HC Deb 04 April 1871 vol 205 cc1175-9

Bill, as amended, considered.


stated the changes which the Government proposed to make in the Bill. The definition of the Court of Summary Jurisdiction would be identical with that in the other Bill. The Government would also accede to the suggestion of the hon. Member (Mr. Melly); and, though they did not attach much importance to it, would avoid the use of the words "Trade Unions" in the Bill. These words only occurred in the 1st clause, and in their place the Government proposed to insert the words "temporary or permanent association or combination." The definition of a trade union would also be omitted. By substituting the words he had suggested the offence would be made wider, because a trade union might be a combination with certain objects, whereas an association or combination with any objects would now be included in the Bill.

MR. AUBERON HERBERT moved an Amendment on Clause 1, to leave out to the end of sub-section 3, and insert other words in lieu thereof. The hon. Member said the clauses in the Bill took some Acts which would naturally occur during a strike, and which would not be improper in themselves, and made these acts criminal. For example, a man was to be punished for persistently following a workman from place to place with a view to coerce. But what was persistently following? Was it following a man along half a street, or whole street, or two streets? Again, suppose a man on strike followed a man who was at work in the shop and reasoned with that men, showing him the effect of his conduct, and telling him it would be "cast up" against him hereafter? The person so followed expressed no sort of objection, did not decline to enter into conversation, and continued the argument. Yet the man who followed him might be brought under the operation of the Bill as having persistently followed with a view to coerce. The fact was that under the clauses of the Bill you got into a region of subtle differences. The workman would say that he walked and talked with the other workman in order to induce; the master would say that he did so in order to coerce. How could you properly decide between the two? A few nights ago, when the Premier appealed to the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) not to bring on his Motion, it seemed to those hon. Members who supported that Motion that the right hon. Gentleman was endeavouring to coerce, although he might have thought he was only endeavouring to induce. They all knew the difference which the law attached to acts done with a motive and to acts done without a motive; but he denied that anyone could prove what was in the mind of another so that he could tell whether the resulting action was an inducement or a coercion. What happened when a strike took place? The people on strike followed those not on strike about the streets, shouting, perhaps, "Black sheep" and "Baa, baa." He wished that, in order to complete the offence, the Bill should say that he used abusive language or insulting cries. He wished to enlist the moral feelings in favour of the unions themselves, rather than try to put them down by violence. We ought to be obliged to the trades unionists for teaching us how to carry out the principles of arbitration amongst the working men. If there was any reason why the danger of revolution was less with us than it was with other countries, it was not that the condition of our working people was better than the condition of others, but because our working people had a well-grounded belief that in these associations, by their own efforts, they were working out for themselves a better state of things. He begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, In page 1, line 5, to leave out from the word "who," to the word "person," in line 14, inclusive, in order to insert the words "shall offer violence to or shall threaten or molest any person, with a view to compel such person to do any act, or to abstain from doing any act, in respect of his business or occupation, shall be liable to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding three months. A person shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to threaten another person if he act toward such person in such manner as would justify a justice of the peace, on complaint made to him, to bind over the person so threatening to keep the peace. A person shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to molest another person in any of the following cases, and no other cases (that is to say):

  1. 1. If he hide any tools, clothes, or other property owned or used by such person, or deprive him of or hinder him in the use thereof;
  2. 2. If, with two or more persons, he shall hinder any such person from free passage to or from his work or occupation, or shall follow him about with abusive language,"
—(Mr. Auberon Herbert,) —instead thereof.


protested against the tone of the speech of the hon. Member, who seemed to think that the framers of this Bill occupied a position antagonistic to those large bodies of workmen in whose interest the hon. Gentleman had addressed the House. This Bill had been brought forward to get rid of much of the narrow, unwise, and Judge-made law of which those men had had so much reason to complain. The clause brought forward by the hon. Member was framed by a member of the Trades Unions Commission (Mr. Frederick Harrison), who advocated the total repeal of the statute of George IV. without proposing any clauses in substitution. The House, however, was not prepared for any such legislation, since there were specific acts of wrong-doing which had been committed in past times and might again be attempted. In the interests of the unions themselves it was most important that those offences should be ascertained and described as definitely as was possible in the English language, which was not a clear one; and he had endeavoured in the Bill to accomplish that object by means of the clause for which the hon. Gentleman proposed a substitution. He had endeavoured to confine the legislation to offences which he thought should be redressed, and he had tried to describe the acts in a clear and intelligible manner. He had said that every person who used violence to persons or property, or who used language which would justify a magistrate in binding him over to keep the peace, should be subject to certain punishment. And then, for the word "molest" or "obstruct," which had been diversely interpreted, so as to render it difficult to know what was "molesting" and what was "obstructing," he had put down acts of molestation for the purpose of coercion, such as following a man about, hiding his tools, &c. Could anyone say that these were not acts which ought to be punishable? The hon. Gentleman said it was possible that the magistrates might strain the law against the workman, and that the magistrates would have to find a motive, and say that the act was done with a certain intent. He (the Solicitor General) did not think that it would be at all likely that the magistrates, as far as he knew them, would be inclined to strain the law in the way the hon. Gentleman supposed. But if so, the hon. Gentleman forgot that any subject of a summary conviction had a right to demand a case of the convicting magistrate, to have all the facts set out for the consideration and adjudication of one of the Courts of Law at Westminster, as to whether he had committed the offence for which he had been sentenced to punishment. This was legislation which the trades unionists themselves would desire.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

MR. MELLY moved, in line 28, after "liable to," to insert "penalty not exceeding fifty pounds, or to." The object was to give the alternative of a fine.

Amendment proposed, In page 1, line 28, after the words "liable to," to insert the words "a penalty not exceeding fifty pounds, or to."—(Mr. Melly.)


supported the Amendment. He thought it would be much better to impose a fine than imprisonment for such offences.


said, he hoped that the Amendment would not be pressed. It was a question between workmen and workmen—not between workmen and master; and the offences were such as could not properly come within the range of penalties, which would be inefficacious to prevent them. But it was well known that a nominal imprisonment might be imposed, in cases where the Judge thought proper, and where the moral guilt was very slight.


supported the Amendment. He denied that the offences in question were peculiar to workmen, and it was every way desirable that there should be the alternative of a fine. Although the Act applied to masters and masters' associations, it never would be carried out against employers.


said, that he had considerable personal experience in the matter, and it was his conviction that the punishment would be rendered utterly worthless if the alternative of a fine was allowed.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.

Bill to be read the third time upon Monday, 17th April.