HC Deb 27 July 1896 vol 43 cc771-9

(1.) An employer shall not make any contract with any workman for any deduction from the gross sum contracted to be paid by the employer to the workman, or for any payment to the employer by the workman, for or in respect of any fine, unless—

  1. (a) the contract is embodied in a printed notice affixed at the pit head or at the entrance of a factory or workshop, and in such parts of a mine, factory or workshop as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines or factories may direct or approve, and constantly kept so affixed in such a position that it can be easily read by the persons employed in the mine, factory, or workshop; or the contract is in writing, signed by the workman; and
  2. (b) the contract specifies the acts or omissions in respect of which the fine may be imposed, and the amount of the fine or the particulars from which that amount may be ascertained; and
  3. (c) the fine imposed under the contract is in respect of some act or omission which 772 causes or is likely to cause damage or loss to the employer, or interruption or hindrance to his business; and
  4. (d) the amount of the fine is fair and reasonable, having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
(2.) An employer shall not make any such deduction or receive any such payment, unless—
  1. (a) the deduction or payment is made in pursuance of, or in accordance with, such a contract as aforesaid; and
  2. (b) particulars in writing showing the acts or omissions in respect of which the fine is imposed and the amount there of are supplied to the workman on each occasion when a deduction or payment is made.
(3.) This section shall apply to the case of a shop assistant in like manner as it applies to the case of a workman.

SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY moved in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "gross"—("from the gross sum ").


asked for an explanation as to why this word was to be left out.


said he was informed by the legal advisers of the Government that the expression really meant nothing, and it appeared to some Members that the word "gross" was liable to be misunderstood, and might possibly give rise to errors. It was in order to prevent injustice being done that it was proposed to leave out the word.

Amendment agreed to.

MR. GEORGE HARWOOD (Bolton) moved to leave out Sub-section (a). The description of the Bill as a Truck Bill was a misnomer. It had nothing whatever to do with truck in a technical sense. It merely dealt with fines. Fining was diminishing in all trades as the trades were becoming more organised. He thought sufficient was done by Clause 2, in which provision was made for fines in respect to bad or negligent work, or injury to materials or other property of employers, and there was consequently no necessity for Sub-section (a) of Clause 1. Clause 2 made it a condition of such fining, and a printed notice should be put up. But he thought that in this case, the putting up of a printed notice was not sufficient, and that there should be a distinct agreement in the matter.


pointed out that the object of his hon. friend would he best attained by an Amendment he (Mr. Stanhope) had lower down on the Paper.


said he saw that, and wished to withdraw Ins Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY moved to omit the following words from Sub-section (a):— contract is embodied in a printed notice affixed at the pit head or at the entrance of a factory or workshop, and in such parts of a mine, factory, or workshop as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines or Factories may direct or approve, and constantly kept so affixed in such a position that it can he easily read by the persons employed in the mine, factory, or workshop, and to insert instead thereof the words— terms of the contract are contained in a printed notice kept constantly affixed at such place or places open to workmen, and in such a position that it may he easily seen, read, and copied by any person whom it affects.


said the Amendment afforded a good opportunity to raise the whole question in regard to the printed notice. In the original Bill there was no necessity laid down for the printed notice at all. In that Bill the only stipulation was that the contract should be signed by the workmen, and no kind of objection was raised with respect to that stipulation. But a very strong and a very proper objection was taken by the operatives to the exhibition of the printed notice, which they contended would amount to what had been termed a crystallisation of a system of fines. Now the operatives engaged in cotton trade in north-east Lancashire, at least, were extraordinarily well organised. He believed that 97 per cent. of them were in union, and thus they were well able to take care of themselves. When the question of deductions arose, the unions, therefore, were well able to fight their own battle, and the consequence was that few cases of deductions occurred. He was confident that all hon. Members who represented constituencies in Lancashire would agree with him when he said the operatives were earnestly desirous to get rid altogether of the stipulation with regard to the printed notice, and he hoped, when a division was taken on the question, that those who objected to the Amendment would receive, even at that eleventh hour, some support from hon. Members generally in their effort to strike out this objectionable and obnoxious provision from the Bill.


did not think anyone who had had experience of managing large bodies of workmen would argue it was possible for an employer to have a contract with every single workman in his employ. Many of the employés might be children learning their business, and not able to enter into or to carry out a contract. So far as regarded the cotton trade, it ought to be borne in mind that a good deal of the work in cotton weaving sheds was educational. Children entered the sheds just as they left school, and they had to learn their business, and they did so at the expense of the master. Fines and deductions for bad work were some return to the master for the work that was spoiled by children while they were learning their business. [A laugh.] The hon. Member who laughed was hot a cotton master, but spoke as a gentleman who lived in London. The result of abolishing fines would be that masters would refuse to take the smaller children into their employ. He asked the House to look at this matter, not in a doctrinaire but in a practical light. He hoped the clause would be carried as it was but plus a new clause exempting those workmen who objected to come under the purview of the Bill.


desired to point out that the Bill was intended to afford additional protection to the workpeople, not only in the cotton trade but in all trades, against fines and deductions which were at present in too many cases exacted from them without their knowledge or consent. Per the most part it was the unorganised workers who needed protection, and he thought the Home Secretary had done perfectly right in taking the proposed power to himself. Let him take the case of one of the unorganised trades in which protection was really needed, and let him ask the House whether, if the words they were now asking to be omitted were retained in the clause, any real protection would be afforded? For a long period there was a struggle by the common carriers, particularly the railway carriers, to escape from the obligation the common law imposed upon them to look after the safety of the goods intrusted to their charge, and by the construction put on the Carriers Act they were allowed, by just such notice in their office as was contemplated by this clause, and which not half of their customers saw, to impose exemptions which practically rendered them not liable at all. The result was that 40 years ago the carriers were not responsible for the loss of, or damage to, the goods they carried. Due provision was now made for the protection of the traders. If they were going to give protection to traders in this country, why should they deny it to these ignorant, unorganised, and unprotected workmen, many of whom were illiterate, or not accustomed closely to study documents of this kind? It was unfortunate that the Grand Committee, which was not, he thought, on that particular occasion, very fully attended, should have imported these words into the clause, which would very largely neutralise its beneficial effect. He could not conceive a subject in relation to which the House was more entitled to revise the decision of the Grand Committee, a decision which was contrary to the opinion of the Government itself. The principle was a vicious one, which should be extended least of all in the case of people who, ex hypothesi, were unable to protect themselves, and he earnestly hoped the House, notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman had said, would reverse this unfortunate decision. ["Hear, hear!"]

COLONEL D ENNY (Kilmarnock Burghs)

agreed that this was a purely protective Measure, but they ought to take into account the interests of the employers as well as the employés. The proposal in practice would be most difficult to carry out. They had the interest of their employés at heart, but to take his own case, for example, where 3,000 men were employed in a business, it would not be possible to enter into so many individual contracts. In his place of employment the rules of the establishment were placed on the walls where the men could see them, and these rules embodied those sections which dealt with fines. Moreover, the employés were entitled to demand a copy of these rules from their employers, and that was the greatest possible protection to the men.


said there was only one way out of the difficulty, and that was the abolition of fines altogether. He was surprised at the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be under the impression that the Bill would be a protection to workmen. He was of a different opinion. It merely provided for the bringing prominently under the notice of workmen the terms of contracts with regard to fines. In a memorandum circulated by the Home Secretary in reference to the Bill, it was stated that from 1831 up to 1889 the common impression in the country was that fines were illegal. The original Truck Act of 1831 distinctly stated in its third section that all wages should be paid in their entirety; and that gave rise to the general impression that fines were illegal. Even the late Mr. Brad-laugh, when he was promoting his Bill in 1887, was of that opinion. But there was a case tried in 1889 in which the Judges decided that fines were legal. He would appeal to the Home Secretary to withdraw the Bill. If it were passed into law, it would only produce more friction and more strikes. The employer was empowered by the Bill, by simply enumerating the causes of fines, to impose any fines he pleased on his workmen. Was it fair to expect a working man in need of employment, and with a family dependent on him, to carefully consider the terms of this notice? It was a cruel Bill, which would work great injury to the working man. There was no subject on which the working classes were more sensitive than that of fines. He had in his hand a check for one of the large works in his constituency; and if all the fines enumerated there were exacted, the workmen would get no wages at all. But these fines were not exacted as a matter of practice, because of the fear of strikes. Suppose the Members of the House of Commons were fined for every mistake they made.


Order, order! The question is not as to the propriety of imposing fines, but as to whether they shall be binding on the workmen if enumerated in a particular notice and in particular circumstances.


continuing, said that he hoped the Home Secretary would withdraw the Bill, and bring in another for the abolition of fines altogether; and, at any rate, he appealed to him not to press this Amendment.


pointed out that Clause 2 provides for deductions in respect of bad or negligent work, and of injury to the material or other property of the employer. Those words covered all the ordinary cases in which deductions ought to be made; and if any other cases were to be provided for, they ought to be defined in special and individual written contracts. To give notice by hanging up a list was a mere absurdity; he never knew anyone to read such lists.


thought that if a notice was put up at the entrance to the works every one would read it, while if a printed notice or contract was used the workmen, if work was slack, would sign anything without caring what was inside the document.


appealed to the House to come to a decision. The question had been fairly threshed out.

MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid)

said the strongest argument against fines had just been brought forward. Take the case of a man whose daily bread depended on getting work. His wife and family were starving; the man entered the office of the works, the notice might be obnoxious and cruel, the fines might be unjust in their character, and yet the man knew that his very existence depended on getting work. It was possible for the employer to frame a notice that would hedge the workmen round by fines in such a way as to affect his wages very seriously. The best thing to do was not to crystallise these fines. In his county it would be impossible for employers to bring out a notice in which the fines were cruel, but in many places labour was not organised in the same way. Of course, some employers were fair-minded men, but Acts of Parliament of this kind were not made for generous employers. Let them not give employers power to force unjust fines upon their workmen.


said that the Home Secretary was under a misapprehension if he supposed that the mere posting of a notice would constitute a guarantee that a fine was moderate and reasonable. Practically, the principle of this Bill was embodied in the suggested: Amendment of the Home Secretary. The hon. Member for Mid Durham had said that if an attempt were made in his county to get workmen to agree to fines the whole trade would go out on strike. That was happily true of Durham, but in London and elsewhere there were un skilled labourers who could be compelled to accept fines and deduction. In fact they were springing up in London as thickly as leaves in Vallombrosa. Immediately this Bill came before the Grand Committee, the South London Tramways Company——


The hon. Member is now discussing cases arising under Clause 3.


said he would discuss the effect of the Amendment later on on that clause. A paper was put into the men's hands. They had to sign it, and in that agreement they were asked to pay a shilling a week out of their wages for a suit of clothes they did not want.


The hon. Member is now discussing the propriety of binding the men by the contract signed by them.


said that assuming the agreement did not fix the fine upon the men, the Home Secretary took a more tyrannical method of enforcing it; it was simply to take a paste-pot and paste up a notice in the stable by which the men would be bound to pay this shilling a week. Whether the Home Secretary liked it or not, his attempt to diminish fines by having this printed notice, would only create other insidious methods of extracting them, and he believed that after 12 months experience of this clause, the Home Secretary would be compelled to bring in a Truck Bill next year to abolish fines altogether. That was the only consistent way, and he trusted hon. Members would discuss it clause after clause until they brought that home to the conscience of the House of Commons.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The House divided:—Ayes, 129; Noes, 60.—(Division List, No. 352.)

MR. HARWOOD moved, in Subsection (c), to leave out the words "which causes or is likely to cause," and to insert instead thereof the words "which has caused." He contended that, if poor people were fined, they should be fined for damage which was proved to be done.


remarked that the Amendment was not necessary, as it meant exactly the same thing as was meant by the clause.


thought it ought to be made perfectly clear that a workman was not to be liable to be fined on possible damage, but only on provable damage. That was not clear as the clause now stood.


promised that the matter should be cleared up hereafter, and the Amendment was withdrawn.

MR. McKENNA moved the following Amendment: To leave out Sub-section (3), and to insert instead thereof the words— For the purposes of this section the expression 'workman' includes a shop assistant. He thought the Amendment was necessary as a matter of drafting.


said he was advised that the words in the clause really carried out the intention of the framers far better than would the suggested alteration of the hon. Member.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2,—