HC Deb 19 December 1921 vol 149 cc385-6

(by Private Notice) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport if he is aware of the bitter feeling among unemployed men throughout the country as the result of the attempt to start road works at rates of pay fixed by the Ministry and which imply an attack upon existing wages. Whether he is aware that thousands of these unemployed men are already proficient at road making as the result of their army service, and is he aware that in the Dartford Division of Kent contractors' rates vary within a radius of four miles by as much as 2d. per hour, and that grave disturbance has already taken place and is likely to continue unless uniformity is produced and a minimum rate recognised?


As I only received notice of this question a short time ago I have not been able to prepare a formal answer, but I think that I can give the information which my hon. Friend desires. I am not aware of any exceptional feeling upon the question raised by the hon. Member in reference to road making, most of which is being undertaken by contract. I am sorry that some of the unemployed should interpret the position of the Government as to the payment of a remuneration at a standard rate for a probationary period as an attack upon existing wages. It certainly was not so intended. The hon. Member asks me as to unemployed men who are already proficient at road making. I have no information on that subject. He asks me finally a question which, I take it, relates to the Dartford and Erith road. The hon. Member himself made representations to the Ministry in reference to that road. Unfortunately 12 months ago the county council and the men were unable to agree as to terms, and the work was not proceeded with. In response to representations made by my hon. Friend we have now let the work out by contract, and the work is proceeding. I have not had my attention called to any difficulties being caused.


Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the minimum rate of wages in the Erith district is considerably above the rates proposed to be paid by the contractor, and can there not be some method of straightening out the tangle between the rates paid by this contractor and the proper rates?


I am not aware of that. What I am aware of is that the work is now proceeding. The men made very strong representations that they hoped some way might be found by which the work could be undertaken, that the only way in which it could be done was by contract, and I have no reason to question that the proper rate of wages is being paid by the contractor.


Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I drew the attention of the Minister of Health to the fact that in Sheffield there were miners engaged by local contractors for road work who during the War received a special rate of pay from the Army for making roads, and at present they are subject to the low rate of pay as probationers at this work? Further, may I ask the Minister of Health if he did not promise to find special work for such cases, and will he not carry out that undertaking?

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Alfred Mond)

Special instructions were given on that subject, that where men are competent to do the work for which they are engaged they will obtain standard pay. The question is a question of fact, and it will be for the borough engineer and the local authorities to say whether or not the men are fully qualified to do their work.