HC Deb 10 April 1888 vol 324 cc952-61

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. DE COBAIN (Belfast, E.)

said, the Bill he had now the honour to move provided for the weekly payment of wages to workmen in Ireland. It was in the recollection of hon. Members that last year, when the Truck Bill, introduced by the hon Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), was under discussion, an Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) providing for the payment of wages weekly was carried by a large majority, but it did not ultimately find a place in the Act. This Bill carried out the object of that Amendment, with the exception of making it optional with the employer to give 75 per cent of the wages due to the workmen for piece work on the alternate week, and to hold over the final settlement for a fortnight. He trusted the alternative he had introduced would meet the difficulties raised by the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) to the principle of weekly payment of wages when it was raised last year. He hoped hon. Members would recognize the claims of the working classes upon the sympathy of the Legislature. The hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Sinclair), who had given Notice that he would move the rejection of the Bill, objected to the restricted operation of the measure. If the Bill were allowed to go into Committee, he (Mr. De Cobain) would have no objection to the principle being extended to all parts of the United Kingdom. If the weekly payment of wages would enable the working class to spend with greater economy the money which they earned with so much hard toil, the House ought not to hesitate to agree to the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. De Cobain.)


said, it fell to his lot to oppose the hon. Member upon this Bill also, and he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months. The question of weekly payment of wages was thoroughly discussed last year upon the Truck Bill, brought in by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh). The fact was that this Bill was aimed at one particular firm in Belfast, a firm which had done more for the prosperity of Belfast than any other firm, because there happened to be last year a strike in reference to this very point. The strike was soon settled, and the workmen were perfectly satisfied they were wrong in asking for the weekly payment of wages. It was stated last year that in some of the Clyde shipbuilding yards, wages were paid weekly; but, as a matter of fact, in the majority of the Clyde yards wages were paid fortnightly. It was certainly very unreasonable that the principle of the weekly payment of wages should be extended to Ireland only. Personally, he was in favour of paying wages weekly, and he very strongly objected to Ireland being singled out as the field for the operation of such a Bill as this.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir James Corry.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, that if the hon. Baronet (Sir James Corry) was in favour of the weekly payment of wages, he had a very queer way of showing it. This Bill suggested a sensible and rational and radical, though not revolutionary, arrangement in the payment of wages. Much was said about the necessity of improving the condition of the working man. In his (Mr. E. Harrington's) opinion, the first best thing to do was to give the working man some chance of feeling his own power. One way to do that was to provide that a workman should, at the end of a week, be able to draw the wages he had earned during the week, and thus be able to meet the liabilities which he had, by the very necessities of his existence, incurred. At present they made the working man dependent upon others. If the hon. Baronet was sincere in his professions, he ought to vote for the second reading of the Bill. The 2nd clause provided that— Where the engagement is not by time, but for piece work, it shall be lawful for the workman if not paid weekly to claim in each alternate week at least 75 per cent of the wages earned and a settlement in full every fortnight of the amount due for wages. As a matter of fact, if business arrangements would permit of it, a working man was entitled to his wages each evening. As a rule, however, a certain hour was set apart weekly for the payment of wages. They would never recognize fully the justice of the working man's claim until they gave him the absolute right to draw at the end of a week his week's earnings. That was not an exorbitant claim. There was nothing in this claim that would upset the Constitution. It might be said it was better for the working man that the payment of his wages should be delayed; that he should be paid at the end of a month, or at the end of a quarter. How would the working man live under such circumstances? He lived from hand to mouth, and, if paid weekly, he of necessity was a week in debt. If paid monthly, he would be a month in debt; if paid quarterly, he would be a quarter in debt. The longer they delayed the payment of his wages, the more injury they would do him. The hon. Baronet said that this was a measure directed at one firm in Ireland only, and that that firm had done much for Belfast. He (Mr. Edward Harrington) willingly acknowledged that the shipbuilding firm of Harland and Wolff was a credit to Ireland. He wished that in the South of Ireland they could boast of a similar firm; and he denied that, so far as he was concerned, in the remarks he was addressing to the House there was any spirit of animus towards any one firm in Ireland. But if one firm took a different view from the community at large, it might be assumed that that firm was wrong. As to the principle of paying a working man at the end of a week the wages he had earned in the week, there ought to be no question. If one of the protégés of any of the hon. Members opposite held a Government contract, and tomorrow he represented to the Department through whom he did the work that he had done so much work, he would be entitled to 75 per cent of the earned money. Would they allow a working man to draw at the end of the week 75 per cent of his earnings? He left this practical question to the consciences of hon. Members.

MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)

said, he hoped the House would consent to read the Bill a second time. It was within the recollection of the House that the principle of this Bill was fully discussed last Session, on an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) to the Truck Bill. He should not, therefore, take up the time of the House by any lengthened remarks on the subject now. The objection taken to the Bill by the hon. Baronet (Sir James Corry) was that it was not to be applicable to all trades in all parts of the United Kingdom. But the hon. Gentleman who was in charge of the Bill was quite prepared in Committee to extend the principle to the United Kingdom generally. It would be readily admitted, on both sides of the House, that those who were most competent to speak on this question were the workmen themselves, and at the Trades Union Congress at Swansea, at which every trade in the United Kingdom was represented, a resolution in favour of the principle of the weekly payment of wages was passed unanimously. Surely the time had come that working men should be able to claim at the end of the week the wages they had earned. In all large factories and workshops wages were paid weekly, and he believed he spoke accurately when he said that at some collieries wages were also paid weekly. No valid reason could be given against the principle; and, therefore, he hoped hon. Members would agree to the second reading or the Bill.

MR. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)

said, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. De Cobain) who moved the second reading of the Bill said he was prepared in Committee to agree to an Amendment extending the principle of the measure to the Three Kingdoms. It was a pity the hon. Gentleman had allowed the Bill to be drafted in its present form. This was the second Bill the hon. Gentleman had had charge of that night. The last Bill was largely lost through bad drafting, and he suspected this Bill would be lost for a like reason. This was simply an attempt to carry into legislative effect the Amendment that was proposed last year by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). That Amendment merely applied to Ireland. In the first instance it was carried; but, ultimately, it was not retained in the Truck Bill of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh).


said, the Amendment was carried by a large majority, but was struck out in the House of Lords.


said, the Amendment was passed in the first instance, but ultimately it was not pressed.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

said, that as he had charge of the Truck Bill, he might be allowed to say that the Amendment was carried in this House by a large majority, struck out in the House of Lords, renewed here, and carried unanimously.


said, the statement of the hon. Member (Mr. Bradlaugh) did not in the least differ from what he meant to convey. What he meant to convey was that when the Amendment was struck out by the House of Lords, there was no insistance in the attempt made to make it part of the law of the land. This Bill was an attempt, as he had said, to give legislative effect to that Amendment. He opposed the Amendment last year, and he opposed it now, on the ground, and on this ground only, that it was sought to apply the principle of weekly payment of wages to one town, and, practically, to one industry in the United Kingdom only. If a Bill was brought in to provide for weekly payment of wages in ship building yards generally—and it was only in the shipbuilding yard of Messrs. Harland and Wolff that this Bill was intended to operate—he would vote for it; but he would not vote for a Bill which would compel the compulsory payment of wages weekly in one shipbuilding yard only. It would not be at all fair to introduce piecemeal legislation of this kind, and whilst he had always been in favour of payment of wages weekly, he was not in favour of it in one trade in one town.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

said, he considered that this was a very retrograde measure. The working classes were quite able to settle themselves how they would have their wages paid. They did not want to make the working classes more dependent upon the House of Commons than they were at present. To interfere with men who were able in all affairs to look after their interests in the best possible manner seemed altogether wrong in principle. Payment of wages weekly was almost universal. Where it did not prevail, there was generally some reason why it should not be so which was understood by both employers and employed.

SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said, he hoped the Government would support the Bill. In Her Majesty's Dockyards wages were paid every week on Fridays, and nothing conduced more to sobriety, industry, and regularity than such a system. In one of Her Majesty's Dockyards he had seen upwards of 4,000 men paid their weekly wages in half an hour. Some of these men had been working on piece work; some at a rate per hour, working many hours of overtime to meet emergencies; while others were paid by the day. There could be no difficulty or inconvenience in carrying out an arrangement which so greatly promoted the welfare of the working classes.


said, the hon. Gentleman (Sir John Swinburne) appeared to think that the more preference of the Government and of Members of the House for one particular method of paying wages was a good reason for giving legislative sanction to that system, and making its adoption obligatory upon every employer of labour. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) was unwilling to put himself in opposition, for a second time, to his hon. Friend the Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain), but he thought there were one or two very obvious considerations which had been more or less fairly put before the House in the course of the debate, which ought to make any hon. Member hesitate before he supported this Bill. Everyone would admit that unnecessary interference between workmen and employer was to be deprecated. They had a great example of interference in the case of the Truck Acts, but the Truck Acts were intended to stop fraud. There was no pretence that there was any fraud committed by employers on the workmen when they paid them fortnightly, any more than when they paid them weekly. If the House agreed, and he thought they did, that unnecessary interference was to be avoided, he asked them also to accept a second proposition, which was that if interference of any kind was to be attempted, it should only be attempted after very careful inquiry into the case made out by the workmen on the one side, and by the employers on the other side. The hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division of Northumberland (Mr. Fenwick) told the House that the workmen at the Trades Union Congress at Swansea were unanimous in favour of wages being paid weekly; but the House did not know the grounds on which the decision was arrived at and what the employers had to urge against the views which hon. Gentlemen supported. Then if these two propositions were accepted, there was a third proposition which he asked the House to accept also, which was, that if they were going to interfere between workmen and employers in matters not connected with fraud, and in matters in which they might suppose workmen were perfectly able to protect themselves, the interference should be general in its character, equally applied to every industry, and to every part of the United Kingdom. It was obvious on the face of the Bill that the interference here proposed was not general in its character, but confined to Ireland, and it was a matter of notoriety, though not obvious on the face of the Bill, that this particular provision was directed by his hon. Friend against one particular firm in Belfast.


said, that the statement was made last year, and he had heard it with great regret, indeed, that this Amendment of the Truck Acts was directed against one firm. That statement was made by a local gentleman, who must have been aware of the fact that it was entirely incorrect. There were three shipbuilding firms in Belfast. Besides that, the principle of fortnightly payments was extended to other industries, so this Bill was not aimed at one firm.


said, he was not aware whether the Bill was or was not directed against one firm; but it was on the confession of the hon. Gentleman directed against one particular industry in one particular town. It would be admitted that interference between employers and their servants, in the matter of a contract which was binding, was a principle which the House ought not to accept without full inquiry into the matter. He presumed that some advantage was to be gained by the shipbuilders in Belfast adopting the system of fortnightly payment, in competition with their rivals in the same trade in other parts of the Kingdom. There was no industry in which com- petition had been keener than in that of shipbuilding. Over production had taken place in that as well as in other industries, and there had been the closest competition between shipbuilding on the Clyde, the Thames, and at Belfast, and nothing could be more unfair, in the first place, to the employer, and, in the second place, to the employed, than to say to one particular manufacturer, "You shall not pay your men fortnightly," while you allow their competitors in London and elsewhere to pay their men as they pleased. He earnestly pressed the House not to pass a Bill aimed against a particular set of firms in a particular town, until steps had been taken to inquire into the whole subject and an effort made to find out whether or not it was to the interest of the working classes of the country that it should be obligatory on employers to pay men by the week. If the result of that investigation should be that such interference with private contract was desirable, it would then be necessary to introduce a Bill applicable to every part of the United Kingdom and to every industry.

MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)

said, the right hon. Gentleman had spoken as if he had forgotten that the House had on two occasions by a large majority sanctioned the principle of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of interference between the employer and the employed; but he (Mr. Gill) would like to know what interference was provide, for in this Bill, which was simply to enable workmen to claim payment for work and labour done. How that could be considered as interference in the sense spoken of by the right hon. Gentleman he was at a loss to understand. The question was, whether or not the workman having done his work was entitled to his wages, and all that the Bill did was to guarantee this right. The right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members said that the employer derived some advantage from the existing practice. Of course he did, or he would not insist upon it; but were they to consider the advantage of the employer alone? The workman claimed to have a certain advantage in being paid weekly, and he (Mr. Gill) said that he had a right to be considered, and that his right to payment weekly could not be disputed. These men who were living from hand to mouth were in debt to the shop- keepers, under the present system, and by refusing them their wages weekly they were defrauded by their employers to the extent of a week's wages.


said, as one of the Members for Belfast it was his duty to say a few words on the Bill. It was very true, as the hon. Member opposite said, that the Bill could be extended in Committee; but the question was too large, in his opinion, to be settled in that manner. The hon. Member had made out for the Bill no case whatever. The Bill was not demanded by the people of Ireland; it was erroneously believed that it was aimed alone at shipbuilding yards, and he thought the House would hesitate long before it established an anomaly such as that which would be created by it. It would create confusion throughout the whole country by making it imperative that wages should be paid weekly.

MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)

said, that although the Bill referred to Ireland, it contained a principle which, if it were sanctioned by the House of Commons, would very soon spread across the water to Great Britain.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put accordingly, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided:—Ayes 174; Noes 68: Majority 106.—(Div. List, No. 65.)

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 96; Noes 143: Majority 47.—(Div. List, No. 66.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for six months.