HL Deb 30 August 1909 vol 2 cc974-1016


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the main object of this Bill is the establishment of a minimum rate of wages in certain trades in which what is termed sweating is well known to exist. The establishment by Statute of a minimum rate of wages is, I suppose, a novel expedient, but your Lordships are aware that regulation of the conditions of labour in certain trades is by no means new, and that ever since the passing of the first Factory Act Parliament has, from time to time, agreed to legislation having that object. Only last year your Lordships agreed to a Bill limiting the hours of labour in mines. I have lived all my life amongst miners, and I never doubted for a moment that the passing of that Bill was a right and a just measure; but I confess that I had an uneasy feeling, not with regard to those whom the Bill affected, but with regard to those who were not included in it. I felt, and I think many of your Lordships may have felt, that besides the miners—and I am sure we do not grudge them their good-luck—there were many other people, helpless people, with no political or other organisation, who stood in equal need of help. Therefore I am glad, and I believe your Lordships will be glad, that the case of those poor and helpless people is now to be dealt with. But I admit that that is a sentimental consideration, and it is a consideration which is, perhaps, out of place in dealing with a Bill which is not based upon sentiment but upon hard solid facts.

I think the facts are well known to us all. Every one knows what sweating is, and every one acknowledges it to be a great evil. It is not a new thing. It has been known to exist and its existence has been noted for the last fifty years or more. I do not suppose that during the last twenty years there is any feature of our social system which has been so much inquired into, so much spoken about, and so much written about as the evil of sweating; and the Government are of opinion that the time has now come when the only practical remedy should be applied. It is not only in this country that sweating has excited attention. It has excited attention in practically every civilised country, and in Germany, in particular, I understand that legislation on this subject is imminent. I would commend that fact to any one who may be afraid that by legislation of this sort trade in this country may be driven abroad; and I would point out that even if we do move a little faster in this matter than other countries, and if we do take the lead, as in a matter of this sort I think we ought to take the lead, we shall probably not maintain that lead indefinitely, because other countries are moving, and moving very fast, in the same direction.

I shall not attempt to coin a new definition of sweating. There are many such in circulation already, but I will take what I believe to be the ordinary meaning of the word—the payment by an employer to his workpeople of a wage which is insufficient to purchase for them the necessaries of life; and in bringing forward this Bill I would simply ask your Lordships whether or not you consider that such wages ought to continue to be paid. I do not think that there can be more than one answer to such a question. It is already, to our credit as a nation, a punishable offence in this country to allow an animal which is dependent upon us to starve, and it does not seem very much to ask that the same principle should be extended to human beings. When an insufficient wage is paid something approaching starvation must take place, perhaps not actually in the matter of food, but in poorness of clothing, poorness of lodging, and bad quality of food—that is, unless the insufficient wages are supplemented from some other source. There are cases, of course, in which the wages are so supplemented. In some cases that may be done by charitable relief, perhaps rather misplaced charitable relief, and even I believe by Poor Law relief in some form or another. I think it might fairly be said that a trade which cannot exist without such assistance must be a thoroughly rotten one and a trade of which we should be well rid.

But, as a matter of fact, there is not the slightest reason to suppose that any trade will either be killed or driven abroad by this Bill, and I do not think that any better proof of that is needed than the warm support which has been given to this Bill by almost all of those, both masters and men, connected with the trades mentioned in the Schedule. What we imagine will happen will be that a levelling-up process will take place. The best class of employer, the man who pays fair wages now, will continue to pay fair wages; the second class of employer, the man who we have reason to believe would like to pay fair wages but is afraid of having his prices undercut by the class immediately below him, will be enabled to pay fair wages; and the third class of employer, the genuine sweater, will have to pay fair wages whether he likes it or not. There is one source from which wages may be supplemented which I have not mentioned, and which falls under a rather different heading. There are certain people, principally women, who wish to earn a little money but are not really dependent on the trade for their living, such as girls living at home with their family or married women who have no children to look after. It sometimes happens that for the purpose of earning a few shillings, a little spending money, such people are willing to accept considerably less than the market rate of wages, and it may perhaps be said that if both parties are agreeable to that arrangement there is no reason to interfere. But I think, my Lords, that it is necessary to look a little deeper than that, and if we do it will be seen that it is far from right that those people, for the purpose of earning a little pocket money, should drag down the level of wages and inflict serious injury on people who have to depend on the trade for their living. There is no reason why these people should not be paid at the same rate as any other people doing the same work. If their work is worth having, it must be worth paying for. If they only devote part of their time to this work they will naturally not earn as much in a day as a person of equal ability who devotes the whole day to the work. But the point is that the rate should be the same. There is no reason why it should not be, and therefore we do not propose to make any exception in those cases.

Four trades have been selected for the purposes of the Bill, and they are set out in the Schedule. They are certain parts of the tailoring trade, the paper-box making trade, certain parts of the commoner lace and net finishing trade, and certain parts of the chain-making trade. Those are all trades in which sweating is acknowledged to exist. There are provisions in the Bill to enable its extension to other trades, and it is the intention that trades carried on under similar circumstances shall be included. That will be done on the initiative of the Board of Trade, and will be carried out by means of a Provisional Order Bill. Thus your Lordships will see that the control of Parliament in the case of the inclusion of a new trade is absolutely maintained. What will happen will be this. The Board of Trade will say that in their opinion the Act ought to be extended to a certain trade, and a Provisional Order will be promoted in the ordinary way and passed through Parliament with the object of carrying that out. It will rest entirely with Parliament to say whether or not that Bill should pass. I should like to say here, as strongly as possible, that it is not fair, as has been done, to describe this Bill as being the thin end of a wedge. The scope of the Bill is absolutely defined, and there is no intention of using its provisions as a general means of regulating wages in all trades. If your Lordships will turn to subsection (2) of Clause 1, you will see that it is not possible that the Bill should be so used. In that subsection the Board of Trade are only given power to make a Provisional Order— if they are satisfied that the rate of wages prevailing in any branch of the trade is exceptionally low. It will, therefore, be seen that the machinery for including a new trade can only be set in motion if those exceptional circumstances can be shown to exist.

The machinery which it is proposed to set up is briefly this. For each of the scheduled trades a central Trade Board will be established, and where the distribution of the trade requires it the country will be divided into districts, in each of which a local committee will be established. The Trade Boards will consist of an equal number of employers and employed, together with a certain number of paid experts, who are alluded to in the Bill as "appointed members." The composition of the district trade committees will be very similar to that of the Trade Board itself. With regard to the duties of the Trade Board, the primary duty will be the fixing of a minimum rate of wages in the trade with which it deals. The process will be this. Each committee will recommend a certain rate of wages for its district. That recommendation will be made to the Trade Board, who, after consideration, will either approve or amend that rate. It will not be necessary for the Trade Board to fix a similar rate for the whole country. What they will do will be to take into consideration the general circumstances of the trade and the special circumstances of the district, and fix a rate which they consider to be fair having regard to all those circumstances. Notice will then be given that it is intended to fix this rate, and an interval of three months will be allowed in order that anyone who wishes to raise an objection may be given an opportunity of being heard. After that period the rate will come into operation to a limited extent. During the intermediate period, which will last six months, the rate will not be compulsory, and no penalties will be incurred by an employer who does not conform to it, but a list will be kept and will be open to public inspection of those employers who agree to abide by the rate. Further, it will be obligatory in the case of all Government and municipal contracts; and there is this other point, that wages at this rate will be recoverable as a civil debt in all cases in the absence of a written contract to the contrary. That concludes what I may describe as the intermediate stage.

We now pass to the compulsory stage. After the lapse of six months from the date when notice was given of the rate fixed the Board of Trade must issue an Order either making the rate compulsory, in which cases the penalties for non-compliance will come into operation, or else the Board must make an Order postponing the compulsory stage. There are three forms of minimum rates of wages which may be fixed. First, there is the minimum time rate. That will be the ordinary rate, and it will operate, of course, in factories and in places which are under the immediate supervision of the employer. The next rate is the general minimum piece rate. That will be based Upon the time rate, and will operate to a certain extent in factories, and, of course, invariably in the case of home work. The Trade Board is not required to fix a general minimum piece rate, but it may do so where it considers it to be necessary. Then there is a third rate—a special minimum piece rate—which may be fixed by the Trade Board on the application of an employer and will apply to any particular article which cannot properly be covered by either of the two other rates. Where a minimum time rate but no general or special minimum piece rate has been fixed and the employer wishes to pay by piecework, the piece rate must be such that an ordinary worker working at this rate will earn not less than he would if paid by time. Besides the duty of fixing the minimum rate of wages the Trade Boards will be required to advise the various Government Departments on points connected with their trades, and in this direction they will be consultative and not executive bodies. We consider that they will be able to do a great deal of useful work in that way.

I have described very briefly the object and scope of this Bill. Its object is the abolition of sweating, and to that object its scope is confined. The abolition of sweating is to be arrived at by the most simple and most direct means possible by securing that a wage on which it is possible to live shall invariably be paid in return for a fair day's work. I have admitted that the establishment of a minimum rate of wages is a new principle, and I understand that in certain quarters it has been objected to as being an undue interference with freedom of contract between individuals. I am quite prepared to admit that interference with free right of contract might be carried to a length to which few, if any, of us would agree to go, but I do not think it can be said that that is done by the present Bill. The minimum wages proposed by this Bill are to be fixed by a Board which will be almost entirely composed of members of the trade affected. The functions of this Board will be very similar to those performed, in trades in which labour is organised, by the accredited representatives of the masters and men acting together, and acting in a manner which, I think, is generally recognised as being to the advantage of both parties.

But there are certain important limitations in regard to these Trade Boards. In the first place, the Trade Board will only have to fix a minimum and not a standard rate of wages; and, in the second place, the Trade Board will only be called into existence in cases where the workpeople have shown themselves to be incapable of any action on their own behalf. I submit, my Lords, that the conditions in these extreme cases clearly call for legislative action, not only in the interests of the poor helpless people themselves, but also in the interests of the community. I know that there are many members of your Lordships' House who have taken, and do take, the very greatest interest in this question. There are many of your Lordships who have, I believe, devoted years to its study and to investigating its causes and its possible cure; and I feel that I can safely leave it to those noble Lords, who sit in all parts of the House, to supply the deficiencies of which I am painfully conscious in my advocacy of this measure.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hamilton of Dalzell.)


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will all be of opinion that in the interesting observations which the noble Lord opposite has just made he has not said one word too much in commiserating the position of those unfortunate women who are the victims of this sweated labour. There is no spectacle more deplorable than that of these unfortunate workers, not themselves able to fight their way through life in a manner which men might do, and subject to most adverse conditions both of work and of wages. Nothing that the noble Lord has said, nothing that any of your Lordships can say will be an exaggeration of the pitifulness of the cases of which testimony was given before the Select Committee of the Commons.

But my Lords, I thought, if I May be allowed to criticise the general tenor of the noble Lord's remarks, that he made too light of the difficulty of dealing with this subject. He said the procedure of the Bill was simple. I am not sure that I agree with him, but, even if the procedure of the Bill is simple, certainly the subject-matter with which the Bill deals is not simple, but, on the contrary, very complicated. It would be a mistake if your Lordships thought that the mass of home workers are sweated. The evidence appears to be conclusive in the other direction. Apparently, the majority of home workers are persons, no doubt working at a very low standard in the industrial scale, but perfectly able to look after themselves, and, in a sense, well-to-do. But there is a minority, a very considerable minority, a deplorable minority, in connection with whom those conditions do not obtain. Unfortunately, it is impossible to legislate with regard to one set of workers—namely, those whom we pity—without affecting the case of those workers who are perfectly well-to-do, and, in a measure, quite satisfied with the present conditions of their life. That is the first difficulty, and it is a very great difficulty.

There is a second difficulty which pertains, not to the generality of the workers, but to those very workers whom we are here to-day to pity, and, if possible, to succour. It would be a cruel kindness if by any legislation to which your Lordships' House gave assent we were to add to the sufferings of these poor workers one further crushing disaster—namely, to take away from them the only work they have. Therefore, we must walk very warily, and I confess I regretted the tone of confidence which I think, was the feature of the noble Lord's speech. He was only following the example of his chief. I noticed that the President of the Board of Trade, speaking in another place and upon another Bill—the Labour Exchanges Bill—sketched a picture of a sort of universal condition of Trade Boards. When he was advocating the necessary expense for the edifices under the Labour Exchanges Bill he spoke as though there would be a Trade Board meeting in every such building, which he put forward as a reason for its existence. That may be, or may not be an ultimate development, but at the present moment the matter is only experimental, and I hope your Lordships will treat it as experimental. Whether hereafter this experimental may be a success, and whether your Lordship will agree under the provisions of the Bill to extend its operation to other trades, are matters into which we need not inquire at the present moment. Let us first see how this experiment succeeds before we cast our eyes further afield.

I confess that I see no way out of the main proposition which the Government have put before your Lordships' House. As far as I myself am concerned, I assent to the establishment of these Trade Boards, whose principal function is to fix a minimum rate of wages. I do so because the ordinary trade remedy for these evils appears to be iinpracticable—I mean the union of the workers. That is the proper remedy wherever it can be applied, and that is the remedy one would like to see applied in these cases. They know much better—I am speaking of employer and employed—what is good for them than any Trade Board which the ingenuity of the Government or of your Lordships' House can construct. But, unfortunately, the evidence is almost conclusive that these women have not made sufficient progress in the arts of citizenship to be able to combine in a trade union and until they do I presume we must be content with this procedure, not so good and not so effective as the other would have been.

What are the main objects we have in view? About most of them I believe we shall all be agreed. In the first place, we want to secure for these sweated workers fair treatment—that is to say, that it shall not be possible, if we can prevent it, that particular numbers of these poor workers should be worse treated than others in a like case and in like circumstances. As your Lordships know, there are good employers and bad employers, and the latter take advantage of the exigencies of the life of these individuals to treat them more harshly than the good employers would do. We desire, in the first place, to raise the level of these workers to the point which the workers have attained under good employers. That is the first point. There is another object, not certainly within our power, but which, if it were within our power, we should desire to attain—namely, that if the trade permits it the standard of remuneration of these poor workers should be raised all round. There was a considerable body of evidence given before the Select Committee to the effect that the competition between employers in these particular trades had driven down prices lower than they need be. If by our legislation and the establishment of these Trade Boards we can raise prices, because that is what it comes to, in such a way as to give greater remuneration to the workers without injuring the trade, that is another object which I think we should all desire to attain.

I am afraid, however, there are some advocates of this legislation who go further than that. The Select Committee go further, because they view without repugnance the possibility that they may crush out certain trades in the process. I noticed with interest that the noble Lord just now repudiated that possibility. He said there was no chance of such a thing happening—at least I understood him to say so. I am very glad to hear that that is not in the mind of the Government. I think it might be made clearer in the Bill. I say so because I, for one, could certainly not take any responsibility in crushing out these trades, which provide, it may be, the only work on which these unfortunate people have to live at all. The Report of the Select Committee laid down a sort of general proposition that, however much you increase the cost of production in these trades, you never crush them out. That is a very common thesis we often hear in these labour debates. We hear it with regard to hours. It is said that however much you shorten the hours of labour you never injure the trade. Why, you have only to state the proposition in that form to see its absurdity. There must be a limit. It may well be that there may be trades in which you cannot pile on the cost of production without injuring them, and I am glad to hear that His Majesty's Government do not desire to be parties to anything of the kind.

The noble Lord said that one matter which gave him absolute confidence in approaching this subject was that all those who were interested were in favour of these Trade Boards. I am afraid the noble Lord has not read the whole of the evidence. I cannot pretend to have done so myself, but I have read a good deal, and I think it will he found that there were many witnesses drawn from amongst these unfortunate women themselves who pleaded most urgently before the Select Committee that they should be left alone. After all, they were ignorant persons and may have made a mistake. But there were ladies who had taken special interest in this subject who urged upon the Committee the greatest caution in dealing with it. One, I remember, suggested that it was no kindness to take bad food away from a man unless you were prepared to provide him with better. That was a phrase which struck me as showing the point of view from which she regarded this legislation. I am not saying that this legislation is a mistake, but I do controvert the confidence of the noble Lord, and I do suggest to him that if his Bill is not quite clear in its object of not injuring any of these trades it should be amended to make it clear. Although I have ventured to criticise one or two paragraphs to be found in the Report of the Select Committee, there was much in it, of course, of which all of us can heartily approve, and I think in many respects the Committee in their Report were more cautious in dealing with this subject than the Bill of His Majesty's Government.

I would like to call the attention of the noble Lord to certain differences between the recommendations of the Select Committee and the proposals of His Majesty's Government. In the first place, the Committee proposed, as I understand, not altogether to apply the procedure to the same trades; the scope of the Government Bill is rather larger than the scope of the Select Committee's Report. Then there is a considerable difference in the constitution of the Trade Boards as between these two great authorities. The Trade Board of the Government is, as I understand, a central Board—that is to say, for every particular trade there is to be one particular Trade Board for the whole of England. Take, for instance, the tailoring trade. Is there to be one Board for the whole of England or are there to be Boards in every district? I understand that the Government propose that for each of these trades there is to be a single Board. It is quite clear, whatever the Government intend, that the Select Committee intended something very different. They intended local Trade Boards—Trade Boards for the different parts of the country even in the same trade. The Government propose an official element upon the Trade Board. The Select Committee propose no official element, unless it be the chairman, and they suggest that the chairman should be, in the first instance, appointed by the other members of the Board and only appointed by the Government in case they could not agree. I noticed that the noble Lord spoke of a small official element, but the only limit, as far as the Bill is concerned, is that the officials should not outnumber the representatives. I do not criticise the official element, but I should like to have heard it defended by the noble Lord. I do not gather that the piece rate which the noble Lord proposes is the same as the piece rate of the Select Committee—that is to say, that it is to correspond to a time rate exactly. The piece rate is the time rate in which the ordinary worker can do the work. Is that so?


That is so in cases where the employer fixes his own piece rate in the absence of a piece rate fixed by the Trade Board.


I think that is a very important provision, because it is evident that under a bare time rate or under a piece rate which had no reference to time the old and infirm worker, who works much more slowly than the more healthy and vigorous worker, would be placed at a very great disadvantage. I have shown that there are certain differences or apparent differences between the Report of the Select Committee and the Bill of His Majesty's Government, and I think that the Select Committee are, on the whole, more careful of the interests of the home workers than are the Government, but I think both might have carried their precautions a little further. After all, in what are we mainly interested in this Bill? We are mainly interested in defending the interests of these sweated home workers. Be careful lest we allow the home workers and their influence to be overwhelmed by the superior organisation and the superior influence of the factory workers. That appears to be a matter of the first importance. The Government hardly propose any representation of the home workers at all. They have certain representation of workers generally; they have a sort of pious direction to the Board of Trade, who make the regulations, that they are to have regard in forming the Trade Boards to the representation of home workers; but there is no definite provision under which the home workers must be represented. I hope your Lord- ships will realise that the interests of home workers and the interests of factory workers are not only not identical but are very often divergent and contradictory. It is evident that if the factory workers were asked to decide simply upon their own interests, it would be to their interests to raise wages until they had crushed the home worker out of existence.

The home worker can only exist alongside the factory worker, if engaged in the same trade, if the home worker is willing to accept very much smaller remuneration. It is frequently the case that the factory worker and the home worker make the same article, and the home worker can only compete with the factory worker if a smaller remuneration is accepted. But the factory worker would desire to raise wages until the home worker must go under, and therefore it seems to me of the very essence of this remedial legislation that the interests of the home workers should be specially protected, and that they should not be merged with factory workers but should be treated on a different footing, and, if possible, by different organisations. If you combine this want of direct and definite representation of the home workers with the institution of these large central Boards, I put it to your Lordships how far you think the interests of the home workers will be represented? Is it at all likely that a central Board sitting in London, with, perhaps, one home worker upon it, will efficiently represent the interests of the home workers up and down the country? Is it not almost certain that the superior organisation of the factory workers and the official element and all the other parts of the Trade Board will overwhelm the interests of the home workers and that they will go by the board? I cannot say how surprised I am that the Government have not provided that there should be separate Trade Boards for home work and for factory work. I do not understand why that very obvious solution of the difficulty did not occur to them. Why is it necessary to treat the two on the same footing?

There is one other matter, and one other matter only, to which I propose to refer, and it is similarly with the object of, as far as possible, protecting the interests of home workers. This Bill, like all the Bills now proposed to Parliament, is largely to be carried into effect by regulations. I do not know what those regulations are to be. The noble Lord gave us no indication of what they are to be; but as soon as this Bill becomes law it is out of your hands, and your Lordships will have no control over the regulations. It is not even provided that they should be laid before Parliament. I hope the Government will see the desirability of accepting an Amendment to provide that the regulations shall be laid before Parliament for a certain number of days before coming into effect, and that they should only come into effect if not objected to. If these objections could be met, I think the Bill would be a much more satisfactory measure. I hope the Government will understand that the criticisms which I have ventured to make upon the proposals now before us have not been made in any spirit of hostility to the Bill or to the efforts of His Majesty's Government to deal with this great evil, but with a view to making the Bill effective, and I do not believe it will be effective without some such changes as those to which I have referred.


My Lords, it is a very happy thing that after so long an interval of years as has elapsed since your Lordships' Committee on Sweating presented its Report we have at last this measure proposed to us. It is even happier that it comes to us with an accord between men of different views which was very amply and generously shown in another place and which the noble Marquess who has just sat down, in the very thoughtful and critical speech which he addressed to us, has not himself desired to disturb. It is not, of course, that there is not a very strong case against legislation of this kind. There is a very strong case against any attempt to interfere with the freedom with which labour and employment on their respective sides adjust themselves to one another; but the point surely is that that case, strong as it is, has been overborne in this instance and plainly overborne, not so much by logic and theory as by irrefutable facts. It is pathetic to observe what an immense amount of fact, involving human suffering and distress, has to accumulate before we at length arrive at the happy day when the evil can be dealt with and relief given. But in this case that day has certainly arrived, and I think one may say that it is, in fact, overdue.

As the noble Marquess has put it with the greatest clearness, we ought not to interfere if labour could provide its own remedy. Over large tracts of national industry labour has provided its own remedy by the method, at one time severely criticised, of a standard or minimum wage; but there remains an immense area—I will not attempt to quarrel with the noble Marquess in his superior knowledge about the exact extent of that area—in which it is impossible that organisation can bring a remedy. We know that attempts have been made again and again to organise some of these branches of labour, but it has not been found possible. Within my own diocese there are great masses of such workers with regard to whom it may be said that interference is their only chance of freedom. These people cannot get any effective freedom unless you come to their rescue; and to resist that is not real loyalty to the principle of free contract, but an obstinacy which refuses to see where a principle is limited by other considerations. It is satisfactory to find that that obstinacy does not characterise at this stage of the matter either or any of the great bodies of political opinion.

We cannot approach a matter of this kind without remembering that we are taking a step in advance, and though one of the defenders of the measure in another place used rather strong language about the revolutionary character of the Bill, I cannot help feeling that the Bill only does in a new way what has been done in past times in a number of Statutes, which were met by the same argument—that it would crush trades out of existence. The argument that it is better to give people bad food than no food, and arguments of that kind, no doubt have their weight, but they are not new arguments. Hansard would supply a good many instances of their use in past times. Parenthetically I should say myself that if there is any risk in certain cases of crushing very poorly-paid trades out of existence, it is a risk which at a certain stage ought to be run.

The former steps that have been taken in legislation have had the effect of lifting us as a community a step in civilisation. There can be no doubt that if we look at the general state of the population compared with what it was before the Statutes dealing with truck, with women's labour, and similar subjects were passed, it will be seen that we have gone up a step in civilisation, but there remains in a large part of the industrial world a social condition which is barbarous in its effect upon those employed. Innumerable citizens are living under conditions of overstrain which break them down early and give them no opportunity and no strength for any of the things which make life tolerable or pleasant. These conditions of employment are barbarous in their effect on homes, on women's lives, and especially on child life. The worst of it is that when you look into this matter you find that there are really depths below depths. Seven shillings a' week seems a low wage when labour begins at 6 A.M. and ends only at 10 P.M. each day, but if you turn to the evidence available you find cases where the wage is only half that sum. You find sixpence a dozen paid for shirts and you think that pretty bad, but you find that from sixpence a dozen there are large deductions made.

I think the noble Marquess has cut much too sharp a distinction between the factory and the home-worker. You have a state of things in factories—that is my experience in South London—which is quite deplorable in this way, that the workers are powerless to resist any pressure with regard to wages put upon them. The noble Marquess has told us that home-workers are in a far more parlous state still. Strong economic pressure is not really the only force; there is an element of caprice and uncertainty due to the fact that one side in the bargain has no power to keep things steady, and certainly in parts the very low wages tend to go lower still. One of the most deplorable features in these cases is that of the imposition of fines, sometimes reckoned in pounds, upon workers whose wages are reckoned in pence. When these things are stated it must be admitted that we owe a remedy to these people. We must not hesitate longer in extending simple justice. But that is not all. We owe a remedy to ourselves, for I believe that in more ways than could be easily compressed into any statement this is one of the open sores of our social life through which the strength and vitality of the community run away. I believe that as a community we owe it to ourselves to provide some remedy, and if by doing so we help the workers, assuredly we shall help quite as much the whole social and industrial life of the country. I feel constrained to say that the whole problem of unemployment—it ought to be a platitude and I hope it is—is becoming one of such deepening anxiety that the attention of the whole community ought to be riveted upon it to a greater extent than unhappily is the case, in spite of Royal Commissions and their sad Reports; and I think it will be found that it is the classes of labour which are unorganised and unprotected by legislation that make the greatest contributions to that problem of unemployment. We owe this remedy, not only to ourselves, but to other nations too, because a great deal of the work produced under these conditions goes out of the country. What does that mean? It means that it goes out of the country to come into competition with the work produced by other countries, and therefore if the rate of wages in those countries should be more satisfactory than it is here, if the condition of the people there should be less degraded, we by our present conduct are actively helping to lower the social standard there and to do harm to the working classes of those countries.

It is a very pleasant feature in the case that we are applying a remedy which is not only beneficial to ourselves and to other countries but beneficial to the employers too, at any rate to those whom we want to consider. In the Report of the recent Committee on Home Work, upon which employers sat, it was unanimously agreed that you must touch wages, and that you can only touch wages by Trade Boards. Therefore I venture to think we ought not to hesitate at all about this remedy. It is on a very small scale. I hope that no attempt will be made to whittle away any part of the very small measure of relief which this Bill contains. It is confined at present to certain trades. I hope that His Majesty's Government will resist—I trust they will have no occasion to resist—any attempt to withdraw the power given in the Bill enabling protection to be extended, under the most careful safeguards, to other trades which I do not think we can doubt for an instant need such relief as much, or nearly as much, as those contained in the Schedule. We have been some time in coming to this matter. Now that we have come to it, let us be very careful to see that we do not give occasion for attack by pushing it further than it ought to go. On the other hand, we should not be so timid about risks as to whittle away and make ineffective a measure which contains a solid experiment in the right direction, and from the results of which we hope that great benefits will come to those whom we seek to touch. I trust also that we shall be guided to go quietly and steadily forward in whatever further legislation the same kind of circumstances may require.


My Lords, I do not propose to ask your Lordships to listen to any lengthy remarks from me on this Bill, but there was one observation made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, which I think does need a word of comment. The noble Marquess said it was a self-evident proposition that home workers must be paid less than factory workers.


I did not say that home workers must necessarily be paid worse than factory workers unless they were engaged in producing the same article.


The noble Marquess's proposition is that home workers must be paid less than factory workers if they are making the same article. I should have thought that precisely the opposite was obvious, because the home worker provides his own workroom and light, and, to some extent, his own materials. Therefore in the nature of things there does not appear to be any reason in the world why—though unhappily frequently the case—the home worker should be paid less than the factory worker for exactly the same article.


It is not that the home worker is paid less for the same article but paid less on the whole, because he or she makes fewer of the same article. That is where the difference comes in.


I do not think that even then the noble Marquess's argument applies. The noble Marquess asked the Government to, as it were, intensify the distinction between the home worker and the factory worker and to have different Boards for the two sets of workers. A great many of us who have been very much interested in this subject for a number of years, so far from desiring that, think that nothing more disastrous could be done with regard to the economic condition of the sweated worker, and that the thing most to be desired is that you should bring the home worker and the factory worker under the operation of the same laws and the same requirements as to the conditions of their work. There is no economic reason in the nature of the case why that should not be. The bad employers feel that they have the home worker much more in their grasp; and the whole object of this legislation is to enable just that class of worker who is most powerless because weak and unorganised to get some measure of the benefits which more capable workers have been able to secure through organisation.

I was glad to hear the noble Marquess speak with such enthusiasm of the work of the trade unions. With that I would desire to associate myself; but the object of this legislation is to enable those who cannot organise themselves to obtain some measure of the advantage of organisation; and I am quite sure that His Majesty's Government are right in believing that what they have to do is not to dissociate the home workers from the factory workers but to bring them more and more into the same category and under the operation of the same laws. Therefore I earnestly hope that the noble Marquess will not do anything in the direction of setting up a distinct Board or a distinct mode of treatment for home workers. Nor do I believe there is any kind of economic necessity or justification for such separate treatment. I believe the Bill will strengthen the hands of the best class of employers against the competition of bad employers. I do not think there is any other department of our industrial life in which there appears to be so marked a difference between the bad employer and the good employer, and I do believe that one of the most conspicuous effects of the Trade Boards Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be to help the good employers to contend against the competition of the bad employers. I do not doubt that there is a certain measure of experiment in this, as in almost all other kinds of legislation. I believe that those of us who are most interested in the institution of these Trade Boards and believe most in the principle would be very glad if the experiment could have been made at some time when trade was more obviously on the rise. We are a little anxious about the moment when the experiment is tried; but it seems to me that His Majesty's Government have designed it in a form as moderate and as restricted as possible, and I do most earnestly hope that nothing will be done in this House which will in any way weaken the force of this moderate Bill.


My Lords, as a member of the Anti-Sweating League, which has for many years advocated the establishment of wages boards in this country, I desire to express my satisfaction at the introduction of this Bill and at the reception which it has received in your Lordships' House. I feel profoundly grateful that something is at last to be done for a class of people who are singularly deserving of the assistance of Parliament, and who are, by the nature of their circumstances, utterly incapable of helping themselves.

It was nineteen years ago that a Committee of this House, presided over by Lord Dunraven, first investigated the whole matter of sweating, and issued a Report which opened the eyes of a great many people to an evil of which they were up to then largely ignorant. Eighteen years went by, and nothing was done for the people who came before Lord Dunraven's Committee and explained the circumstances of their lives. Last year another Parliamentary Committee was appointed by the other House—the Committee on Home Work, presided over by Sir Thomas Whittaker. Again the same story was told, in some cases by the very same people, of the existence of this evil, which had been going on all these years. The circumstances of their lives had not been affected except by the natural order of events, which tended still further to lower the wages which they received. Now at last we have definite action on the matter taken by Parliament, and I say I am profoundly grateful that we have arrived at that day at last.

It is not necessary, I think, in order to defend this Bill, to dwell at all on the pathetic side of the lives of these sweated workers. I do not propose to bring forward any facts showing the low wages which they receive and the hardships of their existence, because I do not think there is any need, in this House, at any rate, to stir up sympathy for this class of people. I do not suppose there is a single member of this House who would not be anxious and willing to put an end to the evil if he clearly saw his way to do it. Everyone who has spoken up to the present has expressed sympathy for the sweated workers. But there is another set of facts which I think deserves to be mentioned, because these facts supply at once the justification for the Bill and the best hope that it will prove a success. I refer to the facts which show the variations in the payments that are made to different workers in the sweated industries. The subject was referred to by the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, and it is really the very root of the whole matter and the whole case for the Bill. It is the fact that in all these industries which we describe as sweated industries, whereas some of the workers are receiving wages which amount to perhaps a penny or two-pence an hour, and from five to six or seven shillings a week, other workers engaged in the same trade, making precisely the same articles under precisely the same conditions, but for different employers, are receiving wages twice and three times that amount.

I could quote examples illustrating what I mean. There was an inquiry held recently in Glasgow into the circumstances of some of the trades them and there was shown to exist in the clothing trade a difference of fifty per cent, between the wages paid by the best employers and those paid by other employers. At Cradley Heath, among the chain-makers, there is an instance of the difference between the wages paid to factory and home workers. Some workers engaged in factories were receiving three times as much wages as home workers. Again, at Whitechapel a firm pays sixteen shillings a week to its tea packers, whilst another firm only pays seven shillings and sixpence to the same class of people. Lastly, I would give an instance not merely of different rates of wages in the same district but of different rates of wages paid in the same firm. In a shirt factory in the East-end in which women worked upon the same shirts, cut by the same people from the same bale of material, there was a difference in wages of between forty-five and fifty per cent., the point being that in these industries where there is no mobility of labour and no organisation there is no uniformity in payment. The whole trouble is that owing to lack of organisation on the part of the workpeople, the good employers are constantly being under-cut by the bad employers and wages are consequently dragged down from the level which good employers could well afford and would be willing to pay if they were left to themselves.

The remedy for this state of affairs is not so much a general rise in wages throughout the trade as to establish uniformity in the rates of payment and to secure that all workers doing under the same conditions the same kind of work shall receive the rate of wages which it is possible for the good employer in that trade to pay them. That is what this Bill aims at doing. The real object of the Bill is to enlarge the wage-fixing unit from the single individual to the single trade, and to secure by an artificial machinery that once a rate of wages is determined as fair to the workers and to the employers that shall be the minimum which shall prevail in the whole trade. I maintain that, though novel, this legislation is neither vicious in principle nor revolutionary in practice. It must, of course, as the noble Marquess who sits on the Front Opposition Bench said, be approached with great care and caution. There are obvious objections to be seen in legislation of this kind, but, from the economic point of view, I believe that the main effect of the Bill will be to provide artificially in these parasitic trades the same kind of organisation for collective bargaining as already exists in the larger and healthier trades by natural process.

The noble Marquess expressed a fear that by this legislation we might be adding still further to the burdens of these sweated home workers, and he said that the Bill must be very carefully scrutinised from that point of view. If I shared his fears on that point I should be very reluctant to see this Bill pass into law, but I think that, if the machinery which is set up by the Bill is closely examined, it will be found that there are a number of provisions which have been inserted with the express object of protecting the unskilled worker. In the first place there is the minimum time rate established by Clause 4, but which is to be fixed not only for different trades but even for different branches of the same trade, as it may happen that one branch of a trade may be sweated, whereas the trade as a whole may not be sweated. It is further laid down that the minimum time rate may be fixed for different classes of workers. That is in order to secure a distinction between those who are beginners in their trade and those who are skilled and expert. Again, there is a distinction made between home workers and factory workers, and different rates may be fixed for those who work in their own homes and those who work in factories. Lastly there is a differentiation between the different processes of the same industry, so that a different rate of wages may be fixed for processes like finishing in the tailoring trade. In this way there is great elasticity in the time rate in order to meet the interests of different classes. The home worker, as a rule, will do his work on a piece rate and not on a time rate. The piece rate again is divided into a general piece rate which will be fixed by the sub-committee of the Trade Board for articles of uniform shape and size, and the special piece rate which any employer can, on application, get fixed for his own workers.

There is another matter which ought to be mentioned. Subsection (3) of Clause 6 provides that if a Trade Board are satisfied that any worker employed on time work in any branch of a trade to which a minimum time rate fixed by the Trade Board is applicable, is affected by any infirmity or physical injury which renders him incapable of earning that minimum time rate, and are of opinion that the case cannot suitably be met by employing the worker on piece-work, the Trade Board may sanction a special rate being fixed in this special case. I imagine that this power would be rarely used, but it is inserted in case there may be any worker or class of worker who, owing to the operation of the minimum rate of wages, might be crushed out of employment. From an economic point of view this elasticity in the machinery gives us considerable safeguards against the possibility of workers being deprived, as the noble Marquess said, of that small amount of work which they are able to do, and their lot being made still worse than it has been hitherto.

The experience in the healthy trades in which organisations of this kind have sprung up voluntarily rather justifies us in believing that the same result will take place when these Trade Boards are established. In industries like the cotton industry, where the rate of wages has gone up as the result of the collective bargaining of the workers and the employers, instead of the price of the finished article being increased, exactly the opposite has taken place. It is not a necessary consequence that an increase in the rate of wages should be followed by an increase in the price of the finished article. I admit that there is all the difference in the world, politically speaking, between voluntary machinery of the kind I have mentioned and com- pulsory machinery such as that set up in this Bill, but from an economic point of view the result is the same. The Rill has been received with some apprehension from a political point of view, on the ground that new authorities are being set up with new powers which are in themselves unusual and strange, and which are, perhaps, capable of extension in directions which may not at present be foreseen; but I would point out that these new powers set up in the Bill are safeguarded by a very large number of provisions and restricted in various directions.

In the first place, the Bill is only to apply to those trades which are mentioned in the Schedule, and any extension to other trades can only take place with full Parliamentary control by the Provisional Order machinery. Therefore Parliaments of the future will have the matter of the extension of the machinery of this Bill entirely within their control. Then the Trade Boards themselves will be composed of workers and employers in an equal proportion, with a certain number of expert official members to guide their deliberations; and I think we may feel sure that a body so formed, on which all those who are interested in the trade from any point of view are represented, will not be likely to do anything which would damage the trade from a business point of view. Then there is the tentative way in which the whole process is established. Every effort is to be made to try and bring about the establishment of these Boards by voluntary process. In addition to the general Trade Boards for the whole country there will be district trade committees, on whom will devolve the duty of making inquiries and recommending the minimum rate of wages suitable for particular trades; and when the minimum rate is promulgated there will be a probationary period of six months during which opportunity will be given to those engaged in the trade to make use of the machinery of their own accord, and it will only be after the lapse of this time and when there is ample force behind it that the minimum rate will be made obligatory.

Throughout the whole of the proceedings there is the Board of Trade perpetually in the background to safeguard the interests of each particular trade. Its sanction is necessary to every minimum rate of wages which may be fixed; and there is this further provision in subsection (4) of Clause 4, that if by any chance, owing to some interest not being fully represented on the Trade Board, the rate of wages may be fixed higher than would have been the case if the employers were bargaining with a representative body of workmen, power is reserved to the Board of Trade in those circumstances to alter and reduce the rate fixed. There is one other matter with regard to the home worker to which I wish to refer. I suppose the noble Marquess, who felt that home workers were not going to receive sufficient representation on these bodies, has noticed that in subsection (3) of Clause 11, which deals with the regulations under which the elections to these Boards will take place, there is a provision that in framing the regulations regard should be had to the desirability of the representation of home workers on the Trade Boards.


I mentioned it.


The machinery for the election of these Boards will be entirely in the hands of the Board of Trade and will be matter for regulation; but, as far as the Bill gives us any indication it is obvious that due regard will be had to the circumstances of home workers. In legislation of this kind, which is new to this country, it is of some value, I think, to see what has been the experience of other countries where similar legislation has been attempted. We have no experience to guide us in Europe. As the noble Lord in charge of the Bill said, we are leading the way in this matter. But when we turn to the Colony of Victoria, where these Wages Boards have been established, there is a great deal in their experience which leads us to hope that this legislation will be successful in this country. Wages Boards were established in Victoria in 1896, and were made applicable to six trades only as an experiment; but in 1903 they were held to have justified their existence, and were made by law part of the permanent machinery of trade. It is an interesting fact that half the total number of Wages Boards which have been established in that Colony have been set up at the instance of the employers themselves; and the Chief Inspector of Factories in Victoria has asserted that sweating has been practically extinguished in many trades and industrial disputes have practically ceased, only one strike having taken place since the establishment of the Boards, and that of very short duration. We have already some indication in this country that our experience will be of a similar kind, because, with regard to the trades already included in the Schedule the majority of the employers in those trades have expressed their appreciation and approval of the Bill.

I hope that the noble Marquess will not accuse me of over-confidence if I say that these facts are a happy augury for legislation of this kind, and if I also assert that in the safeguards and elasticity of the machinery of the Bill we have security against its abuse or failure. There is no doubt that the legislation is an experiment and a new departure; but I assert that the evils with which the Bill is intended to deal are sufficient to justify experimental legislation. We must remember that we are dealing with a class of people who, from the very nature of their circumstances, are utterly without the means of supplying the necessary organisation themselves and coming to their own assistance; we are dealing with a class of people in whose lives there is going on the fiercest possible struggle for existence; they are people who are dumbly unhappy all the time, and it is because they are inarticulate and unable to voice their grievances that Parliament has for so many years refrained from taking up their case. It is because I believe that this Bill will go a long way to improve their conditions and to make their existence a little easier that I welcome its introduction by the Government and hope that your Lordships' House will pass it into law.


My Lords, I feel that I should be lacking in Parliamentary courtesy if I did not take this opportunity of saying at any rate a few words by way of expressing my satisfaction at the introduction of this Bill. I feel under this obligation because during the course of the autumn session I put the noble Earl the Leader of the House to the trouble of a short discussion and pressed him for an answer as to the intentions of the Government. He was not able to give me that answer at the time, but my satisfaction is none the less having seen that the hopes which I entertained have been fulfilled.

I range myself in my approval of this Bill with the noble Earl who has just spoken, and I do most heartily and sincerely congratulate His Majesty's Government on the action they have taken. In spite of the attractions and the distractions of their enormous programme of legislation, they have dealt promptly with the Report of the Committee which inquired into this question. What they have done is to take definite action. They have moved from the position of inaction which, in my humble judgment, has been an absolute disgrace to the Parliament and Government of this country for so many years. It was twenty years ago that this question was fully investigated and reported upon. I believe that all the recommendations of the Committee of that time were carried out; yet the evils of sweating have continued, I will not say in an undiminished degree, but still in such a degree that a further inquiry has been necessary, an inquiry which has resulted in very prompt action.

What I cannot understand about this question is that the national conscience, which is so easily aroused in regard to delinquencies amongst other peoples or oppression or hardship in other countries, has not been aroused in regard to this terrible evil which has existed so long in our midst. If everything that had been said on political platforms in regard to "Chinese slavery" in South Africa had been true and justified, I do not think that the suffering could compare with that of the sweated workers; and, similarly, it would not be difficult to multiply instances in which popular indignation has driven Parliament to action in this country on account of human misery which certainly did not exceed, if it equalled, that of our own fellow countrymen and fellow countrywomen who are suffering from the evils of sweating. In these circumstances I cannot understand how anybody can for one moment question the propriety of interference, how anybody can stop to consider the bearing of economic theory in regard to this question. The evils of sweating are there. They are, without doubt and beyond question, a blot on our civilisation and a denial of that humanity of which we make so much boast. That being so, surely we ought not to be deterred by any theory from adopting that which appears to be an effective remedy.

The Government have taken steps to remove the disgrace of leaving the matter alone, and we may be thankful to them. I venture to think the step they have taken is a step in the right direction, but I feel that it is a very small step. I should have liked them to go further. The Secretary to the Board of Trade in another place described this Bill as a "revolution," and the phrase has evidently impressed all those who have spoken this evening. I think that was hyperbolic language hardly warranted even by the pardonable pride of one who is comparatively new to office. There is absolutely nothing that is revolutionary in this Bill. There is nothing that is inconsistent with the principles which have underlain all our social reform and the factory legislation of the last fifty or sixty years. The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Southwark even seemed to be among those who regard it as a dangerous or an anxious innovation to interfere between capital and labour, and who regard this as the first occasion on which the State has interfered to regulate wages. I take a different view. I hold that the very first of the long series of Acts for social reform, the Truck Act, was an Act which interfered to regulate wages, and in the latest of the series—the Eight Hours Act—there is no question whatever that the action of Parliament has interfered between the employer and the workman in the matter of payment. Then, again, there has been interference in regard to the remuneration of labour in the administrative acts of Government Departments themselves—a fact which is, of course, familiar to everybody.

Well, my Lords, in these circumstances it is impossible to regard this Bill as a revolution. It is an experiment, and I venture to think that it is not a large experiment. I think that the Government might have done more while they were about it. There is no question as to the evil and its causes, but His Majesty's Government have only touched half the question. It is no use whatever to tell the British employer that he must observe a minimum rate of wages unless you tell the foreign employer that he must do the same; otherwise it follows that you are handing over the trades concerned to foreign sweated labour. While you rescue the unfortunate victims of sweating from one form of starvation, you hand them over to another which is, perhaps, worse. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill tried to anticipate this objection. His argument was that legislation in regard to sweating is being considered in other countries and that we can safely assume that they will follow our lead and legislate on similar lines. I need only remind the noble Lord that similar anticipations in regard to the great economic creed, of which, no doubt, he is a devoted adherent—the creed of Free Trade—were put forward to justify its introduction, but those expectations have not been fulfilled, and I see no reasons why foreign countries should follow our lead in this smaller respect any more than in the matter of Free Trade.

I think that the Government, in spite of their obstinate adherence to the dogmas of Free Trade, might very well, without any discredit to themselves or any objection from their supporters, have taken yet one more step in the direction which has been indicated to them by their own Chancellor of the Exchequer—in the direction of common sense. I am referring to that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done in regard to the Patents Act, and the Merchant Shipping Act. In a very remarkable skit by a French writer, called L' Ile de Pinoguin, there is a story of a millionaire which impressed me very much. With this millionaire the habit of accumulating had become so strong that he sacrificed everything to it. He led the life of a pauper, and no consideration whatever would induce him to give anything. His workmen were sweated and oppressed, and at last one of them, in desperation, gained access to the room of the millionaire who was lying on a sickbed and threatened him with a revolver. The millionaire was staunch to his principles. Rather than give this man a rise of wages and so abandon his principles he allowed himself to be shot. He was a martyr to his principles. His Majesty's Government adhere with similar obstinacy to the dogmas of Free Trade, but they let others be martyrs on their behalf. They are not suffering themselves from this obstinate adherence to principle. It seems to me that such bigotry is a cold, cruel, callous, cynical conception of Cobdenism, which the warm-hearted author of that creed would have indignantly repudiated himself, and I do think that His Majesty's Government might have made some provision for protecting the victims of sweating from the new danger of foreign competition. We must be content for the present with what we have got, and it will be left to a Unionist Government and to Tariff Reform to apply the real and the final remedy for this evil. As regards the machinery of the Bill, I have no cause for complaint or for criticism. I think it is, on the whole, satisfactory. There are one or two small points on which I think it might, with advantage be brushed up, but I do not share in all the larger apprehensions which have been expressed this evening. Apart from my regret that the Bill has not gone further, I am sincerely gratified that His Majesty's Government have taken steps to meet this evil.


My Lords, I shall not occupy your Lordships' time for more than a few minutes, but I wish to call attention to one matter. In my opinion the notice to be given to a trader who may hereafter be taken under the wing, so to speak, of the Board of Trade, is not sufficiently long. I think this is a good Bill, though it is of a grandmotherly type. The difficulty seems to me to lie in one direction—namely, the question of the wages to be paid. I think every man in a trade would like to pay good wages if he could afford to do so, but if he has to pay wages that are fixed at too high a figure his business ceases and there are more unemployed than formerly. It must be remembered that we have to compete with traders in particular trades all over the world, and when wages are increased to too high a figure the men in those trades cannot compete with the foreigner and they have to go out of the trade altogether. The Board of Trade in past years have conducted their different negotiations with great success. They have had great difficulties to face, and in facing them have shown tact, moderation, and, I would say, equity.

My sole reason for rising is to refer to the matter of notice When this Bill was first introduced in the other House four trades were scheduled, but power was taken to schedule any other trade that did not appear to the Board of Trade to conform to certain regulations with regard to wages. In the event of another trade being taken under the wing of the Board of Trade an Order had to lie on the Table of both Houses for thirty days. No other provision was made by means of which notification should be given to the trader that his trade was to be attacked, but when the Bill went to the Grand Committee of the other House a change was made, and instead of the Order lying for thirty days on the Table of Parliament it was provided that this should be done by Provisional Order, which, of course, could not be acted upon until confirmed by Parliament. I had the advantage of communication with an official of the Board of Trade, and he was good enough to point out to me this fact regarding the Provisional Order and I expressed my satisfaction at the time. I hope he will excuse me for having changed my opinion. I do not think a Provisional Order is sufficient notice to a trader who is, so to speak, to be attacked. It is a matter of great moment to a trader to know what is proposed to be done, and I do not think there would be any objection to reasonable notice. I would, therefore, suggest to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill that when any fresh trade is added to those already dealt with in the Schedule twenty-one days' notice should be given by advertisement.


My Lords, my noble friend behind me gave so clear and full an account of the provisions of this Bill that I need not attempt to go over any of the same ground, and I think that my noble friend has no reason to complain of the reception which his Bill has met with at your Lordships' hands. Even the noble Marquess opposite, who is not now in his place, approved of the provisions of the Bill, generally speaking, although his approval was of a somewhat qualified kind. On the other hand, the two right rev. Prelates and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, all in very illuminating speeches, gave a distinctly fuller approval to the Bill, and the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, although he made one severe criticism on what he considered an important omission from the Bill, yet gave a meed of praise to our efforts which I am sure must have gladdened my noble friend behind me.

It is perfectly true—and in this I do not go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill—that this Bill does involve a new departure in our legislation, and that departure is only in our minds justified because we regard it as a special remedy, almost of a surgical character, for a morbid condition of things attaching to certain particular trades. I do not know that any real fear has been expressed in this House, though it may have been elsewhere, that the provisions of the Bill are likely to be indiscriminately applied to other trades. The reason why they are not likely to be so applied seems to me to consist in the fact that these sweated trades are in reality of a very marked character, a character different from the ordinary trades both in this country and other countries. All over the world in certain trades where the particular conditions exist such as exist in the four trades in the Schedule you will find the same evils and the same difficulties. These particular trades attract a special type of enfeebled worker, if I may say so, partly owing to the facility with which a great part of the work connected with them can be done at the workers' homes, and partly owing to the fact that the conditions of the trades render almost impossible those combinations which are the strength, as I am glad to think, of the greater number of trades both in this country and in other countries.

The noble Marquess opposite, Lord Salisbury, made some observations upon the character of the Trade Boards that we set up under this Bill; and, in passing, I may say he quite unwittingly did an injustice to my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade with regard to an observation which the noble Marquess thought he had made as to the extension of Trade Boards. My right hon. friend, as I well know—and I think he is perfectly right—looks forward to an extension of Boards, either in connection with labour exchanges, or, possibly, in connection with some of the provisions of this Bill, not with a view of the fixing of minimum wages by such Boards, but with the idea that they may become friendly councils as between employers and employed, at which all manner of questions connected with particular trades can be discussed. It must not be taken that my right hon. friend's statement had anything to do with a general extension of the principle of fixing a minimum wage.

Then the noble Marquess spoke of the large number of official members on these Trade Boards, and he said, unless I am mistaken, that the only provision which safeguarded their numbers was that they should not exceed the number of unofficial members. There the noble Marquess is in error. If he will look at Clause 13, subsection (2), he will see that the official members must be less than half the number of unofficial members on the Board. Then the noble Marquess asked what purpose the official members would serve. I think it is clear that the existence of these official members must have a steadying effect and the effect of inducing similarity of treatment in the same trade over different parts of England. It would be, I think, a heavy burden on the employers and employed in some of these trades to set them to work without some assistance of the kind in regulating the difficult questions which may come before them; and for that reason I confess I think it is not difficult to defend the existence of the official element on the Trade Boards and also on the district committees.

The noble Marquess expressed very keen anxiety for the interests of the home workers as distinct from and as being even more important than, those of the workers in factories. I think the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham gave a quite full and complete answer to the suggestion of the noble Marquess that it would be advisable to have separate Trade Boards for the two classes, because he was able to show that in reality, although the interests of the two classes may superficially in a particular case appear to be divergent, as a matter of fact they are, in the strictest sense, identical. The noble Marquess spoke of the helplessness of the home workers on these Boards, and seemed to think that the Board would be dominated by the representatives of those who work in factories. But the noble Marquess surely forgot this. The home workers have one very important set of people on their side—namely, the employers. The existence of the class of home workers is obviously the greatest possible saving to the employer; he does not at all wish to crowd them out of existence in any way, because if the particular employer had to substitute factory workers for all the home workers who make the goods in which he deals he would have to supply factory room and machinery and very largely increase the amount of capital which he has invested in the business. Therefore it seems to me almost to be ex hypothesi that the interest of the home worker against that of the factory worker will in a great number of cases have the support of the employer on the Board.

Then the noble Marquess laid it down as an axiom, and expected general concurrence in the statement, that a rise in wages in any particular trade must necessarily lead to a rise in prices. In the days when we all learned political economy we were always told that high prices did not necessarily make high wages. The converse, I think, can be shown to be true in many instances, and in this particular case there are various reasons why the sort of rise in wages which is contemplated under this Bill need not necessarily lead to anything like a general rise in prices. In the first place, I think it cannot be disputed that in the case of these sweated home workers an increased wage will in many cases add to the actual efficiency of the individual. A great many of them are underfed and have not sufficient means of keeping their rooms warm, and it may be assumed, I think, that such extra wages as they may receive will be spent in a manner which may add to the individual efficiency of each. Then, in the second place—this is the point which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and, of course, it is one of the most important considerations to be borne in mind in connection with the whole of the Bill—there is the most astonishing divergence of wages paid by different employers in respect of the same work done; and the idea, therefore, is not so much to raise the standard of wage as to fix a minimum wage, raising the price paid by the bad employer to the level of that paid by the good employer. If that is so, the rise in price which would follow from a proceeding of that kind I should conceive to be very small indeed.

There is also the fact that in a great many of these trades it is generally believed, and I think it is undoubtedly true, that the profits of the middleman are in certain cases far too large. Nobody knows what they are, but it is suspected that in many cases they could stand a great deal of reduction, and that, in other words, gives a certain fund from which a rise of wages in individual cases could be found without sending up prices. There is the further consideration, which, I think, was mentioned by the noble Marquess himself, that the tendency of these Boards certainly will be to lessen the cut-throat competition between different employers, which undoubtedly does something to keep wages down, and which we should like to see as far as possible done away with. I quite sympathise with the noble Marquess opposite in his anxiety for the interests of the home worker. We certainly do not wish to see such work improved out of existence altogether. On the other hand, it must be remembered that there may be cases of a sort of dreary acquiescence in their present deplorable conditions by individual home workers, who dread the idea of any change lest it should mean the loss of any work they have, but this cannot be allowed to override general considerations and the welfare of such workers as a class. I do not know that I should go quite so far as some speakers, because it is possible that in the case of certain actually moribund trades a few home workers still cling on at work which has, in the main, been transferred to factories because it is found it can be done there so much more cheaply. It may be that a few of these, so to speak, almost dead leaves remain on the tree working at a starvation wage, and I confess I do think it is possible, and I cannot pretend to regret it, that in some cases a complete euthanasia of such work may be accelerated by the passing of this Bill. But these are the only cases in which I think it can be said that any particular kind of work will be done away with by this legislation, and I repeat that I do not think that, in itself, can be considered a regrettable fact. I will even go so far as to say that even if some individuals lost a little work of that kind, from some points of view they would be better off in receipt of Poor Law relief.

The only other point on which I wish to say a word or two is that which was dealt with by Lord Ampthill—foreign competition. He seemed to assume that the result of this legislation might be that we should be flooded by foreign-made sweated goods, and the noble Lord, replying to my noble friend behind me who said that legislation similar to this was contemplated by several countries in Europe—I believe my noble friend might have gone further and have said that such legislation actually exists in some eases—said that because Mr. Cobden's supposed expectation that other countries would adopt Free Trade had not been fulfilled, my noble friend might be equally wrong. But, my Lords, the cases are not parallel, because we have no right, I think, to assume that foreign countries are behind ourselves, or likely to be behind ourselves, in legislation of this kind which exists on a humanitarian basis. Whether foreign countries were at any particular time likely to adopt a particular fiscal system is another matter, but I do not know what authority the noble Lord opposite can have for assuming that all countries on the Continent of Europe will necessarily lag behind us in promoting legislation of this kind. But there are many other reasons why the noble Lord's point does not, I think, assume real importance. In the first place, I have given various reasons by which I have endeavoured to show that the general effect of this legislation need not be, and ought not to be, to raise to any serious extent prices in the trades concerned. The noble Lord must remember another thing—that the principal trade affected here is an export trade. The ready-made clothing trade is one of the trades we hear so harshly spoken of by Tariff Reformers because it is supposed to be a low-class trade, and our exports in that trade are considered—I cannot understand why—to be inferior in value to other exports which produce the same amount. This is an export trade and is therefore free from foreign competition. It would take a great deal, so long as we go on exporting£2,000,000 worth or more of ready-made clothing, to bring prices into such a condition that we should be likely to be importing ready-made clothing. Consequently the fears of the noble Lord in that respect are, I think, somewhat baseless.

The noble Marquess opposite asked a question regarding the laying of the regulations on the Table. I should have thought myself that the specific regulations dealing with different trades and different branches of trade would have been of so technical a character that it would not have been of very great service to lay them before Parliament, but I have no doubt that my right hon. friend will take the noble Marquess's request into consideration. I have nothing more to add except to express once more the satisfaction with which I have regarded this debate. The Bill has been very fairly and even generously spoken of by all those who have taken part in the debate, and I hope that I may not incur the censure of the noble Marquess and be thought, like my noble friend behind me, to be too sanguine if I say that, in spite of the limitations which attach to all social legislation of this kind, which we know cannot create a new heaven and a new earth, yet I venture to express the hope that some very genuine amelioration of the lot of these poor people, in some ways, perhaps, the most helpless class of any in this country, may be effected by the Bill which my noble friend has introduced.


My Lords, I feel so strongly the great importance of the new departure which this Bill involves that I am tempted to say a few words before the discussion closes. But let me, at the outset, explain that I have no intention of marring the harmonious reception which the Bill has met with from both sides of the House. If we were called upon to vote aye or no upon the Second Reading of this Bill, I should unhesitatingly vote in favour of the Second Reading, and I go further and say that I should regret to see any amendment introduced into it which might have the effect of impairing its efficiency.

There are, I suppose, two questions which present themselves to us this evening—first, are the evils of that which we commonly speak of as the sweating system so great as to require treatment by legislation; and, secondly, is the particular remedy proposed in this Bill the remedy most appropriate to the case? The first question we can only answer in the affirmative. I think it is just that the public should be reminded that it was in this House twenty years ago that a Member of it—Lord Dunraven—first called attention to this matter. The report of his Committee, although it led to no result at the time, is referred to by the recent Committee as one of the most important documents which came before them. That, I think, is sufficient to show that we in this House have never been indifferent to the importance of the question.

When we come to the question of the particular remedy recommended to us by His Majesty's Government there is, I think, rather more to be said. It is a very novel and very drastic remedy, and a remedy which I am glad to think His Majesty's Government intend to apply with very great caution. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill endeavoured to disarm criticisms of that kind by reminding us that it was by no means an unusual thing for the State to interfere between employer and employed. That is quite true, and if I regard this particular proposal with a certain amount of anxiety, which I cannot entirely divest my mind of, it is not because it implies the interference of the State between the employer and the employed, but because it introduces a new kind of interference. The noble Lord, in his opening speech, reminded us that we have had cases where the hours of employment have been interfered with, and where sanitary conditions have been imposed upon employers of labour. I think he also spoke of the restrictions insisted upon in order to secure the safety of the lives and the limbs of those who are employed, and my noble friend behind me cited as a further illustration the familiar case of the Truck Act. I venture to think that none of those cases are really on all fours with the case of the present Bill.

I think the noble Earl who leads the House grasped the nettle rather more courageously when he said frankly, as I understood him, that this proposal really was an entirely novel one. I can recall only the case of the fair wages clause which we insert in Government contracts as a precedent for the kind of proposals which are now before us, and unless I am much mistaken that resolution of the other House of Parliament has been a very fertile source of trouble to the Departments who have been engaged in interpreting it. Surely there is a great difference between these ordinary cases of interference and the kind of interference to which you are now going to resort. It is not, after all, a very difficult thing to decide whether premises are in a sanitary or insanitary condition, whether sufficient precautions are taken to protect life and limb, or to find out whether an employer pays his employés in coin or in kind. Those are matters which can be disposed of, I will not say without difficulty, but with comparative ease. But when you ask people to lay down what is and what is not a reasonable rate of remuneration you find yourselves upon much more difficult ground. What may be reasonable in one place may not be reasonable in others; what may be reasonable for one person or class of persons may not be reasonable for other persons or other classes; and therefore I do venture to think that this is, as the noble Earl admitted, a new departure and a very serious new departure. I am, therefore, glad that in the sixth clause there is a small modicum of latitude given to the responsible Department to allow wages below the minimum rate in certain cases where it would obviously be a great hardship to prevent people from being employed at those somewhat lower rates.

The sound principle in all these cases is surely that which was laid down by the noble Lord behind me—namely, that it is for the trades themselves to combine and fix, by their own efforts, what shall be the re- cognised rate of remuneration for any kind of employment. That is, I venture to say, the only really sound principle. We have, of course, recognised, and recognised to the full, the right of trades to organise and to combine, in any way they think proper, for the purpose of bringing about that result. There is one argument, and one argument only for the Bill on the Table, which is that we are dealing with trades which are followed by persons who are so helpless and so miserable in their circumstances that it is not possible for them to combine and organise and protect themselves in the manner in which those protect themselves who are engaged upon fully organised trades and industries. Therefore, upon that representation and upon that representation only, which I conceive to be a perfectly correct one, I am ready to accept the principle of this Bill.

But I do so with two reservations. First, this Bill is to be regarded, as I believe His Majesty's Government desire it to be regarded, as an experiment; and, in the next place, they anticipate from this experiment that they may possibly, by means of these Trade Boards and trade committees, be able to educate the weak and unorganised trades and encourage them after a while to combine for their own protection just as other better organised and more advanced trades have combined. I am very glad that His Majesty's Government in this Bill do not ask Parliament to part with its control over this subject. To my mind it is of the utmost importance that it should be clearly laid down in the Bill that its provisions are not to be extended to any trades except those mentioned in the Bill itself without the explicit concurrence of Parliament. I go as far as saying that if some provision of that kind had not been in the Bill I should have had very great difficulty in giving it my support.

May I say a word as to one or two points which strike me amongst the provisions of the measure? There are two provisions in the sixth and eighth clauses under which, unless I misunderstand them, the onus of proof that the wages paid for piece work are equal to the minimum time rate is thrown upon the employer. That strikes me as a somewhat unusual proposal. Surely it would be enough to leave it to these boards and committees to examine the facts and decide upon them without assuming in a case of that kind that the employer is guilty of a contravention of the Act until he has been able to prove the contrary. Then I am not sure that I do not rather regret that the Bill did not follow what I understand to be the recommendation of the Committee and restrict its operation to home industries instead of extending it to factories. The mere fact that people are employed in a factory seems to suggest that they might be in a position to combine and to organise themselves, but the noble Lord, who has a right of reply, will, I dare say, be able to satisfy me on that point.

Then, my Lords, I wish to express a hope that those who are responsible for the operation of this Bill will watch very carefully over its effects. It seems to me that it may occasion very serious hardship to people whom we should be very sorry to see suffering in consequence of these well-intentioned efforts. Is it not the case that under this Bill some of those who have depended for their livelihood upon what is called a sweated industry may find themselves obliged to choose between badly-paid work and no work at all? I know that His Majesty's Government have the authority of the Committee for saying that if the effect of their legislation should be to annihilate a particular trade the work of the persons employed in that trade will be diverted into other channels. But are we quite sure there will always be other channels into which their work will be diverted? That seems to me, in days when unemployment is rife throughout the country, a somewhat sanguine-expectation on the part of the Committee. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill, I thought, was not quite consistent in his treatment of that part of the case. He told us rather confidently that in the view of His Majesty's Government it was not likely that any trades would be crushed out, but then he added that in some cases we should be well rid of a trade which was carried on under particularly deplorable circumstances, and no doubt he was aware that in that view he had behind him the opinion of the Committee, because the Committee certainly stated that it was better that some branches of industry should be abandoned altogether than that they should be carried on under conditions of excessive toil and miserably inadequate earnings. I think there is a great deal to be said for the view of the Committee, but my point is this, that if this should be the result of the passing of the Bill, you will have to look forward to a great deal of at any rate temporary hardship and suffering, and I trust that His Majesty's Government will be prepared to deal with it should it arise.

My noble friend behind me (Lord Ampthill) very naturally could not resist a little excursion into the regions of Tariff Reform. The subject, no doubt, is a very tempting one in connection with this and other measures for which His Majesty's Government have been responsible. I will not at this period of the evening follow him on to that ground. I will merely say that I think it would reassure a good many people if the noble Lord who will reply to me were able to tell us that, at any rate so far as Government contracts are concerned, the responsible Departments will satisfy themselves that they do not transfer their custom from this country to other countries where certain commodities which they require are produced under conditions which are indistinguishable from those which we will not tolerate here because they involve what we regard as the sweating of the trade. The noble Lord told us that other countries were moving and that legislation dealing with sweating was imminent on their part, but we do not know that the legislation has been actually had yet, and I do think that some general assurance on these points would be a not very unreasonable one to expect. All that I would say upon that branch of the question is this, that I note with considerable satisfaction the admission on the part of the Government which runs through the whole of this Bill, that in dealing with these questions we have to think of something more than the mere volume of our trade and the amount of profit made by those engaged in it. There are other considerations, and I regard this Bill as a very important admission that what is more important than the mere volume of our trade and the profits made by our traders is that those employed should receive reasonable remuneration for their labour, that they should be sure of regular employment, and that they should follow that employment under sound and healthy conditions. With these few observations I gladly give my vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, as the noble Marquess has pointed out, I have a right of reply, though it is not a right which I should wish to exercise in view of the very favourable and flattering reception which the Bill has received. As the representative of the Department in which this Bill originated that reception has naturally been most gratifying to me and it will be equally gratifying to the Government in general. The noble Marquess raised three points on which he asked for answers. In the first place, he dealt with the fact that the onus of proof is put upon the employer. That is necessary, because if anything is to be done under these penal clauses this is one of those cases in which the onus of proof must be placed on the accused. The only proof in a case of this kind would come from the keeping of books. If the employer did not keep books there would be no proof one way or the other as to the wages he had paid.


There would be the oath of the worker as to the wages paid.


I am dealing with it from the point of view of the employer. The employer can have absolute proof of the wages he has paid by keeping books, and if he does not choose to do so he is not taking advantage of the obvious possibilities of the situation. Then the noble Marquess dealt with the inclusion of factories in this Bill, and expressed regret that the Bill had not been restricted in its operation to home workers. It was not possible to do that efficiently, because home work and factory work are in certain trades so much mixed up that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle them, and because there are many cases in which factory workers are paid, and certainly could be paid, wages which would be lower than the minimum fixed for home workers. Home workers would then be legislated out of existence altogether, and instead of benefiting home workers we should really be doing them an injury by such a proceeding. The noble Marquess next alluded to my statement that we did not think it likely that any trade would be crushed out of existence by this Bill, and he contrasted it with another statement I made that there were certain trades which would be no loss if they were crushed out of existence. The explanation really lies in this. When I said that no trade would be crushed out of existence I was alluding to the four trades actually in the Schedule. I alluded to the support which has been given to the Bill by the members of those trades and said I thought this showed that they were confident that their trades would not be injuriously affected. There are, as the noble Earl the Leader of the House has pointed out, certain moribund trades which are carried on at present perhaps almost at a loss, and which might conceivably be crushed out. In those circumstances it is believed that the people working in those trades would receive employment in the factories which would take the place of the obsolete methods under which those trades are now carried on, and on the whole, perhaps, as my noble friend has pointed out, the kindest thing to these people would be that those trades should come to an end. I wish to express again my own thanks and the thanks of the Government for the favourable reception your Lordships have given to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock, till to-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.