HC Deb 14 June 1927 vol 207 cc926-43

(1) All moneys received by a trade union from its members by way of contribution towards the securing of benefits shall be carried to a separate fund or funds (in this Act referred to as a benefit fund or funds).

(2) It shall be unlawful to mortgage alienate, or use a benefit fund directly or indirectly for any purpose other than securing to the contributors the benefits for which they have contributed, nor shall it be liable for any contracts of the trade union, or for any damages or costs in any action or proceeding against the trade union whether in contract or in tort or for any act or default not connected with the administration of the said fund.

(3) Every benefit fund set up under this section shall be vested in two or more trustees to be appointed by the contributors to the fund, and such contributors shall also appoint managers or a committee of managers by whom the said fund shall be administered.

The above-mentioned appointment of trustees and managers or committee of managers shall be made by the contributors in accordance with such rules as may be approved from time to time by the Registrar of Friendly Societies and not otherwise.

An official of a trade union, whether salaried or not, shall be disqualified from being appointed or acting as a trustee, but may act as a manager or member of a committee of management of any of the said benefit funds.

(4) All transactions relating to the administration of a benefit fund and a record of all proceedings and all accounts, including receipts and payments made, shall be entered into books to be kept exclusively for the purpose and wholly distinct from the other books and accounts of the trade union, and the said accounts shall be made up and balanced annually to a date as prescribed in the rules of the benefit fund or, in the absence of such prescribed date, to the thirty-first day of December in each year and signed by the trustees of the trade union.

(5) The accounts connected with a benefit fund of a trade union shall be audited annually by public auditors nominated by the Public Trustee on the application of the managers of the fund, or in default on the application of three or more contributors to the fund.

(6) Within three months of the completion of the said audit the said trade union shall file with the Registrar-General of Friendly Societies a certified copy of such accounts in every office of the trade union in a conspicuous place for the remainder of the financial year, and on request and on payment of one penny shall supply to every contributor a copy of the said audited balance sheet relating to every benefit fund signed by the auditors with a copy of the report of the auditors thereon.

(7) A valuation of the assets and liabilities arising under a benefit fund shall be made by an actuary to be appointed by or with the approval of the Registrar-General of Friendly Societies at the expiration of every five years dating from the passing of this Act, and every such valuation shall be made on such basis as may be approved by the Registrar-General.—[Captain Bourne.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Captain BOURNE

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

This Clause, unlike the last, arises out of the affairs of last year. If the Bill reaches the Statute Book, as on all sides of the House we expect it will, we have to remember that the protection given by Section 3 of the Act of 1906 will not operate in the case of strikes declared to be illegal under Clause 1. I do not wish to enter into a discussion as to the merits or demerits of Clause 1, but I believe the decision of the House of Lords in the Taff Vale Case will operate in the case of strikes that come under Clause 1, and, therefore, the funds of the union will be liable in such cases. I have always felt strongly that the benefit funds of trade unions are quite apart from their industrial enterprise, and I am fortified in that, because the Dunedin Commission, which investigated the matter between 1903 and 1906, made a specific recommendation. With the permission of the Committee, I will read the fifth recommendation of the Dunedin Commission, which, I may remind hon. Members opposite, was signed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb). It is as follows: To provide for the facultative separation of the proper benefit funds of trade unions, such separation, if effected, to carry immunity from their funds being taken in execution.'' I have always felt that a trade union fulfils two perfectly separate functions. The first is that of fighting the trade and industrial battle. The second, and by no means the least important function, has been to provide benefits to its members against the chances of industrial life, to provide funds against sickness, funds for the orphans and widows of those who die early, and funds for various other purposes. I believe that many members would join willingly and subscribe to trade unions far more in the hope of receiving benefits from such funds than to take part in what I may call the industrial, and still less in the political, activities of trade unions. I think that a good many people, including members of trade unions, believe that it is very unfair that the funds to which they have subscribed and at some considerable sacrifice to themselves, should be used for any other purpose than for the benefits which they hope to obtain some day. I think it follows as a very natural corollary that, if we protect those funds from any possibility of being taken by way of compensation for any fault the trade unions may commit or any illegal act, it should at the same time be quite impossible for any member or official of the trade union to apply those funds to any other purpose except for the provision of benefits for which the members have subscribed.


May I ask the hon. and gallant Member whether this new Clause has not fallen foul of one of the Clauses already passed by the Committee, namely, to provide compensation in respect of any person who is intimidated. Is that not using money for a purpose other than for benefit?

Captain BOURNE

If the hon. Member will wait for one minute I will come to his point. In Clause 2 of this Bill, if it becomes an Act, the man who has a claim in view of the benefits for which he has subscribed, and has been turned out of his union for refusing to take part in a strike declared to be illegal under the provisions of Clause 1, would, I think, have a legal claim against these benefit funds whether this Clause was put into the Act or not, but it is the deliberate intention of those of us who have put our names to this new Clause that that should be the only case in which these funds should be liable if the trade union committed a fault.


On a point of Order. Is this new Clause in order, having regard to the Clause which we have already passed regarding money paid out of a trade union fund for intimidation?


As I understand it, the proposal made in this new Clause practically lays down new conditions under which benefit funds would have to be managed, and the Clause, it seems to me, is in order.


Do I understand your ruling to mean that money paid in by way of intimidation is to be reckoned as benefit? Do I understand that that is your ruling?


There is no question of money being used for intimidation under this Clause. The question under discussion is the management of the benefit funds.


On this new Clause the question arises as to provision of this fund in the future, and yet there is a retrospective Clause in the Bill which has already been passed. What would happen in connection with that?


Is not this Clause to protect the benefit fund of a trade union in any eventuality whatever, and, therefore, if that be so, has it any real relation to the Clause to which hon. Members opposite refer and which merely provides that in one particular eventuality a member shall not be penalised?


That is quite true. That is what I understand. We are allowing this Clause to be discussed. It has no connection whatever with the provision already made in the Bill to which hon. Members refer. It is only a question of the regulations as to the management of benefit funds as a whole.


May I draw your attention to Sub-section (2) of this new Clause, which says: It shall he unlawful to mortgage, alienate, or use a benefit fund directly or indirectly for any purpose other than securing to the contributors the benefit to which they have contributed, nor shall it be liable for any contracts of the trade union, or for any damages or costs in any action or proceeding against the trade union. Can that be reconciled with Clause 3?


There is no need to reconcile it. I do not see anything inconsistent between the two.


May I point out that, generally speaking, there is no, division of the contribution made by a contributor for special benefit? This does not provide for that. Sub-section (2) provides that a member expelled from his union can claim damages from the union. You are claiming in this Clause that the damages shall come out of the benefit fund. How can the two be reconciled?


The new Clause, it seems to me, is perfectly in order, and I propose to allow the hon. and gallant Member to continue his speech.

Captain BOURNE

I cannot help thinking that the hon. Members who have raised various points of order are under a slight misapprehension. I fail to see anything in Clause 3 which would make the funds of the union liable in any circumstances, but even if there be, the only effect of this Clause would be to protect the benefit fund against such an action. I do not think I am out of order in suggesting that, at any rate, a portion of the union fund should not be liable for an action for tort, and that if such an action should be brought it should be defrayed out of other funds, if any, belonging to the union. This Clause merely suggests that certain funds shall be used for benefit purposes and shall not be liable in respect of any legal action and cannot be applied in support of a strike or for any other industrial purpose. It seems to me, if it be agreed by the Committee that, the funds shall not be liable for legal damages, that it is equally fair to say that they shall not be used for any other purpose except for the benefits for which they are subscribed. If in any other society, except a trade union, funds set aside for a certain purpose are ultimately used for some other and quite distinct purpose, the people in charge of those funds are liable in respect of a breach of trust. If I as a trustee permitted the trust funds of which I had charge to be used in any other way, even with the consent of the beneficiaries, I should still be liable to go to prison. I cannot see why a trade union should be placed on a higher or on a different plane with respect to monies entrusted to their care than ordinary people. I am perfectly certain—and I have had the advantage of discussing this matter with certain members of trade unions in my constituency—that large numbers of the members of trade unions are far more interested in the benefit funds of their society than they are interested in anything else.

This may not be a point of view which appeals to hon. Members opposite. There is, and I frankly admit it, a certain class in the trade union movement who are what we may call politically-minded members, but I believe the majority of trade unionists, like the majority of all other classes of people, are not politically-minded in the first instance. They are far more interested in their own personal concerns and the benefits which they may obtain by subscribing to these funds, and they are extremely interested to see that the monies subscribed for this purpose are not diverted to other uses. I agree that there are people who regard what I call trade union and Labour views almost as a religion, and that the other matters, the benefits that they or their colleagues may receive, are of very small importance compared with the pushing forward and boosting of the political movement; but I do not believe that is the view of the majority. I believe the majority are extremely anxious to safeguard their benefits. We do know that the benefit funds in certain cases have been pledged, as has been admitted quite freely in this House—it was actually vaunted by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Bromley)—when they have found it difficult on the management and strike funds of the union to pay the claims of their members for strike benefits, and in many cases the benefit funds have been used to cover overdrafts. That is, in my opinion, a wrong way of dealing with benefit funds.

This new Clause provides that all the money subscribed for benefit shall be put into a separate fund and stand in the name of trustees, who will be under a liability under the Act of 1871, and will hold these monies in order to give the benefits which the man who has subscribed hopes to get. The Clause also provides that there shall be an actuarial valuation of the assets and liabilities, so that from time to time members may know how they stand, whether the money is sufficient for the benefits which they hope to receive or whether it is not. sufficient, and what the liabilities are. That position should be made clear to those who subscribe to the union.

If the Committee accept this new Clause, it will be necessary to put in a definition of what is meant by benefit funds. That point was dealt with in an Amendment which several of my hon. Friends and myself had on the Paper in connection with Clause 8. That definition said: The expression 'benefits' means any payment authorised by the rules of the trade union which is made to a member during sickness or incapacity from personal injury, or damage, or by way of superannuation, or to a member who has met with an accident, and includes payment on discharge or in aid of funeral expenses on the death of a member or his wife or as provision for the wife or the children of a deceased member; or for medical treatment of any kind in hospital, clinic, convalescent home; or otherwise of a like nature. It was the intention of those who put down that definition that we should make it extremely wide, in order to cover what we believe to be the cases likely to arise. If there are cases which are not covered by that definition, I should be extremely willing to consider them. It is my own desire that this new Clause, if accepted, should cover as many benefits as possible, but hon. Members will realise that it is not easy to draft a definition which covers everything. We have provided that the trustees shall be people independent of the officials of the union, and that there shall be a committee of management on which trade union officials are eligible to sit and take part, because we do not wish to interfere to any great extent with the internal management by trade unions of their own affairs. If hon. Members opposite think that no interference is needed, I would refer them to the speeches which they have made as to the extent to which benefit funds have been pledged for purposes for which they were not intended.

This new Clause is not a new recommendation. It was recommended by the Dunedin Commission in 1906, and was put put down as one of their principal recommendations as to what any Bill dealing with trade union conditions should contain, which was introduced after that Commission. That Report was signed, amongst other people, by the right hon. Member for Seaham who, perhaps, is an unequalled authority on the subject. It is a Clause which appeals to many people of all parties. When the Bill passes into law the effect will be, to a certain extent to remove from trade union funds the protection which they had under the Act of 1906, and in certain circumstances to put them back into the condition in which they stood before that Act, under the Taff Vale judgment. I ask hon. Members opposite to consider whether it is not worth while in their own interests and whether it is not an advantage to them, to accept this Clause and get their benefit funds protected against any action at law. If an illegal strike does arise—we all hope it will not—under Clause 1 they may find that there is an action for damages, and in that case they will be grateful for this Clause, and will regret very much if they have not supported it.


Although the Bill as a whole provides us with a most melancholy subject, there are occasions when it is difficult for us to restrain our laughter. Although the hon. and gallant Member carried through his speech with the greatest solemnity and earnestness, we have found it very difficult to restrain the mocking laughter which inwardly we feel, I tell the hon. and gallant Member that he simply does not understand anything about the matter. This new Clause is only another instance of the determination seriously to interfere with the internal management of trade union business. It differs from other instances only in the fact that it is more elaborate. It makes an effort to cover everything and to leave out nothing. It ignores the fact that trade unions are voluntary organisations which have as much right as any other institution to control their own internal affairs and to determine the direction of the use of their own moneys, by majority rule, as any other organisation. This Clause is an elaborate effort to deny that right of unfettered internal management of one's own internal business.

We have a right to manage our own affairs and our own business in our own way. While we admit that trade union management is perhaps of a much more homely and rough-and-ready kind than the management of several other institutions, it is a kind which serves its purpose. The central idea of this new Clause, and the speech to which we have just listened, is that trade unions must not have the power to transfer one set of moneys subscribed for one purpose at one time, to another purpose. The law should not interfere with any such transfer. The conditions of trade unions differ very much according to the moment. At one moment the position of some thousands of members in the trade union may be that of requiring dispute money, or lock-out payment or unemployment payment. There may not be in the particular fund so named resources to meet their needs, but they may have in other funds money lying idle, and not needed at the moment for any purpose. Who has the right to tell if trade union that by collective action and by a majority desire of the members of the union they have no right to transfer money from one position to another, where for the moment it is necessary and desirable to use it.

I claim that they have the right. That is the reason why in the course of many disputes we have seen trade unions driven to the extreme of having to draw on their vast resources by pledging their future resources, by binding themselves to make good, by means of future levies, moneys which for the moment it is necessary for them to use for their present needs, and I dispute the right of any Parliament to interfere with the internal affairs in the way of managing one's own money in what way they wish in order to meet their monetary needs. One Sub-section of this new Clause is worth reading again. It is Sub-section (3), which says: Every benefit fund set up under this Section shall be vested in two or more trustees to be appointed by the contribu tors to the fund, and such contributors shall also appoint managers or a committee of managers by whom the said fund shall be administered. Having made that proposal, the hon. and gallant Member adduces the argument that it should be, managed independently of the officials; the officials must have no voice whatever in the management.

Captain BOURNE

I said the trustees were to be independent, but the committee of management was not.


It may be too subtle for me to see the fine distinction, but again I repeat that the hon. and gallant Member does not know the way in which these things must be worked inside these organisations. You are dealing largely with workmen who are skilled only in their own employment. They are not able governors or managers of affairs, they are not trained or accomplished accountants, and they are not in the possession of the business attributes which may belong to the hon. and gallant Member. Will the hon. and gallant Member make an effort to understand what a trade union benefit is. The first Sub-section of this new Clause says: (1) All moneys received by a trade union from its members by way of contribution towards the securing of benefits shall be carried to a separate fund or funds (in this Act referred to as a benefit fund or funds). What is the most substantial of all trade union benefits? It is that return to workmen which they receive for the services rendered by those they employ. Primarily, a trade union, as I said earlier in the day, exists to render services, and not to accumulate money for the purpose of relieving any necessitous cases, although to their credit they have done a great deal of that work, very often in spite of State interference. The protection that workmen want must be expressed in the right themselves to protect themselves, to have the freedom to manage their own affairs in their own way. I ask the Government to indicate, as I think they will on this matter, some degree of agreement with the view of the Opposition as to the terms of the new Clause now before the Committee. We look to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in charge of the Bill, at least in this matter, to indicate that the Government accept the principle of the collective control of trade union money and the collective and internal right of bodies of workmen to settle their own affairs upon their own lines.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Douglas Hogg)

Although, for reasons which I am proposing to state to the Committee, the Government do not find themselves able to ask the Committee to accept the new Clause which has been moved by the hon. and gallant Member, I confess that I approach the consideration of this proposal from a very different point of view to that indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes). The right hon. Gentleman began by saying that he had a difficulty in restraining his mocking laughter at a proposal which he regarded as ridiculous, and which showed that the Mover did not understand anything about trade unions. I think he must have forgotten that the hon. and gallant Member who moved it told the Committee that the proposal was derived not from his own ingenuity, but from the Report of the Commission, signed among others by the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) who, of course, knows as much as anybody on the Opposition side about trade union matters. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that trade unions are voluntary institutions, and therefore entitled to manage their affairs by majority rule. That, like other generalisations, is rather a dangerous statement. If it means that because trade unions are, in theory at any rate, voluntary associations, therefore it is proper for the majority to take moneys which have been subscribed for one purpose and use them for another, all I can say is that is not the law, and I hope it never will be the law.

If it be the fact, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that members of trade unions are unskilled persons having no business experience, that seems to me to make it not less, bat more justifiable to protect them from an abuse of their rights. Therefore, it seems to me that if these were the only arguments which could be adduced against the proposal, the Government would be in a great difficulty in resisting its adoption, and all the more so because the Committee will remember that where moneys are subscribed for benefits in other voluntary associations as, for instance, in friendly societies, not only does Parliament interfere to make the most elaborate provisions for the protection of the subscribers, but any attempt by a majority of the members to take away the moneys from the purposes for which they have been subscribed and use them for other purposes, would be a criminal as well as an illegal act, rendering the perpetrators liable to condign punishment. Although I recognise and sympathise with the object the hon. and gallant Member has in view, the object of ensuring that moneys which are subscribed for what he describes as benefits—and he was careful to describe what benefits are, for such purposes as payments to sick people, and the like—shall not be misapplied to other purposes, yet the Government do not find themselves able to accept it.

The first reason is that we have been most anxious, throughout the drafting of this Bill, to abstain as far as possible from interference with the internal management of trade unions. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite seem to find that a subject for mirth, but if they will study the Bill they will see how careful we have been to abstain as far as possible from any interference with the internal management of trade union matters. Not only that, but, the Committee will remember that on the Second Reading I stated explicitly what I regarded as the underlying principles of the Bill and the Prime Minister stated emphatically that it was intended that the Bill should carry out those principles and those principles only. I do not think it would be possible, even if it were otherwise desirable, to bring this Clause within any one of those principles and, therefore, as I think my hon. and gallant Friend will see the Government are precluded by their own pledge from accepting an Amendment which would go outside the main principles of the, Bill.

There is another consideration which possibly may not have occurred to my hon. and gallant Friend but one which was considered to have great weight when the matter was discussed in 1906. Although it is obviously very hard on those who have subscribed for friendly society benefits—if I may use a convenient and short expression—that they should be liable to find themselves unable to get those benefits because the money sub scribed for those purposes has been diverted to strike objects or something wholly alien to the intention of the sub scribers, yet one has to remember the possibility of the opposite happening if this Clause became law. Supposing this Clause were enacted and that there was a benefit fund kept separately from the general fund which would alone be available for strike benefit. Supposing that fund which was available for strike benefit in the course of time accumulated, as it might, a very large surplus, it would at any rate be a temptation to some of the wilder and less responsible spirits in the trade unions to encourage a strike with the knowledge that they have this large fund available for the purpose—a fund which they could utilise by strike means and by no other means. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh!"] I am not suggesting that any responsible leader of a trade union would be influenced by such a consideration but I think it quite possible that some of the hotheads who, as we have so often been told, are always trying to force the leaders into strikes, in regard to which the leaders themselves are very reluctant, might use that argument as an inducement to obtain a majority vote in favour of strike action. There are other objections. My hon. and gallant Friend has specified in the draft definition which he read to the Committee some four or five different kinds of benefits. I think I could mention some others which did not come within his definition. For instance there is legal aid and loss of tools. I am not sure whether these were included and I dare say we could find others. I am not clear whether he intended that each benefit fund should be separately kept or whether there should be one fund available for the whole of these benefits.

Captain BOURNE

One fund.

9.0 p.m.


Of course that would simplify matters from one point, of view, but it would make it very difficult from the other point of view to ensure that all the benefits were properly directed. A member might well have subscribed thinking that he was going to get funeral benefit or sick benefit and find that his money had been dissipated on benefits for loss of work by reason of fire or inundation, which I understand is one of the benefits given by some trade unions. There would also be a great diffi culty in obtaining the valuation of assets and liabilities which is provided for in the latter part of the proposed new Clause because some of these benefits are almost incapable of actuarial valuation. They certainly are quite incapable of actuarial valuation without the accumulation of a very long experience, which at present as far as I know certainly does not exist. Loss of work by reason of fire or inundation is almost impossible to calculate actuarially, and very great difficulty would be found in assessing the actuarial value of some of the benefits which are given by some of the trade unions. Although I regard the suggestion as very far from being a ridiculous one but rather as being one which, from many points of view, may well be regarded as intended to protect the legitimate interests of trade unionists who have subscribed to these benefits and who find their expectations of receiving them is imperilled, yet for all the reasons I have given I am sorry to say—sorry in so far as it may be a disappointment to my hon. and gallant Friend and those associated with him—the Government does not see its way to ask the Committee to accept the proposed new Clause. I suggest to my hon. and learned Friend the possibility, in view of the objections which I have indicated to him, that he may he able to see his way to ask leave to withdraw.


I cannot help wishing that the learned Attorney-General had terminated his speech earlier than he did and that he had satisfied himself with giving the one comprehensive, and I admit, compelling argument against the acceptance of this proposed new Clause, namely, that the purposes of the Bill have been defined very closely as being only four or five in number and that the Government are obliged to confine the Bill to those definite objects. When he came to deal with the minor objections to the proposed new Clause I could not help feeling that the supporters of the Clause were on stronger ground than the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We definitely propose that funds subscribed by trade unionists for benefit purposes—as the Attorney-General rightly said what are comprised in the short and compendious phrase "friendly society benefits"—should be separated entirely from all other funds. The Attorney-General said that if there were only one fund of that kind there would be actuarial difficulty in computing the exact value of each of these benefits. I suggest that if the purpose of the proposed new Clause were carried out, the friendly society contributors to the trade unions, if they did not get it in meal would get it in malt. If there was not enough to pay superannuation, at any rate, if there had been an unusual inundation or fire keeping members a long while without any support from their wage-earning capacity, they would have the benefit in that respect. But what happens now is that they subscribe for years and years, perhaps for the major part of a lifetime, for certain definite advantages which they hope to receive in their old age when they are past work, but they have no security whatever that they will ever receive those benefits.

I ask the Attorney-General before he finally dismisses this proposal to consider the operation of Clause 1, Sub-section (4). Hitherto, since the Act of 1906, the funds of trade unions have been rendered immune from any action for tort. I believe that is the correct expression. They have been practically immune from any legal action whatever. If trade unions promote and support a strike which is adjudged to be illegal under Sub-section (4) of Clause 1, those funds are not so protected. It follows from that, that even within the scope of the conditions laid down by the Government there is extremely good ground for saying that the Bill is not complete, since it renders trade union funds liable under certain circumstances to confiscation. A benefit fund subscribed for wholly different purposes ought to be put into a separate fund and not rendered liable for the consequences of actions of law. Therefore, I think that even within the purposes of the Government there is very good ground for an Amendment of this kind as a natural corollary of what has already been decided.

The right hon. ember for Platting (Mr. Clynes) told us that trade union affairs were conducted in a homely and in a rough and ready style. There is no objection whatever to that; but I do not think we should find amongst the mass of trade union members any general acceptance of the idea that because the methods of management are homely and rough and ready that, therefore, the con- trollers of trade union funds are entitled to dip freely into funds provided for benefit purposes and spend them on entirely different purposes, so that when aged members, who have no interest in a trade dispute at all, on account of their age, come to ask for their old age benefits, they may be told that there is nothing left to pay them more than—


I am loth to interrupt, but in view of that very serious statement, may I ask the hon. Member to adduce a single instance, in any trade union, where, for the reasons stated, friendly benefits have been withheld from any member?


I can only tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have been told there are at the present moment old trade unionists who have received their superannuation benefit for a few months only and have then been told that there is no more shot in the locker.


Then you have been told what is not true.


I am sorry that I cannot speak of it from my own personal knowledge; but I suppose I may take it, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that every trade unionist member has always been paid up to the hilt any benefits to which he is entitled. That is a big statement to make, but that is the statement which I understand the right hon. Gentleman to make. I would turn to a statement appearing in to-day's "Times" with regard to the Amalgamated Engineering Union. The monthly journal of that union for June has just been published. In the "Times" digest of that journal it states that this union has been foremost in distributing what are conveniently known as friendly society benefits. It says that for the quarter ending 31st March last there was paid in the five principal benefits—unemployment, sickness, superannuation, funeral and benevolent—£117,000, and in extra benefits —22,800. That makes a total of £140,000 during the quarter. Multiplied by four, that comes to £560,000 for the year. Since the constitution of the union on 1st July, 1920, to 31st December, 1926, the amount paid in benefits is no less than —7,000,000. These figures show that in the last quarter there has been a marked falling off in the distribution of friendly society benefits. The sum has suddenly shrunk from the rate of more than £1,000,000 a year to just over £500,000 a year. This great union states in its monthly journal that this is a side of trade union activities to which their opponents never refer. We who are supporting this Amendment do propose to refer to that branch of trade union activities. They say That the effect of the Trade Union Bill will make it still more difficult for them to continue their work, but I say this Amendment will make it far easier, because it will make it far more certain that, by homely and rough and ready methods, trade union benefit funds are not to be used for strikes. The object of this Amendment is just and right. It is only applying to the management of trade unions the system that applies to every other organisation in the country, namely, that funds subscribed for a definite purpose shall be put in the hands of responsible trustees and not used for other purposes than those specified. In spite of what the Attorney-General has said I hold that this Amendment, so far from being outside the scope of the Bill, might be regarded as a necessary corollary of the fact that for the first time since 1906 trade union funds are, by this Bill, being made liable for actions at law.

Captain BOURNE

In view of the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not accept the Clause, which I deeply regret, I will ask leave to withdraw it.


On a point of Order. There is a procedure under which, if hon. Members prior to a Division are observed to cry "Aye" and subsequently refuse to go into the Lobby—


May I ask the hon. and gallant Member how this point arises in connection with the withdrawal of a new Clause?


I am coming to that immediately.


The hon. Member appears to be putting a hypothetical question, and I must dispose of the actual question first. Is it the pleasure of the Committee that the Amendment be withdrawn?


On a point of Order. I wish to ask whether there is any rule of the House which can be called in aid to prohibit hon. Members putting down Amendments, at great expense, and occupying the time of the Committee in an altogether empty discussion on them, and then withdrawing them because the Government, without any substantial reason given, oppose them.


The hon Member is raising a new question altogether. It is not a point of Order which arises here.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.