HC Deb 02 April 1928 vol 215 cc1731-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £185,500, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929, for Expenditure in respect of Diplomatic and Consular Buildings." [Note: £92,750 has been voted on account.]


I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.

I move this reduction in order to draw attention to certain expenditure in connection with the new British Embassy that is to be built in Washington. About a year ago, when we raised this question, we were told that the contract had not yet been granted, but we were assured that when it was made a Fair Wages Clause would be inserted in it, and we gathered at that time that by "fair wages" was understood the trade union rate of wages that would be then prevailing. Since that time there has been a great deal of discussion, particularly among the building unions in the United States of America, and a great deal of speculation as to who was going to receive this contract. I understand that the firm which has got the exclusive right to construct the new British Embassy in Washington is certainly not a firm which has a great reputation from a trade union point of view. Indeed, I have correspondence from the responsible trade union secretary of the Plasterers', Masons' and Bricklayers' Union to the effect that Mr. Wardman, who has received this contract, is one of the worst employers of labour in the United States from the trade union point of view. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary, if it be true that Mr. Wardman has this contract, whether he is really satisfied that the Fair Wages Clause, which I understand is in the contract, and trade union conditions, are being observed?

I have information which would lead me to believe that there is a very great deal of disquiet among the relatively well organised unions of this industry in America. They are complaining that in practice Mr. Wardman employs a kind of non-union labour, and has not hesitated in times past to employ even negro labour as a substitute for highly skilled labour in the building trade. I shall be specially glad if we can have some definite assurance as to what is really meant by the Fair Wages Clause, and whether the words used a year ago really mean that it is free union labour paid at trade union rates, and whether we can have a guarantee that nothing except trade union labour will be used in the building of this Embassy.

There is a second reason why we are concerned about this grant of money and it arises from the fact that this is not a private house that is being built but is the British Embassy across the Atlantic, that is to say, it is a building which in a real sense represents symbolically the British nation on the other side of the Atlantic. I am informed that if the Embassy is built by non-union labour it will be the first Embassy in the United States to be so built. It is to our honour and our reputation that if we weight our interests in one way or another it ought to be on the side of the best rather than the worst paid labour when we have dealings with a country like the United States, and the mere fact that it is a British Embassy means that it gives the trade unions of America a particularly good opening for launching an attack which goes much wider than merely industrial interests. Particularly at this time, more than at any other time in our history since 1776, it is very important that we should take every conceivable care in our dealings with the American nation, and there is plenty of evidence in the Press of America and in the activities of the trade unions that they are using this incident of badly paid labour in the building of the Embassy to suggest that we are trying to undermine American standards of labour. Mr. Wardman himself has British interests. He is, as a matter of fact, part proprietor of a considerable number of British hotels, and it is merely because of his English interests that he has been allowed to get this contract, and in this way we are having a very widespread propaganda released which can only damage, in far wider ways than the economic ways, the relations of the people of Britain with the people of America. Therefore I should like to ask whether the Minister in taking adequate care to see to it that our ideas of self-respect and our ideas of a Fair Wages Clause are really being carried out in this contract, so that in the years that lie ahead, when the American plasterers and masons and bricklayers go to Washington and point to our British Embassy, they will not be able to point the finger of scorn but will be able to say, "This Embassy, in the third decade of the 20th Century, was built by the very best labour, paid by the best recognised standards that America had."


I will endeavour to answer the points that have been put to me by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith) as briefly as possible. I had a question put to me on this subject last week, the answer to which I hoped would clear up a certain amount of misunderstanding on the part of certain hon. Members opposite. I am quite aware, and my Noble Friend is quite aware, that there is a certain amount of disquiet on the part of a certain number of officials and members of American trades unions on this question. It is true that the contract has been awarded to Mr. Wardman. The reason it was awarded to Mr. Wardman was because the tender was the lowest. But we have not disregarded the points which the hon. Member made, because we have inserted a definite clause in the contract to the effect that Mr. Wardman shall pay the union rates of wages in the district and will observe the usual union hours. Under those circumstances, I do not think that there is any likelihood of his undercutting—in fact, he could not do so without breaking his contract—and there is no likelihood of the hon. Gentleman's fears being realised. I think, in view of the definite fact that we have these terms in the contract, that we could not do other than accept that contract because it was the lowest.


Will that clause be inserted in the original contract?


I do not quite know what the hon. Member means. There is only one contract. As far as I know, it was in the original contract, and as far as I know there has been no revision of contract.


Was the condition implied when the Government issued an invitation asking for tenders for the contract that they were expected to pay trade union wages and also to observe trade union conditions?


Yes. The Fair Wages Clause of this House applies to all contracts.


Was it pointed out to those who were tendering for this contract in America that they wore expected to pay trade union rates of wages and also to observe every trade union condition?


As far as I know.


The answer of the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not seem very decisive. It appears that the Clause was inserted all right, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself said that there was some disquiet of which he was aware. Is it possible that this disquiet has arisen because of the fact and in spite of the Clause being there that the Clause is not being carried out? Has he made inquiry, or is he prepared to make inquiries to see that now the Clause is there the contractor carries it out, and that if there is any disquiet he will remedy the matter at the earliest possible moment?


Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say who is responsible for seeing that the terms of the contract are carried out?


In usual cases where there is a large contract there is either an architect on the spot or there is a representative from the Office of Works to see that the contract is carried out. I cannot actually say what the proceeding is in this particular case without inquiring. The hon. Member must realise that I have not received notice of this question from any Member on the other side. I do not think that the hon. Member's point is really a point of substance, because the reason I was aware of some disquiet was that questions were addressed to me on the subject over a week ago.


Will the hon. and gallant Member see that someone is in charge, to ensure that the terms of the contract are carried out?


Yes, certainly.


I have seen statements in the newspapers with regard to this matter. I would remind the hon. and gallant Member that Washington is the headquarters of the American Federation of Labour, the centre of the trade union movement in America, and caution ought to be exercised in regard to the firm chosen for this contract. I do not know whether inquiries have been made as to the character of the firm; I remember that one building, a large hotel, was held up for over 12 months in America, and I am sure we do not want to have anything like that to occur in regard to the British Embassy. Great care should be exercised in a country like America to see that no black mark is put against any building belonging to the British Government.


We will take special care to see that the terms of the contract are carried out.


Is there not a permanent official of the Office of Works attached at the Embassy of Washington, who superintends the erection of buildings?


There is, I understand, an architect on the spot now representing the Office of Works.


The disquiet in Washington at the present time is undoubtedly due to the fact that the firm entrusted with the contract have a poor reputation in regard to the employment of their workmen. It is important that the Department, before placing any contract, should see that it given to a fair firm. I am given to understand—of course, it may be quite contrary to the fact—that the contract has not been given to the firm which made the lowest tender, but rather the reverse. My information may be incorrect, but I am given to understand that this firm's price was not the lowest.


The hon. Member is wrong; it was the lowest.


I am prepared to accept that statement. I am only giving the information which has come to me this evening. I understood that it was the custom for the Department to have a list of what are known as fair firms. It is not sufficient for a firm to quote for work and be prepared to carry out good conditions for this work only. I am given to understand that, in all probability, a large proportion of this work will be given to sub-contractors, and that not only have this firm a bad name in not being prepared to square up to the terms of the contract, as recognised on this side, but that the sub-contractors will contravene the Fair Wages Clause. That is no new thing in this country. We have from time to time drawn the attention of the Department to instances of sub-contractors contravening the Fair Wages Clause, and we are entitled to ask, even although this Vote may be passed to-night, for some definite information that will allay the distrust and disquiet that obtains amongst the building trade operatives in this country on this subject. We are bound to get information from the American Federation of Labour, and they will naturally expect us in this House to find out from the Department what steps are being taken to see that Messrs. Wardman are conforming exactly to the Fair Wages Clause. That information cannot be obtained unless we have a clerk of works on the spot, who is prepared to review the books from time to time and see that the conditions are respected. I hope that the Minister in charge of the Estimate will give us at least a guarantee that we shall have some later information, because we appreciate the fact that it had been somewhat sprung on him as it has been on us.

Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £185,4000, be granted for the said Service."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 88; Noes, 199.

Division No. 66.] AYES. [10.51 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Grundy, T. W. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Adamson, W. M. (Staff. Cannock) Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Riley, Ben
Ammon, Charles George Hardle, George D. Ritson, J.
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Harris, Percy A. Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(W.Bromwich)
Baker, Walter Hayday, Arthur Rose, Frank H.
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Runciman, Hilda (Cornwall, St. Ives)
Barnes, A. Hirst, G. H. Runciman, Rt Hon. Walter
Barr, J. John, William (Rhondda, West) Saklatvala, Shapurji
Batey, Joseph Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Scrymgeour, E.
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Kelly, W. T. Smith, Rennie (Penistune)
Broad, F. A. Kennedy, T. Snell, Harry
Bromley, J. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Stephen, Campbell
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Lawrence, Susan Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Lee, F. Strauss, E. A.
Charleton, H. C. Lowth, T. Sullivan, J.
Connolly, M. Lunn, William Sutton, J. E.
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Mackinder, W. Thurtle, Ernest
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) Varley, Frank B.
Dennison, R. Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton) Viant, S. P.
Duncan, C. March, S. Watson, W. M. (Dunlermilne)
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Maxton, James Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Garro-Jones, Captain G M. Morris, R. H. Wellock, Wilfred
Gibbins, Joseph Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Welsh, J. C.
Gillett, George M. Oliver, George Harold Whiteley, W.
Greenall, T, Paling, W. Wiggins, William Martin
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Griffith, F. Kingsley Ponsonby, Arthur
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Potts, John S. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Mr. Fenby and Major Owen.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Crookshank,Cpt. H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro) Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)
Albery, Irving James Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West) Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Cunliffe, Sir Herbert Haslam, Henry C.
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H. Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.
Atkinson, C. Davies, Dr. Vernon Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd,Henley)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Dixey, A. C. Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Eden, Captain Anthony Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Elliot, Major Walter E. Henn, sir Sydney H.
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon Everard, W. Lindsay Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.
Betterton, Henry B. Fairfax, Captain J. G. Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)
Blades, Sir George Rowland Fanshawe, Captain G. P. Hills, Major John Waller
Blundell, F. N. Fermoy, Lord Hilton, Cecil
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Fielden, E. B. Holt, Captain H. P.
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Finburgh, S. Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W. Ford, Sir P. J. Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)
Brass, Captain W. Forestler-Walker, Sir L. Hopkins, J. W. W.
Briscoe, Richard George Forrest, W. Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Foster, Sir Harrgy S. Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Fraser, Captain Ian Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney,N.)
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Hume, Sir G H.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.( Berks,Newb'y) Galbraith, J. F W. Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer
Buckingham, Sir H. Ganzonl, sir John. Iliffe, sir Edward M.
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.
Butt, Sir Alfred Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert
Campbell, E. T. Glyn, Major R. G. C. Jephcott, A. R.
Carver, Major W. H. Goff, Sir Park Kindersley, Major Guy M.
Cassels, J. D. Gower, Sir Robert King, Commodore Henry Douglas
Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt.R.(Prtsmth.S.) Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Knox, Sir Alfred
Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Greene, W. P. Crawford Lamb, J. Q.
Christie, J. A. Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip
Churchman, Sir Arthur C. Gunston, Captain D. W. Little, Dr. E. Graham
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hacking, Douglas H. Long, Major Eric
Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Looker, Herbert William
Cooper, A. Duff Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.) Lougher, Lewis
Couper, J. B. Hamilton, Sir George Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere
Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Hammersley, S. S. Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman
Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe) Harrison, G. J. C. Lumley, L. R.
Crooke, J. Smedley (Derltend) Hartington, Marquess of McLean, Major A.
Makins, Brigadier-Genaral E. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U. Tasker, R. Inigo
Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y) Thom, Lt.-Col J. G. (Dumbarton)
Margesson, Captain D. Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford) Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Ropner, Major L. Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Meller, R. J. Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A. Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell
Merriman, Sir F. B. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Rye, F. G. Waddington, R.
Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Salmon, Major I. Wallace, Captain D. E.
Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.( Kingston-on-Hull)
Moore, Sir Newton J. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Moreing, Captain A. H. Sanders, Sir Robert A. Watts, Dr. T.
Nelson, Sir Frank Sanderson, Sir Frank Wells, S. R.
Neville, Sir Reginald J, Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple
Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Savery, S. S. Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Nuttall, Ellis Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl.(Renfrew.W.) Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Oakley, T. Sheffield, Sir Berkeley Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Pennefather, Sir John Shepperson, E. W. windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Penny, Frederick George Skelton, A. N. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine. C.) Wolmer, viscount
Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Smith-Carington, Neville W. Womersley, W. J.
Pownall, Sir Assheton Smithers, Waldron Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Preston, William Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Price, Major C. W. M. Sprot, Sir Alexander Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Raine, Sir Walter Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Ramsden, E. Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Rawson, Sir Cooper Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Rees, Sir Beddoe Styles, Captain H. W. Major the Marquess of Titchfield
Reid, D. D. (County Down) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser and sir Victor Warrender.
Remer, J. R. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid

Original Question put, and agreed to.