§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir JOHN WALTON,) Leeds, S
I have to ask the leave of the House to introduce a Bill for amending the law in relation to trade unions and trade disputes. I think it will be acknowledged that the law connected with this subject is in need 'of revision, and should be placed on a more assured and satisfactory basis. Recent legal decisions have seriously disturbed preconceived notions. A construction has been given to the legislation of 1871 and 1875 which, while it manifests a great desire to check abuse -of power on the part of these organisations, has also seriously curtailed their useful-ness and efficiency. A scope has been given to the law of conspiracy so loose and so wide, that it is impossible to indicate beforehand what may be the I legal character of the conduct of these organisations, and which is determined by the ex post facto decision of a legal tribunal. The undoubted right of peaceful persuasion has been I cut down to the point of extinction. Funds which have been contributed largely for the purpose of provision against sickness or misfortune, or want of employment, have been hold liable to meet claims which have rested upon repudiated acts of unauthorised officials. The result of this state of things has been to create a feeling of insecurity and a sense of injustice. Parliament has more than once declared that the subject is ripe for legislative treatment, and we cannot doubt that this opinion has been emphatically endorsed 1296 by the country during the recent elections. The Government feel that they have a mandate on this question, and after anxious consideration they are wishful to submit to the judgment of the House — to all parties in the House—the conclusions that seem to them to meet in the best practical way the many difficulties of this somewhat difficult problem. I wish at the outset to acknowledge the obligation Parliament is under to the labours of the Commission appointed to consider the law in regard to the subject. Whatever may have been the opinion, and opinions differed, as to the desirability of appointing the Commission to report on the state of the law, there can be but one opinion in regard to the labours of the gentlemen who were appointed. We have an able, enlightened survey of the law in regard to this somewhat obscure subject; and, while the Government have adopted their own views and taken their own course, they wish to acknowledge their obligation to those gentlemen whose labours have lightened their task.
I may, perhaps, be allowed to show briefly how the situation has arisen. In their early days trade unions had to struggle against the ban of common law and repressive statutes. They were organisations which interfered with the perfect freedom of relationship between employers and employed and the free course of trade, and until a very recent period of our history this difficulty prevented any large extension of this industrial movement. In 1824 and 1825 repressive legislation disappeared; and in 1859 a declaration was made giving to these societies the right to exercise the faculty of persuasion, provided they did so in a reasonable and peaceable manner. In 1867 the pulse of the democracy was quickened by the Borough Franchise Act of that year, with the result that we had a Royal Commission followed by and the charter of trade unionism of 1871, afterwards amplified and expanded by the supplementary Act of 1875. It is true that the legislation of 1871 and 1875 was limited in its scope. Its main aim was to remove the ban of the common law and the stigma of illegality from the operations of these bodies. It enabled them to register themselves, to frame rules, to amass property, to appoint agents, and to defend themselves and their funds from attack. It also created 1297 an important declaration limiting their I criminal liability to those Acts only which are criminal if committed by individuals. But in regard to their responsibility to the civil law legislation is absolutely silent. That silence has led to serious controversy in determining the aim of Parliament in connection with that legislation. The House of Lords, which is the authoritative exponent of our law, and binds the High Court of Parliament as it binds every other Court in the realm, has pointed out that that silence does not disturb the liability under which these unions rested under the common law of the country, that the fact of registration made them suable in respect of wrongful conduct in the name of the organisation which was placed on the register, and that since the year 1883 the amalgamation of our systems of judicature as they existed under the common law and in Courts of equity made that liability enforceable by a form of action which up to that moment was only known in the Courts of Chancery. The period of thirty years between 1871 I and 1901 was a period of great material prosperity in regard to these unions. Their numbers increased, their branches spread, their wealth grew. The funds which were available to meet claims that might be made upon them induced actions to be brought in numerous quarters for the purpose of satisfying claims for redress for injuries attributed to conduct of which members of the community complained, and from 1892 onward a series of actions were successfully tried which at first took the form of actions for injunctions and afterwards of actions for damages. It is impossible to say that the result of this litigation did not create a serious situation. Trade unions are institutions which consist of the working classes. Their funds represent the hard-earned savings of a large and most worthy section of the community, and they have been contributed in no small degree for the purpose of making provision against misfortune. This liability and its consequences have created a problem with which it is necessary that Parliament should deal, and which the Government have done their best to solve. In our opinion the law needs most careful examination, redefinition, and modification, and some of the general principles of the law require regulation in their application to these bodies.
1298 In the first place, let me call attention to the law of conspiracy. The expression "conspiracy" is a little apt to shake timid nerves, and to suggest periods of our history when our Constitution was unstable and when sinister designs against the Crown and society were incidents of our public life. But conspiracy in law simply means combination to violate the rights of another. Combination is a conspiracy or agreement, and the fact that its object is to violate a right, constitutes it a criminal act and makes it subject to a claim for damages on the part of the person whose right has been violated by the act so committed. This is a part of our law which I may describe as one of the blank spaces upon the juridical map. There are a few rough tracks across it emanating from different sources, and generally leading to different results. The wary and prudent litigant gives it as wide a berth as possible because it is the region of judge-made law; and when he is once lost in that area it is not easy for him always to know exactly where he is or by what means he will escape from it. We propose that this region shall be carefully plotted out, that its frontiers shall be limited, and that there shall be carried through it a statutory highway which, so far, at any rate, as these organisations are concerned, may be safely travelled by the most unwary traveller. The legislation of 1875, while it defined the law of conspiracy in its criminal aspect, left that law, in so far as it is a department of civil jurisprudence, entirely untouched; and the result has been that this area has been the field of fierce struggles between disputants of legal eminence. I doubt whether in our time the serene judicial atmosphere has ever been so much disturbed as it has been by different theories with regard to the law of conspiracy. One party I may describe as the party of the late Lord Herschell. Their view has been that an act of I a combination is lawful or unlawful I according to the standard which you would apply in order to determine the legal quality of an act of an individual, and that if an act committed by an individual would be lawful, this same act would be none the less lawful although committed by a combination. In giving judgment in the case of "Allen v. Flood" Lord Herschell said—It is not for your Lordships to express any opinion on the policy of trade unions. They 1299 are now recognised by law. They act in the interests of their class. If they resort to unlawful acts, they may be indicted or sued. If they do not resort to unlawful acts they are entitled to further their interests in the manner which seems to them best and most effective.That view has not been adopted by the same tribunal in considering later cases which have come before them. In the 'case of "Quinn v. Leathem" you will find an entirely different version of the law of conspiracy. There it is stated that, although an act of one man may be lawful, if it be the act of a combination of two men it may become unlawful. The great disadvantage of this theory is that no combination can know beforehand whether the act they propose to commit or authorise will be regarded as lawful or unlawful by the tribunal which may afterwards be called upon to consider it. There is nothing more perplexing for the council of a trade union than to feel that, although an act they propose to commit would be lawful if done by an individual, if it was part of the policy of their union it might be subject to review and animadversion by an unfriendly tribunal. Let me give one or two cogent illustrations. One is a favourite illustration of Lord Herschell's. A cook gives notice because she objects to the butler. She is quite entitled to give notice, and the act is perfectly innocent. But if the cook, the housemaid, and the kitchenmaid combine to give notice because they object to the butler, the act becomes unlawful. The reason is that the act, being the act of a combination, tends to disturb the security of the employment of the butler, and, inasmuch as it tends to affect the interests of the butler in the exercise of his calling, the act, although innocent on the part of one individual, becomes unlawful, because it is the result of a combination of three. Let me take another case. A union man objects to work on the same job with a non-union man. A single union man may object to work with another man for any reason. But if you get a combination of men who object to work with those who will not join their union, that becomes unlawful, because it is the act of a combination which disturbs the security of labour of the non - union men. Or, in another case, the boilermakers refuse to work on an iron ship with the shipwrights. Acting singly, they have a perfect right to select the men with whom they will carry on their operations. 1300 Acting collectively, their conduct becomes unlawful, because it tends to interfere with the freedom of the members of another union to carry on their calling. In all these cases, you have a violation of the principle which Lord Herschell clearly defined and which I submit to the House is the only principle capable of practical application in regard to this department of the law. You have an interference with the policy of these unions carried out by themselves with a view to advancing their own interests, because judicial opinion considered that the advancement of those interests is unfavourable to the interests of the community.
Then you have the doubtful cases which remain at this moment unsolved, and unless the law be altered it will be difficult to get a solution. Suppose you have an objection on the part of trade union men to men being employed on piece-work. Is that to be lawful or unlawful—because it may be said that you disturb the security of employment of the men who will only work piece-work. Supposing there is an objection on the part of skilled men to the employment of labourers in connection with machinery. Is that to be lawful or unlawful, because it may be said that you will disturb the opportunities of employment which would otherwise be open to unskilled men? Or suppose you have a combination to limit output. All these are matters in regard to which, as the law now stands, there is no indication, no rule, no principle. The solution of the problem to which they give rise must be left to be dealt with judicially after the question has arisen in consequence of an act committed.
What is the remedy for this state of things? We propose to call in aid the principle which was established by the Act of 1875. It was there declared that the character of an act committed by a trade union within the purview of the criminal law should depend on the consideration of whether it was criminal or not, assuming it to be the act of an individual. And so we say in regard to the applications of the civil law, that that act shall be right or wrong, shall be lawful or unlawful, according as it would be lawful or unlawful, judged on the assumption that it has been committed by an individual and not by a combination; and I submit to the House that 1301 there is no other solution than that which I have suggested.
The next subject upon which I propose to say a few words is that of peaceful picketing, which I prefer to call the right of peaceful persuasion. What is the right of peaceful persuasion? It is an essential part of the right to strike. How is it possible to strike unless you can persuade your fellows to join you? How is it possible successfully to conduct a strike unless you may persuade men who are introduced from a distance not to interfere between the strikers and their employer? The right to persuade those who would naturally join and swell your ranks, and the right to dissuade those who are brought in with a view to prevent the success of a strike, is absolutely essential for the effective conduct of an operation of that kind. The law at present is in a condition that I think I may fairly describe as impracticable, if not absurd. How does it stand? It is held to be perfectly lawful to point out to the men what are the points of difference You may either ask for information with regard to the strike, or yon may give them information with regard to the nature of the conflict between the workmen and the employer. But, if you go one step further and so present the information you give them as to make your appeal in the nature of persuasion, you are then violating the law. The distinction is one which a legal mind may grasp; but it is impossible to suppose that the distinction can be grasped by any advocate of a trade union who endeavours within the limits of the law as it now stands to give information to persons who are introduced from a distance and who are sought to be employed to take the places which the strikers have vacated. There are many illustrations in the decided cases which show that unless this part of the law is altered it is impossible to conduct a strike successfully. Further, in enacting, as we propose to enact in express terms, the right peaceably to persuade, we are not calling upon the House to make a new law. We are only reviving a law which is as old as the year 1859, because in that year there was a provision put into the statute upon this subject which was then passed, which attached an interpretation to a restrictive provision in an earlier 1302 Act. The statute used this language It is provided that no person should, by reason merely of his endeavouring peaceably, and in a reasonable manner, and without threats and intimidation, direct or indirect, to persuade, be deemed guilty of molestation or obstruction within the meaning of the Act of 1825, or should, therefore, be subject to prosecution or indictment for conspiracy. It may be said that the Act of 1875 repealed the Act of 1859. There is certainly no indication of repeal in that Act, and the history of the debates of that period show that it was thought that the earlier provision held good. Therefore, in regard to this matter, we are only proposing to ask the House to take a step which occurs to us as eminently reasonable, as representing practical justice, and one which has the advantage of statutory precedent.
I have next to ask the House to consider what is the most difficult department of this question. I refer to the law of agency. The Bill of the hon. Member for Newcastle, and the hon. Member for Clitheroe, and other Bills on this subject, have not touched upon the law of agency. They propose to accomplish a result which would relieve these unions from unjust action by another method, and it will be for the House to determine which is the best way to accomplish the object. I do not think there will be any difference of opinion as to the nature of the mischief. I do not think there will be any difference of opinion as to the desirability of obviating the operation of the mischief as it affects these unions. There may be a difference of opinion with regard to the best mode of dealing with the evil, and therefore, I wish to explain to the House the scheme of the Government and submit it to the careful consideration of hon. Members who have hitherto thought this problem could best be solved in another fashion. First of all, let me say there is no doubt that trade unions have been the victims of a rigorous administration of the law of agency, totally inapplicable to organisations of this kind, and that the result has been to work considerable practical injustice The grievance which has been occasioned was indicated in 1894 by the Report of the Labour Members constituting the minority of the Labour Commission which had 1303 been appointed in the previous year. In that Report I find this passage—To expose the large amalgamated societies of the country, with their accumulated funds, sometimes reaching-a quarter of a million sterling, to be sued for damages by any employer in any part of the country, or by any discontented member or non-unionist for the action of some branch secretary or delegate would be a great injustice.I doubt whether there is anyone in this House who will not endorse that view. A union which has hundreds of branches in different parts of the country, which has funds representing contributions from every quarter of the kingdom, owing to the hasty and rash act of some official connected with some branch, or owing to the imprudent, and, it may be, defiant action of the committee of some branch, may be involved in liability for immense sums. Those who have no concern with the conduct of the official or committee, conduct disapproved of, it may be, the moment it came to their notice, have still been held liable and their funds liable for damages. The cause of the present state of things is not far to seek. You have bodies of an exceedingly loose organisation. Their ramifications are manifold, the employ a large number of officials whoso authority is often difficult to define, and there are a great number of persons who claim to act on behalf of the union, and whoso conduct is very often liable to involve them in difficulties. In point of fact, they have been the victims of the application of a legal doctrine by which agency is implied from conduct, and is not attributable to any express authorisation. Take the history of various cases. You get the votes of a committee, you get the speeches and actions of individuals, you get letters which pass between one official and another, and this mass of material is left to the tribunal, who are invited to extract from it some measure of authorisation for the conduct of some agent by the body responsible for the operations of the union as a whole. We have as a result the cases of which the trade unions complain and which could not be defended in this House. I will take two illustrations. The colliers connected with a colliery in Yorkshire, to which I will not refer by name, because I believe the matter is to some extent sub judice, left their employment without giving in their notices. The colliery 1304 was thrown into confusion, the works were stopped, and considerable loss and inconvenience resulted. Mr. Pickard, then a Member of this Rouse, immediately went down to Yorkshire, saw the men who were connected with this branch, ordered them to go back to their work, and took every step to induce, if not to compel, them to go back. But men are sometimes obstinate; they are like all of us; their amour-propre was involved; and they set this counsel at defiance. Notwithstanding Mr. Pickard's conduct it was held by the tribunal, which consisted of a Judge and jury, that the strike was an authorised act for which the union was responsible. Similarly, there was the case with which my hon. friend the Member for Derby could acquaint the House, where there was a railway strike. The men left without giving their notices, the whole influence of the organisation was used with a view to inducing them to return to their work, but in vain, and the responsibility for that act was held to lie with the union.
We intend to make that state of things for the future impossible, and I think we can do it. We propose so to define the law of agency in its application to these unions that no act can be made the foundation of a claim for redress from union funds unless it is perfectly clear that that act was authorised by the governing body of the union. That is the first step we propose to take. We propose that the union shall appoint an executive committee, which shall have the right of conducting all operations which may bring them into collision either with their employers or with the outside public; and we propose to provide that the unions shall not be bound, and their property shall not be bound, by any act unless it be the act of the executive itself—which, I take it, would mean the act of that body by resolution formally passed—or unless it be the act of some person whom they have authorised to bind them by the conduct which is impugned. That is not enough, because it may be said that the principal is liable for the acts of an agent, and that the agent is acting within the sphere of his authority, even although he may violate 1305 his instructions. We do not propose that that principle of law should apply to these cases. In the second place, we propose to provide that the executive, in appointing an agent, may prescribe the acts which that agent is not permitted to do—may indicate exactly what is the sphere and scope of his duties, and may restrict him to that sphere in such a way that, if the conduct impugned is a violation of those instructions, then the union shall not be bound by it. There is still a third consideration. You may have a self-constituted agent who takes some action on behalf of and in the interests of the union; he may say he has the authority of the union, and it may be that neither of the safeguards I have indicated would apply. We have, therefore, put a provision in the Bill that, if the executive when knowledge of that conduct is brought to them, repudiate the act and indicate their disapproval of it, they shall not be bound by it. You thus have a code of safety. First the constitution of the committee which shall conduct these operations, and by whom alone the acts may be committed for which the union is responsible. In the second place, they hive the power of limiting the authority of the agents whom they may appoint; and, in the third place, they have the right of repudiation in regard to acts of which they disapprove. I think that this is wise, and constitutes a pretty effective defence of these unions against attack. As I have said, these provisions involve some alteration of the general law. There is the rule by which a principal is made liable for acts which involve the violation of the instructions given to his agent, provided those acts are done on his behalf and in his interests. It is difficult, perhaps, to say conclusively what is the true foundation of that doctrine. The best reason I can give is that, inasmuch as profit often attends acts not in themselves authorised, and which involve a violation of instructions, a corelative liability should attach to them. That law is certainly a part of the law of the land, yet in our view it is a principle which ought not to apply in relation to trade unions. I am glad to find that in this matter we have a useful precedent. I do not want to 1306 claim credit for the scheme which we are submitting to the House, ignoring the meritorious claim which can certainly be urged on behalf of other persons who have discussed this subject. The scheme which I submit to the House is very largely that suggested by the Commission, and, further, it is a part of a scheme which was submitted to the Parliament of New South Wales in 1903. I find that the clause which was introduced by the Attorney-General of the Colony, was as follows—No trade union or industrial union or association of employers shall be liable to any suit or action, nor shall the funds of such union or association be in any way chargeable in respect of any act or word, done, spoken, or written, during or in connection with an industrial dispute by any agent, if it be proved that such agent acted:—(1) contrary to instructions bona fide given by or (2) without the knowledge of the governing body of such union or association, and that the union or association his bona fide, and by all reasonable means repudiated the acts or words complained of at the earliest opportunity and with reasonable publicity.We think our clause is much more artistic than the clause in the New-South Wales Act, but they both proceed on the same lines. What is the alternative? The alternative method is the royal road out of the difficulty. The argument one hears is, "Why trouble very carefully to define liability, why trouble to reconcile the law of agency with the administration of bodies of this kind: why not say no action whatever shall be brought?" But just let me ask the House to face that proposition. The proposition, I understand, is that, however great and ruinous the loss that may be suffered by an individual, however unjustifiable the conduct of the union which may occasion that loss, even in the case of that conduct having been carried out by means of the use of the funds which are controlled by the union, yet those funds, the property of the union, are not to be made liable to redress the claim consequent on that loss. You must fairly face that proposition. I invite the House, before they put a proposition of that kind into legislative shape, seriously to consider its effect. It would be impossible to confine it to these combinations. If you place them in this position you will have to deal with claims on the part of other 1307 bodies also entitled to the consideration of Parliament, who may ask that the same privilege should be extended to them. Well, Sir, I ask the House is there not this danger attending the alternative policy to which I have referred, namely, that in your anxiety to check one injustice you may create another? In your wish to prevent injustice being inflicted upon trades unions, you may create injustice against individual members of the community. And there is another argument which I have seen used. We are a democratic country, we are a democratic Party, we are a democratic Parliament, and probably the Members below the gangway opposite are the most democratic element in it. But are you not proposing class privileges? In the old days of our law these immunities of class existed. They were the privileges of the aristocracy, and they have been abolished. Do not let us create a privilege for the proletariat, and give a sort of benefit of clergy to trade unions analogous to the benefit of clergy which was formerly enjoyed and which created an immunity against actions in favour of certain sections of the population. Then there is another consideration which has influenced the Government in trying to settle this question. Are we sure that it is wise to remove from these unions and particularly from the agents employed, a sense of responsibility? They are often swayed by passion, by excitement, and by natural feeling. Is it right that their agents should move about with the consciousness that whatever they do, the property of the union will not have to bear any loss? Is that feeling likely to produce caution, prudence, self-restraint, and regard for the rights and feelings of others? Is it not likely to have rather the opposite effect and to check that sense of discipline which it is so desirable the head office of a great organisation should use over the squadrons under them? But I am glad to say that this claim for immunity has not been until quite lately, and I do not know whether it is now, the demand of the Labour Party as a body. I have before me expressions of opinion of one or two of their most eminent and trusted leaders in which they point out that they make no such claim. My hon. friend the Member for Derby at the Trades Union Congress 1308 in September, 1903, according to The Times said—He failed to see how the Labour Members could meet their opponents in the House with an argument for being placed in a position different and apart from all others under the civil law. Having argued that all employers should be responsible for all accidents to workmen, no matter by whom or how they were caused, they were now, on the other hand, asking that, whatever act might be committed intentionally or deliberately, under the rules of an organisation, by its executive government or by an official organisation, they should not be responsible for any action thus committed. He thought that illogical. In the Taff Vale case the rules were defied; the rules were violated; and if the executive had adhered to the rules, there would have been no Taff Vale judgment.The right hon. Member for Morpeth expressed the same view. He said—The unions should, in my opinion, frankly accept responsibility for the action of their agents, when their agents are acting by the authority of executive councils. The law as to conspiracy and picketing should he amended, and clearly defined. Trade unionists are for the most part democratic, avowedly opposed to privilege, and yet they are to ask to be treated differently from everybody else. The unions, I am glad to say, have in recent years increased enormously in membership, in funds, and in power. It will be difficult to argue that this increase of power should not he accompanied by sane responsibility, and that the agents of the unions, when acting under the authority of their executive, should not be amenable to law.These opinions had naturally great weight with the Government. It might be said that there was a prescriptive right and that for thirty years trade unions had enjoyed these privileges, and that therefore they ought to continue. But historically there was no foundation for that argument. In 1892 an action was successfully brought against a trades union, and we have declarations of the House of Lords to the effect that from 1883 onwards an action might have taken one of two forms—in both of which you would have given the claimant the right of redress from the funds of the union. And are we to found an Act of Parliament upon the hypothesis that an expression of opinion from the highest legal Court in the Realm is inaccurate and without authority? No, we are bound to recognise that there is some foundation for it.
But the real difficulty which some hon. Members feel, I fancy, is that under the state of the law as now administered, and as it must be administered even after 1309 this Bill is passed, if passed in its present form, trade union cases must come under the consideration of a Judge and jury. It is said that that is an unfriendly tribunal. I quite agree it is an unfriendly tribunal. But it is very difficult to say that because a claim, when it is enforced, comes under the consideration of a jury which is unfriendly, you are to enact that no suit shall be brought to obtain redress for conduct which violates a legal right or inflicts a wrong. In my experience at the bar, railway companies have complained that they never could get a verdict. I have heard landlords complain that it they never could get a verdict from a jury of tenants. Newspapers used to say that they never could get a verdict of a jury in their favour. If a railway company had come forward and said that, because a jury always found against them, they ought not to be bound to give compensation for any negligence in the conduct of their business, we should have made short work of tbat contention. But opinion changes; it changes in society, and it changes in the jury box, and there is no reason why that regard which is certainly growing in respect of trade unions will in time grow with juries, and they will give just as much justice to trades unions as to every other section of the community. But the real argument is this: under the Bill as framed there will seldom be any question for a jury. I can with difficulty conceive a case in which the matter will not be determined as a matter of law. I can scarcely imagine a claim in which a question of fact for a jury will be raised. The real question for the House is—What is to be our future policy? Are we as a matter of legislation to-day to put all unions into a position of immunity, or are we to endeavour to prevent them from being the victims of injustice by so defining the law of agency that no unjust claim that can be lodged against them can succeed? The Government have tried to solve this question upon those lines. Whether they have succeeded it is for the House to determine. We are not dogmatists or pedants, and we do not claim exclusive knowledge or wisdom with regard to these questions. A more thorny 1310 problem for a Government to deal with has never arisen. We have done our best to solve it, and the House are entitled to consider whether our solution is worth their acceptance, or whether they prefer the method of which some hon. Members are in favour.
Let me summarise in a word or two what we contend is the result of this legislation. In the first place we remove the fetter which is placed upon the operations of these unions by the action of conspiracy. We give them permission, so long as they observe the law as it affects individuals, to carry out their own policy upon lines which commend themselves to their favourable consideration, and we allow them to know beforehand whether the conduct which they propose to pursue will or will not be in conformity with the law. In the second place, we restore and give legislative sanction to the exercise of the right of peaceful persuasion; and, in the third place, we so define and regulate the application of the law of agency as to obviate the injustice which I have indicated and given illustrations of. We do that first of all by giving to each of these unions an authoritative and articulate organ. We allow them to speak through some defined agent. We allow them to delegate their authority subject to certain restrictions. We give them the right to disapprove of or repudiate acts which have been done in their name but without their approval or sanction. I think that when this Bill is considered by the House, and dispassionately considered by every section of this House, it may be regarded as a satisfactory solution of a very complicated question. At all events it is an honest attempt to solve the question. We have sought, as far as we can, to do what we consider is justice to these organisations without inflicting injustice upon the community at large. It may be that the Bill will not commend itself to all sections of opinion in this House. It is very seldom that Acts of Parliament do, but it is undoubtedly the fact that some of the statutes which have been most successful have on their introduction offended Members on both sides. Compromise, however, is the genuis of politics, although it is a very unpleasant lesson to learn. 1311 Well, whether or not this Bill is attacked by hon. Members immediately opposite to me on the ground that it goes too far, or whether it is attacked by hon. Members below the gangway on the ground that it does not realise their full expectations, at all events we feel that in bringing it in we have done our best, we have fulfilled our mandate. [Cries of "No."] We have, I say, discharged our duty, and if, on refection, there are modifications which it is thought may be introduced, and if the House approve of them, in regard to the one branch of the measure about which there is difficulty, hon. Members may be assured that their views will receive the most careful consideration of the Government and will be treated with the respect to which they are entitled. Ultimately, however, the decision of the question must rest with the House. I am obliged to the House for having listened to me for so long in my endeavour to deal with a question which is intricate and complicated and not an easy one to present. I trust, however, that whatever shape this Bill may ultimately take, it will be regarded as an earnest attempt to place the control of these organisations on a more satisfactory legal basis.
Motion made and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the regulation of Trade Unions and Trade Disputes.
§ MR. SHACKLETON (Lancashire, Clitheroe)
admitted that the right hon. Gentleman had attempted to deal fairly and honestly with the question treated by the Bill. Whether hon. Members agreed with him or not they had to give him credit for attempting to face the position in a way which might commend itself to all the sections of opinion held by Members who constituted the Cabinet. So far as the third clause was concerned, it did not commend itself to him. This was not the first occasion upon which the House had discussed this matter. The question had been up twice previously. On the first occasion the Bill was carried by a majority of thirty-nine, and last session it was carried by a majority of 122. On the last occasion the Second Reading was carried by the united support of hon. Gentlemen who sat 1312 opposite. The Liberal Party and many gentlemen representing the Conservative Party voted for it, and the Labour representatives had hoped that a measure on the lines of their own Bill would have found a place in the Cabinet policy. Something had been said with regard to individual opinion, and no doubt two hon. Members in this House had stated their view of this matter in public. But when they took the opinion of the workmen they must take their opinions as being expressed by their votes, and they must not take the opinion of one man who might in his time have done his level best to persuade them to take a different course from that which had been pursued. Quite apart from the question of whether the majority of the Liberal representatives and those behind them had taken a different course, the Trade Union Congress was unanimous in dealing with this Bill. He would admit that they had not been idle at the last general election and there could hardly, he thought, be a Member of this House who had not had this subject brought before him. Trade unionists did not ask the candidates whether they were in favour of a Bill to deal with this subject, but they asked whether they were in favour of the Bill introduced by himself and others. So far as they could ascertain, an overwhelming majority had supported them at the general election. The hon. and learned Gentleman and others had supported them at the general election, and the hon. and learned Gentleman himself made a very definite pronouncement upon this question. He held in his hand a report of what the hon. and learned Gentleman said at Leeds, as published in the Leeds Mercury. The hon. and learned Gentleman went through the list of test questions framed by the Trades Union Congress, and in reply to each and all he gave an emphatic reply in the affirmative.
§ SIR JOHN WALTON
said he most carefully guarded himself from committing himself to any scheme, but explained that he had great sympathy with the suggestions which had been made. He had always said so, and he said so now.
§ MR. SHACKLETON
said the speech to which he was alluding was made upon 1313 rather an interesting occasion, because the hon. Gentleman was engaged in a three-cornered fight, and one of his opponents was a friend of his (Mr. Shackleton's) own. The fight being a three-cornered one, it was very important that the hon. Gentleman should be definite on this point. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he could fairly toe the trade unionist line, and that was sufficient to show that he expressed his approval of the Bill put forward by himself and his friends. As to the historical part of the matter, he should like to ask the right hon. Gentlemen whether, if this Bill were referred to five or twenty years hence, they would be in order in quoting him as to what the Bill or Act intended. The effect of the Bill had been laid down by the hon. and learned Member, but they could not say what the judges might lay down twenty or thirty years hence, but they could quote the opinion of the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill thirty years ago, and it was decidedly in their favour. He said it was wrong, however good the intentions of hon. Members were, to put these disabilities upon trade unions. He thought that the course proposed by the Labour Members was a far more honest one than that adopted by His Majesty's Government. When they were told that it was their intention to remove from the trade unions all the liability, he thought it was a precipitate step. This Bill had been before the Trade Union Congress and they preferred to take the honest course of not seeking to obtain immunity by false pretences. Under this Bill the officals of the trade unions could do the very act about which complaint was made. As long as the Executive Committee said, "We did not authorise these acts and we are not prepared to take responsibility for them," they were released from liability. But what about the employers? If they could be put into the dock as the representatives of labour could be put into the dock, they would consider the question of responsibility. Did the House believe that no offences under these Acts had been committed by the employers in the last thirty years? Every act which the workmen had done had also in that period been done by the employers, and they had no 1314 remedy against them. It was a common thing, when the employees refused to withdraw their notice, for the employer to go to some person who had authority over them. In the weaving trade, with which he was connected, there were often in the same employment the father, the mother, and several of the children of a family. In many instances the father might be an overlooker, or be in some other position of authority, and it was the commonest thing in their trade disputes for the employer to go to such a person and say, "You have got to bring these people back to work, or you go now." What was their remedy? It was simply the individual remedy. The workman himself could claim damages to the extent of a fortnight's notice or a week's notice. Then he had done. The serious damage was not against the workman individually, but against the union to which he belonged. The Government must prove most conclusively that the employer could be made responsible for injuring the success of the workmen just as he could make the union responsible for injuring his success in a trade dispute. Unless the Government could put the employer and the workpeople on equal terms, they as Labour representatives would not be satisfied, because they held that it was a most dangerous principle to leave the workers absolutely at the employer's mercy in the questions of damages which arose. The trade unions could not prove damages, but nevertheless they existed, and, if not of a monetary kind, were serious inasmuch as they were connected with the position of the union in the district. The employer ought to be prepared to go into these labour wars when they occurred, and take the same risk as the trade unionists did. The trade union loss might not be a financial one, but all the same it was a serious loss to the individual workman and to the organisation to which he belonged. It was putting the trade unions in a serious position to say that they could be made liable for that kind of damages. As far as the portion of the Bill which dealt with conspiracy was concerned, they were perfectly satisfied with the broad principle that what it was legal for one man to do was equally legal if done by two or more persons. So far 1315 as regarded the remarks of the learned Attorney-General concerning peaceful picketing, he thought they would accept that part of the Bill, but before saying anything definitely on that point he and his colleagues would like to see the actual words in the Bill. They were told that if they accepted the course proposed by the Government, they were going to be free from a lot of law costs. He doubted it. He was not going to agree with one of his hon. friends who said it was a lawyers' Bill; they (the lawyers) were entitled to exercise their judgment in the matter as citizens. The three points suggested were all questions which would have to be fought out at law, which would have to decide whether they as trade unionists were guilty of this, that, or the other. If this Bill ever became law, there was a splendid field for some years to come for spending their money at a rapid rate. They were prepared as trade unionists to take up an honest stand, namely, that they were not in a fair position. Reference had been made to the Bill introduced in New South Wales by Mr. Wise. It was perfectly true the clause was read correctly, but it was only fair to point out that it was part of a whole set of legislation and before they thought of applying this particular New South Wales Act to workers here they must also consider the other Acts which were in force there. There was practically compulsory trade unionism in New South Wales, and it was not fair, therefore, to quote this particular Act when all the other considerations had to he taken into account. He wanted to put one question quite clearly to the Government. Did they propose to leave this an open question with the House? He thought it was a fair question to put. There was a considerable amount of feeling on this matter, and it had been carefully considered throughout the country. The Labour Party believed that the mandate which the Attorney-General referred to was a mandate for their Bill and not for the Bill now under discussion. He thought it was only fair to ask whether the House would have the power of deciding this matter without reference to Party connections in any shape or form, so that the 1316 question might be dealt with on its merits. But in any case the Labour Members would take the sense of the House on Friday on their Bill, and if the House decided in their favour, as it had done on previous occasions, then the Government would do well to leave the matter, complicated as it was, to the general feeling of the House. They would at all events be perfectly satisfied to stand or fall on that particular issue. Reference had been made to the Royal Commission. Let him at once say that they had repudiated that Commission from the first. They challenged its composition, which they considered was most unfair, and they took no notice of its recommendations. It had had opportunities of taking evidence from one side only, because the trade unionists had absolutely refused to recognise it or to give evidence at all. He trusted that whatever the decision of the Government might be as to what they thought was the reasonable and proper solution of this subject, at least they would recognise that in this matter it was a more serious question than simply a question of Party politics, inasmuch as it was a question which affected the great mass of the workers of the country.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said he made no apology for intervening in the debate, because, as his hon. friends opposite were aware, he had had a large professional experience in connection with trade unions. He might also say that he yielded to no one in his anxiety to see a measure passed which would fully serve the interests of the trade unionists of the country. He thought that the Government Bill, so far as the question of picketing, was concerned, must have afforded satisfaction to hon. Members connected with the Labour Party. But he would remind hon. Members that a recent decision of the Court had laid it down in the clearest terms that peaceful picketing, even if going to the length of persuasion, was lawful, and therefore the Bill of his hon. friend was nothing more than declaratory of the law. In regard to the law of conspiracy, he thought also that his hon. friend's proposal, restated by him, met all the reasonable necessities of the case. 1317 It showed that no action could he in respect of conspiracy unless the thing which was said to have been done would le capable of being prosecuted as a criminal offence. That was a great step in the right direction, but he would remind his hon. friend that even though he might modify the law as to conspiracy in the direction of which he had spoken, at the same time it was quite competent for an employer of labour to bring his action directly for molestation, for interference with him in carrying on his work. Therefore he advised his hon. friends opposite not to anticipate too much from the change in the law which the Attorney-General had adumbrated on the subject. He could not help thinking that the speech of the hon. Member for Clitheroe represented a strong feeling of resentment against the Bill so far as it dealt with liability in respect of funds of the trade union for the acts of the union or its officials. His own view was a perfectly honest view, which he had declared to his constituents. He had said emphatically to his constituents that he did not agree with the Bill which was called the Trade Union Bill, but that he believed the Bill he brought in two years ago, and which was supported by almost every Labour Member in the House, was the best solution of the problem. That Bill declared that a trade union should be liable only for what was expressly authorised by its governing body. He appealed to his hon. friend opposite not to be too hasty in the opposition to the measure of the Government, although it might require Amendment. The limitations with regard to agency required amendment. He thought they must sweep away the doctrine of agency altogether in order to do justice, otherwise the Courts of Justice would manage to get round the corners and still find the funds of the unions liable. He believed his hon. friend opposite would agree with him in this proposition, that if the responsible governing body of a trade union deliberately decided that a wrong should be committed, it was only right and fair that the union should be responsible. [An HON. MEMBER: [The individuals.] It was idle to say that the individuals should be punished. The real point was that the damage which was done should be brought 1318 home to the persons who had caused the damage to be done, and whenever they used their resources for doing wrong they should be amenable to civil action. That was an elementary proposition, he might say, of civilisation. It would be inconsistent with a state of civilisation that an organisation should have control of large resources and should solemnly invite certain instruments to commit a wrong and that these wretched instruments might be punished, but that the organisation which was the means of doing the wrong should go scatheless. That was a preposterous proposition, What was the grievance? It was not what the trade union itself did. If they looked back over the history of trade unions in this country for the past thirty years they could find hardly a single instance where a trade union had deliberately set itself to commit a wrong. That was a remarkable fact, and still more remarkable in the face of the further fact that they believed that they were not by law amenable if they did wrong. On the other hand, it should be remembered that there had been one or two cases where undoubtedly the union itself authorised the commission of acts which were only reasonably made the subject of an action for damages. He assured his hon. friends opposite that if he agreed with their views that absolute immunity were necessary to protect trade unions he would associate himself with them in this case. The real grievance was that the agents of branches and lodges should lose their heads, however rarely, sometimes, and trade union funds should be responsible. All men were liable to do it, and how much more likely it was that men who had not had a legal training should occasionally lose their heads in the conduct of a strike. Almost all those cases had been where an agent had committed a wrong and the funds of the union had been rendered liable for the wrong. If they said that a union should not be responsible for the acts of agents unless by its supreme council it had deliberately authorised those acts, they would get rid of what he conceived to be the real grievance of trade unions. He did not believe his hon. friends opposite or those on the Government side of the House desired that there should 1319 be inequality before the law as between trade unions and other classes of society. He appealed to them, as one with large experience in trade union cases and as one who was entirely in sympathy with them in endeavouring to protect unions, not precipitately to condemn the measure of the Government, because he believed that they—and it was creditable to their honesty—were promoting a Bill which was capable of being passed here, and which was not incapable of being passed in another place. He asked the House, with all sincerity, not too hastily to reject this Bill. Of course it was very easy to say, "Make the trade unions immune." It sounded very well on public platforms to say "I am in favour of making trade unions absolutely immune from responsibility." He tested that question at one of the largest meetings of miners held in his constituency. He took the trouble to explain the position to them. Hon. Members knew that the miners of the North of England were as intelligent and as capable of grasping a proposition as even a lawyer, and probably with as great honesty and natural common sense. He found that the opinion of that meeting was entirely in favour of a measure on the lines of the Bill which he brought forward two years ago. H is Bill provided that if a trade union by its general council deliberately authorised a wrongful or criminal act it should be responsible. If trade unions were rendered immune in the way suggested by some hon. Members, there would be nothing to prevent any other organisation coming forward and saying, "You have granted this concession to trade unions; we demand equality before the law, and if you are not going to apply the ordinary doctrine of responsibility to trade unions you cannot to other organisations." He sympathised with the feeling of his hon. friends opposite, but he believed that the working-classes of this country were so instilled with the sense of justice that they did not want to evade their just responsibility, but they wished to be relieved from liability for rash or possibly wicked acts of men who did things which their unions did not authorise. The union fund was a fighting fund. [Cries of "No."] Really he did 1320 not think any responsible trade unionist would deny that. It was a fighting fund. [An HON. MEMBER: We do deny it.] It was a fund which was also used frequently for purposes other than fighting, according to the exigencies of the position, but the hon. Member who interrupted him knew that it was a fighting fund.
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)
I do not think anybody can deny that it is absolutely necessary for the Government to bring in some Bill dealing with trade union disputes. The matter has now been before the House for several years and, as we were reminded by the hon. Gentleman who spoke below the gangway, Bills somewhat on the lines of the Bill adumbrated by my hon. and learned friend the Attorney-General passed on more than one occasion the Second Reading in the last Parliament where there was a large Unionist majority. Therefore I think that no one can in the least find fault with the Government, whatever their views may be as to the ultimate settlement of the question, for introducing this measure. I go further, and I say that it is important that if a Bill of this kind is to be passed at all it should be passed by the Government on their own responsibility and not upon the introduction of a private Member. I do not think I am using the language of exaggeration when I say that I doubt if any Bill, in its bearing on the question of the relations of capital and labour, of employers and workmen, and on the general commerce and business of our country, in this or any other session, will be of equal or of greater importance. On the one hand, the manner in which you settle those questions which have arisen, and which are ripe for some settlement, may have a great deal to do in future with the extension of industrial enterprise by the necessary forthcoming of such capital as may be required. On the other hand, any settlement which may be come to must, in order to be satisfactory, be on fair grounds —because no other settlement would of course be final—not only to workmen connected with trade unions but to workmen generally. It is only by its being satisfactory that you can expect to avoid the conflicts in future between capital 1321 and labour which operate equally to the detriment of both. I am not going to be foolish enough upon this occasion, without seeing the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman, to commit myself to any very detailed criticism of the observations which he has made. A great man once said that if he were asked a question on common law, and was unable to answer it, he would be ashamed of himself; but if he were asked a question on statute law he would consider himself a fool to answer it unless he had the words of the statute before him. If I were to express entire condemnation or entire approbation—which I certainly could not do—of the Bill adumbrated by the Attorney-General, I think I would be playing the part of the fool in the tale I have just told. But I gathered three matters from the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I gathered, in the first place, that, although he protested in one part of his speech that it was the last thing he would like to do, in reality all through this Bill he was going to set up class privileges. I am not going to argue whether it is right or wrong in relation to trade unions for their particular constitution and the peculiar circumstances in which they stand either to claim or to have set up upon their behalf class privileges. But I think the House will agree with me when I say that if we are prepared to set up such class privileges, we ought to be careful for what reason we do it, and how far we may in doing so give reason to other bodies of equal importance, and very often under equal hardships by reason of the administration of the law, to claim similar privileges from this House. In addition to that, I gathered from the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman that this Bill will admittedly infringe upon he rights of many persons who are not members of or connected with trade unions at all. That is a very serious principle, which would certainly have to be watched, and we must see that it is surrounded by such restrictions as would mitigate as far as possible the infringement of the actual rights as they exist of those who are not connected with trade unions. And I gathered further that the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes by this Bill to give great powers to certain persons to injure others while they remain free from liability for doing such injuries. 1322 [MINISTERIAL and LABOUR cries of "No."] I shall show in a few minutes that that is so. If I am wrong, then my criticism will not be pertinent to the Bill. Well, if these are the principles to be deduced from the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think it renders it all the wiser if I should only cursorily glance at the proposals he has submitted to the House. For, after all, in the carrying out of the principle, everything may depend upon the safeguards and limitations which, of course, it would be impossible for the hon. and learned Gentleman fully to explain to the House in bringing in a Bill of this kind. I did not quite follow the hon. and learned Member as to what it was he proposed in the case of an action for conspiracy. I do not understand whether he proposes to alter the law of conspiracy generally, or whether he proposes to alter the law of conspiracy merely as it relates to trade unions in trade disputes.
§ SIR JOHN WALTON
We propose in effect though not in farm to strike out the word "indictable" in the Act of 1875 and substitute the word "suable."
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON
Then I understand that, at all events, I was right in what I surmised, that as regards the law of conspiracy relating to civil matters — I am not referring to criminal matters — trade unions are to be put into a privileged position. The law is to be no longer applicable to them while it remains applicable to other sections of the community. What was the hon. and learned Gentlemen's definition of conspiracy? He said it was a combination to violate the rights of another, and I may take it that by his Bill the Attorney-General is going to lay down that a trade union may have the right as a combination to violate the rights of others.
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON
Of course that comes within the definition given by the hon. and learned Member himself. If it is an injury to another that is done by a combination, although 1323 an illegal injury and although an injury causing damage, I understand that the trade union is to go scot free. I think hon. Members below the gangway who are very ready to criticise the Attorney-General on this Bill may, at all events, congratulate themselves that they have been put upon a high pinnacle of privilege —[Cries of "No, no!" from the LABOUR benches] — if they are the only people in this community who are to be allowed to combine to violate the rights of others. Surely it is some advance at all events upon the privileges that they already have. As far as I followed the argument of the Attorney-General, his only reason for doing that is that it has already been done in the cases of criminal indictment. I see a great distinction. As regards criminal matters the crime is complete when there is a conspiracy. As regards the civil action the conspiracy gives no rise to and no cause of action unless you have done damage in pursuance of the conspiracy to some individuals, and it is for the damage that the action is brought. Surely it is a strong proposition to lay down, even if the damage is done in pursuance of that conspiracy, that, of all the universe, trade unions alone are to be allowed to go scot free. We are allowing them to be free from the conspiracy and we are allowing them to go scot free for the damage that they have inflicted in pursuance of it. It does strike me, and I think it will strike anybody who has had practically to deal with these matters, that where the gist of the action is that damage has been done we ought to be very slow to say that the man to whom the damage had been done is to have no remedy. My hon. and learned friend gave some interesting illustrations of the butler, the cook, and the housemaid as to the conspiracy of persons against the employer. Yes, but no one in the House knows better than the Attorney-General the case of Leathern v. Quinn. If this alteration of the law is passed such a case as Leathern v. Quinn is without remedy. Leathern v. Quinn was founded upon conspiracy, and if it had not been for the consipracy there would not have been any case of action, and it would 1324 have followed exactly upon the lines of Allen v. Flood. I never yet heard any man in any section of the House defend what was done in the case of Leathern v. Quinn, where an employer was approached to turn men who were non-union men out of his employment and he said, "No, but I will tell you what I will do. I will pay their fines to the union. I will let them become trade unionists so that my men may be working exactly within the new rules." And the men for the trade union said, "No, that is not enough for us. They must be punished. They must walk the streets with their families and children for twelve months before they are allowed to be employed anywhere, and if necessary they must starve." That was an act of conspiracy. It was a conspiracy of those men going and insisting upon non-union men being driven out of employment. And I would like to know what will be the remedy after this Bill becomes law for a case which I call not merely a case of tyranny, but a case which is a disgrace to any Christian community, even in pursuit of those disputes which unfortunately raise at times most bitter feelings. I can only say for myself after the consideration that I have given to that question, that I look upon the abolition of that cause of action for conspiracy, having regard to the law that has been laid down in Allen v. Flood by the House of Lords, as in many cases depriving those who have been seriously injured of any remedy whatsoever in cases of trade disputes. We shall, however, see what the Bill says about the matter. But I understand the statement of the hon. and learned Member to have the results which I have suggested to the House, and they seem to me to be results which the House ought very carefully to consider when they came to the further stages of the Bill.
The next point upon which the Attorney-General spoke was the question of picketing. I do not quite understand what he intends to do with regard to that matter. So far as I know it has never yet been held that peaceful persuasion is illegal. I believe the law was perfectly properly 1325 stated by the Commission which, investigated that matter when they said—It is sometimes represented that workmen were punished for merely peacefully persuading, but that is not so. No workman has ever been punished under this Act for merely peacefully persuading. What he had been punished for is watching or besetting a louse.Ironical LABOUR cheers.] Yes, but that is a different thing. [LABOUR Cries of "Legal hair splitting."] But in what cases is he punished? If he watches or besets a house with a view to intimidating a man into doing something that he does not want to do or to keep him from doing something that he does want to do. That is very different from peaceful persuading. In fact the cheers of the Labour Members prove to me what I have always thought, that the question of peaceful persuasion is a matter of absolute hypocrisy. Peaceful persuasion is no use to a trade anion. Certainly, so far as I am concerned, I have not the least objection to its being set up in black and white that a union has the right peacefully to persuade. But what the Attorney-General did not tell us was what is to be the limitation, for instance, to the number of individuals who were to go and peacefully persuade the workmen of an employer. The act itself and the way in which it was done might without a word being spoken be gross intimidation. Do not hon. Members see that if they can go and peacefully persuade and in some cases go and block up the door of the shopowner and collect crowds round they might honestly intend only peacefully to persuade, but at the same time they might be committing a nuisance.
§ SIR JOHN WALTON
said they had taken from the Act of 1859 the qualification that the peaceful persuasion was to be carried out in a "peaceable and reasonable manner."
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON
The Committee suggested that so long as the action of the men was not calculated to cause reasonable apprehension of violence it was permissible, but my hon. and learned friend used words which makes 1326 it perfectly clear that "peaceful persuasion" may go further than that. Generally speaking, however, if words are contained in the Bill which make perfectly clear that peaceful persuasion means peaceful persuasion and will not be allowed to be carried further than that, I do not think he will find any opposition to that part of the Bill from the Opposition side of the House. We ought, however, to take care that nothing we do takes away the common law right of preventing a nuisance or allows this so-called peaceful persuasion to be merely a cloak or blind for approaching people and causing them terror, or for causing intimidation to those who may not be connected with trade unions. As regards the Taff Vale decision, the Labour Members have a right to speak no doubt for trade unions in this House, and I understand they claim absolute immunity for the funds of their unions, however bad the offence may be.
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON
We are not concerned with the good; there are not likely to be actions for benevolent deeds. That claim of the Labour Party is a very wide claim, and I do not think it is a claim which they will find the Government at all likely to admit. Further I do not think it is a claim which the generality of people outside or inside this House will consider the Government ought to admit. I noticed that the Secretary of State for War who always thinks out every question has given a great deal of consideration to this question, and here is his criticism on it—For a trades union to claim an exemption which neither a millionaire nor an individual labourer could assert a right to, would be to set up a claim of privilege, and this the trade unions are not likely to do.The Secretary of State for War is so generally right that one cannot help feeling a kind of mild satisfaction that on this occasion his prophetic utterance is not true, because the trade unions are setting up a claim to this immunity. Setting apart what has been called the benevolent funds, as contra-distinguished from the militant funds of the trade unions concerned, if the law requires any alteration or any strengthening with a 1327 view to facilitating trade unions doing work of that character,' I do not suppose any member of the House will object to it. That will be a highly proper thing to do. It will not be any privilege whatsoever, but it will be merely carrying out what is the ordinary law. Any such facility given to trade unions will be in perfect consonance with the law of the land, and so far as that is concerned I have said that Members of this side of the House will have no objection to it. But I understand that the Bill goes much further than that. I understand it is going to make havoc of the law of agency. The law of agency works in many cases with extreme hardship on individuals, but why are trade unions alone to be singled out to have those hardships remedied? I do not believe it is possible to change the law of agency as regards one set of persons and leave it as it is at present as regards the rest of the community. I have valuable support in that view from another member of the Government, who I regret is not present this Afternoon. I mean the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has taken a great interest in that question. What is the right hon. Gentleman's view of the law of agency? He said that as regards agency he thought everyone would agree with him that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to provide a more restricted operation of the law in trade disputes than in the ordinary affairs of life. I do not know what has happened since the right hon. Gentleman spoke those words in 1903, but it may be that now the right hon. Gentleman sees some way of its being possible to do what he then thought was impossible. I think that when the matter comes to be thrashed out it will be seen that to alter the law of agency in favour of only one section— the trade unionist section—in this country will be a matter that on any logical principle it will be very difficult for the Party opposite to defend. The decision in the Taff Vale case was a decision absolutely in consonance with equity and in consonance with the general law of the land. I do not think the matter can have been better put than in the Report of the Royal Commission, which is one of the ablest documents as regards the attempt to elucidate this complex law ever laid on the Table 1328 of the House. With reference to the restriction of the law of agency which the Attorney-General proposes, the House can only criticise it when it sees his proposals in detail. I hope that when we see the Bill we shall not find it is a measure which, while preserving the semblance of keeping trade unions as regards their funds in exactly the same position as all other associations of people who commit wrong, will at the same time have the effect of putting such a network of difficulty round the reaching of the funds when the unions have done wrong as will render it practically impossible to carry out the ordinary remedies which people have under those circumstances. It is a Bill which may have far reaching results in the country to our trade and our industrial commerce. I can only say that I believe it will be our duty on this side of the House, while raising no unnecessary objections to a Bill of this kind, at the same time, as far as we can, to take care by such Amendments as we cum propose that, while justice is done to those who are concerned with trade unions, there shall be no injury, no compulsion, and no coercion authorised towards individuals who may not be members of those organisations.
§ MR. BRACE (Glamorganshire, S.)
justified his intervention in this debate by the fact that he was a member of a trade union and a trade union official of the greatest federation of labour in the country, a federation which had suffered more from the law as rendered by the judges than any other. Having listened to the hon. and learned Member for the Dublin University, he could only express his gratification that whatever were the faults of the Government's Bill it was not a Bill introduced by a Government of which the hon. and learned Gentleman was a member. The trade unions of this country were not asking for any special treatment. They wanted no charity. They asked only for equality before the law with the employers. He asked the House to consider the case of peaceful picketing. The necessity for peaceful picketing arose from the action of the employers in scouring the country for men to take the place of those who were idle. Statements which were not true had been made 1329 over and over again by the masters, and as a matter of fact the poor men who were brought from other parts to take the place of those who were out had been as much deceived as anybody else. All that the trade unions asked was that they should have full liberty to explain to the strangers who were brought down the nature of the dispute between the men and the employers, and to ask them not to allow themselves to be made the tools of the employers to starve the workers out in the struggle between capital and labour. And, if they could prevail upon them to return, that the funds of the society should be used to pay their fares back to the place from which they came. Anybody listening to the hon. and learned Member for the Dublin University would think that the employers only had cause for complaint with regard to "conspiracy." What was going on in the country now? In South Wales at the present moment there was a strike in operation: a strike brought about by an alteration which had been made by the employers in the system of working. The trade union had used all its resources to bring about a settlement of that dispute. They had offered to go to arbitration, but for some reason best known to themselves, the employers had not thought it advisable to accept that offer. In the meantime what became of the workpeople? They had terminated their employment by the legal month's notice, but when they sought work elsewhere, they were asked where they came from. When the manager of the mine at which they applied found they came from the colliery at which work had been stopped he would not employ them. Was not that conspiracy? It was a very difficult matter to bring it home to the employers, but the fact remained that by means of the telegraph or the telephone, or by some other means, an understanding was arrived at by the coal owners that not a single man who had been employed by the colliery stopped should be given work in the area of the Coal Owners Association. In the whole of the annals of trade disputes there was no action on the part of the men which could be compared with this case which was within his own knowledge. With regard to 1330 the immunity of trade union funds, what was wrong with the request that the funds of trade unions should be immune? They did not ask that members of the union should be immune. If a member broke the law let him be punished according to the law. To that he quite agreed, but he submitted that neither this House nor the law courts had a right to allow people to put their hands into his pocket and penalise him if he had done no wrong, simply because a man who happened to be a member of the trade union broke the law. The federation of which he was a member had had to pay £80,000, because of the meaning given to the law by the courts of the land. In that case what did the federation do? The middlemen tried to reduce the price of coal. By means of combination the colliery owners were enabled to protect themselves, and the workmen found that their wages were being reduced by reason of the action which the middlemen at Cardiff were taking. The trade union came to the conclusion that it was necessary to make a stand against that. The action they took prevented the wages being reduced. If the men did wrong the employers had the means of redress in their hands. By taking action against the men for breach of contract they would have got just as much out of the workmen as they got out of the society by the action they took against them. At that time a new scheme of working was being initiated, and the employers proceeded against the society in order to break up the union, so that when the time came for discussing the new scheme the workmen should be helpless in the negotiations. The result was that the federation had to pay not only for the men in the federation but for men who were not. He accepted the statement of the hon. and learned Attorney-General that this Bill was an earnest attempt on the part of the Government to meet a very difficult problem, but he was bound to say on behalf of organised labour they could not accept it. They must have more. He appealed to the Government to take their courage in both hands and to carry out in this measure their obligations to the workers of this country. He asserted that hon. Members would not have been returned 1331 to this House if in many constituencies the workmen had not thought that by returning them they were taking some part in setting right the law with regard to trade unions which the courts had made wrong. He appealed to the House not to lend itself to proposals which, if placed on the Statute-book, would enable employers of labour to evade the law, to conspire and to do exactly what they liked, and which would make trade union funds liable for damage for acts not authorised by the trade union. They asked only for equal treatment before the law, and having asked for nothing more than that he took leave to say that this House ought not to expect them to accept anything less. He therefore applied to the Government to remodel this clause before the Bill came up for Second Reading, otherwise he, as a trade unionist representative, and his colleagues would be compelled to go into the lobby against the Government.
§ LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)
said he was one of those who thought the claim put forward by one section of this House, by the accredited representatives of labour, was not one that should be entertained. After all, every Member came here as the representative of the whole of his constituents, and all had an equal right to their opinion on a measure which affected the working classes like this. He agreed with the Attorney-General that the condition of the law with regard to conspiracy was not in all respects satisfactory. The hon. and learned Gentleman had pointed out the uncertainty which existed—he thought necessarily if we were to have any law— but he did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman had given sufficient weight to the other side of the argument. He dissented from the contention that an act done by 100 men did not differ from an act done by one man. Let them take for instance the case of a public meeting. A man might go to a public meeting and make observations and express dissent and no harm would be done, but if a third of the meeting took the same action it would become impossible to carry the meeting on. Let them take the words of the hon. Member for South Glamorganshire. The hon. Mem-had said there was a conspiracy among 1332 the employers to exercise their rights harshly. If that could be shown to be the fact, then it was a pernicious thing for which a remedy should be found. If one employer dismissed a man from his employment, that was not the same thing as a number of employers agreeing together not to give a man employment.
§ MR. WILLIAM ABRAHAM (Glamorganshire, Rhondda)
said the case his hon. friend had referred to affected 1,300 men, not one of whom could find employ ment.
§ LORD R. CECIL
said that really made his case 1,300 times as strong, because instead of an injury done to one man it was an injury done to 1,300, not one of whom had any remedy. He used that argument simply to show that it was a fallacy to say that an act done by a number of men was no worse than the same act done by an individual. It might be that it was better to have a certain law, though it did not deal with all these questions, to an uncertain law which might or might not remedy all these evils. The matter certainly could not be left where it was. It might be that the learned Attorney-General preferred a statutory high-road to judge-made law, and might be able to devise a form of words which would be free from doubt and would settle the law definitely; but he would suggest that it would be very difficult to have a provision of the kind contemplated unless it was to apply to all classes of the community. If the law was right, and he thought it was on the whole, then no special exemption should be made in favour of trade unions. Nothing could be more harmless than peaceful picketing as described by some hon. Members when they spoke of workmen, attracted by the fraudulent devices of an employer, being rescued by the charity of their fellow-workmen from the evils they had been induced to encounter. But he did not find that the evidence before the Royal Commission put it that way. He put it to the House that it was perfectly well known that the watching and besetting a house was a cause of the disorder that took place during these unhappy industrial disputes.
1333 In practice it led to breaches of the peace and to what he could only describe as tyranny. He therefore looked with some apprehension to the adoption of any measure which would legalise anything in the nature of watching and besetting a house. The Government appeared to be taking certain elaborate precautions to ensure that trade unions should be given a special position under the law of agency and should not be liable to damages unless they expressly authorised the act in respect of which they were claimed. Suppose a trade union took up a strike and provided funds for it, were they to be held liable for the action of their agents or not? The main point was, were the trade unions to be free from any of the ordinary provisions of the law of agency? He had never thought it possible to defend the law of agency logically. On what possible reason was he to be made liable for his coachman's getting drunk and driving into another carriage? Although the man had been warned particularly not to take too much to drink, yet if he did drive into another carriage his master was made liable. Take the case of railway companies: on what possible ground of reason were the shareholders made to pay for the act of a porter at a wayside station? Yet it was done every day.
§ LORD R. CECIL
said that in point of fact the shareholder was not rationally responsible, but that was the law of agency, and it had been adopted for excellent reasons. Unless the employer was made responsible for his servant, he would always be able to shelter himself behind some more or less colourable instruction to him not to break the law. That was why the law had adopted the principle of respondeat superior. Why should not that principle be applied to trade unions as well as everybody else? We were on the eve of great developments, particularly of an industrial and commercial character, which took the form more and more of substituting for the individual great corporations of enormous wealth and power. On the 1334 other hand they had these gigantic unions of the workmen. He did not in the least complain of the one or the other, but they had these two forces organised, not one against another but in order to arrive at a fair settlement of the conflicting interests. Were they going to say to one of those forces: "We are going to make a special exception and you are not to be liable for the acts of your agents "? The hon. Member for Clitheroe said they were not on the same footing at all. His argument was that practically trade unions existed for one purpose—for carrying on a strike—and if the employers were allowed by union among themselves to fight that strike it might be by illegal means, he believed the hon. Member suggested that the trade unions had no remedy by an action for damages because they would not be able to show any pecuniary damages. Therefore the employers were left with a remedy which was not at the disposal of the trade unions. The question was whether in point of fact damage had been suffered.
§ LORD R. CECIL
said that if they had he knew of no provision in the law which would prevent them recovering whatever damages they had suffered. He would be very glad to consider and support a measure which would remove all taint of illegality from trade unions and make their contracts for all purpose, as enforceable as the contracts of everybody else. If that were done then they would be in the same position as the employer if they suffered damage. They would be a legal association and they would be able to recover for the acts of the agents of the employer in just the same way as the employer could recover for the acts of trade unionists. He earnestly pressed the House not to make an exception, whether in the law of conspiracy or in the law of agency, on behalf of one special class or one special body, however many votes that class might command. Everyone knew that the reason why this Bill was introduced was that the Labour vote had very largely increased at the late election. He asked the House to guard the great principle of justice and equity which should rule all 1335 their legislation. If they gave this privilege one of two things must happen. The privileged body must suffer from the odium which all privileges excited and great injury would be done to the workmen themselves, or else they would have to extend that privilege to other bodies. He begged the House to be careful not to enact anything which they were not certain could be extended to all classes of His Majesty's subjects without great injury to all who were involved.
§ MR. BELL
said he joined with those of his colleagues who had congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the effort he had made in reference to this difficult question. He could endorse what had already been said by those who were qualified to speak in the name of organised labour in this country to the effect that the Bill fell short of what they desired. In reference to what the noble Lord had said, he appeared to believe that trade unions desired special legislation, or rather, special privileges. They desired no special privileges, but, recognising that there was nothing in this country to equal trade unions, they held that they should therefore have legislation that was suitable to the only organisation which existed. If trade unions were on the same basis or were constituted like public companies they would have no excuse for asking for legislation for themselves, but when they recognised that trade unions were voluntary institutions just as much as the Carlton Club or the National Liberal Cluband that men might belong to them or not, as they desired, it must be apparent that they could not obtain the control over their agents that organised institutions of other kinds could. Their branch secretaries were simply men who followed their occupations in whatever industry they might be employed, and they gave their time to act as branch or lodge secretaries. It was true that they might get some small fractional part of the contributions for the labours they gave, but to take that as being in the way of payment was an absolute absurdity. The unions did not think of it as such, and therefore they could not recognise that a man who volunteered to act as a branch secretary was one 1336 over whom they could have the control that an employer had over his inspector or foreman. Then, if they came to the other class of officials—and they were not in such large numbers as the Attorney-General thought they were—the great organisations of this country had not a large number of paid officials. If he spoke correctly and conscientiously he would say that they had not sufficient really in proportion to the strength of their organisation. But, however that might be, he was afraid that in this House, as in former Parliaments, there was a large number of Members who had not been able to appreciate, as he had hoped they would do, the fact that trade unions stood apart and distinct from any other kind of institutions, and it was in recognition of that fact that they asked for special legislation. The noble Lord apprehended that something desperate would happen if the Bill, as they desired, became law. It must not be forgotten that the Judges of this country, the employers, and the workmen all believed that this was the law up to 1901, and whether they were right or wrong in believing that, anyhow they never observed that any desperate tragedies occurred during the thirty years when they were under that misapprehension. He could not see any reason, therefore, why anybody should apprehend now that, given this charter which they were asking for, such tragedies would occur in the future. To say that they were asking to be privileged would be putting a wrong interpretation on their demand. They asked that they should be placed on an equality with the employers when they were in the unfortunate position of having to fight them. Everybody would admit that during the thirty-five years existence of trade unionism in this country the conditions of labour had materially improved, and happily that had been effected in many instances without resorting to a fight. But, be that as it might, they must be placed on an equality to fight the strongest employer in the country, if it should be necessary. Trade unions invariably endeavoured to arrange their differences by arbitration, and it was only in extreme cases that they resorted to a fight. He would suggest that trade unions were in a similarly unique 1337 position of life to the Army or the Navy. They had their Army and their Navy simply as institutions, which did nothing in times of peace. The foreign secretaries carried out their negotiations with foreign countries, and if they were unsuccessful in their treaties, the country was obliged to become either the aggressor or the defender. Then the Army or the Navy was brought into use, but when that happened no unnecessary restrictions were placed on those engaged in those forces. During the many disputes which had occurred in this country illegal acts had possibly been committed by individuals, and whether Parliament granted them protection as unions or not these acts would be committed in the future as they had been in the past. But these people had been dealt with by the common law and had had to suffer imprisonment for the offences they had committed. The Taff Vale struggle really was responsible for the manner in which the law was now interpreted. It was true a number of the Taff Vale men had been for a considerable time agitating for reforms, and while that agitation was going on the railway company, in order to injure the agitation, pitched on one of the leading men in their employ who was acting as a representative between the men and the company. Justice Wills in his summing up to the jury called special attention to the fact that the Taff Vale Railway Company in this instance had done the very thing likely to excite a body of men when the agitation was going on. Was there anything more likely to inflame workpeople than action of that kind? That was an act of annoyance and irritation by the employers in the first instance, fitted to inflame the tempers of the workpeople. The men came out without handing in their notices—or rather a number of them came out, because there were several grades concerned. Some required to give a week's notice, others a fortnight's, and when the strike actually took place some of the men were not entitled to give notice, some had only worked a week out of the fortnight, and others had not given notice at all. A certain number had committed a breach of contract, and here was where the union he represented came in. An appeal was made to the committee to come to the 1338 rescue of these men. The committee condemned the action of the men in resorting to the dispute without tendering their legal notices, and recognising also what might happen if men were allowed to go on in their own way without anyone looking after them, the committee resolved by a majority of one out of thirteen that they would take the men under their wing, try to get them under control and settle the dispute. The organisation and his committee did it ostensibly to try to keep the men under control and to settle the dispute in the interests of the men, the employers, and the public. Three days prior to the strike taking place he was asked by the late Lord Ritchie, who was then President of the Board of Trade, to go down to try and settle the dispute. He went down and found that the men were acting in defiance of the organisation and of himself. They practically told him to mind his own business and not to interfere with them. There was nothing more to be done and he returned to London. His committee, looking to the temper of the men and feeling that much greater danger would occur if they were left alone than by having some control exercised over them, decided in the circumstances to take charge of them. That was one of the things which was held to be illegal on the part of a trade union. They were held to be doing wrong when really they were doing a service both to the company and the public. During the progress of the strike the employers, as in all other instances, did not hesitate to use all kinds of machinery to find men to take the places of those with whom they were in conflict. Men were brought from all parts of the United Kingdom. On one particular occasion the agents of the Free Labour Association in London were paid 30s. a head for men secured for the Taff Vale Railway. These agents were not particular where they got their "heads." On one occasion the 9.15 train from Paddington had two saloons attached carrying thirty-eight of these heads. Several of them were obtained from Holloway and Brixton prisons, and the others from street corners, "pubs," and any other places where they could be got. The agents of the association entered into contracts with these men to work for the 1339 Taff Vale Railway Company. The men had their passage paid, they were supplied with drink, and some of them had had a drop or two when they reached Cardiff. He was at Cardiff station when they arrived. The railway company had an army of policemen there. There were two policemen for every "blackleg." He approached these men at the carriage window, and the police were looking on and listening to what he said. The agent of the Free Labour Association was also there, so that there was no intimidation on his part. So far as he was concerned it was perfectly peaceable persuasion. He told them the circumstances and persuaded them with all his power not to work for the Taff Vale Railway Company. Some of the men said they were told that there was an extension of the Taff Vale railway, and that owing to the opening of branch lines a large number of men were required. He could believe that the agents of the employers in the circumstances were not particular what they said in order to persuade the men to make contracts. The men said to him that they had no money to go back, and he stated that if they decided not to work for the Taff Vale Company he would pay their fares back, and see that they were supplied with refreshments until they could get back. This offer was accepted by thirty-two of the men who came out of the saloons. He treated them just as liberally as the Taff Vale Railway Company had done. For doing that it was held that he had committed an illegal act; the men had been persuaded to break their contracts, and he was placed under restraint by injunction from doing such a thing again. He admitted at once that unless they had power peacefully to persuade in that manner, and if they thought it necessary even to pay the fares of men back to the homes whence they came, they could not conduct a strike as it ought to be conducted. It should not be forgotten that men on strike were fighting after they had failed by negotiation and argument, and therefore they must not be hampered any more than the employers. Those who had for a number of years been conducting the affairs of trade unions knew the difficulties with which they had to contend. They knew 1340 the underhanded methods which employers indulged in. He would not deny to employers the rights and liberties which the workmen claimed for themselves. He would not deny an employer the right to go to Holloway gaol tomorrow morning if he wished to take into his employment those who were released from prison. But he claimed on behalf of those engaged in a conflict that they should have the right to persuade the men to go back home, and to treat them as liberally as the employers did when supporting their claim. The question of agency was really most difficult in these circumstances, and he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would recognise that all the argument about giving a privilege to trade unions overlooked the fact that trade-unions were not analogous to any other institutions. For that reasons it was absolutely impossible to legislate for trade unions and other institutions at the same time. Trade unions must be the subject of special legislation. They were asking no-favour when they asked that a certain power should be conceded to them when they were engaged in a fight with the employers. In his opinion if the trade unions were restored to the position in which everyone believed they were before the Taff Vale decision, that would bring about conciliation boards and other means of settling disputes. Surely there was no hon. Member who believed that the representatives of trade unions would deliberately injure other people. They must not deny that perhaps one of the main results of trade unions engaged in a conflict was to-injure some one. They must injure the employer if they were engaged in a conflict. One of the two parties in the conflict must be injured unless they could come to a sensible arrangement. It was no use for anyone to say that they engaged in a strike without intending or hoping to injure anyone. When engaged in a strike the workmen intended to injure the employer and the employer intended to injure the workmen. He did not mean unfair injury. A strike must injure the employer in his business, his profits, and the progress of the industry for the time being. It was not 1341 denied and they could not escape the fact that they were injuring the employer when they engaged in a conflict. What was the employer doing? He was determined to injure the workmen by preventing him from earning his livelihood to the extent he was entitled to. Trade unions were therefore entitled to special legislation. The hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to a speech which he had made at the Trade Union Congress in 1903. He believed that that I quotation was substantially correct. But at that time the Congress was discussing the Trade Disputes Bill which was introduced into Parliament in the: succeeding session. He, like other people, in the right place and at the right moment, liked to have all opinions on all questions thoroughly threshed out in order that a correct conclusion might be arrived at. But the Trade Union Congress came to a unanimous decision contrary to the! view he had taken, and therefore the opinion of the Trade Union Congress ought to be taken and not his own personal view. He wished to make that explanation in order that no one should run away with the idea that, although there were two sections of labour in this I House, there were two sections opposed; one to the other on this particular question. He thought it would be wise to allow the First Reading of this Bill to go through, and leave this question for the moment open. The Government would have an opportunity on Friday of hearing the views of the Labour Members on this point in the debate on the Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Newcastle; and he hoped that the Government would allow all hon. Members a free hand in voting for or against that Bill. He trusted also that the Government would accept the?decision of the House in regard to that Bill, and that they would be able to?amend the Bill now under discussion in accordance with the decision then arrived at He was sure that hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House would not be prepared to allow a jury of trade unionists to try a trade union case. And trade unionists had as little -confidence in allowing a body of men interested in industries and employment to try a case in which they were concerned. What the Labour Members 1342 wanted was to prevent any litigation possibility of litigation against trade unions as trade unions. There might as much litigation as hon. Gentlemen liked against individuals who were so foolish as to commit violations of the law in any respect. During the Taff Vale strike he believed that twelve or fifteen men were imprisoned for offences which hey had committed but they did not complain. The law was vindicated and they bore the brunt. But why should he trade unions pay damages when they lad no control over individuals? There was nothing to prevent a trade unionist striking the Attorney-General that night when he left the House. The law would protect the Attorney - General. But if here happened to be a strike on at the present time, the trade union would have to pay damages for that assault. Trade unionists did not want such a differentia-ion, because it was largely based on prejudice. He thought the Government would be wise to accept the principle of the Bill which had been endorsed by large majorities in two sessions of Parliament if they did so, they would give general satisfaction and afford no cause of complaint to any decent employer of labour.
§ MR. GUEST (Cardiff District)
said that the discussion had so far been confined to representatives of the Labour Party and to members of the legal profession. He wanted, very respectfully, to ask the Government to emphasise the point made by the Attorney-General as to their intention of leaving the decision in regard to Clause 3 to the free and unfettered judgment of the House of Commons. Because, if they did not, many hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House would be put into a very serious difficulty. Certainly a great many of them during the general election positively declared— at least he did— that if returned to Parliament they would do their best to recreate the ante Taff Vale situation. He was quite certain, speaking from experience, that that was what the public expected). The Government had gone a long way—and they all welcomed the steps they had taken—in order to meet the difficulties of the situation and the hopes of the trade unions in that regard; he should have been glad, however, if they had seen their way to go a little further. But if the question 1343 of agency was defined as proposed it would be capable of evasion; and was it not much better to say that trade unions were entirely free from liability to damages than to put them in the position they now occupied? He was quite aware that the Attorney-General had developed a powerful legal argument against the course suggested by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Of course, the legal mind was not symmetrical, but ordinary people were not so much concerned with law as with policy. As to policy, he thought it would be unfortunate if the Government persisted in the line they had taken. Hon. Gentlemen in the course of the debate had frequently alluded to the question whether trade unions should or should not occupy a privileged position. He did not know whether the position which trade unions claimed to occupy was or was not privileged; but whether it was so or not it was no wild experiment on which they wished to embark. They only asked to be put back into the position which they had occupied for the greater part of the last thirty years. During that time trade unions had worked well and had not injured the industries in which the workmen were engaged. A point to be remembered was that the position of the masters was unassailable, it being in practice well known to be almost impossible for the trade unions to prove conspiracy or injury, because the masters came to their decisions in private; whereas the men needed a great amount of publicity to bring about the results which they aimed at. The law of agency was not in itself very satisfactory, and it was only to be defended on the ground that it was an equitable expedient, but if the equity between unions and men did not exist, surely there was no reason for pressing on this occasion the law of agency. What they were concerned with was not so much the small legal points which were raised but the way in which this House was prepared, as a matter of policy, to treat trade unions as a whole. He did not know that the Bill placed trade unions in a privileged position, but if it did he was not prepared to reject it on that ground. He was prepared to place trade unions in a position in which they could bargain with capitalists. He did not think trade unions would injure industry, and if the trade unions 1344 were placed in a position in which they would be able to make their own terms' with employers, the House would be justified in refusing to interfere with questions of wages and the hours of adult labour. They heard a great deal now-a-days about the distribution of wealth. If there was to be a better distribution of wealth, it was at that stage that the distribution should take place. Distribution should take the form of fair wages and not of philanthropic effort. Many members of trade unions had said to him that they would infinitely prefer to be in a position to obtain good wages than have anything in the nature of old age pensions. Surely it was more manly to equip them to obtain what they were entitled to have-and then to leave it to the individual to make some provision for old age. He hoped before the Second Reading was reached the Government would be in a position to make a pronouncement with regard to the third clause, otherwise he felt certain many hon. Members would be in the same difficulty as himself. He' should very much regret if they were unable to support the Government in the' course they intended to pursue.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
assured the hon. Member for the-Cardiff District that there was no monopoly on any side, or in any part of the House, of sympathy and good feeling towards that progressive usefulness in the trade unions which had won for them a growing recognition at the hands of Parliament. He also assured the hon. Member for Derby that he did not wish to put a stop to his exercising in all possible ways those arts of persuasion which had won for the hon. Member the excellent position he held in the House of Commons. It was true-that the hon. Member ought to find obstacles in his way when he tried to persuade men to break their contracts, but the discussion of such matters had not been much furthered by the explanation of extreme cases. The Attorney-General had referred the House to a case of which he did not give the name, but which was another of these extreme cases. For his part, he did not want to stop the practice of sending men to meet workmen in order to exercise, by 1345 lawful means, persuasion; and he said that as part of the general position of many of those on the Opposition side of the House, who were in great sympathy with all legitimate efforts to make clear the law and to remove from trade unions some undoubted grievances that they had. It was right, however, that they should bear in mind that the substantial majorities by which even the late Parliament read a second time the Bill known as the Trade Disputes Bill were secured largely in consideration of the promise made in the course of the debate that there should be fair consideration given to Amendments moved in Committee. There were certain elements in our law which always would vitiate contracts and proceedings, such as force, fear, and fraud. He hoped that no alteration in our laws by the removal of these disabilities and qualifications would ever make it possible for any improper or vicious agencies to be put into operation. Trade unionists held that they had a difficulty in finding how they were to use persuasion without intimidation; but other people met with the same difficulty, and he thought trade unionists ought to submit to the same kind of difficulty that every one of the King's subjects had to meet. As regarded the Bill before the House, he reminded hon. Members that the clause foreshadowed by the Attorney-General as to picketing was not that which was brought to the attention of the country during the resent election. If the contention was sound that at the recent election the country pronounced for the Bill known in the last Parliament as the Trade Disputes Bill, the whole of that Bill and nothing but that Bill ought to be brought before the House. But that was not what the country was getting, with regard to the picketing clause, from the Government on the present occasion. He thought, however, that hon. Members below the gangway were wrong, and that the country pronounced in favour of the removal of some of the difficulties from which trade unionists suffered. As to the action of the Government with regard to the law of conspiracy, he did not complain, considering the finding of the very able Royal Commission. He thought the 1346 Government would have done wisely if they had adopted the qualification recommended by that Royal Commission; but if they were going into the question of conspiracy, it opened up an interesting question. Labour Members complained that they suffered from disadvantages because they suffered in a way that employers did not. They said it was no use for them to sue employers for damage done to their cause, because trade unionists could not prove damage. Well that was true. In such cases, where funds were not actually depleted, it would be difficult for a trade union to say that they suffered pecuniary damage. What he wished to draw attention to was that if they relaxed the law of conspiracy they had also to consider whether in so doing they were not themselves facilitating those very actions on the part of the employer of which they complained. He hoped, therefore, they would not do anything which would make more easy what had been done by employers in this country by their concerted refusal to employ men who had given them offence in former disputes. As to trade unions' funds, it could not be seriously contended that the exempting of trade unions was not a very striking instance of the creation of a privilege. Labour Members might probably hold that in past times trade unions had not enjoyed all the popularity that their legitimate objects entitled them to. The feeling then on the part of the public was that too much intimidation was allowed to creep into their proceedings. In the same way, he was convinced that their popularity with the public would suffer if they permitted to be granted in a Bill from Parliament anything like unjust privileges. Such privileges might have to be repealed by a future Parliament. The Government had done well in limiting the grant of immunity in regard to actions for damages against trade unionists. Even now they were going much nearer to the wishes of the Labour Members than those gentlemen were aware of, because, so far as he could see, they would have nothing but the words "bona fide" as a protection against bogus repudiations and calculated prohibitions. The Government had done a service by attempting a solution of this very difficult question, and he hoped 1347 that ultimately it would be settled upon lines which would tend to the peaceful settlement of disputes, which would preserve and, if necessary, extend the fullest liberty of combination amongst the working classes, and, above all, secure on the part of all the fullest possible equality before the law.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Kildare, N.)
thought that every Member of this House who was in sympathy with trade unionism would repudiate the statements of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin as to the futility of peaceful persuasion in case of strikes. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had been on the side of law and order elsewhere, but he would venture to say that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman were present that he had been on that side in a turbulent sort of way. He represented a very turbulent constituency, and ought not, to apply to the working men of this country the standard which would properly measure his own turbulent condition in the mind of the constituency he represented. Those who knew the working classes of Great Britain were quite willing to give them the power of peaceful persuasion with every hope and confidence that they would use it in a manner beneficial to I both themselves and the country. This particular class, one would think, was being legislated for in an exceptional manner and for the first time. What he I said in reply to the right hon. Gentleman I would also apply to what had been said by the noble Lord the Member for Maryle-bone. They were not enacting an exceptional law for the first time, they were not repealing an exceptional law; they were extending by an act of legislation an exceptional law already in existence. Not only in respect of employers was this law exceptional, but also with regard to the members of the trade unions themselves. He referred the noble Lord to Section 4 of the Act of 1871, where he would find that members of the trade unions had no remedy as between themselves.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR
said they were not here for the purpose of repealing that exceptional law, but for the purpose of extending it because of exceptional circumstances. This law had been passed to interfere with the common law of the land and it had also interfered with the law of conspiracy. He had risen specially for the purpose of stating that while those with whom he acted in the House intended to support the introduction of this Bill, and probably to vote for its Second Reading, that fact would not prevent them from also supporting the more extensive measure that would be introduced next Friday by the hon. Gentlemen who sat on the benches near him. They would do so because they believed these funds were subscribed for a particular purpose and they ought not to be ear-marked for damages in consequence of any action on the part of others. He desired to address a Question to the hon. and learned Gentleman who had introduced the Bill. The Attorney-General had said that there were great areas in the juridical map of Great Britain through which he wished to drive a highway in respect of the law of conspiracy. Did he intend that that alteration in the law should extend generally to the law of conspiracy so as to embrace a certain state of things that prevailed in the country which he (Mr. O'Connor) represented in Parliament? He trusted that at all events the title of the Bill would enable them to move an Amendment that would extend the law of conspiracy generally, because although it had been laid down by many speakers in the debate that the law of conspiracy should be so altered as to apply only to trades unions, there were cases of great hardship in Ireland where, if the law was not generally extended, the present state of things would continue. At present it was quite legal for a man in Ireland to decline to pay his rent to his landlord if he regarded it as an exorbitant rent, but if, say after Mass on Sunday he should meet his neighbours outside the church, and if they should hold a meeting and pass a resolution that instead of this one man declining to pay his unjust rent to the landlord they should all decline to pay such rent, they at once came within the scope of the general law of conspiracy. Quite recently there had been prosecutions, and 1349 men had been sent to prison because they?decided to do collectively what one man could do without any punishment whatever. Would not the Attorney-General take this opportunity of so framing the clause with regard to conspiracy as to comprehend within its scope the kind of case he had mentioned. Surely a body of men who "were federated together with a view to bring about a better state of things were as much entitled to protection as the trade unionists themselves. He hoped that the Members who directly represented labour in the House would help them to have that clause regarding conspiracy so framed as to bring the Irish farmer, and the various classes who were at present open to attack through the unfair operation of the law of conspiracy, within its scope.
§ MR. NORMAN (Wolverhampton, S.)
desired to associate himself with the appeal to the Government made by his hon. friend the Member for Cardiff. No case could possibly have been put before the House with greater ability than had been shown by the Attorney -General, but it must have been as much apparent to the hon. and learned Gentleman himself as it was to everybody else that the House was not with him in his arguments. Therefore, he (Mr. Norman) joined in the appeal to him and the Government to put themselves right at the earliest possible moment with what was obviously the feeling of a very large majority of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that the Government felt that they had a mandate. It was true they had a mandate, but so far as he had been able to understand the recent political situation, it was not a mandate to bring in a. Bill of the kind introduced this afternoon. The mandate which was given to himself and to others on the Ministerial side of the House was quite different. It was a mandate to act in that particular instance in the true sense of Conservatism—to go back to a' good old law which had unexpectedly been found to be inoperative. It appeared to him that the time for arguments had almost passed, but if one desired to argue it would be easy to comment on several points of the hon. and learned Gentle- 1350 man's speech. He spoke, for instance, of the necessity for checking the abuse of power on the part of trade unions. He (Mr. Norman) ventured to say that the history of trade unionism in the past was not a history of the abuse of power.
§ MR. NORMAN
was sorry if he had misrepresented his hon. and learned friend, but he understood him to say that one of the objects of the Bill would be to check the abuse of power. He certainly drew rather a terrible picture of what might happen under certain circumstances—a picture which he (Mr. Norman) ventured to say with all respect was hardly historically accurate as regarded trade unionism in this country. The hon. and learned Gentleman further said, if he correctly understood him, that if this Bill became law he could scarcely conceive a case arising to go before a jury. If that were so, it seemed hardly necessary to pass such a very important law, involving so much that was novel and raising so many points which vitally touched a very large part of the community. The framers of the Bill appeared to be under the impression that, supposing a trade union deliberately decided and intended to commit an illegal act, they would thereupon immediately authorise some agent to go and do it. Human nature being what it was, it appeared to him very obvious that in the unlikely event of a trade union contemplating an illegal act it would not hand to some agent formal authority to do it. He felt quite confident that if an illegal act were committed it would be found that it was a wholly unauthorised act. The Bill, therefore, even in what it proposed to bring about, was likely to break down at its most vital point. It was often said that the charge that the organisations of working men were treated unfairly as compared with those of capitalists was not justified. He himself believed it was obviously true, and if further evidence of that were wanted it would be found in the appointment of the late Royal Commission. If that was not an example of unfairness he did not know 1351 where to look for one. The Government claimed that they had a mandate. On the other hand, he and most of the Members of the Liberal Party, had a mandate to act entirely contrary to the spirit which proposed to pass this Bill. He was pledged to the hilt to restore the position which existed before the Taff Vale decision. He had not pledged himself without long and careful consideration. He had declared and defended his attitude a score of times upon the platform; he had voted for it in the House; he had asked for a mandate and had received it. He was morally and inevitably bound to obey that mandate, even though it brought him, with the deepest regret, into direct conflict with the authorities of his own Party.
§ MR. W. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS (Carmarthen District)
said that, in common with a good many other Members of the House, he was pledged to support the Bill which went by the name of the "Shackleton Bill." It was put to him distinctly at the general election whether he was prepared to support that Bill and he had pledged himself to support it. Although he was very sorry to come into conflict so early in his political career with his respected leaders, he was there to carry out that pledge. He gathered that a good many other Members who were as loyal to the Government as he was were as deeply pledged to support a measure of that sort and were prepared to do so. He had not given that pledge hastily without inquiring into the circumstances. There could be no doubt that the intention of the Legislature in 1871 was that trade unions were not capable of being sued. The Report of the Minority of the Trade Union Commissioners of 1869, which, according to Lord Macnaghten's judgment in the Taff Vale case, formed the basis of the 1871 Act, recommended that unions should not be capable of being sued as corporate bodies. Mr. George Howell, who was for many years a Member of this House, in the preface to his book on Trade Union Law, said that he could speak with some authority on the intention of the Legislature—In my interviews with the then Home Secretary," he said, "the question of empowering 1352 trade unions to sue and be sued was often and often discussed. Some few were in favour of embodying such power in the Trade Union, Bill, but the vast preponderating opinion was averse to it. Any provision of that nature was intentionally left out; the Home Secretary being quite as strong on that point as Messrs. Hughes, Mundella, Hinde Palmer, Serjeant Simon, and, so far as my memory serves me, the late Lord Coleridge.That intention was supposed to be expressed in the Act of 1871, and practically for thirty years this country had had experience of what would happen if trade union funds were not to be made liable in the way they had been made liable' by the legal decision. What had been the result? So far as he knew no bad results had occurred at all. No injustice had been done, and it was a well-known fact that trade unions and unionists were most anxious to suppress disorder. He could not conceive why bad results; should be expected to occur in the future-after thirty years experience in which no bad results had occurred. He felt morally pledged to his constituency, and he felt also he should be acting in the best interests of all classes of the community by availing himself of the liberty of action which he understood the Government gave them of expressing an opinion in favour of Mr. Shackleton's. Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill to provide for the regulation of Trades Unions and Trade Disputes, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Attorney-General and Mr. Solicitor-General.