I wish to raise one or two questions connected with the administration of the Insurance Act, and chiefly as regards outworkers. I may say that there is a good deal of disturbance and trouble going on in some businesses at present in Somersetshire, partly owing to the difficulty of adjusting themselves to the new conditions under the Insurance Act. In one factory over a hundred outworkers have already been dismissed, or received notice to quit. There are certain persons also who are a good deal disturbed on account of the changes of front on the part of the Government as regards the exclusion or inclusion of married women outworkers. The House will remember that first of all they were excluded, and that as the result of the deliberations of a Committee on which my Noble Friend sat, and which recommended that they should be included, they have been included by special order of the Commissioners, although that order has not yet had the force of law. These people feel they have a grievance in connection with that change 2745 of front, because after all the rather slow moving Saxon does not approve of rapid changes. The point I wish first of all to establish is that the outworkers' system in the country—I am not dealing with the aspect of it as regards the towns—is very wholesome and useful. There are certain objections to it in the towns which do not apply to outworkers in the country. One is that you cannot be responsible for the conditions under which it is done in towns, and that it might be better done in places where it could be inspected. That does not apply to the Somersetshire villages. Another objection is that it tends to lower the wages of the husbands. That, I think, cannot be maintained, because if you compare the wages where outwork is not done, you cannot establish a difference between them and the wages paid where it is done. Therefore, from the point of view of the outworker it is a wholesome system, and it is of immense advantage to people living two to fifteen miles round towns to get some little addition to what their husbands receive, or that girls or widows should be able to make a few shillings, and thereby add to the comfort of the homes. From the point of view of the manufacturers themselves, I think there is a certain advantage, because, although they cannot increase the amount of labour by having it spread over a number of women, they can have a reserve of labour which can be called upon when there is a pressure of work. Therefore, the whole industry may gain a certain advantage. There are, however, considerable difficulties connected with this problem. First of all, if you insure these people under ordinary insurance, the chances are that the outwork system would come to an end altogether, for in certain of these industries the profit is very small, and the amount of insurance relatively to the amount paid in wages is high. The danger, on the one hand, is that these people might lose their work entirely, and their insurance as well, and, on the other hand, there is the risk in certain circumstances of their being constantly in arrears, and falling below the thirteen weeks as to sickness insurance, and, where the wages are small, falling below the twenty-six weeks, when they have the pleasure of paying and getting no advantage whatever for what they pay.
There are certain courses open to the right hon. Gentleman, some of which I have no doubt he will not take. First of all, quite a good case could be made out for 2746 the exclusion of all these outworkers. I am not going to press that case now, because I recognise the difficulties that would have to be dealt with. But life among these people is healthy. They are long-lived. The torch of light burns less feverishly in the soft air of Somersetshire than in the atmosphere of more crowded places, and married women there are not likely to enter into insurance at some other time nor as a class. The only people who would be ikely to suffer would be unmarried girls, who might find themselves going to other occupations in other parts of the country and find it difficult at an older age, without further sacrifice, to enter into insurance. As regards exclusion entirely, I agree with the Noble Lord. I certainly do not advocate myself the exclusion of married women as married women. I do not think that the problem would be at all solved by the exclusion by status, because there is no special class of work for married women. The class of work is spread among the different women, whether they are wives, maids, or widows, and such exclusion would be thoroughly out of harmony with the tendency of modern legislation—that you should not give an absolute preference, as you would do in this case, to the work of married women.
The right hon. Gentleman is at present dealing with the matter under two schemes, the A scheme and the B scheme. The A scheme is merely under the ordinary system, and the objections which I have already stated apply to that in full force. The B scheme represents another method. In order that it may be adopted it is obvious that you must make it more easy to work and less expensive than the A scheme. The general principle of B scheme is that insurance is paid, not according to what is done in a particular week, bur according to the amount paid, so that there is some relation between the amount paid in insurance and the amount paid for work, and in order to arrive at that relation a certain unit of work was fixed which a normal outworker, working a certain number of hours a day, might be able to get through in the course of a week. That is fixed as the unit to be paid for the ordinary rate of insurance, and half that is treated as a half unit, but beyond the unit and the half unit no further fractions or subdivisions are to be allowed. There is a great deal of difficulty in working these units. It is obviously to the advantage of the industry and of both employers and employed that 2747 the unit should be fixed high, because in that case the relative amount they pay in insurance is less, and the charge is therefore less. In some of these industries 13s. has been fixed by the inspectors who recently held an inquiry at Yeovil as the limit. There are many difficulties in the matter of working this unit, which are rather too technical to deal with here, but I would like to call attention to one difficulty. It says, "If further payment is made to the same outworker in the same or next succeeding week all the work paid for by the same employer during the two weeks must be regarded as one piece of work for the purpose of reckoning the amount of the contribution payable. If necessary, an additional stamp or stamps must be affixed to the card, but if a whole calendar week from Monday to Sunday inclusive has passed without stamps being affixed to the card the employer shall affix a stamp on the next parcel of work without regard to previous payments." I cannot understand why exceptions of this kind should be introduced, because there may be weeks in which these outworkers do not do any work at all, and why merely because this week intervenes without any work being done the work in the next week should have this payment for insurance fixed without any regard to previous payments I confess I do not understand. I only cite this as one of the things which make this system not altogether satisfactory as a way of dealing with the problem.
I would make two suggestions. One I think is really the best way of dealing with the difficulty. The other is less immediate, though perhaps it might be taken into consideration. I have said that you cannot exclude any one class of worker according to status, because of course if you exclude married women obviously you would put a considerable preference on their employment, and that would be an unfair way of treating the others, but you might make a distinction between machine work and handwork, when done in the homes, and it would be quite possible to exclude those who are engaged in handwork. If that were done, it would go far to solve the difficulty, because the machine workers work more regularly and earn higher wages than the handworkers, and therefore the expense of insurance in their case is rather less. The handworkers, of course, do less work, but you would not put a premium on their work by excluding them 2748 from insurance because their work must be handwork, and you would not therefore throw any machine work on to them, because as soon as machine work is thrown on to them they would become machine workers, and then they would not be excluded from insurance. Further, handworkers are the persons who earn less. They are the people who get less benefit from an insurance and who are more likely, certainly under scheme B, to be constantly in arrears, in arrears probably, not only to the extent of losing more than thirteen weeks on the average, and therefore being entirely out of sickness benefit, but also more than twenty-six weeks on the average, and therefore losing medical and maternity benefit as well. Therefore, I think, that those might fairly be taken out of insurance altogether.
I have already explained that I do not think that they would suffer in other ways, because a good case might be made for their total exclusion. The other suggestion I only offer as an alternative in this way, because other methods of insurance might be considered. It has been suggested that you should not have this elaborate system of the unit or the half unit as the method of calculating surpluses and deficits; but merely a farthing one each side should be paid for every shilling of work done—that is to say, a halfpenny in all per shilling. That would save a great deal of trouble in the administration of the Act; but, of course, if that were done, I think, for the purposes of those insured under it it would be necessary to have a difference in insurance. They would pay less; the contributions would be less; the benefits would be less also, and you would really want, if you are going to keep these women in work, another system of insurance, with smaller contributions and smaller benefits, instead of forcing them into general insurance, in which they are always likely to be in arrears while getting very little advantage out of the insurance into which they have been forced. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been talking of the millions of people insured under the Act—twelve or fourteen millions. I hope because he has been dealing with these gigantic figures he will not be unsympathetic towards these small humble units-to which I have been referring, because he has to remember that these are human units, and I hope that if he can he will settle this matter in a satisfactory way without disturbance to business and without breaking down this useful system 2749 which he will admit is a useful system of outwork that enables a certain amount, if not of wealth, at least of home comfort and happiness to be brought into their humble homes by this extra work.
§ Mr. AUBREY HERBERT
If my hon. Friend who has just sat down will allow me to say so I would like to pay him the compliment of saying that the speech which he has made is the most lucid exposition of a very complicated subject that I have heard yet, and if I am not able to emulate his clearness, at all events I can envy it. If I differ from him at all I differ not in kind but in degree, and perhaps as the circumstances of my own outworkers are, I believe, quite peculiar and the conditions of my election were unusual I may be allowed to take a rather different view of this whole question from the rest of my party. If I disagree with my hon. Friend who has just sat down I only disagree in that I would go further than he has done. But before I go into that I would wish that the past should be relegated, as far as I am concerned in Somerset, to the limbo of forgotten things. Let the dead bury their own dead. I do not want to confuse politics and business at the present moment, and I only want to do the very best I can for my own outworkers. There is one point in the Insurance Act as to which there will be general agreement, and that is that it should encourage and not penalise labour. And when my hon. Friend, the Member for Taunton, or myself advocates the exclusion of either the whole of the outworkers or part of the outworkers we do it not because we hold a brief for the employer, but because we hold a very strong brief for employment. In the Insurance Act there are several industries that are going to be remunerated when those employed in those trades are thrown out of work. Then in those trades there will naturally be a great deal of gratitude to the author of the Insurance Act.
I happen to represent workers in other trades which the Act itself is going to throw out of work, and from those trades and those who represent them you cannot expect any kind of gratitude to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The hon. Member who last addressed the House spoke about the difference between the outworkers in the country and in towns. On the whole I think all those who know the conditions will agree with me that outwork 2750 is one of the best kinds of employment that you can find in the country. The real difficulty of the position is this: Supposing you exclude the whole of the outworkers, then, you make the Act practically unworkable. Suppose you exclude part of the outworkers, the married women, at the present moment, in my own Constituency, at all events in a great number of cases, that would meet our desires, though I do not think it would do so permanently: it would only meet them temporarily. If you exclude the married women, as the hon. Member said, you make a preferential class. But there is still another alternative, namely, that you should make it voluntary to come into the Act. If you make it voluntary to come into the Act, again you create a preferential class—again you create a free labour market, as against a taxed labour market. I see only one way out of it—though I recognise that it is a very great and a very new amendment of the Act, and I would not submit it except under very special circumstances—and it is that you should give the outworkers in rural areas the option of coming under the Act or not coming under the Act; and, in order that you should not create a preferential class, you should throw the liability for the contributions of the employers upon the Exchequer.
The hon. Member cannot discuss Amendments of the Act. This Bill, which we are now discussing, is the Appropriation Bill, which appropriates certain moneys to certain Services. The hon. Member is entitled to criticise the manner in which those Services are carried out, but he is not entitled to suggest Amendments of the existing Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. AUBREY HERBERT
I am very sorry to have gone beyond your ruling, Sir. What I intended to say was that the Commissioners are empowered to issue an Order, and that Order may have a very wide scope. Under it they would be empowered to exclude, I believe, all outworkers. In their special interests I should very much like to see that Order put in force, for the following reasons: We are now told that in the autumn we are to have a great campaign about the land. We are told that the object of that campaign is to do good to the agricultural labourer. But the greatest good you can do the agricultural labourer is to raise his wages, and, if this Order were put in 2751 force, I do not pretend that it would raise the wages of the agricultural labourer, but at all events it would keep the wages up. The wife who is now earning money, if that Order were put in force, would not then be thrown out of employment, and the wages which she receives are only supplementary of her husband's earnings.
I wish to say a few words upon Pamphlets A and B. Under those two pamphlets both the outworkers and the employer receive very hard measure. It is almost like asking a rat if it will choose an American or a German trap into which to go. Pamphlet A is in accordance with the Act. Under Pamphlet A the employer has to pay a poll tax of three pennies on every woman he employs. It cannot be denied that where people are only employed for a few hours, or for a short time, they will concentrate labour into few hands, and create a condition of unemployment. Under Pamphlet B, or the unit system, only women earning the full amount will be fully insured, and any woman who earns 10s. a week, when 13s. is the unit, would only make thirty-eight contributions during the year. In this case what would happen to the employer, and what approved society would be willing to accept the woman as a member? It does seem to me that the Insurance Act has been made too much of a party measure—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—too much of a party measure by hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite. If those Gentlemen had really looked at it from the point of view of their old speeches, if they had looked on the Act as being made for the people and not the people made for the Act, then the condition of things would have been very different from what it is now. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty said that justice, whether to forty people or to 40,000, was justice, and justice could not be looked at in numbers. Therefore, I do ask the right hon. Gentleman, the author of this Act, to consider the fact that the people who are going to be thrown out of employment in the West of England are very poor people; they have not the advantage of votes, but they do deserve every consideration at the right hon. Gentleman's hands. I very much hope, therefore, that he will persuade the Commissioners to grant some such order as that of which we have been speaking to-night.
§ Mr. EDGAR JONES
I desire to raise the question of the method of appoint- 2752 ments by the Welsh Insurance Commissioners, owing to conflicting answers given by the Secretary to the Treasury, and, unless the matter is cleared up, there will be more and more uneasiness than has already arisen. I would not have brought this matter forward if it were not that there is considerable ill-feeling throughout the whole length and breadth of the Principality. Already some of the most responsible organisations in Wales have had to rise in revolt and give public expression to their fears in regard to the appointments made by the Welsh Insurance Commissioners. I think I can explain how this uneasiness in the public mind has arisen. First of all, the Secretary to the Treasury will remember that some time ago the Welsh Insurance Commissioners appointed intelligence officers without any kind of examination, and therefore, of course, not according to the system which was laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer one evening in this House, and, I think, laid down subsequently by an Order in Council. The Secretary to the Treasury explained to me at that time, in answer to a question, that it was a matter of urgency, but the people in Wales who had noticed the advertisement, and had observed that the proceedings in the matter were prolonged for many weeks, thought that the excuse as to urgency was no excuse at all, and that there was ample time for holding some kind of competitive examination, or something which would have opened these appointments to the public. The Secretary to the Treasury informed us that both the intelligence officers were able to express themselves effectively in Welsh. I am informed on reliable authority that this is not true of one of them. After all, the point is that it is not like a tourist going about in Welsh districts with a phrase book from which he may select a phrase or two when he wants to make a purchase, but it is a case where the officer should be able to express himself readily in the Welsh language and be really master of the Welsh language, which is one understood by a great number of the people. There has arisen since then what I think is a great public scandal in connection with the appointment of the Chief Inspector, a very important office under the Welsh Commissioners. I have here a White Paper that was drawn up on the recommendation of a special body of the Commissioners, the bulk of them being English Commissioners, and I find that 2753 they recommended with regard to chief inspectors the following:—We regard it as desirable that chief inspectors should be officers of exceptional experience in the organisation and control of the outdoor staff, and we accordingly recommend that those posts should be filled up by selections from amongst officers serving on the staffs of the existing public Departments who have had such experience.We find in the Principality that a man was appointed who did not have any of this experience of organisation, or of anything approaching it at all. He was a man of no experience of that kind, and he had never been in any public Department, nor had he any experience whatever of managing an outdoor staff. It happened that the gentleman who was appointed was a very able man, and, though he had not experience of the kind required, he acquitted himself with considerable ability. But that is not the point. It is an obnoxious part that one has to raise a question of this kind, when one has to deal with one's friends, and when a position has been created which is not pleasant for anybody. The whole of Wales is seething with suspicion or uneasiness, and it is the duty of some one in the Welsh party to have the whole thing out. The most serious matter in regard to this chief inspector was that it was discovered later on that he had absolutely no knowledge at all of the Welsh language. I am going to explain the necessity for that in a moment. It should have been unnecessary for me to explain it from the point of view of Welshmen, because this very Report, devoted to Welshmen and drafted on pure business lines, says:—In Wales and Ireland there are districts in which a knowledge of Welsh and Gaelic will he indispensable.If it is going to be indispensable in regard to any kind of officer it surely ought to be indispensable in the case of a man who is going about fulfilling the duties dealt with in this particular circular, the duty of calling upon people to examine their cards, and to ask them questions, and matters of that character. The chief inspector who has been appointed, and is not able to speak the Welsh language, can do nothing of the kind, and he is absolutely incompetent to fulfil the duties. As a result of the exposure of this matter several of the more prominent authorities in Wales raised a great outcry, and this gentleman resigned. I know reasons have been given—and I have no cause to disbelieve them—that his resignation was on private grounds. But how are you going to disabuse the minds of the public, and persuade them that coincidences of 2754 this kind have not something behind them, and that there is not some connection between the two events? What has happened since? There was in the office of the Commissioners an assistant secretary, a very competent man, and a man who had a long experience in Civil Service in public offices, and against whose appointment nobody of course in Wales raised any objection. On the resignation of the other man they have now promoted the assistant secretary to the post of chief inspector. If the assistant secretary was a competent man why did they not appoint him in the first instance, instead of promoting him now after creating all this public uneasiness, and what I have ventured to describe as a scandal. In filling the post of assistant secretary I observe that there is no condition laid down at all with regard to Welsh. Before I deal with that question I pass to the question of auditors, and here I have to deal with conflicting answers which the Secretary to the Treasury has given from time to time. I asked him a question on 13th June whether an examination was going to be held in Wales for the auditors who would be required by the Welsh Institute of Commissioners and he replied, "Yes," that there would be an examination for the candidates at a centre in Wales. When I asked him two or three days ago when an examination was going to be held in Wales he informed me that no examination was to be held at all. He did not remember having told me that an examination was to be held, and I think he must have been grievously misinformed by the Commissioners, thus putting those applicants into a condition of mind worse than the average condition of mind of applicants, which Members of Parliament find not very pleasant to deal with as a rule. Then, again, the Financial Secretary informed me that the Welsh Commissioners had an idea that it was unnecessary to require a knowledge of Welsh from the auditors. I take again the special White Paper of the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on the appointment of an audit staff, and I find that that Committee, not one of whom is a Welshman, I will guarantee, by the appearance of the names, state:—"We recommend that about one-half of the persons appointed for service in Wales should be able to speak and write the Welsh language." After that I am very much surprised to find that the Financial Secretary says that there is no doubt amongst the Welsh Commissioners as to this matter.
2755 I said I was going to make one point, and that is, to make it clear that it is absolutely necessary in a large proportion of these appointments to have men who can speak and write Welsh competently. Already the insurance committee of the county of Carnarvon has decided that all its transactions shall be in the Welsh language, all its minutes, books, correspondence, etc. When the correspondence of the Carnarvonshire County Committee reaches the Insurance Office in Cardiff, what is the good of your English auditor or your English inspector? He will be absolutely incompetent, and you might as well have a Chinaman there as an Englishman. I must warn the Secretary to the Treasury that it is not for any English Minister or any Commissioners to have opinions on this question at all. The Welsh people have a perfect right if they like to conduct their proceedings in the language that suits them best. It is for them to do so and to find competent officers, as plenty can be found, to deal with the people as they desire. I have to warn him that whilst we are quite willing to be reasonable in the whole matter and to take steps that would make the Act effective, he runs the danger and the Insurance Commissioners of an outcry that would put him and the Commissioners into a hopeless difficulty. The people only want a lead. I am sure I would have no difficulty in raising a boycott of English, and getting every friendly society and every insurance committee in Wales to conduct all their proceedings in Welsh, and to write no letter to the office in Cardiff but in Welsh, and that would very soon bring the Commissioners to realise the position. I am not going to recommend anything like that, but I want the Secretary to the Treasury to make the position clear. I take it that personally the Secretary to the Treasury agrees with the views of most of us in thinking that in a small country like Wales, with the number of candidates necessarily limited, that it is far better to have the selections made by absolutely open examination.
There was a suggestion a short time ago to set up a kind of academic appointments board. We killed that for the reason that it appeared that it was going to put restrictions which would not leave a fair and open field for candidates. If I am right in thinking that the Secretary to the Treasury is of opinion that it will be much better to make these appointments as the result of a free, open, competitive 2756 system, then may I make one suggestion to get over this Welsh difficulty? We do not want, of course, incompetent officers just because the Welsh language stands in the way. If, therefore, a Welsh paper were added to the subjects of examination for which marks were given, and if the persons who could not take that paper and who lost those marks were equal to the others in the result of the examination, we Welsh people would be quite willing to put up with the more efficient and more competent men. I have to ask the Secretary to the Treasury to reassure us on this point, and to make quite clear whether this examination for auditors is to be held in Wales or not, so that we shall not be kept in doubt any longer. The Act was received by the Welsh people without any of those prejudices and objections that have arisen in England. We have got no tax resistors, and the Act has been in other respects a success, and carried out efficiently by the Commissioners. The only thing that has militated against the Act is the mass of opinion amongst the Welsh people that things are not straight with regard to the appointments. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that, however good an Act of Parliament is, if its administration is bad, then the whole thing is branded as bad by the people. This is a serious matter for those of us who have been recommending the Act to the Welsh people. I hope therefore that the right hon. Gentleman will reassure the Welsh people that henceforth everything will be beyond reproach in these appointments, and he will then probably have no cause to be troubled in respect of the Act by the mass of the Welsh people.
§ Sir J. D. REES
My information from Cardiff coincides with that of the hon. Gentleman, that there is great dissatisfaction with the appointments made, and still more, perhaps, with the appointments which they think will be made. An officer who has been drawing 30s. per week has been put temporarily to act as assistant secretary, with the idea, as is locally thought, of eventually giving him that appointment, in which he will be able to supervise officers in the Civil Service, drawing from £500 to £700 per year. I do not wish to pursue that subject further, but I desire to go back to the outworkers. Perhaps the time has come to take off the gloves and point the moral with lace, not the first time lace and point have been connected. I agree very much with what my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset 2757 (Mr. Aubrey Herbert) said regarding the speech of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Peel). I think he accomplished the impossible in giving us the first really lucid and clear exposition of the principle underlying these cases, and I shall have less to say myself, because he dealt so clearly with the matter. There is not only the case of gloves, but there is the Nottinghom lace trade, which is perhaps the greatest trade affected in respect of outworkers. The Secretary to the Treasury has dealt in his reply to me, I will not say cavalierly with this question, as, of course, it is his duty to think the Act is good business, but I am very dissatisfied myself with the answers I have received on this subject, because he has invariably suggested that points are raised rather to disparage the Act than for the purpose of getting assistance for those who are affected by its introduction. My hon. Friend showed very clearly the vacillation that obtains with regard to outworkers. The Secretary to the Treasury apparently does not heed the fact that the old and infirm and those who can do little work, are being thrown out of work wholesale by the introduction of this Act, which necessarily leads to concentration in order to avoid one of the cardinal vices of the Act, which I think is absolutely over full of vices, and that is that the tax is levied upon the number of people employed, making it absolutely necessary for those engaged in keen competition to reduce the number of people they employ, and thus get rid of the old and infirm and the persons who do little work.
It will hardly be believed that in the Nottingham lace trade up to the introduction of the Act, and, indeed, up to this very minute, nobody knows whether the Insurance Commissioners are going to take the middle woman or the manufacturer as the employer. It should most obviously be the middle woman, as the manufacturer has nothing to do with the matter. Doubt exists up to this moment upon that all important point. My hon. Friend referred to the question of the unit of work. I suppose in most cases they will accept scheme B in respect of lace, and not scheme A. The sum of 11s. is the amount given as what the outworkers will be able to earn for lace finishing in Nottingham; but not all can earn that, and a small proportion therefore will be entitled to full sickness benefit. That, and the fact that they will be thrown out of work, are the great grievances they have to meet 2758 in connection with the introduction of this Act. As regards the employers I must confess, from what I have heard from the right hon. Gentleman, that it seems to me the sufferings of the employers weigh rather lightly with him, as with his chief. Where the unit is proved to have been unfair, why does not the employer get some rebate. It is obvious he gets no rebate, as the money goes into hotch-potch for any purpose the Commissioners may think proper. Supposing there were many of those workers earning high wages by obtaining work from different employers, such persons might pay nothing themselves but yet have 10d. or 1s. placed to their credit, which is rank injustice. The right hon. Gentleman cannot justify it, but I suppose he will say it is in the Act. If it is in the Act it is an injustice, and should be amended. As my hon. Friend has explained the alternatives under the A and B system I do not propose to go fully into them.
The Trade Boards Act, which is enforced in respect of these industries, fixed the minimum which could be earned by a worker employed for a given number of hours per week, at, for lace finishing 11s. and hosiery 8s. 9d., and so on. If B is adopted one full contribution must be paid for every unit of work done in a fortnight. When this question came to be discussed in Nottingham, lecturers were sent down, but they found themselves quite unable to explain. Having spoken very fully on it, they left all those who heard them in greater perplexity than even they had been before they had heard their explanation. There were two of these lecturers, and at the end of their explanation the greatest indignation was expressed at the effect of the Act on the poorest workers concerned. One of the chief manufacturers there immediately faced these lecturers and said, "Will no rebate be allowed for overpayment?" and they said "No." Then a question arose with regard to a woman working for two or three firms, and it was asked whether the unit would count for each employer, and the answer was "Yes." Again—Each employer has a perfectly separate account for each outworker, and as many women have several children who may be doing a little, if you have to pay 5d. for each outworker, the employer might have to pay from 10d. to 1s. 0½d.The answer was—Yes; that is how the regulations are.Can the right hon. Gentleman show any elementary principles of justice towards 2759 the employers in such a state of affairs? One of the audience referred to the fact that it was necessary to give a year's notice to change from method A to method B, and asked whether the only way to get out of the words of the contract was to dismiss the worker? The lecturer replied, "Yes, apparently so. I had not thought of that." That is the comfort they have to give to an industry which is turned inside out and upside down by the introduction of this Act. There are hundreds of women in the lace trade who earn very small amounts. Probably their average earnings will not amount to more than half a unit a fortnight. It is these poor people who are suffering from this insurance tax. Others are doing well. Those who are not poor are not injuriously affected. It is always the poor who suffer, and it is so in this case. The lecturers were asked whether the employers would have to pay this sum with no benefit to anybody? The answer was—The money will be paid into a fund which will be dealt with as the Commissioners decide.These unfortunate people do not yet know who is their employer. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman told us that he thought that in many cases it was the middle-woman, but he added that in each case the matter would be decided on its merits. That introduces the element of uncertainty into a question of which certainty should be an absolutely necessary attribute. One of the employers said that all those people who now earn only a little money will not be allowed to earn it, and instead of being a benefit to the people in this trade the Act must necessarily be a hardship. That is the opinion arrived at on that occasion by those concerned. Some 2,000 outworkers are interested in this matter. I confess that I have some difficulty in making a recommendation. Perhaps that is not my business. I do not know that I am prepared to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. A. Herbert), but I certainly think that those who are sent down to explain the Act should be armed with authority so that they might give positive information as to the position of these outworkers, and that some arrangement should be made whereby, instead of concentration leading to their wholesale dismissal, these poorer people should be continued in the occupation in which for so long they have been engaged. A further question that I asked the right hon. Gentleman was whether he was aware that 2760 lodging and boarding-house keepers who could not afford to pay wages of more than £10 or £12 a year were dismissing their servants and engaging immature girls under sixteen years of age, whom they would dismiss in their turn when they reached that age, in order to avoid payment of the tax of 13s. a year.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he was not aware of any such dismissals, and he thought that there was no supply of people under sixteen years of age who would take the places of those who were dismissed. Having been thus challenged, I must give the House one or two cases to prove that what I said was right. There is the case of Mr. More, Heron Gate, Brentwood, Essex, who has dismissed his charwoman because he does not care to pay the insurance tax, and has secured the services of a girl aged less than fifteen years. There is the case of Mr. Hughes, of 71, Holland Road, Buxton, who has discharged two servants, one male and one female, on account of the insurance tax, and is about to dismiss his remaining female servant and engage a girl under fifteen to escape the tax. Another case is that of Mrs. Paston, of 31, Airthrie Road, Goodmayes, who is dismissing her maid because the maid refuses to submit to the deduction of 3d. from her wages on the ground that the so-called National Insurance is a lick and a promise, and that though the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised to fetch the doctor, she will not pay until the doctor arrives. These are just a few cases, and I give them because of the light-hearted manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has received the questions which have been put to him on the subject.
Take, then, the case of people engaged in laundries. There is the case put forward by no less an authority than Mr. John Murray in the "Times" two or three days ago. In that case a laundress says that she is compelled to pay 4s. a week for the fourteen women and two men whom she employs. She cannot put up her prices because her customers are hit all round by the numerous new taxes invented by the right hon. Gentleman's chief. As in the case of the outworkers and maidservants, laundry employés are being displaced wholesale on account of this tax. In this particular industry no less than 50 per cent. of the takings goes in wages, and the people concerned who are so injuriously affected deserve the best consideration of this House. I also asked 2761 the right hon. Gentleman whether he was aware that agriculturists were exclaiming against the injustice of the manner in which they came under this Insurance Tax. The right hon. Gentleman, however, gave me no satisfaction on the point. I have come from the county of Berkshire this morning, and, as a result of inquiries that I have made, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in that county there is a very strong feeling. Ninety per cent. of the fanners of the United Kingdom have incomes of less than £160 a year. The Insurance Tax represents 6 per cent. on the average farmer's income, and a tax of a shilling an acre on agricultural land. Is that a matter to be lightly put aside? An impost of this description is really a tax levied on oats, wheat, barley, beef and mutton, and it amounts to a preference in favour of Canadian wheat, Russian barley, and beef from Argentina. I have a letter from a gentleman at Court Farm, Billingshurst. He read the right hon. Gentleman's answer to me, and he is very indignant. He says:—I have attended two markets locally and hold the signatures from those alone of seventy-three farmers pledging themselves to refuse to carry out an Act so unjust to our agriculturists. On Wednesday, the 31st, I attend a market at Horsham in the morning and Steyning in the afternoon, solely at the request of local fanners, when I know the signatures will exceed a hundred. … I hare to-night written Mr. Burghs, of Newbury, asking him to forward yon proof, as three weeks ago he had the signatures of something like 2,000 farmers from Berks, Hants, Wilts, and Oxon, and who were carrying on a similar campaign.These are very great industries, and I submit that they are entitled to greater consideration when questions are asked regarding the dissatisfaction that is felt with the introduction of the Act and the manner in which it presses upon different classes. After all, the Act is not a law of the Modes and Persians, but a law of the British Parliament, which is made to be altered, and, if it happens to be a law which the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not like, such as the Education Act, to be broken.
If the hon. Member wishes to criticise an Act, he must do it at the proper time. On this occasion he can only criticise the administration.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I apologise. I thought that it might pass as an illustration. I assume that any remarks by way of comparison between the attitude of the resistance to this Insurance Act and the attitude of resistance to the Education Act, 1902, would be equally out of order?
I do not think they would have any relevance to any Vote of Supply, and this Bill simply appropriates the Votes of Supply for particular purposes.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Then I will not pursue the point further than to say that I understand that in France, when a similar measure was before the Legislature, on account of the objections made, the compulsory Clauses were withdrawn. Another matter to which I wish to refer is the refusal of the Prime Minister to receive a deputation from the Employers' Parliamentary Association. In view of the ruling just given, I doubt whether that would be in order; therefore I will only say it seems to me a very regrettable fact that that deputation should not have been received. I may further mention that, in consequence of this Act, servants all over the country have been driven to arrange with their employers to receive quarterly instead of weekly payments. That is a very great hardship to servants. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, in spite of the light-hearted manner in which he has received questions on this subject, that in every house in the Kingdom strife and trouble have arisen through the introduction of this Act. Amongst domestic servants and agriculturists, in the lace trade of Nottingham, and in the glove trade of Somersetshire and elsewhere, there is the utmost confusion. I hope it is not irrelevant to point out the extreme hardships which are being occasioned by the Act, and thereby to help along that happy day when it will be subjected to wholesale revision.
As I have pointed out to the hon. Member, this is not the time to criticise an Act of Parliament or to suggest Amendments. He can criticise the administration, if he has anything to say against the Insurance Commissioners, their leaflets, pamphlets, and so on. But what he is asking for now is an Amendment of the Act, and that is out of order in the discussion on this Bill.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I regret, Sir, having erred. I will not do it, but I should have liked to criticise the leaflets concerned. They make confusion worse confounded. The amount of literature which has been spread abroad at great cost to the taxpayer has not made these matters clear. I am in order, I take it, in pointing out that the 2763 administration of this Act, since its introduction, has caused the maximum amount of disturbance to trade, and of hardship to those engaged in various trades. The right hon. Gentleman thought fit to rebuke me—I raised no objection—for some remarks I made in asking a question. But I am a perfectly free agent in this matter. I was not a Member of this House when the Act was passed, though I had been familiar with it from its introduction, and have seen how it has been received. I submit again that it becomes the Government to behave with the utmost tenderness to those affected by its introduction, and to remember that on all sides it is producing very great hardship. There are quarters, no doubt, so the right hon. Gentleman says, in which the Act is welcomed with effusion. All I can say is I have not seen them.
The administration of the Act by the Commissioners does not inspire me with confidence. I know they have a difficult task, and one which no one could accomplish. I have nothing to say against the Commissioners individually. They are able men, deserving of the utmost respect. But the right hon. Gentleman and his chief ought to consider most carefully every case brought before them, and not meet them by disbelief. They would then readily see the great disturbance that the Act is producing in every house, in every trade, in the United Kingdom. It is causing difficulties in every trade between employer and employed, and in every quarter. I beseech him to give such instructions to the Insurance Commissioners as will induce them to consider the poor. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is always considering the poor to no purpose. Somebody else might be allowed to consider them in an effectual manner. It is really the case that they are being hit, as I pointed out, and not merely in the Nottingham lace trade—I come back to that because it is an exceedingly good case and the one with which I am most concerned. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to send instructions to his Commissioners as will mitigate the hardships occasioned by the introduction of this Act.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Masterman)
The serious point raised this afternoon was that raised by my hon. Friend behind me as to the question of the administration of the Act as it has affected outworkers. It is very evident from the speech that we have 2764 just listened to, and from the observations of Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman opposite has really nothing to say about the administration of the Act; his controversy is with the Act itself. We are always glad to carry on that controversy when we can do so under the rules of order, but we cannot do so at the present time. In so far as the administration has affected the coming into operation of the Act, I think almost everyone in the House will agree with me in the statement that it is a matter of great surprise that an Act of such social magnitude should be put into operation with so little social friction. Certainly in all the lengthy months which I, to the best of my ability, have given to work in connection with the Commission in building up a system of administration I never conceived that an Act affecting 14,000,000 of people, and of necessity put into operation suddenly and at a given date, would have been put into operation with so little friction, with so little uncertainty, and with on the whole such general acceptance of the conditions which have been laid down by the Commissioners. One or two difficulties which were foreseen long before the Act was introduced—they are inherent in any system of national insurance. Everyone might have known that in the beginning of the Act there would be statements of dismissal of servants, of the rearrangement of the hours of charwomen, and of that kind of treatment that we have heard of from hon. Members. After all, how few have been these cases. They are likely I think to be fewer when the misunderstandings which have been spread concerning the Act, give place to the true facts. I was perfectly right in both statements made in reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham. There is no large supply of available boy and girl labour between the ages of fourteen and sixteen which can be sucked up from other industries.
It was because that was realised by a Parliament in which the hon Member was not concerned, that it was agreed that there would be no danger in not imposing the employers' contribution upon children between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. The demand for children of this age immensely exceeds the supply. I think no one need be apprehensive because, it may be, that a lady has dismissed a servant, and a particular young person is engaged in her place, that there will be any general kind of replacement such as that which has been foretold by hon. 2765 Gentlemen opposite. In anger or owing to misunderstanding some woman may perhaps dismiss her charwoman and try to do without her. Such people will very soon find that the charwomen are worth what they have been paying them and three-pence a week extra for their insurance. In a very short time they will not only be too glad to see that this most deserving class of woman, forming a class of insured persons who will be able to derive the same benefits of the Act as women who, more fortunate than themselves, are in regular employment.
I must ask the hon. Member behind me to draw a distinction, which I should certainly draw myself, between questions of policy and questions of individuals. In the response to an appeal from all sides of the House last December, the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid down the position that the Government would in no way interfere with the discretion of the Insurance Commissioners in the appointment of individuals. It was agreed that that so far was the best way to avoid any suggestion of political corruption. Under these circumstances, if he asks me to interfere with the individual selection of those chosen by any of the four National Commissions, I must respectfully refuse to do so. The Commissions have been appointed under sanction of Parliament. They have been given the choice of their individual staffs, and the only way in which any interference could take place in the matter would be by so flagrant an example of political corruption that the Commissioners would have proved themselves unfit for their duties, and therefore would have to be removed. When the hon. Gentleman comes to his other question, I find myself largely agreeing with him. The Mowatt Report recognised at the beginning that there would have to be appointments made outside examinations—appointments made on the ground of urgency, and appointments given to persons who had special experience of trade union and friendly society work, and that in these cases, the persons being of considerable age, would not be suitable to go into competition with young men fresh from the universities. They recognised that the fewer such appointments the better on the whole. They recognised also, and the Welsh Commissioners recognised also, that in future the normal method of selecting a staff of young men and young women suitable for examination purposes would be through open 2766 examination. That, I hope, will be the method adopted by all the four Commissions.
As to the question of speaking Welsh, I must confess I am in ignorance as to the particular qualification, except from the information I have received from the Welsh Commissioners. Nor should I like to define what effective speaking in Welsh should be. I am not frightened by the universal boycotting of English in the country of which the hon. Gentleman is so distinguished a Member. I believe the Members of the Welsh Commission are not less blind to the facts of the case, or any less patriotic in their desire than my hon. Friend himself to encourage the Welsh language. I know they are making an effort to see that the needs are met of a class of the population in Wales who necessarily will have to carry on intercourse with the officers of the Commission in the Welsh tongue. Once or twice the hon. Gentleman seemed to me to confuse the staff of the Audit with the staff of the Commission. The Audit is entirely under the Treasury and the staff of the Commission is under the Welsh Commissioners. We are endeavouring to get in the Audit a certain number of Welsh-speaking persons, and in this and in the Treasury staff the conditions will be similar to those, for instance, in the Home Office in connection with the inspectors. Men must be promoted to all parts of the United Kingdom. It would be very unfair to those who are in Wales if we were to draw a line around them, and say, "You are in the Welsh-speaking portions and confined to Wales, and you shall have no right of promotion elsewhere." That is the difficulty we felt with the inspectors of factories and mines; but I think the hon. Member will find that the matter will be met as satisfactorily in this case as it was in that. I should like to express my thanks for the most moderate and businesslike speeches which have been made by several hon. Members on the other side.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for South Somerset say that the time for controversy was over, and that the time for business had arrived; that there had been to much party feeling and party capital in connection with this measure. I shall be delighted if the hon. Member will convey that expression of his opinion to his friends in Manchester. While I quite recognise that spirit and the temper shown by the hon. Member who spoke especially for the outworkers in the country districts, I trust to be able to furnish some method 2767 under the Act which will relieve the apprehensions which he rightly said are being felt. I do not want to be led into a general discussion of the difference between the outworkers and factory workers. I agree with him that a distinction may be drawn between such outwork as prevails in Somerset and such outwork as prevails in the East of London. I should be very reluctant either to drive the outworkers of Yeovil or Cornwall into factories or to do anything to militate against the village industries of that district. In fact, I think the whole future of agriculture in Ireland, and perhaps in this country too, is bound up with giving encouragement rather than discouragement to village industries on some such system as prevails in South Germany at the present time. On the other hand, it would have been I think against the wishes of everyone in this House and in all quarters who are familiar with the conditions of a good deal of outwork in big cities—certainly against the wishes of the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham, who is so much interested in this matter—if we had done anything to encourage the growth or establishment of sweated industries, of clothing industries, in the alleys and slums of big towns, and so lessened the good effect of the National Insurance Act. I only emphasise what I said again and again in the Debates upon the Bill, and what everyone who has any knowledge of national insurance schemes realises, that far the most difficult question under a national insurance scheme is this question of outworkers. We have to proceed largely tentatively and experimentally, and to watch very carefully the effects of the best methods we could devise at the moment. I do not in the least exclude possible variation in the future if the methods by which we have attempted to deal with it prove impossible and if better methods are needed. The idea of amendment of the Bill I should not exclude from the view of the Commissioners or of the Government, but at the present time I cannot possibly see that any such amendment could be useful. I am glad to have the very generous recognition from both hon. Gentlemen opposite connected with this matter, that it was impossible to make a distinction on the report of the Hatch Committee between married and unmarried outworkers. Directly you find you are dealing with units of work 2768 instead of a time measure, and therefore you may have persons, married and single, who earn exactly the same small amount of 3s. 6d. and 4s. 6d. a week, and discrimination would mean advantage for the employer who employed the married woman, I think the distinction becomes impossible. Therefore in any consideration we have to bring out the system which the Hatch Committee devised and which is in force under special Order but is still open to amendment. We have to agree that we must take all the outworkers, married and single, in similar circumstances.
Considerable negotiations have proceeded by the inspectors we have sent down to the districts of which the hon. Member opposite has a special knowledge. I understand, but I am not quite certain, and if the hon. Gentleman will put a question to me later on I will give him an answer, that by general agreement on all sides the unit of work has been established in these districts. That is so, I believe, but I have only just received the report from my inspector upon the subject. I think it would be well if we could come to some particular scheme for the workers in that condition, where as a matter of fact it does involve difficulties and where it cannot be made to work to the satisfaction of all classes concerned. On the other hand, I do not wish in the least to exclude from our consideration the suggested evidence by the hon. Member for Taunton. It is the first time I have heard the suggestion as between machine work and handwork. I am not sure how they come into competition, but I think it is well worthy of consideration. I am not quite sure whether he wants another system with smaller benefits. That is really the effect of the system devised by the Hatch Committee. It means smaller benefits through the recognition of the fact that the outworkers who earn only a small amount and do only a small amount of work would be more or less permanently in arrear. I do not think in these circumstances there would be difficulty in getting them into friendly societies. The friendly societies will recognise that they will get smaller benefits to set against the fact that they are not paying the full contribution.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
The only one I can remember at the moment is the Women's Trade Union Society, and I am not sure that applies to rural outworkers as much 2769 as to the town outworkers. But on the whole question of the outworkers, I do not want even to exclude as a possible course the elimination of all those doing that particular kind of work if it was found desirable in that particular locality. I am only suggesting that the very friendly advances made should be followed out, and if the hon. Gentlemen concerned would make it their business to come together in conference with myself and the Insurance Commissioners and our inspectors, I will certainly guarantee to carry out the promise which the hon. Member for South Somerset has mentioned, that because people are few in number they shall not suffer any kind of injustice. As to the town outworkers, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman who raised that question has been following recent events in Nottingham. He quoted from lectures given by inspectors a considerable time back. I understand that the Nottingham problem which is a great difficulty has gone very far along the lines of settlement. I agree when the Act came into operation very considerable uncertainty was felt, and very considerable objection was made as to some of the provisions in connection with outworkers. In fact, from the first report we received we realised that Nottingham would probably be the most difficult problem we had to face in putting the Act into operation. We had very considerable assistance from the Noble Lord (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck). We sent down inspectors who have been practically living there for the last few weeks. They visited all the work people and the employers, and I am told that these gentlemen are beginning to take a most hopeful view of the matter. They believe that a settlement of a unit of work can be arrived at and a full explanation of this new system of dealing with outworkers will result in a system being reached satisfactory to both parties. They recognise, and the employers recognise, that a very great effort has been made to meet their difficulties in connection with this new system. The thing could not have been done except for the new system arranged in consequence of the Act. I believe all parties are willing to give it a fair trial; they now understand it, and almost all social workers familiar with any place like Nottingham, would regard it as a calamity if the outworkers were struck out of the scheme; and partly because the getting out of the outworkers would necessarily mean more and more work passing from 2770 the factories into homes not always altogether suitable for the work done there.
I pass now from the outworkers' problem with the frank observation that I wish I were as confident of the smooth and satisfactory working of the Act in this case as I am in the case of the other problems, which hon. Gentlemen opposite brought before me, for instance, the problem of the agricultural worker. I think it is a very difficult question; I think those who devised this scheme, complicated though it is, deserve the thanks of the outworkers, for having devised a scheme which certainly baffled Parliament. It is an improvement on the old scheme. The Order is not yet confirmed, but when it is confirmed I ask that it should be given a few months' trial, and I think we shall certainly see the advantage of it to the main body of the workers throughout the country, quite apart from the question whether certain limited classes will or will not be benefited. Then it will be time to propose a modification of the special Orders, and, if necessary, a modification of the Act in order to meet the possibilities suggested.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am sorry I was not present when the Secretary to the Treasury spoke, but I would like to ask him what is the system of selection which the Treasury has laid down for the appointment of auditors, and how are those appointments made? What is the special process adopted for determining between one candidate and another? I would also like to know whether the auditors in Ireland will be responsible to the Commissioners or to the Treasury in England? For the information of the right hon. Gentleman I may say that there is the greatest possible indignation in Ireland at the method by which these selections have been made. It seems to me that the auditors who were promised appointments are hostile to the Insurance Act, and are almost entirely Tories. It is the usual thing for the Liberal party to confer all their patronage on Tories; but those who want to see the Act sympathetically administered have a right to make a protest. I think we owe it to our constituencies in Ireland that this matter ought to be raised here.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
The auditors are being appointed on the system laid down in the Report which my hon. Friend has read. Candidates are chosen possessing certain qualifications, most of whom are being subjected to a limited examination. They have been selected by a special Committee, and they are not servants of 2771 the National Insurance Commissioners. The public department under which they serve is the Treasury, and the auditors will be interchangeable, through promotion and other reasons, between the four nations.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly tell me who is the Treasury? Is it a Treasury clerk who conducts this examination? Does he call up every competent candidate who has applied or has he simply selected a few men of Tory influence?
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
An impartial Committee has been appointed which has dealt with these selections. The examination is held by the Civil Service Commission.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Then it is the good old system that exists at the Treasury to give everything to the Tories.