§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."2379
§ Mr. T. SUMMERBELL
I desire to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day three months." The Bill is of an omnibus character, and gives very-wide and far-reaching powers to the North-Eastern Railway Company. In the Memorandum which they have issued they state that the principal works embodied in the Bill are a railway at West Dunston, in the county of Durham, with staiths, shipping places, quays, wharves or works for the shipment of coal. It is in regard to the erection of these staiths for shipment at Dunstan, Hull, and other places that I desire to say a few words. I find that in Clause 46 they take powers to levy certain charges for shipments which may take place at these places. The clause says:—"The company may demand, receive, and take from the master or owner of any vessel using any staiths, shipping places, quays, wharves, or works made by them in connection with railway No. 3 by this Act authorised a sum not exceeding one halfpenny per ton registered and when and so soon as such staiths, shipping places, quays, wharves, or works shall have been brought into use the company may also demand, receive, and take a like sum per registered ton from the master or owner of any vessel using any staiths, shipping places, quays, wharves, or works made by the company in connection with railway No. 1 authorised by the North-Eastern Railway Act 1887 and railway No. 4, authorised by the North-Eastern Railway Act 1898. "The clause leaves such charges optional, and my contention is we ought not to give a railway company power to make these particular charges at their will, but that they ought to be somewhat compulsory. I want to take the clearest case I can in order to illustrate my argument. This company owns the Hartlepool Docks and also the Tyne Dock, and the borough I have the honour to represent (Sunderland) lies between those two places. I have tried to get to know from the Board of Trade and also from the company how the charges for coal are levied at these particular places for the use of staiths and other means of shipment, but up to the present I have not been able to get any information whatever to enable me to withhold the statement I now make, that in some cases at Tyne Dock they do not make the charges they are seeking the power to levy in this Bill. What applies to this company I think applies to all companies owning docks 2380 and shipping. Their accounts are made up in such a way that no one inside or outside this House can tell what is railway and what is shipping revenue, nor can we make sure that the revenue appertaining to railway purposes is used for railway purposes only, or that the revenue derived from the docks is used for dock purposes only. If any gentleman wanted to ship coal at the Tyne Dock he would find he would be able to do it at something like l¼d. per registered ton, against 2½d. per registered ton at Sunderland. This, I think hon. Members will readily concede, leads to unfair competition by railway companies owning docks against harbour authorities, who are bound to levy dues in order to get the necessary revenue to pay the expenses of their ports. I contend that before any additional powers of this character are conceded to railway companies the Board of Trade ought to be in a position to be able to indicate that there is going to be a method of keeping railway accounts which shall show the revenue and expenditure of their docks separately. I put a question a short time ago to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. H. J. Tennant), and I have received a reply saying that the revenue and expenditure from docks is not shown separately in railway companies' accounts as now rendered, but the Departmental Committee which has recently reported on railway companies' accounts and statistics recommend a form of account which will give this information. This form of account giving this information is, I submit, essential in the interests of fairness, and the House ought to withhold any additional powers from railway companies until such time as this recommendation has been put into operation. I contend that when this House conceded a monopoly to a company in the shape of a railway, it never intended that the railway, when owning docks, should take railway revenue and utilise it for their docks. If they ship coal at the Tyne Dock at l¼d. per registered ton less than at Sunderland, then revenue must be obtained from some other source in order to enable them to do so, and I am here to-night to appeal to the House in all sincerity that the time has arrived when it should say that a railway company must not use revenue derived from its railway in order to compete with its docks against the docks of harbour authorities, I appeal to the busi- 2381 ness spirit of the Members of the House, who are always very keen to protect the industries up and down the country, and especially anything which appertains toll municipality, against unfair competition. It is estimated that this unfair competition of this company, with regard to the Tyne Docks as against the River Wear, means something like £50,000 or £60,000 per annum in the shape of a gift to the coal owners, and no port in the world which is governed toy a harbour commission bound to levy dues can withstand competition of that character. We ought to be able to understand what amount this company receives in dock dues as distinct from railway dues, and if it is proved that they are taking railway revenue in order to help these privileged coal owners, then we have a right to come to this House and demand it shall stop that practice at once and so put an end to such unfair methods of competition. This Bill is of a far-reaching character, and the company have supplied me with a tabulated statement of their charges, but I would like to point out that that statement stops at the very point at which it ought to begin. There is nothing in this statement with regard to the shipping of coal, and that is the point of my principal contention. I hope that hon. Members who speak on behalf of the company will be able to prove that railway revenue has not been taken in order to bolster up these docks. But even if they do prove that, it does not interfere with my contention that the Board of Trade should step in and see that the company keep their accounts in a manner which can be understood by anyone who desires to see them. Another point I have to raise is in connection with their attitude towards their clerks. Pressure is being brought to bear upon the clerks to leave their association. It is alleged in the statement issued by the company that there are only about three hundred clerks affected by this. But my information is that no fewer than 3,000 are affected by this pressure being brought to bear upon them. This House has always been in favour of fair play in regard to men joining associations which they think fit and proper. These men have joined the Clerks' Association, and, in view of the decision of this House, particularly in regard to the Post Office Department, where the right of men to combine in trades unions has been acknowledged, it surely cannot be allowed that this company should bring pressure to bear upon 3,000 2382 out of 6,000 of their clerks to leave their association. Some of them have already been forced from their positions because of their refusal, and I think it is the duty of this House to bring pressure to bear upon the company to stop this practice. Inasmuch as they are now seeking increased powers and asking the House to grant them increased facilities in regard to the docks, I do suggest that this matter should be particularly forced upon their attention. It is necessary this company should not have the option to make charges, but that they should be compelled to impose them, and thus be prevented from unfairly competing with ports which are governed by Harbour Commissions, who necessarily have to make these charges.
§ Mr. W. C. STEADMAN
I rise to second the Motion, and for this reason. Whether inside or outside the House of Commons, I am a trades unionist first and a politician afterwards, and when any company or individual asks this House for certain powers and seeks to get my support for their proposals I am not going to vote for them unless they are prepared to treat their employés in a proper manner. I do not wish to use hard words about the manager of this company. I have spoken to him, and I should say he is anything but a martinet. I may say at once I think that, in the interests of the company itself, the manager is adopting a very unwise policy, so far as the clerks employed by his company are concerned. I have given the best years of my life to the trades union movement. I was a secretary to my own trade society for 28 years. During the whole of that period I never dictated to the employer what men he should or should not employ. The policy I pursued was, if we disagreed with a man, it was better to leave it to the union to settle with him. That policy always worked very well. I was for 15 years a member of the London County Council. There we had an enormous staff of clerks, but I venture to assert that the London County Council, even with its present Moderate majority, would not dare to interfere with the right of combination of the chief clerk, with his £2,000 a year, down to the humblest road sweeper employed on the Thames Embankment. The reason I mention that is that the manager as an excuse says that a certain number of these clerks are confidential servants. We all realise that. It does not matter whether it is in the workshop, the factory, in the service of a railway 2383 company, or in the service of a municipality, we realise, as sensible men, that a certain number of men are confidential servants, but I say that the policy adopted by this particular company is one of persecution. I do not know any railway company, in England at least, adopting towards its employés the course which they adopt, and I guarantee that if the door was made open to-morrow the confidential servants would not join the union. Why do I say that? I am a mechanic myself, and I have seen men rise from the ranks of the journeymen and become foremen, and the moment a man rises to a position above his fellow men in that direction, what does he do? He does not become the friend of his fellow workmen; certainly not. The very fact of his being put in a position by his employer means that if there is going to be a fight he must be the servant of his employer, and not of his fellow men. Therefore the unions are better without that type of men, and I know a union today that, the moment one of their members is put in a position over his fellow men, they strike his name off the books. You might just as well say that because certain clerks are confidential clerks at Spring Gardens they should not be allowed to join a union, but there is no embargo placed upon them, and they do not join the union, and there the door is open. Here, however, every clerk accuses this company of persecution, which has been going on for years past, and I can prove this from the facts at my disposal. I say, moreover, that the representatives of the union and of these men, the railway clerks, have done every possible thing they could do to settle this in a satisfactory manner before bringing it to the floor of this House, and they failed. I wonder what employer would get up in this House, whatever his politics may be, and tell us that 50 per cent. of his workpeople are confidential men.
Personally, I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade himself is not in his place this evening. I do so for this reason. I hope I am not misrepresenting the right hon. Gentleman, but I am firmly convinced that he is himself as staunch a supporter of the right of combination as I am or any of my colleagues on these benches, and I shall look to-night with interest to see what line of action the Board of Trade are going to take in reference to this particular Bill. I notice that they have supported the second reading of every Railway Bill that 2384 has been brought before the House, and I hope that hon. Members who have a mind of their own, if the President of the Board of Trade or his representative on the Government Front Bench to-night is going again to take that line of action, will not be guided in giving their vote by any statement made, but will vote in accordance with their own consciences. If they do that we shall carry the Amendment in opposition to this Bill. If they do not do that, but I do not use this as a threat, I know this that politicians of both the great politicial parties of this country when on the hustings—and we do not want a thing done outside when you have the opportunity of doing it here—I know that they are always ready to bid up for the vote of the working men, and one of the first things they stand up for is the right of combination and to join trade unions. Personally, I am proud of being a trade unionist, and I make no bones about it, and I am proud of the work trade unions have done. I say this company have been persecuting these men, and if I am misstating the facts I have no doubt the company has someone to champion their cause on the floor of this House if my facts are wrong. What have they done?
In 1897 the company would not allow these men to join the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. "No," they said, "if you want a union have a union of your own; combine as service clerks." That union was formed, but in a few years, namely in 1907, when the men elected representatives upon the Superannuation Commitee of this company, they happened to elect four men who were members of this society, and from that time until the present moment the petty persecution by officials of the company has been going on against the men. I have a list here of men—I will not give their names, but the Board can be supplied with them if they require it. They are all men in the following towns: York, Hull, Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Leeds, and other places, where the company hold a kind of inquisitorial inquiry. I may be told in answer to these charges that they do not refuse the right of combination, but here at the commencement of the twentieth century, when the right of combination amongst the working classes of this country was voted and settled between 30 and 40 years ago, this company is intimidating and holding inquisitorial inquiries, to ascertain whether or not so and so is in the union, and when they find out who is in the union what are they in the habit of doing? They give them 2385 the option of resigning their membership, and if they refuse to do it they are sent to some outlying little village, and told at the same time that there is no hope of promotion as far as they are concerned. What does that mean?
I have heard discussions on economics and the unemployed movement, and have over and over again heard it stated from the Government Benches that if workmen are dissatisfied with their conditions they can leave. Anyone can say that. I am proud to say I was in the happy position,, when I was working at the bench, that if I did not like a job I soon turned it up and got another one. But I am a skilled workman. It is the policy of the capitalist to always have a large reserve of unemployed, because he knows he can always throw in the teeth of anyone who is dissatisfied that he can clear out. I have abused blacklegs as much as anyone, but, after all, as a working man and father of a family, what is it that makes blacklegs? It is the knowledge that the father has little children at home crying for bread, and you cannot wonder, however bad the conditions may be, and however small the wage, that they hang on to the job, because they know that if they turn it up it is starvation for those at home. I ask the House, therefore, if they are going, by their vote, to support the Bill of a company that is practically carrying out that policy. We have friends of our movement on both sides of the House. The Noble Lord who went to his last resting place yesterday, and I say God bless him! walked under the banner of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in 1872, when they were fighting for the nine hours' movement in the North. Are all these things to pass by lightly, and because a powerful and rich company appeals to the House to pass a certain Bill, are we going to pass it in the manner which they describe? I hope not. There has been no more daring attempt to crush out the rights of combination among the workmen than this company has done, and therefore I appeal with confidence to hon. Members, whatever their politics, to give us their vote and teach this company a lesson.
§ Mr. RENWICK
The House must be struck with the fact that neither of the two hon. Members who have spoken have attacked the principle of the Bill. I rise for the purpose of supporting the Motion for the second reading on the merits of the Bill. I am quite aware that there is a large question looming in the future, which will 2386 have to be settled one way or another, in regard to keeping separate accounts in regard to docks, shipping, and other undertakings, but this is not the occasion on which an important question of that description can be threshed out. I am also aware that there are grievances, some, no doubt, real, others probably more or less-imaginary, on the part of clerks in connection with railway companies, and the question whether or not they ought to join unions; but this is not a time when that question can be threshed out. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion referred to 3,000 clerks of this company who were affected in the way he called attention to. Then he acknowledged that it was alleged on the part of the railway company that there were only 300. That shows how impossible it is that we can deal with that important question to-night.
§ Mr. RENWICK
That just shows the difference of opinion that there is in regard to this matter. But the question we have to consider to-night is whether we are, or are not, going to consent to the second reading. The hon. Member (Mr. Steadman) appealed to the House to throw out the Bill in the interest of the clerks, but the House has to consider if it throws out this Bill, if it is not going to inflict a still greater injustice upon a very much larger number of people. This is an omnibus Bill to carry out various works in Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire. The first point they ask is for extended time in which to carry out an important railway already authorised in the new Doncaster coal district. If the Bill is thrown out, that railway will be abandoned, and large numbers of the working classes will be without the work which they are so anxious to get. The next important point is to ask for powers to increase the coal shipping accommodation on the Tyne. The trading community on the Tyne, especially those connected with the shipping and coal trade, have been clamouring for some time for the railway company to increase facilities for coal shipping on the Tyne. Here is an opportunity offered by the railway company to give increased facilities and they propose to spend £212,000 for the purpose and it is very significant that when the Bill was introduced there was certain opposition on the part of chambers of 2387 commerce and other trading authorities in. regard to the charge for dues, but the railway company fairly met the trading community, with the result that that opposition was withdrawn. That fact of itself is significant. It shows that the trading community on the Tyne require the extra facilities which this Bill would afford. Pretty much the same thing can be said in the case of Hull, where the railway company are going to spend £112,000 in providing new jetties and quays. I believe I am correct in saying that there also is a general desire that these great works should be carried out. I cannot imagine how the delay of these great works is in any way going to help the clerks, whatever their grievances may be. Does anyone believe that outside questions of this description are to be compared with important issues raised by the Bill? I sincerely trust that the House will give the Bill a second reading. May I appeal to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Steadman) from another point of view? He tells us he is a trade unionist. He tells us also that certain clerks remain in the employ of the railway company because they are afraid they may lose their situations if they disobey the orders of the company. He said that it is a matter of life and death and bread and butter to these men. I would reply that it is a matter of life and death to a far greater number of men in the northern counties of England in the coming winter that they should have the employment which they will receive in carrying out these great works if this Bill is passed. It is for that reason that I appeal particularly to the Members of the Labour party to withdraw their opposition to the Bill. I cannot believe that they will succeed in throwing out the measure, but if they did, men who are anxious and ready for work which will be given by the Bill will in the coming winter, instead of being employed in honourable, productive industry, have to make appeals to the Government to give them doles to enable them to tide over the winter. No doubt there is a desire that the grievance of the clerks should be inquired into, but I maintain that it is not on the second reading of this Bill that the House can do anything effective in dealing with such questions. For these reasons I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the second reading.
§ Mr. ATHERLEY-JONES
I am perfectly sure that everyone in this House will share the view expressed by the hon. Member for 2388 Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. Renwick) that it is necessarily with the greatest reluctance that this House interferes with the progress of works of public utility. It is only when the provocation, if I may use the word, is very serious that we feel on either side constrained to take that course. I have been a Member of this House for a great many years, and I have never thought it right on any previous occasion to take up the attitude I take now. With all respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. T. Summerbell), I do not think it is any business of this House to interfere with the natural flow of competition between railway companies and dock companies, and for my part I think the whole of this controversy must be decided upon the question of labour. I am bound to say that it seemed to me that the hon. Member who seconded the Motion for the rejection of this Bill placed the matter in the highest light possible when he said that, so far as the higher officers of the company are concerned, it would be highly improbable that those persons who are intimate with the general or secret policy of the company would become members of the union. It is not at all likely that persons in receipt of the large salaries paid by the railway company to the higher officers would find it conducive to their interests to become members of a trade union. But there are about 6,000 clerks in the employment of this company, and it is only an infinitesimal number of those clerks who would come within the category of confidential clerks, and we may quite well leave the interests of those gentlemen to the natural course of events in connection with the carrying on of a great concern like this: I do not know what action the Government intend to take. I believe the President of the Board of Trade, who is not here at present, is engaged on business of a public character where his services are required. I venture to suggest to my hon. Friend who represents the Board of Trade (Mr. H. J. Tennant) that he should not throw the weight of his opinion or that of the Government he represents to the coercing or restraining of the free and unfettered action of the House. The Board of Trade, through its present chief and its late chief, has rendered conspicuous service in the settling of labour disputes, and I think the chief officers of the North-Eastern Railway Company—managers and others—are competent and large-minded men. I think the representative of the Board of Trade might 2389 use his influence—and I believe it could be done successfully—to receive an assurance from those gentlemen that they will not insist upon this seeming, if not actual, interference with the clerks of the company and their freedom of action. One of the public Departments —namely, the Post Office—has given absolutely unfettered freedom of action to its employés, and I have been assured by the present Postmaster-General and his predecessor that this freedom of action has not in any way interfered with the discipline of that Department or the due discharge of the work. I speak as the Member for a Constituency served by the North-Eastern Railway system; I speak also as one who dislikes to use the machinery of this Bill as a sort of whip for interfering with the management of a railway company; but I think this action is an oppressive action, and under those circumstances I urge the Government to use all their influence to get some withdrawal from the railway company.
§ Mr. WALTER HUDSON
I enter into this discussion somewhat reluctantly, and I differ with my colleague the hon. Member for the city of Newcastle (Mr. Renwick) to this extent, that really this is the time and this is the place to have matters out so far as those misunderstandings are concerned. As an old North-Eastern man for over a quarter of a century, I cannot understand the attitude of the railway company in this particular matter. They are acting not only unfairly, but they are acting very unwisely. Why there should be further restrictions on combination I am at a loss to understand. I remember, about 16 years ago we had this matter threshed out before the then general manager, and it was left in this way, that the clerks should have the full right to combination up to the position of confidential clerk. They did set up the right to say that they should not join the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, but that point was waived. Until quite recently, in 1907, it was quite understood that there would be no interference with this class of employé. I have, to the best of my ability, attempted to get the railway company to at least go back to their original position, but the last words of the railway company, up to yesterday, was as follows—this is a letter to the Clerks' Association, and it defines the decision of the railway company with regard to the right of combination of clerks. It reads:—In reply to your letter of the 4th inst., the clerks I refer to are those in head offices or responsible positions, 2390 and generally those whose work is more or less of a confidential character as distinguished from a clerk whose work is largely routine.I submit, with all due deference, that if you leave that broad undefinable position to the various managers of departments, or to the chief station masters, you cannot expect anything else but trouble. The railway companies concerned are strict adherents to the principle of combination. There is not as strong a combination in the whole country as the railway association. The shareholders of all the railway companies have their organisation, and they are pushing it very hard, as many Members of this House know. Some of the chief officers of railway companies have their organisation; the legal profession have theirs, and at least two general managers belonged to that profession, the late one and the present; and I presume that because of their position they are not called upon to leave the Law Society. And when you consider the whole surrounding circumstances it seems totally unexplainable why this restriction should be placed upon any class of men. The telegraphists in the G.P.O. and all the post offices in the country, the most confidential men we have in the public service, have the full right of combination. No sensible man in a confidential position would divulge the secrets of his employer. If he did there would be the full opportunity of dealing with him, and he would deserve to be dealt with very severely. Viewing the whole circumstances of the case, I think it would be wise at least for the railway company to withdraw any restrictions on their past favourable character in this respect, because it must be admitted that they have had in the past the best character as employers. Why they should depart from it now rather needs explaining by the general manager and the directors. I have quite a number of cases, and of course I know the places quite well too, where men have been interfered with, and the questions of the various managers and station-masters in making these inquiries of the men as to whether they are members of the union, and the noting of all these particulars is a deliberate interference with the subject which nobody can defend. Sir George Gibb, the late general manager, made a statement some time ago to a commissioner from the United States who was inquiring into the railway and industrial question in this country. He said that he believed that the right of the employés to combine to form themselves into a union must be admitted and accepted. Why this change of policy now?
2391 We ask that this Bill should be rejected on account of the arbitrary interference of the company, and that only. So far as the general powers of the Bill are concerned, we have no objection when necessary safeguards to those who represent various districts are considered and introduced. I have, however, another point to raise here on behalf of the Labour representatives of Hull. I understand that they at least have been working at this for some time. There are two or three important points on which they have not been able to get any definite understanding, and whoever speaks on behalf of the company should, I think, let us know how matters stand at the present time. It is quite true that the Parliamentary Committee of the Hull Corporation have been asked to state what is the position so far as they understand it, but at present there is no definite safeguard or assurance in regard to the two or three points I desire to lay before the House. The first has reference to that portion of the Bill which deals with the purchase of a large tract of land, including a frontage a mile long on the main road, without stating the purpose for which it is to be acquired. The Labour members of the Hull Corporation and the Trades and Labour Council, with their supporters, are of opinion that if this tract of land is to be taken over by the railway company at least adequate safeguards should be given that the road should be made from Hessle Road in the city boundary to the Humber bank—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is a very proper point to raise in Committee, but it is not suitable for discussion on the second reading that a particular road should be made in a particular spot. The House really cannot consider that on the second reading.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I obey your ruling, Sir. I may say generally that matters have gone so far on this question that the trades and Labour Council consider that the interests involved have not yet been clearly defined, and that there should be an assurance given that they will be considered. On the question of the clerks and the right of combination, unless we receive an assurance that the full right of combination will be given to these men this House, on principle at least, should reject the Bill.
§ Mr. STANLEY BALDWIN
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Finsbury, who I know, from personal ex- 2392 perience, has the truest interests of trade unionism at heart, and I believe he is a Member who would make no allegations in a debate of this nature unless he was satisfied himself that he could sustain them. I desire to lay before the House the position of the railway company, regretting very much that there is no direct representative of the management of the company in this House, because, unavoidably to a certain extent, the proceedings-here to-night have been somewhat in the nature of arraigning the party thought to be guilty, and bringing charges against that party who is not in a position to cross-examine the witnesses or to defend himself. I will confine my remarks to the question of the Railway Clerks' Association, and the relation of that association to the railway company at the present moment. There is one difficulty in the way of the claim that the Railway Clerks' Association makes in the circular which has been sent, I believe, to every Member of this House. The Association makes a claim that any clerk, no matter what his duties may be, should be free to join the association. There I think we come at once to the point where there must be a somewhat sharp division of opinion amongst us, quite independently of party politics. The man who is a whole-hearted trade unionist, like the Member for Fins-bury and other hon. Members who have spoken this evening, will, of course, agree with that claim. Though a claim of that nature may be a claim that can be justified in a Department like the Post Office, or in a municipal body, I do not think that any company of business men in this country, so long as our industry exists on its present competitive and capitalist basis, could agree with that. The point of view that the business man or the company takes, though they may be as friendly to trade unions as men can be, is this: The individual or the company will give to every man in his or their employ the fullest liberty to join whatsoever union that man thinks right, with the one exception that has been alluded to by the hon. Member for Finsbury, that is the man who is performing confidential work. On this term "of confidential work" the crux of our trouble arises. The House will bear with me for two or three minutes while I examine what comes under that head. I should like to remind the House that if my information is correct, the Amalgamated Society—and I hope the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Richard Bell) will correct me if I am wrong, for my first-hand knowledge 2393 of that society is very small—do not claim that every person connected with the working of a railroad shall become a member of that organisation. They rather claim that their society is for what we may call "the worker." It is not always easy to define the "workers" as distinct from anyone in a position of authority under a railway company. If I am correctly informed it is with the full consent of the Amalgamated Society, together with the railway companies, that men in such a position as that of a stationmaster are freely allowed to withdraw from the Union on attaining to that post. Following that analogy, I think anyone familiar with railway work would say that amongst clerks occupying positions where the management would think that it was undesirable that they should be connected with the Union, such positions as these—confidential clerks in such an office as the general manager's, or the solicitor's, or the secretary's office; staff clerks who have to deal with wage questions, and have to prepare the rates of wages and information generally used before the committees of arbitration that have recently been formed under the Act passed 18 months ago; and clerks, wherever you get them, and there are not so many of these who are in what you may call positions of command.
It is impossible on the floor of this House to say exactly what men come within these categories or to draw a clear line of demarcation. I think that, at any rate amongst moderate-minded men in this House, there would be general agreement that some such line of demarcation of that kind would be fair, both to the railway company and to the union. If we grant that, I cannot think that a settlement of any outstanding troubles need offer great difficulty. The management of the North-Eastern have assured me that the figure of 3,000 which is mentioned as the number of clerks who fall, as hon. Members below the Gangway would say, under their ban, is very greatly and enormously exaggerated. The management of the North-Eastern Railway acknowledge freely, on the matter being brought before them, that there probably has been some latitude taken by officials in interpreting the instruction of the general manager, and the North-Eastern will take into consideration all the cases brought before them and have them examined, and they are confident, if they are allowed by this House to go carefully into the question of 2394 this line of demarcation they will be able presently to decide clearly who in their opinion should remain outside the ranks of the union. They believe, and I see no reason why they should be wrong in their belief, that they can come to a satisfactory arrangement with the union itself. I would remind the House that while it is impossible for me, or probably for any Member in this House, to controvert on the spur of the moment all the statements and allegations that have been made against the company in the course of the evening's debate, I would remind them of one fact of general knowledge, that such much-maligned North-Eastern Railway Company was the one company in England that acknowledged the Amalgamated Society. It seems to me they are getting a poor reward for that to-night. I think I may leave the matter to the sense of fairness of Members on both sides of the House. Is it not likely that a railway company, with a tradition of that kind behind it, will be on its mettle in circumstances of this kind to do what at can to bring to a peaceful issue this somewhat disturbed state of feeling with these clerks, about which so much has been said in the House, and which I firmly believe has been to some extent exaggerated?
§ Mr. GEORGE HARWOOD
I think the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Baldwin) must have convinced all Members that there is a very important principle involved in this matter, and one which comes very well within the cognisance of the House. The speech of the Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. Renwick), plausible as it was, is, I think, shown to be not quite an accurate statement of the case. He said that the House ought to confine itself to considering the merits of the Bill. The House never can consider the merits of Bills of this kind. It is not within the power of the House to know the details, or to enter into the consideration of them. When these Bills come up for second reading, all that the House can do is to see whether there is any general principle involved which may justify the House in taking a very strong step in the matter. The appeal ad misericordiam of the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Renwick), when he said that the House, if they refuse the second reading, would delay the expenditure of money and a large amount of work, is also, I venture to say, beside the question. If there is a principle involved, we ought to take the risk 2395 of that. I suppose these different public works, or these different extensions are going to pay, or otherwise, I suppose, the railway company would not be asking for them. I feel quite sure, as a business man, that if they have the knowledge that they are going to pay, they will go on whatever the House does in this matter. The House must not be led away by any kind of false tenderness, either that they ought to consider the details or that they would be delaying work and causing unemployment.
We have a right to ask ourselves whether there is in this matter any principle which the House ought to take into cognisance. That is the point before us, and I think the speech, I suppose, of the defender of the company (Mr. Baldwin), clearly proves that there is a most important principle involved, in which all Members are concerned. I have no interest in these railway matters, but I have a common interest in the proper administration of the public institution. It may be said that this is a matter between the railway company and its own employés, and that we have no right to intervene in a matter of the kind. That is not so. A railway company is a privileged company upon which this House and the nation has conferred peculiar rights and monopolies. In return this House has a right to expect that the business of the monopoly shall be conducted upon the principles which this House requires in all its institutions. We have the case of the Post Office, which is a very good object lesson as to what the House should do in this matter. I have been in the House a good many years, and what is the conclusion to which we have come? The conclusion is that all servants of any public company whatever should have perfect freedom to combine in any way they like—all servants. The hon. Member said that no capitalists would agree to that. I venture to say that that is not correct, and that in all the most skilled trades the capitalist acknowledged that as a fundamental principle. This railway company comes and pleads its past records. I do not dispute that, but we are dealing with the future, and not with the past. It may be possible that 15 years ago this railway company was in advance, and it may equally be possible that now this company is behind and wants pulling up, therefore we cannot appeal to the past to make a mistake for the future. We 2396 have recited this principle in all businesses. Properly understood this principle would be allowed, and I venture to tell the hon. Member that if railway companies were not privileged monopolies, they would have allowed this principle long ago. I take the case as a Member who receives these documents, and of what is stated by the company itself, and on its own statement of the case the company is guilty in so far that it is behind what this House has a right to require. "They feel strongly," they state on their opening paragraph. "That in this connection the distinction must be maintained between clerks occupying routine duties and clerks in positions of confidence and responsibility." I will not compliment the company upon its use of language seeming to imply that these routine duties are not positions of confidence and responsibility. The principle is, is the company to be allowed to classify in this way, and to say that servants of a certain rank may be allowed to combine, and above that, not allowed to do so? Will anyone who heard the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Baldwin), when he said that clerks in confidential positions should not be allowed, approve? We all can understand that in a few positions, half-a-dozen in the employment of the company, that might be true. Let it be left to the people themselves. Those who are appointed to such positions are not the kind of people who would join trade unions. I have had sent to me a list of persons who are alleged to have suffered, or to have been punished by the company for belonging to a trade union; but they are not persons in what we should call confidential positions. Knowing something of railway administration, I say that the number of clerks who would wisely abstain from joining a trade union is very small indeed; and if the action of the North Eastern Railway Company was confined to those, no objection whatever would be raised. I would leave the matter to the common-sense and fairness of practical men. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Baldwin) said that if the House passed this Bill, the company would fairly consider these cases and no doubt do justice. But that is not quite enough. We have to say that the House will not pass this Bill unless the company gives an assurance that it will recognise the universal principle of all proper businesses, and allow all its employés to join any combination they think fit.
§ Mr. RICHARD BELL
Whatever may be the opinions of some people in regard to some of my views, no one will question my attitude towards trade unionism. I have spent upwards of 30 years in building up trade unions, and I hope, by their aid, I have done something to improve the lot of railway men in this country. If there is anything that would stir my blood, or make me take up a fighting attitude, it is the undue, or unfair, interference with the liberty of employés to join a trade union. In regard to the complaints put forward by the Railway Clerks' Association, I felt that it was my duty, as one Member of this House, to do what I could to get that embargo, if it existed, removed. There are very few Members, if any, who represent as many railway clerks as I do, inasmuch as the headquarters of the Midland Railway Company, where between 2,500 and 3,000 clerks are employed, are situated in my Constituency. I have received complaints from the local branch of the Railway Clerks' Association, and if the charges made against the North - Eastern Railway Company were correct, I should think that this House was the very place to bring pressure upon that or any company which interfered to that extent with the liberty of its employés; and that caused me to (make some inquiries into the matter. It has been a little easier for me, perhaps, to approach the heads of this railway than it would have been to approach the heads of many others, since for the last 12 or 14 years negotiations on all matters affecting the interests of the staff have been carried on direct between the heads of the North-Eastern Railway Company and the head office of my own organisation. Consequently, I have frequently met the general manager and other heads of departments of that railway, and nothing surprised me more than the allegations made against the general manager. I felt that there was something wrong somewhere. Having occasion to see the general manager yesterday on another matter, I took the opportunity of raising this question, and he went into the whole subject as far as he knew it. I impressed upon him the necessity of something being done in the matter in order to clear it up, as no trade unionist could support a Bill promoted by any employer who took such action as was alleged against this company. The general manager told me practically what the hon. Member for Wor- 2398 cester (Mr. Baldwin) has just put before the House. I was not quite satisfied, and said that I ought to have something more definite in writing in order that the whole facts might be placed before the House, so that it might form its own judgment. Since I came to the House this afternoon I have received from the general manager a statement of the position so far as he is concerned, putting rather a different complexion upon the statement we have heard from the other side. Of course, I do not dispute the veracity of the Clerks' Association in putting their case forward; I am sure they have done so in good faith. The general manager has sent me a copy of the whole correspondence between himself and the secretary of the Railway Clerks' Association from September, 1907, to July 13th of this year. There is also included a list of names of men who, it is said, have been compelled to resign their membership of the Railway Clerks' Association or have been intimidated to such an extent that they were prevented from joining. The gist of the general manager's communication is that he never intended that any such number as 3,000 of the North - Eastern Railway Company's clerks should be debarred from joining the Railway Clerks' Association, and that so far as this list of names was concerned, he would make inquiries into the cases referred to. I had better read an extract from his letter. "I have already," he says, "decided to make full inquiries, and to take any necessary steps to ensure that the lines laid down in the instruction are not exceeded." The instruction he referred to is that given to the heads of departments. "And" (he continues) "that there is no persecution of clerks for joining the association." You may rest assured that this will be done. I know the general manager of the North-Eastern Railway Company, and have confidence in him to know that if he says he will do a thing he will do it. I have had dealings with him for years now, and have every confidence in him. But I think it right to-hold the general manager to what he has stated here. I do not think there will be very much difficulty in showing that he refers to the points raised by the Railway Clerks' Association; that the whole of the names, irrespective of what the position of the men may be, shall be allowed to join the Railway Clerks' Association. The second point is a matter of detail. The general manager says:—I am quite prepared to re-consider the contention contained in my letter of the 8th October, 1907, with a view to seeing whether a more precise definition can be 2399 adopted. It is certainly not my intention that 3,000 of my clerks, or anything like it, should be debarred from joining the association.He also states in another paragraph that his instruction had been exceeded by some of the departments, and that is what he is going to inquire into. About five minutes to eight to-night I received Another communication. I am as strong as anyone else on the points in favour of the men, and the North-Eastern Railway Company will find me up against them if they do not do the right thing; but I think that the House ought to have the whole of the facts. The management have made or are making inquiries into the charges of these men, who, it is alleged, have been interfered with. I have not been able to examine this later communication since I received it, but in it Mr. Butterworth encloses a copy of a telegram that he received from Mr. Watson, the superintendent of the line, who was making inquiries into the charges. In the case of one of the men who was alleged to have been compelled to relinquish his secretaryship or membership of the union on the occason of his being promoted, or to relinquish the promotion, until I have been able to check the matter myself, I am not going to say' that this contradicts what the hon. Gentleman said. The telegram states that this is a man's first knowledge of the matter, and of the fact that his name is being used, and he objects to it. The telegram further states that the Divisional Goods Agent at Newcastle also denies ever threatening the man, whom, it was alleged, was threatened that he should be either dismissed or reduced if he continued his trade union membership. I am going, I say, to inquire fully as to whether or not this is quite correct, but I think anybody who puts in writing a statement of this kind which is not correct is not going to retain the confidence of myself or anyone else. However, the fact remains that on the railway of which the hon. Member for Worcester is a director, and on the railway whose Bill we are considering here to-night, there is a kind of regulation that when a man is promoted they have to relinquish their connection with our organisation. Of course, we do not take in clerks to our organisation. We deal with the traffic men, with those engaged in the regulation of the traffic, and the locomotive department men, and when these axe promoted to inspectorships or to supervising positions they have to relinquish their membership. This has been the prac- 2400 tice for a number of years, and I believe other companies are doing it also. I have never heard any of our men complain about it, and I do not know that anyone complains very much about it except the individual who has paid his subscriptions and expects benefits from his trade union which ha has to forego when he gets promotion. The same thing applies perhaps to a certain degree with regard to the confidential clerk. I do know this, that very often I do get complaints, and did long before this order came into operation that men were allowed to retain their membership of our society after they had obtained promotion. But the question for the moment is whether there would be such a difference after all in the case of these confidential clerks, and what proportion of the 6,000 men would really join the union even if they were allowed to do so. For the moment I think the general manager has opened the way in order that negotiations may be carried on with the secretary of the Clerks' Association.
§ Mr. BELL
I am stating here what I have endeavoured to do as representing a constituency of clerks, and what I have had told to me and written to me I will rightly use here. An opportunity has opened here, and I have taken it; and if I were the secretary of the Clerks' Association I should certainly take advantage of it, and be here early in order to try to negotiate on these lines. I demur considerably to the Junior Member for Newcastle (Mr. Renwick) when he said that this is not the place to discuss matters of this kind. I maintain it is. We ought to take advantage of the opportunity, and, having placed these facts before the House, the question now is as to whether or not the Railway Clerks' Association will seek to have the embargo removed.
§ The SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. H. J. Tennant)
We all recognise the enormous work that the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Steadman) has done on behalf of trade unionism. It has been said that this Bill contains no material dealing with this question of joining or retaining membership of the Clerks' Association. That is so; but I quite realise that the railway clerks' question is the important question which has been raised in this Debate this evening. I am glad the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bell) stated that clerks when they arrived at the 2401 positions of superiority or when they had come to be overseers and so on, naturally left the union, and that if they did not go out of their own accord the union officials generally requested them to resign—that is to say, when men who get promoted do not wish any longer to belong to the union, nor do the union wish to retain them when they have reached these positions of re-sponsibility in the companies. The words of the letter of the general manager of the company have already been read to the House. Perhaps I may be permitted to summarise them once more. The general manager said that he thought that men in prominent positions of responsibility ought not to be allowed to remain members of the Railway Clerks' Association, and clerks in head offices in responsible positions, such as those who occupy positions of a more or less confidential character as distinguished from clerks whose work is largely routine. I do not say that is language of a very definite character in the use of the words, and I think the definition is too wide, and ought to be restricted. I also think it has been interpreted in a manner which was never intended by the general manager. I think too zealous officials have enforced it strictly.
I do not think that the railway companies are infallible, and I think that in the past many blunders have occurred. I was glad the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Walter Hudson) stated that in this question of unions and trades unions the North-Eastern Railway Company had a good record—in fact, the best record of any of the railway companies in this country. I do not think that is denied and indeed it is corroborated by the statement of the hon. Member for Derby. It is common ground. I too have had occasion to have had an interview with the manager of the North-Eastern Company, and with this result. First of all, as regards the past, while the general manager would not admit that there had been anything in the nature of persecution, he promised to go carefully into all cases that might be brought to his notice, and if he found that any wrong had been done he promises to put it right. The hon. Member for Derby has told us that when the manager of the North-Eastern promises he always performs. So that when he says he will see that if wrong has been done it will be put right the House may rest assured he will do so. He further stated that the company will see that in future no obstacle is placed in the way of the 2402 men joining the association—that is, those men who are properly eligible. I think that is a very important point conceded by the general manager. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury and the hon. Member for Sunderland on having brought so much pressure to bear upon those railway companies that they have practically achieved all they desire. [Cries of "No, no."] I venture humbly and respectfully to say they have achieved a very large measure of what they desire. We have been assured by the general manager of the North-Eastern that no obstacle will be placed in the way of men joining the union if they are properly eligible to join. [An HON. MEMBER: "What does that mean?"] It means precisely the class of case which the hon. Member for Derby quoted—that is, men are eligible who are not in positions of responsibility, such as confidential clerks in the offices. I think that is, roughly speaking, a true definition of the class of clerks and others who ought not to be members of the union, or whom the union itself would not welcome. I do not really think that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Richards) and I would have any difficulty, if we sat down, to define clerks who ought to be members of the union and those who ought not.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Yes, but he would not welcome part of the management or overseers. There are employés who, although not actually managers, are so nearly managers as to be part of the executive. He would not like them to be members of his union. He would not expect them to join.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Well, I am surprised the hon. Member for Derby said that as soon as members of his union become overseers and that like they ceased to be members. I have stated frankly and freely what my position is in regard to this matter. I think the company have blundered in the past, but I think we have got from them very considerable concessions. [Cries of "No, no."] I think we have got concessions from them as to their conduct in the future. Are we to decline to give a railway to a particular district because of certain blunders in the past? I am bound to say that would be rather hard on the district and I think that the passing 2403 of this Bill would be an advantage to the district. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, I decline, because of blunders that have been made in the past, to penalise the company and the district in this manner.
§ Mr. GEORGE WARDLE
Before this Debate commenced, hearing that certain negotiations were going to take place between the railway company and the Board of Trade and certain Members of the House, I was hoping that we might be in a position to have allowed this Bill to go through its second reading without a Division, but I am bound to say the more the Debate has gone on the more unsatisfactory the position has become. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby—and I think he will recognise we differ from him in opinion in regard to this matter with very much pain—said that the Society of Railway Servants do not take in clerks as members of the Amalgamated Society now. I myself was a railway clerk when I joined the Amalgamated Society, and no objection was raised to my being a member of that society by the Midland Railway Company, which employed me at the time. Why has this discussion been brought about to-day? The North-Eastern Railway Company have a good record, but that does not alter the facts as we have had them put before us to-day. We should never have opposed this Bill but for the action which the company themselves took in the first instance. I may point out that all the facts have not yet been stated. What is the real position? The company have promised to-night to go into particular cases which have been referred to as being persecuted or victimised. The names of those men were supplied to the company some months ago, and they had an opportunity before coming to this House of putting the whole matter right. Therefore, so far as negotiations with this union are concerned, they have had every opportunity. Last October or November, in an interview with the general manager of the North-Eastern Railway Company, he was asked to meet the secretary of the Railway Clerks' Association, and he agreed to do so. It is because of the deadlock which has arisen in regard to these negotiations that we have been compelled to come to this House and ask hon. Members to register a decision upon the action of the company. Why 2404 have they not put this matter right before? Why do they come here at the eleventh' hour, writing letters to certain hon. Members of this House and negotiating with the Board of Trade, when they have had every opportunity of putting the matter right before? With regard to the question of these confidential clerks, there are very few of them, and it is simply nonsense to put any embargo upon them. Every railway clerk ought to have the opportunity to join the union if he likes. The certainty is that in the very few cases where there are confidential clerks of the nature spoken of they of their own free will will not join the union, and therefore the embargo will be natural and not artificial. Certain grades of railway clerks have been spoken of, and one in particular has been mentioned recently. In my opinion it is a reflection upon the honour of these railway clerks to suggest that they cannot occupy positions of confidence with the company without giving away secrets. If they did give away secrets there is not a single member of the Railway Clerks' Association or the Labour party who would say that the company were to blame if they dismissed a clerk guilty of such a breach of faith. Members of the railway staff who have to compile statements, wages, and statistics for arbitration and conciliation purposes, and various things of that kind, have been referred to in the Debate. Will it be believed that members of the Railway Clerks' Association have been compiling those statistics all along, and have never once betrayed the confidence reposed in them or given away anything to the men detrimental to the company? What excuse can be possibly offered by the North-Eastern Railway Company for the subterfuge and the sophistry that to them, and them alone, shall be given the right to decide who shall and who shall not be members of the union? In face of the very unsatisfactory assurances we have had both from the Board of Trade and from the representatives of the North-Eastern Railway Company, on behalf of the Labour party, we feel called upon to divide against the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. H. J. WILSON (Yorks W.R., Holm-firth)
The hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Trade on this occasion seems to have great confidence in the promises that have been made by the company.
§ Mr. H. J. WILSON
I have received from the company a copy of the correspondence referred to, and I am bound to say that I think it is extremely unsatisfactory. The secretary of the Railway Clerks' Association expressed, in his last letter, his views, and that letter is a complete answer to the whole thing. He expressed a desire to see the general manager of this company, and stated that he should be in Yorkshire and was desirous of an interview The letter from the manager of the company refused that interview. That is a year and a half ago. If that was the attitude of this company only a year and a half ago, why are they making all these concessions at this moment? Whatever may be the result of the Division I do not know, but it is perfectly clear that something has caused the general manager of this company to take up a totally different attitude to that which he has hitherto adopted.
§ Mr. J. R. SEDDON
I had something to do with the organisation of clerks in general commerce, and I rise to protest against any particular company having the right to bring into operation this vicious principle of deciding who should belong to a trade union and who should not. As I listened to this Debate I was forcibly reminded of a well-known couplet:—The Devil was sick, the Devil a monk would be;The Devil was well, the Devil a monk was he.I was surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Bell) made himself the responsible channel for this message from this sick denizen of the lower regions so far as the railway world is concerned. What is the complaint we are making against the railway company? They say that they assume to themselves the right of deciding who shall be their confidential and responsible servants. I make bold to say that a carter put in charge of a valuable animal worth £50 is a responsible servant. By the very phrasing of their own letter they would issue their objection even to carters belonging to a trade union. In all commercial transactions and in all walks of life in which men sell their ability, confidential work has got a price. Evidently the company want to get their confidential servants at a minimum cost. If they want confidential servants, and are prepared to pay for them, they will get them without penalising 3,000 clerks for joining their trade union. I want to make my protest because of the possible general application of this principle. Where is it going 2406 to stop? I know very well that in regard to those I spend my time in organising the same argument is used in the retail trade of the country. They say they will not allow those in the counting-house or those dealing with their correspondence to join the Shop Assistants' Union, because, forsooth, they may in the immediate future have some trouble with the union. I am prepared to make this bargain. If they are willing to make it a condition that their solicitors shall leave the Amalgamated Union of Lawyers—they do not call it that, but it is that in essence and fact-because he may get into conversation with other lawyers who may be opposed to them in some case—we are prepared to consider the matter. The Bar is an honourable profession, I admit, but so are other occupations in which men earn their living honourably and honestly, and surely, if the embargo is going to be placed on any, it should be placed on all. I protest on the ground of individual liberty. The House, in the early part of the first Session in 1906, spent a good deal of its time in giving to the workers of this country the right of combination. Are we going on a side issue to allow a wealthy corporation to penalise some of their servants, and put in the hands of some of their subordinates one of the cruellest weapons possible—that of making the bread and butter of individuals dependent upon kowtowing to them or their under bosses. I am convinced every Member, who believes in freedom of contract and liberty of the subject, will stand by the Clerks' Union, and disregard the statement of the junior Member for Newcastle (Mr. Renwick), that these works, which are going to relieve the unemployment problem, will sink into abeyance if the company does not get this Bill. The company are not out for the good of their health; they want to extend their line, and to increase their dividends in the interests of themselves and their shareholders. It is dangerous to give to any company the right to say whether their employees shall combine to defend themselves or not. It would be quite open, if this were conceded, for other employers to act upon the same principle, and thus prevent a large body of workers exercising their undoubted rights as British citizens of combining to protect themselves against the tyranny of their employers.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
This Bill contains proposals for the construction of a line 2407 connecting the trunk system of the North-Eastern Railway with the coalfields in the Doncaster district now being developed, and from which coal will very soon be obtained. When we are told that the railway is intended to be such a boon to the public, we may take it for granted that it is also intended to be a boon to those who are exploiting that part of the country. We are entitled to consider whether those who are promoting this Bill are taking due care of the men who will be employed in constructing the works. About half a million sterling is to be expended on these works, and we may be sure that in certain localities where engineering works have to be performed men will be crowded as rapidly and as thickly as possible. Last Session, in a Debate raised by the hon. Member for Burnley, representatives of the Government gave a guarantee that in connection with great public works in the future clauses would be attached to the Bill ensuring that decent and proper provision should be made for the men to be employed on them. But there is not a 3ingle syllable in this Bill which provides this in the case of works on which thousands of men will be employed. I rise to protest against that omission, and I say that, even if the clerks had no grievance, the navvies are justified in asking for the delay of the Bill, seeing that it absolutely ignores the claims of the men who will be employed on this important undertaking. Take the district where the works and the jetties are going to be made on the Humber. There are two great docks being constructed now, one at Immingham, opposite to Hull, and the other on the other side of the river. As a matter of fact the great dock which is being constructed at Immingham is close to the site of some of the work to be done under this Bill, but not a single house has been provided by the contractors or by the dock company. Some private house jobber has dabbed down a few tin hutches on some piece of ground, without any kind of drainage preparation or sanitation. Some two or three thousand men and their families are being housed in these miserable hutches, which are a disgrace to this country, and unless someone speaks in this House, this sort of thing is going on for ever.
In 1846 a Committee was appointed to inquire into the admitted grievance of the men in these cases, and that Committee made very drastic recommendations, which, if they had ever been adopted by the 2408 Board of Trade, which has control of these works, would have mitigated and removed the whole of the grievance; but from 1846 up to now not a single thing has ever been done by the Department which has the control of these things. Although last Session I was given to understand that there would be a conference between the right hon. Gentleman's Department and the Local Government Board, and that a sort of model clause would be insisted upon in regard to these great works of public utility, where men have to be aggregated together rapidly for works of this description, nothing has been done; and when one comes to consider that we have the evil already in the locality of Immingham Dock, if this Bill is passed through this House without some provision for decent accommodation for the men on these works, we are only going to add to the grievance which already exists. For that reason I think it is our duty on this side of the House and of Labour Members generally, until the Government do something to press this question—until the Government do something, these great corporations have no intention whatever of making decent provision for the men, although it is to their interest to get these men in the locality to build the line. Surely the company that is engineering this business ought to consider the men's interest who are going to do the work to make their capital profitable, and I should have liked some hint from the representative of the Board of Trade on the subject.
Half a million of money is to be spent on public works, and thousands of men are to be collected in a locality, and there is not a word in the measure as to how they are to be treated, and whether they are to have decent house accommodation or not. My protest is the more relevant, because I believe the Board of Trade last Session in regard to a Bill dealing with water works in the county of Glamorgan, insisted upon some kind of model clause with regard to the housing of the men on the works. If the records of the Committees are hunted up, it will be seen that the Board of Trade insisted upon a clause being inserted in the Bill making it obligatory upon the contractors or company to provide decent accommodation. Why has it been forgotten in this measure? I should at least like some explanation, and unless I get some decent guarantee that some provision is being made for the men I represent in this House, as well as my 2409 own Constituency, I am going to vote not only against this Bill, but against any other Bill which is presented to this House.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
My general position towards railway companies is well known to the House, and has never been concealed. I hold no brief for the North-Eastern Railway, but one or two statements have been made which leave an impression which ought to be removed, so far as it can, by such information as has reached me in the last few minutes. The hon. Member (Mr. H. J. Wilson) said, on the face of the correspondence, there appeared a blank refusal on the part of the general manager to meet the secretary of the Clerks' Association. A request was made for an interview, to which the general manager replies by saying:—I do not think there is any object in your coming to see me here, at any rate, for the present.The hon. Gentleman did not read these words to the House. He ought to have told the House that the request was made in connection with a desire to explain the objects of the association, and to that the general manager replies by saying he does not think there is any occasion at present for an interview, because the objects of the association had already been made clear to him by his having received a copy of the association's official organ and another publication which he had taken the opportunity of perusing. Information has reached me that within six months of that period an interview took place with the secretary of the association, which was before any threat had been made to stop the present Bill, and therefore it was a voluntary act, and was practically satisfaction for the request for an interview.
Another statement has been made that that list of alleged cases of intimidation which one would say reached Members of the House very late in the day, was sent to the general manager of the railway company a very long time ago. If the information which has reached me on that point is correct, the general manager himself only received it three days ago. I think it is fair that the House should know that these two statements which have been made are capable of being controverted on the best possible information.
§ Mr. F. MADDISON
The impression left on my mind from the Debate is this. There can be no doubt that, with all the good reputation of the North-Eastern, they have deviated from their usual fairness, and that these clerks have a real and 2410 a serious grievance. I have always voted against the Second Reading of a private Bill with a good deal of hesitation, because Committee is the proper place to thresh details out, but this is more than a detail. If ever there could be a great question of public policy it is the freedom of combination of workers. First of all it is the protection and preservation of individual liberty, but it is something more than that. It is the most sound and orderly method of securing law and order. There is everything in combination which goes to make up a strong state, and therefore the House of Commons could not discuss a more serious question than this. I want to be perfectly fair. We might as well divest our minds of cant in this as well as in other matters. It is a fact that some of the staunchest unionists I know—and I think my hon. Friends will agree with me in this—think that people in authority are relieved from the necessity of belonging to a union, even where the organisation is very strong. The professions of the company have not been materialised, but they profess to give full right of combination to their clerks, with the exception of confidential clerks, and certain other clerks who are named. It seems to me they ought to be very near a settlement. Unfortunately, on the Motion for second reading, we cannot go into elaborate details. These are matters for the Committee stage. Therefore, if it is in order, I should like to move the adjournment of the Debate. I do so with one object, and that is to give the general manager and the directors of the North-Eastern Railway Company, for whom I have a good deal of respect, an opportunity of stating their intentions. I share the view of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bell) in regard to the manager of the North-Eastern Railway. For my part, I am prepared to take his word for anything he says. We want to know what he has said, and in what way he said it. We have not had that stated to-night. I move the adjournment of the Debate for the purpose of giving the President of the Board of Trade an opportunity of consulting with the manager and other parties interested, so that on the next occasion, instead of having very wide definitions, it may be clearly stated what the company really mean. Hon. Members who take an interest in the question of unemployment must not treat delays in such matters as light or unimportant. They are very-serious.
§ Sir GEORGE DOUGHTY
I think the suggestion made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Maddison) is a very wise one. On both sides of the House there is a desire that this measure, which embodies very important proposals, should not be rejected on the Motion for second reading. I believe that when the President of the Board of Trade has an opportunity of conferring with the general manager of the railway on this question, such an arrangement can be made as will satisfy hon. Members below the Gangway and lead to a settlement of the matter, so that the Bill may go through this Session.
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next (19th July.)