he held a very poor hand, and I cannot convince myself that the suggestion of difficulties of this kind is very impressive to any of the countries that meet together at Geneva. I do not know if I am right. What impresses me is that British prestige on these labour matters seems to have reached rather a low point after the intervention of the Minister of Labour. I want our country to be in front in this matter. We have, I think, on the whole the best arrangements of any country in this connection. It is said that 95½ per cent. of our labour comes even now into accord with the international suggestion. That is an honour to us, and I should like to recall in this connection the words of the Treaty of Versailles:— Whereas also the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labour is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries: Do not let us be in the position of an obstacle in the way of the advance of humane conditions of labour. Let us do what we can to press forward not only the acceptance, but also, so far as we are concerned, the ratification of the Eight Hours Convention. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House there should be no further delay in the ratification of the Washington Eight Hours Convention.—(Lord Parmoor.)


My Lords, I hope that I shall not have to trouble your Lordships for more than a very few minutes. I had an opportunity not long ago of presenting to your Lordships in some detail the views that I hold upon this point, on the Motion made by my noble friend Lord Lytton, who sits beside me, and I do not wish to go over the whole question again. Indeed, I wish to press only one point—it is a very serious one—upon the Government. I cannot help feeling that the course which the Government have pursued in this matter, both recently and for some time past, has produced the impression in this country and abroad, rightly or wrongly, that they are not genuinely anxious to see this Convention, or the policy of this Convention, put into force, and that by the action which they have taken they have seriously injured the general method of settling these questions by inter national agreement as an essential part of the new system of international affairs which we hoped had been inaugurated.

I do not want to go into past history more than very briefly. Your Lordships are well aware by this time that this Convention was originally framed nine and a half years ago at Washington, with the full and deliberate assent of the British representatives, after consulting the British Government. When it came home difficulties occurred.—I will not say whether the points were good or bad ones—and ratification was withheld. There followed a long period of negotiation and discussion, and ultimately—for I wish to pass over the details as quickly as I can—there was a Conference of Powers in London in March, 1926, at which the difficulties that had arisen in reference to the ratification of this Convention were discussed. After prolonged discussion an agreement was arrived at upon all the difficulties. No point was left undetermined except the very important question whether that agreement should be treated as a matter of interpretation of the Convention or should form part of another international instrument, either by way of amendment of the Convention or by way of a separate protocol. As I understand it—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—this was the only point left outstanding in March, 1926—namely, whether the agreement then arrived at should be enforced as a matter of interpretation by all the parties concerned, or whether it should form part of a definite international arrangement.

After this, there followed a period when the British Government were unable to express any opinion as to what action they were going to take in consequence of the London Conference. They were repeatedly asked at Geneva, but they pointed out, with perfect truth, that they had had to face great industrial difficulties in this country, and for that reason they had been unable to give the necessary attention to the subject. I do not say that that was an illegitimate attitude to take up, but it was evidently one which lent itself to misrepresentation. Then it eventually became clear that the Government were not prepared to accept these agreements as matters of interpretation, but that they required revision of the original Convention. They were pressed, over and over again, at Geneva and elsewhere, to state what exactly it was that they wanted; what were the changes which were necessary in the Convention in order to enable them to sign. They have refused, and they still refuse, to state what changes they want in the Contention. I will come to the advance that they have made, but your Lordships will see that it does not amount to a statement of what changes they want in the Convention.

Ultimately, in March of this year, they go to Geneva and the Minister of Labour, representing the Government, makes a speech in which he brings out all the points which have been raised at the London Conference of 1926, and adds to them certain other points. It may be that the other points were not of any great importance, but they figured in my right hon. friend's speech. He concluded, not by saying that if we could get this or that change introduced into the Convention we should be prepared to sign it, but by saying this:— If at this moment we had an amended Convention in the drafting of which these points had been satisfactorily considered and settled, I would recommend my Government to-morrow to ratify… There was no definite offer, even then, as to what exact changes were required, and when the representative of the British employers came to speak—and I am afraid we cannot avoid the suspicion, which undoubtedly exists, that the employers have been very influential in the direction of the Government policy—he said that he would not be satisfied with the changes suggested by Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, but he would want other changes as well, before he could agree to the Convention. In those circumstances there really was, if my noble friend will forgive me for saying it, no guarantee of finality even if every proposition put forward by the Minister of Labour had been accepted.

That that is not my own opinion only I think appears very clearly from a perusal of the debate at Geneva. I will take the most pointed statement by M. Jouhaux, the French Labour representative, a man of great position in France, of great moderation of views, and very friendly indeed to this country. He said this:— In the case of the Hours Convention the workers' group could not fail to note that certain Governments"— which of course meant the British Government— had constantly raised fresh difficulties in order to postpone ratification. After the Conferences of Ministers of Labour held at Berne and London in 1924 and 1926, it might have been thought that the difficulties were at an end and that a definite interpretation of the Convention had been agreed upon. Yet now it was proposed that the search for new interpretations should be begun all over again, after which the Governments might perhaps ratify. Even this, however, was not sure. It was not his impression that the adoption of the British proposal would lead to a final decision. On the contrary, it could not fail to embarrass those countries which had already ratified or which were preparing to ratify on the basis of the interpretation which had hitherto been accepted. It does not stop there, because to test—I am afraid I must put it as strongly as that—the reality of the British proposals, the French Minister of Labour, M. Loucheur, and the German Minister of Labour, Herr Wissell, made a definite offer to the British Government, and a number of others supported the offer. They said in effect: "If the British Government will now be content to put into the Convention those points upon which agreement was reached in the London Conference of 1926, we will agree to that and support that proposal, either by an amendment of the Convention or by a separate protocol. We are prepared to do the exact thing which the British Government offered in 1926, if it will induce the British Government to accept ratification." That was refused by the British Government.

I do not want to go into the substance of the matter, although I am bound to say I have always been utterly puzzled by the reluctance of the British Government and British employers to accept the Convention. It is perfectly true that the eight-hour day is in operation in something like ninety-seven per cent. of the industries of this country, and therefore it is only a question of the three per cent. which would be affected by the Convention at all, whereas in many foreign countries the percentage of employment for more than eight hours is much larger than that. To get international agreement—even if it be imperfect and require to be amended a little later—by each of the nations of the world accepting an eight-hour day, is a principle which could not fail to have been of advantage, so far as I can see, to British industry, putting it on that plane only. As I have said, however, I do not want to go into the substance of the thing, because it is not upon that point that I personally feel so strongly. I feel most strongly that the method of action adopted by the Government has been, if I may use so strong a word, deplorable. It has shown an attitude towards the whole principle of international understanding which is really most discouraging to those who believe that it is only through a system of international understanding that we can reach a better condition of national affairs. I see that my right hon. friend claimed in the other House that he received considerable support from other Governments in his attitude at Geneva. I am puzzled by that claim. I have here the official account of what happened, and this is what occurred. At the end of the debate a motion was made for revision generally, in accordance with Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland's proposal. It was defeated by twelve votes to nine. The nine consisted of six votes of the employers group and the Governments of Great Britain and India—practically Great Britain—and one other Government, Sweden. Then there was a proposal by the French employers' delegate for the immediate consultation of all the States members of the Organisation, and the setting up of a Committee. That was rejected by thirteen votes to seven, and in that case the seven were six employers and the British Government, and nobody else.

Then came the division on which my right hon. friend relies as a second string to his bow. When he found there was no hope of obtaining a decision in favour of revision he proposed that there should be a Committee appointed, and that they should report to the May Conference, and that the matter should then be finally decided. That was only a dilatory motion, and he did obtain then, no doubt, from international courtesy, considerable support from other Governments. It is not stated in this document exactly which the Governments were, but we are told that several Governments voted in, his favour and the motion was only decided by one vote. Broadly speaking, the result was then that, as far as revision was concerned, the British Government and the Swedish Government to some extent were the only Governments that supported it, the whole of the workmen's group was against it, and the employers' group also supported it; all the other Governments were either neutral or hostile to the proposal.

In those circumstances, I cannot share the complacency of my right hon. friend. It seems to me that the British Government were put into a position of practical isolation in reference to this matter, and, as if that were not enough, they completed their isolation by taking a division on some question of the Labour Office Budget immediately afterwards, in which again they were the single Government that opposed the particular item—I forget what it was—with the support again of the six employers' delegates. I do feel myself that the whole of this history is one which has, I am afraid, reflected seriously on the British Government and—which is much more important—has done a great deal to discredit the whole system of international understanding on which so very much depends. I do not see that we should have suffered at all if we had ratified the Convention even as it stood—we should not have suffered, that is to say, on the balance; but, even if we did, it seems to me we must be prepared, if we are to carry through this great experiment in international organisation, to run risks and even to make sacrifices for so great an object.

We cannot expect always to have everything our own way, and only to agree to international Conventions if they are solely and entirely for our advantage. We must be prepared to make some concession and even some sacrifices for the great object which is so very much in the interests of the Empire. It is for that reason that I personally so deeply deplore the action that the Government have taken, and that I regret that, even in their step towards making the position clear, they have gone so short a way that they have not yet told us what exact amendments to the Convention they require; and their whole attitude has been such as to expose themselves, not unjustly, to the reproaches levelled against them by M. Jouhaux in the passage that I read.


My Lords, I should like first of all to thank the noble Lord who initiated this debate for the courtesy which he showed in informing me of the points which he proposed to raise this afternoon. I have listened with great regret to the speech of the noble Viscount who has just sat down. I was under the impression when I entered this House that, instead of the Government receiving condemnation at his hands, after the debate which took place in your Lordships' House in November we should have heard from him some commendation of the action which the Government have taken. I was sorry to hear the gloomy phrases which he used, and I regret that he derives no satisfaction from what the Government have done. But I should be the last person to venture to argue with him on this matter. I know very well the deep concern that he has in this very important question, but I should find it difficult to dispute with my noble friend, who is very well acquainted with the atmosphere at Geneva, on those points which he has mentioned to-day.

The Motion before the House seems to me to give your Lordships a clear indication of the position which the Labour Party have now adopted upon the question of the ratification of the Washington Eight Hours Convention by this country. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, will correct me if I am wrong in drawing the inference from his Motion to-day that the Labour Party would ratify this Convention as it stands, and without amendment.


I think so. They are not opposing amendments, but what they want is ratification, with or without.


The noble Lord opened his remarks by saying that he did not wish to drag this question into the Party arena, nor do I. But I believe it to be absolutely necessary as a preliminary to any discussion of the Government's attitude towards the Convention that we should at least be perfectly clear as to how the Opposition would be prepared to act if they occupied this side of your Lordships' House. Speaking in another place early last year—on February 27 to be exact—Mr. Shaw, the Minister of Labour in the Labour Government of 1924, in reply to my right the present Minister of Labour, Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, said hon. friend quite distinctly that the Labour Party at that date would not ratify the Washington Convention as it stands. Later in the year, as lately as last November, on the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on this Convention, I repeated this in your Lordships' House, and the noble and learned Lord did not then challenge my assertion that neither we nor the Labour Government would ever ratify this Convention as it stands.


I have forgotten, but I have no doubt you are perfectly accurate.


Apparently, however, the attitude of the noble and learned Lord and his friends has undergone a change. In another place, as recently as March 21 last, Mr. Shaw told my right hon. friend the Minister of Labour, that the Labour Party would ratify the Washington Convention absolutely, without modification, but with explanation on the lines of the London Conference. To-day there seems to have been a further change, and your Lordships are now recommended by the Labour Party simply to ratify the Convention without any qualification whatever.


Certainly ratify; but that does not mean that you may not give explanations at the time of ratification. That is an entirely different matter.


I must at once admit that the terms of the Motion before your Lordships have removed a difficulty which I felt to be inherent in Mr. Shaw's statement of the position of his Party. When I read his statement I am bound to say that I asked myself how it could be possible at one and the same time to ratify the Convention absolutely and without modification, but with explanation. I think there is a difficulty in their own procedure which I am sure the noble and learned Lord will see. This seemed to me certainly to be a contradiction in terms, particularly when it is remembered that we have been advised that the conclusions of the London Agreement, to which the noble Lord has referred, cannot be covered by the terms of the Washington Convention. I think the noble Lord is aware that we have been definitely advised by the Law Officers that the conclusions come to at the London Conference cannot be covered by the terms of the Washington Convention.

It seems therefore, in view of the present Resolution, that these same difficulties have presented themselves to the noble and learned Lord and to his friends, and they are prepared now to recommend the simple ratification of the Convention with whatever consequences that may mean for British industry. The Government position is equally clear. For us the first essential of a Convention—of this Convention as of all Conventions—is that the signatories to it shall mean substantially, and in all matters of importance covered by the Convention, precisely and exactly the same thing. With all due respect to the noble and learned Lord, I venture to express a certain amount of surprise that he minimises all these matters on which there may be differences of opinion and goes so far as to say almost that it does not matter whether there is difference of opinion, and that it can be arranged later on by the decision of the International Court. I think there is really a great cleavage between the opinion of the noble and learned Lord and his friends and that of the Government. I think that the House will support the Government in feeling that on a matter of this importance it is vital that we should have a very clear idea of the interpretation which can be put on all these different matters which come up in the Convention.

I do not propose to recount the history of this Convention; all I claim is that the attitude of the British Government has been perfectly clear and perfectly straightforward. Every step that we have taken has been in the direction of the implementation of the pledges given on this question in the Treaty of Versailles, which bound us, not to ratify any particular Convention, but simply and solely to achieve an agreement with other members of the League of Nations which would establish the eight-hour day or the forty-eight-hour week. From the first, in 1921, the British Government declared its dissatisfaction with the form of Convention arrived at at Washington, and ever since that time—I agree with the noble Lord that it is a long time ago; it is nine and a half years—we have been taking what steps we could to arrive at a form of Convention which we could ratify and which would, at the same time, he acceptable to the other States. I will not burden your Lordships with a narration of the Conferences which have been held with the representatives of the great industrial Powers on this subject. They have been directed towards one sole end—namely, towards making it possible for His Majesty's Government to ratify an international Convention for the eight-hour day, or forty-eight-hour week, in accordance with our undertaking at Versailles. The second of these meetings, to which reference has been made, the London Conference, made it abundantly clear to His Majesty's Government that the points raised were of such substance as to necessitate the revision of the Washington Convention before ratification.

I will not go into details of the steps taken by my right hon. friend the Minister of Labour to secure the consideration of the British point of view. Such delay as has occurred was largely occasioned by points of procedure, with which I feel sure the noble and learned Lord is familiar; but when these had been removed my right hon. friend himself journeyed to Geneva last month, as your Lordships know, for the meeting of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office, and there presented in detail the points in this Convention which ought to be reconsidered by the International Labour Conference if a general and satisfactory settlement is to be reached. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has gone so far with me in agreeing that that is what the right hon. gentleman did when he went to Geneva. But he goes further and says that my right hon. friend did not specify in detail exactly the changes which he required. The noble Viscount is more conversant with the procedure at Geneva than I am, but I am inclined to assert that that was not the moment at which the changes he desired should have been put forward. There are further stages. The next stage, I believe, is in October. I speak under correction by the noble Viscount, and if it is his opinion that the changes should have been put forward then I am not prepared at this moment to give him an exact answer why they were not. I would venture to say, however, that all those points which he mentioned in his speech here on the last occasion on which this matter came before your Lordships were put forward specifically at the meeting at Geneva this month, and I hoped when I came down to your Lordships' House that the statement which my right hon. friend made on that occasion would have been received with a modicum of satisfaction by my noble friend who sits below me.

My right hon. friend invited the Governing Body to decide, in accordance with the standing orders, that the report on the working of the Convention should be circulated, and that the attention of the States should be drawn to the points raised by the British Government and to any others that might be put forward in the course of the discussion. In doing this, he made a declaration in the following terms:— I can, however, say this, as an indication of the British attitude, that if at this moment we had an amended Convention on the table here, in the drafting of which these points had been satisfactorily considered and settled. I would recommend my Government to-morrow to ratify, and I am sure they would consent. This question was discussed for two days, during which no attempt was made by any speaker either to challenge the points put forward by the British Minister of Labour or to prove that the difficulties to which he pointed were illusory or nonexistent. In certain quarters it was suggested that more time might be allowed for the consideration of our proposals, although the great majority of the points raised are to be found explicitly or implicitly in the conclusions of the London Conference of 1926, while the remainder are such as must occur to any close student of the history of the Convention.

So anxious was my right hon. friend to leave no stone unturned to secure a Convention which we could ratify, that he was prepared to agree to something in the nature of an adjournment during which the points of difficulty could be studied by a sub-committee which should report to the Governing Body in May. I will read to your Lordships the terms of my right hon. friend's motion:— The Governing Body affirming the necessity of maintaining the principle of Washington, and having taken into consideration

  1. (a) the Report on the Washington Hours Convention presented to them in accordance with the Standing Orders by the International Labour Office, and
  2. (b) the points in that Convention suggested by Great Britain as requiring further consideration
are of opinion that the question should be further pursued. Before, however, actually opening the procedure provided in Article 7 (a) (5), they are of opinion that a further examination of the points of difficulty is required and they accordingly appoint a sub-committee to consider all the relevant documents and to report to them at the May meeting of the Governing Body as to what points, if any, special attention should be drawn. When the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, makes the very important statement that we are being regarded as dilatory in this matter and as putting off the ratification of the Convention because we do not feel in agreement with the sentiments put forward in that Convention, I venture to say that any one reading the resolution which was proposed by my right hon. friend must see that that charge is wholly without foundation, not only in regard to himself but also in regard to the Government which he represents. On the subject of this motion M. Thomas, the Director of the International Labour Office at Geneva, said:— Since the motion which is before you compromises nothing, since it allows of the one way out of our difficulties, I strongly appeal to you, in the interests of the future of the organisation, and in the interests of obtaining positive results, to vote in favour of the motion. The proposal was moved and secured the assent of the majority of the Government representatives. It was, however, opposed by the representatives of the workers, while the employers did not find themselves able to vote either for or against it. In the result, eight votes were cast on each side, and the proposal having failed to secure a majority, fell to the ground. That is, briefly, the history of the late proceedings at Geneva.

While I do not for a moment wish to emphasise the points of difference that divide myself from the noble and learned Lord who is moving this Motion this afternoon, and while I think that the most important and the most fruitful result that can come of our discussion here to-day is that it should be understood in every country of the world that all Parties in this country are united in the desire to ratify a Convention dealing with the hours of labour, in accordance with the undertaking contained in the Treaty of Versailles, I cannot refrain from giving expression to our view, the view of His Majesty's Government, that the points upon which my right hon. friend the Minister of Labour insisted at Geneva are indeed points of substance, and not, as the noble and learned lord and his friends would appear to think, points of mere detail and of slight importance.

For instance, I cannot agree with him that it is a small matter that there should be any uncertainty, any loophole for misunderstanding amongst the signatories, as to the exact meaning of the phrase "hours of work," upon which it seems to us the whole of the Washington Convention, or any convention dealing with hours of work, must necessarily be based. Moreover, I should have thought that the noble and learned Lord, with his long experience and with his eminent reputation as a lawyer, would be even more meticulous and careful than myself, as a layman, in regard to the definition of the small points, and I should have thought that, in an international understanding which was of the highest importance, there should be no ambiguity whatsoever, more especially when we set our hands to a document which is to have such far-reaching results.

And I am unable to agree with the noble and learned Lord that it is a mere matter of detail that we should ratify this Convention without making it certain beyond yes or no, that our railwaymen's agreements are within the scope of the Convention, and that the distribution of the forty-eight hours of the working week under the Convention to which we set our hand may cover a practice which is wholly unobjectionable and which is becoming increasingly common in certain British industries—namely, a working week of forty-eight hours or less distributed over five, or even over four and a half working days. Again, I cannot agree with him that the more precise interpretation or limitation of the application of the phrase "continuous processes" is a matter of little or no importance. I feel sure the noble and learned Lord knows very well that there is a wide difference of interpretation of the phrase "continuous processes."

There are some matters of less import than these which were raised by my right hon. friend at Geneva, but it must be remembered that he was laying the whole of his cards upon the table, and these necessarily included the cards of lower denomination as well as the court cards—he put the major points and the minor points as well. When we are told that we are standing on trivial points, or points of mere punctilio, I would remind your Lordships that the Law Officers of the Crown have advised His Majesty's Government that the conclusions or agreed interpretations contained in the London Agreement of 1926 are not within the ambit which legal interpretation here would give to the Washington Convention. I would remind your Lordships that the advice of the legal advisers consulted by the railway companies was to the effect that the working arrangements governing labour on the British railways were outside the scope of the Washington Convention. There you have two authorities who approached the subject from different angles. Further, I would call your Lordships' attention to the fact that of the eleven Governments represented at the Geneva meeting, no fewer than eight agreed that the British case for revision should be further considered.


If my noble friend would forgive me, all that they agreed to was that there should be a Committee appointed to consider and report on the question of revision. They all voted against the Government proposal for revision or did not vote in its favour.


I am given to understand that of eleven Governments represented at Geneva no fewer than eight agreed to the further consideration of the British case for revision, but if the noble Viscount corrects me of course I accept his correction.


I have only the Official Report.


Far from what the noble and learned Lord has said, this is not the treatment that merely trivial and unsubstantial points receive at the hands of responsible Government representatives. Finally, when His Majesty's Opposition advocate the ratification of the Washington Eight Hours Convention without modification, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the support for the policy of revision which the Government derive from the final Report of the Committee on Industry and Trade, appointed by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald himself as Prime Minister, in July, 1924. That Report is signed by all the members of the Committee, including the seven signatories of the Minority Memorandum which may be taken to represent the view of organised labour. I will venture with your Lordships' permission to quote from the main Report the words used on the subject of the ratification of the Washington Convention. The main Report says, on page 109:— The balance of argument is in favour of the view that an International Convention for the limitation of hours of labour would be beneficial to British industry, provided that it were widely accepted and effectively enforced, and provided that it made adequate provision for necessary elasticity and for authoritative interpretation. Conversely, we are of opinion that without the fulfilment of these conditions ratification of the existing Washington Convention would be a hazardous step. Subject to the considerations set out below, it appears to us that the weight of argument is in favour of adhesion to a revised Convention, but against unconditional ratification of the present instrument. We feel that in existing circumstances it is impossible to recommend either the unconditional ratification of the Washington Convention or the abandonment of any attempt to secure a more satisfactory international agreement. Even those of us who for various reasons are most sceptical of the possibility of satisfactory revision do not dissent from the conclusion that the attempt ought to be made. Your Lordships will note that even the signatories of the Minority Memorandum do not specify the Washington Convention when they speak of the urgency of the implementation by the Government of the undertaking of the Treaty of Versailles. I cannot believe that labour generally in this country is in favour of the ratification of the Washington Convention as it stands. Indeed, in my view Mr. Shaw's proposal to ratify the convention "without modification but with explanation" really means agreement with the view which I am venturing to put before you of His Majesty's Government, and is a confession, if I may be allowed to say so, that Labour is not satisfied with the Convention as it stands. The position of His Majesty's Government is that so clearly expressed by the Committee on Industry and Trade—namely, that the ratification of the existing Washington Convention would be a hazardous step, and that the attempt to secure a more satisfactory agreement ought to be made.

But let me close my few remarks upon a note of unanimity so far as concerns this important question of industrial agreement. This debate has made it clear, if it were not abundantly clear before, that if there is a measure of division as to the exact form of the instrument, the whole of this country, His Majesty's Government and both Parties in Opposition, the employers' organisations and organised Labour alike, are unanimous in the support which, in accordance with our pledges under the Versailles Treaty, we give to the principle of the eight-hour day or forty-eight-hour week enshrined in the Washington Convention. On our side we do not for one moment doubt the sincerity of the Labour Party in their efforts to obtain what is, after all, the common end of all Parties in this country—an international convention governing the hours of work—but we must ask them to accord to us the same measure of confidence, and to believe that, far from making unnecessary difficulties, we are absolutely sincere in the position which we have taken up upon the necessity for the revision of the Convention before this country can ratify it.


My Lords, a year ago I had on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House a Motion in favour of the immediate ratification of the Washington Eight Hours Convention in the same sense as the Motion now proposed by the noble and learned Lord. I removed that Motion from the Order Paper, and at a later stage substituted another Motion, because of communications which I had had with the Minister of Labour in which he pointed out to me, for the first time, the difficulties which His Majesty's Government had found in the way of ratifying the Washington Eight Hours Convention as it stood and without modification. I consequently placed upon the Order Paper in your Lordships' House a different Motion—one in which I invited the Government to state what form of international convention establishing a forty-eight-hour week they were prepared to sign.

My only reason for intervening in this evening's debate is that I rather gather that the noble and learned Lord whose Motion we are discussing thought that my suggestion had been taken up by the Government and that they had at Geneva recently done what I had asked them to do in that Motion. The noble Marquess who spoke for the Government just now also seemed to be under the impression that the Minister of Labour at Geneva recently had done the very thing which I had asked His Majesty's Government to do in this House. I would like, therefore, in a very few words to explain why it is that I share the views which have been expressed by my noble friend beside me, and why I am unable on this occasion to express that satisfaction which the noble Marquess seems to expect from us of the action which the Minister has taken. I am very glad that the Minister went to Geneva. I am very glad that he has at last told the Governing Body at Geneva what he has repeatedly told the House of Commons—why His Majesty's Government are unable to ratify the Washington Convention as it stands. But that is not what I asked His Majesty's Government to do.

We have known for a long time that the Government find difficulties in ratifying the Convention. What I asked the Government to do was to tell us what Convention they would ratify, to give us some indication of the terms of the international instrument that they were prepared to agree to. On that subject we are as ignorant to-day as we have hitherto been. The noble Marquess who spoke for the Government just now said that in his opinion last month at Geneva was not an appropriate moment for supplying this information. I cannot see myself that it was inappropriate. I cannot see anything in the procedure of the Governing Body which would have made it inopportune for the British Minister of Labour, when stating his objections to the existing Draft Convention, to have gone further and said: "If these amendments which I place before you, or other words securing the same objects, can be accepted, we should be prepared to ratify." I am perfectly certain that if he had taken that course it would have been welcomed at Geneva. I can only say that in ten years there has never seemed to have been found one moment which was opportune for telling the world what form of Eight Hours Convention the Government are prepared to ratify.

In fact, the Government have acted in this matter throughout exactly like a Parliamentary Opposition, a Parliamentary Opposition which is nevertheless reluctant to accept responsibility for opposing the subject with which they are in disagreement. We are all very familiar with that procedure. It is adopted by Oppositions from all Parties. When a subject is disliked, but opposition to which is nevertheless unpopular, recourse is had to reasoned Amendments, Motions for delay, objections to drafting and various other methods of procedure with which we are very familiar. But a Government which acts in that way is not entitled to claim for itself that it is a supporter, a sincere supporter, either of the principle of an international convention establishing an eight-hour day or a forty-eight-hour week, still less that it is a supporter of the principle of the Washington Convention.

Members of the Government do not seem to realise sufficiently the obligations of international procedure. They seem to think that it is sufficient for them to say: "We are in favour of an eight-hour day. We have, in fact, such a limitation of the hours of labour in practice in most of the industries in our own country. We are anxious that other countries should follow our good example and we are in favour of industry throughout the world being limited to this extent. But we are not prepared to commit ourselves to agreement to any international instrument unless we are perfectly satisfied that the words of that instrument are incapable of different interpretations." As the noble and learned Lord has pointed out, it is impossible in the language of any country to draft a treaty or a labour convention in which it can be confidently asserted that no word can be open to a different interpretation by another party, and, if that is really the attitude which the Government take up on this question, it is an attitude which cannot be described as helpful towards the ratification of any international agreement. The very word "convention" implies an international treaty by which the representatives of the various countries agree to accept a form of words which, in their opinion, is calculated to achieve the object which they have met together to bring about.

The Government have told us that the draft drawn up at Washington nearly ten years ago has not, on investigation, proved to them to be satisfactory. What we have repeatedly asked the Government to do is to produce an alternative draft which they would consider satisfactory. In all those years, what alternative have the Government ever produced? They have repeatedly told us of the difficulties. We are quite aware of the difficulties. Those difficulties were undoubtedly present in the minds of those who met originally as Washington. In so far as they were not surmounted then, they were considered at the Conference at Berne and again at the Conference in London, and they have been mentioned by the Minister in Parliament on many occasions. But we were certainly led to believe that all those difficulties had been considered at the Conference in London and, as my noble friend beside me pointed out just now, they were agreed in substance by the representatives at that Conference. At the end of that Conference no difference of opinion remained as to what the Washington Convention ought to mean. A difference, it is true, remained as to what the Washington Convention did in fact mean, and there was a failure to agree that it should be made to mean specifically what it was agreed at London that it ought to mean.

The noble Marquess who spoke just now said that the attitude of the Government had throughout been perfectly clear. The only attitude that has been perfectly clear is the unwillingness of the Government to ratify the Washington Convention, and their unwillingness also to inform the world what form of Convention they would be prepared to ratify. The noble Marquess told us that the opinion of the Law Officers had been obtained that the Washington Convention as it stood did not cover some of the industrial agreements in force in this country, and did not, in fact, permit the interpretation agreed upon at the London Conference. If that is the only difficulty of the Government, why, I ask, is it not removed, since at Geneva last month the Minister was definitely offered that the terms of the London Agreement should be added to the Washington Convention, if necessary, as an additional protocol? The noble Marquess said that the points of difficulty are points of substance. I do not deny that they are points of substance, but if they are points which were considered at London in 1926, and if those points can now, by agreement, be incorporated in the international instrument—and even the Government of Belgium, which has ratified the Convention as it stands, has stated that it would have no objection to the addition of the points agreed upon in London—if that concession is made, then, whether they be points of substance or not, I ask what is the difficulty that the Government still have in accepting?

If that is not sufficient, if the points are not merely points of substance but are new, I would ask again why it has taken nearly ten years to find out those points. If it be true that even now, after ten years, new points of substance are discovered, what guarantee have we that, if revision is accepted as a policy and the whole Convention is put again into the melting pot, new points of substance may not be found, and what finality can we ever hope for in securing international agreement? Am I not justified, therefore, in saying that the attitude which the Government have adopted towards this matter is that of a Parliamentary Opposition? It may be desirable, but in the circumstances they cannot at any rate be surprised if they are regarded by those who are anxious to secure an agreed and

operative international instrument limiting the hours of labour to 48 per week—they cannot, I say, be surprised if the advocates of that cause regard them as at this moment its most strenuous opponents.


My Lords, I desire to say only a word after the speeches of Lord Lytton and Lord Cecil. I do not at all desire to emphasise any difference that I may have with the noble Marquess opposite. We obviously have different views on certain points, but I will say nothing more about them. As regards the Agreement of 1926, I would only say that Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and Italy all accepted it, that three of the Governments have already ratified and that—I think the noble Marquess overlooked this point—in other countries some national legislation may be required to bring their systems into accord with their international obligations. This was clearly pointed out in the French statement about a year ago. Germany has prepared her legislation, as have Belgium and Italy, and the only reason why the other four Powers have not made complete ratification is that they have imposed the condition that they cannot do so until Great Britain ratifies. I really do not think that the suggested difficulties are very serious when you really grasp the nature of the difference between national and international obligations. I shall ask your Lordships to divide upon my Motion.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 6; Not-Contents, 18.

De La Warr, E. [Teller.] Lytton, E. Arnold, L. [Teller.]
Iddesleigh, E. Parmoor, L.
Cecil of Chelwood, V.
Hailsham, L. (L. Chancellor.) Onslow, E. Novar, V.
Plymouth, E. Peel, V.
Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.) Stanhope, E.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]
Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.) Hanworth, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) Bertie of Thame, V. Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)
Churchill, V. Wraxall, L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Elibank, V.
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.