§ Mr. DEVLIN
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to the Report of the medical officer of health for Belfast for 1909, with reference to the conditions of work and the rates of payment to outworkers and in-workers in connection with the Belfast linen trade, and to the demand of a mass meeting of the citizens of Belfast, held on 7th September last, for an inquiry, under Sections 1 and 2 of Clause 2 of The Trade Boards Act, 1909, into the condition of the workers in the linen and cognate trades, and to the almost unanimous demand of the Belfast Press for such an inquiry; and whether, in view of the facts and of the vital interests involved, he will direct that such an inquiry shall be held without delay; and (2) whether his attention has been called to the details of the sweating system in connection with the linen trade in Belfast, and to the demand of the workers affected and of the great body of local opinion that this and cognate trades should have the provisions of the Trade Boards Act applied to them; and whether he will take steps to have the provisions of the Act so applied; and (3) whether he is aware that respectable firms in Belfast are being undercut in the London market by the firms responsible for sweating their workers, and that this system is carried on in the linen trade despite the fact that the past year was one of the greatest in volume 1724 and value for that trade on record; and whether he will order an inquiry into the whole question of sweating in this trade, which affects thousands of workers, in response to the almost unanimous demand of the workers and the citizens of Belfast for such an inquiry?
The question of bringing within the scope of the Trade Boards Act certain other trades besides those already scheduled has more than once been brought to my attention. As my hon. Friend is aware, however, the Act cannot be extended to other trades without Parliamentary sanction by means of a Bill. The question of the trades to which the Trade Boards Act should be applied was carefully gone into before the measure was passed, and Parliament certainly intended that the four trades scheduled should be dealt with first. The Act has only been in force for a year, and the greater portion of the time which has since elapsed has necessarily been spent in the preliminary work of establishing the Trade Boards in the trades to which the Act specifically applies. The Act is consequently still quite in the experimental stage; and, until we have some experience of its working, it would be inexpedient to attempt to include in it further trades. At present, therefore, it appears to me premature to consider the inclusion in the provisions of the Act of any trade besides the four actually scheduled in the Act. As regards the inquiry suggested by hon. Friend into the circumstances of the particular trade referred to in the questions, Section 2 of the Trade Boards Act contains no powers of inquiry. We have, however, in our possession, a large amount of information in regard to the wages and conditions of the workers in the trade. This information would be very carefully taken into account, and supplemented if necessary by further inquiry, when the time arrives for considering what other trades should be included within the scope of the Trade Boards Act.
I do not think any particular object would be gained by publishing the information in our possession. It would be much better to keep it until the time comes for the Act to be either revised or supplemented.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Is there to be no relief for these sweated workers? Are the intolerable conditions to continue without the Government taking any steps?
The Trade Boards Act was a very great step in the direction we all desire, namely, of bringing about a diminution of the evils arising from sweated trades; but I think Parliament intended that we should proceed to a certain extent experimentally and see how the measure might be subsequently extended. We are experimenting with regard to four trades, and I think that in this matter if we go slowly we are more likely in the end to do effective work.