1. Motion made, and Question proposed,—
That a sum, not exceeding £2,069,200, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge for tie Supply and Repair of 'Warlike and other Stores, will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898.
THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE WAR OFFICE (Mr. POWELL-WILLIAMS, Birmingham, S.)
said that the 1244 Leader of the House had promised that a statement should be made on this Vote as to the minimum rates of wages paid to artisans and labourers in the Government factories. Before making that statement he wished to remind the Committee of what occurred last year. At that time he stated that, whilst in his opinion the Government ought to pay all classes of workmen whom it employed the full current rate paid in the various districts in which they worked, they should not go beyond it, because to do so would be to make a contribution to a certain class of workmen out of the general moneys of the taxpayers. The Board of Trade had made careful inquiry into the matter and had furnishe1 the War Office with valuable information, and beyond that the War Office had made its own inquiries which went to confirm the information afforded by the Board of Trade. The information placed at their disposal h the Board of Trade being of a confidential character, he must be excused from giving information in detail with regard to the figures. The inquiry extended to about 3,000 workmen employed in the Pimlico and the Woolwich districts, and, roughly speaking, it appeared that of these about one-third were receiving more than 24s. a week, about one-third were receiving 24s., and about one-third less than 24s.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
said they included what were known as engineers' labourers and warehouse porters. It must always be borne in mind that those labourers were paid not for 48 hours a week, as was the case in the Government factories, but for 53 hours. In dealing with the figures in the aggregate it appeared that the proportion of men in the Government factories who were receiving less than 24s. a week was smaller than in the establishments outside as to which they received particulars. It was said that everything did not rest upon the number of hours a man worked, but, while admitting the force of that observation, he submitted that the number of hours was, after all, an essential condition of his pay. In calculating what wages a workman in Government factories received it was necessary to take into account the advantages other than 1245 wages which he got. He put those advantages, after having gone carefully into the matter, as being worth at least 1s. a week. He recollected that Parliament would probably this year pass an Employers' Liability Bill, which. would give men outside the Ordnance Factory almost equal advantages to those inside, and in these circumstances there must be some modification in the calculation. How did he make those advantages up to 1s. a week? In the Ordnance Store Department and in the clothing factory at Pimlico the employment was almost continuous—that was to say, a man once in remained practically as long as he was able to do any service at all, and as the result of that he became entitled to a gratuity on leaving, which was between 20s. and 24s. for every year of his service. A simple calculation would show that, if a man, got 24s. for every year of his service, that was equivalent to a weekly payment of 5d. a. week.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
He has to serve seven years before he is eligible for the gratuity if he is retired on reduction. At the Woolwich Arsenal about 50 per cent. of the men in employment would be entitled if they left the service to a gratuity such as he spoke of.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
In the Ordnance Factory at Woolwich about 50 per cent, were entitled to gratuity. A great many, however, serve on for 15 years, and become entitled to a gratuity in any case. In the Store Department the proportion was quite up to 90 per cent., if not more. Almost all were men entitled to the gratuity. In addition to that the men obtained medical attendance and sick pay and liberal privileges with regard to holidays. Taking these advantages into account the gain was equivalent to 1s. a week to all men receiving 19s. a week in the Government departments. The result of the inquiry proved two things—first of all, that there was no established rate in any of the districts near London in which the Government factories were situated of 24s. a week for a 48 hours week. The Inquiry also showed that the Government minimum rate of 19s. 1246 and 19s. 6d. was too low. [Cheers.] The figures which the Department of the Board of Trade had collected showed that the accepted current rate for the class of labour with which they were dealing in the various districts where factories were 'situated was about 22s. The Secretary for War had come to the conclusion, therefore, that the wages of these men ought to be raised from 19s. and 19s. 6d. to an equivalent of 22s.; and he had to state to the Committee that the Secretary for War proposed to raise the wages of all these men from their present amount to 21s. a week, which, with the advantages they received, would equal 22s. per week.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
I am dealing only with the wages in the districts near London where these factories are situated.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
I am speaking all through of the Clothing Department at Pimlico, the Ordnance Factory and Store Department at Woolwich. The annual aggregate addition to the men's wages would amount to between £5,000 arid £6,000. The Secretary for War proposed to begin the higher payment on the first pay day in next month.
§ * SIR C. DILKE
asked whether any statement was to be made with regard to any other Votes. He had asked as to Waltham Abbey and Enfield; was nothing to be Said about them?
§ * SIR C. DILKE
pointed out that the Chairman of Committees had expressed the opinion that the question of wages should be discussed for the sake of convenience on one Vote.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
said he had no statement to make with reference to wages at Waltham Abbey and Enfield.
§ * SIR C. DILKE
asked whether the Admiralty was going to say anything about the minimum. of 19s. at Deptford?
§ MR. KEARLEY
said that the Navy Estimates would subsequently be taken, and it would be inconvenient to go over the same ground again in debating the matter of wages on both Votes.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF TIE ADMIRALTY (Mr. GOSCHEN, St. George's, Hanover Square)
said that the dockyards were not on all fours with the Army Estimates.
§ * MR. W. WOODALL (Hanley)
referred to the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury in favour of a general discussion on the wages question on one Vote, and congratulated the Government on the decision at which they had arrived.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
said that the First Lord of the Treasury stated that the wages of the War Department in all its branches might be discussed on this particular Vote, but nothing beyond that.
§ * MR. WOODALL
asked whether a Report could be furnished as to the economic results of the changes made by the late Government? The Government had had four years' experience of the 48 hours week, and he should like the hon. Gentleman to tell the Committee what had been the economic outcome of that change, and how it had affected the cost of production of warlike stores and clothing. Was it true that the wages of piece-workers had been quite as large, if not larger, than in the week of longer hours? Was it true that there had been no need to employ more day-wage workers? Or, as was the case during the short time the late Government had the responsibility, had the greater punctuality, sobriety, and improved health of the workers, and the fact that they were able to begin duty after breakfast instead of before, enabled them to get through the same amount of work and to improve the quality of that work? Was it true, also, that the sick pay and medical attendance had been less under the 48 hours week? He spoke now particularly with regard to the Ordnance Factory. Further, it was anticipated, and, he believed, realised, that there would be a very important saving in fuel, wear and tear, lubricators, etc. Information on these points would greatly assist the Committee. The First Lord of the Treasury, in an important statement made the other day, suggested that a larger amount of employment should be provided for time-expired soldiers in the Ordnance Stores. There was a great deal to be said for that course, but he hoped care would be taken to guard against competition with the 1248 ordinary labourer in the rate of wages. At one stroke an addition of 2s. 6d. was made to the wages of the Ordnance Store labourers by the late Government. Would the hon. Gentleman tell the Committee what had been the result of that increase? Was it true that a better class of labour had been obtained at no additional outlay? His own conviction was that the service was improved, and that in Ordnance Factories and Stores the change had cost the Government nothing, while it had greatly improved the status and general well-being of the people employed. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Gentleman estimated that the proposed change he had now announced would cost from £5,000 to £6,000 a year. He himself was sanguine enough to hope that if wisely administered it need cost nothing at all. Some information with regard to places other than Woolwich had been asked for. It had been repeatedly urged that the cost to the labourer for his dwelling and for the necessaries of life in Woolwich were exceptionally high, and he believed the cost of living at Pimlico was something less than at Woolwich. At any rate, there must have been some consideration of that kind which induced the late Government to leave the minimum wage at Pimlico at 19s., while making it 19s. 6d. at the Ordnance Store and 20s. at the Ordnance Factory. The late Admiralty increased at one step the wages of its labourers to 20s. It was estimated at the time that the advantages enjoyed by the labourers under the Admiralty were worth 6d. a week, while the War Office advantages cost a shilling. The Admiralty fixed 20s. as their wage, and adding 6d. made 20s. 6d., which accounted for the curious minimum fixed by the War Office of 19s. 6d. He hoped that some allowance had been made for the necessity of generally raising the standard of pay to the classes who were in grades above that of the unskilled labourer; because it was obvious that where a difference of 2s., 3s., and 4s. a week had hitherto marked the status of the skilled workman as compared with the unskilled, some change would have to be made in the higher grades also. He should like to have some assurance that this was contemplated, and that the chancre was not limited to the unskilled labourers or to the engineers' helpers and warehouse porters.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
I should not like my hon. Friend to be under any misapprehension. I am dealing solely with the minimum wage. I have not in any way dealt with men receiving for piece-work or day-work wages above the minimum shown to be earned in the districts to which I referred.
§ * MR. WOODALL
My hon. Friend need not be told that he cannot let the matter rest there. He will have to meet many of those whose status is a little higher than the particular class with which he is dealing at the present moment. Continuing, the hon. Member said it would be most material to the argument of his hon. Friends the Members for Newington and Devonport if the Committee had information as to the practical results of the changes made by the late Government, changes which were made, he was bound to say, in the spirit of stewards acting in the general interest of those whose funds they were employing, and experiments which it would be a great satisfaction to the country to know had been justified by results.
§ * COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
said it would be ungracious on his part if he did not express his appreciation of the proposals made by the Under Secretary. Although the advance in wages was comparatively small, yet it was welcome, for it was difficult for hon. Members to conceive what a difference a small sum even of 1s. 6d. a week made to a working man with a wife and family. He was thankful indeed for the advance, and from the observations which had been made by the hon. Gentleman, it appeared to have been made on the right lines of ascertaining and being guided by the wages of the district. They could not make a rule to apply all over the country. It was quite true they had some consideration for London as a district by itself; for in London rents and rates were exceptionally high, and it was for that reason that the late War Office and other spending establishments considered London as a separate district, demanding a higher rate of pay, and that he regarded as a great improvement over the old method of mixing up the whole country altogether. There were one or two matters to which he wished to allude, though they were not of very great importance. With regard to the bonus given after 15 years' service, which the Financial 1250 Secretary said was payable in any case, a man was entitled to this bonus if he left the service in consequence of reduction or ill-health after 15 years, but he could not leave of his own accord and get the bonus. He thought the advantage was estimated at 1s., but, in his opinion, that was an exceptional amount. The late Government appeared to have estimated it, as he understood, at 6d. per week.
§ COLONEL HUGHES
said he thought the advantage was calculated by the local societies at about 6d. per week. Under all the circumstances, he thought it would be wise on his part to accept the offer made with gratitude, though, of course, without any pledge as to the future—they could let the future take care of itself. He would remind the hon. Gentleman that only in May last in the Labour Reports issued by the Board of Trade, it was stated that 20,000 builders' labourers in London had obtained an advance from 6½d. to 7d. an hour, or 28s. a week; but the labourers they were speaking of were to have only 21s. a week, and he hoped. that a still further advance would be made to them. What the Government had done was a movement in the right direction, but he hoped that they would go still further when opportunity offered. The cases of the men employed at Devonport, Plymouth, and other places in the country must all be judged on their merits, and he was prepared to advocate that justice should be done in every district. Each ease must be settled according to the current rate of wages paid in the district, He was glad that they had obtained that day a distinct declaration that the case of the London workmen would be treated separately. The wages in London would always be a shilling or two a week higher than in the country.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)
rose to move the reduction of the Vote by £100. He said that the statement of the Financial Secretary to the War Office did not disappoint him. The Government had acted as he expected they would. They had given with grudging hand a small increase of wages to Government employés. But this did not meet the demand of the employés, who 1251 asked for simple justice, namely, the payment of the current rate of wages in the locality in which they were employed. There was no Member of the House who could be more thoroughly convinced than he was of the value of a high state of discipline in a Government Department, whether naval, military, or civil. Therefore if he believed for a moment that these men were making use of their organisations or political power with the object of taking an unfair advantage of the Government, he would support the bitter against them. All that the Financial Secretary had said that day was said last year. In his opinion the Government for years past had lagged behind other employers of labour. In 1890 the then Leader of the House declared that the House of Commons would not desire to underpay any servants of the Crown, but notwithstanding the Government had continued for seven years to underpay these workmen. Then in 1895 the First Lord of the Treasury put in his programme at the time of the General Election, "Fair wages to Government workmen." The right hon. Gentleman had thereby put himself in this dilemma. If by the expression "fair" the right hon. Gentleman meant the Trades Union rate of wages, the rate of wages current in a locality, he had been false to his election programme. If, on the other hand, he did not mean the rate of wages current in the locality, he was guilty of tricking the working Men of the country, because he must have known that they would interpret "fair wages" to mean Trades Union wages. Fair wages were the wages paid by the best employers in a given locality. He warned the right hon. Gentleman that the day for tricking labour had gone by. The working men of this country had its political future in their hands, and labour tricked, insulted, and defied, would take note of the action of the Government. The Financial Secretary to the War Office said last year that if it could be shown that the Department was not paying the current rate of wages in the Woolwich district, the wages would be raised to that level; but the hon. Gentleman had not kept his promise. In considering this question the expense of house accommodation could not be left out of view. A man with a family could. not obtain a decent dwelling at Woolwich for less than 8s. 6d., whilst 1252 at Chatham he could obtain one for 4s. 6d, and at Pembroke for 3s. The Government always trotted out the argument of supply and demand, but by their action they had really abandoned that experiment. In repeating it, therefore, they were stultifying themselves. The Financial Secretary, quoting the statement of an employer at Woolwich, had told then that there was no difficulty in getting labour at the rate of 21s. for 54 hours. But if they chose would the the Government have any difficulty in men for 18s. a week? The House through such Committees as the Sweating Committee and the Current Rate of Wages Committee, had declared over and over again that it desired to have the best quality of labour and would pay the top price for it, and if they failed to do that they would be laying up a debt which they had no right to lay up for future generations to pay. Eighty years ago Sir Robert Peel stated that it was no uncommon thing for children eight years of age to work for 15 hours a day. Had the country benefited by that? Who were the descendants of those children? They were people stunted in body and mind, the victims of the vices engendered by distress and want of food, the wastrels of our community, the criminal classes. It was their duty not to intensify this sad state of things. It was admitted, he understood, this year, that the workmen employed in the Ordnance Factories were not without skill. Last year the Financial Secretary to the War Office told them that he had obtained information from several employers of labour at Woolwich, and particularly from Messrs. Johnson, who said that they paid 6½d., but that ordinary labourers would get 6d. only, and that even these must be full-grown, active men, and these men, the hon. Member said, would not compare in any degree with the lowest class of labourers employed at the Ordnance Factories. He knew that in Government Factories it was necessary to enter a number of youths. He admitted that consideration should be shown to the sons of employés in these factories, but he maintained that the moment they arrived at such an age that they could go into the open market and get the current rate of wages, it was the duty of the Government to pay them 1253 at that rate. It was said that the Government were trustees for the taxpayers. That might be so, but the contention was that this underpaid labour was not economical in any sense. The hon. Member said that they weregoing to take the taxes paid, say, by a Dorsetshire labourer, in order to enhance the wages of a certain class of workmen in London.["Hear, hear!"] The hon: Gentleman cheered his own ignorance. ["Order, order!"] If he did not prove that, he would withdraw it. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the Dorsetshire labourer as getting 14s. a week, while on the average they got 10s. or 11s. a week, or 12s. without a cottage.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON
said that did not shake his statement in the slightest degree. The Report of the Agricultural Commission returned the amount at 10s., 11s., or 12s. a week. What the hon. Member said only strengthened his argument. [Laughter.] Then the Financial Secretary went on to: say that—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.Did the hon. Gentleman suppose that he sympathised only with the Government employé? His object was to force the Government to adopt a high standard of wages for unskilled labour, in order that the rate of wages throughout the length and breadth of the land might be raised, and other landlords, not so generous as the hon. Gentleman who had just interrupted, might come up to his standard. He now came to the gist of the whole matter—the current rate of wages. How could it be said that 24s. was not the current rate, more especially at Woolwich? Did not the minority report of the. Labour Commission fix on 24s. as the standard rate for unskilled labour throughout London? They maintained it was impossible for a man to bring up a family on a less sum. A few years ago the Labour Department of the Board of Trade were called on to report 1254 upon the current rate of wages for unskilled labour at Woolwich. Could the hon. Gentleman say that they reported it at less than 6d? He dared not say so. The hon. Gentleman could not deny that they reported it at between 6d. and 6½d. He now came to the hours question. The hon. Gentleman rode off last year on this question, although it was distinctly laid down, when the 48 hours week was adopted, that the reduction in hours would in no way affect wages. The hon. Member said last year that 24s. was paid for 53 hours, and at that rate he would have to pay 21s. 9d. for 48 hours; so that the Government had been defrauding the poorest class of their employés of 2s. 3d. a week. Much had been said of the advantages of Government employment. There were certain advantages connected with it. The Government never went bankrupt, and it had a. certain prestige; but how should that prestige be used? Not in obtaining men under the rate paid by the best private employers, but in order to get the cream of the working classes in every department. Continuity of employment and the prospect of advancement were also urged as advantages; but they applied in the same way in private firms. But how about the disadvantages? Even the lowest class of labourers were bound to keep up a respectable appearance, and that was looked upon by the average workman with a large family to keep, who was getting 19s. 6d. a week, as a distinct disadvantage. Then there were the periods of slackness to contend with, and when stocktaking took place there was no making up time. Some time last year certain Members of the House saw a number of men from Government departments, and they seemed to be "very fair and very respectable representatives of unskilled labour. [" Hear, hear !"] But those Members were astonished, grieved, and shocked at, the state of things disclosed to them. These men stated that many of their mates hawked the streets at night as costermongers, that their wives were sweated in steam laundries, and that in some cases their young women were tempted to lead dissolute lives. And all that in Christian England, in a country which spent thousands and thousands yearly in missions to savages ! ["Hear, hear!"] Could 1255 anything be worse than that a great and powerful and wealthy country like this should refuse to those who helped to make its greatness the just reward of their labour? He made an appeal to the self-interest of the country. It was for the good of the country that these men should be fairly and justly dealt with. It was as true to-day as ever it was that the improvement of man improved all that man produced. A few weeks ago the greatness, the wealth, the extent and the magnificence of this country was brought vividly to the minds of rich and poor alike. If, after the recent enjoyments and rejoicings, there was a still small voice telling them of the thousands living in squalor, their children half starving, could they wonder? He thought that every right-minded man would say, "give us one battleship less and pay the people a better wage." He begged to move.
§ MR. C. J. DARLING (Deptford)
said that if anything was less likely to conduce to the advantage of the employés than the speech of the hon. Member he should like to hear of it. He could not imagine it. It was the kind of oration addressed to the late Government, whose follower he was. At more than one election since the hon. Member had given hem his support. He wanted to know from the hon. Member opposite whether when the wages in the War Office were increased, those in the Admiralty were or were not raised accordingly?
§ MR. BUXTON
said, as to the simultaneous rise, everyone agreed that it should take place throughout all their departments. In his recollection the same rise took place in the Admiralty which took place in the War Department. It was felt that when the War Office made the advance, the Admiralty ought not to lag behind. He certainly did not desire to make any labour question of this kind a party question. The Government could not lag behind public opinion. He did not think that the hon. Member opposite was correct in stating that the position taken up at the time was that the rate of 19s. 6d. was to be the maximum. A considerable increase was already pointed out. It was quite obvious that a further rise would take place before long. He was glad to find that the hon. Member now admitted that the current rate of wages in a district ought 1256 to be accepted as the accurate one, and should be acted upon by the different Government Departments. They were right in taking the advice of the Labour Department. They had accepted the authority, and he did not want to dwell upon that, but he did want to ask the hon. Member on what basis he had founded this 21s. He said they must take the current rate of wages in a district. The Government employer should set a good example, and, therefore, in considering what was the rate of wages they ought not to take the lowest rate. The hon. Member ought to look at it from a generous point of view. [" Hear, hear !"] He understood that the Under Secretary cheered that statement. Then he asked him on what basis was the current rate in London fixed at 21s.? The current rate was 24s. ["No, no!"] Surely the average was 24s. He contended that whatever the number of hours the men worked they should receive on the average 24s. a week if the same work was done.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
Do I understand the hon. Member to say that you are to pay men precisely the same wages whether you employ them long hours or short?
§ MR. BUXTON
said that was not the point. The eight hours a day was given to Government employés as a boon and advantage without reduction of wages. if they were now to take that into account they would he taking away in one hand what they gave with the other. On the whole, the War Office were satisfied with the eight hours a day experiment, but this eight hours a day ought not to come into the question in this matter. The Financial Secretary to the War Office had said that the Departmental privileges of the men would be equivalent to 1s. a week. Last year he argued on the basis of their being worth 6d. a week. Putting aside the question of hours, the rate for unskilled labour was substantially 24s. a week. For the last seven years 6d. an hour for unskilled labour of all classes had been the recognised rate in London. He was grateful to the War Office for the concession which had been made, but it was not a final and satisfactory solution of the question. The Government were ill-advised to take two steps where they might 1257 have taken one. The whole sum involved was only £5,000 or £6,000. They should have accepted the rate of 24s. a-week for unskilled labour, deducting such privileges as actuarial calculation showed t hat the men really received.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said that the noire he heard of this question, the more true he felt it to be that it was quite impossible to give satisfaction to the demands made. His constituents appeared to have been pointedly left out of this rise; but he would not complain of that at the moment, because no doubt some statement would he made; and, of course, the cost of living at Enfield and Waltham was not so great as at Woolwich and Deptford. The speech of the hon. Member for Newington seemed to him to fall flat, because the hon. Member had forgotten that the Government might take the very steps which they had taken. He thought the Government had dealt generously with I he men; but he should like to know whether any increase might be expected at Enfield. He also wished to call attention to the present system at the factories, under which the man who joined on the the 3rd June 1870 was entitled to a pension, while the man who joined on the 5th. of June 1870, was not entitled to a pension. The same wages were paid to both men. his constituents complained that the Treasury had neglected to carry out the Act of 1859 in its integrity, especially Section 2 and Section 17. When men joined they were given a book of rules, but no mention was made of the fact that they must have a Civil Service certificate to Le entitled to a pension. His constituents thought that pensions should be given rather for long and efficient service than for Civil Service certificates. What was the Report of the Committee that had been inquiring into the pension system? And was there any prospect of an extension of the scheme?
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester. Forest of Dean)
said that he had expected hat much more would be done after the promises made by the First Lord of the Treasury last year. Votes had been postpone I in order that statements might be made, and now the concession was found to amount to very little. The Government hail to some extent met the worst point. They raised the minimum wage 1258 where it was disgracefully low and where the cost of living was high, but they had not gone far enough. No doubt differences must be made between Woolwich and Enfield; but he found that the cost of living both at Waltham and Enfield was high, and a rise ought to be conceded there. He was convinced, with the hon. Member for Newington, that the people of this country desired to see fair treatment of labour in relation to Government work, and that it was a scandal that the Government should impose on their contractors terms which they were not prepared to carry out themselves in their own work. Whenever the question of Enfield and Waltham came to be discussed, there was something more than the wages of the men to be considered. There were a great number of boys and girls employed at those factories, and he was convinced that, although there, was no great scandal, although the wages were not very low indeed, and although the work was not very hard indeed, still the extent to which boy labour was resorted to and the wages which were paid to girls in connection with the cordite works were not so satisfactory as they ought to be. In the Small Arms Factory there were a great number of men who were earning just over 19s. a week, and that for work of a peculiarly wretched character. It was not very hard or laborious, but it was work where no fires could be employed in winter. Then in the powder mills and in the cordite works the wages Were also very low, and in the cordite works there was an enormous amount of boy labour employed—he thought au undue proportion of boy labour. In the Government gun-cotton works, too, the wages of he girls were not on the scale they ought to be, having regard to the wages paid outside. The work was of a very dangerous character, and he did not think the wages paid were sufficient. It was useless to go into great detail on these questions, and he only mentioned these points as instances which had come under his knowledge in the course of the inquiries he hail made, and which showed that there was ground for an inquiry wider than that which up to the present had been made by the Government. He agreed that it would have been better not to have made two bites at the cherry, but to have made a larger 1259 mid more complete inquiry and a fuller statement to the House that clay. It was almost impossible to consider the Woolwich increase without considering also the case of Deptford. The case which had been put by several hon. Members of the Government paying less than they forced their contractors to pay had been very powerfully brought to his knowledge by certain facts connected with the Victualling Yard at Deptford. He could prove that the contractors paid the men, probably fur a slightly longer day's work, but the amount of work turned out being the same, 26s., while the Government only paid 19s. 6d He was sure the desire of the country was that these very low rates should be raised, and that the Government should set a proper example and should, at mill events, pay quite as high a scale, if not a higher scale, than that which they forced their workmen to pay.
§ SIR JOHN BAKER (Portsmouth)
said he did not blame the Government for following in the footsteps of the previous Government, and making these advances gradually, but he urged on the Government that they could not consider this as a final settlement. It was impossible, the average rate of wages being 24s., that these men, who were certainly on an equality with every other section of the class to which they belonged, should be content with the lower wage which the Government had now given. The suggestion that they were to be estimated in their labour by the argument that 48 hours was a reduction of wages would be received with indignation. That was contrary to experience; it was contrary to the statements made by the authorities at the Admiralty, and it was contrary to all local experience all over the country, which went to prove that the 48 hours were as valuable to the employers as the 53. He was astounded when he heard the Financial Secretary, with his experience of the class with which he was dealing, name that as a circumstance to be reckoned with in the case of the wages which the Government had now given. These gradual increases gave satisfaction to the men, but he hoped that next year the right hon. Gentleman would give the wage which was expected by the labourers as a minimum—namely, 24s. He thought that was a reasonable amount if a man had to maintain his wife and family, and 1260 no employer ought to give his workmen less. If the hon. Gentleman knew as much as they did of the difficulties, the troubles, and the sufferings of the class they represented owing to the low rate of wages when sickness and want of employment came, he would at once see that, whilst the Government had pledged themselves to be model employers, they were simply doing a duty to the country in themselves fulfilling the promise which had over and over again been repeated from that Bench.
§ SIR ARTHUR FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
thought it was unfortunate that this question should be brought up so frequently in the House, and that the employés of the Government should have their minds disturbed from year to year, and really encouraged to go on agitating for further additional rates of pay. They had been told that the lower class of labour in London averaged a weekly rate of 24s., but they had not been told that though it was nominally that rate, comparatively few men earned the 24s. a week. The labouring work in London, as in other large tow its, was of a more or less casual kind, while the labourers in the employ of Government obtained a regular continuity of work, and if they were paid 3s. 6d a day, they were better off than the bulk of the general labourers of London who nominally received Is. a day. Therefore, he believed that the Government in making this advance to the labourers of the lower class in their employ had held the scale fairly and had done what was reasonable and just. They were told that they must have regard to rents and to other circumstances of living. If that argument was to hold good it simply meant that the House, in every additional Vote it gave to the labourers in Government employ, was putting so much into the pockets of the landlords. That was the only logical result of the argument put before the Committee. The reduction of the hours from 53 a week to 48 was certainly a reduction in the output of work clone by the men, and, argue as they might, it must be admitted that, if they paid for 48 hours the same rate that they paid for 53, the country was paying a larger sum for the work which had to be performed. The time had arrived when those who came from the districts where the taxation was found with which to pay these 1261 wages should come to the front and say, "Whilst we wish to see fair and adequate wages paid, we ask the Government to hold the scale justly as between those who provide the money and those who receive it."
§ MR. KEARLEY
said that to-night the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had rather overstated his stock arguments, for he had spoken as though those who had taken part in the discussion had huge bodies of Government labourers in their constituencies, and therefore had some direct motive in bringing up this question. It so happened that almost all the Gentlemen who had spoken to-night did not represent this class of labour at all. It was perfectly well known that the right hon. Gentleman was an enemy of this class of labour, and that during his tenure of office at the Admiralty he did more to aggravate discontent by the miserable treatment of the Government employés in question than any man who had ever had:1 seat in the House of Commons. He adduced the arguments he had employed just now to justify retaining the minimum wage at 15s. a week.
§ SIR A. FORWOOD
remarked that he was responsible for the minimum being raised from 15s. to 18s. and 19s.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said that the right hon. Gentleman made the concession very ungenerously. Would he deny that when the labourers were getting 15s. he said the Government could get plenty of men, and there was no reason why they should pay more money? That was the Gentleman who now asked the Government not to pay any regard to the importunities of those Members who represented Government labour. So evil was the right hon. Gentleman in his treatment of this labour that he lost to the Conservatives at the General Election of 1892 half the dockyard seats. For the right hon. Gentleman personally be had the highest respect, and he regretted extremely he continued in this course.
§ MR. EDWARD MORTON (Devonport)
said the Government had announced that they would increase by 1s. 6d. the minimum wage in the factories at Woolwich and Pimlico. There were districts in which the labourers in the employ of the War Office were receiving even a smaller minimum wage than that. from which the rise had been promised. In Woolwich 1262 and Pimlico the minimum wage was 19s. 6d., but in his constituency there were Government employés who were receiving 18s. 6d. The difference of 1s. was justified, it was argued, by the fact that the cost of living was greater in London than in Devonport. Rent was one of the chief items in the cost of living. He did not know whether rent of rooms at Woolwich was higher or lower than that of rooms at Devonport, but if it was higher the difference between Woolwich and Devonport was less than that between Devonport and any other place where there were Government employés. The cost of living at Devonport was enormously increased by rent. A man could not get three unfurnished rooms there for less than 6s. a week, so that a married man receiving the minimum wage of 18s. 6il. would have to pay a third of his earnings for house room alone. The result was that many married men who might reasonably have three rooms for themselves and families, lived in two rooms, and sometimes in one. He admitted it was not the Government's fault but the fault of the very worst system of landlordism that was to be found On the surface of the civilised globe. Practically there was only one landlord in Devonport, and as long as the Government were able to induce workmen to serve them in Devonport, the landlord was able to beep up the rent to almost any degree he liked. The result was that the people were worse housed than the people anywhere else. The Government employés were ground between the upper millstone of landlordism and the nether millstone of the low rate of pay. He hoped the War Office would consider the advisability of raising the minimum wage at Devonport, where the cost of living was something over the 18s. 6d. at which it stood at present; and furthermore, in fixing the scale of pay where pensioners were employed, he hoped they would recognise that pension earned in previous employment differed from that in which the workman was at present engaged, was really deferred pay, and therefore ought not to be taken into account in estimating what the wage ought to be in his present employment.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
said the particular point referred to by the hon. Member had not been before him, but he would undertake to look into the case. 1263 But in regard to the remainder of his argument, he submitted that if the Government were to adjust wages in accordance with whether the conditions of life were expensive or otherwise, it would be impossible to reach anything like finality in the matter. The hon. Member apparently failed to see that if wages were to be increased because there were grasping landlords in a particular place, such increase would only enable the landlords to increase their grasp.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said the Government were already pledged, in places where rents were abnormal, to give some concession.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
was not aware of anything of the sort. He only knew that the First Lord last year undertook that the War Office should consult the Board of Trade in relation to the minimum wages paid in the district, and having regard to all the conditions of the case, that was the only safe ground. The pension system to which the hon. and gallant Member for Essex referred, was abolished as from a certain day. If a man came in before that day he would be entitled to a pension; if the day after, he would not. All these cases of abolition involved hardship in this or that case, but this it was impossible to avoid. The Report of the Departmental Committee on pensions bad, he admitted, been long delayed. It was even now only in draft, and had not been before the Secretary of State. He believed, however, the Committee would recommend that no scheme of pensions could be established unless the men were willing to make a substantial contribution towards it, and it had been ascertained that that would not meet their wishes. As to the economical results of the 48 hours system in relation to the cost of output, he could only say that it was impossible to answer the question. If the Ordnance Factory from year to year were employed in turning out the same class of article, and seldom varying the character of its output, then probably the balance-sheet would tell whether the reduction of hours had increased the cost of output, but the case was entirely different where they had to deal with an immense factory which in all its branches was seldom for a long time together employed upon one particular pattern or 1264 class of article. As regarded the class of operatives who now present themselves for employment in the Ordnance Stores, he did not think there had been any change whatever.
§ * MR. WOODALL
pressed the hon. Gentleman a little further in regard to the results of the 48 hours system. Had the piece work rates to be advanced or the number of day wage workers to be increased under the 48 hours' week? Was the health and punctuality of the men improved by the change?
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
believed it to be a fact that the amount of sick pay had diminished, and this was an indication that the men were in better health. But the hon. Gentlemen must not claim this as a benefit applying to reduction of hours. If he did he would find himself in conflict with the extremely active local body who said that it was due to the better sanitation of the district. It had not been necessary to increase the piece work grades. Having introduced the Board of Trade into this Inquiry, the result of their figures corresponded almost exactly with the result of the figures which the Department obtained independently.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
said that though he had no Government workmen in his constituency, he had taken a great interest in the abolition of these scandals for a long time. When the late Government was in office he was at least as pertinacious in urging the consideration of the question as he was now. He hoped that the Committee, might accept the fact that this Government had given another 1s. 6d. or 2s. as a recantation of the hasty opinions uttered by the Under Secretary for War when the late Government was in power, and when they submitted a proposal to give an advance to the men at Woolwich. In a letter to The Times in December 1893, the right hon. Gentleman said of the late Government in proposing to give an advance of 2s. 6d. at Woolwich, that it was "an ill-judged concession" to increase the wages in the dockyards at Woolwich. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on having got rid of those opinions, and with being a Member of a Government that was giving even more than the concession which he formerly considered to be ill-judged. He did not think that 1265 the advance given was up to the requirements of the day. In some respects the statement of the hon. Member was the most retrograde that had been heard during the last seven years. The hon. Member said that though he had taken pains to inquire in the London district he had no evidence that the wage was 24s. for 48 hours.
* MR. POWELL-WILLIAMS
said there was no established rate in the districts to which the inquiry related of 24s. a. week for 48 hours.
§ MR. LOUGH
said that he described this as the most retrograde step heard from any Government during the last seven years. He read a letter which appeared recently in The Times from Mr. Hills, of the Thames Iron Works, stating that the wage of the ordinary unskilled labourer in London was 24s. a week for 48 hours. All the vestries in London at present paid 6d. an hour to the unskilled labourer, and for 48 hours the wage was 24s. a week. He maintained that even the inquiries made by the hon. Gentleman proved that the employers on the average paid 24s. a. week for unskilled labour; but the Government, instead of being in the first flight of employers in respect of wages, only paid 22s. a. week. He repudiated the suggestion that human Labour should be measured and paid for like cloth, and asserted that there was no loss suffered by the introduction of 48 hours, that in fact it had been proved the better value might be got by paying the full wage for 48 hours than by working the men for a longer time. He challenged the Government to say that the country had lost through the introduction of the 48 hours at Woolwich by the late Government. He declared, on the authority of the late Government, that the country had not lost, and, if the country had not suffered by introducing the 48 hours among the highest ranks of naval workers, it would not suffer by introducing it among the lowest ranks. It had been said that the change would cost the Government £6,000 a year. For another £6,000 they would have been able to give the men 24s. a. week. He noticed that the next Vote was for £8,000,000 for the Admiralty. If they could afford £8,000,000 for ships, surely they could afford £6,000 for starving men. [Ministerial laughter.] He repeated "starving men." Let hon. Members who laughed try to live on 22s. 1266 a week—[laughter]—and if they could not do it themselves they should not ask others to do it. The Government had acted in the matter in the most niggardly spirit, and had set a very bad example to other employers.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £2,069,150, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 78; Noes, 165.—(Division List, No. 335.)
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ 2. £100, Ordnance Factories.