HC Deb 07 August 1896 vol 44 cc116-54

1. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Ordnance Factories (the cost of the Productions of which will he charged to the Army, Navy, and Indian and Colonial Governments), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897,"—


moved to reduce the Vote by £50, explaining that his real desire was to see it increased by many thousands. His contention was that the Government was bound to lead the way as a model employer of labour. On the 8th of August 1890, the late Mr. W. H. Smith, then Leader of the House, said: In common with all who are responsible for the Government of the country he regarded it as a matter of the highest importance that the men who are employed in Her Majesty's dockyards and arsenals should he well paid and con-tented. He was sure that the House of Commons would not desire to underpay any servants of the Crown. In the discussion on Mr. Buxton's Motion in 1891, Mr. Plunket announced that the Government would insert a provision in Government contracts to secure the payment by contractors of the rates of wages generally accepted as current in each trade for competent workmen. His contention was that the Government, while perceiving the mote that was in the contractor's eye, had failed to cast the beam out of their own eye. They compelled contractors to pay standard rates of wages to their workmen, whereas, when they employed these men directly they failed to pay their rates of wages. What was the current rate, of wages for the class of work done by those workmen at Woolwich, whose case he desired to bring before the Committee? They might be termed unskilled labourers, but as a matter of fact, they were to a certain extent skilled, and did practically the same class of labour as the men who worked for the firm of Armstrong, of Newcastle, or Mather and Platt, of Manchester. He maintained that 22s. per week at Newcastle, and 23s. per week at Manchester, was far superior to 24s. at Woolwich. Yet the Government of the wealthiest country in the world, with a revenue of a hundred millions sterling, was paying its employés at Woolwich 19s. 6d. a week. There was a law in this country that no man should be allowed to starve. They ought to go a step further and lay it down that no competent workman who was willing to work should be employed at less than a fair wage. He ought not to be employed at starvation wages, and he maintained that a large number of Government workmen are employed at starvation wages. It was constantly stated that this was a question of supply and demand. But the Government had stultified themselves twice over in connection with this point: for they were at the present moment employing at 19s. 6d. a number of men who, four or five years ago were doing precisely the same work for 17s., and who some years previously were doing it for 15s. But suppose it was a question of supply and demand, surely it would be only fair to apply the principle all round. Why not, for example to the Treasury Bench? There were doubtless many gentlemen opposite, even below the Gangway, who would be prepared to hold many of their offices at a considerably reduced salary. Or take the case of the officers of the Army, whose pay had not been increased for some generations. There were hundreds of young men, not inferior in any respect to their predecessors, presenting themselves for about a hundred vacancies. Had the British taxpayer ever suggested that the pay of the officers of the Army should be reduced? Certainly not. The British taxpayer was prepared to pay top wages for the best material; be was well aware that it was economy in the end. Whether on moral or economic grounds, it was good policy to pay the standard rate of wages. Public bodies and private employers alike had found that the best standard for the current rate of wages was the trades union rate. A report on this subject, published in 1893, showed that the Woolwich Local Board paid 24s. and Plumstead Board of Works, 24s., while private employers there paid practically the same rate; whereas the Government rate was 19s. 6d. House rent in Woolwich was 8s. and 8s. 6d., whereas in Chatham it was only 4s. 6d., in Pembroke, 3s., and in Portsmouth, 4s.; in other words, 19s. was just as good in Pembroke as 24s. in Woolwich. He had fixed on 24s. because a Minority Report of the Labour Commission laid that down as the minimum sum upon which a man, his wife, and family could live in common decency. That a public servant should not be entitled to a decent house and sufficient food in a country like this was monstrous. He frankly admitted that there were certain advantages connected with Government employment. The Government never went bankrupt, and there was a certain prestige attaching to Government employment, but putting that aside there was no other advantage whatever. Continuity of employment was given equally in good private establishments, and the prospect of advancement was as great in them as in Government factories. It was supposed that Government employés obtained a larger proportion of holidays, but that was not the case. The men in the Royal factory were in no better position than the men who worked for the best private firms. As regards sick pay, what was the position of the Government employés? They must serve three years before they became entitled to that pay, and then they were entitled to two months' sick pay during the year. Contrast this with the position of a member of a really good friendly society. After six months' payments, the payee became entitled to 12s. a week for 26 weeks, and 6s. per week for 52 weeks after that. Further, in the event of his death, his widow became entitled to a bonus of £10, and he would receive £5 if his wife died. Consequently, for 6d. a week men could provide themselves with greater advantages than were given by the Government. Of course, there was the question of medical attendance, and he was given to understand that this cost the Government 1s. per week. But why should the men be penalised because the Government managed so badly, when they could contract with any good friendly society for the sum of 6d.? There was, he presumed, a general desire for some system of superannuation, and personally he was strongly in favour of that. He should have supposed that Members occupying the other side of the House, who had so strongly advocated both old-age pensions and workmen's dwellings, would be equally in favour of that. He would be glad to see it applied the whole country over, but until that could be done, let it apply to Government employés. Then, as to injury pay. Any man injured in the course of his employment was entitled to full pay for three months, and while under the doctor's care; but, on the other hand, the Government contracted themselves out of the Employers' Liability Act, and no compensation was paid to the relatives of a man fatally injured. It would be said that the Government did all it could for the willows, but that amounted to getting employment such as bag-making out of charity, but the widow had no claim against the Government. When a man was injured during his employment, and the injury was not due to his own negligence, the sufferer should be generously treated, it being borne in mind that unless assisted he would ultimately come upon the rates. He estimated that it would cost about £30,000 additional to act in common justice towards these labourers in Government employ, raising the wages to 24s., the current rate in the London area. The workmen at Woolwich were at a disadvantage as compared with those in the employment of private firms in that they were bound to keep up what might be called an appearance of sham respectability, and so it was found that, after these regular hours of employment, some of them eked out their wretched wages by costermongering. He would venture to read an extract from a gentleman who was an ornament of the Church to which he belonged, the rector of Woolwich:— I feel very strongly that sixpence per hour for a week of 48 hours is the minimum you can call a fair wage in the County of London. The claim as to privileges is nonsense. A statement drawn up by the same authority gave facts that would enable the Committee to realise their position. A labourer earned 20s. a week and had to support a wife and two children. For two rooms he paid 4s. a week, and his weekly expenditure on meat was 2s. 6d. On this he performed exhausting physical labour, helping to make that material without which our defensive forces would be valueless. Thirty millions annually were spent on these defensive forces, and this man, engaged in the work of providing the material, was confined to 2½d. worth of meat per day. It should be remembered that in Woolwich workmen had not the advantage of cheap markets workmen had elsewhere, and on a fair estimate it might be said that 24s. a week in Woolwich was equal to 20s. in Portsmouth. Woolwich was one of those places indicated by Mr. Booth as the darkest spots in England. With these men in a position oscillating between independence and pauperism, their wives and daughters were situated amid all the allurements of a garrison town, surrounded by temptations to drink and immorality. This was a state of things that should not exist in connection with Government employment. Many years ago, upon the discussion of the ten hours' Bill, a great writer who had shed lustre on the literature of his country made use of the following words:— It concerns the commonwealth that the great hotly of the people should not live in a way which makes life wretched and short, which enfeebles the body and pollutes the mind; and, paraphrasing that, he concluded his appeal to the Government by saying it was their duty so to act that every class in the community might at least be afforded the opportunity of living in a way which made life brighter and longer, which invigorated the body and purified the mind. He moved the reduction of the vote by £50.

*Colonel HUGHES (Woolwich)

said he did not think it was the fault of the Government that the War Department were not liable for injuries under the Employers' Liability Act, for, if he rightly remembered, when the last Bill on the subject was going forward, the Government assented to a clause imposing that liability, and, no doubt, when an amending Bill was again before Parliament, they would again assent. He thoroughly believed that the Financial Secretary to the War Office desired that the labourers should be paid the wages current in the district, but 5d. an hour was not the current rate. Local information would convince the hon. Gentleman of that. When the hours of labour in the arsenal were reduced by the late Secretary for War, it was stated that this should not affect the rate of pay. A comparison was sometimes made between the wages paid in Newcastle and the wages paid in London. He was quite willing to reckon at the former rate, if a proper allowance were made for the increased rent in London. The rent question must be taken into account, since there was an Act of Parliament to forbid overcrowding. If there were a desire to pay the current rate of wages, let the Government find out what it was. A year or two ago the Labour Department of the Board of Trade was instructed to find out the current rate for unskilled labourers at Woolwich, among others. No doubt that Report was confidential, but in 1896 a Report was presented to the House for the year 1894, and from the figures quoted he was sure that the Labour Department must have reported that the current rate was 6d. to 6½d. an hour for unskilled labourers. If that was so the Report had not been acted up to. As to the men above or below the full age, he did not press; but with regard to fully competent unskilled workmen, the Government must say whether they thought 20s. a week a sufficient wage. The right hon. Member for Stirling, when Secretary of State for War, said that the Government were anxious to avoid any act or omission which would betoken indifference to the welfare of the workmen, or which could be quoted by private employers as a justification for illiberal dealings with their workmen. In 1893, speaking on the question of sweating, the present Financial Secretary to the War Office said: "This is a national question with which no parish can adequately deal. It is one with which the Government alone can cope." He went down to the arsenal the other day and made inquiries of the contractors, Messrs. Johnson, who were acting under the Fair Wages Resolution. They had 60 labourers who were paid 6½d. an hour now, though formerly 6d. an hour was the rate. That made 27s. for a week of 50 hours, and side by side with the men receiving that wage, were the men from the arsenal earning only 20s. a week. If a Fair Wages Resolution were forced on the contractors, it ought at least to be observed by the Government themselves. At the time of the General Election, the Leader of the House issued a programme of Unionist policy to his Manchester constituents, Paragraph 13 of which was "Fair wages to Government workmen." He copied that paragraph into his own programme, thinking that it would be safer to do so; and he felt that that was a pledge on his part. But the present Government had been in Office 18 months, and, as private Members' time had been taken away they were powerless. He should certainly vote in favour of the Motion, if he felt it necessary to enforce a proper sense of responsibility in this matter on the War Office; but he understood that the Government were willing to give attention to the matter. If a Committee were appointed now, nothing could be done this Session. But if no steps were taken before next Session to remedy the grievance, he should feel justified in calling attention to Paragraph 13 of the First Lord of the Treasury's programme, and in moving for the appointment of a Committee. His political existence depended upon his performing his promises to his constituents, and he should endeavour to fulfil them.


said that the Government approached this subject with no adverse or hostile spirit. In cases of this kind it was much easier to say yes than no. But the Government and Parliament were trustees of the taxpayers' money, and they were not entitled to spend it without sufficient cause being shown. Was the Government, then, required to pay a practically settled rate of wages, or was it required to pay the wages which were current in each particular district? If the Government paid a rate of wages which was higher than the current rate of wages given in the district the difference must be made up by somebody, and obviously it must be by the taxpayers of the country. That was to say, they were going to take taxes paid, say, by a Dorsetshire labourer receiving 14s. a week, in order to enhance the wages of a certain class of workmen in London, and those by no means the worst off. If they were to adopt a principle of that kind they would very soon hear from the Dorsetshire labourer, who would want to know when his turn was coming. The question between them was whether or not they were paying the current wage in the district. Now, the Member for Woolwich had cited the case of Messrs. Johnson. There could not be a better case to show that in dealing with matters of this kind they must be extremely cautious to compare things which were actually on the same basis. When they spoke of 24s. or 20s. a week, they must ask for what it was paid and the conditions under which the service was given. Now, what was the answer in regard to Messrs. Johnson? They informed him that the number of men employed by them varies from time to time. The men work 50 hours a week for 40 weeks, and they get 27s. a week; they work 47 hours a week for six weeks, and they get 25s. 5d.; and they work 44 hours a week for six weeks, and they get 2.3s. 10d. But mark the class of labourers these were. They were men of a selected class. For what did Messrs. Johnson say:— Those who received 6½d. an hour cannot fairly he described as unskilled. They must he good navvies or excavators or bricklayers' labourers, accustomed to scaffolding work, men of superior physique, and of considerable experience, and who find their own picks and shovels. Ordinary labourers would get 6d. only and even these must he full-grown, active men. These men did not compare in any degree with the lowest class of labourers employed at the, Ordnance factories. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Why not! Because they are a selected, skilled class.

MR. E. H. PICKEBSGILL (Bethnal Green, S. W.)

Not those paid 6d.


Yes, they are selected in regard to strength, age, and experience. And if they went to a class of men of that kind, he said at once that they had plenty of them employed at Woolwich, but they were not men receiving 20s. or 24s. a week, but men receiving wages fully equivalent to the wages stated by Messrs. Johnson to be paid by them.

MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

The hon. Gentleman has read out that ordinary labourers receive 6d.


The point is not as to the detail of the payment, but the class of men employed, and what I say is that where we have labourers of that character we pay a great deal more than the maximum wage of 20s. a week. The wages paid by the Woolwich Local Board had been cited. He knew that that Board were paying 24s. a week, but what for? The men in the employment of the Woolwich Local Board worked 48 hours a week for five months, and 56½ hours for seven months, so that they worked on an average all the year round 53 hours per week. Now, 24s. per week for 53 hours was 21s. 9d. a week for 48 hours. Therefore, it would be seen that the Woolwich Local Board paid its men 24s. a week under conditions far more onerous than those under which the employés at the Ordnance factories worked. But take the case a little further. He had made careful inquiry as to the wages paid in the Woolwich district; and it resulted in this, that unquestionably, when the privileges and advantages of the Ordnance factory labourers of the lowest class were taken into account, the sum which they received weekly was fully equal to that which they would get in private employment. He had before him the names of ten firms, the largest employers of labour in the district. The first thing that came out was that the men who were in the service of these private contractors did not work 48 hours a week as the ordnance factory hands did, but 54 hours, and they worked without any of the privileges which were enjoyed in the Government establishment. He would take the case of an employer "D," which looked, on the face of it, against himself. "D" employed his men for 54 hours a week, and he paid them £1 7s. But a man was not kept if he was not considered worth the money. ["Hear, hear!"] What did that show? It showed that this was a selected class of labourer, whereas in the Ordnance factory, he was not dealing with a selected class of labour. [An HON. MEMBER: "You ought to!"] Take, again, the case of "F." They worked their labourers for 54 hours a week, and they paid a guinea; and they stated that they had no difficulty whatever in getting labour at that rate. A guinea for 54 hours was 18s. 8d. for 48 hours, and there was not a man in Government employment who was not getting more than 18s. 8d. It was further shown that the men working 54 hours a week at 24s. must be labourers of a particular skilled class, required to perform certain work, and when their wages were worked out they came at 48 hours to 21s. 3d. Another point which should not be forgotten was that the occupation of the Government workmen was continuous. Dealing with the case as it actually existed at the Ordnance factory, he said that the question of the minimum rate of wages affected a comparatively few men. The figures which he would quote to the Committee were given on the assumption that the privileges which those men enjoyed would work out to the value of 6d. per week. He believed that in the time of the late Government a careful investigation was instituted, with the result that the subject was examined over three consecutive years. The privileges worked out in one year at 11d., the following year at about 10d., and in another year to something over 1s. But taking the figure at 6d. in connection with the question of privileges, he showed that there were four-and-a-half days full pay for holiday, medical attendance to which the men were entitled, sick pay if a man served three years, and a gratuity of £1 for every year's service after the completion of seven years. There were 428 skilled labourers and 645 unskilled labourers who nominally received pay of less than 24s. per week. Of the 428 labourers, 242 received pay equivalent to 23s. 6d. a week, assuming that the advantages were worth 6d. He was speaking of the Ordnance factories as a whole. There were eight who received 28s., 17, 22s. 6d., 64 22s., 97 21s. 6d.; it would thus be seen that only a small portion of 160 were receiving less than 22s. 6d. a week. This was skilled labour, but it should be borne in mind that among the skilled men there were some boys who remained on because they had not got any other service to go to, and they could earn a fair wage. Of the 645 labourers less than 100 of them received less than 21s. on the calculation that the privileges were worth 6d. a week; 117 received 23s., 111 received 22s. 6d., and 318 received 21s. 6d. Thus, when the hon. Member who moved this Resolution spoke of 24s. a week, he would see that the Government was not very far off his ideal after all. The whole question was whether, according to what was ascertained to be the current rate in the district, the Government ought to go beyond that sum. In 1894 the late Government went carefully into the question; they examined the case as he had examined it for himself. They endeavoured to ascertain accurately what was the current rate in the district, and, satisfied that the Government rate was somewhat below the current rate, they raised the Government rate to what they believed from the evidence to be the current rate paid in the district. The question now was: "Has the current rate in the district of Woolwich changed since 1894, when the late Government came to the conclusion that the level to which they raised their wages satisfied that current rate?" Having most carefully looked into the question, he failed to get evidence which convinced him that, all things taken into account, the Government was not still paying what was the current rate in the district. But he was authorised by the Secretary of State for War to say a good deal more than that. The Secretary of State had himself given personal attention to the matter, and he was perfectly willing to receive any communication that could be made to him upon it. It was said that the Secretary of State had declined to receive a deputation which the Woolwich Local Board wished to send him in relation to the wages paid in the Ordnance factory. The Committee, however, would remember that when the Woolwich Local Board asked the Secretary of State to pay 24s. a week to the lowest class of labourer they were asking the Secretary of State to do that which they did not do themselves. The Woolwich Local Board were only paying 21s. 9d. for 48 hours, though it was true that they were paying 24s. for 53 hours. If the Woolwich Local Board was held out as a model for the Government to follow in relation to wages, it was but fair to ask: "Who elects the Woolwich Local Board?" There were 15,000 artisans in the employment of the Government at Woolwich, and these men elected the Local Board; and he doubted whether any rate of wages which the Woolwich Local Board chose to pay must be accepted by the Government, because the men would be practically fixing their own wages. The Government must do what it required its contractors to do. [Cheers.] If it required its contractors to pay the current rate of wages in the district, it must also pay the current rate. ["Hear, hear!"] The only point was the question of fact. The evidence in his possession tended to show that the Government were doing this, but if that evidence could be shaken by any which the hon. Member for Woolwich or West Newington, or others could produce showing that the Government were not paying the current rate of wages for the Woolwich district, he said on behalf of the War Department and the Secretary of State, that the wages of the artisans in the ordnance factory should be raised to that level.

*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

said that if this question had sprung up for the first time that day, the promise of the hon. Gentleman would be satisfactory. This subject had, however, been going on for years, and as far as the present Government were concerned the question had been going on for months. The facts had been placed before the Government repeatedly. Deputations had waited upon Members of the Government, and others had been wishful to wait upon them, but unfortunately had not been received in the ordinary way. The Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Congress, for example, had proposed to send a deputation.


said that that was so, but the Secretary of State thought that no advantage would be gained by his consenting to receive the deputation. He explained, however, that if those who proposed to wait upon him would lay before him in writing what they had to say, he would give their representations his careful consideration.


said that it seemed as if the belated assurance now given by the Government had only been given because they were afraid of the opposition of their own supporters. There was a tendency on the part of the Government to force contractors under the Fair Wages Resolution to give better terms to those whom they employed than were given by the Government themselves. The hon. Member had at last given a satisfactory assurance upon that point, recognising that the Government must pay in future the rates of wages which they imposed upon their own contractors. That principle, however, had been violated in the past, and was, he feared, being violated at the present time. In the particular case under discussion, fair wages were not being paid to those whom the hon. Member had called the lowest class of labourers in the Ordnance Department. He agreed that workmen ought not to use their electoral power for the purpose of obtaining what the Financial Secretary for War termed a disproportionate advance in wages. In this case, however, the men received only 20s. a week, which did not amount to a fair wage, and it could not be said that they were using electoral power to obtain a disproportionate advance. The Financial Secretary bad argued that in considering this question they must take hours of labour into consideration as well as wages. But regard ought also to be paid to the conditions of existence in the locality where the workmen were employed, and house rent in Woolwich and Plumstead was very high indeed, there being parts of London where rents were less high. The very high rents in Woolwich had led to a general rise in wages, with which, however, the wages paid by the Government had not kept pace. The question of the value of the privileges accorded to the men in the lowest class of labour had been discussed at a meeting of Members and men, and the former had satisfied themselves that the workmen's statement was true, that an ordinary sound friendly society-would confer upon them the privileges which they obtained from the Government for a considerably smaller sum than 6d. per week. The men whom he had seen who performed this lowest class of labour were a remarkably good looking set, and he could not help thinking that the Government were very lucky to get the services of such men for the rate of wages paid. Some of these men were doing extra work which the Government would not wish them to do in order to eke out a livelihood. He and other hon. Members were shocked and horrified when they learnt the means by which some of these men earned what was necessary in order that they might keep up the appearance which the Department demanded of them. The Financial Secretary had said that the wages of these men were raised some years ago by the late Government. Since that time, however, there had been a rise in the local rate of wages, amounting probably to 6d. a week. The Government, they were told, had appealed to the Labour Department to advise them upon this question. The advice given them had not been made public, and he inferred from that that the Report of the Department was not favourable to their view, and showed that in the case of this lowest class of labour they were not paying the current rate of wages in the district. He had made inquiries, and had only succeeded in hearing of one case, in which a small number of men were concerned, and in which the rate paid was as low as the rate paid by the Government.


said he had a Return compiled by the Board of Trade giving the wages paid in London and the rates recognised by the National Association of Master Builders. A footnote was added by the Board of Trade to the effect that the comparison was not an exact one, because the latter 'only affected bricklayers' labourers, whereas the Return from the Department referred to were classes of ordinary labour.


said he was familiar with that Return, but he understood that the Government promised to inquire into this specific question through the Labour Department, and he asked whether that Department had or had not told them they were paying the current rate?

MAJOR HENRY BOWLES (Middlesex, Enfield)

said there were one or two points which he thought the Committee should take into consideration before they determined this question. The Financial Secretary had tried to make the Committee believe that Government workmen were in a better position than workmen in the employ of private firms. That was really a fallacy. They had to deal with this question from the living point of view. The number of hours of work might be so curtailed that the workmen could not make a proper livelihood. That was the state of affairs in the Government factory in his constituency. They had had very slack times, and the number of hours, instead of being 48 in the week, were often considerably less, and the men, in his judgment, were not able to earn a sufficient livelihood. Now that the Government only gave a gratuity after a man had worked seven years of £1 for every year of work and no pension, it was absolutely necessary, in settling the rate of wages, that the amount of money it was necessary for a man to put by should be considered. The Financial Secretary also said that one of the advantages of Government employment was that it was continuous. It was simply surprising to note the number of periods of slackness which the Government factory in his constituency had gone through. He felt that the Government ought to do a little more than merely pay the lowest rate of wages given in a particular locality. He thought the Government ought to set an example to other employers, and give a fair wage to the lowest labourer in their employ. It was urged, also, that Government employés had the services of a doctor, but he knew many cases in which the men had sought other advice because they had no faith in the medical officer appointed by the Government, and therefore that advantage must be discounted to that extent. He denied that the Government did give continuous employment. If a factory was shut for stock-taking purposes, the men were not allowed to make up the loss at other times, and where a man was only receiving a wage that just enabled him to maintain himself and his family, it was very hard on him to be told that the factory must be shut for so many days. Admiralty men were entirely differently treated. They received a pension when they reached a certain age; but the War Office simply paid the current rate of wages, and the men received nothing but the gratuity he had spoken of. He therefore thought it was wrong to contend that men working under such conditions were better off than those working for private firms.


contended that the Government ought to be in the first flight of employers, and that their employés ought to be the best men of their class. The Financial Secretary had referred to the question of hours of work. No one recognised the value of the eight hours' day more than he did, but if the price of it was to be the reduction of wages below the point at which a family could be maintained in decency, then it might be dearly purchased. The whole case of the Financial Secretary was that the men at Woolwich were now suffering for having acquired the eight hours' day. If that was so, it was distinctly contrary to the pledge given by the Government. The speech of the hon. Gentleman was of a type with which the Committee was familiar. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the possibility of obtaining men at a lower rate, and told the Committee that they were trustees for the public. So they were, but they were also employers for the public, and as employers for the public they should treat their workmen exactly as they required contractors employed by them to treat their workmen. It seemed to him that the hon. Gentleman failed to grapple with the case put before him of the contractor at Woolwich. He made no distinction between the case of the men receiving 6½d. an hour and those receiving only 6d. He would cite the case of a great company, though he did not consider them model employers. He referred to the London and St. Katharine's Dock Company. There was a meeting of that Company the other day, and the Chairman spoke of the relations of the Company with their workmen. This dock Company had recently reorganised their labour system, and instead of having a floating staff, they now had a permanent staff. That Company had over 3,000 seamen; it paid them 24s. a week with half pay for sickness; and they were entitled to a fair pension. The Government ought to be ashamed to employ its workmen on terms less favourable than those given by a dock company. He thought they had a right to complain of the substance of the Government reply, and hoped the matter would be pressed to a Division.


said the House would readily understand that they did not minimise the importance of this question. It was a disagreeable task even to seem for a moment to resist an appeal of this kind. To comply with the request now made would bring popularity to any Government. But the sufferers from such a course would be that wider public for whom after all they were the trustees. He was quite sure that hon. Gentlemen who had spoken on the subject would feel that the general policy of the Government was one which they might and ought to accept. They held in the strongest way that the Government should be a model employer of labour. [Cheers.] They did not think it the business of the Government to initiate great changes in regard to the labour market, but in any district where there were Government works the Government should be able to say, "We treat our workmen as the good employer in this district does and would do." These were the principles they had always laid down; these were the principles they desired most earnestly to carry out. With regard to the particular question of Woolwich, he could assure the Committee that the departments concerned had done their best to discover what was the current rate of wages for the various classes of employment in which they were concerned. Not only would the Government be ready to receive and consider any representations which might be brought before them tending to show that the judgment they had formed on the question was an erroneous judgment, but they would certainly regard it as their duty to employ all official means at their command to discover for themselves, even apart from such representations, what was the state of wages that ought to be paid to the unskilled and other workmen in the employment of the State. He hoped that policy would commend itself to both sides and would satisfy the Committee that the Government were not backward in carrying out views which they held, not as distinguished from their predecessors, but in common, he believed with all Governments. If he was right in thinking that perhaps he had satisfied the Committee as to the general excellence of the intentions of the Government, they might now be satisfied with the discussion that had taken place and proceed to the other Votes. ["Hear!"]


said that he had heard but one statement from the right hon. Gentleman with undisguised satisfaction—that this was not a question which affected one party more than another. He regretted the conclusion at which the Government had arrived. This question affected the lowest paid labourers in the Government service. While the State treated its highly paid officials well it treated the poor humble labourer in a shabby niggardly fashion. The Government had mixed up the question of wages and hours. Make these men work 50 or 52 hours, but give them the 24s. They had evidence on the question of hours from the late Government. Did the present Government go back from the statement of the late Secretary for War, that as the result of the experiment of a 48 hours week at Woolwich, they found that as much work and better work was done as had formerly been done in 52 or 53 hours. If they still adhered to that policy the question of hours did not arise. The plea he put forward was that a man could not live in London on less than 24s., and therefore the sum should be paid to adult labourers. The hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary was only able to mention one case where an employer refused this claim to pay 24s. a week. The case mentioned was not a representative case, and so far as Woolwich and London generally were concerned the evidence was clearly against the position the Government had taken up. Speaking broadly, it was a rule that would be accepted by any right-minded employer, that the minimum wage of an adult workman must not be less than 24s.


I stated that I had received replies from many large employers in Woolwich district, and in no instance were they paying 24s. for a week of 48 hours.


said the hon. Gentleman was again mixing up the question of hours and wages. If it was necessary that in order to pay their labourers 24s. the Government should work them 52 hours, then in God's name give them the wages and work them the extra hours. It was the opinion of the late Secretary of State however, that they got as good work in 48 hours as in 52, and they might as well give the 24s. for the smaller number. The hon. Gentleman asked for what was the 24s. paid. It was paid in order to enable a workman and his wife and family to live decently. The payment was not made as a bribe to some unfortunate fellow to come in and do the work for less, it was payment to enable a man to live, because it was the lowest at which he could live considering the whole question of London expenses. There was no need to make this a party question, let it be left for the decision of the House. The Government had suffered defeat in another place this week, and this would be a good point upon which to defeat them in the House of Commons. It would do no harm to this Government or the next. This appeal was made on behalf of some 1,000 or 1,100 men, the amount of money involved was not large, it was a righteous claim, he hoped it would be pressed to a division and would be largely supported from the other side of the House.


said, in reply to the Leader of the House, that he had no desire to trespass on the time of the Committee, but would venture to make this one remark, that he had had nothing definite in reply to his appeal. He had laid clearly before the Committee the state of affairs at Woolwich, that there were men employed at 20s. a week who had to pay 8s. of that for house rent, and therefore had to support themselves, their wives and families upon 12s. a week. This was a degrading state of things. As to the comparison with the Dorset labourer with 10s. or 12s. a week, he at least had a roof over his head. If there was a definite promise in regard to a definite number of these Woolwich labourers he would be satisfied.


said the question before the Committee was whether the Government paid or would consent to pay the rate of wages current in the district, and he confessed that a short time before he had considerable sympathy with hon. Members opposite, but the hon. Member (Mr. Lough), after promising not to introduce politics, trespassed considerably in that direction. He could not help thinking that the offer made by the Leader of the House was one that could not fairly be refused, and, though he sympathised with the the object of the hon. Member for Newington, he could not, after the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, vote for the Motion if it was carried to a Division. The promise had been made on behalf of the Government to make inquiries and receive every representation, and if it was proved that the current rate of wages was below the rate current in the district the rate should be raised, and he had no doubt the Government were earnest in this matter.


thought the Government had not taken up a very distinguished or dignified position by the promise they had made. They should not lag behind waiting to see what private employers paid, and then, after pressure in the House, and having examples thrust upon them, making a virtue of necessity, grant the concession. He desired to meet the question from the ordinary Trades Union point of view. He represented a constituency in which the labour feeling was very strong, and the prevalent opinion in labour circles—and he believed a perfectly justifiable feeling—was this: that the Government were bound to set an example in this matter and be, if possible, in advance of private firms, for the Government were the largest employers of labour in the country. Generally speaking, the ordinary artisan would consider this from a broad standpoint. He would say:— Here at one end of the scale are Ministers and high officials receiving enormous salaries and at the bottom are these unfortunate labourers at Woolwich Arsenal receiving a very poor wage for their work, and he would say, if England is rich enough to pay Ministers, Judges, and public officers at this high rate—and it was right they should be so paid—then surely the country is rich enough to pay a living wage to these poor labourers. That would be the view taken by the ordinary artisan. The Leader of the House was known to be in general sympathy with what were called humanitarian views, and did he not think that the Government should be in a position where they could not be assailed for paying less wages than county councils and other popularly elected bodies paid to their servants? If the right hon. Gentleman thought the Government could afford to take an inferior position to these public bodies, could afford to say "We will pay starvation wages to the humbler class of our servants, and pay extravagantly high the higher branches of service," then assuredly he would have a stern account to render to the country when the day of reckoning came. This was no matter for Party recrimination. The Tory Party, no more than the Liberal Party desired, to have Government labourers underpaid, and all that was required was that the House of Commons should have the courage of its opinions, and declare that the humbler employés of the State should receive a fair, a just, a living wage. Anything short of that would be disastrous to our political system and disgraceful to the State.


said that, as the Local Board of Health of Woolwich had been referred to, and as that was a body of whom he had had long experience and had great respect, he wished to explain that, after the Royal Commission in 1890 reported in favour of all municipal bodies taking precaution to insure the payment of wages at reasonable rates, the Board raised the wages of its employés to 24s., and as a matter of fact the situation became thus, that the men who swept the streets got wages of 24s. while of the men who paid the rates many only received 20s. a week. Naturally this created a little jealousy. Surely the labourer in the arsenal was not of a lower character than that of sweeping the streets. He could not admit that it was any justification for the Government that some firms paid at a lower rate than the Government rate. The Government should set the example for a fair rate. He could not but contrast the manner in which the subject was treated by the War Department with the more generous spirit that attended the administration of Naval matters. In the Inquiry to which reference had been made, the Department would be judge in its own case. On a previous occasion inquiries of this nature were undertaken by the Board of Trade, and if the Leader of the House would give an assurance that a similar policy should be adopted, and that the Labour Department of the Board of Trade should advise the War Department as to the proper rate of pay, it was an offer that should be accepted, but without such an assurance he thought a Division should be taken.


said he thought the statement made covered this point. The statement was that not only would the War Department use such methods as were open to make inquiry as to the rate of wages in the district, but that they would employ all the official machinery at the disposal of the Government for that purpose, and that of course included in the first rank such assistance as could be given by the Board of Trade.

MR. J. COLVILLE (Lanark, N. E.)

said he understood that the hours of labour differed in dockyards from the hours of contractors, and that therefore the rate of payment was relatively not less in the dockyards than with other employers. If the Leader of the House would give an assurance that dockyard employés would not be penalised in consequence of the difference in hours, no doubt this discussion would speedily come to a close.

MR. ROBINSON SOUTTAR (Dumfriesshire)

said that he had a very high respect for the First Lord of the Treasury, and he believed that the right hon. Gentleman was entirely disposed to do the right thing. But he suggested that "reasonable rate of wages" would be a better subject for inquiry than "current rate of wages." "Current rate" was perfectly applicable to men in a good position, but for men on the verge of starvation it was scarcely good enough. As an old employer of labour he knew how fallacious it was to look simply to the rate of wages paid, for it did not follow that the men worked full time. In a case of this kind, the minimum standard should be the living wage.

MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicestershire, Harborough)

said that he had the greatest respect for the First Lord of the Treasury, but, if he were one of the unfortunate men at Woolwich with the miserable pittance of 20s. a week, he should hardly be satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. Neither was he satisfied with the tone of the remarks of the Financial Secretary to the War Office. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the War Office was bound to obtain its labour at the lowest possible figure.


I had no such thought in my mind; if the hon. Member had listened to what I said, he would not have received such an impression.


said that the right hon. Gentleman had frequently spoken of these labourers being an inferior class of men.


I did not. I spoke of the lowest class of labourer; but that expression had nothing to do with the character of the men employed.


said that the hon. Gentleman had described these men employed at the arsenal as inferior to the labourers employed by private firms for higher wages. But he himself took a higher standpoint. He was not concerned so much that the Government should pay the current rate of wages, as that they should pay to the men in their employment a wage which would enable them to maintain their wives and families in decency and comfort. And the wage paid to hundreds of men at Woolwich did not enable them to fulfil those conditions. In no party spirit he asked hon. Members opposite to consider the wretched position of men getting 21s. a week, and paying 8s. a week in rent. What remained to them was but the price of a bottle of wine. The consequence of such wages was, that the men's wives had to go out to work, and the children were neglected. The price of that neglect had to be paid in the long run by the community. Such wages were quite insufficient; and the Government ought to endeavour to be a model employer of labour.

Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £50, be granted for the said Service."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 57; Noes, 145.—(Division List, No. 393.)


called attention to the jamming of the Lee-Metford magazine rifle, and so rendering the rifle for the time absolutely useless and inefficient. About a fortnight ago he put a question on the subject to the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and the answer given to him was that the Lee-Metford magazine rifle was not intended to be used for blank-cartridge, and that, with regard to ball cartridge, for years the War Office has had no official complaint. Such an answer, put forward in the light-hearted way in which answers were given to Ministers, to be repeated in the House to hon. Members, was, he ventured to say, what they might expect to get at a peace meeting in Exeter Hall, and it was entirely contrary to facts. If the Financial Secretary would only refer to the Instructions brought out with the seal and cachet of the War Office, he would find detailed rules and regulations laid down as to how this blank cartridge, which he said was not intended to be used in the magazine in the Lee-Metford, was to be fired. As to the second and more important part of the hon. Gentleman's answer, they all knew what an "official" complaintmeant. A Government Department, unless they had a complaint written out on a sheet of foolscap, paid no attention to it whatever. But what he said and knew was that at some battalion practice, only a fortnight ago, at the ranges near Gravesend, there were a very considerable number of jammed rifles while firing ball cartridge. Military Members of the Committee know very well that when the Lee-Metford jammed with ball cartridge you could not extract it by giving the butt a kick with your boot; the rifle had to go back to the armoury sergeant. Suppose that happened in action. You could not send half-a-dozen to the armoury sergeant in the rear to have the bullets extracted. The weapon for a time was rendered as useless as a walking-stick, and less useful than a poker because not so well balanced. One could imagine what the effect would be in the campaign going on up the Nile if 20 per cent. of the 100 men in a company in the face of a square suddenly found their rifles jam, and he need only remind the Committee that at Abou Klea and El Teb, the jamming of a Maxim led, in the former case, to the death of a good many gallant men, and in the latter, as was stated at the time, to the breaking of the square. He only desired an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that he really would look into the matter.


moved to reduce the Vote by £50. The hon. Member for Hythe, who had been prevented from being present, had prepared a Resolution on this subject which would have raised the whole question of the administration of the Ordnance Factories and their present management. Since a civilian had been put at the head of the Ordnance Factories by the late Mr. Stanhope some years ago, a great change had now come over the administration of the factories. Judging by the way in which the Estimate was presented to Parliament, one would suppose that the Committee were voting on the paltry sum of £100, whereas if the paper was examined it would be seen that it related to nearly £3,000,000. The questions embraced in the whole Vote included among other things the manufacture of guns for the Army and Navy, the guns to be produced for the Indian Government and the arms to be used in the colonies, and the question was whether the country was receiving its money's worth or not. He did not impute anything unfair or unreasonable to those in charge of the preparation of the Army Estimates, but it was a great evil that the Ordnance Vote, in comparison with previous years, should be practically withdrawn from examination and criticism by being presented to the House in a separate paper. In consequence of the mode of presenting the Vote it was impossible for anyone, however closely acquainted with the details, to tell what particular sum was allotted to any particular manufacture. It was better that the Government should frankly take the House into its confidence and should return to the former practice of giving the whole of the details on the Estimates. Dissatisfaction was being expressed because of late years the whole direction and superintendence of the Ordnance Factories had passed into civilian hands. He said not a word in disparagement of that gentleman. He was a most laborious official and devoted attention to his work. But it would be more satisfactory if the details were allowed to appear in the Estimates as before.


said that in addition to jamming of the rifles, to which attention had been called, there was the additional serious defect caused by the effects of cordite powder. After a certain number of rounds had been fired there was an emenation of some kind of gas from the rifle which had such an. effect on the eyes of the men using it as almost to blind them. After firing 80 or 90 rounds it was found to be impossible for the men to continue using the rifle. The result was that even if the rifle was not put out of action by the jamming of the bullet, the men were put out of action by the blinding of the eyes.


said that the question of rifle-jamming, if it assumed the proportions which had been stated, would need serious attention. The blinding effects of the powder, to which attention had been called, was also a very important point and one which, with regard to the carbine, at least, was engaging the serious attention of the Department. As to jamming, he did not quite understand whether the complaint was that the musketry instructions forced a man to fire blank cartridge from the magazine. (Major RASCH: "Yes.") In that case there seemed to be some difference between the instructions and the practice which appeared to need setting right, because he understood that blank cartridge was not intended to be used in the magazine of the rifle. If the jamming was general it was a serious matter, but the Department had no official complaints on the subject. Obviously the incidents of jamming at Gravesend should be reported, and be assured his hon. Friend that, if reported, the question would be examined without delay. As to the complaint of the Vote being presented in this form, he said that the present arrangement was adopted as being that which enabled Parliament to have the largest control over it and the most information as to the Vote. The reason why the original Paper relating to the Ordnance Factory Vote was not presented bound up with the Ordinary Votes was that it was not always possible at the very moment when the Army Estimates were themselves presented to hand over the Estimate for the Ordnance Factories, which was an Estimate depending on the supplies ordered by the Admiralty War Office of India, and which, therefore, might require adjustment after these Estimates had been agreed upon. But there was no desire to elude the vigilance of Parliament, and the facts relating to the Ordnance Vote were always before the House before the Army Estimates were brought up for discussion. The present civilian head of the Ordnance Factories had discharged admirably the duties of his office. There had never been a time when the articles supplied by the Ordnance Factories had been supplied more promptly, cheaply and regularly than they were at this moment. At the beginning of the year promises had been made to the House both as to the conversion of guns and as to new guns. Those promises everybody agreed were thoroughly satisfactory, and they had all been fulfilled. The guns promised for the first of June had been completed before the middle of May, and the promises made as to the completion of weapons on other dates had been fulfilled in an equally satisfactory manner.


Have we a reserve?


said that that was a more general question than the one which had been raised by the hon. and gallant Member. It was not being lost sight of. His hon. and gallant Friend, he thought, had moved this reduction under a misconception. There was nothing in the way in which this Vote was brought forward that required amendment. The hon. and gallant Member had probably in his mind the Factory Accounts. It was unavoidable that some months should elapse before they were presented, but they were duly presented and went before the Controller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee.


did not think the hon. Member's explanation satisfactory in all respects, especially in respect of the reserve of guns, but, as his object was only to call attention to the important points which he had referred to, he did not intend to press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


asked whether it was true that the 100-ton guns were failures, and that no more were to be manufactured? What kind of guns would be adopted in their stead, and could any use be made of any 100-ton guns that were removed from our line-of-battle ships?


said that displaced 100-ton guns were being used for shore defences. No more 100-ton guns of the present type would be manufactured, and they would be replaced by guns built on the wire system of equally destructive power and equal range.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

2. £858,600, Clothing Establishment and Services—

*MR. ALEXANDER WYLIE (Dumbartonshire)

, called attention to the question of the uniforms of the Highland militia regiments. There were five Highland regiments of the line, and to them were linked Militia battalions. The Militia battalions linked to the Cameron and the Gordon Highlanders respectively wore the same uniforms as their line battalions, but the Militia battalions linked to the Seaforth Highlanders, the Argyll and Sutherland Higlanders, and the Black Watch did not wear the uniforms of their line battalions. He held that it was very desirable that Militia regiments should wear the same uniform as the line battalions with which they were connected. One reason why this was desirable was that in camp and especially in active warfare, they would be able to take their place alongside of their line regiments; and another reason was that it would stimulate recruiting, as sentiment largely affected that matter in Scotland. He had received letters on this subject from some distinguished officers in Scotland. One of them said:— I at first thought that the difficulties of teaching men who had never worn the kilt, and who are only in training for a month each year, would be insuperable, but after having seen how well the Inverness and Aberdeen Militia do and look in the kilt, I have changed my opinion, and am now strongly in favour of the battalion being-dressed as their line battalion. Not only would it improve the look of the regiment, but also, I think, it would have a good effect on recruiting. There would no doubt he some difficulties to be got over the first year, but after that matters would work quite smoothly, and I think that there not only would be no additional expense but that clothing could be done cheaper. The other correspondent said:— It would help greatly towards their popularity if the Highland Militia Regiments were put into kilts instead of trews. I was at Barry camp this training, and saw the Inver-ness-shire Militia—2nd Battalion Cameron Highlanders—in their kilts, and they certainly looked uncommonly well and smart, and very proud of themselves. The Militia form a most important and valuable branch of our defensive forces, and at the present time there is some fear of their interests falling between the Regulars and Volunteers; and I strongly recommend the Under Secretary for War to take up this subject heartily.


complained of the unfair charges that private soldiers had to bear in respect of the wear and tear of their clothing during manœuvres. In one Regiment recently the cost to which the soldiers were put amounted to 5s. per head, in a second to 15s., in a third to 12s., and in a fourth to 15s. These sums represented the cost incurred in respect of the wear and tear of frocks, trousers and boots. Officers were also put to a great deal of unnecessary and unfair expense in connection with these manœuvres, in some instances having to pay out of their own pockets sums varying from 25s. to 30s. a day. He hoped the Under Secretary would give an undertaking that the matter should be looked into and considered on its merits.


wished to take up the cavalry side of this question, because he had more experience and knowledge of that service. He would ask the Under Secretary to bear in mind that the Army at home was divided into two kinds of quarters, namely, those in country quarters, where regiments undergo ordinary drills; and those in camps, such as Aldershot, where they had extended drills and often manœuvres on a large scale. The clothing issued to non-commissioned officers and men, and the allowance in lieu of clothing were sufficient in the first case, but in the case of camps and manœuvres it was not sufficient, and the clothing, by its material and cut, did not fulfil the requirements demanded of it. The result was that a heavy charge was cast upon the men, and as we had a voluntary Army for which we had to depend on competition in the labour market, hon. Members might be certain that men who went away from the colours spread throughout the country the cost entailed upon them by the bad wear of their uniforms. His own regiment had taken part in extended drills, flying columns and manœuvres for six years past, and he ventured to say that if hon. Members could know the cost that had been cast on the non-commissioned officers and men in consequence they would be astonished. He wished particularly to refer to the garment known as the service frock. This jacket was only issued once a year to non-commissioned officers and men, and experience had shown that a single issue was not sufficient for the work required of it. The garment was faulty in its structure, in its cut, and in its material. It frequently split from the shoulders downwards from simply doing lance or sword exercise, or even mounting a horse. Reports had been made about it on behalf of his regiment, and the answer had always been that the men were broader shouldered and more muscular than the ordinary run of men. That was a compliment, no doubt, but he did not see why broad-shouldered Scotchmen should be penalised because they possessed a physique which it was desirable the whole Army should have. There was a large reserve of those garments, which was rendered necessary, because when the Army was mobilised the Reserve men had to be put into these jackets and extra jackets had to be forwarded to the seat of war. He would suggest that the Under Secretary should consider the possibility of issuing an extra number of these jackets to each regiment. He thought it might be possible to issue three jackets in two years to each man in cavalry regiments who was called a duty man, riding in the ranks. He suggested this as a temporary means of bridging over the difficulty. If the Under Secretary could do something in the direction suggested by his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epping, he would be doing not only a popular but a very just thing. The sure and lasting remedy for this was to go more carefully into the question of uniform. During the last few years distinction had been made between the show uniform and the working dress. He agreed that it was necessary to have a show dress, even smarter than at present, but it was also necessary to have a thoroughly good working dress—not such a dress as was taken out of store for war purposes, but a dress which would be in possession of the soldier to wear for ordinary drill, extended drills or autumn manœuvres. If a good practical dress could be devised of good material the difficulty connected with this extra expenditure would be obviated.


thought it was a real hardship and prejudicial to the service that the men should be out of pocket by doing the duties they were called upon to perform. Within his knowledge three years ago, a certain battalion was exposed to unusually bad weather during the autumn manœuvres and their clothing was ruined. The officers felt themselves compelled to subscribe in order to relieve the men. The battalion was obliged to be furnished with new tunics throughout, for which the officers paid rather than that the expense should fall on the men. Then again, marching had been much increased in order to get regiments into thorough marching condition. That was of course, very right, but it added greatly to the expense of the men, because a pair of boots would hardly last a week under present circumstances, and they had to be replaced. He knew one regiment that had suffered so much in this respect, that for the first time for many years it had been below its strength. These matters certainly deserved the attention of the War Office, and he was quite sure his hon. Friend the Under Secretary would take care they were considered.


said he had intended to draw attention to the fact that there were a large number of hands employed in the Royal Clothing Factory who did not receive what he considered to be the current rate of wages. But he was sure the hon. Member, when he dealt with the question as regards the Royal Factories, would take the case of the Clothing Factory at Pimlico into his consideration.


desired to put a question with regard to decentralisation of clothing. He understood that the Director General had perfected all his arrangements for decentralisation, and he was anxious to know whether they were to be carried into execution.


said that of the total Vote, £416,000 was for manufactured articles of clothing bought ready-made. A very small proportion of that, £24, 000, was for garments. He would like to know whether that represented all the ready-made garments purchased. There was a very heavy item for hoots and leggings, £22,000. He desired to know whether strict attention had been paid to the rules under which this work was manufactured outside in order to prevent sweating, and to see that a proper rate of wages was paid by the contractors.


stated that the ready-made garments supplied to the Army included plain clothes for discharged soldiers, waterproof clothing, etc. With regard to the manufacture of this clothing, the terms of the fair wages Resolution were embodied in. every contract. If there was any complaint, it was rigidly inquired into, and there was no reason to suppose that the Resolution was in any way departed from. With regard to the question of the minimum rate of wages in the Clothing Department, the promise given by the First Lord of the Treasury in relation to the Ordnance Factory would apply to the Clothing Factory, and he should be very glad of any information which hon. Members could place at his disposal in the investigation which would be made. [Cheers.] As to the decentralisation of Army clothing, the general principle had been approved by the Secretary of State. It was, however, a matter of consideration from the point of view of the cost, which might be very considerable; and that had not up to the present time been fully worked out. But he had every hope that before they had to meet the Committee again and explain these Estimates a step in the direction indicated might have been accomplished. ["Hear, hear!"] The question of the kilt was a very difficult one and had occupied the attention of successive Secretaries of State for a considerable number of years. It had not been thought desirable to re-establish the kilt where the men had stripped themselves of that mysterious garment. In the year 1889 the matter was before the Adjutant General and his Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, and the decision come to with regard to it was—" that the opinion still prevails that, apart from the wishes of a few individual officers, no reason whatever has been shown for putting this regiment (that was the regiment that had applied) into kilts, and in the general interests of the public it was not desirable so to do." [Laughter.] He thought the words he had read was only capable of one interpretation. [Renewed laughter.] A further application was received from this particular regiment, and a similar answer was given. He was afraid the kilt would be enlarged in its boundaries. With regard to the question raised by the Members for Taunton and Manchester, if he expressed his own opinion, he thought their criticisms upon the particular garment referred to were pretty well sustained. But he desired to guard himself against the supposition that the soldier ought to consider himself hardly used if he was called upon to wear out his clothes. The clothing was furnished for a particular period, and if it did not endure longer than that period there was no hardship. It was true that if a soldier took care of his clothing and it wore longer than that period he received a consideration; but the idea was that the clothing should not be of such a character as would necessarily put him in possession of that allowance. Therefore, it had been considered that, although in consequence of manœuvres or bad weather a soldier's clothing was subjected to very hard usage, that did not necessarily give him a grievance or a right to consideration. But he fancied that, after all, to some minds at the War Office it had appeared that, looking at the fact that a special class of soldier was subjected to service causing wear and tear of clothing to which another class of soldier or regiment might not be subjected, there was an apparent grievance, and the matter had occupied the attention of the Secretary of State. He could make no promise that any allowance would be given; but he asked his hon. and gallant Friends to be assured that the matter would receive careful consideration on the part of the War Office, and he hoped some equitable adjustment would be made. ["Hear, hear!"]

Vote agreed to.

3. £1,517,200, Retired Pay, Half-Pay, and other Non-Effective Charges for Officers, etc.,—


pointed out that one of the items had passed through three stages since the Estimates were first presented. The item was for £32,000, and originally included a personal pension to his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge of £1,800. There was also a saving on the variation items of £550. The Government, however, withdrew the allowance to the Duke of Cambridge, and the £1,800 ought to have been handed over to the Treasury. But a new Estimate was issued with the £1,800 added to the variation items, so that instead of a saving of £550 there was a loss of £1,250. Then a third Estimate was issued with the variation items restored to £550. He asked for an explanation of these changes.


said the matter was very easily explained. The original Estimate included £1,800, the proposed allowance to His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge. That being abandoned, a further Estimate was circulated, the variation being changed to the extent of £1,800. The reason for this was that on getting further on in the year they found that the variations were rather against them than for them. Attention being drawn to this, the Secretary of State decided that on the whole it would be more satisfactory to the House of Commons if the Vote were reduced as a consequence of the change of policy on the part of the Government, and so the change was made and the Estimate now under discussion circulated, the total being reduced by the amount of the Vote withdrawn.


presumed that the hon. Gentleman wished the Committee to accept an assurance that the various items of variation amounted to exactly the sum of £1,800. That was indeed an extraordinary coincidence.


explained that was not so. What was done was purely as a matter of convenience, and to save the expense of printing a large number of figures.


said the object of the Government was clear; they wanted to hustle this sum of £1,800 out of the way in the most decent and constitutional manner they could, and subsequently, having changed their minds, they reverted to the original position. It was an extraordinary series of transactions on the Vote, only explicable on the theory he had indicated, that they wanted to get rid of this item of £1,800. It was hardly a dignified way of dealing with the matter. The House should have received an explanatory memorandum with the altered figures.

MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

said although the amount in question was not large, the principle involved was one of great importance. The War Office having decided upon a certain policy, declared it by a Vote in the Estimates. It had always been the custom, when Estimates were laid on the Table, to allow these to remain as the Estimates for the year, any change desired being made when the Vote came on for discussion. But what had been the policy pursued in this case? After presenting the Estimate the Government decided to make a change, and the Leader of the House announced that when the Vote was reached he would state their policy. But in the meantime, by means not brought to the knowledge of the House, this change occurred in the Estimates which had been pointed out. Apart altogether from the particular point was the question whether the Committee were to accept the principle that Votes might be thus altered? It was to be observed that if this was sanctioned such alterations might be made without limit of time, and this alteration might have been made yesterday. He hoped that at least this discussion would have the effect of preventing such a course being taken in future. It was evident, from an examination of the items, that the Estimate had been cooked in order to meet the emergency of the withdrawal of £1,800. Wanting to have the spending of this amount, and wishing to avoid discussion upon the points involved in the item, leaves were torn out of the Estimates and others substituted, so that the Committee approached the discussion with an Estimate altogether changed from the form in which it was presented. He hoped that in future, if the Government changed their opinion on a matter of this kind, they would stand by their Estimate until it came before the Committee, and then, in conformity with precedent, let the Government ask leave to withdraw a Vote. The Committee were entitled to a declaration that what had been done in this instance should not form a precedent for the future.


said that as a point of order he ought to inform the Committee that the Government were perfectly at liberty to make a substitution in the Estimates.


said he did not raise this as a point of order.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon) Boroughs

said they did not challenge the right of the Government to alter or cook the Estimates before submitting them to the Committee, but simply submitted that, as a matter of fairness and straightforward conduct, this should not be done without explanation. Upon this they were entitled to an expression of opinion from the Leader of the House. It certainly did look rather strange that, leaves having been torn out, the £1,800 set down in respect to a certain item being withdrawn, no difference at all was shown in the total sum, the amount of £1,800 being spread over such items as Royal Artillery, Engineers, Infantry, and Cavalry. They were entitled to ask the First Lord of the Treasury—who he was sure would not mislead the Committee, and who he was perfectly willing to trust implicitly in such a matter—did the right hon. Gentleman really assure the Committee that these alterations made in items for Artillery, Engineers, Infantry, and Cavalry, which enabled the Government to present the same Estimate, were really bona fide charges in respect to these services? To put the point candidly, was this not merely a way of getting out of the difficulty in which the Government were, that they did not wish discussion on the matter when they withdrew the sum they originally put down for his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge? Was it not a way of getting out of the difficulty without facing Debate upon it? If that was the case, he was sure the First Lord of the Treasury would be the first to denounce it as a thing that ought not to be done. It was not fair to the House of Commons, it was not open and straightforward. He ventured to think the right hon. Gentleman would agree it was subterfuge.


said two quite different questions were raised in the criticisms on this subject. Hon. Members seemed to think, in the first place, that by the arrangement made the Government desired to avoid discussion upon a Vote they intended to withdraw. That was one point. It was perfectly true the Government did not want discussion on a Vote they had decided to withdraw. That was clear and only natural. Everybody would admit that the desire was legitimate enough. The second criticism was that, the amount of £1,800 being withdrawn, items were so manipulated that the total amount remained as it was before the withdrawal. Upon that it would be observed that the total sum was over 1½ million, and therefore there was a formidable array of figures. When the matter was brought to his notice, he said this was not the proper way of dealing with it. Then the Estimate, upon which the total remained the same, was withdrawn, and at considerable cost of printing the old Estimate was prepared without the variations incident on the withdrawal of the £1,800. That he thought the legitimate mode of dealing with the matter, it was adopted entirely on his responsibility, and he hoped the Committee approved.


said he was much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman; that was exactly the point he wished to have settled, and with the Estimate as put forward now they were perfectly satisfied.


called attention to the system of compulsory retirement in the Army, and suggested an alternative system, under which there would be no increase of retiring allowance for increased length of service. He proposed that every officer should become entitled to a maximum retiring allowance at 45 years of age, but that officers should be allowed to remain in the service as long as they wished to do so, and their commanding officers, in their confidential reports, declared them to be fit for their duties. This system would, in the first place, get rid of the grievance of compulsory retirement; and it could not be to the interests of the Army that men who had done good service should be going about complaining of ill-treatment. In the second place, it would effect a great saving to the nation; and, in the third place, it would get rid of the drones in the Army. The men who had no hope of obtaining good appointments would leave the service as soon as they had become entitled to the maximum pension; while the best officers would remain in the Army, because they would be compensated for the loss of any extra retiring allowance by the good appointments which they would obtain. Under the system of compulsory retirement, the worst officers stayed on as long as possible, because the retiring allowance was proportioned to the length of service. In India, when he was there, both systems existed. In the civil service the voluntary retirement system obtained, with the result that it was a most efficient service, especially in the higher branches. In the local army, on the other hand, the retiring allowance was graduated according to length of service; and the consequence was that all the incompetent men endeavoured to remain in the service until the last moment. He proposed this scheme to the Secretary for War as one which would decrease the amount of the pension list and increase the efficiency of the Army.


said that anything which fell from the hon. and gallant Gentleman was of great interest, especially when it suggested the increase of efficiency and a decrease of expense. But he could not conceal the fact that the system suggested would revolutionise the conditions under which the service of officers in the Army was accepted. The hope had been held out to every officer that he would be allowed to serve in his rank up to the age at which it was deemed desirable for him to retire; and after that the officer was encouraged to believe that, according to his number of years' service, his pension would be graduated. The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that officers should be allowed to stay in the service to any age in any rank, and that the duty should be thrown on the superior officer of saying when any particular officer became unfit for his duties. That would be a most invidious task. With an enormous machine like the Army some general principle must be adopted; and under the present regulations, a captain must retire at 45, a major at 48, a colonel at 57, and a major-general at 62. If an officer was allowed to serve up to 60 years of age, and was then turned out on a pension of £200 a year, there would be a legitimate cause for complaint. There would be the choice of keeping men on in appointments for which they had become unfitted, or of turning them out into poverty. It was a sound principle which adjusted the pension to the length of service. There might be occasional cases of hardship; but the present ages had been considerably raised since the time when, the age-limit being 40, a grave scandal was caused by half the officers having to leave the Army at that age. The present limits of age obtained for the Army a very high class of officers at a low cost. The present Commander-in-Chief desired that subject to efficiency, officers should be retained in the service as long as possible; but the Secretary of State could not consider any plans by which the present system would be overthrown.

Vote agreed to.

4. £172,800, Superannuation and other Allowances and Gratuities—Agreed to.

Back to