§ MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Houghton-le-Spring)
asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether his attention has been called to allegations which from time to time have been specifically brought under the notice of the Department, with regard to the discharge of certain workmen from their employment in the Laboratory at Woolwich, presumably in consequence of their participation in the electioneering proceedings of last year, or of their connection with a Labour Protection League established among the workmen at the Royal Arsenal; whether among the workmen so dismissed are several who have been conspicuously active as Liberal workers, who have been as long as 11, 16, and 18 years in the Government employ, while, contrary to usage, others are retained who have been taken on very recently; and, whether he will undertake that an impartial and searching investigation shall be made into the truth of the complaints, and that Government employés may be enabled to 1853 exercise their political franchises and to take part in the forthcoming Election free from the apprehension of their being prejudiced thereby?
THE SECRETARY OF STATE (Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN)&c.) (Stirling,
Representations of the kind referred to have been from time to time made to the Surveyor General of the Ordnance and myself, and the subject is at the present moment engaging our serious attention. The authorities responsible for the discharge of the workmen warmly rupudiated the charge of having been biased by any considerations of the kind alleged, and stated that the men in question had not been discharged because they belonged to any Labour League, nor because of their political opinions; and the Superintendent of the Royal Laboratory has asked for an opportunity of putting me in possession of all the facts of the case. I propose to inquire into the subject at the first available opportunity; but, in the meantime, I must say that, notwithstanding what I hear is a prevalent local opinion to the contrary, I cannot believe that any workman has been prejudiced by his political opinions, or is less free to act independently in the interests of one political Party than of another. Should any instance occurring during the forthcoming contest be brought under my notice of anything said or done on the part of persons in authority at Woolwich or elsewhere, prejudicing workmen in the exercise of their political rights, I shall have to give the most serious consideration to cases of any such offence against the general spirit of the Public Service.