HC Deb 28 March 1871 vol 205 cc808-21

Order for Committee read.


rose to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they have power to divide the said Bill into two Bills. With the exception of some legal objections that were taken to a portion of what he might call the civil part of the Bill, there had been, he thought, a very general assent to that part of the measure. But objections were taken both in the House and out of the House to include what was called the criminal part in the same Bill. The criminal part of the Bill embraced certain offences and punishments which were not applicable to trades unionists alone; indeed, these offences were not committed more frequently by members of trades unions than by those who were not. It therefore seemed injurious and unfair that that portion should form part of the Bill for regulating trades unions. He was perfectly willing to give effect to that objection. To the criminal portion of the Bill some objections were urged; but these were not of a very strong or general character. The members of trades unions themselves who waited upon him assured him that the particular mischiefs the Bill was intended to control were, in their opinion, deserving of punishment, and their only suggestion was that the provision should be made applicable to all classes of society. His answer was that the offences were committed generally only by workmen, and that to endeavour to apply the penalties to all classes would be an unnecessary piece of legislation very similar to the proposal to substitute for the stringent penalties of the game laws a general law against trespass, which would include within its operation any person who might wander where he had no right to go. There were well-known offences committed by workmen against each other, and those offences were not within the reach of the ordinary criminal law. The good sense of almost everyone admitted that they were offences which ought to be punished, and severely; and it was no stigma against the workmen, but for their protection, that a law of this kind should be passed. He was willing that it should be done in a way not to offend the feelings of a large class of persons, and therefore he moved the Instruction to the Committee. Should that Motion be assented to, it was his intention to proceed in the first instance with the civil portion of the Bill, and having passed that through Committee he should go on with the criminal portion; and if the House should pass both parts through Committee, he should print the Bills separately, and take the third reading on the same day.


called the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the recommendations of the Commission which had reported in 1869, and suggested that he should make provision in his Bill for separating the funds of trades unions into two portions: in the first place, the funds to be used for trade purposes, and, in the second, those intended for benefit purposes. If this separation of the funds of unions had been made, great benefit would have been conferred on trades unionists in general, because the funds were applied to most antagonistic purposes, one of which, was the conduct of strikes, and the other the relief of the sick and of the sufferers by acci- dents. He had no desire to retard the passing of the measure by offering any opposition to it; indeed, he approved of the Bill generally, and had to thank the right hon. Gentleman for putting what was now an important institution upon a proper footing. It was very anomalous that we should hitherto have acknowledged the existence of trades unions, and yet not have given to their funds the protection of the law. He must, however, demur to the statements made by the hon. Members for Sheffield and Frome, who said that trades unions had been of much benefit to the working classes, that it was the only way they could deal with trades en masse, and that where they did not exist there injustice and oppression prevailed. Far from agreeing with the hon. Member, he regarded trades unions as a blot upon our industrial system, and that instead of being a benefit to the class for whose benefit they were originally intended, they had been a great injury. He denied the alleged necessity for dealing with workmen en masse—a course calculated to subvert proper relations between them and their employers; and as to unions preventing oppression and injustice, he pointed to what was disclosed at Sheffield and Manchester as proving that unprecedented oppression and injustice were promoted by the unions. Then the hon. and learned Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes) contended that in the absence of trades unions there were found low wages and misery, and the hon. and learned Member went on to illustrate his argument by reference to distress in the East End of London in the tailoring trade. It appeared to him that the hon. Member mistook cause for effect. It was not because there had been no trades union amongst tailors, but because of trades unions. Did the hon. Member forget the great tailor strike of 1867, which was conducted with so much violence that several of the men were punished for breach of the law, and the master tailors brought in men from the Continent and the provinces, and began to employ women and that useful machine—the sewing machine, which had so injured that business? Trades unions had, therefore, been the cause of the present distress among the tailors, and not the absence of them had produced that unfortunate state of matters.


rose to Order. The hon. and learned Member was not speaking to the Motion before the House, but to the general question.


said, the immediate Question before the House was simply that it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have the power to divide the Bill in two parts. Next would come the Question that he now leave the Chair, when the hon. Member would be in Order.


said, he had considered the first Motion to be carried.


said, he was glad that it had been decided to divide the Bill; but he could hardly believe that it was the wish of the Government to proceed with the second part of the Bill to-night, before any expression of opinion upon it had been obtained from those affected. Up to the present time they had opposed the 3rd clause altogether, denying that it ought to have any place in a Trades Unions Bill; but now that the Bill was to be divided, and the second part was to be simply an amendment of the Criminal Consolidation Act, and was not to apply specially to trade pursuits and workmen, the whole complexion of the case was altered; it seemed to him that it would be possible to amend the 3rd clause instead of rejecting it altogether. The opposition to it as it stood originally was not based on any desire that the offences named should go unpunished, but simply on the feeling that the clause ought to have no place in a Bill which did the unions a long-deferred act of justice. He hoped the Secretary of State for the Home Department would not ask them to take the second part of the Bill to-night; but would give them time to consider what Amendments they desired to propose upon it.


trusted the right hon. Gentleman would accede to the reasonable request addressed to him, and would not ask them to go into Committee on the second part of the Bill.


joined in the appeal to the Secretary of State for the Home Department to allow the trades unionists time to consider what amendments they would wish to make in the Bill, and said that they did not oppose it altogether.


said, that; although the hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman) had called the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Orr Ewing) to Order because he had gone into the general question, while the Motion was merely for dividing the Bill, yet every subsequent speaker had continued discussing the general question. It had been suggested that the House should postpone the second part of the Bill; but they were entering into its merits before they had discussed the first. It would, in his opinion, be time to amend the postponed clauses after that portion of the Bill first under consideration had been discussed.


presumed that it was intended that the two parts of the measure should proceed pari passu, so that one part should not become law and the other be dropped.


said, the noble Lord need be under no apprehension on that point. There already existed sufficiently stringent laws against offenders, and he presumed that the penal provision of this Bill was to take the place of another Act of Parliament which was to be repealed. The noble Lord might be assured that the poor workmen would be held in sufficient bondage.

Motion agreed to.

Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to divide the said Bill into two Bills.—(Mr. Secretary Bruce.)


remarked that the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) had illustrated the benefits of trades unions by referring to the settlement by the hon. and learned Member for Frome of the differences between the ironmasters in England and the men in their employ. The hon. Member for Sheffield had asserted that this success was owing to the circumstance that in this country the men had a strong trades union; whereas in Scotland, where he said there were no trades unions, there had lately been a disastrous strike. He wished, however, to point out that the ironworkers in Scotland, had as strong an union as their English brethren. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) was arbitrator in a dispute between the masters and men of this very trade, which was settled last summer, but subsequently another strike occurred; the men endeavoured to deal with the masters individually, and the latter were compelled in self-defence to combine among themselves:—the result being—as, indeed, it always must be whenever there was a conflict between capital and labour—that the working men were beaten by the united energy and determination of the masters. He himself had a large number of men in his employ; but there had been no strike among them for 33 years. It was impossible to regulate wages by artificial means, as supply and demand would always rectify each other. The most prosperous and the best paid of the working classes in this country were domestic servants, among whom unions were unknown. Now that education was about to be so largely extended in this country, he hoped the working classes would begin to think for themselves, and to find out the only sound principle on which wages could be regulated—Supply and demand.


said, his hon. Friend had forgotten that there were trade unions and trade unions. Knowing that they proved of great advantage in some cases, he wished to give his testimony in opposition to the opinion of his hon. Friend. For nearly 40 years he had been acquainted with a trades union formed in every town in the North of England carrying on the carpet manufacturing trade, and during the whole of that time not a single strike had occurred. Every negotiation for an advance or reduction of wages had been conducted at meetings of the masters and workmen; and the results, he believed, had invariably given satisfaction to both parties. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that the two Bills would pass the third reading at the same time.


, replying to a remark which had fallen from the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Morley), said, he cordially sympathised with those who were anxious to put this question on a right and equitable footing. He had sat on the Trades Unions Commission, and agreed to its recommendations in this respect. He had a few minutes previously expressed a hope that the question would be dealt with as a whole in the course of the present Session, whereupon the hon. Gentleman made a sneering and ungracious remark, saying that the noble Lord need not be afraid, as the law against the poor workman was already sufficiently severe. Some hon. Gentlemen in this House, and some out of the House, tried to make political capital out of the working men. When in his place in Parliament he had been able to do anything in the way of legislation which, in his conscience, he believed would be beneficial to the working classes, he had always done it. Thus he had moved for a Committee to consider a law relating to master and servant, which made the servant the slave of the master; and the result of the appointment of that Committee was that that law was repealed. In the same way no one was more ready than he was to relieve trades unionists from those restrictions which were injurious and unjust; but it should not be forgotten that they formed only a small portion of the working classes of the country. At a meeting over which he presided in favour of the technical education of workmen, Mr. Lucraft, who had succeeded in being, by the votes of his fellow-workmen, elected as a member of the London School Board, said he did not belong to a trades union, and told Mr. Applegarth that there were 17 non-unionists to every one who belonged to a society. That fact ought not to be forgotten; but he would also bring into court a witness with whom the House would not dispute. At a meeting held about two years ago in Exeter Hall, the Chairman said— If the Universities are prepared to receive the assistance of others to acquire their rights they must remember that there are others in their trades who hold views opposed to those of the unionists, and they have their rights also. If 500 men in a trade desire to carry out a certain course, and 50 differ, the majority have no right to break the heads of the minority. That was the language of the hon. Member for Bristol, and that was what he (Lord Elcho) wished to secure.


appealed to the House to go into Committee without further discussion, and said that the noble Lord had been unnecessarily severe on the hon. Member for Bristol. ["No, no!"] He (Mr. Bruce) had understood those remarks in a different light. [Lord ELCHO: No; it was meant so.] In justice to the hon. Gentleman he thought it right to say how the matter had struck him. The Bill consisted of two parts, and many persons objected to the passing of one part without the other. He had stated that it was his intention to leave each part of the Bill to be considered in Committee, and then to take the third reading.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Trade union not criminal).

MR. KENNAWAY moved, in line 6, after "Trade Union," insert—"registered as hereinafter provided." The issue he wished to raise upon this Amendment was whether the registration under the Bill was to be permissive or compulsory. This Bill made it permissive, certain advantages being held out to those societies which registered—for instance, they were enabled to hold an acre of ground. Under this clause certain advantages were offered to all trades unions. By the common law things done in restraint of trade by combinations rendered them illegal, and the rules of the union were such that they might often be brought under the common-law doctrine. He contended it was not right that those who did not register, and who would not comply with publicity, should share in the immunities and privileges offered by the Bill. Registration was necessary in the interests of the general public, as well as for the unionists themselves, to whom it was proposed to give, for the first time, legal sanction for their powerful combinations. It was therefore but right that precautions should be taken against their misuse of that power. A great improvement had taken place, no doubt, in the character of trades unions since the time when their outrages made such a black page in their history, and he hoped it would continue; but what had happened might happen again. By registration it would be impossible to appropriate funds to an illegal purpose, and without they could not know with whom they were dealing.


objected to the Amendment. So far as they had to deal with criminal matters, it was desirable they should be put into the other part of the Bill, and so far as ordinary trade combinations were concerned he hoped they had heard the last of "restraint of trade" and "conspiracy" in connection with them. The evidence taken before the Royal Commission should have satisfied anyone who had read it how capricious and bad the application of those old doctrines was. The best feature of the Bill was the getting rid of them.


said, the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment had hardly estimated its force and effect. The fact of a man being a member of a trades union under such circumstances rendered him liable to an indictment for conspiracy, from which it was the object of the present Bill to relieve him. A man surely ought not to be subjected to such a disqualification. It was, in fact, a kind of judge-made law, and applied according to the necessities of the day. According to the ablest writers upon the subject, such a power ought to be regarded with the utmost jealousy, and for those reasons he hoped the hon. Member would not press his Amendment.


said, he would not press his Amendment, but he thought no reason had been assigned against it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 postponed.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 (Trade union contracts, when not enforceable).


said, though apparently fair, this clause was rather one-sided in its operation. Masters' and men's societies held their members only by means of fines. The men's directly, the masters' by means of bonds. Both were unenforceable by law. This clause left the law unaltered, and would be fair but for these circumstances. The masters paid a small subscription, the loss of which was trifling; the subscription of the men was one, the loss of which would be the loss of their whole savings. The 3rd section of this clause, by preventing any legal proceeding for the application of the funds of the unions to benefits to members, practically gave them power to inflict fines amounting to their whole subscriptions by merely withholding the money. It was surely impolitic to pass such a clause as this, giving direct sanction to the not very honest system of getting funds on benevolent pretexts and spending them for restrictive purposes. He thought that members of unions ought to have power to recover benefits, and that to do so effectually separate trade and benefit accounts ought to be kept. All power, direct and indirect, of enforcing fines should be taken from trades unions, or similar power of enforcing bonds should be given to masters' associations.

MR. ELLIOT moved, in page 3, lines 9 and 10, to leave out "but nothing in this section shall be deemed to constitute any of the above-mentioned agreements unlawful."


opposed the Amendment. He stated that, although the contracts mentioned in the clause were not unlawful in themselves, Government were not prepared to give Courts of Law or Equity the power to enforce them. He had, on a former occasion, shown that, though a contract to marry was perfectly lawful, it could not be enforced by action at law or suit in equity.


said, he did not think there ought to be an agreement recognizable by law which could not be enforceable. As regarded the illustration just given, if a man entered into an agreement to marry, and did not marry he would be liable to an action for breach of promise.


said, that though a voluntary agreement was lawful, it could not generally be enforced.


A voluntary agreement was not an agreement for a consideration.


said, it was ridiculous to suppose that any agreement could be valid, which could not be enforced at law.


remarked that it was necessary to enact that an agreement of the kind contemplated by the clause, though it could not be legally enforced, might yet be lawful for the purpose of being registered.


said, that the illustration of a voluntary agreement was not in point, because when there was no consideration the law would not interfere to enforce the agreement. Mere voluntary agreements were not agreements at all in the eye of the law.


suggested the case of a physician who, in selling his practice, entered into an agreement not to practice within 300 miles of his former residence. Such an agreement would not be enforceable at law; but neither would it be unlawful.


adverted to a very ancient precedent in favour of the words proposed to be omitted. In the Statute of Frauds it was enacted that no action should be brought upon any agreement not to be performed within a year which was not in writing. Such an agreement, while not actually unlawful, was not enforceable at law.


said, the question was not whether these agreements were penal, but whether they were enforceable in law. To say that they could not be enforced, and yet that they were not for that reason unlawful, might give these societies the false impression that by some means which were not legal means they might enforce them on their members.


held there was nothing delusive about the words, which were a necessary safeguard to show that the parties would not be subjected to any penal consequences.


said, the 2nd section already provided for that.


said, he was desirous the Committee should not lose sight of the fact that whenever the funds of trades unions fell below the point which entitled them to confer promised benefits, they were in the custom of raising large sums for the purpose by a severe levy upon their members.


said, he thought the words in the latter part of the section necessary, as the former part declared that none of the agreements should be enforceable in law or equity.


said, he thought it was only right, when members subscribed to a benefit society, that they should know to what purposes the funds were applied.


observed, that the right hon. Gentleman must have misapprehended the object of the Bill, if he thought it was intended to secure the benefits of those societies to their members. The right way of treating the clause was to regard it as one of an exceptional character.


said, he feared that by separating accounts, money subscribed for trade purposes might be otherwise appropriated. At present, 5 per cent of the funds were spent in strikes.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 6 (Exclusion of 18 & 19 Vict. c.63., 30 & 31 Vict. c. 117., 25 & 26 Vict, c. 89., &c. from applying to trades unions).

MR. WINTERBOTHAM moved an Amendment leaving trades unions, for registration purposes, either under the Companies' Acts or the Friendly Societies' Acts, in precisely the same position as they are at present, and as if this Bill had not passed.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 7 to 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 struck out.

Clauses 13 and 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 (Regulations for registry).

MR. ELLIOT moved, in page 7, after sub-section 1, insert— All such rules shall limit the operations and funds of the union to the persons who are members thereof, and provide that the decision in all cases shall be arrived at by ballot.


said, he could not accept the Amendment, as the unions had power to apply their funds to the assistance of each other.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 16, 17, and 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 (Board of Trade to be registrar).


said, the Board of Trade had declined to accept the office, and he therefore proposed, as an Amendment, that it should be imposed upon the registrars of friendly societies in England, Scotland, and Ireland.


said, that the office of Registrar of Friendly Societies was now vacant, and that the person who temporarily performed the duties of the office might be unable to undertake the additional labours now sought to be imposed upon him.


said, that under the Act which had been in force for two years, the trade societies had the power of registering, and the Registrar of Friendly Societies was bound to register all the trades unions that applied for registration.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 (Summary proceedings for offences, penalties, &c.)


moved, in line 8, after "as follows," leave out to "peace," in line 32, and insert— 1. In Great Britain the court of summary jurisdiction shall be,—

  1. (a.) In England, the lord mayor, and alderman of the city of London, a metropolitan police magistrate, or a stipendiary magistrate;
  2. (b.) In Scotland, the sheriff of the county or his substitute, or provost or other magistrate of a royal burgh.
If the offence to be tried is alleged to have been committed within a distance of twenty miles by railway, or of six miles by road, from the nearest court-house of such lord mayor, alderman, metropolitan, stipendiary, sheriff, sheriff-substitute, provost, or other magistrate; but if the offence to be tried is not alleged to have been committed within the limits of any such distance as is above-mentioned, then the court of summary jurisdiction shall be—
  1. (a.) In England, two or more justices of the peace sitting in petty sessions at a place appointed for holding petty sessions;
  2. (b.) In Scotland, two or more judges or justices of the peace court;
  3. (c.) In Ireland, two or more justices of the peace, or one metropolitan or stipendiary magistrate for the time being empowered by law to do alone or with others any act authorised to be done by more than one justice of the peace."


said, he desired as strongly as the hon. Member that cases of this kind should be adjudicated upon by stipendiary magistrates. There was often an objection to ordinary magistrates on the ground that they were connected by interest with the class of employers rather than with the employed, and he fully admitted the importance of such matters being decided by a tribunal above suspicion. But he thought the Amendment would not attain the end which the hon. Member had in view. It would probably have the effect of throwing upon a stipendiary magistrate the work of a district beyond his own, and altogether it would be of little practical use.


said, this objection did not apply to Scotland, where there were sheriffs in every county, and where a strong feeling existed in favour of removing such cases as would arise under the Act from the jurisdiction of justices of the peace. The proposal contained in the Amendment would be of far greater importance in relation to the penal clauses than in reference to the portion of the Bill now under consideration.


observed, that at present they were only dealing with cases of defrauding societies of their money, and of issuing false rules. It would be time enough to consider the penal clauses when they were reached.


approved of the proposal to refer cases under the Act to sheriffs in Scotland.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 22 to 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 (Repeal).

Amendment proposed, in page 12, line 26, to leave out the word "Acts," in order to insert the word "Act."—(Mr. Secretary Bruce.)


objected to this upon the ground that the effect would be that the penal Act of George IV. would not be repealed by this Bill.


said, that the statute referred to would be repealed by the second Bill, which was referred to the same Committee.

Question put, "That the word 'Acts' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 2; Noes 98: Majority 96.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.