HC Deb 06 March 1925 vol 181 cc807-33

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

It falls to my lot to introduce this Bill. I believe it is a controversial Bill, but it is not a new subject. Such a Bill would have been introduced long ago, shortly after the 1913 Act came into operation, had not the war intervened. In the Coalition Parliament, a Bill to achieve the same end was passed by a majority of practically two to one, but owing to the 1922 election it was prevented from becoming the law of the land. The question has been very substantially before the country. A great many Members, at least on this side of the House, mentioned it either in their election addresses or in their speeches at the election, or in answer to questions.

It is necessary to deal with the origin of this particular issue. It was not until 1900 that trade unions actively engaged in political matters. Up to then they barred politics from their unions, because they knew that they were controversial, and they wanted to get on with trade union business. Therefore, they did not permit the discussion of politics in their unions. One finds in the rules of some trade unions that anybody discussing either politics or religion at a trade union meeting was liable to be fined. In the rules of one society, the Steam Engine Makers Society, now amalgamated with the Engineers' Union, one finds the following words: As this Society meets for the preservation of our trade and for charitable purposes, and no other purpose whatever, neither religious nor political subjects will be allowed to be discussed at any of our meetings. Any person so attempting, shall be fined the sum of ls. for each offence. That goes to show that our fathers were perhaps wiser than their children. I want to disabuse the minds of hon. Members opposite on one point. This Bill is not in any sense hostile to trade unions. Those who know the history of trade unions will know that they are the creation of the Conservative party. It was in 1876 that Disraeli took action, realising and believing as he did, and as we all-believe, that the working man must have some institution to protect him because, alone, he is a small ineffective unit, and he may have against him the great force of a large employer of labour or of a large company, which is a combination in itself. Therefore, the only thing that the workman can have to protect him is a strong and vigorous trade union. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] "Why?" Because human nature is human nature. You may have rapacious or harsh employers, of. tyrannical foremen and supervisors, and the workman must have some union or authority to protect him. That is why I have always been a strong believer in trade unions.

As far as trade union purposes are concerned, the interests of the members of the trade union are alike in the particular trade union which they join, but when you come to politics, the members of trade unions may have all sorts and conditions of views. A trade union Member of Parliament does not represent a trade union, but a constituency. He does not represent the members of any particular trade union. This particular issue came to be raised was, first, in 1906, after the passing of the Trade Disputes Act. Many terrible fellows on my side would like to see that Act repealed; but I have very great doubt as to the wisdom of doing that. I am not at all sure that it was not the logical sequence of the Taff Vale judgment. When the Osborne judgment came along, an attempt was made to pass a Bill in favour of a political levy on such members of trade unions as might vote for it. An attempt was made to bring that to pass, because it was felt that the want of some provision of that kind would make it more difficult for particular people to get into the House of Commons. It was proposed and discussed for years in the House at length and ultimately it was dropped by the Liberal party, and the sum of £400 a year was given to enable all classes to get into Parliament, and the trade union levy was dropped. But in 1913 a different state of affairs arose. The Liberal party wanted to push through the Home Rule Bill and the Labour party wanted the levy, so the Liberal party handed over the working men to those who wanted the trade union levy and the trade union levyites handed over the loyalists of Ireland to the Liberal party.


What about the Chancellor of the Exchequer?


I presume then that in the picturesque language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), liberty found its sanctuary among the hills, because the liberties of the working man were taken away from him, and the majority of his fellows were given the power of taxing him. And they did tax him. What I am proposing now is to relieve the working man of this liability to be taxed. Therefore, I feel just as the Chancellor of the Exchequer would feel if he takes sonic taxation off in the coming Budget. He will be a popular person for doing so, and I feel that I am in a very popular position in proposing this Bill. Of course, I am not likely to be popular with beneficiaries, but I am satisfied that I am interpreting the wishes of the vast majority of trade unionists who pay the levy, I do not care to what party they belong. I do not intend to go into any recriminations as to the abuses under this Act and the refusal to contract out and matters of that kind, because I do not wish to raise any matter of controversy. Trade union human nature and the human nature of trade union officials is identical with the human nature of other people. Therefore, under the 1913 Act, it was bound to happen that abuses would follow. What I do say is that, you have no right to put a man in a position in which his money is taken from him and he is put to the humiliation of having to go cap in hand to ask it back. Of course, hon. Members opposite will say that there is protection and that there is an appeal, but that is utterly useless.


What about the appeal of the taxpayer with regard to Income Tax?


I agree that it is utterly useless and that the Income Tax people deduct millions every year which they should not have, especially the money of the smaller people.


What about a Bill to stop that?


I will bring in one the next time I win in the Ballot. The trade unionists were never asked to give any decision on this matter. The Act of 1913 was passed over their heads. Then the War came. Otherwise this power would have been challenged long ago. When we consider that from 40 to 50 per cent. of trade unionists are members of my party, I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite if they do not think that they arc lucky to have had our money so long. They have been having the money of members of the Conservative party for 11 years and they have done very well out of it. If the contributors were entitled to say, "we contribute to your political fund but you arc to apply our money to the Conservative Association or the Liberal Association in our district," there might he something will bear to be said for it. I this testimony to local trade unionists that in some places that is done. [HON MEMBERS: "Where?" I have been told that. An hon. Gentleman has told me that is done. Even if a majority of the trade unionist executive and the members were Conservatives, as they soon will be, and were to hand over the money collected to the Conservative party, I would say exactly the same as I am saying to-day, and I would support a Bill of this description on the ground that we were doing Socialist members of trade unions a great injustice.

This system is destroying trade unions. It is causing a want of peace, and heart-burning, and men are leaving the unions, and there will be Conservatives setting up trade unions. The whole thing is wrong. We lost a continent through taxation without 'representation, but this is taxation with misrepresentation. Conservatives are being taxed for the purpose of supporting their political opponents. The thing is utterly wrong. Suppose our party were to get power to deduct something from the wages of our opponents—[HON. MEMBERS: "You are doing it."]—what a terrible outcry there would be. It is idle to say that there is no difference between contracting out and contracting in; there is all the difference in the world. Do you think that anybody is going to claim these small sums of money, though in the aggregate they amount to an enormous sum? You cannot ask a decent working man who has paid this small sum to go asking to have it back, even though it is only once a year. The Liberals ought to vote for this amendment of the law, but they will not do it because they have been perpetually surrendering to Labour, and then they are surprised that Labour has taken their place in this House. Of course, a party that has got courage will always take the place of a party that has got no courage. In 1913, when this Act was passed, I believe that trade unionists were not spending £10,000 a year for political expenses, but now they have got nearly a quarter of a million pounds. Of course, they are a strong party. If you had a quarter of a million of money coming in every year you can found a party for anything.

Where is the Liberal party going to find its £1,000,000 for a fighting fund, if it is to allow the members of trade unions who are its own supporters to be obliged to contribute first to the Socialist party? The position is quite preposterous as far as the Liberal party is concerned. The Liberal party have for some years past been a sort of political suicide club. If members of the Liberal party in this House vote for their Amendment on the Paper, they will put a final seal on the party's self-destruction, and after the next election the only Liberals whom it will be possible to find in this country will be found in another place. The Liberal party may abandon their own supporters in the trade unions: it may leave them to be taxed; but we Conservatives are not going to leave our supporters in that position. Cannot members of the Socialist party see the injustice of taking the money of Tory working men? It is very, very wrong. This Bill is not an interference with the internal affairs of trade unions. On this side of the House there arc some of my friends who—I say it without any disrespect—seem to me to be more concerned with tactics than with questions of principle. They say that this Bill will be represented as an interference with the internal affairs of trade unions. I say that it is not. This political levy is an external growth upon trade unions; it is not an internal matter at all. A Member of Parliament represents a constituency, not a union. He does not even represent a particular locality. He is a member of the Imperial Parliament. He is one of the Commons of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. He is one of the great inquest of the nation, and is not a particularist in any shape or form.

Let us look at one or two of the Amendments. They are very interesting. The first is headed by one of my own party, and I sec it is an attempt to make peace with labour. It is a proposal that the Second Reading of the Bill be postponed for six months. That is a definite rejection of the Bill. The second Amendment calls for a comprehensive inquiry into the relations generally of trade unions to industry. I do not think there is any purpose to be served by that proposal. If there are abuses in connection with trade unions, if there is any terrorism or intimidation—that is quite irrelevant, because the thing is wrong in its essence, irrespective of how it is used or abused—you will never get the evidence. The parties will be afraid to come forward. Then there is the Amendment dealing with individual hardships or inequalities resulting from the working of the Act. The hardship is in having to contract out instead of to contract in, and an inquiry would disclose nothing. because if there are cases of intimidation it would be impossible to get at the facts. One need only look at the details that are known to us. You see in the trade unions the members of which are scattered all over country, that there is a great deal of contracting out. I see, for instance, that practically all the smiths' unions have contracted out. In cases where you have scattered industries many men may contract out, but where you have them concentrated together, there is moral persuasion used to prevent men exercising the right to contract out. Then there is a further Amendment, headed by three members of my own party, as follows: On Second Beading of Trade Union (Political Fund) Bill, to move, That this House, whilst approving of the principle of complete freedom of attachment to political parties and of contribution to political funds for trade unionists, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will accentuate rather than alleviate ill-feeling, and urges the Government to bring both parties together in an endeavour to reach by agreement a fair settlement of a legitimate grievance which can be carried out with goodwill on both sides. I am glad that there is an admission of legitimate grievance, but I think it is a mistake to have a discussion. When you come to deal with a will which you think has been improperly got, you do not discuss the matter with the beneficiaries, because they will stand by the will. Yeti must go to a jury. You do not consult the men who will be in receipt of the money that arises from the will. It would be rather invidious to go to them, and ask them to give any of it up. The suggestion of the Amendment is a waste of time. Then. I come to the Labour Amendment. In its statements it is historically wrong. It says that the Trade Union Act was unanimously ratified by Parliament. The fact is that in a Division on the Second Reading, in August, 1912., there were 232 for the Bill and 132 against. The Amendment also states that the Bill would weaken the power of trade unionism to resist exploitation of the worker. There I join issue. I think the Bill would strengthen the trade unions very much. It would increase the funds, it would produce harmony among the members, and put them in a position like that which arose in sonic correspondence, in a case in which I was engaged for a trade union. One trade union secretary wrote to the other and said: "We must be in a strong position to resist the common enemy." That was the employer. I say that if you keep this divisive thing you will keep that ill-feeling which is caused by the levy. But by my Bill you will increase the trade unions' power to resist exploitation of the wage-earners.

Some Members opposite, I feel sure, must feel that they are doing wrong in supporting the Act of 1913. The hon. Member for Paisley said in this House, in the discussion on the Church of Scotland Bill, that he was a voluntary in politics as well as in religion. I trust that I shall at least have his support for my Bill. While the Member for Motherwell stated that the Church in Scotland, in taking money from people of other churches, was contravening the immutable principles of religious equality. Does he not agree that in taking money from Conservative trade unionists the Socialist party is violating the eternal principles of political equality? I repeat that I am not hostile to trade unions. I beg to assure hon. Gentlemen opposite of that fact. I have the greatet possible regard for trade unions. Most Conservatives have a regard for trade unions. There may he a few of us opposed to them, but there are many on those Benches opposite, opposed to trade unions. As a matter of fast, the number of Courseratives in trade unions is increasing, and they will form unions of their own. Some of my colleagues in speaking to me on this matter, have said: "Why leave them the right to Rave a political fund." I say No, that would immediately be open to the representation that we were preventing the majority of trade unionists doing what they liked in the trade unions. I am entirely opposed to that. But if you cannot have a political levy without taking the money of your political opponents, then you cannot have a political levy, but I believe you can carry on your political levy possibly minus the Conservative contribution, perfectly well. I am averse to interfering in a matter with which the majority of trade unionists themselves are concerned, but I am opposed and strongly opposed, as are all the Members on these Benches, whether they think this Bill is a mistake or not, to hon. Members opposite taking money from Conservative working men.

I do not object to a political fund so long at it is voluntary, but I do not believe in political conscription. This 1913 Act is equivalent to saying that everyone joining a union shall have the political opinions of the majority and, whether they hold thoso opinions or not, shall pay to support them. It is an impossible position, and it cannot last. I would be sorry to do anything to injure the Labour party. I will be perfectly frank arid say I prefer the Labour party to the Liberal party. I would rather have men facing me whose opinions I know and can controvert, than have men on my flank who are likely to go away and leave my flank in the air. I do not want to do anything to injure the Labour party, and still less do I want to do anything to injure the trade unions, but I regard the political levy as a festering sore in the side of trade unionism which will ultimately become corrupt and spread and destroy the trade unions and the party. You cannot build trade unionism or any other structure on an unjust foundation, and we demand this Bill in the interest of ordinary justice, and of the ordinary British idea of fair play. At the present moment you have this unjust exaction, and unless you join with us in getting rid of it and purge yourselves of it. the ultimate result will be to destroy the great fabric of trade unionism which has been built up by generations of as good trade unionists as exist to-day.


I beg to second the Motion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Another trade unionist."] As hon. Members opposite remind me I do so as a trade unionist, and before I come to matters of controversy, I wish to state one or two propositions, which I do not think will meet with dissent from any large section of the House. The first proposition is that no man, whatever his position in life, should be subject to compulsion to support with his money a political faith in which he does not believe. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad there is some hesitant, hut eventual enthusiasm for that principle on the opposite benches. The other proposition is that anything which destroyed or injured the great and useful function of trade unions in industrial negotiation, and the provision of benefits would be a retrograde step and one fraught with the gravest peril to industrial confidence and national welfare. As the Mover has pointed out, it would be idle to deny that there are enemies of trade unions even in this House. There may he a negligible few even on these benches and the opposite below the Gangway. There is certainly quite a number on the Opposition benches above the Gangway. I go further and say that in the country, among the so-called adherents of the party now composing His. Majesty's Opposition, there are many determined opponents and enemies of trade unions. It would be a fatal policy to do anything to weaken the position of the trade union leaders who are struggling with those Communistic forces which are seeking to disintegrate and destroy the peaceful organisation of industry.

Having said so much, I pass to the subject of the Bill. There is a complete misunderstanding among a great many as to the present position and as to the position which the Bill seeks to establish. It is said that this is an attack on the party funds of the Socialist Party. It is in no sense an attack on the party funds of any party. The last thing which any member of the House would like to do, would be to deprive hon. Members opposite of the support of those great and enthusiastic supporters which they have in the country, who may wish to support their party funds, but some of whom at present, while talking loudest, give least support with their contributions. My position is that so long as you have adequate safeguards for funds subscribed for general trade union purposes—adequate safeguards that those funds are not diverted to the political fund—and so long as it is clear that nothing goes into the political fund except that which is voluntarily and freely given, I for my part have no concern at all as to what you do with your political fund, or what anyone else cares to do with it. Hon. Members opposite have suggested, however, that the Bill is an attempt to put the Socialist party and the wage-earner in a position different to that of any other class in the community. That is an inversion of the true proposition. The principle of the Bill is to relieve the wage-earner from the injustice under which he at present suffers. In other words, the true principle of this Bill is to put the wage-earner in the same free position that every other member of the community is in at the present time.

Things have been said about limited companies and corporate bodies, but the position to-day is this, that all corporate bodies, whether incorporated by Act of Parliament or under the Companies Acts by articles of association, are entirely limited by the powers conferred upon them either by Act of Parliament or by their articles of association, and if a railway company, for example, uses any of its money to subscribe to a political party, it can be immediately restrained by action in the courts of this country. If a limited company goes outside its articles of association, it can be restrained immediately by any shareholder who chooses to invoke the assistance of the Courts. But there is a very wide difference, which is extremely important, between the ordinary corporate body of that kind and trade unions. The difference is this: that, after all, no one is compelled in the slightest degree to invest his money either in a railway company or a limited company which is formed under the Companies Acts. There is a free choice of investment. The ordinary citizen who puts his money in railway shares or in the shares of any company has an absolutely free choice. If he chooses to invest in a company whose articles of association allow money to be used for political purposes, it is free choice, and under those circumstances he would be agreeing to what was done. But, quite apart from everything else, the position of the average investor is probably a very different one from that of a great many of the trade unionists, because the average investor at any rate has probably far more opportunity and far more resources to invoke the aid of the courts, and, therefore, so far as he is concerned, he is in a very much better position to right the wrong, if any wrong be committed. But what is the position with regard to trade unions? You may say that in theory, at any rate, it is a free choice. but in practice we know perfectly well that there is no free choice at all, and, what is more important, I think most of those who wish trade unions well will realise that, if trade unions are to be effective, they should be composed of and represent all those who are engaged in the particular industry for which the trade union operates. Unless you can get a full and complete organisation of industry in your trade unions, properly, carefully directed, I do not think you can get that effective action in industrial negotiations which is such an important factor, and you certainly cannot get that stability for the benefit purposes of trade unions which is absolutely essential if they are to be the real source of strength that they have been in the past. There is the essential difference. Now we come to the Trade Union Act of 1913, which may be stated in such a way as to suggest that it provides everything. It provides for a ballot to be taken in which every member shall have an equal opportunity of taking part; it provides that, after that ballot is taken, there shall be the opportunity of contracting out; and it provides, in a somewhat nebulous fashion, that the political fund shall be a separate fund. Let me, first of all, take those three things and show how they operate. The ballot is taken at one time, and it is obvious, in the interests of your trade unions and of industrial peace, that you cannot have perennial ballots in regard to any matter such as the political fund. Therefore, in practice, although in theory the ballot may be reversed, your ballot is really taken once and for all, and the position to-day is this, that, so far as the trade unions in which there has been a ballot are concerned, there have been at least 700,000 fresh members in. those unions since the ballots were taken.

There is a provision in the 1913 Act that, when the ballot is taken, notice shall be sent to all members of the fact that the ballot has been taken, of the result of the ballot, and of the fact also that any member may contract out, but there is no provision, curiously enough, that a new member of a trade union shall have notice given to him that he ought to be under no liability, if he does not wish, to support the political fund. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the rules?"] I am coming to the rules. As the Trade Union Act stands at present, directly a man becomes a member of a trade union, automatically he becomes liable to contribute to the political fund. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" Hon. Members opposite say "No," but when they have heard me, they will agree with me. That is an automatic position. First of all, I start with that position, and say that there is no other trade, profession, or class of life in which a man, merely by joining the trade organisation of his trade or profession, becomes automatically liable to support a political party with his money. [An HON. MEMBER "There is the Tory party."] There is no trade organisation, there is no profession, there is no business in life, in which a man, by merely exercising that trade or joining his trade organisation, becomes liable to support the Conservative party or any other party.

That being the position—and it is automatic—he can get out of that liability, it is true, but he must get out of it, and he must contract out of it, otherwise his liability is there, and if it were not automatic, there would be no necessity to contract out. One realises, as so often happens in this House, that hon. Members opposite dissent a little too soon. It is true that a man may contract out. Now I want to show how that then puts him in the position of being subject to coercion. First of all, he contracts out by means of a particular form or by means of a form of like effect. That form has to be sent to the secretary, who should acknowledge it, but in a great many unions, unfortunately, the secretary does not acknowledge it at all. There are instance after instance of that taking place.


On a, point of Order. Is it right for the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Mr. Greaves-Lord) to say that a certain individual has done something without giving a name to that individual? Is it in accordance with the rules of the House?


It is not a matter of the rules of the House. An hon. Member may make a statement, whether supported by evidence or not.


I should not make in this House a statement in support of which I had no evidence. 1 decline to make names public—[Interruption]—but where I have an absolute assurance that nothing will be done in the way of victimising a particular man, if I have his authority, I will disclose it privately to any hon. Member who will give me that undertaking. I pass from that, and come to something else. It happens time after time—last year I quoted a case in this House—where, before the trade unionist got an effective exemption from paying a political levy, he had to spend at least ls. in postage stamps. You cannot expect a man in the position of an ordinary wage-earner to take the cumbrous proceedings necessary in order to compel his trade union secretary to do that which the Act requires him to do. Apart from all that, within the last three or four days I have come across a case in South Wales something like this. Members of the South Wales Miners' Federation sent in notices saying that they wanted to contract-out. What happened? They were told, first of all, that some of the notices were not in order. That means another postage stamp, which may seem a small matter, but I have noticed that hon. Members ef, the other side, when arguing another way, tell us that 1?,-d. is a large sum #o wage-earners. In the same letter the lodge secretary conveyed the information that those who have got exemption will have their names posted in a particular fm rm.


Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give us the name of the lodge?


If the right hon. Member desires it, I will undertake to do so within a week from now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members opposite must give me sufficient time. [An HON. MEMBER: "You said you have got the name."] What I said was, and I repeat—I am speaking on my responsibility in this House—that within the last week—to be still more accurate, last Monday morning—I saw the letter in which that. statement is made. Of course, there is no power in the Act of Parliament to post the names, but in order to prevent them from being posted, the wage-earner would have to take proceedings of such an expensive character that no one is likely to take them. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the name of the Lodge? "Hon. Members opposite must really not be so restive. I do not mind it, but it does delay one, and, after all, if this is an important discussion, as we all think it is, it is better that one should be allowed to get on with one's argument. There is one further matter. It does not rest merely with sending in a notice of exemption. Owing to one of the sections of the 1913 Act, exemption can be given effect to in one of two ways. One is by making the contribution a separate levy; the other is by giving at stated times a rebate to the Member who has contracted out. I gave last year one instance of the way in which that is done, and there is nothing in the Act of Parliament which prevents it. In the County of Durham it has been done.


Is not the hon. and learned Member merely repeating himself, and repeating a speech he delivered last year?


I think it may be very often the case, and it is a habit not confined to one Member.

12 N


I do not wonder at all at the hon. Members desire that statements should not be repeated, because the facts were these:100 members sent in contracting-out forms. They were told at the end of the year that if they attended the Lodge meeting at a particular hall, they might receive back a proportion of the money which had been taken from them for the levy. When they went to the Lodge meeting, they were paraded along the table, where they had to pass the Chairman and Committee, in order to get back that money, which never ought to have been taken from them. [In terruption.] Another difficulty arises. Owing to the way in which the Act of 1913 is drawn, and to this practice of giving a rebate, uncertainty exists as to what the rebate is, and there is no district in which that uncertainty arises more than that in South Wales. I am speaking in the presence of a great many members of the Miners' Federation of Great. Britain, and they know that the contribution for political purposes is 6d. per quarter, which most of us have been taught means 2s. a year. The difficulty is there are only two Lodges, Mountain Ash and Abertridwr, in South Wales, where 2s. is returned to men who claim exemption; in all others, ls. is returned. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is no Lodge of the name of Mountain Ash!"] I said "district"—[An HON. MEMBER: "There is no district of that name!"]—and surely there are some lodges in that district. What I have said that there is a lodge in the district of Mountain Ash where 2s. is returned. The hon. Member knows the geography of his country very much better than I do, but there are some misguided people who call some district by that name.

The real point is this, and hon. Members cannot gainsay it. There are two Lodges in South Wales where 2s. is returned, and there are a great many others where only Is. is returned. How does. that arise? It arises from the confusion which is possible under the Act of 1913, because while there is provision for the political fund being separate when it becomes a political fund, there is nothing which directs, first of all, the keeping of the funds separate from the inception, and the result is the political fund is the last resort of the money, but, in the mean. time, it goes practically identified through the general funds of the union I have here the South Wales Miners' Federation balance sheet for 1923. I am looking at the page which deals with the receipts. There is not an item which can be identified as forming part of the political levy or identified as the political fund—not one, and I have the whole page here. When it comes to the expenditure—and I say deliberately and quite frankly that the expenditure of the money is fully accounted for—

Mr. W. THORNE (exhibiting a large document): This is how we have to make it out!


I thought the hon. Member for the moment wanted to speak. If he did I should have thought it, much simpler for him to rise and I would have given way to him. When I come to the expenditure of the fund, I find that there is an expenditure on the political side of £6,343. Further, I find that the return to the districts is £4,575. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quite right!"] My complaint is that on the income side there is nothing that identifies the contributions to the political fund out of the general funds. There is a real difficulty in regard to it. I think it is from this that the difficulty arises of returning the shilling in the one case and two shillings in the other. When I come to the balance-sheet of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, I find that with the exception of five districts—Cleveland, the Forest of Dean—where I should have expected everything to be kept right—the Midlands—where we have good reason to think that things are being kept right—Northumberland and also Somerset—with the exception of these, it is clear that members in many other districts, South Wales, Durham and other districts have claimed exemption from the political levy, and the accounts of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain for the year ending 30 th June, 1924, show that in every case the Parliamentary Labour fund is contributed to by the districts on exactly the same membership as the contributions are made to the general fund of the Miners' Federation. That shows that what happens in this—I have the figures here: an hon. Member opposite shakes his head, but here are the figures in the books, and in these circumstances I claim to take that rather than the hon. Members' recollection. What I say happens is this—


If the hon. and learned Gentleman will take the county of Nottingham, he will never find that the contributions to the Federation equal the contributions paid to the Unions. The political and general purposes are kept distinct, and the first left, to the members.


Then I will read what is exactly the position in Nottinghamshire. In Nottinghamshire from Sep- tember, 1923, to August, 1924, the number of members returned to the Federation each quarter upon whom 6d. per member is paid has been 25,000. The number of members upon whom out of the general fund 1id. per member is paid has, during the whole of that time, also been 25,000. Does the hon. Gentleman say—


May I point out—


The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity later.


That is the worst of it.


Does the hon. Gentleman really want us to believe that these figures are incorrect?




Well then, does he want us to believe that there are no members of the Miners' Federation of Nottinghamshire who had claimed exemption?


No, and we will explain that later.


Look at the balance sheet and you will find it.


There is the contribution of Nottingham and other counties to the political fund and the way ii which it arises is this. Instead of there being a separate demand the same amount of money is collected on each periodical payment from every member, whether he has contracted out or whether he has not. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The result is that you get the general fund receiving one-half and one-half is remitted to the districts. The district gets half, and they only return to the exempted persons in many cases half of the amount which has been recently sent on to the Miners' Federation. There is nothing in the accounting under these Acts which will prevent that.

In these circumstances one sees at once the great opportunities for various forms of coercion to which the 1913 Act gives rise. Our own view is that there is only one way of preventing that. That is, first of all, to get rid of the automatic liability, and, secondly, to make it clear to the man who does not want to contribute that he is under no liability to do so. To provide the opportunity—it is provided in the Bill—for those who want to contribute to say so. Under these circum- stances you limit the opportunities of coercion, and at the same time, by the separate contribution card on which the section of the Act of Parliament is printed, you make it perfectly clear to the man that that which he is paying is something outside his ordinary contribution, and is something which he need not pay if he does not wish to do so. I do not think that we need go into the whole of the other matters into which I went last year. They are fresh in the recollection of a great many hon. Members, but there are just one or two other matters that I want to make perfectly clear before I sit down.

First of all, it has been said by hon. Members opposite that this would do away practically with their funds, or seriously deplete them as to make them worthless. [1HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Iam very glad to find that there are some hon. Members opposite who do not believe that. Some of their leaders have suggested that that is so. Speaking, however, as I do as a member for a constituency where, without any trade union organisation, we have a Conservative Association with over 3,500 subsribers, the majority of whom are working men, I cannot think much of the appeal of the Socialist party if hon. Members opposite have really any fear that if this matter is left as a perfectly voluntary one they will have really no money to carry on. If I may speak perfectly frankly of the principles and provisions of our Bill, they are these: No member should be liable to contribute to the political side unless he wants to. Every member shall have the fullest opportunity of making all the contributions that he wants to make to the funds of the political party in which he believes. These are the general principles of the Bill. One piece of the machinery separates your funds from the start. There need be no difficulty in that, and opportunity for mixing the accounts. Separate your funds from the start, so that there may be a clear identification of them. In these circumstances I should indeed be a cur if I suggested that there is any responsible member of a trade union who would defy the law, and would allow anything to be. done which would involve the mixing of accounts.

In regard to the question of trade unions, we all know the position of the decreasing membership. Personally I deplore it. I deplore it for this reason, that 1 have always held the opinion, and still hold it strongly, that labour organised in trade unions, if properly directed, is the best bulwark against revolution that you can have in the country. Disorganised labour, ill-directed, and subject to the prey of unstates-manlike agitators, is the surest method of bringing about revolution. I venture to think, also, that if you will mix up political matters with trade unions you do grave injury to your trade unions. Any organisation which denies political liberty is bound, in this country, to come to the ground. If you get into that danger or into that position you are liable to cause weakness. That was foreseen very clearly by Mr. Bonar Law, who, speaking in this House on the 1913 Bill, said on 31st January— In my opinion, just in proportion as trade unions have become identified with political activities, their influence in their proper sphere of improving the conditions of members of trade unions has been a la /SOD table failure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1913; col. 1684, Vol. 47.] I re-echo those words, and I see in the decreasing membership of trade unions the fulfilment of that prophecy. It is because there is no surer foundation to build on in this country than full political liberty that 1 have the greatest pleasure in Seconding this Motion.