§ Mr. CROOKS
I beg to move,
"That the right of every family in the country to an income sufficient to enable it to maintain its members in decency and comfort should be recognised; and this House is therefore of opinion that the Trade Boards Act should be so extended as to provide for the establishment of a minimum wage of at least 30s. per week for every adult worker in urban areas and a minimum wage that will secure an approximately equal standard of life for every adult worker in rural areas; and this House also declares that the Government should set an example by adopting the minimum of 30s. per week in its own workshops and insert it as a condition in all contracts."
1281 I do not know, in regard to the subject to which I am going to call attention, that there is a single Member sitting in any quarter of the House who has not stood out for decency and comfort in living for the working men of the country. It is laid down as a cardinal principle, if there were no other reason, that the man who desires to come to the Imperial Parliament, and to take part in the proceedings of this august Assembly, is expected to see that the working man and his wife and children live in decency and comfort. When this question was raised in the House on the last occasion, and the subject of a 30s. minimum wage was debated, some Members, speaking in what is called the scientific and economic spirit, pointed out that if every adult person was to be paid 30s. a week it would cost the nation £88,000,000. Everyone who heard that held his breath, paralysed to think that decency and comfort should cost £88,000,000. They did not realise, nor do they realise now, I think, that if every adult worker in the Kingdom had 30s. a week, even supposing it cost £88,000,000, it would mean that that amount would be put in circulation; none of it would be wasted, or sunk, or blown away, while everybody would be living in decency and comfort. If it were proposed that every workman should work for nothing, and that he should have a recommendation by a clergyman to be allowed to do so, how many would rise on and say that it was undermining the principles of government? I am reminded of the fact that the average Member of the House of Commons seems to miss what it is the House of Commons really exists for—that it does not exist to do anything except to deliberate; and I think it is generally accepted that it can deliberate and go on deliberating.
In the year 1823 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire as to whether workmen had any right to demand wages at all, though they called it the Conspiracy Law. Workmen in 1823 actually demanded the right to live, which was like their cheek, and Parliament deliberated on that for a considerable time, much evidence being gathered and many important persons examined. The employer then said, just as he does now, "The working man? Why, he is never satisfied; if I had his soft job as a working man I would retire to-morrow." When asked what the workmen received in wages the employer's reply was, "I think 1282 he gets more than he ought to have." When the employer was asked what he made, he answered, "What do I make? I do not make anything." "What do you sell?" "I sell what the men make." "What is the value of the article?" "I do not think I ought to be asked what is the value of the article." "Is it 30s.?" "Very well, I suppose 30s." "Suppose somebody offered you £1, what would you say?" "I would not take it." "Then do you not see that if your workman asks 30s. a week for his labour and you offer him only £1, he has just as much right to refuse to take your £1 as you have to refuse £1 for the article which your workman makes?" It is on record that the employer said, "I never heard of that before." We have gone along endeavouring to forward this question, and we have opened up the argument in relation to it from time to time. There is an Amendment down to my Motion asking us to insist, before any law is passed, on seeing that the workman gives value for his money. However a Member of Parliament can argue like that I do not know. Of course, I am not responsible for his feeling, but I suppose he feels he earns his money by listening to some of the deliberations that go on here. Does anybody know of any workman who earns money without the work of his hands?
My mind goes back to my very early days when I was courting, or when another young man I knew was courting. This young man asked the father of the young lady to allow her to be his wife. The father replied, "It all depends upon your position. What do you earn?" "I earn £3 a week." "That will do," the father said, "take her, and God bless you with her." Saturday came, as it will come, and when the young husband went home he threw a sovereign into his young wife's lap. She said, "What do you mean by this?" He replied, "All right; it's my wages." "You told my father that you earned £3 a week." "So I do, but I do not get it." That is the situation of working men, yet they are expected to go about in decency and comfort on a wholly inadequate wage. By the way, one ought to be very careful. I remember that a friend of mine suggested in the House that an hon. Member could not live on the wages paid, and if he could he had better try it. The Member said he was insulted by the suggestion, yet if a workman refuses to be satisfied with what is paid him he is said to be all wrong. What we ask to call 1283 attention to is the 30s. minimum wage, and the Motion sets forth:—
"That the right of every family in the country to an income sufficient to enable it to maintain its members in decency and comfort should be recognised."
Everybody does recognise that on every platform, where they talk of the manly and independent British workman, whose fathers fought for the glories of the Empire on which the sun never sets. We have all heard that, and we have all played it. I have seen men take off their hats to the glories of the Empire on which the sun never sets. A man walked out from such a meeting, and the pathway was not broad enough for him to get along. He went home and said, "I am one of the Empire." His wife said, "Are you?" "Yes, I am." Then he asked if his supper was ready. "No, of course it ain't ready. What are you grumbling about?" "I am grumbling because the supper isn't ready." "How could I fry the fish and mind the baby? You lay hold of your bit of the Empire, while I fry the fish." The Resolution goes on to say,
"and this House is, therefore, of opinion that the Trade Boards Act should be so extended as to provide for the establishment of a minimum wage of at least 30s. per week for every adult worker in urban areas, and a minimum wage that will secure an approximate equal standard of life for every adult worker in rural areas."
We are all in favour of that on the platform. [An HON. MEMBER: "No we are not"] Yes you are, I have heard you. The Resolution proceeds,
"and this House also declares that the Government should set an example by adopting the minimum of 30s. per week in its own workshops and insert it as a condition in all contracts."
Some of these Amendments I notice have special ideas and notions as to how to raise the money. I do not care anything about that. It is not part of my argument where the money is to come from, because it will come from the same source from which it always comes, from labour, and you will take very good care about that. When you are shouting for "Dreadnoughts" and more armaments, you do not ask then where the money comes from, but you say the nation needs them. We say that the nation is in danger with discontented, dissatisfied, working men. We 1284 say that it is the greatest danger to the nation. What you propose to do is to go about making things a little dearer so as to be able to get them a little cheaper. I have heard you tell the working men that the very loaf is dear if you have not a 1d. to pay for it, and the meeting cheer, and you propose to make it 1½., to make them have a better chance of getting it. The hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Cooper) proposes to make a rule by which everybody who pays less than 4½d. per hour to an adult man, and everybody who pays less than 3d. to a woman is to go down to the town clerk, and tell him about it. Upon my word of honour, I can see notices being stuck up, "Come early to avoid the crush." I can see them coming down in rows letting the world know how cheap they can get things in that department. That will not do. When you talk here, people are listening outside, and I want to know what line the argument is going to take. Some people say 30s. is too much. I worked for 30s., and I worked for less than 30s., but I never worked for less than 30s. without getting into debt, which made it a bit of a burden. Decency and comfort, what is it? Is there any man or any Member of this House who can define decency and comfort? What is your minimum state of existence but decency and comfort? Need I enlarge upon the fact that you here could not get what you call decency and comfort for three times 30s.
Need I say there is no necessity to create wealth in the country to be able to pay 30s. We have people who write articles in the "Economist" or "Quarterly Review." They have never had to live on it. We have got statistics of how we are piling up wealth one month after another, while people go on day after day toiling, and toiling, and having insufficient to maintain them in decency and comfort. There was an inquest held within the last fortnight which was headed in the newspapers, "A father censured for neglecting his children on an income of 28s. per week." It was proved that the man had travelled up to London, and, with that riotous extravagance which is inborn in our race, took furnished apartments somewhere, just as if he could not have done with a "doss" house at 6d. per night. One of his children died, and hence the inquiry. That one child was taken to the infirmary. At the inquest the father said, using a happy phrase which he must have learned from the coroner, that the child's apparent wasting was due to a lack 1285 of assimilation. But, the coroner said, the child found its appetite in the infirmary. Of course it did. There it would get food that would refresh it and comfort it. The man's wages did not allow him to supply the child with the common necessaries of life and useful food, and he is censured. A case exacty on all fours happened at Walworth, in which the coroner's officer reported that he visited a room eight feet square. In the centre of the room was a small coffin, and on the coffin was set out two cups and saucers and some dry bread, and four children and a man and woman sat around partaking of that. It was their table. The man said he was unable to give the child sufficient food. The doctor reported on the case, and the coroner's jury, after due deliberation, brought in a verdict that the child had died from lack of assimilation, a convenient way of getting out of the whole business. The child could not assimilate fat out of water, and therefore it died. I do not think it was a bad job, but a blessing that it did, under the circumstances.
Do you expect, and does this House expect when that is going on, to get an Imperial race, a great race of people who are going to hold up, not only the dignity and importance of the Empire, but to become defenders of a great Empire? How appalling it is to talk about! You may talk about robbing them of their thrifty habits and self-reliance, but you never get a perfect man except in the newspapers. May I remind the House that it has set up a standard of some decency anyhow, and may I take the House back to a Report which was laid on the Table, and I think, as a matter of fact, it has been lying on the Table ever since it was presented a long time ago. They argued in those days about work and feeding the people. There was the natural reservoir for the supply of casual labour for the convenience of the commercial world, so that there should be a liberal supply of labour, and that if one man broke down another would be ready to take his place. Never mind about paying 30s. per week, but you could get a hundred and a thousand men glad to work for God's sake for 15s., and we are a Christian nation on the top of it. That Report said we had been feeding the people, trying to keep them up to working capacity, so that they might really be worth money when somebody was good enough to come along and give them a job at a half-crown per day. When we had been feeding them it was said we had 1286 neglected our duty, and that it was no part of our duty to adjust social inequalities. Yet you were created for that purpose. This deliberative Assembly, which has existed for six or seven centuries, was created for no other purpose than to see that no person was imposed upon, that social inequalities should not bear down a section of the community.
Here, at the commencement of the twentieth century, we are told it is no part of our duty to adjust social inequalities. Is not the gulf broad enough for you to give 30s.? Government Departments have issued orders how people are to be fed under the Poor Law. The dietary scale sets forth how much tea, sugar, milk, bread, butter, broth and mutton on certain days, and so on. I remember once breaking the law by suggesting that they should put currants in the poor old folks' bread. They surcharged me for that. It was reckless, riotous extravagance, for which we were called upon to pay. We were carrying out the dietary scale passed by various Presidents of the Local Government Board, running on from the great Mr. Stansfeld, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), the late Sir Charles Dilke, the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour), the right hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin), down to the present day, when the same order has existed. The question put to me was, "Could a man feed his family like you have been feeding these people for less than 28s. per week?" I said, No, he could not," and then they said, "Oh, this is an abominable thing. You are wasting public money and making the pauper a superior person to the free and independent and starving labourer outside!" But you have laid down a dietary scale, and you say that less than that you shall not give. Surely it is not too much to ask that you should give the man outside enough to enable him to feed his wife and family up to the level of a Local Government Board dietary scale. I do not want to argue about the increased price of commodities; but, roughly speaking, it costs 5s. 6d. per week to keep an adult person; that means 11s. for a man and a woman. It costs about 2s. 7½d. to keep a child. If you put that together, and take a man, his wife, and four children, with the rent on top of that, together with boots and shoes and a few odd things that civilisation would allow them, there is not much change out of 30s. 1287 But what does that matter? We are a great Empire; we are a free and independent Empire. Our men want no charity; they want the opportunity to live. When are you going to give it to them?
"Oh!" you say, "if the working men would combine, they could obtain for themselves the privileges that you come to Parliament to demand on their behalf." Yes, quite so. Do you not think that you have safeguarded the masters sufficiently well by Acts of Parliament to encourage working men to come along and ask for a share? But it is said if he does not like his job he can leave it. Yes, of course he can; he can go out and starve. What does it matter? But you have the agricultural labourer—that manly independent man. Everyone has a special agricultural labourer; they keep him up their sleeve all the time. He will be trotted out presently—the man with 15s. a week, who now possesses a farm. I have heard all that before. He has brought up a family in manly independence, and all the rest of it. It reminds me of a Scotch friend of mine who came to London and got a job at 30s. a week. He saved £1 a week, and said that if it had not been for his infernal appetite he could have saved the other 10s. But we are not dealing with that kind of man. I ask you to take the ordinary man. We talk about his independence at certain times, and we rob him of his independence at other times. Do you not feel ashamed of yourselves sometimes? I am talking to employers of labour. A manly chap comes along. He is as good a man as you are; in fact, if it comes to the moral side, perhaps you are not worthy to unlace his shoes. Ho comes and says, "If you please if you would be so kind as to be so good as to give me a job for the love of Heaven, I shall be very much obliged." You say, "I will see the steward, and see what he can do for you. In the meantime that little cottage wants repairing; you might devote yourself to mending it up a bit, instead of spending your days in laziness about the place." When it comes to the defence of the Empire he is a great man. I want him to continue to be a great man. I want him to have the right to live in happiness, decency, and comfort in the land of his birth.
There is not a man within sound of my voice but believes in that sentiment. And Parliament can do it. Not enough money? 1288 Cannot afford it? If the Empire was in danger from invasion the money would be found. We should then be talking about the sacrifices necessary for the safety of a great Imperial race. But when we say that the Empire can be strengthened from within the homes and kitchens of the poor the nation cannot afford it! Do you think that the working man of to-day has lost every bit of the education that he has been having for forty-five years? Do not you forget that his grandfather knew the effect of poverty; his father knew the cause of it; he himself knows the remedy for it, and he is coming to this House to ask for it. Why do you not make the nation really great? Why do you not make it the envy of Germany and every other nation in the world? Why do you not make it the envy of the world, not because of its "Dreadnoughts" and its Army, but because of the happiness and contentment of every man, woman, and child living in it? That would be something to be proud of. Wealth! This country is richer than any historian, living or dead, ever dreamt a nation could become. In our streets and highways, in our great mansions and grand homes, we see wealth, ease, luxury, idleness, and immorality even to the point of criminality on the one side. On the other side, if you go down the highways and byways of our great cities, you see poverty, misery, squalor, and wretchedness even to the sinfulness of neglect. You ask the man who is down where he has been working? Why did he not take care? Why was he not more thrifty? Why did he not exercise more self-denial? Why did he not remember that the cold weather was coming, that trade might fall off, and that the commerce and industry of the country would have a shrinkage? My God! On the wages you pay to the poorest of the poor! See him as we know him. A brave and manly man, he was patted on the back. Then he was put off, because there was no more profit in him; his services were no longer required. The wealth that he has created can still be enjoyed, but not by him or his wife and family. He may go and beg. He is manly and independent in October. He comes and asks, "Can you give me a job? I must have a job soon." You say, "I don't know of a job." He comes again in November. "Have you heard of a job?" "No." He comes again in December. "Have you heard of a job yet?" "No." He says, "You are a Member of Parliament, I suppose; you 1289 are one of those fellows who say, 'Vote for me and you will never want any more.' We have heard all that before." You meet him in January, and ask him whether he has got a job. His reply, is, "No. I can't get a job, and I don't want one." What do you think of it? Your neglect has robbed that man of the only thing in regard to which he was an asset to the nation. You have robbed him of his manliness and independence. How is he going to stand up against times of unemployment? The wealth that he has created ought to have tided him over those four months and kept the manhood in him. Oh, but that is extravagance; that is reckless; that is wicked! They then talk about trips to the Continent, and so on. It is only wicked in the case of the working man.
Then we go a little further in our Resolution, and ask that the Government itself should set an example by paying a 30s. a week minimum. Have hon. Gentleman of a statistical turn of mind ever taken the trouble to look out the number of accidents, and how they happen? They would be astonished to find that the majority of accidents happen to poorly paid men and women. The well-paid man is well organised. He meets with accidents certainly, but they are not so bad generally as those that befall the badly paid man. The well-paid man, when he goes to his work, has not the worry of the home upon him. The badly paid man takes the home to work with him. He is wondering how those at home are getting on during the day. He has ringing in his ears the cry of his wife that if he can make a bit he should bring it home early. What can be expected in a case of this kind when a man leaves wife and children hungry, and is wondering whether his children will get any food during the day, and whether his wife will be able to borrow sixpence? While he is thinking of these things he gets absent-minded; down he conies and is maimed for life. If he had been well-paid he would not have been in a state of anxiety about his home and those in it. I suppose we shall go on deliberating this subject. Amendments will be proposed, and I shall be told that my Resolution does credit to my heart but not to my head. Hon. Members will say awfully nice things about me that I do not want. What I do want you to do is to give 30s. a week minimum to the men I am pleading for; to give to every man, woman, and child in this Kingdom some- 1290 thing to live for. What are we asking for? We are asking for a man's share of the good things of this life, not a dog's share, nor a horse's share, nor a pig's share. Will anyone deny that this nation can afford to give it? No one can deny it. The nation can afford to pay what we ask, and some day the workers will ask for it.
§ Mr. BARNES
I beg to second the Motion. It will be noted that the Resolution differs in some respect from that proposed two years ago. In the first place, it allows for a difference in wages as between the town and the country. It introduces the idea of the Wages Board, and it makes provision for Government work being done under the same conditions as to wages whether done in Government or private employment. We base our demand in this Resolution on the general principle that it is the duty of the State to prevent labour being sweated or oppressed by monopoly. We submit that that arises or should be a corollary of law and order in a community where the means of production are in private hands. Otherwise there is a disparity of fortunes, and evils grow up which are a danger to the State. That, I submit, is the condition of things in this country now. I remember many years ago reading a speech delivered some where by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). He defined politics as "the science of human happiness." The right hon. Gentleman went on in the same speech to quote the well-known lines of Robert Burns:—It's hardly in a body's power,To keep at times frae being sour,To see bow things are shared.If that was true then, we submit that it is doubly true now, because things are shared worse now than even they were at that time. We are living now in an age when science has extended her borders; when the power of producing things, I suppose, is greater than ever it was in this country or any other country. But people still struggle for bread. They pass their lives steeped in poverty. I do not say that people are worse off than they were. That may or may not be so. But I do say that, with all our wonderful power of producing all the things of life, the simple result is that of widening the gulf between the rich and the poor amongst us. Let me give the figures of Professor Bowley who about a year ago wrote an article 1291 in one of the magazines. He dealt with the wages of labour in the year 1911. He set out in tabular form the wages of the various grades of work-people, from those with 15s. a week and less to those of £2 a week and over. The result, he found, was that 32 per cent. of the 8,000,000 of male manual workers in this country were making less than 25s. per week. Further, there was this startling fact brought out, that the condition of these people was much the same as it had been twelve years previously. There had been a money rise in wages, I think, amounting to 12 per cent. or 13 per cent., but there had been a more than corresponding rise in prices; therefore the condition of the workers was pretty much the same as twelve years before. In that period the well-to-do classes of this country had had their incomes increased from £700,000,000 to £1,400,000,000, or a 50 per cent. increase.
It has been estimated that the national income is somewhere about £2,000,000,000 per year, which, divided amongst the population, gives £45 per head for every man, woman, and child, or £225 for a family. The manual workers do not get that £225 per family by a long way. As a simple matter of fact, they get about one-third of it. We submit that the other two-thirds goes to landlords and monopolists for the most part for absolutely no service rendered to the community. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire (Mr. Chiozza Money), who is one of the greatest authorities in these matters, has said somewhere that one-thirtieth of the population, and their monopolies, take about one-third of the national weatlh. The conditions under present arrangements are not only unjust; they are wasteful. I remember two years ago the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade about the £88,000,000. Low wages are really a cause of low purchasing power. With low wages we cannot keep the machine running. I wonder if the then Parliamentary Secretary had in his mind when he made that statement that, as a matter of fact, we lose a great deal more than £88,000,000 every year through unemployed men. I suppose, taking a long period, it will be found that at least half a million of men, willing to work but who cannot get it, are out of work every year. That is a very low estimate, but I do not want to go beyond reasonable figures. Suppose these half-million of 1292 men could produce wealth measured by £300 a year—there is £150,000,000, or twice the £88,000,000, which is wasted every year owing to unemployed men. Without going into the question of unemployed men let hon. Members put to themselves the condition of those in receipt of low wages.
There are possibly millions of families in this country who have not on an average more than £5 worth of furniture in their houses. Many of them have not that. Many, many thousands of them have not got a second shirt to their back; many of them do not use table linen and do not use many other things, not because they do not want them, but because they cannot get them, and we say that if the wages of the great masses of the people of this country were increased it would bring grist to your mill which is to put it on a very low ground indeed. I was reading only a few days ago an article in "The Hibbert Journal," by Professor Hugh Walker, in which he was discussing the question of the productivity of labour now as compared with a hundred years ago. He gives various estimates to show what labour can Produce now, as compared with a hundred years ago, some he goes so far as to say that we can produce, man for man, fifteen times as much as in days past, and he puts the question, "What has become of this enormous increase of the productive power of man?" and he proceeds to reply to his own question. He says part of it goes to enrich the already rich; part of it goes to the worker; but the great bulk of it is not used at all. It is not used at all because demand lags behind supply, and demand lags behind supply not because human needs are satisfied, but because the great mass of the people have not got the means wherewith to buy. That is what my hon. Friends around me and I have been trying to impress upon the people for the last twenty-five years or more. It is satisfactory to know that at last it has got into the head of a professor, and if we live long enough I have no doubt we shall get it into the heads of the Government.
We submit that the lack of purchasing power is to a very large extent the cause of our present difficulty, and that whilst you are increasing all sorts of international obligations and running into all sorts of international dangers, and talking about arming your merchant ships, you are neglecting this market upon your own doorsteps, if only your own people were better housed 1293 and fed. It is for these reasons we demand an economic wage minimum and we put that minimum wage at a point which just covers and no more than covers the bare physical needs of a person regarded as a human being in a civilised community. It will be argued again, no doubt, to-night, as it was two years ago, that wages ought to be left to the free play of economic law. I think that was the phrase used by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade two years ago. If that argument is used again we say that economic law is blind of an eye, that it is lop-sided. What effect has economic law, for instance in regard to the Duke of Westminster or any landlord owning land on the outskirts of any large growing town? The people of that town press upon the land day by day and they increase its price so that the owner may get rich; and, moreover, all sorts of arrangements take place by monopolists and employers of labour. As a matter of fact, the railways are not now in any sort of competition, and when the miners a year or so ago managed to improve their position, for every penny they got in increased wages, as everybody knows, twopence was put upon the price of coal. And not only are there arrangements between employers as to prices, but the employers are now organised so as to deal more effectively from their point of view in making bargains with labour; so that labour is not in the same position in the economic field as it used to be. As a matter of fact, we are living now in an age when combination is rapidly assuming monopolistic form and competition is going the way of all flesh. Competition used to be preached to us, but the very people who used to preach it as the Alpha and Omega of human wisdom are now getting rid of it as fast as they can with regard to their own business in all its phases except in the buying of labour; and even there we submit the employer stands in his own light in trying to depress it. I submit that low-priced labour benefits nobody. It is quite obvious it does not benefit the poor workman, whose life is a round of daily drudgery, unrelieved by recreation or holiday or food for the mind, and who very often cannot get enough food for the body. But it is clear, if one thinks if it, that low wages do not even benefit the employer. There is no stimulus to inventiveness under such circumstances. One of the things that struck me most in 1294 America was the many devices used for getting things out quickly and in large volume, and, of course, this was easily explainable. The high wages were always an incentive to the employers of labour to adopt the latest and the best methods of getting out work. On the other hand, low wages have the opposite effect in inducing or enabling the employer to retain old-fashioned and inefficient methods of production. As everybody knows, the agricultural labourer has to toil in summer's sun and winter's blast for a wage hardly sufficient to keep body and soul together, and probably now we have such men working for ten or twelve shillings a week, and it may be true, as the Duke of Marlborough said, he is not worth much more. But if he is not worth much more, I submit it is the Duke of Marlborough and others who are themselves responsible, who in times gone by reduced the agricultural labourer to this condition of inactivity and imbecility. At any rate, we say the employer does not benefit any more than the workman by cheap labour. If neither the employer nor the employed benefit from cheap labour the community benefits least of all. Poverty does not pay; it imposes a burden upon the community. Take the point of view of consumption. We are told that 70,000 people die every year from consumption, and the great bulk of them die between the ages of thirty-five and fifty, which ought to be the most productive period of their lives.
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board the other day stated that pauperism in this country was caused to the extent of 40 per cent. by widowhood and orphanhood. Consumption is a poverty disease, and consumption is largely responsible for this widowhood and orphanhood. But without going to the consumptives or the chronically diseased, let us take the average labourer. He has no margin for sickness; he gets sick a great deal more than the average man, and immediately that he gets sick he becomes a burden upon somebody or other, it may be upon his family or his friends, but to the extent that he is a burden he is taking something from the community. When he gets out of work exactly the same thing takes place. Old age comes on, and with diminished strength and health undermined, the workhouse is his only refuge, and in all these phases of the underpaid workman's life the man or his family is a burden upon the community.
1295 I was going to say a few words about prices. I cannot discuss prices in all their phases now. There are a lot of reasons or causes for increased prices which are ruling at the present time, but I am only going to deal with one. Whatever else may cause increased prices, at all events they depend upon plentifulness or scarcity of commodities. If commodities are plentiful, then prices ought to be low, and that being so, it seems to me that prices must be increased by the fact that hundreds of millions of money are taken year after year for unproductive expenditure and spent upon such things as guns, "Dreadnoughts," and torpedo boats. I am not now discussing whether they are necessary or not, but at all events the Government have the responsibility for providing these things. They have taken the responsibility of spending to an ever-increasing extent on these things every year, and they ought to see to it that in so far as prices are increased by that expenditure, wages should be correspondingly increased. As far as the practical aspect of the Resolution goes, it will be seen that we propose to set up wages boards with a view to adjusting wages at or above the standard, and therefore the charge of impractibility does not lie against this Resolution as it might have done in the case of our Resolution a few years ago.
We do not seek by an Act, of Parliament to set up by a fairy wand all at once 30s. a week. We propose that wages boards should be set up, and that they should consider all the surrounding circumstances of the situation. We also propose the Government should start at once paying a 30s. minimum to their own workmen, and they should also impose that wage upon those who do Government work elsewhere than in Government workshops. It may be said that that is unfair to those who have to pay the taxes, but I think it might be left to those who are getting less to bring that forward, and so far as I know they have never brought it forward. On the contrary, the trade unionists have always supported the demand for a 30s. minimum wage for Government workmen, and they have been wise in so doing, because they know perfectly well that just in proportion as the conditions of labour amongst, Government workmen are improved, so their chances of coming up to that standard are also improved. In Australia the legislation dealing with wages enacts that no Government workman, either man or 1296 woman, shall get less than £112 per year. There is nothing new so far as the principle is concerned, in this Resolution. In 1893 the House of Commons adopted the following Resolution:—That in the opinion of this House, no persons should in Her Majesty's naval establishments be engaged at wages insufficient to maintain a proper maintenance, and that the conditions of labour as regards hours, wages, etc., should be such as to afford an example to employers throughout the country.By that resolution the House of Commons, as a matter of fact, discarded competition in wages, and discarded also the idea of leaving wages open to the operation of economic laws. In the Debate on Friday last the President of the Local Government Board said:—If we want to make the rural countryside better than it is, it is by wages, wages, wages alone that it can be done.I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Very likely we could do something by organisation, but everybody knows who has had anything to do with the organisation of labour, the almost insurmountable difficulty of organising the agricultural labourers, working as they do in isolation, and very often under the eye of the local mandarin. Under our method the agricultural labourers would be brought together by the operation of these wages boards. They would be trained to think collectively, and the chances of them becoming organised would be a great deal better. A few months ago the Prime Minister made a speech, in which he said:—I do not believe that there is anyone acquainted with the conditions of urban and rural life who does not recognise that the first and most important step which is now to be taken towards raising the level, not only of comfort and refinement, but of civilisation itself, is to improve the conditions under which the less well-in-do classes live and work.These are brave words, but brave words butter no bread. We want those words translated into deeds. We want the Government to set about at once paying their own workmen a decent wage of 30s. a week. We want the Government to set up machinery, whereby the Resolution of 1893 can be put into operation, and by so doing we believe we shall be achieving something frought with good, not only to labour but to the whole community, and in the days to come we shall be setting a base line of civilised life below which none shall be submerged, and above which the people of this country can work their way to freedom.
§ Mr. ERNEST CRAIG
As this is the first occasion in which I have participated in debate in this House, I respect- 1297 fully claim its kind indulgence. I do so on the ground that the question under consideration is one in which I take a great interest. It seeks to benefit the condition of the working classes, and I would say that the whole period of my practical experience in life has been one of close association with the working classes. I deeply sympathise with any effort which has for its object the improvement of the conditions of the working classes. The motion which has been brought forward by the hon. Member for Woolwich establishes a fixed minimum wage of 30s. for labourers in rural and urban areas. The reason it is necessary is in order to satisfy a demand which is urgent. The Motion is put forward by an hon. Member of the Labour party, and I would not question his authority to deal fully with this question, but there are certain conditions which I would bring to the consideration of the House in order to enable us to test the proposal in the light of past experience and of recent events. Speaking for myself, I can say that I listened with painful attention to the illustrations which were given by the hon. Member as showing the urgency of this demand, and I believe that any improvement which could be legitimately brought about would be heartily welcomed on both sides of the House and also by the community in general. But however complete our agreement may be in this respect, the proposal raises two questions which seem to me to present certain difficulties and which require grave consideration. The two questions to which I wish to invite the consideration of the House are: first, the effect which the establishment of such a minimum wage would have upon industry; and, secondly, whether the Motion, if translated into law, would meet the demands and satisfy the requirements of the working classes.
I would remind the House that we have in recent years had experience of industrial legislation. The effect of this legislation, in addition to improving the condition of the working man, has also been to increase the cost of production of industrial commodities. The present Resolution if put into effect, would have a similar tendency, and I submit, before we take this step, it is advisable to consider the position in which we are now as the result of the industrial legislation to which I have referred. Recent legislation has perhaps more seriously and intimately affected the coal mining in- 1298 dustry than any other industry. I have been associated with that industry for upwards of thirty-five years, and I would therefore, with the permission of the House, submit certain results showing the effect recent legislation has had upon it. The figures that I have are taken from a colliery with which I am associated. They have been carefully taken out, and I venture to think they are to be depended upon. The first legislation to which I wish to draw attention was passed in 1909. The Eight Hours Bill was then passed. The effect of that Act was to decrease the production of coal in this particular colliery. It is a colliery which may be regarded as an average-going concern in a considerable mining district. Taking every man, boy, and official, every employé, we find that the production of coal from this colliery has decreased since the Act came into operation to the extent of 2¼ cwts. per day per man, and that the result of this reduction has been to increase the cost of production to the extent of 1s. O½d. per ton. In April, 1912, the Minimum Wage Act came into operation, and it has seriously disturbed the current of industry. It has had the effect of increasing the cost of production to the extent of a further 4d. per ton. It must be borne in mind that this legislation has an indirect as well as a direct influence, the indirect influence being due to the fact that workmen, like other human beings, are not entirely free from the frailties of human nature. I have as high a regard for the working man as anybody. His moral worth and his sterling qualities compare favourably with any class of society, and I shall not be charged with being unfair or prejudiced when I say that the lower grade section of the working men, finding themselves secure of a fixed minimum wage, no longer put forward their best efforts. As a consequence we get less work from them, and that necessitates the employment of additional men.
In July, 1912, the National Health Insurance Act came into operation, and it had the effect of further increasing the cost of coal to the extent of per ton, due to money contributions. This is inappreciable compared with the effect which this legislation has had upon the very class of labour to which I have already referred—those whose moral stamina is not sufficient to enable them to resist the temptation to abstain from work in the case of slight ailments which 1299 before the passing of the National Insurance Act would not have been considered as sufficient justification for abstention from work. Therefore we see that this Act, and the Minimum Wage Act in a less degree, have had a demoralising influence upon that class of workman who are influenced more by their desire for an easy life than they are for conscientious achievement. I do not submit any estimate as to the full effect of the Insurance Act, but I am satisfied that it is considerable. I would have it understood that these remarks do not apply to those classes of conscientious workmen who constitute the vast majority of workmen, and who condemn the action of those I have already named as being blameworthy and reprehensible. They would, I am satisfied, if they were called upon to express their judgment, be more severe in their condemnation even than the employers. This may in time have the effect of modifying this evil, but I am satisfied that it is at present a serious factor, and I wish to draw attention to it for the purpose of showing that such legislation as we are considering is not wholly beneficial. It has a pernicious and demoralising element in it, and if such legislation is necessary it should be carefully considered and wisely dealt with. These three causes I am satisfied have had the effect of increasing the cost of production of coal to the extent of at least 1s. 6d. per ton. It must be borne in mind that anything which affects the coal industry also affects other manufacturing industries, as they depend largely on coal. This 1s. 6d. per ton has had the effect of increasing the cost of iron to the extent of 5s. per ton finished. We recognise that this legislation has all been stimulated for the purpose of benefiting the workman. He has benefited thereby by shorter hours and by the enjoyment of a certain fixed minimum wage, while provision has been made against the natural disturbing occurrences of life. It is in these benefits that we find the justification for past legislation.
There is another influence to which I should like to call attention, and which is year by year more and more seriously disturbing the current of industry and has affected increasingly the cost of production of articles. I refer to the influence which the Joint Stock Acts and the Limited Liability Acts have had on the relationship between employer and employed. These Acts came into operation about fifty years 1300 ago and served a useful purpose. They enabled a large amount of capital to be collected for the purpose of developing large industries. But they have not been without harmful effect. The individual relationship which existed between the individual employer and the workmen has been disturbed. The individual employer has been replaced largely by a board of directors, management being carried on by arbitrary dictation from delegated authority. We find that this has not had a good effect upon industry, and that when the individual employer gives place to the board of directors, when the individual management is merged into corporate management, the cost of production in those industries very seriously increases. It is within my own experience that this is the case, and this adverse influence has a result in the effect which this change of relationship has upon the working man. It has a depressing influence upon him, and, as a consequence, it tends to a lessening of effort on his part. We see that recent legislation, as well as legislation which is more remote, has tended to increase the cost of production of industrial commodities: first, by limiting production, by increasing wages, and, latterly, if I may be permitted to use the word, dehumanising the relationship between employer and employed.
There is a limit to the capacity for increased cost of production, and it is unnecessary for me to remind the House that when the cost of production of articles equals or exceeds the price which can be realised for them in the open market the collapse of those industries is merely a matter of time. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that an important industry in this country is at the present time not entirely free from anxiety in this respect. I refer to the tinplate industry of South Wales. That industry is being driven out of our Colonial markets because it cannot, at the present time, compete with the recently developed tinplate industry of the United States. The demand from Canada has, during the last six years, been largely supplied from the tinplate industry in South Wales. But within the last two years it has seriously fallen off and our exportation of tinplate to Canada last year instead of representing the major part of the quantity Canada requires was only 9,000 tons, as compared with 53,000 tons supplied by the United States. This loss 1301 is not due to any inferiority, it is due to the fact that, under existing conditions, the tinplate industry in South Wales cannot compete with that of the United States, and as a consequence it is threatened with short time. This is the case when trade is booming throughout the world, and we must bear in mind that our experience of recent legislation is confined to that period when the world's trade has been greatly expanding and when competition has been slacking off. We have yet to have our experience of this legislation when trade becomes depressed and when competition becomes keen, before we can give a practical judgment as to the wisdom or unwisdom of the legislation to which I have referred.
I submit that a further increase in the cost of production of industrial commodities may have the effect of excluding them from their markets, and, if they lose their markets abroad, it means checking production at home. Full employment will give place to short time. Consider what this would mean to the industrial world. We may be called upon, if we recognise this minimum wage, to consider whether the wages already granted are not vain and idle mockeries. To attempt it by arbitrary legislation, without careful and full consideration, may prove to be suicidal. It should not be attempted without the greatest consideration, and it is necessary for us to have more time in order to complete our experience in this matter. I now turn to a brief consideration of my second question, whether this legislation, if enacted, will have the effect of satisfying the demands and meeting the requirements of the working classes. In order to consider this, it is necessary for me to assume that industrial conditions are such as will justify the payment of the minimum wage. I have, therefore, to assume that our industries will be sufficiently protected at home and that our Imperial markets will also be available to meet the increasing production. I venture to submit that if we were to grant a minimum wage such as we are asked to establish, it would not meet the requirements nor would it satisfy the demands of the working classes. If, instead of the moderate minimum wage asked we were to give the highest minimum which the favourable conditions I assume could afford, it would still, in my opinion, not meet the requirements or satisfy the demands of the working classes.
1302 The industrial unrest which is disturbing us to-day is, I believe, the result of influences which are higher in their source than merely the instinct for self-preservation. Increased remuneration would no doubt, in a measure, allay the industrial unrest, but it would only allay it for a time. The desires of the working men to-day are influenced by other considerations which increased remuneration will not gratify. There is a natural craving, seeking for gratification, which springs from the higher qualities of human nature, those qualities which the working man, in common with all other human beings, possesses, and has possessed for all time, but not until recently has he sought to enforce their recognition. I cannot better illustrate the craving I refer to than by taking a recent event. It is only a few weeks ago that we were discussing the possibility of a national railway strike, not for an increase in wages or for an improvement in conditions, but in order that one man should receive justice in accordance with the ideals of his fellow men. A guard had been given a printed instruction for his guidance and protection. He was ordered by his superior to disobey that instruction. He refused, and was dismissed. His fellow men demanded first his reinstatement on the ground of justice, and they offered as an alternative national industrial paralysis. Would it have been possible for such a thing to occur twenty years ago? I do not think it is possible to conceive it, but it is the fact that it has recently occurred, and no more illuminating illustration could be given for the purpose of showing that the working man to-day, realising that he has power, intends to use that power not only for the purpose of obtaining proper remuneration for his work, but that while at work he shall be regarded and treated as a reasonable, intelligent, and responsible human being. Sixteen hours in the day are divided for him into work and recreation. He finds that for part of the time he is treated as a human being and for another part he is regarded as a machine. He revolts against this, and wishes to be regarded as a human being all the time. So we find the working man to-day is disturbed by a complication of desires. They are not very difficult to understand; they are partly material and partly psychological.
The working man desires to get better results by less effort; in other words, 1303 higher wages by working less time. Further, he seeks the opportunity to express, in the exercise of his daily effort, for existence, the higher qualities of his mature—his reason, his intelligence, and his moral responsibility. I submit that the gratification of those desires is to be found by the combination of those very qualities from which those desires spring. Better results from less effort, higher wages, and less work mean, in industrial communities at all events, less production and higher cost, and that is a condition we cannot face. It can only be met by more strenuous effort on the part of the workman or by higher efficiency. Little advantage is to be expected from more strenuous effort. The limit is soon arrived at in this particular. We have barely begun to appreciate the possibilities of human efficiency. By increased efficiency we may seek to achieve the increased results demanded. Human efficiency is the result of effort, directed by intelligence, and steadied by responsibility. Those elements are available in the working men to-day. They seek to find expression, and their desires in this respect should be strengthened and encouraged. You cannot strengthen a man by pandering to his natural weaknesses; you do not encourage him by dehumanising him; but you will strengthen him when you afford him an opportunity of achieving something which is well worth his while, something which is reasonable, appreciable, and practical, and you encourage him if you justly recognise his intelligence and his sense of responsibility. The elements which are necessary to be combined in order to produce this efficiency will be found when the interest which the working man has in the industries in which he is engaged is substantially increased to something which is more than merely work for wages, when the interests of the employer and the employed become identified in every particular, when these two classes are united by the common bonds of humanity and material interests, and ending this unnatural relationship with its waste and strife, co-operate in confidence under conditions favourable to the highest efficiency. The spirit of industry, which is now starved and distracted, will, responding, make possible the attainment of the most sanguine desires cherished by those who aim at improving the condition of the working men.
§ Mr. ALDEN
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out all from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words—
"this House would welcome the setting up of any effective machinery whereby a legal Minimum Wage might be secured to the worker in all those trades in which wages are below subsistence point; and is of opinion that a minimum standard of living cannot be secured for the whole community apart from such enactment."
I should like to thank the hon. Member who has just sat down for having delivered a very sincere and serious speech. I differ from him in some of his remarks, and I do not think that the moral lesson he has read the Labour Members was quite called for. He reminded me of a remark made by a professor of mathematics, who, speaking of a certain branch of pure mathematics said:—This branch of pure mathematics has never been disfigured by any practical application.I do not know the hon. Member very well, but I think it will be very difficult for him to keep up to the high standard he has set the House. I want to call attention to one or two things he has said, before I refer to my own Amendment, and to traverse the figures he has given with regard to two great industries in Wales. I hardly think the records, as far as the South Wales collieries are concerned at all events, would bear out the hon. Member's pessimistic vision to-night. I believe that the dividends for the South Wales collieries are, or will be this year, record dividends. If we turn to tin plates, which he seemed to think were almost a dying trade, we are told that the export of tin plates to Canada is very seriously decreasing. In January, 1913, we exported 456 tons, in February the export is 892 tons.
§ Mr. ALDEN
If you compare the two months of last year I admit there is a slight decrease, but the point of the matter is that there is now a steady increase, and everyone who is in the tinplate industry knows perfectly well that it is extremely prosperous, and they are looking forward to being able to export a much larger quantity of tin plates to the United States owing to the revision of the Tariff. The hon. Member also spoke of the pernicious and demoralising influence of legislation which has been 1305 designed to give a minimum wage or to increase wages. I cannot agree with him. I really do not think the average employer of labour will agree with him on this subject. I happened only yesterday to be chatting with a foreman in a very large works where a large number of men are employed, and I said to him: "We often discuss the question in the House of Commons as to whether the average working man is improving in morale and character or not. What is your opinion?" He said: "There is not a shadow of doubt that the average working man is infinitely better than he was. He is a man of better character; a man of soberer habits, and a man who does his work well without being watched, and in my own experience, while some of these men have been working for me for fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen years, I find they will come to me on a job and say over and over again, sometimes once a week, 'Is it paying? Is it doing well?'" showing their anxiety, though they only get a weekly wage, that the employer should get his share and that credit should be done. If you ask the average employer who considers his men and exercises a humanising influence you will find that the employer will tell you there may be a few cases of men who shirk their work and do not do their duty, but in most cases the standard of work is improving.
I am sorry the hon. Member did not keep a little more closely to the Resolution. I wish to move an Amendment, not because I am hostile to the Resolution, although I am opposed to the method by which an attempt is made to obtain a minimum wage. I think we are all agreed that a minmum wage is necessary, at any rate in the sense of a subsistence wage. I do not think anyone will deny that a subsistence wage ought to prevail in every trade. Of course, it is not enough in theory to believe in a subsistence wage. We ought to show in practice that we believe in it whether we employ men or women or whether we have any influence with those who employ them, or whether we are in the House of Commons and can bring influence to bear in that way. We ought to say that we are in favour of it and that we desire the actual fact to come into being. We wish every employer to pay a subsistence wage, and we wish to see all the working classes paid a living minimum wage. Let us admit that. I think we are agreed upon the subject, although the hon. Member seems to think 1306 that if an industry is going to suffer a man might be denied a living wage—that if you can show it is going to increase the cost of production you have a sort of right to say that he must be content with less than a living wage. I see no other alternative. If you start from the point of view, as I think you ought, that every man is entitled to a living wage, and if it is necessary in order to give him a living wage that you should increase his present wage, that must be put upon production, and somehow or other it must be paid for, though I agree with the hon. Member (Mr. Crooks) that in most cases it comes out of the pocket of the working man.
I have to deal with the Resolution and the Amendment which I have suggested. May I, without seeming to be in any sense hostile to the general principle and tone of the speeches which have been made, point out that this Resolution is inconsistent with itself? You cannot have a universal minimum wage side by side with the application of the Trade Boards Act. The Trade Boards Act presupposes a different method for fixing a minimum wage altogether, and the mistake that it seems to me the hon. Member makes is in inserting this 30s. into a Resolution which asks the House of Commons to apply the Trade Boards Act. That seems to me to be the fundamental blunder. You cannot make these two things run together. Then let us take one or two of the expressions in the Resolution—"the right of every family in the country to an income sufficient to enable it to maintain its members in decency and comfort should be recognised." Following on that is a certain minimum for every adult worker, man or woman, I suppose—married or unmarried, I suppose. I admit it is not a case of town and country, because the distinction is made in the Resolution itself between town and country, though that is the only distinction that is made. I do not think those who have framed the Resolution can mean that. Let us take the case for example—a case which I happen to know myself—of a family of which the father is earning some 28s., one of the sons is earning 25s., and one of the daughters is earning 16s. According to this Resolution every one of these three members in the family would be immediately raised to 30s., and I really do not think that was quite the intention of those who framed the Resolution in the first instance. I am not complaining of 1307 the actual amount of 30s.—I am complaining of the method by which it is worked into a Resolution which is based upon the Trade Boards Act.
May I take one or two cases? A universal State minimum is almost impossible of application unless you fix a rather low minimum. I do not see how you can, for example, say that in every district and in every trade there shall be one universal minimum. I really do not think that is possible, and I fancy that if you were to apply that universal minimum of 30s. the effect would be, right away, without making any distinction, and the Resolution makes no distinction whatever between men and women, that hundreds of thousands of women would be thrown out of employment. I do not think there is any doubt whatever about that. At any rate, I should be willing to listen to argument, but is it seriously contended that if your unversal minimum was 30s. the hundreds of thousands of women who are employed throughout the length and breadth of the land would have very much chance of employment under these circumstances? Is it not almost certain that in many trades at all events men would be preferred? I am in favour of the minimum wage law, and I am in favour of the application of the Trade Boards Act. I am in favour of the fixing of a minimum wage in every trade, but it is because of that that I oppose the putting of this 30s. into the Resolution, because it effectually prevents you from dealing with an individual trade. That is the only method by which we shall ever get a minimum wage in this country. The only method is by taking an individual trade and suiting yourself to the conditions and needs of that trade in each individual district and locality. I have always approved of the working of the Trade Boards Act. The hon. Members who moved and seconded the Resolution both approve of the working of that Act, and they support it by their Resolution. I really cannot understand why, having given their adhesion to the working of the Trade Boards Act, they should insert a 30s. minimum in the Resolution which practically destroys that Act.
May I say a word about the rural side of the question, because that is also included in this Resolution? I admit that the wage of the average labourer is far too low. I was reading to-night a report of a meeting of the Norfolk County Council, 1308 which states that that council has refused to pay a minimum wage of 15s. a week to its road men. That would be a shilling a week more than the agricultural labourer receives in Norfolk. At present the county council is paying 13s. or 14s. to road men. I know what the hon. Member for Woolwich would say. He would say that £1 a week for an agricultural labourer is not too much. Even that is very different from what the Resolution proposes. There are some small provincial towns where 20s. a week goes as far as 30s. in London. London is altogether different in character. The Norfolk County Council says that it will not pay 15s. a week to its road men. You have at the same time agricultural labourers in that county who are being paid 13s. and 14s. a week. The hon. Members who moved and seconded the Resolution surely would not contend that road men and agricultural labourers in Norfolk are at all in the same position as agricultural labourers in some portions of the country, or road men in other portions of the country. The conditions are quite different in different parts of the country. In the North of England the agricultural labourer is paid a higher wage than in Norfolk, and I contend that £1 a week to an agricultural labourer is not too much. I think the industry would bear it. That only goes to prove that the agricultural labourer is engaged in a special trade, and that you should separate him from other labourers like those who work for the county council. You cannot lay down one hard and fast definite rule for all trades, industries, and localities. It seems to me that the result, if you tried to do that, would be to throw a very large number of people out of work.
I do not wish to go into the question whether the wage proposed by the Resolution is anything more than a subsistence wage. Personally, I do not think it is. It is only a wage which would enable the average man to live in a state of physical efficiency and keep his wife and children. We all believe that there are a large number of families in which there is no such thing as physical efficiency. About 12,000,000 people in the country do not live in homes in which the whole income is more than £1 a week, and in many cases the amount is less than that. No one seriously contends that that is adequate. I do not think anyone would get up and say that in London or any large industrial centre £1 a week is a sufficient income for 1309 a family. Everybody knows that the children in those families, as the result of this low income, are inadequately fed and clothed. Let me give one illustration, because the hon. Member for Woolwich spoke about the food of the average child. The average home with two small children should spend 3s. 6d. or 4s. on milk if the children are to grow up strong. How is it possible for a labourer to spend that amount on milk? If you remember the amount which has to be spent on clothing and boots, you will see how little there is to spare for food. I trust those who sit on the Labour Benches will see their way to accept some modification of their own Resolution. I am sure there are in this House a large number of men who would like to vote with them, and who believe that a minimum wage should, if possible, be fixed by law. I speak for myself, and I say that there is nothing I want to see more than a minimum wage fixed in every trade, and certainly in every trade where the workers have low pay. There are men on both sides of the House who would vote for such a Resolution. I would urge hon. Members not to put us in the position of voting against this Resolution which we cannot consistently support. I have always declared myself in favour of extending the Trade Boards Act. Part of this Resolution approves of that very method. I say, therefore, it would be better and wiser on the part of those who moved the Resolution to omit 30s., which makes it impossible for us, or for any Government, to apply it under the Trade Boards Act. Let us try to get something which is possible, and not something which is impracticable.
§ Mr. WING
I beg to second the Amendment. There have been two or three admissions made to-night as to things which may be regarded as fairly settled. One is that poverty is very unpopular, and that there is a growing distaste of it on the part of all classes. That seems to me a significant sign. The present system under which poverty prevails has been impeached, and an inference has been drawn which I think is correct, namely, that the poor are exploited in the largest market of the world, where there are openings for industry not to be found anywhere else. The reason that these are not availed of is the inadequacy of the payment which a very large number of our workers receive. I support very heartily the position taken up by the hon. Member for 1310 Tottenham in the Amendment which he has just moved. It accepts the principle of a minimum wage without asking for the legal enactment of a universal amount. To make a minimum wage, that would be by Statute applicable to all industries, is really a very old exploded view, which has been dropped. In this country we not only gave fixity of wages, but also fixity of occupation, and fixity of district, and it was only as the result of a very great struggle that all this was fought down in order that men might have the free opportunity to state the amount of money they should receive. The principle of minimum wage, as I understand the hon. Member for Tottenham, is that each industry should be able to consider the difficulties surrounding that industry, for instance, that it should be able to consider the position taken up by the hon. Member opposite as to foreign competition. The minimum wage also introduces an element, which is a great improvement upon what you would call an industrial strike for increase of wages, namely, the principle of an independent authority between the two parties, to consider the claims on the one hand and the possibility of granting them on the other. That seems to me to be a very great point gained.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, along with his other Friends have partly left the idea of a universal fixed minimum, but I may compliment them upon their being able to use it very largely in the country. "Thirty shillings a week minimum wage" is a good electioneering bill. I have experienced that, and I wish to ask them if they are going to continue to maintain their position without alterations in this particular matter? If they are altering their position in this particular matter, are they going to cease to abuse the Government? If they include five and two in the Minimum Wage Act, then they are going to leave the fixity of wages to Statute, and they are condemning the conditions necessary to carry out the idea which they now accept. I have just passed through a contest in which this principle was made by my opponent the great central principle of the fight, namely, the fixing of a minimum wage by Parliament. No matter where you went by road or rail, or into what shop or home you went you found it there always facing you, and the electors were called upon to consider the possibility of five and two. Experts on this particular question went 1311 down to the constituency in very large numbers, and discussed it night after night and all day long, and I may ask if you are going to put yourself in this position of adopting a Resolution to-night for a wage board for the settlement of wages, where do you stand in fighting this Particular matter, while at the same time accepting the provision which the Government have adopted in the Miners Minimum Wage Act? You either accept the one and reject the other, or your position becomes in my mind inconsistent. I stood by the Government all the time, and the miners were called upon to give their verdict, and their verdict was given, and given in this sense.
§ Mr. WING
That shows that you did not rob us of the majority of the votes that you got. I want to point out to you that the Conservative stood in exactly the same position as myself. Therefore, the majority still stands very largely against you. I stand by the minimum wage, because I believe that it is the best means of settling the question of wages, and I think that the House is entitled in considering a matter of this kind, to realise that the welfare of the masses of the people is not the monopoly of any particular party in this House. It is quite possible for this to be extended to all parties, and it would be a very gratifying thing, I believe, to workers outside, that the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Tottenham should be one upon which this House should have the possibility of giving a vote. I give it my wholehearted support, because I believe that it offers no cruel illusions to the people by lifting up their hopes, and then sending them away unsatisfied, but that it gives an opportunity to industry to settle the amount on the conditions of these industries, and is better than saying "vote for so and so and 30s. a week," where the one gets the vote and the other gets nothing. There is a possibility of this being extended from industry to industry until there comes about pretty nearly something of the kind of minimum for which we know our Friends are fighting. But I want to say that this will not settle industrial unrest. There is no finality to wages. There will be no finality to wages. Wages will be as much as the 1312 labourer himself can get, and I do not see why you should limit it to 30s.
The largest amount of industrial unrest in Government Departments is not among those who receive under 30s., but among those who receive over 30s. There is no finality to dividends or profits, and I see no reason why there should be any finality to wages. Further, I do not think that there will be any settlement of industrial unrest until each man earning in some way becomes the master of his own destiny, so that, by an alteration of the law, he is enabled to get closer to his employer than he is at the present time, and a man shall be able to say to himself, "If I employ myself, I can earn so much," and unless a man will offer him more than he can earn himself, he will not offer himself for employment. But that is no reason why we should not try to relieve the pressure, abolish poverty, and alleviate wrong, as far as possible. Again, at the same time, I think we should keep our mind fixed upon some ideal in relation to an alteration in our land laws. That would bring about wider opportunities for the people, because what men want is an alternative to their present opportunities. Very large numbers are seeking it in emigration. I would add to that also the opening up of land, in order that men should have something for themselves. I have pleasure in seconding the proposal.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
As this House has more than once refused to fix a definite standard of wages, I will not discuss that question. I cannot but agree with the hon. Member for Woolwich when he says that the time has now arrived for the extension of the Trade Boards Act. Whatever opinion may be held as to the advisability of State interference in matters of wages, I think it is possible to travel along the road very far by means of a common principle, and I think we must all agree that the wages should be such as to maintain the highest efficiency of the worker, and that human labour is only efficient on adequate means. Unfortunately, in this country there is on the fringe of every industry, however well paid and however prosperous, a body of inadequately paid labour. Take the Returns of the Board of Trade. In the textile, the clothing, the building, and metal industries, and in the public utility services, at least 10 per cent. earn less than £1 a week. Blackburn, so far as I know, is not a place where you 1313 would expect to find a great number of very ill-paid workmen—in fact it is one of the most prosperous places of industry in the country. I have here a description of how the poor in Blackburn live, and it is apparent that there must be large numbers of heads of families there who are only earning £1 a week. It may be interesting to the House to hear how these people live. According to the statistics of the Trade Boards, in a family of eight each member was fed on less than 2d. a day, the actual sum spent being 1s. per head per week. If that be so, it is quite evident that the heads of families in Blackburn and elsewhere are keeping them at much less than the subsistence level. If a large number of our workers are being maintained at less than the subsistence level, and if they are so poor and miserable and weak that it is not possible for them to combine and improve their position, I do not see why we should not agree that the State should step in to help to improve their position for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. Cooper) thinks we should be able to effect this by means of a black list. The black list, I cannot help thinking, would be dilatory and unsatisfactory.
In 1909 the Minimum Wage was applied to several industries by means of Trade Boards, and, so far as I can gather, has proved successful. It is working more successfully in some cases than in others. It is not working so successfully in the lace trade, which is not in so prosperous a condition as formerly, owing to the vagaries of fashion. In Cradley Heath the minimum wage given by the Trade Boards Act is from 50 per cent. to 100 per cent. more, and the workers there were never in a more prosperous condition, everybody being much more happy and comfortable than before. My objection to the black list arises from the fact that the Trade Boards Act is particularly suitable for dealing with two special difficulties in regard to these lowly paid industries. The first difficulty in these lowly paid industries is the great variations in the price of labour. I am told that in the East-End of London a factory at one end of the street pays a good average wage, while workers in a factory at the other end of the street, carrying on the same industry, are paid a low rate of wages. There is then this in the way of the workers, that it is difficult to get certain employers into an agreement, and when they are in they very often break away. 1314 As an illustration of that I should like to refer to the condition of the bakers in Birmingham, into which there was an investigation lately. Eighty per cent. of them work from seventy-four to eighty-four hours per week; at least 10 per cent. of them work one hundred hours per week, and the rank and file only average from 22s. to 26s. per week. On Saturdays they work from sixteen to twenty-two hours. There is no fixed meal time, as many have to get their meals while they work. There are many employers who deplore those conditions, but they cannot improve them because of the very keen competition from the smaller bakers. I contend if the Trade Boards Act was applied to the bakers in Birmingham there would be a general improvement all round, because, after all, the Trade Boards Act only seeks to level up the bad employer to the level of the good. In nearly every industry in this country there is a very good standard to which to level up.
I should like to say a few words about the condition of the agricultural labourer. If it is not exactly a sweated trade, there must, I think, be general agreement there is a large number of workers who are not receiving a wage which is such as to maintain them in adequate efficiency. For instance, Miss Davies investigated the conditions of the labourers in a village in Wiltshire, and she found 144 people in all were in the winter of 1906 living in a condition of primary poverty. There is also the famous investigation of Mr. Mann as to the condition of a village in Bedfordshire. He found that 41 per cent. of the workers there were without means of sustaining life in a state of physical efficiency. But, it is argued, to increase by means of Trade Boards the wages of the agricultural labourers to any large extent would put a very severe burden upon industry. I am not sure that that is an argument which will stand examination. For instance, if you compare Durham and Dorsetshire, two counties with much the same proportion arable and pasture, you will find that in Durham the wages of the labourer is 22s. per week, while the labourer in Dorsetshire only receives 16s. 6d. per week. In Durham it takes nineteen labourers to cultivate a thousand acres, while in Dorsetshire it takes thirty-six labourers to cultivate the same amount of acres. That seems to me to prove that the farmer in Durham is not paying any more for his work than the farmer in Dorsetshire, and 1315 if the farmer in Dorsetshire would only increase the wages, it would have the same effect as in Durham. I cannot help thinking that a rise of wages to the agricultural labourer would be a benefit to the landlord, the farmer, and the labourer; and I am perfectly ready myself to receive any proposal dealing with this matter by the Trades Boards in a sympathetic spirit. I cannot help taking this opportunity of making an appeal that the condition of agircultural classes, both as to wages and housing should be received by this House as a non-party question. We owe a deep debt of reparation to the agricultural labourer who has been victimised and exploited many times in the course of his career. He has been victimised and exploited in the Enclosure Acts, the industrial revolution and the poor law. I am afraid there is a danger now that he is going to be victimised and exploited in order to make party capital at the next General Election by the party opposite. But I hope that that will not be so. There is a great deal of sincerity both in the country and in this House on the question, and whoever may bring the subject forward I shall give him my hearty and unbiassed support.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Robertson)
I have no doubt that advocacy of such an ideal as has been discussed tonight, an ideal which some may look upon as unpractical and Utopian, is from many points of view not an unprofitable way for the House once in a way to spend its time. I, at any rate, am always willing to hear the case restated and reargued. I think, however, that the matter might have been considered a little more from the practical point of view than it is in the Resolution before the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Crooks), in his brilliant speech, the wit and pathos of which, as usual, attracted and fascinated the House, apparently suggested that he alone in this Assembly, or those for whom he stood, are intent on doing some real work on behalf of the underpaid workers, and that while the rest of us have only phrases of sympathy, he had a real working programme. Is he quite so sure? After all, his eloquent speech was really not much more than a brilliant expression of sympathy. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Alden) has pointed out how absolutely contra- 1316 dictory the Resolution is. It proposes an extension of the Trade Boards Act, and demands that that extension shall take the form of the establishment of a minimum wage of 30s. for urban districts and a corresponding rate for rural districts. That, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, is an absolute destruction of the Trade Board principle. If you fix a figure, whether for urban or for rural districts, there is no need for a Trade Board at all. What are you going to call a Trade Board together for? A Trade Board exists to adjust the wages in a given trade in reference to the conditions of that trade, both masters and men being represented. If you are going to lay down a rate in advance, there is no excuse for calling a Trade Board together. The Resolution is self-contradictory, inasmuch as it proposes to establish by law a 30s. minimum, and at the same time suggests that the Government should set an example. If you make a universal rate compulsory, how can the Government set an example? The Government would only be falling into line. But I do not want to argue the question on these inconsistencies. Perhaps the House will take it for granted that I share in the sympathy which has been expressed by previous speakers. I cordially subscribe to every ideal which has been put forward by the different speakers to-night. What is the House asked to do? I will take the proposals in the simplest form in which they are made, eliminating the questions of contradiction. I will take the case in what the hon. Member for Woolwich regards as its strongest aspect. He claims that labour produces wealth sufficient to give a minimum wage of 30s. His argument is that the thing can be done. He says that Parliament can do it. Will the proposal really bear any examination? My hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars alluded to a figure given by my predecessor in office—he seemed to ascribe it to me—to the effect that £88,000,000 would be required to carry into effect the proposal to raise all wages to a minimum of 30s. per week. That figure was given before we had the advantage of the Census of Production. Now the Census of Production is available, and we know that that figure is immensely short of the mark—that £200,000,000 is nearer the mark. But I am glad to be able to cite in my support the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). If I be suspected of any want of sympathy in stating that this is an impracticable proposal, let 1317 me remind the House of what my hon. Friend said at a meeting of the Yorks Divisional Council of the Independent Labour party in July, 1911, when this question of a 30s. minimum week was ventilated. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn pointed out that if you set up such a law the effect would be—and he was assuming that the power of the capitalist and of the landlord remained as it was to-day—thatwithin a week of your 30s. per week minimum wage law every cotton mill in Lancashire would be closed.That is perfectly true.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I am afraid the sense of humour of the hon. Member somewhat fails him. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn was obviously speaking ironically on that point. It is singular to find that the two Amendments by hon. Gentlemen opposite implicitly admit that those concerned are afraid of the importation of goods made by sweated labour in tariff countries. That is an admission—
§ The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean)
The question of tariffs does not enter into our discussion. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will keep to the question before the House.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I only replied to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite in his interruption. To return to the main issue, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn entirely agrees that if you establish a minimum wage of 30s. you would practically close every cotton mill in Lancashire within a week. To give adequate subsistence in the terms of the Resolution to those concerned would be to take away the income of tens of thousands of people. Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Woolwich, a few of the facts broadly proved by the Census of Production. We can compare the figures of the product of some 7,000,000 of persons, mainly adult. Of 2,000,000 of these 7,000,000 the output over the whole industry does not amount to £75 per head per annum. If you take two young persons as equivalent on the average to one adult, you would make the average a little higher, but it would make very little difference to the total calculation. Of 2,200,000 more the total output is under £100 per annum. 1318 So there you have 4,200,000 persons out of 7,000,000 in all, where you do not get the production per head of £100 per annum. It is perfectly obvious in the case of 2,000,000 you do not get a product of £75 per annum. I grant there are other industries and trades where wages are unusually low, but if you paid a 30s. minimum wage in the first set of industries I have taken, you not only would have no profit and no interest on capital, but there would be no rates and taxes and no wages for clerks; there would be nothing to write off against depreciation of machinery, and you would devote the whole net profit of the industry to the wage-earners alone. I grant, if you put down every two young persons for one adult, you get a small difference in the figures, but even taking every two young persons as equal to one adult you will still find the industry is not able to pay. In face of that, is it feasible to propose a minimum wage of 30s. The broad proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars is that the wealth is there, but is he not misled by the figures of national income. If you take the figures of national income as giving a fair clue or a sound clue to a possible distribution you will soon find yourself in difficulty. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars found that by dividing the alleged national income you would give £225 to each family; but does he suppose that if you divide the purchasing power and the income in that fashion you would get anything like what £225 now represents? I cannot calculate at the moment how much, but it is obvious that the rise in price of everything from the enormously increased demand would immensely lessen the amount of the distributed wealth. My hon. Friend is really mistaken in taking the amount of national income as representing real national wealth. I hope I will get the hon. Member for Woolwich to agree with me one day in another ideal which might be stated in these words: The business of national betterment is, in the first place, the avoidance of wasteful expenditure, and, further, the increase in the production of real wealth per head of the population. The mere method of the arbitrary creation of a wage of 30s. per week will certainly never attain the object. Much of what the hon. Member for Blackfriars said as to what harm was done in the past by a bad land system is not very relevant to the proposals before the House. To say 1319 that all the harm can easily be remedied by Parliament, and that Parliament has only to enact it and make it law, is a proposition which cannot be maintained. Hon. Members talk of the evils of unemployment, but they propose a scheme which will multiply those evils. This proposal would multiply unemployment on the admission of the hon. Member for Blackburn. The arguments put forward in support of this Resolution are not practical. I do not know whether we need occupy ourselves with what was said in an interesting maiden speech by the hon. Member for Crewe, who drew a dismal picture of the harm wrought by recent legislation. He actually said that the Insurance Act had raised the price of coal by one shilling a ton—
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
That is what the hon. Member actually said. I do not know whet her that was what he meant.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The hon. Member said 1s. per ton, and I am pleased to have given him this opportunity of making the correction. As for the picture he drew of the tinplate trade, some nine years ago we heard a good deal of what was called the rattling of tinplates at that period, and we were told then that the trade was doomed. That announcement, however, was followed by a far greater development in that trade than it had ever experienced before. We hear a good deal about the tinplate trade and the dumping of American tinplates, and any temporary check is always fastened upon as giving a new justification for a change in our fiscal policy. The last news I have had of the tinplate trade in this country is contained in yesterday's "South Wales Daily News," which states that an order has just come from the Standard Oil Trust for £40,000 worth of tin plates. I do not accept responsibility for that statement, but looking to the general state of the trade I think that item is more in consonance with the real development than the gloomy picture the hon. Member has presented to-night. I do not wish it to be supposed that I am presenting a rosy picture of industrial prosperity as against the picture drawn by the hon. Member for Woolwich, and I hope he will not suppose that I am suggesting that the lot of labour is some- 1320 thing splendid. I have never indulged in that kind of argument.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
If the hon. Member has read my book he will know that I do not mean that thrift is a fallacy; but that the economic doctrine that saving for investment to any extent, benefits all, is a fallacy. As regards economic science, let me remind my hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars of the view which was expressed in an article on this question in the "Nineteenth Century" for last month by Professor Pigou, who is one of the foremost and one of the most acute of the younger generation of our economic professors. My hon. Friend will find that he gives a very guarded endorsement of the methods of the Trade Boards. As to other forms of minimum wage, he not only does not share the optimism of my hon. Friend, but he is still more guarded in his endorsement of any experiment of that kind. My hon. Friend the Member for the Blackfriars Division spoke of an economic law being blind with one eye. I think even a labour leader might labour under that infirmity at times. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Alden) has indicated a practical way in which the hopes and the ideas of hon. Members can, in a moderate degree, be realised; and to that Resolution I do not think the Government would have anything to object, save perhaps as regards the somewhat too sweeping character of one phrase. I merely suggest that it would be imprudent to apply the Trade Board system to every industry where the wages are too low; it might, in one or two cases, close down the industry altogether. [An HON. MEMBER: "And a good job too."] More unemployment and the income of the family gone! Some of my hon. Friends view light-heartedly the effect of some of their schemes. The policy of extending the system of Trade Boards to chosen industries is the policy to which the Government has committed itself, and is the policy upon which on every ground the House ought to concentrate itself.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
We have had a very interesting discussion, but I want to try and bring it a little bit into a practical form on the lines indicated by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board 1321 of Trade in his last few words. The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Tottenham is one which does, in my view, put the question in a practical shape. What have been the opposing views which have been presented this evening? We have, on the one hand, had the view presented on behalf of the Labour party that every man is entitled as a right to 30s. a week; and we have, on the other hand, had the view presented by the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. E. Craig) that any action at all is very dangerous, that it is essential to leave it to arrangements made by freedom of contract, and that without such freedom you run great risk of ruining industries and causing great unemployment. I affirm, as a proposition which will command the assent of the House, that it is the moral duty of the nation to see that every man who works well, who works hard, and is in continuous employment, shall earn enough wages to make it possible for his family and himself to live in health and comfort, to have a reasonable amount of leisure and of pleasure, and to be able to save a little. That I venture to assert is the only standard which a civilised nation can accept. If that be the standard of our duty, then it follows necessarily that it should be the first, or one of the first, aims of practical statesmanship to take active measures to achieve that end. I am not satisfied with the answer given by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade that you can do very little because of the grave risk of causing unemployment. The whole trend of the Debate has seemed to me a little bit too theoretical, too much inclined to say that the difficulties are so great, and we can do so little that nothing need be done. We ought to face this difficulty at the earliest possible moment in order that we may remove this great hardship, which blights the lives of so many of our citizens and which injures so terribly the really effective power of the nation. Some ten or fifteen years ago Mr. Rowntree made inquiry into the cost of living of a number of working families in the city of York, and the results at which he arrived were confirmed by Mr. Charles Booth from his experience with regard to the London poor. These results are as true to-day as they were then, and they are of striking significance. Many hon. Members present will remember that he took 26s. a week at that day as the deciding line. 1322 He took a number of typical working families in receipt of less than 26s. a week. He made detailed inquiry into what was their food during a large number of weeks for each family, getting the wife to keep a tabulated statement day by day, writing down every pennyworth of food bought. The results he measured in certain medical terms which have been accepted as satisfactory and authoritative. These families received in nourishment about 25 per cent. less than is necessary to keep a family in active life in reasonable physical health. Take the rise in prices that has followed in the fifteen years that have elapsed since that inquiry. It is put at 15 per cent., and 15 per cent. on 26s. comes to about 4s. which, added to the 26s., makes 30s., and goes to show that the 30s. taken by the Labour patry as its justification for putting forward a minimum which affords a reasonable standard of life from a moral and physical point of view. Then there was this further fact ascertained by Mr. Rowntree that more than 50 per cent. of the primary poverty—and by primary he meant poverty so bad as not to give sufficient to maintain actual physical well being—was due to low wages. There were other causes for the rest, but more than half was due to low wages. Taking those facts into consideration, I submit it must follow that it is wrong, and when I say wrong I mean morally wrong that that should continue if it can be stopped. What measures can be taken? It is obvious that any wholesale legislation adopting 30s. as a fixed figure would destroy the industries of the country.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
It would cause such a great dislocation it would ruin a big percentage of the industries.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
There is no time to argue that. My suggestion is this, that in those trades where there is unfair competition the Trade Board system might be applied under certain conditions, and in agriculture, for instance, steps might be taken to ascertain, whether in some districts wages could not be raised by that system. I believe also that it would be applied to the public utility services, such as railways and transport. There is no direct foreign competition there. Under the Act 1323 passed recently any additional cost of production which results can be put upon the community at large. Beyond that point we are met at once with the difficulty of foreign competition. There, expressing what I believe to be the unanimous view of hon. Members on this side of the House, I say you can only increase wages beyond the point where an increase of wage brings no return in an increase of efficiency if you have the power of imposing a protective tariff on foreign goods, which otherwise will destroy the trade when you increase the cost of proudction. These are shortly the practical advances which can be made in dealing with the subject. You should inquire at once what trades are suitable for the application of the Trade Boards Act, and what trades, such as public utility services, are free from foreign competition, in which you can utilise the existing Conciliaton Boards—which largely exist as boards for dealing with wages and are comparable to those under the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Act—and consider to what other trades you can apply it, and then wait until we have Tariff Reform.
§ Mr. HUNT
I should like to remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that his own colleague, the present Under-Secretary of State for War, stated that the reason we could not have high wages was because of foreign competition. He said it was better to have low wages than no wages. That is what we get from a Free Trade Government.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I sympathise almost entirely with the case put by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Crooks), yet, in 1324 taking a complete view of this position, we must remember that one effect of the setting up of a minimum wage is that employers are compelled to join an employers' federation. That was the effect of the minimum wage as applied to the mining industry. Firms which had not joined the employers' federation were compelled, for their own protection, to join that federation in order to get representatives upon the boards, otherwise they found themselves in the position that certain employers were putting forward the views of the trade, and they were not represented upon the boards. Sometimes that is inconvenient because the majority of the employers in a particular locality may be in that specific trade only, but some of the firms—