§ Order for second reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. H. J. Tennant)
It is a singular coincidence that on 28th April, 1890, exactly 19 years ago to this day, the Select Committee of the House of Lords, called Lord Dunraven's 343 Committee, made a Report. That Committee sat over a long period, and examined no less than 291 witnesses. It reported that sweating had been known for 50 years. It referred to: "A rate of wages inadequate to the necessities of the workers or disproportionate to the work done." It reported that the state of things which existed involved excessive hours of labour and insanitary state of houses. The Committee also said:—These evils can hardly be exaggerated. The earnings of the lowest classes of workers are barely sufficient to sustain existence. The hours of labour are such as to make the lives of the workers periods of almost ceaseless toil, hard and often unhealthy.The Committee concluded with the impressive remark that:—We make these statements on evidence of the truth of which we are fully satisfied, and we feel bound to express our admiration of the courage with which the sufferers endure their lot, of the absence of any desire to excite pity by exaggeration, and of the almost unbounded charity they display towards each other in endeavouring by gifts of food and other kindnesses to alleviate any distress for the time being greater than their own.All, or nearly all, of the recommendations of that Committee have been embodied in new legislation. Has there been any considerable improvement in the interval? Let us hope that there has. Miss Squire, a very competent inspector of factories, says that the conditions have been largely improved since that Committee sat, but, in spite of this and of the great prosperity enjoyed by the bulk of the nation, the Home Work Committee reported last year that there was:—No doubt whatever that the number of sweated individuals is very large, and that it is still true that the evils of sweating are very great.That Committee also reported that:—The earnings of a large number of people are so small as alone to be insufficient to sustain life in a most meagre manner, even when the workers toil hard for extremely long hours, that the conditions under which they live are altogether pitiable and distressing, and that sufficient evidence has been put before us to show that sweating still exists to such a degree as to call urgently for the interference of Parliament.The Bill which I am now asking the House to read a second time is an attempt to deal with these conditions of labour. The principal of this legislation was introduced to this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, who has been the author of so many schemes for social progress. May I felicitate him on the important stage which has been reached now by a measure which I know is near his heart. It is a pleasure to me to reflect that I have been associated with him from the beginning with this legislation—in this 344 and many other endeavours in the direction of industrial improvement. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Durham, who moved the Sweated Industries Bill, and whose interest in this matter we all recognise, admitted that the principle of his measure was of a limited scope. At the outset let me disabuse the minds of some hon. Gentlemen like the hon. Baronet who sits for the City of London of the fear that our proposal is one which is going to apply to all trades. They may say that it is the thin end of the wedge. It is not a wedge at all. Our remedy is only intended to apply to a very limited extent. It is a remedy which has reference to low wages, and does not deal with the question whether State action can, or ought, to control wages. The general rates of wages throughout the country will be settled by other means than this Bill—that is by economic forces. It is generally accepted that State interference with the remuneration for labour can only be justified in exceptional cases where two fundamental conditions are absent—I mean the mobility of labour in its true sense and effective organisation. It is only in those two cases that we propose to apply this legislation. Indeed, the application of this measure is very limited. It is intended to be applied exclusively to exceptionally unhealthy patches of the body politic where the development has been arrested in spite of the growth of the rest of the organism. It is to the morbid and diseased places—to the industrial diphtheritic spots that we should apply the antitoxin of trade Boards. Incidentally, may I say, that these spots are not peculiar to this country. The same evils exist in other industrial countries—France, Germany, Austria, and the United States of America. The House will be familiar with the theory and practice of the pocket money wage earner. A girl may wish to have a little work to do although she may possibly live in a very comfortable home. Wages with her are not the primary consideration. She simply wants to supplement her income, and she is not particular as to the rate of wages that she may get. Thus we have the paradox that the same result is achieved by the ignorant whim of the comparatively well-to-do person and of the dire necessity of the starving. Both accept work at sweated rates, and the result is sweated trade. The trade becomes a parasitic trade, feeding upon other industries and trades in the country and on the wealth of the nation, for in such a 345 case the wages bill of the sweated industry is largely paid by the relatives with whom the worker lives, by the poor law, by the community who subscribe to hospitals and asylums, by charity, and by a proportion of the cost of old age pensions. I think I may say that such a trade is a parasitic trade, when we hear the argument, "Is it not better that you should give the girl some work rather than no work—that she should be sweated rather than starved?" To that I reply, "No, a hundred times No." In the first place the argument is false, because starvation is not an alternative but usually an accompaniment of sweating, and I agree with the witness who gave evidence before the Royal Commission on Labour, that it is easier to starve without the work. One of the best results of this Bill will be the recognition of the inefficient and unemployable by the State. It is far more humane, far safer, and far cheaper that the nation should recognise and deal with these sweated workers. If the girl is sweated, rather than go to the poor law she drags others down with her into this industrial abyss. It is to combat these evils that we are introducing this Bill. It is at once an experiment and a revolution—a new step in the social progress. These conditions which are now familiar to the House demand drastic treatment and, therefore, I feel that no apology will be expected of me because we are introducing a drastic measure. Parliament, quite two generations ago, enacted that payment of wages should take place in the coin of the realm. Parliament has also decreed that Government contractors shall pay a definite and standard rate of wages, and great authorities like the London County Council have decided that their contractors must pay a minimum rate of wages. This is the first occasion, certainly in modern Parliamentary times, in which any Government has proposed machinery, first for deciding, and secondly for enforcing, a legal rate of wages. To that extent the proposal is new—to that extent the proposal is a revolution. Now, may I address myself to the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, who said that such a Bill as this is going to alter the whole system on which the fabric of British trade has been built up. He says it is going to do little or not much good to the workers. Now, I assume that the argument is based on the assumption that if you raise the rate of wages you necessarily increase prices. I should like to quote an extract from an interesting Report written by Mr. Ernest 346 Aves (quoted in the Report of the Homework Committee). He says:—Some of the fallacies, mainly traceable to an assumed fixity in the determining conditions—personal and economic - which underlie this assumption in its application to certain industries are recalled by Victorian experience, and the extent to which the combined view is held that special boards have increased wages and have not increased cost is of practical significance, since it is found to prevail in several of those trades in which the evil of underpayment is apt to be most prevalent. The special boards themselves may or may not have sent wages up to the extent often assumed or even at all. The fact remains that in several trades in which wages have tended upwards there is much testimony to the fact that neither cost nor price have been similarly affected, and in some instances it has been admitted that they have tended in the opposite direction.I have expressly avoided dealing with the Australian experiment because I am perfectly aware that the conditions in this country are so entirely different from those in Victoria; but I do think I am entitled to say, at any rate, that it has been proved that the assumption that invariably and inevitably an increase of prices must take place with an increase of wages is not a fact. Well, again, I should like to remind the House that am increase of wages brings increased efficiency, and increased efficiency brings an increase not only in quality but in quantity. There is, no doubt, that it further stimulates resource on the part of manufacturers and the inventive genius of the people who give their minds to mechanics.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, I should like to say that I never stated that an increase of wages must be accompanied by an increase of price. What I said was that unless an increase of wages was accompanied by an increase of price, an industry might disappear.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am endeavouring to show there are many things upon which an industry can draw before it becomes extinct. The Home Work Committee found material difference existing in the rates usually paid by different employers in the same town at the same moment for the same work. Again, I would like to remind the House that high wages do not carry with them high prices. That is proved by the sweated trades. Certainly low wages do not necessarily carry with them low prices. That was certainly proved in the cotton and the iron and steel trades of this country, where you have in many cases existing minimum rates of wages which have not been found to raise prices. Furthermore, there are certain profits of the middleman—exorbitant profits, as some of us think—which will disappear. Trade boards 347 in their establishment will bring together not only the workpeople but the employers. They may possibly find it convenient to make arrangements; they may, at any rate, have a chance to make arrangements by which they will be able to avoid some of the very violent competition which they now wage against each other, and they may be able to effect considerable economy. It may also be urged that they will also endeavour to raise prices. If they do so they will only do it temporarily, because there is sufficient capital to set up new factories or workshops, and that will soon bring back prices to their old level.
I think I have demonstrated that the experience which we have, at any rate, has shown that normally a rise of wages does not bring about a rise in price. It is ridiculous to assume that a rise in wages must bring about an increase in price. But suppose it does, let us imagine what will be the result. Will the worker be harmed by a reduced demand for a dearer article? Unless the decrease in the demand is very great, I say this, with great conviction, that it would be better that the worker should be employed on a lesser demand, with reasonable hours of work at a fair rate of wages, than on a great demand with long hours at sweated rates of wages. [Ironical cheers.] I suppose what is running in the minds of the hon. Gentlemen who cheer is that you are going to invite foreign competition from abroad. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is it."] Then I say to those hon. Gentlemen who cheer, remember that these trade boards are composed of the best representatives of the trades that the Board of Trade can find, and they will be and ought to be the guardians of the interests of the trade, as they are both employers and employés, dependent upon the prosperity of the trade. Look at the great staple industries, I say, again. Look at the cotton trade, where the wages are highest. They compete against the same trade in India and Japan, where the wages are lowest, and they are not afraid of foreign competition. They have never found it difficult to compete against India and Japan in the neutral markets of the world.
But let us consider what other nations are doing. For instance, take Germany. Germany has an elaborate Factory Code, and she held an exhibition in Berlin similar in character to our Sweated Industries Exhibition. There is at the present 348 moment a Committee of the Reichstag considering the further limitation of home work, and it is proposed to empower the Federal Council, and also the local police, to make rules requiring all home-workers to be furnished with a wage-book, or labour ticket, and to see that in every room in which home work is carried on there should be posted a statement of the wages to which each worker is entitled. The Governments of Bavaria and Baden have recently made investigations into these industries through their factory inspectors, and the reports which have been published as a result contain various recommendations as to their legal regulation. The measures suggested by the Bavarian Report (1907) include—(1) the obligation to employ wages books or tickets, (2) the extension to all home-workers of the insurance laws, (3) obligatory registration, (4) the fixing of minimum rates of wages with allowances for rent, light, heating, and time lost in fetching and delivering work, and (5) inspection of the dwellings used for domestic industry. That is beyond any proposals that we offer by this Bill, and those are the proposals of Germany. Austria is also making certain proposals, which I have not time to go into, but there was held in 1906 a conference under the auspices of the International Association for Labour Legislation at Geneva, where certain resolutions were passed in regard to the social conditions of home workers, the industrial condition of workers in Europe having regard to the competition with foreign nations, and the finding of a legislative remedy. Arising out of that meeting there has been held, in conformity with the resolution passed at Geneva, an inquiry in France in regard to what is called the French lingerie trade, which is famous all over the world and very expensive. That inquiry has elicited the fact that 56 per cent. of the home workers in this white lingerie trade work an average of more than ten hours a day, at rates of pay not exceeding 1½d. an hour, 50 per cent. of them have net earnings of less than £16 per annum.
I think I have said enough to show that public conscience on the Continent of Europe has been aroused with regard to the evils of the sweating system, and it will not be very difficult for us to arrive at an agreement with foreign nations similar to that which has recently been carried out in the Bill of last year for the prohibition of the importation or use of white phosphorus in matches. If prices are not 349 raised it leaves me free to assert that competition in the markets of the world is an unreal and negligible bogey, and what objection have hon. Gentlemen then to this legislation? Is it going to be asserted, as I have heard it asserted, that it will be so difficult to enforce that enforcement will be impossible, and evasion will be the rule rather than the exception? I think that argument implies want of grasp of the principle which underlies this Bill, and that is that the determinations are not going to be exaggerated beyond what the trade will bear by those who are dependent upon the trade for a livelihood. The decisions of the trade boards will be in harmony with and representative of trade opinion. I will ask the House whether evasion is a reason for inaction? We know that new principles have been carried out in the law of this country in regard to work and wages. The provisions as to particulars and truck are evaded to a great extent and to an injurious degree, but I am sure that hon. Members below the Gangway will bear me out when I say that enormous good has resulted from those enactments, and are we going to deny the indubitable benefits of this legislation simply because we are afraid that for some of those who are most in need of it our intentions may be frustrated? I cannot help thinking that that is not good argument.
There are certain criticisms which have been made upon the details of this legislation. They are largely Committee points, but there are one or two which I think I ought to advert to. The hon. Member for Durham said that he objects to the centralising organisation embodied in the Bill, and my right hon. Friend the Member for the Spen Valley said it was doubtful policy to appoint committees throughout the country and co-ordinate the whole. I say that, after all, this Bill carries all that my right hon. Friend the Member for the Spen Valley would wish, because the district trade committee will make suggestions which will go forward to the central trade boards, and I maintain that the suggestions of the district trade committees will be seldom altered by the central trade boards. The right hon. Gentleman said, "That wages should be fixed in the first instance between the workers and their employers in the localities, and that the co-ordination should come afterwards." That is, I think, exactly what we have done, because, so far from the localities being debarred from making their own suggestions for the government 350 of their own local trade, we have provided by clause 12 that "no such minimum rate …. and no variation or cancellation of (it) …. shall have effect unless either the rate has been recommended by the district trade committee or an opportunity has been given to the committee to report thereon to the trade board, and the trade board have considered the report (if any) made by the committee." It seems to me that the principle of local government could not be given wider application. The hon. Member for Durham and others have also complained of the optional character of the Bill. I do not know whether by that he alludes to the setting up of the trade boards or to making their determinations compulsory. Probably both. [An HON. MEMBER: "Both."] On the question of setting up the trade boards, I think there is very little indeed to be said. The Board of Trade are the proper authority to set up these bodies, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is the intention of the Board of Trade to set them up. The word "may" is inserted in the Bill to be on the safe side, in order, if it is found impossible to set them up in any particular trade and in order that we shall not be guilty of a legal offence if we fail to achieve the impossible. I think the House will believe in the integrity of our intentions, and I trust it will not withhold its concurrence from our prudential motive.
With regard to making the determination compulsory, the Board of Trade is the authority responsible to Parliament, and that being so, it should retain to itself the last word in this matter. I think an arrangement can be arrived at between hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway and ourselves which we practically came to yesterday, by which we may arrive at a working agreement. I think I have shown that the evil with which we are attempting to deal is a real evil, that it is of old standing, and that it clamours for remedy. I have also shown that our remedy has the same inspiration and the same objective as was possessed by the old reformers, and proceeds upon lines parallel with those which have led the State to interfere with the control of the hours of labour, and the conditions of safety and sanitation. Our remedy only gives statutory sanction to principles and methods adopted in numberless cases by voluntary agreement, which have been attended with the greatest possible success. I do not anticipate from this legislation either dislocation of trade, 351 damage to employers, or diminution of employment. Our proposals are very limited in their application, they are limited to those plague spots of industry where, without drastic treatment, they will continue, as they have continued for three-quarters of a century, feeding upon the national wealth, supplying recruits to our hospitals, asylums, and workhouses, and swelling the ranks of the unemployed, and being the forcing grounds of the unemployable. When I am told that this legislation will subvert the foundations upon which the commercial supremacy of this country is based, I decline to believe that the commercial supremacy of this or any other country rests upon sweated labour. If I am told capital will not stand it, I answer there is another and a greater capital with greater claims upon us. It is against the drain upon this capital that this effort we are making to-day is directed, against this waste we protest—I mean the life capital of the nation.
§ Mr. ALFRED LYTTELTON
I congratulate the hon. Member who has just sat down upon the feeling and the eloquence with which he has described the objects of the Bill, and also on the long association which he has had with the subject. I speak for myself only and not for the party, though I think a good many of the party will agree with me, and with certain reservations I approve and wish to support this Bill. I think, in the main, the points on which I differ from the hon. Member are Committee points, and I reserve entire freedom for myself in the Committee stage as regards the machinery of the Bill. I doubt the centralising character of some of its provisions. I desire to keep an open mind, but I very much prefer the machinery set up by the Bill of the hon. Member for Durham. I do not think the Board of Trade ought to have a discretion to enforce or not to enforce the provisions of the Act, and, above all, I do not think the Board of Trade ought to have a discretion, as a mere Department of the Government, to extend its provisions to any trade. I think that is a dangerous provision. It is not in the least necessary. The Bill is an experiment, and if it works well in its experimental stages there will be no difficulty in Parliament extending its provisions. My hon. Friend behind me on another occasion viewed with just alarm the power of the Department to extend its provisions in this matter. I 352 also have my doubts about the wisdom of granting such wide powers of delegation to the trade boards and the trade committees which are to be set up.
I would not have made any reference to a point of controversy which, of course, must be raised by some of the remarks which were made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary with regard to foreign competition. I do not wish to argue the question now, but in my judgment—this has always been my opinion, and I expressed it in this House six years ago—it is quite idle to suppose that you can maintain the two systems together—one which sedulously protects against unfair competition, leading to disastrous results at home, and one which, on the other hand, welcomes and invites foreign competition. I have considered the subject many times, and might adduce some portions of the hon. Member's speech as corroborative of the view which I hold. I do not believe it is tenable that these two systems can continue. I certainly take some of the admissions which were made by the hon. Gentleman as supporting that view, and if hon. Gentlemen wish a further discussion on the subject—a discussion full of value—it is in the evidence given, especially in the hook-and-eye trade, before a Select Committee of this House. I would not have said this much had not the hon. Gentleman invited some discussion of this matter, and had hon. Members opposite not been responsible for refusing permission even to introduce a Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Thanet a short time ago, and recommended to the House in a speech which, in my opinion, was full of the most weighty and cogent argument.
With these reservations, and they have really been forced upon me, I support the principle of the Bill. I do not believe myself that the evil is very widely spread, but I am entirely convinced that it has been established that an evil of an intense kind exists in certain quarters and in certain trades—an evil really which it is almost tormenting to reflect on if you suffer your imagination to dwell upon it. It calls most peremptorily for the intervention of this House, because those who suffer by it are the weakest, the most defenceless, and the most unorganised section of workers. The condition of some poor women and girls in this trade is infinitely behind that of slaves. When we reflect that these people have no political power, I think their condition makes a most cogent appeal to the chivalrous instincts of the House, and I say their condition is not only piteous, but 353 it is a menace to the essential well-being of the State. But more than that, and this I wish to address peculiarly to my hon. Friend behind me, this state of things has been known officially for nearly 20 years. It was brought to light by an investigation ordered by a Unionist Government presided over by a Unionist Chairman. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London is one of the kindest hearted men in the House, and when it is a question of the animal world, I think the most sentimental man in the House. Certainly he would be the last to oppose the provisions of this Bill, or to apply a remedy to this state of things if we could establish that it was consistent with sound principle and sound precedent to do so.
§ Mr. LYTTELTON
I think there is a certain amount of justification in that statement when the Minister who introduced this Bill described it as a revolution and an experiment. I must dissociate myself from that language. I should not have supported this Bill if it were revolutionary and an experiment. It is experimental in character, but I hope to show that it is conducted and based upon principles which we on this side of the House are above all concerned to maintain, and for which we have abundant precedent in the history of our party for our action in that matter. Of course, the question is one of wages. We are all familiar with competition as affecting the rate of wages, which has been settled in grooves quite familiar to this House. Gradually that competition has been evolved in such a way as in all the organised trades to put organised labour in conflict against organised capital. It is not always in conflict, it is often acting in harmony, but it is the organisation of labour which makes it competent to treat with organised capital. Normally that is quite adequate to ensure, by the dealing of the market, fair play as between employer and employed. Now and then there are strikes, but more often arbitrators or umpires are appointed to settle differences. In this evolution, which was the product of laissez faire, for a long time the party to which we belong considered it necessary in 1875 to still further forward the powers of trade unions in order to give the trade disputants as much equality as the law would give them. That was done in 1875 by a Conservative Government, and it was called "The Charter of Trade Unions" for many years, and no doubt the trade unions have since that date faced 354 employers in the organised trades upon terms of very large equality. But the other conditions of labour have not been left to the stress of competition in the least. It is perfectly familiar to the House that the hours of labour, the sanitary conditions of labour, the safeguards of life and limb, and barriers against death and disease have been long regulated by many Acts of Parliament with which the Unionist party has had a close and, as I think, a most honourable concern. I cannot accept the statement of the hon. Member that the intervention of this party had only been made in such matters as these under very restricted conditions. The legislation of last year in the Eight Hours Miners Bill is an absolute contradiction of that allegation.
§ Mr. LYTTELTON
I do not think that remuneration and labour can possibly be considered separately. Remuneration cannot be considered as a different economic factor from the hours of labour. The one must affect the other. However, that is merely a parenthesis to guard myself. What I say is that the questions of hours of labour, sanitation, protection against accident, disease and death have all been subject to regulation in this House, and by the assent of both parties. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Truck Act, to which, I think, the hon. Gentleman made special reference, affected the question of the payment of wages. Legislation of this country for 60 or 70 years has said: "You shall not pay except in coin." Of course, the Truck Act prescribes a method which affects the wages bill. It seems to me—and this I address particularly to my hon. Friends who may have been frightened by that language—plainly contrary to fact to describe a Bill which deals with these matters as a revolution. It follows by the closest analogy all the legislation to which I have just referred, and develops it on its true line and principle. I freely grant that it is an experiment, and that is why I wish it to be kept as an experiment should be kept, within somewhat close limits at first in order that we may watch the true results of the experiment. I do not wish to place in the hands of any Department, however able and well-wishing, the extension of this experiment without more authority and with the case contemplated by the Bill.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Churchill)
We must have Parliamentary sanction for the Orders which are to lie on the Table of the House for a period.
§ Mr. LYTTELTON
I expected an interruption of that kind, but not coming from the President of the Board of Trade. He should know that the provision as to rules lying on the Table of the House for 30 days is not a very effective objection. If I may commend the matter to my hon. Friends, I would ask what is this Bill? Well, in the first place, it does not take up the attitude of legislation which we have had frequently to deplore in this House of attacking people as if they were—I call it penal legislation—public enemies. On the contrary, this Bill rests on a much sounder principle, namely, that there are good employers. It acknowledges their existence, and, above all, it utilises their efforts. The Government have shown appreciation of the value of getting workers and employers together in a room. The Bill encourages confidence, it facilitates agreement by persons who have a vital interest in the well-being of trade, and a vital interest in maintaining it, if possible, in a prosperous condition. Just in the same way, when by the conflict of antagonistic trades, you sometimes arrive at an agreement, but sometimes you arrive at an impasse. This Bill provides a trained man to decide when an impasse arises, but much more often I hope he will guide the trade board to a decision by advice, and not by being required to give a definite decision. This whole system has worked well under skilled persons. This whole system has been worked under very difficult circumstances and in very different trades. It has been worked in organised trades, where you are able to take witnesses and get coherent statements as between the two parties. It has been worked by a gentleman of great experience and skill, who has devoted many days and months to the consideration of the subject. The machinery of this Bill is necessary in order to apply that system, which already has been proved in the organised trades to be, at any rate, of a good deal of value to trades where the workers have not education, have not representatives, and are too timid and miserable to be able to organise their trades, which are often ones of some complexity for themselves. All this Bill does is to take, as it were, the methods which in the organised trades have been arrived at by long evolution, often involving very 356 great suffering. You endeavour to replace their want of organisation in these very miserable and poor trades by the aid of the State.
I have not endeavoured to cover the whole ground, but I do not disguise from myself that there are some formidable and serious difficulties in this legislation. It has been said that there are certain poor workers who cannot earn more than the pittance which they do earn. That probably is perfectly true, and the establishment of a minimum wage in their trades and industries will probably deprive—it is said that it will deprive—these poor people of their employment. I admit that that probably is true, and that you will give by this legislation no further opportunity to that patient valour and that innate self-respect which is shown by these poor people, and which has driven them to accept the miserable wages and the conditions of horror in order to preserve their self respect and to preserve them from the workhouse. I believe that will be the case, and to withdraw that employment from these people, and to take away that opportunity of their showing their immense courage, is a very serious step; but on the whole I think it can be justified in the first place by an argument, which is a very valuable one, made by the hon. Member for Paddington at a former stage. These industries are often parasitic. These workers are often relieved by the poor law; their wages are supplemented by it, and, therefore, they cannot be said to be dependent wholly on the industries. Moreover, I myself face the position—I think it is useless not to have the courage to face it—that it is absolutely better that some industries should perish than that they should continue necessary under such conditions as now obtain. I say that more particularly in view of some of the recommendations of both the majority and the minority of the Poor Law Commission. They point out that in the future unemployed persons should be in the first place rigidly classified, that in the case of those who have shown—I do not think they say this, but I say it—that in the case of those who have shown such splendid moral virtues and courage as are involved in facing these tremendous hours of labour, if the industry be destroyed which has evoked those qualities, it is the duty of the authority which shall then be set up to educate them in other employments and provide for them temporarily during the course of their education. That 357 appears to be the answer with respect to the maintenance of those industries which involve such deplorable consequences. That is the most serious argument that I need notice at the present time. I do not think that I need enter into others on the second reading of the Bill. They can be dealt with in the Committee which I have no doubt will be set up. "That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace," is a noble aspiration. I can imagine no more humane aspiration, but I must say that it seems a mockery if we remain 20 years after the evils have been exposed without moving—not by a revolutionary measure, but by a measure which has much principle and reason to support it—in the direction of aiding those who really have to go through life without any hope and without any joy.
§ Mr. ARTHUR W. BLACK
I rise to support the second reading of the Bill as one actively associated with one of the main industries concerned. I am in cordial agreement with its main principles, because the measure proposes to deal with an admitted evil—namely, that of sweating—and in so far as it seeks to secure a fair and living wage to those engaged in the industries named in the Bill, I believe it will receive the support of every side of this House. I believe the Bill ought to go to a Committee for careful consideration. I quite admit that the concerns proposed to be dealt with by the Bill are exceedingly serious, and, in my opinion, prolonged consideration will be necessary if the Bill is to be of value to the workers or to the trades. It may quite easily be harmful to both. I am perfectly well aware that the lace manufacturers of Nottingham view the Bill with considerable alarm. They believe it will be harassing and vexatious. The Lace Finishers' Association of Nottingham, as well as the Chamber of Commerce of the city, believe that the proposals in the Bill will prove serious and harmful to the trade. I have their reports in my hand, and both of these associations report unanimously in that direction. But I believe they are both mistaken. I have no doubt the Bill will be seriously opposed by both these associations. For my own part I regard the fears expressed by these societies as greatly exaggerated. I imagine that things will go on pretty much the same after the passing of the Bill as they have before. I have no fear, at any rate, that 358 the industries concerned will be ruined, and I think the establishment of trade boards and trade committees will be of very considerable value to the trades themselves, and to fair employers the establishment of minimum rates of pay can do absolutely nothing but good. The trades concerned, I am quite certain, will easily accommodate themselves to the new conditions.
In the lace trades in Nottingham, so far as indoor workers are concerned at any rate, the wages earned as a whole are probably higher than among any other class of female workers in the country. The workers' point of view, therefore, is important, because this Bill affects not only the outdoor worker but the indoor worker. But I want to remind the President of the Board of Trade that the establishment of minimum rates for highly skilled workers may result in the reduction of wages rather than in their increase, because it is important to remember that minimum rates have a tendency to become maximum rates, if not very carefully applied; and in that case of course from our point of view they would do more harm than good. Even at the present moment in Nottingham a majority of the lace finishing houses have already agreed on a minimum rate of pay for outdoor workers, and the conditions from that point of view have considerably improved, or at any rate have somewhat improved during the past year. But I want to call the President's attention to clause 6, because it is there proposed that any employer shall in cases to which the maximum rate is applicable pay wages to the person employed at not less than the minimum rates. I want to ask in the case of out workers who is the person employed? Is it the middle woman who takes the work from the warehouse, or the person she employs to do the work? If it is the person who does the work who is to receive the minimum rate of pay, and who is to pay the middle woman in the lace industry? The middle woman for outdoor work is absolutely indispensable. She is the person who receives the work from the various warehouses, distributes it to the people in their own homes, who do much or little of the work according as their circumstances permit, and she collects the work when it is finished, takes it back to the warehouses, and then pay the wages according to the amount earned, and thousands of pounds every week are paid in Nottingham in wages for outdoor work in this manner. 359 Does the Bill seek to improve the lot of the outworker? So far as the lace trade is concerned the work is intermittent. Now it is busy, and now it is slack, and workers have to accommodate themselves to this by arranging their household accordingly, and there are many of these families wholly dependent on the outdoor work that they do. I want to ask is the Bill likely ultimately to do them any good? Will they thank the Government for it? I believe that the very greatest care will be necessary in the Committee stage of this Bill, and that it will be better to go slowly rather than to make haste perhaps in the wrong direction. With regard to the trade committees which the Bill proposes to set up, it seems to me that the Bill is over-weighted so far as officialism is concerned. It is proposed to set up in every trade three officials. Inspectors and supervisors may also be appointed. It will certainly be very expensive, and it is rather calculated, I think, to be irritating than to do any real good. With regard to clause 18, in which it is proposed to pay the representative members of these trade committees out of pocket expenses and reasonable remuneration I am afraid that that may be open to considerable abuse. My own opinion is very strong that in this particular very much better voluntary work could be done, and it is work that is far more likely to be helpful than if these trades' representatives are paid. I believe a better class of men or women, as the case may be, will be secured if this voluntary principle remains, but having said so much I may add that I shall vote with much pleasure for the second reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. HARRY MARKS
moved as an Amendment to leave out all the words after "That," in order to insert, "In the opinion of the House, no legislation can be effective to secure fair wages for workers in this country which does not prevent foreigners who work at lower wages from sending the product of their cheaper labour here in competition with them." In proposing the Amendment of which I have given notice I hope it will not be necessary to detain the House at any great length, because some of the chief arguments on which the Amendment is based were urged with great force, and I hope not wholly without effect, in the course of recent Debates upon this and cognate subjects. I think it may be taken as agreed that there is a general desire in all sections of this House and among 360 all classes of the public that some effective steps should be taken to put down sweating. To put it down with a strong hand it should be in such a way that any legislation directed against sweating should operate upon that evil, and not to the detriment of any trade in which that evil exists. The present Bill claims to deal with the evil of sweating, but it claims to deal with the evil of sweating in British labour by British labour. I submit it is equally important to protect British workpeople against foreign sweating, for sweating is equally mischievous and equally unfair whether it be British or foreign. In the evidence given before the Home Industries Committee, to which reference has been made in the course of this Debate, some interesting particulars were mentioned and some striking examples were given of the effect upon British industries of sweated labour carried on abroad—notably in the evidence of Miss Davis and of Miss Walker. The objection to this Bill is that in providing for fair wages in this country it will leave foreigners free to send their products here without any restriction. It has been said that the lines of industry concerned in this Bill are not such as are likely to be affected by importation. I cannot conceive it is possible that that contention would be seriously maintained by anyone who is cognisant of the facts.
The trades affected by the Government Bill are the trades of tailoring, cardboard box making, machine-made lace making, and ready-made gloves, and these are precisely the trades in which the lowest wages are paid. They are precisely the trades in which sweating of the workers is carried on—a fact which is sufficiently established by the introduction of this Bill and the limitation of its operations to these particular trades. These are trades which are sweated both at home and abroad, and at home because they are sweated abroad, for it is unquestionable that the low rates of wages paid for piecework in these various trades would not be acceptable in this country, and would not be accepted, if the miserable people who are compelled to accept them were not compelled thereto by the knowledge that the rates which are offered to them, miserably mean and contemptible as they are, are still a trifle higher than the rates paid on the other side of the Channel; and that if these people refused to accept these mean and contemptible wages it would be perfectly possible for their employers to send the labour which they now 361 give to them to the other side of the Channel at still lower rates. In each of these trades the enforcement of the provisions of this Bill would inevitably raise the cost of production here, and what producer would submit to the increased cost if he could avoid it? And he could avoid it in these trades. He could avoid it by the simple expedient of having his goods manufactured abroad, where the provision of the Bill would not apply, and sent over here, whither they may be freely sent. The Secretary to the Board of Trade has said that evasion is no reason for inaction, and I am sure with that we shall all be in hearty agreement. The evasion of this law, if it becomes law, certainly would be no reason for inaction, but it would be a reason for strong action, and it is the strong action that my Amendment advocates. If you are going to legislate against an evil and you can prevent the evasion of your provision, why not prevent the evasion; and it is to that end that my Amendment is directed. If the expedient of importing from abroad at lower rates of wages than those which obtain at these trades in this country were generally adopted, our workpeople would be exchanging their underpaid labour for no labour at all; and that is not what the authors of this Bill aim at. We should in fact be prohibiting sweating at home for the benefit of the sweater abroad. We should be diminishing the amount of goods produced under sweated labour here, and increasing the amount of goods produced by sweated labour abroad. Even if this method of evasion were not generally adopted, those engaged in the trade who might not attempt to evade the provisions of the Bill would find themselves undercut by their less scrupulous competitors, and there would be no difficulty in transferring to foreign countries the labour employed in the trades concerned. As the Secretary of the Board of Trade has pointed out, the capital required in these businesses is extremely small and can easily be found. The Secretary to the Board of Trade has characterised the fear of foreign competition as an unreal and a negligible bogey, and he has suggested—it seems to have come rather as an afterthought—that there might be some means of arriving at an agreement with foreign nations to prevent this foreign competition. If this Bill had contemplated anything like that, my Amendment would have been unnecessary, but I suggest that what the Secretary to the Board of Trade says comes as an afterthought. Whether 362 it would be valuable to arrange with foreign countries against the importation into this country of goods produced by sweated labour is a matter on which we need not at the present time express an opinion. The hon. Gentleman said that we had come to an agreement some years ago with reference to working phosphorus, but the cases are not at all analogous, and indeed are scarcely comparable. It is easy enough to understand that you may induce a foreign nation to enter into arrangements with a view to saving the lives and health of their citizens. That one can easily understand, but it is not so easily understandable that you would be able to induce foreign nations to enter into an agreement not to take advantage of your legislation for the benefit of their own citizens. I have said that if you are going to prohibit the employment of labour on sweated terms in this country, you must—in order to make that proceeding effective—take steps to prevent the importation into this country of goods produced by sweated labour abroad. That is particularly necessary in the case of the trades affected by this Bill. What is the position of these trades abroad? According to the recent publications of the "Office du Travail," the earnings in the tailoring trade in France, in the workroom where the ordinary class of goods is manufactured, are these: The men average 4f. a day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Under protection."] Under protection? If they were without protection they would have the same sort of sweated wages that we have here. With regard to the men and women who have to work at home, the condition is very different from what it is here, the earnings being from 1f. 50c. to 2f. for a day of 12 hours. Workmen who work in the shop are paid from 5f. to 7f. a day for first-class goods, and the women are paid 2f. to 3f. a day. In the blouse trade in France, which is one of the four trades affected by this Bill, for a flannel-cotton blouse payment is 75 centimes, and for a lady's blouse of merino and cotton the payment is 50 centimes. It cannot be said that these figures are of very ancient date, because I have got them from the official record published in the "Office du Travail" in 1907. Then in regard to the lace trade, what difficulty would there be in the way of the transference from England to Calais or to any near place on the French coast of a trade which is no longer to be carried on under sweated conditions in England? According to the report in the "Office du Travail" in 1896, the salaries in the French 363 lace industry employed in respect of tulle made by machinery was 4f. 95c. per day for men, and 2f. for women. There would surely be no great difficulty in transferring from England to France the card-box trade, where, according to the same official record, the rate is 3f. 50c. to men, and 1f. 45c. to women, for a day of 12 hours. They are not even limited to going to France. If it is desired to send the work abroad because it can no longer be done on sweated terms in England, it could be as easily sent to Belgium. According to the "Confection de Vêtements," the wages in Belgium for workmen over 16 years of age (according to the "Recensement Générale des Industries et des Métiers," published in 1902 by the Ministre de l'lndustrie et du Travail de Belgique, page 272), of 3,583 workmen, whose wages had been ascertained, 56 per cent. earned less than 2f. 50c. a day; 31 per cent. from 2f. 50c. to 4f. 50c. a day, and 12 per cent. more than 4f. 50c. per day. Of 1,002 women over 16 years of age 42 per cent. earned less than 1f. a day, and 49 per cent. from 1f. to 2f. 50c. a day. It is indeed the fear that the work may be sent to Belgium that induces the workers of London to work at the sweated wages which they now receive. In the lace trade in Belgium similar conditions exist. The wages of men over 16 years of age in the Belgium lace trade range from 2f. 50c. to 5f., while the wages of women range from If. 50c. to 3f. 90c. a day. In the cardboard box trade in Belgium of workmen over 16 years of age, calculated on 231 ascertained cases, it is found that 15 per cent. earned less than 2f. 50c. a day, and 73 per cent. earned from 2f. 50c. to 4f. 50c. a day. Of women over 16 years of age, in the 42 ascertained cases, 25 per cent. earned less than 1f. a day, and 70 per cent. earned from 1f. to 2f. 50c. a day. I say these figures establish absolutely two propositions. First of all, that the sweated rate of wages in England are influenced by the still more sweated rate of wages on the other side of the Channel, and consequently if you impose upon the manufacturers in these four trades incapacity to pay the present sweated rates of wages, there will be no difficulty in getting labour on the other side of the Channel, unless you take some steps to prevent it, which at present, however, in the absence of international agreement, such as has been outlined or suggested by the Secretary to the Beard of Trade, are not contemplated. I should like to go back to the proposition 364 laid down by the expert witnesses before the Commission on Home Industries, that wages cannot be permanently raised above the market rate; but that is what this Bill proposes shall be done. It has been said that this is a revolution and an experiment. We can leave the revolution out of the question. An experiment undoubtedly it is—an experiment made, of course, in good faith, and made for an object which appeals to the sympathy of all men. Why not make the experiment under conditions which will give it a fair chance of success? Why should you make an experiment which has no chance of success? This experiment is foredoomed to failure because you are making it under conditions which are impossible. No legislation will effect a rise of wages which does not compel all competitors in the trades affected, whether British or foreign, to observe the minimum rate. This Bill overlooks that most important point, and it is for that reason I have moved this Amendment. Perhaps I should not be in order were I to attempt to discuss whether the report is true that at a later stage the Government will consent that this Bill shall not apply to Ireland. I do not suppose it is necessary to point out that if any such arrangement should be made the evil against which I protest would be intensified beyond all measure, because you would not only have goods produced by sweated labour and sent here from Belgium and France and other foreign countries, but you would have Ireland transformed into the very home of sweated industries. I have no doubt, or I think we all hope, that this report is without foundation.
§ Sir WILLIAM BULL
I desire to second the Amendment, because I happened to be a member of the Committee which sat on the Home Industries question, in which no one feels more interest than I do, and a desire that legislation on the subject should be placed on the Statute Book. I heard the witnesses who came before that Committee and saw the evils from which certain of our fellow-countrymen are suffering. But I am also affected by the fact that this Bill deals with only half the difficulty, and, therefore, I implore the House to consider the Amendment which the hon. Member for Thanet has moved. In legislating 365 in these days I think we want to count the cost more than we do at present. We want to foresee when this Bill is passed what effect it will have. I for my part view with a great deal of dread the effect of foreign competition upon our workers in this country. The whole House, I am sure, desires to benefit the home workers. There is no question about the merits of this Bill. But while we are trying to do good we should take care that there is no ill result. I know a factory which has been closed owing to the conditions of factory labour. That factory has been in existence one hundred years. It has now been closed and the machinery in it has been sold to America, and the amount of that machinery has to be added to our exports. That is a melancholy state of affairs. Take other trades. I am speaking of trades outside those which will come under this particular Bill, but which may be affected by later legislation. Take the case of German cartridge makers. I think it has been admitted that in Germany they make better cartridges than we do in England. The cartridges they manufacture for miniature rifles and also for the army shoot straighter than cartridges manufactured here, and they are in many ways superior to the English-manufactured article. Why is that? Simply because our regulations with regard to explosives and the rules under which cartridges are manufactured do not apply in Germany, where, consequently, they are able to supply a better article at a cheaper price than we can in this country. That is a cognate example of what will take place in regard to those trades which are mentioned in the Bill.
I do hope that the Board of Trade may see their way, if they do not adopt the Amendment of my hon. Friend, to adopt some safeguard by which this evil can be avoided. We do not care what they call it; we will not consider it any attempt towards Tariff Reform if they will only consider this matter on a practical basis, if they could only see their way to get a certificate from a consul abroad that goods should not come into this country without some sort of protection or safeguard, however slight. Other suggestions might be made to remedy this evil, but I do earnestly appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to consider this matter. It was mentioned during the course of the Home Industries Committee that, as a matter of fact, one of the trades here affected, viz., lace making in Belfast, was absolutely being undersold in the market place of Belfast by lace at the present time 366 being made in Japan under conditions that were absolutely different to the manufacture of lace in that country. It must be borne in mind that the people we are now trying to help are not altogether on our side. There are a great many persons who strongly object to legislation on the subject. I recollect listening with great interest to one poor woman who came before the Committee. She said she preferred very much working at home to factory labour of any kind. She said it would be better for her to accept a lower rate of wages if she could take the work home than work in the factory. We understood her on the subject, and we saw at once her point. She said she would have to walk a considerable distance to the factory, wait her turn amongst a large crowd of persons, and sometimes there would be no work to be got. If she went into the factory she would have to work certain specified hours, and do nothing else during the time. On the other hand, if she could take her work home she could do it when she liked, how she liked, and in intervals of domestic work. She was very strongly against legislation in the direction of killing home industries. I venture to second the Amendment.
§ Mr. A. G. HOOPER
I rise to support the principle of this Bill, and I agree that it is not revolutionary in character, but that it is experimental. I do not know if I should be in order in expressing my appreciation of the high tone and deep sympathy of the speech of my right hon. Friend with the weak and helpless of our land. If the Bill is experimental in character I quite agree that its application must be cautious, that we should be content to go step by step, and that extreme care should be taken that typical cases only should be included in its application. I go so far as to say that in any attempt to increase the standard wage we ought to exercise great care that it should be done gradually, and not to cause any more hardship than possible on the trade interests affected thereby.
I think it would be of interest to the House and may help the House to form a judgment on the principle of this Bill if I were to lay before them a particular industry, which is largely located in my own Constituency. To my mind it is a typical case to which this Bill might be safely applied—I refer to the chain trade. T am going to content myself by shortly stating the facts, leaving those facts themselves to 367 supply the argument. I am going to inform the House first where the chain trade in this country is located. With the exception of five firms, the whole of the chain trade is located in a small area about three miles square. It is situated in the corner of South Staffordshire, where it joins on to North Worcestershire. The greater part is in my own Constituency, part of it is in the Constituency of North Worcestershire, represented by my right hon. Friend, and also partly in the Constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, both of whom, I am glad to say, support the principle of this Bill. I will call this particular area in which practically the whole of the trade is located the Cradley area. The five firms outside that area, who alone are interested in the making of chains in England, are situated at Pontypridd, Chester, St. Helens, Gateshead-on-Tyne, and Shifnal, so that we have here a trade which is centred in a small area, and I think I shall be able to point out that, therefore, it is the more easy to apply the principle of this Bill.
Secondly, as to the extent of this trade, I think for the purpose of explanation I might divide it into three classes. There are first what is called the good employers—I am glad to say the great bulk of them come under that designation—I think they are about 30 in all, and employ about 1,400 hands. The adjective "good," is relative only to the standard of wages which those employers pay. I am happy to say that the best relations exist between those employers and the operatives, and that they pay a standard rate of wages accepted by both those parties. It is one evidence of the good effect which trade unions have had upon our industries. I believe it is a fact that prior to the formation of a trade union among the chain-making operatives about 15 years ago, strikes and disputes, and differences between masters and men were of constant occurrence, whereas since that time, now over 15 years ago, not one single strike has ever occurred. Then comes the small sweating firms. They are, I believe, about 12 in number. I use the word sweating not in an offensive sense, but simply to indicate that they are paying a rate of wages much below the standard rate of wage. I believe as a matter of fact they are paying as much as 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. below the standard wage. These few firms, about 12 in number, employing from 5 to 30 hands each, employ altogether about 200 hands.
368 In addition to those two classes of employers there are the outworkers. I do not know whether the House is cognisant of what an outworker in the chain trade means. An outworker is one who goes to the manufacturer's warehouse, gets the iron, takes it home, and in a small workshop which is called a domestic workshop attached to their own home, they make up this iron into chains. They have to return that chain to the warehouse of a certain weight as against the tonnage of iron which they have taken away. Those outworkers comprise about 800 to 1,000 females, and also about 800 men with a few boys. Let me say that the evil of sweating and female labour is confined altogether in this trade to the Cradley district. With regard to the five firms I have mentioned, there is no female labour at all, and there are no outworkers at all, except in the Cradley area. I have already said that the good employer pays a standard wage, and the small manufacturers, whom I designated as sweaters, paid from 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. less than the standard wage. Then comes lastly this blot upon our fair name, the case of these outworkers. It is evident that the trade is a laborious and exhaustive one, yet the wages of the outworkers range from 6s. to 12s. per week, and the wages paid to those females range from 4s. to 7s. per week. Although I admit with respect to a few of the females, about 50 in number who make a special quality of chain they are able to earn from 10s. to 12s. per week. In order to obtain those wages they have to work long hours at this laborious and exhaustive work. Those outworkers are employed partly by the good employers and partly by the sweaters. I believe the proportion is about one-half each. The good employers are only too anxious that the standard of wages should be lifted up and improved, but the force of competition is such that unless it works all round it is quite impossible for this to be done.
Lastly, I want to state to the House what is the opinion of the chain trade as a whole with regard to being scheduled under this Bill. I think that upon this I can place very strong testimony before the House. I am informed by the hon. secretary of the Chainmasters Association—who has been secretary for 25 years—that every one of the good employers agrees that this trade should be placed in the schedule of this Bill. They say not only that the sweating is bad for the employés who receive such miserable wages under such hard conditions, but also that 369 it is fatal to the reputation of the trade itself. Only last Saturday I was speaking to the ex-Mayor of Dudley, who gave me a concrete case illustrating this phase of the question. He told me that a few months ago he was in Canada, going about with his eyes open to gain all the information he could industrially, and when in one of the shipping yards he saw a quantity of chain. He referred to the fact that he was then Mayor of Dudley, near Cradley, the home of the chain trade. "Oh," said the gentleman to whom he was speaking, "you know Cradley, do you? All I can say is that we shall have no more chain from Cradley, as the last lot we had was such shoddy stuff that it broke like single wire." The hope and expectation which the good employers have as to the ultimate effect of this Bill is that it will prevent this shoddy manufacture of chain which is being sent abroad to the detriment of the good name of the trade. Then I am able to state that practically the whole of the 1,400 hands engaged by good employers in their factories in the Cradley area are anxious that the Bill should apply to their trade. In addition to that, practically the whole of the outworkers are looking forward with keen anxiety to the scheduling of their trade as the only hope they have that their standard of living will be raised, and that they may be enabled to face life with a little more hope and joy. The only firms for which I cannot speak are what, without any desire to be opprobrious, I call the sweating firms, and the operatives engaged by them. I am happy to think that this is not a party question. The amount of chain imported into this country is a negligible quantity, and among the good employers are both Tariff Reformers and Free Traders. I believe the chairman of the Chainmasters Association is a Tariff Reformer. I hope that this grave scandal, which for over 20 years has been apparent in the industrial life of our country—this employment of female labour in such exhausting work at such scandalous rates—will, by the operation of this Bill, soon be at an end, that their conditions of life will be improved, and that, if they are to continue in the industry, they will have a fair reward for their work. The system has been looked upon by both parties as one of those blots which we all desire to see eliminated. We look upon this Bill as the first practical attempt to remedy this and similar abuses, and therefore I warmly support it.
§ Mr. A. RICHARDSON
Perhaps the House will allow me to join with the hon. Member opposite in his expression of satisfaction that this question, which affects so many of our poor people, is not going to be dealt with on party lines. Nothing has given me so much satisfaction since I have had the honour of a seat in this House as the speech, which did credit alike to the head and heart, of the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover-square, and I was greatly pleased to find that he and many of the party to which I generally find myself in opposition are feeling strongly upon this matter, and are going to co-operate with other sections of the House for the purpose of bettering the condition of these people. It is not my intention to follow the hon. Member for Thanet, who moved an Amendment on Tariff Reform lines, but I understood him to say in reference to Tariff Reform that when a slump came the lace trade of Nottingham would want protection. If that is so, I would like any Member who follows from the Tariff Reform point of view to explain these figures. In 1903 there were two million pounds' worth of lace imported into this country, and there were from 7 to 9 per cent. of the lace operatives out of work. In 1907, when there were 3½ million pounds' worth of lace imported, only from 1 to 2 per cent. of the lace operatives in this country were unemployed. Therefore it is very certain that lack of employment on the part of lace operatives in this country is not due to large imports of lace.
I desire to deal very briefly with one or two points connected with this measure. What is the object of the Bill? First, I take it, it is to improve the conditions of home workers, and incidentally to protect the fair and legitimate employer against the unfair and illegitimate employer. Some two or three years ago in connection with the lace trade the better class of employers, irrespective of party—because I find that as many Conservative as; Liberal employers take a great interest in this matter—banded themselves together for the purpose of accomplishing the very object which this Bill has in view; but as the result of the unwillingness on the part of the unfair employers—and we find unfair employers among Liberals as well as among Conservatives—the scheme fell through. I should like to corroborate a statement made by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire. I also have received communications from the Chamber of Commerce and from the Lace 371 Weavers Association asking me to do all I possibly can to prevent this measure being placed on the Statute Book, chiefly on the ground that it is an interference with their rights as employers in the management of their own business. My reading of history has shown me that during the last 60 or 70 years the area over which a parent or employer can say, "This is mine to do absolutely as I like with" has been gradually contracted. The law has -stepped in, and where 50 years ago the builder of a factory might have said, "I will build such and such a type of factory," if to-day he tried to do the same the law would step in and say, "In the interests of your employés and of the State you must build such and such a type of factory." This, as I understand it, is merely an extension of the same principle. Employers of labour in our own city have accepted the principle of this Bill. Some three or four years ago Mr Askwith was brought down to Nottingham to settle one of the greatest disputes in the lace trade that we have ever had. What is the difference between permanent wages boards for home workers and arbitration courts set up for settling disputes when they have reached an acute stage? In essence and in principle, as I understand it, there is really no difference. Is it possible for these wages boards to accomplish the end desired by the promoters of this Bill? I have here part of the evidence given before the Select Committee on Home Work, by Mr. Askwith, in relation to this particular point. Here is a part of his examination by one of the members of the Committee:—Do you remember about how many operatives were "involved in that dispute?That was the dispute which he had just settled.I have no idea. It was several thousands. I think there are about 25,000 lace weavers in Nottinghamshire, and about 6,000 in Derbyshire, and, I think, about 5,000 in the city of Nottingham." … "I think yon will agree with me that as a matter of fact, since the settlement of the last dispute, the lace trade of Nottingham has been much better than it was previously?—I was told by three or four manufacturers the other day that it had been 'booming.' That was the word which they used.I ask the House to pay attention to this point, because it is one of the points of objection raised by the lace manufacturers:—Seeing there are so many different priced cards, do you see any difficulty in the future in the readjusting prices or the change of patterns?—I do not think there would be any difficulty. It would have to be very carefully considered as to how far the alteration of one card with regard to machinery would affect other cards.372 A question was then put to Mr. Askwith bearing on this question of home work itself:—You do not think, in view of the very accurate and intimate knowledge that you have of the trade, that the very great variety of patterns and the rapidity with which new patterns come on to the market, present any real difficulty in the adjustment of the prices to be paid to home workers?—No, I do not think so. You might have to have the wages board meeting over new patterns, but very often new patterns follow the basis of the old. Part of the business which the wages board has specially to do is to deal with new patterns, particularly in a trade like lace or women's clothing, new patterns in caps, and so on.Then he was asked:—On the whole yon would favour a wages board for trades similar to that of the Nottingham lace trade?Mr. Askwith's emphatic reply was:—Yes, I should, certainly.Now, I think the evidence of Mr. Askwith ought to have a very important bearing on the settlement of this question. I should like to mention just one part of the machinery, especially in connection with this particular trade. We have, on the evidence of Miss Squires, one of the best witnesses that appeared before that Committee, a statement that there are in the City of Nottingham 7,000 home-workers. In addition she says there are 700 middle-women. I am convinced, from the information I have received from both parties, that unless the promoters of this Bill, and that unless the Government can see some way to deal effectively with these middle-women, you will not be able to prevent sweating as between employer and employed; that is, between the manufacturer and the one who does home work. I am quite certain that unless effective measures are taken, you will have sweating carried on through the agency of these middle-women. I am glad, as I previously said, that all parts of the House are convinced that there is a real evil to be dealt with.
§ Mr. EBENEZER PARKES
I was one of those who sat on this Committee upstairs on this question. While in a great measure I can support the object of Wages Boards, yet my own opinion is that the Bill that has been introduced into the House at the present time is not one to effectively attain the object of the Government. I would like to ask, in the first place, with regard to Dudley, which has been given as an example this afternoon. The hon. Member talked about good and bad employers. He must remember that these good employers, and what he calls bad employers, are not confined to this country. There may be good employers, and, on his assumption, bad employers, living in certain districts; but I would 373 remind him that there are bad employers living outside the country who have a great and paramount influence on the trades affected. The question was referred to as to the rubbish that is being sent out of the country as though it was the work of English manufacturers. I can tell the hon. Member that it is not entirely the work of the English manufacturer. In many cases the iron of which the chain is made is what is called poor Belgian rubbish. It is taken to Cradley, and sent out from there as English chains. That is a reflection on the English manufacturer which he does not deserve, and I would remind the hon. Member that in a case like this he must not only look in the area which he has described, but he must look at the greater area which is constantly increasing outside the bounds of this country. That it is which is the dominating factor. In my opinion, that is why so many English manufacturers are driven to pay poor wages. I have great sympathy with the Amendment. I have great sympathy with the Bill. At the same time, I can see the position in which the English manufacturer is placed, and it is my opinion that unless something is done for the purpose—I will not say for the purpose of protecting the manufacturer, but altering the conditions under which he has to work at the present time—you cannot cure to any considerable extent the conditions which prevail. I do not think you will. You will have low wages on the one hand or non-employment on the other. It is thought by some well-disposed people—and of course we can compliment them on their feelings to what is termed sweating the people—when one sees the prices at which these articles are made one wonders how people get a living at all! But we must remember this: we must take care as a Government that in trying to remedy this evil we do not do more harm than good. It is quite within the bounds of possibility for us to do more harm than good in trying to regulate these wages. A competitor in one of the districts of the Midlands said:—I am a carder, a manufacturer of hooks and eyes, and as well as being a carder, am a salesman. I deplore the wages which my employés get. There are a great many of them home workers, but I cannot help myself. I am constantly undercut by foreign people, but if I were to have some sort of tariff, or satisfactory conditions, in this country. I would, and I would be most happy to do so, increase the wages of my people 100 per cent.That is an example of one man. It is absolutely useless for us to try to permanently improve the position of the wage- 374 earners of this country in the various trades unless we can arrange these matters of competition to which I have referred. There are other things which I disagree with in the Bill. There are certain official lements. We are to have nominated members of the wages boards—nominated according to the desire of the Board of Trade. Well, now I have been connected with a wages board for a great many years, and I found it work, on the whole, very well indeed. I believe in the principle. But what I want to know is: Why have so much official element? Why cannot you be contented with the voluntary element on the part of employers and employed? Why cannot you depend on a man as chairman, who knows so thoroughly from the beginning to the end the whole situation? I would venture to say that these officials to be nominated by the Board of Trade are not necessarily men who know all the conditions of the trade. To arrive at a proper finding as to the wages to be paid, they ought to be men who know the trade perfectly and intimately. We also found on the Committee that there are certain articles made which are constantly varying in cost from day to day, from week to week, and from month to month. These prices have to be settled very, very often. How often is your wages board going to meet? And are the men and women on it competent to fix these wages? In some cases I believe these wages are fixed almost every week. Is it possible for the wages board to deal with cases of that kind?
Not only so, but the decisions are to be enforced by Act of Parliament. On the wages board with which I am connected the wages rise and fall according to the state of trade. Is it possible in a case like this for the wages to rise and fall, and if they are allowed to fall is there to be a fixed minimum price below which the trade cannot go? That I ask for information. I do not know whether that is so or not. At any rate, I can say this: That it will be an initial difficulty on the part of the wages board to keep on varying the prices from time to time, according to the conditions of trade. There is one thing about this Bill I am afraid we have not sufficiently appreciated. It is, as I take it, directed mere particularly against home work, not against factory work. We had the opinion expressed in the Committee upstairs that this Bill would tend to destroy home work. I want to know whether that is a desirable or undesirable thing? Is it desirable to destroy home work or is it not?
§ Mr. PARKES
Well, my opinion, gathered from the witnesses upstairs, is that it is not—that it is in no way desirable to destroy home work in this country. Why? Because there is a very large population in the country who follow home work in these industries in an intermittent way. Whilst the husband is out of work they take in the work and earn a few shillings per week. Many of these women said: "It keeps the wolf from the door, and it keeps us out of the workhouse." All I can say is, if you adopt a principle which will drive people out of their homes to factories, you do considerable harm to the home work of the country. There is no doubt about it. We had very many pathetic cases of women earning 10s. to 12s. per week, and this, with a little support from the parish, enabled them, as the sole supporters of their husbands and households, to get along. You will make it increasingly difficult for this class of people to carry on their work. If this principle is drawn too fine I believe it will place a serious disability upon, and give a serious blow to, thousands upon thousands of the home workers in this country. These, I may say, are to a large extent satisfied with their present conditions. They do not want the present conditions altered to any considerable extent; and they would be exceedingly sorry if this principle were carried out by which they were deprived of their home work. Even supposing it is only 8s. or 10s. per week, I believe the loss of it will bring an amount of distress upon the country, and increase the cost of the poor law in a way which will prove astonishing. My sympathies are with the wages boards, but there is one significant fact to remember. There were half a dozen or eight women who appeared before the Committee in a body. They came from different parts of the country, from the north, south, east, and west. What was the burden of their remarks? Simply this: "Let us alone. We are perfectly satisfied as we are, and we do not want the Government to interfere." Turn to the Report and you can see those remarks for yourselves. They feared, whether we believe it or not, the possibility of legislation being passed by this House which would deprive them of the few shillings per week that was their only protection from extreme poverty and from coming upon the rates of the country.
376 What about inspectors? I will venture to say that that will be one of the greatest difficulties in carrying out this Bill in the homes of the people. We have a considerable number of inspectors at the present time. We have between 200,000 and 300,000 workshops. I do not know how many hundreds of thousands workpeople we have. Has the Government ever estimated how much it will take to provide inspectors for all these places? In many cases now the inspectors go once a year. Will a visit once a year be sufficient to see that this Act is properly carried out? I say it is a ridiculous idea to say that once a year will be sufficient. Then there is the case of the middle-women. What are you to do with them? Are you to say by one stroke of the pen that they are not to be allowed to exist? How much does the House think that the middle-women get out of the earnings of the workers? In some cases it is 25 and in some others 50 per cent. That is a serious thing. We have heard from the other side of the House that the middle-women cannot be dispensed with altogether. How are you to know when a person does the work that he or she gets the proper amount of pay for it? It will be a most difficult thing to discover, and it will run the cost of the administration of this Act to a tremendous sum. What I should like to see in this Bill is more of the voluntary principle, more of the association of capital and labour together, more of men and women coming together who really understand their business.
There is another thing in the Bill which is a very serious matter, and that is that the prices paid for particular articles shall be universal, not only in London, but in different parts of the country. Now we found in the Committee that different prices were paid in different districts. Why? Because the cost of living was greater in some parts of the country, and especially in London, than in Ireland or Scotland or certain portions of the provinces. As I understand this Bill it is proposed to make the prices universal, and that there shall be a certain Wages Board in London which shall regulate the prices.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I can assure the hon. Member that is not at all the intention of the Bill. If he will look at the clause relating to co-ordination he will see how it is to be dealt with.
§ Mr. PARKES
I am very glad to hear that, and I hope that it is accurate, but I thought that the establishment of a 377 central board in London was intended to bring about universal wages as far as possible. If that were so you could not work; you cannot have people in Ireland working at the same price as people in London. If you did you would destroy the industries in one place or the other. I do not believe that this agitation has been brought about by the workers themselves. I believe it has been brought about by people who have gone about inspecting and by the inspectors themselves. While I agree that a Wages Board is necessary, I wish the Government to be exceedingly careful in what they are doing. We are in a peculiar position, and we have peculiar conditions in this country to contend with. We have very hard and onerous conditions to contend with, and it would take a great deal to persuade me that the employers will not pay a proper rate of wages to the workers. When the Bill comes back into Committee a great many clauses will, I hope, be amended, and the net result will be that there will be a more reasonable Bill, and one that will really benefit these people; but unless we go the right way about it and consider all the circumstances of the case, and not to try to apply too much of the official element, I am afraid we shall make a very great mistake. I can hardly say which way I am inclined to vote in this matter. All I say is I believe in Wages Boards if properly carried out, but you must do nothing that will destroy the whole work in this country, and if you do you will give the trade in this country one of the greatest and most damaging blows.
§ Mr. JOHN HAYDEN
I desire to intervene in order to express so far as I can the views entertained by my colleagues in regard to this measure. From our general experience we think it necessary to approach the consideration of any measure dealing with the trade of this country in a very cautious spirit. In the past Ireland has suffered very considerably from legislation directly and indirectly passed against the industries of our country. The Statute Books of this House contain many measures passed for the sole purpose of destroying industries for the benefit of the English manufacturers, and they also contain many Statutes which were not passed for the purpose of injuring or destroying Irish industries, but have had that effect, inasmuch as they were passed for the benefit of the English manufacturer and without consideration of the circumstances prevail- 378 ing in Ireland. Now, we have approached the consideration of this measure with the most sympathetic spirit. We enter heartily into the views entertained, I think, by all sections of this House in favour of any proposal meant to cope with the sweating evil which exists in this country, but the conditions which prevail in Great Britain are very different from those which prevail in Ireland. Here you have great urban centres and great industrial centres. In Ireland, whilst we have a few, very few, large urban centres, I might say we have practically no large industrial centre. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Belfast?"] Yes, we have Belfast, but that is quite consistent with my statement. We are glad to be able to point to the fact that we have Belfast, but I would like that English Members should be able to point to more than one Belfast in Ireland as a result of their rule. In other parts of Ireland as well as in Belfast we have been endeavouring to undo the work of British legislation in the past; we are endeavouring to re-establish those industries which were crushed by the laws passed in this House at the instance and for the benefit of British manufacturers. One of those industries was notably the woollen industry, which in recent years is once again taking the place it held before these laws were passed by this Parliament.
Now, as I said, our population is very far from being anything like the British population. It is more largely rural than the population of this country, and our industries are of a more rural character than are the industries of this country. For the past twenty years an effort largely voluntary has been going on in Ireland to re-establish industries. These industries are mostly in the homes; they are mostly in the poor districts of the country, in the north, north-west, and west of Ireland. These are the parts of Ireland for which very special legislation has had to be passed. These are the portions of Ireland known as the congested districts, and, assisted largely, sometimes indeed started on the initiative of the Congested District Board, certain industries have sprung into existence in the congested districts of Ireland, and we feel that if this Bill be passed in its present form that these industries, built up amongst the poorest portion of the people of Ireland, will be crushed out of existence, and be it remembered that these industries have been established in some cases, have been helped in all cases, by a Board brought into existence by this House—the Congested Districts Board— 379 and in other parts of Ireland by the Department of Agriculture. I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to consult with the Chief Secretary and the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, and if he would ask these two right hon. Gentlemen, who to a certain extent represent Ireland in the Government—if they do not represent they are at all events responsible for it—let him ask them their opinion and what views they entertain in regard to this measure. Not only in rural districts but also in towns we feel that this Bill would have a very detrimental effect.
Our towns are very unlike the manufacturing towns of this country, and circumstances and conditions which prevail in towns in Great Britain or in a city like London do not prevail in Ireland. Rents are not so high, and there is more space devoted to work, because space is not so valuable as in the manufacturing cities of this country. And even in towns all workers are engaged under conditions which do not exist in this country. In regard to our home industries those who are acquainted with the congested portions of Ireland will realise the absolute impossibility of applying the law in regard to space, to the homes of the people; because, while the home is nominally to be the place of manufacture, in reality it is not, as is well known to those acquainted, as I say, with these parts of Ireland. A very large portion of the work is done outside the house, in the fields, and on the mountain side, and done under the most healthy conditions it is possible to find. Therefore I would urge strongly upon the President of the Board of Trade the necessity of excluding Ireland absolutely from the provisions of this Bill. That is the opinion of the Irish representatives, and the opinion of the representatives of Ireland ought to have some effect in this matter. We feel that the application of this Bill in its present form to Ireland would have the same detrimental effect in regard to our industries as was derived from some of those Acts passed specially for the destruction of Irish industries in the past. Therefore I appeal strongly to the President of the Board of Trade to give the fullest consideration in his power to the views which prevail amongst practically the entire Irish representation upon this matter. Should he not do so then we will endeavour to do our utmost to debate the 380 matter as strongly as possible in Committee and to try to carry the opinion of the House with us, as we believe the Bill in its present shape is not applicable to the circumstances of Ireland and that the opinion of the people in Ireland is against it.
§ Sir CHARLES DILKE
The friends of this Bill, who are very anxious that it shall pass, are taking as little part as they can in the Debate to-day in order to facilitate its progress towards the Committee, in which most of the points will be dealt with, but the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down suggests something that is more than a Committee point. If we cannot come to terms it is so menacing for the future of the Bill that I make no apology for trying to deal, as far as possible, with that speech at once. I think every Irish objection that could be raised was raised by Mr. Walker. We have always regarded that evidence as having been completely disposed of by the great mass of the evidence given on both sides before the Committee. The Committee passed it over, although many strong opponents of the principle were Members, and took a great part in the deliberations, but they did not attach any importance to the Irish difficulty as a special objection. Whilst I do not propose to offer the slightest opposition to the Government plan of dealing with this question, so far as it relates to the Bill now before the House, personally I should prefer the experiment to be tried upon trades which were confined to the schedule, and not any attempt to extend it to certain trades in regard to which strong objection is made by some Members of this House. I think it would be fatal to this Bill to lay down the absolute exclusion from it either of Ireland or the congested districts of Ireland, or of the Highlands of Scotland, and certain parts of England. I think it would be equally opposed to the successful workings of the Bill if we fixed upon trades specially calculated to raise particular difficulties.
I would remind the hon. Member opposite that the agitation for this Bill came first of all from Ireland. As a matter of fact, the Irish Trades' Congress and the Irish tailoring trade were the first and strongest supporters of this Bill, and they were in favour of having tailoring included in the schedule. Of all the supporters of the principle of this Bill we have in this House, some Nationalist Members are amongst the strongest and oldest of its supporters. The Member for West Belfast I has put question after question in regard 381 to the adoption of a minimum wage. On these grounds I make the strongest possible appeal to Irish Members not to exclude Ireland from this legislation, because they can guard the interests affected with the greatest care in the schedule. I would remind the House that there were two Nationalist Members on the Committee who investigated this question, and they cross-examined witnesses, of whom I was an unfortunate one, most severely regarding the inclusion of certain Irish industries, although they offered no opposition to the Bill as a whole. My recollection is that they confined themselves entirely to protecting certain special industries which were not assailed in the schedule. The only trade included in the schedule which could raise the Irish question was the blouse trade.
The hon. Member opposite made the assertion—I think it was a somewhat rash assertion, if I may say so—that the evils of sweating did not exist in Ireland. That at any rate is not the view of the Irish tailors, or the Irish Trade Union Congress, and it is not a view which I think the Irish trade unionists I see in this House would be disposed to concur in. On the contrary, I believe that for the last 20 years the tailors of Ireland have constantly supported the principle of this Bill. I am one of those who have frequently argued that this experiment will not be found open to the charges brought against it by the hon. Member for Birmingham and others, that it will have the effect of raising prices all round and destroying the export trade. Our contention has always been that there is a sweating margin at the bottom of the scale which can be touched without interfering with the lives of the workers. If hon. Members from Ireland commit themselves to the absolute exclusion of Ireland it will be fatal to the provisions of this Bill, and I hope they will not take that course until they have consulted Irish opinion more fully.
It is said that these evils do not exist in Ireland. I will not go into the question of truck in the rural districts, because it is outside the scope of this Bill. I am prepared to admit that with the exception of truck the evils in Ireland are not so great. In the case of Belfast, Dublin, and Cork, I say there is sweating, and I found my assertion upon Irish opinion. I have some little knowledge of the question, because I have frequently been asked over to Ireland and have gone there at the request of the Trade Union Congress and of trades councils, and I know that the existence of 382 sweating has been generally admitted by those who invited me to their meetings. Of course the schedule is a matter for the Committee, and I am not going to attempt to debate it here. All I ask is that on the second reading it should not be assumed that it would be possible for us to accept the total exclusion of Ireland from the Bill, although we may be able to come to terms with the Irish Members under which we should not force upon them provisions for which they are not prepared.
I am convinced that any rough and ready plan of cutting Ireland out from the general field of labour legislation will be fatal to the efficiency of Irish labour and the prosperity of Ireland. Those who recommend that course will be bad friends of Ireland, and I am sure we cannot solve the question by cutting Ireland out altogether. That would be a hopeless acquiescence in a bad position. As regards the trades contained in the schedule all the witnesses stated that with reference to Ireland you could draw a clear line between those branches of trade in which there is sweating, and those where it does not exist. Question after question was directed to bringing out the difference between branches of the trade with a special clientele, and the larger trade of the same description. Embroidery is omitted from the schedule. The hon. Member for Birmingham asked how it was possible to coordinate. The members of the Committee accepted the suggestion made in the evidence which has been referred to for a scheme of co-ordination, and that is practically the scheme which has been adopted. I will not attempt to deal with the case of the Bill generally, but with the Schedule, and I see no reason why we cannot come to an agreement to carry this Bill through the House.
§ Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not intend to-speak at any length, because I concur with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last that my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's put the case of the Bill at once so temperately and clearly that I am unable to add anything to what he said. But I desire to say two things. It is quite clearly impossible that Ireland should be excluded from this Bill. It is unfortunately in the power of the Irish Members to prevent the measure passing if they so desire it, but it is quite impossible, whether the Bill be killed or not, that we should cut the United Kingdom into fractions and say that to one fraction the Bill should apply and to another fraction that it should not 383 apply. There is bound up in the Bill, essential to its structure, inevitable if you are going to legislate on these lines at all, a certain class of difficulties. It is not easy to deal with them except by the method advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, and his method greatly narrows the scope of the Bill. His method of meeting the objections to apply the Bill to this or that trade is not to include them in the scope of the Bill. That may be the only way of dealing with the objection, and in that case the House must limit not merely the schedule, but the Departmental power. It is quite clear that we must not only consider what trades should be included in the schedule, but that we cannot leave it to particular officers of State the right of including trades when by the very admissions of one of the great advocates of this Bill—I mean the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean—you can only avoid the evils to which this kind of legislation is necessarily incident by admitting very many trades which on other grounds perhaps you would like to exclude. It is quite conceivable that the rates of wages fixed by a board might be fixed at such a rate as to destroy industries in some localities while they allowed them to survive in others. There might be jealousies. In that way jealousies might arise in different parts of the country where the same industry is carried on.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
These differences do exist, and the result is that there is no jealousy between the respective employés and employers in various towns.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Then let us leave out the word jealousy. Let us say that the majority of a trades' council in their own district fix a rate of wages which makes the industry possible there, but makes it impossible somewhere else.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
But you leave it to a Government Department, advised by a 384 wages board drawn, it may be, predominantly from one portion of the community.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There are three official members of each trade board for the very purpose of effective co-ordination.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
The broad fact remains that the rate of wages you fix for one part of the country might or might not be suitable to another part. It seems to me that the difficulties which will be thrown upon the Board of Trade will be very great. While those difficulties will undoubtedly have the result of restricting the area over which this Bill could be properly allowed to extend, that difficulty is nothing compared with the competition between British and foreign sweated industries. Cases will clearly arise in this country, unless you are very careful, in which the only result of fixing a rate of wages would be to drive the industry out of this country, and send it to another country. I admitted the truth of the hon. Gentleman's statement that the result of raising wages was not in many instances to increase the price. The whole machinery of production may be improved, and the whole raising of wages of production may be improved. These wages are not fixed by competition, but it is a forced sale of value. It is not competition value. It is a forced sale value. It is grossly unfair of anyone to say that a forced sale represents the true value of the article sold. A forced sale never gives a true market rate of wages. Therefore, I do not think that if this Bill is properly worked it will interfere with anything that can truly be said to be a fair market rate of wages. But at the same time while there are cases in which the raising of wages does not diminish the cost, there may be and must be cases where the industry is not carried on so economically when the wages are raised. How are you going to deal with these cases? You really cannot dismiss that as a Protectionist crotchet. Whatever your view's on Protection may be, your are now interfering not with the fair value of wages but with the cost at which certain articles may be introduced. You ought to interfere all round. I do not think how you can refuse to do so. Your only possible alternative would be not merely to restrict the operation of the Bill to those industries to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean has referred, but to take into account the conditions under which those industries are carried on in 385 foreign countries, and to ask yourselves whether those industries are carried on under sweated labour. If you think that the raising of wages in this country will make the cost of production greater, you are driven, to the inevitable conclusion that you are going to hand over the trades to foreign sweated labour. You are absolutely bonnd to make provision to deal with that difficulty. Under this Bill the only provision you can make is to exclude the industry in question from the beneficent operations of this measure. That is a very unpleasant alternative. But the Government must face it. No answer has been given, or can be given, and the House must either reconcile itself to finding some method of regulating between home and foreign productions in the special industries or exclude them from the operation of the Bill. All I have to say is that I appeal, in conclusion, to my hon. Friend not to press his Amendment, because it is tantamount to the suggestion that the Bill should not be read a second time, which I understand is not the object of my hon. Friend. I think it ought to be possible at some later stage of the Bill to move a Resolution dealing with the particular difficulty which I have ventured to lay before the House, and I recommend my hon. Friend to defer until that stage any further overt action in the matter.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Churchill)
The Government have every reason to be satisfied—and express their satisfaction in a most amiable form—which the reception of this measure has received and with the speeches which have been delivered from all points of view and from all parts of the House. They welcome particularly the speeches which have been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover-square, and by the Leader of the Opposition, and I desire recognise very fully the extremely fair manner in which the arguments have been stated even on those points which may not command the assent of those who sit on this side of the House. Under these circumstances it should be, and will be, my object in the conduct of the Bill to endeavour to carry at all stages the greatest measure of support. If the right bon. Gentlemen who act with me think that the method by which the measure may be extended by an Order which requires to be laid 30 days on the Table of the House is not a sufficient safeguard or not a sufficiently elaborate process (I do 386 not prejudge the issue), I say that representations in Committee ought to be considered by the Government in a very favourable frame of mind. I think also the right hon. Gentleman may be reassured as to the danger of a lack of coordination between the different branches of trade in this country. It does not follow at all that the same minimum rate would be applicable in different districts. In fact, different conditions prevail in different districts, and it is quite clear—if I may use a paradox—that if you are to get the same minimum rate, that same minimum; rate must be a different minimum rate. When I speak of co-ordination, I do not mean one particular uniform scale, but an attempt, as far as human knowledge and skill can go, to find out what special treatment for each particular district will keep industry on an equality in one part of the country and another, and it will be in that way that the official members—who will, I trust, be persons of experience and interested in this branch of work—will be specially useful, because they will be able to co-ordinate the decisions of the committees with expert knowledge, and at the same time be wholly impartial and disinterested as between one part of the country and another. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the danger of this Bill, meaning discrimination between sweated industries in this and other countries. I will say on that subject that there are reasons on which we on this Side of the House who are Free Traders may rely, and rely with confidence, when we associate ourselves with this class of legislation. First of all we must not imagine that this is the only European country which has taken steps to deal with sweating. My hon. Friend has pointed out in this Debate that the first exhibition of sweated products was held in Berlin, and it was from that exhibition that the idea was obtained of holding that most valuable series of exhibitions throughout the country, and these created the driving power which has very largely rendered this Bill possible. I am advised that German legislation on some of these questions has even anticipated us. In Other countries legislation is pending on principles not dissimilar to those which we advocate. In Bavaria and Baden the latest reports are that the official Government inquiries recommend almost the same thing—in some cases stronger provisions than those to which we now ask the assent of the House of Commons. The same may be said in a different form of Austria.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have not at this moment verified information in regard to that. I thought that when I had cited three or four European countries that might have sufficed. I will endeavour to find out. All this movement which is going on throughout Europe, and which is so pregnant with good, will be powerfully stimulated by our action in this country, and that stimulus will not only facilitate our work by removing the argument which causes hon. Gentlemen opposite anxiety, but it will also, I think, redound to the credit of this country that it took a leading and prominent position in what is a noble and benignant work in raising as far as possible the general level of life and wages. I was delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman say in a concise and cogent sentence that he could quite conceive many sweated trades in which the wages of the workers could be substantially raised without any substantial change except in the profits. The wages of a sweated worker bear no accurate relation to the ultimate prices. Sometimes they vary in the same places for the same work done at the same time. And sometimes the worst sweating forms a part of the production of articles of luxury sold at the very highest price. That, I think, has special reference to the argument which has been adduced in regard to some of the high-class products made abroad. A great argument upon which we rely, however, is decent provision for industrial workers. "General low wages," said Mill, "never caused any country to undersell its rivals; nor did general high wages ever hinder it." Employers who now pay the best wages are enabled to maintain themselves not only against the comparatively small body of foreign competition in these trades, but against what is a far more formidable competition for this purpose—the competition of those employés who habitually undercut them by the worst process of sweating. I cannot believe that the process of raising the degenerate and parasitical portion of these trades up to the level of the most efficient forms of trade, if it is conducted by those conversant with the conditions of the trade and those dependent, will necessarily result in an increase of the price of the home product. As the hon. Gentleman has indicated, it may sensibly diminish the ultimate price.
This is unquestionably a Debate which has shown a great measure of agreement and I almost said unanimity. [An HON. 388 MEMBER: "No, no."] I made that exception, because I have had my eye on the hon. Member sitting there the whole afternoon. He expressed a very respectable and substantial view upon this subject, but it is a view which finds practically no support in the House of Commons at the present time. It is a serious national evil that any class of His Majesty's subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions. It was formerly supposed that the working of the laws of supply and demand would naturally regulate or eliminate that evil. The first clear division which we make on the question to-day is between healthy and unhealthy conditions of bargaining. That is the first broad division which we make in the general statement that the laws of supply and demand will ultimately produce a fair price. Where in the great staple trades in the country you have a powerful organisation on both sides, where you have responsible leaders able to bind their constituents to their decision, where that organisation is conjoint with an automatic scale of wages or arrangements for avoiding a deadlock by means of arbitration, there you have a healthy bargaining which increases the competitive power of the industry, enforces a progressive standard of life and the productive scale, and continually weaves capital and labour more closely together. But where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad, and the bad employer is undercut by the worst; the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes the trade up as a second string, his feebleness and ignorance generally renders the worker an easy prey to the tyranny; of the masters and middle-men, only a step higher up the ladder than the worker, and held in the same relentless grip of forces—where those conditions prevail you have not a condition of progress, but a condition of progressive degeneration. Just as in the former the upward progress will be constant if nobody or no law gives a downward tendency, so it is that the degeneration will continue, and there is no reason why it should not continue in a. sort of squalid welter for a period which compared with our brief lives is indefinite.
We have seen for the 20 years during which close scrutiny has been applied to these trades, that there is no power of self-cure within the trade—within the area of evil itself. While the general advance 389 of industrial life has been constant these morbid patches have remained depressed, and even in some cases have deteriorated. The same shocking facts were brought to the notice of the Select Committee last year as were recited before Lord Dun-raven's Committee nearly 20 years ago, and in some cases, I am told, the same witnesses presented themselves. These melancholy facts are not confined to one country; they certainly are not peculiar to this country. Practically the same trades experience the same evil. In France, Germany, Austria, and in the United States, you see the same kind of trade, the same class of trade reproduce and reproduce with curious exactness under similar economic conditions, the same social evil, against which this Bill is directed. In the case of any great staple trade in this country, if the rate of wages became unnaturally low and the workers could not raise it by any pressure on their part, the new generation at any rate would exercise a preference for better pay and more attractive forms of industry. The gradual correction over large periods of time is thus provided for, but in these sweated industries it is not the new generation who came to the fore; it is a particular class which has been constituted of the widow, the women folk of the poorer class labourer, the broken, the weak, the struggling, those are the people who largely depend upon these trades, and they have not the same mobility of choice, exerted, it is true, by the second generation, but which is undoubtedly operative as to the great staple trades of the country. That is an important explanation in my judgment and the judgment of those upon whose advice I rely in this matter, as accounting for the same evils being reproduced under similar conditions in different countries, separated widely from one another, and marked by great differences of conditions. I ask the House to regard these industries as sick and diseased industries—my hon. Friend called them invalid industries, I ask the House to regard these industries as diseased industries and to treat them as if there were disease in them. It would be cruel to prescribe the same treatment for the sick as for the sound. It would be absurd to apply the same restrictions to the healthy as are necessary in the case of the sick. We must not regard these trades as if they were inanimate abstractions. They are living, I had almost said sentient, organisms, and each trade will require to be studied and treated separately. 390 No general rule can be applied. There is no regulation dose with which you can treat the disease. You do not make the cure quicker by making the dose stronger. Different medicines, different diets, different operations, are required in each case, and each case will need personal effort, personal encouragement and devotion from the proper individuals, if you are really to make that effective inroad on the evil which is desired. That is the justification for the great flexibility of procedure and wide discretionary powers for which the Board of Trade are asking in this Bill.
The central principle of the Bill is the establishment of trade boards, who have a statutory duty to fix the minimum rate of wages. I am anxious to give those trade boards the utmost possible recognition and substance. We shall follow in their composition the principle of equal representation of employers and employed, with an element of impartial and enlightened officialism that is so widely seen in the social legislation of Germany. We have adopted that principle in the Arbitration Acts that have lately been set up with satisfactory results. We propose to adopt it in regard to the labour exchanges, on which I may have to address the House later in the Session. It is a very good principle, but I do not think we ought to suppose that at first these boards which we call into existence, even on that sound principle, will be necessarily very strong or representative bodies. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover-square, suggested that the trade boards decision on the subject of the enforcement of the minimum standard of pay should be final. [Mr. LYTTELTON dissented.] I understood he made a complaint on that point. I do not think that the House of Commons or Parliament could possibly be asked to sanction that. These boards will not necessarily be elected; to a large extent they will be nominated—to some extent they will be wholly nominated. They will be set up in trades where at present organisation has not been able to take root, and I cannot conceive that such boards could possibly possess any real elective character or any real representative power judged by any democratic test. To give such boards, responsible to no constituency, to no public department, with no responsibility to either House of Parliament, the power, not merely to determine the minimum rate of wages, which they are well qualified to do, but the power to call upon the State to enforce by penal provisions 391 its decisions, would be to discredit the legislation on which so many hopes have been based. The work which we are putting on these boards is certainly difficult and important. We ask them to determine the minimum rate of wages. That in all conscience is a task of sufficient complexity, and so far as that work is concerned their jurisdiction will be complete. The Board of Trade will not re-try six months later the question of the minimum rate of wages; we think the trade board is much the most competent body to decide that. We shall decide upon quite a different question, whether that minimum rate of wages has got sufficient backing in the trade to render enforcement of it by prosecution a useful and effective process. That is the division between the responsibility which the trade boards will have and the responsibility which we shall reserve to ourselves. I shall be quite ready in Committee to express that intention, which is in the Bill in a simpler and stronger manner, and to make the function of the Board of Trade a positive and not a negative one, so that when the trade board has fixed the minimum rate of wages if shall after an interval of six months acquire the force of law, and shall be enforced by compulsory powers, unless in the meanwhile the Board of Trade decides or rules otherwise. For my part, I gladly give an assurance that it is our intention to put the compulsory provisions of this Bill into full effect upon at least one of the trades in the schedule, at as early a date as possible, in order to bring about the fulfilment of a much-needed and long-overdue experiment.
Now I come to the probationary period, and I know that there are a great many who have stated that it is mere waste of time. On the contrary, I think it is vital to any practical or effective policy against sweating. I think it is no use to attempt, in trades which are as obscure as those we are dealing with, to substitute mere outside authority for trade opinion; you must have the combination of both, and it is by the action and reaction of one upon the other that progress is most likely to be obtained. The mere increase of the penal provisions would be a poor compensation for getting the support of a powerful section within the trade itself. It is upon the probationary period that we rely to rally to the trade board the best employers in the trade. In most instances the best employers in the trade are paying wages 392 equal to the probable minimum which the trade board will establish. The inquiries which I have set on foot in the various trades scheduled have brought to me most satisfactory assurances from nearly all the employers to whom my investigators have addressed themselves. For the enforcement of this Act and for the prevention of evasion and collusion, which are grave dangers, we rely upon the factory inspectors, who will report anything that has come to their notice on their rounds, and who will make themselves the channel for complaints, and we rely still more upon the special peripatetic inspectors who will be appointed under the Act by the Board of Trade, and who will have to conduct prosecutions under the Act, who will devote all their time solely to the purposes of the Act, and will incidentally clothe the trade boards with the real authority, once the rate has been enforced, by being the officers responsible to the trade board, and not responsible to some powerful Department external to the trade board itself or the Government. We rely also upon the support of the members of the trade boards themselves, who will naturally act as watch dogs and propagandists, and upon the driving power of publicity, and of public opinion. But most of all I put my faith in the powerful band of employers, perhaps the majority, who from high motives or self-interest, or from a combination of the two—a not necessarily incompatible idea at all—would form a vigilant and instructive police, knowing every turn and twist of the trade, and who will labour, and must labour, to protect themselves from being undercut by the illegal competition of unscrupulous rivals.
An investigator in the East End of London writes:—A most important factor is that the people who can check evasion are the large firms. Their travellers form a magnificent body of inspectors, who ought to see that the Act is enforced. The checking of evasion will have to be carried out, not so much by visiting workshops and home workers as by hearing where cheap low-class goods are coming into the market, and tracing the goods back to the contractors who made them.I hope the House will not cut itself off from that invaluable element of assistance which we shall certainly get in almost all the trades with which we are dealing, for without that I am convinced that mere external police methods will not achieve in any practical sense the result we have in view. Much depends on the administration of the Act, and for that very reason I welcome especially the speeches which have been made from the Front Bench 393 opposite. I think it quite clear from these speeches that whatever may be the course of politics in this country the principles and the machinery which we are now setting up will claim powerful friends and supporters irrespective of whatever political party may be called upon to administer it. I think all who have studied the question will feel that its administration under the labour, the statistical, and the commercial department of the Board of Trade will have the best chance from the personal point of view which it can possibly have, because the man most closely and honourably identified with all this class of work, who has unequalled experience in fixing piece rates of the most complex character, has been placed at the head of the Department. On these grounds, then, I ask the House to assent to the second reading of the Bill. The principle and the objects are scarcely disputed. Let us go into Committee actuated by a single-minded desire to arrive at the best practical result. I do not at all attempt to prejudge any discussion we may have on any special points which have been raised this afternoon in the Committee beyond saying that it is our earnest desire throughout to preserve a general measure of agreement for a Bill which is much more a House of Commons Bill than a Bill of the Government or of any particular Department. The best way in which we can forward this cause is by evidence of successful experiment. That is the best argument which can ever be put forward for extending its area and in passing this Bill the House will not only be dealing manfully with a grave social evil, but will also take another step upon that path of social organisation on which we have boldly entered, and along which the Parliaments of this generation of whatever complexion, willingly or unwillingly, will have to march.
§ Mr. H. H. MARKS
Acting upon the suggestion which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. T. F. RICHARDS
I regret exceedingly that someone who has had some practical experience of the sweating industry has not had an opportunity to present his view to the House. With the exception of myself, who belong to the boot and shoe industry, and the hon. Member for East Leeds, who belongs to the furnishing trade, I am not aware that any other hen. Member has any direct associa- 394 tion with this particular industry. So far as we are concerned we regret exceedingly that we are not in the schedules. I certainly should have liked to see the boot and shoe industry in the schedule for more reasons than one. So far as the East-End of London is concerned, there are 24,000 operatives employed in this industry. Whilst we in the trade unions can protect ourselves, the Hebrew workers of our industry cannot protect themselves. They have no association, simply and solely because their wages are so small that they have not sufficient means to contribute to an association, and I want, if I possibly can, to take this sweating question away from the manufacturers for the time being. We do not complain in our particular trade of sweated wages paid by manufacturers. What we complain of is the sweater, the middleman, the ex-operative, who goes to the employer and takes out work and pays just what wages he thinks fit, and by that means cases the direct manufacturer of playing the part which he ought to do in manufacturing his own goods direct. In my own industry 15 or 20 years ago in Leicester we were so disgusted at the sweating that was in operation, where one man often took work out and employed five, six, seven, eight, or nine boys or youths whom he sweated, that we asked the manufacturers to make structural alterations to their premises, and allow us to go inside, because we were home workers at the time. They demurred for a time, but we threatened to strike simply and solely because we were strong enough to strike. But I am pleased to say that the employers allowed us to go indoors.
Some Members have said that this Bill will kill home work altogether. I think it is going to check home work, and I should like to see home work checked if we operatives cannot get a living wage. In respect of the statement of one of my friends from Ireland, who made the suggestion that the Irish Members do not want this Bill to apply to Ireland, we have to-day received a letter with a request from the Irish Trade Union Congress, that we will do everything we possibly can to oppose the idea that this should be excluded from Ireland. The Irish trade unionists know full well that there is sweating in Ireland the same as in every other part of the country, and it is this middle sweater that I am concerned about. For the last 15 years my work has been to do nothing else than to settle disputes between our members and employers, and I challenge contradiction when I say that our manufacturers are 395 desirous of paying good wages, but they do want us to do our utmost to bring everyone up to the same standard. That is their trouble. So far as the men are concerned, in my own industry we have little to complain of where the men are organised. In the East End of London it was my duty only two months ago to go down and find a poor Hebrew, an alien I admit. He was not naturalised. He was working there. He showed me his book, and in a month he had not earned £2 5s., and that very day he received a 3d. reduction. I said: "Why do you stand to it?" He said: "What shall I do. I have a wife and four children. What am I to do?" His wages were insufficient to subscribe to an organisation which would defend him, and this Wages Board Bill I hope will be utilised to assist cases of that kind. This has not always been the case. There are other parts of the United Kingdom where this idea prevails, and so far as our factories are concerned now it applies very largely to females. Unfortunately the females in our industry when they get married leave the factory and work at home, and as a consequence they accept 2s. 6d., 5s., or 7s. 6d. Generally speaking, 10s. is about as high a wage as they get. Under the circumstances we might do something to improve the wages in this particular. Our boards of arbitration in London and in Leicester grant permits so that the operative shall not be persecuted. In case of illness or of general weakness the board of arbitration, which is composed of employers and employed, grant a permit for the persons who work outdoors, but at the same time they take into consideration that that person has an adequate wage for the work that he or she performs, and this is the point that we are considering. We want these people to have something upon which they can adequately and comfortably exist.
I was astounded yesterday to see that case with reference to the Territorial Army clothing. I have some facts and information in my possession that the Government might render assistance in that particular and not encourage work of this kind to be given out without enforcing the Trade Union Rates of Wages Resolution of this House. I think the Government would do well to strengthen it in that particular. So far as we as trade unions are concerned we are endeavouring to the best of our ability to bring other countries up to our own standard because we have intercommunication and 396 international trade union conferences, and I hope by that means we shall make the improvement that we think is necessary in this way. I do not think for a moment that anyone will be persecuted if only we adopt the policy which these boards of arbitration do, namely, that if a person happens to be aged or infirm or feeble and cannot work inside a factory he ought to have an opportunity of working outdoors. We have been told by the representative from Birmingham that we might kill this trade. We ought to kill a trade which will not give an adult man or woman after working 60 hours a week more than 5s. or 6s. I have no love or regard for trades of that description; they ought to come under the general purview of this nation as a whole. I know full well that so far as my own trade is concerned there is not a single manufacturer with whom I have come in contact who complains that because we have got men working indoors, because we have raised wages in many cases, it has checked their methods of manufacture, and I refuse to believe that it is likely to check the method of manufacture in these industries. I am satisfied in my own mind that if the Bill is given an opportunity, and boards are set up with an equal number of representatives of workmen and of manufacturers there will be no injustice perpetrated or perpetuated on the trade or on the operatives.
§ Mr. NANNETTI
I regret exceedingly that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has not thought fit to reply to the statement of the hon. Member for Roscommon, because I should have liked to hear from him what is to be the action of the Government with reference to the suggested exclusion of Ireland from the purview of the Bill. I had not the pleasure of hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon stating the objection which has been raised with reference to the inclusion of Ireland in the provisions of the Bill. Speaking as a representative of the working men of Ireland, or, at all events, of the working men of Dublin, I say that we shall be distinctly disappointed if Ireland is excluded from the operation of the Bill. I have during practically nearly the whole of my life been trying as a representative of the workers to see some provision of this kind enacted for the purpose of protecting our people from what is carried on in Ireland, namely, sweating of the most accursed kind. As a boy I know that relatives of my own in the City of Dublin had terrible experiences 397 in trying to eke out a miserable existence and to bring me up and help me into a position to earn my living. We in Ireland would be desperately surprised and annoyed if anything should be done by the Government in the way of excluding Ireland from the Bill. It is all very well for Members to stand up and say that by the passing of this Bill you will be killing Irish industries. I am as anxious as any man to see the resuscitation of Irish industries, but if they are to be resuscitated at the expense of the flesh and blood of the people of the country, then I say, with all the responsibility of my position, that I would be prepared to see Irish industries languish rather than that the people engaged in them should be exploited, as I understand they are at present in certain trades. I know that in the city I represent we are labouring under conditions in many industries which would not be tolerated in any other city in the world. These are conditions which should not be perpetuated, and I say that the sooner the scandal is put a stop to the better. No one will support me more than the workers in Ireland when I say that we hail with satisfaction a Bill which will put an end to many of the grievances they are suffering from in that country. I speak not only for Dublin, but for Cork, Belfast, Limerick, and other parts of the country. I may not have the right to speak for them in the sense of being their representative, but I know from conversations which I have had with the tradesmen of the country that, while they are anxious to protect and to do everything they can to safeguard and encourage our industries, they are not inclined to do so at the expense of the flesh and blood of the people.
It must not be taken that the Irish party are opposed to the endeavour to deal with sweating. I am sure I express their sentiments when I say that everyone is as anxious as I am to put a stop to this scandal of sweating which exists in connection with various trades in Ireland. I do realise, and I am sure the Government will realise, that exceptional provisions may be necessary m regard to Ireland, so that, while dealing with the evil of sweating, there will be no such thing as putting on excessive rates of wages which would interfere with the cottage industries of the country, and which might have the effect of killing industries which are being successfully carried on. I have sufficient confidence in the trades boards to believe 398 that they will be able to regulate these matters in such a way that no hardship could be done. Of course, it would be out of place for me to go into the methods by which that can be carried out. These will be Committee points. My great point at present is to give this Bill support. In Committee the representatives of Ireland will be able to deal with the various points which have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon, but in the name of God do not let it be said that Irish Members alone endeavoured to kill the Bill which is intended to alleviate the conditions of the very poorest of our people, and of those who are least able to defend and protect themselves. The mandate from every Trades Congress held in Ireland for years is that something should be done to protect the workers of Ireland from the sweating conditions under which they are working at the present time. I give my colleagues every credit for endeavouring to protect the cottage industries. I am dealing with trades which I know myself, such as the tailoring trade, the furnishing trade, and various others, which are quite distinct from those cottage industries which my friends are so anxious to safeguard. We will safeguard these cottage industries, but at the same time we want to get at the people who are exploiting poor and unorganised workers by giving them wages which are not sufficient to keep body and soul together. As a Member of the Corporation of Dublin, I know that many of our contracts are going to houses where, notwithstanding the provisions of the Fair Wages Resolution, girls are employed in making the articles which are worn by the servants of the Corporation at wages which are quite insufficient to keep them. I will not say what in Ireland are the results. The results must be patent to many not only in Ireland, but in England. In connection with many of these industries where unfortunate girls are not getting that which is sufficient to keep them the workers fall into evil ways. That is true not only of England but all over the world. I think it is the duty of every man who has a spark of manhood to try to elevate and protect these girls. The House of Commons should come to their assistance, and say once for all: "We will kill the system under which inadequate wages are paid to these unfortunate people." Speaking in the name of the Trade Unionists of Ireland I welcome this Bill, and I heartily congratulate the Government on introducing it.
§ Mr. HAROLD COX
I do not propose to detain the House more than a few minutes, but I want to deal briefly with one argument used on the other side, and especially by the leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman argued in effect that whenever we accept the principle of the minimum wage we should be bound to go on and exclude foreign goods from coming into the country, if we had the suspicion that they were produced by workers who were receiving less than the minimum wage. I can speak quite impartially of this subject, because I am opposed to the establishment of a minimum wage. I am opposed to that which is the central point in the argument for this Bill. But that is not my point now. My point is that if you accept the principle of a minimum wage, there is no reason why you should take the further step which the right hon. Gentleman indicated, and which was further indicated in the Amendment that has been withdrawn. I think that point is made most clear if we assume that the State is a kind of family. In the ordinary family it is the commonest thing in the world for all the members to say: "We will not do such and such work, we think it beneath us. We prefer to remain idle rather than do that work." But when they say so they do not cease on that account to use the goods if they want them. Exactly the same principle applies to international exchange. We do already say, without any Act of Parliament, that there are certain goods which we think we will not undertake to manufacture at all. We do not thereby deprive ourselves of the right of importing the goods we want because they are produced by people who are working at lower rates of wages than we ourselves would work for. If we did so, the result would be that there would be no trade at all, for the world's trade is conducted as between peoples who are working at different trades and at different rates of wages. To say that certain industries shall not be carried on unless they are carried on under certain conditions, we are condemning certain people to remain idle. That I regard as an evil, but we need not add to that evil by saying that we will prevent people from obtaining these goods if other countries are willing to supply them. It does not follow that there is a national loss. On the contrary, there is a national gain. The foreigner may be working at a low rate of wages. That is one result of protection, or it may be the result of a different social standard. For example, Japanese or Indians can live 400 at smaller cost than the people of this country, but we do not on that account refuse to accept the goods sent to us by them. We welcome them. If it were not so, we should not have them at all. No one buys a thing if he can produce it more cheaply. The whole purpose of trade is to get things more cheaply than we can produce them at ourselves. That also applies internationally. When people in this country live on a higher scale than the people of India, Japan or Germany, that is a condition laid down by social prejudice, and it makes no difference if you lay it down by Act of Parliament. I hope I have made that point clear. It seems to me that there is no necessary connection between the establishment of a minimum wage and the exclusion of foreign goods. Hon. Members opposite I think would see that more clearly themselves if they could only more frequently realise the fundamental fact that in all international exchange goods pay for goods, and that we cannot get those cheap foreign goods except by exporting goods of our own. We decide we will produce the thing in which we have the most facility, which consequently enables us to sell at a profit while obtaining high wages for our own people. By doing that we are able to command the goods which other people produce at a lower rate. We profit internationally. There is no loss to the producers or consumers in this country. That is the point I wish to make now. With regard to the other points in the Bill, no doubt there will be an opportunity for dealing with them in Committee.
§ Mr. G. P. GOOCH
During the last three years the growth of opinion in support of the principle of this Bill has been astonishing, and I think there is no social project and no social reform now before the country which has commanded such unanimous support. The only really formidable critic and opponent of the Government Bill is the hon. Member for Leicester, who fights it very warmly and ably outside the House, but takes care not to bring his opposition before the House. We all must feel, especially after hearing the all-round testimony this afternoon, that this Bill or something like it is equally necessary from the point of view of the sweated worker, the point of view of the good employer, and from the point of view of the physique of the country. I may refer for one moment to one or two of the main arguments that have been brought against the Bill here and elsewhere. The question of foreign competition has been discussed at 401 very great length this afternoon, and I am very glad to see that there is a distinct collapse in reference to that on the part of the Opposition. When the Bill of the hon. Member for Durham was before the House a week or two ago, some Members of the Opposition took up the view as a matter of course that any increase in the remuneration of the home worker would inevitably involve an increase in the price of the article. I think that the Board of Trade took up rather too absolute a position this afternoon in saying that in practically no case would the price of the article be raised. I think that the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition on that point was more in accord with what would take place—namely, that in many trades there would be no increase, and that in certain other trades there may be an increase.
Another objection which is very often heard outside the House, which, strangely enough, has not been referred to this afternoon, is the fear that by setting up wages boards and raising, however slightly, the remuneration of the worker, there is a danger of driving the trade into the factory. We heard evidence of it on the Select Committee, but I do not think myself that that is a very formidable argument. There are very important reasons which compel, and I think will continue to compel, employers of labour to give certain parts and certain processes out, and I think the more burden that we by legislation place on factories and workers in factories the more does that tend to make employers give out work to be done at home under conditions which involve less expense to themselves. Then there are certain sweated industries, such as the covering of racket balls, which cannot be done by machinery, and I cannot see any reason, therefore, that the home work in such trades would be taken away or reduced. A point that figures very prominently in the statements, for instance, of the hon. Member for Leicester in his speeches and articles, and which has been referred to once or twice this afternoon, is that in connection with evasion. I was glad to hear the President of the Board of Trade make an appeal to the public and to the good employers to use their eyes and to come to the aid of the official inspector. The hon. Member for Leicester appears to me to think that the only people who are really being employed or employ themselves in trying to prevent evasion are the official inspectors. If that were so I entirely agree with him that evasion would become very prevalent, but I believe, especially if we get the good 402 employers on our side—and we have every reason to think that we shall do so—we shall have good employers and philanthropic and other people who are interested in the success of the scheme, and I think we shall have a splendid growing: and developing corporate feeling among the workers themselves. These will all be-forces working for at any rate the diminution of the possibility of evasion.
It is a very interesting point that out of 40 trades which have wages boards in Victoria the only one case in which evasion has been general is the furniture trade, and that is the case of a trade in which the Chinaman plays a very important work. It has been said that the poorest and slowest workers will be driven to the wall. I have very little fear of that. If you take piecework, say the making of paper bags, which is one of the most ill-paid, although a very common form of home work, it stands to reason that if you work fast you will earn more, and if you work slowly you will earn less. But there is not the slightest fear whatever that because you work less you will lose your work. The only other argument for the rejection of the Bill which I now propose to glance at is the objection made by one of the Members for Birmingham that the wages boards could not keep up with the incessant changes and variations, which are always going on in certain complex methods of manufactures. He cannot have read the Government Bill very carefully, because if he had he would have seen that the Government Bill takes account of the method put forward by the Labour party for the last three years, and put forward in the Bill by the Hon. Member for Durham. That method is to introduce a method of remuneration on the basis of time-work. We discussed it in the Committee, and I am glad to say that it is incorporated in the Government Bill. It has been incorporated precisely for the purpose of meeting the cases which the hon. Member for Birmingham referred to, the case of industries where processes are changing not only from month to month, but from week to week. The hon. Member said a little while ago how could the wages board keep up with these constant and incessant changes? The answer is there will be no need. In cases where the work is of a standardised character them will be no difficulty in laying down these rates. In cases where processes are variable under the Government Bill they will be dealt with by finding out, as far as possible, what the average worker working 403 with average skill during the week would earn in connection with the processes under discussion, and then deducing from that an amount that would be paid per hour per working standard day. Therefore, I think that that argument, which did constitute a very great difficulty unless met in some such way, has disappeared. Many of the various points in the Bill which are mentioned this afternoon are clearly Committee points. The schedule contains, I understand, a different list from the schedule to the Bill of the hon. Member for Durham, or the schedule suggested in our Report. There is nothing about some of the most sweated industries with which we have to deal. Those are Committee points, and I believe that before the Bill gets on to the Statute Book we shall have made it one of the most valuable instalments of social reform in our generation.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman in his speech just now did not allude to the Amendment which was introduced, but simply said he thought that this House should take the lead in beneficial measures, and that its action would give a lead to foreign countries. That is the fallacy which has always underlain all free trade arguments. That is the fallacy by which Cobden was deceived. Cobden thought when this country took the lead in Free Trade that all the other countries would follow. The right hon. Gentleman, when he takes the lead in this Bill, thinks that all other countries will follow. I do not think they will. I think that all other countries will take advantage of the fact of the Bill passing, and will use that opportunity of increasing the sale of goods produced under sweated conditions in those countries. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the case of Ireland. I do not know whether he has yet made up his mind whether Ireland should be included or excluded. I do not know whether any Irish Members are here, but if there are I shall have much pleasure in supporting them for the exclusion of Ireland, though I admit that the exclusion of Ireland will, of course, make the Bill absurd. But as I am opposed to the Bill in the strongest possible manner, that argument will not prevent me from supporting them in that direction. My right hon. Friend this afternoon made a very eloquent appeal on behalf of the Bill, and made a very few observations about my humble self. He said he thought I was the most sentimental man in the House.
404 I maintain that these people can help themselves, and that therefore the illustration which my right hon. Friend used is not a very apt one. My right hon. Friend said he was very glad to support this Bill. In reference to the power which the President of the Board of Trade had under this Bill he thought that, as to the trades to be scheduled, the House of Commons should know what industries were to be included. Within a half-hour of my right hon. Friend making that speech, the hon. Member for Durham made a long speech, in which he did not deal once with either the merits or demerits of the Bill, but in which he unfolded to us the evil results of the industry with which he is, apparently, connected, or with which he is interested—chain making at Cradley. He told us there was a trade union at Cradley. The Trade Union, I think, he said, contains something like 1,200 men, but there were other masters who employed men who were not trade unionists, and who number something like 800. The whole speech of the hon. Gentleman had for its object the inclusion of this particular trade in the schedule, and the conclusion I wish to draw from his argument is that before this Bill becomes law, and even before the second reading has been passed, the hon. Member gets up in this House and asks to include trades which are protected by trade unions. I say without hesitation that within two or three years, if this Bill is passed—despite all the statements of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway about the trade unions being able to look after themselves—we shall be asked to extend the schedule of the Bill to all industries, whether they have trade unions or whether they have not. It is what trade unions have been contending for during many years, that the State should intervene and fix a minimum wage. I am sorry to see that my right hon. Friend is so innocent as to be misled by the clever tactics of people who appeal to the humane sentiments which we all have. [An HON. MEMBER: "All."] Yes, all, at any rate above the Gangway—to pass a Bill which is ostensibly only to deal with certain industries in which evils no doubt exist, but who do not even hide from the House that their intention is to proceed further. If that is not so, why give the President of the Board of Trade this power. If it is not the intention to proceed further, why should this power be given? The Under-Secretary of State said he had satisfied Members of the House that this Bill is only intended to apply to a few industries. If that be so, why has 405 he put in this clause which gives power to extend it to every industry? It is quite an unnecessary clause, and it is one which must lead to discussion. It must be evident to the Government, and especially to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, than whom nobody knows better the procedure of the House of Commons, that the inclusion of the clause must encourage debate, and must in Committee cause the proposal of a large number of amendments. I venture to say that so shrewd a person as the right hon. Gentleman would not have put in that clause unless there was some meaning in it. The meaning, of course, is that it is the thin end of the wedge, that they are starting this Bill by appealing to the sympathies of everybody, and then they will advance by degrees.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I may assure the hon. Gentleman that I am strongly opposed to the extension of this Bill to the organised trades of the country.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Then I really do not quite understand why this clause is put in the Bill giving power to the President of the Board of Trade to extend its operation. I assume that if an Amendment is put down to omit the clause the right hon. Gentleman will support it.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No. There is a considerable number of other trades. There are at least 30 other trades, and it is only to those trades in which sweating can be traced that the Bill can possibly be extended, and in each case the extension an only take place with the sanction of both Houses of Parliament.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Sweating is very difficult to define. A great number of people say that the agricultural labourer who receives only 12s. or 15s. a week is sweated. The case of the agricultural labourer has been cited over and over again by hon. Members below the Gangway. ["Hear, hear."] They cheer that now. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to include agricultural labourers, because there is a large number of people who have come forward and say that the wages of the agricultural labourers are sweated. So far as I know the only standard fixed by hon. Members below the Gangway is the wage standard—a wage on which the person who receives it can live comfortably. ["Hear, hear."] Again that is cheered; but that opens the door practically to all trades. The Under-Secretary alluded to the case of a girl who was 406 sweated, and he said that sooner than a girl should be sweated in that way he would a hundred times prefer that she should starve. How about the girl? What is her opinion? What would the girl say? Has the hon. Gentleman fully analysed this Bill as a whole?
There is a large number of people who, for one reason or another, are obliged to avail themselves of those industries which only pay low wages, and the only result of this measure will be to dispossess them altogether of these wages. The right hon. Gentleman talked about large profits and the low wages paid for different articles. I have not got the report of the Committee here, but my recollection is that the Report in no part of it says that the profits of the employer are in any case excessive. I believe I am correct in saying there are very few cases in which the profits of the employer are excessive. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley told us, in an interesting speech in regard to the making of trousers, that he had himself investigated many cases, and I think he gave us three or four instances where lower prices were given in each case for a pair of trousers, but he also told us that in one case, where the wages were lower, the girls employed earned more, and on investigation he discovered that this was due to the fact of their putting in coarser and fewer stitches, which enabled them to earn more wages. I would like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, presuming that there is no excessive profit made, what will result? Either the public must pay more for their articles, in which case no doubt this Bill may have some effect, or else the public will refuse to pay more for their articles, and the manufacturers and employers will import articles from abroad. That is as certain as we are standing here. In many cases if the public does pay a higher price, the employers will get larger profits by importing goods from abroad instead of conforming with the provisions of this Bill. The Amendment of my hon. Friend behind me is not accepted, and the only result of this measure will be the opening of fresh markets for foreign countries. The Under-Secretary talked about the county council having agreed to pay certain wages, and the Government have also done so in regard to contractors, but that is entirely optional with the people with whom they contract. There is no compulsion. The Government say we want to do a certain thing, and we want a wages clause inserted in the contract. There is no compulsion upon the 407 contractor to accept that. If he does not like to accept it be need not. And I may point out to the hon. Gentleman that they do not always do that. We know that in the case of granite they go abroad. The very illustration which is brought forward causes the case for the Bill to fall to the ground, because the Government themselves do not avail themselves of it—they go to the cheapest market abroad. The right hon. Gentleman talked of the 30-days' safeguard on the Table. It is no safeguard at all. Nobody knows that it is there, and even if they do, it cannot be discussed until after 11 o'clock, when the supporters of the Government are nearly all asleep, when they do not listen to the arguments, and when probably the Government may move the closure, and the whole thing is finished without anybody knowing anything of it. I believe this is the first time—and I am very sorry to say it—that in any civilised country any statesman has accepted the view that exchange is injustice and robbery, and that the highest prices are determined by other than what we may call market considerations. The argument as to a forced sale has been used. What is a forced sale? It is when the House compels a person to part with property he does not want to sell. A forced sale is not when a man, having lost his money, sells his property in the open market, and is compelled to accept what the market gives, and I have not heard any hon. Member come forward and say that the House of Commons should intervene and fix a minimum price. The fact is: all bargains in the open market are more or less forced. In the business in which I was engaged, I was often forced to take a lower commission than I wanted to take, because I knew if I did not, other people would. Bargaining all depends on the law of supply and demand. If there are fewer employers than workmen, then the workmen will be able to dictate their terms; if there are more employers than workmen, then the employers will be able to dictate their terms. I venture to say that the argument of my right hon. Friend is a very bad and disastrous one to advance from this side of the House. I would like to quote two or three words from Mr. Sydney Webb, who says that the employer has to sell his product in competition with all other employers, and must keep his expenses of production to the lowest limit.
408 Reference has been made to Australia, and I have an illustration here as to the effect of legislation of that kind there. It appears that in Australia the result of this has not been to increase wages in Victoria. A certain class of workers had 15s. 5d. in 1896, which rose to 15s. 8d. in 1897. In 1897 a board was established, and the wages jumped up to 18s. 3d., and in 1898 to 18s. 6d. From that time they have been gradually coming down, and in 1905–6 they were 16s. 9d. In the shirt trade the wages were 14s. 5d. in 1896 and 14s. 7d. in 1897. That was before the board was established. They raised them to 15s. 3d. in 1898 and 15s. 4d. in 1899, and in 1902 they had fallen to 14s. 4d., which was lower than they had been before the board was established. This report goes on to give other figures tending to show that the same result accrued. So that in places where this experiment has been tried, the result has not been what hon. Members opposite desire to bring about.
I rose to say I am extremely sorry we are not going to a Division on this particular question. I believe that this is one of the most dangerous Bills that have ever been introduced into the House of Commons. I should be very sorry if I had not had an opportunity of saying that as my well-considered opinion. I regret very much the attitude which my party has taken up upon it. I believe it is merely the thin end of the wedge. I believe the same results will accrue as did in 1870, when Mr. Gladstone brought in his first Irish land legislation. Anybody who would look back to the history of those years will see that the whole of the liberal party said that the last thing legislation would do would be to bring about anything like fair rents or free sale. How many years elapsed before all those protestations were cast to the wind, all owing to the fatal error which was made in the first instance in 1872. I believe that the same thing is going to occur now. We cannot begin to draw distinction between one industry and another. We cannot say a person who is receiving 15s. is in a depressed state, and that another person who is receiving 18s. is not in a depressed state. People like that will say: "We consider we are in a depressed state." You have got this Bill here, and at every election a demand will be made to every candidate to get this extended, and the result will be, what with old age pensions on the one hand and sweated industry on the other, the person who will be returned to Parliament will be the man who will give 409 the bigger bribe to the elector. That will be a sorry condition of things and will not tend to the prosperity of this country.
§ Mr. J. R. CLYNES
The Parliamentary Members of the Labour party cannot, I think, complain of the speeches which have been made in connection with this Debate, with the exception of the one to which the House has just listened. I think we may fairly say that the Debate and the introduction of this Bill is a proof of the increasing sanity of this House of Commons. We must lament the necessity for having to introduce this Bill in view of the lengthened time for which the facts of the case have been before not only this House, but before the country. A demand for the Bill has long rested upon the Reports of Commissions, and upon the general knowledge supplied through reliable sources as to the extent of the sweating which prevails. The House of Commons has frequently legislated for the strong. There is no reason, indeed there is every reason, why the House of Commons should begin to legislate for the weak. All other steps which have been taken to prevent sweating have positively failed. Private effort, the assistance of the charitably disposed, the labelling of products—in fact, whatever course has been taken has so far failed to meet the necessities of the situation, and sweating still exists to an enormous extent.
The principle embodied in this Bill has long been applied and recognised by hundreds of public bodies in this country. Indeed, the Postmaster-General has himself, without consulting this House, in so far as he could, taken measures which have affected the work and the wages of lowly-paid persons. He has already, by a stroke of the pen, done what this Bill proposes to do by the boards that would be created. He has established in connection with clothing contracts and definitely stipulated for the payment of a minimum rate to the lowly-paid workers, an act which on his part, he told us, would have the effect in some instances of at least doubling the wages of lowly-paid workers. What the Postmaster-General can do by administrative act with the cheerful approval of the House, and without a single dissentient, so far as I know, the House should not shrink from attempting to do on a larger scale in the sweated trades of our country. It was said in connection with the Amendment which has been withdrawn that we had sweating in this country because there was sweating abroad. I think the fallacy 410 of that conclusion is proven in the fact that there are thousands and thousands of very lowly-paid workers employed under all the conditions of sweating in connection with trades in this country which are in no way affected by foreign competition.
I think one of the hon. Members in the course of the Debate said it was difficult to define sweating. I think it is easy. We must all understand a condition of sweating to be a condition where the worker has to work long hours under bad conditions with poor pay. All those conditions exist in connection with, say, thousands of the workers of our railway systems. They are not affected by the foreign competition, nor is the work affected in the slightest degree by exports. The arguments adduced in support of the Amendment mean either one of two things. Either that we should legislate for foreign countries, which is an impossibility, or that we should impose some kind of duties upon foreign manufactured goods, with the object of keeping them out of the country altogether. The words of the Amendment were in favour of legislation to prevent foreigners from sending product of their cheap labour into our home markets. Those words are in the Amendment, but no attempt was made to show how it was possible for us to legislate for foreign countries. We simply cannot do it. The Member for the Island of Thanet in introducing the Amendment stated a number of facts which showed how sweating prevailed in France and other countries on the Continent. Now what I want to point out to the House is this: If it be true that the practice of Protection upon our part would prevent sweating in this country, how is it that the practice of Protection on the part of France and other countries has produced sweating to such a degree as mentioned by the Member for the Isle of Thanet?
The last speaker who addressed the House turned to she trade union for an argument in support of his views, and he extended his pity to the late Colonial Secretary for having supported this Bill. If I may say so, I think the speech made this afternoon by the Member for Hanoversquare will do something to wipe out some of the unpleasant memories which trades unionists still entertain in regard to certain Acts of the right hon. Gentleman in the office which he formerly held. What is the fact in regard to trade union or in regard to legislative regulations? The fact is that all the trades have been the most regulated, that have been the most 411 restricted either by Trade Union Act or by other means are the trades that have most prospered in this country. Those are the trades that have extended the most, that give the best return for capital, that give the best wages, and the best conditions for the workers. On the other hand, the sweated trades are the unregulated trades, the trades that have been unhampered either by trade union intervention, or by any act of this House. In conclusion, let me say that this House should not regard human life as a commodity in the labour market such as stone, timber, or iron. Human beings ought surely to have some claim on this House. We cannot afford even to leave sentiment out of the question. I marvel sometimes at the manner in which men can look after animal life, such as the protection of dogs, and at the same time pay no attention to the human side of the question. I hope the Bill before the House will receive the unanimous support of the House.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.