HC Deb 07 March 1910 vol 14 cc1240-71

9.0 P.M.


moved, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "in the opinion of this House, the conditions of service of Government employés should be in every respect at least equal to those observed by the best private employers or by local public authorities doing similar work, and that, in interpreting the fair-wage clause in assigning contracts, responsible officers should be instructed to see that the spirit of the clause is properly carried out when the actual wording gives room for some doubt."

In moving the Resolution on the Paper in my name I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that it is drafted for the purpose of making it perfectly clear that we want no special privileges for Government workers. I believe for the first time that is made absolutely clear in the Resolution moved on this occasion. Up to now there has been a sort of idea that Government service was a special service. We have had special trade unions started for the purpose of dealing with these services and these services only. Demands have been made from time to time by those unions that were not quite consistent with the demands made by similar unions outside. A few years ago, on the initiative of the Trade Union Congress, a Resolution was passed laying down this as a general principle: that in future the organised workers of the country would refuse to recognise special privileges claimed by Government workers, and would insist upon Government workers putting themselves in line with similar workers engaged by private employers upon similar work. This Resolution is drafted in that spirit. We have felt that for far too long Ministers getting up in this House were able to say, "We give special holidays, or we give special privileges of this kind or that kind," and then to defy us to compute that in terms of pounds, shillings, and pence, so that we could see clearly and accurately and in a satisfactory way what was the relative position of the Government and the outside worker. We want all that done away with.

We think the Government ought now to begin from the beginning again. It should not assume that it is a paternal employer; it should not assume that when a man or a woman takes service under it that he or she thereby have entered a special privileged class; it should not assume, as a matter of fact, that Government service differs in character from outside service. All that we want it to assume is that the Government hope to be a model employer. It should adopt no treatment of its workpeople and no relation to its workpeople except what a good outside employer has done or could do, considering his own economic advantage. For instance, if we ask for high wages in Government service, we ask for them because every private employer has proved by experience that high wages are economical. If we ask for short hours, an eight hours day, it is again because that has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt to be an economical method of working labour. We ask for equitable consideration all round. It is because it has been proved that the employer who enters into human relationship with his workpeople, who treats them fairly, humanely, and justly, is an employer whose business is on a sound and proper economic footing, that that is the general principle we lay down: "A model employer outside and a model public authority other than the Government."

I am bound to say that the Government, in spite of certain very satisfactory changes it has made, is still very far short of an ideal standard. The material at one's disposal is so ample and so rich that it is really quite impossible for me at this hour of the night, or indeed at any hour of the day, to bring forward the case in the fulness of its working. All I can hope to do, and all I intend to do is to give one or two examples, which I think will convince the House that the Government is still very far off being a model employer. I will take first the clothing factory at Pimlico. Just take these figures. There are 480 storehouse men and porters employed there; 440 out of 480 are actually working for a wage of 23s. per week, and the other forty are working for a wage of 25s. per week. The 440 have got absolutely no chance of increasing their wages, unless one or other of the forty above them should happen to die. Twenty-three shillings per week is the maximum for 440 of those men, and 25s. per week is the maximum for forty of them. There the line is drawn absolutely rigidly, and I venture to say none of my hon. Friends will get up in this House and defend that as a London wage. Let me take next the case of women working in the same factory at Pimlico. According to official publications there are 1,200 skilled tailoresses employed in that factory, and they work upon piece work. If they were working for outside employers, according to my information—and I have taken some care to get it verified—they would be earning from 30s. to 35s. per week, but the average—and this average takes in some very highly-paid workmen at Pimlico—works out at only 17s. 5½d. That statement has been published and circulated, and I have never seen any refutation of it. Nominally these women are piece workers. Those of us who take an interest in wages, and the standard by which they ought to be computed, have always asserted that if you are going to take an advantage and to give an advantage to the piece workers—and there is a good deal of advantage to the employer in piece-work —and if you are going to take advantage of that system, you should not base piece work wages on time wages only—you should pay a certain percentage more to workpeople working piece work than to people working on ordinary time wages. At Pimlico the piece-work rates are computed on time rates, and there have been actual cases of especially competent women who have at the end of the week been getting more than the average of the piece wage whose piece wages have been reduced because they amounted to a sum higher than the time wage allowed. Piece work is indeed the worst form of payment with which every trades union secretary is acquainted. These poor women are not well organised; they cannot be well organised. Though nominally piece workers they are really time" workers, and they suffer all the drawbacks of being piece workers without having any remuneration adequate for it. Let me take another case. This is one showing how the process of reduction is going on. It used to be that buttonholes were paid for in the making per jacket. Under the new system they are paid for at the rate of 100 or 1,000. Taking an ordinary jacket—taking say 100 ordinary serge jackets with 1,100 buttonholes, the making-up of these holes used to paid for at the rate of 10s. 5d. Now the rate has been reduced to 8s. 6d. In another case the rate has fallen from 8s. 4d. to 6s. 11½d. This was the statement made by an official of the tailors' organisation at the Trades' Union Congress in 1908, and the seconder of the motion declared that the Government had attempted a crime on British Labour by accepting a contract for 1s. 4½. for work which could not be done in their own factories at less than 3s. 4½ d. It is these contract prices which are constantly used to cut down the rate of the wages of employes in factories.

Take the case of Woolwich. I am not proposing to raise the conditions of labour there. But there is a very disputatious point as to the Government policy in taking on boys and discharging them at the age of twenty-one. During the last two or three years I have been an active member of a committee for guarding young persons in that respect, and it has been proved right up to the hilt—it occupies a very considerable place of the Poor Law Commission Report—that there has been no more pernicious influence in our industrial life than the practice of employers taking on boys and girls immediately they leave school, giving them fairly large wages for a year or two, giving them no training and no discipline, and none of that moral or mental capacity to enable them to become independent wage earners, and then, when they have reached the age of eighteen or nineteen or twenty, turning then out into the streets and accepting no further responsibility for them. I am prepared to base my charge against the Government in connection with Woolwich on that fact alone. I am perfectly convinced, although I do not quite know the inside of Woolwich in this respect, but knowing the necessity of similar undertakings—I am perfectly convinced that if the Government liked that wrong could be righted quite easily. All that the Government need to do is to make up their minds to do the right thing, and in this respect it would be a perfectly simple matter. They supplement that by liberal discharges of men when they get to the age of sixty or sixty-five. I cannot help remembering an interesting letter which Sir John Brunner wrote to one of the newspapers, in which he showed that in an ordinary fair day's work, at the age of sixty or sixty-five, a man is really at his prime, subject to accidents, mistakes, and so on. I cannot believe for a single moment that the Government could overlook this matter when once its attention has been called to it, and they must see it is not necessary to make these discharges. Piece work in dangerous undertakings ought undoubtedly to be abolished. It should be done solely on time wage, without any temptation to rush, because it is under such temptations that awful catastrophes may occur. It is surely the duty of the Government to encourage men to do this work quietly and leisurely. It is not wise to ask them to work under conditions of rush; it is absurd, not to say criminal.

May I then go from Woolwich to another place, just taking samples showing how much the Government could do if they only desired to do it. Take the case of the Weedon Ordnance Department. I would beg the especial attention of the hon. Gentleman to this case. There they have actually labourers working at 19s. a week, which is equal to 4¾d. an hour, while in the neighbouring districts the rate is 5½d. per hour. That is not fair play, those are not fair wages, and that is not living up to the reputation which the Government told us they hoped to achieve. The labourers, moreover, are not labourers in the proper sense of the word, but do a great deal of responsible work. They check stores, they are responsible for checking stores, and are discharged if there is any discrepancy in those stores, and yet their wages are labourers' wages except, perhaps, in a few instances an odd 2d. up to 6d. a day is given to compensate them for the extra responsibility placed upon them. Moreover, if the hon. Member would only ask the Board of Trade to assist him, he would discover that Weedon is an extremely expensive place to live in, and if he were to refer to the Post Office rules, founded upon the Hobhouse Report, and compare the wages with those of the ordinary labourers at Weedon, then I think he would discover that even bad and low as those wages are, those at Weedon are still worse and lower than those which are measured out for the treatment of the Post Office officials.

These three departments—Pimlico, Woolwich, and Weedon—are only examples of many that could be quoted if we could have an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that the Government will do a little more to clear out the remnants of sweating which still remain in the arrangements between the Government and their workpeople. The second part of the Resolution deals with the Fair Wages Clause, and the great mistake about the administration of that Clause is that the permanent official is under the impression that it is a sort of legal document, and when we go and present a case which has not exactly been provided for by the actual letter of the Clause the permanent official, in a superior way, says, "I have nothing whatever to do with anything except the wording of the Clause, and as you did not foresee that the Clause could be got round in about a dozen different ways, then it is not my business to prevent it being got round, it is my business simply to administer the letter." That is not the case, and that was not the intention of this House—I do not believe that it was the intention of either side in this House.

The intention of this House when it passed the Fair Wages Clause was to pass something which should be administered in a spirit of equity. The Clause is not an Act of Parliament, but an indication that the will of this House is that certain methods should be applied to the giving out of contracts—methods which would make the Government a responsible and moral employer. That was the intention of the House, and I think it is the duty of Ministers at the head of Departments to pass that on to their permanent officials and to see that the permanent official concerned carries out the spirit of the Clause and not merely attaches himself to the letter. Let me take an example from my own Constituency. There used to be certain contracts that went to Leicester. They still go as a matter of fact, but in this particular case there was a temporary leakage. What happened? The Fair Wages Clause was applied rigidly to Leicester, and the conditions of Leicester employment were such that even the permanent official could not see any way out of the difficulty. He had to apply the Clause whether he liked it or not. But a certain firm left Leicester and went to Derby, and there was no other industry of the same kind in the town or district of Derby. As a matter of fact, when certain machines were constructed and placed in the factory in Derby, that town became a district by itself.

The employer told his workpeople that if a single one of them joined the union he would be discharged. As a matter of fact a union was attempted to be formed, and everyone of the workpeople who-joined and became members were turned out. The rates paid were arbitrarily fixed by the employer a very substantial distance below the rates agreed to by the workpeople and employers in Leicester and Derby became, in the opinion of the official administering the Fair Wages clause, a district, and he threw up his arms in holy horror, and said, "I have nothing to do with anything except the district rates. If you can show me that it is not the district rate in other factories in Derby then I will see that something is said to the employer." As, however, there was only one factory of this kind in Derby, that factory created its own rate, and we were told that the Fair Wages Clause did not apply. That is really an absurd situation. This House never meant anything of the kind, neither party in this House ever meant anything of the kind. I have a case from the West Riding of Yorkshire which arrived to-day where practically the same situation has been created. I am going to give the hon. Member that case, and ask him if he will go into it. As I said, it has only come into my possession to-day, but it is on all fours with the Leicester case.

Take another case which is more complicated. You find nowadays that, owing to the high local rates, high rents, and high dead charges upon manufactures in certain towns, manufacturers find it a very convenient thing to move out one mile or five miles from the town. The workpeople enjoy all the facilities of the big town, and the employers themselves enjoy all those facilities. The cost of carriage is not appreciably increased, and, as a matter of fact, it is just as cheap and easy for them to manufacture a mile beyond as a mile inside the municipal boundary. How do they act? They begin by reducing wages to fair village rates instead of town rates, and I do not complain of that; I think there is good reason for not paying so large wages in villages as in towns. I do not dispute that at all, but what I do dispute is this—the right of the War Office to simply come and say that any village rate which happens to be imposed upon the workpeople is to be recognised by them as the standard district rate. That, again, is not carrying out the Resolution of this House. We know perfectly well that years and years elapse before we can eliminate the feature of sweating from the newly established factories in new district. They get men and women not accustomed to industrial and factory life; they get a population ready to their hands, which has not been disciplined by industrial experience, and it takes half a generation to get those men and women so disciplined that they fit themselves into the industrial system, and meanwhile they are being exploited by the employer. Whilst that process is going on the officials of the War Office stand by and declare that the district rate is so and so, and that they have no power under the Fair Wages Clause to go beyond it. There has been a slight change within recent years, but I want that change to be systematised, I want it to be so regular and its operations so constant that we can turn to our people and say the War Office in particular is going to administer the spirit of the Fair Wages Clause, and is going to take means to compel employers working in what I may call non-district districts, to pay, not the rate they can force on their people, but some sort of equitable rate in relation to other towns in their neighbourhood.

Then there is another common way of evading the Clause, and that is by mixing up private work with Government work. I have a case that has just been sent to me. A firm refuses to employ anyone who is a member of a trade union, and dismisses a man who has joined the union. That I should say is against the spirit of the Fair Wages Clause. It is a specific attempt to force down wages below the recognised standard. That is particularly the case where we have employers' federations and trade unions having agreed upon a price list, and that is the case in the district to which I refer. I do not want to push my case one inch further than it is required. I admit that in districts where no such agreement exists this is not such a grievous fault. I think still it is a fault, but surely—and I believe I am carrying both sides of the House with me—where organised labour on the one hand and organised capital on the other meet over a table and agree together mutually that a certain statement of prices shall be the official statement, then the firm that makes it an industrial crime to belong to a union that has helped in the settlement of the statement ought to be regarded as having broken the Fair Wages Clause. Then this goes on:— This particular firm, whilst affecting to pay the trade union price, distributes the work with the ordinary work which they do not pay the Government wages upon, so that they get Government work done, taken all round, for 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. less than other firms. I only refer to these two ways of evading the Clause because they are familiar to the War Office already, and I hope we can get more definite assurance that steps are being taken to make them impossible than we have had hitherto. The principle that ought to be observed in giving out contricts is that wherever the Government can seize upon the machinery of arbitration and conciliation it ought to do it, and I should lay down this proposition—I should like to know how far I carry the Government with me—that where employers and employed have come together and agreed upon a price list, that of itself ought to ensure preferential treatment, and that where circumstances point to unregulated and arbitrary conditions and wages, that ought to create suspicion in the minds of the War Office. I think if the Government, banishing from its mind once and for all this idea that it is a special employer of labour, would put itself in the position of the ordinary outside employer of labour, recognise its moral and its civic responsibility, and go upon the most economical lines, not nosing as anything except that, and if it would place itself behind all the efforts which are now being made to make arbitration and conciliation the basis of wages and conditions of employment, I do not think we should have very much to say against it. The purpose of my Resolution tonight is to try and get a definite state ment from the Government, first of all regarding its own employés; and, secondly, regarding the administration in future of the Fair Wages Clause.


The point that seems to me to strike one, in making investigations into the rate of wages paid in various Government Departments in different parts of the country, is how intensely low the wages really are. To begin with, we find that the wages of the labourers at Weedon goes as low as 19s. a week, and in that district we are told that the cost of foodstuffs is practically the same as in all large industrial towns, and that the house rent for a four-roomed house, usual for these people to reside in, amounts to no less than 6s. 6d. per week. The rate averages out at something like 4¾d. per hour, while the rate in a town only eight miles away averages at 5½d. per hour. Does the Government think it reasonable to suggest that it is possible for men to continue to work in these different employment and maintain a wife and family and pay their way honestly, living in anything like decency and comfort, on 19s. a week? If some of the men who sit and have sat on the Treasury Bench would only endeavour to make a trial, it would not last more than two or three days. I made a trial in London on very much more than the ordinary rate paid by the Government Departments. I started in London at 40s. a week as an engineer. Never had I a more difficult problem, though I am a life abstainer, and a member of a trade union, and have done the best I can with the money I got, than to live in London on 40s. a week, and I have no family. This brings me to the Royal Army Clothing Department at Pimlico, and here we have no fewer than 440 men, storehouse men and porters, working for the magnificent rate of 23s. a week. I suppose it will be paid in gold. I suppose a very large proportion of these men will be married. It is only natural and human to expect that they will dare to get married, and we are expecting that these men will be able to maintain themselves and their wives and families in London on 23s. a week. Not only is it impossible, but it seems to me that it is preposterous, for any Government to expect that these men can exist as they ought to do in a country like this.

It is true, of course, that these men are given certain advantages, for instance, sick pay, which is. I supposed, valued at 6d. per week. We have it on record that a Royal Commission sat in 1889 and declared that 24s. was the lowest wage on which a man could live in London. In my judgment he would have a thundering bad time at that, even if he got the whole of the 24s. Here we have no fewer than 440 men, not unskilled workers, but men performing operations demanding a certain amount of ability and skill, and yet they are only paid 23s. a week. We have in the same factory thirty-nine men who, I suppose, will be a kind of superior official, and they receive 25s. a week. What is the prospect of the 440 men? If they are good boys they have an 11 to 1 chance of some day rising from 23s. to 25s. I ask, Is not that a magnificent prospect, when you invite men to do the right thing, to live sober, upright, and God-fearing lives? You give him a magnificent sum like that. If he goes on long enough he might be a millionaire, but it will not be in the Pimlico Clothing Factory. In regard to the tailoresses in the Pimlico factory, we have been told of the change in the rate of payment of these women. The rate for 1,000 buttonholes used to be 10s. 5d., and it was reduced to 8s. 6d. For another kind of jacket the payment for 1,000 buttonholes used to be 8s. 4d., and it was reduced to 6s. 11½d. Here is a reduction of between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent forced upon these people. The prevailing rate of wages there for skilled tailoresses is 17s. 5½d. per week, while we are told upon pretty good authority that these women are paid by outside employers 25s. to 35s. per week.

As regards the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, we have the same complaint that the rate of wages is 23s. per week. Another complaint is that men are discharged at sixty years of age. They are discharged, I suppose, because they are considered to be too old. They have served the Government so well that they are left to do anything at sixty years of age that they can turn their hand to. It seems to me rather hard that this treatment should be shown to these people, who. I suppose, have endeavoured in their humble sphere to do their duty. They are cast adrift, and if they live until they are seventy years of age, I suppose they will draw the 5s. per week pension. I am told that they have had an advance of wages once in twelve years. I venture to say that there is no other body of skilled men in or around London who have not succeeded in obtaining more than one advance in twelve years. The advance amounted to 6d. per week. I believe that the men in the skilled unions have in the same time received advances amounting to 1s. or 2s. In the Enfield district, where the 23s. rate of wages exists, the district council pays unskilled labourers 25s. per week, so that the local public authority does, at any rate, set an example to the Government. That seems to me to be rather a strong point in the case, for, after all, the men who sit on the public authority have to face the electors every three years, I suppose. If they can do this and justify their attitude to the people who send them there, surely that should be the strongest argument why the Government should follow suit. I wish to call attention to another point, namely, that after a certain term of service these men are entitled to a small gratuity. Yet, if anyone should die while in the Government service, the gratuity is not paid to the nearest surviving relatives. This seems to me to be like a method invented by the Government to rob the widow and orphan when a man dies in the service of the Government. I think it would be exceedingly difficult for the Secretary of State for War to justify a condition like that, and the sooner it is altered the better for them. In regard to the rates of wages prevailing among unskilled workers in Government employment, it seems to me that the matter should receive a reasonable amount of consideration. I quite understand that there are difficulties in connection with questions of this description. These are difficulties which present themselves to men who are not conversant with the ordinary work of the trade unions of this country. They probably think that those who raise these questions are trying to "get at" the Minister who for the time being is on the Treasury Bench. That is not so at all. In connection with all industries in all parts of the country there are negotiations taking place every week, and it is wrong to assume that those who raise these questions wish to find fault with the particular Minister in charge of a particular Department. It seems to me that there should be some basis as to a rate of wages for unskilled labour in Government Departments which might be regarded as reasonable. As one having some experience, I would suggest that there should be a rate fixed per hour for these men. The rate differs in different parts of the country, I admit, but I contend that if the dockers of London could fight their battle and win on the question that they are entitled to at least 6d. per hour, it seems to me that 6d. per hour should be the least amount paid in Government Departments for unskilled labour. I know that some of the men employed in these factories say that 30s. a week is a low enough minimum to fix. There is a great deal to be said for that, but I am not suggesting that that minimum could be brought into existence in a moment. They say that it is an ideal ultimately to attain. I do not care which party is in office, but I say that the Government from whatever party it is drawn ought to entertain the view that these men should be enabled to realise some better and higher ideal, and that they should not be obliged to grind out a miserable existence on 23s. or 24s. per week. There are a considerable number of public authorities in the London area which pay 30s. per week to their unskilled labourers, even to the men who are sweeping the streets. According to "Punch" there are degrees of skill in that class of labour. The public authorities of Battersea, Bermondsey, Camberwell, East Ham, Edmonton, Hackney, Southwark, Tottenham and Woolwich pay 30s. per week minimum to their unskilled workers. The men sitting upon these public authorities have to face the electors, and if they can do so and justify the payment of 30s. per week minimum, it appears to me that that justifies my contention that 30s. is a fair, reasonable, and proper standard rate of wages for unskilled workers. But that does not cover the whole of the story. Besides paying the 30s. minimum these different public bodies give to their employés twelve days holiday each year with pay, and also half-pay when sick.

In dealing with this question we all desire that the Government should be a model employer and should set a good example to the other employers of the country. What is the use of passing a Fair Wages Resolution if we find that the wages paid are exceedingly low? It seems to me that we should first place the conditions of the people in our own Government employment on a proper standard, and then we should go with clean hands to other employers of labour and insist on them paying at least equal to what the Government itself sees fit to pay. I would like to learn from the War Office whether they make any inquiries at all with regard to the rates of wages, conditions of overtime, and the hours of labour observed by any of the firms whose names stand on their list who are invited to tender for the work before tenders are given out? I know it is not a very difficult matter for the War Office if they desire to get a statement of the wages, the rates of overtime, and all the conditions existing among practically the whole of the skilled workers in this country before ever the tender is considered. If this were done the War Office would be able to know, when considering the tenders, whether the firms who sent them in were entitled to be on the list of those considered fit to have their tenders accepted. I would very much like to know whether it is the business of anybody at the War Department to ascertain what are the wages, hours of labour and rates of overtime paid by the various firms before ever the tender is considered, because, if not, it does seem to me that it is unwise altogether to wait until the tender is given out and until a complaint is made. It would be very much better to prevent the disease by forestalling the possibilities of its arising, by giving tenders only to firms who are recognised by the various organised bodies of workmen to be fair and proper employers in this country. In the discussion on the Fair Wages Clause in this House in 1908 the then Postmaster-General (Mr. Buxton) said, "In order to obtain uniformity of administration and co-operation between the contracting Departments on matters affecting inspection, the investigation of complaints, and generally the interpretation of the Fair Wages Clause, we shall set up a interdepartmental advisory committee, which will include a representative of the Board of Trade." I see that the right hon. Gentleman is in his place now, and I would like to know if this was done? I would also like to ask the hon. Member in charge of the War Office, Is the War Office now represented on that particular committee?




I think we have shown that there is a great deal to be done by the War Department among those it employs. I would like to know, Is there any officer employed by the War Office to see that the spirit of the clause is effectively carried out during the period of the contract? And I trust that we may have an answer which will be satisfactory to those who are concerned in the matter.


In trying to deal with some of the points raised by my hon. Friends below the Gangway in the interesting speeches which they have made, I have to ask in a rather special measure the indulgence of the House, because, as hon. Members will know, it is only two or three days since I took over the work of a Minister whose intimate knowledge of War Office business has won the admiration of us all, and whose temporary absence from among us is a matter of regret to all parties in this House. This Motion is not, of course, altogether a new one. It is one which is perfectly fair to us, and one which it is for the public advantage that we should to-night discuss. It falls into two parts. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald) lays down two main propositions. First of all that Government wages and the conditions of Government labour ought to be equal to those of the best employers, and, secondly, that the Fair Wages Clause in Government contracts ought to be perfectly understood and loyally carried out. I want to take, if I may, each of those two points, and to endeavour to answer, so far as my imperfect official knowledge enables me, some of the difficult questions which they raise. Take the first point: how the Government treats its own workers; how far the Government Departments, how far the War Office in its own workshops at Woolwich, Enfield, Waltham and elsewhere, keeps up the standard of wages. At the start we have to face this initial difficulty, that we at the War Office are a great spending Department. Some of our Friends state, as the Amendments on the Paper will show, that we often spend a great deal more than we ought. We have at the same time to maintain a great expensive instrument of war, and if we did not do so we would fail in our duty. We have also, those of us who care for public economy, to try to keep expenses down. We have concurrently to act a part of a great employer, and to treat our workpeople as well and liberally as a model employer should, and, of course, we are bound to remember that Government contracts are sometimes looked upon as an occasion when the private citizen may secure some legitimate advantage and set his services at a fairly high price.

As one of the trades union officials said in a recent inquiry, "Everyone does the best he can to mulct the Government, and always will do so while human nature lasts." Take the point raised by the hon. Member for Barrow with regard to public authorities. I am bound to admit that our wages in Government workshops do not compete with the wages paid by some public authorities. I do not say we can compete altogether with them, for there are some public authorities—I mention no names—which do pay very liberal wages—more, I think, than the ordinary current rate, owing perhaps to the liberalising effect of popular election. Still, even among those public authorities there are great differences, and I find from the Return published from year to year that of the public authorities in England and Wales only forty-eight paid trade union rates, while 138 paid the current rate of the district—that is what we are trying to do—and fifty-seven paid the rates agreed on by their employes and employers. In the same way what the War Office, while not affecting to pay the trade union rate as such, aim at and, I think, generally achieve, is to pay the current rate which obtains among employers of the district. Let me say on general grounds that we have some claims to be regarded as good employers. For instance, our sanitary conditions are good; there is no complaint against them, or, if there are any complaints, no one will be so ready to put them right as the permanent officials at the War Office. Then, again, our hours of labour are low; we reduced them a few years ago from 54 hours to 48 hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow was wrong on one point, for I think there are many men in London who carry on a fairly happy existence on loss than 40s. a week. We are now maintaining permanently a minimum establishment in our factories in order to avoid the necessity for discharges. With reference to the discharges at Woolwich, of course I entirely agree with the principles which the hon. Member has laid down. Nothing is more unfortunate in our social life, nothing is harder, than to set young boys to work for a few years and then turn them upon the world without a permanent appointment. But the only mitigation of our action I can put forward is that there have been times at Woolwich when we have been forced to discharge hands on grounds of economy, and we had to choose between the discharge of boys and the discharge of men. We discharged boys rather than men, as the lesser of two evils.

I can assure my hon. Friend that the points he has raised will not escape our attention, and we will do our best to avoid the discharge of any boys. With regard to the wages of skilled labour, that is the main point of the discussion which has been raised. I should like the House to remember what our principle is and what is the basis on which in this matter we try to work. Some six years ago—1904–the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Shackleton), who is one of the best defenders of the legitimate interests of labour and one of the fairest and wisest of them—I am sure Members of the Labour party will be among the first to join in that view of the Member for Clitheroe—carried a Resolution, which the late Government accepted, that the wages of unskilled workers in factories should be no less than the wages paid for similar work by other employers in the respective districts. I want to call attention to the phrasing of that Resolution, because it is a very moderate one and the wording of it is very important. We have really made it the basis of our action up to this time. In the following year, 1905, a Committee wag appointed, over which Mr. Gerald Balfour presided, to consider the working of that Resolution. They examined very carefully into the wages paid at Woolwich, Enfield, Waltham and elsewhere. They examined also, with the help of the Board of Trade—I should like to say that we do not overlook the value of the help received from the Board of Trade—into the conditions of living, the cost of living, and the cost of rent in the places where the Government workers live. They found, I am bound to admit, that the wages paid were often too low. They found that the minimum wage paid was only 21s. per week, and recommended that the wage should be raised to 23s. at Woolwich and Deptford, in London, but they did not go so far as to recommend the raising of the wage at Enfield and Waltham, outside the area, whore the rates were naturally lower. That report the War Office got. We raised the minimum wage a few years ago from 21s. to 23s., and there was this much grace about that action that we raised the minimum not only at Woolwich and at Deptford, but at Enfield and Waltham, and without calculating the privileges accorded to Government workers—I do not wish to set any special store on these privileges—and which bring the wages to something like 24s. a week for the lowest class of unskilled labour. As to that minimum wage, two points arise—one about these privileges to which the hon. Member for Leicester referred, in, if I may say so, very fairly critical terms. Those privileges do not amount, I admit, to a great deal. They consist of a gratuity paid when a man is discharged after a few years' service, of pay for medical attendance, of pay for holidays, and not only Bank Holidays, but beanfeasts and one or two other special cases. I remember that in the Irish establishments the Irish have a special holiday on St. Patrick's Day, for which they get no pay, by some peculiarity. Those privileges we calculated at 1s. per week, though probably they may rot amount to very much more than 9d. or 10d. I do not, as I said, want to set too much store by these privileges. I think we might very fairly reconsider them, and if a pensions scheme—one has been put forward lately, and is under discussion—is put forward before long, I should like to consider—if any spell of official life be granted to me—whether we could not modify these privileges in regard to the payment of such an amount as would be fair for a Government Department to pay to Government workers and which would correspond to the current rate paid in various districts by the rest of the employers. I am sure that the House was impressed by the particular instances quoted by my two hon. Friends.

There is no doubt that when you look at them alone certain rates of wages paid to certain Government workers appear to be and are low wages. For instance, take the Weedon rates, they are very low. They are rates paid to unskilled labour, as I really do not think there is much skill about the men handling stores. Their wages amount now to only 19s. per week, but there is this to be remembered, that it would not be altogether fair to compare the rate of wages at Weedon with those at Northampton. The rate at Northampton is 5½d., and the rate at Weedon is 4¾d. That is one of the difficulties of the whole question, for district rates do and will vary. The local rate at Weedon is decidedly lower than the rate at Northampton. Acting on the principle that we have always laid down it is not unfair that we should be having at Weedon a lower rate than that which we have at Northampton. There is this also to be said—that low as it is at Weedon it has been actually lower, and within the last few years we have raised it twice. We raised it in 1893 from 16s. to 17s., we raised it in 1907 from 17s. to 19s., and I would venture to hope that this rise of recent years may perhaps be an augury of some further rise in the future, because I am sure we shall all admit that 19s. is a low wage for a man to live on. If ever we come to recognise any kind of common rate for the whole country, this is the kind of wage, of course, that would have to be levelled up. The hon. Member for Leicester took the case of Pimlico, and quoted certain figures to us, which, undoubtedly, gave a bad impression. He said that at Pimlico, if I understood him rightly, we had 480 storehouse men, of whom 440 got 23s. per week and the rest got 25s. He said the women also were a good deal underpaid at Pimlico. The facts, as I am informed, are these: The numbers employed in the store, the men who are called storehouse men, or warehousemen, total 390, and not 480; but that is, of course, a detail. Of those 390 men 344 receive 23s. per week, and 41 receive 25s., while 100 of those who receive the 23s. are able to make extra pay varying from 1s. to 5s. 4d. for specified duties, or as pieceworkers or case-packers. That puts a very different complexion on the question.


Is this a recent change or has it been the practice?


That is a point I rather hesitate to answer positively without some further inquiry.


Does the increased pay include overtime?


Yes, I think so. With regard to the women, I do not think it is the fact that the women at Pimlico are underpaid. The figures given as to women are certainly not low figures. The wages of women of a certain class who do a particular class of work amount to 20s. 11d. per week, while the outside wages to women for the same work amount to only 11s. 11d. Women's work at Pimlico is, I am informed, well paid work. The figures for women factory pieceworkers for last year at Pimlico average as follows:—969 sewers, whose wages averaged 17s. 1d.; 111 garment machinists, whose wages averaged 24s. 6d.; and 22 of the highest class machinists, whose wages averaged 26s. 8d. If those figures are not correct I shall be glad to go into the whole subject again with the hon. Member, but if they are correct, and I took some pains to obtain them, I think they do afford the presumption that the wages paid by us to women at Pimlico are surely not illiberal or unfair. I do not say they are ideal, not perhaps what women's wages ought to be, but I do say they are good wages and liberal wages as women's wages go.

There is another point raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, a small point, but still it is rather important, and that is the question of piecework in dangerous trades. The view we take about them is this, we have a system of piecework, sometimes fellowship piecework where the men work together in the lyddite and cordite shops. Some time there was trouble in one of the lyddite shops and the piecework system was abolished. We agreed entirely that where the occupation was really dangerous the piecework system was wrong, because it does lead to hurried work, or it may, and that might produce great danger. Our argument is that in the cordite factory the danger is not real. Cordite is not nearly as dangerous a material as lyddite. I think, if I am rightly informed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had for long a walking stick made of cordite, which was much admired in the House, and which was a familiar object in the City. I am told it lasted admirably until one day he poked a bonfire with it, when it disappeared, with results happily not injurious to himself. I am trying as far as I can to deal with the rather difficult question raised by hon. Members, and in so far as I am not able to deal with them just now I know they will accept our assurance that the War Office will most readily consider any particular case that is brought before them, and the House may rely on the officials of the War Office to find a remedy for anything that is wrong.

I should like to say a word on the other branch of the subject, the Fair Wages Clause in Government contracts. That matter is an important and interesting question, and it has been carried three stages in the last few years. In the year 1891 my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who, if I may say so has been a very consistent helper of the Government worker, carried in this House a Resolution, the first Fair Wages Resolution, and that laid it down as the Government's duty to make every effort to secure the payment of such wages as are current in each trade for competent workmen. It laid down the necessity for current wages and the necessity for competent workmen. The Department set to work to carry out that Resolution, and they drafted a Fair Wages Clause which has ever since been a regular part of Government contracts. Difficulties, however, arose. It is easy enough to draft your Resolution, but it is not so easy to get a real definition of what fair wages are. You want something which is comprehensive, elastic, and difficult or impossible to evade, and that is not so easy to get. Accordingly a Committee was appointed in 1907, under Sir George Murray, of the Treasury, which reconsidered the whole question, with the result that last year there was another discussion in this House, when the Member for Gorton (Mr. J. Hodge) moved a fresh Fair Wages Clause, and when the House accepted unanimously an Amendment proposed by the present President of the Board of Trade they really substituted a new Fair Wages Clause in the contracts of the future. That new Clause dropped the phrase about current wages, and also, curiously enough, the stipulation about competent workmen. The essence of the new Clause is that a contractor shall under penalty pay rates of wages and observe hours of labour not less favourable than those recognised by employers and trade societies, or those which in practice prevail among good employers; and, secondly, that where there are no such wages and hours recognised or prevailing in the district, then those recognised or prevailing in the nearest industrial district in which the general industrial circumstances are similar shall be adopted. The point was to level up wages to what is paid by good employers, or where there is no recognised wage, to take as nearly as you can the wages paid for the same work under the same conditions. On that Resolution the Advisory Committee set to work. That Advisory Committee is a strong Departmental Committee, presided over by Mr. Askwith, of the Board of Trade, and having on it the Director of Army Contracts and representatives of the different Departments. It is a really representative body, able to speak in the name of the different working Departments. That Committee set to work to draft a Fair Wages Clause. They did not find it easy to base a clause on the Resolution passed by the House, so they embodied that Resolution wholesale, with the result that the Resolution passed by the House last March is now the Fair Wages Clause in most Government contracts.

That is not all. Besides that Fair Wages Clause, contractors are now invited on their tenders to sign an undertaking to observe strictly the two Resolutions of the House. They are obliged to give notice of the Clause to all their work people, and to put up a notice in a public place in the shops. In all contracts with unorganised trades there are additional clauses inserted to prevent work being done at home, to compel the payment of wages direct to the workmen themselves, and not through any middleman, and to secure a minimum wage, especially in the case of women. I submit that these requirements carry out very fairly the intentions of the House, and that, so far as regulations go, we have really done all that can be done to carry out what was really the wish of the House of Commons. It is one thing to make regulations; it is another thing to overcome the difficulties which crop up on contracts, and of course we have not got over all the difficulties yet. One of the most common difficulties is the one to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester referred. This is to define a district. In Leicester, of course, it is easy to say what are the recognised wages that have to be paid, but round about Leicester there are a number of country districts to which employers are sometimes moving in order to secure a lower rate. These districts vary enormously, and it is not such an easy thing to say in these cases what the wages ought to be. For instance, my hon. Friend referred to one particular firm, and to action I had taken in respect of this firm, which had a warehouse near Leicester. The firm has its factory at Foldshill, thirty miles away. We made inquiries as to what was going on, because it was suggested that the firm paid wages that were too low, and that this is a Government contract. The answer we got was this: The firm alleged that the circumstances of the industry at Foldshill were not the same as at Leicester. The current wages at Foldshill were much lower, and they alleged that the men at Foldshill were content to take the lower wages, because they knew that if they pressed for the higher wages the work would go to Leicester. There is something in that—


Do the War Office agree that this was not a breach of the Fair Wages Clause?


I will deal with that. The firm also said that the rate at Foldshill was, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the rate actually prevailing there, because they were the only firm that had a factory, and, therefore they made the rate themselves. That obviously is liable to abuse. We looked into these facts, and the weakness in their case, it seemed to us, was that they refused to show us their books. I may say frankly that if we desire it, and firms should refuse to show us their books, that they would, I think, not be allowed to renew their contracts, or run the chance of losing them very promptly.

There is another case, a case also in the Leicester district. This firm makes garments for the Army. At Leicester the price is 1s. 8d. At the other place, eight miles away, a much lower rate is paid, something like 1s. 2½d. There, again, it is all a question of district, and obviously the Leicester rate is high and the district rate is low. You will only settle this difficult question by recognising the need to pay a similar rate over the whole country; and then, and not till then, will you settle the question on satisfactory grounds. There is one other point I shall mention-that is the question of trade union rates. We do not use the phrase, "Trade union rates." The War Office does not insist on trade union wages. It does insist, though, on a standard rate of wages which men and masters recognise and which good employers pay; and it does its best to keep that standard up. With regard to trade unions, the position of the Department, if I am right, is this. We say we cannot compel Government contractors to employ only union men. We cannot compel Government contractors to pay Government rates of wages for their private contracts. We think that is asking too much under the present conditions of industry; but we can take steps to see that union men are not unfairly prejudiced, and if any complaint reaches us to the effect that union men are being turned out of employment simply because they are union men, then we should certainly think it right to reconsider the admission of such firm involved to the Government list. There is one other point with regard to instruction. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester suggested that we should issue instructions to Government officers responsible for contracts to see that the Fair Wages Clauses are properly understood. I admit that the wording is rather difficult and may sometimes be rather obscure, but I do not think that any instructions of that sort are needed, and for this reason: the Director of Contracts at the War Office is as anxious as any Member of this House can be to interpret exactly the Fair Wages Clauses. All large contracts are settled not locally but at headquarters, at the War Office, and only small contracts are settled locally. All complaints arising on contracts settled locally have to be referred to the War Office, and have to be settled there, and therefore there is very little fear of abuse on the part of local contractors, and I do not think that under these conditions instructions to Government officials are very much needed. I should like to say we have no objection to definite instructions being issued to Government officers responsible for contracts that regard should be had to the character of the firm as employers, both when tenders are under consideration and also when employers are being put upon the list. If that will help we will do it. Difficulties, of course, upon all these questions have always arisen. There must be local difficulties, and there must be special difficulties where there is this enormous amount of local variety and practice, but I can assure the House that the spirit behind this Motion is the spirit of the War Office administration of it. We wish, and we have in the Department, so far as is cosistent with the claims of business and economy, to treat Government workpeople as the best employers would treat their employés. We have been careful to prevent evasion and to remedy complaint. If we are ready to make improvements without waiting for them to be forced upon us then I hope we shall continue to deserve some measure of confidence from the House.


I thank the Financial Secretary for bringing his remarks to a close before he otherwise might have, because, although I am not anxious to detain the House at any length myself, I know there are several Members whose constituencies form an important part of the districts affected by this matter, and who are therefore anxious to follow in the Debate. I am, of course, glad to welcome the Financial Secretary to his place on the Treasury Bench and to wish him, as he wished himself, a prolonged span of official life, provided there is a decent interval between his periods of office. The question we are debating is as to whether the Government should be a model employer of labour or not. Fifteen or sixteen years ago I should have hesitated before I could have said I was in agreement with the speeches of the hon. Members for Leicester and Barrow-in-Furness. A good deal of water has flowed under the bridges since then, and now I find myself able to agree with the Resolution brought forward by both hon. Members. I think there are many Members upon this side of the House who are in entire sympathy with the Motion moved by the hon. Members opposite. I confess I could not agree with everything they said, though they were studiously moderate in their utterances. The only fault perhaps I could find with the interesting speech of the Financial Secretary was that he seemed to have prepared a defence of the War Office before he came down to the House. But the Financial Secretary hardly entered into the points put forward by the two hon. Members below the Gangway. We are always being told that any complaints brought to the notice of any Government Department will be speedily removed. I acknowledge that the officials at the War Office and the officials of other Departments always do their best to give reasons for their action. On the other hand, the private employer throughout the country has proved to his own satisfaction that no underpaid labour is really of any use to him. To do good work the workpeople must be well fed, well clothed, and well housed, and within the last twenty years the private employer has made a great advance in this direction, for he discovers every day, as I have discovered, that cheap labour is the worst you can possibly employ. I would like to ask if it is true that the Government has kept pace with the private employer in this matter? I contend they have not. Is the Government the model employer which they profess to be? It is true they have recommended the Territorials to employ only those firms that work under the Fair Wages Clause, but my own belief is that the Government go as near sweating at Pimlico as they possibly can do without infringing the law. The Financial Secretary to the War Office has told us that there is no fault to be found with the sanitary arrangements at Pimlico. All I can say is that only a short time ago those arrangements left a great deal to be desired. I maintain that one of the worst systems is that of piecework in the clanger zone in the factories. A large number of my Constituents are employed in the danger zones. There is a considerable difference between lyddite and cordite. The hon. Member said that cordite could not be dangerous because the Secretary for War used a walking stick made of cordite and it never exploded. I admit that cordite is safer than lyddite, but I do not think anyone who has visited the cordite factory at Waltham Abbey will deny that there is some danger connected with the manufacture of cordite, and the danger in regard to the right hon. Gentleman's stick depended upon the conditions under which it was carried. My own experience is that a cordite factory is an extremely dangerous place. Personally, I do not think the Government have any right to employ a man in the danger zone of factories like those at Waltham Abbey and Woolwich at a less wage than 30s. per week. In the danger zone at Waltham Abbey the wages are 23s. 6d., as against 28s. at Woolwich. Why should there be that lack of uniformity between two factories? The risk is always the same. The risk for the poorly-paid man is just as great as for the highly-paid man; and the labourer in the danger zone at 23s. per week receives infinitely less wage than the policeman employed in the same zone exactly at 28s. As the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. C. Duncan) says, they receive infinitely less wages than the scavenger or road scraper working in safety in Waltham Abbey, Edmonton, or any of those various municipalities quoted by the hon. Member. Many of these men who are now receiving wages of 23s. per week were at one time receiving a far better wage. They have had the opportunity, I confess, of receiving the lower wage or of going. Many who have married on the strength of receiving higher wages are naturally averse to moving with their family. They have grown up with the factory; they know the ways of the factory; they know the country; and they have therefore accepted a lower wage than the one at which they had started, but their expenses remain exactly the same. The contention of the workers at Waltham Abbey is that there should be more uniformity between them and Woolwich. If one receives 28s., the other should receive 28s. for doing precisely the same work. I fail to see why that uniformity which exists in many other Departments should not exist in the Government factories such as at Woolwich and Waltham Abbey.

One of the hon. Members alluded to the widow or nearest of kin of a man who dies in the Government's employment not receiving the gratuity. That is a most extraordinary attitude for the Government to assume. It seems as if they wished to defraud the widow or the nearest relative of the man who dies from disease, very often contracted in their service, of the money justly due to them. The moment you concede the fact that the Government should be a model employer, you will have to set to remodel the various rules that govern the factories at the present time. I listened to the Financial Secretary, and I heard him promise nothing, but say a great deal. How did he receive the remarks of the hon. Members below the Gangway? He said he had sympathy with them, and believed that in many things they were absolutely true, and that he could defend nothing on the Government side.


No, I did not say that.


So far as my colleagues on these benches know, we were promised absolutely nothing. I want to know whether the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution are going to be content with the promises nil made to them by that Front Bench or whether they are going to have the courage of their opinions and go to a Division on the subject. For my part, perhaps with all the zeal of a new-found recruit, I am ready to divide the House on that point. Any Government which made confession of the benefits they wish to accrue to the working classes such as was made by the men on the Front Bench opposite should, I think, have the courage of their convictions and show the country that they are those model employers they wish the rest of the employers of the country to be. I confess I thought the negotiations that might have taken place between my hon. Friend below the Gangway opposite and the Government would have resulted in a slightly better ending than we have had to-night. The Financial Secretary, with a prudence that is admirable in a young man and will be wonderful as he gets older, absolutely told us no more than the Secretary of State for War would have told us. He said the sympathy of the officials went out on every occasion to those who had any complaint to make. I do not know that he went so far as to say he had any sympathy for us himself, but at all events he promised—I have often heard the promise made in this House—that every complaint made would be carefully considered. I want a little more than that. I want a definite statement on the part of the Financial Secretary that the Government will from this time cease to have a different rate of wages in different factories; that they will recognise that piece work in the zone of danger is the most dangerous of any that you can possibly allow a man to work at; and, thirdly, that no man employed in the danger zone of a Government factory shall receive a less wage than 30s. a week. Unless I get that promise I shall do my best to divide the House upon it.


I desire to express sympathy with the Resolution of the hon. Members opposite. I cannot think that they are moving it simply as a kite; I hope they mean business. I have before now been in the Lobby with them, and will appear again to-night if they have the courage of their opinions. There are those on these benches who equally have at heart the interests of the working men who are prepared to go into the Division Lobby with them. There is one peculiar fact in reference to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite. While they sympathise with the payment of labour, and while they defer to the policy of buying in the cheapest market, they can in no way give themselves the power to secure an adequate and living wage for workmen, because they have consistently supported this Radical Government, which, according to the latest Return I have before me, has given contracts abroad for manufactured goods to the tune of nearly a quarter of a million, and in nearly every case those goods could have been made by our people here at home. They would, in fact, have afforded naturally productive work for the people who have now to be content with the doles the Government has provided for those who are in the unfortunate position of being unemployed. The last Return issued by the Government shows that out of £400,000 expended by this Government on manufactured goods the War Office alone spent £249,995. There is an item of £1,337 for chairs. I should have thought there were many chair makers who might have been employed on this work in this country.


That is rather remote from the subject. The Debate should be limited to the Amendment before the House.


May I refer to the fact that the Amendment says that in interpreting the Fair Wages Clause in assigning contracts responsible officers should be instructed to see that the spirit of the Clause is properly carried out? Surely that means that the Government should exercise proper supervision in seeing that these goods thus imported are manufactured at proper rates of wages.


I do not think it refers to that at all. It refers to contracts made in this country.


Am I precluded from dealing with contracts made by this Government—by the War Office—for goods manufactured whether at home or abroad?


I do not think there is any attempt to deal with the mischief which the hon. Member is raising at all. It is a wholly different case. The hon. Member is taking an opportunity on this Question to raise a wholly different matter.


As I cannot raise the question as regards this item I shall have another opportunity, I dare say, of doing it. In the meantime, I would say that I shall be a party to voting for this Resolution to have these inspectors appointed, in order that we may see that a fair wage is given to the employes of the Government, so that the latter shall be not merely in name but in fact ideal employers of labour in this country. Like my right hon. Friend below me, I am not at all satisfied with what the Financial Secretary has stated as regards the payment in Pimlico. I cannot think from what I know that the wages which he calls liberal are of an ideal character. Unfortunately they are mostly women who receive these wages; they are not voters, and, therefore, have not the same attraction for the Government which other employes have. To my mind their wages are not satisfactory, and the Government do not come under the class of ideal employers. I think that to appoint inspectors to look after their wages will be a satisfactory course, and will do something to bring about that which all of us desire—to give a living wage to all employed in this country.

Major ADAM

During the discussion there have been frequent references made to a minimum wage, and I take it from the remarks of former speakers that there is a general demand on the part of Government workers that that minimum wage in Government factories should be 30s. The minimum wage in the Arsenal at Woolwich at the present time is 23s. per week, a wage which is not at all adequate to keep a man and his family in the decencies and necessities of life. This wage of 23s. a week was fixed four years ago, and during those four years the cost of living, not only in Woolwich but in other parts of the metropolitan area, has considerably increased. It is quite impossible for a man on this low wage to live as a Government employé ought to do. A Government employé is a man from whom a high standard of character and ability is demanded. He works under conditions which give him an opportunity of acquiring very often Government secrets. You want a man of high moral character for employ in this work. The case of Wool wich is a particularly hard one in many respects. I think everybody in this country knows how Woolwich has suffered in the matter of discharges. These discharges leave a great many of the houses in Woolwich standing empty, and that means that it is impossible to lower the rates on the houses which are inhabited by the workers who are left behind. In fact, in a great many cases the rates continue to rise. The cost of living and rents rise, everything rises except the emolument which the man receives at the hands of the Government. Living in the Metropolitan area is more expensive than elsewhere. That is another reason why Woolwich deserves special consideration at the hands of the Government. The Government say they are willing to pay the current rate of wages. What is the current rate of wages? It is exactly that price for which a man can sell his labour in the district. Woolwich depends solely and altogether on the Arsenal. There is little or no private work for men who are discharged from the Arsenal in the immediate district. The river front, which is so important for work, to the east is occupied by the Arsenal, and to the west it is occupied by the Government Dockyard, and there is little or no space where any works could be ever erected where men discharged from the Arsenal could find employment from private contractors. The minimum wage paid to the man who sweeps the streets in the borough is 30s. a week, and these men who are receiving from the Government 23s. a week are paying rates, so that men who do certainly an inferior class of work in a great many cases receive a higher weekly wage of 30s. I accept the Financial Secretary's assurance that some of the other grievances from which we suffer will be redressed. He has spoken of the discharge of boys from the Arsenal at the age of twenty-one, and I am glad to hear that this is about to cease. Reference has been made to the fact that when a man, entitled to a bonus from the Government for long and faithful service, instead of being struck off as unfit by the doctor is struck off by the hand of death and dies in his workshop, his widow is not, under the present regulations, entitled to the bonus which the man ought to have received. I do not think this is anything else but a national question. It is absolutely essential for men of all parties to see that the Government of the day pays to its employés a sufficient wage to keep them in the decencies and necessities of life.


Under the conditions under which we are discussing all this financial business before Easter, in my opinion there is not time for the discussion of the question that has been raised—at least I speak for myself. It seems to me that the gravamen of the charge made against the Government is that they have not abided by the spirit of the policy to which both parties in the House are pledged. I do not think the Financial Sectary met that charge at all, and we have had no defence from the Government. There are two other subjects closely connected with this subject of whether the Government is or is not a model employer. One is continuous employment, when that can be given. It has been widely stated that discharges have been made in the course of the last four years which need not have been made if the Government, with a little intelligent anticipation, had foreseen that they would have more work to do in the near future. There is a third subject which is closely allied to the subject immediately before us, and that is whether the Government do or do not purchase articles manufactured chiefly abroad and are thus in the position of having to discharge labour which they might otherwise have employed. I could not really express my own opinion on that subject unless I had more time at my disposal. Under the circumstances I do not know that I should vote against the Government if a Division were taken to-night, but I am perfectly certain that if they get a decision in their favour it is under the knowledge that all parties are agreed that it is impossible to discuss the grave and important question to which I have referred.


As to the point which the right hon. Gentleman has raised, I certainly would wish to say something before conclusions are come to on a question so far-reaching and of such great magnitude. It is impossible that we could adequately debate this to-night. If it is really desired to go to & Division on this subject I think it would be better to have a little more discussion. If, on the other hand, it is merely desired to examine the subject, I would point out that this can be done on Vote A and 1, as well as on the present Motion. It is equally open to discuss it then, and therefore, Sir, if you were to leave the Chair to-night the subject could be thrashed out to-morrow. I think there ought to be more discussion. I am in the hands of the House. I shall do whatever is most convenient to get Mr. Speaker out of the Chair. Unless the Opposition are willing that the matter should be discussed with the Speaker out of the Chair I move the adjournment of the Debate.


I am not going to vote against the Government. I think we ought to divide now in order to get the Speaker out of the Chair.

Colonel WARNER

I think that on a question of this importance we should not divide without more debate. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh because they think they are in a majority. This is a very important point, and many of us would not like to vote against the Resolution, while, at the same time, we do not wish to vote against the Government. This is a case for the adjournment of the Debate to-night. I do not think it would be fair that a division should be taken now. In the first place, the Gentlemen who have supported the Resolution from the other side are all Gentlemen who have axes of their own to grind and who represent constituencies—


rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question. Debate resumed.

And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.