HC Deb 23 April 1913 vol 52 cc384-7

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to abolish the system of fining in cotton factories."

I must apologise to the House for taking ten minutes of its time in presenting this Bill, but the reason I am doing so is because the matter is one of great importance to nearly half a million of cotton operatives in Lancashire. The object of the Bill is to prevent the employers inflicting fines and making deductions from the wages earned by the operatives or requiring any part of those wages to be paid back to the employer or imposing any conditions expressed or implied, which would allow any such deductions to be made. This matter of fining is not a new one in Lancashire. For years past the members of the cotton operatives organisation have sought by every means in their power to get a Bill passed through the House of Commons prohibiting the practice of fining the workers. I had the honour of being on a deputation which waited on Lord Gladstone when he was Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1909, and that deputation consisted of representatives of all the trades in the cotton areas in Lancashire, and so strong was the case made by that deputation that Mr. Gladstone, as he then was, used these words:— You have shown to me that in the cotton industry, and more particularly in the weaving department, the system of fining and deduction is especially irritating, because, by the nature of the business, it is not due to the working people. He further said that on account of the Budget being expected to take such a long time, there was then but little hope of a Bill going through that year. I only hope that the present Budget will not stand in the way of this Bill getting a Second Reading. Quite recently a deputation from the Trades Union Congress waited upon the present Home Secretary, and I think I am quite safe in saying that he was equally impressed, as was Lord Gladstone, with regard to the case of the operatives. At any rate I gathered so much. The weavers stand in a very remarkable position in the cotton industry, insomuch as they are the people who are expected to make yarns and webs into a perfect cloth after it goes through several courses of preparation. The cotton goes in the first instance to the card-room workers, and then it is passed on to the spinners. There may be many hon. Members in this House who are aware of the reason for the trouble in the spinning department with regard so the very bad materials supplied to them in the process of making their yarns and webs. It then passes from the spinners to the weaving department, and then it goes to dyers. I submit, if the cotton is bad in the first instance, it is not likely to be made good when it has gone through all this process and preparation to make it fit for the loom. There is no bad cotton that can be made into good yarn, and it is very difficult to make inferior yarns into good cloth. When it passes through these processes it has to go to the machinery, and the trend of modern times is that machinery is apt to be over-speedy, and in some cases the machinery is not suited to the particular class of work it has to perform, and only serves to make the burden of the weavers more arduous, and the weaver has to pay more attention to the work. Faults are made in the cloth for which the weaver has no responsibility in any shape or form, and yet the weaver is fined for those faults. This system has been going on for some time. The cotton operatives refused some time ago to be placed under the Truck Act on the ground that they protested against the legalising of fines in any shape or form.

4.0 P.M.

The weavers certainly are the chief sufferers, and what was stated in the deputation to the former Home Secretary applies equally to the deputation representing the textile industries which waited upon the present Home Secretary. The carding department, the spinning department, and one or two of the preparing departments, have no system at all. The weavers have these fines inflicted upon them for faults, for which they may or may not be responsible, which may be caused in the preparing department. They have to handle the result of the labour of others, and they have to make yarns into cloths. They cannot be expected to deal with the faults of other people. There is another section of the cotton operatives also fined—that is, the bleachers and dyers. In one instance a firm put up a notice that 5 per cent. would be deducted from the wages earned by the workpeople for faults in their work irrespective of whether they were their faults or not. Every man who went into that work was to have 5 per cent. deducted from his wages whether the damage done was equal to that amount or not. There is then the responsibility for keeping the machinery in repair. The weavers are fined and the aggregate wages are so much less. That is manifestly unfair. It is estimated that £20,000 a year is deducted from the weavers in fines. It is believed by Members of Parli- ment in the trade in this House on both sides that the quality of the work will be equally maintained, and there is no desire to shirk the work. The cloth will be equally as good as it is now whether fines are imposed or not. Fines are not inflicted in a town like Bacup, and many firms in Lancashire refuse to adopt the system of fining. I therefore hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading, and thus remove a difficulty which is confronting the weavers employed in Lancashire.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Albert Smith, Mr. Gill, Mr. Walsh, Mr. Snowden, Mr. Tyson Wilson, Mr. Sutton, Mr. Hodge, Mr. Clynes, and Mr. Wardle. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Wednesday next, and to be printed. [Bill 121.]