HC Deb 15 May 1900 vol 83 cc257-76


* MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)

I desire to call the attention of the House once more to this subject, in which I have taken considerable interest during the past nine or ten years I have been in Parliament—namely, the subject of the registration of plumbers.† The proposal for a national registration of plumbers was made, I believe, for the first time at the Congress of Health held in London in 1884, and that was followed by a request to a public body to deal with the matter. That public body was the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. They came forward to assist those who were associated with them not merely in name, but in fact. Then there was the Congress of Hygiene in 1891, and a resolution was passed at that Congress relating to this subject. That resolution, which was moved by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, seconded by the chairman of the Health Committee of Glasgow, and supported by the Mayor of Manchester and by the medical officer of Dublin, was as follows— That this special meeting of the International Congress of Hygiene, assembled to consider the necessity for securing the greater sanitary efficiency of the plumbers' work and drainage of dwelling-houses and other buildings, desires to record its opinion that an organised and efficient system of registration of qualified plumbers is essential to the protection and preservation of the health of the community, and that the time, has now arrived when application should be made to Parliament for powers enabling a council of † The following is a complete list of Hansard references to this subject:—Plumbers' Registration Bill, 1892, see The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vols. i.. ii., and iii.; numbers' Registration Bill, 1803, Vols. viii., xii., xiii., xiv., and xv.; Plumbers' Registration Bill, 1894, Vols. xxii., xxiii., and xxviii.; Plumbers' Registration Bill, 1895, Vols. xxx., xxxi., and xxxiii.; Plumbers' Registration Bill. 1896, Vols. xxxvii., xxxviii., and xxxix.; Plumbers' Registration Bill, 1897, Vols. xlv., xlviii., xlix., and 1.; Registration of Plumbers Bill; 1898, Vols. lv. and xlvi.: Plumbers' Registration, Resolution, 1899, Vol. lxxii. competent jurisdiction and authority to take measures for systematically promoting technical education among plumbers in all parts of the United Kingdom. The Government of the day were approached, and the Local Government Board suggested a Private Member's Bill, and I was asked to take charge of the Bill. A Bill on the subject was introduced in 1892, and the names on the back of it represented all parties in the House and all parts of the United Kingdom. The names on the back of the Bill were Mr. A. H. D. Acland, Sir Algernon Borthwick, Lord Compton, Mr. W. H. Cross, Mr. Dixon, Dr. Farquharson, Mr. Bowen Rowlands, Mr. Sexton, and myself. Of those nine only two are now left in the House, the rest having been taken away either by retirement, death, or the peerage. The Bill which was then introduced had for its object to afford additional safeguards to the public health by enabling persons employing plumbers to select (when they desired to do so) persons who had given evidence of their qualification for plumbers' work. The Bill did not contemplate any monopoly, and it did not interfere with the rights of non-registered plumbers. It prohibited, however, such plumbers from representing themselves to be registered. That Bill was read a second time and referred to a Select Committee. Again, the members of that Committee will be interesting to the House. They were: Mr. Gainsford Bruce, Mr. Cremer, Mr. Samuel Evans, Dr. Farquharson, Mr. Fenwick, Mr. Isaacs, Mr. Kimber, Mr. Lafone, Mr. John Maden, Mr. Murphy, Mr. Powell, Mr. Taylor, and myself, and of those thirteen, six. only remain in the House. Evidence was taken, and the Select Committee reported unanimously in favour of the Bill. If any hon. Members will turn to that Report they will see much interesting evidence. We had practical plumbers before us, who brought us illustrations of scamped work. For instance, we had the evidence of one plumber who showed us a dummy zinc soil-pipe which was put into a house rented at £40 a year, and this pipe was put in to imitate a lead soil-pipe. It was of the same strength as that with which packing cases are lined, was as thin as brown paper, and perforated with sewer gas. Then we had an imitation wiped joint, made of putty to imitate lead. I have here, too, a photograph which shows a section of a lead soil-pipe taken from a house in Wales used as a ladies' school. The patch shown on the side of the pipe was tied on with copper wire, and the old soldered seam is open. A fever broke out in the school, and the medical officer discovered this scamped work. These are illustrations of some of the evidence which was placed before that Committee. One of the main outcries against this proposed registration is the outcry of monopoly. But there is no idea of monopoly in the proposals we make to the House. What we really want is that plumbers should be granted something in the nature —as I have described before in the House —of a university degree, that they should be granted such a certificate as will be a sign of practical and theoretical knowledge. There will be no compulsion at all for plumbers to undergo any examination for certificates; there will be no compulsion on the public to employ certificated plumbers. Further than that, we do not wish for any interference with existing rights. We want to safeguard those men who are now in business as plumbers just in the same way as men under similar conditions have been safeguarded in other Acts of Parliament. For instance, I can give precedents for registration. Apothecaries registered in 1815, solicitors in 1843, pharmaceutical chemists in 1852, the General Medical Council in 1858, dentists in 1878, veterinary surgeons in 1881, and marine engineers are registered under the Board of Trade. Further, when we come to a later date, the qualifications of medical officers of health and the qualification and certification of sanitary inspectors have been provided for under the Public Health (London) Act of 1891. We have precedents of legislation for registration even in this session in a Bill before the House, and, in fact, only to-day was a Bill introduced into the House having in view the object of registration. I do not wish to weary the House, but there are one or two quotations which I think it is my duty to bring before hon. Members. I will not quote the President of the Local Government Board, nor will I quote the Parliamentary Secretary who has taken a great and keen interest in this matter. The late President of the Local Government Board, who is now President of the Board of Trade, addressing a deputation, said— I feel that very many of the diseases from which we suffer, and much of the inconvenience and unhappiness which undoubtedly exist, is owing to defective sanitary arrangements. I have other quotations from different parts of the country. I have a quotation from a speech made by the medical officer of health for Marylebone, Dr. Wynter Blyth. He said— In Marylebone we are about to obtain a constant water supply, and we may expect that in a few months a hundred thousand people will be more or less at the mercy of the plumbers. It may be taken as a principle that directly you elevate a trade and give it facilities for education the more you do good to that trade and to the whole community. Then there is Dr. Vacher, medical officer for Birkenhead, who says— We find that plumbers who are entrusted to do work do it in a way which makes it perfectly manifest to us that they are inadequately trained for the performance of such work. 'We find also that the public want some way by which they may be able to recognise good workmen. In a public meeting in the Manchester Town Hall an ex-Lord Mayor of Manchester said— No body of workmen engaged in the construction of dwelling-houses can through their ignorance or carelessness inflict so much injury on the public health or cause so much loss and inconvenience to the householder as plumbers. The length of time a man has been in the trade is no guarantee of his efficiency, and the careful technical examination is the only test which will satisfy the requirements of public comfort and avert the existing dangers to the public health. Then: Edinburgh. I am reading the opinions of representative men from all parts of the United Kingdom. Dr. Littlejohn, medical officer for Edinburgh, said— The public want to know when they employ a man that they are dealing with one who is competent to undertake the alterations necessary for the proper sanitary condition of their houses. If the system of registration is carried out the public will have the satisfaction they require. It is only by the national Registration System that plumbers will be able to effect this and assert their position. Then: Glasgow. Ex-Bailie Crawford, chairman of the health committee of the City of Glasgow, said— .…. a recognition of the fact that the increasing of the technical skill and the raising of the trade morale are the best ways of securing public safety and public health. That is the philosophy of the registration movement. If I go to Ireland—and I recognise the valuable help of the hon. Member for West Limerick in this question—Sir Charles Cameron, medical officer for Dublin, reported to the public health committee as follows— With regard to the registration of plumbers, I am strongly in favour of such a step being taken. I am aware that much of the plumbing in Dublin is done by persons who have not been brought up as plumbers. It is most desirable that persons who profess to be plumbers should be tested as to their competency to do the work of a plumber. Then: Cardiff. Lord Aberdare, speaking when distributing certificates of registration to master and operative plumbers, said— I am quite sure the effect of this movement will be that instead of the plumber being as he has been in past times, a by-word in men's mouths for scamping his work, he will be distinguished for doing his work in a masterly manner, the equal, if not the superior, of any other trade. Those are quotations from eminent men, men whose qualifications to speak will be recognised by the House, and from all parts of the United Kingdom. One cause of defective plumbing work was clearly brought out in the evidence before the Select Committee. It was caused by what is described as the down-grade movement. Mr. G. B. Cherry, general secretary of the United Operative Plumbers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland, gave evidence before that Committee, and upon another occasion made a statement to the following effect— I find from experience that the ' down- grade movement' in the plumbing trade commenced about twenty years ago. Previous to that time master plumbers throughout this country, with very few exceptions, were practical plumbers, and when they took an apprentice their first consideration was, and with a conscientious man should be, 'Have I sufficient work to keep an apprentice, and can I teach him his trade thoroughly?' He went on to say— I have slightly indicated some of the reasons of the ' down-grade movement,' but it was intensified about fifteen or sixteen years ago when trade prospered by leaps and bounds. Jerry-builders, ironmongers, tinkers, painters, undertakers, etc., seeing that a fair profit could be made out of plumbing, added it to their already too numerous, for efficiency, branches, and apprentices were taken without limit, and expected to learn six or seven different trades. This class of employers, being only interested in the apprentices so far as their money-producing power was concerned, has proved one of the causes of the production of inefficient workmen. We want this registration of plumbers as one of the links in the chain of sanitation. The Local Government Board has under its control the sanitary inspectors; they are certified men. Why should not plumbers be certified men? We should then get men who are educated and capable; the sanitary condition of our houses would be improved; causes of illness would be removed; and money would be saved; because much better plumbing would be done, for instance, the waste of water is a matter of great consideration in our large towns. The leaking of taps and the leaking of joints has caused a great loss of money to corporations like Liverpool and Birmingham, who have now paid special attention to the subject. There is a consensus of authoritative opinion, which has been shown under every Government since 1886, as to the necessity for registration. The Government has this session, I believe—at all events, recently—been memorialised by a number of Members of Parliament on this subject. About 120 Members of Parliament have signed a memorial in favour of the national registration of plumbers, and those Members are representative of all parts of the House, and of all parts of the United Kingdom. The Government have also been memorialised by the chief municipal, sanitary, medical, educational, and other bodies, and it seems to me that there should be little difficulty in and little objection to the Local Government Board framing a scheme, which, of course, would be subject to the revision and veto of the House of Commons. I am sure that if the Government did so they would receive the blessing of every householder in the United Kingdom. The whole of the district councils in Scotland moved the Secretary for Scotland to induce his support for a national measure. The Irish Members are in favour of a Bill which is much needed, if we may judge from the results of the recent Local Government Board inquiry as to the cause of the high death rate in Dublin. I could multiply arguments in favour of such a measure. I believe the only opposition offered to the proposal or to the Bill would be merely as to some of the administrative provisions. At Birmingham recently at a public meeting the medical officer of health said— It is of no use to have good sanitary arrangements and sanitary inspectors unless the plumbing work is well done. The health committee want really to make the plumbers their technical assistants. Similar opinions have been publicly expressed by representative authorities of every chief centre of Great Britain and Ireland, and the British Medical Association, representing upwards of 17,000 medical practitioners, has petitioned Parliament on more than one occasion in support of the national registration of plumbers. The Bill which I have had in my charge has up to now had numerous vicissitudes. I may begin by saying that I never had good luck in the ballot. La-it session my motion was counted out, and it is only by good luck I have not been counted out to-night. The Bill was read a second time in the Parliaments of 1886, 1892, and 1895 by increased majorities. In 1892 it was in Committee as the first Order of the Day on the Wednesday of the Dissolution. The Bill has had the support of both Governments and of the Local Government Board of both Governments. It had the unanimous support of the Select Committee of 1892. It was referred to the Standing Committee on Trade in 1893, and passed the Standing Committee on Trade in 1897. But, unfortunately, after passing that Standing Committee on Trade in 1897 it was sandwiched on a Wednesday afternoon between "verminous persons" and women wanting votes, and of course it came to grief. I hope it will not come to grief this session. I have been fourteen years in this House. I have been successful in carrying five Acts of Parliament and three motions, followed by two Royal Commissions and one Government Act. I have never failed until in regard to this measure. If the Government accept my motion and bring in a short and small Bill I believe they will have a popular measure, and one which I do not think there will be any difficulty in passing. I ask the Govern- meat now to give me their assistance, to accept my motion, which, if accepted and carried into effect, will, I believe, confer an immense boon upon the nation. I beg to move.


I beg to second, the motion. I have been associated with the hon. Member opposite for some time in propagating the ideas that he has put forward. As a mechanic myself, I deplore, with him, the decline of the apprenticeship system in this country, and that decline has shown the necessity for once more resorting to such means as the hon. Gentleman has put forward. In 1897, when the Bill was before the Committee on Trade, some opposition was brought forward, but I think it can be borne out that that opposition was not of a tangible character, and that it rested entirely with one class-namely, those who dealt in ironmongery. The arguments put forward by those people were not of such a character as to give the impression that their interest in the scheme was anything real, and I think the fact that almost every Labour Member in this House supported the motion in the Division which took place in 1897, that in the Divisions in the Standing Committee of Trade there was a majority of Labour Members in favour of the proposal, and that the Bill was at that time and is still supported anxiously and heartily by the practical plumbers of the United Kingdom, is a sufficient justification for the course taken by the hon. Gentleman to night. I trust, therefore, that this motion will pass the House, and that the Secretary to the Local Government Board will give an assurance that the Government after the memorial that was presented to the First Lord of the Treasury yesterday will adopt the course suggested.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it is desirable that the Government should introduce legislation dealing with the subject, and create a scheme for the national registration of plumbers."—(Mr. Lees Knowles.)


I would like to support the resolution as it stands, and also to offer a single word of warning to the Government, so completely and fully represented as it is at this moment by my hon. friend the Secretary to the Local Government Board, against the blemish, or what I regard as the blemish, in the Bill introduced by the hon. Gentleman who moved this Resolution. That blemish was the putting forward in an entirely undue manner of a certain company in the City for the purpose of administering and regulating the examinations which were set up by the Bill. That there should be examinations to ensure the competency of the persons who have so serious a duty towards the health of the community to perform as is the case with plumbers; there can be no doubt whatever in the mind of anyone who has at all considered the question. The work of a plumber is work which at present is subject to very little inspection by medical officers and sanitary inspectors of local authorities, and it is frequently so badly done as to be a danger to health, and often the cause of loss of life in the case of innocent persons who trust to it. Therefore there should be some system of ensuring competency, and, further, of ensuring efficient work with regard to persons who have such important duties to perform; of that there can be no doubt whatever. But if the Government decide to accept this resolution and at some convenient time, either in this or next session, to act upon it, I hope they will avoid the blemish of allowing the legislation to be made the mere vehicle and instrument for the aggrandisement and elevation of a particular ancient City company. I am sure that that is not the desire of the hon. Gentleman who moved this resolution, but he cannot deny that that was or would have been the effect, to a very large extent at all events, of the Bill which he introduced in a former session of Parliament. Therefore, whilst supporting as I do the resolution in the form in which it stands, I venture as a humble supporter of the Government to express the wish that they will deal with this matter in such a way as to establish a national system, assisted by the local authorities so far as may be, but not in any way containing the blemish to which I have referred. I sincerely hope that the Government will take this matter fully into their consideration. I do not know any section of the community which would oppose such legislation if it were suggested by the Government, and I believe that if a moderate measure in the direction indicated by the resolution is put forward it will have the unanimous support of this House and of the country.

MR. HOBHOUSE (Somersetshire, E.)

I am sure we must all recognise the skill and perseverance with which my hon. friend the mover of this Resolution has carried on the movement in favour of this registration for the last ten years, and I am not surprised that he has come to the conclusion, as he apparently has, that if such legislation is to be carried out at all successfully, it must be carried out by a responsible Government. I cannot, I am afraid, entirely agree with my hon. friend as to the feeling with which his Registration Bill was regarded in the sanitary world. I fear it will require something more than the mere registration of the domestic plumber to make him that superior creature which, in the interests of the health of our homes and families, we all desire he should be. Surely more efficient sanitary inspection and a better and more systematic instruction of plumbers for the future is absolutely necessary. We must not imagine that by merely registering any particular class, we thereby, ipso facto, render them efficient and responsible beings. I wish to remind my hon. friend the Secretary to the Local Government Board that if he is prepared to take up this legislation, he must see, in the first place, that such a clause as was put into the Bill of my hon. friend with regard to existing plumbers no longer finds a place in any measure which may be introduced. If you are to have registered plumbers or any other skilled class of the community, you ought not to begin by nullifying the value of that register by putting upon it all persons at present practising as plumbers. That, I think, was a grave defect in the Bill of my hon. friend, and I certainly urge that in the future, although you may not be able by a penal clause to prevent persons not on the register practising, yet you ought not to enable persons who have not the power to pass an efficiency examination, or who have not given some clear proof of their capabilities as plumbers, to obtain the advantages of being on the register and of advertising themselves as registered plumbers, thereby imposing more than they do at present on the British public. That is one point which I hope the Government will consider. The second is that they should have an efficient authority to preside over the examination which must be made. Here I would associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for the Shipley Division in saying that, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many other persons, the examining authority for registration proposed in the Bill is far too closely connected with the Plumbers Company. There is grave dissatisfaction expressed with the constitution of that authority, especially among those public bodies and local authorities who have devoted a considerable amount of public money to the instruction of plumbers. The county councils, the borough councils to a large extent, and the City and Guilds of London Institute — a most important body, to whom we owe a great deal of the efficiency of our examinations—were entirely excluded from any representation on this examining body. I am sure that all these authorities, if they are to continue to carry on the instruction, require to be represented in some way or other on any examining body which may be set up. I do not think that a measure carrying out the object of this motion would be either very short or very simple, although some registration measures can be made both short and simple. At the same time, I think that if such legislation is to be carried to a successful conclusion—and there is a great deal to be said for the general principle involved—it must be undertaken by a responsible Government, and if the Government take up the matter, I trust they will consider the suggestions I have ventured to put forward.

MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)

I rise simply for the purpose of supporting the observations which have been made by the last two speakers who have addressed the House, and to state that when I was connected with the Plumbers Association in Dublin, they wore strongly in favour of such a measure being introduced. I entirely agree with the suggestion that the local authorities should be the authorities entrusted with the duty in this matter, and I entirely dissent from the idea that the examinations should be made and the certificates of registration issued solely by a particular trade society, the representatives of the public having nothing whatever to do with it. We have had several meetings of the bond fide plumbers of Dublin, and they are unanimously in favour of such a measure being introduced. There can be no doubt whatever that the plumbing business is much more important now than it used to be. By the changes which have been introduced into the system of sanitation plumbing has become, so to speak, an important element in civilisation, and, therefore, in order to meet these developing needs, it is desirable that such a measure as is proposed should be introduced. I am also strongly of opinion that a measure of this character should be introduced by the Government, and not by any private Member. A private Member has no chance in this House of passing any measure of a large character into law, but if the Local Government Board introduced a proper measure such as is indicated I have no doubt whatever that it would appeal to the common sense of the House, and that the Bill would be passed almost unanimously. I do not think we should go into any of the details of the question now. There is merely a motion at present before the House, and that motion, except as to general principles, ought not to be discussed. The details must be put forward in a Bill, the clauses of which can be discussed, and I hope that such a Bill will be introduced into the House and passed.

* MR. H. D. GREENE (Shrewsbury)

This is one of the most important sanitary proposals ever brought before the House with which I am acquainted; and it seems to me rather hard that the hon. Gentleman who moved the resolution, and his friends, should ask the Government to take up legislation which is to be based upon speculations of their own. I did not hear one single figure given by my hon. friend as to the number of plumbers in existence, or as to the amount of work they do, or as to the cost of the proposed system of examination and registration; and yet we are to be asked to commit the Government to introduce legislation on the subject.


I should like to refer my hon. friend to the Report of the Select Committee of 1892.


Unfortunately for myself, I have not perused that or many other Blue-books. I did not hear my hon. friend give us any detailed suggestion as to who is to conduct the examination which is to precede registration. I do not know that there are any skilled persons on the staff of the Local Government Board who have a special knowledge of plumbing work; and we ought to have some suggestion as to what moans should be employed for adequately conducting the examinations. I quite agree that it would be a dangerous thing to place this matter in the hands of some City company which might not have sufficient technical knowledge. It is suggested that the local authority should be responsible; but who is to bear the expense? Is it to be provided out of local or Imperial funds?


There are in existence local authorities who undertake such examinations. Then, the technical education classes throughout the country might very well deal with the question of examination.


I am not prepared to say whether they are or not; but some detailed information as to their capacity should have been given before asking the Government to undertake legislation of this sort. But why pick out the plumber for legislation? Why not also the man who builds the chimney, who has as much to do with the sanitary condition of the house as the man who puts up the bath or soil pipes? The jerry builder is also quite as much responsible for the sanitation of the houses he is engaged in building. To pick out one trade for special legislation is to go beyond what the House should be asked to do. I do not oppose this motion altogether. The Government, have I think, a right to say that although a case has been made out, in one sense, for expressing a benevolent wish towards this project, they have no adequate information to enable them to carry it out.


I do not think my hon. friend the Member for Salford has any reason to complain of the attitude of the Government towards this question. The Local Government Board have always sympathised with the principle of the Bill which the hon. Member has introduced. We have always recognised the importance of that principle and sympathised with my hon. friend in his attempts in this House to carry through a measure like that which he has just explained. But it is a wholly different thing when my hon. friend drops his Bill and comes practically to the conclusion that it is hopeless to carry it, and then asks the Government to take up his measure and pass it. I could understand his coming to the House and saying that the Government should alone do this work, which is impeded by a minority in the House; but if the hon. Member will take the trouble to look at the Parliamentary history of his Bill he will see what has been its fate during the past ten years. The first Bill was introduced in 1892 and passed the Second Reading which affirmed the principle of the Bill, and was referred to a Select Committee. There are two objects in referring a Bill to a Select Committee. The one is to secure evidence or information, and the other is to get rid of the Bill for the session. This Bill was not brought on again that session, although I believe that a great deal of information was elicited in regard to the question. But the Bill was brought on again in 1893, passed its Second Reading, and was referred to the Standing Committee on Trade, and that Committee, after several sittings, came deliberately to the conclusion that the Bill was one which ought not to go further.


Allow me to explain. The Committee had adjourned in order to obtain the advice and assistance of the Local Government Board; but, as that accidentally was not forthcoming—the President and the Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board being unable to attend—the Committee were of opinion that there was no prospect of their converting the Bill by amendment into a satisfactory measure, and they resolved not to proceed further with its consideration. They did not, however, condemn the measure, but they experienced a difficulty in dealing with it. In the following Parliament an identically similar Bill was amended by the Standing Committee and reported.


I was not aware of that fact, because I was not Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board at the time. But I know that the late Sir Julian Goldsmid reported to the House that the Committee had come to the conclusion that they ought not to proceed further with the Bill. Now in 1894 the Bill was pressed again, but it did not reach a Second Reading. In 1895, and again in 1896, the Bill was moved, but the debate in each year was adjourned. In 1898 it was referred to the Standing Committee on Trade, and after five or six days' debate in that Committee it emerged and came down to the House, and the debate on the Report stage was so prolonged that the Bill was lost. Now, the House will see from this brief history of the measure that although the principle is right, as I hold it to be, it is not a simple measure, or one which the House is prepared to adopt without a great deal more consideration than it has yet been able to give to it. The most effective debate my hon. friend the Member for Oldham ever had upon the Bill was in 1898, when it went through the Standing Committee and came down to this House. What happened then? The whole struggle took place upon the question of what should be the examining and registering body. I am bound to say that I think the county councils, the borough councils, the city guilds, and other authorities moved rather late in the day. We had never heard that they desired to be on this examining body until the Report stage; and then they came down like an avalanche on my hon. friend, and, at all events, destroyed the Bill for that session. There is a great deal in what my hon. friend the Member for East Somersetshire says, that there is no reason why a City company should have the sole control of this matter. The Bill had been long enough before the House, and I maintain that if these bodies had been really interested in it they ought to have appeared against it long before 1898. In that respect I think my hon. friend has good ground for complaint against them. After the Bill was lost my hon. friend appealed to the Local Government Board to take it up. Now the Local Government Board has many duties to perform, but I agreed to receive a deputation representing all parties—the City guilds, the county councils, the borough councils, and other parties—which was headed by my hon. friend. But as that deputation could not agree the one with the other I was forced to tell them at the close of the interview that unless they agreed among themselves the House of Commons and the Government could do nothing for them. I advised them that they should have a conference and thresh the matter out amongst themselves, and agree on the main features of a Bill which should be introduced. They did take my advice, and they met in the Westminster Palace Hotel and discussed the matter at great length; but the conference ended by their coming to no agreement. Now my hon. friend, after he has failed to reconcile the differences of the various parties on this question, comes to the House of Commons—he seems to have been successful in getting the ear of the House to-night—-and asks the Government to step in and undertake the task in which he has failed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear! "and" Why not?"] I think the Government has a right when there is a general agreement upon an important public question to look the facts in the face and to see what can be done for it; but before the Government moves in such a question I hold that there ought to be something like general agreement. There are people who think that the Government can do anything. I do not belong to that class. A Government may well be called upon to submit legislative proposals upon a subject of public interest upon which there is general agreement, but the Government cannot take up this tangled skein and attempt to harmonise the opinions of those who are not agreed as to what they want. I take as a sample of the difficulties that arise the argument of my hon. friend the Member for Somerset, who objects to the clause in the Bill which reserves the right of existing plumbers. My hon. friend warned the Government that if they agreed to such a clause they could not expect to succeed; but if we do not save the rights of existing plumbers the public will be apt to consider them unqualified for plumbing work, and some thousands of workmen will be thrown out of employment.


I said that they should not be put on the register.


The chances are a hundred to one that if they are not put on the register they would not be employed, and therefore thousands of them would be thrown out of employment, and I am not prepared to undertake the responsibility for anything of that kind. I do not think that the examination and registration ought to be left solely in the hands of any City company whatever. I think if this measure is to be tackled in earnest there will have to be representatives of all the bodies my hon. friend referred to on the examining board. But first of all my friends must settle their differences. I made a perfectly fair proposal when the deputation waited upon me. I said that the Government were then anxious to help them. They are anxious now. But, looking to the divergence of opinion and to the Parliamentary history of this movement, I strongly advise my hon. friend not to press his motion to-night. I strongly advise him to attempt, once again, to get those who profess to be interested in the question to agree among themselves. If they agree I see no difficulty in their succeeding in passing this Bill. My hon. friend has made a good fight in the House of Commons, and, in the main, I sympathise with him. I hope he will not be discouraged, but press forward and get the opinion of those he represents to go on in one direction. But I cannot say that the Government can accept the motion, because to do so would be to pledge themselves to legislation upon which they are not prepared to enter.

MR. BANBUEY (Camberwell, Peckham)

We are all lost in admiration at the perseverance which has been exhibited by my hon. friend in regard to this question, and we sympathise with him in his endeavours to secure legislation on this subject. I agree with him that, in the main, the principle which he wishes to advocate is right; but, on the other hand, I confess I see many objections to passing an abstract resolution like this. The objection which my hon. friend below me has urged, that legislation of this kind might possibly throw out of employment many thousands of working men, is one that cannot be disregarded. I do not know whether my hon. friend proposes to make his Bill permissive or not; but if all existing plumbers are not to be put on the register without examination, it naturally follows that these would be thrown out of employment. Then the difficulty arises as to what is to be the registering body. I agree that it would not do to put it in the hands of a City company. The power should be in the hands of the local authority. If the examination for registration were put into the hands of one body the result would be that a close corporation would be formed, and I am not sure that that would be for the public benefit. When defects are found in plumbing work, I am not at all certain that it is invariably the fault of the workmen; it is rather the fault of the master who wants to make work for the future. Under the circumstances I think my hon. friend would be well advised to accept the suggestion made by the Under Secretary to the Local Government Board, and be content with the present discussion, and not press his resolution to a division.

* MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)

Having on previous occasions taken part in dis- cussions on this subject, I again ask the permission of the House to offer a few remarks. When the Bill on this subject was last before the House two hon. Members, who are not now Members of the House, took a prominent part in the discussions in Committee. Lord Heneage took an adverse view to the Bill on grounds to which I need not now refer, but Mr. Caine more or less represented the class of workmen who are not plumbers but I believe call themselves ironmongers. Mr. Caine objected very strongly to the Bill then before the Committee, being apprehensive that the registration of plumbers might indirectly curtail the employment of the ironmongers. Such a difficulty might easily arise in the building trade if the registration of plumbers were made imperative. It must be remembered that the plumber does only a part of the sanitary work in house building; and if the ventilating shafts, for instance, are not properly constructed the sanitary condition of the house will not be effective, even if the plumber's work is perfectly carried out. I would urge upon my hon. friends that they should widen their view of what is required. The function of the registering body ought to include the registration of all classes of workmen whose operations conduce to the perfect sanitation of houses. I have been much impressed with the great improvement in the plumber work in residential houses in recent years; and the public are in great measure indebted for that to the work of the Plumbers Company. I have no doubt that if the Plumbers Company work on the lines on which they have begun, without registration, they will make still further improvements, but if it is still desired to consider a scheme of registration, I would press the necessity for widening the inquiry, so as to bring every class of sanitary workmen in the building trade into it.

MR. RENSHAW (Renfrewshire, W.)

I think this Bill is worthy of the consideration of the House, for much of the health of our dwellings depends upon it. Anything worse than bad plumbing cannot be imagined; and the House is very much indebted to the hon. Member for bringing forward the resolution which he has so ably supported. All we ask is that the Government should introduce at an early date some legislation on the sub- ject. I believe that over 120 members have signed a requisition to the Government on this matter; and I hope that the result of the discussion this afternoon will be to induce the Government to introduce legislation even this session, or at any rate in the immediate future. Those of us who have had experience of plumbing work agree that the sooner they do so the better. I heartily support the motion that my hon. friend has brought forward.

MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorganshire, Mid)

The resolution which has been moved by the hon. Member for Salford is an old friend with which we have been acquainted for eight or nine years, and which we have discussed under various phases, both as a resolution and as a Bill. The resolution to-night calls on the Government not only to introduce legislation dealing with the subject, but to create a scheme for the national registration of plumbers. That may be a desirable end in the mind of the hon. Member for Salford, who has devoted the whole of his career to this grave, vast, and important subject, but although he has devoted nine years to it he has not been able to introduce a scheme which is in any way workable. I believe on one or two occasions he was able to snatch a Division, and on one occasion he sent the Bill of which he was then in charge to one of the Standing Committees, which in the result said the scheme proposed by the hon. Gentleman was altogether unworkable, and the Committee took the extraordinary course of returning the Bill and refusing to have anything further to do with it. I am not at all sure, that we are not too apt to register everything and everybody, but of this I am sure, that until my hon. friends can produce a scheme which is workable they have no right to ask the Government to legislate upon the subject. I did not happen to be in the House when the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Government said the Government could not deal with this matter at this stage, but I quite agree that to pass a resolution of this kind would simply be to express a pious opinion on which no legislation can take place. The first thing which the pro-motors and the hon. Gentleman who has taken this under his wing during a large portion of his career, ought to do is to produce a scheme and press it on the attention of the Government.

*MR. LEES KNOWLES, with the permission of the House, pointed out that the memorial to the Government in support of the registration of plumbers was signed by 120 Members; but at the same time, as the Secretary to the Local Government Board, who had always assisted him in this movement, and had promised to do all he could, had stated that he could not introduce a Bill during this session, he (Mr. Knowles), in his discretion, thought it would be better to withdraw the motion, which he now asked leave to do.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.