§ Lords Reasons, and consequential Amendments considered.
§ Lords Reason read, for insisting on their Amendments to leave out Clauses 4 and 5.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
I shall ask the House to agree with the Lords in their said Amendments. I do 445 so with considerable regret that these two clauses should have been struck out; but the Bill seems to me to be a Bill of such value, that I do not think I shall be justified in allowing it to drop. Even at this very late hour in the morning I must ask the Members of this House to permit me briefly to state some of the items of value contained in the Bill. I wish to do so, because a statement has been made at the Trades Union Congress at Swansea, to the effect that the Bill is valueless. I have not troubled the House much during the progress of the Bill, but I will now briefly recapitulate some of the points of value. It extends the provisions of the Truck Law to all trades, instead of limiting them in their operation as heretofore; it compels advances to be made where advances have been made before solely on interest; it prohibits the charging of interest on such advances or of discount thereon; it renders stores kept by others than the employers liable to the same law as stores kept by employers; it prevents dismissal for not dealing at any particular shop; it deals with the barter practices chiefly prevalent in Scotland; and, what is still more important, it provides facilities for the prosecution of offenders. I think, therefore, that the Bill is too valuable to lose, and I therefore ask the House to agree with the Lords' Amendments.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The form of the Resolution will be, that this House do not insist on disagreeing with the Amendments on which the Lords have insisted.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth not insist on its disagreement with the Lords in the said Amendments, on which the Lords do insist."—(Mr. Bradlaugh.)
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I am prepared to move that the House do insist on its disagreement, so far as Clause 4 is concerned; but that not being now in Order I find it my duty to oppose as far as I can the Motion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton. It will be observed that the hon. Gentleman carefully avoided the merits of the question. His argument is that because the Bill in its other clauses contains valuable matter, he is willing to give up Clause 4, which provides for the payment of wages weekly in Ireland. 446 And he says he does this in order to save the Bill. Now, Sir, the question of this clause was brought forward in a most extraordinary way, and I doubt if anything like a parallel can be found for it, in my Parliamentary experience at any rate. This clause was inserted in the Bill on the 12th July last; the matter of it was thoroughly discussed by Members of both Parties, and after considerable debate, it was inserted by a vote of two to one, every Irish Member with the exception of 2 voting for it. Every Liberal Member with but one exception voted for it, and 46 Gentlemen opposite, including the Home Secretary, voted for the clause. An Amendment by the Attorney General for England excluding servants in husbandry, I accepted, and thereupon the clause was unanimously inserted. The Bill was then sent to the Lords; the clause was struck out without a syllable of discussion in a House composed of 20 Peers. The Bill came back here; the debate on the clause was renewed, and on that occasion I was supported by the Conservative Members for East and South Belfast as well as by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson). That union of opinion proved what I here assert—that is, that the opinion of the Representatives of the Irish people is practically unanimously in favour of the retention of this clause. When the Bill came back from the House of Lords the subject was, as I state, again closely and thoroughly debated. Members of both Parties spoke in favour of it, the opposition to it completely broke down, the clause was reinstated by a unanimous decision of the House, and the Bill was sent back a second time to the House of Lords. I have said, Sir, that on the first occasion there was not a syllable of argument. A noble Duke connected with Scotland merely muttered a few words and the noble Peer in charge of the Bill at once withdrew the clause. On the second occasion Lord Clinton, an English Peer, moved the rejection of the clause, and excused himself from offering any argument by saying that the arguments offered on a previous occasion were sufficient. But I have informed the House that not a syllable of argument was advanced on that previous occasion, although it was good enough for Lord Clinton's case to say that these 447 alleged arguments wore sufficient to justify the exclusion of the clause. Now, Sir, I have three reasons for the insertion of the clause, and I maintain that any one of them should be deemed good enough. The first is that a system of the weekly payment of wages was formerly the rule in Ireland; it was a custom which grew up from the condition of the country, and which corresponded with the needs of the people there. It is now a real necessity. That is my first reason. The second reason is, that the Representatives for Ireland are, I may say, unanimously in favour of the clause. I have said that only two Irish Members voted against it, and I should be surprised if even those two voted against it to-night. The third reason is, that the system of fortnightly payments adopted by some firms in Belfast produced excitement and disorder. It led a few months since to a strike of 6,000 men, not political friends of mine, but strong supporters and ardent admirers of the Party opposite. The strike I referred to continued so long that it produced great distress, and endangered the peace of the town. On my advice the men gave up the strike and returned to their work, relying on the justice of their case. This House responded to the demand I made on it, and now it remains to be seen why the House of Lords should stultify the action of the House of Commons. The only shred of argument against the clause was this—that it would incommode certain firms in Belfast. But I have already pointed out that the system of fortnightly wages was an innovation, a system of weekly payments obtained for many years, and the firms wore prosperous during that period. In a brief document which has been circulated the Lords have given two Reasons for their action—Lord Clinton gave none: The first is, that the Lords insist on leaving out the clause because an obligation to pay wages at different periods in different parts of the United Kingdom is undesirable. I traverse that assertion, I say that if local circumstances in any part of the United Kingdom require a special rule, the opinion of the Representatives of that part should prevail. But there is an even more conclusive reply; for by their own action in the case of the Stannaries Act, passed during the present Session, their 448 Lordships, who have sent down this Reason to us, debated and passed a clause regulating the period at which wages shall be paid in certain counties in England. What is the audacity or sense then of offering such a Reason, as that the obligation to pay wages at different periods in different parts of the United Kingdom is undesirable, when the Lords themselves passed a Bill declaring that wages in certain parts of the United Kingdom shall be paid at certain times. The second Reason given is, that a provision for regulating the time for the payment of wages is not germane to the Bill. Now that is quite illusory. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, when the Bill was last before the House, quoted the Report of a Royal Commission, which recently reported that where a system of long pay exists no legislation could prevent a system of truck, because the poverty of the men, if their wages were kept from them for a lengthened period, drove them to obtain credit, and they were compelled to resort to certain traders. Now that is truck pure and simple, and I say in regard to the Belfast men that those who are only paid fortnightly are plunged into credit during the second week; they are obliged to resort to certain dealers, and they have not the same freedom regarding the quality or price of their goods as they would have if they had their wages in hand. That again is a system of truck, and if you leave out this clause from the Bill, you impose on these men the continuation of that system of truck. So much for the Lords' Reasons. The First Lord of the Treasury has told us that if this clause is not left out the Bill may, perhaps, be lost. Why should it? I fail to see the reason. You may be delayed a day or two, but it is quite within the competence of the present Government, or of the House, to strike out the clause and yet save the Bill. The only question is one of two or three days' delay. Why should not the House sit two or three days longer in order to save this clause?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
The hon. Member is under a mistake. The Bill has now reached a stage that, unless the House agrees to the Lords' Amendments, it is lost.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
In the present position of this Bill, originating as it has done in this House; it this House disagrees with the Amendments, then the Bill is lost.
§ MR. SEXTON
Then, if the House of Lords knew that, they have been guilty of a gross attack on public rights. I suppose the House of Lords were aware of that; they knew this House had twice unanimously adopted this clause, and knowing that, sent it down a second time. What is the meaning of this proceeding, especially in regard to a Bill affecting the wages and the bread of the working men? We are to swallow it, or lose the Bill. For my part, I shall not be content to swallow it. Suppose the Bill is lost, where is the blame? We sent it up to the House of Lords in good time, and why was it not taken then? The Lords postponed the Bill, for the purpose of procuring the result the First Lord now announces, and kept it back thus long that the First Lord of the Treasury should be in a position to say we must bind ourselves, or lose the Bill. I think it would be better to lose the Bill than to subject ourselves to the disgrace and humiliation of accepting this Amendment under duress, and if I had any doubt about it, that is dispelled by the unanimous resolution of the Trades Union Congress at Swansea. The right hon. Gentleman must know that Congress represents the working men of England as thoroughly as this House represents any class of Englishmen. By a unanimous resolution the Trades Union Congress protested against, stigmatized, and denounced the rejection of this clause, and I think the tone, the spirit, the language, and unanimity of that resolution entitle me to think the working men of England would not be sorry if the Bill were held over for another year, rather than submit to the indignity of having this clause struck out. I think it would be a very grave thing if, upon a question affecting only the wages and bread of working men, that the opinion of hundreds of Representatives in this House is to be overborne by the opinion of 9 Peers at the other end of the Lobby. I think it would be very grave and deplorable, that it would lead to discontent in England and great excitement in Ireland 450 if on a question affecting Ireland only, the unanimous opinion of the Irish Members is overborne by the British. Members here. I do not think the House would be fatuous enough to go against its former two decisions. The second decision was unqualified and unanimous, and the first was unanimous in the result, and it would be most fatuous and unprecedented if it foregoes its two former judgments on this question at the dictation of any nine men in England. For my part I have still such confidence in the House that I appeal to the House; but if I am beaten, I shall appeal with greater confidence to the verdict of public opinion.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I think it would have been well if the First Lord of the Treasury had taken up this volume I hold in my hand, and had turned to page 589 before making the announcement he did. I will not describe the book other than Sir Thomas Erskine May's Law and Essence of Parliament. We find in this book it is laid down that when it is ventured to disagree with Amendments by either House, the Bill may be laid aside; secondly, that the Consideration of the Amendments may be put off for three or six months, or for any time; thirdly, a Message may be sent from one House to the other to communicate Seasons; or, fourthly, a Conference may be desired by the other House. I want to know why should we not have a Conference with the other House; why has the right hon. Gentleman presented this pistol at our heads and told us to take the Bill, or to leave it, and throw on us the onus of destroying the Bill for the Session? For my part, I think it would be better the Bill was thrown out. I said, at an earlier stage of this Bill, I was not in favour of half and half legislation; but I think it is very desirable that the people of this country should know upon whose shoulders the discredit should rest of throwing out useful legislation of this kind. My hon. Friend has pointed out with strict accuracy that the House of Lords are stultifying themselves by giving the Reason they have given. They must think that we are fools. I take it that we are not. They send down as a reason for objecting to the clause, that different kinds of payment of wages in different parts of the United Kingdom is undesirable; but here, in 451 the very same Session, they have, at my instance, passed in the Stannaries Act a clause for wages to be paid within 14 days, which is precisely the demand, not by the Belfast men, but of the Scottish quarrymen, and the quarrymen of Cumberland and the North. I therefore want to know what induced these Gentlemen to agree with the clause I fought for, which was practically my clause in my Miners Wages Bill; why have they passed that which is one of the most drastic measures ever presented to Parliament? If the Lords must disagree with us it is not too much for us to ask they should give a sensible reason for disagreement, that we should be treated as sensible men, and not as children, not understanding what we are about. I do not attach too much importance to this measure. I am aware there are valuable provisions in it, and I do not dispute what the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) has said of it; but I should regret its loss on his account much more than on account of the workmen of this country; because I believe the grievance has been going on so long that it will not matter if it goes on a few months longer, provided we can get a substantial and good Bill for the workmen at the end of it. Therefore, I say, let us, if we cannot prevail on the Government to stand to their guns, let us throw on the House of Lords the odium of having stood in the way of one more piece of useful legislation demanded by the people of this country. It is not at all surprising to hear that "another place" is true to their traditions. I have, as I have said before in this House, never known a useful legislative reform passed by this House which has not been marred and mutilated in "another place." It is not merely this Bill; but there is the Mines Bill, the Land Bill, and, in fact, every Bill except the Coercion Bill, which alone finds favour in "another place." Having regard to your ruling, Sir, on former occasions, and at an earlier period of this evening, I have no wish to express my opinion about the conduct of Gentlemen in "another place." I think it is far better to appeal to my fellow-countrymen outside; but I have no hesitation in saying that when I appeal to my constituents to express their approbation of the Trades Union Congress resolution which I quoted just now, 452 they will, by their hearty and unmitigated condemnation, express their lothing and detestation of the House of Lords and their action.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
I do not disagree with those who appreciate the efforts made by the hon. Member for Northampton in endeavouring to pass this Bill. I agree that the Bill, as it left this House, was not entirely the best; but as it stands, with the omission of this clause affecting the payment of wages, it loses its utility, as far as the working classes are concerned. If we desire to add to the difficult position of working men, nothing we can do would be more effectual than giving them their wages in short advances.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
Allow me to explain that Clause 3 assures that the workmen shall receive the advance as a right, and makes it an offence to the employer to withhold it.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM
By keeping from the working men their full wages, they are worse treated than any other class of people in this country. If anyone goes to a banker to borrow money, he must ask for his consent; but the employers of labour in this country keep the wages from their workmen for three or four weeks, and do not give any account of what they have really earned for 12 or 13 weeks. Therefore, when my hon. Friend proposes to leave out the clause relating to the payment of weekly wages, he is taking out the kernel of the Bill.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I must be allowed to explain that there never was such a clause as the weekly wages clause in my Bill.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM
It was proposed by the Under Secretary for the Home Department, accepted by the Representatives of the working men, and accepted by the working men as a solution of the question. ["No, no!"] I beg to say yes; and when this wise clause was lost, the kernel of the Bill was lost also, and the Bill, without it, will not meet the case, or give a fair solution of the question. The Government will find this question will be agitated the first chance that can be 453 got, and the agitation will be continued until something has been done to secure for the working men a weekly payment of wages.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
There never was such a clause in my Bill; there were several Amendments proposed and accepted, and, amongst others, one from the Government Benches; but it never formed part of the Bill, and never came under discussion in the House.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM
If I am not greatly mistaken, this is the clause that the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) moves to have restored—namely, the clause for the weekly payment of wages in Ireland. This is the thin end of the wedge—if weekly payment of wages in Ireland can be secured, it is the thin end of the wedge for the weekly payment of wages in England being secured as well, and it deserves the support of every Representative of labour in this House. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will consider this point, if they are desirous to aid the working men to kill truck, to kill credit, and to have the full value of their wages earned. They can do so by securing this principle, by aiding the hon. Member for Belfast in carrying this Amendment. Instead of that we have to-day not only to allow the wages to remain in the hands of the employers, but we have to go cap in hand to ask for enough to buy food, our money being kept in their hands for the want of such a clause as this. I therefore hope the hon. Members will divide upon it.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
I have not troubled the House yet on the Appropriation Bill, though I have a lot to say upon it, but I desire to refer to the subject that is immediately before the Chair now, and I think that what has been brought forward might claim something more of an answer than the mere interpolated platitudes which the First Lord of the Treasury threw into the debate. He may be right, or he may be wrong, in the statement he made; but, in my opinion, the presumption would be strongly in favour of his being wrong, as I have invariably found that to be the case. As I see the hon. and learned Gentlemen the Solicitor General for England (Sir Edward Clarke) has a large green book beside him, dealing with, this matter, I think, even at this 454 hour of the morning, it should be clearly stated whether our position is such that we must take all the Lords present, that we must swallow it as we have no other option, or if we do not admit their Amendments, we must throw out the Bill. I think the hon. Member for Northampton was a little severe on us. His theory was this—He backs us up in our demand for Home Government in Ireland, and our desire to see an improvement of the laws, but if an English Member brings in a Bill, and an Irish Member seeks to engraft upon that something which would do us some good, he is not to be responsible for it; he may agree with the principle, but he will not spite the Lords, as he is too much of a Radical. I am sorry that so sound a Radical should hold those views. I heard the name of the noble Lard who is responsible for this Amendment. I am sorry that the cobwebs of Privilege surround that name, or I should enlighten the hon. Member about him. I happen to have been born on the property of this noble Lord, and I know who he is.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON
I have no ambition at this hour of the Session, neither is it my desire to transgress your ruling, or give myself any invidious distinction. I was not seeking to—
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON
I will not resume my seat. You have been on the pounce watching me. I claim my right to speak on this question that affects the people. You have been on the pounce watching me since I stood up.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Mr. Edward Harrington, I name you to the House for disregarding the authority of the Chair.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That Mr. Edward Harrington be suspended from the Service of the House."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 34: Majority 101.—(Div. List, No. 483.)
The following is the Entry in the Votes:—
, having called the attention of the House to the continued irrelevance on the part of Mr. Edward Harrington, Member for the Western Division of County of Kerry, directed him to discontinue his Speech, but the honourable Member persisted in continuing his Address;
Where upon he was named by Mr. Speaker, for disregarding the authority of the Chair.
Motion made, and Question put, "That Mr. Edward Harrington be suspended from the Service of the House:"—The House divided; Ayes 135; Noes 34.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Question I put was, "That this House doth not insist on its disagreement with the Lords in the said Amendments, on which the Lords do insist."
§ MR. SEXTON
I wish to separate them, as hon. Members do not seem to disagree with the Amendments to the other clause, Clause 5.
§ Motion by leave withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question put,
That this House doth not insist on its disagreement with the Lords in their Amendment to leave out Clause 4, on which the Lords do insist."—(Mr. Bradlaugh.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes 129; Noes 47: Majority 82.—(Div List, No. 484.)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House doth not insist on its disagreement with the Lords in their Amendment to leave out Clause 5, on which the Lords do insist."—(Mr. Bradlaugh.)
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
I am not in favour of 5 o'clock in the morning speeches, and therefore I shall not trouble the House with a speech; but as it is of importance that people in Scotland should know who the Members are who refuse to them so reasonable a concession as the fortnightly payment of wages, I therefore shall be obliged to take a Division on this Amendment.
§ Question put,
§ The House divided:—Ayes 133; Noes 42: Majority 91.—(Div. List, No. 485.)
§ Consequential Amendments agreed to.