HC Deb 02 July 1896 vol 42 cc621-8

1. Sec. 3:— That a sum not exceeding £5,386,000 be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the contract work for shipbuilding, repairs, and maintenance, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897.

Resolution read a Second time.


said he was glad to see that the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Goschen) had been able to make some further concessions with regard to the system of classification. This system consisted of the payment of precisely the same work at different rates, and was one which was quite contrary to the practice in private yards. It was an anomaly which had given occasion, for many years past, to great dissatisfaction and agitation, and although the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to grapple with it he had not approached to that full abolition of classification which his predecessors were pledged to, and which he believed the right hon. Gentleman himself recognised should be carried out. He would ask him if he could give them any idea as to whether he would abolish this great anomaly. The adjustment that was sought might be very easily arrived at. It was simply a question of whether, after taking into consideration such concessions as these employés got, one standard rate of wages could not be set up in each trade, such to be on the basis of the rates of pay prevailing in the private shipbuilding yards of the country where Government contracts were accepted. He would also like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a further question as to why it was that certain petitions, and especially one which dealt with the wages of the lowest paid class of workmen in the Government service, had not received any reply. He referred to the labourers. The wages these men received were totally inadequate, having regard to the expenses of living, which were considerable. In a statement issued by the Government in 1894, it was said that where the rental conditions were different to those prevailing ordinarily, those conditions would be taken into consideration by increasing the wages to meet the rent payable. In accordance with that promise, a concession was made to Woolwich and Deptford. As he pointed out then, and as he pointed out now, owing to the extraordinary system of land tenure which prevailed at Devonport, the rents were much higher than in any other naval port. In substantiation of that statement, he would refer to the Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Plymouth. This gentleman showed that out of a population of 86,000 people some 50,000 occupied tenements. He stated that upwards of half the population lived in tenements of from one to three or four rooms, a proportion so abnormally high as to cause special inquiry to be made by the Registrar General at the last census. At the last census it was found that the number of persons occupying tenements of less than five rooms was as follows:—In one room there resided 11,301 persons; in two rooms, 19,835; in three rooms, 12,113; and in four rooms, 7,693. In all there were 50,942 persons, out of a population of 86,000, occupying tenements. The rent of the tenements, although the accommodation was most inadequate, was exceptionally high, and he thought he was justified in pressing that the Government should make some inquiry as to the rental conditions which prevailed in Devonport. From the last Census Returns, the Medical Officer of Health stated that there was much more overcrowding in Devonport than in London. In the whole of England and Wales there were 47 per 1,000 of the population who lived in one room; in London 184 per 1,000; while in Plymouth, including Devonport, no less than 244 per 1,000 occupied one room, this being the only large town in England with a higher rate than London, thus showing that the rental conditions of Devonport were worse than those of the Metropolis. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty was himself aware that most exceptional rental conditions prevailed in Devonport, because he had admitted to the House that the Government had had a great deal of trouble with the lord of the manor in purchasing their own property. In face of these facts, and in face of the statements made by the responsible medical officer of health, he asked the Admiralty, were they any longer justified in contending that they had satisfied the necessities of the case by saying that the wages paid were the same as those paid in other places? He would remind the First Lord of the Admiralty that his predecessors in office pledged themselves to the statement that, where it could be proved that the rental conditions justified differential treatment so far as the wages of the labourers were concerned, they should be raised. He did not wish the right hon. Gentleman to take any statement he made without inquiring into its accuracy, but, in face of the abundant evidence which existed on the subject, he did think the time had arrived when the Admiralty Board should be pressed to make some inquiry. He should be perfectly satisfied if the Admiralty would consent to an investigation or inquiry with a view to ascertaining whether the labourers of the Devonport dockyard were not entitled to some additional wage in consideration of the fact that their rents were very much higher than those paid in any other place. Owing to the excessive rents which had to be paid, and the miserable hovels in which these men had to live, it was only right that they should be put on some basis which would release them from the present onerous conditions.

SIR JOHN BAKER (Portsmouth)

remarked that he had the pleasurable duty to perform of thanking the First Lord of the Admiralty, on behalf of the employes of the Portsmouth dockyard, for the great consideration he had already shown to their petitions, and the large concessions which they had had made to them during the present year. He trusted the shipwrights and joiners would obtain the concessions they asked for. Minor classes of employers had also been overlooked. He could send the First Lord of the Admiralty some communications with regard to these. With one exception, there had been no change in the rate of wages for over 25 years. These minor classes had been overlooked probably because they were small in number, and not so important as the larger classes of workmen to whom attention had been given. He hoped the First Lord would concede the righteous claims of these men.


joined with his hon. Friend who had just spoken in expressing the great satisfaction felt in all the trades at the concessions the First Lord of the Admiralty had made as to the hired men. But he himself could not understand why a clean sweep was not made of the system of classification. That would only cost a few hundred pounds. The system created great dissatisfaction among the employés in the dockyards. Fitters needed classification, and among them it meant that men engaged on a totally different kind of work received a totally different rate of wages. But among shipwrights and joiners were men who did the same work on the same job, doing the same amount of work in the same time, and yet receiving different rates of wages, which caused heartburning and disgust in the minds of the men. If the wages of all classes were raised up to the present maximum it would cost exceedingly little. There was another real grievance which should be looked into. Men who went on the establishment from being hired men received certain advantages, the principal of which was that after a certain number of years they were entitled to a pension on retirement. In consideration of these advantages, they received less pay on the establishment than as hired men. The pension was really in the nature of deferred pay. The men might be considered to contribute a certain amount out of wages towards the pension fund. What the men complained of was this. If a man were to retire at a particular time he would get a pension, but if he were to die at that time his widow or other representative would receive nothing, and what was asked in such a case was that some actuarial calculation should be made of the amount which the man had contributed by the deductions in his pay, and that that sum should be handed over to his representative. The late Government had announced that they would pay their employés in the dockyards the trades union rate of wages current in the district. He knew that had been done substantially in most cases, but most decidedly it had not been done in regard to the joiners in Devonport dockyard, where there was a difference, amounting to about 6s. a week, between the wages of the joiners in the dockyard and the wages of the joiners employed outside. Another matter to which he would direct the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty was that there was a considerable number of smaller trades in the dockyards who had received no answer— probably owing to an oversight—to the petition they had sent to the Admiralty last year.


thanked hon. Gentlemen opposite, on behalf of the Board of Admiralty, for their recognition of the spirit of concession with which the Board had considered petitions from dockyard workers. But he would express the hope that Gentlemen representing dockyard towns would not make every concession granted by the Board of Admiralty a reason for demanding still further concessions. He did not think it would be wise in the interest of their own consitituencies, and he was quite certain that it would not be an encouragement to any Board of Admiralty, to grant any such concessions in the future. The last hon. Member who spoke complained that a large number of petitions had been left unanswered by the Board of Admiralty. The men who made that complaint were labouring under some delusion. They probably considered that if their request was not complied with they had received no answer to their petition. As a matter of fact the Board of Admiralty had issued instructions for giving an answer to every request made to them during the years 1894 and 1895. As to the permission to count half the hired time towards pension, that was a fixed rule in which all would participate; but it marked the limit to which the Admiralty felt that they could go. As to the question of classification, he would explain what the position was. In certain trades classification was introduced by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Ormskirk Division when he was Secretary to the Admiralty. Classification had not before existed, and was not in accordance with the general practice of the trades, so the late Board of Admiralty decided to abolish it; and, in order to arrive at a fair standard rate for the future, they took the mean between the highest and the lowest rates, and they provided that no man who was receiving a higher rate than this new standard should suffer by the abolition. But those higher rates were retained as special to the men who enjoyed them, and were merely permitted because the Admiralty were un willing to deprive men of existing privileges. Further, every man on the establishment at the time was given a rate 6d. above that paid to any new man entering. The last provision gave some ground of complaint to the workmen, on the ground that the promised abolition of classification had not been wholly carried out; so the present Board of Admiralty had done away with the distinction and had raised the new men to the same rate as that which was paid to the men of the establishment. So there was now but one standard for all, except for the men whose higher rates were personal to themselves. The only way to arrive at that absolute equality which the hon. Member for Devonport asked for was to reduce the men who received exceptional rates to the standard rates. He thought that what they were asked to do for the shipwrights would cost a large sum, and not the few pounds suggested. So much for the question of classification. The hon. Member for Devonport made a special appeal for his constituents on the ground of the higher rental charged, but the information before the Admiralty did not bear that out. Any new facts which should be laid before them would receive careful attention. As to the remarks about the wages paid to their workmen, he thought they were better off than the workmen in other trades throughout the country, and the Government would not be justified in paying higher wages.

Question put, and agreed to. 2. Sec. 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £2,251,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Materiel for Shipbuilding, Repairs, and Maintenance, including the cost of Establishments of Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897. 3. Sec. 1. "That a sum, not exceeding £2,104,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Personnel for Shipbuilding, Repairs, and Maintenance, including the cost of Establishments of Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897. 4. "That a sum, not exceeding £236,800, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the Admiralty Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897. 5. "That a sum, not exceeding £81,300, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expenses of Educational Services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897.

Resolutions read a Second time and agreed to.

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