§ Mr. NEWMAN
I wish to deal with the dissatisfaction and unrest which at the present moment prevail in the Government factories at Waltham Abbey and Enfield, in my Division; but before I come to my general remarks I should like to say one word by way of personal explanation. A short while ago an hon. Member for Devonport was asking some question relevant to the dockyard there, and he was met by hon. Members opposite with the cry of "log rolling." In other words, it was said that hon. Members like that hon. Member and myself who represent constituencies in which there are dockyards and Government factories are taking up these questions with a view of saving our own skins or our seats. I do not think that is a very fair remark to make. Take my own case. I have the good or evil fortune to represent 30,000 electors of all sorts, and of these 715 there are not a thousand of them who belong to the Small Arms Factory, and therefore it is impossible for that establishment to exercise such a determining power in the division as to make me bow and scrape to them all day long. As far as the Enfield Division is concerned, we have managed to raise this question above party politics. Two Saturdays back we had a demonstration, according to the inspector of police, of something like 5,000 individuals, and there were half a dozen of us who addressed that gathering. We had three of the leading Labour leaders in the factory, myself, and a member of the Middlesex County Council, who was also the secretary of the Primrose League in my Division, and we had the gentleman who at present is leading the Liberal party. If that was log-rolling, we were all of us on the log-roll in the Enfield Division. I think we are log-rolling for the good of the Division. At that meeting we discussed three of the main grievances. The first was the question of the dismissal of lads. Youths take service in the factory at from fourteen to sixteen, and work on until they are twenty-one, when, having acquired a good deal of skill, too often they are dismissed because they cannot be taken on as men to earn men's wages. We have heard a good deal of a great trade boom in England. Certainly that boom has not reached Enfield yet, and if these young men are dismissed they are compelled to try and earn their living, and very difficult they find it to do. To make things worse, there is uncertainty whether the dismissals are going to take place or not at the age of twenty-one. Curiously enough during last winter and autumn there were no dismissals, and the young men were taken on, but at least half a dozen have been dismissed in the last few days, and I understand a good few more are under notice. Their fathers come to me and ask what I can do 'or them, and I put in a plea on their behalf. You are throwing away good material. It is not the case of boys minding machinery. They can do a certain amount of good work, and it is a pity to lose them if it can be avoided. If they are retained they have to look forward to a minimum wage of 23s. We do not ask for a minimum of 30s., we only want to get on an equality with what is bemg paid for the same class of work outside, and we have evidence that the average minimum wage outside is somewhere about 26s.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. C. E. Mallet)
What class of work?
§ Mr. NEWMAN
Work on the market gardens and in the district council. There has been practically no rise of the minimum rate of wage in Enfield for about ten years, or, rather, the rise has only been equal to 6d. It was a minimum wage of 22s. 6d, and when Woolwich got a rise to 23s. Enfield had the same rise. Though wages have not advanced the cost of living has advanced. I will give an extract from a list furnished to me by the leading Free Trader in the division. It is the price of provisions ruling on 21st March, 1910, with the comparative prices of the previous nine years. Taking the year 1906, when the Secretary of War came into office, the price of bacon was 70s, now it is 84s; butter was 122s, and is now 136s. The only thing that is down a bit is Canadian cheese. That is the preference, I suppose. It was 66s. in 1906 and is now 63s., Sugar was 19s. 1d. and is now 23s., 3d., showing that there has been a very considerable rise in prices and no corresponding rise in wages.
I now come to the third question, and it is perhaps the most burning question among the wage-earners in the small arms factories. It is the question which is called the "time-speeding grievance." The men say that they are forced, under present conditions, to take piece-work at a contract price which practically amounts to sweating. They say that in order to get up their money they are forced to run their machines in a way which is detrimental to the important work they are called upon to perform, namely, the making of rifles, swords, and guns for the British Army. They say that in performing this work their lives are spent under conditions which amount to slavery. They say, further, that Government servants engaged in this delicate and important work ought not to be allowed to work in this way. They complain also of what they call Pinkertonism "—that is, foremen running about to see that each man is keeping his machine running at the proper speed, and reporting him if he is not. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Colonel Lockwood), the hon. Member for East Herts (Sir J. Rolleston), and myself, have endeavoured to approach these questions right through in a reasonable spirit. I maintain that the men also have shown a very reasonable spirit. I am an Irishman, and I know what agitation is, and I 717 say if the great meeting of 5,000 men had been a meeting of my countrymen there would have been a large force of police present to preserve order. As a matter of fact, in this case there was only one policeman on horseback. The men were determined to be orderly and not to break the law. This is not a spurious agitation; it is a genuine agitation. Wages have either been stationary or, in some cases, decreasing. The establishments are also decreasing. I have here the estimates for the ordnance factory for the year 1910–11, and I find that the upkeep charges are being decreased by something like £200,000. Wages themselves have shrunk by £91,000. We ask the Government to approach these questions in the spirit of reasonable men.
§ Sir J. ROLLESTON
I support the representation made by my hon. Friend. I know nothing whatever about what logrolling means in connection with this matter. I know a large number of the workmen employed in the Government factories. Many of them are in my own Constituency, and they have been to me with their complaints. They have pressed them before me as they had a perfect right to do. I have seen and heard them on the spot, and have joined with a deputation of them to this House, and it seemed to me that the demands of the deputation were very reasonable, and should be acceded to by the War Department. My hon. Friend may think it his duty to bring this matter in some other way before the House, but I hope that the Committee or the Department authorised to deal with the matter will accede to what, I believe, is the principal request, that the men who are authorised to speak for their fellow workers may be heard viva voce by those Committees or Departments.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
I do not wish to prolong this discussion, but I would submit to the hon. Member that as the Government accepted the Motion proposed by the Labour party some weeks ago we are not unnaturally looking forward with expectancy to the action of the Government. On this point I would ask the hon. Member to explain the steps that have been taken in the matter and the steps that it is proposed to take; and I would like to reinforce the request of the last speaker that witnesses on behalf of the men may be able to appeal before the Advisory Committee in order to give the views of those for whom they speak.
§ Mr. MALLET
I trust that hon. Members will excuse me for dealing somewhat shortly with the matters that have been referred to, as matters of this sort which involve great detail cannot very conveniently be threshed out on the floor of the House. I should be the last to complain of the hon. Member opposite ever being a dockyard Member in a sense, because I have the good fortune to be a dockyard Member myself. The points he raised are perfectly legitimate ones, and they are all points which are engaging just now very anxiously the attention of the Department. The points he made are three. First there is the case of lads who when they reach the age of twenty-one years have either to get men's work and men's wages or find work elsewhere. It is a matter of great regret to us that we should ever have to part with lads who have been for years with us. We should like to be able to keep them all on after they pass the age of twenty-one years, but we must have regard to our establishment. As hon. Members now know we lay down a minimum establishment at Waltham and Enfield. We cannot discharge more men, although there may not be sufficient work; and we have had under discussion the case of about sixty or seventy men about whom there was some doubt as to whether they should be treated as permanent or temporary hands, and we have been able to decide that they should be regarded as permanent hands. With regard to lads, we are not able to keep on all; there are some 150 lads altogether, and there are about a dozen for whom we may not be able to find work when they reach the age of twenty-one. If there are vacancies among the men we shall give them work. We want to keep them, but if there are no vacancies among the men, if the work is not there to be done, they must go and seek work elsewhere. But we are considering now whether we cannot revise the age limit by making it nineteen instead of twenty-one in the case of boys, so that if we have to part with a lad through not being able to keep him on, he shall have a better chance of finding work elsewhere. The other point raised by the hon. Member is that of a minimum wage. I am not able altogether to accept his view of what the minimum wage is. Our case is this, that we will find out what are the current rates among good employers in any particular district, and we shall have that as our guide in fixing the minimum rate.
Our position with regard to Enfield is that our minimum rate there is certainly 719 not lower than, and I think is generally higher than the current local rates for work in Enfield. I know that there are unskilled men in the neighbourhood who get 18s. a week, and we pay 23s. a week, with privileges, equal to 24s. a week. I think that is arguable and even provable. The minimum wage is not low, having regard to the rates of the district. We have promised Parliament to consult the Advisory Committee on all these points. If any rate is challenged, as is the case at Enfield and at Woolwich, we promise to go to the Advisory Committee and ask them as to the latest evidence on the condition of living in the district affected, and by their report we shall be guided. The position is this: We have to get the reference fixed because several Departments have to be consulted, and the Advisory Committee have to meet to settle their procedure. We do not want to pronounce on such matters until we know what the procedure will be, and until there has been a meeting. We are getting forward with our case, ready to be submitted as soon as the meeting has been held and the procedure settled, and we shall begin our inquiry into any point on which our action has been challenged in the House. Then there is the speed and piece question, as it is sometimes called; that is the process by which a manager or superintendent endeavours to fix a rate at which the piece worker should do his work. He endeavours to see that the piece worker in a certain length of time does a certain amount of work. Some men work hard and with zest, others are a little slow—human nature varies, and some do a great deai while others do less. There must be some check upon them, and there must be some system. In certain cases a man may be found to be slack, and not doing what he should do. It is right, therefore, that there should be some check upon him. I have gone into this point a good deal, and I know there is a little dissatisfaction at Enfield about it, though I fear the dissatisfaction is exaggerated. I do not wish to discuss the question in detail here, because it is a point which ought to be settled by the men or their representatives with the superintendents. As a matter of fact, I saw the Secretary to the Union on the point, and his wish was that the question should be settled by the men being introduced to the superintendent, so that they may go over the whole subject and have a good talk about it without difficulty. 720 It is obvious that this should be done privately in conferences between the men and their employers, rather than that it should be considered in detail on the floor of the House. I think I may assure, hon. Gentlemen that we are not forgetful of any undertaking we have given with regard to consulting the Advisory Committee in regard to treatment of the men and the wages paid. Our full intention is that if there be any real grievances to put an end to them at once, and if any alleged grievance should be introduced to our notice we will go into it fully and do our best to ascertain whether it is well founded. With regard to wages, it is our wish and intention to be good employers in the fullest sense of the term, and in that we hope to have the support of all parties in the House.
§ Sir J. ROLLESTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Committee will hear viva voce those authorised to speak for the men?
§ Mr. MALLET
I cannot pronounce definitely with regard to the procedure before the Committee until there has been a meeting to settle it themselves, but my impression is that they will endeavour to give as full satisfaction on all points as possible.