HL Deb 25 July 1938 vol 110 cc1094-103

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is primarily aimed at enabling certain wage-regulating authorities to require the provision of holidays with pay, thus carrying out one of the recommendations of the Committee set up under my noble friend Lord Amulree, whose Report was issued as Command Paper No. 5724 some months ago. It affects potentially some 2,000,000 workers. I think it is agreed on all sides that holidays for our workers are most desirable, and although I understand that some 3,000,000 of manual workers are getting paid holidays by collective agreements and some millions of salaried workers, shop assistants and domestic servants are getting them otherwise than by collective agreements, there are still very many workers who are not getting paid holidays. That means in very many cases that they are not getting holidays at all, because a great many of the lower-paid workers really cannot afford to save up for holidays out of their wages. As in the Road Haulage Wages Act, which was passed a short time ago, holiday re- muneration was made the matter of statutory provision, so by this Bill holidays with pay will became a legal reality.

The Amulree Committee recommended early legislation on three main subjects. The first was to give power to trade boards, agricultural wages committees and any other statutory bodies for regulating wages to make provision for holidays with pay; the second was to entitle workers in domestic service to two weeks annual holiday with pay; and the third was to give power to the Minister of Labour to assist in the administration of special holidays schemes for industries with intermittent employment. This Bill implements the first and third of those recommendations. So far as domestic servants are concerned, my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour announced in the House of Commons on June 2 that he did not think it would be "opportune to include in this Bill any proposal for dealing specially with domestic servants." but that this matter could be more appropriately dealt with in connection with general legislation on the subject of paid holidays and he saw no reason for legislating for one particular section of workers.

The Bill enables what are known as wage-regulating authorities to make provision for paid holidays, wage-regulation authorities being defined in Clause 5 of the Bill as a "trade board, an agricultural wages committee or the Road Haulage Central Wages Board." The trade boards and agricultural wages committees are given power to make provision for holidays and holiday remuneration. The Road Haulage Central Wages Board has already power under the Act to which I have just referred to determine holiday remuneration and by this Bill is given power to make provision for holidays. The workers who come within the scope of this Bill are those covered by trade boards, agricultural wages committees or the Road Haulage Central Wages Board. The approximate numbers, I am informed, are: under the trade boards, 1,300,000, under the agricultural wages committees, 600,000; and under the Road Haulage Central Wages Board 200,000, making in all just over 2,000,000 persons. The Bill also empowers the Minister of Labour to assist in the administration of voluntary schemes for securing holidays with pay for workers in any industry or branch of an industry. The Minister by Section 100 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935, has power to assist in the administration of schemes for promoting greater regularity of employment, and this clause invests the Minister with similar powers in relation to the provision of assistance in the administration of voluntary schemes for securing holidays with pay.

Now, if I may, I will deal with the clauses of the Bill. In Clause 1 it is provided that trade boards and agricultural wages committees, in respect of any workers for whom they have fixed or are fixing remuneration, may direct that such persons shall be entitled to holidays. Clause 2 makes provision for payment for holidays. Your Lordships will see that subsection (1) is mandatory. Where a wage regulation authority has directed that holidays are to be allowed in accordance with the provisions of Clause 1, the authority shall make provision for securing that the workers shall receive pay in respect of the period of the holiday. It will therefore not be possible for a wage-regulating authority to require holidays to be given without pay. Clause 3 is the administrative clause which makes applicable to holidays and holiday remuneration the procedure of the Trade Boards Act, the Agricultural Wages Regulation Act and the Road Haulage Wages Act. If they were not made applicable general provisions regarding procedure, enforcement and other matters would have to be included in this Bill, which would then become very lengthy. The clause also gives the Ministry of Labour power to make regulations regarding holidays and remuneration. This power the Minister already possesses in regard to other matters dealt with under those Acts.

Clause 4 is an important clause. It enables the Minister of Labour to assist voluntary schemes for securing holidays with pay for workers in any industry. The Amulree Committee, in their Report, expressed the view that in industries with intermittent employment, such as the building industry and port transport, where the employment may be of a casual nature and with many employers in the course of the year, it might be necessary to introduce a system whereby the holiday payment was made proportionately by the various employers who employed the workers. The Committee suggested that power should be given to the Ministry of Labour to assist in such cases through the employment exchanges, which were considered appropriate for the purpose. This assistance is not limited to industries that come under Section 100 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935. The clause invests the Minister of Labour with powers to assist voluntary schemes for securing holidays with pay with this difference, that where a scheme under Section 100 of the Act of 1935 must apply to the whole industry concerned, the scheme under Clause 4 of this Bill may apply to any workers in an industry or branch of an industry. Clause 5 of the Bill is a definition clause. Only three definitions have been found necessary. Clause 6 is the short title and extent.

That is the Bill, which I have explained in some detail to your Lordships. Those of your Lordships who have read the Report of the Amulree Committee will know that it recommended the establishment of an annual holiday With pay for industrial workers as part of the terms of the contract of employment. The Committee proposed a probationary period of two or three years to enable industries to make voluntary agreements with their workers as far as they possibly can. My right honourable friend the Minister fully agrees with this recommendation and hopes that during the next two years as many voluntary agreements may be made as possible, because the more voluntary agreements there are, the less field there will be for statutory action.

The Committee further recommended that there should be legislation in the 1940–1941 Session o f Parliament making provision for holidays with pay in industry generally. Obviously His Majesty's Government cannot decide at this moment the nature or scope of the legislation which will be required to be brought in at that time. This legislation must depend on developments during the next two years. But they quite realise that the recommendation as to legislation in 1940–1941 was an important element in the very satisfactory unanimous decision at which the Committee of my noble friend was able to arrive. For this reason the situation will be carefully watched by His Majesty's Government between this time and a few years hence with regard to future action. In the meantime I present this Bill to your Lordships as at all events a step on the way to the final goal—namely, holidays with pay for all our workers, which is the goal at which I think the nation wishes eventually to arrive. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Templemore.)


My Lords, I must first of all apologise to the noble Lord opposite for not being present during the first part of his remarks. I must confess that, as there were several other Second Readings on the Paper before the Second Reading of this Bill, I did not anticipate that it would come on so early. This Bill is one to which those of us who sit over here attach a great deal of importance, and I therefore hope that your Lordships will bear with me while I state as competently as I can our point of view. In the course of several years' experience those of us who sit on these Benches have learnt the habit of snatching somewhat greedily at any crumbs of social reform that may fall from the Government's table. We must confess that our appetite is never satisfied, and that we still continue to clamour for more. At the same time we prefer to accept whatever odds and ends may come our way rather than sit and starve.

This long-drawn-out metaphor implies what I am about to say: that we shall co-operate with the Government to our utmost in securing the passage of this Bill into law at the earliest possible opportunity and in preventing what no doubt the Government may fear: its demise through lack of Parliamentary time, which of course would involve the introduction of another Bill at some time during the next Session of Parliament. We are anxious that there should be no such delay before this humble but useful measure passes into law, and we are anxious to prevent the people who are affected by it from having to wait a day longer than they have waited already in order to receive the right to an annual paid holiday. The provision of this annual consecutive period of paid holiday is surely a measure of social reform that is not merely desirable on humanitarian grounds in the interests of the working people, grounds that have been described very adequately at considerable length during the discussions on this Bill, but also as a measure of elementary social justice. It is surely an intolerable and insufferable injustice that the salaried workers, the professional workers, those who receive rent and interest, should have a holiday of at least a fortnight, and very often a longer holiday, every year on full pay while the great majority of wage-earners have no holiday at all. It is from that point of view, as the fulfilment of a perfectly justified demand for social justice, that we on these Benches regard this measure.

It is no exaggeration to say, as indeed has been said frequently before, that this reform is long overdue. We are indeed among the last of the wealthy industrial countries, although we were one of the first to become industrialised, to provide statutory holidays with pay for our wage-earners. As many as thirty-eight other nations have already given the working classes a minimum period of holiday guaranteed by law. These include several of our own Dominions, and in Europe I should like to point out the dictatorships, with whom we are not usually afraid to challenge comparison, as well as the democracies. In France, for instance, there is a fortnight's paid holiday for all workers, and in Russia—I think your Lordships will agree that a great many nasty things are said about Russia in this House, and that it may therefore not be inopportune to say at least one kind word—twelve days a year are given with full pay to workers, who are thus enabled to enjoy their holidays. Frankly, I am ashamed that our country should be in the rearguard instead of in the vanguard of this widespread international movement towards more repose and more leisure for the working classes.

Let us envisage the scope of this measure and find how much relief it really brings. It has been estimated by the Amulree Committee—and its estimate has, I think, been the basis of the figures given during the discussions in another place—that of the 18,500,000 employed people in this country about 8,000,000 already enjoy an annual paid holiday, leaving 10,500,000 who have no such right at present. This Bill, as the noble Lord has pointed out, does enable certain statutory bodies, the agricultural wages boards, the trade boards, and the Road Haulage Central Wages Board, to provide holidays for a number of wage earners that will amount approximately to 2,000,000. Assuming for the moment, as I believe is the intention of the Government, that the statutory authorities empowered to arrange for paid holidays by this Bill will, in the great majority of cases, actually arrange them, there is still a residue of 8,500,000 people for whom no provision will have been made at all, and who have no certain prospect in time to come of annual holidays, either by statutory right or through collective agreements. It is to me, and I have no doubt it is to other members of your Lordships' House, a most melancholy thought that nearly half of our working population will still be without an annual paid holiday after this measure is passed into law, and after the statutory authorities whom it affects have taken advantage of the powers that have been given to them.

In one important respect, at least, this Bill departs from the recommendations of the Amulree Committee, whose proposals have otherwise been accepted as the basis for its provisions, and I should like to know, because, having read very carefully through the debates in another place, I am not in the least satisfied, what reason the Government give for what would appear to be a very arbitrary omission. I am referring to the failure to include domestic servants among those who will be entitled to annual holidays with pay. It is exceedingly difficult to see why this recommendation should have been ignored. There can be no doubt that domestic workers are even more entitled to consideration of this kind by Parliament than workers in other occupations, and I think their special claim rests in the first place on the fact that they are unorganised, that they have no trade unions to represent them, and that therefore they are unable to bargain with the same effectiveness as organised workers, with those who employ them. In the second place, because they do in many cases work for much longer hours than people in other walks of life. There is no regulation of their hours of work, either by Statute or by collective agreement, and one knows of many instances where they have to rise exceedingly early in the morning and probably to remain up, after working for the best part of the day, until their employers retire to bed at night.

The criticism that I have advanced in regard to this Bill would be open to the charge of unconstructiveness, I think, unless I was prepared to show that we have a very definite, and I think a very practical, alternative to offer to the measure that the Government are proposing. We want a Bill that would recognise the right of all wage-earners to a paid holiday, in the same way as other fundamental rights, such as the right to education, to medical attention in the event of ill-health, and to security in old-age, which have already been recognised by Act of Parliament. We advocate that a minimum period of a fortnight's holiday with pay should be laid down by Statute for all wage-earners, leaving the detailed arrangements to be fixed in every industry, according to its particular circumstances, by negotiations between the employers and those whom they employ. The effect of such a measure would surely be no more than to bring what at present everyone would regard as the backward employers of labour into line with the practice of enlightened employers, whether private individuals or public authorities, at the present day. I am glad to be able to say that the 80,000 employees of the London County Council enjoy a fortnight's holiday, with full remuneration, regardless of their particular grade of work, and it is simply to bring the standards of those who are now unwarrantably depressed in this respect, up to the level of those who are in the employment of people who are perhaps prepared to make sacrifices for the benefit of their employees—certainly enlightened employers—that we want a much more far-reaching measure than the Bill which the Government have provided. I suggest that in view of what has been happening abroad, and in view of public opinion in this country, the time is over-ripe for a Bill that would provide for paid holidays for all classes of wage-earning people in this country.

There is just one question that I would like to address to the noble Lord who has spoken for the Government. I am asking it because there is just a possibility that I may not have understood perfectly correctly the meaning of one statement which he made. The question is this: Do the Government, or do they not, accept the recommendation in paragraph 150 of the Amulree Report? That paragraph opens with these words: During the Parliamentary Session of 1940–1 legislation should be passed making provision for holidays with pay in industry generally. There can be no doubt that there was considerable ambiguity about the utterances of those who spoke for the Government in another place, and I thought I detected—


May I interrupt for one moment? Did the noble Earl say paragraph 156?


No, paragraph 150. I thought I detected in the remarks of the noble Lord something more definite than had been said in the course of the Government speeches in another place. I thought that what he at any rate implied by his remarks—he will correct me if I am mistaken—was that, provided of course that our efforts to dislodge the noble Lords are unsuccessful between now and then, the Government, if in power in 1940 or 1941 and if circumstances were such that wage-earners had not received a holiday period by agreement with their employers, would introduce some sort of legislation. He was very careful, and indeed very rightly careful, not to commit the Government to any specific measure or any specific type of provision, but he did say, I thought, that legislation would, if necessary, be introduced.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Earl for his comparatively warm welcome to this Bill, which we think is a very good Bill indeed, but which noble Lords opposite, like their colleagues in another place, appear to think is a very small effort. The noble Earl asked me two main questions. One was about domestic servants. He asked why domestic servants were not included. I think the noble Earl did say that he had not been here during the whole of my speech, and he must have missed that part of the speech where I specially dealt with that matter. I will therefore repeat what I said. As far as domestic servants are concerned, my right honourable friend announced in another place on June 2 that in his opinion it was inopportune to include in this Bill any proposal for dealing specifically with domestic servants. This is a matter which he thought could be more appropriately dealt with in connection with general legislation on the subject of paid holidays, and there was, he thought, no reason to anticipate for one particular class of worker that general legislation. Really this has nothing to do with domestic servants having no union and not being able to bargain. I rather thought that there was such a shortage of domestic servants in these days that they could more or less make their own bargains; at least I have generally found it so. If the noble Earl knows that there is a great plethora of domestic servants anywhere I wish he would let some of us know, because we have not found it so.

The noble Earl asked me a specific question at the end of his speech as to whether the Government intend to introduce legislation in 1940 or 1941, as recommended by the Amulree Committee. He said that I was very cautious in my statement. Well, I hope I was. I always try to be very cautious in what I say from this box, because otherwise one is apt to get into trouble. I am afraid I cannot be very much more definite than I was in my opening speech. I think I can say this, that the Government will watch the situation very carefully between now and 1940, always hoping that as many voluntary agreements on this important matter will be made as possible, and, as far as they know, they very much hope—except in the exceedingly unlikely event of the Party of the noble Lords opposite displacing us before then—that they will bring in legislation along the lines that I have indicated for providing holidays for all workers. Beyond that I am afraid I cannot go, and I hope that that will satisfy the noble Earl.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.