HC Deb 18 February 1867 vol 185 cc513-29

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Walpole.)


said, he could not help regarding the introduction of that measure, and the circumstances connected with it, as a herald and an omen of better times with respect to the relations between the workpeople and their employers. The desire which existed among all classes, both of workmen and employers, for a full and searching investigation, might, he thought, be taken to imply a willingness on their part to submit to any consequence which might be fairly and reasonably deduced from that investigation. The existence of these combinations among working people, the great power they possessed, and the outrages supposed, whether rightly or wrongly, to have connection with them, rendered it highly important [that a Commission should be issued for the purpose of procuring a searching inquiry into the nature of these associations. He did not wish to refer to the special cases that had led to this investigation. To the Royal Commissioners, who had been well and wisely selected, the details of the inquiry ought to be referred without prejudice. Any discussion on the subject that night must be very imperfect, and might, perhaps, tend to excite instead of to assuage irritation among the different classes affected. He did not desire the proposed investigation into trade outrages at Sheffield or elsewhere to range over a very long period of time; but he thought that in lieu of restricting its scope to five years, it would be better to allow it to extend over the last ten years, or to adopt such other limit as the Secretary of State might sanction. If that alteration were made in the second clause of the Bill, satisfaction would be given to those persons in various towns who took the deepest interest in the condition of the work people and in the operation of trades unions.


said, he thought that if the inquiry into alleged trade outrages were to be rigidly confined to what had happened no longer ago than five years back, it would, in many cases, be practically useless, because such a limitation would act as a bar to complete investigation. Again, the Bill proposed to indemnify from criminal proceedings witnesses making full disclosures as to these out rages, provided they were not themselves the actual perpetrators of them. Thus the instigators of these cowardly deeds would be screened from prosecution, while those who only acted as their instruments would be deterred from giving evidence before the Commissioners. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) would gravely consider whether the measure might not be amended on these two points before it went into Committee. Some of the constituents of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roe buck) felt very strongly on these heads; and unless some alteration were made respecting them, the Bill would be practically useless. It was also most important that the constitution of the Commission should be such as not only to give satisfaction to the employed, but likewise to inspire confidence in the minds of the employers. Strong pressure appeared to have been put upon the Government in order to get what were called "the working man's friends" put upon the Commission. Now, his own experience of "the working man's friend" was, he confessed, not of a very favourable character. Generally such a person had not himself been a working man nor an employer of labour for a profit; and the sympathy which he showed towards the working classes was remarkably cheap. There was not a strong flavour merely, but a strong infusion of "the working man's friend" element in the Commission, which Commission was to investigate one of the most important questions connected with the future prosperity of this country. Then as to the legal element. He did not quarrel with the appointment of ex-Chief Justice Erie as Chairman of the Commis- sion; because he was sure that if they searched all England through they would not find a fitter man, and perhaps his presidentship would neutralize the inefficiency of other parts of the Commission. But there were not fewer than five or six gentlemen connected with the law among the Commissioners, and two out of the six held offices under the Government. Now, he had always a wholesome fear of the legal profession; but when he found that two out of the eleven Commissioners not only belonged to that profession, but were officers of the Government and in its pay, he felt, as an employer of labour, considerable qualms as to what would be the result upon the efficiency of the Commission. Out of the entire eleven Commissioners they had only one who was, properly speaking, an employer of labour. In one sense the Chairman of the Great Western Railway, who was to sit on the Commission, might be said to be an employer of labour, but they knew he had never employed labour at a profit. He did not mean that that hon. Gentleman had never profitably employed labour; but that he did not come within the ordinary category of those who employed labourers at a profit. The only person of that description on the Commission was Mr. William Matthews, of Birmingham—certainly a gentleman of the highest capacity and influence—but a Commission on such a subject, with only one employer of labour upon it, could not be said to be fairly or efficiently constituted. The object he had in view was that the Commission should be efficient; but he believed he was speaking the opinions of the great employers in the cotton, woollen, silk, iron, and pottery trades when he stated that a Commission so composed would not give satisfaction.


said, that he dissented from the view expressed by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Watkin), that these investigations ought to be carried back not only for five but for ten years. It would be very interesting, no doubt, if they could obtain a history of strikes by such means during the last ten years; but as that was not fairly within the scope of the inquiry to be conducted under the present Bill, he thought the Government acted rightly in fixing upon five years as the period to which they should restrict their inquiries, because it would be a strange thing to compel men to give evidence on oath of events that had happened ten years ago. He trusted that the Government would not accede to the suggestion that the prin cipals who had been guilty of outrages, should, by giving evidence before the Commission, be able to screen themselves from the just punishment of their crimes. As to the composition of the Commission, the hon. Member (Mr. Watkin) had said there were too many working men's friends upon it. He himself would have preferred seeing a working man instead of a working man's friend upon it. But here was one of the consequences of the confusion between the representative and the judicial functions of the Commission. If the Commission were only judicial, then he would have upon it men of marked impartiality, who had as little as possible to do with the question at issue, and who would be quite free from all but that necessary bias so difficult to be overcome by gentlemen who, from mere education and the circumstances which had always surrounded them, could not do otherwise than have more sympathy with the employer than the employed. Of course, he did not mean to say that there would be any wilful misjudging; but it was very difficult for men of that class to throw themselves into the position and to realize the views of working men. If, however, the Commission were to be representative, and information from the working man's point of view were wanted, then the presence of a working man upon the Commission would be very desirable. He desired especially to point out that the two questions to be inquired into by the Commission widely differed in their nature, and he hoped they would be kept distinct. The one was a question between workmen and workmen, and the other between workmen and employers; the one a question of outrage, the other a question of strikes and lock-outs. Police laws would, perhaps, settle the question of intimidation between workman and workman, and the more stringent the laws could be made on this point, the better for the community and for the workmen themselves. But police laws could not be made to settle differences between employers and employed, and he questioned whether courts of arbitration would succeed either. He hoped the Commission might throw light on this part of the subject; but he must be allowed to express a doubt whether any legislation could put a stop to the differences which periodically arise between those who buy and those who sell labour. It would certainly be useful to inquire how far combinations either of masters or workmen, respecting which they had heard much of late, affect the industry and prosperity of the country. They had been told that our commerce was jeopardized, and they had been recommended to look abroad to those foreign competitors, who they had been assured would rob England of, at least, the supremacy in trade which she has so long enjoyed. They had been especially referred to Belgium. But what did they see there? They found that the differences between employers and employed culminated in riots, which were suppressed by the military. This, they had been assured, was what we might expect trades unions would bring us to; but that was a wrong view of the matter. It appeared to him that through which Belgium was now going, England had passed through the stage. Whatever the failing of our workmen, and however defective their views respecting combinations, they had certainly passed the stage in which men openly set the laws at defiance and seek to gain their objects by force. Franco had been referred to as an example. The press of this country had generally given them intelligence of every strike which had taken place in England, great or small. But he had seen very little notice of a strike which so lately took place in France. In the chief coal district of France at the beginning of November last year the miners demanded three or four francs a week more wages, and stopped work on being refused. In consequence, the military were called out, and the soldiers prevented the miners from passing from place to place to induce others to join the strike. Then the Prefect issued a sentimental proclamation, calling the miners his children and telling them they were brave hearts and honest workmen, and worthy sons of France. Eventually, moved either by the display of military force, or by the eloquence of the Prefect, the miners returned to their work, but not without receiving the increased wages they had demanded. Such, then, was the course of strikes in those countries which were going to carry away England's commerce and undermine her prosperity! He was quite ready to admit that this was a dangerous and delicate subject, and it was one on which men were particularly liable to be misconstrued and misunderstood. But he would nevertheless express his belief that the evil influence of trades unions upon the prosperity of our trade had been greatly exaggerated by the press and on the platform. And if that influence had been thus exaggerated in order to alarm the middle classes, as possessors of political power, with regard to the views and objects of the class below, then, in his opinion, that heavy responsibility rested upon those who had been guilty of such exaggeration, of setting class against class. It was, in his opinion, no less a political offence to set the middle classes against the lower by the argument of alarm than to set the lower against the governing classes by the argument of abuse. He had no sympathy with trades unions himself; and, as a political economist, representing a mercantile community, he was bound to watch them with anxiety—nay, even with distrust. He did not, however, think it on that account fair to accept the statement that the commerce of the country was endangered by those organizations without the most thorough investigation. He was therefore glad that inquiry into the subject was to be instituted. The commerce of the country had a deep interest in this question; but they ought not to assert that the prosperity of their trade was in danger because there had been more strikes than usual in the last six months. He trusted the Commission would be able to remove the obstacles to agreement between masters and men. But he thought that the events they now witnessed would have a more powerful effect on workmen than the Report of any Royal Commission. When they found that doors ready made, windows, window-frames, and even locomotives, were imported from abroad—they would, he thought, see the foolishness of their persisting in their present course. If it were possible by legislative action to improve the relations between employers and employed, by all means let it be done. For himself, he very much doubted whether much could be accomplished by such agency. The best way to effect a change for the better was, he thought, to bring public opinion to bear on the question; and the more the discussion of these burning questions was removed from the committee-rooms of trades unions to a wider area and a more public assembly, the more likely was it to lead to a satisfactory solution.


I think, Sir, the position I occupy in rising to address the House on this subject is a still more delicate one than that of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, inasmuch as my name is on the list of the Commission. It so happens that I have been very much mixed up with this matter. I was in fact at its very inception; and, if the House will permit, I will state one or two circumstances which may tend to clear away much of the ambiguity by; which it is surrounded, and to remove some difficulties from the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, which now, it seems to me, is not a little confused and obfuscated. In the course of last year a dispute arose between a particular workman in Sheffield and a body of workmen. Very soon after that man's house was blown up by gunpowder. One side of it was blown out, himself and his family escaping destruction by a miracle. This outrage excited great indignation in Sheffield. A committee was appointed for the purpose of discovering the perpetrators of it. Large rewards were offered with the same object, but without avail. The committee afterwards put themselves in communication with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department (Mr. Walpole), and asked him to permit them to wait upon him and lay their views on the matter before him. He assented to their request, and they asked myself and my hon. Colleague to introduce them. We did introduce them, and I thought the subject so delicate that I wrote down what I proposed to say to the right hon. Gentleman on paper. After reading it I handed to him the paper, in which it was clearly and positively stated that it was the feeling of the manufacturers of Sheffield that the outrage in question, as well as similar outrages in years past, had been suggested, suborned, and paid for by the trades unions. That was the distinct proposition laid down by the manufacturers. They told the right hon. Gentleman that they had offered large rewards to discover the perpetrators of the crime; that they had come up to London to ask him to issue a Commission for the purpose of making inquiry into the case; that the Commission must, to be effectual, be furnished with Parliamentary powers, and pointing out in what they thought those powers ought to consist. Very soon after, an account of this interview having been published, the working men of Sheffield addressed the right hon. Gentleman, asking permission to wait upon him, and—taking a course which, I must say, was I think complimentary to me as showing their belief in my impartiality—asked me to introduce them. I was accompanied also by my hon. Colleague on that occasion, and I wrote down as before what I intended to say. What was the statement of these men? They alleged that they had been falsely accused, and, in almost the very words used by the manufacturers, they asked for a full and searching inquiry into their whole conduct. So entirely innocent did they feel, they said, that they shrank from no investigation. They added, however, that they thought twenty years too long a period to go back; that many persons had within that time died; and that the inquiry would, as a consequence, be attended with considerable difficulty. I accordingly limited the time to ten years in the paper which the right hon. Gentleman has now in his possession. Shortly after this interview the manufacturers of Sheffield wrote to me, begging me to re-consider the subject of time, and stating that, in their opinion, twenty years was by no means too long a time. I did re-consider the matter. I again waited on the right hon. Gentleman, and told him the representations which the manufacturers had made to me, adding that I still adhered to the ten years. Thereupon, the right hon. Gentleman said he thought he could suggest a mode which would suit all parties. He believed, as I believed, that a Commission appointed by him would gain the confidence of both the working men and their employers, and that in the hands of its members might be safely left the question as to whether the inquiry should be enlarged. The right hon. Gentleman, in substance, said:—"We can give the Commission elastic powers, so that if they should see fit to carry the investigation back beyond ten years, they will be at liberty to do so on their own responsibility." So the matter stood; but we have this evening been treated to a fantastic dissertation as to the difference between an inquiry into the perpetration of an outrage and one into the principles of political economy. The whole thing, however, is as clear as sunlight as put by the manufacturers of Sheffield. They say that the inquiry should be instituted to discover the truth as to what has been the conduct of the men who are members of trades unions, and also as to how those societies have affected the trade of Sheffield. Talk as you like about the doctrines of political economy—on which I suppose my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) is the best authority to whom you could have recourse—but the real simple point to be inquired into is, have the offences alleged been committed, as suggested? The masters say they have; the workmen say they have not; and the Commission is appointed to decide between them. I am told there ought to be a working man upon it; but let me suppose that a butcher is accused of murder, do you think it necessary that there should be a butcher on the jury by whom he is tried? I would like to have had a Commission composed of three persons, having at the head of it the distinguished, and I might say revered, Judge already named, assisted by two grave, candid, and intelligent assessors. That would have been enough to have inquired into the political economy of the question. The thing is quite clear if we do not mystify it, and bring fantastic notions to bear upon it. It is no use attempting to frighten the working man, for he says he is not to be frightened, that he is innocent, and that he will prove his innocence if you afford him the opportunity of doing so. The Commission will give him leave, and all we ask is to have power to manage matters so as to bring out the truth. But how can we bring out that truth? All these outrages, say the masters, have been perpetrated by the same hand, and though that hand has been bought and instigated by persons behind the scenes, yet all these acts have been the deed of a single man, and the masters think that by giving impunity to that person we shall be able to get at the truth. I go one step further, and say if you give impunity, not only to the man who committed the deed, but also to the man who suggested it—for we do not aim at punishment—we are still more likely to learn the truth. We shall then arrive at what we want to learn. We do not want punishment or penal laws; what we want to learn is whether the trades unions of this country are so conducted that they tend to the damage of our trade and commerce. If you think that the men on the Commission are not honourable men, or if you think that they are unfit for the duty, by all means change them, for there are men in England quite sufficient and equal to the inquiry. Make a careful choice, but give the Commission power to make a full inquiry. This is a very serious matter, and one that ought not to be dealt with lightly. There are great interests concerned, and it becomes us to inquire into the matter impartially. As far as I am concerned, I would rather not be on the Commission; but, being on it, I will bring an impartial mind to bear upon the subject. I care neither for one side or the other. I am, however, firmly convinced that we shall not be able to make a full inquiry unless we are able to extend pardon to all who have been concerned.


said, that the hon. Member for Sheffield had asked whether, supposing a butcher was accused of murder, a butcher should be on the jury? He would put another question. Supposing there was an inquiry into the conduct of butchers and graziers, affecting the public, would it be desirable that the Commission of Inquiry should consist of graziers and consumers, without a single butcher. That was precisely the situation in which the workmen were placed with regard to the Commission, through what he must be permitted to call the precipitancy of the Home Secretary. He thought that if the right hon. Gentleman had taken the working men into his counsels he would hardly have made the omission. If the right hon. Gentleman were determined to inquire into the outrages at Sheffield, it would be the opinion not of the workmen of Sheffield only, but of the workmen of London and throughout the country, that no Commission could possibly give satisfaction to both the parties unless both were fully represented. Yet they had on this Commission two employers of labour, one of them at least an employer for profit. More than that, however respected those gentlemen might be as individuals, they were connected exactly with those branches of trade, the iron and coal trade and the engineering, that had been most disturbed by strikes. Yet there was not a single workman. He was aware that Mr. Harrison had been approved of by a deputation of working men that had waited upon the Home Secretary, headed by a gentleman with whom the right hon. Gentleman had had many interviews of late, Mr. George Potter; but he could not learn that the representatives of the trades unions, as a body, had ever been consulted as to the composition of the Commission. It was, perhaps, too late to alter that now; but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would devise some plan by which working men might be more directly represented or might be present at the inquiry. With regard to the limitation of the Commission, he approved of its being confined to five years. If they wanted to go farther, and to have a history of trades unions, they ought also to inquire into the prior events which caused trades unions. It might suit the honour of the Sheffield workmen to extend this inquiry, but what good would it do to the country at large? He feared that if it went farther back the old grievances of the workmen, including the truck system, might crop up. To put down that system it had been necessary to have recourse to legislative measures of the most stringent character. Indeed, it would be found that in many, if not in all of the trades, where a feeling of hostility towards the masters prevailed at present, it might be traced to acts of oppression on the part of the masters at a former period. A3 to foreign legislation, he did not think they had much knowledge to get from abroad. The French workmen had not had the right to combine for increase of wages for more than two years, and their right of meeting was only one year old. The Tribunals of Conciliation—Conseils des Prud' hommes as they were called—did not meet to settle strikes or combinations at all, but only to decide on questions arising out of agreements previously made between employers and employed. If any Council to arbitrate between the workmen and the masters were to be set up in this country, it had yet to be invented.


I think, Sir, I may divide the debate of this evening into two branches. One is a branch of the subject not strictly before us—namely, the constitution of the Commission, the position and terms upon which the Commission is to act, and the extent to which the inquiry is to go. The other, which is strictly before us, confines itself to the provisions of the Bill, in reference to which several suggestions have been made. Upon each of those suggestions I will offer a few remarks. Following the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen) into that portion of his speech with regard to the composition of this Commission, I cannot but observe that when I see the manner in which different Gentlemen have spoken of this Commission, and that their opinions exactly balance each other, it seems to me that the impartiality which I wished to attain in this Commission has been fully accomplished. The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Watkin) complains that on this Commission the masters will have no power. The hon. Member who has just sat down takes an entirely different view of the question, and complains that while there are masters on the Commission, the workmen are excluded. Now, it ought to be borne in mind that if any workmen were to be appointed on the Commission then yon must have had a corresponding number of masters. The country would not have been satisfied unless you did that. But I believed it was better to do with regard to this Commission what is usually and wisely done in all Commissions of a judicial character—namely, that in such a case none of the parties who are directly concerned in the issue should be put upon the Commission; but that those men should be placed there who, without being directly concerned, take a deep interest in the subject, and are able to represent the views of the different parties. That, I believe, I have completely accomplished. It has been objected that there are two masters on the Commission—one of the gentlemen referred to is my hon. Friend the Member for Cricklade (Sir Daniel Gooch); but I am quite sure there is no man on the Commission or in this House who would more truly represent the workmen. The other is Mr. William Matthews; and I am equally sure there is no one who will inspire either master or workman with more satisfaction and confidence. Whom have we appointed on behalf of the workmen? Let it not be forgotten that I earnestly wished the ablest writer and philosopher on these subjects to allow his name to be placed on the Commission. I entreated the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill) to act, that he might represent the political economy of the question, as well as the interests of the working men, and give both masters and workmen the benefit of his philosophy and experience. More than that, let it not be forgotten that we did appoint two persons who have given great attention to this subject—first the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Thomas Hughes), who is known to take the deepest interest in all that concerns the elevation of the working classes; and next a barrister, Mr. Frederic Harrison, who has written more ably on this subject, in favour of trades unions, than any other author I know of. If any Member in the House has read Mr. Harrison's works, he will know that I do not in the least exaggerate when I affirm, that there is no man who more fully, more completely, or more ably represents the views of the working classes than Mr. Harrison. With regard to the objection that employers and workmen are not properly represented on the Commission, I can only say that if I were engaged in any business or profession which was made the subject of inquiry, I would infinitely prefer that the persons selected to adjudicate on the matter should not be interested as parties, though of course I should wish them to be competent to judge of the whole case. With regard to the other members of the Commission, the hon. Member for Stockport complains that there are on it six lawyers and two officials. The hon. Member is wrong in both instances. There may be six members on the Commission who have been lawyers, but there are not two who are now in practice. So with regard to the officials he is also wrong. I presume the hon. Member refers to Mr. Herman Merivale and Mr. Booth. It is true the one gentleman is in the Colonial Office; the other was connected with the Board of Trade, and he was also a lawyer, but he has retired from both, and I venture to say you will find no men better fitted to manage this inquiry than they are. If you analyse this Commission, I believe you will find that it is composed of honourable and impartial men—that the views of the employers and the employed are fully represented; and I trust that, presided over as it will be by that able man (Sir William Erie) who is at its head, and in whose fairness every one has the most perfect confidence, I have no fear but that it will be conducted in the fairest and most impartial manner. With regard to one or two other points. The right hon. Member for the City (Mr. Goschen) on a former occasion criticized the terms of the Commission as if the whole affair was made to hang on the outrages at Sheffield. I felt the justice of that criticism; and I took advantage of the appointment of Mr. Harrison to cancel the first Commission, which had been signed and countersigned, and could not therefore be altered; and in the new Commission I have adopted words which I hope will meet the right hon. Gentleman's views. With regard to the limitation of the period of examination for five years, I may state that it was first intended to extend the inquiry to the last twenty years, and we afterwards limited it to ten. But, after all, our object is not so much to inquire for the purpose of detecting outrages, as to inquire how far those outrages are connected with trades unions. For this purpose I doubt whether it will be necessary to go more than five years back, or at any rate for more than ten years back. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) thinks we ought to have gone further. That is a point rather for the consideration of the Committee; and if the Committee should be of opinion that five years is not a sufficient period in which to trace out the connection, supposing it to exist, then power may be taken to go back for five years more. Another point was made by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, who complained that indemnity was not granted even to the actual perpetrators of these outrages. I confess that if these outrages had not been connected with the worst crime known to law—to that of murder—it might have been reasonable to extend the indemnity even to the actual perpetrators of the outrages. But I entertain grave doubts whether we ought to give a Parliamentary indemnity to persons who on inquiry may be found guilty of an attempt to murder. This, however, is a grave question, which ought not to be discussed on the Second reading of the Bill; but it will be for the House to consider the subject fully and deliberately in Committee. I will only express my hope that I may draw from the observations made in the House—which I have heard with great satisfaction—an augury that much good will result from this inquiry, and that it will lead to a better state of feeling between masters and workmen. If that should be the result, I can only say there are few measures I have had the honour to submit to the House that will afford me in the retrospect more satisfaction than that Bill which is now, I trust, about to be read for a second time.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would allow a little time to elapse before the Bill went into Committee. It had only been recently introduced, and it had taken some of the leading men of Sheffield by surprise. His constituents were of opinion that a longer period than five years was necessary in order to get at the facts; and also that it was absolutely necessary that the Commission should have the power of indemnifying principals who had been engaged in unlawful acts. When it was recollected that a reward of £1,000, supplemented by a reward of £100 by the Government, had not had the effect of detecting the persons who were engaged in the recent transactions at Sheffield, it showed how well the secret was kept, and that it would be impossible to arrive at the truth without some such power as he suggested was given to the Commissioners. He had been informed that evidence of a surprising character would be given if it were done. The inquiry was not for the purpose of convicting the perpetrators of heinous offences, but to ascertain what was the effect of trades unions on the commission of crime; and therefore it was that he pressed, at the request of his constituents, the latter point on the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. He concurred with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham (Mr. Samuelson), who was one of the largest employers of labour in Lancashire, that it would have given greater confidence if a workman had been appointed on the Commission. It was a hopeful sign of the times that the masters and men had joined in a petition to the Government for the appointment of this Commission.


said, he very much regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had in his Bill mixed up two distinct questions—namely, the outrages that had been committed at Sheffield, and an inquiry into the operation of trades unions in other places, because he was inclined to think it would prejudice the Report that might be made to the House. He acknowledged the excellent disposition with which the right hon. Gentleman had met the question, and he deserved great credit for the open manner in which he had constituted the Commission. At the same time, he thought it would have been more desirable if the right hon. Gentleman had put a working man on the Commission; and he could not understand why a working man and a master had not been named on it. He had seen the advantage of this in the town he had the honour to represent. An hon. Gentleman sitting near him had said that no attempt had been made in England to constitute boards of conciliation and arbitration; but in Nottingham there had been a most successful instance, of it. In Nottingham, which was the centre of the hosiery and glove trade, boards of conciliation and arbitration had worked most successfully. Up to 1860 strikes were very frequent in that district, and of the most dangerous description. It would be recollected that Luddism originated there, in striking against the introduction of improved machinery. There were a few strikes in 1860, and in the autumn of that year the masters and men met and formed boards of conciliation and arbitration, consisting at first of nine masters and nine men, but they were now composed of seven masters and seven men, and from 1860 down to the present time, although great distress in the trade had existed, there had not been a single strike or lock-out. The men elected the president, the masters the vice-president. The conciliation shown by the masters had been appreciated by the men, and the rate of wages was amicably discussed and settled. The truck system and the payment of wages on Saturday night—which caused great inconvenience through the markets being closed—had been abolished through their agency. That beneficial change was owing to the exertions of a gentleman who was at the head of the Nottingham trade. He pressed on the Government the propriety of the examination of the president and vice-president of these boards by the Royal Commissioners. He had been informed that most of the evils that had occurred to the trade and commerce of Nottingham were owing not so much to the effects of trades unions as to the ignorance that prevailed amongst the working classes, and the necessity there was of promoting some great system of national education. He had been told by a large manufacturer at Nottingham, who had also a large manufactory in Saxony, that he felt greater apprehension from the want of education than from the effect of trades unions. That gentleman employed 750 hands in Saxony, and although they worked for lower wages than his work-people obtained in this country, he felt humbled in being obliged to admit that their knowledge on all questions was superior to that of his English workmen. That gentleman also said that until they promoted education and dissipated ignorance there was greater danger to apprehend from the latter than from trades unions to the trade and commerce of the country. Much as it was the fashion to flatter the masters, and to run down trades unions, in consequence of the outrages that had been committed of late in one district, there was much to be said for them. If the working classes were met in a spirit of conciliation they, like other men, would not be insensible to it. He regretted that the two questions had been mixed up; but even as it was, he thought nothing but good could result from the inquiry.


said, he thought his right hon. Friend had performed a great public good by issuing this Commission, and he was able to state from personal observation that the working men were in favour of this inquiry. At the large meeting of workmen recently held in Scotland, he put it to them whether, in the event of an inquiry taking place, and it was shown that trades unions acted injuriously, they would abandon them so far as strikes were concerned, and accept the medium of courts of conciliation, and they replied they would. That, at any rate, showed good feeling on the part of the men. Only to-day he had received a letter expressing a hope, on behalf of 90,000 or 100,000 men, that this Bill might pass through Parliament as rapidly as possible. There was one point to which he wished to call the attention of his right hon. Friend. It did not affect the inquiry generally so much as the labour of the Commission. Having the honour to be a member of the Commission, along with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), he must refer to the second clause, the phraseology of which led to the conclusion that the inquiry could only take place at Sheffield. The Commission would be bound, unless they had the special permission of the Home Secretary, to sit permanently at Sheffield. He doubted whether even his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield would like that, and certainly the other members of the Commission were under the impression that the inquiry might be conducted in London.


said, his attention had been called to this point. The second clause referred not to the general inquiry, but to the outrage at Sheffield, which would have to be inquired into on the spot.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday.