§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *MR. TOULMIN (Bury, Lancashire)
The Sweated Industries Bill which I have to introduce to the House deals with a problem occupying attention in many quarters; a subject which has ripened rapidly since it was first brought to the attention of this House by my right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean some time ago. Even now it is undergoing very careful study by a Select Committee of this House. The problem is acute, complex, and vital. The evil is admitted. Sweated industries exhibitions and newspapers and personal experience make it very probable that many hon. Members know more about it than I myself. It merges into the question of unemployment, but it has this variation, that so far as the victims are concerned there is no necessity to ask for any proof of their willingness to work. There is no need to beware of shirkers. Granted the evil, what is the remedy? What is to be the line of our experiment to restore self-reliance, self-respect, and the power of self-help to these persons? Here they are—men, women, and children overworked, underpaid, underfed, living in unhealthy and often degrading surroundings. Must we intensify our repressive measures, or study the means which have elevated labour in other ranks and extend them? By organisation labour has done much for itself. But organisation has been by 1197 individual trades. Some are still not so highly organised as those which have developed most, such as the cotton and engineering trades. It would, I think, he possible to grade them, passing down to less and less perfect organisms, until you come to a mass of labour which can only be galvanised into life by a great crisis such as the dock strike. But below that there is a lower depth. You reach below a region without form and void, and darkness moves upon the face of it. The atoms have no cohesion. They are enemies of one another because the employer is continually taking advantage of the need of one to undercut another. The starvation test is constant and universal in its pressure. Nay, a seige test; for many a home is beseiged, and it is the last stand of the little garrison that makes them the sweater's victim. They would throw down their arms and surrender if fighting for themselves alone. To keep the home together they shun no exertion, spare no sacrifice, give blood and tissue, drop by drop, nerve by nerve. In this gross darkness we attempt to say by this Bill, "Let there be light." Lot us have, on the lines that have been successful in other trades by voluntary action, public authority to let in the daylight and introduce some order and some system. Attempt after attempt has been made by voluntary effort to induce combined action in order to secure, if nothing else a recorded list of prices, and failure has followed failure. Again and again a point has been reached at which employers willing to advance wages or improve conditions have declared the only obstacle to be neighbours who cannot be reached by any existing moans. You find in one neighbourhood the amount that can be earned for a certain kind of work is 7s. 6d. a week, and on the other side of the road 14s. and 16s. is being paid for similar work. One firm recently announced a reduction from a rate which gave £1 a week to less than half. An arbitration board was called in, and they found that neighbours were paying even loss, and there was no power to alter it so long as needy workers would go there. The workers are too poor to combine in order that they may support those whom they may induce not to go into any of the places where sweating rates have been introduced. They cannot combine to take advantage of such services as Mr. C. B. Askwith, now of the Railway Department, 1198 has rendered in the lace and the shoo trades. To leave these people where they are, to stand aside, is impossible. In ray opinion we must as far as possible follow the natural growth of labour in this country, the orderly development of trade unionism. Where this natural evolution stops or lags the State must step in and endeavour to initiate the regulation of conditions which are now disastrous to labour, and which are not creditable, nor in my opinion profitable, to capital, and which are, above all, degrading to the race. The first step is inquiry. Mr. Askwith in his evidence attaches great importance to the mere power to hold an inquiry. Even without a wages board he holds that the fact that there was this power of holding an inquiry would be of immense benefit, and would have prevented unfortunate strikes which he indicated, besides being of use in those cases where a strike was impossible. It is a very significant fact that, in cases whore arbitration boards exist, not only the workmen but also the employers have asked for proceedings to be instituted. Under this Bill a trade union or trades council or six employers or workmen can ask for an inquiry. The Home Secretary then directs an inquiry, and if he thinks fit as the result of that inquiry he directs a wages board to be established. Our desire is to get, for two or three trades as a beginning, representatives of masters and workmen in a locality sitting at one board, with an independent chairman elected or appointed, and with power to draw up a list of wages which shall be legal for the special trade in the district of the wages board. Such tribunals cannot be said to be new in form. In the duties to be performed there is nothing new. What is proposed occurs and is carried out in many trades. The wages boards have on them local men with full knowledge of every local and personal circumstance The trade unions allow for these differences now, and the trade union with which I am in touch most, the Typographical Association, has a large number of branches and as many lists each showing some local variety; showing differences in wages from 26s. to 48s., and in hours from forty-two to fifty-four per week. The wages vary, and other conditions are already allowed for by local branches sitting to consider local circumstances. By this Bill it is provided that 1199 the minimum rate of wages may be fixed for any kind of work, and may be different for different kinds of work and for different parts of the district; it may be fixed for different classes and be different for different classes. The principle novel to our law is that the sanction of the State is given to the decision, and the payment of less than the minimum is a punishable offence, so that the dishonest sweater within the area can no longer force the good employers, who are, I believe, the great majority, to undercut and degrade the conditions of their workers. For him, I hope the House will show no tenderness. Some fear has been expressed that terrible consequences would follow on this unprecedented State action. But it has been done, and has not resulted in any evil. In Melbourne it has been done, and the experience of Melbourne has proved that wages boards are possible and that the effect has been good. My hon. friend the Member for Tottenham may deal further with that point, but it has been done, and I claim that to apply this remedy cautiously to a few of our trades in view of the extent the evil has reached in this country is both wise and prudent. It is not a violent remedy. It is elastic, and allows for every condition of locality, exigency, and trade, and variety in the position of worker and employer. In effect it is an extension of the work that Mr. C. R. Ask with and others have already done. What is required is the patient drawing up of lists of wages in their wide complexity and infinity of detail. What shall we gain by this experiment? We shall at all events gather valuable authentic information and give public opinion an opportunity of manifesting itself, and where the system is applied we shall forward the work of organisation in that particular trade, which is itself a distinct advantage. No national interest will be injured. Such arrangements in other trades have not injured capital. Capital has nine lives, and has a shrewd way of passing on any unbearable burden to the consumer. But I am not sure that the consumer will suffer in price. On the contrary, I think he will gain in quality. Take the case of shirts, for instance. Shirts are made at 9d. a dozen, ¾ d. each; the materials cost 1s. each and the retail price is 1s. 10d., the margin being 9¼d. Supposing you raise the wages 33 per cent., the cost without the establishment cost is 1200 1s. 1d. instead of 1s. 0¾d., while the margin is 9d. instead of 9¼d. I do not think the additional farthing would trouble the consumer. I do riot think our efficiency as a producing country would be lower. Sweating employers are often bad business men. Better organisation will produce more and better work. Capital need not fear this attempt to enable the poorest workers to sell their labour to better advantage, measured in value by the rates paid by the best employers, and not by their own needs. The proposal is not for a statutory minimum to which the wages board must conform, but for power to be given to representatives whose interests will unite in keeping their trade in a locality to fix varying rates. Capital need not fear. Capital requires a working partner whose capital is flesh and blood, and the more efficient the latter, the better for the former. The present system makes inefficients. It breeds inefficients—broods of ineffcients—and a better wage would tend to diminish the stock. There is ore aspect which needs touching with tender hands. What of the old man and inefficient woman who may be left out? Well, what happens to them now? What does the sweater do for them? But the old man will not necessarily lose his work. If he is an out-worker at a low peice-rate the sweater only employs him because no one will work for less, and if the sweater is prevented from paying anyone less the old man may still be employed, and the increase will at least tend to make him more efficient. Some may fall out. For those it is an unequal struggle, a losing fight, in which sooner or later the worker must fail, to the loss of herself and children. To some the increased rate of pay will mean a restoration to efficiency. They do not get a living wage, but a dying wage, and you cannot be said to be interfering with their living when you try to make better regulations. Mr. Askwith upon this said when questioned before the Committee—It seems to me that the least efficient and really physically incapable workers just now earn such very low rates that really their misery could not be much greater even if they did not have the work. After all, what is 2s. 6d. a week or 3s. a week? It seems to me that even if a certain number of very inefficient workers were crushed out they are already assisted by charitable agencies and by the Poor Law, and it would simply be a question of increasing 1201 their Poor Law relief. Again and again women have said to me, We wonder why we do this work; it would be easier to starve without the work than to starve with it. It is the same thing. Even to-day people who are trying to work die of starvation—that has been proved in the coroners' courts—and it does not seem to me that the hardship you are thinking of could be very much greater than it already is.But even that aspect, which must touch every sensitive heart, does not make me shrink from this problem, but rather be more determined to begin the work of preventing the conditions which produce such cases. As a moderate but decided step I commend this Bill to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and to the House. I hope the House will read the Bill a second time and refer it to the Select Committee, by whom as we know from the evidence already published, an inquiry is being conducted with distinguished ability and assiduity into this matter. I do not ask the House by any means to override the Committee, but to refer the Bill to them to confirm our confidence in them, as an indication of our feeling of the urgency of the question and of our desire that their deliberations shall be consummated by speedy action. I beg to move.
§ *MR. ALDEN (Middlesex, Tottenham)
In seconding this Motion I should like to thank the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean for all that he has done for this question, and for drafting the Bill in the form in which it is before us to-day. I should also like to thank my hon. friend who has just sat down for his valuable and eloquent speech. Every section of the House will, I think, be in sympathy with our attempt to remedy an admitted evil. We do not suggest any further inquiry as to the extent of the evil concerned as a Select Committee is dealing at the present moment, with the most important aspect of the evil. It is a very difficult problem without doubt, and everyone who contributes to the solution of it will earn the gratitude of this House and of the nation as a whole. It has always seemed to me that modern industrialism in all civilised countries has grown faster than the moral sense. The millions of the industrial poor in England are the result of our failure to develop this moral sense. The evil we deplore is not a question of free trade or protection, and I trust we shall 1202 be allowed to-day to discuss the question without those subjects being introduced. My own experience in East London as well as in Chicago and New York goes to prove that you find sweating in all large cities, whether free trade or protectionist. The country makes no difference; there are sweated workers in all, and we cannot help pitying their condition. Charity is no remedy. Charity has been tried. A very great number of my own personal friends have struggled to the best of their ability to reduce the evils which arise from sweating in our cities, but I know no one who is willing to admit that their efforts have been successful. Practically the only association for dealing with sweated workers which exists to-day is that which has been called the Home Workers' Aid Association, established on philanthropic lines. It encourages thrift, and gives benefits in the shape of holidays at a seaside home. We have no association or trade union whatever uniting workers who are engaged in the lowest forms of industry in East or South London. Public opinion is beginning to recognise that something must be done. The Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords, appointed in 1888, shows clearly that the conscience of the nation had been aroused to the greatness of the evil. Every inquiry made since only confirms the statement by that Select Committee. Sweating is not merely found in East London, it is also found in West London. The tendency is for it to become the organic disease of certain trades. The hon. Member referred to the cheap shirt. Sweating is also found in connection with the making of articles of luxury. Take, for example, the manufacture of costly embroideries and garments in West London. At a Conference held at the Guildhall in October, 1906, a delegate appointed by the Amalgamated Society of Tailors and Tailoresses stated that—There were thousands of gentlemen who believed that their clothes were made under fair and sanitary conditions, but he assured the Conference that the very highest in the land were clothed with garments made in sweating dens. He knew shops covered with royal warrants which never employed men engaged under trade union conditions. Not one naval officer in twenty had his uniform made under fair conditions. The uniforms of admirals and vice-admirals were made in some of the filthiest dens in Portsmouth. But for the law of libel the Press and the trade unions might expose these scandals.1203 I cannot confirm that statement from my own knowledge, but I can confirm similar statements that have been made. I do know that some of the costliest garments made in West London are made under insanitary conditions in sweating dens. I have often gone into one and two-roomed tenements and found costly garments lying on the bed and on the floor. It is well known that there have been cases of infectious disease discovered in these very dens. The evil, therefore, is widespread, and it must be dealt with, not only in East London but in West London, and in every city in the kingdom. It is quite clear, as I said before, that philanthropy and charity are no solution, and that all the remedies tried up to now have been failures. Is there any remedy likely to be effective? I have admitted that this is a most difficult problem to deal with. I believe there are risks of creating other evils, but after many years study of the question I think it is right to face the risks and make the attempt, and we can best discover what are the risks by looking at what has been done in other countries. May I ask the House to consider just for a moment what has been done by the wages boards of Victoria and by the Arbitration Law of New Zealand, with both of which I have had practical experience on the spot. The experiment made in Victoria has, on the whole, been successful. The Victorian Act dates from 1896, and by it, as under this Bill, special boards can be appointed to fix wages or piecework rates in certain trades. By the Consolidating Act of 1905 other boards can be created by Resolution of both Houses, and there are now in Victoria over forty such boards in existence. My own experience of the working of the Act in Victoria is very limited, because I went there only two years after the Act had been passed. Therefore I had few opportunities of seeing whether the Act had proved successful or not; but there are many Members of this House, notably the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, who have studied the working of the Act, and who are convinced that on the whole it has been successful. The boards consist of from four to ten members. I believe the Bill before the House proposes that the boards should consist of from six to ten and an impartial chairman. The board 1204 has power to fix wages either by time or piece, to determine hours, overtime, and the number and wages of apprentices and improvers. Many of the features of the Victorian boards have been eliminated from the present Bill. The Bill before the House deals with wages alone. That, after all, is the most important question. The Bill also, in Clause 8, fixes a definite term of years for the wages board. I need not go into details, for, if the House is good enough to give the Bill a Second Reading, it will be referred to a Committee where all the details can be thrashed out. The only difficulty in Melbourne, so far as my own experience goes, is with the Chinese. Inspectors have had to admit that it is one of the principal obstacles to the successful working of the Act with which they have had to deal. The ways of the Chinese are peculiar; they are "child-like and bland," and absolutely impassive. The result is that the inspectors and officials are deceived. The master unites with the Chinaman to elude the provisions of the Act because the Chinaman is willing to work for a very low wage. Notwithstanding all this if we may judge from the last report we have received, the average wage in eighteen trades under the wages board is 5s. 9¼d. per week higher than the average wage in those same trades where there is no-wages board. That is to say, a district which has a wages board has raised the average wage by 5s. 9¼d. per week. That is valuable testimony to the successful working of the Act, and, although I admit that it is not conclusive, it does tend to show that the Act raises wages and maintains them at a certain level. There is another important point about the working of the-Viçtorian Act, and that is that, the mini mum wage does not tend to become the maximum. It is sometimes argued that the tendency will be for the minimum wage to bee me the maximum, but in almost every case under the Victorian Act the wage is above the legal limit, showing that when you apply the right kind of pressure, the tendency is for wages to go up. Public opinion shines in on the dark places of the sweating dens, and there is generally an improvement, not only in wages, but in other conditions. I believe that would be the case under the present Bill. I feel there is so much sympathy with this proposal in all 1205 quarters of the House that long speeches are not necessary. I trust that this sympathy will find practical expression, and that there will be no real opposition to the Bill. It is an attempt to deal with a very great evil. I admit that both in New Zealand (where wages in the tailoring trades were immediately increased 15 per cent.) and Victoria the circumstances are different from those which prevail in this country, but taking into account the different circumstances, I am sure that the success of the two Acts in Australasia justify us in making this experiment There can be no doubt that it will relieve the conscience of the nation of a very great burden. I believe it would do much to regularise industry, and above all, it would emancipate a large class of the extremely poor in our crowded city centres, especially women and children who are the victims of a vicious and oppressive system.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Toulmin.)
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
said he hoped the House, as a practical assembly, would look at this question, not from the point of view of sentiment or humanity, but from the point of view of practical results. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill had stated that arrangements such as those now proposed had been tried in other countries, and had been successful. So far as he knew no such arrangements had ever been tried in any country except Victoria, and he proposed to deal with the results there later on. The hon. Member for the Tottenham Division had stated that no naval officer had his uniform made except under sweating conditions.
§ *MR. ALDEN
I simply quoted a remark that was made at a conference at the Guildhall. The delegate appointed by the Amalgamated Society of Tailors and Tailoresses said that "not one naval officer in twenty had his uniform made under fair conditions."
§ SIR F. BANBURY
asked whether this Bill was the prelude to a wages board which was to fix wages on trade union conditions, because it seemed to him that that was really the true object of the 1206 Bill. It was easy to talk about sweating, but who was to decide what was a sweated wage? The hon. Gentleman opposite considered that all wages which were not trade union wages were sweated wages. Therefore, a Bill of this sort must load to a wages board which would establish a trade union rate of wages. He was confirmed in his belief by reading, the Memorandum which accompanied the Bill. The hon. Member for Bury had alluded to no industry except that of seamstresses and similar workpeople. He was informed that a good many women and children were occupied in these industries under extremely bad conditions, but they should not look at the question from a sentimental point of view if they were going to do any good. This Bill was not confined to these industries. [Mr. ALDEN: Hear, Hear.] Quite so; but if the hon. Gentleman wanted to pass this Bill in the House of Commons it ought to be confined to those industries. He would read the Memorandum—The object of this Bill is to provide for the establishment of wages boards with power to fix the minimum rate of wages to be paid to workers in particular trades. The Bill will apply in the first instance—What was meant by the words "in the first instance?" He claimed that he was justified in saying that this was an insidious attempt, under the guise of sentimentality or of sympathy with certain people who were undoubtedly living in unfortunate conditions, to obtain the sympathy of hon. Members in the House whose hearts were a little larger than their heads in order to introduce a socialistic measure. [Cries of "Oh."] Very well, that statement was derided; but he would go on an I read a little more of the Memorandum which, he maintained, emphasised what he was endeavouring to prove—The Bill will apply in the first instance only to the traders specified in the Schedule. Power is given to the Home Secretary to say to what other trades the Bill is to extended, and no doubt at first the extension will be made only to what are known as the 'sweated industries.'If English words had any meaning, did that passage not mean that the Bill was to be extended to other industries? Therefore, this was an attempt to introduce a minimum rate of wages in all trades. No doubt an extension would be made later on to other industries. And who was to make the extension? Was 1207 it to be the House of Commons? Oh! no. It was to be the Home Secretary. They were going back, as he said a few days ago, to a dictatorship. The House of Commons was not to have any voice on these matters. The Home Secretary, or some other Government official, was to arrange what wages were to be paid, and what trades were to be affected. It was quite true that there was a provision in the Bill that the Home Secretary should set up an inquiry as to the "desirability of appointing a Wages Board," but that was to be conducted under Sections 45 and 46 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1887, which, by the way, only referred to explosions and the like in mines. The result would be that the Home Secretary could appoint any person he liked, and on the statement of that one person he could extend this Bill to any industry in the country, or to as many industries as he chose. That seemed to him to be rather a large order, and he could hardly conceive that even this House of Commons would approve of such a principle. Of course it might be said that that was a detail which could be amended in Committee; but in his opinion it was more than a detail, it was the governing part of the Bill. He objected to the Bill for three reasons. First, he objected to the State fixing wages anywhere. Secondly, he did not believe the Bill would carry out its object. Third, he objected to giving power to any Minister, however excellent he might be, to interfere in the trades of the country. That was, to his mind, the very worst thing that could possibly be done. He considered that laws should be made by Parliament and not by Ministers or any other individual. Why was it those people to whom reference had been made, were so badly paid? It was because there was a very great demand amongst all classes of the community for cheap goods. They wanted to buy things cheap and did not take the trouble to inquire into the manner in which the goods were made. He did not believe they were going to alter it. He would only make a slight reference to Tariff Reform. It would be a very small reference, for he rather agreed with the hon. Member for Tottenham that this Bill had very little to do with Tariff Reform. But what would be the result? The purchaser would still want his article cheap; the producer 1208 would have to pay an increased rate of wages. What was to prevent the producer sending his material abroad and having it made up there where the provisions of this Bill did not exist. The made-up material being sent back to England under free trade, no duty would be paid upon it; the only thing he would have to pay would be, of course, the freight—which, the articles being packed into a small compass, would be very small. The result would be that in many of the trades it would be impossible for the work people to obtain other work, even at the very low wages now paid. Consequently, the state of things would be worse for them than at present. The hon. Member for Tottenham admitted that there was a possibility of that, but he added that after all the Poor Law and charity would step in to their aid. But was it a good thing to make people depend on the Poor Law or charity? He did not think it was. He was talking to a friend the other day who was rather in favour of the Bill, but thought that it should be limited to certain trades, otherwise ten out of fifty workpeople would be thrown out of employment. He asked his friend on what he based that calculation and he replied that he did not know; it was only his suspicion, his idea. For himself, he believed that many more than ten out of fifty would be thrown out of employment—quite 50 per cent. This was not a matter of sentiment, but a practical thing. A similar law had been in operation in the colony of Victoria, for some years, and the Government of New South Wales, he thought in 1901, appointed Judge Backhouse to inquire into the operation of the law of Compulsory Arbitration in New Zealand, and of the law fixing a minimum wage in Victoria. This was what Judge Backhouse said in his Report to his Government in regard to the law fixing a minimum wage:—There being an excess of labour in most industries in Victoria, one result of the determinations has been that many of the less capable who cannot earn the minimum wags have gone out of employment altogether, or are working in contravention of the law at a lower wage than that fixed.The promoters of the Victorian legislation recognised that that might occur, and they made a kind of provision to 1209 meet it—a provision which was not contained in this Bill:—In the case of the aged or infirm the law contains a provision recognising this difficulty, and permitting them to work with a special licence; but it is not surprising to learn that few men care to apply for such licences. To the man who is merely slow the law shows no mercy. If he cannot earn the minimum wage he must not work at all.That was not an opinion given at haphazard; it was a statement given by Judge Backhouse who inquired into the practical effect of the working of the law in Victoria. It would be perfectly easy to evade this Bill if it became law. What was to prevent an employer agreeing with his workman to give him 20/-a week on the understanding that on the Monday morning when he came to the shop to commence work for the new week, the employee should hand the employer 3/-? Who was to prevent him, and who was going to find out if such an arrangement were made. It was absolutely impossible to find out these things. This Bill emphasised another serious defect of all the legislation passed by the Party opposite. He saw in his place the President of the Board of Trade who was going to appoint a great many more inspectors. They all knew what happened in the South American Republics, where it was found impossible to introduce any reform because the majority of the people were in the employ of the State. In this Parliament, every new Bill that was passed created inspectors and new work for people under the Government, and nothing could be more fatal to the prosperity of a country than such a system. This Bill was no exception to the rule. He thought that he had shown why the Bill was likely to be ineffective if passed. But not only was it likely to be ineffective, but in its present form it would deal a very serious blow at all English enterprise. It was almost impossible to suppose that English capitalists would keep their money in a country where the rate of wages which they had to pay was fixed for them by the State. If such a state of things were to apply all over the world, no one country could set itself up in competition with other countries; but that was not the case here. A few days ago he had a communication from a Conservative working man, who enclosed a copy of a paragraph in a Lancashire paper of about ten days 1210 ago, in which it was stated that he was going to oppose this Bill in the interests of capitalists. At the time he had not seen the Bill, and did not know anything about it, except that two members had spoken to him on the subject, but he had not read the Bill, and he did not know what its provisions were going to be. He only mentioned the matter because he wanted it to be clearly understood that those who opposed the Bill were not acting in the interests of the capitalist. He never employed a labourer in a manufacturing industry in his life, and he had no interest in any manufacturing industry in this country. He opposed the Bill simply because he thought that legislation of this kind would be the ruin of this country.—["No."]—It was all very well for hon. Gentlemen to cry "No," but were they aware of the fact that in the year 1906 £156,000,000 of English capital left this country, and that last year also £80,000,000 of English capital went abroad? He did not suppose that the hon. Gentleman would suggest that the capitalist was a philanthropist. On the contrary, the capitalist wished to get some return for his money, and if he was hampered by all these State restrictions he would put his money into other countries. Only a few years ago a Radical gentleman who was not a Member of this House, although he had received an honour at the hands of the Government, told him that when he endeavoured to start an enterprise in England it resulted in his being assailed on all sides, instead of, as he would in any other country, being looked upon as a benefactor and received with thanks. Here, however, he was assailed with slanders on all sides in order to prevent his making a decent percentage of profit on his money in England. He therefore said "Never again," and as in Germany he could have 6 or 7 per cent. for his money he would in future conduct his businesses there. Anybody who was acquainted with business knew that it was a fact that money was going out of the country; it was only human nature that people would not run any risk. Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not run any risk with their money. He remembered that when the water question was to the fore some fifteen or sixteen years ago he said to the President of the Local Government Board, who was then attacking the water companies, that 1211 he thought he was a little hard on them, as he supposed the trade unions had money invested in them. The right hon. Gentleman said "Oh no, we do not run any risk." That was it, people did not run any risk, and hon. Members did not run any risk. He hoped, however, that they would acknowledge that he was speaking with all sincerity in what he believed. This was whore hon. Members were always mistaken. They did not allow for the ingrained desire in the human frame to keep what he had got. [An HON. MEMBER: But these poor people have nothing to keep."] Well, if they had they would be actuated by exactly the same motive. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.
§ CAPTAIN J. CRAIG (Down, E.)
, in seconding the Amendment, said that the hon. Baronet who had just sat down supported it for three separate and distinct reasons. He had one reason in favour of it and one only, and that was that he did not believe that as the Bill stood now it was worth the printers' ink which was expended upon it, nor did he think that the high aspirations of those who had brought it in would be fulfilled in any degree at all. He was not wanting in sympathy with those who were working packed in premises such as had been described. Not at all. The reason why he opposed this Bill was that he thought it would save an immense amount of trouble to the House and to the Committees to argue the broad principles of it now and show that it was absolutely useless for the purpose of carrying out the intentions of its promoters. Clause 8 he took it was the section around which this Bill turned. To look at the matter from a purely practical business point of view, supposing that the Board suggested instead of nine-pence a dozen for shirts half a crown a dozen. He believed that they were made as low as sixpence a dozen but supposing, for the sake of argument, that the Board said half a crown. The effect of that would be that the large warehousemen engaged in conducting shirt making would immediately proceed to sell the material for making the shirts to those who were called a sweated industry and buy the articles back from them, at a price which would work out at the sixpence or nine-pence for making which the workers had 1212 hitherto received. He happened to know something about this question, because, although he was not interested in the trade, it formed one of the largest industries in the North of Ireland. It might be asked, where would these poor people get sufficient money to buy the linen in order to take it home and work it into shirts? No law in the land could interfere with an individual going into a place of business and buying so many yards of linen or cotton, and certainly no law prevented anyone in their own house working up that linen or cotton into any shape or form which they thought would be of value to sell in the market. If, as suggested, this class of worker was to be paid at a price above the ordinary level of supply and demand for the particular class of labour, he held that the first arrangement would be that these people, instead of bringing in their shirts and finished articles at the end of the week and being paid for them simply on the basis of so many shirts, would buy so many yards of material, and the traders would buy back the finished articles at the market price. By this means the rate received for making the shirts would remain the same and the Bill would be defeated. If the hon. Gentleman could get round that argument some of its opponents might look upon the Bill with a little more favour than they did now. The hon. Baronet had also suggested that the raw material might possibly go to Germany and come back as manufactured goods, and that argument was a very strong one, but it was only necessary to look at the Bill to see how utterly fantastic it was, and although it aimed at a good object, it would not have any effect. To return to the point as to where these poor people would get sufficient capital to buy the material out of which to manufacture the articles, he would point out that these so-called sweated industries were quite supplementary to the work of other members of a family. In a family the father and mother might work in some largo spinning factory, and there might also be a daughter and son old enough to do that. After a while the growing family necessitated the wife remaining at home to look after the younger children, and in order to supplement the meagre resources of the family she took in a little work of the 1213 sweated class, and it was quite possible that those members of the family engaged in other industries would be able to supply the money to buy the raw material for the daughter or wife to make up into shirts. The small boy who sold papers in the street did not require a great deal of capital. The lad put down a certain amount of money, got a certain number of newspapers, and went out and sold them in the ordinary course of trade. He then paid for what he had had and got some more. The same would hold good in the case of those articles, no matter what restrictions were imposed and no matter what attempts were made to put an artificial value on men's or women's work. Any such effort could always be got round by some such system as he had indicated to the House. He could not understand the name of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean being on this Bill unless he was prepared to give the House a complete explanation as to how the artificiality which underlay the measure was to be done away with. Only when that explanation had been given would it be possible to look upon the Bill with any favour.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.' "—(Sir Frederick Banbury).
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. VILLIERS (Brighton)
said it was very curious to hear the hon. Member for the City of London complaining about wages boards and speaking against this Bill. He would remind the hon. Member that as a director of a railway company he had himself accepted the principle of a wages board under the arrangement which was brought about by the President of the Board of Trade only the other day. His only excuse for intervening in this debate was that six months ago when in Australia he made a study of the wages board system in Victoria, a system upon which this Bill was almost entirely founded. He had an opportunity of discussing the question there with Sir A. Pencock, 1214 who was the father of the system which had worked admirably. So well in fact had it worked that the other States were thinking of giving up arbitration courts in favour of wages boards. In these days when there was so much wild talk of Socialism and anti-Socialism, of theoretical Socialism and practical Socialism, it was useful to see how these measures worked at in practice. Here Socialism was only seen in the pattern. Out in Australia it was seen in the piece. Here it was only seen in the shape of a red tie or two. There it was a garment worn and enjoyed by the multitude. He was not afraid of Socialism so long as it was sane Socialism and so long as it did not substitute one kind of class legislation for another. But this was no class legislation. Out of forty-nine boards established in various parts of Victoria at least a quarter were asked for by the employers themselves. The better kind of employers courted these boards, because they were thus secured against the unfair competition of less scrupulous employers, while the employed were saved from too low wages, too long hours, and excessive child labour. He had no need to point out that these last two features of the system would materially ease the unemployed problem. These boards acted more on voluntary than on coercive lines, and their decisions were frequently compromises. Few if any strikes had occurred where a "wage determination" was enforced. These boards had one decided advantage over arbitration courts inasmuch as they did away with the cost of legal proceedings, and even in that House where the learned and legal profession was so well represented—was it one in six?—he thought that hon. Members, though lawyers, would agree that it was better that these disputes should be settled by men who knew and who understood the ramifications of their own trade rather than by a Judge and counsel who must of necessity in this be jacks of all trades and masters of none. England and Australia differed in age. Australia being younger, and without our large vested interests and traditions, could afford better than ourselves to make experiments, and should we not profit, therefore, from such experiments when we could? This was a case where we 1215 could successfully do so, and he hoped the Bill would be largely supported.
§ MR. CURRAN (Durham, Jarrow)
said that those who sat on the Labour Benches earnestly desired that this Bill should meet with more generous treatment than had some private Members' Bills. He did not propose to follow the argument of the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded its rejection. The hon. Baronet who represented the City of London had described this as a socialistic Bill. "Socialism" was a word which was frequently heard in the House, and some Members were very glad to hear it, although they knew that some who used the word had no conception of its meaning. If this was a socialistic Bill there were many Acts which had been passed by this House which were also socialistic. The Workman's Compensation Act, the Factory Acts, the Truck Acts were socialistic Acts. All the Acts of Parliament which were passed to restrict the rapacity of capital and for the purpose of protecting the disinherited were, according to the hon. Member for the City of London, socialistic Acts of Parliament. But while they were prepared to recognise that this was a most beneficial Bill, which would if it became an Act do something to mitigate the evils of sweating, they did not regard it as a final solution of that problem. The Bill endeavoured to meet the question of "out-work" or "home-work." There was no greater evil to be found to-day in the working class districts, especially in the East of London, than the evil that arose from home-work. If the hon. Member for the City of London would go down to Bethnal Green at midnight, any time, and go into the garrets in the shoemaking centres of that district he would find the father, mother, and perhaps two or three of the children, all working away at the component parts of a cheap boot, all eager to get it done ready to take it early to the sweaters' shop and get what they could for their labour. That was a condition of things that was a scandal to any civilised state. He came up every morning from the East End, where he lived, and he found numbers of young women worn out and with gaunt features, with colossal parcels of 1216 clothing. They had sat up all night to get this clothing finished in order to get it into the City, and when they got it there, it would hardly sound credible, they were often kept three or four hours before they received what was due to them. The hon. Member for the City of London had said that there was a general desire to buy cheap articles and that that must mean low wages. But the better the wages became the greater would become the desire to buy better goods. If this Bill was successful it would do away largely with the middleman who did nothing but give out the work and sell it when finished. The quotation made by the hon. Member for the City of London had no relevance whatever to this Bill. It was an argument against the compulsory arbitration law as it prevailed in Australia. This Bill was not a compulsory arbitration Bill. Its main objects were to do away with the sweating in special industries—in the twine work, in the boot and shoe, clothing, and match making industries—which existed to-day in so many parts of the country. It had for its object the establishment, if possible, of wages boards in connection with this class of home work, under which the broker or manufacturer would be compelled to pay a minimum standard of wages. By so doing the manufacturer would make no sacrifice, because the workers thereby would be given an opportunity of purchasing to a greater extent in the market than they had at the present time. He hoped the Bill would be read a second time, and that it would be discussed in a non-party spirit. As the hon. Member opposite had said, we wanted to imitate the Colonies as far as possible when experiments of this description had been tried there and found successful. Notwithstanding the complex nature o£ our industries and their age as compared with those of the colonies, when we found an industrial Act working to the satisfaction of the employers and the employed alike in our Colonies it was our duty to imitate them in the matter.
§ *MR. MOND (Chester)
said he would not have intervened in the debate but for the fact that he thought there had been some misconception with regard to this question. All who had been successful manufacturers had early grasped 1217 the fact that profits were not to be made out of low wages. There was no greater fallacy than to suppose that low wages meant low cost of production. He had been in a position recently to compare the cost of production of a certain product in England, France, Belgium, Germany and Russia, and the curious result of his investigation was that England with an eight-hour day and higher wages had a lower labour cost per ton of product than any continental country, and that Russia with the lowest wages and the longest hours had the highest labour cost. That he thought would dispose of the argument of the hon. Member for the City of London that if we passed this Bill the manufacture of these goods in the trades in which the sweating occurred would be transported to foreign countries, and the goods imported here. If that argument was true how were the textile industries in Lancashire carried on? Why were they not transferred to Germany where there were lower wages and the goods brought into this country in the manufactured form? If Lancashire was compared with Japan it would be found that in Japan it took ten workmen to do the work which one did in Lancashire, and that although the wages in Japan for those ten workmen was less than the wages of the one in Lancashire the cost of production was higher. Once let them grasp the principle that low paid and inefficient labour was most expensive and not employed by people who understood their business and the fear with regard to this Bill disappeared. All those who had studied the question for more than ten days found this curious anomaly, that manufacturers engaged in the same industry paid much higher wages on one side of the street than on the other. The hon. Baronet who represented the City of London always spoke as if the only capitalists in the United Kingdom were himself and his friends. He believed the hon. Baronet had at one time some connection with the city which was now severed, but he believed if he went and made inquiries he would find English investors investing their capital not, as he had said, in other countries, but in this country. It was an absolute libel on the English investor, the 1218 English manufacturer, and the English workman to say that England was not as good a country for investments as any in the world. Only quite recently he heard of a number of German manufacturers who were considering the advisability of setting up manufactories in this country. The other day, the manager of one of the largest industrial concerns in Germany came over to this country to make arrangements for erecting a works in England, because, he said, that the labour laws and restrictions in Germany were so severe that he could more advantageously carry on his business in this country. He hoped, therefore, that there would be no further opposition on that ground. It would be difficult to carry out the provisions of this Bill, he quite admitted. The one criticism that he desired to make upon it was that the penalty clauses were not sufficient and he hoped that they would be strengthened. It appeared to him that in these matters the Government of the day were always afraid of making the penalties sufficiently heavy. By all means let them try to remedy this admitted evil. What-ever happened, the condition of these unhappy workers could not be worse than it was to-day, and if the Bill was found to be a failure and had to be repealed they would not be the worse off for it. They ought to make every attempt to get rid of what everybody felt and all must consider the moral degradation of sweating. Everybody had recognised the futility of private effort. Nobody buying their clothes in the West End could by any possibility ascertain where those clothes had been made. Some of the most expensive clothing was made under these frightful conditions, and if by any legislation they could be put an end to, that legislation ought to be passed. If once the idea was created that there was a desire to assist these people; if once they could be persuaded that there was a place to which they could go and get their case looked into, something would have been accomplished. Wages boards already existed in every great organised trade, and by this Bill the House was only giving to the unorganised workers the same advantage that the organised trades enjoyed. He quite agreed with the hon. Baronet that 1219 State interference in trade matters was not desirable; he did not like it himself; but he thought they would do well by passing this Bill. They might take to their hearts the knowledge that they had tried to do the right thing and that if they failed they had failed with good motives.
§ *MR. HILLS (Durham)
said he did not think this Bill would fail, but if it did they would have done a great deal and its very failure might serve to put them on the track of the right solution of the problem. He did not think that the hon. Gentlemen who had moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill could have quite appreciated the magnitude of the evil. The two speeches introducing the Bill were most moderate, and all who had read the evidence given before the Committee on Home Work knew that the case could have been made a great deal stronger. There were hundreds of cases quoted of ridiculously low rates of pay, even down to ½d. an hour, and that revealed a state of things which the House at any rate should make some effort to alter. The one thing that struck him was that in all the talk of those who were against the Bill no sort of remedy had been suggested. It was twenty years since the Royal Commission which sat upon this question reported, yet not a single effort had up to the present been made to solve the question. That position had continued long enough, the evil was known, all the facts admitted, and it was for the House to find a remedy. All the evils of sweating, low wages, long hours, insanitary dwellings, were forms of the great problem of poverty. The only way in which this could be altered was by raising wages. They had to be raised artificially, and the only way of raising them artificially was by State interference. The question was what it would cost. He did not think the first cost would be very great, because he agreed with the hon. Member for Chester that in the end the well-paid workman was most economical. Therefore they would not see a great loss on that head. If the Report of the Royal Commission was consulted it would be found that all the people who were employed in the sweated trades were people who did not depend upon that 1220 trade alone for their livelihood. Sweating wages were wages which would not support any sort of existence, and the people who earned the sweating wages were people who had to be supported somehow besides by their toil, and the State had to pay in some form or other. Even if it cost the community money it would pay the community over and over again, because they had to regard the race, and if the race by this low standard of living deteriorated then it was bad for the community at large, and the only way to alter that was to raise wages. He quite agreed with the hon. Baronet that it was a small Bill to be applied at present only to a few trades and only to the rate of wages. At the same time, once let an advance be made on that road and he hoped they would go further and do something that really raised the standard of living in his country.
§ *MR. VERNEY (Buckinghamshire, N.)
said that for many years he had been connected with women's trade unions in London, and the one danger he saw in this Bill, a danger which he thought might be avoided, was the fear that something might be done to discourage trade unions. The moment the law interfered to establish a rate of wages there was a tendency to usurp the work of trade unionism and discourage its growth. The fact which had to be looked fairly in the face was that this Bill did to some extent interfere with the principle of trade unionism, which was not only helpful to the workers but to the community at large. That was the only doubt in his mind when he rose to support this Bill, which he should certainly vote for, but he hoped trade unionists would take note of what was going on and take care that the Bill was non carried far enough to do them serious damage. Trade unions, he believed, were helpful in fixing reasonable wages and were steadily raising the position of the worker. When trade unions were outside the law there were continual breaches of the law, but directly they were brought within the scope of the law the action of the trade unions became immensely beneficial and had resulted in raising the position of the whole of the workers in the country. The main point in the Bill that would guard against that danger was, first of 1221 all, that very few trades were at present included in the schedule and only those trades as far as he could see where the condition of the workers was so low that they practically could not do without it. He hoped the time might come when in every trade the possibility of combination would have come in and when those who combined would feel that their wages and conditions of labour were so absolutely secured by combination that they could do without such legislation as this. He strongly hoped the Bill would go through. He thought there were the strongest possible reasons for supporting it.
§ MR. GWYNN (Galway)
said he took part in the debate, not as an expert, but to put an à priori view of a different kind from that which had been put already. He would like to challenge the whole conception that underlay the speech of the hon. Member for the City of London, who talked to the House of its being a practical assembly that had no concern with humanity. At the back of his mind, in listening to that debate, was the echo of the same question as it presented itself in Ireland. The question came back to them in a wholly different shape. Law was always treated by gentlemen of the type of the hon. Baronet as a kind of fixed thing which must not be lightly interfered with. His point of view was that law was an expression of public opinion—of the moral sense of the community—and there the seconder had struck a note at the beginning which ought to sound through the whole discussion. What they had at present was a social state which was repugnant to the moral sense of any decent man. Law at the present time permitted that state of things, even in a certain sense it was willing to enforce it, as it had done in Ireland over and over again. He held that their business was to alter law. He did not know that he was a Socialist, but he knew that he was profoundly in favour of State regulation. What was the law for in the last analysis? It was to regulate the competition of the strong and the weak. People found on the whole that it was necessary to prevent the weak from being crushed out. The struggle was settled as regarded the physical world. There was no doubt 1222 that the weak had to be protested against the strong. But how about the economically weak? How about the half-paid? That was the question they were really discussing. It appeared to him that the existence of the half-paid was a scourge and a danger to the whole community. He came from a country where wages were low and where as a consequence there was very little industrial employment. Of all miserably paid employment in Ireland the most miserable was the shirt industry. Wherever one went one could see that this thing was spreading like a canker, eating into the physique and heart of the country. One could tell the piece-workers by the look of them if one ever saw them outside the doors of their houses. He fully admitted that there would be difficulty in regulating these things, but it appeared to him that the action of the Bill would not be to supersede but to assist trade unionism. Trade unionists would expose and put an end to such a fraud as the case quoted by the hon. Baronet of an employer contracting to pay his men £1 on the understanding that they gave back 3s. on Monday morning. As for the piece-work at home, it was possible that that might be met by trade unions, but he fully recognised the force of the argument that there would be a danger of a certain amount of cheap labour from abroad coming in. The hon. Member for Chester had declared in effect that this underpaid work was work that should not be done or, if it was, should be done by machinery. He had heard recently of a case in Ireland where certain cheaply paid work was done by hand at 9d. a dozen. The merchants in Belfast were approached by representatives of the Japanese industry who proposed to do the same thing at 3½d. The result was, he thought, to put an end to that industry. The community would have in cases like that to decide whether it would do as the Colonies had done and exclude that cheap labour, or undercut the cheap labour by doing it still more cheaply by machinery. After all, they were discussing a question in the abstract, but he sincerely hoped the Bill would go to Committee. They in Ireland had heard all those arguments before against State regulation. They had been told before that if they 1223 introduced it, it would supersede industrial competition, and in every case those prophecies had been falsified. He believed they would find here also that by State regulation they would assist the natural combination of individuals in the trade unions and that ultimately they would waken the moral sense of the community.
§ MR. PIKE PEASE (Darlington)
sincerely hoped that the Bill would be passed unanimously. It was one of great importance, and the speeches of the proposer and seconder were very moderate. They had not expressed any exaggeration whatever, and they could have done much more to make the House feel the awfulness of this great question. The seconder had said that philanthropy was no remedy for this evil. However keenly they might feel in regard to the question it was perfectly clear that by parting with their money or by paying money towards benefaction they could not get over this great evil, and it was also perfectly true that there were risks of promoting evils by passing this measure. At the same time having given some consideration to the matter, he was of opinion that it was the duty of the House to pass legislation of this character. His only suggestion with regard to the Bill was that it should come into force on 1st July, instead of 18th January next. Reference had been made to trade unions. He had had a considerable amount of experience in dealing with and arranging terms with those bodies, and he believed as a whole trade unions had been of great benefit to the country and the community generally, and especially in the North of England, where they were stronger than in any other part of the country. His complaint was that they were somewhat illogical—he was not referring entirely to the subject of tariff reform—in regard to certain matters. They were very anxious on all occasions to take advantage of technical education. Yet a young man went to a technical school and received education which was to enable him to rise from the bottom to the top of the ladder, and when he left the technical school in many instances he went and performed labour in which the conditions were such that he could only do a certain 1224 amount of work and receive a certain amount of pay. When this Bill passed into law, there would he understood, be a board composed of employers and employed with an independent chairman. If the Bill were carried further it was possible that there might be some sort of compulsory arbitration. That was a principle which was not believed in by a great many trade unions in this country. At the same time there were many who believed in it, because it had been in satisfactory operation in some other countries. It was not for reasons of sentimentality that he supported the Bill. It was because he knew that the evils with which it would deal existed, and nobody had been able to think of any other means by which they could be overcome. It was all very well for the hon. Baronet to adopt a non possumus attitude. The world was certainly hard. It was absolutely essential that some means should be found of doing away with these evils. This measure contained no new principle, because it was contained in the Factory Acts passed by both Parties during the last thirty years. Why on earth should they allow people to go on working at starvation wages? It had been said that if the Bill were passed this particular kind of work could not continue. In view of the conditions under which these people existed it would be far better that they should not exist at all than continue to live as at present. One hon. Member had stated that he would be a tariff reformer if he thought it would benefit the country. He himself would be a Socialist if he thought it would do away with these evils. It was quite certain that the evils complained of did exist, and that the weak were overcome by the strong and had to be protected. For those reasons he hoped the Bill would pass its Second Reading without opposition, and if it had the effect of fulfilling the hopes of its promoters it would be one of the best measures ever placed on the Statute Book.
§ *MR. WEDGWOOD (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
said he was sorry to have to strike a jarring note in this debate, but he wanted the House to hear a few of the dangers underlying this Bill, although the 1225 measure itself might be primarily intended to confer benefits. In the first place the only supporter of the Bill who was really to be congratulated was the hon. Member for Durham City, because he thought the passage of the measure would strengthen the hands of tariff reformers throughout the country. It would give them a weapon which they could not fail to use. What defence could any free-trader offer? They said they wanted to prevent people working for sweated wages in this country, and at the same time they were allowing the free import of competing goods made by sweated labour abroad. These wages boards which were to be formed would recommend with semi-official force that their particular industry should be protected from the competition of the German or Belgian sweated goods. The next objection that he wished to urge was this. Any fixing of wages, any increase of wages in these sweated trades must tend to reduce the number of people employed in those trades, and the amount of that industry which was carried on here. He did not say that it would stop people at present working in any particular trade, but it would have the effect of preventing new workers coming into that industry, and it would reduce also the amount of that industry carried on in future. It would tend inevitably to drive labour that was at present sweated in one trade into a wider circle outside—into other trades which were at present not sweated. Supposing one dropped a drop of water into the middle of a blot of ink. The blot of ink looked less black, but it spread over a wider area. By the passage of this measure they would inevitably drive the sweated conditions into a larger circle of trades which were not at present so severely affected by existing conditions. He thought the hon. Member for Bury really put his finger on the spot when he said that the whole question of sweated industry was in reality a branch of the unemployed problem. So long as they had a floating margin of unemployment all round the labour market they would be bound to have the wages of labour tending towards subsistence level. The non-sweated trades were also affected, the workers in the non-sweated trades were under-cut and their conditions 1226 tended always to become as bad as those in sweated trades. Surely the way to deal with this question was not to tinker with it and deal spasmodically with isolated sweated trades, but to go to the root of unemployment and deal with the whole question of present industrial conditions—fundamentally—by altering those conditions so that sweating could not exist. He believed there was a line of policy which would definitely alter the present industrial conditions, which would make it the usual thing for one employer to compete with other employers for labour and stop workmen competing with each other for the chance of earning a miserable pittance, driven by the alternative of starvation. They wanted to alter the balance. The fact that two men were after one job meant that they would take a subsistence wage to do the job. Therefore he would try to alter the balance and if they had two employers after one workman that condition of things would be altered. There was a time in this country when such a condition of things did exist, when employers were competing for labour and when a measure of this kind was passed, but in the interests of employers. All through the fourteenth century, after the Black Death, there was less labour than employers wanted, and numbers of employers were actually fined for giving labourers more than the standard rate of wages fixed by law. It was absurd that the man who should be thankful was the man who did the work and not the man for whom it was done. Was that not a reversal of the ordinary state of affairs? He would endeavour to show how this state of affairs might be remedied, and he invited the House to consider for a moment the present rating system. At present every improvement was heavily taxed. There was a 50 per cent. tax on every new building and upon every extension of industry. There was also special remission of taxes and rates in favour of those owners who did not use their land and raw materials properly. Every owner of house property who let his houses stand empty had his rates remitted; every owner of ripening land who allowed the process of ripening to go on and did not allow the community to use his land had his rates remitted. When Lord Penrhyn 1227 closed down his slate quarries and people could not get slates so cheaply as they otherwise would have done, he got his rates remitted. They actually had at present a system of rating which taxed everybody who tried to improve the country and directly benefited everybody who prevented the country's development. The work that they should increase so as to do away with the margin of unemployment was productive work. What was productive work? It was the application of labour to land; the working up of raw materials into shapes calculated to gratify human wants; such as taking clay and working it into cups, or taking coal and turning it into gas, or taking land and turning it into bread and butter. In every case productive workers were taking raw material, or land which might be used for factories or buildings, and turning these raw materials into something that was useful. Now surely the way to increase productive work was to make this application of labour to the raw materials easier than it was at present. As our present rating system distinctly penalised any sort of productive work and distinctly benefited owners of raw material who did not allow their raw materials to be used, the surest way of getting out of this difficulty of unemployment was so to alter the rating system that the man who withheld his raw material should not be omitted from the universal net of the tax collector, and the person who did improve his property should be saved from the penalising tax of the rates which were at present imposed on him. He was convinced that the idea underlying this Bill for stopping sweated conditions in two or three selected trades was not one by which they could alter the existence of industrial slavery under which They existed to-day. The plan was hopelessly futile. They had to alter the fundamental conditions of employment and remove artificial obstacles put in the way of labour, preventing its application to land and raw materials. It was only by these methods they could hope to solve the problem.
§ MR. GOULDING (Worcester)
very much regretted that the promoters had not allowed the name of a Conservative 1228 Member to appear on the back of the Bill. It was no party question, but he supposed that, with the zeal of converts, the promoters desired to appropriate the credit. He reminded the House that the agitation against sweated labour originated with Lord Dunraven. Nothing had more encouraged sweating than the free importation of alien paupers. One had only to quote from the evidence given before the Royal Commission to show that the character of whole districts had been changed by this free importation of alien labour. When the late Government were endeavouring to deal with the pauper alien question every Gentleman now on the Treasury Bench did his best to obstruct the measure. They had learnt their lesson since. This Bill involved the protection of British labour, and he supported it as the forerunner of measures to protect British industry from the competition of sweated alien produce coming from abroad. Sweating was a national disgrace and a source of inefficiency. If a trade could only be kept going by such means it were better abandoned altogether. A living wage and reasonable hours were essential to good work. He held that the labourer was worthy of his hire, and good work could not be produced under the conditions prevailing in sweated industries. Continuous work took the whole heart out of the workers, who performed their allotted task without any interest in it and without a particle of hope of any improvement in their lot. Those poor wretches worked on and became mere machines carrying on the drudgery of their daily Eves. Those unfortunate workers, toiling as no persons in our prisons toiled, had no idea of patriotism, and were consequently liable to sympathise with the class hatred which was so sedulously propagated by socialistic people. Unfortunately, in those trades women formed the majority of the workers, and they were often thus employed because their husbands were only partially employed or else receiving such a miserable wage that the women had to go out to work in order to keep the household together. They had to work such long hours that, as a natural consequence, these unfortunate women had to neglect their natural duties both 1229 as mothers and housewives. He did not believe, however, that the employers in those industries were any worse men than other individuals. There were good and bad amongst them just as there were good and bad in this House. There were many employers who desired to give good wages, but they were compelled by cut-throat competition and unscrupulous foreign rivals to reduce the wages of their work-people. Those who had studied the Blue-book dealing with home work knew that there were many generous employers of labour who had been bound to reduce the wages they were paying to their work-people because their competitors in that particular industry were paying between 20 and 60 per cent. less wages. He did not need to narrate the cases which called for immediate action beyond mentioning that 10½d. per dozen was paid for making corsets, shirts were being made at 11d. per dozen, and trousers 1¾d. to 3d. per pair, including pressing, but exclusive of cutting. That was the way our export trade was being built up in this country. What did this Bill propose? To try and find a solution of this evil in those special trades where the workpeople had no means of organisation and were helpless to provide for themselves. He ventured to say that the wages board was by far the most efficient and practical method of procedure, because it was cheaper, more mobile, and created for the purpose, and consisted of the representatives of both the masters and the men. When any of the technical difficulties of a trade arose those sitting on the wages board would be cognisant of all the facts, and would apply their minds to discovering a remedy. Every individual member of a board so constituted would be interested in its success, and in arriving at decisions they would not be likely to injure, much Jess destroy, the industry upon which they all depended for their livelihood, and they would be quite competent to fix the minimum wage which an employer could afford to pay. The chairman of the board should not be a barrister, but a business man selected for his knowledge and ability as a business man. In all the cases where the Act had been in force in Victoria, the chairman had been a business man, and he had been able to bring his influence to bear on both sides 1230 to secure their adhesion to the judgments given. Out of 230 decisions, 185 were unanimous by reason of the feeling on both sides of the competence of the board, and in regard to the remainder none were appealed. The chairman would be chosen from the specific trade in dispute and he would be chosen ad hoc to deal with a specific question. He considered that this Bill was a great step towards tariff reform, and that it would protect British workmen. When we were able to drive out those individuals who were only in this country because they did work cheaply and nastily, we should be able to secure fair employment for our own people. This measure was only the beginning of what the British workers were going to have, for it would not be enough merely to drive out sweaters that they might erect their plant in Germany and elsewhere, and then dump down their sweated goods here. He thought the Bill should be strictly limited to those trades where sweating existed. The very pertinent suggestions made by the hon. Member for East Down should be considered. He was perfectly certain that on the Committee there would be plenty of men who would be able to foresee the evasions which the hon. Member predicted, and to find means to prevent them. He heartily supported the measure, believing that it would be a great step towards stopping the curse of sweating and in securing fair play for trade in this country.
§ *MR. CHIOZZA MONEY (Paddington, N.)
said the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London entirely misunderstood the economic principle which lay at the root of the Bill. The hon. Baronet remarked that all classes wanted cheap goods. That was perfectly true, and he would add that the demand for cheapness—that was the demand for plentifulness, for that was what cheapness meant—was an entirely legitimate demand. The answer to the hon. Baronet's argument was that the best way to get cheapness was not by sweated labour, but to secure plentifulness by adopting the best economic methods industrial science had evolved. If he might illustrate that obvious remark, he would do so by reference to a single trade, namely, the match-box trade. 1231 Match-boxes were made in two ways—by machinery, worked by human labour, ill or well paid; and by human machines working for a pitiful wage in the performance of a task which really was not human at all, but a mechanical task that ought to be relegated to the sphere of machinery. What did they do by allowing women and children in the East End of London to continue working for pitiful wages in making match-boxes? They enabled some small capitalist—a bad, and he hoped, a dying representative of his class—to take these human machines and trespass upon the disadvantages which were theirs—the disadvantage, perhaps the disability rather, of a woman who had been deprived of her husband, or of orphans who had no longer a father. The small capitalist need not establish a factory He could compel the home-worker to supply him with factory room, lighting, fetching and carrying, and thus to enable him to manufacture under conditions of spurious and illegitimate cheapness, conditions which this Bill would do away with. What would happen if that manufacturer were compelled to discontinue the use of that human machinery? He had not capital at his command to buy machines to make match-boxes; he would have to go out of the trade entirely, and the result would be that we should gain not less cheapness, but more cheapness. The price of match-boxes would not go up; it might even fall as the result. He passed to another point—the contention of the hon. Baronet that the poor woman would be driven out of the trade, and that the orphan would no longer be able to work. The picture flashed across his own mind of the last room he visited where match-boxes were made under these conditions. There was the consumptive father, the mother, and three or four children crawling about the floor, one of them a feeble-minded child. The hon. Baronet—and it was to his credit—had pity for these women and children; he conceived them deprived of work, and no longer able to support the consumptive father and themselves. When he visited them, that family was half supported out of the poor rate already. That amounted to a subsidy He put it 1232 to the hon. Baronet that it would be well for the community, and well for those individuals, if they were driven-out of the trade, and if they were dependent on the poor rate wholly and not partially. But do not let them exaggerate the question of driving out of employment the units in these industries. As a matter of fact, these-people were piece-workers as a rule-Home work was usually piece-work, and that point had to be taken into consideration when they were dealing with the number of units who were likely to be driven out of employment by the passing of such a measure. The only case where the unit would be driven out of the industry was suck a case as he had pictured. But what would be the economic result of a higher rate for piece - work in most cases? It would be that the slow or inefficient, the old or infirm worker, instead of being driven out, would get a little more for the work he did. It might take him a little longer than the efficient worker, but at least he would not be driven out. He took it that that answer largely met the quite proper objection the hon. Baronet had raised, as to persons being driven out of industry. What he had stated had been the experience in connection with the Victoria wages boards. The inspector who last reported on the subject, so far as he knew, stated that admirable results had been secured without injury to any old or infirm worker, and a priori he thought there was every reason to believe that that statement was true, for the reasons he had already put before the House. He thought that this Bill by creating increased efficiency would not, as the hon. Member for Worcester feared, increase the intensity of foreign competition. If the abolition of sweating would make industry more and not less efficient, how could foreign competition be increased?
§ *MR. CHIOZZA MONEY
said it seemed to him that the hon. Member feared that sweated goods would come in from abroad.
§ *MR. CHIOZZA MONEY
said that if they rendered industry more efficient by this Bill sweated goods would not be so likely to come in. The best employers welcomed this legislation. He called the attention of the House to a striking instance which recently occurred. He would not mention the name of the firm concerned. A dispute occurred, and the firm agreed to arbitration. The arbitration was held with Mr. Ask with of the Board of Trade in the chair. The reductions of wages complained of were very serious, being more than 50 per cent. Was that done willingly by the firm? No, it was not. The firm pointed out to the arbitration board that this action had been forced upon them by the action of another firm. They said that if the other firm would pay an equal amount, they would not make the reduction, because they would be relieved from unfair competition. In other words, the firm that appeared before the Board of Trade arbitrator appealed for the principle which this Bill sought to set up. The hon. Baronet had said that this Bill was introduced by people whose hearts were larger than their heads. He mistook the principle of the Bill. It was possible for a man with a big heart and a big head also to vote for the Bill. In view of the considerations he had put before the House, and which others had advanced, he would appeal to the hon. Baronet to withdraw his oppostion and allow the Bill to go forward as an unopposed measure.
§ MR. RICHARDSON (Nottingham, S.)
said he would not have risen if it had not been stated in evidence that the city which he had the honour to represent contained as large a proportion of home workers as any city in the country. There were some 25,000 operatives connected with the lace trade in Nottingham, and 8,000 of them were stated by Miss Squires to be home workers. It had been suggested that there was some danger of tariff reform by the passing of the Bill, and they had had an excellent address on what might be called root principles. He remembered, however, the difficulty 1234 he had in getting into the House—and he could not forget he would have as great or even a greater difficulty in getting in next time. Therefore, he did not want to wait until the generation after the next to put into operation the principles of this Bill, which would so vitally affect the poorest in our towns and cities. Speaking of tariff reform and as one belonging to the Labour Party, he could say that while they agreed that as a nation we could not have accumulated the aggregate amount of wealth under any protective system which we had done under free trade, yet they were endeavouring to secure—and it was the principle of this Bill—a more adequate distribution of the wealth produced by the workers of the country. He was convinced by his own inquiries in Nottingham that employers, home workers, and trade unionists alike were anxious for something to be done, and because he believed something practical would be done by the Bill, he wished to see it pass without a division. As to the practical side of the matter, he pointed out that some two or three years ago there was a dispute in Nottingham affecting 6,000 lace operatives, when a board very similar to the one suggested in the Bill was formed, and Mr. As with was sent down by the Board of Trade as umpire, Many witnesses went before that board and many intricate questions were considered, yet the result was so satisfactory that work had gone on harmoniously as between employers and employees, and until the American crisis the Nottingham lace trade had never been so good. He also pointed out that the employers in Nottingham had themselves attempted to remedy the evils of home work, and a committee was formed for the purpose. Good employers, however, had told him that the difficulty was that the bad employers would not agree to a settled price. It was in the interests, therefore, not only of the employees, but of the good employers that this Bill should be passed.
§ MR. HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)
said the hon. Member for North Paddington had stated that everybody wanted cheapness. That was all very well. They wanted to buy cheap, but to sell their labour dear. They could not have it both ways. If they would have cheap 1235 manufactured goods, they must have cheap labour. What they did at present was to import cheap alien labour and cheap foreign goods. He was in favour of the Bill, and he would like to see everybody in the country getting good wages, but he could not see how it could possibly be done under present conditions. A suit of shoddy clothes which could be got for a sovereign was produced by sweated labour. The material was composed of all sorts of rubbish. It was put into what were called "devils" in the north of England, and eventually it was turned into cloth. That was all done by sweated labour, and when it came to be made up the prices paid were even worse because there was a continual influx of foreign Jew labour. Although it was very cheap at a sovereign and undoubtedly it was the result of sweated labour—poor people who bought it could not afford any better—it was shabby in six months and a shower of rain nearly destroyed it. That was an example of cheap goods made by sweated labour. If it was desirable to keep alien people from coming into this country and taking away work from our own poor people by working for starvation wages, it was also desirable to keep very cheap goods from coming into the country without paying any share of our taxation. He appealed to the Labour Members to give this matter their most serious consideration. He did not agree with the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. [LABOUR cries of "Oh, yes, you do."] He was not what was called a Socialist Parliamentarian; he would go in for a minimum wage, but they could not get a minimum wage unless there was plenty of work. And there would never be plenty of work in this country until the work of our own people was protected from the unfair competition of cheap manufactures from abroad. He quite agreed that our own poor people should be protected from being unfairly treated by their employers, but he maintained that they would remain absolutely helpless unless foreign labour and the products of foreign labour were excluded from the country.
§ MR. LYTTELTON (St. George's Hanover Square)
said he rejoiced to notice the sympathy of the House as a whole 1236 with the objects which the promoters of this measure had in view. It would be, he believed, correct to say that the vast majority of the House entertained the opinion that strikes in the main led to national distress. But he trusted that the promoters of the Bill would consent to make it a truly experimental measure. He wished to make a success of the experiment and not a failure; hence the criticisms which he desired to put very briefly at the outset of his observations. Three trades were mentioned in the schedule to the Bill, and he thought that this was too large an experimental area to begin with. It would be better to select some more manageable trade in which organisation could be more easily fostered, and to try the experiment in that first. He threw out that suggestion in the interest of the Bill itself, because there was nothing more important in legislation of this kind than that the House should make an experiment under conditions which would give a good chance of remedying the evils. In the next place, it would be more in consonance with the experimental principle of the Bill if the clause with regard to the Home Secretary were modified or left out. He was sure his right hon. friend would not imagine that he was making any reflection upon himself or on the great department over which he presided. But they always felt that strong pressure was exercised on Ministers from time to time which it was not always easy for them to resist, and he feared that possibly premature attempts might be made on his right hon. friend to extend the area of the Bill before the experiment in the first instance had been made so as to become fully effective. Future legislation in this matter should be left to the House. He did not think there would be any difficulty in showing that there would be even greater unanimity in the House in the future than at present if it could be stated that the experiment had been tried in the first place on a small scale and had been thoroughly successful. The hon. Member for the City of London objected to the Bill on the ground that the State would be fixing wages. He did not think that that was the case, and he believed that his hon. friend had made a mistake in interpreting the fundamental provision of it. 1237 The success of this experiment had been proved in Nottingham exactly according to the procedure provided by the Bill. Workmen and employers met together to discuss the question of wages, and they were the people assuredly who knew what, to use the language of the railway world, "the traffic" would bear. They were not likely to do anything that would kill the industry with which they were connected. They agreed to take a certain course, and if they did not agree they appointed an umpire. He hoped their efforts would be as successful as his hon. friend could desire.
SIR F. BANBUBY
said he would point out that the wages board was to consist of an equal number of employers and employed. But in the event of a difference of opinion, the question would be settled by the chairman, and he was appointed by the State. He was right, therefore, in saying that the State would fix the minimum wage.
§ MR. LYTTELTON
said that his hon. friend was perfectly accurate in what he said; but he did not think his hon. friend drew the right conclusion from the premises. The businesslike feature of the Bill was the bringing of the employers and the employed face to face. From long experience he had seen happy results, in almost every sphere, of bringing people round a table and taking a businesslike view as business men of the matter in dispute. He could imagine nothing more likely to lead to good feeling, or nothing which removed so many misapprehensions. For his own part, with all the conviction and energy possible, he believed as soon as employers were brought face to face with these poor women, and saw the misery to which they had been reduced, the best human understanding and sympathy would be promoted. In his opinion it would give to human nature the opportunity of asserting its best self. The board which they proposed would be a board competent to deal with the matter; it would be a board which would not desire to press too hardly on the workpeople. Neither would it desire to kill the trade; but to promote human sympathy. Then lie drew the attention of his hon. friend to the fact that it was a body 1238 which employers themselves wished to see created. They had been reminded by his hon. friend the Member for Worcester, whom they were all glad to see back in his place in the House, that employers in large trades were absolutely unable at present to ascertain the rate of wages paid by other large employers. They said, "We know what we pay and what we can pay, but we do not know what is paid by others." Directly, those people were got to tell all that, some understanding would be arrived at as to what the true rate should be, and when they had public notification of these facts throughout the district confusion would be done away with and undercutting almost entirely stopped. Nearly all the employers called before the inquiry said there was no desire to undercut, but that they were being undercut by the sweaters. His hon. friend said just now that this measure would be an interference by the State with trade. But we had long recognised the principle that there were some people in this country so weak and so miserable that Parliament must interfere for their protection. We protected women and children in factories. Then what were the Truck Acts? Some seventy years ago it was admitted, even by the Manchester school, that in regard to wages it was necessary to make a substantive interference with freedom of contract. Nothing could appear to be fairer than that a man should be paid by commodities or the building of a cottage, but it was admitted that in the case of bad employers that led to fraud and oppression, and the system was done away with and the law enforced payment of wages in current coin. In 1884–5 Lord Cross under the most successful Unionist administration expanded the Truck Acts. By the Potteries Act, Employers and Workmen Acts, and Factory Acts, Parliament with the practical consent of both sides of the House interfered definitely with wages and for the protection of poor, miserable, weak, and unorganised workpeople. The State in its own interest had a right to interfere and see that the wages paid were not so desperately small as to bring an actual disability on those who were working for them. The real purpose of this Bill 1239 was to introduce into unorganised trades that effective power of negotiating with employers which more highly organised trades enjoyed. If there was a chance of a trade becoming organised, he was quite sure the Labour Members would agree that it was undesirable to do anything to prevent that trade from getting organised. This Bill had been introduced in a most persuasive and tactful manner, and the discussion had been one which must make every one the better for having heard it. With the limitations he had suggested, he felt that the passing of the Bill could do nothing but good and would do much to rid us of what was a national evil.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. GLADSTONE,) Leeds, W.
I have listened to the speech of my right hon. friend with much sympathy and agreement with both his argument and his views. In regard to some of the criticisms he has made on the Bill, I will address myself to them at length later on; but, after the strong expressions of opinion from the right hon. Gentleman, I trust that the hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London, will not persist in the hostile Motion of which he has given notice.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
I am sure I have the authority of my hon. friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill in saying that we would accept a further limitation of some of its provisions. We are anxious that the experiment should be tried under favourable conditions.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
If the promoters of the Bill will accept the proposal of my right hon. friend that the clause with reference to the powers of extension should be deleted, and that the measure should be confined to one trade as an experiment I would withdraw my Motion.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
It would depend very much on what the one trade would be. Of course, in some trades the results would be illusory. We are anxious that the experiment should be tried on a sufficient scale, whether with two or three trades or not, but in some form. We would not insist upon having in the Bill 1240 the double option of a schedule of trades and the authority to the Home Secretary to extend the number. We propose that the Bill should go to a Select Committee, but it is impossible to say what that Select Committee will do.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
I think that it is hardly necessary for me to say anything after the reception which the House has given to the Bill; but I may trouble the House for a few minutes for I have to speak for the Department of the Government which is primarily responsible in, the matter, and to express the views of the Government in regard to this measure. It is a most remarkable fact, too, that, although this Bill has been before the House for some time, and the subject of it has been before the country a longer time, initiated and pressed by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, there has been no hostile Motion put down upon the Paper against the Bill, which in itself is a new departure. That is a most significant fact, as showing the trend of public opinion on this subject, and I am glad to notice that the consideration of this question to-day had been conducted, on the whole, with amenity. As to the preliminary observation of the hon. Member for Worcester, whom I congratulate on his return to the House, I may say that the promoters of the Bill are the last men to repudiate the assistance of anyone in this, House or outside it, in furthering a matter of this kind. It was, perhaps, from the super-abundance of offers that the omission of the hon. Gentleman's name from the back of the Bill took place. I do not think it is necessary to go far back into the history of this question. The hon. Member quoted Lord Dunraven's Committee; but if we went into the matter historically we should have to go back to the brick fields of ancient Egypt. I think that some parts of the hon. Gentleman's speech in which he sought to couple tariff reform with this Bill were a little unnecessary. The introduction of the tariff question is in my judgment totally irrelevant to the consideration of the Bill, and in saying that, I wish to illustrate my position by reminding the House how, in the very centre and heart of a protected country, the evils of sweating exist as prominently as they 1241 do here. I have here a Memorandum published in Germany on the Exhibition of Home Industries opened in Berlin in 1906, which included all sorts of products. I will just give the House two or three points from that Memorandum. It shows that in the toy industry the gross earnings per hour of a whole family engaged in making small wardrobes for dolls' houses amounted only to 2½d. That is one illustration of a sweated trade. Another is that the average hour's wage in the home industries represented in the Exhibition, works out at ten pfennig, somewhat over a penny, in the cases of work which requires no special skill, and that will yield a pitiful wage of about 6s. a week. The Memorandum also states that the Secretary of State for the Interior visited the exhibition and was said to be much impressed by the fact that for making a lady's mantle the workers received two shillings, while the middleman earned seven shillings, and the selling price was five pounds. You have, therefore, in Berlin under the amplest system of protection against the importation of sweated goods—you have in the heart of Germany evils as gross and glaring as exist in our country. I pass from that. Let us proceed to consider this problem entirely apart from party lines and fiscal controversies. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall be quite ready to meet him on his own ground on this question or any other when we find time, but let us put it aside for the present. The history of this question is interesting and goes back for some time. It is interesting to know that in the first instance when the factory system was introduced the efforts of Parliament were directed towards improving the conditions of work in the factories; in other words, to level up the conditions of work in the factories to the conditions of work in home life as they were then; and the result of State interference has been to improve the condition of the factories so that they are incomparably better now than they were fifty or sixty years ago, though they are still open to improvement. It must be our endeavour now to improve the conditions of home work and make them if possible as tolerable and at least as protective as the conditions which exist at the present day in the factory world. We 1242 have tried for the last twenty years to get at this great difficulty—a difficulty which is a grave reflection upon our political and social system. We have endeavoured to get at it by legislation. We have tried to get at it through the sanitary laws and through the factory laws. In 1895 my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the Second Reading of his Factory Bill, spanking about the clause which provides; for the inspection of out-workers, said he hoped that through that clause the outworkers would be tracked to their lair. It was hoped then, that by bringing daylight into the homes of these workers, an improvement would be effected. I cannot say that much has been done, but some improvement has been effected, and there has been some result from the operation of the particular clause to which my right hon. friend referred. But, nevertheless, at the present moment, though the numbers are uncertain and in some instances unobtainable, we know that a vast army of people—men and women—who are wretchedly poor, live under the most abject and squalid conditions, existing on a pittance eked out by the Poor Law and by private charity, which are in fact a premium to the employer who exploits their poverty, out of which he gets too frequently a most inordinate profit. Why is this? The main reason is that these poor people are unorganised. Why are they unorganised? They are unorganised because they are separated, because they work under an infinite variety of different trades and different employers; because they are wretchedly poor, because they are aged and infirm, and because too often for one reason or another they are inefficient workers themselves. We have here to deal with a grave and a festering evil; let us see if we can get at what should be the proper remedy. It must be remembered on this question that we have not only to speak for ourselves, but to speak for the great outside public, who are ignorant and will be asking what the House of Commons are doing in assenting to a strange and new proposal. We must speak to them, and I am speaking to them now when I say that these poor people can no more remedy their own miseries than a fever-producing swamp is able to remove itself 1243 and its dangers from those who live near it. The laissez faire system has failed. Legislative enactments up to the present have failed. The Factory Acts and the Sanitary Acts have failed and under a judgment of the High Court these poor people are now deprived even of the help afforded them by the operation of the Truck Act. They are helpless, miserable, and powerless, and the time has come for trying to discover some remedy more effective than those which have hitherto been attempted. It is within the power of the State to restrict competition, but the real evil among these people is the competition not to get more but to take less. That is the real evil. Probably many people do not realise how far the State has gone already in industrial interference, in how many directions and with what excellent results. Let me refer to the Particulars section in the Act of my right hon. friend. Under Section 160 of the Act of 1901 the Home Secretary after inquiry may by Order require any employers in any trade to furnish the workers with particulars of the rate of wages applicable to any work. That is pretty strong State interference, and I am not sure whether my hon. friend the Member for the City of London objected to it when the Bill was passing through the House in 1901.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
He had plenty of opportunity. The price or rate so furnished frequently, if not usually, agreed upon by the employers under the pressure of powerful trade organisations, is by law to be paid to the worker, and the State in fact forces the employer into a contract written and enforcible. The last census gives the total number of home workers to whom the Particulars section can be extended as 450,000, and of these it may be roughly estimated, that under the Orders that have been made since 1901, particulars have been required to be given in about 363,000 or just about 80 per cent., and in 1905 it was estimated that about 340,000 of these workers received particulars, or about 76 per cent. of the whole.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
Why not? I am glad, and wish to see it go further. So successful, so beneficial has been the operation through the extension of the Particulars clause, that I think that all who have given attention to the matter will agree that the time has come for making the Particulars Order general.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
I said why not give particulars. Giving particulars is very different from fixing wages.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
I only just pointed out that having regard to the law compelling an employer to give particulars you are forcing him into a legal contract, and I further state that already as regards the piece workers, the machinery of the State has resulted in a very material increase of the average payment received by piece-workers to whom this Particulars section has been applied. The State has already gone far to help particular workers, and the Government in regard to the men they employ have adopted the principle, of a Parliamentary wage, in effect, if they have not yet adopted it without reservation and in full. But we must all agree that where novel principles are proposed we have to see that they an; well thought out. We are now asked to set up wages boards for the purpose of effecting compulsory but limited arbitration. That applies not to fixing wages generally, but to fixing wages in certain trades, and in my opinion this Sweated Industry Bill thoroughly deserves the consideration of the House. There is no doubt that the wages board it may put forward may differ from other methods of procedure which may effect the same object and more speedily than is proposed by this Bill. There are other schemes, but I will say nothing about them now as we have this particular Bill before us. At the present time in trade disputes methods of conciliation and arbitration are gaining favour every day, and there is nothing very startling in carrying those methods further by statutory provision. It is our duty, wherever possible, to substitute reasonable and rational machinery for securing agreements and settlements, whether in the humbler and smaller industries in which 1245 sweated labour is engaged or in the larger industries which concern the general mass of the working people throughout the country. But for effective arbitration, whether in a large trade or in a small one, as my hon. friend pointed out, there must be effective organisation, there must be effective representation both of the employers' and the employed. There should be and there ought to be no weakening of that effective organisation which is a necessary condition of arbitration. That consideration leads me to the heart of the matter, because in the sweated trades there is no power of combination and no effective representation either of employers or of employed. It is to bring that about that I think the Bill is designed, and I think that is a very good reason why it should be brought in and shaped in a way which will make it successful in carrying out the object of its promoters. As I understand, the general object of the Bill is to organise and induce agreements between employers and employed, to secure a reasonable payment for work done, and to secure for unorganised workers a measure of the advantages which powerful organisations have already obtained for their members. That object is good and desirable, and I am glad the House practically agrees to it. There are great difficulties in the way however. I do not pretend to deny to the House that I think the difficulties are considerable. I am not going to weary the House by any unnecessary or detailed criticism, but I must guard myself in one or two matters. I do not agree with sub-section (1) of the first clause, but I would point out that there is some inconsistency between that subsection and the sub-section which follows it, and some anomaly created, because the first sub-section makes the establishment of wages boards throughout the country mandatory for the particular trades mentioned in the schedule, but the next sub-section provides that the Home Secretary may on application, if he thinks fit, direct the establishment of a wages board for any other trade in any district of the country.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
Perhaps it might be convenient to say that the schedule was not in the Bill as it stood two years ago. I think, and one or two 1246 hon. Members promoting the Bill agree, that there is ground for saying that there is a certain inconsistency there, but we are anxious to get the power to inquire with a view to additions to the schedule.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
I quite follow my right hon. friend and thank him for his explanation. The Home Secretary is in the abstract a long-suffering person, who submissively accepts any added burden which Parliament in its wisdom may think fit to impose upon his shoulders; but at the present time he is technically and absolutely responsible for 200 decisions a day, and the number of difficult administrative questions with which he has to deal is constantly increasing, and I think the House should take care how it proposes to add to the burdens already resting upon the Home Office, unless at the same time it makes provision for lightening those burdens in other directions. Quite apart from that, the responsibility indicated in the second sub-section would be too great for any individual Home Secretary to bear. Imagine the Home Secretary beset by Members of Parliament who are themselves beset by all kinds of trades in their constituencies—there are 12,000 trades; the pressure would be enormous, and their concentration on the Home Secretary disastrous. There is another point that arises. The title of the Bill is the Sweated Industries Bill, but there is no such limitation as is implied in its title in any of the sections. A further point is the frequent manner in which the Secretary of State is brought in, no less than twelve times in the course of the Bill, but I understand that the promoters purposely left a good deal of the Bill vague, and that they do not intend to put all these duties on the Secretary of State. It is quite true that it will be the duty of a responsible Government to work out the practical details if and when the Bill is practically taken up, and it is not to be supposed that private Members can have the information at their disposal which will enable them to fill up the Bill—which wall require Amendment in respect of its omission of the machinery of the Factory Act. One other point, and that is as to what has been said with regard to the Victorian system. This Bill omits a great deal 1247 of the machinery which is in the Victorian Act, and which I think would be very necessary. Under the Victorian Act the orders of the Board have to pass both Houses of Parliament, and there is also an industrial form of appeal.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
That was not in the Victorian Law at the time this Bill was drawn. It has been added since.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
We shall learn by the experience gained under the Victorian system. But one caution I would venture to give to the House, and it is this: Personally, I think the Victorian system has been a success and that it will stand the test of time, but it seems to me that up to the present moment it has not stood the full test as it has not been subjected to severe strain. The system has grown up subsequently to the great industrial disturbances of 1896, and wages have been on the up grade since; but nobody knows what will happen in case of a slump in trade and prices, and until it has been worked for a longer time the wages board in Victoria cannot be said to have been tested. I think I have said all I have to say at the present moment in the shape of criticism; our wish is to have a general discussion and refer the Bill to a Select Committee. It has been desired that a second Committee should be set up, but that, I think, is impracticable. The present Committee is strong in numbers and in intelligence and should have an opportunity of considering the evidence they have taken and this Bill at the same time. We cannot duplicate the work and the trouble that has already taken place. An extension of the reference is not necessary. The Committee is really considering the question in its present form, although no Bill as such is specifically before it. I hope the members of the Committee will draw some profit from the instruction. They will see that the House is now desirous of information and of guidance from them. I hope and believe that their special attention will be directed not to all but to the important details which are necessary to a well-considered ill, in order that they 1248 may be able to give us their guidance. There are various matters which personally I should like to see referred to. I will briefly mention one or two of them. I should like to know how far it is desirable that this Bill should extend to factory as well as home work. I should like the particular attention of the Committee to be drawn to the question of machinery for the enforcement of awards between employers and workmen. The inspectors found it very difficult in Australia to get at the true state of things between employers and employed. I should also like the Committee to consider what would be the best form of application, and how far it is possible to define the boundaries of the trades to be selected. There are other matters, but I am sure my hon. friends will use their own judgment and give their attention to the elucidation of these things. Up to the present I have spoken freely, but with regard to the office over which I endeavour to preside as well as I can I hope I am not without some sense of responsibility. The House will ask me what view the Government, as a whole, take of the Bill. If the Bill is read a second time, we propose to refer it to this Select Committee. In the opinion of the Government a case is made out for an inquiry as to the methods that should be devised to deal effectually with the evil of sweating in unorganised trades. I therefore accept the proposal of my hon. friend. The House will not be surprised to hear that this acceptance is not to be considered as committing the Government itself to the principle of a compulsory minimum wage. The House will naturally expect that decision because the Government set up this Committee of inquiry last year. A Commissioner was sent out specially to Australia to report on the working there, and it is only natural and proper in these circumstances that, until the two reports are submitted to the House, the Government should reserve their judgment. I hope that great profit will accrue from the Report of the Committee. I will not trespass further on the time of the House. I thank the House for listening to me so attentively. The lot of these poor people is so hard, so full of wretchedness and misery, their evil plight 1249 so complete, that a remedy is necessary. Though evoking the sympathy of all, it may be extremely hard to provide a workable remedy. Their lot is so bad it may even justify experiments in legislation which, if they fail, will not do harm provided that they are carefully and prudently designed, but which, if they succeed, may be profitably extended on a wider basis. It is the miserable condition of these workmen, their endless wretchedness, the hopelessness of the position as the law now stands, that breeds intense discontent, and cries aloud for redress. As far as I am concerned I will do everything in my power to diminish and to remove what is proved to be a grievous stain on religion, on morality, and on civilisation.
§ *MR. BUTCHER (Cambridge University)
said that although he had not been present during the whole of the debate he had listened very attentively to the Home Secretary and had found it very difficult to discover the real drift of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He hardly knew on which side the right hon. Gentleman was going to come down.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
My speech had referred largely to the debate which preceded it. I omitted many things as to which the hon. Member might have expected to have heard something from me; but the hon. Member must remember that the larger portion of my speech had reference to speeches which had been made before and which he had not heard.
§ MR. BUTCHER
quite admitted that, but contended that it might have been possible to discover the real sentiments of the Home Secretary without listening to the whole of the debate. He perceived, however, that while the right hon. Gentleman accepted the Second Reading he knocked the bottom out of the concession by saying he did not commit the Government thereby to the principle of a compulsory minimum wage. That was a pretty clear indication of the views of the Government.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
I think the hon. Gentleman is taking up a very unfair 1250 position. I gave most obvious and common sense reasons for showing that at the stage at which we have arrived it was not possible to commit the Government.
§ MR. BUTCHER
said he was only referring to the particular point of the minimum wage. If the Government could not give a definite opinion on that point, they had not made up their minds upon the Bill which they were now going to support. The Government after accepting the Second Reading intended to refer the whole question to a Committee to find out how far the principle of the Bill could be carried into effect. He would have thought they should have discovered from the Committee what was to be said in favour of the Bill before committing themselves to its principles Now it was to be referred back to the Committee on Home Work, with the addition of two or three names. If the Bill was going to that Committee a good many names ought to be added, because this Bill was based on the report of that Committee.
§ *MR. BUTCHER
said that the Committee had published Minutes of Evidence. However, he would make no more statements which, however well founded they might appear to be, only met with a flat contradiction from hon. Members opposite, but would proceed with his argument. There was no one who did not earnestly desire to do away with this cruel evil of sweating, but what was the machinery for carrying out this Bill? The machinery was given in Clause 9. In that clause there was a provision to appoint inspectors. How were they to work? He assumed that all employers would have to give a list of the persons they employed; that the inspectors would be empowered to go not only into factories but into homes and even into single rooms in our great cities in which these workpeople were employed, and find out what the wages were that were given to them. Such a system might 1251 possibly work in a bureaucratic country like Germany, but it was against all the instincts and traditions of the English people to have inspectors intruding upon their home life. He did not believe if an army of inspectors were created they could carry out efficiently the work required of them by this Bill. How were these inspectors to work? Were they to be let loose in every single room where workmen and workwomen were employed, some of them in eking out by a scanty wage what their husbands or brothers already received? If this machinery was to deprive them of those wages was not that an argument in favour of the scheme being unmanageable, impracticable, and contrary to all the instincts, history, and training of the people of this country?
§ SIR THOMAS WHITTAKER, (Yorkshire W. R. Spen Valley)
as Chairman of the Home Work Committee, thought it would be recognised that there was some difficulty in the way of the House coming to a decision in any way on this particular question when it was to be referred to a Committee still engaged upon other work. He, therefore, ventured to hope that if the House accepted the Second Reading and referred the Bill to the Committee on Home. Work they would refer it to that Committee rather as a matter for their consideration than with the idea that the Committee should endorse the principle of the Bill, as that would rather impair the value of the Committee. It was not desirable to discuss the merits of the Bill while they were taking evidence. It must be perfectly clear to the House that though this evil was great, the solution of it was very complicated and difficult, and he deprecated anything in the nature of a bargain or agreement between the hon. Member for London and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean as to any particular clause or detail of the Bill. The Bill was a vague one, 1252 and there were many points of great difficulty which would have to be grappled with if it was to be adopted, and the Committee viewed with some diffidence the reference of the Bill to them. He expressed alarm also at the suggestion that more members were to be added to the Committee. There were already twenty-one members on the Committee, and as the work attending the drafting of a Bill by twenty-one Members of a committee who held different views would be difficult, he hoped no more Members would be added to it. He had, however, derived some comfort from the remarks of the Home Secretary who had said it was for the Government to work out a solution. The proper course for the Committee to pursue would be to continue their inquiry, and then take up the Bill after they had completed their evidence and come to their conclusions. If the House understood that, he did not think there would be any serious difficulty in referring the Bill to his Committee.
§ *MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said he had listened with attention and he believed with some profit to-the whole of the debate. He much appreciated the speech of the Home Secretary, but when he looked at the Bill it seemed to him that there were really two Bills, one of which had been spoken to in the debate and the other the Bill which had been printed. He had not heard a single speech in favour of the Bill as printed. The Bill foreshadowed by the hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, was a totally different Bill from that which was printed. Everybody was agreed as to the evils that existed, and were anxious to remove them, and the only question that had to be considered was whether the way suggested was the best way or whether the evils could be dealt with by a better way. Everybody wanted to remedy these evils, but a good deal of what had been 1253 said in favour of the Bill was regally an argument against it. Everybody had spoken about the excellent results which had followed arbitration brought about by the voluntary agreement of both sides. This was a Bill for superseding that arrangement and bringing the Government in to adjudicate in every trade. There was a tremendous amount of sweating in some places in connection with the tailoring trade, but the tailoring trade as a whole was comparatively well paid. That was the case in Leeds, a town with which he was familiar, where, notwithstanding the introduction of many foreigners, wages in the tailoring trade had gone up. If they were discussing the Bill as spoken to by the mover and seconder and not the Bill as printed he was quite willing that it should have a Second Reading. He agreed that the only way to do anything was by experiment, and he would be very glad to see an experiment made on a small scale. What he complained of was that these sweated industries had only been used in this way by the people who introduced this Bill as a peg upon which to hang larger proposals in the future. Having carried this Bill they would proceed to extend its provisions to all the industries in the country. Under the Bill any six men could move for an inquiry by the Home Secretary and the Court appointed by him would have power to administer the oath and to compel an answer to a question. A witness could be compelled to answer everything down to the smallest details of his trade; the Court would be a public Court and the evidence given before it would be put before the country. Such a thing would ruin many firms. A great number of men who were now carrying on business would be ruined if their real position were published. If it was known for instance what the exact amount of their overdraft was, what their liabilities were, and what a touch and go proceeding it was every year between whether 1254 they lost or gained, such men would immediately lose credit and have to shut up. He ventured to think that no case had been made out by those who had spoken for the Bill for any such drastic investigation. The House must remember that while there was a great deal that ought to be altered, Great Britain's was one of the most flourishing countries in the world under the particular system under which we worked. Were they going to upset the whole of that system? It was all very well to refer to the system of compulsory arbitration as it existed in New Zealand and Victoria, but the chief industries in those countries were not included in the arbitration law; they were agricultural; there was therefore no analogy. In Victoria the two great industries were excluded from the Act. In this country every trade was to be included. If a Bill could be brought in to increase the wages of the agricultural labourer a good deal might be said for it; agricultural labourers were the worst paid men in the country, and it was difficult for them to organise because they were so spread in small numbers over the country. But the thing could be done in a different way. If powerful trade unions would establish local branches a good deal might be done for the agricultural labourer, and already a union was being started amongst the labourers. So much of our future greatness as an empire depended on the security of the principle of self-help and self-reliance that he looked with a great deal of anxiety and disfavour on the supersession of that principle by the intervention of the State. The great objection to all these permanent statutes was that they could not adapt themselves to other conditions than those which they were passed to deal with. No doubt the Truck Acts when first brought in dealt with great evils, but things had altered since then and many of these evils had been removed by the progress of trade, free trade, and the combination of workmen, which had 1255 tended greatly to mitigate the evils under which they laboured. On the other hand the Truck Acts in his opinion did an infinite amount of harm to the working classes and, for all the good they had done, might have been passed by the brewers and distillers. The Truck Acts insisted upon a man being paid in money and prevented his making a private arrangement with his employer under which the employer paid something to the wife during the week by way of supplies instead of having to pay as at present his workman £2 or £3 at the end of each week, a great part of which was spent by some workmen at the public-houses on their way home. If the effect of this Bill was to raise wages generally 30 per cent. and the wages of the sweated workers by 300 per cent. he would vote for it, because a well paid and well fed man did infinitely better work than a bad paid and ill-fed man. He had had men himself to whom he had paid 3s. a day and whom he had had to supersede by men to whom he paid 6s. a day because they could do the work more cheaply. He desired to make it clear that in anything he said he was not opposing the Bill which had been spokern to; he was only speaking against the Bill which was printed and which wars an entirely different thing, and which if carried into law would entirely upset the whole of our industries and be a serious blow to them. If would be far better to leave this matter to the voluntary efforts of trade unions. They would do better in the long run than Government interference, because Government interference would brush away all spirit of initiation and co-operation. While it was desirable that an experiment on a small scale should be made, it was highly undesirable to pass such a Bill as that which had been printed. He very much doubted whether in the long run we should in this country ever rise to the highest possible conditions of labour unless we recognised the fact that 1256 liberty after all was one of the greatest possessions of mankind.
§ MR. ARTHUK HENDERSON (Durham, Barnard Castle)
said he had no desire to intervene in the debate, being anxious to get the Bill into the Committee and he would not have risen but for the fact that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had said that no case whatever had been made for the Bill. During the time which he had been a Member of the House and had attended the discussions on private Members' Bills he had seldom heard a case so completely substantiated as the case which had been made that day. That this was so was evidenced by the fact that all sections of the House had displayed a wonderful amount of unanimity in its favour. He had listened very carefully to the speeches made in favour of the Amendment and had been somewhat interested to hear the arguments which had been advanced in opposition to the Bill. It appeared to him that the seconder of the Amendment only entertained a certain amount of opposition to the Bill. The hon. Member seemed to think that when the Bill was placed in the hands of the employers and their workpeople, and the wages boards were established, one result would be to force wages up above the level made possible by the law of supply and demand. That was nothing more than a fear on the hon. Member's part, and an entirely groundless fear. The Bill did not attempt to force wages up in that direction at all. What it did propose to do was this. He would take the east of London as an instance. In the east of London it was well known that in the tailoring trade for the production of exactly the same article a considerable difference was paid. A good employer paid a reasonable price for the article while others had taken every possible mean and despicable advantage of the conditions of the worker, and for the same class of article had paid a considerably 1257 lower figure. What this Bill sought to do was to recognise that the price paid by the good employer was reasonable and fair, and to compel the sweater or bad employer to bring up the figure that he paid to that paid by the good employer.
§ CAPTAIN J. CRAIG
said the hon. Member had missed the point of his argument. His argument was that if the bad employer could not get the work done at the low or sweating wages which he now paid he would adopt other means, and the individuals now suffering through this sweating would be no better off than they were before, but rather worse.
§ MR. ARTHUR HENDERSON
said he had no desire to misrepresent the hon. Member in the least; he took down the words used and the hon. Member not only used the words he had quoted but gave figures in support of his argument, which were quite sufficient to justify the deduction he (Mr. Henderson) had drawn. This raising of the recognised price from that paid by the sweater to that paid by the good employer not only assisted the worker but did some justice to the good employer. What he hoped the House would endeavour to keep in mind was that the object of this Bill was to bring the bad employer up to the level of the good employer. The right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, seemed to think that the Bill might be made even more experimental than it was at present. He and those who thought with him were disposed to make this an experiment and there were only three trades placed in the schedule. Those three trades had been selected after very careful consideration, and they had been chosen because experience had proved that they were the three worst possible trades to organise, and inquiries had proved they were the worst sweated trades in the country. While the Committee would be quite prepared to pay, the 1258 greatest deference to any suggestions offered by the right hon. Gentleman he was afraid they could not pledge themselves to the point of putting more trades into the Schedule. He thought they ought to retain the power of instituting inquiries; but probably the objection of the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, that there might be an unlimited extension of the Bill, would be met if it were provided that the proposal to include any trade in the schedule should lie on the Table of the House for so many days. In view of the unanimity which had been so marked, and in view of the admittedly terrible evils that the Bill was attempting to deal with he hoped that all sections of the House would give the Bill a Second Reading. It would then go to the Committee and would be reported back to the House, and if the point which his right hon. friend had mentioned appeared not to have been adequately met, there would be another oportunity on the. Report stage for making further Amendments. No question had been discussed in this Parliament on which there had been greater unanimity of opinion.
§ MR. HARMOOD-BANNER (Liverpool, Everton)
said he was thoroughly in accord with the purpose of the Bill, and he was very pleased to hear what had been said by the Home Secretary as to this measure and his sympathy generally with wages boards, which would, he hoped dispel to a great extent the jealousy that unreasonably existed between labour and capital. He hoped they would not have to wait till the Committee reported otherwise the Bill would be shelved. He thought the House should know that owing to the action of the trade unions certain municipal bodies had passed a rule which as regarded the consumption of municipal articles absolutely did away with sweating. In Liverpool they had a fair trade clause under which every employer bound himself to observe the hours of labour and the 1259 rate of pay prevalent in the district, and that did away with any chance of sweating as regarded the consumption of articles which were purchased by the municipality. Whilst it was absolutely possible under such a clause as this to put the municipality in the way of purchasing their articles in the best markets where they paid the most reasonable wages, such a clause was absoluteless useless unless the city councils and those who elected them and all consumers, observed the same rule. The Home Secretary had referred with some disparagement to the statement that tariff reformers believed it would do away with sweating. He was not aware that that was a principle of tariff reform. He had never heard it so stated, and in his belief the only action that did away with sweating was the action of high-minded men who desired to do their duty to their fellows. The Home Secretary had used as one of his illustrations that a mantle on which the labour cost 2s. was sold for £5. What was the use of their passing regulations aimed against sweated industries in municipalities as regarded purchases if they did not themselves, either through legislation or their own actions, make their own purchases on the same rule? What was the use of passing a law requiring proper wages to be paid for the making of trousers for policemen while their own shirts were made by sweated labour? They did not take steps to prevent the consumption of articles produced by sweated labour abroad. It only meant the destroying of the industry of their own poorer classes unless they established some principle which upheld prices to such an extent that they could afford to pay not only proper wages in this country, but in the country of origin. He hoped the Bill would pass this session, and though it was only a small measure they could insert clauses which would carry out the fair trade clause which was adopted by all corporations. If 1260 they brought in anything that would adopt that principle they would be really doing their duty.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said he could not withdraw his Amendment because he believed in the rightness of his position. Still, in view of the fact that nearly everyone in the House thought there should be a modification, that the Home Secretary was opposed to the extension clauses, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean was also willing to have these clauses deleted if it was possible—
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
Subject to the statement which was made by the Leader of the Labour Party as to the power of inquiry.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said that in view also of the fact that there was apparently a strong opinion in the House that the Bill should go to a Committee which was apparently to bring forward another Bill, he would not put the House to the trouble of a division, but would allow his Amendment to be negatived.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Bill committed to the Select Committee on Home Work.—(Mr. Toulmin.)