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Control Of Employment Bill

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 20 September 1939

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Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

4.34 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. The object of the Bill is to secure that the available supplies of labour are used to the best advantage in the national interest. It is not a Bill for the conscription of labour, or to force employers to engage workmen they do not want, or workmen to work for firms for whom they do not wish to work. The Bill is designed, as my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour and National Service stated in another place, to secure that the man-and woman-power of the land is used to the best advantage, and that where there is a shortage of essential labour, and the work for which these workers are wanted is of vital importance, any labour and knowledge not engaged at the moment shall be directed to the employment most useful to the nation in this struggle.

Clause 1 gives the Minister power to make an order prohibiting, unless with the Minister's consent, an employer to whom the order applies from advertising his wish to engage, and from engaging or re-engaging, any employee to whom this order applies. With the outbreak of war there is a reduction of activities in many branches of industry and simultaneously a largely increased demand in others, for example, the manufacture of aircraft, munitions and all other materials and stores required by the armed forces. It is necessary from the outset to discourage the wasteful and ill-directed movement of certain classes of essential workers, and to direct them to places where their services are urgently required. In the first instance it is proposed to deal only with a limited number of skilled occupations in which there is likely to be an immediate shortage of labour.

Subsection (1) of Clause 1 enacts that the measure shall be brought into operation only by orders made by the Minister, and, by the proviso to subsection (1), which embodies a very important Amendment moved by the Opposition in another place, to which my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour most readily agreed, the Minister is required to refer a draft order to a Committee appointed by him, consisting of a Chairman and equal numbers of members representing respectively organisations of workers and organisations of employers which appear to him to be affected by the order he proposes to make. This will ensure that the branches of industry concerned have a full opportunity of representing their views to the Minister before the order is made, and noble Lords will realise that they will have full time to consider the order while it is in draft and to make any suggestions in regard to it. Subsection (1) (a) makes it illegal from the date specified in an order for an employer to whom an order applies to advertise a vacancy for an employee to whom the order applies, unless with the Minister's consent. When there is a shortage of a particular class of labour the employer naturally resorts to advertising in various forms. Unregulated advertisements, however, for essential classes of workers only have an unsettling effect; but consent to the publication of advertisements will not be unreasonably withheld. Subsection (1) (b) requires consent to be given by or on behalf of the Minister to any engagement or re-engagement covered by an order. The Employment Exchange officials will ordinarily give or refuse consent in accordance with instructions based upon decisions as to the relative priority of work upon which employers are engaged.

Subsection (2) ensures that workpeople required for vacancies of a high order of priority are not engaged for less important work. It is expected that a worker would ordinarily have a wide range of choice of employment on priority work. Subsection (2) requires the Minister to be satisfied that there is a suitable alternative job available before he refuses consent to an employee's engagement, and gives the employee the right to appeal to a Court of Referees, if he is not satisfied that a suitable alternative job in fact exists. Subsections (3) and (4) enable the employee, if the referee so approves, to accept the job which had been vetoed and to receive compensation, if that is thought fit. Subsection (5) is an important subsection imposing the penalties which may fall upon those who disregard this Bill. Your Lordships will see that they are extremely heavy—up to a fine of £100, and, in addition, a fine not exceeding £5 a day on which any employee is employed against the veto of the Minister.

Clause 2 means that if arrangements made between an employer and a trade union have been approved by the Minister subsection (1) (b) of Clause I shall not apply. Clause 3 gives power to appoint inspectors. Normally these inspections will be carried out by inspectors appointed under the Unemployment Insurance Acts. Clause 4 defines the inspectors to be employed, and gives them the usual powers to visit premises, to ask questions, and to inspect documents. Clause 5 provides that the orders or regulations made under the Act shall be laid before Parliament with the greatest possible speed, but, as they will be used under emergency conditions, it is also necessary that they should come into force at the earliest possible moment. For this reason the orders are exempt from the scope of subsection (4) of Section 1 of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, which provides that orders shall be published in draft in the London Gazette for forty days before they come into force. Under subsection (2) it is laid down that orders may be annulled by a vote of either House of Parliament within the forty days beginning with the day on which it is laid before Parliament, without, however, invalidating any action which may have been taken in the intervening period.

There is here a very important Amendment which has been made since the Bill was first introduced in another place by which, when an order is made, a copy of any report made by the Committee to which the draft of the order was referred, and which is the Committee referred to in the proviso to Clause 1, shall be laid before Parliament with the order. This ensures that Parliament will have the report of the Committee before it in any case in which a Resolution to annul the order is proposed. If both Houses are adjourned for more than four days, the period of the adjournment is not counted as part of the statutory forty days.

Clause 6 makes any officer of a body corporate who is proved to have connived at or consented to an offence, liable to prosecution as well as the body corporate itself. Clause 8 is the definition clause, and, as your Lordships will see, the definitions are in very wide terms. Clause 9 gives power to the Government of Northern Ireland to legislate for Northern Ireland on matters similar to those contained in the Bill; and Clause 10, besides stating the short Title, provides that the Bill shall continue in operation until an Order in Council is made declaring that the emergency which occasioned the Bill has come to an end. This is a Bill of great importance, but it received almost unanimous approval in another place when the Amendments to which I referred had been made. I hope your Lordships will give it an equally favourable reception to-day and give it a Second Reading forthwith.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Earl Stanhope.)

4.43 p.m.

My Lords, as the noble Earl has said, this is a very important Bill, and it is also remarkable in that it received a practically unanimous reception in another place. The reason for that is very interesting. The noble Earl perhaps felt a little delicacy about explaining to your Lordships exactly what happened, but I am under no such inhibition. It is interesting and valuable to know the history of this very important measure. It was proposed to introduce it, and the Trade Union Congress were very naturally consulted. They did not have the details of the Bill before them, though, after consideration, they agreed in principle with its objects. I may say here that at any other time than the present such a Bill would have been received with great apprehension by the trade union movement and the Labour Party generally, and indeed might have been resisted. But the times are abnormal, and we have given our word that we will see this thing through and support the Government in all necessary measures for the prosecution of the war to victory. We intend to keep that pledge. We therefore agreed in principle, but when the details of the Bill appeared there were certain matters and safeguards omitted which aroused some alarm.

The Trade Union Congress had met at Bridlington for their annual conference, and it was difficult for them to go into details in London on these matters. The Minister of Labour was requested by the Parliamentary Labour Party, who were in consultation with the Trade Union Congress, as always, to postpone the Bill until we could get agreement. This was done. The Bill, though urgently required, was wisely postponed long enough for the trade union leaders to return to London, examine its provisions, consult their various branches, and suggest further Amendments. The Amendments which the Minister of Labour, on behalf of the Government, has, at our suggestion, put into the Bill, and the Amendments we moved ourselves, have now removed certain doubts and fears on the part of organised labour. I take this opportunity of stating these facts as history. I have had little to do with them myself; but it is a good example of how legislation of this sort should be passed through Parliament and also of the great advantage of doing as I am glad this Government have started to do—of taking the Labour Party, and especially the industrial side, into consultation on all important matters. It is in this way that the measure has reached your Lordships as an agreed Bill.

We consider this Bill necessary for the same reasons as those explained by the noble Earl. This, even more than the last war, will be an engineer's war. I believe the calculation now is that it requires ten workers to retain one fighting man in the battlefield or at sea. Although at the present time there is a dislocation of the supply of labour, on which I propose to say one word presently—this is a matter which is very important—there will soon be need for the most economical utilisation of all our available labour, especially our skilled labour. In that connection I hope the Government are proceeding with their plans, which I understand they are considering, to utilise alien and refugee labour in this country. There are a great many people in this country who are officially classed as enemy aliens but who, in fact, owe us a great debt of gratitude, which they are willing to pay, for our hospitality and sanctuary, and who are just as much opposed to the evil forces we are fighting as any British subjects can be. They can play a very great and useful part, particularly when there is a shortage of labour, and those of them, especially skilled workers, will I hope be made use of.

Since this Bill passed through the House of Commons certain things have happened in the country. There have already, in the last few days since Parliament adjourned, been heavy dismissals in practically every industry in the country by nervous employers—in some cases inevitably due to the dislocation of a great war; in other cases, I am afraid, brought about only by apprehension and uncertainty and in a rather precipitate way. This matter has aroused attention and caused disquiet in many parts of the country. Cannot the Government issue immediately an appeal to employers suggesting that they should go slow on dismissals? They may be sorry soon that they have got rid of their good men; they may be anxious to get them back and be unable to do so. There have been numbers of unnecessary dismissals of all kinds, and an appeal from the Government would be helpful.

This is a Bill to control employment. I wish it had clauses to enable the Government to bring pressure to keep men at employment where it is in the national interest they should be kept. We regret that that was not foreseen. I must give one example to show the absurd state of affairs in which we find ourselves. Coal miners have been released from the Army. They have no desire to be released, but they are being told it is their duty to doff their uniforms and go back to the pits in Cumberland. I had this from one of the Cumberland miners' leaders, a member of another place, and a man of great experience and responsibility. These soldiers have been released from the Army to go back to the pits, and there is no work for them. There is obviously something wrong there which needs to be put right, and put right with energy and without a lot of red tape and bureaucratic chinoiserie and obscurantism. I must warn the Government that presently the Labour Party will have to begin to make constructive criticisms in more plain language on some of the things going on up and down the country. This is only one example of lack of foresight and in some cases lack of energy, and we consider it our duty to draw attention to these things. That is one particular example.

Now I have one question to ask of the noble Earl of which I gave him somewhat short notice. We understand that it is intended to discontinue issuing the unemployment returns. We think that is a mistake. We think it is the duty of the Government to the country to issue the unemployment returns as they have done in the past. We see no valid reason why they should not be issued and continue to be issued right through. I thought it my duty to make those few remarks partly because there have been some developments since Parliament adjourned last week and this Bill reached your Lordships' House. But to the principle of the Bill my noble friends would wish to give the same support that it received from our Party in another place.

4.52 p.m.

My Lords, my noble friends on these Benches will, I am sure, give this Bill their cordial support. I am very glad that I can speak also I think for the Federation of British Industries and for the Confederation of Employers' Organisations when I say that they thank the Government for the way in which they have heard the views of employers as well as the views of members of the Trades Union Congress. But the point to which I wanted specially to draw the noble Earl's attention is relevant to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made about the unemployment of miners. It is quite true that at the present moment a certain number of men usually employed at the collieries in this country are not now fully employed. The main reason for that is that licences have not yet been given in sufficient numbers by the Government for the export of coal to countries which are in need of it. Having conferred with mining interests, I can say that those who are responsible for the conduct of our collieries realise that it is most important that men should not be taken away from them at the present time, although at the moment they may not be fully employed. The output of coal in this country is much less than the anticipated demand even during the next few months, and at the end of the year there is going to be a very great shortage of coal having regard to the demands that will be made, are being made, and have been made already by France to secure the necessary fuel in- order to ensure the production of war munitions and to keep going her industries.

That being so, it is essential that men should not be induced to leave our collieries and go to other work, as, unfortunately, they have been in many instances. I am not now speaking of the men who are being recruited for the Army from the collieries and who may have to be returned. Unfortunately that happened during the last war, when many men had to be returned from the trenches into our mines in order that the country could carry on its collieries in proper condition to supply the country's need for coal. My complaint and that of a number of colliery owners is that during the last two or three weeks, owing to the great activity of the A.R.P. authorities, men have been induced by higher remuneration, up to £3 a week, to leave the collieries and to take up what is no doubt regarded by a great many of them as more patriotic work—that for A.R.P. purposes. I am not questioning the need of men for A.R.P. work in any way, but I say that it is more important for this country to have a reserve of miners retained in their occupation, and not only miners, but also those employed in iron and steel works as well as in chemical works and at coke ovens, where most important things are being produced.

The fact remains that in my district, and I believe in other districts, 10 per cent. and more of our men, many of them skilled men very necessary for the carrying on of our industries, have been induced to undertake A.R.P. work. I see nothing in this Bill which would enable the Government or the Minister to undertake the responsibility of bringing these men away from A.R.P. work and putting them back into the industries which are of more vital importance to the country. I think this matter is one of sufficient importance to call the attention of the Minister to it, because I believe that if representation were made to the A.R.P. authorities, who are offering these inducements to men to leave the collieries, that would restrain them from continuing to offer these special inducements and the men then would naturally go back to their own industries. Many of the men who have been induced to go away are skilled men, and are really required in the industries to which I have already referred. I think they ought to be induced to go back to their proper work, which is really of more vital importance than that which they have taken up for A.R.P. purposes. That is the only point to which I desire to call the attention of the Government. It is one to which some other people have been calling the attention of the country by letters to the newspapers. I refer particularly to one by Vice-Admiral K. G. B. Dewar, in The Times, in which he points out how many of the most vital industries are suffering owing to the special inducement in the matter of pay being made by A.R.P. authorities.

4.57 p.m.

My Lords, I am much obliged to the two noble Lords who have spoken upon this Bill, but really I think their remarks fall outside its scope. This Bill is merely for the control of labour between one industrial employer and another. The point that was particularly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, came under the Bill which deals with enlistment in the Army of people in reserved occupations. Colliery workers and those employed in the iron and steel industry are definitely in reserved occupations, and how they got into the Army was in this way. They had joined the Territorials, some of them many years ago, and it is only latterly in the Militia Bill, as it is called, that reserved occupations have really come into being. Now that reserved list, or at any rate an adaptation of it, is being applied to all the Services, and men who are already in the Territorials, if they belong to reserved occupations, are being combed out and sent back to those industries. That is going on now day by day.

I think it applies, though I am not quite certain, also to the A.R.P. personnel who are employed whole time, but I will certainly refer the matter raised by my noble friend Lord Gainford to the Minister of Mines and the Minister of Labour, and ask them particularly to take notice of what he has said. I know that he is entirely right in saying that the demand for coal is going to go up very greatly, and although there may not be full work at all the mines at this moment, there is no question that any amount of coal will be required and that soon, both for export and for our home industries, particularly having regard to the increase in munitions, which we shall be turning out at a rapidly increasing rate as the months go by. Therefore I am certain that my right honourable friends will bear in mind the point which has been raised, but I will refer the matter to them again and ask them to take special note of it. I am much obliged for the way in which the Bill has been received by your Lordships, and I now ask you to give it a Second Reading.

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