HC Deb 02 December 1912 vol 44 cc2039-43

Resolution reported, That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of the costs and expenses incurred in respect of the medical and surgical treatment of workmen employed in pursuance of any Act of the present Session to enable the Admiralty to construct and maintain a pier at North Killingholme, on the River Humber, and for purposes in connection therewith.

Motion made, and Question proposed "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

11.0 P.M.


It is always inconvenient to consider a Resolution of this kind during the Committee stage, because hon. Members are not favoured with a copy of it, but on the Report stage we have the opportunity to calmly peruse it in a printed form. This Resolution creates a new pre- cedent, and, in my opinion, it is one of the utmost importance. I think the House is entitled to know the amount of public money involved in this Resolution, and we ought to have some further explanation as to the operation of this provision. It is for the medical and surgical treatment of the workmen employed in building this pier at North Killingholme, on the River Humber. I understand that to mean that for the first time the Admiralty is compelled to act up to its responsibility with regard to housing and hospital accommodation of the men to be employed on this construction. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. John Ward) made a gallant fight upon this point. I believe he was on the Committee which considered the Bill, and I think the House is entitled to know whether he is a party to this arrangement and whether it satisfies the claim he made. It is an elementary responsibility of employers that they should consider the housing of their workpeople and also ambulance and hospital accommodation. I only need to remind the House that a controversy arose on this point with regard to Rosyth. I only mention that point to show the importance of this point in its future application. The ordinary employer has always been expected to consider this as an initial problem. Any business man in the House knows that one of the chief concerns in any firm on establishing new works is the provision of housing and hospital accommodation for the people engaged in the construction. Up to the present, the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent alleges that responsibility has been rather shirked by the Admiralty. I must say the Admiralty gave a fairly exhaustive reply with regard to that question at Rosyth, and I understand this is to prevent a repetition of controversies like that which might otherwise crop up from time to time. I think we are entitled to know from the Admiralty whether, in adopting this new idea, they wish to make it permanent in future constructions. If so, it is an important departure which I, for one, welcome, providing it does not take the Admiralty beyond the ordinary responsibilities of a private firm. No private firm would be considered to have much standing if it simply looked to profit-making, and to the actual construction of the works regardless of the workpeople; and, if this is an admission of the Admiralty that for the first time that there are obligations connected with employers of labour, then I think a great step forward has been achieved, but the words are very vague, and I am not quite satisfied. I am not aware whether the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent can throw any light upon it in case the Government are unable to do so, but take the phrase, "medical and surgical treatment of the workmen employed." I would like to ask whether it is contemplated by this expenditure of money to erect hospital accommodation upon the site, or whether the Government are simply taking authority to spend money in quick means of transit. I think we ought to know how far the work is removed from the Hull Infirmary and what amount of time it would take to convey any unfortunate workman who was injured to this place of excellent surgical treatment. It does seem to me the House would not be justified in passing over a great change of policy like this without getting some assurance from the Admiralty that it is not merely done because the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent raised a point which was a little awkward, but because the idea is commendable and they are prepared to adopt it permanently. That is what I wish to elicit, because it seems plain to me that in the past the Government has not always lived up to the standard that they should be models as employers of labour. I have never identified myself with the doctrine that they should be more lenient in business transactions than other people, but surely we have a right to demand they should not be behind private employment. [An HON. MEMBER: "They ought to be in front."] Yes, they ought to be in front: The Government, in a matter of this kind, should, at any rate, be alongside the finest private employer in the country, I do not think I am overstating it when I put it as high as that. The Resolution seems to confine itself to the medical and surgical treatment of workmen. I understood that money was to be granted for housing accommodation, but I do not see any power being taken to supply a deficiency of cottages or rooms or desirable sheds where the men could be housed. I therefore ask that some light may be thrown upon this subject. It is necessary to see that these men live in well-ventilated and sanitary cottages. The Resolution seems to be limited in its scope, but the Admiralty ought to set an example with regard to these matters. Here they are on the banks of a great river and the Clauses seems to indicate that dredging will be necessary. I want to know how far we shall be justified in passing a Bill dealing with this great expenditure on dredgers unless the Admiralty also make proper provision for dealing with the cottages and the draining and sewering of the villat which will spring up in connection with this industry.


This Resolution is necessary as a result of the efforts of the Select Committee appointed by this House to go into the subject. This is the first occasion on which the Government have recognised their duty with regard to housing accommodation for men on public works in the way other directors and promoters of this kind of works are compelled to do. In this case we are asking the Admiralty to do nothing more than is done by ordinary promoters of similar undertakings. In the Keighley and Birkenhead Water Bill, and in the Belfast Corporation Bill, passed this Session, much more stringent regulation relating to these matters are imposed, and while in their case the Local Government Board can compel the promoters to do these things, in the case of this Bill we shall be obliged to rely on the amount of pressure we can bring to bear on this Admiralty to comply with conditions of this kind. I hope that this innovation will bear fruit and prevent a repetition of the state of affairs we had at Rosyth. It is a good step in the right direction towards making decent provision for a deserving body of men.