HC Deb 15 August 1913 vol 56 cc3409-14

"The Insurance Commissioners may by a Special Order provide that as respects any outworkers or any class of outworkers specified in the Order the person specified in the Order shall for the purposes of Part I. of the principal Act be deemed to be the employer."

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

I hope the Committee will accept this new Clause. It raises a very important matter as affecting a large number of people who are outworkers throughout this country, and perhaps I might point out that this is specially applicable to those engaged in the Nottingham lace trade. There we have a number of people who take work out from the warehouses in the capacity of middle-women or middle-men, and they employ a few persons in the home-work. The result of the hardships imposed upon them by the Act will be very keenly felt. The middle-woman's profits are tantamount to a small commission, and that is reduced very considerably by the Act as it stands. I might remind the Committee that there is nothing dangerous in this because there is a precedent in. the Workmen's Compensation Act, under which Act you do not allow the original employer to get out of his liability. All we are asking for is that the working of the Workmen's Compensation Act should apply in the case of the outworkers. I assure the Committee that the case of the outworkers is a grave hardship, and it seems to me that the middle-woman, who is a poor woman, and whose profit is only a small commission, should be relieved of the obligation, and that it should be cast upon the warehouseman.


We have had an interesting speech from the hon. Gentleman, but he has only carried this a very little distance. He has not shown how the Clause is going to work out in practice. Let me say that the outworkers are suffering under great hardship. They are being made to pay, and they are not likely to get the benefits for their payments. On the contrary, this may add to their difficulties rather than remove them. If the hon. Member would take the case—which is a common case, especially in the clothing trade—of a factory sending out a cartload of work, and apply this Order to such a case as that, what would happen? As it is now, some ten or twenty women come and take work and from the moment they get that work their employer cannot know who is going to do the work. They may themselves be middle-women within the meaning of this Clause; they may sometimes do the work themselves, and at other times other women, acquaintances of theirs, may do the work. It seems impossible in that class of outwork to say that the original employer is the employer of the delegates of the middle-women, or the people to whom the middle women may send the work. The employer does not know who they are, has not a card in respect of them, and in the case of the unit system the employer stamps on the 13s. unit in that trade. He cannot possibly say whether the whole of the work was done by the person whose card he stamps. It may have been shared by that person among two or three others, and if you were to make the first employer, the factory owner, the employer of everybody among whom the work is shared, you would cause great difficulty in giving outwork at all, but would very likely kill outwork. Because otherwise the employer would be taking the risk of employing people without paying their contributions, and for one little job of 10s. or 15s. of work he might be liable in respect of four or five persons among whom the work was distributed. I think it is very dangerous that further powers should be given for forcing people to contribute until you have found some means of giving them benefit, I do not so much mind when you have found means of giving them benefit, improving the machinery for getting in the contributor, but you ought to be sure that you are going to give benefit before you attempt to do what you are now proposing to do—to make Special Orders, placing a greater liability upon some of the employers of these people.


Perhaps I may explain why the Government intend to accept this Amendment. It may apply to any class of outworkers. As the procedure is by Special Order by which all persons have to be heard—in case of dispute an impartial person appointed to consider each case— there is very little risk that the particular difficulties suggested by the hon. Member for Colchester would arise. But there are certain cases where this would meet an undoubted grievance, and here I appeal to the Noble Lord the Member for Nottingham.


I wish you would not.


There has been difficulty through giving the employed person the task of finding who is his or her employer. There has been considerable discussion as to whether the middle-woman or the actual employer is the employer—I mean the middle-woman or middle-man and the owner of the factory who gives out work. There has been some confusion. Factory owners tried to make some arrangement with the middle-men, but the arrangement broke down. Everyone realises that middle-women ought not to bear this burden. The employers themselves realise that to a large extent, but the arrangement that has been in existence has not worked satisfactorily. I think this would be a very useful hit of machinery and would tend to the smooth working of the Act.


I desire to express the hope that the Committee will not accept this Amendment. The great objection I have to it is that it enlarges the powers of the Insurance Commissioners. These Commissioners have not so far exercised their powers in such a way as to justify further confidence being placed in them, or to obtain for themselves more confidence from the people generally. That is my view. I venture to think that it is the duty of the House, and of this Committee advising the House, to avoid enlarging the powers of the Insurance Commissioners upon a matter of this kind. It may be that in the case of the particular trade to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred there may be some complications with which the Commissioners by a Special Order could deal. But in other trades where work is sub-let difficulties would arise, and the very difficulties that the right hon. Gentleman has referred to would be accentuated. I have in my mind a trade where tailor women receive in a country district work from the towns that is deputed from hand to hand—sometimes once and sometimes twice—and if you are to make these intermediate women responsible as employers, you would simply raise such a state of complication and so many difficulties, both with the first em- ployers and with the intermediate employers, that the original employers would destroy the trade altogether. That is the difficulty which would arise in some trades and in some districts, but, perhaps, it does not apply to others. Therefore, in view of these difficulties, I venture to think that the remedy is worse than the disease, and I sincerely hope that the Committee will not accept this Clause.


We have heard a very amusing speech from the hon. Member who has preceded me, opening first of all with a censure upon the Commissions, which is in very strong variance with the expressions of gratitude to the Commissioners that have been made on his own side. But the other part of his speech really makes him, or ought to make him, if he understood the new Clause, a very strong supporter of it. It is these poor unfortunate middle-women who get the work through their hands, and about whom he expresses great sympathy, who are the employers under the principal Act. If he will be good enough to look at Schedule 1 he will find that the middle-woman is the employer, and if he will look at our new Clause he will find its intention is to make the middle-woman not the employer. Therefore, he must vote for us. His argument strengthens the position of the Government.


I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, who assumes such an air of superiority and greater knowledge, but I would point out that if this Clause be accepted it would enable the Commissioners to argue both ways. They could give not only the relief to which the hon. Member refers, but they could also put an additional burden upon the middle-women which they do not at present bear.


The third part of the hon. Member's speech is one which is unintelligible.


Perhaps to you.


But taking the second part of his speech—and that is all I have to go upon, and the Clause as it is down upon the Paper—I assume that he might support the Clause although he said he was going to oppose it. The new Clause has been drafted specifically to meet the Nottingham case. It is found at the present moment that the conditions of the Nottingham outworking industry are in a state of chaos as far as the insurance Act is concerned. The employers in some instances have promised 2½ per cent towards the cost of the contributions, but it is impossible to get others to do that. The result is that the middle-women really do not know where they are, nor do the outworkers. The proposal we make here is that the Insurance Commissioners, by Special Order, if they think fit, should provide as regards any class of outworkers specified in the Order that the principal giver of work shall be regarded as the employer. We do not want to force that upon the employers, and that is the reason why the suggestion is made about a Special Order. As soon as the Special Order is issued there must be a conference, and that really after all is what we want. We want to put an end to the present state of chaos, as does everybody interested in the Nottingham trade. This really is an Amendment which has come to us from the locality. Everyone interested in the trade in Nottingham wishes to get something done which will compel a conference. If the conference be unsuccessful, a Special Order cannot be put into operation. It is no use going on in such a complicated trade as this in this way. We have been told by the Trade Board representatives and others that if the Special Order was issued a conference would be held and that the result of the conference would be that something practicable would be arrived at. I therefore hope the Committee will let this Clause go through in its present form with the full knowledge that what it really means is to give the Commissioners power to take the preliminary steps to get a conference between the employers and the employed and the insurance authorities, so that some law and order may emerge from the present chaos.


The hon. Gentleman speaks as if this were limited to Nottingham, but, of course, it is not. I forget exactly how many outworkers there are, but I think there are something like 100,000 throughout the Kingdom. I do not know how many there are in Nottingham, probably not more than a tenth of the whole. I myself do not know the conditions of Nottingham. While this Clause may be good for Nottingham it does not at all follow that it would be good for the other nine-tenths of the outworkers. I do not propose to divide the Committee on the Second Reading. I really spoke in order to warn the Committee, if I may do so, and the Government, that under this we may have a continuance of the present hardships. Payments are being made and benefits are not being given, and I do not believe that payments ought to be exacted, whether from the employer or from the middle-man or woman or from the worker herself, unless benefits are given in exchange.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.