§ Mr. O'GRADY
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
I scarcely think any apology is needed1 for bringing this matter before the attention of the House in view of the serious position which obtains in the Port of London. At present there are something over 100,000 men out on strike in the Port of London, and something like £1,200,000,000 capital is represented. I mention these facts to show the great seriousness of the situation and the absolute necessity on the part of the Government to do something to put an end to this trouble. I should like to mention two or three matters which have come to my attention since I have been connected with the Strike Committee. There can be no shadow of doubt that the men are not being dealt with in a fair manner in this dispute by the Port Authority. The police at present are doing what we consider to be the work of the dockers, and in that sense blacklegging our own men. It has gone beyond mere protection. We quite, appreciate the fact that protection is required for the escort of provisions from the docks to the warehouses. The vans 217 which are carrying provisions are overloaded, and that, as the photographs in the Press show, they have broken down on many occasions, and were not sufficiently horsed, and that the police themselves have to get behind and push them up the small inclines. That is going beyond protection. If the employers want to get their goods from the Port to their warehouses they ought to send down sufficient vans, horses, and men to carry on the work in a proper manner. Under ordinary circumstances, had these things occurred in the streets, the first thing the police would have done would have been to haul the carters before the Court and sue the firms for overloading vans and for cruelty to horses. I suppose the House has heard about the civilian force. It has been organised by the shipping federation; they are uniformed men, and they carry sticks. I am certain that were we to arm our dockers with sticks one thing would be sure to happen. They would be hauled before the Court, because it would be clear evidence of the fact that they intended to break the peace.
Another point which I wish to bring to the attention of the House is this. It has been taken for a sign of weakness that the organisation of the men who are out on strike has agreed to allow the necessary foodstuffs to come from the vessels to the warehouses. We, in our simplicity, thought that would have been taken as an evidence of our strength. Not only that, but we agreed with the Home Secretary, if he cared to accept the suggestion, that instead of allowing the police to escort these provisions from the docks to the warehouses we would do it ourselves. That has been rejected and the civilian force has been used, and upon some occasions the War Office authorities have also sent their men down to get their necessary provisions. That is not fair and square dealing. It is done for the purpose of showing the force of authority and of giving security to the men whom we call blacklegs, and therefore prolonging the strike much longer than would otherwise have been the case. In connection with this dispute a curious attitude is taken up by the Port of London Authority, and the matter ought to be seriously considered by the House. This is a statutory body set up by the Government for the purpose of safeguarding and serving the interests of all those employed in the trade of the Port. Among those interests necessarily must be the interests of the men who are out on strike, 218 and through the mouth of their assistant manager, a gentleman of the name of Watts, a public declaration has been made to the effect that the Port of London Authority are more determined than ever not to have anything more to do with the men. That is a very curious position for a semi-public body to take up, and that statement must have been made at the instance of the authority itself, and it cannot receive the sanction of the Government which set up the authority. These are a few of the preliminary incidents in connection with the trouble itself. Important though these matters are, in the sense that I think the Government itself ought to see that these things are put right, it is more important still that the House itself would desire to know the reason for the present dispute. Statements are made in the public Press which reflect upon the men. There has been blame all round on the men and no blame on the employers. I do not know how it is, but whenever these industrial battles occur the men are always in the wrong and not the employers. I think I shall be able to show that this strike is the result of a policy of pin-pricking, and that the men themselves have been deliberately goaded into striking by the employers and the employers' associations. If I prove that point I think the House will insist that the Government should take some action to place these things upon a business footing which will prevent the recurrence of these disastrous disputes in the Port of London.
I desire to submit that the effect of Sir Edward Clarke's Report is that he has found against the men on two points—that is to say, they broke two agreements, but they broke them through a misunderstanding; but with regard to the other five points, he finds that the employers deliberately broke agreements, and made a profit out of it. There are thousands of pounds owing in the form of wages to the men who are out upon strike owing to the breaking of agreements since 21st August last. That being the fact, I submit that things should not any longer be allowed to go on in that chaotic manner. But quite apart from the interests of the workmen and employers, the interests of the community ought to be considered, and steps should be taken by the Government so that these things should not occur in future in the same way as they have done up to the present. Take the three points on which I want to suggest that this dispute has been forced upon the men. Take first of all the 219 case of the man Thomas. I want to deal with that briefly. Sir Edward Clarke has declared his opinion on that point. The men agree that they were wrong in their interpretation of the agreement, and they have accepted Sir Edward Clarke's report on that point. This man Thomas, in our judgment, was not a foreman at the time the dispute broke out. The inference of any ordinary common-sense person with respect to the position would be that if foremen must not be members of the union, ordinary workmen could be members. When this dispute occurred the men belonging to the union tried to localise it and not allow it to go outside of the firm where the dispute occurred over Thomas. What did the firm do? They immediately transferred work to another firm where there were union men employed. I do not want to draw unjust conclusions as regards all the employers, but I want to express a very strong opinion that this was done deliberately, and that the transfer of the work from one firm to another was an operation of which the employers knew. The men did not burst out on that occasion. They politely told the employers that as union men they could not be expected to handle work which came from the firm with whom Thomas was employed. The result of that was that seventeen men were at once discharged, and that accentuated the dispute with the firm who employed Thomas. I do not wish to go further than to declare on the part of the transport workers that they accept Sir Edward Clarke's judgment that there was some misunderstanding in regard to that matter.
The first important point that led up to the dispute was that the Transport Workers' Federation asked the tug-owners for a normal week of seventy-two hours for the men. I should say that that was a very reasonable request indeed. After the workmen have been employed for seventy-two hours a week, I think the employers ought not to cavil with them about the thing, but ought to agree to the request. What was the reply? A blunt refusal to even meet the men. The men did not come out on strike then. The union kept the men at work, and, furthermore, they negotiated with the Government Department on the matter, in order to see if some arrangement could be arrived at. But the employers stood by their position, and refused to meet the men or to consider their conditions at all. 220 Sir Edward Clarke's comment upon that is as follows:—No explanation was given to me of the refusal of the Association to discuss with the Amalgamated Society the claim for an increase of wages. I was informed that the deck hands upon the tugs were not within the provisions of either of the agreements of 11th and 19th August, 1911, and there does not appear to be any agreement which bound the Association to discuss the matter with the Amalgamated Society and in case of difference submit it to the decision of the Board of Trade; but it is clear that the peremptory refusal to consider this application for a higher wage was one of the causes, and not an unimportant one, of the present disputes.I submit to the House that the men should be able to meet the employers in this industry as they ordinarily do in connection with other industries. For instance, in connection with the Miners' Association the employers are glad to meet the representatives of the workmen. But if that kind of action on the part of the employers is to be refused in connection with work at the docks and on the river, then there is no alternative but to adopt another line of action, and the only alternative is to come out and strike, and force a conference and negotiations with the employers. I come now to another very important point which arose, and which was another cause of dispute. Prior to August last year a Joint Board was set up, and they met at the Port of London Authority offices. When the Board was set up, there was complete representation of all the employers in the transport industry in the Port of London. But a curious thing happened. As the Board went on fixing up agreements with the men in each particular section of the transport workers' occupations, the Board gradually became depleted of the employers. They cleared out.
In what is known as the Devonport agreement there was a clause saying, with regard to the question of oversea ships, that in case of any trouble arising the matter should be submitted to arbitration. Let me give an instance of a dispute that arose with regard to wages. At that time the men who were doing oversea work had 7d. an hour, and other dockers, the ordinary common type of dockers, got their wages increased from 6d. to 7d. an hour. The men engaged on the oversea boats thought that their wages would be increased from 7d. to 8d. They expected that advance, but did not get it. The clause in the agreement provided for arbitration on that matter. The men who had charge of the oversea boats positively refused to pay the men 8d. an hour. The men accordingly agreed that the question 221 should be submitted to arbitration, and they met, under Sir Albert Rollit, and discussed all the pros and cons of the case. The result was that Sir Albert Rollit gave his decision in favour of the men, that under the Devonport agreement they were entitled to 8d. an hour. One would have expected that the decision given by a fair-minded business man like Sir Albert Rollit would be observed by the masters. Nothing at all of the kind. The men in sheer desperation then agreed to go to another arbitrator, and the case was submitted to the Lord Chief Justice of England, and he definitely decided again in favour of the men. He said Sir Albert Rollit's award was the correct interpretation of the agreement. His own view was the same as that of Sir Albert Rollit. The employers then said that it only applied to the "Sea Belle," and not to the general trade. I do not wish to speak in strong terms of the employers who took that view. The men held that the agreement applied to the whole trade, and that view was sustained by the decision first of Sir Albert Rollit and then of the Lord Chief Justice, but when the employers took up the attitude that it only applied to the "Sea Belle" there was no alternative but for the men in the face of that position to come out on strike in order that these things might be brought to the attention of the general public and of the Government. Sir Edward Clarke in his Report, referring to Sir Albert Rollit's award, said—I can deal shortly with this, because what passed at the inquiry satisfies me that if doubt still exists as to the meaning of the award of Sir Albert Rollit, it will be agreed that he shall decide the question. The point is simple. By the Devonport agreement, workmen receiving fid an hour had their pay raised to 7d., and, this included men employed by wharfingers and unloading oversea vessels Certain men employed in unloading such ships in the river were then receiving 7d. per hour, and the question was referred to Sir Albert Rollit to say if their wage should be raised to 8d. He granted the advance, and in the case of the Sea Belle, owned by Mr. Leach, a wharfinger, the question was submitted to the Lord Chief Justice as to whether Mr. Leach was only bound to pay the lower rate or whether, as the shin was an oversea ship, he was bound to pay the 8d. The Lord Chief Justice decided on 27th November, 1911, that under Sir Albert Rollit's award, Mr. Leach was liable to pay the higher rate. I do not understand why that decision was not accepted as governing the case of all oversea ships.I do not like strikes. My colleagues do not like them, and we do not want them. But when employers are not observing a law, I submit that there is no other alternative but for the men to come out on strike. I will not go into too much detail, as I am anxious that the matter should be fully discussed: but I will take another case, the case of the carmen. If I may say so 222 I think in their case a positively scandalous condition of affairs has been revealed, because the men were compelled by force of circumstances to hit their employers, a thing which they do not want to do upon any occasion; but if the conditions are such that they are bound to do it, who is going to blame the men? Here was the case of Mr. Bissell. He was a member of the Master Carters' Association, which decided to accept certain conditions of employment with certain overtime rates of pay. After a while he refused to pay the overtime rates. The union men claimed the overtime rates under the terms of the agreement. He discharged the union men and employed non-union men. The Master Carters' Association went to the workmen's organisation and said, "Look here, help us out of this difficulty. He is not paying the rates which we are paying—that is, the rates according to the terms of our agreement—and you must do something to force the sweating employers to pay what the fair employers are already paying, according to the terms of the agreement." I suggest to the House that there was no other means of taking action but the workmen's organisation should move in reference to the men in the employment of Mr. Bissell. The employers declared that if that was not done, and they were compelled to go on paying the higher rates, they would be ruined. They were perfectly entitled to take up that position. They went further than that; they wrote to this gentleman protesting against his not observing the agreement entered into by the Master Carters' Association, of which at the time he was a; member. Mr. Bissell, fearing the consequence that the Master Carters' Association would have to expel him from membership, took the other course and resigned.
That is the situation as far as three' fourths of the dispute are concerned. I want to appeal to this House, and to the public outside, that the men have not been merely unduly blamed, but deliberately blamed for the part that they are taking in this matter. They are being derided in all directions because they are bound to take certain other action, and they are being told in certain newspapers that if they take up this action the whole of the police and, if necessary, the military shall be placed on guard at the docks and elsewhere in order that the work of the Port may be carried on. Why is the same line of conduct not pursued in reference to the employers? I do not see why we are 223 always being threatened with the police, the military, and the law, while the employer gets scot-free from all these things. After all, there is a third party to all these disputes, a party outside the employers and outside the workmen engaged in that particular trade or industry, and that is the general public. I claim that it is the function of this House of Parliament to safeguard the interests of the public in all these matters, and the only way in which they can be safeguarded is to insist that when agreements are entered upon by corporate bodies like employers' associations and workmen's organisations these agreements shall apply over the whole industry, or the section of the industry, as the case may be, and that the men shall be able to claim in a Court of Law the wages which they are duly entitled to under the terms of the agreement. The Attorney-General knows full well that we cannot take that course of action now. It is a matter of contract between an employer and his individual workman. That kind of thing has got to end. We do not want compulsory arbitration, neither the transport workers nor the employers. I do not know what the Government are going to do in the matter; but something must be done, so that if those conditions are entered into they shall apply all round, and may be enforced. I have here an agreement which was entered into between the Amalgamated Society of Watermen, Lightermen, and Bargemen and the employers, and this is what Sir George Askwith says:—The list of rates for sailing barges on the Thames, Medway, etc., has been compiled in consultation with the representatives of the parties in accordance with the terms of the agreement of 11th August. 1911. Signed G. R. Askwith. Chief Industrial Commissioner.There was a compact entered into between the workmen and the employer under the Rollit award, signed by one of our chief Civil servants, a man of large experience in these matters, and I submit to this House that the mere fact that this has not been carried out is not merely a flouting of the Department concerned, but of the Government itself, and of the House of Commons. The employers have consigned the agreement to the waste paper basket. That is my case for the men's side. In conclusion, I may say that we do not want to carry on this dispute in the Port of London longer than is necessary, but I say that the men will not go back to work—and I am speaking now for the Transport Workers' Association— until they have some guarantee that when 224 they solemnly enter into agreements and compacts with employers, those compacts and agreements will stand for a period of time, during which the men can claim under them their wages and their proper conditions of employment; and I trust that as a result of this brief statement of the case, the Government to-night will be able to give us some satisfactory answer that will prove to be a solution of the difficulty which at present exists in the Port of London.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has told us that he has moved this Motion for several reasons. The first reason is that policemen are being employed to protect the carters bringing wheat to consumers, whereas the federation which he represents have given an undertaking that their men would protect the vans. I have seen statements in the newspapers to that effect, but I would point out to hon. Gentlemen that the proper people to protect men who are endeavouring to earn an honest livelihood are the forces of the Crown, and not a trade union, or a member of the trade union. Before I go into the question of the merits of the dispute, what, in my opinion, the Government have first of all to do is to see that a man, whether he is an employer or a workman, whether he is a member or is not a member of a trade union, is protected by the police in his desire to do what he chooses to do for himself, and any attempt forcibly to prevent that man from doing it because he happens to be called by the hon. Member and his friends a "blackleg," and from earning an honest livelihood, should be stopped by the whole forces of the Crown. Until that is done these disputes will continue. The next point the hon. Member made was that Sir Edward Clarke finds that the men are right in five points. I dispute that altogether. That is a statement that is made in a letter which I have, and which was written by the President of the Board of Trade to, I think, the master lightermen. I have the letter here, but in my opinion the President of the Board of Trade is not confirmed by Sir Edward Clarke.
Sir Edward Clarke was appointed under the Conciliation Act of 1896, in no kind of way as an arbitrator, but to make a report to the Government as to certain conditions which had arisen in certain trades. It was 225 a very hurried inquiry—I do not in the least blame Sir Edward Clarke for that—during which many of the people who were concerned were not heard, and Sir Edward Clarke in his report, I venture to say does not, in many of the cases named by the hon. Member, say that the men were right. In the first two cases the hon. Member admits that Sir Edward Clarke said that the employers were in the right. With regard to the next case, which is Clause 3, I may explain, for the information of the House, that Sir Edward Clarke divided his report into several heads, and under the first two heads he reported in favour of the employers. That, I think, is admitted by the hon. Member. Clause 3 which the hon. Member alluded to was:—The refusal of the Association of Master Lightermen to meet the representatives of the Amalgamated Society of Watermen, Lightermen and Bargemen for the purpose of arranging rates of wages and conditions of employment of masters and mates of tugs owned by members of the association.And Sir Edward Clarke in his Report on page 6 says:—No explanation was given to me of the refusal of the Association to discuss with the Amalgamated Society the claim for an increase of wages.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have the Report here, and if the hon. Member wishes me to do so, I will read on—I was informed that deck hands upon the tugs were not within the provisions of either of the agreements of 11th and 19th August, 1911, and there does not appear to be any agreement which binds the Association to discuss the matter with the Amalgamated Society, and in case of difference submit it to the decision of the Board of Trade; but it is clear that the peremptory refusal to consider this application for a higher wage was one of the causes, and not an unimportant one, of the present disputes.What is the answer to that? First of all it must be remembered Sir Edward Clarke, on page 5 of the Report, stated that—On the 4th April a reply was sent saying that the Council were not prepared to reopen the question which had been recently arranged.The reason for that was that an arrangement had been come to so lately as the 27th of last July, and the employers said that having come to an arrangement so recently they were not going to reopen the question. In that I think they were right. It is absolutely impossible to carry on business if, after having made an arrangement within two or three months, or five or six months, as the case may be, that arrangement is to be reopened. An arrangement once made must be binding, and it must not be binding only on one party, but on both parties, and binding for a reasonable time. It must not be upset because of some small dispute as to whether 226 or not a foreman should belong to the Foremen's Union or the men's union, because we find that there is a provision in the agreement that any case of dispute should be submitted to the Board of Trade. The men took the matter into their own hands and struck. I have disposed of Clause 3. As to Clause 4, that was—The refusal by certain sailing barge-owners to pay the men according to a list of freight rates settled on 1st January, 1912, according to an agreement made on 11th August, 1911.Sir Edward Clarke's report stated that it was not denied that certain agreed payments had not been made. The report of the sailing barge-owners and members of the Master Lightermen's Association was that no representative of the sailing barge-owners was present, nor had he been invited to attend inquiries. Mr. Brooks, who signed the agreement—I have his statement here—says that Mr. Henry Gosling, after having agreed to certain arrangements last year, changed his ground, and absolutely repudiated the agreement. Is it to be wondered at, when these gentlemen were not asked to be present, and when they felt from their former experience that it was impossible to come to terms with the men, who had agreed to certain resolutions, and had decided to tear them up—is it to be wondered at that the employers said, "We have had enough of this sort of thing, and we will settle our arrangements in the old English fashion between master and men." I do-not know whether the laughter of hon. Members opposite is caused by my having used the words "master and men," but if it will please them I withdraw those words, and substitute "between employers and employed." That is the whole foundation of the trouble. Clause 5 refers to:—The refusal of certain wharfingers to pay in respect of the discharge of oversea ships the rate of pay fixed in the award of Sir Albert Rollit.These are the terms of the reference to Sir Albert Rollit:—Whether in view of the increased pay granted by the Port of London Authority and wharfingers, there shall or shall not be an increase up to 8d. an hour to the men employed at 7d an hour.That is an increase of 1d., and I think is perfectly clear:—And also whether there shall or shall not be an increase of overt me pay of 1s. per hour where such is not paid at present.The award was:—In view of the increase of pay granted by the Port of London Authority and wharfingers under the agreement of the 27th day of July, 1911, an increase of pay of 8d. per hour to the men at present employed at 7d. per hour, and an increase of the rate of overtime paid to 1s. per hour.227 The dispute was not that the men employed at 7d. per hour should have a rise to 8d., but that the men employed at 6d. an hour were to have a rise of 2d., making 8d. an hour. That is clearly not in the spirit of Sir Albert Rollit's award. What took place was that a certain gentleman called Mr. Leach, who had been paying 7d. instead of 6d., was told by Lord Alverstone, to whom apparently he had appealed, that the men should receive 8d. They were already receiving the 7d. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] That is my information. That being so, that is no justification for men who did not come under the award because they did not receive 7d. being increased to 8d. Clause 6 was the question of Mr. Bissell, the master carman. Let the House consider for a moment what is the real position of this case. There are 2,000 master carmen in the City of London. There is a federation of Master Carmen which consists of 100 members, so that 1,900 out of 2,000 master carmen in London are outside the federation. Mr. Bissell was one of the 100 members of the federation. He had some dispute with his men; he may have been right or he may have been wrong, but he withdrew from the federation, and I say, why not? We hear a great deal about freedom, and why should not a free-born Englishman, whether employer or employed, withdraw from an association with which for the moment he does not agree?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Mr. Bissell, having withdrawn from the Master Carmen's Association, and being no longer a member of that association, was not bound by any agreement.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I fail to understand those cheers. I would remind hon. Members of an agreement entered into in South Wales to which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty was a party, and that was broken deliberately by the men without giving excuse of any sort or kind. I stated to begin with that I did not know whether Mr. Bissell was right or whether he was wrong, but in this particular case he withdrew from the association, and having withdrawn from the association he was at liberty to act on his own initiative and not on the initiative 228 of the association. That was Clause 6. We come to Clause 7, but I do not think the hon. Member made any allusion to that. Now the hon. Member asks that the police and military should be told off in regard to employers as well as men. They are not because employers do not break the law, and do not break people's heads, and do not endeavour to interfere with a man doing what he is perfectly entitled to do, namely, to earn his livelihood and do his duty. I venture to say that if the employer was to break the law he would be treated in exactly the same way as anybody else would be. [An HON. MEMBER: "Would he?"] The hon. Member went on to say that an agreement should be enforced. I suppose he means legislation, and that the legislation which ought to be passed by the Government should be legislation which would compel all employers to be bound by a federation which would consist of certain of their members. I venture to say that such a proposal is absolutely impossible. I am informed, on what I believe to be good authority, that the desire of Mr. Gosling, because I am told it is Mr. Gosling's idea and nobody else's, and it has been adopted by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, is to form one large federation of employers, which is to include wharfingers, barge owners, lightermen, dock proprietors, and I may even include shipowners, and that a certain committee chosen from those gentlemen is to decide the rates of wages, the hours of employment, and the general way in which everybody, whether he is a member of this federation or not, who happens to be concerned in one of those trades is to carry on his business. I was for something like five-and-thirty years engaged in business in the City, and I venture to say it is absolutely impossible to carry on the business of this country on those terms. If the Government are so short-sighted as to attempt to bring forward any legislation of that sort, the only result will be that the employers will be driven to go into other countries. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite will not cheer when that occurs. The result will be that great privation and want of employment will arise in this country. I assure the right hon. Gentleman who is leading the House that I do not make these remarks in any captious or presumptuous spirit. I make them because I believe them to be true. 229 What I want to say is this, that the Government should not interfere between employer and employed.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
And should send their police to protect people who are desirous of working, and not only their police, but if necessary—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Yes, certainly. Let me point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that during the last five or six years many attempts have been made by Government Departments to settle these matters. All those attempts that have been made by the Government Departments, and made, I do not deny, with every desire to do the right thing, have always ended in slight concessions or large concessions to the men. The action of the Government has always been the action of the opportunist. They settle something, even if it is only for a short time. The result has been that the men have been encouraged to believe that they have only got to do what is going on now, and that pressure will be put on the employers to give way to their demands, whether they are right or whether they are wrong. The right hon. Gentleman has a great knowledge of history. He goes back sometimes as far, I think, as Henry VIII. I believe my Noble Friend behind me knows that. If he will go back to the days of the invasion of the Danes he will find out when the Danes invaded this country they were given a certain amount of money to go away. The natural result was that they came back in a short time and asked for more. They got more to go away, and then they came back and took possession of a great part part of the country. I do not know if they went to Wales. However that may be, what I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman is that they have got to make a stand somewhere, and that this continual attempt to patch up differences will never succeed so long as the idea of patching up differences is to try and force certain concessions from the employers to the employed. What I venture to say the Government ought to do is to see that every man who pays rates and taxes has the protection to which he is entitled by law in endeavouring to carry out a lawful occupation. Until that is done, we shall 230 never be free from these disputes. I do not know whether I have spoken with too much heat; but I feel very strongly on this matter, and if I have said anything which is stronger than it ought to be I wish to apologise to the House. I am certain that the whole prosperity of our country is bound up in the knowledge that persons who desire to take part in enterprises in this country, whether as employers or employed, will receive due and proper protection from whatever Government happens to be in office. Unless that is the case, good-bye to the prosperity of the country. As to any idea that the Government, even when led by such an able representative as the right hon. Gentleman, can tell employers and employed how they are to carry on their business, that is absolutely impossible. They know their own business better than anybody else, and unless they are left to fight their own battles we shall have these disputes continually recurring. I hope the Government will for once have a little courage, and take a strong line upon this matter.
§ Mr. HOLT
Perhaps I may be allowed to intervene in this Debate, as I happen to be a shipowner who has four vessels affected by this unfortunate strike, and as I am not a member of the Shipowners' Association in London I can speak with a certain amount of detachment. As far as I understand, there is no allegation throughout against the shipowners. On the only point on which the shipowners were concerned Sir Edward Clarke found in their favour. The avowed reason for the strike was the employment of a lighterman who was not a member of the union, and on that point, the original avowed reason for the strike, Sir Edward Clarke found against the men. That is beyond dispute. I think that in itself is almost a sufficient reason why the men should return to work pending negotiations. I do not want to minimise the other points at all. I do not want to suggest that justice is all on one side. Probably there was never a quarrel in which the whole justice lay on one side. The case of the sailing barge owners is the only case justifying the hon. Member's statement that thousands of pounds owing to the men were unjustly held back. I think the hon. Member ought to have told the house that in that case Sir Edward Clarke, in his proper anxiety to report rapidly, reported without hearing what the sailing barge owners had to say. His report was an ex parts statement. The sailing barge owners 231 have circulated the reply which, owing to the unfortunate illness of the proper person to make it, they were unable to lay before Sir Edward Clarke. I think there is no question as to the bona fides of that statement. If that reply is correct it is a complete answer to the charge against them. It was really unfortunate that on that particular point Sir Edward Clarke should have reported without hearing both sides of the case. It is all very well to be in a hurry to arrive at a verdict, but to get a speedy verdict by omitting to hear the defence does not seem to me conducive to justice.
I agree entirely with Sir Edward Clarke that the employers ought to show willingness to meet the men and discuss the situation in a cordial and ungrudging spirit. That is essential. If we are to have a termination of these labour disputes, there must be goodwill and friendliness as regards interviews and discussions between both parties. As I understand, there was no technical breach of the agreement. Can it be argued that because one very small section of the transport trade of London had acted arbitrarily, but committed no actual breach of the agreement, the whole of the workers are justified in taking action against every single employer? I want to protest against the notion that because A has acted dishonestly towards B—put it even as high as that—C, D, E, and the rest are entitled to act dishonourably in their transactions with X, Y and Z. It is a perfectly monstrous doctrine, and if it is persisted in by any section of the community, all agreements, all good feeling, and all good faith come to an end. With regard to the Bissell case, I know nothing about its merits, but what is it contended the employers ought to have done more than they have done? Does the hon. Member suggest that if a member of a trade union, having left that union, refuses to carry out the obligations into which the union has entered, somehow or other the trade union has committed an abominable action? Does the hon. Member propose that a trade union should accept any responsibility for those who leave the society? I think it is a monstrous suggestion that any association of employers or of workmen ought to be responsible for the action of a person who has left the association.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
As a matter of fact, they were threatened that if they did not 232 make Bissell pay up the other employers would not pay up.
§ Mr. HOLT
But if an employer owes a. man money the man can bring an action and the law will make him pay up. The other members of the Employers' Association loyally carried out the award, and they got rid of the only member of the association who did not. What more could they do? With regard to this disturbance in. the Port of London, I submit that the shipowners, at any rate, have absolutely clean hands. There is no allegation against them at all. They have kept the agreement and the Rollit award; they have done absolutely nothing which justifies their men in refusing to work for them. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that almost the whole of the allegations made by the hon. Member and his friends were really true, surely taken over the whole area of the trade of London it is a very trifling matter in which to stop the trade of the port. Are we really to be told that if an award is made as between employers and men, and an employer engages men under that award, the men have no right to sue the employer for the rates there promised. I do not believe that an employer can arbitrarily pay some other amount than that settled by the award. The hon. Member suggested that some other form of coercion ought to be applied. I do not agree with that. What is wanted is no hard and fast set of rules, but a cordial and loyal feeling between the two parties which will enable them to carry out in a friendly and conciliatory spirit the work of the port.
I would appeal to both sides to try and bury the past. It is a very unprofitable matter, and the more we dig into it the more likely we are to exasperate feelings and the less likely to secure the end we have in view. I desire that the employers should see their way to announce openly that they are willing to act on the plan, or on some plan similar to that adopted in Liverpool, which has been found so entirely satisfactory. There is no reason why I should not state that some of us who are shipowners in Liverpool, and who have also considerable interests in London, wrote to the London shipowners at an early stage in this dispute, asking them if they could not see their way to agree with the men on somewhat the same basis as that we have adopted in Liverpool, and which has been found to be so entirely and absolutely satisfactory. I think I may also say that the reply was 233 not so conciliatory as I should have expected one shipowner to send to another. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the arrangement?"] Hon. Members ask me to say what is the arrangement in Liverpool? As this House knows, in August of last year there were strikes almost all over the country. At that time an arrangement was negotiated in Liverpool between the shipowners and the stevedores and lumpers, who are the sub-contractors, and I think to some extent with the owners of lighters—but I am not able off-hand to say how far it went—by which they agreed to the formation of a joint committee, consisting in equal numbers of employers and employés to whom every matter in dispute should be referred for arbitration. It was understood that no strike and no lock-out of any sort could take place until that committee had looked into the matter. That committee has sat continuously since August—whenever it was necessary, I mean—and the very best possible relations have existed between those concerned. I happened to have heard a good deal about the committee, because my brother and partner is a secretary. I believe I would not say what is incorrect, if I say, that every decision has been arrived at unanimously.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether it is not a fact that one of the clauses in the Liverpool agreement says that all the men employed are to be union men?
§ Mr. HOLT
No, I do not think that is so. I have not got the agreement with me —there is no secret about it—but I think there is no pledge that the men employed should be union men. I believe, however, that the employers have given an undertaking not to discourage union men—on the other hand, rather to encourage them —but I think there is a part of the agreement to the effect that union men shall not refuse to work with non-union men.
However, I am speaking from memory. One may very easily be wrong, and the matter can be put right by reference to the printed document. The arrangement has produced very satisfactory results in Liverpool. I think it would be impossible—if I may say so—to adapt what has been done in Liverpool to London. But before I leave the subject, may I say that during the dispute in Glasgow—in March last—there were considerable conversations between Glasgow and Liverpool people. I rather think we sent someone from Liverpool to Glasgow. Finally an arrangement 234 was come to at Glasgow very much on the same lines as that adopted in Liverpool. Therefore, we have got two of the most important ports of the country, so far as I know, working very much on the same lines.
I think it is very likely impossible London can be made to adopt ipsissima verba the same arrangement as that in Liverpool. The fact is that the interests of London in relation to the port are undoubtedly much more diversified, and much more difficult to bring under one hat, so to speak, than those of Liverpool or Glasgow. For instance, to make the shipowners discharging their vessels in, say, the Albert Dock, to come under some obligation to see that the barge owners observe the men's agreement, or that the barge owners engaged in running cement up from the Medway to London should do the same, is perhaps asking rather more than is possible to obtain. In the same way, to ask for common action between lightermen and carmen, whose interests, so far as I can see, are antagonistic to one another, is a somewhat difficult operation. But these points, after all, are largely local points, which can be decided, and ought to be decided, by people with full local knowledge. There is no matter of reasonable principle that every single interest of the London transport trade should be compelled to come under one all embracing agreement. So long as the main agreements are fairly kept and employers generally use their influence to see the secondary agreements are maintained, I do not see that it very much matters whether you have one all-embracing agreement or several agreements.
Finally, I would, if I may, urge upon both parties to try to approach this matter in a much more conciliatory and friendly spirit than they have done hitherto. I would urge upon both parties not to engage too much in the occupation of throwing mud at one another. It generally does considerable damage to the person at whom it is aimed without giving much satisfaction to the gentlemen who do it. After all, the question of the trade of London is a very serious matter for London. The state of trade at the London docks is not satisfactory. I should like to tell my Friends below the Gangway—and I hope they will consider that I am not putting forward any point of view except that of trying to state what is true—that so far as my experience goes labour at the London docks is the worst for the money in the world. That is a very serious 235 matter, and I thing it ought to be taken into consideration. It might be well for the friends of labour in London to consider whether the workmen are giving the employers full value for their pay, because if they are not the Port is bound to lose its business. Certainly that is a very serious matter for the Port of London Authorities, because if trade is to be taken away from London, either through their fault or from the fault of the workmen, one thing is quite certain, and that is that the financial position of the Port will be extremely serious. I certainly am not going to vote for the Resolution now before the House. I gather that no one seriously wants to see it passed; but I do hope that this Debate will at least have the result that both parties will see their way to meet together and bring about a friendly settlement of this very serious dispute.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)
My hon. Friend in the latter part of his speech has made a very valuable contribution not merely to the Debate, but to the consideration of this subject. No one in the House can speak with greater experience and greater authority than he can. I am very glad that he emphasises the desirability at this stage of us all doing our very best not to exasperate the already rather irritated feeling that has arisen in consequence of this strike, but rather that we should do our best to endeavour to effect some arrangement on a more permanent basis than that of August last. For that reason I do not propose to enter into the details of the controversy between the two parties. In the first place, I do not think it could be a satisfactory course now; there are a good many points, some of them very small points and some of them of consequence, but, as a matter of fact, the small points are often the points that bring about strikes very largely. I do not think it could be desirable to enter into them now; we could not arrive at any conclusion; we are not equipped altogether for that purpose, owing to the fact that we have not got the evidence before us, and I think it would be exceedingly undesirable at this stage to enter into a detailed controversy upon the subject matter of the dispute. But I do think the House may very well give a little more consideration to some of the suggestions thrown out by my hon. Friend, based as they are upon the experience of two of 236 the greatest ports of the Empire, Liverpool and Glasgow.
I am not going to say in this case—in fact, it is not for the Government to say—who is to blame, whether it is the men or the masters. All I can say is this, that on an inquiry instituted under an Act of Parliament passed in 1896, Sir Edward Clarke, one of the most distinguished lawyers in this country, and one to whom I am sure no one here would impute any partiality as between the parties, has come to the conclusion, judging from his Report, that both parties are to blame. He does, undoubtedly, report that on the subject which is the immediate cause of the strike the men were to blame, but, after all, that is really not the cause of the strike. He knew perfectly well there were many disputes going on in the Port of London upon matters, some of them rather trivial, some of them which created a good deal of ascerbation of feeling, and feeling so bitter that at last the owners absolutely refused to meet the men, as we know, some weeks ago. What we really want to get at is this: whether it is not possible to effect some sort of arrangement which will make it at any rate difficult to precipitate great conflicts of this kind in the future in the Port of London. This is the greatest port in the world, and conflicts of this character must have a very serious effect upon the trade of the whole community, and it is therefore exceedingly desirable that this opportunity, however unpleasant it may be, should be taken to seek to establish an arrangement in the Port of London with a view to placing labour disputes upon a better, more permanent, and more satisfactory basis.
I do not suppose anyone in the House will accept the view laid down by the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) that it is the business of the Government to stand aside and let the parties fight it out. I think that has been abandoned long ago. The Act of Parliament under which we are acting is an Act of Parliament passed by the Government which the hon. Baronet supported. It is the Act of 1896, which prescribed that the Board of Trade, in the case of labour disputes, shall take one of three alternative steps. We have taken one of those steps which was contemplated even so far back as that. Under the Act of Parliament passed by the Government of which the hon. Baronet is a supporter, it was provided that the Government at last should interfere, exercising the whole of its authority with a view to putting an end 237 to these labour disputes. I only propose to examine now into the cause of the dispute to the extent that it is necessary to do so with a view to examine the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend, and which were put forward by the Government to both parties a couple of days ago. I might remind the hon. Baronet that that suggestion is not the suggestion of Mr. Gosling at all. It was proposed to the men before we saw Mr. Gosling, and it was proposed to Mr. Gosling after the employers had been seen upon the subject. What has been the great difficulty in the Port of London in the last few months? There are two main difficulties, one is that although the employers signed the agreement and remained in the association and adhered to this agreement—this is a subject upon which I pronounce no opinion—there were individual employers outside who did not hold themselves bound by this agreement. That was the case of Mr. Lambert, who represented, and very ably represented, the Master Lightermen. He stated that although Mr. Brooks was president of the association it was not in that capacity he signed the agreement with regard to sailing barges, so there were sailing barge owners who held that they were not bound by the agreement signed by the president of the association in August last.
Then there was Mr. Bissell's case referred to by the hon. Baronet. What was Mr. Bissell's case? He was a master carter. He was a member of the association which signed the agreement and entered into a bargain with the men. Subsequently, Mr. Bissell declined to carry out the agreement to which he was a party. That is not denied. Then the Master Carters' Association very properly called upon him to carry out his bargain. He refused to do so and they expelled him. Now there is not a word to be said about the conduct of the master carters, but observe what is the effect. It is very hard upon the employers who kept their agreements. One of them pointed out that he lost a very large contract because he stood by his bargain and paid the contract rate of wages. He was beaten by a man who paid less than the contract wage agreed to by the Masters' Association, because he was able to undercut him. That is a very unfair condition, and it is not that it is unfair to the workers alone. It is unfair to the men who stood by the agreement of the only Association of the Master Carters in the Port of London, and, I believe, the best 238 employers, as my right hon. Friend beside me assures me. That is very unfair, and it causes a good deal of irritation. The men do not blame those inside the Association who have not kept their bargains, but they say there ought to be some means of pressing the rest of the masters to adhere to the standard which a number of members of their trade agreed to in a solemn bargain which was registered in August last. That is the position as far as the masters are concerned. There are masters who refuse to consider themselves bound by the agreement which the best employers of their trade have signed. There is a master who actually signed the agreement, and refused to stand by it, and there is no means of compelling him at all.
What is the second point? The second point is the complaint of the employers against the men. The employers say, "Here is a contract"—I am not entering into the merits at all, I am putting their case—they say "you are complaining that certain employers have not adhered to the standard conditions settled upon in August. We also complain that you are constantly breaking your agreement." That is the position. There is no power upon either side to enforce these conditions, and as long as that condition of things remains in the Port of London, you will always get trouble there. It is not merely a question of compelling the masters to stand by the standard laid down. There ought also to be the same power of bringing pressure to bear upon the men to stand by their agreement; and when this question comes to be considered, it has got to be considered from both points of view. With regard to legislation, I observe that my hon. Friend the Member for East Leeds (Mr. O'Grady) repudiates the suggestion that there should be compulsory arbitration, therefore it is a question of a voluntary arrangement between the parties, but it must be a voluntary arrangement which the parties concerned are in a position to enforce. That is why we suggested that first of all there should be a federation of the masters powerful enough to control the dissenting members of their own trade. Unless you have that it is really idle to have any agreement at all if the moment the master, finds it is to his advantage to undercut and to depart from an agreement he can say, "I will leave the federation, I will not abide by my bargain, and I will go outside." This is not a bargain you can enforce in a Court of Law, and all the 239 employer has to do is to walk out of the federation. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir F. Banbury) said the employer is a freeborn Englishman, and why should he not do this? I do not think that is the view taken by the bulk of employers throughout this country, in fact I do not know any other part of the United Kingdom where that view would be taken. Take any other employer, whether in textiles, coal, or in iron, and I think their view is that when the majority of employers agree in their association that a certain standard rate of wages and certain conditions of labour are fair, every pressure ought to be brought to bear on all the employers in the same trade to carry that agreement out. But when that is done in the Port of London you get a series of little quarrels and strikes arising from very inadequate causes which create a sense of irritation and unfairness on the part of the men. On the other hand, there is the same sense of irritation on the part of the employers, because they say that, although the men signed their contract, there is no means of enforcing that contract.
I have only one suggestion to make in addition to that which my hon. Friend has thrown out in his speech. He says that in the port of Liverpool the employers and the employed have met in a joint committee, they have federated, and there is the whole influence of the port brought to bear upon any employer who refuses to carry out the bargain, and upon any workman who refuses to carry out his part of the bargain. I think it would be very desirable if, first of all, the employers were to consider the possibility of forming a combination strong enough to control men like Mr. Bissell and others, who not merely pay their own workmen less than the standard rate, but by doing so make it impossible for the other employers to pay the standard rate. The master carters themselves cannot do it, and that is why we suggested a federation. The master carters said, "We cannot bring that pressure to bear upon Mr. Bissell; we brought every possible influence, every moral influence to bear upon him; we appealed to him, but unless there is some pressure greater than that, you will never control men like Mr. Bissell." But if there is a federation of all the interests of the Port of London Mr. Bissell, I think, would find it rather to his interest to adhere to the bargains made by the association who are 240 engaged in the same business as himself, and exceedingly difficult to disturb the whole port merely that he might be able to pay a penny or twopence per hour less to his carters, or other conditions whatever they are—I do not know exactly in what respect those conditions are less favourable than the rest—in order that he should profit by means of undercutting his competitors. On the other hand I think there ought to be some guarantee on the part of the unions that whatever agreement they enter into will be abided by. There are two or three precedents for that. There are one or two agreements which have been entered into where unions have given pecuniary guarantees that where an agreement is broken this deposit or guarantee can be resorted to in order to compensate the owners for the loss which is attributable to the breach of agreement. Those agreements have worked very well, and the Government have ventured to ask the trade unions—we certainly have not been merely to the owners to bring pressure to bear upon their side —but we have also been to the unions asking them to give, on their side, some security that they will abide by agreements entered into. The agreement has been a perfectly impartial one, and I am glad to say, as far as the workmen are concerned, they are prepared to respond to that appeal, and the National Transport Workers' Federation have unanimously agreed to this resolution to-day:—That the National Council endorse the principle of Joint Boards with monetary guarantees on both sides to ensure the carrying out of agreements.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware whether that has been communicated to the employers?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
No, they are not, because we only received it to-day. This is the first response we have had to the pressure we have brought to bear in that respect. We feel that if there are agreements we cannot appeal merely to the masters to bring pressure to bear upon the recalcitrant members of their own trade unless the trade unions are prepared to give some guarantee that the contracts entered into will be carried out by the 241 men. The men are prepared to find money guarantees to carry out agreements. Now we shall certainly approach the masters with a view to getting their assistance to see that contracts are carried out.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Yes, it is signed by Harry Gosling, President, and James Anderson, Secretary of the National Transport Workers' Federation. I believe it represents the National Transport Workers' Federation of the United Kingdom. I think it will be recognised that this represents a very import-ant advance, and that is why I earnestly appeal that at this stage nothing should be said which would make it more difficult to arrive at some definite and conclusive arrangement between the parties. I feel that for the first time the owners of the Port of London have got a substantial guarantee that where a bargain is entered into by the men it will be carried out, and on their part I think they are entitled to come to the owners and say, "We must have some guarantee from you that if an agreement is entered into, it will be carried out by all those within your sphere of influence." It is true it is impossible to exercise that influence unless the whole of the employers doing business in the Port federate. That is the one thing I want to impress upon the House. My hon. Friend said, and said very truly, that after all the Port of London is not the Port of Liverpool or the Port of Glasgow. I know that very well, because I had years of experience in trying to federate the various interests in order to create a Port Authority. My predecessor had two or three years at it, and the work he did was undoubtedly of very great assistance to me in trying to achieve the same end. I know how extraordinary difficult it is to adjust the various interests in London. I doubt whether there is another port in the world where the interests are so very varied. There are all sorts of ancient rights and privileges which come down from the Flood, long before the reign of Henry VIII., and I am not sure they are not before the days of the Danes. The hon. Member opposite seemed to regard the fact of the Danes settling in England as something of a great disaster. I do not agree with him. The Danes are very good people. Norfolk showed that the other day.
I only want to point out that I agree with my hon. Friend that the Port of London is an extraordinarily difficult port in 242 which to arrange a federation of this kind. I do not for a moment minimise the objections the employers are raising on the ground of the practical difficulty; but it has been done before, and I am perfectly certain it can be done again. One of the shipowners said they had tried it, but up to the present they had failed. After all, I think they have got now a proposition made to them which is a firm one, and which is a business one; and in the face of that I think they might make another effort. I think they will realise after all that it is desirable, whatever they may think at the present moment of the immediate dispute. I can quite understand there are certain matters which cause a good deal of irritation, but, after all, it is not altogether a one-sided dispute. My hon. Friend said there were very few disputes in which all the merits were on one side, and it is perfectly clear all the merits are not on one side here. The workers in the matter which immediately precipitated the strike accept Sir Edward Clarke's Report that they ought not to have struck upon it. Therefore, my appeal is that the masters, the employers, should undertake to do their best to effect a federation of this kind immediately, and that the workmen should be prepared to resume work, because no one with any experience of the Port of London would imagine you can set up a federation like this in twenty-four hours, or even in a week. It is the most extraordinarily difficult thing in the world to adjust the various interests in the Port, to decide how many you should have on the board, whether that interest should be represented, and, if so, how many you should put on, and what the powers should be. Another difficulty is what questions you are going to submit to the Joint Board, because it is perfectly clear you cannot have a Joint Board settling every quarrel, great and small. It would take all their time, working twenty-four hours a day, to settle every dispute. Therefore I can quite conceive that small difficulties should be settled by the associations immediately concerned, and it is only as a sort of court of appeal that this Joint Board should exist.
All those things must take a good deal of time, and I should not have thought it was in their own interests that the workmen should remain out all that time. It would be a very serious thing for them. I cannot see what they can possibly accomplish by so doing, always provided this thing is taken seriously in hand with a 243 view to accomplishing its purpose. These great business men in the Port of London who are employing labour have surmounted greater difficulties than those which are in the way of forming a federation of this kind, and I am sure, if they set their minds to it, they are able enough, and clear-minded enough, and businesslike enough to be able to achieve that purpose. I therefore do hope they will undertake to do their best to effect a federation of this kind. The only difficulty is the reinstatement of the men whose places have been filled. It is in the hands of the employers to be able to make arrangements. I can quite realise they have employed other men; but that is a difficulty which arises in every dispute. I have never seen a labour dispute yet where this difficulty has not arisen, and I have never yet seen a dispute where it has not been overcome once there was a desire on both sides to end the struggle. It has been surmounted in every case up to the present, and I am sure if there is a real desire to put an end to the strike that difficulty will be overcome by both the employers and the men. May I just make an appeal? I can quite understand the natural human desire which may inspire men who feel a sense of deep irritation because their business has been interfered with to have a victory, but that, after all, is only human. I have always thought an arrangement was better than a victory, always, in every case in litigation, and it is especially the case with people who have got to act together afterwards. When you are fighting somebody whom probably you will never meet again, well, you might as well satisfy your natural desire to get a victory at the risk of a good thrashing; but when you have got to work with them day after day, and week after week, and year after year, I do not think it is satisfactory. The only thing that would happen would be that the men would go back if they were beaten, sulking, and angry.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I agree. There is no doubt about it at all. That always happens with any man who has got any spirit at all. Any man of courage who thinks he has been beaten when he was in the right always harbours it, and it comes up on the first opportunity he has. That is why I think it is so much better, 244 if possible, to effect an arrangement now which will give a guarantee to the employers—a real guarantee, and a monetary guarantee—that contracts when entered into in future will be adhered to, and on the other hand an arrangement which will enable the men to have something to which they can appeal to keep men like Bissell who break their contracts to their bargain, and I earnestly appeal to all the Members of the House rather to effect art arrangement on that basis.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I certainly do not, object to the digression of the right hon. Gentleman, but it is certainly interesting to us who sit on this side of the House to find that he discovers so much cause for rejoicing in the fact that his majority has only been reduced by one-half in a recent by-election. I am not going to take up the time of the House at any length, and I shall certainly try not to say anything which would tend in any way to prolong the dispute now going on. I may say, further, that I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said in the main. In nearly every dispute which has taken place, and in which I have taken an interest, I have desired it should be settled rather than that there should be a complete victory on one side or the other. The right hon. Gentleman has to put himself in the position of the men who are carrying on these great trades in the greatest port of the world, and he has to realise that within ten months there have been four strikes in connection with the carrying on of that trade. I am not going to deal with the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion. It was based on a purely ex-parte statement, which has been completely dealt with by my hon. Friend behind me. I will, if it is desired, give my reasons for saying that it is a purely ex-parte statement. I cannot complain of what the right hon. Gentleman said. He told us Sir Edward Clarke's report clearly showed that blame was due to both sides. But anyone who has studied that report, and who has studied the facts which have come out since the report was issued, can have no doubt that the strike was entirely due to the men, and that the points in regard to which Sir Edward Clarke said they were wrong were the sole causes of the strike. Therefore, the masters are not responsible in that respect. If the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me on that point, it follows that it is the men, and the men alone, who are forcing the dispute, and that fact must 245 be taken into consideration in deciding our action with regard to the settlement. The important part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was his announcement that he had been in communication with the men, and that they were willing to give a pecuniary guarantee that agreement should be carried out in the future. That is very important. It seems to me it is a recognition on the part of some of the Labour leaders that the Conciliation (Trade Disputes) Act of 1896 has been found to be ruinous to the trade of the country. The result of this arrangement will be that most of the unions will become liable for breaches of agreement, an absence of which liability has made it so easy for strikes to occur in the past.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me what Section of the Conciliation (Trades Disputes) Act will be in the slightest degree affected by monetary liability?
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Under that Act there is no possibility of action even if steps are taken that cause a breach of the peace. I say that this statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes an important change, and I, for one, should be very glad indeed if it be possible to have some permanent settlement arrived at on that basis. But it does seem to me that this is a question on which the employers should have had the first word, and I should have been very glad if the Government had arranged for this offer to have been made to the employers before the judgment of the House was asked upon it.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that I should have withheld this information from the House at the present juncture?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not suggest that. But I do say that if the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out to the hon. Member below the Gangway that this had not been submitted and that it was advisable to take the discussion later on he could have succeeded in postponing the Debate. I do not think this is a subject which must be dealt with by Parliament. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman was very important, but so far as I can see, unless the employers agree, it is absolutely valueless. It can only be carried out in that case by legislation. But by 246 what kind of legislation are you going to attempt to carry it out? The hon. Member for Leeds said he would not agree to compulsory arbitration. Surely, if Parliament compels arrangements of this kind to control the wages which are to be paid, it must be obvious that if a master carman wishes to withdraw from the federation there must be some security which can only be derived from the knowledge that the rate of wages to be paid is the one compulsorily agreed upon by both sides. That means compulsory arbitration.
Another point to which I wish to call the attention of the House is this: The right hon. Gentleman says "We are willing to give a specific guarantee." But that depends altogether on what the guarantee is. Therefore, on that subject, we are absolutely unable to form any opinion until we know the precise nature of the proposal on one side and the other. I shall be very glad indeed if some such arrangement as this can be carried out; but I do think that the right hon. Gentleman does not sufficiently realise the difficulty of the action which he has taken with regard to the whole of the employers and trade of the country. There is, as everyone knows, in every port in the country a variety of interests, often antagonistic, and in the case of the Port of London we have the carters and the lightermen, whose interests are absolutely opposed to each other. Therefore it is very difficult to see how interests so opposed could be induced to form, as it were, one association, and work together in the way suggested. I say that I hope this arrangement may be carried out, but I have very little reason to believe that it is practicable. I am afraid it is not. In the meantime—and this is the point which more than any other I wish to emphasise to the House now —the Government have one clear duty to perform, and that duty is to make certain that men who desire to work are permitted to work. I can quite understand the view of the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway—indeed, the hon. Member made it quite clear in addressing the House. His idea seems to be that when a strike breaks out, whatever the cause, however unjustifiable it is, if the strikers are numerous enough and aggressive enough to intimidate other workmen and prevent them from working, it is the duty of the Government to stand by and allow that intimidation to take its full course. I do not take that view.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am doing nothing of the kind. But since the hon. Member has put that point I am bound to say this: That in this case the men are either in the wrong or they are fighting solely and simply for one purpose, which is to compel every man to join the union. I can easily show him where they are in the wrong, if that is not their object. There is not one of the complaints which does not come under one of two categories—either they refer to the employers who are not parties to the agreement, and therefore have not broken the agreement, or they refer to the branches of the agreement which they have by that agreement itself the right to refer to arbitration and finally to the Board of Trade. They did not take that course. Therefore I say they are wrong in this dispute, unless the sole object is to compel every man, whether he wishes it or not, to join the union. I am bound to say that. in the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has made to-night there has been no indication that he does not recognise what is, I think, the primary duty of every Government, but I am not satisfied that the Government have acted in that way in connection with this dispute. I know nothing but what I have seen in the public Press, but if the statement there is true in regard to the "Lady Jocelyn," the steamer belonging to the Shipping Federation, if there were men in that steamer who were willing to work, who applied to be admitted to the Port of London, and if the Port Authority were willing to admit them, but that the Home Secretary refused the necessary protection—if that statement is true, I say that the Government have abrogated what I hold to be the first duty of any civilised Government. I know perfectly well that the Gentlemen who sit on that bench and those who sit behind them are so afraid of doing anything which will run the slightest risk of losing them labour votes inside this House or outside of it that they go, to put it very mildly, very gingerly in all cases of this kind. I dare say there are some of my hon. Friends behind me who take the same view, who are also afraid of the effect on the labour vote. I think both parties are wrong. I think the country has had more than enough of these continual strikes, and I am convinced that there would be fewer of them if one could 248 get rid of two ideas, which are now largely held by one section at least of the Labour leaders. One of those ideas is that by a general strike they hold a weapon in their hands so powerful that they can obtain anything they want. I am sure they are mistaken. I am sure they will find that the forces of society, apart altogether from what any Government may do, are so strong that if attempts of that kind are made they can indeed succeed in driving away trade and taking away their employment altogether, but they cannot succeed in obtaining whatever terms they themselves think are just and right. The other idea, which I think is equally responsible—
§ Mr. W. THORNE
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there have been more strikes in Germany than there have been in this country?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It is not so. The further ground is that the Labour leaders —and I think they have more justice for this — have the idea that whatever they may do, however many mistakes they may make, they can trust to the Government, in the last resort, to get them out of their trouble. I think that is a very deplorable position at the present moment. Whatever may result from the attempt to settle this dispute in an amicable manner by some such arrangement as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested—and I think we should all be glad to see a successful issue—in the meantime, the clear duty of the Government is to show that they represent society, and that they will use all the forces of society to give to every man in a civilised country what is his elementary right, the right to work if he desires to do so.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I certainly do not rise with any intention of following the right hon. Gentleman. I am afraid we cannot congratulate him on his new style of conciliation. He has been very frank. He has stated the view of one side, but he has refused to see the view of the other. He started by appealing to my right hon. Friend to take the view of the employers. He complained because my right hon. Friend did not exclusively take the view of the employers. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] He stated that it would be better if my right hon. Friend 249 would put himself in the position of the employers responsible for the trade of the great Port of London.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
What I said was that he should put himself in that position to this extent, that he should recognise that there had been four strikes in ten months.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Precisely. I am prepared to accept that. But the complaint was surely that the right hon. Gentleman did not put himself in the position of the men who have had reason for striking four times during the twelve months. After all, if you are going to take up a fair attitude it must be fair. I am not going to say to-night that the virtue is all on the side of the men, and that all the vices, mistakes, errors, and iniquities are on the side of the employers. As a matter of fact nobody has said that. My hon. Friend who opened this discussion made it perfectly clear that the men themselves claim that Sir Edward Clarke's statement is correct, and that they desire to act upon it. Therefore, if we are going to have conciliation, and if the result of this Debate is going to be some arrangement to-morrow, I hope, which may settle this dispute, I must say that, judging simply as an outsider, the right hon. Gentleman's speech has been an exceedingly bad piece of business, so far as the peace of the Port of London is concerned. Take a small point of detail. As the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lloyd George) said so truly, very often things which seem to us to be large and important points, have very little influence with the men, and things which seem to us to be trivial points have enormous influence with them. The right hon. Gentleman told us that Sir Edward Clarke himself states in his report that on the only point upon which the dispute actually arose—the specific and definite point upon which it arose—the men were in the wrong. That really is not the case. Sir Edward Clarke states quite clearly in the very first sentence of his report:—The evidence brought before me at my inquiry related to seven specific causes of dispute.Undoubtedly there were seven specific causes of dispute and five causes preceded the two which ultimately brought about the dispute, and before the men made a mistake, according to Sir Edward Clarke's finding, the employers had broken their agreement. I am not going into the 250 details. The hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) is always an eloquent and a most acceptable advocate for the employers in. this House, and he has made out his case from his own point of view. I think in. some respects he leaned a little bit too far on the side of the employers, but he did not claim a clean bill of health so far as the employers are concerned. That bill of health which has been besmirched was besmirched before the workmen took the final step. The dispute took place in a state of mind which was irritable, and the men, according to Sir Edward Clarke—and they now admit it themselves—owing to a misunderstanding broke their agreements, but ever since the Report of Sir Edward Clarke has been published they have been perfectly willing to put it into operation if the employers would give them an honourable opportunity of doing, so.
Here is another unfortunate point. The right hon. Gentleman seized with great glee upon the offer that the men made, that if a Joint Board were established for the Port of London they would be willing to give a monetary guarantee that the agreement should be kept, provided the employers would meet them and do the same on their part. "Ah," says the right hon. Gentleman, "that is an admission that the Trade Disputes Act has been a failure." Supposing it is true—it is not—is this the time to taunt the men with, that? Is this the time, when we have been trying the whole of to-day to get some basis of settlement agreed to, for the Leader of the Opposition to fling in the teeth of the men the taunt, after this offer of theirs, which everyone in the House, irrespective of party, admits, at any rate, to be a very substantial concession on the part of the men, that they are practically throwing over the Trade Disputes Act? I do not congratulate the employers on the advocates they find in this House. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware of the fact that this is not a new thing. He talked to-night as though a trade union, giving a voluntary guarantee against a breach of agreement, was something that only happened this morning. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman would have very little to say regarding the peace loving proclivities of the trade union that is strongest in my own Constituency and votes very solidly for me—that of the boot and shoe operatives. I suppose I am one of those persons who stand for lawlessness and disorder when it suits their purpose, 251 like the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. But as a matter of fact the boot and shoe operatives meet the employers on a Joint Board of precisely the same kind which the transport workers now suggest should be formed for the Port of London. They have for years deposited a bond, and that bond has been drawn upon when it has been proved that the employés have broken an agreement. The workmen have got a bond, and the employers have got a bond, and these bonds are available when either side proves that the other side has broken an agreement signed by both sides. It is a very old and very common practice, and I am amazed to find that the Leader of the Opposition never heard of it before. That does explain his position when he talked such an amount of inaccuracies, to put it mildly, about the Trade Disputes Act. I think it is a great pity, even supposing the statement had been accurate, that he should refer to it. As a matter of fact, there is no likeness between a voluntarily deposited sum of money under an agreement come to that if conditions are broken as to certain specified matters, certain things which are quite clearly laid down, and on which there can be no dispute—there is no likeness between that and the position which the right hon. Gentleman desires to impose on trade unions.
Look at the very unfortunate speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. I am bound to say that both employers and employés in the present dispute want to see an agreement come to, but surely when an agreement is come to between representative parties, they desire that it shall be honourably and honestly observed. Secondly, if that agreement is come to with employers who desire to do honourably and fairly by their men, these employers may ask that they shall not be penalised by employers—let us say sweating employers—who decline to accept their proper responsibilities in the conditions under which they work their men. These are the two things that are desired. The hon. Baronet who proclaims himself to be the friend of agreements, the good old English gentleman who only pursues ancient paths, says that if a member of the federation, who has accepted his responsibilities as such, finds at any moment that these responsibilities are onerous—finds, for instance, that he would like to get a contract instead of one of his competitors who is also a member of the 252 federation, but discovers that he can only get that contract if he goes out of the federation and breaks the agreement to which he had attached his name, then it is perfectly right and proper that he should leave the federation and tear up the agreement.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Member will pardon me, but I said nothing of the kind. What I said was that the man has a right to leave the federation, and that I repeat. I did not say whether his conduct was right or wrong. Whether it is morally right to leave the federation is not the question, but he has a perfect legal right to leave the federation just as a simple member of a trade union has a right to leave the trade union.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
If the right hon. Gentleman said no more, and meant to imply no more than that his remarks had nothing whatever to do with the question in dispute, because the whole point is that this particular employer was in the federation. He came out of the federation, and tore up the agreement. Then the federated employers said to the men whom they were paying under the agreement "unless you smash up this man who is cutting us out, we have got to abandon the agreement and reduce your wages and condition and status to the level of those of the men employed by that employer." If the right hon. Gentleman only meant to say that every man has got the right to withdraw from the federation I do not dispute it; but it does not carry us any further, and he was adopting a very unusual course in wasting the time of the House in talking about that. Another point which ought to be explained from the point of view of the men arises out of the speech of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt). I do not know that his speech was an impartial speech. I am afraid it was as partial as is mine. I am not proposing to make an impartial speech. I am making a partial speech, but I hope a speech couched in sufficiently friendly language to make its partiality not so aggressive as to do any harm in the circumstances at present existing. It is all very well for the hon. Member to say that if A breaks his contract with B, he should not bring in C, D, and F. On paper that is very good, but the hon. Member for Hexham is a business man, and he knows perfectly well that that does not at all represent the facts of life. If A, B. and C and 253 X, Y, and Z have got their businesses so inextricably mixed up that no pressure can be brought to bear on A without affecting the business of B and C, and if this House has never taken the trouble to establish a system that would not leave these disputes to be settled by war between trade unions on the one hand and federated employers on the other, then the hon. Member for Hexham must agree to A, B, and C being mixed up with X, Y, and Z until he and his colleagues have done their duty in this House and settled the whole matter by peaceful means.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I am not going to chop logic with my hon. Friend, but I will do it so far as to say that if what he describes as one person and another, at the same time that they are absolutely separate, belong to the same federation, and are united for the purpose of advancing their common interests, then it is quite useless for him to talk about one person and another. He has got to talk about one combination and another combination, and I think that he himself in business does precisely the same. The point, however, arises, what may be done in present circumstances? The great difficulty which we have all got to recognise is this, you get good employers coming to agreements with unions of men.
Then since these agreements have been come to, bad employers began to grow down into the texture of their trade roots, which are purely parasitic. They keep existence going by enforcing conditions on non-organised men which are substantially lower than the conditions recognised by the agreements and observed by the employers who are parties to those agreements. If you are going to have this by voluntary arrangement, and I hope we always shall, I think the Government must make up its mind to do something to make this voluntary arrangement really representative of the trade. I do not want small cliques of employers or small cliques of workmen to settle these voluntary arrangements, but if the Board of Trade can satisfy itself that the employers on the one hand and the workmen on the other who have come to such a voluntary arrangement are representative of the 254 trade concerned, then that arrangement ought to be made common to the whole of that trade. To say that a trade cannot be carried on under such conditions is unworthy. I do not want compulsory arbitration. The Leader of the Opposition cannot mix up compulsory arbitration with the situation. Compulsory arbitration is something which is set up by an outside authority, and may be absolutely different from the demands made either by the employers on the one hand or the men on the other. Our suggestion is totally different; it is that the employers and the men should come to this voluntary arrangement. You are not going to get conditions settled which will drive the employers to Belgium to carry on the trade of the Port of London. You are not going to get conditions like those agreed to by the employers and workmen. No; from the very nature of the case such a suggestion is absurd. You may get such conditions imposed on employers and workmen by compulsory arbitration. Those hon. Members who cheered their Leader when he talked about compulsory arbitration should seriously consider what it means before cheering it in future.
An agreement come to between the employers on the one side and the workmen on the other must be an agreement which is a business proposition, and it must be drafted on such terms as will enable a trade to be carried on with profit to the employers. Those agreements ought to be made public, and that is the first proposition which I would suggest to the Board of Trade, and which they ought to consider. On the question of the funds, I am not going to commit myself one way or the other; it is a very interesting proposal, but I simply state this, that it is not a new expedient. One section of the Transport Workers' Federation involved in this dispute is at the present moment under an agreement with a monetary pledge behind it. I am speaking of the Dockers at Bristol. That, at any rate, is my point. The arrangement has been tried; it has experience behind it; it is purely a matter for the trade itself to settle; it is a matter of the internal government of a trade union, and this House ought not to interfere one way or another.
We all want to see this matter settled, and we want to see it settled in such a way that it would give at any rate some promise of security, some promise of a lasting peace. I am authorised to say that if the Government by negotiation with the employers, or by any action it sees fit to take, 255 can give the transport workers of the Port of London any definite guarantee, without any unreasonable delay, that this matter is going to be straightened out, I think we had better leave it to further negotiation. I only state that in general terms. It is in response to a request that the right hon. Gentleman made, and I think without having taken the precaution to have written it out I could not commit myself to a form of words that would be absolutely definite, but I can honestly say, and I am sure I give it from the men concerned without any reserve, that if they can get any sort of guarantee, any sort of pledge, if anything can be done which would make it perfectly plain to them, to the men concerned, that the Government, in conjunction with the employers, or with this House behind it, is doing something immediately to get boards set up, to get some tribunal, which would consider the Clarke Report, for instance, and settle definitely what is going to be the effect of this Report in the pay and conditions of the men, then the men will be asked to go back to work without delay. They will not wait—and this is the point my right hon. Friend made—until everything is settled. All that they want is some sort of substantial and tangible guarantee that the work is being put in hand, and that their grievances will be properly considered, properly discussed, and properly settled, and then, I think, that my right hon. Friend may make up his mind and may allow his mind to rest quite easy that peace will follow without any unreasonable delay so far as the men are concerned.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have been asked by certain employers to speak on matters in the Clarke report, but after the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) I do not propose to do so to-night. There is one point, and one point only, which I should like to press on the Government, and particularly on the Law Officers of the Crown, and that is with regard to the suggestion that has been made for a monetary payment in order to guarantee that trade unions carry out agreements that have been entered into, and that, in fact, no strikes should take place. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said that this was, in effect, an abrogation of the Trade Disputes Act, I noticed that the Attorney-General violently shook his head. While the Chancellor of the Exchequer was speaking 256 I am bound to say I thought any such proposal would be contrary to the fourth section of the Trades Disputes Act of 1906. I want the Law Officers to carefully consider this point, how it is possible for any trade union to enter into any contract or to make any deposit of money under which they could be sued or under which the stakeholder could be sued in respect of any action contrary to the provisions of the contract. If I may assume for a moment that the proposal of the Labour party which the hon. Member for Leicester has made, had been in existence prior to the Taff Vale case.
§ Mr. JOYNSON - HICKS
Supposing there had been such a deposit by that, particular trade union, and that this Act had been passed, and supposing that that particular trade union to-day took the same steps that the particular trade union took in 1905–6 which led to the Taff Vale case, then I say that in consequence of the provisions of the Act of 1906, Section 4, it would be to-day impossible for the employer to sue the trade union that was concerned in the Taff Vale case for the action they took, if it was taken to-day, which led to the Taff Vale case. I quite agree that it is possible to deposit money on a bond to carry out a contract; but it is equally clear that it would still be possible for a trade union to commit a tortious act, such as caused the damage in the Taff Vale case, and no deposit whatever would enable the employers to sue for damages in such a case. I should very much like the Attorney General's legal opinion upon that point, because if the employers are to be asked to accept this olive branch in the expectation that they will be free from action such as that which led up to the dispute in the Taff Vale case, I submit that that is not possible without any alteration of Section 4 of the Trade Disputes Act, 1906.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
By leave of the House I should like to make a statement which I forgot to make before in reference to what has been attributed to Mr. Watts, the Assistant Manager of the Port of London Authority. Mr. Watts is reported to have said that the Port of London Authority was more determined than ever not to have anything to do with the men out on strike. This is a letter I have 257 received from the Secretary to the Port of London Authority:—I beg to inform you on the direct testimony of Mr. Watts that there is not the slightest foundation for the statement attributed to him, and that it is a gross misrepresentation of what passed at an interview with a Press agency, in which no mention was made on either side of the Port Authority.I think it is right that I should make that statement.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
It is rather astonishing that that contradiction has never come until now, as the statement has been made much of by all the organs representing the political party on the other side of the House. But as the contradiction has been made, of course I accept it. In view of the delicate state of the negotiations at the present moment, I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.