§ Mr. DEVLIN
asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) whether his attention has been called to those portions of the Report for 1909 of the medical officer of health for Belfast, in which he states that there are over 8,000 home-workers employed in connection with the linen and cognate trades; that in 174 houses occupied by these workers it was found necessary to issue cleansing orders, and that in fifty-six houses legal notices were served to cleanse on account of the filthiness of the houses; that this home-work necessitated prolonged and arduous labour, even far into the night, in order to procure the bare necessities of life; and that, under such circumstances, the home rapidly became a most unsuitable place for use as a work-room; that some of these workers had to sew 384 dots for 1d., that it was not possible to estimate the amount of consumption due to the sweating; that thirty-two cases of infectious diseases were reported in these outworkers' homes during the year, including six of erysipelas, two of diphtheria, seventeen of scarlet fever, one of puerperal fever, four of typhoid fever, and two of consumption; and whether, in view of these statements and of the information in the possession of the Board of Trade on this subject, it is his intention to take any and, if so, what steps to deal with this evil in Belfast? (2) whether, in view of the fact that the evils of the sweating system in Belfast are 709W admitted; that there is an almost unanimous local demand for an official inquiry into the matter; and that, notwithstanding this, he feels that he has no authority to order such an inquiry, he will send a special representative of the Board of Trade to make inquiries in Belfast and publish the results of his investigations into this matter; (3) whether his attention has been called to the statement in the Report for 1909 of the medical officer of health for Belfast, that from the very low rates of pay must be deducted the time spent in visiting the warehouse for work, the necessary upkeep of the workers' sewing machine, and the price of the thread used in sewing, which is almost invariably provided by the worker; that, after these deductions are made, the amount left to the workers is so extremely small as to make one wonder if they are benefited by the work at all; that much the same scale of pay is found among the workers at various processes of the linen trade, those workers constituting the larger proportion of outworkers in Belfast; that 1d. per hour is the ordinary rate, and in many instances it falls below this; that it cannot be too frequently or strenuously insisted that such underpaid labour must inevitably cripple, and in great part nullify, the good effects of any schemes of health reform; and that the under-fed, over-wrought physique of the sweated worker, with its weakened stamina and lack of resistance to the inroads of disease, is undoubtedly one of the main causes of a high death rate; and what, if any, action he proposes to take in regard to this state of affairs?
I am considering, in consultation with my right hon Friend the Home Secretary, the best steps to take to obtain further information as to the conditions prevailing in the Belfast trades referred to in these questions.