HL Deb 05 August 1913 vol 14 cc1591-4

Debate on Motion "That the Bill be now read 2a" resumed (according to Order).


My Lords, at the request of Lord Salisbury the Second Reading of this Bill was adjourned from Thursday of last week in order that some further information might be given to the House as regards the four additional trades which are to be brought by this Bill under the Trade Boards Act, 1909. As your Lordships are aware, there are at the present moment four trades under the Trade Boards Act, and it is now proposed to extend the Act to four other trades by Provisional Order, which can be done under the Act if certain conditions are fulfilled—that is to say, if the Board of Trade are satisfied that the rate of wages prevailing in any branch of the trade is exceptionally low as compared with that in other employments, and that the other circumstances of the trade are such as to render the application of the Trade Boards Act to the trade expedient.

The four trades to which the Board of Trade by this Bill propose to extend the Trade Boards Act are sugar confectionery and food preserving, shirt-making, hollowware making, and linen and cotton embroidery. The noble Marquess opposite inquired on the previous occasion when this Bill was before your Lordships what we had done to ascertain the feelings of employers in regard to this proposed extension of the Trade Boards Act. I may inform the noble Marquess that the Board of Trade consulted fifty-six employers in the confectionery and food preserving trade, fifty-eight in the shirt-making trade, fifty-four in the hollow-ware making trade, and 118 in the linen and cotton embroidery trade. In addition two deputations came up to the Board of Trade, one of which was received by Mr. Buxton, the President, and the other by Mr. Robertson, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board. One was a deputation from the confectionery trade, which came up on April 3. It was from the Manufacturing Confectioners' Alliance, and it had upon it representatives of such firms as Messrs. Peak Frean & Co., Messrs. Pink, Messrs. Crosse & Blackwell, and the Dundee marmalade trade, and although it would not be right to say that that deputation was enthusiastically in favour of the Trade Boards Act being applied to their trade, yet they were quite ready to come under the Act. Their chief objection was that it should be thought that their trade was a sweated one requiring to be brought under the Trade Boards Act, but they were quite satisfied in the end that it was not treated as a sweated trade, but that the wages paid by certain manufacturers and traders were too low owing to their desire to cut rates, and that the object of bringing this trade under the Trade Boards Act was to organise the workers themselves. This, as your Lordships know, is very necessary owing to the fact that the Trade Boards Act principally applies to trades in which the majority of the people employed are women, and they are trades which are entirely unorganised. The other deputation was from the shirt-makers, and these employers expressed their readiness to be brought under the Trade Boards Act for the same reason. They did not object when it was pointed out that the object was to secure the payment of a reasonable rate of wages by all employers. They recognised that this would assist good employers by preventing cutting being carried on by small employers, who are to a great extent the persons to blame in this matter.

The noble Marquess also asked me a question as to whether the wages paid in these trades were so low as to justify the extension of the Trade Boards Act to them. The Board of Trade had a return made of the wages paid in 1906. It was an entirely voluntary return and only applied to something like half a million of workers. As regards the sugar confectionery trade, of women of 18 years and upwards employed full time in that trade the percentage receiving under 10s. a week amounted to the large figure of 40 per cent.; and in the food preserving trade 44 per cent. of the women employed were receiving less than 10s. a week. As regards the shirt-making trade, the figures are not so large, only 22 per cent. of women of eighteen years and upwards being paid under 10s. a week; but although that seems a small percentage it must be remembered that the figures contained in this return were entirely voluntary. It was mostly the large employers of labour who supplied figures, and it is believed at the Board of Trade that the percentage would be very much higher if particulars were available of the wages paid by small employers in the shirt-making trade.

The figure as regards the hollow-ware trade is very high, 52 per cent. of the women employed receiving under 10s. a week. The figures here are rather difficult to arrive at, because the hollow-ware trade is a large one and has many ramifications, but it can be shown that, generally speaking, the wages are too low. A strike occurred the other day in the Birmingham district, the women asking for a minimum wage of not more than 10s. per week of fifty-four hours—only 2¼d. per hour, which I am glad to think they were successful in securing. Therefore as regards the hollowware trade the wages paid are very low indeed, and the women themselves are satisfied that a 10s. minimum is a large increase on what they are getting at present. The embroidery trade is mostly an Irish industry, and the wages there vary from ½d. to 1½d. and 2d. per hour. I hope I have said enough to show your Lordships that this is a Bill which may very fairly be given a Second Reading. It passed through another place as an unopposed Bill, and as both employers and employed are very fully represented in the other House it may safely be said that the Bill would not have been allowed to go through unopposed if it were unfair in any way to employers.


I am obliged to the noble Lord for his courtesy in so fully answering the questions which I put to him on the last occasion. Moreover, the Department which he represents has been good enough to send me a lot of papers which I have had the advantage of perusing. The case made out seems to be a perfectly sound one, and for my part I do not desire to offer any opposition to the Bill. But I think the noble Lord will agree that it is far better, when a proposition of this far-reaching character is made, that full information should be given. The procedure under the Trade Boards Act is still rather novel. It may lead to consequences of great importance in other legislation, and it is of the utmost importance that we should carry public opinion with us in the steps we take; and unless public opinion is fully informed before the Bill is passed of the precise character of the trades affected, the circumstances as to the rates of wages paid, the number of persons employed and what their sex is, it will be suspicious, and you may not find it easy to extend the same system to other trades. There is only one other question which I desire to put to the noble Lord. It is to ask whether the Government are in a position to lay any Papers on the Table with respect to the working of the Trade Boards Act. I am sure that a number of your Lordships and others interested in this question would be glad if we could have some official account of the working of that very important measure.


As at present advised, I think it is doubtful whether there is any information in addition to what has already been circulated in the document entitled "Memorandum in reference to the working of the Trade Boards Act." That Memorandum has been ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, and I presume it is available to this House. It gives a great deal of information, and I hope it will satisfy the noble Marquess.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed for To-morrow.