HC Deb 04 March 1924 vol 170 cc1295-341

I beg to move, That, in view of the practically universal acceptance of the principle that a leving wage for all workers should be the first charge upon industry, and in view of the large measure of agreement with respect to the advisability of fixing legal minimum time rates of wages reached at the national industrial conference, this House urges the Government to proceed without delay with the Bill introduced by the Government of the day in 1919, constituting a Commission to inquire into and report upon legal minimum time rates of wages. This is a question which has been discussed, not only in the trade union movement, but also in connection with industrial conferences and church movements for many years. It has also been discussed in this House on more than one occasion. It was raised many years ago by the late, hon. Member for Woolwich, and it was again discussed less than 12 months ago on the Motion of the then hon. Member for Bermondsey. At all these Conferences it has been frankly admitted that the right of the worker to a living wage is a legitimate one. During the last few years we have had to face a position in industry of the employers on the one hand, endeavouring to reduce the wages of the workers, and very successfully doing that, and even to-day we have a claim from the employers in certain industries for still further reductions of wages. On the other side, we have the workers insisting, and quite rightly, as I think it will be admitted, that it is impossible for them to maintain their homes at the present none too high standard of comfort, and keep their wives and children properly fed and clothed and themselves assured of a reasonable margin above the bare level of subsistence.

We find it very difficult to reconcile both these claims, that of the employer and the worker, but we can go some way in the direction of reconciliation by the establishment of a legal minimum time rate of wages in the various industries of this country. It may be argued in this House that State intervention is not the best method of regulating wages between employers and employed. I would remind the House that State intervention was forced upon this House by the great anti-sweating agitation with which this country was faced in 1900 and until 1906. As a result of that agitation and State intervention, we have to-day minimum rates of wages legally secured under various Acts of Parliament. We have the Trade Boards Act, the Coalmines Minimum Wage Act, which also makes provision for the protection of wages, the long-established Truck Act, and in every municipality and public authority in the country we have the Fair Wages Contract Clause. We have also the particular Clauses of the Factory Acts. After all this, we find that at the present time there are a larger number of workers in receipt of less than a living wage than there were in the days when the first Trade Board Act was established. It is rather strange but, nevertheless, it is true.

To give a few instances of what might term less than a living wage, we have today in Manchester, and in the North of England generally, the most highly-skilled worker in the country, the highly-skilled engineer, who, after deductions for insurance, receives in Manchester and that particular district for a 47-hour working week the handsome sum of 53s. Let us assume that this man has a wife and five children to support. He cannot possibly get any kind of house at a lower rent than 8s. a week, and when you deduct that from the 53s. there is left 45s., or for a family of seven about 1s. per day per head to maintain these seven individuals in food, clothing and warmth. The average wage of the unskilled worker in the North is, roughly, about 35s. per week, and when you deduct rent from that wage, there is left for food, clothing and warmth for an average family of five children and man and wife less than 1s. per day per head.

In this House yesterday a statement was made that the agricultural worker was in receipt of only 15s. per week, and a statement was made from the Government Bench that the average wage of the agricultural worker was 24s. a week. I ask the House whether by any stretch of the imagination they could call that a living wage. I ask, further, having regard to instances that I have given of the so-called unskilled worker and the highly-skilled engineer, whether one can say that these men are in receipt of what may be termed a living wage? That well-known authority Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, stated that for a family of five an income of 35s. 3d. per week was necessary even with prices on the 1914 level, if their reasonable needs were to be satisfied. Further, he said that on the 1914 food prices scale a single woman worker could not maintain herself on less than £1 a week, but in actual fact the great majority of the workers in our country to-day are maintaining themselves, or trying to maintain themselves and their families, on much less than what was laid down by Mr. Rowntree on the 1914 basis.

I have said that the principle of a minimum wage has been generally accepted in trade conferences, church conferences and otherwise. The principle has also been accepted by the very best type of employer in the country, and I want to call the attention of the House to the conference which was called in the Central Hall, Westminster, on 27th February, 1919, by the Prime Minister at that time, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The whole position in regard to wages and working conditions was considered, and also the general state of industry in the country as a whole. That conference which I attended included about 1,000 people. As a result, agreement was reached, and a national committee was formed of 30 representatives of the employers and 30 representatives of the workers. I was elected as one of the representatives of the workers, and I can recall the three weeks of very hard and sometimes acute discussions which took place before we arrived at a concrete agreement with regard to this and other questions. On the question of establishing minimum rates of wage, the conference was unanimously agreed. I remember that at the first meeting of the conference the Prime Minister came dashing into the room, and said: I just want to have a word with the Committee because in a few hours I leave for Paris to settle the world's peace. and he said: I want to feel in so far as industrial world peace is concerned that that also is an unfair way of settlement. Ho told us the Labour Convention was meeting in Washington in a few weeks, and that that country was watching with a keen eye the industrial movement in the old country and the efforts which he hoped the Committee would make with a view to the settlement for all time of the industrial problem. He went a stage further and said: I charge you with the duty of making an honest effort to settle the industrial problem in our country, and if this Committee brings forward a majority finding on any particular question which requires legislative enactment to give effect to your finding then with the big majority which I have behind me in the Houee of Commons I assure you that legislation will be immediately introduced to give effect to these recommendatioras. How far all of us have been disillusioned since then, both with regard to world peace and industrial peace? Our findings were wired to the Washington Convention. As a result an effort was made to settle world industrial peace and we know how the House received the results of that particular Convention. In addition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) held a high position in the Government at this period, and he also had a considerable amount of dealings with this Industrial Committee. I was reminded the other day when the right hon. Gentleman was chiding the Minister of Labour, with regard to the paltry sum which he was putting up in the effort to in some way relieve the unemployment problem, that Members and right hon. Members of this House, freed from the cares and responsibilities of office, can talk glibly in millions, whereas while they were in office, endeavouring to deal with the same old problem, they thought in terms of the most humble coin of the realm, a coin which I am informed was first instituted in this country to enable Scottish Members of Parliament to give tips to London cab drivers. I do not, of course, refer to the present Members of Parliament. They, like myself would be very generous indeed if they had it.

A well-known Member of this House was Chairman of the employer's side on that National Committee. Hon. Members opposite appreciate fully that before Sir Alan Smith signed his name to a document or recommendation, such as I have in my possession here, that shrewd gentleman would weigh up the various pros and cons, but Sir Alan Smith, as Chairman of the employers' side, and all his colleagues on that side, were not only unanimous with the workers' representative in making a recommendation in favour of minimum rates of wages in their Report they say: The Committee have agreed to minimum prime rates of wages to be established by legal enactment and they ought to be of universal applicability. The Committee took full cognisance both of the difficulty of determining on particular rates and dealing with exceptional cases, and having these considerations in mind they make the following recommendations:

  1. 1. That minimum prime rates of wages should be established by legal enactment and should be universally applicable.
  2. 2. That a Commission should be appointed, immediately upon the passing of the Act, to report within three months, as to what the rates should be and by what method and what successive steps they should be brought into operation, and the Commission should advise as to the means of carrying out the necessary administrative work."
In connection with that the Prime Minister who had not returned from Paris wrote a letter to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hillhead division of Glasgow (Sir Robert Horne), who was then Minister of Labour, dealing with the recommendations of the Committee, in which he made this reference to the question of minimum rates of wages: If the recommendations of the Committee receive the approval of the conference, the Government will give them their immediate and sympathetic consideration. The recommendations of the Committee were placed before another full conference of employers and workers, and were unanimously adopted by that full conference. Again the conference was representative of the very best employers in the country, and was also thoroughly representative of the workers. On the 18th August, 1919, the then Minister of Labour introduced a Bill for the purpose of constituting a Commission of Inquiry into this question of minimum rates of wages. That is what we are asking for. The Bill, after being introduced into this House, has not been heard of since. I suppose that it has been consigned to the limbo of broken promises which surrounds all Coalition Governments. I am not disposed to go into details with regard to the purpose of the Bill, but that, in effect, is what I am asking in this House by this Motion. Objections may be, and no doubt will be, raised to the proposal of the establishment of the minimum rate of wages. One of the objections which we may hear is that such a Measure is impracticable. In reply to that, many trades in our own country have minimum rates of wages which have been established by Statute. The same thing applies in our Colonies and in many other countries. In the Colony of Victoria we have had the wages board system since 1896, in South Australia since 1900, in New South Wales since 1901, in Western Australia since 1902, in the Commonwealth since 1904, in Queensland since 1908, in Tasmania since 1911, and in New Zealand also they have a system of minimum wages. In Canada the nine Provinces have adopted the principle, and in the United States of America 12 States have passed similar laws. Again we hear the objection that trade boards are prejudicial to industry and trade generally. That view was not upheld by the Cave Committee, which stated: The Committee think that it is established that the system has had beneficial effects. Speaking generally Trade Boards have succeeded in abolishing the grosser forms of underpayment and in regularising wage conditions in the trades covered by the Act. Moreover, in establishing a stated minimum the trade boards have afforded protection to the good employer and recurity as against unscrupulous competitors. One hears again that industry cannot afford it. That may to some extent be true, but, as a result of five years of war and as a further result of a bad peace, the workers are bound to accept for a time a lower standard of living. We say that it is manifestly unfair that this should be borne by one class alone. All classes, we claim, should share it alike. So far as the working classes are concerned, during the last three years they have had their wages reduced by some £15,000,000 per week, or £780,000,000 a year, but while the workers have suffered these reductions in wages, on the other side, if one can quote from such a responsible paper as "The Economist," the dividend of 320 companies has averaged 10 per cent. A large amount of this is on watered capital. The prescribing of a national minimum wage by law would have the advantage of fixing for everyone a definite minimum which would be independent of the local weakness of trade union organisation, the helplessness of workers in nondescript occupations where there is no effective trade union, local variations in the cost of living, and the difficulty of securing any minimum at all for workers in domestic employment and any odds and ends of industry.

I want clearly to state that I am not asking for a national flat minimum rate of wage, nor would one for a moment dream of putting forward such a proposal. What we ask it that national minimum rates of wages shall be established in every industry of the country. So far as we on the Labour Benches are concerned. I would say that when this proposal was brought forward less than 12 months ago the present Prime Minister and every Member of the Government Front Bench of to-day, voted in favour of the proposal, which was then lost by only a few votes. There is, therefore, unanimity, so far as the present Government is concerned, on this particular issue. Minimum wages could and should be based upon the necessary minimum cost of living, and could be made to rise or fall with any necessary variations in that cost. This would protect the workers against a fall in the value of money. Furthermore, minimum rates of wages would put all employers on an equality, and would prevent that constant nibbling of wages by what we term sweating employers. I have said that the proposal has been agreed to in principle between the best employers in the country and the trade union representatives. We are simply asking that a Commission of Inquiry should be set up in order, if possible, to give effect to the representations of the National Joint Industrial Council, which brought forward unanimous findings in 1919.

I see that another objection has been raised in certain newspapers to-day. In one newspaper it is said that if this Motion is carried it will have the effect of driving the Labour party and the present Government into the adoption of Protection. If there be any truth in that, it ought to convince right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that this is a means at least of getting their pet subject brought forward. Personally, I am prepared to take the risk of having the Labour party driven into the adoption of Protection if, as I hope, hon. Gentlemen opposite will vote for the Motion. I repeat that in this proposal we are asking for nothing that has not already been agreed upon by the best employers. The larger trade unions may have something to say with regard to the proposal. They may claim, and rightly, that for many years past they have been able to conduct their own negotiations and look after their own industries. But there are hundreds of thousands of people engaged in various industries, where trade union effort has been handicapped, and where rates, even in the majority of trades today, are not capable of maintaining a man, his wife and family, in the common necessaries of life. Therefore, I appeal with confidence to all sections of the House to pass this Resolution unanimously, and to leave it to the Government to introduce the necessary Bill.


I beg to second the Motion. The question of an adequate minimum wage goes to the very fundamentals of the problems of the great working classes of this country, determines the kind of homes in which they shall live, the quantity and the quality of the food they shall consume, and the kind of clothes that they shall wear. It goes right down to the health of the people and to the education of the children of the working classes. Dealing as it does with such a comprehensive subject, the Motion, asking for a scientific inquiry into what wages can be paid by the industries of the country, is certainly not asking too much, but is asking for what ought to be very readily conceded. It will be well known to the House that as far back as 15 years ago this question of legislative enactment to deal with the wages of certain sections of workers was dealt with. In 1909 the first Trade Boards Act was passed. That was due, in the main, to exposure of the very terrible conditions under which thousands of our fellow citizens had been employed—adult women receiving 10s. a week and as low as 5s. a week for a full week's work.

It is true that in this country to-day conditions are almost as bad, when you consider the great increase in the cost of living. Take the position of the miners, a body of men following a hazardous and hard occupation. They are to-day receiving rates of wages which are a disgrace to the country and to the so-called captains of industry in that particular business. The skilled engineer, after a long apprenticeship, is earning the princely sum of 55s. for a 47 hours week. The engineer's labourer is receiving anything from 34s. to 39s. a week. These are highly organised industries. In other industries the conditions are past description. If hon. Members think that there are no conditions worse than those which I have described, I advise them to peruse the evidence given before the Cave Committee. These being the conditions, the Motion should go through with acclamation. If we are to solve many of the difficulties which are in embryo to-day, it will be necessary to convince the great working-class masses of this country that the wage they receive is the maximum that the industry can possibly produce. In the last Parliament I heard the Minister of Labour say, in reply to a question, that from 1921 to last year the wages of the workers have been reduced by, roughly, £13,000,000 a week. In view of the statement that trade is on the increase, and the fact that the returns of the big companies show larger dividends, the working class will want to know why they cannot receive a pro rata increase in wages, and in view of the great importance of this question, if we are to have social stability and industrial peace, I think the House of Commons should, without any dissent, pass the Resolution which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend.


I rise to support the Resolution which has been so ably proposed and seconded, and I am glad there is attached to that Resolution the suggestion that there should be a Commission of Inquiry. Some ten days ago, I attempted to address the House on the large question of a general inquiry into industry, and I fear that hon. Members opposite were not quite in agreement with me on that occasion. I believe, however, the time has come, or is swiftly coming, when we must have such an inquiry. That inquiry should not be confined to the question of wages alone, but the terms of reference should cover an investigation into the whole subject of the conduct of industry in this country. Some years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House spoke on the League of Nations in my constituency, and I had the honour of presiding at the meeting. I then threw out the idea of a League of Industry, and whilst not committing himself to that proposal, I think the right hon. Gentleman was to some extent in agreement with the idea. Since that time I have been advocating in season and out of season the necessity for such a scheme. I am glad to note that hon. Members opposite do not view industry from the standpoint of wages alone, but also from the standpoint of the necessity for production. I am one of those who believe that we cannot possibly have complete production or the best production in any industry until we have contented producers. I am not and never have been an advocate of low wages, and in the interests of industrial peace, I believe it will be necessary to go closely into the proposal for a minimum wage. We must concede the position that men and women should be able to live in respectability, and a thorough investigation on the lines suggested by the Mover is desirable. I go a little further. I think it is imperative in the interests of essential producton and the supply of all those commodities necessary in an industrial country, that we should have some proper basis of production.

I have always contended that a flat rate is not the best method, even for industry itself. We must recognise that this question of a minimum wage involves other questions such as the question of payment by results, and we shall be compelled to look into that aspect of the matter also. Indeed I think hon. Members opposite will have to accept that principle as one necessarily involved in the minimum wage principle. I do not see why hon. Members from industrial centres who lake their seats opposite at a salary which is perhaps considerably higher than that which they would earn at their own trades or those who become members of the Government and receive payment at an abnormal rate, should have any scruples at the idea that those with whom they have worked and who have the ability to produce at a larger rate than others, should be remunerated according to the amount of production which they are able to achieve. The principle of the minimum wage has already been accepted in many industries, but we must take a larger view than one of wages alone. The Mover of the Resolution suggested that there might attach to his proposal the idea that it would lead to the protection of industries. I have not seen the newspaper references to which he alluded, but before I attempted to speak here I was convinced that the acceptance of the minimum wage principle, logically compelled the acceptance of the principle of the protection of industry. If hon. Members opposite had the whole industry of the country nationalised they would become responsible for if, and they would not only have to provide adequate wages for those whom they employed but they would also have to provide adequate employment and to keep the industries going. During and since the last election there has been considerable discussion of this question, and, so far as I am concerned, it all comes down to a reasonable and common-sense proposal. If you can show me any industry, I care not whether it is the cotton trade, the shipbuilding trade, or any other, which is being seriously menaced by foreign competition or any competition, I say it is only fair to those responsible for that industry that the reasons why it is being so menaced should be looked into. If it is being menaced by unfair competition to its detriment, it is only reasonable that we should then take steps to have that unfair competition removed. Whatever may be the outcome of this discussion, I seriously commend to hon. Members opposite the consideration that the proposal involves not only the right of the worker to a fair and reasonable wage but also the right of the industry whereby he gets that fair and reasonable wage, to adequate protection.


Why have you dropped it?


I do not think that interruption touches the question at all. The pressure not only from our side but from the general demands of industry will force upon us the consideration of this subject. We must never forget that, we are the greatest industrial country in the world, and the pressure of the problem will become such that no party in the State will be able to withstand it. I hail this Resolution with satisfaction because, it has come from hon. Members opposite while they are in power. [HON. MEMBERS: "In office!"] Very well, in office. I have a distinct feeling that, in a lot of these questions that obsess the minds of both parties, we allow mere party issues to dominate, when the issues should be far above that. Sometimes it is a question on this side, I will say, of dividends, often it is a question on the other side of mere wages, and I want to say that the prime question should be whether the industry can legitimately bear the strain of both. Because I hail with satisfaction the possibility of hon. Members taking a wider and more comprehensive view of the needs of industry, I welcome this Resolution to-night. I trust that, if it be carried to the conclusion which is desired—and that is, to set up a Commission which will inquire as to the legitimate needs of the workers—there will also be an extension of that inquiry into the whole of the needs of industry, and that at least it will be a step forward to the consummation of that industrial peace and prosperity which every one of us in this House ardently desires. I have great pleasure in supporting the Resolution.


I would like to say a word or two on this Motion, moved and seconded with such striking ability and no less striking brevity, and I certainly will not lead the House into any discussion as between Free Trade and Protection. The British method of settling wages is collective bargaining, and there is no country in the world where that practice has been followed so universally or with such success as in this country, but, as, I think, both the Mover and the Seconder have pointed out, we deliberately departed from that practice in certain cases where industries were not organised, where people could not help themselves, and where, in fact, very low wages were being paid. We departed from it in 1909 as a result, no doubt, of the very proper agitation of the Anti-Sweating League, and set up trade boards with not only the right to fix wages, subject to the Minister of Labour, but to impose legal penalties upon those who did not pay, all over the trade, the wages which were approved; and in 1918 that departure from the general principle of collective bargaining took a much wider sweep, in the amended Trade Board Act of that year. I know my hon. Friends consider that later, in 1921 and 1922, the Government, of which I was a member, did not proceed with the trade board policy as fast as we ought to have done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] All I can say is this: I am confident that the slump into which we had fallen at that time was so severe, and the difficulties were so great, that if I had secured the enthusiastic applause of hon. Friends who now sit on the Government Benches, but who then sat opposite, the trade board system would have foundered. I, therefore, in the exercise of my judgment, decided that my best policy, and the best policy for the people in whose interests we are all concerned, was to go rather slowly, and I appointed the Cave Committee. It is with interest that I heard the Mover of the Resolution read with approval a paragraph from the Report of that Committee, with which, I need not say, I find myself in the most cordial agreement. In 1919 we come to the National Industrial Conference, which was called by the Government of the day, and they appointed a Committee no less representative than the joint Conference itself. Their recommendations were so short that I am sure I shall be forgiven for reading them. They said: The Committee have agreed that minimum time rates should be established by legal enactment, and that they ought to be of universal applicability. 9.0 P.M.

The Committee took full cognisance of the difficulties of determining particular rates, and of dealing with exceptional cases. Upon that, you had the Bill of 1919, to which reference has been made and which this Motion asks shall be put into operation without delay. I think the Seconder of the Motion spoke of a scientific inquiry, and the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson) evidently has an idea of a committee of inquiry which is going to take up all sorts of other subjects, but really that is not the proposition. The proposition is, that the Bill of 1919 is to be put into operation by this Government without delay.


I suggested that the reference might be extended.


I do not know that the hon. Member quite realises what it is that we are proposing. It is much more than a scientific inquiry. I was not responsible for this Bill, which was introduced, I believe, by Sir Auckland Geddes considerably before my time. It had, indeed, been withdrawn before I became Minister of Labour. It set up a Commission to inquire into and report on minimum time-rates of wages, and it is not only a scientific inquiry, but it is a Commission to decide what rates should be, and the manner in which they should be brought into operation, which is very much more than a scientific inquiry. These four points are worth reading in detail: It will consist of a Chairman, and such other persons as His Majesty may think fit are to be appointed, and have power for the purpose of inquiring into and deciding what such minimum time rates of wages should be,"— Not a flat rate, but minimum rates and there is all the difference in the world between these two propositions— regard being had to the cost of living in the various districts, and to other matters which appear to the Commissioners to be necessary; in the next place, inquiring into and making recommendations as to the methods of classification and the steps by which such minimum time rates of wages should be brought into operation, and the machinery by which they may be varied as and when occasion requires; in the third place, inquiring into and making recommendations as to the granting of exemptions from the rates so based in the case of infirm and incapable workers and in other exceptional cases, and the methods by which such exceptions should be granted; and, finally, making recommendations as to the legislation necessary for such purposes aforesaid, whether by amendment of the Trade Boards Acts, 1909 to 1918, and other enactments relating to minimum rates of wages, or otherwise, and what amendments of the law, if any, are desirable. That Bill, which was manifestly the result of the deliberations of the National Industrial Conference, was introduced in 1919—on 18th August, I think—and it was withdrawn on 22nd December, 1919. That is where we now are, except this, that the Motion of last year, which was precisely the same as that which is before us now, was rejected by 189 votes against 176, and the Debate showed that there are difficulties in this matter, and that it is not quite so simple as perhaps my hon. Friends may think. I turn myself to the present Government, as a man who has been buffeted by long administrative experience into some sort of appreciation of the difference which sometimes exists between the practical and the desirable, and when hon. Members tell my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour: "You have to proceed with this Bill without delay," which is what the Motion does, well, he is physically a big man, and he is no less big intellectually, but in view of the congested state of Government business, I think they must not be too hard on him there. As far as this Motion is concerned, I myself agree with the principle of it. Certainly I do. I have never pretended anything to the contrary, under any circumstances, but I make this reservation: Do not let the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion, and hon. Members who support it, imagine that the Minister of Labour can now say, "Very well, we will go right on with that Bill," because the Debate of a year ago, as hon. Members will see if they read it—and no doubt many of them have read it—will disclose difficulties in solving this rather difficult problem. I shall vote for this Motion, but I just make this reservation, and I make it as a man who has been Minister of Labour, and a man who knows the difficulties and differences which, as I say, exist between the desirable and the practicable.


I rise as one on this side of the House, for it seems to me that, on a matter of this importance, it is time to give expression to some opinion. We are not very fond of having immense Measures brought in on Friday, and adopted like lost children by the Government, and now we are going to have another huge Measure brought in at, 8.15 on the chances of the ballot. I should be the last person to unnecessarily criticise, and I pay my full tribute to the two short, sincere, and admirable speeches with which this Motion has been brought in; but is it not about time that the Government gave us some lead and told us what they are in favour of? We have been told—and we know it is true—that the Government have had Committees of experts considering all these problems. They have all the information at their disposal. Why, then, does not the Government bring in a definite Bill, or put forward definite proposals and explain them? For my part I regard this as a purely academic discussion, and I do not think we really are called upon to vote at all. I, for one, should like to wait until the responsible Department of the Government brought forward definite proposals, and said what they are going to do. That is the least we can expect from the Government. The fact that it is a Labour Government, and that this is a Labour Measure, makes me astonished that the right hon. Gentleman has not intervened a little earlier in the Debate to tell us what the Government proposes to do—to tell us what really are their proposals!

Criticism might be made of the Resolution that it goes back five years. We have heard a good deal about the evils of the Coalition; but, apparently, after five years' deliberation the Movers of this Motion have nothing better than to suggest that we should adopt a Coalition Measure five years old. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, this is setting up a definite Commission which is to study the rates of wages and so on. But a good many things have happened since 1919. In those days we had very, very few Trade Boards: now we have over 50 of them. In those days but few men or women were covered by the operation of these Boards; now I am told that between two and a half and three millions of people are covered by the operation of the Trade Boards; and, in addition, a largo number of the principal trades in the country have their own agreements or their own arrangements for dealing with these difficult problems. Therefore, it seems to me, that this proposal is going back to the arrangement of 1919. As a matter of fact, if you wish to deal with a minimum wage the Trade Boards are a much better way of dealing with the matter than a Central Authority. One of the reasons why I am in favour of the Boards is given in a quotation which I shall make from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), who told us that: The conditions of the coal mining industry are so complex and varied that it is quite impossible for any central authority to lay down, even as regards particular areas, still less with regard to the country, a particular rate of wages for a particular class of work. The object of that quotation is to show that the separate trades and separate conditions require their own Trade Boards to deal with them, and that a Trade Board deals much more effectively with its own particular industry than would a Central Commission—for the question is so enormous and so complicated.

I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion when he himself aptly used the word "Protection" with reference to the Motion. There is no getting over the fact that a minimum wage is Protection. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Undoubtedly! It is Protection, and for this reason: under the Trade Board you come to some arrangement as to what in an industry is considered to be a possible wage, and then, as the hon. Gentleman very rightly pointed out, when agreement is reached upon that wage steps are taken to have Statutory Orders issued to see that no unfair employer undersells employers who are paying up the wages arranged. That is Protection. Clearly it is protection against the competition of unfair employers who wish to depress the wages of their workmen.

Now we come to a very complicated question. Supposing in a particular trade, as I am told occurred in the jute trade a few years ago, the wages board put up the wages so that foreign competition is admitted and so unemployment produced? That has happened, and I think the trade board is much better than a central committee, because a trade board is in touch more closely with the trade, and more likely to be right and to know what can be paid in wages so as to prevent foreign competition. The hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in using the word "Protection." He knows it, and so does everyone else. My own point, however, is, if I may say so, that in important matters like this we might have more definite proposals from the Government and not from the back benches. Surely on questions of this sort, which come up on Fridays and at 8.15, it would be really more satisfactory to the House if we could have definite proposals from the Government and a Bill with explanation; we should then have something to go into more fully.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. T. Shaw)

In reply to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, may I say that I had to wait until the Mover and Seconder had spoken, and it was only courtesy to wait until the Speaker for the Opposition had spoken—for I could not refuse to give way to an ex-Minister of Labour—and it was the evident desire to speak on the part of my right hon. and gallant Friend himself that prevented me then speaking, although I was rising to do so. I hope, at any rate, he will forgive me for what might appear to him to be a lack of courtesy, but I did not want to prevent him to get up. So far as the Government is concerned, there is no question as to its acceptance of the principle underlying this Motion. It is a private Member's Motion. The Government Whips will not be put on. But undoubtedly, and without any equivocation, the Government is definitely in favour of any Measure that will guarantee to every decent workman and workwoman a minimum standard of comfort. One has to consider what are the possibilities of the case. We have been reproached for not telling the House frankly what are the Government proposals. Our experience is that when we tell the House what our proposals are, there is always a tremendous amount of discussion, a little opposition, and we find the greatest difficulty in getting our Measures through quickly.

Viscountess ASTOR



The Noble Lady may ejaculate "Oh!" but the facts of the case are, there is little voting against our proposals, and much talking. Everybody will acknowledge that those are the facts, except, those, perhaps, who desire to score a party point. It is certainly not desirable that wages should fall below a mean which will give sufficient food, sufficient good clothing, and good shelter, and maintain a healthy condition of things. As a matter of fact, everything points to the fact that we are degenerating below the standard of 1914; and in 1914 the condition was so bad that in Lancashire mills, roughly, one man out of six only was physically fit, as proved by medical examination. I am speaking from personal knowledge of the examination that took place in five West Midland Counties, and I state that the condition of the people in these five West Midland Counties was simply appalling. No true Briton will deny the statement which I am going to make, that the only way to judge the greatness of a nation is to judge it by the condition of its people, physically, mentally, and morally, and you cannot have the mentality and the spirituality unless you have the proper physical condition. The things I am saying now are ordinarily understood and advocated by Members of the present Government, consequently they cannot do otherwise than say that the spirit that underlies this Motion is favoured by them. But our favour must be tempered by the progress of business. I am going to call the attention of the Mover to the last few words of his Motion: this House urges the Government to proceed without delay with the Bill. Now will anybody contend that this Bill is a non-contentious Measure? If we had a guarantee from the Opposition that it was a non-contentious Bill we could easily accept the whole of the Motion without question.


It has not been opposed.


The hon. Member for Mossley says it has not been opposed, but have we any guarantee that it will not be opposed? On this point I would like to reply to the hon. Member in a phrase commonly used in Lancashire, "We've had some." I have an idea what would take place if we pledge ourselves immediately to proceed with this Bill. I am afraid that we should find a tremendous amount of opposition and discussion in Committee, and the other things which we think are more urgent would be badly held up. Quite frankly, that is the position of the Government. We have to consider this question in relation to other Measures. We have to consider whether it is advisable to have this Motion holding up the progress of other Measures, or to say that at the earliest possible opportunity we shall proceed with the terms of this Motion. We cannot, however, accept without hesitation and without reservation the words, "To proceed without delay" with a Bill of this sort, and I hope the Mover of the Resolution will see that point quite clearly.

With regard to the proposal itself, while the Government Whips will not be put on, I shall have no hesitation at all in going into the Lobby in favour of this Motion. I believe that no nation can claim to be a decent nation, much less a great country, that refuses to any person willing to work a decent livelihood. I assert with confidence that there are hundreds of thousands of our people at the present moment who are actually working, and who are not able to get even a minimum standard of comfort that any responsible man in the world would say was necessary for the physical well-being of a human being. There are not hundreds but millions of our people who do not know what are the real comforts of life, who, week after week, month after month, and year after year live with the shadow of the wolf of poverty on their window.


Then why not get on with the Bill?


Will hon. Members opposite guarantee that it will not be opposed?

Viscountess ASTOR

I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if the Government feel that the country cannot stand this Bill, or are they afraid of the Opposition? Is the reason an economic one which you are up against, or are you afraid of the Opposition?


I will explain again what I mean. I have tried before to explain this point, but perhaps it is my lack of clarity that is at fault. The position of the Government is that it has a tremendous amount of urgent business on the stocks, and it must consider which ought to come first. May I give an example? In the immediate future the Unemployment Insurance Act will lapse, so to speak, and that Bill must be got through before that period arrives. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has on the stocks a Housing Bill. The Minister of Agriculture has placed his proposals before the House, and all these things the Government have to take up in due course, and they must consider whether they can afford to listen to the temptings of some hon. Gentlemen opposite which may land them in for protracted discussions on this Bill at the expense of other Bills which the Government desire to proceed with.


Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that if a Bill on those lines were introduced, all the other Measures he is talking about would be quite unnecessary?


The wisdom of the gods and of my hon. Friend are alike inscrutable. What I am afraid of is that the Government business may be held up, and that is the reason for the qualification which I have laid down on behalf of the Government with regard to the last part of the Motion which asks us to proceed immediately with this Bill. We do not hesitate to say that we favour the underlying principle of the Bill, and that when we get an opportunity we shall do our level best to secure that no person in this land shall have less than a decent minimum of subsistence, but we make the reservation that we cannot hold ourselves literally to the last few lines of the Motion if it is passed.


The Minister of Labour has, I think, shown that he is above all things a born politician. I think, however, that the last part of his speech was a little disingenuous. Supposing that by an Act of Parliament like the one suggested in this Motion, we can secure a minimum wage for everybody which will provide a reasonable standard of comfort, surely it is useless to introduce Housing Bills and Insurance Bills, if all these things can be provided by a Minimum Wage Bill which would render all those Measures the right hon. Gentleman has referred to totally unnecessary.


Is the hon. Member aware that a minimum wage would not apply to men out of work?


Exactly, and I am coming to that. The right hon. Member, at the beginning of his speech, said the Government accepted the principle, and the principle is stated specifically in the Motion. The Government, as a Socialist Government, is bound to accept the principle that a living wage for all workers should be the first charge upon industry. What does that mean when translated into practice—that the first charge on industry should be not for capital, but for the wages of the worker? It sounds very plausible. I know a lot of people on this side of the House are quite capable of falling into the same trap that has misled gentlemen on the other side. In these cases one has to take simple examples, because in my experience I have not come across more than one or two people who really had the faintest notion of what capital means. Let us take an example of the wage of the worker being the first charge on industry, and capital (if I may use another Lancashire expression) "having to lump it." Many of us, I have no doubt, have cultivated allotments in these hard times. Has it never struck the allotment cultivator that if he is going to be successful he has got to make that industry provide for capital before it provides for labour. In other words, if he is growing potatoes, and is going to give the whole of the potatoes to labour—that is, if he is going to eat the whole lot—it is perfectly certain he is going to have no potatoes the next year. If, on the contrary, he has got the capitalist temperament, he will make capital instead of labour, a first charge upon the potato-growing industry, by putting aside a certain number of those potatoes, so that he has some prospect of planting potatoes the next year and getting another crop. In the whole essence and nature of things there must be a first charge for capital on industry, otherwise industry comes to an end. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have quite enough intelligence to know perfectly well that you cannot go on year after year conducting an industry unlese, before any consumption is provided for, before any standard of living is provided for, certain capital charges are provided for, so that the industry can continue and does not come to a sudden end.

It is desirable that these things should be started plainly and openly, and that such twaddle, because it is nothing else, as this great principle of the living wage for all workers being the first charge on industry should receive a little opposition in this House. I was not surprised to find that a number of gentlemen calling themselves Liberals and a number of gentlemen calling themselves Conservatives were quite ready to swallow this stuff. They would be quite ready to swallow any amount more stuff like it, because, unhappily, they seem to think the electors of this country are people of even less intelligence than their representatives in this House. I venture to say, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree, that if we take the average grown worker in the cotton industries, the engineering industries and the mining industries of our own county of Lancashire, eight men out of ten would see through the fallacy of this Resolution. That is one of the main reasons why I think he showed a certain amount of disingenuity in order to get the Government out of the difficulty of having to support this sort of thing.

I was pleased to notice that the Conservative party has evidently been studying elementary economics since the Election, and has at length discovered the very obvious fact that Protective tariffs and Socialism are all of a piece; that if any country is going to adopt protection from foreign industries it has got to adopt Socialism in the end, and that if any country is foolish enough to adopt Socialism in the first instance it will very soon have to adopt a heavy tariff. If the minimum wage for paper makers for example, is very considerably above the minimum wage of the paper makers of Germany, Norway or any other country, it is perfectly certain imported paper is going to drive the English paper off the market. Hence, one of the first steps to be taken after having established a minimum wage is to put a heavy Protective duty on the foreign paper. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no."] It is no use saying "no, no," because it stands to reason, and every hon. Gentleman opposite really knows it perfectly well. It is rather a pity that the time of the House of Commons during the greater part of an evening should be devoted to discussing a Motion which every single hon. Member opposite knows in his heart of hearts is sheer twaddle and nothing else.


As a newcomer to the House it is exceedingly refreshing to me to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). He alludes to some of the economic fallacies of Members on this side, and he falls into the most awful economic fallacy from our point of view of suggesting that the minimum wage has got to be the maximum wage. He said if the minimum wage were fixed what need would there be for any other Acts of Parliament? Our experience has been that where we may get a minimum wage through Trades Boards that minimum has been the minimum only for those who are unorganised, and that where by strength of organisation it is possible to get that minimum increased to a maximum that is usually done. That authority on Trade Boards, Professor Hobhouse, stated some two years ago: In view of certain misunderstandings which have come to their notice appointed members of this Trade Board wish it to tie understood that in voting for the rates proposed or fixed by the Trade Board they have felt obliged to keep in mind the capabilities of the least fortunately placed shops in the poorest districts in each area. They have not considered it their duty, nor indeed within their power, to enforce standard rates, and the rates ought not to be quoted in trade negotiations or in arbitration proceedings as evidence of their opinion that the rates should rule throughout the trade. It appears to me the hon. Member for Mossley is an apostle of the doctrine disseminated by the Primrose League some time ago, especially during the last Election and the Election before. I believe the main quotations were these, that in order to reduce unemployment British workers must work longer, work harder, and work for less wages. If that is the doctrine of the party with which the hon. Member is connected, I want to say very frankly—


Does the hon. Member state that the Primrose League issued a statement that British workmen should work longer and harder and for less wages?


If the hon. Member for Barrow will write to the Primrose League's head office in Victoria Street and ask them for a copy of their latest publication he will receive that, on a nice little yellow paper. I have the document. It is rather strange to me that in the year of grace 1924 we should be asking for a regulation that men and women should have sufficient of the necessities of life when they are prepared to work, but it has been our experience all our lives to have to ask for the bare necessities of life. In the year 1912 I was trying to keep a wife and two children on 25s. a wek. In that year two of us were working 111 hours a week for 37s. It may be said that that was in the bad old days that have gone by and will never come again, but may I quote from a verbatim report of some wages negotiations which took place in November, 1923, the statement of an employer that, in the district for which he spoke, the South Yorkshire district, the labourers are getting 32s. per week, that the boys in the big steel industries are getting 12s. 3d. at 17, and that in the multiple trade in that district girls of 16 and 17 in the shops are getting 10s. per week. I suggest that this Resolution ought to commend itself to every hon. Member of this House as evidence of good faith that those bad days are, at all events, going to be cast behind us for ever.

I do not think that Members can understand the feelings of the woman of the house when she is wondering anxiously what her man is going to bring home at the end of the week. There are hon. Members here who week after week have gone home with a wage of less than £1, and this weighs very heavily upon our memories. There is no hate, there is no malice, there is no anger, but the experience we have gone through has resulted in the Resolution which my hon. Friend has moved. In addition to this point of view that we have expressed—the humanitarian point of view—I suggest that from the employer's point of view, from the point of view of industry alone, the mere reduction in wages of £13,000,000 per week is bound to have a detrimental effect on industry. In our great textile industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where we manufacture the finest cloth the world can produce, our people who make those wonderful fabrics are, because they are receiving such low wages, having to wear shoddy clothes. I suggest that the people who make those beautiful cloths are deserving of something better than shoddy, which is made of rags imported into this country from the Colonies, from India, and South Africa—from the rags that the negroes were clothed with, which are being made into cloth again. If the people do get a reasonable minimum of comfort, it will increase trade in other industries. It will result in more work for those industries and a better state of health, not only for our people, but for other people, owing to the great number of unemployed who will be brought in.

I beg hon. Members to think of the men to whom I have referred, who are receiving, in the Sheffield district, 32s. and 34s. a week. I would ask them, do they say to the people whom we represent, from whom we have sprung—the people who are spending their lives digging out those great treasures from the resources of Mother Nature—"We are living a sheltered comfortable life, our income is good, but what about you? It does not matter"? Ever since we can remember there has been no legislation that has not been fought for by the party whom we represent. There has been no advance in wages, no betterment in the conditions of our people, which has not been wrung almost by force from the employing classes.[Interruption.] I have been a trade union negotiator and official for 10 years, and I say to hon. Members that the result of my experience has been that the employer has always claimed the right to pay as little as he possibly can, and then to try to extract from the underpaid, the underfed man, the maximum amount of work that he possibly can. I say again that I feel no malice, no hate, no anger, but I do feel a dumb sense of wonderment that, in this year of our Lord, 1924, we people should be asking the House of Commons to regulate that men and women shall have enough food provided that they are prepared to work. I ask that, when the time comes for the Labour Government to introduce a Bill, as I hope it will, it may receive the assent and support of every Member of this House. I think of the times when my children were short of food, and I was working 55½ hours a week. I hope the House will give the Bill every possible support when it is introduced, and I hope that, when this Resolution is put to the vote, every Member of the House will vote in favour of it.


The feeling that I have in this year of our Lord, 1924, is that hon. Members opposite, who have spoken go loudly in favour of a minimum wage, voted against me this afternoon when I asked leave to bring in a Bill to restrict the importation of sweated labour from abroad, and so prevented me from trying to do something on the same lines which they are now putting forward, and something which would have been of real benefit to the working people of this country. The Mover of this Resolution spoke about the wages in the engineering trade, and said that people were working 47 hours a week for 53s. Does he not realise that in Germany they are working 60 hours a week, and that the wages are not more than 25s. or 26s.? Does he not realise that goods are coining to this country from France and Belgium in competition with our people here, and that the wages in those countries are only about half what they are here, and they are displacing our people, and causing serious unemployment and hard-ship? I have been to a factory on the Continent, where the wages are 3s. a day and the people are working 60 hours a week, and hon. Members of the Labour party voted against the privilege I asked of introducing a Bill. They refused me even the privilege of printing the Bill and giving me an opportunity of putting it forward. When I heard the Minister of Labour telling us that low wages had a degenerating influence upon the people of the country, I quite agree with him. Low wages are the curse of this country. When manufacturers are bringing in goods, as they are doing at present, in competition and driving down wages to these absurd levels, I really cannot understand the mentality of people who can go into the Lobby and vote against the restriction of sweated labour into this country. I heard the Mover of the Resolution quote from the Cave Report that this would have the great advantage of enabling us to protect good employers against unscrupulous competitors. What about the unscrupulous competitors on the Continent, who are sending us goods made by sweated labour to drive our unemployed upon the unemployment market and to drive still more people on to the dole every week?

I really cannot understand the mentality of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), who told us that if you adopt Protection you will have to adopt Socialism. I wonder why the United States of America have not adopted Socialism. I am quite prepared to agree with him that, if you adopt Socialism, or nationalisation, or whatever the Labour party proposes of the type they are proposing to-night, they are bound by the very principle they are putting forward to adopt the principle of the protection of the home markets. Either the Mover or the Seconder said this was accepted by the employers. Has it been accepted by the employers in other countries who are shipping goods in competition with our manufacturers and our workmen? Has he been able to quote one single manufacturer, either in Germany, in Belgium or in France, who is prepared to accept a minimum wage ca the lines indicated in this Motion? I am disappointed with the speech of the Minister of Labour. I should like to hear from some Member of the Government, are they going to bring this Motion forward or are they not? What are the reasons why they are not prepared to come forward with this minimum wage? Is it on economic grounds, as the Noble lady said, or is it on the ground of the position of the Opposition? That is not honest. Let them bring a Bill forward and see what we will do with it. Give us our chance. It is not honest to put forward the plea of the Opposition, because we cannot tell what attitude we will take until we see the Bill. If the hon. Member comes forward with a Bill I can assure him there will be very many on this side who will give it the most sympathetic and careful consideration, and many of us would try to use our influence with other Members of the party who may be opposed to it to restrain their opposition. I believe this question of an economic wage must go hand in hand with the question of Protection. I am quite in sympathy with, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Hodges) who said we want better wages. We want to see the level of life raised much higher, and we can only secure that by eliminating foreign competition and sweated labour. So long as sweated labour comes into the country to drive our people on to the mud heap of unemployment, so long will our wages remain low and so long will the humanitarian speeches to which we have listened go disappointed.

The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Hodges)

I rise to take part in this discussion, not from any academic view whatsoever, but in an attempt to get back to the realities of our everyday industrial life. This proposal in principle is not new to the House, neither is it new in application in industry. But the House has really to choose between taking careful thought and making preparations against the evils of to-morrow within this House and accepting the inevitability of incessant industrial warfare outside the House. The trade union movement goes on side by side with the political movement. The trade union movement has been characterised throughout its history by strikes, by struggles and by infinite misery, and because of those strikes and struggles we have lost valuable productive energy and the nation has been all the poorer because of them. But they are inevitable unless some authority bigger than a trade union, bigger than two trade unions, bigger than a group of trade unions realises that there may be some other course open to human intelligence for the rectification of industrial wrong than this kind of warfare which has characterised our industrial life for the last 100 years. Whether hon. Members talk in terms of elementary political economy or not, I should imagine that the hon. Member for Mossley must have been talking in terms of kindergarten political economy. Whether it is assumed on those benches that this proposal is twaddle or not, the struggle outside goes on for a minimum living wage, whether expressed in legislation or not. Every time a struggle takes place you may come to the conclusion that in essence it is simply to improve the quality of life among the men or women in the particular industry. I put up a proposal a little while ago to a group of employers. I knew I was departing from the recognised, traditional, orthodox attitude of the people with whom I have been associated all my life. I made suggestions for industrial peace and discussed them with the employers and made, as a condition of industrial peace, one or two simple propositions, first, that every man and woman engaged in industry should have a wage at least as high as the wage they earned in 1914; that in consequence of the period of peace that we were embarking upon a new prosperity would develop, and these same people should share in that prosperity because of their submission to the proposal of industrial peace for a period of time. To my amazement, I found deep and profound opposition to these two simple proposals from all those people who regard themselves as the great capitalists in this country. They would not look at it, for this reason. They said, "We have no moral authority over other members engaged in industry to warrant us coming to any such assumption, for, if we agree to a universal arrangement of this description, we who are in prosperous industries where we can afford to pay it, may be called upon to support other industries who are not so favourably placed, and who are unable to carry out this simple principle of a living wage." That is capitalistic morality. That is the law of the capitalist world. It is everybody for himself. There is no co-ordinated point of view among capitalists as a rule which will enable them to come to the conclusion that they can enter into a plan or scheme of industrial organisation which will promote peace and prosperity, because it is based upon this simple principle of a living wage for the human units who are engaged in it.

It is said that the first charge upon industry must not be human beings, but every day capital expenses. I heard that argument put forward by the, coalowners a little while ago, and I had to reply to it. I replied in these terms: "You have to buy horses to work in a coal mine. You have to provide them with food. You have to see they are properly cared for"—although that is by no means universal, I might add—"You have to see that these animals are kept in such physical condition that they can do their work properly and effectively on the morrow. But the men who work in the industry must not be treated, as the horses are treated, as a first charge upon production. The men in the industry, from your point of view, must be regarded as a second charge upon the industry"—and a second charge upon the production they really are.

I heard the Mover in his excellent speech refer to wages which were £2 7s. 6d. a week for a week of six days of 47 hours. In the mining industry there are hundreds of thousands of men who would be lucky to have 42s. a week for a week of six days. Yet the psychology of the mine owner, in common with the psychology of capital generally, treats the human unit as of secondary consideration, and normal fixed capital as a prime consideration. The time has got to come, and it is indicated in this simple principle contained in this Bill, when human beings shall toe a prime consideration, and when capital in its ordinary risks, in its ordinary enterprises, must regard as a first charge in a capital risk a living wage to the men whom it employs. There are risks in the utilisation of capital, risks that very largely are increased by want of what I call industrial efficiency and technique on the part of those in whose hands capital has been entrusted. There are certain risks, but the time hag come when men and women engaged in industry are not going to accept the doctrine that they must be treated only after all the risks have been accepted, all the charges Have been met, and that they are to have a mere residue of the balance, although in essence they are responsible practically for the whole lot.

10.0 P.M.

I put this to the House as one who desires to make a contribution to our national well being. I desire peace in industry, but I know that peace of that character can never be achieved until the human units in industry get a much fairer share and a greater degree of consideration than they get now. This country at this moment needs industrial peace, but there is trouble looming up on the horizon, trouble far-reaching, and trouble which, if allowed to develop, will have a strangulating effect upon our national life. What is the simple claim behind this new grievance that is coming up in the great industry of coal mining? It is a simple plain claim for elementary existence; that is all. It is not even asking the coal owners to forego what they call their prescriptive right—profit. It is asking the most simple question that ever a body of men have ever asked in their lives—the simple right to an existence which they were able to secure by trade union effort 10 years ago. Their thoughts are expressed in this proposition, and so are the thoughts of all industrial workers.

Let me make this submission to tie House. The greatest spur to efficiency in industry and in technique in production comes through paying workmen high wages. Pay your men well, and you attract their minds to concentrating upon the problem of how they can, through mechanical means, reduce the overhead charges and other costs. You will get the maximum productivity in spite of the high cost of wages. Wherever you see a country with low wages you see a country breeding misery and poverty and squalor. Given a country where it is recognised in capitalistic circles that high wages pay, and you have a country which is on the high road to prosperity. Though it may be, from a purely economic point of view, desirable that these arrangements should be made outside this House, if capitalism had the wit and the will it could make these arrangements outside this House. But the have not got the will. They are content to go on in the old methods of production, which never for a moment co-ordinates our industrial activities. Because it cannot and is not being done by people outside this House, what avenue is open to the working classes of this country except this House, which is in existence for the general maintenance of the wellbeing of the units that make up this nation. What else can the working classes do but come to this House and ask this House to enforce these elementary considerations by law which are not carried out voluntarily by the general capitalistic system?

That is the reason for my hon. Friend's Motion. He comes with this Measure, knowing that if he submitted it outside it would be rejected, not because it would be unsound outside, but because the general capitalist mind is not so framed that it would put it into operation. For those reasons I hope that the principle of this Motion will be carried by this House. Let this House give an example and pattern to the general capitalist industry outside, and I think it will have justified its existence.

Viscountess ASTOR

There are many of us on this side of the House and on the other side of the House who are not really so much concerned with the capitalist system as the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down appeared to think. If hon. Members on the other side can show us a better system under which we can give better wages to the people of this country, we will vote for them. We all know that Socialism has been tried, and that under no system do the people get better wages than under what you call capitalism. It is not fair to say that if we are fighting for capitalism we are fighting simply for ourselves. We are fighting for a system under which the largest majority will get a living wage. If the Government believe that this Bill will do what it says, it is their duty to explain how it will do that. You have talked about the evils of sweated industry, which we all know, and which we all want to get rid of. I have fought hard for trade boards. I think there are some bad employers in the country whose first idea is to get all the profits they can, but there is a great majority in the country who want to give a living wage, and whom the trade boards have helped enormously. It really is not quite cricket for the hon. Member to talk about those homes where the women are waiting for the men to come home with their wages. They are not the only people who are up against this. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are."] They are not. In this matter you are coming up against great economic factors, and it is for that reason, and that reason alone, that the Government are not pressing this question.

I have great respect for the honesty and integrity of the hon. Member who has just spoken, but I know what Front Benches are on either side of the House. There is much of a muchness about them. I feel that it is not fair for hon. Members to talk as if both the Oppositions, the one on this side and the one that acts with you sometimes, are against this. It is not right to assume that, because we are against this, we therefore want to sweat the people of the country. The real problem in this country is that capital and labour should work together. [HON MEMBERS: "It has been tried."] Has it really been tried? The capitalist system is suffering because of some of its stupidities in the past, but do not lot us always look at the past. Capitalism has in some ways been insanely stupid, but I believe there is a new spirit in the country. I do feel, however, that you have, to tell the people of the country that they have to work if they want a living wage. [HON MEMBERS: "They do."] You know, as well as I do. Look at the work the bricklayers used to do at one time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]


I think it would be better if the hon. Member would address her remarks to me.

Viscountess ASTOR

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, but I think this is a very important Debate, and it is one that will go out to the country. Hon. Members opposite will go out and say that, the capitalists killed their Bill, but they are not in earnest about this Bill. I am in earnest. I think sweated labour is the greatest danger the country suffers from. People who want to sweat their workers for high profits are as great a danger to the country as the greatest Bolshevists. On the other hand, there is another danger, which is that the people who want to kill the capitalist system will not only kill the capitalist system, but will kill themselves in the meantime. You cannot have it both ways. We in this House ought to force the Government to take a strong line and persuade us on this matter, but they have not persuaded us. The hon. Member who last spoke talked about the coming struggle. He talked about those employers whom he had seen, but who could not speak for the great majority of the employers. That ought to come before the House of Commons. I think these things should be thrashed out hero. I think we ought to know what body of people are trying to keep down the wages of the workers when they could afford to give better wages. There is just this, and it is very important. When we talk so glibly about what industry can stand and that it is not giving its proper share to labour, we must remember that this does not depend altogether on the will of the people at home. It depends a good deal upon foreign trade. I am not going into the question of Protection, because it does not arise on this matter; but may I beg hon. Members opposite, if they believe in this Bill, to get up and pursuade us, and let us all go and vote for it, and there will be no need for Insurance Acts and all the rest of it. The hon. Member for Lichfield, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Hodges)—[Interruption.]—Oh, yes, he is very civil; he is over-civil—made an appeal to us for help: I say, please help us to help you. [HON. MEMBERS: "You need it!"] We need it, but we really want to see how we can help towards the millennium which you have promised to the people. We have never promised the millennium. [HON. MEMBERS: "You have!"] With due respect, we have never made any rash promises. Before you have been a Government very long you will find that, in regard to a lot of the things you talk about so glibly, and about which you ring the hearts of the people, when you come down to practical politics it is not as easy to do as it is to talk. I do beg hon. Members, if they are really earnest about this matter, not to get up and say that we on this side are trying to keep down the great masses of the people, that we are robbing them and depriving them of a living wage. It is not true. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is true!"] If hon. Members think it is true, they are the most moderate party that I ever saw in my life. If I were on that side of the House and I thought that there were people in this country and people in this House, like the Liberals and the Conservatives, who were really out to down my wife, my husband and my children, I could not sit as quietly as hon. Members opposite do. I would not sit so meekly as they do.

Do, please, remember that all through the House all of us want a living wage. We are agreed that the first charge on industry is the human factor, and you have to remember that. If all who are engaged in industry would remember that, there would be no question of this sort to be dealt with to-day. I am sorry to have intervened, but it is a little hard always to hear Socialists talk about their great and expansive hearts, and as though capitalism was the greatest menace to progress. [HON. MEMBERS? "So it is!"] You know as well as I do that they have tried to do without capitalism in Russia. [Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, they do not take their medicine very well.


The hon. Member takes a long time to learn that remarks should be addressed to the Chair. Perhaps she would get along better if she remembered that.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am always frightened of being rude.


That is the reason of the Rule.

Viscountess ASTOR

I do wish hon. Members opposite would realise, when they talk about the heaven that is to be brought about through Socialism, that wherever Socialism has been tried it has failed. There is a better way, and that is through co-operation. Many of us are working for that, and many hon. Members opposite are working for that, but the thing that you are up against, in what you call Capitalism, is the greed of human hearts, and there is just as much greed on the other side of the House as there is on this.


I have been interested in some of the remarks, and particularly in the speech of the Noble Lady who has just addressed us. It is not exactly pleasant to hear from the benches above the Gangway on this side of the House that hon. Members who sit there are the only people who understand unemployment, or who lived under unemployment conditions. I am sorry that that view is so often expressed, and for this reason, that there are other people in other parties who have lived within recent years in homes where unemployment was rife, and who have been brought up in families where the wages were less than those that have been mentioned, and yet who have managed, by dint of a severe struggle, which has resulted in an addition of character that otherwise would not have been received, have been given the benefits both of education and of training.

I agree with the speech of the hon. Member who proposed this Motion. What I am distressed about is that this is the second occasion upon which this Labour Government has thrown on to private Members the task of bringing forward a big measure of reform of this kind. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true!"] We have the Rent Restriction proposals and the National Minimum Wage Resolution. I should prefer to see this brought forward with the weight and authority of the Government behind them. At least then we should have the Government as a Government pledged to certain efforts of reform. I feel strongly that on this question of the national minimum wage we should have the decided authority and support of the Government as a Government. Unfortunately, expression has been given to certain opinions which are decidedly antedeluvian. We do not recognise to-day the iron law of wages, just as I hope the day will arrive soon when Protection will disappear entirely from the minds of hon. Members opposite, and I hope that this will happen in a shorter time than has been necessary for the iron law of wages to disappear.

To-day we have to face the facts that there is a great body of people growing up engaged in our industry who are receiving the benefits of an educational system and who refuse to be condemned to the position of remote cogs in a very vast industrial machine. Industry must also realise that these people, not only have got views on the conduct of the affairs of the nation, but as workers have a natural aspiration towards having some say, even in the matter of a national minimum wage, in deciding how the proceeds of the industry in which they are engaged shall be shared as between the two parties, Capital and Labour. They make not only this natural demand, enlightened, as they are, by education, but there is the great demand, which must come home to every one here, for some sense of security. Security is a favourite word to-day. France seeks security. The world seeks security in the League of Nations and we have, in this country, an Admiralty programme anticipating by two years the building of cruisers to provide security. Yet there are some people who wonder that the worker desires security of life on a very small scale in most uncertain conditions. Reference has been made to ca'canny. I would suggest that, if hon. Members were engaged on a ship in a shipyard, and realised that when the work was done they were to be turned out into the streets, there is no man in this House who would not go slow in order to make the work last longer. This is a point which leaders of industry must be prepared to face to this extent, that, so long as they neglect that fact, so long as they have that go-slow policy section, so long will they cry in vain for that sustained, constant effort, without which we cannot get that bulk of work which is the foundation of prosperity.

That is not only a natural request, but an imperative request, if our industry is to revive to any great degree. This question of a minimum wage forms a great part of it. A man has some desire to feel that he will receive at least not lower wages than those. It is not a great demand, and it ought not to be impossible to the industrial minds of our country, if we are to believe that they are the great captains of industry, to find a way of organising themselves so that that may become possible. I agree with the noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) that it ought not only to be the Government's policy to support this proposal, but that the Government should try to find out by every possible means what it is that stops something like national co-operation between capital and labour. The time has come when the employer whose mind is fixed solely on profits has to disappear, unless our industry is to sink into oblivion. The time has come when attention must be paid to such demands as that for a national minimum wage, and the right to have some say in the conduct of an industry. Men must not be treated merely as machines producing an article—who are to disappear out of the works and to have no further place in the employer's mind. I support this Resolution and reaffirm my regret that the Government has not seen its way to give it their support, and to add to the weighty arguments that can be advanced in support of it the great authority of their position.


This is the first time I have addressed this House, and I ask hon. Members for their indulgence. The first thing I would do is to remind the Noble Lady who represents the Sutton Division that we do not hate capitalists. We just hate capitalism. We do not hate capitalists any more than we hate fleas, and the only thing that we hate about fleas is the way they make their living. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ha, ha!"] Some hon. Members shout "ha, ha!" When hon. Members opposite are discussing a very serious economic subject, I wish they would bring an honest mind to the problem. The Noble Lady has said that Socialism wherever tried has failed. I would like to know where it has been tried and has been a failure. It has been tried in this country and has not failed. Hon. Members opposite mention that word Socialism in the tone that they use in addressing youngsters, when they tell them, "The goblins will get you, boo!" I believe that this House is a Socialist experiment. The Post Office is a Socialist experiment, and even the maligned telephones, the parks and commons, and roads. Would you go back to private enterprise in any one of these things? [HON. MEMBERS: "Every time."] If hon. Members went to their constituents and told them that, they would not come back to this House. It has been suggested that we cannot afford to pay a minimum wage. If this country is poor, it cannot afford to have 1,200,000 people out of work, and it cannot afford to have capital standing idle, or to have managerial ability unemployed, and land breeding pheasants and rabbits—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—and aristocrats and Tories, just about as useful as the rabbits. [Interruption.] Yes, and we would trap you if we could.

All the minimum wage demand means, is that certain people will get the products of labour, and if we cannot afford that, then everybody ought to be working overtime—hon. Members opposite included. It applies as much to the duke as to the dustman. If we are poor everybody ought to be working hard; if we cannot afford this concession then everybody ought to be working overtime. Even from the point of view of self-interest, we cannot afford to under-pay people. If you want a revival in trade, you will have to raise wages. It is the only way that the home market can be restored. I suggest that production to-day is measured by the wages paid. Manufacturers will not produce unless they can find a market and manufacturers cannot find a market unless there is purchasing power, and if there is not purchasing power then goods will not be produced. In other words, the lack of purchasing power at home and abroad, is responsible for the slump in trade. If we had raised wages, 25 per cent. in 1920, when we were getting back to normal, and producing more and more goods, instead of driving the wages standard down to an impossible level, then in place of having a slump which has meant ruin to thousands, and untold misery to millions, even capitalism might have delivered the goods. If we increased wages 10s. a week all round, what would happen? [HON. MEMBERS: "Make it £1."] I am only using the figure of 10s. for the sake of argument. I know if I mentioned 1s. it would suit the enthusiasm of some hon. Members much better, but I should like to make it more than that. If you gave the workers that extra purchasing power, then they would immediately buy goods. The workers might then have the purchasing power to buy boots for their children.

There are 5,000 children in Manchester to-day who cannot go to school because they have not boots. If the workers were enabled to buy boots, it would give employment to the boot makers in Leicester and Northampton, which would mean that these in turn would have additional purchasing power, and so the advantage would work all the way round. It is as simple to me as A, B, C, but some people evidently have not got to the C stage yet. They cannot see; there is something the matter with their mental retina. I may remind the House that when the miners' wives were wearing fur coats, and buying pianos, business was being done, and I commend to hon. Members that they should investigate this problem of purchasing power. There is no shortage of anything; the productivity of labour has gone up by leaps and bounds, so much so, that they have had to dump herrings back into the sea, and cut down rubber plantations, and restrict the output of rubber by one-half. Everywhere there is that restriction. It is "ca'canny" with a vengeance. There is not one industry in this country where the game of "ca'canny" is not being played in this way. It is not the question of a shortage of goods, but a shortage of purchasing power, and this is a simple proposal which will increase purchasing power and which will end in a blessing even to those who own the instruments of production, distribution and exchange.


I think I shall voice the opinions of most hon. Members when I congratulate the hon. Member who has I just sat down upon the enthusiasm with which he has delivered his maiden speech. I sat through the greater part of this Debate, and I sat through a Debate on the same subject in March last year, and I agree with the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) that nothing has been said in either of these Debates to justify such a proposal as this to the House of Commons or the people of this country. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty said, if I may summarise his speech, that we had to choose between the inevitability of trade disputes and some such remedy as is indicated in this Bill. I do not put it higher than that, and I think that is a fair, if brief, summary of what the hon. Member said. Surely he is wrong. Does he imagine that if the solution of the great industrial problem of this country were so simple, that we here could pass a simple Bill decreeing that every man should have what we will term a living wage, without defining the exact figure, does he think there is a single man of great experience who would hesitate for one second to pass that Bill, if it were possible to reconcile that Measure with the prosperity of the trade and industry of our country which would enable our working people to live? Let hon. Members opposite in the Labour party come down to this House and say to us, "Our proposal is a minimum wage," and name whatever they like, £2 or £3 a week, and let them say: "We propose, having made that as a minimum wage, to say to you that our scheme of industry is as follows: We have now satisfied ourselves that with the machine we have brought into being, the spirit of our people is such that they will come forward and work the same under a minimum wage scheme as when they had to seek work and to work hard to maintain their job." If they can satisfy us that that will be so, if there is any means of satisfying the country, they will have done a great deal to remove the objection to a minimum wage.

If I may be allowed for a moment to turn to a slightly personal note, I think it is only fair to hon. Members opposite to say that I, like them, understand this problem from the workshop point of view. I think perhaps it is right that I should intrude this personal note, much as I regret doing so, but it is now 35 years ago that I worked in an engineering workshop with a hammer and chisel and file, without a sou in the world. I had to work for my living, and I worked from six in the morning till six at night for anything that I possess to-day, and, much as I regret personal details of this kind, I think it is right that these things should be stated. I possess nothing to-day that has not come from the product of the hammer and the chisel and the file. I said this on Clydeside, outside the Fairfield shipbuilding yard gates, and those men knew me: "Was it better that I should be to-day working with a hammer and chisel and file, or that I should have pulled tens and hundreds of thousands, and to-day something like nine millions, out of different channels, and put that back, instead of being employed abroad, into the industries of this country, where now tens of thousands of men are earning a living? If I distributed every penny I possess, I do not believe it would amount to 2d. per week on the wages of these workers.

When hon. Members talk of a minimum wage, let them write this down, so far as I am concerned. Show me that you will produce at least as great a prosperity in this country as we have to-day, and I will vote for your minimum wage, but produce some evidence. Let me see that you are going to keep alive that energy, that force of character, that driving power of individual effort which is going to employ, and produce, and, as an hon. Member said, deliver the goods to the working men of this country, and there will be no greater advocate of a minimum wage than I should be. It is futile to come down here and say that the minimum wage will cure the evils which have been spoken of. What is that assertion supported by? Nothing has been put before us to show that the evils under which we are labouring to-day will come to an end. Not one word. Not one suggestion. Not one word has been uttered yet to commend the principle of the minimum wage either to this House of Commons or to the people of the country.


The hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Haycock), who has given us a very earnest address, more characterised by zeal than by logic, challenged us to give an illustration of a Socialist State. I take up that challenge. At one time I happened to take a journey through the Highlands to a Socialist State, and I desire to give a brief description of my experiences. I will draw some conclusions as the result of those experiences. I refer to Fiji—


On a point of Order. I want to know whether it is in order on this Resolution to discuss the question of Socialism, or are we discussing the minimum wage? We do not need to go to Fiji.


We are discussing the Resolution on the Paper.


I am coming to that, but I want to give two experiences which were very illuminating to me. [An HON. MEMBER: "Had they the minimum wage?"] I am going to discuss a wage problem in Fiji. I took with me an interpreter and provisions for about a week. While resting in a Fijian hut a stalwart Fijian woman with a number of children and young people came in and made an attack upon my larder. She took out tins of sardines, and bread and butter, which she distributed amongst the children and the youths, and gave me the acknowledgment of a smile. I noted those provisions, which were to last for the week, growing small by degrees and beautifully less. I felt inclined to shout, "Police, police"; then I remembered that they were Socialists in Fiji and that these things belonged to her just as much as to me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] There are no private possessions in Fiji. Everything belongs to everyone, and no one produces anything except under the compulsion of the law.


Perhaps the hon. Member will not attach that argument to the Motion before the House.


On another occasion during the journey my interpreter and I were devouring bread and jam, and a stalwart Fijian came in. We let him share our diet, and my guide proceeded to smother a piece of bread with jam for him. He opened his wide jaws and it disappeared as if into a vacuum. I then told my interpreter to ask this Fijian why he did not make jam. There were sugar factories close by and plenty of fruit growing wild, and firewood everywhere. He replied, "What's the use? I would not get it. There is no private ownership in Fiji, and consequently this man would not make jam for others.

The lesson to be derived from that is, that if a man does not get the full reward of his labour, he will not work. [AN HON. MEMBER: "That is Socialism."] There are thousands of men who do not get a minimum wage; and unless you give a man the full reward of his labour he will not give you the full reward of his wage. In Fiji they do not get what they produce, therefore they do not produce. 85,000 Fijians share what is produced, and there is in consequence nothing to share. I will leave Fiji for a moment and come to Russia. During the Socialistic régime there a peasant was asked why he did not grow wheat, and he replied, "What's the use? I would not get it." Unless he was going to get the wheat he grew, he would not grow wheat. The other day I saw a bricklayer laying a brick. He stopped in the process as I approached him.


On a point of Order, I wish to ask if an hon. Member of this House is to be allowed to continue speaking all night and not speak to the Motion before the House?


I thought the hon. Member was coming to the Motion.


I am afraid the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me was not following my argument. I asked this bricklayer how many bricks he was able to lay per day and why he did not lay that number, and he said, "What's the use? I would not get it." Unless he was going to get the full reward of all his labour laying bricks he was not going to do that amount of work. You cannot get men to toil unless they get the full reward of their toil. That is the complaint of the man who goes slow. You ask him, "Why do you go slow? and he says, "What's the use? I don't get it." Unless he gets all he produces or his full share of what he produces, he will not toil. That is how it is that Socialism is a sterilising system. You cannot possibly impose Socialism by law, by Act of Parliament. You cannot say, "Thou shalt toil, in order that other people will get the proceeds of your toil." You simply paralyse men. There is only one way, and that is to accept the capitalist system, accept private enterprise, accept private ownership; all these things must be accepted; and all you can do, by law, is to limit the abuses of capital, by saying to a man, "Thou shalt not exploit thy labourer; thou shalt not sweat thy labourer; thou shalt not underpay; thou shalt not force him to live in insanitary conditions; thou shalt not force him to work in dangerous mines or unhealthy factories." All that you can do by law as to enact that men shall get the full reward of their labour. If you are going to force men to work for a living wage, instead of his fair share of what he produces, you should force capital to be content with a living dividend. A living wage is not the standard, but a limit below which you ought not to go; but a man should get his full share of all he produces. You can only do that by a third-party tribunal, having no interest in the result, and charged with the duty of getting at the facts. Those who cry for Socialism are Like infants crying in the night, And with no language but a cry. They are talking the purest nonsense.


Are you a Socialist?




Well, you are talking nonsense.


I am contrasting the ideal of the Labour party, namely, Socialism, with another ideal, and that is third party tribunals charged with the duty of getting at the facts of industry and awarding the results equitably. If you get the facts and make them known, public opinion will be the arbitrator that will determine whether the distribution is just. I introduced into this Parliament 11 or 12 years ago the Adults Industrial Peace Bill. There is a great deal of misconception as to the meaning of arbitration. I believe that a minimum wage should be established, not by Act of Parliament, but by tribunals. It is impossible to determine a universal minimum wage. A living wage in one district might be a starvation wage in another. Rent, productivity, the cost of living—all of these must be taken into consideration, and the only way in which the issue can be determined is by the machinery of third-party tribunals. It cannot be done by hunting for Socialism, for some new system to be built up on the ruins of our old system. Our method of progress should be an evolutionary method, and we must accept the things we have, moulding and altering them in order to meet the growing needs of our industrial community. There is only one way of determining as between two disputants who both claim the same thing, whether that thing is a wage or a dividend. On the one hand, the employés say that they are entitled to such-and-such a share of what they produce; capital, on the other hand, says that it is entitled to such-and-such a share of the things produced. Who is to determine this issue? It can only be done by third-party tribunals charged with the duty of getting at the facts, determining what is right, and then leaving it to public opinion to enforce the award.

I do not believe in compulsory arbitration, but I believe in tribunals whose function is to investigate and report, leaving it to public opinion, after that report, to ensure and enforce the recognition of the award. There are certain things which cannot be done by arbitration. You cannot enforce the acceptance of an award on either party, but an award must be given which contains, not only the judgment of the tribunal, but the facts. Then there must be a reasoned judgment on the facts, and the unerring force of public opinion must be trusted to to enforce the award.


rose, in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


It is very late to address the House on this question, but I should like to say one or two words. While the speeches of Members in this House are long and comic, the wages of people outside are short and tragic. The question has been asked, "Why do not the Government take this question up, instead of leaving it to a private Member?" It is wonderful what extraordinary things percolate through the mental channels of this great Assembly. This Motion happens to have been the creature of the Ballot, and all that the Government could do was what they have done, namely, merely to accept it and give it their blessing. It has also been asked, "Will men do a fair day's work for a minimum wage?" But why should it be assumed that men would not work for a high wage when they have to work for a low wage? With that I resume my seat.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."


I think that the House is now ready to come to a decision.

Resolved, That, in view of the practically universal acceptance of the principle that a living wage for all workers should be the first charge upon industry, and in view of the large measure of agreement with respect to the advisability of fixing legal minimum time rates of wages reached at the National Industrial Conference, this House urges the Government to proceed without delay with the Bill introduced by the Government of the day in 1919, constituting a Commission to inquire into and report upon legal minimum time rates of wages.


It is impossible to hear a word that is going on.


The noise is all below the Gangway.