HC Deb 14 February 1871 vol 204 cc257-73

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to Trades Unions, said, it was always a matter for regret where delay occurred in the removal of admitted grievances, and it was agreed upon all sides that the subject of the large trades unions was one upon which legislation had been for some time urgently required. The delay which had occurred with reference to this subject was not, however, without compensation, because it had afforded time for the examination of the great mass of evidence which had been accumulated by the Commission which had been appointed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. S. Walpole) in 1867, which would aid greatly in framing a useful measure. He (Mr. Bruce) regarded the subject as a delicate and a difficult one, and one which required him to appeal to the consideration of the House; but he was cheered in the task he had undertaken by the recollection of what had occurred in 1869, when the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes) brought on his Bill for a second reading. On that occasion the House was addressed by several hon. Members, themselves large employers of labour, some of whom had been signal sufferers from strikes, and the fairness with which the discussion was conducted inspired him with the greatest confidence in appealing to the sense of justice of the House. The only objection to the Bill came from the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. E. Potter) who, however, limited his objection to the consideration that, inasmuch as ignorance had a great deal to do with trade outrages, an Education Bill ought to precede a Trades Union Bill, and that that Bill should contain a strong compulsory power. Such a measure had passed the House, although not exactly fulfilling all the conditions desired by his hon. Friend. Before proceeding to describe the Bill he proposed to introduce on the part of the Government, he desired to advert to the laws which, had regulated the relations between master and servant. The first Act upon the subject was a very memorable one. It was passed in signal defiance of that which was assumed to be a maxim of political economy—namely, that, with certain limitations, the price of labour must always be regulated by the relation of demand and supply. The Statute of Labourers was passed in the reign of Edward III. In that reign occurred the terrible scourge called the Black Death, by which one-third of the people was supposed to have been carried off. The decreased number of labourers led them to demand increased wages, and thereupon the Statute of Labourers, was passed, enacting— That every person, able in body and under the age of 60 years, not having enough to live upon, being required, shall be bound to serve him that doth require him, or else be committed to goal until he shall find surety to serve, and that the old wages shall be given and no more; Showing that industry was then regarded as a duty to the State; idleness a crime; that it was the duty of the Government to compel every man to work, and to secure him proper wages and terms, but not to allow him to contract freely for himself. In the 5th year of Elizabeth another Act was passed, repealing the former ones on the same subject and consolidating them. That statute was called the Statute of Apprentices, and remained in force until the year 1816. By this statute the acceptance of work was made compulsory, the hours of labour were fixed.—first, in husbandry, and subsequently, by the statute of 1st James I., among artificers of all descriptions, by the justices of the peace at quarter sessions. Under this Act it was made a criminal offence in a single workman to receive more than the appointed rate of wages. Enactments were passed from time to time against combination in certain particular trades, culminating, in 1800, by an Act of George III. Which gave summary jurisdiction for the conviction of workmen who, by intimidation, persuasion, or by other means, induced persons not to work, or who refused to work with other workmen. During this period the statutes passed for the protection of workmen were numerous; but they had all fallen into disuse, while the repressive measures were in full force. The result of this legislation was that, between the years 1800 and 1824, more cases of outrage and violence occurred than at any subsequent period, and there existed a worse state of relation between masters and workmen than at any former period. The extent of those outrages was such that a Committee of the House of Commons was appointed in 1824 to consider the whole subject. They recommended that the various statutes should be repealed, and that the common-law doctrine of conspiracy for restraint of trade should be abolished. That recommendation was carried into effect. The House was aware that the year 1825 was a most disastrous one in the annals of English commerce. The sufferings of the people were terrible, and, unfortunately, the workmen broke out into acts of great violence; great alarm prevailed; the offences committed by trade unionists, and other workmen, were attributed to the recent relaxation of the combination laws, and although sufficient time had not elapsed to give the Act of 1824 a fair trial, the Act 6th of George IV., was passed, which, with some modifications, was the law now in force. The result of the repeal of the preceding statutes was to re-place combinations of workmen under the common law of the land, which was thus described by Mr. Justice Grose in 1796— In many cases an agreement to do a certain thing has been considered as the subject of an indictment for a conspiracy, though the same act, if done separately by each individual without any agreement among themselves, would not have been illegal—as in the case of journeymen conspiring to raise their wages: each may insist upon raising his wages if he can; but, if several meet for the same purpose, it is illegal, and the parties may be indicted for a conspiracy. This was the common law of England, which justified Jeremy Bentham in saying that the word conspiracy served Judges for an excuse for inflicting punishment without stint on all persons by whom any act was committed which did not accord with the Judges' notions concerning the act in question; and Mr. Fitzjames Stephen's assertion that Judges exercised a modified power of legislation in declaring certain acts to be criminal—namely, the broad ground of immorality and tendency to injure the public—and that they did so by means of a fiction consisting in treating as a crime not the very acts intended to be punished, but certain ways of doing those acts. The common law on the subject of conspiracy, which rendered all trades unions illegal, was so far modified by an Act of George IV., that combinations for the purpose of raising wages, or limiting hours of labour, were no longer criminally punishable; but in all other respects it remained unchanged. It had, however, seldom, if ever, been applied for the purpose of criminal prosecutions, its application having been limited to the enforcement of certain civil disabilities, which grievously affected the interests of trades unions. Being tainted with illegality these unions were unable to protect themselves against the dishonesty of their officers, or to enter into any binding contract. The Friendly Societies Act, which was the first attempt to relieve trades unions of some of their disabilities—if, indeed, it was intended to affect them in any way, and this was a moot point—had a clause giving societies, "not being illegal," the benefit of certain remedies against defaulting or dishonest servants. The question of the legality of the trades unions, which involved their right to avail themselves of this provision of the Friendly Societies Act, was discussed and decided by the cases of "Farrer v. Close," and "Farrer v. Hornby," in which cases the Court of Queen's Bench confirmed the decision of the local magistrates, to the effect that the trades unions could not prosecute an official who had embezzled funds, for the reason that those funds might have been applied for the purpose of maintaining a strike. But the Judges were not unanimous, and the opinion of Mr. Justice Hannen had so important a bearing on the question that he should venture to quote his words. The learned Judge said The tendency of this rule undoubtedly is to support and maintain the strike for a longer time, and so to increase the chance of the men obtaining the object of the strike. This, it is alleged, is in restraint of trade; that is, it disturbs the course, and postpones the effect of competition among the men, which, if left to itself, might sooner compel them to return to work, and this, it is contended, is contrary to public policy. I think that our judgment ought not to be based on this line of argument. By the expression that a thing is contrary to 'public policy,' I understand that it is meant that it is opposed to the welfare of the community at large. I can see that the maintenance of strikes may be against the interest of the employers, because they may be thereby forced to yield, at their own expense, a large share of profit or other advantage to the employed; but I have no means of judicially determining that this is contrary to the interest of the whole community; and I think that in deciding that it is, and therefore that any act done in its furtherance is illegal, we should be basing our judgment not on recognized legal principles, but on the opinion of one of the contending schools of political economists. From disabilities like these the Royal Commissioners were unanimously of opinion that trades unions should be relieved, and they proposed to extend a full measure of protection to their funds. In fact, the law as it stood is one-sided and unjust. For while nearly every combination of workmen in furtherance of their objects was held to be a conspiracy in restraint of trade, and therefore criminally punishable, precisely similar acts committed by a master escaped the notice of the law, as not involving the offence of conspiracy. But, in fact, the employer of some thousands of workmen was, in himself, a combination. Within the last 10 days a case in point had come officially within his cognizance. The owners of a colliery in Staffordshire dismissed two men who had charge of an engine used to raise men out of the pits, and replaced them by two other men who had very little experience, and who, on several occasions, endangered the lives of the workmen. The men, considering their lives to be imperilled, made a representation for the removal of the incompetent enginemen; but the owners refused to accede to the request. In consequence of a request preferred to the Home Office, an Inspector was sent to the spot, who reported that the charges of incompetency brought against the newly employed engine-tenders were true. Thereupon the two were dismissed, and one was subsequently summoned for neglect of duty and fined. In that case, if the workmen whose lives were endangered by the employment of the incompetent engine-drivers had refused to work they would have rendered themselves legally responsible under the laws relating to combinations, and liable to punishment; while, in a moral point of view, they were fully justified in so doing. Probably they would not have been punished severely; but still that was the actual state of the common law. Yet the master, with perfect safety to himself, could dismiss any number of men, for reasons most inadequate, without incurring any liability. In order to remove another grievance, much complained of, and enable trades unions to protect their funds, the right hon. the Recorder introduced a Bill enabling members of trades unions to prosecute any of their officers who might embezzle their funds, notwithstanding that it had been held that the accumulation of funds in the hands of such societies for the purpose of maintaining strikes made them illegal societies. But the means of redress provided by the right hon. and learned Gentleman were not summary—they were circuitous and expensive; and, as the unionists required a more convenient remedy, he himself (Mr. Bruce) brought in a Bill in 1869, and continued it in 1870, declaring that trades unions should have the same summary means of proceeding against their defaulting officers which was possessed by friendly societies. But, although that grievance had been dealt with, there were others that had not hitherto been remedied. By the law, as it at present stood, these bodies could enter into no binding contract with any third person. Their secretary could not recover at law the salary which might be due to him for his services; nor could the union maintain an action against their bankers for money deposited on their account; while, if they rented premises for the purposes of their society, in case of dispute with their landlord they were without any remedy at law. To remove these disabilities was one of the objects of the Bill. The Bill also proposed to deal with the criminal law as it affected trades unionists and other workmen, whether acting in combination or singly. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes) had, in 1869, introduced a Bill which, besides relieving trades unions from their civil disabilities, repealed the 6th George IV., and left the offences therein specified of workmen against each other, or against their employers, to be dealt with by the common law — that is, by indictment. No doubt there were many of the graver offences, such as murder, outrages against the person, and injury to property, which were punished with sufficient, if not occasionally with excessive, severity under the general law of the land. The repealed Act of 5th George IV. empowered the magistrates to inflict a summary imprisonment of three months in case of violence to the person, or injury to property; of threats or intimidation; in furtherance of the objects of unions; or in interference with the employment of labour. The alteration introduced by that Act was simply that the magistrates could give three months imprisonment in cases of violence, or injury to property, where before they could only have given two, while it gave summary jurisdiction in the cases of intimidation and threats, instead of merely binding over offenders to keep the peace. These summary powers were considerably extended by the Act of 6 George IV., which first introduced the offences of "obstruction" and "molestation," and the complaints against this Act were—first, that its provisions were levelled against one particular class of men; and, next, that the offences created by it were so vague and general that the powers conferred upon the justices were liable to abuse. The proposal that he had to make on the part of the Government was, that with respect to all conspiracies in restraint of trade, with the exception of a few matters to which he would subsequently refer, the 6th George IV. should be absolutely repealed, and that the trades unions should thereby be relieved of the majority of those disabilities. The Act of George IV. would accordingly be repealed; but the Bill he was asking leave to introduce would, though re-enacting the offences mentioned in the Act, endeavour to deal with these terms in a more defined form, so as to exempt the law from what he regarded as the just censure to which it was now exposed. The way in which they proposed to deal with the matter was as follows:—Threats and intimidation under the 6th George IV. were considered by Lord Cranworth to have immediate reference to the words which preceded them, and only to be offences when they were levelled at person or property; but that opinion had been pretty generally overruled, and the interpretation given by Sir William Erle accepted— Threats to bring any form of evil on a man, it matters not what degree of evil, and the evil may be inflicted in respect of the manifold interests relating to person, property, reputation, or affection. What had been the consequence of that very wide definition? One of the most constant sources of prosecution had arisen from notices of strikes served upon masters, and these were held to constitute "intimidation" under the Act. Undoubtedly, a notice of a coming strike might be conveyed to a master in a very threatening manner; but it might also be given solely with a peaceful object, and by way of information—in fact, one or two cases had occurred where men had been imprisoned on this account, although it was acknowledged that the notices had been given in a most respectful manner. One of the witnesses before the Commission, a Mr. M'Donald, who was secretary to the House Painters Union at Manchester, stated that on one occasion one of the members of the union to which he belonged had spread a report that another member was a convicted thief. The subject was inquired into—it being one of their rules that all the members should be persons of good character, and the story was ascertained to be false. The person who circulated the calumny was called upon to pay a fine, and refused to do so. The members of the union then had recourse to a proceeding which he (Mr. Bruce) for one, did not for a moment defend. Mr. M'Donald was directed to call upon the master, and tell him that unless this man was dismissed the other workmen would give up their employment. Mr. M'Donald's argument was this—Under any circumstances these men would have refused to work in this man's society; if these men had left their employment without stating the reason, the master might afterwards have said—"Why did you not tell me what your difficulty was? If you had stated to me what had occurred, there would have been no trouble, for I should not have retained the man in my employment." And yet, as Mr. M'Donald stated, such an explanation might have subjected the workmen concerned in it to imprisonment. In the Bill he (Mr. Bruce) was asking leave to introduce, it was proposed that threats and intimidation should be punishable summarily, but only in those cases in which, apart from the Act of George IV., they would have subjected the offenders to be bound over to keep the peace—namely, where violence was threatened to a man, his wife or child, or where the threat was to burn his house. Now, as to molestation, the definition given by a learned Judge was "anything unpleasant or annoying to the mind operated on," and the following acts had been held to be acts of molestation:—Persuading men to leave work in breach of contract; persuading men to leave work not in breach of contract where the strike did relate to questions of wages or hours; black looks; unpleasant words or catechizing a workman short of abusive language or gesture; acts not sufficient to be an actionable nuisance to residence; acts not sufficient to be an actionable damage to reputation. Now he (Mr. Bruce) was not prepared to say that there were not many acts of molestation from which workmen, in his opinion, ought to be protected by law; but still there was much in the present state of the law that was justly open to complaint, and the object of the Government in the alterations which they proposed to introduce was to remove this hardship, and to define those offences in which it was, as they thought, the province of the law to interfere. The manner in which the Government proposed to act was to define the offences selected from among a large catalogue of similar offences as being those which, without involving actual violence, were open demonstrations akin to it, grave enough to justify the interference of the law. They proposed that a person should be deemed to be a molester or obstructer of another person in any of the following cases:—if he persistently followed such person about from place to place; if he hid the tools used by such person; if he, with two or more other persons, watched, or beset the house or other place where such person resided, or worked, or happened to be; or if he followed such person persistently about the street. But these things were not to be sufficient to constitute the offence, unless it were proved that the object were to coerce the workman for the purpose of inducing him to leave his employment, or not to accept employment, or to induce masters to alter the number or the description of the persons they employed, or to prevent the doing of some other lawful act. So far with respect to the alteration of the Act of George IV. As regarded the removal of the legal disabilities of trades unions, one object of this Bill, as he had just stated, was to remove these disabilities so far as regarded contracts entered into by trades unions with third parties. At present, trades unions were wholly illegal; and, being so, every agreement, however innocent in itself, was tainted with illegality. The Bill did not propose to legalize what might be called primary contracts—such as agreements not to work or not to employ—and no person will be entitled to sue for benefits to which he is entitled under a contract with a trade union. If such contracts were enforceable, our Courts of Equity might be called upon to enjoin masters against opening their works, or workmen from going to work, or discontinuing a strike; whilst our County Courts would have to make decrees for contributions to strikes, or to enforce penalties from workmen who had felt it their duty to resume employment. It was not proposed to place trades unions, therefore, in all respects on the same footing as friendly societies. It was not the opinion of Mr. Harrison, who so ably represented the trades unions on the Commission, that the law should be altered to that extent. Mr. Harrison had stated so clearly the reasons for that opinion that he could not do better than quote his words— A very serious question arises here as to whether legislation of a far more comprehensive character is not needed to place trades unions on a full legal footing, whether, in fact, a complete statute should not be enacted, analogous to the provisions of the Friendly Societies Acts and the Joint Stock Companies Acts and the like, by means of which uniform rules would be framed for the formation, management, and dissolution of these associations, and by which they would be enabled to sue and to be sued by their members, to recover from members their contributions or fines, and be made liable to members for the benefits assured. We are inclined to believe that the time has not yet come, if it ever come, for any such statute. The amount of feeling which this question arouses on both sides, the great irritation of those who have suffered by trades unions, and the extreme jealousy on the part of their members of State interference, would, we are convinced, render the attempt to pass such a measure impracticable. We are far from seeing any certainty that such an Act is even ultimately desirable. Trades unions are essentially clubs and not trading companies, and we think that the degree of regulation possible in the case of the latter is not possible in the case of the former. All questions of crime apart, the objects at which they aim, the rights which they claim, and the liabilities which they incur are for the most part, it seems to us, such as Courts of Law should neither enforce, nor modify, nor annul. They should rest entirely on consent. It was in accordance with that opinion that the measure of the Government had been framed. With respect to registration the recommendation of the Commission was that the rules and accounts of these societies ought to be made public. The Bill, however, made registration optional; but it afforded particular advantages to such societies as registered themselves and published their accounts. Those societies would have remedies similar to those of friendly societies—that is to say, summary means of prosecuting those who might defraud them of their property, or retain it in their possession. The societies, on the other hand, which should not register themselves and publish their accounts would have to avail themselves of the more circuitous mode of redress afforded by the Act passed by the right hon. Gentleman the Recorder of London in 1868. He did not think there would be any objection on the part of trades unions in general to register themselves. Such were the general provisions of the Bill. The question of trades unions was one of extreme difficulty in its bearings on society. The objects which those unions had in view were on the one side regarded with the greatest interest and favour, and on the other they were viewed with great dislike and alarm. No doubt some of the regulations made by trades unions were very objectionable; but there were others which involved principles of the greatest importance to the working classes, for watching over whose interests they were originally created. In general they were friendly societies, and something more, and that something more seemed to him one of the most valuable parts of the institution. If hon. Gentlemen would read the evidence taken before the Commissioners as to the proceedings of the Engineers, for example, they would find that one of the principal duties and employments of the union was to watch over the interests of their fellow-workmen, to find out where the demand for labour was plentiful and where it was deficient, and to give information and so to provide for its distribution. Now, when hon. Gentlemen considered the great hardships which working men suffered without any fault of their own; the terrible fluctuations of trade to which they were subject; how the introduction of machinery, which went so far to cheapen commodities and confer great benefits on society, often had the immediate effect of inflicting grievous injury upon them, it must be admitted that any institution which had for its object the removal, or, at all events, the diminution of those evils, the distribution of labour where labour was required, and the relief of men suffering from want of employment, was worthy of the respect and sympathy of that House. He had been struck by the hardships to which workmen were often reduced from the fluctuations of trade. Over and over again men had been brought before him, and no doubt before other hon. Gentlemen, charged with having left their wives and children on the parish; and their defence was that they had been out of work for weeks, that they gone to some place where they had heard there was a demand for labour, that their resources were exhausted before they left home, and the consequence was that their wives and children had become chargeable; Assuredly, then, an institution which furnished men with the means of seeking labour where labour was in demand was one which deserved some consideration at the hands of the Legislature, and was worthy of their respect and support. He had admitted that there were other regulations of the unions which were not so susceptible of defence—such as those which interfered with the labour of children, which prevented the employment of certain persons, or dictated the terms on which they should be employed. Rules which limited the number of apprentices in one trade could not but have the effect of overcrowding others, and the general suffering was thus increased. But the question was, whether these were matters for interference by means of penal laws? Were they not really points which in the long run must be settled between the employers and the employed? Had not all the penal legislation on this subject proved utterly ineffectual to eradicate economical fallacies, or to prevent efforts being made to give them practical application? When Sir Robert Peel introduced the Act of 1825 he foresaw that it might be a failure—he knew that it dealt only with a superficial part of the subject, and that all the causes of disagreement between the masters and workmen still remained in force. On that occasion he used these words— In such cases, all that he could do was to advise the masters to enter into counter-combinations, by which they might succeed in defeating the objects of the men. That they might succeed by such counter-combination there could be no question; but, then, the feeling of amicability and good faith, which ought to exist between masters and men, would be destroyed; and he therefore gave such advice with the utmost reluctance, because he felt that by establishing these counter-combinations the amount of evil was only increased; and yet, without them, the masters, under the present system, could have no protection.' It appeared, therefore, that Sir Robert Peel contemplated a state of chronic warfare between masters and workmen as the only resource, should the Act which he introduced fail in repressing the mischief it was devised to remedy. But the failure of the law to remove the evils which flowed from the discussions between masters and workmen had suggested other and more promising means for securing a peaceable solution. The system of voluntary arbitration was rapidly spreading, and commending itself to the adoption of both parties. He felt bound to add, that if the efforts of such men as his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes), Mr. Rupert Kettle, Mr. David Dale, and others who took an active part in the question, should result in putting an end to those evils, they deserved to be regarded as among the greatest benefactors of mankind. Disputes between master and servant, such as those which he had described, did not cease in their effects with the moment. He had known men who had for years suffered from the consequences of having joined in strikes, employers were ruined or impoverished, and the sources of further employment thus dried up. It was not, however, he was afraid, by means of penal enactments that such a state of things was to be terminated. It was rather by making the law neutral between both parties; by taking care that it should in all respects be just and equal; by promoting in every possible manner a good understanding between them; and by leading them to arrange, so far as that could be done, their disputes among one another rather by force of reason than by force of law. Such was the object which was sought to be attained by the present Bill, which would, he believed, be hailed with as much satisfaction by the employers of labour as by the workmen. The former did not, he was sure, wish to subject the latter to unjust treatment; nor was it to the law, he believed, they looked for protection or for a career of future prosperity. They desired rather to be regarded by those whom they employed with confidence; to be served with a cheerfulness which could only exist when the law was just in its operation, and when there existed between themselves and their workmen that thorough understanding and mutual interest which would be so conducive to the benefit of both. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


expressed his cordial thanks to his right hon. Friend for having introduced the Bill. He sympathized entirely with him in his introductory remarks as to the time which it had taken to bring the question into its present position. As it happened, it was this month 20 years that he himself had first gone with a deputation to a predecessor in Office of the right hon. Gentleman on the subject; and since that time no year had, he believed, passed without an application in connection with it having been made to the Home Department. He was glad to find that the Bill of the Government would deal with the whole question, and that in a manner likely to be satisfactory to both employers and employed. The Bill had, in his opinion, many recommendations—some of them of a negative character. It made, for instance, no attempt whatever to separate the funds of trades union societies into those subscribed for trade and those subscribed for other purposes. To make such an attempt would, he was convinced, be fatal to any measure, and would not be accepted by the unions, whatever benefits the Bill might confer in other directions. The Bill was also good in so far as it did not seek to limit the freedom of the men in following their own interests by combining, so long as they kept within the law. As to the affirmative side of the measure, it contained, if he understood it rightly, a great many provisions which he should like to see in operation. It secured entire protection to the funds of trades unions, and gave to those societies such a legal status as would place them in the position which they ought to hold in the country as powerful and well-organized societies. He was happy to find that his right hon. Friend had adopted the suggestion of combining with the boon of registration the necessity of publicity, for the more these societies could be brought under the eye of the public the less fear of them would be entertained. It gave him, further, great satisfaction to perceive that the Bill would sweep away the old statute of George IV., which had been very properly designated as a solemn duelling code between the employers and the men, while it was drawn up entirely in the interests of one side. His satisfaction, however, had been somewhat diminished on hearing his right hon. Friend state that it was intended to revive a portion of that Act, which had been the cause of much mischief in times past. He referred to the two offences which were created by the statute of George IV., and for which penal sentences for three months were inflicted. Those offences, which were new to our statute as well as to our common law, were what were known as molestation and obstruction; and since the passing of the Act the offences which came under those heads had been visited severely in numberless cases on the working classes, while there was not a single instance in which an employer had been convicted. The words had continued to be a bone of contention throughout, and he thought it would have been much better if his right hon. Friend had confined the penal clauses in his Bill to intimidation and threats of violence, and had left out the words molestation and obstruction, which it was, he believed, impossible for his right hon. Friend or anybody else to define. As it was, he feared a recurrence of such cases as that of "Reg. v. Hinchcliff," in which four months' imprisonment were inflicted on several men for crying "Baa! baa! black sheep!" when some men who had gone to work were passing in the street. With that exception he looked on the Bill with the most cordial approval, and he hoped the Government would be able to add it to the great measures of the last two Sessions.


congratulated the Government on having been able to lay the Bill on the Table at so early a period of the Session; and, while anxious that there should be no delay in taking the second reading, trusted sufficient time would be given both to employers and workmen to make themselves acquainted with its details before that stage arrived, and thus rendering more probable a settlement which would be satisfactory and final. The right hon. Gentleman said the Bill would operate with perfect justice as between the master and the men. If this measure accomplished the objects which it aimed at, it would be looked upon as one of the greatest boons which this country had received; and, in saying this, he spoke for the employer as much as for the workmen themselves, for nothing could be more detrimental to the prosperity of trade than continual outbreaks occurring with respect to one or other of its branches. It was his happy lot never to have received notice of a strike from his own people, and he trusted that the operation of this Bill would bring about that confidence between employer and employed that would enable them in future so to determine questions of wages as to avoid those serious periodical collisions which brought destruction to the peace and happiness of the homes of the poor and disturbance of all comfort and happiness on the part of those who employed them. Taken in connection with the Education Bill, which the Vice President of the Council had the good fortune to pass last year, he believed the effect of this measure would be greatly to enlighten the working population of the kingdom, and he trusted that the joint operation of these two Acts would put far away for the future the sad experience of former times.


also begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having brought in this measure at the earliest possible moment, and thereby afforded a fair opportunity of legislating upon a subject which it had been impossible to take up during the last two Sessions. He expressed a hope that it would be found to contain nothing vague or exceptional with regard to acts which were construed into offences under the terms "molestation" and "obstruction" by the Act of George IV.; but, on the contrary, that it would do its work thoroughly and remove the bitterness which had existed for 50 years. From his intimate acquaintance with trade unions he was aware, of course, that there was a great deal about them which was coarse and objectionable; but when the Report of the Truck Commission was produced, it would be found how much misery, oppression, and injustice existed in places where there were were no trade unions. There was another feature in connection with them—that they afforded the only machinery for getting at the workmen of any trade en masse with a view to arbitration and conciliation. As an instance of what could be accomplished in this way, he mentioned that the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes), by his labours in a court of arbitration, within the last few days, had settled the question of wages in a town formerly torn by strikes to the entire satisfaction of both masters and workmen until March, 1872. The countries both of Europe and on the other side of the Atlantic were looking to England to devise the means of bringing about a good understanding between employers and employed. In this matter we were in advance of other countries, for they had still their troubles to go through, while we had nearly come to the end of ours.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to amend the Law relating to Trades Unions, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary BRUCE, Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL, and Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 28.]