§ MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
In submitting to the House the Motion which stands in my name—a Motion which asks the House to declare that it is the duty of the Executive to put into operation the law of the land—I think it is desirable at the outset to clear away some misconceptions which appear to have fastened upon it. I need not, of course, deal seriously with the suggestion that any general issue is raised by this Motion as between what is called Socialism and Individualism, or as between trade unionism and unorganised labour, or even as between labour and capital. I believe the course of the debate will show that there are not a few Members of this House, themselves large employers of labour, men who cannot be suspected of any hostility either to the principles or the methods of our existing industrial system, who feel just as strongly as the most advanced Socialist in the country, and feel as strongly in the interest of capital as in the interest of labour, that the prolongation of this irritating and wasteful struggle at Bethesda is a matter not merely of local, but of national concern. Nor, Sir, again, is the main or primary object of my Motion to raise a discussion upon the merits or the demerits of the two conflicting parties at all the various 483 stages of their protracted controversy. I will say frankly for myself that I have never known an industrial dispute in which all the reason was on one side and all the unreason on the other; and this particular case, although I have a strong opinion as to where the balance lies, is no exception to the rule. I shall endeavour, as far as I can, to present the matter to the House, not as the advocate of either party, but simply and exclusively from the point of view of public and general interest. I am the more disposed to avoid any topic of unnecessary irritation because, while I am asking the House, as I think for sufficient reasons, to condemn the inaction of His Majesty's Government, I still maintain the hope that the result of this debate may be, not to retard, but to facilitate a settlement, which, whatever may be our view as to the merits of the parties or as to the attitude of the Government, we must all, without distinction of party, ardently desire. One further preliminary observation I have to make. It is this. This motion is not a demand for a change in the existing law. It is a complaint that the law has been allowed, through timidity or supineness, to become a dead letter. Until the Government have used or exhausted the powers which the law gives them, there is no question of any amendment of the law. But in order to avoid any possible misapprehension, I should like to say this, as far as I am concerned, that I am, as I have always been, strongly opposed to any attempt to establish in this country a system of compulsory arbitration in industrial disputes. I watch, as I suppose we all do, with much interest the experiments being made by our fellow-subjects at the Antipodes, in New Zealand and New South Wales, in that direction. I think it is too early yet to pronounce any final judgment as to the success or failure of that legislation in those countries. But here the circumstances are entirely different, and it is my own personal opinion that in our complex and ramified industrial system, carried on, as it is, under infinitely varying conditions of both district and of trade, inter-dependent in almost all its parts, any statute to compel reference of disputes to a judicial or expert tribunal would be accepted neither by masters nor by men. 484 It would, in my judgment, be an instrument, not of peace, but of discord and confusion. The questions I wish to submit to the House are simpler and of a much more practical character. They are two in number. The first is, are the circumstances of this particular dispute so grave and so exceptional as to warrant, and not only to warrant but to demand, the exercise of any power of conciliation which the State may possess? and the second question is, are there powers which the Government might and ought to exercise which they have left and are leaving unused? If both these questions are answered in the affirmative my Motion is justified.
Now as regards the first question. I am not going for the moment into the particular issues of the controversy between Lord Penrhyn and his men, because I wish, if I can, first of all, very briefly, to try to get the House to realise the actual gravity of the situation from the public point of view. The great slate quarry at Bethesda is in many respects a unique undertaking. Through the co-operation of capital and labour during now several generations it has not only become a source of wealth to the owner, but it has provided means for the growth of what was a short time ago a prosperous and well-ordered community, full of religious and educational activities, and with some striking features of its own which gave it what I may perhaps call a social and corporate individuality of its own. As in the case of the employer, so in the case of the work people; father was succeeded by son, and son succeeded by grandson. The mountain adjoining the quarry was covered with houses, built to a large extent by the people themselves, which through long association they had come to look upon as their permanent, I might almost say their hereditary, homes. In every direction you saw the evidence, not so much as we see in many industries of a migratory crowd, which shifts its scene of occupation according to the higgling of the market, but of a permanent, organised community, rooted in the soil, attached to its work and to the surroundings of that work by the strongest possible ties; and isolated though it was from the rest of the world, by the very fact of that isolation more 485 strongly bound together as a people among themselves. I do not think that is an over-coloured picture. Now, what is the situation to-day? I wish purposely to avoid the use of any embittering language; but what is the actual state of things? When the present dispute began in the autumn of 1900, nearly three years ago, some 2,800 men living in the community which I have described were at work in the quarry. On the 22nd of November, 1900, work was suspended and the quarry was closed. On the 11th June. 1901, that is to say some seven months later, the quarry was re-opened and, as far as I can make out, about 500 men, including perhaps—the numbers are not very clear—but including perhaps about 400 of those who had been previously employed there, went in. There have been further additions from time to time to the men at work in the re-opened quarry. As to the precise figures there is a good deal of conflict of testimony, and I do not profess to determine the number, but this at any rate is certain: that of the 2,800 men who were there three years ago only a small fraction have accepted the employer's terms, and the great bulk of them are either finding temporary employment in other parts of Wales,—not having severed, because they do not wish to sever till they are compelled to do so, the last tie which binds them to their old home—or are dependent on relief from the trades union or public charity. The production of the great quarry itself, enormously undermanned as it must be now, has necessarily dwindled. Poverty and privation are to be met with in every quarter of Bethesda. The children are ill-fed, the homes of which I have spoken are broken up, or are kept together with great difficulty and at an enormous sacrifice. The common life of the community in all its aspects and activities is arrested and disorganised. Worst of all, a spirit of bitterness and intolerance has been engendered between the men who are at work and the men who have ceased to work which divides old friends, splits up families, poisons the atmosphere of the place, and has led from time to time to acts of violence which cannot be too strongly condemned or too sternly 486 punished; and which, as I believe, are condemned by the general opinion of the great mass of the men and of their responsible leaders. Violence and intimidation, direct or indirect, you can and you must repress, but is it not also your duty to do everything that you lawfully can to assuage, and if possible to extinguish, the sense of resentment and bitterness which is the inevitable outcome of the state of things such as I have described in its slow development?
Sir, I think I have said enough to show that this is not a mere ordinary and transient quarrel, one of those temporary failures of adjustment, as economists say, between supply and demand which can be trusted to right themselves. In the words of the Motion which I am submitting to the House there are "grave social and public interests involved." I am glad to say that for that proposition I can cite a very much higher authority—the authority of the very Department of the Government whose conduct in this matter I am about to impugn. In the autumn of the year 1896 there was a previous suspension of work at this quarry, and the men who went out on that occasion solicited then, as they have solicited now, the good offices of the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade, better inspired then, I think, than it is now, assented to that solicitation, and they submitted to Lord Penrhyn, the employer, a proposal that there should be a meeting between himself and representatives of the men in the presence, if not under the chairmanship, of some representative of the Board of Trade. Lord Penrhyn refused that offer and in a letter which I think is worth quoting, dated 9th December, 1896, said the reason for his refusal was:—I must with all due respect beg to decline to comply with such a suggestion, as my acceptance of it would establish a precedent for outside interference with the management of my private affairs.[MINISTERIAL Cheers.] That was Lord Penrhyn's view. Was it the view of the Board of Trade? No. What was the reply of the Board of Trade? I may quote their letter of the 12th December in the same year. The Board of Trade replied thus:—With regard to the question of the presence of a Board of Trade representative at the 487 proposed conference between yourself and the men, I am to state that there is no desire to press the matter against your wishes, but lam to point out that in view of the provisions of the Conciliation Act the Board cannot admit that the settlement of a prolonged dispute affecting some thousands of men and their families can be rightly regarded as a matter of private interest only.
§ MR. BROMLEY DAVENPORT (Cheshire, Macclesfield)
I beg pardon for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but would he read the letter in which Lord Penrhyn afterwards absolutely repudiated that interpretation?
§ MR. ASQUITH
The hon. Gentleman will allow me to pursue my argument; he will find that I shall do no injustice to Lord Penrhyn at any stage of it. Lord Penrhyn, it is quite true though it is not in the least to the point, said he had been misinterpreted, and that when he deprecated interference with his private affairs he did not mean that they were private affairs at all. That is not the point. The point is whether the sentiment which was cheered a few moments ago by some hon. Gentlemen opposite, or whether the view of the Board of Trade, then presided over by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, that a dispute of this kind was or was not a matter of private concern was correct. And let me point out that when the right hon. Gentleman very creditably, as I think, directed that letter to be written the struggle had only lasted two months. It was in its very early stage. The condition of social dislocation and domestic privation which I have described had not arisen, or had hardly arisen at all; but at the very beginning, acting, I think, on a perfectly just conception of the duties of his Department and of the responsibility entrusted to him by Act of Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman said this was far too important and grave a thing to be treated as a mere matter of private concern, and that the Board of Trade were entitled to interfere.
That brings me to my second question. Are there powers in the hands of the Government, and of this particular Department, which they could exercise and which they ought to exercise in relation to a matter of this kind? I confess I am a little surprised, having 488 been always myself and still being strongly adverse to any unnecessary intervention by the State in industrial affairs, to find myself described as a Socialist and revolutionary. Why? Because I ask the Government of the day to put in execution an Act of Parliament of which they are the authors, and for which, on many platforms, they have claimed the credit. I am referring, of course, to the Conciliation Act of 1896. What are the powers given by that Act? They fall into three categories dealing with the event of either the existence or the apprehension of industrial disputes between employers and employed. In the first place, the Board of Trade on their own initiative, without any request from anybody at all, in such an event may make an inquiry and may endeavour to bring about a meeting of the parties concerned. In the second place, at the request of either party to the dispute—not of both, but at the request of either party to the dispute—they may appoint a conciliator, whose business it is to inquire into all the circumstances and to endeavour to bring about a settlement; and, in the third place, on the application of both parties, and, of course, only of both parties, they may appoint an arbitrator. Now, is it not ridiculous to contend that under the provisions of an Act of Parliament like that the Board of Trade may not act, is almost bound to hold its hand, unless it gets some kind of intimation from both parties. The Act becomes a perfect dead letter if it could not do so, as was pointed out over and over again, in the debates on that Act It had been before Parliament for many years. We promoted a similar Bill when we were in office in 94, and it was pointed out over and over again in the protracted discussions which went on year after year, that in that proposed legislation there were two perfectly distinct propositions: arbitration at the instance and with the consent of both parties, and conciliation either at the initiative of the Board of Trade alone or on the application of either one or other of the parties to the dispute. Now, I have been asked what proposition by way of limitation I am prepared to lay down in relation to the carrying out of that Act. It is 489 said—"Are you prepared to require the Board of Trade to interfere as conciliator, or even as investigator, in every trumpery and trivial dispute that arises between master and men?" Certainly not. There must be a dignus vindice nodus; there must be a case where the differences are not trivial, and not reasonably certain of prompt adjustment between the parties. But this proposition I lay down, and I do not shrink from its application in any case I can conceive of—that the true interpretation of the Act is that where the conflict covers a substantially wide area; where there seems to be little or no probability of an early adjustment of the dispute by negotiations between the parties; and particularly where more than mere private interests are involved and the struggle threatens social order and the well-being of a whole community; the Board of Trade has not only the power, but the duty to use the power, which the law has placed in its hands.
Let me here point out by way of anticipation of criticism or rejoinder that, in my judgment at all events, it is not a fit or apt criterion of whether or not the occasion for intervention has arisen that there is a certainty, or a strong probability, of success. You never can tell in advance in cases of this kind, whether you are likely to succeed or not. I speak with some little experience in this matter. In the years when we were in office, in 1893 and 1894, there was no Conciliation Act in existence. The Board of Trade, or any other department of the Government, had no locus standi in any industrial dispute; but at least on two occasions action was taken. The first was the great coal strike, which was settled through the intervention of my noble friend Lord Rosebery; and in the second case, the much smaller dispute of the cab strike in the Metropolis, I was able to contribute to its settlement. In both instances persons were brought together in the same room, with the conciliator sitting between them. In the, relatively speaking, small dispute of the cab strike, with which I was concerned, I can assure the House that when those persons came together in the room, and sat on opposite sides of the table, I was filled with despair, for rarely, if ever, did 490 I see evidence of estrangement so complete, and a gap so unbridgeable between the maximum the one side was prepared to concede and the minimum of what the other side demanded. Yet what was the result? After a good deal of knocking of heads together—to use a popular expression—of palavering, of negotiation, and the exercise of such modest arts of conciliation and compromise as any person entrusted with such a commission, if he does not possess them before, will soon acquire, the dispute, which had raged furiously and seemed hopeless of appeasement, was settled, and we came to an arrangement which has now worked for nine years without a single hitch. But that is not our own experience alone. We have had a still more remarkable illustration in the United States. The President of the United States has absolutely no constitutional or legal right of any kind to intervene in labour disputes. But he brought together in the course of last year the parties to one of the most fierce and apparently implacable industrial conflicts that have ever raged in the United States, a modus vivendi was arrived at, and there is now the greatest possible prospect of ultimate peace. I mention these illustrations, drawn from actual experience, to show that the mere fact that it does not look likely that you will obtain the desired result ought not to deter you from making the attempt. Nor do I think that the fact that mediation by other bodies or private persons has been refused, or has proved ineffective, in the least degree absolves the Board of Trade from taking action itself. There are, obviously, the greatest possible differences between any kind of mediation by any private person, however well intentioned, able, tactful, or in the confidence of the parties, and the mediation of the Board of Trade. In the first place the Board of Trade goes there clothed with a statutory mandate—a mandate not, of course, from the parties, but a mandate given by Parliament with, as I humbly conceive, the intention that in a fit case it should be used. The Board of Trade goes there with a statutory authority which no private negotiator or conciliator could possibly possess. I observe that Lord Penrhyn rejected the offer of arbitration from the 491 County Council of Carnarvon on the ground that he would not allow any outside interference. I do not say whether he was wise or unwise, but he was perfectly entitled to take up that position towards the County Council of Carnarvon. But he is not entitled to take up that position as regards the Board of Trade. The President of the Board of Trade shakes his head. Surely Parliament has said to the Board of Trade, "In a case of this kind we authorise you to do this thing." And how can any lawabiding citizen say, "This is an unwarrantable interference with my private affairs?"
There is another point. The Board of Trade is free from the suspicion of any kind of partiality. It is not bound, if it does not think fit, to tender advice; but if, after a full investigation of the local circumstances, it has come to the conclusion that there ought to be "give" here and "take" there, I venture to say that it offers that advice with an authority to which no private negotiator can possibly pretend. In these circumstances the refusal of either side of the good offices of the Board of Trade involves a much more serious responsibility than the refusal of the good offices of any mere outsider. Industrial peace is not merely a private but a public necessity; and, where the interests of a large number of persons are involved, if either side in the dispute—I do not care which side it is—acts unreasonably or perversely in refusing the good offices which Parliament has authorised a public Department to offer, it risks, in a far greater degree and in a totally different sense than would be the case in private mediation, that moral support of public opinion which, in the long run, in these industrial struggles determines the side on which victory lies. So far as the men here are concerned there is, upon this point, no room for controversy. They have repeatedly asked for arbitration. They have suggested as arbitrators some of the most eminent statesmen on both sides of politics, including the Prime Minister and the Colonial Secretary. Lord Penrhyn has not seen his way to accept that proposal. He was perfectly entitled to reject it. But, finding that arbitration would not 492 be accepted by the other party in the dispute, the men invited the Board of Trade to use its powers of conciliation or inquiry conferred on it by this Act. They sent that invitation in December last, and the answer was the refusal of the Board of Trade on the ground that it could not lead to any useful result.
§ MR. ASQUITH
The right hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear." I will not repeat what I said about the extraordinary difficulty, if not impossibility, of predicting what may happen in such cases. But I will refer again to the previous intervention of the Board of Trade, in 1896, at the instance of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is quite true that the intervention of the Board of Trade on that occasion was ineffective. That is to say, it did not bring about approximately and directly a settlement of the dispute. Yet I hold the opinion strongly that that intervention—partly by the public attention which it called to the case, partly by the debates in this House, and partly by the fact that, despite the absence of the representative of the Board of Trade, the representatives of the men and the employer did actually come together—was indirectly and largely responsible for the comparatively speedy settlement arrived at in August, 1896. That strike, or lock-out, lasted eleven months. The present strike has already lasted two years and a half. I quite agree with those who say that that instance of the intervention of the Board of Trade is not conclusive. I think, however, it is a hopeful indication of the possible value of similar action now. It seems strange that after very careful consideration of all the information I have been able to obtain I do not find it easy at this moment to say what is the real, as distinguished from the ostensible, issue between Lord Penrhyn and the men who were lately in his employment. There are a number of subsidiary matters—matters connected with the letting of contracts, the management of the sick club, and the evils of sweating—as to which there can be no doubt whatever what the issue is, and which, I believe, can be very 493 easily settled by negotiation. But what is the real issue in this matter? As far as I can ascertain it hangs upon or hovers around two main points. The first is the question of combination, and the second is the relation, when the quarries are re-opened, of the old workmen to the new.
As to the question of combination, let me remind the House of how the present state of things has been arrived at. There was, between 1874 and 1885, a committee of the men established by agreement between them and the agent of their then employer, the late Lord Penrhyn. That committee, apparently, was the regular vehicle and medium of communication on all matters of general grievance between the body of the workmen and their employer. When the present Lord Penrhyn succeeded to the management of the property he abolished the committee in 1885, and the fact that that committee had in some way or other been revived, or at any rate re-clothed with some of its old functions, was, I think, one of the main causes which led to the strike or lock-out of 1896. If I remember right Lord Penrhyn dismissed several of the members of the committee at that time, and that was the reason why the men went out. There were two rival contentions in regard to that committee. The men's view was that the committee was merely as I have described it, a convenient medium for the sifting of grievances—with the result that numbers of petty trifling complaints the management were never troubled with at all. Lord Penrhyn's contention, on the other hand, was that the committee, whatever its ostensible objects and functions, was really a body which enabled the men to interfere with the management of the quarries. I do not want to go into that point, because I do not want, if I can help it, to revive buried animosities. That is the history of the difficulty. Those are the conventions which prevailed on one side and the other. What is the state of things now? I do not care what happened in 1874, 1885, or 1896. Over and over again the men have disclaimed their intention that any committee or organisation of any kind should have the right to interfere with the internal management of Lord Penrhyn's affairs. I do not consider in respect of this I can do better than to read the communication of the 27th 494 September last year, in which the chairman of the men, Mr. Henry Jones, in reply to Lord Penrhyn says—All they desire is that the men shall have the right to represent their grievances by means of a freely appointed deputation; that they have no wish to interfere with the management of the quarry.On the other hand, Lord Penrhyn has over and over again said he does not dispute the men's right of combination. I do not know what Lord Penrhyn means by combination. The rights of combination are not exhausted when you have allowed the men to hold a debating society or a club. Combination, if it is to be what we generally understand by the term, must, to be effective, at least afford the means, by some form of corporate action or delegation, of submitting any grievance the men may have to their employer on behalf of the body of men employed. I see in this House, on both sides, not a few great employers of labour in this country, and I think I might put to any one of them this question: If he were employing 2,000 or 3,000 men working under the conditions under which these men were working, men to a large extent not speaking the language which he speaks, would he regard it as any interference with the natural rights and prerogatives of capital, or as inconsistent with the due conduct of his business, that these men should from time to time have the power, through a Committee, through some form of delegation or deputation, of expressing and communicating any grievance of their fellows to the employer or his representative? I go further. I do not believe it is possible in these days, under modern conditions, to carry on a business of this kind unless you have something more than the mere physical conjunction—unless you have the intelligent co operation of labour and capital; and I believe the wisest and most farsighted employers of labour are those who welcome in every possible way such cooperation on the part of their men. In this way friction is avoided, unnecessary disputes do not arise, and the business is carried on, on both sides, with good will. I am not here for the purpose of attacking Lord Penrhyn, but I cannot believe that when it is once realised that the claim of the men is confined to what I have stated, and, on the other hand, 495 that Lord Penrhyn, according to his own declaration, does not object to combination, it will not at the same time be realised that you have here a difference which with very little adjustment might be completely bridged over.
The other point—I agree it is a very delicate one—is as regards the relations of the men who have gone out and the men who have remained in or come in. Now we must try to put ourselves in the position of both parties to the controversy, and in doing so I think we shall all agree that, on the one hand, the men feel it would be a base act on their part to desert the men who had borne the brunt of the fight and to purchase their return to work by sacrificing the fortunes of those who had been their standard-bearers. On the other hand, I sympathise equally with the position of Lord Penrhyn; I should feel it a base thing to desert men who had worked for me when the other men were out. That, of course, constitutes a delicate situation. But even there the difficulty is not insuperable. For I find that my friend Sir Edward Clarke, in the course of negotiations, to which I am about to refer, actually arrived at an agreement on this very point with the representatives of the men, and a very sensible agreement it appears to have been. It is found embodied in a letter dated March 23rd, and it is in effect in these terms:Lord Penrhyn undertakes upon the conclusion of the strike to readmit to employment at the quarry the full number of men required for carrying on the work of the quarry to the extent to which it was worked in October, 1900, and in any future employment of labour undertakes to give a preference to those who were employ ed at the quarry in October, 1900, and further undertakes that no exception shall be made in respect of any men whatever by reason of their having taken part in labour disputes in the quarry at any time since 1885.A very sensible settlement on the part of Lord Penrhyn if he had assented to it. Then, on the other hand, the men readmitted—Undertake to work peaceably with those now in employment at the quarry. In the event of any question arising at any time within three months from the commencement of work in relation to this clause, the same shall be submitted to the final arbitration of Sir Edward Clarke, K.C.496 A modus vivendi, therefore, was perfectly attainable, and in fact had been practically attained.
Since we last had a debate in this House on this subject there has been a further development. Lord Penrhyn brought on an action for libel, which was tried be ore the Lord Chief Justice of England and a special jury of the City of London. In that action Lord Penrhyn recovered—if I may venture to express my personal opinion, properly recovered—substantial damages in respect of comments made upon him by the defendant passing beyond the limits of legitimate criticism. But a remarkable feature of that case was the expression of opinion as to the need for and the possibility of conciliation. The Lord Chief Justice, presiding at the trial, more than once intimated to the Bar, not that the action ought to be settled, but that the dispute ought to be settled. The special jury of the City, who found damages in £500 in favour of Lord Penrhyn, took the most unusual course of appending to their verdict a rider that with a little conciliation on both sides the dispute might be settled. And Sir Edward Clarke, having used all his exceptional and almost unrivalled powers as an advocate in support of Lord Penrhyn's case at the trial—my learned friend Sir Edward Clarke, one of the ornaments of the English Bar, whose lamentable absence from this House is regretted quite as much by his political opponents as by his political friends—Sir Edward Clarke, Lord Penrhyn's counsel, was so impressed with the necessity and the possibility of conciliation that he himself spontaneously—very much, I think, to his honour—undertook the task of mediator and conciliator. Sir Edward Clarke throughout these negotiations appears to have been in communication with Lord Penrhyn, who was made acquainted from stage to stage of the progress of the negotiations. Being in communication with Lord Penrhyn, Sir Edward Clarke remained up to the last moment sanguine as to the result. That is shown from his own letter. In the course of these negotiations it was shown conclusively by the draft agreement ultimately arrived at, but unfortunately never assented to, 497 that there was an elastic margin of give and take between the two parties. But, unfortunately—I do not know the cause; that is left in darkness—just at the moment when, success seemed certain, Sir Edward Clarke expressed his regret that he had received a letter from Lord Penrhyn putting an end to any hope of being able to bring about a termination of the dispute. We do not know how that arose, but I venture to say that the matter cannot be left there. Here were these two parties engaged in this controversy for nearly three years, at great loss to one and almost infinite suffering to the other, brought through the agency of a third party within a measurable distance almost within actual sight of peace and reconciliation, and it would be a monstrous thing if matters having been brought so near solution should now be allowed to lapse into their old condition of bitterness and antagonism. Neither I nor any one else can guarantee or predict success if the Board of Trade undertake this mission. But we do know that every impartial authority that has had the question under consideration, and not directly interested in it—the County Council of Carnarvon, the Lord Chief Justice, the special jury, and Lord Penrhyn's counsel—has come to the conclusion that it is a matter which might be, could be, and ought to be adjusted. The only authority which sits silent, folding its hands apparently in a mood of dogged and invincible inertia, is the Department to which Parliament has entrusted both the power and the duty of peacemaker. Surely we have seen enough in these days of great departments spending their time in finding excuses to leave half done or not done at all what Parliament requires of them. All I am asking the House to affirm is that till the Board of Trade changes its attitude, till it exerts itself whole-heartedly and with all the means at its disposal to reconcile this conflict, the public conscience will not be cleared if one step is left un trodden on the road which may and ought to lead to peace.
§ MR. WILLIAM JONES (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
in seconding the Motion said whichever party is in the right or in the wrong on this prolonged and deplorable industrial dispute—and no doubt there 498 are faults on both sides—nobody can question the fact that the men have put themselves in the right in the face of the public, and of the law of the land, by offering to submit the whole matter to conciliation or arbitration. Efforts have been made, to help them by outside organisations and communities, but none at all have been made by the Government. The Standing Joint Committee of the Carnarvonshire County Council passed this resolution with regard to the attitude of the Government—That the magnitude and long duration of this unfortunate quarrel, the widespread poverty and destitution caused in the district, and the serious industrial and commercial losses suffered by the country generally, have now reached so grave a point as to call for the intervention of His Majesty's Government, which so far as we can see is the only remaining Court to which appeal can be made.I will not go over the various attempts which have been made at conciliation, but two gentlemen deputed by the Carnarvon County Council—one a Conservative and a Churchman, the other a Liberal and a Nonconformist, one, I believe, a personal friend of Lord Penrhyn himself,—met the men to see if they could bring the two parties together. They affirmed that they did not want to interfere with the matter in dispute, but merely to act as conciliators, on behalf of the County Council, to bring the parties together. What was Lord Penrhyn's attitude? First of all he pleaded illness and instructed his manager to meet the deputation. Afterwards when writing to express his regret that he could not give an interview he said:I am, however, far from wishing to interpose any obstacle in the way of your giving my late workmen the benefit of your advice.What was the proper reply of the deputation? They said:We should not feel ourselves at liberty to give advice to your late workmen any more than we should undertake to advise your lordship. We are simply here in the nope that by ordinary intercourse and friendly discussion, an amicable settlement may be arrived at in the interests of public peace and of all parties concerned.Afterwards I asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to intervene by putting the provisions of the Conciliation Act in force, and the reply I got was that neither party in the dispute had applied 499 although, as I tried to show, there is a provision whereby an inquiry could be set to report on the question independently of the parties concerned. A few months afterwards the men were advised, and rightly advised, to apply to the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman then adopted a non possumus attitude, although there is a distinct provision enabling the Board to intervene if either of the parties apply for such intervention. But I will not follow on in that strain. I will deal with another aspect of the question. Lord Penrhyn himself has repeatedly expressed a desire—I hope an honest desire—to bring about industrial peace. He consented to meet four leaders of the men in an interview on condition that they should not talk about the restoration of the Quarry Committee. I am bound to say, however, that for eight or nine years the Quarry Committee worked well. The referee and arbitrator under the clause which brought about the Quarry Committee was Lord Penrhyn's own manager and estate agent, and I remember hearing the leader of the men, the late Mr. Robert Parry, almost on his deathbed, say that whenever they met the late Lord Penrhyn they always managed to arrive at amicable and peaceful settlements. In fact, the men, through their leader, over and over again asserted that the late Lord Penrhyn acted as a nobleman should with the representatives of the men through the Quarry Committee. However, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, the Quarry Committee has gone, and the men replied to Lord Penrhyn's letter in this way—that they had received his notification with satisfaction; that they were willing to omit any reference to the Quarry Committee and to confine themselves entirely to the question of representation. What could be fairer than that? But Lord Penrhyn said that that did not satisfy him, and he imposed a new condition, viz., that they should not discuss the question of representation in any form. He shifted from one point to the other, although the men waived objection after objection to meet him in a conciliatory spirit. In connection with this attitude I am reminded of a story told of a humorous theologian who once suggested a 500 prescription for keeping Lent. "Conceive," he said, "a fervent desire for bodily mortification, and mortify that desire." Lord Penrhyn seems to have conceived a fervent desire for a really good settlement of the dispute, and to have mortified that desire. The men have over and over again expressed their willingness to submit the matter to arbitration. I have attended many of their mass meetings, and at the very first one I put it to the men whether they would not, independently of any outside intervention or interference, through their leaders meet Lord Penrhyn personally, apart from the manager, and the men unanimously voted that they would. But what does the desire for arbitration on the part of the men amount to if Lord Penrhyn will not meet them? Lord Penrhyn says he will not tolerate outside interference between himself and the men. Lord Penrhyn has not done his duty and proved his sincerity in the matter. The men, if they refused, would lose the support of public opinion which has so generously been given them through the strike; but they have shown themselves anxious to determine the dispute and loyally to accept the decision of any impartial arbitrator.
What is the point in dispute? The district has been singularly crimeless. I know it will be said that there have been assaults, violent acts, and cases of intimidation. But all those outrages and cases of intimidation were committed not at the instigation of the men's leaders, not by the masses of the men themselves, but by several wild and reckless youths, who have been asked to go back to the quarry and are working there to-day. I said that the Government had shown inaction in the whole matter. There is one exception. The Government did intervene on one occasion, and how? By sending the military down. Surely nobody will dare assert that sending the military came under the provisions of the Conciliation Act. What did the commanding officer say when I saw him at Bethesda? He wanted to know why he was there, and he begged me to remain there overnight, feeling sure that a few words in Welsh from me and the leading of the men in the singing of the National Anthem 501 would keep the whole district peaceful and tractable. That commanding officer had Welsh blood in him. The action of His Majesty's Government in sending the military was condemned not only by the County Council of Carnarvonshire, but by the Lord Lieutenant of Carnarvonshire and by Lord Penrhyn's son-in-law, and a Motion against the importation of the military was carried by an over whelming majority in the County Council. There are grave and complex social problems involved in this dispute. If we examine closely into this question we shall find that there is a land question, a housing question, a trade question—the whole social life of the people, in fact—mixed up with this dispute, and these factors are intensely emphasised by difference of race, language, religion, and politics. In one of the parishes in which these quarries are situated most of the houses belong to Lord Penrhyn, and in another parish most of the houses are on short leases granted by Lord Penrhyn and his father. Many of those leases have lapsed and Lord Penrhyn now owns the houses. Some of the leases had been extended to sixty years. Can anyone blame these quarry men for clinging to the houses which they and their fathers have built? These men have built their chapels and schools upon Lord Penrhyn's estate. Many of the houses have small gardens adjoining. Lord Penrhyn, however, believes in giving the men small gardens, not of good land but mountain land, and practically these men have spent their money and labour and their very life in the homesteads which they have created.
There is a new feature I wish to call attention to. What will hon. Gentlemen opposite say to the fact that these quarrymen have built on Lord Penrhyn's property over twenty chapels, on leases. Lord Penrhyn refuses to give a freehold on which to build any Nonconformist chapels. There are eight or ten of them on thirty years leases and two or three on sixty years leases. These twenty chapels which the men have built have cost nearly £50,000, or an average of about £2,000 each. But that is not all. Lord Penrhyn has built two churches and one schoolroom, every one of them freehold. Not only does Lord Penrhyn give the Church of England the privilege of having the 502 land free but he builds the churches as well, while the chapels and the schools have been built by the toilers in his quarry. There is always a clause in the lease that no other but religious meetings shall be held in the chapels. The quarrymen have built their own houses and they cling to them through the storm and stress of this struggle, and they also cling tenaciously to the chapels and schools. When Church of England places of worship were erected, that was done by Lord Penrhyn himself, because the people did not want them. The Nonconformist places of worship cannot be used for any purpose except a religious one, because Lord Penrhyn made it one of the conditions of his lease. The result is that political meetings have occasionally to be held in disused quarries on the roadside. No wonder that men with such fortitude of soul feel a grievance in not getting what is given to their English fellow-workers. The men contend that the managers of the quarries have victimised the leaders, and they are now demanding the right to appear before their employer represented by their own freely elected delegates. The quarrymen have never asked to be represented by trades union officials outside the quarry. Their demand is a most moderate one. They merely ask for a freely elected spokesman of their own. They have been denied the right to discuss grievances in their own dinner hour, they are not treated as men, and are some times sworn at by the managers. Not only this, but the men are subjected to a system of espionage. In the recent; trial the jury expressed the opinion that by a little more conciliatory spirit on the part of Lord Penrhyn and his men, better relations might be restored at the Bethesda quarries. We now know the reason why Sir Edward Clarke's noble attempt to bring about a reconciliation has proved futile and vain. Lord Penrhyn has stated the reason in a letter to The Times, in the course of which he said—I am convinced that the disturbances at the Penrhyn quarries are part of a deliberate plan and scheme of Socialistic aggression.The House will wonder on what authority he based that assertion.I have it, "Lord Penrhyn wrote, "from the editor of a Radical organ in Mid Wales which has consistently supported the justice of my cause.503 His lordship forgets that the Tory organ in the same neighbourhood, the most influential Conservative organ in Mid Wales, has just as consistently supported the men's cause. So it is a piece of rivalry between these two editors. And yet Lord Penrhyn treats this seriously. The editor of this small Radical organ says he got his information from Mr. Michael Davit, who made the statement in question in a political speech upon the land question. Mr. Davit, in The Times, gives a most emphatic denial to this statement and says the whole story is a figment of this gentleman's imagination. The remarkable thing is this—this very gentleman, in a leading article, says—Mr. Michael Davitt's words were mild, his recommendations moderate, and his denunciations of Welsh landlords noble.At that meeting Mr. Michael Davitt and this editor both delivered speeches from the same platform. Mr. Davitt was given a respectful hearing but this editor was hooted from the platform for his extraordinary language. Everybody in Mid Wales knew what value to give to the utterances of the editor of this Radical organ, and I venture to affirm that Lord Penrhyn is the only public man in the Principality who is influenced, or can be influenced, by the opinion of this erratic and irresponsible journalist. We are given to understand that the men cannot be taken back altogether, that 600 of them will be debarred; and that there are some whom Lord Penrhyn will refuse to admit at all. The figures show that there is room in the quarry for all the men. One hundred have died during this conflict, about 200 have emigrated to Canada, 200 are permanently employed elsewhere, and 500 of the strikers have gone back. At the beginning of the lock-out 2,800 men were employed at the quarry. The number of strikers is 1,800, and they can easily go to the quarry, because the output is not sufficient to meet the demands of the slate market. I know that the manager has written very learnedly to The Times giving an account of the increased output, and I will deal with that in a moment. I am informed by a gentleman who understands the subject that Welsh slates are scarce and that prices have increased 7½per cent. During past months orders from England and else- 504 where were difficult to meet, on account of the reduction of the output, In fact the market is flooded with German, French, and American slates. The American slate quarry owners have for many years tried to effect a lodgement for their slates in this country, and they have now succeeded owing to this long dispute, and it will be a difficult thing to dislodge them. The House will therefore see that it is a dispute which affects the trade and commerce of the country as well.
It has been said that the workmen in other Welsh quarries do not sympathise with the men in connection with the Penrhyn dispute. This is a gross misrepresentation. The men engaged in the quarries round about have sent me copies of resolutions they have passed which practically amount to this—they express the deepest sympathy with the Bethesda quarrymen in their struggle, their strong desire for a settlement of the dispute, and their earnest hope that the Government will adopt measures to prevent a recurrence. One word only to the contrary have I ever heard since the dispute commenced, and that was from a clergyman who said that the curse of trades unionism has fallen on the district and that the men should learn the duty of obeying their superiors. In the districts round about they have given contributions of £1,000 for the relief fund. Some will say that only a small portion of the quarrymen are unionists. What are the figures? Out of 10,000 quarrymen in North Wales, over 6,000 are unionists. All the trades unions and all the labour organisations throughout the country have given their active sympathy. The Government alone in a pitiful way has refused by its inaction and ineptitude to take part in the settlement of the dispute. I must say that certain individual Gentlemen on the Front Bench have been kind and conciliatory to me in dealing with this question, but as a collective political organism they have been thoroughly parlaysed in the case of this dispute. What has President Roosevelt done in America in connection with the anthracite coal miners? There was in connection with their dispute a record of twenty-one murders, a long list of brutal assaults, and of houses dynamited. 505 There was no end of outrage and violence. Did President Roosevelt send more soldiers, bayonets, and guns there? No; he appointed a Commission to inquire, so that the disastrous industrial war might be brought to an end. Amity, peace, and prosperity now reign there. I will not dwell on the circumstances of the distress at Bethesda. They are too well known and harrowing. The people are being relieved by contributions from all parts of the United Kingdom, the Colonies, and the United States, but these contributions, I am sorry to say, have not the supreme virtue of healing the trouble. Infinitely more than any party triumph in this dispute would be a successful effort to replant these men in their homes and in their quarry, and to restore industrial peace in the neighbourhood on just and honourable terms.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in view of the grave social and public interests involved in the continuance of the industrial dispute at Bethesda, this House condemns the inaction of His Majesty's Government, and declares its opinion that prompt intervention on their part is imperative to arrive at a just and effectual settlement."—(Mr. Asquith.)
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
asked whether this was the proper stage at which to move an Amendment, of which he had given notice, to include the inaction of the Government regarding the disputes at Ballachulish and Settle in the proposed condemnation of the House.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR, Leeds, Central)
This is the third or fourth occasion on which the dispute at Bethesda quarry has been the subject of discussion in this House. That the hon. Member for North Carnarvon should plead the cause of men who are his constituents is very intelligible, and I do not complain of his doing so on the present occasion, nor have I any complaint to offer of the tone and temper in which he has dealt 506 with the subject either now or on previous occasions, though I am bound to add that I think the speech to which we have just listened does not throw very much light upon the real subject at issue between the two sides to the dispute. But that the manner in which a Department of the Government has exercised the discretion vested in it by Parliament, of interfering or of not interfering in a particular dispute—after that subject has been discussed and voted upon more than once in the House—should be brought up again and made the subject of a solemn vote of censure is, in my judgment, a procedure which does require strong reason to justify it. Surely there ought to be some proportion between the means and the end. I admit that the refusal of the Board of Trade up to the present time to intervene in this dispute might very properly form the subject of discussion when the Board of Trade Vote was under debate in this House, but I really do think that either the Opposition must be very anxious to bring on a vote of censure or very hard up for material on which to found such a vote before they would take the course they have pursued to-day. Under these circumstances, I listened with some curiosity to hear the justification which the right hon. Gentleman intended to put forward. Well, I have listened to him, and I am free to confess that my curiosity has been turned into astonishment. Why, Sir, the very least I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman should have done was to prove that if the Board of Trade had intervened in this dispute there was a reasonable prospect—I won't go a bit further than that—that such intervention would have been attended with successful results. The right hon. Gentleman has not even made an attempt to prove that. He put the matter in quite another way. He said it is not possible to predict with certainty, or even strong probability, that success would be the result of intervention. Well nobody has contended, certainly I have not maintained, that a strong probability of success would be necessary before the Board of Trade used its powers under the Conciliation Act. What I maintain in this case is that there is practically no prospect of success whatever, 507 and it is on that ground that the Board of Trade has declined to use its powers under this Act. This is, to my mind, the essential and the only serious and vital question we have to discuss, but before I come to that, there are one or two subsidiary points touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman, to which I should like to refer.
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of this dispute as being a dispute of national importance. I do not wish at all to underrate the importance of the dispute at Bethesda quarry, but I am bound to say that when it is compared, as the hon. Member for North Carnarnvon has compared it to-day, to the coal strike which brought about the intervention of President Roosevelt, it is really necessary to ask the House to examine a little more closely what are the facts of the case. The coal dispute in the United States was one which not only directly affected the coal trade and almost the entire mining industry in the States, but also paralysed the whole commerce and industry of the country. That was a dispute which might fairly be described as of national importance. There have also been disputes which might fairly be described as of national importance in this country. There was the dispute in which Lord Rosebery ultimately intervened. That was undoubtedly a dispute of national importance. There, again, the entire industry of the country was affected; but what is the case in North Wales at the present time? The difference between Lord Penrhyn and his quarrymen is essentially a dispute of a local character. No doubt you cannot have a dispute which affects 2,000 or 3,000 men without grievous and lamentable consequences ensuing. I do not wish to minimise the consequences at all; but, after all; a dispute involving 2,000 or 3,000 men in a particular quarry is not comparable for a moment, for instance, with the South Wales coal dispute, in which Sir Edward Fry acted as conciliator, in which 30,000 men were involved, and which prejudicially affected the entire trade of that part of the country. Moreover, I will ask the attention of the House to this. Although originally this dispute affected between 2,000 and 3,000 men, at the present moment the quarry is working at something like half its capacity. I do not know the precise number of men who are working. I have had figures pre- 508 sented to me from different quarters and they do not exactly correspond with those mentioned by the hon. Member for Carnarvon, but, broadly speaking, there are at least 1,000 men employed there at the present time, of whom 700 were employed there before the dispute began. I believe that in reality it is something more. The hon. Member opposite told us that 100 or more of the men originally engaged in the quarry are dead, that 200 have emigrated, and I am informed that something like 200 have found employment in other parts of Wales. That being the case, the House will see that there are probably not more than 700 men at the present moment out of employment in connection with this dispute. I regret exceedingly that even 700 men should be out of employment in consequence of a difference between them and their employer, but again I say that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is justified in describing this dispute as one of national importance.
Then the right hon. Gentleman stated, and stated truly, that there are peculiar features in this dispute. There is one very peculiar feature, and that is that the employer is a single individual and is a man who, to all appearance, would prefer to close his quarry altogether and with draw from the business rather than give in on the principal subject at issue. That is obviously a peculiarity which makes the settlement of the dispute by outside parties a matter of peculiar difficulty. But the subject of the dispute is not peculiar. The subject of the dispute, at all events up to the late negotiations undertaken by Sir Edward Clarke, was a question of the recognition by Lord Penrhyn of a trade union committee as the means of communication between himself and his employees. The recognition by an employer of, the outside influence exercised by a trade union is a question which has constantly arisen between employers and employed, and has constantly been the subject of dispute between them, not only in this country but also in America. I am not going to express any opinion as to the rights or the wrongs in this question. Lord Penrhyn may be right or he may be wrong from his point of view, as the men may be from theirs. That is not, in my opinion, a subject on which the Government ought to be called upon to express an opinion, and especially the 509 Minister entrusted with the administration of the Conciliation Act. The right hon. Gentleman, on the whole, maintained the attitude he told us he intended to observe—that is to say, of not presenting the case as an advocate. On the whole I think he observed that attitude substantially, though not, perhaps, entirely. I cannot say that of the hon. Member who followed him. He did attempt to go more or less into the merits of the case; but I venture to express the hope that in the debate the House will endeavour, as far as possible, to restrict the discussion to the particular issue of the action, or rather the inaction, of the Board of Trade—the refusal of the Board of Trade to intervene under the Conciliation Act. I venture to assert this view of the matter strongly, because I really think that if we are to discuss the merits of the dispute we are more likely to embitter the dispute than to assuage the animosities that have been excited.
I now come to what is really the essential matter—namely, could the Board of Trade, acting under the provisions of the Conciliation Act, have usefully intervened, and, if so, could it even at the eleventh hour usefully intervene? It may not, perhaps, be out of place that I should remind right hon. Gentlemen opposite that they have had no personal experience of the working of the Act of 1896. That Act was passed after they had left office, and they have not been in office since. Therefore they have not had any personal experience of the working of the Act. And I do think that when the House is discussing the wisdom or the unwisdom of the action of the Board of Trade, it should not be forgotten that we are acting on an eight years experience of this Act, which right hon. Gentlemen opposite have not had. In the administration of the Act the essential point to observe is that it is a voluntary act without a trace of compulsion in it, there is no compulsion on the Board of Trade to act unless they think fit to do so. The Board of Trade cannot exercise any kind of compulsion on the parties to the dispute. The Act expressly states that where a difference exists, the Board of Trade may, if they think fit, exercise all or any of the following powers. I should like to go into them seriatim, in order that the 510 House may judge whether we could have acted with advantage under any of the powers given to us. In the first place, the Board of Trade has the power to inquire into the cause and circumstances of the dispute. In the second place, it may, on its own initiative, take action with a view to bringing the parties to the dispute together. In the third place, it, may, upon the application of one of the parties to a dispute, appoint a conciliator; and, lastly, on the application of both parties, it may appoint an arbitrator. We may set aside the last power as a thing out of the question on the present occasion, inasmuch as only one party has made an application to the Board of Trade. As regards the first power, to inquire into the cause and circumstances of the difference, we have taken the steps always taken by the Board of Trade in all cases of dispute of which we receive information. We took such steps as we thought desirable to inform ourselves of the circumstances, including the sending out of schedules to both parties, which were duly answered and returned. I know there are some hon. Members who wish that we should use this power to inquire into the cause and circumstances of the dispute, not only for inquiry, but also with a view to making a report for the purpose of guiding public opinion. Now, I submit that that is not the purpose of that power, that that is not contemplated by Sub-section (a) of Section 2 of the Act. If it had been contemplated undoubtedly provision would have been made in the Act for a report. And let the House observe this. In the Act as originally introduced there was a power not merely to inquire into the cause and circumstances, but also to report. An Amendment, however, was moved in Grand Committee to omit the words "to report," and that Amendment was accepted by my right hon. friend the then President of the Board of Trade. I think, therefore, that it is clear that the Board of Trade could not have been expected to act under Sub-section A of the clause. With regard to initiating mediation under Sub sections B and C, I admit that the Board of Trade has the power to intervene, but, quite apart from the general discretion 511 which the Act gives to the Board, it is called upon directly before appointing a conciliator to take into consideration the adequacy of the means for conciliation, the circumstances of the trade and district. The words of the Act were carefully selected to lay no absolute duty on the Board of Trade to intervene; it has guarded the discretion of the Board at every point. Now, what is the test the Board of Trade should apply to ascertain whether any case is a proper one for intervention? In my judgment there is only one test, whether such intervention is likely to conduce to a settlement of the dispute. If it appears that such intervention is not likely to conduce to a settlement, then the Act lays no duty on the Board to intervene, but rather suggests that it should not intervene. With respect to this particular dispute, it is really beyond controversy that, from all that has transpired, if the Board had sent down a conciliator to Bethesda there was not the slightest prospect that such action would have tended to bring the dispute to an end. I may be asked how I can be sure of that without having actually tried it. Well, we had various indications sufficient for us to form an absolute conclusion on that point. In the first place there was the past history of the dispute between Lord Penrhyn and his quarrymen in 1896, when the Board of Trade did attempt to intervene. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Board of Trade was better advised then than now—[An HON. MEMBER: Better inspired.]—better inspired than now. But I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that the answer to the Board of Trade from Lord Penrhyn was conveyed in the words he has quoted declining to accept a suggestion the acceptance of which, Lord Penrhyn said, would establish a precedent for interference with his private affairs. The Board of Trade replied by saying they could not send down an official to be present at the conference if that would be contrary to Lord Penrhyn's wishes. Therefore, in effect, when the Board of Trade ascertained that interference would prove useless they did not persist or press the matter.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
That may be, but they did not do what the right hon. Gentleman says we ought to have done. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, but I may say that perhaps we have gained a little more experience of the administration of the Act since then and are more inclined to ascertain the probability of successful action before attempting to interfere. Of course there may be cases when there is a probability that the intervention of a conciliator may produce the desired result, but in these cases we have never started with the absolute certainty that if we sent a conciliator one party to the dispute would refuse to have anything to do with him. That is the point the House should consider. The Act does not indicate that there is any obligation on the part of the Board of Trade to send down a conciliator with the knowledge that such action would be futile. One quotation from Lord Penrhyn shows that he would not accept the services of a conciliator from the Board of Trade, and we know that also from a communication made to us from the men themselves at the end of last year, when they asked for the appointment of a conciliator. In that communication the men described the attempts already made to secure a settlement of the dispute, and among other documents sent to the Board of Trade was a pamphlet containing the correspondence between Lord Penrhyn and the Carnarvonshire County Council, and from passages in this correspondence it is quite clear that had the Board sent a conciliator Lord Penrhyn would have refused to receive him or negotiate with him. Lord Penrhyn, writing to the representative of the County Council, said he must decline to recognise the right of any person or body corporate not connected with the quarry to interfere. Then he was asked by the men if he would be prepared to accept the services of the Right Hon. A. J. Balfour or Lord Rosebery or both as conciliators, and he replied—I regret I must decline to accede to your suggestion.513 That we were perfectly right in our conclusion was also shown by the statement of Lord Penrhyn's counsel at the late trial and by Lord Penrhyn's letter to The Times, published on March 21st, in which he wrote—It has also been admitted that the main object of the strikers in 1896, and later, and now has been and is to compel me to recognise the Quarry Committee and to deal with it as a representative body, and this, mainly because it is not a representative body, is what I am resolved not to do in any circumstances. It was for this reason, and because in my opinion there was no subject matter for discussion that I declined to encourage any action by the Board of Trade under the Conciliation Act.This extract is absolutely conclusive, I look upon this matter purely from the point of view of bringing the dispute to a termination, and I venture to say, after what passed in 1897, that anybody reading the correspondence that passed between Lord Penrhyn and the Board of Trade—a rather angry correspondence, I am afraid it was—will see that of all possible conciliation that of the Board of Trade had the least chance of success. I hope I have convinced the House that the chances of success were nil.But it may be said the publication or report of a conciliator might have been of public service. The Act says that if a person is appointed to act as a conciliator he shall inquire into the cause and circumstances of the dispute and otherwise shall endeavour to bring about a settlement of the dispute, and shall report his proceedings to the Board of Trade. He is not to report as to the merits of the dispute for the guidance of the public, but is to make a report of his proceedings. I have carefully looked through the report written by Sir Edward Fry describing his proceedings as conciliator in the South Wales coal strike. In that case also one party to the dispute refused to receive or recognise Sir Edward Fry, and he had to return without having effected a settlement of the dispute. There is no word in his report as to the merits of the dispute, and I do not believe that in the whole history of the administration of the Act it would be found that the conciliator thought it his duty to pass judgment or form an estimate as to the merits of the dispute. This case was really very different from that case. If the Board of 514 Trade had known, when it asked Sir Edward Fry to undertake this duty, that conciliation in the proper sense of the term would be impossible, because the masters refused to have anything to do with him as a conciliator, I feel no doubt that the Board would never have sent him on such a mission. In the circumstances Sir Edward Fry did what he could, not to persuade the men to take any particular course, but to lead them to place their case in as plain a manner as possible before the masters, and that is the full extent of what he did. He did not report on the merits of the case, but in the words of the Act he merely described his proceedings. I think I said the other day when this subject was being discussed, that the Act might conceivably be stretched in such a way as to enable the Board to send down a conciliator who should make a report intended to guide public opinion. But I think that such a proceeding would be stretching the Act. I do not think it was ever contemplated by the Act, and in this particular instance, had such a course been pursued, I feel convinced that it would not have advanced the settlement of the dispute one iota. It would, however, have prejudiced the action of the Board in dealing with future cases under the Act.
There are one or two other matters which ought not to be left entirely out of sight in connection with the suggestion that the Board of Trade ought to send down a conciliator whether Lord Penrhyn would or would not receive him. Let me remind the House that—and this is a very material fact—in 1897 the men declined the intervention of the Board of Trade. They themselves seem to have felt that there was really nothing to be hoped for from the intervention of the Board of Trade. But in the present case the men did not apply to the Board of Trade until two years after the commencement of the dispute—in other words, when their resources were falling low. I do not mean to suggest that the men in making their application did not desire that the dispute should be settled, but I think they also thought that the mere fact of the Board of Trade intervening would probably assist them to get further funds to carry on the. dispute. From time to time the Board receives applications for intervention, forwarded when one of the parties to a 515 dispute is nearly exhausted, and our experience has shown us that it is necessary to be extremely careful in dealing with applications of that sort, which may have the prima facie appearance, not so much to secure the settlement of the dispute, as to endeavour to secure support for one side or the other. Then there is another point we have to consider. Not very long after the application was made to us from the men out of work, we also had an application from the men who had returned to work, including the strangers employed, numbering, I think, at that time close upon 1,000 men. The application of the latter was that the Board of Trade should not intervene. The Act directs the Board, if it thinks fit, to exercise its power to appoint a conciliator on the application of the employers or workmen interested. Will anybody contend that the men actually engaged in the working of the quarries were not workmen interested? I do not put this forward as a decisive consideration. I should not have paid any attention to it had there been, in my opinion, a prospect of settling the dispute. Still, I do mention it as a material consideration. Lastly, I have further to observe that the Act distinctly says that the Board has to take into consideration the adequacy of the means available for conciliation in the dispute. In this particular case there was a regular arrangement made under the settlement of 1897, under which the men could meet the management and lay their complaints before the management. Unless we had reason to believe that those means had been properly tried and had been exhausted, we might, on that ground alone, I think, have to consider before appointing a conciliator. But the main contention I have to put before the House is this—that we did not appoint a conciliator because we were convinced that to do so could not lead to any useful result. It has been said:—What harm would there have been in appointing a conciliator? Having regard to the former relations between Lord Penrhyn and the Board of Trade, I think that any attempt to force a conciliator on him would unquestionably have embittered and envenomed the dispute. Moreover, if we had appointed a conciliator, I cannot imagine any case in which we could have refused to do so on 516 an application being made to us from either side. I cannot conceive a case in which it was clearer that the intervention of the Board would have been useless. Therefore, had we consented to intervene in this case we should practically have to do so in every case in which application is made. But the Act expressly confers on the Board a discretion. If we had consented to act on this occasion that discretion would have disappeared.
I have given to the House my reasons for being convinced that the intervention of the Board of Trade could not have had any result; but I should like to ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite a question. If they are successful in carrying this Motion, the inevitable result would be that His Majesty's present advisers would resign, and presumably a Government would be formed from right hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite. In that event what action would they take? They would have been brought into office because their predecessors had failed to use the powers given to them for conciliation. The new Government would presumably be under the immediate obligation of putting these powers into operation. Suppose they sent down a conciliator, who made a report of the kind which seems to be desired by hon. Members opposite—a report going into the merits of the case, with a view to directing public opinion, and expressing the view that Lord Penrhyn was in the wrong and his quarrymen in the right. Nobody who has followed the history of the dispute could suppose that Lord Penrhyn would accept an ex parte opinion of that kind. So long as the men could hold out the dispute would continue. What would the new Government do then? Their position would be almost ridiculous—certainly somewhat humiliating. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman disclaim any idea of advocating further legislation—anything in the nature of compulsory arbitration. A rumour—to which I admit I never attached any importance—credited the right hon. Gentleman and some of his friends with the intention of bringing forward a Bill to expropriate Lord Penrhyn from the quarries, in which case the property would have been, I suppose, put up to auction or worked by the State. No doubt that was an absurd 517 suggestion, but then, what would the new Government do on the undoubted failure of any efforts they might make to settle the dispute? I suppose that such an event as the defeat of the Government did not enter into their calculations. They took it for granted, no doubt, that they could attack us, and assume the rôle of the champions of the interests of labour without incurring the responsibilities which success in such a case would necessarily entail upon them. It may be, regarded as a party manœuvre, the step they have now taken is a more or less dexterous one. But I feel bound to say that the Motion which they have made this afternoon, while it cannot possibly do any good to the men who are now out of employment at Bethesda quarries, cannot but exercise a prejudicial effect upon the future working of the Conciliation Act, the provisions of which they ask us to put in force in connection with this dispute. That Act can be successfully worked only by the exercise of the utmost discretion and the most rigid impartiality, and I say that upon the Party opposite will rest the responsibility of having made more difficult the exercise of that discretion and the maintenance of that impartiality by dragging into the party arena a question which, in the opinion of everybody who wishes to see this Act bear good and useful fruit, ought above all others to be excluded from it.
§ MR. BURT (Morpeth)
I should have been very well content to leave my view of the position as presented in the admirable speech of my right hon. friend the Member for East Fife, but there are one or two points which perhaps I may usefully contribute to the discussion. The right hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to think that my right hon. friend had rather exaggerated when he spoke of this as a question of national importance. I associate myself with my right hon. friend in that expression. I think it will be admitted that the conflict is one of very great gravity. I have known strikes and lock-outs which involved greater numbers of men, but we have had in this district chronic unrest for the last six or seven years. Of that period I should say that fully one-half 518 has been occupied by strikes and lockouts. Does the right hon Gentleman say that unless thousands or tens of thousands of men are involved in a conflict, and the trade of the whole country is paralysed, that it is not a matter of national importance? This matter suggests, if it does not raise, questions that go to the very foundations of the rights of private property in land. As to where the faults may be, I shall copy the example of my right hon. friend; I will not apportion the blame, but blame there is somewhere. I have had the opportunity of meeting the quarrymen of North Wales in mass meetings. I never saw a finer body of workmen in my life. They are sober and law-abiding; under circumstances of extreme temptation there has been no serious crime in the locality. As to Lord Penrhyn, I shall say nothing except this—that as an employer he is out-of-date. This conflict is going on at a time when conciliation is spreading. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us the other night that the great lesson to employers and employed, to capitalist and workman, is that they should come closer together with the view of arriving at a mutual understanding. Conciliation is spreading, and that is almost the only—at any rate, it is the most—encouraging feature in connection with our industrial life. If we compare 1897 with last year we find that, whereas in the former year there were about 750,000 workmen under conciliation boards, in 1902 the number had risen to 1,250,000. Is it not very desirable—I am sure everybody thinks it is—that this spirit of conciliation and goodwill should spread over the whole of the country, and reach even Bethesda, and, if possible, Lord Penrhyn? Reference has been made to the difficulty of outside interference. I know how delicate and difficult it is. More than once in my own experience I have found that the inopportune intervention of fussy but well-meaning people has done much more harm than good. But we have had instances of successful intervention. The late Bishop of Durham intervened at the right moment, and other instances can be and have been given. I entirely agree with my right hon. friend that the State has peculiar advantages in the way of intervening. The President of the Board 519 of Trade has truly said that the intervention must be accompanied by tact and impartiality. Of course these qualities are needed, but courage also is required. He who intervenes in cases of this kind must not fear his fate too much. He undoubtedly has to risk something. He has to risk want of success, but I think it scarcely likely, in a case of this kind, that more harm than good would be done.
The right hon. Gentleman has told us what his powers are. I understand that his great objection is that he is convinced beforehand that Lord Penrhyn would not accept a conciliator from the Board of Trade. He has also told us that the Act is voluntary, that it has not a touch or tincture of compulsion in it. That is perfectly true, and I, for one, would not have it otherwise. I am not in favour of compulsory arbitration, and compulsory conciliation seems to be a contradiction in terms. It is like compulsory brotherly love. Conciliation, like the quality of mercy, must not be put under compulsion. But the Act does give the right hon. Gentleman certain powers. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has not the power to appoint an arbitrator unless both parties ask it. But one of the parties to the dispute has asked him to intervene and appoint a conciliator. The men asked Lord Penrhyn two years ago to go to arbitration. It may be a rather sweeping assertion, but my own feeling is that the party who refuses arbitration, whether employer or workman, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred by that refusal places himself in the wrong. The men offered to submit the case to arbitration. I know this has no bearing upon the Government, but what has a bearing upon the Government is the fact that they have power of initiation. The right hon. Gentleman said he knew that Lord Penrhyn would refuse to accept the conciliator. Very likely he would. But I do not think that that justifies the right hon. Gentleman or the Board of Trade in refusing to appoint a conciliator and to collect evidence. By taking this course information would be collected, and it would come from an unbiassed and unprejudiced quarter. Pressure would be brought to bear upon Lord Penrhyn, and I hold, Sir, that in these disputes it is necessary very often to bring 520 pressure to bear upon workmen as well as upon employers. If you collect and disseminate information, you then have a basis for an effective appeal to public opinion, and you may depend upon it that public opinion in its verdict will be just and fair to all parties. I believe that in the long run public opinion will compel whichever party shows stupidity and stubbornness to yield to reason and common sense.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
The case for the Government seems to be such a strong one that I do not think the contest will be so unequal as might otherwise be supposed at first sight. I cannot conceive on what grounds the Front Opposition Bench has moved a vote of censure except it be to show that they are in line with the Labour Party. Nothing has happened since the discussion in March last, except that there has been a libel action in which Lord Penrhyn has recovered damages from the other side, although they defended themselves on the grounds which have been advanced today. What is the allegation which would have justified the Board of Trade intervening in this matter? It is that there had been tyranny so gross and that the extent of the mischief which this dispute is doing to the community was so large that it was the duty of the Government to take steps to stop it. What is the head and front of Lord Penrhyn's offending? It is that he refuses to allow the Quarry Committee to interfere, and refuses to take back a larger number of men than his quarry will hold for its economical working. [Opposition cries of "No."] Hon. Gentlemen will have plenty of time to deal with my errors and blunders. It is said that Lord Penrhyn objects to his workmen combining, but he does not do so. He is perfectly prepared to allow combination among his men, and I will show that that combination is satisfactory, but he is not prepared to allow a committee to intervene between him and his workmen, more especially a committee which is not representative of the whole of the workmen, and which interferes in the government of the quarry. He is determined that every 521 man in his employment shall have the opportunity of coming to him direct, or to his manager on his behalf, for the redress of grievances. Let me read an extract from their own minute book.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS
It is a resolution which was passed when the Quarry Committee was first started. [An Hon. Member: 1874.] The resolution reads—Resolved that no complaint be received except from one who was a member of the union.Is that a position which Lord Penrhyn could be asked to tolerate? Should the men in his employment, who were doing their work properly, be shut out from all communication with their employer unless they paid fees to an organisation of which they did not approve? Let me read another resolution from the same book—To obtain for the next Committee meeting the names of those who refuse to pay to the union, and that the representative adopt the most secret method for doing so.That is not the sort of organisation I should like to have amongst a body of labourers or quarrymen working for me, and I am not surprised that Lord Penrhyn does not receive this organisation with any enthusiasm, more especially when talking of tyranny. There can be no greater tyranny than an organisation which acts secretly and for the purpose of intimidation in order to force men into its ranks. The union does not embrace more than 50 per cent. of the quarrymen in its ranks, and it was monstrous, therefore, that it should claim to represent the whole quarry. I also said that the Quarry Committee had interfered with the working of the quarry, and may I quote one extract from the same source on this point—Resolved that we approve of compelling crews in which there are two partners to take an additional partner.What can be a more glaring instance of direct interference with the working of a quarry and injuring its economical working than that? Is it tyranny for Lord Penrhyn to insist as a condition to any arrangement between him and his men that there should be complete 522 access to him for all his men, whether unionist or non-unionist for the redress of grievances, or to prevent the virtual control of his quarry passing to a body which are not representative of the men? As to the question of a substitute for the Quarry Committee, Lord Penrhyn offered it and it was accepted by the workmen, and that is offered again now by Lord Penrhyn if the Quarry Committee be abandoned. Let us consider whether that is a fair substitute, and whether it truly gives the power of combination to the men. I do not suppose that my own opinion will have much weight, and therefore I will give the opinion of others. The financial secretary of the quarrymen in August, 1897, said "he thought that all would acknowledge that that substitute was real combination."The Daily Chronicle, which was the organ of the men in that dispute, said—The right of effective combination, of effective representation, and of effective collective action all round has been secured.That is not all. The hon. Member for Carnarvonshire, who seconded this Motion, sang almost a pæan on the subject. He said—He congratulated them upon the right of combination, the abolition of individualism and the recognition of collectivism.That was accepted in 1897 and recognised by the organs of the workmen as an admirable arrangement for the men, and that arrangement is open now. I suppose it will be said that the spirit of the arrangement was not observed. [An HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear.] Does the hon. Member say that that was proved instead of disproved in the trial a few days ago? The only cases which were advanced were those of men who had been dismissed, and it was insinuated had been dismissed because of their action in favour of the union. Those five cases were examined, and I unhesitatingly say that they all broke down.
A great deal has been said against Lord Penrhyn. I do not know him myself. I never saw him, and would not know him if I met him in the street. One thing has never been said against him so far as I know, and that is that he is a rogue. He would be a rogue if he allowed a man to be dismissed under 523 the pretence that he had committed some offence against the rules and regulations of the quarry, whereas he was merely dismissed because he was a member of the union. [OPPOSITION cries of dissent] I think that is not the general opinion of Lord Penrhyn. I do not think you would find that it is the opinion among the Welsh quarrymen themselves. One of these five men was inefficient and was not re-engaged, and the others were men who had committed offences. Two of them had committed an offence which was extremely dangerous to themselves and to the other men in the quarry beside them—offences against which they had themselves protested and asked to have stringent regulations passed against. They were offences against not only the rules of the quarry but the rules of the Home Office. These men were removed, and I think very properly on that account. Another man was removed for an offence which Lord Penrhyn offered to disclose if the other side wished it, and the other side gracefully declined the offer. What it may have been I am not prepared to say. It evidently was an offence which the other side preferred that Lord Penrhyn should not disclose. Another man was discharged for gross insolence to one of the managers, and for refusing to apologise therefor, and as far as the jury were concerned, they considered his action perfectly proper. I should like to point out that this is not peculiarly arbitrary conduct on the part of Lord Penrhyn. There is no quarry in Wales where a quarry committee is allowed. The very same fight took place in the case of the Taff Vale dispute. The very same fight took place in the case of the Dinorwic Quarry. That dispute took place there in 1886, and the Quarry Committee was then got rid of, because it was recognised as a nuisance and mischief to the quarry. As to the extent of the dispute, I am informed that there are now 1,000 men at work in the quarry, and that the maximum required for the satisfactory, efficient, and complete working of the quarry is another 1,200 men. That is to say, 2,200 men altogether. Well, I quite admit that it is a most distressing thing that there should be any men out of employment or in trouble in this matter, 524 but it is impossible to compare this dispute, important as it is, with such things as the great mining strike of 1893, when 300,000 men were involved; the South Wales coal strike, when 100,000 men were involved; or the boot and shoe strike, when 60,000 men were involved. This is a local dispute. It is a most interesting dispute, though not a very big one, because it does represent a great and important principle. I quite agree that it represents on one side a determined, courageous, and as I think generous and honourable employer, doing what he believes to be right; and on the other side, a body of men determined to pull him to his kness if they can, and to call in the aid of the Government in doing so if they can, because they think the success of Lord Penrhyn in managing the quarry as he is managing it for his own advantage and that of the men, is a deathblow to the aims of gentlemen who desire to bring every trade and every manufacturer under the direct control and interference of the State.
Let me for a moment examine a few of the statements which have been made to-day, and on the 5th of March, by the hon. Member for North Carnarvon. I will only deal with those which are sufficiently specific and admit of an answer. I cannot answer the statement that Lord Penrhyn is a "bloody tyrant." I can only say that he is a high-minded nobleman, or something of that kind, but then we are "no forrader." The hon. Member says there is no discipline in the quarry. How does he know? And why, if he knows it, does he not give some evidence of the fact? There are some convictions for assault, but there are no other troubles that I know of. There are 1,000 men engaged in the quarry earning fine wages—better wages than they have ever earned in the past. [OPPOSITION cries of dissent.] Oh, yet, they are earning better wages. I am not saying that there is any peculiar generosity on the part of Lord Penrhyn in the matter. What I say is that if you get rid of the Quarry Committee you can manage the quarry better and afford to pay better wages. The hon Member says also that the quarry is worked at a loss. I do not know why that should worry hon. 525 Gentlemen opposite, but as a matter of fact I am able to say that they are entirely mistaken in supposing that it is worked at a loss. It is working very well. He says that the local trade has been ruined What is that statement based upon? It is based upon the fact that during the last three years one butcher's shop has been closed, owing to circumstances entirely outside of the strike, and as a matter of fact other shops, not supplying articles which I can describe as necessaries, have been opened in Bethesda during the last two or three years. Let me take another point. It was quoted as a great grievance that men were suspended for two days if late in coming to their work in the quarry. No doubt that does seem hard, but I should like to remind hon. Members who are not acquainted with the subject that a quarry is not like an ordinary factory, where men come in and are marked, as was the case with us at College, with pencil and paper. The men are drawn from all parts of the country, and according to where they live they enter the quarry at the nearest points to their homes, and it is therefore essential that there should be a strict rule as to late coming in the morning. I may say that the rule was altered in 1901, although perhaps without the knowledge of the hon. Gentleman who referred to the subject. The suspension does not take place on the first occasion. On the second occasion it is for a quarter of a day, and on the third occasion for half a day. There is great complaint that the men are not allowed to discuss their grievances in their own time. It does not mean that they are not allowed to discuss grievances in their own time outside the quarry, but it means that the dinner hour is not to be used for the holding of mass meetings. For, obviously, if you have a quarry with a large number of union and non-union men and you have public meetings of one class in the sight of the other you will very soon have disturbance and the peace broken. It is most reasonable and proper that Lord Penrhyn should say—I may say that it is not Lord Penrhyn alone but every other quarry proprietor—that he will not allow public meetings during the dinner hour. We are told that the customary holiday is taken 526 away. I honestly say that I do not know what that refers to. I have made as close inquiry as I can, and so far as I can find out no change whatever has been made in the holidays since 1885. I cannot answer that complaint until I know the particular thing to which the hon. Member who mentioned it refers.
An important matter which has been referred to is in regard to the sweating of men. The hon. Member said that under the contract system men were sweated. Well, my answer to that is, if that be so there can be nothing more to Lord Penrhyn's disadvantage and nothing to which he would more strongly object. If there has been sweating it has been of the men by the men. What has happened may have been that contractors have compelled their quarry-men to return to them a portion of the wages fixed by Lord Penrhyn as payment for the work. Although I have no right to speak on Lord Penrhyn's behalf I will take upon myself to say that if any one can show to him a better way than that at present existing to stop workmen from cheating their fellow workmen, he will be the first to welcome it and adopt it. What is the objection to the contract system? It is not that it conduces to sweating. The bargain system is at least as open to the risk of sweating as the contract system. The objection to the contract system is that it is a labour saving system, that it means the more economical working of the quarry, and that fewer men can get the same amount of money out of the quarry. Then the conduct of the strikers has been referred to, and I am not going to reflect on them. Of course I can well understand that they were sorely tempted to break the law, and some of them did break the law. They were not angels, but I do not think they behaved very badly in the circumstances. I think there were fifty-six convictions for assault during the last three years. Undoubtedly there was serious terrorism, practised against the non-union men. Those men have had a miserable life, and their wives and children have suffered from it, and I sympathise most heartily with Lord Penrhyn in his determination that under no circumstances will he sacrifice the men who have stood by 527 him for the men who have fought against him. To be chivalrous and forgiving is one thing, and to betray your friends to suit your enemies is a thing I cannot sympathise with.
I shall leave Lord Penrhyn now and refer to the Board of Trade, which is ostensibly the subject of this Motion. Let us see what their duty was. We are asked, why did not the Board of Trade inquire and report. I consider that it would be a monstrous abuse of my right hon. friend's position if, in the face of the fact that the House deliberately considered the proposal and rejected it he had used the Conciliation Act for the purpose of blackmail. That is the only use I can see that it could be put to here. The suggestion seems to be that the right hon. Gentleman ought to have sent down someone to inquire and to make a report. Then the hon. Member went on, in common with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to object to compulsory arbitration—as I do. Well, as to this Act. I do not say what I think of it. It reminds me of the Presbyterian Scotsman who got into low water and got a billet to swing the censer in a Roman Catholic Church in Malta; and as he was working his censer up and down he did so to the tune of "If it's daeing nae guid, it's daeing nae harm." That is exactly my idea of the Act. It is a sham. It never can be of any real use. Any occassion on which the Board of Trade might usefully intervene under the Act is when an Archbishop or retired judge could come down and put the matter straight. If the parties to a dispute do not come to terms without this Act, you cannot get them to do so under it. There has been an attempt in the debate to contrast unfavourably the action of the Board of Trade now and in 1896. The Board of Trade were children at the business in 1896. They did not know precisely what kind of Act it was. They thought they were going to effect a social revolution; that they were going to manage the whole trade of the country. They sailed gaily on and came to grief; and now they learn that when one side is determined not to have anything to do with the other, interference is useless, or worse than useless; that it is not a question of wages, whether the men should be paid 16s. or 18s. accord- 528 ing to the higgling of the market; it is not a question whether the market for slates is rising or falling, and that 6d. should be taken off or added to wages, on which an outsider might come in, and with the parties met together, put the thing right. This is a case which the one side has got to win and the other lose. It is a case in which Lord Penrhyn says "black" and the men "white," and that no outsider can say is "grey" or any other colour. Mark, this is a point in favour of the Board of Trade. Lord Penrhyn asked the men at the beginning of the strike to meet him and discuss grievances; but they took no notice of it, and they do not do it now. They decline altogether to do so, because they consider that the recognition of the existence of the committee is a condition precedent to entering into any negotiation at all. Well, in these circumstances, how can you expect the Board of Trade to intervene? You must give a discretion to a Government Department. [An HON MEMBER: You must give them common sense.] To give them sense is beyond my power. You must give them discretion, and if you deprive them of discretion, and say that they must go into every dispute between employer and employed—whether they would do any good or not—all I can say is that I wish my right hon. friend to get out of his present office as soon as he can.
§ MR. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
I do not know that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will appreciate the defence of his Department made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Albans. The policy of the hon. Gentleman appears to have reached its full development, its highest stature, when it reached the idea of doing nothing. The early phase of the Act in which it was believed that something could be done, apparently belonged to a time the merits of which the hon. Member deprecated. But what ever may be the merits of the hon. Member's speech in defence of the action of the Board of Trade, there was another point of view which was interesting, and which the hon. Member painted for us—a picture of the facts, not as they are, but 529 as presented in the minds of the friends of Lord Penrhyn. If there is one thing which the hon. Member's speech has brought out more distinctly than another, it is the necessity of supplying to this House and to the public some impartial and accurate record of these facts, on which public opinion may be brought to bear. The hon. Member has given full credit to the intentions of Lord Penrhyn. I believe the noble Lord to be a high-minded gentleman, although at the same time I think he is actuated by an altogether, I might almost say—I do not wish to use an offensive term—ridiculous view of the issue involved in the controversy between him and his men. I do not wish to judge Lord Penrhyn on fragmentary quotations from his statements. I could quote with as deadly effect from these as from any made by his men; but I have here the shorthand notes of the conference between Lord Penrhyn and the representatives of his men on 18th March, 1897, when Mr. Young, on behalf of Lord Penrhyn, put forward views which go far beyond those attributed to him by the hon. Member for St. Albans as the definition of quarry management. It seems to me that Lord Penryhn at this conference had a most confused notion as to what the issue was. Mr. Williams said he wished to ask—I take it that the recognition of a Committee is denied to us?And Lord Penrhyn replied:—The recognition of a Committee which attempts to interfere with the management—that is what is denied you.Then the representative of the men goes on to say—We, on our side, wish to have a Committee which would be authorised to receive complaints, and we pointedly stated that we have no intention at all of interfering with the management.Then Mr. Williams goes on to say that—The prosperity of the last twelve years in my opinion is not inconsistent with the fact that the men have grievances. I gather from the fact of the men continuing to remain out for such a length of time, although during that time they have been offered work on three different occasions, that it is a proof that they have grievances, and that the mode by which they were to convey these grievances to the management was not acceptable to the men. Now that the men are asking for a committee to submit those grievances, I fail to see why 530 they should not have it. Would it be too much to ask your lordship to define the limits where the interference with the management comes in?Then there was a long discussion, and finally there came out this significant fact. The men asked Mr. Young, who spoke on behalf of Lord Penrhyn, whether it was not true that his lordship objected to trade unions at all; and that he quite frankly admitted. Then there was asked a question when the answer was that the difference between the management and the men was that the managers objected to the union and would not recognise it in any way whatever. And the men asked, "Is not that so?" And Mr. Young said, "We will not recognise the union in any way." I am not imputing carelessness to Lord Penrhyn or Mr. Young in any sense, but I protest against a fragmentary portion of the views of the men being put forward, as showing that the men have been speaking in an unreasonable fashion. If ever there was a dispute in which we should have some one who could come in between the two parties to a dispute with a view of ascertaining the real and true issue this is such a case. This is, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in beginning the debate, a serious question for which to censure the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said that there were only 3,000 men involved and therefore that it was not a dispute of great magnitude; but I know of no controversy which has written itself more deeply in the public imagination than this wretched, miserable, squabble which has reduced a whole country side to a state of destitution, and no step can be more justified than that which the Opposition have taken, which may possibly have the effect of bringing about a better state of things in regard to this unhappy dispute.
§ MR. LYTTELTON (Warwick and Leamington)
Is it denied that ever since August 1897 the men can submit any grievance to the management through a deputation representing all the employees, and freely elected by them. I understand from what my hon. friend has said——
§ MR. HALDANE
I will tell the hon. Gentleman how the answer to that point strikes me. I have endeavoured, with all the assiduity I could, to get at the real facts. That point came under discussion in the negotiations between Sir Edward Clarke and the junior counsel representing the men. Lord Penrhyn in his evidence said that there was no question outstanding except the question of the Quarry Committee, There upon Sir Edward Clarke did what he could to bring the parties together, and it looked as if the dispute were reduced to this—How many men Lord Penrhyn was to take back. I do not say that Lord Penrhyn pledged himself; but it appears from the correspondence that the matter reduced itself to this—How many men could Lord Penrhyn afford to take back? As regards the point to which the hon Gentleman alludes, Sir Edward Clarke, at any rate, thought that that had been got over. Then there is a hiatus, and a final letter from Sir Edward Clarke after he had again seen Lord Penrhyn in which he regrets he can do nothing further in the matter. Therefore, I am not in a position to answer the hon. Gentleman's question; but the fact remains that the negotiations with Sir Edward Clarke showed that the men were prepared to accept any arrangement which they could accept with loyalty to those who had maintained their cause. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be that it was impossible for the Board of Trade to continue intervening in this matter. The first consideration on which he founded that proposition was, however, rather unfortunate, because he alluded to the intervention of the Board of Trade in 1897. The lock-out occurred in September 1896, and in October the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, then President of the Board of Trade, opened up communication with Lord Penrhyn. There were letters from the right hon. Gentleman and also from Sir Courtenay Boyle. Then there came a point when Lord Penrhyn and the Board of Trade were at issue. The Board of Trade proposed a meeting at which one of their representatives should be present. Lord Penrhyn objected to that on the ground that it meant an interference with his private affairs. 532 Did the Board of Trade give the matter up? Not at all; became in the February following the right hon. Gentleman wrote to Lord Penrhyn, and referred to a request of the men to have an interpreter and a shorthand writer at a meeting, in order that they might have a record of what took place. That meeting took place; and although it did not at the moment lead to the determination of the lockout, it was so fruitful that in three or four weeks the parties came so near an understanding, the facts became so much more intelligible, and the issues so much smaller, that the lock-out terminated. That was a very creditable result from the intervention of the Board of Trade in 1896 and 1897. I only wish the right hon. Gentleman who now occupies the position of President of the Board of Trade had in the same fashion taken his life in his hands.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I must differ from the right hon. Gentleman as to the result which he attributes to the intervention of the Board of Trade.
§ MR. HALDANE
I am relying on the shorthand notes and on the sequence of events. I cannot dive into the motives which moved Lord Penrhyn, but it seems to me that the intervention of the Board of Trade was at that time fruitful. But I go further. The Act of Parliament enjoined on the Board of Trade the duty of taking such steps as could be taken to put the public in possession of full information with regard to such matters when they were of sufficient importance. The Act of 1896 expressed a policy which for the future was to be the policy of the Board of Trade. It gave to the Board of Trade in definite terms a certain power; and when power was given in that fashion it represented one of the matters which was within the ordinary competence of the Board of Trade. That power was given under two sections of the Act of 1896—in not only the main section, but also in the fifth section, which provides that the Board of Trade is from time to time to present to Parliament a Report of its proceedings under the Act. The Act gave the Board of Trade power, on the application of either party to a trade 533 dispute, to appoint a conciliator, and the duty of the conciliator is to inquire into the cause and circumstances of the difference, to endeavour to bring about a settlement, and to report to the Board. The Board is then in a position to inquire further if it is so disposed; but, at any rate, it has to present a Report of the proceedings to Parliament, the object being that Parliament should be in possession of material to enable it to judge whether the officials of the Board of Trade had done their duty in the matter, and also to enable public opinion to form a judgment. Suppose that course had been taken in this case? It is no answer to say that the situation looked difficult. I know that Lord Penrhyn is a single individual, and that he is a person of strong views; but I believe that his views rest on nothing irrational in his mind. The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with Mr. Pierpont Morgan; surely he could likewise negotiate with Lord Penrhyn. It was open to him to send down someone of sufficient position to ask Lord Penrhyn for an interview, which Lord Penrhyn could not refuse, and who could put before Lord Penrhyn the views which occurred to an outsider who had familiarised himself with the facts. Who could possibly say that the result of that intervention might not alter Lord Penrhyn's view, and might not have a very considerable effect in bringing himself and the men together, and in the men putting their wishes in a form more agreeable to Lord Penrhyn. I myself feel that it is impossible to say that the best is being done by a policy of doing nothing. I think the President of the Board of Trade would have been in a better position if he could have said that he had done his very best, rather than to come down to the House and say he had done nothing for fear he should get a snub. I entirely agree with my right hon. friend that it is perfectly impossible for any one to predict beforehand what the result would be of the appointment of a conciliator of ability, personality and commanding position, who would be able to approach the two parties. For my part, I leave this matter with the regretful feeling that we are face to face with a struggle which has gone on for a great many 534 years, which has resulted in what seems to me to be a distorted view of the facts, and which leaves a condition of things which demands strong, determined and definite steps. These steps mean the pursuance of the policy of the Act of 1896, regardless of the question whether it would succeed or fail. Far better it should fail, far better that this House should fail after it had done its best to terminate this lamentable dispute, than that we should sit here confessing our impotence. Far better it should fail than that we should be in the position we are to-day. I feel that if this House resists this Motion, and fails to express its opinion of what ought to be done, it will be in a position no better than that of the Ministry itself.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I was for many years, in the capacity of trustee, responsible for the employment of 2,000men in a colliery. As the sole surviving trustee the responsibility which falls upon Lord Penrhyn fell upon my shoulders, and I do not hesitate to say that Lord Penrhyn, throughout all these proceedings, has conducted himself like a generous and just man, anxious to do justice all round. Some reference has been made to the fact that the Board of Trade in the year 1896 pursued a different course from that which has been pursued this year. I say that the Board of Trade in 1896 made a huge blunder. Attempts were made to approve the interference of a public Department in a dispute when it was perfectly well known that one of the parties to the dispute strongly objected to the interference. On that occasion the Board of Trade was further handicapped by the fact that it relied largely on a labour correspondent's report. It was proved that the labour correspondent, who was supposed to impartially represent to the Board of Trade what was going on at Bethesda, was an ardent supporter of trades unions, who had, as he himself said, taken the chair at a meeting in connection with the strike, and had said his sympathies were entirely with the men. That was, I think, a great public scandal; that a man who held an official position, and had to make an official report to the Board of Trade should be an avowed partisan, and engaged in carrying on an agitation on behalf of one particular branch. What 535 is Lord Penrhyn's objection? Some talk about it as an objection to all combination of the men. It is nothing of the kind. He objects to the committee because the committee avowedly in their own minutes declare their intention of driving out of the employment of Lord Penrhyn every man who has not seen eye to eye with themselves. That is to say, they are avowedly going to hunt out every man who has been loyal to his employer. I think it is a scandal that men who have conducted themselves in such a manner should be aided and abetted by the Opposition in an endeavour to get back those positions which they used so tyrannically before. They say themselves in their minutes that it is resolved to universaly exact payment to the union. They are merely touts for the union fund, and that is the impartial committee, a committee representing union and non-union men! They are mere touts for collecting funds for the strike. They also resolved to obtain before the next committee meeting the names of all those who refused to pay the union subscriptions. To ask Lord Penrhyn, after all his experience of the mischief which this committee has brought about, to allow it to be reappointed is a monstrous proposition. It may be said that this committee might put the views of the men in a sentence to Lord Penrhyn, but they passed a resolution, so recently as 1879, which has never been repealed—and to give these men their due they do not deny that their real aim is to reconstitute this committee—in which they resolved that the bad workmen who had got into a better bargain by being loyal to their employer during the strike were to be removed back to their own class. It is like saying that a sergeant in the Army, having been promoted by his superiors because he did not agree with the opinions of a strike committee, should be reduced to the ranks. The result of that to those men would be less pay and rougher work. They also resolved that if the new men who came in after the strike were in good bargains and some of the old men had not been replaced, that the new men should be removed to make room for the old. I never heard of a more monstrous interference with labour in my life. Sir, if Lord Penrhyn was inclined to listen 536 for a moment to such a scandalous suggestions he would receive the reprobation of all men. So far from following the right hon. Gentleman in saying that the President of the Board of Trade ought to have repeated the mistake which had been made by his predecessor years ago, I say I think he has done more wisely in avoiding placing himself in a very false position. The right hon. Gentleman has avoided all matters of a personal character, but he cannot get away from the fact that if Lord Penrhyn allowed the reconstitution of this committee to interfere in his business, he might as well go to the Bankruptcy Court. It has already done an immense amount of harm and it would be dangerous to restore it.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)
It is always refreshing to have the intervention of the hon. Gentleman opposite in our debates. We are always sure to get the history, ancient history, of the question. He never minces matters. He told us something that happened, as he says, so recently as 1879. If he will allow me to say so, he has not moved with the times.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS
I do not wish to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, but he used the expression "so recently as 1879." 1879 cannot be described as very recent in trades union affairs in this country. The right hon. Gentleman also gave a high certificate to Lord Penrhyn's personal character. He seemed prejudiced against trades unions, and treated us with the old familiar phrases with regard to agitators which are rather ancient and threadbare arguments at this time of day. I am not going to follow any hon. Member into the details of this dispute, there are many about me who are much better acquainted with them than I am, but I entirely associate myself with the hon. and learned Member for Haddington. We want more light on this matter. The very fact that power has been given to the Board of Trade to investigate and report on matters of this kind is an argument in 537 favour of this Motion. We want more knowledge of the details. What is the real issue between Lord Penrhyn and the men now it has been so narrowed by the most commendable exertions of Sir Edward Clarke to bring the thing to a conclusion?
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS
I am sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that. Sir Edward Clarke did his best to bring a most deplorable struggle to an end. What is the real issue? The real issue between Lord Penrhyn and the men is whether the men shall have a right of combination. [Cries of "No!"] I speak as an employer of labour, and know what combination is. The issue is whether these men should have the free right of combination, and whether they should be able to present their cases through persons in whom they have confidence. A sentence has been read from a letter of Lord Penrhyn's saying he would not recognise the committee. I entered commercial life with a very strong prejudice indeed against trades unions, but I was slowly and surely convinced as to their utility, and I think now there is no surer means of maintaining peace and concord than a strong trades union. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us in his Budget speech that although there had been friction recently there had been very few trade disputes, because the men have been organised, and have been able to meet in an authoritative manner their employers and settle matters in dispute. On the last occasion when this matter was before the House, I remember a striking sentence that was read by the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire; it was used by the Chairman of the Standing Joint Committee of the Carnarvonshire County Council.With an experience of thirty-three years he would by meeting the men in friendly intercourse have settled the point at issue in half an hour."That is what we want—the disposition to do that. So long as Lord Penrhyn refuses to recognise the principle of combination he is standing in the way of a settlement. There can be no question about that. I would undertake to say that if I were conducting a 538 factory, or a railway, or any other industrial concern, I could clip the wings of any committee that was appointed and render their efforts null and void. I am afraid that what is at the bottom of this is some misconception as to the real rights of property. That is a very delicate matter. I am all for individual ownership of property. You cannot do without the incentive which individual ownership gives. But let us remember the words of Mr. Drummond, the only Englishman who ever governed Ireland successfully, that "property has its duties as well as its rights." I believe that property was made for man, not man for property. I do not think that men come into the world to delve for gold, coal, slates, or what not; I believe that these commodities were made by Providence and placed in the ground for our use, but they are to be got from the bowels of the earth always with regard to the rights of humanity. Humanity comes first. What is Lord Penrhyn's attitude towards the public? Nothing the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has said displaces that cogent sentence quoted by my right hon. friend the Member for East Fife—I will not tolerate an official letter from the Board of Trade or outside interference in my private property.and nothing has displaced that very remarkable sentence which no doubt was written on the instructions of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in reply—That the Board of Trade could not recognise for a single moment that it was his private property.We are dealing now not with the President of the Board of Trade, but with the Government. This is a vote of censure, proposed with all due formality, on the Government. The Cabinet in its collective capacity is responsible. I am strongly of opinion that the case has been made out. I think the First Lord of the Treasury will no longer maintain that this is a matter of mere local interest. It goes far deeper than that. The principles involved will not be laid to rest for many a day. No one is doing a more dangerous thing than Lord Penrhyn in raising the questions here involved. It is a most serious and grave matter. I hold 539 that we should not be doing our duty if, when these circumstances have arisen, and Parliament has given this power to a Government Department, we did not express in the strongest and clearest terms our disapprobation of that Government Department for not having done their best to bring to an end the present condition of things.
§ MR. BROMLEY DAVENPORT (Cheshire, Macclesfield)
As I listened to the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite I could not help wondering by what magic the Members of the Opposition had laid the spirits of those at whose shrines the Liberal Party were wont to worship. What has become of the shades of all the political economists of the Manchester school? What a bonfire has been made of all their once sacred works in order that the right hon. Gentleman might warm his hands before taking up his pen to indite the resolution which he to-night asks us to accept! I have always thought that the principle and the object of the Manchester School was to restrict to the utmost degree Government interference with any industry. What has become of those views which used to be regarded as the purest type of Liberal orthodoxy? This resolution is merely a political manœuvre of the most transparent character, designed partly to occupy a little time, and partly to catch a few stray Socialist votes for a party which stands sadly in need of them. I must say that the right hon. Gentleman, in associating himself with this Resolution, is seeking to turn the work of Parliament and of the Government—to use the words of a great writer, recently a Member of this HouseInto something little better than a competition of class bribery, and thus lower the tone of public life and the character and influence of public men.I am at one with hon. Members opposite is deploring the continuance of this industrial dispute, but I part company with them on the Resolution. So far as it is a vote of censure on the Government for not putting in force the law of the land I shall leave the matter to be dealt with by the Ministers themselves. I turn to the circumstances of the case, which are 540 declared to be so grave as to justify the Motion before the House, and I ask the House to consider what is the state of affairs at Bethesda with which the Government is called upon drastically to deal. What is the cause of that condition of affairs? What is there in the conduct of Lord Penrhyn as an employer in relation to his men to justify this proposed arbitrary intervention between employer and employed? My object is to ensure, as far as possible, that Members shall be in possession of the true facts before they vote on the question. The right hon. Gentleman opposite is a master of phrases, and I noticed he was very careful to avoid the use of such words as "tyrant," "tyranny," "oppressor," and so forth, but all those words have been heaped on Lord Penrhyn in the past, both in this House and on hundreds of platforms in the country, and even in the pulpits of the land. He has been the object of the most violent denunciation and abusive obloquy. But although the right hon. Gentleman did not use those words, I think he intended to convey the impression that Lord Penrhyn as an employer of labour was harsh and tyrannical. That, however, is the very issue that was tried a short time ago in the courts of law. Lord Penrhyn recently brought an action for libel, which action was tried before the Lord Chief Justice and a special jury in London, so that it was absolutely independent of the parties to the dispute and of local circumstances. The principal counsel for the defence was the hon. and learned Member for South Shields, and I am sure the defendant could not have had a more brilliant advocate. The hon. and learned Member made a speech, as violent as it was eloquent, in support of the plea of justification, and he defined the whole issue as being that of the conduct of Lord Penrhyn as an employer merely, and not as to his character in any other relation whatever. The issue which the hon. and learned Member invited the jury to consider was whether or not Lord Penrhyn was a tyrant. He said—I come back again to the question, what is the subject of the libel? What is at the foundation and bottom of it? It is a charge against Lord Penrhyn that he was hard, harsh, 541 oppressive, and unjust, in some of his most important relations with the men employed at his quarry. That is the charge that is called tyrannical. He is called a tyrant in relation to them.
§ MR. BROMLEY DAVENPORT
I have quoted the words of the hon. and learned Member in which he laid that issue before the jury, and what did the jury say? They decided that the charge of being hard, harsh, oppressive, and unjust, was untrue, in fact, that it was disproved by the evidence; they rejected the contention that the allegations were made honestly and without malice; they found a verdict for Lord Penrhyn, and awarded him the substantial damages of £500. After that verdict I think the denunciation of Lord Penrhyn in this House ought to cease. I will go further. I now challenge any hon. Member to stand up and name one single example of hardness, harshness, or injustice on the part of Lord Penrhyn? That is a bold challenge to make after Lord Penrhyn's conduct has been the subject of severe criticism for several years past in the country and of five days examination in a court of law. What is the state of affairs at Bethesda? What is the state of affairs at present? The right hon. Gentleman drew a picturesque description which would be applicable to any strike and to any circumstances and place. In 1896 there was a strike, after eleven years of prosperity which was shared alike by the employers and the men. During that time Lord Penrhyn raised the wages of the men three times, and in 1897 that strike was subjected to a debate in this House. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the result of that debate was that the strike came to an end, but it was nothing of the kind. This House refused to intervene, and consequently the strike came to an end in the only way in which it ought to come to an end, and that was by direct amicable agreement between the parties. Let me deal with what, after all, is the crux of the whole question. I think hon. Members who know any thing about the facts of this case will ask what is really Lord Penrhyn's character as an employer. Is it true that he has resisted the right of combination? The 542 last speaker insisted that Lord Penrhyn had resisted the right of combination amongst his men. Is it true that Lord Penrhyn resists trades unions? If he were really resisting the right of combination, there are a large number of hon. Members of this House who would think him unreasonable and unjust, and I should be amongst them. I regard the right and power of labour to combine as absolutely essential to the safety of labour, because unless they have such right and power, whether they exercise it or not labour would become dangerously at the mercy of capital. Not that I suggest that capital and labour are hostile and opposed to each other. I suggest nothing of the kind, for they are absolutely dependent the one upon the other, and the man who would seek to set them at variance is the enemy of both. I hold, therefore, that the right to combine is absolutely essential to the safety of labour. But that question is not at issue. If that is so, it may be asked why Lord Penrhyn objects to a committee. That is the real crux and difficulty of the whole matter. It is suggested by the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion that the committee is only a vehicle and medium for the forwarding of grievances, and that it is the means of preventing unfounded grievances being put before the employer. The hon. Member opposite spoke of it as working well. I may explain that the word "committee" means something quite different in Bethesda than here. This is not a question of committee, and it is not a trades union committee. If they would call it a trades union committee there would be no difficulty. But this is a quarry committee, and it claims to represent all the men in the quarry. There are union and non-union men in that quarry working side by side, and the non-union men, I am sure the House will agree, are entitled to protection as well as the others. There was a committee abolished in 1885, which existed for eleven years, and during that time it claimed to represent all the men in the quarry, union and non-union alike. It had been agreed that the committee should be the sole means of forwarding the complaints to the managers, and it 543 was presumed that they would forward complaints impartially from all the men in the quarries. The resolution they passed on the 2nd of December, 1874, was as follows:—That no complaint be received except from one who is a member of the union.This committee, which claims to represent the whole of the men really only represented the union men, and it was an instrument for forcing non-union men to join the union. Under that committee a non-union man could not for ward his complaint to his employer, however just that complaint might be. I hold that every man should have the right to forward a complaint to his employer, and that is the position of Lord Penrhyn to-day. To show that this committee was a mere instrument of the trades union to force the non-union men to join I will quote the following resolutions passed by the Committee:—Resolved to exhort regular and unfailing payment to the union.Resolved that the union money be received every Thursday evening after the payment in the quarry.Resolved to obtain for the next committee meeting the names of those who refuse to pay the union and that the representative adopt the most secret method for doing so.Resolved to adhere to the union rules in the case of Griffith Jones.Resolved to urge the partners to influence the 'journeymen' to pay the union and appoint two men to be with each book to interview those who do not pay.This committee claimed to represent all the men in the quarry, and as a matter of fact it only represented the union men and refused to allow the complaints of the non-union men to be forwarded to the employers. The union brought pressure to bear upon those men who did not pay, and on those grounds alone Lord Penrhyn would be justified in abolishing the committee, as he did in the year 1885. For eleven years after that the quarry worked well both for employers and employed alike. The quarry committee interfered with the management to such an extent, and so disastrously that, in the first place, it was said that practically the quarry was managed by the committee and not the owner. The fact was that this magnificent property and this splendid industry was reduced absolutely to the verge of bankruptcy. The right hon. Gentleman said that in 1885 Lord 544 Penrhyn succeeded in abolishing the quarry committee. But it is not correct. In 1885, the late Lord Penrhyn was the owner, and he was over eighty years of age, and quite unfitted to deal with the difficulties of the situation, and the men took full advantage of his infirmity. The quarry was galloping along to ruin, and to prevent it going bankrupt Lord Penrhyn called in his son, the present owner, to manage the quarry.
§ MR. BROMLEY DAVENPORT
I will give some instances. In the first place they interfered with the letting of bargains. They resolved to revise the quarry rules. I think hon. Members will agree that the rules of the quarry are matters for the managers to determine. [An HON MEMBER: "No, no."] I will give another example. They passed a resolution interfering with the salaries paid to the officials of the quarry. The committee claimed that the salaries of the officials were too high and they objected. I will give one more example. They suggested that when a man had three months holiday when he came back again he should have his bargain waiting for him. Was it reasonable that any man should attempt to manage any business, whether a quarry or a large works, employing 2,000 or 3.000 men and allow a man to take three months holiday and find his work waiting for him when he came back? I claim that I have shown that the quarry committee did interfere with the management and also with the liberty of the non-union men. I claim that Lord Penrhyn was justified in 1885 in abolishing the quarry committee, and I claim that he is justified to-day in saying that nothing would now induce him to allow that committee to be restored. That is the committee which the strikers are now trying to re-establish in its old position and power, and that is what Lord Penrhyn will never consent to recognise. I should like to read Lord Penrhvn's own evidence given at the recent trial. At the end of one day and a half in the 545 witness box, he was asked the following questions—906. The Lord Chief Justice: After all your experience would you just state to the jury, without any question from me, what is the position or action of the committee to which you object, because it is important with regard to many questions put to you by Mr. Robson?Lord Penrhyn: What I object to very much is their claiming to speak for the whole body of men, when they do not represent the whole body of men—that is the first point. I felt that the non-unionist men were placed at a very great disadvantage in consequence of the line of the union men, and I felt it was my duty as an employer of labour to stand up for the rights of free labour, and I have done my best in that way.907. The Lord Chief Justice: Does that feeling exist, not only in 1885, but right up to the present time?—Yes right up to the present time.907. The Lord Chief Justice: Is there anything else in connection with what you describe as the 'quarry committee' which you object to, and which you want to mention to the jury, or is that simply your whole statement?Lord Penrhyn: I do not think there is anything else, my lord. If I might be allowed to say one word it is this: that no such body as the quarry committee is recognised or tolerated in any of the other large slate quarries in North Wales.The Lord Chief Justice: I understood that to be quite clear.Let me just quote the Lord Chief Justice. In his direction to the jury he said:Then finally when I asked him at the end of his evidence, he said: 'I objected to the quarry committee because I was convinced, and still am, that it did not fairly represent the non-unionists, and I felt it my duty as an employer of labour to protect the freedom of labour. Now Mr. Parry knows as much about this quarry, probably, as anybody living. He has been secretary of these various organisations for the period of something like thirty years; he is in Court and hears Lord Penrhyn give that evidence; not only is no question put in cross-examination to Lord Penrhyn but Mr. Parry goes in and out of the box without suggesting for a moment that Lord Penrhyn had formed a wrong conclusion.They interfered to the detriment and injury of the non-union men, with the result, as I say, that the quarry was nearly reduced to bankruptcy. The point to which I draw attention is this. It will be remembered that in 1900 the men left their work without giving any notice or reason, and although they have been repeatedly invited to give a reason or to put forward a grievance they have never done so. This much is clear: that this dispute is not concerned 546 with the question of wages. It is not concerned with the question of hours of labour, or the question of the recognition of the trades union. It is not concerned with the question of voluntary combination among the men, or any section of the men, so long as no section attempts to coerce another. The hon. and learned Member for Haddington quoted certain words used by Mr. Young as the manager of these works. He quoted Mr. Young as having said before the Royal Commission that he declined absolutely to have any dealings with the union. Mr. Young having had his attention called to that at an interview at some subsequent date said it was not according to the evidence to be found in the Blue-book. What Mr. Young said was that they declined absolutely to recognise the union in any way, but that they did not interfere with the men for being in the union. He said—We take not the slightest notice either of politics or anything else. Every man is treated simply as a working man.When asked "Without reference to his being a unionist or not?" he replied—Perfectly impartial as to being a unionist or not.I think the hon. Member for Haddington quite unintentionally misrepresented Mr. Young, and I only quote the evidence in justice to him. The position of Lord Penrhyn is that he insists on the right of every workman to address any complaint to the manager; he insists on his right to control the working of the quarries, and he refuses to dismiss 1,000 loyal, contented and satisfactory workmen, who are to-day employed by him in the quarry.
Now we are told that the Government ought to jump in and be guilty of two gross acts of injustice—one to the men and the other to the employer. I think such an interference, with the results it would entail, would have the effect of destroying all confidence in the employment of capital, and all security for the freedom of labour in every industry in the country. I have not time to deal with all the points to which I would like to refer, but I wish to say a word in regard to Lord Penrhyn's refusal to accept arbitration. Well, I admit fully, frankly, and unreservedly, 547 the good intentions on the part of Sir Edward Clarke, but he entered on the negotiations without the knowledge of, or authority from Lord Penrhyn. There are certain matters on which Lord Penrhyn will accept the arbitration of no man. The first is as to the restoration of the quarry committee, and the second is the re-admission of all the men now on strike and the necessary removal or dismissal of those men who are now working. The terms submitted to Sir Edward Clarke and forwarded by him to Lord Penrhyn were absolutely impossible on that point and upon several others. What is Lord Penrhyn's attitude to-day in relation to the men on strike. He says—My quarry is open to all who apply for work—unionist or non-unionist alike. I never have done, and I do not intend to do, anything to prevent my employees from becoming members of the union if they wish to do so. All that I stipulate is, that those men who do not wish to do so should be left free to exercise their own judgment without coercion or intimidation. The terms and. conditions of labour at my quarry are as fair, and the wages as good as, if not better than, those of any quarry in North Wales. A thousand men and boys are working, and are perfectly happy and contented, and, until the requisite number is arrived at, I am read to admit into the quarry any suitable man who will work there contentedly.There is another very important question—What are the relations prevailing between Lord Penrhyn and the 1,000 men now working for him? The allegation is that Lord Penrhyn is a harsh employer of labour. Let me not give to the House my opinion. I will quote what is said to Lord Penrhyn by the 1,000 men now working for him. The language is plain and clear, and it is true. They unanimously voted this resolution and forwarded it to him—We, the workmen in the Penrhyn Quarry, in mass-meeting assembled, beg to be allowed hereby to offer to your Lordship our respectful and cordial congratulations on the happy result of the recent trial. It is unnecessary to say that we, your Lordship's workmen, the great mass of whom have never worked under anybody else, and many of whom have been employed in the quarry for over fifty years, needed no verdict of a jury to demonstrate your Lordship's high personal honour, your open-handed generosity, and unswerving justice and fairness to all alike as an employer of labour, and your Lordship's noble munificence and kindly sympathy as a neighbour and friend to those in distress. All this we have known well, and felt with pride and gratitude all the years along. The verdict of the jury could change nothing. But it is to as a source of 548 unmingled joy that, as a result of the trial heard before the Lord Chief Justice of England in the full publicity of the High Court, the outside public will henceforth know all these things as we do, and feel, therefore, as we feel, the enormity of the wrong done to your Lordship for months together. We earnestly hope that the future may be brighter and happier, and that your Lordship may be long spared to enjoy it.This is the view of the 1,000 men now in employment, by which they are earning an average of 5s. 8d. a day, and many of them between 10s. and 11s. Peace and prosperity prevail, and to disturb this condition of things and to destroy these relations and dispossess these men the Government are called upon to invoke some undefined power or receive the censure of a momentarily united Opposition. Why are these men who are working to be dispossessed of their work and their homes? Why should they be dispossessed in order that agitators may make a vicarious atonement to their victims? The right hon. Gentleman can discard when it suits him all the principles of political economy, but he cannot get over the fundamental principle in the laws of mechanics that where a space is filled by one body you cannot put in another without dispossessing that which is already there. Agitators have striven to set men against men and have driven workmen from good work to starvation for all they cared, and these allies right hon. Gentlemen are adopting for the purpose of uniting the forces and restoring the fortunes of the great Liberal Party.
§ And it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed this evening.