HC Deb 30 July 1896 vol 43 cc1086-93

(1.) Every person who has made any contract purporting or intending to operate as a contract under this Act, shall, on demand in writing by one of Her Majesty's inspectors of factories or of mines, produce the contract or a true copy thereof at any convenient time and place to he named by the inspector, and the inspector shall be at liberty to take a copy of the same or of any part thereof, and any workman or shop assistant who is party to any such contract shall he entitled on request to obtain from his employer free of charge a copy of the contract or of the document in which it is embodied. (2.) If any person fails to comply with this section he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding forty shillings.

SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY moved in Sub-section (1) to leave out the word "person," ("Every person") and to insert instead thereof "employer."

Amendment agreed to.

MR. McKENNA moved in Sub-section (1) after the words "any part thereof and," to insert the words "the employer of."

Amendment agreed to.

MR. McKENNA moved in Sub-section (1) to leave out the words— shall be entitled on request to obtain from his employer free of charge a copy of the contract or of the document in which it is embodied, and to insert instead thereof, the words— shall at the time of making the contract give the workmen or shop assistants a copy of the contract. He said it was unnecessary to detain the House, as the matter involved had been already amply discussed.


said he thought the Amendment was entirely unnecessary and entirely unobjectionable. [Laughter.] Employers had no objection, could have no objection, to a copy of the contract being given to their workmen, but was it really necessary if ether conditions were carried out? It seemed to him that some people rated the intelligence of the workmen very low indeed. ["Hear, hear!"] The contracts were to be posted, up at the entrance to the factory or workplace, where the workpeople could not fail to see them, and to suggest that in these days of Board Schools the workpeople could not read, and would not be sufficiently alive to their own interests as not to read the notices, was to do them an injustice. ["Hear, hear!" and Laughter.] He thought there was some force in the view expressed the other day by the hon. Member for Belfast—that the publication of those contracts in the face of the world was in itself some guarantee that they would be fair and reasonable. ["Hear, hear!"] During the last 24 hours he had discussed the matter with two prominent Trades Union leaders, and they told him that while they had looked upon the terms of the original Bill as impracticable and unworkable, as many hon. Members had done, they considered the present Bill, as amended, eminently workable. ["Hear hear!"]


said that for a large number of people—both employers and workmen—protection of the kind afforded by this Bill was doubtless unnecessary, in consequence of their excellent organisations, and of the respect the parties entertained for one another. But the House was legislating by this Measure chiefly for people who were unorganised, such as those employed in shops and small factories. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill was intended for those who had not the protection which they ought to have. ["Hear, hear!"]


said the Bill now covered the case of the shop-assistant as well as that of the workman, and that through the acceptance of this Amendment they would part with the Bill under happier auspices than they would otherwise have done.

Amendment agreed to.


said that as the House desired it, he moved to add after the words last inserted the words— a workman or a shop assistant who is a party to any such contract shall be entitled, on request, to obtain from his employer, free of charge, a copy of the contract or of the notice containing its terms.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to strike out the words "on request." It might appear to him to be a very simple matter but———


interposing, said they had already given the workman a copy. Surely he could go and ask for another.


was glad he had made a mistake, for it was now clear that it was obligatory on the part of the master to give the workman a copy in the first instance, and on request to give him another.

Amendment agreed to.


proposed to add after the words last inserted the words— (2) Every employer who has made any contract purporting or intending to operate as a contract under Section 1 of this Act shall keep a register of deductions or payments, and shall enter therein every deduction or payment for or in respect of any fine purporting to be made under any such contract, specifying the amount and the nature of the act or omission in respect of which the fine was imposed, and this register shall he at all times open to inspection by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Factories or of Mines. The safeguard he proposed applied to lines only, and not to the other deductions sanctioned by the Bill. He limited it to fines because he thought it might be made clear that fines were regarded as standing on a footing altogether different from the other classes of deductions, and that there were not a few Members who would be glad to abolish fines altogether. However, that course had not been adopted, and they were in some respects going to give a new lease to the practice of fining. Before 1889 it was at least doubtful whether fining was not illegal, and since then the practice of fining had occupied a very uncertain and ill-assured position. Now, by the Bill, they were going not to legalise, but to regularise the practice of fining, and whilst it was perfectly true they were proposing to impost; certain restrictions upon fining, they would, at the same time, raise the practice of fining so restricted to a position which it had never yet occupied on the statute-book. That being so, it was obviously very desirable that they should take all reasonable safeguards against a practice which was beyond doubt liable to abuse. He proposed, therefore, that every employer should be required to keep a register in which he should enter every fine which was imposed, specifying the amount of the fine and the nature of the act or omission in respect of which the fine was imposed. What objection could there be to the proposal? They need not consider the case of the bad employers. they would not find any advocates or defenders in the House. But it had been said on behalf of good employers that fining was essential to the maintenance of discipline amongst large bodies of workmen. He did not admit that view at all, but accepting it for the moment, he replied that the entry of a fine in a book which was required by statute to be kept would certainly not detract from the impressiveness of the effect of the fine. If he said that the keeping of a register was impracticable, he should say that if fines were so frequent and so lightly regarded both by employer and employed, they had the clearest evidence that the practice of fining must be a most inefficient instrument in the maintenance of discipline.


said the keeping of the register would entail a great deal of trouble to the employer, and he did not think that, on a poll, the workmen would be found to care much for the proposal.


regarded the Amendment as one worthy of more consideration than the Home Secretary had given to it. Such registers were kept in Germany and in other countries, and he understood that many of the best employers here kept fine-books so that they could see that the fines did not exceed a certain amount.


said that it appeared to him that if the Amendment were adopted, it would be possible to obtain a Return from the Home Office of the amount and nature of the fines. If the amount was found to be large, and the workmen thought they suffered a great injustice, it would be possible for Parliament to pass a law such as existed in Germany and Austria, limiting the amount of fines to one day's or to a half-day's wages. ["Hear, hear!"] If, on the contrary, the amount of fines proved to be as insignificant as they knew it was in many trades, and as they hoped it would prove in other trades, it would be for them to consider whether it would not be well to abolish fines altogether. To attempt to abolish at a stroke of the pen a system so long established, and which had some good points, was sure to fail. He could have wished that right hon. Gentlemen on either side had gone a little further and excluded "deductions" from the Amendment. He believed that deductions as much as fines tended to embitter the relations between employers and employed. There was further this important consideration—if was impossible for any house manager to make the two ends meet on an income which was uncertain. He made an appeal, which was never made to that House in vain, on behalf of the women and children.


thought that a register of fines should be kept. He believed that at Whiteley's they found it desirable to dispense with fines, because it was discovered that, with 3,000 or 4,000 people, to keep a register of fines was a very laborious task. That experience had taught that firm to do away with fines altogether, and if a large firm of that description could manage without fines, he did not see why smaller firms could not do away with them. If they could not do that the next best thing was to register them. Why did he urge that? A workman or woman might be subjected to persecution; he or she was "spotted," as it was called. There was no defence unless there was a register of fines. If a man complained that he was being persecuted, his persecutor escaped in this way: He might go to the employer who would say, "Oh, I cannot be bothered," but if the man could say to the master, "I would advise you to look at the register of fines, and see the trivial offences for which I have been fined," the employer would at once, by looking at the list, be able to diagnose and ascertain whether there was any breach of the discipline of the factory. ["Hear, hear!"] He might give an instance of a young person being fined 2s. 6d. at the discretion of the shopwalker or buyer for "gossiping." A girl might be disposed to look at a young man longer than she should. He reciprocated that. [Laughter.] The young man wanted a pair of gloves at 1s. 10d., and in such a case the fines might be piled on. The register of such fines would concentrate attention, so that the fines would become of a purely disciplinary industrial character. He appealed to the Home Secretary to round off the Bill by making it obligatory to have a register of fines.


said he considered that the Bill placed a difficulty in the way of indiscriminate fines. He thought that the Bill went a long way in the right direction. He had been acquainted with workshops like the hon. Member for Battersea, but not to the same extent, and he thought he would agree there were two classes of British workmen—one who cared for the interests of the employer and the other who did not care a rap. There was no practical way of checking the conduct of the latter class except by fine. It was said there was the alternative of dismissal, but that was very harsh. If every fine was to be entered in the books it would give infinite trouble.

MR. J. W. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire)

suggested that the fines should be turned into a fund for the benefit of the workpeople.


supported the Amendment, and denied that it was impossible to do without fines. He thought that if it was worth while keeping an analogous record in the Courts, that it was worth while doing so in a private business.

MR. FORTESCUE FLANNERY (Yorkshire, Shipley)

appealed to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to accept this Amendment. He did so on the same grounds on which the hon. Member for South Hackney had opposed the Amendment—namely, that in the best regulated establishments in this country there was in actual operation a system of putting down fines in books and bringing those books to the knowledge of the responsible persons in the factory. ["Hear, hear!"] It was in the small and irregular establishments, where there was petty tyranny and oppression of the humblest class of workers, unskilled men, women, and children, that this system did not operate. The Amendment would be of great advantage to the labouring community, and he thought this was the general opinion on both sides of the House. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that when he opposed the Amendment he did so because he feared it would cast a vexatious burden on the employers of this country and would not achieve those ends which they desired to achieve. As, however, there as a general feeling in favour of the Amendment, he would accept it. ["Hear, hear!"] One or two verbal Amendments might be necessary.

Amendment agreed to.

MR. JOHN BRIGG (York, W. R., Keighley) moved, after the words last inserted, to insert the following subsection:— 3 A contract or any documents under this Act, may he in writing or print, or partly in writing and partly in print,


agreed with the object of the hon. Member, and was quite willing to make it perfectly clear that this covered writing. He understood, however, that under the Interpretations Act it would mean writing or print. He would take care to make it clear.


said this matter was rather fully debated in the Grand Committee, and the late Home Secretary and other lawyers thought it would make the matter less clear to insert these words. It appeared to be clear under the Interpretation Act that that which the hon. Member sought to make clear would be the law.


asked leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7,—