§ MR. H. H. ASQUITH
, in asking for leave to introduce a Bill to Amend the Truck Acts, said the House was aware there was a great feeling of grievance among the working classes as regarded deductions from their wages in respect of fines, materials, tools, and matters of that kind. Although, from 205 the information he had received, he did not think it would be possible to make all deductions of every kind illegal, because there were some trades in which it was necessary and even to the advantage of the workpeople, that they should be able to buy materials or tools from employers, yet he was satisfied that the existing state of things did impose hardships very nearly to extortion, and in his judgment some remedy ought to be provided. It was proposed to provide that for the future a contract between a workman and an employer for any deduction from wages, whether for fines, materials, tools, machines, standing-room, or other matters of that kind, should he illegal and unenforceable except under two conditions. The first was that there should be a contract in writing, signed by the workman; and the second, which was much more important, was that the contract should he held to be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. Thus, if a poor woman employed in needlework were obliged to pay an employer for needles and thread higher prices than those at which they could be bought at a retail shop in the neighbourhood, their cases might at once be brought before a magistrate, and it would be held that the charges were unreasonable and therefore illegal. But it would not be satisfactory to leave workmen or workwomen to seek their own remedy. They were too poor, and unorganised trades too dependent, and the penalties even of success, let alone of failure, would be too grievous. Therefore it was thought better and desirable to extend the provisions of the Truck Act of 1887, and to make it the duty of the inspectors of factories and workshops, when cases of this kind were brought to their notice, to take them before the magistrates. These were the main provisions of the Bill. There was another to the effect that no payment of this kind, or anything in the nature of Truck, however reasonable, was to be authorised or allowed unless particulars in writing were supplied to the workman or workwoman at the time when the contract was made. The Bill was printed and would be circulated at once.
§ MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)
thought that the Bill would probably meet the mischiefs which appeared to exist in a few cases. But the House 206 must be careful not to carry it too far. An instance came under his notice the other day where it was discovered that there had been some tools which workmen had been obliged to pay a very high price for sharpening; and it appeared that, if this work was allowed to be done by the employers, the work could be more efficiently undertaken and at a much less cost. It was therefore in the interest of the workmen not to prohibit such a transaction.
Bill presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Friday next, and to be printed. [Bill 154.]