HC Deb 26 June 1861 vol 163 cc1613-7

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [8th. May], That the Bill be now read a second time;' and which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months.

Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


said, he wished to remind the House that the Bill was only a reproduction of a measure, the principle of which had been previously approved by a Select Committee, and received the sanction of the House in the previous Session. The law on the subject as it stood was not satisfactory. The provision for arbitration in the statute of 1824 was of a very complex character, and did not sufficiently facilitate the operation. The main difference between the Bill and the statute was that the latter did not permit the arbitrator to be named until a dispute had actually arisen, while the former proposed that the arbitrator should be appointed beforehand, while all parties were in concord and good temper. The Court of Arbitration was to be established on the voluntary principle, and to receive the sanction of one of the Ministers of the Crown. Some parts of the Bill which had been most objected to were, in point of fact, taken literatim from the existing Act. The hon. and learned Solicitor General, for instance, opposed the provision for establishing a rate of wages, which it happened was borrowed from the statute.


said, he believed the Solicitor General expressly pointed out that fact.


observed, that groundless apprehensions were also entertained that the Bill would create a charge on the Consolidated Fund. It was, however, specially provided in Clause 16, that the expanses of the Courts were to be paid by fees from the parties who made use of them. That was in strict analogy with the present statute, by which certain fees were fixed by the justice who served as arbitrator, and charged upon the parties who appealed to him. The Bill was framed at the suggestion of large bodies of working people as the best mode of getting rid of the difficulties of the present system, and of establishing a tribunal easy of access and simple in operation for the arrangement of disputes. The measure was not intended to settle strikes, but he believed it would tend greatly to prevent them, as it would promote a more friendly spirit between masters and workmen, and afford an opportunity of conciliation before any open controversy broke out. He could have understood the opposition to the Bill if it had come from those who were generally opposed to the claims of the working classes, but he could not understand its proceeding from hon. Gentlemen who were loud in their assertions that the great need of the workman was liberty to vote for Members of Parliament and a larger share of political power, because he knew no better training for the exercise of that power which could be given to working men than by means of such a Bill as this, allowing them to manage their own affairs, and to see how difficult a matter government was.


said, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would persist in his Motion for the rejection of the Bill, because he was anxious that the working men should be allowed to manage their own affairs without the intervention of Parliament by means of a most ineffectual measure. The decisions of the Councils to be appointed under the Bill would only bind those who had become parties to the appointment of the Councils, and would have no power over those who were beyond that line. For that reason the measure would be perfectly useless. Parties were now at perfect liberty to appoint arbitrators and refer their differences to them for settlement. [Mr. AYRTON: Not to establish a Court.] They could have arbitrators; and it was because he did not want to establish a Court of Arbitration, which would be ineffectual, that he thought it would be desirable to reject the Bill at once. The machinery of the Bill would by no means effect the object to which it was intended to be directed. There was to be a registry of voters by whom the Councils were to be elected, and who would be the persons who would be bound by their decisions. But workmen were so continually changing their places of employment that it would be impossible to keep those lists correctly, and new workmen would come in who would not be on the registry, and, therefore, not bound to accept the decisions of the Council; and even if the list were accurate, an employer might at any time practically set aside a decision of the Council by discharging from his service all the men whose names were upon this list, and employing only those who were not inscribed thereon. He yielded to no one in his desire to improve and elevate the condition of the working classes, but he declined to vote for a measure which would only fill them with delusive hopes; and he thought that the workmen would be consulting their own interests far more if they relied upon the general principles which regulated the payment of wages for labour, and placed that reasonable confidence in the masters which, in the main, he believed they were entitled to.


said, that the principle of the measure had already been sanctioned by existing Acts of Parliament. Those Acts had proved entirely ineffectual, and hence the necessity for this Bill. It was, he thought, exceedingly desirable that before evil blood arose between the masters and men, a few cool, deliberate, and sensible men should have the points in dispute submitted to them, so as to see if their differences could not be settled. He admitted that a greater spirit of conciliation existed now than formerly, but he thought the adoption of some such measure as this was absolutely necessary, especially when they considered the prospect of a short supply of cotton in the winter. He hoped, therefore, that the House would repeat its sanction of the principle by reading the Bill a second time, and he had no doubt that his hon. friend who had charge of it would be ready to consider any objections which might be urged against its details when the House went into Committee. What would be thought by the intelligent and improving population of our large towns if the House summarily rejected the principle of conciliation? The hon. Gentleman bad said that there would be a great fluctuation in the lists of voters, but he seemed to have overlooked the circumstance that the Bill required a residence of six months before a workman could become an elector of these tribunals.


said, that the Bill having last year passed that House unani- mously, and been read a second time in the House of Lords, it would be stultifying the House to throw it out upon the second reading. It would be like saying that the House having in 1860 voted that white was white, it was in 1861 to vote that it was black. The Bill was referred to a Committee upstairs, upon which there were five hon. Members who were large employers of labour—namely, the present Lord Mayor of London (Alderman Cubitt), the hon. Member for Finsbury (Sir M. Peto), the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), the hon. Member for Coventry (Sir J. Paxton). and the hon. Member for Old-ham (Mr. Fox), and that Committee came unanimously to the following Report:— From the evidence taken before them, in which both masters and operatives were examined, and also, after referring to the evidence taken before the Committee appointed in 1856, your Committee have come to the unanimous opinion, that the voluntary formation of equitable Councils of Conciliation would tend to promote a more friendly understanding between the employers and employed, to soften any irritation that might arise, and in most cases to prevent the growth of such a spirit of antagonism as too often leads to a strike. Your Committee concur in the opinion expressed in the Report of 1856, that 'From the evidence before them they cannot but arrive at the conclusion that the formation of Courts of Conciliation in the country, more especially in manufacturing, commercial, and mining districts, would be beneficial; that by these means both the masters and operatives would be enabled each from their own class or calling to appoint referees, an equal number by each party, having the power to elect a chairman.' Your Committee have considered the Bill which has been referred to them by the House, and are unanimously of opinion, that if the Bill passes into a law it will promote the welfare and good understanding between masters and operatives, and be advantageous to the country. Your Committee, in conclusion, add, that there is nothing in the Bill that gives power to any Council to regulate the rate of wages in any prospective manner whatever. After such a Report it surely was not enough for the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to say, Sic volo, sic jubeo, est pro ratione voluntas, and, without stating a single argument against the principle of the Bill, to ask the House to reject it on the second reading. The hon. and learned Solicitor General showed by his speech against the Bill that he did not understand the question. He had opposed the measure on the ground that the existing Act, the 4 Geo. IV., c. 96, was sufficient; but he seemed to have forgotten, or to have been ignorant, that, owing to the objection of the operatives to the appointment of the arbitrators by the magis- trates, that Act was perfectly inoperative. The object of the Bill was to soften the feeling between masters and operatives, and so prevent strikes. He was recently informed by a well-informed workman that some workmen opposed the Bill because it would prevent strikes. He asked him how, and the reply was, o' If five of our men meet five masters and agree to anything they will come among us and' spread such division, that it will be impossible to have a strike." Under these circumstances he hoped that the House would consent to read the Bill a second time.

Question put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main. Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.