§ Mr. J. W. TAYLOR
moved, "That, in the opinion of this House, the right to send representatives to Parliament and to municipal administrative bodies, and to make financial provision for their election and maintenance, enjoyed by Trades Unions for over forty years, and taken from them by the decision in the case of Osborne v. Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, should be restored."
Since I Tabled the Resolution which is down in my name there have been two Amendments put down, and in order that both sides of this question may be fairly considered I will endeavour to abridge my remarks as much as possible, so that they may be consistent with the issue which we have at stake. After the passing of the Trades Disputes Bill, and when that Bill became an Act of Parliament, many of us who sat on these benches, as well as large numbers of our supporters in the country, 1322 entertained hopes and impressions that the harassing tactics to which trades unions had been long subjected would cease. These hopes have been dispelled, and while we desire to pursue our useful and well defined, beneficent and peaceful policy we find ourselves again in the turmoil of an interpretation of the law. We had expected we would get along in our own way without having recourse or reference to interpretations of the law. To some the recent decision of the law courts gives satisfaction. By almost all the trades unions of the country it is looked upon as an incident, just another incident, that proves distinctly the disabilities of being poor. The rights of working men to direct representation upon our parochial, municipal or county boards, or even to have their representatives in the Imperial Parliament will not be disputed. The wisdom of having working men councillors and Members of Parliament, I think, will not be challenged. The evidence of their necessity and their practical worth are strikingly manifest. First, I think, by the deference that is invariably paid to working class opinion, and, secondly, by the frequency with which the advice of working men and their support is sought. These two evidences point to the conclusion that it is both wise and just that the workers should have their fair moiety of representation. If further evidence be required to prove the need of such rights, surely the interests of the workers as touched by the character of our legislation is sufficient, to say little or nothing of the effects that are produced by the local administration of our laws upon the life of the people.
In what I have to say I assume that it is both just and wise that direct labour representation, both on local and imperial bodies, is admitted. If I am right in that assumption, then the question of ways and means is an important factor in the carrying out of so desirable an object. Now ways and means in this instance is time and money, or perhaps, to put it in a plainer form, opportunity. It will be understood by the whole of the Members of this House that working men in most instances are unable to find the time, or yet provide the cost that is entailed in sitting upon some of these Boards. Hence we see the disability. With a view to overcoming this hindrance, the trades unions so far back as 1869 discussed the question at their annual congress, and I think about five years later fourteen candidates were put forward for seats in 1323 Parliament. The revered, and, I may say, almost universally respected, right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth, and the late Mr. Alexander Macdonald were returned as Members of this House. On the extension of the franchise in 1885, other Members were elected whose candidatures were promoted by the trades unions, and their maintenance in Parliament was largely met from trades unions funds. From that time onward the power to contribute has been exercised by the trades unions in the belief that the right had been conferred by the consent of both parties in the State through the Acts of 1871 and 1876. It may be contended that express consent had not been given by Parliament to the direct representation of labour in these Acts, but surely the facts that direct labour representation had been continuously registered as one of the objects for which trades unions existed, that Labour representation in Parliament had existed for nearly forty years, and that during that time no exception had been taken on constitutional grounds to the presence of Labour Members in our Parliament, and further, that all parties had agreed in the recognition of their value— all this proves that it was well understood and believed both in Parliament and the country that that right exists.
Two main objections have been urged, so far as I can understand the recent decision of the law courts, first that the Labour party is sectional in its character, and thus is contrary to public policy. The second point is that it is wrong to compel Members to pay to the Parliamentary Fund. Now, with regard to the first of these objections, all I desire to say is that during the short time that I have the honour of being a Member of this House it has certainly struck me that sectional and trade interests are openly and avowedly represented in Parliament. "We see that by representations made on behalf of railway companies, on behalf of shipping companies, and on behalf of mining interests, and others that we might name, and that have been sufficiently discussed within the past few days. It has been invariably recognised that these special representatives of such industries have a right to speak on behalf of their particular companies or combination. As such representation of sectional and trade interest is recognised and admitted in Parliament, and as no objection has been raised upon constitutional grounds, there 1324 can be no fair or logical argument against the practical representation of labour in Parliament. It possesses equal rights, and its needs are greater perhaps than those of other interests.
The second objection is that of compulsion, and here we come to the question of majority rule. In, the highest form of Government, as represented in this Imperial Parliament, we find that the minority, however influential, however just it may be in its demands, is bound to accept and bound to comply with the will of the majority. This form of Government prevails in all well regulated institutions. However obnoxious it may be to some, and irrespective of honest convictions to the contrary, majority rule is acted upon in all our institutions from the smallest to the greatest. If majority rule is admitted to be right—and that is not challenged—and is found to be safe in the affairs of State control, it ought to be at least tolerated in institutions and associations of lesser degree. In our trades unions a majority of members — and in some instances this majority of members must be a two-thirds majority— must be obtained before a rule can even be submitted for the sanction of the registrar. Surely that affords ample security to the members that the rules are in accordance with their wishes and desires. If the present interpretation of the law is to obtain the majority, members will be absolutely at the mercy of the minority. There can be no doubt about that, because if an association decides by a majority of its members in favour of direct Parliamentary representation, and it comes to that decision by a majority of seven-eighths of its members, the one-eighth, or even less than one-eighth, can object to the exercise of their rights by that large majority. We say that is a condition of things that we can scarcely be expected to tolerate.
I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman the Member for North-East Manchester (Mr. Clynes) for a few figures that he has given me—and he has paid special attention to this particular question and is able to state with some degree of authority what the facts are, because the figures he has put down have been carefully verified. He shows the decision of many of the large trades unions with regard to joining the Labour party. The following trades unions with which he deals are not chosen because of the large majorities which they show; they are selected only because of the importance and variety of the trades they 1325 cover. The Postmen at their conference decided almost unanimously in favour of joining the Labour party; the Shop Assistants decided in favour without opposition; the Tailors came to a unanimous decision; the Miners by a ballot vote of two to one, in which nearly a quarter of a million men took part, joined the Labour party; the Steel Smelters voted two to one in favour; the Carpenters and Joiners voted three to one in favour; the Typographical Association decided by nearly four to one; the Amalgamated Furnishing Trades by seven to one; the Textile Workers by four to one; the Railwaymen's organisation by five to one; and the boiler-makers by about eight to one. These are striking figures, and they show that there is a decided disposition on the part of the trades unions of the country for direct labour representation.
My last point is this. I want to show that it is both illogical and, in our opinion, reactionary to admit the right of trades unions to send deputations to Ministers and to Lobby Members of Parliament with a view to influencing public opinion and at the same time to deny the right of those trades unions to have direct representation so that they may be able to carry out at first hand the objects for which Ministers and Members are so frequently interviewed. Up to the present ho harm has been done, and the Resolution, standing on the Paper, simply asks that we shall be allowed to pursue our peaceful policy. I am hopeful that if we do not get a unanimous vote in its favour we will at least be able to carry that Resolution by a large majority.
§ Mr. WILLIAM HARVEY
The question which we have brought before the House to-night is one of primary importance to the whole of the trades unions of this country. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member who moved this Motion has said, that trades unions, or those who compose them, have one fault —that they are poor. The position trades unions occupy to-day had to be fought for, striven for, and suffered for; and when the history of to-day is written in regard to trades unions and their standing in the country it will be found that these obstacles have only been surmounted by great self-sacrifice and suffering. We had to contend against law as it had been interpreted, which prevented picketing, and peaceful picketing-, and we had to appeal to this House to rectify that 1326 grievous wrong. That decision of the Law Lords failed to stop trades unions from their onward march of progress, and I say that the late decision with regard to trades unions is not going to stop the progress of Labour representation in this House. I have carefully looked over the history of this movement with regard to trades unions being represented in this House, and I wish now to pay my tribute to the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones) in the very able way in which he has put forward our position. He has made one of the clearest statements that could be made with regard to the position of trades unions. His article appears in the "Fortnightly Review" of 1st March, 1909, and, in summing up the whole position, he says:—Long before the legislation of 1871 and 1876 trades unions had larger conceptions and nobler ideals as to their duties and their destiny than those to which the Court of Appeal confines them. In the year 1847, almost every trades union was a fighting unit for political purposes, under the presidency of Mr. Thomas Duncombe, M.P., a well-known popular leader of that time. The majority of unions organised themselves into a political federation to promote the Chartist propaganda, and taxed for this purpose the various trades unions in accordance with their means of payment. They subscribed from their funds for the election expenses of Mr. Odger and Mr. Mottershead as Parliamentary candidates. History has demonstrated, indeed, how futile are the efforts of a judicature or even of a Legislature to defeat the progress of any great movement which possesses popular support.We are face to face with this difficulty, and the trades union world has its eyes open to a position so serious to them that they have determined wherever trades unions are, and wherever men seek their suffrage, that this shall be one of the questions which must be put before them. Our idea has been supported by law, We have not feared in this matter, because the Registrar has registered our rules, and has thus encouraged in our unions this idea, or at any rate has supported the idea, that trades unions can use their funds for political purposes. When I turn to the objects of the union I find one of them is to encourage representation and to support the policy of Labour representation in the House of Commons. This is certified for by the Registrar, and it says in the rules:—It is hereby certified that the Derbyshire Miners Association has been registered under the Trades Union Act, this 1st day of August, 1901.This association was registered as late as 1901, and there we have the power direct from the Registrar, who certifies that we may utilise the funds of the union in the interests of political representation in this House. I venture to say that the country has lost nothing by Labour repre- 1327 sentation. In 1874 two men entered this House who adorned it, and gave great help, and brought to bear on the questions of the day exceptional ability. One of them is here to-night, and we are proud of him, because he is one of the biggest Gentlemen who ever graced this House—I refer to the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). They fought brilliantly in this House for Labour, and advocated the claims of the miners when it was not popular to do so, and when it was difficult for a man to be heard here, because there was not that respect paid to Labour in those days as there is to-day. We owe much to those two men for forging the way for us in this House. There is no egotism in the statement I make that the House of Commons has benefited considerably by the practical experience and practical knowledge which Labour men have been able to give to Ministers in the various Departments of the State. I know we have a sympathetic Friend in the Attorney-General, and in a speech he made dealing with another House he told us how the aw stands. I will read what he said:—In another part of his speech, Lord Lyndhurst goes on to speak of usage as being the true basis of our Constitution. 'I think,' he said, 'not only had the Lords the legal right, but by mere Constitutional custom that legal right continually asserted in an Act of Parliament, might be one which nevertheless it was not proper to exercise.'Surely by usage, which has never been questioned in this House, and which has been accepted almost universally as a right since 1871—the Act of 1876 has never been questioned on the floor of this House —the trades unions have a right to use their funds for political purposes, and in accordance with the registered rules of the society. The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say:—Therefore, when the Lords undertook to reject the Finance Bill, they had to show not merely legal right, legal right which they are entitled to exercise, but also a right in accordance with the constitutional usage of the country.I think there is a strong similarity there to the constitution of our trades unions. I see a point is made that you must not compel a member of a trades union to pay towards this fund, but there is another side to the question which has not been stated. All the benefits we get go to all and not merely to the majority. If we ask for a 10 per cent, advance in wages, and there is 90 per cent, in union and 10 per cent, out, the whole of the 100 per cent, get the advantage, and not only the 90 per cent. It is not in harmony with 1328 modern times that a man shall receive without paying. There have been plenty of people in this country, and I am afraid there are a few now, who reap where they have never sown. If time permitted, and if necessary, I could prove that the trades unions have been the best lever for lifting up the working classes of this country. They have done more for the moral elevation of the working classes than anything that was ever initiated in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) said at Bradford many years ago, when the "Sheffield Telegraph" of that time had nothing good to say about him, that the trades union world was doing a great amount of good to the working classes of this country, and it was to those trades unions that the working classes must look. Trades unions have tended to make men more independent in the industrial centres, and nothing has been so powerful in giving the working man greater liberty and a better outlook than trades unions. Their history is one of progress and success. We do not pray for anything but fair treatment; we ask for no charity; we ask for no favours; we only ask for the right to use our trades union money in harmony with the will of the majority of the people who are in those trades unions, and I venture to say the nation will not suffer, but it will rather benefit, by granting to us the relief we seek. We are suffering today under a decision which is unbearable, and we ask the Government at the earliest possible moment to relieve us from a position of that kind.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
We are discussing a question of very great importance. It is not a question which merely affects trades unions and trades unionists; it is a question which raises principles which go to the root of our representative institutions. I need hardly say that it is somewhat significant to observe the procedure which has been adopted on this occasion. At the beginning of the Session the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. William Johnson) was successful in the ballot, and he' introduced a Bill for the purpose of dealing with this question. For some unexplained reason that Bill has been withdrawn, and we are confined to a shore discussion of this vital question between now and eleven o'clock. There are various possible explanations. It may be that hon. Gentlemen belonging to the Labour party have found it impossible to 1329 put within a Bill [HON. MEMBERS: "You cannot have a Motion with a Bill before the House."] I quite agree that it is impossible to move a Resolution if there is a Bill before the House, but the hon. Member for Nuneaton was successful in the ballot, and there was no reason why the Labour party should not go on with their Bill. I will not, however, pursue this matter further. After all, it does not touch the question which we are discussing.
With much that has been said by both the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution I find myself in entire agreement. I do not think that in any section of the House will there be any desire to belittle either the character of the Labour representatives or the advantages of Labour representation in this House. We do not quarrel with their presence; all parties welcome their presence here. Objection is taken, and, as I hope to show, very serious objection, to the methods and conditions of their election to this House. In order to understand this question fully, it seems to me to be necessary to look first of all at the history of the proceedings which brought about the case referred to in the Resolution. It is true, as both the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution have said, that Labour representation has been in existence since 1874, and that Members belonging to trades unions have sat in this House continually since that time, much to the advantage of the deliberations of this House No question was raised until the early years of this century. For thirty years it went on without exception being taken. Why was that? In 1900, or thereabouts, a new party came into existence, a distinct political party, with distinctive political principles and a special constitution. It was on account of the establishment of this distinct political party that the question of the validity of trades unions' contributions to Parliamentary representation arose.
There was a second point and a second reason connected with the internal history of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. Attempts were made to bring pressure to bear on a distinguished Member (Mr. Bell) to drive him out of public life or to compel him to join the Labour party. These two circumstances brought about the action which is mentioned in this Resolution. Then we have to consider further what the judgment decided.
1330 There were two main issues raised, and I do not think that either the Mover or the Seconder, in their interesting speeches, gave full or adequate explanation of the particular points decided. Certain technicalities arose, but it is unnecessary to refer to them. The two main issues were: First, whether a Parliamentary levy on the part of a trades union for a Parliamentary representation was within the statutory definition of a trades union; and, in the second place, there was the further issue—one of perhaps greater importance—whether Parliamentary representation on the conditions embodied in the constitution of the Labour party, was illegal, as being contrary to public policy. I think that fairly states the two issues. In the final decision of the House of Lords the majority of the judges based their judgment exclusively on the issue whether the levying of funds for Parliamentary representation came within the definition of a trade union. Two Court of Appeal Judges also held that Parliamentary representation under the conditions of this Labour party constitution was contrary to public policy, and that opinion was shared by so distinguished a Judge, who was also equally distinguished as a politician, as Lord Shaw, in the House of Lords. That being the effect of the judgment, we are asked by the Resolution before the House to reverse the decision which has been arrived at, and to make it possible, in the first place, for a trades union legally to include Parliamentary representation within its objects. I have listened very carefully to the arguments which have been put forward by the Mover and Seconder, and, with all deference and with all respect, I suggest that they are very largely beside the point. We are told that their contention is sanctioned by the principle of Majority Rule, but there is one region into which no party has, I think, admitted the principle of Majority Rule, and that is the region of thought. We do not interfere with freedom of thought by the Majority Rule. If you compel a man to subscribe his money for the propagation of opinions which he does not approve you are interfering in the domain of freedom of thought. Yet if a man is a member of a trades union he is to be compelled to subscribe to the support of opinions of which he does not approve. It is true he may vote against them, but you are compelling him to stultify himself, and it practically means an invasion into the domain of freedom of thought.
1331 9.0 P.M
I will go further. A man may have joined this trades union organisation at a time when it did not include Parliamentary representation within its objects. He may have made contributions for the purpose of obtaining certain benefits, and I say it is unfair that this man should be robbed of those benefits because he declines to contribute to Parliamentary representation. In the election of 1906 I had the honour of standing for one of the Divisions of Glasgow, and at that time the secretary of the committee who supported me was compelled to contribute towards the cost of the candidature of my Socialist opponent. That is a situation which this House would not sanction. I do not think when it is set forth in its bald nakedness any fair-minded man could sanction it. This society had a strike, and this man's arrears of Parliamentary contributions were actually deducted from his strike pay, so that money which should have gone towards the support of his wife and family was taken away because he would not contribute towards the Parliamentary Labour Fund. That is not the full extent of this mischief. In many parts of this country membership of a. trade union is a condition of employment, and men cannot obtain work unless they are members of a trade union. If you are going to make Parliamentary representation one of the recognised objects of trades unionism, for which trades unions can make compulsory levies upon their members, then you make the pecuniary support of the Labour party a condition of employment in those parts of the country- That is another condition which I do not think any House of Commons will sanction being placed on the Statute Book. There is a further question raised under this Resolution, and it is one which affects Parliamentary representation in this House. It is a question which has been described in the law courts as a constitutional question—a question of public policy. The ground taken by Lord Justice Fletcher Moulton and Lord Justice Farwell on this was that the contract involved in the constitution of the Labour party was a contract which was void as being contrary to public policy. What does that mean? A Member undertakes to sign the constitution of the Labour party and to accept the Labour party Whip. That is a very serious interference with freedom of Parliamentary representation. I myself receive party Whips, but I am not under 1332 any contractual obligation to vote according to the dictation of any man in this House. You are, you who have signed this constitution which provides that Members must vote according to the decisions of the majority of the party. What does that involve. What does election to this House mean? It means that a man should be free here to vote according to his own convictions, and to represent his constituents. If he signs a contract which gives away this right, then he is doing something which strikes at the root of freedom of Parliamentary representation. This is one of the oldest, and I had hoped that it was one of the most sacred, principles of the Constitution. But apparently it is regarded as of small account by the Members of the Labour party. I would remind them, however, that this Resolution, if it were embodied in an Act of Parliament, would not only confer rights upon trades unions; because if you confer rights upon trades unions you could not in common fairness and justice deny them to other statutory corporations and public companies. It would then become possible for other statutory companies, such as railway companies, to enter into these contracts binding the conduct of Members of Parliament. They are much more wealthy than trades unions, and have much greater resources at their disposal. It is possible to conceive, that being the case, that these wealthy and powerful bodies might band themselves together and subsidise a much more powerful body in this House, than trades unions are able to elect to this Chamber. I am told that they do it now, and I do not deny that there are many Members on both sides of this House who receive contributions towards their election expenses. Nobody denies it, and I should think that the Labour men, who are poor men, should be the last to jeer at it. [An HON. MEMBER: "We are amused at your righteousness."] I am not putting forward any righteousness; I am stating facts, and I say that these men come here on perfectly honourable conditions and without any contractual obligations to anybody outside the House. The interruptions to which I have been subjected indicate the spirit in which at least certain hon. Gentlemen look upon men who are paid. But I think that spirit is an unworthy one to be shown by anybody in this House. The danger to which I have referred in regard to this Resolution is, that if you confer these rights upon trades unions you must confer equal rights 1333 upon other companies and other statutory corporations, and if you do so you will be making such a contract as I have described enforcable in the law courts, and a contract with legal sanction, and I do not think it is in the interests of the purity of Parliamentary representation that any such contract should be legalised by this House.
The Resolution says that there are certain political disabilities affecting trades unions, but, as I have stated already, there are no special political disabilities affecting those corporations which do not affect other corporations of this sort. Trades unionists under the existing law are as free as other men to contribute towards the expenses and towards the maintenance of Members of Parliament. They may do it voluntarily. What we object to is compulsion. Apparently they have not sufficient faith in the enthusiasm of members of trades unions for Parliamentary representation to allow the matter to be left to the free will of the members of these bodies; otherwise there would be no need for an amendment of the law at the present moment. In the Amendment which I have put upon the Paper I think the true remedy for this situation is put forward— the remedy of the payment of Members of Parliament. The principle of the payment of Members of Parliament has already been affirmed by the House of Commons, and I think it might already have been in existence had it not been for the indifference or lukewarmness of certain Members belonging to the Labour party. I do not propose to argue this question of the payment of Members this evening. It involves many considerations which are apart from the main Resolution before the House, but by payment of Members of Parliament you would at one preserve the freedom of election and the freedom of the individual Member which would be interfered with if this Resolution were passed upon the Statute Book. Payment of Members would safeguard the freedom of Parliamentary representatives, and would increase and improve the representative character of this House. At the present time this House, as we have been told frequently upon the other side in the course of the Debates of the last few weeks is not absolutely representative of the will of the people. That is a phrase which we have often heard, but if it is not in perfect representation of the people it is due to the fact that there is a serious limitation in the choice of candidates, which is due to the difficulties of a 1334 poor man entering this House. If we had payment of Members, that limitation would be removed, and we should, therefore, be doing something to improve the character of this House. I think, however, in spite of expressions which have been used in the last few days, the character of this House is a matter of great value to Members on both sides of it. We are all proud of this House as the greatest representative Assembly in the world. It embodies, perhaps, the greatest contribution which the British people have made to the art of government, and if it is great, it is great because it is representative, and we who believe in payment of Members believe that would improve its representative character, make it what we all hope and desire it will be, and make it approximate to the ideal of those who have been the best interpreters of the British Constitution—the express image of the people.
§ Mr. DANIEL BOYLE
I rise to express, not only my own sympathy with the Resolution, which has been moved from the benches opposite, but, if I may say so, also the sympathy of the whole of the party with whom I act. As an Irishman living in England, and who has lived there very many years, I have been thrown a good deal into contact with trade unionists, and I have watched the growth of the remarkable organisations that have grown up under trades union auspices. Many years ago trades unions were mostly confined to the higher classes of artisan labour, but the spread of education and the knowledge that only by combination was any advancement to be made by the working man has led to the growth of these organisations, so that they embrace not only the higher skilled artisan class, but the skilled labourer, and you also find every healthy-minded working man attached to his union. He knows that only by that means can he advance his own interests and the interests of his class, and one of the things which naturally occurs to him is that if he can employ a secretary to do the work of his union, if he can employ someone to come up to the House of Commons and stand outside in the Lobby endeavouring to influence opinion in this House on matters affecting his union, surely the next step in the ordinary course is to combine to send someone inside the House to maintain his rights. I have never been able to discover, not being a lawyer, and only being a plain-minded man, why a trade union should have the right to send up its members to lobby in the interests of 1335 their particular class, and should not be able to contribute to send their representatives here. I do not see any hardship in asking members of a union to subscribe, quite irrespective of what their political views may be, to the advancement of the class to which they belong. I have never known one of them to refuse any of the advantages which are won, and, indeed, in this respect the non-supporters of Labour representation amongst the trade unionists have some resemblance to what are known in Ireland as the Unionist section of the community, which always fights against every effort that their Nationalist fellow countrymen make to improve the condition of their fellow men, though immediately the amelioration comes they are tumbling over one another in their anxiety to get all the advantages which have been won by another section. The same pretty well applies to those who refuse to contribute to the maintenance of Labour representation here, and who are responsible for the condition of things which has brought about this Resolution.
I happened for seven or eight years to be associated with a very large undertaking under the auspices of the Manchester Corporation where we had some 4,000 men employed. I was chairman of the Department during those years, and I always gave the advice to every man I employed: "Join your union. I prefer to deal with the officials of your union in any question of dispute rather than to deal with isolated cases which may crop up. First of all you get the tempered and carefully thought out decisions of practised and trained officials rather than the disgruntled views of individuals who are only capable of looking at it from their own narrow standpoint. Who also will say that the same does not apply exactly in this House? Who will say that the legislation of recent years, since Labour representation has assumed the dimensions it has, has not been toned and influenced by the presence here of the contingent directly representing Labour? I think he would be a bold man on either side of the House who would declare that the Members of the Labour party had abused their position, that they had fought only for their peculiar sectional interests, and that they were unmindful of the general interests of the community. I remember the time when to be called a trade unionist was only just a little better than to be called an Irish man. Now when people refer to trade 1336 unionism they speak with respect of it, and when they want to saything disrespectful they call trades unionists Socialists. I was not afraid of trade unionism when it was purely trade unionism, and was known as such, neither am I afraid of trade unionism when it is called Socialism. During the last few days we have heard Mr. Gladstone, of whom I always speak with veneration and respect, quoted above the Gangway as the very personification of what moderation ought to be. How very different were the words that came from the same benches when Mr. Gladstone first sat here. I hope I may live long enough to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer and His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department quoted with equal approbation. They have only to live long enough and it will come. When some of the young men who are now imbibing political and economic knowledge at Ruskin College occupy the honourable offices that these Gentlemen do to-day they will be spoken of in almost as strong terms of disapprobation as the right hon. Gentlemen I have referred to are to-day. It is all a matter of time.
I join, therefore, with my Labour Friends on the opposite side in hoping that an Amendment of the law may take place by which every man who is advantaged—and every working man will be advantaged—by what Labour does in this House and outside it, to improve the condition of working men, and every man who joins his union will be asked to subscribe his modest little for the maintenance of those who speak and act for him, who defend him, and who advance his interests, and without whose defence and representation both here and outside, they would be looked upon as small and very worthless factors indeed. I have a particular sympathy with them, because for many years of my early life I was associated with the railway service. This was before trade unionism had assumed the dimensions it has to-day, and before it brought within its ranks almost all classes of labour. Those were the days when only the highest class of railwaymen were admitted into the railway organisation. I remember those days distinctly, and I know how little respect was paid then to the ordinary railway employé, and I know how much to-day is paid, because there is a great organisation to back him up and defend him, and to advance his interests. It is for these reasons, and with this know- 1337 ledge that I have risen to support the claims of Labour in this matter. I do not believe that as a result of what is asked for in this Resolution this Empire is going to be in the slightest degree injuriously affected. I do not know what is going to happen. Judging by the speech we have just heard, if the Resolution is carried, there will be a very disastrous condition of things for Labour. Judging by the speeches we have heard during the week, if the House of Lords' Veto is curtailed, I suppose we may all come here and say "good-bye Empire." I do not believe that, either as the result of the curtailment of the Lords power, nor as a result of legislation giving working men a legal right to contribute to the maintenance of their organisation— [An HON. MEMBER: "They have it now."] I am aware mat they have it now. So in our elections every Member has the right to vote, but do we canvass him? Do we bring him up to the poll, do we put forward every effort in addition to his right in order to get his support, and to back him up' There are a great many things we have a right to do, but human nature is very weak, and it has a great many drawbacks. I think the duty of the wiser section of the Labour community, which, I believe, is represented by organised labour, is to do all they can to get all their class behind them in those organisations. It is for that purpose I support this Resolution, and I hope that legislation on the lines of the Resolution will be introduced at an early date, that the legal absurdity on which the Osborne judgment has been founded will be swept on one side, and that common sense will be allowed to prevail in the management of labour organisations throughout the country.
I beg to move, at the end of the proposed Resolution, to add the words, "Provided that no member of a trades union shall be deprived of trade, sick, unemployed, superannuation, or other benefits, or otherwise prejudiced because he refuses to contribute towards such financial provision."
I have listened to the speeches already delivered with very great attention, and I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the House will recognise the fairness with which the case for the Resolution was put by my hon. Friends the Mover and Seconder. But I must confess that in these speeches I heard no arguments to justify the claim made in the Resolution. May I, before passing on to my Amend- 1338 ment, be permitted to make one or two observations on what has been said by previous speakers? First of all, it has been suggested that this decision in the courts was aimed at poor men. Well, I do suggest to my hon. Friends that they should attempt to defend their case, such as it is, by reason, and not by an appeal to sentiment. I am as much a friend of the poor as any man sitting on the Labour Benches. May I draw the attention of my hon. Friends to the fact that the decision referred to was really promoted—at least it was brought about—by the action of men as poor as, and, indeed, probably not earning half the income of the hon. Gentleman who referred to the poor as being hit at in this decision. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO."] If my hon. Friend will allow me to put my own case he will not find me saying anything I think which is not correct. Mr. Osborne is a poor man, poorer than the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me, and the decision to go forward with this case was carried with practical unanimity by the Waltham-stow Branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants.
With regard to the point as to the value of having working men In this House and in public bodies, I have to say that no one disputes that, and I protest against the habit of throwing into the scale against the case I have to present points which have absolutely no bearing on the case. On this particular point I say frankly that we who support the Amendment are as anxious as hon. Members who support the Resolution. Another point was made by hon. Members who supported the Resolution with regard to majority rule. I want my hon. Friends to realise how far that argument takes us. Do I really understand that in a civilised community like our own the majority, when voluntary organisations are formed, are really to determine all points, all circumstances, and all questions of policy in those particular organisations? Surely it is the very essence of freedom that within a highly complex state of society like this you should be able to form within that society voluntary associations of members who will be able to contract with each other to carry out certain functions, to subscribe for the carrying out of these functions, and that for purposes beyond the carrying out of these functions the money subscribed shall not be spent. That seems to me such an elementary proposition that I am astonished my hon. Friends 1339 should defend the contention they do. Let me carry the argument further. Do I understand that if a majority of the Miners' Union were to determine that a substantial sum of money should be handed over to the Pope of Rome for the propagation of Roman Catholicism, or to the Archbishop of Canterbury for the propagation of Church of England tenets, or to the Rev. R. J. Campbell for the propagation of the new theology, that that would be a justifiable transaction? It is monstrous that such a proposition should be put forward in these days when the basis of freedom is really contract between one man and another, and the right to carry out a contract mutually entered into, the conditions being laid down in advance. May I say there would be no protection for minorities if that particular argument were to prevail. [An HON. MEMBER: "What protection have we here?"] My hon. Friend asks what protection he has in this House. I would remind him that he is wrong in assuming that majorities have absolute control. I have heard Members of the Labour party plead most eloquently with you, Mr. Speaker, to help them in defending the rights of minorities against the too powerful majority then prevailing.
May I ask one or two questions? First of all, what is a trades union? It is an organisation that has been created by a number of workpeople for the purpose of promoting their interests in their trade and attempting to improve their position within that trade. Some of these organisations have been established for a large number of years, and they have accumulated funds of substantial amounts. The members of those unions belong to every political party and profess practically every creed. No condition is to be found in the rules of these organisations which makes the adhesion of a member to a particular political party a condition of joining, nor is there an indication that the members of a union will be expected to subscribe money towards the support of a particular political creed. My hon. Friends have drawn attention to the value of trades union representation, and they gave us a brief history of trades union representation in this House. We are not now even discussing trades union representation. We are really discussing whether trades union money should be invaded by one party in the State, and annexed by that party for the purpose of propagating a 1340 definite political creed, namely, the nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange. To talk of trades union representation when the funds are so applied is absurd, for the control of the funds is not really in the hands of the trades unions. The Fabian Society is represented on the board that controls the funds. The Independent Labour Party is represented. It is not a bond fide trades union committee that controls and administers these funds, but a mixed committee of Socialists and trade unionists. I am not complaining of my hon. Friends for getting the money. I compliment them on it; but I am here to-night to prevent any fresh inroad being made on it.
May I ask my hon. Friends this question: whether, instead of handing this sum of money over to the Socialist-Labour party, the party which at the Trade Conference at Hull, I believe, against the protests of my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Shackleton), added State Socialism as its aim and object, for the purpose of subsidising that party, it would be permissible to make any subscription, if the unions became converted in that direction towards the Tariff Reform party or the Anti-Socialist League, or could it be sent on to the Central Liberal Association or the Central Conservative Association? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] You would not be here moving that Resolution if it was sent in that direction. This is a very interesting discussion. If these unions decided to send this money contrary to the advice of the gentlemen who are sitting here along to the Conservative Association or to the Tariff Reform League or to the Anti-Socialist Union I am here to say that these gentlemen would not be moving this Resolution to-night. Then what is the defence of this Resolution? It is that they know they can get hold of the money for the particular party that they happen to be identified with. I am here to say that that cannot be defended on any grounds of equity or on any sense of justice as between individual and individual or as between citizen and citizen. I want also to direct the attention of my hon. Friend to the fact that we shall not be able to stop at workmen's associations. Hon. Members will remember that it was impossible in the Trades Disputes Bill to give the exceptional privileges required by the trades unions to the trades unions alone.
1341 Those privileges and exemptions from the law of tort and things of that sort had to be given to employers' associations as well as to trades unions.
If when this Bill is brought in, and no such addition as I am suggesting—and I am not for a moment suggesting that my addition covers all my point—is imposed on the demands which my hon. Friends make, we shall have inserted in that Bill, and rightly so, I say frankly, similar provisions all round. If you are going to give the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants or the Amalgamated Society of Engineers power to levy from their members for political purposes and to exclude them from benefits if they refuse to subscribe for political objects, then you must make a similar concession, we will say, to the London and North-Western Railway. You have got to face these points. If you were in a court of law and were cross-examined on the justice of your claim you would have to give an answer. You would have to concede to the London and North-Western Railway just the same right as you concede to the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. They would be able to make it a condition of employment, or of participation in their benefit fund, or their superannuation fund, that the men shall belong to a particular political party or shall abstain from belonging to a particular political party. For example, suppose after this! Bill were carried through the directors of the London and North-Western Railway said, "We have a pension fund, or a superannuation fund, or employment, and we now declare that we will employ no man nor allow any employé to participate in our benefit fund or our superannuation funds unless they declare that they are not Socialists." Have they not precisely the same right if you carry the Bill to do that as you have to say that they shall not belong to a trades union unless they shall pay towards a political object? I ask my hon. Friends to give me some sort of an answer. If they will give me an answer that will satisfy me I will join in their demand. But I must have some answer to the question I am putting. I direct the attention of the House to the fact that I am not putting my point without some support, and the very counsel, Mr. Peterson, who was putting the case for the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, had to admit in court the position which I have put, that if the case for the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants held good and it is your desire to return to 1342 the position indicated in the claim made by that society, it seems very obvious that without some limitations you will be returning to the very position to which the judge drew attention at the time the case was put. Lord Justice Farwell said:—I suppose it follows that trades unions or employers can equally impose upon their employés the duty of subscribing to their political organisation.Mr. PETERSON [your own counsel]: Of course, what is good for the one is good for the other.Lord Justice FARWKLL: Let me point out the result. The wretched workmen will subscribe of his own choice, we will say, to party A, by compulsion of the trades union to party B, and by compulsion of the master to party C It is rather hard on them.Mr. PETERSON: Yes, my lord.When the very counsel you have paid to look after your own case can make no better defence than is made in those admissions it is time to consider seriously the Resolution which my Friends are moving. It goes on:—Lord Justice FARWBLL: I thought there was some element of freedom left in this country, but that may be the result of enforced starvation. That is to say, by taking him out of his trades union he loses employment.Mr. PETERSON: I am not in the least defending or suggesting any defence of such an act.When your own counsel really cannot defend it in justice and admits, as he does further down, that he is only defending it in law, then it seems to me we are here discussing the justice of the case, and not a law of a moment. Indeed, a new law is-proposed. We have established lately in London what is known as the Gladstone League. The object of that League is to select cases of boycotting and intimidation in political matters and to give sums of money to the poor creatures, the wretched creatures, as Lord Justice-Farwell called them, some little compensation for the injury that has been done them by those who take away their political freedom and dismiss, them because they have acted, contrary to their employers' political views. I do ask my hon. Friends not to treat this question in a flippant or indifferent manner. They are raising by this Resolution issues of the most vital kind, so far as the freedom of the individual is concerned. That is the kind of thing that draws men into this-fray. I do not like troubling the House, I trouble the House very little. If anyone else would have taken up this subject I would have withdrawn, but one of my hon. Friends said that in the case of his election there was a wretched workman, if you will, who was out of work on strike and drawing his strike pay, and under the rules of the union, his union having joined' 1343 the political organisation, he had during the strike to pay his levy towards his political antagonist. He was a supporter of my hon. Friend, but although he was on strike he had to pay subscriptions towards my hon. Friend's Socialistic opponent. As he did not make the contribution, the official of the union deducted it before handing him his pay. The hon. Gentleman sitting in front of me, the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), said "Hear, hear." Is not that so? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] Then there is no peace between us. Is that not a justification of the course which I am taking to-night? Do my hon. Friends—I hope to continue to call them hon. Friends—really believe we have come to that in this country—that we are going to lie down under facts, of that sort, and that a man is really to have practically stolen from him, under pressure of the organisation, a contribution towards a political creed which he disapproves of? So long as any constituency returns me to this House I will denounce that policy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Birkenhead."] Let there be no mistake about my position here. My views on this question were before my Constituency, and, at any rate, I was not elected under false pretences. I ask why employers should not have the same rights as are now being claimed under this Resolution. I get no answer. If you are to give employers substantially the same rights, then you will have corrupting influences at work right throughout our industrial system, and my hon. Friends may take it from me that employers and the class to which they belong will be able to play this game in the long run far better than trades unionists, because they will have more money to utilise in the work. I would direct attention to the unanimity with which the judges came to their conclusion. They were unanimous in the Court of Appeal, and they were unanimous in the House of Lords. Anyone who carefully reads their judgments cannot accuse them of party bias. Their judgments are reasoned, and I doubt whether any Member of this House who examines those judgments can pick out any point with which he can quarrel on the standpoint of justice and equity as between man and man. I wish to direct the attention of this House to the danger of increasing the functions of trades unions. We have given in this House to our trades unions exemption from a 1344 very large number of obligations and responsibilities that fall on ordinary corporations. We have given these exemptions for several reasons and because of the special kind of work in which they are engaged. If by a majority they are to be perfectly free to add politics to the functions they now possess, are they then to be free from the law of libel? Is a trade union not to be suable the same as any other organisation or individual whatever if they libel their political opponents? If they can by a majority decide to go into politics, which are more or less foreign to their work, why should they not go in for trading or things of that sort? At any rate, they ought to be cautious in putting forward this claim until they have thoroughly surveyed the ground and realised that the time may come when public opinion will say that if trades unions are going to extend their functions so that they ultimately become in character, from a political point of view and a trading point of view, similar to other corporate bodies, then we shall have to attach to trades unions those responsibilities of the law which are attached to other corporate bodies.
Another point as to the concession of this right to trades unions. Take the great industrial provident societies with which I have been associated now for twenty years, and which have some £50,000,000 of workpeople's money. Politicians have attempted the same thing, but I am proud to say that we have managed successfully to stop that. Of these great institutions, from the point of view of the history of working men, it is impossible to speak too highly, because of their enormous effect upon the character of the people of this country. Are they by some snatch majority in the various societies also to introduce the political bone of contention1? [An HON. MEMBER: "They have done so."] They have not done so; they have made a beginning, they are on the fringe of it, but it has not gone to a sufficient extent to shatter the confidence of investors in those concerns. Once you split these organisations in that way you would at once introduce insecurity and bring down one of the fairest fabrics that working-class energy, thrift and enthusiasm has built up. Are our friendly societies to have the same scope, and our building societies to have the same scope? Has the time come when all these great working-class organisations, with special rights 1345 and special privileges assigned to them, are to be allowed to step beyond their functions, to introduce political chaos, political friction, and political bitterness into their concerns? If you do that, then I am satisfied that the downward grade has begun in all these great organisations. My hon. Friends mentioned with respect, and rightly so, the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth and my hon. Friend the Member for the Wansbeck Division, and the Seconder of the Resolution said they were revered. I join with them in the fullest sense of the word. There is no Member of this House whom I have watched and followed more, and of whom I think more highly, than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth. How is it possible to bring the revered name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth into the defence of this Resolution? That is my last point, and I want to bring it home. It is my final defence of my addition to the Resolution which gives my hon. Friends the whole run of their trades union organisation. My addition says that they shall have the machine, that they shall have their conferences, that they shall have their general meetings, that they shall pass their resolutions, they shall do all that, but they must comply with the addition. It is a modest request, namely, that when an individual member of these organisations says, "No" to his trades union executive, "I disapprove of the policy you are pursuing; I am a Roman Catholic, I object to your secular education, I am a Tariff Reformer, I object to your Free Trade policy, or vice versâ, and I, therefore, object to your political levy, because the man whom you desire to return to the House of Commons would violate my conscience on every great political issue before the country," then I must claim the right that such an individual shall be free from that contribution. You have the whole machinery; I present you with that. In order to defend my position, let me suppose that I am a member of the Northumberland Miners' Union, and that I have worked for the return of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth for thirty or forty years, and I still love him. The Socialists have captured the Miners' Union of Northumberland, and they have decided, by a majority if you will, and I care not whether a minority or majority, as upon questions of 1346 religion or politics it is absolutely out of place, and they have given the order, and k is public knowledge that, the order has gone forth, that the Member for Morpeth is no longer worthy to serve Morpeth in this House, nor is the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Fenwick), and so they have to go. Now, as a Member of the Miners' Union, venerating these oldleaders of mine, what is my position? These men say to me: "You may love the Member for Morpeth or the Member for Wansbeck, you may have worked for them for thirty or forty years, and you may still desire them to represent you in the House of Commons. You may desire all that, but we say, whether you like it or not you must help to find the money to pay the expenses of the men who are going to drive the Member for Morpeth and the Member for Wansbeck out of political life." I am here to say that there is no defence for that. I do not care how you vote in the Lobby, but I say there is not a Member of this House sitting in any part of it—on the Labour Benches as well as on the Tory and Irish Benches, that could defend, according to any standard of reason or of fair play or of justice the Resolution that would inflict that injustice on trade unionist bodies in this country. I apeal to my hon. Friends not to press this Resolution, at any rate without my addition, which is a defence of the individual conscience and individual right to act as conscience dictates on matters of policy, and I tell them if they accept this addition they will not lose by it. It is a concession to fair play and a concession to justice, and with this concession they may get their Bill, but I tell them England has not gone so low yet as to give the whole of the claim that they make in their Resolution.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I think the House will agree that the hon. Member for Birkenhead, in the very powerful speech he has just addressed to the House, has made a real contribution to the cause and the object which the Proposer and the Seconder of the Resolution have in view, by con centrating the attention of the House upon the very narrow point which, as I believe, is the sole point that is at issue in the Resolution before us. I desire to endeavour to follow his example by concentrating attention upon what to me is the one central principle and fact in this discussion. As I understand the Resolution, and as I understand the speeches of the Mover and the Seconder, there is the suggestion that the recent decision of the law courts 1347 interferes with a clear right, and disturbs the continuity of a practice which hitherto had been in existence. I believe that the central suggestion, and the essential suggestion, of the Resolution is historically inaccurate. It is perfectly true that up to a comparatively recent period, and, indeed, up to the present time, there has for a long period of years been direct representation in this House of trades unionists. But the earlier representation of trades unionism in this House was not of a party political character, nor was it bound in any way by pledge of any kind. I have nothing to say to-night concerning the merits or demerits of the political pledge given to one political party, nor am I concerned to discuss to-night its relation to the whole principle of representative Government in this country. It is perfectly true, as we have been reminded by the Mover and Seconder, that two or three Law Lords have recently held that such a pledge does run contrary to public policy. I am not inclined personally to lay very great stress on that point, because I venture to submit that what may be called the customary and conventional view of public policy is founded upon a system of party Government which at the present time is either in danger or is in process of change. Nor is the question of public policy, I think, strictly relevant to the points now before the House, which are solely questions of justice and equity. Certainly the imposition of a rigid pledge in the constitution of the Labour party has introduced a wholly new factor into the situation, and of itself destroys any argument that is based upon historic continuity.
What really is at stake in this matter? Hitherto trades unions in this country have been societies of men that have found their unity in common industrial and economic interests, and not in political or religious beliefs. Most of the men who have joined trades unions joined them when there was no thought of a Labour party, and they joined for certain clearly denned benefits, which had no sort of connection whatever with party politics as we have them today. Now, and this is the whole essence of the question, those men who joined trades unions for certain clearly defined industrial and economic benefits, find those benefits imperilled because of their unwillingness to subscribe to a purely par- 1348 tisan political organisation. It is perfectly true, as mentioned by the Mover and Seconder, that this obligation can only be enforced by a majority of the trades unionists. But, while in the general domain of life and politics, government by majority may be a necessary expedient, I always greatly distrust government by majority when it concerns what I may call the essential or fundamental equities. One has to consider what it really means to a minority. A man may be a convinced trades unionist and both in his precept and practice be absolutely loyal to trades unionism, but because he declines to subscribe to the expenses and maintenance of a Parliamentary representative, with whose views he finds himself altogether out of harmony and accord, he is compelled to forfeit the benefits of all the payments to sick funds and other funds to which he has been contributing for many years. That is to say, under the arrangement proposed in this Resolution the rewards of a man's thrift and self-sacrifice over a number of years are to be destroyed at a blow simply on account of that man's political dissent. Is that fair or at all consonant with common justice and common equity? I think the injustice of the proposal contained in the Resolution is clearly seen if one tries to apply its principle in other directions. Lord Justice Farwell illustrated the point by observing that while it is well to promote temperance, it would be unjustifiable for a trades, union to start a public-house with its own officials as managers, by the use of money compulsorily contributed by teetotal members of that trades union.
What is the way out of the difficulty? I venture to suggest that if the trades unions of the country are dissatisfied with the old method of direct Parliamentary representation by separate trades union representatives, and if they desire to unite in the formation of a distinct Labour party or group, let them do it on the voluntary-basis suggested by the Amendment of my hon. Friend. As he has pointed out, they get practically the substance of what they require under such an arrangement, and certainly that arrangement would do away with an injustice which to my mind is altogether indefensible. For my part I entirely agree with an earlier speaker that by far the best way out of the difficulty is payment of Members. I have not personally lightly inclined to approval of payment of Members. In my observation, experience and Judgment, the results of payment of Mem- 1349 bers are not unquestionable elsewhere; but I have been reluctantly driven to the acceptance of the principle because I believe it absolutely necessary for democratic government in this country. In any case, it would accomplish that which I believe to be essential in the proposals of the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution, without that injury and injustice to individuals which without some safeguards will inevitably follow. I beg to second the Amendment.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir W. Robson)
This is a Session, as we all well know, in which the Government is pledged to concentrate upon certain great constitutional questions, and to eschew as far as may be other questions of a controversial character. No one, after this most interesting and instructive Debate, can suggest that the subject before the House is non-controversial. It is highly controversial and highly important. The matter is so interesting and so important that, however much the Government may desire to keep clear of controversy in order to leave the way open for constitutional questions, one is bound, nevertheless, to take part in the discussion. It is impossible to remain silent. The point in the Osborne case was very simple, namely, whether Mr. Osborne, who was supported in his action by a very substantial body of trades unionists, on whose behalf he brought the action, and who had been for sixteen years a trades unionist, was to be made subject to the forfeiture of the benefits which he had purchased by his subscriptions during that period, by the operation of new rules which sought to impose upon him contributions to political propaganda of which he and his friends did not approve. That was the essential issue in the case, but the arguments, perhaps necessarily, went rather farther than that question, and the judge, to an extent, which I think is a little unusual in courts of law, went very much farther than the arguments. It is necessary to know exactly on what grounds the judgments were founded, because there are some points as to which I think there will be general agreement in the House. If the judgments are to be taken literally, and with all the extreme consequences which may be deduced from them, I doubt whether any party in any quarter of the House can give entire assent to them. The learned judges concurred, I think rightly, in treating trades unions as occupying a somewhat exceptional position.
1350 Trades unions cannot sue their members upon a contract of membership, and, as they are under that important disability, so they have what may be called the corresponding privilege that they are not liable to be sued. This exceptional position was held by all the courts, and inevitably held, I think, as a matter of law, to be applicable to them only as industrial organisations. For instance, as political organisations it would scarcely be right to say that they should neither sue nor be sued. The disabilities and privileges properly put upon industrial organisations have a very different application, and would not have the same reason as applied to purely political organisations. So it is said that trades unions cannot properly be founded or accompanied by any political tests. I think the House will agree that to apply a political test or qualification for membership of a trade union may not improbably endanger the unity and solidarity of industrial organisations. I do not say that it will, but I do not think anybody will deny that it may. I think it will also be admitted by everybody, certainly in these days, that that would be a national misfortune. Trades unions, whatever may be said against them, have it undoubtedly to their credit that, in spite of the fact that they are fighting organisations, they have done more on the whole for the permanent industrial peace and security of the country than almost any other single factor. But industrial organisation does not cover the whole field of working class aspiration and effort. There are undoubtedly labour questions of a select character which they not unreasonably ask should be dealt with in this House by experts in that class of question.
As one hon. Member has contended, the principle of Labour representation has rather been extended. There are not only the special questions that different sections of the working classes may desire to have dealt with by special men in this House, but there is also the very natural and laudable desire on the part of the labouring classes to have in this House men who, by their life-long experience and by their sympathies, are likely to become good representatives of the working masses. No one will doubt the propriety of that desire, but under existing conditions very little practical effect can be given to such desire of the working classes except by combination. They must combine and they must pay the man whom they may desire to represent them if he belongs to any special trade. So far as that goes, 1351 very general agreement will arise, but the judges, in dealing with this part of the case—that is to say, with a merely voluntary organisation, apart from the question whether it is proper to have funds for a political purpose—used very wide language. It can scarcely be denied that they have gone further than either of the parties to the case contemplated, for instance, some of the judges, not all—and in my humble judgment this is not an essential part of the decision, even so far as that decision may be considered in its expressed terms—some have condemned any pledge-bound party which is maintained by contributions, whether voluntarily or compulsorily, in the case of trades unions. If these dicta were carried to their full extreme even voluntary organisation for maintaining a Member of Parliament might conceivably in some cases be illegal.
There is another point which is open to criticism or to some observation on which it is worth saying a word or two. There are some of the passages, some of the propositions laid down by the learned judges on terms so wide that they may not inconceivably be held to cover the ordinary activities of a Trades Congress or a Parliamentary Committee. I hope and I think that these rather sweeping dicta will not be followed by the courts in such cases. If I am wrong in such an anticipation—I may be wrong—then I think it not unworthy of consideration as to whether this House should or should not in these respects deal with these rather sweeping judgments by means of some restrictive or limiting legislation. That, however, is not the essential point in this Debate. I thought it necessary, as one speaking on behalf of the Government, to deal with it, but it is not the point that is in the minds of hon. Members after the interesting Debate we have listened to. It is said that the trades unions have had the privilege they now claim for at least forty years. I am not concerned to quarrel with the verbal accuracy of that statement, but still I think that for the full apprehension of the question it should be subject to some qualification. The original idea at the back of separate labour representation was to have in the House of Commons men who, as I have just said, had special knowledge of labour questions. Outside these questions, as to which no doubt they were more or less bound by the unions they represented, they were very much as other 1352 Members of the House; that is to say, they were free to go according to the wishes, not of their union, but rather of their constituents.
§ Sir W. ROBSON
Take, for instance, the miners. They were, I think, the first to enter the sphere of Labour representation. There is no industry so much subject to legislative interference and so much in need of legislative protection as the mining industry. That they should be the first of the organised bodies of trades unions to try and secure that their cause was put in the House of Commons by men who had been working miners and understood the conditions of the working miners was not surprising. But they were not specially tied to these particular trade purposes; they were, of course, more or less bound by what they stated to their constituents, and their union was mainly or solely concerned with specific trade representation. We all remember Mr. Bell, so long a respected Member of this House. He felt that although upon railway questions he was bound to follow the instructions of those whom in the trade sense he represented, outside this question he said he looked to his constituents and not to the union for instruction and for guidance. But now undoubtedly that has been changed. I see I am being followed by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie). Undoubtedly a change took place in the avowed object and spirit of Labour representation owing to the demand of the hon. Member for Merthyr and his Friends. Of course, I am not complaining of their action; far from it. I think it was on 31st January, in the year 1903, in a speech at Swansea, the hon. Member summed up the change that had come over the particular objects of Labour representation. He said that Labour representation was a means to an end, and that that end was not trades unionism, but was Socialism. That statement was a legitimate and an important political declaration, but, of course, it opened up a somewhat wide controversy, wider than that which had previously existed with regard to Labour representation. Not only did it necessarily open up somewhat wider controversial considerations, but considerations that had been ignored in earlier days of course became very much more important when once the union between trades unionism and a particular party become thus avowed.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me to say that, while that was my opinion, I did not say it was the opinion taken by the Labour party.
§ Sir W. ROBSON
I am glad to be able to defend the hon. Member. It is quite true he expressed that as his opinion, but I think he was upon very good ground, because a new rule, which then began to be suggested for the adoption of the various unions, undoubtedly contained a rule that Members who were elected and maintained by means of the Parliamentary levy were to sign and accept the conditions laid down by the Labour party, which were directly stated by the Mover of the Amendment as the nationalisation of the means of production. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no."] I am very glad, indeed, to accept that repudiation of the statement, but beyond any doubt the demand put forward in the Osborne case was, as I have stated, that it should not be made a subject of the forfeiture of a member's trades union rights by reason of his objection to contribute to a particular political object, whether Socialism or not. I mentioned the name Socialism, but I referred to it only as a part of the history of the case. It would have been equally applicable if it had been the Liberal party instead of the Socialist party. The claim that was put forward by Mr. Osborne was not a demand put forward on behalf of a minority, but even if it had been put forward purely on behalf of a minority I do not think it would have altered the considerations we had to take into account. Supposing it was on behalf of a minority? The problem before the Government, the House, and the country, and especially those interested in trades unions is this: Is it worth while to adopt some method which will safeguard the rights both of majority and minority in trades unions so that there should be no fear of division, no fear of any industrial or political schism in those great organisations, and both should be able to get whatever they want in the way of labour representation without oppressive contract on the one hand or feeling of grievous wrong on the other. That is the real problem so far as trades unions are concerned. There may be a political point of view, but we are mainly concerned to-night with the trades union point of view. We agree with every word that has been said about Labour representation. I do not know the views of hon. Members opposite on this question, but I 1354 assume that what we all desire is that there should be means for Labour representation, and that Labour should be represented directly by members of the strictly labouring classes. Is it really wise or right that the whole cost of procuring what some of the working classes consider the most suitable representatives should be cast upon them when they are, as has already been said, the poorest class of the community who most need representatives in direct and close sympathy with their own aspirations. Under these circumstances would it not be fair to give them the same means of representation as that which is enjoyed by those who are wealthy enough to choose their representatives in Parliament, in other words, would not payment of Members meet most of the difficulties? There are many workmen who would be glad to be relieved of the compulsory levies imposed for this object. I heard from a very respected trades union leader the other day who spoke of one branch in a town where he lived which had 168 compulsory subscribers, and when the Osborne case was decided the number fell to seventy. That is not a very welcome circumstance. I do not know whether the reasons were financial or political, but I am sure hon. Members will judge for themselves whether it would be welcome to these men to have the levy reimposed by legislation which would practically be of a compulsory character. There is another danger which has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Birkenhead to which I think the Labour party should give far more careful consideration. I allude to the case of the possible passive resister. The hon. Member's Amendment deals with the case of a man who has subscribed to his union, may be, for ever so many years, having joined without knowing that it was or could be affiliated to any particular society. I am sure Labour Members are amongst the most fairminded Members of this House, and I think they will see that it does not quite conform to our sense of justice if such men have so high a degree of attachment to their political principles that they cannot conscientiously go on making the payment of these levies and run the risk of losing their trade benefits for which they may have been subscribing for twenty, thirty, or forty years. That is a real practical difficulty. Labour Members must not think that it is in any spirit unsympathetic to them that the Government put that difficulty before them. We have to go beyond Resolutions to Bills and beyond 1355 Bills to Debates in the House of Commons. Therefore, it is a consideration which certainly presents itself before the mind of a Minister and of a Government, and it ought to be not less present to the minds of the Labour party themselves. Is it really wise of them to wholly exclude the consideration of that possibility? I listened to the able speeches of both the Mover and the Seconder, and I think, with the Amendment on the Paper, they might have thrown some light on that question and have given me some guidance in the remarks I have had to address to the House, but they did not do so. I cannot help feeling that they have not fairly faced that difficulty in their Resolution.
After all, the question has arisen. I do not think it is very widely understood, and I do not think it has been sufficiently long under consideration either by Labour men or the country at large. We shall lose nothing whatever if it is followed by a more extended public discussion than it has yet received. Perhaps it is fortunate in some respects that the Question comes up at a time when we are unable to deal with it, because we cannot follow this Resolution by any immediate legislation. Whether we like it or not, there must be time for discussion, and I think, on the whole, it is well there should be time.
I think the case put forward by the hon. Member for Birkenhead is exactly the kind of case that will gain by consideration in the course of time. I believe the Labour party will try to meet that case, otherwise they will undoubtedly endanger the solidarity of the trades union movement. It cannot be supposed that members of the trades unions who have shown that they are not altogether in agreement with the purpose of this levy are going lightly to submit. Could there be a worse thing for the trades unions of England than to have their industrial organisations divided and classified? It would be one of the most disastrous things that could possibly happen to the trades union movement. Therefore, the time for further discussion, which I think is essential, ought certainly to be taken advantage of by those who have brought forward this Resolution. Under circumstances like these, I am sure the House will not be surprised that the Government do not propose to put on their Whips. They think that party pressure in a matter of this kind would, especially at this stage, be inappropriate. That I hope will only 1356 be a reason why hon. Members will consider all the phases of this question raised by the Debate to-night.
§ Mr. D. J. SHACKLETON
I rise with some considerable hesitancy at this moment, because I find it almost impossible for me to answer all the questions addressed to the party which I represent, but I will do my best in the time at my disposal. I want, first of all, to point out a little more definitely than has already been done that this decision is of a most sweeping character. I think the House will admit that it has been for the benefit of the community as a whole that when great matters affecting labour—factory legislation, workmen's compensation, the Mines Regulation Acts, and all other similar matters—are before this House it should be possible for the trades unions to send their leading men to put before the Ministers of the State their case on those matters. I am not now dealing with thin Parliament at all or with Parliamentary representation. Under this decision, such an expenditure would be illegal.
§ Mr. SHACKLETON
I am really astonished at the hon. Member. The authority with which he speaks on this matter leads me to think he has been behind the scenes. We are speaking on the authority of men well qualified to give us an opinion. I think I might say that the hon. and learned Gentleman himself is not far from holding the view that this prevents us spending any money on any political action —not Parliamentary representation, but political action. I have been told on very high authority that if I were to come down with a deputation from the Cotton Weavers and put before the Government the alteration of the law we desired, I should have to bear the expense myself. No section of this House will challenge the fact that the addition of Labour members to our local administrative bodies—to our urban, district, city and county councils—has been to the advantage of the community. But we cannot even pay the election expenses of any one of these men. We do not pay them for their services, but we cannot assist in any shape or form to return them. I want the House clearly to understand the extent of helplessness in which we shall be placed if this decision is not removed. The statements I have made are based on very high authority, and it has been a matter of considerable thought with us how to get 1357 out of the difficulty. As to the right, surely the House must remember that you cannot live for forty years exercising a right without having an idea that you possess it. The minority man has been there all the time, and without being offensive or suggesting offence, may I ask how it is that certain hon. Members on this side of the House never raised objections when the Tory was paying for Labour Members? The situation has not changed one iota. Some hon. Members have got the bogey of Socialism in their heads, and that is the only thing that has aroused feeling at the present time.
The constitution which they quote so often is not what they put before this House. I am sorry to say that even the Attorney-General stumbled into a mistake on that point. The constitution says that candidates and members must accept the constitution and agree to abide by the decision of the Parliamentary party in carrying out the aims of the constitution. What are those aims? It is not Socialism. There is not a single resolution passed at any of our congresses in that direction included in our constitution. The object, as stated in the constitution, is simply this: to secure the election of candidates to Parliament and to organise and maintain a Parliamentary party with its own Whips and policy. There is not a word about any particular subject we are to bring up in this House. I quite agree with much that has been said about signing the agreement. I have been against it all along; I do not think it is worth having, and I should vote for its deletion tomorrow. The party which I have the honour to represent to-night is in exactly the same position as any other party. The only difference is we put it in writing: we ask for a signature. Has it always been insisted upon? The House must know that on the education question several of our Members voted against the party view on every occasion, and we all know, too, that they have done so on great national questions outside Labour questions; it is necessary that the constituency which sends a Member to Parliament should have some voice as to the way in which he should vote. Then, again, there is such a thing as a sense of loyalty. How would the Government exist to-day without such a sense of loyalty? They do not ask their supporters to sign their name to anything. We are the only ones who have foolishly done so, and as I have already said, personally I would see that dropped to-morrow with the greatest pleasure.
1358 There can be no question about this, matter being fully before the country and the Members, and before the Charter of 1871 and the Amending Act of 1875 were passed there is no question about trades unionists being led into paying money for political purposes without the fact being clearly stated. Two or three years before the Trades Union Act was passed, the Trades Unions Congress in 1869 had this matter before them, and passed a Resolution in favour of direct representation. I have a circular which was sent out shortly after the Act of 1871 was passed by the committee of the Labour Representation League, and it is signed by a late hon. Member of this House, Mr. Henry Broad-nurst, and it is on the lines of this document that the matter proceeded. It says:—The two great political parties of the country are about to grapple with each other all over the Kingdom. There are at the present moment several Labour candidates in the field. We ask you earnestly and emphatically, as you prize your rights as citizens, to vote for those without hesitation. We ask you to vote fop Labour candidates in order that you may assert your right to direct representation.I could cite quotation after quotation in order to show that it was desired by the trades unions to bring about direct representation. The Father of this House, who.was present at the Trades Unions congress, spoke in his time in favour of the same principle, and every year he has sat in this House he has received financial support from Liberals, Socialists, and Conservatives alike. It is only when we become an effective force that this trouble is raised about our heads, and the legal people are called in to give a decision and to upset what everybody, laymen and lawyers alike, believed to be the position of affairs up to the Osborne case. We had not been unmindful before trouble arose to take legal action ourselves, and we sought the highest legal opinion of the day when this matter was first mooted through the Railway Servants' Society. We sought the opinion of the present Lord Chancellor (then Sir Robert Reed) and Sir Edward Clarke, and this is what they said:—The society can raise money for the purposes which fall within the declared objects" for which it exists. The first of those objects is to improve the conditions and protect the interests of its members. The question of whether the maintenance of Parliamentary representation falls within that object or not is not a question of law, but a question of fact to be determined by judges, and in our opinion the Court ought to hold that this society is entitled to require by properly made rules, a contribution from its members for Parliamentary representation.They go on further to say that the rule must definitely set out certain matters, and when one hon. Member says that we 1359 have gone beyond our rules, that is not the fact. It is not a resolution of the society that we go upon, but it is the declared rules, carried by a fair majority of two-thirds or three-fourths, and not until the rule is carried can a resolution to select a candidate be carried into effect in any shape or form. I do not attach much weight to the sanction of the registrar, as his is an administrative act, but he sanctions it in accordance with the law as he understands it exists. It simply comes before him for an administrative act. I want to state my view as to how we shall deal with the minority man. We accept the warning of the Attorney-General with all the weight that attaches to his name, but I am afraid he has not a practical knowledge of the trades unions. He does not know how this thing can be seized hold of without it being a real reason.
I will give an illustration which actually happened to an hon. Friend of mine. All parties in the House and out of the House begin to realise now that the chosen spokesman of the executive authority of a union, whether he is the chairman or the representative, is the proper party to deal with all trade difficulties. I know from my own experience that it is not always a pleasant task to face a crowd of thousands of people and tell them the trades union executive has considered the case, and that they are wrong and must go to their work. Where are you going to land us with this exemption? When we are doing our purely trades union work the longer you can retain in this House as a Labour man a trusted trades union official the better for good Labour legislation. We want the men who have practical experience of life to deal with men directly day by day as well as the politicians who from educational opportunities may shine in certain things more than we do. But when that man goes down, as one of my hon. Friends has done in the last two or three days, and faced a crowd of men, and said, "You are wrong. This dispute has no right to exist. I have consulted the executive. I agree with the executive, and you must go to work in the interests of peace and of the proper regulation of the conditions between capital and labour," what has happened? These men were really supporters of my hon. Friend, paying contributions without demur, but immediately he advised them on a purely trades union 1360 issue—an issue which every Member in the House would agree he has a proper right to do—they say they are not going to pay another penny to that man, and they will stop his screw. That has actually happened. I want my hon. Friend, whose interest in the trades union movement I do not question, to realise that this exemption goes a little further than political issues, and if he will show me how he is going to get round it I will listen to the possibilities. I know, from personal experience that it is difficult to get round it. You cannot question the reason a member gives—he may be entirely with you politically—for going against what you consider the proper trades union position. To spite you, he will play the political card in order to defeat the union official who has done his duty as he ought to have done. I was sorry my hon. Friend brought in the name of Mr. Richard Bell. I have gone through all this from the beginning. I have been one of the two or three who have done their level best to make things easy for my friend, Mr. Bell. I know the situation all through, and I think my hon. Friend would have been well advised to have kept his name out. He knows I am no enemy of his as an individual. The fact that the railway servants were the prime movers, and carried the first resolution forming our present party, ought to have had some weight with Mr. Richard Bell, and when you talk about loyalty I want hon. Members to remember that we look for loyalty in leaders as well as in men.
It has been suggested that we should accept payment of Members absolutely. Here, again, knowledge of this subject is erroneous. Take my own case—returning officer's expenses £320, total expenses £1,160, and well within the limit. How am I to find that money? The trades union must find it, and every member in it must find it. He is quite willing to accept the benefits which the deputation brings him, which the action of our executive brings him, and which Parliamentary representation brings him, and I should think more of this point of the minority man if my hon. Friend had raised it when all the Labour representation in this House was only a wing of the Liberal party. That is the trouble, and I want to be frank. My hon. Friend's sudden defence of the minority man comes rather late in the day. We as practical officials have got to face the minority situation, and I suggest to the House that the trades union movement is well able to deal with a situation like that.
1361 There are certain issues fostered by certain interests in the country that are made predominant in certain directions. The education question can be made a very thorny point to the trades unions. What is a trades union to do when its chief object is not Parliamentary representation? It has in its organisation all the other work of a trades union—sick benefit and all the other multifarious duties. When that trades union finds a minority is of so great importance in this matter it is not wise to proceed further with Labour representation. It will wait. It will not go to the extent of wrecking the organisation by forcing on the minority Labour representation which would be dangerous to the union as a whole. When the members of a trades union are not sufficiently ripe for it it should not be forced upon them.
I wish to point out the difficulty of allowing men to pick and choose what part they will pay. That is absolutely fatal to any union at all. The case I have quoted is typical of what will happen all over the place, and I want the House to realise that that is a serious situation. I want to conclude with one appeal. I notice that the Attorney-General did not suggest that he had come to a definite decision' in this matter. He gave it as his personal advice to us that we should carefully consider the matter. I may say that we have already done so. The Government Whips are not to be put on. We admit there is not much to be done in the way of this matter being settled this Session. I want to explain to the new Members that there was no sharp practice about the Bill at all. We understand the forms of the House. The Bill is in draft and ready to be printed immediately it is found opportune to bring it in. When we found that it could only get second place on a Friday, we thought it was better to bring forward a Resolution. I ask the Government not to prejudge this question, but to leave it open. An opportunity will come before long to have this matter rediscussed. I think the House will appreciate what I have said. We know the situation fairly well from our point of view. We have no desire to be oppressive, but I do say, with all the deliberation I can command, that the suggestion of my hon. Friend is not the way out. I ask the House to agree that the powers which have been taken from us, and which we have exercised reasonably and fairly for forty years, ought to be 1362 restored. Let the House declare in favour of the principle by accepting the Resolution.
§ Mr. MARKHAM
The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Shackleton) and others talk in a very different way in this House from what they do in the country. The hon. Member for Clitheroe stated that the Members of the Labour party did not always vote together. That is not so. I have taken the trouble to look through all the votes given by the Labour party during last Parliament and I find that the only Members who voted against the party were representatives of constituencies where armaments were made. They voted against the party on the armaments question, and also on the thorny point to which he referred, the Education Bill, some of his party voted against that because they would have lost their seats in Lancashire if they had not done so.
§ Mr. MARKHAM
The hon. Member's, action was coincident with the fact that if he had not voted in accordance with his conscience he would have lost his seat. The point which I wish to bring before the House has been raised by the Mover of the Resolution, that the object of certain people is to destroy trades union representation in this House. The Mover and Seconder of the Resolution cannot say that I, as a large employer of labour, have not been a friend to trades unionism all my life, and therefore to say that we who object to the principle of compulsory levy are enemies of trades unionism is not a fair representation of the case. My objection to compulsory levy is this. The House knows perfectly well that the majority of Members who belong to trades unions are not free agents in this matter as to whether they will contribute towards a Parliamentary fund or not. If they did not contribute they know that they would lose their employment because all men who do-not contribute to the fund are driven out of the union. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I have actually taken the course in my employment that I will not employ a man who is not a trades unionist, because I find it so much more convenient to deal with my men through a trades union than with individuals. It is the rule in all companies under my sole administration that every member should belong to a trades union, and I should not employ him-if he were not a member. Therefore, it 1363 cannot be said that I have exaggerated the case in that respect. I believe that if this House permits the principle of compelling men to contribute to a fund to which they in their own individual capacities are not disposed to contribute, all liberty of the subject will be gone for men who return Members to this House.
§ Mr. JOHN TAYLOR
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Mr. BARNES
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
§ And it being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.