HC Deb 02 December 1908 vol 197 cc1447-9
MR. T. F. RICHARDS (Wolverhampton, W.)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that Messrs. Morrison and Mason, at Portsmouth, have reduced their labourers' wages from 27s. 9d. per week to 23s. for fifty-six hours, such reduction taking place from 14th September; that they are also deducting from the men's wages l½d. for tools and l½d. for doctor; whether they have the consent of the Admiralty for such deductions; whether he is aware that some unions have claimed and been paid by the contractors the wages hitherto paid by the firm, viz. 6d. per hour; whether he is aware that in most towns the bricklayers' labourers' rate is taken as fair, which is always more than that paid on railways, whose wages for platelayers' labourers are invariably the lowest; and whether he is aware that the com- parison cannot be made between these men who are casually employed and the dockyard men for whom his Department claim continuity of employment; whether he has obtained or asked for any information from any of the labour representatives of the trade unions in the district, and, if so, from whom, or whether the information has been obtained from the employers only; and, if so, would he supply a list of those employers.


The firm in question have not reduced labourers' rates, but the hours of work, which were fifty-five and a half per week in September, are at the present time forty-seven. The Admiralty is aware that a deduction is made of 2d. a week per man for medical attendance and 1d. a week for tools. The matter is one over which the Admiralty would have no control unless it could be shown that the deduction constituted an infraction of the Fair Wages Clause. With regard to the later points raised in the Question, I may remind the hon. Member that the terms of the Fair Wages Clause, as set out in the present contract, are as follows: "The wages paid in the execution of the whole of the work shall be those generally accepted as current in each trade for competent workmen in the district in which the work is carried out. This condition shall apply to all sub-contracts entered into by the contractor in connection with the said works, and the contractor shall procure the insertion of a provision to the same effect in any sub-contract." Upon a representation from the local Trades and Labour Council, the Admiralty, as I stated on Monday, instituted very full inquiry, and came to the conclusion that, on a review of all the circumstances, it could not be said that there had been any infraction of the Fair Wages Clause. I do not think I should be entitled to furnish the hon. Member with the list of employers for which he asks.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say at what date the hours were reduced from fifty-six to forty-seven? Has the right hon. Gentleman not had this case under consideration for three weeks, and can he give me no reply to the question whether unions have not claimed and some firms paid 6d. per hour? Did not the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent successfully demand that in one case?


Yes, we have had the matter under consideration for three weeks, and the delay has been due to our desire to make the fullest possible inquiry into all the circumstances. I believe— but I am not sure—that the reduction of hours took place last September.