§ SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)
Before I move the Amendment of which I have given notice, I must record my protest against the circumstances in which the House of Commons are called upon in the present year to consider the Navy Estimates. The Member who is especially responsible for the efficiency of the Navy and the spending of the money which we shall be shortly asked to vote is not a Member of the House of Commons. As to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, the only complaint I have to make against him is that, as representing the Board of Admiralty in this House, he is not, as he ought to be, the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is the duty of the First Lord of the Admiralty to represent in this very technical Department the public opinion of the country and to inform the professional Admirals at the Board of Admiralty of the wants, desires, and even the prejudices of the people of the 1110 country, and it is also his duty in this House to represent to the Representatives of the people the technical opinion of the Board of Admiralty and the reasons which induced them to give effect to those opinions. It is quite clear that a person who is not a Member of the House of Commons, not in touch with public opinion, and who is removed from all familiar intercourse with the Members of this House, cannot satisfactorily fulfil those duties. In fact, a First Lord of the Admiralty who is removed from the criticisms and from the touch of this House is really of very little use at all. This peculiarity appears to be a sort of speciality of Liberal Administrations, because for the last 20 years—during the whole time I have had a seat in this House—I do not recollect any Conservative Government that have had a First Lord of the Admiralty other than a Member of this House, and certainly the last three Liberal Administrations have removed the First Lord of the Admiralty from the criticism and control of this House by appointing to that post a Peer of the realm. The Amendment of which I have given notice applies in terms only to the naval establishments of the country—because it would not have been in order if it had been more extensive—but the arguments I shall use are equally applicable to all those Departments of the Government which employ labour, such as the War Office, the Post Office, and the Board of Works, and the principle to which I am going to ask the House to assent applies not only to the Government establishments, but also to Municipalities and County Councils, and, in fact, to all Public Bodies who are employers of labour. The principle I wish the House to lay down is that whenever the public is an employer of labour, and the workers are working for the general public—the public of the United Kingdom, or the public of any division of the United Kingdom—that the employers should so regulate all the conditions of employment as to make themselves model employers of labour. In the late General Election we have most of us insisted upon our earnest desire to raise the position of the workman, and here is an opportunity to our hand. If we wish to raise the position of the workers throughout the country generally, we 1111 must begin by those who work for us. The people and the Representatives of the people in a case of this kind have both the employers and the employed under their control. There are no economical difficulties in the way. The public when they employ workmen are not bound to make a profit or to screw down the cost of the product of labour. We are not face to face with any sort of foreign competition, and, therefore, if there is any honesty or sincerity whatever in the professions which we all of us make of our desire to raise the position of the worker, I do not see how we can possibly escape the necessity of beginning at home in the first instance, and seeing that the workers we employ are employed under conditions of justice and equity. The position I invite the House to take up is very well illustrated by the first branch of the Amendment, which says—That no person should in Her Majesty's naval establishments be engaged at wages insufficient for a proper maintenance.Now, I suppose that almost every hon. Member of this House in his electioneering campaign last year lamented that so large a proportion of the workers of this country are in receipt of starvation wages, and that in the midst of our advance in civilisation we have such a great number of men, honest and industrious, and worthy, who with their wives and families have habitually to support themselves on insufficient food. We have also condemned in very strong terms the practice known as sweating, which means taking advantage of the crowded occupation of the labour market to induce people to do work for wages on which it is hardly possible for them to subsist. But how can we with any honesty complain of private employers taking advantage of foreign competition to pay their employés insufficient wages if the nation itself—which is able to pay sufficient wages, and which has no necessity to screw down the workman to the lowest amount which he will take—if the nation itself pays insufficient wages in its own establishments? Now, there is no doubt that some years ago the Board of Admiralty was in the habit of employing men at insufficient wages. There was, of course, according to the law of supply and demand, no difficulty in the Admiralty obtaining an ample supply of workmen 1112 at low wages. Any employer can obtain almost any amount he likes of unskilled labour at quite insufficient wages to live upon, and the Admiralty was no better than nor worse than a private employer of labour. An inquiry was made into that matter about two years ago, and chiefly through the influence, I think, of the late Mr. W. H. Smith, the wages of the ordinary unskilled labourers throughout the naval establishments were raised. The wage was raised but not to what I should call a sufficient wage. The minimum wage, I believe, was paid at 17s.; and considering the dearness of house rents, and the dearness of living in most of our dockyard towns, I do not think anybody will stand up in this House and say that 17s. a week is a sufficient wage for a workman and his family. The rule such as it was has been evaded by the officials of the Admiralty by the employment of what they call boys, these boys being stalwart young labourers of 19 or 20, who are called boys, who receive boy's wages, and so evade the direction of the Government and the wish of this House that a minimum wage should be established below which anyone should not be paid. The first proposition to which I shall invite the House to assent is that in our naval establishments no man shall be employed at wages which are insufficient for his proper maintenance. I know very well what the effect of that would be if it were carried out. The effect would be that you would get into the naval establishments of the country nothing but the pick of the ordinary unskilled working men. Your wages would be higher than the wages of unskilled labour in the country, and you would gradually have drawn into the service of the State for our naval establishments the very pick of the unskilled workmen of the country, and I very much doubt whether the actual cost of labour would be raised thereby. I do not myself believe in what is called cheap labour. Men to whom you pay low wages, who are insufficiently nourished, who are in that hopeless condition which, unhappily, most of our unskilled workmen throughout the country are, cannot do as good a day's work as the well-paid and well-nourished workman; and I believe, even so far as mere money goes, the nation 1113 would really gain by having no workmen in its establishments except those who are first rate and able to do a good day's work, which would be worth the extra money given them. And certainly the prestige and the honour of the nation would be greatly advanced by a rule of that kind, because I cannot think it creditable that a country like ours should have in its employ men such as we have heard of in Woolwich Arsenal, who are screwed down to an insufficient wage and who naturally feel that they are not being treated by the State as any private employer of labour who really was concerned for the condition of his labourers, would treat them. I see the Secretary for War present, and I have to say that my remarks as to the naval establishments will apply to the Ordnance Factory just as much as to the Admiralty. But I base my remarks on the naval establishments, and I would urge the House to pass a Resolution that in all the arrangements made with workers the Admiralty should be a model employer of labour. I have put down on the Notice Paper four particular conditions—namely, the hours of labour, wages, insurance against accidents, and provision for old age, these four being heads to which I wish specially to direct the attention of the House. I am quite sure that does not exhaust the list, and I also put in my Resolution "et cetera," to show that there were many other conditions of labour in which the same principle ought to be applied. Now I begin with the question of hours. What professions did we all make at the General Election about hours? I suppose the majority of the Members of this House expressed to their constituents their strong sympathy with the movement which is going on now among the labouring classes all over the world for shortening the hours of work. We were all in favour of shortening the hours so far as they could possibly be shortened. The great majority of Members committed themselves to an eight hours day as being a quite sufficient maximum for the ordinary work of a workman; and though we differed as to the particular way in which this eight hours day was to be brought about, many Members pledged themselves to the full length of the enforcing of an eight hours day by legislative enactment; and others equally 1114 anxious to see the hours of labour restricted to eight thought that it should be brought about by Trades Unions, or by agreement, or by the gradual progress of education, and of reasonableness on the part of those who employed labour. But here is a test of our sincerity in this matter. If we are so anxious that the hours of labour should be restricted to eight per day, here is an opportunity in which we can in the case of the workmen employed by ourselves limit ourselves to that duration of labour. How can any Member of this House be sincere in his desire to restrict the hours of labour to eight per day if he does not do his utmost to see that that limit of eight per diem is observed by the nation itself, in the case of the workmen whom itself employs? You see in this case there are none of the difficulties which attend the reduction of hours by an ordinary employer. We have no trade rivals to think of, neither foreigners nor persons in our own country; and if the Government is constrained to reduce the hours of labour, which its own servants have to work, to eight hours a day, it is impossible that any harm can be done. It would have one very good effect. It would try an experiment which would throw great light either upon the possibility of limiting the hours of labour by law, or upon the advisability of employer and employed limiting those hours by agreement among themselves. It would settle that very much agitated question whether the shortening of the hours of labour would not actually increase the efficiency, the value, and, possibly, even the quantity of the work performed. Of course, if the result of shortening the hours in the naval establishments of the country was what many people prophesy and believe on very good grounds—that the amount of work done would be not less, but more, the country would be a gainer by a shortening of the hours. It would get work greater in quantity or more valuable in its result than what it got by the long hours; but if, on the other hand, it turned out not to be so, and if it appeared that men working for the eight hours would not turn out as much work as in the longer hours, what would be the result? The only result would be that the nation would have to employ more labour; that 1115 more men would be employed, more of the unemployed would be drawn into employment, and the only result would be that we should have to pay a trifle more for the product of labour, and our ships and our armaments would be a trifle more expensive than at present. But this would, as I have shown, be to the public advantage. In doing this we should not be setting the example, because it has been stated in the public Press that two large firms of shipbuilders in the North of England have actually, by agreement with their workmen, reduced the hours of labour to eight per day; therefore, in this particular instance, it is too late for the naval establishments of the country to set the example, and they could only follow the example already set by private enterprise. But I cannot understand how people can profess themselves so anxious to see the hours of labour in the country generally reduced to eight per day, and yet not begin in the public establishments of the country, where we have the control of both the employer and the employed. Our servants, having the will to do it, the thing can undoubtedly be done. If such a shortening of the hours of labour takes place, it must not be defeated by working systematic overtime. I know in almost every business and industry there must be overtime, and certainly in such an industry as in the shipbuilding yards of the country you may be obliged to have overtime, because in a national emergency—if there was, unhappily, danger to the country, or even where it becomes necessary to finish a ship by a particular day—it may be essential to work overtime. Overtime work is always costly. It always has to be paid for at a higher rate than ordinary work, and a man who has already done a good day's work cannot possibly do as much per hour in his overtime as he can in the shorter hours of his usual employment, and, therefore, you pay a higher price for a less amount of work. There is an example before us in America of the way in which overtime may be unscrupulously used by officials of Departments. In America about 20 years ago, a law was passed that in the Naval Department workmen should work only eight hours a day. That law was practically observed for many years; but about 10 years ago some enter- 1116 prising Secretary of the Navy in America said that the ordinary hours of labour should be eight, but that the men might work two hours overtime each day, and from that period a large portion of the workmen employed—though the law says they must work only eight hours a day—have, in fact, worked 10 hours a day. There is no doubt that on the part of some officials in the Public Departments there is a tendency to introduce this system of working overtime, which will have to be watched, and which in the event of any such rule as I have referred to being introduced will lead to the lengthening of the hours of labour. Now I come to the wages. It is not quite so easy to say in a Government dockyard what is a fair rate of wages, because, in the first place, there are an immense number of trades in Government dockyards which do not always exactly correspond with trades which are called by the same names in private employment. For in stance, the shipwright in a Government dockyard has to do a class of work which the shipwright in a private shipbuilding yard is not competent to perform. Wages also vary very much in different parts of the country. But the Admiralty need have no difficulty whatever in determining within a reasonable amount what wages should be paid in the dockyards if the workers are to be remunerated at the same rate of wages as prevail in private dockyards. To illustrate what I mean I will quote a case: And old constituent of mine in Chatham sent me a list of the wages paid in the various private shipbuilding yards throughout the country. In the case of joiners there is a considerable variation in wages paid in Birkenhead, Cardiff, Hartlepool, Hull, Liverpool, London, Newcastle, Stockton, and Sunderland, but the wages in those places are all alike—in this: that they are considerably higher than the amount paid in the Government dockyards. In the private yards there are longer hours worked than are worked in the Government yards; but even when you reckon the pay of the joiner per hour, the joiner in Her Majesty's dockyard is paid a sensible and considerably lower rate than the joiner in the private ship yards through the country. Exactly the same thing obtains with regard to the wages of every other trade employed in 1117 dockyards with very few exceptions. On the whole, skilled trades in Her Majesty's dockyards are remunerated at lower rates, even when you have taken into account the shorter hours, than skilled trades in private shipbuilding yards. I call that on the part of the nation dishonest. I do not think it is honest. The value of labour is ascertained by what people engaged in private undertakings will pay for it; and for the Government to take advantage of its prestige, and of the prestige of Government employment, to pay men lower than the current rate of wages which obtains in the same industry in private undertakings, is, I think, scarcely honest. Now, what are the Government doing in these matters? I have heard questions answered in this House by the Admiralty and the War Office to the effect that these matters are being referred to the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade, and that in some indefinite future—what time this Statistical Department has worked its wicked will on the figures and Returns the Government will be prepared to do something. Now—that is the purest makeshift. It is an expedient adopted merely for the purpose of delay—of giving the Government time to make up its mind. ["Hear, hear!"] The Secretary for War says "hear, hear." I do not know the secrets of his prison-house, but I do know a great deal about the Admiralty, and I say without fear of contradiction, in the presence of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary to the Admiralty of the late Government, that the whole of the information has been pigeon-holed in the Admiralty for the last two years and a half, and that there has been quite sufficient time for the Government to make up its mind as to what is the Union rate of wages, and if they think it right to pay these wages. Two and a half years ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty in the late Government (Mr. Forwood) made a tour of the naval establishments, and collected a most accurate and exhaustive account of the pay of the different trades in Government employment; and he also, as his commercial knowledge well qualified him to do, ascertained the rate of wages paid to similar trades in the great private shipbuilding yards of the country; and if the Secretary to the Admiralty will look in the records in his Office, he 1118 will find, without troubling the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade, material at his disposal for coming to a conclusion as to whether the workmen in the Government dockyards should be paid the same rate of wages as the workmen in private establishments. I believe this Statistical Department of the Board of Trade will, after due incubation, produce an extremely valuable Return, and we will be glad to have that valuable information. But it is not statistics we want in this case, but action. It is not easy to put us off with statistics. We say, first, that the Government ought to pay their workmen wages at the current rates paid in private establishments; and, in the second place, that you have got ample material on which to take that course if you think proper to do so. I come now to the third head of my subject, which is insurance against accident. I do not desire to trench on the Debate on this subject, which I hope will take place very soon on the Second Reading of the Employers' Liability Bill. At present the Government have exempted themselves from employers' liability. They act towards the workmen in this respect from different principles which apply to private employers of labour. They may well do so, because the work in which the Government employ labourers in the naval establishments is highly dangerous to the labourers. Any body who has canvassed, in the old days of personal canvass, a dockyard town, could not fail to have been struck by the immense number of partially-lamed men met with in the town, for, notwithstanding all the precautions taken, accidents of a totally disabling, and even of a fatal character, are only too common in Her Majesty's dockyards. I think it will be admitted that the principle that ought to prevail with regard to accidents of this kind is that persons who carry on either for profit, or in the interest of the nation, as in the case of the Admiralty, a dangerous employment, should make good all the damage done to men in the ordinary course of carrying on their employment. I do not think, in the case of the dockyards at least, that the right of compensation should depend on anything like negligence on the part of any of the victim's fellow-workmen. I do not think it ought to depend on negligence even on his own part, unless 1119 It were negligence of a criminal character—that, for instance, where a man wilfully violates the rules laid down for the common safety, or comes drunk to work, or anything of that kind, I do not think it is just that the nation should be called upon to compensate him; but certainly in ordinary cases where there has been nothing like criminal negligence, I think the nation should take a generous view of all hurts and accidents caused in its service. I feel strongly about this, because I have often had to go to the Treasury in former days on behalf of people who had been injured in the dockyards, and there was a principle—or perhaps I should say a prejudice—on the part of the Treasury that people ought not to be compensated who were hurt by what is called a "pure accident." If the accident were caused by misconduct on the part of workmen, or if something unforeseen had taken place, the Treasury would compensate; but in cases of what were called "pure accidents" they would not give a farthing to the sufferer. There was one case of this kind that made a very great impression on my mind. The poor man was employed at some work in a large steel tube. To get out, he had to climb up the side of this pillar of slippery steel, and one day on getting out he tripped and fell on the dock, injuring his knee to such an extent that he lost the use of his leg. Now, I could never persuade the Treasury that this was an accident in which compensation should be given. It was said that if the man had, when going home, slipped on an orange peel in the street and broke his leg, the Government would not compensate him, and that this was an accident of the same nature. I say that an accident of that kind befalling a man in the course of his employment should be made good by his employer. In cases of this kind where accidents disable men for the rest of their lives, the men are ultimately thrown upon the ratepayers of the district, who support them in that poor and miserable way in which people who are destitute are supported under the rates. I come, lastly, to the question that has been much talked of in recent years—the question of insurance when inability to work any longer comes with old age to our workmen. I know that the Public Departments have long recognised as a sort of duty the making of 1120 some provision for the declining years of their employés, but the arrangement which they make is an extremely primitive one. It is a very inconvenient one, and it certainly is one that cannot be held up as a model for the private employers of the country. In fact, I know many private firms who have regulations for providing for the declining years of their workmen far simpler, far better, and much more appreciated by the men than the regulations which prevail in the Public Departments of the State. I will explain the system at the Admiralty, which I think is the same system that also prevails at the War Office. In the first place, the workmen of the establishment are divided into two classes. One is called "established men" and the other "non-established men;" and whereas some provision is made for the old age of the established men only, the most miserable and meagre provision is made for the non-established men, though the non-established men are as good workmen and are engaged on as difficult work as the established men. Goodness knows why this purely arbitrary distinction is kept up by the Admiralty! They call the provision for old age in the case of established men "pensions." Pensions are objected to by a great number of Members of this House, but these are not pensions at all. The non-established men get 36s. a week, the established men 34s. 6d. a week, and the 1s. 6d. deducted from the wages of the established men go to this Pension Fund. There has never been an actuarial valuation of what this weekly deduction of pay comes to, though the men have often asked for it. Why should not the Government let the men know exactly what these weekly payments amount to in value? I do not suppose that the weekly deductions cover the value of the old age allowances; but it is admitted that the employer should do something, and it is admitted that the Government should do something, to assist these schemes for old age allowances. In Germany, where the system of old age allowances is founded on scientific principles, the workman pays one-third, the employer one-third, and the State one-third. In this case the employer and the State are one, and should, therefore, contribute two-thirds; but I believe that the weekly 1121 deductions from the pay of the workmen purchase a great deal more than one-third, or indeed one-half, of the benefits conferred by the old age allowances. Another cause for complaint is that this benefit is given only in the form of old age allowances. The allowance is not applied, in the case of the death of the workman, as a provision for his widow or family. If a workman dies before the age at which this provision is payable, the whole of his subscriptions are lost, and nothing is given to his widow, and the family of the workman in the case of premature death, which only too often happens, is left unprovided for. Then, as regards the non-established men, in order to keep up the sham of their being only temporary men, they are discharged every year and taken on again, though many of them have been in the employment of the Department for 20 and 25 years, just as long as established men; and because they are non-established men they have to retire on a totally insufficient provision for old age, with the result that they fill the labour market with old and incompetent labour, or have recourse to charity or to the parish and to spend the remainder of their lives, the flower of which they have spent in the service of the country, in some miserable, degraded fashion. You cannot call a system like that noble or just. Why should not the Government in all its naval establishments provide a proper, reasonable provision for the old age of its workmen which it can ask private employers to emulate? Why should there be this division into two classes? Why should not all the men who work for the State be treated alike? I can understand a man being put on a period of probation. You might have a system by which a man should not be put on the old age scheme until he has worked two or three years. The man might want to see whether the Government employment suited him, and the Government whether the man suited them. But if there is an old age system at all, every man employed by the State should be put on it. It is the duty of the Government as an employer of labour to recollect that the people in their employment will grow old in time, and that they ought to make provision for that time. Then why should not the workmen in Government employment, from 1122 whose wages deductions are weekly made for this old age benefit, be allowed to see clearly what they are paying for? They have often asked for this information, but have never got it. Then why should not these deductions from the weekly wages to provide an old age insurance be carried to a separate and distinct fund, supplemented by a Government grant—a fund the solvency of which the Government would guarantee — and entirely separate from the money voted by Parliament for the purposes of the Admiralty? Our present system is a system of bad finance. We do not charge the full cost of labour in these dockyards in our Budget. What we do is: we charge the cost of labour less the reductions for insurance for old age, and that is why we are paying in the non-effective Budget to-day for the wages which were kept back years and years ago. Under a proper system of finance we could ascertain each year the amount which was covered by these deductions from wages, and by carrying that to a separate fund, supplemented if necessary by a Government grant, we should see exactly what the labour is costing us each year, and not, as now, be paying for labour that could be got at a cheaper rate 30 or 40 years ago. Another thing, why should there not be some variety in this scheme? Almost all Insurance Companies consult the wishes of the richer classes of society—they offer a variety of benefits which can be insured by these premiums and subscriptions; even the Post Office Savings Bank itself gives an option, but in the system that has been carried on in Government establishments there is only the one stereotyped idea and no choice given. I feel sure that if half a dozen reasonable and sensible men were to sit down together in consultation, I am quite sure a scheme might be thought out that would be satisfactory to the persons employed, which would be satisfactory to the Government that employed them, which would be a credit to the country, and which would be put before private employers of labour as a system they would do well to introduce amongst their employés. I am quite aware that the conditions of labour I have dealt with are only four out of the great many conditions to which labour is subjected, and I have selected these as forming promi- 1123 nent matter on which the Government would do well to set an example, and as being illustrative of the spirit and disposition which the Government of the country should show with regard to all the other conditions of labour. But it does seem to me that all those—and I believe they are the great majority of the House—who really desire to raise the condition of the workers in this country ought to address themselves to this subject, and ought to see, at least, that the Government of the country as an employer does observe conditions which they regard as satisfactory and equitable. I cannot help thinking that some of the new Members of this House must have been a good deal astonished at the contrast between the position the labour question occupied at the last General Election and the position it occupies in the discussions of this House. How much we all heard about the labour question last July; how little we have heard of it since the House met. Here is a real test; here is a question which seems to me to be a regular test question; you have got the whole matter entirely in the hands of a Department; you are under no obligation to make any profit out of the work; you have no foreign competitor who can rival you in any part of the world, and the only thing necessary in our public establishments is that the work should be good work. It really does not matter what the cost may be—[A laugh.] I hear people laughing. Of course, you may misinterpret what I say, and say what I mean is that we are to double the price of everything. An ordinary trader tells you that if the cost of the commodity is raised it may ruin him; but the Government is not shut out by anything of that kind; the Government is not bound to keep down the cost of building a ship to a particular price. If the old cost of building is exceeded by 3 per cent., what does it matter? we can afford to be just, even if our ships cost 3 per cent. more. I do not think it is becoming of a great country to have its materials 3 per cent. cheaper, if by doing go it has to sweat its employés or treat them with injustice. That is what I mean by saying it does not matter what our ships cost. We do not want an Act of Parliament; Government can begin to-morrow; it is a mere matter of administration. The Govern- 1124 ment are our servants; we put them in Office, and we can turn them out; and if it was understood the will of the majority was they should act on the principle I have mentioned, the Government can begin to act at once. But I must say that until the philanthropic principles and fine promises we made to our constituents at the Election are carried out in the case of the Government workers, I believe we may go on discussing the labour question, but no one will give us credit for sincerity. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
§ COLONEL LOYD (Chatham)
seconded the Amendment of his right hon. Friend (Sir John Gorst) with much pleasure, and he did so for the reason that he thought it ought to come from those (the Conservative) Benches, and he believed he was the only Representative of a Dockyard constituency who had the honour of sitting on that side of the House. No doubt the House was aware of the anxiety with which the employés of the dockyards looked forward to the discussion of the Naval Estimates from year to year. He had no doubt hon. Gentlemen who sat opposite and represented Dockyard constituencies would bear him out when he said they were constantly receiving deputations, the chief object of which was to point out the low rate of wages. The hon. Member for Portsmouth the other day said he had been obliged for some time past to consider these complaints and put them in order. As to the matter of wages, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down compared the wages given in a great many private shipbuilding yards with those given by the Government to-day, and they might be quite certain that in the private yards the employers would not pay a higher rate of wage than was absolutely necessary, as they wished to make as good a dividend as possible for their shareholders. At any rate, the Government ought not to pay the people they employed less wages than were paid by the employers in private shipbuilding yards. There was a matter of some 7s. or 8s. a week difference in the wages. Then, again, there was no doubt that the men on the establishment were suffering a great grievance. Each received the same amount of pay, but the men on the establishment were docked 1s. 6d. a 1125 week. If a man joined the Dockyard at the age of 25, and served until the age of 60, he had put away as reserve pay a very considerable sum. If that man was killed by accident, his wife and children were given a certain amount to go on with; but if he died a few days or months before he would be obliged to leave the Dockyard, his wife and family got nothing. He considered that the 1s. 6d. that was kept by the Government was the man's own pay, and he had a right to dispose of it as he chose; and he thought that, instead of its being confiscated by the Government, it ought to be left to the man to dispose of it as he chose. The next thing he should like to mention was the question of classification. Classification at the Dockyards was thoroughly worn out. It was introduced by the late Government, no doubt after very careful consideration and forethought, and in theory it ought to work very well, but the result in practice was exactly the opposite. The chief cause of discontent in the Dockyards was this system of classification; and he thought that if men worked side by side, doing exactly the same work and having to do it equally good, it was hard that one man should be paid 2s. or 3s. a week more than the other. So strongly was this felt that on one occasion the men put their money into the common bowl, and then divided it out equally. He was perfectly certain there would be discontent in the Dockyards until this system of classification was done away with. It was not appreciated by the men who received the higher rate of wages any more than it was by the men who received the lower rate of pay. Another thing which caused great discontent down in the Dockyards was the check system. If a man arrived one minute late, or did not give up his ticket during the time the bell was ringing, the Dockyard gates were closed against him, and he had to wait a quarter of an hour before gaining admission; and in order to make up that lost quarter of an hour, he had to work three-quarters of an hour overtime. If a man was 16 minutes late, he was not allowed to go in that half of the day; and if it was a Saturday, he was not allowed to go in again. As an old soldier, he thoroughly appreciated the necessity of men being 1126 punctual; but he thought this hard kind of treatment was uncalled for, and he was quite certain the Government could find some less hard way of dealing with the men. Then, again, there were the shipwrights' draughtsmen. These men led a very sedentary life, always in the office doing very minute work, and they were allowed no leave in the year with pay. They might have 12 days' leave if they chose to go without their pay. They were not allowed any sick leave at all. If they got sick they had to lose their pay. He thought this was very hard on men who led such sedentary lives that they should not be allowed a certain amount of leave with pay, and a certain amount of sick leave every year. Again, the naval warrant officers wished to be allowed to have commissions like their more fortunate brethren in the Sister Service when they arrived at the rank of quartermaster and riding-master. But he had no doubt this matter would be touched upon by other hon. Members, and he would, therefore, leave that point. The engineers, again, complained, and asked that in considertion of the time and money required to fit them for the Service, and the additional five years' service now proposed in consequence of the scarcity of engineer officers, the rates of pay on retirement might be made equivalent to those of the medical officers. He did not think these demands were at all out of the way, and he hoped that the Admiralty and the Government would give them careful consideration. Apart from the merit of any case, he desired to impress upon the Admiralty the expediency of treating all these questions with an open mind and no grudging hand.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no person should in Her Majesty's Naval establishments be engaged at wages insufficient for a proper maintenance, and that the conditions of labour as regards hours, wages, insurance against accident, provision for old age, &c., should be such as to afford an example to private employers throughout the country,"—(Sir John Gorst,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."1127
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN,) Stirling, &c.
The right hon. Gentleman who has brought this most important matter before the House has many advantages in doing so, and is eminently well qualified for the task he has undertaken. The right hon. Gentleman sat for many years for a dockyard constituency, which gave him an intimate acquaintance with all the conditions, the ideas, and grievances of those employed under the Admiralty in those places. I remember distinctly, when I had the honour to fill the post of Secretary to the Admiralty in this House, that he was one of the most difficult of my critics to reply to; and when he entered upon office, his official position, I observed, did not altogether curb his zeal on behalf of his dockyard constituents, because, if I remember aright, he on more than one occasion made a speech which caused no little embarrassment to those of his colleagues who were more directly responsible in the matter. But my wonder is, Sir, that when he became Secretary to the Treasury—being in that commanding position, with the purse-strings in his hands, and being in the position not only of presenting but enforcing a remedy—he did not seize that opportunity. He has told us tonight that there is nothing to be learned—there is nothing new in dockyard administration; that two and a half years ago the pigeon-holes at the Admiralty were filled with all the possible statistics that could be required; but if that was so, what became of the right hon. Gentleman during the time he occupied the position of Secretary to the Treasury? Now he comes to us from a serener and more philosophical atmosphere, that of an ancient University, so that, take him all round, I cannot imagine anyone more qualified to do justice to this great subject. I admit the great importance of this Motion—no one can dispute its importance; and it has an extent of application beyond that which would appear on the surface to belong to it. The Motion refers to one Department and to naval yards alone; but as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, naturally the same principle must apply to all the other Departments of the Govern- 1128 ment. Wherever there are Government labourers, there the same or similar conditions ought to exist, and that is why I venture to ask the House to listen to a few observations from me. If it could have been confined to the Navy, my hon. Friends who represent the Board of Admiralty in this House are much better informed, and much more competent to address the House on the subject than I am, but I imagine that the principle being equally applicable to all Departments of the State, the House may reasonably expect that the matter should be treated somewhat more widely than from a simple departmental point of view, and, therefore, I am anxious to state on the part of the Government the course we deem it our duty to take with regard to this very grave matter, as affecting the general service of the State. Now, Sir, what is the proposition submitted to us? The right hon. Gentleman has moved—That no person should in Her Majesty's Naval establishments be engaged at wages insufficient for a proper maintenance, and that the conditions of labour as regards hours, wages, insurance against accident, provision for old age, &c., should be such as to afford an example to private employers throughout the country.Well, Sir, no one will dispute the proposition contained in that Amendment; it is when you come to the interpretation of its somewhat vague terms that uncertainty, if not difference of opinion, may be expected to arise. For instance, the right hon. Gentleman speaks of certain wages being insufficient for a proper maintenance. Well and good; but what is "a proper maintenance"? Obviously a proper maintenance depends upon two things: It depends, firstly, on the circumstances of the individual to be maintained, upon his personal temperament, upon the size of his family, the number of mouths he has to fill, upon the circumstances of the locality in which he lives, upon the prices that rule in those localities, upon the rate of rent, and upon many other circumstances that I need not refer to. And, secondly, our interpretation of the phrase "proper maintenance," as I say, depends not only upon what I have just stated, but it depends also upon the estimate which each one of us may form as to what a proper maintenance in such individual cases ought to be. And when I come 1129 to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment I find a similar ambiguity. He speaks of the State setting an example to private employers. I think it is fair to ask whether this means that in respect to the conditions of labour the Government should move distinctly ahead of public opinion, that the Government should take a fresh start, should break out in a new experiment, should force the hand of private employers throughout the country; whether that is the meaning, or whether the meaning is that it is our duty in the treatment of our workmen to keep well abreast of, and not in any respect lag behind, the action of the wisest, the best, the most intelligent, and, therefore, I would say, the most humane of private employers? Well, Sir, when I say, as I am prepared to say, that we accept and agree to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, it becomes necessary for me to explain in which of these senses we have accepted it. Let me say at once that with regard to the question of setting an example, when we say we agree to the proposition contained in the Amendment, we mean that the Government should show themselves to be amongst the best employers of the country, that they should be, if I may use the phrase, in the first flight of employers; but we do not take it to mean they should embark in new experiments far ahead of general practice. I would ask the House to consider for a moment the great difference between a Department of the Government and a private employer. What are the forces and influences that press on the private employer? He wishes to maintain and develop his business; he wishes that the productions of his business should be creditable to himself; he wishes also that his workmen should be contented and willing and prosperous. These motives influence the Public Department equally with the private employer. But the private employer has another motive—he has to make a profit, or, at least, to save himself from loss, because if he sustains a loss in business transactions his capital goes, and with it his power of employing workmen. I was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman allude to the fact that there was no motive on the part of the Government to make a profit, 1130 as if it was some happy burden from which we were delivered. He said, "What does it matter what the cost of a ship may be? We have no difficulty about competition. The Government have no object to make a profit; we have no trade rivals." No, Sir; we are not bound to make a profit, but we are subject to another influence and consideration, I may well say, to take the place of eagerness to make a profit, and that is, that while we are not affected by loss and are not eager for profit, we are dealing—and must always remember that we are dealing—not with our own money, but with other people's money. I should have thought, of all people in the world, the late Secretary to the Treasury would have a full appreciation of that fact—that we are dealing with other people's money, and, therefore, it is not for us to run unusual or extraordinary risks in pursuing erratic courses. The taxpayer, from whom the money comes, wishes those employed by the Government to be treated with every consideration and every kindness. I say nothing in contravention of that; but I say that this public money is not given for the purposes of experiments, such as might lead to heavy loss in private trade, and such as the most open-minded and open-hearted employer might shrink from entering upon. There is nothing so easy as to show your generosity with other people's money. A great deal of popularity might be obtained by making large concessions without looking at results; but we must remember that not only the Government, but the House of Commons has responsibility in this matter, and that we should be cautious about setting an example. I accept in the fullest sense the principle that the terms of Government employment should be beyond reproach, but I draw a great distinction between that and the other proposal—that we should forge ahead of public opinion. I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman into all the points he raised. With regard to what he said as to pensions, I would like to say that I do not dispute his view. For many years the War Office authorities have ceased to take established men into their employment, and the result has been to facilitate the management of the Department, and certainly to avoid the anomalies and inconsistencies to which 1131 reference has been made by the right hon. Gentleman. But the system is still in existence at the Admiralty, and we have to deal with it as it is; and I do not know that the Admiralty would be prepared to give up the system of establishment altogether. Coming now to the rate of wages, which is the most important question, I would say that proper maintenance is as I have said a question of locality and circumstances; but we do not shut our eyes to the change which has come over the public mind in regard to this matter. A few years ago—a very few years—it would have been regarded by both sides of the House as a sufficient answer if I had risen in my place and said, "We have men enough at the wages we offer. If our doors are open there is a constant stream of men coming in, but if they are shut there is a mob outside waiting to get in. Why, therefore, should we increase the wages?" That, I say, would have been considered a sufficient answer a very short time ago. I do not now believe in it. It is, indeed, a fact which it is necessary to bear in mind; but it is no longer a complete answer. We have ceased to believe in what are known as competition or starvation wages—not, perhaps, because of any development of philanthropy or generosity towards our fellow beings — we are not accustomed to rely upon sentimental ideas—but because we have convinced ourselves that starvation wages mean starvation work. It is not a question of generosity, or even of humanity, but a question of efficiency. You cannot get a full day's work out of a man fit to do a full day's work unless you pay him the wages of a full day's work. Now, the view which I am entitled to express on behalf of the Government in this matter is that which I have just stated to the House. The right hon. Gentleman said there had been a good deal of delay, and somewhat gratuitously suggested that the Government had engaged the Board of Trade to collect statistics with the object of shelving the matter. I need scarcely assure the right hon. Gentleman that there was no such object in our minds. No doubt we differ a little from the right hon. Gentleman. He soars into the sky and begins to build his house from there; we prefer to begin upon the ground, with a more solid foundation, and perhaps ultimately we may 1132 reach quite as high a pitch as the right hon. Gentleman himself. We have been using that most useful Labour Department of the Board of Trade which has just been created, because it is necessary to collect and compare the facts of all the Departments of the Government interested. The wages of some 40,000 men have to be tabulated and compared, and that necessarily has taken considerable time. Another delusion is that the matter has been handed over to the Board of Trade for decision. The Board of Trade is merely engaged in collecting, comparing, and tabulating.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Yes; they will report the result of their tabulation, but in no other sense will they report. It is obvious that we must have among the different Departments of the Government not identity or uniformity, but harmony of action. That is all I am in a position to state; I can announce no detailed decision. Looking at the figures laid before us, undoubtedly the fact is disclosed that in many cases the payment of labourers is too low and that a higher standard should be gradually, if not immediately, adopted. But Government employés have many collateral advantages. There is continuity of work irrespective of season or weather, and that does not prevail in all similar establishments outside, and there are holidays, sick pay, and other advantages. I do not think it would be right, in speaking of these Departments, especially of the War Office and the Admiralty, that I should fail to pay some tribute to the way in which they are managed. Everyone will admit, even if there are some points in which an improvement might be effected, yet when allowance is made for the natural tendency of all Government Departments to crystallise—it will be admitted, I say, that they have been managed and developed and controlled with the greatest intelligence and energy, more especially of late years. The system has been brought well up to the latest ideas, and I do not think these Departments need fear comparison with any private establishments in the country. The right hon. Gentleman has compared the wages paid in the same trades at Chatham and in the North. But every 1133 one knows that the rate of wages is higher in the North than in the South, and that is why we cannot keep locality out of view in dealing with this question. There are exceptional circumstances affecting some Public Departments, and one that is very keenly felt at Woolwich is the want of houses and the exorbitant rents that are demanded for them. This is a most serious element in the employment of men at Woolwich. Some two or three years ago, when an addition was made to the wages of a certain class of men in the Dockyard, the landlord straightway raised the rents of these men an additional shilling or so. I do not know to what agency one could look for relief from this contingency; but I do hope, at all events, that if a class of men have their wages raised, the increase will not go into the pockets of landlords, or ground landlords, or anyone else than the men themselves. Another matter affecting employment, especially in my own Department, is that at Woolwich there are employed 782 old soldiers, pensioners, or old servants. Many of these men are not fit to do the full day's work of an able-bodied man, and I should be sorry if it were made difficult to keep these men in their present employment by any scheme for the raising of wages. The wages paid to these men are an addition to the pension they receive, and do not involve any reduction of it; and, as they would not be able to do a full day's work for full pay, I should be sorry for 'any change which might be prejudicial to their interests as old soldiers and servants of the State. I think I have said enough to show that the Government, while unable to embark on any daring scheme, such as has been suggested to us, are yet anxious to avoid any act or omission which might betoken indifference to the welfare of workmen, or that might be quoted by private employers who were seeking justification for illiberal dealings with their own men. Nay, further, I have said that in my opinion not only does the workman suffer, but the work itself also suffers, from inadequate wages being paid. In the interest of the State itself, the Government are prepared to see that the general principle of the Motion is acted upon, and by its reasonable and gradual application in any cases which at present 1134 seem to conflict with it, advantage will be gained not only to the Public Service, but also to the community at large.
§ COLONEL EDWIN HUGHES (Woolwich)
said, he had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with great interest, and he hoped it meant that something would be done to remove the grievance under which the men in the Government employ suffer, but he could not forget that many fair promises were made by other Governments and were never carried out. After the expression of opinion which the right hon. Gentleman had addressed to the House, they had some ground for satisfaction; and he hoped the Government would do all it could in the matter in accordance with the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's words, and that what was attempted by the Government would be attended with complete success, and produce satisfaction to the men. The question of an establishment in the yards had been referred to as an important one. It would seem to be considered necessary to have an establishment at Dockyards. There was no establishment at the Woolwich Arsenal, and why it had been done away with he could not understand. It was necessary, in his opinion, that they should always have a large number of workmen prepared to carry on the work in these great Departments in the event of war; and what applied to ships ought also to apply to guns and stores. He brought the wages question under the attention of the late Government on the 8th of August, 1890. That Government made inquiry, and, after several months, some £100,000 a year was added to the wages of the workers in the Dockyards. There was much yet remaining to be done. For instance, there was the ordinary labourer, who had no Trades Union, and was too poor to subscribe to a Trades Union, or even a Benefit Society. They were deserving of the sympathetic consideration of the Government. Then they should remember a fact which he wished to press upon them—namely, that the standard of wages as between the Dockyards and under the contracts for Government work varied a great deal to the disadvantage of the Government worker. In the contracts the Government in- 1135 sisted on the payment of the current rates. He did not see why they should not act on that principle. They had a rate of 6d. per hour for unskilled labourers in London, and only 4d. per hour was paid at Woolwich, which was in the County of London. The rate of wages in the Metropolis would, no doubt, differ from that in the provinces, and be higher, because the rents and rates were higher here than in, say, Devonport. Expenses were greater here than in other places, and a distinction required to be made, a sum of 17s. per week made a poor wage. Even at Chatham and Woolwich this was the case; but there was a difference between these two places, and a difference which the Government ought to recognise. At the Dockyards the Government were asked to give £1 or 22s. per week to an unskilled labourer; in London he expected he would get 24s. He would refer the House to the Report of the evidence given before the Labour Commission by a man named Clements and another named Lewington on the 12th of July last year. These men were from Woolwich and Chatham. This evidence showed that the men were working there for 4d. per hour, and at Woolwich, alongside other men, working for contractors who were in receipt of 6d. and 8d. In regard to strikes, they never had any in Government works, because the Government would then use the soldiers as labourers. This was not the case with private employers, who had consequently very heavy difficulties imposed upon them. He believed in the right of every man to a pension for his services to the State. They allowed the principle to operate in the Civil Service, and he was of opinion there should be no difference of treatment between any section of servants of the State. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the classification of men as hoys in the Dockyards. There were men at 18 years of age who were married, and were fathers of small families, and they were classed as mere boys, and paid boys' wages. In the Army a person of 18 would be considered a man; but that was not the case in the Dockyards. It would take a good deal of time to go into the various details, and he did not wish to trouble the House; but he did think they ought to alter the system 1136 under which a man was paid at the rate of 7s. per week below Government contractor's men, working in the same place, and at the same class of work.
§ MR. HUDSON E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said, he had only a few matters to bring under the notice of the House, and he would not detain them long. He did not think it could be said that Government employés were fairly treated in point of wages. They should have a standard at least equivalent to that of the Trades Unions; but the fact was, the treatment of Government employés was becoming a matter of public notoriety, and the Trades Union Congress, meeting last year at Glasgow, was so impressed with the importance of the subject that it agreed to a resolution calling upon the Government to pay Trades Union wages. Although he did not wish to go into any elaborate detail, he was bound to say that the discussion on some of the most interesting points had been insufficient and inadequate. In the whole history of the Dockyards nothing which the Government had ever done had caused so much discontent and agitation as the introduction of a system by the late Government two years since into certain trades called classification. This classification was a system which divided up into various classes for the purposes of apportionment of wages only workmen who, in their particular trades, were daily engaged upon a similarity—indeed, an identicity of labour—but were made by this scheme the recipients of a dissimilar wage. The professed object of classification was to recognise and reward the difference of talent in the men that come within its scope. Prior to 1891, when the principle was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ormskirk Division, all the men employed in the various trades affected by this scheme were paid an all-round wage, and such increases of pay as were made from time to time, notably in 1856 and 1873, were of a uniform character. For instance, shipwrights on each occasion received 6d. per day increase. Although a gradation of pay had always existed in some trades in the Dockyards—chiefly in the steam branch—the particular trade to which this innovation had been made—trades in which many thousands of men were engaged—had, prior 1137 to its introduction, always been paid on the basis of a uniform weekly wage. He was perfectly willing to admit that in no particular walk in life where men were engaged in similar work could there be a dead level of ability. But the question was whether it was possible to so sift it and allocate it as this system of classification professes to do—that they could accord to each individual his precise place in consonance with his actual ability and merit. He said that was impossible. However good the intention of this scheme might have been, however feasible and sound it might have appeared in theory, in practical working it had caused, from the hour of its introduction, an increasing chorus of dissatisfaction and protest from the workmen who were sufferers by it. It had never been applied by any private firm. To convey to the House the unfair working of this classification scheme, he would take as an illustration one of the most important trades of the yards, both in numbers and skill, to whom it had been applied—that of the shipwrights. The shipwrights represented in number one-fifth of the entire body of Dockyard employés, totalling 4,500 men out of 21,000. The shipwrights in Her Majesty's Dockyards, until classification was introduced, received an all-round weekly wage, but now they were placed on several different rates of pay. The established men—that was those who were on the permanent staff and entitled to the benefits of the Superannuation Act—had seven different rates of pay, and the hired men — that was, those who were subject to dismissal at a week's notice — had five different rates of pay, thus making in all 12 different rates ranging from 29s. 6d. to 34s. applicable to members of one and the same trade who were, to all intents and purposes, equal in mechanical skill and associated together in carrying out the work incidental to their calling. The system could not be with justice applied to the trade for the obvious reason that the men were employed constantly in gangs of 25 men, where each man had to do practically the same amount of precisely similar work. For instance, in sheathing the sides, or laying the decks of a war-ship, each man performed an equal share of the whole job, but got a dissimilar wage, varying 1138 in amount from 1s. to 4s. per week. They worked also in pairs, either side by side or on opposite sides of a ship, at identical jobs, but the men thus associated on equal working terms were, as he had just said, in receipt of unequal wages. Very frequently, too, it happened that men receiving the lowest scale of pay were called upon, on account of their known mechanical skill, to carry out work of the highest value and responsibility which was not entrusted to those receiving higher wages. The method adopted at the outset in its application proved the absurdity and unworkableness of the system. The appointment of the men to the various classes was determined by purely arbitrary selection. Although in the Admiralty instructions it was enjoined thatcompetency, diligence, and conduct were to be regarded as of primary importance, due consideration to be given to length of service,this was construed in a variety of ways by the various yards, with the inevitable result that an anomalous and capricious system of selection was brought into existence. For example: At Sheerness servitude was the principle of selection; at Portsmouth each foreman to whom the responsibility of selection was delegated adopted his own particular ideas as to the men to recommend for the various classes, with the result that men of undoubted ability and long service were passed over to the advantage of some that were inferior in both. Devonport and Pembroke, too, were more or less subject to similar treatment. Now, these men very justly, to his mind, pointed out that they were all skilled mechanics, each having served a seven years' apprenticeship at their trade, and had proved their abilities to be of the highest order before being employed by the Government, and they regarded classification as a stigma and degradation, for they rightly said that such a system must carry with it the presumption that the highest paid man was the better workman, and vice versâ, whereas such was not the case; indeed, some of the oldest and best reputed hands were getting the lowest scale of pay. On the occasion of the visit of the late Financial Secretary it was pointed out to him, and not by him denied, that at Devonport alone there were 120 established men with not less than 12 years' service—men in the prime of life, with nothing 1139 against them, the pick of the yard, who were receiving the lowest possible rate, whereas men with far less servitude had been promoted over their heads into the higher classes. It is urged by those responsible for the scheme that it is an incentive to work; but this is mere pretence, for each class is limited to numbers, and hence diligence might be exerted but cannot be rewarded until death or superannuation created a vacancy. To sum this part of the case up—that was to say, the question of the principle of classification—the men were unanimous, or practically so, in demanding that this absurd and unjust innovation should be abolished, and that the old principle—the principle which had stood the test of so many years—be reverted to, so that men of equal skill, performing equal work, may receive an equal wage. He had said the demand was unanimous. The House would judge of the correctness of this statement when he said that in Devonport alone, out of the 850 ship-wrights employed there, all save 28 men had recently signed a petition protesting against the continuance of the system, and that in the combined yards no less than 3,650 signatures, out of a total employment of 4,500 men, had been recorded in a similar protest. And even more forcible was the practical protest made in the Dockyard boroughs at the General Election, when five seats were lost to the other side—not really, as the late Prime Minister expressed it, because they were fired with indignation against some obscure Admiralty wrong, but largely owing to the enforcement of the principle of classification. As a further object-lesson, he might say that the Government had been advertising up and down the land for shipwrights, but were unable to supply their requirements, because outside men would not subject themselves to such a plan. Now, he wished to say a few words with reference to the pay of the various trades in the yards and other establishments, and he would take the shipwrights first. He wished to prove that they were much underpaid as compared to the wages current in the same trade in private yards. An established man suffered a reduction in his wages on becoming established, in virtue of becoming entitled to the benefits of the establishment. So, for the purpose of argument, he would take the 1140 hired man, who might be considered approximately the counterpart of his confrère in the private yards. The hired men under the classification scheme had five different rates of pay. The mini mum pay of these five rates was 30s. per week, and each of the intervening grades was marked by an increase of 1s. per week until the maximum of 34s. per week was reached. The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary to the Admiralty, to whose inception this scheme was, he believed, due, stated before the Royal Commission that, in fixing the wages of the hired shipwrights, he adopted as a basis the scale of wages paid by some of the largest yards in the country—accustomed to do war-ship work—at two periods—namely, 1886, when shipbuilding was at about its lowest ebb and wages were at a minimum point; and 1890, when it was at a very high-water mark, and wages were exceedingly good. He found the mean of these yards to be 34s. 1d. per week, and that the wages paid in Government Dockyards to hired shipwrights corresponded to that mean exactly. Now, 34s. per week represented the maximum rate which was received by a limited number only, whereas the actual mean of the five grades he had already referred to was not 34s. per week, but less than 32s. But this was not all. The right hon. Gentleman's mean was altogether a fallacious one, as, on the unimpeachable authority of Mr. Wylie, the secretary of the Amalgamated Shipwrights, one of the largest and most important Trades Union, they had it that the average of these two periods, in the seven most important yards, where war ships are built—the Tyne, Clyde, Mersey, Thames, Belfast, Hull, and Barrow—the identical yards quoted, he believed, by the right hon. Gentleman—was not 34s. 1d.,but 36s. 10d. per week, and that the average for the past 10 years was 37s. 6d.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said, he was quoting from a well-known and recognised authority, Mr. Wylie, and he was satisfied the figures were correct. That being so, what justification was there for paying these men at least 5s. per week below the rates in practice obtained elsewhere? but the comparison itself was 1141 an unfair one to the Dockyard shipwright. A shipwright outside was a worker in wood only; but in the Dockyards, he was in addition a worker in iron, steel, and every conceivable thing incidental to the building of the hull and fittings of a man-of-war; he undertook, for example, plating, armour-plating, and torpedo fittings. Outside the Dockyards such work was done by various bodies of mechanics belonging to distinct trades, many of whom, if not all, received much higher pay than shipwrights. But whenever any comparison had been made, the Dockyard shipwright had been considered in relation to the outside shipwright, who was, as he had just said, a worker in wood and wood alone. Hence it was they had suffered in wages, whereas they should be considered according to the value of the work they did, and paid accordingly. He next came to the tugsmen. These men had always to be ready to proceed to sea to meet any emergency in assisting vessels in distress, bringing ships to port, &c. At present they were worse paid than any unskilled labourer in existence. They worked very excessive hours; their normal day was never less than 12 hours, and it frequently extended to 16 and even 18 hours; but they got no extra pay for overtime. The boats were woefully under-manned, and, altogether, their life was a very hard one. They were what are termed seven-day men, and signed articles of agreement by which they were bound to serve by day and by night. Tugsmen comprised seamen and stokers. Their pay respectively was 21s. 7d. and 23s. 4d. per week of seven days, which, on the basis of a 12 hours day, worked out at something between 3d. and 3¼d. per hour. The House would scarcely credit it, but it was 17 years since the seamen received a rise in their wages, and 30 years since the stokers were similarly favoured; and when he mentioned that they were generally confined to their ships 132 hours out of 168 hours per week, it could not be gainsaid that their lot was not a happy one. Formerly, as a compensation for their confinement, the men were granted a day's leave once a month, but this had been curtailed. They also formerly received an allowance of 1s. per day when engaged on navigating duties, and also when employed on outport moorings. 1142 The allowances had been swept away. Also when they signed articles, it was agreed that in the case of sickness or hurts, they should receive half-pay, but this contract had been violated. Turning to the Works Department, he would point out that its business was to keep in order all the buildings—internal and external. Formerly this was carried out by contract, but when this Department was taken over from the contractor in 1885 it was expressly stated by the Government to those who entered their employment and had previously been with the contractor that they should enjoy all the Dockyard privileges. This pledge has not been observed in many ways. In the first place, in August, 1887, an Admiralty Order was issued, increasing the working time per year of each man by 318 hours as compared to Dockyard hours, without any corresponding increase of pay, and this injustice continued in spite of repeated protests until January of last year. But beyond this, at the present moment, the mechanics in the Works Department had not participated in the increase of wages given in April, 1891, to the mechanics in the yards; and to show how anomalous this was, he stated it as a fact that many of the mechanics in the Works Department, previous to joining it, worked at their trade in the Dockyards, and were admittedly men of equal skill and ability to those in the yard; yet, in spite of this, to-day their maximum scale of pay was positively lower than the minimum of corresponding trades in the Dockyards and as compared to the rate of pay of men employed in similar work by private firms very much below it. He could quote comparisons from the Works Department Petition, but did not wish to detain the House. Then, as to the labourers, the wages of unskilled labourers in the Dockyards were 17s. to 18s. per week, but he contended that such wages were altogether insufficient to enable a man to do more than eke out a bare subsistence. There were numbers of men in his constituency working—not in the Dockyard—but in other Government establishments, who were only receiving 16s. per week— notably in the Naval Ordnance Department at Bull Point and Stonehouse, and in the Gun Wharf and Victualling Yard. Many men, too, at the Royal Naval 1143 Hospital at Stonehouse, whose duties were in many cases most responsible ones, were the recipients of the wretched pittance of 2s. 6d. per day—a scale of pay which had not been augmented for the past 30 years, and for this they perform really responsible duties, and, moreover, they had to work seven days per week, and had, in addition, to be on duty at least one night every week. The minimum rate of pay for unskilled labour should be not less than £1 per week, and this was what the men were asking for. Many men classed as labourers were employed on skilled work, and yet received only a labourer's pay. The men urged that, instead of being classed and paid as labourers, they should be treated as minor trades, and paid artizans' wages. Skilled labourers so called do drilling, rivetting, painting, iron caulking, and other skilled work which appertains to distinct trades in private firms, and commanded good money, whereas dockyardsmen rarely exceeded £1 2s. per week. Again, it was urged on behalf of the Government that their employment ensured continuity of work, whereas private yards did not. Well, supposing this were true in its entirety, which it was not, it was nothing for which the Government was entitled to take credit, nor a justification for paying an inferior wage. What was the essential condition to continuity of employment? Why, continuity of orders. This the Government can always command, because its normal shipbuilding and maintenance programme is always far in excess of the capabilities of its own Dockyards. It would be contrary to the most rudimentary commercial principles were it not to keep its own plant and machinery and other sunk capital preferentially employed before passing orders to outsiders; therefore, continuity of employment, such as it was, was a mere matter of expediency, and nothing for which the Government were entitled to fine their workpeople. Besides, it was by no means assured to all, for discharges were frequently taking place, and quite within the past few years men by thousands had been discharged. There were certain privileges, but nothing more than the State, as an example, ought to give. The men had four days' holiday per year, which were paid for; but these had to be worked up for by overtime. These 1144 holidays cost the Government something less than 6d. per workman per week. If a man was injured in the course of his employment he got free hospital and sick attendance, and half-pay during the continuance of his disablement. If permanently disabled, in the case of an established man, in addition to his superannuation, be got some additional compensation for the accident. A hired man got a gratuity, and, possibly, compensation. In the case of being killed, the widow got a small pension of £10 to £12 per year. An established man got a pension on reaching 60 years of age on the basis of 1–60th of his pay for every year be has served on the establishment. A hired man, after serving seven years, becomes entitled to a gratuity on discharge of a week's wages for every year he had served. Should he, however, become established, he forfeited all right to the gratuity, and the time he had served as a hired man was not permitted to reckon towards his pension. He hoped, in conclusion, that the Government would consider all the facts and endeavour to remove the anomalies of which complaint was made. He understood that the Government were making an exhaustive inquiry with a view to redressing the injustices which everywhere prevailed. He could not, of course, forecast their decision, and although they accepted the general principle of the Amendment of the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, he felt it his duty to warn them that the men would not much longer tamely submit to a continuance of the existing system, more especially as regarded classification, to which he referred at the outset. The Party opposite by introducing it had sown the storm and suffered; but if this Government persisted in maintaining this hated scheme it would assuredly be reserved for them to reap the whirlwind. It would be a regretable thing to have labour troubles in the Government Departments, but he unhesitatingly asserted if the State continued to treat its employés in the future as it had done in the past they would at no very distant period be face to face with serious labour difficulties.
§ MR. JOHN BAKER (Portsmouth)
said, as one of the Members for Portsmouth, he wished to say just a word or two. He agreed with the observations of the hon. Member who had just sat 1145 down, that the system of classification was disliked by the workmen. He did not see how it could be otherwise, since the system was a most unjust one. He believed the late Administration was not unaware of the grievances under which the men suffered, and of their objections to the system. What better illustration could the House have of the value and worth of a system than was to be gained from an examination of the opinion of those who were chiefly interested in it? A recent alteration in the system had caused great dissatisfaction. The Member for Devonport had given the figures with regard to the combination of stupidity and injustice to which he alluded. The Admiralty had before them evidence to convince them that the system was one of great injustice to the workers. He thought the view of the Government would give general satisfaction. The duty of the right hon. Gentleman was to keep abreast of public opinion. Well, that was all the men wanted; and if they kept abreast of public opinion, they would yield to the demand for higher wages. The anomalies that existed in the case of these men should be corrected. Certainly the attitude taken up by the Government was eminently satisfactory. They were going to inquire, and the men did not ask for more than that, for they were satisfied that the result would be the improvement of their position. With regard to pensions, the right hon. Gentleman who had moved the Motion had not exaggerated the injustice suffered by these men in the slightest degree. But it was manifest that the right hon. Gentleman had been aware of this injustice for many years, and had not been able to induce his colleagues to remedy it. The complaint was that the Government held back part of the pay of the men, and then, if a man died before reaching 60 years of age, the whole amount was forfeited, his wife and children not receiving a farthing, and oftentimes becoming chargeable to the parish. In some towns, such, for instance, as that he represented (Portsmouth), there were hundreds of cases of this injustice, which applied to the Naval Service itself as well as to the Dockyard service. It was late in the day for the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Gorst) to condemn the present system, but "better 1146 late than never." In the future it was to be hoped the First Lord of the Treasury would be able to give the men the same rights and privileges as were conferred on the officers. That was all they asked. There should be no inequality in regard to the rates of pensions; and as the matter was a serious one for the men and their families and the localities in which they resided, he hoped it would not be overlooked. He put implicit faith in the promises of the present Government. He believed they would not be cowed, nor be led by the permanent heads of Departments, but that, being in touch with the public mind and demands, they would give a reasonable response to them.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
said that as representing the Dockyard constituency of Sheerness, he rose to give a partial support to the Motion of his right hon. Friend. That portion of the Amendment which stated that the Government ought to supply wages sufficient for proper maintenance he could not agree with. It was somewhat vague and difficult to understand, and the same view had been taken by the Secretary to the Admiralty. Neither was he able to agree with his right hon. Friend when he said that they should endeavour to regulate the hours of labour. There his right hon. Friend committed himself to the mischievous revolutionary and Radical doctrine, that it was right to interfere with the liberty of a man to work as long as he chose. But when his right hon. Friend said that as to wages and pensions the conditions under which the men worked should be such as to afford an example and model to private employers throughout the country, he perfectly agreed with him. No doubt much had been done for dockyardsmen of late years; still, there was not that satisfaction and contentment which ought to exist in Government establishments. The dockyardsmen no doubt owed a very heavy debt of gratitude to the late Government, though be was bound to say that, judging from the way their votes were cast at the late Election, it did not seem as if they shared that opinion. As a matter of fact, the men had received a decided and substantial increase to their pay from the late Government, an increase which entailed upon the 1147 National Exchequer an expenditure of £90,000 a year. They had received continuous employment. When the dockyardsmen stated their grievances they were apt to undervalue the advantages they undoubtedly got from establishment. Their hours of labour were from 51 to 53, and contrasted favourably with the 54 hours in private yards. However, as a matter of fact, the men were of opinion that they did not receive adequate pay for the services they rendered, compared with what was paid for similar work in private yards. The hon. Member for Chatham had rightly stated that the difference between the wages in the Government and the private yards was 6s. or 7s. per week, though from that must be deducted the advantages, whatever they might be, of belonging to the establishment. The work in the Government yards compared favourably with that done in the private yards, both for cheapness and quality. The main ground of dissatisfaction was the system of classification. He had repeatedly urged on the Admiralty the desirability of altering the system, but without effect; but he hoped the Party now in Office would prove more pliable than their predecessors. The system of classification was so obnoxious to the men that they had stated over and over again that they would rather receive less pay, provided that it was uniform. The present system could not be adopted in private yards. Why, then, should the Government seek to thrust down the throats of the men whom they said performed such good service a system which they detested, and which no private employer in the Kingdom would venture to adopt? He endorsed every word which had fallen from his right hon. Friend in moving his Motion on the subject of pensions. It was complained that though the men paid a certain amount, deducted from their weekly wages, towards pensions, if a man died before the age at which he was entitled to receive a pension, he forfeited every farthing of it. That was a great injustice which he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) hoped would be remedied. Another grievance was this: that a man might work as a hired man for 20 or 25 years, and then be put on the establishment; but none of the time he had put in as a hired man was allowed to count for pension. If a man remained 1148 as a hired man on reaching the pension age he would be entitled to a bonus; but he forfeited the bonus by being placed on the establishment. These grievances were genuine, and he trusted the Admiralty would be able to make concessions. There were other classes of men in the Dockyards who considered themselves under disadvantages, as compared with men in the private yards; but he would enter more fully into their case on the Dockyard Vote. There were the warrant officers, the hammermen, the lightermen, seamen, and stokers. The seamen and stokers were employed on steam tugs, and they complained that in regard to their pay and chances of promotion they were not on an equality with other classes of men in the Government yards, and certainly not with the same class of men in private yards. The Admiralty had materials before them on which to form a judgment on these matters, and he hoped that before much time elapsed a final statement would be made to show that all these grievances would be removed.
§ MR. E. J. C. MORTON (Devonport)
desired to call the attention of the House to five specific questions as affecting the employés in Dockyards. The first point had reference to the grievances which were felt with regard to classification. There were reasons which ought to appeal in an especial manner to a Liberal Government in favour of the abolition of the system of classification. Under that system what was done? The old system of favouritism had been re-introduced. Before that system was introduced in the trades in which it now obtained, every form of promotion was by a method of open examination, but under the system of favouritism a man was promoted arbitrarily at the will of the person above him. He did not wish to bring any charge against the officials of the Admiralty in this respect; but whether this favouritism was exercised or not, it was a serious matter when workers in a Government Dockyard believed that their only chance of getting on under the system of classification was by currying favour with the men immediately above them. Whether this state of things existed or not he could not say, but it was surely dangerous to the Public Service that such an opinion should widely prevail. He wished to bear his 1149 testimony in favour of the contention of the senior Member for Devonport (Mr. Kearley), who had not spoken too strongly when he said that the workers in the Dockyards—than whom a more loyal set of men did not exist—might by a sense of irritation be goaded into a condition of mind which might prove disastrous to the Service. The second point to which he desired to call attention was the system known as "check measurement," which he thought should be absolutely abolished as being unfair to the men, who did not know the scale of prices on which they were paid, nor the scale by which their work was measured. The late Government had given orders that every man who wanted to know the scale of prices should be informed on application to the Dockyard authorities. He had been told, however, by a man who had gone to the authorities, that on putting the necessary question, he had been scowled at by the official, who wished to know what he wanted the information for. Coming to his third point with regard to the question of hours of labour, he thought that hon. Members who did not take as special an interest in these Dockyard questions as Dockyard constituencies necessarily did, would under-rate the importance of the subject. It was supposed that in winter the Dockyard artizans worked 8 hours, and in summer 8½ hours; but in some small trades the hours were disgracefully long. In the telegraph department of Devonport, for instance, the men worked alternately a long hours week and a short hours week. The number of hours for the short hours week was 54, or 9 hours a day, and the number in the long hours week was 72, or 12 hours a day. For this the men received 3s. a day. In addition to that, they were liable to work overtime to any extent that might be demanded by the Government, and for that liability they were merely allowed to count seven days in the week instead of six. His last points were the questions of wages and pensions, which he would take together. They were intimately connected, particularly amongst those classes who received the smallest wages. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University was correct—and it was important that the House should realise it—when he said that these pensions were in 1150 no sense to be regarded in the light of such pensions as the one which might be received by a First Lord of the Treasury. They were simply deferred pay, and the effect of their being taken advantage of by the State was simply to lower the rate of wages all round. He maintained that the pension for previous employment was the deferred pay of that employment; and if a man was in possession of a pension, he ought to be allowed to retain it without regard to the amount of wages he received in a new employment. If he was a fit man to be engaged in such skilled work as the making of gunpowder, the filling of shells, and the putting in of fuzes, he ought to receive a fair wage entirely irrespective of whether he received a pension or not. The effect in Plymouth and Devonport on the large number of these pensioners was that their specific wages were lower than 18s. and 16s. a week, and that had the effect of lowering the rate of wages throughout the whole district of the unfortunate men who were not in possession of pensions. The Secretary for War in his speech had referred to the advisability of studying economy. Well, economy in itself was a good thing, but they had been practising in the past an economy which was not a good thing. They had been perpetually economising the wages they paid to their poor servants, whilst they had been profuse in the salaries they paid to their wealthy servants. He did not think that to deal with this question of wages would necessitate any addition to the Navy Estimates, but he wanted to see an alteration effected—he wanted to see a satisfactory system of levelling up introduced. Whilst not seeking to abolish existing salaries, he thought that some consideration should be had for this the lowest and poorest class of public servants.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said, he could not support the Amendment, which, if accepted by the Government, would not pledge them to do nearly as much as the late Government did or as the Government would in the near future be compelled to do—that was to say, to fix the Trades Union rates of wages in every district where Government Dockyards or works were established. The Amendment was vague in its terms and unsatisfactory in its application as far as 1151 it would be possible to apply it. Two years ago the late Government accepted a Resolution declaring it to be their duty to make provision against the evils disclosed before the Sweating Committee by preventing sub-contracting and securing the wages generally accepted as current in each trade for competent workmen. The late Government authorised its officials to have attached to its specifications and contracts schedules of maximum and minimum rates of wages. This was more definite, less vague, and less elastic than the Amendment now before the House. As the Government had decided to accept the principle of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to withdraw it. If the right hon. Gentleman really meant what was stated in the Amendment, he (Mr. Burns) should have much pleasure in seconding a more drastic proposal on similar lines when the Report of the investigations of the Government into the hours, wages, and conditions of labour of the Dockyard men had been issued, if the right hon. Gentleman would make such a proposal. If the right hon. Gentleman was not willing to do so, he (Mr. Burns) would propose if the right hon. Gentleman would second it. He could not support the present Amentment, first, because the words "insufficient for a proper maintenance" might be variously interpreted by the Superintendents of each Government depot. A wage of 18s. a week might by the authorities in Chatham Dockyard be regarded as sufficient for proper maintenance, whilst at Devonport 20s. might be regarded as the minimum, and at Woolwich 21s. or 22s. As the rates varied considerably in different districts, it seemed to him that there was only one tribunal, to which the House, through its Dockyard Superintendents, could go—namely, the local Trades Uunions, from which they would be able to obtain the rates which ordinary competition fixed outside Government establishments. For four years another Body with which he was connected—the London County Council—did that which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University now advised the House to do. They went in for "fair wages," and the result was that at every opportunity the contractors whom the Council had to deal 1152 with interpreted fair wages as being those wages which, in their opinion, they could get their workmen to accept. The same thing would happen in regard to Government establishments if the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment were accepted. The officers of the London County Council had their time wasted and were constantly annoyed by discussions on the questions that were always cropping up; artificial and sensational grievances were submitted to the Council, and there was a perpetual waste of energy and money all round in consequence. In the end the Council found it better to get rid of the vague phrase "fair wages," and to adopt regulations of so plain and definite a character that they could not be misapprehended by either masters or men. It was decided—and the decision had since been adopted by nearly 100 other Bodies—that all contractors should be compelled to sign a declaration that they paid the Trades Union rate of wages and recognised the Trades Union conditions with regard to labour, and that the hours, wages, and conditions of labour should be inserted in and form part of the specifications. Having stated that what was sauce for the Council's own goose should also be sauce for the contractor's gander, they drew up a schedule of the wages paid by the Trades Unions in every district covered by the Council's operations. That schedule was to be found in the County Hall; the contractors had to observe it, as the County Council them selves observed it, in dealing with the men they themselves employed, and every one could ascertain what the fixed rate of wages was. He suggested that the Government should follow the lead given by the London County Council, the London School Board, and nearly 100 other authorities by establishing a rate of wages according to the practice that prevailed in similar employments outside Government establishments. If they did this, all the difficulties which those who represented Dockyard constituencies had foreshadowed, if the present vague Amendment were passed, would be avoided. Why the right hon. Gentleman had connected insurance with hours and wages he could not possibly understand. The men in Government Dockyards wanted to have nothing to do with insurance at all at the present time. They were justly confining themselves 1153 to the demand for a 48 hours working week, better pay, and the abolition of the piece work conditions that now prevailed to the detriment both of the men and of the work they did. The right hon. Gentleman had, in fact, overloaded his Amendment with so many things that he (Mr. Burns) had no course left to him but to vote for the Government, as they had accepted the principle of the proposal. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman when he said that what the House of Commons had to do was to get good work even if that work were costly. He was convinced that it was the greatest mistake either in Woolwich Arsenal or Portsmouth Dockyard to employ unskilled labour on work which ought to be done by skilled workmen. It was a great mistake, for the sake of cheapness, to employ "handy men" or boys at lower wages than would be accepted by men engaged upon similar work in private establishments. He trusted that the classification, which was a source of constant annoyance, would be altogether abolished; that piece, job, and task work would be completely done away with; and that day work and hourly rates of wages would be established in their stead. Speaking as an engineer, he believed that at Woolwich Arsenal the Government had in their employment the cream of the workmen in the engineering trade of Great Britain and Ireland, notwithstanding many of the grievances which were so justly complained of. He trusted that Government employment would be extended to the entire exclusion of contractors. He was convinced of this: that if he were the captain of a battery in a hot corner in a foreign country he would rather have at his disposal machine-guns made in Woolwich Arsenal at day wages than guns manufactured on piece work conditions by a sub-contractor who sub-let his work to the men in his employ. It was a matter of positive advantage to the Army and Navy that the men who made our war implements should work under conditions which gave them good wages and reasonably short hours. There was no doubt that normally the hours in Dockyards and Arsenals were not particularly long, but unfortunately overtime was too prevalent, and he trusted that if the Government could not see its way to establish the 48 hours a week which 1154 all the artizans in the Government Departments were now petitioning for, at all events overtime would be altogether abolished. He trusted, further, that the Secretary for War would follow up the promise he made to the deputation of Woolwich Arsenal men who waited on him some five months back by saying it was not decent that in the metropolitan district there should be 2,000 labourers living on less than 20s. a week, out of which they had in many cases to pay a third, and in most cases a fourth or a fifth, for house accommodation. He found that there were 4,500 men in Government yards earning less than 19s. a week, and that 1,037 men were earning as little as 15s. a week. Hundreds had been 12 or 14 years in the service of the Government without receiving more than from 15s. to 17s. a week. Was it possible when a man, especially a married man, had to pay 5s. or 6s. a week in rent, for him to live as a decent man should, and to do his work properly for his employer when the latter stupidly paid him such a rate of wages? As a matter of fact, many men who were employed in Woolwich Arsenal were prematurely ageing themselves, and the children of such men could not but be the miserable cretins one saw in walking about our streets. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University had said there was no reason for our being afraid of foreign competition in this matter, as British workmen had no rivals. This was perfectly true; and he knew of no better way of attempting to solve the serious question of the unemployed, which every day, every month, and every year grew more serious, and which the House of Commons would have increasingly before it as time went on, than by abolishing overtime in our Dockyards and Arsenals, establishing a 48 hours week, and employing those who were at present unemployed in reproductive work in such Government establishments, instead of allowing them to be kept by the ratepayers in workhouses, infirmaries, or prison, or, worse than all, to loaf about and become a great burden to the community, a curse to themselves, and a disgrace to any country which called itself civilised. There was no need to fear any increase of cost if hours were shortened where machinery was an 1155 auxiliary in production. He had in his hand a list of 13 large firms, employing about 10,000 amongst them, who had adopted the eight hours system. In these cases the eight hours day had not increased the cost of production to any appreciable extent. He believed the same thing would apply to all our Dockyards and Arsenals. Even if, however, the cost of production were slightly increased, as it might be where machinery was not used, the extra amount would be saved in other ways, as it would not be necessary to spend so much on supervision, and there would be a great gain in the general excellence of the work done. The Secretary for War (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) had said they were dealing with the taxpayers' money, and consequently he could not go as far as the Amendment suggested. He should like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the taxpayers had increasingly of late had the opportunity of saying that they did not object to paying reasonable rates of wages, or working their men on fair terms and conditions, provided that the men who were engaged in public work gave something like a fair return for the wages paid. He believed that if the Government were to spend £1,000,000 in raising the wages of the men in our Arsenals and Dockyards — and he did not believe it would need £500,000 to bring them within reasonable distance of Trades Union rates — the amount so spent would act as an incentive for economy in other directions, and much useless official supervision would be dispensed with as being unnecessary under the new state of things. He did not think the House had any need to fear the "old pensioner," who was as sympathetic an object with Government officials as was the "poor lone widow" with Boards of Guardians. There were at Woolwich not more than 600 pensioners altogether, and they were a diminishing quantity. The low rates of wages in our Arsenals and Dockyards were due to the fact that under the long service system inefficient men — men who had been maimed in war or otherwise in the Government Service—used to go into the Dockyards and Arsenals much too frequently. Many of these men were incapable of doing their work. In many cases sympathy alone decided their pro- 1156 motion into Government establishments, and their rates of wages and pensions were made equal to the rates of wages which, without pensions, would be paid by private employers in similar establishments outside. There was a strong probability that the Woolwich Arsenal labourer who had got a keen eye to his own business would invoke the aid of the Municipal Authorities and ask the County Council (who would not rack-rent him in the way that the jerry - builder who exploited his low wages and poverty) to build his house. If that was not done, he saw no reason why the Government should not deal out to the Woolwich Arsenal labourer what had been dealt out to the agricultural labourer in Ireland—that was to say, establish a system of judicial rents for houses as well as for land. Whether this was done or not, ho hoped the Government would reduce the hours down to 48; re-arrange, if not abolish, the classification altogether; do away with favouritism with a strong hand wherever they had an opportunity, and not allow it to be said this day six months that there were 4,500 men who were em-ployés of the Government earning less than 19s. per week. He hoped the Secretary for War, in the interests of discipline and of systematic management of large establishments, would not advance Pembroke to the detriment of Devonport, would not advance Enfield at the expense of Woolwich, but in his new scheme would make for uniformity of wages, hours, and conditions of labour in all the establishments under the control of Her Majesty's Government. If that was done, he was sure great satisfaction would be given to the labourers. The Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University was vague and unsympathetic, because it did not touch the standard rate of wages or the hours of labour. He (Mr. Burns) Loped the Committee would support the Government as against the right hon. Gentleman; and if the result of their investigation was not so satisfactory as he anticipated, he reserved to himself the right to move an Amendment when the Report of the Committee was presented to make provision for that which County Councils, School Boards, and many other Bodies had insisted on—namely, 1157 the payment of the Union rate of wages in the Government establishments.
§ MR. C. F. EGERTON ALLEN (Pembroke, &c.)
said, he was glad to take the earliest opportunity afforded him of fulfilling one of the pledges which he gave to the constituents who did him the honour of returning him to Parliament to bring the grievances of the men employed in the Pembroke Dockyard before the House. The men employed by the Government were precluded from using the method of enforcing attention to their grievances which men in the service of private employers possessed — namely, the method of a strike—and they felt, and rightly felt, that for that reason they had a peculiar right to ask Parliament to consider their grievances. They came to the House, as being the authority who were in fact, their employer, for the House governed the conditions on which Government employment was given. The grievances of the men employed in the Pembroke Dockyard were chiefly of two classes. There were the personal grievances which related to individual rates of pay, individual hours of labour, and individual retiring allowances and pensions; but he would not touch on these grievances. The only grievances which he intended to bring before the House were grievances relating to the system of employment in the Dockyards. He believed that the source of all the grievances felt in the Dockyards against the system was the way in which the administration of the Dockyards by the Admiralty was saturated by the ideas of discipline and service that prevailed in the Army and Navy. These ideas of the Naval Service were extended by the Admiralty to the industrial service. The Admiralty considered that their rule should be accepted without question by the men, and that all questionings by the men should be looked upon as mutiny to be rigorously put down. The Admiralty also considered that in order to keep up this state of strict discipline there should be a certain secrecy about their Rules and Regulations, and that these Rules and Regulations might be arbitrarily altered, if alteration was considered necessary. If the pledges given by the Secretary for War, that the terms and conditions of service in the Dockyards would be placed on the same footing as the terms and 1158 conditions of service in the private yards, were carried out in their spirit most of the grievances of the men would be removed. But the first condition of the proper fulfilment of that pledge was the publication of the Rules of service; and also that all the men should be placed on the same equal footing—that there should be no differentiation between the men for the purpose of giving small rewards or inflicting small punishment, which was fatal to any feeling of independence on the part of the men. If the pledge of the Secretary of State for War was to be carried out in its spirit, the system of arbitrarily altering the Rules under which the men believed they were serving, without notice to the men prejudicially affected, or giving them the opportunity of having their say in the matter, should be stopped. No private employer would be allowed by his men to alter the regulations of the service prejudicially to the men, without giving the men the opportunity of being heard on the subject. The want of equality was the grievance of which the men greatly complained, while the system of classification remained in force in the Dockyards—men who did the same work did not get the same pay, and the difference in the rate of pay did not depend—as the men had reason to believe—on efficiency of work, but merely on the favouritism of the officials. No proper answer could be given to the criticisms of the men that favouritism alone could account for the fact that in the case of two men who did exactly the same work, one received more pay for doing it than the other. The scope of variation between the lowest and the highest rates of pay to the same workmen was very wide: boiler-makers were paid from 5s. 4d. to 6s. 8d. per day; fitters in the engine shed, 5s. 4d. to 7s. These variations led to bitter feeling amongst the men. They knew that the work done by all the men was the same; that the difference between the rates of pay of the men could not be justified by any public reason; that the reason was in the mind of the officer alone who recommended men for the higher or the lower rate of pay, and the men could not help feeling that that system opened the door of favouritism. The consequence of this system was, that the men were kept in a state of dependence, and were 1159 expected to take thankfully irresponsible orders. Men in the Army and Navy must take irresponsible orders, but men engaged in industrial employments in the Dockyards were not in the same position, though the Admiralty seemed to think so. Then with regard to the system of secrecy which prevailed in the Dockyards; the system was carried on to the extent that the rules and conditions of employment were arbitrarily changed in secret, and the men who worked by the job and task method did not know how their pay was calculated. It was impossible for them to find out how it was calculated, as the rule was not published. It was true that before the men went to the pay table they knew the sum they were to receive as wages, but they did not know how that sum was calculated. Up to recently they did not know how much they were to receive until they went to the pay table. Now they did know how much they were to receive, but, as he had said, they did not know how it was calculated. If the pledge of the Secretary for War was to be carried out in its spirit, that system of secrecy must be abolished. A private employer would naturally have a schedule of wages of different kinds of work done on his premises, and the workmen would not tolerate any alteration in that schedule in secret, and without their being heard on the subject. He had received a copy of the Memorial which had been presented to the Lords of the Admiralty by the hand-rivetters in the Portsmouth Dockyard. The petitioners said—We respectfully pray your Lordships to draw up a list of prices to be paid for all kind of work when done by the piece or job, such lists to be exhibited in conspicuous place where the work is in process.And the petitioners went on to say that when engaged at the piece or job they did not know the rate at which they would be paid. This system of secrecy was one of the great grievances of the workmen in the Dockyards, and if it was removed it would do away with a great deal of the grumbling. As an illustration of the way in which the rules and conditions were altered in secret, he would mention that in November last the workmen, when they came to the pay-table on one Friday to 1160 be paid their week's wages, found their wages reduced by 12½ per cent. This was probably done for the purpose of economy, but the men had got no notice of it, and they were given no reason why it was done, though the alteration made an enormous difference in their earnings, so much so that the reduction of 12½ per cent. brought down the earnings of the men engaged on job and task work to the regular rate of weekly wages or less. If the Admiralty were justified in reducing wages, the Admiralty should at least have given notice to the men of the proposed reduction. What private employer would reduce the wages of his men without a week's or a day's notice, and without giving them the slightest opportunity of being heard in the matter? There was another matter of which the workmen complained with regard to the rate of pension or retiring allowance. This pension or retiring allowance used to be calculated as a certain proportion of the last yearly rate of pay the men received; that was to say, they had a certain proportion of the annual earnings of the last year of their service. But in July last a man found that his retiring allowance did not represent the usual proportion of his last year's earnings, and on complaining he was told a new rule of which he had never heard a word before—and of which no notice had been given to any one—had come into practice, by which instead of calculating the retiring allowance on the last year's pay, it was calculated on the average of the last three years' pay. The House would see that that made a great difference to the workmen. That might be a good and justifiable rule, but his point was that the Admiralty had no right to bring into operation a rule of that kind without the slightest notice to the men affected, and it should be applied to the future only and not to the past. The men who suffered for that new regulation were the Pembroke men, for it seemed it did not affect the men at Portsmouth at all. How that might be he did not know, for there was no source from which the rate of wages, and pensions, and retiring allowance could be ascertained and subjected to examination. He would impress most strongly on the Admiralty the advisability of issuing some code of rules and con- 1161 ditions of service for the men employed in the dockyards. Such a code existed in the police service; every policeman entering the service had put before him a short summary of the conditions of service. No such code or draft and conditions of service existed in Her Majesty's dockyards. If the Admiralty wished to be in line with other Departments of the State they should publish the code of rules which regulated the employment of the workmen, the allowance of the pensions of the men, and that code should not be altered without giving the men full opportunity of presenting their views on the proposed alteration to the Admiralty. There was now the objectionable system in the Pembroke yards of not rating the men according to the work they performed—that was to say, a man, instead of being rated as a skilled labourer, though he might be a skilled labourer, and doing the work of a skilled labourer, would be rated as temporarily employed at skilled work. The words "temporarily employed" were used in order to deprive men of the rating to which they were entitled. Men were temporarily employed in this way for 16 years. The men were not temporarily employed in the place of other people; they were doing actual, permanent, and substantial work, and they, therefore, ought to be rated on permanent substantial pay. It was very hard on these men that they should have to do work of a certain class, and not be rated at the full pay for that class of work. This went on in several cases for years and years, and the men, if employed by private employers, would have been paid according to the work they did. There were cases of men employed for years who were called "acting stokers"; these so-called acting stokers were actually doing the work of permanent stokers, but they were not paid the full rate of stokers' wages. Then, again, skilled labourers acted as furnace men, skilled labourers acted as casting trimmers; but they got a low rate of pay in consequence of being called skilled labourers, and when they were discharged out of the service they were discharged as skilled labourers only, and being discharged as skilled labourers they found it difficult to get the same rate of pay in other places from private em- 1162 ployers as they would have got had they been discharged as riveters, stokers, furnace men, and casting trimmers, which they really were, and at which class of work they were really employed in the dockyards. He hoped these matters would be taken into consideration by the Admiralty, and the grievances of which the men complained be at once remedied.
§ MR. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
I do not think there is any Member of the House but who will agree with the spirit of the Amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge. And, Sir, on behalf of the late Administration at the Admiralty, I claim that the conditions therein set out were more than fulfilled by the Board presided over by my noble Friend (Lord G. Hamilton). I perfectly agree with the very many strong, sound, commonsense remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He asked, and very properly, should the Government force the hand of the private employer? In other words, should the Government, by setting up an unnecessary and unusually high scale of pay, force the cost of dockyard work in the country generally to such a pitch that private enterprise could not compete, and to the detriment of the shipbuilding interests of the country? Then, again, he made a remark which I think ought to be felt, and I have no doubt is felt, by the great majority of this House. He reminded the House that we were dealing with other people's money, and that it was not right to gain credit at the cost of the people. He also twitted my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University with having said that it did not matter particularly to the State whether the cost of a ship was 3 or 4 per cent. more, provided the State paid to its employés what he would term a satisfactory rate of wage. Now, Sir, that doctrine is no doubt very good, very plausible, and sounds very well. But I would suggest to hon. Members for dockyard constituencies, who have this evening so strongly pressed the claims of their constituencies upon the attention of the House—I would suggest for their consideration this point: that there are many places round the country—the Thames, the Tyne, the Clyde, Belfast, 1163 the Mersey, Hull—all competent and able to construct vessels of war in a first-class manner. Now, the aim of the dockyard officers has been by diligence and good spirit at the dockyards to compete favourably with the private enterprise at the various dockyards, to compete favourably with the private enterprise at these various dockyards. There are a certain number of voters in Pembroke, Devonport, Portsmouth, Chatham, and Sheerness. But, Sir, where there are a hundred voters at these Dockyard ports, there are thousands of voters on the Tyne, the Mersey, the Clyde, at Hull and elsewhere, and I submit to hon. Members who represent dockyard constituencies that if by their over-pressure upon the Government they so raise the price of building ships at the Dockyards, no future Board of Admiralty will be able to come to this House, and in face of the representatives of the great shipbuilding ports propose to give orders to Her Majesty's Dockyards for ships at a much higher cost than they could build them at Hull or on the Clyde, or elsewhere. These are very serious considerations for those who represent Dockyard constituencies to consider. I am satisfied that the thousands of men in the northern ports of this country will not sit idly by doing nothing when they see men competing for work—men at these Dockyards who hold what are practically hereditary positions—see these men obtaining this work on far better terms than they themselves are willing to do the work for. There was another remark of the Secretary for War with which I fully concur. He said the area of this inquiry must be extended; that it could not he limited simply to the employés under the Board of Admiralty. That was one of the difficulties which my noble Friend and the Admiralty had to contend with. If we proposed what we thought would be an improvement in the position of the dockyardsmen in regard to the details of their employment, we were instantly met with the objection that there were 150,000 or 200,000 men in other branches of the public service who would also have to be considered, and whose case would be affected by any change or alteration in the status of the dockyards men. The Secretary of State for War complained that the Amendment of my 1164 right hon. Friend was not specific; that it was capable of any interpretation that any one individual might chose to put upon it. Well, Sir, I think the Amendment is open to that criticism, but I think the speech of my right hon. Friend was open to no such criticism. My right hon. Friend was very clear. He said that the rate of wages in the Dockyard shall be trades union wages, the hours of work trades union hours, and then he added to these trades union wages and hours that the State ought to provide some machinery for insurance and old-age pensions. Now I think my right hon. Friend was very specific and fair in what he wanted, and what he meant by his Resolution. But, Sir, I am inclined to think that the Secretary of State for War was even more vague in his remarks than even the wording of my right hon. Friend's Resolution. As far as I could gather, he said he accepted the Resolution in a sense which he would give to it, and that sense, as I understood it, was that he would not go ahead of the private firms in regard to pay—that he would endeavour to keep abreast of it. But, Sir, he very skilfully evaded the burning question which underlies the whole of our discussion to-night, that is, Is the rate of pay at the Dockyards to be regulated by the trades union scale or not? The Secretary to the Admiralty is probably going to follow me, and I have no doubt he will tell me that what the Secretary of War meant by keeping abreast of private employers is that we are going to establish in Her Majesty's Dockyards a trades union system of pay and of hours. I would remark in passing that that means an advance of £125,000 or £150,000 a year to dockyardsmen at the least, if not more. Now, Sir, I asked the Secretary to the Admiralty a question across the Table of this House a few days ago—whether he would take any money in the Estimates for any change in the rates of pay of dockyardsmen, and I understood him to say no; therefore I understand it is perfectly clear that no change in the present rate of pay to the men is to take place in the current financial year.
§ MR. FORWOOD
My right hon. Friend opposite says it does not follow. I should submit that before the House 1165 of Commons is asked to vote money to be expended in the construction of ships in the Dockyards, the least the Board of Admiralty can do is to lay on the Table particulars of the additions, if any, they propose to make in the different classes of pay in the Dockyards. It happened that two years ago the late Board of Admiralty took up this question, which I shall shortly allude to. We put specifically on the Estimates the extra sum of money we intended to expend in improving the status and pay of the men in the Dockyards. I claim, as due to the practice of the House and Constitutional usage, that we should be informed what we are asked to vote the money for, and should be given particulars in connection with these employés. Before I pass to details, I wish to allude to one matter which makes the administration of any public Department in this country most difficult, and that is the political question. All who were Members of the late House of Commons know how continually Ministers in charge of great public spending Departments were, night after night, troubled by questions of supposed grievances of men in some department or other of the public service. Now, Sir, I am glad to say that two right hon. Gentlemen, the present Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported my right hon. Friends in their endeavour to check this undue pressure being brought into the House of Commons, to the detriment of the effective management of the public service of the country. To give an idea what this means I will quote the remarks of a shipwright at Chatham, who I have no doubt has been heard by one of my right hon. Friends or hon. Friends opposite with reference to the claims of the Chatham shipwright to greater benefits in the shape of pay and emoluments. The late Admiralty felt, as the Secretary for War very properly expressed it, that we were the custodians and trustees of the public purse; that we would do what was right and just, and that the question of politics should not influence us one iota to the right or to the left. One of these gentlemen who interviewed me, and who I have no doubt interviewed the right hon. Gentleman or his Colleague—Mr. Wilsford—made a speech at Chatham just before the Election last year, and what was spoken at one yard 1166 may be taken as a sentiment of all the yards, for there is a wonderful combination between yard and yard. The memorials which are sent up annually to the Admiralty are positively printed at the same printers and distributed among the yards, so that each may sign the same document. This gentleman—Mr. Wilsford—in his speech said—He felt everything was in their favour. The great question looming in the immediate future was the General Election. His experience taught him that if they wanted a favour done they must extend temporary reciprocity. They would know what to do when candidates for Parliamentary honours canvass for votes, and they should induce those gentlemen to help them in this crisis of their history.That indicates one reason why a majority have come to this House of five representatives from Dockyard seats—not on the question put before the country, but simply on this question of personal politics. Now, Sir, the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Kearley), speaking to his constituents in July last, described the Government asThe champion sweaters of the country. It seemed the Government were never satisfied without it was taking something away from the wage-earning classes. They demanded that classification should be abolished to the smallest degree, and if they were returned to Westminster they would keep pegging away until it was abolished.Then he went on to say that if he and his Colleague were returned to Parliament they would not be satisfied until there was a general rise of wages throughout all our Government establishments. Now, Sir, I have read these remarks to the House and to the public for this purpose—that they must know naturally that the Members from the Dockyards are returned here to urge the claims of their constituents to more of the taxpayers' money rather than from any question of great political importance. I ventured to say that the administration of the Admiralty under my noble Friend had fully fulfilled the proposals in my right hon. Friend's Amendment. It has been said to-night that the late Board increased the wages at the Admiralty by a sum of something like £80,000, and they left those Dockyards in such a good state of organisation and management that the noble Lord who now presides over the Admiralty says— 1167 and I thank him for the handsome acknowledgment—That the speedy and economical construction of this vessel" (alluding to a certain vessel) "affords good evidence of the efficient condition and organisation of the Royal Dockyards.It was my lot annually to inquire into the grievances I had heard retailed here tonight for something like six years, and in 1890, at the request of my noble Friend, I spent a considerable time at each of the Dockyards and inquired minutely into the wants and necessities and the grievances of the men. I endeavoured to do this in as thorough a manner as possible. No less than 224 petitions from various trades and groups of men, and in some six cases from individuals, had been presented to the Admiralty. I heard the evidence of no less than 500 witnesses in support of these petitions, which affected something like 20,900 men at the various Dockyards. Of these 5,500 were established, and 15,400 hired men. Of this total 12,700 were artisans, 4,300 were skilled labourers, and 3,900 ordinary labourers. I am sorry we had to mention again the grievances which had been already alluded to, but I had to consider them at the time. These were the hired time not counting towards a pension, the pension being lost if a man did not attain the pension age; and last, but not least, better wages. I ought to say to my right hon. Friend who advocated trades union hours of labour that the Dockyards very closely follow the trades union hours. The average of the hours worked at the Dockyards during the year amount to 50½, the average hours throughout the private trade at the northern ports being something like 54. Let us look at this matter from another point of view. I think a word has to be said for those who pay the wages—the taxpayers. I think they are entitled to some consideration, and I think it is but right to set out clearly before the House what are the advantages which the men in the Dockyards enjoy. They have practically continuous employment. They lose nothing, as they do in private yards, in the shape of broken time by reason of bad weather. My noble Friend, with the object of ensuring this continuous employment and the economical administration of the Dockyards—to enable the Dockyards to produce their ships at a price which 1168 would fairly compete with those in private yards—introduced his Naval Defence Act. Under that Act he provided for a continuous, progressive rate of shipbuilding, year in, year out; so that you could employ a given number of men in each year, and avoid frequent and spasmodic discharge of men, and secure to them a constant, continuous employment. The noble Lord now at the head of the Admiralty points out very strongly in his Paper presented to the House that this insurance of economical and continuous employment of different trades in the Royal Dockyards is a matter of great importance in order to avoid those spasmodic discharges and subsequent reentries of workmen which have taken place in former days with great disadvantage to the Service and to the men themselves. All that change was avoided under my noble Friend's Naval Defence Act, and I say that that Act was in the spirit of the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University. This continuous employment cannot be obtained from private firms who depend altogether for their work upon the commercial wants of the country. The commercial wants of a country depend very largely upon the confidence of the country in the Administration in power. There are other points that are not to be forgotten in connection with this question of the position of the men in Dockyards compared with those in private yards, and that is the opportunity they have to take apprentices, and these apprentices their own sons. In fact, Sir, the Dockyard service is almost an hereditary service. The men have not to seek work from town to town, or post to post, and change their home every time a shipbuilder becomes short of work, but they are on the spot, and have the certainty of regular and continuous work. Again, with regard to these young men who are taken on as apprentices, and who become shipwrights, special facilities are given for their education in the Dockyard. The Naval College is open to them at Greenwich, and if they show efficiency and good conduct, they have an opportunity of promotion to draughtsmen, to writers, to leading men of trades, to foremen constructors, nay, even to chief constructor in the yard, so that the dockyards offer a chance to an industrious man who is willing to 1169 push himself on that is not to be found in a private yard. Something has been said about what was called the paltry gratuities on discharge. I should like to know of any private yard in this country that gives a man any gratuity at all when it has to discharge him in consequence of want of work. Formerly until a change was made by my noble Friend these gratuities in the Dockyard were not payable until a man had served 20 years there. We altered that so that a man who has served seven years becomes entitled to a gratuity. Then, Sir, some remarks were made as to hurt money. If a man meets with an accident and cannot work he for a period receives half-pay. Again, if a man is taken sick in the yard his place is not immediately filled up by some other sound man being brought in; but the vacancy is very considerately kept open so that when the man recovers he may obtain the place he formerly occupied. I now come to another matter in connection with the Dockyards, and that is the question of establishment. I did not gather from the Secretary for War whether he really was in favour or not of an establishment. He complained of my right hon. Friend being vague in his Amendment; but I think the right hon. Gentleman was a little more visionary in his comment and suggestions as to what the Government would do. I am quite at a loss to know whether he looks upon the question of an establishment as an advantage or otherwise. He has not stated whether he would have all men in a Public Department from the day he entered its employment treated as hired men liable to be dismissed whenever work ceased, and liable to have their occupation determined when their strength fails, or whether he was in favour of maintaining an establishment of men something on the lines which at present obtain in the Dockyards. Well, Sir, we found an establishment, we continued that establishment, and what we endeavoured to do was to put that establishment on a fair, honest, and reasonable basis to the men who belonged to it. The establishment means that when a man reaches the age of 65 and wishes to retire he can claim a pension at the rate of 1–60th of his average income for the previous three years, for the number of years on which he has been on the establishment; and if he is fit for work 1170 he may even go on in full pay to 65 until he becomes then established. We found that the establishment bore very unfairly upon many classes of the workmen, and especially upon the lowest class. The hired shipwrights, for example, when placed on the establishment were established at from 1s. to 2s. a week below that which they obtained when on the hired list, whilst the boiler-makers sacrificed by the change from 2s. 6d. to 3s. a week. The boiler makers would be receiving 6s. a day. But when we come to the skilled labourer what do we find? Every skilled labourer to become established had to sacrifice 4s. and 4s. 6d. a week on wages of something like 24s. or 24s. 6d. a week. Every one will admit that that was most unjust, and the first step my noble Friend took was to remedy these cases of injustice. Our desire was to arrange a fixed deduction, having reference to the benefits which the men were to derive, and our difficulty was that we could not make this a special case in regard to the Dockyards, because if a change were made it must be made to apply to all other great departments of State. Here comes in the strength of my right hon. Friend's Amendment. He desired to systematise the age at which pension-money, hurt money, and insurance should be granted. In that I am quite at one with him. We have met these cases as far as we could, and without going into detailed figures we practically gave the men the benefit of one-half of what they had been previously paying. That is if a man had been paying 3s. a week to go on to the establishment, the scheme which we propounded and which was carried into effect in 1892 reduced the sacrifice the workmen made by at least one-half. And we also made our deduction have reference to the wages that a man received, so that from the man who was receiving a higher rate of pay a larger sum was required than from the ordinary labourer who was receiving a lower rate of pay. We are told by one hon. Gentleman opposite that we (the late Admiralty) had been guilty of gross injustice and mal-administration, and the proof of our gross injustice and mal-administration was this—that although a sum was deducted from a workman in consideration of a pension to be paid to him when he attained 60 years of age, if 1171 he died at 59 all the deductions that had been made were forfeited, and his representatives received no benefit whatever. If the hon. Member had exercised a little commonsense he must have felt and known that if you are to deduct from men an animal sum in consideration of an annual annuity to be paid on a certain age, there is a great difference in the case of the charge which must be made to these men if you undertake only to pay an annuity to them if they attained that age, than if you undertake to pay a sum in consideration thereof, even if they died 10 or 15 years before they arrived at that age. I perfectly agree that it is a selfish and mean system of pension which prevails at the Admiralty and in the public service generally, but especially in connection with the Dockyard men, for in consideration of this pension a deduction is made directly from a man's wage, and if he prematurely dies his widow and family are thrown upon the tender mercies of the Union or charged upon their friends and relatives. That is a sad state of affairs, and, therefore, again I say my right hon. Friend is right in his contention that it is not merely a question of inquiry into this Dockyard matter that is wanted, but an inquiry into the whole system of Civil Service Pension, and to see whether the system of pension by which a man protected himself but left his wife and family unprovided for ought to be terminated. A very erroneous impression prevails at the Dockyard as to the number of men who attain the pensionable age. Generally speaking, it is said that 10 per cent. of the men do not reach the pensionable age. It was also said that no actuarial calculations had been published. Before I went on my mission to the Dockyards I took the precaution to get from the National Debt Commissioners an actuarial calculation as to the cost of the pensions to the Dockyard men, and they gave me these figures: That out of 442 men who in a given period of time would have been entitled to a pension in Portsmouth Dockyard only 83 had died; and therefore out of 442 no less than 80 per cent., or 359, attained and obtained pensions. They went on further to say that the cost of pensions in the case of the men was 9½ per cent. of their wages, and in the case of the officers 13½ per cent. Perhaps the House will 1172 permit me to read a letter from a very intelligent man I met at Pembroke. He is a gentleman who very much engaged in the agitation upon the question of Dockyard grievances, and when I saw him he had represented to me what a very few workmen had attained the pensionable age. Subsequently, a few days afterwards, he wrote me this letter, which I think does him credit and throws a light on this matter. He says—In my statement to you I argued that only 5 per cent. of workmen lived to secure pensions, and that the average duration of life subsequently is eight years. In this, as a consequence of insufficient opportunity to prepare myself, I merely adopted a traditional belief common to workmen, and though I uttered it in good faith, honestly believing it to be an approximation to the truth, I feel it to be my duty to the right hon. Gentlemen who constitute the Committee to state that for the reason assigned I had not made a personal investigation of its accuracy, but having been informed by you that a reliable body of actuaries have made computations widely differing in the result from that submitted by me, I have since made the matter a subject of inquiry, and I have satisfied myself that the percentage of workmen who survive till 60 years of age cannot possibly be less than 11 or 12 times that assumed by me. I make an aggregate of 2s. 11¼d., or, approximately, 10 percent. of our wages as against the 8d. submitted in my original statement.That, curiously, bears out the calculations which were given to me by the National Debt Commissioners. Now, Sir, so much, I think, can be said, that while the cost of the pension system, as at present arranged, is nearly 10 per cent., the country charges these men only 5 per cent. The next point raised is that the hired time is not counted as service for a pension. Now, whilst a man is on the hired list, as a rule he obtains a higher rate of pay; he is perfectly free to leave if he can obtain better pay elsewhere, whilst a man on the establishment is fixed and cannot leave to better himself. If it is thought that the hired time should count for pension, then clearly the rate of pay of such hired men must be regulated with the prospect of pension in future. I now come to the question of classification. Nearly every trade at the Dockyard was classified — that is, they received a graduated rate of pay. One of the trades, and the trade that has made the greatest commotion over this matter, was the established shipwrights. The estab- 1173 lished shipwrights formerly received a uniform rate of 5s. per day, and whether they had been in the service for five or 20 years, they arrived at a dull uniformity, and they could not obtain a higher rate of pay except upon promotion as foremen. For the first two or three years on my visits to the dockyards these men came to me and complained of, this dull, dead, uniform level which they had arrived at without hope or prospect or chance of advancing, and they asked could nothing be done for them. That was the condition of matters up to 1890. Then I went to the dockyards and I saw the shipwrights. The uniform request from each yard was that the Admiralty would establish, not a uniform rate of pay, but a graduated rate of pay for every man in the yard, to be 5s. at the commencement and 7s. per day at the end of 10 years. Now comes the point when differences arose. They asked that the increment should be servitude; we said that the increment shall be servitude, plus merit; and that is the whole difference at the present time. I submit, with every confidence to the House, that with every man—the best men in the world, if they have hope that by their diligence they will improve their position in life, they have a greater incentive to work than they have if they know that after going a dull round for a certain number of years they will attain to but the same level. The objection which has been raised to this system of increment by servitude, plus merit, to-night is that favouritism would come in. Now, who are the men who, in the first instance, have to recommend the workmen for promotion? They are the very workmen themselves, or rather the very men who probably last year were workmen themselves. They are the inspectors, the shipwrights, and such like at the head of gangs who initiate the promotion by recommending the names of those who are most efficient in their gang. To call it favouritism is to show you do not trust yourselves. The Admiralty took care that this question of favouritism should be guarded against, and after setting out how a man can earn incremented pay, they say—In making such selection, competency, diligence, and conduct are to be regarded as of primary importance, due consideration also 1174 being given to length of service; and, further, the recommendations to the Admiral Superintendent for promotion or increment of pay are to be accompanied by a list of the names of those men having a longer service in their respective class or trade, who are not nominated for advancement. Workmen thus passed over are at liberty to submit their case in writing for the consideration of the Admiral Superintendent.As regards this question of establishment and classification there is a matter of especial importance. When you tell the established men that "come weal come woe, you, for the rest of your natural life are to have constant regular employment;" you put that man on a fixed rate of pay and what inducement, what encouragement, has he to do more than merely pass through in a perfunctory manner his day's labour. No, Sir, it is an immense advantage to the State that a Dockyard officer should have the opportunity of rewarding those men who show diligence, especially as regards the established men. On this question of classification, let me read the opinion of the smiths and engineers of the Dockyards The gentleman who spoke on then-behalf said—As a trade we declined to have anything to do with the meetings as we believed in the system of classification, and we thought that any other mode of payment to our own trade would be unfair, and consequently we kept from the meetings.In a deputation from the engineers an engineer said—They wish that the chief of the department should have the option and power from time to time to reward exceptionally good men by a rise of pay. Under the present arrangement they are not able to do that. In addition to that, the chief of the department might be able to remunerate an exceptionally deserving man from time to time.We think that should be the case. Speaking to me, he said—You, as a business and practical man, must know that some men are worth more than other's from their experience, and from the trouble of their lives, they are worth more to the service, and from their experience from having been with you, and from the time they have served in the yard themselves, which enhances the value of the men.That is an opinion from the highest class of trades in the yard. Now this matter not only affects the men them- 1175 selves, but it affects the administration of the yard, and before my right hon. Friend determines upon this question of doing away with the classification of the yards, I want to ask him this: Whether he is prepared to fly absolutely in the face of those who are responsible for the good working of the yard and to do away with the classification. His Chief Constructor of Dockyards will tell him that—Classification of skilled labour is as essential in that as in any other body of workmen, not in the interests of the Service, but in the interests of the men themselves.The Civil Assistant at Portsmouth tells him—I would give no limit as regards the services in advancement. Everything should be by merit.The Chief Assistant at Chatham says—I much prefer classification. It would enable specially expert workmen being rewarded, advancement being generally considered due to ability and servitude.The Civil Assistant at Devonport says—Most certainly prefer a graduated scale to a uniform scale.If uniformity and not classification is to prevail the question will have to be answered: are you going to put the highest down to the lowest, or bring the lowest up to the highest? And if my right hon. Friend is going to put the lowest of the shipwrights up to the highest scale of trade union wages he will have to apply the same treatment to the fitters, the boiler makers, engineers, and every man in the yard, and apply the same system all through the yard. I ask my right hon. Friend to communicate with the Treasury, where he will find the price he has to buy peace at the Dockyard, and the Dockyard vote is not going to cost very much more than £1,000,000 of money as the capital sum which the taxpayers of this country will be called upon to pay? I will ask him another question, whether he is going to adopt the Trades Union rate of pay? Which pay will he adopt? It may be one rate at one port, and another rate at another. Another question is the question of trade union payment. We have heard it asked here that the men will not be satisfied unless 1176 they have this system of payment introduced. I would ask those who advocate the trade union payment of wages in their yards:—Are you going to shift your rates of pay up and down according to the opinion prevailing in the country? Are you going to adopt a sliding scale? If you are going to do that, then I can say that I do not know how the Dockyards could ever be administered by such a system. I believe it would involve you in difficulties, and I believe that great dissatisfaction would result if any such system were allowed to prevail. I come now to the close of my observations. I come to a class of men who are always outside trade organisations, and they are a class who, I think it will be admitted, are entitled to great consideration on the part of this House. I mean, of course, the ordinary labourers. They have no organisation, and they have nobody to speak for them. Ordinary labourers received only 15s. per week when the late Government came into power, and it was told us by the officers that they could get as many men as they wanted for the money. We had an extraordinary illustration of the willingness of men to accept employment at that figure in the management of the Works Department. The men were employed, when we came in, at 10 hours a day. We employed them, as I have said, 10 hours a day, and gave them 15s. per week. Well, we made inquiry, and as a result of that inquiry we reduced the hours of labour from 10 to eight, and we raised the rate of pay from 15s. to 17s. for a man who had served 21 years, and then, after a year's probation, if he gave satisfaction, we decided to raise him to 18s. If the House will allow me to refer to one more abstract this will close my argument. Whatever may be the inducements which tempt men to enter the service at 15s. per week, the pay is, I submit, too low. We should not too strictly apply economic doctrines and take advantage of the hard position of the applicants, or the number of the unemployed, and the prospective advantages of our service, to pay a rate of wage to an adult labourer that will not afford, even to the most frugal, a decent house and adequate food. There is no more difficult question to solve than to determine what is the dividing line in the cost of a 1177 workman's maintenance or comfort with thrift, and that which will not provide reasonable necessaries and decencies of life. Considering that our employ is in large towns, where rents are comparatively high, and looking at the rate paid for unskilled labour by other employers connected with shipbuilding and manufacturing industries, including the Royal Factories at Woolwich, I consider that in none of Her Majesty's establishments should we enter men of over 21 years of age at less than 17s. per week, and that after two years' service they should receive 18s. If not worth the advance the men should not be retained. Ordinary labourers discharged on reduction ought, if afterwards re-engaged, to receive their former rate of pay. The authorised scale for the ordinary labourer should also allow of advances, by increments of 2d. per day, from 18s. to 20s. per week, in the discretion of the officers, regulated according to the class of work and skill of the man. I would add to that that it is impossible to compare dockyard labour with ordinary riverside labour, which is much longer in point of hours, and is also much harder, and which involves a greater amount of wear and tear. When we went into the question we took a period of five years as our standard — 1886–1890—and we found that it was impossible to have a sliding scale, and that the best way was to have a scale of the highest and lowest rates in the country, and then act on a principle which would give the rates I have already mentioned. The Member for Devonport quotes certain figures, but I think he will discover that we effected a considerable improvement, and that we left the dockyard labourers in a much better position than they were when we entered Office. I think I may say that we of the late Admiralty Board did our duty. We did not only what was right and just to the men, but also what was right and just to that larger Body, that very important Body—the taxpayers of the country.
THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Sir U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH,) Lancashire, Clitheroe
I do not rise to take up the time of the House, my right hon. Friend the Secre- 1178 tary of State for War having already explained the course to be taken by Her Majesty's Government, and having admitted that some of the rates of wages are too low, and explained that we are inquiring into the various rates of pay of the various classes of men in the Naval establishments. My right hon. Friend opposite asks me a large number of questions. I will resist the temptation of following my right hon. Friend through many of the points he has raised. Moreover, the inquiry which the Government have undertaken has only begun. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty and myself have visited the various dockyards and received a large number of deputations and petitions. I think the House will agree that it would be very unwise, before the inquiry is complete, and the vast mass of information has been digested, to announce any decision. The right hon. Gentleman condemns in strong terms the pension system. Why did not his Government alter it?
SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
The right hon. Gentleman and the Administration of which he was a member had six years in which to effect a change. It has been urged that no change in wages is to be effected, because nothing appeared in the Estimates. It is obvious that proposals must be made, but it is impossible to put anything into the Estimates before a decision has been arrived at. The hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Baker) has recognised that we are completing our inquiries and shall act upon the result. He has stated that he and other Members representing Dockyard constituencies are content to wait for the result of the inquiry. The very fact that such a mass of evidence had been brought forward increases the difficulty of prompt action; it will take a great deal of time to go through the voluminous evidence, which is only just in type. The views of all hon. Members interested in this matter having been heard so fully, I think I may now suggest that the Debate be brought to a close. The Government has accepted the Motion of 1179 the right hon. Gentleman, and the Admiralty will be responsible to the House for giving effect to the Resolution which, I hope, will now be allowed to pass, so that you, Sir, may leave the Chair, and the Navy Estimates may be considered in Committee of Supply.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE (Plymouth)
I do not think that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman has contributed greatly to the completeness of the discussion. I am not anxious to press the Government unfairly on some of the matters which have been referred to, but the right hon. Gentleman laid down a curious proposition—that the larger the amount of evidence in favour of a change, the more difficult was it to come to a decision.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
Well, if there is a great deal of evidence in favour of a large number of changes—50 changes—you are hardly entitled to say that you cannot come to a decision on any one. This process of inquiry has been going on now for seven or eight months. It has been going on ever since the Government has been in Office, and we might fairly hope for a decision now; but there is one matter of supreme importance to all the dockyards upon which I hope a decision will be come to at once. It is the system of classification. I am aware that it is due to the late Government; but it is an improvident and unwise system, which must be amended sooner or later. The men are all dissatisfied about it. Exactly the same class of work is being done by men of the same length of service and of the same character, some of whom receive 30s. a week, others 31s., and yet others 32s. It is a great and serious grievance, and I hope it will be attended to, and that the Government will come promptly to a conclusion with regard to this system of classification.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, no person should, in Her Majesty's Naval establishments, be engaged at wages insufficient for a proper maintenance, and that the conditions of labour as regards hours, wages, insurance against accident, provision for old age, &c., should be such as to afford an example to private employers throughout the country.
§ Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply.—(Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttle worth.)
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."