HC Deb 12 June 1891 vol 354 c283
SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkestone)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether he has received any representation respecting the discontent of the workmen employed at the Royal Small Arms Factory, Small-heath, Birmingham, in consequence of the reduction of their piece prices; whether it is true, as stated, that reductions of from 10 to 40 per cent. have been made, to the great diminution of the weekly earnings of the men; and whether he will grant an independent inquiry into the complaints of the workmen, and guarantee the men coming forward as witnesses against future injury to their position or prospects in consequence of their action?


It is true that certain piece prices at Sparkbrook have been reduced in some cases to the extent of from 10 to 40 per cent. It is not true that the rates of wages now paid are not perfectly fair rates for each class of work. The men can earn a fair week's wages for a fair week's work; and, unlike most private factories, there is no sub-contracting at all at Spark-brook. The charge brought against the superintendent of the Small Arms Factory at Sparkbrook is that of "sweating" his men. If I am advised that an action at law will lie in respect of it, I am prepared to test this statement in the most satisfactory way, by authorising the superintendent to bring an action against anyone who has made it, and in that case I will undertake to guarantee any man in the factory who may give evidence against any future injury to his prospects in consequence of his evidence. I am not prepared to institute an independent inquiry into the working of the factory.