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Clause 7—(Power To Fix Remuneration And Holidays)

Volume 388: debated on Thursday 1 April 1943

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I beg to move, in page 5, line 26, to leave out "Minister," and to insert "Commission."

We have just been discussing the general provisions regarding wages boards. We now come to a Clause giving certain specific powers and duties to the wages boards which are shown in the Bill as, "wages regulation proposals"—fixing remuneration, holidays, intervals for meals or rest, and so on. These recommendations, or rather the "wages regulation proposals," are to be sent, not to the Commission but direct to the Minister, and some of us put down this Amendment with a view to discovering why this was. It is a curious halma kind of move to go over the heads of the Commission direct to the Minister. Under the Bill as it stands the Commission has been entrusted with general duties of supervision and making recommendations on wages and conditions in the industry. Therefore, it seems rather peculiar that when, as a result of some of their recommendations, wages boards are set up, the reports of these boards should not be sent to the Commission at all but direct to the Minister. There may be some reason for that, but what it is I have not yet been able to understand. The Commission may not, in fact, agree with the wages regulation proposals sent forward, but they will not see them, I suppose, until some later stage. I think that the Commission should be given the opportunity, first of receiving these wages regulation proposals, and then of sending them on to the Minister, together with any comments they may see fit to make. It seems to me that that point is quite a reasonable suggestion. I put it forward to my right hon. Friend. There are one or two consequential Amendments. I do not mention them now and I would be out of Order if I did. I ask the Minister whether he would consider this matter.

I have followed precisely in this case the procedure of the Road Haulage Board, trade boards and other forms of wage regulation. There is another reason why the proposals should come direct to the Minister. If you look at the powers of the Commission, at no place are they charged with the duty of fixing wages, and it would be quite wrong to convert the Commission into a sort of super-arbitration court presiding over what virtually becomes, under the Bill, a self-governing wages board. Therefore, when a wages board comes to a decision, that decision ought to come to the Minister for consideration and not have superimposed upon it another argument before another body which would convert the Commission into a kind of super-arbitration court and so duplicate the discussion. I think the hon. and gallant Member will see the wisdom of this, and will not press his Amendment.

The Commission are to consider remuneration. Therefore, why should they not have a report from the wages board? Is it not quite absurd to set up a Commission and then take proposals direct to the Minister?

There are two different things we have to consider, and one is regulating machinery. Once you have established that, it becomes self-governing and reports direct to the Minister.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move, in page 5, line 28, after "the," to insert "minimum."

I have mentioned before that the wages board has power to submit to the Minister proposals for fixing the remuneration to be paid to various employees in the industry, and the Amendment which I now move would have the effect of stating in the Bill—I think it may be the first time it would have appeared—that the proposals they shall make shall fix the minimum remuneration. I can well understand the view of the Government on this point. They will say that a number of other instruments contain proposals for a statutory wage and that they do not mention the word "minimum." It is simply a statutory wage without the word "minimum" in. They will also say that the statutory wage means the minimum wage. I agree with that, but I think most Members on both sides of the House are in favour of getting the highest wages possible paid in industry, and there is a tendency, when a statutory wage is fixed, for it to become a completely fixed wage, and in the ordinary way employers do not pay more than the minimum. I believe that my proposal does not actually add to the Bill. The legal position remains the same, but it does draw the attention of the wages board and of employers to the fact that these wages, when they are subsequently fixed and become statutory wages, are in fact minimum wages; and I think it might obliquely and by implication encourage employers to pay more than the statutory minimum. Therefore I hope my right non. Friend, as the proposal makes no addition, in fact, to the power of the Bill, will consider this Amendment very carefully. I hope he may see fit to accept it.

I sympathise with what is animating my hon. and gallant Friend in putting forward this Amendment, but I hope that I may convince him that the Amendment is not necessary, in view of the provisions of the Bill. Sub-section (8) of this Clause says:

"Remuneration…fixed by a wages regulation order is hereafter in this Act referred to as 'statutory remuneration.'"
Clause 8, Sub-section (2)—the penal Subsection, which establishes the sanction—says:
"If an employer fails to pay to a worker to whom a wages regulation order applies remuneration not less than the statutory remuneration…."
We have there, in the words "not less than," the clear suggestion that this is imposed as a minimum rate, and that the encouragement and tendency are to pay above it. The only other point I would like to make—and I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will appreciate the importance of it—is that it is true that the word "minimum" was used in legislation up to a number of years ago. It occurs in the Trade Boards Act, but it was omitted in the Road Haulage Act, and it has made no difficulty. It would be rather unfortunate if at this stage, having taken the course of omitting the word, we now went back upon that course, and it would raise a difficulty in connection with the Road Haulage Act.

Under the Trade Boards Acts, there are, I know, cases of employers who pay more than the trade board rates. I would like the Minister to tell us what word is used in the Trade Board Acts. Is it the word "minimum"? I have not given very much thought to this, but in regard to the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman, it seems to me that these personal service occupations differ fundamentally from industries like road haulage, coalmining and engineering. I would not like to have sat here without saying at any rate that I would prefer some words to indicate that the employer may pay more if he cares to do so under this Measure.

I think we are dealing with something entirely different from road haulage, and practical difficulties might result if the word "minimum" were not inserted. I contemplate a great many difficulties that might arise, and I would ask the learned Solicitor-General to consider this matter before the next stage.

There is no difference between us on this matter: we only want the best word. I thought that the position was clear, but if there is any doubt, I will gladly consider it again. If any of my hon. Friends want to make any representations, I shall be only too pleased to discuss the matter. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend, in view of that undertaking, will not press the Amendment at this stage.

I would like to reinforce what was said by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). This Bill is an extension of the Trade Boards Act. Road haulage is a different thing. Also, the word "statutory" sounds too respectable, if I may put it that way. A man says, "I am paying statutory wages, so I am a good fellow." If he says, "I am paying minimum wages," that sounds quite different. I think you will get better terms of service if you use the word "minimum" than if you use the word "statutory."

I think that the last point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) is a very good one. Evidently it was originally the right thing to introduce the word "minimum" in such circumstances in Acts of Parliament. The fact that it was dropped does not necessarily mean that it was wisely dropped. I agree that if you suddenly introduced it now, and if there are a great many cases where the word "minimum" was not used in Acts, it might make things a little difficult. It depends on how many Acts it has been used in already, and whether if you go back to the old scheme—which is quite a good thing to do sometimes—it would cast doubt on previous Acts. I do not in the least want to delay the proceedings. I shall be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend will re-examine the matter in the light of what has been said, and, on that understanding, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 5, line 34, to leave out paragraph (c).

We have, I am very glad to say, introduced in this country a general system of paid holidays. It is already almost universally in operation, apart from certain seasonal trades. This paragraph tends to throw doubt on existing practices, and I think that by doing that it does not strengthen but tends to weaken the Bill. Where you put into an Act of Parliament something which is already substantially in operation in practice, and the Act will not come into operation for a long time, you tend rather to prejudice than to improve the position.

This provision follows precisely upon the model of the Holidays with Pay Act, which was carried a few years ago. It does no more than carry out the principle which Parliament approved when they gave power to the Agricultural wages committees and the Road Haulage Board to fix holidays. The only way of legalising the holiday without having a general Holidays Act is to give these wages boards power to fix holidays. Parliament decided at that time to adopt this method. I must have it in this Bill so that the same procedure can be followed as that which applies in all other wage-fixing machinery in this country.

I am grateful for that explanation, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 5, line 35, at the end, to insert:

Provided always that no wages regulation proposals shall be submitted in respect of any workers whose wages are regulated under the provisions of any Act other than this Act.
I move this only in order to get some elucidation. Under Clause 7, power is given to introduce wage regulation proposals.

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend. I undertook yesterday, in dealing with the powers of the Commission, to look into this question prior to the Report stage and I thought that, probably, my hon. Friend did not know that.

I did not know that, and in view of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made:

In page 6, line 11, after "shall," insert:

"make such investigations as it thinks fit and shall."

In line 14, leave out "fourteen" and insert "twenty-one."

In line 17, after "and," insert:

"shall make such further enquiries as it considers necessary and."—[Mr. Bevin.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.