HC Deb 06 March 1913 vol 49 cc79-85

Sub-section (2). If any member of a trade union alleges that he is aggrieved by a breach of any rule made in pursuance of this Section, he may complain to the Registrar of Friendly Societies, and the Registrar of Friendly Societies, after giving the complainant and any representative of the union an opportunity of being heard, may, if he considers that such a breach has been committed, make such order for remedying the breach as he thinks just under the circumstances; and any such order of the Registrar shall be binding and conclusive on all parties without appeal, and shall not be removable into any Court of Law or restrainable by injunction, and on being recorded in the County Court, may be enforced as if it had been an order of the County Court.

Lords Amendment agreed to: At end of Sub-section (2), after the word "Court," insert the words "In the application of this provision to Scotland, the Sheriff Court shall be substituted for the County Court, and 'interdict' shall be substituted for 'injunction.'"

Sub-section (3), paragraph (e), on the holding of political meetings of any kind, or on the distribution of political literature or political documents of any kind, unless the main purpose of the meetings or of the distribution of the literature or documents is the furtherance of statutory objects within the meaning of this Act.

Lords Amendment: At end of paragraph (e), after the word "Act," insert the words "or (f) on the publication or circulation of any newspaper or periodical having any political purpose, unless the main purpose of the newspaper or periodical is the furtherance of statutory objects within the meaning of this Act."


I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment is inserted in order to place upon trade unions the obligation of taking a ballot before they can use their funds for a newspaper or a periodical having any political purpose. This Bill and the various paragraphs contained in Sub-section (3) of Clause 3 was subjected to very careful consideration both in Committee and on the Report stage. The difficulty in accepting this Amendment is that really it will embarrass trade unions, and, in our opinion, it will place an undue restriction upon them. It is impossible to adopt this proposal with regard to a newspaper which on one day may be devoted mainly to political purposes and on another day may be devoted to statutory objects, such as industrial purposes. A newspaper which is supported in any way by trade union funds generally exists for the purpose of promoting labour interests throughout the community, and it must necessarily follow that sometimes a newspaper advocating their views must deal with political matters, and on other occasions it would not be dealing with political matters in a strict and proper sense but with industrial matters. Nevertheless, the test which it is proposed to apply is whether the main purpose is for the furtherance of statutory objects. I think the result of such a proposal will lead to a considerable amount of litigation, and it will be quite impossible to foresee the result, because you will have to determine with regard to the particular demand on which an injunction was applied for whether or not at that particular moment a particular newspaper was devoted in the main to advocating the furtherance of statutory or political objects. The proposals contained in this Amendment would be very difficult to carry out, because trade unions do not run a newspaper for themselves but in the interests of a party, and in the interests of those whom the trade unions represent. Consequently you would have to get a ballot of all the trade unions who contribute in order to determine whether or not they should be able to apply any of their funds for the purpose of running a newspaper.

Some trade unions might desire to apply their funds for this purpose and some might not. A newspaper of this kind is in the interests of them all, and it seems to us very undesirable that this further restriction should be imposed upon them. There are already in the Bill limitations of a very definite character, and, as the House is aware from the discussions upon this particular Clause, there are various matters in respect to which trade unions must have a majority obtained by ballot in accordance with the Act, and those are questions connected with the candidature of Members of Parliament or those who intend to occupy some public office. In that respect we have taken very great care to provide against the funds of a trade union being used except at the wish of the majority of the members of that particular union. You cannot, however, apply that principle to the publication of a newspaper, and you cannot apply the same test in this case as you can properly apply to all the various matters dealt with under paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d), and (e). When you are dealing with the question of candidature you can lay down that there shall be no meetings held to further any such candidature unless it is done at the desire of a majority of the members. We think that is a proper thing to do, but you must leave it to the trade unions to determine for themselves whether it is in their interests that they should contribute money for the purpose of carrying on a newspaper.


I am sorry that the Government have not seen their way to accept this Amendment, because it seems to me that it is one which is eminently reasonable. However, we have now passed the stage of discussion on this Bill; it was fully discussed before, and I am not going to occupy more than a few moments. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must himself feel that his speech on its merits was not very convincing. What is the object of this Bill? Its object, as has been admitted by the Government, is to prevent a man being compelled to contribute towards the advancement of political views with which he does not agree. The Government have taken steps to prevent that being done in a number of cases, and now we come to this particular Amendment. Under the Bill there is nothing to prevent a trade union running a political newspaper advocating the views of one particular section and running it at the expense of another section who wish to support another candidate. That is a fact, and there is no doubt about it. I am perfectly certain that without this Amendment that can be done. I am certain that this Amendment, which is in itself reasonable, could be carried out, and in fact it only carries out the other condition which was laid down by the Government. That is my view, and I feel it necessary to make this protest at this stage because I agree with the Amendment which was inserted in another place. I am sure that not only the Government, but hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, will agree that in another place this Bill has been dealt with without any desire to kill it. We all know that the Government are in a majority, and that they can carry this measure here. Nevertheless I think what I have pointed out is a flaw in the Bill, and I can see no reason why it cannot be removed. I should, however, be very sorry to see the Bill lost, and I hope my hon. Friends will not think it worth while to go to a Division.


Until I heard the Attorney-General's speech I did not anticipate that he would make out such a poor case for the attitude the Government have taken up with regard to this matter. Exactly the same wording is taken with regard to the publication of a newspaper as with regard to other matters dealt with in the Bill. The Attorney-General spoke of a newspaper having any political purpose. I think that was a lapsus linguœ, and he was thinking of the Amendment originally introduced. All the objections which the Attorney-General raised have been considered in another place, and have been met by the Amendment in the form in which it has now come before this House. The Attorney-General says it is impossible to say what is the main purpose of a newspaper. One day it may be mainly political, and another day it may be mainly not political. I do not think that is really a valid objection at all, because it is not proposed to prohibit a trade union publishing a newspaper at all. It is merely proposed to include newspapers in the category of things which require the consent of the bare majority of the members voting. A more slight provision against the money of people being used for political purposes with which they do not agree could not possibly be inserted. Often at election times a newspaper is issued specifically to advocate the candidature of a single individual or a particular group of members. It is quite possible trade union members may generally be in favour of political action but not of publishing a newspaper, as it is a somewhat hazardous enterprise; for all newspapers are not financial successes, and it is possible, if trade unionists be compelled to contribute towards the publication of a newspaper, either at election times or from day to day or from week to week, or even monthly, a very great deal of money may be lost, and I think it is eminently desirable it should be only the money of the political fund and Of those members who believe in that particular form of political action.

Supposing the present Amendment were accepted, there would be no necessity to take a ballot at all so long as the newspaper or periodical had for its main purpose the ordinary statutory objects, and, if it was avowedly mainly a political paper, run not necessarily to advocate the views of a political party, but to support the candidature of a particular group of members, then there is no prohibition against a trade union doing anything of the kind; the Amendment in that case merely asks that the newspaper shall be included among those things which require a ballot to be taken and the assent of a bare majority of the members voting. A good many Amendments were proposed in Committee and on Report, but I venture to say there was none more reasonable or necessary than this, and none which was more entirely directed towards carrying out that which the Attorney-General and every Member of the Government admit is the main purpose of the Bill. I do not believe the Bill can possibly be held to carry out the purpose which the Government intend if the strongest and most direct political weapon any party possesses is entirely left out of that schedule of things which require the consent of a majority of trade union members on a ballot being taken. It is really a case of locking the door after the horse is stolen. The Bill provides that meetings, the main purpose of which is political, are not to be held, and that literature, the main purpose of which is political, is not to be distributed unless a ballot has been taken and the consent of the majority voting has been obtained. That is a mild way of advocating the candidature of any person compared to the publication of a newspaper specifically run for that particular purpose. That is very much stronger political action. You object to the holding of a meeting or to the distribution, presumably gratis, of literature which costs a few shillings or a sovereign at the outside, but you allow, without the consent of the majority of the members of a trade union, a newspaper to be published daily at a cost running perhaps into hundreds and in some cases thousands of pounds or more in the course of a single election.

It seems to me, if this Amendment is not put in, the Schedule will not only be incomplete but the most important, most expensive, and most direct way of advocating the candidature of Members of Parliament will be left out altogether. I think it is very much more difficult to decide what is the main purpose of a meeting, and, if it is held by the Government that is a matter which can be decided, there can be no valid reason why or any genuineness in the argument that it is beyond the wit of man to decide what is the main purpose of a newspaper. There is not a single newspaper the main purpose of which a small Committee of Members of this House could not settle in five minutes. We all know that every newspaper from time to time publishes matter which is not its main purpose, but I do not think the Attorney-General has really adduced any valid argument against the insertion of this Subsection. I am sorry it has not been decided to strongly support the Sub-section from this side of the House, and as far as I am concerned, if there is a Division, I shall feel bound to support the Amendment, because I consider the omission of this particular form of political action, the most direct that can possibly be taken, from the schedule of things which require the consent of the majority of the trade union members a blot upon the Bill.