§ * MR. CUNINGHAME GRAHAM
, Member for the North Western Division of Lanarkshire, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the instructions to be furnished by the Government to the British Delegates to the International Labour Conference to be held in September at Berne, which preclude them from entering into the discussion of an International limitation of the hours of labour and restriction of output;
But the pleasure of the House not having been signified,
§ Mr. SPEAKER
called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen—
§ * MR. C. GRAHAM
I know that the course which I have taken is considered an extreme measure; but I cannot help thinking that I have on many occasions known the adjournment of the House moved upon matters which, to my mind, were of much less importance than the subject I propose to discuss. I wish to point out that when the late Lord Beaconsfield was accredited as the British representative to the Conference at Berlin his hands were not tied, so far as I am aware, in any respect whatever. He was allowed to go and discuss the affairs of this nation with the most plenary powers. In my opinion, the matters which Lord Beaconsfield was empowered to discuss were not so important to the great masses of the working classes as are the questions which will come before the British representative 715 at the international Conference at Berne; and as the British Government have for the first time accredited representatives to meet the representatives of other nations to discuss purely labour matters, it is to be regretted that full and absolute powers have not been given to them. What will be the position of the British representatives at the Conference, when the representatives of other nations are engaged in certain discussions? The British representatives will be precluded from entering into questions in connection with which this country has hitherto led the way in bringing about reform. The subjects for discussion named in the Circular which has been sent out by the Swiss Government are—the prohibition of Sunday labour; fixing a minimum age for the employment of children in factories; the limitation of working hours for young people; the prohibition of employment in unhealthy and dangerous industries; the limitation of night work; and the adoption of a State plan for the attainment of these objects. I do not see one word in the circular about the limitation of the hours of labour or about any principle having for its object the restriction of output. Her Majesty's Government have gone out of their way in order to throw down a direct challenge to the representatives of labour in this House and to slight the wishes of a large section of the working classes of this country by giving definite instructions to their representatives at Berne that if these questions of limitation of hours and the restriction of output happen to crop up they are not to discuss them. It seems to me that this is a very curious proceeding; I do not know that Her Majesty's Government have had a more striking opportunity of late of making themselves popular with the working classes of this country, but they have preferred to lose the chance and throw the opportunity away. I cannot help thinking, when I look at the Treasury Bench, that the instruction could not have emanated from any right hon. Gentleman sitting there, but it must have come from some permanent official who would conclude that in consequence of the large number of the employers of labour, who are to be found on both sides of the House, he would be certain to receive support, while the measure of 716 support which I would receive would not be very large, I would ask the House whether it is wise in such a juncture as the present to attempt to put a stop to questions that are engrossing so considerable amount of attention. I know that this is not the proper time for arguing these questions at length, but I think I may be allowed to explain the reasons which actuate me in taking up the time of the House by moving the adjournment. I know that these questions are growing, and that they will become greater and more important than they are at present. Two years ago I was the only Member who drew attention to the question of the limitation of the hours of labour, and I was received with contumely on the one side and silence on the other. So far from that being the case, now, I had not the slightest difficulty in obtaining the support of 40 Members to my proposal to move the adjournment of the House. There are even Members on the Conservative Benches who make no scruple in supporting me on this question. It is somewhat remarkable how, of late years, the principles which I desire to enunciate have gained ground. The working people had been made so much use of by political economists that in many instances they were taught to believe that no state interference in the hours of labour can conduce to their welfare. At the present moment there is no question, apart from the Irish question, upon which so large a meeting can be held, and so much opinion expressed as this of the hours of labour. I happen to have returned recently from a short tour in Scotland and the North of England. I found that these questions are engrossing a large amount of attention in the industrial centres of the country and in the North unanimous resolutions have been carried by large meetings in favour of the principle of the limitation of hours and the restriction of output, because the working classes believe that its adoption would enable them to better their condition of life, and obtain a larger share of the wealth they create, than they are able to do at present. I do not think that the Trades Unionists in this House will contradict me when I say that ever since the formation of Trades Unions in this country the restriction of output has formed part of their programme. Trades 717 Unions at this moment are in the odour of sanctity, although it is not long since both sides of the House had no words too hard to throw at them. They were incendiaries of setters of class against class, and they were the objects of much oratorical claptrap. They are now in the odour of sanctity, and there are no words too high to express approval of them. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) upon the straightforward and courageous attitude which he has assumed in reference to the matter. I esteem that attitude the more highly because the right hon. Gentleman is an opponent of the limitation of the hours of labour, and his utterances the other day were most probably in compliance with the feeling of irritation which was growing up in his constituency. A deputation of Socialists, headed by Messrs. Laidlaw, Stewart and Hill, waited upon the right hon. Gentleman. The deputation spent a couple of hours with him, and employed them in discussing very warmly this question of the limitation of the hours of labour. When the right hon. Gentleman, acting according to the dictates of his conscience, expressed himself as being unfavourable to State interference, the deputation manifested considerable impatience and considerable regret at the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman felt himself compelled to take up. That feeling of irritation is not confined to Newcastle. There is a growing feeling which is becoming very general among the working classes in favour of an eight hours' day. The Liberal candidate who is now soliciting the suffrages of the mining constituency of West Fife, at a recent meeting of miners, pledged himself on this subject, and among the members of many trade societies a plebiscite has been taken, which in almost every case has been favourable to the proposal to limit by legislation the working day to eight hours. I am afraid that questions of this kind which deal solely with matters affecting the daily life of the working classes of Great Britain and Ireland could not be made interesting, even by a Demosthenes, because the daily life of the working classes is uninteresting and dull. [Cries of "No."] Hon. Members say "No," but I maintain that the life of a man who stands for 16 hours a day on the 718 platform of a street car cannot be otherwise than uninteresting and dull. Hon. Members will not dissent from me when I say that the life of a man who spends 16 or 17 hours a day in a railway signal box, or of a gas stoker who has to stand perspiring in a temperature above 100 before a retort for 12 hours a day, during six days a week, can be otherwise than uninteresting and dull. I will, however, pass from that subject, and lay before the House the result of the year's plébiscite which has been taken upon this eight hours' question. For two years the question did not greatly engross the attention of Trades Union Societies, but now although a few have been unfavourable, I find that a large number comprehending representative societies have been favourable. The National Union of Boot and Shoe Rivetters and Finishers voted 505 for eight hours, and 107 against; while in favour of legislative enactment, 409 voted against 6 who were in favour of individual effort. The Birmingham Miners Conference were unanimously in favour of eight hours by legislative enactment. The London Society of Compositors voted 2,201 against 1,411; the Typographical Association, 1,269 against 1,144; and several important and popular members, such as Mr. John Burns of Battersea, have been returned to the London County Council distinctly or mainly owing to the importance which was attached to their pledges in regard to the limitation of the hours of labour. There are Members of this House who, while feeling in the highest degree the position into which skilled labour in this country is being forced, still express themselves unfavourable to the idea of legislative enactment. One of their strongest arguments is that of internationalism. It is asserted that it would be unfair to expose the trades of this country to the competition of other countries in which limitations of a different character have been passed by law. But if the serpent of internationalism is to lie in the path or if foreign competition is to be the difficulty, surely this is the moment when it ought to be dealt with. The assembling of a conference of the Representatives of all countries should be the occasion for the Government to express a desire to elevate the lot of the working classes, by 719 whose exertions we are fed and clothed; but so far from that they have expressed themselves unfavourable even to the discussion of the question. Internationally, the question is assuming vast proportions. An international conference was held in Newman Street, London, a few months ago, and the delegates of every foreign trade, with two exceptions, were in favour of the reduction of the hours of labour by a legislative arrangement. The votes of the delegates were much more largely in favour of the limitation than any one had hitherto supposed would be the case. Among those who voted with the foreign delegates were Clementina Black, Miss Simcox, John Burns, Andrew Sharp, the miners' agent at Whitehaven, the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Fenwick), Mr. Keir Hurdie, and others representing a remarkable consensus of opinion. So far as Australia is concerned, only six weeks ago the working men of Victoria met in their thousands to celebrate the 24th or 34th anniversary of the inauguration of an eight hours' day of labour. Although we have been unable to pass a legislative enactment here, that course has been taken by one of the Australian Colonies without any lamentable result having followed. I believe that it is the purpose of the working men of the United States to inaugurate an eight hours' day of labour next year. It is a subject which is engaging the attention of every working class society and of every commercial country abroad. Even in Spain instructions have been given to the delegates attending the Conference to signify the adhesion of the great body of the working classes of that country to the principle of a general reduction of the hours of labour. I do not know whether the Rules of this House preclude me from saying a few words about the miners of this country, seeing that I have introduced a Bill upon the subject. I may, however, be permitted to say that in two districts, represented by hon. Gentlemen who sit behind me, I am aware that the adhesion of the miners has not been generally favourable to this principle. After all, these two Gentlemen only represent some 60,000 or 70,000 miners, whereas the whole body of the wining population amounts to something like 600,000. In the course of three or four weeks I ob- 720 tamed 38,000 signatures to a petition, showing the opinion of the mining population of Scotland on this matter. Now I wish to ask Her Majesty's Government if they have any special reason why they have instructed their delegate not to enter into a discussion on this subject. I suppose that they have not done it out of pure cussedness, but I anticipate that they think that they will get support from some section of the community in return for their action, and that they will catch the votes of those who always go about saying that there can be no reduction in the hours of labour without a corresponding reduction of wages. That seems a very fair argument on the face of it, but when we look at the facts, I do not find that a reduction of wages in this country followed on the adoption of the nine and ten hours' movement. Indeed, skilled mechanics in this country now get higher wages than they received fifteen or twenty years ago, prior to the introduction of this movement. I know that considerable jubilation was expressed by the junior Member for Northampton, with reference to a recent return on labour statistics, and with respect to the reduction of hours of labour in the United States. He stated that the limitation of the hours of labour there had produced a great reduction in the rate of wages, but I find that the very reverse is the case, according to a return issued in 1880. Six years after the passing of the ten hours law in Massachusetts, Mr. E. Atkinson, a prominent Free Trade advocate, stated that it had injured workmen by making wages one-eleventh less than those obtained by similar labourers in other States. An investigation was at once ordered by the Massachusetts Labour Bureau, and in 1881, a Report was issued from which it appeared that the average worker in the State of Massachusetts, in which the ten hours' law operated, worked nearly six hours less, and received nearly three shillings more per week than the workers in the five adjoining States. I will trouble the House with a few figures in support of this. In Maine the average working time was 66⅛ hours a week, and the average of wages $7.4. In New Hampshire the hours were 66⅛, and the wages $7.44. In Rhode Island, 66 hours, and 721 $8.61; Connecticut the hours were 65¼, and the wages $7.57; and in Massachusetts the hours were 60, and the wages $8.25. I would ask the Member for Haddington, when next he addresses a section of his constituents, who are mainly miners, if, in the face of these statistics, he can tell them that invariably a fall of wages follows a reduction of hours of labour. As I know him to be a man eminently fair-minded and always willing to take the trouble to inquire into such matters, and not likely to condemn opinions without having made inquiry, I beg him to look into this matter, and see whether he cannot himself support me on this question. I trust that hon. Members, on both sides of the House, will find it possible to afford me a considerable measure of support, for there can be nothing damaging in the smallest degree to Her Majesty's Government if they promise to re-consider their decision upon the matter. I presume that no one thinks that the long hours to which I have referred are willingly worked by tramway men, gas stokers, and railway men, for they are forced to work these long hours by the pressure of economic circumstances. The working classes themselves wherever this question has been placed before them have always given their adhesion to it in a very marked manner, and I presume that is accounted for by the fact that they are thoroughly dissatisfied and discontented with the present system; and that they are determined, with the help of this House, to secure for themselves a little more time to enable them to take some part in our boasted civilization. But they cannot attain this end unaided. It has taken 50 years to enlist 10 per cent of the working classes of the country in the Trades Unions. It would probably take another two or three hundred years to enlist the remaining 90 per cent. They are not anxious to wait all that time for the accomplishment of this object, and I can assure the Government that if they will only re consider the decision they have arrived at in reference to the conference they will lay a debt of gratitude on the working men of this country, which I feel sure they will not readily forget.
§ * MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
I wish to second the Motion, in the first place, because I think the action 722 of the Government has been very regrettable, and I hope they may yet reconsider their decision. I hope also that the division which is about to ensue will not be a Party division. I am very anxious that the Conservatives as a Party should not close their ears upon the question, and that they should not show that they are wanting in sympathy or in interest in this matter. I trust that the House will allow me, in the first place, in order to ascertain the position in which the question stands, to refer to the correspondence that has passed between the President of the Swiss Federation and Lord Salisbury. I must apologize if I have but inadequately mastered it, for, although the correspondence was promised us this morning it was not delivered with our Parliamentary Papers, and I only obtained a copy of it on coming down to the House this afternoon. The President of the Swiss Federation, in a dispatch dated 51th March, 1889, reminds Her Majesty's Government that so long ago as 1881, the Swiss Federation endeavoured to convoke a European Conference on this subject, but finding there was great difference of opinion upon legislation affecting labour, and not very much interest felt in it at that moment, they abandoned the attempt. But the President goes on to say that during recent years, so much progress has been made in legislation, and so deep and universal is the interest in the subject of labour legislation, that he ventures to invite our Government to co-operate in this conference in the year 1889. Now, the point which I wish to impress upon the House is this, that the President of the Swiss Federation in this dispatch, does not for one moment propose any regulation of the hours of adult male labour, as a subject for International legislation. On the contrary, he specificially excluded this subject from the International question. If the House will allow me, I will read one or two sentences from the despatch. The President says that in his opinion the Conference should be based upon a programme adopted in advance, and then he enumerates the parts of the programme which ought to form the basis of an International Convention. The point of the programme I think the House will realize when I read a portion of Lord Salisbury's reply. 723It must be understood that Her Majesty's Government only accept the invitation which the President has done them the honour to forward for the purpose of discussing the five matters specially proposed for their examination—namely, the prohibition of Sunday labour, the fixing of a minimum of age for the admission of children into factories, the fixing of a maximum limit of a working day for young persons, the prohibition of the employment of women and young persons in specially unhealthy or dangerous callings, and the limitation of night work for women and young persons. It is necessary to make this reserve, because in other parts of the President's note allusions are made to projects for regulating the hours of adult male labour and imposing restrictions upon production, and these are questions which in any case the representatives of this country would not be instructed to discuss.This places the House in possession of the position of the Government and names the points Her Majesty's representatives would be instructed not to discuss. Mr. Speaker, the Government might have refused the invitation altogether. They might have declined to send a representative to the Conference at all, and though such a course would, in my humble judgment, not have been politic it would have been logical, consistent, and quite intelligible; but to send representatives to the Labour Conference and to withdraw them when the question of the hours of labour comes on for discussion can only mean one of two things. Either it means that the hours of labour question is too perilous and prickly a topic for our representative to handle—which is to treat our artizans like babies: or it means that the question is so futile and so absurd that although it may be very well for foreigners to discuss it, our superior British wisdom declines to argue it, which is to offer a gross impertinence to the Continental artizans in whose Conference we propose to participate. Now, is that a wise or a candid attitude for the Government to take up? Does it show any openness or flexibility of mind? If there were any considerable number of persons who doubted the rotundity of the earth, the best way of meeting them would be to discuss the matter. The day of authority in political economy has passed. Demonstration, not dogma, must be the basis of our belief. If the regulation of the hours of labour is so foolish, and so absurd and so dangerous, our working classes are quite able to see it; and, moreover, nothing is more calculated to popularise 724 and promote discussion on this subject than the attempt to boycott it. A forbidden speech, like a forbidden writing, is thought to be a certain spark of truth, that flies up in the faces of those who seek to read it out. This leads me to another question. I should like to know who are to be our representatives at this labour conference. Who are to be represented? The Government technically, the working classes really. What is the Government, if it is not the organ and the mouthpiece of the working classes, the guardian of their interests, the guide of their ideas? If Mr. John Burnett is to be one, I shall be glad, but I should be sorry to hear that he was to have for his colleague a fanatic for theory or a statistical machine. I hope sincerely that some Board of Trade official will not be appointed, but that a gentleman will be chosen who has knowledge of and sympathy with the condition of the working men of this country. This subject of the hours of labour is profoundly agitating the Trades Unions and working men's clubs. At the Trade Union Congress the question occupied a. prominent part in the president's address, and a special debate on the subject was afterwards initiated by Mr. Maudsley, of Manchester. Statistics have been collected from the organised trades of the country showing that opinion was very much divided on the question, therefore there is all the more reason for discussing it at an international congress. What question is occupying the attention of the Sweating Committee of the House of Lords at the present moment? It is almost exclusively the question of the hours of labour, and if this be not an arguable question then Lord Dunraven is an elaborate trifler, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is a reverend farceur. In conclusion, let me point out that the Government are not called upon to express an opinion on this subject, and they might have instructed their delegates to have gone into the Conference, and at the same time have especially safeguarded themselves. They might have pronounced an adverse and decided opinion against anything like an eight hours' day, but at the same time they might have allowed our representatives to discuss any question coming before the Conference. If anything is likely 725 to augment the influence of extreme men, I repeat, it is this attempt on the part of the Government to burke discussion. And, therefore, I do hope that, in the interests of free and open discussion, and in the interests of the working classes themselves, the Government will consent to re-consider their decision. If the regulation of adult labour be wrong let it be proved so in open forum. I beg to second the Motion for the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Cuninghame Graham.)
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
The mover and seconder of this Motion have based their objections to the action of the Government more or less on the ground of sympathy with the principle which we have excluded. The hon. Member for Lanarkshire traverses the conduct of the Government on the ground that it is not usual or reasonable in accepting an invitation to an international conference, to take exception in the first place to possible subjects for discussion. But I venture to say that the hon. Member is quite wrong in his contention, and that the representatives of this and other countries have gone into conferences perfectly free. It has been the invariable rule, not only of this country but of every other country, first to be satisfied with the basis of discussion on such occasions. In some cases exception has been taken to the subjects for discussion, and in other additions 'have been made to the subjects. At the great Congress at Berlin, which Lord Beaconsfield attended as one of the British Plenipotentiaries, the greatest care was taken that the terms of the invitation might be such as this country could accept. That precedent is, therefore, entirely against the hon. Member. I do not know how the hon. member learns the representatives of other countries are free to discuss Socialist principles at the Berne Conference, and it is certainly beyond my knowledge that they are so empowered. The hon. Member went on to say that if Her Majesty's Government desire popularity among the working classes they would not shrink from an inquiry in which the working classes are so greatly interested. The hon. Member knows the pleasures of popu- 726 larity, and naturally supposes that ethers share his feelings. But those who are charged with great responsibilities must have regard to other motives, and must not for a moment trifle with principles they regard as essential. We must not be supposed to regard as open questions those which from our point of view do not admit of discussion. When the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) said Her Majesty's Government should show flexibility of mind in that respect, that may be so, but Her Majesty's Government should not show weakness of back.
§ * MR. GRAHAM
My whole argument was to the effect that this measure would, in my opinion, conduce to the well-being and comfort of the, working classes.
§ * SIR J. FERGUSSON
I quite understand that, and give the hon. Member the fullest credit for the motives with which he has brought the question forward. I hope the hon. Member is not alone in the interest he takes in the welfare of the working classes. There are some who take upon themselves to claim a certain platform and standard as representatives of the working classes. We are all, now a days, representatives of the working men. No Member of the House represents a more purely working. class constituency than I myself do, and I have not heard any such expression of opinion as the hon. Member referred to. Nor have Her Majesty's Government heard from any trade societies that they hold opinions such as the hon. Member indicates. On the contrary, the only indication the Government have received from any trade society upon the subject was from the London Trades Council, who desired the Government to favourably entertain the invitation given to them, because they thought the Conference would have a beneficial effect in assimilating the factory laws of other Europern countries to those of our own.
§ * MR. GRAHAM
Does the right hon. Gentleman think those trade societies, the votes of whose Members I had the honour to lay before the House, are heartily in favour of this measure?
§ * SIR J. FERGUSSON
I do not think I am called upon to argue with the hon.. Member upon proceedings which took place at meetings attended by the hon. Member.
§ * MR. GRAHAM
I beg leave to again interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. [Cries of "Order."] When Mr. Speaker orders me I will sit down.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is in possession of the House. If he does not choose to yield, the hon. Gentleman has no right to interrupt.
§ * SIR J. FERGUSSON
I give the hon. Member the fullest credit both for the motives with which he has brought the question before the House and for the faithful reporting of what took place elsewhere. I do not think the hon. Member has any right to say the House regards questions affecting working men as uninteresting. No questions of late years have more conspicuously attracted the attention of the House than those affecting the working classes, and the measures passed have been acknowledged by the representatives of working men in this House to have received the most careful attention possible. But it is quite another thing with regard to questions which are put forward nominally in the interests of the working men, but which I, for one, regard as empirical and open to dispute. Against the restriction of the hours of labour and the limitation of production, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) has taken a strong position, but I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that Her Majesty's Government should have gone into the Conference ready to discuss those questions, so that they might say anything that could be said in answer to the propositions put forward and bring to bear on the discussion any facts derived from experience in this country. That was the view also of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann). The representatives of this country are to represent at the Conference the views of this country; but surely they would not do so by treating as an open question a proposal to which we are altogether opposed. The Conference is not a mere debating society to discuss academically questions of principle, but is a meeting for the purpose of discussing questions which the Governments represented consider are open, and of arriving at conclusions to which the Legislatures of the respective countries way proceed to give 728 effect. Her Majesty's Government think that the questions of limiting the hours of workmen's labour and the limitation of production should not be discussed as practical questions which they can submit to Parliament. The hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Graham) has mentioned the case of the tramway men, and said that ought to be discussed. That may be so, but are we prepared to submit to the Conference the conditions under which these men are employed? Questions of that kind arising in this country can be discussed without going to Switzerland or anywhere else. In this country by good sense, aided by legislation, many of the difficulties formerly affecting capital and labour in times past have been happily got over. We have passed some measures which interfere with the freedom of individuals, but those cases are regarded as exceptions. The general adoption of such measures as the hon. Gentleman advocates would limit and cramp endeavour, would reduce the efforts which are made by the educated classes in this country to advance science, to improve industry, and to stimulate and develop our resources. We are asked to accept as a principle that which has hitherto been regarded as an exception, and to do so would have anything but a beneficial effect. The hon. Member says this question should be discussed in open forum. What is the forum where we ought to discuss matters affecting the interests of the people of this country? Why, the forum of this House. If hon. Members wish to introduce Socialistic measures let them bring their proposals to the test of discussion in this House. What have the Government done? They have accepted with good grace the proposals made by the Swiss Government to go into Conference to discuss certain definite questions. They have gone a step further than their predecessors. In 1881 a similar proposal was made to the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) and it was declined, because, as it was said, we had dealt with such matters in this country as far as we thought judicious, and it was for other nations to adopt our legislation if they thought proper. Her Majesty's present Government have gone beyond their predecessors in this respect because they 729 have reason to believe that it would be agreeable to the people of this country that they should be represented, and that, having placed certain restrictions upon the labour of the helpless, it would be very desirable if other nations were to adopt the same wise restrictions, which might, in the first place, reduce production, but which might in the end produce better work and greatly improve the comfort and welfare of the industrial populations. They have, however, declined to go beyond the principle which Parliament has always adopted and to enter into questions affecting the labour of adult males and the extent of production. The hon. Member for Peckham says that the Government had no need to assume that such matters would form the subject of discussion at the Conference, and he read some passages from the letter of invitation. The letter of the Swiss Government, however, showed that further proposals were within their intentions with regard to adult labour and production. But it was not only these expressions which showed that this was so. In February last M. Droz, the distinguished Foreign Minister of Switzerland, published in the Bibliothèque Universelle et Revue Suisse an article signed by himself upon "The International Legislation of Labour," wherein he examined the possibility of giving effect to the aspirations of international Socialists, in the best sense of the term, who were advocating the necessity of an international agreement with regard to legislation for the protection of labour, in order, if possible, to regulate the effects of competition, which, in their opinion, threatened to crush the working classes. Her Majesty's Government could, therefore, have no doubt that the "ulterior measures" indicated direct proposals for an agreement to legislate in restriction of male labour and production. The five points which the Government have stated their readiness to discuss have been described as being subjects for preparatory conference, but ulterior conferences are contemplated at which these other questions will be taken up. It is impossible to ignore the clear indications of such ulterior conferences, and Her Majesty's Government could not do less than make due reservations in their acceptance.
§ MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) stated the case against the Government so fairly and temperately that I should not have felt myself called upon to make a few remarks had not some observations been made as to my motive in supporting the hon. Gentleman in moving the adjournment. I supported the hon. Gentleman not, as he supposed, because I am getting more inclined to agree with him—I am as little inclined to agree with him and his friends as I ever have been—but because I believe that discussion under the greatest possible variety of circumstances is the best means of expressing to the working men of this country the entire fallacy and delusiveness of this proposal. The hon. Gentleman said he supposed I supported the Motion for adjournment because I have found in my constituency some irritation at the line which I took up a few weeks ago. He also stated that he had been making a tour in the North of England, and he wished the House to believe that he had attended meetings supporting his views. The hon. Gentleman has referred to what passed between my constituents and myself at Newcastle. I should like for a moment to tell the House what happened, and then hon. Members will be able to take the measure of the hon. Gentleman's tour. I was approached by a number of Socialists in my constituency, who desired a discussion with me. Unlike the Government, I did not shrink from a discussion. I said what I had to say to the deputation, and we parted on perfectly amicable terms, each thinking the other entirely wrong. But since then I have had two large meeting of my constituents.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Certainly. The meeting in the Town Hall the hon. Member himself might have attended. It was my annual address to my constituents, and anyone, Conservative or Liberal, had access to it. I have since met a meeting of the 500 or 600 at Newcastle, and all hands were held up in favour of my view except three. So much for the hon. Gentleman's imputation of motives. I have nothing to fear from my constituents. I have often thought it a great pity that people who profess 731 such a love of mankind in general should always be so ready to impute bad motives to particular individuals.
§ * MR. GRAHAM
I wish to know whether the right hon. Gentleman thoroughly understands what I said? I imputed the very best of motives to him—namely, that he wished to comply with what I considered was a rising feeling in his constituency; and I ask him whether that is not a good motive?
§ MR. J. MORLEY
If I think that in my constituency there has arisen a feeling for something which is wrong and mischievous it is not a good motive to fall in with it. I repeat, that I think it is a great pity that professional philanthropists should be so misanthropic.
§ * MR. GRAHAM
A professional philanthropist is, I presume, a man who receives money for what he does; and I wish to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is allowed to presume on his position as an ex-Cabinet Minister and to put me down and pass an insult upon me by terming me a professional philanthropist?
§ MR. J. MORLEY
I do not wish to insult the hon. Gentleman. He has insulted me, but I pass that over, and I do not wish to insult him by calling him a philanthropist.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
But the hon. Gentleman went further, and made more serious misrepresentations. He referred to the plébiscite that had been taken among the Trade Unionists. I have taken a great deal of trouble for some weeks and months to ascertain the drift of the answers given to the questions that were submitted by the Trade Union authorities. There were given in this week's issue of a paper called Engineering the answers to the questions; and all I can say is that, for my own part, I am unable to detect any clear conclusion as to the drift of the answers except one, and that is that there is an immense difference of opinion amongst the Trades Union members on this subject. It is quite possible to analyze these answers in such a way as to show that, 732 with the exception of two trade societies, there is a majority against legislative interference in restricting hours of labour. Thirteen societies are against legislative interference and 11 in favour, and these include the great and important Society of the Amalgamated Engineers. The Trades Council of Warrington declared that an Eight Hour Bill was impracticable; the Ipswich Trades Council would like to see nine hours tried first, which I think showed very great sense; Edinburgh was in favour of each trade deciding for itself; Wolverhampton thought the time inopportune; Norwich thought it inexpedient to appeal to Parliament; Liverpool expressed the opinion that overtime should be abolished first. The hon. Member who moved the adjournment first of all denounced the House as a place where labour questions were neglected, in which I do not agree with him; and then he said it was a Parliament of capitalists, and he proposed to place in the power of this House of capitalists the restriction of the hours of labour of the working classes. I cannot imagine a. more extraordinary proposition. We cannot on this Motion discuss the question of the restriction of labour to eight hours. I may, perhaps, be allowed to point out that the House does not hear exactly what the hon. Gentleman proposes. Is it proposed that all industries should be restricted to eight hours? Are sailors and season-trade men to be restricted to eight hours? Why does not the hon. Gentleman say something about that before making accusations?
§ MR. J. MORLEY
They were not before the House, but the hon. Gentleman brought other questions forward, and he ought to have brought these. The hon. Member did not deal with the all-important question as to whether, when the hours had been restricted to eight, it was expected that wages would remain at the same pitch. I was told the other day that in a municipality in the North of England, when the members of the council had a proposal brought before them restricting labour under all contracts and work given out by the council to eight hours, it was received, as the bare proposal would always be received, with enthusiasm. The men, however, when consulted on 733 the subject, strongly asserted that of course they would have to be paid the same wages for the eight-hours day. And this being found to involve an addition to the rates of 1½d. or 2d. in the pound the enthusiasm among the ratepayers and their representatives dwindled down, and the proposal came to nothing. Therefore, those in favour of legislative restriction of the hours of labour to eight must tell us if they expect wages to be kept up or not. Another point I should have expected the hon. Member to deal with is overtime. Are you going to allow overtime? No, I suppose not. Bnt how are you going to stop it? It is one of the great points of complaint by the Trades Union leaders that they cannot persuade their own friends not to take advantage of overtime when they get the chance. I am sorry to make these personal references to the hon. Member; but as I am following and opposing him I am bound to deal with one more point. The hon. Gentleman referred to the International Trades Union Congress held in November last, and I understood him to lead the House to believe that the English delegates at that Congress were in favour finally of legislative restriction upon the hours of labour.
§ * MR. CUNINGHAME GRAHAM
No, I said nothing of the sort. I said a percentage of them. This is a matter that affects the welfare of hundreds of thousands of working men, and I hope the House will allow me to make the matter clear. What I said was that a much larger percentage of the delegates voted in favour of it than I supposed possible, and I instanced names.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Of course I am perfectly sure that if the hon. Member says so he did say this; but the impression made on the House was that the feeling of the English delegates—otherwise I do not see the force of the hon. Member's argument—was in favour of legislative restriction. But this was not so. Upon the last vote taken in the Conference, there were of 49 English delegates 32 who voted against a resolution in favour of legislative restriction, and 9 who voted in favour of it. The foreign delegates, I know, were almost unanimous in support of it. But whatever the intention of the hon. Member may have been, the House must not be under the impression that the attitude of the 734 English delegates was an attitude in favour of legislative restriction. Now, I turn for a moment to the remarks and the defence made by the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary. I confess I thought he took up an extraordinary position. He talked about Socialistic proposals, and using that expression again and again said it would never do for Her Majesty's Government to advocate Socialistic proposals. Now what is this Socialistic proposal? It is a proposal to limit by legislation the hours of adult male labour. Her Majesty's Government repudiate that, and yet they are going into a Conference to discuss the question of Sunday labour. Is that not a question of the restriction of adult male labour? Do you not admit this famous Socialistic principle when you enter into such a discussion as that? The fact is that it is now too late in the day for any Government to talk about Socialistic principles. Our whole legislation for a great number of years—certainly since the Poor Law—has been founded on Socialistic principles. In no country is there more Government regulation, supervision, and interference, more so-called Socialistic legislation, than in our own. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman has put forward a very idle plea. I regret that Her Majesty's Government should in any way have vetoed this discussion, for reasons that I will ask the House to listen to. The Under Secretary says what good will you do, by going to Berne, to the poor and miserable whom the hon. Member for Lanark talked about. Why, if the right hon. Gentleman had had time to consider this question, he would have known that the English working classes are well aware that limitations of the hours of labour and other labour regulations on the Continent of Europe are of vital importance to the improvement of their own condition. That is a reason why we should go to Berne with a perfectly open mind, I do not say ready to vote for any proposal, but ready to discuss any proposal of the kind. There is no doubt anybody who considers the subject will allow that the uniform depression of trade in certain countries in France, in England, in Austria, in Germany, has a general effect on trade generally. The economic circumstances of one country affect those of another. 735 I may claim to know something of what is passing in the minds of the working classes of this country, and I know that they hold that they are concerned with the labour regulation in foreign countries as a matter closely connected with the improvement of their own condition. Is there anything in the interests of humanity which we should desire much more than that the hours of labour in Belgium, France, and on the Continent generally should be shortened? But upon this most important question the mouths of our representatives are to be sealed. What harm would it have done if our representatives had discussed this question, which is one which will be discussed in this House year after year? It is perfectly clear that we cannot know too much about this question, and it would rather strengthen the hands of the Minister of the day to be familiar through the Reports of our representatives with foreign feeling on this subject. And we ought to be ready to meet the arguments that were urged against our own views. The hon. Member for Peckham has asked who our representatives will be? That is a very important point. I do not in the least wish to press the Government if it is inconvenient to give the information now. I have heard it said that we are to be represented by our diplomatic representative in Switzerland, and that I know would be very disappointing to our constituents. It is also said that an official will go from the Board of Trade, and that also would be very disappointing; and thirdly—and this is the least unfortunate proposal—that an official should be sent from the Home Office. If a Factory Inspector were to go, there is no doubt he would carry a great deal of experience. But this is not enough. You want a representative, not merely of the point of view of officials—I do not in the least speak disparagingly of them—but of the view of trades representatives. I do hope, therefore, that the Government, whether they give way or not in the matter of this I think most absurd reservation, will be very careful not to make an appointment that will debar the members of the Congress from having the best opinion they can get, and, on the other hand, giving a proper impression in England of the bearing and scope of what is done at the Congress. I 736 regret anything that at all discourages any disposition to International action. Whatever the subject may be, within reasonable limitations, not including, of course, matters affecting our national existence, any subject that can be dealt with by International intercourse and communication should be so dealt with to the great gain of European civilization and humanity. I am glad the Government have gone so far as they have; but I regret the reservations they have attached to their assent.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
My right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has so fully dealt with the speech of the hon. Member for Lanarkshire that I should not have considered it necessary to add anything were it not for some observations of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. With the greater part of those observations I need hardly say that the Ministers of Her Majesty's Government entirely agree. They feel as completely as he does what the results would be of any attempts to limit by legislation, production, or the hours of adult male labour. We consider that if any shortening of the existing hours of labour is required by the working men of this country they are quite able to deal with the matter themselves. Far from thinking with the hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject that legislation in this direction would make our working classes more manly and independent, we think it would have just the contrary result. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle seemed to think we shrink from the discussion of this question. He was strong in advocating this discussion as the best possible means of dispelling the delusions of those Gentlemen who adopt the programme of the hon. Member for Lanark. We entirely agree with him that the more the question is discussed the more the fallacies of the proposition advanced will be proved. The only difference of opinion between us is as to the arena in which such discussion should take place. We think that in connection with this and any other questions that may be agitating the public mind in this country this House is the best arena for discussion. We therefore decline to assent to the proposition that for an adequate dis- 737 cussion of them we must go to Berne. The right hon. Gentleman is opposed to shortening the hours of adult male labour by legislation, and the Government agree with him; but we part company when he asks us to go into a solemn conference with the Powers of Europe gravely to discuss questions the settlement of which in a certain sense might imperil the industries of this country and bring disaster upon our working classes. It would not be in accordance with diplomatic usage that this country should go into a conference with reference to a question as to which we have absolutely made up our minds that it would not be to the interest of the people of this country that one of the proposals to be put forward should be accepted by the conference. The right hon. Gentleman said it was desirable we should go into discussion with the view of demonstrating to the Powers that it was desirable that other countries should adopt our shorter hours of labour; but that is not at all the view with which we are asked to go to the Conference. One of the leading features of the invitation is that there should be a restriction of output. Although in this country we have again and again legislated upon the employment of women and young persons, we have always considered it undesirable that legislation should take place with reference to the labour of adult males; and there is no doubt that if we had gone unreservedly into the Conference we should have been called upon to discuss the hours during which adult males should be employed. There is no evidence that the working classes of this country are in favour of any restriction of the hours of adult male labour. The discussion at the Trades Union Congress showed a great division of opinion. I quite admit the report is not altogether satisfactory, and the cursory reader does not readily get at the facts; but Mr. Maudsley, in submitting the Report of the Parliamentary Committee, said the result of inquiries had been anything but satisfactory. Only a small proportion of the societies answered questions that were put to them, and the majority of their members voted against an eight hours' agitation being undertaken. What tells more strongly than mere numbers is the small proportion of trade unions who replied to the questions, while the largest unions gave no vote on 738 the subject at all. If probably only 10 per cent of the working classes of this country belong to trade unions, and not more than 10 per cent of the trade unions gave a vote upon this question, it is perfectly idle to talk of their being any indication that the trade unions and the working classes of this country are in favour of restriction on the hours of labour. We are under the impression that any attempt to deprive working men by enactment of the liberty which they enjoy of disposing of their labour in the best way they can would be scouted by the majority of the House and of the people of the country. I cannot conceive anything more fatal to our prosperity than the adoption of such a principle by the House of Commons. That being so, are the Government to be blamed because, being perfectly willing to discuss every specific point raised by the Swiss Government, they thought it right to point out that there were two questions the discussion of which they would not enter upon—namely, artificial restriction of production and the limitation of the hours of adult male labour. It has come upon the Government with something like astonishment that there should be any large section in the House who think that the Government would have been justified in assenting to enter upon the discussion of matters when they believe, and think the country believe, that such a solution as that pointed at would be antagonistic to the best interests of the country. I am somewhat surprised at the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle. I admired the position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman when he was cross-examined by some of his constituents on various points of the Socialistic programme and the emphatic and uncompromising replies which he gave; and I am astonished that the hon. Member for Lanark should have made this the occasion of levelling any kind of aspersion or blame against the right hon. Gentleman.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
The hon. Gentleman distinctly stated that the right hon. Gentleman had departed from the attitude he then assumed because he was afraid of his constituents. No man who was afraid of the opinion of his constituents would have given the replies 739 which the right hon. Gentleman made to the deputation that waited upon him; but one of those replies would appear to debar him from taking the attitude he has now adopted in the House; for he distinctly said he was not in favour of making an eight hours' working day by Act of Parliament; and as to International negotiation for an eight hours' day, the right hon. Gentleman deemed it to be an impracticable proposal, and he was sure we could never come to an arrangement with foreign countries on that point.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Quite true; and I say that now: but the Government is invited to consider proposals in which that is not included.
* MR RITCFHE
But the right hon. Gentleman must take up one position or another; either it is advisable to discuss a proposal as a practicable one, or it is an impracticable one, and therefore idle to discuss it. Can the right hon. Gentleman seriously contend that we should enter into a grave discussion with foreign Powers on what we have publicly stated to be an impracticable proposal? Certainly the Government could not take such a view of their duty; and if we had not guarded ourselves in the way we did, we should have considered we were deceiving the Swiss Government, leading them to think we were prepared to go into the Conference with a view to bringing about a result which, in our opinion, is absolutely impracticable. The right hon. Gentleman finds fault with my right hon. Friend, the Under Secretary, because he referred to this proposal as socialistic. But the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that this is one of the great planks of the socialistic platform. The right hon. Gentleman said it was an absurd reservation seeing that we did restrict the hours of labour on Sundays. I think he used the word "idle" in respect to the argument of my right hon. Friend, but I think he cannot be offended if I retort with the same word when he declines to see any distinction between labour on Sundays to other days of the week. It is part of the law of the land that 740 there shall be no labour on Sunday, so I cannot for the life of me see why that should be any argument against us for not going into a conference with a view of discussing the employment of male labour on week days. We believe we should have been blameworthy if we had entered into a discussion of a matter which we regard as settled so far as this country is concerned, and we consider we should have been deceiving both the people of this and other countries if we had not carefully safeguarded ourselves in the way in which we believe every gentleman would have done.
§ MR. A. ACLAND (Yorkshire, W. R., Rotherham)
I think there are many Members of the House who would say "If you cannot send a representative to the Conference without fettering him in the way proposed, for Heaven's sake do not send one at all." What necessity is there for the Prime Minister to go out of his way as he has done to allude to certain subjects which are not included amongst those which it is proposed to discuss? Why could not the noble Marquess be content to send a representative and simply instruct him to discuss the questions named. How are we to keep the question of adult male labour out of consideration? Assuming the Sunday question to be dealt with the remaining four points referred to questions affecting the labour of women and children. Send any intelligent representative of England and what must he tell the Conference? He must tell them that in a large number of our trades where the labour of women and children is restricted by law, indirectly most certainly adult male labour is restricted in the same way. Does any one doubt that in the great textile industries adult male labour is indirectly restricted because the labour of women and children is directly restricted by law? If any representative sent to the Conference was told he must not touch upon adult male labour, he would be in a perfectly ridiculous position. It has been suggested, and it is a very reasonable suggestion, that the Labour Correspondent, Mr. Burnett, might be sent to represent us. I think Mr. Burnett would be a very fair representative, but just consider his position if he has to leave the Conference if this question comes up in any way. A man who can 741 tell the foreign representatives how we have hitherto dealt with some of these questions, a man who himself was Secretary to the Amalgamated Engineers during a great strike in the North of England, when they obtained by their energy and persistency the nine hours a day, and when they did, as our Trades Unions have done, more by their steady-going self-denial than all the Socialists had done and taught by all their writings,—I maintain that a man in Mr. Burnett's position ought to be free to take a view which no doubt would not be shared by many of the foreign delegates, and tell them how these things are managed in England. To talk of withdrawing male adult labour from consideration is really to stultify us in the matter. To stifle discussion in a matter of this sort is to encourage the Socialistic opinions which alarm so very much hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has said it is obvious the mover and seconder of the Motion desire to advance socialistic views. It looks as if the Government themselves are by this stupid action actually desirous of encouraging an agitation in this country about the very principles which they do not wish our representative to discuss. I hope that if the Government persist in this view, those who do in this matter better represent the labour interest in this country than the Government do—the Trades Unions, the Parliamentary Committee, or some other representative body—will make it quite clear to our friends in Switzerland that the great mass of the labouring people in England are with them. Either let us keep clear of the Conference, or send a sensible man and give him a free hand. In the proposal which comes from Switzerland it is said that the resolutions of the Conference will be submitted to the various Governments in the form of simple propositions binding no one. Of course, they cannot bind anyone in this House or in the country, and whoever we sent could not represent all opinions in the country. But any sensible man whom we sent would say opinions varied in this country. I hope the Government will withdraw their proposition rather than send it to Europe in this feeble and foolish manner. At any rate, we have not hitherto believed in this grand-motherly 742 policy in relation to these questions. Bring them out in the light of day, and discuss them freely, for the more they are discussed both here and in international conference, the better we shall learn to understand them.
§ * MR. C. DARLING (Deptford)
As the representative of a constituency which includes a large number of the men interested in this question, I claim the indulgence of the House while I say a few words. It is proposed to censure the Government because they have simply safeguarded themselves from instructing their representative to discuss points which are not amongst those deliberately selected by the Government of Switzerland fur discussion, and because they have received, perhaps, with abundant caution, the despatch of the Swiss Government, and finding in it one or two expressions which would lead any one to suppose that beyond the five selected points, two other points may be discussed, they have said that our representative shall not be instructed to discuss them. The Government do not say that our representatives shall go with their mouths closed, or that they must withdraw from the room if the question comes on. The Swiss Government is told not that our representatives must be silent, but that as to two questions, our representatives will in any case not be instructed to discuss them. That is very different to saying they will be instructed not to discuss them. The hon. Member (Mr. A. Acland) has contended that these questions if they came up incidentally could not be discussed by our representatives. I maintain they could. Suppose it was necessary to discuss the question of granting protection to young workmen. How could you discuss that without referring to the employment of adults? Then there is the question of the entire interdiction of work on Sundays. How would it be possible in such a question not to discuss the interdiction of work of certain kinds on other days. If it is necessary to discuss these questions incidentally, our representatives are not forbidden to discuss them, and they must discuss them. If I thought the Government had precluded our representatives from arguing these questions in case they came up incidentally, I would vote against them, 743 but I do not consider the Government have taken up that position. One of the questions our representatives should not be instructed to discuss is the proposal to limit the production in our factories to suit the views of foreigners. I think our Government would have failed in their duty to our workmen had they allowed this to be considered an oven question.
§ * MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, West)
I interpose in the debate because of the references which have been made to the Votes of Trade Congresses on the eight hours' question. It is perfectly true a vote was taken and reported upon at the last Congress, but it was so very inconclusive, that it was resolved to take another vote this year. The Vote is not yet complete, and the decision of the trades cannot be known until September next. The hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire (Mr. Cuninghame Graham) quoted the decisions arrived at by one or two trades. It is possible that some hon. Members may infer from the hon. Member's remarks that the trades of the country, as a whole, have decided in favour of one line of action. The hon. Gentleman gave certain figures—400 or 500 as voting for eight hours, as against a lesser number against eight hours. The hon. Gentleman ought to have completed his statement, by saying what were the total memberships of the Trades Unions he referred to. I have in my mind one Society with more than 10,000 members. 350 of these have voted for an Eight Hours Bill, and, I think, 150 against. Only 500 members of the body take a sufficient interest in the subject to vote one way or the other. Another reason why I interpose is that I desire to say why I shall take no part in the decision upon this question. Holding the official position I do in connection with the Trades Unions of the United Kingdom, I think it is well I should make no public statement as to my views on this subject, while it is under the consideration of the trades, in order that I may be free from the charge of wishing to bias any of the trades societies in any vote they may ultimately take. A second reason for abstaining to take any part in the decision is because the result of last week's debate of the Parliamentary Committee, of which I am Secretary, 744 was one which, perhaps, I may best interpret by not voting on the present occasion. I have only one more word to add. I hope I have expressed no opinion for or against the Eight Hours Bill. In conclusion, let me request that the Government will issue the Report in the language with which we are best acquainted, and not issue a Paper which deeply concerns the labouring classes of the country in a foreign language.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)
I think the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Cuninghame Graham) has been a great deal misunderstood. I submit that my hon. Friend cast no improper imputation upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley). As I understood, he gave great credit to the right hon. Gentleman for the line he took in connection with the subject before the House, but he said that the right hon. Gentleman afterwards had reason to see from the action taken by his constituents, that his conduct was not so much in accordance with their views as he had before supposed. I wish the right hon. Gentleman to remember that my hon. Friend embraces the doctrine, that a Member is rather a delegate than a representative, and therefore from his point of view, he was surely imputing no improper motives to the right hon. Gentleman when he said that the right hon. Gentleman had reason to change his position. I am entirely, and strongly, and emphatically opposed to the views of the Member for N.W. Lanark on this subject, but I think it right to make this explanation on his behalf, although I do so without communicating with him.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I shall not trouble the House more than a very few minutes, and I shall not enter into the question which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has foreshadowed in his remarks. But I venture to ask the attention of the House for a few moments, because I have the ill-fortune to differ more or less from everyone who has already spoken upon this question. I am not one of those who regard legislative proposals respecting the hours of adult male labour as absolutely without the sphere of political thought. It would be foolish for any- 745 one to hold that opinion, in face of existing circumstances. I do not accept the view of the President of the Local Government Board, that my right hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Morley) entered upon an idle suggestion when he passed horn the question of regulating the hours of labour to the question of Sunday observance. If you could get such a moral unanimity as to eight hours' labour per day being the regulation of a workman's life—such moral unanimity, for instance, as you have with respect to the observance of Sunday,—you would go a very long way indeed towards establishing the condition of things you seek, and might, under a legislative Act, bind together the opinions which have grown up in the community, and give them a practical and real personal character. But that involves a reflex action in the life of the working man himself, of which it appears the hon. Gentleman the Member for N. W. Lanark (Mr. Cuninghame Graham), still has not the most distant dream. It would re-act probably in the first place on the wages of labour, and then it would re-act on the conditions of celibacy and marriage. I do not attach a great deal of importance to the views of the Government or of other Members of the House, who think that this is a matter which involves what is called socialistic legislation. I do not think that the realization of this object would involve anything of the kind. It may be very far away, it may be a dream; but all the same, it is a possibility of the future, which, at all events, we may entertain in our dreams. It is something to contemplate as a possibility, but I entirely concur with the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Darling) in repudiating the second subject talked about—namely, the restriction of output, as a thing wholly inconceivable in any scheme of social polity, and wholly inconceivable in the interests of the working classes. That being the position which I entertain with regard to the question and the dispute, the practical question arises, the Government being invited to join in the Conference at Berne upon certain propositions with respect to what may be called the organization of labour, and especially with respect to six propositions, whether they were justified by precedent or by the reason of the thing, whilst giving their assent to the 746 Conference on these six points, in instructing their Representatives at the Conference not to discuss these other points. I confess I do hold that the Government are entirely justified in the course they have taken. They are acting in strict accordance with the conduct of previous Governments, and in accordance with what is required from Governments. I distinguish very much between a Conference of the Representatives of the Powers and what is called an International Conference to discuss certain questions which may be summoned, and which is summoned year after year. They discuss these questions with perfect freedom, and there are representatives there of the different societies who more or less express the opinions which may he entertained by the members of the societies they represent. In a Conference of that kind I say there is the greatest freedom. There is no immediate implication of persons outside the Conference in what takes place—at all events, they have a freedom from responsibility which cannot be predicated of a conference of the Representatives of governing Powers. The Representatives of governing Powers called together in Conference, are called together for some practical results; but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton that any conclusion arrived at would not bind any Power represented at the Conference. Still, they are to arrive at conclusions which will be considered by each Power represented, with a view to its being embodied in the legislation of each country. These are the intended conclusions on the six points enumerated, and which are intended to form the basis of projects of legislation to be considered by each Government who sends a Representative to the Conference; and it appears very necessary in such a case that the Government who sends Representatives to the Conference should consider the possibility of their accepting any particular course with respect to any particular subject as a possible basis of legislation. If they are not prepared to accept any of these conclusions on any of these points with a view to legislation then on any particular subject they are justified in saying, our Representative cannot enter into discussion. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle, 747 who holds much more strongly than I do the opinion that these things could not be considered with a view to a basis of legislation, will see that it is impossible therefore to allow the Representatives of this country to engage in the discussion of a formal project, which would have to be considered and brought here with a view to legislation. That appears to be a reasonable deduction from the position as put forward in the State Paper emanating from Switzerland, and to which the reply of Lord Salisbury has been sent. That entirely agrees with what has been done at many successive Conferences. I think I remember that Conferences were called over and over again by Napoleon III. with respect to the state of Europe, and as to certain alterations of boundaries which might happen in consequence of the debates and decisions of such Conferences, and I think the representative of this country was specially engaged to hold himself free from any discussion which would result in any such suggestion. I am quite certain that with respect to another matter that has been referred to quite incidentally by the hon. Member for Deptford—with respect to the Sugar Duties Conference—there were many Conferences on the subject, and it was made a condition at more than one of the first Sugar Duties Conferences, that if any question arose as to the imposition of counter availing duties, our representative was to refrain from the discussion precisely because whatever agreement was come to in respect of the subject would have to be brought here, and the Government here could not look upon it as the positive basis of legislation. Well, that is the situation here. Our representative is instructed to engage in the discussion on these six points, but in reference to the other points which the Government do not regard as at present the possible basis of legislation, the representative is instructed that he is not to engage in any discussion which may result in a proposition which would have to be considered as an invitation to legislation. I think the Government is entirely warranted in the line they have taken. I do not understand my hon. Friend who spoke just now to be right in his view that our Government is to withdraw the moment that subject is raised. I think the hon. Member for Deptford was right 748 in supposing that our delegate would not necessarily be silent on such a question, for our representative having command of valuable materials, drawn from our own experience, would not be entirely warranted in doing so. But the moment a question arises as to a discussion where international agreement would be involved as a basis for action in the different countries on the part of different Governments, then he will withdraw and say, "I have no mandate from my Government, which is not prepared for legislative action; and as it is, not prepared for legislative action I am not prepared for discussion." The action of the Government appears to me, as I have said, entirely in accordance with precedent. It appears to me to be prudent, and I feel bound to vote against those who regard this matter as one of urgent public importance, and I must decline to go into the Lobby with them.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I am extremely sorry that the extremely rational premisses, which the right hon. Gentleman laid down, have not led him to a rational conclusion. He spoke of the possibility of moral unanimity in this country with regard to the question of eight hours a day. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman would consider with me that if that moral unanimity could be obtained without legislation it would not be in itself an undesirable thing, in fact that it would be a highly desirable thing. One of the great obstacles to the reduction of the hours of labour is the enormous number of hours of labour in other countries; and until that obstacle is removed I think my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Graham) will find considerable difficulty in carrying out some of his views. The enormous length of the hours of labour in Continental countries, together with the small amount of wages paid, give such advantages in competition with this country as to make the reduction of the hours of labour here a matter of considerable difficulty. I put this question to the Chairman of Ways and Means: If the Conference would agree to a resolution of moral unanimity as to the eight hours' day for labour in Germany and France, are not we, who are in favour of a similar reduction in England, to welcome such an expression of opinion on the part of the Conference? And I would like to know 749 what possible harm there can be in a discussion, when we are safe-guarded from even a Resolution embodying the views of the Conference in reference to legislation. I think the Government have done a most unwise thing for the interests of this country. I have pointed out the obstacle that foreign hours of labour and competition are to a reduction of hours in this country, and does any Member of this House deny that large portions of our population are suffering from overwork? I think my hon. Friend for North-West Lanarkshire considerably damaged his own case by the probably unintentional slights cast upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle. I would observe to ray hon. Friend that the outspoken criticism of those who do not agree with him is a great deal better for any cause than the lip service of hypocritical persons. I am sure my right hon. Friend in place of estranging from himself the feelings and affections of the working men of this country has only entitled himself to greater admiration and respect by the manly courage with which he has expressed his views on this matter. No doubt many portions of our populations suffer from overwork. Do not tram men and railway servants not suffer? I ask the Chairman of Ways and Means whether our hands would not be greatly strengthened in reducing these excessive hours, if there was a resolution from this Convention pledging the people of Germany and France as well as of England to a declaration in favour of the reduction of the hours of labour. This social question is one which cannot be avoided much longer. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs represents free institutions and perfectly open combination among our working men. In Germany that free combination does not exist, but the Emperor of Germany has pledged himself over and over again in public addresses, that the Social question is the question which the Government will have to consider. And the obstacle to open discussion and perhaps n most useful discussion in favour of a reduction of the hours if labour, comes not from a despotic Government of the Continent, but from a representative of democratic institutions.
§ * MR. DE LISLE (Mid Leicestershire)
I am very glad to find that I am able 750 to be very brief in the remarks I beg leave to offer to the House, because I almost entirely agree with what fell from the Chairman of Committees. I think it would not be wise or expedient to extend the programme to be discussed at the Conference at Berne. On the other hand I certainly do feel much sympathy with the ulterior objects which are foreshadowed in the letter to the President of the Swiss Confederation, especially that paragraph which was animadverted upon by my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. That paragraph expresses the opinion that it is not merely the welfare of the labouring classes on which legislation is demanded but rather a Social question which is to be taken into consideration, with a view to a well organized endeavour to restore to more natural conditions the industrial occupations and the habits of life of the town populations of the civilized world. These are my views, and the concluding paragraph of the despatch of the Marquess of Salisbury appears to me at the present moment most right and opportune, and, therefore, I am able most cordially to support the Government with this reservation, that I do look forward to see in the very near future the date approaching when these foreshadowings will be practically discussed, for I hold that the present long night hours of labour are destructive not only to the health but to the physique of the nation. I believe that public opinion in these islands and in other civilized countries will come to the view that as production becomes more easy it will be proper to limit the hours of the working of engines and machinery as well as of men, and that neither should be worked during eight hours at night. Machinery and factories ought, metaphorically, to go to bed for eight hours out of the 24, just as we do. That, of course, would ultimately bring about a restriction of output, but I think better results are likely to be achieved by restricting the hours of machinery than by restricting the individual liberty of the labourer or artizan. In the present condition of society the power of capital has been abnormally exaggerated, while the power of the individual has been minimized. His health and working capacity is the working man's only capital. This is quickly and unfairly exhausted by 751 night labour. While cordially supporting Her Majesty's Government, I believe the subject of restricting the hours of labour through the night will be discussed at some future day, and that the people will be glad to see a consensus of opinion arise which shall dedicate, so far as factories at least are concerned, eight hours of the night to sleep and rest, as religiously as the Christian instincts of this country have preserved to us the one-day-in-seven rest—the healthy, the homely, the holy English Sunday.
§ * MR. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan)
I rise not for the purpose of censuring the Government, but with the view of appealing to them if possible to change their opinion in this matter, and to untie the hands of the gentleman that now are tied, and to open his lips and his ears to the discussion of the questions that will be brought before the Conference. I am not prepared to enter into the merits of this matter nor to go to the root of it, still I would be untrue to the men I represent here did I not explain to the House their opinions on this matter. As one of the representatives of the miners in the county from which I come from I attended a meeting at which 75,000 miners were represented by 150 or 155 men who were unanimously in favour of reducing the hours of labour, especially those of miners, to eight per day in this country. It is well know n that the "bogey" of foreign competition is invariably brought forward were we have had to deal with employers of labour who are against advancing wages or reducing the hours of labour. The working people of this country were in hopes when they knew that this Conference was to take place that their opinions would be made known through the Representatives of the Government to other nations. It is well known that the working people in other nations look up to those of this country whom they set before themselves as examples to be followed in regard to the question of wages as well as the question of hours. The position already obtained by the workmen of the United Kingdom is such as foreign workmen make it their constant endeavour to reach; and if we are unable to carry it further all the aspirations of our own people will be disappointed and all the efforts made by 752 the working classes in foreign countries will be discouraged. I think we have a right to ask the Government to change its opinion on this matter. We are told that if the trades of this country choose to limit the hours of labour they can do so without legislative interference; but unfortunately our experience has been otherwise, especially on the question of overtime, in regard to which we have entirely failed. I am sorry to be obliged to admit to this House that. Trades Unions, powerful as they are in this country, have entirely failed to put an end to overtime; and it has been shown that they are not able to change the skin of the Ethiopian nor the spots of the leopard with regard to age of our fellow workmen. The consequence is that we find that the good of the many is being sacrificed to the greed of the few. I should like to call the attention of the Government to the fact that the argument generally against the interference of the Legislature in these matters has no force when the assistance given is such that while it benefits the individual by stimulating industry and promoting hope, it also confers great advantage on the public at large without creating competition with their neighbours. If by legislation we can succeed in reducing the hours of labour and put down overtime we shall prevent the evils arising from our people competing one with another and will be able to give them work all around. This country is already mulct to the tune of £10,000,000 per annum in the cost of supporting its pauper population in idleness, and it is stated that charity adds another ten. Surely it would be much better to spend this money in enabling the pauper population to become an independent, self-supporting, wealth creating, and industrious portion of the community. What we want is, to do away, if we possibly can, with overtime, and to reduce the hours of labour, especially on the part of the miners of this country. The hours now worked are at present far too long, and although this House does not seem to be quite in touch with the proposal, I would remind hon. Members that the Chancellor of the Exchequer once said, it appeared to him that political economy had been destroyed in that House, and that philanthropy had been allowed to take 753 its place, political economy being the bugbear of the working classes and philanthropy their salvation. On this question the House to-day leans to another view of the case, and certainly does not seem to be in great sympathy with the working classes, otherwise it would come to the rescue and reduce the hours of labour.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 124; Noes 189.—(Div. List, No. 153.)