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Clause 3—(Machinery For Wage Regulation By Agreement)

Volume 388: debated on Wednesday 31 March 1943

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I beg to move, in page 2, line 26, after "any" to insert "class or classes of."

I must accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Chairman. This is the first of a series of Amendments designed to ensure that classes of workers are dealt with and not the individual workers of individual undertakings within any particular class. I hope the Minister will realise what I mean by classes. The Commission is dividing up the industry into certain classes, and, as the Bill is drafted, there is a little doubt whether certain individual establishments might be treated differently, thus leading to unfair competition within any one particular class. For example, if it were decided that hotels in one particular classification should be included and all the workers in that group of hotels should be included, it would be unfair, I submit, if waiters in one hotel on one side of a road found themselves treated differently from the waiters employed in a similar hotel on the other side of the road. It is a very simple Amendment, and I hope it will be accepted.

I am sorry that we cannot accept this Amendment, and I hope that when my right hon. Friend has considered the points I have to advance he will agree with me that it is one which would not operate and would be impractical in its application. The suggestion to interpose the word "class" is made with regard to a number of Clauses but we have to consider the Clause at present before the Committee. In this Clause we are considering whether there is existing machinery adequate for regulating the remuneration or conditions of any worker. Assuming that there is machinery and that it is adequate, the Amendment wishes to provide that those workers must constitute a class. The Clause is dealing with the position where there is a group or groups of organised workers already—that is the position which the Clause postulates—and the Commission may think that another group or other groups should be joined with them. When we come to consider my right hon. Friend's suggestion that they are to be restricted in that work unless a class is covered, the question arises, "What is a class?" If organised workers are a class there is no point in the Amendment, because we are dealing in the Clause with workers who are organised already. Is it to be the amount of work they do, that constitutes a class? For example, would regular workers as opposed to casual workers constitute a class? Is it time that is to govern it? For example, do day workers or night workers constitute a class? Is it the age that is to govern it? Is it to be a condition as to residence, a question of persons living in?

I have endeavoured to consider this point as applicable to these conditions and I cannot find that the word "class" gives any guidance or lays down any real principle which will be helpful in carrying out the procedure of the Bill. I think it is for the Commission to consider whether the groups of workers whom they have in mind do fulfil the conditions which are laid down by Clause 1. I am sure that my right hon. Friend has considered this point. I do not know whether he has in mind the case where the word "class" was inserted in a rating Bill which we passed a short time ago. The word was used with regard to property—a "class" of hereditaments. It was considered by the court and, in much better language than I have been able to use to this Committee, the court took exactly the same point of view that "class" does not provide any guidance and leaves the matter in exactly the state of uncertainty which we wish to avoid.

I, therefore, point out, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will give this consideration due weight, that if he introduces the word "class" in this and the other cases, he is making that a condition precedent of the action taking place, and making the matter challengeable in the courts, unless a class is embraced by the action which takes place. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend had that point in mind. If he had, on that assumption, I can hardly think of any word which would be more unhappy or would be a more fruitful mother of useless litigation than the word "class" inserted in this regard. Let us take workers; let us lay down the problem; let us pick a Commission and then the wages board, with the greatest possible care and skill; and then let the governing consideration be whether the body which we pick considers that the group of workers shall receive the treatment laid down.

Does that mean that there will be no differentiation between classes of workers in any particular type of undertaking? That is what I want to avoid. It is the intention of my Amendment to avoid discrimination or difference in treatment between workers engaged in any one particular class of industry or undertaking.

I do not think that "discrimination" is a very happy way of describing it. It may be that, within a body of workers who are doing the same work, different considerations apply, in different geographical areas, for example. That may easily happen. In the present case, if my right hon. Friend has any particular point in mind, he might when we go through the Clauses, if he is allowed to do so, draw attention to them. Here, where we shall have machinery, I cannot appreciate why one should wish to introduce, in addition to that governing factor, the other factor of a certain class of worker.

I cannot see that these words are so very dangerous. There must be some sort of classification. If you are to classify, there must be something in the different classes, on the basis of which they are classified. There must be some criterion. All we want is to make sure that all those who are classified in a certain class shall be treated in the same way.

We all appreciate the Minister's difficulty. It may be that the word "class" has, by its past associations, become unsuitable for use in connection with this matter, but the Solicitor-General has not yet dealt with what I conceive to be the trouble which my right hon. Friend seeks to remove by his Amendment. The Solicitor-General has spoken repeatedly during his speech of groups of workers. If the word "group" is less objectionable than "class" I submit that a similar Amendment with the word "group" might meet the objections. The Clause provides that the Commission is to determine whether there exists adequate machinery for regulating the remuneration or conditions of service of workers. I understand that what it is desired to secure is that the Commission shall be satisfied as to the adequacy or otherwise of the organised machinery for dealing with wages and conditions of groups of workers, performing like services in like surroundings, and that it shall not be competent for the Commission to have regard to machinery which may well exist in large establishments, and which may well be satisfactory there, but are to concern themselves with machinery to deal with groups of workers engaged in similar occupations in similar surroundings. If the Amendment in that form will not meet that point, will the Solicitor-General consider whether it is not possible to secure in this Clause or a subsequent Clause that workers shall not be dealt with differently in one establishment from those in another establishment performing similar work?

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not press the Amendment in this form, because if you bring in the word "class" the result must be a great deal of litigation and hindrance of the work which is the object of this Clause. "Group" might be less bad than "class," but it seems better to follow the practice which I understand is followed under the Road Haulage Wages Act, where the Central Board is empowered to deal with the wages of any organised worker. I have never heard any suggestion of "class" or "group" coming in under that Act. I wish to see this Measure improved, but I am certain that if you put in the proposed word, the question "What is class?" will arise time after time, and harm will be done instead of good. I remember, a little earlier in one Debate, the right hon. Gentleman referred to a Government statement as being either meaningless or dangerous. If "class" means organised workers, it is entirely meaningless, but if it means that "class" is to be occupation or a like idea, it will be dangerous to the good working of the Bill. I very much hope that the Government will stand by their view and that my right hon. Friend will keep his thunder for something which may be rather more definite and useful.

I am inclined to take the advice of my hon. and gallant Friend and keep my thunder for a later stage. I do not press this Amendment, though I am not completely satisfied with what the Solicitor-General said.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 2, line 26, after "applies," to insert:

"and if in their opinion the remuneration and conditions of employment of those workers are unsatisfactory, and accordingly require further regulation."
I think this is an Amendment on which one's thunder ought to be used. We attach a good deal of importance to this Amendment. Under the Clause as it is at present drafted, I understand that, whatever the wages and conditions are, however satisfactory they may be, nevertheless if the machinery is capable of improvement, then a report may be sent to the Minister stating how the machinery can be improved for the regulating of wages and conditions. We submit that the criterion for interference or for non-interference with any section of this industry by the Commission should not be the adequacy of the machinery in that particular section of the undertaking or in a particular section of the industry, but whether or not the wages and conditions are satisfactory. That ought to be the criterion. That is what we ought to consider and that is what I believe the intention of the Bill to be. What I want to know is the real object of the Minister. Does he want to get an organisation he likes, or does he want to get good conditions irrespective of the type of organisation which exists? That is the question I should like to ask him at once. Is it the organisation in which he is interested—the organisation he would like to see—or is he most concerned with the conditions and wages in the industry? If he desires to obtain good wages and good conditions then, personally, I see no reason at all why he should not accept my Amendment.

Some of us who are interested in this Bill have considered this matter for quite a long time. As my right hon. Friend said, I believe the intention of the Government is right—that is to say, they have inserted words designed to bring it about that if the Commission are entirely satisfied that existing machinery is adequate or can by agreement be made so, the Commission will report to the Minister, and then, we understand, no further action would be taken. What my right hon. Friend and many others of us who were rather disturbed by the implication of some of the words of this Bill, are anxious to secure is that regulation from above will not be imposed for the sake of regulation, and that because some people like regulation and dragooning they will not be given an opportunity to have a free hand. If this form of words will make it clear that the intention of the Government is that no regulation will be imposed, when it is not necessary, I think that the words could with advantage be inserted.

We are very anxious to make quite sure that no unnecessary regulation is carried out where there is machinery already in certain sections of the catering industry which has worked satisfactorily and is carried out by employers and employed working together amicably. We do not want interference, whether by a Commission or subsequently by a wages board. The employers and employed in any section of any industry concerned, are much more likely to have sound machinery and come to a reasonable conclusion than gentlemen who are imposed from above on the choice of any Minister. They are much more likely to be able to arrange their affairs amicably. Therefore we say that the Government should leave good alone. That is what we are asking in this Amendment. I think it will help to make the intention absolutely clear if these words are accepted and I hope the Minister will see his way to accept the Amendment.

I think the Mover and supporter of this Amendment do not realise what they are doing. In the Bill, as it stands, the only thing the Commission inquires into is whether there is collective machinery and whether that machinery is functioning properly. If it is, they do not inquire into the remuneration fixed by the machinery. That is not a part of the Commission's business. All they are asked to do is to see whether those concerned are covered by a collective agreement, and whether that agreement is operative and properly enforced. If it is, that ends the matter. The promoters of this Amendment are asking the Commission not only to inquire into that question but also to examine and report on whether what the collective machinery did before they inquired into it, was right. Are hon. Members not doing the very thing they do not want to do? I imagine the Bill is right as it is. It leaves the question to be inquired into, whether there is a collective agreement that is functioning. The Commission do not ask what it is. If they are satisfied that a body of workers is covered by collective machinery; there is no ground, if that is adequate, to order a wages board. But I do not want the Commission to sit as a sort of a super-arbitrator to say that what a body did in fixing wages ought to be revised. That is the last thing I would like the Commission to do. Therefore, I suggest that the Amendment might be withdrawn.

I am afraid that the Minister's reply does not deal with the whole point. This provision empowers the Commission, it is true, to consider whether wage machinery in fact exists, and I am sure we all accept the Minister's argument that if they find that machinery exists, they leave it alone and everyone is satisfied. But the Bill goes further and lays upon the Commission the duty of examining that machinery, and possibly suggesting alterations and extensions to it. I submit that it is exactly on that point, that it is relevant that the Commission should know whether, in fact, inadequate as the machinery may seem to them, it has been effective in securing proper conditions for the workers. At a later stage, we shall be considering the conditions in which the Commission is to recommend the drastic step of the creation of a wages board, but this Clause does provide that the Commission shall make suggestions as to the modification, or in their view, the improvement, of the machinery if they consider it is not as good as it might be. I submit that if the machinery is, in fact, working, and is, in fact, securing a proper standard of wages and conditions for the workers, that machinery is prima facie satisfactory. There should be no call whatever on the Commission to recommend any change if the conditions are satisfactory.

Exactly the same principle applies as in Clause 2. It is a question of the machinery, and of whether the machinery is adequate. A moment ago my hon. and learned Friend was being asked to make this clear in respect to classes and groups. Suppose that you have a collective agreement, but the number covered is limited. The question arises of whether it is adequate. Instead of clumping down a wages board, you make suggestions as to how the thing can be made right. It is purely a question of machinery, not of wages.

I should like the Minister to make a little more clear the purposes of the machinery. A little while ago I asked to what extent trade union machinery already existed in the industry. His reply confirmed an impression in the minds of many of us who have nothing to do with the industry, that there is no demand for collective machinery from either side in the industry. Is it the case that this Commission, if it finds that there is no collective machinery, in a particular part of the industry, is bound to recommend that there shall be collective machinery, although it may find that collective machinery is not suited to that part of the industry?

I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again." I do so for this reason——

Amendment negatived.

There cannot be a point of Order until the next Amendment has been moved.

I beg to move, in page 2, line 41, to leave out from "question" to the end of the Clause.

I had better read the whole of this Sub-section:
"Where the Commission in any such report as aforesaid suggest methods for improving any machinery as aforesaid, the Minister shall take such steps as appear to him to be expedient and practicable to secure the improvements in question"—

As the Amendment has been moved, I now desire to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," I do so for this reason——

It goes on—

"and, if the improvements are not thereby secured, he may, if he thinks fit, refer the report back to the Commission and the Commission shall thereupon reconsider it having regard to any observations made by the Minister and shall make a further report to him."
I suggest leaving out the words:
"and, if the improvements are not thereby secured, he may, if he thinks fit, refer the report back to the Commission and the Commission shall thereupon reconsider it having regard to any observations made by the Minister and shall make a further report to him."
Once the Commission has carefully considered the whole of the machinery mentioned in Clause 3, and has come to the conclusion that there are certain ways in which it can be improved, those ways are to be considered by the Minister, who has to take such steps as appear to him to be expedient and practicable to secure the improvement. If the Minister, by reason of half-heartedness, or because he does not understand what the Commission have asked him to do, or because he does not agree with the Commission, or for some other reason, does not want to carry out the recommendations, he can send the report back to the Commission, and they have to reconsider it and make a further report. But there must be some finality. One cannot go on indefinitely referring things back from the Minister to the Commission, and from the Commission to the Minister. If it is an experienced Commission—although its experience is likely to be learned at the expense of the industry—and it sets out all the improvements which ought to be made, surely one cannot have the Minister sending it back and asking for further reports. The Commission is to be composed of responsible and allegedly independent people. They will have seen the witnesses, heard the evidence and considered the matter, I hope properly, and if they have come to a conclusion, it is improper, I suggest, in a conflict between the Minister and the Commission, for him to arrogate to himself the right to reconsider the recommendations made to him by his own Commission.

I beg to support the Amendment. This is one of the Amendments with which the Committee finds itself in a certain difficulty, on account of the drafting of the Bill. A good deal hangs upon the composition of the Commission, which we shall not discuss until we get to the First Schedule. But we know enough of the proposed character of this Commission to see that they will be a more or less responsible body, and I cannot see the faintest justification for starting an eternal game of battledore and shuttlecock, tossing the report from the Commission to the Minister and from the Minister back to the Commission. It looks very much as if the Minister wants to retain in his own hands powers which if they have to belong to anybody, should belong to the Commission. I hope the Minister will give us some explanation of his desire for references back of this kind. It seems to us quite unreasonable and unnecessary, and it will cause waste of time and great complication.

I want to make my position quite clear. I have put this in the Bill deliberately, and with a view to securing the proper working of the Act. The Commission reports, say, that certain collective machinery exists, but that it can be improved and made effective. The Minister then calls conferences of the parties, or seeks in some other way to make it effective. We had a good deal of experience at the end of the last war, when many joint industrial councils were set up, only to collapse at the critical moment. They collapsed not through the good employer breaking away, but through the bad employer undermining and undercutting the whole edifice. Let us assume that the Minister seeks to get improvement and to get effective collective machinery, in perfect good will, as we tried to do with the industrial councils, and that because of obduracy or jealousy on the part of some of the people concerned, or for one of a variety of reasons, it breaks down. Frankly, I have put this into the Bill because the Minister, having failed to get that section of the industry to effect the improvements and to maintain them, as recommended by the Commission, must be able to send the matter back to the Commission in the light of that failure. The great thing in this business is to keep continuity. When you have built the industrial edifice, do not let anybody break it down. This Clause is put in deliberately with that intention, and the Committee would do well to accept the safeguard. It may be that this safeguard in the Bill need never have to become operative, but it will be of tremendous moral value in preventing the bad employer from wrecking the efforts of the leading employers.

Does that mean at any time after the Minister has taken steps? Supposing these steps are carried out and improvements are made and things are going along quite well, and then, months or years afterwards, they break down, is it the intention of the Minister that it should then be referred back to the Commission? I could understand wanting to do that after a short period of time, but if it is to be perpetually hanging over, then surely this is a very wide power.

I want to make it clear, and I ask for the support of the Committee with their eyes open for what I am doing in this case. It is at any time, if the machinery breaks down, otherwise you would be in the position that people would neither have the protection of the industrial council nor the protection of the wages board and nobody could do anything, and that is a position in which I am not prepared to leave the industry.

I do not want to produce that situation at all, and if that is the view of the right hon. Gentleman I do not want to do this, and in these circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 2, line 46, at the end, to add:

"(3) Before making any report to the Minister under this section the Commission, if they think it desirable, may hold a formal inquiry with respect to the subject upon which the report is to be made, or direct such an inquiry to be held and a report to be made to them thereon by a competent and impartial person not in the employment of any Government department."
This is a simple and desirable Amendment. As the Bill is at present drafted, the Commission might make a recommendation to the Minister to interfere with existing voluntary machinery for regulating wages and conditions without having carried out any proper inquiry. Our request is a very modest one. We do not ask for any compulsory inquiry. We leave it very largely in the hands of the Commission themselves. We do not ask that there should be compulsion placed upon the shoulders of the members of the Commission, although frankly, until we know the constitution of the Commission, we doubt very much whether they should be trusted with a great deal of freedom. We ask that only if the Commission think it desirable to hold such an inquiry shall an inquiry in fact be held. As the Bill is drafted, the Commission do not even have to give notice with regard to any interference with the existing machinery, and no section of the trade, neither the employers nor the workers, need be consulted. We suggest that if the Commission think fit, an inquiry may be held before the proposed interference is suggested to the Minister. It is purely permissive. It is suggested that the Commission might have to institute an inquiry, and I do not think it is clear at present that the Commission have that power. It is suggested that they might have power to institute an inquiry or possibly suggest what might be a very revolutionary change in some of the existing voluntary machinery. If the Minister assures me that they have the power to institute an inquiry, it will go a very long way towards meeting the situation. It is desirable that the words should be put in more definite form that the Commission can institute an inquiry if in fact they deem it wise to do so.

When this was drafted I naturally assumed that the Commission, if they were to determine whether there was collective machinery in existence, would by the very nature of things have to consider the constitution and the purpose of the machinery and have to know whether it worked or not. I do not at this stage see any need to refer to investigations or inquiries. It is a question of whether it is the fact. They cannot ascertain whether it is the fact unless they have the facts before them. I think that the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman is really redundant. With the wide experience that the right hon. Gentleman has had of so many Government Departments, he knows very well you would not for a moment proceed to determine that machinery existed without looking at the machine or asking for the machinery to be brought so as to have a look at it. I do not want to put redundant things in the Bill. It is obvious what has to be done. No Minister would come to the House and say that he or a Commission had decided to report that machinery existed if no investigation by any Commission had ever been made.

You lay down certain powers by means of Act of Parliament, but there is not a word in this part of the Bill to say that the Commission may in fact hold an inquiry at all. The intention might be that they should have an inquiry, and common sense dictates that they must, but, unfortunately, the Bill as it stands does not say so. The only thing which makes me doubt the propriety and use of this Amendment is whether the position is not already covered in Clause 2 (1, a) by which

"The Commission shall make such inquiries as they think fit…into conditions of employment."
I am inclined to think that it probably does, but in supporting the Amendment, I am anxious to find out whether in fact that point is covered. If I receive an assurance from the learned Solicitor-General that that is so, then I shall feel very different about it.

I would like to ask one point which I hope the Solicitor-General can elucidate. It seems that as the Bill now stands it may cause serious interference with the existing forms of wages regulations. I believe that some such machinery exists in the industrial canteen section at the present moment. It seems to me that we are not safeguarded in the Clause as it now stands against some kind of interference by the Minister on the recommendation of the Commission, and also that the industry concerned might not have warning of what is intended. Surely the procedure outlined in the Amendment would obviate any difficulty of that sort. As has been pointed out, Acts of Parliament are apt to be interpreted, after a lapse of time, in a different way from the interpretation put upon them by those who passed them, and we ought to have a safeguard against such sort of thing. I cannot see that this Amendment is in the least unreasonable or would in any way damage the Minister's control of the industry if it were passed.

As I understood the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Major Petherick), I quite agree with his view. The scheme of the Bill is that the Commission shall make inquiries, and where they find industrial machinery they shall report in this way. It seems quite clear that the first step they must take is to make such inquiries as they think fit, and that covers the method of making the inquiry. I appreciate what is in the mind of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower), but I do not think that we need indicate, or should suggest, to the Commission this procedure of a formal inquiry. The whole purpose of the structure which has been chosen for the Bill is that the Commissioners should have knowledge, experience and continuity of the work, as I have insisted previously. I do not know if my hon. and gallant Friend has had great experience of these formal inquiries, but although in many cases they do most useful work, a great deal of time is spent in preparing for them, and I should think that the kind of situation which was limited to the question of the efficacy of industrial machinery is met by the suggestion which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth referred to, namely, that it is governed by the initial procedure, which states that the Committee shall make such inquiries as they think fit.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

On a point of Order. I have twice tried to bring this discussion to a conclusion. May I ask the Government how long they propose to sit to-day, as it is a matter of some importance to me and many others?

Then I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

If the Government wished to make a statement, they could move to report Progress. I should not accept such a Motion otherwise.

I am concerned about this Clause because of something which happened while the Bill was in preparation. May I remind the Committee of what is in the Clause? If the Commission need machinery, they approach the Minister, and, if he thinks the machinery is all right, they get the machinery. But I think this Clause has an omission; there does not seem to be a duty on the Minister to do anything if the Commission reports in the manner indicated in the Clause. Let me put a practical point. The Minister in his Second Reading speech, which I do not doubt influenced a number of people, said he wanted the Bill for the purpose of the war, that he wanted it to deal with the industrial canteens, of which there were 8,000, that he must have some machinery, and that he wanted to apply the Essential Work Order but could not do so unless there was some regulation. Industrial canteens have adequate machinery. They have set up a Joint Industrial Council, consisting of representatives of the National Industrial Caterers' Association and two trade unions of repute. They have made an agreement as to wages, and those wages compare favourably with those paid in other parts of industry. They are better than the wages paid under agreement made by the Transport and General Workers' Union. The Minister refused to apply the Essential Work Order to these people. He was asked Questions about it in the House, but he has not given a satisfactory reply. That being the position, what guarantee is there for the sections of the industry that put themselves in order and do everything they can to abide by wages rates, that the Minister will take any notice of that? As it appears in this Clause the Minister will do nothing. This is not a theoretical matter; it is a matter of great practical significance on a point which he raised on the Second Reading.

Frankly, his argument about the need for this Measure for war purposes is a bit thin if you take that particular part of it away. Is the Minister able to do anything to help these people? In my submission, he is able to do nothing at all. He ought to bind himself in some way to use his best endeavours to help those people if they need his help. There ought to be some provision by which they can make applications and representations to him and obtain his assistance, not as a matter of charity but as a matter of right. They cannot do it under this Clause. If Questions are put on their behalf in the House, they will be fobbed off with the cold comfort that the only thing they can hope for is to allow their employers to run their canteens for them. That is a very poor argument to advance to the people in this section of the trade. I hope most sincerely that he will consider the matter and will be prepared to assist the industrial canteens and the trade unions and will do what he can, if the Commission reports favourably, as I think they may, to assist those canteens and the workers in them to attain the objects that they desire.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.