Oral Answers to Questions — Dock Workers' Trade Dispute.

– in the House of Commons on 4th July 1923.

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Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that there are about 25,000 dock workers out on strike in several seaport towns, as a protest against the reduction of 1s. per day in their wages, which has taken place in accordance with the agreement arrived at last August, in consequence of the drop of 10 points in the official cost of living since that date; if he is aware that the dock and other organised workers are absolutely dissatisfied with the way in which the cost of living is arrived at; if he is aware that a mistake made of one point in arriving at the cost of living means a reduction in wages amounting to at least £100,000 per week; and why the Committee he promised has not been set up to investigate how the cost of living is arrived at?

Photo of Mr Harry Gosling Mr Harry Gosling , Stepney Whitechapel and St George's

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether the Minister is aware that the fall of one point in the cost of living figures between May and June, and a total of 10 points between September and June, have occasioned considerable difficulty in giving effect to certain agreements, owing to the inability of housewives to reconcile the prices quoted by the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" with the actual retail prices: what is the process of obtaining prices and calculating the cost of living figures; and whether, having regard to the changes which have taken place in the standard of living between the ascertainment of the basis of calculations, the Minister does not agree that the time has arrived for setting up an inquiry into the whole matter?

Photo of Mr Anderson Barlow Mr Anderson Barlow , Salford South

I am aware that a stoppage of dock labour has occurred at several ports. In September last an agreement was reached which provided for a reduction of the minimum daily wage by 1s. on and after October, 1922; and for a further reduction of 1s. on and after 4th June, 1923, so soon as, to summarise it shortly, the cost of living figure had fallen 10 points. The cost of living figure for September was 79. It is now 69, i.e., the full 10-point reduction has now taken place. The figure has been falling continuously in each of the last six months, and on three occasions (including the last) it fell by one point and no more. As regards the last part of the question, I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for the Moseley Division (Mr. Hannon) on 24th April last, in which I stated that it will be desirable, when working-class conditions become more normal, that an inquiry into working-class expenditure should be made as a preliminary part of an investigation into the whole question of the cost of living figure. It is quite clear that any calculations based on conditions as at present would not form a reasonable basis for the future. With regard to the question asked by the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Gosling), I am sending him a full statement showing the process by which the monthly cost of living figures prepared by my Department are arrived at. As the hon. Member knows, the figures are based upon more than 5,000 returns obtained from shopkeepers all over the country, including multiple shops, co-operative societies, etc. The prices so arrived at are, of course, an average for the whole country, and may not coincide with particular prices in any particular area.

Photo of Mr James Sexton Mr James Sexton , St Helens

Are not the index figures of the Board of Trade based more upon the wholesale than upon the retail prices?

Photo of Mr Anderson Barlow Mr Anderson Barlow , Salford South

Yes. I am glad that that supplementary question has been asked, because there seems to be some confusion in the public mind. The Board of Trade index figures are wholesale index figures; the Ministry of Labour index figures are retail index figures.

Photo of Mr Harry Gosling Mr Harry Gosling , Stepney Whitechapel and St George's

What is the answer to what the housewives say when they go to market and find that the Board of Trade figures do not operate?

Photo of Mr Anderson Barlow Mr Anderson Barlow , Salford South

I am afraid the hon. Member has rather continued the confusion which I attempted to avoid. He refers to the Board of Trade figures, but it is the Ministry of Labour figures that he has in mind, because he is dealing with retail prices. When the housewife makes a remark of that kind, the reply is the reply that I gave in the last part of my answer, namely, that the figure arrived at is an average figure, taking returns from 5,000 sources all over the country, and, consequently, you cannot rely on that average so arrived at as giving a true guide in any one particular area. It is an average figure for the whole country.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

Would the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the publication in some form of the information which is to be sent to the hon. Member for Whitechapel?

Photo of Mr Anderson Barlow Mr Anderson Barlow , Salford South

I think there will be no difficulty about that. It is a summarised and, perhaps, rather simpler form of the very full statement which was published in the "Labour Gazette" last year, indicating very clearly and fully the exact process by which the figure was arrived at. That statement was couched in rather technical terms, and I have endeavoured to make a somewhat simpler statement.

Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

May I ask another supplementary question?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I think it would be convenient if the statement were printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

Will the right hon. Gentleman come along with me and bring two Treasury Notes, and spend them in the shops, comparing the result with the retail prices published in the "Labour Gazette," in order to find out for himself?

Photo of Mr John Muir Mr John Muir , Glasgow Maryhill

If the information as to prices given by the Ministry of Labour is to serve as a guide to people in estimating the cost of living, and in calcu- lating the ratio of their own purchases to the figures given by the Ministry of Labour, could not the right hon. Gentleman provide that estimates should be got from various districts that could be classified, and an average given for each district rather than for the whole country?

Photo of Mr Anderson Barlow Mr Anderson Barlow , Salford South

The figure is a national figure, and I think that, if we attempted to arrive at particular figures for particular areas, we should, indeed, be in difficulties, and should be even more criticised than we are at present.

Photo of Mr Valentine McEntee Mr Valentine McEntee , Walthamstow West

Is it not a fact that the practice of averaging figures all over the country works out generally detrimentally to the large towns, and particularly to London?

Photo of Mr Anderson Barlow Mr Anderson Barlow , Salford South

I cannot say that, I do not think it does, because so many of the returns are furnished by the towns themselves. I think it is only fair to add that all these circumstances were, I assume, present to the minds of the persons who signed agreements embodying this figure as the test. It was known, at the time when these agreements were made, that the figure was made up in the way I have indicated.

Photo of Mr John Jones Mr John Jones , West Ham Silvertown

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I desire to move the Adjournment of the House, in order to consider a matter of urgent public importance, namely, the threatened stoppage of the whole riverside transport of the country in view of the dissatisfaction of the men with the way in which they are at present finding themselves placed.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The Adjournment of the House cannot be moved because of a dispute in an industry. This has often been ruled.

Photo of Mr John Jones Mr John Jones , West Ham Silvertown

It is not important or urgent!