§ (5.3.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
I do not think I need apologise to the House for bringing forward a matter such as that contained in the Resolution, affecting, as it does, the question of labour, because I believe there, is a strong public opinion that these questions are in many respects more important than those raised often in this House, and which give rise to heated Party controversy. In moving this Resolution I have no idea of reflecting on any Department of the Government, and I freely acknowledge what has been already done by some of our public Departments in this direction. Neither do I desire to make this a matter of Party controversy, for I think the recent Debate on the question of hours of labour on railways showed the desire of Members on both sides to give the best attention possible to the labour question. I am not proposing any revolutionary or radical measure. I am not proposing to fix the hours of labour or the rates of wages. All that I ask is that the State, as a capitalist and employer, shall set a good example. The phrase that property has its duties as well as its rights has been applied in the past too exclusively to the relations between 617 landlord and tenant; it should apply equally to the relations between employers and employed, because the employer has just as much moral responsibility with regard to labour as the landlord has with regard to the tenant who occupies his land. I think we shall all agree with one of the paragraphs in the Report of the House of Lords Committee—a not very revolutionary body—in which they say that the capitalist ought to pay closer attention to the conditions under which the labourer is employed. If that is the case with respect to employers generally, the principle should apply with tenfold force in the case of the State. Where the State employs labour directly, it ought to do so without the intervention of any sub-contractor, and it ought to pay to those it employs wages which are recognised generally as fair in the trade and the country. Where it lets its work out to contract, one of the conditions should be that the workman should receive without abatement the wages recognised in that particular trade, and should not work longer hours than those generally prevailing in the trade. Sub-contracting also, except under special circumstances, ought to be prohibited; and when Government work is indoors, if let out to contract, it ought to be done in factories and workshops, and not in the homes of the labourers, because we believe that the home work is very much at the bottom of the sweating system, and ought to be discouraged by the Government. All these things are feasible, and could be carried out without further legislation. These are matters which each Department has in its own hands. I do not propose to-night to discuss the question of home work. We shall, probably, have an opportunity of doing that on the Home Secretary's Factories Bill. Nor do I propose to discuss the question of the State acting as a direct employer of labour. I wish rather to confine my remarks to the point of view of Government contracts. My Resolution practically includes all Government contracts, whatever the class of labour. But I will confine my attention specially to building contracts under the War Office and the Office of Works. In regard to the question of Government contracts generally, I ask the House to affirm two principles. In the 618 first place, that the contractor should observe the recognised customs of the trade with regard to hours of labour and wages; and, secondly, that sub-letting of contracts should, as a general rule, be prohibited. With regard to the questions of wages, it may be asked, Why is this demand made? It is because we believe the present system of contracting to be injurious to the best interests of the community at large. The Government is far the greatest letter-out of contracts in the country, and Government contracts are the most popular for three reasons. In the first place, the contractor makes no bad debts; secondly, he has quick returns; and, thirdly, a Government contract forms a good advertisement. The consequence is, that there is great competition, and tenders are cut down very much at the expense of the labour market. Such a state of things is unfair to the good employer, hard on the good workman, and injurious to the community. The fair employer is placed at a very great disadvantage as compared with the unfair. Of two men competing for a job, one fully intends to pay a fair rate of wages, his competitor has no such intention; and the letter, to use a somewhat sinister phrase current in the building trade, "throwing back the largest amount of blood money," obtains the contract, and then proceeds to squeeze his profits out of the pockets of the workmen. The result is that the good employer either gives up tendering for contracts; or, if it is necessary for him to continue tendering, he is seduced into imitating the example of his bad competitor—to follow that broad road which leads to the destruction of the workmen. If this state of things is injurious to the employers, it is still more injurious to the working classes. I do not desire to blame the contractors, who are largely victims of circumstances; but the contractor, having taken a contract at a very low price, in which no question of wages is specified, is not able to pay a fair rate to the labourers. The result is he is not able to obtain the services of the most skilled workmen, and has to put up with an inferior class of labour. As every one knows, especially in the building trade, the most skilful workmen are members of Trade Unions, the essence of which is that a man will not undersell his fellow-workmen, nor work at other than a fair wage. 619 Therefore, broadly speaking, Trades Union men cannot be employed on Government contracts. Not only is there thus a tendency to substitute unskilled for skilled labour, but in order to obtain sufficient inferior labour the contractor is often, on large jobs, obliged to import workmen from other parts of the country. I need not dwell on the evils of the overcrowding thereby created. Further, a case was proved before the Committee on Foreign Immigration, where a Government contractor advertised in a newspaper circulating in this country, but printed in a foreign tongue, for foreign labour to carry out his contract. That, of course, tended to bring into this country a large amount of that foreign pauper labour which many of us regard as a very great social curse, labour which not only helps to reduce the rate of wages, but it lowers the standard of living among our working classes. So much for the effect on employer and workmen. What is the effect on the community at large? The substitution of inferior for more skilled workmanship is not only a national loss, but in these days of extreme international competition it is a national danger also. We are told that the English are a logical people, but surely there could be nothing moreillogical than, on the one hand, to lavish money on technical education in order to raise the standard of skill among our working classes; and, on the other hand, by means of the large amount of money paid to Government contractors to put a premium on inferior labour? As to the question of cost the present system may be cheap, but I think it is nasty. Many of our public buildings cost large sums for constant repairs, for never ending still beginning repairs, which might have been saved if they had been properly built at first. If, instead of the present system, we were to introduce one under which the contractor should be compelled to pay the wages recognised as fair in the particular trade, the contractors themselves would probably hail it with satisfaction. Profit would no longer be in antagonism to wages. It would take away the inducement to cut down contracts at the expense of wages, and would enable the contractor who pays fair wages to compete on better terms with the unfair employers. We should also get 620 better work. Being able to offer good wages the contractor would desire, and be able to get, good workmen. It is a well-known axiom that, while inferior materials go with inferior work, superior work and superior materials also go together. No employer would think of putting a good workman on inferior materials, and therefore we should have a guarantee that the work done for the State will be more thorough than at present. It may be said that the system would be somewhat more costly than at present. No doubt the initial cost would be greater, but I do not think the ultimate cost would be, and, even if it were, the benefit to the State would be so great that the nation as a whole would gain. But I deny that the ultimate cost would be greater than at present. It would be capital judiciously laid out, and we should have a more solid and substantial result. I do not know in what way the Government propose to meet my Motion. The official reply in the past has been that it is not incumbent on the State to look to anything but the outside of the platter—the solvency of the contractor. Again, it is argued that the essence of a contract is that, so long as the proper material and so on is provided, the contractor ought to be allowed to carry out his work in the way he thinks best. Further, the First Commissioner of Works on one occasion, in reply to a deputation, said, "We must not interfere with the full play of the labour market. It will not do for the State in any way to fix the rate of wages." Now, in regard to the moral aspect of the question; the President of the Board of Trade so fully expressed his views on this feature of the question in the recent Debate on railway servants that it requires no further elaboration. He informed the Directors, both in writing and in this House, that unless they treated their men in a way that did not shake the moral conscience of the House, he, as representing the Board of Trade, would have to interfere. As regards the question of wages; the State, as a great employer, cannot fail to have a very considerable influence on the rate of wages throughout the country. Shall this influence be for good or evil? It is not proposed or in any way desired that the Government should fix the rate of wages. All that is asked is that the 621 Government shall accept as fair wages those which are fixed in the particular trade by negotiations between employers and workmen. There is no mystery about these rates of wages. Everyone connected with the trade knows and recognises them. They are accepted on the one hand as fair by the representatives of the men, and on the other paid without demur by all fair employers. I am a strong advocate of Trades Unions among working men, but I do not desire to raise that question now. The rates of wages to which I allude are those accepted as fair by the workmen, but not necessarily the full amount desired by the Trade Union. I do not by my Resolution desire to draw any distinction between union and non-union men. But I say that under our present system the Government put the Trades Unions at a great disadvantage because it is almost impossible for a Trades Unionist to accept work under a Government contract. That disability I should like to see removed, and all I ask for the Trades Unionist is a fair field and no favour. I do not ask the Government to pledge themselves one way or other in regard to Trades Unions. I hope I have given the House some arguments in favour of my Motion. I am glad to think I can emphasise argument by experience, for I can give several practical instances which will convince the House and the Government that we ought to go much further than we have gone in the past. By some of our great representative Municipal Bodies the system proposed in my Resolution has been already adopted. It is practically carried out in one Department of the War Office, and the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works proposes to adopt it in the case of certain contracts in his office. The London County Council and the London School Board have had the system at work for two years past, and with very great success. There are many hon. Gentlemen opposite who are not over enamoured of their creation—the London County Council. Unlike Pygmalion they have not fallen in love with the work of their own hands; indeed, instead of trying to infuse life into it they have done their best to paralyse and petrify it. But whether everyone agrees with the politics of that representative body, I think there is a 622 general feeling that the administrative part of the work of the Council has been fairly well done. With regard to the London School Board, many of us may feel it was high time, with some of their schools falling about their ears, that the Board undertook a new System of contract. In olden days they adopted the principles of political economy, and bought in the cheapest market. Now they have given up that system, and insist that fair wages shall be paid to the men they employ, and they find they get better value for their money. In the case of every contract, whether great or small, which the London School Board enter into they require the contractor to sign the following delaration:—I hereby declare that I pay to the workmen employed by me not less than the minimum standard of wages in each branch of the trade.The London County Council require contractors to affix their signatures to the statement that—We hereby declare that we pay such rates of wages and observe such hours of labour as are generally accepted as fair in our trade.This system has worked extremely well in the case of both of these great representative bodies. No proposal has been made to modify it in any way; but, on the contrary, proposals are constantly made to extend it. It has been found that, so far from harassing the contractors, as some hon. Members might think, the system has not been objected to by a single contractor. The list of contractors in both cases has been enlarged, and no difficulty has been experienced in conforming to the conditions laid down. It may be assumed that a contractor making a declaration such as I have read would desire to abide by the terms of his contract. It would not pay a man to break his contract, and thus risk being no longer allowed to tender. The probable loss would be much greater than any possible gain, and, in addition to that, the authorities have found that they have a sort of watch-dogs in the workmen and different Trades Unions interested, for they are ever ready to bring any cause of complaint before the Council or Board, as the case may be. With regard to the War Office, hon. Members will remember that the representatives of the War Office acknowledged before the Lords' Committee on Sweating that under the old system of Government contracting, a 623 system of sweating had not only grown up, but had actually been encouraged and protected. The Director of Contractors, very greatly to his credit, determined to put an end to such an iniquitous system, and, as far as can be judged, the result of his action has tended greatly to diminish sweating under Government contract. In the Tailoring Department, before a contract is signed, inquiries are made of the contractor as to the rate of wages he proposes to pay, and unless it is found that the wages are no longer starvation wages, but liveable wages, the War Office decline to allow the contractor to undertake the work. In the Accoutrement Department the War Office goes still further, because they insist that every contractor before he can tender, or certainly before he can get a contract, must send in to the Department what is called a log of wages, and unless the Department are convinced that the log represents a fair and reasonable rate of wages in the trade, they decline to entertain the tender. That is not all. The Department of Works has gone a great deal further, further even in one respect than I propose we should go. The contract for the maintenance and repair of the House of Commons and other public buildings will come to an end very shortly. A Departmental Committee sat on the question, and they decided that instead of employing men directly, they will again let the work out to contract. I confess I regret they do not see their way to employ men directly. I, however, congratulate the First Commissioner of Works upon the very great step in advance which he now proposes to take. He has issued a new form of contract, which he expects those who tender for the maintenance and repair of our public buildings to sign. The right hon. Gentleman intimates to contractors that it is his intention that men employed on day work shall be competent workmen, and shall be paid wages at rates such as are generally accepted as current in the trade to competent workmen, and the contractor has to sign a declaration—That the rates of wages which I propose to pay to the men employed on day work under this contract are shown in the accompanying Schedule, and in my opinion represent the rates of wages generally accepted as current in each trade to competent workmen.Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman 624 not only expects the contractors to state what they consider the maximum and minimum wage prevalent in the trade, but he intends to provide that the Surveyor of the Office of Works shall fix within the limit of the maximum and minimum wage what the contractor shall pay. That is, indeed, Government fixing wage. So much as regards wages. In regard to the other point in the Resolution, I must ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes longer. I ask the House to affirm that a contractor, in the case of Government work, shall be prohibited from sub-letting any portion of his contract. I hope the House will not misunderstand the proposal I make. I recognise to the full that you cannot entirely prohibit all sub-letting or subcontracting. There are particular forms of work that an employer cannot himself do, and which he must in some way sub-let to others, and I have endeavoured to qualify the general principle against sub-letting by certain words which I have placed at the end of my Motion. I recognise to the full that in the case probably of every contract the contractor uses certain material under the contract which he does not supply in the ordinary course of his trade, and requires certain descriptions of labour which is not within the competency of the labour which he generally employs, and, therefore, he is obliged to get that material and labour from others. But it is against the abuse, not the use, of the system of sub-letting I desire the House to guard. Even most legitimate sub-letting requires careful watching, and all that is not legitimate ought to be absolutely prohibited. Often a contractor, in order to save himself risk or trouble, lets out to some middleman certain portions of the work which, in the ordinary course of his business, he could do himself. That brings in an unnecessary middleman, who has to make his profit, and he makes part of his profit either by scamping material or sweating labour—probably by both means. But there is a worse form of sub-letting, that in which material is, so to speak, divorced from labour—the contractor supplies the material, and depends on the middleman to provide him with the labour. I maintain that in letting out a contract the Government ought to insist that the firm who undertake the work should carry it through. 625 The. Government will probably say they already, have in all their contracts a clause against sub-letting. That is perfectly true; but there are two objections to that clause. In the first place, no penalty is attached to the breach of the clause; and, in the second place, the clause is practically inoperative, because, as far as I can learn, sub-letting under Government contracts is allowed almost as a matter of course. I will not detain the House by giving instances of the very frequent and gross infringement of this sub-letting clause. I ask the Government to make the clause absolutely operative, because nothing could be worse or more useless than an ineffective clause. I ask the First Commissioner of Works and the War Office whether they cannot see their way to accept some such wording as that which is always inserted in the contracts of the London County Council, and which seems to me to cover all the essential principles, while allowing all proper freedom. I thank the House for the patience with which they have listened to me. I hope the Government may see their way to accept my proposition. If they tell me they have anticipated it I shall be glad; at the same time, I do not think I need apologise for having brought the question forward, though I do apologise for the inefficient way in which I have presented the case. If the Government really propose to carry the principle further, it is very right that public attention should be called to the fact. The Government should not be allowed to hide their light under a bushel; but they should give, by public declarations, that encouragement, that moral and material support to the workman which will be shown by our setting an example to other employers. I do not desire to withdraw the Motion, whether the Government accept it in principle or not, and for the reason that at the present time there is a great deal of public feeling and sympathy in reference to labour questions. Unfortunately, public opinion is somewhat fickle, and soon turns to other matter. Red tape soon springs up and chokes the good seed that may have been sown, and the evil goes on as before; but if the House, by Resolution, declares itself in favour of the principle of this Motion, 626 there will, be a guarantee to the nation at large that, in the opinion of the House, the State as an employer ought to set the best possible example to all other employers in the country.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "Clauses be inserted in all Government contracts, requiring that the contractor shall, under penalty, observe the recognised customs and conditions as to rates of wages and working hours that prevail in each particular trade; and that the contractor should, under penalty, be prohibited from sub-letting any portion of his contract, except where the Department concerned specifically allows the sub-letting of such special portions of the work as would not be produced or carried out by the contractor in the ordinary course of his business,"—(Mr. Sydney Buxton,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (5.50.) MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
I beg to second the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Poplar (Mr. S. Buxton). It was originally intended that the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst) should second the Amendment, but, unfortunately, my hon. Friend is too unwell to be in his place. I, personally, am sorry that is the case, because my hon. Friend has given a great deal of attention to the subject which he has on more than one occasion brought under the notice of the House. I think it will now be generally admitted that where labour is underpaid or poorly paid it invariably leads to inferior workmanship. Most private employers of labour who care at all for the character of the work which is carried out by them are anxious to pay skilled and capable workmen as much as the price obtained for their produce will enable them to do. Experience shows that scamping and jerry-mandering in trade is usually the result of ill-paid or under-paid work; and if the Government are to secure skilled and capable workmen, it is highly important that they should be prepared to pay the rate of wage which is current. Why should the Government as a hirer of labour pay a less rate of wage for a similar class of work than is paid by private employers of labour in the same district? Let me mention a case which has recently come under my notice. The 627 Mayor of Richmond recently received a requisition signed by 30 out of 32 members of the Council calling upon him to convene a town's meeting in order to protest against the wages that are paid to the labourers and the constables in the public gardens at Kew. I have no doubt the First Commissioner of Works has had his attention drawn to this question. Until the month of April last year the wages of labourers in Kew Gardens were 17s. per week, and of the constables 20s., the hours of labour for the former being 66 per week, and the hours during which the constables were on duty a little less. A question was asked in the House by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Kingston Division (Sir John Whittaker Ellis) in May last as to the wages paid to the labourers and constables in the other parks of London. The answer given by the First Commissioner of Works was that the wages in the London parks were from 21s. to 24s. per week, but at Kew they were from 18s. to 20s. per week, and the reason he gave for the difference was that it was in proportion to the difference in the wages obtaining in London and the suburbs respectively. I submit that the right hon. Gentleman must be rather incorrectly informed, because an extensive inquiry among the nurserymen and florists in the neighbourhood showed that the average wages paid by these private employers of labour was 21s. per week, as against 18s. paid by the Government. The low rate of wages paid by the Government has a most demoralising effect. The tendency is to bring down the wages of labourers in the neighbourhood; for when the attention of private employers is drawn to the fact that they are paying 2s. or 3s. more per week than the Government, they ask why they should pay more than the Government for the same class of work. I know I may be told that the Government workmen have constant employment, and that that should count in considering their wages; but whatever advantage it may be to a man to have constant employment it is an equal, if not a greater, advantage to the employer to have men who have been trained to the particular class of work which they are required to perform rather than to have to change his workmen every now and again. This, I submit, is one of the 628 chief difficulties private employers of labour have to contend with. Men come to him who have had no previous experience, and the employers are compelled, as it were, to train the men, who, very probably as soon as they have been trained, move off to other employers. So that I say this is one of the chief difficulties with which a private employer has to contend; and whatever advantage it may be to the workman to be continually employed in one firm, I maintain it is an equally great advantage to the employer to have such workmen rather than to be continually changing and taking on those who have had no previous knowledge of the duties they have to perform. Now, the question as my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar has pointed out, has been taken up very seriously and energetically by many other bodies besides the London County Council and the London School Board, and I am very happy to say that all the information that reaches me with regard to the working of their scheme is of the most satisfactory character. Only the other day I was told by a friend that the Chairman of the Committee of Works of the London School Board had declared that since the adoption of this principle the most satisfactory results had accrued to the Board. With respect to sub-letting—undoubtedly a subject of very great importance—I recently had my attention called ,to it by a letter from, a correspondent at Woolwich. The Government had a contract to give out for the painting, I think, of Woolwich Barracks, and this contract was let to a gentleman who had previously done similar work at Portsmouth. At the latter place the rate of payment for painting was something like 5½;d. or 6d. per hour, but when he commenced the work at Woolwich the rate of wages for painters was 8d. per hour. The contractor, however, immediately began to pay his workmen at Woolwich at the same rate he had been paying his workmen at Portsmouth, although that was 2d. or 2½d. below the ordinary rate of wages paid in Woolwich. What was the effect of this upon the minds of employers of labour in the town of Woolwich? Naturally, they said to themselves, "If the Government can have their work done for 2d. or 2½d. per hour below the rate at which we are com- 629 pelled to pay why should we not take some steps in order to reduce the rate paid to our workmen to the level of that paid by the contractor holding a contract from Government?" A very strong agitation was got up in the town of Woolwich over this question, and I maintain that to allow this state of things to go on is both detrimental to the Government Department, inasmuch as they get inferior work done, and injurious to the workmen whose wages are "sweated" or kept down below the proper rate. Some of the contractors sub-let a portion of the work to their workmen, who are induced to undertake it at such a low price that they cannot get the lowest rate of wages out of the work they do. It will be seen, I think, that this question of sub-letting is a matter of very grave and serious importance to the workmen, and I sincerely hope the Government will offer no strong resistance to the Motion of my hon. Friend. I believe the First Commissioner of Works has already undertaken to make certain concessions. I was glad to hear him say, in answer to a question, that in future contracts there is to be no deductions from wages, especially as regards the cleaners about this House. I hope he will carry the principle somewhat further. I am told—I hope it is not true—that, previous to entering into contracts, a contractor is asked what rebate he is prepared to give from the amount of the contract, and at the present time I am told the rebate is about 16 per cent, on the original price. Well, it seems to me that if a contractor is induced, for the sake of getting a contract from Government, to give a rebate on a fair estimate of something like 16 percent., that he will only be able to recoup himself by deducting that from the cost of the materials he will put into the work or from the wages of the workmen who supply the labour under the contract. I sincerely hope that what I am told is not true, that the First Commissioner of Works will be able to deny that such a request is made from the intending contractor as to the amount of rebate he is prepared to make from his contract price. I have to thank the House for the courtesy with which these observations of mine have been listened to, and I sincerely hope the Government will see their way, if not to accept entirely the Motion of my hon. Friend, 630 to offer what may be a satisfactory compromise. I beg to second the Motion.
§ (6.8.) MR. NORRIS (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar was good enough a few days ago to place in my hand the Resolution before us to-day, asking me for my sympathy and support. I am pleased indeed to be able to say that, on reflection and after talking with many persons who understand this subject, I have great pleasure in giving him my sympathy to a large amount. But I am sorry I cannot gratify him by supporting his Motion in its integrity, for the reason that there are difficulties which my hon. Friend has not foreseen. I am pleased he eliminated from his speech, and a most interesting speech it was, all question of Unionism or non-Unionism, but I am not disposed to think that those whom he represents on this occasion, and who have looked forward to his speech, will be quite of that opinion. In relation to this subject my hon. Friend suggested that he should introduce me to a deputation. I assented with pleasure, and he did introduce me to a very intelligent and respectable deputation of tailors. The members of this deputation looked me up and down, examined my dress, and put the question to me, "Are you a sweater, sir," or did I approve of the system? I replied, "Certainly not," and, in reply to further questions as to insanitary workshops, I stated that four years ago I had the honour of speaking to the Home Secretary, and pressing upon him the importance of some salutary regulations which would have the effect of improving the wretched condition under which work was carried on. Then the next point was, "Of course, you agree with Unionism or having a Schedule of prices?" To this I rejoined, "I am very sorry indeed to differ from you on that point," and I looked round to see if my hon, Friend supported me there, but——
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but the House should know that the deputation to which I introduced him had no reference to the Resolution I have submitted to the House, but to a Factory Bill which is before the House, and to which I hope I may have his support when it comes on for discussion.
§ MR. NORRIS
I am quite sure my hon. Friend is not responsible for what the deputation said to me, but I am bound to say that though the remark was not addressed to the question now at issue they said they hoped that in all Bills or Resolutions the hon. Member brought forward I would always support him. Well, I was not prepared to fall in with their views, though we had an interesting conversation. The difficulty I find, and which prevents me from supporting the Motion is that my hon. Friend goes too far, and does not define the principle on which he advocates that penalties should be laid on contractors. He cut the ground very much from under his own feet when he complimented my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works for inserting in an invitation for contractors' tenders a Schedule of prices to be observed by the firm in payment of their men. I quite approve of that—that is not Unionism or non-Unionism, but a question of justice to the men. I think he also referred to the fact that the heads of the great Government Departments were very careful to express in the tenders that no form of unfair sub-letting would be submitted to. But I think it would be much better to go a step further and insert a clause that no intermediate agent, no middleman, shall be employed. I was struck with a remark of the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Fenwick) on that point. I am not aware, of course, if the contractor who was employed to carry out the painting he spoke of was an agent, or if he was really engaged in the trade; but, at any rate, what I am particularly struck with is this that many Government contracts get into the hands of men not brought up to the trade they assume. That is a great evil in these contracts. Competition is keen for Government contracts, and workingmen of all others are ready to advocate that their employers should take these with a view to employment when other trade is slack. I think a step in the right direction would be to insist that in all Government contracts the Departments should invite and receive tenders from manufacturers only, and then that contracts should only be given to firms known to be of such position that they are capable of carrying out the contract with which they are entrusted. Con- 632 tracts would then get into the hands of men of standing and position who would be above all those usages we all deprecate and deplore. But my hon. Friend would, under penalty, require a contractor to observe the recognised customs and conditions that prevail in the trade, while he omits to tell us what penalties he would have inflicted, and who is to judge of the observance or the non-observance of the customs and conditions. Is this to be done by a committee of inquiry, is it to be the duty of the head of the Department? Who is to define the recognised customs and conditions? Is this definition to be arrived at by the head of the Department, by a system of unionism or by some means of which we know nothing? There are great difficulties in the way. Then, as to piecework, I must say that I entirely differ from the conclusions of my hon. Friend, and this upon my own knowledge derived from the representation of a riverside constituency contiguous to his own. A system of sub-letting is often of great advantage to a poor community. In regard to shipbuilding, for instance, and contracts for such work, only recently I was in conversation with a shipbuilder on the subject, and he tells me the difficulty is this. If a contractor takes an order for a large ship, he has to confer with men of each trade who will have to assist in the execution of the contract. He will have to confer with the carpenters and smiths, the shipwrights, anchor smiths, the platers for steel or iron plates, the chain makers, the riggers, the cabinetmakers for cabin fittings, and others. There is not a man who can have knowledge of all these matters, and what then is a contractor to do? He must make such arrangements with the men of different trades as to prices as will enable him to undertake the whole work. It will be seen how difficult it will be for him to fix a price unless he is enabled to sub-let parts of the whole work. So also in regard to the supply of accoutrements, the same difficulty occurs. In saddles, for instance; is it possible for a contractor to undertake a large order without consideration and discussion with the men as to fixing a price. A manufacturer finds that it will be an advantage to him and to his workman when the latter represents that he has a large family at home growing up, and he would like to take some of 633 the work home, where different members of his family under his superintendence can occupy themselves in different parts of the work. What evil is there in sub-letting parts of this wholesome work? It is within my own knowledge that, during the Franco-German War, contracts for haversacks came to this country, and these were sub-let to the poorer classes. The work was well paid, and although, perhaps, the people had to work long hours, still they were earning money, while of other work there was none to be had, and there were parts of the work upon which women and children were occupied. The Seretary for War could tell us how much of light leather work, fitting of straps, &c., there is upon which boys and women may be engaged. Would my hon. Friend, under regulations, prevent these smaller portions of a contract being let out in the way I describe? I feel that some fault may be found with the Motion, that it is not framed with full acquaintance with the facts. I well remember how Mr. Samuda warned the men in the Thames shipbuilding trade of what would be the result of their action in standing out for higher wages. Mr. Samuda's warning was unheeded, and where now is what used to be the great shipbuilding trade on the Thames? The men have suffered much privation and some of them have gone to the North, where trade has gone. Therefore, although I am anxious to provide a remedy against anything in the nature of sweating applied to sub-letting, against anything in the nature of an impoverishing and grinding of the workmen, and to this end the warning given to the contractors to-night may be useful, yet I cannot support the Resolution. I understand it is not open to me to move an Amendment, but I would suggest to my hon. Friend that if he finds it necessary to impose any conditions at all he should strike out his reference to penalty and sub-letting and add to his Resolution the words—And that if these conditions be not faithfully fulfilled such contractor shall not be allowed to contract for a period of three years.I think that will be quite sufficient to ensure that only principal contractors shall be employed, and all that my hon. Friend needs or requires will be gained.
§ (6.22.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggereton)
I sincerely hope that 634 the hon. Member for Poplar will not accept the advice which has just been tendered him, but that he will adhere to the terms of the Resolution he has submitted to the House. To those of us who for several years have been "pegging away" on this subject it is matter for congratulation that the question had been pushed almost to the edge of victory, before the hon. Member for Poplar at the eleventh hour brought forward his Motion, to which, however, I hope the Government will agree. None of us will grudge him his success, but it is onlp right that we should pay a tribute to the efforts of those who for six years have striven for this result. Tribute is also due to the Departmental Committee appointed by the Government. It fell to my lot upon several occasions to bring this same question in another form under the notice of the First Commissioner of Works, and we were met with the spirit of courtesy and fair play, which is characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman. I think some two years since, when after an important Division had taken place in the House, he promised an inquiry by a Departmental Committee, and that Committee has since had the subject under consideration. Personally I have to thank these gentlemen for the serious consideration they have given to this important subject and the practical admission of the justice of our views. Having said so much in recognition of the efforts of the men who have for the past six years interested themselves in the matter and to which I can bear testimony, and having tendered my thanks to the Committee for concessions made, I venture to express the hope that the Government will see their way to go still further and accept the Motion of the hon. Member for Poplar. Reference has been made to the evils of the contract system, and two or three years ago the scandals, as they were termed, of our Board Schools in London exemplified the evil. I do not know that I can adduce any better illustration in support of the Motion of the hon. Member for Poplar than by allusion to the scandals connected with the buildings erected for the School Board in the Metropolis. It is now some 12 or 14 years ago that I felt it my duty to bring this to the notice of members of the 635 School Board of London. I pointed out the faulty nature of the materials used in building, and I told members of the Board that unless the Board stopped the system of scamping the work, before long the ratepayers would be called upon to rebuild the schools then being erected. We tried in vain to induce the School Board to insert in their contracts some such clause as that they have since, fortunately for themselves and the ratepayers of the Metropolis, seen that it is absolutely necessary should be inserted in such contracts—a clause similar in character to that the hon. Member for Poplar desires to see introduced into Government contracts. I venture to say that the absence of such a clause for School Board contracts has caused to the ratepayers of the Metropolis a loss of £200,000 or £300,000 in the last few years. On grounds of economy this Motion should therefore be adopted, for though, a little more money may be expended in materials and good labour, in the end a great saving will be effected to the nation. Therefore, if from no higher considerations, the Motion should be accepted. I would, however, urge that the Government should go a little further in the direction indicated. I have frequently expressed the opinion that the contract system should, as far as possible, be done away with, and that the Government should engage and pay its own servants every farthing of the wages this House votes from time to time. I regret that this Departmental Committee has not seen its way to recommend that this contract system should be got rid of altogether. The necessity for making this further concession will be manifest when I cite an instance of how Government work has been done at Buckingham Palace, where two contractors are employed. Messrs. Mowlem, Burt, and Freeman is one, and they pay their workmen the fair price for their labour suggested by the Union, 9d. per hour. But there is another contractor employed—and for the life of me I cannot understand why two contractors are engaged—and this other firm, Messrs. Brass, instead of paying their carpenters and bricklayers 9d. per hour, paid 7d. and 7½d., and their labourers instead of 6d. from 4¼d. to 4¾d. an hour. So there you have two contractors, the one paying their men at full rate, the other at a rate from 636 1½d. to 2d. an hour less. This state of things the workmen brought under my notice, and asked me to do what I could by appealing to that sense of justice which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has ever evinced when his attention has been called to such matters. This state of things obtains in other Government Offices, and it is to put an end to these anomalies and to give the workmen a fair rate of wages, so that the inequalities to which I have referred will no longer be allowed, that this Motion is moved. The system which obtains at the British Museum, is, I believe, still more anomalous—the contractor in the bookbinding Department deducting from 3s. to 7s. a week from the wages of the boys and workmen. The only objection I have ever heard to the adoption of such a Motion as this is, that employers ought not to be compelled to pay the same rate of wages to bad as to good workmen. There is, however, unfortunately, always a redundancy of labour in the market, and if the employer finds himself with inferior workmen, the remedy is always at hand. He can dismiss the inferior workmen and engage good workmen in their stead. I suppose it is known to many Members of this House that one of the conditions of a man joining a Trades Union is that he shall give a guarantee that he is a skilled workman. That is indispensable, so that an employer when he engages a man through that agency has always a guarantee that the man is a good and efficient workman, and not likely to scamp his work. I hope I have made myself clear—for I am labouring under a severe indisposition, which makes it almost impossible for me to articulate. But I thought it right to publicly thank in the House the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Works and the Departmental Committee for the generous support they have always given us when we have appealed to them to remedy grievances. I would appeal to them now in their own interest, as well as in ours, to go still further, and accept the Motion of the hon. Member for Poplar.
§ (6.35.) THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET, Dublin University)
I am sure every Member of this House will agree that the discussion which has taken place this evening 637 has been most interesting and useful. But it has turned mainly on Government contracts and contractors in the abstract. Sir, I thank the hon. Member who has just sat down for the very generous way in which he has spoken of the Department over which I have the honour to preside, and I have thought it as well to intervene in the Debate at this point, in the hope that I may be able to clear up a good deal of misapprehension which prevails on this subject, judging from the speeches we have heard in regard to the conditions of Government contracts. I also desire to explain what the view of the Government is with regard to the Resolution which has been brought forward by the hon. Member for Poplar, hoping what I have to say in that respect may conduce to the shortening of the Debate. Before I deal with the Resolution of the hon. Member for Poplar, I should like to comment a little upon the remarks in which he introduced it. His speech, I must admit, was on the whole a very fair and temperate one, but I think the House will agree with me that he sketched his subject in somewhat gloomy colours. He described very vividly what he called bad contractors. He sketched the sweating contractors and the attendant train of the workmen who suffer under those sweating contractors, and of foreign labourers brought in to affect the English labour market. A number of other such circumstances he detailed, and then, assuming that the kind of contractor he had sketched must necessarily be a Government contractor, he proceeded to complain that the workmen employed under such men must be so much worse treated than those who are employed by private individuals. Strange to say, however, he declared, at the same time, that Government contracts were the most popular of all contracts, and when the hon. Member came to particularise his charges he could only cite two instances, namely, the contract for general works and repairs in the City of London, and two or three exceptional instances of sweating brought before the House of Lords' Committee; and he admitted that as regards the latter the evil has been remedied, while, as regards the former, the new contract which will shortly be entered into goes even further in the direction he desired than he could have 638 hoped. So much, then, for the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Resolution. That speech we listened to with great interest, but like all other speeches in the House it will pass away. Not so the Resolution. If we adopt it it will remain in the Records of Parliament. If its object and effect were only to declare the opinion of the House that every care shall be taken in Government contracts that the workmen employed under them shall receive for a fair day's work a fair day's wage, and that everything shall be done to render impossible, as far as may be practicable, the recurrence in future of such lamentable instances—exceptional though they were—of sweating as were brought before the Committee of the House of Lords, then the Government would most heartily have accepted it. But whatever may have been the intention of the hon. Member when he framed his Resolution it goes much further than that. I think I shall be able to satisfy the House that if the Resolution were adopted in its terms the effect would be to lay down regulations which, as regards many of the Government contracts, would be wholly unnecessary, but which might, if applied to others, lead to great inconvenience—which might land the Government who adopted such contracts in a difficult and even dangerous position, and which would cause mischief to the great industries of the country. Perhaps the House will allow me to explain, very shortly, what has been done in regard to the triennial contract for maintenance and repairs in London, which has many times been the subject of discussion in this House. The hon. Member who has just sat down has said that we have made at all events a step in the right direction in the changes we propose in future contracts for repairs in London, but I think some of the observations that have been made on this subject would mislead the House were I not to explain exactly how the case really stands. The contracts under the Office of Works are of two kinds. There is first the particular contract I am now speaking of, which has to do with the works and repairs of the public buildings in the Metropolis. There are, besides, a great number of contracts entered into from time to time by the Office of Works for the erection of special buildings such as the Post Office and the new Admiralty Offices. 639 These contracts are wholly different in their character. For many years the principle on which the contract for works and repairs in the London district was framed was an invitation to contractors to tender on a schedule of prices. These prices were formerly filled in by the contractor, but in 1884 a new system was adopted, the prices were then filled in by the Office of Works. Whatever may have been the disadvantages of that system, it certainly had one great advantage—it was extremely economical. The work was done, and done fairly well, and very cheaply to the taxpayer. I would mention a few figures. The money paid on this account during the triennial period from 1884 to 1887 was about £130,000. After the change was made it fell to £100,000, and the present contract is being worked at an annual expenditure of about £90,000, a great reduction. I say, therefore, that as far as London goes the change, from the point of view of economy, was a success. But I cannot say that, so far as efficiency goes, it was so great a success, and there were frequent complaints as to the wages of the men. In consequence, the whole subject of the rate of wages under Government contracts was considered by a Departmental Committee, composed of Sir Charles Fremantle, Mr. Giffen, of the Board of Trade, Mr. Spring Rice, of the Treasury, and my own most able and excellent secretary at the Office of Works, Mr. Primrose. I think it will be agreed that a better Departmental Committee could not well have been appointed. They examined a great number of witnesses, including officers of the Office of Works, of the War Office, and of the Admiralty, a great and popular employer of labour, and, most important of all, a deputation from the Amalgamated Trades Society of London. I have had the advantage of seeing most of their evidence, and nothing could be more fair and practical than the way in which the case of the Deputation of the Amalgamated Trades Society was stated and argued. As the result of that inquiry, the Committee submitted a scheme, which has been sanctioned by the Government and when put into operation the effect of it will be that in future the contractor will submit a schedule of prices as a fair exemplification of the range of wages accepted as current in each particular trade. Whoever the 640 contractor is who succeeds in getting the contract, the money for wages will be paid not to him, for his benefit, but really only through him. The wages paid by the contractor will be reimbursed in full by the Government. There will be no more discount to be taken off by the contractor, and, therefore, in the future, no more temptation to make a job out of the workmen's wages. In all such future contracts the Government will do their best to ascertain the rate of wages generally accepted as current in the various trades. Now, Sir, it has been said of the other kind of contracts I have referred to—such, for instance, as the contract for the Post Office—that the wages are so poor that it is impossible for Union men to work under them. I need hardly tell the House I am not going to say one word against Trade Unions. I know full well the great services they have rendered not only to their members but to the community at large. I will say this, however, that whoever has said a Trades Union man would not work under those Government contracts cannot have known what he was talking about. I will venture to read to the House one answer that was made by one of the representatives—Mr. Turner—of the Amalgamated Trades, examined before the Departmental Committee. He had described how private employers paid the full wage and retained the services of Union workmen, and he was asked by Mr. Primrose whether there would be anything to prevent Union men from working under the Government contractors for the new Post Office. He said there would not; and further, speaking of Mr. Chapple, who is to do the remaining work on this Post Office for the Government, he added—I know full well by long experience that they never think of employing any but practical men. By having cheap labour they are at a loss at the finish, and therefore there is no credit given to the foreman.Now, this was one of the very contracts that we were told nothing would induce the Trade Union men to work under.
§ MR. PLUNKET
It was Mr. Turner I may go further and say that we know, as a matter of fact, that in almost all these great contracts—I am not now speaking of the triennial contracts—there 641 is no dissatisfaction with the wages the contractors pay. And why should there be? The great contractors who know their own business will employ the best men, and these may or may not be Trade Union men. There may, of course, be exceptions to the rule, but there is no general dissatisfaction with the wages paid by the contractors who undertake the great Government contracts. As to subletting, we do not allow in these contracts any sub-letting, except with the written consent of the Office of Works; but, of course, that consent is given in certain cases in which the sub-letting is not of a vicious kind at all—that is to say, in which the transfer of the work from one man to another is not made in order that the middleman may make a profit, but in order that the contract may be properly carried out. Our rule is not to sanction any devolution of a contract of the evil kind to which reference has been made. It is done on the economical principle of the sub-division of labour. Then as to overtime, we do our best to discourage it in every way we can, but on this point the Resolution is of so broad a character that it would impose upon us a duty that really in certain cases it would be impossible for us to discharge. I will only say further that with regard to the future triennial contracts of the Office of Works the Resolution is unnecessary, and as regards the other contracts it is really beside the mark, and would often cause inconvenience and embarrassment. No doubt, if we had endless servants, and could squander as much money as we liked, we could carry it out, but under existing conditions everybody knows that business could not be done on the hard and fast lines laid down by the hon. Member. Could you apply the Resolution to one of the great Admiralty contracts? The thing is impossible. Imagine attempting to apply it to a contract for the construction of an ironclad! The first thing a contractor who undertakes to build an ironclad has to do is to employ a dozen or score of people to assist him in carrying out the contract. Yet that would undoubtedly be sub-contracting contrary to the strict language of the Resolution. I could point to many similar cases in that and other Departments of the State; but though I say this, I am not in the least arguing against the spirit or the main object 642 of the Resolution. Sir, I will not dwell further upon this subject, but I will endeavour to state in a few words what it is the Government propose to do with regard to this Resolution. Of course I am well aware that cases of sweating have been proved in the evidence given before the Committee in the House of Lords on the sweating system, and the Government admit that in these instances the evil did require a remedy; but, at the same time, if this Resolution were carried as it now stands although in some sense it might tend to assist the object it has in view, it would on the other hand be absolutely obstructive to the carrying out of the great contracts undertaken by contracting firms for the Government to the great disadvantage of the Public Service. Again, with regard to what has been said about sub-letting it is not the use but the abuse of sub-letting, that is objected to, and if this were all that is covered by the Resolution of the hon. Member for Poplar I should not object to it. But this is not all, and, therefore, I shall propose, should the Motion of the hon. Member become a substantive Resolution to vary it in the following manner. I propose to strike out the whole of the hon. Member's Resolution after the word "that," and to substitute for them the following Resolution—That in the opinion of this House it is the duty of the Government in all Government contracts to make provision against the evils which have recently been disclosed before the House of Lords' Sweating Committee, and to insert such conditions as may prevent the abuses arising from sub-letting, and make every effort to secure the payment of the rate of wages generally accepted as current for a competent workman in his trade.
§ (7.10.) SIR L. PLAYFAIR (Leeds, S.)
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar will agree with me that the Resolution suggested by the right hon. Gentleman is a great improvement on that which he has proposed—for this reason, that it not only commits the Government to take care that for the future none of the evils which have been found to prevail under the sweating system shall be allowed to continue; but it goes even beyond this and commits the Government in all the future works in which it may engage, to undertake that the wages generally are such as may be customary among the men engaged in 643 the different trades. At the same time it puts the action to be taken with regard to the rate of wages in a more definite form than under the wording of my hon. Friend, and does not leave that question as one to be regulated by the Trades Unions. I think the hon. Member for Poplar would be well advised in accepting the Resolution offered by the Government, because I believe it would fulfil the object he has in view in a better way than the more restricted Resolution he has moved.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
With the permission of the House I may be allowed to say a word or two in reply to the right hon. Gentleman. I am happy to say that I on my own part and my hon. Friend, who seconded the Resolution on his part gladly accept the words proposed on the part of Her Majesty's Government. We could have wished that the question of hours had not been excluded. But we are not only anxious that the House should come if possible to a unanimous conclusion on this important labour question, but we recognise the fact that the words suggested by the right hon. Gentleman would have almost as wide an operation as those of the Resolution which we have proposed. We therefore accept the terms of the Government proposal, and thank them for having met us in such a friendly and cordial spirit.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put, and negatived.
After the word "That," to add the words "in the opinion of this House it is the duty of the Government in all Government contracts to make provision against the evils recently disclosed before the Sweating Committee, to insert such conditions as may prevent the abuse arising from sub-letting, and to make every effort to secure the payment of such wages as are generally accepted as current in each trade for competent workmen."—(Mr. Plunket.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ (7.15.) MR. J. SPENCER BALFOUR (Burnley)
As the representative of a large constituency which is deeply interested in a practical solution of the question now before the House, I shall give my cordial support to the Amendment which has just been suggested from the Treasury Bench, because I 644 think it embodies a proposal that will meet the views not only of the working classes in general, but of those who represent them in this House. I think it would be a misfortune if this question were regarded simply as a Metropolitan question, or as one affecting only the Metropolis and the Dockyard towns. No doubt the question of Government work is one that more especially affects the working classes of London and the Dockyard towns, but at the same time, there is throughout the length and breadth of the country, and particularly in the Lancashire districts a strongly expressed feeling that some change should be made in the method of giving out the work required to be done under contracts with the Government, which has been hitherto adopted. As we seem on this occasion to be practically unanimous in regard to this question, I will not detain the House by answering the arguments of the hon. Member opposite, who referred to the difficulties which beset the original Resolution in reference to sub-letting. It should be remembered that there are many kinds of sub-letting, and the hon. Member for Poplar never proposed to do away with that form of sub-letting which is inherent in all great contracts. It is obvious to anyone who understands the subject, that no great public building could be erected in any part of the country if the contractor were not allowed to sublet some portions of the work. There must be subsidiary contracts for painting, carpentering, and things of that kind; but, with reservations such as these, it must be insisted upon, as the main condition of the contract, that all the chief portions of the work should run on all fours with the principal stipulations of the contract. With regard to the objection that has been made to the insertion of the words "under penalty" contained in the Resolution, the hon. Member can hardly be aware that few contracts do not include a penalty clause. But underlying all these technicalities, I venture to submit that the real object of the Resolution, and the real purport of this discussion, is to endeavour to urge on Her Majesty's Government that in all these matters it should take up a position which the Government only can assume, because it is the largest individual employer of labour in this country, and its relations with its operatives and its contractors 645 should be such as should form a sort of ideal relationship between itself and its employés—a relationship such as every good master in the country would endeavour to emulate, and a relationship, moreover, which would constitute at once a warning and a reproach to every bad master in the community. If such a relationship as this were once established, every operative in the Kingdom would be able to point to Her Majesty's Government and say of the Government system of contracts, and the Government method of carrying out its work, "That is the standard set by the State—a standard by which all other masters in their relations with their workpeople will be judged as they attain or to fall below that standard."
§ (7.20) SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
I only desire to add one word to what has been already said. Having come down to the House for the purpose of supporting the Resolution I am very glad to hear that in the general opinion of the House the words proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works are regarded as an improvement on the Resolution which appears upon the Paper. The words pledging the Government to "make every effort to secure the payment of the rate of wages generally accepted as current for a competent workman in his trade" are a distinct improvement on the words of the hon. Member for Poplar. But I think that the question of the hours of labour should also be included, and that it should be here set forth that the hours should, as a general rule, and subject to exceptional cases of emergency, be such as are accepted by the trade. If this were done, I think it would be satisfactory to all classes, and beyond this I think it would further tend to make the Resolution generally acceptable to the House.
§ COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
I would remind the House that in consequence of a Debate which took place last August, a careful inquiry was promised by the Government into the wages paid to those who are in the Government employ. I suppose we shall soon know what has been the result of that inquiry; but I think we ought to congratulate the Government that they not only deem it their duty to 646 inquire into the question of wages and of the hours worked by their employés, but that they feel it necessary to go still further, and to institute some real control and supervision over the wages of those employed by their contractors. I am sure we must all be delighted to know that the Government are prepared to go to the extent they have announced. I accept the Government's Amendment, because I consider it a decided improvement on the original Resolution, and I trust it will be the means of providing a solution of this important question.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I only wish to express my thanks to the Government for the attitude they have taken in this matter, and to assure them of the satisfaction experienced in this part of the House at the fact that, in being enabled to pass this Resolution as amended by the Government, the House of Commons has washed its hands of all complicity with the sweating system. It has been generally supposed that for a long time there has been complicity of this kind hanging about the action of the Government, and the Resolution they have now proposed furnishes them with a sufficient defence against that suggestion, and marks a distinct progress in the cause of anti-sweating in this country. The time was when men bought their goods at the lowest price, without any other thought; but now there are many who never thought of it before who, when buying cheap articles, are led to consider whether the low price is legitimate, or has merely been obtained out of the misery of those employed in its manufacture. The encouragement of this sentiment will do more than anything else to put down sweating in this country. The Government, however, like all public bodies, are not amenable to sentiment; they can only be influenced in these matters by the representative opinions expressed in this House. I am glad the Government have recognised this position, and I accept their proposal not only as a pledge for their future action, but as an example to all other employers in this matter.
§ (7.24.) MR. W. A. MACDONALD (Queen's Co., Ossory)
I have merely risen 647 to express a hope that this arrangement which seems to be of such a happy character, will be extended to Government contracts in Ireland. I have reason to believe that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with regard to the Government printing in that country. At the same time, I am sure that the working-men of Ireland fully sympathise with the working-men of Great Britain in regard to this question. Those who represent labour in Ireland will, as far as possible, co-operate in all projects which have for their object the improvement of the condition of the working-men of Great Britain, as well as of those of their own country. The Amendment proposed by the First Commissioner of Works is eminently satisfactory, provided it will be thoroughly and honestly carried out. I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman will recognise the claims of Ireland for carrying out this Resolution.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, it is the duty of the Government in all Government Contracts to make provision against the evils recently disclosed before the Sweating Committee, to insert such conditions as may prevent the abuse arising from sub-letting, and to make every effort to secure the payment of such wages as are generally accepted as current in each trade for competent workmen.
§ SUPPLY—Committee upon Monday next.