§ MR. MUNDELLA
, in rising to call the attention of the House to the operation of the Truck Acts, and to move—That, public representations having been made to the effect that systematic evasion of the Truck Acts prevails extensively in the Coal and Iron mining industries in Scotland, as well as in other trades and places in the United Kingdom, this House humbly prays Her Majesty to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into such alleged offences, and to take such steps as She shall be advised for obtaining from Parliament any special powers that may be required for conducting such inquiry, or for suppressing such offences,In dealing with this question, he should only lay before the House facts which were beyond dispute. Within the last few weeks there had been Petitions presented to the House, signed by upwards of 80,000 minors, complaining of their grievances, and particularly of the infringement and evasion of the Truck Acts in Scotland, and if no extraordinary circumstances had recently transpired, there was quite sufficient in the matter of those Petitions to induce the Government to order an investigation. In the early part of last year The North British Daily Mail, published in Glasgow, sent a Commissioner through the mining districts to investigate the complaints made by the miners and the workmen in the iron manufactories of Scotland, and the mode in which they were dealt with by the truck system. In 1867 a Committee of that House reported that fearful 138 abuses prevailed in England, and more especially in Scotland, in connection with mines; that owners of mines, contrary to the intention of the Truck Acts, made large profits by means of their store shops, which they induced their workmen to deal at by various means; and that the present law required alteration in order to render it more effectual. The letters which had appeared in The North British Daily Mail on the subject were written with striking ability, and the statements they contained were given with the utmost circumstantiality. The subject having been taken up by the leading organs in this country, the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir David Wedderburn) put a Question to the Home Secretary, inquiring whether any steps were likely to be taken with regard to it. The Home Secretary, in reply, stated that if the question were brought before the House in some tangible shape it should receive his best consideration. On the 17th of July of last year a most able leader upon the subject appeared in The Times, calling upon that House to investigate the question. The conclusion of that article was as follows:—We certainly trust that the Home Secretary will think it his duty to institute a searching investigation into the matter, and to cause the Act to be enforced with rigour against all offenders; and if, as at present framed, it is insufficient against the noxious practices, to take the proper steps for its amendment. But the surest remedy is the extinction of the 'long-pay' system. To this end, employers, operatives, and the public should contribute their utmost.That article was one of the most forcible summaries and epitomes of the whole question that it had been his lot to meet with. When they remembered that it was only in 1831 the Truck Acts were first passed, and saw all the good which they had done, he was quite sure he would not call in vain on the House to extend and perfect their beneficent action. Looking at the evidence which was given before the first Committee, it was difficult to realize that we were living in the same country, so great was the change which had taken place, the truck system being entirely unknown I now in Lancashire, where it at one time overshadowed the prosperity of the working classes, and being replaced by a co-operative system, in which £5,000,000 was turned over every year, a profit of £10,000 a week going into the pockets of the working men. In 1854 an inquiry 139 was instituted into the truck system in Scotland, and Mr. Hill Burton reported how generally the truck system prevailed, and how baneful were its effects. The people found it impossible to get a few pounds out of the owners of mines, even for the most necessary purposes. Since then the iron trade had greatly developed, and he was sorry to say that the evil had kept pace with it. Magistrates, and men in high social positions, were depriving working men of their hard earnings by one of the most cunningly-devised schemes of evasion of law this country had ever witnessed. There were three branches of the system. The first was what was known as "poundage"—it could not be dealt with under the Truck Acts; the second was "truck" pure and simple; the third was "truck" by evasion. The system, as a whole, and its several branches, found an important auxiliary in what was known as "long pay." There were two systems of reckoning in Scotland—one the 14 days', and the other the month's reckoning. The fortnight's was, in practice, a three or four weeks' reckoning, and the month's reckoning, in reality, extended over five or six weeks. Now, everyone knew that, as a rule, workmen and their families were not in a position to do without their wages for such a time. Every employer knew by experience that short payments were the best for the workmen; and that it was of great advantage to the family of the workman that his week's wages should be paid on the Friday, in order that the man's wife might be able to go to market in good time. In the Scotch works to which he was referring, if a man wanted an advance of say 10s. out of the money he had earned, it was made to him; but he had to pay interest for it at the rate of 1d. in the 1s. or 1s. in the pound, so that from 800 to 900 per cent per annum was paid by the poor workmen for advances made to them on the security of wages which they had earned. The "truck," pure and simple, was so dangerous that the large employers did not adopt it. Small employers and middlemen were the persons who practised it. The more complicated truck system was that generally in use, and he would explain it to the House. An Act of Parliament required that the men should be paid in coin. How was that observed in the letter and broken in the spirit? A 140 workman went and asked for an advance of 10s. out of the money he had earned. The advance was given him, and an entry of it was made in a little book, which was taken away by the person getting the advance. Close to the building in which the advance was made, but outside that building was a store kept by some stranger; but the goods in which were the property of the employer, who paid the wages and made the advance. On the counter of the store the workman laid down his money; and, in return, he got what was called "a line." This line was an order on the store for goods to the amount of money laid down by the workman. Spirits were sold in those stores, and he might mention that before the Mines Commission it was shown that one Member of that House held 11 spirit licences. In the orders of lines, whiskey was entered as "A. Q." With £50 an employer could make advances nominally amounting to £400 or £500; because, no sooner was an advance laid down on the counter of the store than it was returned to the employer's cashier. In some cases a slide was used to facilitate the transfer of the money from the store to the employer's counting-house. It occasionally happened that a man tried to "slope" the store; but if he did slope it, a little cross was made on the leaf of his advance-book, and the next time he presented himself for an advance, nothing further was said than that no advance could be made to him. The House would see that there was an engagement required from the workpeople that they should deal at the store; but by the plan of crossing, or, as it was termed, "staking" the books, sloping the store was prevented. Sometimes the books of all the members of a man's family, if they worked in the same employment, were staked; and if a man continued to slope the store after his book had been staked, he was discharged from the employment. He was glad to say that there were some honourable exceptions; and he might particularly mention the firm of Messrs. Baird, of the Gartcherie Ironworks. The system he was describing was repudiated by some employers. He held in his hand original documents — "staked" books and "lines" — which showed the manner in which the system was worked. He would give the House some idea of the kind of supplies furnished under that 141 system. A number of samples sold at the stores were placed in the hands of a respectable wholesale provision merchant and a respectable wholesale grocer for examination, having come from a store belonging to a large iron manufacturer. The reports made contained the following:—Sugar, short weight and bad value; cheese, American, short weight and very dear; sugar, bad value, short weight, ½oz. in ½lb.; cheese, 3 ozs. instead of 4 ozs.; sugar, short weight, quality good, ½ oz. deficient in ½ lb.; cheese, short weight and dear, ½ oz. deficient in 4 oz.The examiners further said that having made a careful report of seven different kinds of teas, they considered that the supplies made by retail shopkeepers were 1s. per pound better in value than those supplied by the stores. Some fustian which was supplied to miners at 3s. a yard was found to be only equal to what was sold at retail shops in Glasgow at 2s. 4d. He did not accuse the employers of being guilty of that practice of short weight; but these things only showed how demoralizing the effects of the truck system were upon all who were connected with it. The storemen had certain quantities of goods handed over to them, and what was the result? Why that the storemen cheated both the masters and the workmen. In one instance a storeman died with £10,000 in the bank to his credit, which the masters endeavoured to seize, alleging that their stores had been robbed to that amount. He (Mr. Mundella) had examined 11 exhausted "lines" and found six of them to have been added up wrongly, the errors in every case being against the workmen. The whole 11 lines were from one man; and if the mistakes they contained had been made partly on one side and partly on the other, there might perhaps have been some excuse for them; but it was a significant fact that, he repeated, they were all against the workmen. In asking the House for a judicial inquiry, he would not adduce all the details which he could easily bring forward, many of them even worse than those which he had stated. All he asked was that the House would support him in seeking for an investigation that they might know whether those things were so or not. There was the law and there were the facts; let them know how the matter stood. If his allegations were not substantiated 142 then his case broke down; but if it was substantiated let them have some legislation which the House itself, which a Committee had demanded, and which the workmen had earnestly prayed and now generally looked for. The influence of the truck system on the workmen and their families was most demoralizing. When those poor people went to lay out their hard earnings at the stores they were frequently treated rudely and discourteously; and if a man had a claim to 4s., and got 3s. 7½d. worth of goods, it was simply a question of what he would have the remaining 4½d. in, and he was often induced to take it out in whisky on the spot, every facility being given to men and women to indulge in drink. The truck system reduced the people to a state of practical serfdom, while it also encouraged reckless habits of improvidence and intemperance among them. Nor was the evil of the system confined to the workmen only. The ironmasters who paid their workmen in coin were exposed to an unfair and most unequal competition with those who paid in "truck." The condition of the Cleveden iron district presented a striking contrast to the districts in Scotland to which he had been referring. In the Cleveden district the men were prosperous, no strikes occurred, and all trade disputes were settled by masters and men meeting round the same council table, and calling in an independent umpire to decide between them. There, however, I the ironmasters were prejudiced by the violation of the Truck Acts, practised by their Scotch competitors. He would show the House a specimen of a sort of truck note issued to a workman for a sum of about 9s. It bore date May 17, it became due on the 9th of July, and the workman was to take it to a certain store where its value was to be given him in goods. The store was either the property of the employer, or there was collusion between him and the store-keeper, and an allowance was made to the employer in respect of the commodities supplied, which practically amounted to a deduction from the workman's wages. The system also prevailed in Glamorganshire; and letters in the country papers and in The Mining Journal complained of a like system prevailing in that part of South Wales. Nor was the system confined to Scotland and Wales. A Factory Inspector had informed 143 him that a like mode prevailed at Ringwood, where articles were served to the workmen at a high rate. Since this Notice had appeared in the Paper he had received a letter from one of the secretaries of trades unions in North Nottinghamshire, stating that there were 20 masters in that district who paid the frame workers on the truck system, and they charged beyond the market value, and the workmen were obliged to sell a portion of the goods obtained on truck in order to buy coals and pay for their children's schooling, and other expenses. If a man there was a member of a co-operative store he was punished. He hoped that the House would not permit such a system to be continued. The workmen in some cases had clubbed their money to prosecute; but what was a fine of £5 to one of these masters. To get one of them fined £5 had actually cost the working men £15. The fine was soon made up, the system went on again, and the man who had dared to inform against his employer was victimized. There was no use in inflicting a fine of £5, £20, or even £100. The Board of Arbitration with which he was connected had advertised in the Nottingham papers that they would assist in putting down this system, and within the last six months a sub-contractor was prosecuted. He was told if he acknowledged his fault, and promised not to transgress again, he would be forgiven. The man sat silent for awhile, and then said—"I will make no promise; you may fine me," and he was fined. But those people cared nothing for a fine. The working man of whom he had spoken said that nothing would do to put down this system except imprisonment. It might be said—"Oh, try moral influence." Let them try the moral influence of the chaplain of the gaol for a fortnight, and his impression was, that they would soon get rid of this contemptible system. How could they hope to inspire working men with respect for the law when they saw magistrates, deputy-lieutenants, and Members of Parliament engaged in such practices? If they were to put an end to this system those who administered the law must themselves be pure. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department would grant the inquiry, and that it would not be said in this country that 144Offence with guilty hand can shove by justice.The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Motion.
§ SIR ROBERT ANSTRUTHER
seconded the Motion. He bore witness to the urgent necessity which existed for some legislative Act being passed with regard to the truck system. It was hardly possible to conceive a system more abominably iniquitous than that under which the master advanced to his men their own money at 5 per cent per month, and that not as a right, but as a favour. The facts that had been brought out by the commission to which his hon. Friend had referred were such that he felt convinced it was absolutely necessary some inquiry should be made. It was scarcely possible to imagine a system more demoralizing. All independence was crushed out of a man when he know that his earnings were not his own. The 3rd section of the Acts prescribed that the entire amount of wages earned by the artificer should be paid him in the current coin of the realm, and that every payment made by the delivery of goods was illegal. But the Acts were evaded. A man was paid in coin on one side of the street, and then he was compelled to go to a store, on the other side and to hand in the whole of his wages. It was not merely that the man had to buy what he wanted in the store, but the whole of his wages were swept by the storekeeper into the till, and the man received a line, which he was unable to decline, for goods which were often of very inferior quality. The encouragement to drink under this system was lamentable. It might be urged that anything which might be done to check the system would be an interference with the liberty of the subject as far as the master was concerned. It might be so; but was not the system itself an interference with the liberty of the subject, by the man who was strong over the man who was weak? It was a curious fact that, though the statements with regard to this system had been in circulation for many months, they had not received a single contradiction. He acknowledged it might be difficult to apply a remedy; but he believed weekly payments would go far to supply one. He was afraid there was very little chance of the Mines Regulation Bill passing into law this Session; and, therefore, the Amendment providing for weekly 145 payments, if it found favour with the House, as he was sanguine it might, could not come into operation this year. Under these circumstances, he ventured to urge on the Government that they should sanction the inquiry which was asked for, and which ought always to be granted when an allegation was made that Acts of Parliament had been violated.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, public representations having been made to the effect that systematic evasion of the Truck Acts prevails extensively in the Coal and Iron mining industries in Scotland, as well as in other trades and places in the United Kingdom, this House humbly prays Her Majesty to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into such alleged offences, and to take such steps as She shall be advised for obtaining from Parliament any special powers that may be required for conducting such inquiry or for suppressing such offences."—(Mr. Mundella.)
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, that in addition to the systems of truck which had been referred to, there was still one other system resorted to of a still more insidious character. It was that the employer built upon the ground on which the works stood, or contiguous, a store, which he let to some person with whom he had no apparent connection. The employer's name was not over the store, nor did he in any way manage the buying or selling which went on there. But he received a half-yearly rent of so magnificent a character that it, in fact, amounted to a profit upon the business; and that system was much more difficult than any other to put down by legislative enactments. There were, he was sure, many respectable employers who would be glad to have the truck system repressed; but, on the other hand, he believed that inquiry would show many not to be so innocent as they now seemed. If Royal Commissioners were sent down to make local examinations, and had power to examine witnesses on oath and to call for books and papers, facts would be elicited which former inquiries had not brought to light. The remedy which he suggested was weekly pay; but it must be not a mere advance, but a weekly balancing of the accounts between employers and employed; and although such a plan would cause much more trouble to the former, who would be sure to oppose such a proposition, it would not be a greater interference with the liberty of the subject than much of the 146 legislation of the past 30 years. He cordially supported the Motion.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, the case for an inquiry did not rest merely upon the statements which had been made to the House; for there were, in addition, the investigations which had been made by private individuals, the results of which had been published in newspapers. The abuses which had been complained of were confined to certain branches of trade; and, when hon. Members considered the origin and the rapid growth of those trades in which they principally existed, and the large numbers of persons who were brought together in certain districts, it might be found that the workmen themselves were the first to instigate the system for their own convenience. At the present day, however, such were the facilities of trade that the wants of workmen could be easily supplied, and the time had arrived when employers ought to consider whether it would not be to their interest to abolish the truck system, with a view to establishing a better understanding than now existed between themselves and those whom they employed. He doubted whether the evil was so widely spread as had been represented, for if it was he wondered that such abuses could have arisen without meeting with resistance from workmen, who, according to the statements which had been made, would seem to be mere serfs and bondsmen. They had, however, entered into combinations to control the rate of wages, and in the West of Scotland almost every newspaper contained some report of meetings of thousands of workmen, who passed resolutions in the open day; and it was, therefore, impossible to deny that a spirit of independence prevailed among those workmen, which might be brought to bear upon the abuses of which there was probably some reason to complain. Another reason why an inquiry should be instituted was that it might lead to some practical suggestion whereby the abuses might be remedied, because no former inquiry had resulted in anything that was worthy the consideration of the House. He did not deprecate inquiry, but wished to point out that the difficulties of the case were so great that the House might feel some difficulty in coping with them; and he looked to the growth of intelligence and independence among the working men rather than to legislation.
said, it was impossible to have listened to the very able speech of his hon. Friend who had introduced this subject without perceiving that a great evil existed, and he feared that it was of such a character that some time would elapse before the Legislature could extirpate it. The truck system had long occupied the attention of Parliament. He had himself taken part in several inquiries into the subject, and was most anxious to meet the wishes of his Friend and to satisfy the yearnings of the working people that so iniquitous a system should be put an end to. But although the Government would give every facility for an inquiry, he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke) that the only effectual remedy was rather a moral than a legal one, and must arise from a sense on the part of employers of their duties towards their workmen. He had frequently had occasion to consider the Truck Acts, and it certainly appeared to him to have been framed with remarkable skill. Indeed, he could hardly conceive how, if cases were brought before the magistrates, the Acts could be successfully evaded by methods like those described by his hon. Friend. The systems of payment which his hon. Friend mentioned were perfectly familiar to those who had inquired into the subject during the last 20 years. Nearly 20 years had elapsed since Mr. Tremenheere and Mr. Hill Burton inquired into the operation of the truck system in England and Scotland, and their description of its evils were as graphic as any which had been given in the present debate. The difficulty of finding a remedy was caused not so much by the defects of the present law as by the absence of combination and energy on the part of the working men themselves in applying it. As an illustration of this he would mention a case which occurred in a part of Wales where the truck system once flourished, and he might, in passing, remark that the truck system was gradually disappearing in Wales, instead of increasing, as had been asserted in the course of the present debate. Forty summonses were taken out against an ironmaster for carrying on the truck system, and it was proved that money was paid to the men on condition of its being taken to a certain store to be spent. There was no visible connection between the iron-master 148 and the keeper of the store; but nevertheless the magistrates were satisfied that the defence set up was merely a colourable one, and they accordingly convicted the ironmaster. The remaining 39 prosecutions were dropped. In a short time the system flourished with as much vigour as ever, and yet, strange to say, no fresh attempt was made to enforce the Acts. He believed, however, that other convictions might have been made if prosecutions had been instituted. On the occasion to which he had just referred the decision of the magistrates was questioned, and an action brought by the employer for the price of the goods supplied to the workmen; but the County Court Judge who tried the case, held that the goods had been supplied in defiance of the Truck Acts, and that the employer was not entitled to recover. He was really at a loss to understand why the working people had been so deficient in energy and combination. If they had displayed half the vigour and determination to put down this system as they had done with regard to the number of bricks to be carried and the stone to be cut in a quarry, and in promoting other favourite schemes of theirs, the evil could not have existed up to the present time. His hon. Friend had asserted that the evil was very widespread, and that it was increasing both in intensity and in the area it occupied. He might remark, however, that the statements made this evening were precisely similar to those which led to the inquiry some 20 years ago. It was then asserted as now, that almost the whole of the wages of the men passed through the stores, and that the real remedy for the evil was to insist on short payments.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
remarked that he did not say the evil was increasing in England. He only said it was increasing in Scotland.
said, it certainly was not increasing in England or in Wales. The present statements being precisely similar to those made 20 years ago, he wished to draw the attention of the House to some of the results of Mr. Tremenheere's inquiry. That gentleman found that in a district where the truck system most extensively prevailed, out of £152,000 due for wages, only £26,000 went through the stores; and, with regard to another district, he ascertained that, out of £250,000 paid in wages, 149 only £30,000 passed through the stores. He had read the statement made by the Commissioners in The Glasgow Daily Mail on the subject of the system in Scotland, and he should be very glad to furnish means of testing the accuracy of those statements. At the same time, he thought the experience of former times ought to induce hon. Members to suspend their judgment until it was clearly proved that the evil was really as great as had been described. The Committee of 1854 took into consideration the Bill which had been introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. C. Forster), who devised two methods for improving the existing legislation, neither of which were adopted. His hon. Friend first of all proposed that no shop should ever be opened on the promises of an employer of labour; but that was deemed too stringent a provision. The other remedy proposed was that the mere fact of an employer having sold goods to a labourer should be regarded as an offence against the law, without any inquiry being made as to whether the goods were received in lieu of wages or not. This was also thought too severe. The only remedy which had not yet been tried, and which, in his judgment, might to a certain extent prove efficacious, was to increase the penalties for breaking the law. He freely admitted that an evil existed, and that a remedy ought, if possible, to be applied. Her Majesty's Government were quite willing to enable his hon. Friend to attain the object he had in view; and they would, therefore, not object to adopt his Resolution, with some slight alteration. He hoped that, instead of asking for the appointment of a Royal Commission, his hon. Friend would withdraw his Resolution on the understanding that the Government would carry on the inquiry in the manner most calculated to produce the desired result; or, if he would move an Address to Her Majesty to cause the inquiry to be so carried on as to produce such a result, the Government would offer no opposition to the Motion. In conclusion, he might remark that Her Majesty's Government were most anxious to put a stop to this truck system, which was so pernicious to the working classes.
§ MR. C. DALRYMPLE
said, he could not help fearing, from what they had just heard from the right hon. Gentleman, 150 that, as far as the Government was concerned, nothing woxild be done in the matter during the present Session or the approaching Recess. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department was evidently impressed by what the hon. Baronet the Member for Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke) had said, who undoubtedly spoke with a weight which commanded the attention of the House. It must be remembered, however, that the chief evils complained of were to be found in the county which the hon. Gentleman represented, and he naturally would desire to give the most favourable account of them. The couleur do rose view of the question taken by the hon. Baronet would not, however, satisfy him (Mr. C. Dalrymple). It was not in Scotland that these evils exclusively existed. During the Easter Recess, in company with an hon. Friend opposite, he had had the opportunity of judging of the so-called evasions of the Truck Acts in what was called the Black Country, and he could testify to the fact that they were systematically carried on there. After quoting from the Report of the Commissioners of the North British Daily Mail, it might be said—How could the people object to such a system when they did not themselves complain of it? Now he was informed upon good authority that there was a good deal of terrorism existing in reference to this subject in the districts where the system was practised, and that consequently the working men had not really the power of appealing against it. There was no doubt that the system did not work to the advantage of the workmen, because the owners of those shops obtained enormous profits, and gave the people very inferior articles. Those who had preceded him had dwelt so fully upon the mischievous effects of the truck system, that it was scarcely necessary to enlarge upon the aggravated evil of having liquor stores close to the places of labour, where gin and whiskey were sold to the men, who were obliged to drink in order to get their money's worth. He did not exaggerate—he could be corrected if he did—when he said that matters were so arranged that in order to get the value of their money the men were forced to drink at the store, else they would never even handle the money which had been earned by the sweat of their brows. Long payments 151 of wages had much to answer for in this matter, because they necessarily occasioned the credit system with all its consequences. In the Black Country the system of weekly payments was practised, but he thought that daily payments, such as had been tried in some of the best of the Scotch ironworks, the Messrs. Baird's especially, might be adopted with the most beneficial results. Although he was afraid the Government would not take any action in the matter in the present Session, he hoped that the debate which had taken place would lead, in no long time, to the complete disclosure and to the ultimate removal of the evils of the truck system.
MR. J. G. C. HAMILTON
trusted that the inference drawn by the hon. Member who had just sat down from the statement of the Secretary of State was not a correct one, and that the Government would move in this matter without much delay. It would, in his opinion, be a great benefit to the country if this stigma were removed from the character of the employers who were charged with practising this disgraceful system. Although he lived in a district in which this evil existed, and was an employer of labour, he had heard very little about the truck system until about three or four years ago.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he had never heard a case of the evasion of the Truck Acts in the district which he represented; but if there were evasions in other parts of the country, he should like to see an inquiry instituted. There was nothing more iniquitous in practice than the systematic evasion of these Acts. He thought that the evasions of the Truck Acts in Scotland were more of an indirect than of a direct character, but opportunities ought to be given for adducing evidence, if any could be brought forward. The object of any inquiry ought to be to furnish ground for legislation; but in the absence of that evidence, he hoped the House would not hastily seek to apply a remedy.
§ MR. WHALLEY
remarked, that whatever was done, he hoped the Home Secretary would not employ Commissioners to go about the country, who would be likely to employ themselves in collecting evidence to support a foregone conclusion. As a rule, there was no injury whatever in the truck system that the workmen were not able to rectify for 152 themselves. It was not the workmen who objected to these practices, it was simply the family of small shopkeepers, who, with a design to further their own interest, sought to excite a feeling of dissatisfaction between the masters and the workmen. Where this system prevailed the workmen found benefit in other ways. He trusted that the Home Secretary would not allow himself to be influenced by arguments which applied only to one side of the question.
§ SIR DAVID WEDDERBURN
said, that much disappointment was felt in Scotland at the fact that, after the promise made by the Government on a former occasion, no proceedings had been taken by the Lord Advocate and the Government with the view of putting an end to a system so generally and so justly condemned. He believed that a strict enforcement of the existing law would go far to prevent an evasion of the Truck Acts. In the part of the country which he had the honour to represent there was no truck, and a daily advance of wages without poundage was the general rule. He hoped the Government would accede to the proposal of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) and have a rigid inquiry instituted.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
, in reply, said he accepted the offer of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, on the understanding that the inquiry would be conducted in such a manner as would make it effectual. His desire was that the facts should be fully and fairly brought out. His own impression, was that it would be impossible by moral remedies to meet the difficulty. He was surprised to hear the Home Secretary say that if the men would combine effectually they could get rid of the truck system, and it was strange that men should be advised to enter into combinations and to adopt all the requirements of strikes in order to enforce the law.
begged his hon. Friend's pardon. He had said nothing about combining to strike. What he had referred to was combination to prosecute.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
remarked that he had seen this tried again and again, and the result was that by spending £15 or £20 they might succeed in inflicting a £5 penalty; but so long as the gains were so large and the risk so small, all that the workmen could do would not be sufficient to enforce the observance of 153 tho law. What he desired was such an inquiry as would show the collusion which existed between the storekeeper and the employer, and he should be very glad if there were power to examine upon oath and to call for books and papers, for the parties, since exposure had taken place, were buying and selling in other names.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.