HL Deb 02 April 1935 vol 96 cc482-500

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it is perhaps in some measure fortunate that I should be privileged to introduce this Bill so shortly after the interesting debate which we had last week on the socialist system. In that debate this House, and in my humble submission rightly, decided against the value of a socialist system in this country, but at the same time I think it was admitted in all parts of the House that there was something wrong with our present industrial machinery. A fault has developed—whether it is, as my noble friends on my left think, a permanent and irremediable fault is open to discussion, but it is admitted on all sides that a fault exists. The Prime Minister, in a recent speech at Doncaster, admitted that there was a fault in our industrial machinery, and stated that he would welcome any responsible suggestion which might be put before him for getting rid of that fault. I thing I may claim that this measure is in some sort such a plan as the Prime Minister asked for. The fault to which I refer is one with which your Lordships are only too well acquainted, because it has been discussed many times in this House. It is due to the fact that in these latter years our powers of consumption have fallen out of line with our powers of production. Whether owing to good harvests or the advancement of scientific methods of manufacture, we have found that there is an increasing glut and overplus of the world's goods and the world's wealth, and, contemporaneous with that, we have found less and less capacity for the consumers of those goods to consume them. Now I think it to be almost beyond argument that there can only be one of two methods of redressing that lag which has occurred between production and consumption. Either we may cut down production of goods, or, alternatively, we may try to increase consumption. I think I shall carry the House with me when I say that it would be better to increase consumption. The only way to do that, to my knowledge, is to increase the purchasing power of those who most need it.

If your Lordships will allow me to say so, it is not members of your Lordships' House who need their purchasing power increased so much as other people. Supposing I were to introduce a Bill which would increase your Lordships' incomes by, let us say, ten, or fifteen, or even fifty per cent. a year. That might be very pleasant for us. The effect would, in fact, be that a very large part of that increase, if not the whole of it, would be devoted to swelling still further the present overplus of money and idle credit which are in this country, and it is therefore more likely that a remedy will be found by increasing the purchasing power of those less fortunately situated than ourselves. It is on that view that the broad economic basis of this Bill rests.

There is a class of people in this country, perhaps far larger than your Lordships realise—and I am not trying to make the best case I can, I am trying to be honest with your Lordships' House when I say that I believe that those people number five million persons—people in receipt of wages which are not controlled, or are not subject to any organisation such as a trade union, a trade board or an arbitration board. According to the figures of the Ministry of Labour, there are 18,000,000 persons in this country earning under £250 a year. Of those only 4,500,000 are trade union members, to whom this Bill does not apply. It is true that there are a great many who work at trade union rates, and those may number perhaps another 4,500,000. There are perhaps 2,000,000 workers whose wages are regulated by trade boards. Taking those figures as a basis, I think I shall be on the safe side in saying that there are 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 workers who have no protection in regard to the wages they are paid.

I want to make it quite clear from the outset that this Bill does not propose any compulsory minimum wage for any workers in this country. It merely proposes that the country should be divided up into what are called in the Bill "ascertainment areas" which, as far as I can see, for all practical purposes would be areas now controlled by local authorities, and the local authority in each of those areas would make itself responsible for determining what the cost of living in its area should be, either per hour or per week. That is a figure which can be arrived at without any great expense or difficulty. The Ministry of Labour, I think, would have all the necessary statistics at their disposal. The Bill further provides that when that has been done, such employers in that area as pay less than the cost-of-living wage as determined by the local authority—your Lordships will notice that I do not refer to it as the minimum wage, because it is in fact not a wage at all—will be compelled to make a return to the employment exchange.

Perhaps the implications of that are not immediately obvious, but I think the, main results would be as follows. In the first place, the amour propre of the employer would incline him to pay a better wage if he could afford it, rather than incur the public odium of being a bad employer. Under this Bill the result, I think, would be that comparatively few such notifications would be made. A great many ill-paid people would therefore receive a higher wage. Moreover, under the Bill the employer is given the chance of justifying the payment of a lower rate of wages than that fixed by the local authority, and if he could do that, no penalty would attach to him. It is my belief that the psychological effect of having to notify that you are paying less than a living wage would be enough to effect the purposes of this Bill. Thirdly—and I think this is important, though somewhat secondary—the notification of the employers who are paying these lower wages will, I believe, be of inestimable value to the Government. I have been at, some pains to find out from the Ministry of Labour how many people there are in these circumstances, and the Ministry of Labour can, in fact, give me no information so that any estimate I may make must be an estimate and no more. But I believe that the Government, being anxious, as it is, to improve the lot of our people, will find a great value in knowing where this disease of poverty most rife. That it can only find out by some method such as is incorporated in this Bill. In parenthesis I would remark that in discussing, as we so often do both in this House and in another place, the lot of those less fortunately situated than ourselves and the poorest of this country, we are a little prone perhaps to concentrate, and naturally concentrate, on the unemployed. I do seriously believe that there are a larger number of people than the two million unemployed who are much less well-off even than they. That is a thing which I am sure your Lordships would not be willing to lose sight of.

Furthermore, I would stress very strongly the point that I believe the passage of this Bill into law would involve no expense either to the ratepayer or the taxpayer. Machinery for determining the cost of living is already in existence, and the only other thing that has to be done under this Bill is for the employer to make a return of those employees to whom he pays a less sum. I can see no possible way in which expense to the Government could be incurred. I mention this particularly because the Prime Minister, again in his speech at Doncaster, said of any claim submitted to him that he must be satisfied if it did no good, at least it did no harm. I do not put that forward as an argument in favour of this Bill, because I believe the Bill would do good and certainly can do no harm.

Another point which comes to mind, and which I believe would result from a notification of poverty as is laid down in this Bill, is that it would act as a spur to inefficient workers and give a preference to the efficient worker. To- day you will find far too often that the efficient worker has to take the wage of the inefficient worker simply because the inefficient man is prepared to accept less. If by this means the efficient man is given a preference I believe that is carrying a principle into law which is a principle of very elementary justice. Moreover, this Bill will give a protection to what I may term the good employer. The good employer I take to be one who recognises his duty to his employees, and who will pay them at least a living wage and as much as he can afford to pay them. That is made very difficult by the existence of what is, I hope, a comparatively small number of bad employers who are prepared to employ labour which is unorganised and voiceless, and who are prepared to employ them in order that they shall pay less. Since this Bill has been made public I have come across, I cannot say millions or even thousands, but at least tens of cases—which in the short time is, I think, remarkable—of employers who say quite definitely they are prepared to increase their wages if the rest of the people in their particular line of business are prepared to do the same. They believe it would be good for the trade as a whole. As to the classes of people who would be affected by this Bill, they chiefly fall into those employed in the distributive and retail trades. There would be others, representing smaller classes, but in the total sum perhaps involving a large number. I might instance charing and similar work where the people engaged are in the nature of things not organised.

I cannot see—and I wish to stress this once more—that this Bill can have any ill effect at all, and I believe that the effect will be very much larger than perhaps some of your Lordships anticipate. I recognise that a large principle is involved, the principle to which I alluded very briefly because it was well discussed in your Lordships' House last week, and therefore I would ask your Lordships' House to give a Second Reading to this Bill on the understanding that if that is done it will be referred to a Select Committee. I do not claim, and it would be impertinent to do so, that at the moment this is a perfectly drafted Bill, nor do I claim that it is altogether complete. What I am anxious to establish, if I can, is that your Lordships are aware of this problem and that you should be aware that there are methods of dealing with it. I have tried briefly to outline what these methods might be. If you accept, as I think you must, that in order to set the wheels of industry in this country once more in motion, you must increase the purchasing power of those at the bottom rung, so to speak, of wealth and society in this country, then I believe this Bill is a step in the right direction.

I do not put it forward as a panacea for all our ills or even as a cure for all unemployment. I do believe, though, that if you have in a town such as those with which I am only too familiar, one of the Lancashire cotton towns, even 3,000 or 4,000—no more than that—men and women on Saturday evening with another five shillings to spend, the result will be that the money will be spent, and spent on essential goods—food, clothing, heating, and other such necessaries—and that that will so largely stimulate the productive trade in this country that we shall find, where machinery is now lying idle, it will once again begin to operate. I need hardly remind members of your Lordships' House who have industrial knowledge that one of the largest items in the costs of manufacture is not the wages we pay, but the machinery and plant which, to-day, alas! we have to keep standing idle. It is on these grounds, very briefly stated, as I am anxious to avoid boring your Lordships, that I would ask you to give this Bill a Second Reading and to do so, I repeat, on the understanding that it may be allowed to go before a Select Committee.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Stanley of Alderley.)

VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME, who had given Notice that he would move, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, anyone who may have read the title of this Bill would probably be in favour of it, and some of your Lordships who have heard the moving terms in which the noble Lord has appealed to your hearts may at first blush also find yourselves in favour of it. I do not intend to appeal to your hearts but to your heads. I was glad to notice that in the course of the noble Lord's speech he did not reiterate the inaccurate statement which appeared in his Whip. I refer to the second paragraph in which he says: "This Bill passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons without a Division and had support from all sides of the House."


May I make an explanation? I had intended to refer to that. That statement was due to my ignorance, never having been a member of the House of Commons. I thought the First Reading in the House of Commons was purely formal as it is in your Lordships' House. I knew there had been discussion in the House of Commons, and therefore thought that that discussion had taken place on the Second Reading.


I do not for a moment suggest that the noble Lord wished to mislead your Lordships, but he has access to the OFFICIAL REPORT and he might have seen for himself what passed in the other House. As the noble Lord has told you, the purpose of this Bill is the enforcement of uniform minimum wages based on cost of living. These wages are not to depend on the circumstances of the industries and occupations in which people are employed, but upon certain arbitrary decisions of the Minister of Labour, based on his opinion as to the minimum amount necessary to provide reasonable amenity and to obtain reasonable comfort for at least two persons. I will deal with the general effects of such a statutory form of regulation of wages later. I will first draw your Lordships' attention to the arbitrary character of the proposals and to the uncertainty which would be introduced into the field of industrial relations by these proposals.

Before I further develop my argument I would stress the fact that hitherto Parliament has always taken care to avoid placing upon a Minister the authority to fix wages. For instance, in the Trade Boards Act wages are fixed by a properly constituted body, of which the representatives of employers and employees form the majority, and the power of the Minister of Labour is limited to granting or withholding legal sanction to the findings of that body. By this means political interference in regard to the fixing of rates of wages is avoided. This Bill enters upon the dangerous and undesirable course which so far has been deliberately avoided by Parliament. The wage which is to be the minimum is to be determined by areas, and is to be the minimum cost of living in those areas. Dictatorship immediately enters the matter, as these areas (which are to be fixed so that "throughout each of such areas the cost of living shall so far as is reasonably practicable be the same") are to be determined by the Minister. There is no obligation upon him to take any advice upon this difficult task, although so much depends upon the number and character of the areas chosen. Further, the Minister can change the boundaries of the areas whenever he thinks fit "to meet the change of circumstances."—whatever that may mean.

Your Lordships will already have seen that this power introduces an element of uncertainty into the wages situation, and that against the vagaries of a future Minister neither employers nor employees are given the least protection. Parliament can only enter into the matter if the Minister chooses to make regulations under Clause 6, and then only by a Resolution of both Houses. Why provide for the unusual course of a Resolution of both Houses instead of following the usual practice of a Resolution by either House? Is it because the noble Lord leans towards his left and agrees with the Socialist Party that this House should be treated with as little courtesy as possible? I can think of no other reason. But the Bill gives no protection in regard to the decisions actually taken by the Minister on areas and cost of living. It is of interest to note in passing that only England and Scotland are mentioned in the Bill. What about Wales? Is Wales to have a special new deal, or have recent events in Wales scared the noble Lord in charge of the Bill? Of course I refer to the fixing of assistance rates which have taken place in that country. Perhaps, on the other hand, the noble Lord thinks that the English and Scottish are more law abiding and more easily put under the heel of dictatorship.

Let me return to the determination of the areas. A question arises as to what is meant by the condition that "the cost of living shall so far as reasonably practicable be the same." The same for whom? Clearly the cost of living as defined by the Bill varies according to the class of persons whose cost of living is in question. I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord has fallen into confusion with the Ministry of Labour's cost-of-living index number. This index, however, refers to an average working-class family and it intended to show the percentage of change month by month over that family's cost of living in 1914. It does not pretend to fix the cost of living nor does it deal with the cost of living of all classes of workers. Nevertheless there has been continual controversy owing to its restricted character and to the difference of opinion as to the items included in the calculations. Different classes of workers have represented that it has no reference to their circumstances.

The matter becomes for more serious when a proposal is made, as it is in this Bill, that such a controversy shall be introduced into the settlement of statutory rates of wages, and there would clearly be disputes on this subject immediately this Bill came into operation. Only think for a moment of the Minister's problem—a Minister who, as your Lordships know, is already overworked—in determining the number of areas, and see how difficult would be this extra duty with which he is to be burdened, and realise how small is the chance of acceptance of any decisions he may reach. Under Clause 2 (1), having divided the two countries into areas, the Minister must proceed to ascertain for each area

  1. "(a) the minimum cost of living for an adult able-bodied person living within that area; and
  2. (b) the maximum values in money to ho attributed to receipts in kind."
These become respectively "the declared minimum weekly cost of living" and "the declared value of receipts in kind," and these determine the minimum wage to be paid.

It is important, to examine these provisions closely. Your Lordships will remember that the Minister already has power to alter the areas when he pleases, and in Clause 2 he is given the further power of introducing uncertainty and instability into the wages position by making new ascertainments and declarations whenever he thinks fit. Employers making forward contracts would be entirely dependent upon the vagaries of the Minister—I do not refer to the present Minister, who, of course, has no vagaries—in regard to the wages they might be expected to pay, and uncertainty of this kind can hardly be regarded as an advantage either to employer or employee. If any noble Lord makes a suggestion that this is similar to the cost-of-living scale it is an erroneous suggestion. It is not so, as in the cost-of-living scale there is prior agreement as to how this should move and the cost-of-living figure is calculated on a known and consistent basis. It is true that a sensible Minister would not make such changes lightly, but human nature being what it is, it is unwise to pass legislation which provides full scope for arbitrary action by an overzealous Minister.

It is almost incredible that so reckless an invitation to arbitrary action should ever have found its place in a Bill which purports to provide a scheme for determining a minimum wage such as is contained in this clause. If your Lordships will refer to the Schedule of the Bill you will observe that "the minimum cost of living for an adult able-bodied person" is in fact to be the minimum cost of living of not one, but two, adult able-bodied persons, so that either you get an incentive to a worker not to marry, which is contrary to public policy, or to marry another worker and so obtain four times the minimum cost of living. You may, I think, take it for granted that two such people would take care not to have a family, which is also against public policy. It is true that the Minister is given power to make provision for the maintenance of an unlimited number of dependants, and there you have the reverse side of the picture. An employer would naturally choose an employee who has no dependants, and so these wretched people will be thrown on to public assistance.

There is this further objection. The minimum wage applies equally to juveniles and to male and female employees with or without dependants, and whether skilled or unskilled, irrespective of the kind of employment, including even domestic service. I think it must be obvious to your Lordships that the noble Lord in drafting this Bill has confused the payment of wages with a system of public assistance of a most vague and arbitrary character, and has overlooked the fact that employees will not be prepared to have their wages determined as if they were recipients of public assistance. It must be clear that the determination would not be likely to be on a higher basis than that. I will not say too much as to the amount of controversy which would be likely to arise, especially where the ascertainment of wages depended upon the result, on items of food, clothing, accommodation, transport and the other items to be included in the Minister's discretion after consultation with such representative organisations as lie might choose to consult. It is well known that there is no end to the argument as to what items should be included in the cost-of-living index figures, and the weights to be assigned to them. At each level of wages or salary a case can be made out for different calculations, and the task set before the Minister in this case is obviously calculated to land him into a sea of trouble and to introduce an explosive element into industrial relations.

But the position envisaged by the Bill is made even worse by the provision which permits the deduction from money payments of a declared value of receipts in kind. This declared value is "the maximum values in money to be attributed to receipts in kind" as determined by the Minister. In this provision, the Bill seems to be contrary to the letter, if not the spirit, of the Truck Acts which have been of such inestimable value to workers as a protection against unscrupulous employers. There is no provision for assuring that receipts in kind are to be of the value assigned to them, and as full board and lodging are among the receipts in kind enumerated, there is obviously an open invitation here to a considerable reduction of the total minimum wage, and to a revival of a living-in system of the worst description with all the sanction of law.

The fixing of wages on a subsistence basis can only have the object of protecting the workers against the worst employers, and it is in that light that I ask your Lordships to examine the Bill. It is astonishing in these circumstances to find that one method of securing the payment of this subsistence wage is that the employer who is paying a lower wage should have to notify the nearest labour exchange of his guilt in order that his name may be inscribed on a black list to be open to public inspection. Surely that is a provision without precedent. The noble Lord, just now, said something about amour propre. I think he must be confusing fear with amour propre. It is a well-known fact that collusion in regard to breaches of wage regulations is most common among workers whose position is weakest, and that without an inspection system or an organisation such cases are never discovered except by chance. Bad employers could fairly safely take the risk of the formidable punishments contained in Clause 3 (2). It is true that there is an apparent safeguard in Clause 4—more apparent than real I think—that when an application for insurance benefit or public assistance is made the Government officer shall make inquiry as to the rate of wage paid to the applicant. Seeing, however, that an individual worker will not usually wish to make it more difficult for himself to obtain re-employment, as it undoubtedly might be if he was made the instrument of the prosecution of his former employer, it is quite possible that the truth will not be told.

I do not agree with the noble Lord when he says there would be no extra cost to the Exchequer. I believe that there would have to be a large addition to the staffs of the labour exchanges to check the statements made. Then there is no provision for requiring that records should be kept, or that receipts for wages should be given, so that under the provisions of the Bill there would be no, evidence upon which to rely against statements made by the employer—which, by the way, are not compulsory—and by the worker. The general effect of the Bill, therefore, is to introduce a minimum wage system on a public assistance basis without any real prospect of any result except to give legal sanction to such a rate of wages. What greater menace could there be to the wages system than passing this Bill into law? The noble Lord has given no indication that the Bill has any support from workpeoples' representatives, and it would be surprising if he could produce such support. For workers who need protection I submit that Parliament has provided amply in the Trade Boards Acts. The noble Lord has not said that these could not be used in the cases he has in mind, but he proposes legislation of a far less satisfactory character which would, in effect, express as the opinion of this House that wage earners should be treated in a similar way to applicants for public assistance, irrespective of the value of their work. That, I submit, is a backward step to which support ought not to be given in the interests of the general body of wage earners. I am afraid I have been an unconscionable time, but the Bill is of such an ambitious character that I felt it only courteous to the noble Lord to treat the subject fully. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Viscount Bertie of Thame.)


My Lords, before addressing myself to the subject matter of this Bill, may I, as representing the Ministry of Labour in your Lordships' House, be permitted to pay a tribute to the memory of one who was a former chief of that Department, and who was called to higher service, with tragic suddenness, on Saturday last? Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland was Minister of Labour from 1924 to 1929. It was he who piloted the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1927 through another place, and one of his last acts as Minister of Labour was to propose the setting up of the Industrial Transference Board to help unemployed workers. I sat in the House of Commons with him for many years, albeit on the opposite side of the House. While holding strenuously to his own principles, he was always able to appreciate the viewpoint of those who differed from him. He was at home among the things that are pure and lovely and of good report. His life was actuated by nobility of purpose and characterised by undeviating loyalty. I feel sure that I may be permitted to associate your Lordships in all parts of the House with this expression of sympathy with Lady Steel-Maitland and the family.

Coming to the Bill that is before your Lordships' House, may I say that I believe there is no disagreement in any part of the House with the desire of the noble Lord who has introduced the Bill, that workpeople shall not be paid unduly low wages for their work. The main object of Government policy has been to create conditions which would not only increase the number of workpeople employed, but would also enable them to be employed under better conditions. It is satisfactory to note that during the last few months there has been increased employment of workpeople and increases of wage rates in many industries. In addition, the earnings of workpeople have been increased by more full-time working. Also my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour has during the past year taken action which has produced better conditions for thousands of workpeople, as for instance in the constitution of the National Conciliation Board for Commercial Road Transport, and the establishment of two more trade boards. If, therefore, I express serious doubts as to the value of this Bill, it is not because there is any lack of sympathy with its general object.

There are, however, considerations which the noble Lord who has introduced the Bill may possibly have overlooked, but which the Government cannot ignore with a due sense of its responsibility for the general interests of the workpeople of this country. I do riot propose to deal with all the details of his Bill, although I cannot help saying that I find myself in more or less general agreement with much that has been said by my noble friend Lord Bertie as to the Bill's provisions. I propose, with your Lordships' permission, to deal only with the main principles of the Bill, because if those principles are unsound, or are incapable of adoption, then the details concerning the application of the Bill do not, I suggest, call for your Lordships' minute examination.

The main principle of the Bill is that every person employed shall receive wages either by the day or the week at a rate not less than the sum calculated to provide the minimum cost of living for two able-bodied adult persons. Any employer who pays less than this sum is to be required to notify that fact to the employment exchange in order that his name may be inscribed in a register open to public inspection. An employer's name may also be inscribed by the employment exchange officials, if and when an employee applies for benefit. I have no doubt that it is by inadvertence that the Bill proposes no special provision for juveniles, for I scarcely think it can be the intention of the noble Lord that the wage of a juvenile should be such as to be not less than sufficient to provide for two able-bodied adult persons. The difficulty, too, of fixing a minimum cost-of-living amount is very great; and serious as may be the differences in some cases us to the rate of wages which can be paid in a particular industry, these differences are small compared with the controversy which could take place on the subject of a minimum cost-of-living basis. Moreover, under the provisions of the Bill, persons employed in the same industry would have differing legal rates of wages, according to the opinion of the authorities in differing areas as to the minimum cost-of-living sum. I scarcely think in such circumstances that there would be much stability in the position. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether it is seriously contended that, instead of the present trade board principle of fixing legal minimum rates According to the circumstances of the industry, it would be an improvement to adopt this new system of fixing rates on a minimum subsistence basis, irrespective of the circumstances of the industry.

The important point, however, to which I wish to draw the attention of your Lordships' House is this, which I feel by itself makes it impossible to regard the Bill as offering a practicable scheme for regulating wages. It would threaten the whole wage system of this country, and would create circumstances which, I submit, all responsible organisations of workpeople would almost certainly strenuously oppose. It would, in fact, create a situation in which any employer in any industry who paid to his workers a minimum subsistence rate would thereby fully satisfy his legal obligations. In other words, it would give direct encouragement to the reduction of wages to this level where they are now higher. The noble Lord smiles, but I would suggest for his consideration that the minimum would tend to become the maximum. There has been built up in this country a great body of voluntary negotiating machinery, by which wages are fixed by discussion between employers and workpeople's representatives on the basis of the circumstances of the industries concerned. In addition, there is a large number of trade boards for industries in which there is not sufficient organisation to permit effective regulation of wages by voluntary agreement.

There are doubtless large numbers of workpeople not covered by these arrangements, but is that sufficient reason for taking the backward step of fixing general minimum rates on the basis proposed in this Bill? On the contrary, is it not the more reason for continuing the policy of taking all possible steps to widen the scope of the various forms of joint wage-regulating machinery, so that proper protection can be given to work-people not at present covered? My right honourable friend the Minister of Labour has shown himself to be willing to take action where it has been shown that the need exists, and surely it would be both unwise and inexpedient to do anything to discourage the trade unions from making further progress in the regulation, of working conditions, on the basis of the voluntary organisation of those whose conditions are in question.

The Government hazard the view that this Bill would be opposed by work-peoples' representatives as a step towards the destruction of the structure which has been built up by long years of effort, and this alone, I submit, is a reason for not supporting the Bill. If the noble Lord cared to consult work-peoples' representatives on his proposals, I think they would probably point out to him, in more robust language than I have done, the serious effects which would be likely to result from the passing of his Bill. Speaking with a full sense of responsibility, as a member of the Government, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government are in full sympathy with his desire that all workers should be fairly paid, and it is only because they believe that this Bill would tend to have the opposite effect that they are unable to give it their support. For that, reason, too, the Government cannot recommend your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.

I submit that it is appalling to think of fixing the cost of living, in differing localities, upon which wages would be thereafter based and treated in a similar way to public assistance. I confess, too, that I cannot agree with the noble Lord when he says that it would entail no additional expense. I feel that my noble friend Lord Bertie made the truer case, for surely it would entail the setting up of a large staff of paid Government officials, and would thereby be an additional burden both on the taxes and on industry itself. Believing that the principle of this Bill is both unsound and incapable of adoption, I must resist on behalf of the Government its Second Reading, and ipso facto its reference to a Select Committee, which would, in the opinion of the Government, entail only waste of your Lordships' time.


My Lords, either I must be a greater fool even than I thought, or else Lord Bertie and Lord Rochester have not read this Bill. I leave it to your Lordships to judge which is the true case.


I do not want to make any inference, but I have read the Bill.


I have not only read the Bill once but half a dozen times.


I am glad that Lord Bertie should have been at least six times more attentive than Lord Rochester, but in my opinion they are suffering under the greatest misapprehension as to what this Bill proposes. We have heard at great length, from both noble Lords opposite, grave objections to this Bill which I should be the first to recognise and admit if indeed they were true, but in nearly every case they depend upon the assumption that this Bill is to set up a minimum wage. That it does not do, and has no intention of doing. All it does is to make wages which are less than a certain minimum notifiable. There is no compulsion on anyone to pay wages greater than the minimum sum determined. Therefore the objections of Lord Bertie must fall to the ground. He envisaged an alarming state of affairs—a Communistic Minister for Labour who might fix an absurdly high standard of living, even as much as £100, a week. If such a thing happened it would bring this Bill into disrepute, necessitate a return of all employees, and therefore render the thing of less force and value. We do not believe that that is likely to conic about. It is true that Lord Bertie, with his usual acuteness, discovered certain drafting errors in the Bill, but those can all be set right, and I think if my noble friends opposite will read the report of this debate to-morrow they will find that not once did I use the words "minimum wage." Therefore they are under a complete misapprehension.


It does not make it a misapprehension because the noble Lord did not actually mention minimum wage. That is what it comes to.


Does the noble Lord suggest that it ceases to be a minimum wage when it ceases to be a compulsory minimum wage?


I do not understand the question of the noble Lord, because a minimum wage must be a compulsory wage. It is one set up by Parliament, or by a body to whom Parliament gives authority to set up that wage. Lord Rochester mentioned one or two other things which perhaps did not come under the heading of the assumption that this Bill was to set up a minimum wage. He mentioned the fact that juveniles do not come under the Bill. That omission was made with intention, because we are satisfied for the present to deal with adult labour. No doubt the Bill might be improved in Committee and juveniles included, but there are reasons why they are not at present included in the Bill.

The only other considerable objection which was made to the Bill was a passionate defence of the system of trade boards by Lord Rochester. It seems to me to be self-evident that for the class of labour which this Bill is designed to help, trade boards can be no good. If you are to have a trade board for the determination of wages there must be an organised body to deal with the Ministry of Labour, and much of this labour is unorganisable. I mentioned, for instance, charwomen and casual labourers. So far from this being an attack on the trade union system of this country, that again is a major misapprehension under which the noble Lord opposite is labouring, because this Bill has nothing to do with workers who work under the trade union system.

Lord Rochester was at pains to explain to your Lordships the benefit which the working man has received under the present Government. This is neither the time nor the place to argue that with him, and I am the first to recognise and be thankful for such benefits as have been conferred upon the workers, but the increases of wages and improvements of times which have been brought about by the action of the Government have been only in connection with those classes of labour which are organised under trade unions, or whatever it may be. Those are people who can help themselves, and it is not surprising therefore that Lord Rochester should say that this Bill has found no backing from workmen's representatives. It is exactly because these people are unorganised, and have no voice to speak for them in Parliament, that I wish to put this Bill forward. So far from its being the fact that the representatives of trades do not want this Bill to pass, I have been inundated by communications from people all over the country, expressing the hope that something at last might be done for them—people having no trade union and no representative in Parliament to make a noise on their behalf. I hope that this Bill will be read a second time.

On Question, Motion negatived: Amendment agreed to, and Bill to be read 2a this day six months accordingly.