HC Deb 24 March 1896 vol 39 cc66-84
MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

called attention to the Fair Wages Resolution of 1891, and moved that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the question of the administration of the Fair Wages Resolution of February 1891. Of the new departure which was taken in 1891 they had now had some experience, both as regarded the administration and the interpretation of the Resolution, which had been somewhat vaguely worded. There had been a large number of complaints from many of the working classes, and especially from the trade unionists throughout the country as to its administration and interpretation. If those complaints were well founded a remedy ought to be found, and it ought to be known publicly whether the Departments were administering the Resolution properly. He understood that the Government were practically prepared to accept this Committee, but invited discussion of the matter. Five years ago, when he moved the Resolution, he had been able to show, he believed to the satisfaction of the House, that the new departure would be in the best interests of the community, the employers, and the workmen. The principle of the trade unionists was not to undersell each other, and they had been largely debarred in the past from taking Government contracts. Since 1891 they had had extensions of the principle of the Resolution. Two years ago, the then Government, on complaints being made that certain men were excluded from work on the ground that they were trade unionists, came to the conclusion that in regard to Government contracts no preference should be shown as between unionists and non-unionists. In his view no class of the community would grudge the cost necessary for carrying out the principle of fair employment. What had been the result of the experience of the working of the principle of the Resolution during the last five years? It had unquestionably shown that a great deal of good had been done in the direction intended in regard to certain classes of labour, and he should like the House to understand that in bringing forward this Motion on that occasion he had no desire to censure any Department of the Government. Under the old system the course taken was a very simple one, because the lowest tender was usually accepted without any condition being made as to the terms upon which the workers employed in carrying out the contract were to be treated. That system had given rise to a considerable amount of dissatisfaction on the part of certain persons employed in particular classes of labour, who complained of the way in which the Resolution was administered. The question, no doubt, was beset with difficulties, but they were difficulties which might and ought to be overcome. In his view the chief advantage of the appointment of a Committee would be to smooth down those difficulties, and to place the principle laid down in the Resolution upon a firmer basis, so that it should be more fairly administered in the future than it had been in the past. There had been a lack of uniformity in the administration of the principle of the Resolution by the different Departments. As the mover of the Resolution of 1891, he had received a large number of complaints during the past few years, and he desired to bear witness to the great for bearance and consideration which the Departments had shown with regard to those complaints, and to the attention which they had given to the subjects of those complaints. He had no intention of going into the particulars, of those complaints upon that occasion—it would be time enough for him to do so when the Committee for which he asked was appointed. He hoped, however, that his hon. Friend who had undertaken to second his Motion would give the House some instances which would show that there was some foundation for the complaints to which he had referred. The complaints had come from almost every class of labour employed by Government contractors, from persons engaged in the building, printing, engineering, shipbuilding, clothing, accoutrements, and other trades. The nature of the complaints was that in spite of the Resolution, the Government contracts were frequently given to notoriously unfair houses—that where it had been agreed that a certain rate of wages should be paid it was not paid, that the conditions of work with regard to hours and overtime were such that the best workmen, and especially trade unionists, could not accept employment under Government contractors, that unskilled labour was employed instead of skilled labour, and that where it had been agreed that work should be done by hand it was executed by machinery. There was also much dissatisfaction with regard to the mode in which all inquiries were conducted by the Departments, some complaining that their cases were only partly investigated, others that their complaints were ignored or almost so, while again others lamented the delay that had occurred in investigating their complaints, which had been so protracted that the decision was not given until the contract had terminated and there was no opportunity for reopening the questions raised. For some of those complaints no doubt there had been little or no foundation, and no suggestion had been made that there was a want, of courtesy or of attention on the part of any of the Departments. He had attempted to lay before the House the nature of the complaints that had been made. He by no means endorsed those complaints, but he had referred to their existence as a ground for his suggestion that a Committee ought to be appointed. The appointment of such a Committee would give general satisfaction, and would enable it to be ascertained whether any remedies could be found for the grievances which had been put forward if they existed at all, because it was quite possible that in many cases the complaints were unfounded. A question had arisen as to whether there had not been an evasion of the spirit of the Resolution. There was a great want of uniformity in the way the Resolution was administered in the different Departments, and he believed that the appointment of the Committee would bring the different Departments together, and, by drawing attention to the Resolution, secure greater uniformity in its administration, and to have an authoritative interpretation as to its meaning. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty had lately made an alteration in the wav in which contracts concerning his Department should in future be issued to persons tendering. The Resolution, in effect, pointed out that it was the duty of the Government in all Government contracts to make every effort to secure the payment of such wages as were generally accepted and current in the district where the work was to be carried out. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, had, in the exercise of his discretion, omitted from the terms of the Admiralty contracts the words "current it; the district where the work is to be carried out." That alteration, in his view, involved a departure from the principle which the House had laid down in the Resolution of 1891. In his opinion that alteration had been made in view of certain matters connected with the shipbuilding operations upon the Thames. To his mind, this question of the words in Government contracts had absolutely nothing whatever to do with the question of shipbuilding on the Thames. As far as firms interested in shipbuilding on the Thames were concerned, they already paid the current rate in the district, and therefore no Resolution was necessary to force them to pay it. He wanted to discuss this simply from the point of view of the fair-wages Resolution of 1891, and the interpretation that ought to be put upon it. The right hon. Gentleman, in his letter explaining the action he had taken, said that while he adhered to the letter of the Resolution, the words in Admiralty contracts were an amplification of the Resolution of 1891. It was true that they were additional words, but he denied that they were in any sense an amplification. The words used were that the wages paid should be those generally accepted as current in each trade for competent workmen. In a certain sense, he admitted, that form of words did obey the Resolution: but they must be read in the light of the Debate that took place, and must be looked at from a common-sense point of view. The object of the House was certainly not that the Government of the day should in any sense fix the rate of wages, but that they ought to recognise existing rates of wages. To his mind, if all Government Departments put upon the Resolution the interpretation put on it by the Admiralty, the Resolution would practically be a dead letter altogether. There was no general current rate of wages throughout any trade in the country, but there was a district rate. He would venture to read a passage from the speech he made in 1891 in moving the Resolution upon this point. He said then:— No one proposes or desires that the Government should fix the rate of wages. All that is asked is, that the Government should accept as fair wages those rates of wages which prevail in any particular trade—the rate that has been fixed by negotiation between employers and workmen. There is no mystery about this matter. A standard rate of wages, for the time being, prevails in every large trade, and it is perfectly well known. They are recognised on the one side as fair by the representatives of the men, and on the other paid without demur by all good employers. He then went on to say:— It is trade prices, not trade-union prices, of which I have been speaking—prices indeed accepted as fair by trade unionists, as for the moment all they can get, though not necessarily all they could desire. It was perfectly obvious from that and from the rest of the speech, as well as the other speeches made in the Debate, that what was in the speakers' minds was not a. general current rate, but the different district rates applicable in different places, and it was certainly evident to him that the only way in which the Resolution could be properly interpreted was by having regard to the fact that the current rate of wages in one district might be higher than in another. In fact, he would point out that the Government themselves had adopted that idea by paying their labourers at one dockyard higher than those at another. He believed that if the form of words used by the Admiralty were generally adopted, the Resolution would be practically a dead letter, and the tendency of Government contracts would be to break down the rate of wages. It would encourage contractors to pay a lower rate than the custom of the trade would allow them to pay in other than Government contracts. It was, he contended, as much to the interest of good employers as to the interest of the workmen that the Government should not throw their weight into the scale in favour of lower wages. He did not know that the House appreciated the amount of in- dustrial conflict this proposal, if carried out, would lead to. He believed that the other Departments of the State had for some time past been interpreting the Resolution properly, but if the Admiralty took the step they were contemplating, he was afraid the other Departments would follow their lead. He wished now to make a suggestion or two as to the way in which he believed the Resolution might be more properly and fully carried out. There had lately been set up a Department in which everyone had considerable confidence, he meant the Labour Department. He believed it had been the custom of other Departments to consult the Labour Department on this question of fair wages, and it did seem to him that such use should be made of it. He would give that Department very considerable authority in dealing with complaints on this subject. Their officials had an expert knowledge of the matter which the officials of no other Department possessed, and he would suggest the appointment from that Department of Clerks of the Works, Superintendents, or Inspectors, who should not only be responsible for materials used in contracts, but also for seeing that there were proper pay-sheets and proper wages paid. He thought, also, that when the rate of wages had been decided and a proper agreement come to, lists of wages ought to be exhibited in the workshops in which work was being done. There were also many minor matters of administration with which a Committee might deal with great advantage. He thanked the House for allowing him to make this rather long statement, and he apologised for its length. There was only one other thing he wished to say in conclusion. In moving this Resolution he did not wish it to be thought that the principle of the Fair Wages Resolution was at present in question. He thought he could give a very good precedent for the proposal he made, and that was, that the other day a Committee was appointed to deal with one small branch of the subject, the Instruction to which was that they should inquire whether the present system of issuing invitations for tenders and of making contracts for Government printing and binding sufficiently secured compliance with the terms and spirit of the Resolution of the House of 1891. It was on that basis that he trusted the Committee would be appointed, and he hoped that the government in granting it, as he believed they intended to do, would give the House a pledge that no attempt would be made to go behind the principle laid down in the Resolution of 1891; but rather that it should be the duty of the Committee to make that Resolution more effective than it was at present. He felt confident that in no quarter of the House was there any desire to depart from that principle. He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.

MR. C. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)

in seconding the Resolution, said, that his hon. Friend had taken a very great interest in this question and had done a great deal to secure for the men employed on Government contracts fair conditions of labour and fair wages. Five years ago he had had the honour of seconding a Resolution on the same subject, moved by his hon. Friend, who persuaded the House to declare on that occasion that it was the duty of the Government to take steps to remedy the evils revealed by the House of Lords' Inquiry on sweating, and the abuses of sub-letting contracts; and to secure for workmen engaged on such contracts the wages current in such trades for competent workmen. That was in 1891. He wished to associate himself with the statement this Resolution was in no sense a Party Resolution; but he saw that the hon. and gallant Member for the Central Division of Sheffield, in a letter to the Sheffield Telegraph, declared that there was a Party object behind the Resolution. The hon. and gallant Member proclaimed himself an ardent supporter of the fair wages Resolution of 1891; but he expressed his amazement that the proposers of this Resolution should not be able to see that the placing of orders in foreign countries would defeat it absolutely. What could that mean but that, by insisting on the Government carrying out the fair wages Resolution in its entirety, the upholders of the Resolution were likely to compel the Government to give out the contracts to foreign firms. He refused to believe that the present Government, at all events, were at all likely to give their contracts to the foreigner at the expense of our own workmen. The vague and indefinite terms in which the Resolution of 1891 was framed had led to confusion in its administration. The chief difficulties which had arisen were in consequence of differences of opinion as to the interpretation to be placed on the words "wages current in each trade. Were they the wages demanded by the trade union, or the average wages of the district; or the wages which the individual contractor had been accustomed to pay for similar work? They were entitled to assume that the Government were going to grant the Committee of Inquiry asked for; and he would suggest that it should be an Instruction to the Committee not only to define the phrase "current rate of wages" but also to find some more efficient method of administering the Resolution. At present everything was left to the vigilance and energy of the trade union officials. Complaints might be made to the Department concerned in some contract work; a long correspondence between the representatives of the trade and the officials of the Department ensued: and although a real grievance existed, the contract might expire before any remedy was attempted. There was a case which he had brought before the Financial Secretary to the War Office, who practically admitted the facts.


No, I did not admit the facts. I said I could not accept them, but would cause inquiries to be made.


, continuing, said that inquiries would substantiate the following facts. In a contract for painting at the Victoria Barrack, Belfast, the men were paid something like one penny per hour below the wages to which they were entitled. Complaint was made to the War Office on the 3rd September, 1895; and correspondence between the Department and the secretary of the trade union continued up to December 7th. Then a representative of the Department was sent down to personally superintend the payment of the workmen's wages, and while this gentleman was present the men were paid 7½d. per hour instead of 6½d. as previously. But when the representative of the War Office had gone, the men were requested, under threat of dismissal, to refund the additional money paid to them. One man refused, and wrote to the Inspector, who wrote to the War Office; and the contractor was requested to pay the money. But that was only done after repeated calls at the War Office had been made, and process for recovery had been threatened against the contractor. Such questions ought not to be left to the trade unions, and a speedier method of settling these complaints ought to be devised. In 1894, at Aldershot, the carpenters employed on a Government contract were paid less than they ought to have been paid. Complaint was made to the War Office, and the Secretary of State replied that after careful inquiry he was advised that the complaint could not be sustained. The secretary of the trade union paid a surprise visit to Aldershot, and obtained certain facts which he brought to the notice of the Department. A second inquiry was instituted; the workmen's case was proved; and the contractor was compelled to refund the whole of the money wrongfully deducted from the men's wages. They ought to have some more satisfactory and expeditious method of settling these questions than existed at present. There were various ways in which that might be done. His hon. Friend had suggested that the Labour Department of the Board of Trade might be entrusted with the duty of inquiring into grievances arising under the fair wages Resolution; and there was an even more expeditious method. Sir R. Cross, now Lord Cross, when Home Secretary, instructed his inspectors to receive and inquire into notifications of grievances arising under the Factories and Mines Acts, and even to take cognisance of anonymous communications. That precedent, he submitted, might well be followed in the present case. And another experiment might be made, and that was to intrust contracts, not of an extensive nature, to associated bodies of workmen. That had already been done in Italy, as a gentleman connected with the Italian Treasury, and a Member of the Legislature, recently informed him, with marked success. He hoped it might be possible for the Government to give such an Instruction to the Committee as would enable them to allow associated bodies of working men to be entered upon the list of contractors, and particularly in cases where no large amount of capital was required in the way of plant and machinery, and if that were done he thought that, useful as the Resolution of the House had been in the last five years, it would be still more useful in the years to come.

THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN,) St. George's Hanover Square

I am sure the Government cannot for a moment complain of the tone of the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution. They were marked by an entire absence of anything like Party animus, and at the same time by a fair disposition to recognise the difficulties of the question. I only hope the same attitude will be observed out of the House, because it has come to my knowledge that the change which as an administrator I made in regard to the Admiralty contracts has been very widely made use of in the country to stigmatise the Party to which I belong as being desirous to lower the wages of the working classes. With reference to the point made by the hon. Member who Seconded the Resolution, that the Instruction to the Committee, which the Government are quite prepared to grant, should be such as would allow an inquiry into whether Governments have power to intrust their, contracts to associated bodies of working men, I may say that such an Instruction is not necessary. Not only have Government Departments power to do so now, but it is actually done. ["Hear, hear!"] In connection both with the War Office and the Admrialty, contracts are at present given exactly in the sense and in the spirit which is desired. On that point, therefore, we are entirely agreed. Before I enter on the general question, I may be permitted to explain both the motive and the possible effect of the change which on my responsibility I made with reference to the words "current in the district" in some Admiralty contracts. The change has been made with reference, to large contracts for shipbuilding and engineering; it has not been universally introduced into other contracts. I wish to point; out that these words were not in the original Resolution of the House of Commons. I have received circulars and letters of remonstrance from I do not know how many bodies charging me with having tampered with the Resolution of the House of Commons. The machinery for propagating error are singularly effective, and these remonstrance bear a strong family likeness. [Laughter.] Now, what happened? It was alleged and brought to my notice that as we insisted on the contractors paying the current wages of the district—namely, London, and as wages in London were 15 per cent, higher than elsewhere, the logical corollary of the insertion of the words was to assign to London contractors more favourable terms than were conceded to contractors in the country. The question was whether, in order to make certain that a London contractor should pay those wages, we were to increase the burden on the taxpayers by 15 per cent. upon the labour employed. To assent to such a proposition was an utter impossibility. [Cheers.] How could we say—We insist upon your paying those wages and at the same time by that very process prevent you from competing on equal terms with the rest of the country? It is said that whether the words are in or out does not make much difference, because the contractors would pay the same wages. London contractors, however, used the argument that they must have more favourable terms because those words were in. The late Govern- ment resisted that view as strongly as we did, and I hope the House will take that into consideration if they reinsert the words "current in the district." If those words are introduced I trust that it will be made equally clear that no liability is imposed on the Administration to take such a feature into consideration in some of the contracts. I admit the desire that we should have as large an area for the production of our ironclads and other ships as we can secure. I hope the House will agree that it is my duty to look at this matter as a Minister, and to try and put aside the difficulties with which we may be confronted. But at the same time I say that the Committee must be extremely careful in any new definition and any additions that it does not practically limit the productive powers of the country by dividing them too much up into districts. One motive which induced me to omit those words was this. It is not only in the shipbuilding, but in the engineering and boiler trades that London is deeply interested. I think that the high wages which have prevailed in London have diminished work on the Thames to an extraordinary extent. It may be said that is not our affair, but, as a Metropolitan Member, I deeply regret it. I think all those in control of this matter must be aware that, while on the one hand they do their best to maintain the wage they think a right; wage for a particular trade, on the other hand they should not push their theory: to a point which may deprive London of some of its great industries. [Cheers.] In the shipbuilding trade there is only one great firm for ironclads, and there are famous firms for smaller vessels. In the engineering trade London still—I may say, to my own satisfaction has a very large share. ["Hear, hear!"] London is still represented by three great firms—Messrs. Penn, Messrs. Humphrey, and Messrs. Maudslay. [A VOICE: "Thornycroft."] Messrs. Thornycroft are constructors of boilers as well as of ships, but on a smaller scale. They do not compete with the large ironclads of the largest firms. Now, these three firms are bringing to London, or keeping in London, an immense amount of work. They are denounced, and have been denounced for two years past, for not complying with the Resolution of the House of Commons, and powerful representations have been made that those firms should be struck off the list of Government contractors. This demand has been made in connection with the Resolution of 1891. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have had those representations made to them as far back as 1894; we have had them made to us; and the movement does not come from those who are employed by those firms, but from outside influences. [Cheers.] A resolution passed at the Trade Union Congress at Cardiff condemns the Government for persistently refusing to carry out the fair wages Resolution passed by the House of Commons in February 1891, and especially condemns their action in maintaining on their list of contractors and in extensively employing certain notorious "blackleg" firms in the London district whose trade characters are perfectly well known to the Government; and they ask to have those firms either struck off the list of Admiralty contractors or compelled to pay the wages of the London district. Those are some of the difficulties with which we are confronted, and I place those considerations before the House. What is the penalty by which we are to enforce compliance? There is one of the weaknesses which I hope the Committee will inquire into and one of the difficulties of the Resolution. It is said that we are to penalise the firms; but some of the firms are rendering the greatest public service we can demand, and if we struck them off the list our action would cause loss to the productive power of London; and if this Resolution was carried out the boiler and engineering trades would lose to as great an extent as the shipbuilding trade. [Cheers.] I submit that those are considerations which ought to be taken into account. When I deleted the words "current in the district" from our forms of contract I had in my mind not to be a party to the maintaining of words which might be quoted in this controversy which was going on from striking off those great firms from our Admiralty list. There was a deputation received by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty who again strongly urged that in consequence of failure to meet the Resolution of the House of Commons those firms should be struck off. A resolution was passed at the Executive Federation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades to the effect that they should be instructed to take whatever steps might be deemed advisable to influence the Government to strike those firms off the list of the Admiralty, or compel them to conform to the Resolution of the House of Commons. Messrs. Penn, Messrs. Humphrey, and Messrs. Maudslay were mentioned as firms who paid below the standard rate. What is the district standard? Who sets it? [Cheers.] The Admiralty deny that those firms are below the district standard, because they establish a standard for themselves. When you have a great trade how many firms are there who are engaged in the same work who are paying different wages? If all the great firms employ labour on one particular form of battleship, or one particular kind of engines and boilers, and pay a fair wage which their own employés are satisfied with—who lays down the standard rate which is to be the rate? [Cheers.] I asked the deputation which I received, "Who lays down the rate?" A member of the deputation said that he represented the trade union and candidly said "The trade union." He was thus contradicting the hon. Gentleman who said that these wages were fixed between the employers and the employed, and it is the outside influences which are endeavouring to act in the way I have described. [Cheers.] I entirely acknowledge the extreme difficulty of working this Resolution, and the Government cordially accept the Committee to inquire into the matter. We should place all the difficulties of the case before them, and I hope that some means may be found to meet and to remedy some of the difficulties. We will approach the inquiry in a spirit which desires to carry out that which we believe to be the unanimous feeling of the House; but, at the same time, I wished to interpose in the Debate in order [that it should be realised that it is not a simple matter, and that it is not a question of easy definition. While the House should be favouraole to the spirit in which the original Resolution is conceived and to see it carried out, I trust it will not aggravate those difficulties and not attempt to remove them by any further stringency of construction. I hold the opinion that the precise laying down of definitions will be absolutely impossible. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division of Northumberland quoted the words "What is a competent workman?" I believe the trade unions and other bodies differ very much in their definition of "competent workman." Then there is the great question of area, of district; and according as we draw the district there you will find whether wages are paid as current in the district or not. To reconstruct the areas for trade; union purposes would be as difficult as the redistribution of political power in the representation of this House. Every difference of area would certainly make a variation in the rate which, according to the views of some persons, ought to be paid. It was said that the Resolution was vague. It was vague because the subject matter with which it deals must leave it vague. There, is only one way in which this Resolution, in my judgment, can be made fairly to work—namely, the existence of a disposition on both sides to work it fairly according to its general spirit. [Cheers.] Many complaints do not come from the parties mainly interested—namely, the people enjoying the wages, but from other bodies who interpose; and I have had representations from pattern-makers in Scotland complaining of the wages given to pattern-makers in London. There are bodies all over the country who strive to establish themselves as arbiters in these matters. Four-fifths of the complaints that have reached the Admiralty have come from trade organisations. In only one case has the complaint come from workmen actually employed, and in one case it was made by a dismissed workman. Attention has been drawn to the fact that there has been delay in dealing with some of these complaints. At the Admiralty one cause of the delay has been the desire of some of us who are officially responsible to inquire into these cases ourselves. ["Hear, hear!"] When the head of a Department is to give close attention to an allegation that contractors pay insufficient wages to some of their workmen, perhaps only three or four of them, he must, of course, select some opportune moment in which to do so. To insist that inquiries of this kind should be made at once might result in paralysing for a time the activity of a Department in connection with more serious matters. It is often difficult to find time to devote to the consideration of great questions. Many suggestions have been made with a view to expedite the settlement of these complaints. One suggestion is that the services of the Labour Department should be called in, and another that inspectors should be employed. On those proposals I will not venture to pronounce off-hand. The Government are prepared to accept this Resolution in the spirit in which it is moved, but I trust there will be no attempt in the Committee to construct a mass of definitions, no attempt to tie our hands and to restrict the contractual freedom which the Admiralty and other Departments must have, and that care will be taken not to imperil any industries from a desire to maintain what are called standard wages, which sometimes remain standard wages without benefit to the workmen themselves. By striving after an impossible ideal we might deprive thousands of working men of the employment which they would otherwise have. I will conclude by saying that I hope that the outcome of this Resolution will be satisfactory to its promoters, whilst leaving unimpaired the efficiency of our great Administrative Departments. ["Hear, hear!"]

On the return of Mr. SPEAKER after the usual interval,

*MR. H. BROADHURST (Leicester)

said, he regretted that the First Lord of the Admiralty did not conclude his speech after the first ten minutes, because in the latter part of his remarks he made a new departure and gave a new importance to the subject before the House. The right hon. Gentleman did not confine himself to the Motion, but went on to discuss the principle of the right of particular firms to establish a certain rate of wage. He stated that it was through insistence upon a certain rate of wages that the work of shipbuilding was driven from the Thames. He had heard similar statements for the last 25 years, and the reply to them was that if coal and iron in the raw condition were as accessible to the Thames as they were to the Clyde and the Tyne the trade on the Thames would not have been diverted. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to point out that it was necessary for the Government to keep on their list, regardless of the question of the rate of wages, a reserve of firms so as to be able to meet any emergency in the pressure of work. That was a general proposition to which it was difficult to object, especially in the form in which the right hon. Gentleman put it, but when he went on to state that those firms were so eminent in the trade that they themselves had the right to fix a standard wage of their own he altogether differed from him. [Mr. MACARTNEY: "No, no."] That was what the right hon. Gentleman said, and it was that to which he objected—that any particular firm or firms in the country should be recognised as having the right to dictate a rate of wage independent of the standard wages paid by other firms in the same trade and in the same locality. It was precisely this contention against which the trade unions had fought, and would continue to fight as long as it was necessary.


said, he thought the hon. Member had unintentionally misrepresented the First Lord of the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the firms alluded to were the only firms carrying on business on the same standard and of the same quality in the particular district; that there were no competing firms of the same trade in the district. ["Hear, hear!"]

*MR. BROADHURST (resuming)

And he added the remark that those firms fixed a rate of wages of their own. It was that remark which had raised the whole controversy. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to say further that the complaints of the workpeople affected by the non-observance of the fair-trade Resolution reached the Department from others than the aggrieved persons themselves. That, no doubt, was true. For the last ten years or more, since he first initiated the movement in the Stationery Department he had been in almost constant communication with the official Departments on the matter, and therefore he presumed that he was one of the persons to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred. The right hon. Gentleman referred to having received complaints from the trade union secretary in Scotland about wages and other conditions of labour in London. Of course, the general secretary, although he might happen to be in Scotland, was the proper person to make a complaint about anything from which a workman suffered. The complaint made by the first Lord raised the whole question of the right of trade union officials to act for their members. It had always been asserted by the antitrade-union section of the community that each person aggrieved should go direct to the employer; but if those who so argued were workmen themselves they would tell a very different tale. He had no doubt that the First Lord of the Admiralty himself had workmen upon his estate, and he had also no doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman wished to communicate his wishes or instructions to those people he would do so through his agent, and not personally. Whatever right an employer or a property-owner possessed in such a matter the workman claimed and would assert a similar right in respect of his labour. Passing from the question of ironclads, boilers, and the like, he came to a matter in which his own constituents were concerned. The men engaged in the soft goods trade complained that the Government Departments—chiefly, he feared, the War Office—accepted estimates for work which was not good work, not good in the interest of those who bought, of those who wore, and of those engaged in the trade; that they paid a price at which the fair house and the good employer, who paid the recognised wages to men, women, and children, could not supply goods for. [Mr. POWELL-WILLIAMS: "No, no."] That was the allegation, and he hoped in a very short time to be able to supply the hon. Gentleman with all the particulars. He believed the same statement applied to other industries.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present.

House adjourned at Five minutes before Nine o'clock.