§ On the Motion that the Speaker do leave the chair,
MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon District) rose to move as an Amendment—
To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, 'a Select Committee be appointed to consider the alleged action of the London and North-Western Railway Company in declining to take into their service monoglot Welshmen as labourers in the most Welsh-speaking areas of the Principality of Wales, whilst at the same time they employ in the same districts officials who are completely ignorant of the language of the people with whom they come into contact and have business relations,' instead thereof.
He said he was sure the Directors of the London and North-Western Railway Company would be pleased that an opportunity had been found of bringing this question before the public, and thrashing it out; and if they had a satisfactory explanation to give, the House and the public generally would be glad to receive it. He understood that objection had been raised to the discussion of the conduct of the Company towards its workmen in the House,
but he would point out that a Company which existed by virtue of statutory powers, was in a very different position from a private employer. The House had taken upon itself to regulate the rates which a Railway Company charged; it had now taken upon itself the function of regulating the charges of shopkeepers. The reason was that Parliament, having given Railway Companies a valuable monopoly, felt it necessary in the interests of the public to see that their powers were not used to the injury of any portion of the public. Yet the House had taken upon itself to protect traders against excessive rates, he submitted that it was also the duty of the House to see that the workmen employed by the Companies did not suffer. Against a private firm dealing unfairly with its workmen the public had a remedy; they could withdraw their custom. But against a railway company they had no such remedy. They could not set up an opposition line without coming to the House of Commons, and the House of Commons was, after all, the ultimate tribunal which would try a question of this kind. It was the statutory powers which had been conferred upon the London and North-Western Railway Company which had really enabled it to defy public opinion. The House had spent a large sum of money on this Company's line at Holyhead, and he maintained that the House, having conferred these powers, facilities, and exceptional advantages on the London and North-Western Company had, at any rate, some right to remonstrate with the Company if it acted unfairly towards its workmen. What were the facts of the case which they made against a particular official of the company? Three or four years ago complaints were made to the Welsh Members by their constituents that Welsh-speaking Welshmen on the company's line in North Wales were being weeded out. At that time he communicated with the company, and was assured that the dismissal of the men had nothing whatever to do with their nationality or language. In 1894 a number of workmen, put by the company at 11 but as Welsh Members alleged nearer 30, were discharged without any reason being assigned. A sort of examination of these men with regard to their language was
held by Mr. Dawson at Bangor. There was a good deal of agitation in North; Wales in consequence. Resolutions were passed by municipal corporations, county councils, and benches of, magistrates, and without distinction of class or creed or political party. Then Mr. Dawson offered a denial of these charges. They were now told that the conduct of Mr. Dawson was prompted by a desire to safeguard the public. If that was so he might have taken the public into his confidence instead of misleading them. Mr. Dawson wrote a letter to Mr. McKillop, a county councillor, stating that the company had no intention of dispensing with the services of Welsh workmen who could not speak English. But Mr. McKillop had got hold of a couple of circulars issued by Mr. Dawson to his sub-inspectors. In one of these, issued in June, he instructed these sub-inspectors that the services of men who could not speak English or who could only speak English a little were to be dispensed with, as it was contrary to the company's rules to have such men in their employ. This referred not to signalmen or station masters, but to labourers, and that was the ground of their complaint. In the second circular, issued in July, Mr. Dawson asked for lists of every man who could not speak English, and yet in October, when an agitation arose, Mr. Dawson denied the whole thing. He (the speaker) did not wish to use any strong language. It was quite enough for him to state the fact, and leave it to the House to characterise it as best it could. He regretted that Lord Stalbridge had said that whatever action Mr. Dawson had taken had been taken after consultation with the directors.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, he was glad to get that explanation now offered. That was how matters stood in October of last year, When the circulars were made public, when Mr. Dawson could no longer deny the facts, and he had denied them for three or four years, and evidently misled the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for the University of Dublin, who doubtless would reply on behalf of the Company; it was said that the safety of the passengers and the traffic was concerned. For the last half-century the 966 Company had employed monoglot Welshmen upon this particular line of railway, and there had never been an accident that could be attributed to the fact that platelayers could not understand their orders. There was another point worthy of notice. There were two or three other Companies in Wales who employed Welsh-speaking Welshmen—the Great Western, the Midland, the Cambrian, and several companies in South Wales. They had found no inconvenience arise from the fact that their platelayers could not understand English. Besides, there would be no difficulty at all in translating the instructions to the platelayers. There were stations at which the by-laws were translated into Welsh for the benefit of the general public. If the Company could translate the bye-laws, why could they not translate the instruction to their platelayers? Even if the right hon. Gentleman were able to give a single instance in which an accident had occurred through the inability of platelayers to speak the English language, he submitted that the rule was a very one-sided one. The particular part of the country which this line of railway traversed was peculiarly Welsh-speaking. From the official census he found that in Anglesey there were only 2,059 of the population who were monoglot Englishmen, 23,200 were monoglot Welshmen, and 7,200 were bi-linguals. In Carnarvonshire there were 12,000 English monoglots 78,000 Welsh monoglots, and 28,000 bi-linguals. There was a similar state of things in Denbighshire, especially in that part of it through which this line passed. How did the Company act with the Welsh-speaking population. Forty per cent. of their station—masters were monoglot Englishmen. At places in Anglesey where there were English—speaking station-masters, quite 90 per cent. of the population were for all practical purposes monoglot Welshmen. The station-masters did not understand a word of Welsh, and often the result was ludicrous, if not slightly pathetic. He knew one place where he did not think there were half-a-dozen men who understood more than half-a-dozen words of English, and yet the Company who were so careful not to have a single navvy on their line who could not speak English, placed a monoglot Englishman there, a man who 967 could not carry on any conversation with the people with whom he came in' contact. He submitted that if the London and North-Western Railway Company meant to insist that their platelayers should know English, they ought, in fairness and for the sake of the convenience of the travelling public, to insist that their station masters, porters, and booking clerks should know the Welsh language: they ought certainly to insist upon such a state of things in districts where the monoglot Welsh numbered something like seven to one of the population. He had no wish to detain the House longer. He would be' sorry to use any language which would make it impossible for the Company to give a fair and impartial consideration to the case, and he earnestly appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to give them such satisfaction as would render it unnecessary for them to proceed with the Motion He begged to move the. Motion of which he had given notice.
MR. BEYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
said, this was not so much a question of the 11 or 12 men who were dismissed, because the Company had offered those men other employment, which in some cases had been accepted. But the complaint was that the, general rule was still allowed to remain practically in force, and that there were about 30 men whose claims remained un-redressed. The general rule was that no men must be taken into the employ of the Company unless they knew English, certainly to the extent of one man in every gang. The excuses that had been given for the action of the Company had constantly varied. The inference to be drawn from the part of the letter of October 24, which his hon. Friend did not read, was that these were mere ordinary dismissals that took place annually at that time of the year when the summer traffic came to an end. The fact was that some of these men had been years and years in the employ of the Company. When, it was discovered that the circular in question had been issued, that excuse was completely abandoned, and there was great difficulty in obtaining any explanation from the Company. As his hon. Friend had pointed out, nearly all the public bodies in that part of North Wales—county councils, town councils, local boards. 968 boards of guardians—passed resolutions of remonstrance and sent them to the Company. All that was received in reply, as far as he was aware, was the simple acknowledgement of the receipt of the resolutions. But some persons, evidently friends of Mr. Dawson, wrote letters to the local papers, in which it was suggested that a reason why it was necessary these plate players should know English, was that they should be able to read the instructions given to them. In answer to that, it was contended that the instructions could easily be translated into Welsh. There was a further answer. A large number of the Englishmen employed on the permanent way were unable to read and write, and therefore the objection that the Welsh monoglot could not read his instructions failed altogether. There were English Gang men who were not very conversant with the English language, and who actually went to their Welsh subordinates to have official instructions explained to them. He brought these facts before the general meeting of the Company in January last, when a third explanation was suggested by the Chairman which had never been mentioned before. He said that the action of the Company was on account of the possibility of accidents, and that it would be dreadful if, in case of an accident, the platelayers, who were the first to be called on, did not understand English, and could not be sent to the nearest signal box to block the line. The answer to this excuse was that no one suggested that all the platelayers should be monoglot Welshmen. Moreover, where Welshmen were taken into the service of the Company they learnt English very rapidly—especially the young men. Even, a Welshman, who at first knew no English, would not, at the end of a week, be so ignorant of any simple phrase, as not to be able to tell a signalman to block the line. He asked Lord Stalbridge whether a single case such as he had suggested, had occurred, and he had to admit that it never had. But accidents and collisions had occurred in Wales—notably at Abergele, in the middle of this district. He told Lord Stalbridge that there were other railways running in Wales—the Great Western and the Cambrian—which had not the same rules; and the answer was that 969 those other lines did not run their trains at such a high speed. But out of 11 men whom the Company admitted having dismissed, 10 were not working on the main line, hut on branch lines, where the speed was below 30 miles an hour. When all these various excuses were trumped up, one after another, it was fair to infer that they were mere subterfuges put forward by Mr. Dawson to blind the Directors and the public. This question was not raised in any way with a view to excluding Englishmen from the service of the Company. There was no desire to enlist prejudice against them. It was not a cry of "Wales for the Welsh." That cry had never been raised, for it would be suicidal. It would be followed by the cry of "England for the English," which would necessitate the emigration from England of a vast number of Welshmen. The Motion was made on no principle of nationality as a sentiment. It was simply on the ground of a practical injustice suffered by Welsh workmen. In order that the House might realise that injustice, it was necessary to emphasise the fact that nearly all the labouring population of Wales were monoglot Welshmen. Lord Stalbridge said that one man would be admitted in one gang. That would be altogether insufficient. Seeing that all the peasantry of the three counties concerned were unable to meet the requirements of the Company, it meant the Company carried on its business in Wales and took away employment from Welshmen in their native land because they only spoke their native language. Did such conditions obtain in any other country? Did they obtain in India? The English officials in India had to know the native language; and he asked for the same measure of justice in Wales as was meted out in Hindustan. By being excluded in the first place these Welsh monoglots were practically excluded from the service of the company for ever. It was said, "Why not learn English, when the elementary schools are so abundant?'' But these labouring lads had to leave school at about thirteen years of age; and he would ask English Members how many of the children of English labourers, who got a smattering of French in the elementary schools would be able to carry on a conversation in French after a few years 970 spent in the farmhouses where English only was spoken? How many of the shopkeepers' sons who learnt French at the grammar schools, which they left at 18, could carry on a conversation in French 10 years after leaving school? Of course, all wished that the people in Wales should learn English. There was no part of the United Kingdom which had shown a stronger desire for education, and that meant learning English, as far as the schools were concerned. No people had spent more money in establishing educational institutions than the Welsh nation; but the language of nations was a matter of very slow growth, and, after generations of effort, the Welsh language was more spoken in Wales than ever it was. It was not fair to impose such a condition as the Company imposed as an incentive to learn English; because in the interim the people starved. The platelayers and navvies were the only class who, it was asked, should be admitted to employment as monoglots; and no one could say that there would be any harm from such a provision. When they got on the line they picked up English very quickly, because Welshmen were naturally quick at languages. The Directors mentioned a number of Welshmen who were employed at different parts of the line, but most of those men knew very little English when they entered the Company's service. On behalf of these poor men who were his neighbours and constituents, he asked the House to give him an opportunity of establishing these facts, and then the House could take what action it liked. They were not asking fur a vote of censure. He was very certain that if they established their complaints it would not be necessary for the House to take any action. The Directors of the Company would be sufficiently satisfied by the inquiry that their agent in Bangor had made a mistake, and would reverse the? policy which had only been established a few years. Mr. Dawson's predecessor never enforced these conditions, although he was an Englishman. Mr. Dawson alone had created all this turmoil and trouble in the country.
§ MR. DAVID PLUNKET (Dublin University)
said that, of course, after the decision to which the Speaker came at an earlier part of the day in answer to a question addressed to him by the 971 Leader of the Opposition, he should not say one word as to the propriety of the decision. He absolutely accepted it, and bowed to it. But, as he understood, although the Speaker was not prepared to rule that such a motion as that now before the House was out of order, yet he informed the House that it was one for which he knew no precedent. It was an absolutely new departure. While he did not question the decision which had made the new departure possible, he did say that when the House considered the meaning of it, it was bound to consider it with the greatest caution and the greatest care. He would go further, and say that before the Government could declare what their action on this occasion might be, they were bound to consider what was their duty as, for the time being, in charge of the character and the dignity, as well as the practice of the House. What was the meaning of this new departure? It meant this—that in future it would be the right and the established practice, should the House adopt this Resolution, on the demand of whoever might have the majority in the House for the time being on a Friday evening to call for an inquiry into the conduct of the private business of any private Company or private employer as to whom he shall engage, the laws which shall govern him, and the circumstances in which he shall be at liberty to dismiss his servants. Was not that a grave question in this new departure? The hon. Member who introduced this Motion had argued that because a railway company worked under statutory powers this fact, made all the difference. It made no difference at all to the point he was now arguing. If the practice of the House, be once established, it mattered nothing whether that company might or might not have received statutory powers. If the case were that the regulations imposed on railway companies had been violated by this Company, there might be something in the argument; but to 972 say that the affairs of a public company were to be inquired into because it had statutory powers, and the affairs of a private company which had not statutory powers were not to be inquired into, was a distinction which could not be entertained for a moment. If the House set out on this new departure it would be vain for any private employer to come and say, "Oh, the case was different when the subject was a great railway company." Hon. Members must make up their minds that if the House should sanction this Resolution it was taking a new departure which would give power to any chance majority at any time in the future to call in the power of Parliament to appoint a Committee to inquire into the discharge of their duties by companies as employers of labour. The House should consider well the step they were taking in this new departure; and it should be the duty of the Government to hesitate long, and to require the gravest reasons in support of the Resolution before it gave any sanction to it. He appealed to the Government to realise the importance of the position in which they were now placed. With such a House as that assembled this evening their power was paramount; and if they chose to take a hasty view of the subject to establish a precedent, then grave indeed must be the responsibility which they would incur. What kind of a House had gathered? It would be within the mark to say that very little over 50 Members were present. He was afraid that the reputation of the House for the Friday evening decisions it had recently passed had not been altogether a creditable one; and the House by establishing this new precedent would greatly distinguish the Motion now before it from other Resolutions brought forward on other Friday evenings. The previous day there was a full House. Every hon. Member present had heard the arguments on both sides of the controversy very fully and clearly. What 973 was the answer the House gave? In a full House those considerations advanced by the hon. Member were rejected and over-ruled by a majority of two to one. But now the House was asked to establish this precedent in one of the thinnest Houses ever called upon to take a decision on any important question. Speaking as a Director of the London and North Western Railway Company, he submitted that never had a more flimsy and trivial case been submitted in support of such a Motion as this. He asserted that the London and North Western Company had not taken the action alleged in the first part of the Resolution. The Company had not refused to take into its service labourers who were monoglot Welshmen, and they had never proclaimed any such intention. The Company had simply laid down a rule that in situations where those men who, unfortunately for themselves, had not acquired a knowledge of the English language, they should not be taken into employment which might bring them into connection with the traffic arrangements of the Company in a way that might produce inconvenience, and not improbably serious risk, to those who had to travel over the Company's system. Even hon. Members themselves had admitted that these discharged men had been taken back into the employment of the Company as labourers. The grievance alleged in the second part of the Resolution had been put forward for the first time as a serious ground of complaint. He had enjoyed the opportunity of communicating with the General Manager of the London and North Western Company who was, himself, for some time in charge of this particular part of the system; and the General Manager informed him that never during the time he was in charge of the system, and never since, had any serious ground of complaint been made to him as to any particular case of inconvenience to the public in Wales having arisen in consequence of persons 974 employed in the various situations being unable to communicate in Welsh with the population of the, district. He thought he could dispose of part of the Resolution by saying that if any such complaints as had been suggested were made in a proper manner, he would undertake that the Company would do everything in their power to remedy any grievance. He appealed to any candid and fair-minded man in the House to say whether he had not disposed of this part of the complaint of the hon. Members opposite. He would next proceed to consider the other and only part of the Resolution possessing any substance at all, and that was the two-fold charge of unfair and partial dismissal of certain monoglot Welshmen who had been before last summer in the employment of the Company, and the objection that was raised to the policy of the Company. He would take these points one by one. The very serious charge which had been made against the Company, and which had produced a great deal of excitement in certain parts of Wales, was made under a misapprehension of what was the action of the Company, and what its intentions were, regarding the future. He therefore claimed a fair and candid consideration on the part of the House. One general observation made by the introducer of this Resolution was that the Railway Company should be very glad of this opportunity of satisfying the House that they had no hostile intention towards the Welsh nationality. He thought that charge so absurd, that if it had not been brought forward by the hon. Member it would not have been thought worthy of notice. As it was now before the House, he desired to say that the Board of the Company, so far from having any hostile feelings towards the Welsh nationality, the Company had the most friendly feeling, not only for the, welsh nationality, but for the, Welsh language. They had Welshmen, in all parts of their system. Last year 20 per cent. of the men employed by the 975 Company themselves on work at Huddersfield were Welshmen. Not only so, but the Company paid part of the stipend of a Chaplain for them, as they were employed at a distance from their own town and chapel. In Wales itself, 80 per cent. of the whole number of men employed upon the permanent way—and that was the question now under discussion—were Welshmen, who spoke Welsh. Of these, 73 per cent. also spoke some English. And the whole of this excitement, for which the House was going to make a new departure in the practice of Parliament and to appoint a Committee, had reference to only seven per cent. of those who were employed upon this business of the Company in Wales. He therefore asked the House, in view of the fact that it would lead to a new departure and practically to an alteration of its rules, whether it was wise to appoint a Committee to inquire into this alleged grievance. He was curious to know what view the Government and the Leader of the House would take of the matter. He could only say that the company, in engaging, or promoting, or in aiding men in any way did not make the slightest difference between Welshmen and others. The fact was that they never inquired into the nationality of the men, and until this question was raised, he, for one, had no idea of the number of Welshmen, Englishmen, Scotchmen, or Irishmen employed by the company. As the company had proceeded in the past, so they would proceed in the future, and he could assure the House that their intention was not to recognise any difference whatever in the nationality of the men engaged. Further, he could say that any servant of the company who had a grievance, had a perfect right, and free and full opportunity of bringing it personally before the directors. He himself had investigated dozens of such cases, and he promised the men, on behalf of himself and his fellow-directors, that any grievance they might bring forward 976 would be carefully and impartially investigated by the Board. Now he hoped therefore, as regarded the general charge of hostility to Welsh nationality, the House would consider that it had been disposed of. He was not speaking at random, but of things which he knew. The Company was composed of gentlemen of different political parties, and the directors knew no distinction of politics or nationality in their management. He would now come to the particular case of the alleged dismissal of certain men. The hon. Member who introduced this Resolution, no doubt convinced of the justice of his case, skilfully set up a kind of cobweb of conspiracy on the part of the North Western Railway, in dealing with particular cases that arose last summer. What really occurred was this. Mr. Dawson, the engineer in charge of the section referred to, had his attention called to a rule which a good many years before had been adopted by the Board, but which had lately fallen very much in to disuetude. After consultation between the officers and Mr. Dawson, it was decided that the rule ought to be put vigorously into operation. That rule was, that men, who could not speak the English language sufficiently well and intelligently, should not be employed in connection with traffic arrangements, or in any responsible position in which their inability to speak English might cause serious inconvenience and considerable risk to those persons who travelled over the system of the company. He begged the House to observe that this rule did not apply to Welsh workmen generally who could not speak English, but only to those who were in responsible positions on the line, where a knowledge of English was absolutely necessary. Well, Mr. Dawson proceeded to put that rule into force, and the first thing he did was to issue the circular which had been quoted. The object of that circular was to call the attention of the Inspectors and officers under Mr. Dawson to the fact 977 that the rule about placing men who could not speak English in responsible positions had not been carried out. Mr. Dawson received further instructions from the head office, and he was told that, for the information of the authorities at Euston, he was to divide those persons in the employment of the Company, who did not speak or understand English, from those who did. Those circulars were of course issued to bring the rule into force, but by order of the directors, the rule was applied with consideration to those in the service of the Company who were affected. He confessed that if he had been writing the letter written by Mr. Dawson he should not have couched it in the same language. But his object was to allay an apprehension abroad at the time that there would be a sweeping discharge of all Welshmen who could not speak English. But this was more clearly effected by the subsequent action of the Board of Directors. Mr. Dawson had been for a long time in the Company's service. The Company had always found him a most excellent, reliable, and useful officer, with the single exception of this letter—which he, himself, could not approve of—and he had no intention of throwing over Mr. Dawson. Supposing the letter was what it had been described, was there anything in the difference of view regarding it, between the hon. Member for Carnarvon and himself, on which a Resolution should be founded for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the conduct of the London and North Western Railway. The thing was absurd. The matter to be inquired into was not his conduct on that occasion, but the action of the Company. When the Company came to the conclusion that a mistake had been committed, what was the course they took. They said they were of opinion that the dismissals in the circumstances might have been regarded by the men dismissed as being harsh. If they had only recently come into the 978 service he did not think so much grievance could have been made of their dismissal. But some of them had been for some time in the Company's service. The hon. Member for Carnarvon was in error in the number whom he said were dismissed because they could not speak English. The number dismissed were 200 at the end of the summer, when there was usually a reduction of the staff. Of these 200, only 11 were Welshmen who could not speak English. If any of these could show that others were dismissed on the same ground, he would undertake to say that the same rule should be applied to them as to the others. The agitation against the Company was based on two grounds, (1) that it was a harsh thing that men who had been some time in the service of the Company should be absolutely and at once dismissed, and (2) that by being dismissed they would lose their contributions to the pension fund. Three men were dismissed apart from their incapacity to speak English—because they were unfit for the work they had to do. All the others were offered employment under the Company at wages equal to those which they were receiving when dismissed. He thought that of the eight men three absolutely refused the offer of the Company, three accepted it; in the case of another man the offer was still open and the eighth man had gone elsewhere. But to every one of those men the offer was made; and not only that, but whatever sums they had contributed to the pension fund were repaid to them, half by the Society and half by the Company. He asked was it possible for any employer of labour, under the circumstances, to have dealt more fairly or more justly with those men? He thought that disposed of the question which had reference to the dismissal of those men. He came now to the other part of the question which dealt with the general policy of the Railway Company as shown in the rule they had laid down. He must ask the House to 979 remember what the rule was. The rule was that men who could not speak English should not be employed in responsible positions in which their ignorance of English might possibly lead to inconvenience in the working of the traffic of the system. He was speaking now in the main of men who might be taken on in the future. It was quite true that a great many of those men had been employed, and might go on being employed, without any harm ensuing. As a matter of fact no serious accident that had occurred on the system could be attributed to the employment of those men. But he would ask people who travelled by the railway whether they would consider it a satisfactory explanation to be told, if an accident occurred to them through the employment of those men, that no such accident had occurred up to the present. He would take, as an illustration, the accident which happened near Crewe at Christmas. In that accident, one of the engines not only blocked the line, but smashed a signal box, interrupting the telegraphic communication, but leaving the telephonic communication, which the box also contained, uninjured. The guard in charge of the train, as soon as he had extricated himself from the ruins of his van, ran back, as was his duty, to give the signal, to prevent other trains from coming on, and thereby prevent further deplorable occurrences. The guard was not able to get along very well, being injured himself, but he met with a platelayer employed on the permanent way, and got him to give the signal to stop approaching trains. That accident happened in England, and the guard and the platelayer spoke the same language. But supposing it happened in Wales, and that the platelayer was a monoglot Welshman, it might have been impossible to give the necessary signal to prevent a further catastrophe. That was the reason why the Railway Company preferred to employ Welshmen who spoke 980 English rather than Welshmen who were only acquainted with Welsh. He would ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he was prepared to tell the London and North Western Railway Company, advised as they were by their responsible officers, to disregard the rules, and run the risk to be found in the circumstance he had described? He did not think the right hon. Gentleman would tell the Company anything of the kind. The next thing to be considered was what the Company proposed to do now. He had said that the Company believed it to be their duty to carry out this rule as far and as completely as it could be carried out without hardship or injury to anybody. But if it were found necessary to set aside any men under the rule, the company would offer to those men, as they had offered to the men referred to by the Mover of the Motion, other employment on the railway, at wages equal to the wages they were paid in the positions they were asked to give up. Further than that, in order to make the transition easy, they would, by their re-arrangement of the gangs who worked on the permanent way, endeavour so to re-arrange them that not more than one in the case of a gang of four, and not more than two in the case of a gang of five should be Welshmen who could not speak English. He would ask the House, was that or was it not a fair proposal? This was not a question of refusing to employ or dismissing Welshmen. It was not a question of refusing to employ or dismissing Welshmen speaking Welsh; but it was simply a question whether the Company, in engaging their men, were to consider that a Welshman who could not speak English had a right, on that account to be employed in these places rather than a Welshman who could. It was impossible to escape from that question. That was all that they claimed, and they had not in the least any desire to diminish the number of Welshmen in their employment. But what they did claim as a 981 right of their Company was, that in choosing Welshmen, for instance, for occupations which might involve difficulties and even danger, they should have the right of choosing those who could speak English rather than those who could not. Really, if they asserted the opposite proportion, it was to put a premium upon the non-learning of English. It would be an absurd thing for the Government, in face of the fact that they would not give a grant to any welsh school where English was not taught, if they turned round the next day and told the London and North Western Railway Company that they must employ a certain proportion whether it was wise or not, whether it was safe or not, of those who could not speak English. He said that clearly such a proposition was absurd. He had endeavoured, in dealing with this question, to follow the advice of the hon. Gentleman, not to deal with it in a hostile, but in a friendly spirit. He confessed it was difficult for him to do so, not on account of the speech the hon. Member had made this evening, but on account of speeches which he and others had made before now, in which the Company had been, denounced in the most unmeasured language all through Wales. His business there that night was not to express heat, or anger, or resentment on the part of the Company.
§ MR. PLUNKET
There certainly has been some speeches made by Welsh Members upon this subject, in which the Company had been assailed in unmeasured language, and if the hon. Member did not make such a speech others did.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, that at any rate it would not be denied that very 982 strong speeches had been made, and he said that on the present occasion he preferred to take no notice of any of those things which had been stated, though he thought the House would agree he had removed any vestige of excuse for such a Motion as this.
§ MR. LLOYD GEORGE
asked, if it was proposed to employ Welsh-speaking station masters in Welsh-speaking districts?
§ MR. PLUNKET
replied that he had dealt with the point. If any grievance or inconvenience was felt to the public from the non-employment of persons who spoke Welsh, let that be represented, and, as he had said already, it would be carefully considered by the company. He contended that a railway company, or any other company, or a private employer had a perfect right to employ whom he liked. He repeated again that there was no feeling whatever of hostility on the part of the London and North Western Railway Company to the Welsh nation or to the Welsh language. He had a great regard for the harmony and antiquity of those of that language, and so far as Welshmen chose to speak it amongst themselves it made no difference whatever to the company as to giving employment. Let them speak in the Welsh language as much as they pleased, but, in regard to certain employments and situations, the company had satisfied themselves as to the policy they had laid down was a right, a just, and a necessary one in the interests of the public. That policy, whatever might be the consequences, they must adhere to until the responsibility was taken away from them by some other persons, and he appealed, finally, to the common sense and justice of the House if he had not removed every particle of foundation for the allegations made against the company. He trusted the House would vindicate the action of the company, and would refuse to lend itself, on such flimsy grounds, to this serious new departure from the old practice and 983 precedents which had always prevailed in this Assembly.
§ *SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbeighshire, E.)
said, that whatever might be the result of this Debate he was quite sure the hon. Member for the Carnarvon Burghs, by the courage, ability and persistency with which he had advocated their cause, would have earned the gratitude of thousands of poor Welshmen who had seen in the action of the company, a desire to penalise them for speaking their own language. The right hon. Gentleman, who had just sat down, had made an eloquent and a very fair and conciliatory speech, and one which, if it had been made three months ago, would have allayed a great deal of justifiable and inevitable excitement which had been aroused by the conduct of the company. But they had not only to consider the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but the action of his subordinates, although he himself had practically thrown over the principle upon which one of those subordinates had acted.
§ MR. PLUNKET
I beg pardon. I said distinctly that, while I differed from him as regards a particular case, I was not in the least throwing him over.
§ *SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, the right hon. Gentleman, then, did not throw over the language of Mr. Dawson's letter. That made it the more necessary for them to consider that language. But it was said this was a new precedent, a new departure. Yes, but they all knew new cases involved new departures. Then he said this question had been debated yesterday in a fuller House. But how was it decided? Without a single word of argument or debate, because they were practically precluded by Mr. Speaker's ruling [cries of "Order"]—of course he accepted the ruling in the fullest degree—from discussing even the reasons which the company themselves put forth for asking the House to vote in the company's favour. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the company disclaimed all 984 comparison between a railway company incorporated by Act of Parliament, and a private company. He could not in the least follow him. The Legislature had given enormous powers to these railway companies. It had given them practically a monopoly of privileges, and he maintained that Parliament, which had created those privileges, was entitled to see that those privileges were not tyrannically or oppressively exercised. He was told there were no less than 150 directors in this house. When these were banded together, as they generally were, they formed a very strong phalanx. He had a proof of it yesterday when, happening to say that the policy of the company was a high-handed policy, he was received with a perfect howl of execration. He now repeated the statement and said the letters of Mr. Dawson, to which attention had been drawn, and which he understood the right hon. Gentleman not to throw over, were not only high-handed, but disingenuous. Certain men were to be turned out of their situations, neck and crop, unless they learnt to speak English in a week. What would Mr. Dawson have said or thought if he had been told he would be turned out of his situation unless he learnt to speak Welsh in a week? The cases were exactly parallel. But the case did not stop there. The first letter only referred to the new men lately taken on, but in the next letter it was stated that the decision was not only to apply to all those who could not speak English, but those also who could only speak it a little. How could the directors, in the face of those two letters, by which they admitted they were bound, say that there never was any intention to discharge any workman simply because he could only speak Welsh? It was perfectly clear from the evidence of Mr. McKinnop that these men were employed for duties which did not require them to speak and understand English. He was himself interested as a debenture holder in the London and North Western, 985 and, as such, he said that the course which the right hon. Gentleman had shadowed forth in his speech was not calculated to advance the real interests of the railway company, while it was highly offensive to the, inhabitants of the Welsh localities through which the lines of the company pass, and cruel to the unfortunate men who were made the victims.
§ MR. G. J. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said that this Session they had had many extraordinary Friday evenings, but this was the most extraordinary of all. It was the culminating evening. He regretted that the Leader of the House was absent, as he would like to hear the views of that right hon. Gentleman on this new departure. The original proposal was that some Welsh Members should come down to the House arid pass a Vote of Censure upon a railway company, but that motion had been modified into a request for a Committee of Inquiry. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that the object was to censure the Company for the manner in which it conducted its business. To interfere in the way proposed, and to prescribe to a railway company what persons it ought to employ, would be a most dangerous precedent to set. It was a mere accident, as Mr. Speaker had pointed out, that there was in the House a representative of the Company who could defend it against this attack. The question ought never to have been brought before them. Let them consider what vistas the precedents opened up. The Dock Board of Liverpool, to take an example, had statutory powers like the railways. What would be said if some English Member were to move a Resolution declaring that the Board employed too many Irishmen, and that the wages of the honest English artisan were lowered in consequence? How could the, business of the railways be conducted on the basis of nationalities? It was singular that they had not heard as yet the views of the Government as to the 986 effects of this precedent upon the work of the House of Commons. Did the Government think it wise that the time of the House should be taken up by inquiries as to who were the persons who ought to be, employed by corporations? Were they to inquire into the nationalities of the servants of the County Councils because those Councils possessed statutory powers? A more absurd proposal than this had never been made in the House of Commons, and every statesman who valued his reputation, and every hon. Member who had the honour of that House at heart, ought unhesitatingly to do his best to insure its rejection in to to.
§ MR. ABEL THOMAS (Carmarthenshire, E.),
who rose amidst cries of "Bryce, Bryce!" said the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down began his speech by saying he did not care what the rights of this particular question were, and, having said that, he proceeded to discuss the rights of the question in away which showed to anybody who had listened to the Debate that he knew nothing of those rights. To say this had been made a question of nationality or anything of that kind was ridiculous. It had been carefully stated by every one who had spoken on the Ministerial side of the House that it was not a question of nationality at all. Nobody respected more than he did the judgment and skill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), but on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman was skilful enough to address him self to matters which were not in conflict, and to avoid the real issue. The question was not whether the Railway Company had dismissed one or two or three or more workmen, and taken back some of them, or put them to other work. The real question arose upon the circulars issued by Mr. Dawson, which the right hon. Gentleman had been careful not to repudiate. If those circulars were not repudiated by the directors of 987 the London and North-Western Railway Company, there was not a single labourer, whatever his duty might be—it might be breaking stones half a mile from the line, or to take stone to a quarry 10 miles off—who would not be liable to dismissal. What did Mr. Dawson say in June, 1894? He said—"Notwithstanding my instructions upon the subject." The right hon. Gentleman had suggested that those instructions applied to men in responsible positions on the line. There was no sign of it in the circular; there was no sign of it even in the statement which the Railway Company had themselves issued, because reference was made to platelayers, persons employed on the line itself, and one could scarcely say that a man whose duty it was to tighten screws on a main line was a man in a responsible position. They had not heard anything of that kind until to-night. Mr. Turner said—Notwithstanding my instructions on the subject, I find that a number of men have been taken on who cannot speak English, or who can only speak English a little.There was nothing about responsible positions. The circular meant that every man who was employed by the Company henceforth must understand English. ["Hear, hear."] An hon. Member cried "Hear, hear." Let the House consider the position in England itself. Suppose a company obtained powers to construct a line from London to Edinburgh, and made it a rule that no one should be allowed to work upon the line, whatever the circumstances might be, who did not understand French. What would be said by the English people? The circular went on—The services of such men are to be dispensed with, and it is contrary to the Company's rule to have them in their employ. Let me know which of the men you can dispense with first. I do not wish you to serve all the men with a week's notice at once, but they must be paid off gradually, unless they learn to speak English in the meanwhileThe next circular was dated the 6th of July, and in it Mr. Turner said—Having reference to my circular of the 19th ult.. you understand the list you are to 988 send in is to include every man who cannot speak English, and every man who can only speak English a little.What did that mean? Surely nothing but that every person, however irresponsible, who was employed by the Company, must be able to speak English. The right hon. Member had not repudiated the circular; he should have liked to have heard him say that circulars which made these statements were repudiated by the Company, but they had heard nothing to that effect. The policy of the Company as expressed by their circulars which were sent round to all their servants, and by their statement of facts distributed to hon. Members the previous day, was to get rid in the future of every Welsh-speaking man who could not speak English in their employ.
§ MR. ABEL THOMAS
said, those were the words of the circulars. He again quoted the language used in the circulars. He would like to know how the right hon. Gentleman could express this policy in stronger terms. Even a Welshman understood English sufficiently to know what the meaning of "every man" was. It was said by the right hon. Member that the reason why this rule was made was because some time or other there might be an accident. He never heard a more curious reason in his life. But if this was the reason was it not imperative that every guard employed on these fast trains should speak both English and Welsh? This particular line went through a district in many parts of which more than 70 per cent, of the population spoke Welsh only, and it might happen that the guard, through not being able to communicate with a man who lived in a cottage by the side of the line, and spoke Welsh only, might not be able to signal to stop a train, and so avert an accident. If the London and North Western Railway Company were not going to employ railway guards who spoke both Welsh and English, 989 they ought to buy up all the cottages along the line, and fill them with people who spoke English. That was the ridiculous argument followed to its ridiculous conclusion. Welshmen ought to be treated, at any rate, in the same way as they treated Englishmen, and the Railway Company had no right to make such a rule. What the right hon. Gentleman had not disposed of was the letter of Mr. Dawson, and he did not repudiate the instructions given by Mr. Dawson to the men in North Wales. It was no more wasting the time of the House to discuss this question than it was to discuss, as had been done on a previous occasion, the importation of foreign door-mats.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. J. BRYCE) Aberdeen, S.
said, he could not quite agree with the hon. Member who had just sat down that the matter still stood where it did before the speech of the right hon. Member for Dublin University, nor could he agree with the interpretation that had been put upon that speech. It appeared to him that the hon. Member would have done better to address himself to the policy indicated in that speech on behalf of the London and North Western Railway Company than to dwell as he did upon that which belonged to the past and might be suffered to remain there. As to the tempestuous speech of the right hon. Member for Hanover Square, he could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman had thought it necessary to bring in the element of political partisanship from which the discussion had previously been free. The right hon. Gentleman did not hear the case made out by the Welsh Members, and he had heard only part of the speech by the right hon. Member for Dublin University, who with great fulness and care, and with a mastery of details which must have excited the admiration of all who heard him, dealt in a lucid manner with a most complicated 990 question. It would have been wrong of himself as Minister to have spoken before the House had had the benefit and pleasure of hearing that speech, and before the right hon. Gentleman had had a full opportunity of stating the case of the company. Nor could he assent to the doctrine that the Government was bound to give an opinion immediately a Motion of this kind was brought forward, before all the facts had been brought out, or that, on a complex question, and particularly one the knowledge of which must be largely confined to one Member of the Government, he should, by speaking early, be depriving himself of the opportunity of what was said by other speakers, of endeavouring to sum up the case, and to express the views of the Government upon it as a whole.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
explained that what he thought was, that the Government would take the view that the matter was one which ought not to have been brought before the House at all.
§ MR. BRYCE
continued that that was an opinion which had the disadvantage of having been given in ignorance of the speech of the Mover and Seconder, and of a large part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Dublin University. But it had been a great advantage to the House, and it would be a great advantage to Wales also that that speech had been delivered. He was quite certain that the way in which the question had been put by that speech would make it much easier for these difficulties to be solved in the future. That the matter had excited great warmth of feeling in Wales was a fact of which evidence had reached him from many quarters. It had been discussed all over North Wales, and, rightly or wrongly, an impression had prevailed that the company was pursuing a policy of hostility to the Welsh language which was harsh and oppressive to the persons affected. The Welsh Members had sought an opportunity in the time devoted to public business to raise what they considered to be a Welsh grievance, which 991 they were rightly precluded from discussing at the time of private business; and, although he did not think any complaint could be made of the tone they had adopted, or that sympathy would be withheld from them on account of the deep interest which was felt in the supposed grievance, he should have to express his disagreement with them on the conclusions at which they had arrived. He was not able to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that a railway company was in the same position as a private company, and that was not merely because it had statutory powers—many companies had those powers—but because where Parliament had entrusted a company with special powers it retained a right, which it would not have in the case of a company formed under the ordinary law, if necessary to interfere with or review the conduct of that company. This was specially true in the case of those companies which might be said to be statutory monopolies, and in the case of railway companies which covered a large area of the country throughout which the management and administration of the company were matters of great importance to the resident population. There were many ways in which a company could affect the well-being of the people. A great Company like the London and North Western Railway ought to use its powers in a conciliatory manner. He fully recognised the conciliatory spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) had spoken that night, and he thought it a pity that the right hon. Gentleman had not spoken sooner, because there must have been, some cause for the agitation, and things might not have arrived at such an acute stage if the right hon. Gentleman's view had been known before. He now came to the practical question with which they had to deal, namely, whether the House ought to appoint the Committee of Inquiry that was asked for by the hon. Member. He did not at all admit that there might not be cases in which it might be proper for the House to inquire into the management and rules of a great Statutory Company. There might, in his opinion, be cases in which it would be quite right for the House to direct an Inquiry, and he understood 992 that to be the principle upon which the ruling of the right hon Gentleman in the Chair was founded. It did not at all follow, however, that this was a case in which the House should take the exceptional course of appointing a Select Committee of Inquiry. The question might be divided into that which had occurred in the past and that which would occur in the future. As regarded the past, the right hon. Gentleman had given an explanation which he did not understand was contested. According to that explanation, out of the eleven men who had been dismissed every one had either been reinstated or else reasons had been given for not replacing them. In his opinion, the Company had acted with fairness in replacing these men, and there was no reasonable doubt that the Board of Directors had been animated by a spirit of justice in the matter, whatever might be said about the issue of the original circulars. As to the future, the right hon. Gentleman had stated the policy of the Company in a way which it seemed very difficult to object to. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the rule as to the future policy of the Company would be that men who spoke the Welsh language only should not be employed in any responsible capacity in connection with the traffic where their employment might endanger the safety of that traffic and the lives of the passengers. The view of the Department over which he (Mr. Bryce) presided was, that the responsibility for the safety of the traffic rested with the Company, and that where the Company said they considered the enforcement of certain rules necessary for the safety of the public, they should never take the responsibility of asking the Company to desist from the enforcement of any rule which they thought needful for securing that safety. The right hon. Gentleman had offered to institute inquiries into any cases of grievance which their servants might bring before them. He thought that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman had gone a very long way, and he was bound to say that the hon. Members for Wales, who had brought this subject under the notice of the House, might feel that they had made a substantial advance in having elicited that statement from the right hon. Gentleman. 993 The responsibility for the safety of travellers rested with the Company, and when the Company said they considered certain rules to be necessary for the safety of the public, he and his advisers would never take the responsibility of asking the Company to withdraw these rules. But he must observe that during the long period in which this particular rule was obsolete, no accident occurred; and the other railways—the Cambrian and the Great Western—had no such rule, and had never sustained any accident in consequence. At the same time it must not be supposed that he desired to minimise the responsibility of the Company in any way. He would ask the House to consider what it was that the proposed Committee should do if it was appointed. The Speaker's ruling would be amply sufficient, even if they had not been alive to it before, to call the attention of the Government to the gravity of the precedent which they would set if they were to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the relations between a Company and its workpeople for any but the greatest cause. Inquiry by a Select Committee was a serious matter. It was a sort of hundred-ton gun, which was not to be fired off except at considerable expense, and except at a sufficiently large mark. They ought not to bring this powerful weapon into action in case there was reason to believe that the result to be attained was commensurate with the importance of the machinery to be employed. He therefore asked what the Committee would do? He did not see how it could very well throw out a policy for the Company as regards the employment of its workmen. It would not be necessary for it to examine what was already past, because that had been dealt with; and he did not think the Committee could very usefully inquire as to how the Company should be guided in the ordinary conduct of its business in dealing with these men. He came, therefore, to the conclusion that a case sufficient to justify the House in appointing the Committee had not been made out. Perhaps hon. Members for Wales might feel that such a complexion had been put upon the case by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University that they would 994 be well-advised to consider whether they should not withdraw their Motion. But whatever course they took he felt sure that what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman would have the effect of allaying the feeling which had unfortunately existed in Wales, and would leave the question in a much better position than it occupied before this Debate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I have learned with gratification that, the right hon. Gentleman having heard the Debate and the speech of my right hon. Friend, and having brought to bear upon the case the knowledge to which his Department gives him access, has come to the conclusion that the London and North-Western Railway Company is not to be blamed in the matter in which their conduct has been called in question. [Cries of " No, no!" from Welsh. Member] I do not say that that was the view of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite.
§ M.R. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman gave us to understand that the speech of my right hon. Friend near me had put such a new construction on the matter that all grievance had been removed. But let me state to the House at once that I regard the merits of this controversy as of absolutely infinitesimal as compared with the decision the House has come to to-night. I know nothing, I had almost said I care nothing, for the particular merits of this quarrel. What I do care for, and what I do think of vital importance, is that this House, in its own interests, should not embark on an undertaking from which no good can possibly arise, and which may involve it in a conflict with a private corporation, and out of which it cannot come the victor. Suppose a Committee were appointed, what power would it have to compel a single man to give evidence before it, or what power would it have to compel the acceptance of its decision. When this House attempts to proceed by resolution to deal with bodies, be they public or private, over 995 whom it has no control or no authority whatever, it is merely occupied in the undignified proceeding of launching empty thunder at them. The Government have before them a Conciliation Bill for dealing with trade disputes; but if a precedent is set up to-night this House will be constituted a Board of Conciliation in regard to every private company which ever came to Parliament for any powers whatever. A distinction has been attempted to be drawn between the London and North -Western Company on the one hand and private employers on the other. I do not deny that there is a difference, but there is no difference from the point of view now before the House. The London and North-Western Company got compulsory powers for the purchase of land, but I am not aware that they got any other privileges whatever. Is it to be supposed for a moment that the fact that Parliament gave them these privileges carries with it the right, and if the right, the duty also, by means of a Select Committee, to interfere with every controversy that may arise between the Company and its employés? This House is an overburdened House already, and if it is to take up these duties, we had better at once constitute ourselves a permanent Board for managing the great railway and dock systems, and the water companies, and other great corporations. What the result would be to the House is obvious enough. What the result would be to the great corporations and the public they serve my imagination is not sufficiently fertile to guess at. Are we to be told that a Select Committee which has no power to compel the attendance of witnesses, or to administer an oath, or to carry out any decision it may arrive at, is a proper tribunal to deal with those labour disputes between the North Western, or any other Company, and those in its employ? I trust that the House by its Vote to-night will make this, which is the first precedent for such a discussion, also the last precedent, and that we may never again be asked to occupy any of our time by constituting ourselves an amateur Board of Conciliation. Human nature being what it is, these disputes must arise from time to time. The future of the House will rest on the decision we come to tonight, and I can only say how 996 cordially I rejoiced when I heard that the Government had come to the conclusion not to accept the Motion, though I frankly admit that many of the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman did not appeal to me as in the least justifying the vote I propose to give.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that after the conciliatory speech of the President of the Board of Trade in meeting the complaints of the Welsh Members, and after the remarks the right hon. Gentleman had made as to the future, he did not intend to press the Motion. [Opposition cries of "Yes!"]
§ *MR. SPEAKER
put the question, "That the Motion be by leave withdrawn," and as there were loud cries of "No" from the Opposition, he put Mr. Lloyd-George's Amendment, which was negatived without a division, amid Opposition cheers and laughter.