HL Deb 18 February 1942 vol 121 cc928-32

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the purpose of this Bill is to restore after the war trade practices which have had to be departed from as the result of the pressure of the necessities of the war. It is worth remembering that a similar measure had to be passed after the last war, which was the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act, 1919. Then, as now, the measure was passed to redeem a pledge which had been made by the Government. The conditions prevailing then and those that prevail now, however, are different. Then specially convened conferences of many trade unions and so on had to be called, and Government pledges had to be embodied in formal written and signed documents. All of that took time and was very complicated. But between the last war and the present war the machinery for the regulation of industrial relations between employers and employed has been enormously increased, and as an illustration one may cite the formation of Joint Industrial Councils. Now there is a National Joint Advisory Council, which was set up in the year 1939 and is an established part of the machinery of government. On this body all the workers and employers are represented, and the intention governing it is, on behalf of all parties concerned, to let no rules and no traditions stand in the way of the fullest co-operation with the State for the complete efficiency of the industry and for the maximum of output. And it is worth noticing in passing that this understanding was active long before the question of a Government pledge was introduced.

Many of the practices to which this Bill relates were safeguards which were the result of generations of trade union effort, and were the barriers erected by them, with the consent of the State, against lower standards of life. The workers, if I may ask your Lordships' permission to say so, had a kind of property right in these regulations, and in suspending them they submitted to a kind of voluntary disarmament. They were suspended for the sole purpose of helping the nation, on the assurance that at the end of the war those practices would be restored. The Government gave such a pledge, and this Bill is an attempt to fulfil that pledge. When the pledge was made it had a composing effect, as was shown by the fact that for the past two years the time lost in trade disputes represents only one-fifteenth part of one day for every worker employed. This Bill is an attempt to redeem the pledge of the Government. It is not concerned with questions of wages, it deals solely with the practices which prevailed before the war began, relating to such matters as dilution of skilled labour and the demarcation of work among different classes of workers.

The Bill does not establish a statutory code of practices. It does nothing more than re-establish practices that previously existed, and it operates for a period of eighteen months, after which the normal methods will be applied. I do not think your Lordships would wish that I should enter into a description of the clauses of the Bill on this occasion. I need not say more to commend the Bill to your Lordships' favourable consideration. It is, on the whole, an agreed measure. It passed through another place without any Division and with very little criticism, and it is important because the reversion of industry to a peace-time footing may prove to be more difficult than its transformation from a peace-time footing to a war-time footing. We believe that this Bill will contribute to the good will which will enable the necessary transition to be made. I commend it to your Lordships' favourable consideration, and move that it be read a second time.

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


My Lords, there is only one thing I wish to say in a very few words after the very able exposition which the noble Lord has given, and that is the difference the employee in the Bill is placed vis-à-vis the employer. The employer is under an obligation to do certain things, and if he does not do them he can be had up before the arbitration tribunal. If he does not carry out the award of that tribunal, he can have penalties inflicted upon him. I quite appreciate the object of the Bill. It is an excellent one designed to maintain peace in industry for a certain time after the war is over, but it does seem to me rather unfair that there should be, as it were, this one-sided bargain. The employer has obligations placed on him to ensure that he does not break any agreement he has made with the employee, but the employee is not under any obligation, as far as I can see in the Bill, to maintain his agreements with the employer. If the employee breaks an agreement there is no provision in the Bill for any penalties. In these days, when we are all expected to pull our weight, any bargain which is made between employers and employees should be a two-sided one, because what is good for one should be good for the other. I know this is a late stage and that, as the noble Lord has said, the Bill passed through another place without a Division, but I should like to ask His Majesty's Government whether they could possibly consider putting something in the Bill to protect the employer from being unfairly treated by the employee and also place on the employee the natural obligation to keep his word once it has been given.


My Lords, I should like to express a word in support of the view put forward by my noble friend who has just sat down. With regard to the principles of the Bill, I hasten to say I am entirely in accord, but it is right that this caveat should be entered on the lines of what my noble friend has said. It is true that this is an agreed Bill in so far as it has been the subject, before its introduction, of much conference between representatives of both sides. I should not like anything said in this House to give the impression of discord or lack of appreciation of the efforts which the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Labour has made in successfully reaching this point of agreement, and I am conscious of the fact, as my noble friend Lord Snell has said, that the Bill passed through the other House without a Division. But there is a danger in allowing this opportunity to pass without reference being made to the absence of any provision in the Bill imposing on the workers' side a complementary obligation to that which the Industrial Court has the power to impose on the employers' side.

It would be absurd to think that we are going to return to a world after this war which in any way will represent the pre-war conditions. Therefore it might rightly be said that there is no point in arguing whether it matters much that one side should be protected equally with the other. But we have had so many instances in which the absence of such a provision at the moment when the matter was being reviewed has made difficulties later on that in this case it is right that the omission should be mentioned. At this stage of the proceedings I shall confine myself to appealing to the noble Lord to consider, between now and the next stage of the Bill, whether it is not possible to insert something which would achieve the objects for which I ask his sympathy. It is my intention to put on the Order Paper an Amendment which would be in the form of an addition, but between now and the next stage of the Bill I hope the noble Lord will, himself, find it possible to suggest something which will in no way impair the object of the Bill, and in no way suggest the absence of appreciation of the harmony we have in industrial relations in this country, but yet will remove this danger of a measure going on the Statute Book now which would omit a point that might prove important at some future date.


My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their favourable reception of this Bill, and I shall in one or two words comment on the suggestions which have been made. The noble Earl spoke of the lack of penalties for the workers in this matter. The Bill deals with the restoration of trade practices in factories and workshops. The only people who can restore pre-war practices are the employers. The workers cannot restore them, and the provision in the Bill is that if an employer refuses to comply with an award of the arbitration tribunal in regard to these practices, then he shall be liable to certain penalties. Employers are, as I say, the only persons who can restore these practices. In regard to the argument that there is no workers' penalty. that is perhaps the case so far as the Bill is concerned; but every employer retains the right to dismiss any employee for neglect of duty or for other reasons. That employee has to bear the penalty of dismissal, which is not a light thing. He may also have to appear and justify himself before his own trade union. I cannot at this stage promise that anything can be done. The Minister will note what has been said by the two noble Lords, and if the Government feel that they can satisfy them by making any addition to the Bill they will do so at a later stage.

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