HC Deb 27 May 1892 vol 5 cc37-9
MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)

; I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to the case of John Henderson, who was sentenced by the Magistrates of Sunderland on 19th May to fourteen days' imprisonment with hard labour, and without the option of fine, for alleged intimidation of one of the officials of the Shipping Federation Company, Limited; whether he is aware that three of the Justices who tried the case were shareholders in vessels entered in the Shipping Federation; and whether he is aware that one of the Justices who tried this case was opposed by the defendant, and defeated at the last Municipal election for the Borough of Sunderland; and whether, in view of the fact that steps are being taken to have this case referred to the Court of Queen's Bench, he will undertake that Henderson shall be released from prison pending the decision of the Higher Court?

MR. MILVAIN (Durham)

Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds to answer that question, may I be permitted to ask him another which arises out of the question on the Paper, and of which I have given my right hon. Friend private notice? I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that large numbers of Union men now assemble as pickets at the approaches to the shipping offices on the Tyne, the Wear, and the Tees, to forcibly prevent non-Union seamen signing articles of service on board British ships; whether he is aware that bands of such Union men assemble in the public ways, at the docks, on the quays, and even forcibly board some vessels and use violence for the purpose of intimidating non-Union sailors from exercising their right to ship at wages which they are ready and willing to accept; and if the facts are as stated, whether the right hon. Gentleman can take any steps to secure to those men immunity from such intimidation?


In answer to the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division I have to say John Henderson was sentenced on the 19th instant to fourteen days' imprisonment for following with more than two other persons in a disorderly manner through the streets one Laurence, with a view to compel him to abstain from doing acts which he had a right to do. The case was tried before four Magistrates, two of whom were medical men, one a retired draper, and the fourth a publisher. Three of these gentlemen own shares in shipping companies whose vessels are entered in the Federation, but neither of them take any part in the management of those vessels, or in the action of the Federation. I am informed by the Justices' clerk that neither he, nor, as he believes, the Justices, knew anything of the connection of these vessels with the Federation. I am informed that it is incorrect that either of these Magistrates was opposed or defeated by the defendant at the last municipal election for Sunderland. Henderson was never imprisoned. Notice of appeal to the Quarter Sessions was given and he was allowed to leave the Court at once and to complete his recognisances the next day. No steps have been taken to bring the matter before the Queen's Bench. I have received reports to the effect mentioned by my hon. Friend, and I have been in communication with the Local Authorities of Sunderland, Middlesbrough, and Northumberland. I have as yet received a reply only from Sunderland. I am informed that there have been only a few requests made to the Chief Constable there for police assistance, which have been at once complied with, and that he has ample force at his disposal to take all necessary action in the event of any large body of men being assembled for the purpose of intimidation, an event which has not yet occurred.


Is it not the fact, as stated in the evidence given at the trial, that Henderson was passing up on the opposite side of the street to that on which the person alleged to have been intimidated was passing down; and whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that it was the mere fact that Henderson is a delegate of the Seamen's and Firemen's Union which led to his being charged with having incited to intimidation, and that it was mere accident, as shown in the evidence, that he was in the street at the time when the intimidation was alleged to have taken place?


Am I right in inferring that the prosecution was not for intimidation, but under one of the clauses of the Conspiracy Act?


Under the fifth sub-section. I cannot answer the question of the hon. Member without notice.


As I gather that in this case the members of one Union were engaged in trying the members of another Union, may I ask is there any way of preventing the recurrence of such a case in which Union men were tried by magistrates connected with the Federation, the two organisations being in conflict?


The mere fact of a magistrate owning a share in a Shipping Company whose vessels are entered in the Federation would not disqualify that magistrate from trying such a case. I should imagine that there are few magistrates in these ports who do not own one or more shares in Shipping Companies.