HC Deb 13 May 1914 vol 62 cc1134-6

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Wages Bill to provide for the approval of a living wage by local authorities, and for the registration of employers who pay less than approved wages."

This Bill is intended as a first and very moderate step towards securing a living wage to every able-bodied adult worker in England and Wales. I believe there is a general feeling amongst Members on both sides of the House that Parliamentary interference in rates of wages is attended by dangers and disadvantages. That may be perfectly true. But we have such appalling results arising from sweated wages that, in my opinion, the problem has got to be dealt with, for it is only by Parliamentary interference that talk and sympathy can be translated into action. For these reasons I submit the proposal, which is so very moderate—too moderate, I think—in its principles, that I venture to hope that it may meet with a wide amount of support. The object of the Bill is to discourage the payment of low wages and to require every employer who employs any person over the age of twenty-one years for less than the approved rates set up by the Bill to send notice of such employment to the Registrar of Labour to be set up by the local authorities. Then an approved rate of wages for every district is to be determined or made by the local authority, and the Bill, too, provides certain hourly mini-mum rates of wages, varying for men and women respectively, and the approved rate is determined by the local authority and constitutes the minimum rate, below which no local authority may fix any such rates. The approved wages to be fixed under the Bill are hourly wages, and where the wages are calculated on any other basis, of time or by the piece, the onus is laid upon the employer of proving that the rate of wages he pays would yield at least the same amount of money as the approved rate. Each local authority is required to appoint an officer, to be called the Registrar of Labour, whose duties are to keep the register required by the Bill, and generally to supervise in its enforcement. Any employer who employs a person whose age is twenty-one years for less than the approved rate is required to send in notice to the registrar of the local authority within forty-eight hours of the commencement of such employment, and such other particulars as may be prescribed. The registrar to the local authority is required to enter such particulars into a register to be kept at the office of the local authority, and it is to be open for public inspection. Upon giving notice that he no longer employs any person over the age of twenty-one at a rate under the approved rate, the employer may require the Registrar of Labour to delete his name from the register. The Board of Trade is authorised to appoint officers to serve the purposes of the Bill and to make annual returns to Parliament.

This Bill would affect close upon three million people in this country. It is permissive in its action, and it depends upon moral force. While I personally would like even at this stage to take a much more drastic step than I am doing, I believe that even this simple starting point will effect a very great deal of good, and I hope for that reason the Bill may meet with general acceptance. If it is fortunate enough to be placed upon the Statute Book. I am convinced that within three years' time a large mass of public opinion on the problem of what is a fair living wage to pay to any able-bodied adult will be so developed that this House will be ready to bring forward a very drastic and compulsory Bill. There is only one particular feature of this Bill to which I will make any reference, and that is one which I will emphasise, because it is the feature of the Bill I anticipate that will meet with the most criticism, especially from those least acquainted with the lives and conditions of the people. The problem of what is a living wage will become the issue at local elections, and to me this is a very valuable feature. In the first place, the wage boards or trade boards are not suitable bodies for settling what is a fair living wage for any particular district, and I cannot see that any other body is as capable to lay down this living wage as the elected representatives of the public in the locality. Secondly, I believe we want in this country more than anything else, to educate public opinion up to what a living wage or a fair wage is; and lastly, this feature will be a real incentive to the ill-paid workers, to this large number of workers who to-day are outside any form of trade unions, and it is only by this means, in my opinion, that the large mass of casual and unorganised labour in this country can be raised from a position of under-paid helplessness to one of fair existence.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Richard Cooper, Colonel Pryce-Jones, Mr. Montagu Barlow, and Sir Mathew Wilson. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Wednesday, 27th May, and to be printed. [Bill 245.]