HC Deb 16 July 1909 vol 7 cc2478-81

Trades to which the Act Applies without Special Order.

1. Ready-made and wholesale bespoke tailoring and any other branch of tailoring in which the Board of Trade consider that the system of manufacture is generally similar to that prevailing in the wholesale trade.

2. Paper box making.

3. Machine-made lace and net finishing and mending or darning operations of lace curtain finishing.

4. Hammered and dollied or tommied chain-making.


moved to add to the end of the schedule "5. Shirt-making." I wish to ask the President of the Board of Trade why shirt-making has not been included in the schedule. It was included in the schedule of all previous Bills on the subject which have been brought before the House, and was recormmended by the Select Committee. I would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman why it has not been included; and, in the second place, whether he can hold out any hope of its early inclusion?


seconded the Amendment.


The general principle on which we have proceeded in the Bill is to select certain trades which we thought were really the best subjects for the experiment that is to be made. We think if the experiment which the House has supported, and which Parliament will be asked to approve of, is successful in the trades we have selected, that then possibly the principle of the measure will, with the full control of Parliament, be extended to other trades. I do not think, according to the information we have been able to collect from many sources, that shirt-making would be one of the best of the trades to begin upon. That is the reason for leaving it out. It is not because there is no great sweating about the shirt-making industry, but because to serve the cause of anti-sweating legislation we had better choose ground on which we can rely to meet with the fairest possible prospects of success.


I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his view on this matter. There are the strongest reasons for adding this particular class of work to the work treated under the operations of this Bill. I submit to him that the sweating exhibition and the general mass of information collected upon this subject of sweating show that there is in the work of shirt-making as bad conditions, both in regard to the rates and conditions of labour in this work, as can be found in any other occupation. It is in those particular trades where the rates of pay and the conditions of labour are the worst that we should begin experimenting. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that this is essentially a trade upon which this Bill ought to experiment.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I object to the third reading, as I have objected to the Bill all through, because I do not believe that it will do that which it is intended to do, and because it introduces the bad principle of the interference of the State with the hours of adult labour. Employers desirous of evading the conditions of the Bill will send their goods abroad to be made up, and the only result will be that a large number of poor people, especially poor women, who at the present time are able to eke out an unsatisfactory living, but still a living, will be unable to earn even the small amount they now do, and will be thrown upon the resources of the Poor Law. My hon. Friend below me (Mr. Bonar Law) this afternoon made a strong speech, which was really in favour of my contention that this Bill ought not to be read the third time.


Unintentionally, then.


It is true he desired to introduce an Amendment which, if it had been carried, might have done something to mitigate the evils of the Bill; but as that Amendment was not carried, I contend that my hon. Friend ought to vote with me in the Lobby. With regard to the introduction of the principle of State interference with adult labour, hon. Members below the Gangway are wise in their generation. They desire that all wages should be fixed by the State, and this is the beginning. We are so sympathetic that we are apt to allow our sympathy to run away with our judgment, and we are prepared to vote for this Bill out of sympathy with the hard lot of many of our people. But, as certain as I am standing here to-day, in 10 or 12 years' time we shall have a Bill extending the principle to all labour. ["Hear, hear."] That cheer from the Ministerial side of the House shows the way hon. Members opposite are going. We shall then be told, as we have frequently been told in regard to other matters, that the principle has already been adopted, and that we cannot go back. For these reasons I oppose the third reading.


It is because we are bound to protest against the principle involved in this Bill that I rise to support my hon. Friend. We all sympathise with the people whose lot the Bill is intended to alleviate, and desire to stop the evils against which the Bill is directed. We, however, would deal with those evils by a stronger and more drastic method than mere regulation by Wages Boards. A minimum wage will drive out of the labour market many of our poorer brethren and sisters who are struggling under adverse circumstances. This is not the thin end but the blunt end of the wedge. It introduces a new principle which has never before been assented to by Parliament. It will be far-reaching in its consequences; and I am bound in conscience to state that I profoundly dissent from the principles herein involved.