HC Deb 05 December 1911 vol 32 cc1285-98

(1) No wages shall be paid to any person employed in or about any mine at or within any licensed premises as defined by the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910, or other house of entertainment, or any office, garden, or place belonging or contiguous thereto, or occupied therewith.

(2) The wages of all persons employed in or about any mine shall be paid weekly, if a majority of such persons so desire, and there shall be delivered to each such person a statement containing detailed particulars of how the amount paid to him is arrived at.

(3) Every person who contravenes or fails to comply with or permits any person to contravene or fail to comply with this Section shall be guilty of an offence against this Act; and in the event of any such contravention or noncompliance by any person whomsoever, the owner, agent, and manager of the mine shall each be guilty of an offence against this Act, unless he proves that he had taken all reasonable means by publishing, and to the best of his power enforcing the provisions of this Section to prevent the contravention or non-compliance.


(who was indistinctly heard): I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (2).

I would point out that the Sub-section was inserted in the Bill in Committee in opposition to the advice of the Government, and was carried only by a narrow majority. I believe in Committee the Under-Secretary undertook to oppose the retention of this Sub-section on the Report stage, and that the Solicitor-General at the time voted against it. The Mining Association of Great Britain agreed to the Second Reading on the ground that this is a safety Bill, and the association used their influence to get the coal-owners to agree not to oppose it. The Home Secretary considered that if it were opposed it would be very difficult to get the Bill through, and I know the Under-Secretary has said frequently that there has been no attempt all through the progress of this Bill to obstruct or hinder its passage. Therefore, I say, that we have a claim on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as we have not opposed or needlessly obstructed the Bill in any way. But I do not think there would have been an easy and smooth passage of the Bill if we had believed that there was to be inserted in it a provision which has nothing whatever to do with safety. It is questionable whether this Sub-section is in order at all, in a safety Bill. The Clause prohibits men from being paid their wages in public-houses, and but for that provision I think it would have been impossible to have tacked on this Sub-section to the Bill at all. Another strong reason why the Subsection should be deleted is that it interferes with contracts that have been made in different parts of the country between employers and employed. Surely it is not the intention of the Bill that there should be any Clause which would enable either of the parties to a contract to evade their bargain.

Parliament is desirous always that both sides should agree, but if they are to be discouraged in this way there is little hope of agreement being come to in future. This is supposed to be a safely Bill, but I contend that if this provision is retained it would be the very reverse, and instead of promoting safety it would jeopardise the safety of the mines to a certain extent. We know that the practice in regard to the payment of wages differs in Northumberland, Durham, and in South Wales. As far as South Wales is concerned, the colliers are paid on a different system from that which obtains in other parts of the country. In other parts of the country colliers are confined to hewing the coal, and are paid by the ton, and a large portion of the work in other parts of the country is paid for by day wage. In South Wales there is a very intricate system of paying colliers. There is not only the number of tons for which we pay the collier, but there are twenty different items in the pay-sheet, and it takes a long time to measure up the work. All this has to be gone into by the manager or over-man, and the consequence is that a very considerable amount of labour and time are involved—something like one to three days. These officials have to look out for the safety of the mine, and if their time is taken up in measuring work they will not have time to carry out the safety Clauses—a duty which is highly desirable. Already their time is taken up by the fortnightly payments, and it would be almost impossible for them to look after the safety of the mines if there were weekly payments. In South Wales the retention of such a provision would involve serious and considerable strife and difficulty with the men. We know now that on each pay day, especially in certain districts, there is generally a loss of one day—the Monday after the Saturday's pay. I am afraid there will be a greater loss of time if there be weekly payments instead of fortnightly. My hon. Friend in Grand Committee promised that he would oppose this Sub-section on the Report stage, and I trust that he will keep to that undertaking, otherwise it will be impossible to say that this is a safety Bill.


I beg to second the Amendment.

7.0 P.M.


Although I was not a Member of the Committee when this Bill was under discussion, I am bound to remind the House of what took place there. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary rigidly adheres to the undertaking he gave that this Bill would be introduced as a safety Bill. When this particular Clause came before the Committee by a very large majority, a majority of very nearly two to one, this particular Sub-section was inserted. My hon. Friend, true to the pledge which he had given, voted against the inclusion of the Sub-section, and there voted with him against the inclusion the Solicitor-General for Scotland. But, except for the two representatives of the Government, no Liberal, no Labour, and no Irish representative could be found to vote against the Sub-section. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was himself in favour of the Sub-section, and the Solicitor-General for Scotland was also in favour of the Sub-section, yet, in spite of their personal conviction, in order to act up to the spirit and the letter of the pledge they had given, they both voted against its inclusion in the Bill. But now when the Bill comes down to the House there is an entirely different set of circumstances. The fact that the Amendment was allowed to be moved at all shows that it was germane to the Bill. The Amendment, being in order, is a sufficient guarantee that the Committee have not gone outside the general scope or purposes of the Bill. Therefore, we come down to consider the question in the House with our hands completely free.

The House has to decide now upon the merits of the case, this Amendment having been declared to be relevant to the purposes of the Bill, whether it ought or ought not to remain part of the measure. The House understands and knows already that this question is not merely a miners' question. Even for the short while I have been at the Home Office I have received representations on this subject, not merely from persons speaking on behalf of the miners, but from local authorities, boards of guardians, from tradesmen, from associations of traders, from chambers of commerce, and from ministers of religion, all with one accord pressing this Sub-section upon the Government, and looking upon it, not as a question for the convenience and satisfaction of the miners, but looking upon it as a social question upon which, in their judgment, a great deal of the well-being, and some of them even go so far as to say the morality, and certainly the financial comfort, of the district will very likely hang. What is the fact now? In the districts, happily they are not many, but in the few districts where the system of fortnightly pay still exists, every miner, or nearly every miner, has to run up credit at the tradesman's shop. That is bad for the tradesman and bad for the miner. They also, at the moment when they receive their wages, get a very much larger amount than is necessary for the immediate purposes of life, and it is said, and I am not competent to judge with how much truth, that fortnightly pay does lead, and is an inducement, to intemperance. I am told, with very great confidence by people who ought to know, that the fact of weekly pay will, undoubtedly, secure greater regularity amongst the workmen.

It is beyond question, beyond all question, that the prevalence of this system in certain districts does lead to miners and their families getting into debt, and into debt from which they are never free. Once a man or his wife gets into the habit of running into credit it is difficult to break from it. When you find this developing in some districts into a social evil of great magnitude, ought we not to hesitate, now that the Sub-section has been included by the Committee, to take upon ourselves the responsibility of striking it out? I was much impressed by the argument of my hon. Friend (Sir C. Cory) as to the existence of a contract between the colliery owner and the workmen. I will go so far with him as to say that if this were merely a miner's question his arguments ought to have very great weight with the House. If it was merely a question of breaking arrangements made between two contracting parties we ought to hesitate about upsetting the contract, at least until the expiration of the period had run. But this is not a mere miner's question. It is a social question, and the hands of society cannot be bound because the owners and the workmen have entered into a private contract. There is also another point with regard to this contract, so far at any rate as South Wales is concerned. I believe that the Member for Glamorgan in the Committee stated that when he entered into the contract on behalf of the men he did it with the lair intention of getting Parliament to set aside the condition of fortnightly pay if he was able to do so. It is certainly true that those who entered into that contract on behalf of the men did at that time publicly declare their intention of getting fortnightly pay set aside by Parliament if they were able to do so.


May I ask where he said that?


In the Committee up stairs. Therefore, though the point of the contract is a very strong point, still I do not think under the circumstances——


He entered into the agreement previous to that.


I do not think under the circumstances of the case that the contract ought to be binding on the House. The other point my hon. Friend took was that it will give rise to inconvenience. He cannot put it higher than inconvenience. In some cases it will, but it is an inconvenience which can be got over by a slight additional cost. I believe that the cost of working this is estimated to reach the total of £1 sterling per 6,000 tons of coal output, which is a slight figure having regard to the immense total. Those are the circumstances. You have the social evil on the one side, which is very much felt, and which has given rise to enormous discontent, and which might very possibly hereafter find vent in a strike. Is it wise for so slight an additional cost for this House to object to this Sub-section. I hope the House will keep the Bill in its present form.


I think the majority of the House will agree that the right hon. Gentleman has made a most astonishing speech. It is true he was not a Member of the Committee, and his information on this subject has come from experts. In his remarks I think, if I may use the expression, he has played to the gallery. His remarks have been made because of some political pressure brought to bear on him. He has not evidenced the difficulties which will be entailed by this alteration which he is bringing about. The hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment has given a few of the difficulties. What does the right hon. Gentleman say? One of his leading arguments was that if the miner is paid once a fortnight, that owing to his intemperate habits he cannot be trusted.


I never charged the miners with habits of intemperance.


If I have misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman, I apologise. He said that this was not a miners' question, that this was a social question, where pressure has been brought to bear on the Government, and that it was incumbent on the Government to see that the miners should be paid once a week instead of fortnightly. He hinted that for their morals it would be better that they should be paid once per week rather than fortnightly, and he is a Member of the Government which is going to grant manhood suffrage to miners who are not trusted to be paid once a fortnight. The Sub-section, as the hon. Gentleman who has moved has told us, was introduced on the Committee stage, and if it had not been tacked on to a Clause providing that the payment is not to be made in public-houses, I believe he is accurate in saying it would be out of order. Let me say another word about what the Under-Secretary said in a previous speech. He said that this Bill was a question of safety and a question of health. I do not think that this question of paying weekly instead of fortnightly comes under either of those headings. On the question of safety there has been a great deal of agreement on both sides of the House. We have all worked together, the hon. Gentlemen sitting below the Gangway opposite, and those on this side, in the hope of perfecting this measure so as to ensure safety in mines. We knew perfectly well that the mine-owners, with whom I am connected, are going to be put to a certain amount of expense in connection with safety, but I do not think there is one in the country who grudges the extra expense. What they do object to is that when a Bill is brought in under the guise of a safety measure that these extra measures, which are bound to increase the cost of production, are included.

There are hon. Gentlemen sitting below the Gangway opposite who are opposed to the private ownership of mines in any shape or form. Their object to a very large extent is to increase the cost of production so as to hamper those individuals and make it impossible for them to carry on the mines. They have not met us in the way in which they should have met us. We have done what we possibly could to support their views and to assist them in everything they have done, and now they come up with all these gratuitous propositions simply for the purpose of hampering those individuals who own mines in this country. The question of contract is a very important one. But since the Government have been in power the violation of contracts has become the common order of the day. By making this alteration the Government will be going behind the back of one of the contracting parties, and giving absolute power to the other contracting party to carry out what they desire. In regard to the difficulties arising from the suggested alterations, many Members have not gone into the question; they have not had an opportunity of doing so. On the face of it, it seems a very simple matter. We have to bear in mind, however, the wide diversity of items on which payment is made—such, for instance, as the thickness of the seam, the width of the working place, the amount of foreign matter in or above the seam, work other than that of coal-getting, and numerous other items. The work of measuring is a very important process, which it is necessary and most important should be very accurately carried out. One of the most important reasons is to avoid friction with the men. If the time of those who carry out the measuring is taken up twice instead of once a fortnight with this work, instead of attending to those duties for which they are primarily engaged, their time will be taken up in doing extra work.

Many Members have no idea of how the system of payment is carried out. The work of the preceding fortnight is paid for on the following Friday. The time of the clerks and officials is taken up from Saturday afternoon, all through Sunday and Monday, and a portion of Tuesday. On Wednesday the bills are submitted to the manager; on Thursday the cashier comes in, and everything is paid for on Friday. The management are now to be called upon to do this twice instead of once in a fortnight. Hon. Members must realise that it will mean an enormous increase of their duties, and unless a very clear case is put forward the House ought to consider very carefully what they are doing. I speak from experience of what is within the knowledge of anyone connected with the mining industry. On the Monday after the Friday on which payment is made there is a decreased attendance. How the Government can say that if the men are paid twice a fortnight there will be an increased attendance I cannot understand. The Government are carrying out this alteration simply because of political pressure from below the Gangway, and not because of the intrinsic merits of the proposal. I always look with suspicion on any legislative interference with a highly organised trade like the coal trade. I made the same remark in the debate on the Eight Hours Bill, and every remark then made on this side about interference with the coal industry has been justified by experience. Miners are supposed by many hon. Members to be a helpless body of men, unable to protect themselves. In reality they are the most highly organised body of workers in the country, and they are well able to protect themselves, both as to hours of labour and as to rates of wages.

The right hon. Gentleman has not realised the difficulties. He is new to his office, and appears to think that everything I am saying is a great joke. We who are connected with the industry think very seriously of these matters, and if the right hon. Gentleman will only take the trouble to go amongst the miners of the north he will realise that there is great dissatisfaction with the working of the Eight Hours Act. There is in that measure no popularity for the Government, which seems to be the only object they have in view. At this stage when there are differences in regard to which a settlement cannot be arrived at at present, and a general coal strike is possible, the Government should act very carefully in coming between the mine-owners and the men in the North of England. Up to now there have been in existence conciliation boards, of which we would all speak with admiration and approbation. They have carried on their work in a highly efficient manner, and the right hon. Gentleman should consider very carefully before he interferes further with this highly organised industry.


I hope the Home Secretary will not accept this Amendment. We have no desire, as a body of representatives, to evade any agreement that we have made with the employers. We are prepared to carry out all the engagements into which we have entered. We have no desire whatever, as the hon. Baronet (Sir C. Cory) seems to suggest, to evade the contract between ourselves and the South Wales employers. The hon. Baronet knows very well that I made private arrangements with him, and those arrangements have never been violated.


made an observation which was inaudible.


We have no desire to do so. In the matter of changing the fortnightly into a weekly system we have no desire to violate any agreement. What we desire is to change a system which we believe to be absolutely detrimental to the interests of the workers at large. The hon. Baronet has forgotten that, notwithstanding agreements which would extend for many years legislation changed the whole aspect of affairs, and we got the Eight Hours Act. The agreements made in times past have always been subject to legislative or mutual changes, and perhaps we have not exhausted ourselves in that direction. The time, however, has arrived, and an opportunity has arisen when we can reasonably raise this matter on the floor of the House. I would point out to the Noble Lord (Viscount Castlereagh) that with us it is not a matter of cost; it is a matter of equity and justice. Payment is made for dead work items. The system is very intricate. Many items have to be considered when the calculations are being made. For several days out of the twelve a workman will be dealing with dead work, and owing to the nature of the seam the dead work performed in the bulk of those days will be absolutely lost to sight at the end of the fortnight. What account can be taken of that dead work? If it were measured weekly, an account could be taken of the dead work performed in the first three days of the fortnight; but as it allowed to be spread over ten or fourteen days, half the dead work has disappeared before the manager has been able to measure it.

As a representative of a very large association, and having myself worked underground, I know from experience what it means to be paid fortnightly. Weekly payment will undoubtedly abolish the credit system to a great degree. I do not say entirely, but it would be a great incentive in that direction. Many a grocer and draper is paying to the miner, by giving him credit, that which the employer should have paid in wages. If the weekly system were adopted, I do not believe the cost in cash would be anything like what the hon. Baronet has stated. It would mean only an extra day in the fortnight for the clerk to perform the work. If the dead work is to be measured and the prices specifically stated in the price list are to be paid for those items of dead work, it would be to the advantage of the working men of the country to have weekly measurements. If a settlement of the abnormal place question is to be arrived at, I believe that weekly payments will be a step in the right direction. Moreover, the working men of the country desire a change from the present system. I remember the time when the five weeks' payment—the long month—was in vogue. I remember when the monthly payment was in vogue. I remember the advantages and benefits that had accrued from the change from the five weeks to the month, and then to the fortnight. I anticipate that the same benefits will result from the change from the fortnightly to the weekly pay.


The Noble Lord (Viscount Castlereagh) a few moments ago referred to the North of England. I think I may claim, at any rate, to know the opinion of the workmen in the North of England in reference to this subject, and I would only say this: that at our council meeting held about three weeks ago a unanimous vote was taken amongst the delegates in favour of weekly pays. At a meeting of the Federation held at Newcastle two years ago a similar resolution was adopted unanimously. The opinion amongst workpeople in the North of England is strongly in favour of a change to the weekly pay. I have long advocated that principle. I am a believer in the old adage that short reckonings have a tendency to make long friends. For more than twenty years now I have advocated the principle of weekly pays. When the late Mr. Bradlaugh introduced his Truck Bill into this House in 1887 we had a very long and interesting Debate on the question of weekly pay. At that time the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) now Lord Llandaff, and the present Lord Chief Justice of England Lord Alverstone, then Sir Richard Webster, both spoke on an Amendment which was moved by Mr. Sexton, the then Member for West Belfast.

Mr. Sexton brought forward a new Clause to the Truck Bill. Sir Richard Webster, the Attorney-General, opposed it, and so did the Home Secretary. But not on principle. They did so simply because they said they did not think it was a proper thing to draft an Amendment in respect of weekly pays on to the Bill. They both went so far as to assure the House that if this question was raised in a proper way it would have the favourable consideration of the Government. In the following year the then Member for East Belfast introduced a Bill dealing with this very subject. The Bill was backed by Mr. George Howell and myself. It was defeated, but Ave carried in the Truck Act a new Clause providing for weekly payments, so far as Ireland was concerned. The Bill was sent to the House of Lords, and the Clause dealing with the question of wages was struck out. The Bill came back to the Commons, and we reinserted the Clause, which went back once more to the House of Lords, who again struck it out. Ultimately, as the Session was getting near an end, and in order that we might get the Bill through, that Clause dealing with wages was dropped altogether. But a very long and interesting Debate took place on that occasion. Several large employers of labour took part in it. I can assure the Noble Lord, and the House, that the opinions given by the large employers of labour at that time and in the subsequent agitation which took place in the country was against the idea of an enormous cost being incurred by the employers in consequence of the change. The bill clerks would not have double the amount of work to do.

The one thing, however, I do want to emphasis is this. In the course of that agitation the then manager of Palmer's shipbuilding works at Jarrow-on-Tyne, which employed into thousands of workpeople, the late Mr. John Price declared in a public speech that they had had experience as a firm of both sides. They had paid fortnightly, and they had changed to weekly pays, and the result of the change was that their workpeople attended more regularly at their work; there was less drunkenness, and there was no necessity for the workmen seeking "subs." After all, that is a strong point in the case for the workmen. This is a great social question. Where you have payments made at considerable intervals, what happens? One or two things which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary mentioned. You have the workmen going and seeking a "sub" before pay-day comes round—a thing I hate to see, and that I want to see discouraged so far as possible. I want to discourage this seeking of a "sub" from the employer by the workman in order to tide him over. This "subbing" adds to the difficulties of the book-keeping.

The late Mr. John Ellis, till recently a Member of this House, had a similar experience to Mr. Price. Mr. Ellis told us that at one time his workmen were paid fortnightly. He changed the system to weekly pays. The additional cost, he said, was a mere bagatelle. He added that by the workmen having the whole of their pay at the end of the week, on Friday, their wives were enabled to go to market on the Saturday morning, and he calculated that the change from fortnightly to weekly pays was equivalent to an advantage of 5 per cent. in the purchasing powers of the wages. It is because I want, so far as ever possible, to discourage the workman from getting "subs" between pay and pay, of having to get credit from their grocer, or from the co-operative stores—because some co-operative stores, I am sorry to say, do not demand cash down—it is because I want to discourage these two practices that I would like to see the principle of weekly pays established. You do it in nearly every factory and workshop in the country, in the shipbuilding yards, and in the boilershops, you pay your dockyard labourers on the principle of weekly payment. The new system would, I believe, establish a better relationship between the labourer and the employer, and I am glad on that account to find that the Government are anxious, or determined, as far as they can, to retain this Subsection in their Bill. I assure them of my hearty support in so doing.


May I briefly appeal to the hon. Baronet not to press this Amendment to a Division. We have had a very full discussion, not only here but in Committee. As to the question of motive—one of the contentions put forward by the Noble, Lord opposite—I must say that I am not concerned with the Bill from the point of view of the miners' organisations. The whole pressure, so far as I am concerned, is from the tradesmen, Chambers of Commerce, and Chambers of Trade. It is true that the miners' organisations have been asking for this for many years. The Home Secretary said just now in his speech that the representations that have been made to him were from Chambers of Commerce. If he had looked in the "Grocers' Journal," the "Meat Trades' Journal," and other trade journals, he would know that there have been references to the desirability of this change in certain parts of the country. So much for the question of motives. But this is a great social question. Let the Noble Lord think of our mining villages. In my Constituency, and in the surrounding constituencies, there are practically nobody but miners to purchase from the trades-people. There are always three weeks—not a fortnight's—wages in hand. The Noble Lord will then understand the reason why those trades-people are asking the House to do a very simple thing that will have very great remedial effect. Let me now answer the hon. Baronet with regard to his contention about the difficulty. The majority of the districts of this country pay weekly. I will give figures obtained officially for me by the kindness of one of His Majesty's inspectors. Cumberland pays weekly; so does Yorkshire, the North Midlands, the Liverpool district, and North Wales. There are seventy-eight collieries in Scotland where weekly pays are made. There are seventy-one collieries in South Wales. So that it is only a question of bringing in a few outstanding places; one in particular, South Wales. If all these difficulties have been overcome in the other districts that is evidence that they can easily be overcome in South Wales. I do not think that at this stage there will be any real pressure against it, and I hope we may now come to a decision, and that this Clause may remain in the Bill. I appeal to the hon. Baronet to withdraw his Amendment, and let us get along.


I do not think we ought to pass this without some protest against the action of the Government. It is quite true that it does affect the whole of this country. For instance, in Lancashire we pay weekly. It does affect a large portion of the colliery districts in all parts. But this Bill, we understood most clearly, was brought in as a Bill to ensure safety. Now we are led to believe that in any Bill brought in by the present Government, if someone raises the cry of a great social evil, that a new Clause will be put into the Bill that quite alters the purpose for which the Bill was brought in. I have reason for saying this, because when we were in Committee the Government took up the same stand. It was to be a Bill for safety; it was not a Bill for the purpose of altering contracts. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Williams) turned round to the hon. Baronet (Sir C. Cory) and informed him that by Act of Parliament we were going to commit breaches of contract. Contracts are not to be safe so long as Acts of Parliament are here to change them. The Government bring in a Bill for the safety of the miner, but are diverted on to questions of social evils. We are doing our best to make the safety which the Bill provides a success, and now efforts are being made to bring about breaches of contract between ourselves and the miners.

Forward to