§ "That a sum not exceeding £1,330,323 be granted to Her Majesty to complete the Vote for salaries and expenses of the Inland Revenue Departments."
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
On a point of order, surely the practice, as I understand it, is to take the Estimates in the order in which they are placed on the Paper.
§ MR. DILLON
I think it is an inconvenient practice. I have been 18 years in this House and I never heard of it before.
As long as notice is given that the Votes are to be taken, they can be taken in the order that the responsible Minister chooses.
§ MR. DILLON
I have never known of orders of Votes being altered except by notice to the House. The reason I take objection is that it would be a most dangerous and unfair rule, because Members might be absent, not knowing that a particular Vote would be taken. Now a common thing is for Members talking amongst themselves for one to say that "Number one will take an hour or two." They may go away, and in their absence the Vote might be taken. In this way I think a grave injustice might be done.
If a special order is agreed upon, I think that special order ought to be kept, but no special order is on the Notice Paper to-day, and I am prepared to rule that it is in order to take the Vote.
§ MR. DILLON
As I read it, whenever a Member proposes to take a Vote out of order he always gives notice to the House. For instance, on the Navy Estimates to-night. What would be the object of putting that notice on the Paper unless it was assumed that when the Minister put down the Navy Estimates he intended to take them out of order?
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
Is it competent for a Minister during the course of discussion to vary the Orders of the Day? If so, it will seriously affect honourable Members. Of course I do not question your ruling, Sir.
I have already said that if the Votes appear in a particular order they ought to be kept in that 135 order, but when a statement is made that the Inland Revenue Estimates are to be taken, I think it is perfectly possible for the Minister to take one of these Votes, or any, in whatever order he pleases.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Sometimes the Chairman speaks with a certain amount of rapidity, and we do not hear. That was my case in this instance. I thought you would put the Customs Vote, and I was taken by surprise. We might perhaps appeal to the Minister to restore the Votes to their proper order.
§ MR. STUART (Shoreditch)
Without in any sense calling your ruling into question, I would appeal to the right honourable Gentleman in charge of the Estimates whether it is a wise proceeding. It would be most inconvenient if the Minister in charge jumps from one Vote to another.
§ MR. DILLON
Mr. Lowther, on the point of order now being discussed I think I can state it as a fact that, so far as my experience goes, extending over 18 years, this procedure is entirely without precedent. I quite accept your ruling, however; but I must say that this is a new departure. I never once remember a Minister in charge of the Estimates, without giving to the House notice or without consulting those present, alter the Orders of the Day, as considerable interest is excited in the Estimates. On the contrary, I have frequently heard the point raised, and so far from adopting the practice, of which I now complain, I have known Ministers abstain from altering the Order, in face of the objection of honourable Members. I have known, Ministers, by consent, when in Committee of Supply, drop one or two Votes and proceed with others; but if any Member raises the point of precedence by way of convenience, and to give an honourable Member an opportunity of being present to discuss that particular Vote, I have known a Minister proceed with that Vote. Moreover, I think that we are now, for the first time in the history of the House of Commons, attempting to deprive Members of the House of their right in discussing these Estimates. We are now on the Vote for the Revenue Department. What is the Revenue Department? We have Votes for the Post Office, and the Post Office 136 Packet Service to deal with, and the Postal Telegraph besides; and, in examining the Notice Paper, honourable Members would be perfectly entitled to assume that the Inland Revenue and the Customs Votes would occupy the whole of this night, and that there would not be the slightest chance of getting beyond them. Taking that view of the Paper and the prospects, honourable Members who are interested in the Post Office and the Packet Service might confidently go home in the expectation that those Estimates would not be reached to-night. What is it we are going to do? Are we now going, with those Members absent from the House who are interested in these Votes, to get thorn through without giving them the opportunity of discussing them? What is the object of a Notice Paper at all? Is it not to give honourable Members every reasonable notice that certain business will come on at a particular time, and give them some idea of when that time will be? I do not for a moment accuse the Secretary of the Treasury, or any Member of that bench, of any unfair preference, or anything of that sort; but the reason why I protest on the present occasion is because—and I assert it with confidence—it is a new practice, and entirely unknown in the House of Commons; and I do appeal to the Minister that on the point of order the ruling—which I accept, however—is scarcely in accordance with the facts.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. HANBURY,) Preston
Mr. Chairman, there are two points raised—one is a question of order, and the other is a question of convenience. On the point of order I think we are perfectly entitled to put down the Revenue Department Votes and take them in whatever order we choose. These were distinctly put down in a definite order. I knew there would be considerable discussion on the Customs Vote, and I also knew that there were no notices of Amendment to the Inland Revenue Vote; so I anticipated that, in any case, there would only be a short discussion upon that, and that it would be easily obtained. The main interest, I think, is centred in the Customs Vote. Thus it is that the Inland Revenue Vote was put first. We have so far been able to get very little money out of the House, and I therefore hope honourable Members 137 will allow us to proceed to the Customs Vote, in which considerable interest is centred.
§ MR. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
Mr. Chairman, under our new rule—an excellent one in its way—of Friday Supply there is only a limited time in which we can discuss these questions, and what we have done up to now is not to put down Votes for money they expect to get at a particular time, without discussion, but to put down Votes on which they expect a discussion to take place. It does not matter to them when they get a particular Vote, for they will get it eventually on the last Friday, and all the money they require. In raising a point like this it certainly shows how it stands in the way of business, and interferes with questions which honourable Members come down to discuss. It is taking up—a discussion like this—a certain amount of time which presents no difficulty to the Government in getting the money. You, Mr. Lowther, have given us your ruling, and I hope the discussion which has taken place will show the right honourable Gentleman the unwisdom of trying, as it would seem, to snatch this Vote, though no one accuses anyone in the position of the right honourable Gentleman of doing that. But it will show him that when Votes are put down they should be adhered to in the order in which they appear.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
There is a proper rule to be observed on this subject, and the order has been somewhat departed from. It may be that there is a good reason for the Votes being taken in the order now proposed; and had my right honourable Friend told us that he intended to take the Inland Revenue Vote first we should have come down knowing where we were. What we complain of is—and it is a most serious thing—that having come down to discuss the Revenue Department Estimates in order, Vote 2 is suddenly sprung upon us unawares, and Vote 1 is passed by. Then there is another thing. My right honourable Friend says he wished the Inland Revenue Vote to be discussed first. Well, that is a reason against discussing it 138 first; because, while we are taking up time discussing Votes of no interest, when the Votes which are interesting come to be taken they are closured before the proper time. That is a reason, I submit, for saying that the Revenue Vote should be taken last instead of first. It is the Customs Vote which requires discussion. It is this one we wanted to discuss with the honourable and gallant Admiral the Member for Eastbourne. The Inland Revenue Vote might have followed. Sir, I am bound to say that this is a most important question. This House cannot have its business carried on in a business-like manner unless we know the order of such business; and when we expect certain business to be taken first, whatever the rule of the order may be, I trust that order will be adhered to, and that the right honourable Gentleman will in future use his influence to prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate departure.
§ MR. HANBURY
I can quite understand that there might be some formal objection to the order proposed of taking this Vote, and while I still ask that the Vote should be agreed to, if there is a strong feeling on the subject, I have no hesitation in withdrawing the Vote.
§ MR. DILLON
Mr. Lowther, I am glad that my right honourable Friend has taken that view; but I notice that the right honourable Gentleman, who has had unparalleled experience in the conduct of Supply, did not undertake to say that it had never been done before. The reason I object to it is on principle. I object to the practice. He might just as well have put the Vote for the telegraphs without notice.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (Yorks, E.R., Holderness)
I thought my honourable Friend had some formal objection to make. I should have thought he would have been the last man to take such an objection. I agree with my Friend the honourable Member for King's Lynn that although the point of order is settled, when it is proposed to transpose the order in which Votes are to be taken notice should be given.
§ MR. HAZELL (Leicester)
I join in the appeal of the honourable Member. 139 We all know that it sometimes unavoidably happens that a discussion is protracted, and it is difficult to sit in the House all the time. I was told only 20 minutes ago that the Customs Vote would be taken next.
§ MR. HANBURY
If there is any idea prevailing that it was proposed to take this Vote out of its order to obviate discussion I withdraw it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a sum, not exceeding £575,600, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1899, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Customs Department.
Whereupon Motion made, and Question proposed—
That Item 'A' (Salaries) be reduced by £100, in respect of the Salary of the Chairman of the Board of Customs."—(Mr. Strachey.)
§ MR. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
I desire to move the reduction of the salary of the chairman of the Board of Customs by £100, in order to call attention to the inadequacy of the steps taken by the Department to prevent the importation of adulterated foods. The importation of butter is largely increasing, and, having regard to the price at which it is sold, it is impossible to believe that it is all perfectly pure. Adulterated butter ought to be dealt with at the port of entry for the protection of the consumer. Samples of butter and samples of cheese should be taken and examined when landed before being despatched to the various centres for which they are intended. It seems to me that, although notice is given to the local authority that these goods have been adulterated, some good might be done where the local authority is acting, and is desirous of preventing adulterated products from being sold and consumers suffering thereby. There may be instances where the local authorities are lax in this matter, and do not take much trouble to stop the free sale of adulterated products coming from abroad or from some places in this country. Well, Mr. Lowther, it is a well-known fact that 140 the increase is very large indeed in the adulteration of butter, and that at the price at which it is sold it is impossible that it can be pure. A great deal of the butter imported from abroad is adulterated to a very large extent, and I cannot help thinking that the Board of Customs would only be doing their duty if they would only take precautions not only to sample, but to test and see that the butter was pure, and not largely adulterated, and so prevent it being sold to the detriment of the consumer. By doing this they would stop it at the port it arrived at until it was properly analysed, and thereby the consumer would be protected. I take this point of view simply in the interests of the consumer, because I am anxious that butter should be imported perfectly free from adulteration. I feel that the consumer should be protected, and should not have butter sold to him except it is the real genuine article. At present butter is consigned to tradesmen largely adulterated from abroad, and naturally they are unprotected in this matter. If it was adulterated margarine, they would be obliged to sell it as margarine; and if they receive it as butter they are perfectly justified in selling it as butter, and the whole fault lies with the Board of Customs, who allow such a state of things to be possible. If the Board of Customs did their duty it would be impossible for this adulterated butter to be distributed to the detriment of the consumer in this matter. There is another article of large consumption imported into this country—I refer to milk. Milk is largely adulterated with boracic acid, and is largely adulterated with other drugs detrimental to health. It is a well-known fact, and it is asserted in medical papers, that it is a very serious matter when milk is adulterated with boracic acid and imported in very large quantities from abroad. I say that the Board of Customs is not doing its duty unless it makes itself perfectly certain that milk does not contain boracic acid and other drugs which are at the same time prejudicial to health, and in the case of children have been known to produce very serious injury, and in some cases death has resulted. I think in cases of this sort great discretion should be used by the Board of 141 Customs, and they should not only inform the local authority what they have done to prevent these adulterated products being introduced into this country but they should stop the importation o these adulterated products. It seems to me that it would be very unjust, no only from the consumer's point of view—and we must principally look after the consumer in this matter—but it is unfair to the producer, who has to compete with these adulterated dairy products, and, naturally, he very much resents that, while he himself has to exercise the greatest care in the products he produces, whether butter or milk, to see that they an pure, on the other hand the foreigner is allowed to meet him in his own market with adulterated stuff. Therefore it is only fair and just that the law should be altered to prevent that injustice.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol W.
I really fail to see how the observations of the honourable Member are relevant to the salary of the Chairman of the Board of Customs. I do not gather that the honourable Member alleges that the Chairman of the Board of Customs does not perform all the duties which the law cast upon him; but he appears to desire some alteration of the law by which the Chairman shall be empowered to take certain proceedings with reference to food articles imported from abroad which he does not now take, because the law does not empower him to do so. But surely it is a little hard that the salary of the chairman of the Board of Customs should be reduced because he does not carry out a law which does not exist. It would be acting contrary to law if he attempted to carry out the views of the honourable Member. The honourable Member may be perfectly right, and there may be a very good case for his contention for some alteration of the law in this matter, but it is hardly fair to the chairman of the Board of Customs that he should suffer for any deficiency in the law which the honourable Member may believe exists.
§ *MR. ERNEST GRAY (West Ham, N.)
There are a number of grievances of which the customs officers complain.
Are the honourable Member's remarks going to be applicable to the salary of the Chairman of the Board of Customs?
The honourable Member would be more in order if he raised that point upon the whole Vote. This is the salary of one official, and the honourable Member will have an opportunity of bringing forward his point upon the whole Vote.
§ MR. STRACHEY
It has been said that the chairman of the Board of Customs has no power to deal with this matter. If so, why does he stop these foreign goods and take samples of them? If he has power to stop them and take samples on the ground that they are adulterated, he would have power to stop them altogether.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
That is precisely what he has not got power to do. He has power to take samples of food products, but no power to stop importation.
§ MR. STRACHEY
The Chancellor of the Exchequer having assured me that it is not the fault of the chairman of the Board of Customs, but the fault of Her Majesty's Government that there is no law to prevent adulterated food products being brought into this country, although they told us that they were going to introduce a Bill on the subject. I think that I had better, withdraw my Motion.
§ *MR. KEARLEY
My honourable Friend has been endeavouring to fix responsibility upon the chairman of the Board of Customs, whereas he has no power. That, of course, we perfectly understand, seeing that a Committee upon this question has made a strong recommendation in favour of an Amendment of 143 the Customs Consolidated Act. Seeing that the recommendation has been made, I am quite sure, if I am in order in saying so, that the Government should take some steps to bring that question into the Queen's Speech.
That raises a matter of legislation which cannot be dealt with in a Committee of Supply.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed—
Whereupon Motion made, and Question put—
That Item B, 1, A (Salaries and Allowances), be reduced by £100."—(Captain Norton.)
§ *CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)
I desire to draw the attention of the Committee to the grievances of a small but useful body of men who, in my opinion, are the poorest paid of the customs officials. They are now known as "watchers," and this body of men has only recently been formed out of another class. They have succeeded to the duties of those who are known as outdoor officers, and my contention is that these men, I might also venture to say, are shamefully underpaid, inasmuch as their predecessors received £10 per year, with two-thirds as a pension. Further, they had an allowance of 8d., and what is known as the cab allowance of 1s. 6d. Now, Sir, these men number throughout the kingdom something like 600, but I only propose dealing with less than half of that number, who are connected with the port of London, and I may add that the majority of these men now employed are men who have had more than ten years' service in Her Majesty's customs. The right honourable Gentleman, in answer to a question of mine in the House, stated that when the Department was reorganised and this class formed it was done in order to put an end to a system under which certain duties were being discharged by officers at an unnecessarily high rate of pay. Well, Sir, with that I entirely agree, and I think credit is due to the Department for having made this change in the interests of the taxpayer. It is their duty to get the best possible work and to fairly and justly pay for it, 144 but my contention is that they have done too much. Well, they have underpaid, and overworked them; they have formed from an overpaid class a class of whom I will not say that they are overworked to any great extent, but are certainly underpaid. Now what are their duties? Let me just point out the duties which these men have to perform. These men assist, at any rate, in the protection and collection of the great Customs Revenue, a Department which supplies to the Exchequer £21,000,000 sterling, and which produced an excess of half a million last year compared with that of the previous year; and, furthermore, in their estimate they make a demand for some £5,000 or £6,000 less than formerly. Indeed, it is perfectly fair to presume that a certain proportion of the economy has been due to the diminution in the pay of the outdoor Department. Now, Sir, what are the duties which these men perform? I say that these men perform, with the exception of some few superior duties, almost all the duties performed by that class which received the very fair wages to which I alluded; with very few exceptions they perform the duties of that class. Now, I know that point will be contested by the right honourable Gentleman, and I will draw his attention to a few words in a footnote to the Estimates—As outdoor officers retire or are promoted, watchers are appointed.I think that goes to prove that these watchers are acting as substitutes for their predecessors. They perform the very important duties of tallying and locking. In performing those duties they are open to very great temptations, in as much as there is nothing to prevent a watcher from entering into collusion with the lighterman and tallying for 499 cases instead of 500 cases of brandy containing six bottles, and thereby defrauding the Government, of the duty. They also perform the duties of locking. Now locking bonded warehouses is again an important duty, because, until the whole of the goods are cleared out, if an irregularity took place it would not be discovered, and the man might be at the other end of the world by that time. Now the dock company's locker who 145 does this duty receives 25s. per week plus 8d. overtime, and in addition to this he has a pension. Now, will the House believe me when I tell them that these watchers receive but 21s. per week? Now, I have no doubt that many of the country Members not familiar with the way the working man lives in London will say, "Not a bad wage either." I frankly admit that in many parts of the country where a working man could get a decent four-roomed cottage for 3s. a week, and has 18s. left to live on, that such a wage is not a bad one. But that is not the case with the London man, as every London Member well knows. London workmen cannot get three miserable rooms for less than 7s. per week. That is a well-known fact. Therefore their wages are reduced to 14s. But the London workman cannot get accommodation near the docks, and he is obliged to live at some distance from the docks, and if you allow a penny for an omnibus, you must take 1s. a week off, and that reduces them to 13s. Upon that, according to the regulations, he has to be neatly dressed and wear a uniform, and that uniform he has to supply out of these wretched wages; and if you allow 52s. for a uniform, you bring him down to some 12s. a week. Now, I appeal to the Committee and ask whether it is fair to employ men in London to-day to do these responsible duties, and that he should be compelled to feed and clothe himself and his wife and family upon 12s. a week. I do not think, Mr. Lowther, that that is adequate pay. Moreover, it is not a trade, as in many other services, where a man begins at an age before he has the responsibilities of a family cast upon him. These men, before they can enter the service, must be 30 years of age. They are in the prime of manhood, with all the responsibilities of citizenship upon them, and in most cases they have a family. Moreover, they have to be in good health, and to pass the doctor, and, furthermore, they have to be of good character. The private employer of labour is in an altogether different position from that occupied by the Government. The private employer has frequently to keep his factory running at a very narrow margin of profit, sometimes at an absolute loss, hoping for better times. He 146 is on the horns of a dilemma: he must either break up his establishment and run the risk of not being able to get his workmen together when good times come, or he must keep on, although at a loss. I am not an employer of labour myself, but I have every sympathy with a man placed in that position. But that the Government which is supposed to be the model employer of labour, and which forces on contractors the very conditions which they will not themselves work under—the Government of a great nation, with wealth such as the right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer justly boasted of some time ago, and with a credit such as no nation ever had before—that a Government in that position should deny its own employees a living wage is more than I can fathom. I shall probably be asked why I fix upon 24s. a week as the rate which these men receive. It is for this reason: that there is no public body in London which does not give the humblest of its employees 24s. a week. In the case of the vestry of the parish, half of which I have the honour to represent, and in the case of almost every vestry, it is returned on the understanding that no employee shall be taken into its service and paid less than 24s. a week. Why? Because in the Minority Report of the Labour Commission it was reported that that was the lowest sum at which a man could bring up himself and his family in decency and comfort within the county of London. I am not asking for anything for those men outside London—their position is different; I speak simply as a London Member, and I have considerable knowledge of the way in which the London workman lives. I say that this demand for a living wage is a perfectly just and reasonable demand, and I have reason to think that the right honourable Gentleman will meet me fairly. We all know that the right honourable Gentleman goes very fully into everything in connection with, I might almost say, the two Departments which he so ably represents on that Bench. We all know that the right honourable Gentleman has the courage of his opinions, and if I can only make out a good case I believe he will meet me fairly. They do say that evil communications corrupt good manners, but I must say that the right honourable 147 Gentleman has not deteriorated in the least through sitting on that Bench. It is true that in 1886 these men received an increase of pay; their wages were raised from 19s. to 21s., but that was a fallacious and altogether Jesuitical rise. Whereas they were given 21s. instead of 19s. a week, their hours of labour were increased from 48 to 54. The right honourable Gentleman says that it is only in rare instances that the men actually work for 54 hours in the week. I can assure him that it is the rule rather than the exception for them to work for 54 hours. Now, I come to the general question of the hours of labour. Apart from the question of pay, the men complain that their hours are inconveniently arranged, inasmuch as a man is called upon to work 12 hours on one day, and on the following day he is simply put on from 6 to 12 o'clock. That is really a disadvantage to the man, inasmuch as he is unable to avail himself of the workmen's trains to go to and from his home. By the London Port Order of 1892 the hours were, to meet the convenience of merchants, extended from 10 to 6. Prior to that the hours were different, but by this re-arrangement of hours the men were robbed of their overtime; so that whereas formerly a man was able to make up this meagre pay by overtime he is now deprived of that. The right honourable Gentleman will probably say that it is only in a few instances that the new arrangement would work in this way. The instances are, in fact, very many. At most of the docks connected with the Continental trade in London the men are obliged to be at work on three days of the week at 6 o'clock in the morning, and in many instances at five in the morning, necessitating their leaving their homes between three and four o'clock. That, practically, amounts to night work, and we all know that night work is paid at a higher rate than day work. Under these circumstances the men ask that the old rate of 8d. an hour should be restored. The Government can afford to be generous, because, owing to this re-arrangement of hours, the Government have succeeded in economising to the extent of about £4,000 in the way of overtime, which the men previously received. Further, these men work side by side with established men who do not 148 come On duty till 8 o'clock, or, if they do, receive a higher rate of pay. There is one dock which is known as the overtime dock, where the men work steadily 54 hours a week. The point, however, on which these men feel most keenly is this: that the Government took what they consider an unfair advantage of them by the general order of 1896, which established the nine hours rule. At the time the men were given to understand, and the order so reads, that they should work but nine hours. Two months and a few days afterwards the Government brought in a memorandum which is to be read in conjunction with the general order, which robs them of the little overtime that they might have made, because it provides that unless a man works 54 hours in six days he cannot count any overtime at all. Then I come to the question of gratuities. By Treasury Minute, No. 6,215 of 1896, these watchers have to work at least 300 days in every year for 15 consecutive years before they can receive their wretched gratuity of £1 a year. These men found it impossible to work the 300 days per year under the old regulations, and therefore they are practically driven out of the service at 60 years of age without any gratuity at all. At the present moment there are a certain number of these men who have served more than the necessary number of years, but who, owing to no fault of their own, having been unable to work the exact number of days in every year, are deprived of the gratuity to which they are nominally entitled. I hope and believe that the right honourable Gentleman will put that right. I contend that the present system does not give a just and fair interpretation to the Fair Wages Resolution of 1891, and I ask whether from the moral point of view it is a wise thing to employ men at sweating wages. If it is desirable, as was declared by the Royal Commission's Report on the sweating system, that there should be an increased sense of responsibility on the part of employers, how much more desirable is it that the Government, who run none of the ordinary commercial risks, should feel its responsibilities. It is most unjust to compel contractors and municipal authorities to keep up to a certain standard when the central Government themselves do not. 149 There is nothing the workers of this country resent more than that the Government or even private employers should take advantage of the fact that a man has a pension in order to beat down the rate of Wages in a particular branch of labour. They maintain that a pension is part payment for previous service, and that it is unfair and unjust on the part of the Government to utilise the services of old soldiers and sailors to beat down the rate of wages in a particular locality. But, Sir, I would appeal to the Committee also on other grounds. Leaving aside the Resolution which was passed in this House in 1891, I know the right honourable Gentleman will reply that at the present time the men who are being taken for this particular duty, or at any rate the men who are taken in preference to others, are men who have served in the Army, or the Navy, Or the police force, or the fire brigade services throughout the country; and I am one of those who advocate that, wherever possible, discharged soldiers and sailors should have the first chance of this class of employment. But if these men from the Services, who are raw recruits so far as the work in the Customs is concerned, are worth 21s. a week to the Government, surely the older hands, with over 10 years' service, and well acquainted with all the various duties, must be worth 24s. There is no excuse for the Government paying less than the market rate of wages, and thereby forcing men to bring up their families in such a way that many of them must eventually become a burden upon the community. Mr. Lowther, I well remember many years ago being keenly touched by a speech delivered by the late Mr. John Bright in Glasgow, when he made a powerful and pathetic appeal on behalf of the dwellers in one-roomed homes. The magic of Mr. Bright's oratory secured him a great measure of success; but my case is really far stronger than his. He pleaded for pity; I plead for justice. He pleaded for men who are, after all, the wastrels and ne'er-do-wells of society; I plead for men whose honesty, whose industry, whose usefulness cannot be denied—men who are struggling with the demon of poverty, and who, if this present treatment is con- 150 tinued, must be crushed in his iron grasp, and must leave a progeny who will inevitably drift towards those one-roomed homes which are the forcing-houses of degeneracy, vice, and crime.
§ *MR. MARKS (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
I should like to submit to the Committee a few brief observations in support of the plea advanced by the honourable Gentleman on behalf of the Customs watchers of the port of London. In respect of the pay they receive and the hours they work, and the arrangement of those hours of work, they are not only the worst treated of all the employees of the Crown, but the worst treated of all the working classes of the country. These men receive for 54 hours a week a pay of 21s., or about 4½d. an hour. For 4½d. an hour they wear the Queen's uniform and do Government duty. The waterside workers, who work alongside them, receive 6d. an hour, or 24s. a week. Shipworkers get 8d. an hour, or equal, on the same basis, to 38s. a week; and even the unskilled workmen in the naval yards receive 20s. a week for a 48 hours' week. The duties entrusted to these men are responsible duties which bring them constantly in contact with the docker, whose "tanner an hour" is a matter of envy to the ill-used watcher in the Queen's uniform. Something has been said about the Government being a model employer of labour. I am no great advocate of the Government being a model employer if that means that the Government should pay their employees out of the public funds a rate of wage which, is in excess of the wages paid by other employers; but I do think the Government might be a model employer to this extent: that it should not use its power and influence to underpay workmen, and should not pay less than the average wages paid by private employers for similar work. It should not set an example of parsimony. It may be urged that many of these men have pensions. Some of them undoubtedly have, but that fact certainly does not justify Government in underpaying them—pensioners and non-pensioners alike. A pension is given in recognition of work done: 151 it is not a subsidy to induce men to accept unfair pay for work to be done hereafter. Pensioners are introduced into the Postal Service, but surely their pensions will not be cited as an excuse for keeping down the pay of postal employees. If pensions are to be regarded as affording an excuse for Government sweating, the granting of pensions will come to be regarded with little favour by the recipients, and with some fear by the general body of working-men. Now what is it that is asked for by these men? There are only 300 of them in London, and it cannot be argued that the increased pay and reduction of hours that they ask for would bear very heavily on the Exchequer. The plea is not put forward on behalf of a large and influential body of men. The body is not large, and by reason of their employment in Government work they are not an influential body, but these 300 men do responsible work, and do it well. All they ask is the modest pittance of 6d. an hour—24s. for 48 hours' work. It does not need very intricate calculation to show that what they ask is a mere bagatelle, so far as money is concerned. I cannot help thinking that they have a right to ask for it, and that the Secretary to the Treasury will be doing, if not a generous at least a just thing in granting it.
§ MR. HANBURY
The honourable Members for Newington and for the St. George's Division have presented only one side of the case. The honourable Member for Newington said that these men were receiving 21s. a week for work the outside market rate of which was 24s. The honourable Member must be aware that as a result of the great dock strike a considerable alteration has taken place in the system of casual labour. True, the men were paid a high rate of wage, but it must not be forgotten that they were out of employment for long periods, during which they earned nothing at all. These men have now permanent employment, and they are receiving, instead of the 19s. that they got two years ago, 21s. a week, which is, at any rate, a considerable improvement upon what they had before. Then we are told that 24s. a week is the ordinary rate of wage which they should have according to the London 152 scale. That may be true if these men were doing a full day's work, but I suppose nobody would maintain that 24s. is a fair rate of pay for men who are not doing anything like a full day's work. These men are liable to be called on at any time during nine hours to do a certain amount of work, but I am able say that, on an average, they do not work more than five hours a day. Then, in addition to this 21s. a week for what is practically only five hours a day, the men have considerable advantages which outside workmen do not receive. In the first place, they are practically guaranteed constant employment. Then, of course, they have a considerable amount of sick leave, during which they are paid, and in addition to that they have 14 days' holiday every year. All these things nave to be taken into consideration in discussing the advantages which workmen in Government employ receive, as compared with those who have higher pay in the outside market. Then the honourable Member says that we ought not to take into consideration the pensions which these men receive. To a large extent I agree with him. I do not think it is fair that these pensions should in any way be used to cut down the average rate of wages.
§ MR. HANBURY
But more than one half of the men who get 21s. a week get pensions. If we employ—as I hope we shall employ—in the public service, as far as we possibly can, our discharged sailors and soldiers, I cannot conceive any Department of State in which it is more desirable that they should be employed than the one we are discussing. This is a kind of work which, after all, is not sought for by able-bodied men. The great majority of these men are men who can in no sense be described as able-bodied. I am told, for instance, that the leader of the agitation himself is a one-armed man, and there are many of the men who are lame, and who have really been taken on out of charity more than anything else—men who would have been dismissed by an ordinary employer. But it was felt that men who had been in the employment of the State for a consider- 153 able period ought not to be dismissed as they would be by a private employer, and when this new staff of watchers was formed it was felt that this was just the kind of Work which could be done by men who had not all the physical advantages of able-bodied men, and was just the kind of work that ought to be given to pensioners from the Navy or the Army. Then we are told that this is a question of a living wage. In the first place, I say we are not talking of men who do a full day's work, and it is in no sense a question of a living wage. While it would be unfair to take pensions into account in order to cut down the rate of wages, it is, I think, fair at least to take into consideration that we are dealing with men who only do half a day's work. The honourable Member must know that their work is done under such constant supervision that very little responsibility attaches to them, and the rate of wages given to them is quite up to the average rate for work of that description. The honourable Member for Newington spoke of the watchers having "duties of great responsibility and much temptation." He must be aware that with the supervision they have there is practically no responsibility attaching to them. There is one point on which, I think, it is fair to meet the honourable Member, and I think he has made out a case—namely, with regard to the cab allowance. In the old days the overtime rate used to be 8d. per hour, after a much longer limit of hours; I think it was 72, as against 54. That has been reduced to 6d. per hour after 54 hours, which is a considerable gain to the men. But with regard to this cab allowance I do not think that it works out as favourably for them as under the old system. While they would get 1s. 6d. and 8d. for the extra hour under the old system, making 2s. 2d. altogether, they now get only two hours' overtime at 6d., which represents only 1s., so that there is a difference of 1s. 2d. I think the men have some reason to complain of that, and I can promise the honourable Member that I shall take steps to see whether some amelioration cannot be effected. Then again, with regard to the gratuity on retirement. I had to go into a similar case some time ago, and it struck me as lard that the gratuity should be contin- 154 gent on 300 days having been actually worked during the year, without any allowance for sick leave, holidays, or anything of that kind. Here, again, I shall consider how far the system can be altered in favour of the men. But on the very much larger question of wages I am perfectly convinced, having gone thoroughly into the case, that the 24s., which the honourable Member claims, although it might be perfectly fair if the men were kept at work for nine hours a day, is a great deal more than these men are entitled to, seeing that, in the first place, they are not able-bodied men, and further, that they work not nine hours a day but five.
§ *CAPTAIN NORTON
May I point out that these men are not in a position to earn any other money, because they are obliged to give the Government the first call upon their work, and therefore the Government put them in this position, that they must either leave themselves and their families to starve on this 21s. a week, or they must go into the workhouse?
§ MR. STEADMAN (Stepney)
The Secretary to the Treasury laid great stress upon the fact that, although these men have to be in attendance nine hours during the day, they actually work only five hours. I can only say that I would much rather work nine hours straight off the reel than work five hours and loaf about during the other four. I know from experience that when a man is wording the time passes much more quickly than when he is loafing about. The honourable Gentleman compared their rate of pay to the rate of wages paid in docks, and in order to make good his point he is trying to make out that whereas these men are in constant employment the dock labourers are only in casual employment. As a matter of fact, in our docks we have one class of men known as permanent men, who receive a permanent rate of 24s. a week full pay and sick leave allowances and pensions. There is another class of men employed who likewise receive 24s. a week, but without pension or sick leave. The honourable Gentleman went on to say that these men are not able-bodied men and that the leader of the 155 agitation himself was a one-armed man. Well, if he is a one-armed man I suppose he has lost his arm in the service of the country, and one-armed or two-armed he is fit for the work given him to do. The honourable Member for Newington, and also the honourable Member for the Tower Hamlets, have dealt very fully with the question of watchers, but I would call attention to another class of workmen—namely, the boatmen. The Secretary to the Treasury, I think, will not argue that the boatmen are not able-bodied men. They commence with the salary of £55, rising by annual increments of £1 10s. to £65 a year. Now these men hold a responsible position alongside the watchers. At the present time their hours of labour are 96 hours the first week and 72 hours the following week, or an average of 84 hours per week, so that they actually receive for wages a minimum of 3d. per hour, or a maximum of 8¾d. These men are in a different position to that of the dock labourer. I am a waterside watcher myself, and I therefore know the temptation that these men are put to, and I ask the Government to-day how they can expect workmen in their employment holding such responsible positions to be satisfied with a wage of 21s. or even 24s. a week? I should like to give the House my own personal experience as a workman. I had to live myself, and bring up a family for 23 years, on the wages of a journeyman mechanic. Those wages averaged two guineas per week, and I found I was unable to put anything by for old age upon that wage.
§ MR. STEADMAN
The honourable Member asks what I am doing now. I am simply doing my level best, so far as my humble abilities go, to plead for a body of men of which I have the honour to be one. All I can say is that if honourable Members opposite had to live and bring up a family on 21s. a week perhaps they would have a little more 156 feeling for their fellow-men. These men are equal with any honourable Members in this House—they have just as much right to live as any honourable Member of this House. It is bad enough for the private employer to conduct all his operations under the cast-iron rules which he imagines regulate the law of supply and demand in the labour market. But the position of the Government is altogether different from that of a private employer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has only recently told this House that the country was never in a more prosperous and flourishing condition. That being so, I say the Government ought to set an example to private employers, and even to county councils and vestries, and other public bodies in the matter of payment of wages. I say that 24s. a week is not a living wage. If any man says it is let him try to live upon it. Workmen have no right to live in hovels, but by this starvation rate you compel them to live in the slums and hovels which abound throughout London. The right honourable Gentleman opposite the other day was deploring the fact that children left the Board school before they had received the education they ought to have. Can you wonder at the parents being forced to take their children away from school in order to earn the few shillings that they can earn whilst you pay them the miserable pittance of 21s. a week?
§ *MR. GRAY
I do not propose at this late hour of the evening to detain the Committee at any length, but I observe that there is a Vote included under this total for a certain class of public servants known as abstractors. These men have been working under somewhat unfair conditions for many years past, and I want to ask the honourable Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury whether he cannot see his way to make some alteration in their favour. They are divided into two grades, and their wages are £70, increasing by annual increments to £150. The grievance is that a man in the lower grade may serve a sufficient number of years to have increased his salary to £130, but if he is promoted to the higher grade and accepts the appointment, he 157 has to drop at once to £70. I am sure the honourable Gentleman will recognise that this is not the way to treat any class of public servants, and he has promised to look into the matter. If he is able to say to-night that he has been able to do something in this matter, I am sure it will give satisfaction to a number of Members on this side and on the opposite side who take an interest in the question.
§ abstractors are not a large body of men, and there are very few cases of promotion from the one grade into the other. I confess I think the case he has put seems rather a hard one, and I will consider whether it is not possible to make some alteration in the rule.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 50; Noes 113.—(Division List No. 167.)159
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Hazell, Walter||Roberts, J. H. (Denbighsh.)|
|Baker, Sir John||Healy, Maurice (Cork)||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Brigg, John||Jones, Win. (Carnarvonshire)||Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarsh.)|
|Burns, John||Lambert, George||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Caldwell, James||Lewis, John Herbert||Spicer, Albert|
|Carvill, Patrick G. Hamilton||Lloyd-George, David||Stuart, James (Shoreditch)|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Macaleese, Daniel||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Clough, Walter Owen||McArthur, Win. (Cornwall)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Colville, John||Maddison, Fred.||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Daly, James||Marks, Henry H.||Ure, Alexander|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand||Warner, Thomas C. T.|
|Dillon, John||Morton, E. J. C. (Devonport)||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Doogan, P. C.||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbro')|
|Duckworth, James||Pearson, Sir Weetman D.||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Evans, Sir F. H. (South'ton)||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Foster, Sir W. (Derby Co.)||Pirie, Duncan V.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Provand, Andrew Dryburgh||Captain Norton and Mr. Steadman.|
|Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale-||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F.||Clarke, Sir E. (Plymouth)||Gordon, Hon. John Edward|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E.||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John E.|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Coghill, Douglas Harry||Graham, Henry Robert|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)|
|Bagot, Capt. J. FitzRoy||Colomb, Sir John Charles R.||Green, W. D. (Wednesbury)|
|Baillie, Jas. E. B. (Inverness)||Compton, Lord Alwyne||Gretton, John|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r)||Cook, Fred. L. (Lambeth)||Greville, Captain|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Cooke, C. W. R. (Hereford)||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Corbett, A. C. (Glasgow)||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. R. W.|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M.H. (Brist'l)||Cotton-Jodrell, Col. E. T. D.||Henderson, Alexander|
|Beresford, Lord Charles||Curzon, Viscount (Bucks)||Hill, Rt. Hn. Lord A. (Down)|
|Bill, Charles||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Hoare, Samuel (Norwich)|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Dane, Richard M.||Jebb, Richard Claverhouse|
|Bond, Edward||Dickson-Poynder, Sir J. P.||Johnston, William (Belfast)|
|Brassey, Albert||Digby, J. K. D. Wingfield-||Kenyon, James|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Kimber, Henry|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Lawrence, Sir E. D. (Cornw.)|
|Cavendish, V.C.W. (Derbysh.)||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E.||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh||Field, Admiral (Eastbourne)||Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland)|
|Chaloner, Capt. R. G. W.||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.)||Fisher, William Hayes||Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie|
|Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r)||Fletcher, Sir Henry||Llewellyn, E. H. (Somerset)|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Garfit, William||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn-(Sw'ns'a)|
|Charrington, Spencer||Gedge, Sydney||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.|
|Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverp'l)||Nicol, Donald Ninian||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Phillpotts, Capt, Arthur||Valentia, Viscount|
|Lowe, Francis William||Pollock, Harry Frederick||Warde, Lt.-Col. C. E. (Kent)|
|Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Pryce-Jones, Edward||Warkworth, Lord|
|Lucas-Shadwell, William||Purvis, Robert||Webster, Sir R. E. (I. of W.)|
|Maclure, Sir John William||Rasch, Major Frederic Came||Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon-|
|McArthur, Chas. (Liverpool)||Richardson, Sir T. (Hartlep'l)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Milward, Colonel Victor||Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W.||Williams, J. Powell (Birm.)|
|Monckton, Edward Philip||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas. T.||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|More, Robert Jasper||Robinson, Brooke||Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-|
|Morgan, Hn. F. (Monm'thsh.)||Round, James||Wylie, Alexander|
|Morrell, George Herbert||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute)||Simeon, Sir Barrington||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Murray, Chas. J. (Coventry)||Stanley, Lord (Lancs)||Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Nicolson, William Graham||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
§ And it being after Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ House resumed.