HC Deb 19 August 1887 vol 319 cc1236-49

Lords Amendments considered.

First Amendment, in line 17, to leave out "which," and insert "whom," read.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I move to agree to this first Amendment.

Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment,"—(Mr. Brad-laugh,)—put, and agreed to.

Lords' Amendment, leave out Clause 3, and insert— (A.) Whenever by agreement, custom, or otherwise, a workman is entitled to receive in anticipation of the regular period of the payment of his wages an advance as part or on account thereof, it shall not be lawful for the employer to make any deduction in respect of such advance on account of poundage, discount, or interest, or any similar charge, —the next Amendment, read.


I move to agree with the Lords' Amendment leaving out Clause 3, and inserting Clause (A).

Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment,"—(Mr. Brad-laugh,)—put, and agreed to.


I wish to amend the new clause, in line 4, after the word "to," by inserting "withhold such advance or."

Amendment proposed, to the Lords' Amendment, page 1, Clause (A), line 4, after "to," and insert "withhold such advance or."—(Mr. Bradlaugh)

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

Lords' Amendment, leave out Clause 4, read.


I beg to move to disagree with the Lords' Amendment leaving out Clause 4. Clause 4 is the clause enacting that where a workman other than a servant in husbandry is employed in Ireland for long periods of time his wages shall be paid weekly. In 1871 I may mention that a Royal Commission especially reported, in language much more effective than anything I could give, that where men did not receive their wages every week in order to enable them to support their families truck credit would in some form be obtained by them during the intervals between the payments. The Commission went on to say that in Wales and Scotland, where there were long intervals between the payments, in some cases the workmen were unable to live in the interim without assistance, and that in many instances the truck system was availed of, although not of a compulsory kind. They pointed out that in order to abolish truck it was necessary to deal with long payments.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."— (Mr. Bradlaugh.)


I must say I am rather surprised at the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton, and I think that for once in his life he has rather forgotten what he said on a previous occasion. He has forgotten what he said on the occasion of this clause being brought before the House by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). As I intend to ask the House to agree with the Lords' Amendment, I should like to ask it to recollect the exact position in which the matter now stands. There was nothing in the Bill, as originally brought in by the hon. Member, which dealt with the question of weekly payments. An attempt was made to come to some agreement on the question of periodical payments; but it was found impossible, when the Bill was in Committee, to make an arrangement satisfactory to all parties, and the question was dropped. The hon. Member for West Belfast, I think on the Report stage, or, at any rate, at a later period of the Bill, brought in this 4th clause. I ventured then to protest against this insertion, because I considered it to be dealing piecemeal with an important subject, and also because it simply applied to one part of the United Kingdom where it seemed there were considerations of a very important character which made it necessary for the matter to be discussed as carefully as it would if were proposed to apply the section to England. However, the hon. Member for West Belfast won his point. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) quite admitted that this Amendment was not within the scope of the Bill as introduced by him, and he did not press it very strongly, although he said he should vote in favour of it. He said the Amendment was one for which the House was by no means bound to vote.


My recollection of the circumstances is not quite the same. My belief is that I got up, after the discussion had proceeded some length, and said that with reference to England so many objections had been urged that I could not accept any proposal to establish weekly payments; but with reference to Ireland I had not heard the same objections; that it was supported by Irish Members on both sides; and that I thought that point ought to be taken into consideration.


There could not then have been a question of any distinction between England and Ireland, because that question was not raised until the hon. Member for West Belfast brought it out. The House of Lords considers that this is a question which ought to be dealt with as a whole and not piecemeal, and it is quite clear that there are considerations which make this a difficult matter to deal with in the way originally agreed upon in this House. I think it would be a great pity if in this Bill, otherwise containing very useful matter, there should be introduced a question involving serious dispute and difficulty.

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

In disagreeing with the Lords' Amendment, and in supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for Northampton, I wish to bring to the remembrance of the House the circumstances under which this clause was inserted in the Bill. There had been a strike amongst the shipwrights of Belfast. It was a strike of long duration and of some magnitude, and about 6,000 men were for over six weeks out of work. After the men had been out of work for that period an appeal was made to me for my advice; and considering the sufferings that were being endured by the men and their families, and the danger to the peace of Belfast through the long strike, I advised the men to petition to this House, and, depending on the sense of justice of this House, they returned to their work. They petitioned this House, and upon the Report stage of this Bill, as the hon. and learned Attorney General has correctly stated, I moved the insertion of this clause. Now, the reason for the insertion of the clause is three-fold. In the first place, weekly payment of wages to the men is almost universal in Ireland, and what I asked the House to do was to make the law accord to the practice which had grown up in view of the known desires and ascertained necessities of the people of Ireland. My second argument was that the opinion of the Representatives of Ireland was all but unanimously in favour of the clause; and my third reason was the interests of Belfast itself. I maintain that the matter of this clause is closely germane to the object of the Bill. The object of the Bill is not only to provide that men should be paid in money for their labour, but that they should take their money into the best available market. It has been found that the payment of wages fortnightly plunges the men into a system of credit, and the effect is to produce a system of truck— a very bad system of truck, because it obliges them to resort to certain shops and to put up with certain terms which, having regard to the price and quality of the goods, they would not accept had they their wages in their hands every week. That is the general argument for the clause. What are the arguments against it? There are only two arguments alleged against it, and the first is that a larger clerical staff would have to be employed in order to pay the men every week. Now, I have made many inquiries on this point, and the universal reply I receive is that in large establishments the staff which could pay the wages once a fortnight could also pay it once a week. The second argument which was urged against this clause was that if you pass it you will handicap local industry; but that argument will not stand for one moment. If you refer to the facts, you will find that the great shipyard of Messrs. Harland and Wolff was founded upon the payment of weekly wages, and that upon that system it reached the highest point of success. For many years they continued to pay weekly wages, and it was only so late as 18 months ago that the wages which before that were paid every week were changed to once a fortnight. And the only reverse and the only drawback which the establishment has met with has occurred since the fortnightly payments were established. Such were the arguments I used when I brought this clause before the House. When I brought the question forward it was fully debated. It was discussed by hon. Members in every quarter of the House, and it was treated from every point of view. Did I object to the clause on its merits? I did not object to the clause on its merits. A Division was taken, and the Division was taken in a larger House than it is at present—a House possibly of about 200 Members. The clause was carried by a majority of almost two to one. The Division revealed two very remarkable facts. I have said, already that Irish opinion is almost unanimously in favour of the clause— 40 of the Irish Members present voted in its favour, and two voted against it. One of the two was the right hon. and learned Gentleman the senior Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), whoso representative capacity to decide between employer and employed is of the most qualified kind, and the other was the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), whose belief in the equity of the House of Peers in dealing with Irish matters has undergone a change since last month. If Irish opinion was to prevail in reference to Irish questions, when you have a vote of 42 Irish Members, with 40 on one side and two on the other, that was a vote which I think ought to be conclusive. How was that majority composed? In addition to the Irish Members it was composed of Members of the two Parties in the State. There were 40 Members of the Irish Party, 39 Members of the Liberal Party, and 46 Members who supported the Government, so that the largest portion of the majority which supported my clause last month consisted of supporters of the Government, and among them was the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Matthews). I attach a great weight to that vote, because the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is the Minister who is specialty charged with the care of questions concerning the interest of employer and employed. Such being the case, I venture humbly to say that the Lords would have been more wise if they had not interfered. They would have been more judicious if they had allowed the clause to stand. Was the clause debated in the House of Peers? No, Sir. What occurred was this. The Duke of Argyll, a Peer whose connection with Ireland it would be difficult to trace, opposed the clause, which he said was a matter that ought to be dealt with by an Irish Peer. The Irish Peer did not intervene, and the Peer in charge of the Bill lifted his head and said "Withdraw." Lord Macnaghten did not object to the withdrawal of the clause. So that this clause, after being debated in this House at length, was disposed of in a few seconds by about 20 Peers, not one of whom has any real knowledge of Ireland. I appeal to all Parties in this House whether this is a proper method of dealing with the interests of working men? I had an opportunity of telling the story before the electors of Northwich, and I intend to tell it on every hustings on which I appear in England. I think the House of Lords in consequence of this action stands in bad odour with the working classes; and the present Government, in sympathizing with that action, will not do themselves any good. On the former occasion I was toe only Member for Belfast who happened to be in the House. My Colleagues in the representation of that town were engaged elsewhere—were engaged on duties which they considered more imperative, and I do not question their right. These workmen are not my constituents. They have no political sympathy with me. I have received no support from them in the past, and I expect, none from them in the future. I see present now the hon. Members for East and South Belfast (Mr. De Cobain and Mr. Johnston), who were elected by these Orangemen, and I ask these Gentlemen to testify to their position. For myself, I have laid before the House my position, but I certainly appeal to the House; and I trust the House will act not only in a spirit of equity, but in the interest of public peace, in disagreeing with the Lords' Amendment.


Although this clause refers only to Ireland, yet it touches a principle in which hon. Members for Scotland and England also take a very great interest. I do not propose, at this hour of the morning (1.20), to address the House at any great length. But I wish to refer to the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster), which I think is not a sufficiently full account of what took place on a former occasion. It is quite true that in the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) this clause did not occur; but it is also true that the subject was immediately brought to the attention of the Government, because there was a similar clause applying to the United Kingdom in another Bill relating to the subject of truck, from which considerable portions of the Bill as now amended have been taken; but not only so; at an early period of the discussion of this Bill, which went on for a great many weeks, at long intervals, the Government adopted the principle of weekly payments, and the hon. and learned Gentleman inserted a clause in the draft of the Bill, and circulated that Bill to everybody who took an interest in the subject as embodying the views of the Government upon this subject. I must say that I regretted at the time when the final discussion upon this subject took place that somewhat greater firmness on this important point was not displayed in quarters where firmness is not generally wanting and that a really cordial support to this clause was not given in all parts of the House. If the opinion of the Royal Commission that the lack of periodical payments lay at the root of all the evils of truck had always been stated with the force with which it was stated to-night, I think it would hardly have been possible for the fallacy to gain any acceptance at all that this was a subject not belonging to a Truck Bill at all, but a totally different subject. It certainly belongs to a Truck Bill. It lies at the root of the evil of; truck; and, apart from the desire of Irish Members which they have a right I to give effect to, and though this clause applies to Ireland only, I think it is of the utmost importance that we should have this principle acknowledged and given effect to in any part of the United Kingdom, in order that afterwards we may have it given effect to in England and Scotland as well. Therefore I hope the House will disagree with the Lords' Amendment.

MR. DE COBAIN (Belfast, E.)

I will not intrude myself at any length at this hour (1.25). But I think the Lords' Amendment will have a very prejudicial effect. My hon. Friend the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) had an Amendment on the Paper to a similar effect as the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), and I had one somewhat similar, but wider in its scope, as it provided for a weekly payment for piece work of at least 75 per cent of the wages earned one week and a full settlement on the alternate week; but we had not an opportunity of moving them. The strike which occurred in Belfast some time ago was a very disastrous one, and seriously affected the industrial class of our town. When I came over to London I had an opportunity of consulting the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary on the matter, and he expressed the view that he would like as much as possible to see a weekly payment of wages effected, or a form of payment of wages that would meet the interest and convenience of the working classes, and it was after my conference with the Home Secretary that I drew up the Amendment to which I have before referred. The industry of shipbuilding in Belfast is very extensive, and has been very prosperous, and, as the hon. Member for West Belfast has already stated, its prosperity dated before the system of fortnightly payments, which has been an act of recent innovation, and which was tried experimentally with the consent of the workmen. It was, as I understand, an agreement between the employers and the employés, and the condition upon which it was tried was that if it were found not convenient the employers would revert to the old system. The fact of getting the wages weekly enables the artizans to make better markets and to expend their money to better advantage. My own. impression, is this—that there is no industry which would be prejudicially affected by this system of weekly payments; and as by this system we will, I believe, contribute materially to the well-being of the working class, which forms so large a proportion of the town which I represent, I think we should dissent from the Lords' Amendment. I am glad to understand that so far as I know the representative feeling not merely of Belfast, but of the whole North of Ireland, are in favour of the clause which was inserted at the I instance of the hon. Member for West Belfast. I do not appear on behalf of the employés in the matter of shipbuilding. But all the other great industries in Belfast adopt the system of weekly payment, and I believe some of the employers in the shipbuilding industry are perfectly willing that this system of weekly payments should be accepted, and would have complied with the wishes of the men, only for the action of one or two associated with the great firm of Harland and Wolff, who objected to the weekly system. I sincerely hope that the House, having regard to the interests of the working people of Belfast, will object to this Amendment of the Lords striking out the weekly wages clause, and that to-night, by our vote, we shall insist upon restoring the Bill to the position in which it left this House. To eliminate this clause by consenting to the Lords' Amendment would certainly in- flict most serious hardships upon those working men whom I am proud in this House to represent.

SIR JAMES CORRY: (Armagh, Mid)

I hope, in the interest of the working men of Belfast, the House will agree with the Lords in this Amendment. I claim to speak with some degree of knowledge of the working men of Belfast, and I think, with reference to this particular industry, perhaps the firm I am connected with has done more for the working men of Belfast than those of all the other Gentlemen who represent Belfast here. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"]


Order, order!


The fact is, this question of the payment of weekly wages has nothing whatever to do with truck, and I am much astonished that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), after the speech he made on Wednesday afternoon in which he stated that the House should not interfere with adults in their arrangements with their employers, should now favour any interference with that principle. It is all very well to say that the weekly-payment of wages is not a matter of indifference. If the weekly payment of wages were made general throughout the United Kingdom, I, for one, would not object; but I do take great exception to Ireland being singled out for this particular object, and especially when I know it is directed against one particular firm in Ireland. [Cries of" No, no ! "] Yes; it is directed against one particular firm and no other, because if it had not been for the strike which, took place amongst the shipwrights we should not have heard a word of this clause being introduced into this Truck Bill. We all know in these days of great competition that tenders for large amounts are being given out, and £100 in a tender of £ 100,000, or £200,000 sometimes makes all the difference. Fortnightly payments of wages on the Clyde and on the East Coast of England, with which the large firms of Belfast have to compete, is almost universal. One reason I can state to the House why the employers found it desirable to change from the weekly to the fortnightly payment was this— that the men were more at work under the fortnightly system than after the weekly payment was introduced. I am satisfied that this matter should be left entirely to the employers and the workmen to settle amongst themselves. If it were a matter in which they could not protect themselves, I would say that this House should interfere; but this House has no right to interfere, I say, where the masters and the workmen can take care of themselves. I do not intend to detain the House any longer, but I hope the House will agree with the Lords' Amendment.

MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blankfriars, &c.)

The hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Armagh said the shipyards on the Clyde almost all paid wages fortnightly. My impression is that in that statement he is mistaken, and I would draw his attention to the fact that the hon. Member for the Govan Division of Lanark (Sir William Pearce), who is head of the yard doing the largest shipbuilding business on the Clyde, stated that he paid wages weekly, and it was his impression that they were so paid, not only on the Clyde generally, but also on the Tyne and other places on the East Coast, where the wages were fixed; but for piece work they were, no doubt, paid at longer periods than one week.


I wish to correct the hon. Member. The hon. Member for the Govan Division could not have made that statement, because he told me himself he pays fortnightly and sometimes over. He introduced weekly payment of wages and his workmen came and asked him to pay fortnightly.

MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)

I should like to say one word only, and it is to the hon. Gentleman who spoke last (Sir James Corry). If the shipbuilders of Belfast want to compete successfully with, the builders of other places they cannot do a better thing than make their payments as short as possible. My experience, extending over a great number of years, is that where weekly payments prevail over fortnightly or monthly payments, there you get a better class of workmen, you get steadier workmen, and more work done. Deferred wage payments are always productive of great irregularity of work, and you get little thrift amongst the community; a system of debt and credit is entered into by them of necessity, and they are never able to shake it off. I know nothing that trades unionism had more to contend with than deferred payments. I sincerely hope the House will disagree with the Lords' Amendment. In cases where the income is small comparatively—where the wages are small—the way to produce the most sobriety and thrift, and to produce the best workmen is to make the payments weekly and not fortnightly.

MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

I think I shall best consult the convenience of the House by making any observations I offer as brief as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry) has spoken against the proposition of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), and I acknowledge his right to speak in reference to the industrial interests of Belfast. It will always be remembered to his credit that the hon. Baronet, on one occasion when the shipbuilding yards were at a standstill and workmen out of employment, gave orders for the building of a ship at the cost of £30,000, so that the workmen of Belfast might have employment. Acknowledging, then, that he has the industrial interests of Belfast at heart, yet on this question I find myself compelled to differ from his view, and I entirely support the view of the hon. Member for Northampton. Indeed, I was the first to place on the Paper an Amendment to carry out these objects.


The hon. Member is mistaken. His Amendment appeared for the first time on Report—mine was given Notice of a week before.


I accept the hon. Member's statement; but I placed my Amendment on the Paper on June 29, and his appeared on the 30th. However, my only object now is to say that I disagree with the proposition of the Lords to omit Clause 4, and join in what has been said by the hon. Member opposite as to the advantage of weekly payments.


Having taken a great deal of interest in the Bill, and having voted against the clause, perhaps I may be allowed a word as to the reason that induced me to do so. My objection was to the introduction of a fixed period of payment being imposed without sufficient knowledge of the custom and conveniences of trade. It happened that I had given consideration to this subject in conjunction with several employers of labour who desired to see whether a clause could be devised which would satisfy the interests of employers and employed. The result of our consultation was that we found it hopeless to accomplish this; the more we considered the subject the more difficult it became, and we concluded that it was desirable to exclude such a provision from the Bill altogether. I cannot reconcile it with my idea of what is right to make an enactment for one isolated case in a particular trade. I quite admit that the law of wages may be a proper subject to be dealt with by Parliament in a full and comprehensive manner by a Bill for the purpose; but I think it would be found necessary to refer such a Bill to a Select Committee in order that evidence might be obtained as to its operation upon various industries.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

I merely rise to ask the Government, after the discussion we have had, not to make this a Government Division. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Attorney General spoke as a Member of the Government, or in his private capacity?


I said distinctly this was not a Government question at all, and there would be no Government vote given on it.


I am glad to hear that. I think it ought to be determined by Irish opinion. The House has declared in favour of the clause, and I understand not a single Irish Peer voted in the small majority by which the clause was rejected.

Question put, and agreed to.

Several Amendments disagreed with.

Several Amendments agreed to.

Amendment, in page 2, line 27, to leave out from "expended" to end of Clause.

Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment,"—(Mr. Brad-laugh,)—put, and agreed to.

Amendment proposed, to amend the words so re-instated in the Bill, by leaving out from "expended," in line 32, to end of Clause.—(Mr. Bradlaugh.)

Question, "That those words be there left out," put, and agreed to.

Several Amendments disagreed to.

Consequential Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 39, to leave out the words "parent or guardian," and insert the word "workman."—(Mr. Attorney General.)

Question, "That that word be there substituted," put, and agreed to.

Clause 12 (Lords Amendment to omit the Clause.)

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

To this I must ask the House to disagree. It is a most important and vital part of the Bill. It was fully and specially reported upon by the Commission in treating of the truck system in Shetland in 1872, and it has again been reported upon by the Chief Inspector of Factories. I do not know whether the Government accept the disagreement. [Sir RICHARD WEBSTER expressed assent.] Then I need not occupy time.

Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment,"—(Mr. Brad-laugh,)—put, and agreed to.

Committee appointed, "to draw up Reasons to be assigned to The Lords for disagreeing to certain Amendments to which this House hath disagreed: "—Mr. Bradlaugh, Mr. Secretary Matthews, Mr. Attorney General for England, Mr. Stuart-Wortley, Mr. Warmington, Mr. John Ellis, Mr. Arthur Williams, Mr. Howard Vincent, and Mr. Esslemont:—To withdraw immediately; Three to be the quorum.