§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
, Member for Middlesbrough, 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, viz., "the contravention of certain Acts of Parliament by an organisation named the Shipping Federation, Limited, and the supplying of the Forces of the Crown on the occasion of Labour Disputes; "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. HAVELOCK WILSON
said, the Shipping Federation was founded some two or three years ago. He was not sure whether it was a legal Association. He was sure that since its foundation it had acted in a most illegal manner in its relations with trade organisations. They were told at the beginning by the Executive Committee of the Federation that it was not founded for the purpose of interfering with Trades Unionism; that it was to protect the shipowners generally throughout the country from aggressive action on the part of organisations of workmen; but that there was no intention to deny the right of existence to those organisations, or to interfere with the wages of the workmen. They said that their sole 82 object was to secure freedom of contract on the part of the workmen, and to protect the workmen from themselves. The first thing that the Federation did when it commenced active operations was to engage professional libellers—men whose business it was to travel from place to place libelling the leaders of Trades Unions. When those leaders took action to defend themselves, the funds of the Shipping Federation were placed at the disposal of these agents to meet the action brought against them. The second act of the Federation was to pay numbers of men to join workmen's organisations for the purpose of creating dissension in the ranks of those who belonged to them—in order to make the public believe that the workmen themselves were not all agreed on particular points. In his (Mr. Wilson's) evidence, before the Royal Commission on Labour, he placed ample proof before the Commission that the Shipping Federation— this body of capitalists who had no intention of interfering with workmen's Trades Unions—did employ men for the purpose he had indicated. More than that, in 1891, when they had the first great dispute with the Shipping Federation, the Federation employed men in Cardiff to concoct false evidence. Men were paid to go into the witness box at his (Mr. Wilson's) trial in Cardiff and swear falsely to get him convicted. The case which was brought before the Court at Cardiff was not a Shipping Federation case. He was charged by certain boarding masters in that town with taking men from their boarding houses and inciting those men to riot and unlawful assembly. Very strange it was that the Shipping Federation should place their funds at the disposal of the prosecution in order to get him convicted—though he did not know that he should be sorry, because he did not feel any ill effects of it. They did not succeed, however, in getting a conviction. Since then there had been many disputes, and he was convinced that if the Shipping Federation continued to act in the illegal manner in which they were acting now, the country had only seen the beginning of many disputes which would take place in every port throughout the Kingdom, and the trade of the country, they might be sure, would not be improved in consequence. On every 83 occasion on which a dispute took place the Shipping Federation immediately applied to the authorities for the services of the military and the navy. He did not object to the military being called in for the purpose of preserving order at any time. He believed that it was the duty of the authorities to preserve the peace, and that they would be lacking in that duty if they did not take every precaution. But he thought the responsibility for breaches of the peace should be placed on the right shoulders. At the present time it was all being placed on the shoulders of the workmen. They were told that the workmen in Hull had broken the peace, and that there had been riot and bloodshed. But there had only been three convictions in the town up to now. In spite of the fact that they had in Hull an unlimited number of policemen, there had, he repeated, only been three convictions. There could not, therefore, have been a large amount of riot and disorder. But he held that the Shipping Federation was responsible in the first place for the disturbance which had taken place. Had two or three Unionist officials representing the workmen been allowed to speak to the free labourers and put the case before them there would have been no riot and no disorder, though he was convinced there would have been few free labourers remaining in Hull at the present time. But it was part of the business of the Shipping Federation to create disorder, so as to get in the military and policemen to intimidate and overawe the workmen—that was their policy; but there was another direction in which these gentlemen acted illegally, and he was surprised that the Government did not put the law in force with regard to employers as well as workmen. If there was an Act of Parliament which made it illegal for any unlicensed person to ship seamen, the employers had no right to the liberty to break that law. The Shipping Federation—this innocent organisation which had no evil intention towards workmen's organisations—had, ever since its commencement, insisted upon sailors and firemen taking what was called the Federation ticket. They said that the ticket meant nothing; that it was simply a piece of parchment testifying that the holder, when he signed articles, would perform his contract and 84 go on his voyage. The men would, however, resist it as long as they had any money to fight with. The shipowners stated that their organisation was not for the purpose of interfering with wages. But what was the fact? Seamen in 1891 were paid something like 3s. 6d. a day and their food. That was at a time when all the men had the Union's ticket and not the Federation ticket. Since then, however, through the tyranny of the Shipping Federation and their officials, the men had been compelled to take the Federation ticket, with the result that their wages had been reduced to 1s. 9d. a day. What was this for a seaman or fireman to maintain his wife and family upon? He could give hundreds of cases in which respectable, reliable seamen bad got notice of a reduction of their wages from the captain when on the point of signing articles. On their refusal to do so the professional blackleg procurers of the Federation had got incompetent men—men who, when they got on board a ship, were sea-sick, and men who did not know the steering-wheel from a cart-wheel. Two years ago he brought a specimen of these land-sailors from Cardiff to the late President of the Board of Trade (Sir M. Hicks-Beach), and the man told the right hon. Gentleman that he had never smelt salt water in his life. These were the men on whom the Federation fell back when they could not get respectable men to accept their 1s. 9d. a day. The country paid large sums of money for the Board of Trade, and he failed to see what good that Department was so far as protecting the lives of the men was concerned. When a qualified seaman signed an agreement to go on board a ship with a certain number of other men he expected that, at least, he was going to get reliable shipmates. But when once he had signed and commenced his voyage, if he found that his shipmates were incompetent, and that, as a consequence, he had to do their work, he was practically powerless to refuse. If he did refuse the Merchant Shipping Act was put in force, and he might be brought before shipowning Magistrates who would sentence him to imprisonment of not more than six weeks, expressing regret, in some instances, that they could not go beyond that period. The Board of Trade was supposed to protect sea- 85 men from imposition, but it did nothing of the kind. Instead of preventing incompetent men being put on board ships by crimps, these officials of the Board in many ports had encouraged the crimps to get incompetent men, because these officials, when the men had gone on the voyage, were able to get a share of the advance note. It was a difficult matter for him to prove that these officials got a share of the advance note; but, nevertheless, it was very suspicious to see Board of Trade officials going down to houses of crimps and drinking with those crimps on a Saturday afternoon at the end of their week's work. He had called the attention of the Board of Trade repeatedly to this illegal supplying of men by the Shipping Federation and by the crimps in cases of labour disputes. The Board of Trade had refused to interfere, because they said it would not be right for the Department to interfere in a labour dispute. He quite admitted that the Board of Trade had nothing to do with a labour dispute; but if the law was broken by seaman, fireman, or shipowner, it was the duty of the Board of Trade to put that law in force. It was only a short time since he brought a case under the notice of the Board of Trade in connection with one of the Allan line of steamers, the Mongolia, when; they were trying to get a 10s. reduction on the men's wages. The men refused to accept the terms. The officials of the Federation at once applied to noted crimps, who employed runners to collect hands out of the casual wards of the workhouses, from tramping dens, and from men discharged from gaols. Out of some 20 men who signed as seamen in this vessel, 16 were unable to prove one day's service at sea, and out of 30 firemen not more than five had ever been at sea. The Board of Trade had had evidence of these facts, and yet had failed to put the law in force. The hon. Member went on to quote from the 147th section of the Merchant Shipping Act to show that if any person not licensed, other than the owner or master of a ship, or some other person directly authorised by them, engaged or supplied any seaman or apprentice for a ship, he should, for every seaman or apprentice so engaged or supplied, incur a penalty not exceeding £20. The Act also provided for 86 the imposition of a penalty on any person who employed an unlicensed person to engage seamen or apprentices. The law was perfectly clear, that no person should supply seamen for any ship, except those who were specially licensed by Act of Parliament. At one time the Board of Trade used to grant special licences to certain people; but that practice had been discontinued. Despite the law in this respect, the Board of Trade had allowed the shipowners to start an organisation which undertook not only to supply, but to engage seamen in the United Kingdom. The Board of Trade ought to have stepped in to prevent this, because it was inflicting great injury upon the resident seamen in many of our seaport towns. Under present circumstances, if a seaman wanted to be engaged, he must go to the Shipping Federation Office. There was one in each seaport town. A condition of getting employment was that the seaman must have a Federation ticket—preference being given to the men who had that tickets. Many cases had been brought under his notice in which respectable married men had arranged to go with a ship. When they had gone to the Federation Office the agent in charge had told the captain—"You cannot take those men; you must take these men." It was within his knowledge that certain boarding masters in Shields and Sunderland gave preference of employment to men who stayed in their houses. When the captain came to engage his crew the officers in the Federation Office pointed out the men that the captain had to take. Captains, and he should add engineers, had no choice in the matter. They said that they should be allowed the liberty to engage their own men, but the Shipping Federation said—"No, you shall not have that liberty. That must rest with the officials of the Shipping Federation." He thought that the President of the Board of Trade would admit that that was a serious hardship upon the resident seamen in our seaport towns. Why should they be elbowed out of employment in preference to men who might be supplied to the officials of the Federation by boarding masters? These boarding masters were, of course, not particular as to who should be engaged. They preferred that the Federation should take the men who came into their boarding houses at 87 5 o'clock in the evening and were ready to ship the next morning. The boarding masters supplied the outfit of clothes, which cost about 6s., and were charged about £2 or £2 5s. When the boarding master, to meet this debt and the other expenses, got the advance note, the officer of the Federation came to get a share of it. The Board of Trade could prevent this at once by giving notice to the Federation officials that if they supplied men the Act would be put in force. The Board of Trade had done this before. They did it in 1890, when the Federation first started. In Glasgow one of the officials was brought before the Sheriff and fined £20, and it was only after a deputation of shipowners had waited on the late President of the Board of Trade asking that the law should be altered to allow the Federation to supply men (as they had taken counsel's opinion, which was that it was illegal for them to do so) that the right hon. Gentleman said that so far as the Board of Trade was concerned they did not intend to take action in such cases, but to allow the shipowners to supply men by the use of the Federation. The late President of the Board of Trade had no right to give that privilege. No Minister had a right to suspend an Act of Parliament to accommodate shipowners or anyone else. They were ready to put the Act into force so far as workmen were concerned. They should be ready to put it into force as regards employers. As to the dispute in Hull, it was difficult to find anyone who could give an explanation as to what was in dispute. They were told by some that it was all about a simple piece of parchment. The Federation ticket people had said—"Would it not be wise to take the Federation ticket? If the Union men take the ticket they could elbow out the non-Union men, and thus keep their Unions intact." That was all very well. Some time ago, acting on the advice of friends, he allowed some of the men he was associated with to take the ticket. The result was to enable the shipowners to get men entirely at their own price. This was owing to the way in which the competition of inferior men was brought to bear. The agents of the Federation always had a number of worthless men at the Federation Offices ready to sign on at any terms. They had heard much about sweating in the House. When 88 shipowners compelled men to go to sea for 1s. 9d. a day, what was it but sweating? The sweating in the tailoring trade and other industries was not equal to the sweating in the shipping trade. It would not be so hard if it was constant employment which the men got; but when a man signed, say at Cardiff, for 1s. 9d. a day for a six weeks' voyage, and was discharged from his ship, say at Shields or Glasgow, and then had to pay his railway fare home to Cardiff, it would be seen that the terms were oppressive in the extreme. All this had been brought about by the Shipping Federation, and there was, therefore, every justification for resisting such tactics as they intended to do. The disturbance at Hull was a very remarkable matter, and was really due to the Federation of Shipowners. He had been watching the action of the Shipping Federation very closely, and they were informed that this Free Labour Exchange was a great combination of capitalists. It was composed not only of shipowners. They were told that it embraced a number of employers of labour; but for various reasons their names were kept quiet. They were told that shipbuilders and even coal miners—he was now quoting what had been said in employers' papers—had joined this Free Labour Exchange, and that it was their intention in every industrial centre to open a Free Labour Office, and thus compel men who wanted employment to register their name and address, and to undertake at all times to go from one town to another to take the place of men who might be out on strike either for an advance of wages, or to resist a reduction of wages, or to resist the hours of labour. He had with him one of the forms issued by this Free Labour Exchange, which was another name of the Shipping Federation, and the form they asked the men to sign was a form to be used when a labour dispute was pending or anticipated. As soon as an employer of labour connected with this Free Labour Exchange anticipated there was going to be a dispute in connection with his trade, he communicated with the Free Labour Office, who set their agents to work in every town throughout the country, and then they applied to the men who had signed on their list to go from one town 89 to another and take the place of the men who came out on strike. If ever the employers succeeded in getting organised regiments of free labour men, to that extent he was certain that there would he serious and grave cases of disorder in this country, because when workmen found that their only means of protection—namely, their organisations— were crippled and weakened to such an extent that the employers were in a position to crush them by the unlimited supply of free labour men that they would be able to put into the market at any given time—if that state of things were allowed to exist he was certain that riot and disorder would be rampant in every town throughout the country. And it would have to be faced. He was sorry to think that such a crisis was pending; that it could only be met in one way on the part of the workmen, and that was by making our strikes national instead of local. That would be the only means by which we should be able to prevent the employers of labour from crushing our Trade Unions entirely. Where there was a dispute in one port, and the employers could get such an unlimited supply of labour from that particular port, Unionists would have no other alternative but to extend the strike to every port in the United Kingdom. He said that the Government had no right to supply the employers with the Military and Naval Forces before there was reasonable ground for anticipating that there would be a riot. He ventured to say that at the early commencement of the dispute in Hull, had the military not been brought into that town and the numbers of policemen who arrived by train and marched down the streets in a body instead of coming in quietly in ones and twos to get to their hotels— that he believed they were treated very liberally—he believed that if they had come in in ones and twos there would have been very little disturbance at all. But here, in order to excite the strikers at the commencement of the strike, these men were marched down in a body, as much as to say to the workmen—" If you do not mind what you are we have all these policemen, and we will let you know what is the matter." As soon as the soldiers were brought into the town nothing would satisfy the Shipping Federation but that they should be 90 paraded with horses and swords drawn so as to make a great show. What was the meaning of that? It was intended to intimidate the men. Why were not the soldiers kept in the barracks until they wore needed? Why was there this useless parade? The first day he went to Hull the place was in a perfect state of excitement, not with strikers but with little boys and girls to see the soldiers; they thought it was some Manger's circus or something of that kind come into the town, and crowds were parading the streets and looking at the exhibition. There was what the newspapers described as "riotous scenes," and "great scenes of disorder." He said the authorities were at fault. Had they kept their policemen indoors, and their soldiers in the barracks, things would have gone on more smoothly than they did. It was quite right to have the force at their command ready if they should be required. He did not wish to take up the House's time, but this was a very serious matter. There were 10,000 men out on strike at Hull, and there were about 20,000 people depending on those 10,000 men; but he was not alarmed so much at what was going on at Hull as he was alarmed—and the House ought to take steps to prevent it—at the disturbance and fights they might have in the future. A Committee of the House had met one of the most prominent body of shipowners and the President of the Board of Trade. He recognised the interference of the President of the Board of Trade in this matter as of the greatest assistance and the greatest value, and it was very much appreciated by the workmen of the country. What took place was that they had a conference. The hon. Member for Central Hull was a party to that Conference, and, after having discussed this question, they arrived at a basis of settlement which to all parties present appeared to be very satisfactory. The workmen gave up one great point— one that he candidly confessed he thought much of, because he recognised that it was of the utmost importance that Trades Unions should try and have every man in the Union; as long as they had men outside the Union they wore a source of weakness to the cause—but the Union men wore prepared to concede the point that Union men should work with Non- 91 union men. They were told that was the beginning of the dispute in Hull— the question of the Union men and the Non-union men working together. Seeing that the workmen conceded that point, he thought that if the shipowners had not deliberately intended it matters would have been arranged. The shipowners were not agreed upon this point. He was certain that if the shipowners could get out of the Shipping Federation they would only he too pleased to do it; but the people who complained of tyranny on the part of the Union themselves caused shipowners to contribute to the Shipping Federation Fund. There were Members of the House who did not care for the policy of the Shipping Federation, but who were compelled to pay to this organisation, or otherwise their ships would not be insured. This agreement was prepared, and would have been accepted by the shipowners in Hull. He had been informed on reliable authority that the shipowners in Hull agreed to that basis of settlement, and it was only when they went to work with the shipowners, who had everything to gain by the continuation of the dispute, because the trade of Hull was being divided amongst others—it was only then that the shipowners refused to accept the outcome of this conference at Hull as the basis of the agreement which had been come to by the Committee of the House. He said that when the Shipping Federation had taken up that most unreasonable attitude it was the duty of the Government—he did not want favours from the Government—he should be the last man to ask for them—all he asked on behalf of the strikers was, in the first place, that the Board of Trade would put the law in force, and through their officials prevent the illegal supply of seamen. That was not a favour. He considered it the duty of the Board of Trade to do this without any Member of the House specially asking for them to do it. In the second place, he asked the Home Secretary to refuse to supply the Forces of the Crown until such time as was absolutely necessary in the interests of the pence of any particular district to supply them. he asked—he had a right to ask—that the Forces of the Crown should not be at the call of the Shipping Federation; that as soon as they appealed to the Crown an unlimited number of men should be sent down to parade about 92 the place. That was all he asked. It was a most reasonable request; and seeing the attitude the Shipping Federation had taken up, and having regard to the concessions which had been offered by the dockers and rejected by the other side, he said it was the duty of the Government not to afford them any assistance, but that, so far as the laws of the country were concerned, they should be enforced impartially between employer and worker. That was all he asked, and it was no special privilege. He trusted the Government would put the law in force, and not afford the Shipping Federation any facilities whatever. He moved that the House do adjourn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Mr. Havelock Wilson.)
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
My hon. Friend has said—and I agree with him— that this is a question of great interest and of general importance. So far as I am concerned, I will not enter into the merits of the existing dispute in Hull, or as to the general conduct of the Shipping Federation; but I am certain I am only giving expression to the universal feeling which prevails in this House when I say that we earnestly hope a means may be found for speedily putting an end to the dispute, and that a grave responsibility will rest on the shoulders of either party if they refuse to adopt reasonable means for that purpose. The only point I am concerned with—my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will, no doubt, say a word on the other points—the only other point I am concerned with is the question the hon. Gentleman has raised as to the employment of the Forces of the Crown in this matter. Now, Sir, the hon. Gentleman made the admission— which I was not surprised to hear him make—that the primary duty of the Local and Central Authority is to maintain order; and if for that purpose it is necessary to supplement the local police force by the Naval and Military Forces it is not only the right but the duty of the Government to accede to these demands. The hon. Gentleman seems to be under an impression that the Government have responded to some demand made 93 to them by the Shipping Federation. I assure him, and I assure the House, that he is entirely mistaken. The Shipping Federation and other employers have applied to the Government for forces to enable these apprehended disorders to be put down. My answer—and it has been the answer of all my Predecessors—the answer to such requests has invariably been the same—my answer was, if you have any complaint of this kind to make, make it to the Local Authorities— they are primarily responsible for the maintenance of order, and Her Majesty's Government will not listen to any demand for the extraordinary use of the Forces of the Crown, unless that demand proceeds from the authority on the spot responsible for the maintenance of peace. Neither the Military nor the Naval Force, so far as I am aware, has ever been sent, nor, so far as I am concerned, will ever be sent to take part in any dispute unless the Local Authority on the spot inform me that the force is presently and urgently necessary for the maintenance of the peace. That is the course followed in the present instance. And I may remind my hon. Friend with regard to the Local Authorities in Hull that the Magistrates, who are appointed by the Crown, have been supported by the recommendation of the Watch Committee of the Corporation of Hull. The Corporation of Hull is a popular elective Body, and the Watch Committee of that Body is the Committee which is primarily entrusted with the control of the police and the maintenance of order. I do not see how we can take upon us the responsibility of rejecting a demand declared by them to be urgently necessary. It is in that spirit, and that only, that Her Majesty's Government have acted in this matter, and I trust my hon. Friend will disabuse his mind of the impression that the Government have taken, or will take, either side in the dispute.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I did not complain of the presence of the military in Hull, but I complained of the soldiers parading round the town when there was no necessity for their so doing.
§ MR. ASQUITH
If the Forces are sent to a place a large discretion must be entrusted to the Magistrates and officers of the town as to the use of them. I do not know that this parading has 94 been attended with serious consequences. My hon. Friend has said the children came out and amused themselves by watching them. But I can say this, after having made careful inquiry: that, so far as my information goes, there has not been one single case of collision between the Naval and Military Forces on the one side and the people on the other, and throughout the time they have spent in Hull they have discharged their duties—their difficult and delicate duties —with the utmost discretion. Any complaint to be made must be made to the proper quarter, and it will be most promptly attended to. I cannot forbear from expressing my admiration, and that of hon. Members on both sides of the House, of the extreme discipline and discretion shown by officers and by men during the whole of this time. I may remind the House that a very valuable service has been rendered by the bluejackets on Her Majesty's gunboats in connection with the fires at the docks. I say nothing whatever as to the cause—it is perfectly certain that the great body of strikers repudiate any connection with the fires—but the fact that these fires occurred, and there is reasonable ground for suspecting, at any rate in one instance, it is the result of incendiarism, shows that, with two hostile parties in it, state of industrial warfare, with forces drawn up one against the other, there are certain to be some lawless, ill-disposed men—unconnected with either party, repudiated by the leaders of both parties—who would take advantage, unless there was sufficient force to restrain them, of violating the law. It is to prevent that state of things from arising during a period which, in the opinion of the Local Authorities, was one of emergency, that troops were sent. I trust, after that explanation, my hon. Friend will agree with me that, so far as Her Majesty's Government is concerned, they have acted with strict impartiality, and that the only interest they have to serve in the matter is keeping and maintaining the peace.
§ *MR. KEIR HARDIE
said, it was well to call attention briefly to the origin of the dispute which underlay the discussion which had been raised. It was a fight on the part of the dockers to maintain their right to combine. That was borne out by the reports which 95 had appeared from time to time in the public Press. The Daily Chronicle of the 10th April stated distinctly that the cause of the dispute was a deliberate and systematic attempt on the part of the employers of Hull to break up Trades Unionism. The Westminster Gazette of the same date made practically the same statement. He quoted these two papers because they were supporters of the Government in power, and could not be expected to be biased in their statement against a supporter of the Government. The Shipping Federation had refused all terms of settlement and compromise; they had insisted that before a docker should be employed in the Port of Hull he should first join the Free Labour Exchange, which had been explained to be another name for the Shipping Federation. He submitted that it was an illegal conspiracy for a body of shipowners or employers to lay down a law that before a workman could find employment he must first join an organisation of which they were the head, and which had been formed for the purpose of promoting their interests as opposed to his own. It had been decided that one shipowner might not join with another to prevent a third making profits in connection with a certain department of trade. If that were so in regard to a shipowner, it ought to be equally true in the case of a docker. The fact that these men had combined to prevent the dockers following their calling made the conspiracy an illegal one. The policemen at Hull, it had been said, were not competent to maintain order there; and, like the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, he would agree in saying that there might be cases and occasions in which it was necessary to employ the Military Forces of the Crown; but he respectfully submitted that until the powers of the Civil Force had been exhausted, the Naval and Military Forces should not be called into action. And there was no proof whatever—and, in fact, the Homo Secretary, in the speech he had made, had admitted that there was no evidence to show that there was any danger of serious outbreaks on the part of the great body of the strikers at Hull. The Home Secretary had said that a few irresponsible persons hanging about the edge of the crowd might commit crime; but 96 surely the police would have been amply sufficient to keep in order all these misguided persons; and when he admitted that the body of strikers was well-conducted, he took away any case there might have been for the employment of the Military Forces at Hull. The local police had been supplemented by an addition of 324 policemen from other towns and boroughs, including 26 mounted police from the Metropolis. He believed that this was the first occasion on which the mounted police of the Metropolis had been called to do duty outside of the metropolis, save on occasions of Royal pageants. And if the Forces of the Metropolis, which, like the soldiers and the Navy, were under the control of the Government, were to be used in this way in cases of trade dispute it became a serious matter indeed for the working classes of the country. The soldiers had been called in, and it had been denied that they had taken part in the dispute. But he had in his possession letters and telegrams from responsible leaders of the dockers at Hull which went to show that the services of the military were used to aid the blacklegs in loading and unloading vessels at the Port of Hull. And they had collateral evidence in support of that statement. The Commander of the troops at Hull, Major General Wilkinson, wrote to the Watch Committee of the Borough of Hull demanding that extra police should be employed, in order that the troops might be relieved of certain duties which were imposed upon them. He wanted to know from the Home Secretary what were the special duties which were imposed on the troops at Hull, from which Major General Wilkinson sought to have his men relieved? It was only when the Major General, who had some respect for the men and the honour of the Army, refused to allow them to perform the degrading work in which they were employed in connection with the strike that extra police were engaged. The complaint he (Mr. Keir Hardie) made against the employment of the soldiery was that, no matter how petty a trade dispute might be, immediately a demand was made for the presence of the military, that demand was never refused. On whose authority was it that the demand was made for the Port of Hull? They were told that the Shipping 97 Federation applied on this or other occasions, and were refused. But the Magistrates of the Port of Hull were the Shipping Federation under another name. The Bench of Magistrates there Was made Up almost exclusively of shipowners. The Watch Committee was much divided in opinion concerning the advisability of having the troops at Hull, and the Chairman of the Watch Committee (Alderman Stuart) was personally opposed to—and had given expression to his opposition—to the troops being longer Maintained there. No matter how petty a trade dispute might be the military were at once applied for. If it was a case of turning a miner out of his cottage, as was the case at Durham, the military were immediately sent for to parade their power and force. If it was the case of evicting a Highland crofter from his shieling or an Irish tenant from his cabin the military were immediately brought forward, ostensibly for the purpose of preserving law and order, but really for the purpose of taming and breaking the spirit of men who, to paraphrase a well-known sentence, were rightly struggling to maintain their freedom, and to make it easier for the capitalists of the country, in their capacity as employers of labour, to break down the only strength which stood between them and the oppression of the workers—namely, the Trades Unions of the country. He supported the Motion for the Adjournment of the House in order to enter a strong and emphatic protest against this continued employment of the Military Forces in connection with trade disputes. If the Magistrates in the Port of Hull had been made up of dockers instead of Dock Directors, more consideration would have been given to the request before it was complied with; and the fact that the Government, through the mouth of the Home Secretary, had refused an independent inquiry into the case for the continued presence of the military at Hull showed they were afraid to face an independent investigation. They wanted to shield the man who sat behind them, and who was responsible for this dispute being continued. Fair terms had been offered for the settlement of this dispute. The dockers had yielded every point which in the first instance was claimed at their hands; but now the shipowners, growing 98 bold by the backing which they had received, and by an apparent weakness on the part of the dockers, had enlarged their demands, and declared that unless the dockers submitted unconditionally no return to work would be possible. The military having been prohibited the other day from aiding the blacklegs, the police had started on a new tack, and he desired to ask the Home Secretary whether he had given any instructions to the Chief Constable at Hull to interfere with the pickets whilst in the performance of their duty? He would read to the House two telegrams which he had received that day, one of which formed the basis of a question which he put to the Home Secretary at question time. One of the telegrams read—Mounted and foot police last night stopped pickets proceeding lawfully, two by two, at long intervals apart … and turned men back.He wanted to know why that was done, and would the Home Secretary instruct the police that picketing was legal? That day he had received a telegram from the gentleman who was in charge of the strike at present, in which he said—Interviewed Chief Constable. He admitted that the police had instructions to intefere with pickets whilst walking in twos. Declines to say who issued such instructions.Now, he considered that was a serious matter. Picketing was admittedly legal. It had been legalised by the House of Commons. Pickets going along two by two could not be said to be an intimidating force; and if instructions were to be given to the police to interfere with pickets legally going about their business, then it practically meant that the Government of the day had declared that striking should he made illegal, because if the Military Forces of the Crown were to be called in to overawe the dockers, and if the Shipping Federation was to violate a law passed by that House, and if the police were to have special instructions to hamper and to hinder pickets in the performance of their duy, it meant that the last weapon left to workmen—namely, striking—their most powerful weapon— was being taken from them insidiously in this way by the powers that be. He trusted his hon. Friend would press his Motion to a Division, in order to test the feeling of the House in regard to the continued employment of the troops at 99 Hull, and the policy of the Government generally in allowing the Shipping Federation to escape scot free. A more serious battle for labour was never entered upon than that now going on. If the employers succeeded, it meant that the workmen, for a time at least, would be absolutely at the mercy of the employers. That might please the Members of that House who were employers. It might please the Home Secretary, who had never failed to elicit the warmest cheers from the Party of law and order in that House; but the workers in this country wanted to know why it was that, no matter what Government was in power, the side of the employer was taken in opposition to that of the workman? They could understand the Party of law and order cheering the employment of the police and military. It was consistent for them to do so, but in the case of the Liberal Party, who had come into power as the friends of labour, it was dishonest, and it was being untrue to all the professions on the faith on which they had been returned to power. He trusted the House would give no uncertain vote in regard to their opinion concerning the further employment of the Military Forces of the Crown in connection with the dispute going on at Hull.
§ *MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
said, at last the House had heard from the real leader of this movement a statement of the case so far as the difficulties connected with the Hull strike were concerned. He was surprised—he did not use the term offensively—at the ignorance which the Home Secretary had just now displayed. [Cries of "Oh!"]' Well, he would use the expression want of information—perhaps that would be better —in regard to what had taken place at Hull. He happened to receive from Hull—and had he known that this Debate was to take place he certainly should have brought the communication with him —a letter from a bonâ fide leader of the working classes, who was known to the President of the Board of Trade and to many hon. Members of that House, a man who was not in the habit of bolstering up his position by daily advertising himself by puffing paragraphs in the newspapers. The real leader of the working classes he referred to was Mr. Frederick Maddison, than whom no more high-minded or honourable man 100 could be found in the Kingdom. He wrote him (Mr. Cremer), only a few days ago, statements which he thought the Home Secretary ought to have made himself acquainted with. He described the irritating effect which was produced on the starving men and women of Hull by the presence of the military in that town. He (Mr. Cremer) quite agreed with the contention urged just now so forcibly by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, that if it was necessary that the military should be sent to Hull, they ought to have been carefully confined to barracks until occasion required that they should be brought out. Instead of that, if Mr. Maddison's statement was true, and he believed it was true—and the information was at the disposal of the Home Secretary — the military were being daily marched up and down the streets of Hull, and Mr. Maddison described the irritating effect produced on the starving men and women, and as being calculated to bring about the very result which the Home Secretary and the Local Authorities appeared anxious to avoid. He therefore thought that a strong case had been made out for the strict confinement of the military within the barracks at Hull, if their presence there was absolutely necessary, and he hoped the Home Secretary would take steps to obtain for himself definite information on that very important matter. He had not the slightest desire to waste the time of the House in further discussing this question. He believed the introduction of the Motion of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough must have a good effect upon the Government, and a soothing effect—at least he hoped so—upon the men in Hull who were contending for what they considered and believed to be their just demands. They only asked—and he thought they were entitled to ask— that the Government should preserve absolute neutrality in the dispute. They only asked that they should have fair play accorded to them; they wanted no privilege, but strict neutrality, and that fair play which always ought to be accorded by every Government whenever a struggle took place between employer and employed. In spite of the advice tendered by the hon. Member for West Ham—who never lost an opportunity of trying to inflict a stab 101 upon Her Majesty's Government, and in his attempt to do so was always cheered by his friends on the other side of the House—he hoped the hon. Member for Middlesbrough would not consider it necessary to press for a Division on his Motion, hut would consider his ends had been served, at least for the present, by having raised this very important Debate in the House of Commons.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said, as one who had taken some interest in the Hull dispute, as one whom that House would cheerfully and willingly accord had had some experience in strikes and industrial disputes, he wished to say a few words in favour of the Adjournment of the House. He trusted the hon. Member for Middlesbrough would not follow the bad example of some hon. Mem-who moved Resolutions, but did not intend to sustain them by going to a Division. He ventured to say that the condition of things at Hull was only the precursor of a worse; condition of things, that would inevitably follow throughout every port and industrial district of Great Britain, unless the illegal conduct of the Shipping Federation was resisted by Her Majesty's Government, of whatever political complexion that might happen to be in power, whenever those disputes occurred. With regard to the dispute at Hull and the introduction of the police and military, he wished to call the attention of the Home Secretary, and above all of the First Lord of the Treasury, to the memorable strike that took place in London nearly four years ago. They had in connection with that great dock strike in London at different periods from 50,000 to 100,000 unskilled labourers on strike for a period of six weeks. During the whole of that period there was not a single Police Court case arising out of the strike. There was no criminal outrage, and no physical intimidation of any character. If there had been any physical intimidation on the part of the strikers, he was positively convinced that the late Home Secretary would have put it down with that firmness and with that discretion which characterised the Party of law and order to which the right hon. Gentleman belonged. But what happened? In that London strike the police were kept in reserve. There the Homo Secretary had some thousands of policemen in and around the Docks, 102 but they were not allowed to go out, and by their presence to morally and physically intimidate the men on strike, who had no desire to intimidate, and who would have been kept from intimidation if the leaders could have had their way. They found that one of the biggest industrial conflicts of all time, owing to the authorities not sending the police and military to be used as they were being used at Hull, that big conflict ended satisfactorily to the men, the public approved of it, and the Forces of the Crown were not unnecessarily obtruded. The men were on their honour to behave. They were anxious not to abuse the law of picketing, and the leaders, to the best of their ability, kept the men within proper bounds; but that would have been almost impossible if the police and military had been used on behalf of the London Dock and Shipowners, as the police and military had been illegally used at the instigation of the Watch Committee of Hull, who, in this case, had been suborned by the Shipping Federation. The Home Secretary was now, unfortunately, placed in this position—that an ingenious American capitalistic creature named Mr. Laws, whose intention it was, if possible, to establish a Pinkerton police in England similar to that which existed in America —owing to the ingenuity of this American the Home Secretary had been saved the trouble of controlling and organising a Pinkerton police force. He was enabled to suborn the Watch Committee and the Bench of Magistrates, and through them the Military Forces of the Crown, to take the side of the shipowners at Hull to an extent that they ought not to have done. That was only part of the general system of intimidation that prevailed. To-day he had the pleasure of introducing to the Lord Chancellor a deputation of Bristol working men, who came to him with a Petition signed by 12,000 of the citizens of Bristol. That Petition pointed out that, in consequence of the Bench of Magistrates at Bristol being mainly composed of shipowners and men pecuniarily interested in labour disputes, law was being travestied in Bristol; and if a dock labourer got into trouble there, and if a policeman swore evidence against him, the condition of things was such through the Magistrates being industrial—Dr. Jekylls, and magisterial Mr. Hydes—that the docker 103 would probably say "Never mind the evidence. I am only a docker. Sentence me without hearing my counsel." Not only at Hull, but at Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Swansea they found that the local police, and the Metropolitan police, as at Hull, and the military were invoked at times of labour disputes, less with the object of preserving law and order, but they anticipated a breach of the peace by bringing in foreign police and bringing in the military was to intimidate the men, and prove to them that they had better submit before the forces of the Crown were used against them. He was prepared to prove that in Hull out of 38 Magistrates four were directly shipowners, and that 19 were pecuniarily interested in the ships or in the docks. That was to say, that 23 out of 38, or a majority of four, were interested in shipping. It seemed to him that if these industrial disputes were to continue, the Home Secretary would have to adopt some means by which Magistrates, other than those pecuniarily interested in these disputes, should assume the ordinary functions of a Magistrate; and if the military and police were to be invoked, it should be done at the instance of a tribunal independent both of the employers and the men. What did they find now in connection with the agents and members of the Shipping Federation—professional agitators like himself, actually attending a meeting of Magistrates where it was decided to invoke the aid of the military forces. Let them just fancy John Burns standing in the guardroom in Wellington Barracks and taking part in a discussion as to whether the Grenadier Guards should not be sent down to the docks of London in order to chase free labour out of the docks! It was as pertinent for him to give that illustration as it was for persons connected with the Shipping Federation, men pecuniarily interested in carrying out their policy, to be present at a meeting of a Bench of Magistrates when they decided to invoke the aid of the military. They were told that that was peculiar to Hull. That was not so. At Cardiff, at Southampton, at Swansea, and on the occasion of a recent dispute at Durham, the police and military were unnecessarily invoked, and in Lancashire during the street collections the masters were not sufficiently decent to 104 stay from the meetings when questions of street collections for the strikers were being discussed. He wished to point out that if a man made a violent speech he was responsible to the Magistrates and to the law for the consequences of that speech. If a man struck a free labourer, he must put up with the consequences of his illegal physical act; but if the masters did an illegal act, as they had done at Hull and elsewhere, in suspending the right of procession, of public meeting, and the right of picketing, then the Magisterial Bench would be brought into contempt and disrepute, and they would have English law administered, as he trusted it might never be administered, as it had been administered in the western mining towns, where the man who owned the coal mines of the district, and who held the freehold of the town, had practically the whole charge of ordering the police and military to fire on a mob simply because it was his pecuniary interest so to do. He read in The Times that morning a statement which showed the close relation which existed between the Shipping Federation and the Magistrates. The Times stated that a compromise had been reached, and the present idea was that there should be an informal conference between the sub - committees of the Shipping Federation and the Watch Committee to consider whether the work was to be carried on, and that the amount of protection necessary might be discussed. He would assume, for the sake of argument, that protection for free labourers was necessary at Hull, and that it was necessary to invoke the aid of the military. That was a matter for the Watch Committee and the Bench of Magistrates alone as Magistrates, and they had no more right to hold a conference with the sub-committees of the Shipping Federation—a party in this industrial dispute —than they would have to ask the leader of the strike at Hull, Mr. Ben Tillett, to consult with them as to whether or not free labourers should be sent out of the town under the protection of the police and military. He would go further, and would call the attention of the Home Secretary to a statement made by the Chairman of the Watch Committee. Addressing the Town Council on April 9 Mr. Stuart, 105 the gentleman to whom he referred, used this significant remark—The members of the Council were chiefly employers. Might he remind them that the display of force unhappily deprived the men of almost their only weapon, if he might say so. for protecting their interests? While it was true that they were only performing a duty in bringing the military there, he could not forget that, in the performance of that duty at Hull, they had prevented the men from using that moral persuasion which was both legal and just.He, no doubt, meant by that statement that the right to picket was interfered with, as was also the right of Unionist workmen to persuade and try to convert non-Unionist workmen, which was recognised by the law. In a Hull paper of April 10 he found that the arrival of the gunboats was due to the instigation of the Shipping Federation writing to the Admiralty, and not to the Watch Committee or the Bench of Magistrates writing to the Admiralty. They had heard a great deal of the intimidation of free labourers by the Unionists, most of which had been grossly exaggerated, and any of which, if it had happened, he should entirely disagree with, because he believed that the man who said that honesty was the best policy was a scoundrel, though he was right. But what prevailed in the ordinary moral sphere applied to strikes, and intimidation, in the long run, did not pay in strikes. No labour leader, as a matter of tactics, could commend it. But even in the event of intimidation occurring, it was not for the Admiralty to obey the whip of Mr. Laws or the Shipping Federation. It was the duty of the Magistrates, the Watch Committee, and the Town Council, in communication with the Home Secretary, to invoke the aid of the Naval Forces after the Riot Act had been read and there had been some preliminary disturbances which the local police were unable to deal with.
§ MR. ASQUITH
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to correct a misapprehension of fact into which he has fallen? It is not the case that the gunboats were sent at the instance of the Shipping Federation. They were sent on the demand of the Local Authority, which was approved of by me and communicated by me to the Admiralty.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said, he had further to point out that 23 out of 106 38 Magistrates in Hull were themselves pecuniarily interested in the matter, and that of the 15 members of the Watch Committee five were shipowners. That, he contended, was an abuse of the administration of the law, and the sooner the Home Secretary and his Colleagues began to alter it the better for the industrial, social, and political peace of the country. Some time since the Home Secretary, with that ability which characterised him, made an exceedingly eloquent speech, in which he maintained the right of public meeting, the right of procession, and the right of assembly in connection with political, industrial, and social questions. His (Mr. Burns's) contention was, that the position at Hull had been unnecessarily embittered by the arbitrary intervention of an outside police and military, deliberately brought there in accordance with the plan of campaign undertaken by the Magistrates at the instance of the Shipping Federation. He had held at different times of his life various opinions with regard to the law. He started with the opinion that there was one law for the rich and one law for the poor, but every time he was sentenced by English Judges he came to the conclusion that they were almost as impartial as incorruptible, and as just as it was possible for human beings to be. But if they saw in future what was taking place at Hull to-day, what took place at Bristol a month ago, what took place at Southampton 12 months ago, and what took place at Cardiff two years ago—namely, the Watch Committee, the Bench of Magistrates, and the Town Council deliberately using their position as parties in an industrial dispute to invoke the forces of law and order for the purpose of playing their game against the weaker side, against unskilled and hitherto unorganised labour — if that was to continue, there was only one thing for the unskilled labourer of England to do, and that was, to walk about as the unskilled labourer did in America, with either a knife or a revolver in his pocket—his own law and his own authority. They had the fact that free labourers, deliberately armed by the Shipping Federation, were sent from post to post with the deliberate object of provoking strikes and bringing about disturbances, with a view to breaking 107 down the organisation of unskilled labour. This he could say, that, much as he respected English law, if it was the intention of Mr. Laws to introduce into this country what was known as the free labour police, similar to Pinkerton's police that State after State in America had to put down, he would be opening the flood-gates of anarchy and social and political disorder. Were they going to allow mine-owners, shipowners, or dock-owners to usurp the functions of the law simply because they happened to have wealth, social prestige, and power at their backs? It was because he believed the House of Commons would not allow such a thing as this to happen; it was because he believed the Home Secretary would take time by the forelock and nip this Shipping Federation conspiracy in the bud, that he had interposed in the Debate. It was because he did not desire the strikers to intimidate the free labourers that, on the other hand, he asked the Home Secretary and the First Lord of the Treasury to see that the law was enforced by impartial and honest functionaries, and not to allow either the Town Council or the Watch Committee to play the game of the Federation through the military and the police. It was the duty of an impartial tribunal to see that the law was obeyed, and, if necessary in order to enforce that object, to call in the assistance of military and outside police; but, under the circumstances detailed, he hoped the hon. Member would press his Motion to a Division, so that they could see who were the friends in that House of labour and lawful combination.
§ MR. CLARENCE SMITH (Hull, E.)
said, that, as representing one of the divisions of Hull in that House, he should like to say a word or two, but he would confine his observations to one point. Though his sympathies were entirely with the men in their struggle, particularly since the Federation decided to hold no communication with them or offer any method of solution, he thought it only fair to say that, in his opinion, the hon. Member for Battersea had entirely misunderstood the position of the Watch Committee, who, as the Home Secretary had told them, were the popularly elected representatives of the people. He should like to say that the Mayor of Hull had been for 108 many years a friend of labour. He was a prominent member of the Liberal Party, and labour at Hull had hardly a more trusted friend. He should like to tell the hon. Member that the Chairman of the Watch Committee, Mr. Alderman Stuart, was for many years a prominent member of the Liberal Party, and one of the most powerful advocates of the interests and the rights of labour. Further, he did not think he was exaggerating in saying that the Deputy Chairman of the Watch Committee was one of the keenest friends of labour in all Yorkshire. Under these circumstances, the hon. Member should, he thought, exempt the popularly elected representatives at Hull from the censure which he had passed upon the other Local Authorities. He had received from Alderman Stuart a communication in which he said—and he thought the House would believe every word—that it would be absolutely impossible to preserve the peace of the town with the force under the control of the Local Authorities. He thought he should not have done his duty if he had not made that statement, which he hoped would induce his hon. Friend to withdraw the words of censure he had passed upon the popularly elected representatives of the people.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
hoped he would not be accused of any want of sympathy if he ventured to submit to the House totally different advice to that which had been advocated by the hon. Member for Batter-sea (Mr. Burns) and the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Keir Hardie) —namely, that a Division should be pressed. He had very great sympathy with the workmen on strike at Hull; for whatever might have been the origin of that strike, whether the men or those who provoked the strike were right or wrong in the course they took, he thought no one would deny that at the present time the shipowners, or, speaking more fairly, the Shipping Federation, had admittedly been—
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (interrupting)
said, he should like to make his position clear on this matter. ["Order, older!"] He was not going to make a speech, but only to explain. He was not going to divide the House on the question of the presence of the military and police at 109 Hull, because there were two opinions on that matter; but there could be no two opinions as to the breaking of the law by the Shipping Federation in contravention of the Merchant Shipping Act, and, unless satisfied on that point, he did intend to go to a Division.
§ MR. FENWICK
said, he was glad to have that explanation from his hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Havelock Wilson), because that considerably altered the situation. He had no doubt they would presently hear from the President of the Board of Trade some observations which might possibly lead his hon. Friend to re-consider his decision with regard to the advisability of dividing the House. If there had been a deliberate violation of any Statute Law with regard to the employment of seamen at Hull, he was confident that the President of the Board of Trade would be the very first of all men to take immediate steps to remedy the evil, and to do it to the satisfaction of all concerned. But he was observing that, whatever might have been the origin of the dispute, there was, in his opinion at least, at this moment, not the slightest doubt that the object of the Shipping Federation was to break down the workmen's Union by insisting upon registration in the Labour Bureau and the acceptation of the Federation ticket. He had never been one of those who had maintained that it was the function of a Trade Union to compel or to coerce any man, with or against his will, to become a member of that Union. The peculiarity of the situation at Hull, so far as the military were concerned, seemed to arise out of the fact that the Local Authority, who were responsible for the calling out of the military, were themselves the men who were directly mixed up in this dispute. The situation was an extremely complicated and difficult one. He could not see how the Home Secretary, when applied to by the Local Authority for additional military and police assistance, could have avoided the responsibility of acceding to the application. Had he not done so, he would undoubtedly have incurred a very grave and serious responsibility, which that House would not have been slow to carry home to him had a conflict taken place, and had he refused to strengthen the hands of the Local Authorities, who were responsible 110 for the preservation of peace and order in Hull. On the other hand, he could not conceal from himself the peculiarity of the situation, which was this: those who were responsible for making application to the Home Secretary for additional forces were themselves the men who were in conflict with the workers. It seemed to him that the first thing the House ought to insist upon was that the military who were at present located in Hull should not be paraded before the gaze of the people. No one, he thought, would venture to submit that there was such excitement at Hull that at any moment there might be an outbreak of rioting and disturbance. No one had ventured to submit that. Then, why this necessity for display—why these parades of the forces of the Crown in the streets? Those parades were in themselves calculated to provoke a breach of the peace and bring about a disturbance. At any rate, he thought they had a right to demand from the Home Secretary, or some Member of the Government, an assurance that proper steps would be taken to ensure that the military should not be called upon to parade the streets unless there was imminent danger of a disturbance of the peace. He hoped, further, they would have an assurance from the President of the Board of Trade with regard to the alleged broaches of the Merchant Shipping Act; an assurance which would satisfy his hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, and which would remove the necessity for putting the House to the trouble of dividing upon this subject. Even, however, if that assurance was not satisfactory, what would his hon. Friend gain by putting the House to a Division? If they did divide, and the majority of the House and the majority of hon. Members were in favour of taking an evening off, what advantage would be gained? No practical advantage, it seemed to him, would be gained. But if the House did go to a Division, he should vote with his hon. Friend, though he trusted he would remain satisfied with having brought the matter before the notice of the House and of the country.
§ MR. LOCKWOOD (York)
was glad to hear from the hon. Member for Middlesbrough that he did not intend to press to a Division that part of his Motion which related to the presence of 111 the troops in Hull, because he was sure no one who had heard the statement of the Home Secretary could help feeling that, so far as he was concerned, he was determined to do all he could to see that the troops were strictly impartial. He did not suggest that there was any desire on the part of those in command of the forces to be other than impartial; but in the course of this very interesting Debate there had been three points made—points included in that part of the Motion upon which they were called upon to divide— which, as it seemed to him, required answering from some hon. Member on the Front Government Bench. First of all, they were told by the hon. Member for West Ham that members of the Shipping Federation had been present at the deliberations of the Watch Committee when the committee were forming a conclusion as to whether or not application should be made for forces to be sent to Hull. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Burns) drew an illustration of the kind of effect which was likely to be produced if he presented himself at the guardroom at Wellington Barracks and made a similar application. Well, it would probably result in the detention of his hon. Friend; but, at any rate, he did not think he would gain much so far as his application was concerned. Surely, if this statement by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Keir Hardie) were true, if it was a fact that members of the Shipping Federation were present in the Watch Committee at the time of those deliberations, all he could say was that they were very ill-advised in going there. He hoped some further information would be forthcoming on that matter. The second point he wished to call the attention of the House to was this: It was stated by the hon. Member for West Ham that he had received a challenge—which had never been challenged—to the effect that perfectly legal pickets had been interfered with by the police. The hon. Member was perfectly right in his statement of the law that pickets were perfectly legal pickets if they were as he had described them, and when they were not in such numbers as to constitute a force of intimidation. They were about their lawful business; and if it were true that they had been interfered with, 112 the matter should be inquired into. The Government, which he believed was a Government favourable to labour, would be failing in its pledges if it did not do so. The third point was with regard to the practices of the military; and with regard to that matter he should like to ask the Home Secretary whether it was not a fact that the military taken to Newcastle during the Durham strike there were confined to barracks during the whole of the time? He had received this information from one of the officers of the Royal Dragoons—the same regiment, he believed, as was now in Hull. The advice as to the unnecessary parade was good advice, and he, for one, hoped that steps would be taken to prevent any unnecessary parade of the forces in the present instance. But there still remained the point upon which the House would have to divide, which was a very serious matter, and well worthy the attention of the Board of Trade. The point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough was a good one. For the benefit of hon. Members who were not in the House at the time, he would quote the section again. The Act was 17 & 18 Vict., c. 104, and the particular sections to which attention was directed were Sections 146 and 147, as to the engagement of seamen—The Board of Trade may grant to such persons as it thinks fit licences to engage or supply seamen or apprentices for merchant ships in the United Kingdom, to continue for such periods, to be upon such terms, and to be revocable upon such conditions as such Board thinks proper.Section 147.—The following offences shall be punishable as hereinafter mentioned' (Sub-sections 1, 2, and 3):—'If any person not licensed as aforesaid, other than the owner or master or a mate of the ship, or some person who is bonâ fide the servant and in the constant employ of the owner, or a shipping master duly appointed (Section 145), as aforesaid, engages or supplies any seaman or apprentice;' or 'if any person employs any unlicensed person other than persons so excepted as aforesaid, for the purpose of engaging or supplying any seaman or apprentice to be entered on board any ship in the United Kingdom,' or 'if any person knowingly receives or accepts to be entered on board any ship any seaman or apprentice who has been engaged or supplied contrary to the provisions of this Act … he shall for every seaman or apprentice so engaged or supplied incur a penalty as therein stated.That covered the whole ground. Who were these men? They were not shipowners, nor were they in the constant employ of shipowners. They were the 113 servants, for the time being, of the Shipping Federation. The Shipping Federation were not in law agents of the owners of ships for this purpose. Those persons were not within any of the exceptions named in the sub-sections to Section 147. If that were so, there had been a breach of the law, and he trusted that the present Government would have the courage to enforce the law against those who had broken it. Perhaps this would be more properly a question for the Solicitor General; but as he was not in his place, he trusted that the Board of Trade would be able to give them some assurance upon the point.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. MUNDELLA,) Sheffield, Brightside
I shall be glad to explain, so far as I am able without notice—
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I received no notice that the matter was to be brought forward this afternoon. If it can be shown that the Shipping Federation or anyone else has committed a breach of the Merchant Shipping Act I will undertake their prosecution. I cannot say more than that. I have received during the last few days indignant remonstrances from members of the Shipping Federation for prosecutions which I have already undertaken under Section 148 of the Act—If any person demands or receives, either directly or indirectly, from any seaman or apprentice, or from any person seeking employment as a seaman or apprentice, or from any person on his behalf, any remuneration whatever, other than the fees hereby authorised, for providing him with employment, he shall, for every such offence, incur a penalty not exceeding £5.These clauses were framed against crimping.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I am only stating the course which I have taken with respect to persons connected with the Shipping Federation. With respect to Section 146, the Board has not granted for years past licences to persons to supply seamen, but has allowed the supplies to come in the regular course. I find that my Predecessor was advised by 114 persons administering the Act that the Shipping Federation, being formed by shipowners, are bonâ fide in the employ of the shipowners and could supply seamen.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
Well, the question is one of law, and, if the hon. Gentleman disputes it, he had better test it.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
It is constantly done by private individuals. I have no desire whatever to shirk any duty that belongs to the Board of Trade, or to throw on the Association represented by my hon. Friend any duty which properly belongs to that Department. Only let it be made clear that there has been a breach committed by the Shipping Federation, and the Board of Trade will commence a prosecution. I cannot, however, do this in violation of the advice, not only of those who preceded me, but of those who now advise me on matters of law. To make assurance doubly sure I will, however, bring the particular portion of the Act again under the notice of the Law Officers, and obtain the very best advice as to what the state of the law really is. More than this I cannot do in face of the advice already given, that the law does not apply either to the Shipping Federation or to a combination of masters or workmen. I do not think that the hon. Member serves his cause by the statements he has made. He spoke of incompetent men being employed, and he gave an instance; but as there is, I believe, a case pending in regard to that, I prefer to say nothing about it at present further than this — that an inquiry was made into the case of the 16 men on the Mongolia, and that the Report is expected every day. I have done all I can to get at the truth of the matter, and have prepared myself to answer questions on the subject, but none were asked by the hon. Member.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
Very well, the hon. Member cannot blame me for any delay. The hon. Member said that the Board of Trade officials encouraged crimps and shared the proceeds of advance notes with them. That is an allegation which ought not to have been 115 made against any men in the service of the Board of Trade unless there is abundant proof of its truth. I do not believe that statement; and it is my duty to disbelieve it, because I believe that they are honourable men, and I did not either in 1886, nor do I find during my present term of Office, that any man in that employ is capable of being bribed into neglecting his duty.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
Let the hon. Member give proof of what has been alleged, and not only will the offending official be dismissed from his employment, but he will also be subjected to prosecution for corruption in the discharge of his duty. With regard to all these matters, whilst on the one hand it is said that I am not impartial in dealing with the Shipping Federation, on the other hand complaint is made that I treat it with undue severity. That is some proof that I have the balance with tolerable equality. I much regret the present dispute at Hull; I have done my utmost to bring about a settlement. It is much to be regretted that the suggestions made have not been acted upon; but if the parties to the dispute had been left alone—if third parties had held aloof—I believe the matter would have been amicably settled. It is only fair I should make acknowledgment of what has been done by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. John Burns), who, much to his honour, took a most prominent part in trying to bring about an amicable settlement. He did everything a man could do in endeavouring to narrow the area of the strife and to prevent its extension to other ports of the country. Personally, I recognise as fully as anyone can that if any Organisation sets itself the impossible task of attempting to differentiate between the members of a great Union and non-Unionists in an attempt to breakup a workman's Union not only will it ignominiously fail, but it will in the attempt produce disastrous results. I hope the hon. Member will not divide the House, and ask Members, by way of expressing their sympathy, to waste the rest of the evening by a premature adjournment. He will be taunted with such a result if he should be successful, and that would not be in the interest of the cause he desires to 116 serve. If the hon. Member will bring before me any specific case of illegal employment or illegal supply I will submit it to my Legal Advisers.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I only wish to deal with one observation of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He said this matter was brought forward without notice. One result of that is that the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Sir M. Hicks-Beach) is not in his place, and the President of the Board of Trade appears to throw responsibility for the action he has taken on him as his Predecessor.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, to which I was replying. I took all the responsibility for what I had done upon myself, and I referred to my Predecessor only because the hon. Member for Middlesbrough complained that his action was wrong three years ago.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then I must have misunderstood the tenour of that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I understood that the right hon. Gentleman was not satisfied with the advice on which he had been acting, and prefers to take other advice.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I have acted upon the advice of the Legal Department of the Board of Trade, but, if the interpretation of a clause is called in question, it is open to me to take other advice.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If that be so, the right hon. Gentleman's confidence in the advice on which he has been acting is somewhat shaken. ["No, no!"] Well, I will not go into a question with which I am incompetent to deal, but I will confine myself to what I regard as most important—the action not of the President of the Board of Trade, but of the Home Secretary, who, so far as I understood, has behaved as a man holding a responsible position ought to behave in the somewhat difficult circumstances in which he was placed. Observations have been made to this effect: "We do not expect this kind of conduct from a Government pledged to labour interests." I do not believe that this Government or any Government would deserve the name of a Government if it were pledged to either labour interests or to capital interests. Every man in the House, to whatever Party he 117 belongs, will sympathise with the efforts the right hon. Gentleman has made. In this matter there is no question between labour and capital dividing the two sides of the House. The business of the Government is perfectly clear. They ought to maintain the most rigid impartiality in all these labour questions as between the capitalist and the labourer, and use all such forces as are at their disposal, when they may be required, for the preservation of public order and the maintenance of individual liberty. I understood from the Home Secretary that those principles guided his action in this matter. I have every confidence in the statement the right hon. Gentleman has made on the subject, and, therefore, if this matter goes to a Division, I shall be found in the same Lobby with the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
wanted to know whether they were to understand that the President of the Board of Trade would submit Clause 146 to the Legal Advisers of the Crown, and, if their view supported that of the hon. and learned Member for York, that he would take action upon it?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE,) Edinburgh, Midlothian
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I trust, we may consider as one of approval rather than animadversion, and, that being so, I think there can be no hesitation on our part in commending the doctrine he has laid down with respect to the obligation of absolute impartiality in dealing with matters of this kind. With respect to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, it is the clear and manifest duty of my right hon. Friend, in the circumstances, to refer the matter of law which has been raised to-day by a competent authority in the House to the Law Officers of the Crown. It is perfectly plain that in doing so my right hon. Friend is not at all open to the observation that he has been shaken in regard to the advice he has already received. If is the established practice of a Department of the Government in a question in which law is raised to take the advice, not at once necessarily of the Law Officers of the Crown, but of its own Legal Advisers. If their advice be 118 brought in question and impugned by persons of serious and considerable authority, such as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lockwood), it is most natural, usual, proper, and politic that the bead of the Department should fortify himself with the highest authority to which he has ordinarily access—namely, that of the Law Officers of the Crown— and it imparts no imputation or suspicion on his part with regard to his ordinary Advisers that he should find it his duty to endeavour to fortify them by reference to a weightier authority. There are only two observations I have to make with regard to the matters in this Debate. I think it impossible not to sympathise, with the principle involved in the remarks made with respect to anything like an unnecessary parade of military forces. It is most impolitic, unwise, and calculated to defeat the very purpose in view, assuming that the forces have been brought upon the ground for sufficient cause. I do not at all intend to say—I have no knowledge of the facts which would justify me in saying—that there has been any such parade. I am not prepared to pronounce any condemnation upon what has been done; but to the principle and the rule to which utterance has been given I entirely adhere; and in the spirit of that rule my right hon. Friend will regulate all his proceedings bearing upon this case. There is another point mentioned which is new to the Government. It is stated that the police in Hull have interfered with what is known as the practice of picketing. Now, picketing is a matter which, in certain conceivable circumstances, may degenerate into abuse. But, apart from abuse, it is legal and has received full sanction, and the interference of the police with it would be entirely discountenanced, and so far as we have the power would be prevented and put an end to by the authority of the Government. I hope that explanation will be regarded as perfectly clear. I am almost tempted to offer a suggestion on my own part, which is this—that if you were to go to a Division the issue would probably be a false one. If the House found it necessary to go to a Division, and there was a large number against the Adjournment and a small number voting in its favour, I am afraid it might be miscon- 119 stured as showing an indisposition to listen to the claims put forward by my hon. Friend on behalf of the strikers in Hull. I hope, if this question is brought to an issue, it will be brought to an issue in some form less equivocal than a Motion for the Adjournment. I hope my hon. Friend will be disposed to be content, in the interest of those whose cause he has so ably advocated, with the result of this discussion. If he should go to a Division the result may be open to misapprehension.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
said, he had no desire to put the House to unnecessary inconvenience. He thought that the discussion had greatly benefited the cause he advocated. It had cleared the atmosphere upon the question—a question that was causing much consideration outside the House. He was not quite satisfied with the reply of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. [Cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
said, he only wanted to reply to one or two remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. He (Mr. Wilson) had endeavoured as far as he could to work in perfect harmony with the officials of the Board of Trade, but he had found some disinclination on the part of those officials to work in harmony with him. The action of the officials of the Board of Trade had been most hostile to the men of the Union. As to the statement that the Board of Trade had not put the act in force, he should like to call attention to the fact that two and a half years ago a responsible official of the Board of Trade wrote to the secretaries of the Union to which he belonged threatening them with proceedings for supplying men. As, however, they had the promise that the matter would be submitted to the Law Officers of the Crown, and not the officials of the Board of Trade, he was willing to accept that assurance and withdraw his Motion.
§ Question put, and negatived.