HL Deb 09 July 1919 vol 35 cc408-21

LORD O'HAGAN rose to call attention to the difficulties confronting local authorities in the training of men disabled and discharged from His Majesty's Forces, and to the obstacles placed in their way by local trade organisations; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to make the Motion which stands in my name, I should like to adopt for it the description that has been given to the Bill which has just been under discussion, and which is described as an immediate and urgent matter. I venture to think that the subject which I have put down on the Paper also deserves immediate and urgent attention.

There are two considerations which I desire at the outset to put before your Lordships. In the first place, I should like to state emphatically that I hold, in common with many noble Lords, in very high esteem the work that has been done by trade unions in the past. No one can read the history of the trade union movement without being profoundly impressed with the immense benefits which have been secured, not only for their own members and the working classes generally, but also, in effect, for the well being of the nation as a whole. Labouring as the workers were under most unjust and unfair restrictions, cramped in every direction in their efforts to better the conditions under which they lived and worked, the Legislature very wisely, and rightly removed those disabilities under which they were bound, and secured for them a, position from which they have been enabled to fight with telling effect for the rights of their members. I yield to no one in the recognition of their services in the past, nor in acknowledging the debt which the country undoubtedly owes to them. I trust that in the remarks and the facts which I shall have to bring before your Lordships I shall not he misunderstood, nor accused of want of sympathy with the work of the trade unions.

I should like also to say that in raising this Question I do not suggest that the Government have done nothing in the matter. But I do suggest that the Government have not done enough, and that there has been a great deal of procrastination and want of forethought, and also, in effect, a deliberate ignoring of the advice that has been repeatedly given to them from well-informed quarters; and that they have waited until the matter has reached practically, a crisis before putting into effect those recommendations which have been made to them previously.

No doubt the noble Lord on the Government Bench who will answer may point out that at an early stage in the war inquiries were set on foot and schemes were drafted to try and avoid the deplorable conditions which had arisen with regard to wounded and disabled soldiers in the South African War, and also after practically every other war in the past. No doubt the Government have been confronted with an immense problem, out of all proportion with what has had to be faced before, in restoring men who have been in the Army to civil life. I do not minimise that difficulty, but I am entitled, I think, to claim that the very prolongation of the war has given, or should have given, time to those whose attention has been directed to this great problem during these years to realise the conditions that the creation of a national Army implied in the problem with which they had to deal, and further, to have enabled them to devise a method to cope in a more efficient and more rapid manner with this most important part of their duties, namely, how to deal with the disabled and injured men, disabled in the service of their country. I suggest that the action which we gather from the Press is contemplated by the Government is long overdue, and that the voice of public opinion—and informed public opinion—at the present time cannot be anything else but a powerful and helpful factor in succesfully dealing with the subject before the House.

I am sure all your Lordships have been greatly impressed in the course of the past week with the evidence given by Sir Douglas Haig before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the question of Pensions. It is not within the scope of my Motion to deal at large either with the question of pensions, or medical boards, or unemployment pay, or the many points that were brought up and dealt with in the evidence of Sir Douglas Haig. But I desire to draw particular attention to the subject of the training of discharged and disabled soldiers and sailors, and the difficulties that occur in that respect when local bodies have actually to deal with the matter, and also—what necessarily goes with that subject—the difficulty of settling the disabled ex-Service men in employment after their training. I feel encouraged in the action I have taken in raising this Question by observing that this very point which I have just mentioned is one of those raised by the gallant Field-Marshal. I think we must all have been struck once again by the courage and disinterestedness which have always characterised him in dealing with the whole of this matter. And I am sure he will have gained a still higher place, if possible, in the affections and hearts of the people of this country on this very account.

Those of us who have not had the privilege of serving abroad, and who perhaps on that very account are the more anxious to see that the fairest and most generous treatment is secured for those who have borne the full brunt of the fighting and those who have been disabled in their country's service, will have read with the highest appreciation the frankand outspoken criticism of Sir Douglas Haig, while deploring the necessity for his making that criticism.

I do not think I need labour the point of the large number of cases of men still waiting for training; nor do I think it needs any words of mine, after what Sir Douglas Haig has said so recently, to emphasise the strength of the claim of those who have served and suffered upon the assistance and help of the country. From all parts local authorities and others report that there is in most respects practically a deadlock as regards the training of men in many of the industries they wish to pursue. These difficulties have been greatly increased by the multiplicity of offices which have until recently been responsible for directing this training—the Ministry of Pensions, the Ministry of Labour, the Board of Education, and the Board of Agriculture. All this has caused an immense amount of correspondence and over-lapping which has resulted in delaying action being taken in many of the cases. I am sure that we must all welcome the recent efforts of the Government to coordinate the machinery for dealing with the matter. The change, however, has been long overdue, though it has been repeatedly recommended; and. I am bound to say that I hear on all hands that there is very little improvement at the present time in the expedition with which cases are dealt.

I heard that repeated only this afternoon with regard to the question of the training of these disabled men in London itself. Perhaps it may not be quite fair to criticise that particular point in a sense; because it is only quite a short time since the new régime was inaugurated, and it must naturally take some little time for the Ministry of Labour to get the machinery into smooth working order. But at the same time there is every indication that before this duty was handed over to the Ministry of Labour no provision was made within the Ministry to organise itself to take on the new responsibilities that were about to be given to it—again, an example of want of foresight and forethought which I think we cannot but characterise as most deplorable in a matter of this nature. I would therefore urge upon His Majesty's Government to speed up the machinery that now exists. Speed is of the very essence of this matter. It is only by rapidly dealing with the cases as they come forward that you will avoid what undoubtedly exists at present—namely, that feeling almost of resentment, of impatience, and of unrest which undoubtedly exists among many of the disabled soldiers who are awaiting training in the trades for which their disabilities do not handicap them and in which they wish to employ their time.

I have said that in many parts of the country this matter has reached practically a deadlock. I dare say it is familiar to the noble Lord on the Government Bench that this is the case. For instance, in Essex, between November 1, 1918, and June 27 of this year, there were 286 disabled men who applied for training. So far only sixty have either received training or are at present undergoing training; and fifteen men have taken their names off the list because they are sick and tired of waiting for opportunities which never seem to come. This leaves, therefore, no fewer than 211 men on the waiting list in that county alone. Much the same proportion obtains all over the country. Your Lordships are familiar with the splendid work that is being done by the Lord Roberts Memorial Workshops. At the present time in London alone there are no less than eighty-five cases on their waiting lists. In Liverpool the number on the waiting list is still larger. I had information a few days ago from a town in Lancashire where they were informed by Liverpool that they were sorry they could ont take the men for training as they were full up, and would probably be so for several months to come. Why cannot the Government with regard to this and other efforts of a similar nature rope into their scheme these institutions which have proved their value and which are doing all they can to cope with this great problem? It is not for me I think to suggest how the thing should be done.

Take the case of the Lord Roberts Memorial Workshops. Could not something be done by the Government to subsidise them and enable them to start factories in places which are simply crying out for facilities for training disabled men? At the present time these workshops could be doubled with the greatest advantage; and the funds available for the Institution are nothing like what the workers there would desire. In view of the difficulties that the Pensions Committee have in organising, training, I think that is a consideration which is well worth the attention of the Government, and I hope that when the noble Lord answers me he will be able to give me some information as to whether there is any chance of the Government taking action on that line.

As I think I have already shown, there is great need for the general speeding up of the machinery that already exists; and the difficulty of getting support from the Ministry of Labour, the inactivity there in dealing with the different questions, constitute one of the great obstacles with which the local authorities are confronted. But there is another obstacle to which I draw attention in my Motion, which also has to be dealt with and which is a source of great searching of mind on the part of organisers—namely, the difficulty that occurs in certain cases (I believe it is only in certain cases) owing to the opposition of the local trade unions. I myself cannot believe that this is due to the feeling of the majority of those who belong to the trade unions, nor do I believe that it is the desire in many cases of those who represent the trade union movement here in London. At the same time, however, we are bound to face these facts, which are really painfully numerous and which come from every part of the country.

It is unnecessary, I think, for me to remind your Lordships of the case which Sir Douglas Haig mentioned at Southampton of a disabled soldier who had received two months training in a technical school and who, on receiving a certificate of efficiency, was offered employment, but the local trade union branch—in this case of the Boilermakers' Union—objected to his employment. I have a number of cases which have been sent to me from various places. There is the case at Sevenoaks, which was mentioned in the public Press last week, in which a doctor described his desire to start, in connection with a treatment centre for which he was responsible, a small carpenter's shop to educate the disabled men in the use of their injured limbs. He was advised, for the sake of the men, to get the support of the local carpenters' trade-union. He was invited to attend one of their meetings, which he did, but unfortunately it was decided to refer the matter to the Central Federation and since that moment, some weeks ago, he has not ventured to go on with his proposal and has heard nothing further

I would also instance a case for which I hope by now some; solution has been found. It is the case of three disabled soldiers for whom training had been arranged in painters and decorators work and who attended the local school of art for six weeks. The trade union concerned threatened a strike if those men were allowed to enter the practical workshop. This is a remarkable case. It is all the more remarkable because there was already in existence an agreement between employers and employees that discharged men must spend at least three years in their training before they could be recognised as trade unionists and receive the trade union rate of pay. Another case is one also in the same locality of Burnley in Lancashire. It is that of a disabled soldier who had an offer of training in "twisting" at a local mill and the offer of a frame when such training was completed. The trade union prohibited the training. Then, again, at least two men were offered training in haircutting and so on. The trade union nut their foot down and refused to allow flue training to be given. These are a few of the cases I can quote, and I will give one other. It occurred at Ramsgate and it has been alluded to in the Press. A partially disabled man was offered training, under the Ministry of Pensions scheme, with a firm in that town as a carpenter and joiner, and the local branch of the Carpenters and Joiners Union strongly objected.

There are, unfortunately, many cases of a similar nature, but I think, even though I have abbreviated my remarks, that I have mentioned a sufficient number of instances to justify urging His Majesty's Government to take the trade unions into their confidence and seriously setting to work to overcome, by mutual arrangements, the difficulties which some of the trade union regulations place in the way of this great problem. I think I may fairly say that these points and difficulties have been clear from the very outset. A member of the Government, Mr. George Barnes, in a recent message to the Comrades Journal, states that in October last he foresaw these difficulties. It seems to me an amazing thing to find the Government waiting and drifting, as I have already said, into this impasse before taking the obvious step of consulting the trade unions with a view to removing these difficulties. No one would wish to do anything to lower the standard of life in industry (a phrase of Mr. Barnes's), but I cannot think that the competition of the disabled men—the number of whom is limited and, from the very nature of the case, cannot increase but must be a diminishing one—can materially affect the unions in any way.

I cannot believe, and I do not believe, that, if this matter is fairly put before the trade unions, they will refuse to help those who have stood between them and devastation. May I quote again Sir Douglas Haig at Chester and associate myself with him in what he said there? He said that he would regard it as a national calamity if the various movements now on foot for the benefit of ex-service men should develop a political flavour. It is in this spirit that I have approached the subject and I Would once more urge the Government to let us have some definite information which will afford some encouragement to those who are working so hard and so assiduously on this subject—some information as to what steps they are taking to expedite the treatment of this problem. It seems to me that at the present time, from what is stated in the Press, there is undoubtedly a good deal going on; but, at the same time, the longer this state of things obtains there will be an increase among these men, who deserve the very best at the hands of the country, of unrest and uncertainty as to their future. It is on that account, and with the object of eliciting some information from the Government as to what they are doing, that I venture to make the Motion which stands in my name.

Moved, That Papers be laid before the House relating to the difficulties confronting local authorities in the training of men disabled and discharged from His Majesty's Forces, and to the obstacles placed in their way by local trade organisations.—(Lord O'Hagan.)


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I say a word or two? I think we ought to be grateful to the noble Lord for bringing this matter forward, and I do earnestly hope that it may be possible for the Government to make some announcement with regard to definite action that is being taken for the purpose of removing the unfortunate hostility which is displayed in some quarters by trade union officials towards the training of disabled men.


. Hear, hear.


It is little short of a scandal, and it is so utterly opposed to the ordinary generous instinct of the British working man that I cannot believe that this is a deliberately adopted policy on the part of the trade unions as a whole. What I believe is really the case is that it is due, partly, to suspicion—the natural suspicion which a number of working men have of the employers' class—and also due, to a very large extent, to that extreme body which, in too many cases, has captured the executives of the trade unions and which, led by certain gentlemen whom I need not name but who are well known to the British public at the present moment, are out for nothing else but to create trouble and disorder. They are out for the purpose of preaching the gospel of discontent in the hope of bringing about a revolution in some; form or another. Whether they produce discontent in the form of interfering with the unloading of ships, or delaying food transport, or whether they are interfering with railway transport, or whether (which is largely the case) they are doing everything they can by the striking of labour to interfere with the building of ships—in one way or another they are out to create trouble and discontent; and there is no more certain way of doing that at the present moment than by taking hold of the many grievances which exist among demobilised men, magnifying some and inventing others, and so adding to the volume of discontent which they try to produce. I believe that is part of a deliberate policy adopted by a considerable number of the extremists.


My Lords, the noble Lord has dealt with many subjects connected with the treatment of ex-soldiers and sailors, and particularly of disabled men. There is no difference of opinion, certainly in no responsible quarter, as to the great importance and necessity not only of giving these men a training—because that is only a portion of the business—but of providing openings for them in employment where they may utilise the training that has been obtained. My noble friend will admit that it is very important that these two matters should be brought into some; harmony, and that you should only train people for those different occupations in which you are pretty confident you will be able to find subsequent employment for them.

From the speech of my noble friend one could not have gathered what great efforts have already been made by the Government or the elaborate machinery that has been set up in order to obtain these ends. He indulged in some rather general criticism, and said the machinery ought to be speeded up and the methods improved. With all these propositions one would cordially assent, and the Government themselves are quite conscious that they have not yet fully dealt with this problem of training and that a good deal still remains to be done in acquiring fresh factories and making fresh arrangements for the training of these men. Perhaps I might inform him that, it has been decided that when national factories are scheduled for disposal priority of occupation is to be given to the Departments responsible for the training of soldiers. A considerable number of factories have been scheduled, and steps have been taken to meet the need for more accommodation. Arrangements are being made to take these factories, and to use the local authorities for training and obtaining assistance from the requirements made by inanition training and institutes which are in the possession of the local authorities themselves.

But besides that, very elaborate arrangements carefully thought out are being entered into by the Government with the representatives of the trades themselves. My noble friend has criticised the trade unions and the actions of the trade unions because, in his opinion, they are not sufficiently sympathetic to the requirements of these disabled men, and seem, in certain cases, not to allow them to join their different industries and trades. I was glad to hear that he spoke in a different sense of the headquarters of the trade unions, and I am quite certain that the Minister of Labour, if he was here, would say that he had met with nothing but assistance, co-operation and sympathy from the heads of the trade unions themselves and that they were doing all they could to further the employment of these disabled men.

In order that your Lordships may understand some of the difficulties that arise, I ought to give a short account of the kind of machinery that is being set up in the different trades, because many of the difficulties of the subject arise on that point. Even before this work was handed over by the Ministry of Pensions to the Ministry of Labour there were set up in twenty-two of the principal trades, in which it was thought disabled men might be employed, associations, national associations, of employers and employed. The business of these associations was to consider what kind of training was to be given in these different trades to these disabled men—how long the training was to be; whether it was to be partly institutional; and how it was to be divided. It was decided by these committees that some long period of training must elapse before a man could be admitted to work in the different trades. They have, in very carefully drawn up agreements laid down the conditions under which these men should be trained, and the conditions under which they would be acceptable for entry into the different trade unions and associations when the training bad been gone through. It is obvious this must be done, because in that way is obviated any danger of friction, or subsequent friction, of allowing men to enter trades themselves after they have received the training.

Moreover, the Minister of Pensions on behalf of the Minister of Labour decided that they would only give their maintenance grant in the case of those persons who had been trained under these particular regulations entered into among the different trades in order to secure perfect harmony of action. Another function was laid upon these committees. It was of seeing that proper safeguards were taken against the overflooding of the labour market in particular trades. When my noble friend takes certain instances—and I cannot deal with particular instances without inquiry—and suggests that the action of these particular branches may be due to some kind of malevolence or selfishness, I think he ought to take this into account; that it is part of the duty of these associations to see that the supply of labour coming into these different trades is not greater than the demand, and that it may be not malevolence but sympathy with these men which says "no more shall come into this particular training than can be absorbed into the industry itself."

Then there are in each district these local supervisory committees, whose special duty it is to see that everything is being carried out in these training centres in accordance with the conditions laid by the agreements with the associations, and also to advise these national associations when in their opinion enough persons have been taken into the different training centres to absorb the possible vacancies there will be in the trades themselves. It is a very carefully thought out scheme, and the noble Lord will see that the whole basis of it is this—to work with the responsible trade unions themselves, and to conform with their reasonable requirements. It is true that there has been some friction in certain localities, and I think it is rather easy to see how it has arisen. When people in particular localities see a number of men out of work in a particular trade they may not unreasonably say that it is unwise to introduce an elaborate system of training for men who, when trained, may only go on to the streets and be unable to find employment in that district. It is easy to see how action of that kind may be misinterpreted and how various difficulties have arisen.

I might give a case from the leather goods trade. In that trade some of the unions have passed a resolution that for the present no more men shall be brought for training to the particular centres. Take another little difficulty, in the gold, silver and jewellery trade. In that trade the amount of employment must very largely depend on the extent to which the men who have been interned during the war in this country are allowed to return to the trade, and I understand that if they are not allowed to return there may be room for some 2,000 of these disabled men. There is another case where the local branches have been extremely unwilling to co-operate with the Government because they had a special quarrel of their own with the Government. It is in the brush-making trade. In that trade the local unions were much annoyed with the Government for training interned German prisoners in brush-making, and some friction has arisen which has caused some delay in accepting or making one of these arrangements.

I am not defending all these troubles and frictions which have arisen, and I dare say that more perfect persons would be able to rise above them, but these are the kind of difficulties which are being dealt with, and there again I must repeat that the trade unions at the centre are doing their very best to remove these causes of friction, because they are very sensible of the desirability of getting these men trained and brought into the trades themselves. There is one very important trade where there may be very large openings in the future. One of the difficulties of persuading men to admit these people is that they are afraid that the present conditions of employment in their trade are not likely to last. In the building trade present conditions are not only likely to last but there is bound to be a great demand, and there, in certain branches, might be found openings for disabled men. It must be understood, however, that many of them are unable to go in for active trades, and therefore not only the trade but the operations within the trade have to be carefully selected by the Advisory Committees, as suitable for the employment of these men. They also have to select the men themselves, in order to ensure that they are men likely to take advantage of the opportunities of employment within the trade.

So that all one can say in reply to my noble friend is this, that these difficulties are being examined, that they are not neglected by the trade unions, and there is, I think, a gradual lessening of the small local friction which may be said to take place. I am not yet able to announce any settlement in the building trade, because a conference took place yesterday, but I hope that it may be possible to absorb a good many men into that great and expanding trade. I do not think I can usefully add anything, except to give this general assurance to my noble friend, that the Government are extremely alive to all the difficulties that he has pointed out, and that they are most grateful for the co-operation received from the trades unions, and that they believe that at the rate of progress which is now being made these lamentable cases to which the noble Lord has referred—I assume them, because I have not looked into them—will soon be things of the past.


The noble Viscount has given a very ingenious defence to the charges of the noble Lord below me, but the fact still remains that a war which lasted nearly five years is now over, and there does not appear to have been any organisation whatever to look after these men or to start them in business, until just lately. The noble Viscount shakes his head, but the fact remains that the trade unions will not allow these men to enter their trades. Is it possible that the conditions are too high? I am sure the working men of the country are most generous. We are bound to keep our promises to these men, and I hope that Lord Peel will endeavour to speed matters up and get easier conditions from the trade unions about these men, because the cases that have been made public have had a bad effect throughout the army. I only make this protest in order to support my noble friend below me, and i hope the Government will increase the speed, and if possible have a Committee of the Government and of trade unions to see whether more cannot be done.


I do not wish to detain your Lordships more than two minutes, but I should like to say that I am much obliged for the remarks which have fallen from the noble Viscount. I think that if what he has stated to-night had been made more widely known it would have had something to do towards removing the sense of injustice and uncertainty which undoubtedly exists at the present time. Of course I quite appreciate the force of his remarks with regard to the action of the trade unions, or possibly the action of certain trade unions, where the market for labour is already overflooded, and I purposely made no allusion to trades where that is common knowledge. With regard, however, to the building trade, for instance, there is, I regret to say, a considerable amount of opposition locally to men joining that trade, which the noble Viscount has mentioned as being one which might readily absorb those who are physically fit and trained for some or other of its various branches.

I am sure we are delighted to hear the definite assurance of the formation of associations of employers and employees, and that the number is as large as he has stated. I can only hope that my action in bringing this question before your Lordships—action which was taken in the spirit which I hope was recognised—will help and not impede the efforts which are being made at present by the Government, and those in the trade union movement who are loyally co-operating with them, to remove the obstacles to the training of these men. As to local opposition and friction, I only hope that local opinion and public opinion throughout the country will strengthen the hands of the Government and of the leaders of the trade union movement in removing this gross abuse of power and privilege on the part of a very small section of the community.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.