§ 2. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1917, for the Expenses of the Ministry of Munitions."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I wish to return to the question which was raised in Committee on this Vote. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions on that occasion gave a sympathetic reply to the question raised, but at the same time on the whole question he did not promise exactly the satisfaction which some of the critics desired. The cause of complaint is what is known as the trade card scheme, whereby exemption from military service is obtained in munition factories. Up to the present the exact operation of that scheme has not been explained, but it became clear as the result of the discussion on Monday night that a special agreement had been entered into on behalf of the Government by the right hon. Member for East Worcester which affected twenty-four trade unions, whereby members of those unions possessing the trade union card were, without any appeal to a tribunal, entitled to exemption from military service. The first objection which was taken to that was that it was an abuse to allow a trade union to grant exemption from military service. We have provided by Statute two methods of claiming exemption, first of all, by the local 1575 and appeal tribunals, and, secondly, by the action of Government Departments. The agreement which has been under criticism, in effect, adds an additional method of obtaining exemption, namely, exemption through membership of these particular trade unions. It does not appear that this is the only method whereby this exemption is obtainable under the trade card scheme. In some parts of the country it is the only method; but in other parts, if an employé belongs to a trade to which the trade card scheme applies he may obtain a certificate from his employer to the effect that he belongs to such a trade, and this certificate from the employer is, in that place, regarded as equivalent to a trade union card. We have, therefore, two anomalies, the first anomaly being that certain favoured unions have this privilege conferred upon them of granting exemption from military service. That has resulted in some of these unions canvassing workers to become members of their union for the purpose of obtaining exemption. It has had other effects. It has caused grave dissatisfaction among other unions. I have here a letter which is addressed to the "Birmingham Daily Post" yesterday. It is signed by one gentleman representing the Workers' Union, and another gentleman representing the Amalgamated Society of Gas, Municipal, and General Workers. This letter says:On behalf of the members of the Workers' Union and the Amalgamated Society of Gas, Municipal and General Workers, we desire to join the protest made against the trade card exemption system. The method by which the Government have entered into a bargain with certain trade unions for the purpose of exempting their members from military service is certainly a monstrous and unfair arrangement. We have direct evidence of the misuse to which these cards have been put, and have already brought cases to the notice of the Department. It is certain that a large number of young men, single, and possessing little or no skill whatever, are being enabled to escape military service by the possession of these cards. To protest against this we, the undersigned, are willing to combine with any other body of trade unions or citizens for the purpose of compelling the withdrawal of the trade card system. We shall be glad to hear from, and to give assistance to, men in the engineering trades who have requisite skill and are deprived of the privilege of using their skill to the national interest.I have also seen correspondence indicating that one of these trade unions has threatened a strike owing to the dissatisfaction caused by the unfair working of the scheme. Is it difficult to understand how this arises? I will only quote one example. Among the trades which my hon. 1576 Friend mentioned on Monday night was the sheet-metal workers. That is a trade in which you have all varieties of labour. You have the skilled, the semi-skilled, and the unskilled. These trade cards are granted indiscriminately to every member of this union whether skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled. Consequently, I think we are justified in saying that this is a method, so far as these unions are concerned which is not calculated to secure the end which is sought, namely, to prevent skilled men necessary for munition work, and skilled men only, from being taken into the Army. In addition to the dissatisfaction arising from the conditions I have mentioned, there is the fact that the system is working irregularly in different parts of the country. In some parts, not only is the trade card, but the trade union accepted, but in addition to that the employer's certificate is of equal weight. In other parts the employer has no power whatever, and no attention is paid to any suggestion which he makes. There is a further point in reference to the draftsmen; they are being subjected to medical examination from which these trade unionists are free. My hon. Friend has endeavoured to make the position clear to me in a letter, but, owing, possibly, to my density, I have not been able to appreciate the situation. I hope that in the course of his reply he will put the matter in a clearer light. These generally are the points on which I desire a reply: What is the scheme as a whole? Does it apply in general all over the country? In view of the unfairness with which it works, so far as we understand, I think we have a right to ask that the Government should seriously modify it. My hon. Friend, possibly with some justice, may suggest that I am merely destructive. And, in view of that, I will make a practical suggestion—that some tribunal should be set up for these matters. There has been a tribunal devised in the case of mines on which both employers and men are represented for settling whether a man should be called up or exempted. Surely it is possible in these trades, which are all of as great national importance as the mines, to have, instead of this haphazard unfair method, some tribunal which can be made to apply equally to all unions which should not, in some unions, exempt the unskilled as well as the skilled men, while, in large numbers of unions composed exclusively of skilled men, this privilege is not given at all.
§ Mr WATT
I join my hon. and learned Friend in a protest against this system known as "The Trade Card Exemption System." The House and the country generally were unaware that such a system existed until my hon. and learned Friend in a former Debate drew attention to the matter. I do not know whether it has dawned clearly on the House that there exists this extraordinary provision that twenty-four trade unions have the privilege of having their members exempted from military service, these unions having been arbitrarily fixed on, nobody knows by whom, and the contract having been made between them and the Ministry of Munitions. Cards have been given to these trade unions, and they are distributed among the members, and the possession of these cards exempts the members from any liability to serve with the Army. Of course, the evil at once arises that these trade unions are able to canvass for members everywhere, and hold out inducements that if they join the union they will not be liable in any way to be called on to serve in a military capacity. That is an extraordinary position, because there are in these trade unions various grades, skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled, and there are outside of these unions very many skilled men who have not the privileges of these twenty-four trade unions. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to explain how this system has arisen, and what he proposes to do to make it more equitable. I assume that with the ingenuity and acumen which characterise him he will be able to tell us that between the Committee stage and now he has been able to think out some method of dealing with the situation, and the House and the country will be glad to hear it. I trust that the point will be made clear how this privilege has been given arbitrarily to twenty-four trade unions, and what is to be done to make it work fairly to all trade unions throughout the length and breadth of the country.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions)
I am not sanguine enough to hope to be able to deserve the compliment which my hon. Friend who spoke last has been good enough to offer mo. I can only say that I shall do my best to clear up the points which still remain in doubt in the minds of my two hon. and learned Friends. The trade card scheme was an agreement 1578 entered into by the Government and the Amalgamated Society of Engineers as a means of meeting a difficulty which had arisen out of very serious labour troubles, I think in Sheffield. That scheme was afterwards extended to cover the twenty-four unions whose names I read out the other night. I made it clear then that in my view the scheme, although not perfect by any means—I know far too much about it to claim for it anything like perfection, for it is impossible to get perfection in war-time—on the whole had met the emergency which had arisen, but that the Government was prepared, in the light of the criticism which had been offered here in Committee, and also of the criticism received in considerable body from trade unions up and down the country, to reconsider the whole position. That is now being done, and I hope that the Government will succeed in discovering some way more satisfactory to all parties concerned than the existing scheme by which we may secure for the country the skilled men who are essential to the production of munitions, with which the Army must be fed, while liberating for other purposes the men who do not possess that essential skill. My hon. and learned Friend who spoke first asked me if this scheme applies all over the country. It does apply all over the country, so far as the unions which are parties to it have members all over the country. He was not correct in saying that under this scheme the unskilled members of the union, if there are men who are unskilled in these unions, are entitled to trade cards. If trade cards are being issued by the union to men who were not journeymen or apprentices before August, 1915, then those unions are not carrying out the bargain which was entered into between the Government and them, and I shall be glad to have any instances brought to my notice in which the spirit of the bargain has been broken in that particular.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
They do not require to have been members of the union, at that time, but only that they should have been journeymen or apprentices.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
The other point my hon. and learned Friend took was as to the position of men who were not members of a union or who are members of a union not covered by the scheme. As regards these we entered into an arrangement under which men of a particular 1579 type of skill in an occupation covered by these unions—and it goes astonishingly wide—are not to be called up if they can show that they possess the type of skill or follow the occupation covered by these unions.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
If there is any question in dispute it goes to the recruiting officer and to the dilution officer, who represents the Ministry of Munitions, and if the two cannot come to an agreement we try the case with the War Office and hammer it out between ourselves. I do not think that the Government have any need to apologise for having tried to work through the trade unions in a scheme of this kind. On the contrary, I think it is a good thing that the Government should try to carry with it the sense of those unions, whose skill they regard as essential to the proper conduct of the War. So far from desiring to see that practice diminished, I should like to see it considerably extended. My hon. and learned Friend took the case of draughtsmen, and said that men have been called out for medical examination. The draughtsman is, as a matter of fact, covered by one of the occupations in the trade card agreement. It is true that some of them are being called up for medical examination. There is no exemption from medical examination of any man belonging to any union who is a party to this scheme.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I do not think my hon. and learned Friend is in a position to say that with regard to all unions. As a matter of fact, in many cases members of unions which were parties to this scheme are being medically examined. On the general position it is clear that serious anomalies exist, and I feel that quite as deeply as my hon. and learned Friend. But the Government are now trying to devise a more satisfactory scheme. What the result of their deliberations will be I am not in a position to say, but I am clear in my mind that the principle which will be aimed at in regard to these exemptions is this: We should say that certain occupations are essential to the proper equipment of our Army, and that the men engaged in those occupations are being 1580 protected from military service in order that their skill and aptitude may be made of the best use. I do not think that there is any doubt but that the final form which the decision may take will be along those lines. If that be so, I do hope we shall have the support of my two hon. and learned Friends, that we shall have the support of their ability, and that they will show the same energy and enthusiasm in helping us to make this scheme work as they have shown in pointing out the defects of the existing scheme.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I do not think that in this particular instance such a proposal would be likely to expedite matters. The point of view of the Ministry of the Munitions is to see that men essential to the production of munitions shall be kept at their work, but if there were to be continual appeals to the tribunals, I think there would be serious delay.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
There are two matters to which I wish to call the attention of the hon. Gentleman who is representing the Ministry of Munitions. They are matters affecting the women employed in the departments of establishments that are controlled under the Munitions Act. In regard to the first point, I think it is quite wrong that women who have gone into controlled establishments to do certain work should then be compelled to undertake work of a most dangerous character, putting the position of the volunteer worker into practically that of a conscript worker. They are set to manufacture high explosives, some of which have the most fatal effect upon the health. These women themselves say that they wish to be volunteers in regard to the more dangerous processes, but under the Munitions Act they are not allowed to leave their employment under a penalty of six weeks' enforced idleness, if they refuse to go another department. The work means discolouration and has a bad effect on the physical health. The women can be taken before the Munitions Court if they refuse to do that work. The other day six or seven girls were brought before the Munitions Tribunal in London, and each was fined fifteen shillings for refusing to do work which they had not undertaken to do when they entered the factory. I am 1581 quite sure that the hon. Member knows that the T.N.T. and other chemicals have a most detrimental effect on the health, and therefore those selected for the work ought to be the strongest and healthiest, and even then the best safeguards and regulations ought to be applied. The workers complain that sometimes these regulations are not so enforced and observed as they ought to be. The other point is the question of the wages paid to some women in these establishments. The Ministry of Munitions has made improvements in the wages of women in various directions. I have been charged in this House with making exaggerated statements in regard to the matter, but, in point of fact, I have made no statement in this House with regard to the wages of women workers that I am not prepared to substantiate with documentary evidence before the Ministry of Munitions itself. I know that some of the women are protected, especially those who are doing men's work; but that is not out of sympathy for the women, but because the men who are members of trade unions take care that if women do men's work they are to receive the rate of wage paid to men, and they do this to maintain the standard of the men's wages. Many women who are in controlled establishments cannot leave their work, being tied down under the Munitions Act, and many of them do not receive the protection granted hitherto or that to which they are entitled under the circular issued by the Ministry of Munitions. Therefore, I do impress upon the hon. Member, in view of the tremendous cost of living, and the great rise in food prices, that there should be a general overhauling of the wages of the women employed in controlled establishments, and that something in the nature of a living wage should be fixed so far as these women are concerned. The hon. Gentleman looks with astonishment.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
It is not asking a very unreasonable thing. These women are doing good work, and I think the hon. Member would be the very first to acknowledge the great ability with which many of them discharge the duties entrusted to them. I think it was wrong that what really amount in some cases to sweated wages should be paid in those 1582 works. Sometimes a wage of 4¼d. per hour is paid to women, and in view of the tremendous rise in prices that wage is not a proper one at the present time. I think the very least that ought to be paid to any woman in controlled establishments is 6d. per hour. Remember always that if she were not in a controlled establishment she would be free to leave and to improve her position, and if you tie her up and say that she is essential for national work there is a moral duty resting on the Ministry to see that proper wages are paid in the establishment in which she works. I have a large number of facts in my possession on this subject. I am only touching incidentally and briefly on the matter to-night. I do wish that the Ministry would take full account of the great increase in prices and the worsening of conditions, and see that the women who are doing work of a valuable national character are properly paid for that work.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
By leave of the House, I propose to reply to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. Take first the case of girls in filling factories. My hon. Friend says that no girl ought to be put at certain work in filling factories except with her consent at the time she is asked to undertake that work. I do not think that that is a practical proposition. The conditions in the filling factories are well known at the time the girl engages to work there. Provided that the proper precautions are taken—and the Ministry of Munitions has be>en at great pains to secure some of the best experts in the country to improve the conditions of filling factories, I think it is "essential you should retain for the management the right to say to the employé: "We require you should work here or you should work there." What the management of those factories try to secure is this—that no girl shall have to work at those processes which are unpleasant, and some, of which in certain cases are dangerous, for more than a fortnight at a time, and that she shall have at least a fortnight's interval. In the various filling factories there are skilled medical men and nurses, and the girls are carefully examined. No girl who is found to have a tendency to suffer from working with any of these materials is allowed to continue on that work. The whole conditions have improved immensely under the reforms which have 1583 been introduced by the Ministry. I should be very sorry that anything should be said here or should go out which would create the impression that working with these materials is necessarily dangerous to health. Having regard to the precautions which are taken, we have diminished very substantially the risks. I am not denying that there is risk—it would not be fair to deny it—but I think at the same time I ought to say that on the whole that risk is being faced nobly by the great body of women working in those factories. We have had very few cases indeed in which it has been necessary for the management to use their disciplinary powers requiring the girls to work at these processes.
As the question has been raised, I think the House ought to acknowledge the extraordinary courage with which the women in our filling factories and explosive factories have gone on with their work and faced the risks. There was a case recently in the North of England where a serious explosion took place. Some women were killed, and the following morning practically every woman who was there the previous night and who was fit to go to work or to walk there turned up anxious to go on with the work. We had a similar case last week, where fortunately the explosion did not have serious results. The management said in their report that there was no panic and that the girls went quietly and steadily on with their work and turned up the next morning. I am glad to say that the particulars of that first case were sent out, to the Army and published as an order of the day by General Haig, and made a very deep impression on the soldiers who were taking their part in facing danger in another form. With regard to the question of wages, I was very much impressed, when I went to the Ministry as an Under-Secretary, with the position of the women who come under Section 7 of the Munitions Act, and who, because of that, are not at liberty to choose employment elsewhere freely. I am prepared to say that the principle, which I hope to see established, not universally, since that is going further than the facts, but almost universally, is that the Ministry must assume responsibility for the wages of any of its people when, by the authority given by this House, it prevents those workpeople from going freely on the labour markets.
1584 We have done a very great deal. I think in a very short time we have made a bigger uplift in the wages of these women than has ever been realised in this country as the result of years and years of trade union energy. There were, in November, about 400,000 women engaged in Government factories, and about 373,000 of them are now covered by the various Orders made by the Ministry in regard to their wages. There only remain outside some 27,000 women, and I shall not be satisfied until we bring in the great majority of that remaining 27,000, and I shall be very glad to have the support of my hon. Friend in getting that done. I am afraid we shall not succeed in satisfying him as to the amount of wages which should be paid. This is a practical world, and we are not dealing with our own money. The Ministry of Munitions is only a trustee, but we have made immense advances in the wages of women. The average rate before the War for female workers was 12s., and now the lowest possible rate that can be paid to women of eighteen covered by the Order is 18s., while the average time rate is 20s. A large proportion of the women are on piece work, and they are paid 33⅓ per cent, above that rate of 20s. That is a piece of work of which the Ministry and the officers of the Ministry who worked most loyally and sympathetically in getting that established have a right to be proud. I hope we shall not rest satisfied with that, and, although we shall not succeed in satisfying my hon. Friend, I am quite certain the great majority of the women will be exceedingly grateful to the Ministry for the work they have done.
§ Question put, and agreed to.