HC Deb 05 July 1872 vol 212 cc750-2

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he must express his regret that at that advanced period of the Session he could not hope to proceed with it beyond the present stage with any prospect of success; but in consequence of the defective state of the law upon the subject, a measure of this kind was required. Under the Act of 1871 convictions had been obtained and sentences passed which were utterly contrary to the intention of the Legislature. The Bill provided that watching or "picketing" should not be subject to a criminal charge, so long as violence was not used. That was the only issue raised, and, briefly stated, the object of the Bill was to make the law clearer than it was at present, and to remove all ambiguity as to picketing. Hon. Members themselves were subjected to picketing by the Whips, who, however, were not sent to prison, and did not have their hair cut for putting moral pressure on Members. He believed it would give satisfaction to the working classes.

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

LORD ELCHO moved the adjournment of the debate. A Bill of such importance could not be properly discussed at that hour (1.30 A.M.). Moreover, as a Trades Union Commissioner, he thought the Act of last year, dealing with trades unions and regulating labour generally, ought to be continued for another year, and then the Government might amend that Act if necessary.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Lord Elcho.)


admitted that there had been some very singular decisions under the Act, especially for the offence of picketing, as it was called, being the act of watching workmen with a view to their coercion; but he did not expect they would be repeated. He could not, however, consent to remove picketing from the category of special offences, nor did he think it would be proper to discuss such important questions as were connected with this Bill at so advanced an hour in the morning. He differed from his hon. and learned Friend when he said this Bill would give satisfaction to the working classes. The numerous communications he had received showed that they objected to special legislation on their behalf, and that they preferred the general law of the country. The Bill not only went further than the Government wished, but its introduction was altogether premature.


said, he objected to delay in passing a Bill of this kind, which was essentially requisite in order to do justice to the working men, who were liable, under the existing law, to imprisonment for mere picketing, without any violence being used. Baron Bram well had decided that picketing was not in itself an illegal act, and yet there had recently been convictions, with sentences of three months' imprisonment, for simply walking up and down in front of a house without the slightest attempt at coercion. All the working men asked was, that they should be put on the same footing in the eye of the law with the other classes of the community.


said, there would have been a better chance of the Bill passing had it simply defined the Act of last year, which was grossly misinterpreted in some localities.


said, he trusted that the House would discuss so important a question even at that late hour in the morning. It could not be denied that under the existing Act some exceedingly harsh convictions had taken place. Men had been imprisoned and put on the treadmill for simply passing up and down before a door. Did the noble Lord (Lord Elcho), who was so anxious to shelve this Bill, remember that during the whole of the week he had been exerting himself to hedge the mine-owners round with all sorts of protection? Would the House consent to send a master to the treadmill for an offence which was equivalent to picketing? They had heard from the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Fothergill) the dreadful results that would follow upon sending a mine-owner to the treadmill. The hon. Member had made the whole House shudder with his description of the clipping of the mine-owner's hair, until one could almost imagine he felt the scissors among his own ambrosial curls.

After short discussion,

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 32; Noes 30: Majority 2.

Debate adjourned till Monday next.