§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I rise to move the following Resolution:—That this House regrets that the directors of the railway companies have refused to meet the representatives of the men, in order to discuss the Report of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the Railway Conciliation Agreement of 1907, declares such refusal to be contrary to the public interest, and to have no justification, and asks the Government to bring both sides into conference without delay.In doing so it is necessary to make it perfectly clear to the House that the Resolution raises only a narrow and very specific point. It will be necessary very likely at some future time, not very remote, to discuss the question of railwaymen's wages and the very much larger question of the relation between the State and railway management in the form of railway nationalisation. I think that recent events have made both of these things inevitable. But neither of them can be settled to-day or next month, and what this House has to do now is to consider the crisis which next month may involve the country in a dispute as objectionable and as dangerous as the dispute which broke out last August. 1210 Therefore, I have confined my Motion to the one point of asking the Government to procure a meeting between the railway directors and the railway servants, at the same time expressing regret that the railway directors have up to now refused the overtures the Government have made to them. I hope in what I have to say I shall raise no feeling that will make that meeting either impossible or difficult; and more particularly as I understand I am to be followed by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for one of the Divisions of Essex (Colonel Lockwood). I am thus full of hope, not only because of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's genial personality—[An HON. MEMBER: "He will not follow."] Oh, I am mistaken. I was informed that I was to be followed by the right hon. and gallant Member. I am very sorry, because as a railway director, and as a frequent spokesman in this House for the railway companies I feel perfectly certain that had the matter been left in his hands it would have been possible to come to an arrangement which would have been satisfactory and honourable to both sides. More particularly so, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has from time to time assisted us, and asked our assistance for his own work in imposing trade unionism upon the Government; and also in imposing upon the taxpayers of this country a 30s. weekly wage minimum. I think that such a record is a very proper one on the part of a railway director who is going to meet trade union representatives, and I was rather pleasing myself with the idea that the right hon. Gentleman was really going to be the spokesman of the directors to-day.
This House must first of all be reminded of the events which led up to the present situation. I will not detail them, because they must be present in the minds of every hon. Member. There was the disturbance and unrest of 1907, followed by the Conciliation Agreement, an agreement which was imposed upon the men by their leaders. It was never pretended by anybody at that time that the railway workers of this country were favourable to that agreement, which was come to in their name. Loyally they agreed to carry it out. But no sooner was the agreement carried out, no sooner did the men meet the employers, than by a series of jugglings and readjustments the benefits given to the men by the awards were reduced, taken away, diminished, until before 1910 had ended, the whole staff of 1211 railway employés of this country had made up their minds that the railway companies were not honourably and fairly carrying out the obligations imposed upon them by the agreement. I have not the least doubt but that the railway companies have got their reply. As a matter of fact they have their reply. Whatever their reply is it cannot challenge as a statement of absolute fact what I am saying now in respect of the men. Rightly or wrongly, the men have come to the conclusion that the Conciliation Boards, established by agreement in 1907, were not doing fairly by them. They had no hope at all from them. The result was, instead of stating grievances that were, what one might call practical, instead of laying down programmes that could be carried into effect immediately, the men, in their state of hopeless despair, fell back upon a kind of legal moral issue. They substituted legal moral claims for programmes, with the result that something which was not exactly a spirit of revolt began to be prevalent—a spirit which is behind revolutions rather than gradual and slight changes.
The unrest which flourished during July and August had a characteristic which was far more than that of a mere passing agitation. It had the characteristic of a fundamental upstirring, of fundamental discontent with everything in general, which could only let itself go in ways which are only too familiar with the public. But lest hon. Gentlemen opposite imagine that by saying that I am confessing that that state of mind was confined to the men, let me also say that the classes with whom they are more intimately associated than we are, were in precisely the same state of mind. There was nothing more revolutionary than the extraordinary talk that one heard in respectable company in railway carriages coming into the City in the morning. We had better disabuse our minds of the notion that the feeling was confined to one class. All classes, rich and poor together, the capitalist class and the labouring class in those extraordinary months of last summer were seized with a sort of revolutionary spirit, which the right hon. Gentleman, the then Home Secretary, expressed very admirably, by sending troops from Aldershot all over the country to maintain civil order. The result of that was the railway strike. That railway strike, after a day or two, was settled at 1212 midnight one Saturday, one part of the settlement being the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the working of the 1907 agreement.
That brings me to a point which I think it advisable to raise straight away. There have been varied reports published regarding the attitude that the men agreed to take up in respect of that Commission. It has been stated that before the Commission was appointed and before they knew who was to sit upon it, they had bound themselves absolutely to accept its decisions. Again desiring to be quite fair, whilst, of course, at the same time taking the men's side, as I do, I think there is some evidence in favour of that view. But I think the evidence is inadequate. The statement was, first of all, published in the men's official organ, the "Railway Review," and it apparently admitted that the men's leaders had agreed to accept the Report. That statement was made by the Noble Lord, one of the Members of this House who sits opposite, who is connected with the railways. I would ask hon. Members to get a copy of the "Railway Review." If they do they will find that that statement was simply embodied amongst the news. It was the sort of paragraph that is lifted out of one newspaper into another without acquiescence and without comment, simply lifted out and reproduced for what it is worth. The "Railway Review" never lent its weight never gave its backing, to the assumption that the men had agreed beforehand to accept this Report. There is another piece of evidence. Mr. Bellamy, the president of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants and the chairman of the joint executives that met to conduct the negotiations, was reported in "The Times" as having stated as a witness before the Commission that he was going to accept the Report. The curious thing is that in the official record of his evidence no such statement appears. That record, as published, is an uncorrected record. Apparently there has been some little misunderstanding. Finally, and most seriously, there is the statement issued by the Board of Trade itself. That, undoubtedly, is a most serious part of the case against the men. I should like to say what my view is of that. I think most hon. Members in this House know I was present during the whole of the negotiations that took place at the Board of Trade. I desire to say nothing that I should not say, but what really happened was this. After a very long and 1213 exceedingly tiring and wearying day a settlement was arrived at. That settlement was signed, sealed and delivered just about midnight, and everybody was exceedingly pleased, and hon. Members I am sure can very well imagine that everybody was only too delighted to give his mind relaxation the moment a definite settlement was come to, and apparently after the signing of the settlement the Board of Trade produced a document, and although I was present I never heard it and never knew it was done, which it read but did not put before the men. I want to be quite clear about this. I am giving my own version.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I do not know. I do not know whether it was read, although I was present, but it was read to the men according to the information given, and in this document there appears a form of words which undoubtedly commits the men to acceptance of the proposals. But I feel perfectly certain that everybody in this House, under the circumstances, will not insist that the letter of that statement, which was read to tired men scattered all over the room, should bind them absolutely in such circumstances. I do not think it is fair. They put no names to it, and if hon. Members will look at the document for themselves they will find that the signatures are above that statement, and I contend that that statement was nothing but a sort of unofficial addendum to the official agreement. I do not want to press it too far, but I do think to simply use that as an argument to show that the men did absolutely bind themselves to accept this Report without question and without discussion is really driving the semblance of a bargain far too far. I can say, so far as I am concerned, that if I had known that that statement was read and if I had the information that it was going to be placed before the men, I certainly would have advised them not to accept it in its then form, because it stands to reason that men occupying the delicate and responsible position that the men's representatives did that Saturday night never would, and never could and never hoped to, have subscribed to such a statement as that. I, therefore, come back to the statement made in this House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was telling us upon what condition the Commission was going to be elected. Will the House allow me to remind it of what was said by the 1214 Chancellor of the Exchequer on 17th August. These are his words:—But I am still very sanguine that when the men come to realise the full character of the proposal of the Government, that it is intended to give them every fair play and every opportunity, and that it is not at all a mere attempt to lure out of their hands the great weapon of striking, but that it is merely an attempt for the moment to see whether we cannot arrive at the facts which must alone be a basis of safe negotiation, to arrive at that promptly, to arrive at it without loss of time and in such a way that if the men are not satisfied with the recommendations of the Committee they could still fall back upon the very powerful weapon in their hands."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th August, cols. 2186–7.]These were the words used by the Chancellor on the Thursday, and with that general idea in mind the men went into negotations, and with that general idea in mind they came out of the negotiations. I therefore think it is unfair to hold the men bound absolutely by a statement which was published, I have not the least doubt, in the best of faith and with the best of intentions by the Board of Trade. I find the extract I read from the right hon. Gentleman's speech ended too abruptly, and that he continued it in these words:—And they are not bound by the recommendations.My extract was taken from the OFFICIAL REPORT. I think in this case, at any rate, it would be unfair to put the point too far. I am willing to admit this, I have always said it, and I am going to say at again in this House—I am perfectly willing to admit that there was a sort of understanding that when the Report was issued it would be the basis for complete settlement; that there might be small alterations; that there might be some amendments in the agreement superimposed upon it, but that so far as it went it would lay the general foundation which, in its general aspects and general attitude, was to settle what the foundation of the agreement was to be. I think that understanding was a real one, and to that idea the men will stick in the whole of their negotiation.
Under that impression certainly the four executives of the railway men wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, in which they said:—While the proposals of the Royal Commission are disappointing to the men, we nevertheless feel the scheme suggested does provide for a basis of agreement between the railway companies and their employés.That was in the official letter written to the Prime Minister, and, acting upon that letter, the Prime Minister asked the directors to meet the men and the directors refused, and, as the result of that refusal, I have put my Motion on the Paper and this Debate is taking place. Now I hope the 1215 result of this Debate is going to be peace. I hope we are not going to go on, if I may say so, in the very foolish way in which things have been conducted between the directors and the men in the last few years. When the directors tell us that they are anxious to carry out the Report, may I ask them what parts of the Report they are anxious to carry out, because we are anxious to carry out the Report in its entirety. What does the Report say? There are certain parts of the Report which are very uncertain—its scope, for instance. What is the width of the field which the Report actually covers? The Commissioners themselves were evidently aware that it was indefinite and that powers should be given to the Board of Trade to decide what grade should come inside the Report. With all respect to the Board of Trade, I think that could be much better settled by the directors and the representatives of the trade union co-operating to carry out that part of the Report. The Board of Trade is an exceedingly valuable instrument in industrial disputes, and is becoming more and more valuable, but I think this House should be very jealous lest the Board of Trade should have little pettifogging duties imposed upon it, because the more tiny the class of duty imposed upon the Board of Trade, the more difficult is it for the Board of Trade to keep that sense of dignity and respect which it must have if it is to be an efficient go-between between capital on the one hand and labour on the other. If the Board of Trade is to settle whether this grade comes in and that grade goes out, then the Board of Trade is going to be covered up in an amount of pettifogging details and duties, and will lose the influence it has so steadily gained in the last ten years.
Then there are some points, I fear, of misunderstanding. We must remember the whole thing was hurried. The men's evidence could not be given after proper consideration. The companies' evidence was given under exactly the same disadvantageous circumstances, and the Commissioners themselves were unable to spend very much time in careful consideration of what evidence was to come before them. The House demanded in the last days of the Summer Session that this Commission should not only set to work at once, but that it should produce its Report without delay, and the result is that there are some misunderstandings and there are some ambiguous statements. I will give 1216 an example of some of the recommendations of the Commission. They recommend that before a petition should be dealt with that 25 per cent. of the members of the grade affected should sign it, which is, I am perfectly certain, a condition that the directors themselves do not want to enforce, and that the trade unions are very anxious not to enforce. That is a case in point. Surely the best way to settle that is for the two parties to meet at the Board of Trade or elsewhere and go over such points as these, and come together in a friendly understanding. That is not all the Commission does. In the very first Clause in this scheme, on page 15 of the Report, we find the expression:—Unless otherwise mutually arranged, the procedure laid down in paragraphs 2–8 shall be adopted.There you have a clear anticipation of mutual arrangement. How is a mutual arrangement to be come to unless by the method suggested in the Resolution I am now moving. But the Report goes further, and on page 8, the 24th paragraph, is as follows:—It would serve no purpose to discuss the probability as to what might have happened if the relations between the companies and the trade unions had admitted, before or at the time of the launching of the national programme of an interchange of ideas as to its feasibility, but the conclusion might reasonably be drawn that such an interchange of opinions at that stage would have been attended with valuable results.That is a very clear expression which must be accepted by the directors if they are to justify their claims as being the only parties who are going to accept this Report; but that is not all, because on page 11 at the top of paragraph 53—I will read the latter part of the paragraph which is the only essential part—it says:The witness who appeared before us on behalf of the Great Western Railway, gave an illustration of the valuable results which attended his collaboration with the trade union official who had conducted a case of the men before the arbitrator. In that instance, many vexed points of interpretation were settled quite satisfactorily, and in our opinion a more general adoption of this method of negotiation would be helpful to both parties.There are other statements scattered through the Report, and in addition to definite statements, there is a spirit in the Report which the directors ought to carry out just as loyally and favourably as they say they propose to carry out the letter. My fifth reason is this: The Commissioners pointed out in the paragraph which I first read that in their opinion things would have been very much better if the 1907 agreement had been preceded by a conference between the men and the directors. Are we going to have a Royal Commission sitting and taking evidence in 1915 and 1217 reporting upon a conciliation scheme of 1911 or 1912, and beginning the report explaining why it has failed by the reflection that if the directors and men had met in December, 1911, the conciliation scheme of 1912 would have been more successfully carried out? The situation to-day is just what it was in 1907, and I feel perfectly certain that if hon. Members with the least knowledge of human nature would only remember what happened in 1907, they would see not only that the agreement that was then come to was foredoomed to failure, but also that the policy which was embodied in that agreement was also foredoomed to failure.
What was the plan? Three or four representatives of trade unions, who are good honest reasonable men, sit in one room, and then we have three or four representatives of the railway companies sitting in another room, and the suggestion is made that they should sit together, but the directors say "No, we will negotiate, but there must be an office boy who will carry the papers between us." That was exactly what happened, only they did not ask for an office boy, but for a Board of Trade clerk or a Minister. What does it matter who did the messenger boy's job. There they sat and they discussed matters separately, and when a comma, had to be altered the messenger had to go to the railway directors in the other room and say, "The men in the other room want this comma altered," and the railway directors had to consider it. Then they sent the Report back, and that is how it went on, clause after clause and section after section. The whole thing was a miserable piece of nursery dignity which reflected not only on the business capacity of those concerned, but upon ordinary simple common sense. The 1907 spirit, so long as it lasts, will maintain unrest, unsettlement, suspicion and disturbance upon our railway system. But that is not all. Look what happens afterwards! You get your men organised in unions. You may like them or you may dislike them. They write letters to railway directors, and they write official letters. Why, these railway directors are such dignified beings that they cannot even send a printed reply by way of acknowledgment to these letters. What do you expect men will do under those circumstances? Do you expect the men are going quietly to submit to this sort of thing, and do you expect that their speeches are always going to be calm and rational statements under those circumstances? I do not think they are. I hope 1218 we have not sunk to that state of submission. These two things together, the mere fact of the conditions under which the 1907 Agreement was come to, and the refusal to acknowledge—
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
That will be dealt with later on. It was the non-acknowledgment. The refusal to acknowledge implies a positive action. The hon. Baronet is right if he wants to tell us that the railway directors had not the courtesy to do negative things in a positive way.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not mean that at all. What I want to say is that any railway director will answer any communication coming from a railway man, but he will not answer a communication coming from others who have nothing to do with the matter.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I am exceedingly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for verifying my argument, and not only for verifying it, but also for illustrating the spirit. Of course, a railway director replies to individual men, and when the individual men ask for things and press for things which are not convenient to be given, the railway superintendents then victimise them. Why can not we let all that be bygones. At any rate, that is the object of the Resolution I have put down on the Paper, which I hope will be accepted generally on both sides of the House. I want to refer to another important matter in connection with railways. The Government itself must make up its mind where it stands. It is a very praiseworthy aim of the Government to try to be neutral on such occasions as happened in August, but the Government cannot be neutral because that is absolutely impossible. At the present moment if a dispute takes place on the railways, it can be settled in favour of the men only on one condition, and one condition only, and that is that they are able to paralyse the traffic. That is the only method. It is no use being mealy-mouthed about it, because that is the fact. If the men can be goaded up to that point of resistance at which they put their hands in their pockets and walk away from their work, and if the directors can keep the railway service going without those men in precisely the same way and in the same state of efficiency as with the men, then, of course, the men are bound to be beaten. That is the whole situation, 1219 and that is as plain a fact as that two and two in mathematics make four. If the Government say that if the men paralyse the traffic the suffering and the injustices done to society are so great that we cannot allow it, what are they doing? They may be fulfilling a very necessary function, but in the fulfilment of it they are taking sides with the directors, and that is inevitable. That was shown by the fact that when the railway directors left the Board of Trade in August, with a promise of soldiers in their pockets, they did not leave with long faces, but they left with smiling faces, and they did not keep it dark. On the contrary, they published it through the news agency.
I hope the Government will not misunderstand the point which I am making. I am not saying to the Government that they ought to stand by and allow the paralysis to take place, but I am saying to the Government that if they are not going to stand by and allow the paralysis to take place they must come in before war is declared. If the Government is going to be neutral it must take action now, and not wait until the ballots from the men are counted and the executives have declared in favour of a strike. That is my point, and I cannot help feeling that the Government Will appreciate its force. On the other hand, the Government might say to the directors, "We will run the traffic." Yes, that would please us better, but that would be taking sides against the directors. I am not going to say that they should, but I am describing the effect. That is the situation the Government will find itself in if it waits until war is declared before taking action. The whole point of my argument is that I want to press upon the Government—agreeing that they cannot stand by, that they cannot allow the traffic to be paralysed, or allow things to come to the verge of national starvation—that the responsibility is upon them to see that the employers and the men meet together to settle their differences in ways that other trades settle their differences with the success that has been conspicuous ever since that method has been adopted. The foundation of the Government's position imposes a responsibility upon society which society has never yet accepted, and I think it leads to railway nationalisation. I think it is bound to come to that. I believe a good many hon. Members apposite are sharing the same opinion, but we are here discussing this definite point, and I am not going 1220 to wander away to the larger point. I think this House ought to very honestly face the situation, and I think that is the contention at any rate of some of the railway directors. I am very happy to know it is not the contention of all railway directors, not of the new enlightened men but of the old and somewhat out-of-date men both in method and spirit. I know that you can have railway peace without trade unions and without recognition of trade unions. I admit you can have it without these things. You can have peace with sweated wages. You can have peace with unjust conditions, and you can have peace with the degradation of labour to which the railway companies have contributed more during the last ten or twelve years than any other industry in the country. If the railway directors want that kind of peace they must put up with such serious breaches of it every now and again as that which took place in August last, and with still more serious breaches than that. Those who seek peace and good understanding would not take that course. If we felt that that was the settled policy of the railway companies, then we should not be quite so active and anxious to come to an agreement and arrange terms honourable to both parties. The only condition of peace that gives any kind of security for progressive work and for a real good feeling is to recognise the unions. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the North-Eastern?"] That is a perfectly simple problem. If you get one railway system in the whole country with common members belonging to a common union why it would be sheer insanity for anyone to imagine that this little oasis in a desert of disturbance is going to be perfectly calm and never show a ripple of disturbance. [Laughter.] I am very sorry that the evidence given to the Royal Commission has not been published or hon. Members opposite would not laugh at my statement. The statement I have made is practically the statement which Mr. Butterworth made on behalf of the North-Eastern Railway Company. The men on the North-Eastern Railway belonging to the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants going upon common stations where they meet their fellows belonging to other railway companies who have not the same advantages cannot possibly hold themselves out. The Noble Lord opposite is a very good example. I am quite sure the Noble Lord will admit the justice and accuracy of my illustration. How often has the Noble Lord, without any personal 1221 grievance at all, but fired by the enthusiasm burning in the breast of his party at the time, if I may say so, rather misbehaved himself? The Noble Lord, under those circumstances, is a very appropriate example of the North-Eastern Railway Company. The Noble Lord has wonderful facilities for special recognition.
The claim is always made that the membership of the trade unions is a very infinitesimal proportion of the whole of the railway staff. Well, it is, but not nearly so infinitesimal as some hon. Gentlemen imagine. Statements have been made that it is over 70 per cent., but it is at least 50 per cent.; it is less in some railways, but it is practically everybody eligible in others, and, taking it all round, I should think you get between 40 and 60 per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "More."] Well, as I say, it varies a great deal. The statement I saw the other day was that it was at least 50 per cent. My hon. Friend can easily correct my mistake. Is not that always the case? Take political parties. Take the Conservative party in this country. Its organised force is an infinitesimal part of the great body of the electors who turn up and vote for it at the poll. The Liberal party is in the same condition, and so are we. All these active movements, movements not active merely when there is some big question raised, when everybody has his hat off and is cheering, and when there is a great wave of excitement, but movements carried on day after day, dull days as well as exciting days, pushing the desire for progressive change—the organisation that watches and examines and files away information, and keeps in touch with the men—must always be a small nucleus of the great mass whose interest they look after. That is exactly the position of the trade unions. Get your trade unions into conflict with capital, and then what happens? You find the large part of the non-unionists either at once joins the union or comes out along with the union men, and those who remain in are always willing to receive the charity of the public behind their backs, but expect to get the advantages of wages gained by their trade union fellows as soon as peace is declared. Therefore, if the railway directors want to keep in sympathetic touch with that living, thinking, active nucleus of the men that produces the programmes, that voices the feelings of the men, and that speaks for the men, they ought to do just what the engineering people have done, what the iron people have done, what all the other 1222 large employers of labour in the country have done, and accept the trade union as a rough-and-ready, and, in times of difficulty, an active voice and representation of the will and feeling of the men.
That is practically my case. We have got to create machinery which will enable men first to discuss their grievances. It must also enable the men to get their grievances redressed, and it must be of such a nature as to see that the redress of grievances upon paper—awards, for instance—are effectively carried out. Finally, if it is going to be as respected as I, at any rate, should like it to be, it must be kept going, like goodwill, by common sympathy and by a conviction on both sides that the other side is playing the game straight and fair and above-board. It is just there the Government comes in. I am perfectly sure if the railway directors once met their men they would never be happy without meeting them. There will always be trouble now and again. The Noble Lord, I am sure, will occasionally give trouble. There will always, every now and again, be little points that cannot be agreed upon. The Board of Trade can very easily settle that by a proper adjustment of the chairman's panel. The important thing is to get the two sides face to face, talking together, the employers compelling the men to face the employers' difficulties, and the men compelling the employers to face the men's difficulties; and, by that facing together of the common difficulties and by that compelling each side to see the difficulties of the other and the will of the other, you will get conditions as good as peace as you can have in this rough workaday world, as in other trades. Let me be quite clear. I do not withdraw what I said about the Report. That ought to be accepted as the basis of negotiations. That ought to lay the foundation of whatever fabric is going to produce that peace in the railway service.
The Prime Minister and the Government, if they care, can, I think, do that. The little pressure that is required, the little sort of ordering, if I may say so, that is necessary just to bring the conference into being, can quite properly be uttered and issued by the Government, and if it has any intention of doing anything at any time this is the time, because, if this time goes by, I do not know what is going to follow, end when another opportunity under similar favourable circumstances will occur. We want to give this Report a fair chance. We want to launch it fairly, and we do 1223 not want, therefore, to start it under the 1907 conditions. If the Government will accept my Resolution, I think—I believe—there will be peace. May I appeal to those who are speaking for the railway directors also to consider whether the time has not come to accept the proposal now, and whether, after all, the public interest and the public utility would not be very much better served by that method than by any other? At any rate, whatever the Government may do, and whatever the railway directors may do, the duty of this House is perfectly apparent. This House is charged with the custodianship of the public interest—that public interest which is always sacrificed when there is war between capital and labour, that public interest which is bound to suffer on whichever side the right is when there is a strike, as we know only too well. When there is a dispute, and when there is unrest, that public interest is bound to suffer, and this House is the custodian of that public interest. This House, feeling that responsibility, and desiring to lay broadly and squarely the foundations of industrial peace, whatever the Government may do and whatever the railway directors may do, ought to pass, with an overwhelming vote and with a decisive majority, the Motion which I have great pleasure in moving.
§ Mr. CAVE
I was hoping we should at once hear what were the views on this question of the Front Bench opposite, but, as that is not to be so, I think it would be convenient if I put shortly before the House the views of one who, though not a railway director, and, unfortunately, not even the holder of railway shares in his own right, yet does take a view more favourable to the directors than that put forward in this Resolution. I hope I shall be able to do so without heat and without saying one word to wound the feeilngs, I do not say of hon. Members opposite, but of railway men, who are, after all, to be considered in this matter. Will the House look for a moment at what are the terms of this Resolution. We are asked to express our regret that the directors refused to meet the representatives of the men in order to discuss this Report, and we are asked to say that refusal is contrary to the public interest and has no justification. I want to consider what is the meaning and what are the real grounds for such a resolution. I will not follow 1224 the hon. Member, and I will not go back to 1907, except to say that at the time of the compromise of 1907 the directors thought—I will say no more than that—the directors understood that for at all events seven years they were to hear no more of the demand for recognition. I know the men say they did not so understand it, and for present purposes I will accept the view that there was a misunderstanding. I only mention the matter in order to show that necessarily the directors in 1911 must have been on their guard, if they went into negotiations, and must have intended to have something which was a real and final settlement. Then came the unrest of 1911. I venture to say the hon. Gentleman has given a rather farcical account of the state of public opinion and feeling at the date of the unrest. According to him the revolutionary feeling of even season ticket-holders was so great that troops were sent in order to suppress their ebullitions and not those of the strikers.
I am not asking what was the real grievance of the men in 1911. I do not propose to consider the important points which arose between the unions and the directors. What I have to say will be directed to a totally different point. What happened? The men gave twenty-four hours' notice of their demand for better conditions, and then ordered a strike. The Government thereupon intervened with a view to stopping it. I have no doubt there was for a moment very grave national peril—and real peril of a strike on a large scale, and the Government brought both sides together for the purpose of effecting a settlement of the dispute. There were negotiations, and on the evening of 19th August an official statement was issued by the Board of Trade to the effect that, after prolonged discussion, "the following settlement had been unanimously arrived at"; not, mark you, as a basis of negotiation but a settlement of the dispute. There was added, in the same official statement, the sentence that "assurances have been given by both parties that they will accept the findings of the Commission." I think we know something more about that than we have heard from the hon. Member for Leicester. I shall be corrected if I am wrong. I understand the hon. Member was in the room as a perfectly friendly spectator on the part of the unions, but not as a negotiator, and, naturally, therefore, he may not have known all the facts. If I am correctly informed, this statement 1225 was read out, line by line, and was agreed to line by line, by the negotiators. Certain corrections were made, but no objection was raised to and no correction was made in this particular sentence. When the statement had been gone through line by line, the whole thing was read out again. Again no objection was taken, and then it was sent to the Press; therefore, if any statement ever represented the real effect of what happened at a meeting, this statement did so, and I cannot think how it can be repudiated now.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
May I say at once I do not agree with the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman as to what occurred.
§ Mr. CAVE
I hope, if I am wrong, I shall be corrected by the representative of the Government who was present on the occasion. But my statement of the case does not rest there. It does not even nearly rest there. This statement was published in full in the newspapers on Monday morning. It was published in an organ which is well known as the organ of the trade unions. I do not state that for the purpose of saying that mere publication bound anybody, but it is a fact that from that moment until after the award had been made, nobody, so far as I know, repudiated the statement. There is much more than that. The negotiators on behalf of the trade unions were Mr. Bellamy, Mr. Fox, and the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas). About Mr. Bellamy I say nothing, as there is a dispute as to what he said. Mr. Fox, speaking only a few days ago, after this question had arisen, said that while he did not admit that the men formally agreed to be bound by the statement, yet, as business men, they understood that, having allowed the Commission to sit, they were morally bound to accept its findings. Those are the words of the second negotiator. The third negotiator was the hon. Member for Derby. He made a certain statement in his evidence before the Commission, and I have no doubt that proofs of that evidence were sent to him to correct. The statement, as it appears in his evidence, tallies word for word with the account published in the "Manchester Guardian" on the following morning. This is what he said:—Part of the settlement last Saturday was that, the railway companies were prepared to fully abide by the findings of the Commission even to the extent of recognition, and we, on the other hand, say the same.1226 There is Negotiator No. 3. In terms he said he considered the men were prepared to accept the award. Mr. Charles, a member of the Executive of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, also gave evidence, and a question was put to him as follows:—Is it the fact that whatever recommendation this Commission may make, it is to be accepted by both the companies and the men?—A.: That is what our representatives tell us was the understanding under which they signed the agreement, and if that was not the understanding the strike would not have finished when it did.The hon. Member for Leicester said the evidence was inadequate, but it is all one way, and, to any reasonable body of men, I think this statement must carry the conviction that at the time when the Commission was first appointed everybody understood that they agreed to abide by the award when the award was made. Let me add one other reference. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in an answer to this House the other day in reference to this very statement, said, with great determination, that he had nothing whatever to add to it, and I think we all understood that to be a confirmation by him of the statement as being in all respects a correct statement of what occurred. So much for the agreement under which the Commission was appointed. It reported in due course. I am not going to follow the hon. Member opposite into a general discussion on the findings of that Report. That is not the matter before us at the present moment. But let me just say this, that while the Commission has reported, in effect, against recognition in the sense in which it was asked for, namely, that from the very beginning of a dispute the men should be entitled to be represented by the officials of the trade unions, they did recommend that, on the Sectional Board which is to settle disputes, the men should be entitled to appoint as their own secretary or their own advocate anybody they pleased, whether from inside or outside. The effect of that will be that where the majority of the men are members of a union or wish to be represented by the officials of that union they will be enabled to do so, so that while we have not got universal recognition we have this result, that where the majority of the men desire it they can have what is equivalent to a very effective recognition indeed in settling any particular question. That is all I want to say about the Report. May I just add a reference to paragraph 53 in the Report of the 1227 Commission, referring to the Great Western Railway Company—a paragraph in which it is stated that negotiations with union officials had in a certain case led to good results. But that was a case where the union officials represented the majority of the men concerned. That is the difficulty which lies at the bottom of the whole matter. I suppose that not more than one-third of the railway men are members of a trade union, and it is not right or fair to insist that those who are not unionists shall be represented by the union officials. When the Report was made, what happened? After a little consideration the representatives of the trade unions came to the conclusion that they did not like it, and they took a step which, to my mind, was a very serious one indeed. They sent the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister a letter covering a resolution, which stated that the societies could not accept the Report in its present form, and thatunless the scheme can be amended so as to become acceptable to the men we represent, we shall have no alternative but to reject it in its entirety.5.0 P.M.
In other words this means, "We have submitted the dispute to a Commission. We do not like the award of that Commission, and we consequently do not accept any part of it." I think that, in this matter, as in others, there ought to be fair play. I say that so far from there being no justification for the line taken on behalf of the directors they have a sufficient justification in the facts which I have stated. They take, as I understand, this view:—"We are business men; we have to manage our railways. We thought, rightly or wrongly, that we could not yield the full demands of the men, but, very reluctantly, we consented to refer the matter to a Royal Commission. That Royal Commission has reported in a certain way; not altogether in our favour, certainly not; but whatever its Report is we agreed to accept it, and we will do so. We will loyally carry it out." But the other party to the arbitration say—"No, we will not carry it out. We want a further discussion upon it, and we want to treat it only as a basis for further negotiations." Thereby the whole case is altered. You cannot expect men who have been so treated to go again into a discussion with people who, having referred the matter to arbitration, refuse to abide by the award of the Commission. 1228 Discussion under these conditions is of no use at all. You might have another Commission tomorrow, and you might have another finding, and that might be thrown over the day after. That is not the way in which business is done.
I do not go into the invective of the hon. Member for Leicester, because I do not think directors care about strong language on one side or the other. I believe they are business men, desiring to do their duty as directors of these railways, and to manage their lines for the benefit of the public and the shareholders. I think they are right in saying that this is not a businesslike way of dealing with the matter. Having got the award they mean to carry it out, and they ought not to be called upon by anybody to re-open the matter. If it is said, "Oh, we only want to discuss the interpretation of the award"; if it is said "We accept the award and we want to talk over with you what it means," that of course will be a wholly new attitude, because the Resolution says, that unless the award is altered, they will not accept it at all. Under the award it is provided that any question as to what it means must be settled by the Board of Trade, a perfectly impartial body, certainly not unduly favourable to the directors. They are ready to accept that. When disputes arise, as no doubt they will arise, they will come before the sectional board in a concrete form. That is generally the best way to settle these questions. The Board will consist of members from both sides and a perfectly impartial chairman. The directors say, "Raise your points before the Sectional Board; appoint, if the men please, an official of the union to represent their view, then we not only will, but we must, discuss the matter with him and hear what he says on your side, and then we shall get not only a discussion but a decision."
That is the only point I wish to bring before the House. It is for that reason, if for no other, that we ought not to accept a Motion of this kind. I quite agree with what was said the other day by the hon. Member for Derby, that, if as a result of this discussion there is a great strike, it will be nothing less than a national crime, but I want him and the House to consider who will be responsible for that crime. If I am right in the view I have put forward, that the men—I will not say the men, because I know it is not the men as a body, but the 1229 unions who claim to represent their members—are taking the grave step of repudiating their own agreement, and in order to get the award forcibly altered, are bringing upon us once more the unrest of last summer, I think the public will take a view very different from that they do usually take in disputes about wages. When the men want their wages raised you commonly find the public have a feeling that they hope the men will get some kind of an advance; I confess that I often have a feeling of that kind myself. But If a dispute arises in this way, if the men, having gone to arbitration and not having got altogether their way, then throw over the award, I am sure public feeling will be on the other side, and that the blame for this national crime, if you like to call it so, certainly it will be a national disaster, will not be upon the directors of the companies, but on the unions.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down began his speech by an expression, I will not say of surprise, but of criticism at any rate, of the Government for not having at once intervened in this Debate. I certainly thought it right myself, and I believe I shall be borne out by the general opinion of the House, that on a Motion of this kind, for which the Government have no responsibility, but which invites them in its concluding words to take a particular course, it was eminently desirable that before a representative of the Government said anything, we should have an opportunity of hearing the case presented both from the one side and the other. It has been so presented, and I may say, without any flattery or exaggeration, with moderation of language and cogency of argument, both by the hon. Member for Leicester and by the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat. Let me say at once, repeating what has been said on previous occasions, that in matters of this kind it is the duty of the Executive Government, from whichever party for the time being it may be derived, to adapt an attitude, not indeed of indifference, but of complete impartiality. So far as these railway troubles are concerned, His Majesty's present Government, at every stage, have endeavoured to the best of their ability to maintain such an attitude. I say it cannot be an attitude of indifference because when, as is the case here, we are dealing with possibilities which might involve the suspension of a service which is necessary to the pros-1230 perity, to the health, and even to the life of the community, it is the duty of the Government to look behind and beyond the particular interests which the disputants may be engaged in for the time being.
It is from that point of view, and that only, that we have ever, at any stage, offered our intervention or interposed. I understand the purpose of this Motion to be, that through some action on the part of the Government the two sides, if I may so describe them, the directors of the railway companies on the one part and their employés on the other, should meet to discuss the best method of putting the Report of the Royal Commission into effect, and how that should be done. I am bound to say that the Motion as framed contains language which, as it stands, will make such an effort on the part of the Government altogether impossible. The Motion, after expressing regret that the directors have refused to meet their representatives, goes on to declare "such refusal to be contrary to the public interest and to have no justification." I must tell the House frankly, at once, that is language to which the Government cannot subscribe. I am not going for a moment into the merits or demerits of the various points of controversy between the railway companies and their servants, which were referred to the arbitrament of the Royal Commission last August. But when the House of Commons is asked to declare that the refusal of the directors of the companies to discuss the Report with the men has no justification, and is contrary to the public interest, one cannot avoid going into the question, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, and pursued by the hon. and learned Gentleman, as to what were the terms on which the Royal Commission was appointed. I listened, of course, with respect to what the hon. Member for Leicester said on that subject, and I will not only assume, but I will accept and take for granted, that everything he said is perfectly accurate.
The question really is this: When you are asked to criticise and censure the conduct of the directors of railway companies, whatever may have been the intention or understanding, were they not entitled to assume, as in fact they did assume, that if they entered into this agreement—an agreement by which I am bound to say they have loyally stood—to accept the findings of the Commission, in the selection of whose members they had no voice and who, we have no reason to suppose, would be 1231 predisposed to take their view of the matter, if they agreed in advance to accept the findings of that Commission, were they not entitled to assume that the other party to the dispute would undertake a similar and reciprocal obligation? That they did so assume is beyond all controversy. The official minute, recorded at the time at the Board of Trade by the representatives of the Government who were present, shows that that was their understanding of what took place. That minute was published in the Press, and discussed and canvassed throughout the length and breadth of the country. So far as I am aware, nothing that the hon. Member has said alters what I am going to say upon that point. So far as I am aware when the Commission assembled, and during the progress of its proceedings, no protest, remonstrance, correction, or qualification of any kind was put forward to suggest that that was not the view taken. I am not blaming anybody, but I do say, and I am bound to say, because I think it is a matter of justice and commonsense, the directors of the railway companies were entitled to assume, and to act upon the assumption, that it was an integral part of the agreement by which the strike was settled that the findings of the Commission, whatever they might be, adverse or favourable to one party or to the other, would be accepted by both sides as a basis for future agreement. The hon. Member for Leicester, whatever he has said as to possible misunderstanding, I do not think is making any contrary contention.
Certainly, so far as the Government is concerned, it could not consent to a Resolution of this kind unless these words of reflection and censure upon the directors of the railway companies were omitted, and unless it was clearly understood, both upon the one side and upon the other, that the good offices of the Government would be invoked and would be given on the assumption that the Report in substance was to be accepted as the basis of everything that was to follow. That, I understand, my hon. Friend would accede to.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That makes a substantial advance in the position. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down quoted the terms of the Resolution sent to me on behalf of the executives of the various unions of railway servants 1232 after the Report was published. I agree that in that resolution, in the terms in which it was framed, there did not appear to be a favourable basis for further discussion. But it was enclosed in a covering letter, which I believe was made public, which certainly ought to have been published, and which I and my colleagues interpreted as meaning that the executives of these bodies, clearly declared that they were prepared to accept the Report of the Commission as the basis, in substance and principle, of any subsequent dicussion that might take place. There is no doubt about it, and that I understood to be the intention of the executive. It was for that reason that I took the opportunity of asking the representatives, the chairman and the general managers of the companies who were signatories to the Agreement of 1907 to meet me and some of my colleagues in Downing Street, and submitted to them in a free and friendly discussion the possibility, not of going behind the Report, not of ripping it up on the points which the men conceived to be unfavourable to them, while the railway companies were to accept all the points which were unpalatable to them—that would have been a most monstrous position, and one to which I should never lend the faintest countenance but, taking the Report as accepted by both sides in principle and in substance as the basis on which their future relations were to be maintained, allowing frank and free interchange of opinion between the selected representatives of one side and the other in the presence of representatives of the Government and the Board of Trade, so that, if possible, friction in the working out of the recommendations of the Report might be avoided and points—and there are necessarily many points in which you have to dovetail the recommendations of this Report into the Agreement of 1907, to reconcile and to harmonise and adapt the one with the other, points also which are not mere points of interpretation, such as were very properly left by the Report to the Board of Trade, but points of substance and detail, carrying out the principle laid down in the Report might very fairly and properly be canvassed and settled by free conference between the representatives of both sides.
I cannot help thinking that when, in the first place, you have got rid of any suggestion of reflection or censure upon the directors—because I entirely assent to the 1233 view that they were entitled to assume, as they did, that the findings of this Report would be accepted on both sides—when you have got probable acceptance, on the part of the representatives of the men, of the Report as in substance and in basis, and in every respect except adjustment of detail—the ground of future relations between the two parties I cannot help thinking that in consonance with the traditions of our industrial life and the practices of all other industries, it would be in no way inconsistent with the self-respect of the railway directors themselves if they were to meet now under the auspices of some further discussion and conference of that strictly limited kind I have suggested. I do not withdraw a word I have said in condemnation of the suggestion that at any stage of the matter the directors have acted unreasonably. On the contrary, I think, in entering into the agreement in August, in reinstating, as they did, the persons who had been on strike, in the considerable concessions which they have made since in regard to matters of wages and so forth, I feel bound to make that acknowledgment on the part of the Government, and, I believe, on the part of the public, the directors of railway companies have shown a patriotic spirit, and a spirit which redounds to their credit both as citizens and as men of business. Having said that, which I do in the fullest and freest manner, speaking from a perfectly impartial standpoint, and taking, as I think I have shown, no side, one way or the other, now that the men have taken the Report which I thought at one time they were indisposed to do, as being in principle and in substance the basis for regulating future relations between themselves and their employers, the directors might be well advised, under the chairmanship of the Board of Trade, to come into conference with the men as the best way of carrying out the recommendations.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am sure the House will understand how difficult I find it to rise after the right hon. Gentleman has spoken, for the last part of his speech contained an announcement which was entirely new and entirely unexpected, and I do not know in the least how to deal with it. I should, however, like to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman, and if he answers it in the way I hope he will be able to answer it I shall sit down, because I shall have nothing more to say. The question I put is this. In recommend- 1234 ing the directors to agree to what is, in practice, the demands of the men—that is, to give recognition—to meet them in this discussion, has he already the consent of the directors whom he has met, and do they represent the railway body? The right hon. Gentleman cannot answer, and I am afraid I must go on.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I never suggested anything of the kind. There is no question of recognition. Recognition is determined by the Report itself. There is no question of recognition at all.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Very well, I do not wish to make any assertion. Undoubtedly the question of recognition was one of the things which, rightly or wrongly—and I take no side about it—the railway directors attached most importance to. I saw a number of them yesterday, and some of them told me in the plainest possible way that they did regard the reopening of this question in any way with the representatives of the unions as granting recognition. The question I am going to put to the right hon. Gentleman I reduce to a smaller limit. I leave out recognition, and I say, "Has he got the consent of the railway directors to the course he recommends the House of Commons to take before recommending to the House of Commons?"
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have not the consent of either the directors or the employés. I speak on behalf of the Government. We are perfectly impartial.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I think the House will see that the question I put is not an unreasonable one. The whole position, I take it, is this. Hon. Gentlemen who represent the men in this dispute have spoken all through as if in August pressure had been put upon them to bring the dispute to a settlement. That is not all. Everybody knows that pressure of the most extreme kind was brought to bear on the railway directors to induce them to consent to that settlement. I go further and say that, whether they are right or wrong, just as the men considered that if the strike had gone on they would have won, so the majority of the railway directors are strongly of opinion that they would have won, tout that it was in the public interest, and that alone has induced them to consent to the bargain. See the position to which we are brought. The Government use this strong pressure upon the railway directors to enter into a bargain one part of which was understood by 1235 them to be that if they agreed to it it would be final and would be accepted by both sides. Not only was it understood by them to be final, but the right hon. Gentleman, in every word of his speech, showed that he recognised that it was final. Is the Government treating these railway directors fairly when, after diplomatic negotiations, he got them to consent to the agreement, but now comes, ten days or so after the Notice had been on the Paper, and puts pressure upon them through the House of Commons to consent to another arrangement without first bringing diplomatic action to bear upon them, and trying to get them to consent to it?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I invited the directors to meet me, and I saw them, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked to them for two hours. That was before this Motion ever appeared on the Paper.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Very well then. I do not understand it, I must say, because I thought it my duty to see some of the directors so lately as yesterday. They told me nothing about this, and the sole reason why I saw them was in the fear that it might be necessary for me to take some part in the discussion, and with the desire to know what the facts were. They not only told me nothing about this, but, as I have already told the House, they intimated in the clearest possible way that they would resent such action as the Government has now taken, being taken to force them to consent to this arrangement.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is the position as they regard it. I consider that this is from every point of view a most serious development. It is, I think, most serious that after an arrangement has been made which, by universal consent, everybody thought to be final, the trade unionists have refused to abide by it. I think it a much more serious thing that the Government, after having brought every possible pressure to bear upon one side of the dispute should now take what undoubtedly is sides in the dispute at this moment. I say this with a full sense of my responsibility in using those words. If the railway directors would consent to the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman has made, I for one should be glad. But that is not 1236 the question. The question is, is the Government treating them fairly in trying to bring the pressure of the opinion of the House of Commons to bear upon them when they use no such pressure in inducing them to make the original agreement. That is all I am going to say on that aspect of it, but I should like to say a word upon the other aspect of the question. I asked the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Cave) to speak in the hope that the Government would speak first, and I did that for this reason, that the very last thing that I, as representing my Friends on this side, desire is that we or any Member of our party should be regarded as the spokesmen of the directors in this dispute. We are nothing of the kind. The assertion was made in a Committee upstairs, at which I was present, about ten days ago, that we were all opposed to trade unions. I at once repudiated that statement there, and I repudiate now with the utmost possible emphasis. Trade unions were formed to endeavour by means of combination of the men to get better conditions of labour, and to whatever extent they can succeed in getting these better conditions by these means they have the sympathy of every man who sits beside me. But I am bound to say something more. It is not a question of whether we like it or dislike it. In my opinion—though, of course, hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway will scoff—just in proportion as the trade unions have become political organisations they have lost efficiency for the purpose for which they exist. That stands to reason, and I am sure that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House will see that I have something to say in its favour. If a trade union is to be carried on to the best advantage for the purpose of improving the condition of the men, the leaders of that union must understand the conditions of the trade just as well as the employers who are engaged in the trade. To do the right thing at the right time, to make demands at the right time, and to refrain from making demands, is one of the most difficult things in the world and requires all the time and talent of the best men trade unionists can produce, but if they become politicians, we all know what the result of that will be. It absorbs their time. They cannot give attention to their local bodies, and that is, in my belief, how they have so often got out of hand with them, and why they refuse to follow the lead given by their leaders. That is what strikes me now. We all 1237 know the ability of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald). It never was better displayed than to-day. There never was so bad a case, and there never was a man who knew better that it was a bad case.
What does it all mean? Not only did gentlemen whose opinions have already been given by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Cave) make statements which could not be contradicted, but it is clearly shown that until the award came out the railway unions did consider that they would be bound by it. But there is something else. I think it is common knowledge that the Labour leaders in this House did not play a very prominent part in the arrangements come to. I remember being told a story by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Banner-man, and it is the source of the story only that justifies me in giving it. It was of a man who was found following a band of ruffians at the time of the Paris Commune. A friend met him and asked, "Why are you following these people?" and he replied, "I must follow them, I am their leader." [Cheers.] I can understand the interest taken in that story by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. That was precisely the attitude of the hon. Member for Leicester. I will give a second illustration. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) is one of the prominent leaders of the men in this dispute. In addition to the words used by him which have been quoted by my hon. Friend, I find that in August, speaking in this House, he said:—As far as the men are concerned, and so far as we as representatives of the men are concerned, having signed that document, having pledged our men, and having taken the responsibility of saying that we accept this as a settlement…. we must show that we will compel our men, as far as possible, to recognise our decision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd August, 1911, col. 2302.]That is the way they compel the men to recognise the decision. I am not going to add anything. I say again, personally, that I should rejoice in any means which seems to me to remove the possibility of what is a great national calamity. I say also that if the Government, by the same diplomatic means which they used in settling the strike before, had obtained the consent of the directors to the change in their policy which they announce now, I should have welcomed it, but it seems to me that their action is not encouraging to any body of people in this country, to whatever side they belong, to have complete confidence in the impartiality of His Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
The hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) admitted when he rose that he did not know the facts. It is because I am satisfied he did not know the facts that I am going to remind him at this stage that a large number of the quotations which he read, and which are after all the substance of the case made from the other side of the House, can be not only contradicted, but can be shown to be certainly contrary to all that took place in connection with that particular subject. The hon. and learned Member for Kingston stated the case fairly from his particular standpoint, and he was very careful to say that he was not desirous of going back to the agreement of 1907, or even to anything in connection with the August dispute. But I do not think it is possible properly and fairly to understand the case to-day unless we do take into some consideration at least the circumstances that were responsible for the conciliation scheme. In the first place, is the hon. Gentleman aware that when the conciliation scheme was first brought into operation—a scheme which for the first time was to bind hundreds of thousands of railway men—a scheme which was to govern for seven years their conditions of service—the representatives of the men never saw the scheme until the day of the settlement, and that the representatives of the railway companies, as was admitted before the Royal Commission, had spent weeks and months in treating as to that particular scheme? When you also remember that, so far as the representatives of the men and the companies were concerned, they never met face to face, and as the hon. Member for Leicester said, never had an opportunity of coming together, surely we are justified in saying that, apart from blaming the railway companies or the men, the very fact that so many misunderstandings have since arisen is the primary cause of the failure of that scheme. That was brought about because the railway companies then, as to-day, refused to recognise the accredited representatives of the men. I frankly admit that if it is true—here I am making a statement not only for myself, but on behalf of all those who signed the agreement in August last—if it is true, as has been alleged from the other side and endorsed by the Prime Minister himself, that the signatories of that agreement bound themselves to accept the findings of the Royal Commission, then I unhesitatingly say that we have not only acted dishonourably by repudiating the Commission 1239 now, but that we have no right to ask the House to seriously consider the Motion. I make that statement as one of the signatories of the settlement, as one who was present at everything that took place, as one who was never out of the room until the original document was signed on the Saturday night.
The hon. and learned Member for Kingston says that both sides agreed to accept the findings of the Royal Commission, and that the statement was read out more than once and repeated line by line. I simply say that no man who was present in the room, whether Government official, member of the Government, or representative of the railway companies, dare suggest that the document was ever read out line by line. Not only was there never a discussion on it, but I solemnly state as a Member of the House, jealous of my own personal honour and proud of the fact of my being a leader of the men, that not only was there never a discussion, but the question was never asked from our side. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are justified in asking, "How does it come about that you never denied the statement that appeared in the Press on Monday morning?" The hon. Gentleman further asked, "How is it that no leader of the men repudiated the suggestion until the findings of the Commission have proved to be unsatisfactory?" I think the House is entitled to have some answer and some explanation on that particular point. It is because I am anxious to give that explanation that I ask the House to attach some importance to the statement I am going to make now, as they did to the statement made by the hon. Member. So far as my recollection goes, what took place was that during the discussion between the companies and ourselves, in addition to what was found in the written settlement, certain statements were made by the railway companies' representatives, and in reporting to the executive committee we naturally emphasised to the executive, not only the fact that certain things were in the settlement, but that in addition to that the spirit in which the railway companies' directors met us on that occasion justified us in saying that the settlement would be loyally carried out.
In giving that Report, we further said that in our opinion—it was a personal statement of the executive committee—I made the statement myself—that there 1240 would be no difficulty in the railway company's representatives putting in writing what they had already promised. The men then decided that we should go back to the company's representatives and ask them to put in writing what we had told them they had stated to us. When we went back to the room Mr. Claughton and Sir Guy Granet immediately agreed. They said, "Yes, we certainly have no objection to put in writing what we have said to you." Then they issued that memorandum of which the House is well aware to this effect: "The railway companies further agree to accept the findings of the Royal Commission, even if such recommendations be contrary to their view or representation." That statement was written by Mr. Claughton in the name of himself and Sir Guy Granet. We took it back to the men, and so far as the men and the executive committee are concerned, so far as we six are concerned, who were the people there, I say here and now there was never a word of discussion. We were never asked the question, and consequently could not give an answer. And now what is the point with regard to the Monday morning? I never saw a Press report on the Monday morning. It must be easily understood, and will be appreciated by every Member in this House who considers for a moment the pace at which we were working, that in hundreds and thousands of places there were men out, and there were disputes as to what the settlement really meant, and the Board of Trade can say that practically all Monday we were occupied at the Board of Trade getting certain matters cleared off.
As a fact, not one of those signatories to that statement ever once saw that particular phrase. That does not explain all. There was a reference to my evidence before the Commission when I said in answer to a question, "We, on the other hand, say the same." If the hon. Member had read on he would clearly have seen that I said, "We, on the other hand, say that the companies were bound by the settlement." Here is an extract from the first, public speech that I delivered. It is from the "Derby Telegraph," and was printed at the headquarters of the Midland Railway Company, and I am justified in asking hon. Members opposite to recognise that if they attach any importance whatever to the fact that no one representing the men contradicted what appeared in "The Times," why was it that in a large centre 1241 like Derby, which is the headquarters of the Midland Railway Company, where this speech was delivered, that the railway companies, when they gave evidence later on before the Commission, did not contradict the statement that I made? The speech was delivered on Sunday, 10th September, and this is what I said, as quoted in the "Derby Telegraph" of 11th September:—Passing on. Mr. Thomas said there appeared to be considerable difference of opinion as to what was done in connection with the recent settlement. It was generally assumed that the men's representatives pledged themselves to accept the findings of the Railway Commission, whether they were in favour of recognition or not; but he could assure them that that was an entire fallacy from beginning to end. He could only imagine that the mistake arose from the fact that in addition to the settlement, Sir Guy Granet and Mr. Claughton made several other statements. The men's representatives said it would be better to have those statements in writing, and the result was that a memorandum was drawn up, and signed by the two gentlemen named, to the effect that the recommendations of the Royal Commission would be loyally received by the railway companies, even if they differed with the contention of the companies on the question of representation. If a settlement was effected all trace of ill-will which might have arisen during the strike would certainly be effaced. There was nothing in the settlement to say that the men's representatives accepted the findings of the Royal Commission, because they made it perfectly clear, so far as the joint executives were concerned, that they were determined to have official recognition.Surely if you are justified in attaching importance to the fact that we, as representatives of the men, did not contradict what appeared in the Press, which I have frankly stated I did not see, for the reasons I have also explained, are we not justified in saying when Sir Guy Granet himself appeared before the Royal Commission, following me and following that speech, that he himself ought to have contradicted it, and if he did not contradict it are we not justified in saying that he accepted our position? In any case that is my answer to the statement that we were bound by the Commission. But we have been dealing, unfortunately, with what was written, what one side did say and what they did not. I frankly say that when you come to the moral aspect of the question an entirely different issue is raised, but I think the House will agree that when we are accused of breaking our word and not standing by something which we have said, we are justified in repudiating in the strongest possible manner such accusations. It is because I feel that there has been too much capital made of what actually took place as to whether the men did, or did not accept, that I am now desirous of coming to what I think is the most important part of our business this evening, in trying to ascertain 1242 whether even at this stage it is true that the men have repudiated the Report.
I took part in the drafting of this letter to the Prime Minister, and I say that those words were deliberately put in. They were put in for the sole purpose of giving the Government and the railway companies an opportunity of seeing that so far as we were concerned the real object of the meeting and the real desire of meeting the railway companies on our part was not to discuss a new scheme. We never suggested and do not suggest to-day that we want to discuss a new scheme. We say in that letter to the Premier that you are doing so. We desire to point out that the position is a most critical one. Large numbers of the members are demanding to cease work which we are anxious to avoid. Whilst the proposals of the Royal Commission are disappointing to the men, we nevertheless feel that the scheme suggested does provide a basis of agreement between the railway companies asd their employés. In fact, we venture to suggest that with modifications, which could be recommended for acceptance to our members, there is a possibility of the scheme being adopted. Let us see whether there is any justification for having such a sneer as that which we have just seen. You are not dealing with a few men. You are dealing with 350,000 men, men who feel far more keenly than Members of this House their grievances. A hundred thousand of them, in spite of the recent concessions, are to-day getting less than £1 per week. In three years the Board of Trade Returns showed that the wages to the average worker are to-day 1d. a week less than in 1907, when this agreement was put into operation.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
Yes. Are not the concessions the strongest justification of the strike, and the strongest proof that the men have real cause to revoke? Then I come back to the sneer of the hon. Baronet. It may be an easy matter to get a few men to agree, and to say to a dozen men "you ought to do this or that," but I should like the hon. Baronet to go to the hundred thousand men who are struggling to live to-day, and to tell them that they have got to accept these conditions.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
If it was not a sneer I will let the House judge. Let me 1243 try again to put the position as fairly as it appeals to me as representing the men. There was a suggestion that the real object of the union is simply to cause strife and dissension as between the men and their employers. It is frequently stated by gentlemen who even sat on those benches before the Commission that their real objection to recognising the union was because of their responsibilities to the travelling public, and that as a consequence of the recognition of the union the lives of the travelling public would be endangered. There is one simple answer to that. Who are the first people killed in a railway disaster? Are they not the employés? Does not that prove conclusively that we are not unmindful of our responsibilities to these men? Is the House aware that on the only railway company which recognises the union to-day, and with which the Noble Lord is connected—the North-Eastern—the percentage of accidents both for men and passengers is lower than the average of all the other railways put together. Is not that a sufficient answer to the sneers that are repeatedly put forward that the union did not recognise its responsibilities to the public? The suggestion is made that the union unnecessarily interferes with the business of the railway companies. Last year the men's society took action in the law courts against railway companies on thirty-five occasions, and in twenty-seven out of the thirty-five they succeeded against the railway companies in getting the men acquitted. These are the kind of cases which justify us in saying that so far as the men are concerned they are not only justified in combining, but that it is their only safeguard.
Now, with regard to the suggested agreement, the men feel to-day naturally disappointed with the result of the Commission. We felt, and we still feel, that the railway men of this country ought not to be denied the same right of representation as is conceded to every other class of worker in this country. We say that the evidence goes to prove conclusively that there is no reason or justification why railway companies should not act as other large employers of labour do But at this stage I am not going to press upon this House the question of recognition. I tell the House frankly, here and now, that there is not only a grave danger, but there is a strong possibility, of a strike within 1244 the next few weeks. I am anxious to avoid a strike. No one who has read my speeches, no one who has seen what action I have taken during the past few weeks, can accuse me of trying to bring about a dispute. On the other hand, I have thrown my whole weight, my whole position has been cast in the balance as it were, even against tremendous odds, against tremendous opposition, of trying to persuade the men that we must find a way out of the difficulty. I say to the House, here and now, that there is only one way out of the difficulty. A strike is inevitable, a strike must take place, with all its consequences, and all that it means—and I know something of what it means — I say that a strike must take place, and will take place, unless there is a meeting between the railway companies' representatives and the representatives of those responsible for the men's union. The suggestion has been made—it was made to the Premier—and will he allow me to say, with the greatest possible respect, that I do not think he appreciates how ridiculous was the reply of the railway companies—that the points of difference could be adjusted between the parties. The real difficulty in the 1907 scheme was the absence of uniformity. Every Member on both sides of the House will agree that because one company was interpreting the scheme one way and another company another, and one set of men interpreted it one way and another set another, therefore the whole scheme was a failure. If we want a lasting peace, if this Royal Commission award is to be the basis of a permanent peace, then I hope it will not be merely a scheme that will give us peace for the next three years, but a scheme that will give us permanent peace. If we are to accomplish that object, then let us start by understanding each other. Let us start by really knowing what the scheme means, all that the scheme intends, and how best to work it. Surely no hon. Member would suggest that there can be any better way of getting that uniformity, of getting that understanding and of arriving at that basis, than that of both sides meeting together, and the object of the Resolution is to bring both parties together. I hope the House will pardon me if I feel strongly about my case. I know the men feel keenly. If we can bring about this meeting, I feel sure we will arrive at a basis which I trust will not only provide a working arrangement merely for the next three years, but permanently, and that it will be said that, in 1245 spite of difficulties, and in spite of opposition, the findings of the Commission have resulted in a lasting peace for the railway people of the country.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
We have listened with great sympathy to the closing words of the hon. Member, and I am sure he will feel that we on this side respond warmly to the hope he has expressed in regard to a settlement of this question, but his observations apply to the general question of our industrial and commercial system, which does not appear to me to be relevant to the present discussion. There is no want of sympathy, at all events, with trade unions, which, I can assure him, on this side of the House, have warm supporters. We must have elective bodies which can meet in a reasonable way. There is something to be said about the distinction between a national strike and the strike of a particular body of workers, and I do not clearly understand the real position of hon. Members below the Gangway or the position of the Government in regard to the Report of the Commission. I do not know whether hon. Members below the Gangway do accept the Report, or do not accept it. It is very important. Do they accept paragraph 70 of the Report dealing with recognition, as applied to the settlement of the matter? I do not ask that question in any controversial spirit, but it must be obvious to the House that the proposal for a further conference will not be of the smallest use unless it is stated beforehand on what conditions it is proposed to go into that conference.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
The answer to that point is this: if the railway companies will say that they agree to a meeting on certain grounds then the air will be cleared, and we will understand before we meet what we are meeting for.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The reasonable thing is to say whether the Report is accepted or not, in order that you may be sure whether the conference is necessary or not. In the same way I do not understand the position of the Prime Minister. He said the Report must be accepted in principle and' in substance, with the adjustment of details. I think he said by way of interruption to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law), that recognition was settled by the Report. If that be the position then the conference is either mischievous or superfluous. The difficulty I am in is that the Commission has decided 1246 this question of recognition, and in regard to that a conference will be either superfluous or mischievous. If everybody is agreed that the question is settled in the Report there is no need for a further conference of this kind. If the Prime Minister and Members below the Gangway are perfectly agreed that Clause 70 of the Report is to stand without alteration, as a settlement, what is the use of having a conference? You are already agreed that there is no dispute. As I understand, both the hon. Member who has just sat down and the hon. Member for Leicester spoke at considerable length against the Report on the very point of recognition. That does not indicate that they have accepted it. What is the use of going into conference merely for the directors to say, "We accept paragraph 70 of the Report," and the trade unions to say, "We reject paragraph 70, and will not have it." What is-the purpose of merely going into a room and reiterating the original position. What we want to know is whether they accept paragraph 70, or do they not? I do not understand the position or course which the Prime Minister proposes to take in regard to the Resolution before the House. He said he could not accept it in the form in which it is at present framed. Will the right hon. Gentleman move an Amendment?
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
That is treating us rather oddly. We are engaged in a serious discussion and I would like to hear what the Government are going to do and what the Amendment is to be.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I quoted very clearly the words in the Resolution to which we took exception, "declares such refusal to be contrary to the public interest, and to have no justification."
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
That leaves in the words "this House regrets," which might be implied to be an expression of censure-that the directors have not taken a particular course of action.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The Prime Minister said he would not have a word of censure 1247 in the Resolution. Supposing we move a Resolution expressing regret that the Government have taken the present course, is not that a Motion of censure?
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I would like to know what the nature of the conference is going to be, in order to carry out the object the Government have in view.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I undoubtedly referred to the words asking the Government to use its good offices between the parties to bring them together, and I said the Government could not use its good offices except on the basis of the Report being accepted in principle, and I said that included recognition.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
What I said was that the Government would not bind themselves unless that amendment is made in the Resolution.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
Then I think it would be very appropriate to move a supplementary Amendment indicating the acceptance of the Report.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
Will the Noble Lord look at paragraph 73 of the Report, and not 70, which he has quoted so often?
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
What I meant was paragraph 70. In any case, what I mean is the settlement of this point of "recognition" in the Report. Nothing has been said to-night to indicate any other serious point of disagreement. What seems to me objectionable in the proposal for the conference, is that it looks like an attempt to get recognition at the very moment it has been settled by the Report. It is reasonable that a man should belong to a trade union, but the railway employé should be perfectly free to join a trade union or not, as he likes. What appears to be suggested, and what I think a great many people have suggested, is that the companies should give special recognition to the unions, and so encourage their employés to join the unions. That, I think, is not a thing that companies ought to be asked to do, and that they ought not to do. The men are the best judges in the matter. If they find the union is useful to them, why do they not come within it? It is for themselves to 1248 decide. Just as I would be most strongly opposed to anyone penalising those who belong to the union, so it is reasonable to say that the companies ought to be perfectly impartial and take no part in the question as to whether the men should belong to the unions or not. Still more ought the Government to refuse to put pressure on the companies in order to encourage men to take a particular course of which the men themselves are the best judges.
That brings me to what I wanted to say as to the great distinction between a national strike and a particular strike. A particular strike is merely a form of collective bargaining and a thing which may be done under perfectly normal circumstances, whenever the men belonging to a union of men in a particular employment think it desirable. A national strike is quite a different thing. I do not say it might never be justified, but I think it is only justified under certain circumstances that would justify a rebellion. It is, in effect, a rebellion. It is directed not against particular employers, but against the whole country. The purpose of a national strike is not to directly affect particular employers, but directly to affect the community, and so force the community to bring pressure on the employers. It is quite a different thing from a normal strike. Let us look at what actually happened. The strike did not go on long enough to make the railways suffer very severely in their own business. That was not what made the crisis. The crisis was that perfectly innocent members of the community and of the poorer classes suffered acutely. A national strike, though called by the same name, is not the same thing as a strike in a particular employment. When the hon. Member for Leicester says that the Government cannot be neutral, of course they cannot in a national strike, because, in effect, the strike is against them; they are the attacked parties. If they think the claim of the strikers is reasonable they ought never to have got into that position, and under any other circumstances they are bound to resist. It is against them pressure is to be brought in order that they may use the power of the State on the people who are employers.
I suggest that hon. Members ought to be very clear as to this, that a national strike, a general strike on railways, is not a thing to be engaged in on the same sort of grounds as an ordinary strike which is 1249 collective bargaining. No one dissents more strongly than I do from the language used on behalf of employers in an ordinary strike, suggesting that there is something disloyal or improper or anti-civic. It seems to me as absurd as to accuse me of disloyalty because I change from one tradesman with whom I deal to another. It is a matter of commercial relationship between the two parties, and both parties are entitled to make the best bargain they can; (but a national strike is a wholly different thing. It is only to be justified where the grievance is so great that you are justified in having recourse to what are essentially tactics of rebellion, which, no doubt, would be proper in cases of great magnitude and under circumstances which very rarely arise. I venture to submit to hon. Members opposite that they ought, in order to bring this discussion to a satisfactory close, make it clear, not only by general phrases like "desire of agreement," but in the terms of the Motion itself, that they accept the Report of the Commission, and next what the purpose of the conference is to be and what are the limits of its discussion, and finally they ought to make it clear that there is in their view no case for a national strike in respect of the differences that still exist between the companies and the men. Those are three propositions which I think most people would regard as reasonable outside these walls. I am quite sure, merely to have a new conference going over the ground again and to have both sides saying what they have said already, would be a really useless transaction. If the conference is to do any good it must have a fresh field of activity delineated before the members on either side go into it. [HON. MEMBEBS: "Hear, hear."] I am encouraged by those cheers from Members of the Government into thinking that they assent to that view.
Let us be sure of it that hon. Members do not meet the difficulty arising from the impression that the men were bound by the Report of the Railway Commission by justifying their personal honour. I do not desire to make the smallest reflection on the personal honour of anyone; it is much too familiar language. When people go into negotiation and a misunderstanding afterwards arises it does not really matter whether people behave, except in their own consciences, honourably or not, but what matters is whether they act in such a way as to encourage people to negotiate with them again. If they conduct 1250 negotiations in such a way, whatever their scruples of honour may be, that people are disappointed with the result and find that they do not act in the way in which it was anticipated they would act, then it is unreasonable to expect people to negotiate afresh with them. If, as is not denied, the railway directors in good faith believed, and the Board of Trade in good faith believed, that both sides were bound by the Commission, it is really no use arguing that in the conscience of the hon. Member or anybody else, there was really no understanding of the kind. The point is that there was reasonable expectation, and that that expectation has been falsified.
Unless hon. Members can agree as to new basis of conference, and unless they can make it clear that no further misunderstanding will arise, is there any use from the point of view of the railways of having new negotiations and a new conference. That is the point hon. Members opposite have to meet and, so far as I am able to see, which they have not succeeded in meeting. They have not shown that there is any thing in the present situation which can encourage a hope of final settlement by negotiation which did not equally exist in the month of August, although the agreement then arrived at has not resulted in a final settlement. I hope the Government will move their Amendment as soon as possible. I think it is treating the House rather badly that they have not already moved it. It makes discussion very difficult until the Amendment is moved, because it is difficult to understand what is going to come out of it. I think the proper course would be to put some further words to the Resolution, making the Resolution a pledge that the whole House accepts the basis of the Report as a settlement, and that there is no suggestion of going back on the Report, especially on the crucial matter of the recognition of the unions.
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
I should like to address a few words to the House on this subject because I am supposed to know more or less about it. I would like, in the first instance, to ask hon. Members opposite who sit below the Gangway to confer a favour upon me and my brother chairmen by ceasing to talk as if they represented a majority of the railway employés of the Kingdom. They represent a distinct minority, and, in my opinion, to be accurate, I believe about 1251 42 per cent. Therefore, they both mislead this House and the country when they are continually talking about "the men." The expression which they should use is "the union men" as opposed to the others. I have far more right than hon. Gentlemen opposite to speak of the majority of free men who belong to the railway company. They do not belong to their unions; they do not wish to belong to their unions; I am sorry to say they are afraid of their unions; and, in the interests of liberty, I am proud to stand up in this House to speak for the majority of free railway men in the United Kingdom. I do not want to weary the House by going back far into the arrangement of 1907, but as it bears very distinctly on the proposal which the Prime Minister has recently made to us. I must offer one or two remarks in regard to what fell from the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) and the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas). They both stated that that scheme, to which I was one of the parties, had proved a failure, and had thus broken down. I distinctly traverse that statement. That scheme was never given by the union leaders a fair trial. Had it been given a fair trial, it would still now be in active operation, and I believe would confer those benefits on the railway men for which it was designed. There must always be two, if not more, parties to a bargain, and when we, the railway companies, in regard to two bargains which we have distinctly made with those representing the men, find that in each case we have been deceived in regard to the statements they held out in respect of observing those bargains, it is very natural indeed that we should think deeply and hesitate before entering into a third bargain.
When the bargain was made in 1907 it was made by us as representing the railways with the distinct object of preserving a period of peace, and the men with whom we negotiated, not personally, but, as has been stated, through the medium of the President of the Board of Trade, gave us to understand that even they would be glad of a period of peace. And so distinctly was that principle of a period accepted that the men, in the first instance, suggested three years' duration. The companies, on the other hand, suggested ten years' duration, and, through the instrumentality of the President of the Board of Trade, we arrived at a term of seven 1252 years. Therefore, it was distinctly understood by the men's representatives, as well as by ours, when that agreement was entered into, that we would have a period of industrial peace which would be likely to be of benefit to the railways and to the country at large. The hon. Member for Leicester has said that the railway companies—and I think here he used far too strong as expression—"juggled" with the details of that measure, and, by juggling with them, made it come into operation very much later than it should have come. A new scheme like that—a perfectly new scheme affecting large bodies of men—has to be put into operation with very great care and circumspection. I admit there was considerable delay, but I will say unavoidable delay, in putting the conciliation boards into operation; but I honestly believe with the exception, and I will not mention names, of two companies, those conciliation boards were put into operation at the very earliest possible moment.
What has happened in the meantime? Extreme men belonging to the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants from the first received that scheme with great disfavour, and through their organ, the "Railway Review," and through other agencies, from the very first day endeavoured to make it a failure. What did they do to begin with? They treated Mr. Richard Bell, whom I have not the pleasure of knowing, but whom I have always understood to be an honest and upright man—they treated him in the most scandalous manner, and finally they virtually, to use their term, were prepared to sack him, if the President of the Board of Trade had not kindly come to his rescue and so allowed him to retire with dignity by accepting a post under the Board of Trade. But the wave of malignity with which that man was pursued by some of the officials of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants for the part which he had taken in signing that agreement reflected very little credit upon them. When you get a large body of men who have been parties to an agreement, who do all that they can to prevent the proper working of that agreement, it is very likely that it will be a failure or, at any rate, a partial failure. I still contend that if that scheme had been allowed to go on we should not have been in the position we are now in of discussing some new proposal. We know perfectly well what led up to the appointment of the Royal Commission. I may say to the House, and through the House to the country, that I 1253 honestly believe—and the majority of the railway chairmen agree with my view—that had that strike been allowed to continue for another four days it would have been broken and the companies would have been triumphant. I will tell hon. Members why. A large number of the men came out through intimidation and terrorism on the part, not only of the railway unions, but of other unions; but so soon as these men were assured that the local authorities and the Government, in the course of their duty, not only would be prepared to, but did, afford them protection, they were coming back in hundreds to their work. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] Throughout the country.
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
The ordinary sources of information in the Press and reports which I received from the railway officials of different companies. It has been acknowledged by the Prime Minister in the most handsome way that the railway companies behaved in a patriotic spirit in agreeing to stop the fight and to enter into negotiations with him. But after having been deceived in our anticipations in regard to our dealings with the unions in 1907, we have just experienced a repetition of the same thing at the present time. We know perfectly well that the men's representatives did agree to abide by the findings of the Royal Commission. I will ask hon. Members this question. In this House we may have amongst us one or two cranks, but taking us as a whole I think we may say that we are a level-headed businesslike body of men. Do hon. Members believe for one moment that the railway companies of the United Kingdom, through their representatives, would have entered into such a bargain and sold their liberty of action without being perfectly certain and secure that the decision of the Royal Commission was to be equally binding upon both parties? We should have been absolute fools to have done such a thing. We should have betrayed those whom we represent and forfeited the right to be responsible for their interests. We entered into it with the full belief that both sides would loyally abide by the recommendations of the Commission. As has been said by the First Lord of the Treasury, not one word of protest, not even a whisper of dissent was heard from the union quarters so long as the evidence was being given before the 1254 Commission. Now, hon. Members representing the railway unions have repudiated, or virtually repudiated, the Report of the Commission, and we are asked to meet them at a round-table conference to settle new matters of detail which they think can be satisfactorily arranged in such a fashion. We have fought, not through any narrow-mindedness, not because we are stand-off aristocrats, or for any nonsense of that kind; we have acted on principle throughout in declining to admit recognition of the unions. If we meet at a round-table conference like that suggested it will be recognition—the very one thing that they have been striving for, and nothing else. It will defeat the very objects for which we have been fighting, and with comparative success, for so many years past.
I should like to say to the House why railway companies strongly object to the recognition of trade unions. It has been truly said, no doubt, that in most trades, or, at all events, in the majority of trades, the employers recognise the unions, and in many cases get on fairly well through their operation. But railways are different from every other trade in the United Kingdom. In the first place, we are responsible to the public for the discipline and administration of our railways, which are conducted not exclusively for the benefit, of the proprietors, but for the benefit of the community at large. We feel that if once recognition is granted to these unions the effect will be for them to drive all our men into their net, and in a short time the whole of the men, the majority of whom are not now union men, will become members of the unions. Why are we so different from other commercial bodies? A railway cannot be moved; a railway cannot be closed; a railway cannot lock out; whereas the unions can at any moment declare a strike. Therefore we are on unequal terms with the trade unions, and that is why we say we ought not to recognise them, and we ought not to be compelled to recognise them. There is another point. Ordinary employers who suffer from strikes are able at exceptional times, by having regard to the changes in trade, to raise their prices for this or that commodity and thus recoup themselves for losses they have sustained. But we are hide-bound. We are fixed by Acts of Parliament as regards both our maximum rates and our maximum fares. Therefore, if strikes occur, and we are subjected to all the inconveniences and loss resulting 1255 from them, we are absolutely debarred from recouping our losses by any addition to our rates and fares. I see the hon. Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) smiling at me across the House. The hon. Member is one of those who have taken an active part in fettering the free action of railway companies in respect of rates. It is a very important question to bear in mind that we, if we had to recognise these unions, would be in an absolutely unequal position—in an inferior position—as compared with any other industry in the country.
There is another reason why we should not recognise the unions. I do not want to say a word that will arouse any ill-feeling in a Debate which has been carried on with perfect good temper on both sides; but I cannot help alluding to the gross intimidation and outrages which have occurred, both in the recent railway strike and in other strikes within recent years. Of that there can be no possible doubt. When you let loose passions of that kind, when people feel deeply, when men feel that they have behind them to a certain extent the sanction of the law, it is exceedingly difficult to prevent them from indulging in excesses which in quieter times they themselves must regret. Therefore I plead in non-recognition for the liberties of our men, who wish to remain free from the unions, and who to my mind constitute the flower of the railway men of the United Kingdom. With regard to the proposal which has been made to us by the First Lord of the Treasury, and which has come upon me and other railway directors present in the nature of a surprise, it is one in regard to which it is impossible for us to-night to give assent, or to offer an opinion, because it affects not only ourselves but a large number of railways which are not represented in this House. It is absolutely essential that before we give any reply to the right hon. Gentleman we should have an opportunity of closely considering the question. Therefore I would with all deference suggest to the Prime Minister that this Debate might be adjourned until such time as we could give a reply to the proposals made to us.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
The Noble Lord who has just spoken admitted in his opening remarks that the scheme of 1907 had broken down. It is true that he put the blame of the breakdown upon the unions, but it is of some importance that we should take note of the admission he has 1256 made that the scheme of 1907 has broken down, and that it is necessary that a new departure should be taken. He blames the unions, for whom he evidently entertains no very friendly feeling. I was interested to hear in the Noble Lord's speech a somewhat tardy recognition of the merits of Mr. Richard Bell. The Noble Lord, the chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company, has been a very long time in recognising the merits of Mr. Bell. To-day we hear that he is an honest, upright man, with whom it is a pleasure to have dealings. But in these very negotiations in 1907 the Noble Lord, along with other directors, refused to meet this "honest, upright man," for what reason? Simply and solely because he stood there in his representative capacity representing the railway men. The Noble Lord boasts that he is level-headed and businesslike. I can tell him that the obstinate refusal of the railway directors in the country to meet the representatives of the trade unions has gone far to convince the public that the railway management is not in the hands of level-headed, businesslike men. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I know the public feeling quite as well as hon. Members opposite, and I believe that to be the general feeling. We, who are neither trade unionists nor directors of great businesses, but simply members of the public, see in the coal trade, in the cotton trade, in the iron trade—the great masters of industry—welcoming trade unions, co-operating with trade unions, working with trade unions, and we do not understand why the directors of the railway companies decline to follow what seems to us this wise plan. The Noble Lord says that they are in a very special position, that they have to safeguard the interests of the public in some special way. Surely not more than the Government; and, after all, the Government Departments recognise trade unions, and have not found any impossibility in carrying on Government business while so doing.
I may say that I came down to the House to-day with the full intention of going into the Lobby with the hon. Member for Leicester if he took a Division. But what appears to me to rule this Debate is that, while there have been considerable differences in speaking between both sides, there is far more of agreement on both sides of the House to-day than there is of difference. It is perfectly true that between the speeches of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. R. Macdonald) and the 1257 hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) on the one side, and the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) and the Noble Lord opposite (Lord C. Hamilton) on the other, there is a very wide gap when you are dealing with the past. Then it is a question of fact and of opinion in which very great differences have been revealed. I listened intently to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kingston. He made a very reasonable plea for those who he represented, the directors of the railway companies in this House. Admirably the case was presented. But it was an historic case. If it had a fault it was possibly due to the hon. and learned Gentleman's profession. He dwelt upon it, and even spoke of it, as if it were an arbitration. He treated the matter rather legally. I want to put it to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is a most humane man, that there is something more than strict legal interpretations involved in the dispute which is at present going on between the railway directors and the railway workers of the country. I do not want to go very much into the past. I do not think it is the past that matters much to us to-day. It is the future that matters.
We are face to face still with a tremendous crisis in the railway system of this country. I travel a great deal. I represent in this House perhaps a larger number of railway men than almost any other Member. I know the feeling of the railway men in the country. I know what the unrest has been during this period of the working of the Conciliation Scheme, as it was called in 1907. I know the feeling of distrust there is on the part of the men towards their employers. I say confidently that no industry can be well worked in the country, and can flourish, while there is such a feeling amongst the employers towards the men who are employed. I do not mean that there are not exceptions. But go where you like on the railway systems of the country, talk to the men in the stations, to the porter who carries your bag, discuss the matter with the officials in the railway stations—if you can get them to talk with you—one and all make complaint of the way in which they are treated by the men who employ them. My experience is considerable, and therefore I say that the old system—the system which the Noble Lord leads—has broken down. You have not got the same feeling in the trades where there is free intercourse between the employers and the 1258 representatives of the men. It is for that reason, and in their own interests, that the railway directors should make a change—a change which is distasteful to those who have been a long time at this work, and who think they understand it a great deal better than any of their men, and, of course, infinitely better than any outsider who is neither a railway worker nor a railway director.
I say to them that the state of feeling revealed in the recent strike, a state of feeling which is known to every man who tries to inform himself of the wishes of the railway servant, is a proof that the old system has broken down, and that it is time that there was a change. Therefore I hail the declaration of the Leader of the Opposition that he would be glad if the railway directors would meet the representatives of the men, and I appeal to the Noble Lord and the other railway directors that they will heed the wise words of their new Leader, fall in with the suggestion he has made, and that they will consent to this meeting to which the Prime Minister has invited them. As I have said, I came down prepared to vote for the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, but as I have listened to the Debate and realised that there was far more agreement than difference between us in regard to matters at present, I have risen for the purpose of moving an Amendment, as referred to by the Prime Minister, and that is to provide that those words criticising the past action of the directors should be omitted with a view to simply and solely pointing the Resolution to bringing about this meeting between the directors and the representatives of the men. I propose, therefore, to leave out the words after "1907"—declares such refusal to be contrary to the public interest, and to have no justification, and asks the Government to bring both sides into conference without delay.
§ Sir A. CRIPPS
The hon. Member has indicated that he proposes to move an Amendment. I think he should have indicated that at a much earlier period. I should have proposed an Amendment at a much earlier stage if I had been in order with a view to carrying out what the Prime Minister suggested.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If another Amendment is moved at an earlier stage, of course it takes precedence of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. An Amendment has not been moved, and I am moving an Amendment at this moment. If the hon. and learned Gentleman has not handed in his Amendment, it is not too late for him to do so.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. and learned Gentleman has an Amendment which he proposes to move before that of the hon. Gentleman he is entitled to give his views, but he has not handed the words in.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
Mr. Speaker, I had nearly finished, and I would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman if I might just conclude. [HON. MEMBEES: "NO, no."] I propose to move an Amendment, and the hon. and learned Gentleman can then rise and put his point.
§ Sir A. CRIPPS
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, except to keep myself in order. But since he intimated his intention to move a Resolution at this stage, I should later be out of order if I had not claimed my right to move an Amendment at a former stage.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Perhaps the better plan would be to allow the Member to finish his speech, and then the hon. and learned Gentleman can move his Amendment.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I have practically concluded my speech. I will give the words I was going to propose to leave out—"declares such refusal to be contrary to the public interest, and to have no justification." I desire that those words should be left out in order to avoid any recrimination as to what is now past, and, I hope, dead and buried. It is not the past: it is the future we are concerned with. I agree that in this meeting between the railway directors and the men there lie signs of hope for the future which will restore that peace to the railway industry that is so essential for the welfare of the people of this country. I beg to move, Mr. Speaker, if I am in order in doing so.
§ Sir A. CRIPPS
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Resolution, 1260 after the word "That," to insert the words "the Report of the Royal Commission being accepted by both parties,"
In respect to a great deal that has been said by hon. Members opposite I entirely agree. I think that on both sides of the House there is a very large measure of agreement, and I think, particularly after the statement made by the Prime Minister, it would be a great pity if we did not frame a Resolution which might be universally accepted. The alternative would be what has been suggested by the Noble Lord behind—that there might be an adjournment in order that the directors might consider the new position. The words that I propose—I am glad to see that the Prime Minister is here, because it is in reference to the statement he has made—would run this way:That the Report of the Royal Commission, being accepted by both parties, this House requests the Government to use its good offices with a view to arranging that the directors of the railway companies shall meet the representatives of the men in order to discuss questions of detail arising out of the Report of the Royal Commission.The only words which I am at present proposing—and I am leaving out what I think will meet the views of both sides—are,That the Report of the Royal Commission be accepted by both parties.I think, having regard to what has been stated, that it is very important that on the face of any Resolution that that may be made perfectly clear. I understand from what the Prime Minister said the directors went into this arbitration on the understanding that the determination should be final. If the right hon. Gentleman agrees with what I have stated here, that the Report of this Commission, having been issued under these circumstances, should be accepted by both parties—and he further stated that you might start from that point—if there was misunderstanding in regard to questions of detail arising upon the Report he thought, I gather, that the two parties might meet. I think that is very important, and the reason is this: I think the weak point in the statement of the Prime Minister, in which personally I almost entirely agree, is supposing an arrangement is made by which the men and the directors meet again, how can he guarantee that the men will be any more bound at this stage than at the present 1261 stage? That is the point, I think, where the difficulty arises, and on which we might possibly adjourn for further consideration.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
In answer to that, I should certainly not consent to use the good offices of the Government to bring about a meeting except upon the understanding, quite clearly expressed, that both sides will agree to be bound.
§ Sir A. CRIPPS
I think that is very important. I want to do everything I can to bring about a fair settlement; to avoid what one knows are the miseries of a great fight on a point of this kind. I think it is a great step in advance that the Prime Minister says that if the good offices of the Government are to be employed they will only be employed on the basis of an understanding that the settlement so arrived at shall really, in truth and in fact, be binding on both parties. I also understood, from what the Prime Minister said—and I think it is very important—as regards the question of what is called "the claim for recognition." I quite accept what the Prime Minister says upon that point. Having come so near together, I suggest that now the House might agree upon this extremely important point for the absolute and impartial treatment of both sides. I understand that if there is any further arrangements made they shall be loyally accepted by both parties. If under these terms, which I think are perfectly fair, we should avoid the risk of danger and difficulty of anything like a big railway strike, I think the House of Commons will have done an admirable piece of work this afternoon, under the guidance of all parties—because I wish to recognise what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby as well as what has been said by the Prime Minister.
§ Sir A. CRIPPS
"That the Report of the Royal Commission, being accepted by both parties, this House"—I could not move further than that—"request"—that is to take away the idea of the past—"the Government to use its good offices with a view to arranging that the directors of the railway companies shall meet the representatives of the men in order to discuss questions of detail arising out of the Report of the Royal Commission." I 1262 say "question of detail" might be altered or improved one way or another.
Mr. C. EDWARDS
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman allow me. Is it clearly understood that by representatives of the men trade union officials are meant?
§ Sir A. CRIPPS
What I say in answer to that is that so far as I am concerned you must take the view upon that point which we find in the Report of the Royal Commission itself.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I quite agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is very desirable that there should be agreement and not division on the subject. After all, the great object of this Debate, initiated by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, was to make for peace on a durable basis; not for war. I think the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman transforms the Motion to a degree quite unnecessary. The last words of the Motion as it stands are quite sufficient for the purpose,Asks the Government to bring both sides into conference without delay.I do not know, but I should doubt very much whether my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester will object to that.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. NORMAN CRAIG
I beg to second this Amendment, and in doing so I do not wish to say a word that would irritate or aggravate in any way the position which now exists. It is, however, I venture to submit, imperative that some Amendment should be proposed to this Motion, not merely from the point of view of excluding from the terms of the Motion the last paragraph, which implies censure upon the directors of the railway companies, but also the indication of censure which occurs in the first lines. So long as the Motion stands in the form in which it is put forward, this House would be committing itself to an expression of regret that the directors had refused to meet the men in circumstances which never existed. Any Motion which contemplates that, if passed by this House, would be very wrong and unfair to the directors, and would not accord in any degree with the handsome tribute the Prime Minister has paid to them. It must 1263 be remembered that, in discussing this question to-day, we are discussing it on a basis entirely different to that which existed formerly. Until to-day the railway directors had been regarded as in the wrong. The representatives of the men until to-day have been insisting not merely that a conference should take place, but that the whole Report should be radically altered. That is abandoned to-day, and its abandonment makes for peace and is welcomed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. But I think it is important that the Amendment to the Motion should make it quite clear, not merely that the Government will not act unless it is satisfied the principle of the Report of the Royal Commission is accepted, but also that this House does not either by expression or implication qualify the language the Prime Minister used in reference to the directors. That is most important, for reasons to which I invite the attention of the House.
I do not want to refer to the experience that led to the 1907 agreement being departed from before seven years. I do not want to refer in detail to the 1911 award being departed from suddenly, but what is important is that we should have from the representatives of the men, if they can speak for the men, the assurance that the men are more bound by what happens here to-day than they were bound by what happened before. It is important that the House should have some satisfactory assurance from those who purport to represent the section of the men alluded to as to that effect and that we should know we are not entering upon a fruitless discussion. It is important there should be a finality. It is unfair to the railway companies that anything other than finality should be invited by any Motion passed by this House. The reference to the Royal Commission was in a sense in the nature of arbitration. There was a dispute between two parties to be determined.
In any dispute between two parties the thing aimed at is finality, and the railway companies in entering into the arrangement that led to the appointment of the Royal Commission desired finality, and they are not to-day getting the finality to which they are entitled. They were to abide by the Report of the Royal Commission in its entirety, and if the railway companies assent to meetings on points of details on questions arising out of that Report, they are going a great deal further 1264 than the obligation they first undertook. We say further, in regard to a Commission of this sort, that it is very important from the point of view of the future, if not of the present, that there should be finality and that employers as well as employed entering into a discussion upon industrial questions should accept the bargain and comply with the bargain, and not even the Government or this House should ask them to go any further. It does not make for permanent industrial peace, and for my part, if it were not for the conciliatory spirit the House has shown, I think it would be in the true spirit of industrial peace that this House should decline to enter further into the matter when the finding is loyally abided to by one of the parties to the contract. Being unwilling to depart from the conciliatory spirit shown in the House, and being desirous that the Amendment to the Motion should remove even any possible vestige of suspicion from the railway company directors, I beg to second the Amendment.
§ Colonel LOCKWOOD
I always felt that if we were able to discuss this subject dispassionately we should inevitably come to some definite and friendly conclusion. I dislike speaking on this subject, because I am more attached to labour than any of my colleagues, but I am also a railway director, and I am suspect on that account. I frankly acknowledge I ask the assistance of trade unionists on many subjects, and will do so again. I hope this Debate to-day will clear away some of the heroics and fireworks and platform utterances outside. We all use them. I use them frequently, but instead of that I think we could afford to depend a good deal more on solid common sense, and I admit it is quite as solid on the part of our opponents as on our own. Our Debate this afternoon has been conducted in the spirit of amity and conciliation which is quite refreshing upon a subject like railway matters. Surely that is as it ought to be. Here we are, labour and capital, two of the great factors of the carrying trade of the United Kingdom, neither of which can move an inch without the other. Surely we ought to be able to devise some method of advance at the present time that will leave us friends and not enemies, and which will lead to a system of uniformity. I do not believe either party wants to be top dog on these occasions. I hope nobody does. I am sure I do not, and neither do my brother directors, and I quite gladly accord the same feeling to my opponents. There is 1265 no necessity for it. I should venture to sit down side by side with the hon. Member opposite, not like the lion and the lamb, but like two lambs, unless that the hon. Member should like to take the part of the hon. I prefer to be in agreement and to sit down side by side. I do not want to contend who got the best of it in the recent discussions, and I do not want to go into the discussion of what happened in 1907, or even so late as this year.
I heard with pleasure the speech of the Prime Minister in the earlier part of the afternoon. He gave the railway directors credit for having very fair reason to believe that both parties would accept the findings of the Railway Commission. I assure him that was the case. I do not want to enter into any discussion now as to whether hon. Members opposite were pledged to it or not. I pass that part by.
We are face to face now with another Resolution contained in the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend (Sir A. Cripps), and I think no man here having heard this Resolution, suddenly proposed at the last minute, could possibly say he could bind the railway companies or himself to accept such Resolution on the spur of the moment; and therefore, while I am, for every reason, most anxious to fall in with the views entertained by both sides of the House and to meet their wishes, I should prefer in order that we may be able to consult and see whether my colleagues and myself could fall in with it, that the matter should be deferred for a while. I understand the basis of my hon. Friend's Amendment is this: That the finding of the Royal Commission in every sense should be received, adopted, and acted upon before anything further is done. That, of course, would be a sine quâ non, and, as the Prime Minister said just now, the Government would not attempt to use their good offices unless they were absolutely assured such was the case. I honestly confess I should prefer time—as I think the Noble Lord my colleague said he should prefer to have some time—to consider the Motion, but I should be glad of an arrangement if it can be found.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I think the House is substantially in agreement as to the line that ought to be pursued by the Government in this matter. It is very desirable that every word of a provocative character should be eliminated from the Resolution, and every word that would 1266 prejudice the consideration of the case if the parties meet. I think it is also important that every word should be eliminated which assumes there is to be any reopening of the whole discussion between the parties. The Government accept absolutely what was said by the Noble Lord in the concluding sentences of his speech on that particular point. I do not want to enter into any controversial matter, especially as we are so near agreement; but as one of those who took part in the negotiations in August last I could not possibly accept the narrative of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas). I think I am bound to say that, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is in agreement with me. I certainly understood both parties were prepared to accept the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and it was upon that basis that we are operating in the advice that we shall give to the House upon this occasion. The objection we have to the words proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir A. Cripps) is that, I think, they are slightly provocative, and I think unnecessarily so, if I may say so. What is really wanted is to invite the parties to a conference to discuss certain details of the Report. If it is submitted by one of the parties that certain details in the Report are not very practicable, there may be some slight alterations which would make the machinery work more fairly without any change in regard to the main principle. I do not think it matters so long as it is clearly understood that the principle in accepted. These are the words we suggest as an alternative to the words proposed by the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member opposite,That, in the opinion of this House, a meeting should take place between the representatives of the parties on whose behalf the railway agreement of August, 1911, was signed to discuss the best mode of giving effect to the Report of the Royal Commission, and asks the Government to use its good offices to bring both sides into conference without delay.I believe that really gives effect to the general views which have been expressed in the discussion.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
In my opinion, the words suggested by the right hon. Gentleman will not suit the case, because they do not recite the fact that the Report is accepted by both parties.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
But surely that is necessarily involved in the words I have read. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why put them in?"] It is purely a conference to discuss the best mode of giving effect to the Report, and if that is not an assumption that the Report is adopted as the basis I do not know what words mean.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
But why should there be an assumption about something which has already been stated by the right hon. Gentleman and by the Prime Minister himself? As we understood it, we assumed it was the intention of the Government to propose the words, "That the Report of the Royal Commission, being accepted by both parties." That is assumed, and why should it not be embodied in this Resolution?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Why should the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends make it difficult for the parties to come together? There is no doubt at all that there is a very large body of opinion represented by hon. Members below the Gangway who are not under the impression, which I most certainly am, that the Report of the Royal Commission was accepted by both parties. The view of the Government is that we have no right to use the good offices of the Government if the Report of the Royal Commission is not accepted as a basis for the discussion. The principle must be accepted, and I think that is admitted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Why should we make it difficult for hon. Members below the Gangway who have their constituents to consider in this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."]
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
This Resolution is an acceptance of the Report of the Royal Commission. By constituents I mean the railway men. Unless they accept the Report and come in there is very little use having any conference at all. What we want is a conference upon the basis of the acceptance of the Report, which will be a discussion of the details of that Report. I do entreat hon. Members opposite not to make it difficult for hon. Members below the Gangway to accept a Motion of this kind, which may be repudiated by those whom they represent. In that case the whole question would have to be reopened again. It is of vital importance that we should get some sort of Motion which 1268 would be accepted by all parties so long as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite get in substance what they are pleading for, and what we also are pleading for. We can only use our good offices on the basis of this Report. We feel we have been just as much a party to that agreement as the railway directors and hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. I think the Report of the Royal Commission has been accepted by all parties. We put the agreement on paper, we read that document to both parties before they left the room, and we published simply the document prepared in the room and read to the parties. It is because we think that the words we are now proposing involve the acceptance of the Report of that Commission that we are inviting the parties to come together to discuss the best method of giving effect to the Report. I think, in regard to certain details which have been suggested they will be found in working to be impracticable, but it is not for us to express an opinion, because that would prejudice our intervention. There are questions of detail and machinery, and I should have thought that this Resolution would really meet the views of both parties, without involving the introduction of any words which would make it difficult for either of the two parties to accept it.
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
Might I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that all these troubles have arisen on account of the absence of a definite undertaking in writing. Having experienced these difficulties, I think we should be careful to prepare the case so that it is impossible for any mistake to arise, and what we undertake to-day should be in writing. I think we should have an undertaking to abide by the Report of the Royal Commission before we agree to anything else.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The main body of hon. Members have come very near to an agreement on this question without distinction of party. It must be recognised that we are dealing with a very delicate situation, and I do not dispute the delicacy of the position of hon. Members who speak specially for the trade union railway employés, but the Government must remember that there are two parties to the dispute. You want to get the two parties to meet, and unless the Government occupy a middle position between them, they cannot hope to be successful in that effort. I think it only fair to say that in the action the House has 1269 taken to-day, we are asking the railway directors to sacrifice more than the representatives of the railway men, indeed, the representatives of the railway men are not being asked to sacrifice anything. They have had their full bargain. We have a Report by which they were to be bound, according to the understanding of the Government and the understanding of the directors. Now the House is inviting the Government to use its good offices with the directors to do something more to gratify the men. I think I have fairly stated the position in a way which will not be disputed by hon. Members below the Gangway. Under these circumstances, I think hon. Members representing the railway men should be willing, and the Government ought to be anxious, to do all they can to facilitate this fresh step.
With regard to the events of August, a grave misunderstanding has arisen between one of the parties, but they disclaimed the Report after it was issued. I think it is only fair, if you ask for a further advance on the part of the directors, that you should embody in the invitation which proceeds from this House, asking them to take that step, an acknowledgment that the Report of the Commission is accepted by both parties. That does not in the least prevent a common agreement, if they are brought together by the action of the Government. They may find that this or that detail may prove to be unworkable or undesirable, but when you are asking them, after they have fulfilled every stipulation that you made, after they have done all you asked them to do, when you ask them to do something more, you are bound to give them an assurance on the face of your invitation that you are not taking away that which you have already accorded. I urge upon the Government, after what they themselves have said, that they cannot prejudice the position of the representatives of the trade unions by putting words into this Resolution which, on the face of it, mark the fact that the starting point before the Resolution is accepted by both parties is the acceptance by both parties of the Report of the Royal Commission. I do not want to use words which would seem to encourage any reluctance, but I think it is almost necessary that you should put some such words in the Resolution if the efforts of the Government under that Resolution are to have a successful result.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
In view of the new situation which has arisen, I 1270 should like to say a few sentences. I associate myself with the desire of hon. Members to come to an agreement. As the Noble Lord opposite said, agreements have been twice come to, and, either owing to ambiguity of language or owing to the fact that the agreement has not been very accurately put down in writing, there has been a good deal of recrimination resulting. The fear that is in my mind is that if the word "accept" is used in any resolution passed to-day, that word is so ambiguous that it may lead to unfortunate results. So far as the principle is concerned, we agree that there is no doubt about it. But supposing the men meet the employers and want to raise the point that 25 per cent. of the men in a particular grade must sign a petition before it becomes effective, and the men want to discuss that point with the directors, and the directors say, "No, we are not prepared to discuss that, and we are not going to allow you to discuss that, because in the House of Commons your representatives accepted the Report." That is the difficulty in using the word "accept," because it would be definitely interpreted in that way, and it might be absolutely impossible for the men to raise any point they desired to discuss with the directors unless the directors agreed to discuss it. I do not think that is fair. Hon. Members opposite have heard our speeches to-day. To-morrow morning it will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT that we have committed ourselves to accepting the Report in its spirit and in its intention and as a foundation for the whole of this agreement.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
The point I want to bring out is that we have committed ourselves so far. That gives us a certain margin for agreement, a certain margin for discussion, and a certain margin for alteration; and it will enable both the directors and the men, with the Government present as a sort of arbitrator, to have a certain amount, not much, of discussion upon disputed points. I think that is very essential if the agreement, which I hope will be arrived at by this conference, is going to be a real agreement. The hon. Member opposite interrupted me and mentioned the point which I wanted to mention before sitting down. The House knows perfectly well that at the present moment a very important critical ballot is taking place. I want to be perfectly candid. All we can pledge 1271 ourselves to do is to use our influence, and I think the House knows perfectly well, if we make that statement, it can depend upon us to do everything possible to bring about a settlement. Hon. Members who are directors here are voting, but there are directors who are not present and are not voting. We can only bind them in a secondary way. The form of words suggested by the hon. Baronet would not do, because their interpretation might be so narrow that no real conference could result. You must have some looser form of words, so that a real discussion and agreement can take place. I hope the House will not feel I am rejecting attempts to come to an agreement, but, naturally, I must be very cautious about the form of words my friends and myself can accept.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am very glad the hon. Gentleman said what he has said, because there is not the slightest doubt that on previous occasions there have been very serious misunderstandings—I will not call them anything else—and it is most important we do not have another misunderstanding on this occasion. What the hon. Gentleman has said, I am sure in all good faith, is this: We desire to reserve to ourselves the right to discuss certain points in the award with the object of their alteration, and he has instanced the paragraph which says that 25 per cent. of a grade should sign a requisition before anything can be done. That is part of the principle of the award, and the hon. Gentleman quite candidly desires not to accept it but to discuss whether or not it should be accepted. I venture to say that is reopening the whole matter, and that is the reason why the right hon. Gentleman will not put these words into the Amendment. I should like to say a few words about myself as a director of the Great Northern Railway and about the attitude the Great Northern Railway take up. I think I may speak for the whole of the directors of the Great Northern Railway Company. They do not care two straws whether words supposed to be uncomplimentary to the directors are left in or taken out. They have done what they considered their duty, they are quite aware everybody does not hold the same opinion, and they do not care whether these words are left in or taken out. What they do care about is the motive which has induced the hon. Gentleman to move this Amendment. What is going to happen if the Amendment is accepted? I must take the House 1272 back to what occurred in Downing Street on 3rd November. There the Prime Minister met six or seven chairmen of the different railways in England, signatories to the 1907 agreement. They were accompanied by their general managers, and the Prime Minister endeavoured to bring about a meeting between the representatives of the trade union and the chairmen of the companies. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) was present, although not actually in the room.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I understood he was in the neighbourhood. Well, that is a mistake. Every single chairman refused to do what the right hon. Gentleman wanted. I am not going into all the disputes that took place before, or the reason of their so doing, but they refused, and they refused because they knew that what was required was recognition, and that, if they had accepted, it would be said they had accepted the principle of recognition. If the railway companies accept this Amendment, the result will be that the principle of recognition will be accepted. That is the Amendment and the whole issue between us. Of course, the hon. Member for Leicester cannot speak for the railway men. He has not submitted his proposal to them. Neither can we in this House speak for our board as a majority. I cannot speak for the London and North-Western or for the Great Eastern, but I can speak for my own, board. My own board has loyally endeavoured to make terms of peace. They did so in 1907, and they understood those terms would be abided by. They did so again in August under very great pressure and against the wish of every single director of the board. They did it because their patriotism was appealed to. Having so far sacrificed themselves, they on Thursday last came to a unanimous decision, which was confirmed to-day at 12 o'clock, when I had an interview with Lord Allerton, the chairman, that under no circumstances whatever would they advance any further. I agree with them, and I take this opportunity of saying we shall not pay the slightest attention to this Resolution. We have done all we can, and' we will do no more.
We believe the only result of this will be—as of all the other meetings and conferences—to intensify the dispute, and that we should be driven to such a position that we should have to do as the 1273 North-Eastern have done, and recognise the unions. The Prime Minister may say what he likes, that he will not enter into it unless both sides agree, but he will be thrown over as the President of the Board of Trade was thrown over in August, and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer was thrown over in 1907. Until there is recognition of the men there will be no peace. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad those cheers show I have correctly interpreted the situation. Under those circumstances, whether rightly or wrongly—and we think we are doing our duty to our shareholders and the nation—we have come to the conclusion we have done all we can, and we are not going to do any more. Under those circumstances, I should not have conceived I had done my duty, as a Member of this House, and as a director of the Great Northern Railway Company, if I had not got up and said what was in my mind. I believe until this issue is thoroughly understood, and the railway companies make up their minds that they have either to concede recognition or to go on refusing to do so, there will be no peace. We have the experience of the North-Eastern. It was not the oasis, as the hon. Gentleman said, in the centre of the disturbance; it was rather the contrary. The North-Eastern has for years been the centre of disturbance, and the oasis of quiet has been the other companies who have not recognised the unions. Under those circumstances, we feel it is impossible to do what hon. Members below the Gangway desire.
The PRIME MINSTER
I am not sure the speech by the hon. Baronet to which we have just listened improves the prospects of peace. Until he rose, I was under the impression we were, I will not say quarrelling about words, but we were very near, if not actually in sight, of a substantial agreement. I want to bring the House back, if I can, to the temper in which it was before the hon. Baronet liberated his soul with his accustomed vigour. I think there is some slight misapprehension even now in some quarters as to what will be the effect of this Resolution—in whatever of its various forms it is carried. It is merely a Resolution which asks the Government to use its good offices to bring the parties together. It is open to either of the parties to take the course which the hon. Baronet has indicated, and to refuse to accept any invitation the Government offers. We cannot either coerce the representatives of the 1274 men or the representatives of the companies. It must be by their own free agency, and it must be in their own discretion to accept or refuse any invitation we make. I have said, and I think I have said it in the most distinct language possible—it has also been said by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that in any invitation which the Government tenders to either one side or the other it will be made perfectly clear they will not take part in any conference except upon the basis of the acceptance of this Report.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have said so more than once. That is the position which the Government take up, and in the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman has moved on behalf of the Government it is a position which I think is not only implied but is most clearly expressed, because the Amendment is to the effect that a meeting should "take place between the parties"—what for?—to "discuss the best mode of giving effect to the Report. You cannot give effect to a thing which you do not treat as accepted and as the basis of your proceedings. It is purely a verbal point, and I think on the verbal point my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester was right. There are more possibilities of latent ambiguity in subsequent interpretation from the use of the word "accept" than there is in the use of such phraseology as this, about which there can be no doubt of any sort or kind. The object of the conference is described as to give effect to that Report. We have altered the phraseology, recognising what, I think, was a good point made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It would be a very great pity to quarrel about words at this stage; but I say—and I repeat on behalf of the Government—we will have nothing to do with inviting either party to any such conference which does not take the Report of the Commission as the basis and foundation of its proceedings.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am certainly as anxious as the right hon. Gentleman to come to an agreement. I should like nothing better than to assent to the explanation he has just given; but, after all, what is it? The right hon. Gentleman agrees with the hon. Member for Leicester that the word "accept" would lead to ambiguity; but the whole speech of the hon. 1275 Member for Leicester showed most clearly he objected to the word "accept," not because it was ambiguous, but because it was too clear and definite. The right hon. Gentleman says he will make it clear in the invitations that the Report is to be binding. Well, what possible objection is there in making the Motion of the House of Commons, which is what we are dealing with to-night, perfectly plain, and making it carry out what is declared by the Government itself to be the sole object they have in view? There is another thing that I think the right hon. Gentleman ought not to leave out. It is very nice to try and get a Resolution of any kind through the House of Commons. We are all sick of this, and we would like to get it through; but what is the object we are aiming at? It is to come to an agreement. Is it not quite evident, if the form of the Resolution is such that the railway directors will not accept it the whole object at which you are aiming must fail? It seems to me, from what I can gather, that, unless it is made perfectly plain in the Resolution itself, that the Report is to be binding, there is very little probability of the railway directors agreeing to a meeting. Everybody is agreed that the object of this coming together is not to alter the Report, but to find the best means of carrying it out, and surely the Prime Minister can devise some form of words which will make it clear, in a most unmistakable way, not only that the Government understand that the Report is to be binding, but that the House of Commons also understands it. I have said all I can on the subject. If the Government persist in the course they are taking, I shall vote for the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member behind me. That is all we can do.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I have listened very attentively to every word of this Debate, and, as it proceeded, I thought there was just a possibility of the House finding some way out of the very serious position in which the country is likely to be placed. Hon. Members will admit that I occupy a rather curious position in this Debate. I must confess that, since the Report was published, I have felt myself in disagreement with both sides. I have disagreed with the position taken up by the men and I have disagreed with the position taken up by the companies, and, having listened to this Debate, my disagreement has, if anything, deepened. 1276 I thought at one time there was a possibility of finding a way out of the difficulty. I listened with very great interest to the speech of the opener on the other side, and I feel quite sure that if the Debate could have been continued in the same spirit with which the hon. and learned Member for Kingston opened it there would not have been much difficulty in arriving at a settlement. But the further the Debate has proceeded the more obvious has it become to me that there is still a very wide gulf between the two sides. I have listened to the appeals that have been made to Members on this side to declare their acceptance of the Report. I want to know if hon. Gentlemen on the other side also are going to accept it. [HON. MEMBEBS: "Yes, yes."] I hope my hon. Friends will not find themselves a little too previous in that reply. It is perfectly true that this afternoon some of them have talked of accepting the Report, but it has been of accepting it, not on the interpretation I would put on it, knowing, as I do, the minds of my colleagues who were on the Commission, but on an interpretation that I would very freely and publicly repudiate.
For instance, we just now had a speech from the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). He took exception to one of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester. He cited that part of the Report which deals with petitions. He wanted to know why there should be any modification in that part of the Report. If there is any part of the Report that the Commission intended should be modified it is the very part that the right hon. Gentleman has refererd to. I will show why. If hon. Members follow closely the Report they will find that in the proposed scheme there is a paragraph which reads, "Unless otherwise mutually arranged the procedure laid down in paragraphs 2 to 8 shall be adopted." Paragraphs 2 to 8 deal with a preliminary procedure that has to be gone through before any question can be sent to the conciliation board at all. It includes petitions. That is part of the preliminary procedure. I know that on the men's side exception has been taken to the stereotyping of that preliminary procedure, and if we had been discussing the Report I should have been prepared to defend the stereotyping of the procedure. I think a regularised preliminary procedure is better than a procedure of the beginning and end of which you know nothing. Yet that is the system 1277 they were working under under the scheme of 1907.
Witnesses told us that when they got a large number of signatures to a petition they did not even know if the companies would accept it. In many instances the companies refused to accept it. We laid down 25 per cent. in order to regularise and systematise the whole thing and to render it impossible for any company to refuse a petition where these conditions were carried out. We had to prepare a scheme—and this is a point I would put in defence of this part of the Report—we had to prepare a scheme for lines which are highly organised as well as for lines which are not very well organised, and, having regard to that fact, the Commissioners put in these qualifying words, "unless otherwise mutually agreed." Yet the right hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that if that question were raised in the conference the men would be going beyond the legitimate bounds of this Resolution. If that is the way the railway directors are going to interpret this Report, then I think they are making out a very strong case for a preliminary conference in order that we may have these doubtful points of interpretation cleared up before the Report itself is entered upon. The right hon. Gentleman is not the only Member on the other side who, it seems to me, while appealing to the men to accept the Report, is not quite prepared to accept it himself. I listened with attention to the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University. He appeared to base his argument on this point—that the Report consisted of a proposed scheme which is found in a sort of appendix to the Report. If hon. Members and railway directors are going to narrow down the Report to this appendix, which is to be found at the end of it, there is going to be nothing but mischief. I hold that the Report consists of everything that there is in it from cover to cover. It is of no use hon. Members laying hold of the proposed scheme and ignoring paragraphs 24, 52, 53, and 54.
I should like to call the attention of the House to the last three paragraphs. I find that the position is put before us pretty well according to the side that the newspaper represents. Some newspapers have seized upon paragraph 52 and have ignored paragraph 53. I claim that paragraphs 52, 53, and 54, must be read together. The whole of these three paragraphs deal with the question of recognition. Each of them has been strongly 1278 accepted by newspepers which stand for or seek to represent the position of the companies, and, in large type, I find these words printed, "We think that with their great responsibilities the companies cannot and should not be expected to permit any intervention between them and their men on the subjects of discipline and management." When that paragraph is quoted they go no further. I want to ask this. Why should we have put in this reservation with regard to recognition if we did not intend—if the Commission did not intend—that over and above questions of discipline and management recognition was intended? I would ask legal Gentlemen opposite what would be the object of any body of men having gone into the whole question and made this reservation unless they intended—and I think I shall be able to show that they really did so intend—that over and above the questions that were being reserved recognition should be accepted? The Noble Lord (Lord Claud Hamilton) seemed to make his strong point against recognition on the question of discipline. Surely if he had read carefully the paragraph I have just submitted to this House, he would have seen that if they were to grant, as a result of this Debate, the same recognition as is enjoyed in all other trades, the whole question of discipline would still be outside the question of recognition.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I have here the North-Eastern scheme, and I will point out that in this scheme, just as the Commission have done, the North-Eastern Company have reserved questions of discipline. Although on the North-Eastern they have recognition. I think the Noble Lord will agree with me that no question of discipline can be sent in to the Conciliation Board conferences.
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
I remember perfectly well a strike that took place on the North-Eastern Railway because a man was removed from one goods yard to another without the consent of the union leaders.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
In order to put the matter clearly before the House, I will draw attention to Section 8 of the North-Eastern scheme, which distinctly says that no question involving discipline will be taken into consideration by the 1279 conference. The point I am making is that you need have no fear with regard to questions of discipline, inasmuch as the Commission have taken up exactly the same position as is taken up by the North-Eastern. The men accept this position, and witnesses on behalf of the trade union—Mr. Williams and Mr. Thomas—gave evidence to that effect. On the question of discipline, when they were appealing for recognition, they each of them reserved the question of discipline and stated to the Commission that they did not think that question was one the trade unions would interfere with.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
If this was accepted by the men, how is it that the men came out on strike on the North-Eastern Railway on a question of discipline, and discipline only?
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
There never came before the Commission any case of the men having struck on the North-Eastern Railway on a question of discipline.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I have merely read to you, and I cannot do more, the North-Eastern scheme as it was presented to us, and as it is found in the minutes of evidence. In that scheme it is distinctly laid down that no question of discipline can come under the consideration of the conference. I was making the point that the Commission have reserved the question of discipline from all questions of recognition. I pointed out that there was a strong inclination to take paragraph 52 and to go no further, but I also stated that paragraphs 52, 53, and 54 must stand together. The hon. Member for Leicester brought to our notice the question contained in paragraph 53. I do not think he read it to the House, and I am going to take the trouble to read it, and I sincerely hope that hon. Members opposite will follow me. Paragraph 53 says:—The trade unions press strongly for recognition as representatives of the men No doubt, in some matters and on some occasions, friendly relations between companies and the representatives of unions have been both convenient and useful. The witness who appeared before us on behalf of the Great Western Railway gave an illustration of the valuable results which attended his collaboration with the trade union official who had conducted the case of the men before the arbitrator. In that instance many vexed points of interpretation were settled quite satisfactorily, and in our opinion a more general adoption of this method of negotiation would be helpful to both parties.1280 If hon. Members opposite are going to narrow the question of recognition as it is presented in paragraph 52, and ignore the statements contained in paragraph 53, they are providing the strongest argument for the men to have this point cleared up before any attempt to apply the machinery is made. Paragraph 54 deals with the question of the secretaries of the boards, which is not disputed by the other side. The Debate has convinced me of this: that no machinery that this Commission or any other Commission could have set up will work satisfactorily if we have the spirit introduced that was introduced into this Debate by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. As most Members of the House are aware the Commission, in more than one part of the Report, referred to the absence of meetings between the two parties, and I do not think for a single moment that I misrepresent the position of every member of the Commission if I say that, as they expressed their disappointment in paragraph 24 at the failure of the companies to show a conciliatory spirit when the national programme was set up, so they will equally deplore the spirit that has been manifested in the speech to which I have referred. If that is going to be the spirit that is going to characterise the conduct of the directors in the acceptance of this Report, then the whole proceedings on the part of the Commission will be reduced to an absolute failure.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just come in, and the hon. Member for Kingston both mark the right spirit. I am quite sure of this: that if the Amendment before the House is accepted by both sides in the spirit of their speeches, and in the spirit that prompted the Commissioners, not to give some imperative command to the directors, we, at any rate I am speaking for myself on this point—have strong ground for complaint against the companies, if they are going to take this Report and handle it in the same spirit that they handled the scheme of 1907. I speak with the experience of twenty-five years of conciliation board work when I say that the spirit, in which the machinery is administered is almost more than the machinery itself. I venture to make one last appeal to hon. Members on the other side to accept our Report, not the proposed scheme only, but the Report from cover to cover in the spirit that it was constructed by my four colleagues and myself. If they do so it will be a machinery that will end the 1281 troublesome times we have had in connection with our railways in this country.
§ Mr. BRADY
A very few moments only will be necessary to state the attitude of the Irish party in reference to this Amendment. We recognise as well as hon. Gentlemen opposite that this is a question of enormous importance. If it is a grave question for England, it is a still graver question for Ireland, for the party of which I am a member shares with every Member of this House the desire to avoid a recurrence of anything approaching a national strike, for shocking and serious as such a great dispute would be in the case of England, Scotland and Wales, it would be still more shocking and terrible for a country which has too little trade already. Important as this subject is, like most important subjects, it may be narrowed down to a very small issue. That is the very issue which has been raised by both Noble Lords above and below the Gangway, when they said the acceptance of the Amendment involved the principle of recognition. Recognition has been spoken of as if it were a terrible bogey. Hon. Members above the Gangway seem to think that it will be the end of all things as far as railway companies are concerned if the principle of recognition is extended to them. So far from that being the case, if the principle of recognition were extended to railway companies, as it has been extended to practically every other trade in the United Kingdom, then these disturbances of trade with which we have become so familiar in recent years would speedily disappear.
In thorough Irish fashion I would answer hon. Members by putting a question. How is it, if this non-recognition is such a good thing as hon. Members claim it to be, that we have had so many disputes in the railway world during recent years. Even those of us who have not adorned this House so long as the Noble Lord above the Gangway (Lord Claud Hamilton)—whose part in this Debate we welcomed this evening—know that during the last twenty-five years there have been many grave disputes in the railway world under a system where non-recognition obtained. Surely it is not to much to ask hon. Members to give recognition a chance. The strongest case for a limited form of recognition, outside matters of discipline, is to be found in the Report itself. I do not wish to labour that point, but it is put so clearly in this Report that it is almost worth while to read it again. It is pointed out that in the case of the 1282 Great Western Railway, where the principle of recognition was resorted to,In that instance many points of interpretation were settled quite satisfactorily, and in our opinion a more general adoption of this method of negotiation will be helpful to both parties.What more eloquent plea for the principle of recognition could be found than in those words? I would go further and suggest to my hon. Friends above the Gangway that they are acting illogically in denying the universal principle of recognition, even in the case of matters of discipline, for this reason, that the principle of recognition is already followed in the case of arbitration. The railway directors do not object to trade unions being represented by having their representaties before the conciliation boards or the arbitrator, and it is only carrying the matter one step further to ask that these trade unions should be permitted to represent their unions in the first place with the directors themselves. This principle of recognition is only a corollary to the great principle of trade unionism itself. Perhaps the House will allow me, in passing, to note the fact that this principle of trade unionism, in the opinion of the late Mr. Gladstone, is a lesson which Englishmen learned from Irishmen. Speaking shortly after the great dock strike of 1889, Mr. Gladstone said:The working people of this country learned the lesson of combining to make a common cause from Ireland, where the people, thanks to coercive laws, have been compelled to associate for an object they believe to be vital to all.The proposition I am endeavouring to maintain is, that it follows logically from the principle of trade unionism that the chosen representatives of trade unions should be allowed to put their case before the railway directors, as they are allowed to put it before the employers in any other trades.
And, it being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.