HC Deb 19 June 1871 vol 207 cc282-8

Lords Amendments considered.

Amendments, as far as the Amendment in page 2, line 11, read a second time, and agreed to.


said, only one of these Amendments was important. The House would remember that the great object of the Bill was to define the offences committed by any body of workmen more accurately than they were defined by the Act of George IV. The offence of molestation was a difficult one to define, but the principle adopted was that, under this head, there were offences which, without amounting to actual violence, were serious offences, exceeding the mere moral influence which one man might exert over another, even with reference to acts which society generally would not approve. The proposal of the Government was, that when one person with two or more others watched or beset a man's house, they should be subject to the penalties of the Act. The Amendment introduced in the other House left out the words "two or more," so that one man besotting or watching another with a view to coerce would now be subject to punishment. Now, he thought that Amendment infringed one of the main principles of the Bill. The Government held that in these trade disputes the masters might assert their rights and the workmen might assert theirs, inculcating their views or obtaining such information as they judged necessary, the law preventing anything like violence or intimidation. But the effect of the Amendment would be that any one man who stood at the door of any works for the purpose of ascertaining who were going to work there might be held to be there for the purpose of coercing other people. That was carrying the principle too far. As one person might be engaged in watching or seeking for information in a perfectly legitimate manner, he thought it would be better, instead of rejecting the Lords' Amendment, to amend it by inserting words providing that the commission of the offence referred to in the clause should be the act of more than one person before it became punishable. He therefore proposed to insert the words "with one or more persons."

Page 2, line 11, leave out "with two or more persons," the next Amendment, read a second time.


said, he wished to be understood to represent the interests of law and justice rather than the interest of any particular class in this matter. The question was one of moral or immoral persuasion, and he maintained that if the persuasion were immoral, it was quite as culpable for one person as it was for two. The man who, representing a large body of men, stood at the door of a manufactory, and said anything which had the effect of preventing a workman from going in to begin his labour there—anything which led him to suppose that serious detriment to his interests would ensue if he started work, such an intimidator was as much guilty and as punishable as if he were accompanied by a number of persons. He therefore contended that the Lords' Amendment was one founded on sound reason.


said, these measures had been thankfully received throughout the country, and he hoped that in the interest of the persons concerned, the compromise of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would be approved by the House.


said, the question being, whether it was an offence for one person alone to watch another person, with a view to coerce him, it was clear if a workman did that he was guilty of molestation, for the discussion turned on the meaning of the word "molest." It was not simply a question as to one person or more watching, but the offence consisted in the intent to coerce; and such an offence was undoubtedly to be punished whatever might be the number of men offending, for the effect was just the same upon the mind of the workman watched. The Lords' Amendment ought not, therefore, to be amended.


said, he must suggest that in consequence of the form in which the Bill had been sent down from the other House it would be necessary, as a matter of Order, to disagree to the Lords' Amendment before the proposed compromise of the Home Secretary could be considered.


stated that that view of the question of Order was correct.


said, he would remind the House that just as picketing existed among the workmen, black lists were resorted to by the masters, as was proved before the Trades Union Commission. ["No, no!] Hon. Gentlemen said "No;" but if the practice was not universal it was very general, and masters sent round the names of workmen, with the request that they should not be employed. That was a practice that no legislation could hinder, and as long as that was the case the workmen would feel deeply grieved if they were dealt with in any unequal spirit. The working men already did not consider these Bills a great boon, and any good they possessed would be frustated if they were deprived of the power of resisting their employers in the case of a lock-out.


said, his hon. and learned Friend who had just sat down (Mr. T. Hughes) was rather mistaken as to the point in dispute, for if his reasoning were correct, it would prove that the clause, instead of being amended, should be entirely omitted. The object of the clause was to defend not the capitalist, but the working men from their fellows who wanted to coerce them. If the clause was left in its original state coercion would never be prevented. The managers of trades unions were not wanting in acuteness. If it were illegal for three persons to carry on picketing there would never be more than two. If it were illegal for two, there would be only one. It was necessary, therefore, to prohibit it altogether, and if the Lords' Amendment was adopted, an effective check would be brought into operation.


said, he quite approved of the Lords' Amendment, and he did so in the interests of the working men themselves. It seemed to be assumed that the trades unions were the entire people of England; but surely the non-unionists had a right to be protected, and it would be unfair to give the unionist an advantage over them.


said, he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh. But he was also bound to confirm what was said by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. Hughes), that the evidence taken before the Commission proved that black lists were sometimes sent round, a practice which it would be desirable, if possible, to repress. He hoped the House would, in the interests not of capital, but of free labour, not allow picketing in any form, for what was termed the moral suasion of picketing meant nothing more nor less than the moral suasion of the sentry who stood at the door with a musket in his hand. At a meeting over which he presided, Mr. Lucraft stated that the proportion of unionists to non-unionists was as 1 to 17, and therefore the mass of the labour classes were not in trades unions, and it was the duty of that House to maintain freedom of labour by affirming the Lords' Amendment.


said, that because he considered the interests of all working men, and not merely of trades unions, quite as much as the noble Lord who had just spoken (Lord Elcho), he was anxious that the House should not accept the Lords' Amendment. He agreed that the actual trades unionists formed the small minority of working men, but a very large number of artisans sympathized with trades unionists, and many of them believed that it was by trades unions that they obtained protection in disputes between labour and capital; so that unjust or unfair legislation with regard to trades unions would be interpreted by the general body of working men as being antagonistic to themselves. He was interested in this subject not merely as a Member of the Government or of the House, but as a master manufacturer; and he believed nothing could be less to the interests of the latter than the adoption of that Amendment. The actual standing of a man where he had a right to stand was in itself an innocent act, and, therefore, they should not declare it illegal, because other acts might follow which ought to be put down with a strong hand. To take such a course would convey an impression that they were legislating for their own class; and, as the administration of the law would be mainly with the employers, he did not think those persons should be placed in the difficult position of interpreting the Amendment.


indignantly denied that the black lists were used by employers in Lancashire, as stated by the hon. and learned Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes).


said, he would undertake to bring the hon. Gentleman half a dozen "black lists" in the morning.


said, it was not in the textile trades, but in the building, engineering, and colliery businesses that black lists among employers had prevailed. If the trades unionists, 700,000 skilled labourers, were a minority; non-unionists stood behind them, supported them, and derived advantage from their organization; and the net total of 700,000 would not bear multiplication by 17 to arrive at the number of labourers, skilled and unskilled, which the country contained. By placing a man at the door of a factory unionists obtained information as to the extent to which they were being superseded, and that information was likely to lead them to give in. There could be no terrorism in one man looking in at a workshop; but he (Mr. Mundella) would, if possible, put a stop to the watching of private houses. The clause would be severe enough as the Home Secretary proposed to amend it.


said, this question related principally to rattening such as was carried on in Sheffield; and was intended to stop the practice. He objected to one class of men preventing others from working at less prices than they worked for themselves.


said, he must protest against the charge that had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes), and the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), that black lists were confined to the building trade. He unhesitatingly stated that it was contrary to the fact. He never saw a black list, and he never knew a master in the trade who had seen one. It had never been charged by the workmen against the masters in the Metropolis that even such a thing had existed.


said, he had but one object in view, and that was to do justice to both sides. He suggested that instead of rejecting the Lords' Amendment, they should accept it, upon the understanding that it should be made penal on the part of the manufacturers and employers of labour to use a black list. He would rather see two or three persons watching his premises than one person.


said, the question was whether picketing could be effectually done with one man, and if so, it was equally injurious to the employer whether it was done by one or two. The question was whether the majority were to be tyrannized over by a minority. If the great majority of trades had a little more firmness and moral courage trades unions would soon cease to exist.


said, there was great difficulty in proving the black list, but none in proving picketing. The House had already decided that two or more persons should be engaged in picketing to make it illegal, but the Lords had struck it out, and since then the working men had offered a compromise by its being confined to one or two.


said, he must remind the House that they were then engaged in considering a very penal statute. It was not unfair to remind the House that the feeling likely to operate on hon. Members' speeches was rather the feeling of capitalists than of labour. The law was made by men whose sympathies were in that direction, and it would be enforced by men belonging to the same class. But they had to consider what would be the feeling of the class who would be affected by the law—the working classes, or, at least, the unionists.


said, he would suggest that where the house of a workman was watched the offence should be completed by the act of one man; but that where the watching took place at a factory or workshop, the presence of two should be required to constitute the offence.


said, that everyone acquainted with a manufacturing district knew that the object of picketing was to intimidate. He thought it was the duty of the House to prevent that criminal act.


, as a large manufacturer and a member of a firm which had never had a dispute with its workmen, bore testimony to the tyranny exorcised by workmen over their fellows, especially in respect of those rules by which the union obliged the masters to give to all workmen, competent as well as incompetent, the same wages.


, on the part of the Government, said, he would accept the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Recorder, that one person watching the dwelling of a workman should be a crime under the Act, but that at the doors of a manufactory the watch should consist of more than one to be penal.


hoped that the Lords' Amendment would be agreed to by the House.

Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.


then moved the Amendment which he had just described.

Consequential Amendment proposed, To insert after the word "House," in page 2, line 12, the words "where such person resides, or the approach to such house, or if with one or more other persons he watch or beset the place where such person works or carries on business, or the approach to such place, or follow such person in a disorderly manner, in or through any street or road."—(Mr. Secretary Bruce.)

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

The House divided:—Ayes 97; Noes 147: Majority 30.

Subsequent Amendments agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.